John Irving: The Fourth Hand (review)

Disclaimer: I read this novel in 2015 but even though I wrote the review at the time, never published it.

220px-TheFourthHand‘Good novels and films are not like the news, or what passes for the news – they are more than items. They are comprised of the whole range of moods you are in when you read them or see them. You can never exactly imitate someone else’s love of a movie or a book /…/’ (p. 289).

But maybe you can imitate someone’s indifference to a book. At least when you look at reviews, it seems that we are all pretty much in agreement that this is not John Irving’s best book. It is actually a really bad John Irving novel for the most part.

Inspired by a comment his wife made after watching a news story about the first hand transplant in the US, where she wondered what would happen, if the donor’s widow demands visitation rights with the hand, The Fourth Hand is about journalist Patrick Wallingford who is a disaster journalist. He is the guy who reports all the crazy weird news stories and bangs a lot of women while doing so – until one day he becomes the main story himself when he gets too close to a lion in India and looses his left hand.

This is of course broadcasted all over the news – and Patrick becomes The Lion Guy. A woman in Wisconsin also sees the footage and when her husband accidentally shoots himself, she immediately calls a hand surgeon and promises him the hand. But it comes with strings – she wants to be allowed to visit the hand after it has been transplanted to Patrick’s body. And she wants to meet Patrick to determine if he’s a nice guy. Turns out that’s not the only reason she wants to meet him. She wants her dead husband’s child and for it to make sense time-wise, she needs Patrick to donate his … talents … immediately. So she seduces him in the surgeons’s office.

So Patrick gets a new hand, the widow gets a baby – and everything should be coming up roses. Trouble is, Patrick has fallen in love with the widow and each time the widow visits with the hand, he falls more and more in love. And slowly Patrick starts to change.

‘What he failed to realize explained why he had never before been much of an experimenter; he lacked the imagination to entertain the disquieting idea that the new hand would not be entirely his.’ (p. 5)

I think this could have been a great book. Irving has some interesting perspectives on the differences between what’s shown in the news and what really happens. What matters the most, isn’t always what seems most important. And the private tragedies are not experienced like we see them on the news. Patrick starts developing a conscience, so to speak, and such can be both a advantage and a disadvantage in the TV business.

All this is well and good. But the novel wasn’t. And it’s not because of the unlikeable protagonist for most of the novel. Rather, it seems that Irving has lost faith in his readers. He explains and explains and explains everything – he even puts in lots of parentheses to explain even more. And he reminds his readers of too much of what has gone on before as well as just telling us things and foreshadowing so much – instead of just showing us and being the amazing storyteller we know he is.

It got better at around the halfway point and it does have some of the memorable Irving characters – like the divorced, dog poop hating, bird loving and extremely thin hand surgeon and his underweight son and the poop eating dog Medea. But it just never got around to the heights of The World According to GarpThe Cider House RulesA Widow for One Year, A Son of the Circus  I’ve read it twice now and both times I came up underwhelmed. If you have not read any Irving before, skip this one. If you are an Irving completist as I am, just be glad that this isn’t one of his longer novels. And that a bad Irving novel is still better than a lot of other novelists’ best efforts.

First line: Imagine a young man on his way to a less-than-thirty-second event – the loss of his left hand, long before he reached middle age.

  • Title: The Fourth Hand
  • Author: John Irving
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury
  • Year: 2001
  • Pages: 316 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5

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John Irving: A Widow for One Year (review)

