By Night In Chile by Roberto Bolaño

Posted October 7, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

By Night In Chile by Roberto BolañoTitle: By Night In Chile (Goodreads)
Author: Roberto Bolaño
Translator: Chris Andrews
Published: Vintage, 2000
Pages: 130
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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In a feverish daze, Jesuit priest Father Urrutia, spends his last night on earth reflecting on his life. By Night in Chile, is a bedside confession, reflecting on not just his involvement with the Opus Dei and Augusto Pinochet. This novella by Chilean author Roberto Bolaño, was written as a single paragraph, in which Father Urrutia recaps his entire life in one long monologue.

Roberto Bolaño is one of those authors that I have wanted to read for a very long time. In particular I was interested in reading his two tomes 2666 and The Savage Detectives. The novella opens with the line “I am dying now, but I still have many things to say” and then goes into a rant about the protagonist’s life. A Jesuit priest, poet and literary critic; Father Urrutia is unapologetic about his life; from his involvement with Opus Dei, teaching Augusto Pinochet and even his sexuality.

While this can be viewed as an unremorseful reflection on his life, his memories go from bad to worse as the novella progresses. I spent most of the time reflecting on whether Urrutia’s fever was making him a reliable or unreliable narrator. As Roberto Bolaño is a post-modernist, I think the idea of By Night in Chile is to question the reliability of memories. On one hand if the fever is making the narrator more honest than he should, this novella gives you one idea of the importance of reflection on life. However if the fever was causing hallucinations and making the narrator unreliable, the themes change but still asks some similar questions.

I read this novella in one sitting; I found it a quick reading experience. Reflecting on the book is what was the most time consuming. Roberto Bolaño is an excellent writer and By Night in Chile was worth checking out. Chris Andrews translated the novella from Spanish, who also has a book of literary criticism called Roberto Bolaño’s Fiction. At 130 pages, By Night in Chile allowed me to experience Roberto Bolaño’s style before committing to 2666 or The Savage Detectives, which I think I will push up my own TBR.

In the Miso Soup by Ryū Murakami

Posted October 4, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Horror / 2 Comments

In the Miso Soup by Ryū MurakamiTitle: In the Miso Soup (Goodreads)
Author: Ryū Murakami
Translator: Ralph McCarthy
Published: Kodansha International, 1997
Pages: 180
Genres: Horror
My Copy: Library Book

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Kenji is a tour guide of the night, normally taking Americans to the sex clubs within Tokyo. Frank, an overweight business man that appears to have only one thing on his mind wishes to take advantage of Kenji’s knowledge of the sex industry, hires him to guide him for three days. However Frank’s strange behaviour begins to make Kenji suspicious and he quickly suspects that his client is in fact the serial killer currently terrorising Tokyo. In the Miso Soup is a fast paced, philosophical piece of translated fiction by the Murakami that does not often get talked about, Ryū Murakami.

Translated by Ralph McCarthy, this Japanese novel is a short punchy novel that really explores culture clash in a really interesting way. The attitudes towards sex between the Japanese and Americans are what really stands out to me while reading In the Miso Soup. The whole novel plays around with the cultural differences in an interesting way, exploring attitudes, personalities and even philosophical views. I enjoyed Ryū Murakami’s approach to these themes within In the Miso Soup, I think it was a unique take on East meets West, and I do not think I have seen the approach before.

One thing I like about Japanese fiction is the writing style, it is almost like a slow burn but novels like this still manage to build tension. I have read a few Japanese novels that explore really dark themes in this way; Revenge by Yōko Ogawa comes to mind. Be aware when reading In the Miso Soup, Ryū Murakami does not hold back and it can get descriptive in its depictions of sex and violence.

I really enjoyed reading Ryū Murakami’s In the Miso Soup and am eager to read more of his novels; in particular Coin Locker Babies and Audition. I am fascinated by the philosophical and psychological look into the darker side of humanity that seems to be a common theme within Japanese literature. Other novelists I am interested in checking out include Natsuo Kirino, Banana Yoshimoto and Kenzaburō Ōe. This does not include the authors I have already read, like Haruki Murakami, Yōko Ogawa and now Ryū Murakami. In the Miso Soup is a short novel but it packs a huge punch, not for the faint hearted but well worth reading. I have also done a video review of this book, if you are interested in checking that out.

