January – Milkman

Well, I was definitely set for this month. I received three copies of Milkman as gifts for my Birthday and Christmas. This is definitely the book of the year, the winner of the Man Booker Prize 2018 has been praised to the heavens, so it seems like a great choice for the first book club of 2019.

Milkman – Anna Burns

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It is a long time since I have read a book that challenged my stamina this much. Four times, FOUR I seriously considered putting it down and never ever picking it up again, and I’m still not sure why I didn’t do just that. Anna Burns writes without the use of paragraphs, which makes the reading more difficult than it need be. The book is set in Northern Ireland during the troubles (the late 1970s) and is a stream of consciousness narrative, which reads as the repetitive ramblings of an 18-year-old girl who cannot gather her thoughts well enough to just tell her story. The narrator goes off on a tangent regularly and then comes back full circle many pages later, leaving you wondering ‘what was the point of all that then?’ I gave up trying to find the point halfway through the book when it became clear that most of the narrative was utterly irrelevant.

The characters are given no names, they are instead given short descriptions such as: ‘middle sister’, ‘maybe boyfriend’ and ‘third brother in law’, this in itself was not a problem, but coupled with the repetition, long rambling prose and the lack of paragraphs and punctuation made for an overcomplicated read. I don’t know why I continue to buy books that won literary prizes, as more often than not I am left wondering what criteria the books were judged on. With Milkman, it’s possible that it won the Man Booker Prize because of the unusual style of writing, which I did not enjoy at all, or it could be that it fits with the ‘me too’ movement that is very relevant this year.

Whatever the reason, I would never have given this book an award, it is ‘The Emporer’s new clothes’ in a book, and I for one am happy to stand up and shout ‘THERE’S NOTHING THERE!’ It’s one of those books you know it’s going to take weeks to finish if you can even be bothered to finish it at all. I gave the book 2* but I’m not sure it deserves that to be honest. The group rated it from 2* to 3.5*, read it if you want, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Human Acts – Han Kang

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I like Han Kang, her stories are a little dark and her writing deep and philosophical, having read ‘The vegetarian’ and loved it, so I was looking forward to reading this. This book is not an easy read, in May 1980, a student uprising in Gwangju, in a far south region of South Korea, was brutally repressed by the military government. A young man, Dong-ho is part of the demonstration. He is there along with a friend. When the soldiers start shooting, people start running in every direction. He is separated from his friend but he can see a bullet going through his ribs, Dong- ho then finds a place to shelter before setting out to find his friend. Human Acts does not break the reader in gently, starting with the horror of many unidentified dead bodies and the people desperately searching through them to find their missing family and friends.

The novel manages to convey the utter horror of one of the most infamous incidents in South Korean history. The Gwangju Uprising was bloody and brutal, there are 800+ bodies buried now in the memorial cemetery in Gwangju, and until I read this book I knew absolutely nothing about any of this. Gwangju is Han Kang’s hometown and she tells the story of that uprising from the deeply personal perspective of victims and survivors and, most poignantly, the mother of a 15-year-old boy who was shot by soldiers during the chaos. The book is well written and incredibly hard-hitting and I would definitely recommend this heartbreaking story. I gave the book 4*, as did the rest of the group, it is definitely worth a try.

Happy Reading!

Mel 🙂

 

 

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March – The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83 1/4 years old

Turn the page book club meeting in March 2019, where comedy and Sci-Fi meet. Incidentally, this is a sub-genre I would very much like to explore in my writing one day. I’m sure Rob Grant and Doug Naylor are quaking in their space boots at this news! 😉

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83 1/4 Years Old – Hendrik Groen

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Hendrik Groen is in an old folks’ home in Amsterdam. He has decided to keep a diary “to give the world a little taste of the real Hendrik Groen.” He says he has always been a people-pleaser, always avoided confrontation, but now he’s going to shock everyone with “an uncensored exposé.” The diary is indeed warts and all and has some lovely little stories buried in amongst the daily ramblings of a fairly dull old man. I loved the ‘old but not dead club’ and could definitely see myself starting a similar club with my friends when I’m older, but generally, this book is badly written and tedious. In fact, the best thing about it was that I could count down to finishing it as each month passed.

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen had four and five-star reviews and the blurb called it an international bestseller. Irresistible. Laugh out loud funny. I did not laugh out loud and chuckled only once whilst reading this book. Aside from the adventures of the OBNDC the book is overwhelmingly bleak, family only visit the residents of the home because it is expected of them. All of the old people stereotypes are covered in this book and it seems that the author expects us to find these funny. Hendrik’s best friend Evert is actually a bit of a dick, and Hendrik seems to have nothing but contempt for everyone apart from his small group of friends.

