We That Are Left by Clare Clark

Geetanjali-Musings of a BibliophileWe That Are Left by Clare Clark

Published on :March 26th,2015

Published by: Harvill Secker

Genre: Historical Fiction,Family Saga,Adult


Review

Rating: 3/5

 Set in the early 1900s England,We That Are Left  is a social commentary on the impact of the First World War ,the result of the women’s suffrage movement,the beginning of a new age in Physics and the effect of  dysfunctional home lives on children.Starting with a funeral in the prologue,this tragic story has a melancholic tone from the outset which leads to a frustrating and pitiful ending.

It is 1910 and ten year old Oskar Grunewald is awestruck by the books in the massive library housed in the equally majestic Victorian castle,called Ellinghurst,home to the Melville family in the English countryside.Fascinated by numbers but at odds with words,he is considered weird and avoided by the Melville children,comprising of Theo,the heir to the Melville baronetcy, and his younger sisters,Phyllis and Jessica.As the years pass and the Great War calls upon all the men excepting the underaged,the old and the physically disadvantaged for service,the social scene in the country takes a new turn when a great number of these men are killed in war. People of German origin who’ve long since made England their home and are for all purposes British,are questioned about their loyalty to the Crown and subjected to the wrath of the public.During this time when Oskar Grunewald,now Oscar Greenwood(named changed to hide his half-German parentage),visits Ellinghurst he is shocked by the stark difference that Theo’s death in the war has brought down to the place.Where once it was filled with guests and laughter all the time,entertained by his Godmother Eleanor,the mistress of the house,now,it is filled with deep sighs of loss and mourning with the family matriarch shunning society and taking refuge in the occult in the hopes of connecting with her beloved son.

Both the war and Theo’s death cause an upheaval in the lives of Oscar and the remaining Melville children.Oscar becomes confused with his Britishness,disenchanted by mathematics because of a prejudiced math teacher,drawn to new age physics both out of interest and because of being ostracized by his German hating ‘pure’ English classmates at school,and develops a crush on Jessica as he hits puberty.Meanwhile,Phyllis who was a couple of years older than Oscar and Jessica,takes her nose out of her beloved books and leaves to serve the nation as a nurse.And Jessica who was always wilful,becomes unruly and wild with no parental supervision.Add a couple more years,at the end of the Great War,they,along with all the other survivors of the war have to come to terms with the new state of affairs in the country and learn to go on with their lives.

But more than the central plot of the story,it is the personal journeys of the main characters,Oscar,Phyllis and Jessica,that make the novel most engaging.Phyllis and Jessica have only the Melville name in common but radically different personalities.While Phyllis belongs to the progressive era of women,preferring to read as a child and later endeavours to lead an independent and find an identity of her own,Jessica is a romantic,somewhat vain,an attention seeker who relies on others,particularly the male species to provide her a better life.It is interesting to study the contrasting nature of the two sisters;where one depended on her intellectual faculties,the other relied on her beauty;particularly,how Jessica still didn’t want to let go the comfortable existence and norms of the past,whereas Phyllis welcomed the change in women’s status and role in society brought on by the suffrage movement and the war.

The sisters loved one another very much but could never comprehend each other’s outlook on life.

‘Of all the infuriating things about Phyllis perhaps the most infuriating was the way she always behaved as though books were real and real life just a story somebody had made up without thinking.’  –Jessica on Phyllis

“Then do something.Make your own life,instead of waiting like Rapunzel for the last of the knights-errant to ride up on his white charger and offer you his.”Phyllis to Jessica when she complained about life being unfair after the war and worried about her future.

Then there is Oscar,the quiet boy with a head for numbers,who’d gaze with wonder at the encyclopedias in the Melville’s library when he was ten and who grew up to be a scholar of Physics at Cambridge.Born to a German musician father and an English women’s rights activist mother,the days of the Great War led to a serious identity crisis for the poor boy.With no recollection of his father who’d died when he was little, and no connection to his German roots except for a few German  phrases taught to him by his mother,he was confused and ashamed when both the boys at his boarding school and his math teacher tortured him for being German.

Every time he looked at something and the German word for it came into his head first he felt cold inside,as if the boys at school were right and he was the enemy after all.It frightened him that he might do something German in his sleep.

