Anne Michaels ‘Fugitive Pieces’

My ‘To Read’ shelf on Goodreads is totally random and I would have hard time to remember exactly why one or the other book found its way there. ‘Fugitive Pieces’, however, entered the list very consciously and was on and off on my mind for a while. So imagine my joy when I spotted it in a tattered bike rental/book shop last time I visited Budapest. It was a well used copy but I knew immediately Id take it no matter what.
There are some covers that catch my attention big time and this was one of those cases. I cannot say exactly what it is I am drawn to in this one but I find it very beautiful.
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What is also beautiful is the writing in this book. Anne Michaels is a poet and it shows. I loved her language so much and often had to really restrain myself not to write down a quote after quote. And that, to be honest, was the best part of the book to me. I am a sucker for a good quote and if it hits home I will love it forever.
Unfortunately, I was not a big fan of the book itself. If it wasn’t for my love of the quotes, I would have given it a 2 star rating, which is a curious situation.
My main problem was the lack of credibility and failure to relate to the characters. There is a second narrator introduced towards the end of the novel but his voice was so alike to the first narrator that I had to repeatedly remind myself it was another person speaking. Also, I did not like at all the relationships these two male narrators have with the women in their lives. I was actually surprised a woman wrote that. Aaaaand, why did she have to kill the main protagonist in such a fashion?.. So pointless.. (This is not a spoiler, because it happens on the first page of the book).
Some of my favourite quotes:
*She wore the characters in her face as she read.
*A biography of longing.
*When I woke, my anguish was specific: the possibility that it was as painful for them to be remembered as it was for me to remember them.
*Athos’s stories gradually veered me from my past. Night after night, his vivid hallucinogen dripped into my imagination, diluting memory.
*His knobbly arthritic hands trembled as he reached deliberately for a fig or a lemon, holding one at a time. In those days of scarcity his shaking care seemed appropriate, acknowledgement of the value of a single plum.
*I stood in the valleys and imagined the grief of the hills.
*Some stones are so heavy only silence helps you carry them.
*And later, when I began to write down the events of my childhood in a language foreign to their happening, it was a revelation. English could protect me; an alphabet without memory.
*In his desk, I found a packet of letters…. The intimacy that death forces on us.
*The silence of the empthy flat pressed in on me with the weight of self-pity.
*The clutter of hibernation.
*I remembered how my classmates and I used to squeeze the slush between our boots, draining the water, leaving little molehills of white ice. We worked industriously until the schoolyard was a miniature range of mountains.
*Yet at the same time as she was disappearing, she seemed to become more than her body. And that’s when I realized how deeply Naomi’s daughterly attentions were injuring me, each small jar of scented hand lotion, each bottle of perfume, each nightgown. Not to mention the distress evoked by the futility of objects that outlast us.
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Sigitas Parulskis ‘Prieš mirtį norisi švelnaus’

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This year I went for the first time to the Vilnius Book Fair, something that I have been planning to do for years and years and always managed to fail. It was there that I realized that I know close to nothing about local writers, particularly modern ones. It made me feel embarrassed and less Lithuanian somehow, so I resolved to read more about Lithuanian literature.
Soon after that I picked up Simonaityte’s trilogy and was smitten. Then I got myself a book of one of the most famous Lithuanian modern writers – Sigitas Parulskis. I had heard a lot of things about him and not all good. I was intrigued and so I went to his reading which took place in the fair. It was seriously the most funny event I attended in ages. He came in feeling sick and made a big joke out of that but in such a way where you felt like you were peaking into someone’s bedroom, listening to someone’s private conversation. The audience felt embarrassed yet entertained and I thought right there and then that this was one interesting and uninhibited man.
My choice of  ‘Prieš mirtį norisi švelnaus’ (literally – one wishes for something tender before death) was very random and I’m afraid not the best. The book contains a lot of short stories about whatever catches author’s attention and I found them to be too short and rather disengaging. Also, half of them I honestly did not understand. But the other half.. The other half made me feel again like stalking someone’s most private thoughts. It caught me unawares and embarrassed me, it told me about things that I already had within me but would have never dared to tell anyone. It was refreshing, brave, honest and uninhibited. Exactly what I expected it to be after seeing the author himself. Next I want to pick up one of his novels, read his work that is finished and complete, to meet him again in his writing.
I was wondering for a while why he is involved in all the public things like going to fairs, giving readings and interviews as he does not strike me as the type. And then I found written somewhere that he’d love to stay away from that but he needs money. Ha! He actually says that he is a person who talks about things that are uncomfortable but true. My ears are wide open.

