Blue Light Yokohama – Nicolas Obregon [review]

“All around them, it was that perfect light – existing only at early morning or late dusk. It was at its most desperate and golden, casting shadows as long as they can be, so beautiful it seemed unlikely ever to return.”

Blue Light Yokohama was much more emotional than I had anticipated. A novel inspired by the Miyazawa murders but also by Obregon’s childhood fascination with Japan, the rainbow bridge, the lyrics of the song referenced in the novel’s title.

Being new to crime fiction, I admit to being drawn to novels set in japan, yet of this genre especially I am particularly convinced on the brilliance of either Japanese or Victorian settings. Blue Light Yokohama is indeed a confirmation of this.

Nighthawks, Edward Hopper, 1942, Oil on canvas, 84.1 x 152.4 cm. Friends of American Art Collection, 1942.51.

It’s a slow burner that doesn’t drag, 400-odd pages devoured in three days, Obregon’s prose is lyrical and elegiac in places: his descriptions vivid and the gore, a mixture of both. It’s not overdone nor does it terrify.  We follow Inspector Kosuke Iwata and his newly transferred position in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department (TMPD) and soon learn that he is running from a past which is fast catching up with him.

“Ultimately, I wanted to write about facelessness. The agony of facelessness […] I wanted to write about people in pain. About people who had lost something.” *

Not only is Japan itself the perfect setting (I don’t know what it is, but it really works in fiction; the atmosphere lulling me to a strange calm – think Banana Yoshimoto, Murakami) but Obregon’s novel is littered with references to the art world, from Dali to Hopper’s Nighthawks and “Donna Tartt’s The Secret History lay[ing] open on the coffee table.” A novel whose characterization is via the art world is always a favourite of mine let’s be honest.

Archeological Reminiscence of Millet’s Angelus, Dali, 1935, 32 x 39 cm, oil on panel. Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida.  © Fundació Gala – Salvador Dalí

An engrossing thriller and a brilliant debut, this is a series I am here for and an author I look forward to more of. Highly recommended for fans of police procedurals with feeling, readers of Keigo Higashino and general Japanophiles.

4/5 stars

* from the Author’s Note


 

— for now friends,

xx

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[review] The Mermaid & Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

“Angelica knows about women and their empire-building. She knows also that a woman in perfect control of her fate never resorts to rudeness, and this gives her a small glow of satisfaction.”

Mermaids? Courtesans?! The Georgians! For somebody who ‘doesn’t read historical fiction’ this was one hell of a read!

We follow two characters who couldn’t be more different, Angelica Neal – a courtesan in need of finances and a Mr. Jonah Hancock – a widowed merchant who comes into a bit more luck than he can scarcely imagine.

Gowar’s prose is indeed excellent, both immersive and beautiful, and in places so visceral as if one really were down at the confectioners buying Rose jelly in the year 1785.

“The carriage is built so as to be smooth in movements and almost silent; done up in pink silk so they nestle like pearls in an oyster shell. Its windows are small and curtained, but Angelica peeps out as they roll past the great things of Piccadilly.”

The novel is both saucy and seductive while maintaining great elements of wit and humour. It’s also dark at times and although it’s not gripping like that of a thriller, I still found myself racing through page after page. Gowar’s protagonists are fully fleshed and her passion is evident through her attention to detail and it is a work that appears very well researched, all while being incredibly accessible. (quote me if i’m wrong hah)

Basically it’s an insanely evocative and mesmerizing debut! AND any book that can turn someone into a genre lover ought to be on a shortlist in my opinion! (Also, dual narrative alert! – another of my preferred things)

“[…] it is always better to be fierce than to be sad, just as it is always better to fight than to run.”

If you’re a bit like me and have never felt ‘drawn’ towards historical fiction, yet this one sounds promising, do give it a go!  The historical fiction I have really enjoyed have always been, dare I say it, different? The Butcher’s Hook – I really loved the other year – is another saucy one (oops!) although much grittier than Gowar’s. In fact, it’s kind of like The Butcher’s Hook and The Essex Serpent had a love child…. Ellis’ Georgian London with Perry’s mesmerizing language and attention to detail…

All in all, another great shortlisted novel! I do not envy the judges at all :’)

“We must always be prepared for change. That is how we survive.”


How did you get on with this one?? Do you agree with it’s shortlisting? Tell me more in the comments below!

