Review: Grand Menteur

Grand-Menteur-Jean-Marc-Ah-Sen-cover-510

*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Grand Menteur

Author: Jean Mare Ah-Sen

Publisher: BookThug

Publication Date: October 2015

ISBN: 9781771661300

Synopsis:
The secret world of Mauritian street gangs is not for the faint of heart. Fraught with peril and mischief, its inner workings are a mystery to the daughter of one of its most valued members: Serge, the Grand Menteur. A liar of exceptional caliber whose sole responsibility is to purposefully confuse police with alibis, the Menteur fears for the criminal future he has unwittingly introduced into his daughter’s life, when her clear knack for violence attracts the notice of senior gang members. Mauritian Kreol, English, and French blend together into a heady brew of language in Grand Menteur. Written in a nuanced style reflecting the island-nation’s convoluted history of colonialism, this debut novel by Jean Marc Ah-Sen sheds an unflinching light on the poverty and down-and-out hardship of a shadow class of immigrants from the 1940s to the ’80s.

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Ah-Sen’s short novel tells the story of Serge, the Grand Menteur, from the point of view of his daughter. While we know Serge is involved with a Mauritian street gang known as the Sous, it is never quite clear what the gang’s objective is. We see into their group through the daughter from the perspective of a young girl to a woman. She is not privy to the gang’s activities and so we come to know the men that make up this strange group, rather than the crimes they commit. The daughter is given a codex to detail the group’s activities and to help her know her secretive father better, however she never really deciphers it for us, if she is even able to understand it herself. There’s a sense that she is never fully able to understand her father or the group when, in the novel’s final pages, her lifelong companion Cherelle, makes reference to her own codex in full understanding. The daughter is isolated from the group, and so are we the reader. Perhaps she is never meant to fully know the inner workings of the Sous

Ah-Sen’s writing is a bit of a struggle to adapt to. I found myself pulling out my dictionary to define a few words throughout, an experience that doesn’t happen often for me. Ah-Sen does not assume that his reader is unintelligent. He expects you to keep up and to follow along. He certainly has a masterful grasp of diction and many of his sentences are delightful and fascinating. It’s a story that demands your full attention. I found it a bit of a struggle to retain the story  because of the complexity of the sentences and the infrequency of large blocks of time to sit down and read. This is a book meant to be read in one sitting. The longer period of time I had to read, the more captivated I was by the story. I hope you all enjoy checking this debut novel out.

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Review: One Hundred Days of Rain by Carellin Brooks

9781771660907Title: One Hundred Days of Rain

Author: Carelling Brooks

Publisher: BookThug

Publication Date: March 2015

ISBN: 9781771660907

Synopsis from cover:
In prose by turn haunting and crystalline, Carellin Brooks’ One Hundred Days of Rain enumerates an unnamed narrator’s encounters with that most quotidian of subjects: rain. Mourning her recent disastrous breakup, the narrator must rebuild a life from the bottom up. As she wakes each day to encounter Vancouver’s sky and city streets, the narrator notices that the rain, so apparently unchanging, is in fact kaleidoscopic. Her melancholic mood alike undergoes subtle variations that sometimes echo, sometimes contrast with her surroundings. Caught between the two poles of weather and mood, the narrator is not alone: whether riding the bus with her small child, searching for an apartment to rent, or merely calculating out the cost of meager lunches, the world forever intrudes, as both a comfort and a torment.
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One Hundred Days of Rain
is a short novel that covers a vast journey of a narrator’s struggle to survive a break up, to navigate a custody battle, and to find happiness. The narrator walks through life observing her surroundings and trying to make ends meet. Hers is a story of commonality and the day to day human existence. The narrator is nameless, as are her lovers, ex-husband, and child. We know her only as she. She could be anyone. I enjoyed the fact that characters are not given a name. They characters that readers can see themselves mirrored in. Removing the names takes away any stereotypes or pre-determined ideas that we might have about a character. For instance, we know our narrator has a son and an ex-husband, but it only through the discrete use of pronouns that we discover that she is also battling with her previous lover, a woman, and she has a current lover, also a woman. It’s subtle and well-executed. My picture of the narrator was carefully cultivated through the pages, rather than defined the instant I began reading. Brooks gives you, the reader, more control over your imaginative experience.

My one criticism is the one thing that I perhaps should have been better prepared to encounter when I initially picked up this book, and that is the thorough discussion of rain. It is a ubiquitous presence throughout these 200 pages. While Brooks’ descriptions are beautiful and thoughtful, I quickly tired of the discussion of rain. She lives in a perpetually wet city. Got it. And the one thing that got under my skin–and only because of my own personal experiences–was this inaccurate statement: “There are other places, true. Places she stayed about about which she can testify upon returning that it never rained there, not once. Kingston. The cold knifelike, that sharp it was. Summers muggy and clear” (41). Now perhaps there’s little rain in the summer? But after 4 years of attending university in Kingston, I can personally attest that it rains an incredible amount. More than anywhere I’ve ever lived. I had to buy rain gear when I moved there. I’ve lost many a good boot to the rain in Kingston. It’s a city basically under water. I’ve never lived anywhere as wet. Now I will give it to the author that the story takes place in B.C. and I’m sure Ontario rainfall doesn’t even compare. But this statement needs amending because Kingston is one of the rainiest places in Southern Ontario, without a doubt. No one can say that it never rains there.

