I nearly completed the What’s In a Name Challenge 2018, hosted by Charlie at The Worm Hole. The challenge ran from January to December. During that time the challenge was to read six books, each with a title including the following words:
A title that begins with Z – can be after ‘The’ or ‘A’
I began reading Zoo Time by Harold Jacobson early in the year, but it wasn’t appealing to me at the time and put it back on the shelf. Recently I’ve picked it up again but I’m not sure I shall carry on with it.
When Yu-jin wakes up covered in blood, and finds the body of his mother downstairs, he decides to hide the evidence and pursue the killer himself.
Then young women start disappearing in his South Korean town. Who is he hunting? And why does the answer take him back to his brother and father who lost their lives many years ago.
The Good Son by You-jeong Jeong, translated by Chi-Young Kim, is the first of her books to be translated into English. You-jeong Jeong is a South Korean writer of psychological crime and thriller fiction. She is the author of four novels including Seven Years of Darkness, which was named one of the top ten crime novels of 2015 by the German newspaper Die Zeit.
I thought that maybe I’d made a mistake in requesting The Good Son from NetGalley when I started reading it. And at 23% I was ready to abandon it – I was tired of reading about Yu-jin trying to get rid of all the blood in the apartment and on himself after he discovered his mother lying in a pool of blood – it was so repetitive and slow going. So I did something that I very rarely do and went to the end of the book to see if it was like that all the way through – and as it looked as though it wasn’t, I carried on reading.
This is a dark book, but although there is a lot of blood around at the start it isn’t actually a gory, blood and guts story. It’s a psychological did-he-do-it murder mystery. It’s tense and puzzling as Yu-jin tries to uncover what happened, at first unable to remember the events of the night before the murder. It’s written totally from Yu-jin’s perspective, so for most of the book it was as though I was reading his mind – and it’s a very strange, mixed up mind. He has difficulty with honesty and admits that he tells more lies than other people, which means that he can tell any kind of story in a believable way, and for a large part of this book I was willing to believe him, or to think the murder was all in his mind and that his mother wasn’t dead.
For years he had been taking pills which his mother told him were to control his epilepsy but he didn’t like the side effects so he had stopped taking them without telling his mother. Now he’s worried about having seizures and the blank spots in his memory are confusing him. As more of his past life is revealed in flashbacks I began to revise my opinion of him and wondered if he could have killed his mother. When he was nine his father and older brother had died in tragic circumstances that are only revealed later on in the book and even then there are different versions of what actually happened. It’s an intricate plot and just as soon as I thought I could see where it was going I realised that I’d been hoodwinked.
The book is set in South Korea, mainly in Incheon, a city south of Seoul but the main focus is on this dysfunctional family and their relationships. I’m glad I didn’t give up on the book at 23% as after that point the story picked up pace and it held my interest to the end. But it is certainly a dark and unsettling character study of a psychopath.
My thanks to the publishers, Little, Brown Book Group, for my review copy via NetGalley.
I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate atBooks Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.
This month the chain begins with The French Lieutenant’s Womanby John Fowles, a book I read and loved years ago but now I’ve forgotten most of the details – I’ve been meaning to re-read it for years.
But what I do remember is that it is a book with an alternative ending and what I first thought of for my first link is a book with no ending – The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens. It begins with a scene in an opium den where Jasper lies under the influence of several pipes of opium, trembling and almost incoherent from the visions that came to him.
Droodby Dan Simmons is also full of opium induced nightmares. In this book Drood is horrific, a half-Egyptian fiend who takes laudanum by the jugful. I didn’t enjoy this book – it’s too long, too wordy and full of unlikeable characters, but it does contain some vivid descriptions – the slums of London, the train accident at Staplehurst and the fantastical “Undertown” with its miles of tunnels, catacombs, caverns and sewers.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning: a biography by Margaret Forster reveals that from an early age Elizabeth took a tincture of opium (laudanum) prescribed to her for various illnesses, including ‘nervous hysteria‘. Elizabeth had a beloved spaniel, Flush, who shares her sickroom.
Agatha Christie also had a much loved dog and dedicated Dumb Witness to him. Poirot investigates the death of Miss Emily Arundell. The ‘dumb witness’ of the title is Bob, Emily’s wire-haired terrier. After Emily fell down the stairs, tripping over Bob’s ball, she was convinced her relatives were trying to kill her.
This brings me to Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller in which the main character, Captain John Lacroix, also takes opium and meets an Emily – Emily Frend, who is losing her sight. Lacroix, unable to face the memories of the horrors he experienced at the battle of Corunna is being tracked by Corporal Calley and a Spaniard, Lieutenant Medina, who have been ordered to kill him for his part in the battle.
