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17Larsson

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Trying to get back in to reading for pleasure again after finishing my PhD and read a book a week this year (soft target, Infinite Jest is staring at me and if I tackle that I won't make it)

So far, I've polished off Life After Life by Kate Atkinson which I thought was fine and Never Let Me Go by Ishiguro which may be my favourite book of all time. Currently reading Kafka on the Shore.

I'm very open to suggestions though, I feel like I've got a real gapping hole of modern classics that I should read. Might have another pop at John Le Carre at some point but the jargon in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy lost me.
+1. Love me some Ishiguro.
+2. Never Let Me Go is one of my favourites of all time.


Just read I know This Much is True by Wally Lamb. Monster of a book, really well written. I loved it
 

The Corinthian

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Recently finished reading "The Humanity of Muhammad" by Dr Craig Considine. Interesting book, although fairly high level. He's a Christian scholar and theologian who's written a positive message on the commonality between Christianity and Islam.
 

BD

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For those of you who were recently talking about Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro has a new book coming out next week called Klara and the Sun, which sounds like it might be somewhat similar to NLMG from the synopsis.
 

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Just finished The Lord of the Rings again for the umpteenth time, but the first time in maybe a decade or more. I still find it extraordinary, so many epic, iconic moments. Book 1 probably my favorite of the six, the way it unfolds between the birthday party and Council of Elrond still excites me the way it did reading it for the first time - especially Bree and Strider. But this time round my favorite sections were the Faramir chapters in Book 4 and the Siege of Gondor in Book 5.
 

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For those of you who were recently talking about Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro has a new book coming out next week called Klara and the Sun, which sounds like it might be somewhat similar to NLMG from the synopsis.
Yep, I've at least liked all of Ishiguro's books (even if some of them do have flaws) so I will be getting it as soon as I can.

Was just thinking about Never Let Me Go earlier. One of the things I particularly like about it is that I'm pretty sure what I got from it was completely different to how Ishiguro sees it (he's said he sees it as his most cheerful novel whereas I was left physically wanting to scream at the narrator). Yet I kind of got what he meant too.

I love the idea of works of art standing separate from their author's intentions and POV, as if they gather layers, life and meaning as they're being created that even the author may not intend and becomes something outside their imagination. It's great when you take away strong feelings from a book only to hear someone else give an entirely different perspective that also makes sense.
 
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Salt Bailly

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Just finished The Lord of the Rings again for the umpteenth time, but the first time in maybe a decade or more. I still find it extraordinary, so many epic, iconic moments. Book 1 probably my favorite of the six, the way it unfolds between the birthday party and Council of Elrond still excites me the way it did reading it for the first time - especially Bree and Strider. But this time round my favorite sections were the Faramir chapters in Book 4 and the Siege of Gondor in Book 5.
Epic.

I'm due a re-read myself. Used to be an annual thing but I don't think I've read it since around the release of The Children of Hurin... which I thought was a decade ago but googling it suggests it was 2007!

Mental.
 

celia

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Was just thinking about Never Let Me Go earlier. One of the things I particularly like about it is that I'm pretty sure what I got from it was completely different to how Ishiguro sees it (he's said he sees it as his most cheerful novel whereas I was left physically wanting to scream at the narrator). Yet I kind of got what he meant too.
I found Never let me go the most depressing book of the four I read of him. Even if I can't say the three others were close to be cheerful. This is why I would wait before reading another of his books even if I really enjoyed The Remains of the Day.
 

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Was just thinking about Never Let Me Go earlier. One of the things I particularly like about it is that I'm pretty sure what I got from it was completely different to how Ishiguro sees it (he's said he sees it as his most cheerful novel whereas I was left physically wanting to scream at the narrator). Yet I kind of got what he meant too.

I love the idea of works of art standing separate from their author's intentions and POV, as if they gather layers, life and meaning as they're being created that even the author may not intend and becomes something outside their imagination. It's great when you take away strong feelings from a book only to hear someone else give an entirely different perspective that also makes sense.
I agree. I found Never Let Me Go utterly bleak. I was in a funk for days after finishing it. I think Ishiguro's approach is claustrophobic and his tendency to reveal huge plot points as casual asides in stories which superficially serve a different purpose (the story about the Judy Bridgewater tape for example, although I don't want to give away spoilers) does a good job of leaving the reader unsettled. Something is off throughout and you realise slowly what that is. I could write essays on how it deals with themes of exclusion, the futility of life, and our acceptance of the lot we are dealt, so I’ll spare you all and just say it’s a wonderful, wonderful novel.
 

