Category Archives: Kazuo Ishiguro

Novel Insights’ Top 12 Books – 2011

I am savouring my last day off work today and feeling a little bit smug to be sat indoors out of the rain with nothing more taxing to do than mull over my favourite books of the past year. Actually, I say it’s not taxing but I started by trying to pick five books, then changed it to ten, and then bumped it up to twelve – whoops! Well that is one for every month – a perfectly good excuse in my opinion. Here they are:

How To Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran

5 stars 5/5

“…challenges all the stupid things that women are told (and tell themselves) with a big bucketful of humour…” Read full review.

Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

5 stars 5/5

“…an important book and one that I think is up there with some of the best dystopian novels.” Read full review.

Never Let Me Go

In Love & Trouble, by Alice Walker

5 stars 5/5

“…each time I picked up Alice Walker’s collection of short stories, I felt as if time was suspended and I was transported completely to heat of the Southern America… The richness and vitality of Walker’s writing makes this book an utter pleasure to read.” Read full review.

Through the Wall, by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

5 stars 5/5

“The stories sound barmy, and there is a heavy dose of the surreal, but at their heart Petrushevskaya’s tales  are real human experiences of grief, love and loss.” Read full review.

Through the Wall, by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Purls of Wisdom, by Jenny Lord

5 stars 5/5

“…a book that I know I will refer to time and time again. I love the informal writing style because it feels just as if a friend is teaching you…” (AKA the book to blame for my knitting obsession in 2011!) Read full review.

Purls of Wisdom: The Book of Knitting

Mr Chartwell, by Rebecca Hunt

4.5 stars4.5/5

“I struggle to think of many other books that convey what is a very serious message with so much originality and seemingly so effortlessly.” Read full review.

Mary Anne, by Daphne du Maurier

4.5 stars4.5/5

“…a book, packed with with witty lines, and a richly described period setting which creates the backdrop for the story of a fascinating protagonist based on du Maurier’s own great-great-grandmother.” Read full review.

The Mermaids Singing, by Val McDermid

4.5 stars4.5/5

“I think that I might have found a new favourite crime writer to add to my list!” Read full review.

The Mermaids Singing

A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis

4 stars4/5

“Of course, this is a sad book to read, but also so beautifully and eloquently written… In an odd way, I believe that this little book could be comforting at a time of loss, if only because of how openly the author shares his experience.” Read full review.

Fateless, by Imre Kertész

4 stars4/5

“… a novel that will stay with me, because it is unique in the way that it addresses the experience of concentration camps. The writing is deceptively simple, and peppered with imaginative ideas…” Read full review.

Fateless, by Imre Kertesz

Journey by Moonlight, by Antal Szerb

4 stars4/5

“…has the qualities that I associate with a real classic… A rich and many-layered story.” Read full review.

Before I go to Sleep, by S.J. Watson

4.5 stars4.5/5

“…smartly plotted, written compellingly and the premise is well-executed.” Read full review.

Before I go to Sleep

A retrospective look at Novel Insights tells me that in 2011 I read a total of 43 books which is a whole 30% lower than last year’s count of 62. I don’t get too hung up about the number of books that I read because I don’t like to over-organise or analyse the things I do for pleasure and for this reason I don’t really make reading resolutions.

That said, I do think that my reading and blogging can be seen as a bit of a barometer of how I’m feeling. While sometimes I read less because I’ve been occupied with nice, fun stuff (including quite a lot of knitting this year!) I have felt quite busy over the past few months and it is one of my resolutions to find a better balance between work and my leisure time.

Well that’s my little bit of naval-gazing over and done with! How was your 2011? Do you have any reading resolutions? What books really stood out for you this year?

Reading notes 2 – Feat. Edmund de Waal, Kazuro Ishiguro and Juli Zeh

A little while ago I did this post of mini reviews which I found rather a good way of catching up with myself. Sometimes a girl is rushing around so much she realises she’s read lots of books that she hasn’t gotten around to reviewing yet!

I don’t know about you but I find it’s quite therapeutic jotting down thoughts in shorthand sometimes. Here are those virtual post-it’s again…

The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal

3.5 stars3.5/5

Synopsis: 264 wood and ivory carvings, none of them larger than a matchbox: potter Edmund de Waal was entranced when he first encountered the collection in the Tokyo apartment of his great uncle Iggie. Later, when Edmund inherited the ‘netsuke’, they unlocked a story far larger than he could ever have imagined.

