Saturday, September 12, 2015

Books I Read in July & August

It's been a long time between posts here on Windswept Wishes and it feels odd typing this up now. University has been full on this semester, more so than I expected. First semester was delightful; I still had a lot of work to do, but I also had time to write up weekly posts and do some freelance work on the side. I achieved a nice balance. But this semester it seems that all my hobbies have fallen to the way side and I'm drowning amidst tests, readings, group projects and assignments. As each week passed by, with no posting here, I felt more and more guilty for 'neglecting' my blog. But I think I've realised now that I need to focus on the more pressing matters at hand and just getting through this tough semester. I'll still aim to do a post here and there, although they unfortunately wont be as frequent as before.

Anyway, on to the topic of the books I read in July and August. July was a marvelous month for reading as I went on a mini holiday down south (a yearly tradition in my family). With little to no access to wifi and therefore no unnecessary distraction, I always love these jaunts because they help me to relax and get a lot of reading done in the process. In fact, the first three books listed below were read over the period of three to four days. I got so involved with the stories that returning home and to 'reality' was odd, to say the least. August was a bit light on as I only managed to read one book, but hey, it's something.

So without further ado, here are the books I read in July and August.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock - Matthew Quick
"Not letting the world destroy you. That’s a daily battle.” 
On the day of his birthday, Leonard Peacock hides a P-38 pistol in his school backpack which he intends to kill both his former best friend and then himself with. Before doing so, he must say good-bye to the only people in his life that he feels matter to him: his Humphrey Bogart-obsessed next-door neighbor, Walt; his classmate, Baback, a violin virtuoso; Lauren, the Christian home schooler he has a crush on; and Herr Silverman, who teaches the high school’s class on the Holocaust. Throughout the course of the day, Leonard's troubled character is slowly revealed and readers witness a sensitive soul crying out for help in the only way he knows how. 

This novel is quite touching but also extremely disturbing. Leonard is a very lonely, confused and 'weird' boy. He has a traumatic past, and too many people let him down in life. I both wanted to comfort him but also despised him, loathed him for his disturbing intentions that I don't feel could ever be excusable. Nevertheless, I feel it reveals a lot of problems that need to be more openly discussed in society; about sexual abuse, mental health, suicide and, specific to America, gun control. I wouldn't recommend reading this if you're after something lighthearted, but it is certainly a worthwhile read.
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwoord
“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Don't let the bastards grind you down.” 
Taking place in the dystopian Republic of Gilead, Offred serves one purpose and one purpose only: to be a Handmaid. She is one of the few fertile women left in an age of declining births and is kept in the home of the 'Commander' and his wife in order to bear 'their' children. Restricted from leaving the house aside from one day a week, Gilead lives a monotonous routine. She remembers the 'years before' spent with her husband and daughter, when she had a job, money of her own, freedom and access to knowledge. Everything that was cruelly stripped away from her...

I want to begin by voicing my disbelief that I had never read any of Atwood's works before this one. I always intended on doing so, but after reading The Handmaid's Tale I wish I made it more of a priority. Atwood's prose is stunning. While the subject matter of this novel is quite frightening, Atwood's writing style had my eyes glued to the page. It's overall a fascinating read with prominent themes, such as religious fundamentalism and women's rights, made easily applicable to problems and scenarios taking place in the world today.
Left Bank - Kate Muir
Set in modern day Paris, Olivier and Madison Malin are high profile Parisians who live on the Left Bank and have a seemingly dream life in the exclusive neighbourhood. This is until a new English nanny appears on the scene and threatens to endanger the lives of the Malin family.

I picked up this book in a second hand bookshop while on holiday. Having just finished the two very bleak titles above, I was craving some chick lit and this promised to fit the bill. It was an easy read...but honestly, it was a whole lot of nonsense and every single character, par Sabine, the daughter of Oliver and Madison, is unlikable, incredibly self centered and self righteous (or just absolutely insane). The vast majority of reviews on goodreads tend to agree, unfortunately. The only saving grace that I can think of were Muir's descriptions of French gastronomy, but they weren't enough to fully satisfy.
The Sound of One Hand Clapping - Richard Flanagan
"So Maria Buloh continued walking down the empty street, a young woman clad in an old coat carrying a small cardboard suitcase, the tracks left by her shoes momentarily bisecting that grim, sour, snow-swept camp, her image already losing its earthly outlines in the falling snow"
Fleeing the terrors of war and seeking a new life in the promising land of Tasmania in 1954, this novel tells the story of migrant Bojan Buloh and his family. Working in a construction camp for a hydroelectric dam in the remote highlands, life is far from easy. One night, Bojan's wife, Maria, walks out into a blizzard and is never to be seen again, leaving Bojan to care for their three year old daughter, Sonja, on his own. Traumatized by Maria's disappearance and the ghosts of war, Bojan turns to drink and his actions towards Sonja lead to a strained and painful relationship. Thirty-five years later, Sonja returns to Tasmania where she eventually learns to love again and create a promising new 'lifetime'.

This book is beautiful. I found it was an excellent experience reading Tasmanian literature, as I'm not all that familiar with the Tasmanian oeuvre. Flanagan's prose is haunting, and I felt so strongly that it serves as an accurate depiction of the unique region. I visited over five years ago and was struck by the distinctive landscape, 'an island of high latitudes, of mountains, lakes, mists, clouds and rain; of wastes of awesome scenery' which evoke a certain sense of isolation (Jim Davidson, Tasmanian Gothic). Indeed, the feeling of isolation lingers throughout this novel, not just in the landscape, but in Tasmania's migrant history. An outsider to the 'Australians' yet living in a melting pot of cultures, Bojan struggles to communicate and struggles to fit in where ever he goes. A constant source of pain for him is his inability to express what he feels and to come to terms with the horrors he witnessed during the war. Unfortunately, it's Sonja who suffers at the hands of his torment, and she also struggles to come to terms with the mystery of her mother's disappearance, a family she never knew and a home that never felt like home. The Sound of One Hand Clapping is full of moving moments and is flawlessly put together. It has been one of my favourite reads so far this year.

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