I’ve got a series of posts lined up for the week in between Christmas and New Year with my hits, misses, finds and stats, so it’s time to catch up with my review pile backlog and some shorter reviews…
The Undertaker’s Daughter by Kate Mayfield
For anyone who loved the TV series Six Feet Under, this is what it’s like in real life to grow up living in an American Funeral Home, and sometimes it’s not that different! Kate Mayfield’s family moved to the town of Jubilee in southern Kentucky in 1959 where her father could realise his dream of running his own funeral home. Kate was already used living in the same house:
Back in Lanesboro, I had been the first in our family to be carried as a newborn from the hospital directly into a funeral home. Birth and death in almost the same breath.
We grow up with Kate in the business. We experience the competition between the rival businesses, and the favours and kindnesses that her father secretly does for the owner of the funeral home for the black population – for Jubilee in the 1960s was segregated. Kate’s father is a bit of a conundrum, totally professional and controlled, yet charismatic and a real dandy and, with his own hidden secrets of hard-drinking and womanising, no wonder Kate’s mother is brittle and desperate to fit into this community where they are initially outsiders. We learn a lot about the funeral business with Kate as she grows up, becoming a quietly rebellious teenager in the 1970s. We also see how the business of death can divide communities, cause family feuds and rattle a lot of skeletons in closets.
This memoir was absolutely fascinating, I heartily recommend it. Source: Publisher – Thank you, (9/10)
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
I’ve read this for book group – we’ll be discussing it in early January, but I won’t post about that discussion because I don’t want to spoil this novel for anyone that hasn’t read it yet – is there anyone?
The story is told by Rosemary who, at the start is at university, and still trying to come to terms with the disintegration of her family that started when she was five and her sister Fern disappeared from her life.
Rosemary takes us back and forwards through her life and the details gradually fall into place. However the big plot twist happens on page 77, early on in the novel.
As it happens, I knew the twist and I can honestly say it wouldn’t have taken me by surprise. The clues are all there (don’t read the tagline on the back cover for starters!). I’ve read several other books over the years that cover much of the same ground – without the twist.
After that it’s all a bit inevitable. That said, I did enjoy this book a lot, although I didn’t like the way the author continually signposts where we are in Rosemary’s story by referring to the beginning, middle, end and points inbetween. I’m still confused too why the Booker judges thought so highly of it as literature, but it is a good read. Source: Own copy, (7.5/10).
The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami
I’ve had mixed success with Murakami, but loved this beautifully illustrated novella, translated by Ted Goossen.
A boy gets an urge to find out about Ottoman tax collection and stops off at the library on his way home. Directed to the basement and the stacks of withdrawn books, he finds himself in the weirdest of horror stories featuring a sheep man, a cage, doughnuts and a girl who talks with her hands amongst many other strange things. It’s a very weird story – sort of Alice in Wonderland meets The House of Leaves.
The beauty of this little volume is in the illustrations, many of which are pages from old catalogues and text books. The end-papers are marbled and on the front is a pocket to hold the book’s ticket – Harvill Secker, the publishers have done a lovely job. I must admit I pored over the illustrations, finding the story almost as secondary, but loved the whole. (If you need a late Christmas present for someone this would be ideal.) Source: Own copy, (9/10).
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To explore any of these on Amazon UK, please click below (affiliate links):
- The Undertaker’s Daughter by Kate Mayfiend. Simon & Shuster hardback, Aug 2014, 368 pages.
- We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, Serpent’s Tail paperback 2014, 336 pages.
- The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami, Harvill Secker illustrated hardback, December 2014, 88 pages.