The Testaments – Margaret Atwood

As a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments is equally compelling but with a very different tone. Whereas The Handmaid’s Tale had a single narrator (Offred), The Testaments (set 16 years later) has three voices: two very different young women, one raised in Gilead and one raised outside, and the notorious Aunt Lydia. The resulting story is less introspective with more action, thus less reactive. The seeds of dissent are outlined clearly and logically with some Machiavellian motivations. This is a page turner, a completely engrossing read.

Everything Under – Daisy Johnson

Everything Under - Daisy Johnson.jpgThis is a really excellent novel set in contemporary England. The core of the story is a complicated mother-daughter relationship but it is much more: the use of a private language and a river creature and supplemental characters. The timeline is an interesting feature of the story telling. Johnson’s writing reminds me of Sarah Winman, so high praise.

The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton

The Luminaries - Eleanor CattonAn epic story set in a remote gold mining frontier town in New Zealand’s South Island in 1866. There is a mystery with murder and disappearances; everyone is hiding misdeeds and withholding information. The structure of this Man Booker prize winning novel is fascinating. The first half of the book essentially describes a meeting of 13 men and each fairly long chapter provides a different point of view unique to each character. The second half has shorter chapters as more back story is revealed, mostly about some really delicious villains. This is fabulous story telling, even better as a second read compared to when I first read this book.

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.

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.