Friday, December 16, 2011

Isn't it time to curl up with a good book?

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Kirkus Reviews  -

"Things are not what they seem." If Murakami's (After Dark, 2008, etc.) ambitious, sprawling and thoroughly stunning new novel had a tagline, that would be it.

Things are not what they seem, indeed. A cab driver tells a protagonist named Aomame—her name means "green beans"—as much, instructing her on doing something that she has never done before and would perhaps never dream of doing, even if she had known the particulars of how to do it: namely, to descend from an endless traffic jam on an elevated expressway by means of a partially hidden service staircase. Aomame is game: She's tough, with strong legs, and she doesn't mind if the assembled motorists of Tokyo catch a glimpse of what's under her skirt as she drops into the rabbit hole. Meanwhile, there's the case of Tengo, a math teacher who, like Aomame, is 30 years old in 1984; dulled even as Japan thrives in its go-go years, he would seem to have almost no ambition, glad to serve as the ghostwriter for a teenage girl's torrid novel that will soon become a bestseller—and just as soon disappear. The alternate-universe Tokyo in which Aomame reappears (her first tipoff that it's not the "real" Tokyo the fact that the cops are carrying different guns and wearing slightly different uniforms), which she comes to call 1Q84, theqfor question mark, proves fertile ground for all manner of crimes, major and minor, in which she involves herself. Can she ever click her heels and get back home? Perhaps not, for, as she grimly concludes at one point in her quest, "The door to this world only opened in one direction." It's only a matter of time before Aomame's story becomes entangled in Tengo's—in this strange universe, everyone sleeps with everyone—and she becomes the object of his own hero quest; as he says, "Before the world's rules loosen up too much...and all logic is lost, I have to find Aomame." Will he? Stay tuned.

Orwellian dystopia, sci-fi, the modern world (terrorism, drugs, apathy, pop novels)—all blend in this dreamlike, strange and wholly unforgettable epic.

Aleph by Paulo Coelho

Kirkus Reviews -

The latest spirituality-lite novel from Coelho (The Winner Stands Alone, 2009, etc.).

The narrative focuses on a character named Paulo who has had a wildly successful novel (The Alchemist, 1993) and who is embarking on a book-signing binge on the Trans-Siberian railway, stopping at various spots from Moscow to Vladivostock. Paulo, it seems, is in the midst of a spiritual crisis, for life has lost its savor. His spiritual guru, cryptically named J., advises him to reconnect to his life by getting into the present moment, a mystic space called the Aleph. Paulo agrees, for after all he claims that, "To live is to experience things, not sit around pondering the meaning of life"—as though any good could come out oft hat sort of reflective activity. Paulo's wife is all in favor of having him take this journey—or perhaps she's interested merely in getting him out of the house for a while. Just before the journey begins, Paulo meets Hilal, a violinist who can bring him to tears with the beauty of her playing. She seems familiar to Paulo, however, and it turns out that he's known her before—roughly 500 years before, when he had been a monk and she had come before the Inquisition for having had sexual relations with Satan. They've both been given another opportunity together in the present so Paulo can make amends, both to Hilal and to several other women he'd mistreated in cosmic time. While he finds himself sexually attracted to Hilal, he remains technically chaste—well, kind of, though it's possible his wife might not see it that way.

For readers who admire books filled with goofy yet endearing spiritual clichés such as, "Death is just a door into another dimension."

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Publishers Weekly - 

Recalling works as disparate as Chaim Potok's The Chosen, John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Scott Lasser's Battle Creek, Harbach's big-hearted and defiantly old-fashioned debut demonstrates the rippling effects of a single baseball gone awry. When college shortstop phenom Henry Skrimshander accidentally beans teammate Owen Dunne with a misplaced throw, it starts a chain reaction on the campus of Westish College, "that little school in the crook of the baseball glove that is Wisconsin." Owen is solicitously visited in the hospital by school president Guert Affenlight, a widower, who falls in love with the seductive gay student, a "serious breech of professional conduct" that sends potentially devastating ripples through the school. Affenlight's daughter, Pella, after a failed marriage in San Francisco, returns to become part of a love triangle with Henry and Mike Schwartz, the team captain and Henry's unofficial mentor. And just when Henry's hopes of playing for the St. Louis Cardinals come within reach, he suffers a crisis of confidence, even as his team makes a rousing run at the championship. Through it all, Henry finds inspiration in the often philosophically tinged teachings found in The Art of Fielding ("Death is the sanction of all that the athlete does"), by a fictional retired shortstop. Harbach manages incisive characterizations of his five main players, even as his narrative, overlong and prone to affectation, tests the reader's patience.

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