Missing Person, by Patrick Modiano

Missing Person, by Patrick Modiano
Ten years ago, amnesiac Guy Rowland hired a private investigator to figure out who he was and where he came from. Soon afterwards, the PI gave Guy a new identity and a job as the PI’s assistant, saying that sometimes it’s best not to remember who you are. But now that his good friend and employer has retired, Guy again begins his search for identity. 

Reading this book made me understand why Modiano won the Nobel Prize in literature. The prose was almost poetic, and the imagery was gripping. For instance, he found a drained, emotionally dying clue to his past in a run-down bar. The whole chapter was filled with coffin and morgue imagery, complete with an “embalmed man” who observed everything, no matter how stimulating, without blinking an eye. All of Modiano’s chapters were set up in this way – with vivid imagery fitting the clue that he had found – though the imagery was always dark and mysterious. 

Unsurprising for a book about amnesia, the over-arching theme of the story was identity. Who am I? Does my past change who I am? These questions are explored as Guy’s own vision of who he is transforms as he gets more clues. We can only wonder at the end if he’s really found his real self, or if he’s just adopted the identity of a man who fits the person Guy wants to be. 

I definitely urge you to read Missing Person. I hope I find the time to read more Modiano in the future. 


Dark Eden, by Chris Beckett

Dark Eden, by Chris Beckett; narrated by Matthew Frow, Jayne Entwistle, Ione Butler, Robert Hook, Heather Wilds, Nicholas Guy Smith, Hannah Curtis, Bruce Mann


When a group of four people have to land on an unknown planet to regroup and repair their ship, they decide to split into two groups – a man and woman who do not want to risk the flight back remain on “Eden” alone, and the two others set back off for Earth with promises to send a rescue ship as soon as possible. Generations later, the people of Eden are still waiting. Still hanging out in exactly the same crash-landing spot. Still following the matriarchal rules structured by the mother of all. But their small area is becoming too crowded. They have to forage farther and farther for food. 



John Redlantern is frustrated with “Family.” With their stubbornness at remaining in one spot when they could clearly spread out over the vast planet and have enough food for all. He’s tired of the extreme ritualistic nature of “Family.” The artifacts from planet Earth are passed around to be “ooohed” and “ahhhed” at, but they are meaningless to a people who have never experienced technology. John is tempted to disrupt the circle of the past, and create a new path for the “Family.” In doing so, he breaks down everything “Family” represents.

Let me start with an important point: although John Redlantern and his friends are teenagers, this is not a teen book. It’s “literary science fiction.” The beginning of the book, which builds the world, the people, and the tension, is really long and slow. It was a bit of a slog to get to the turning point. Once that happens they story finally begins to move a little faster – but even the post-turning-point action is slow. 

The reason the narrative is so slow is because this is a story about Meaning with a capital M, and not about plot or action. Don’t get me wrong. There’s a plot. A plot with Meaning. There were several allegories to the story. The obvious one is the Biblical creation story. It’s all about how innocence is lost when people begin to get bored. But boredom is in our nature. Without boredom, we never learn new things. And new experiences don’t just change you, they change the world. 

Dark Eden also explores a destructive nature of men – as opposed to a more structured, peaceful and confining nature of women. (This seems to be what the book implies, it’s not exactly what I think of the gender divide.)

Dark Eden demonstrates the irony that change is needed to survive, but change is destructive to survival. It’s not just a book about changing the world. It’s also about how the world changes the individual. The main characters in the book, especially John Redlantern and his lover Tina Spiketree, develop into strikingly different people as they adapt to the changing world. Innocence is replaced with deviousness. Ivory towers collapse, covering all bystanders with dust and grime. This is a story of identity.

In other ways, Dark Eden is a book about faith. How faith can lift you up and keep you strong during difficult times. But how it can be manipulated against you, as well. And how, as you realize everything you had faith in is mistaken, you are first paralyzed with numbness, but then are able to move on as a new person. 

I want to give a good review for this book with so much Meaning. I mean, it should have been good. It had Meaning. But a great book has both Meaning and an ability to fascinate even if you don’t see the Meaning. Dark Eden did not. In Dark Eden, the story was lost in the darkness because you were blinded by the bright, shiny Meaning. It was too slow, the hero wasn’t even likable if you considered him an anti-hero, and it was thoroughly uncaptivating. I totally understand why it won the Arthur C Clark award and why it comes so highly recommended. Beckett’s world was unique – colorful and dark at the same time. The setting was unsettling and realistic within the boundaries of science fiction. The lingual drift was a nice, realistic touch. But most of all, the book was slow and Meaningful.

3.5 snowflakes for unique world building and Meaning

As an afterthought – I would like to post this Twitter conversation: 

It is authors that are willing to interact with their readers, even when given a mediocre review, that are truly great. I had been on the fence about whether to read the second book in the series or not – because I am a little curious where his Meaning will go – this conversation put me over the edge to want to read it. Because when someone cares about his readers, I want to like his books more. 🙂

The Fox Inheritance, by Mary E. Pearson

2012 Book 169: The Fox Inheritance

Written by Mary E. Pearson, Narrated by Matthew Brown

Reason for Reading: It’s the second book in the Jenna Fox Chronicles.



