You all know how much I admire Romesh Gunesekera’s work, right? Especially The Match which is about cricket and growing up in the Philippines and Sri Lanka in the 70s. So I was really happy when Bloomsbury kindly sent me a copy of his latest, The Prisoner of Paradise, to review. I didn’t really know much about the story and didn’t want to read other reviews to spoil my reading except that it was set in Mauritius sometime in the 1800s. I don’t think Gunesekera has tackled historical fiction before but this was beautifully rendered and was, in fact, rather more romantic than I anticipated.

It is 1825 and Lucy Gladwell is on her way to Mauritius with her aunt, Mrs. Betty Huyton, after the sad demise of her parents. Never having travelled out of England, Lucy is excited as to what exotic delights she would encounter in the tropical island. What she finds is an outwardly genteel British society transitioning from French rule. And when she meets the dark and brooding Don Lambodar, companion to an exiled Ceylonese prince, Lucy is exposed to the dark undercurrents of the island in which master and slave, colonisers and locals all strive to hold on to their identities and belief in freedom and duty.

I was expecting a standard romance and yet knowing that it was Gunesekera writing the book, I knew there would be something more. Rather than just focussing on the forbidden romance which felt as though it was more a secondary plot, Gunesekera vividly brings to life Mauritius’ complex and often brutal colonial history with its hierarchical society, mixing of peoples, cultures and race. Lucy is naive enough for every moment and experience to be new and devastating that she wants to make a change. And yet, she finds herself held back by her Englishness and entitled status. Her modesty often made me sigh out loud and was rather Austenesque and yet it provided a sharp clash against the earthiness and human-ness she discovers in Mauritius. In many ways, she reminded me more of virginal Alice Munro in James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans rather than Austen’s or even Georgette Heyer’s heroines.

Although the story falls short of epicness in terms of romance, the historical and social aspects were eye-opening. There is a vitality to Gunesekera’s story-telling which leaves a colourful impression long after you’ve finished the book. The Prisoner of Paradise wasn’t what I expected, but I enjoyed reading Gunesekera’s playful and beautiful prose all the same.

A big thank you to Bloomsbury for kindly sending me a copy of this book to review. And do also check out Stu’s review.

A lovely little creature but sly, spiteful, malignant perhaps, like much else in this place.

I’ve been meaning to re-read some of my favourite books but have gone down the book blogger’s rabbit hole where, frankly, I have so many unread books I don’t have time for the books I’ve already read. One of the lovely things about book group is sometimes you get the chance to re-read. And this month, it’s Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys chosen by Polly for our book group (do also check out Kim’s review).

It’s almost ten years since I read Wide Sargasso Sea. I remember the lushness of Jamaica and Antoinette’s crumbling life. But not much more. Rochester is a nameless, faceless man. That’s the thing about classics. You often find that on first reading, much of the story escapes you. It was the same with Jane Eyre which I read at school. I read a lot of classics back then but I suspect most of them were too complex for me to understand fully. So when I re-read Jane Eyre as an adult, I was shocked at the intensity of Jane’s feelings, the beauty of Charlotte Brontë’s prose, the immediacy of her situation. And like many others, I couldn’t shake the nagging, troublesome vision of the woman in the attic, Rochester’s first wife Bertha Mason. And when I learnt that Jean Rhys had written a prequel, I had to find out more.

Wide Sargasso Sea is the tale of Antoinette Cosway and how she became Bertha Mason. Born a creole in Jamaica in the early 19th century to a British slave owner for a father and a mother from Martinique driven by poverty and loss to madness, Antoinette is unable to shake off her familial legacy in a newly emancipated Jamaica. She is constantly questioning her identity and searching for her place in this world because, Rochester notes,

creole of pure English descent she may be, but they are not English or European either.

When her step-father arranges a mutually beneficial marriage (money for him, repectability for her), she is at first wary but soon falls in love with her new husband. But Rochester, young, naïve, superficial, initally dazzled by Antoinette and the strange magic Jamaica casts upon him, slowly grows suspicious of this wild, enchanting thing he has married. And when they return to one of her family homes for their honeymoon, the people and land from her past whisper ugly truths into his ears and he starts to believe he has been tricked. For a man like Rochester, who is all pride and who guards his love jealously, he can only torment his wife. As Antoinette desperately seeks to save their love, she turns to Christophine, her mother’s maid and the only person she feels is like family, begging her to make Rochester love her. But this only sparks the flames and drives Rochester to make a drastic decision.

