Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

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If I were to tweet a summary of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage in 140 characters it would go something like this:

Young man is dumped by high school friends resulting in heartbreak and self-esteem issues. Spends rest of novel feeling sorry for himself.

I know I’m being harsh and in no way do I want to make light of suicidal feelings or depression, but it was difficult for me to connect with the main character despite his justifiable misery.

* CONTAINS SPOILERS

THE STORY
When he is a young man in college, Tsukuru Tazaki is inexplicably cut off from his tight-knit group of high school friends. He is devastated, but has no clue why his friends no longer want to see him. Years go by and Tsukuru suffers from depression and low self-esteem. He has no friends, but gets by with work and his weekly swims. While swimming, he meets Haida and they quickly become good friends, but even that friendship is not meant to last. It isn’t until he is in his thirties and his girlfriend convinces him that Tsukuru decides to meet his old high school friends and finally understand their actions from sixteen years ago.

THE GOOD
Um, the cover? Actually, there is a very good story within this story about a young man working at a mountain resort who meets an old man who is going to die. However, it wasn’t clear to me what the purpose of the story is meant to be because it doesn’t lead to anything.

THE BAD
Tsukuru feels sorry for himself through the whole book and it turned me off his character. I commiserate with the loss of his friends and the depression he suffered, but didn’t he consider that if he stopped navel-gazing for a minute, he might make some new friends? He didn’t even bother to delve into the mystery of why his friends cut him off until his girlfriend refused to have sex with him. Overall, it was hard for me to relate to Tsukuru with his weird sexual dreams and emasculating thoughts.

CONCLUSION
As I read Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage, I kept hoping something would happen to redeem the story in my eyes and there were times when I thought that might happen, such as when Tsukuru surmised that he might have a darker self out in the world. But for all the symbolism and occasional beautiful phrase in Colorless, I found this book boring and a disappointing first experience with Murakami. But I won’t stop here. I’ve heard too many good things about his writing not to want to try another book.

2.5/5 Stars

What book by Haruki Murakami should I try next?

Hellgoing by Lynn Coady

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A reviewer on Goodreads had this to say about Hellgoing which made me laugh: “I don’t like books that make me feel stupid.”

Hellgoing didn’t exactly make me feel stupid, but I was left a little perplexed after some of the stories because I would arrive at the ending and not understand what had just happened. I never got the point of some stories. I had a similar experience reading Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro a few months ago which makes me wonder if I’m just too inexperienced with this type of storytelling to appreciate it yet.

THE BOOK
Hellgoing is a collection of nine short stories by Canadian author, Lynn Coady. The stories feature a number of complex characters each with their own hellish demons and obsessions, failures and unrequited dreams. In 2013, the collection won the Scotiabank Giller Prize, a prestigious literary award here in Canada.

THE GOOD
Hellgoing is a stunning tour de force of writing and I liked it because it captured the idiosyncrasies of regular people that one may catch a glimpse of, but probably choose to ignore because it’s just too weird to go there. But Lynn Coady’s writing has punch and humour, so you feel less intimidated getting to know some of these wacked characters so intimately. There are quite a few memorable stories, but I think my favourite was Take This and Eat It which is about a pretty laidback nun at a hospital who becomes disgusted by the self-destructive behaviour of others.

THE BAD
The “wait, what?” factor that plagues some of these stories as a result of not enough backstory, details about characters and abrupt, ambiguous endings. However, is this just the way it is with short stories?

CONCLUSION
The more and more I look back on the short stories in Hellgoing, the more I appreciate their unique qualities. I realize now that maybe there is no point, no lesson to be learned, that it is all a snapshot of a moment when characters are caught up in their emotional baggage. What a tremendous feat to translate that craziness into a story and Lynn Coady has my respect for doing so with Hellgoing.

3.5/5 Stars

But what about those sudden endings, gaps and lack of details? Is this common in short stories? How do you feel about short stories written in this manner?

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

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The last work by Jane Austen I’ll read for Austen in August is Lady Susan, a short epistolary novel where letters written by characters tell the story. The novel was never submitted for publication by Austen and was published posthumously in 1871 as part of her half-brother Edward Austen-Leigh’s book, A Memoir of Jane Austen.

* CONTAINS SPOILERS

THE STORY
Recently widowed, the beautiful Lady Susan Vernon flees Langford to Churchill, the home of her brother-in-law, Charles Vernon, leaving behind a scandal involving a married man and the beau of the man’s daughter. Fully aware of Lady Susan’s manipulative behaviour, Mrs. Vernon resolves to keep her guard and remains cold to the arriving woman’s attempt at friendship. Curious after hearing rumours about Lady Susan’s antics, Mrs. Vernon’s brother, Reginald, decides to pay a visit and obtain his own impression of the woman. Lady Susan doesn’t hesitate in enchanting the wealthy bachelor and making him fall in love with her much to Mrs. Vernon’s anxiety. Meanwhile, Lady Susan is plotting a marriage for her teenage daughter, Frederica, with Mr. James Martin, the man she left behind in Langford. Catching wind of this plan, Frederica runs away from school, but is quickly found and brought to Churchill after the school refuses to take her back. Frederica falls for Reginald and decides to appeal to him for help, telling him everything about her mother’s scheme. Outraged by Frederica’s betrayal, Lady Susan leaves for town, but her past comes to haunt her with the arrival of Mr. James. Still under her spell, Reginald also follows her to London, but once there learns the whole truth about Lady Susan.