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I found Never let me go the most depressing book of the four I read of him. Even if I can't say the three others were close to be cheerful. This is why I would wait before reading another of his books even if I really enjoyed The Remains of the Day.
I agree. I found Never Let Me Go utterly bleak. I was in a funk for days after finishing it. I think Ishiguro's approach is claustrophobic and his tendency to reveal huge plot points as casual asides in stories which superficially serve a different purpose (the story about the Judy Bridgewater tape for example, although I don't want to give away spoilers) does a good job of leaving the reader unsettled. Something is off throughout and you realise slowly what that is. I could write essays on how it deals with themes of exclusion, the futility of life, and our acceptance of the lot we are dealt, so I’ll spare you all and just say it’s a wonderful, wonderful novel.
Yep.

And yet Ishiguro saw it as his most positive book, because in the face of their situation the characters cared most about each other and setting things right. So to him its shows the best of humanity and the decency of those characters, as opposed to previous books (like the also excellent Remains of the Day) which focus on his characters' failings.

It's a great book all told.
 

NinjaFletch

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Yep.

And yet Ishiguro saw it as his most positive book, because in the face of their situation the characters cared most about each other and setting things right. So to him its shows the best of humanity and the decency of those characters, as opposed to previous books (like the also excellent Remains of the Day) which focus on his characters' failings.

It's a great book all told.
I’ll spoiler this as it touches on the books ending.

You’re also never really left with the sense the characters are particularly unhappy. There’s a tragic sense to it because we realise that there’s no biological reason why they should ‘complete’ at the point they do. We hope that the penny drops for Kathy H. that simply refusing to be bound by the rules that she has been led to believe gets her the extra time with Tommy she would have liked, but Kathy isn’t broken by those restrictions and doesn’t spend time raging against how unfair they are. Instead she is concerned with producing good art, being a good carer and ultimately being a good donor. Life is futile if you live for 30 years or 90 years and Kathy finds her meaning within the confines of what she believes them to be.

I’m not sure I took it being an example of the ‘best of humanity’ either, though. One of the things that really shone through to me was how much various people were excluded. Obviously the clones were excluded by ‘normal’ humans and treated as sub-human, Ruth spends the entirety of the novel excluding Kathy (be it from Tommy or from the older kids at the cottages), the Hailsham kids spent the novel excluding or being excluded by people who hadn’t been part of that background, and even, right at the end, whilst Ruth is attempting to make amends her and Tommy still exclude Kathy because she’s not a donor and she just doesn’t get it.

I think all these things strike at the heart of what it means to be human, and by playing with the limits on the clones’ lives Ishiguro succeeds at holding up a mirror to our own, longer lived, lives.
 

sullydnl

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I’ll spoiler this as it touches on the books ending.

You’re also never really left with the sense the characters are particularly unhappy. There’s a tragic sense to it because we realise that there’s no biological reason why they should ‘complete’ at the point they do. We hope that the penny drops for Kathy H. that simply refusing to be bound by the rules that she has been led to believe gets her the extra time with Tommy she would have liked, but Kathy isn’t broken by those restrictions and doesn’t spend time raging against how unfair they are. Instead she is concerned with producing good art, being a good carer and ultimately being a good donor. Life is futile if you live for 30 years or 90 years and Kathy finds her meaning within the confines of what she believes them to be.

I’m not sure I took it being an example of the ‘best of humanity’ either, though. One of the things that really shone through to me was how much various people were excluded. Obviously the clones were excluded by ‘normal’ humans and treated as sub-human, Ruth spends the entirety of the novel excluding Kathy (be it from Tommy or from the older kids at the cottages), the Hailsham kids spent the novel excluding or being excluded by people who hadn’t been part of that background, and even, right at the end, whilst Ruth is attempting to make amends her and Tommy still exclude Kathy because she’s not a donor and she just doesn’t get it.

I think all these things strike at the heart of what it means to be human, and by playing with the limits on the clones’ lives Ishiguro succeeds at holding up a mirror to our own, longer lived, lives.
A lot of that echoes Margaret Atwood's description.

