Red Fern Book Review

The Midnight Library, Klara and the Sun and Hamnet

May 04, 2021 Amy Mair Season 1 Episode 13
Red Fern Book Review
The Midnight Library, Klara and the Sun and Hamnet
Show Notes Transcript

Join host Amy Mair as she explores three novels by English authors: The Midnight Library, Klara and the Sun and Hamnet. The Midnight Library is reminiscent of childhood classics A Wrinkle in Time and The Phantom Tollbooth. Klara and the Sun is a sci-fi exploration of memory, machines and loneliness while Hamnet explores the connection between the death of Shakespeare's son and the making of Hamlet.  Amy also investigates book matching making service Page 1 Books.

Books and Resources:
Page 1 Books
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Munro Books, Victoria, B.C.
How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
I am, I am, I am by Maggie O'Farrell
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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Amy Mair:

Welcome back to the Red Fern Book Review. I am your host and today we're going to look at three books, all written by English authors. The first book we're going to look at is called The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. We're then going to take a look at Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. And we're going to conclude with Hamnett, or Hamnet and Judith in some other countries, by Maggie O'Farrell. But before we get started, I want to first talk to you about a matchmaking service. And because this is a book review podcast, of course, I'm talking about a book matchmaking service. And the service is called Page One Books. They're based out of Evanston, Illinois. And their tagline is, "You are not an algorithm." And I found out about this from my friend Chrystal who actually subscribes and has been really happy with it. So I wanted to mention it to you. And what happens is you fill out a questionnaire and a team of people can pick books for you, and you get a book a month. You'll get a mix of hardcover and softcover books, and they will include new releases and older books. They say that they're not bound by whatever is the latest book, although I'm sure that they include that. But they really want to dive deep and find out your personal preferences. They do ship internationally, but it's pretty expensive to do so. So this might be better suited to my American listeners. But my friend Chrystal actually lives in Canada, and she does get it sent here. So you've probably seen the packaging is quite nice. The books come wrapped in brown paper with a burgundy red ribbon, and then a little logo that says Page One on the front. So I'm interested in that. I know there's other book matchmaking services out there. Reese Witherspoon is doing something right now. But I like this one because it sounds like it's more personalized, and, and you might get some different picks. Okay, now to talk about the books. So the first book, I decided to include this last minute, as a matter of fact, today. I just finished this book today. And I just, it's just the perfect book, it put me in such a good mood. And I was quite unprepared by how good I thought the book was. So I want to share it with you. It's called The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. It is a huge bestseller right now. And a lot of people are reading it. And I think like a lot of people who enjoy reading I, if something's really popular, sometimes I resist reading it, or I delay reading it. And I shouldn't really do that because I usually end up loving the book, but not always. I was a bit skeptical. The front cover. It looks quite childlike. There are stars on the front cover and it says One Library. Infinite lives. And I'm sure it was going to be good. But I didn't realize how good it is. The reason why I decided to read it was my friend Allison read it. And she told me that it reminded her of A Wrinkle in Time and the Phantom Tollbooth and I thought immediately this is something I've got to take a look at. I would also add that this reminds me a little bit of the Wizard of Oz and A Christmas Carol. This book is for people with short attention spans. That's means all of us. And those of you that struggle to get through books, this book is for you. And this book, I think is also for people who read a lot. I think I think this book has a lot to say. A book doesn't have to be complicated to make a big impact. And what this book is about is about a woman named Nora Seed who's in her mid 30s. And her life has been really disappointing so far. She lives in Bedford, England, which is 46 miles from London, and she's lost the will to live. So what happens is she ends up in a purgatory of sorts and there she's met by her elementary school libraria, Mrs. Elm and Mrs. Elm used to play chess with her. And there she is in this purgatory and It's in between rounds of chess with this woman, she sees there's shelves and shelves of books. And there's also a book called The Book of regrets. And she's allowed to look at this book of regrets and look at all the things that haven't worked out for her. And then she can choose any book she wants. And each book has an alternate life, and she can choose to go there and live out the lives that live, she might have lived, you know, if she'd married somebody else, if she'd taken that job, if she'd moved to Australia. Her the goal is she needs to find out the best way to live. There's a time limit. And there's some limitations to this process. But you'll have to dive into the book to find out. And this book falls into a category. It's a broad category called speculative fiction, which is it's a broad term, but it basically means literary fiction with fantastical elements. So not necessarily hardcore science fiction or fantasy, although in some cases it can be. But this book is grounded, like