Book 2: The Boat, Nam Le

A dazzling, emotionally riveting debut collection: the seven stories in Nam Le’s The Boat take us across the globe as he enters the hearts and minds of characters from all over the world.

Whether Nam Le is conjuring the story of 14-year-old Juan, a hit man in Colombia; or an aging painter mourning the death of his much-younger lover; or a young refugee fleeing Vietnam, crammed in the ship’s hold with 200 others, the result is unexpectedly moving and powerful.

This is an extraordinary work of fiction that takes us to the heart of what it means to be human, and announces a writer of astonishing gifts.

 

I first heard of this book a couple of years ago when it was first published. It is a multiple award winner from a debut Australian author, but as it’s a collection of short stories I’ve never given much thought to it. I see it everywhere in plenty of book stores but have never picked it up as I’m not a big fan of short stories. I much prefer to just go for a novel rather than a short story collection. However, it was set on the book list for my English course last semester so I know longer had a choice, I had to read it now.

My first thought was that Le is an amazingly talented writer. Every story is different and yet each of the seven stories is powerful in its own way. And he refuses to stick to just one setting or type of character, instead moving all around the world. There is a story set in Tehran, one in a small Australian town, one in Colombia, another in Hiroshima. In the very first story, Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice, Le writes this: “‘Faulkner, you know,’ my friend said over the squeals, ‘he said we should write about the old verities. Love and honour and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.'” It feels like this is exactly what Le does in his stories.

Halflead Bay:

This was my favourite out of all the stories. Probably because it was the story I most related to (and not just because this was the story set in Australia). It tells the story of Jamie, a teenage boy gearing up to play in the biggest football match of the year, and his family who are all trying to deal with his mother’s illness. She has multiple sclerosis and is deteriorating quickly.

I immediately connected to the story. My mum has had MS for almost my whole life – she was diagnosed with it while she was pregnant with my younger brother twenty-two years ago. Obviously my mum doesn’t have it in the same way as Jamie’s mother does (my mum’s never had another attack past the debilitating one that left her paralysed for twelve months, twenty-two years ago), and my family isn’t in the same situation, especially as my parents have been divorced for as long as I can remember. But I could see my own family in Jamie’s, I could feel that this could have been my family if my parents had stayed together.

The way Nam Le writes about the disease is just… perfect. There is so much that I could quote from this story but I will limit myself to just two, that still stick out at me:

“She was indefatiguable. If asked, she would say it was just like pins and needles. What was the phrase people used? – she refused to become her illness. She beat it back.” (page 132)

“His mum started coughing.

‘Are you okay?’ his dad asked.

Once she’d fetched her breath she said, ‘Jamie.’

‘Yeah, Mum.’

‘You know what no one ever asks me?’

His dad stared straight ahead, over her shoulder. ‘Ask her,’ he said.

‘What, Mum?’

‘Everyone always asks me if I’m okay. No one ever asks me if I’m happy.'” (page 137)

As you can see, Halflead Bay is still resonating with me, even all these months later.

Favourite stories:

  • Halflead Bay
  • Cartagena
  • Tehran Calling

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone. 🙂

 

Check out Nam Le’s website, or alternatively, you can like him on Facebook.

You can check out The Boat on Goodreads, or you can order it from Booktopia or Amazon.

 

Books left: 148

Days left: 567

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Book 1: Hood, Stephen R. Lawhead

A new reign of terror has brought fear and hatred to the land, while an ancient legend stirs in the heart of the wildwood …

The Norman conquest of England is complete – but for one young man the battle has only just begun. When Bran ap Brychan’s father is murdered by Norman soldiers, he flees to London, seeking justice. The journey is long and hard – and the suffering of those he meets along the way fuels his anger. With his demands dismissed, Bran has no choice but to return home, but a worse fate still awaits him there. His lands have been confiscated and his people subjugated by a brutal and corrupt regime.

Should Bran flee for his life or protect his people by surrendering to his father’s murderers? The answer, perhaps, is known only to the Raven King – a creature of myth and magic born of the darkest shadows in the forest.

