Tom Perrotta: The Leftovers (review)

9780007453115Back in 2010, on a holiday to Cyprus, I read Tom Perrotta’s Little Children and really liked it. Since then, I have bought his The Abstinence Teacher and The Leftovers because they sound so interesting and he’s a good writer. After reading Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles, it felt natural to turn to another dystopia novel and Perrotta’s The Leftovers fit the bill completely.

I’m not sure it’s correct to call this novel dystopia because normally, a dystopia means that the world has changed in such a way that it’s very unpleasant to live in; but the world is just as it always has been in this book, except for the Rapture. A Rapture is a Christian belief that a big part of the believers will be transported to Heaven at the Second Coming of Christ. To the people left behind, a lot of people has just disappeared into thin air. We don’t know if they have been taken home to God or something more sinister and of course, the Christians who believed in the Rapture now argue that this wasn’t it, because they were not taken and because ‘bad people like homosexuals etc’ were. This also means that a priest who were left behind, starts publishing smutty stories about the people who was taken, to prove that what happened definitely was not the Rapture because the people taken were not worthy. His reaction was very interesting, I thought.

As in Little Children, we follow different people to get various views on what has happened. In this one, we follow Kevin Garvey, mayor of Mapleton, whose own family has fallen apart after the Rapture. Not because any of his family has been taken but because his wife Laurie has left him to join a sect, The Guilty Remnant, where she has to start smoking, follow people around to be a sort of reminder of the power of God as well as take a vow of silence. Meanwhile, their daughter is having trouble at school and their son has joined another cult, lead by a wannabe prophet called Holy Wayne who claims to be able to ‘take on people’s pain’.

Adding to these problems, Kevin is attracted to Nora who lost her entire family to the Rapture. Nora tries to deal with it by riding her bike a lot and watching Spongebob Squarepants episodes while reminiscing over her family and trying not to wear out the memories.

We also follow Laurie and her struggles to come to terms with living in this cult, teaching new members of it and dealing with having left her husband and children – and her husband showing interest in another woman. Laurie’s son Tom has quite a different run with the cult he has joined, being the protector of one of the prophet’s teenage mistresses and dealing with what happens in a cult when it’s leader – almost inevitably – turns out to be less than he claimed to be.

What is interesting when I compare a book like The Age of Miracles with The Leftovers is, that in the first one, things get progressively worse throughout the entire book whereas in The Leftovers there is only one event and then we get to see how people react to this event, the emptiness created in their lives by the people who has disappeared. It must be heartbreaking to have your loved ones just disappear with no one having any idea about what happens to them. I mean, we are not necessarily completely sure with what happens after death but we are used to it because it has always been life’s companion – but a Rapture is another ballgame completely. Nothing is left – not even a body. It’s interesting in both books that the apocalyptic event is not really explained – we are not told in The Age of Miracles why the earth slows down and the Rapture is not explained in this one either. I guess explanations make it easier to cope – but if such a thing happened in real life, I doubt we would get any explanations either so it’s interesting – and more realistic – to see how different these people handle it. And how random the Rapture is.

This book is not really about the Rapture. It’s about how people react to such an event where the things that used to seem important in our everyday life no longer is. It’s about the relationships between people and how different we react to such life-altering moments. Still, Perrotta doesn’t manage to make me care all that much about his characters and Laurie in particular and her actions, leaving her children, and what she ends up doing to promote the Guilty Remnant, just didn’t ring true to me. It didn’t feel like something a normal loving mother and woman would do and it just didn’t make a lot of sense to me and hardly any of her actions is explained properly or believable.

I debated for a long while whether this was a 3 stars or 4 stars book. On the one hand, I really enjoyed it while reading it. On the other hand, it wasn’t as good as Little Children (which was a 4 stars book for me). So I kind of agreed with myself that it was a little 4 or a big 3 … and that really got me nowhere. I’m still having doubts while I’m writing this – but I think I’ll end up with 3 stars because if I’m not sure it deserves 4 stars, it shouldn’t get them. Still, it is enjoyable read – as always, Perrotta knows his way around middle class America and suburbia and he is an amusing writer whose writing just flows. I just expected more from this one.

  • Title: The Leftovers
  • Author: Tom Perrotta
  • Publisher: 4th
  • Year: 2012 (original 2011)
  • Pages: 355 pages
  • Source: Own Collection
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5

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Book shopping in Copenhagen

As part of our vacation activities this year, my boyfriend/fiancé and I took a day trip to Copenhagen – mainly to buy books. My favorite Danish bookshop is located på Rådhuspladsen in Copenhagen and the reason that I love it is, that it stocks all the new contemporary fiction – in English. I am of course talking aboutPolitikens Boghal which is one of the few places in Denmark where you have a great selection of fiction written in English. And since that’s what I read the most, of course this is my favorite bookshop.

So I bought 7 books in Politikens. 6 fiction, one non fiction. Most of these were already on my wish list and I’m excited about all of them.