Dark Matter, by Juli Zeh

4 stars4/5

Sebastian and Oskar have been friends since their days studying physics at university, when both were considered future Nobel Prize candidates. But after graduation, their lives took very different paths; while Oskar holds a prestigious research post in Geneva, Sebastain worries that he hasn’t lived up to his intellectual promise, having chosen marriage and fatherhood as an exit strategy. A few days after a particularly heated argument between the two men, Sebastian leaves his son sleeping in the back seat while he goes into a service station. When he returns, the car has disappeared without trace. His phone rings and a voice informs him that in order to get his son back he must kill a man. As Sebastian’s life unravels, the only person he can safely reach out to is Oskar…

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, Kazuo Ishiguro

3 stars3/5

In a sublime story cycle, Kazuo Ishiguro explores ideas of love, music and the passing of time. From the piazzas of Italy to the Malvern Hills, a London flat to the ‘hush-hush floor’ of an exclusive Hollywood hotel, the characters we encounter range from young dreamers to cafe musicians to faded stars, all of them at some moment of reckoning. Gentle, intimate and witty, this quintet is marked by a haunting theme: the struggle to keep alive a sense of life’s romance, even as one gets older, relationships flounder and youthful hopes recede.

*dusting off hands* Well that’s my little wrap up for the week!

Have you read any of these books. Did you find The Hare with the Amber Eyes what you expected? Have you been lulled by Ishiguro’s short stories or baffled by Juli Zeh’s physics-themed murder mystery?

Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

5 stars5/5

My latest book group at work gave me an  opportunity to choose a book  that had been on my to-read list for a while and one that I thought would be brilliant to talk about – Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Fortunately I wasn’t wrong about it being a good book for discussion.

Never Let Me Go

Faber & Faber, 2010 edition, paperback, 304 pages - book group choice

I had prepared by bringing the Faber reading guide along to yesterday’s meeting. It gave us a brilliant starting point, however it wasn’t long before we were having an animated discussion with a momentum all of it’s own!

The key characters in Never Let Me Go are Kathy, Ruth and Tommy who are all at school together in the idyllic-sounding Hailsham. It is told from the perspective of Kathy, who is now in her thirties. She looks back at her life and her memories of growing up with the other children at Hailsham school. The early pages of the novel are full of vivid descriptions of school-life, the relationships and day to day dramas that occur between pupils.

The first part of the novel is very detailed and the Kathy tells her story at her own pace. Slowly, Kathy drip-feeds the reader pieces of information that hint that something unsettling is going on under the surface. Some of the children at the school seem wary and fearful of the outside world, while others are emotionally disturbed.

I think that it is worth noting at this point that some members of the group found this pace a little frustrating at first. I’ve also heard people comment that they didn’t like the cold, detached style of the narrative voice, however I wasn’t put off by this and I liked that the language felt simple yet full of meaning.

An important part of the experience of Never Let Me Go is the way that the book creeps up on you so I really don’t want to go into too much detail about the plot. It is possible to guess, pretty early on what is going on, yet it is not until the end of the book that you really start to see the whole picture.

Kathy’s calm and sometimes disconnected voice ensures that for most of the novel the reader feels emotionally detached. The only character that I really felt any empathy for throughout the story was Tommy, though perhaps this is because Kathy herself feels connected to him as a character. Having said that, you do go on a very intimate journey with all three characters. I was actually quite surprised by how I felt at the end of the novel because it is not until the final pages that the impact of what Kathy is relating really hits the reader. Ishiguro ensures that the emotional impact of the book is most intense right at the end. It is as if he comes out and whacks you over the head – not with any real ‘twist’ exactly, but with a particular weight of feeling.

I’m so pleased that I discussed Never Let Me Go in a group, because even though I would have enjoyed reading it on my own anyway, the conversations within the group drew out all the different intricate layers of meaning and some of the more subtle nuances were highlighted that might otherwise have been missed.

Never Let Me Go affected me profoundly because of how beautifully constructed it was and how well the ideas were conveyed. The events of the novel felt a bit too possible, which made the story even more disturbing. It is an important book and one that I think is up there with some of the best dystopian novels such as Nineteen-Eighty-Four and Brave New World.

A must-read and absolutely worthy of being called a ‘modern classic’.

On a side note, I was really taken aback at how different the style of Never Let Me Go was to the only other Ishiguro novel that I’ve read, which was An Artist of a Floating World which I wasn’t a big fan of (maybe I’ll have to revisit). Have you read any  other Ishiguro novels that you would recommend?

For other book-groupers, a PDF guide with reading notes and questions from none other than the lovely Savidge Reads can be found here.