The Lesser Bohemians – Eimear McBride

bohemians
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One phrase kept coming to mind as I read this book: “We accept the love we think we deserve.” This quote is from The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, and captures the essence of McBride’s The Lesser Bohemians. At the surface, this is a story of a young drama student having a relationship with an older, established actor. It’s almost a cliché – the teenage girl infatuated with an older man who takes advantage of her naiveté.

The difference here is that McBride’s tale forces the reader to be accepting and sympathetic of others’ experience, almost without judgement. It’s raw and disturbing, but that’s what makes it work.

Doubtless many readers will be aware that the writing style is not traditional. McBride writes in snippets, in phrases, short fragments of sentences. It’s not exactly stream-of-consciousness, but this style  allows for introspection and first person point-of-view more honestly than the usual straightforward structure. It’s poetic and innovative, and not linear or direct. This writing creates succinct paragraphs without wordy descriptions. Dialogue is not bordered with quotation marks, but is directly inserted into the text. It may be off-putting or confusing at first, but it really doesn’t take long to adjust to this narrative voice. If you’re able to read Shakespearean English, or dialect, or an invented language, such as seen in The Country of Ice Cream Star or Cloud Atlas, then The Lesser Bohemians, though challenging, won’t be too difficult to tackle. Just let your mind go, be free of the burden of expectations, and absorb the words as they appear on the page. You’ll be just fine.

The subject matter may appear harmless – a May/December relationship – but it’s far from innocent. There are uncomfortable, sometimes taboo, subjects in this book. Incest, psychological abuse, drug use, child abuse . . . it’s all in there. It’s reminiscent of A Little Life, but this book is more believable and much better written. The characters are despicable, but they’re real.

I was bothered by the acceptance of psychological abuse as it was treated in this book. The young girl, Eily, allows herself to be cruelly manipulated by her older lover, mostly because she just doesn’t know any better. There is so much drama and on/off in their relationship, such desperation, dependency, and  “he loves me and he’ll come back,” that it practically made me nauseous. The reasons for his behavior are made clear, but does that make his abuse and infidelity acceptable? I pity any young girl who reads this book and thinks this type of relationship is okay, or worse, that it’s normal and the best they can expect to have. Sex is used for approval, sex is used for revenge, sex is used for power. Even though there is some catharsis and growth, there remains a horrifying lack of self-esteem in both characters. This relationship is too damaged to be healthy, and McBride’s novel doesn’t address that danger. As an adult, I recognize that fact; as an 18-year-old, I may not have.

I recommend The Lesser Bohemians for those readers who want to experience a different narrative style and can handle difficult issues. I would only recommend it for adults. I prevaricated between giving a 3 or 4 star review. So, 3 stars for the story and 4 stars for the raw, powerful writing. McBride’s first novel, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, wowed me with her bold use of language. I admire McBride’s writing, and give her kudos for creating a daring story. 

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Read more about this author: click here

Just released! New books I’m excited about . . .

There are so many great books being released! I wanted to share some of the ones I’m most excited about reading.

moscow
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I couldn’t wait to get my hands on A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. I finally got my copy (signed!) and started reading it right away, despite the fact that I’m already reading five other books. Set in 1922, Gentleman is the story of Count Rostov, a Russian aristocrat consigned by the Bolsheviks to live out his days under house arrest in the Metropol hotel. After only reading 50 pages, this book has hooked me. It’s beautiful and introspective, and, best of all, Count Rostov is deliciously charming.