0552146684.02.LZZZZZZZ‘That Ruth Cole would grow up to be that rare combination of a well-respected literary novelist and an internationally best-selling author is not as remarkable as the fact that she managed to grow up at all.’ (p. 21)
Out of my five favorite authors – Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Terry Pratchett, Haruki Murakami and John Irving – there’s one author who never disappoints. King and Oates write so many books that there’s bound to be some misses among them. Murakami gets too weird at times and Pratchett is … well, never a disappointment, but not always at his funniest. But John Irving. He is just always awesome.
And this book is no exception. This is the story of Ruth Cole who we follow at three points in her life. First as a four-years old in 1958, then in 1990 when she’s a single woman earning her living as an author and finally in 1995 when she’s forty-one years old and both a widow and a mother.
John Irving draws you in from the first page. When we meet Ruth, she is a little girl being awaken in the night by strange sounds coming from her mother’s bedroom. Having recently been ill herself, she thinks her mother is sick so she goes through the bathroom, picks up a bucket and enters her mother’s bedroom – where she finds her mother busy making love to a 16-years old boy. While Ruth makes her way from her bed to her mother’s bedroom, we are introduced to a shattered family where the mother and father don’t live together anymore, with two older brothers who are deceased and whose pictures are all over the walls of the house. And as the chapter is called ‘The Inadequate Lampshade’, you already have a pretty good idea what’s going on – and what kind of book this is.
Ruth is conceived by her parents to make up for the fact that they’ve lost their two boys in a car accident. Neither of them realizing that of course you can’t replace children – or what to do if they got a girl and not a third boy. So their marriage breaks up and for a while, they takes turn taking care of Ruth but finally, Ruth’s mother Marion leaves her husband and child, knowing that she doesn’t dare to love Ruth because she can’t bear to loose another child.
Ruth grows up in the home of her father, the children’s book author Ted Cole. Ted is a ladies’ man, he drinks a lot and he has written some incredible successful books with titles such as The Mouse Crawling Between the Walls and A Sound Like Someone Trying Not to Make a Sound. And Ted is a squash player.
Ted is one important man in Ruth’s life. Another one is Eddie O’Hare. Eddie is the young man, Marion has sex with over and over, the summer Ruth is four. He becomes a writer himself, writing books constantly dealing with a young man falling in love with elder women.
And Ruth grows up to be a writer, mostly because of the way her dead brothers are constantly in her life. For the first four years of her life, she is used to being taken from picture to picture of her dead brothers and told the story of the picture by both her mother and father – and her life is devastated when her mother not only leaves but take all these pictures with her. This is a book about stories and how we shape our lives through the stories we tell. And how stories differ depending on who tells it.
There’s a lot of typical John Irving tropes in here. The car accident killing sons, a traumatic event that shapes people’s lives, Ruth Cole’s first book is about a New England orphanage where abortions are performed, various sexual identities – things like that. In this book, though, there’s no dancing bears and we get to go to Amsterdam, not Vienna. And people play squash, they don’t wrestle.
I loved how we got to see Ruth work. How we see her researching a new novel in Amsterdam and slowly piecing it all together and getting ready to write an autobiographical work even though she believes in the imagination and the importance of choosing details rather than remembering them – and getting a bit more from her research that what she bargained for.
The title of the book refers to sorrow and how to deal with it. Irving begins the book with a William Makepeace Thackeray quote: ‘… as for this little lady, the best thing I can wish her is a little misfortune’. Marion has too much misfortune to be able to handle it, Ted is able to find comfort through his daughter and his womanizing, Ruth is lucky not to be hit by too much misfortune and so be able to get through life with just enough suffering to be able to get a better understanding of her mother’s actions. It’s also about how we retell our lives and how we handle our (sad) memories and keep them from ruining our lives.
This was a wonderful novel. I particularly loved the first part of it about Ruth at the age of four and her life with her father. Before reading it, I was afraid that it would feel like a disjointed story with it’s being split into three parts like that but it worked extremely well, for the most part, although I did feel the last part was the weakest of the novel – especially as the point of view of the novel shifted. I loved all the focus on stories and writing and as always, Irving is a wonderful writer and even though I see a few flaws in this novel, I absolutely loved it.

‘He read novels because he found in them the best descriptions of human nature. The novelists (he) favored never suggested that even the worst human behavior was alterable. They might morally disapprove of this or that character, but novelists were not world-changers; they were just storytellers with better-than-average stories to tell, and the good ones told stories about believable characters.’ (p. 529)

First line: One night when she was four and sleeping in the bottom bunk of her bunk bed, Ruth Cole woke to the sound of lovemaking – it was coming from her parents’ bedroom. It was a totally unfamiliar sound to her.

  • Title: A Widow for One Year
  • Author: John Irving
  • Publisher: Black Swan
  • Year:  1999 (original 1998)
  • Pages: 668 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 4 stars out of 5

I read this as part of my own challenge for the year – to read one book by each of my five favorite authors.

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Top Ten Books On My Winter TBR

toptentuesday-1This is a difficult list to make. I sort of have two lists in my head. One with the books I really want to read – and the other with books I ought to read because they are part of my goal for the year. Even though there’s not much left of 2013, I’m not willing yet to give up completing my goal so I’ve chosen to write the second list (with bits from the first list thrown in!).
As always, the Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

