- Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
Although I've seen this book on shelves before, I decided to read this book a few months ago because it was on AV Club's list of best books in the last decade and because it sounded right up my alley (in it's vague mysterious lightly sci-fi trappings plot, not because the dude has a Japanese name. He's Japanese born but grew up in England, and this book takes place in England, feels very English, and is very much written in English. Unbelievably to some, I do have interests outside of Japan.) I finally got around to it only recently even though I've had a copy since Christmas.
I actually don't want to talk about the plot (at all), because what I liked most about the novel is Ishiguro's maddeningly sparse and infrequent dolling out of clues about the book, even though from the beginning you have a sense that everything about the world this book inhabits is somehow different without any explicit signs to that effect, but you hardly get a clue as to what it is until well past the halfway point, and you don't really understand what it's all about until just about the very end. The novel is incredibly tragic, which is about as spoiler-y as I'm going to get (and with a title like Never Let Me Go, I mean, c'mon, you're just asking for a tragedy here). It's not a terribly long book, and I get so wrapped up in it I read the last third or so in one breathless sitting.
Also, do not go to the Wikipedia page to learn about this book. You read like the first sentence of the plot description and the whole book is basically ruined. So don't do it. However, do read the novel. It was subtle and beautiful and heartbreaking and basically all-around awesome.
- Hotel Iris, Yoko Ogawa
Hotel Iris is about a 17 year-old girl who works at her family's seaside hotel, domineered by her cold mother and the ten-year-old memories of a dead, alcoholic father (was that an awkward sentence? Her dad died ten years ago and he was pretty much a dead-beat). She gets involved with a late-middle-aged translator who also has a history of loss in his personal life, who she meets when he gets kicked out late one night of her hotel with a prostitute. Then it gets darker and really twisted. I haven't been this emotionally sickened by a book since Ryu Murakami's Piercing (although that novel made me feel much, much worse in comparison to this one. *shudder*).
The book is really short, which makes you expect some tight, honed-in writing. However, I think the novel, frankly, is underdeveloped. I hardly got a sense of the characters besides these big, awful events in their lives and I felt a lot of their motivations/feelings were underdeveloped. The book is about love (I guess, in it's twisted way) and maybe love is indescribable and unknowable, but in this case that feels more like an excuse than a reason for the unclear writing. (Oo, nice. I'm gonna be using that line somehow).
- The Magicians, Lev Grossman
This book was on AV Club's best books of 2009, and I reserved a copy of it at the library on a whim. I think I was 43 on the queue (people be reading this book!), so I didn't get it until about a week ago. I started reading it two days ago. It's 400 pages. I read the last 250 or so pages in one sitting from about 8am this morning until about 1pm with only a break to drive home from the train station and eat lunch. I absolutely could not put down this book. It was awesome.
A lazy description I've seen online is that it's an "adult Harry Potter", which, admittedly, for three words is not altogether inaccurate. It's basically about a teenager in Brooklyn who hates real life and SHOCK discovers that magic is REAL like in his favorite books and is whisked away to learn magic at a secret university. But oh my goodness it is so much more than that.
There are many things that make this book work so well, and raise it so much further above a fantasy book and into the realm of "literature". For one, it exists in our world, that already has Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, which allows Grossman to both utilize these references in his writing and acknowledge them both in the frame of the novel and within the novel itself. For two, the characters are deeply flawed people. They're real. They're immature teens and twenty-somethings who want nothing more than to get drunk, have sex, and dick around with their magic powers, (as we all would if we had those kinds of powers). The main character, although sympathetic, is
The only flaws to the novel are some pacing issues (the book goes through all four years of his time at magic university and then some). But the novel is a honest look at what it really would be like if magic existed, consequences and all, as well as an honest look at the real-world stuff, like depression, the messiness of love and relationships, and learning to grow the hell up. The novel might not capture you if you didn't grow up reading/loving things like Harry Potter and the Narnia books (like I did), but I definitely think it's worth reading because it is so very real, even in it's unreality.