South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

“For a long time, she held a special place in my heart. I kept this special place just for her, like a “Reserved” sign on a quiet corner table in a restaurant. Despite the fact that I was sure I’d never see her again.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 224 pages
Read from November 26, 2020 to December 2, 2020

I just realised that I am four books shy of having read everything by Murakami (23 books according to his website). If that doesn’t show that he is my favourite author then I don’t know what does. No matter what book I pick up by Murakami, regardless of the plot, each book brings me back to the same feelings; comforting, welcoming, and familiar.

South of the Border and West of the Sun is a love story and while much of Murakami’s work have love stories in them it isn’t always the main focus. This one was an exception. Hajime is an only child and he’s a bit hung up on it as he feels that only children are different. During his childhood, he makes a friendship with a girl with a lame leg called Shimamoto. Shimamoto also happens to be an only child and the two of them find a friendship that carries them into adolescence as they spend their time listening to music and talking about the future. The two of them grew apart as they got older, as adolescent friendships often do. However, even when Hajime reaches middle age, is married with children, a successful business owner with a seemly ordinary and happy life, he cannot stop thinking about Shimamoto and what could have been. Shimamoto predictably reappears in his life, igniting a passion in Hajime that he can’t ignore and will risk everything for.

As a reader, Hajime’s obsession becomes your obsession as you anxiously anticipate what will happen when Hajime somehow reunites with Shimamoto. That doesn’t, however, make it any less heartbreaking when his wife finds out what he’s been doing.

“I think you still love me, but we can’t escape the fact that I’m not enough for you. I knew this was going to happen. So I’m not blaming you for falling in love with another woman. I’m not angry, either. I should be, but I’m not. I just feel pain. A lot of pain. I thought I could imagine how much this would hurt, but I was wrong.”

The book itself is a testament to the power of memory and nostalgia, as well as the risks and rewards of indulging in them. The story is also very much about childhood and the dissatisfaction that comes with becoming an adult and the endearing power of first love.

“…..the sad truth is that certain types of things can’t go backward. Once they start going forward, no matter what you do, they can’t go back the way they were. If even one little thing goes awry, then that’s how it will stay forever.”

This book, however, lacked the pull that most Murakami books have for me as perhaps it was too love-centred or that I was generally more interested in Shimamoto and her life and thoughts than Hajime’s perspective. I’m usually not bothered by the male-centeredness of most Murakami novels or the lack of real characteristics he gives his female characters as the protagonist’s story feels universally relatable to me. I’m not saying that this character wasn’t, I just found myself more interested in Shimamoto this time around.

It’s a safe book for first-time Murakami readers but it’s definitely not his best. The book itself is still very much a Murakami novel and I still found enjoyment in it.

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

“The land claims what you leave behind.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 279 pages.
Read from November 10, 2020 to November 16, 2020.

This book was the first book I read as part of a book club that I recently joined and let me tell you, it is so great to be a part of a real and live person book club again. To hang around fellow book nerds, consume copious amounts of beer, and talk about books that you may never have come across otherwise. It really is the best.

This book is the start of an emergence of a new genre of books that is a horror-based fiction that is set within Native American folklore and tales. The story blends the whimsical nature of the oral stories from the Native tradition with a classic slasher and psychological horror feel, that also becomes a modern social commentary on Native Americans today.

Set in a small town in the modern-day United States, four Native American men share an experience from their youth that has begun to come back to haunt them. They broke sacred hunting rules and now, ten years after the event, an elk entity is hellbent on revenge for the lives that they should not have taken. The opening death scene of one of the men sets the horrifying precedence of the book in terms of horror as well as the enduring racism and cultural and identity struggles that they all face. As the story progresses, you get to hear the voice of this entity and the stories intertwined with it, especially as it continues to successfully exact its vengeance.

I’ll admit, I didn’t enjoy this book after initially finishing it. It has an amazing concept and presence but I found the writing style really jostling. Its approach was just not for me. As the book draws nearer to the end, the story becomes very strange, and at times, hard to follow as you become more intertwined in the narrative of the entity. This style of writing made a lot of sections of this book a slog and hard to get through. When I first finished this story, I gave it a 2-star rating but after I had my book club meeting I changed my rating to 3 stars as the book created such amazing discussions, even though many of my fellow book club members struggled with this book like I did, we all came to appreciate the depth of this book after discussing it. This book is meant to make you uncomfortable. It’s supposed to make you feel as helpless as the characters in the story as you acknowledge the physical horror that occurs but also the social horrors that they face and that many Native Americans still face.

Would I read this book again? No, but I’m glad that it exists and that I read it. I would love to read more books that are similar to this one that intertwines the Native American experience with horror. There is actually a Netflix movie called “Hold the Dark” that reminded me a lot of this book as it follows a similar pretence.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

“Three words, large enough to tip the world. I remember you.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 502 pages.
Read from November 23, 2020 to November 26, 2020.

Another great library find! This book was exactly what I needed during a difficult time. I’ve read a lot of reviews on this book since finishing it and I can see that many readers didn’t jive with this book but for me, it was the perfect escape and I’m going to stand behind the praise I’m going to give it.

This story starts in the early 1700s in a small village in France in which a young Addie makes a frantic decision to avoid being forcefully married off. Despite the warnings of her grandmother, she makes a deal with one of the old gods during the night, of which nothing good can come. She wants the ability to live her own life by her own rules and commits to living forever until she is tired of living of which she will then give up her soul to this bargain maker. The catch with this deal is that no one will ever remember her. Not her family, not anyone she meets, she will always be forgotten. At first, Addie is crushed by her choice since her own family has no recollection of who she is and is cast out of their home. The first part of her immortality is full of misery and strife until she comes to use this forgetfulness to her own advantage. Her story spans across centuries and different countries with the god, Luc, constantly trying to find ways to get her to give up her immortal life. Their relationship turns into a complex one as Luc is the only being that knows and remembers her causing Addie to both desire his company and be repulsed by it at the same time. Addie, however, is content and is constantly in awe at the possibilities and experiences that the world has to offer and she finds innovative ways she can make an impact and inspire others. She has commanded her life and her freedom as she sees fit and yet… and yet she still yearns to have someone remember her. Everything changes when she meets Henry in a bookshop who remembers her name. She hasn’t heard her name on the lips of someone mortal in centuries. So why does this one man remember her after hundreds of years of passing through people’s lives?

“Books, she has found, are a way to live a thousand lives–or to find strength in a very long one.”

Addie’s character and the dynamics with both Henry and Luc were my favourite part of this story. The writing is subtle in building these relationships creating a slower burner of tension and anticipation. The writing is elegant and references history and art in an intriguing way while also creating a journey and characters that you want to follow. I found the story compelling and easy to read. It made me feel at ease and gave me something to look forward to during a sad time in my life. While I see some other readers struggled with the story and/or characters in this book it was perfect for what I needed and I anticipate it will be a book I will read again as it was a wonderful story to escape into. The story is character-heavy but highly imaginative and is an ideal book to lose yourself in amidst this pandemic. This book reminds me of The Time Traveler’s Wife but with more whimsical elements and I think if you enjoyed that story you will likely also find something this one.