Marriage Material

sanghera

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Synopsis:

If you’ve approached Bains Stores recently, you’d be forgiven for hesitating on doing so. A prominent window advert for a discontinued chocolate bar suggests the shop may have closed in 1994. The security shutters are stuck a quarter-open, adding to the general air of dilapidation. A push or kick of the door triggers something which is more grating car alarm than charming shop bell.

To Arjan Banga, returning to the Black Country after the unexpected death of his father, his family’s corner shop represents everything he has tried to leave behind – a lethargic pace of life, insular rituals and ways of thinking. But when his mother insists on keeping the shop open, he finds himself being dragged back, forced into big decisions about his imminent marriage back in London and uncovering the history of his broken family – the elopement and mixed-race marriage of his aunt Surinder, the betrayals and loyalties, loves and regrets that have played out in the shop over more than fifty years.

Taking inspiration from Arnold Bennett’s classic novel The Old Wives’ Tale, Marriage Material tells the story of three generations of a family through the prism of a Wolverhampton corner shop – itself a microcosm of the South Asian experience in the country: a symbol of independence and integration, but also of darker realities.

This is an epic tale of family, love, and politics, spanning the second half of the twentieth century, and the start of the twenty-first. Told with humour, tenderness and insight, it manages to be both a unique and urgent survey of modern Britain by one of Britain’s most promising young writers, and an ingenious reimagining of a classic work of fiction.

Thoughts:

I picked up this book because I have been working my way through the Waterstones 11 debut novels for this year. Sathnam Sanghera has had work published before, but this is his debut novel. It’s an incredibly interesting, well written read. I’ve certainly enjoyed reading this talent author’s debut.

Marriage Material is essentially a story about family. It does include love, politics and a fantastic bit of humour. It depicts generations of an Indian family of shop owners in Wolverhampton. Sathnam Sanghera is writing from personal experience and I believe that truly shows. The story unfolds at a nice pace. It’s so easy to read and it’s incredibly enjoyable. I found myself reading chapter after chapter without wanting to put the book down. That’s always such a lovely feeling for a bookworm!

Marriage Material switches between first and third person narration, but it is done in such a seamless way, it really adds to the story. Sathnam Sanghera is a great writer and I look forward to checking out what he writes next!

Would I recommend it?:
Yes!

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The Spinning Heart

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How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Synopsis:

In the aftermath of Ireland’s financial collapse, dangerous tensions surface in an Irish town. As violence flares, the characters face a battle between public persona and inner desires. Through a chorus of unique voices, each struggling to tell their own kind of truth, a single authentic tale unfolds.

The Spinning Heart speaks for contemporary Ireland like no other novel. Wry, vulnerable, all-too human, it captures the language and spirit of rural Ireland and with uncanny perception articulates the words and thoughts of a generation. Technically daring and evocative of Patrick McCabe and J.M. Synge, this novel of small-town life is witty, dark and sweetly poignant.

Thoughts:

I heard about this book when Waterstones (a book store) announced their Waterstones 11 list, in January this year. It is one of a selection of books published this year by debut authors. I was intrigued by this book, so I was looking forward to reading it. I was surprised at how short it was! I thought The Spinning Heart was a unique read with an incredibly distinctive (and very Irish!) voice.

The Spinning Heart is set in Ireland after the 1980’s recession. It explores the hard times that people went through using different characters. There are so many characters in this book (21!), but they all link back to Bobby in some way.

I think Donal Ryan has produced a very clever debut novel. You’d think with so many characters, they’d all merge into one, but really they each seemed different to each other. It took me a while to get into, but once I got used to the Irish voice it was told in and treated each chapter as an individual character’s tale, I got much more into it. I’m not sure that I’d read it again, but it was interesting to explore a different writing style than I’m used to.

Would I recommend it?:
This is a hard one with this book. I would recommend it to others, if they’re intrigued by it, but it wasn’t a brilliant read for me.

Reading next:
Acid- Emma Pass

Ballistics

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How did I get it?:
I bought it.

Synopsis:

It is summer and the Canadian Rockies are on fire. As the forests blaze, Alan West heads into their shadows, returning from university to his grandfather’s home in the remote Kootenay Valley, where the man who raised him has suffered a heart attack. Confronting his own mortality, the tough and taciturn Cecil West has a dying request for his grandson: track down the father Alan has never known so that the old man can make peace with him.

And so Alan begins his search for the elusive Jack West, a man who skipped town before his son could walk and of whom his grandfather has always refused to speak. His quest will lead him to Archer, an old American soldier who decades ago went AWOL across the border into Canada. Archer has been carrying a heavy burden for many years, and through him Alan learns the stories of two broken families who came together, got too close, and then fell apart in tragic ways.

