09 November 2010

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

(Translated from the French by Alison Anderson)

The premise of this book is deliciously enticing.

Renee Michel is a fifty-something concierge of an elite hotel particulier for the extremely wealthy at 7, rue de Grenelle. She fits perfectly into the stereotype of what an elderly female concierge should be. But that's because Madame Michel makes a concerted effort to appear that way. In fact, she is an avid lover of art and literature, well-versed in philosophy and a language pedant. She strenuously, ingeniously and very funnily conceals this aspect of herself. Deep down she has a mortal fear of being discovered traversing beyond the constraints of her social class.

Paloma Josse is a twelve-year-old inhabitant of the building. She is intelligent beyond her years and has figured out the charade of adulthood - that we are children all, unaware that we are trapped in a goldfish bowl. Consequently she embraces the meaninglessness of life and has resolved to commit suicide, and, in a symbolic attempt to escape the goldfish bowl, burn down the apartment. Paloma too tries to hide her intelligence by donning a cloak of mediocrity. She resorts to hiding in order to pen down her thoughts in her diary. To which we are, happily, privy.

01 November 2010

Alligator by Lisa Moore

This was a bit of a difficult read - it is bleak and at some points horrifying. Set in St John's on the island of Newfoundland in Canada, it opens with a short narrative about an alligator whose jaw snaps shut on a man's head. Or rather, a man who sticks his head into an alligator's open jaw in front of an audience. A drop of his sweat lands in the alligator's mouth. Snap.

21 October 2010

A note on the Amazon Kindle

[See here for an update to this post.]

With the release of the third generation Kindle not too long ago, people this side of the world are starting to take notice. The common remarks I often hear are 'maybe I should just get an iPad' or 'but it will never feel the same as reading a real book'. Here are a few reasons why I've always been a Kindle advocate.

17 October 2010

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

I am ashamed to say that in all my years of living in Sydney, I never picked up a Tim Winton novel to read. And that Cloudstreet, my first Tim Winton, was bought at the Sydney Airport, as I was just about to get on a plane to start my life back in Singapore.

I'd always scoffed at the thought of Aussie literature. Despite friends recommending a whole host of great Aussie novels, I resisted. I was a foolish snob. Thankfully, the beauty of books is that they never expire. A good book will sit there, faithfully waiting for you to pick it up, realize its worth, and devour it. Better late than never. I've learnt my lesson.

I think I will always remember Cloudstreet as the book that made me ache for Australia. It is quintessentially Australian, and for every reason that I thought I would hate this kind of book, I loved it. I shall now, as a form of atonement, list those reasons here.

16 October 2010

Solar by Ian McEwan

 Ian McEwan is the only author whose books I refuse to buy on my Kindle. When Solar was released earlier this year, I went out to the bookstore and bought a hard copy of it so I can display it on my bookshelf along with the rest of his books. Not because I am vain about my book collection, but because I feel, rather absurdly, like I'm doing something for him in my own small way. No no, Ian, thank YOU.

For the reasons stated here, On Chesil Beach remains my favourite McEwan novel.  Notwithstanding, Solar was wonderfully enjoyable and well worth writing a review about, so here goes. My maiden attempt.