The Storyteller – Jodi Picoult

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The Storyteller – Jodi Picoult

For the past few months every time I went into any Waterstones store I would see The Storyteller on one of their stands at the front of the shop like a beacon beckoning me to buy it. Every time I would pick the book up, read the blurb and then put it down and think, ‘maybe next time’. This is something I bitterly regret as I wish I could have read this sublime and beautiful book sooner.

So how did I end up with a copy in my hand? Well, I bought it at work in a charity book sale and thought the 500 odd page book would keep me entertained on holiday whilst lying on the beach attempting to add to my collection of freckles, I mean ‘tan’.

I started reading the book on my last day of the holiday, a good move in my opinion as I don’t think I would have been able to do anything else on the holiday other than read it as I was obsessed from the off. I couldn’t put it down on the beach, I couldn’t stop reading it on the plane home and I didn’t even have time for tears as I bid by parents farewell on the train back to London – I was absorbed by it.

But enough of the teasing…

For some bizarre reason (even though I read the blurb) the cover made me think the book would be a bit Nicholas Sparks-esque, let me tell you, this assumption could not be further away from the truth.

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We are introduced to a broken twenty something year old girl; Sage, who is reeling from her mother’s death and its consequences she has to physically bare every day. An almost Frankenstein like illusion, Sage works at night in a bakery and hides away from the world during the day. That is until she meets Josef, a ninety year old German man with whom she strikes an unlikely close friendship. But this union takes a dire turn when Josef asks Sage to help him die. And that’s not the most shocking aspect of their bizarre relationship, Sage unearths evidence that the elderly gentleman is a former Nazi who worked at Auschwitz.

Sage talks to the police about her concerns who seem to think she is mad. She then goes to even greater lengths and involves the FBI – Leo, proves a great source of comfort to her as he helps Sage gather the evidence she needs to prove that her friend is a former Nazi.

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The book is told from many different perspectives and its Minka’s story which captivated me the most. Sage’s grandmother – a Polish Jew – tells her account of WWII and Auschwitz to Leo and Sage who realise that Minka knew Josef as a monster. Minka’s tale was the most compelling piece of writing I have read in years, her experiences are still etched into my brain now. From witnessing her sister unintentionally suffocate her own child, to seeing her best friend being shot, to being beaten savagely by the Nazis, Minka’s story is all the more harrowing knowing that this actually happened to real life human beings. (Picoult drew on her interviews with WWII survivors for inspiration for Minka’s story).

I don’t want to give too much away if you haven’t read the book, but it’s so hard not to as I could talk about it all day. At the heart of the book is forgiveness; should you forgive someone of crimes that happened seventy years ago? I was in two minds, obviously no one can deny that what Josef did as a Nazi was wrong however some may argue he had no choice but to commit these crimes as a duty to Hitler, others may argue that he has had to live with the consequences of his actions every single day of his life and that is punishment enough. His character was one of juxtaposition, in the present he appeared a frail old man but in Minka’s tale he was a barbarian.

Whilst Sage wants to seek justice by condemning him for his crimes and for the torture he put her grandmother through, she struggles with her decision on whether to help Josef die. Why should he have a humble death and decide when to die when he never gave his victims this opportunity? Sage makes her own decision but ultimately Picoult has left the reader to make up their own mind.

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The Storyteller is a masterpiece, beautifully written and considerate towards its tricky subject matter yet it’s a no holds barred account of a Jew’s time in Auscwitz. I could honestly pick this book up now and read it all over again. Stunning.

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The Vacationers – Emma Straub

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The Vacationers by  Emma Straub

Being a self-confessed bookworm, deciding what books to take on holiday is a massive deal. My ideal read is something which is quite light but enough to keep me entertained and interested. As much as I love Dickens and Hardy they are not the right books to be reading by the pool as you consume ice cream and cocktails like they are going out of fashion.

I had been scouring magazines and blogs for the perfect summer read. Stylist magazine provided a perfect list of books, ideal for any taste and holiday. So I made a list of the books that seemed interesting (ever efficient) and headed to Daunt Books.

Since moving to London two months ago Daunt Books has been high on my list of bookshops to visit and also because I keep seeing their hessian bags on the arm of every other person on the tube. So the Sunday before my holiday I made the trip to the shop in Marylebone and was not disappointed, it’s every book lovers dream, beautiful architecture, books displayed perfectly and of course the glorious smell of new books.

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Straight away I saw one of the books on my list, The Vacationers by Emma Straub – the perfect title for a holiday, the Greek waiter on holiday even thought so. Gleeful at having found a book on my list, I went away a very happy customer.

Now, onto the book.

Stylist hailed it as the next Great Gatsby, a bold statement if ever I heard one. The Vacationers is about a middle class American family who head to Majorca on holiday. From the outside they often seem like one big happy family but rumbling underneath are all the signs of a family struggling to deal with secrets and revelations.

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There’s Franny, mother and wife, who is head of the house and chief organiser of the whole holiday, from cultural trips to feast-like meals. She puts all her efforts into ensuring the holiday is perfect for everyone; probably a distraction from dealing with her husband’s recent affair with a graduate at his company. Now, we move nicely onto Jim, the embodiment of a mid-life crisis and the aforementioned adulterer. A man who I believed was truly sorry for his actions after losing his job in the process. Throughout the book rumbles the ‘will they won’t they’ plotline as both man and wife struggle with keeping a hold on their marriage.