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  1. John Irving: Widow for One Year. Each year I set a goal of reading a book by each of my favorite authors. I only need to finish this one to have completed this goal and I’ve already read about a third of it and so far I love it.
  2. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. I have been postponing this for years. I’m not sure why I keep on procrastinating on this one but I think I have to read it this year or I never will. And it’s one of those books that you really ought to read and I think I will appreciate it so there’s really no reason to not just get on with it.
  3. Doctor Who and Philosophy. I try to read some non-fiction every year and I haven’t been doing very good this year. So I’m currently working my way through this one. It seems fitting since it’s the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Year to be reading this book.
  4. VC Andrews: Flowers in the Attic. So when I saw that my book twin Heather had joined the Insatiable Book Sluts blog and was hosting a readalong, I was immediately interested. Of course. So I plan on reading this book even though I’ve never heard of it before. It sounds like a great read and something that will give me a breather before I tackle some more of the leftovers from my list of reading goals.
  5. Thomas Ligotti: Teatro Grotesco. Every year my boyfriend, my best friend and me challenge each other and decides a book for each of the others. I have already read the one my boyfriend chose for me (Martin Amis: Lionel Asbo) but I need to read this one as well. And I have to admit – I have zero interest in it. It’s short stories, it’s horror. Sighs.
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  6. Don DeLillo: Underworld. And if that one wasn’t bad enough, there’s this huge novel by Don DeLillo. I have a hard time with DeLillo. I really don’t get him. I sense there’s something – but I can’t quite understand what he’s bring to do with his novels. And this one I’ve already tried to read but failed. And I never fail at finishing books. So I dread this one. A lot!
  7. Frederick Copleston: A History of Philosophy. And there’s this one … I was intimidating to begin it and I’m still intimidated by it … I’m really not sure if I will get through this one this year!
  8. Margaret Atwood. I have on my list that I have to read something from Margaret Atwood this year and I really want to! I just don’t own anything by her so I’m hoping to receive some of her books for Christmas.
  9. Arthur Conan Doyle: The Complete Sherlock Holmes. So I have read – and enjoyed – about 30% of this one. But – I still have to read 70% more. And it’s been a long while since I read it so I am actually planning to start at the beginning… I’m starting to feel like I have been a bit too optimistic about what I was able to read this year!
  10. Some sort of non-fiction. At this point I’m not sure what this last book will be about – or whether I will even make it this far…

So that’s it for me. If I’ll make it through these books this year, I will be thrilled and absolutely ecstatic. Unfortunately, the chances of that happening are really very low indeed. But I’ll try! Luckily there’s not that many work days left this year and I have a rather long Christmas holiday so if I just prioritize reading every day for the rest of the year, maybe I have a small chance… Well, not really, but it’s fun to try!

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Top Ten Favorite Books I Read Before I Was A Blogger

toptentuesday-1I’ve only been blogging for two years and a bit so I read about a billion books before. But it’s difficult to make a top ten list of the 10 best. But I’m definitely going to give it a go. I love recommending great books to other readers and these are books I maybe haven’t recommended before so this is exciting! As always, the Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

  1. John Irving: The World According to Garp. If I have to name one book as my favorite book, this is the one. I absolutely adore John Irving’s books (or many of them, at least) and this one is my favorite. I just love the story of this one tough lady who did something unimaginable and got a child which she raised in a rather untraditional way. I love reading about Garp growing up, his writing, his marriage and children and all the twists and quirkiness which Irving puts into the writing. I simply love this book.
  2. Joyce Carol Oates: Blonde. This is one of my all time favorite books. Joyce Carol Oates is one of my favorite authors and this was the book which introduced me to her. I loved the way she wrote in this one, fictionalizing the life of Norma Jean Baker aka Marilyn Monroe. Loved it!
  3. Haruki Murakami: Kafka on the Shore. This was the first Murakami novel, I read. It is magical realism with fish raining from the sky and guest appearances from Johnny Walker and Colonel Sanders. And lots of cats. Joyce Carol Oates blows me away with her ability to go in and out of her characters’s minds, John Irving with his ability to be a quirky story teller and Murakami blows me away with his imagination and the oddness in this one. I adore all three writers.
  4. Stephen King: The Stand. Stephen King is the author I’ve loved for the longest time. I discovered him as a young teenager, read him for several years, took a break but have now gotten back to Uncle Stevey. And this is his best book. At least his best novel – On Writing is absolutely amazing too. The Stand is one of the best dystopian novels out there, if not the best. I read it years ago in a Danish translation and some years back in the improved – or at least longer – version in English. It’s one of the books that I have thought about several times in the many years between the two reads. Randall Flagg and Mother Abigail are the perfect characters to set up against each other. There is just so much in this book, so many characters to love – or hate. King also impresses me with his story teller abilities – as well as with how prolific he is and how high quality most of his output have (same goes for Joyce Carol Oates of course).
  5. John Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath. I could almost as easily have put East of Eden on this list because both these two are just amazing novels. I haven’t put Steinbeck on my list of favorite authors yet but I think I will some day in the future. The Grapes of Wrath is Steinbeck’s with his social consciousness in highest gear. Writing about the victims of the 30s Great American Depression, Steinbeck manages to both write about one family’s plight as well as the transformation of an entire nation.
  6. Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None. I love this novel. I’m not sure if I’ve ever read anything else by Christie but I’ve read this one several times and I love it. It is such a clever book about a group of people being lured to an island where they are killed off one by one. But by whom? And I don’t even like crime fiction!
  7. Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace. I could just as easily have put Anna Karenia on this list. Both are amazing books and highly recommended. Anna Karenia is more accessible, but War and Peace is at least as amazing – and gives you bragging rights (if you know anyone who cares about this).
  8. Yann Martel: Life of Pi. I adored this novel back when I read it in 2007. This story of a very ressourceful boy being trapped on a lifeboat with a huge tiger just captured my heart. And the ending – it blev me away! I read it back in 2007 so I think it’s about time for a reread as well as time to watch the movie.
  9. Georges Perec: Life – a User’s Manual. This book has been featured on so many of my top 10 lists that it’s starting to be embarrasing. But it doesn’t show up on many other people’s list so I’ll keep mentioning it, hoping others will pick it up and love it as much as I did when I read it back in 2007. It’s definitely not for everyone but I was quite taken in by it and want to read it again. It centers around one apartment building in Paris and the people living there and moves from apartment to apartment to staircase and from character to character. Love it!
  10. Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre. I think it’s time for a reread of this one. I remember loving it, I remember the plot, yet I can’t pinpoint exactly what I love about it. Hard pressed, I would probably admit to loving Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice more but I’m afraid that owes more to the BBC and especially to Colin Firth. And every book can’t have Colin Firth starring in it. Still, I loved this for it’s flawed characters, for it’s wonderful story and beautiful writing. I think I might have to reread this one soon as well!