 

 

mischling
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Mischling is the German word for “mixed blood,” those deemed by the Nazis to have both Aryan and Jewish ancestry. Twin sisters Pearl and Stasha arrive at Auschwitz in 1944 and are immediately part of Mengele’s Zoo. At first they feel that maybe they are privileged to be set apart from the others, given special treatment, but it doesn’t take long for the horrors to reveal themselves. I’ve already started listening to this audiobook, which is expertly narrated by Vanessa Johansson. The reader is given both voices of Pearl and Stasha, two very different girls whose souls are blended: “Everyone survived by planning. I could see that. I realized that Stasha and I would have to divide the responsibilities of living between us. Such divisions had always come naturally to us, and so there, in the early-morning dark, we divvied up the necessities: Stasha would take the funny, the future, the bad. I would take the sad, the past, the good.” Dear readers, you’re going to want to get this one.

wonder
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Emma Donoghue is the author of Room (shortlisted in 2010 for my fave book award, The Man Booker Prize) and Slammerkin (read this immediately if you haven’t already), so when her latest novel, The Wonder,  hit the shelves, I knew I had to have it. It’s described as an Irish Gothic masterpiece, which definitely sets my nerves a-tingling. The Wonder is Anna O’Donnell, a young girl who hasn’t eaten any food in four months, claiming she is sustained only on manna from heaven. A nurse trained during the Crimean war is sent to observe Anna, drawing her own conclusions and battling faith and responsibility to her charge. Reviewers are raving about this vivid, eerie story. And with Donoghue at the helm, it’s bound to be an emotional adventure. Sign me up.

 

thumbnail_finalapproved_semple_todaywillbedifferent_revisemjp_1
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Today Will Be Different – the unpredictable husband, the adored child, the zany plot full of hilarious yet stressful situations, the frantic mom who’s barely holding it together while everyone she loves threatens to thwart her precarious grip on sanity. Like her previous novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, Semple weaves the poignant with the hilarious, making for a heart-breaking and entertaining story. Following Bernadette, this book has big shoes to fill, and I’m looking forward to jumping in.

 

bohemians
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*Big Gasp* when I heard that Eimear McBride had a new book coming out. I loved her debut novel, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. McBride’s writing is unusual; it’s mostly stream-of-consciousness poetical fragments and reading it takes a modicum of concentration. Please don’t let that seem as a warning to send you running the other way. I usually don’t do well with indirect,  abstract prose. I think  – and this is my blog, so I get to say what I want – that writers like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, who attempted to write this way, are *ahem* overhyped. McBride uses a similar style, but she does it successfully. I love her writing. She gives a sense of a scene blended with the character’s interpretation of what’s happening in bits. It’s like writing with sprinkles, reading by glancing snippets, a series of quick poetic morsels. And McBride is a genius at it. She’s a joy to read, even if I do have to slow down a little, furrow my brow. Her writing is worth the effort (more so than Joyce). I just received a copy of The Lesser Bohemians today (squee!) from Blogging for Books in exchange for my review, so put that on your radar as imminently forthcoming. I’m sure to be up late tonight!

goodpeople
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Hannah Kent’s debut Burial Rites is one of my Favorite Books of All Time (see that cool list here), so her second novel, The Good People, is a must-read for me. Set in Ireland in 1825, widowed Nora is forced to care for her grandson, Michael. She seeks the help of Nance, a local healer, to help cure Michael, who is rumored to be a changeling and is blamed for the ill luck that has befallen their small town. Kent is adroit at creating a burdening atmosphere around haunting stories, and blending superstition and Gaelic folklore into historical fiction should be a perfect match for her skills.

This is what I’m looking foward to . . . so far! What’s on your to-read-soon list?

Partial Eclipse – Lesley Glaister

partialeclipse
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This book presents two twinned, parallel storylines of women suffering imprisonment.

In the main story, Jenny, a young girl in solitary confinement, reminisces about her lost love affair with Tom, an older man. There are hints that this love affair is the cause for her imprisonment (but I won’t get into that!). Solitary is dismal, as expected, but also lets Jenny’s mind wander, and we get the entire story of her affair with Tom, of her relationship with her grandmother, and her descent into passion and madness.

