Tag: revenge

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Posted February 12, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Lincoln in the Bardo by George SaundersTitle: Lincoln in the Bardo (Goodreads)
Author: George Saunders
Published: Bloomsbury, 2017
Pages: 343
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

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George Saunders’ long awaited debut novel has been surrounded by hype, and winning the Man Booker prize only helped to launch this book. Saunders is probably best known for his short stories that often share a vibe similar to the television show Black Mirror. I even called his last collection Tenth of December “contemporary witty, with an element of darkness”. Even comparing it to two other great collections that were released about the same time, Black Vodka by Deborah Levy and Revenge by Yōko Ogawa. Lincoln in the Bardo tells the story of Abraham Lincoln in 1862. The Civil War has been raging for almost a year while the President’s eleven year old son lies in bed gravely ill. Despite the predictions of a full recovery, Willie dies and his body is laid to read in a Georgetown cemetery.

Blending historical data collected while researching this novel, George Saunders blends in a narrative of the afterlife and grief. While the title suggest that Willie Lincoln is in the bardo, the narrative seems to fit more with purgatory. In some schools of Buddhism, bardo is known as the state of existence between death and rebirth, while purgatory is a state of purification before heading to heaven. This distinction is interesting as the characters in this limbo often are unwilling to let go of their physical remains and complete their journey into the afterlife. These characters are often faced with deformities representative of their mortal failures. Saunders does consider himself a student of Nyingma Buddhism but my understanding of theology is primarily Christian, so I tend to interpret the writing with that thought in mind.

The other part of this novel is set around the President and his family as they grieve the loss of Willie. It is here we see a lot of the historical documentation come into play. This includes excerpts from newspapers and biographies. This serves to drive the narrative of grief but also highlights the inconsistencies found in history. What made this book so appealing was the confliction in Abraham Lincoln. While grieving the loss of his own son, he was still responsible for the loss of so many others because of the Civil War. While the American Civil war may have led to many good things, the effects of war were truly felt throughout Lincoln in the Bardo.

The novel is told through different speeches; a narrative that closely resembles a play. This is what makes the audiobook such an alluring option. The publisher put a lot of effort in producing, with a cast of 166 voice actors, including Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle, Rainn Wilson, Susan Sarandon and George Saunders. I was worried that between the narrative style and the large cast, this would be too much of a gimmick but I think Saunders and the audiobook production managed to never go overboard. However I can understand why this would not work for some readers.

The end result of Lincoln in the Bardo was a dark comedy, ghost story and while I was a little worried (because of all the hype) I am glad my book club made me read this novel. At the moment I prefer George Saunders’ short stories but I can only compare Lincoln in the Bardo with Tenth of December. It does make me curious to try CivilWarLand in Bad Decline or Pastoralia. I know in the future Saunders will continue to be surrounded by hype but I am still interested to see what is next for this author.

In the Miso Soup by Ryū Murakami

Posted October 4, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost 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.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Posted November 26, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Young Adult / 0 Comments

We Were Liars by E. LockhartTitle: We Were Liars (Goodreads)
Author: E. Lockhart
Published: Allen & Unwin, 2014
Pages: 225
Genres: Young Adult
My Copy: Library Book

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Meet Cadence (Cady) Sinclair Eastman; she is seventeen years old from a family that is so wealthy they spend their summers on their own private island. The summers are spent with her cousins Mirren and Johnny, plus her crush Gat. The four of them are so close they are collectively known as the Liars. However, there is a big secret within the family, a secret that has been kept from Cady. An accident when she was fifteen left Cady damaged and with some memory loss. What are they hiding?

I picked up this book because of the marketing campaign; see good marketing does sell books. Basically the concept behind the campaign was to read the book then lie about it; a great way to stop anyone from spoiling the fact that Cady’s grandfather is really a Russian sleeper spy. We Were Liars is this wonderfully secretive novel with a psychological element that slowly gets revealed. The way I view this book is if Daphne du Maurier (Rebecca) wrote a YA novel set in the world of the TV show Revenge.