For now,

– xx

[review] The Idiot by Elif Batuman

“Misty frozen rain was whirling around as I left the building and walked back to the shuttle stop. The shuttle was somewhat less over crowded than usual. I didn’t get a seat but I had enough room to take out my Walkman, and occasionally I could see between people’s heads out the window, and this made me cheerful. It was weird what was enough to make you feel good or bad, even though your basic life circumstances were the same.”

Elif Batuman’s The Idiot  is intensely readable, although not for everyone. It is at once numbing and mundane yet rich with life and feeling. We follow Selin; a linguistics and Russian undergraduate in the 1990’s, her life at college, her relationship with her best friend, Svetlana and her (for lack of a better word) crush, Ivan, whom she follows to Hungary spending a summer teaching English in the countryside. Batuman is almost mockingly clever at times and the book is filled with wordplay and plenty of nods to the literary world, hence its title being that of a Dostoevsky novel.

“Like all the stories I wrote at the time, it was based on an unusual atmosphere that had impressed me in real life. I thought that was the point of writing stories: to make up a chain of events that would somehow account for a certain mood – for how it came about and for what it led to.”

I never had the ‘full’ college experience, having enrolled at university at age 22 and living off campus, however I was still filled with pangs of nostalgia whilst reading – perhaps helped by the fact that I majored in Russian and English (literature). The story of Nina, was vaguely familiar, as I’m sure most language textbooks seem to follow a story throughout.

I’m not sure what else I can say about the novel, as it’s one of those books where ‘nothing much happens’.  Batuman’s character development is nuanced and it’s definitely a book that will benefit from a second, even third reading. I finished it a week ago and I still find myself thinking of Selin and what she’s up to know on any given afternoon but not in a ‘MY GOODNESS I CAN’T BREATHE’ kind of way, it’s more of a fleeting thought; a subtle change in the atmosphere like when the sun goes behind a cloud and before you had a chance to feel the shade creeping in, the sun is back again, bright; life-affirming.

The Idiot is filled with dry humour and ascerbic wit. Selin is hilarious at times and although I resonated with her, I’m not sure I found the novel as funny as intended and  I didn’t find myself laughing-out-loud. Definitely, an interesting shortlist choice. Upon finishing it I was left wishing I had been more active (and financially well off) in my student years rather than the anxious breadcrumb I was (and still am at times) haha ha.

4 out of 5 stars because I just know this would’ve spoken to my soul as a 19 year old.

“I kept thinking about the uneven quality of time – the way it was almost so empty, and then with no warning came a few days that felt so dense and alive and real that it seemed indisputable that that was what life was, that its nature had finally been revealed. But then time passed and unthinkably grew dead again and it turned out that that fullness had been an aberration and might never come back.”


Have you read The Idiot? What did you think of this one? I’m not unhappy it was shortlisted, but I’m still a bit confused as to why… :’)

Also, I’m guessing I’d best go and read Dostoevsky’s Idiot now, huh!?

For now,

do svidaniya my sweet carolines

xx

[review] Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

“Perhaps the most important moments of all turn out to be the ones we walk through without thinking, the ones we mark down as just another day […] Elsie once said that you can’t tell how big a moment is until you turn back and look at it and I think, perhaps, that she was right.”

When I finished Three Things About Elsie it was one of the first books I had read in a while and I think it was just what I needed. I read it in mid-march and oh boy I’m so pleased to see it longlisted for the Women’s Prize!

If you know me irl, you will know that I love the elderly population, have an affinity with them you might say. I’ve worked with them for 5+ years and while i never had my own grandparents close to me as I was growing up – they are all I think about now. I’ve always wanted to be a grandmother from a young age. Weird, nah uh! Before I go completelty off on a tangent here I will just say that the elderly are some of the most inspiring people I’ve met – having lived through hardships we could never comprehend and so many of them are still so positive and filled with integrity.

“Every one of us is damaged. We need the faults, the breaks, the fracture lines. However else would all the light get in?”

Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly where she resides. She’s 83 years old. As she lays waiting to be found she reminisces about her life.

No it’s not all as depressing as that.

Cannon intertwines Florence’s thoughts with chapters of present time adventures that Florence has with her friends Elsie and Jack.

A new resident moves into the home and he looks suspiciously like someone from Florence’s past. Is he who he claims he is?

“It’s strange, because you can put up with all manner of nonsense in your life, all sorts of sadness, and you manage to keep everything on board and march through it, then someone is kind to you and it’s the kindness that makes you cry. It’s the tiny act of goodness that opens a door somewhere and lets all the misery escape.”

