Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Summer Book Reviews

Summer seems like the perfect time to finally attack all those books on my must-read list, especially in this city.  When it's too muggy to be out in the sunshine I retreat to a nearby cafe or the air conditioned bedroom and lose track of time (and temperature), immersing myself completely in a story.

So I've been reading quite a bit lately which means I have several reviews to post, but I will only undertake two right now, as this weather has given me a couple bad migraines and staring at the computer screen doesn't help. 

Left Neglected -- Lisa Genova

It's hardly surprising that Genova's second novel, following her well received "Still Alice", addresses a neurological breakdown, considering that Genova herself has a Ph.D. in neuroscience and has studied the eccentricities of the human mind for years.  While "Still Alice" explored living with Early Onset Alzheimer's, "Left Neglected" lays bare for us the world of a strange and unexplored disorder known as "Left Neglect".

The premise of the novel is simple enough:  the protagonist is a career woman and a mother, determined to balance her demanding and mentally stimulating job, while rushing to soccer games and doing home work with her children, one of which is recently diagnosed with ADHD.  She tends to lean toward favouring her job over her role as housewife;  she and her husband play a daily game of "Rock Paper Scissors": loser takes the children to school.

One morning she wins the games and triumphantly dashes out of the house into pouring rain.  Attempting to multi-task while driving down the highway, she rolls her car across lanes and wakes up in the hospital several days later to discover that her world has thoroughly and irrevocably been altered.

I won't elaborate on the story as I recommend this book as a "do-read!" and don't want to spoil it for you.  The message is powerful though:  what do we fill our days with and what is the sum of those things?   How do they matter in the big picture?  Genova delicately probes the readers mind without becoming too preachy, exploring the truths of life and learning.  

The positive message that emanates from the story is that relationships and people matter far more than material things ever could.  In a world that is cold and calculated, in a society that shoves materialism at us, "Left Neglected" reminds us that there is more to life than power jobs and money.   

We Need To Talk About Kevin -- Lionel Shriver

This is perhaps one of the most difficult books I have forced myself to read recently.  The actual prose isn't liturgical or stilted;  there is poetry in the descriptions and in the format with which the book is written.  The content is what makes the book difficult to wade through--heavy with subtext, exploration and irony, the novel is a fictional story of a disease that has riddled our youth and society:  apathy.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to swallow is the time line the story is written in.  We know from reading the back cover that Kevin has killed 9 of his classmates, a teacher and a random cafeteria worker.  We see warning signs in Kevin's development that we may not have noticed without knowing what we do.  Kevin's "mommer" Eva, the voice of the novel, is convinced  that something is innately wrong with Kevin from childhood, but her husband refuses or simply cannot see eye-to-eye with her, the difference slowing eating away at their marriage and her relationship with her second child.  

It is unfortunate that Eva's prediction about Kevin comes to pass.  Is it self-fulfilled prophecy?  Does Kevin turn into a monster because she senses something different about him from the beginning?  Is his behaviour her fault because she didn't want a child?  The book asks the question that all of us have wondered:  who is to blame?  

As I read through the unravelling story, I couldn't help but realize that, as Kevin states toward the end of the story, we find a ghoulish interest in things of this nature.  He purports that his actions were entertainment for the daily news readers and average Joe.  Perhaps it is a legitimate stance to take as it is impossible to hid the attraction we have toward catastrophes and disasters.

In the end, quietly but powerfully, Shriver causes the reader--myself, anyway--to realize that perhaps we are all guilty of what Kevin claims...to be romanced by suffering and tragedy, to be interested in shootings and death, to claim horror but secretly be intrigued by people who commit these acts.

I'll try to update with more book reviews later this review, as long as these migraines keep to themselves! 

Thanks for reading:)

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