A blog for everything bookish

Monday, 26 August 2013

The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino

In this latest offering in the Canongate myths series, rising Japanese writer Natsuo Kirino addresses the legend of Japanese deities Izanami and Izanagi. Being of white Western extraction, I knew nothing of this legend before reading the book so it’s probably worth a quick introduction here before I move on to the story.  

In Japanese mythology Izanami (female) and Izanagi (male) are husband and wife who through their mating create the islands of Japan. In the course of creating the incarnation of fire Izanami dies. Izanagi, who is bereft without his beloved, travels to the underworld to get Izanami back, but Izanami has already eaten the food of the underworld and can’t return. She asks that Izanagi does not look upon her, but he betrays his promise and lights a fire revealing Izanami’s state of decay. He then flees from her and blocks the passage to the underworld forever trapping Izanami inside. In the spirit of vengeance, Izanami declares that she will kill one thousand people every day. In return Izanagi vows to create one thousand and five people every day to replace those which Izanami takes. In this way Izanami becomes the goddess of death, whereas Izanagi becomes the deity of creation. The story of Izanami and Izanagi is one of both love and betrayal, and it is in this spirit that the story of the Goddess Chronicle follows.

In The Goddess Chronicle, we learn the story of Namima, ‘woman-amid-the-waves’, who at the beginning of the novel is dead. We learn that Namima was barely sixteen when she died and that she serves Izanami in the underworld. In the course of the story Namima reflects on her life and her death, and the anger and betrayal that lead her to her place in the underworld.

Namima tells us of her home island of Yamato, a sacred island far away from the main islands of Japan. The island has two sacred areas: the Kyoida (Pure Well) where Namima’s grandmother, the island’s high priestess or Oracle, lives and serves the Gods, and the Amiido (Well of Darkness) where the island’s dead are laid to rest. Namima’s elder sister Kamikuu, ‘child of gods’, is training to take her grandmother’s place as Oracle. Kamikuu is admired far and wide, and Namima loves her greatly.

The girls, however, are soon separated as Kamikuu goes to live with their grandmother in the Kyoido to complete her training. There are also disturbing undercurrents concerning Namima who is charged with delivering Kamikuu’s food each day but is not allowed to touch it, not even the leftovers, and who is referred to as the ‘unclean one’ for reasons which are not explained to her. The reason, however, later becomes clear. When Namima’s grandmother dies Kamikuu takes over her responsibilities as Oracle in the Kyoido, whereas Namima is sent to the Amiido to replace the secret priestess who resided there, guiding the path of the dead. Namima learns that it is her fate to become the priestess of the Amiido, that from that day forth she would never have any human contact again and that on the day Kamikuu dies she would also have to take her own life. Namima, not surprisingly, does not want to accept this cruel fate.

Her fate is doubly cruel as in the intervening period she had fallen in love. Mahito is a young man from a disgraced family on the island. His mother’s duty was to produce a back-up Oracle, in case anything happened to Kamikuu, but she only ever gave birth to boys. As a consequence the family is disgraced and Mahito is unable to go fishing with the other men. Instead he meets Namima on her path to throw away Kamikuu’s uneaten food and begs her to give it to him so that he can give it to his mother who is pregnant. Namima breaks her vow to throw away the food and gives it to Mahito. Later, they eat leftovers together and eventually they fall in love. When Namima is condemned to the Amiido, she is already pregnant. Such a fate is forbidden her, and if discovered she and the child would be killed.

Instead Namima and Mahito steal a boat and run away together. On the ocean Namima gives birth to her child, a girl who she calls Yayoi (deep of the night). After the birth Mahito kills Namima, and this is how Namima finds herself in the underworld. At first she is confused, but as she later discovers (thanks to the 'kind' assistance of Izanami) Mahito returned to the island and passed the child off as his mother’s. His family status was then reinstated, and he was able to marry Kamikuu. Yayoi, Namima’s daughter, is condemned to take Namima’s place as priestess of darkness in the Amiido. Namima’s anger takes her to darker places than the underworld. She learns that love and betrayal lead to anger and vengeance, in a sad repetition of Izanami’s own story.

Separately to Namima’s story, the novel also follows the fortunes of the human incarnation of Izanagi: Yahinakiko. Izanagi has lived as a human for so long that he no longer remembers that he is a deity. In his travels he makes many women pregnant, and in her anger Izanami destroys all of his wives after they have given birth. Eventually Izanagi recalls his origins and discovers what Izanami has been doing. He returns to the underworld to try to assuage Izanami’s terrible anger, but changing the mind of a goddess is tricky even for another deity.

