Tag: A Treacherous Likeness

TransAtlantic by Colum McCann

Posted June 7, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

TransAtlantic by Colum McCannTitle: TransAtlantic (Goodreads)
Author: Colum McCann
Published: Bloomsbury, 2013
Pages: 320
Genres: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

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

The National Book Award-winning author of Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann comes an astonishing new novel, TransAtlantic. Through a series of narratives that span 150 years and two continents comes this magnificent and somewhat ambitious novel. From the first TransAtlantic flight from Newfoundland to the west of Ireland to the American senator crossing the ocean in search for lasting peace in Ireland, this is part fiction part historical literary achievement.

I’ve often struggled with the novels that are made up from a collection of short stories as well as the ones that blend fact and fiction. A Visit from the Goon Squad was a widely talked about book for having a chapter dedicated to a different person but I didn’t think much of it, while The Imperfectionists did the same thing a whole lot better. Now we have TransAtlantic, which I’m not sure if it was the fact that I read this while flying but this really stands out about the rest. Then you have these novels that draw a lot from history.  A Treacherous Likeness was a disaster; Z: The Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald I thought missed too much of her later years; Burial Rites was the exception but only because it was such an obscure historical event I didn’t know about it. Yet TransAtlantic seems to be standing out above these novels as well.

The first chapter looks at the incredible story of the first flight across the Atlantic in 1919, an epic feat in human history by all accounts. I felt like Colum McCann handled this so masterfully that I wasn’t concerned about the historical facts, I was absorbed in the tension facing these two men as they battle against the odds to make it.

Yet this isn’t just about the history of flight across the Atlantic Ocean, this focuses a lot on Ireland. McCann is an Irish born author so you expect to see Irish history within this book but he is also coming from a journalist background and it really shows. This novel takes a look at slavery and conflict within Ireland making this an interesting look at the significance of TransAtlantic flight.

Colum McCann weaves a tapestry of rich and powerful short stories that lavish us with this literary piece. From the get go I felt drawn into the novel, the short sentences seem to keep me reading at such a fast pace. While I had to get off one plane and board another half way through this book, I was so sucked in I felt like asking the pilot to take the long way just so it wouldn’t interrupt my reading.

Key historical figures within TransAtlantic include Frederick Douglass, John Alcock and Teddy Brown and George Mitchell. The novel both encouraged me to learn more about these people and while giving me a new insight of both TransAtlantic flight and historical events within Ireland. On reflection I can pinpoint exactly what worked well and what didn’t, the different elements of this novel all seemed to work together to hide whatever flaws I was looking for.

TransAtlantic was both an addictive read and a stunning piece of literary fiction. While it wasn’t perfect, I’m not sure how to fault this book, I picked the right book for the right time and it was an enjoyable experience. I’ve not read Colum McCann before, in fact I hadn’t heard of him, but you can be sure I’ll be tracking more of his novels down.


The Monsters by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

Posted May 18, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 2 Comments

The Monsters by Dorothy and Thomas HooblerTitle: The Monsters (Goodreads)
Author: Dorothy Hoobler, Thomas Hoobler
Published: Back Bay Books, 2006
Pages: 400
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

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

It was a dark and stormy night on the shores of Lake Geneva, 1816. You’ve heard the story beforbe; Lord Byron challenges his friends to see who can come up with the best ghost story. Among the people include Percy Bysshe Shelley, his lover Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Mary’s stepsister Claire Claremont and Byron’s physician, John William Polidori. Two novels were born that very night; Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s (née Godwin) Frankenstein and John William Polidori’s The Vampyre. The evening begat a curse, too. Within a few years of Frankenstein’s publication, nearly all of those involved met untimely deaths.

First of all I want to point out that authors of this book Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler don’t actually believe this was a curse. Well at least I hope they don’t, this is a little gimmick to help sell the book and I think they just wanted to explore the interesting fact that they did all die young. This book is purely a biography on Mary Shelley that focuses on the night in 1816 and the novel Frankenstein. I was hoping for something about struggling to write something as great as Frankenstein or how the novel has been destroyed by pop culture.

The book starts out with the life of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, the famous philosopher and feminist parents of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. The two had very different personalities and they seemed like a very odd couple but I think they really complemented each other. Sure, they had their problems but nothing like their daughter.

This brings us to the bulk of the book, Mary Shelley and the young romantics. These were the original rock stars and their lives, no soap opera will ever come close to the drama and complexity as the real lives of the romantics. I picked up this book to learn about these poets after reading A Treacherous Likeness and I wanted to know more about them. This was a very accessible biography, which focuses primarily on Mary Shelley but it gives you a great insight into her life. I don’t pretend to fully understand the Romantics, they are way to complex but I feel I have a better knowledge into their lives.

