Me Before You – Jojo Moyes

This little book (and when I say little, I mean some 500 pages long) came my way last spring, and it took me some time to pick it up. When it comes to these typical chic lit novels, I am always a bit alert. I don’t underestimate them, but keep cautious till proven read-worthy. And it so was! Even though it has many characteristics of the genre, it also has many other features that make it extraordinary different.

It is set in modern day Edinburgh, and in many ways the city plays just as important role as the characters. Page after page the author describes corners and streets, cafes and parks, with an extra load of typical Scottish expressions. The Stortfold Castle is in the background of a few turning points in the plot. Lou is a 20-something girl who works at a small cafe close to the castle, very unambitious and unaware of her own skills. At the beginning of the book, we find her jobless and in a bad relationship, living with her parents, grandpa, her sister and a nephew – the whole lot. On the other hand, Will used to be a successful London-based manager, a lover of extreme sports, who, in a single moment, lost it all together with his will to live. The accident leaves him quadriplegic, and Lou becomes his carer. She is quirky and special, wear odd clothes and does not really think through everything that comes out of her mouth, but Will seems to enjoy her childlike view of life. The author describes in details the daily routine of a quadriplegic person, and the way a family copes with it.

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Of course, there are many other minor stories, such as Lou’s relationship with her parents and sister (a former high achiever turned single mum), or Will’s relationship with her ex-girlfriend who is about to marry his best friend. Of course, most of these end with a ‘happily ever after,’ after a few bumps on the road.

Lou and Will are an odd couple and their special connection is something you will think about long after you’ve read the book. I adored the part when they go out together, and the moment when she first realises that she is in love with him. I hated some bits. I cried through others. Yesterday I read online that the film is coming out next year, starring Emilia Clarke (GoT) and Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games 2,3 and 4) and cannot wait to see it on the big screen. Warning: waterproof mascara essential!

The Night Circus

What a novel! What a story, style, characterization, dedication to details & most of all, how imaginatively written. Although I found the story slow and confusing at the beginning, I was suck into it, thinking of myself as a keen circus goer, or even a “rêveur”.

If you want to know what the book is doing in there, leave a comment!
If you want to know what the book is doing in there, leave a comment!

Let me try to break down the plot line: Le Cirque des Rêves, or the Circus of Dreams, is a traveling circus that is only opened at night. They arrive without a notice, and leave in a similar manner. There are no posters or any other kind of marketing, but people are spell-bound by it, they are drawn to it and some even follow the circus around the world (“rêveurs”). This phantasmagorical fairy tale is set in Victorian London, and it draws many features typical of the Victorian style: mystery, tragical love story, inevitable fate, haunting ghosts, magical artifacts, orphans, magical twins, and many more. Re-invented, these become intensified to the point that you feel like you are in a circus and can’t quite get out. The circus is magical: there are blooming gardens made only of ice, and acrobats going insanely high without a safety net, and a magician whose jacket transforms into a raven. But, more than this, the circus also serves as a stage for the magician Prospero the Enchanter and an enigmatic Mr A.H to put their proteges to test. Celia Bowen, a daughter of the magician, and Marco Alisdair, an orphan plucked and mentored by Mr A.H., must fight each other, but the victory of one means the death of the other. Celia, a natural illusionist, transforms the circus, adds magical tents and generally maintains it, while Marco, who learned about magic from books, creates illusions that only exist in the mind of the beholder. Hope this is enough to tease your curiosity so you get the book, and find out the rest for yourself!

20151105_134602I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It is refreshing and intriguing, it’s like a dream… Given that it is a debut novel, can you imagine what we can expect from this amazing novelist!

Visit her website at: http://erinmorgenstern.com/ and find out about her new book. While waiting for Flax-Golden Tales to come my way, I will be keeping my eyes on her blog (where you can actually read some stories online).

‘Song for Night’ by Chris Abani

Critical Appreciation of Song for Night by Chris Abani

http://www.chrisabani.com/book/song-for-night/

I read this novel a few years ago, while I was doing my Master’s at the Universidad Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, Spain. The story is so powerful and so intense that I could do nothing else on that day, but read and read, and read. After I had finished the novel, I felt nothing, and everything. The critical appreciation underneath is the original essay which I wrote on this topic.

“Tenderness and fear, as well as kindness and love can never be voiced; they have to remain hushed and unspoken. The terror of war does not recognize words and does not speak a language. War orders, pushes around and throws onto the ground. War devours. In my opinion, the worst thing about war is not all the houses that get burned down or the people who get killed; for me, the malice of war lies in the absolutely frightening fact that it eats souls; it rips humanity out of people. Can you still call yourself a person if you are soulless, if you, catching a sight of yourself in a mirror, see but an animal hungry for blood?

This novel is so much more than just a novel. It is a unique treasure – it is a dictionary of war. The entries are not death, kill or opponent. On the contrary, Abani chooses the sweetest and dearest words to explain: imagination, soul, mercy, mother, home. Moreover, he does not just describe the words, he paints them. The images are so strong that they carve into the reader’s mind as a memory remembered. We do not read about his pain, we feel it. It transcends the words and pages; it is not yet another story. Song for Night is yet another proof of the absurdity of war and the effect it has on people. It is a warning against the atrocity and madness.

