This is the third Neil Gaiman-recommended book I've listened to recently (Light and Pavane are the others) -- and it will probably be the last. I haven't really found any of them inspiring in the audiobook format. This one has a pretty good premise, but the story seems to get sidetracked with unnecessary stuff, and the ending was anticlimactic.
It's been a while since I posted a review. Let me come back in fine fashion, then, with this gem. (The book is a gem. Not my review.)
The Sense of an Ending is far from perfect, and yet is the best book I’ve read in a long time. The story is narrated by Tony Webster, a 60-something looking back on some events in his life that he’s now discovering may not have happened quite as he remembered them. This, it is pointed out, is much like history itself. We (or at least those of us with spouses) know how often we get the details of even recent events wrong. How in the world, then, can accounts of historical events be trusted?
The actual storyline is quite interesting. The conversations, philosophizing, and lessons learned are thought-provoking. The writing is superb, filled with an almost ridiculous amount of quotable passages. Finally, you won’t be hearing one of my frequent complaints that the book could have been half as long -- this one is on the compact side and I actually would have liked it to go longer!
There are a couple of plot turns that didn’t quite make sense to me, but any complaints are certainly minor to the overall experience. As a bonus, the narration was superb.
Things for my own remembrance follow.
“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”
“When we’re young, everyone over the age of 30 looks middle-aged. Everyone over 50, antique. And time, as it goes by, confirms that we weren’t that wrong. Those little age differentials, so crucial and so gross when we are young, erode. We end up all belonging to the same category, that of the non-young.”
“We live with such easy assumptions, don’t we? For instance, that memory equals events plus time. But it’s all much odder than this. Who was it said that memory is what we thought we’d forgotten? And it ought to be obvious to us that time doesn’t act as a fixative, rather as a solvent. But it’s not convenient, it’s not useful to believe this. It doesn’t help use get on with our lives, so we ignore it.”
Yes. Yes yes yes. This book succeeds in every way The Road failed for me. Set in Colorado after disease has wiped out most of the population, Hig has learned how to keep a small bit of his humanity while reluctantly doing what it takes to survive. Others aren't so reluctant, including Bangley, with whom he's formed an uneasy partnership.
The story hooks you from the beginning and builds nicely to the end, and Heller does a great job of developing characters you really care about. Then there's Jasper, Hig's beloved old dog, who made me come home and hug Garth every day after listening on my commute. I was, at the end, amazed how much I cared about these people (and dogs) and the bonds they formed. The writing is superb. About the only negative I can think of is the writing style Heller uses: Somewhat fragmented, perhaps the way inner dialog streams through our protagonist’s head. I barely noticed it while listening, but did see some reviews that a few readers were somewhat frustrated by it in the beginning, but after they stuck with it for a while it flowed naturally and worked well.
Things for my own remembrance follow.
(On constellations): I name one for a scrappy, fish-loving dog.
I still dream Jasper is alive. Before that, my heart will not go.
My favorite poem, the one by Li Shang-Yin:
When Will I Be Home?
When will I be home? I don't know.
In the mountains, in the rainy night,
The Autumn lake is flooded.
Someday we will be back together again.
We will sit in the candlelight by the West window.
And I will tell you how I remembered you
Tonight on the stormy mountain.
The conflict in Northern Ireland was constantly humming along in the background of my youth: Protestants, Catholics, car bombings, IRA, Ulster, Belfast, Londonderry. This book combines a good thriller with a lot of background on the conflict, and really helped me understand some of the finer points of what was going on. A solid four stars, and another half star for a well-read audiobook by Irishman Gerard Doyle.
This is certainly an interesting book, and not necessarily because of the storyline. After finishing up some great writing in books like The Thirteenth Tale and The Art of Fielding, the writing in this one was extremely simple and straightforward. No clever turns of phrase or eloquently woven sentences. However, the story was interesting enough that it didn’t really matter.
But, it’s an incomplete book. I knew that going in, of course, because it’s only part one of the series, but it was still a very unsatisfying experience. I can understand leaving the reader wanting more in the rest of the series, but it didn’t tie up any major storylines, and opened way too many doors and plotlines. After listening for 34 hours, there is no way I’m going any deeper into this interesting world.
