Christopher Boon – The Passing of the Forms that we have Loved

It is inevitable that throughout our lives that we meet people. Some disappear from our lives, some reappear and some we lose. This is so ingrained in ourselves that we take it for granted that life’s passage involves meeting people and cultivating friendships. Christopher Boon’s debut novel, The Passing of the Forms that we have Loved expands on the meaning of close relationships and how it affects us.

The book starts off with the narrator meeting a girl and documents his burgeoning relationship, at the same time his father is dying of cancer. During this period an old friend the narrator’s turns up, which bring out a new set of emotions. To add more, there’s also the main protagonist’s mother, who he cares for. One could say the rest of the book details the narrators’ struggle to control this emotional onrush.

Leaving aside the Laurentian plot, The Passing’s main strength is that the writing is gorgeous. This is writing that goes beyond anything you have seen and that is not an exaggeration. Christopher Boon can take something simple as the flickers of first love, or walking down a corridor or even lifting up a heavy object and make it sound like the most poetic, evocative action to grace humankind. Obviously on the more complex scenes, the style becomes even more awe inspiring. One stand out scene takes place in a nudist beach and I just love the way that both the flaws and perfections of the body are given equal space. The former never being described in a derogatory way and the latter is never hypersexualised. To hammer my point home, this book contains some mighty beautiful prose.

As the title states, all things must pass. Aside from the death in the beginning, the narrator experiences all the people in his life going by him until he makes a decision which will really remove him from his current situation, and inevitably and new cycle of relationships will probably start.

The Passing of the Forms is not only a book about complex relations but one about the paradox of time and life itself : as it does evolve and yet it is repetitive. It’s also about how certain actions can shape one’s future. The main protagonist is trying to move on and yet he is stuck as his past keeps returning and then when he makes a rash decision, other complications occur due to his past relationships. Coupled with the sensuous prose just elevates this novel. For such prose to stir such emotions makes The Passing of the Forms that we have Loved a special novel.

Many thanks to époque for providing a copy of The Passing of Forms that we have Loved

Taffy Brodesser-Akner – Fleishman is in Trouble

I am not one to boast but generally my reading quota is 100 pages a day. Now I never look at page numbers obsessively but when I’m reading and feeling a bit tired I do like to see which page I’m on and usually it’s 98 or 101 etc.

With Fleishman is in Trouble, I would feel exhausted after 40/50. Thus this novel took a week. Obviously that’s not a bad thing but my slow paced, time consuming reads are for authors who have a difficult writing style, such as Pynchon or David Foster-Wallace. Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s style is accessible but it is tiring.

Laborious style aside, did I actually like the book? I will say straight away that it is both yes and no. I’ll talk about the good parts.

I remember one booktuber DNFing the book saying that he didn’t want to read about white man problems. In a way he is right but if this booktuber continued to read a bit more. there is depth.

The main plot focuses on Toby Fleishman. He’s in the process of finalising a divorce from his wife, Rachel. However, for some strange reason, after leaving their two kids with Toby, Rachel disappears.

As simple as it may sound Taffy Brodesser-Akner includes other elements, the book is also a commentary on online dating, the dynamics of marriage and what it means to fall in love. The thing is, and this is where the book is totally different, the narrator is Toby’s college friend Elizabeth, who is detailing her own marriage in the process. Thus the book may superficially be seen as white man problems, deep down it’s about the womanhood, what it means to observe the crumbling of a marriage from that perspective. Furthermore in the third part of the book things go a bit Fates and Furies and we see Rachel’s take on her marriage to Toby. I thought this was well executed.

The problems that occur, besides the plodding prose is that there is a lot of unnecessary detail. Bubbles the dog, although does have some significance is an underdeveloped idea. One of Toby’s relationships drags on. The social media criticism is good but other than a brief reappearance at the end is dropped off as the narrative gets more twisty. All this results in an uneven read, which borders on the dull.

In a way Fleishman is in Trouble is not a bad book but it does feel like a first novel. I do hope Taffy Brodesser-Akner does continue writing fiction as her ability to pull off multi-layered, thoughtful plots with ease is an enviable skill.

Julián Fuks , Daniel Hahn (Translator) – Occupation

Occupation is the second part of Julián Fuks loose autobiographical trilogy. In the previous volume, resistance Fuks spoke about his sibling relations with his family’s escape from Argentina. This time round the scope is more kaleidoscopic, using different narrative voices,

The book is divided roughly into 3 plots. One is about Fuks alter ego Sebastián interviewing refugees in an apartment block. Another plot concerns Sebastián’s upcoming fatherhood, while at the same time he is losing his own father to sickness.

