The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
The Orphan Master's Son is an extraordinary tale of survival, identity and devotion. It's sharp prose, darkly farcical humour and self aware narrative, creates a reading experience that is emotionally engaging, thought provoking and uniquely entertaining.
The dystopian landscape of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, in which the novel is set, provides a fertile ground to tell an Orwellian story of resistance, and explore notions of truth, freedom and the individual under the bizarre and horrific dictatorial power structures of Kim Jung-il.
Raised in a North Korean orphanage, we follow Pak Jun Do through his many state determined roles [covert operative, diplomat and national hero among them] as he traverses the heights and depths of this paradoxical society in pursuit of his liberty and his love, the revered actress Sun Moon.
Brutal and poetic, tender and absurd The Orphan Master's Son is an outstanding and profoundly moving work of fiction that leaves much with the reader.
Shalom Auslander has penned in Hope: A Tragedy, not only an absurdist and darkly comic tale of startling wit, but a commentary on the burden of history, the affliction of guilt and the futility of optimism.
Our gluten intolerant protagonist, Solomon Kugel, moves with his wife, son and ailing Holocaust “survivor” mother to a rural farmhouse, only to find their new home to be inhabited by a long thought dead symbol of the 20th centuries darkest time.
Auslander brilliantly executes the navigation of philosophical, existential and cultural identity meanderings of a very bleak nature, while simultaneously delivering laugh out loud hilarity.
This book may offend some, but the deft rendering of the characters, situations and observations keeps it clear of crass sensationalism whilst unquestionably pushing the envelope of absurdism.
- Wilbo Baggins
Laurent Binet’s debut is a wonderfully engaging and surprisingly charming non-fiction narrative. Part WWII adventure, part historical homage, part travelogue and part writer’s process, Binet effortlessly weaves all these factors to make a glorious and emotional re-telling of an incredible true tale of heroism, villainy, courage and catastrophe
At the centre of this story is the planned assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the so called “Butcher of Prague”, upon where a Czech and Slovak team of resistance fighters execute a plan of such daring in the face of the growing Nazi occupation of their homeland, as to become legend.
What makes HHhH so enjoyable is the clear dedication and respect that Binet delivers in the telling, evident in his anxiety with accuracy, his fear of characterisation or forgetting the nameless, this combined with his skilful prose and likeable personality make HHhH a definite standout of 2012.
Walker’s debut novel posits the worldview of a child with the occurrence of an unexplained global disaster. The Earth is slowing on its axis, rendering havoc on the external and internal worlds of the inhabitants of our planet. As the hours of day and night stretch, and with the unwillingness to cede normalcy, life goes on.
Through Julia, an eleven year old girl, we are exposed to the effects, both subtle and direct, this grinding calamity has on her immediate life, friends and family. While simultaneously, though in limited detail, exploring the macrocosmic effects both environmentally and socially.
Melancholic and introverted in tone, with a pace that matches the foreboding backdrop of imminent doom, The Age of Miracles is an easy and engaging read and well suited to fans of young adult fiction.
Chad Harbach’s debut novel The Art of Fielding, takes the great American pastime of baseball as its back drop and sets against it a wonderful array of characters. Through a variety of challenges, whether it be late blooming love, past mistakes or overcoming the barrier of damaged self-confidence, a series of friendships develop and evolve. Situated within the literary laden atmosphere of Westish College, a delightfully rendered character in itself that evokes a charmingly nostalgic tone, The Art of Fielding is both heart-warming and optimistic. And don’t be put off by the baseball element; Harbach’s skilful prose makes a sport I knew nothing about completely engaging.
A joy to read.
There but for the is a sharp and playfully crafted exploration of connection, communication, time and humanity.
Using the catalyst of a dinner party, whereby our ‘absent’ protagonist locks himself in the spare room of an upper middle-class household; Smith constructs, in four chapters and through four voices, an outline of this recondite character, while simultaneously exploring the characters that provide those voices, in conjunction with a tender, occasionally satirical, commentary on modern life.
Using deft wordplay and a sly wit Smith creates a joyfully compelling, at times challenging, but ultimately rewarding read.
Jennifer Egan's fifth novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, is a brilliantly constructed and masterfully written series of intersecting short stories, populated with characters that are both tenuously and obviously linked. Traversing time and location, Egan's writing flows easily with a marked personality reflective of each character as we are taken through moments of profound intimacy and insight into the lives of friends, family and lovers.
Complex but never complicated, heartbreaking, darkly funny and optimistic, A Visit from the Goon Squad is a meditation on the ebb and flow of lives connecting with other lives and the joy and damage that results. A truly wonderful book!
The outstanding debut novel from Téa Obreht is a true delight. Set in the post war Balkan territories and recounting stories of her grandfather, our protagonist Natalia guides us through a cascade of characters and memories that weave a fabric of modern mythology. It is these characters and in particular the exposure of their histories that truly elevate the emotional connection one has to the telling of the various tales and to the characters themselves. Brutality is foreshadowed by sensitivity, cruelty by tenderness. Poignant and melancholic The Tiger's Wife is a beautifully crafted fable told with warmth and imbued with a very distinctive spirit. Highly recommended!
#3 X'ed Out by Charles Burns
Charles Burns' follow up to his Harvey Award winning collection Black Hole, X'ed Out, is a hallucinatory dreamscape punctuated by flashbacks and medication. This first of three colour volumes centers on a seemingly traumatised protagonist, slipping in and out of consciousness. Memories are interwoven with passage through a surreal metropolis and waking lull. Placed in the late 70's Bay area punk scene, X'ed out is a mix of Tin Tin like adventurism, latent teen angst and medicated displacement; combined with Burns' meticulous art and crafted storytelling makes X'ed out a compelling and intriguing read.
#2 Weathercraft by Jim Woodring
The ongoing search for the ever suffering Manhog's humanity/divinity is continued in Jim Woodring's Weathercraft. How does this half man-half hog get himself into these situations? Well there is only Whim and the unpredictable nature of the Unifactor to blame! A journey of self discovery and enlightenment with just a dash of Sisyphus like tragedy - this pictorial escapade, with the familiar cast of Frank comics, is a testament to both Woodring's psychedelic vision and fable/folkloric tale telling.
#1 Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
Skippy Dies, Paul Murray's second novel, is the tragicomic tale of Daniel 'Skippy' Juster whose fourteen years of life come to an end during a doughnut eating competition within the opening pages. Set in a Dublin boarding school, the story traces the events and relationships leading up to and following Skippy's death. The strength of this novel comes in Murray's ability to evoke the compounding affects of joy and humour (of the laugh out loud variety) with heartbreak and despair, and engage such familiarity with both the main as well as periphery characters that one becomes entirely immersed in the emotional state of the story. A fantastic read that traverses from hilarity to tragedy and, ultimately, hope.