Two Recent Reviews for BookBrowse

 

The Bell in the Lake by Lars Mytting

A legend from Mytting’s hometown tells of two centuries-old church bells that, like conjoined twins, were never meant to be separated. Inspired by that story and by the real-life move of a stave church from Norway to what is now Poland, he embarked on a trilogy in which history and myth mingle to determine the future of the isolated village of Butangen. The novel is constructed around compelling dichotomies. Astrid Hekne, a feminist ahead of her time, is in contrast with the local pastor’s conventional views on gender roles. She also represents the village’s unlearned folk; Deborah Dawkin successfully captures Mytting’s use of dialect in her translation, making Astrid sound like one of Thomas Hardy’s rustic characters.

  • See my full review at BookBrowse.
  • See also my related article on stave churches.
  • One of the coolest things I did during the first pandemic lockdown in the UK was attend an online book club meeting on The Bell in the Lake, run by MacLehose Press, Mytting’s UK publisher. It was so neat to see the author and translator speak “in person” via a Zoom meeting and to ask him a couple of questions in the chat window.
  • A readalike (and one of my all-time favorite novels) is Carsten Jensen’s We, the Drowned.

 

Memorial by Bryan Washington

In Washington’s debut novel, set in Houston and Osaka, two young men reassess their commitments to their families and to each other. The narration is split between Benson and Mike, behind whose apparent lack of affect is a quiet seam of emotion. Both young men are still shaken by their parents’ separations, and haunted by patterns of abuse and addiction. Flashbacks to how they met create a tender backstory for a limping romance. Although the title (like most of the story titles in Lot) refers to a Houston neighborhood, it has broader significance, inviting readers to think about the place our loved ones have in our memories. Despite the tough issues the characters face, their story is warm-hearted rather than grim. Memorial is a candid, bittersweet work from a talented young writer whose career I will follow with interest.

  • See my full review at BookBrowse.
  • See also my related article on the use of quotation marks (or not!) to designate speech.
  • I enjoyed this so much that I immediately ordered Lot with my birthday money. I’d particularly recommend it if you want an earthier version of Brandon Taylor’s Booker-shortlisted Real Life (which I’m halfway through and enjoying, though I can see the criticisms about its dry, slightly effete prose).
  • This came out in the USA from Riverhead in late October, but UK readers have to wait until January 7th (Atlantic Books).

19 responses

  1. Both if these sound well worth looking out for – and whoopee! The Bell in the Lake is currently available in my library and I’m just off there for a pre-lockdown borrow-fest!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent! I think you’ll enjoy your armchair travelling to Norway.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Grrr. I couldn’t find it …

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    2. Oh, that’s a shame. I’m sure you have more than enough books to see you through anyway?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved Lot so much I was a wee bit wary about reading Memorial but it more than met my expectations. I’ll be posting my review in January for the UK publication. Always interesting to see how UK and US jackets differ!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love the U.S. cover for Memorial! Did you get one of the special mailouts with the chopsticks? I was a wee bit jealous seeing those all over Twitter; I just read a NetGalley book.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No, I think I was a bit too eager and begged for one in advance.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I ought to read the Mytting. Loved the article on quotation marks – You can add Sally Rooney and Roddy Doyle to the list of non-users, Doyle uses dashes. There may be a rule about single or double inverted commas in the UK, but house styles differ so much I am always completely confused about which to use!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rooney was one of my prime examples, but I’ve never read Doyle. Tessa Hadley does the dashes, too. I see single inverted commas in most UK books, but for e.g. the TLS I use double. I think the rule is less rigid than it used to be. My editor added in that bit; she’s English (though lives in California now) and likes things to be by the book!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I enjoyed your quotation marks article! It’s reminded me that, because I learnt to punctuate in the US, I still prefer to use double quotation marks for speech even though I know the English style is single.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! It was such a fun one to write — and thank you for the Twitter chat that helped me come up with ideas. I think either style is fine, really, as long as one is consistent.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m still cross at my primary school teacher who ‘corrected’ all my speech marks!

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  5. I have not read this but have read his other book The Sixteen Trees of the Somme which was truly engrossing and recommend highly. Definitely will search out The Bell in the Lake. Many thanks for your review.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I’d love to read The Sixteen Trees of the Somme.

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  6. I’m thinking that Memorial might be a good book for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll issue a warning that it is pretty graphic in terms of language and sex. (I don’t know much about your reading tastes, but wanted to say that just in case.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah… good to know. I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks.

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  7. I’d never heard of stave churches: interesting! All these online literary events as a result of the lockdowns…an unexpected boon.And I think the decision to use/not use quotation marks raises so many possibilities; I appreciate seeing different writers take different approaches. It’s good to keep things fresh. As for Bryan Washington, I really enjoyed Lot; I’m looking forward to Memorial Day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I spent so much time looking at stave churches for the related article. Who knows if I’ll ever see them in person, but I find them fascinating.

      No quotation marks is apparently a big bugbear for BookBrowse readers, so I hope my piece encourages some to be more open to trying books with that stylistic choice.

      Like

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