Re-reading Wide Sargasso Sea, I am struck anew by the pathos and crushing unfairness of Antoinette’s plight. What I had remembered from my first reading (and from what I had read about others’ reactions to the book) was Antoinette’s knowingness and the way she manipulated Rochester. And yet, it’s her innocence and naïveté which left an impression this time. It is only Rochester’s bitter and twisted mind that cannot see past the rumours about Antoinette.

Like some have said, this isn’t the picture of Rochester you get from Jane Eyre. But then Rochester is a pretty horrible man at the start of the novel. So it’s interesting to see why he is that way. Rhys doesn’t name Rochester and he remains a nameless and faceless man; a jailer. I can’t say it’s Antoinette fault really, it seems Rochester has always been that way and his meeting with Antoinette somehow solidifies his persona.

I couldn’t help but compare this with Romesh Gunesekera’s recent novel, The Prisoner of Paradise, which was so light and different in tone even though it did cover some dark history. Rhys’ novel is more primal. The wild greenery, the colours, the sound adds to the gothic chill when you contrast it to the silence laden with secrets and sorrow in Antoinette’s family.

But however much colour and vibrancy Rhys injects into the story with her beautiful and stinging prose, Wide Sargasso Sea is a dark tale with an ever present sense of foreboding and claustrophobia. But this may be because we know of Antoinette’s inevitable fate which will naturally colour our reading.

Even though Jamaica is where Antoinette belongs, she is still ‘other’, separated by the colour of her skin and ancestry. But this is a different ‘other’ to what Rochester feels. Rochester is an alien in a bewitching land he does not understand and yet is seduced by it.

Everything is too much, I felt as I rode wearily after her. Too much blue, too much purple, too much green. The flowers too red, the mountains too high, the hills too near. And the woman is a stranger.

And this is while they are on their honeymoon.

The novel is divided into three parts. The first is Antoinette’s tale from her childhood until she meets Rochester. The second is told by Rochester interspersed with Antoinette’s explanations. And the third is told by Grace Poole and Antoinette when she is incarcerated in Thornfield. The structure of the novel in this way works brilliantly. If it had been one long continuous narrative, it would have become too heavy, too disturbing and I would have felt reluctant to continue, knowing what was going to happen.

The thing that I kept asking myself throughout was why was Rochester so angry, so hurtful? Why did he treat Antoinette in the way he did? Was it because he believed he had been tricked and made a fool of? If he didn’t love Antoinette, why didn’t he let her go? No one would know in England. But he didn’t want to release her. And he mentally abused her by changing her name to Bertha and erasing her identity, something that was so vital to her. It’s chilling.

In his introduction to her novel, Francis Wyndham aptly called Rhys one of ‘the purest writers of her time.’ Wide Sargasso Sea is a stripped down novel of raw emotion; superb, masterful, vivid and rich. It doesn’t answer all your questions but it does leave you thinking about the unhappy couple long after you’ve turned the last page.

Author List

11 June, 2012

The titles of the books are in alphabetical order unless they are a part of a series in which case they will be listed in reading order.

A
Aaronovitch, Ben – Rivers of London
Airth, Rennie – River of Darkness
Akunin, Boris – Special Assignments: The Further Adventures of Erast Fandorin
Akunin, Boris – The State Counsellar
Akunin, Boris – The Coronation
Akunin, Boris – She Lover of Death
Akunin, Boris – He Lover of Death
Algren, Nelson – A Walk on the Wild Side
Allison, Dorothy – Bastard Out of Carolina
Anam, Tahmima – A Golden Age
Anam, Tahmima – The Good Muslim
Anonymous – A Woman in Berlin
Ardizzone, Sarah & Mathias Melzieu – The Boy with the Cuckoo Clock Heart
Armstrong, Karen – A Short History of Myth
Atkinson, Kate – Started Early, Took My Dog
Atwood, Margaret – The Penelopiad
Aw, Tash – Map of the Invisible World

