Review: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara


Publisher: Doubleday
Release date: March 10, 2015
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 0385539258
Pages: 720
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When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

In rich and resplendent prose, Yanagihara has fashioned a tragic and transcendent hymn to brotherly love, a masterful depiction of heartbreak, and a dark examination of the tyranny of memory and the limits of human endurance.


5 stars

A Little Life is one of the books on the Man Booker Prize longlist for 2015 (the shortlist will be announced on September 15, and the winner will be revealed on October 13). I picked up this book back in June because I heard Max from WellDoneBooks on Youtube rave about it (and I pretty much buy whatever Max raves about). When it was announced as part of the Man Booker longlist at the end of July, I knew I had to read it.

This book is a masterpiece. I haven’t read any of the other longlist titles yet, but I think A Little Life has a great chance of winning. This book is honest, gripping, haunting, heartbreaking and it made me ugly-cry so many times as I was reading it. I didn’t think I could survive so many stabs to the heart. Even when I think about it now, I tear up a little. I think A Little Life is absolutely brilliant and is definitely one of my top three favourite books of all time.

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Review: After Dark by Haruki Murakami


Publisher: VINTAGE
Release date: 2004
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 0099506246
Pages: 201
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The midnight hour approaches in an almost empty all-night diner. Mari sips her coffee and glances up from a book as a young man, a musician, intrudes on her solitude. Both have missed the last train home.

Later, Mari is interrupted again by a girl from the Alphaville Hotel; a Chinese prostitute has been hurt by a client, and she needs Mari’s help.

Meanwhile Mari’s beautiful sister Eri sleeps a deep, heavy sleep that is ‘too perfect, too pure’ to be normal; she has lain asleep for two months. But tonight as the digital clock displays 00:00, a hint of life flickers across the TV screen, though the television’s plug has been pulled out.

Strange nocturnal happenings, or a trick of the night?


35 stars

About 6-7 years ago, I started collecting Murakami’s books, fully intending to read them. I ended up buying 5 of them but I only read Norwegian Wood, leaving the other 4 to collect dust on my shelf. Recently, I’ve had an urge to read Murakami again so I decided to start with After Dark, which is probably the shortest of all of his novels. I should mention that most of his books now have different covers, but I wanted to show the cover that I own.

In some ways, I’m glad that I left these books until now because I don’t think my teenage self would have understood or appreciated them as much as I probably will now. Murakami’s novels all have hidden themes and messages, and even reading After Dark now as an adult, I don’t think I understood everything the author wanted to convey. I didn’t want to read too deeply into it though, because that would have ruined the reading experience for me.

If you’re unsure about whether to pick up a Murakami book or not, I’d suggest reflecting on how you like to read. If you’re the type of reader who likes to fly through books and think back on them once you’ve finished the book, I don’t think Murakami is for you. His writing requires you to think critically as you read and reflect on it as you go. Murakami is also great at setting the mood of the book, and they’re best appreciated when you stop every few sentences to absorb everything that is happening.

Let’s jump into what I thought about After Dark. This book is set within a 7 hour period – from 11:56pm to 6:52am. It follows a couple of characters on their ‘adventures’ during the night. Not a lot actually happens in the book and sometimes the pace is quite slow. The writing was beautiful and complex, but easy to follow. The narration in this book is very interesting. It’s written from almost a third person omniscient point of view, but in the role of an imaginary video camera. It’s also written in a way that really involves the reader in what is happening.

Our point of view, as an imaginary camera, picks up and lingers over things like this in the room. We are invisible, anonymous intruders. We look. We listen. We note odours. But we are not physically present in the place and we leave behind no traces. We follow the same rules, so to speak, as orthodox time travellers. We observe but we do not intervene.

I thought the themes in this book were very interesting. Through this story about people’s activities in the middle of the night, Murakami poses questions about humanity and the darkness that lives in humans. I thought it was great how well Murakami was able to create such a complex story using such a simple plot. In the story, we watch people grow and literally emerge from the darkness into the light. But implicit in that, is the idea that eventually the darkness will return. I just thought that the story that the author put together embodied the themes brilliantly. In the book, there are also underlying themes of solitude and isolation, which seem to be themes that are in a lot of Murakami’s other works.

There were definitely some things that I didn’t understand in the book, or thought were unresolved. There was this mysterious, dream-like aspect to the story that I didn’t understand, and maybe I would benefit from a second reading. I did enjoy the rest of the story and the characters but I don’t think I had a complete grasp of everything the author wanted to convey.

