I loved this book! I loved the multitude of colourful and slightly mad characters, the timespan of telling a story over half a century (including the presence of certain political events or outbreaks as well as cultural changes during that time), the fascinating coming of age of a young person very different to "the norm", and most of all the clever, humourous and incredibly sensitive yet raw and honest way in which Irving handles such a delicate, difficult and often made taboo subject.
Whilst I had to suspend my disbelief that there were so many gay, lesbian, bisexual, cross-dressing and transgender individuals in a small town like "First Sister, Vermont", let alone as part of one family, I was actually happy to do that to go along with the flow of a most wonderful, mind-boggling and even educational (though sometimes, frankly, I learnt more than I'd ever have wanted to know....some of the descriptions of gay sexual practices are not to be read by the faint-hearted, I suspect. :-) story told by the very likeable and self-aware William Abbott.
During the last third of the book I felt that Irving repeated a lot of events and encounters between people to the extent that I was wondering whether either Bill Abbott, the narrator, or myself the reader was supposed to be a bit demented. Perhaps it was supposed to be part of Billy's growing old and reminding himself of certain events in his life but it was a bit too repetitive for me. It's possible, too, that the repetitions were supposed to serve the reader's memory because there were so many different characters central to various parts of Billy's life.
In fact, I already mourn not only the fictional deaths of many of the book's weird and wonderful characters, but also the loss of the company that Billy Abbott provided me with over the last ten days, in the form of the outstanding audio narration by John Benjamin Hickey.
Lovely narration, but even in print this would have been an absolute pleasure to read. A cosy crime, that all of a sudden isn't all that "cosy" anymore. Wonderful character descriptions and a time and place you want to be transported to. Great!
Initially, I loved the craziness, the astute satirical writing, but after about 60 chapters it started to grate on me, and frankly I finished the book mostly with pleasure thanks to the amazing narration by Rupert Degas. What a performance!!
Today, with my children in ski school and their father at work, I had a whole day of skiing by myself in the company of Dr Sax on audio, and my "Ski Tracks" app on my phone. My top speed today was 94 km/h (I ought to invest in a spine protector), and I never stopped between lifts as there was noone I had to wait for. Midmorning, however, I realised that for once I didn't resent the time spent on the chairlifts because I so enjoyed listening to the detailed theories by Mr Sax as to why boys today are not motivated and tend to underachieve, and this was the reason why I was skiing so fast! :-)
Now, that I've listened to the entire book, I want to get the latest edition in print so that I can stick in lots of little post-it notes and use the book as an actual reference book whenever needed.
On the book: I'd like to think that it's very well researched given the amount of studies quoted and names of researchers given, but the disadvantage of an audiobook is the lack of footnotes and bibliography that one could delve into. Dr Sax puts togehter a very comprehensive list of contributing factors, starting with 1) the educational system (too much theory, not enough practice: "Wissenschaft" versus "Kenntnis" as he says) that requires children to sit still and master literacy and numeracy at an age where they should be in a more playful environment, 2) evil videogames that fry your brain (not really news), 3) exposure to environmental oestrogens disrupting brain development, 4) lack of positive male role models to show boys what to aim for when they grow up and 5) overly frequent diagnoses of ADHD and prescriptions of medications to "quiet down" boys instead of adjusting teaching methods and environments.
I am so glad that my two sons (6 and 9 years old) have never played video games (yet) or been medicated for suspected ADHD. They both enjoy competitive sports, have plenty of exercise and physical outlets, and spent the first two years of their formal schooling in an outdoor Wald-Kindergarten (forest KG), an educational concept that Dr Sax is very keen to propagate in the US. On the downside, my children drink a lot of bottled water, exposing them to phtalates from PET bottles and other environmental oestrogens. Guess what? As of today, the tipple of choice (by me for them) is tap water served in glass jugs! With regard to single-sex schooling, this will be impossible to achieve as long as we live in Switzerland, as this is simply not done here, neither in public nor private schools, but I think this may only become important once puberty starts, not so much during primary school years.
This would be a great book for a book club that hosts parents and/or teachers, as well as relatives of boys and young men as some of Dr Sax's theories may be considered controversial by some.... a passionate discussion could ensue - fun!! Outside of discussion rounds, I'd recommend this read to all parents, particularly those in the US with sons.
