Review: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Marukami

Review: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Marukami

Norwegian Wood
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Opening sentence: I was 37 then, strapped in my seat as the huge 747 plunged through dense cloud cover on approach to Hamburg airport.

I passed a bibliophile’s milestone this week. I read my first ever Marukami novel. The bookstagram book club I recently became part of chose Norwegian Wood as the first read-along novel and threw me right into the choppy waters of Haruki Marukami. And it wasn’t at all what I was expecting

Let me be perfectly blunt. I didn’t like this book and the end of it couldn’t come soon enough. If it wasn’t for the fact that I have a lovely family of booklovers, bookbloggers and bookstagrammers I would never pick up another Marukami book again. BUT fortunately I do and they have assured me that this was an unusual story and probably not one of the best choices for someone taking their first expedition in the strange land of Marukami. I am beyond relieved because I am actually repulsed by this story, where as I had very high expectations based on how highly acclaimed he is.

Where do I begin? It’s a twisted adolescent love story, as most adolescent love stories are, with way too many unnecessary graphic sex scenes. It had a collection of weak characters, and while they did their absolute best to explain themselves into deeper personalities, it was a total failure and felt forced. In a weird nutshell it was about a teenage boy who had sex with anyone and everyone and by the time he was done the story was over.

There were many points in the book where I thought the story was about to take an interesting turn and it turns out, nope, it’s just a prelude to sex. I know there are DIE hard Marukami fans who found depth and meaning in even the most mundane parts of this story out of loyalty to Marukami, and believe me I tried. There were times when I would put down the book and think okay, am I missing something ? Could there be something here I’m not seeing? But try as I might I could not squeeze depth out of any of it.

I apologize to the Marukami fandom. I realize I am way out of my element here. But for such a seasoned writer, it shouldn’t have felt like he was trying so hard. The main character for example, Watanabe, I have a feeling we’re supposed to see him as a deep thinking, intelligent old soul, as is obvious by the constant statements people make about him : “you talk like Humphrey Bogart” ” you are such an unusual thinker” “I would have never thought of it that way.” And I’m here thinking “that’s not because he’s smart it’s because you’re an idiot, you dumbass!”

Another gripe of mine was the increasingly irritating personalities of the female characters. From the first character Naoko, who was depressed beyond all reason but had no problem meekly submitting to doling out sexual pleasure for no particular reason, to the nymphomaniac Midori and her downright desperate tirades on her sexual desires, right up to Reiko who started off as a good character but quickly lost her appeal and honored the memory of her younger-sister-like-friend by screwing her boyfriend “in her memory”. Lovely. I fail to see what part of this was a love story. I’ve heard it’s not the norm for Marukami to make all his female characters revolve around sex as heavily as in this book.I can only hope so

I will say though, that despite being completely disgusted with this book and it’s unnecessary ramblings on the most mundane things, once I discussed it with other readers I realized that this was a book meant for people who are already fans of Haruki Marukami so that they can revel in the style of his writing that they love so much and see comparisons and similarities with other books. I’m glad somebody gets something out of this because I didn’t. I said before, as a first timer who was unfortunate enough to start off with THIS book, I should hold off on forming any concrete opinions just yet. I am convinced enough to try another Marukami book someday. probably not anytime soon, but I will give it another go.

Favorite Lines:
1. What if I’ve forgotten the most important thing? What if somewhere inside me there is a dark limbo where all the truly important memories are heaped and slowly turning into mud? (pg. 10)
2. Life doesn’t require ideals. It requires standards of action. (pg. 71)
3. A gentleman is someone who does not what he wants to do but what he should do. (pg. 72)
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Review: The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

Review: The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

The Bookseller
The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Opening Sentence: This is not my bedroom

This is a book about a woman who has dreams of living a life completely different from her own. Literally dreams of it. She goes into a parallel reality at night and spends time in the life that could have been.

I don’t know what to say about this book. I felt I was maybe the wrong audience for it. There are people who love it and I can’t imagine why. This is another one of those books that had a lot of potential and it all went nowhere.

