The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

Book Details
Paperback: 507 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins Inc (USA), Faber and Faber Ltd (Great Britain)
Published: First edition 2009Language: English

Book Review
I really enjoyed The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and so I was very excited when my friends purchased her latest novel for me as my birthday present last month.

The story is quite complex and is told from two people's perspectives. The book is comprised of the writings and personal diaries of Harrison Shepherd, who begins keeping a record of his life from a young age. His writings are compiled by his stenographer, Violet Brown, who supplements them with her own views as newspaper clippings that refer to Harrison in some way. Harrison Shepherd has lead an unusual life, moving between Mexico and the USA throughout his childhood and adulthood. The central event in his life is the assassination of Lev Trotsky, whom he meets and begins working for as a secretary of sorts. He meets Trotsky when he is working for a cook in the house of Diego Rivers and Frida Kahlo, both of whom agree to house Trotsky during his banishment from Russia. The assassination of Trotsky sees the house fall apart, and Harrison travels to the USA with Frida Kahlo's painting, delivers them to a gallery and then settles in an American town. He lives a quiet life as an author, where he hired Violet Brown as his assistant. His settled life, however, begins to go dramatically haywire when his links to Trotsky and the Rivera's come back to haunt him in the McCarthy era.

What is really interesting about the Harrison's diaries is that they focus on the small details of daily life; purchasing cigarettes for his mother, doing chores at boarding school, typing for Trotsky, watching Trotsky's assistant Van undress. Harrison isn't well education or particularly political like the people he is surrounded by. He is interested in the daily reality and it is the daily reality that Harrison gives us an insight into.

This means that you don't see a whole lot of Harrison himself in his writing, particularly in the beginning of the book. There are a couple of glimpses toward the beginning of his true feelings; for example, when his mother dies and when Van ruffles his hair. I did feel like there was some incongruity between the voice he uses in his diaries and the way in which he records the conversations he has with others (particularly with Frida). As the writer he seems shy but thoughtful and insightful. In his conversations with other he appears to be more sarcastic and quick witted. I'm not trying to say that this reduced the believability of Harrison as a character at all. On the contrary, the difference between his inner and outer voice (if you will) only makes him more real. The difference does reduce throughout the course of the novel, and I think that perhaps this could be attributed to the ageing process, as he becomes more comfortable with himself, his inner voice and outer voice become more similar.

For me, this difference (as well as a lot of the other events in the novel) are really embodied by the title The Lacuna. This means the gap - there are so many gaps and holes in his life. There's almost a sense of some sort of expanse between Harrison and the world. He seems to operate at a distance from the world and he tries not to let it effect him, until he can't control it any longer.

What kind of read is it?
It is a colourful read, really interesting style of writing that makes you want more.

Do I recommend it?
Absolutely, it was amazing and I hope everyone reads it.

Do I recommend buying it?
Definitely one for the bookshelf. I would definitely re-read this.

Star Rating

7 / 8

Brilliant, couldn't put it down. Recommend that you buy it.

E-Book Reading Challenge

I have decided to join the Ebook Reading Challenge hosted by Royal Reviews in 2010. I am very excited about this challenge. I have to admit that normally I'm not that into reading challenges, I like to just read whatever my mood dictate, with perhaps the exception of attempting to focus on Australian literature.

But this challenge I can really get into. I have been reading a lot of ebooks recently on my iphone. I was very excited to discover a program called Stanza that allows you to download books straight onto the phone. This is so convenient for reading on the run. Its especially convenient for me because ereaders are very difficult to come by in Australia (and I'm from Sydney)

So, the rules of the challenge are:
1. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate.

2. There are four levels:

-- Curious – Read 3 E-Books.

-- Fascinated – Read 6 E-Books.

-- Addicted – Read 12 E-Books.

-- Obsessed – Read 20 E-Books.

3. Any genre counts.

4. You can list your books in advance or just put them in a wrap up post. If you list them, feel free to change them as the mood takes you.

5. Challenge begins January 1st thru December, 2010.

I am going to aim for Addicted - 12 ebooks. That's one a month which I think is pretty do-able for me. I would like to think that I could attempt the obsessed level, but I'd rather be conservative and get a good surprise at the end of the year when I complete the challenge!

