Chabon, Extence, de Bernières, Némirovsky

February 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

– Authors I’ve encountered so far this year {through their writing, just in case you imagine me to have fantastical connections…}, all new to me before twenty fourteen. I thought I’d share with you my reviews of their work.


I’ll start from the end and move backwards, being a firm adherent of the saving the best ’til last mentality. Irène Némirovsky, a French novelist who died aged 39 in Auschwitz, wrote a number of novels; some of which were published during her lifetime, others posthumously. Arguably her most famous novel, Suite Française has been recently adapted into a film starring Michelle Williams, due to be released this year. But it is The Misunderstanding that I read – or should I say slogged out – last weekend.

A piece of advice: don’t read it. It was boring, shallow, and poorly translated. The plot centred around an unconvincing love affair involving an annoyingly insecure brat and a lazy, depressed bachelor – neither of whom were remotely likeable. The story basically charts them meeting, ‘falling in love’ – though I do not believe it -, and him (about a minute after they meet) growing bored of her whilst she becomes fanatically obsessed with him, eventually kissing another man to ‘share her love’ in order to counteract its intensity. He witnesses the kiss and leaves for Finland to chop logs. The End.

The tale was unconvincing, barely fleshed out, and frustrating. The only redeeming feature was the setting for most of the book: Paris. Paris in winter, Paris in summer, Paris at dawn and Paris at dusk. Aside from the glorious city – and the fact that the story was short enough to read in a few hours – there was little to redeem this novel for me. I feel I must give Suite Française a go, but I do dearly hope it is more promising than The Misunderstanding.

{I think I will come back to A Partisan’s Daughter, by Louis de Bernières, another time. I have not finished it yet, and I’m not sure why.}

The Universe Versus Alex Woods, by Gavin Extence, is, however, a book you must read. It is the story of Alex Woods (a teenager) and Mr Peterson (a pensioner) – an unlikely pair who become friends and in turn, change the other’s life. The voice, the characters, the story, the writing – all are rich, and join together to make for a great read.  Alex tells the story and he is endearing, funny, and incredibly likeable – from the starting moment when he is stopped at customs with an urn full of human ashes and a bag of marijuana, through to the story’s touching end. I won’t give too much away, but I will say that this is a book that will make you laugh and cry (or at least, feel a slight moistening around the eyes).

Finally, the first book I read this year, this one here ->


Absolutely fantastic. Set in New York around WW2, it tells the story of Josef Kavalier; a young artist, magician and escapist from Prague who spends the novel trying to rescue his Jewish family from the Nazis. A friend bought the book for me as a birthday gift and scribbled in the front ‘Josef; a favourite character of all time.’ I can only agree. This story was one I could not leave; a nerve-wracking, soul lifting narrative that had me on the verge of tears and wonder.

‘It was a caterpillar scheme – a dream of fabulous escape – that had ultimately carried Josef Kavalier across Asia and the Pacific to his cousin’s narrow bed on Ocean Avenue.’

Read it. You won’t regret it.

What are you reading? I’d love to know what to line up next!


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