One motif at the very core of Never Let Me Go is the way out-groups form in-groups: the marginalised are not exempt from doing their own marginalisation. Even as they die, some of the donors form a proud, cruel little clique, excluding Kathy H because, not being a donor yet, she can’t really understand.

The book is also about our cannibalisation of others to ensure we ourselves prosper. The children are human sacrifices, offered up on the altar of improved health for the population at large. The reluctance of Kathy H and her pals to confront what awaits them – pain, mutilation, death – may account for the curious lack of physicality in Kathy’s descriptions of their life. Nobody eats anything much in this book, nobody smells anything; even the sex is oddly bloodless. But landscapes, buildings and the weather are intensely present. It’s as if Kathy has invested a lot of her sense of self in things removed from her own body, and thus less likely to be injured

Finally, the book is about our wish to do well. The children’s poignant desire – to be a “good carer”, then to be a “good donor” – is heartbreaking. This is what traps them in their cage. None of them thinks about running away, or about revenge upon the “normal” society. In Ishiguro’s world, as in our own, most people do what they’re told.

Tellingly, two words recur. One is “normal”. The other is “supposed”, as in the last words of the book: “wherever it was that I was supposed to be going”. Who defines “normal”? Who tells us where we are supposed to be going? Such questions are always with us, and become crucial in times of stress.

The people in Never Let Me Go aren’t heroic; the ending is not comforting. Nevertheless, this is a brilliantly executed book by a master craftsman who has chosen a difficult subject: ourselves, seen through a glass, darkly.

My favourite Ishiguro: by Margaret Atwood, Ian Rankin and more
 

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A few more short reviews:

Jim Dodge, Not Fade Away: I absolutely loved the first half of this book and was going on about it to everyone I know, but I thought it, err, faded away in the second half.

Karla Suarez, Havana Year Zero: I was reminded of A Gentleman in Moscow throughout this (although thankfully it's free from Towles's twee writing style which I found grating - the author employs their own distinctive style which I wasn't always enamoured with though). I think there are issues with the English translation and the type setting, but once I got past them I found it an engaging tale of how people find meaning during crisis.

Nicholson Baker, The Mezzanine: I should have given up on this after 2 pages. I hate stream of consciousness (go feck yourself James Joyce) but it's only 130 pages or so so I thought I'd give it a chance. It's probably a riot if your share the authors world view, but it felt like one of the longest books I've ever read.
 

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I picked up an Ian Rankin book because I grab any English book I come across. Watchman.

It's a bit cack quite frankly.
 

BD

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Read the first 50 or so pages of Kazuo Ishiguro's new novel yesterday. Enjoying it so far, have a feeling I'll finish it quicker than I normally night.
 

sullydnl

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Enjoyed the new Ishiguro but then I would have been surprised if I didn't.

For all the differences in genre and setting, a lot of his books tend to touch on and examine similar themes, just from different angles and with different ideas to the fore. In that sense Klara & the Sun is of a piece with Never Let Me Go in much the same way books like A Pale View of Hills, An Artist of the Floating World and The Remains of the Day are of a piece with each other.
 

MoskvaRed

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Enjoyed the new Ishiguro but then I would have been surprised if I didn't.

For all the differences in genre and setting, a lot of his books tend to touch on and examine similar themes, just from different angles and with different ideas to the fore. In that sense Klara & the Sun is of a piece with Never Let Me Go in much the same way books like A Pale View of Hills, An Artist of the Floating World and The Remains of the Day are of a piece with each other.
I listened to the recent podcast Ishiguro did with The Guardian and he admitted as much himself. The Remains of the Day in particular arose from frustration on his part that he was being perceived as a writer on Japanese matters and therefore, while pursuing the same themes, he set the next novel in the classic English literary setting.
 

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The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket is odd. It starts well enough and it becomes gradually more harrowing but then the middle section descends into mind numbingly boring details about longitudes and latitudes and I came close to giving up on it, it recovers a bit in act III (although the racist tropes are quite distracting to the modern reader) and then it just
 

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The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket is odd. It starts well enough and it becomes gradually more harrowing but then the middle section descends into mind numbingly boring details about longitudes and latitudes and I came close to giving up on it, it recovers a bit in act III (although the racist tropes are quite distracting to the modern reader) and then it just
And the dog mystery.
 

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I'm reading On The Road by Kerouac for the first time. The writing is pretty bland and doesn't do much for me. But I can see how influential it was once upon a time. Really captures the feeling of that generation, a certain charm, disgust and sadness.
 