My interest in the Romantics has gotten stronger thanks to The Monsters by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler. I have a few other books I plan to finish off in on the topic and I doubt I’ll stop there. I love the quotes and the referencing in this biography; I’ve often found that I wonder about the source of information in biographies that don’t reference so it was so handy to have that reference.

While this book does primary focus on Mary, it was nice to learn a little more of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, Claire Claremont and John William Polidori. I didn’t previously know the story of the original publication of The Vampyre; I found it fascinating and heart breaking for John William Polidori. It is always great to find new stories about these amazing talented people.

One thing I liked about this biography, especially after reading A Treacherous Likeness, is the fact that it didn’t try to sway the reader’s opinions; it stuck to facts and left it to the readers to make up their own mind. This was a refreshing change from the opinionated A Treacherous Likeness and I really enjoyed the experience of learning more about these poets. I’m sure there are better biographies on Mary Shelley out there but The Monsters is worth checking out as well.


Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Posted May 3, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 0 Comments

Burial Rites by Hannah KentTitle: Burial Rites (Goodreads)
Author: Hannah Kent
Published: Picador, 2013
Pages: 352
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

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

In a small town in northern Iceland 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is waiting her execution for her part in the brutal murder of two men. District Officer Jon Jonsson, his wife and two daughters have been appointed to act as Agnes jailors leading up to her death. Horrified to have a convicted killer living with them leads to the drama that is Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites.

I remember hearing about this book when Waterstones released their Waterstones Eleven list for 2013. This list is their picks for the most promising Fiction debuts of the year. While I’ve never really known of this list till this year I was very interested to discover some books that I thought I would need to get my hands on. Books that I immediately added to my list included Idiopathy by Sam Byers, The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence, Pig’s Foot by Carlos Acosta and of course Burial Rites. Hannah Kent is an Australian author and Deputy Editor for Kill Your Darlings, an independent literary publication. I was surprised how much buzz this book got leading up to its release and the fact that she sold the manuscript to so many countries before people had a chance to read it and talk about it.

Burial Rites is told from multiple perspectives.  There is a first person narrative from Agnes which appears to be unreliable as she doesn’t seem to have a clue about some of the things going on around her. Then there are all the other perspectives which are told in third person, I thought I would get annoyed with the switching perspective and the reliable third person verse the unreliable first but really it didn’t bother me at all. The way the story progresses you don’t really notice too much in the change and it really helps the reader to understand what is happening in this little town even if Agnes is unaware.

The differing opinions towards Agnes were really fascinating, in this sense I found myself being reminded of Crime and Punishment. The psychology of each character gets explored, from Agnes’ acceptance and waiting for her fate to Jon’s fear of corruption to the compassion, understanding and a whole range of issues. As the novel progresses and people learn more about Agnes and/or the crime, you can see the way they change in behaviour. I was so drawn to the way Hannah Kent really explored her characters and the way they behave towards Agnes as they learn more about the whole situation.

This is based on real events; Agnes Magnusdottir was the last application of capital punishment in Iceland and while I didn’t find much about the crime and the execution, I did feel like Kent has researched enough for this novel. Using historical events to write fiction is a trick thing to do, sometimes you can get it right, like in the case of this novel and Wolf Hall, but sometimes you just mess too much with the personalities of who you want to portray and it doesn’t feel authentic, A Treacherous Likeness is a good example of this. I’m sure it helps that a quick search of Agnes Magnusdottir doesn’t give you much information apart from being convicted for the murders of Nathan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson so it is hard to tell just how accurate this novel is. Though I feel like I know a little more about the last execution in Iceland than originally (which was nothing); even if it was learnt from a historical novel.

Burial Rites was a great read, I found myself being sucked into the world and enjoying the way each character was explored. Trying to pronounce the Icelandic names is always hard but I’m pleased to see there is a little guide at the start of the book to help with pronunciation. A brilliant debut novel from Hannah Kent and she will be one Australian author I will be watch in the future. This psychological novel really is worth reading, but then again I do enjoy a novel that explores the psychological elements of murder.


A Treacherous Likeness by Lynn Shepherd

Posted April 24, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime, Historical Fiction / 5 Comments

A Treacherous Likeness by Lynn ShepherdTitle: A Treacherous Likeness (Goodreads)
Author: Lynn Shepherd
Published: Corsair, 2013
Pages: 336
Genres: Crime, Historical Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

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

In 1850, a young detective takes on a new case unlike anything seen before; Charles Maddox’s client is the surviving son of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley. Maddox has to track down some papers concerning the Shelleys that could be used for blackmail and ruin their literary legacy. This will take him into investigating the dark lives of not just Percy Bysshe Shelley but all the young Romantics and question the cause of death for Shelley’s first wife, Harriet.