My final link is to another book about a lieutenant and also linking back to the start of the chain. It’sThe Lieutenant by Kate Grenville, based on real events and set in 1788, about Daniel Rooke, a lieutenant and an astronomer with the First Fleet when it lands on the shores of New South Wales. Rooke gets to know the local Aboriginal people, and forges a remarkable connection with one child, which will change his life in ways he never imagined.
I like the circularity of this chain beginning and ending with books about lieutenants and containing a third book about yet another lieutenant. The chain passes through time and place from England in the 19th century to Australia in the 18th century, connected by the endings of books, opium addicts, a love of dogs and characters called Emily. I have read all the books except for The Lieutenant, which is one of my TBR books.
Next month (February 2, 2019), the chain begins with Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk.
Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.
When the Lilliputians first saw Gulliver’s watch, ‘that wonderful kind of engine … a globe, half silver and half of some transparent metal [glass!]’, they told themselves it had to be his god. After all, ‘he very seldom did anything without consulting it; he called it his oracle, and said it pointed out the time for every action of his life.’
Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.
Consider this quotation:
and this is what we mean by friends. Even when they are absent, they are with us … even when they are weak, they are strong; and … even when they are dead, they are alive.
About the Book (extracted from Goodreads)
Slowness can open doors to sustained creativity, claims poet and teacher Christian McEwen. Over the course of ten years training teachers to write their own poems in order to pass the craft along to students, McEwen realized that nothing comes easily when life is conducted at a high rate of speed. She draws not only on personal experience, but on readings ranging from literary anecdote and poetry to Buddhism, anthropology, current news, and social history, all supplemented by interviews with contemporary writers and artists. This is a real reader’s book, one that stands up as both sustained narrative and occasional inspiration.
This is a book to take your time over reading it – you can read straight through or dip in and out of the chapters, focusing on different themes. I don’t want to rush through it – so at times, as I’m reading it I may quote further extracts in future posts rather than writing a review.
What about you? Does it tempt you or would you stop reading?
The Accordionist by Fred Vargas and translated by SianReynolds is the third book in the Three Evangelists series and it’s probably the most puzzling of the three. They are quirky crime fiction novels, with eccentric characters and intricate plots. The three ‘Evangelists’ are thirty-something historians, Mathias, Marc and Lucien, all specialists in three different periods of history, who live in a rambling house in Paris. Together with ex-special investigator Louis Kehlweiler, retired from the Ministry of the Interior, they find themselves involved in murder mysteries, mainly because Louis just can’t resist trying to solve particularly difficult crimes.
In this third book a simple-minded young man, Clément Vauquer, who plays the accordion, is the prime suspect for the murders of two Parisian women as he was seen watching both of their apartments before their murders. Desperate to prove his innocence he appeals to Marthe, who had looked after him as a child, for help.
Louis is supposed to be translating a biography of Bismark, but the newspaper reports of the two murdered women have distracted him so when his old friend Marthe tells him that Clément, who is like a son to her, is innocent and being used as a scapegoat he agrees to investigate and find the real culprit. He in turn, enlists the help of the three evangelists and Marc’s uncle, a retired policeman and they take Clément into their house to protect him whilst they dig deeper into the mystery.
I found this book the most baffling of the trilogy and really had no idea of how they managed to unravel all the strands of this murder mystery which has its roots in the past. They worked on instincts and by deciphering Clément’s muddled thoughts and memories, and with the help of a poem by the nineteenth century poet, Gerard de Nerval, finally uncover the killer’s identity. It’s the eccentric characters and the complicated plots that make Fred Vargas’ books stand out for me.
Fred Vargas is the pseudonym of of the French historian, archaeologist and writer Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau. She has won three International Dagger Awards from the Crime Writers Association, for three successive novels: in 2006, 2008 and 2009. I’ve also enjoyed her Commissaire Adamsberg books, probably more even than the Three Evangelists, and I still have a few of that series left to read including the tenth and latest book in the series, This Poison will Remain, due to be published in August this year.
An intriguing and mystifying book by Diane Setterfield – Once Upon a River – without doubt one of the best books I read last year – I was entranced from the beginning to the end. It’s a mystery beginning in the Swan Inn at Radcot, an ancient inn, well-known for its storytelling, on the banks of the Thames. A badly injured stranger enters carrying the drowned corpse of a little girl. It’s mystifying as hours later the dead child, miraculously it seems, takes a breath, and returns to life. The mystery is enhanced by folklore, by science that appears to be magic, and by romance and superstition.
The story has a timeless feel to it but it is set somewhere towards the end of the nineteenth century. There are numerous strands and characters to the story and Diane Setterfield drew me slowly into the book with a leisurely description of the characters and their situations. Just as the river, a character in its own right, takes many twists and turns and has many tributaries, it becomes apparent that the little girl could belong to a number of different families all with links to the river. As the story progresses these individual families each claim the child as theirs and I was never really certain which of them – if any – were telling the truth. Much is hidden and much eventually is revealed.
