The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid

Reluctant_Fundamentalist

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Over one night, a Pakistani man tells an American stranger about his love affair with a woman and his forced abandonment of America post 911.

“This is an honest portrayal of a Muslim man living in New York when the towers come down. It offers new insights into the tragedy and offers reactions and consequences that none of us may have considered before. It is therefore an eye-opening and thought-provoking story, written in a personable way, as if the writer is speaking directly to you as the reader. Great characters, great plot, great read.” – Rachel

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Published 2007
Harvest Books

The People’s Act Of Love – James Meek

The P Act of LoveREAD FOR BOOKCLUB

Chosen by Suzy

A renegade Czech army unit is stranded in a community of religious fanatics in a small, remote town in Siberia. 

“I certainly didn’t expect what I found when I first opened the book. A unique setting and idea, bringing together an army unit and religious fanatics in the harshest of climates, so that everything is a daily battle. This is a blindingly forthright story, one which poses many questions about the fragility of the human condition and makes you consider ‘what if’ over and over. The bleak frosty setting is well incorporated into the storylines and is almost a character in itself. I didn’t want to put this down.” – Rachel

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Published 2005

The Red Tent – Anita Diamant

the red tent

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Chosen by Rachel

Dinah, daughter of Jacob and sister of Joseph, is a minor character in the Bible, but the author has broadened her story and given her a voice in The Red Tent.

“I was attracted to this book because I was intrigued about how the author could take this ancient aspect of story telling and turn it into something modern and relevant. I was not disappointed and infact what it did show is as long as there are people involved, there is drama and adventure, excitement and sorrow; there is a story to tell. The Red Tent is plot heavy and tension filled with full bodied characters. A really interesting story.” – Rachel

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Published 1997
St Martin’s Press
321 pages

She’s Come Undone – Wally Lamb

She's come undone

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Chosen by Nadine

The trials and tribulations of Dolores Price from age 4 to age 40 are detailed in this 1992 book with saw wide appeal after being chosen as an Oprah’s Bookclub book.

“Dolores Price has a harrowing life. Born in 1952 and the only daughter of dysfunctional parents she stumbles through the years from one hardship to the next. She is one of those characters who has great intentions and tries hard and you so want to like her, but to be honest in the end it is clear she has more issues than you can handle and she just gets you down.

“But for some reason I wanted to keep reading. She did go on many adventures, which were entertaining. Plus I was sure there had to be some hope for Dolores in the end and I wanted to be there to find the reason for all this suffering and craziness. Maybe there was going to be some dystopian reality that manifests and makes sense of everything. (There is not). But there are a lot of alternative realities inside Dolores’ head and that’s what the meaning of the book is: self awareness, mistakes and learning, coming of age, self betterment. It is a book that relies on emotion to get you through.

“It is not a story for the faint hearted. It covers off may big topics, such as abuse, suicide, death, rape, abortion … but luckily it has a dark and clever humour to it that offsets the grim realities.

“I’m not sure how I would feel about recommending this book.” – Rachel

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Published 1992
Simon & Schuster
368 pages

The Accidental – Ali Smith

accidental

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Chosen by Suzy

A 2005 novel which relays the consequences for a middle-class family when an uninvited visitor appears in their home while on holiday.

“I was really looking forward to reading this book for bookclub as I’d read such amazing reviews.  I didn’t follow it easily and this has been a repeating theme with most other Ali Smith books I’ve since read (Hotel World being the exception).  Unfortunately this is a reflection of my intellect rather than anything to do with the author! ” – Suzy

“Amber—thirtysomething and barefoot—shows up at the door of the Norfolk cottage that the Smarts are renting for the summer. She talks her way in. She tells nothing but lies. She stays for dinner.

Eve Smart, the author of a best-selling series of biographical reconstructions, thinks Amber is a student with whom her husband, Michael, is sleeping. Michael, an English professor, knows only that her car broke down. Daughter Astrid, age twelve, thinks she’s her mother’s friend. Son Magnus, age seventeen, thinks she’s an angel.