The worst with writing a list like this is, that you feel like you have missed some obvious books. Books that you adore and love but which for some reason didn’t pop into your head at the moment of writing the list. That said, even if I have forgot some obvious ones, I love these books so they all come with my highest recommendations. And I want to give honorable mentions to a few books that didn’t make the list but which are nevertheless on my list of favorites:

  • Philip Pullman: His Dark Materials.
  • David Wroblewski: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.
  • Alan Moore: Watchmen.
  • Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

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Top ten auto-buy authors

I have been slacking off on participating in the Top Ten so far this year, partly because of lack of time and partly because I’ve found some of the topics really hard to answer, some of them because they were not really relevant for the types of books I read. But I think it is fun to participate and I’m trying to get back in the game with this week’s theme, authors you automatically buy whenever they publish something new.

As always, the Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

  1. John Irving. I love John Irving’s books. I always buy him. I have almost everything he’s published, only lacking his movie memoir, two of his early books and a short story collection. I haven’t read all his works yet because I’m savoring them and I can’t imagine having no new Irving novels to read. He is a definite auto-buy author!
  2. Haruki Murakami. Murakami is another of my favorite authors where I have a no-questions-asked policy and just buy whatever he writes. I love both his magical realism books and the realistic ones – it’s just all good.
  3. Donna Tartt. I’m not going broke it anything by promising to auto-buy all if Donna Tartt’s future books. So far, she has published two (both of which are in my collection) and has one coming out this year. She published her first book back in 1992 so that’s 3 books in 21 years. I’ve really loved her first two novels so I’m so so excited about a third. Definitely a must-buy!
  4. Joyce Carol Oates. I really try to buy all Joyce Carol Oates’ books when they come out or soon after but it is so hard when we’re talking about a so extremely fast-writing author as Oates. She usually has more than one book coming out each year so I mostly limit myself to her novels. And a novelette. And her diaries. Ideally, I want to own everything she has written but … It’s close to impossible!
  5. Stephen King. So here we have another prolific writer whom I am desperately trying to keep up with. Again, I’m only buying the novels although I am reconsidering this because King writes excellent short stories. But yeah, I buy him even though he sometimes misses.
  6. Terry Pratchett. I buy the Discworld novels. I don’t buy the Discworld companion books and I haven’t (yet) bought any of his other novels or books. I don’t buy the books immediately after publication, though, since when I began buying them I could only get the paperbacks and so I have continued with this format. He never disappoints!
  7. Jonathan Franzen. After The Corrections, I’m buying Franzen’s novels. I loved The Corrections so so much. Again, this is not an author who is going to make me broke. He is not exactly a fast writer.
  8. Jeffrey Eugenides. I really liked Middlesex and so I have bought whatever he has published since. Which is one book, The Marriage Plot. So again, easy to promise to buy all his novels!
  9. Neil Gaiman. He can publish his grocery list for all I care. I’m buying! Even though he is a difficult author to have on the auto-buy list, since he writes in so many different genres and formats. Still, I am so looking forward to his next novel, I desperately want to get Chu’s Day, his children’s book, and translate it to my daughters and he’s also publishing a prologue to Sandman, the graphic novel series, this year, I think. I want it all!!! More, more, more!
  10. J.K. Rowling. I debated with myself whether I should put her on the list since I haven’t bought and have no intention of buying the various companion books to the Harry Potter series. Still, right now, I’m buying any novel she puts out there so on the list she goes.

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Top Ten Books Which Need to be Read More Than Once

This week, the Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie. We each get to decide which theme we want to write about. I’ve decided to make a Top Ten list of books that I want to reread – mostly books that are so complex that they need to be read more than once to get the most out of them. As usual, the Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and here are my list for this week.

