Tuesday, March 31, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Foreign Tongue: A Novel of Life and Love in Paris by Vanina Marsot

Anna recently suffered a horrendous break-up and is eager to leave Los Angeles. Unlike most exes who disappear into the woodwork, Timothy has the audacity to make it big after the split. Now his face is on the cover of People and he’s being featured on Entertainment Tonight and Anna must – leave - town - now! Luckily she’s is possession of a French passport and keys to a fabulous apartment in the Eleventh Arrondissement so running away is easy.

It’s the arriving part that isn’t straightforward, exes have a way of stowing away and traveling with you. Determined to exorcise him from her mind, Anna decides to stay in Paris for a while and puts her bilingual skills to use and picks up work translating an erotic French novel by an anonymous author.

Vanina Marsot’s debut novel Foreign Tongue immerses readers in the sights and sounds of Paris within the first few pages. Whether she’s describing the delectable food served at a restaurant in the Marais (preserved-lemon tagine), shopping trips, or the verlan (slang) spoken by small boys playing soccer, Marsot’s familiarity with and love of the city radiates from the pages.

Yet although Foreign Tongue is, in part, an homage to the city of lights, mainly it is a novel about Anna’s discovery of herself. Unfortunately it is here that the novel fails to deliver. Much of Anna’s exploration is of a sexual nature and Marsot’s description of Anna’s translation work often carries more passion than many of the steamier scenes. However, Marsot includes some fascinating information on French slang and vocabulary usage and these lessons could be quite useful on future trips to France.

Readers should be aware that the novel Anna is translating is quite explicit and many passages are included in the text and more sensitive readers may be offended by the graphic nature of some.

ISBN10: 0061673668
ISBN13: 9780061673665

Trade Paperback
384 Pages
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: April 14, 2009


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: The Rain Before It Falls by Jonathan Coe

Rosamond has recently passed away and her niece Gill faces the task of organizing her funeral and emptying her cluttered cottage. After the funeral, Rosamond’s doctor recounts finding Rosamond upright in her chair, surrounded by photo albums and clutching a tape recorder’s microphone. When Gill arrives at the cottage, she finds four cassettes along with a message "Gill - these are for Imogen. If you cannot find her, listen to them yourself."

When extensive searching fails to locate Imogen (Gill’s second cousin who is blind), Gill decides to listen to the tapes with her daughters. Rosamond has selected 20 photos to describe to Imogen and in doing so, recounts her story of escaping the Blitz in Shropshire, the resulting close friendship developed with her cousin Beatrix, and the tragic family secrets hidden for decades.

Jonathan Coe’s eighth novel is a significant departure from his well-known works of sociopolitical satire. Instead of biting wit, The Rain Before It Falls is a quiet, melancholy story of three generations of women in a Shropshire family. The emotional bankruptcy and violence of Beatrix’s childhood carries forward, infecting her daughter Thea, her blood-sister Rosamond and eventually Imogen. The path of the story feels pre-ordained, violence and emotional reserve beget the same, and Imogen’s birth seems inevitable from that of her mother.

While Coe paints a bleak, minimalist story, the emotional landscape is intense. Rosamond’s goal is to provide Imogen with a sense of her own history, which may have been kept from her by her adopted family. At the same time, she is sharing the forces that shaped her into a maiden aunt, substitute mother and ill-fated lover. For while Beatrix and her mother waver between indifference and violence, Rosamond is filled with repressed love waiting to escape and find an outlet.

In the end, The Rain Before It Falls is a morality tale of daughters doomed to repeat the same tragic mistakes as their mothers. While Coe explores waters unfamiliar to some of his readers, his exceptional skill keeps them engaged until all thoughts of political satire fade and his quiet message becomes audible.

ISBN10: 0307388166
ISBN13: 9780307388162

Trade Paperback
256 pages
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: March 10, 2009
Audio Extract Read by Jonathan Coe


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Feline Plague by Maja Novak

"You were blind and deaf in that cage made up of your problems, the bars of your distress blocked your eyes, and you didn’t see me at all."