The Accidental is unlike any book I have read before. In it a stranger, a young woman, plants herself in the middle of a family in their holiday home. Each family member assesses her differently but ultimately all accept her a fixture. What she does is allow them to examine their own lives as they reflect off the stranger. At first I quite enjoyed discovering the novel’s unusual flow but sometimes it was almost too clever, making following the storyline difficult. Fantastically developed characters and a satisfying conclusion, though.” – Rachel

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Published 2005
Hamish Hamilton
320 pages

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami

Wind up bird

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Chosen by Rachel

This seemingly simple story of a Japanese man whose cat runs away is anything but. 

⚈ “Wow. Just wow.

“This is the kind of book I adore. One with much complexity that not only wows me as I read, but wows me further as I discover more stylistic techniques and deeper meanings to the text afterward. The book is 600 pages and there are so many characters and stories that there is much to analyse.

A Wind Up Bird is about a man called Toru Okada whose cat goes missing. He begins a search for the cat and then for his wife, who is now also awol. These searches introduce a raft of characters and lends him much time, voluntary time, down a domestic well. On a basic level he is there for the calm in which to consider his life, but at a metaphysical level he travels through the walls of the well and into other worlds that contain doppelgängers for the main characters and help him connect with his missing wife. 

“Hmmm this is not an easy book to review. 

“Murakami’s style fits into the magical realism genre so yes weird and wonderful things do happen. But the settings and characters and mundane day-to-day actives (boiling eggs, taking the train) are so normal they make the phenomena acceptable. It’s important to look beyond the strangeness and observe the commentary on social history that lies beneath.

“Murakami’s writing style, and that of his translator Jay Rubin is known as ‘simple’. The books’ sentences do not attempt grandiose statements or complex structure. Instead they simply state what has happened and what has been said. It is a testament to Murakami’s ability that he can make somethings seem so simple but actually be incredibly literary.

Maybe it’s been like that for you till now. But you’re not a kid anymore. You have the right to choose your own life. You can start again. If you want a cat, all you have to do is choose a life in which you can have a cat. It’s simple. It’s your right… right?

“As well as a clear fondness for the West, Murakami also injects his own love of jazz, of whiskey, of cats and raises some serious questions about Japanese history too. If it were a meal this book would be a ten-course degustation. There is so much depth and flavour that the moment you accept what is infront of you, the course suddenly changes and a new character and a new event inject their life forces into yours. But at the end of it, everything links together in an abstract way and if you think about it long enough you come to acknowledge and relish the links of every person, of every story to the wind up bird that slowly clunks through the moments of time for all the world to hear.

“I have read a few Murakami books before and loved their fearless and visionary style, hence why I chose this. But I have to say that this has expanded my brain and my being more than any other book before and as such I have to declare it as my favourite book of all time. Yes my number one. It’s an emotional moment.” – Rachel

“The only word that describes this book is ‘weird’. But definitely in a good way! The story line drew me in and held my interest, even though there were parts I didn’t understand.” – Nadine

“Don’t read my comments.  Anything I have to say will be done so with far more eloquence and insight by Rachel.  A superb introduction into the world of Murakami. Meticulously researched by Rachel for our bookclub that night and I still remember her revelation that “MAY KASAHARA IS US!!!”. A book club highlight.” – Suzy

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Published 1997
Shinschosha (Japan)
607 pages

Everything is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer

EverythingIsIlluminated READ FOR BOOKCLUB

Chosen by Suzy

The authors eponymous protagonist travels to the Ukraine, carrying a photograph of the woman, believed in the legends of the Safran Foer family, to have saved his granddad from the Nazis. 