When I started reading I had a lot of theories about where this could have been going. All of them more interesting than where it actually went. Maybe it was the sci-fi/ fantasy reader inside me trying to make a boring plot more interesting. I think the most interesting diagnosis that could be given for this book is that it is about a woman going crazy. That by far makes more sense than what the writer was trying to say. Which was apparently nothing.

I felt that Swanson tried to make incomplete statements about a lot of things very unsuccessfully. There were scattered commentaries in mental illness, grief or racism or loss or autism but none of them were followed through enough to actually mean anything. If you’re going to go down a certain road and not explore it all the way, unfortunately you’ll end up going nowhere. Like this book. 

This book was disappointing in a lot of ways but here are some things that personally irritated me
1. The Mexican maid. Clearly Swanson tried to portray her as a smart person which is why I wondered why she found it so difficult to string simple English sentences together. Most of the time she seemed to have okay grammar and vocabulary. She can use terms like’handful’ and ‘household’ and ‘college degree’ but apparently the term ‘baby’ ‘children’ and ‘new’ are too much for her to grasp after years of living with an English speaking family. Did the writer feel people would forget she was Mexican if she didn’t keep throwing little words in to remind them?
2. Overly descriptive passages of household items. A good writer would have this skill down but obviously Swanson isn’t there yet. Her long winded detailed descriptions didn’t make me feel like I was there, like I’m sure she intended. It just irritated me and made me wish she’d get on with the story. I really didn’t care that the carpet matched the curtains while the sofa had colorful cushions on it in the living room and her bedroom had a bedspread that matched her curtains which went with the general theme. I did not want to know that her bathrobe had a boring color that matched her slippers in multiple worlds. And I cannot stress this enough, I don’t want to know what angle your bathroom cabinets are slanting at and what height this makes them come up to. What am I expected to do with all this useless information? Get on with it.
3. Lars. Why did he seem not at all concerned about the deteriorating mental condition of his wife? If someone tells you that you and your children are not real and that they have trouble remembering most of their life I would think a little more concern would be in order. Apparently not giving a damn about a woman losing her mind is on the checklist of an accommodating and accepting husband.

I am all for parallel realities. But why would you create a world in your head that is so boring and tedious and downright stupid? Am I supposed to feel sorry or sympathetic? Should I feel lucky? Should I see something I didn’t before? If you wish this book didn’t have to end that’s probably because there’s nothing you can take away from it the way it is. For me, it was slow read with a predictable end that didn’t come fast enough.

Favorite Lines:
1. I think suddenly about what it means to grow old. It means that all those that you loved as a youth become nothing but photographs on a wall, words in a story, memories in a heart. (pg. 43)

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Review: Fire Starter by Stephen King

Review: Fire Starter by Stephen King

Fire Starter
Fire Starter by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read Stephen King when I want to be 100% sure I won’t be disappointed.

Firestarter is one of King’s earlier works, which you could probably determine if you’ve been through as much of his work as I have. It is one of the few books that don’t really count as being of the horror genre. Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t just as good.

The story is about father and daughter fugitives running from a secret government agency because they both possess unique powers that were the outcome of shady experiments by said facility on unsuspecting college students. I will admit that the story had it’s dull moments, certain ramblings that seemed unnecessary, but I strongly believe it was the early development of Stephen King’s writing skills which led to the trademark verbose yarn-spinning that I love so much. Many of King’s works are long and detailed and I admit to loving them for just that. Often I find it is that very quality in his writing that sticks and makes his stories relatable and realistic to me.

Another notable fine quality is how well developed the characters always are. In Firestarter, as in all other works, I found satisfying depth to protagonists, antagonists and side characters. I’m glad this is an ability he’s always possessed.

