I'd started a tentative list for next month too, but I've ended up setting it aside for later as I now have a pre-formed list to work from... Yes, that dreaded moment has arrived when all of my library books are reaching the end of their renewal allowance and I have about a month left to read a whole pile of titles! Ooops. To be fair, I've had them since before Christmas, so it's about time I got stuck in! My upcoming reading list now includes The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (I'm partway through it already, so far so good!), Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman (ditto - I might end up getting my own copy of this one as I'm already wanting to take copious notes from it), Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin and White Noise by Don DeLillo. I might not finish all of the books that need to go back, but I'm determined to give it a good shot!
So, onto my reviews... I finished this book on Monday night, and read the entire of The Man in the Picture by Susan Hill on Tuesday, so expect a review of that one soon. And I'm also hopefully going to be reviewing Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell (which we appear in, hooray!) within the next couple of days - I'm expecting the postie with it any time now! Should be good for a laugh... :)
by S.J. Watson (Black Swan, 2012)
I definitely liked this book - but not as much as I expected to when I eagerly pre-ordered it in January. I think this was mostly because of the word 'thriller' emblazoned across it; for me that conjures expectations of a taut, suspenseful page-turner, when in fact it was more of a slow-burning literary novel that just happened to have a crime driving it forwards. It was a great book, just not in the way I expected when I started reading, and I think that dented my overall enjoyment somewhat.
It opens as Christine wakes up. She has no idea where she is or who is lying beside her. Fumbling her way to the bathroom, she is horrified to find a fifty-something woman staring back at her in the mirror. Around her reflection are photos that she has no recollection of posing for, and the man in her bed introduces himself as her husband Ben. Before he goes to work he explains that she had an accident and now has amnesia, waking up every morning unable to remember where she is, sometimes feeling like a twenty-something woman, sometimes even feeling like she is still a child. A little while later Christine gets a call from her doctor, who meets her for coffee and hands her a journal that she has been writing for the past few weeks. Back home she opens it and is confronted by a scrawl across the front page: 'Do not trust Ben.' She reads on, determined to piece together her history... Who is telling her the truth, and who is lying - and why?
Much of the book is made up of this journal, which is simultaneously a great device and a slightly irritating one. It contributes quite heavily towards the slower pace of the novel, because Christine repeats herself so much, particularly earlier on. You could argue that this is made necessary by the subject matter - she has amnesia, after all - but as a reader I admit I found it a little dull at times. At the same time, it did mean that as each piece of the puzzle fell into place, it had quite an impact. Like Christine, I had to read between the lines as the daily entries built up, trying to work out how her returning memories fit together, who she could trust and what might really have happened to her. It was a good mental workout!
I'd certainly say that this is a thought-provoking novel. It really makes you think about how an individual's identity and sense of self is tied to memory, to a personal history filled with experiences and people and places, and how bewildering it would be to have to start afresh every day. There are little moments scattered through the book that really hammer home how carefully Watson must have had to consider each and every page, and how impossible a linear narrative would have been without the journal. Christine doesn't know about 9/11 and the war on terror, for example. She's never seen a mobile phone before, has no knowledge of her own middle-aged body, and has no real feeling of love for Ben because to all intents and purposes, she's meeting him for the first time each morning. This would be a great novel for a book club, because there's just so much potential for discussion - in fact, there are a set of questions at the end of the book for that purpose. I'd definitely recommend it - just don't make the mistake of expecting a fast and frenetic read like I did!
- "I realise I do not have ambition. I cannot. All I want is to feel normal. To live like everybody else, with experience building on experience, each day shaping the next. I want to grow, to learn things, and from things... I can't imagine how I will cope, when I discover that my life is behind me, has already happened, and I have nothing to show for it. No treasure house of recollection, no wealth of experience, no accumulated wisdom to pass on. What are we, if not an accumulation of our memories?"