This is "dysfunction noir", in the tradition of Tropper and Franzen, but with many more hilarious and comedic moments. Having spent many years in a profession similar to that of Finbar Dolan, the protagonist, I could completely relate to the characters in the ad agency and to their conflicts that come from the nature of the parts they must play. Basically this particular plot arc centers on the now-trite adage that the client is always right, and it doesn't matter how creatively you solve an issue, and how many branded celebrities you bring in to a campaign if the client does not relate. Fin both dislikes his job, or at least he doesn't love it, and does not feel "fulfilled" by it, but this is post-2008 financial crisis and he realizes it's a job he's been lucky enough to keep; the concept of fulfillment has been banished to job-market purgatory.
Fin's abusive childhood and his view of the familial nightmare that growing up in the Dolan family play into the present story to a large extent, without any need to hit the reader upside the head with the horrendous deviations from happy family life. There are glimpses into his past, and with those come a few of the reasons why the four siblings have become so estranged. However, the story, like life, is not without the occasional redemptive moment.
The cynical view of being creative on demand is fertile ground for humor, irony, and just plain laugh-out-loud episodes. How many times have I, or anyone else in that judgy, gossipy, whispery, micro-managed, performance-focused environment known as the office wanted to say to some co-worker or underling, or even over-ling, "I don't like your name, so from now on I'm calling you Barbara"?
Which all adds up to an unputdownable story with hilarious in-the-moment scenes from a life, traumatized from birth, channeled into some degree of success, both commercial and personal, seen through the cynical lens of Finbar Dolan.
The narration is perfect, as is the jacket cover - an "homage" to the proprietary Coca Cola font.
5 stars all on all counts.
I have never read a novel of this genre, nor of this magnitude that is this nuanced, layered, and so real it gets under your skin, even though the work of P.D. James comes close. In fact I spent an entire day in Paris in my hotel room reading most of it, aided by the grey, wintery, snowy weather that boosted the eerie tone of the book, and kept me inside.
There are not many books in this, what, all-encompassing genre that we call "mystery", the books that include police procedurals, psychological thrillers, courtroom dramas, lawyer capers, that have this level of depth, and add an additional character: the geographical setting, a setting in this case intended as a joyful, benign refuge, a harbor to all who lived there, but was "broken" on so many levels, to its very core.
Tana French has a background in theater, and that came through loud and clear. There are are some of the best interrogation scenes I have ever read. I truly felt these people, I felt the strategies, the emotions, the investigational blind alleys of the two cops and the suspect, and I felt the narrator's subtleties as strongly as if I had seen this on the big screen. Stephen Hogan was truly channeling Tana French and her star gumshoe, Mike "Scorcher" Kennedy.
The set design was masterful, as was the quality of description. This reader/listener feels the presence of a harbor that is truly "broken" on all levels.
Not to detract from Hogan's performance, I did find myself hearing the voices of both Liam Neeson and Gabriel Byrne. Perhaps either one of those actors would be a good choice for another book in the Dublin Murder Squad series.
"Broken Harbor" is intimidating, frightening, and strikes a deep chord of vulnerability. But there is no question that within all the frailties and failings of the characters and their crumbling senses of safety and life-altering violation of their comfort zones, this is a novel of overpowering beauty.
This is a variation on the themes of "get me out of here" and facing personal demons with the inward-facing honesty required to effect any change and become a more balanced human being with a life that's on balance as well.
The story centers on the lives of three friends - all quite successful on the outside, but all immersed to varying degrees in the interior crisis mode that comes from asking yourself "what am I doing here?". They are people who are carrying on day-to-day lives that fit them, but only incompletely.
The book is well within the chick-lit genre, but has some life lessons that bear repeating, and like the title of this review, the novel's main story is about how each person tackles the life issues that frustrate, irritate, frighten, and intimidate. I'll only go for a book like this if its primary concern is not romance and relationships, and this novel deals with the larger questions.
I would have preferred a different narrator - Coleen Marlo reads way too fast and does not let the words sink in. I like her voice - it's different from who is usually on board with books like this, but she just races through the story without giving the reader time to digest each sentence. I am aware that there are speed settings for listening, but the results are not optimal and the readings always end up sounding muddy, not crisp. Perhaps the "happy medium" is what's needed here.
Still, the book is a good one, and for me, satisfied many of the reasons that I read.
This book has an interesting premise, a conventional story arc (displaced persons after WWII) with an unconventional viewpoint, and has all the ingredients for a page-turning identity search. I've only given it a 4, so I must have kept reading for SOME reason...