  1. Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace. Come on – does anyone really expect that you can grasp everything that is War and Peace by reading it just once? Not going to happen! I loved it when I read it – and I know I want to research a bit more about Napoleon’s France and his wars before reading it again. But it is an amazing book – which has the huge amount of sidestories in common with the next book on my list.
  2. Victor Hugo: Les Misérables. I’m reading Les Misérables right now and even though I still have about 400 pages to go, I can say with complete conviction that this book deserves – and needs – to be read more than once. The main story of Jean Valjean and Colette is easy enough to follow and really draws you in and keeps your attention, but the book is so much more and this more is what demands more readings because you sometimes have a tendency to read rather quickly to get back to Colette and Jean Valjean and find out what happens with them.
  3. Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses. I so didn’t get this book the first time I read it. I read it through, I googled stuff and understood more – but I didn’t get this book. I think it was a combination of not having read a lot of magical realism, not having read anything else by Rushdie and not knowing enough about Islam. I have read more magical realism now, I have read Rushdie and plan on reading more and I do know more about Islam now and will probably brush up on my knowledge before attempting to read this book again. It’s a book I really want to understand and like because of the consequences it had.
  4. Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Brothers Karamazov. Another Russian novel. I think I just need to come to terms with the fact that these classic Russian novels need to be read more than once. This is also a really great novel – and I thoroughly enjoyed it while reading it – and I need to read it again…!
  5. Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights. The reason for adding this to my list is mainly that I was underwhelmed by it. Before reading it I had heard so much good about it – and maybe that’s what somewhat ruined my experience of it. However, after reading it, I’ve again heard and read so much about it that I’m pretty sure that I will like it better if I give it another chance. So that’s what I’m going to do.
  6. Harry Mulisch: The Discovery of Heaven. This is another of those books that just has much in it on top of a brilliant story so you just have to read it again. It’s by a Dutch author and it talks about friendship, religion, art, philosophy, WWII and so much more – and it’s amazing! Definitely worth a reread!
  7. George Elliot: Middlemarch. Big and wonderful, I really loved this novel when I read it. But I can’t quite articulate why I loved it so
  8. Georges Perec: Life – a User’s Manual. I recommend this book every chance I get – even though I strongly believe it’s not for everyone. Perec was a very experimenting author and this novel is no exception. Set in a block in Paris, we follow the lives and deaths of the people living here – there’s no real forward moving story, except maybe for this one guy who paints pictures, get them made into puzzles, put them together and then has them destroyed… It sounds weird, but it’s fascinating and wonderful.
  9. Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. A huge and impressive first novel filled with lots and lots of footnotes – and fairies! So another book about Napoleon warfare among other things. From the British point of view, though. I think it would be hugely beneficial to sit down and study up on Napoleon and his France and then read War and PeaceLes Misérables and this book – even though this as a alternate history/fantasy novel is hugely different from the other two. I love how the English use magicians to help them fight their wars and how you can see the same historical fact from very different ways, depending on whether you are Victor Hugo or Susanna Clarke!
  10. John Irving: The World According to Garp. Yes, I know. This falls somewhat outside the scope of my list but it’s my favorite novel and I’ve read it over and over and I still love it and enjoy each reread. So just go read it 🙂

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Being Bad

So remember how I wrote that I didn’t feel like buying books anymore? Yeah, that’s over. Very very over. See, the thing is, about a month ago it was my birthday. I got some great gifts – among them three books I haven’t even blogged about yet. On top of that, I got some charms for a bracelet. Unfortunately, I got three identical. Luckily, I could exchange two of these for money and buy books with. So without further ado, here’s both the books I got for my birthday as well as the books I’ve just bought.

Torben Munksgaard: Sort Hund (Title in English: Black Dog)

So Sort Hund is Torben Munksgaard’s third novel. Torben was in the same year as me at university and I know how much he wanted to be a writer so I’m so happy that he succeeded. This novel is about Bernhard who’s unemployed. One day he steals a dog because he’s lonely. The dog belonged to the wealthy Albert whose wife leaves him when the dog goes missing. The dog takes Bernhard new places and soon he meets the woman of his dermas whereas Albert’s life takes a turn for the worse. Destiny? Coincidence?

Andrew Taylor: The Anatomy of Ghosts

My brother bought me this for my birthday because he thought I would like it. I had never heard of either the book or it’s author before but it sounds very interesting.

1786, Jerusalem College Cambridge.

The ghost of Sylvia Whichcote is rumoured to be haunting Jerusalem since disturbed fellow-commoner, Frank Oldershaw, claims to have seen the dead woman prowling the grounds.

Desperate to salvage her son’s reputation, Lady Anne Oldershaw employs John Holdsworth, author of The Anatomy of Ghosts – a stinging account of why ghosts are mere delusion – to investigate. But his arrival in Cambridge disrupts an uneasy status quo as he glimpses a world of privilege and abuse, where the sinister Holy Ghost Club governs life at Jerusalem more effectively than the Master, Dr Carbury, ever could.

And when Holdsworth finds himself haunted – not only by the ghost of his dead wife, Maria, but also Elinor, the very-much-alive Master’s wife – his fate is sealed. He must find Sylvia’s murderer or the hauntings will continue. And not one of them will leave the claustrophobic confines of Jerusalem unchanged.

