Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Book Review: Harmless Like You

Harmless Like You
By Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
Published by Sceptre
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

On the surface, Harmless Like You, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan's debut novel is a coming of age story as a girl becomes a woman in the city as she struggles to become an authentic artist but this novel is more than that. This is a book about the connections we make, break and discover in the world. This is a book about isolation, abandonment and desertion. This is a book about creativity and parenthood. This is a book about how behaviours are passed down to each generation.

Told through two narratives, Yuki's story begins in 1960s when her parents head back to Japan, leaving her to battle against Japanese tradition and the seductive nature of American culture as she tries to become an artist and find her 'art'. She finds herself moving from destructive relationship to another, first with her friend from school and then into the arms of her first boyfriend who hits her and belittles her art. While the second strand follows her adult son, Jay in 2016, as he battles to deal with his past and bond with his baby.

Harmless Like You is a great companion book to read with Olivia Laing's The Lonely City. Both books like at isolation people face and the way people search for a belonging. Both Yuki and Jay live in New York and Berlin, full of people, but are unable to find that connection to the people they know or even strangers. This consuming isolation pushes both Yuki and Jay to the fringes of society - they are surrounded by people who do feel the same and who also do not look the same. Both are outsiders, and the only way to deal with this abandonment is to desert their current life. Yuki walks away from the house in the country, her husband and her son. While, under the impression Jay is looking for his mother, he leaves behind his business, his wife and baby.

Yuki is consumed by her art and creativity, and is constantly looking for authenticity. While Jay wants to be an authentic parent and thinks he must be 'perfect' before he can bond with his baby. The conflict between parenthood, loneliness and creativity causes both of these characters to reject society's expectations.

Harmless Like You looks at the way people inherit identity from their parents, from culture, from their surroundings. Both characters flinch away from the harm they are causing on others (Yuki leaves behind her husband is loves her more than she loves him) while Jay escapes from the harm being caused by others on him - his father, his mother, the baby interrupting his life. Both characters have lost their sense of 'home' and are detached from their cultural heritage

This is a book which will linger in your mind long after finishing it. The characters are not likeable but the problems the face are relatable. This is a great book! You can buy Harmless Like You from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy via Bookbridgr.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Books Read In November

November was full of great books. There was not one dud in the pack!

So lets not waste any more time, and get straight into looking at the books I read in November...

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers - Max Porter
A young father, a Ted Hughes scholar, in a small flat must look after his children and keep the household running after his wife suddenly dies. A crow visits, and will not leave, creating havoc but also helping the family to heal. This amazing book is part novel, part poem full of sadness and humour. Linguistically playful, the words gallop on your tongue. This is a quick read but I turned back to the beginning after finishing and started again, reading it slower. This is a fantastic book.

Self-Help - Lorrie Moore
This short story collection looks at the complicated, funny, awkward life of women trying to find their place(s) in the world. This collection tells the story of woman being 'another woman' in a relationship, a woman with a terminal illness contemplating her death or a guide to being a writer. Moore is a razor sharp writer. I'm not sure why I've left it until this long to read Lorrie Moore.

Harmless Like You - Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
This is the story of a young woman caught and torn between the life a creativity or having a family with a normal job, and a house in the suburbs. This complex novel looks at identity, families, love and loneliness. This is a good companion book to read with The Lonely City. I'll be reviewing this soon.

Harmony - Carolyn Parkhurst
This tense and gripping novel looks at the way parents struggle with a child who is on the autistic spectrum. Moving to a camp to help learn coping strategies ends up isolating and bringing the family to the brink. You can read my review here.

So what did you read in November?

Friday, 9 December 2016

Book Review: Harmony


By Carolyn Parkhurst
Published by Sceptre
Available in hardback & ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

My original review of Harmony was that it was a beautifully written book, and I was going to simply leave it as that but the review seemed too short for such a tense and gripping novel.

Similar to A Boy Made of Bricks, Harmony, Carolyn Parkhurst's latest novel, looks at the way parents struggle with a child who is on the autistic spectrum. A Boy Made of Bricks looks at the way both parents finding ways of helping their son while Harmony looks at how the parents look outside the family unit for assistance, and the way this can rip apart the family. A Boy Made of Bricks seems a family come together at the end while Harmony leaves you pondering for days after if the family within the pages of this novel would be fine after the last sentence.

The Hammond family are desperate. So desperate for answers to help their eldest daughter, Tilly, who is on the autistic spectrum, that they pack up their life and travel to Camp Harmony. Not for a holiday but to find answers to cope with Tilly's increasingly erratic behaviour as their coping strategies are no longer working. Alex, Tilly's mother, comes across Scott Bean, a parenting guru full of charm and charisma. He has a solution - a camp for families with 'difficult' children - co-parenting, sharing of problems.

Told through the eyes of Alex, the mother and Tilly, Iris's younger sister, the reader witnesses the family being pushed more and more to its limits even though they are supposedly in the safety of the camp - their relationships with each other becomes fragmented full of secret and lies. This 'program' becomes more of a cult, isolating the families from reality - the one thing the parents actually want is to be help their child to fit into the real world.

The expectations of a utopia are short lived as happiness of the camp starts to fill up with rules and regulations. Scott is more like a cult leader with his erratic behaviour. Relationships become strained not only between the parents but also between the children. Iris finds herself increasingly ignored and marginalised, helping to build resentment towards her sister and the camp.

Harmony carries the suspense and the feeling of dread throughout the novel as well as keeping up with the dark humour. The reader knows that there is something not quite right about this camp, and why can't the parents see that this set up isn't going to solve their problems.

You can buy Harmony from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy via Bookbridgr.