This month, I am in love with reading again. I always enjoy reading, but sometimes I get into a phase where I want to spend every free minute lost in a book, and happily that's where I am now. I'm reading during Giles' naps and all evening after he has gone to bed, and I'm simply loving it. What's more, I'm picking up some fantastic books too.
The first book I have to write about is Haruki Murakami's novella, The Strange Library.
I've read one other Murakami book, Norwegian Wood,
and whilst I thought it was OK, I was disappointed to find out that it's one of his straightest novels, lacking in the surreal and magical elements that he is more famous for. The Strange Library
seemed like a good way of getting to grips with his more usual style. Told with words and pictures, it's about a young boy who wanders into a library one day, as he wants to find out how taxes were collected in the Ottoman Empire. He is directed to a special 'reading room' in an underground maze, and here he is imprisoned with a sheep-man and a girl that only he can see.
The Strange Library
isn't really much of a story, and I read it in under an hour, but it had a beautifully haunting quality about it, a bit like a fairy tale. I'm sure there is some deeper meaning to all of the strangeness, to do with grief and obedience, but I was happy just to revel in it and enjoy the experience. It helps that this is a truly beautiful book, and the images add a lot to the story. Now that I've finished this one, I'm looking forward to exploring the more surreal side of Murakami, starting with The Elephant Vanishes,
a collection of short stories I already own. 4 out of 5.
After finishing The Strange Library,
I was in the mood for some non-fiction so I picked up Chinua Achebe's There Was A Country.
Ever since reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's excellent Half of a Yellow Sun
a few years ago, I've wanted to learn more about the Biafran war, in which Biafra decided to declare itself independent of Nigeria. Achebe was deeply involved in this part of history, being Biafran and acting as a Biafran envoy in countries all across the world, as well as living through the conflict.
There was a Country
is a powerful book. Achebe blends history, politics, memoir and poetry together to create a personal account of the time. Starting from his childhood during the British Empire, Achebe gives a brief overview of Nigeria gaining independence, and the problems that came after, before launching into the Biafran war. Achebe manages to impart a lot of information without it ever feeling dull, and the poems were haunting. Whereas the actual text occasionally lacked emotional engagement, the poems more than made up for it. Sometimes Achebe's straight-forward writing made the book all the more impacting, particularly when he was discussing the deliberate policy of starvation employed against the Biafrans, and the near-misses encountered by his family. My only complaint is that sometimes Achebe became too bogged down in names and individual events rather than showing the whole picture. But the tone of regret, of Achebe's sadness at the lost opportunity Nigeria's independence represented, permeates the whole book and makes it devastating. 4 out of 5
After the heaviness of war and corruption, I turned the L.M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle,
a novel I picked up on impulse from the library. I have read and enjoyed Anne of Green Gables,
so I was keen to read Montgomery's adult novel. The heroine is Valancy, a twenty-nine year old woman who has been written off as an old-maid. Unquestioningly obedient, she has allowed her family to stifle her, and the only joy she has is escaping to a fantasy land, in which she lives in a magnificent blue castle. But when she is told by a doctor that she only has a year to live, due to a heart condition, Valancy resolves to actually live.
Throwing off her fears, she sets out to experience as much as possible, and to do things that please her, of course scandalising her rather staid community.
The Blue Castle
has a lot of comic moments and a perfectly swoon-worthy love story, but at heart it's a coming of age story, about finding yourself and having the courage to make your own choices in life. I loved watching shy, obedient Valancy stand up for herself, and act according to her own personal values. In a way, this book was ahead of it's time, what with Valancy moving out, getting a job to support herself, and even making her own marriage proposal. The Blue Castle
is a dream of a book, that made me smile, inspired me, and reminded me of the joys that life can bring. 5 out of 5.