Review: The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson

25776011*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Title: The Gap of Time

Author: Jeanette Winterson

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Publication Date: October 2015

ISBN: 9780345809179

The Gap of Time: The Winter's Tale Retold (Hogarth Shakespeare)

Synopsis from Goodreads:
The Winter’s Tale is one of Shakespeare’s “late plays”. It tells the story of Leontes, King of Sicily, whose insane jealousy results in the banishment of his baby daughter, Perdita, from the kingdom and then the death of his beautiful wife, Hermione. Perdita is brought up by a shepherd on the Bohemian coast, but through a series of miraculous events, father and daughter, and eventually mother too, are reunited. In Jeanette Winterson’s retelling we move from London, a city reeling after the 2008 financial crash, to a storm-ravaged city in the US called New Bohemia. Her story is one of childhood friendship, money, status, video games and the elliptical nature of time. It tells in a hyper-modern way, full of energy and beauty, of the consuming power of jealousy on the one hand, and love, redemption and a lost child on the other.

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Winterson’s The Passion solidified me as an avid fan of her works, but after reading The Gap of Time I’ve become a lifer. I’m incredibly excited about this novel and I’m so happy to have the chance to review it for you. For any Shakespeare fans out there, The Gap of Time is a modern adaptation of The Winter’s Tale. This is a story that I was familiar with, but just in case you aren’t, Winterson provides a quick synopsis of the play to get you going.

This story is metafictive in that it knows it’s a fictional adaptation of a play. It acknowledges the original and moves forward to retell the story from there. The novel flows from a recap of the play, to the retelling, to an analysis and a brief history at the end. Her explanation at the end is as much a part of the novel as the fictional stories. It’s an identifying factor of metafiction to include interruptions from the speaker/writer, including footnotes or endnotes, or in this case, a discussion at the end. I am a huge fan of metafiction, but even more so when it’s accessible to a large audience. If you’ve never encountered metafiction before, this is a great place to start. The Winter’s Tale is a familiar story that’s easy to pick up and Winterson structures it in a fun and engaging way where the novel itself acknowledges its fictitiousness. It’s modern and edgy, and yet again shows how Shakespeare is a masterful writer whose stories are classics that apply in any age.  Some people may not find it relatable, but it’s a genre of writing that I’ve come to love.

I loved the characters and Winterson’s adaption of them. She brought Shakespeares creation into a modern setting. Set in our reality they are so extreme. They are violent and passionate in a way that makes the reader uncomfortable, but also connects us to the story. Leo is a loose cannon, blinded by fear of infidelity and a lack of trust, Mimi loses everything and loses her agency to the men around her, Perdita is full of life and love and is a unifying force.

I really enjoyed reading the latest from Winterson. I hope you do too! 🙂

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Review: The Sunken Cathedral by Kate Walbert

23492774*I received a copy from Simon & Schuster Canada in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Sunken Cathedral

Author: Kate Walbert

Publisher: Scribner

Publication Date: June 2015

ISBN: 9781476799322

The Sunken Cathedral: A Novel

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Marie and Simone, friends for decades, were once immigrants to the city, survivors of World War II in Europe. Now widows living alone in Chelsea, they remain robust, engaged, and adventurous, even as the vistas from their past interrupt their present. Helen is an art historian who takes a painting class with Marie and Simone. Sid Morris, their instructor, presides over a dusty studio in a tenement slated for condo conversion; he awakes the interest of both Simone and Marie. Elizabeth is Marie’s upstairs tenant, a woman convinced that others have a secret way of being, a confidence and certainty she lacks. She is increasingly unmoored—baffled by her teenage son, her husband, and the roles she is meant to play.
In a chorus of voices, Kate Walbert, a “wickedly smart, gorgeous writer” (The New York Times Book Review), explores the growing disconnect between the world of action her characters inhabit and the longings, desires, and doubts they experience. Interweaving long narrative footnotes, Walbert paints portraits of marriage, of friendship, and of love in its many facets, always limning the inner life, the place of deepest yearning and anxiety. The Sunken Cathedral is a stunningly beautiful, profoundly wise novel about the way we live now.
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I want to start off by saying that the cover for this is quite stunning. The image of a city is distorted by water, the sunlight shinning through to the city below.There’s so much colour and movement, it’s very eye catching. The novel itself though, I struggled with a little bit. In it’s synopsis, it sounds like the perfect book for me. The story directs us to this small interconnected community of people: two frinds, a tenant, an art instructor. Their lives are so closely intertwined. They form friendships and connects with one another.

What I really loved about this book was the incorporation of footnotes. Footnotes are used so interestingly to provide metatextual information. They provide the narrators opinion, or an ancillary anecdote, or a tangent. Sometimes the footnotes take over the page, conquering and replacing the story for a moment or two. Often times the footnotes seem to recall memories or make comment on the current situation. The metatext fights to be heard and makes itself known over the bulk of the rest of the story. Sometimes it succeeds and completely eliminates the main body of the text from the page, claiming greater importance than the main text, even if for a brief second.

The story itself struggled to hold my attention. I would become emerged for a few pages, full engaged with the story and loving the characters, but the next I’d be straining to finish sentences and walking away from the book for a while only to come back and try again later. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was I struggled with. I generally enjoyed Walbert’s writing and her characters are compelling. She paints a portrait of life that is honest about grief and loss, as well as happiness and relationships.

Have you read Walberts latest book? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Review: Revenge of the Grand Narrative

22228437Title: Revenge of the Grand Narrative

Author: Richard Rosenbaum

Publisher: Quattro Books

Publication Date: 2014

ISBN: 9781927443712

Revenge of the Grand Narrative

Synopsis from Goodreads:
The oldest man in the world, an activist with a suspiciously persuasive singing voice, and the author of the most anticipated debut novel ever…are three different people. Together they set out to investigate a mysteriously sychronistic earthquake that seems to have leapt from the world of fiction.

Revenge of the Grand Narrative is a novel that brought a smile to my face in a way that no book has done since the metafiction class that I took in university. The extent to which this novel is aware of itself as a fiction is amusing and absurd to say the least. This book has a whole section in it’s second half that walks the reader through parts of the stories development and the author’s thoughts and notes on the writing. The author/speaker identifies the story as a work of fiction, commenting on the style, the thought behind it, even to the point of conversing with one of the story’s characters directly.

The more “traditional” narrative is an absurd story of a city struck suddenly and unusually by earthquakes, accompanied by the landing of a wooden, naturally grown, robot-esque, fire-spurting being. It’s left to our three main characters–a famous author, a Kantian deontologist, and an idealogical utilitarian– all of whom are opinionated and act exactly how you’d expect, to save the day. We don’t really get any sort of conclusion. Each character finishes the story trapped inside the Generic House of Worship, a structure that isn’t really quite sure what it is. The writer, that is the speaker, returns to these scenes to walk us through his thoughts behind each character and each situation.

Rosenbaum has fun with his writing here. His statements are often intentionally obvious or ridiculously absurd, and it’s hilarious. He kept bringing a smirk to my face. The ending especially gave me a good chuckle. It’s a really unique story, and a light hearted read.

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: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

18367581Title: Afterworlds

Author: Scott Westerfeld

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Publication Date: September 2014

ISBN: 9781481422345

Afterworlds

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Darcy Patel has put college and everything else on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. Arriving in New York with no apartment or friends she wonders whether she’s made the right decision until she falls in with a crowd of other seasoned and fledgling writers who take her under their wings…

Told in alternating chapters is Darcy’s novel, a suspenseful thriller about Lizzie, a teen who slips into the ‘Afterworld’ to survive a terrorist attack. But the Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead and as Lizzie drifts between our world and that of the Afterworld, she discovers that many unsolved – and terrifying – stories need to be reconciled. And when a new threat resurfaces, Lizzie learns her special gifts may not be enough to protect those she loves and cares about most.

This is one of the more difficult posts that I’ve had to write in quite a while, mainly because there was so very little that I enjoyed about Westerfeld’s Afterworlds. I had high hopes for this one. I loved reading the Uglies series back in high school, and though I haven’t read any more of Westerfeld’s books, I was hoping that Afterworlds would wow me in the same way. Alas, it did not. It left me disappointed and wanting more. I’m a huge fan of Westerfeld’s writing style, and true to form, even in a story that I didn’t enjoy, his still writes so well that I wasn’t able to put the book down. Now there’s a conundrum for you.

Afterworlds combines two stories: that of debut author Darcy, in contrast to the story of her character, Lizzie. It’s a work of metafiction. A book within a book. Also known as “bookception.” I couldn’t help but feel like, in making this one book into two stories, each story loses something and, as a result, each becomes quite lacklustre. I didn’t feel like I really got to know the characters in either plot line because there was no room for character development.

I’ll start with Darcy’s own story. Perhaps the world of American publishers is different than it is here in Canada. I work as a marketing assistant at a small, independent, Canadian publisher. I feel, here in Canada, that those of in publishing are close knit, warm, relaxed, fun, and maybe not so glamorous all of the time. The world that Darcy enters is sparkling and star-studded, but isolating. Relationships are superficial, people are competitive, and everyone seems to be hiding something. It seemed to be a thinly veiled, negative commentary on the American publishing biz. In my own opinion, Westerfeld seemed to be venting some of his own frustrations here. BUT this is all speculation. Darcy has unexplained trust issues, she wants to act like an adult and be free of her parents but can’t handle adult responsibilities (i.e. her own finances), no one ever questions that this girl is under the legal drinking age (I get it, it’s New York City, but when I was there only a month away from my 21st birthday, I couldn’t even get into a bar to see my favourite band play), and the adults (parents, family, etc.) seem to be strangely nonchalant about this girl’s life choices. Sigh. That’s enough of Darcy. Let me explain my frustrations with the story she’s written, Afterworlds.

