Munich in English - selected by independent Locals for Cosmopolitans, Newcomers and Residents - since 1989

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July 2004

Summer Leaves

Four potential page-turners to take on vacation

By Mark Haddon
Jonathan Cape, 2003

This book is a murder mystery like no other. The detective and narrator is Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old with Asperger’s, a form of autism. He understands a lot about math, but little about people and human interaction. When he finds his neighbor’s dog murdered, Boone embarks on a terrifying journey. Haddon portrays an emotionally dissociated mind skillfully and sensitively. The novel is punctuated with Boone’s diagrams and equations, which help the reader to understand how he thinks. Although an unlikely narrator, his literal view of the world makes “normal” people seem over-complicated and dishonest. It is a mark of Haddon’s talent as a writer that Boone’s life is described in terms that are at once moving without being saccharine and humorous without being trite. In interviews Haddon has been vague about whether The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was written for children or adults (it was actually published twice as a crossover book for adults and teenagers), but, in fact, it can be enjoyed by people of any age.

By Jeanette Winterson
Fourth Estate, 2004

“My mother called me Silver. I was born part precious metal part pirate.” This is the quirky voice of narrator Silver, who, lost and motherless, is taken in by blind Pew, keeper of the Cape Wrath Lighthouse. He tells Silver tales of life and history, longing and rootlessness, and gradually makes her understand the nature of human love through a kind of nurture by narrative. Central to the plot is the story of Babel Dark, a 19th-century clergyman whose life opens like a map that Silver must follow. The tale of his dramatic double life is woven into multiple realities and layered allusions to literature, myth and historical figures—Charles Darwin and Louis Stevenson both make an appearance. The originality of Winterson’s eighth novel is breathtaking. Her genius lies in the use of similes—“his eyes were milky blue like a kitten’s” (of Pew) and “she swept down the spiral stairs like a hailstorm” (of spiteful Miss Pinch). At some point towards the middle of the novel, Winterson appears to become mired in her own many-layered narrative, but recovers towards the close. The lyrical beauty of her writing is captivating throughout.

by Paul Auster
Henry Holt & Company, 2003

After recovering from a near-fatal illness, novelist Sidney Orr finds a blue notebook in a shop near his home in Brooklyn. The moment he begins writing in the notebook Sidney is drawn into a web of premonitions, eerie coincidences and puzzling occurrences. Almost immediately, his happy marriage, his faith in reality and his belief in the power of writing are dashed and all he can do is desperately continue inventing stories that in turn drag him further into tragedy. The novel Sidney writes centers around Nick, an editor, who narrowly misses being hit by a falling gargoyle and takes this as a sign to abandon his present life and begin a new one. Into this new life he takes a manuscript by famous author Sylvia Maxwell, called Oracle Night, about a blind man who has visions of the future. The many narratives in Auster’s book can become confusing, but as the novel progresses a greater picture emerges that is more powerful and real than just a labyrinth of invented plots and subplots. All are interconnected, in bizarre and often disturbing ways. One marvels at Auster’s ability to weave his narrative(s) so effortlessly.

by Douglas Coupland
Harper Collins, 2003 (paperback 2004)

Seventeen-year-old Cheryl Anway thinks nothing of her innocent “God is nowhere God is now here” doodles on her binder, but it becomes the talk of the town after she is gunned down in a Columbine-like shooting in her school cafeteria. Secretly married to classmate Jason (for as a good Christian she refuses sex before marriage), she has just told him she is pregnant with his child. Narrated by four victims of the massacre, Hey Nostradamus! starts off on a strong foot with Cheryl’s perspective and then tapers off into a stream of evangelistic twaddle and teenage drama. Whereas Cheryl gives insight into the lives of young people before and after such a tragedy, Jason’s narrative is irritating and unsympathetic. It would have been more interesting for Coupland to focus on what led to the killings, instead of gauging the reactions of Cheryl, Jason, Heather, Jason’s new girlfriend after 13 years and Reg, Jason’s father. If these characters were interesting, it might have worked—but they are poorly drawn. Those looking for a gripping tale, or for greater insight into such Columbine-style killing, would be better off renting the Michael Moore documentary Bowling for Columbine.

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