Charlotte by David Foenkinos

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This is the story of Charlotte Salomon, a Jewish artist born into a family stricken by suicide in Germany just before Hitler’s rise to power.

Being a female artist is still a struggle in these times, but being Jewish is worse, so although she holds tremendous promise she must keep a low profile. At least she has her great love to console her – even if that love is secret and snatched in small moments.

After her father is detained and tortured she escapes from Germany, but still she is not safe. The war pursues her to her bolt hole and the madness that has haunted her family is closing in on her too.

Charlotte Saloman was an artist I had not heard of before reading this book, but her story is one I think should be shared. Not just because of her artistic genius but also because it is a mirror to agonies that so many went through during the second world war and none of their stories should be forgotten.

This is an unusual book, the writing is style is not like any that I can recall having read before. David Foenkinos writes in short, sparing sentences. They are almost rhythmic, as if he’s written a thousand haiku’s then mixed the order of them up a bit. It works, but probably only in this book. The rest of the book is a little off kilter too, it veers from a biography to a novelisation to a memoir of the author’s own search for the artist. In many ways this really is high literature, yet it managed to retain its accessibility. It inspired me to search for examples of the artists work, and I know that if there were to be an exhibition near me at any time I would go because of having read this book.

I wish life had been better to Charlotte, but I am grateful that there is this memorial to her. I think she would have appreciated it’s honesty.

5 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews.

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton

imageWhen the bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945 it killed Amaterasu Takahashi’s daughter  Yuko and grandson Hideo. If she’d been on time to meet Yuko that day it would have killed her too.

For years she has blamed herself, but all that time she has also blamed someone else. A friend of her husband, a doctor who caused a horrible rift between her and Yuko.

Now she is a widow living in America, but then a  horribly burnt man claiming to be Hideo turns up on her doorstep and she is forced to revisit the past to discover if he really is who he says he is. If he is how is she to live with herself now and what is she to tell him about his mother?

This stunning book made was on the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction long list, I have to say I have no idea why it didn’t make the shortlist! Although I haven’t read every book on that list two that I did read that made the shortlist that were nowhere near as good as this!

I admit I’m a sucker for for poignant stories of parenthood, but this is so much more than that. It side-eyes Japan’s actions before and during the war without ever apologising or justifying the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It faces the horror of the bombing and the aftermath with eyes wide open and unblinking. I’ve honestly never read anything that approaches it quite so honestly, it doesn’t glorify it yet it doesn’t gloss over it either.

It also examines the myriad of relations between men and women and looks at what is forgiveable and who is redeemable. And of course there is the ghost of hope from the past and how to reopen old wounds in the hope that doing so will bring better healing. The writing is beautiful but functional, which suits the main character down to the ground. Definitely worth reading.

5 Bites

 

 

 

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

img_2276Hope Ardern has a very unusual problem, she can’t stay in anyone’s memory. If they turn away from her for just a few minutes it is like they’ve never seen her before and everything about their interactions have vanished from their minds.

It started when she was sixteen, schoolteachers not remembering she’d attended class, her friends forgetting to call her, her dad forgetting to drive her to school until her mother doesn’t remember her at all one morning when she comes down to breakfast and she has to pretend to be a friend staying over. That’s when she knows she has to leave and make her own way in the world, but it’s not so easy to get a job if people don’t remember you interviewing for it so she turns to crime. Stealing is easy when people forget to report you after all.

Stealing is how Hope gets caught up with the quest for “Perfection” – a new app that helps us mere mortals become as perfect as all those photo-shopped images we see everyday.  She’s hired to steal “Perfection” by someone that wants to destroy it, but “Perfection” could make her memorable.

Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was the first book I reviewed for this site and I really enjoyed it, so when I saw this I knew I had to grab a copy! Like that I listened to the audio version of the book, a little longer than the last one at just over 16 hours but the premise sounded really intriguing.