B
Badaude – London Walks!
Bakker, Berbrand – The Twin
Bakker, R. Scott – The Darkness That Comes Before
Bakker, R. Scott – The Warrior-Prophet
Ball, Jesse – The Curfew
Barbal, Maria – Stone in a Landslide
Barbery, Muriel – The Gourmet
Barbery, Muriel – The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Batuman, Elif – The Possessed
Beauman, Nicola – A Very Great Profession: The Woman’s Novel 1914-1939
Bell, Alex – The Ninth Circle
Birkegaard, Mikkel – The Library of Shadows
Bodard, Aliette de – Servant of the Underworld
Bodard, Aliette de – The House of Shattered Wings
Bolger, Dermot – The Journey Home
Bourland, Fabrice – The Baker Street Phantom
Bowen, Rhys – Her Royal Spyness
Bradbury, Ray – Fahrenheit 451
Bradley, Alan – The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Bradley, Alan – The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag
Bradley, Alan – A Red Herring without Mustard
Bradley, Alan – I Am Half-Sick of Shadows
Bradley, Alan – Speaking from Among the Bones
Bradley, Alan – The Dead in their Vaulted Arches
Bradley, Alan – As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust
Bulgakov, Mikhail – The Master and Margarita
Burdett, John – Bangkok Eight and Bangkok Tattoo
Burnett, Frances Hodgson – The Making of a Marchioness

C
Calvino, Italo – If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller
Cameron, Kenneth – The Frightened Man
Carriger, Gail – Soulless
Carriger, Gail – Changeless
Carriger, Gail – Blameless
Carriger, Gail – Heartless
Carriger, Gail – Timeless
Carter, M.J. – The Strangler Vine
Cashore, Kristin – Graceling
Cashore, Kristin – Fire
Cashore, Kristin – Bitterblue
Chevalier, Tracy – The Last Runaway
Child, Lincoln & Douglas Preston – Cemetery Dance
Child, Lincoln & Douglas Preston – Fever Dream
Child, Lincoln & Douglas Preston – Cold Vengeance
Child, Lincoln & Douglas Preston – Two Graves
Child, Lincoln & Douglas Preston – Fever Dream
Christie, Agatha – Elephants Can Remember
Coake, Christopher – You Came Back
Cocteau, Jean – Paris Album 1900-1914
Colitto, Alfredo – Inquisition
Collins, Suzanne – The Hunger Games trilogy
Comyns, Barbara – Who was Changed and Who was Dead
Cox, Michael – The Meaning of Night
Cox, Michael – The Glass of Time

D
Dahlquist, G.W. – The Dark Volume
Dahlquist, G.W. – The Chemickal Marriage
Davis, Lindsey – Nemesis
Davis, Lindsey – The Ides of April
Davis, Lindsey – Enemies at Home
Davis, Lindsey – Deadly Election
Davis, Lindsey – Master and God
de Kretser, Michelle – The Lost Dog
de Silva, Nihal – The Road from Elephant Pass
de Waal, Edmund – The Hare with Amber Eyes
Delany, Samuel R. – Babel-17
Delius, Friedrich Christian – Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman
Dexter, Colin – Last Bus to Woodstock
Djoumahna, Khajira – The Tribal Bible
du Maurier, Daphne – Don’t Look Now and Other Stories
Duncan, Glen – The Last Werewolf
Duncan, Glen – Talulla Rising
Dunmore, Helen – The Greatcoat
Dunthorne, Joe – Submarine

E
Eames, Andrea – The White Shadow
Endo, Shusaku – The Samurai
Endo, Shusaku – Silence
Endo, Shusaku – The Volcano
Erikson, Steven – Gardens of the Moon
Erikson, Steven – Deadhouse Gates
Erikson, Steven – Memories of Ice
Erikson, Steven – House of Chains
Erikson, Steven – Midnight Tides
Erikson, Steven – The Bonehunters
Erikson, Steven – Reaper’s Gale
Erikson, Steven – Toll the Hounds
Erikson, Steven – Dust of Dreams
Erikson, Steven – The Crippled God
Erikson, Steven – Forge of Darkness
Esslemont, Ian C. – Night of Knives
Esslemont, Ian C. – Return of the Crimson Guard
Esslemont, Ian C. – Stonewielder
Esslemont, Ian C. – Orb Sceptre Throne
Esslemont, Ian C. – Blood and Bone
Eugenides, Jeffrey – Middlesex