THE GOOD
Lady Susan is the kind of villainess you love to hate. She is diabolical and heartless when it comes to trying to get what she wants. Using her beauty and sexual charm, men easily become entangled in her web, but are merely a means to a richer end. Which is why I had mixed feelings about Lady Susan as a character. I thought she was a terrible person, especially because she treated her daughter so horribly, and immensely enjoyed when her schemes fell apart and she had to settle for less. But I also admired how bold she was and didn’t care what people thought of her, a female iconoclast in Regency England. For this reason, Lady Susan will remain a strikingly memorable character for me.

THE BAD
I don’t mind that the novel was a series of letters, but even though each chapter was entitled with the writer and recipient, I had to take a minute or two to figure out who the characters were and that was confusing at times.

CONCLUSION
I was completely surprised how much I enjoyed Lady Susan, a novel written by Jane Austen when she was only nineteen! Although, very much a soap opera like other Austen works, I thought the epistolary form was unique way of revealing the plot and painting a picture of the ravishing Lady Susan through her thoughts and the observations of others. Why hasn’t this story been made into a movie? Winona Ryder would make an excellent Lady Susan.

4/5 Stars

Blogger Diaries #6

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HOUSE OF ANANSI
Karen from One More Page and I had the opportunity to meet Carolyn and Cindy from House of Anansi. We had a wonderful time chatting about books, movies, TV shows, weddings and dating, among other things. The lovely ladies put together a thoughtful gift package for each of us based on our reading tastes and lifestyles. I immediately started devouring Hellgoing on the train after I left the restaurant. Thanks ladies if you’re reading this post!

anasi

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OUTLANDER AND DIANA GABALDON … AGAIN
Are you looking forward to the Outlander premiere this Sunday? I watched the first episode online and it’s very impressive, gorgeous to look at and well cast. I found a video of the Diana Gabaldon event I attended and if you skip to 42:50 you can hear my question to Diana about commenting on blogs.

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INSPIRE! TORONTO INTERNATIONAL BOOK FAIR
The event takes place November 13-16 here in Toronto and I have been waiting weeks for the author schedule to be released. It was definitely worth the wait because the schedule is jam packed. I was planning to take the Friday off to attend, but I just discovered that it’s a PA day for Ontario schools so I may have to go on the weekend. Stay tuned.

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READING UPDATE
Lady Susan by Jane Austen – Review is coming. A very intriguing novella in the epistolary format about “‘the most accomplished coquette in England’. Curious to know if this has been made into a movie.

Hellgoing by Lynn Coady – Review is coming. A stunning collection of short stories some of which left me dazed and others scratching my head because I didn’t understand what happened. My typical response to short stories it seems.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami – My first Murakami! … I don’t think I like it.

The Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam – Introduced to me by Naomi at Consumed By Ink, I’m listening to the audio book. I will never complain about child narrators again now that I’ve had a chimpanzee’s perspective.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – The saga continues. Freemasons in Russia, who knew?

What are you reading? Are you panicking about the end of summer like I am?

Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman

orange

After other blogger comments about the book and seeing the very satisfying Season 2 finale for Orange Is the New Black, I decided to give the real Piper’s memoir a go and listen to the audio book.

* CONTAINS SPOILERS

THE STORY
After finishing college, young Piper Kerman craves something different than the beaten down path other graduates are following. She wants excitement and adventure, but isn’t exactly sure how to find it until she meets Nora and discovers that her new girlfriend is a drug smuggler. Piper slowly becomes part of Nora’s world travelling to exotic locations and hanging out in luxurious hotels. When she carries out one illegal task for Nora, the reality of the world she’s living in comes crashing down on Piper’s head. She heads home to the United States and tries to begin some kind of normal life. She meets and becomes engaged to Larry, and the past seems left far behind until the day the police come to charge her as a member of the drug ring from so many years ago. Piper is sentenced to fourteen months in prison and this memoir provides an account of her time as an inmate learning how to navigate prison life, the wide-ranging personalities of both her fellow inmates and the prison staff, and how her imprisonment affected her relationship with Larry and her family.

THE GOOD
I enjoyed Orange is the New Black because it was a fascinating look at life in a women’s prison, how women go to prison for different reasons and have different ways of surviving, and the sweet friendships Piper developed with other inmates.

THE BAD
The narrator, Cassandra Campbell, uses different voices for male staff or inmates with foreign accents, such as Russian or Jamaican. While it broke up the monotony of straight narration and could be quite amusing, it occurred to me the accents could possibly be viewed as offensive.

CONCLUSION
Much of the criticism I read about Orange is the New Black is that the book is from the perspective of a white, middle class woman and nothing much happens to this white, middle class woman while in prison. While this may be true, as a memoir the book is one woman’s personal experience and I think still a valid perspective. I’m pretty sure if I went to prison, I would go in with similar middle class naiveté. I can’t help coming from a certain social background and neither can Piper Kerman. The book is very different from the Netflix series and I think I like it even more for this reason. OITNB is in your face with absurd and hilarious jaw-dropping situations. The book is quiet and reflective.

3.5/5 Stars

P.S. The real Larry wrote his own Goodreads review of the book. Although, I feel like he rushed what he wrote, almost as if he was afraid Piper would catch him. larry

P.P.S. The real Nora is apparently coming out with a book entitled,”Out of Orange”, so it looks like we may have a book smackdown in the works.