The Complete Illustrated Lewis Carroll

Well, as the title say, this is the complete and illustrated version of all of Lewis Carroll’s work. Here we have Alice Adventures in WonderlandThrough the Looking-Glass & What Alice Found ThereSylvie and BrunoSylvie and Bruno ConcludedRhyme and Reason as well as Miscellaneous Works. I don’t even know half of these – all I know is Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass & What Alice Found There. I’m not even sure if I’ve ever read Alice but now I have the chance, thanks to my brother.

Patrick Rothfuss: The Wise Man’s Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day Two)

I have such high hopes for this series so I’ve been putting off reading the first one because I want to read them together. I don’t know if I can wait ’till the third one comes out but now, at least, I have the two first. The third volume is due out May 1st 2013. And btw, I love the covers to my editions!

My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me.

The man was lost. The myth remained. Kvothe – the dragon-slayer, the renowned swordsman, the most feared, famed and notorious wizard the world has ever seen – vanished without warning and without trace. And even now, when he has been found, when darkness is rising in the corners of the world, he will not return.

But his story lives on and, for the first time, Kvothe is going to tell it…

Jonathan Safran Foer: Everything is Illuminated

I recently read Extremely Loud & Incredibly Loud and loved it. After finishing that, I knew I had to read more by Safran Foer and when I spotted Everything is Illuminated in the bookstore while shopping with my birthday money, I didn’t hesitate but grabbed it immediately. And since the main protagonist is named the same as the author, it reminded me of the Peter Høeg novel I read recently and the ambiguity between fiction and reality that can happen in such cases and which I find very interesting.

With only a yellowing photograph in hand, a young man — also named Jonathan Safran Foer — sets out to find the woman who may or may not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Accompanied by an old man haunted by memories of the war; an amorous dog named Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior; and the unforgettable Alex, a young Ukrainian translator who speaks in a sublimely butchered English, Jonathan is led on a quixotic journey over a devastated landscape and into an unexpected past.

John Irving: In One Person

I think I have raved so much about this novel that I hardly need to continue to do so before I actually pick up the book and read it and find out if it’s actually rave-worthy. Suffice to say, I bought it.

A compelling novel of desire, secrecy, and sexual identity, In One Person is a story of unfulfilled love—tormented, funny, and affecting—and an impassioned embrace of our sexual differences. Billy, the bisexual narrator and main character of In One Person, tells the tragicomic story (lasting more than half a century) of his life as a “sexual suspect,” a phrase first used by John Irving in 1978 in his landmark novel of “terminal cases,” The World According to Garp. His most political novel since The Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving’s In One Person is a poignant tribute to Billy’s friends and lovers—a theatrical cast of characters who defy category and convention. Not least, In One Person is an intimate and unforgettable portrait of the solitariness of a bisexual man who is dedicated to making himself “worthwhile.”

China Miéville: Railsea

I’ve read Un Lun Dun and The City & The City and really liked them both. I’m so very impressed by Miéville’s creativity and his ability to use his creativity to create unique settings for his stories. So when I spotted his new novel, it too made it’s way home with me.

On board the moletrain Medes, Sham Yes ap Soorap watches in awe as he witnesses his first moldywarpe hunt: the giant mole bursting from the earth, the harpoonists targeting their prey, the battle resulting in one’s death and the other’s glory. But no matter how spectacular it is, Sham can’t shake the sense that there is more to life than traveling the endless rails of the railsea–even if his captain can think only of the hunt for the ivory-coloured mole she’s been chasing since it took her arm all those years ago. When they come across a wrecked train, at first it’s a welcome distraction. But what Sham finds in the derelict—a series of pictures hinting at something, somewhere, that should be impossible—leads to considerably more than he’d bargained for. Soon he’s hunted on all sides, by pirates, trainsfolk, monsters and salvage-scrabblers. And it might not be just Sham’s life that’s about to change. It could be the whole of the railsea.

So that’s it for me. These were my new acquisitions. Such great books. But this also means that my to-read list is back up at 179 books again – not including The Flame Alphabet since I haven’t gotten it into my home yet. But 179 … so back to working my way back again… (But great, great books!!!)

Btw – if anyone is interested in a Wordsworth Classics version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (paperback), never been read, I have one to spare now I got the Hardcover complete and illustrated one. Let me know and it’s yours for the taking. 🙂

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Best of 2012 – Armchair BEA day 2

So … if you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know I went nuts back in January, posting post after post about all the exciting new books coming out this year. I mentioned quite a few novels – but I must admit that I haven’t read any of these. I have bought a few of them though and plan on buying more.

That being said, there are of course more books I’m excited about. One of these is a new novel by Mark Helprin. I’m reading his novel Winter’s Tale at the moment and I love it. If the new is somewhat along the lines of Winter’s Tale, I’m going to love it. And it does sound like it so I’m hoping. Here’s the blurb:

Mark Helprin’s enchanting and sweeping new novel asks a simple question: can love and honor conquer all? New York in 1947 glows with post-war energy. Harry Copeland, an elite paratrooper who fought behind enemy lines in Europe, returns home to run the family business. In a single, magical encounter on the Staten Island ferry, the young singer and heiress Catherine Thomas Hale falls for him in an instant, too late to prevent her engagement to a much older man. Harry and Catherine pursue one another in a romance played out in postwar America’s Broadway theaters, Long Island mansions, the offices of financiers, and the haunts of gangsters. Catherine’s choice of Harry over her long-time fiancé endangers Harry’s livelihood and eventually threatens his life.Entrancing in its lyricism, In Sunlight and in Shadow so powerfully draws you into New York at the dawn of the modern age that, as in a vivid dream, you will not want to leave.