As we follow him through the years,witness him experiencing his first kiss,understand the difference between infatuation and true love,see him lose a part of himself when his mother dies,one cannot but empathize with this intelligent,sensitive soul left vulnerable and ignorant to the ways of the world,and despair at the ultimate tragedy befalls him because of his association with the Melvilles.

For the most part,Clare Clark has created an almost hypnotic and tragic family saga which is very compelling and depicts the period it is set in,in elaborate detail.This could easily have been one of the better written if not the best historical fiction of this year had it not been for some serious factual errors found in the book.First and foremost what really irked me was calling Moseley’s Law (in X-ray spectra) Melville’s Law for the sake of the story.Here,Sir Aubrey Melville’s younger brother,Henry Melville,Jessica’s uncle,is a renowned physicist who’d discovered the Melville’s Law,a very important discovery which opens the path for further research in  atomic physics. From his early death in the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915 to the law being passed on his premature death to exempt persons of scientific importance from joining the war,and his alma mater University of Manchester, it is evident that the character of Henry Melville is based on the English Physicist,Henry Melville.I can appreciate the depiction of a fictional character inspired by a real life person and know that there are also fictional stories on historical figures which fall in the alternate history sub-genre.But what I cannot accept is the deliberate misrepresentation of scientific history.It is nothing but a kind of plagiarism,when all of Moseley‘s contemporaries such as Rutherford and Bohrs are mentioned correctly but his theory is credited to someone else.To my knowledge,I have never come across such extreme misrepresentation of scientific facts in any historical fiction so far,but as a student of science I cannot in good heart condone such action.Especially when there was little need of Henry Melville’s scientific expertise in the story.

And there is also the funny case of Madame Curie being referred to as Pierre Curie’s sister in the story.With all the care taken in laboriously incorporating the other historical details to the plot line,this folly in getting well known scientific facts wrong seems sacrilegious in a historical novel.

Nevertheless,this is a story well told which I believe will be enjoyed more by someone who does not much care about the accuracy of scientific details in fiction.If for nothing else,this novel is indeed worth reading to get to know Oscar Greenwood.

They shall not grow old,as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them,nor the years condemn.At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them. -LAURENCE BINYON,September 1914

Synopsis: It is 1910 and to ten-year-old Oskar Grunewald, the Melville family is impossibly, incomprehensibly glamorous. Born Geetanjali-Musings of a Bibliophileinto privilege, buttressed by inherited wealth, their certainties are as unshakeable as the walls of their Victorian castle. It is a world to which Oskar, mathematics prodigy and son of a penniless German composer, has no wish to belong. His fascination is all for physics where new scientific discoveries are, for the first time in four hundred years, challenging Newton’s fundamental theories of the universe. But when Theo Melville is killed in the Great War, shattering his family’s lives, Oskar finds himself drawn reluctantly into the gaping hole his death has left behind. As Theo’s two sisters struggle to forge their paths in a world that no longer plays by the old rules, Oskar’s life becomes entwined with theirs in ways that will change all of their futures forever.(via Goodreads)

An ARC was generously provided by Random House UK  in exchange for an honest review. Disclaimer: All opinions here are drawn from my own conclusions no part of which bears any external influence.  
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A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Geetanjali Pegu-Musings of a BibliophileA Little Life:A Novel by Hanya Yanagihara

Published by Doubleday on March 10th,2015(Hardcover,720 pages)

Genre:Literary Fiction,Contemporary,Adult


Review 

Rating: 5/5

As Hanya Yanagihara’s new novel(her second) hits the stands today,I am sure ‘A Little Life’ will indubitably be one of the most talked about books this year.I am still reeling from reading and obsessing over it for almost a week,because A Little Life is as overwhelming in its depiction of friendship,love and companionship as it is stifling with its unflinching depiction of human cruelty,of the brutality and the hardships faced by humans.

Beginning with the renting of a small and squalid apartment in Lispenard street in New York by Willem Ragnarsson and Jude St.Francis,two members of a tight quartet of friends which also includes Jean Baptiste Marion aka J.B. and Malcolm Irvine,who had all met in an unnamed college in Massachussetts (probably Harvard)as teenagers,the novel spans decades portraying the group’s evolvement from struggling but ambitious twenty-somethings to well-established professionals in their forties. Throughout it all,the novel is centred around Jude’s life,the most mysterious of the lot and that of the others’ revolve around him.