There are a lot of people that loved this book and to be honest I wasn’t sure if I would be among them. I started off reading this book thinking there wasn’t anything special and it felt like privileged white kids with first world problems. However, like most people, I got to a point where everything clicked and I was floored. Everything started making so much more sense. As you can tell, this is a difficult novel to write about because I don’t want to give away the plot about the zombie apocalypse.

I am of two minds about the writing, on one hand it was pretty basic and I found it incredibly easy to rush through the novel and not miss anything important. However as things start to reveal themselves, you can think back to previous chapters and see all the subtle clues that were missed. In the end, I think E. Lockhart did a brilliant job of making the book so easy to read while packing in subtle evidence that The Sinclair family are just a big crime family. The subtlety worked really well throughout the novel and I feel like I was so blind, I would never have guessed that they were aliens, but the evidence was there.

I may joke about the ending and the fact that it was all a dream but I am just following their marketing campaign. I had a lot of fun reading this book; much like Gone Girl, the twist was done so well and We Were Liars kept me up at night as I desperately tried to finish the book. I am very surprised by this book and I wonder if re-reading this book would be any good. I can’t imagine going into the novel knowing what happens would be any fun, but I am not the kind of person that likes spoilers.

Gentlemen & Players by Joanne Harris

Posted June 16, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Thriller / 0 Comments

Gentlemen & Players by Joanne HarrisTitle: Gentlemen & Players (Goodreads)
Author: Joanne Harris
Published: Black Swan, 2005
Pages: 507
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: Personal Copy

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Audere, agere, auferre.
To dare, to strive, to conquer

For generations, privileged young men attended private schools like St. Oswald’s Grammar School for Boys, groomed for greatness and success. But this year the winds have turned, not only are suits, paperwork, and information technology threating to overwhelm the school and break the traditions of this elite school but someone is trying to corrupt and destroy St. Oswalds once and for all; this is a game for Gentlemen and Players.

Nothing like a gentlemen’s game of revenue and murder, Joanne Harris’ novel is astonishing and surprising. I normally associate Joanne Harris with the likes of Chocolat, but when I heard she had written this dark psychological thriller, I had to read it right away. This is a game of idealism verses cynicism, equality verses privilege and principle verses corruption; this is a game of chess. I love how Harris wrote this whole sociopathic revenge novel using the themes of Chess. You have the black pawn moving silently trying to take down the white king.

Roy Straitley is one of the narrators of this story, an unmarried classics master that tells us about life at St. Oswald’s, focusing on the day to day events, with the students and his work colleagues. Most importantly are The New Head (the king and only referred to as the new head even though he has been doing the job for 15 years), Pat Bishop (second master), Jeff Light (games Master), Chris Keane (new English Teacher) and Dianne Dare (also a new teacher in the French department). Straitley doesn’t know it yet but he is considered to be the white knight of this novel and the second narrative; the black pawn keeps their identity hidden till the very end (although if you are a keen chess player you might work it out in this review) and tells the story of early life at St Oswalds and their plans to destroy this school.

I love how Joanne Harris wrote this book with the chess metaphor, but she used a couple of tricks to throw off who might be the sociopath. Not that I really have a problem with it, I had my suspicions of who it might have been and her cheap tricks really threw me off at times. There is some interesting name choices used in the book; like Bishop, and Light sounds a little like Knight, and these were just ways to help build this metaphor.

While the reader will largely focus on working out just who is the person seeking revenge on St. Oswalds, this book also deals with entitlement and elitism. We know from near the start that the black pawn was poor and their father was the janitor so we know that the pawn holds so much hostility towards the rich and elite. So we know that we are dealing with the problem of not fitting in and being excluded. There are also elements of adolescent sexuality, gossip and tradition verse progress that are very clear throughout this book.

This is a wickedly dark thriller that had me gripped from the very start, it had a real serial killer vibe to it when the black pawn took moves to strategically destroy this school and then you have this very proper and traditional account of life in an elite school. Naturally this narrative changes as the white knight slowly starts to understand there is imminent danger at his beloved school.

