Book Review | To Lose the Madness : Field Notes on Trauma, Loss and Radical Authenticity by L.M. Browning

to lose the madness cover.jpgIncorporating beautiful photographs from her travels to the Southwest, Browning’s mini-memoir focuses on her experience with post traumatic stress disorder. To Lose the Madness reveals events that led up to Browning’s breaking point and discusses ways she tried to work through her trauma, ultimately explaining what it all meant to her. Without asking for sympathy, this account lays undergone hardships bare for the reader in a manner the author terms “radical authenticity”.

More of an essay, this memoir reveals a very personal struggle. It conveys the idea that not all trauma can be worked through or simply left behind. Browning stresses the importance of being able to carry one’s trauma with grace. Readers who have experienced similar losses or attempted to overcome their own mental health issues will certainly be able to relate to many of the passages in this text. It is a well-written, thought-provoking, quick read. Check it out from a library near you.

I received a copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

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Book Review | This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!

indexAfter the death of her husband Bernard, Harriet embarks on a cruise to Alaska. She is supposed to be accompanied by her best friend Mildred, but instead she is accompanied by a letter from Mildred explaining an affair between the best friend and Harriet’s late husband. This letter would be disturbing in its own right, but it is accompanied by appearances from Bernard’s ghost. While this seems light and off-hand, the pieces of Harriet’s life that are revealed form a serious story of depth with reflection.

Evison has created an engaging read with This is Your Life, Harriet Chance! Harriet isn’t the most likable character, but it is interesting to hear about specific important events that happened during her 78 year long fictitious life. As a daughter, I found myself relating to certain passages where Harriet and her middle aged daughter are trying to get along despite issues from their shared past. I cannot rave about this book and say it’s one of the best I’ve read, but it did pass the time and the story was clear and without too much introduction. Perhaps one of my favorite things about the book was the format. Short chapters revealing various, non-chronological episodes from Harriet’s life made for very quick reading. This book would likely be of interest to retirees cruising to Alaska, comfortable widows, or people interested in the challenges of aging. Check if out from a library near you.

Book Review | So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood by Patrick Modiano

cover so you don't get lost in the neighborhood by patrick modianoFrom the beginning, this book was an inviting read, but was at times difficult to follow chronologically. Protagonist Jean Daragane is a bit of a hermit in his Paris apartment. He is drawn outside by a strange couple who claims false identities when returning his lost address book. Beyond simple pleasantries, the couple shares documents from a former police investigation and asks for Daragane’s assistance in giving additional background information. At first he is unable to recall any relevant details, but upon closer inspection he realizes just how much of his own past seems to be hidden. 

There are many things to appreciate about So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood. The writing style is very straightforward and concise. Images are depicted fairly well and the main points of the novel are clear. With few characters it is easy to keep them straight during this generously spaced quick read of about 150 pages. If you’re looking for a brief escape to Paris, this will do.

Modiano has chosen three distinct time periods in which this novel’s events occur: Daragane as a child, as a man 15-20 years later, and 40 years later believing himself to be a different person. Without any chapter breaks, I found it hard to tell the exact chronology of events. Characters were not well developed and though this was a conscious choice by the author, I have to question whether the book would have been better served with more text. I found the first half of the book much more intriguing than the second half. Check it out from a library near you. If you really enjoy this book, try The Silence of the Wave by Gianrico Carofiglio

Book Review | Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

book cover Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki MurakamiMore than a year after its release in Japan, Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, debuted in English last month. The wait had been a long one for Murakami fans who quickly devoured the previous tome, 1Q84, after its English release in 2011. Colorless currently tops the New York Times hardcover fiction list, just as Japanese sellers struggled to keep up with buyer demand for the release in April last year. The sales may be more of a nod to Murakami’s successful career and fan following than a reflection of this book’s greatness in comparison to others he’s written.

Main character Tsukuru Tazaki is an engineer in his mid-30’s working to update and build railway stations near Tokyo. He’s dating a slightly older woman and finds it to be one of his first meaningful relationships, but seems stuck with how to progress. As they get to know each other better, she deduces that his current emotional troubles have deep roots going back to friendship bonds formed in high school. Through the book, we witness Tsukuru battling past and present demons in a meaningful and mostly straight-forward way.

This book left me wanting more. Of course, as a fan, I’d like each new Murakami book to be better than the last, but this novel wasn’t better. Murakami does a great job laying a difficult story line and keeping the serious and somber tone without over-dramatizing, but something seems missing. Colorless does not have some of the same elements of magical realism or surrealism as other Murakami favorites like A Wild Sheep Chase or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but it has a few missing connections that don’t quite come together, like in After Dark. Overall, I enjoyed the book. The characters were realistic and many Murakami-isms came through – classical and jazz music, Cutty Sark, swimming, dreams and interpersonal relationships. The novel allowed the reader to pass into the life of another (slice of life), a realistic portrayal of what someone else might have struggled with. For Murakami fans, or those interested in a serious, somewhat psychological read, check out Colorless from the library if you can handle the hold queue, or buy the ebook on Google Play.

Film Review | Contracorriente (Undertow) by Javier Fuentes-Leon

film poster for undertow contracorrienteSet in a Peruvian fishing village, Contracorriente tells the story of Miguel, a beautiful man with a wife and child on the way and how he deals with the abrupt death of his secret lover Santiago. Miguel is a local with family ties who works on a fishing boat. Santiago is an artist who lives temporarily in the village and is a societal outcast because of his lifestyle. The two meet only in secret and no one knows of their relationship. After a fight, something unexpected happens, which causes Miguel to reevaluate his choices and values.

This film was the best movie I’ve seen in a very long time. I wasn’t expecting the depth and emotional waves that came. If you’re willing to relate to the characters, have a handkerchief nearby. The acting was top notch and the story was completely realistic. I didn’t want this movie to end. It’s no surprise that this film was featured at multiple film festivals and won the 2010 Sundance World Cinema Audience Award. If you loved Julian Schnabel’s film Before Night Falls based on the novel by Reinaldo Arenas, this movie is worth buying. If you want to try it out first, check a library near you. The trailer is also available on the film’s website.

Book Review | Il metodo del coccodrillo (The Crocodile) by Maurizio de Giovanni

book cover Il metodo del coccodrillo (The Crocodile) by Maurizio de GiovanniTranslated from Italian, The Crocodile is a noir crime novel that follows the trail of a patient but brutal killer in Naples, Italy. Inspector Lojacono has just been reassigned to a desk job in a new city after implications of involvement with the Camorra (think Mafia) when the first victim is found – a teenage boy shot in the back of the head point-blank. Not long after, a popular girl is killed identically in a well-to-do neighborhood, just outside her door. Links between the murders are obvious and the press dubs the serial killer ‘the crocodile’ because of similarities in how the two kill. The police are at a loss and the assistant district attorney gets Lojacono involved as the investigation becomes a race against the clock to identify the final victims before the killer strikes again.

De Giovanni has penned an interesting piece here. Short chapters alternate focus between various characters – victims, police, and the killer. The scent of Naples is everywhere and small details give the reader a genuine insight into the city. While mostly focussed on the killings and pursuit, there is still a bit of romance and character development in the intertwined stories. Overall, I enjoyed the book more than I thought I would. Check it out from a library near you.