Selasa, 18 Mac 2014

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf


Posted: 17 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

ARE we genetically destined to turn into our parents and repeat their mistakes?

This question haunts Susceptible, the graphic memoir of Canadian artist, writer and musician Geneviève Castrée.

Some of us would have railed at the unfair cards life has dealt us – admit it, you must have whined "If only we could choose our parents!" once or twice. At least when you wondered what it would have been like to have a trust fund or blue blood. But Castree admirably sidesteps this in her courageous autobiography.

She begins her life story with her "birth" – as a small child caught up in the veins of a leafy shrub.

"I often think about what is innate and what is acquired ... I wonder if it is possible for a sadness to be passed from one generation to the other," she asks.

As she struggles to escape her "veiny prison", her wild fetters bind her tighter and tighter to the point of suffocation, until her umbilical cord is suddenly cut.

Release, unfortunately, does not bring the freedom it promised, we discover as her life unfolds.

Going by her nickname Goglu, Castree draws us into her troubled adolescence through a lyrical span of cycles and circles of images and text. Her world is shaped by her emotionally-stunted mother Amere and the men she gets involved with: her absent father Tete d'Oeuf who sees her as an unwanted burden, and her abusive "stepfather" Amer, who not only rejects Goglu but also isolates her from her mother by setting the coke-snorting and free-loving Amere further along her self-destructive path.

As a child, Goglu's only escape from her harsh daily reality is her daydreams, especially of her distant father who she remembers fondly riding away into the bright light. (Later, she realises he is in British Columbia, "a mythical kingdom where dads go to disappear".)

She then seeks refuge in art and punk rock as she stumbles towards adulthood with its promise of independence.

Goglu finds herself repeating her mother's mistakes though, from drugs and hooking up with the wrong men, to getting knocked up at 17.

In an attempt to break the cycle that seems to be predestined for her, Goglu decides to terminate the pregnancy and take control of her fate.

Heavy stuff for a graphic novel, you say?

Funnily, despite the dire circumstances of Goglu's life, Susceptible is not as bleak and miserable as you might expect.

The deeper we get into Goglu's seemingly hopeless existence, the stronger her relentless spirit shines.

Castree's approach to her memoir, and its resulting tone, are the reasons why. Told retrospectively in bursts of memories, the story gives us the impression that time has given her the strength to stand back from her painful past and assess it objectively.

Instead of blaming her mother for all her woes, like many confessional memoirs do, Goglu tries to understand the societal forces that shaped her mother's life and which in turn, are shaping hers.

It has also allowed Castree to infuse the darkest episodes of her life with some dry humour and wit.

One such surreal, but hilarious chapter is House Fire 1, which depicts how her mother and a lover deal with a television that catches fire in the middle of the night.

There is a certain glibness to the narration; what did not kill her has made Goglu a stronger woman.

Yet Castree does not try to make light of her ordeal either; the accompanying text to her intricate drawings is in small, cursive fonts that force you to look closely at her experiences in all their grim details. They demand attention, and do not allow you to detach yourself from the story.

Another striking feature of Susceptible is how Castree makes use of her space – there are the more traditional panels and word balloons, but most of the memoir is told in blank pages that leave the characters floating in white space. The open, empty spaces are both foreboding and comforting, assuring us that Goglu can free herself from her fate, no matter how uncertain it is.

And this is how the book closes, with Goglu finally making the break from her mother – "I am eighteen. I have all my teeth. I can do whatever I want."

The October List

Posted: 17 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

A race against time, with the clock going backwards!

IT is a common cliche: saying that someone does something so well, he could do it backwards.

In his latest novel, The October List, however, American author Jeffrey Deaver does just that. His tightly plotted thriller begins with the climax in its final chapter, and moves in reverse to where things began.

A striking way of telling a story, to be sure. But what is most striking about Deaver's novel is that he actually pulls it off!

Deaver's name will probably be familiar to thriller fans: he is, after all, the creator of beloved detectives Lincoln Rhyme and Kathryn Dance. His works include The Devil's TeardropThe Broken Window and Carte Blanche, as well as The Bone Collector, which was made into a film in 1999 starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie.

Deaver has been awarded the Steel Dagger and Short Story Dagger from the British Crime Writers' Association as well as the Nero Wolfe Award, and he is a three-time recipient of the Ellery Queen Reader's Award for Best Short Story of the Year.

The October List tells the tale of Gabriela, a single mother whose daughter has been kidnapped. Her kidnappers, led by the sinister Joseph, demand she pay them half a million dollars as well as find a mysterious document known as the "October List". On her side, however, is the dashing Daniel Reardon, a rough-and-ready action hero type who will do all he can to help.

The novel opens with Gabriela and Daniel facing the kidnappers with a gun, and moves backwards to the trigger point of these events. Twists and turns are aplenty: literally everybody in this story is not what they seem, with all of them possessing secrets of their own.