The narrator of the story is a 13-year-old boy caught up in the midst of violence. It seems as if My Luck stands for all the boy soldiers used in the Biafran War in Africa, but at the same time, he speaks for all the children and adults alike who have found themselves in war. His narration is sophisticated, poetic and smooth. He is not trying to impress us, or to amaze us. After the death of his parents, My Luck is recruited into the unit of the army that defuses the unmapped mines. The mines are scattered all over the area just as the corpses will be scattered later. The unmapped mines, the unmarked graves. On his journey through the territory, My Luck stumbles on dead bodies both on water and land. In the middle of that madness, he has not lost his humanity and sense of morality, we can see that the narrator has a great respect for the human kind; he buries some bodies, and tries not to disturb the others.

As all the other children who were mine diffusers, My Luck had his vocal cords cut out. The army did so in order to prevent the others from getting scared after hearing a scream of a dying child. Those children cannot have a voice, they cannot speak since there is no one they can turn to; there is no one to hear their cry. Moreover, no one cares. One of the causes of the Biafra War was the British organization of the country of Nigeria; it was convenient for them to have all the black community organized in one country. The people did not just belong to different nationalities, but to different religions as well. With the discovery of oil in the region, human greed took the war over. And, as My Luck says, after some time, you get used to seeing death and torture. In big wars, small people do not exist. We tend to remember the big names, the big treaties and big victories. To collect all the stories of the people who took part in the war or, even more disturbing, of all the ones who were killed in the war would be impossible to digest. In his famous “Anthem for Doomed Youth” Wilfred Owen, commenting on the atrocity of the WW1 compares soldiers to cattle dying in the slaughterhouse of war. In Song for Night, Abani’s narrator repeats that all they did was sleep, kill, and eat. A life of an average predator. They are animals, cattle. My Luck is different because he has not lost his sense of humanity, he loves and hurts; he remembers and longs; he cares. He is still human.

This novel is a journey. Deprived of his childhood, his parents, the narrator has no sense of identity or belonging. He got lost somewhere along the way. He travels through his memories to regain himself. Reclaim his identity. The novel is short – his life is short. His song for night is the sky full of stars which gives him light and shows him which way to go. ‘You have all the light you need inside you,’ the light is kindness, love, empathy.”

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After reading his other works, I simply wrote an email to the author, expressing my love for his books, and he responded!!! He thanked me for the essay (I also attached that) and the kind words. Such a great man!

This is not an easy read, not just another little book that you can pick up and put down just like that. It is a great novel, and it will make you cry. But is probably one of the greatest postcolonial novels ever written.

Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts

http://www.amazon.de/Lost-Dogs-Lonely-Hearts-Dillon/dp/0340919205

Yes, my first book review is a chick-lit novel about pairing lonely and unhappy people with equally lonely and unhappy dogs! I know, if you have a degree in literature it is not a kind of a read that you want anyone to see you reading on the train or in your office during the lunch break. But it is all kinds of great! The author Lucy Dillon, has written 6 books so far, and according to the Goodreads reviews, you might also want to check ‘The Ballroom Class’.

Imagine the following: you are flying to Tenerife for a ten days holiday and you have only half of an afternoon to pack… You put your swimsuit, then another one, a few cute dresses and some sandals, and think…well, that’s about it! No book in sight. Luckily, the hotel we were staying at had a ‘take it or leave it’ book shelf going on, so naturally, I was all over it! Among the ominous crime stories and the non-fiction history books and alike, my choice was either this or  something in German but then I would have to open my dictionary on every page…. No, no, no… Give me that dog story!!!

Do not get confused when you start reading the book and in each chapter there is a different protagonist, because pretty soon, their faiths intertwine. Rachel, a London-based business woman, finds out that her strange aunt had died and left her an estate in the countryside. Moreover, Rachel also got a boarding kennels and a dozen of dogs. To make things even more complicated, Rachel had just got out of a 10-year affair with a married man, and she also left her job. But soon a tall dark stranger enters her life and turns it upside down, which is exactly what she needs. The tall dark stranger is her late aunt’s favourite dog called Gem. Other lonely hearts include a handsome local doctor (I cannot recall his name), a sweet couple trying to have a baby, Natalie and Johnny, and lastly a single mum with two young boys, called Zoe. And guess what? All of them get dogs! Yes. There is this pairing up skill runs in the family, aunt Dot had it and Rachel seems to have it. Based on a few questions and their own gut feeling, they can tell you what dog breed would make your best companion.

A cortado con hielo, Playa Enramada, and two book worms
A cortado con hielo, Playa Enramada, and two book worms

To be honest, I would not have liked the book that much if it wasn’t for the fury friends. Truth be told, the characterisation was great and the storyline is solid. Especially the complex relationship between Natalie and Johnny, a happy couple that is trying to get a baby, is moving and emotional. I also enjoyed that little touch of mystery as well, when Rachel starts disentangling her late aunt’s complicated past by reading old letters and looking at old photos. These scenes were described with such a dedication to details and were a joy to read.

The book’s got a 4-star rating on Goodreads, and though I would not pick it up at a bookshop, I enjoyed reading it. I have always loooooved dogs and it bothers me that we have a ‘No pets’ policy in our building. This novel has made me think about volunteering at a local dogs’ rescue center. But I still wonder what dog would I be paired up with?! Hm….