In Between Days – Teva Harrison

in-between-days-teva-harrisonThis is a fabulous book, with drawings and short essays about living with stage 4 breast cancer at age 37: sadness, wisdom, hopefulness and sometimes despair. The emotions are honest – this is a book that should be read by everyone. I have had the great good fortune of listening to Harrison twice at book panels: she is a remarkable person.

The Hidden Keys – Andre Alexis

the-hidden-keys-andre-alexisI, like many others, was conflicted over Alexis’ previous book 15 Dogs, despite all the awards. In contrast, this new book is a delight – a mystery and a heist caper. The characters are a treasure, each vivid and unique. And like De Wit’s Sisters Brothers, there is some philosophizing over good and evil, so overall, a very entertaining book.

Party Wall – Catherine Leroux

party-wall-catherine-lerouxThis is a really excellent book, not surprising since this was a Giller finalist. The chapters are all about pairs, for example, two sisters. But some of the pairs are not what they seem: a husband and wife, a mother and son, and a brother and sister. There is a strong sense of place but not of time. And finally, lives begin to intersect. This is dazzling writing and exceptional translating (the translator won a Governor General’s Award), so a “must read”.

The Best Kind of People – Zoe Whittall

the-best-kind-of-people-zoe-whittallThis powerful book is about rape culture. George, a revered high school teacher, is accused of sexual misconduct and attempted rape; the complainants are 12-14 year-old school girls. George then recedes into the background as the book vividly details the collateral damage to his family who want to be supportive of a good husband/father but powerful emotions like guilt over suspicion, anger and confusion are inevitably present. Feelings of powerlessness are described evocatively. The consequences of living in a small judgemental town with attendant lies and betrayal is another vivid characteristic in this fine  novel (Giller nominee). In fact, the verdict delivered by the end of the book is inconsequential: lives have been changed irrevocably.

The Wonder – Emma Donoghue

the-wonder-emma-donoghue
Set in Ireland in the 1860s (not long after the famine), this book provides impeccable detail into an investigation into a fantastical claim that an 11 year-old girl hasn’t eaten for four months: a miracle or a scam?  The investigation requires close observation (24/7) and as Margaret Mead postulated long ago – observation changes behaviour. One of the observers is an English nurse, so there are Irish-English issues as well. There are strong religious overtones but at its heart, this is a story about motherhood (so in that regard, somewhat similar to The Room). Donoghue is a fabulous story teller, nominated for the Giller.

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

A Litte LifeThis is a powerful and also profoundly disturbing book, a guy book about 4 male college friends, with a detailed (1352 pages in my digital library copy) account of their relationships with each other mostly: intense friendship and sometimes love. There are essentially no important relationships with women. At the core of the book is Jude, who undergoes horrific abuse as a child that will bring you to tears. Predictably, Jude suffers pronounced attachment disorder which makes his subsequent relationships with his friends very complicated. One of the brilliant features of this book is the ability to illustrate how someone who is very very intelligent can repeatedly engage in completely irrational behaviour: Jude knows this but can’t stop. This should produce a pause in those who think that abuse can be trivialized by “just get over it”. This is a tough read for emotional reasons but very worthwhile. This book is a Man Booker finalist.

The Mandibles – A Family 2029-2047 – Lionel Shriver

lionel shriver do not.jpegShriver writes impeccable novels about contemporary issues: the obesity epidemic (Big Brother), health care costs (So Much For That), and a mass killing (We Need To Talk About Kevin) and others (Double Fault is a favourite of mine). In this novel, she describes the near future (2029 and beyond) after the financial collapse of America. Her focus is on 4 generations in a family, so the psychological aftermath is even more chilling. This is an excellent read and very relevant post-2008 financial collapse; what if things had progressed downhill even more dramatically .

Do Not Say We Have Nothing – Madeleine Thien

Do Not Say We Have Nothing - Madeleine ThienThien has written some fine books (Dogs At The Perimeter, Certainty), but this new book is her best yet – an epic story of China. The evocative writing describes the agony of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s leading up to the horror of the Tiananmen Square massacre. There are three central characters that are linked by their passion for music.

The coda at the end of the book describes the first time a lost composition for violin and piano is played: “At first, the violin played alone, a series of notes that slowly widened. When the piano entered, I saw a man turning in measured elegant circles, I saw him looking for the centre that eluded him, this beautiful centre that promised an end to sorrow, the lightness of freedom. The piano stepped forward and the violin lifted, a man crossing a room and a girl weeping as she climbed a flight of steps; they played as if one sphere could merge into the other, as if they could arrive in time and be redeemed in a single overlapping moment. And even when the notes they played were the very same, the piano and violin were irrevocably apart, drawn by different lives and different times. Yet in their separateness, and in the quiet, they contained one another”.

This book has great story telling with some transcendent writing – highly recommended.