Wednesday, April 29, 2015

book review: Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

The backstory: Veteran comic artist Roz Chast's graphic memoir was a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award (non-fiction), one of the top 5 New York Times nonfiction titles of 2014, and a finalist for the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award (Autobiography.)

The basics: Chast, an only child, recounts her struggles with her parents, who lived into their 90's, refusing to plan for their death.

My thoughts: I've enjoyed Roz Chast's cartoons in The New Yorker for a long time, which makes sense given the back of this book tells me she's been drawing them for the magazine since before I was born. Parts of this memoir resemble comic strips, but I was surprised to see some pages have exclusively text (handwritten.) Chast plays with format in interesting ways in this graphic memoir, but it's her more traditional images I found most entertaining.

What I liked most about this memoir was Chast's ability to provide some levity to the darkness. She writes honestly about the frustrations of caring for two very old parents, but she lightens the dark subject matter well. One particular joke about sweater shopping with her father kept me laughing for several minutes (and made Hawthorne join me laughing, as no one laughs alone when he's in the room (he was playing with toys on the blanket next to me while I read.)) While I appreciated the moments of levity, I also find myself wishing Chast pushed some pieces of the memoir a bit farther. Her focus was relatively narrow--her relationship with her parents, their relationship with each other, and the financial stress growing old puts on people. She frequently mentions her children, and I found myself wishing she told that side of the story too. As a new parent reading this memoir, I found myself thinking more about not leaving a mess for Hawthorne (who will be an only child) than worrying about my own parents (and in-laws) living into their 90's.

The verdict: Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant is at times laugh-out loud funny. At others it's deeply poignant. At others Chast's understandable frustrations manage to somehow be both. It is both an emotionally honest memoir and a nuanced tribute to her parents and their often frustrating relationship. Surprisingly, the two visual highlights for me were not Chast's comic drawing but the actual pictures of her parents apartment she inserts and the more life-like drawings she creates in her mother's last days and weeks of life.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 240 pages
Publication date: May 6, 2014
Source: library 

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Roz Chast's website.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

book review: God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

The backstory: Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.

The basics: God Help the Child is the story of Bride, a blue-black-skinned woman whose mother hated her skin color. Despite this tension, Bride grew up to be a confident, successful woman. Through Bride and those associated with her, Morrison tells stories of the long-reaching impacts of love and abuse in childhood.

My thoughts: I spent much of my time reading this novel thinking "If I didn't know Toni Morrison wrote this novel, I would never guess" and "I don't know what to think about this novel, but there's something odd or weird about it, particularity the magical realism." ...That changed once Booker began narrating. Suddenly, Morrison was back, and the novel really came alive for me with sharp-witted observations: "All he did from freshman year through sophomore was react--sneer, laugh, dismiss, find fault, demean--a young man's version of critical thinking."

As expected there was lush, beautiful language throughout, but I couldn't get a sense of what kind of novel Morrison was trying to write. Often it felt like a novel of ideas. The themes of child abuse and love turned up in similar and different forms frequently. In this sense, it felt heavy-handed. I found Bride's narration disjointed; she didn't strike me as an actual person. Aside from Booker, the characters felt like vehicles with which to advance Morrison's ideas. Thus, the novel, despite its moments of brilliance and strong writing, felt forced. It veered more toward fable than realistic contemporary fiction. I struggled with the moments of magical realism, as I felt they were intended to be more symbolic than realistic, yet they were written realistically.

There were odd moments of contemporary commentary too: "Black sells. It's the hottest commodity in the civilized world. White girls, even brown girls have to strip naked to get that kind of attention." and "Since real public libraries don't need or want books anymore, they send them to prisons and old-folks' homes." As a reader, I wasn't sure what to make of these passages and many others.

Favorite passage: "They will blow it, she thought. Each will cling to a sad little story of hurt and sorrow--some long-ago trouble and pain life dumped on their pure and innocent selves. And each one will rewrite that story forever, knowing the plot, guessing the theme, inventing its meaning and dismissing its origin. What waste. She knew from personal experience how hard loving was, how selfish and how easily sundered. Withholding sex or relying on it, ignoring children or devouring them, rerouting true feelings or locking them out. Youth being the excuse for that fortune-cookie love--until it wasn't, until it became pure adult stupidity."

