The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

“Every night I cut out my heart. But in the morning it was full again”

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 307 pages.
Read from July 22, 2018 to July 29, 2018.

Is there a book list out there that doesn’t have this book on it somewhere? Probably not. This book has been awarded numerous accolades, most recently the Golden Man Booker prize for this year. As a Canadian, this book has been on my to-read list since my university days, especially since I have already read In the Skin of a Lion, which I sadly have no recollection of. Admittedly, I didn’t even know what this novel was about prior to picking it up so I was happy to see that the plot is set during WWII as I do enjoy historical-fiction from that era.

WWII may have just ended but not in the minds of those who were deeply involved in it Hana is a nurse who has refused to leave her post at a war-time hospital in Italy despite it being abandoned and still within the vicinity of landmines. She will not leave a burn patient who is barely alive and has no memory of who is he or how he got here. A family friend, who also served, comes to find Hana and ends up staying with her at the hospital. They are then joined later by an aloof stranger who is also can’t stop being a soldier and is having trouble letting go of the war that has traumatized them all.

As a reader, you are kept at length from all the characters in the book, despite their dire emotional states thus following how the characters themselves keep each other and their feelings also at a distance. At first, I was intrigued by the approach and eagerly read my way through the first half of the novel, however, the last half felt like a slog as the intrigue wore off and I realized how the story and the characters were going nowhere. The burned patient, this unknown person who has lost their memory, was initially very compelling especially with the relationship he had with Hana, but I felt the details of his story got too messy and drawn out that by the end that I didn’t end up really caring who he was despite his eventual connections to everyone. The story of this book is like a slow-moving dream including the muddiness that often comes when you dream.

With all that said, I did enjoy Hana’s character and story and there were aspects of this novel that I loved. The story transported me to the historical setting and I did find myself wrapped in that world long after I finished the novel. Many readers feel that this book is somewhat of a love story and I find that is a bit of stretch. I feel the story is more about on the characters trying to heal through each other from their individual traumas and the unique bond of the war that connects them in the strange abandoned hospital.

Ultimately, I did enjoy this novel I just wanted more out of the story than what was provided but it was still a worthwhile read. This story would suit any historical fiction fan and while I cannot remember much of the plot from In The Skin of a Lion, I read that the two are more meaningful if paired together.  Perhaps a re-read is in order?

 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

“Metaphors are lies.”

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 268 pages.
Read from November 6, 2017 to November 8, 2017.

This is one of those books that has been on my to-read list for an embarrassingly long time. It isn’t that I wasn’t excited to read it, it was just that I missed the hype on this book right after it was published so I moved on to other books instead. It had been on my to-read shelf so long that I feel as if I had already read it!

Did you know?

The title of this book quotes the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1892 short story “Silver Blaze.”

Christopher is a fifteen-year-old boy who understands the world through math as it is the only thing that makes sense to him. Emotions and expressions are a mystery to him so it is hard for him to meet new people and make sense of the world. Christopher is brilliant in mathematics and logic but his behavioural issues mean that he spends his time in a special school. Christopher lives with his father, Ed, as he has been told his mother passed away two years ago. Christopher’s adventures begin when he finds his neighbour’s dog stabbed with a pitchfork. Determined to figure out who committed the act Christoper begins writing everything down in an effort to find the murderer. As Christopher’s murder mystery unfolds, he will learn some fragile and mysterious things about the people around him which take him on an adventure he never would have anticipated.

Did you know?

This book was first published simultaneously in separate editions for adults and children in 2003.

I was shocked to read some of the hateful reviews of this book as many people could not tolerate the style of writing the author used. The book is written in Christopher’s voice and personality, so the verbiage is blunt as Christopher tries to explain situations as he sees them. This included diagrams and random banters about math which result in unintended philosophical rants on life. This unique perspective offered by Christopher is the whole point of the novel. It is meant to allow the reader to purposely see and appreciate the point of view of someone else.  Haddon even says so himself,

“Curious Incident is not a book about Asperger’s. It’s a novel whose central character describes himself as ‘a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties’. Indeed he never uses the words ‘Asperger’s’ or ‘autism’ (I slightly regret that fact that the word ‘Asperger’s’ was used on the cover). If anything it’s a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way. It’s as much a novel about us as it is about Christopher.”- Mark Haddon

I personally, really appreciated the style and its ability to reach out to both a youth and adult audience. Even if I could not understand or appreciate some of the choices that Christopher and his family made I can see the logic in them. Christopher’s parents were the most dynamic characters in the book and Haddon does a great job of depicting them with depth even with Christopher’s limited emotional narrative. Despite the darkness and tone of some parts of this book, the happy ending is extremely satisfying.

Did you know?

The book uses prime numbers to number the chapters.

The most intriguing bit of this book is the exploration of human emotion. It makes you analyze the importance it plays in our personal and social lives and how it drives or destroys it. In a way, it would be nice if things were cut and dry the way that Christopher sees things but at the same time, it would be overwhelming and distressing because nothing else in life works that way.

Did you know?

The story was adapted onto the stage in 2012 and the rights for a movie were purchased in 2011 but it has not yet been produced.

I would say that this book is worthy of the hype it has received. It is unique and different and received accolades for its insight, but as with anything different, there are always haters. If you are looking to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and immerse yourself in a whole new world than this little murder-mystery is right for you.


Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Curious_Incident_of_the_Dog_in_the_Night-Time

http://www.markhaddon.com/aspergers-and-autism

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

The historical scenes in this book are outstanding.

3/5 stars.
ebook, 432 pages.
Read from January 1, 2017 to February 8, 2017.

This should have been published yesterday, my apologies. This novel showed up on my radar as it has recently won the Giller Prize and was also nominated for the Booker Prize. Once I read the premise, I was excited to see what this historical-fiction would hold.

Marie (Li-Ling) is a first-generation Canadian who is unfolding the story of two different generations of her family.  Her family, originally from China, lived through the Mao Cultural Revolutions and the following generation was there for the Tiananmen Square protests. When her estranged older cousin Ai-Ming comes to live with after escaping the aftermath of the protests in China, Marie starts to learn more about her father, Kai, and her Uncle Sparrow who is Ai-Ming’s father, through a series of notebooks. Sparrow and Kai were both accomplished musicians, with Sparrow being a genius composer.  The two of them shared an immensely close bond. Kai moved to Canada and started a family while Sparrow remained in China and gave up composing. In secret, Kai went to visit his friend and never returned after taking his own life. The notebook also details countless other family members and their tragic stories in China during these tumultuous times in history.

If the description of this novel seems convoluted, it’s because the plot line is too. The storyline jumps around a lot and it is hard to keep track of the numerous family members in the story.  There are also extensive conversations about music and composers, which I imagine would be great if you were familiar with them, but as I am not, I found parts of this novel to be extremely dry.  I felt very frustrated with this novel. On one part, the historical aspects and scenes of this story are outstanding. Thein creates some phenomenal imagery and at times I felt as I deeply immersed in the story. There are also some very memorable characters and relationships in the book but you had to wade through a family tree to get to ones that mattered. I do not feel that this story was told as well as it could have been. The notebook concept was not delivered very well and at times I felt confused and bored by what I was reading, which is a reflection of how long this novel to me. The story and concept of this novel are award-winning, however, the writing is not.

I can say that there were times I considered putting this book down, however, there are some golden scenes in this book that made up for it, the ending especially. This book is still worth reading and I would recommend it to history buffs or historical fiction fans.