The October List's unusual format will no doubt draw comparisons to other stories with fractured timelines, such as Christopher Nolan's movie, Memento, or Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. In his Foreword, however, Deaver reveals that the main inspiration for his book was, surprisingly, a Broadway musical: Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Go Along, which also moves in reverse.

Let us address the elephant in the room: the novel's unusual format is very frustrating in the start. Having to constantly remind yourself that Chapter 2 happens BEFORE Chapter 1 can be quite a chore, and may cause readers with poor concentration to give up entirely.

Once you are accustomed to reverse gear, however, Deaver's novel makes for a refreshing and satisfying read. The October List is very well-plotted, and would probably be a decent tale even without its unique format. The story's characters are interesting: while many of them seem like stock characters in the beginning, it quickly becomes clear that this is not the case.

Deaver uses backward storytelling very effectively, even managing to create humour with it. Throughout the entire book, people refer to Reardon as looking like "that actor": however, it is not until Chapter 1 that we discover who it is!

This unusual style, however, is not without its flaws. For example, a lot of exposition is used to keep the reader updated, which can feel tiresome at times. Backwards storytelling also means it is difficult for The October List to build momentum: instead, Deaver builds suspense by throwing his readers headlong into the plot, and letting them discover things by themselves. One chapter has a mild mannered character recall an act of killing: what exactly happened? Another chapter has Gabriela and Reardon finding the October List. But how did they get there?

Characters are interesting, although it is difficult to really feel connected to them. Kepler and Surani, the two incompetent detectives attached to the case, are fun to read about, but the most fascinating character by a long shot is the mysterious Joseph, who seems capable of doing anything to achieve his goals.

Things are also wrapped together a bit too nicely at the end (or should we say the beginning?) as all plot threads are resolved in a long expository conversation by the main characters. A little more ambiguity would have been nice: The October List goes so out of its way to explain everyone's fate that it can feel a little contrived.

Those minor nit picks aside, however, you will probably be very entertained by Deaver's latest novel. Deaver is called "the master of the plot twist" for good reason: some of The October List's shock developments will definitely keep you on tenterhooks.

Overall, The October List feels like a bit of a gimmick; to its credit, though, it is a very well-executed one. A gripping read, once you get used to the unusual format.

Break My Heart 1,000 Times

Posted: 17 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

LOOKING at the cover and title of this book, I thought that Break My Heart 1,000 Times would be a sappy love story about a girl (it's always the girl who gets her heart broken, yes?) pining for a boy to reciprocate her undying love. Gosh, was I wrong. No, really. If I had bet my life on guessing the content of the book based on its cover, I would have written this review from my grave (assuming that my parents didn't decide to cremate me). Whoa, morbid much?

But, hey, how else do you expect me to react after staying up all night to read a young adult novel that revolves around a world in which ghosts pop up at unexpected places and roam freely during daylight like they belong with the undead?

Veronica Calder is your average teenager who just happens to live in a house with her mother and the ghosts of her father – who appears at 7.13am every morning just in time for breakfast – and a random boy – who appears in the bathroom every time she takes a shower.

However, these occurrences are nothing out of the ordinary for Veronica, her mother or anyone else in the world because after an incident, which is only referred to as The Event, happened and mysteriously killed two million people instantaneously, ghosts are regular fixtures everywhere.

However, trouble starts when Veronica's secondary school teacher August Bittner, a widower, starts showing a non-sexual but super creepy interest in her; Veronica is disturbed not only by his unwanted attention inside the classroom but also and eventually finds him following her even outside school hours.We eventually discover that, years ago, August lost his only daughter on Feb 29 – which is coincidentally Veronica's birthday – and figures that he has found a way to bring his daughter back by giving her the right body to "live" in. Yes, he believes that Veronica is the perfect host for his daughter's lost soul, and she is the key to reuniting his broken family. Well, August's plan seems pretty simple except for the fact that Veronica is alive and he needs her dead – on her birthday no less.

Sensing that her life is at risk, Veronica tries to prove that August is not the innocent ol' teacher that he pretends to be and that she may not his be first nor only victim in his crazy scheme. And along the way, Veronica gets into various dangerous situations, almost making the former's plan to kill her totally redundant.

The author successfully keeps the storyline moving at a fast pace without confusing the readers with too much information or fancy words that maybe only 3% of the world population understands.

More importantly, the author has done an excellent job of not portraying the protagonist as an annoying teenage girl that you want to kill yourself.

Veronica is a brave, level-headed, clever and compassionate girl who seems like a good role model for young readers to look up to.

She is a good student who loves her family and friends, unafraid to face her fears and definitely is not a … you know, that word that rhymes with "witch".

Break My Heart 1,000 Times is an easy read that takes less than a couple of hours to finish, although two things might keep replaying in your head way after you have put the book down. First, the question: Who the heck suggested the title, which has nothing to do with the story whatsoever? Secondly, the inevitable lesson that you learn at the end of it all: never judge a book by its cover. Oh yeah, lesson totally learned.


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