Not a single minute of those 16+ hours was wasted! There’s so much in this book, so much that makes you think. From meditating on memory and the sadness of losing someone to Alzheimers to pondering the cult of perfection that seems to be taking over the world, this book will get you thinking. But it’s all wrapped up in such an intriguing story, and ironically Hope Ardern is a character you’ll never forget.

Claire North is one heck of a clever person and I think I’d like her as my new best friend. Anyone that can weave together the poetry of Byron and Wordsworth with the lyrics of The Macarena this skillfully deserves ALL the awards. And no, I’m not telling you what that’s about – read the book – you won’t regret it!

5 Bites

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Midwinter by Fiona Melrose

MidwinterOne harsh winter night Vale finally argues with his father about the horrible death of his beloved mother years earlier in another land. His father Landyn blackens his eye before he even realises what he’s done setting off a catastrophic chain of events.

As winter keeps the skies dark over this pair of Suffolk farmers they struggle to keep going both financially and emotionally. Each of them running from pain – one into the solace of the land and his dog, the other into anger, stupid decisions and recriminations.

Full disclosure – I know the author of this book personally, she kindly did some dog training with my family and she led a writer’s workshop for a while that my child attended, so I was both very eager and very nervous to review this. As you know if you’ve been reading our reviews for a while we also write honest reviews even when we get free copies (like this time) and even when we know the author. Gulp!

But thankfully I need not worry about offending her with a bad review and having to leave the county she paints so beautifully. This is a heart-tearingly good novel.

It falls completely into the ‘literary fiction’ genre so if action / adventure or scandi crime is your thing this won’t fit the bill, but with it’s bleakness and insight into the male psyche it might be something you want to try anyway. There is a feeling of tension that builds within the story so you won’t miss too much nail-nibbling!

The characterisations are haunting, these are men like men you know. And their problems are ones you will recognise, maybe you’ve even shared some of them.  As it’s told in 1st person from both the father’s and the son’s side it’s impossible not to care about them. Interestingly, when you are looking at each of them from the other’s perspective they still remain true in their mannerisms and language, so although they are at odds the narrative never is. That takes talent and attention to detail.

Personally I was charmed by the dialogue which was true to Suffolk in both language and speech patterns. It showed real respect for the characters and the place which is rare when the characters are farmers and less than rich. The settings are beautifully written too  with flashbacks to the family’s time in Zambia providing a colouful counterpoint to the muted tones of an English winter.

It’s not a long book, but it’s not rushed either. Perfect for a Sunday afternoon in front of a winters fire.

5 Bites

 

 

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

General Theory of Oblivion by Jose Eduardo Agualusa

imageLudo has never liked to be outside, she stays inside and cooks and cleans for her sister and her husband. So the build up to Angolan Independence largely passes her by. When neither returns home on the eve of Angolan independence, she bricks herself into her apartment. She stays there for the next thirty years, living off vegetables and pigeons and  writing her story on the walls of her home.

Meanwhile life in Angola moves on.  A variety of characters take the spotlight and their stories touch Ludo’s. There is a communist private detective, a reporter investigating the mysterious disappearances of airplanes and people, a Portuguese mercenary who survives a firing squad, and a nine-year-old boy who eventually climbs some scaffolding and moves in with Ludo.

It is an unusual book when you consider that it is really about the impact of great passions and yet it’s tone is quite muffled and distant. It’s quite clever, it is reminiscent of the sense of shock and disbelief after such events that leaves people feeling disconnected and drained. Many people put their heads down and focus on small areas after huge events, as I write this I’m still reeling from the aftershocks of the vote on the EU referendum and in the light of that I can see the authenticity of this book.

Life goes on, we find a way, we may have to go inwards and focus on the minutiae of daily life. But we keep breathing.

5 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

51iGDacIBML._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Tara was fifteen when she vanished after an argument with her boyfriend. There wasn’t enough evidence to arrest him but her family never spoke to him again.