The verdict: There are moments of brilliance and startling clarity in this novel, but too often things were uneven. Morrison makes strong points, but the characters and events read like a fable more often than not. The combination of fable, satire, magical realism, and realistic fiction muddied the narrative and distracted from the moments of brilliance.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Length: 192 pages
Publication date: April 21, 2015
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy God Help the Child from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Monday, April 27, 2015

audiobook review: A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

narrated by Kimberly Farr

The backstory: A Spool of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler's twentieth novel, is on the 2015 Bailey Prize short list. Update: it was also on the 2015 Booker Prize short list.

The basics: A Spool of Blue Thread tells the story of the Whitshank family over four generations in Baltimore.

My thoughts: For years, Anne Tyler was one of those authors I was embarassed to not have read. When The Beginner's Goodbye came out three years ago, I read it and was disappointed. There were some highlights, to be sure, but I found it uneven overall. When A Spool of Blue Thread came out, I was intrigued, as I love family sagas, but the first reviewers expressed disappointment, so I thought I would skip this one and revisit her earlier acclaimed novels. Then, when it was longlisted for the Baileys Prize (and since short listed), I knew I would read it. I opted for audio because it was available immediately at the library.

Tyler drops the reader right into the Whitshank family in an unclear year. There were some clues, but I spent as much time trying to get my bearings as I did trying to get to know the Whitshanks (this experience may have been exacerbated on audio.) This beginning allows Tyler to cover a lot of ground very quickly and to introduce the reader to Red and Abby, and their four children, very quickly. The first half of the novel is mostly straight-forward, so when the action jumped back fifty years to Red and Abby's courtship, I was surprised. (I adored that technique in Monique Roffey's phenomenal novel White Woman on the Green Bicycle. It was less successful here because it didn't feel the only or obvious option; it felt a bit like a gimmick.)

For the most part, the non-linear story worked here, and it allowed for a few retroactive surprises to have more power. But as each time jump came, it took me awhile to engage with the story. Tyler writes fascinating, well-rounded characters in this novel, and to jump away from so many with each generation jump had me spending as much time missing the younger Whitshanks as it did trying to get to know the older ones (when they were the younger ones.) Ultimately, I liked the narrative technique, but at times it was clunky. Most notably, I found the ending abrupt and anti-climactic. When the audiobook ended, I was genuinely surprised the last scene was the last, as it felt so inconsequential. Perhaps that was Tyler's point, but it was a let down after a novel of so many interesting moments, both every day moments and life-changing ones.

The verdict: A Spool of Blue Thread is a good, entertaining family saga, but I wanted it to be great. While the non-linear storytelling enhanced some elements of the story, it also made for a rather abrupt and anti-climactic ending. I enjoyed the listening experience more than I enjoyed the book over all, as it wasn't as good as other multi-generational family sagas I've read lately. While I liked it, I don't think it will be a book that sticks with me or keeps me thinking about its characters now that I've finished it.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 13 hours 23 minutes (368 pages)
Publication date: February 10, 2015
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy A Spool of Blue Thread from Amazon (Kindle edition.) 

Want more? Like Anne Tyler on Facebook.

P.S. The British cover is so much better for this story!

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Best of Instagram: #BooksandBooze and #HairByHawthorne

I adore Instagram. I follow a mix of my Facebook friends (people I know or once knew) and those I follow on Twitter (mostly bookish folks from around the world and locals.) My feed is filled with babies, books, and travel, which are three of my favorite things. I post more photos of Hawthorne on Instagram than anywhere else. He has two of his own hashtags: #nomadbaby (sometimes others try to post with it) and #HairByHawthorne, which is dedicated to the times he styles his own hair comically:

But my favorite hashtag not related to Hawthorne is a brilliant Book Riot invention: #BooksandBooze. I am a reader and a drinker, and this hashtag makes me so happy because I am clearly not the only one. Mr. Nomadreader and I work opposite schedules, and the nights he's at work until after I'm asleep are my #BooksandBooze nights. Here are some recent favorites:

You can catch all of my posts related to books, booze, Hawthorne, and other things by following me on Instagram.