Another book I’m really excited about is John Irving’s new novel, In One Year. I’ve just bought it yesterday and since I love Irving and this is supposed to be Irving revisiting some of the themes from A Prayer for Owen Meany and The World According to Garp. Since Garp is my favorite novel and both are amazing novels, I’m really excited about this book. Blurb time:

In One Person is a novel that makes you proud to be human. It is a book that not only accepts but also loves our differences. From the beginning of his career, Irving has always cherished our peculiarities-in a fierce, not a saccharine, way. Now he has extended his sympathies-and ours-still further into areas that even the misfits eschew. Anthropologists say that the interstitial-whatever lies between two familiar opposites-is usually declared either taboo or sacred. John Irving in this magnificent novel-his best and most passionate since The World According to Garp-has sacralized what lies between polarizing genders and orientations. And have I mentioned it is also a gripping page-turner and a beautifully constructed work of art?

Finally, the third book I want to mention, is Ben Marcus’ The Flame Alphabet. I’ve written about this before and I have bought it – or rather, I have had my friend buy it for me, I just haven’t gotten it in my hands yet. It sounds totally amazing and I can’t wait to read it!

A startling epidemic has struck the country and the sound of children’s speech has become lethal. Radio transmissions from strange sources indicate that people are going into hiding. All Sam and Claire need to do is look around the neighborhood: In the park, parents wither beneath the powerful screams of their children. With Claire nearing collapse, it seems their only means of survival is to flee from their daughter, Esther. But Sam and Claire find it isn’t so easy to leave the daughter they still love, even as they waste away from her malevolent speech. On the eve of their departure, Claire mysteriously disappears, and Sam, determined to find a cure for this new toxic language, presses on alone into a world beyond recognition.

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March 2012 – Monthly Wrap Up

In March I continued with my Charles Dickens and Edwin Drood obsession by reading Wilkie Collins The Woman in White and Matthew Pearl The Last Dickens. I also read 3 contemporary fiction novels. It has been quite a nice month with some decent reads. I had planned on reading most of these books and I rarely plan that much ahead with my reading so this was an interesting experience and I kind of liked it.

I had hoped to read 6 books this month but towards the end, I didn’t have the time to really sit down and read. So another month with 5 books. Still – I’m 3 books ahead of my reading challenge goal of 52 books so that’s really great!

  1. Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White. A mystery involving a woman running from an insane asylum. I was so well entertained for most of this book – couldn’t put it down. 5 stars.
  2. Marisha Pessl: Special Topics in Calamity Physics. This was supposed to be somewhat similar to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. I think there’s potential in this book but I was not too impressed with it. 3 stars.
  3. Jonathan Carroll: The Ghost in Love. A humorous take on what happens when people stop dying. I really liked this book – it was just too short! I’ll definitely be reading more from this author. 4 stars.
  4. Matthew Pearl: The Last Dickens. What happened when Dickens died? Did he finish his last book or did he die in the middle? His American publisher sets out for England to find out. Some interesting things – but not as good as Dan Simmons’ Drood. 3 stars.
  5. John Irving: The Water-Method Man. I love John Irving’s novels – this was his second and it was so interesting to see how a lot of his familiar themes are already present in this early novel. A great read – but not as good as some of his later novels. 3 stars.

I’ve read 2265 pages this month – but no e-books. The longest book was Wilkie Collins The Woman in White  (672 pages) – this was also this month’s only 5 stars read.

On most of my challenges, I’m doing really well. I haven’t started working on the Haruki Murakami or Neil Gaiman challenges yet but I’ve read 10 out of 25 for my Mount TBR Reading Challenge, I’ve read 5 out of 6 chunksters for the Chunkster Challenge (as well as some extra chunksters that didn’t count). I’m also doing okay with the challenge I’ve set for myself – I’ve read 6 books out of the 25 titles I have planned to read this year and 15 out of a year goal of 52 books. My to-read shelf has 177 books on it – I’m working on getting less books on this shelf and it’s not going very quickly because I’ve bought a few books and read some books from the library, but it’s getting lower at least.

And then there’s Clarissa … Oh yeah. I will post a Clarissa post for March later but for now I’ll just say that although I started March full of enthusiasm and really looking forward to reading a lot of Clarissa, I have been struggling a lot this month. I’m not quite on track but almost and I will get there!

