Sunday, 4 October 2015

The Miner by Natsume Soseki / The Abominable Man by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo / Nightmares by Dan Sihota

The Miner by Natsume Sōseki
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Buy the paperback from Waterstones

I received a copy of The Miner by Netsume Soseki from its publishers, Gallic Books, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review. This is my fourth book towards Sophie And Suze's NetGalley Challenge and I am also counting The Miner as my 1900s read for the Goodreads / Bookcrossing Decade Challenge as it was first published in 1908. In my ignorance of classic Japanese literature I didn't realise that Soseki is one of their lauded authors although apparently The Miner, an experimental work, is often excluded from his collected writings. I think this is a shame. It is certainly an odd novel, but I enjoyed reading it especially as its unusual structure was unpredictable.

The eponymous miner talks to the reader in the first person throughout the novel. He describes what he sees and the people he meets, while also explaining his own thoughts and feelings. This is a very introverted book. We never learn the Miner's name. A young man, he has walked from Tokyo to a forest where he meets a man procuring men to work in a copper mine. Much of the book is about the sheer pain of long distance walking. Soseki also examines the point of life, honour in suicide, human dignity, and degradation caused harsh labour. His portrayals of the miners en masse are frequently shocking to read although he also finds hope in a claustrophobic underground scene that is particularly moving to read.

The Miner could perhaps be considered as a coming of age tale. It reads more as a memoir than a novel and I was intrigued by both the premise and its unfolding. I think the story style is probably of niche interest and I would recommend it to quietly adventurous readers.


The Abominable Man (Martin Beck #7)The Abominable Man by Maj Sjöwall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Buy the paperback from Waterstones

It's been months since I read any of Sjowall and Wahloo's Martin Beck series. Dave had bought this seventh story, The Abominable Man, through his Amazon account so I got to share it via Family Library. As the novel was first published some forty years ago, I am including The Abominable Man as my 1970s read for the Goodreads / Bookcrossing Decade Challenge.

The tense thriller had me gripped from the start and I couldn't put it down so read the whole book in an afternoon. This is one of the strongest storylines so far and I liked how Sjowall and Wahloo wove in biting criticism of the Swedish social system at the time without interrupting their narrative flow. The whole drama takes place in less than a day which is remarkably fast for this series, yet none of the intricate and careful plotting had been sacrificed. The large cast of characters, some new and some already known, are all realistically portrayed and I loved the sense of world-weariness that pervades every page. This is a thrilling thriller, but viewed through eyes that have already seen too much which gives it a distinctive voice. Many authors have since emulated Sjowall and Wahloo - in fact I have read uncannily similar plots in other books - but I would say that the Swedish series are still the best. And, other than the lack of technological gizmos, haven't dated at all.


NightmaresNightmares by Dan Sihota
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Buy the ebook from Amazon.co.uk

Nightmares author, Dan Sihota, politely contacted me through Goodreads to ask if I would be interested in reading and reviewing his book. The short story collection is independently published and consists of nine tales which Sihota describes as 'modern horror'. This means no vampires, but instead spooky tales that incorporate mysticism, spirits and supernatural happenings.

I am not particularly a horror fan so appreciated the lack of gratuitous gore although one story, Torture, was too relentlessly sadistic for me so I did speed-read it! Sihota writes diverse characters from different cultures and his stories are set in Britain, India and America. I liked The Bus Journey and The Field best - two very different tales, but with interesting settings, characters and final flourishes that were satisfying. I think tighter editing could help with creating a stronger sense of atmosphere. The prose does tend to ramble and divert at times which, in the build-up, can work well as a wave heightening and then releasing tension. However, I did find it distracting when stories reached their climax and would have preferred sharper focus. As in a genuine nightmare, several tales stop suddenly - almost like a waking up - which is an interesting device and works well.

I am pleased to have read Nightmares and am happy to recommend it, in October, as a good Halloween collection. Just maybe not as a book for bedtime!


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