Their children Sylvia and Bobby are also present on the holiday. The former has just finished school and is about to embark on university in the coming months. Throughout the holiday she is on a path to self-discovery, as she hopes to find herself through her desired cultural experiences as well as her hot Spanish tutor. Bobby, the older of the siblings lives in Miami with his personal trainer girlfriend who is a bone of contention in the family as she is several years older than Bobby. In the eyes of the Post family, their match is not suitable. Will their relationship survive the holiday?

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Last and not least is Franny’s best friend Charles and his husband Lawrence, who’s shaky marriage and large age gap is trying to be amended through adopting a baby. Franny’s affection towards Charles is often more pronounced than it is for her husband, as it appears evident that she is in love with her best friend, although such a matter is never discussed by the pair.

Emotions run high throughout the book and I was completely transfixed from the opening few pages. The book is written in my favourite style; from the perspective of different characters and is very emotion led rather than action led.

It really was the perfect holiday read; it is full of wit and is beautifully written. All the character were so distinguishable from each other and all could have easily had a whole book written from each of their perspectives. With posters advertising the book all over the underground at the moment I’m sure it won’t be long until this is in everyone’s suitcases this summer.

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The aforementioned cocktails

Fall from India Place by Samantha Young

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Fall from India Place – Samantha Young

I abandoned my blog for sunnier climes! I spent a glorious sun soaked week in Zakynthos; more of which in my next blog when I review my holiday reads.

Back to the present and my review of Samantha Young’s latest offering; Fall from India Place, published by the lovely people at Piatkus.

Now it’s fair to say we have been bombarded with erotic fiction since Fifty Shades of Grey erupted onto the scene (cheers) but I’m always intrigued to see if there is a title which manages to come to the surface of this deep, murky and often dull market.

And I am pleased report Fall from India Place does just that. The main protagonist Hannah is a young woman in her twenties training to become a teacher. To her students she seems happy and content but under the surface she is still reeling from the boy who broke her heart; Marco D’Alessandro. Five years ago he abandoned Hannah after a night of passion, leaving her shattered and altering the course of her life forever. Now he’s back and wanting to make amends but can Hannah forgive him?

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Slight Spoiler Alert!

What I loved about this book was the unravelling of secrets from both Hannah and Marco. It’s the classic, will they won’t they narrative but I felt as though I had no clue what could upset their happiness as they decide to give their relationship another try.

I enjoyed the close network of family and friends Hannah had, I haven’t read a novel in a while which uses what could be considered minor characters so effectively. This aspect of the novel felt very real and relatable.

I couldn’t not review the book and not mention the sex. Whilst it’s explicit, it’s not as fantasy-like or graphic as Fifty Shades of Grey, which quite frankly is just unbelievable – and not in a good way. This is what makes this book so good; the sex doesn’t over shadow the plot and become the main focus. The description Young uses keeps the reader interested and there’s definitely no cringey phrases used.

If you’re looking for a relaxing read this weekend that transports you away from the humdrum of work etc but still keeps one foot in the real world, this is it.

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

 

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The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

I’m going to make a bit of a bold statement here; The Postmistress by Sarah Blake might possibly be one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. It’s hard to put into words the emotive and thought provoking lexis Blake uses but it left me questioning every preconception I had about war and the production of news.

But let’s rewind a minute. The Postmistress has been left unread on my book shelf for three years; it got pushed to one side in favour of books I had bought more recently. I think it was because I thought it would be a’ hard hitter’ and I was waiting for the perfect moment to be able to appreciate it and bask in it’s wonderful and poignant messages.

The Postmistress has three intertwining stories and characters; Iris a postmistress in a small American town, Emma the fragile wife of the local doctor and Frankie a passionate radio broadcaster with modern day values who becomes the voice of WWII.

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Frankie acts as the anchor in the story bringing all the central female leads together. Far wiser than her years, Frankie’s ethos and values are not out of place in the twenty first century. She challenges and breaks down female stereotypes during WWII as she finds herself in the heart of the action. She travels on trains containing Jews fleeing from Hitler’s wrath, she encounters children being ripped away from their city families and being bundled off to the country to start new lives and she survives the bombs, all for content for her radio broadcast.

But what she witnesses has a profound effect on her and the reader. What happens to these people once they have been interviewed? Do they live? Do they die? We only ever get half the story in the media and a slight insight into the affect war has on people’s lives. Their stories become fragments we pick up and drop as we move on with our own lives. Messages such as this really had a profound effect on me, it’s applicable to the news today especially via the coverage of the war in Iraq or the current troubles in Ukraine, you can never really know the true story of war.

This translates over to characters in a book. Frankie withholds a piece of information that will change Emma and her unborn child’s life forever yet she chooses not to tell her. Throughout the course of the novel I was internally screaming ‘WHY DON’T YOU JUST TELL EMMA?’ But then I realised, we will never truly know why Frankie didn’t tell her, the author offers a slight insight but we will never truly comprehend someone’s reasoning or actions. Iris also holds modern values and as a postmistress she can potentially withhold information and deliver only the news she wants people to know. It makes you really consider how filtered the world around us is.

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This applies to characters in a novel, we embark on their journey, yet we drop them and often forget about them once we close the book, the same applies with a news article. The only difference here is I was left thinking about the characters long after I finished reading the final page.

Although I have gone off on one (apologises) and have only addressed one of the many messages in the novel, The Postmistress is a timeless book for all ages, social standings and race. This is most definitely one of the best books I have ever read.