Enfance- Nathalie Sarraute

Another French book, this time. Given that I shall be relocating to the French Alps in under a month for my year abroad (eek!), I thought I should start making a conscious effort to practise my language abilities to prevent turning up and not understanding anything. I chose Enfance by recommendation. It was on some of my friends’ reading list for a module at university, and they spoke highly of it, so I decided to give it a go.

 

At first, I was confused. No, my ability to read French hadn’t disappeared; I just did not get the narrative technique to begin with. Sarraute, as the narrator, converses with an interlocutor, which, once you realise, is not difficult to grasp, but does require concentration. This shouldn’t put you off reading Enfance, though, I think everyone who reads the book (biography/memoir/life-writing?!) would agree that it actually makes the narrative a lot more interesting as it forces the reader to consider the reliability and authenticity of narrators, particularly in autobiographical works.

 

In the same vein, I enjoyed the book because of the fact that it pulls into question the idea of reliability- not only of the narrator, but also of our own memory. As well as wondering if the events in the book are real, one is encouraged to consider whether events in our own lives really did happen as we remember them, or if we have (albeit sub, or even un, consciously) edited them out of convenience.

 

As well as calling memory into question, Sarraute’s story also calls for a reconsideration of family figures and parental roles. It is safe to say that Sarraute’s mother does not conform to stereotypical characteristics of a mother, which means her father is almost forced to compensate for this. As a result, I could not help but feel pity for Sarraute, and the incredibly lonely life, or at least childhood, she appears to have led. However, what makes this even more touching is that Sarraute never overtly asks for the reader’s sympathy. In fact, she doesn’t even explicitly tell the reader that she was lonely or unhappy- it is just clear through the fact that her only friend is her toy bear, and that her favourite thing was handwriting, simply because she could control it, and it is this very lack of self pity that made me pity Sarraute more.

 

I think I liked Enfance so much because it was so different to anything that I had read before. I have read autobiographies and similar such texts, but I don’t think I had ever read it in this form. In fact, if the reader did not know anything about Sarraute before reading the book, it appears to have such a strong narrative that it might be mistaken for a novel written in first person narration.

 

Overall, I would very strongly recommend Enfance, for French speakers. I would be resistant to recommend an English translation, simply out of worry that the style would not be effectively translated across languages. I don’t think the book has a specific audience in terms of age, which makes it a perfect read for everyone.

Just Haven’t Met You Yet- Cate Woods

As is the case with a lot of my reads, I discovered this book on the Kindle Store Best Sellers list. The description made the book sound light-hearted and fun, the reviews were positive, and it promised a ‘twist you won’t see coming’- how was I supposed to resist?

My first comment is that this book is incredibly easy to read, but the sort of easy reading that makes you want to continue to turn the pages (or press the ‘next page’ button, in this case), rather than the easy reading that isn’t enough to keep you interested. However, I do think that, to begin with, the main reason I was so interested was that the narrative is set in my home city, and even makes a specific reference to the nearest town to the village I live in. Now, this may not sound like a big deal, but when, for seventeen years, you have lived somewhere that no one within a six-mile radius has heard of, the fact that it is mention in a book is very exciting.

The protagonist, Perseus James, is incredibly charming- mainly because her life seems a little all over the place, yet she just takes everything as it comes, making a fool out of herself along the way, with very little shame. Actually, she reminds me of one of my friends, and it is the very same kind of happy-go-lucky attitude that makes her so endearing. For this reason, it is very difficult to become annoyed at Percy (as she is known by friends and family) for the number of questionable decisions she makes throughout the course of the narrative and, ultimately, as a reader, one simply wants everything to work out for her.

On the subject of characters, Percy’s Australian work colleague, Mel, definitely accounts for a large majority of the book’s comedy. She appears to fit the Australian stereotype perfectly, which, if an intentional move by Woods, is incredibly humorous. I think Percy’s mum is also a great character, from the perspective that everyone can identify someone in their life just like her: a middle class older woman, who wants the best for Percy, providing that it reflects well upon her and her family, and isn’t afraid to have her say.

However, what I was particularly interested in, was this ‘twist’ that was promised in the book’s description. As a result of this, I was paying full attention the entire time I was reading, just to see if I could, in fact, foresee the twist. And every time that something changed, I was convinced that I had figured it all out, and every time I turned out to be wrong- much to my dismay. Although, having said that, when the twist finally did arrive (Cate Woods

 

 

really did keep me on my toes), I didn’t see it coming. It definitely wasn’t as scandalous or as exciting as I had hoped, but I was just impressed that I hadn’t predicted it ( I have an annoying habit of ruining books for myself by predicting the endings).

A general comment on the narrative would be that the concept of the initial narrative disequilibrium is actually quite original, and different (if only slightly) to anything I have read before. Woods

had also established the characters’ narratives, outside of the immediate narrative, quite substantially, which meant that events did flow well and nothing really felt coincidental.

Overall, I would recommend Just Haven’t Met You Yet. It is easy to read, yet interesting enough to maintain your attention and interest for the majority. I think a number of characters could be found annoying, or perhaps a little clichéd, but this really would be the only fault I could find, and, if it were a case of positives vs. negatives, positives would win without question.

