january reads!


one.  the buried giant, kazuo ishiguro. (knopf, 2015, forthcoming)

’it’s simply this, princess.  should querig really die and the mist begin to clear.  should memories return, and among them of times i disappointed you.  or yet of dark deeds i may once have done to make you look at me and see no longer the man you do now.  promise me this at least.  promise, princess, you’ll not forget what you feel in your heart for me at this moment.  for what’s good a memory’s returning from the mist if it’s only to push away another?  will you promise me, princess?  promise to keep what you feel for me this moment always in your heart, no matter what you see once the mist’s gone.’  (axl, 258)

this feels a significant departure from ishiguro’s previous work:  axl and beatrice leave their home and village to travel to their son’s village, except they don’t remember where it is.  they don’t remember a lot, it turns out, not because they’re old and senile but because there’s a mist in the land that’s been muddling everyone’s memory.  they travel across england anyway and come across several people along their journey, gradually uncovering different memories as they travel on.

the buried giant reads like a fable, and i must admit that that could be one reason i didn’t quite warm to it as much as i would have wanted or anticipated, this being ishiguro’s first novel in ten years and all.  i’m personally not keen on arthurian legends, and there are strong elements of king arthur and his knights in here, which makes me wonder how someone who is familiar with arthurian legends and briton/saxon rivalry would read this — or if it would make any difference at all.

regardless, there isn’t much of a conflict in the buried giant — or, more specifically, the conflict and action are rather external to axl and beatrice who simply move across the land.  it’s not like ishguro’s ever really been a writer of vividly active conflict, but i think the quiet emotional and internal tension he does so well falls flat here because the buried giant is written mostly in the third person, which distances us from axl and beatrice and makes us mere observers of their journey instead of drawing us in and convincing us that the purpose of their journey and the people they encounter or the ways they’re sidetracked are significant in a deep, meaningful way.  in the end, i admit to feeling like i’d been held at arm’s length and even to feeling regretful that this wasn’t in the first person — ishiguro is such a master of the first person, and i can just imagine the depths he could have plumb had he simply used the first person, and admittedly that left me feeling a little hollow about the buried giant.

two.  vivian apple at the end of the world, katie coyle. (houghton mifflin harcourt, 2015)

“oh, we’re definitely doomed,” harp says.  “no doubt about that.  whether it comes in three months or three hundred years, it’s definitely coming.”

“so what’s the point?”

harp tugs on my arm so i’ll look directly at her.  she smiles patiently at me.  “the point is that we’re alive, vivian apple.  and brave, and good.  if we can make things the tiniest bit better, we should do it now, while we have the chance.”  (261)

a religious cult has america by the throat and predicts the end of the world, and the end of the world comes, and vivian apple’s parents are among the raptured.  wanting answers to a mysterious phone call, she sets off on a cross-country road trip with her best friend, harp, and new crush, peter, which does bring them answers, thought maybe not those they expected or imagined.

vivian apple was a fun, easy read, even though it was very predictable.  vivian’s first-person voice is fully engaging and smart and funny, and i absolutely loved her friendship with harp (and also just harp in general — i love how harp doesn’t give a shit and doesn’t scare or bullshit and genuinely cares for vivian) (as vivian cares for harp) — why is it so hard to find awesome kickass female friendships in books (and media), anyway?  there wasn’t much revelatory or new or, honestly, interesting about the religious commentary, though, and i don’t necessarily mean that as a criticism, more along the lines of “it is what it is.”  i was fully invested in vivian and harp and their friendship, and the book did not disappoint there — it, in fact, exceeded my expectations and warmed my heart in all the right ways.

three.  never let me go, kazuo ishiguro.  (faber & faber, 2005)

those early months at the cottages had been a strange time in our friendship.  we were quarreling over all kinds of little things, but at the same time we were confiding in each other more than ever.  in particular, we used to have these talks, the two of us, usually up in my room at the top of the black barn just before going to bed.  you could say they were a sort of hangover from those talks in our dorms after lights out.  anyway, the thing was, however much we might have fallen out during the day, come bed-time, ruth and i would still find ourselves sitting side by side on my mattress, sipping our hot drinks, exchanging our deepest feelings about our new life like nothing had ever come between us.  and what made these heart-to-hearts possible — you might even say what made the whole friendship possible during that time — was this understanding we had that anything we told each other during these moments would be treated with careful respect:  that we’d honor confidences, and that no matter how much we rowed, we wouldn’t use against each other anything we’d talked about during these sessions.  (124)

i’m not going to try to summarize never let me go even if it is my favorite book and i read it at least twice a year.  you’d think that would make it easier to condense it down into a pithy synopsis, but i’ve thought about this book so much that that’s near impossible.  it’s a book about so many things — friendship, love, disappointment, resignation, human selfishness and cruelty and ego, hope, humanity, memory, what it is to live — and it’s about three friends and the complicated nature of their relationships, made even more complicated against the backdrop of who they are and what they were created to be.

at the heart of it, never let me go, to me, is a story about friendship.  there is a love story in there, yes, and i could see how other readers might read it as a love story, but, to me, ever since the first time i read it years ago, never let me go has been about friendship, whether between kathy and ruth or kathy and tommy, even if kathy and tommy do end up in love later.  i particularly am drawn to the kathy/ruth friendship, though, and all the complexities it entails, that it’s nuanced and unclear, sometimes, because there seems to be an antagonism between them — but i think, isn’t that what friendship is?  we all have ugly sides and good sides, contentious sides and generous sides, and friendship is a messy, complicated knot of a wonderful, emotional thing, and ishiguro captures it in such heart-crushing ways.

god, never let me go gets me every single time; it doesn’t matter how many times i read it; it still breaks me every time.

four.  the girl on the train, paula hawkins.  (riverhead, 2015)

i have never understood how people can blithely disregard the damage they do by following their hearts.  who was it said that following your heart is a good thing?  it is pure egotism, a selfishness to conquer all.  (rachel, 34)

rachel is a commuter who fixates on a couple she sees from the train, and, when the woman (megan) goes missing, she decides that she needs to help find her, never mind that rachel’s own life is in shambles.  we get the story from her perspective, megan’s perspective, and rachel’s ex-husband’s current wife (anna)’s perspective, but i’d say that hawkins does the best job with rachel, pulling back the layers to reveal her unreliability and shitty rationalizing.  to be honest, i spent most of the book just wanting rachel to get her shit together.

the girl on the train was a quick, engrossing read, but it was also kind of forgettable.  i wasn’t that surprised by the reveal at the end, and i wasn’t that taken by the multiple voices because they weren’t distinguishable enough.  i was very impressed with how hawkins wrote alcoholism, though; she doesn’t try to pull sympathy from us; and we get a raw portrait of how destructive and consuming it is.

i can’t decide if i’d recommend this or not.  i think i would if you’re looking for something quick and absorbing to read, but i should also add that i’m glad i bought this off ibooks instead of buying the hardcover.