Saturday, 27 September 2014

In One Person by John Irving / Kissing In Manhattan by David Schickler / Take Me To The Castle by F C Malby

In One PersonIn One Person by John Irving
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've just finished my second of two back-to-back five-star reads! Not only was Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood fantastic but so was In One Person and, coincidentally, both books had similarities in their stories while also being completely different. Both are first-person narratives of growing up despite influential people around.

In One Person does tick a good selection of 'John Irving novel' boxes: New Hampshire, boarding school, sexuality, and wrestling. There's rather a lot of wrestling! However, although these common factors were included, I was completely hooked by the story of William Dean's life from very early in the book and had to force myself to set it aside periodically so as not to be bereft of that world too quickly. I loved the style and flow of the writing, the repetition of italics indicating the importance of visible gender, the claustrophobia of the closed school environment set against the expanse and possibilities of 'Europe', and the desperately sad series of epilogues that made up the last portion of the novel, each building up emotionally and persuasively.

Irving discusses a number of other novels and plays, several of which I already knew but a key few that I had overlooked. I'm going to be adding those to my Goodreads list now before I forget, just so I can understand all of In One Person before it fades from my memory.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.


Kissing in ManhattanKissing in Manhattan by David Schickler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've just read Kissing In Manhattan for at least the third time as there's something about the story collection that completely appeals to me. I'm not sure whether to describe it as linked short stories or whether the book is more a novel. Certainly there is some repetition of description as if it was originally intended as separate stories or to be serialised.

The characters are generally all odd in one way or another. My favourite is probably James Branch who is quiet, shy and spends time talking to the elevator in his building, The Preemption, to which all the characters have some connection. His housemate, Patrick, is fantastically psychologically damaged which makes for interesting reading! I've seen other reviews describing Kissing In Manhattan as misogynistic but I don't agree as the main female characters are better balanced and stronger than their male counterparts. Throughout, the humour is dark and sexy and I love how the overall story arc advances via different viewpoints. Perhaps the only thing lacking for me is a story starring Sender.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.


Take Me to the CastleTake Me to the Castle by F.C. Malby
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I discovered F C Malby via Twitter and was interested to read her book set in the new Czech Republic at the time of its transition from Communism as this is a country and period that I don't know much about.
Our heroine, Jana, is a young Czech woman whose father died struggling against the former regime. Jana has absorbed his belief in democracy but is unable to adjust to the speed and breadth of the changes sweeping her homeland. This is a fascinating situation for a character to find themselves in and I was disappointed that it was not fully explored. Instead the main angle of the novel is Jana trying to decide which of two potential suitors she wants to begin a relationship with.
I enjoyed the descriptions of Prague and this is now definitely a city I would like to visit one day. The more rural Letovice was also easy to picture and it would have been nice to have learned more about it.
I was frustrated by the extensive repetition of both Jana's and Lukas' thoughts, especially when they were used in lieu of direct conversation that would have advanced the plot more successfully. At one point, Jana demands to know why Lukas betrayed her father, yet as soon as he begins to speak, she decides she won't listen after all and we read yet more meandering thoughts. I found this quite infuriating and was also disappointed that the story I really wanted to learn - that of Tatinek and Lukas - only ever played second fiddle to a traditional triangular romance that I don't think was convincing.
I think Take Me To The Castle is a reasonable read and I passed a pleasant couple of sunny afternoons with it, but it wasn't completely satisfying.

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