As you might expect, I’ve done a fair amount of reading in the past three weeks what with flights, train journeys, and an entire week left to my own devices in Bristol. I’m so far behind on my book reviews I thought I’d do a trio of short ones.
Even though I fell desperately in love with Ishiguro when I read The Remains of the Day a few years back, for some reason Never Let Me Go never made it to the top of my TBR stack. I blame Keira. But boy, was that my loss! It has been too long since a book broke my heart, and this one, set in an eerily familiar futuristic dystopia, did just that. The story follows three young friends who are brought up in an isolated country school, Hailsham, where children are told they are special and have a very important role to play in society. What that role is exactly, is revealed in Ishiguro’s own suspenseful, good time. Ishiguro is the master at creating empathetic narrators, generous with information, reserved in expressing emotion. Somehow this has the effect of transferring the full weight of the characters’ tragedy to the reader. It’s a gorgeous story of missed chances, betrayed friendships, and intense love.
Although the thought of being placed in a privileged New England boarding school in the Yuppie years of the 1980s didn’t appeal to me at the time, I’d read such rave reviews about my former professor’s recent novel that I knew I must give it a shot. I’m very glad I did. The Starboard Sea is a coming of age story reminiscent of A Separate Peace and Catcher in the Rye, and like the authors of these novels, Amber Dermont questions the very paradigm of “privilege.” Addressing contemporary themes of homosexual discovery and the dispensability of women (yes, even heiresses), it is another heartbreaking story told by an unreliable yet sympathetic anti-hero who despite having the world at his fingertips has had the one thing that he ever loved taken from him. We understand early on in the novel that Jason somehow had a part to play in driving his best friend Cal to commit suicide, but the full weight of his culpability is only understood after his doomed attempt at forging a second chance for himself. In this soulless world of yacht clubs, Manhattan pent houses and absent parents, it’s not so simple to start over. Beautifully written, The Starboard Sea is another melancholic read, but well worth it.
Finally a slightly more life-affirming novel from the young Italian novelist who has been compared to Hemingway because of his stripped-down prose that word lovers can’t get enough of. In The Break, Dino is an impassive, unambitious man whose life of laying stone roads by day and playing billiards at night is disrupted with the news that his wife is pregnant. They are older and had long since given up hope of having children. Instead they spent their lives dreaming of the places they’d travel. Now with this news that threatens to offset these theoretical plans, Dino is thrown off balance. He starts taking risks, doing surprising things, and finds he’s less certain about life but is more driven than ever to test its boundaries. Grossi’s writing is a fine wine, meant to be savored, but that goes much too quickly.