Interesting side note is that because Stephen King’s stories are rich in reference, I often find myself discovering music or books or movies through him. In this book, after the father, Andy, has a moment of frustration with his daughter, Charlie, there is mention of a short story by Jerome Bixby called “It’s a Good Life” where “..a little kid who had enslaved his parents with psychic terror, a nightmare of a thousand possible deaths, and you never knew…you never knew when the little kid was going to get mad…”. Despite the explanation of the story being brief I was intrigued enough to go looking for it online right in the middle of this book and reading it through.
I found it amazing. If you haven’t read it go look it up, it’s good. Very good. Everything is good. The goodest. It would have been easy for King to take this story in a similar direction of an uncontrollable power within a child bringing the world to it’s knees, but I’m glad it didn’t go that way and the humanity and moral compass of Charlie was kept steady and strong and formed an important basis of her character.

The book was long enough to be a pleasant way to spend a couple of days. One thing I might venture into saying is that it might be better to read this after you’ve become a Stephen King fan or at least become familiar with his work, than it would be to make this one of the first of his works you choose to explore. I think fans of King might enjoy it more.

Favorite Lines:
1.God loves to make a man break a vow.It keeps him properly humble about his place in the world and his sense of self-control. (pg.179)
2. World peace, or world domination, and when you got rid of the trick mirrors of rhetoric and bombast,weren’t they really the same thing? (pg. 191)
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Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Opening Sentence: When I think of my wife, I always think of her head.

When you’ve read as many thrillers and mystery novels as I have you tell yourself you can’t be surprised or manipulated by authors anymore. Clearly I was wrong. Gillian Flynn had me exactly where she wanted me the whole time.

This is the one book I would never want to spoil for anyone. It is written so well that I have to work to keep any spoilers or potential spoilers out of this review. I wont do it. I just wont. Since I am already late on the bandwagon for this one, all I can say is, read it if you haven’t already and you may be left reevaluating everything you thought you knew.

Flynn has a way of making everyone else’s life seem boring. The brutality and the naked grit of this book makes it appealing to the dark side of people. The plot points of Gone Girl are so well constructed and realistic, that the entire book is presented in a way that made me feel no better than the gossip hungry neighbors that spy on you looking to break down the walls of your privacy just for interesting conversation points. I was very opinionated throughout the first half of the book as obvious by my twitter outrage, and then I was made to realize how little I really understood. I accused myself of being no less than a sheep-headed individual taken in by something as pedestrian as Schadenfreude, and finished the rest of the book with open eyes and rapt attention.

The flawless character development of Gone Girl was a refreshing change from the forced and underdeveloped characters peppered throughout mysteries. Character development is key to writing thrillers and very often for the sake of a surprise, writers tend to forgo this aspect to create what might seem to them a thrilling conclusion. In most cases it just creates plot holes that leave readers frustrated, irritated or just exasperated. Fortunately Gillian Flynn has explored her characters, whether they’re protagonists like Nick and Amy or interesting side characters like Tanner Bolt, and their relationships to each other very fully and presented a book that satisfies the mind. What fascinated me, and probably says more about my psyche than the characters in question, is how my feelings towards them didn’t change much throughout the book. If you’ve read the book you would know this is a little disturbing because ideally a person’s feelings should change as you learn more about the story.

There is a passage of the book that says “We were the first human beings who would never see anything for the first time.” And I have to agree with the author. There are very few things that people witness at this point that they don’t associate with something seen on TV or the internet. It is the very underwhelming time of having seen it all to be alive. Which is why I am not used to being made to feel simple-minded by writers, like I said I felt there were no more surprises in this genre for me. But Gone Girl completely threw me and then labelled me as having been born yesterday. And I am not at all displeased at that. I couldn’t be happier to read a thriller after so long that was actually thrilling. Thrilling enough to feel like stepping into a completely different story somewhere along the line.

Read it and stay single said the Financial Times and I couldn’t agree more. But in all fairness I would have recommended that even before you read this.

Favorite Lines:
1. Most beautiful, good things are done by women people scorn. (pg. 75)
2. It’s a vert difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless automat of characters. (pg. 81)
3. Our kind of love can go into remission, but it’s always waiting to return. Like the world’s sweetest cancer. (pg. 439)

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