Despite this structural difference, Resistance’s themes of displacement are still present in Occupation: A lot of the chapters are dedicated to the refugees stories and how they had to move out their countries and their ongoing ways of adapting to South America.

In Resistance Fuks stated that he felt like an outsider and in Occupation as he is going to be a father, he feels that he is alienated again, we all know that a child is a bit life change and Sebastián is not sure that he is cut out for fatherhood, at the same time his link to his father is casting him further adrift. By the end of the book, there is a meta moment as Sebastián receives a letter from no other than African author Mia Couto (who also praises this book). A total surprise and has sparked my interest in the direction the third part ( out in 2023) will take.

Although Occupation shares it’s themes with it’s previous volume, I think it is thematically richer and has more ideas. I do suggest that reading both Resistance and Occupation back to back is recommended as one can see the progression between both volumes.

Many thanks to Charco for providing a copy of Occupation

Julián Fuks, Daniel Hahn (Translator) – Resistance

In the great vein of Bukowski and Fante, Julián tells his stories using an alter ego, Sebastian. Like the two authors mentioned Fuks also talks about his childhood and the political environment, however, whereas Bukowski and Fante focused on the more sordid aspects of their lives, almost verging into comedic territory, Julián Fuks takes a more philosophical bent.

The majority of Resistance questions sibling relationships. Before Sebastian and his sister were born, his parents adopted a boy and his validity as a brother puzzles Sebastian. Should someone adopted be called a brother? are the parents of an adopted child really parents? At what point should an adopted child be accepted and should the adopted child accept?

The backdrop of the book is the Argentina Junta and how it affected his family, thus a theme of separation and adaptation runes throughout the book, which ties in with the adopted theme; when one is in a new country aren’t they ‘adopted’ as well? – to accentuate Fuks goes into the roots of his surname, which are European, which means his forebears were migrants as well.

In this brief novel, Fuks brings up more concepts and themes: memory, displacement, even the act of telling a story are part of the book’s focus. As this is part of a planned trilogy , the second part, Occupation will be reviewed tomorrow, I am curious to see how Julián Fuks will continue this interesting slice of autofiction.

John Boyne – The Echo Chamber

Before I began this review my initial first thought on John Boyne’s latest novel is:

This is going to make a lot of people angry.

Then I changed it to:

This will make certain people angry.

Being in my early 40’s I have seen the rise of the World Wide Web and the introduction of social media sites: Hi5, Myspace, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (sorry I never liked Snapchat and I just can’t get into Tik Tok – yet) However in the past two years, especially on Twitter and Instagram stories I’ve noticed a new breed of people cropping up; they are self-righteous, quick to act aggressive if an opinion does not match with theirs and get all their education from memes, which they share and follow as the gospel truth. Furthermore copies are now scared of these people so when someone voices an opinion that is ‘wrong’ that person may be out of a job as that company does not want their reputation tarnished.

These Twitter-folk are the basis of John Boyne’s The Echo Chamber. The story itself is simple: TV personality, George Cleverley, mistakenly uses the wrong pronoun when speaking about a transwoman on Twitter. This erupts into an internet scandal of colossal proportions. Meanwhile the rest of The Cleverley family also have their problems; Beverley, George’s wife is an author of pulpy romances who does not write her own books, Daughter Elizabeth lives for social media, alongside her woke boyfriend Wilkes, although the former shitposts on witter under a pseudonym, son Nelson has problems accepting his sexuality and youngest son, Achilles is a con artist. With the exception of Beverley and Nelson , social media plays a big role in these people’s lives, however they all suffer the brunt of it.

Although John Boyne’s message is clear : Social Media is basically a method for a lot of people to validate their existence get rid of it and life will be better, he does not take sides. Take Wilkes. I have met a TON of people like him – righteous, does stuff for social media, wants to be gender fluid but one can see it’s because he thinks it’s fashionable (before anyone says something may I remind you that Bernardine Evaristo talks about the same thing in Girl, Woman Others ) and yet by the end of the book he comes to a realization and redeems himself. All the Cleverleys are not the best people but they learn and try to improve. I do like that sort of balance.

As the book is a satire, there are a lot of laughs but if one digs a bit, one can see that The Echo Chamber is about a lot of serious topics, ranging from sexism in the media, the lack of education in younger generations, being an authentic author to politics. There’s a lot going but John Boyne is a skilled writer and the book is a page turner. Incidentally satirist Jonathan Coe gets a side mention and I can see why. Jonathan Coe as also satirized the influence of media in both What a Carve up! and Number Eleven, I would dare say that The Echo Chamber is a natural successor.