Ballistics is a remarkable first novel, about family ties and the wounds that can linger for generations when those relationships are betrayed.

Thoughts:

I read Ballistics as I’m reading all of the books on the Waterstones 11 debut novels for 2013 list. This list highlights authors that show much promise. Ballistics does show D.W Wilson’s talent for writing, but unfortunately it didn’t grip me as much as I’d hoped it would.

It was told from two perspectives and from 2003 and 1970. I usually quite like this, but I don’t think it was always made clear which perspective it was coming from. I sometimes found myself having to go back to check that the perspective had changed.

The story begins in 2003, Alan is a PhD student, he’s temporarily back in Invermere as his grandfather Cecil has had a heart attack. Cecil asks Alan to go on a search for Jack, Cecil’s estranged son. Finding Jack isn’t easy because of the raging forest fires in the highways of the Kootenay Valley. Alan needs help to navigate the off-road routes. Help comes in the form of 82-year-old Archer. Archer was a US marine who went into Canada to avoid a tour of Vietnam. He found support in the West household, just a few years before Alan was born. He knows Alan’s family well, so he’s able to reveal to Alan the truth about the early ’70’s that caused Alan’s family to fall apart.

I don’t think I was particularly the targeted audience for this book. It’s being classified as ‘Hyper Macho’, something I’ve never heard of, but apparently it is when the chief concern of the book are men and manliness.

I really liked D.W Wilson’s writing style, it was easy to read. I just don’t feel the subject matter was for me.

Would I recommend it?:
It wasn’t for me- I don’t think I was the intended reader for this book. I’m glad I read it though, D.W Wilson is a talented writer.

Reading next:
Beauty Queens- Libba Bray

The Son

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How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Synopsis:

We first meet Michel eleven days after the death of his son Lion. Lion was lost, suddenly, to a virulent strain of meningitis and it’s left his father and entire family reeling. We join Michel on his personal journey through grief, but the twist that makes the journey truly remarkable, and tips this true story into fiction, is the fact that we see it all through Lion’s eyes.

Thoughts:

I pre-ordered all of the Waterstones 11 books for 2013 from debut authors, without reading what they were about. I wanted to go into reading them with open eyes.

The Son is an incredibly emotional read. It’s a short story, but not one that is enjoyable or comfortable to read. It’s about a subject that no parent wants to experience. The death of their child. It is such a well written book and I would say that it’s an important book for those dealing with a bereavement.

By telling it from Lion’s (Michel’s son) voice it doesn’t come across as too sentimental. The grief is clearly expressed, but Michel uses his son’s voice to express the regrets he had as Lion was dying. Michel documents the death and the preparations for the funeral. I found myself feeling very moved by the writing. It just felt so raw and honest. I really respect Michel Rostain for documenting the journey of grief in this way. I’m sure he’s helped many individuals suffering from the loss of a loved one.

Would I recommend it?:
Of course!- I thoroughly recommend this book. It’s not an easy to read or a light read full of fluff. It’s a true, raw, beautiful read.

Reading next:
Another Little Piece- Kate Karyus Quinn

Idiopathy

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How did I get it?:
I bought it. Encouraged by the Waterstones 11. 11 books from debut authors that show much promise.

Synopsis:

Idiopathy (ɪdɪˈɒpəθi): a disease or condition which arises spontaneously or for which the cause is unknown.

Idiopathy: a novel as unexpected as its title, in which Katherine, Daniel, and Nathan—three characters you won’t forget in a hurry—unsuccessfully try to figure out how they feel about one another and how they might best live their lives in a world gone mad. Featuring a mysterious cattle epidemic, a humiliating stint in rehab, an unwanted pregnancy, a mom–turned–media personality (“Mother Courage”), and a workplace with a bio-dome housing a perfectly engineered cornfield, it is at once a scathing satire and a moving meditation on love and loneliness. With unusual verbal finesse and great humor, Sam Byers neatly skewers the tangled relationships and unhinged narcissism of a self-obsessed generation in a remarkable, uproarious first novel.

Thoughts:

Did I like it? I think so. Was it a perfect read? No. Is it a bit weird? Certainly! I don’t know what I expected from Idiopathy. It caught my attention with the synopsis. So bear with me while I try and sum up my thoughts on this book.

Idiopathy follows three characters Katherine, Daniel and Nathan after a year or so of being apart. Their stories connect with each other. Idiopathy explores human nature and our relationships with others, especially those that we have that allow the worst in ourselves to be brought out by another individual. Sam Byers writes each narrative very well. I liked reading their individual points of view. He spent enough time on each character to enable the reader to get to know the characters. Sam Byers also writes incredibly humorously. There were laugh out loud moments.

