The idea of a completely reliable narrator is quite a questionable subject, since we are all unreliable when it comes to telling our own stories, hence, as the term ‘omniscient’ suggests, the reliable narrator must […]
After I’d completed A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window, I put the book down in my lap, leaned back, and stared somewhere into the middle distance while my mind went through the events in […]
Ernest Cline’s highly popular novel, Ready Player One, has been widely acclaimed for its originality and deep immersion into the 1980s, the decade when the video-gaming as we know it today set root in the […]
This is one of the very few books that has managed to leave me in tears (of joy and uncontrolled laughter) after every few pages. Good Omens, written by the unsurpassable Neil Gaiman and Terry […]
Jessie Burton’s debut, The Miniaturist, derives inspiration from a 17th-century hobby for young wives, an ostentatious curiosity cabinet on display at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, that was built in the late 17th century, commissioned by Petronella Oortman, who wanted a replica of the luxurious townhouse in which she lived in the centre of Amsterdam. Burton’s Petronella Oortman is an 18-year-old country girl, from an impoverished aristocratic family, married off to a wealthy merchant, who, instead of his affection, presents her with the minute replica of the house that she was brought to. The purpose of the gift is to distract curious Nella from focusing on her rather distant husband, but she sees it as ‘no more than an insult to her fragile status.’ It all begins like a naive child’s play, but it eventually turns into something rather ominous with disastrous consequences. The Miniaturist is a true reading delight, well-structured, well-worded, with intriguing characters who go through a major metamorphosis by the time the novel reaches its thrilling denouement.
I enjoy carnivals, circuses, harlequins, masks, mystery, and the complete overturning and subversion of social norms, rules, and conventions that goes with them. One of my favourite books is Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus […]
Most people swoon at the very mention of Paulo Coelho, a Brazilian novelist who rose to prominence in the late 1980s with The Alchemist, regarding his every word as a droplet from some source of pristine knowledge and positive energy, leaving me (and most probably a handful of other skeptics) feeling like an utter villain for daring to cast even the palest shadow of doubt and critique upon any of his works. I read The Alchemist for the first time in high-school because a bunch of my amulets-wearing, guitar-in-the-park-playing, on-the-floor-sitting friends were drooling all over it, and then I read it again quite recently, and even though more than a decade ago I pretended to ‘totally get it’ and called it ‘deep’, now I realised that, essentially, my feelings have not changed – it is still a bunch of metaphysical mumbo jumbo, a pop-philosophical self-help book neatly wrapped in fiction. I tried giving Coelho some more chances after the initial debacle, but I never seemed to manage to get over the humdrum spirituality and constant attempts by the writer to give me plenty of unsolicited advice about love and life, and love. Then, a couple of weeks ago a friend came all moon-eyed and shoved a copy of Coelho’s newest, The Spy, into my chest saying that I had to read it because it was ‘great’ and ‘totally different than anything he wrote so far.’
Neil Gaiman’s mild horror novella Coraline (2002) is a book I keep returning to whenever I find myself missing my own mother, and that is definitely the case today, during the Mother’s Day weekend. The story of Coraline is one where numerous contemporary parents and children could recognize themselves: the desperately bored little girl looking for adventure and companionship, loads of time on her hands, the constantly busy, mildly disinterested parents, the geriatric part-senile neighbours, the appeal of the unknown. The straightforward third-person-narrative limited to Coraline’s perspective and matter-of-fact retelling of the events and conclusions drawn by the child-protagonist provides for a riveting story with a powerful message. As a masterful stylist that he is, Gaiman effortlessly pulls his readers into the story transporting them among the reality, the dream, and the dreamlike reality of Coraline’s world while leaving enough of murky space in-between to allow them to either embrace the button-eyed fantasy or hold tightly onto the clear-cut reality.
Each novel by Zadie Smith seems to be an independent stylistic experiment, from her initial omniscient narrators in the White Teeth (2000) and On Beauty (2005), to her polyphonic experiment in NW (2012), to her latest work Swing Time (2016), where she relies heavily on a loosely autobiographical, quite biased first-person narrator. The story is set in 2008, when the unnamed narrator is in her 30s and has been recently fired, for reasons to be disclosed afterwards, from her position as the longtime personal assistant to an immensely famous pop star named Aimee, the Madonna of Smith’s fictional universe. The masterful weave of the novel is what makes it a truly wonderful read, from grits to glamour and then back again, the narrator pulls herself out of the estates and into Aimee’s luxurious life only to be sent to an African village and then, in the end, back to her mother’s apartment. Swing Time is a female bildungsroman that tackles love, career, friendship, and motherhood, and in the end, after it makes its arabesque-like full circle, it gives the narrator another chance to make things right and to find a place where she truly belongs.
Every day, one way or another, I end up being asked about my identity, which I need to express in the way that will be the clearest to my interlocutor. I end up bringing up my national, professional, private, or whatever identity I am required to present at the time. However, the more I think about it (and I think a lot, about everything) I realise that there is one underlying identity that has given shape to all my other assumed ones. I do not identify myself with my homeland, or my family, or the schools and universities I’ve attended, or the countries I’ve visited, or anything or anybody else for that matter. I identify myself only and primarily with the city that I was born in, that I grew up in, and that I eventually had to leave – with Sarajevo. I grew up in the Old Town, in the valley, surrounded by hills, mountains, rivers, and all the relics of past conquests, wars, and regimes, which I have embraced and carried around with me wherever I have gone.