Review 
After 260-years of purgatory, Locke Jenkins awakens with a body that seems familiar – yet somehow changed. His friend, Kara, who died in the car crash that killed Locke, also has a achingly similar body…but her mind isn’t quite right. Locke and Kara soon learn that their minds had been downloaded and saved centuries ago by the father of Jenna Fox – another victim of the fatal crash. Although Jenna had been given a new life right away, the copies of Locke’s and Kara’s minds had collected digital dust until Dr. Gatsbro brought the teens back to life in this brave new world. But Dr. Gatsbro’s motives are not altruistic. Locke and Kara make a desperate attempt to escape the doctor’s nefariousness clutches…and are jettisoned into the foreign world of the future. But can Locke keep Kara from making a terrible mistake?

When I read The Adoration of Jenna Fox years ago I really liked it, but as I was reading The Fox Inheritance, I realized that I remembered almost nothing of the first book (perhaps it wasn’t so great after all?). I had to rely on spoiler reviews of the first book, and on the hints-of-what-came-before in the second book to remember. This made the first part of the book rather confusing. I’d recommend familiarizing yourself with The Adoration of Jenna Fox before starting The Fox Inheritance. Although I enjoyed this book, I wasn’t as impressed as I had been after reading the first in the trilogy. The Fox Inheritance had some world-building and good characters. It brought some interesting moral issues to the table: Is it ethical to bring someone back to life after they’re dead – and risk changes? Is it ethical to use a sentient being that of human-creation for our own purposes, or do they deserve civil rights? These are intriguing questions, but they’ve been explored in many other books/movies. So, in the end, I liked this book. It was a fun read. I’ll probably pick up the third book when it comes out. But I would have been perfectly happy if this trilogy had stayed as ONE standalone book. And I’m pretty sure I’ll forget the plot of this book within a few weeks.

Skios, by Michael Frayn


2012 Book 126: Skios, by Michael Frayn (8/29/2012)


Reason for Reading: I’m trying to get through at least SOME of the Booker longlist before the winner is announced. This is one of the 5 easily available in the US, and one of the 3 which is available in audiobook format (since I seem to be limited in my ability to physically read books lately, this seemed the best place to start).


My Review

Dr. Norman Wilfred has flown to Skios to give a distinguished speech to a group of rich academics at the Toppler Foundation. Due to an unfortunate string of coincidences, he is whisked off to a villa while a con artist, Oliver Fox, takes his place at the Toppler gathering. At first blush, this may seem to be only a farcical comedy of errors. Fun is poked at the distinguished empty-headedness of academia, at silly assumptions people make when they don’t have all the information (which, of course, they never do), and at the openness of people to accept whatever is said–as long as it is said by a charismatic person. However, I can see why this book was chosen for the Booker longlist–upon a more careful reading this book has a much deeper undercurrent. It asks questions about identity and about chance Eureka! moments. I found the ease with with Oliver Fox moved into Norman Wilfred’s life almost believable because that IS how academia works sometimes. Sometimes, it IS more about how charming you are than about what’s actually coming out of your mouth. Sometimes it IS more about your name and about who people think you are than about who you ACTUALLY are. I understand that this book isn’t for everybody…but I’m a person who doesn’t generally read farcical novels, and I enjoyed this one immensely.

Divergent, by Veronica Roth


2012 Book 82: Divergent, by Veronica Roth (6/2/2012)

Reason for Reading: Curiosity

My Review 5/5 stars
The future Chicago has 5 factions of people, each representing a moral value: Amity, Dauntless, Candor, Erudite, and Abnegation. At the age of 16, Beatrice Prior and all her classmates must choose which faction to join. Beatrice struggles with the choice—does she follow her desires or does she choose to stay with her family? I was deeply impressed by this book. This isn’t ANY YA-dystopia-with-strong-female-lead. This is an amazing coming-of-age story that explores the meanings of morals, identity, and courage. Furthermore, Roth has managed to create a female lead who is strong while still leaving her human AND keeping her morals intact. Beatrice is an admirable and courageous young woman, despite her youthful identity crisis. Roth has also written a suspenseful and intriguing tale—I read the book in one sitting because I simply didn’t want to stop. The action is exciting without being gore-spittingly violent. Sure, there’s violence…there has to be for the plot to work. But Roth describes the scenes so well that people can imagine as much (or as little) gore as they wish. Gore is not inserted for its shock value. Divergent is exciting enough that all action-lovers should be thrilled, and the people who appreciate a more deeply meaningful story will be satisfied. I can’t wait to read the next!

PS FYI I’m comparing it to The Hunger Games, which I found to be tastelessly violent with a rather unlikeable main character. But that’s just me! 🙂