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

Posted October 2, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Gothic / 0 Comments

Interview with the Vampire by Anne RiceTitle: Interview with the Vampire (Goodreads)
Author: Anne Rice
Series: The Vampire Chronicles #1
Published: Sphere, 1976
Pages: 308
Genres: Gothic
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

When people talk about Anne Rice, you can be sure that the first novel in the Vampire Chronicles, Interview with the Vampire, will be mentioned. Easily her most recognisable novel, this 1976 debut tells the story of three very different vampires. Focusing on the two hundred year old, Louis, the book tells how Lestat turned him as well as five-year-old Claudia, and his life as a vampire as he conveys it to a reporter. This breakout novel even spawned the hit 1994 adaptation starring Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Kirsten Dunst.

I first read Interview with the Vampire when I first got into reading and really enjoyed it. In that review I gave it high praises, saying, “The whole story is almost philosophical in the way it tells the struggle of Louis and his moral conscience…[A] battle of good and evil is played out in a more evil orientated world… It doesn’t feel forced or predictable it just leaves you thinking how wonderfully complex these characters are.” Looking back on that review with a fresh re-read and five more years of reading experience, I have a very different opinion.

First of all, the vampire mythology is an interesting literary device to explore morality. Looking back on the mythology, all the way to classics like Dracula; novels continue to explore the morality of a powerful vampire sucking the life away from the innocent. What gives them the right to life over everyone else? There is a conflict between morality and the idea of survival. Within Interview with the Vampire it does this in two distinct ways; first you have Lestat who takes life without a care in the world, following the instincts of survival. While Louis is often questioning his survival and the moral implications, often hating what he has become.

The novel spans the life of Louis for the past two hundred years, though Interview with the Vampire is just over 300 pages. For me this becomes the biggest downfall of the book, and the character development, especially the psychological, suffers. There are a lot of interesting topics that this novel could have explored but we never get the opportunity to do so in great detail. Take for example, Claudia; she has many years to live and learn about life, and this could have made for a far greater story. The struggles Claudia went through would have been fascinating, especially the sexual development of a girl stuck in a five-year-olds body.

It is interesting to see how much a few years has changed my view on literature; I feel like I am developing some useful skills to analyse the books. I also feel like I am getting to the point where I am starting to feel like I am ‘well read’ (although there is a long way to go). Having experienced more with the vampire mythology and literature in general, I am enjoying going back to some of the books I read more than five years ago. Sometimes I do not enjoy the novel as much, like I did this time, but other times I find a new found respect for what an author was trying to do (see a future review of The Handmaid’s Tale). Interview with the Vampire could have been so much more, and now I just wish it was.

Monthly Review – September 2015

Posted September 30, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Monthly Reading / 0 Comments

Valley of the DollsI went into the month of September with an overly ambitious ‘to-be-read’ pile. If you saw my first blog post of the month “September’s Reading List of Doom” you would know there were fifteen books on the TBR pile. I normally object to having a TBR list, I much prefer to read on a whim and just pick up what I feel like reading. However I had so many books that I needed to read; it was a combination of books from the library and planned book-club/buddy-reads. In the month of August I did manage to complete sixteen books, granted there was a weeklong readathon and six were consumed during that time. I had a feeling I would fail this TBR but I was determined to at least get on top of my pile and tick off the majority of these books.

September is my favourite month of the year, not just because it is my birthday (today) and my wedding anniversary back on the 9th, but also I tend to spend a lot of time reflecting on my blog and this year, also my BookTube channel. I really enjoyed contemplating the past and the future for my passions and while I get anxious and I want to achieve so much, I still find it useful to reflect. It helps me to refocus and evaluate my priorities. Currently I have around twenty reviews to write, edit and post on the site; I have been doing some mini-reviews but I still plan to write something for everything I read. I like the idea of having a record of my entire reading life (or at least since starting this blog). I want to do so much more with this site but first I need to get on top of the backlog.