“Beautiful/sad/haunting/memorable.  Discovering this author (who – ahem – is one of my top 5 favourite vegetarians by the way) was a revelation. He writes consistently good books and I would also highly recommend Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – go straight to the book, don’t bother with the movie.” – Suzy

“Obviously there are autobiographical elements here, which make the story of Jonathan’s search to find the woman who apparently saved his grandfather from the Nazis extremely heartfelt. The cast of hilarious characters offset the seriousness of the quest. Not only is there is a one-eyed chauffeur guided by his seeing-eye dog, but also a translator who uses the thesaurus to comic effect. You’ll laugh, smile, cry and grimace all the way through this book.” – Rachel

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Published 2002
Houghton Mifflin
288 pages

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

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Chosen by Rachel

A novel within a novel within a novel. Set in a fictional Canadian town it recalls the life events of an ageing lady. It won the Booker Prize in 2000.

“The Blind Assassin is about storytelling. Storytelling within storytelling within storytelling. Clearly a book for those who love books! I could say it is about an ageing woman recalling her life in the 30s and 40s and the death of her sister, who drives her car off a bridge in the opening sentence. But this is merely just the beginning and it is becomes so much more than that. Layer after layer of intrigue is uncovered in this rich and uniquely rewarding reading experience. There are many tiers to this book, and I became instantly engrossed in all the stories being told, in the characters and their lives. It takes a little to get into rhythm with the various settings, timeframes and beats of the stories, but once you’re there, you’re living the book, and all its stories and it’s hard to put it down. Margaret Atwood is a master and I’m always apprehensive to start another of her novels knowing it will only have to end.” – Rachel

“Despite my initial confusion with The Blind Assassin it was definitely worth persevering with!  A stunning novel, one of my all-time favourites.  In conversations about books, I’m always surprised about the number of people who know of it but who haven’t read it.  Resulting in me shoving my copy in their hands and saying aggressively “SERIOUSLY YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK”.  Margaret Atwood is one of my heroes.” – Suzy

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Published 2000
McClelland & Stewart
536 pages

To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

to-kill-a-mockingbird2

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Chosen by Nadine

A 1960 novel which won the Pulitzer Prize and has been named one of the best novels of all time. The young narrator’s warmth and humour are offset by the racial and societal injustices she observes.

“I loved this book. I think as with a lot of the classics as soon as you start reading them you realise why they are a classic. And also you ask yourself why you haven’t read it until now!” – Nadine

“A great read – can you say anything but?  I also really enjoyed the research on Harper Lee & her mystique.  Also interesting was the controversy around whether the story was in fact written by Truman Capote.” – Suzy

“This book should be read by everyone without exception. There is much to relate to and learn from, especially the message of morality and the search to be free – whatever it is you are searching to be free of. It focuses on the idea of right and wrong, and this is portrayed in every character, from the courtroom trial to the young children playing freely around the neighbourhood, to the mysterious Boo Radley. And it’s these themes that make the book accessible and affecting for every reader. This book has a reputation which is deserved.” – Rachel

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Published 1960
Grand Central Publishing
384 pages

 

The Bone People – Keri Hulme

Featured image

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Chosen by Suzy

A New Zealand book which won the Man Booker Prize in 1985. It is an unusual love story, depicting a utopian unity between Maori and Western culture.

“I felt uncomfortable for most of the time I was reading The Bone People. A lot of the content is grim – chick-lit it ain’t.  A stunning read though. And winning the 1985 Booker Prize is way more significant and exciting than the 1987 Rugby World Cup, okay?!” – Suzy

The Bone People really got under my skin. Although it was disturbing, I felt a strange connection to this book that just wouldn’t leave me.” – Nadine

“The beautiful NZ coastlines, Maori myth and legend and the startling storyline are captivating in The Bone People, and so well done it was as if I was standing on a desolate West Coast beach as I reading. A desperately moving story that captures not only what it means to be Maori but what it means to be Maori in changing times. Its use of faith and fables as a foundation for the modern story gave the story a solidity and strength which I imagine gave this very NZ tale its universal appeal. I also enjoyed hearing about the author and the story behind the story, which made the final result more of a masterpiece in my eyes.” – Rachel

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Published 1985
Penguin Books
450 pages