Are you John Irving in disguise? The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

I lost a weekend to John Boyne’s world of Cyril Avery – and I’m still not the better of it. I’m recovering from a book hangover of the best kind.

invisiblefuries

The story is simple but complex. It is the life of Cyril Avery, from not long before his birth, to pretty soon before his death. It is the story of being gay in Ireland and the story of social change in Ireland, told from the 1940’s through to 2015. It is an emotional roller coaster.

If you have ever read The World According to Garp, or Prayer to Owen Meany, you will understand my reference in the title of the post. Boyne is channeling Irving in the best possible way. He stands the comparison well. It is up there with the best of his work.

Boyne starts angry. The opening lines will hook you and you won’t want to be let go. Cyril’s mother is denounced from the alter, physically kicked thrown out of the church and  basically run out of town. If in the opening chapter you find yourself defending the clergy or Cyril’s grandparents, then you probably need to stop reading there. If you think gay people are sick and perverted you should probably read on as you might learn something, but you’ll probably stop reading early on.

heart opening

After leaving her home town behind, Cyril’s mother heads off to Dublin on the bus where she begins her new life, with a grand plan in place that involves a hunchbacked old nun who will deliver Cyril to his adoptive parents.

What follows is the best part of 600 pages of tears and laughter. I know I swung from anger, to joy, to despair, and back again.  The dialogue is sharp and quirky. Cyril’s upbringing is unconventional, but mostly believable, if occasionally absurd. The near misses between Cyril and his birth mother will probably frustrate you.

I read the book over the last weekend, as the Tuam Baby story was dominating headlines in Ireland. So anger at religious organisations was already in my system. The sad thing for Ireland is that many of the attitudes expressed and described in the book, you feel, are not in anyway over-hyped.There are too many scandals for the reader to not believe any of the more outrageous event or conversations that happen in the book. The strict conservative shadow of the Catholic Church reached into every part of society in Ireland. The sharpest barbs in this book are drafted in the funniest dialogue. Mary Margaret Muffet is a great character and you can easily imagine taking part in the cringe-worthy conversation towards the end with his daughter in law’s parents.

book-hangover-22

The object of Boyne’s contempt isn’t limited to the Catholic Church. Politicians and our general attitudes to women are the other principle targets. The occasional historical factual figure pops up, and some, like Charlie Haughey, get a bit of a shoeing.

Not all of the characters are drawn out or have depth to them. The modern segments aren’t maybe as good as the older ones. The book isn’t perfect, but it’s up there.

Overall I loved this book. First proper 5 star of the year. I was lucky in that I was able to just read for most of the weekend, so could get properly lost in Cyril. But in best book hangover traditions, I have no idea what to read next, although I do think I’ll be re-reading A Prayer to Owen Meany this year.

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4 books read, 4 reviewed

Since I last wrote I’ve managed to complete 4 books, so I’ll do some brief reviews of  them here before I start number 5.

 

5-riversI started the month with a book I picked up on a weekend away in Liverpool. Five Rivers Met On A Wooded Plain by Barney Norris. Its the story of five separate lives that interconnect briefly around a single incident – a car accident in Salisbury. Judging the book by its cover, it had some decent reviews. Plus I hadn’t heard of it before…(see the paragraph below about Down Station), plus I used to live in Bournemouth so had visited Salisbury a few times back then.

The prologue is a bit of a red herring. It’s a bit of flowery prose about the five rivers that flow onto Salisbury Plain, tracing time from prehistory through to the modern era. It has nothing to do with the story other than (I’m guessing) as an analogy for the 5 people who’s lives flow separately but come together in a single moment that has it’s own story and tributaries.