Now tell me: what are your favorite hashtags and users on Instagram?

Friday, April 24, 2015

book review: Slow Dancing with a Stranger: Lost and Found in the Age of Alzheimer's by Meryl Comer

The backstory: Slow Dancing with a Stranger: Lost and Found in the Age of Alzheimer's was one of my book club's picks in March.

The basics: Veteran journalist Meryl Comer tells the story of her husband and mother dealing with Alzheimer's and advocates for change in how we care for those afflicted with Alzheimer's.

My thoughts: I was really excited to read this memoir, as Alzheimer's runs in my family, even though I was sure it would depress me as it's such a horrible disease. Instead, I soon found myself hating this book and rolled my eyes through most of it.

I like memoirs. I often call the memoirists I most enjoy brave because they bare their souls and show their weaknesses. They tell truths that aren't always told. They are honest about their faults. They share the moments of which they're proud and of those they aren't. Unfortunately, Meryl Comer does not do any of those things in this book. It's hard to even call it a memoir, as it utterly lacks reflection or emotion. After about fifty pages, I found myself referring to the author as "Saint Meryl" because she could do no wrong.

Comer begins by telling how she and her husband fell in love. I am a sucker for these stories, yet her writing didn't convey the love and passion she must have felt. Thus, when she transitioned to the initial decline of her husband's brain (he has early onset Alzheimer's, a particularly heinous disease in my opinion), it didn't have the emotional pull I would have expected. This book soon becomes more of a manifesto than a memoir, but by that point I was so irritated with Saint Meryl I didn't even care.

I missed book club last month, but I hear the reactions to this book were split. Some loved it and others hated it. I'm clearly in the hated camp, and it's a shame. There are many moving stories to tell about Alzheimer's, and Comer was positioned to do so. At the height of this book, she was single-handedly caring for both her husband and mother in her home as they both struggled with Alzheimer's. I wanted to sympathize with her plight, but Comer wouldn't acknowledge anything she did was hard.

When this book was first picked for book club, I typed it into Goodreads and two titles came up: this one and an erotica novel. I joked that I hoped we were reading the Alzheimer's memoir rather than the erotica. Half way through this book, I changed my mind.

The verdict: If you're looking for a manifesto advocating for changes in the healthcare system related to Alzheimer's with some personal story thrown in, then you might enjoy Slow Dancing with a Stranger. If you're looking for an emotional, reflective memoir about a spouse's battle with Alzheimer's, you'll likely find yourself rolling your eyes at Saint Meryl as much as I was. I wanted more emotional intimacy. I wanted more of this story rather than a general exercise with a familiar disease.

Rating: 1 out of 5
Length: 240 pages
Publication date: September 2, 2014 
Source: library

Convinced? Buy it! Buy Slow Dancing with a Stranger: Lost and Found in the Age of Alzheimer's from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Meryl Comer's website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

audiobook review: Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

narrated by Mozhan Marno

The basics: Anna Benz is a bored American housewife who has been living in the suburbs of Zurich, Switzerland with her Swiss husband for ten years. They have three children, but Anna is lonely and has not learned the languages of Zurich. As she begins taking a German class, she also begins an affair with a Scottish man in her class.

My thoughts: There's been a lot of discussion about Anna's likability. I'm not a reader who needs characters to be likable, but I do need them to be interesting and somewhat relatable. Anna is quite interesting, as she keeps secrets from her psychotherapist, her family, the reader, and to some degree herself. And she makes terrible decisions. Repeatedly. Yet I never became frustrated with these decisions, as I could always understand why Anna made them, even as I acknowledge anyone else making them would be mad.

After hearing Mozhan Marno, one of my absolute favorite narrators, was doing the audio for Hausfrau, I took the galley out of my TBR and pre-ordered the audiobook. Marno brought Anna to life and infused her with the appropriate varying amounts of sadness, despair, and despondency. She made Anna a puzzle as her voice shifts as Anna interacts with different people. For a book filled with depression, I wouldn't call it a depressing read. One unfortunate marketing quote claims Hausfrau is a cross between Madame Bovary and Fifty Shades of Gray, by which I think was meant: Jill Alexander Essbaum wrote a literary novel with some graphic, erotic sex scenes. (I only made it through one paragraph of Fifty Shades, not because I'm a prude but because the writing was unbearably bad.) The sex in Hausfrau is notable. Sometimes it's hot, sometimes it's destructive, and sometimes it's both.