It’s a multi-layered book that you need time to digest, richly atmospheric and told from multiple viewpoints. I loved all the detail – about the river itself, about photography as Henry Daunt (based on Henry Taunt, the real-life photographer of the Thames and surrounding areas) travelled along the river in a houseboat with its own darkroom, about the body’s metabolism and the treatment of injuries and diseases of the late Victorian period and about belief in the afterlife. Various people refer to Quietly, the ferryman who featured in the stories people told – he appeared when you were in trouble on the water, gliding in his punt, either guiding you to the safety of the bank, or if it is your time he takes you to another shore ‘on the other side of the river.‘
Once Upon a River is a beautifully and lyrically told story, and cleverly plotted so that I was not completely sure at times what it was that I was reading. It’s historical fiction with a touch of magic that completely beguiled me with its mysteries and fascinating characters. I enjoyed reading her first book, The Thirteenth Tale, years ago before I began my blog, but I loved this one so much more!
My thanks to the publishers, Transworld Digital, for my review copy via NetGalley.
I was very generous last year in the star ratings I gave to the books I read, so these are just 10 of my 5* books. These are not in any particular order – I loved them all.
Victoria: A Life by A N Wilson – a masterful biography of Queen Victoria. Wilson had access to the Royal Archives and permission from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to quote from materials in royal copyright. He portrays Victoria both as a woman, a wife and mother as well as a queen set against the backdrop of the political scene in Britain and Europe.
Only Child by Rhiannon Navin. It’s one of the most powerful books I’ve read for ages. It’s about a shooting at a school and its effect on six year old Zach and his family. It’s emotional, moving and absolutely compelling, sad but ultimately uplifting.
The Smiling Man by Joseph Knox. Aidan Waits is a Detective Constable working night shifts with Detective Inspector Peter Sutcliffe, known as Sutty. They don’t like each other – at all. The only thing they have in common is that they each try to make things as difficult as possible for the other. But strangely their partnership gets results as they search for the identity of the ‘smiling man’ and his killer.
The Hunger by Alma Katsu, historical fiction based on the true story of the Donner Party, pioneers who were looking for a better life in the American West. They formed a wagon train under the leadership of George Donner and James Reed making their way west to California in 1846. It interweaves facts and fiction and with hints of the supernatural and Indian myths it becomes a thrilling, spine tingling horrific tale.
Watching You by Lisa Jewell, crime fiction that keeps you guessing about everything right from the first page – someone was murdered, but who was it and why, and just who was the killer? It’s full of suspense and drama. It is only right at the end of the book that all becomes clear.
I was hooked right from the start of No Further Questions by Gillian McAllister. It plunges straight into a trial as Martha sits in the courtroom listening to expert witnesses being questioned and cross-examined about the death of her baby, Layla, just eight weeks old. Her sister Becky is accused of murdering her. This is a tense, tightly plotted book, narrated from several viewpoints, but mainly alternating between Martha and Becky.
Something completely different from Agatha Christie – Absent in the Spring which she wrote under the name of Mary Westmacott. Set in Mesopotamia (corresponding to today’s Iraq, mostly, but also parts of modern-day Iran, Syria and Turkey) in a railway rest-house at Tel Abu Hamid on the Turkish border, it’s the story of Joan Scudamore who was stranded in the desert, after visiting her daughter in Baghdad – an in-depth character study, with a growing sense of tension.
The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale, an extraordinary, magical and wonderful book that captivated me, a book set mainly in 1917 whilst the First World War was taking its toll of humanity, leaving despair and tragedy in its wake. It’s a blend of historical fiction and magic realism. Papa Jack’s Emporium in London is a toyshop extraordinaire. It opens with the first frost of winter each year and closes when the first snowdrop blooms. And the toys it sells aren’t ordinary toys – they seem alive!
Tombland by C J Sansom, historical fiction set in 1549, mainly in Norwich. Edward VI is king, a minor and England is ruled by the Duke of Somerset as Lord Protector. Rebellion is spreading in protest against the landowners’ enclosures of the common land. Lawyer Matthew Shardlake is asked to investigate the murder of Edith, the wife of John Boleyn – a distant Norfolk relation of Anne Boleyn. However, he gets caught up in Kett’s Rebellion as thousands of peasants establish a vast camp overlooking the city.
And last but not least, The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor, set in 1666 in London. It was just six years after the Stuart Monarchy had been restored – Charles II was reinstated as King – and people are struggling with the aftermath of the Great Fire that had reduced a large part of London to ashes and rubble. It’s a complex story interweaving a murder mystery, the hunt for the regicides responsible for the execution of Charles I and details of the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire.