Review: The Hours by Michael Cunningham

PAPERBACK; 226 P.
PICADOR 2002/1998
SOURCE: FROM BOOK SWAP

The Hours tells the story of three women: Virginia Woolf, beginning to write Mrs. Dalloway as she recuperates in a London suburb with her husband in 1923; Clarissa Vaughan, beloved friend of an acclaimed poet dying from AIDS, who in modern-day New York is planning a party in his honor; and Laura Brown, in a 1949 Los Angeles suburb, who slowly begins to feel the constraints of a perfect family and home. By the end of the novel, these three stories intertwine in remarkable ways, and finally come together in an act of subtle and haunting grace.

I read and reviewed Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf earlier this year, and to be completely honest, I didn’t really get it. I only got a glimpse of the treasure that was hiding under the surface, but I guess the style of writing and the unfamiliar plot made the book difficult to comprehend. However, I know many people who absolutely adore Mrs. Dalloway and so I was determined to give the book another chance. So when I recently found The Hours sitting on the exchange bookshelf, and having heard great reviews about it, decided to try a different approach to the story.

The Hours features three women in different times: Virginia Woolf in 1920s London, Mrs. Brown, a suburban housewife in the 1940s who is enthralled with Mrs. Dalloway, and Clarissa Vaughan in the 1990s New York, preparing to host a party. We follow their lives in the span of one day and at first they all seem very different. However, as the story progresses some similarities start to appear. The literary connection to Woolf’s novel stretches through time and gives the book a deep, heartfelt element of familiarity but also surprise.

I really enjoyed The Hours. I loved Cunningham’s style of writing that reflected Woolf’s stream of consciousness, but was still distinctly different. In the beginning of the book, it took some time to adjust to the changing of point of views and the plethora of characters in each woman’s life, but that was only a small issue. Overall, I felt that the book deepened my understanding of the original novel, but that it wasn’t completely subsided by it. The Hours has it own story to tell, and it is not merely a replica. I applaud Cunningham for the courage that it must have taken to tackle this classic, and I truly think it is worthy of the Pulitzer it won in 1999. I recommend this book to readers who loved Mrs. Dalloway as well as to those who struggled to understand it. However, I encourage you to read Mrs. Dalloway before picking up this book – otherwise you’ll only spoil yourself.

4/5

There is just this for consolation: an hour here or there, when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we’ve ever imagined , though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) knows these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning, we hope, more than anything, for more. Heaven only knows why we love it so.

Advertisements

Helsinki Book Fair 2014

IMG_7482

Should there ever be a heaven for book lovers, it might be a book fair of sorts. One gigantic hall with dozens upon dozens of stands displaying beautiful books, books that you have never heard of, and books that you’ve been looking for a long while. Add into the mix authors talking about writing and their books; publishers talking about their work; translators talking about language and the feeling that what you are about to do seems impossible – and then overcoming it.

I was granted a blogger’s pass to this year’s Helsinki Book Fair and I am truly grateful for the opportunity. This encouraged me to attend the event on two days, Friday and Saturday, and enjoy the general love for reading that oozed in the air. As I arrived to the event hall and walked towards the first stand of books, it was almost like falling into a trance. I “woke up” four hours later only to realise that I hadn’t eaten anything in the last six hours and that my feet and shoulders were killing me. But I felt happy. Not only because I’d bought a few books, but because I felt that I was among people who read and who understood what it was to look, feel and smell books.

IMG_7473

To be fair, I did end up spending a lot more time in the second-hand book stands than among the new releases, but I guess it has something to do with my limited budget as well as the joy of discovery that comes when looking through a miscellaneous pile of books. I didn’t find Tove Jansson’s biography by Boel Werstin, but instead I stumbled upon Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces which I blew my mind the first time I read it in 2012. In terms of discussion panels, I listened to a few very enlightening and inspiring talks on literary translation as well as a very heartwarming talk on Tove Jansson where her niece was one of the panelists. In addition, I learnt a lot about another Finnish-Swedish poet, Edith Södergran, whom I now want to read more. One of my regrets is that I could have picked up a beautiful paperback collection of her poetry had I not completely forgotten to come back to it before leaving the event hall. Hopefully my local bookshops will have a copy 🙂

But now, let’s look at the books that I bought from the Helsinki Book Fair.

IMG_7492

I already mentioned Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which is a non-fiction book about the hero myth that keeps repeating itself in storytelling. Rest of the books are in Finnish and by Finnish authors: Lapsus by JP Ahonen is a graphic novel about a group of students who are on the brink of graduating from university. It is the fourth part in the Villimpi Pohjola series, which follows the characters through their university studies. I’ve read the some of the comic strips published in the newspapers and am planning on collecting the published ones. Moreover, you just can’t go wrong with a cover reference to Nirvana’s Nevermind. Moby Doll by Saara Henriksson is a modern re-telling of Moby-Dick where a young woman and her somewhat on-off boyfriend travel to Norway to find a whale. Having read Melville’s Moby-Dick this summer, I’m very much looking forward to this one. Lastly I got Kreisland by Rosa Liksom. It is her first novel and was originally published in 1996. I’ve read some of Liksom’s later columns, but other than that I have no clue on what to expect from this book. Surprises perhaps?

