Brooklyn–the Book now Brooklyn–the Movie!

This is exciting news!  I’ve often thought that it would be fun to devote an entire season of Literary Masters to reading books that have been made into movies.  That way, we could all enjoy a multimedia experience of each story.

And how FUN to come up with the list!  One outstanding book that has recently been turned into a film is Brooklyn, which was written in 2009 by Irish author Colm Toibin.  I read it and loved it; I even blogged about it.  Click here for my original post.

The book won many fans and much critical acclaim.  It won the 2009 Costa Novel Award, was shortlisted for the 2011 IMPAC Dublin Award, and made it onto the longlist for the 2009 Man Booker Prize.  And now, in 2015, it has been made into a film by Fox Searchlight Pictures.  It stars Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, and Julie Walters, among others.

The film is already garnering great reviews.  Here’s one from Flavorwire:

And another one from the New York Times:

And according to the Washington Post, even Colm Toibin loves the film:

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see it!  Watch this trailer and I bet you’ll feel the same!

Let me know if you go, and tell me what you think

John The Revelator by Peter Murphy

A few years back I read The Gathering by Anne Enright and it put me off Irish writers for a while.  Silly, I know, but I hated that book.  John The Revelator, however, just could bring me back into the fold–what a book.  Bottom line:  Read it!  But only if you like to think about what you read.  Should your book club read it?  I think so, yes.  There’s loads to discuss–again, only if your group likes to think and will make an effort to dig into the layers of this gem.

Yes, it is a gem.  With multiple facets.  One facet  is the coming-of-age narrative of John Devine, who lives with his mother in a small village in Ireland.  Their relationship is what anchors John and what, in my opinion, also anchors the book.  John’s mom cleans all the houses in the village and tries to keep her son clean and on the straight and narrow with the good guidance of the bible.  She is occasionally helped, whether she likes it or not, by their know-it-all neighbor, Mrs. Nagle.  The love John’s mom has for him is palpable, wafting through the cigarette fog that surrounds her.  (Like any decent Irish novel there’s lots of drinking and smoking.)

Another facet is the relationship John has with his new found friend, James Corboy, “a self-styled Rimbaudian boy wonder.”  James experiences life like John never has, and then writes stories about it.  The question is, are the stories true?  Story-telling, in fact, plays a big role in this book.  The Irish are known for their talent at this, right?, and John loves to hear the tales others tell him.  And what about the Catholic Church?  It tells some whoppers, doesn’t it?  A great book club discussion could be about the novel’s exploration of story-telling, writing, and where the truth lies.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that nothing happens in this book, that it is, as I read someone say about it, just a bunch of stories or anecdotes strung together.  It is far from that.  James Corboy’s writing, which are quite revelatory to both John and the reader, move the plot merrily along, but they also add much depth and meaning to the novel as a whole.  

Speaking of writing, that is another facet of this gem; it is superbly poetic at times.  John suffers from horrible dreams, and the descriptions are wonderfully weird, full of symbolism and metaphor.  Great stuff for your book club to dig into.  Hmm…James Corbey.  Initials JC.  Significant?  My suspicion is that if you were raised Catholic, you will love this book!  There’s lots of fodder for a discussion about religion here.  There is also a crow who plays a large role in John nightmares.  Hmm…there was a rather important crow in The Twin, which I reviewed here.  What’s up with the crows?

All these facets combine to dazzle the reader–this is one of those books that I didn’t want to put down, and I looked forward to curling up with it.  Don’t get me wrong, though–it’s not a ripping page-turner.  It’s surprisingly dense and it forces the reader to slowly savor it.  Honestly, it is like holding a gem in your hands–you should really examine it, turning it over to appreciate all its sides, all its splendor.

John The Revelator is on the long-list for the International IMPAC Dublin Award Literary Award, and I have high hopes for it.  According to the book jacket, this is Peter Murphy’s debut novel.  I can’t wait for more from him!

The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker

The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker first came to my attention as I sought recent prize-winning novels for my Literary Masters book groups to read. The Twin won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for 2010. I read a couple of bloggers’ reviews and the book sounded a tad slow and dull, not something that would appeal to my members. My library doesn’t carry it, and I never saw it in any book store, so it sort of fell off my radar.

Then one day recently I visited a local school’s book fair and there it was. And it just looked so…inviting. I know that’s silly. I mean, I’ve blogged about whether one should judge a book by its cover, but there was something about the aesthetics of this book that compelled me to buy it.

I’m so glad that I did.

I felt like I escaped into a different world while I read this book. The prose is spare but so captivating, I had a hard time putting the book down and looked forward to curling up with it whenever I had the chance.

The setting is a farm in Holland that seems to have escaped the progress of time. Helmer, the narrator and son who lives on the farm with his now dying father, seems to have missed the progress of time, but not of his own choosing. We find out that Helmer is the surviving twin of Henk, who died twenty years previously in an accident caused by his then fiance, Riet. Banished from the family, Riet hasn’t been heard from in twenty years. Out of the blue, she contacts Helmer to ask if he will take on her somewhat troubled son, also named Henk, as a farm-hand. Young Henk comes to stay for awhile, and the reader now not only spends time with Helmer, his dad, and the young Henk, but also encounters the many ghosts that Helmer conjures as he shares his memories.

The thing about this book is that the writing makes it seem like there’s nothing going on; the daily life as described by Helmer, the narrator, isn’t exactly exciting. He tells us about his redecorating the house, taking care of the farm animals, interacting with the few people he comes in contact with.

And then every so often, something happens–something significant–and the reader realizes that there is a whole heck of a lot going on. The writing is so subtle, though, the depth of the story as well as the depth of the characters can be missed. You know by now that when I read a book I always have my book groups in mind. Will the members find it fascinating? Does it lend itself to a good discussion? Well, I can’t say the tone and pace of the book are for everyone, but there is plenty there to “dig deep into.”

There is emotion and feeling pulsing beneath the restraint of the surface–of both the writing and the characters. And there’s plenty of metaphors sitting there just waiting to be ‘dug into’ by a book group. Clocks, crows, the rooms of the house and other spaces, are just a few.

I look forward to reading this book again so I can glean more than I did the first time. And I know I’ll enjoy re-reading it; it’s just that pleasurable.