#ToB15 Roundup 2
The Tournament of Books is happening right now! It’s one of my favorite times of the year. Since the finalists were announced in January, I’ve managed to read twelve of the sixteen contenders. My first roundup post included my thoughts on the first seven. Here are my thoughts on the next five.
Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng
It struck her then, as if someone had said it aloud: her mother was dead, and the only thing worth remembering about her, in the end, was that she had cooked. Marilyn thought uneasily of her own life, of hours spent making breakfasts, serving dinners, packing lunches into neat paper bags. How was it possible to spend so many hours spreading peanut butter across bread? How was it possible to spend so many hours cooking eggs? Sunny-side up for James. Hard-boiled for Nath. Scrambled for Lydia. It behooves a good wife to know how to make an egg behave in six basic ways. Was she sad? Yes. She was sad. About the eggs. About everything.
I liked this book. The opening really lays it out there: “Lydia is dead. But they didn’t know this yet.” So then you know that the book isn’t really about this girl’s death. I mean, it is, but it isn’t. It’s really about this family, a Chinese American family living in suburban Ohio in the 70s, and the things they have and haven’t said to each other. Again, I liked it. It came together well.
All the Birds, Singing, by Evie Wyld (Audio)
Another sheep, mangled and bled out, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding. Crows, their beaks shining, strutting and rasping, and when I waved my stick they flew to the trees and watched, flaring out their wings, singing, if you could call it that. I shoved my boot in Dog’s face to stop him from taking a string of her away with him as a souvenir, and he kept close by my side as I wheeled the carcass out of the field and down into the woolshed.
This book. Wow. It’s Australian, and like with The Paying Guests, I’m glad I listened to this and got to enjoy the various accents that way. And the format is interesting. It has two alternating story lines, one going forward in time and one going backward in time. I have thoroughly enjoyed the discussion in the Goodreads Rooster group, which has explored varying interpretations on this one. I did have some difficulty listening at first, especially since I didn’t understand the timeline thing and had no visual clues to help me. But overall this book is an example of why I love the Tournament of Books. I never would have found this book on my own.
A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall, by Will Chancellor
Raising Owen had taught Burr the beauty of being marginal. The vain side of any father wants to be Atticus Finch, but what could be worse for a boy than a father impossible to outgrow? Better to let your son know he’s the center of your life and you are one of many moons.
Another one I liked but didn’t love. It’s about a son, a student at Stanford, and his father, a professor. The son, at the outset, loses an eye in a water polo accident. The father’s academic career has stalled after his last book was a dud. As the events in the story take place, events combine in such a way that they have to both redefine themselves and their relationship. Not to repeat myself or anything, but I liked it. It reminded me of The Goldfinch in many ways, due to the time spent in the art world and in a drug-induced world. I appreciated a lot of the themes and where the book ended up.
Silence Once Begun, by Jesse Ball
On eyewitness testimony: “This is to say, in previous times, one’s office as a human did not accord one the full opportunity to both claim something and be its proof.”
That said, it has generally always been the case that a person willing to confess to a crime may be acknowledged to have performed that crime. Such a position is mistaken: one cannot know that a person has the truth of a thing, most particularly in the manner in which he/she is affected by it. Our knowledge about ourselves is our least reliable knowledge.
This is a very strange book about a man who loses a bet, signs a confession for a crime he did not commit, and then does not speak again. I actually quite liked it. It’s told through various forms, but primarily through interviews with principal players. I liked how the story became more and more layered as it went on and how many of the characters were unreliable. Most of all, I liked the themes of the book (silence and how stories are told), and the look at how much credence we give to things without first testing their veracity.
The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell
I think about pinball, and how being a kid’s like being shot up the firing lane and there’s no veering left or right; you’re just sort of propelled. But once you clear the top, like when you’re sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen, suddenly there’s a thousand different paths you can take, some amazing, others not. Tiny little differences in angles and speed’ll totally alter what happens to you later, so a fraction of an inch to the right, and the ball’ll just hit a pinger and a dinger and fly down between your flippers, no messing, a waste of 10 p. But a fraction to the left and it’s action in the play zone, bumpers and kickers, ramps and slingshots and fame on the high score table.
“Crispin. Are you trying to tell me that you’re writing a fantasy novel?”
“Me? Never! Or it’s only one-third fantasy. Half, at most.”
“A book can’t be a half fantasy any more than a woman can be half pregnant.”
David Mitchell is pretty much universally acknowledged to be a heavy hitter in the literary fiction world. And this book certainly has the heft to back up that reputation. I had only read Cloud Atlas before this one, and I, like many others before, noted that there are many similarities between the two books. The Bone Clocks is told in six parts, from the points of view of five different narrators (with the sixth section circling back to the first narrator). Each section has a kind of theme to it, such as young adult, thriller, etc. I quite enjoyed the voices and pacing in all of the first four parts, but I felt it lost a bit of momentum in parts five and six. My favorite section was Hugo Lamb’s – one of the best insights into a psychopath I’ve ever read.
That’s it, probably, for this year! What do you think? Have you read any of these?