it seems like a here and now book, but there's obviously magic involved. And I've also been told that Carey Mulligan narrates the audio book, so I think that would be really compelling for those of you who enjoy audiobooks. Okay, so the next book we're going to talk about is Klara and this Son by Kazuo Ishiguro. And if a writer was a rock star, it would be this guy. He won the Man Booker Prize in 1989, for The Remains of the Day, which happens to be one of my favorite books of all time. And I know I'm not alone in that. In 2017, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work, and it's for his body of work. And just to top it off, in 2019, he became a knight. So he's also sir. The Remains of the Day is about a repressed Butler named Stevens, and post war Britain. And he shows duty to the house that he runs Darlington Hall, and the Lord He serves over everything else, and at risk to everything else. He struggles with his feelings. And I've found this book very English and really beautiful, like tiny glances and little looks show frustration. He's also an unreliable narrator, which is always kind of interesting. And when I say unreliable narrator this is one of Ishiguro's big themes. It doesn't mean like, in Gone Girl where the person is trying to trick you or the author's trying to trick you to take you on a ride. It means that almost all of Ishiguro's books are written in the first person narration or they may all be I'm not sure. And what that means is you're limited by that person's view of the world so they're unreliable and that they, like all of us, don't necessarily completely understand our weaknesses and our strengths. And so you only know what this person can think and feel and tell you. Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan, and then his family moved to England. He began his career as a songwriter, which I did not know. He loves Bob Dylan. And he says songwriting informs his writing. And I recently dropped in on a virtual event held by the independent bookstore Munro Books in Victoria, BC, where he was interviewed by a young poet and short story writer, Souvankham Thammavongsa. And she has written a big bestseller here in Canada called How to Pronounce Knife. It's a collection of short stories. So anyway, this was where he spoke about how he started as a songwriter. And why that's important, as he says in songwriting, the most important thing is the ending. So he really cares a lot about the ending, because that's what you remember. And I think he wants to haunt you with his ending and keep you thinking about it. And that certainly happened for me and The Remains for the Day. The other thing in this talk with Munro Books, I learned that he is a fan of the visual arts. He loves Cubist painting. He likes the painter Grant Hill, and he loves American realist painter Edward Hopper. And now that I've told you that when you look at the cover of the book, you'll see that influence. There's a picture of the red cover with a bit of a gray square and a little sliver of a bright yellow sun, like an egg yolk poking through. But keep that in mind when you read this book. Because there's a really neat scene very late in the book. And he doesn't say it. But now that I know his interest in visual arts, he's taken the American painting Nighthawks, which I believe hangs in the Institute, Chicago Art Institute. It was painted by Edward Hopper. And all of you know this painting, it's mid century painting. And it's done at an American diner at night. And the diner is trying triangular shaped, and people are sitting at the diner, and then there's the waiter or waitress there, and everyone seems kind of lonely and stilted. And there's no coverings on the windows. So I think now that I've said that, you'll you'll recognize it. And a scene in the book takes place involving this diner. One more thing I wanted to say about Ishiguro. He says that he sometimes gets a little bit paralyzed because he has people fans all over the world in different countries. So he thinks a lot how about what he's going to say is translated. And he gave an example. The sun in the book is a masculine character. And in German, the son is a feminine character. And so that kind of threw him for a loop at first. And he thought about that. And if he should change something, he ended up not changing something. But he, he wanted, he that kind of threw him. And then the other thing, which I thought was really clever at the beginning of the interview with this young author, she was acting kind of strange. It took her a little while to warm up. And then she really did a great interview with him. And part of that is because he's just so warm and engaged her. But what she did say she said, Have you ever had trouble with how people perceive you? And he said, No, but he has had a number of times where he's interviewed, been interviewed by someone, and the person is just so starstruck and stunned. And he said this in a very humble way. But he said, basically, sometimes I'm on stage in front of a big audience. And the person asking me the questions, can't speak. And so he's like, it's a terrible situation I have to take over and help them out. So I thought that was kind of kind of funny. Okay, so the book itself, what this book is about, it's about a robot named Klara, who is an artificial friend or AF. And this is written in the you don't know when, but it would be the future for sure. It's full on sci fi. These friends are designed to be child companions. So at the beginning of the book, Klara is in a store looking to get picked out by a family. And there's a time where she gets to go into the front window. And that's where you really want to be because you're going to get noticed. And a girl comes to her and says, I want you I really want my mom to buy you for me. And the store manager pulls Klara aside and