This was a really difficult book to review but I will try hard to be fair and explore the two contradicting opinions I have about this book. First of all, I read this book with not much knowledge of the Romantics; I knew basics but I hadn’t explored them as much as I would have liked. I’ve been a fan of this literary movement even since the start of my reading life and most of you know that Frankenstein remains my favourite novel of all time. So when I heard about this book, I knew I wanted to read it.

Reading the book, I found it interesting; the writing style really reminded me of the time. Yet at times I felt like the writing was trying to reflect the time and sometimes it just did not feel right. I found myself rereading paragraphs trying to pick up what bothered me about them. I never really found the problem, I do not even think it was the writing that was my problem but more of the tone, but more on that later. When it comes to the mystery, everything felt pretty straightforward, piece by piece slowly revealed until the reader finally knows what was going on.

While I did have some problems with the book, all in all I was enjoying the book and would give it a rating of three stars, maybe three and a half. I didn’t find out much about the protagonist Charles Maddox as I would have liked but this could be because this detective appears in Lynn Shepherd’s other novel Tom-All-Alone. If I had read this book first I might have a different opinion towards Maddox. Which brings me to my problems; A Treacherous Likeness would have been a decent novel if it wasn’t using literary legends. This book made me want to explore more about the Romantic Movement, to its credit, but this was also its downfall.

After finishing this novel, I’ve been dipping in and out of three different books; The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein by Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler; Young Romantics: The Tangled Lives of English Poetry’s Greatest Generation by Daisy Hay; and Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer by Richard Holmes. All these Non-Fiction books are vastly different but I picked them to get more of an insight on the lives of the Shelleys. Now the Romantics are wonderfully complex people with equally complex relationships and I don’t understand what their lives were like but the creative licence this author took in A Treacherous Likeness to weave this story through only leads me to think one thing. With all I’ve learnt about Percy Bysshe Shelley and the others I’ve come to the conclusion that Lynn Shepherd mustn’t like them at all.

I’ve got more to learn about the lives of the great poets but after reading some of the non-fiction of the time and reflecting back on A Treacherous Likeness I can’t help thinking, while the author has excellent knowledge on these people there has to be hatred towards them as well. In A Treacherous Likeness there are the controversial statements of Mary Shelley not writing Frankenstein, killing her baby and with Percy Bysshe Shelley’s help pushing Harriett to suicide. While they have merit and we can’t be sure if these are true or not they still point towards a dislike of these people, Mary Shelley in particular. This could be the author’s attempt to weave her story through the facts and create this complex mystery; for me, after all the research it just comes across in a negative way.

I have a lot to learn about the Romantic Movement and I have to give A Treacherous Likeness credit for the re-spark in my interest in these people. I am not trying to be negative towards Lynn Shepherd; I think she has a great writing style and hope that she continues writing historical mysteries. I would prefer if it wasn’t based on real people because when it comes to the Romantics and Mary Shelley, I still adore them and don’t like to read anything that paints them in a horrible light. Sure they were not the nicest people, they made many mistakes but we can’t deny what they did for literature. I think I will have to try Tom-All-Alone one day just so I’m not judging this author on just one experience; her writing is worth reading, I just had some issues with this novel.


Monthly Review – March 2013

Posted March 31, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 2 Comments

Happy Easter everyone, hope you are all enjoying the long weekend. I hope everyone has had a wonderful month of reading and had time to fit Lolita into their busy schedule. I’ve noticed a lot of mixed reactions to this book which would mainly be a result of the controversial nature of this book but it really is one of those books that have helped shape twentieth century literature, so well worth checking out. Still a lot of action happening with the reading challenge as well; looks like two hundred books been added this month. For those who don’t know about the reading challenge, there is still time to join in the fun, so check out my introductory post here.

A reminder that next month’s book will Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami for our Japanese literature theme. I haven’t read much Murakami but expect some great discussion on this book, hopefully with some thoughts to the Magical Realism genre.

Highlights for my month’s reading included Infinite Jest which I’ve finally finished; the beautiful painting of Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding; Lolita; and In a Lonely Place. I would like to mention two other books that really blew me away. First, Pride and Prejudice which I finally got around to reading after putting it off for far too long (also have you seen the Lizzie Bennett Diaries?). Also Tenth of December; while I’m not much of a reader of short stories George Saunders showed me just enough to change my mind. What have you been reading this month and what were the highlights?

My Monthly Reading