Perhaps my favorite part of Hausfrau was how Essbaum used German grammar as parallels for Anna's mental state. Through her German classes and her visits with her psychoanalyst, Anna narrates connections she finds between herself and the structure of language. It's clear in these moments that Essbaum is a poet. Her grasp of language, syntax, and construction is paralleled beautifully by her nuanced grasp of Anna, emotionally and psychologically.

The verdict: Hausfrau reminded me a lot of The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, a novel I wish had gotten as much attention as Hausfrau is getting (not instead of, but in addition to.) It's unfortunate that so much of what I read compares it to a couple of well known classics because while the description (bored housewife in Zurich has affairs to combat boredom and depression) is accurate, it doesn't capture the depth and quality of what Essbaum does here, which is to tell a good story plotwise, but also to have layers of depth running through it.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 9 hours 43 minutes (336 page)
Publication date: March 17, 2015
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Hausfrau from Amazon (Kindle edition--only $5.99!)

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

book review: Speak of the Devil by Allison Leotta

The backstory: Speak of the Devil is the third book in Allison Leotta's Anna Curtis legal mystery series, which begins with Law of Attraction, continues with the e-short story Ten Rules for a Call Girl and Discretion.

The basics: As Speak of the Devil opens, Anna is proposing to Jack. Simultaneously, detectives, armed with a search warrant Anna signed, are about to raid a brothel. Unbeknownst to them, a vicious gang, led by El Diablo, the titular devil, is also storming the brothel.

My thoughts: While it's hard to call any of federal sex crimes prosecutor Anna Curtis's case happy, this case is particularly horrid. I winced several times in the first ten pages, but Leotta hooked me from the very first page. She manages to set up a complicated story quickly, and I couldn't devour this book fast enough.

One of the things I most appreciate about Leotta's books are how much happens in both Anna's professional and personal life, both during each book and in between them. (Michael Connelly similarly ages his characters and moves storylines along quickly, and y'all know I love Michael Connelly's books.) Until this novel, while I've enjoyed the mysteries and thrills of the legal storylines, Anna is what kept me coming back. With Speak of the Devil, the mystery takes center stage for the first time, and it firmly establishes Leotta as one of the best mystery storytellers around. There's a huge twist in this story that left my mouth hanging open for minutes. It was perfectly executed and completely shocking. And where Leotta takes things after the twist are as good as the twist itself.

The verdict: Speak of the Devil is Leotta's breakout mystery. Once again, Anna is a character to root for, and Leotta moves her personal story ahead at a satisfying pace. What sets Speak of the Devil apart from her prior books is that this time, the mystery is the best part, particularly one of my favorite twists ever...across literature, film, and television. Speak of the Devil is a smart, thrilling page turner, and I hope A Good Killing (out May 12, 2015) is just as good.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 289 pages
Publication date: August 6, 2013 
Source: Scribd

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Speak of the Devil from Amazon (Kindle edition.) Better yet: start with Law of Attraction. Buy it from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Allison Leotta's websitelike her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

audiobook review: The Bees by Laline Paull

narrated by Orlagh Cassidy

The backstory: The Bees is on the 2015 Baileys Prize short list.

The basics: The Bees is the story of Flora 717 and her hive. Flora 717 is born a lowly sanitation worker, born to clean the hive and remove the dead, but she exhibits traits beyond her social status.

My thoughts: When I heard that The Bees was actually about bees, and that they were the only characters, I didn't quite know what to think. How would Paull bring them to life? Could she make me care about a bee (I am allergic enough to bee stings to not enjoy their presence.) She did. I was utterly enchanted with Flora 717 and cared what happened to her.

The Bees works on two levels. First, the story itself is interesting. I didn't think I knew a lot about bees, but as I listened, I realized how much I do know about bees and their lives. Flora's thoughts, feelings, and journeys kept me listening. What elevates the novel, however, is how perfectly the realities of a beehive mimic the tropes of dystopian fiction. The Bees is both science fiction and realistic fiction, and I loved this duality. At one point I said to myself, "so basically, Flora 717 is divergent!"

