Tuesday, 30 November 2010

November Book Review

I am hanging my head in shame. But you will probably breathe a sigh of relief at my next announcement.

There are only 2 books to be reviewed this month. I know, I know. The shame. This is down to a combination of factors, the equation of which would look something like this:

Christmas crafting stepping up a notch x Reading behemoths of books this month / general busyness = 2 book review in November.

I feel I need to make clear that the books that I review each month are the books that I finish in that month. I don’t want anyone to be under the impression that on the 1st of the month I start reading, I could have been reading a book for a couple of months before it gets reviewed. I just felt a need for transparency, in case it wasn’t clear to anyone.

Currently taking up space by my bed is Under the Dome by Stephen King which I can barely lift let alone carry about with me. This means I’m restricted to reading it in bed and at the moment I’m mostly crocheting/embroidering/cross stitching in bed. Also hanging like a brick over me is Lark Rise to Candleford – who told me this book was good? YOU LIED. It’s a dreary trudge that reads like a social history textbook. It’s awful. But because I’m stubborn I refuse to give up.

Anyway, I’ll shut up and get on with this month:

The Finkler Question – Howard Jacobsen

I’m a sucker for the Man Booker Prize, I always say I won’t buy the book that wins in hardback (or indeed any of the shortlist that catches my eye), I will wait until the paperbacks are out, but I always fail miserably. Sometimes it turns out well, other times, it’s Wolf Hall (I still can’t talk about it without shuddering. Terrible book. Awful.)

Some time ago I was talking to my Dad about a Book Group he’d joined, I asked him what book he was nominating and he said he wasn’t going to nominate the book he really wanted to because he didn’t want people to not like it and rip it all to shreds in front of him (and yes he could probably do with quite a bit of therapy). I never really understood what he meant but now I do. I’m torn between urging everyone to go out immediately and buy this book and hiding it away and keeping it to myself because I know that it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea and I’ll just get upset if you don’t like it.

I love characters that are not instantly likeable. I’m not a fan of characters that are so dull you couldn’t care less about them, but I am a fan of ones that provoke serious reactions from you. (John Lanchester is a master at writing characters that you would really like to punch in the face but can’t bear to stop reading about.) I especially like characters that are a little bit pathetic because you know what? They’re realistic, there are more slightly pathetic men walking about than there are heroes.

Julian Treslove is a pathetic man. He is unloved and unlovable and desperately wants to belong to someone or anything. He especially wants to be Jewish like his frenemy, Sam Finkler. Or does he? I think it’s less about him being Jewish and more about the comfort and insularity that being Jewish brings with it that Treslove craves. He feels he’s not part of a gang and resents the closeness that Finkler and a mutual friend, Libor have, due to their shared religion.

Finkler belongs but doesn’t want to belong, joining a group of Ashamed Jews. Libor feels alone, having lost his wife and just wants to belong to the same realm as her.

This isn’t a huge tome. It isn’t a door stop of the book. But it is so beautifully crafted and I think it will genuinely stay with me for a long time to come (not least because I’m obsessed with all things Jewish myself, god I hope I’m not as pathetic as Treslove). I want you to read it, I really do but please let me warn you - don’t think it’s a happy clappy story, you will want to grab Treslove by his lapels and shake the life out of him at several times in the book and the ending isn’t one all tied up with a bow, but it is wonderful nonetheless.

I feel the judges have redeemed themselves after last year’s nonsense.

Of Bees and Mist – Erick Setiawan

I have no idea how this ended up on my bookshelf, so I’m inclined to believe it was a Times/WH Smith offer, but however it appeared on my shelf I’m incredibly pleased I finally dusted it off and read it.

This is a proper fairytale for grown-ups but don’t let that put you off. It’s also a tale of having possibly the worst mother-in-law you could ever have. It’s a tale of power and strength and that whoever has one doesn’t necessarily have the other.

Meridia grows up in a house where her parents don’t get along. Her father leaves each day in a cloud of mist and returns in another and her mother is, to put it nicely, away with the fairies. When she meets and falls in love with Daniel she marries him and goes to live with him and his parents, where she discovers that her new mother-in-law, Eva, is not all that she seems, sending plagues of bees into the ears of her husband and son when things don’t go her way.

The story is about love and the lengths that people will go to to protect it or keep it close to them and it is another beautiful story, but in a very different way to The Finkler Question. It was a really brilliant read and kept me incredibly good company on the train to and from London for which I am very grateful to it.


The winner?

HAS to be The Finkler Question – did you not see how much I wrote about it? And I had to pull myself back from writing more. Buy it, read it and if you don’t love it, don’t tell me because I might have to cry my eyeballs out and that would be terribly inconvenient at this moment in time.

(However, please don’t write off Of Bees and Mist, if this was any other month that would probably have won.)


  1. I'll put both of those on my 'to read' list thanks for the recommendations.
    But I have to disagree about 'Wolf Hall' I loved it, but perhaps thats because I'm a bit obsessive about the Tudor period of history.
    Em xxxx

  2. Of Bees and Mist sounds interesting. Not so sure that The Finkler Question is my cup of tea though.

    Thanks for the reviews - I always love reading them.

    I've just started Shashenka by Simon Sebag Montefiore. I keep asking myself why I purchased it in hardback because it's killing my wrists trying to read it in bed. Desperately need stronger wrist muscles to hold such epic novels for any length of time :0)

  3. Can't believe you're ashamed of reading two books in a month! I've been reading Pies and Prejudice for a month now and am only half way through - I'm not enjoying it but am stubborn like you say.

    Big big fan of the slightly pathetic flawed characters, I can identify with them better, being slightly pathetic and flawed myself! :S

  4. Was going to buy The Finkler Question the other week and then didn't mostly in case I didn't like it. Sometimes I think I should like a book because it's won some prize or other. Sometimes I decide I'm not clever enough as I just don't get it! Now I will give it a go and you know what? If I don't get it then no one will even care and if I do well then I can read prize winners along with the rest of you clever people. Sorry if this is a bit long better go and get reading...

  5. Hi again! Just to say (obviously) that I'm still reading and loving the blog, and that I think you're right - Of Bees and Mist was a Smiths/Times book of the week at some point - it's on my bookshelf yesterday. For some reason I feel a *little* ambivalent about it - I read it, and it has survived yesterday's bookshelf cull (I am currently refusing to buy another bookcase), but I don't feel an urge to reread... maybe in the new year?

  6. Oh I'll definitely add the second one to my wishlist. I have a strange fascination with modern day fairytales.

  7. Ah! I've been wanting to read the Finkler question...it's the secular Jew in me I think : ) Glad you liked it! I'm ordering it right now!

  8. Hmm interesting... I may try and find the first book, the secular half Jew (is there even such a thing?!) in me might find it interesting...

    Using the word "interesting" twice, goodness is my vocabulary rich this morning

  9. Hey - I was watching the news this morning and HULL was on!!!!! Your on the map Kiddo with all your snow!. xxxx

  10. I loved larkrise!!! Oh well...difference of opinion...haven't properly read this entry but just glancing over things whilst I have a few spare mins..will be back to read properly...just wanted to say 'hi!' xxx


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