Tag Archive | college life

Book review: The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood

Three of five stars

On the way home after his shift at the care home where he worked as a nurse’s assistant, 20-year-old Oscar Lowe wandered into a chapel on the grounds of Cambridge University one day to listen to the organ music.  After the service, as young men often do, he began chatting with an attractive young woman, Iris Bellwether, whose brother Eden was the organist.  From such chance meetings do lives change.

Iris and Eden were products of privilege: boarding school, music lessons, prestigious university education, with neither a thought to money nor concept of cost.  Oscar’s life couldn’t have been more different.  But his and Iris’s mutual attraction transcended the difference in their social backgrounds, and they swiftly fell in love.  Iris’s and Eden’s small group of friends made room in their closed circle for Oscar.  Eden, on the other hand, remained aloof, disapproving, with a penchant for insults so subtle Oscar wasn’t sure he actually heard them, or if he was being overly sensitive.

Over time, Iris began to confide in Oscar her worries about Eden: the childhood mistreatments, the obsessive behavior, the sheer hubris of his belief that he can heal people through music.  Convinced he suffered from a severe psychological disorder, she wondered if there was someone who could help:  in secret, of course, because Eden would never willingly subject himself to therapy.  Together, she and Oscar came up with a plan to have Eden evaluated, thus setting in motion the beginning of the end, and the tragedy that opens and closes the book.

Benjamin Wood’s debut novel is beautifully written, and somewhat reminiscent of Donna Tartt’s A Secret History.  He captures the opulence and arrogance of the Bellwethers’ lifestyle as seen through Oscar’s eyes, with echoes of Fitzgerald’s “The rich are different” ringing through the prose.  The living room at the Bellwether family home had “…the conscious extravagance of a hotel lobby;” Iris’s parents “…spent more money on cognac than most people could retire on.”  Oscar enjoys the luxury of becoming part of this privileged circle, but he is not seduced by it, and in the end, may be the only person who survives relatively undamaged.

Many thanks to Goodreads’ First Reads program for the opportunity to read this book.

Book review: The Hair of Harold Roux by Thomas Williams

The Hair of Harold Roux: A NovelThe Hair of Harold Roux: A Novel by Thomas Williams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“If you have been cursed by art, you have to do your work or you die before you stop breathing.”

Aaron Benham, writer, professor, husband, father, is having a midlife crisis.

He’s stalled on his latest novel; he’s dealing with the hysterical mother of a missing student as well as the worried wife of a doctoral candidate who won’t finish his thesis; and he’s disappointed his family once again by forgetting about the family trip they had planned. During that long weekend alone, while his family has gone on without him, Aaron wrestles with age-old questions: Who am I? How did I get here? What is my purpose?

Set in New England of the early 1970s, the novel ranges through time and memory and fiction itself. We are treated to Aaron’s stream-of-consciousness reminiscences of WWII Army life, the goings-on of the present day, and his struggles with his novel. In fact, we spend a lot of time inside Aaron’s novel itself…”a thinly disguised memoir of his college days,” to quote the back cover. And even some time inside the novel’s novel…each story interconnected by outside events, haunting regrets, and foolish young decisions. Aaron’s world allows him to be selfish and self-indulgent — a guilty flaw he fully recognizes and explores at length through his own internal dialogue and that of Allard Benson, the alter ego of his novel. By the time we reach the conclusion, Aaron may or may not be a better person, but he’s certainly aware.

Although it took me a little while to get into the rhythm, the story flowed easily, with beautiful language, well-drawn fully-fleshed characterizations, and smooth transitions. Well worth reading.

Thank you, LibraryThing Early Reviewers for the opportunity to read this book.

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Book review: The Likeness by Tana French

The Likeness (Dublin Murder Squad, #2)The Likeness by Tana French
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In an effort to discover a killer, Detective Cassie Maddox is put undercover after a young woman who bears her a stunning resemblance is discovered murdered. Said young woman was known as Alexandra Madison, or Lexie, the alias Cassie used in a drug sting operation some years prior. So who is she? And why was she stabbed and left to die in a tumbledown crofter’s cottage on a remote country lane?

Pleading amnesia as a result of the attack to cover any gaps in knowledge, Cassie takes Lexie’s place in a house shared by four other young people. She begins to live Lexie’s life: going to school, working on the house, fixing dinner, talking with her roommates — a life so ordinary and comfortable that Cassie’s boundaries start to blur.

I thought about her differently that night. Before, she had been an invader or a dare, always something that set my back stiffening and my adrenalin racing. But I was the one who had flashed into her life out of nowhere…I was the dare she had taken, years before the flip side of the coin landed in front of me. The moon spun slowly across the sky and I thought of my face blue-gray and empty on steel in the morgue, the long rush and clang of the drawer shutting her into the dark, alone. I imagined her sitting on this same bit of wall on other, lost nights, and I felt so warm and so solid, firm moving flesh overlaid on her faint silvery imprint, it almost broke my heart. I wanted to tell her things she should have known, how her tutorial group had coped with Beowulf and what the guys had made for dinner, what the sky looked like tonight; things I was keeping for her.

Tana French takes us deep into Cassie’s psyche, and by extension into Lexie’s, with heartbreaking prose and keen observation. Her phrasing is so sharp it cuts. She imbues her characters with grit, determination, bravado, so much sheer humanity…even the minor players have dimension. She gradually builds the tension and darkens the atmosphere — Lexie’s world isn’t so safe after all — but leaves us guessing about the killer until the very end. And even then, are we really sure what happened?

Well done. Very well done.

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