In a world where everyone strives to be recognized and to stand out from the crowd,Jude,despite being a prodigious student of law and mathematics in college,along with being a skilled pianist,singer and cook, has always worked on being invisible to others.And this does not change even as he goes on to become a very successful and formidable corporate litigator.Despite his ferocity in court,he remains insecure,sad and unsure in life about his personal equation with others. Because of his unwillingness to talk about anything related to his life before college,and his mysterious limp and ailing constitution,he is an enigma even to his three best friends; ’Post-sexual,post-racial,post-identity,post-part.The post-man,Jude the Postman’ according to J.B.

Throughout the course of the novel as Willem becomes a much sought-after actor from a struggling theatre artist waiting tables for money,J.B.,an artist known for his paintings with his friends as muses,and Malcolm,who graduates from creating intricate paper structures to a successful architect with projects all over the world, they,along with a lot of people like Jude’s old law professor,Harold Stein and his wife Julia,his doctor Andy,as well as many other friends they become acquainted with, have to continuously prove to Jude that they love him and he is very loveable.At times I would grow impatient with Jude for stubbornly making the people who loved and cared for him suffer by keeping them at arm’s length,especially Willem,who loved him beyond words and Harold who treated him like his son and had eventually adopted him at thirty.But then I would slowly gather the crumbs of his first fifteen years of life,which is so grim and its atrocities so unfathomable to me, that I learnt to accept and love him as he is as did the people close to him.

But despite the grimness of Jude’s trauma from being repeatedly abused and manipulated by the people he’d met in his childhood and adolescence,making  him incapable of  loving himself or accepting love from his friends had left me feeling raw,I cannot but marvel at the take on friendship and love in its purest form here.I am awed and somewhat jealous of Jude,as J.B. was,because in spite of his resistance to share himself with others,almost everyone who made his acquaintance in his adult life becomes devoted to him and toils to assuage his fears,and waits for his acceptance with a herculean amount of patience.Here is ‘friendship’ formed,defined and redefined among the foursome , transcending petty jealousies and accusations of being Peter Pans(by Malcolm’s father) for their heavy dependence on their bond,and their reluctance to pursue permanent romantic relationships. When his girlfriends accused him of being codependent on his friends ,especially on Jude, to the extent of including him in his retirement plans,Willem ponders upon how underrated friendship is compared to other romantic relationships.

Why wasn’t friendship as good as a relationship?Why wasn’t it even better?It was two people who remained together ,day after day,bound not by sex or physical attraction or money or children or property,but only by a shared agreement to keep going,the mutual dedication to a union that could never be codified.Friendship was witnessing another’s slow drip of miseries,and long bouts of boredom, and occasional triumphs.It was feeling honored by the privilege of getting to be present for another person’s dismal moments,and knowing that you could be dismal around him in return.

Though this is the first book I’ve read by Hanya Yanagihara,I can confidently predict that she is here to stay.Like an expert juggler she effortlessly juggles between the past,the present and the future of the storyline and lucidly narrates the tale from a third person perspective as well as the first.The story aside, what makes this novel easily the best one I’ve read this year, is Yanagihara’s vast knowledge on diverse topics.Art and architecture,movies and haute cuisine,law and pure mathematics,all share the same canvas which come to life under Yanagihara’s masterful strokes.I am thankful to her for so beautifully explaining the beauty of pure mathematics, more accurately mathematical logic,to the layman;I have always found it difficult to explain its relevance in an exciting manner to non-mathematicians who ask me about my field of study.

