The Invaders by Karolina Waclawiak

The Invaders by Karolina WaclawiakThe Invaders by Karolina Waclawiak may be the book that has most surprised me so far this summer. I went into it with absolutely no expectations and I came away deeply satisfied. You can’t say that about every novel.

Waclawiak looks at the fractures in a picture perfect Connecticut neighborhood by focusing on the community’s greatest fears: change and outsiders threatening what they have. Part of this threat comes from the fear of violence – real and imagined, and this violence runs a subtle thread through the whole narrative.

The thing I most appreciated in Waclawiak’s writing was her subtlety. So much is conveyed in what is left unsaid and in sly glances. The male gaze is everywhere and is both threatening, but also yearned for. The story reflects so many of the battles faced in American culture today: us vs. them (whoever they are), expressions of sexuality and need, economic disparities. They way in which all these themes are brought together is what makes The Invaders so compelling.

Who would like this book? If you like a good story that makes you examine the world in which we live, this is a good book for you. It portrays the country club lifestyle that was touted as the ideal for so long and turns it on its head. That white, middle class neighborhood is far more toxic than ever imagined.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

goldfinchAh, The Goldfinch, perhaps the most anticipated book of 2013. What can i say about it? It topped just about everyone’s Best Of lists, and yet I’m not sure it would have made mine if I had actually read it in 2013. That is not to say that i didn’t love parts of it. In fact, I read into the wee hours of the night on more than one occasion. But as a whole, I found it a little to long, and I felt that at times (you know when I’m talking about) Donna Tartt was writing both out of her comfort zone and genre.

To a certain extent I feel a little sorry for Tartt. Having a debut novel like The Secret History is a hard act to follow. For me it was the perfect book read at the perfect time, and it seems that almost everybody feels this way. I’ll be perfectly honest and say that i was disappointed in her second book, The Little Friend. From what i can remember of it, it was a little spooky for my liking.

The Goldfinch is a sprawling novel. I had problems getting into it at first, but once I did I was hooked. Tartt’s writing was precise and detailed. The psychological effects of what happened to our young protagonists were superbly wrought. The path his life took was inevitable, and yet I kept hoping he’d escape from his family legacy.

Once I got into the book (which took about 150 pages) I was hooked, right up until the end, in Amsterdam, where the novel once again fell a little flat for me. And this is the part when I say that Tartt was writing outside of her comfort zone, and perhaps outside of my reading zone. It was too long, too detailed. I just wanted things resolved.

Who would like this book? It doesn’t really matter what I say here, because The Goldfinch may well be the book of the year. If you are a person who reads and likes to be in the know, you are going to read it. It is a chunkster of a book, so if you like a long read, you won’t be disappointed. Although not all of the novel was set in New York, it did put me in a very New York frame of mind. Love that Manhattan lifestyle. Overall, I’d rate it a 4 out of 5, but alas, it was not the perfect novel that The Secret History was, so i can’t give it a 5.

Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil

narcopolisWhen it comes to choosing books I know what I like and as a result I rarely start a book I can’t finish. On its surface Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil appeared to be a book I would like: an out of the ordinary Indian tale of Bombay’s drug infested underworld. All good, right? Add to that the fact that it was nominated for the Man Booker Prize in 2012 and it sounds like a sure fire winner.

I should have known after the seven page Prologue with no punctuation that it was not the book for me. Thayil writes experimentally through out the narrative. He is, among other things, a performance poet, so I knew things were going to get a little out there. Generally a little experimentation does not turn me off, but compound it with drug induced dream sequences and it left me with no idea what was going on most of the time.

In spite of the often times impenetrable prose, Narcopolis did bring back happy memories of Bombay for me. Thayil includes some wonderful descriptions of a flooded metropolis during the monsoon season. His use of Hindi in the narrative also intrigued me. Admittedly, the Hindi I know has very little to do with drug culture, but linguistically it was still nice to hear such proficient Hindi gutter talk. For most readers, however, the use of Hindi may obfuscate larger parts of the narrative.

Who would like this book? Narcopolis is not an easy read. And this is coming from someone who enjoys a challenging read. It may appeal to those who like the Beat writers for its hallucinatory prose. The narrative includes many dream sequences, which I believe as a category should be banned from literature. Listening to your partner’s dreams is bad enough, let alone reading about them in a book you picked up for entertainment.