Cannon magically weaves a story about growing old with a mysterious twist and does it in such a heart wrenchingly beautiful way. Cannon shows us how each and every one of us is influenced by those around us, how the tiniest moments can leave the biggest influence, how the threads of humanity are all interconnected.

Three Things About Elsie is about the time in between, those long seconds we give ourselves, the stories we tell ourselves and each other and their ripple effect on those around us. To grow old one must be young at heart first.

“You can’t define yourself by a single moment. That moment doesn’t make you who are.”


4 1/2 stars from me. I adored this one and would love to see it shortlisted, would you? Have you read Joanna Cannon’s debut novel, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep? I’m going to have to now :’) Are you keeping up with the Women’s Prize longlist? Talk to me in the comments below,

for now

do svidaniya friends and foes

xx

[review] Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

“It’s SpongeBob, Eleanor,” he said, speaking very slowly and clearly as though I were some sort of idiot. “SpongeBob SquarePants?” A semi-human bath sponge with protruding front teeth! On sale as if it were something completely unremarkable! For my entire life, people have said that I’m strange, but really, when I see things like this, I realize that I’m actually relatively normal.”

This novel has been doing the rounds for months in all the bookish places on the internet. Am I surprised it was longlisted for the Women’s Prize? No. Am I pleased? Heck Yes!

Eleanor Oliphant does the same thing every weekend. Buys herself pizza and vodka. You’ve heard the synopsis: She lives alone, is a little socially awkward, doesn’t have any friends, but when she helps to rescue an elderly gentlemen with a fellow employee – the three of them form a bond and Eleanor learns that friendship is essential to survival.

“There are days when I feel so lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether me to the planet are gossamer thin, spun sugar. A strong gust of wind could dislodge me completely, and I’d lift off and blow away, like one of those seeds in a dandelion clock. The threads tighten slightly from Monday to Friday.”

Honeyman’s prose is simple yet witty and engaging. We are introduced to Eleanor, a self contained entity she refers to herself as and she is at once an immensely likeable character. Through Eleanor we meet Sammy – the elderly gentlemen, and Raymond – the new IT guy at her office. All three of the characters are isolated in their own ways – though Eleanor’s loneliness is of course the focus.

“I suppose one of the reasons we’re all able to continue to exist for our allotted span in this green and blue vale of tears is that there is always, however remote it might seem, the possibility of change.”

The novel is structured in three parts: Good Days, Bad Days, Better Days and each section deals with, you guessed it, the good, the bad and the getting better. Eleanor Oliphant is a story of navigating life and of having courage to face the dark hallways of one’s mind. It’s a story of friendship and connection; of how to be human. There is no right or wrong but a good friend never goes astray.

“I pondered what else I should take for him. Flowers seemed wrong; they’re a love token, after all. I looked in the fridge, and popped a packet of cheese slices into the bag. All men like cheese.”

Eleanor Oliphant reminded me of The Bell Jar meets The Rosie Project. Honeyman has crafted a sad, yet uplifting novel that is hilarious at times while both heartbreaking and endearing and it is definitely one of the more accessible works on the Women’s Prize longlist.

Did you enjoy this one? Do you think it will make the shortlist?

4 out of 5 stars.


 

[review] See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Gritty visceral and dark. Sarah Schmidt’s longlisted debut reads like a feverish dream. Time is entangled, and everything is murky and so so uncomfortable. Schmidt’s prose is filled with rotting meat, that mutton broth had me gasping for fresh air, the sickly sweet pear juice I swear i kept checking to see if it was dripping down my arms.

“I opened my eyes. My shoes were drifting along the bloodstained carpet, the last pieces of Mrs Borden’s life licking at my heels like an ocean. I’m in the sea.”

See What I Have Done is a fictional take on the infamous Lizzie Borden murders of 1892. I vaguely knew the name and so was surprised to learn on an Google search after commencing the first chapter of the book – that Lizzie was in fact thirty-two years old and not twelve like I had somehow thought.

“After a time, Dr Bowen came out of the room, all pale and sweat, and yelled, ‘Summon the police.’ He bit his lip, his jaw a tiny thunder. On his fingertips were little drops of blood confetti, and I tried to imagine the ways he had touched Father.”