Some other problems: While I liked switching between characters for the narration, a few major moments (such as the death of a major character) happened at a distance…told by different character. Or (as in the results of a battle) as a recounting at the dinner table. This was very odd to me, and seemed to minimize what were major episodes in the book.
I’d give it two stars, but the great world created by Martin and interesting storytelling pulls it up to three. Good narration by Roy Dotrice.
A quite run-of-the-mill and mostly forgettable book for me. It’s a collection of articles from Jon Ronson, who may or may not be famous outside the U.S. -- “Jon meets the man preparing to welcome the aliens to earth, the woman trying to build a fully-conscious robotic replica of the love of her life and the ‘Deal or No Deal’ contestants with a foolproof system to beat the Banker.” Though many reviewers laud his storytelling ability, I mostly found myself just on the short side of interested.
The story was interesting enough to hold my attention (three stars isn’t a bad rating, after all). Guy moves into an apartment and begins to notice some very strange things about the building. Guy and neighbors start to compare notes, and decide to investigate. But I think it could have been far better. In journalism terms, the author “buried the lead.” It wasn’t until the latter part of the book that it hit me this could have been Stephen-King-esque if he hadn’t waited so long to bring elements from the last part of the book into the story.
Polar Star features the same detective from Gorky Park: Arkady Renko. This time he’s working on the “slime line” of a fish-processing ship in the Bering Sea, and is called into action to investigate the murder of a fellow crewmember. I found the description of life on the ship very interesting, but I wasn’t all that taken with the actual plot. The narration was good.
The Thirteenth Tale is one of the better books I’ve read or listened to in the past few years. Not so much for the story -- which is very, very good -- but because of the writing. Several times in the latter half of the book I caught myself saying “wow” out loud because of the way Setterfield crafted a sentence or the way she described something. Or even what she described. Like this:
“His voice had the unmistakable lightness of someone telling something extremely important. A story so cherished it had to be dressed in casualness to disguise its significance in case the listener turned out to be unsympathetic.”
So simple: Who hasn’t tried to be casual about something of great importance to them? But, who has ever written about it?
Anyway… this book is supposedly “written in the Gothic tradition, with echoes of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.” I don’t know what any of that means, but perhaps it might help you decide if you’re interested. Briefly, the story involves one of the best-loved novelists in England’s history -- Vida Winter -- tabbing little-known researcher Margaret Lea to write her biography after a long lifetime hiding her secrets. It’s a story within a story: Told from Margaret Lea’s perspective, Miss Winter’s life story is woven within the larger tale of Lea dealing with the cantankerous old lady. It’s somewhat hard on Lea because Miss Winter believes “A birth is not really a beginning. Our lives at the start are not really our own but only the continuation of someone else's story.” And so she begins with the very strange story of Isabelle and Charlie Angelfield…
Let me leave you with one last bit of Setterfield’s writing -- and why I try not to start a new book until I’ve properly digested the previous one:
“Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes -- characters even -- caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you.”
I saw one description of The Virgin Suicides as a “haunting yet wickedly funny tale.” Hmmm, not so much on the funny part. The novel revolves around five suicidal teenage sisters and their rather strange parents. It was pretty good early, but then really lagged after that.
I like the narrative style, which was from the point of view of a group of neighborhood boys who were so obsessed with the sisters that they conducted interviews and collected memorabilia in the years after in an attempt to piece together what may have been going through the girls’ minds.
Great narration from Nick Landrum. Recommended for Eugenides fans, though I liked Middlesex much more.
I thoroughly enjoyed every book in Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series, and was surprised to find this one brings us back to Mid-World. You could say it’s just a way for King to tell a couple of stories using familiar characters, but it’s clever and tightly woven and it works well. You need not have read the other Dark Tower books to enjoy this one, but having done so will make this a richer (and even nostalgic) experience.
Early in this book, Roland and his ka-tet encounter one of the strangest types of storms known to Mid-World -- a Starkblast. Riding it out inside a fire-lit cabin, the gang asks Roland for a story, and he responds with two…one nested inside the other.
King himself narrates this audiobook, and while serviceable, really makes me long for Frank Muller and George Guidall.
Anyway, if you miss Mid-World and you’re ready to once again walk the Path of the Beam, “Once upon a bye, before your grandfather’s grandfather was born”…
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