BOOK REVIEW | Hollow Heart by Viola Di Grado

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3.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
In this courageous, inventive, and intelligent novel, Viola di Grado tells the story of a suicide and what follows. She has given voice to an astonishing vision of life after life, portraying the awful longing and sense of loss that plague the dead, together with the solitude provoked by the impossibility of communicating. The afterlife itself is seen as a dark, seething place where one is preyed upon by the cruel and unrelenting elements. Hollow Heart will frighten as it provokes, enlighten as it causes concern. If ever there were a novel that follows Kafka’s prescription for a book to be a frozen axe for the sea within us, it is Hollow Heart.

My thoughts:
Di Grado’s imaginative second novel, Hollow Heart, opens with a punch to the gut:

In 2011 the world ended: I killed myself.

It’s immediately evident that this is not going to be your average ghost story. Our narrator, Dorotea, navigates the living world from the perspective of the afterworld. She visits people and places she knew while living, all the while returning daily to her corpse to fascinate in its decomposition. As a side note – this a book not for the faint of heart – graphic depictions of the decomposition of a human body are present throughout. I, of course, reveled in its casual discussion of gore.

For a book about death, this is surprisingly refreshing. It’s creative and introspective, and reads almost autobiographically. Dorotea has experiences and thoughts that will be relatable to many women in their 20’s (such as an obsession with skinny bodies). We learn that Dorotea’s mother suffered from depression, that her father was not present in her life, and that suicide is no stranger to her family; Dorotea works through her struggles from the other side, and does a bit of haunting while she’s at it.

Dorotea discusses the suicide attempt of Sinéad O’Connor, and untimely deaths of other celebrities such as Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse, with a fascination that was both fun to read but occasionally jarring. I’d be wrapped up in some lovely prose or dialogue, when suddenly there would be 2 pages or so on a celebrity’s death.

Sinéad had tried to kill herself but hadn’t succeeded. I had. Between her and me, who had won, and who had lost?

This book was not perfect for me – it felt repetitive at times (and this is a very short book), and dragged a little in the middle. The first and final seconds are beautifully written, however, and I was fascinated with Dorothea’s growth in the afterlife. A unique read that will resonate with those who are living with depression.

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BOOK REVIEW | A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
On the eve of Angolan independence an agoraphobic woman named Ludo bricks herself into her apartment for 30 years, living off vegetables and the pigeons she lures in with diamonds, burning her furniture and books to stay alive and writing her story on the apartment’s walls.
Almost as if we’re eavesdropping, the history of Angola unfolds through the stories of those she sees from her window. As the country goes through various political upheavals from colony to socialist republic to civil war to peace and capitalism, the world outside seeps into Ludo’s life through snippets on the radio, voices from next door, glimpses of someone peeing on a balcony, or a man fleeing his pursuers.

My thoughts:
This book is stunning; poetic and concise, with a bit of a magical feel. This is the story of Ludo, who shuts herself into her apartment by building a brick wall on the even of Angolan Independence. She will stay here for the next 30 years, struggling to survive. First, she uses up her stores, then she begins eating fruit from her terrace, eventually she turns to pigeons for sustenance – all the while burning books and furniture for warmth. Along the way, we are introduced to a variety of players in the Angolan war, as well as one unexpected character who changes the course for Ludo.

This story is told through narrative, prose, and Ludo’s journal entries. There are so many beautiful passages in this book but this one, taken from Ludo’s journal, resonated deeply with me:

I carve out verses
short
as prayers

words are
legions
of demons
expelled

I cut adverbs
pronouns

I spare my
wrists

This is a short and powerful read – a true work of art.

BOOK REVIEW | Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

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3.75/5 stars

From the publisher:
Capturing the distinct rhythms of Jamaican life and dialect, Nicole Dennis- Benn pens a tender hymn to a world hidden among pristine beaches and the wide expanse of turquoise seas. At an opulent resort in Montego Bay, Margot hustles to send her younger sister, Thandi, to school. Taught as a girl to trade her sexuality for survival, Margot is ruthlessly determined to shield Thandi from the same fate. When plans for a new hotel threaten their village, Margot sees not only an opportunity for her own financial independence but also perhaps a chance to admit a shocking secret: her forbidden love for another woman. As they face the impending destruction of their community, each woman—fighting to balance the burdens she shoulders with the freedom she craves—must confront long-hidden scars. From a much-heralded new writer, Here Comes the Sun offers a dramatic glimpse into a vibrant, passionate world most outsiders see simply as paradise.

My thoughts:
‘Membah dis, nobody love a black girl. Not even harself.

Don’t let the beautiful bright cover fool you, this book is bleak. This is the story of a family, the secrets they keep, and the fight for a better life.

Despite living in a part of town that is less than prosperous, Margot has a prestigious job at a tourist’s resort hotel. She endured an unspeakable tragedy at the hands of her mother as a child, and is now determined to do anything that it takes to keep her younger sister, Thandi, from following her dark path. Because of her mother, Margot engages in prostitution to make ends meet and keep up with Thandi’s expensive schooling. While the family expects Thandi to become a lawyer or doctor, she is occupied with a boy from a bad neighborhood, lightening her skin, and dreams of becoming an artist. Margot and Thandie, along with their mother Dolores, harbor damaging and painful secrets which are exasperated by the confines of their culture.

Nicole Dennis-Benn has crafted an engaging story that had me moving quickly through the pages. I cared about these characters and was deeply invested in their fates. This book touches on LGBTQ issues, and issues that people of colour face with raw power. I’m half Jamaican, and I absolutely love reading Jamaican authors – recommendations please! I will be anxiously awaiting Dennis-Benn’s next work.