Ken Follett provided one of the high points in October with the release of the final installment in The Century Trilogy. Edge of Eternity brings the series to an end at a happy moment in the history of this century—which was a welcome relief from the dystopian fiction that covers the literary landscape these days.
The novel spans the decades from 1961 to 1989—some of the most tumultuous years in modern history. Follett follows what are the grandchildren and children of the first novel in the series as they make their way through the civil rights movement in the U.S., the Vietnam War, the assassinations of men who hoped to bring change to this country, the building of the Berlin Wall, and machination of Communism. It is a testament to Follett’s sure hand and vision that the novel ends on a high note for the world, which is a stark contrast to the increasing depression felt by many about the world today. Edge of Eternity covers the highs and lows of the biggest events of these decades and yet, does so from the perspective of the people—not just those making the decisions but more importantly, those impacted by them. A fantastic end to a fantastic trilogy. If you haven’t read any of the books I say give yourself an early Christmas present (and a great way to spend the cold, dreary days of winter) and start with book 1. If that feels like too much, all three of the books stand-alone so pick a time period and go for it! Highly recommended.
Over and over again, I wanted to rob you of yourself…Even if what was left was nothing more than an empty shell.
It’s been awhile since I’ve read any contemporary Japanese fiction and after reading Last Winter We Parted by Fuminori Nakamura I remember why: it is not a genre I enjoy. By the end of the first chapter I was filled with a sense of unease, which is not too surprising as the novel is about a reporter writing a book about a murderer on death row. Almost immediately, the polite, normal surface of society is peeled away to reveal the filth underneath. This makes for hard reading and left me feeling as if I was covered in a layer of ash.
Last Winter We Parted is relentless in its dismal outlook on the human psyche. It’s not enough that the killer is a sociopath but every character in the novel has a dark side and only a dark side. This may be a function of Japanese noir fiction and, if so, Nakamura is a master of the genre. Without increasing violence and gore he goes to a place of pitch darkness and depravity which, by its volume, comes off as overdone and unbelievable. People simply cannot be this unremittingly evil, without a single redeeming quality.
For lovers of noir fiction this may be right in their wheelhouse because it is at its heart a mystery and one that is quite elaborate. For me I can only wonder at the mindset that leads to such mental desolation—a landscape of twisted souls all trying to fulfill their perverse desires while presenting a normal façade. Whatever it is, I don’t need to know.
Let me start by saying I am SO late to the party on this book. Virtually every reader I know has read it and raved and it took me over a year to pick it up. I’m talking about George Saunders’ book of short stories, Tenth of December. Simply put, I loved it and am depressed it took me this long to discover such a quirky, imaginative author. There are ten stories in the book and each one is a perfect gem that explores the foibles of human nature in ways that flay with humor. In “Victory Lap” there is the over-protected Kyle, a teenager whose parents have exerted such control over his life that he finds himself paralyzed about leaving the house to stop the abduction of a girl who leaves nearby. “Escape from Spiderhead” takes on pharmaceutical companies with a look inside a testing facility where people can feel more or less of almost any emotion with a few drops of the appropriate drug. “Exhortation” brings to life the manager everyone loves to hate with their aphorisms and upbeat business jargon and “The Semplica Girl Diaries’ encapsulates the drive to keep up with the neighbors in all things materialistic.
Saunders writes with such intimacy, making even the most out-there characters plausible. In all their frightening, wacky, tender aspects—they exist and can be felt. There is a feeling of rescue in Tenth of December—both literal and figurative. In some way, there is a character in each story who is trying to change the game, trying to step out of who and what they are and be different and it is all the more poignant because it doesn’t always happen. Just like in real life.
How was your October reading? As hit or miss as mine? Anything you particularly loved or hated?