Hot Milk by Deborah Levy - This seemingly thin novel has a lot to say. Sofia travels with her ill mother (who has not been able to walk for the last 15 or something years) to Spain in to a luxurious clinic of enigmatic Doctor Gómez in order to find a cure for the mysterious paralyses. What seems to be an easy-read quickly turns into a family psychological drama and search for lost identity. Levy uses a beautiful language to describe the dry, suffocating Spanish summer, which greatly reflects the very same suffocating relationship between the daughter and her mother. Realism with elements of symbolism is a perfect form to capture Sofia's feelings of duty towards her mother Rose, while realising that after all she might be the one who needs help. As the story progresses, Sofia gradually reveals how she is lost and unsure about her career, family (father who left to marry a young girl and have a child with her in Greece), sexuality, love, and life. I told you it is not an easy-read! Sometimes I got slightly annoyed with some of the characters, notably with Sofia's friend and lover Ingrid who here and there behaves almost unrealistically. Yet Levy manages to convince you that meeting all of the characters would be perfectly fine and possible even in real life. Further you get in the book, more attention you need to pay so you do not miss all the details spread across the pages, signifying that Levy has much more to say than you think. And the ending simply sweeps you off your feet.
I am not okay. Not at all and haven't been for some time. (Hot Milk)
House of Names by Colm Tóibín - I read his famous novel Brooklyn and fell in love with Tóibín's unique writing style. So when I reached for his newest book House of Names, I knew I would not be disappointed. Once again, Tóibín creates a rich cast of characters who combat with their fears, pain, feelings of lost and most importantly, betrayal. However, the story of Agamemnon and his family is completely different compare to the writer's previous books, which are usually set in the 50's and 60's, dealing with Irish emigration and the political situation in Ireland. Three narrators offer their own versions of one famous Greek myth about a powerful king who betrays his family and dooms his house. Clytemnestra, who opens up the story, plans to avenge the death of her beautiful daughter Iphigenia, who is murdered by her own father Agamemnon (well, he calls it a sacrifice). After being kidnapped, Orestes, the youngest child and the only son tries to find his way back home, while his sister Electra is trapped in her memories and hatred towards their mother. Tóibín leaves out the usual characters of Greek gods (who play important parts in Homer's Iliad, and Aeschylus' and Euripides's tragedies) and rather displays a certain level of humanity of the royal family by depicting their inner thoughts, fears and longing for simple understanding of the whole tragic situation. The language and writing style slightly change every time the narrator takes over from the previous one, creating from one tale almost three short stories telling to its reader about the same situation from different points of views. My favourite part was definitely with Orestes who struggles to exceed his childishness and to comprehend and cope with the controlling power of his mother and sister. But regardless who you prefer and who you hate, the book does not lose its pace and the ending beautifully underlines human nature and life.
I have been acquainted with the smell of death. (House of Names)
Spaceman of Bohemiaby Jaroslav Kalfař - A Prague-born writer who had emigrated to the US fourteen years ago published his debut in English and has catapulted himself to the literary stars! I am trying to decide how to define this book. A little bit of sci-fi, love story, historical novel and trauma fiction. All of these genres appear throughout the reading. The year is 2018 and Jakub, the main protagonist, is set off to space to explore an unknown mass of clouds called Chopra, which appeared near Venus. His mission is more than just to bring some samples. He stands as a symbol of hope, trying to represent his small nation of ten million inhabitants with a painful history of communism, which took over their liberty and democracy back in the 20th century. Both the past and Czech history play an important part since although Jakub is for most of the book closed up in a spaceship called JanHus1 (significantly named after a Czech priest and philosopher who was burnt at the stake for alleged heresy against the Church), a number of flashbacks helps to enlighten the reader into Jakub's childhood, a meeting of his wife Lenka, as well as informs him about the important dates of the Czech history. The burning questions? Would you choose love of your life over a dream of your life? How can your parent's past change your future? And why does an alien love Nutella? Interestingly, Kalfař is not afraid to use Czech words and names, which is something rare and original in English literature. I am still not sure if a reader who is not familiar with the Czech history can fully comprehend all the small symbolic hints spread across the story. But even if he can't, the book is still enough funny, interesting, original, moving, sad and hopeful to make it up for a few Czech words which are not fully explained.
In one book, your father is a hero. In another book, he is a monster. The men who don't have books written about them have it easier. (Spaceman of Bohemia)
The Gathering Murders by Keith Moray - I got this as a Christmas present from my mum, who had read about its Scottish setting (where I study at a university). Sounds good? Well... The story about inspector McKinnon who has to hunt down a serious killer to secure the safety of the Hebrides (hundreds of small islands in Scotland) and notably of a literary festival which is taking place on one of the bigger islands simply misses "that something" that would force you to reach for the second novel of this book series. I am not sure if the problem was because I read the Czech translation, or because the author is simply not as good as another writers of crime fiction, like my favourite Jo Nesbø. Although the inspector has a typical tragic background (an orphan who worked himself up to the current position), two sidekicks (one is brilliant, the other is funny and slightly dumb), and of course that there is a femme fatale, the dialogues are banal and easy to predict. When the complicated motive of the killer is finally revealed, it is once more explained on the final pages of the book, only proving that the story is unnecessarily tangled and thus mind-numbing to read.