 

 

 

 

Sister- Rosamund Lupton

I discovered this book through the whatshouldireadnext website, having typed in Gone Girl as a previous read. This website was recommended to me a few years ago by my A-Level English teacher, and I use it quite frequently to decide what to read next (as the website’s name would suggest). On paper, Sister fulfilled all the criteria of a book I would enjoy, but still I did have some reservations about the book before I started reading, but only because I had never head of the author, Rosamund Lupton, before, though that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

 

At first, I wasn’t sure whether I liked the narrator, and not because she was designed to be disliked- I simply found her irritating. However, I think this was more out of not really understanding her situation for the first couple of pages, and once I had, she ceased to bother me- I think anyone can be forgiven for being a little annoying after finding out that their sister has disappeared. In fact, I soon became completely invested in Beatrice’s character, actually able to see parts of myself in her, being driven and very close to my two sisters myself.  This sort of bond that I established with Beatrice early on in the narrative meant that I was rooting for her in all of the difficult encounters she experiences in the process of unveiling the truth behind her sister’s disappearance- even when other characters try to frame her as mentally unstable, and when she is perhaps unfair towards those who care about her.

However, the narrative was richer than simply the story of a girl’s disappearance. The sinister medical trial, and the convenient coincidences of the health care system and hospital staff helps to give the story a lot more structure, as well as forcing the reader to question everyday life- can we really trust the medical system we put our faith in? Is all what is makes out it is?

What I did really love about this book is that I did not see the end coming. In fact, at any point that I thought I had figured out the mystery of the narrative, Lupton managed to introduce another element that brought me back to having no idea. It was this that meant I devoured the book in just a few days- I was so desperate to find out what had actually happened to Tess and who, if anyone, else was involved- and I liked that I didn’t find out until the penultimate paragraph because it kept me interested until the very end. Actually, even by the final word of the book, I was not completely confident in what had happened- but I quite liked that I could decide this for myself.

I also liked the way that Beatrice, the narrator, uses her missing sister as the audience for the narrative. I think this is what meant I could identify with her so well, as I was placed in the position of someone so close to her. This narrative style is also tied up perfectly at the very end of the book, which suggests that the whole point of the book was that Beatrice wished to prove to her sister that she never gave up on her.

I really would find it very hard to criticise this book- it is truthfully one of the best I have read in a while. I felt that all characters were well-developed and there for a purpose, rather than to simply fill a narrative gap. If you are looking for a book that hooks you from the very first pages and continues to surprise you until the end, give Sister  a read

 

 

 

The Kite Runner- Khaled Hosseini

I first read this book as part of my English A-level a few years ago, and I loved it then. However, instead of reading the book for the sole purpose of passing an exam on it, I actually wanted to read it again in order that I could enjoy it for its literary beauty, without needing to make notes on key themes and motifs. Even when I was reading this book at sixth form, I didn’t want to put it down, and that didn’t change this time around.

 

The reader is immediately hooked into the narrative by the end of the short first chapter, where Amir refers back to his past, and his reflective nature instantly makes him a likeable character, so the reader can identify with him from the beginning of the book. Another thing that begins from the very first few pages is the emotional roller coaster that the reader is taken on- sentiments dart drastically from hope, to fear, to sheer devastation in the space of just a handful of paragraphs.  

 

The Kite Runner beautifully shows how relationships, whether these are family, friendships, or amorous, can affect an individual. It also displays how these relationships can differ, not only from one culture to another, but also from one individual to another: it gets into the nitty gritty of what human nature it and, whilst this can be incredibly harrowing, it is most interesting.

 

The non-chronological narrative style of The Kite Runner really works to show the chaos felt by characters, not only within themselves, but also in the country they reside in. I like how Hosseini moves the perspective back and forth, because it makes the events within the narrative all the more vivid and heart wrenching. In fact, it is the knowing that the events Hoseinni recounts, such as the half-time ‘entertainment’ (if anyone could really call it that), did actually, and to some extent still do, take place, in parts of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

 

I think what makes The Kite Runner such an impressive novel (though I feel that ‘impressive’ doesn’t quite express how much it impressed me), is the real sense of authenticity throughout it. Not only is it authentic with regards to the history and politics of the physical and temporal setting, it is also authentic in the way that the characters seem so genuine- especially those of Amir and Hassan. I truly get the impression that the book’s characters come from deep in Hosseini’s heart, and that each and every one of them mean something important to him in one way or another.

 

From the very first to the very last page, Hosseini’s attention to detail, literary genius and tact is truly astounding. Even when I was disgusted by some of the events that took place, I was simultaneously awestruck by the author’s ability to portray such horrifying things in such a beautiful way, without making anything appear grotesque or sensationalised. Nothing ever felt exaggerated or unnecessary, I got the impression that, to Hosseini, every word in the book had a purpose, and had been considered carefully before it was written.
To conclude, I would not simply recommend this book, I would actively encourage everyone to read The Kite Runner. It taught me so much about the horrors of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, but also about human nature and about myself through my reactions to what I was reading. I genuinely don’t believe that I have ever been so impressed by a contemporary author, nor so compelled to read more of their work- and I cannot wait to read A Thousand Splendid Suns now, either.