F
Faber, Michel – Under the Skin
Ferrey, Ashok – Serendipity
Ferris, Joshua – Then We Came To The End
Fforde, Jasper – Shades of Grey
Fitzgerald, Zelda – Save Me The Waltz
Foster, Alicia – Warpaint
Fowler, Christopher – Bryant & May on the Loose
Fowler, Christopher – Bryant & May Off The Rails
Fowler, Christopher – Bryant & May and the Memory of Blood
French, Tana – The Likeness

G
Gale, Patrick – A Perfectly Good Man
Ganeshananthan, V.V. – Love Marriage
Garner, Helen – Monkey Grip
Gatiss, Mark – The Devil in Amber
Gatiss, Mark – Black Butterfly
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von – Elective Affinities
Goodwin, Jason – An Evil Eye
Granville, Eliza – Gretel and the Dark
Greene, Brian – The Elegant Universe
Gregory, Susanna – A Vein of Deceit
Gregory, Susanna – The Killer of Pilgrims
Gregory, Susanna – Mystery in the Minster
Gregory, Susanna – Murder by the Book
Gruen, Sara – Water for Elephants
Gunesekera, Romesh – The Prisoner of Paradise

H
Hannah, Sophie – The Monogram Murders
Harkness, Deborah – A Discovery of Witches
Harkness, Deborah – Shadow of Night
Harris, Charlaine – Dead Until Dark
Harris, Jane – The Observations
Hemingway, Ernest – A Moveable Feast
Herbert, James – Ash
Higashino, Keigo – The Devotion of Suspect X
Higashino, Keigo – Salvation of a Saint
Hill, Joe – Heart-Shaped Box
Hill, Susan – The Risk of Darkness and The Vows of Silence
Hill, Susan – The Shadows in the Street
Hill, Susan – The Small Hand
Hill, Susan – The Woman in Black
Hussein, Ameena (Ed.) – Blue: Stories for Adults
Hotschnig, Alois – Maybe This Time
Hussein, Ameena – The Moon in the Water
Hussein, Asiff – Zeylanica

I
Ibsen, Henrik – A Doll’s House
Ishiguro, Kazuo – A Pale View of Hills
Ivey, Eowyn – The Snow Child

J
Jackson, Shirley – We Have Always Lived in the Castle
James, P.D. – Talking About Detective Fiction
Jenkins, Robin – The Changeling

K
Karunatilaka, Shehan – Chinaman
Kawakami, Hiromi – Strange Weather in Tokyo
Kent, Jasper – Twelve
Keun, Irmgard – After Midnight
Kingsolver, Barbara – The Poisonwood Bible
Kirino, Natsuo – Grotesque
Krauss, Nicole – Great House

L
L’Engle, Madeleine – A Wrinkle in Time
Lahiri, Jhumpa – Interpreter of Maladies
Larsson, Stieg – The Girl Who Played with Fire
Larsson, Stieg – The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest
Laurain, Antoine – The President’s Hat
Le, Nam – The Boat
Lessing, Doris – The Grass is Singing
Link, Kelly – Pretty Monsters
Lynch, Scott – The Republic of Thieves

M
Magrs, Paul – Never the Bride
Malzieu, Mathias & Sarah Ardizzone – The Boy with the Cuckoo Clock Heart
Mandel, Emily St. John – Station Eleven
Mantel, Hilary – Wolf Hall
Mantel, Hilary – Bring Up The Bodies
Martin, George R.R. – A Game of Thrones
Mason, Zachary – The Lost Books of the Odyssey
McBride, Eimear – A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing
McGowan, Kathleen – The Book of Love
McGrath, Patrick – Ghost Town
Miéville, China – The City & The City
Miéville, China – Kraken
Miller, Madeline – The Song of Achilles
Mishima, Yukio – Spring Snow
Mitchell, David – The Bone Clocks
Mittelmark, Howard & Sandra Newman – Read This Next
Mo Yan – Big Breasts and Wide Hips
Mockett, Marie Mutsuki – Picking Bones From Ash
Morgenstern, Erin – The Night Circus
Morris, R.N. – A Gentle Axe
Mostert, Natasha – The Season of the Witch
Murakami, Haruki – 1Q84
Murakami, Haruki – After Dark
Murakami, Haruki – Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (Guest Review)
Murakami, Haruki – Hear the Wind Sing
Murakami, Haruki – Kafka on the Shore
Murakami, Haruki – Pinball, 1973