I'm already reading my first ebook of the year - The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit.

Its Monday! What are you reading this week?

'It's Monday! What are you reading?' is a meme started on the wonderful J Kaye's Book Blog, all about what books you just finished, you are currently reading and what is coming up.

Well, the Christmas/New Year period is nearly over and I have more time to read thank goodness. Im really looking forward to reading some of the books that I know I have coming up and I cant wait to really get into 2010.

Finished reading
The Wind in the Willows
by Kenneth Graham
Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

Currently reading
Wuthering Heights
by Emily Bronte
I literally started reading this on the train on the way home from work today so I havn't got very far, but I am interested to see how it progresses.

The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit
This is a lovely story so far and I'm really enjoying becoming involved in these children's lives. They are so imaginative and make such good things from a bad situation that I am really admiring of them.

Coming up
I definitely have to read an Australian book on the next round, I think I will finally read Capricornia by Xavier Herbert or perhaps Poster Boy by Allan Cope.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham

Book Details
Ebook: Project Gutenberg
Published: First published in 1908
Publisher: Methuen

Book Review
The Wind in the Willows is definitely a classic, and (perhaps my mother can correct me if I am wrong) I don't think that I had ever read it before noew. I recall as a child possibly seeing it on the television, or as a play, but if I had ever read or been read this book prior to recently then it has escaped my memory.

The story itself is a tale of the friendship and adventures of Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad, all of whom are wonderfully real characters living their lives by the riverbank. The story begins when Mole decides to give his spring cleaning a rest and head into the outside world. He makes his way to the riverbank, having never seen one before, and befriends Ratty the water rat. Mole becomes enamoured with the river and the unlikely friendship between Mole and Ratty sees the two move in together into Ratty's hole in the riverbank. Ratty introduces Mole to his friend Toad, who's new craze for motor cars creates a lot of trouble for him and his friends. Toad involves Ratty and Mole in his troubles when he convinces them to join him on an adventure to see the world. Mole also becomes curous about Badger, whom he hears a lot of but never sees. One day he goes on a journey into the Wild Woods in search of Badger, but finds himself lost and under seige from other creatures in the wood. He is eventually saved by Ratty and together they spend an evening in Badger's comfy home, the three becoming fast friends. All these friends then join forces again when they find themselves mixed up again in Toad's trouble, culminating in a battle to take control of Toad Hall from the stoats and weasels.

The books is a children's tale, written from the perspective of an onlooker on the varied and fun adventures of a group of close friends. Some of their adventures are connected to others, and others stand alone as notable incidents in their lives. In short, the title hints at what the story is - a recounting of the adventures these 4 friends have as events occur that effect the course of their lives, just like willows being blown around at the whim of the wind.

The comraderie between these animals, particularly Ratty and Mole, is very special. These animals respect each other, and they respect the worl around them. Despite at times their friendships being stretched by difficult times they support each other through thick and thin and are always willing to lend a hand. Not only do they respect each other, but they respect nature aswell. There is no doubt that these are important lessons for people to learn at a young age.

I have to admit to feeling a bit confused about the purpose behind the story of Mole and Ratty's fateful meeting with what I understand is supposed to be the god Pan. There other adventures are so 'real'. Perhaps it is to emphasise their special connection with the natural world around them, an important lesson for people in the 21st Century to learn.

I think I indentified with Mole and Toad the most. Mole is such a lovely character, so curious and full of enthusiasm for life, always looking for something new to try and some adventure to have. What I identify with in Toad's character is his pre-disposition to obsess over things, and this obsession getting totally out of control. I see in myself sometimes a similar pre-disposition to become very single-minded about a new excitement and perhaps carry it a bit too far. Whilst it gets Toad into trouble (and me sometimes) I still think its a good quality to have, enthusiasm at its highest.


What kind of read is it?
It is a quick and easy read.

Do I recommend it?
All in all, this is a wonderful children's tale that is also special for adults to read. I highly recommend it to everyone.

Do I recommend buying it?
Yes, although it is a children's tale, I think it would be a lovely edition to the bookshelf, particularly if you have children or are planning on doing so.

Star Rating

6 / 8

Really enjoyable and well written. I would recommend it.