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Kategorie: Book Review (Seite 1 von 3)

Ian Mc Ewan: The Daydreamer

Frequent visitors of my blog (hello again if you are one) or those you follow me on social media especially on Twitter (hiiii, nice to meet you over here) know that I have a soft spot for the British author Ian McEwan ever since I stumbled upon the film “Atonement” and decided to read the German translation of the book (for those of you moaning: I got my hands on the English one later as well). It not only offered the opportunity to dive into the novel the film is based upon (and of course a certain actor named Benedict Cumberbatch) but also introduced me to an author I’ve never heard of before (to my defence I’m not British, although this isn’t a good excuse given the fact that his works are available in wonderful German translations published by Diogenes.) Being late to the party isn’t that bad in this particular case because I don’t have to wait impatiently for the next book to be published (of course I do) but instead in every book shop I’m happily strolling to the shelves where Ian McEwan’s works are sitting and pick up the one that is lacking on my shelf.

“They thought he was difficult because he was so silent. That seemed to bother people. (…) He liked to be alone and think his own thoughts.”

My latest one therefore is “Daydreamer” which followed me from Waterstones Piccadilly (one of my beloved places in London) and which I finished only recently. Although it is a small one, the book is a collection of short stories that are  connected through the main figure Peter Fortune. The ten year old boy is the daydreamer, a silent boy that prefers to be on his own, reading and imagining the stories in the book. But Peter not only is imagining the stories, he always is part of them and tells them from his point of view. So when he dreams himself in being the  old cat William, he literally becomes the furry animal that has lived with Peter, his sister and his parents ever since William has been a young cat.

“It was the oddest thing, to climb out of your body, just to step out of it and leave it lying on the carpet like a shirt you had just taken off.”

Eventually Peter and William the cat will change bodies again in the end which is a sad one. But the story – and the six others – are so well written and intriguing that you sigh with delight and relief because even if there isn’t a happy end, there is too much joy in reading especially this story and the other. And the only sad thing about Ian McEwan’s short stories is – that they are too short.

Ian McEwan: Daydreamer, Vintage, 7,99 £

James Rhodes: Fire On All Sides

Honest and open. That were one of the first thoughts that came to my mind when I read the beginning of James Rhodes’ new book. Next it was astonishment. The astonishment that “Fire On All Sides” offers a much deeper look inside James’ mind than “Instrumental”, his first book, does. There’s no doubt that “Instrumental” is shockingly open when James, raped for years as a boy, describes how this disgusting and horrible abuse destroys the life of a young, sensible child that only seeks for love and support from his teacher who rewards trust with violence. James has no doubt that he is still alive because music saved him.

“Fire On All Sides” could be the evidence that dreams can indeed become reality. The James of today is a professional concert pianist, travelling various countries, playing concerts. He writes articles for newspapers, gives interviews, hosts radio shows. And yet there are those evil voices trying to convince James that he is not that good, that every single concert will be a disaster and that even an ordinary day offers problems and obstacles that are challenges.

The voice is so loud that I convince myself that I am perpetuating a fraud.”

Of course this is a book about music, about love and hatred and imperfection. But James wouldn’t be the author if he wasn’t to add “including the self-indulgent crap because it’s me and I’m a narcissistic asshole”. Even if we are lucky because we have not to fight depression or anxiety or a horrible illness on a daily basis, we all face the challenge to get up in the morning, go to work, get things done. And no one knows how difficult it is to smile and pretend everything is okay when it is not. Imagine you have voices in your head that are your constant companions that have nothing else to do than convince you, you are not enough. In James’s case: he’s not able to play the piano properly, no one will pop up to his concert venue, and the waiter in the café just round the corner always stares at you because you seem to be some sort of freak.

“Words are dangerous, music is salvation – the one thing I don’t need to be afraid of.”

But then there are these moments when James realises he can handle it. “It” meaning walking on stage after make sure for the hundredth time that every single note is saved in the memory (James always plays the piano on stage without scores), that of course there is indeed an audience that isn’t only excited to see what is waiting for them. They enjoy the evening and they want to get their books or CDs signed. And – surprise –  there is even a “bunch of really lovely German fans” waiting for him at the stage door in Munich’s Gasteig back in the autumn of 2016.

So after having survived a horrible childhood that still haunts him, James has finally reached a stage where he can even convince the evil voices in his head that he lives the life he always wanted, “a life surrounded by, engulfed by, music”. A life that is bearable because he is finally ready to see life as it is: Imperfect. And that there is no need to pretend that life and humans and especially James is perfect and furthermore its “fragility can unite us all in the most comforting way”.