I suppose her job at the Conde Nast Traveler has contributed to her deep knowledge of and her aesthetic presentation of places ,the novel’s characters visit ,all over the globe. But more than that I believe it is Yanagihara herself who is very perceptive and a keen observer of the many facets of human nature.She explores the existential dilemma of a child born to interracial parents with Malcolm who is always confused about his Blackness, and is also ashamed of being from an affluent household whenever he is confronted with Jude and Willem’s paltry backgrounds, Jude’s unknown parentage and Willem’s remote and uncaring parents.He is envious of their freedom from parental interruption while feeling guilty for being born privileged.Then there is J.B.,the most outgoing and confident person in the group,who becomes embittered and disillusioned when the others attain success before him.And last but not the least,we have Willem’s dilemma on whether to confront Jude about his self-destructive habits or to remain silent honouring his wishes. Along with presenting Jude’s story,his struggle in letting go of his past to embrace his present ,in an empathetic manner,the author explores sexual diversity and the questions and confusion surrounding the topic.

I have neither the scholarly knowledge of literature nor the flair for writing to expertly critique Yanagihara’s work,but as an avid reader and a lover of literature,it is my humble opinion that Yanagihara’s emotive new novel will make its readers sit back and reflect upon it long after they’ve finished reading.A Little Life is a literary phenomenon worth witnessing.

SynopsisBrace yourself for the most astonishing, challenging, upsetting, and profoundly moving book in many a season. An epic about love and friendship in the twenty-first century that goes into some of the darkest places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light. Geetanjali Pegu-Musings of a Bibliophile
When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.
In rich and resplendent prose, Yanagihara has fashioned a tragic and transcendent hymn to brotherly love, a masterful depiction of heartbreak, and a dark examination of the tyranny of memory and the limits of human endurance.(via Goodreads)

An ARC was generously provided by Random House and Knopf Doubleday in exchange for an honest review.Disclaimer: All opinions here are drawn from my own conclusions no part of which bears any external influence.

If I Fall,If I Die by Michael Christie -REVIEW

Contemporary fiction

If I Fall,If I Die by Michael Christie; First published: January 13th,2015; Publication: Cornerstone Digital,Random House UK(February 12th,2015)

Genre: Literary Fiction,Contemporary,Adult,YA Adventure

REVIEW

Rating:4/5

                         The boy stepped Outside and did not die.

After living in the Inside with his mother all his life,when eleven year old Will Cardiel cautiously ventures out to the Outside to investigate ‘the odd bang’ near their house,he meets Marcus or Other Will,and is elated to make a friend for the first time.This becomes the turning point of his life because Will,despite sharing the fear of the Outside with his chronically agoraphobic mother,Diane, by osmosis,becomes compelled to expand his horizon for the first time and see the Outside for himself.Until then Will had been happily existing in the Inside ,painting his ‘masterpieces’ in his studio in New York,eating his meals in Paris,sleeping in San Francisco,doing laundry in Toronto and watching TV in Cairo.

Now wait a second.Didn’t you just say Will has never been to the Outside?So,how had he been globetrotting around the world? Well,that’s Will for you and as we go deeper into the story we learn more about Will’s world in the Inside and his adventures in the Outside in this stunningly beautiful debut novel by Michael Christie. If I fall,If I Die is a kind of Bildungsroman which explores the meaning of freedom,friendship,the correlation between love and fear,while at the same time serving as a social commentary on the marginalisation of the indigenous people of Canada and drawing an empathetic picture of mental illness and parenting woes.

As Will ventures out from his house in Thunder Bay,Canada,we get to see the world through his eyes,who with his inherent curiosity and innocent childlike wonderment forces the reader to take notice of things which are often taken for granted.The novel is narrated from the perspectives of Will and Diane and the author does a great job of giving a distinct voice to both the protagonists. While Will starts out as the adorable kid,unaccustomed with the ways of the world, looking at everything with childlike wonder in the beginning,he develops a kind of maturity with his time spent Outside in the later part of the book.His mother Diane in her ‘Relaxation Time’s tells us about her past and how she came to be a house ridden agoraphobic person.

Marcus’ remark,“Nothing can really hurt you Will”, has a deep impact on Will which gives him the courage and determination to go Outside,and soon after he learns that though terrible things might happen there,he could no longer be satisfied with just a life Inside painting ‘masterpieces’,eating slow-cooked non-chock inducing food ,with only the delivery men,delivering their necessities,as his only connection to the Outside.So,despite learning about Marcus’ disappearance soon after their meeting and having a less than favourable experience on his first outing Outside,he becomes determined more than ever to save his friend,and enrolls himself to the local school inorder to gather information.In the process he befriends Angela and Jonah. Jonah introduces him to the whole new world of skateboarding which gives him a new lease of life with the inherent danger and freedom attached to the sport.But with all the time spent Outside skateboarding and trying to find Marcus, he grows more and more disenchanted to come home.Coupled with it when he learns that his paintings are not masterpieces as his mother had told him,learns about a dead uncle who was her twin,and most importantly that the Outside is not as dangerous as his mother had made him believe, he begins to lose fate in her and resents her for living in perpetual fear of the unknown ‘Black Lagoon’.