N
Nakamura, Fuminori – The Thief
Nakamura, Fuminori – Evil and the Mask
Newman, Sandra & Howard Mittelmark – Read This Next
Ng, Celeste – Everything I Never Told You
Ngugi, Mukoma Wa – Nairobi Heat
Nicholson, Virginia – Millions Like Us: Women’s Lives in the Second World War
Nothomb, Amélie – Fear and Trembling
Novik, Naomi – Uprooted

O
Ogawa, Ito – The Restaurant of Love Regained
Ogawa, Yoko – The Housekeeper and The Professor
Ogawa, Yoko – Revenge
O’Hara, John – BUtterfield 8
Olesha, Yuri – The Three Fat Men
Olmi, Véronique – Beside the Sea
O’Malley, Daniel – The Rook
Otsuka, Julie – The Buddha in the Attic
Owen, Lauren – The Quick

P
Palacio, R.J. – Wonder
Palma, Felix – The Map of Time
Panter-Downes, Mollie – Good Evening, Mrs. Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes
Panter-Downes, Mollie – Minnie’s Room
Parot, Jean-François – The Châtelet Apprentice
Parris, S.J. – Heresy
Pattison, Eliot – Blood of the Oak
Paver, Michelle – Dark Matter: A Ghost Story
Peace, David – Occupied City
Penny, Louise – Still Life
Peters, Elizabeth – A River in the Sky
Portis, Charles – True Grit
Prantera, Amanda – Mohawk’s Brood
Pratchett, Terry – Nation
Pratchett, Terry – I Shall Wear Midnight
Pratchett, Terry – Unseen Academicals
Pratchett, Terry – Snuff
Preston, Douglas & Lincoln Child – Cemetery Dance
Preston, Douglas & Lincoln Child – Fever Dream
Preston, Douglas & Lincoln Child – Cold Vengeance
Preston, Douglas & Lincoln Child – Two Graves
Pugh, Martin – We Danced All Night: A Social History of Britain Between the Wars
Pullman, Philip – The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

Q

R
Raisin, Ross – God’s Own Country
Rao, Mahesh – The Smoke is Rising
Raybourn, Deanna – The Dead Travel Fast
Raybourn, Deanna – Silent on the Moor
Rhys, Jean – Wide Sargasso Sea
Rice, Anne – Angel Time
Rice, Anne – Prince Lestat
Rickards, Susannah – Hot Kitchen Snow
Ripley, Mike – Mr. Campion’s Farewell
Ritari, Jacob – Taroko Gorge
Roberts, David – A Grave Man
Robertson, Imogen – Instruments of Darkness
Robertson, Imogen – Anatomy of Murder
Robertson, Imogen – Island of Bones
Robertson, Imogen – Circle of Shadows
Robertson, Imogen – Theft of Life
Rossiter, Joanna – The Sea Change
Russell, Karen – Swamplandia!

S
Samaraweera, Darryl – Vicky Had One Eye Open
Sansom, C.J. – Heartstone
Sawyer, Robert J. – Hominids
Selvadurai, Shyam – Cinnamon Gardens
Setiawan, Erick – Of Bees and Mist
Setterfield, Diane – Bellman & Black
Shkliar, Vasyl – Raven
Shukla, Nikesh – Coconut Unlimited
Shute, Nevil – On the Beach
Simenon, Georges – Maigret
Sington, Philip – The Einstein Girl
Philip Sington – The Valley of Unknowing
Skene, Anthony – Monsieur Zenith the Albino
Smith, Tom Rob – Child 44
Smith, Tom Rob – The Secret Speech
Smith, Tom Rob – Agent 6
Smith, Zadie – NW
Strachey, Julia – Cheerful Weather for the Wedding
Summerscale, Kate – The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher
Swerling, Beverly – Bristol House
Syjuco, Miguel – Ilustrado
Szerb, Antal – Journey by Moonlight