Afterworlds (the story within the story), starts of GREAT! I was pumped! What a fantastic first chapter. My heart was pounding. I was on the edge of my seat. Wow. But that’s it. That’s where it ended. We’re reading, presumably, the final version of the story. The version that gets published. The romance falls completely flat, unfortunately. Perhaps it could have been better with more time to pan out. All we know about Yama is that he’s a Hindu god of death, he’s hawt, and Darcy can’t do anything without him. The foundation of their relationship is Yama’s hotness. We rarely witness a conversation between the two of them (other than establishing his backstory). I couldn’t believe their romance for a minute. Darcy is impulsive and stubborn. I really was quite frustrated.

I wanted so badly to like this book and I couldn’t. I won’t be dissuaded from Westerfeld’s other books, because I know I like his style. His writing made quite an impression on my younger self and I can attribute a huge part of my love of YA to his previous series. But Afterworlds didn’t make the cut, I’m sorry to say. I can’t recommend it to you, as much as that pains me to say.

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s top ten list is a huge challenge for me. Sure, I read A LOT! But it’s so difficult to pick out ten books that stick to this weeks topic. The top ten topic for this week is: top ten of the most unique books I’ve ever read. Of course, most books tend to be unique, but finding something that really stands out is pretty hard. I’m very rarely completely wow-ed by something new or outstanding. But here goes.

extremely-loud-cover

1. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer – I know I’ve mentioned this one before, but this book for me was the first of it’s kind that I’d discovered. I love Foer’s incorporation of images along with content. It really helped me to better understand his protagonist, Oscar Schell, and to see the world through his eyes. It also established an emotionally connection with me because it brought the book to life and made things a lot more real that they would have been with only my imagination. I found this to be really unique and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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2. The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells – I read this book for a modern British literature course in university and I was fascinated by it. I loved studying this book as a commentary on the fear of industrialization and the technological age. It was interesting to see the parallels between scientific and technological advancements in real life and the monstrous and corrupt topic of vivisection and human-animal alteration in the book. I also liked the themes of fear of the foreign/different and fear of brutality/animality throughout this book.

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3. Molloy by Samuel Beckett – This one was also read for a course in university. It’s Beckett so, like many others, I’m not entirely sure what happened in this story, but I know that I enjoyed reading it. Beckett is really a fascinating writer and no one can argue that his writing isn’t truly unique.

barth

4. Lost in the Funhouse by John Barth – This book is a prime example of a metafictional text. These postmodern stories follow narrators including a sperm and egg, a conception, and a boy’s experience in a funhouse. The stories are very self-aware. It was a complicated read, but it was filled with very intriguing stories.

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5. Uglies by Scott Westerfield – This book, well series, was my first adventure into dystopian Y.A. fiction. I think that Westerfield created a very unique world that stood out from all the vampire and werewolf Y.A. that was prominent at the time. I haven’t read it in probably in 8 years now so I can’t say how I would like it now. But at the time, it was one of the coolest stories I’d read. It was a breath of fresh air for me during the vamp/were craze.

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6. When Fox is a Thousand by Larissa Lai – I loved this book. It weaves together various voices and vastly different eras to create an enchanting story reminiscent of Chinese fairytales. It has a very mystical and fantastical feel to it. It explores ideas of time, faith, family, sexuality, history, and gender. Plus, it’s a Canadian book, which I love, because I definitely think that the world needs more Canadian books.

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7. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – This book was recommended to me and I don’t think I was quite prepared for it’s difficult subject matter. Although often disturbing in it’s topic, Nabokov’s writing is undeniably beautiful. This book really spoke to me like few books do. His diction and narrative style is beautiful as well as tragic.

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8. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – I was drawn to this book by it’s unique cover. I have the first edition hard cover. The book has images of two faces, one on the front cover and one on the back. The dust jacket is made of beautiful translucent paper with 1Q84 in transparent paper revealing the faces beneath. This story was so bizarre with reality and an alternate reality. The story has you questioning what is real and what isn’t. A lot of the plot elements seem otherworldly. I can’t say I loved it, but I didn’t dislike it either.

Inkheart_book

9. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke – This story is about a man who has a special gift; he can bring the characters of books to life when he reads them aloud. I love this concept and when I was younger, I loved this book. It brought my dreams to life and awakened my imagination in a way that most other books couldn’t. It was a great and absorbing young adult read.

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10. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon – The protagonist, Christopher John Francis Boone, is hands down the most unique character that I’ve come across. He is autistic and extraordinarily intelligent. I enjoyed being inside his brain in this narrative because it was so fascinating to see and move about his world as he did.  I wasn’t completely sold on the story, so I have to say that it is this character that makes this book very unique.