When Breath Becomes Air is the memoir of a man who realises that his life is to be cut short, dramatically. Paul Kalanithi was 36, and about to complete his training as a neurosurgeon, when he found out he had terminal cancer. I didn’t find the book as emotionally harrowing as I thought I might. It is the story of a man with many gifts and interests, who strived to find the best way to help people make life meaningful. At the very end of his medical training, before he was able to bring to fruition all his plans, he was given a terrible gift; that of experiencing life as a patient facing his own death. It is, of course, very sad, but it is also hopeful, and uplifting, and encourages the reader to live thoughtfully.
I saw The Princess Bride at Roseville cinema, when it came out. I loved it then, and have seen it many times since; it is a classic. There are lots of interesting stories about the making of the film in this book, and some insights into the people who made it. I was a little in love with Andre the Giant, in the 80s, so very much enjoyed reading about him. Ultimately, I didn’t like this book as much as I had hoped, because Elwes does that thing where every single person is described as amazingly talented, and extraordinary to work with. I find that relentless fawning over everyone rather wearisome, but it was still an enjoyable trip down memory lane, and I may watch the movie again this weekend….
How to be Both is a clever, strange, moving novel about art, life, death and love. There are two stories, one set in modern day, about a girl dealing with the loss of her mother, and the other about an Italian painter in the 1460s. The stories are linked, and full of surprises. There’s probably so much that I didn’t get, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Set in an alternate, modern day Britain, The Gilded Cage is about power and the class system, with a magical twist. The aristocrats, or Equals, have magic, called Skill, and they rule, making every commoner spend 10 years of their lives as slaves to them. One family begin their slave days together and become entwined with Equals, caught up in political machinations as they try to protect each other. It’s dark and clever, engrossing and, sadly, the recently released first book in the series. Now, to wait for the next….
I think this is a really important book. Something terrible happened to Roxane Gay when she was twelve, and part of how she dealt with it, was to eat and eat until she was very overweight. Thirty years later and she is still trying to find where she fits. Hunger is Roxane Gay’s story of her body, and it is far from my story, and yet much of it is familiar. Ultimately, it encourages us to be kind; to see and care for people, not just their bodies.
Set in Sydney in the 1930s, A Few Right Thinking Men is an historical, cosy mystery. Rowland Sinclair is a wealthy artist, turned amateur sleuth. I really enjoyed the setting (they also went to Yass!), and the characters were suitably quirky and amusing. I found it more about the political history of New South Wales than the murder mystery, but there was just enough intrigue to keep the story going, and I wouldn’t say no to finding out what’s next for Rowly and his friends.
Moonglow is Michael Chabon’s speculative autobiography, fictional non-fiction. As Mike Chabon’s grandfather is dying of cancer, he tells Mike about his life. It’s about being Jewish, about growing up, the war, marriage, brokenness, love and rockets. It isn’t a linear story, but rambles along, back and forth, in a beautiful, full of truth, story of the heart.
Though only two parts of the suite were finished before the author was taken from her family and killed in a concentration camp in 1942, the scale of this novel is still so grand. In the first part, people flee Paris as the Germans approach, and in the second, a country village is occupied. The setting is breathtakingly beautiful, the different reactions to the situation are raw, shocking, tender, brutal and very real. It’s hard to separate the book from the author’s real life tragedy, and why should we? The film focuses on just one part of the book, where it is set in the country village. Michelle Williams, Matthias Schoenaerts and Kristin Scott Thomas ( American, Belgian and English) do a great job playing the French and German characters and it is a moving film.
I really like the idea behind the book – a French architect, during WWII, designs hiding places for Jewish people. The plot is fast paced and the resolution satisfying, but for me, the characters were stereotypical and the character development was off. The dialogue was anachronistic and I had a sense of the author being American. I can see why a lot of people would love this book, but the language and characters were not quite what I look for.
I love this book, and I will re-read it all my life. Such breadth and scope, such depth of loyalty, faithfulness, commitment and love, such exciting and moving adventures. It is a powerful and thoroughly beautiful story.