The Goddess Chronicle is a fascinating story which makes for a highly engaging read. Natsuo Kirino is an excellent writer, able to spin dark stories with a magical touch. I think it is tricky to present mythologies to non-native audiences, but Kirino manages to do this without it turning into an academic exercise. The background to the myth is delivered in a seamless way, and with enough detail to enable the context to be followed quite easily. The character of Namima is both sympathetic and not. She breaks the rules and pays the price, but at the same time her fate seems unnecessarily cruel and it is hard not to feel she suffered unfairly. Her desire for vengeance is both understandable and wrong and has terrible consequences, and it is in this shadowing of light and darkness in the characters that Kirino really comes into her own. She is able to create complex, multi-faceted characters with apparent ease and this makes them both believable and interesting to read.

Of the books that I’ve read in the Canongate myths series, this is definitely one of my favourites (Weight and The Penelopiad being the others). An interesting and well executed book, with a fascinating story The Goddess Chronicle receives a god-like 9 out of 10 Biis.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Confessions of a compulsive book hoarder...crunching the numbers

As part of the whole process of dealing with addiction, it’s important to get to grips with the scale of the problem. Or so I'm told. There’s no established scale for book addiction, the government doesn’t issue any guidelines about how many ‘units’ are healthy or unhealthy and when to consult your doctor because you have a problem. I considered writing to the government to ask them to give this their urgent attention, but they're too busy cementing their totalitarian police state right now so I thought I might as well do it myself. I mused over a number of ideas for scales and measures, and came up with the following:

1. Total amount spent on books
This looks like a good measure and it's also an interesting indication of how much I can expect to save if I actually succeed. However, whilst spend is a good indicator it could be skewed by one off expensive purchases (such as academic volumes or collectible editions), or large numbers of second-hand, swopped books or collections which can stack up the numbers with relatively low impact on overall cost (e.g. 4 for £10). Perhaps this is not such a great measure of addiction after all.

2. Number of days which pass without book buying
Kind of like having those two alcohol-free days in a week, the number of days you can pass without buying a book appears to be a good indicator of compulsion.  Being unable to go a couple of days without sidling into Waterstones and filling one of those lovely book bags with hot-off-the-press  goodies is probably not a good sign. Then I thought: what if you also read all those books? A person might buy a book a day but if they read a book a day it's not really a buying compulsion (though it probably is a compulsion of a sort and for financial purposes it might be a good idea to find a good library). Again, this as a measure needs context and on its own might not be a true indicator of compulsive buying.

3. Numbers of books purchased
Like the amount spent, the numbers of books purchased during any given period seems a good indicator of book buying addiction. Yet again, though, whether this is a true measure will depend on whether the books purchased matches the books read, or whether there are remainders. Speaking of remainders...

4. Number of unread books
For me, I think this is the best standalone measure of actual book buying addiction. It is all very well buying ten books a week, but if you can only read one that’s probably a sign of a problem. If you buy forty seven in one go, as I did once (I blame The Book People, their collections are shamefully cheap and interesting), which represents more than most people’s year-long reading capacity then that has to be indicative of book buying addiction. That being said, having a book backlog isn’t always a terrible sign. Equally, the size of the backlog is not a fair measure. If someone has a backlog of 100 books but can read 200 books in a year, that’s probably not so bad. However, someone with a backlog of 20 books who reads 1 a year has a 20 year supply. That’s a problem (because you don’t read enough, obviously).

So after thinking it all over I concluded that taking any single measure as a sign of addiction is probably a little unfair. People who have inherited their book-collecting parent’s library could be unfairly maligned (if only that was my problem), and spending a lot of money on a book might be indicative of investment or a studious nature. So, after some consideration, here are my proposed rules:

Measure 1: total spend
Low indicator: less than £100 per year
Medium indicator: £100 to £500 per year
High indicator: £500+ per year

Measure 2: days between purchases
Low indicator: 14 days +
Medium indicator: 7 to 14 days
High indicator: less than 7 days

Measure 3: Numbers of books purchased (annually)
Low indicator: less than 20
Medium indicator: 20 to 100
High indicator: 100+

Measure 4: Number of unread books
Low indicator: less than 6 months
Medium indicator: 6 months to a year
High indicator: more than one year

(calculated on the total number of books divided by the average number of books read per year, to give an reading time backlog)

Scoring medium or high in 3 or more of the above categories, I think, is indicative of a serious book buying addiction.