Or as Sherlock would say: “We are all humans after all”.

James Rhodes: “Fire On All Sides: Insanity, insomnia and the incredible inconvenience of life”, Quercus, Ebook from 8,49£/9,49€.
The new album “Fire On All Sides” is available at the usual streaming service.

John Green: Turtles all the way down

Some books leave you in wonder, in despair, in tears or in joy. And some books leave you thinking about the story you just finished. John Greens “Turtles all the way down” is one of those. This is not only because of Aza, a teenage girl who struggles with her anxiety, endless thoughts and life itself because she wants to be a good daughter, a good friend and a good student. She and her best friend Daisy decide to investigate the case of billionaire Russell Picket.

“The world is billion of years old, and life is a product of nucleotide mutation and everything. But the world is also the stories we tell about it.”

Aza’s  story is the story of a teenager trying to understand and getting along with life. And even if we are lucky enough living without any panic attacks or are grown ups with a regular life, “Turtles” touches us because it doesn’t matter if you are a teenager like Aza or a famous actor, author or just an ordinary guy, living a decent but ordinary life. All that matters in the end are values like love and friendships that will stay with us – and authors like John Green telling stories that we will remember for a very long time.

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

John Green: Turtles all the way down, Penguin, 7£

Charlie Lovett: The Bookman’s Tale

Little is known about William Shakespeare, the playwright some consider the best ever, some think he has never lived.  What if a bookseller found a book that could prove that Shakespeare not only lived but has really written all the plays? But it’s not the famous writer that attracts Peter Byerly’s attention. When opening an 18th century study about Shakespeare forgeries, the bookman is struck by a painting of a woman who looks like his beloved wife Amanda. But why the resemblance? Peter who has lost every will to live after the sudden death of Amanda, finally discovers his passion for books again.

“Peter was in no hurry to open the door. It had been nine months since he had entered a bookshop; another few minutes wouldn’t make a difference.”

“The Bookman’s Tale” is one of those novels that lure the reader inside its story from the very first sentence and is unwilling to let him live his life until the book is finished. Charlie Lovett has mixed a love story of two people from very different backgrounds sharing the love for one another and the passion for books, literature and history. The story is set in London and the Welsh countryside round Hay-on-Wye and is alternating between the present, Peter’s and Amanda’s past and the 16th and 17th century. What could be confusing, keeps the reader hooked and eager to find out how the story and the fate of the characters unfolds. The novel is a lovely read for booklovers who should not be afraid to learn a little bit of William Shakespeare.

 

Photo: Petra Breunig

Charlie Lovett: The Bookman’s Tale – A Novel of Love and Obsession, Alma Books, £ 7.99

David Lagercrantz: Fall of Man in Wilmslow 

It is a novel. A fiction, not a documentary about the life of Alan Turing. This is important because people tend to take every word for granted, weighing it carefully, comparing it to proved facts about the man who helped to break Nazi Germany’s Enigma code.

David Lagercrantz takes those facts and some more (Alan’s homosexuality, his somehow awkward behaviour, his genius) and unfolds his story from the very last day of Alan’s life and the moment his corpse is discovered by a local policeman. This man, Detective Constable Leonard Corell, takes a very special interest in this case that seems to be nothing more than suicide. Step by step he dives deeper into the life and thinking of Alan Turing – a journey which doesn’t leave his own life untouched.

“(I)f indeed anyone was an unbreakable code then it was Alan himself.”

“The Fall of the Man in Wilmslow” is a thrilling story that hooks you from the very first page. If (and this is an if I only can claim for myself) you already know something about Alan Turing’s life and impact. Then you find hints you have read elsewhere, imagine pictures, films or documentaries you have seen or listen to and you will be able to find your pace between fact and fiction this novel is constantly mixing up. If you haven’t stumbled upon Alan Turing at all, you probably will be lost in between the complexity of the story that hops from the past to the present and back again, changes perspectives and comes  up with names and places you might find confusing because you have never heard of them. If you still want to find out more about Alan Turing, start with a biography (or click on the link given below).

FallOfMan

David Lagercrantz: Fall of the Man in Wilmslow. The death and life of Alan Turing. A Novel, MacLehose Press, about 9£.

You find more about Alan Turing here on my blog.

JG Ballard: High-Rise

It took me a while to figure out what other book JG Ballard’s “High-Rise” reminds me of. In my defence I have to write that it has been ages since I’ve read “Lord of the Flies” by  William Golding, another novel about how people react under special circumstances. Whereas Golding sets his figures on an uninhabited island, Ballard unfolds his story in a huge skyscraper, the High-Rise, a building that offers literally everything the inhabitants need from a supermarket and a school to restaurant and swimming-pools. No wonder the flat owners – as the story unfolds – are gradually losing interest in the surrounding world and stick inside the building.

