Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Lifeboat (Charlotte Rogan)

I’ve had the pleasure of reading some darn good debut novels lately.  Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child is a beautifully written tale set in Alaska that’s based on a Russian fairy tale.  Now comes a novel where, again, the setting plays a central role in the story. 

Set in the early 1900s, The Lifeboat is about a disaster on a large shipliner, the Empress Alexandra.  Grace’s new husband, Henry, takes her to one of the lifeboats, and then she never sees him again.  She is in the boat with strangers, and they quickly split up into two factions.  Following Mr. Hardie, the seaman with a wealth of experience, will require making the necessary difficult decisions for survival.  Mrs. Grant, on the other hand, tries to keep some semblance of morality when all seems lost.  Both sides must do what society would deem terrible things.  We discover very early on that Grace survives, but she’s been arrested for her part in the lifeboat saga.  What did she do?  Where does she go from here?

The Lifeboat is a quick read and very easy to devour in one or two sittings.  It keeps you on the edge of your seat, knowing that Grace made it out, but not knowing why she’s on trial.  Part psychological drama, part thriller, and part survival story, Rogan has delivered a tour de force first novel…and makes it look easy.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro)

I truly can’t, for the life of me, figure out the mass appeal and popularity of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.  Blurbs on the book by renowned authors use words like anguish and heartbreaking.  I didn’t feel either of these things, perhaps because the characters were not appealing to me at all.  Oh well, to each his own.

Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy are three friends who are part of a group raised for a special purpose.  From a very early age, they are enrolled in a school led by the “guardians” and told that their art projects are sacred.  After graduating from their school, they go to live in the Cottages, a middle ground to prepare them for what is to come. 

Never Let Me Go is narrated by Kathy.  Ishiguro has a peculiar way of having Kathy state what she is about to tell you instead of allowing the story to unfold naturally.  While it has an important message…how science has the danger of going too far…it was just too predictable for me. 

So I was not one of the many people who will call Never Let Me Go one of the best books in recent times.  Predictability and unlikeable characters do not make quality literature for me.  To me, the mark of a great book is whether I can’t wait to pick it up again once I set it down.  Not the case for Never Let Me Go.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Snow Child (Eowyn Ivey)

The Snow Child is Eowyn Ivey’s debut novel, and what a novel it is.  It’s one of those books that stay with you for a long time after you’re finished.  I made myself put it down after a few chapters to really let the beauty of Ivey’s prose sink in.  But whether you devour it in one sitting or continuously put it down like I did, the effect is the same.

Set in the 1920s, Mabel and Jack are a couple who move to the Alaskan wilderness.  A few years before, they lost their only baby at birth and have remained childless and grieving.  They’re hoping that Alaska provides the solace and hard work they need to move on from their loss.  However, things don’t quite work out that way, as all they feel is alone.

One day, on a whim, they build a snow child.  They’re shocked to see that the next day the child has disappeared, with tracks leading away from it.  The story, based on a Russian fairy tale, gains strength from here.  I had a vague idea of how The Snow Child might end but was surprised at the route Ivey chose to get there.  I disagreed that one character would do something that proved vital to the outcome of the story.  For that reason alone, I need to give The Snow Child a 4.

This is a novel where the review needs to stay mysterious.  I have to watch my words carefully as giving too much away would take away from the beauty of the story.  But trust me, The Snow Child is not to be missed.