Jenny often speaks of color, or the lack of it, in her prison cell, fantasizing about a palette of paints. Her mental life is rich, which offers the reader a glimpse into her psyche. At first you wonder if Jenny was somehow wronged. Is she a victim of exploitation? Or is she psychotic?

In her mind, Jenny tells herself the story of Peggy Maybee, a distant ancestor who was imprisoned for trying to steal peacock feathers to give her infant son. Peggy is put on a prisoner transport ship and sent to Botany Bay, and desperate conditions, mutiny, and horrible punishment await her on the ship. I enjoyed her story as much as Jenny’s, despite the cruelty and depravity that Peggy had to endure. Her story is brutal and devastating.

I would describe Glaister’s writing style as modern gothic. There’s the subtle psychological disintegration, the haunting sense of place, the character-driven plot. She describes one item, like grey scrambled eggs, or the thin nubbiness of the bedspread, and you get a sense of the entire room, of the mood and atmosphere, of the dinginess, or newness, or oppressiveness. There’s a dark, introverted quality to the perspectives of both Jenny and Peggy.

This book was a riveting tale of blind passion. Jenny is, at first, very sympathetic, but as her story progresses she becomes less reliable, which only makes the book that more interesting. Anyone who’s had their heart broken will be able to relate to Jenny’s story, but her innocent infatuation turns dramatically into violent obsession. And yet, Glaister’s writing is so multifaceted that even in the end, as twisted as Jenny is, you still rally for her.

5 stars all way ‘round.

 

Five Authors – a reading pathway

 

While looking at my Goodreads “most read authors” list, I was surprised to see that most of my most-read authors are women. Much to my chagrin, Stephen King has the top spot (thanks, fiery and quickly-extinguished high school obsession!). I haven’t read everything these women have written, but I have read a handful of each, so I have a general idea of what to recommend when someone says, “I’ve heard of her! Which one should I read first?” When asked this question, my inclination is to shove the entire oeuvre in their hands and overwhelm them, but in the interest of keeping friends, I’ve chosen The One to recommend from each of my five ladies.

 

mycousinrachel
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Let’s start with Dame Daphne, Daphne du Maurier, my north star, my totem, my patronus. The obvious answer, the one everyone has read, is RebeccaBut no! As enchanting as Rebecca is, go deep and start with My Cousin Rachel. It’s more subtle, it has the most unreliable narrator, and it’s delicious. And after you read My Cousin Rachel, you still have Rebecca to look forward to.

 

 

 

 

fingersmithcover
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Mi amore, Sarah Waters, is quite possibly my favorite living writer (sorry, David Mitchell, there’s only room for one). I posted on Litsy recently that I just want to grab her face in my hands and gush, “Thank you for writing books!” Sarah Waters has such talent for detail, such exquisite writing. She makes you live her characters. You adore their loves, you anguish over their indiscretions, you obsess over their failings. I inhaled her latest, The Paying Guests, but if you’re a Waters newbie, I’d recommend Fingersmith. Summary: deception, betrayal, twists. And that’s all you should know about the book before you open it. It’s best to go in blind. One reviewer called it “lesbian Dickens,” but I’d just call it amazing.

 

alias-grace
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Margaret Atwood. Her actual name should be The Margaret Atwood, as she is grand enough to deserve the article. Or maybe, like Beyonce and Madonna, just Margaret. She’s famous for The Handmaid’s Tale, which is that one high school required book that kids have actually enjoyed. If you’ve never delved, I would recommend starting with Alias, Grace. It’s historical fiction, which is a bit of a branching out for Atwood, but it includes the nuances, mystery, and psychological twists that are in all her works. It’s the 19th century, and Grace is accused of murdering her employer and his mistress / housekeeper. But did she? Is she a victim or a fiend? She tells her story to a psychologist and he’s never quite sure if he can trust her narrative. Atwood’s writing is juicy; the small details add up to an enthralling story. I can’t recommend her highly enough. I want to stand on street corners and pass out her novels like religious tracts.