However, since most of the characters are women, perhaps it could have been more dramatic if the professor/voyeur was a male voice, since he is a male character in the story.
In my opinion, the ending or resolution was abrupt and abortive, with no acknowledgement of the academic/voyeur's ends-justify-the-means success. There was no sense of "closure" - whatever that may mean right now - in "The Patient" letting go of her birth mother and others (might be spoiling if I get more specific). The voyeuristic and scamming techniques used by the academic who listened to the entire course of the therapy could be considered inappropriate, illegal, breach of confidentiality etc. but his results were successful. So it's a mixed bag.
Characters were well-drawn and thorough, without any paper doll cutouts, so I was interested in the minor and background characters as well as the three main players.
I just found myself wishing for more of a conclusive resolution. I am not a big fan of endings - I think what matters is the process, not how it all turns out, but it seemed that this story simply stopped, and whatever literary and plot arc energy that was generated by the search simply dissipated into the wind.
With the precipitous first scene where Eloise is thrust out of her prestigious job and new comfort zone, into the demands and requirements of instant parenthood for three young children, I expected the novel to stay consistently with Eloise, and offer the children's story lines through her eyes.
Didn't happen. The story is really about the kids-now-20-somethings, and has very little to do with Eloise and her dilemma of being aunt/parent. The kids' seem to be variations of one character and their struggles are so similar I had trouble keeping them distinct. Plus, the story focused more on romantic entanglements than life decisions in context. I liked Josh's (middle child) conflicts with leaving his band and for that reason he stands out, but in spite of all their talents and bright futures, the adventures of kids this age are not really fertile ground for an engaging story arc. They may be very gifted in so many ways, but their stories are really in the future, and so little is known about life that the only issues seem to be how to connect with the opposite sex and how to maintain the connection or break up.
I would have preferred the novel to be more of an exploration of Eloise's issues: becoming an instant parent, her job ventures, her outside-the-box life (at least in the particular city where she lives) with a female life partner. Indeed, what goes on in these later life snapshots has nothing to do with the sudden change of role for Eloise, and the sudden change of mother for the kids - the initial, original accident becomes almost irrelevant and the stories just seem to be about being 20-something.
I would have liked to see it done differently - focusing more on Eloise, as I have said, and zeroing in on the early fragmented family with younger children. Even Eloise's mother, the somewhat distant grandmother, could have had a stronger role.
Anyway, there's good narration and basically good listening, but it all left me only partially engaged, always waiting for segments about Eloise.
This book starts with a simple bad luck story - in a very class-conscious country a "lower class" woman loses her menial restaurant job, which has helped support her family, and takes on a position as an "emotional" caregiver for a quadriplegic. His family has substantial economic resources and spares nothing in providing care for their impaired son; the protagonist, Louisa, is hired on, not as a medical care provider, but as a sort of lifestyle assistant, to improve the man's quality of life. This works until she learns that she is to be his babysitter to stop his suicide attempts - of which there has been at least one. She dislikes this premise when she learns of it but continues on to fulfill her contract, and Will's mood, appearance, and enjoyment of life gradually improve. She takes him on outings, to concerts, buys voice recognition software for his computer so that he can be part of the disabled community and form friendships, thus expanding the scope of his life.
At first I thought this would be predictably about how the able-bodied/impaired learn to relate, like each other and then fall in love. In this story, they do form a bond, of sorts, eventually, but it's not enough for Will to want to continue his life.
The story then moves on to considerations of assisted suicide, and asks the tough questions about quality of life and what level of quality is worth preserving. I won't spoil but the resolution of the story is handled with dignity and grace. Along the way, added to the mix are the emotional forces of those around Louisa and Will who have their own opinions and agendas.
Though well-written and full of laugh-out-loud moments, the book is not a front-runner on the audible home page, and I just happened to find it while browsing the "back room". The book truly deserves the 5 stars I've given it.
I would recommend a different title and cover design - both mislead the audible shopper towards the romantic and chick-fic genre and the story is so much more nuanced and complex. (Note: I am not disparaging chick-fic, and think it's a valid genre for entertainment purposes. But there are so many other reasons to read - learning how others live and handle life's challenges, appreciation of beautiful writing, virtual tourism and escape to other environments, handling conflict resolution, the list can go on.)
This is a terrific read, unconventional and unpredictable, and illustrative of larger questions than life in the present moment.
I applaud the unusual theme and structure of this book, written as a series of relationships between women, not necessarily in chronological progression, but unusual and valid in its exploration of female bonding. Many books explore this theme from a male-female angle, but this is my first encounter with an essentially all-female memoir.
