‘Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow’ is the follow-up to the hugely successful ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ by Yuval Noah Harari which I read last year. Having examined the development of humans in his first book through the cognitive, agricultural, scientific and industrial revolutions, Harari turns to the challenges of the future in which humans will seek to “upgrade” from Homo Sapiens to gods (or “Homo Deus”), re-engineering our physical and mental capabilities to prevent ageing, escape death and increase happiness. The impact of famine, war and plague has been significantly reduced in recent decades, to the point where we now face the opposite challenges in the form of an obesity crisis, caring for an ageing population with people living longer than ever and a world where more people commit suicide than are killed by terrorists, criminals and conflicts. Continue reading
‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney tells the story of teenagers Marianne Sheridan and Connell Waldron who go to school together in the small rural town of Carricklea in the west of Ireland and later move to Dublin to study at Trinity College in the early 2010s. Marianne is a loner from a well-off family while Connell is popular at school and their romance is kept secret from their classmates. However, Marianne finds friends easily among their privileged contemporaries at university whereas Connell feels alienated, and this sudden reversal in their social status complicates their relationship. Continue reading
Translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori, ‘Convenience Store Woman’ by Sayaka Murata tells the story of Keiko Furukura, a socially awkward woman in her mid-thirties who has been working at the Hiiromachi Station Smile Mart shop for the past eighteen years. She feels under pressure from others, particularly her family, to appear “normal” and meet society’s expectations, by which she must find a career with more prospects or get married and have children.
If you had to choose between saving two people you didn’t know or one of your close relatives from drowning, what would you do? What if there were ten strangers who needed to be rescued? Or one thousand? Would you help a starving child standing right in front of you? How about three million living on the other side of the world? Where do you draw the line? These are some of the questions posed by journalist Larissa MacFarquhar in her 2015 book ‘Strangers Drowning: Voyages to the Brink of Moral Extremity’ in which she profiles the true stories of extreme “do-gooders” or those who devote their lives to help strangers rather than people they are close to through a sense of duty. These include a couple who adopt 20 children, a founder of a leper colony, a radical vegan activist, a nurse who set up a women’s health clinic in a warzone and others who live on the bare minimum so that they can donate the vast majority of their salary to charity. Continue reading
I enjoyed reading The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson last year and her final novel ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ published in 1962 three years before Jackson’s death tells the story of eighteen-year-old Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood who lives with her older sister, Constance, and their uncle, Julian, on a large secluded estate in New England. Six years earlier, half of the Blackwood family including Merricat and Constance’s parents were poisoned when the sugar bowl used at dinner was laced with arsenic. Although Constance was acquitted of the murders, the three surviving Blackwoods remain isolated from the rest of their small village. However, the arrival of their cousin Charles threatens their future and Merricat becomes increasingly suspicious of the real reason why he has suddenly turned up out of the blue. Continue reading
The opening chapter of ‘Snap’ by Belinda Bauer presents a chilling premise based on the unsolved murder of Marie Wilks. On a hot day in the summer of 1998, eleven-year-old Jack Bright is left in a broken-down car by the side of a motorway with his two younger sisters, Joy and Merry, while their pregnant mother, Eileen, goes in search of a telephone for help. However, she never returns and her body is eventually found stabbed to death.
Three years later and abandoned by their father who was unable to cope, Jack turns to burgling houses to provide for his sisters and escape being noticed by social services. On the other side of town, a young pregnant woman, Catherine While, discovers a knife next to her bed with a note that reads “I could have killed you” but she decides not to tell her husband about the break-in or report it to the police. Elsewhere, DS Reynolds who does everything by the book and DCI Marvel who takes a slightly more unorthodox approach towards detective work are investigating multiple burglaries and the identity of Eileen’s killer who still hasn’t been caught and are in a race against time to solve both mysteries. Continue reading
I have recently read this year’s winner of the Man Booker International Prize ‘Flights’ by Olga Tokarczuk which was first published in Poland back in 2007 and has been translated by Jennifer Croft. I didn’t have time to shadow the MBIP last spring but as August is Women in Translation Month, this seemed like a good time to find out what to make of it. ‘Flights’ is about an unnamed woman and her reflections on travelling – and that’s about it as far as plot goes in this very fragmented book which can only be described as a “novel” in the loosest sense possible as it is more of a collection of thematically linked observations and vignettes. Continue reading