And that was it. My second time at the Helsinki Book Fair was just as enjoyable – if not even more so – than the first one, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next year. However, now it’s time to get back to reality and studying. Cheers!

Helsinki Book Fair 23.-26.10. + giveaway winner

Helsinki Book Fair 23-26 October 2014 at Messukeskus Helsinki, Expo and Convention Centre

Hello lovely readers and all book lovers,

This is just a quick note to you to tell you that I am heading off to the Helsinki Book Fair 2014 that’s happening from 23rd till 26th October in Helsinki, Finland. I will be attending the event on Friday and Saturday, and hopefully will remember to take some snapshots to share with you guys. There are a lot of interesting talks and author interviews happening on each of the event days and I’ll try to fit in as many as I can. And of course, there will be a lot of book shopping. I attended the event for the first time last year and although I was there only one day, I had such a blast! This year I decided to do two days so that I can attend more talks and enjoy the general feeling of the event without constantly running from one place to another. We’ll see how it goes…

Aside from book shopping, I’m very excited to hear the talk on Tove Jansson and the new book, Letters from Tove edited by Boel Werstin and Helen Svensson. There will also be a panel discussions on the future of literary translation, e-readers, literature’s role in society, and many more that I hope to catch. This year the Guest of Honor in the book fair is Italy, so I’m very much intrigued to discover what Italian literature has to offer. Other interesting authors attending the book fair include Alan Bradley, Don Rosa, Sara Blaedel, etc.

I probably won’t have time to post in between the two days as I’m also visiting a friend in Helsinki, but most likely there’ll be a lot of tweets and crappy phone pictures happening on the sidebar Twitter feed thingamajig. I’ll do a proper event wrap-up and book haul post next week, I promise.


On a completely different note, my blogoversary giveaway ended on Sunday. There were so many lovely comments on that post, and I’m happy to announce that the prize, The Summer Book by Tove Jansson, goes to the lovely Madame Bibi Lophile. Congratulations! I hope you enjoy the book 🙂 Thank you also to everyone else who participated!

Review: DJ-kirja by Iina Esko & Matti Nives (eng. The DJ Book)

HARDCOVER; 350 P.
2013
SOURCE: FROM THE AUTHOR

Disclaimer: This book has, unfortunately, not been translated into English. Thus all the excerpts here have been translated by yours truly.

DJs, record collectors, clubbing. Photographs, interviews, articles. This book introduces a group of Finnish disc jockeys and highlights some of the trends in the Finnish clubbing culture. A voice is given to both beginners as well as professionals with long and thriving careers. This book contains many stories, and in the heart of each of them is music.

A while ago I got an email from an author, asking me if I would be interested in reviewing a book that he had produced together with a team of writers. It was a non-fiction book about DJs and their local music scene here in Finland, published with the help of crowdfunding and already at its second print run. Granted, I knew nothing of the topic nor could remember visiting a club just to hear the DJ playing, I was intrigued by this offer. And the more I researched the book, the more my interest grew and thus I was happy to receive the book for review. 

DJ-kirja (eng. The DJ Book) is divided into three parts: First are a couple articles that explain some of the key moments in the history of DJ culture, the technological development as well as some of the pioneers in the Finnish DJ culture. The second part consists of personal interviews with DJs from all kinds of backgrounds, music tastes and ages, giving an insight on what the music scene is today. The third and final part showcases club flyers and is essentially a conversation between different people about the graphics as well as format of flyers and their function. I think the division was well-executed as the first part gave a lot of information to someone unfamiliar with the terminology, and also formed some connections to the interviewed artists. The interviews themselves were illustrated with beautiful photographs taken by Iina Esko and together the text and the photos created a deep sense of intimacy. The stories had ups and downs, funny anecdotes and of course a lot of references to different music genres which had me scribbling notes to myself to check out all these new names.

I’ve read shamefully little non-fiction this year – no, scratch that – I generally read shamefully little non-fiction. However, The DJ Book was such a pleasure to read, and so well put together, that I feel inspired to try out more non-fiction. I’ve recently seen a lot of recommendations of artist biographies, especially Patti Smith’s Just Kids. Aside from reading more non-fiction, this book has truly encouraged me to look out for a DJ gig to see it in action. To inspire that is no easy feat for a book! I definitely recommend this book to all music lovers, for it offers insights that are not genre specific as well as a ton of music recommendations.