I've always been interested in the life cycles of relationships, how they begin, how they maintain, what leads either to their demise, or to their success. While we always seem to want success for all relationships, it's the downside, the failures, that make the good story. And as I am a bit challenged in the "good friends" department, this book had immediate appeal, so I gleefully grabbed it from audible's digital shelf.
But while I value the book's premise as a good thing, I think the author lets the reader down by lack of detail. In many cases I was left wondering "what happened??" and "why"?? I kept re-reading to see if I missed anything, and never found the over-rated "closure" or even a resolution to the issues. Perhaps such details were considered but sloughed off as interfering with the smooth flow of the writing, and I can see how that would happen - Sonnenberg is a gifted writer with a musical sense of pace - but I learned absolutely nothing about what makes a friendship fall apart, other than the typical divergence of interests that happens between two people as they enter different life phases. We all know that one.
The reader, at least this reader, could have benefitted from the back story of the initial rift between Sonnenberg and her mother. It's a possible imprint for the series of broken ties between women, and perhaps I need to go back and re-read "Her Last Death" to re-acquaint myself with this abortive relationship.
So I would proceed with caution with this book. It's good reading, good writing, and good narration, but something's missing that left me frustrated.
Sacks sheds light on what's current in many conditions on "the spectrum" of various conditions - autism, migraine, schizophrenia, hoarding. I liked that the chapters were organized into various dysfunctions and malfunctions, and not all syndromes that are described (in anecdotal form) actually cause what we have come to know as typical hallucinations; his definition is quite broad.
I learned to be not so fearful of my ocular migraines, and that they are a virtual line drawing of an electrical arc as it passes through the brain.
Sacks does not narrate - well, only for short introductory passages - due to his ocular melanoma which has affected his vision. I'm not a doc and this is only what I have read.
This is a book I plan to re-read soon.
There are few parts for women, except as marginal girlfriends, and this book did not read as advertised, especially considering the beautiful cover calligraphy. I was hoping for more of a "Phoenix-from-the-ashes" kind of story with a little bit of spiritual growth, dysfunction, empathy and emotional learnings thrown in. Instead, it's just a bunch of guys hanging out talking guy talk. The fact that one guy has a disabling disease is just incidental.
And I think that leaving out the details of what happened in "the disaster" is just plain ole unfair to the reader, unless there are other factors that attract. Which, of course, there were not.
Perhaps I didn't read far enough but the characters failed to engage me. The story has potential but the scenes were just not interesting. I kept imagining a bunch of guys hanging out in The Uniform - in grey, blue and brown hoodies, athletic shoes, ball caps, (some backwards), baggy pants, drinking beer. No thanks.
I didn't expect to relate to, like or even enjoy this listen, but, in fact I found it to be off-the-charts entertaining. I knew what to expect on the "raunch meter", so I was not surprised nor offended. There were so many cringe-worthy moments that I became somewhat immune to the literality of description, and just gave in to the laughter and to the voyeuristic captures of Klausner's postcards from the Department of Damaged Men.
I loved reading this book, and laughed out loud most of the time, though I don't find stories of trying to succeed with the most disconnected, unattractive and unavailable men to be encouraging. But I think for some women, this is the way it is, and Klausner writes with the kind of detachment that sheds humor on an otherwise bleak situation. Over the course of her life, she has certainly developed much material.
I have no idea of Klausner's age, but haven't women already given up on having a man at all costs? I think, at least in my universe, partnering should be for enhancement of one's life, and not a liability, with which one must "deal". But many still think that for both economic and social reasons, at all costs, it's better to be a couple and pay the price. If a guy isn't adding to your life experiences, but instead comes with so many workarounds and glitches that must constantly be dealt with, why invest the time? Why complicate things, by bringing in men who disappoint on so many levels, major and minor, and why not simply choose to remain unattached?
I am presumably from an older generation than Klausner, but I could relate to many of the situations she encounters, and to her attempted connections with men that have gone way past their "sell by" date. One gets the impression that there are huge and damaging costs to bringing a damaged man into one's life. There are far worse things than being alone - i.e. having to maintain a "relationship" that is an encumbrance rather than an asset.
And just to satisfy affirmative action, the gender roles could easily be switched, and a similar hilarious romp could be written by a man. But whining and ranting about women is not considered especially "appropriate" in our current cultural climate, and I don't think such whines would sell.
Though I found the circumstances rather extreme in some cases, and couldn't relate to all stories, I still enjoyed reading this, and laughed all the time I was listening.
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