T
Tabucchi, Antonio – Pereira Maintains
Tan, Twan Eng – The Garden of the Evening Mists
Tan, Twan Eng – The Gift of Rain
Tanaka, Yukiko (Ed.) – To Live and to Write: Selections by Japanese Women Writers 1913-1938
Tanizaki, Junichiro – The Makioka Sisters
Tanizaki, Junichiro – Naomi
Taylor, D.J. – At the Chime of a City Clock
Taylor, Laini – Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Taylor, Laini – Days of Blood and Starlight
Tearne, Roma – Mosquito
Tearne, Roma – The Swimmer
Teulé, Jean – The Suicide Shop
Thomas, Scarlett – Our Tragic Universe
Todd, Charles – A Test of Wills
Tolkien, J.R.R. – The Hobbit
Trussoni, Danielle – Angelology
Trussoni, Danielle – Angelopolis
Turner, Mary – The Women’s Century

U
Upson, Nicola – Angel with Two Faces

V
Vargas, Fred – The Chalk Circle Man
Vargas, Fred – Seeking Whom He May Devour

W
Walsh, Joanna – Hauptbahnhof
Waters, Sarah – Affinity
Waters, Sarah – The Little Stranger
Waters, Sarah – The Night Watch
Willig, Lauren – The Secret History of the Pink Carnation
Willis, Connie – Doomsday Book
Willis, Connie – To Say Nothing of the Dog
Willis, Connie – Blackout and All Clear
Winterson, Jeanette – Weight
Wolf, Jack – The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones
Wood, James – How Fiction Works
Woolf, Virginia – A Room of One’s Own

X

Y
Yamazaki, Mari – Thermae Romae I-III

Z
Zambra, Alejandro – The Private Lives of Trees
Zeh, Juli – Dark Matter

has rolled by again. Head over to Umamimart: Slightly Peckish to check out some som tum. You know, that Thai green papaya salad that we’re all crazy about!

In bookish news, I recently finished reading two books by Tan Twan Eng. Suffice it to say I’m totally enthralled by Tan’s work and as a consequence have started reading The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang. Deeply disturbing but an episode in history that should not be forgotten.

I’m also still halfway through Steven Erikson’s The Crippled God which I haven’t touched in days. I blame the birth of my baby niece. Only one as cute as her can keep me away from one of my favourite writers and turn me into a baby-stalking paparazzi. I have so far avoided buying her anything pink but I may eventually succumb.

And I have also started Romesh Gunesekera’s latest novel The Prisoner of Paradise set in early 19th century Mauritius about forbidden passions and the search for freedom.

And finally, I caught up with Channel 4’s documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished, a follow up to last year’s scathing commentary on the brutal end to Sri Lanka’s internal conflict that lasted for 26 years. It’s disturbing and heartbreaking and ultimately makes me wonder who are the real winners of wars. Certainly not the common people. Although I agree the Sri Lankan government, as a legitimate governing body, needs to address and take responsibility for their brutal methods, executions, rapes, discrimination and censorship, ultimately Channel 4’s documentary fails to address the complex nature of the conflict, its beginnings and Sri Lanka’s mixed society and leaves me with more questions. Breaking down a war into simplistic sound bites doesn’t do anyone justice. And what about the LTTE, who hardly get a mention, and the Western countries that were supporting and running weapons for what is an officially recognised terrorist group? Check out what Vindi has to say about the doc.

2012 Book Reviews

3 January, 2012

After Midnight by Irmgard Keun
Ash by James Herbert
Bangkok Eight and Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett
Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany
Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
Bryant & May and the Memory of Blood by Christopher Fowler
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
The Chemickal Marriage by G.W. Dahlquist
Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka
The Crippled God by Steven Erikson
The Curfew by Jesse Ball
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Dust of Dreams by Steven Erikson
An Evil Eye by Jason Goodwin
Forge of Darkness by Steven Erikson
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
A Gentle Axe by R.N. Morris
The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng
God’s Own Country by Ross Raisin
The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore
Heartless by Gail Carriger
Heresy by S.J. Parris
The Housekeeper and The Professor by Yoko Ogawa
The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley
Inquisition by Alfredo Colitto
The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason
Monkey Grip by Helen Garner
Murder by the Book by Susanna Gregory
Nairobi Heat by Mukoma Wa Ngugi
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The Observations by Jane Harris
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale
The Possessed by Elif Batuman
The Prisoner of Paradise by Romesh Gunesekera
The Restaurant of Love Regained by Ito Ogawa
Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
The Shadows in the Street by Susan Hill
A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong
Snuff by Terry Pratchett
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The State Counsellar by Boris Akunin
Still Life by Louise Penny
Stonewielder by Ian C. Esslemont
Talulla Rising by Glen Duncan
The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura
Timeless by Gail Carriger
Twelve by Jasper Kent
Weight by Jeanette Winterson
The White Shadow by Andrea Eames
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
You Came Back by Christopher Coake

There was a staggering number of participants for Leeswammes’ Blog‘s Literary Giveaway Blog Hop. Thank you all for participating and I do hope that you will go out and try Romesh Gunesekara’s novels even if you didn’t win this time. I was tempted to go on random.org, but decided that I liked drawing names the old-fashioned way (from my A Room of One’s Own Penguin mug no less).

