Monday, August 26, 2013

Not-quite-new Book Round Up; How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers

The rather peculiar title is because these are not 'brand new' published novels but from earlier in the year. They did however all cause a certain amount of chat in the book world and I am only just getting around to reading them myself.

First up is Sheila Heti's How Should A Person Be? 
An unusual memoir style book, Heti ruminates in a philosophical way on her life as she contemplates how it should be lived. She does this through the 'character' Sheila, a playwright with a failed marriage who searches to find herself again with arrival in her life of artist friends Margaux and Israel.   Oftentimes crude in her very personal revelations, it is obviously the voice of a young woman who considers life in her own very unique way. Heti herself calls it a "novel from life". It was first published in 2010 in Canada before it was revised to be published in the U.S in 2012 and in UK/Ireland in early 2013. It was longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction.

Heti's book identifies that uncertainty of identity that lurks in us all, seeing how a friend behaves and wanting to emulate them or seeing someone pass us on the street and thinking that we'd like to dress like them. And it challenges that aspect of our insecurity. But it is the disconcerting openness in her talk on sex, which is in no way sexy, that sometimes just takes away from the real argument that Heti puts forward which is ultimately one on art and ugliness. There are many ideas to consider in this book, and it is a challenging read, but the author's voice sometimes just jars too much.

How Should A Person Be by Sheila Heti is published by Harvill Secker

Next in the round-up is Kate Atkinson's Life After Life. Published in March, it was shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction.
A clever concept, the main protagonist Ursula Todd born in 1910 during a snowstorm has multiple chances at life. The baby dies at birth, but no, the next chapter rewrites her fate in life and she lives to take her next risk in life. This double, sometimes triple take on one event is surprisingly easy to adjust to in the reading of this novel. Set at a turbulent time in history, all these major events are brought to the tale. The characters are masterfully drawn and the reader is quickly sure of the personality of the Irish housemaid, the cook, Ursula's siblings and her parents. Kate Atkinson fans will not be disappointed.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is published by Doubleday.

My final book in this round up is Dave Eggers A Hologram for the King which was published in February.
This book had me under it's spell from the start. The main character, a fifty-something divorced and nearly bankrupt businessman is banking on the success of his most recent project with a Saudi Arabian King. With his daughter's place in college under threat if the fees can't be paid and with friends and businesses owed money, the importance of this last ditch attempt is clear. But despite being sure from early on that this is a rocky road with little chance of a good outcome, we are behind him and feel protective when he is put down by his father on a long-distance phone conversation. His exhaustion with the path life has dealt him as manufacturing in the modern world moved rapidly to where it could be produced most cheaply brings a feeling of sympathy from the reader. Sure he's a bit of a loser, but we want to like him anyway. Tom Hanks is to star in the film version of this book and he is sure to be able to bring a convincing hang-dog element to this role.

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers is published by Hamish Hamilton.

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