March reading started well. I was more than happy with my first book choice. But the more I read, the more I began to question books two and three. The problem I have with reading is that once I start a book, I find it very difficult to set it aside if I don’t particularly like it. I know it’s considered acceptable to dump a book if it hasn’t delivered after 50 pages, but I just can’t do it. There’s also the argument that with so many books out there, why read one you don’t like. I agree completely. But there’s the underlying fear that I might end up loving it. And I would never know, because I gave up.
That sentiment applies to The Vegetarian (Han Kang). It tells the story of the unravelling of Yeong-hye’s life once she commits to vegetarianism, after a graphic dream that made her not want to eat meat. The novel is written in three parts: the first from the perspective of her husband, encompassing the initial decision and the impact it has on her relationship with her husband and family. Moving forward in time, her brother-in-law intervenes and becomes involved in the dramas of Yeong-hye (part 2); and later still, the perspective of her sister.
Although the novel revolves around Yeong-hye becoming vegetarian, by the time you get to the end you realise there’s a whole lot more going on than whether to eat meat or not. This is about control, domination and survival and the impact of these on the health and mental well-being of the individual bearing the brunt of the actions of others. This book is a bit weird, but provides an interesting way of looking at mental illness and the affect it has not only on the patient but also family members coping with, and managing the illness of a relative. I didn’t start out liking this book, but became a fan by the end. Definitely one to put in the worth reading pile.
Alain de Botton’s The Course of Love followed. I must say from the outset, I really like the idea of de Botton’s books, but I find them hard to read. It’s his writing style, and I know it’s my problem, but I just tend to get a bit bored. This being a novel, I thought it might be different, and happily began to read. This is the story of the Kirsten and Rabih and the evolution of their relationship. The ‘course of love’ alternates between the perspective of each character and inserted in between is a philosophical reflection on the stages of marriage as they unfold in the telling of the couples’ life.
This is not a novel about falling in love, but rather how people stay together despite the highs, lows and bits in between that relationships are forced to navigate. It’s an interesting subject matter, and one that I would happily read a philosophical appraisal of. But this is presented as a case study of a couple. A couple who the author hopes the reader engages with, allowing them to gain an insight into the phases of marriage as they play out. The problem was I didn’t like Rabih. From the outset. At all. And for that reason, it was hard to empathise with his situation and the phases of his life, love or marriage. (Just writing this makes me annoyed with him all over again.) Reviews rave about this book. You might love it too, but for me I can’t go beyond 3 stars.
Then things came tumbling down with The Quality of Silence. I’ve read other novels by Rosamund Lupton, (Sister and Afterwards), and thoroughly enjoyed both. Crime fiction is always my go-to genre when I want to be engrossed in a book. It reminds me of having babies and not having the level of concentration needed to read anything that required brain power. So, I developed a philosophy: when in doubt read crime.
Unless it’s The Quality of Silence. This book started out well. Mother and deaf 10 year old child go to the Arctic Circle to meet up with their photographer husband/father. On their arrival they are told he has died in a fire. Sorry, you should go home. Deep in their bones they know he’s alive and set out to find him because the police prefer evidence over gut feelings and won’t go searching for him. The first half is not too bad. The tension builds. Lots of snow; a mysterious vehicle following the semi-trailer they have commandeered; and just to make it totally (un)believable, a snow storm. The craziness of all of this can be forgiven because that’s what crime fiction is. Unbelievable and suspenseful. Perfect.
Then comes the second half (probably more like, the last third). The suspense is still there in spades, but the story takes such an implausible turn, it becomes laughable. For this reason, it totally lost me. The underlying message in this novel is to let the reader know about the dangers of fracking. It’s commendable to include an environmental message, but unfortunately, the message is undermined by the storyline. My recommendation would be to pass on this one and read Sister instead. It’s great.
March was a bit of a hit and miss month for me. One good, one so-so, and one not so good. But the reality is, book reviews are subjective. What one person loves another may loathe. Have a read and make up your own mind. Enjoy!