So, I have vacillated and procrastinated and mused and eventually I've got to get to the point of admitting the shameful scale of my problem. So, without further ado, here it is (note: I have only been able to measure the last three months so I’ll give my three month figure and average up to an annual total):

Measure 1: £178.96 (I hope my husband isn’t reading now) which includes a six book subscription to And Other Stories (which is really a public service).

Annual figure would therefore be £715.84 and therefore high

Measure 2: I haven’t actually been able to measure this one, as I have become extremely adept at disguising my book buying habits, for example by buying from different suppliers or swapping. However I think it is true to say that I if a week passes without a book being bought, that is extremely uncommon. Therefore high

Measure 3: 34. Annual figure is therefore 136 and, yep you guessed it, high

Measure 4: 284 (gulp). I’m a pretty avid reader, so far this year I’ve read 50 books and counting, but best case scenario I can manage about 75 books in a year. I still think that’s pretty good going, but even at that rate I have almost 4 years worth of unread books in the house high high high

Oh, the shame.

Whilst I was in the mood to do numbers, I figured it would be useful to try and calculate how long it might take me to read Proust as that will give me an idea of how long I have to have actual willpower. I have the Vintage version which totals 3708 pages (yikes). I can read, on a work day, around 50 pages per day. At that rate it will take me 74 days to read Proust, which works out to 10 weeks. I read less at weekends, so probably around 12 weeks all in. Can I survive 12 weeks without book buying? So far it’s been less than a week, and I’m not feeling the urge too strongly yet (though there have been moments). Neither have I started Proust (I decided to read a couple of the Booker long-listed books first). It’s going to be a long haul.

That's my shame exposed. Please share yours. Please.  

Friday, 16 August 2013

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Every year when the MAN Booker prize comes around, I like to take a look at a few of the titles and see if I can predict which book will win. Of course I know I can’t read all of the books as I would never have time (and besides, I can’t afford to buy them all and as yet I have not reached the heady heights of book reviewing to receive review copies. Perhaps if I worked for The Guardian...), so I know I’m only ever going to get a tiny insight. Still it is always interesting to read some contemporary fiction and the Booker list is a reasonably decent filter of the best of the year’s fiction (in the qualifying territories).

My first foray into the longlist is Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being. Firstly it’s worth mentioning that if you’re interested in this book I’d recommend trying to get hold of the UK hardcover edition as it is a thing of beauty. The cover is plain white, textured board with a large red circular sticker in the centre (Japanese flag style) and the book title and author in neat, centralised, title case font. The spine is uncovered leaving the bindings exposed with the name Ozeki and the logo of Canongate books painted on. The endpapers include a picture of a Japanese girl’s face (Nao, I presume) with a dove and the ocean and Nintendo stars and Pikachu all kind of mished together. Anyway, it’s lovely and because the spine is uncovered it opens beautifully which makes it a pleasure to read.

So, onto the story. A Tale for the Time Being begins with a diary written by Nao Yasutani a Japanese teenager brought up in the US who has returned to Japan after her Dad was made redundant. The diary is found by Ruth, a character who uncannily resembles the writer Ruth Ozeki (but who probably doesn’t because, let’s be honest, I don’t know her so wouldn’t have the faintest clue. But let’s say there are details which make it appear that the character of Ruth is the writer Ruth. Same husband, same job, same ethnic origin, same home, etc), as flotsam on the beach and with the diary she also finds a watch, some letters and another diary written in French. Ruth suspects that the package is the first debris to be swept up following the tsunami and this assumption raises some interest from her fellow islanders, and a desire to know more in Ruth.

We then follow both Ruth and Nao’s stories via Ruth’s reading of the diary and her attempts to learn more about Nao and how her package came to wash up on the beach. But there is, as you might have guessed, much more to this story than that. There are many threads to A Tale for the Time Being, but perhaps the most critical is that embodied by the title: an exploration of what it means to be a ‘Time Being’. From the story:

“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”

Around this concept of ‘time being’ the story draws in zen Buddhism particularly through the character of Jiko, Nao’s 104 year old great grandmother and zen master Dōgen Zenji, as well as quantum physics, including the concept of Schrodinger’s cat (which is also the name of Ruth and Oliver’s cat, Pesto...I know that doesn’t make sense but in the story it does), Proust and philosophy. It’s a mind bending read, which is worth a slow or repeat reading to take it all in.

