The Music Shop – Rachel Joyce

The Music Shop - Rachel Joyce.jpgThis is a magical book about the power of music, of listening to music and learning to listen to silence. Frank has a music shop in 1988 with only vinyl records. Part of the charm of this book is the context; Frank’s shop is located on a failing street with other shops closing. He is a “music whisperer”, someone who can choose music that will change someone’s life. And then Frank meets Ilse and his life becomes complicated. The ending will bring you to tears because of the redemptive power of music. Joyce is a spectacular writer; read everything that she writes.

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Granta 141 – Edited by M. Thien and C. Leroux)

Granta 141 - Edited by M. Thien and C. Leroux) .jpgGranta is a prestigious literary magazine/book, published for more than 100 years. Granta 141 is the first publication devoted exclusively to Canadian writers. Madeleine Thien and Catherine Leroux reviewed more than 1000 submissions to choose 28: short stories, some poetry, photo essays, and such. What is striking is the diversity of writing and there are some gems: Lisa Moore, Alexander MacLeod, Margaret Atwood and others. Overall an impressive collection, variable according to my tastes but a very worthwhile snapshot of the Canadian literary scene.

Arcadia – Iain Pears

Arcadia - Iain PearsThis is a wonderfully imaginative novel that represents a superb example of speculative fiction, with both time travel and travel to a parallel universe. The parallel universe is created from a writer’s imagination so there are allusions to CS Lewis, Tolkien and Shakespeare (a central character is a young woman called Rosalind who disguises herself as a boy while living in a forest!). All the characters are memorable and the story telling is complex because of multiple time periods – a very enjoyable read.

The Tea Girl Of Hummingbird Lane – Lisa See

The Tea Girl Of Hummingbird Lane - Lisa SeeAlthough this novel is relatively contemporary (begins in 1988), the focus is on an isolated ethnic minority in China, the Akha hill tribe. Because of isolation, this group follows old traditional ways; the Chinese cultural revolution has almost completely missed these people. Their traditional way of life is described impeccably, and then the halting transition to more modern ways of living. Contemporary identity issues of Chinese children in America adds to the richness of the story telling. This is the best of Lisa See’s novels so far.

Fun Home – Alison Bechdel

Fun Home - Alison BechdelBechdel has constructed a graphic novel that is quite remarkable. A narrative appears above the illustrations which amplify the expressiveness of the drawings. This book is an autobiographical account of growing up in the 1960-70s, in a gothic house lovingly restored by her emotionally-absent father, next to the family-run “fun(eral) home”. Family life is built on secrets, and artifice. Key pivotal life changes occur in 1980, the (suicidal) death of her father and Bechdel’s declaration of being a lesbian. The depth of understanding and insight revealed in this graphic novel is stunning. An expressive story like this will go far to counter-act the frequent dismissal of graphic novels as not having literary merit.

Thanks Karen, for recommending this great book.

Future Home Of The Living God – Louise Erdrich

Future Home Of The Living God - Louise ErdrichErdrich has written an intriguing dystopian story set in the near future. The precipitating cause is biological but vague, a sort of reverse-evolution. Lack of information is critical, and so the book’s focus is on one pregnant woman. In other words, the story is not so much about the cause of the collapse of society but rather the implications for one person. I was reminded of Cormac McCarthy’s brilliant book The Road, where we never learn about the catastrophic event, just the aftermath. Erdrich is a wonderful story teller. This book has a significant Indigenous focus, albeit less than LaRose. Overall, this is an original dystopian thriller – highly recommended.

Transit – Rachel Cusk

Transit - Rachel CuskThis is a fascinating book. The central character is never named: she is an author, divorced with two sons, and renovating a new home in London. Almost nothing else is revealed in the book. She listens carefully to conversations and sometimes asks cogent questions so we learn much about the speaker but nothing about the listener. Many conversations are wonderfully philosophical. The writing is elegant: “Amanda has a youthful appearance on which the patina of age was clumsily applied, as if rather than growing older, she had merely been carelessly handled like a crumpled photograph of a child.” There is also a wonderful description of authors attending a literary festival. This book (Giller short-listed) is much better than her previous book Outline (also a Giller finalist in 2015).