Haruki Murakami ‘Norwegian Wood’

First thing I did before starting this iconic book was listen to the Beatles’ song from which it took its title. I did not know at the time, but one can assume, of course, that music plays a very important part in this story.

You have to be careful when approaching Murakami because somehow you feel like you have to like him, and if you don’t, you feel rather sad and miserable about it. At least I did when I read Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage and found myself completely unimpressed. I have read Sputnik Sweetheart and After Dark before and both I remember liking more than this recent creation of his. Actually, I’m pretty sure I also read South of the Border, West of the Sun, though I have no proof of that. I know this sounds weird but it’s because I haven’t introduced you to my weak memory yet.. (that’s why I’m in love with Goodreads!). So, I have been delaying Norwegian Wood but it was the loudest book in my TBR stack. The cover of my edition is bright red, so there goes mystery, but anyhow it found it’s way through all the other books to the top.

I was sceptical when I started and I remained sceptical until well half into the book. I texted G numerous times complaining how the same themes seem to appear in Murakami’s books. Somebody vanishing without a trace and for no apparent reason, a suicide or two, and somebody absolutely has to have a mental illness of some sorts. The main character is a loner that nobody seems to understand but generally is a very likable individual, unexplainable ending (aargh!) and so on. So I read on for a while with two stars firmly hanging in my head when suddenly, half way through, a third one appeared. And I am not sure why and how it happened, but I started looking forward to reading this book. The text was a pleasant melody that somewhat matched really well the sounds of rain behind my window and the semi-blue mood I have been in lately and the darkness of the evenings starting earlier and earlier. It got to me and it just worked and so, when I saw that one of my friends was giving away Kafka on the Shore, I felt surprisingly excited to snatch it.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ‘Americanah’

I don’t particularly enjoy self-learning books and thus you wont find any of those on my bookshelf (when I have a real one, that is..). But every fictional book I read teaches me something, or reminds me of something. Some more than others and ‘Americanah’ falls into the more category. I don’t think I have really read books written by a black person before. Well, at least not consciously, with the exception of Toni Morrison. And let me tell you what a revelation it was! I don’t get to face race issues much in Lithuania as we are primarily white here and if you happen to see a visitor of another colour you cannot help it but stare. And how could you not? What with human curiosity and all.

There were many things that forced me to pause in this book and wonder. I tried to place myself in the shoes of the main protagonist but it was hard. I don’t think I can really comprehend it, however much I try. The only times when I felt even remotely similar were in Morocco but the discrimination I felt there was mainly because of my gender and not my skin colour. Well, primarily gender. I don’t remember ever being so angry and helpless and very very disappointed with the human race as I was that time in the streets of a beautiful Moroccan town when I was being chased by a local man and called names because I dared to stop him from luring my travel companion (a male) to some little side street to ‘sell’ something. The dar where we stayed in Fes offered us a guide and we accepted it only to be dragged from shop to shop. When I told the guide we do not need his services anymore he was furious. I could see that he could barely control himself, to be told off by a woman. In one of the shops where he took us the owner could not comprehend how dare I not buy a carpet from him. When I tried to explain politely, that a. I don’t need a carpet, b. I travel with a carry-on, c. I certainly don’t want to ship that said carpet that I don’t want home, he launched into this outraged speech how if I can afford travelling then I can certainly buy a carpet from him and how dare I not appreciate their art. Huh? Ok, I should stop here, as I could go on and on about this.

In ‘Americanah’ I could sense the same helpless anger boiling. To be treated worse because you do not conform. Because you are different. Not because of what you have done but because of how you look.

It was a pleasure to see another side of Nigeria because until then I had only dealt with it in terms of dating scams through my previous work. I learned a lot about hair of black females that surprisingly felt like one of the characters in this book. I also learned that we should not be afraid of the word black because why would somebody say an apple is green when it’s actually red?

I enjoyed this book so much because of the world that it opened up to me that I could totally overlook some of the things in the actual story that didn’t sit well with me. It felt like it was written mainly as a backdrop for social issues and so it was not very strong. It felt too long and there were so many characters that only appeared once that half way through you would get impatient when yet another name would be introduced. There was so much anger in the main protagonist too, so much judgement for others that it made it hard to actually like her. That said, I would very much like to meet her anyway.

