Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Red House by Mark Haddon

Hardback: 264 pages
GenreContemporary Literary Fiction
Publisher:  Jonathan Cape 2012

Source:  Tywyn Library, Wales.
First Sentences: 'Cooling towers and sewage farms. Finstock, Charlbury, Ascott-under-Wychwood. Seventy miles per hour, the train unzips the fields.'

Favourite Quote: “You could ask for hugs if you were feeling sad or you'd hurt yourself, but when it happened spontaneously it made you feel warm inside.” 
Review Quote: "A hugely enjoyable, sympathetic novel...a tremendous pleasure...we have been absorbed, entertained and moved" (Kate Kellaway Observer )
My Opinion:The clipped style the novel is written in did not make for easy reading. 

It was indeed a captivating read but the clipped style the novel is written in did not make for easy reading, but once I got used to the style I became extremely involved with the characters. Eight of them in all with very complicated stories to tell painting a vivid picture of contemporary family life. The novel tells the story from all the characters viewpoints as the interconnecting relationships are explained and exposed one feels that you know the personalities as individuals so much more than they know each other. Not just do we learn of their worries, secrets and desires but little personal details such as what they are reading, or music they are listening to, which although it adds to the narrative it can make it feel disjointed at times.  I certainly needed to concentrate reading this one but it was worthwhile.

The story takes place over a week in a holiday home in the Welsh countryside where two families gather together. After the death of his mother, Richard has decided to make an effort with his estranged sister Angela and invited their respective families to spend some time together. As mentioned before there are eight characters to get to know, Richard a successful doctor has recently got married to Louisa and gained a strong willed teenage step daughter, Melissa in the process, which makes three of them. His sister Angela is married to Dominic and their three children teenagers Alex and Daisy, plus a younger son Benjy make the eight protagonists.
It is then the fun begins as like many family gatherings all over the world a week in close confinement brings out the animosity in them all.
In conclusion a deceptively simple idea that makes for an ingenious novel about family dysfunction in modern society that will appeal to many, but do not expect a happy ending.

Author  Profile

Mark Haddon was born on   September 26, 1962, he is an author, illustrator and screenwriter who has written fifteen books for children and won two BAFTAs. Educated at Merton College, Oxford, Uppingham School, University of Edinburgh and the University of Oxford.  At Oxford he studied English after which, he was employed in several different occupations. One included working with people with disabilities, and another included creating illustrations and cartoons for magazines and newspapers. He lived in Boston, Massachusetts for a year with his wife until they moved back to England. Then, Mark took up painting and selling abstract art. In 1987, Haddon wrote his first children’s book, Gilbert’s Gobstopper. This was followed by many other children’s books, which were often self-illustrated. 
It was not until 2003 that his best selling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, was  published,  it won seventeen literary prizes, including the Whitbread Award. His poetry collection, The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea, was published by Picador in 2005, and his last novel, The Red House, was published by Jonathan Cape in 2012. He lives in Oxford with his wife Dr Sos Eltis  a Fellow and Tutor in English of Brasenose College, Oxford.

The link below is to a very interesting BBC Interview with the author.

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and his writing. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon

Paperback: 346 pages
GenreLiterary Fiction
Publisher:  Preface Publishing 2011

Source:  Tywyn Library, Wales.
First Sentences: 'At the end of the night that would change everything, the widow stood on her porch and watched as the young woman was marched down her front drive and shoved into the sedan.'

Favourite Quote: “How many other lives are hidden, and hearts are seeking? How many would give anything in the world to be held by the person they love?” 

Review Quote: "Combines love story and social accountability to great effect"--The Guardian
My Opinion:  Emotionally draining but an excellent read.

This emotionally draining but an excellent read was written due to the author's true life experiences as the sibling of someone with disabilities. She first heard about institutions like the one that features in the novel when she heard her parents discussing such places and how they would never ever have their daughter admitted to one. Her sister Beth was raised at home and the message they grew up with was that children that were put away in such institutions were never really loved by their families. Years later in the early seventies as Rachel Simon was entering adolescence she saw a news report on television that drew her attention and the rest of the USA to just how horrendous these places were. It was not until twenty seven years later when publicising a book she had written about her life with Beth, 'Riding The Bus With My Sister' that she began to learn much more about these institutions. She did this by carrying out research talking to people who had stories to tell her and reading up on a subject that very little was written about due to the fact it was a sordid political secret. One particular true story published as a book entitled God Knows His Name  gave her the inspiration to write this novel, although for a long while she held off unsure if she could do justice to those that suffered in such places.  Well personally I think she has carried her tribute off extremely well and given a voice to those residents of such places in this moving novel.

A moving love story about the improbable odds faced by Lynnie and Homan, a couple with disabilities, when one stormy night just after Lynnie has given birth they knock on a stranger's door. That stranger is Martha Zimmer a retired school teacher who gives up her conventional lifestyle to do something very special by taking in the baby and saving her from life in an institution. This is how the novel starts and reading it takes you across forty years as Martha carries the secret of baby Julia with her as her life progresses. The interwoven stories of the four protagonists tell of love under impossible conditions, how to do the right thing and never give up hope by continuing to believe it will all turn out right when you are the only one that believes this. 
It is truly terrible that places like 'The School for the Incurable and Feebleminded' were even in existence at this time. Or any time in fact, but sadly they were and it is quite an experience to read about the shocking brutality that took place in them, even the name of the institution was I found upsetting. However the ending did surprise me but then this is a love story, my conclusion then is that this is a powerful story that I can recommend to anyone that feels they can cope with such sadness in a novel.

Rachel Simon introduces "The Story of Beautiful Girl"

Author Profile

Rachel Simon was born in New Jersey and spent most of her first sixteen years in the New Jersey towns of Newark, Millburn, Irvington, and Succasunna. During that time, she began writing short stories and novels, which she shared widely with friends and teachers but never submitted to editors. When Rachel was eight, her parents split up. She and her three siblings remained with their mother for eight years, and then moved to Easton, Pennsylvania to live with their father, with Rachel also becoming a boarding student at Solebury School in New Hope, PA. Rachel studied anthropology at Bryn Mawr College and graduated in 1981. She then moved to the Philadelphia area and worked at a variety of jobs, including supervisor of researchers for a television study at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College in 1988. Just before graduating, she won the Writers At Work short story contest, and when she attended the Writers At Work conference that June in Park City, Utah, she decided to be more courageous than she’d been as a teenager. She brought multiple copies of a collection of short stories, Little Nightmares, Little Dreams, that she’d just completed and handed them to every agent and editor who was interested. An editor from Houghton Mifflin bought the manuscript six weeks later and published it to critical acclaim in 1990.
Since then she has become an award-winning author of six books and a nationally-recognized public speaker on issues related to diversity and disability. Her titles include the bestsellers, The Story of Beautiful Girl and Riding The Bus with My Sister. Both books are frequent selections of book clubs and school reading programs around the country. Rachel's work has been adapted for theater, NPR, the Lifetime Channel, and Hallmark Hall of Fame, whose adaptation of Riding The Bus With My Sister starred Rosie O' Donnell and Andie McDowell, and was directed by Anjelica Huston. Her awards include The Secretary Tommy G. Thompson Recognition Award for Contributions to the Field of Disability from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, and creative writing fellowships from the Delaware Division of the Arts, the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts, and the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation.  Rachel Simon lives in Wilmington, Delaware with her architect husband.

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and her writing. 

Goodreads Author Profile   YouTube   Rachel Simon - Official Author Website    Wikipedia - Rachel Simon