Sunday, 26 July 2015

The Girl Who Wasn't There by Ferdinand von Schirach

The Girl Who Wasn't There by Ferdinand von Schirach
GenreMystery & Thrillers, Literature, Fiction
Pages: 224
Format: e-ARC
ISBN: 9780349140469
PublisherLittle Brown Book Group UK
Source: Publisher/Netgalley

Waterstones Book of the Month (July 2015)

Sebastian von Eschburg, scion of a wealthy, self-destructive family, survived his disastrous childhood to become a celebrated if controversial artist. He casts a provocative shadow over the Berlin scene; his disturbing photographs and installations show that truth and reality are two distinct things.
When Sebastian is accused of murdering a young woman and the police investigation takes a sinister turn, seasoned lawyer Konrad Biegler agrees to represent him - and hopes to help himself in the process. But Biegler soon learns that nothing about the case, or the suspect, is what it appears. The new thriller from the acclaimed author of The Collini CaseThe Girl Who Wasn't There is dark, ingenious and irresistibly gripping.

My Thoughts:
My initial response on completion was that I didn't like the book. I felt uncomfortable with some of the subject matter. The prose in the first half felt clunky, clipped and disjointed. Then the second half felt more coherent and better put together. The two halves felt disconnected; two different books. Overall, 'The Girl Who Wasn't There' was an interesting read but one which at times felt rather arty and pretentious with too much poetic ambiguous embellishment and at times I was either confused or irritated by it.  A rather odd little crime novel !

After pulling it apart to find out why I didn't like the book, I actually began to appreciate how clever Ferdinand von Schirach had been in creating this complex novel and that what I disliked was not the book itself but my reaction to particular scenes and subject matter. However on reflection I think they were necessary to tune into the mindset of the character concerned.  I won't divulge what these scenes were as it would spoil the storyline and enjoyment of the read for others.  Everything it seems was intended to offend or provoke some form of reaction or thought response. A rather clever little crime novel !

My main concern for 'The Girl Who Wasn't There' is that readers will give up after the first half perhaps feeling as I did, alienated and disconnected to Sebastian von Eschburg and therefore, not give it the chance it deserves.

The pacing of first half of the book is slow, dark, abstract and disjointed with short, sharp sentences.  It concentrates on Sebastian von Eschburg a ten year old boy who is different to most children his age. He sees the world around him in the form of colours rather than objects.
"He saw what other people saw, but in his mind the colours were different. His nanny’s hands were cyan and amber; his hair, as he saw it, shone violet with a touch of ochre; his father’s skin was a pale greenish blue."
Sebastian lives a lonely, detached existence and after his father's suicide he is sent away to boarding school by his emotionally absent mother where he becomes ever more insular.  It is at boarding school where he finds an outlet and is able to make sense of the world with his new found interest in photography in which he develops a real talent.
The second half of the book focuses on Monika Landau, the prosecutor, and Konrad Biegler, the defence lawyer who Sebastian requests to represent him when he is accused of murder in unusual circumstances.  This half is in total contrast and is faster paced, much more engaging and rewarding and ultimately leads to the (not too unexpected in my case) conclusion.
For me the main weakness in the book is the title itself. Originally entitled 'Tabu' for its German publication it was renamed 'The Girl Who Wasn't There' for its English speaking audience. Interesting and complex a plot as it is, it fell flat at the 'big reveal', and to my mind the former title is more suited due to the provocative themes in the main of the storyline, rather than the latter which focuses on its conclusion.
Not a must read book but certainly an interesting and thought provoking one including themes of violence, the representation of sex and violence as an art form, sex trafficking, and torture.
'The Girl Who Wasn't There' by Ferdinand von Schirach, a defence attorney himself and author of 'The Collini Case' is most definitely not your usual crime thriller and certainly not going to be for everyone but I'd definitely recommend it to those who have read, 'The Collini Case'  and Albert Camus' 'The Stranger' and to those appreciative in the arts particularly art vs pornography and the justice system.
A great choice for book reading groups with plenty of 'food for thought' topics for discussion.
Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of 'The Girl Who Wasn't There' was provided by Liitle Brown via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

NELLY DEAN by Alison Case

Nelly Dean by Alison Case
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 480
Format: Hardcopy ARC
ISBN: 9780008123383
Publisher: Harper Collins (13th August 2015)
Source: Publisher/

Rating: DNF

I had a hard time with this one. I truly wanted to love it but regretfully have to say that it wasn't to my liking.