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Also I read The Plot Against America by Philip Roth earlier this month. Anyone else read it? I just saw they did a TV adaptation of it recently.
It's a really vivid piece of alternative history set in 1940s America, under a fascist presidency (the aviator Charles Lindburgh instead of FDR) during WWII, and the impact that has on the American Jewish communities.
Even as someone who knows very little about American politics of that time, it was a fascinating read.
 

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I finished The Buried Giant the other day (yes another Ishiguro post) and was a bit let down by it. A lot of what I liked about Never Let Me Go was still there, but I thought that it's themes were a bit too close to the fore, and without the claustrophobic quality of Never Let Me Go, large parts of the book felt quite telegraphed (although it may be that reading it to soon after Never Let Me Go brought out those themes quicker than I would have had I approached it fresh).

I enjoyed it well enough, it's still a good book, and I thought the beginning and the end were fantastic. But I think Ishiguro's writing, whilst strikingly beautiful, even haunting, when it all works, makes an art of sentences which say nothing. When it doesn't all quite add up you're occasionally left with prose that can be a bit of a slog.
 
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sullydnl

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I finished The Buried Giant the other day (yes another Ishiguro post) and was a bit let down by it. A lot of what I liked about Never Let Me Go was still there, but I thought that it's themes were a bit too close to the fore, and without the claustrophobic quality of Never Let Me Go, large parts of the book felt quite telegraphed (although it may be that reading it to soon after Never Let Me Go brought out those themes quicker than I would have had I approached it fresh).

I enjoyed it well enough, it's still a good book, and I thought the beginning and the end were fantastic. But I think Ishiguro's writing, whilst strikingly beautiful, even haunting, when it all works, makes an art of sentences which say nothing. When it doesn't all quite add up you're occasionally left with prose that can be a bit of a slog.
Yep, that one was a bit divisive generally, I think.

Seems like Ishiguro saw writing in both the sci-fi & fantasy modes as means to an end, as it just happened to be the best way of telling the story he wanted to tell. But where NLMG also works as a straight sci-fi if you want to view it that way, I don't think TBG works as a fantasy novel in its own right. Which makes it feel like a much more one-dimensional allegory. Plus I've since seen Ishiguro say he struggles more when writing in the third person too, which probably makes sense.

That said, I thought the core ideas of memory, guilt and when forgetting is/isn't a good thing were generally interesting. It has popped into my mind a few times since, especially over the last year when people were arguing about tearing statues down and generally trying to negotiate their current society's relationship with the past.
 
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Vidyoyo

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I just finished a A Very Short Introduction to Classical Mythology.

These books are usually good but I thought this one was a bit crap. It begins well by detailing how classical myth is still used in the modern day (e.g. Europa as a symbol for the EU), but then falls by the wayside in its tepid approach to highlighting the role myth plays/ed in psychology and spiritualism. The section on psychoanalysis is poor because it focuses too much on the Oedipus complex, which isn't very compelling nor roundly agreed upon.

It also lacks concrete examples to support its arguments which means it's a bit all over the shop. It could have, for example, spent more time analysing one or two central texts to establish its main points but it ends up skirting round different sections every paragraph. These are about 150 words in length so, as you can imagine, there's not a lot of information. At one stage it goes off-tangent about how wives of politicians liked to dress as Persephone.

It ends by explaining how female figures in classical mythology are often maligned whereas male ones are usually venerated. This is a fair argument perhaps but the author's idea becomes more about modern reception - that it's great when modern female writers create stories from the perspective of mythological figures because we don't often see it. Again, a fair point, but it doesn't really discern about quality. It uses Xena as a positive example.

I'll add that the author makes a smart point in saying that myth still normalises certain behaviour like, uh, unconsented sexual conquest.
 
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Jippy

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I'm reading On The Road by Kerouac for the first time. The writing is pretty bland and doesn't do much for me. But I can see how influential it was once upon a time. Really captures the feeling of that generation, a certain charm, disgust and sadness.
I read it last year and enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. I had envisioned that period as being particularly dour, but loved the attitude of them all and the whole vibe of them constantly being up for anything, going on those madcap road trips. I also found Dean Moriarty's strange speech patterns weirdly hypnotising.
 

NinjaFletch

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Yep, that one was a bit divisive generally, I think.