I haven’t done this for a while, but now I felt like sharing some of the quotes that caught my eye in this book:

*How was it possible to miss something you no longer wanted?
*She had taught her son the ability to be, even in the middle of a crowd, somehow comfortably inside himself.
*It was late autumn, the trees had grown antlers <…>
*<…> and Mariama, all the time smiling a smile full of things restrained.
*She began to like him because he liked her.
*There was a feeling I wanted to feel that I did not feel.
*He had discovered that grief did not dim with time; it was instead a volatile state of being.

Louise Erdrich ‘The Bingo Palace’

This is my second book by Louise Erdrich and that in itself is a rather rare thing, because I tend to read a mix of authors rarely coming to the same one. I have been looking forward to this book and I’m afraid those expectations didn’t serve it well.. It started rocky as I felt like watching some TV series from the middle. There were so many names and references to things long past I couldn’t help but be bored and lost. Then it picked up in the middle, mainly because of the beauty of Erdrich’s language, but unfortunately, the book lost me completely towards the end. Particularly with one of the last scenes where Lipsha is so stupidly stealing the stuffed bird and, by accident, a baby too. To me, there was no point in the whole scene and it irritated me to no end..
However, the main thing that amazed me (and not in a positive way) was the same issue I mentioned before – the lack of connection I felt to the characters. None of them touched me. I was not happy with them, I didn’t feel their suffering for unrequited love, I didn’t feel their pain when they were hurting. I could not relate in any way and so the book felt flat. I did enjoy the language, though, because Erdrich is a very skilled and original writer.
Having heard so many good things about her other books, and seeing that G did not appreciate too much the two that I have read so far as well, I believe I will give Erdrich another chance. The last one, though.

José Luís Peixoto ‘The Piano Cemetery’

This book was G‘s choice for Portugal last year and ever since I heard about it I wanted to read it. Firstly, because of the title, secondly, because it is set in Lisbon and I love Lisbon, and thirdly, because it is set in Benfica, where I have been myself. I wanted to read it even after G disliked it. And so I as soon as the opportunity presented itself, G passed this book on to me, which I was very happy about.

It started rocky though. I was not a fan of the first 100 pages and thought I will not be able to finish the book. I took a break and read other two books in between that I didnt like that much. So coming back to the ‘The Piano Cemetery’ didnt feel so bad, truth to be told. I was resolved to finish it. And as I kept at it, I started to understand things. I felt like I finally distinguished the narratives and thus could follow the story of this family better. The characters grew on me, their story emerging in bits of narratives without any chronological order. It was fun to piece them together and try to place them in the right sequence, a bit like a puzzle. I like puzzles! Sometimes I would go back to some certain passage to get a better idea what the one I was reading really meant. Eventually I couldnt stop reading and stayed up till 2am just to finish it. I woke up with one thought – there are three narrators in this book, why does everybody say there are two? So I did some research and it didnt make sense. So I started reading the book again this time paying close attention to narrators. And let me tell you that I did not become any wiser.. As far as I can tell, there are three Franciscos. There is a father of four who dies – Francisco1. There is his youngest son the runner who dies while running the marathon – Francisco2. There is the son of the marathon runner who gets hold of his father’s medals only when he is a grown up himself and thus learns about his family – Francisco3. The trickiest part of the narration is the youth of Francisco1 and Francisco3. Because they overlap. Both Franciscos have uncles with one blind eye. Both have fathers that died before they were born. And both fathers were runners? I need help here..

Kazuo Ishiguro ‘The Remains of the Day’

I am often lost when I need to grade books. Do I evaluate the plot or language or how it makes me feel and what I take from it? How do I even manage to untangle myself from ‘but this is a great writer’, ‘everybody loves it’, ‘it’s got 4 on GD!’? I think at the end you have to be honest with yourself. Were you actually enjoying it? Were you thinking about reading it instead of doing anything else? Did you love the characters? Did the characters make you feel anything towards them? Did you feel great when you finished the book? Did you feel like you wanted it to go forever or was it more like checking every few pages how much you have left?

So, in all my honesty, I did not enjoy the book. I noticed and appreciated the beauty of it and the way it was created and I think I did understand the point of it too but it left me where it found me. I was eager to move on to the other book I had started a while ago and didnt even enjoy that much before picking this one up.. I guess that says a lot. But why do I feel so guilty? 🙂