And the winners are:

                                                         redladysreadingroom

and

                                                                  Miss Lauren


Congratulations to both and e-mails have been sent!

Slightly Peckish Tuesday

28 June, 2011

is here once again. This time I am invited to my sister’s mother-in-law’s to eat some Malaysian food. So check me out at Umamimart: Slightly Peckish.

There’s still a day left for my Literary Giveaway Blog Hop so leave a comment in my giveaway post for a chance to win a signed copy of Reef or The Match by Romesh Gunesekera.

In bookish news, I’m still going strong on the Malazan front and have just finished vol. 6, The Bonehunters by Steven Erikson. I erroneously thought it would be about the T’lan Imass bonecasters until I realised it was about the bonehunters and had a good laugh at myself. Sometimes I read too fast for my own good and make up words. I’ve also started The Glass of Time by Michael Cox after really enjoying its prequel The Meaning of Night. And I’ve finally come back to Banana Yoshimoto after many years. There is something familiar and comforting about the pace of prose in The Lake. And I’ll soon be starting Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb picked by Polly for my book group.

It’s been sunny and hot here in London over the weekend although quickly followed by thunderstorms now. How’s it been where you are?

The Literary Giveaway Blog Hop is organised by Leeswammes’ Blog and gives us all a chance to give away and win books between 25 – 29th June 2011. A win-win situation, I’d say. So do go and check out what other lovely treats are on offer. You can find a list of participants at the end of this post.

A month ago, I went to an English PEN event to hear one of my favourite Sri Lankan writers, Romesh Gunesekara, on a panel about festival boycotts. You can read about it here. I also came away with signed new paperback editions of his first novel Reef and my favourite The Match. You heard it, they’re SIGNED.

Reef was short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1994 and is the tale of Triton, an 11 year old who goes to work as a houseboy for Mr. Salgado, a writer, in early 70s Sri Lanka. It’s a beautifully written tale of love, family and loss in a country undergoing rapid changes.

The Match is a bildungsroman about a young Sri Lankan boy growing up in the Phillipines and then settling in Britain. It’s a tale of identity and family as he recalls a cricket match played long ago in a distant country. I think it’s one of the best novels that captures life as an expat, building a home away from home, and reminded me of when I was a child living in Bangkok and surrounded by people from all around the world. Beautiful and my favourite Gunesekara novel.

So what are you waiting for? Leave me a comment saying which book you prefer or, if you want to try for both, in which order of preference. The giveaway will close at midnight (GMT) on Wednesday 29th June and I’ll pick two winners on the 30th. And I’ll send them anywhere too. Good luck everyone!

Literary Giveaway Blog Hop Participants:

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  23. I Am A Reader, Not A Writer (USA)
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  26. Bibliophile By the Sea (Int)
  27. Polychrome Interest (Int)
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  29. In Spring it is the Dawn (Int)
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1) PEN Event on literary festivals and boycotts

First I toodled along to the PEN event at the Free Word Centre near Farringdon a couple of Sundays ago to hear a discussion about literary festivals and boycotts with a panel including Gillian Slovo (current President of English PEN) and Romesh Gunasekara (one of my favourite Sri Lankan authors). It was especially interesting for me because of the connection with the Galle Literary Festival which Gunasekara attended a couple of years back as did Slovo. But they didn’t only discuss the GLF but several other festivals including one in Palestine. This led to a discussion on freedom of speech and activisim with input from Pakistani writer Kamila Shamsie in the audience. It was an interesting session, although I would have loved to hear Gunasekara speak more about his views and experiences. He felt literary festivals were good for the still burdeoning literary landscapes of developing countries. He also made a point that not all diasporic writers wanted to write about conflict. Slovo was cool and collected and I must say her opinions were very well thought out. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that before English authors head off to literary festivals in countries that have or had conflicts where there is a call for boycotts, English PEN does a briefing so that they are not caught unawares when asked questions at these festivals so that they do actually know what is going on. Interesting, no? My one gripe with PEN events is that although very interesting, as a lay person, you sometimes feel very left out and out of depth, but then I guess PEN events are mainly targeted at writers and people working in the industry.