Seems like Ishiguro saw writing in both the sci-fi & fantasy modes as means to an end, as it just happened to be the best way of telling the story he wanted to tell. But where NLMG also works as a straight sci-fi if you want to view it that way, I don't think TBG works as a fantasy novel in its own right. Which makes it feel like a much more one-dimensional allegory. Plus I've since seen Ishiguro say he struggles more when writing in the third person too, which probably makes sense.

That said, I thought the core ideas of memory, guilt and when forgetting is/isn't a good thing were generally interesting. It has popped into my mind a few times since, especially over the last year when people were arguing about tearing statues down and generally trying to negotiate their current society's relationship with the past.
Yeah, I thought he was playing with some interesting concepts (in addition to the ones you mention I also thought it was an interesting exploration of what love is), and I'm sure I'll think of it again at times. At its basic level that is the sign of a good book, I think.

The third person point is interesting, and not one I’ve really thought of, but, now you mention it, I think the switch to first person is why the ending (and Never Let Me Go) work so well. You need that sense that you’re not getting the full picture which a first person perspective gives you.
 

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I finished The Silence (Don DeLillo) recently, which feels like a very minor work his canon. I'd hesitate to call it even a novella, it's more like a short story.

The premise is that a bunch of people are watching the superbowl and the power goes out. Another strand follows two people on a plane who survive a crash landing.

Plot is subservient to analysis, which is usual in some of DD's recent books. In this case it talks about our feelings of being addicted to technology and explores what happens when that affordance is no longer granted.

I was struck most by the way people then begin to create their own language and entertainment forms. They're highly confused though, like they've just emerged out of Plato's cave.

It's got bad reviews but it's not a bad book IMO.

Very abstract but still human-focused, which is DD's great strength as a writer.
 
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Solius

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Just finished House of Leaves.

Wasn't as much of a slog as I thought it would be. With all the annotations and shit all over the place I was finding it a lot to begin with as there is a bit of completionist in me that wants to read everything to make sure I don't miss something.

I learned soon enough what I could skim over though. Most of Johnny's annotations were about the same thing and I got the jist. I was much more interested in the actual Navidson story and whole concept behind the hallway.

Good read in the end anyway.
 

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Anyone read Fire & Blood from the Song Of Ice and Fire series? Is it worth it?.
 

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I read The Cather in the Rye this week after realising that I'd never read The Catcher in the Rye

Clearly there's nothing to say about this book that hasn't been said a million times by many a smarter person than I but yeah, it's great. A couple of slang terms aside it's wonderfully contemporary given its age, I enjoyed it very much and thought it pitched the struggle between Holden's turmoil and his ego perfectly. It's understanding of mental health issues despite being some 70 years old is extraordinary given how little an appreciation of them existed in society until relatively recently, i guess that's also a sad reflection of humanity too. It's also short enough to be a regular read and I fully intend to revisit it again. Loved it.

I'm going to read Moby Dick next as I realised that I've never read Moby Dick
 

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I finished Piercing (Ryu Murakami) the other day, which is a rather minor work in all honesty.

It concerns a man with uncontrollable tendencies to stab people with an ice pick; a type of bloodlust he must perform so that he doesn't cause harm to his wife and child.

He plans a meticulous plot to attack a call girl ,who turns out to be insane in her own way. She stabs herself multiple times in the leg when they first meet in his hotel room.

With the tables turned, he accompanies her to the hospital still intending to slice apart her achilles tendon later on. She believes he's a good man and thinks his chivalry separates him from her absent father who molested her lots of times.

I won't spoil the plot further but it ends with a sort of face-off between the two. The central motif being the 'piercing' in the title - the woman plans to pierce her other nipple, which she (spoiler alert) does.

The main commentary I think is about how people's negative experiences through life lead to them choosing to wear their battle scars. The nipple piercing therefore becomes symbolic.
 

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A couple of books I've read so far this year

Che Guevara by Lucia Alvarez De Toledo

There are a few Che books knocking about. This is one of the better ones. 8/10

Andrew Cole - Fast Forward

Autobiography. No bullshit from Coley as you expect. Great easy read. 7/0
 

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Reading Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. He is one of the most consistently brilliant authors, I love his abstract approach and use of humour to tackle weighty issues.
 

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The Vanishing Half was a good contemporary novel that deals with a lot of relevant themes without being too overbearing.