The theme of interconnectedness is heavily present in the story. There is a connection between Ruth and Nao. Both are stuck: Ruth who has been unable to finish writing her memoir of her mother’s slow death through Altzheimers, and Nao who has decided to kill herself. Then there is a connection of beings misplaced: Ruth hankers for her life in New York city but, on account of her marriage to Oliver who is a natural artist (makes art with nature) and who could not bear living in the city, she is consigned to live on a backwater island with barely any residents and the thinnest illusion of modern conveniences (but I would say it sounded like something approaching bliss to me). Nao, on the other hand, is a Japanese foreigner, out of place in a country she doesn’t understand and in which she cannot fit in. In school she suffers the most terrible bullying (terrible, terrible. It made me feel very angry) and outside of school things aren’t much better. There is a connection with death, and the loss of a parent. Ruth lost her mother to Alzheimers, and she is trying and failing to write a memoir about this, and she fears, though it is never said outright, that she too will fall in the same path. Nao, on the other hand, is crippled by her father’s suicide attempts and her fear, on in the end choice, that she will follow the same path.

Bullying, and the terrible impact it can play, is another heavily present theme in the book. This largely affects the Yasutani family with Nao herself being subject to awful bullying in school as well as the story of her uncle Haruki #1 who was a suicide bomber in the Japanese army during World War II. Through these stories, Ozeki explores the themes of fear, resilience and forgiveness, with zen Buddhism and Jiko in particular providing Nao with the coping mechanisms she needs to get through what is happening to her. The bullying elements to the story are incredibly emotive, and I found myself becoming angry on many occasions. It adds depth to the story but also makes it, in places, very difficult to read.

Then there is old Jiko. I defy anyone to read this story and not love Jiko. Jiko is the reason Nao is writing her diary, she decides that she must tell the story of Jiko to the world. Jiko is 104 years old, a former radical feminist turned zen Buddhist nun. When Nao arrives in Japan she doesn’t know about her great-grandmother Jiko, but after her parents become concerned about the bullying Nao is sent to the temple where Jiko lives for the summer. Jiko is basically amazing. She is the kind of great-grandmother everybody wants (okay, she’s the kind of great grandmother I would want) and wants to be. When Nao is suffering, when she is struggling to make sense of the terrible world, she texts or talks to Jiko and Jiko’s responses, whilst invariably obtuse, are comforting.   Like this, which takes place one day when Nao and Jiko are out at the beach, after Jiko had asked Nao to try and bully a wave:

“Jiko nodded, like she was agreeing with me. ‘Up, down, same thing,’ she said.

It’s a typical Jiko comment, all about pointing to what she calls the not-two nature of existence when I’m just trying to watch some cute guy surfing. I know better than to argue with her, because she always wins, but it’s like a knock-knock joke, where you have to say ‘Who’s there?’ so the other person can tell you the punch line. So I said, ‘No, it’s not the same thing. Not for a surfer.’

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘You are right. Not same.’ She adjusted her glasses. ‘Not different either.’

See what I mean?

It is different, Granny. The whole point of surfing is to stand on top of the wave, not underneath it.’

‘Surfer, wave, same thing.’

I don’t know why I bother. ‘That’s just stupid,’ I said. ‘A surfer’s a person. A wave is a wave. How can they be the same?’

Jiko looked out across the ocean to where the water met the sky. ‘A wave is born from deep conditions of the ocean,’ she said. ‘A person is born from deep conditions of the world. A person pokes up from the world and rolls along like a wave, until it is time to sink down again. Up, down. Person, wave.’

She pointed to the steep cliffs along the shoreline. ‘Jiko, mountain, same thing. The mountain is tall and will live a long time. Jiko is small and will not live much longer. That’s all.’

Like I said, this is pretty typical of the kind of conversation you have with my old Jiko. I never completely understand what she’s saying, but I like that she tries to explain it to me anyway. It’s nice of her.’”

A Tale for the Time Being is a beautiful, dense, expressive and intelligent book. There is one point in the book where I actually cried (cried!) and it is so rare that this ever happens but it was so beautiful and poignant and terrible and sad at the same time that I couldn’t help it and I’m tearing up a little just writing about it here. I won’t say what it is, but I bet if you read the book you’ll tear up a little bit too and then you’ll know what I’m talking about.