While I thoroughly enjoyed The Bees, I really disliked its closing scene. The novel opens with humans in an orchard talking about the hive the reader soon enters. Appropriately, it ends with a similar scene outside the hive. I understand what Paull was doing--grounding this fictional tale in our reality, but it didn't resonate with me the way the bees themselves did.

The verdict: Ultimately, I loved the idea and construct of The Bees a little more than the story itself, and I wish Paull would have omitted the opening and closing scenes. It's a fascinating, thought-provoking, original debut novel, and I look forward to discussing it with others.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 10 hours 16 minutes (357 pages)
Publication date: May 6, 2014 
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Bees from Amazon (Kindle edition--only $1.99!)

Want more? Visit Laline Paull's website and follow her on Twitter

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

book review: The Offering by Grace McCleen

The backstory: The Offering is longlisted for the 2015 Baileys Prize.

The basics: Madeline is 34. She has been in an insane asylum for twenty years and cannot recall the events that put her there, but a new psychiatrist thinks he can help her recover the traumatic memories. The story unfolds both in the present: Madeline's life in the asylum and her therapy sessions, and in the years and months before she was committed.

My thoughts: Madeline has lived her entire life in two very different, but very sheltered environments. Her father was deeply religious and believed and moved them to an island where believed God wanted him to spread the word. Since the age of 14, she's been locked in an insane asylum and hasn't had a visitor in years. To her mind, which in many ways, is stuck at the age of fourteen, she observes parallels between these two disparate parts of her life:
Interestingly, over the years that I have been here it has not escaped my notice that despite their personal difficulties--and sometimes when they have more than enough reason to despair--nearly every other patient is a believer of some sort. There is Mary the ex-nun, Eugene the Jesuit, Robyn, who cries bitterly every Sunday because she will have to wait a whole week to go to church again, and Brendan, who is an ardent physicist and born-again Christian. It has made me wonder whether faith pre-dates mental disturbance or is a result of it. The apostle Paul says that faith is the ‘evident demonstration of realities though not yet beheld,’ a definition I am also aware comes close to describing psychosis, for behind both faith and delusion lies unshakeable belief. The bible refers to the disciples of God as babes, as children, children of light, children of the promise. The description is fitting because children trust.
As a narrator, I was fascinated by Madeline. She's brilliant in many ways. Her descriptions of her fellow asylum dwellers are haunting and wise. As she remembers her life before the asylum, however, there are so many things happening about which Madeline doesn't know or doesn't understand. I don't mean to fault her--her life was so incredibly sheltered that she doesn't have a way of knowing what is happening to her. She lacks the frame of reference. She doesn't have friends. She's homeschooled. Even when she and her mother are out in public, doing something as innocuous as getting ice cream, Madelne doesn't understand why other kids respond to her as they do. In these parts McCleen demands the reader read between the lines in ways Madeline cannot. Part of me hoped the ending would confirm my suspicions about a few things, but ultimately I admire McCleen's choice to not let the reader have everything tied up so neatly. Instead, we must ponder as Madeline does.

Favorite passage:  "Yet the key things, I do not remember. But it is not just I who have the monopoly on amnesia: forgetting is the precondition of existence; we forget to stay alive, filter the necessary, the bearable from that which can't be borne; whether or not we are aware of it, we leave what we have to in the dark."

The verdict: There's a layer of ambiguity to The Offering and its ending that I relished. Seeing the world through Madeline's eyes allows the reader to share her experiences, but witnessing her conversations with others, both inside the asylum and before make the reader understand things Madeline cannot. This duality, and its inherent ambiguities, wowed me. If The Offering doesn't make the short list, I'll be incredibly disappointed.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 272 pages
Publication date: January 15, 2015 (in the UK--no U.S. publication yet)
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Offering from third-party sellers at Amazon (no Kindle edition) or the Book Depository.

Want more? Visit Grace McCleen's website

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

book review: Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich

The backstory: Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel was a 2014 New York Times Notable Book.