To end, I absolutely adore this cover. As with most BookThug covers, it is a work of art. It is stunning, attention grabbing, and unique. It’s a melancholy read. It’s a story of struggle and resilience. It’s a tale of one woman’s journey to find her way after losing so much, to make a place in this world for her and her son. Although there were things I didn’t like, overall it was a very enjoyable story.

 

Review: The Universal Bureau of Copyrights

22225753Title: The Universal Bureau of Copyrights

Author: Bertrand Laverdure

Translator: Oana Avasilichioaei

Publisher: BookThug

Publication Date: October 2014

ISBN: 9781771660525

Universal Bureau of Copyrights

 

Synopsis from Goodreads:

From multidisciplinary artist Bertrand Laverdure comes UNIVERSAL BUREAU OF COPYRIGHTS, a bold, strange, and addictive story that envisions a world where free will doesn’t exist, and an unnameable global corporation buys and sells the copyrights for all things that exist on the earth, including real and fictional characters. Part narrative-poetry, part sci-fi-dystopian fantasy, readers become acquainted with the main character, a man who deconstructs himself as he navigates the mystifying passages of the story. Having no control over his environment, time continuum, or body, he is a puppet on strings, an icon in a video game and, as he eventually discovers with the bowels of the UNIVERSAL BUREAU OF COPYRIGHTS, the object of countless copyrights.

I’m finding this a difficult book to review because it is unlike anything I’ve ever encountered outside of academic study. I enjoyed it in its absurdity, it’s shockingness, and it’s willingness to challenge traditional narratives. Bertrand’s translated voices pulls, no coaxes, you along through the unfortunate tale of the main character. His limbs and digits are taken from him and we realize he lives in a world where he has no control, not of his body, his life, or even his death. He ends up with a mesmerizing, singing, wooden leg and a fully functioning arm made of chocolate. He loses his fingers and eventually loses control of his body and his sensory ability.

This book will push you to challenge your notion of what a novel is and of what storytelling is. The story is poetic in its unfolding, often disjointed in a way that mirrors the content of the story. The reader is put into the character’s place, feeling lost, uncertain, tentative, or afraid, as the story carries you along.

One of the things I really loved about this story is that it is metafictive. It is a story that knows it is a story. The tale often refers to the main character. A “literary tourist” challenges the main character: “What are you doing to the fictions original ecology? You’re nothing but a mediocre patch-it-upper!” (111), as if the main character is ruining the story as he plunders along through this unfamiliar world. Chapter 7 is where we can really see this book introducing itself as a work of metafiction. In Chapter 7, we meet all of the “literary tourists” who are described as people “who haven’t necessarily read the book, but who have followed, with guide and road maps, our hero’s adventure” (44). The book here directly acknowledges itself as a book and it’s main character as a character. It is not parading around as fiction disguises as reality. It understands its fictiveness. Having studied metafiction in detail in university, I find this book fascinating and would definitely recommend it for any metafiction course.

Overall, a very unique story. A challenging, but enjoyable read.

Review: Sophrosyne by Marianne Apostolides

22225751Title: Sophrosyne

Author: Marianne Apostolides

Published by: BookThug

Publication Date: September 2014

ISBN: 9781771660501

Sophrosyne

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Sophrosyne is one of only four virtues identified by Socrates – four traits which, if lived deeply, define who we are as human beings. But sophrosyne is a concept our culture has long forgotten. “”Self-restraint, ‘ ‘self-control, ‘ ‘modesty, ‘ ‘temperance’ – none of these terms expresses the essence of the word.
In this provocative new novel about desire and restraint in a digital age by acclaimed author Marianne Apostolides, 21-year-old Alex is consumed by the elusive problem of sophrosyne for reasons he cannot share with others. While Alex’s philosophy professor believes studying it will help shed light on the malaise of our era, Alex hopes it will release him from his darkly disturbing relationship with his mother. As he attempts to uncover his mother’s truth, Alex is drawn inside an amorphous, indefinable undercurrent of love and violation. Only through his lover, Meiko, does Alex open into a new understanding of sophrosyne, with all its implications.

This book is the most complex story that I’ve come across this year. It is a book, not simply to be read, but to be studied. Apostolides’ writing invites in-depth conversation with her disturbing, yet fresh and thoughtful prose. This story has unsettled me. It’s stopped me in my tracks and forced me to reconsider my thoughts on humanity,  on romance, on academia, on intimacy. Alexandros is haunted by his awfully dark relationship with his mother. He struggles to free himself from the impotence that plagues him, both sexually and intellectually. Through his academics and with the help of his lover, Meiko, he begins to cast aside the chains imposed upon him by the relationship he and his mother had.

We never directly see Sophia, Alex’s mother, yet she is a constant and imposing presence. She is always there, pushing and taking from Alex. She is presented through his thoughts, perceptions, and memories. Everything he is and everything he becomes is influenced by her. She is as much alive to him when she is absent as when she is present. She pushes him to better him, she says. But she holds him back, restraining him and isolating him from his peers. He questions, and thus the reader questions, what it means to be human, what it means to be a man, what it means to love.

Sophrosyne is a novel that cannot be read just once. There is no way to completely understand to fully absorb this story after just one read because it pushes you to think further and to delve deeper. It’s challenging in a way that most stories are not, but Apostolides coaxes you through with eloquent and poetic prose. Despite such disturbing subjects, her writing is beautiful.

This story is unlike anything I’ve ever read. It’s unsettling, it’s contemplative, and it’s vast. Apsotlides’ reader must be smart and thoughtful, willing to contemplate on the statements her characters make. For now, I will be setting Sophrosyne aside, with every intention of returning to dwell on this prose again soon.