There is so much depth to this novel. It is not deep in only one or two areas, but in many. The characters are well drawn and very believable, and the book is dense with information and ideas that I could be unpicking it for another 430 pages which would mean that you’d read the book and would know what I mean. Read the book. It covers so many things: memory, conscience, philosophy, nature, conservationism, pollution, tragedy, disease, suicide, guilt, zen Buddhism, love, interconnectedness, the improbability of time, death. Everything. And it is written in such a deceptively light manner that you can take all the dense theory of quantum physics or Heideggian philosophy alongside the manga and love hotels and Hello Kitty and not feel overwhelmed by it. It reminded me, in feel, of the works of Tove Jansson which somehow weave the most powerful ideas in something approaching whimsy, and in so doing it packs a more powerful punch. I finished reading the book yesterday and I’m still reeling. I want to read it again, but I think I should let it rest before I do. And perhaps do a little zazen and think about being a time being, a being in time, being here writing while you are reading which will be in my past and your future and all of those things. See, I have learned something.

A Tale for the Time Being receives a timeless 10 out of 10 Biis.


Thursday, 15 August 2013

Confessions of a compulsive book collector...and a challenge

My name is Bii, and I have a problem: I am a compulsive book buyer. I love books. I love reading books and owning books. I love looking at books, being around book and sharing my house with books. I also have a book backlog which is shamefully large, and a terrible book buying habit. I must stop (I can't stop, but slow down...maybe).

The first part of addressing an addiction, I'm lead to believe from all the fiction I've read and movies I've watched, is to admit you have a problem. I am pretty sure I've admitted this problem before, to be honest I've probably boasted about it. But as the spaces in my bookcase have run dry, and my compulsion has developed into collectible editions I realise I need to get myself under control.

So, how will I stop myself from buying books?

I had a think about it, and I have an idea.

The universe has been telling me that I need to read Proust. Proust has been sitting on my to read shelf for in excess of 12 months and I decided I was going to read it last summer, then over winter, then this summer and it's rapidly turning into one of those 'probably-never' type reads. At the same time, everywhere I look there are hints about Proust. It was referenced in 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. It cropped up in the book I'm currently reading, the excellent A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. It has been mentioned on QI, and on a number of twitter feeds that I follow. It has cropped up too often to be coincidence. I must read Proust.

So here is my deal. Starting Monday I am going to begin the long, traumatic-but-hopefully-rewarding journey through In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. Until I have finished reading Proust, I can't buy any books. If I abandon Proust, the deal stands and I will have to learn to satisfy my book devouring habits some other way. Maybe I can remind myself how to locate the library. It would be a start. Maybe I could do that anyway.

I am also not starting on Monday so that I can spend the entire weekend buying books. The non-buying starts today, right now, this instant. My agreement not to buy books includes:
  • secondhand books
  • book swapping (which, when you weigh up the postage counts as 'buying' a book).
  • books as gifts (this part will be hard, hard, hard).
  • books that come free on e-readers (I don't own an e-reader - iPod aside - and don't plan to buy one...which would count as 'book buying' anyway...and I don't generally read books in electronic format. I find it too icky).
but excludes any review copies received (please send some to me, dear publishers) or lending or those kinds of things.

If anyone has any great ideas for ways to assuage my craving, they would be gratefully received.

In recompense for my non-book buying, I offer myself the reward of:
  • monetary savings - every time I recognise a book that I feel I 'must' buy and then don't, I will make a record of it and how much it cost and when I finish Proust I can feel proud (hopefully) of my total non-spending.
  • a promise that if I successfully finish Proust, I will let myself have the whole The Story of the Stone series by Cao Xuequin. However, I will not buy this with my own money but will wait until my birthday/Christmas (which are very close together) and ask for vouchers so that I can buy it using those. Then I can repeat the whole reading/non-buying experiment again.
  • A regular visit to the library. It is fun looking for the books I want on the shelves. Plus I really like talking to librarians. They are cool.  
So that's it so far. This is day one and it's been easy. Day one always is, isn't it? In the course of my journey I will blog with updates on how I'm doing, confessions of any slippages (unforgivable), the true and terrible details of the book DTs. Please help me.