Communism has just fallen and Slovenia begun the exploration of Western lifestyles. Ira, a strange young woman who barely speaks, has been hired by the Lady to help manage The Ark, the flagship store of Empire, a chain of high-end pet stores. A strange cast of characters soon enter this strange fairytale world: Erzulie, the blind window dresser; Felipe, Ira’s best friend from childhood; and Greta and Marga, twins so identical they are perceived as one. This Ark; however, instead of saving the world ultimately delivers the plague that decimates Slovenia.

The Feline Plague, Maya Novak’s first novel to be translated into English, introduces this gifted writer to the world. A modernist writer who plays deftly with the traditions of magical realism, provides commentary on political situations within her rapidly altering homeland. As Robert Buckeye explains in his introduction, Novak argues that her country’s "quick embrace of cowboy capitalism initially threatened to destroy Slovenia" and this message, savagely presented in The Feline Plague is one her countrymen didn’t wish to hear during capitalism’s early heydays.

Presenting an unpopular message is never easy, and to do so when your country has just taken its first steps out of Communism’s shadow is tantamount to playing Chicken Little. Novak, determined that her message is one which Slovenia needs to hear, wraps it in mythology (Ira is the goddess of anger and Erzulie the voodoo goddess of love and beauty) and common symbolism (Noah’s Ark). She presents her fable to the world as entertainment, trusting her message will seep into reader’s subconscious and help slam the brakes on an out-of-control system.

Ira brings about her country’s downfall by importing unvaccinated cats, turning the Ark from the world’s saviour into its harbinger of doom. The Lady, instead of making pets the new "must-have" accessory and building up earthly treasures for herself, introduces a snake into the Garden of Eden. The Feline Plague is such a powerful message because it resonates in the heart of readers far beyond the borders of Slovenia.

ISBN: 1556437641
ISBN13: 9781556437649

Trade Paperback
248 Pages
Publisher: North Atlantic Books
Publication Date: March 10, 2009


Monday, March 23, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Nineteen Seventy-Four by David Peace

Following the death of his father, and an unremarkable stint on Fleet Street in London, crime journalist Edward Dunford returns to Yorkshire and a new job on the Evening Post as a junior crime correspondent. It’s two weeks before Christmas 1974 and Eddie’s first story is that of missing ten-year-old Clare Kemplay. The police are convinced it’s an isolated incidence, at least that is until her mutilate body shows up posed in a brutal parody of a fallen angel with swan wings stitched to her back.

Despite being warned off verbally by his editor, and physically by the local police department, Eddie can’t shake the feeling that there is a pattern in the disappearance of young girls and begins to dig deeper. What he uncovers is corruption at the highest levels and an unknown dark side of Yorkshire.

David Peace’s writing is heavily influence by a childhood immersed in the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, one where at times he even worried that his mother would be the next victim. It is unsurprising then that his debut novel, Nineteen Seventy-Four, should reflect the extreme violence, corruption and darkness of this haunting period of history. As Peace states in his interview with Crimetime: "Crime is brutal, harrowing and devastating for everyone involved, and crime fiction should be every bit as brutal, harrowing and devastating as the violence of the reality it seeks to document. Anything less at best sanitizes crime and its effects, at worst trivializes it."

Similarities to George Orwell’s 1984 are found almost from the first pages of Nineteen Seventy-Four. Both novels portray a bleak landscape and dystopian society and; however unlikeable the main character, each is a naïf on a path of discovery, horror and ultimately betrayal. Nineteen Seventy-Four is the more violent novel, elucidating the warning signs we all should have heeded, while suggesting that we have only ourselves to blame for the current violent state of affairs.

Nineteen Seventy-Four is the first book in the Red Riding Quartet series, followed by Nineteen Seventy-Seven (2000), Nineteen Eighty (2001), and Nineteen Eighty-Three (2002). The Red Riding Quartet has recently been turned into a mini-series airing on UK's Channel 4.

ISBN10: 0307455084
ISBN13: 9780307455086

Trade Paperback
320 Pages
Publisher: Vintage Books
Publication Date: February 10, 2009