While really entertaining and tricky, Joanne Harris also reminds us just how much lives depend on trust. This unsettling strategy to slowly plant seeds of doubt and suspicion could be futile. I found Gentlemen and Players to be a smart and witty psychological thriller; I never expected something so bleak to come from someone that wrote something as sweet as Chocolat. I’m reminded a little of The Talented Mr. Ripley when I read through this novel, sometimes I was surprised that Harris was able to outclass and fool me.

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa

Posted January 17, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Short Stories / 0 Comments

Revenge by Yoko OgawaTitle: Revenge (Goodreads)
Author: Yoko Ogawa
Translator: Stephen Snyder
Published: Picador, January 29, 2012
Pages: 176
Genres: Short Stories
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

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An aspiring writer moves into a new apartment and discovers that her landlady has murdered her husband. Years later, the writer’s stepson reflects upon his stepmother and the strange stories she used to tell him. Yoko Ogawa weaves together a collection of short stories to create a haunting tapestry of death.

While this is a collection of short stories, Yoko Ogawa has managed to link each story with the last with recurring images and motifs. Apparently this is an old tradition from classical Japanese poetic collections. This is an eerie and very sinister novel but there is a real beauty within it too; not just in the writing, but in the imagery.  Yoko Ogawa takes the reader on a clever journey of life and the afterlife.

I love what Ogawa does in this book, not only looking at the human psyche but plays with it a little to mess with the mind.  From the very start of this book, I was planning my next dip into the world of Yoko Ogawa, I was hooked and I wanted to explore her writing more. It was just the combination of beauty with the sinister tones of the stories that really worked for me.

If this book is anything to go on, Yoko Ogawa is an amazing writer; showing the reader the beauty behind the dark and disturbing. Each story is macabre but the best part of the entire book is the way the stories link together and the beautiful tapestry Ogawa weaves.  Highly recommended for lovers of short stories and the dark and disturbing, you won’t be disappointed by how Yoko Ogawa captures your attention.

Book Review: Live By Night

Posted October 2, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime / 0 Comments

Book Review: Live By NightTitle: Live By Night (Goodreads)
Author: Dennis Lehane
Series: Coughlin #2
Published: William Morrow, 2012
Pages: 416
Genres: Crime
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

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While Joe Coughlin is the son of a Boston Police Captain, he has long turned his back of being a moral citizen. Joe has graduated into petty crimes to high paying robberies. But when he robs a speakeasy of a Boston mobster things change for him. When the mobster kills Joe’s love, Emma, he becomes obsessed with seeking revenge. Joe works up the ladder of organised crime till he is in the right position to take his revenge. But taking on a rival family is never so simple. This is the basis of Dennis Lehane’s latest crime novel Live by Night.

Most people know I’m a huge fan of pulpish and organised crime novels so I was really interested in checking out this novel. My first attempt of Dennis Lehane with Mystic River didn’t go too well but I was excited to give him another go, simply because the premise of this book sounded really good and the idea of reading a crime novel set in the prohibition era really enthused me. This book started out strong. I really liked Emma the love interestand was very sad to see her get killed off; I was ready to seek revenge too. The revenge aspect and the becoming a powerful mobster were really good but then you get half way through the book and it falls flat. Almost like Dennis Lehane had changed his mind of what type of book this is and switches genre.  Without giving too much away I was disappointed with the change in style and although there are some great crime elements later on it just felt a bit odd.

I loved the characters in this book and this was my biggest worry because with Mystic River I felt they were a bit flat and one dimensional. I think it was interesting to hear that Lehane wrote another book called The Given Day which is based around the same family but focuses on a different character; I believe its Joe Coughlin’s brother. Even if they seem to be connected, Live by Night does a great job of developing the characters without having to read the other book.

I’m a little disappointed that this book had so much potential but the last part of the book fell short. Personally I think this book could have ended a lot earlier or cut out the parts that weren’t working. Lehane was trying to develop the characters a bit more in the sections that weren’t working but in my opinion they didn’t help the novel. There are some great elements in this book and overall it was an enjoyable crime novel. I think I will have to check out The Given Day and some more Dennis Lehane novels based on my experience with this one.