The basics:  "After fifteen years of marriage, Lena Finkle embarks on a string of online dates and receives a brutally eye-opening education in love, sex, and loss while raising her two teenage daughters."--publisher

My thoughts: I heard about this graphic novel when it was released last summer, but I was a million months pregnant and cranky. Then I forgot about it until it was named a 2014 New York Times Notable Book. It's still a big deal for a graphic novel (or graphic memoir) to make the list, and I was curious to dive in. I managed to read this lengthy (by comics standards) book in a single afternoon (it would have been a single sitting, but as happy as Hawthorne is to play by himself, he still likes to play with me too.)

As I read, I was struck by the rawness of Lena as a character. Although fictional, it reads like a memoir. I had to keep reminding myself that while Ulinich and Finkle may share some experiences and traits, this book is fictional. This tension strengthens the novel and is a testament to Ulinich's writing and character development that it all feels so real.

I was also struck by the quality of the writing itself. Often when I read comics I find myself focusing more on the images than the words. With this book, I found myself reading them in equal measure. Ulinich plays with the format of the page and size of drawings in really interesting ways. And for this novel being "serious literature," it's also laugh-out loud funny at times: "Can we stop talking about sex? You have a voice like those guys in sad indie’s making me want to cry and fuck at the same time."

Favorite passage:  "And although not surprising, it was disorienting that a place so essential to me held so little meaning to my most essential people."

The verdict: Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel is Anya Ulinich's first graphic novel, but it's not her first novel. I'm eager to read Petropolis too, and I'm curious to see where she goes next, and in which form.  

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 368 pages
Publication date: July 29, 2014
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Anya Ulinich's website, follow her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Monday, April 6, 2015

book review: Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey

The backstory: Dear Thief is on the 2015 Baileys Prize longlist.

The basics: As the title implies, Dear Thief is written in the form of a long letter to a someone who has stolen something from the letter writer. The details of their relationship and the theft slowly play out over the course of the novel.

My thoughts: Dear Thief is the third novel by Samantha Harvey and the third to be longlisted for the Baileys Prize. Thus she's an author who has been on my radar for some time, but it's my first time reading her. To say it was a complicated reading experience would be an understatement. Rating Dear Thief was challenging for me, as I have an almost ambiguous feeling toward it. There were parts that were so brilliant and unusual, I was confident this novel could be a five-star read. Then there were parts that felt boring and unnecessary that had be thinking of abandoning it or fearing it might be only a three-star read. The reading experience had its ups and downs, just as its narrator had her ups and downs. Whether or not that was intentional, I can't say, but I have enough respect for Harvey's writing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

In many ways Dear Thief is an idea novel. It's inspired by the Leonard Cohen song "Famous Blue Raincoat," and if you're familiar with the song, you know it's written as a letter to the party who broke up a marriage. And Dear Thief isn't necessarily a novel about the reveal or reveals. Its strengths are the idea of its form and Harvey's writing. Its weakness is that the form doesn't stand up to scrutiny in reality. Do I believe a wife could write a 270-page meandering letter to the woman who broke up her marriage? Absolutely. Do I believe this wife, at this point in her life, cared enough to do so? No. Perhaps that judgment is unfair, but I couldn't quite shake it. A letter like that should have more passion, more rage, more sadness. It should have more emotion or more something. Despite the writing and moments of perfection, and despite the weaknesses, I'm glad I read Dear Thief. I see why some praise it, and I see why some abandon it. I fall somewhere in between, but I'm certainly going to be reading Harvey's other two novels, and the next one she writes.

Favorite passage: "Your moods were the stuff of legend, and that day your mood could only be described as dangerous--languorous, facetious, self-absorbed; you were amused by yourself and this was the worst of all possible states. because it was the kind of amusement I imagine Calaphas felt when he made a deal with the Devil."

The verdict: Harvey's writing is extraordinary, and her characters are interesting, yet many times I thought of abandoning this novel. I didn't, and I'm glad I persevered, but at the end I felt as though I'd read a writing exercise, albeit a good one, rather than a novel.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 272 pages
Publication date: April 7, 2015
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Dear Thief from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Samantha Harvey's website

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!