Diane is more than aware of her situation and is in fact ashamed of her inability to get over her Agoraphobia,but with no solution in sight for her condition,the result of years of losing her near and dear ones to tragic accidents,she has to helplessly watch her beloved son putting himself at risk with his adventures Outside.Though she is imprisoned inside her house because of her fear,she consoles herself with the belief that ‘it’s no prison if you built it yourself’.
We learn further that her unplanned pregnancy, which led to the dissolution of her relationship with Will’s father,had exacerbated her condition and forced her to leave her film making career in Toronto and instead take refuge in her hometown of Thunder Bay with her infant son. But even though ‘wordlessly she’d taught him that the Outside was built of danger’ (as Will asserts),she has profound love for her son and does her best to raise him right by reading him stories from different books (which reflects in his creative thought process) and encouraging him to be creative by archiving his paintings which she lovingly referred to as masterpieces.She is unapologetic of her ways of trying to save her son from ever coming into any harm ,even if she had had to lie to him about his heart condition so that he didn’t exert himself .’Her chief responsibility being to ensure he didn’t taste any abandonment as she had’, and one cannot help but agree with her reasoning to some extent.

 What is raising a child except lying?It begins with the first shhhh…everything is going to be… and only gets worse from there.

Though Diane’s story is sad with her pessimistic outlook on life,her narrative is matter of fact even when she talks about her depression and personal tragedies.For the large part Will’s narrative is buoyant and his choice of similes to express himself -amusing, which charmingly captivates the reader’s attention making them forget the gloomier aspects of the novel.He adorably accepts each spoken word by its literal meaning .For example,when he asks Marcus whether they were friends and Marcus replies with a ‘whatever,sure’ , he takes it to literally mean ’no matter what’ after looking it up in the dictionary.

Will looked up this word whatever in their dictionary,and found that it meant “no matter what”. At the permanence of this beautiful sentiment Will wept,tears tapping the dictionary’s oniony pages.

The thing that first draws the reader’s attention is the use of the words inside and outside as proper nouns. Because according to Will the world was divided into two kingdoms,viz., the Inside where he and his mother ‘reigned over their private kingdom with the Black Lagoon as its border’ ,and the Outside being the other part which was the big fearful unknown which he saw through his window.Being raised on a diet of different stories read to him by his mother and movies,he develops an over imaginative mind which in a way helped him to adapt to any situation,even on the Outside because he always came up with some kind of answer for everything.It’s in the same way that he came up with the name ‘Black Lagoon’ (from a horror movie) for his mother’s fear.

The relationship between mother and son as it evolved throughout the story is one of the vital elements of the story.Also,as Will spends more time on the Outside and comes into contact with new people,he begins to understand the meaning of friendship,gets the taste of his first kiss,learns that everyone has their own Black Lagoon and finally concludes that even if bad things did happen Outside,’it was not all that dangerous.It was worth leaving for,if only to see it up close and to make a friend for a short while’.

Apart from their relationship and Will’s acclimatisation Outside,the reason behind Marcus’ disappearance, its relation to Diane’s brother’s death and what goes behind the now defunct grain elevators of Pool 6 in the town of Thunder Bay,provide the element of mystery to the plot which becomes the prime focus in the second half of the book,akin to a YA plotline.

Will’s friend Jonah,an Indian(native of Canada) serves as the link to the plight of the indigenous population of Thunder Bay and the prevalent racism against them.Will,however, not being exposed to the societal norms remains ‘colour blind’.It is heart rending to see how the Jonahs of Thunder Bay feared to utter a word in public for fear of being rebuked by the society or finding themselves in the wrong side of the law.