26/10 UPDATE: On the Helsinki Book Fair, DJ-kirja was awarded the Best Indie Book Award 2014.

4/5

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

PAPERBACK; 461 P.
PAN MACMILLAN, 2014/2013
SOURCE: PURCHASED

Cath and Wren are identical twins, and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they’re off to university and Wren’s decided she doesn’t want to be one half of a pair any more – she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It’s not so easy for Cath. She’s horribly shy and has always buried herself in the fanfiction she writes, where she always knows exactly what to say and can write a romance far more intense than anything she’s experienced in real life.

Now Cath has to decide whether she’s ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she’s realizing that there’s more to learn about love than she ever thought possible …

In autumn 2013 I started noticing that a book called Fangirl started appearing in a lot of Tumblr posts. Soon enough it was circling round blogoshpere with raving reviews everywhere. The premise sounded promising, so I made a mental note to get myself a copy some day. However, it seemed that the book was nowhere to be found in the bookstores. So I waited and waited. Now, about a year later, I finally caved in and ordered it online. The book arrived within two weeks of the order, and last Sunday morning I opened the book and read the first page. At 12 PM the same day I closed the book, having reached the last page.

Fangirl centers around Cath who with her twin sister Wren is starting university. Cath and Wren have always been inseparable, but now that they are facing a new stage in their lives Wren wants to change that. She wants to go to the parties, kiss boys and hang out with her friends. Cath, who is more socially anxious than her sister, feels left out and as her roommate Reagan doesn’t really seem to be interested in her, she turns towards the world of fanfiction. Cath is obsessed with the Simon Snow series and has a large following in the fanfiction community. Outside of classes, Cath hangs out in her room, writing fanfiction and eating energy bars (since she is too scared to approach the cafeteria). However, Cath is constantly thrown in contact with Reagan and Reagan’s friend Levi, who seems to be always hanging in their dorm room. Throw into the mix Cath and Wren’s father, who is mentally unstable, and you have a thought-provoking but fun book about growing up and learning to love.

Let me just begin by saying that there is a lot of hype surrounding Fangirl, and that it all stands to reason. Rainbow Rowell is considered by many as one of the best current YA authors, and based on Fangirl, I can say that she truly knows how to write realistic characters. Like many people, I found myself easily relating to the main character, Cath, though maybe not as much as I had expected. The writing flows well, there is just the right mix of humour and seriousness, and in the beginning of each chapter there are small excerpts of either the Simon Snow books or Cath’s fanfiction that relate to the story. I loved the fact that Rowell didn’t over-explain every detail and that the characters were able to stand on their own. Fangirl is a book with a heartwarming romance, but also deeper themes such as responsibility, self-discovery, family, relationships and many more. After finishing the book, I wanted to read it again, because I didn’t want to say goodbye to the characters – I wanted more.

I heartily recommend this book to people who are starting university, who grew up with Harry Potter, or who are struggling to find their place in the new surrounding.

4.5/5

“Just… isn’t giving up allowed sometimes? Isn’t it okay to say, ‘This really hurts, so I’m going to stop trying’?”
“It sets a dangerous precedent.”
“For avoiding pain?”
“For avoiding life.”

Review: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

PAPERBACK; 67 P.
PENGUIN, 1986/1895
SOURCE: PURCHASED

Here is Oscar Wilde’s most brilliant tour de force, a witty and buoyant comedy of manners that has delighted millions in countless productions since its first performance in London’s St. James’ Theatre on February 14, 1895. The Importance of Being Earnest is celebrated not only for the lighthearted ingenuity of its plot, but for its inspired dialogue, rich with scintillating epigrams still savored by all who enjoy artful conversation.
From the play’s effervescent beginnings in Algernon Moncrieff’s London flat to its hilarious denouement in the drawing room of Jack Worthing’s country manor in Hertfordshire, this comic masterpiece keeps audiences breathlessly anticipating a new bon mot or a fresh twist of plot moment to moment.

In my September Reads and October Plans post I mentioned that I wanted to get back into reading more plays and about a week ago I picked my collection of Wilde’s plays called The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays. I read only the title play, but I plan on reading the rest of the plays in the coming months as well.

The Importance of Being Earnest start with the conversation between two friends, Mr. Ernest Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff. Ernest is visiting his friend with the intention of proposing marriage to his cousin, who he knows will be visiting later that day. Algernon is rather skeptic about the marriage, because he is suspicious of his friends character. As he questions the young man, he finds out that his friend’s name isn’t Ernest, but Jack. In order to get away from the countryside, Jack has invented himself a persona, a brother of the name Ernest, who can live the life of pleasure, while his name still stays untainted. However, problems arise when Algernon decides to borrow this persona to visit the countryside. The play is filled with comedic turns and twists, so it’s best not to reveal too much.