The novel focuses on the day prior and the day after the murders – with one notable chapter of Benjamin’s thirteen years into the future – Schmidt’s narrative is told from differing points of view of Lizzie, Emma (her older sister), Bridget (the housemaid) and a fictional character of Benjamin who is rather disturbing in himself. This is a personal favourite story telling device of mine, however, i did find the novel slow to begin with. I’m not at all sure what I was expecting and it wasn’t a bad a kind of slow, more a kind of dragging feeling in the pit of your stomach. It’s heavy and instead of reading you are dragging yourself through 92 Second Street with all five senses engaged. It’s an atmosphere I can best describe as rancid, stifling and filled with unease.

“Spikes grew along the back of my ribcage, made me cough, and I took her hand. It was soft like mine. There we were, me and my sister, our bodies inseparable. There is nothing that escapes blood.”

Lizzie’s characterization had me thinking of Eileen, of Anne Jaccob and yet something fell short – or perhaps my expectations were too high. Perhaps I wanted more, a longer novel, more of an outcome, although I do definitely prefer my historical fiction on the grittier side and my ‘true crime’ fictionalized and lyrical.

See What I Have Done is a portrait of a dishevelled home; a gory Gothic exploring what family means.

4 out of 5 stars.

Highly recommended if this sounds like your cup of soup.


Which of the Women’s Prize Longlist have you read?? Do you plan on reading them all?

Did this novel remind you of any others?

for now,

do svidaniya friends and foes.

 

[review] Idaho – Emily Ruskovich

“The revelation of kindness hurts worse than cruelty. There is no way to equal it. Nowhere to put her gratitude, and so it thrashes in her body.”

My first read of the year! Huzzah! I’m not entirely sure what I expected with this novel, but it definitely wasn’t what I thought it was. I went in pretty blind, however, I really enjoyed it. Idaho is dark and emotional, lyrical and haunting, and frankly, that’s always a winner for me.

Idaho is a novel that jumps around in time and perspective – one of my favourite kinds of narrative devices. We begin in 2004, a present time of sorts, and we learn of the catalyst through the eyes of Ann. By the end of the novel we have been into the childhood of June and May – the childhood of their parents – and the future becomes the present with the novel ending in 2025. Each chapter, so to speak, is a different point in time told by a different character’s perspective. Ruskovich achieves this effortlessly and it’s hard to believe this is only her first novel.

The characters in Idaho are so beautifully human; each with their own flaws, which, through Ruksovich’s lyrical writing style allows a sense of understanding, even in the most horrific of acts.

“How easily we come apart. How quickly someone else’s life can enter through the cracks we don’t know are there until this foreign thing is inside of us. We are more porous than we know.”

I particularly loved the storyline of Jenny and Elizabeth – a pleasant surprise to me, something I honestly didn’t see coming, and it definitely gave me pangs of nostalgia for Girl, Interrupted and The Bell Jar. (I’m always a sucker for female friendship in ‘uncommon’ places). If you know me irl, you know that I have an affinity with the elderly and any story with an elderly character at it’s core – you’ve got me there. Ruskovich’s depiction of Alzheimer’s was so accurate and heartbreaking – I couldn’t have imagined it better myself. The scene when Adam is narrowing which out of the five houses are his had me definitely tearing up. I also don’t believe I’ll ever forget May and June’s afternoon in their private garbage can swimming pools. And Ann’s composition at the end, had me almost bawling and I could just see everything on a screen, the music accompanying. This would kind of make a great film(!)

“Perhaps it’s what both their hearts have been wanting all along—to be broken. In order to know that they are whole enough to break.”

Ruskovich’s prose is elegiac; exquisite and affecting, and yet while this novel did surprise me with it’s sense of langour – I couldn’t quite bring myself to give it 5 stars.

Recommended for fans of:

  • The Essex Serpent (Sarah Perry) – minus the gothic. Ruskovich writes women who are unlike any I’ve read before and much like Perry, her writing is lyrical and full of emotion and atmosphere.
  • Girl, Interrupted (Susannah Kaysen) – minus the hospital setting. Jenny and Elizabeth’s  (and Elizabeth and Sylvia’s) friendship definitely had me thinking of Susannah and Lisa at times.

“She felt the waves of her grief collide with the waves of other griefs felt no longer by anyone alive, but carried on the breezes that smelled the same as they had to the people who suffered those griefs a century ago.”


 

Have you read and loved this one??? What do you think about my comparisons? Did this novel remind you of any others you’ve loved (or hated)?

I hope your reading year is off to a pleasant start folks,

for now,

do svidaniya xx