January 14, 2009

Cockroach - Rawi Hage

This was book 4 out of 5 in my Giller read-athon.  I was really looking forward to reading this book since it had been named as the favourite to win the Giller this year (as Hage won a few years ago for DeNiro's Game),  and though I wasn't impressed at first, the book did improve the further I got through it.  It could be summed up, if it were subtitled "Cockroach:  Ramblings of a delusional thief who believes he is a cockroach, following a failed suicide attempt".

I think what grated on me most was the style - very much stream-of-thought - which made it very rambly and slow to go anywhere.  But once I latched onto the plot, that was easier to overcome.  And it was interesting to get into the head of a delusional thief who believes he is a cockroach!  Not something that I experience every day.  And I don't want to be the grammar police, but would a few quotation marks once in a while hurt anyone?  305 pages, lots of dialogue, and not a single quotation mark.  He may have been striving for ambiguity - there was certainly some of that, as I didn't know in places if the words were said out loud or not - but I did find it frustrating.

The plot itself was interesting, once it got going.  The unnamed narrator is an immigrant from an unspecified middle east country (more ambiguity here!) - my guess was Syria or Lebanon - living in Montreal, interacting mainly with other immigrants.  Having lived in Montreal for the 4 years that I was at McGill, it was fun to come across locations that were familiar.  It is always fun to read books set in places that you know.  The ending is beautifully written (I'm not going to give it away) in its inevitability.

So a mixed review here.  Ended better than it started, an interesting cast of characters, but written in a style that I didn't enjoy (though someone else may love the style).

I'm going to have to pause before reading the 5th and final Giller nominee, as I have 2 books borrowed from the public library that will be due back at the end of the month, and they have to take priority in my reading list.

January 4, 2009

The Boys in the Trees - Mary Swan

This is the 3rd book in my Giller read-athon, but it left me feeling very disappointed.  The basic story is about a small Ontario town in the late 1880's, and how it reacts to one of its town member murdering his family, and then being hanged for it.  (No spoilers here - this is all revealed in the first couple of chapters.)

Initially, I found the book very hard to get into - nothing grabbed me in the first couple of chapters, and it took me a while to figure out what was going on.  Each chapter is told by a different townsperson, for the most part describing their own reaction to the murder and hanging.  So the first couple of pages of each chapter are spent trying to figure out who you are hearing from now.  But then each person's story is so compelling that it left me wanting to know more about that person, and what happened to them.  Almost like a series of linked short stories, but with each story lacking a real ending (with the exception of one).

So combine a depressing plot with unsatisfying stories, and you have, in my opinion, a disappointing book.

An endorsement from Alice Munro (an author that I really enjoy - in small doses) is printed on the cover:  "This is a mesmerizing novel - it can truly claim to be filled with a 'terrible beauty.'"  I disagree with both of the descriptions:  "mesmerizing"  as well as "beauty".

2 more nominees left to go - I hope that the next one is better than this one.

January 1, 2009

Top Reads of 2008

As it seems to be the time of year for Top 10 lists, I guess that I had better put one together.  So here are my Top 10 reads of 2008.

Just a few notes before I begin - these are my favourite books that I read last year, they are not necessarily books that were published last year.  To keep things fair, I have not included books that I re-read in 2008 (since I usually re-read all-time favourites).  I have mixed together fiction and non-fiction.  And since some of the books I read before keeping this record, many of the books on the list have not been reviewed on this blog.  However, 2 of the top picks just slipped in under the wire...

As always, please feel free to agree or disagree with my choices!

1.  Through Black Spruce - Joseph Boyden (Fic., CDN)
2.  The Book of Negroes - Lawrence Hill (Fic., CDN)
3.  An Imperfect Offering - James Orbinski (Non-Fic., CDN)
4.  Good to a Fault - Marina Endicott (Fic., CDN)
5.  The Flying Troutmans - Miriam Toews (Fic., CDN)
6.  Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll (Fic.)
7.  Kiss of the Fur Queen - Tomson Highway (Fic., CDN)
8.  Three Cups of Tea - Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin (Non-Fic.)
9.  The View from Castle Rock - Alice Munro (Fic., CDN)
10.  Moral Disorder - Margaret Atwood (Fic., CDN)

And I have to give an honorary mention to the book that almost made the list, Say You're One of Them - Uwem Akpan (Fic.).  If only it were a top 11 list...  And yes, those are the original Alice in Wonderland books, and no, I had never read them before.

I'm seeing a couple of trends, neither of which is a surprise to me.  I prefer fiction to non-fiction for the most part.  And I love Can-Lit.

And now we start a whole new year, and a whole new year's worth of books to read!