      

  • Lev Grossman: The Magician King (The Magicians #2). The second volume in this fantasy series, inspired heavily by Harry Potter and Narnia.
  • Ramona Ausubel: No One is Here Except All of Us. A sort of 1001 Nights set in a tiny Jewish village in Romania in WWII.
  • Carlos Ruiz Zafon: The Prisoner of Heaven (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books #3). The final installment in this trilogy. The first one was amazing. I plan on reading all three together – hopefully soon.
  • Christos Tsiolkas: The Slap. What happens when a father slaps a child who is not his own? Simple premise – but I expect a lot from this Booker shortlisted novel.
  • John Lanchester: The Capital. I bought this book mainly because it takes place in London during the recession. An entire street in London with very different people, yet all receive a card in the mail with the same message on: We Want What You Have.
  • Tom Perrotta: The Leftovers. What happens after a rapture like event has removed millions of people from earth? How do the leftovers react and go about their lives, rebuilding societies etc?
  • Nicholas Joll (ed.): Philosophy & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy so many times as a teenager. I plan on reading it again soon – and this will be a wonderful companion read.

Close to Politikens, you can find a small bookstore in a cellar, FantaskFantask is the place to go if you wish to buy comics, graphic novels and fantasy.

  

  • L. Jagi Lamplighter: Prospero Lost. A fantasy version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Beautiful cover!
  • Terry Pratchett: Snuff. The newest paperback in the Discworld series. Can’t wait!
  • Neil Gaiman: The Doll’s House (Sandman #2). I am pretty sure I read the Sandman series years ago – now I’m slowly buying them for myself.

And finally, we also visited a sale. Again, very close to Politikens, there’s a huge – and I think permanent – book sale called Vangsgaards Bogudsalg. I mostly picked up some coloring books and picture books for the girls but I did pick up a couple of books for myself too – one of these unfortunately in Norwegian…!

 

  • Alan Moore: From Hell. Alan Moore’s take on Jack the Ripper. I’ve been wanting to read this book for years. But it sucks that I somehow ended up with a copy in Norwegian!
  • Jasper Fforde: Shades of Grey. I really like the one Thursday Next book I’ve read and the idea of your ability to see colors determining your place in society sounds intriguing.

So 12 books all in all did I carry back home in the train. Quite a good haul, I think. I’m looking forward to reading them!

New books in 2011 (part 2)

So back in February, I wrote a blog post about 10 books I was looking forward to in 2011. So far, I’ve bought 4 of the 10 and read 1 of them – not all that impressive. I did however like the one I read – Gail Carriger Heartless.

But of course, a list of 10 books could not contain all the exciting books of the year so I’ve decided to write about some other books coming out this year that are very exciting.

First of, Tom Perrotta has a new novel out – and it got a cover review on New York Times Book Review. And as if this wasn’t impressive enough, the review was written by none other than Stephen King! (See the review here). I read Little Children last summer and I enjoyed it a lot and I have The Abstinence Teacher waiting on the shelf where The Leftovers will join it. Hopefully I’ll get around to reading them both soon!

And the man himself, Stephen King, also has a new novel out. 11/22/63 will hit stores November 8th 2011 and is about a man traveling back in time to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination. I think King is an excellent story teller so I’m looking forward to this one – hopefully it will be better than Under the Dome!

I’m a huge fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and even though I’m not a crime novel reader, I’m really looking forward to reading his take on crime novels – especially since it seems to be inspired more by crime novels like then one by Agatha Christie than the modern novels by Swedish, Danish and Norwegian crime writers… Snuff is out in October 2011.

This year’s Man Booker award also has a lot of interesting books on the longlist. I listen to the Guardian’s Book podcast a lot and they cover this award so this is my favorite book award – besides the Nobel Prize which is always fun (and being announced in just a few days now).

One of these is Stephen Kelman Pigeon English which also has made it onto the shortlist. This is a book about a boy from Ghana and how he tries to find his way in England – as well as investigate a murder.

Another is Sebastian Barry On Canaan’s Side about a woman who looses her grandson. Since it spans seven decades, it also tells the story of her entire life from when she fled Dublin at the end of WW1 and how she came to America.

There’s also The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness about the last days of the Romanian revolution of 1989.

So again – more books to check out if anybody need any suggestions … sighs … I know I have plenty of books waiting already but hopefully I’ll get around to reading all of these as well. At some point. Probably not this year …

What’s to come…

I have so many books that I want to read at the moment so I’ve started jotting down lists so I can remember them all – especially since some of these are for various (online) book clubs.

So – after I have finished with Michael Moorcock Doctor Who: Coming of the Terraphiles and hopefully also the first volume of Marcel Proust In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu), this is what I plan to read:

  1. Matthew Gregory Lewis: The Monk (from the 1001-books list and for the 1001-group read on Goodreads)
  2. Mary Shelley: Frankenstein (from the 1001-books list – and I’m late for the December-January read…)
  3. Jonathan Franzen: Freedom (can’t wait to read this!)
  4. Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Idiot (from the 1001-books list and for the 1001-group read on Goodreads from February 15th)

Now, these are all rather hardcore books so I might read something light in between to relax a bit. Currently I’m eyeing Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin!) An Object of Beauty or Tom Perrotta The Abstinence Teacher (his Little Children was such a nice, easy read – read it on vacation last summer at Cypres and it was the perfect vacation read) and I have high hopes for The Ghost in Love by Jonathan Carroll – I have an idea that Carroll might become a new favourite author of mine!

So these 7 books are what’s probably ahead for me – I might change this anytime (I’ve been known to do so in the past) but I’m hoping I will stick to it because these are some really good books (I hope!).