While I did like this book, Norwegian Wood was a much better book in my opinion. It was more resolved and better developed. Having said that, I think After Dark would be a great introduction to Murakami. I’ve heard that if you enjoy After Dark, you’ll most likely enjoy his longer novels too.

Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr


Publisher: Scribner
Release date: May 6, 2014
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 1476746583
Pages: 531
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Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When Marie-Laure is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris, and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.


5 stars

I think this book changed my life. I’m just not quite sure how yet. Everything about it was amazing; I don’t think there’s anything negative that I could say about it. It has definitely become my favourite book of all time.

First of all, the cover is amazing. I have the hardback US version and it might be the most beautiful book I’ve ever owned. The writing is exquisite and filled with metaphors and descriptions that I’ll never forget. “Jutta, six years old, with a round face and a mashed cumulus of white hair, crouches beside her brother.” Every single sentence just moved me so profoundly and you can tell that Anthony Doerr has considered every word of every line so carefully. As I was reading, I felt like I could picture everything that the characters were experiencing. I could see everything that Werner was seeing and I could also see everything that Marie-Laure couldn’t see. I could feel everything the characters were feeling.. the fear, the desperation and the resilience. I love the format of the book, that it jumped from present to past and every chapter alternated between the perspectives of Marie-Laure and Werner. I loved that the chapters were short, but yet none felt like they were lacking anything. Because of the short chapters, I also sped through this book in a couple of days.

I completely fell in love with all the characters, even the ones who I didn’t think I’d like at first. I thought the main characters were just perfect. They were young but so completely intelligent, strong and resilient. I went into this book, having read the blurb first, thinking that it was going to be a romantic story but it really wasn’t. And I’m really glad that it wasn’t because I don’t think it would have been as good. I did, however, spend most of the book anticipating their meeting. The first time Werner sees Marie-Laure was probably the best part of the whole book for me. Maybe only bested by their first actual meeting. I think that scene will stay forever in my heart, mainly due to that fabulous page-long sentence in the chapter (Anthony Doerr’s writing is just exquisite). And while the book didn’t have the romantic aspects that I had initially expected to read, I love that they saved each other in such different ways. If I had one criticism of the book… it would have to be what happened to Werner towards the end. That’s all I’ll say about that.

Overall, this book was absolutely breathtaking, and haunting, and all the good things in the world. There were times when I was so overwhelmed by the imagery and everything I was feeling that I had to put the book down to just breathe. Anthony Doerr did such an amazing job with this novel. I can’t even begin to comprehend the amount of research that went into writing this book. Reading this book, you feel like Doerr is an expert in WWII, locks and keys, radios and machines, shells and mollusks…. My mind is blown.

This is a book I’ll read over and over again, not only for its plot but for its brilliant writing. I wouldn’t change a thing about this book.

Review: A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman


Publisher: Tinder Press
Release date: June 18, 2015
Format: ARC (from Hachette Australia)
ISBN13: 9780755390922
Pages: 320
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Cornwall, 1947. Marvellous Ways is a ninety-year-old woman who’s lived alone in a remote creek for nearly all her life. Recently she’s taken to spending her days sitting on the steps of her caravan with a pair of binoculars. She’s waiting for something – she’s not sure what, but she’ll know it when she sees it. Freddy Drake is a young soldier left reeling by the war. He’s agreed to fulfil a dying friend’s last wish and hand-deliver a letter to the boy’s father in Cornwall. But Freddy’s journey doesn’t go to plan, and sees him literally wash up in Marvellous’ creek, broken in body and spirit. When Marvellous comes to his aid, an unlikely friendship grows between the two. Can Freddy give Marvellous what she needs to say goodbye to the world, and can she give him what he needs to go on?


5 stars

This book is so beautiful. It’s poignant and moving and just full of all the things I love in a novel. It’s historical fiction with some great magical realism, and an equally great cast of characters.

At first, I thought this book was a bit slow but as I got further into it, I realised that the pace was one of its charms. The slow pace of it allows you to take it all in and enjoy Sarah Winman’s writing, which was so poetic and metaphorical. I also liked the formatting of the book. I didn’t mind that there were no quotation marks in the book; I think I’m used to this format now, having read quite a few literary fiction novels. Also, it was done so masterfully that it wasn’t hard to follow. Without the quotation marks, the dialogue was really integrated into the story and, for me, it really enhanced it.

I loved the messages in this book. I liked reading about the things that Marvellous has gone through and all the life lessons that she’s learnt. This book made me think about my grandparents a lot and I really connected with the story, and with Marvellous. I think it’s a book that you just need to dive into and discover for yourself. I’m sure that everybody could get something out of it. And the ending was absolutely lovely.