In reflecting I have also been thinking about the frequency of library visits. I love the library and recently I have been using this fantastic resource a little too much; it got to a point where 90% the books I read in a month came from the library. I have been trying to find a decent balance, I want to continue to using the library but I need to read books on my shelves as well. In September, I was able to hit a nice balance, 40% of all books came from the library, leaving the other 60% from my own library (40% physical copies, 20% from Audible). I am very happy with this balance and I hope to be able to continue this ratio. Out of the six books I borrowed from the library, I finished five and currently in the middle of the sixth.

Book Source (September)

Another issue I reflected on was the speed I read books; I have a love/hate relationship with reading goals and I need to work out a solution. From the readathon last month and the overly ambitious TBR this month, I have been thinking about the concept of quality over quantity. I want to be able to read bigger books, not worry about the amount of books I read and take extra time. Readathons are fun and you know I hate TBRs, however they tend to push me to read faster or pick shorter books. I do not want to spend my time calculating how many shorter books I can read while reading something much bigger. Also with the case of The Valley of the Dolls (will talk about this novel later), I want to be able to take my time and not worry about schedules or numbers.

One action that was recommended to me a few times to help manage my priorities and to understand where to focus my energy was starting a journal. I love the idea of journaling, and I want to get into the habit, but I am failing to do so. I hope to get into the habit, I also think a more detailed wrap up (and maybe more journal type posts) will help me develop some journalist type skills. I have started with dot-point journaling but I just need to remind myself to write down my thoughts every day. I have discovered my thoughts must be very boring that do not share my interests; I spend a lot of time thinking about literature, blogging and vlogging.

Getting to the books I have read this month; I have competed eleven in total. The first book, surprisingly made the Man Booker shortlist. This was Satin Island by Tom McCarthy, and I found myself really enjoying this novel. I knew nothing about corporate anthropology; I did not know how it would work in an office environment. I really enjoyed learning the corporate anthropology but I never thought it would make the Man Booker shortlist. I thought it was too experimental, post-modern in its approach. The novel had no real plot, or character development but still made for an excellent reading experience. Full credit to Tom McCarthy for writing this.

I am a part of a book club that meets monthly at my favourite independent bookstore, this month we had to read The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. This is a German novel, which was translated into English by Simon Pare and it tells the story of a bookseller who runs a book barge that is often referred to as a literary apothecary rather than a bookshop. I will not say too much about this novel, but let’s just say my notes for this book included words ‘overly-sweet’, ‘clichéd’, and more words along the same effect.

I had the pleasure of buddy-reading Bonjour Tristesse and A Certain Smile by Françoise Sagan with the amazing Stephanie from the BookTube channel Time to Read!. If you have not had the pleasure of watching videos from BookTube, then I will recommend starting with someone like Steph. Françoise Sagan has got a little bit of hype recently, thanks to Waterstones’ Rediscovered Classics series. The tag line for this series of books is ‘the best books you’ve never read’ and I can honestly say that I never heard of Françoise Sagan till very recently. Françoise Sagan is a French novelist from the 1950s, and the book I read featured a new translation by Heather Lloyd. Originally when Bonjour Tristesse was translated into English, it was censored but the new translation aligns more with the original text. I recommend reading Bonjour Tristesse if you have never considered it; it reminds me of The Sorrows of Young Werther when it comes to angst.

When I was a new reader, I read The Handmaid’s Tale but Margret Atwood and while I enjoyed it, I struggled to see why it was held in such great regard. This month I re-read this modern classic and now I can see it. There is one line that really stuck with me that really summed up what the novel is about; “There is no such thing as a sterile man anymore, not officially. There are only women who are fruitful and women who are barren, that’s the law.” I am sure many people know about The Handmaid’s Tale, and I was just a little late to the party when it comes to understanding its appeal. The joys of re-reading have become clearer to me and now that I consider myself well-read (to some extent) I plan to re-visit many other classics, maybe even Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

My next book was a Chuck Palahniuk novel, and I probably do not even need to mention the title, because I feel like that is interchangeable. I read Fight Club a few years ago and this other novel follows a very similar format. I expected misogyny, attempts to shock the reader and some kind of psychological twist. Seriously, are all of Chuck Palahniuk’s novels the same? I do not think I need to read any more.

