Review: The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So very fascinating and unusual, I’m undecided whether this was brilliant or ordinary, it is certainly metaphysical and explores ground that I’ve never read before. I don’t know whether I’ve ever read a book set in South Korea and I really enjoyed reading about the family dynamics, the culture and the societal attitudes, particularly those of husbands and wives.
One night a woman has a dream, a nasty violent dream and from that point on she realises that she cannot eat meat any longer. Meat seems to be an important part of life in her family and her husband is embarrassed at her decision. You get her story firstly from her husband, a man who I found it hard to like, from her sister’s husband, also strange and also from her sister. All of these people are concerned about her and as she becomes thinner and begins wasting away, they react in different ways. Her mental illness is increasingly difficult to deal with for everyone in her family, but she feels a compulsion to become one with the dirt and the forest.
All very different, very strange and nothing like anything I’ve read before. I did really like this novel and the writing is quite fabulous at times, but it is not one for everyone.

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Review: The Road to Winter

The Road to Winter
The Road to Winter by Mark Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I dithered between four and five stars for this and landed on 5, yes I would read this again, pretty sure I’d enjoy it just as much next time too. I’ll even read the next one when it comes out, that is something, I’m bad at series reading.

In a grim future Australia, where the seas have risen and then a virus has swept through, killed millions and pretty much wiped out the population – especially the women, life is very tough and lonely for 16 year old Finn. His family are all gone but left him well prepared, he has a great cache of supplies but is in constant danger of being attacked. He has a dog for company, I always love the dog characters and this one is no exception. Finn has made a life for himself, hunting rabbits, fishing, surfing and eking out an existence on what he can find when his routine is totally disrupted by the arrival of a group of ‘Wildings’ who are tracking a girl. This injured and vulnerable girl is Rose, and she needs Finn’s help, she is stroppy and damaged and Finn is overwhelmed but kind to her. She is searching for her sister and Finn is unable to resist helping her to find her.

What I loved so much about this book was the fact that it is not only a really well written dystopia, but that has much to say about current Australian politics. Rose and her sister are Siley’s, slang for asylum seekers, originally from Afghanistan, they are treated as slaves on farms and in factories as a way of solving the asylum seeker problem. Mark Smith makes his politics clear on this topic but not in any kind of preachy way, but in a humanitarian way which makes you think. It is interesting to see these issues tackled in this way, often there are bright red pointy arrows to an authors politics but in this case it is way more subtle.

If I was looking for a book to share with students in a class setting I think this would definitely be one I’d consider. It is full of contemporary issues, would enable lots of really good class discussion. I also really appreciated the format of the book and even though it is not a long book it really does look like an adult novel. That is a rare thing, in fact when I bought it I didn’t realise that it was a YA novel, and it needn’t be, this is a book for everyone. Text publishing are doing such great work in this field, I’m full of admiration for them.

I think it will appeal to the same audience who liked Station Eleven, The Passage etc and it will be a book I’ll throw at reluctant seniors who need something grown up but short. It is gritty and wonderful. Bring me the second one soon please.

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Review: Irène

Irène by Pierre Lemaitre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book has been tormenting me, it has taken so long for me to read. I kept being distracted by other shiny books and this one, even though I was enjoying it, was slower paced and so I was putting it aside. Finally last night I finished it in a huge reading flurry! I enjoy French crime novels as a rule, they have a different take on crime solving and the detectives are always unusual and nothing like British or Scandinavian police. I’m thinking of the Fred Vagas novels I’ve read, the pensive contemplative detective seems to be a French thing.

This is the first novel in the series which includes Alex, which I thought was fabulous. I think this is one of the more gory crime novels I’ve read, the descriptions of exactly how the bodies were dismembered was very graphic and at times made me wince a lot. The idea of a killer replicating the crimes in crime novels was really clever. The twists and turns were fantastic and the ending is quite something. And if you’ve read Alex you will know what happens in this one. I don’t think it particularly mattered that I’d read Alex first other than I did know what was going to happen in the end of this one, the journey was still good. The story does meander a bit and in a perfect world it could have been a bit more tightly edited, but the translation was great and it is an entertaining if disturbing read.

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Lost in the NZ wilds, the post apocalyptic novel becomes reality

There has been a huge news story in our region this week.  The tragic story of a young couple, out tramping in the mountains, the male partner dies tragically and his companion waits for three days beside him before making her way to a hut through metre deep snow.  Once she reaches the hut she waits.  She has frozen feet – frostbite pending – has no idea how to get the radio to work but does manage to get a fire started and writes HELP in the ashes.  It takes almost a month until someone starts to worry about this pair and the consular office starts to ask questions about where they might be. This  finally leads to her being found, and eventually today, the body of her partner being retrieved.

This story is real, and yet as I listened to the radio report of it this morning on National Radio, I saw it playing out like some of the post apocalyptic novels I have been reading.  Because I’ve read all these stories of survival I kept imagining how lonely, how terrifying and how exhausting it must have been to have been in the position of this woman. Alone in a snowy if beautiful environment, avalanches going off.  No way of escaping safely and hunkered down for the duration. In her case, knowing that outside the world was carrying on as normal.

I’m sure that there is a novel in this story. I’ve been thinking of wonderful stories I’ve read like The Dog Stars and After the Snow and the bereft feeling that these novels have conveyed so well.

So, what is my point?  Reading fictional works gives you the emotional wherewithal to put yourself in the position of someone who is living the experience in the real world.  Through reading fiction you gain empathy.  Fiction can take you to a place similar to that of a real world experience and even though an author has imagined a situation, if they have done a great job, then you can find yourself recalling the feelings that you had when reading the novel and applying them to the real world scenario. Great authors are able to trick you into sharing an imagined experience, perhaps trick is the wrong word, but they are able to draw you into their make believe world and then while you are watching the news, watching a TV series or film, you have the words to sharpen the experience.  I think that is one of the essences of reading for me.  Words I couldn’t have come up with myself to explain situations and emotions that I’ve never actually experienced other than through the writing of someone far better at expressing ideas than me.

In the meantime I can only hope that this poor woman is okay, that she is given lots of support and love and that she is able to cope which this huge thing that happened to her.

Review: Vinegar Girl: The Taming of the Shrew Retold

Vinegar Girl: The Taming of the Shrew Retold
Vinegar Girl: The Taming of the Shrew Retold by Anne Tyler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this one as audio book, it had the most wonderful reader, she hooked me from the beginning and maybe my enjoyment of it was linked as much to her fabulous job reading as it was to the story. This is a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew, which has always been a play I liked. I also really like Anne Tyler so it was a great combination. Kate is perennially single, the elder daughter of a widower scientist, she has raised and looked after her younger sister and dad. She is presented with the opportunity to marry her father’s research assistant to keep him from being deported. Kate is a sensible, practical and snarky. She is not the type to be forced into marriage – or is she?

Such a good hearted and warm book, great dialogue and plenty of snark. Loved it.

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