Okay, so it’s a little late since we’re now at the beginning of May 2015, but as they say, better late than never 😉 Anyway here they are:
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Iceland, 1829. This is the story of Agnes Magnusdottir, found guilty of murder and condemned to death by decapitation. While the authorities await the arrival of a quality axe from Denmark, Agnes is forced to spend the winter with the family of a low-ranking official, who have no choice but to take her in.
From the outset it was clear that there was only going to be one outcome for the main character, and I’m aware that this unhappy end is not everyone’s cup of tea – you don’t have to be a hopeless romantic to want some sort of happy or at least upbeat ending with justice being served etc. However, Burial Rites isn’t about justice, it’s about sacrifice. Agnes is a Christ-like figure, and this beautifully written and well-researched story deals with how she touches people’s lives in the short time she has left.
A page-turning, slow build towards an inevitable and powerful ending which had me in tears, this book will stay with me for a long time.
The Moment by Douglas Kennedy
A heart-wrenching love story set in Berlin in the 80s towards the end of the Cold War, and at a time when many countries in the former Eastern Block were beginning to relax their borders, with Honecker-controlled East Germany being the last bastion of Stalinism.
Petra Dussmann escapes to West Berlin from the East, where she meets and falls in love with American writer Thomas Nesbitt. However, the reach of the STASIs (the East German State Security) is long and threatens their fragile relationship in a convoluted story of betrayal, retribution, and forgiveness. The book debunks the myth of a totally repressed East German population and paints a picture of a vibrant, colourful society – and, to a degree, free-thinking – behind the cold concrete monuments.
The novel was particularly poignant for me because I lived in West Berlin briefly, in the mid-1980s, shortly before the Wall came down. I’ve walked the streets the author refers to and been through the border control at Checkpoint Charlie just like the author describes it. It brought back memories of an exciting time for me.
The Martian by Andy Weir
Last autumn I faced a long wait in A&E because of a minor injury. Not having brought anything to read, I grabbed what looked interesting from the hospital newsagents, with no expectations whatsoever. The Martian gripped me from the start, so much so I almost missed the nurse calling me…
Mark Watney is stranded on Mars, abandoned by his colleagues who think he’s dead. Thus begins one man’s struggle for survival in an incredibly hostile environment, much like Robinson Crusoe in space. Occasionally the story was more fiction than science, but I don’t think it’ll be many years before science catches up with author imagination. There’s already talk of a manned mission to Mars which with our currently technology sadly means certain death for those brave/fool-hardy individuals.
The book celebrates how the human spirit will rally in the face of disaster, and Mark’s battle with the elements makes for a fantastic story of ingenuity, logic, and an ability to overcome gut-wrenching fear. And he has a great sense of humour!
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
This is a very unusual romantic comedy, mainly because it’s told entirely from Don Tillman’s perspective and his rather unique take on the world. Don is classed as having Asperger’s, but as a character he’s refreshing, and it’s hard not to warm to him despite his oddities. There was a lot of Sheldon Cooper in him (from the Big Bang Theory)!
On the downside, there were times when the book stretched the credulity a bit, and Don’s personality seemed a little too “superhuman”. The story only scratches the surface of Asperger’s Syndrome, neither showing the complete aspects nor the depths of someone with this condition, and it does nothing to dispel any myths either.
However, I didn’t pick up the book hoping to be educated – I knew from the start that I wouldn’t be – but simply because it was a different take on the romantic comedy. I found it touching, occasionally painfully so, and very funny too. Cheered me up no end.