Book Review: The Overstory

By: Richard Powers

Review:

The Overstory is nothing short of epic. The writing is original, insightful and challenging. I feel like I’ve been led on a journey through the forest of Powers mind, and it is a place of ‘fluid beauty’ (p.61). Like the central character – the trees – the storyline spirals out like annual growth rings, building layers of sublime narrative to merge the deep connections of humanity and nature. One of the many messages is that we need to listen with more humility and then perhaps we might be able to see.

‘The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story’ (p. 336). And Powers sure has delivered just that, a story that’s impossible not to be changed by.

Pages: 493

Genre: Literary Fiction

Awards: Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2018

Reviewer: Jody

Book Blurb:

The Overstory unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond:

An Air Force loadmaster in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling in a banyan. An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A Hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies and is sent back into life by creatures of air and light. A hearing and speech impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another.

These four, and five other strangers – each summoned in different ways by trees – are brought together in a last violent stand to save the continent’s few remaining acres of virgin forest. There is a world alongside ours – vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.

Quarterly Bookclub 3 – Wrap

Good Morning All,

A big thank-you to Gina for hosting and her food spread, your table always looks amazing. I’ve decided that if one eats lots of fruit, it counterbalances the chocolate consumed. Fran, your spanakopita is spectacular, and welcome at any gathering!

Next Meetup: Friday, 29th June

Venue: Jody’s home, 7.00pm

Book: ‘White Teeth’, by Zadie Smith

Secondary Book: ‘Frankenstein’, by Mary Shelley

Poetry: Your choice

I love waking up to days like this. Today my little corner of the world is like a vortex, as the windows are flexing in the wind and from here the whitecaps on the water look almost tidal, a sea mist is hovering and threatening to descend. And now comes the rain, a perfect day to spend in my reading chair!

As I was leaving for Bookclub the other night I bumped into my neighbour. We had a quick chat about our various weekend plans, both commenting on the pleasures of a quiet weekend in. Descending in the elevator I reflected on the bottle of bubbly and the book in my hands, this wasn’t one of those nights, tonight I get to go down into the rabbit hole that in everyday life we tend to avoid for the sake of decorum and not offending or being offended. So that’s what Bookclub is to me, it’s a few hours where we get to talk about topics and themes where sometimes we’re objective and measured and sometimes we’re passionate and unrestrained, but we’re always thoughtful and respectful. For me, it’s a privilege to share time with this amazing group.

Moby Dick! What an expedition, and one that we’re all richer for having had, no matter how far each of us made it through this object of vertu. We all agreed that this certainly is a book that demands much from its reader, there’s no doubt that it’s bloody hard work, and yet it rewards you on every page. It teaches us, it makes us feel a little wiser, it respects us as readers, it assumes that we are capable and leaves us better off for having made it a part of our lives for however long. We were all in awe of Melville’s depth of knowledge at the age of thirty-one. This is the work of an exceptional writer which Sandy captures well, as it’s not just the ‘language, as well as the mind and personality of Melville that shines through. It is beautifully descriptive as well as philosophical.’ We all appreciated the short chapter style, allowing much needed respite at times, while adding to is charm.

So which rabbit hole did we fall into? Gina drew our attention to chapter 89 which gave an insight into the legislation around ownership at the time, using the analogy of a ‘harpooned woman’ and her being the possession of her husband, while pointedly asking the question directly to the reader about each of our part in being both ‘a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish’, a chapter I encourage everyone to read again or even on its own. While insightful in context of the time, it provided fodder for a fascinating discussion on equality of representation in organisations, positive discrimination and whether analogies can or even should be drawn with minority groups despite women being around half the population.

Moby-dick is a most certainly a gift to readers. If you ever have the opportunity to read this for the first time or again it will be worth every moment you invest in it. Make no mistake, it is hard work, but give yourself time and be patient and you will be better placed to tackle this leviathanic opus.

Just a quick comment about our secondary book; I was having a look at the ‘Readings Bookstore’ website under Bookclub recommendations and came across the suggestion to pair the original Frankenstein with a book, a reimagining of the original, that’s been long listed for this years Booker Prize, ‘Frankenstein in Baghdad’, by Ahmed Saadawi. Published in 2014, it won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction so could be an interesting read also.

Until next time,

J xx

Book Review: A Horse Walks into a Bar

by David Grossman

Review: What were the judges thinking when they awarded this the Booker International, surely we can do better than this? The setting of an Israeli stand-up comics routine going horribly wrong simply doesn’t work in this instance and ends up being gratuitous, unbelievable, repetitive and dull. By trying to tackle too many themes, the author manages to void any possibility of emotionally engaging, rendering the story scrappy and disjointed. Or perhaps it was just too clever for me!

Pages: 198

Genre: Literary Fiction

Awards: The Man Booker International Prize 2017

Blurb: A comedy club in a small Israeli town. An audience has come expecting an evening of amusement. Instead they see a comedian falling apart on stage; an act of disintegration, a man crumbling, as a matter of choice, before their eyes. Dovaleh G, a veteran stand-up comic – charming, erratic, repellent – exposes a would he has been living with for years: a fateful and gruesome choice he had to make between two people who were dearest to him.

Flaying alive both himself and the people watching him, Dov provokes revulsion and empathy from an audience that doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry – and all this in the presence of a former childhood friend who is trying to understand why he’s been summoned to this performance…

Blurb Source: Grossman, D., (2016), A Horse Walks into a Bar, London, Penguin Random House UK.

Review: What were the judges thinking when they awarded this the Booker International, surely we can do better than this? The setting of an Israeli stand-up comics routine going horribly wrong simply doesn’t work in this instance and ends up being gratuitous, unbelievable, repetitive and dull. By trying to tackle too many themes, the author manages to void any possibility of emotionally engaging, rendering the story scrappy and disjointed. Or perhaps it was just too clever for me!

Pages: 198

Genre: Literary Fiction

Awards: The Man Booker International Prize 2017

* Please add your own (one paragraph only) reviews by using the ‘comments’ option.

Book Review: Lincoln in the Bardo

by George Saunders

Review: Set in the cemetery and after the burial of Willie, President Lincoln’s eleven year old son. Saunders contextualises this moment in time by using historical excerpts to create a layered picture of the President and the year 1862. Through a complex and original style, we are introduced to the various souls trapped in the bardo, a Tibetan transitional realm, where we find heartbreak, humour, mayhem and madness. A challenging, yet rewarding book that will take you out of your reading comfort zone.

Pages: 343

Genre: Literary fiction, Magical realism

Awards: The Booker Prize 2017

Blurb: February 1862. The American Civil War rages while President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son lies gravely ill. Days later, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body. From this seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of realism, entering a supernatural domain both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself trapped in a transitional realm – called, in Tibetan tradition, the bardo – where ghosts mingle, squabble and commiserate, and a monumental struggle erupts over his soul…

Written with George Saunders’ inimitable humour, pathos and grace, Lincoln in the Bardo invents a thrilling new form, and confirms him as one of the most important and influential writers of his generation.

Blurb Source: Saunders, G., (2017), Lincoln in the Bardo, Great Britain, Bloomsbury Publishing.

* Please add your own (one paragraph only) reviews by using the ‘comments’ option.

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