 

olive-kitteridge
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And next up, Elizabeth Strout. Going to have to recommend the gold standard, Olive Kitteridge. It reads as several interconnected stories revolving around one crotchety retired schoolteacher. Strout touches on the minor incidences of daily life that reflect the grander issues of aging, marital discord, and disappointments. It’s bleak, but not without hope. The miniseries starring Frances McDormand is excellent as well. (But read the book first.)

 

 

 

 

stiff-cover
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Finally, for my non-fiction-reading friends, there’s the inimitable Mary Roach. She’s ridden the Vomit Comet, she’s attended a school for mediums, she’s undergone electrode-tracking sexual stimulation on camera, all for the sake of her art. And in every photo I’ve seen of her she looks like she’s having a blast. She is the Jack Bauer of scientific journalism. Informative, entertaining, and definitely hilarious, Roach’s books are always a pleasure. I’d start with Stiff: the Curious Life of Human Cadavers for your first Roach romp.

 

 

There are also other female authors who have captured my heart (and I want to devour everything they’ve put on paper): Kate Morton, Emma Donoghue, Jeanette Winterson, Joanne Harris, and Vendela Vida.

I’ve given you a jumping off point. Go discover!

The Lightkeepers – Abby Geni

This may be my favorite book that I’ve read this year.

lightkeepers
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The story is told through the eyes of Miranda, a photographer recently accepted into a program that finances biologists on the Farrallon Islands, an uninhabited archipelago off the coast of California. Miranda joins 6 biologists on the islands, some who have been there for many months, or even years, studying local shark, bird, and seal populations. The seven of them share a small cabin, often assisting with each others’ work, spending their evenings together dining on their limited provisions, and studying their findings. What they don’t share, however, is anything about their pasts. That’s the unspoken rule on the islands, and Miranda doesn’t really know who she has been stuck with in this remote location.


The book is interspersed with educational explanations of the animal populations, which I found interesting, and, later, useful in helping to understand the human relationships among the seven scientists. Geni pulls no punches in demonstrating how at the core we really are all just animals, and our basest nature is really our true self.

A large portion of Miranda’s story is told in letters to her deceased mother. At times the book reads like a memoir. This book is a commingling of biological observation of sharks and seals with emotional introspection and speculation of the motives of the biologists. After a crime is committed and accidents befall some of the inhabitants,  the passions of the biologists begin to overcome their objectivity. Different perspectives of these events come through, and the reader, like Miranda, is left wondering who is trustworthy and who has something to hide.

Geni has created a book with a claustrophobic atmosphere that blankets the entire story. The overall feeling of the Farrallon Islands is grey and bleak, but also exotic with the thrill of the newly discovered. The world of the islands is tempestuous and isolated. The animals are beautiful to observe, but as the story unfolds, the cruelty and callousness of nature is revealed that underlies it all.

The Lightkeepers is beautiful and raw. I couldn’t look away from the pages. It has the soulfulness of literary fiction, the wonder of natural observations, and the haunting qualities of a gothic mystery. I highly recommend this one. It’s one of my absolute favorites. Put on a warm cardigan and pull the sleeves over your hands. Grab a mug of hot tea and curl up with an afghan. You’ll need some warmth to overcome the hardened chill of this riveting story. 

 

The Buried Book – D. M. Pulley

theburiedbook
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The Buried Book is told through the eyes of 9-year-old Jasper who has just been abandoned by his mother on his uncle’s farm outside Detroit. Jasper doesn’t understand why his mom has run off. Snippets of conversations he overhears in the barn or in town lead him to believe his mother might be dead. While adapting to farm life and trying to glean more hints about his mother’s disappearance, Jasper discovers his mother’s teenage diary in an abandoned house on his uncle’s property. This book only raises more questions than it answers, and Jasper is determined to find out what happened to his mother. He finds that his mom has gotten mixed up with some bad people (drug smugglers, gamblers, and bootleggers), and now the bad guys are after him, too.