As a European living in central Europe, I would have liked some more studies and statistics for this part if the world, as clearly this was very much a US focussed book, and many of the cultural and educational aspects are very different over here. I'd also like to have a more recent edition of the book; even though I only bought this audio book a couple of months ago, it actually is from 2007, and for a book based on scientific research on pharmaceuticals, neurology, child development, psychology and educational approaches, six to seven years on, some of the research is bound to be dated already.
Patience Murphy, a midwife in Union County in West Virginia in the late 1920s, has a vital role to play in her community but owing to her past, she pretty much keeps herself to herself and doesn't connect with anyone beyond the professional level. Written in the first person narrative, in a conversational style (journal entries mostly), Patience often alludes to her life being a difficult one and to having to keep a low profile. Over the course of the book (covering roughly a year from autumn 1929 to autumn 1930), the reader learns more and more about past events and the shadows these have cast into Patience's life, and why she is the way she is.
The more fascinating passages to me, however, were the descriptions of the economic climate of the time, the rising tension, anxiety and desperation among people, the racist attitudes but also the way neighbours and community members looked out for one another and lent a helping hand where they could. This is the sort of historical fiction that makes history come alive for me.
I also happen to be a huge fan of the midwifery profession, having delivered two babies with the professional, competent and caring support of midwives, a doctor standing by merely as a formality. I loved reading the various birthing stories, good and bad, though sometimes the acute physical pain experienced by the fictional characters was so vividly described that I found myself breathing and panting through it as instructed by the midwife. Vicarious labour pains I'd rather not experience again. Thankfully, I haven't suffered the loss of any babies, born or unborn, or else this would have been a brutal book to read.
Finally, I should point out that I fully credit the audio book narration by Anne Wittman for the fact I enjoyed the book as much as I did. Her voice is really versatile, and I loved her different accents, too. Not that I am in a position to comment on authenticity when it comes to West Virginia accents, but it sounded brilliant to me, and even her howling on behalf of sone of the labouring women didn't make me cringe. Very impressive performance!
A big family saga with a number of difficult themes, mostly revolving around love, family bonds and, above all, betrayal. Set in 2012 London (with a few excursions to Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, Scotland, Hampshire, Dorset, etc), this is a great Modern British Novel if such a "genre" exists. Complex and interestingly flawed characters who often make terrible decisions and act out of selfishness disguised as goodness of their hearts in combination with a decent plot made this a truly enjoyable novel for me.
John Lee, who narrates the audio book, is absolutely outstanding. This was the first book read by him that I've listened to, and I can now appreciate why he is so acclaimed. His vast array of authentic sounding accents is impressive, my only complaint is that he often changes his voice when he reads women and sounds a bit like a demented transvestite, but that is a personal observation, I am sure others don't perceive it that way.
I'm definitely keen to read something else by James Meek - he ticks many boxes for me in terms of his writing.
Whilst the beginning was gripping, the story lost momentum a few chapters in, and the non-linear narrative was often very confusing; a chapter set in late 2005 would precede a chapter set in spring 2004 and so on. Perhaps that would have been easier to follow in print, but it was difficult to understand what was going on. Too much introspection and not enough action made for a slow "read" despite Holter Graham's best efforts to bring life to the story.
Sadly, whilst I am a huge Chris Cleave fan, I probably wouldn't listen to this book again. I'd rather reread "Incendiary" (one of my favourite books of all time) or "The Other Hand" because those stories are much more complex and interesting that "Gold".
I've read them both and loved them!!
Emilia Fox is undoubtedly the star of this audio book. There are some fascinating and well written passages, interjected with cute humour, but overall is it Emilia Fox who makes this book worth listening to. She is one of the best narrators out there, and she nailed various accents and voices without ever sounding silly. Had I not been listening to her, I wouldn't have enjoyed the book half as much.
Perhaps Kate's Dad? All the protagonists were quite unlikeable (Zoe, Jack, coach), precocious (the daughter, already forgotten her name) or too bland / perfect (Kate), so actually if anyone, it would be one of the peripheral characters.
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