I felt a lot of anger in The Echo Chamber (it is actually based on events John Boyne went through due to a book he published) and I related to these sentiments as well. I also feel that there is a nasty side to social media and no matter how hard I try to avoid it, I constantly am tired of the righteous preaching and name calling. Obviously it can be used positively (I have had authors contact me which brought some wonderful books into my life) but I still feel that there is a long way to go. A lot of people may be annoyed at The Echo Chamber but if it helps them realise that their behaviour is toxic then that’s always a good thing.

Many thanks to Doubleday for providing a copy of The Echo Chamber

The 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction Winner Prediction

Finally after a long wait the Women’s Prize for Fiction will be announcing their winner on the 8th September. This year’s shortlist is practically faultless (bar one) so I’ll be happy with any of the winners. However the book I liked the most, and the one I hope wins is:

Here’s my review

A perfect novel. Hands down. What do you think?

Many thanks to the Women’s Prize Foundation for letting me use their logo

Carmel Doohan – Seesaw

If I were to summarise Carmel Doohan’s novel using one picture, it would have to be this:

For those who do not know this is Diane Arbus’ Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967. A photograph about identity between identical twins. As one can see one is smiling, while the other is frowning. The point being that although the twins look the same, there is an attempt to project their individualism.

This sort of tension is a running theme during the book.

Another touchstone is Dziga Vertov’s 1929 film, Man with a Movie Camera, a film which consists of a number of images (including twins). The book’s style is not dissimilar. Both the picture and the film are mentioned in Seesaw

The book’s narrator is Siobhan, who has a partner called Tom. We readers discover that Siobhan freezes whenever Tom wants to have sex with her and was previously in a relationship with a girl, Chloe. Both relationships are important in getting an insight into Siobhan’s character. Due to the book’s structure: a series of loosely connected paragraphs, all this information is revealed to the reader in bits and pieces.

However, the focal point of Seesaw is Siobhan’s relationship with her twin sister, Sinéad. As the book progresses a lot of Siobhan’s problems are linked to her. At first Siobhan speaks about the novelty of being a twin: switching classes, fooling people, wearing the same clothes but also she notices that despite the similarities both twins have different characters as one is more outgoing while the other is reserved. This leads to Siobhan’s dissociation with her twin and there are times when both meet and argue.

One of Seesaw’s highlights is when Sinéad takes Siobhan to an art gallery and they come across the picture of Diane Arbus’ Twins and there they discuss a traumatic incident which affected both sisters in different ways, which may mean that although Siobhan is trying her hardest to forge an identity, identical twins still have a strong connection between themselves.

Seesaw is not only a novel about identity and sibling relations. It is one of gender and mental health. Through the use of metaphors, trivia about pop culture and symbolic encounters, Carmel Doohan has created a complex character who is trying to find their way in the world, and complicated one at that. The mixed up jigsaw puzzle feel of the book also helps understand the many things that are going on in Siobhan’s mind. To continue on the jigsaw analogy, the more we read the more we understand about Siobhan’s life. Not to mention that the prose is crisp and highly readable.

Without mincing any words, Seesaw is excellent. It is captivating and interesting. I will guarantee that the reader will learn a lot of things in the process and, as someone who has never been a twin. I got a lot of interesting insight into them as well. The novel’s publisher, CB Editions has released many interesting and mind bending books in the past but Seesaw might be their best one too date.

Many thanks to CB Editions for providing a copy of Seesaw

The 2021 Booker Prize Shortlist Predictions

On September 14th The Booker Prize Shortlist will be announced, which means it’s time for a prediction post! This year will be a bit difficult as I liked a lot of the books (I’ve read 10 so far). Also this year’s Booker longlist consisted of experimental novels and more conventional ones. Now this could go either way: six experimental or six conventional or a mixture. My prediction list is a mixture. Anyway enough of my waffle. Here we go:

Here are my reasons:

1. The Promise – Damon Galgut. Interesting style, complex and still a great story

2. The Fortune Men – Nadifa Mohamed. Themes of racism , singular writing style, historical novel with a difference

3. China Room – Sunjeev Sahota. Excellent structure, I liked the writing, complex characters, multi-layered plot.

4. A Passage North – Anuk Arudpragasm. Philosophical, thought provoking, Style-wise the book stands out

5. No One is Talking About this – Patricia Lockwood. Topical, experimental another unique novel

6. bewilderment – Richard Powers. Because it’s Richard Powers.

Also Booktuber Zimm Reads set up a Booker related poll/questionnaire. Fill it in. It’s fun! Click here (no worries only the answers to the questions will be shared)

Many thanks to The Booker Foundation for letting me use their logo