I thought some of Sam Byers observations about the struggles people have in their late twenties were very astute. I also appreciated the way he dealt with Nathan’s psychological issues. I wanted to know more about Nathan’s issues, but it made Nathan believable. Not everyone wants to open up about their problems.

Idiopathy doesn’t have very likeable characters, but I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. I quite often wanted to shake Katherine rather than feel sorry for her, but I think this is a good thing, the character certainly evoked emotion for me, even if it was negative!

Idiopathy is easy to read, humorous at times and terribly sarcastic at other points in the story. I think it’s worth reading. Even if I’m still not sure about the cow subplot.

Would I recommend it?:
Yes!

Reading next:
Partials- Dan Wells

The Fields

the fields - kevin maher
How did I get it?:
I bought it. It’s part of the Waterstones 11 debut authors with promise for 2013.

Synopsis:

Dublin, 1984: Ireland is a divided country, the Parish Priest remains a figure of immense authority and Jim Finnegan is thirteen years old, the youngest in a family of five sisters. Life in Jim’s world consists of dealing with the helter-skelter intensity of his rumbustious family, taking breakneck bike rides with his best friend, and quietly coveting the local girls from afar. But after a drunken yet delicate rendition of ‘The Fields of Athenry’ at the Donohues’ raucous annual party, Jim captures both the attention of the beautiful Saidhbh Donohue and the unwanted desires of the devious and dangerous Father Luke O’Culigeen.

Bounced between his growing love for Saidhbh and his need to avoid the dreaded O’Culigeen, Jim’s life starts to unravel. He and Saidhbh take a ferry for a clandestine trip to London that has dark and difficult repercussions, forcing Jim to look for the solution to all his problems in some very unusual places.

Thoughts:

I’ve found it quite hard to review this book because I can’t pinpoint exactly what I think about it as a whole. It was an engaging read and at times very humorous. It deals with some incredibly contentious issues but it doesn’t feel like a bleak read.

The main theme of this book is the consequences of what happens in our childhood reflecting on our future. The Fields can be an uncomfortable read. It deals with issues such as abuse, sexuality, abortion and religion. All of this happens to mainly Catholic Irish characters. I think the issues are made easier to read because of the humour. It’s light relief from horrifying issues. The protagonist Jim Finnegan is a teenager with a very mature outlook in life. He’s a memorable character.

I felt let down by the ending. It’s controversial, but it just seemed to me like an easy way out. The story before was so well thought of and incredibly well written. It seemed a shame to end how it did.

I did enjoy The Fields, it was an interesting yet slightly disturbing read.

Would I recommend it?:
Of course!

Reading next:
Bright Young Things- Scarlett Thomas.

The Universe Versus Alex Woods

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How did I get it?
I bought it.

Synopsis:

A tale of an unexpected friendship, an unlikely hero and an improbable journey, Alex’s story treads the fine line between light and dark, laughter and tears. And it might just strike you as one of the funniest, most heartbreaking novels you’ve ever read.

Alex Woods knows that he hasn’t had the most conventional start in life.

He knows that growing up with a clairvoyant single mother won’t endear him to the local bullies.

He also knows that even the most improbable events can happen – he’s got the scars to prove it.

What he doesn’t know yet is that when he meets ill-tempered, reclusive widower Mr Peterson, he’ll make an unlikely friend. Someone who tells him that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make the best possible choices.

So when, aged seventeen, Alex is stopped at Dover customs with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the passenger seat, and an entire nation in uproar, he’s fairly sure he’s done the right thing . .

Thoughts:

I’m not going to lie, from reading the synopsis I was so excited to read this book. I’m glad I did! It is the second book of the Waterstones 11 for this year, highlighting some promising debut authors. I can safely say that to me, Gavin Extence is definitely a promising author and I will be looking out for his work in the future.

This book is so unusual. I found myself wondering whether I liked it or not, but I did. It’s certainly different and it does make you think about life and death. I found Alex to be a lovable character, he was so geeky and endearing. His friendship with the unlikely Mr Peterson was both touching and believable. I don’t want to say too much about the plot because I don’t want to ruin it.

Gavin Extence is such a talented writer. The story was witty at times but incredibly sad at others. I was surprised how much information there was about epilepsy in the book, as it is a book of fiction, but it was written so well that I didn’t feel like I was reading a medical text. I have no interest whatsoever in astro-physics, yet Gavin Extence’s writing made me carry on reading when I’m sure less talented writers would have completely killed the book for me. I thoroughly recommend it!

Would I recommend it?:
Of course!

Reading next:
Dance of Shadows- Yelena Black