The interconnectedness of people’s lives isn’t a new idea, but Barney Norris does it very well. He’s also a playwright so I can imagine the story working very well as a play or film. The characters are likeable, or at least interesting. I enjoyed the different stories (some more than others).   This is a fine read. It engages the reader, and should hold your attention right the way through. Recommended.
I moved back in time then to re-read a book I last read (I Think) about 30 years ago – The Diary of A Young Girl – by Anne Frank.  anne-frank
There’s something about how the world is at the moment that motivated me to revisit this well known work. When I read it first I was either a teen or in my early 20’s. Either way, I had forgotten much of the detail. Anne Frank in the early chapters isn’t the most likeable child. She comes across as quite vain, and full of herself. Turns out, in the case of her writing she had every right. I had forgotten how good her writing is. It’s easy for forget that she was 13 when she started and 15 by the end of the diary. I imagine after the war, people may have doubted it was written by someone so young. Her depth of understanding and articulation of her emotions and feelings towards her family are very surprising, and lift it beyond the general description of the claustrophobic life she lived for those years.

Beyond that the unwritten story is of course a vital reminder of the horrors of the time. The family’s eventual arrest and death of all but Anne’s father Otto a few weeks before the camp’s liberation a tragedy.  What strikes is the simple pleasures she lost, her desire to be a normal young person and the bravery of the people that helped the 8 people in the Anne Frank House. I don’t know if this is still essential reading in the school curriculum, but it certainly should be.

DOWN-STATION1.jpgWhether it’s because of the internet and having so much information ready to hand, or because if the shops I tend to browse in, I am increasingly finding I rarely ‘discover’ new books any more. I seem to have heard about or read about the new books I see in the shelves of my local Dubray Bookshop. So when I’m away I like to see if there is something I haven’t seen before. I’m returning to my trip to Liverpool where the local Waterstones 3 for 2 had be checking for something new. To my surprise I found Down Station by Simon Morden.

The story – a couple of groups of people are working in London’s underground network. Some sort of catastrophic event is happening. The world is on fire. The escape through a service door in a disused station and emerge in what turns out to a totally different world. The way back seems to disappear, along with it their way back. They’re not the first to come through into this world, from which there seems to be no return. They have to learn how to survive and who they can or cannot trust.

I enjoy fantasy and this is something a little different. It move along nice and briskly and has all the ingredients for a great series. I am looking forward to number 2, and learning more about the world of Down. If you like fantasy that isn’t Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, but that has an intriguing dusting of magic, then you’ll like this.

orphan-xFinally, a book that’s been in my TBR pile for a while now. I fancied what I hoped would be a straight forward thriller and wasn’t disappointed by Orphan X by Greg Hurwitz. It is what I hoped and is very enjoyable. I flew through it, and enjoyed it all.

Orphan X was literally an orphan taken and trained to be an assassin/spy/tool ah la Jason Bourne I guess. He eventually leaves the world of black ops, and becomes a sort of vigilante, man for hire…like a younger Equalizer. After he has sorted your problem, your payment is to pass on his number to one person that really needs his help. And from there he gets tied up in a conspiracy with all the thrills and spills you might expect.

This is the first in a series apparently, with number 2 (The Nowwhere Man) currently available. I would expect to see a movie to go along with it too.

The Association of Small Bombs

A small bomb, in a busy Indian market. Among its victims are two young boys, among the survivors their friend. From there we look beyond the physical impact of the bomb to the emotional ‘collateral damage’ on the boy’s parents, Mansoor the survivor and Shockie the bomb maker and terrorist and some other supporting cast.

assocaition-of-sb

This book by Karan Marhajan featured in many end of year lists for 2016, so I was really looking forward to reading it. I’m still not entirely sure how much I enjoyed it, or if I was giving it a ranking on Goodreads, what that might be.

Its not a very long novel, but I read it in two large chunks, separated by over a week, due to life impinging on reading time. Whether this impacted on my enjoyment of the book I’m not sure. I enjoyed it. Its wonderfully written. It held my attention. It just lacked a little something I think.

There are big themes. Is there any such thing as a small bomb? Taking one life or 1000 lives? Either is a huge event in the lives of so many people. What are the motivations of terrorists? This gets explored.

My take on it is that the author, even by the title, deliberately diminished the notion of a terrorist act as being something almost mundane (once the threat becomes almost normalised). The bomb is considered a small bomb. The type that gets very little coverage in the modern world. It all takes place in New Delhi, which maybe adds to this notion for western readers to whom bombs in the East don’t create the same social media outpouring of grief or empathy that terrorist attacks in Europe or North America do.