says, don't invest too much in what humans think. She does end up getting purchased by this family and the family consists of Josie, her mother, a housekeeper. Another character that plays a role is Rick who the neighbor. So there's a lot of plot twists. And so I won't say much more. If you like the book, Never Let Me Go, It has shades of that book. But what I will say is, Clara needs the sun for sustenance. And the sun in this book serves as a type of god. She reveres the sun, and intuits what the sun wants from her although the sun doesn't actually have a real voice she but she seems to understand what the sun wants. This book is about pattern. It's about technology. And about like all his books, it's about memory. There's more going on than meets the eye. It's about quiet. oppressiveness I will say whenever there's books with robots, I find robots creepy. But in this, Klara is a naive character as in many of his books, and I feared for her and I was fearful of the humans. I was never afraid of her. I think this book is amazing. But I will say that sci fi is not my first choice. So I found I was uncomfortable in many parts of the book. I think that's what sci fi is designed to do. The main thing I did not like about this book is how things are revealed piece by piece. To other people, this will be a selling point. You learn the truth and what's going on bit by bit as Ishiguro wants to reveal it to you. So the last book, I'm going to mention is Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell. In Canada, it's known as Hamnet & Judith. And I love this book, this book ticked all the boxes for me it's by Irish/English novelist, Maggie O'Farrell. This is her eighth book. And what it is, it's a take on the death of Shakespeare's son Hamnet from the bubonic plague. And it plays out the influence that his death had on the writing of Hamlet. Hamnet died in 1596. And Hamlet was written in 1600. Most scholars agree that Hamlet was really based largely on Norse legend and other folktales. But there are other scholars that believe that Hamlet's death was a big influence. And that's the track that this novel takes. The author herself has been very touched by illness. She wrote a memoir in 2017 called I am, I am I am, which is a reference to The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. And it's about the many brushes of death that Maggie O'Farrell has had. In real life, one of her children has a chronic illnesses, like crazy illnesses, like can barely leave the house type illnesses, and has had a number of severe allergic reactions and near death experiences. So she, as she says, in her own words, lives in a state of high alert. Also, as a child, herself, Maggie O'Farrell contracted encephalitis, and was hospitalized for months. And so I believe that I must have played some role in understanding the characters in this book. The book starts out with Will Shakespeare as a Latin tutor and he kind of doesn't seem like a great one. He seems pretty lazy. His dad is not nice. His dad is a glove maker, and they live in Stratford. And he seems kind of aimless, Shakespeare. He ends up tutoring at a house at a farmer's house. And he falls in love with an older woman a number of years older, like in real life. I want to say she is five years, six years older, and she is a witch, and she also has her own Falcon. And her mom was also a witch. And so he falls in love with her. And they end up getting married and moving into his family home in Stratford. What I really liked about this book is that it depicts in detail 16th-century domestic life, from the the sweeping of the floor to making dinner to feeding the chickens to dealing with everybody knowing your business living with your in laws constantly. Can you imagine? And then it talks about the illness, that bubonic plague, and there's two children which are Hamnet and Judith. What happens is Judith first gets the bubonic plague and all the focus is put on her. But the family doesn't realize that it's Hamnet they need to think about. Concurrent to this whole thing, Shakespeare has gone off to London to become a playwright. Not a lot of credence or emphasis is put on the fact that he's going to be a playwright. It's kind of like, Yeah, he's gonna go off and try and be a writer or an actor, and it's just sort of secondary, which is interesting, because obviously we know what happens. And what I really liked about this book is the writing. My favorite part of the book. And this happens actually a few times, is where she the author describes how the bubonic plague came to infect Judith and Hamnet. And she talks about how there's a Venetian glass merchants, and with the flea that fell off the Venetian glass merchant's back, and then it falls on to the back of a monkey in Alexandria, Egypt, and found the ship and that travels. And it reminded me very much of a bird building a nest. And there's it within a few paragraphs, she can create these sweeping connections through beautiful writing. And it's like something in motion. And she does that a few different ways times and she's just an exquisite writer. So I highly recommend that book. And that is what I have to say today. And, you know, it's interesting, when I, when I came up with wanting to talk about this book, I do like to have themes, and I couldn't come up with a theme. But just as I was setting up my, my microphone, I realized they're all written by English authors. So thank you so much for joining me. And I will be back very soon. And I'm going to be talking next time with my friend Cynthia Friesen. And we're going to be talking about music. She's a musician and teacher. And we're going to be talking about the novel set during World War Two, of course, because that seems to be the se ting for so many books right now And we will be learning a li tle bit about music about mem ry. Thank you so m