May Mini Reviews

May featured some wonderful, interesting stories, but I still don’t feel up to writing about them in any length. I would like to acknowledge Cathy @746 Books and her glorious review of Claire Keegan’s novella, Small Things Like These, last year that was the impetus for me picking up this book as soon as it landed at work.

After God created the heavens and the earth, he stood back to contemplate creation, like a painter standing back from his canvas.

Pure Colour is from Canadian writer, Sheila Heti, so you know that an interior journey is on the cards. I underlined like crazy for the first 50 pages or so. I enjoyed the idea of people being divided into birds, fish or bears.

Birds are ‘interested in beauty, order, harmony and meaning‘. They view things from a distance.

Fish are concerned about ‘the collective condition‘. Fairness and justice for all rather than individual needs.

A bear ‘clutches one special person close‘. They focus their love and protection on those closest to them.

Likening the grieving process to being turned into a leaf also made a bizarre kind of sense, but then I got lost in all the stuff about god, art and the murkiness of this particular father/daughter relationship.

Title: Pure Colour
Author: Sheila Heti
ISBN: 97818787302815
Imprint: Harvill Secker
Published: 12th April 2022
Format: Paperback
Pages: 218

In October there were yellow trees. Then the clocks went back the hour and the long November winds came in and blew, and stripped the trees bare.

Small Things Like These has been popping up all over the blogosphere lately, and now I can see why. This novella packs a quiet, but powerful punch.

It celebrates a gentle, reluctant saviour in the form of Bill Furlong, a man who decides that the secret in plain view that nobody wants to talk about (Ireland’s Magdalene laundries) is actually worth making a fuss about, even if it means trouble for him and his family and his business.

Bill was an illegitimate baby himself, but the kindness of Mrs Wilson, his mother’s employer, meant that Bill’s life was basically a regular, unremarkable one, made up of many small things.

Of her daily kindnesses, of how she had corrected and encouraged him, of the small things she had said and done and had refused to do and say and what she must have known, the things which, when added up, amounted to a life.

Rocking the boat does not come easily to him, but when such an obvious wrong is put in front of him, he finds he cannot ignore it any longer.

I loved it. The perfect novella.

Winner of the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award 2022

Title: Small Things Like These
Author: Claire Keegan
ISBN: 9780571368686
Imprint: Faber
Published: 1st April 2022 (originally published 5th November 2020)
Format: Hardback
Pages: 116

1. At the foot of the steps of Le Passage de la Sorcière in Montmartre sits a man in a blue suit, the sleeves of his jacket pushed up to his elbows, his shirt collar unfastened and his blue tie loose around his neck.

Blue Postcards has five chapters with 100 numbered paragraph sections each. Writerly devices like this can often be annoying, but Scottish author, Douglas Bruton managed to pull this one off. Although I’m not sure why he chose to do this or what the significance was.

Perhaps they represented the various threads that a woven throughout this elegant little story?

Blue threads are particularly important to one of the three protagonists – the tailor, Henri, the last tailor left on the old Street of Tailors, who “wears a shawl some days, fringed with tassels. Four of the tassels each have…a blue thread running through them.” This thread is a particular colour of blue “Tekhelet”.

The colour blue is particular to the second protagonist, the nouveau réalisme artist, Yves Klein 28 April 1928 – 6 June 1962 who now has a colour named after him – International Klein Blue (IKB).

The third narrator is the modern day story teller and wonderfully unreliable. He joins the dots between the various strands. Or does he?

36. None of these stories are to be trusted, for they are stories of the dead told by the living and the living always lie, white and blue lies. A ‘blue lie’ is a lie told for the collective good. Stories of saints and their miracles may be thought of as blue lies. Like white lies they mean no harm.

I was attracted to this book thanks to its longlisting for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. At this point Blue Postcards is a keeper.

Title: Blue Postcards
Author: Douglas Bruton
ISBN: 9781912054770
Imprint: Fairlight Moderns
Published: 8th July 2021
Format: paperback
Pages: 160

Why does the night have to be so beautiful? As I walk through the night, I remember what Mitsutsuka said to me. “Because at night, only half the world remains.”

All the Lovers in the Night was my first foray into the world of Mieko Kawakami.

From what I’ve heard this one is not as in-your-face as the previous two, although it is still pretty sad and bleak at times. Writing about outsiders seems to be her specialty.

The interior journey we go on with Fuyuko Irie is painfully real. Kawakami captures every awkward, anxious detail of her life, although I am beginning to worry that Japan is full of hikikomori or people on the spectrum if we judge them by the books being translated into English at the moment.

My main frustration with this story is that I never really understood why Irie was so shy and withdrawn, although I was pleased to see some personal growth by the end.

Title: All the Lovers in the Night
Author: Meiko Kawakami
Translators: Sam Bett & David Boyd
ISBN: 9781509898275
Imprint: Picador
Published: 12 May 2022 (originally published 13th October 2011)
Format: Paperback
Pages: 224
  • This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.

17 thoughts on “May Mini Reviews

  1. That’s a great idea to do them like this if you feel you don’t have much to say. Mind you, I think you said a lot more than some people about the books.

    Anyway, I’m most attracted to Blue Postcards because I love postcards and I love the colour blue. And the book doesn’t seem to disappoint. Thanks.

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    1. I’m also playing with which block format I use. This one leaves a lot of blank space around the book image making it look like a longer review!!

      Blue Postcards was intriguing from start to finish. It sounds like it will work for you too – great for Paris in July!

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      1. Oh, nice. Thanks for that hint. I didn’t even think about it.

        Yes, I’m not always happy with blogger and the way it adds pictures, so I’ve come up with “collages” although I haven’t found a good site for that, either. The worst part is that they keep “updating” everything and throw out what we liked and start something new. Ugh.

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    1. I’m keen to read Keegan’s earlier stories now. I liked how she constructed a story and her lovely use of language.

      Blue Postcards was marvellous – the word blue was used cleverly in many different contexts. Someone counted them but I don’t have the number to hand!

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  2. In All the Lovers in the Night the main character sounds like Fuka-Iri from Murakami’s 1Q84. I wonder if she’s meant to. I wonder if the names are completely different in Japanese. I wonder if I’ll ever come across this book and read it for myself.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback Liz. It has taken a lot of pressure off (purely self-inflicted) to write long reviews for everything I read.

      I’ve been using the media/text block which leaves a lot of blank space around the book image which I’m not sure I’m happy about, although it makes the text look very clean and easy to read….

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  3. Keegan sounds great.

    Re “I am beginning to worry that Japan is full of hikikomori or people on the spectrum if we judge them by the books being translated into English at the moment.” Good question. I do think a lot of Japanese literature – that we see anyhow – deals with being an outsider (though not necessarily the on the spectrum that you also add here). I wonder whether this is because it’s such a conformist society, and that’s something that artists (writers) feel most driven to comment on/explore?

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    1. After writing this, I actually had a little duck, duck go and found that Japan has one of the highest autism rates in the world – 1 in 55 children are diagnosed with it. And like with the hikikomori, there are varying degrees of acceptance, support and understanding in the wider community.
      One of the articles I read about the hikikomori when I was looking into for another post last year, is the government’s growing concern about 2030 (and beyond), when the parents of those who haven’t left their bedrooms since they were teenagers start dying of old age. They suspect/fear the number is much higher than the reported figure. A lot for a writer/artist to explore!

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      1. Ah that’s interesting Brona. I had heard of the government’s concern about those ageing hikikomori and their even more ageing parents. Yes, a good issue for artists to get their teeth into.

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