“With its forty floors and thousand apartments, its supermarket and swimming-pools, bank and junior school (…) the high-rise offered more than enough opportunities for violence and confrontation.”

All the way back to the primitive ways of existence

Robert Laing, a doctor and medical school teacher who moved into his flat on the 25th floor after his divorce, soon finds himself too lazy to go to work and spends his nights protecting himself and some neighbours from other inhabitants. Gradually living in an exclusive flat means getting back to the most primitive ways of existence: staying alive, getting something to eat, having a safe place to sleep.

“The building was a monument to good taste.”

The intensity in JG Ballard’s “High-Rise” comes from a language that is almost neutral and a complete contrast to the story itself, that is told like a non-fictional topic with a storyteller who seems only to describe what he sees or what he has been told. That’s why this novel is so brilliant and thrilling at the same time.

 

JG Ballard: High-Rise, Fourth Estate, about 7 £

In the movie adaption of  “High-Rise” Tom Hiddleston takes the role of Robert Laing.

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

Ian McEwan: The Child in Time

Time. You will need time. Because when you start Ian McEwan’s “The Child in Time” it will hook you from the very beginning and will only release you to your real life after you have read the very last word.  At least that happened to me – and to be honest it always happens when I start a work of Ian McEwan I happily discover book by book both in English and in German (thanks to Diogenes who offers both brilliant translations and wonderful made copies).

In “The Child in Time” Ian McEwan tells the story of Stephen, author of children’s book,  member of a committee dealing with children’s education, happily married to Julie and father of three-year-old Kate. The perfect life is turned upside down when Kate vanishes in a supermarket literally in bright daylight and under the caring eyes of her father. Realising that the worst nightmare of parents has come true, Stephen’s existence is lost somewhere in between memories of his parents and childhood, his every day life duties and the desperate search for his daughter. It is only after a while and the separation from his wife, he learns that he has to struggle with time itself.

“It’s got something to do with time obviously, with seeing something out of time.”

Hopping between different plots and different  flashbacks could be confusing and boring for the reader who could be in danger to lose the plot if the author is unable to control all the lines. But it could be thrilling and exciting when it is done by a brilliant author that is Ian McEwan. He, being an amazing story teller, describes every single detail to create a world that seems both very familiar and very strange as things are unfolding for the thrilled and hooked reader. The only problem is that even brilliant books have an ending.

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

Ian McEwan: The Child in Time, Vintage Books, £8,99.

You can find my latest blog entry on IanMcEwan here.

Jim Ottaviani: Alan Turing in a comic book

Welcome, reader! Or should I write: Welcome user? Either way, it may be possible that you won’t be able to read this at all: Without the help of Alan Turing the invention of modern computers may have been quite different. Even if you are not a mathematician you may have stumbled upon Alan Turing and you may connect his name  with the Enigma. A machine that Germans used to encrypt their messages during World War II. and nearly helped them win that war. Of course this is the story of the Comic book “Alan Turing Decoded” by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Purvis which I think can be seen as a summary of Andrew Hodges’ “The Imitation Game” – at least this is what came to my mind when I enjoyed reading it and of course I thought of the film, too (sorry, fangirl here).

A bit different

But the book also brings that brilliant man Alan Turing (of course he had lots of helping hands back in World War II in Bletchley Park) to life who always was a bit awkward and different compared to others. He ran miles on end, wore a gas mask as a prevention from hay fever, chained his mug to his heater in his office at Bletchley Park  – and he was a homosexual when this was illegal in Great Britain. Sadly enough he was prosecuted for that  – a treatment that may have been the reason why Alan took his own life. Though the circumstances are still unclear as Jim Ottaviani writes in his author’s note.

Of course this beautiful made comic book isn’t a documentary or biography on Alan Turing, so readers shouldn’t take any word or any picture as a historical fact. But it is a lovely way of getting the story of Alan Turing out to readers who don’t want to be bored by huge books with endless footage and bibliographical lists (although there are a few in this 232 page hardcopy, too) – but being entertained and touched by an intriguing life story with a tragic ending.

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

Jim Ottaviani, Leland Purvis (Illustrations): The Imitation Game, Alan Turing Decoded. Abrams, round 24$, £16, €16.

You may find more on Alan Turing on my blog – some of them are in German.

