Friday, 30 September 2011

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

I'm a fan of Mitchell's books so had to give this one a go. It took a while to get into - it's not an easy read and it is full of words - but what a brilliant novel this is! The man is an amazing writer. Like Cloud Atlas, this book has left me with the feeling that I've never read anything like it before.

It's set in Japan around the year 1800. At that time Japan was a closed nation, allowing no Japanese to leave and no foreigners to visit, though it had a limited trade agreement with the Dutch East India company (VOC). Jacob de Zoet is a young clerk for the VOC, posted to Dejima, the man-made island off Nagasaki where the VOC are permitted to trade. Corruption is rife, politics and diplomacy within the company and with the Japanese are delicate and tricky. De Zoet meets a young Japanese midwife who has facial scars, and falls in love. But she is forced to join a shrine where sinister and immoral activities take place. De Zoet needs to rescue her. When the VOC goes bust the Dutch are stranded in Dejima until a British warship comes... but there is so much plot I can't tell it all and wouldn't want to give it away.

The book is written in third person present tense which is not a favourite of mine. But the language is amazing, the characters are intriguing and fully alive, and the plot is so unusual and as I said, like nothing I've ever read before. If you like meaty historical novels this one is for you.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Florence & Giles

Florence & Giles by John Harding

Bought this one after reading Nicola Morgan's wonderful review of it. Sometimes a book sounds so refreshingly different to everything that's come before that you just have to buy it and read it yourself. This was no disappointment. If you like all your books to be much the same as each other, written in similar styles and following a similar plot, don't buy this one. If you enjoy new writing styles, unusual narrative voices and different plots then this has all that.

Florence is 12, and in 1891 lives in a mansion with her younger brother and a few servants. The children are orphans and wards of their uncle whom they've never met. Florence isn't supposed to be able to read or write - their uncle disapproves of educated women - but she sneaks into the library and has taught herself. She narrates the tale in her own, highly unusual but captivating style. A governess is hired for Giles, but she meets with a nasty accident which Florence rather glosses over, to the reader's increasing unease. A second governess arrives, whom Florence is convinced is the ghost of the first, come to spirit away her little brother. Weird things begin to happen, and the book becomes deliciously creepy and gothic.

Loved the book, loved the inventiveness of the language used, and loved its brilliant if scary ending.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Fallen Grace

Fallen Grace by Mary Hooper

Bought this one after reading a post by the author on the History Girls blog. I hadn't previously heard of Mary Hooper but her books sounded just what I like to read so I decided to give this one a go.

Grace is a poor young orphaned girl looking after her older but simple sister, in London 1861. She's been raped, made pregnant and her child was apparently stillborn. She sneaks a bundle she believes contains the baby's body into someone else's grave and while at the cemetery meets two people who become very influential in her life - Mrs Unwin, part of the dodgy-dealing Unwin family who specialise in funerals and funeral paraphernalia; and James Solent, a kind young solicitor. The story rattles along at a good pace and I really cared about Grace - she's a feisty young girl who needs a bit of a break in life.

I read this one while on holiday and it was the perfect holiday read to lose yourself in. I certainly enjoyed it. The plot relied on a few coincidences and lucky breaks but the book was so well written and the characters so likeable I could forgive this. Will certainly try more from this author.