2) Boris Akunin at Foyles

My second outing was to see Boris Akunin who writes the mega-bestselling Erast Fandorin mysteries set in fin de siècle Russia beginning with The Winter Queen. This event was at Foyles, Charing Cross and was free. Yup, you heard it, FREE. You have to reserve a place but the event itself was packed to the rafters with Russian expats and academics. Akunin himself was very self-deprecating and had a great sense of humour which instantly endeared him to the audience. He was interviewed by novelist Tibor Fischer, whose books I haven’t read but now have a mind to.

Akunin said he had all 16 volumes of the Fandorin series planned out to appeal to the 16 personalities that make up people. That’s right. Each mystery is written in a different style and content and by revealing which is you loved and hated he can apparently pinpoint which personality type you may be. Intrigued? I was. One other point of interest is that The She-Lover of Death and The He-Lover of Death should be read in tandem but the order isn’t important as they are set simultaneously. I love details like that. And his latest to be published in English, The Diamond Chariot, is set in Japan and is in two parts. The first is like a haiku, short and sweet. And the second tells the story between the lines. Now don’t tell me that doesn’t sound incredible. I’ve read four of the Fandorin mysteries so far, so I’d better start catching up.

When asked which style most closely resembled his own, Akunin paused and said none. Akunin is a nom de plume and as a translator of Japanese, he feels he has mastered many different styles but that his own is rather dry and boring. In his day job, he is a writer of serious literary non-fiction which, he says, probably no one reads.

He does an hour of writing in the morning, potters around and has lunch and maybe an hour in the afternoon. If only I could do that I’d be a happy bunny. But I’d probably need to be a genius too.

You can read an account of the event by Jost A Mon whom I met there.

3) Bookish tea at Waterstone’s

And last but not least, Mae of Mad Bibliophile stopped by London all the way from Melbourne on the last leg of her European trip and wanted to meet up with some bookish folk so Claire, Kim, Polly and myself met up for some afternoon tea at the 5th View Bar in Waterstone’s, Piccadilly. Lots of tea, coffee, scones, jam, clotted cream and some chips and of course lots of bookish chat. Lovely to meet you Mae! I was impressed that none of us actually bought any books even though we were in Waterstone’s!

Slightly Peckish Tuesday

19 October, 2010

Yup, hunger strikes once again. Well, it’s a perpetual thing at chasing bawa. So check what I’ve been eating for lunch at Umamimart: Slightly Peckish!

I’m still on a high after meeting China Miéville and can’t wait to read Kraken! I also went to Michael Wood’s talk, Journey to South India: A Window on the Last Classical Civilisation, for the DSC South Asian Literature Festival yesterday at the British Library. I wasn’t able to make it to most of their other talks as I’ve been busy, and frankly rather knackered (I think it’s the change in season, always knocks my energy levels). However, Michael Wood’s enthusiasm for India is really infectious and he was such a lovely speaker and I now want to read about the history of South India and the Tamils. I bought my parents Wood’s BBC documentary The Story of India which was beautiful and so interesting. He divided the series into thematic episodes which really worked. Have you seen it?

You can also find an interview with one of my favourite Sri Lankan authors, Romesh Gunasekara here. He’s doing a fiction writing workshop at the British Library on October 23rd as part of the DSC South Asian Literature Festival. I went to one of his workshops at the Galle Literary Festival a few years ago and it was brilliant.

I also went to the UFC expo (that’s Ultimate Fighting Champion expo for those who aren’t into all that kick-boxing) with my family (we do some cool stuff, dontcha think?) and was pretty impressed with how low-key and civilised all these muscly tattooed men were, queueing up for autographs, etc. Reminded me of book fairs (me) and bellydance haflas (my sis). I guess all geekiness is the same;) At least we got to meet B.J. Penn’s mum! Score! And we met a half-Sri Lankan fighter called Dean Amarsinger. Anyway, my two brothers-in-law and nephews were SO excited, it was unreal.