Monday, 12 August 2013

This Book Will Save Your Life by A. M. Holmes

A. M. Holmes came to my attention when she won the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly known as the Orange Prize) with May We Be Forgiven, which met with resounding plaudits and a general assent of well deservedness. I was then very lucky (and cheap) to find a three book set of A. M. Holmes’s books on The Book People site for a relatively modest sum which included said Bailey’s prize winner and Music for Torching, and I decided to start with ‘this book will save your life’ on account of the very appetising doughnuts on the cover and my daughter’s general enthralment with the idea that a book could actually save your life. Which is true, of course, but still.

Anyway, every book choice has a story and that was mine and I have to say that if nothing else if you do not crave doughnuts during or after reading this book it is a miracle. It is also a miracle I did not gain 10lbs in weight, though that may be because the doughnut potential in UK is significantly behind that available in the US, where this novel, of course, is based and consequently I was able to avoid the cravings. Tesco’s strawberry iced versions not really hitting the mark. So, not entirely expecting the assault this book would have on my appetite, I embarked.

This Book Will Save Your Life tells the story of Richard Novak, a man who is in pain. We begin with Richard standing by the window in his swanky LA pad watching a woman swimming in a pool at one of the houses further down the hill, at which point Richard discovers he is in pain. Actual pain, not figurative pain. In short measure we learn that Richard is alone, that he is rich, that he lives by routine, that he has an ex-wife and a son he has no relationship with, that he fears death. Richard’s life is sustained by people around him: Cecelia who cleans for him, Sylvia who provides him with his macrobiotic meals, a personal trainer who sets his exercise regime. They provide for his physical needs, but provide no emotional connection for him. Richard is isolated, alone, trapped in an uninvolved life.

The pain changes everything. Richard calls for help and goes to the hospital. When they find nothing wrong with him they send him home and on his way home he takes a detour. This is where Richard meets Anhil, the owner of a doughnut shop. The offer of conversation, free doughnuts and, perhaps most importantly, an unexpected friendship set Richard on the path to emotional reconnection. Along the way we experience, through Richard, all the bizarre and quirky sides to LA. The actor who lives further up the hill. Dodgy doctors. A woman, Cynthia, Richard finds crying in the aisle of the local supermarket and who, for no apparent reason, he helps to climb out of her own uninvolved life. Silent retreats. Yoga. A sinkhole growing in the back of Richard’s garden which threatens to swallow everything he owns. Interior designers. The helicopter rescue of a horse. A dramatic rescue of a kidnapping victim. A reclusive writer. Midnight parties on the beach.

There is a lot about This Book Will Save Your Life which seems co-incidental or improbable and yet this apparent lack of realism is a significant part of its charm. And that is, perhaps, the best way to describe the book: charming. Richard Novak as a character is strangely innocent. He goes from being a man trapped by insular routine to one who, for no specific reason, reaches out from himself and through his kindness towards others discovers the joy, and risk, of emotional connection. Through this process, through these random acts of unexpected kindness, he becomes a kind of hero, a saviour both to himself and to others. Underpinning the story is Richard’s awkward relationship with his son, Ben, who is undertaking a road trip with his cousin which ends in LA where Richard is. Throughout the book you get the sense that all Richard’s efforts to resolve his emotional difficulties centre, albeit unconsciously, around his desire to have a more meaningful relationship with Ben and whilst I think it is safe to say that it is not all plain sailing, and it doesn’t end entirely neatly (and is the better for it) there is a resolution which makes the overall book strangely satisfying. It is a sweet, uplifting book, which is also surprisingly funny.

The danger with this book is that in describing it, it makes it sound awfully twee. Richard is an emotionally stunted character who seemingly blunders along an improbable voyage of emotional discovery. This type of story could easily be mawkish or overly sentimental, but in truth it is none of these things. It is funny, charming, touching and spiritedly original. Each character, even the minor ones, is lively and realistic, if flawed (which all the best characters are) and Holmes certainly has a keen eye for people and how to draw them out with vivacious economy. I have never visited LA (and probably never will) but Holmes really brings the city and its people and quirks and crazy philosophies to life. Everything about this story, in spite of the coincidental anomalies, feels real and true. It’s a skill Holmes makes look all too easy.

In summary, this is a lovely book. A book to be shared. A book that, maybe, might just save your life.

This Book Will Save Your Life receives a quirky 9 out of 10 Biis.

Now get me a doughnut!