Pulley has done her research. Set in the rural 1950s, many stories of farm life are interspersed into Jasper’s adventures. This made for an extremely entertaining but tense story, as everywhere Jasper turned he was running into trouble. This book is not just a linear mystery tale – this is a family saga, a story of fugitives, a story of the mistreatment of Native Americans at the hand of shady law enforcement, and the tale of a little boy trying to understand the world of adults. I appreciated how deftly Pulley was able to use historical fact in her story without being pedantic or heavy-handed. There are so many elements at work, and yet, Pulley weaves them into a cohesive narrative that left me flipping the pages to find out what happened next. The chapter titles are written as police investigator interrogatives, which hints at what’s to come.
This story was engrossing with just enough breaks in the story to allow the reader to catch a breath. Recommended.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Lake Union Publishing for providing this advance copy.

The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters – Laura Thompson

mitford

I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for my honest review. This book was previously published as Take Six Girls. The Six will be released on September 6th.

I am loath to post a review when I didn’t finish the book, but I gave this an honest 30% and I just can’t go on. I wish there were SparkNotes for this. In order to fulfill my obligation and assuage my guilt for not finishing, let me tell you why I gave up, or, rather postponed, my reading.

I wanted to read this book because I’ve heard of the Mitford sisters but didn’t know much about them. “Who are they?” a friend asked, having only vaguely heard of the Mitfords. “Kinda like 1930s British Kardashians,” I said. “What are they famous for?” I contemplated and can come up with nothing. “Being Mitfords,” I guessed. But I still wanted to know more about this scandalous group of women.

This book is not for Mitford amateurs.

Unfortunately, to put it simply, this book is just all over the place. It reads like a stack of index cards. It’s a completely discombobulated list of minor factoids and anecdotes. I could never follow where she was going. One reviewer claimed that it’s chronological, but I couldn’t say that’s consistently true. Granted, there is a lot of information when trying to write a biography of SIX related people. Going in as a tabula rasa, like I did, will leave your head spinning. The author assumes you’re intimately familiar with a). All Mitford sisters and associated aunts, uncles, cousins, and various fleeting family friends b). All novels written by Nancy Mitford and lesser-known literary works of the period c). Obsolete modern and/or 1930s British slang and minor pop culture references.

For example, in just the first six pages of Chapter 6 of the e-book, the author covers:

Family friend James Lees-Milne’s obituary for the Mitford mother
Lees-Milne’s feelings for sister Diana and antipathy for Nancy
Other various friends’ and relatives’ feelings about Nancy
Other sisters’ feelings about Lees-Milne’s obituary for their mother
Anecdote about Lees-Milne’s unfavorable experience at a Mitford dinner party
Lees-Milne’s subsequent publication of this anecdote 25 years after the publication of Nancy’s The Pursuit of Love
Backstory of how Lees-Milne met the Mitfords
Lees-Milne’s affair with Tom Mitford at Eton
Discussion of Tom Mitford’s homosexuality

I got to the sixth page of this chapter and couldn’t remember how it began or discern where it was going. Most of my flagged notes included such questions as, “What does this mean?” and “What the hell is she alluding to? Google this.”

The book is heavily researched; I just wish the author had included some semblance of relevance for all the information she included. If you’re very familiar with the Mitford family, and if your own ancestry includes at least eight generations of British gentry, then you should have enough knowledge to understand and appreciate the details included in this book. If, like me, you’re lacking in these areas, be sure to read this near an Internet source to aid your understanding. Laura Thompson is definitely smart and includes references and jokes into these Mitford stories; I am just not knowledgeable enough about this family to get the jokes. Maybe I’ll try a more introductory Mitford book and begin again. I appreciate the opportunity to read this book and will attempt it again in the future after I study up a bit. I’m holding off on a rating until I can fully appreciate this book.

Sorry, toots. I had to make tracks.