Michael Christie has cleverly woven a plot with elements he is familiar with. Having been raised in Thunder Bay he is able to create a realistic picture of life in and around one of the former grain transportation hubs of Canada.As an ex-professional skateboarder,he accurately captures the essence of what it means to skateboard.Even though there were some minor hiccups in the narrative,such as Will’s ready acceptance into the school without any parental presence during the enrollment,and even though the author overambitiously tries to pack a whole lot of things in a single book,Christie for the large part has managed to create a believable and emotionally moving sketch of a eleven year old’s life with a chronically agoraphobic and depressed mother ,and his subsequent adjustment in the world outside his home.

Since the main theme of the novel is to learn to live life to the fullest even when there is the fear of failure and danger,Christie has appropriately named it If I Fall,If I Die .

skateboard

Review copy was generously provided by Random House UK in exchange for an honest review.Disclaimer: All opinions here are drawn from my own conclusions no part of which bears any external influence.  

The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen – REVIEW

Musings of a Bibliophile
THE RABBIT BACK LITERATURE SOCIETY by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen
Translated from Finnish to English by Lola M. Rogers
First published in Finnish as Lumikko ja yhdeksän muuta in 2006
Published in English by Thomas Dunne Books,St.Martin’s Press on January 20th,2015
Genre: Literary Fiction,Magical Realism,Mystery,Contemporary,Adult

REVIEW

Rating: 4.5/5

THE READER was at first surprised,then shocked,as the criminal Raskolnikov was abruptly slain in the middle of the street,right before her eyes.Sonya,the hooker with the heart of gold,shot him through the heart.

With this dramatic opening paragraph, enough to lure a Dostoevsky fan like me or for that matter any reader familiar with Crime and Punishment , Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen takes us to the small fictional town of Rabbit Back in Finland, saved from obscurity and normalness by the town’s very own literary genius,Finland’s most renowned children’s author and ‘Creatureville’ creator Laura White in this contemporary literary fantasy called The Rabbit Back Literature Society ;a town where the characters of Creatureville are a part of their identity .

‘The local ceramicists for the most part produced water sprites ,pixies,elves,and gnomes.Laura White had made these creatures popular all over the world through her children’s book,but in Rabbit Back in particular you ran into them everywhere you looked.They were presented in raffles,given as presents,brought to dinner as hostess gifts.There was only one florist in Rabbit Back,but there were seven shops that sold mostly mythical figurines.’

When the protagonist, Ella Amanda Milana,a substitute teacher of Finnish language and literature at the Rabbit Back High, comes across a student essay of Crime and Punishment where Raskolnikov uses a piano wire instead of an axe as in the original version to kill Alyona Ivanovna,the old pawn broker,and is then murdered by Sonya,she marks down the student for apparently not reading the book.But when she confronts the student,Ella finds that he had indeed drawn the correct conclusion for his essay from a library edition where the contents had been altered. On investigating further she soon learns that more books in the Rabbit Back library have been infected by the ‘book plague’ ,where Josef K. takes Mersault’s place in the prison in Camus’sThe Stranger and Aslan from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia tears off the Wicked Witch’s head with his teeth among others.

She is soon caught up in the middle of more bizarre happenings when she comes into contact with the members of the Rabbit Back Literature Society after Laura White decides to induct her in the group on reading her story in Rabbit Tracks. In a town which boasted no less than six writers’ association,this Literature society of Laura White protégés was the most coveted one,the possibility of joining which was purely theoretical until then,because its entire membership comprised of its nine lifetime member authors who had joined thirty years ago in the first three years of its establishment in 1968.But Ella’s dream of finally meeting Laura White and being coached by her to achieve literary greatness is squashed when the authoress disappears in a sudden snow flurry that invades her house during Ella Milana’s welcome party.

From that point on the plot takes a turn for the more bizarre,as Ella gets to know her fellow members through ‘the Game’,which is a requirement for all members. The mystery surrounding Laura White and her protégés become thicker as she gets involved in the game and she learns about a long forgotten former tenth member of the group,Oskar Södergran,who died in an accident as a boy. The group had since then been drawing inspirations from the dead boy’s notebook which they had read after it was stolen by Martti Winter, another member,after his death.When Martti and Ella dig up the old notebook from his garden where he had buried it all those years ago,the writings are altered to nothing more than ancient runes .

