Disclaimer by Renee Knight: A Book Review

This book isn’t good.  No, this book is excellent.  While it didn’t grab me straight away, I was certainly hooked by the end.  Coming after ‘The Improbability of Love’ this book helped to restore my faith in storytelling.

So what is it about?  The blurb says

‘When an intriguing novel appears on Catherine’s bedside table, she curls up and begins to read.  But as she turns the pages, she is horrified to realize she is a key character, a main player.  This story will reveal her darkest secret.  A secret she thought no one else knew…’

Perhaps its me but those three little dots have a deeper meaning than at first appearance. Coming after that blurb they they tell of something insidious.

When the story is read it has disatrous consequences for not just those involved but her family too.  Isolated doesn’t even begin to explain what is happening.  Catherine is forcibly pushed out from her family.  What happened in the past was unforgivable. The problem is, what is written in the book is a false version of events.

By the time the truth comes out, severe damage has been done.  The author of the book, Stephen Brigstoke, decides to make amends for his sins.  Now everyone knows the truth  Catherine considers whether it is a good idea to rejoin the family.

As you might have guessed, I have skipped around the story without revealing too much.  When you come to read it, I know you’ll love it.  Be careful though, it is a story for adults.

 

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Show, Don’t Tell

As a fledgling writer you are taught that you should ‘show, don’t tell’.  But why, you might ask? What is the harm in telling anyway?  For that matter, what do you mean by that phrase?

Let me give you an example of show first:

Michael crept across the darkened kitchen and stopped at the fridge, his hand resting on the door.  He glanced round before opening the door. The light from the fridge made his skin glow as he fished for his favourite snack, salami.  After giving it a sniff he devoured the cylinder of pork.  Closing the door, he licked his fingers and returned to bed.

And here is an example of tell:

Ever since he was a child, Michael had fostered a secret habit nighttime eating.  The first time was at the age of eleven he had woken during the night with hunger pangs.  Desperate to have something to eat, he snuck downstairs and gobbled a plate of cheese left on the side.  His mother, Maureen, wondered who had eaten their food until one night she caught him red-handed.  The scolding she gave out did not deter him however.  He knew what he was doing was bad for his health but he could not help himself as he stole across the kitchen and raided the fridge.  This time he went for the salami.

Here’s the problem, in the first example the story evolves before your eyes.  You get an impression that Michael is probably impulsive by nature.  You don’t know what the original cause was for this secretive eating, you are left to your own conclusions.

In the second example I have told you the reason.  In order to do that I had to pull away from the story to tell you.  The flow was been disrupted in order to give you this piece of character-building information.

The reason I bring this up now is because of the book I am reading ‘The Improbability of Love’ by Hannah Rothschild. Parts of the book are engaging however Hannah does have a habit of telling rather than showing.

In short bursts, I admit, it is useful to tell some back story.  When it stretches to two pages and the story to one paragraph, then I have a problem.  While I haven’t finished the novel I keep asking myself the same two questions ‘Do I need to know the motivation of every character in the story?  Do I need the life history of said characters too?’

Currently, the answer is no.

When Breath Becomes Air: A Book Review

Reviewing this book feels a little sacreligious as the subject is a difficult one, but I shall give it a try.  For those of you who do not want to read a review that threatens to be morbid, you might want to skip this one, I’ll understand.

What caught my eye as I walked through my local bookshop was the title.  It took me a second or so to realise it is about death.  Not just any death but the death of the author, Paul Kalanithi.  He did not die at his own hands but by that rather too common cause, cancer.

Like a lot of books these days, it punches you in the gut first before allowing you to rest.  By that I mean, it deliberately alters the chronological order to highlight a specific point in time.  In this case it is the initial diagnosis of lung cancer.

What makes this book poignant is Paul’s life and career.  At first he wished to be a writer.  He wanted to understand the morality of life, especially when it comes to suffering.  However he found language was not enough and so through a series of events, changed his mind to follow a path in surgery, specifically neurosurgery.

Working on the brain is like messing with a person’s personality.  One incision in the wrong place (we’re talking millimetres here) could change a person’s life forever.  It is downright scary and humbling what neurosurgeons do.

Throughout his career, Paul performed many operations, some more successful than others.  He comforted many families, made people’s lives liveable, even if only for a short while.  Easing a patient’s suffering was what drove him yet he still struggled with the beast he faced every day, death.

And then it happened.  Strictly speaking, it didn’t happen out of the blue. Severe back pain had wracked his body for many weeks and it was only when he lost a lot of weight did he take notice.

With the diagnosis the tables were flipped, he was now the patient.  When the cancer was in remission, Paul decided to go back to work.  I should point out that a neurosurgeon close to qualifying as chief resident works an incredible amount so it was not a decision to be taken lightly.

To begin with, Paul made ‘baby-steps’.  Slowly but surely he increased his workload until it was almost back to normal.  Then it came back.

With barely two weeks before his baby girl was to be born, his body rebelled.  Both stage one (a drug) and stage two (chemotherapy) had failed.  From this point Paul’s health deteriorated.

The exception to his life of pain was his daughter.  What joy little Cady gave to her father I cannot begin to fathom.  However I do have the last paragraph which brought me close to tears.

Reading this book was hard at times but also revealing.  What is it that we strive for in our lives?  We want our life to have meaning.  We want to do something useful with our time. We want to prove to ourselves we don’t just exist, we take part.

 

Photo courtesy of theguardian.com

The Rosie Project: A Book Review

There are some books out there that are pretty pedestrian.  Then there are others who take you gently by the hand and lead you into a world that feels real, complete, wonderful.  Thankfully, this book falls in the latter.  So well entrenched is it that it felt heartrending to tear myself away and return to the real world, even when it had finished.

What is it about?

Professor Don Tillman, working in the Genetics department at the University of Melbourne, wants a wife.  Not everyone’s cup of tea and certainly not mine, normally.  What sets it apart though is the fact that Don has got Asperger’s syndrome, granted it is undiagnosed.  The other intriguing piece of news is that the woman in the title is looking for her father.

For a book that is essentially a romance novel, it doesn’t feel like one.  It helps that we experience life from Don’s point of view.  Some may accuse Don of being cold and heartless but that is not his fault, his brain has been wired differently.  His world consists of logic, systems and efficiency.  If it does not fit into any of these categories it does not feature in his life.  Then Rosie walks into his life.

It makes sense that Rosie is not a perfect life partner for Don.  For one thing it means that Don is not nervous around her  In fact, it helps that Rosie loves his special nature.  Time and again we see Don’s learning ability in action.  Then the newly acquired skill is put to the test.

The best example is the Great Cocktail Night.  Watching him perform his temporary role was fascinating.  Even when presented with a problem he already has a solution in mind.

The more I read The Rosie Project the more I came to see some of Don’s traits in myself.  I say some because, unlike Don, I can feel empathy.  So much so that I found it hard to read when Don didn’t get the girl.  After all they had been through together, why was she refusing him?

A major drawback for her was Don’s incapability for love.  She would not enter a relationship unless she knew she could be loved. Happily, Don doesn’t take no for an answer.

Looking back I can say that I loved reading this book.  If you’ve not read this book before then you’re in for a treat.  Charming, funny, sad, happy this book has all of these and more.  Buy it, read it, love it then do it all over again because its that good.