I haven’t all that much planned for April. I plan on reading the books mentioned in my post about my 9-11 theme (I’ve already started with Jonathan Safran Foer Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close which I love – the other two are Don DeLillo Falling Man and Amy Waldman The Submission). I’m not sure what else I’m going to read – whatever I feel like afterwards, I guess. On a somewhat book related note, I plan on watching The Hunger Games tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to that!

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John Irving: The Water-Method Man (review)

I claim John Irving to be one of my favorite authors. That being said, I lack reading parts of his work and with this book, I’m trying to make up for it. Before reading this one, I haven’t read either of the two novels published before The World Accord to Garp gave Irving his huge break-through, so it’s interesting to see what Irving could do before that.

In this novel, some of the familiar themes in John Irving’s work are already present. As most of Irving’s novels, it takes place in part in New England – and in Vienna, Irving’s second favorite place. We meet hookers, there’s wrestling, writers and film-makers. All things that are often apparent in Irving’s work and feels familiars while he manages to put a new spin on them with each novel.

The Water-Method Man is the story of Fred Trumber/Bogus/Thump-Thump and the two loves of his life as well as his work on his Ph.d. thesis, a translation of the Old Low Norse epic poem Akthelt and Gunnel. Chronologically, we jump around between Bogus living with his first wife Biggie, Bogus and Biggie meeting and falling in love and Bogus’s relationship with his girlfriend Tulpen – which in a lot of way is a repeat of his relationship with Biggie – and his attempts to be a better father to Colm, his son with Biggie. We also get to experience parts of Bogus’ childhood – for instance the time where he and a friend both got crap from the same girl…

In this novel, there are some very Irving’sk episodes that are so hilarious that they’re almost hard to read because they’re so funny. One is Biggie and Bogus’ huge wrestling match where Biggie thinks Bogus has been cheating on her when in reality, he has helped a young gay man from the restroom where he was attacked, to his home. The man had some perfume water for his sister in his pocket, of course the bottle broke and he reeks of this – and of course, so does Bogus after helping him. Biggie immediately thinks Bogus has so little respect for her that he doesn’t even bother to shower after being with his mistress and in order to prove his innocence, Bogus wants her to smell his crotch – of course. Now Biggie has no inclination to do so – hence the wrestling. Biggie is a big woman and she can hold her own so it takes a while for Bogus to get her pinned down so he can force her to smell his crotch – and these pages are so funny!

My other favorite scene is where Bogus actually wants to cheat with a girl from the language laboratory he’s working at. They drive far out into the country and once there, there’s a long description of how hard it is to actually do something in the back of a small car. And then Bogus has second thoughts and jumps out of the car. The girl gets angry and throws all his clothes out and drives away, stark naked. Bogus runs after her, clutching his clothes and boots to try to catch up with her, running across barbed wire and more on his way and ending up almost being run down by her. He meets two duck hunters who has seen the almost hit and the naked girl behind the wheels, and they offer him a ride home. He dresses first luckily, and then there’s an absurd ride home where one of the duck hunters is plucking the duck inside the truck with the feathers at one point all in the air like a giant pillow, driving down the streets. When back in the city, Bogus gets a friend to help him home and he’s down in the basement, hoping to clean himself and especially his injured feet a bit before Biggie discovers him – when he of course steps on the mouse trap and screams so loud that Biggie hears. He has half convinced her that he went duck hunting and went out in the lack to get the ducks and therefore took off his boots and pants to not ruin them, when he goes to the bathroom in front of her and starts peeing – with the condom still attached …

Now I haven’t talked about the name of the book yet. See, Bogus is suffering from a narrow urinary tract. He doesn’t have the courage to have a surgery to correct it and he doesn’t have will-power to abstain from sex, so instead he tries the water-method – which means drinking lots of water, especially before and after sex, as well as limit his intake of alcohol. For most of the novel, this water-method is quite symbolic of all of Bogus’ actions – he’s to scared to do anything major to change his life even though he says he wants to change so he keeps to the middle ground and avoids to commit himself too much to anything.

Since I come to this book now and with the knowledge of The World According to GarpThe Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany, arguably Irving’s three best novels, I have a hard time with seeing this book’s merits on it’s own and without comparing it to these novels – as well as The Hotel New Hampshire which I also love. I can’t judge this book solely on it’s own – I have to compare it to the rest of Irving’s work (that I know of). And in that comparison, this falls a bit flat for me. I remember once reading a review of an Irving novel where the reviewer wrote something along the lines of that an 3-stars Irving novel was better than most author’s 5-stars novels. And it’s true. Irving has a special way of writing that’s just so exceptional. When I look at Irving’s work, this is not as good as the above mentioned novels which all have been 4 or 5 stars read for me. So this is a 3 stars read. To me, it’s an exceptional second novel, it’s an author who hasn’t quite found his powers yet but it’s almost there. And it was almost there – Irving’s next novel is The World According to Garp, my all-time favorite novel.

  • Title: The Water-Method Man
  • Author: John Irving
  • Publisher: Black Swan
  • Year: 1986 (1972)
  • Pages: 413 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5