For my November 2017 Book Of The Month selections, I picked an (at the time) new release – Future Home of the Living God – and two literary classics – one more recent and one less so. I ended up absolutely loving classic mystery And Then There Were None (and thankfully so since I hated the first Agatha Christie novel I read).
The other two books were more of a miss though. Especially The Remains Of The Day, which was highly recommended to me, but to which I had to give just 2 stars. Hopefully there are no hard feelings among Ishiguro fans out there though! Read my full reviews below.
P.S.: If you have any suggestions about which Agatha Christie mystery to tackle next, let me know in the comments.
Book Of The Month is a subscription service that sends you one hardcover book per month out of five selections for a low monthly subscription fee. You can add 2 more titles to your monthly delivery for $9.99 each, and the price overall is very cheap for full-size hardcovers.
Book Of The Month is not paying me to promote their service. I just love it so much that I’ve turned my monthly deliveries into a feature on my blog 🙂 I do encourage you to try it though, because if you like hardcovers it’s a great deal. You can use my referral link to sign up if you’re interested in trying it. You’ll get your first three months for just $9.99 each plus a cute tote. And I’ll get a free book when you join. Win, win!
Future Home Of The Living God
Publication Date: November 14th 2017
Published By: Harper
Length In Hardcover: 288 pages
Goodreads Rating: 3.56
The world as we know it is ending. Evolution has reversed itself, affecting every living creature on earth. Science cannot stop the world from running backwards, as woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of humans. For twenty-six-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant.
A chilling dystopian novel both provocative and prescient, Future Home of the Living God is a startlingly original work from one of our most acclaimed writers: a moving meditation on female agency, self-determination, biology, and natural rights that speaks to the troubling changes of our time.
Realistic characters. From the beginning of the novel, I connected well to Erdrich’s characters – better than I had in the first novel I read by her, The Round House, which I DNFed about 20% in. The protagonist in Future Home of the Living God, Cedar, was likable and relatable – just an average young woman with many of the same thoughts and impulses I would have, caught in a unpredictable situation. I also liked many of the secondary characters, including Cedar’s boyfriend, her biological and adoptive parents, her biological grandmother and some of the other people she meets along her journey. Erdrich really succeeded in making me feel the characters’ humanity. Their interactions were portrayed realistically and their fear and confusion at the events around them was very believable.
Action and mystery in plot. What really kept me reading this novel was wanting to find out what would happen to Cedar. Despite the vagueness of information in the novel about the biological changes that have caused society to try to control pregnant women like Cedar, I still cared about her predicament and there was enough action throughout the novel to propel me forward. Especially in the second half of the novel, the plot became almost thriller-like, with daring escapes and some gory or borderline scary scenes. There were very tense moments between Cedar and several of the characters, as well as an atmosphere of fear permeating the final chapters. In fact that creepy atmosphere builds well throughout the novel, lulling you at first with the appearance of normality and then dragging you slowly but steadily into an inverted world.
Nearly absent world-building. If you’re going to write a dystopian novel, considering the competition you’re up against these days, you better have a really well thought out concept into which to plunk your characters and plotlines. I read that Future Home of the Living God was actually an abandoned manuscript that Erdrich unearthed and quickly polished up for publication in an industry that is hungry for these kinds of feminist apocalyptic stories. It shows. There is little and only vague explanation of the political, social and economic repercussions of the changes on which Erdrich’s dystopian concept is based. Even more importantly for a science-buff like me, though Erdrich’s plot centers around a significant genetic and evolutionary change within the human reproductive process, there are no scientific facts about how this happened or may play out. With additional details the book would have felt infinitely more complete and interesting.
Journal format. I’ve discovered a new literary pet peeve in reading this book (hooray?). It turns out that when novels are written as mock journal entries like much of this one was, I really am not a fan when the writing is not in actual journal style. Let me explain. In this case the main character, Cedar, was purportedly recording her experiences in a personal journal, but her writing included complex and complete recollections of conversations written out as actual dialogue. How many of you have written out the exact conversation you had with someone as a full page of dialogue in your diary recently? Not likely, right? Also, I really disliked the random insertion of novel chapters written by a secondary character in a pseudo philosophical style that essentially read like mumbo jumbo. They really felt out of place within the rest of the novel.
An interesting, original plotline that builds in mystery and creepiness throughout the novel, but suffers a major failure in the near absence of world-building for a dystopian concept.
And Then There Were None
Publication Date: 1939
BOTM Edition Published By:
Length In Hardcover: 256 pages
Goodreads Rating: 4.24
Ten strangers, apparently with little in common, are lured to an island mansion off the coast of Devon by the mysterious U.N.Owen. Over dinner, a record begins to play, and the voice of an unseen host accuses each person of hiding a guilty secret. That evening, former reckless driver Tony Marston is found murdered by a deadly dose of cyanide.
The tension escalates as the survivors realize the killer is not only among them but is preparing to strike again… and again…
Held up to expectations. This was my second Agatha Christie mystery (believe it or not), and I thought the first one I read was a total disaster. It’s called The Secret Adversary and felt like a teen novel version of a classic mystery. Not for me. I went into reading And Then There Were None, though, with renewed sky-high expectations that here finally is where I’d find the Agatha Christie I’ve heard everyone raving about throughout my life. And my expectations were rewarded. This is a simple, short, straightforward mystery but it still felt masterful – like the essential blueprint for every mystery that came after it.