I loved, loved, loved this play. I started reading it during a break at the university and ended up finishing it later on the same day. The pacing is wonderful, the levels of comedy and satire are fabulous, and you can’t help but to laugh at all the characters. Some jokes might be a bit too redundant, but I felt that the overall satire is spot on. The characters in The Importance of Being Earnest all play a vital part, and none is spared in terms of ridiculousness. I enjoyed reading the play immensely and now regret that I didn’t go to see the adaptation that was running in the student union theater a few years ago. I highly, highly recommend this play to everyone who enjoys a good English satire. It is a quick read and definitely not one of the hardest classics out there.

5/5

I really don’t see anything romantic in proposing. It is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal. Why, one may be accepted. One usually is, I believe. Then the excitement is all over. The very essence of romance is uncertainty. If ever I get married, I’ll certainly try to forget the fact.

Review: The Sands of Sarasvati by Risto Isomäki

HARDCOVER; 319 P.
TRANS. OWEN F. WITESMAN
TAMMI, 2005
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

Indian scientists discover a vast stretch of underwater ruins at the West Coast of India. Have they found Atlantis, the fabled sunken continent? Marine archaeologist Amrita Desai and Russian submarine expert Sergei Savelnikov investigate the underwater ruins, and discover a mysterious field of human skulls and skeletons. At the same time scientists realise that a huge meltwater lake has formed inside the Greenland ice sheet. Is the ice sheet about to slide into the ocean? Are our own cities in danger of becoming the New Atlantis?

The Sands of Sarasvati was the second book in my September science fiction quest, and if every scifi book would be like this, I would have converted ages ago. This one definitely blew me away.

The story begins on the Arctic Ocean where Sergei Savelnikov and his crew are making a standard submersion with their submarine. However, everything does not go as planned and they end up much deeper than they planned to go. As they move around, they discover that the bottom of the ocean is covered with dead fish and whales, all of which seem to have died around the same time. Nevertheless, the crew is able to return to the surface where Sergei’s boss tells him that his help is needed in India – the local scientists have discovered a city 30 meters under the sea. At the same as Sergei is studying the murky oceans of India and trying to understand how this town came to be, a Finnish scientist makes a discovery that ties together ancient myths about the flood myths.

The Sands of Sarasvati is described in the blurb as ecological mystery, which is spot on. The narration is a mixture of thrilling dangers and scientific facts that come to reveal an age-old mystery. The interesting fact is that the story was inspired by the news that a vast city was discovered under water in the coast of India in 2002. The Sands of Sarasvati discusses the effects of global warming, without disregarding elements of human relationships and global politics. As this book was published originally in 2005, I was rather surprised that the English translation – by Owen Witesman – came out only last year.

This book kept me constantly on my toes, and I read it in two days, enjoying every moment. I can now say that I understand why it has been so acclaimed and I definitely hope to check out Isomäki’s other works. I guess I can also say that I’ve finally found my corner into science fiction and that pushing myself outside of my comfort zone was definitely worth it. I highly recommend this book to lovers of science fiction as well as those who don’t usually read the genre.

4.5/5

Happy blogoversary! + giveaway

1About a year ago I rediscovered to joys of reading and found an active book blogging community that I wanted to become a part of. Looking back, it seems like all that was only last month. Time passes by so quickly and the year has been filled with so many remarkable books, so many interesting bloggers that I’ve met and abundance of books that I now want to read thanks to them.

Reading has become a part of my identity and because of blogging, I’ve found confidence in my writing. Reading some of the older reviews, I’ve noticed issues and corrected typos, but also remembered how happy I felt in writing those little reviews. I also remember being happy when I noticed that my blog had 20 followers, surprised when the count hit 50, and unrealistic when it passed 100 followers. At this very moment the number stands at 137, but more important than the numbers are all the lovely people who comment on my posts, like, and share them. It warms my heart every time I see a new notification.

So in order to thank all of you who have followed, liked, or just found your way into this blog, I decided to host a small giveaway of a book that made me fall in love with this author. I reviewed it as part of a challenge I set myself in the beginning of this year, and I can’t even remember how many times I’ve recommended it to people. Although it isn’t my favourite book by this particular author, I think it is the best book to get into her writing. And if you haven’t guessed by now, I’m talking about The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

I’m giving away one copy of the English translation via Bookdepository. However, there are a few things you’ll have to do in order to qualify for the giveaway:

1. You have to be a resident of a country where Bookdepository is shipping. (See list of countries here)
2. You have to be over 18 or to have your parent’s approval.
3. You have to be willing to give me your address for the shipping.
4. You have to comment on this post saying that you’re participating in the giveaway.

The giveaway will be executed via Giveaway Tools and will be open until October 19th.

 Click here for the >>> Entry-Form <<<