The Accidental Woman by Jonathan Coe

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The Accidental Woman by Jonathan Coe.

The Accidental Woman by Jonathan Coe

The Five People You Meet in Heaven – Mitch Albom

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After finishing the very enjoyable Snow Falling on Cedars, I stood in front of our bookshelves for a while but felt uninspired as to what to read next, so I did what I often do at such points: I picked a short ‘filler’ option to read whilst I decided exactly what it was that I really wanted to read.

In the past, this tactic has occasionally resulted in me discovering some little gems that I might not otherwise have read. sadly, that was not the case here.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

At the start of the book we meet Eddie, an aging fairground ride maintenance man. Then, on a seemingly normal day, there is a problem with one of the rides, and suddenly a little girl’s life is in danger.  Eddie manages to intervene just in time and ends up saving the young girl’s life, but he loses his own in the process. After this event, the remainder of the book details the experience Eddie has in the afterlife, where he meets five people who, in some way or other, had an impact on his life.

As Eddie spends time with these characters, discussing the key event and the people involved, he learns more about his life and about himself.

The novel is fairly simple in structure and focuses on just a few main ideas. Through meeting his five people in heaven, Eddie begins to see just how inter-connected everyone is and how each moment can carry a significance not understood at the time. Also, whilst Eddie thinks that he has never really achieved much and that his life has been a bit of a failure, he is shown the positive impact that his life has actually had.

Now, If this all sounds a bit like George Bailey’s experience in It’s a Wonderful Life, then, um, well, I suppose that it is. Insofar as the plot goes, that is. Sadly, whilst the tale of George Bailey’s life and his journey of self discovery is handled brilliantly in a story brimming with charm and drama, this tale, frankly, is not.

I’m sure that there are many people who enjoyed this book, but for me it was all nice platitudes without any actual substance.

All Families are Psychotic – Douglas Coupland

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This is another post-modern tale from Douglas Coupland, the man who gave us the term “Gerneration X” (the title of his début novel back in 1991). This one is peopled with a characteristically dysfunctional crew, comprised predominantly by the Drummond family.

I have to say that the quality of writing is not too high here, but what the novel lacks in subtlety and grace, it certainly tries to make up for in plot and pace. This book must have one of the craziest plots I’ve ever read. In the course of under three hundred pages we meet with family feuds, adultery, smuggling, HIV, cancer, black market baby sales, armed robbery, car crashes, kidnapping, death at Walt Disney World, oh, and space travel. Yes, that’s right, the one successful member of the family, Sarah, has, against all odds, become a NASA astronaut, who just happens to be floating around up in space whilst much of the action mentioned above takes place.

All Families are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland

In a ridiculously chaotic story where events seem to spiral ever further out of control, I kept hoping for a good old Coupland moment of truth; a seemingly small, isolated personal epiphany with broad implications which would offer some hope to an otherwise lost and sorry set of circumstances. Sadly, I still feel like I am waiting. Okay, that might be slightly unfair, as there is a turning point of sorts at the end of the novel, however I didn’t find it nearly as convincing or powerful as I would have liked. I think part of the problem was that by the time I had reached the end of the novel, so many crazy events had taken place that they nothing really registered very deeply at all.

I know that Coupland’s talent and style is to deliver bold, brash works exploring modern life in new ways, but I don’t think that All Families Are Psychotic quite hit the mark. If you’re interested in reading any Douglas Coupland work, my advice would be to check out one of the following: Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, Life After God or Hey Nostradamus!

Surfacing – Margaret Atwood

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After thoroughly enjoying Margaret Atwood’s brilliant novel, The Blind Assassin, I thought I would try another of her works, and found this on the bookshelves. It is one of her earlier novels (her second, in fact) written in 1972. The story follows a nameless woman and her three friends as she returns to a remote area of Canada where she grew up, in search for her missing father. As the four of them spend more time away from the familiar routines of city life, the unknown habitat they find themselves in – with all of its vast space and silence – begins to put a strain on their relationships.

Surfacing by Margaret Atwood

Whilst Atwood certainly creates a powerful atmosphere in the novel, especially in her use of the physical surroundings of the action, I wasn’t so convinced by the characters. Much of the novel is presented as an inner monologue from the main character, with little depth given to the other characters. Also I did find Atwood’s explorations into national and gender identities a little heavy-handed.

So, I wouldn’t particularly recommend this book, however, I am still keen to read some of her other works.

Cane – Jean Toomer

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Cane by Jean Toomer

The Lonely Londoners – Sam Selvon

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The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon

Funny Boy – Shyam Selvadurai

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Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai

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