While half way through The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin I found out it won the Hugo Award for Best Novel. I was reading this novel because I suspected it might be similar to Russian Sci-Fi, where it would explore the social-political of Communist China. Translated by Ken Liu, The Three-Body Problem did explore life in China in a far different way. There were a lot of references to science, philology and the China’s Cultural Revolution. It reminded me of the old science fiction novels from the 1960s and with the translator notes left by Ken Liu everything just worked for this one.

I really enjoy listening to non-fiction with Audible, I think the structure just works for the medium. Listening to Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain was a great experience. As a very introverted introvert, I was fascinated with the history of how introverts are treated and surprised how much of it is still relevant today. The world is very focused on extroversion and I just enjoyed spending a little time learning about the introverts. Pop-psychology books have become a favourite of mine in recent time, after listening to The Lucifer Effect recently and I plan to read (or listen) to so many more.

Before I picked up The Devil’s Detective by Simon Kurt Unsworth, I attempted to predict the themes and motifs within the novel. The problem with that is how accurate I was in my predictions and ruined my enjoyment of this light read. The good news is I am probably improving in critically analysing a book and I am able to spot themes and techniques with ease. I know I have a lot more to learn but I have to wonder the price I will pay. It is possible that this was just an average novel and I will still enjoy dissecting better books. I will have to try this again and see how I go with a book that I am more likely to enjoy.

I have already mentioned Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann earlier on. I enjoyed this novel so much, I wanted to slow down and take my time. There is something interesting about the way Susann talks about feminist issues that really stuck with me. From the three women in the book, I think Jennifer was my favourite, she was such a strong character, but I will not spoil it for the people that have not read Valley of the Dolls. There is something about a cult classic that I love, maybe it is just the counter-culture element that interests me so much.

The final book I read was Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which is a letter he wrote to his teenage son trying to explain the world. Beautifully written and awfully confronting, this is a book that Toni Morrison calls “required reading”. I have to agree with her, the state of the world, especially when it comes to racism, is awful and a little more understanding and compassion could only do good. I really love the way Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, it makes me want to read everything he has written.

I managed to read eleven books this month; it was not the fifteen that I had planned but still impressive. I will not set myself a TBR again for October, but it is Spooktober and I will probably read some darker fiction; maybe not horror but we shall see. Currently I am still working through A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, Candide by Voltaire (translated by Theo Cuffe) and How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster, so I will probably finish those three books in October. There are a few books I would like to read but I have learnt not to plan my reading so much; I am just glad it did not end in a slump. How was your reading month?

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A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Posted September 29, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Contemporary / 2 Comments

A Little Life by Hanya YanagiharaTitle: A Little Life (Goodreads)
Author: Hanya Yanagihara
Published: Picador, 2015
Pages: 720
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

A Little Life is a novel about the lifelong friendship of four classmates from a Massachusetts liberal arts college. After college, Willem (an actor), JB (an artist), Malcolm (an architect) and Jude (a lawyer) move to New York to begin their lives. The novel begins by following the friends through their lives and careers and the shifting dynamics of the group. However, Jude becomes the primary focus as we learn about his horrifying backstory.

I am of two minds with this novel; first of all, there are some very important issues explored within A Little Life. I am sure many people have been told about the high amount of trigger warnings that come with this book, dealing with depression, abuse, self-mutilation and so much more. It was nice to explore friendship that are not just a group of heterosexual men. The book itself explore so many issues and I got to a point where I wanted to yell at the friends of Jude, telling them to get mental health first aid certificate, and learn how to handle the situation better.

This brings me to all the problems I had with A Little Life; for starters, I felt like Hanya Yanagihara was just piling all the worst situations onto the character of Jude to a point where it was just getting ridiculous. I understand that some people have suffered a lot but in proportion to everyone else in the book, Jude just has to suffer through it all. I began to hate this aspect of the book to the point where if this was not a library book I would have thrown the novel across the room. Everyone focuses on how wonderful this book was for dealing with so many issues, and I agree, but if we dealt with these issues more regularly in fiction and the media then this book would not get the same amount of attention. I found the writing very flat and boring, it was dull. It became a real chore to read through the novel but I was determined to finish A Little Life for the themes.

Congratulations on Hanya Yanagihara for writing a novel that is dealing with so many important issues. A Little Life is great for this and I hope it paves the way for literature in the future. I hope this will begin a shift from the norm where we are constantly reading about white heterosexual males where there only problem is their own self destructive nature (even if I enjoy that in fiction). A Little Life is the crowd favourite to win the Man Booker prize but I really hope it does not win. There is better literature in the short-list, and I do not think A Little Life is a good representation of what they consider ‘good’ fiction.

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? 28th September 2015

Posted September 28, 2015 by Michael Kitto in What are you Reading / 8 Comments

It’s Monday, What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted over at Book Journey. I thought I’d join in with this meme as a way to be more consistent with my posting schedule, the idea is to post regularly. As I treat this blog as a book journal I thought it might be nice to have this kind of information documented.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi CoatesBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

In the 150 years since the end of the Civil War and the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, the story of race and America has remained a brutally simple one, written on flesh: it is the story of the black body, exploited to create the country’s foundational wealth, violently segregated to unite a nation after a civil war, and, today, still disproportionately threatened, locked up and killed in the streets. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can America reckon with its fraught racial history?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ attempt to answer those questions, presented in the form of a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his own awakening to the truth about history and race through a series of revelatory experiences: immersion in nationalist mythology as a child; engagement with history, poetry and love at Howard University; travels to Civil War battlefields and the South Side of Chicago; a journey to France that reorients his sense of the world; and pilgrimages to the homes of mothers whose children’s lives have been taken as American plunder. Taken together, these stories map a winding path towards a kind of liberation—a journey from fear and confusion, to a full and honest understanding of the world as it is.

Masterfully woven from lyrical personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me offers a powerful new framework for understanding America’s history and current crisis, and a transcendent vision for a way forward.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent for the Atlantic and the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. Coates has received the National Magazine Award, the Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism, and the George Polk Award for his Atlantic cover story ‘The Case for Reparations’. He lives in New York with his wife and son.

CandideCandide: Or Optimism by Voltaire (translated by Theo Cuffe) *

I am reading this novel for Banned Book Week;  it was banned for religious blasphemy, political sedition and intellectual hostility.

Candide was the most brilliant challenge to the idea endemic in Voltaire’s day, that ‘all is for the best in the best possible worlds’.

It was the indifferent shrug and callous intertia that this ‘optimism’ concealed which so angered Voltaire, who found the ‘all for the best’ approach a patently inadequate response to suffering, to natural disasters – such as the recent earthquakes in Lima and Lisbon – not to mention the questions of illness and man-made war. Moreover, as the rebel whose satiric genius had earned him not only international acclaim, but two stays in the Bastille, flogging and exile, Voltaire knew personally what suffering involved.

In Candide he whisks his young hero and friends through a ludicrious variety of tortures, tragedies and reversals of fortune, in the company of Pangloss, a ‘matapysico-theologo-cosmolo-nigologist’ of unflinching optimism. The result is one of the glories of the eighteenth-century satire.

Check out my reading stats from last week thanks to Literally.

* Books part of my reading challenge for 2015; re-reads and more books in translation

What Are You Reading?

Limonov by Emmanuel Carrère

Posted September 26, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Non-Fiction / 3 Comments

Limonov by Emmanuel CarrèreTitle: Limonov (Goodreads)
Author: Emmanuel Carrère
Translator: John Lambert
Published: Allen Lane, 2011
Pages: 340
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Eduard Limonov1 is a Russian born writer and politican. Best known for founding and leading the banned National Bolshevik Party which opposed Vladimir Putin from 1994 till 2007. The National Bolshevik Party2 (Natsbols) was a militant type organisation that defended Stalinism, it was never register as an official political party. Nowadays Eduard Limonov is a member of the umbrella coalition known as The Other Russia3 which oppose the leadership of Putin for a variety of reasons from political to human rights issues. The Other Russia has a mixed group of supporters from liberals, nationalists, socialists and communists all working together to achieve a Russia without Vladimir Putin leading it.

Firstly I would like to point out that the subtitle for Limonov by Emmanuel Carrère is ‘a novel’ and there can be debates around if this should be considered a biography or a novel. Eduard Limonov’s life reads very much like a novel and this could be in part because Emmanuel Carrère is an excellent writer and John Lambert translated it into English wonderfully. I do not know enough about Limonov to be able to disagree with categorising of this as a novel but I do think all good biographies have elements of fiction to make them more readable.

Having said that the life of Eduard Limonov is a fascinating read; some consider him a terrorist, others a political leader, and there is no denying that. The beauty of Limonov is the way Emmanuel Carrère has captured this complex character in a way that shows all sides of the man while avoiding a biased portrayal. There is a lot worth talking about when it comes to Eduard Limonov but I do not want to go too much into his life story; there just is not enough time.

I am fascinated by the history of Russia, especially when it comes to the Soviet and post-Soviet eras. I love the way Emmanuel Carrère has captured the life of Eduard Limonov, a political figure that I knew nothing about. I am tempted to try some of Limonov’s own books, in particular It’s Me, Eddie: A Fictional Memoir and Memoir of a Russian Punk. Has anyone read anything by Eduard Limonov and is he worth reading? With his life experiences, I am interested to see just how he portrays himself in his books and explore more of his life story.

Nest by Inga Simpson

Posted September 24, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Contemporary / 2 Comments

Nest by Inga SimpsonTitle: Nest (Goodreads)
Author: Inga Simpson
Published: Hachette, 2014
Pages: 296
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: Book Depository
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Jen was once an artist and a teacher, but now she spends her times watching birds and working in her gardens. Her house is surrounded by her lush sub-tropical gardens which help keep her from being disturbed by other people in the small town that she grew up in. The only person she sees regularly is Henry who comes after school for drawing lessons. However a girl in his class has gone missing, which pulls Jen back into her past where she lost both her father and best friend in the same week. Now forty years later, the town is talking about those disappearances in connection to the newly missing girl.

If I went into Nest as a book on nature writing, I may have a completely different reaction to the book. For me I went in thinking this was going to be a novel revolving around the disappearances and possibly solving the mysteries of her past and what happened to this young girl. Nest focuses mainly on a life of seclusion and the birds Jen finds within her garden. It is a quiet and even gentle novel that I did not connect with at all.

The mysteries only served as a sub-plot and no real depth went into developing it. I found Jen was very evasive and did not want to explore her past or talk about the situation. This was meant to be a way to show the damage caused by the loss of her father and best friend but it was just over done. It was a useful technique for exploring Jen’s hurt and pain but because it was used so much the mystery plot really suffered.

I know I went into the book with the wrong expectations, and I eventually did enjoy the nature writing, and the quiet and peaceful sentences. I put too much focus on the sub-plot and this really highlighted the problems I had with the novel. Inga Simpson can really write and there are some great sentence structures to be found in this novel. Nest is beautifully written and if you love nature and bird watching, this will be worth reading; just do not read this for the mystery.

One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Posted September 22, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Historical Fiction / 2 Comments

One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag MontefioreTitle: One Night in Winter (Goodreads)
Author: Simon Sebag Montefiore
Published: Harper Collins, 2013
Pages: 480
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Moscow 1945, the Soviet Union is preparing for their Victory Day celebration on the 9th May, celebrating the defeat of the Germans. While Stalin and the rest of Moscow is celebrating, on a nearby bridge a teenage boy and girl lie dead. Was it murder, a suicide pact or part of a bigger conspiracy against the Bolshevik state? Stalin himself is interested in this investigation which at the centre of it all is an exclusive school where all Russia’s most important leaders send their children.

Simon Sebag Montefiore1 is a British journalist and historian who has written many books about Russia including two biographies on Joseph Stalin (Young Stalin and Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar). His book Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar went on to win multiple awards including the now defunct History Book of the Year at the British Book Awards. It is with this background he wrote One Night in Winter, his third novel set in Soviet era (the other two being My Affair with Stalin and Sashenka).

While the novel is set around the deaths of a teenage boy and girl, One Night in Winter starts off with our protagonist, Andrei. Having returned with his mother from exile in Stalinabad (known Dushanbe, Tajikistan2) for the sins of his father, Andrei is determined to start a new life. This included being enrolled into the exclusive School 801, where he wants badly to fit in and make friends. This is the school which the country’s top leaders send their children, and he quickly falls in with a group of people who are trying to start their own literary movement; The Fatal Romantics.

The Fatal Romantics are inspired by the workings of Alexander Pushkin and in particular, his novel in verse, Eugene Onegin. Despite the fact Pushkin is a cultural icon and even one of Joseph Stalin’s favourite poets, The Fatal Romantics are playing a dangerous game, one could be accused of bourgeois sentimentalism or being un-Bolshevik. The rules for The Fatal Romantics club were as followed;

  1. We suffocate in a philistine world of science and planning, ruled by the cold machine of history.
  2. We live for love and romance.
  3. If we cannot live with love, we choose death. This is why we conduct our secret rites; this is why we play ‘The Game’.

What stood out to me the most about One Night in Winter was the amount of research that seemed to go into this novel; the afterword from the author even goes into details about historical inaccuracies and why facts were changed for the story. I appreciate this in a piece of historical fiction and made me more trusting of what I was reading. Because this novel was a campus type novel, featuring a literary movement, set in Russia, I had high hopes for the book and it did not let me down. There are a few problems I did find with the book, however for the most part, I was completely sucked in.

I have not read Simon Sebag Montefiore’s non-fiction but I am interested in reading a biography or two on Joseph Stalin. I got the impression Montefiore is a little sympathetic towards Stalin and might lead to a bias view in a biography. Being aware of his opinions towards this tyrant will allow me to go in with a different expectation. One Night in Winter gave a great insight of the cultural and mindset of the people living through the Soviet era, and I found it to be a compelling read.

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? 21st September 2015

Posted September 21, 2015 by Michael Kitto in What are you Reading / 7 Comments

It’s Monday, What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted over at Book Journey. I thought I’d join in with this meme as a way to be more consistent with my posting schedule, the idea is to post regularly. As I treat this blog as a book journal I thought it might be nice to have this kind of information documented.

The Devil's DetectiveThe Devil’s Detective by Simon Kurt Unsworth

Debut novelist Simon Kurt Unsworth sends the detective novel to Hell. In The Devil’s Detective, a sea change is coming to Hell . . . and a man named Thomas Fool is caught in the middle.

Thomas Fool is an Information Man, an investigator tasked with cataloging and filing reports on the endless stream of violence and brutality that flows through Hell. His job holds no reward or satisfaction, because Hell has rules but no justice. Each new crime is stamped “Do Not Investigate” and dutifully filed away in the depths of the Bureaucracy. But when an important political delegation arrives and a human is found murdered in a horrific manner—extravagant even by Hell’s standards—everything changes. The murders escalate, and their severity points to the kind of killer not seen for many generations. Something is challenging the rules and order of Hell, so the Bureaucracy sends Fool to identify and track down the killer. . . . But how do you investigate murder in a place where death is common currency? Or when your main suspect pool is a legion of demons? With no memory of his past and only an irresistible need for justice, Fool will piece together clues and follow a trail that leads directly into the heart of a dark and chaotic conspiracy. A revolution is brewing in Hell . . . and nothing is what it seems.

The Devil’s Detective is an audacious, highly suspenseful thriller set against a nightmarish and wildly vivid world. Simon Kurt Unsworth has created a phantasmagoric thrill ride filled with stunning set pieces and characters that spring from our deepest nightmares. It will have readers of both thrillers and horror hanging on by their fingernails until the final word. In Hell, hope is your worst enemy.

How to Read Literature Like a ProfessorHow to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster

What does it mean when a fictional hero takes a journey? Shares a meal? Gets drenched in a sudden rain shower? Often, there is much more going on in a novel or poem than is readily visible on the surface; a symbol, maybe, that remains elusive, or an unexpected twist on a character; and there’s that sneaking suspicion that the deeper meaning of a literary text keeps escaping you.

In this practical and amusing guide to literature, Thomas C. Foster shows how easy and gratifying it is to unlock those hidden truths, and to discover a world where a road leads to a quest; a shared meal may signify a communion; and rain, whether cleansing or destructive, is never just rain. Ranging from major themes to literary models, narrative devices, and form, How to Read Literature Like a Professor is the perfect companion for making your reading experience more enriching, satisfying, and fun.

Check out my reading stats from last week thanks to Literally.

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