Sunday, 30 August 2015

The Light Of Falling Stars by J Robert Lennon / The Saturday Night School Of Beauty by Marsha Mehran / Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

The Light of the Falling StarsThe Light of Falling Stars by J. Robert Lennon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up a copy of The Light Of Falling Stars at The Childrens Society charity shop in Garstang. A well spent 99p!

Described as a novel of loss, grief and survivor guilt, The Light Of Falling Stars is set in a small American town, Marshall, which has the incredible misfortune to be the site of a plane crash. Many of the victims are local people so practically everyone is personally affected. Lennon divides his tale into three Parts with the first introducing us to selected relatives waiting at the airport, and the couple, Paul and Anita, whose house was partly destroyed by a falling engine. Part One is undoubtedly the strongest. Heavily emotional, but without being mawkish or overly sentimental, there are excellent character studies and Lennon seems to have an real understanding of the agony of waiting. Even cameo appearances such as the airport staff and chaplain are perfectly crafted.

Unfortunately, after this promising start, the novel loses its way and veers off to focus on the collapsing marriage of Paul and Anita. Their storyline has the potential to be an interesting novel in its own right, but I didn't like the way it took over The Light Of Falling Stars at the expense of the ensemble piece for which we had been set up. Other characters do still get a look in and their tales are neatly concluded in Part Three, but after the wandering style of the middle section, I felt that their emotional impact had been lost. And the final scene is embarrassingly schmaltzy.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.

The Saturday Night School of BeautyThe Saturday Night School of Beauty by Marsha Mehran
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a copy of The Saturday Night School Of Beauty from its publisher, AmazonCrossing, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review. The novel will be published on the 8th of September and is available to pre-order from Amazon now.

Although The Saturday Night School Of Beauty is set in Buenos Aires, we are presented with very little to identify Argentina. Instead, through the conversations and reminiscences of a disparate group of Iranian exiles, we learn of Persian culture and tradition, and how political upheavals caused chaos and loss in their lives. The overwhelming feeling I came away with, having finished the book, was that of homesickness and longing. It was not as deep a read as its synopsis suggested and I had hoped. Poetry is indeed read and quoted extensively, but the discussions are brief and generally simple. On the other hand, the title is suggestive of a chick-lit novel, and even the beauty shop scenes don't portray that kind of sisterhood.

Perhaps The Saturday Night School Of Beauty would best be described as a series of vignettes. Characters in turn delving into their remembrances of home. Often, as readers, we are unsure if they are talking to the group or to us alone and these intense monologues are particularly moving. Overall I did find the story disjointed and unfinished. This may be due to its author having sadly died before its completion and her father having taken responsibility for its final edit. As portraits of Iranian life and the longing of exiles, this has a fascinating elements, but as as a novel, I found it ultimately unsatisfying.

Everything I Never Told YouEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dave bought Everything I Never Told You for his Kindle months ago so I get to also read it thanks to Amazon's Family Library policy which is a great idea. We can use the campsite's wifi at our current CS so I seized the opportunity to download most of the books he has bought that I have not yet read!

Everything I Never Told You is marketed, on its cover at least, as being similar to The Lovely Bones and I think that does this book a disservice. Yes, both are set in the 1970s and the catalyst for both storylines is the death of a girl, but that could apply to dozens of books. Everything I Never Told You is an exploration of family relationships and tensions in a biracial household where two generations of wanting the best for their children has spectacularly backfired.

Marilyn, a white American woman, longed to be a doctor despite her mother's intention that she conform to perfect 1950s housewife ideals. Ng quotes from a vintage Betty Crocker cookbook whose guidelines for a happy home were hilarious until I remembered that they were meant as serious advice. Thank goodness the society in which I live now allows women the right to choose or refuse that lifestyle! Marrying a Chinese-American man, James, allows Marilyn to defy her mother, but also ends up with her losing her dreamed-for medical career. Instead, and unable to see the irony, she foists that ideal of perfect happiness onto her eldest daughter, Lydia. Lydia dutifully strives to make herself into the woman Marilyn obsessively pushes her to be, and when her body is discovered drowned in a nearby lake, the loss tears her family apart.

Several issues are carefully and cleverly interwoven to make this an interesting novel to think over and discuss after it is finished. The shocking casual racism is a reminder of how we can still recoil from people who display differences. And James's constant need to fit in clearly illustrates the effect such behaviour has on its victims. Most important though, I think, is the message that our dreams are just that. Ours. And, even with the best of intentions, foisting our own life goals onto others is rarely the best solution for them.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

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