James Rhodes “Der Klang der Wut” – A story like a fairy tale

The truth one might think is something you can’t suppress. But it looked highly unlikely that the book “Instrumental” (“The sound of rage” is it in German – my note) would never make it onto the shelves of the book stores. Not until the British Supreme Court allowed the publication of the book saying that the author is allowed to tell his story. The judges rejected Rhodes’ ex-wife try to prevent not only the publication of the book . She tried to prevent Rhodes from talking about his past publicly.

A different kind of pianist

The author is James Rhodes, a pianist who is exactly the opposite you expect a concert pianist to be. He appears on stage in Jeans, tee and trainers, seems to be hyperactive and calm, witty and serious and has no problem at all to get rid of his black, long sleeve tee with “Bach” written in capital letters on the front (“Sorry, I’m warm, have to get out of that shirt. Be envious, I was at the fitness centre.”). And creating worlds out of music on a very impressive huge and polished Steinway piano, fascinating his audience in London’s Barbican centre last autumn. And then this small, fragile 40 year old British guy who takes off his nerdy glasses when playing thousands of notes out of memory, seems like he has been happily playing this wonderful music, just himself and his piano, for all his life.

But what he is writing in his book – that is now available in German – hasn’t anything to do with classical music, at least not for a start. Without whitewashing anything, Rhodes writes how he was abused by his boxing teacher over the range of five years. Yes, he doesn’t describe all the most devastating details but even without them, the book is shocking, stirring, disturbing and moving. That is because Rhodes writes the same way he communicates on Twitter with his followers or describes his audience why he is playing the piece of music he is playing, what it means to him – and he tells something about the life of the composer.

 “I started writing at 3.47 am. Something is wrong with me.”
(My translation)

Of course “Instrumental” is about classical music, pieces of great composers, even outsiders know their names, even if that sort of music isn’t their cup of tea. This music is more than just a way to earn money. It has saved his life because, Rhodes writes, music comforts him “when there is desperation, music gives pure energy in a very high doses when one feels empty, broken and exhausted.” (My translation). Music that a friend smuggled inside his mental hospital on an iPod where Rhodes tried to commit suicide several times after his marriage broke up and he stopped working in the City.
The fact that he now is married happily to his second wife, writes for British papers, had a show about music on British telly and has his own label – thanks to his manager he met in a café – reads like a fairy tale. Of course the book “Instrumental” isn’t a fairy tale at all even if the story could have come out of the mind of a screenwriter. But he would lack that direct, puzzling tone which comes with the swearing of the original in the German version where the reader is addressed as “Sie” (the polite way to talk to strangers – my note) – and which sounds a bit rough from time to time. The joy of reading is completed by a Spotify playlist of all of the pieces introducing every chapter.

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

Book & music
James Rhodes: Der Klang der Wut, Nagel & Klimche, 22,90 Euro.  [You can find my review of “Instrumental” here]
James Rhodes offers some of his pieces for free on https://sound-
cloud.com/jrhodespianist
His latest album is „Inside Tracks”.

[The German version of this article was first published in Fränkischer Tag, 10th February 2016 and online  (paid).  This blog entry is my translation and has a few notes to explain specific German expressions]

Shakespeare in the World

William Shakespeare is one of the best known author of plays. And even if one hasn’t read or seen any of them at all, some sentences seem to be familiar, written forever in the memory of mankind. But little is known about the man who was born in Stratford, went to London to write and perform his genius plays, retired to Stratford where he died. We can only imagine that he hat books important for his work, that he had friends to chat with and that he had some belongings dear to his heart. What remained of his life are property transactions, a marriage license bond or christening records.

Stephen Greenblatt gets behind these documents and brings the human being behind the genius  that was William Shakespeare to life. Though Shakespeare imagined worlds while creating his plays, he always was very aware of the real world: “Shakespeare understood his world in the way that we understand our world – his experiences, like ours, were mediated by whatever stories and images were available to him”, Greenblatt writes. Stories he may have read or heard while sitting in a pub, listening and watching the people around him, stories he needed for his plays, hints that are visible in his work as Greenblatt explains his reader.

“How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable
seem to me all the uses of the world!” Hamlet, I,2.

But, according to Greenblatt, we find more of Shakespeare’s own feelings and his grief about the death of his boy, the 11 year old Hamnet. Although  it took him a few years (maybe he had to recover from the loss of his boy), Shakespeare managed to “respond with the deepest expression of his being” and gifted the world with “Hamlet” – playing the ghost himself.

“Will in the World” is an entertaining read filled with countless references to Shakespeare’s work but without any educative tone. Those who want to read more get pages of bibliographical notes for further studies.

 

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

Stephen Greenblatt: Will in the World, Norton, 14£/12€

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