Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never_Let_Me_Go

Having wanted to read Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro for several years, I have finally done so after picking up a copy from my local independent cinema – they have a book swap shelf in the bar. I have read one other Ishiguro novel (An Artist of the Floating World) several years ago and enjoyed it, and there was something about Never Let Me Go that really caught my eye. Whether this was the title or comments I had heard about it (notwithstanding the Booker Prize shortlisting), I’m not sure, but I had been on the lookout for a copy for a long time.

Never Let Me Go is set in a modern dystopian England, and although the timeframe is not clarified I had the impression that it starts out in the mid ‘90s. I’m not really sure exactly why I placed the novel in this particular decade; I suppose the novels general feel coupled with references to such items like a cassette Walkman placed my views as such. The novel is narrated by Kathy and centres on her experiences, with her two best friends, of growing up in a boarding school/care home environment, Hailsham School. Continue reading

The Children Act and On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

the-children-act          On_Chesil_Beach-Ian_McEwan

I have recently read The Children Act by Ian McEwan for book group and this inspired me to then immediately re-read On Chesil Beach. I have read quite a lot of Ian McEwan novels over the last 10 years, most are excellent (notably The Innocent, Enduring Love, and Atonement), some not so much (The Comfort of Strangers), so I was really looking forward to reading The Children Act. McEwan’s books can be split into two main categories, novels set in the modern day, and those set in the earlier part of the 20th Century. Continue reading

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

I first heard about ‘A Fine Balance’ by Rohinton Mistry about 6 months ago or so.  A friend mentioned that this is his wife’s favourite book, she is now a book group member.  I hadn’t any real plans to read it but when it was suggested at book group we decided to go for it.  ‘A Fine Balance’ is quite a long book, my copy is 614 pages of tiny text, so it was decided last November that we should read it ready for discussion in February, thus giving people plenty of time.  I’m not sure about the rest of the group but I don’t think we needed such a long lead in; I managed to plough through it in just less than 2 weeks!  This isn’t because I am a particularly quick reader, just that the book is so readable and I found myself reading it a lot.

The novel is set in 1970’s India, during the time of the ‘Emergency’.  This period of time was extremely volatile with huge amounts of poverty across the nation.  Violence was a part of everyday life fuelled by greed and corruption.  The story centres around four characters that come together due to personal circumstance and create an unlikely alliance, family-like in nature in order to survive.  A widow hires two tailors, an Uncle and Nephew, to work in her flat.  On the same day she takes in a lodger, a young student from the local college.  The four forge an unlikely friendship, and the story explores their relationships and their differences.  Each of the four have hardship thrust upon them, the two tailors more than most, and the novel follows these trials and how each person copes.

The thing that I liked most about A Fine Balance were the characters, the four main characters are very likable.  The book provides a really well rounded view of these people, who they are and where they have come from.  Each of the four has a mini-biography within the story so you can get a real sense of what they have already been through and how they came to this place in their lives.  There are also some very good incidental characters, some good people and some extremely unpleasant people – all well developed to enrich the story and the surroundings the main characters live in.  I really liked how the author uses coincidental meetings of characters; this certainly helped lighten the novel.

The book also reminded me a lot of ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ by John Steinbeck, not in its style, but in its content.  I mean this in the way that the characters come up against hardship upon hardship with hardly a moment for their lives to recover from the previous.  Just when you think things couldn’t be worse, they are.  This may be a reflection of what was going on in India at the time, but I also had the feeling that the author was trying to display the sheer volume of atrocities which could be seen on a daily basis; the characters had to be caught up by these events so that they could be written about.  Despite this, the book is often funny and uplifting in parts.

Although I did really enjoy this book, I do think that it is a bit too long, there were parts of the novel that I felt did not add anything further to these characters lives.  I can understand other people’s passion for this book and I am also sure that they would say that it’s not long enough!  This is how I feel about something like ‘The Stand’ by Stephen King, it is probably too long for some readers but I love it all the same.  If ‘A Fine Balance’ was a bit shorter I think I would like it even more.  I also found the book sometimes frenetic in the way the Uncle and Nephew moved from one crisis to another.  Someone suggested to me that this possibly is a stylised approach to the writing, an attempt to mirror the tailor’s rushed and altogether busy lives, however, I didn’t feel that this was the case.  When I was reading the novel it seemed that some of the ideas and scenarios the characters faced were rushed towards but in a structured way – the characters’ lives were never really reflected in the writing structure.  But that’s just my view on it – maybe I missed the point.

If it were not for book group I probably would not have read ‘A Fine Balance’, and I’m glad that I did.  A novel such as this is the very reason that I enjoy book group, and reading other members personal favourites is very interesting.  Overall I thought that it was very good, and I did really enjoy it. I would wholeheartedly recommend others to read it too.