Friday, 29 June 2012

The Family Fang

Title: The Family Fang

Author: Kevin Wilson

Number of pages: 320

Started: 25 June 2012

Finished: 29 June 2012

Opening words:

Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art. Their children called it mischief. "You make a mess and then you walk away from it," their daughter, Annie, told them. "It's a lot more complicated than that, honey," Mrs. Fang said as she handed detailed breakdowns of the event to each member of the family. "But there's a simplicity in what we do as well," Mr. Fang said. "Yes, there is that, too," his wife replied. Annie and her younger brother, Buster, said nothing. They were driving to Huntsville, two hours away, because they did not want to be recognized. Anonym­ity was a key element of the performances; it allowed them to set up the scenes without interruption from people who would be expecting mayhem.

Read a longer extract here.

Plot summary:

The family consists of Caleb and Camille Fang (the parents), Annie (Child A) and Buster (Child B). The family Fang create art: performance art, provocations, interventions – call it what you like. And many people certainly don’t call it ‘Art’. But as Annie and Buster grow up, like all children, they find their parents’ behaviour an embarrassment. They refuse to take up their roles in these outrageous acts. They escape: Annie becomes an actor, a star in the world of indie filmmaking, and Buster pursues gonzo journalism, constantly on the trail of a good story. But when both their lives start to fall apart, there is nowhere left to go but home. Meanwhile Caleb and Camille have been planning their most ambitious project yet and the children have no choice: like it or not, they will participate in one final performance. The family Fang’s magnum opus will determine what is ultimately more important: their family or their art.

What I thought:

If you think you have embarrassing/ maddening parents then you should read this book to get some perspective on this.  If once you have read this book, you still think that your parents are the most embarrassing/ maddening parents in the world, you should then write your own book.

Camille and Caleb Fang like to create art, but it has to be living art – involving them, their children and the unsuspecting public.  This leads to a range of rather toe-curling scenarios unfolding, with a range of success (or otherwise).

It was an amusing and light read and one that might make you see your own parents in a new way.

Friday, 22 June 2012

The Glass Palace

Title: The Glass Palace

Author: Amitav Ghosh

Number of pages: 548

Started: 11 June 2012

Finished: 22 June 2012

Opening words:

There was only one person in the food-stall who knew exactly what that sound was that was rolling in across the plain, along the silver curve of the Irrawaddy, to the western wall of Mandalay's fort. His name was Rajkumar and he was an Indian, a boy of eleven - not an authority to be relied upon.

Read a longer extract here.

Plot summary:

Rajkumar is only a boy, helping out on a market stall in the dusty square outside the royal palace in Mandalay, when the British force the Burmese King, Queen and court into exile. He is rescued by a far seeing Chinese merchant and with him builds up a great logging business in upper Burma. But haunted by his vision of the Royal Family and one of their attendants, he journeys to the obscure town in India where they have been exiled, and his family and friends become inextricably linked with theirs.
Through the lives of the wider family and connections, an extraordinary story of this century is told: in Malaya, amid the vast rubber plantations, in India, among the growing nationalist feeling, in America where ideas of democracy and terrorist action, as well as business acumen, could be learnt. By the time World War II arrives, Rajkumar – who had made and lost several fortunes – has spread his family and influence from the great estate at Morningside where his son will be involved in the British collapse in Singapore, and one of his relations in the remarkable rebellion of the Indian troops against their British officers. Another of the great characters, the formidable Indian widow, Uma, becomes a spearhead of the Indian nationalist movement and provides a final refuge for the battered remnants of the family as they flee from Burma before the Japanese advance in a horrifying trek across appalling terrain. And it his granddaughter who survives that experience who brings the readers back to contemporary Burma, and completes the circle of the family started so long ago in Mandalay.

What I thought:
A colleague recommended this author to me, so I thought I would start with one of Amitav Ghosh’s stand alone novels.  This book was described as an “epic”, which is never a word I am looking for in my reading material.  That said, I was willing to give it a go.

I quite enjoyed the book, which was a novel that covered a huge tract of history through the lives of a range of characters.  It had its moments of joy and its moments of sadness and it was a decent enough read, but I think I found the breadth of it more than I normally look for in a novel and so did not connect with it.  As epics go it is a good book, but still does not make me want to pursue that type of novel further.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Last Rituals

Title: Last Rituals

Author: Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Number of pages: 432

Started: 31 May 2012

Finished: 8 June 2012

Opening words:

The head caretaker, Tryggvi, stood idly by the coffee maker.  The sound of boiling water dripping through the machine was the only thing to be heard in the empty building, which housed the university’s History department. Soon the bustling cleaners would arrive, chatting and giggling, dragging their carts and vacuums out of the housekeeping room. The caretaker revelled in the silence and the aroma of brewing coffee. He had been employed by the university for over thirty years and had seen his share of changes, not the least of which was the complete turnaround in the nationality of the cleaners who worked under his supervision. When he started they had all been Icelandic and understood his every word; now his interactions with his subordinates consisted of a series of hand gestures and loudly-spoken basic orders. The women were all immigrants, and all recent arrivals from south-east Asia, except for one woman of African descent.

Plot summary:

A young man is found brutally murdered, his eyes gouged out. A student of Icelandic history in Reykjavik, he came from a wealthy German family who do not share the police's belief that his drug dealer murdered him. Attorney Thora Gudmundsdottir is commissioned by his family to find out the truth, with the help - and hindrance - of boorish ex-policeman Matthew Reich. Their investigations into his research take them deep into a grisly world of torture and witchcraft both past and present, as they draw ever closer to a killer gripped by a dangerous obsession...

What I thought:

This is probably the only Icelandic novel that I have read.  A new venture for me in the Scandinavian crime genre.  It was a decent enough read, and better than some crime novels I have read of late.  The plot revolved around a murder that the police believed they had already solved, but the victim’s family, who he didn’t get on with, believed otherwise.  An interesting idea for a novel, but not as exciting as it could have been.  This is the first in a series and I would like to try the next one and see how I get on with that.