There is a sadness that runs through this book. Or thinking more about it, maybe its a weariness.The sadness of the Khurana’s is obvious. They lost their sons and struggle to come to terms with that, but there are other reasons for their sadness. Mansoor survives, but that has its own guilt and ramifications. Plus he is Muslim, a minority, and for some a possible suspect? Shockie, the bomb maker has his own demons. Throughout the book, it seems nobody is happy, or that happiness is only fleeting.  The ineptitude of the police and judicial forces, or the politicians merely add to the downbeat feeling.

The cultural, social and political context of New Dehli and India adds a layer and subtext to the book. There are I guess, nuances, that might be obvious to some or that I as a western reader have missed.

There are no big answers  to the big questions. Motivations for terrorism are not revealed, or at least not to me. There are individual reasons, fame, glory, ideological, political, revenge.

It seems to me after reading, that there are no small lives,  and therefore no small bombs.

I think this going to get 4 stars. 3 and half might be more accurate. The story is engaging. I  cared about Mansoor, and Ayub, a character in the second half. The parents (I’m guessing deliberately are less likeable).

A lot of care has been taken on the language. It is really well written. Its beautiful sad.

A sad book, doesn’t mean a bad book. The Association of Small Bombs is well worth reading, just don’t expect to feel good about the world afterwords.

Been so long, so here’s a catch up

Oh dear, I haven’t written anything in ages. I had a brief hiatus (for a few weeks) when I didn’t read anything, but mostly I prioritised work and other such distractions. So this post is by way of a catch up.

Books read since last I posted;

Actually, I suppose as a snapshot it shows a little of how eclectic my reading can be.

untitledOnly Ever Yours, is a dark young adult book. Yet another dystopian world, this one with shades of Scott Westerfeld’s ‘Uglies’ world, where young women compete to find their place in a male dominated society. It’s a sad, frightening existence, made more so because it takes amplifies and builds on many of the issues faced by young women today. It really is a speculative indictment of what some young women expect of themselves, of youth culture, of celebrity culture. As a youth worker I see many facets of the characters lives mirrored (obviously in a much less extreme way) in teens I work with. For that reason I finished the book feeling depressed. It is a book to be admired rather than enjoyed.

silkworm

The Silkworm is an enjoyable crime novel written by JK Rowling under her Robert Galbraith pseudonym. It’s the second novel featuring likeable character Cormoran Strike. The writing and plot is clever, and fans of crime fiction this should be a treat. Crime fiction is probably a genre I don’t read a huge amount of, but this more than kept my attention and I fairly flew through it.

darkmouth

Darkmouth is the latest children’s fiction sensation from Ireland, following the success of the Artemis Fowl and Skulduggery Pleasant series’. Darkmouth is a small town in Ireland where the last Legend Hunter and his son Finn, live. There’s plenty of humour and drama here to keep the most discerning of young teen or tween engrossed. I’m sure many parents will enjoy reading this book and any subsequent episodes to follow along with their children. The scary monsters are sometimes a little scary and sometimes really not, so if looking for an excuse to read it, checking its suitability for your child is as good a reason as any.

look whos back

I was looking forward to reading Look Who’s Back for ages after seeing the larger paperback version in my local bookshop. Alas the anticipation didn’t quite match the reality. It was ok. I liked it. But it wasn’t great. 2 and half to three out of five I’d say. I was looking forward to something really funny, and a scathing attack on modern politics. There were some humourous parts, and it did have a dig at 2015 Germany, but like I’ve said, it never quite hit the heights I was hoping for. There’s probably some sort of lesson about not judging a book by its cover, but who among us hasn’t fallen for that one? It’s also probably a bit unfair to judge it on what I was hoping for rather than what it was.

ancillary sword
Ancillary Sword on the other hand met my expectations. I loved Ancillary Justice. It was one of my favourite books of last year, so I was really pleased to find the standard hadn’t dropped. If you don’t like science-fiction, you should probably leave it alone. But sci-fi fans will lap it up. Intelligent space Opera.
all the lights
The last book in this round-up is All The Lights We Cannot See, and I think I’ll give that a little post all of its own. Spoiler alert though. I loved it. Best book I’ve read in 2015, beautifully written and captivating story.