Was then Oskar’s notebook infected by the same book virus that had plagued the library books?Or did it pass the infection to the other books? Did Oskar Södergran really die in an accident?Or was he killed by his jealous fellow members who all unanimously considered him to be a prodigy? How and why did  Laura White disappear from her own house? These are some of the questions that arise as we go further into the book.But the author of this darkly humorous literary mystery does not seem to be in any particular hurry to solve the mystery. Reading this novel is in fact much like peeling an onion,a mystery layered under another mystery.The reader is ultimately left to draw his or her own conclusion from the ambiguous and mysterious epilogue.I reiterate, Jääskeläinen thrives on building the mystery even as the novel ends.

‘She came to realize that under one reality there’s another.And another under that.’

One would want to try solving this giant puzzle of a book leisurely in bed on a winter night.This is not a fast paced mystery novel which can be gobbled up without chewing.I loved the subtle aura of magic and mysticism with many references to Nordic lore in this otherwise contemporary story.It is especially interesting to note how the town’s inhabitants seem to be unaware of the vicious garden gnomes,wandering forests,magical water bodies that seem to surround Rabbit Back. At the same time they are not troubled by Laura White’s mysterious vanishing act.While the members of the Rabbit Back Literature Society are living with the weirdness and abnormality of these occurrences as their kind of ‘normal’,ordinary townsfolk like Ella’s mother is living the dull and ordinary life offered in a small town,whose most eventful day is winning a raffle contest.

‘Reality was a game board for all of humanity to play on,formed from all human interaction.You could in principle make it up out of anything you wished,provided you all agreed upon it.But it was easiest when everyone used square pieces,because they would all fit together and form a seamless whole.So square pieces had become the standard.’

Though Laura White disappears near the beginning of the tale,all roads in this mystery lead to either Laura White or her books. In a town which celebrates anything and everything Laura White,information about her personal life seems to be scarce; even though she mentored nine children to become famous writers,she remains an enigma.Aura Jokinen,another member of the society who writes science fiction under a penname ,describes her best.

‘..one thing I do know that sometimes reality shrivels up and blisters around Laura White,almost as if she isn’t really completely suited to the reality she’s trying to fit into.’

The Rabbit Back Literature Society is also a study of the human nature, the relationships formed in one’s lifetime and its many vices,like jealousy,gluttony,etc. The many quirks of the different members of the literature society, their isolation from the other inhabitants, even their avoidance of one another , provide fodder for speculation. However,I found the oft repeated objectification of Ella Milana’s ‘curved lips’ and ‘pink nipples’ a little weird.

Books about books don’t always make enjoyable reads,but Jääskeläinen has managed to keep it entertaining throughout even while writing about writers,their writings,and about writing in general. The efforts of Lola M.Rogers who translated it from Finnish into English should also be appreciated because many a time good books have been lost in translation.I am happy to have found my first favourite read of the year in this weirdly appealing work of fiction by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen and hope to read more of his translated work in future.I wish I could read Laura White’s books.The Creatureville characters,viz.,Mother Snow,Bobo Clickclack,the Old Critter,Dampish,Crusty Bark and most of all Emperor Rat would make wonderful bed time stories.


The Rabbit Back Literature SocietySynopsis: Only nine people have ever been chosen by renowned children’s author Laura White to join the Rabbit Back Literature Society, an elite group of writers in the small town of Rabbit Back. Now a tenth member has been selected: a young literature teacher named Ella.
Soon Ella discovers that the Society is not what it seems. What is its mysterious ritual known as “The Game”? What explains the strange disappearance that occurs at Laura White’s winter party? Why are the words inside books starting to rearrange themselves? Was there once another tenth member, before her? Slowly, as Ella explores the Society and its history, disturbing secrets that had been buried for years start to come to light. . . .In Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen’s chilling, darkly funny novel, The Rabbit Back Literature Society, praised as “Twin Peaks meets the Brothers Grimm” (The Telegraph), the uncanny brushes up against the everyday in the most beguiling and unexpected of ways.(via Goodreads)
An ARC was generously provided by St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review. Disclaimer: All opinions here are drawn from my own conclusions no part of which bears any external influence.