Culture

Books of 2013: Chosen by You

And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

Words: Jasmine Freeman

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Khaled Hosseini has already made a name for himself in the literary world with his beautiful novels The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. However, do not begin this novel with any preconceived notions of his style. Hosseini switches it up this time, no longer solely concentrating on one main character. Instead, the book resembles a collection of short stories, each of the nine chapters told from the perspective of a different character. Hosseini does not stray too far from his usual classically heart-breaking subject choices. Focusing on family connections, the story centres on a brother and sister who become separated when the sister, Pari, is given to a wealthy couple.  Do not expect an easy read – And The Mountains Echoed is, at times, emotionally exhausting for the reader – but ultimately, as with Hosseini’s other novels, it is emotionally rewarding. Not only does it explore the universal theme of families and the way they wound, betray, nurture, honour and even sacrifice for one another, it provides another compelling, conflicted and complex portrait of his home country of Afghanistan to give the novel enormous gravity in the world today.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Words: Elouise Hobbs

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It is impossible not to lose yourself in the story of the Ursula Todd. She originally dies at birth but when events are altered, so that the doctor cuts her cord in time, she lives to lead a fulfilling life. She lives, that is, until she has a fatal accident, from which she dies yet is then reborn, leaving her to start her life again. The story continues in this manner. Her life repeats itself with small changes that make big differences. It is set in wartime Britain, forming a poignant backdrop to this tale of fate, as it is not only Ursula whose life is changed by little decisions; those fighting face fatal consequences with one false move too. The novel ultimately captures the fragile realities of life and death and the consequences of being able to correct those mistakes. It feels surreally realistic because it seems plausible to think of the endless possibilities and consequences of the many choices we make every day. It is interesting to see how even seemingly insignificant decisions can change your life in untold ways and it makes you think a little more about choices you would never have given a second thought to.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

Words: Jasmine Freeman

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The Luminaries has already broken records this year. It is the longest book (832 pages) to win the Man Booker Prize, and its author, Eleanor Catton, is the youngest Booker winner, aged just 28. Set in 1866, The Luminaries follows Walter Moody, a prospector who travels to New Zealand goldfields to try to make his fortune. There, he encounters a tense gathering of twelve local men meeting in secret to discuss a series of unexplained, unsolved crimes. Walter finds himself drawn into a complex mystery of linked fates and fortunes. What makes this book so incredible and arguably ground-breaking are the structural choices Catton makes. Each of the novel’s twelve parts decreases in length, mimicking the lunar cycle. The novel is organised according to astrological principles. Whilst each of the characters is associated with signs of the zodiac, or the sun and moon (the ‘luminaries’ of the book’s title), they also interact with each other according to the predetermined movement of the heavens. This novel surpasses an enjoyable read. It is an award winner because of the questions it asks and its creativity. Through its complex, intricate narrative, Catton questions what a novel is and what it can be, while still providing her readers with a story to curl up with on a cold winter’s night.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Words: Holly Marsh 

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If Steven King had written The Time Traveller’s Wife, it would have looked something like this. Certainly, Beukes’ The Shining Girls is nothing if not original. The morally inept Harper stumbles across a key in 1931, a key to a house containing a dead man and an assortment of girls’ names and possessions. Once he discovers the house’s ability to facilitate time travel, Harper sets out to visit these girls at various points in their timelines and brutally murder them. His crimes seem impossible to solve, and only one person is willing to try: the sole survivor.

Beukes’ concept is refreshingly different, if not overly contrived at times, and her narrative style is easy to read, incredibly blunt, and humorous in all the right places. It has all the beauty and simplicity Beukes displayed in Zoo City, and its intriguing jigsaw puzzle style is well rendered, providing a gripping insight into Harper’s psychosis (and its consequences) while driving the reader towards a satisfying denouement. Worth picking up merely because Beukes stretches the boundaries of convention to produce something that feels fresh, The Shining Girls is more than just a curiosity. If you are looking for something new, something different, this is it.

Unexploded by Alison Macleod

Words: Kirtey Verma

4.Unexploded’ by Alison Macleod

Long-listed for the 2013 Man Booker Prize, Alison Macleod’s novel Unexploded transports the reader to the state of paranoia present in Britain in 1940. Exquisitely written, Macleod tunes into the history of her native Brighton, a town that suffered under the agonising fear that it would be the first place that Hitler would invade. Macleod effortlessly weaves this fear into the fabric of her protagonist’s lives, causing tensions between the protagonists to simmer on the dark surface of the novel. At the heart of the novel is Evelyn Beaumont’s relationship with her husband and son, Geoffrey and Philip, and her encounter with Otto, a degenerate German-Jewish painter. Otto is a prisoner in Geoffrey’s internment camp but despite their initial distrust, sparks soon fly and culminate in a thrilling climax.

Fans of Virginia Woolf will appreciate this novel for its sheer depth. Flicking perspectives, the novel captures a range of human emotions: fear, love, and at times, total despair. This novel is not just a love story or a war story. It is a story of collisions. Fear collides with love, art with war and the characters are forced into making heart-breaking decisions that will affect the way they see each other for the rest of their lives.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Words: Kirsty Fardell

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Wonder is the heart-warming story of ten-year-old August, a boy born with a severe facial disfigurement. Having been home schooled all his life, the novel follows him and his family’s reluctant decision to send him to school and all of the hurdles he has to overcome in his first year. Although his facial disfigurement is never fully described, the severity is explained through the reactions people have to him at first glance, which is always echoed by August’s thoughts and feelings, tainted either with a hint of sadness or humour. The way he deals with the complicated children he meets will have you both in tears and pining for triumph, and the good fortune he sometimes receives mirrors the compassion you feel for such an innocent, humble and funny character. The narration takes you inside the mind of August as well as the classmates he meets, so you see how the other children perceive his disfigurement and feel the acts of kindness from every angle. Palacio brings out the importance of equality and acceptance of differences, as the disfigurement August has can be translated to something in all of us.

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