Good mystery plot. You might think the premise of this novel is a bit contrived – 10 strangers trapped in a mansion on an island with no way out. But Christie is is extremely skilled in building to this setting, introducing each character in turn on their journey to the mysterious mansion. The plot then slowly degenerates into chaos and uncertainty in a way that is deliciously creepy, with the reader being fed small amounts of information along the way and often knowing little more than the characters themselves. The sense of foreboding starts building right at the beginning and won’t let go until the very last chapter of the novel. I have to admit that modern thrillers have gotten me used to hoping for some huge twist at the end, and that was lacking, but the suspense of the plot overall was still excellent.
Interesting female characters. Since this is only my second mystery by Agatha Christie, I don’t know if this is going to feel typical of her writing going forward, but I really found the female characters in the novel to be much better developed than the male characters. In particular, Ms. Brent (the rigid, elderly spinster) and Ms. Claythorne (the unexpectedly resourceful damsel) felt more complete to me than many of the other primary male characters. Their backstories were more emotionally charged, their moral ambiguity easier to connect to, and they didn’t feel as interchangeable as some of the male characters. I know that a key protagonist of many of Christie’s novels was a man – detective Hercule Poirot – so it may be that in other Christie novels I won’t see this stark difference.
Past history of the book and some less developed characters. I had wanted to read And Then There Were None for a while but had no idea, until I looked up the book on Goodreads, that it originally had a very disturbing and racist title (as well as wording of the nursery rhyme at its center and name of the island on which the novel is set). Of course, Christie was writing in somewhat different times, but I found out through some online research that even at the time of publication the original title was considered too offensive for the American public and replaced (with a still insensitive modification). The current title is actually the third version. Aside from the icky feeling from having discovered this backstory, I also felt that several of the male characters in the mystery were barely fleshed out, including in particular Blore and General MacArthur.
Considered one of the great classic mystery stories, it remains relevant for a modern audience and didn’t disappoint the very high expectations I had developed before reading it.
The Remains Of The Day
Publication Date: 1989
BOTM Edition Published By:
Length In Hardcover: 245 pages
Goodreads Rating: 4.11
A profoundly compelling portrait of the perfect English butler and of his fading, insular world postwar England. At the end of his three decades of service at Darlington Hall, Stevens embarks on a country drive, during which he looks back over his career to reassure himself that he has served humanity by serving “a great gentleman.” But lurking in his memory are doubts about the true nature of Lord Darlington’s “greatness” and graver doubts about his own faith in the man he served.
The author’s intention and its potential. So I really didn’t like this novel – that much is clear. However, I appreciated what the author was setting out to do in writing it. This was clearly an attempt at a very specific kind of character study in which the central character feels stuck in time and place, a vestige of a past that is disappearing. That’s all well and good, but I think that The Remains Of The Day falls into that type of literary fiction that I dislike because what it’s trying to do is so blatantly obvious. There’s no subtlety to Ishiguro’s attempt here, and because of that there’s little realism to it as well. Honestly, it almost felt like a creative writing exercise done for its own sake rather than for the sake of creating something truly meaningful and impactful.
Slow and repetitive. I can’t even properly describe how slow the first half (of this pretty short book) felt. The second half had some plot development in a trip that the protagonist finally decides to take (hallelujah), but the first half is nothing but polishing silver and mulling over and over about the same (rather uninteresting) things. The writing was beautiful much of the time – I have to admit that – but it did not at all make up for the dullness and repetitiveness. I understand that the point may have been to juxtapose Mr. Stevens’ monotonous life with the hugely important historical events affecting others around him, but I didn’t think this parallel was that successful or meaningful. I’m especially glad I’ll never have to hear Mr. Stevens think one more time about what a butler should and shouldn’t be doing or about the meaning of dignity,
Unrealistic main character. I really didn’t get the point of portraying Mr. Stevens the way Ishiguro decided to interpret him. The character comes across as completely caricatured and unrealistic. If the intention was to use him as an extreme proxy for other similar people who served in large mansions in England, this robotic depiction of him essentially ridicules that group and really doesn’t get at the essence of what their lives were actually like. Much more interesting to me is a depiction like that in Downton Abbey – somewhat glamorized but still getting at the essence of things like class divisions, economic insecurity and lack of opportunity that other ‘servants’ of the time faced. Ultimately, Mr. Stevens was like a block of wood, which made it extremely difficult to care about him or want to follow his story.
Celebrated literary fiction title that attempts an artistic character study and instead delivers a dull story about an uncomfortably caricatured protagonist.
Have you read Future Home Of The Living God, And Then There Were None or Remains Of The Day? What did you think of them? Do you agree with my ratings? Let me know in the comments.
If you want to read my previous reviews for my Book Of The Month deliveries here are links to my October 2017, September 2017, August 2017, July 2017, June 2017, May 2017, April 2017, March 2017, February 2017, January 2017, December 2016, November 2016, October 2016 and September 2016 posts.
Please note this post contains affiliate links from Book Depository.