This book was recommended as being ideal for fans of  ‘A man called Ove’. It is not in the least bit comparable to that book which is wonderful, funny, sad and poignant. Hendrik is whingy which is annoying enough, but he writes a diary even when there is nothing worth writing about, and he leaves the parts of the story that might be interesting undeveloped (more about his wife and daughter). I finished it, I wish I hadn’t bothered but I did and I gave it 2.5* because of the OBNDC and because I enjoyed reading about his relationships with the two women in the group, but I wouldn’t recommend it to someone I like. That said the other members of the book club gave it 3.5*- 4* so maybe just maybe you’d love it?

Sweet Dreams – Tricia Sullivan

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“Charlie is a dreamhacker, able to enter your dreams and mould their direction”. This is how the blurb on the back of the book starts, sounds good right? Wrong! For such a great idea to be so badly executed is a massive shame. Forget all the typos and the glaring error in the blurb which says the story is set in 2022 (it’s actually 2027). As irritating as they were, I can cope with sloppy publishing if the writing is good but it just isn’t. The author has put so many ideas into one book and written none of them well, the result is that it is confusing and I just didn’t care enough to try and work it out.

The story revolves around Charlie, who has taken part in a medical trial which has left her with the ability to enter other people’s dream when she sleeps in the same room as them and has given her narcolepsy. She lives with ‘O’ who helps her to find clients who need help with their dreams. Early in the book, we get insight into a death that has happened and that somehow Charlie is involved with, this is in the form of a police transcript of an interview with Charlie.

Charlie’s client is a famous musician who is suffering from extreme nightmares that are beginning to affect her career. She is visited each night by The Creeper – a mysterious masked figure determined to cause harm. When the musician dies one night, Charlie finds herself under investigation for the death, but also the Creeper’s next target.  At this point, the book seemed like it could be pretty interesting, I wondered what had happened to the woman and wanted to keep reading. It did not take long for this to change and for me to wish it would end, the story makes very little sense and is not very well written at all, I would not recommend it and gave it 2* but others gave it 3*, so maybe you’ll like it?

Happy Reading!

Mel x

February – Black Swan Green

I’m not going to lie, in January I was pushed to finish the books, so this month I got an early start and had one read by the first of February. Now I just have to remember what I read, eek!

David Mitchell – Black Swan Green

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David Mitchell is an author that I associate with fantasy, I have read one of his before (Slade House) and I had high hopes for this book. In the early part of the book when Jason falls and injures his leg, he ends up in the home of a strange old lady. At this point, I thought there might be some magic/witchcraft involved, but that storyline quickly ended and was referred to again only near the end of the book. Rather than the mystical magical world that I had hoped for, Black Swan Green is simply the story of a teenage boy’s childhood in the 1980s. Jason struggles with a stammer and with bullies and finds being a teenager tough, but apart from that there is not much to report, nothing much happens, and it takes a long time for that nothing to happen over many many pages.

Mitchell’s constant references to 80s brands were incredibly tedious and only served to remind me that this was fiction and that the author had shoehorned in lots of products/bands to show how much knowledge he has of the era. People simply do not say ‘my sister was listening to Rio by Duran Duran, and eating a trio biscuit’ in real life. This, and the fact that the story really went nowhere most of the time stopped me from falling into the world of Black Swan Green. It wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read, and I had already bought ‘Number 9 dream’ so I will read another of his books, but I was incredibly disappointed in this book and gave it 2.5* (it would have been 2* but I liked the bits with the Belgian lady). The average group rating was also 2.5*, so unless you want to read a coming of age story that meanders over nearly 400 pages, I’d give this one a miss.

Erri De Luca – The day before happiness

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I had no expectations of this book, I saw it in Waterstones, read the blurb and added it to the book club list. This is a short novel by the Italian author Erri De Luca. A small book of over 100 pages which can be easily read in a day. The young narrator is orphaned but has been cared for by Don Gaetano, who is a mentor figure in the story. The story begins with the boy crawling into a cellar through a gap behind a statue and he discovers that this is a shelter in which Don Gaetano hid a jewish man from the Germans in 1943.

Early in the story, the boy is watching some older boys in the square playing ball, the young boy climbs a pipe to retrieve their lost ball in the hope that they will let him join their game. It is then that he sees a young girl at a window and he is captivated by her. Shortly afterwards, she moves away, only to return ten years later. The narrator looks back on his own life, and tells himself the profound stories Don Gaetano told him, about his own childhood, youth and manhood. I did not love the book, I found it slow and it did not hold my attention, however, it was well written and gave some insight into what happened in Naples during the war. I gave the book 2.5* but everyone else in the group gave it 3.5* so it is worth a try, you may love it!

Happy Reading!

Mel x