I have no doubt that Alison Case's debut offering will become a best seller.  So why my lack of enthusiasm?  My first reading of Wuthering Heights was over twenty years ago and I fell in love with Emily Bronte's gothic classic.  Maybe I'm stuck in the past with my 15 year old romanticised memories of the spirited Cathy and the broody Heathcliff running wild together on the Yorkshire moors. Could it be that my memories of this classic have merged and blurred with the memory of Hollywood's 1939 film version with Merle Oberon as Cathy and Laurence Olivier's Heathcliff ? Is a reread of the classic in order or should I leave it and retain my fond memories?

I digress, as the retelling of Wuthering Heights from Nelly's perspective through her written correspondence to Mr Lockwood, Nelly recounts, including less favourable details omitted in her original account, the unfortunate events that befell the families at Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange.  The 194 pages I managed to read felt like a chore and it became apparent that I wouldn't finish the book in time to submit my review in the deadline timeframe. Nor did I have the patience to persevere and had to admit defeat.

Nelly Dean is undoubtably well written. The pace is slow allowing the reader to become fully acquainted with the characters.  However they felt flat and uninteresting to me.  Had I continued with the novel I may have changed my view but I didn't feel connected enough to want to find out.  I may be missing out on a brilliant novel, perhaps timing was wrong, and I may try to read it again sometime.

Nelly Dean is a perfect companion to Bronte's Wuthering Heights, for fans of Jo Baker's Longbourne (of which I'm one),  Jessie Burton's The Miniaturist, and Tracy Chevalier. It would certainly make an excellent book club choice.

Disclaimer: I received an advanced reading copy of the book from the publisher via Lovereading for an unbiased review.

I didn't finish reading Nelly Dean and am therefore, only able give my thoughts on the chapters read and do not wish to influence the reader in any way and would like to point out that I am in a minority with my opinions and even though this one wasn't for me I look forward to Alison Case's next offering.

Saturday, 11 July 2015


Shelf Inflicted: THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE BY JAMES M. CAIN: The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain My rating: 5 of 5 stars ”Stealing a man’s wife, that’s nothing, but stealing his car, tha...

If this review doesn't get you all hot under the collar and clamouring for a copy then I don't know what will. I've no idea why its taken so long for me to get around reading The a Postman Always Rings Twice but I'm certainly moving it from the very bottom of My To Read pile to near the top now.

Friday, 3 July 2015

The Girl From The Garden by Parnaz Faroutan

The Girl From The Garden by Parnaz Faroutan
Genre: Literary Fiction, Women's Lives, Historical Fiction

Pages: 288
Format: e-ARC
ISBN: 9780062442864
PublisherEcco (Aug 18, 2015)
Source: Publisher/Edelweiss

THE GIRL FROM THE GARDEN’s lyrical prose and heartbreaking evocation of female struggle in a forgotten time and place is reminiscent of Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, but it is not just a novel about women. It is a story of Iran, of a lost cultural moment and identity that flourished before the wars and the reign of the shahs. And it is a story about family—about the things that draw us closer and perhaps inevitably push us apart.
My Thoughts:
The Girl From Garden is the debut masterpiece from Parnaz Faroutan and another one added to my favourite reads this year.  It is a powerful tale of desire, obsession, jealousy, power and vulnerability and ultimately the downfall of a wealthy Persian-Jewish family set in the early twentieth century.

Mahboubeh, the only surviving daughter of the Malacouti family, is an elderly woman who spends her time tending and talking to the plants in her garden. Mahboubeh drifts in and out of the past reliving her memories as a young girl in Iran and it is through her that we hear about a young married couple who are unable to produce an heir to ensure the continuation of the family line; and we bear witness to the tragic events and destructive forces that destroyed the family.

When Asher Malacouti's young wife fails to produce an heir and his brother's new wife becomes pregnant he decides on a course of action that will have disastrous consequences. The disdain and resentment that Asher displays toward his wife, Rakhel, will distort and shape her into a manipulative, vindictive woman.  Rakhel will go to any extremes to maintain her status within the family including the use of spells and help of djinns in this highly superstitious, spirit believing culture.

In a male dominated and strict boundary controlled environment the young women jostle with one another in a struggle to reach the most beneficial status within the unit, sacrificing any chance of true friendship or bond, and is where betrayal, and manipulation are the unending driving force.

The Girl From The Garden is all the more poignant as life for young girls is pretty much the same today as it was then. Little or no alternative exists than to be married very young to produce children, and look after their husband and family, often in oppressive and restrictive marriages, as is the case for Rakhel.

The Girl From The Garden is a beautifully written piece of literature.  Vividly depicting a world rich in detail with beautifully drawn characters who effortlessly come to life and lodge themselves into your mind.
I highly recommend The Girl from the Garden to anyone interested in learning about lives from a different time and culture and would generate lively discussion in book reading groups.

Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of The Girl From The Garden was provided by Ecco via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest unbiased review.