If I want to read 100 books this year, I’ve got to read 12 more – so I signed up for the Twelve Books of Christmas challenge, hosted by Shaina @ Shaina Reads. The premise is simple: read 12 books in December.
There’s no uniting theme to these books. I mostly chose them for their brevity, which (as you’ll see) turned out to be kind of a mistake. Here are the three books I’ve knocked out this week:
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
177 Pages; published in 2011
★ ★ 1/2
This intense new novel follows a middle-aged man as he contends with a past he has never much thought about—until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance, one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony Webster thought he’d left all this behind as he built a life for himself, and by now his marriage and family and career have fallen into an amicable divorce and retirement. But he is then presented with a mysterious legacy that obliges him to reconsider a variety of things he thought he’d understood all along, and to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.
This short novel feels like a melodramatic Dead Poet’s Society set in England, as told years later through the lens of an obsessive, lonely, and elderly unreliable narrator. Tony recalls his adolescent friendships and affairs, continually questioning his memories. There’s tons of pontificating about aging and the subjectivity of memory/history. The bottom line, as I read it: some people in your life will always be, in some sense, unknowable. Your past self is one of those people.
This book asks some interesting questions, but it’s definitely not one of my favorites. The ending is vague and truly bewildering – enough that many reviewers devote whole posts to explaining it (link has spoilers).
Family Life by Akhil Sharma
240 Pages; published in 2014
Growing up in Delhi in 1978, eight-year-old Ajay Mishra and his older brother Birju play cricket on the streets, eagerly waiting for the day they can join their father in America. America to the Mishras is, indeed, everything they could have imagined and more—until tragedy strikes. Young Ajay prays to a God he envisions as Superman, searching for direction amid the ruins of his family’s new life. Heart-wrenching and darkly funny, Family Life is a universal story of a boy torn between duty and his own survival.
When his older brother suffers brain damage in a pool accident, young Ajay’s family life is invaded by constant superstition, paternal alcoholism, and overwhelming loneliness. This is fiction based heavily on the author’s own childhood zoloft weight gain.
Yuck… I’m not sure why I even finished this. It’s a relentlessly depressing story about unpleasant characters. There’s no plot to speak of, just a continuing barrage of miseries. It’s also written in a clipped, simplistic style I found as exciting as a box of rocks. The narrator’s (i.e. the thinly veiled author surrogate’s) meta comparisons of his own writing style with Hemingway’s really rubbed me the wrong way: “As long as I wrote about exotic things, I thought, then I could be a not very good writer and still be successful.”
A Thousand Pieces of You (Firebird, #1) by Claudia Gray
368 Pages; published in 2014
★ ★ ★ ★
Marguerite Caine’s physicist parents are known for their radical scientific achievements. Their most astonishing invention: the Firebird, which allows users to jump into parallel universes, some vastly altered from our own. But when Marguerite’s father is murdered, the killer — her parent’s handsome and enigmatic assistant Paul — escapes into another dimension before the law can touch him.
After those two disappointments, I wanted to treat myself to a book that looked fun. Fantastical YA with inter-dimensional travel and a dash of romance? Sign me up.
This book is so engaging that I’m willing to overlook a few minor annoyances. Like most YA books I’ve read, there are a couple of overused tropes here and there. Yawn, another love triangle. Yawn, the male love interests are just so protective. Yawn, the main character complains about being pale-skinned and thin, as if those are attributes considered unattractive in our society.
But all in all, it’s a pretty good read! There’s futuristic partying, dynastic political scheming, and some interesting re-imaginings of our current reality. I found myself excited to see what each new dimension would bring: how historical events and technological progress would differ, how the next iteration of Marguerite might deviate from the last. Marguerite was a likable narrator, and her emotional reasoning made sense to me. Between all the dimension-hopping, there’s time to mull over ideas of fate, individuality, adulthood, and finding truth in art.
A Thousand Pieces of You is probably the ultimate nightmare for anyone suffering from Capgras delusion, but it’s a load of fun for the rest of us! I’ve already put myself on queue at the library for the sequel.