Now, 20 years later, Tara has just knocked on her parents door.  She’s  dirty and dishevelled, her father doesn’t recognise her at first but her mother faints at the sight of her.  They phone her brother Peter and together they hear her story of twenty years spent travelling the world, this epic journey was apparently taken on a whim.

But her stories don’t quite add up,  and she doesn’t look more than a day older than when she left. Eventually she tells Peter and her one time boyfriend Ritchie a different story – but one so strange her family fear she’s lost her mind.

I listened to this rather than read it, it was in fact the first audiobook I ever listened to (about 5 years ago) and listening to it again gave me a new appreciation of it. The reader is so important with an audiobook and John Lee was excellent! It’s mainly told from the male perspectives (Peter’s, Ritchie’s and excerpts from her psychiatrist’s book on her) and his voice was utterly believable throughout.

The story itself was far better and more nuanced than I remembered – and I remembered it fondly! The worlds the author builds and the characters that inhabit them are completely believable, whther they are set in the ‘real world’ or not! It’s a magical tale and deals with whether those of us that travel can ever truly come home as well as questioning the reality we take for granted.

5 bites

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Schtum by Jem Lester

imageBen Jewell’s ten-year-old son, Jonah, has never spoken.  He is profoundly autistic. In order to get him into the residential home he and his wife think is best for him, his wife tells him they have to split up.  That it’s just for a while, that their appeal will stand more chance this way.

Now he’s living with his elderly father,  and he’s hit breaking point. Was his wife lying? Has she left him for good?  As Ben battles single fatherhood, his stubborn and disappointed father,  a string of well-meaning social workers and his own demons, he learns some painful home truths. If he can just win this appeal though, maybe everything will turn out ok…

This is Jem Lester’s debut novel, and it’s a powerful one. Often these days fiction depicts those on the autistic spectrum as tortured geniuses, and it’s true that many are high functioning and incredibly talented or intelligent. But it’s also true that many autistic children are locked in their own worlds and find dealing with people confusing and frustrating. They become overwhelmed and lash out, at others and at themselves. Jonah is this kind of autistic, not the glamourous kind but the sort that still wears a nappy at ten years of age but sadly not quite often enough.

Though Jonah’s autism is pivotal to the plot, it isn’t the be all and end all of this novel. The real star (or rather anti-hero) of this is Ben Jewell. The way Jem Lester writes this character is exceptional. We’re drip-fed bits of information on his character and how he’s coped with parenting his child and in all honesty the more we learn the less we should like him. But the sense that he’s redeemable and the deep love he has for his son carries him through.

There is ugliness in this book, but it is truthful ugliness, and that makes it a thing of extreme beauty.

5 bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Trees by Ali Shaw

imageBefore I even start telling you about this book I have to say that I loved loved LOVED it! It is brilliant, stop wasting precious minutes here and go buy it now!

What? You need more persuading? Ok, so this is the story of Adrien Thomas. He’s been suffering from depression and a bit of a mid-life crisis and could easily be seen as a complete loser, his go-getting wife may well have got to the point where she’s going to go and get herself  a different life. But despite this there is something very appealing about Adrian. His honest truculence and determined wishy-washiness is somehow sympathetic.

Then one night, when his misery is compounded by his wife Michelle being away but eased by the joy of a Chinese takeaway, the trees come.

A fully formed forest explodes out of the earth and bursts through floors and walls destroying everything in their path. The devastation leaves death scattered all around and survivors terrified and confused.

Adrien meets hippie Hannah and her teenage son Seb amongst the survivors, at first he spurns their offer of help and friendship business until he realises that no help is coming. They set out to find Hannah’s forester brother, then he plans to go on to Ireland to see if his wife is still alive and still wants him. If he doesn’t chicken out that is.

As I might have already mentioned, I loved this book. The premise was brilliant and very well executed, the characters were all utterly believable and well nuanced and the twists and turns were clever.

If there is ever an apocalypse, I almost want it to be like this!

5 Bites

 

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.