 

I’ve always been intrigued by the legend of Robin Hood. There’s just something about the whole robbing the rich to feed the poor, and the merry men, and Robin himself (not to mention the love story with Maid Marian), that just always gets to me. My favourite Disney movie still remains Robin Hood (I adore Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid as well, but Robin Hood takes out top billing). I adore the BBC series staring Jonas Armstrong. So when I first came across this book in my uni bookshop a couple of years ago I was very excited. I bought it and the sequel on the spot, and then when the last book in the trilogy was released I bought it as well. But it was only this year that I finally got around to reading them.

I have to say, I really enjoyed this book. Lawhead has taken Robin Hood right back to where he believes the legend actually originated, to Wales in the eleventh century. Of course, all the elements of the Robin Hood legend are still here even if the names and setting have somewhat changed. Bran ap Brychan may have been raised a prince but when his father is killed he soon becomes the outlaw we all know living in the forest. He is still a master archer. And he still has his band of merry men, even if in this version they are no longer so merry.

The major plus for this book is Bran himself and the journey he goes through. He starts off as a somewhat shallow, selfish, roguish bloke who just wants his home and lands back, then wants nothing more than to just run away from the Ffreinc, until finally he slowly becomes the man he was meant to be. Bran realises that he cannot abandon his people and so begins his role as King Raven.

The supporting characters are fun as well, both the good guys and the villains (though the downside is that there is a very large cast of characters, which only gets larger as the trilogy goes on). My favourite was Mérian. She is feisty and independent and sticks to her principles, which are all things I love in my female characters. I found her story, in which she is forced to deal with the Ffreinc nobles despite her reluctance and her anger at them, to be just as interesting (perhaps even more so at times) as Bran’s. Plus I loved the relationship between Bran and Mérian, even though at this point there’s very little to it. I think this could’ve been heightened a bit more throughout the whole novel, as opposed to the tiny tidbits we get, but I get that that isn’t the point of the novel. That’s just my shipper heart constantly wanting more shippery things to be happening, lol.

Overall, I really enjoyed Hood. Granted, it’s probably not for everyone, but I expect most Robin Hood fans would find this retelling of the old tale enjoyable. I certainly did. But then again, I am a Robin Hood fanatic, so who knows? 😉

 

Check out Stephen R. Lawhead’s website or follow him on Twitter: @StephenLawhead. And you can also like him on Facebook.

You can check out Hood on Goodreads, or you can order it from Booktopia or Amazon.

 

Books left: 149

Days left: 568

The Challenge

The Challenge: 150 books, read in 730 days.

So back in March I turned twenty-three (on 16/3/11). And I decided that by the time I turn twenty-five, I want to aim to have read a total of one hundred and fifty books. Some people may have seen the start of this blog before – I did originally have it posted on Blogger but then life got in the way and many of the posts I started about the books I’ve read so far never made it onto the blog. So I’ve decided to move to WordPress (mainly because it’s prettier – shallow I know) and make a fresh start. 🙂

Originally, this whole idea came about because I have around eighty books on my shelves that I own, but have never gotten around to reading. I was going to challenge myself to read only those books within a certain timeframe. I wasn’t going to be allowed to buy any new books – a very bad habit that I have, and one I’ve been trying to curb for years. But then I decided that I’m not going to feel guilty about buying books anymore. Every time I feel guilty I remind myself that I’m aspiring to create the library that Beast gifted to Belle, or the library that Mr Darcy owns at Pemberley.

Of course, after I came to that realisation I decided I needed to set myself a different challenge. Ergo, the one hundred and fifty books by the time I’m twenty-five. 🙂 (And hopefully within those one hundred and fifty books, at least some of them will be from the eighty-odd sitting patiently on my bookshelves waiting to be read.)

One other thing I should probably explain is the title of this blog: As Read by an Aspiring Receptionist. I’m currently doing a BA in English. And as the song from Avenue Q goes, what do you do with a BA in English? It hardly leads to a specific career path. So I decided a long time ago that if my lofty dreams of becoming a published author or working in the publishing industry don’t pan out, I plan on becoming a receptionist. It’s a job I’ve had before and enjoyed so I have no problems going back to it if that’s where my life leads.

Besides, as a receptionist I’d have so much more reading time. 😀

Books left: 150
Days left: 569