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Archive for April, 2015

Another book that was recommended to me by a friend, The Joy Luck Club (Amy Tan) had been on my book-radar for years but I’d never picked it up. The themes of the book appealed to me: mothers and daughters, how your birthplace and your family shapes your cultural identity, and the cultural gap between generations,. In Amy Tan’s novel, this gap is exacerbated by the emigration of the four mothers of the novel from China to America, where their daughters are raised.

The Joy Luck Club seemed more of a collection of interlinked short stories than a novel. I was reading it as an e-book, and without the physical thickness of the remaining pages to alert me that the end was near I was quite surprised to ‘turn’ the page and discover I’d reached the end of the book. Surprised and disappointed, because I was immersed in the stories of these four families and I wanted to read more.

The narrators alternate between a mother and a daughter, sometimes with both telling tales of their childhood and at other times giving different perspectives of the same event, illustrating the gulf between them. Tan’s exploration of facets of Chinese culture was fascinating to me, delicately weaved into the narrative.

I was reminded of a book I read many years ago, called Wild Swans (Jung Chang). In the weeks after reading Wild Swans I often found myself thinking of it, still immersed in the stories of the three generations of Chinese women who are its subject. Wild Swans had more impact on me than the Joy Luck Club, but perhaps this was because it was a far longer book and had the immediacy of a family history rather than a novel.

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I’m a little tired of reading young adult fiction with love triangles – Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Selection – and it seems a little trickier to find adult fiction categorised as ‘Love Triangle’. Luckily, I had picked up Never Let Me Go when it was on sale on iBooks (another case of buying a book based mostly on its cover)

I’ve never read Kazuo Ishiguro before, although I now know he also wrote Remains of the Day. I’m keen to read some of his other works – he reminds me a little of one of my favourite writers, Margaret Atwood. Both have written dystopian science fiction novels set in the very near future or an alternative present, but the setting is in some ways incidental – the appeal of their novels is often as much as in the relationships they convey as the complex themes they illustrate.

At times the story is a bit slow-paced for my liking. The hints and implications throughout the novel are sufficient for the reader to figure out the true nature of Kathy, Tommy and Ruth. Sometimes it seems a little like Ishiguro is trying to be mysterious about their secret before the big ‘reveal’ at the end, even though it really doesn’t tell us any more than we have already guessed.

Kathy’s emotions seemed dampened throughout the novel, and I rarely got a strong sense of her grief or happiness – the main emotions seemed to be irritation, frustration,

Never let me go left me thinking for days about the value of human life and the many ways we can construct people as ‘other’. But for deft handling of human nature in dystopian society, I’ll stick with Atwood.

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In the late eighties, I worked after school at a fast food joint. My co-workers and I would play ‘name that song’ – the first to name the song and the performer currently playing on the radio won the kudos. I was pretty bad at it; the man I married, an audio engineer, would have nailed it every time – and been able to tell you the year the song was released.

If you’re Generation X and enjoyed playing name that song, you’d probably get into Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. An epic love letter to the audio-visual aspects of eighties culture – music, film, video games – it also happens to come with a pretty decent story. The ‘place that reference’ game kept me reading through the earlier chapters and then when the story really picked up the pace, I was reading into the early hours of the morning to finish the book.

Ready Player One isn’t a book I would normally pick up, and I’ve been trying to work out why. Really, I’m it’s target audience: a Gen X gamer who loves D&D. But the title didn’t grab me – I get the reference, but video games were not a big part of my life until the release of the first Dragon Age title. (Disclaimer: I do remember spending no small amount of hours in the eighties playing Faery Tale and Zork on my best friend’s Amiga 1000). But the title seems more likely to speak to my male friends on the same era who spent hours on Galaga or in Timezone (the game arcade that used to grace Fremantle’s cappuccino strip).

Luckily I subscribe to a monthly subscription box (Lootcrate) filled with geeky surprises each month – and a couple of months ago, Ready Player One was included as a paperback. The story was bit slow to reel me in but once it moved beyond an homage to the eighties and started to engage me with the characters, I was turning the pages and desperate to find how the contest ended. The last few chapters did feel rushed, but overall it was a very satisfying read. I look forward to Cline’s next release.

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