J.M. Coetzee’s New Novel Is a Philosophical Reimagining of the CHILDHOOD OF JESUS

In his newest novel, J.M. Coetzee reimagines the life that Jesus might have had in a vague, almost-contemporary setting. The boy, named David, finds himself in a peculiar Spanish town with the older man Simon who raises him as they look for his mother. When Simon stumbles upon a woman whom he senses is David’s mother, he must deal with this potentially unfit woman raising the boy who has become beloved to him.

Childhood of Jesus US CoverCoetzee’s novel is allegorical and philosophical, exploring the ideas of the New Testament in a contemporary, often straightforward tone. At first, the novel feels somewhat gimmicky; you keep expecting to find parallels between Childhood of Jesus and the Bible. But this novel only borrows concepts from the Bible and is in no way concerned with remaining true to its “source.”

Based on the title, I was hoping for more about the character David (and how he was meant to be a stand-in for Jesus). Alas, David remains a remarkable enigma throughout the novel, with Childhood focusing solely on Simon and his exploration of what a family can be.

Told in a dialogue-heavy manner, Childhood can be tedious at times. Simon’s unwavering ideas of the world are overly preachy. But Coetzee manages to present these concepts succinctly, engaging your mind in these philosophical musings. However, this style of novel will definitely not be appealing to the casual reader (in fact, much of Coetzee’s work is not terribly appealing to the casual reader).


THE HUSBAND’S SECRET Is Not Worth Learning

husbands-secret-1-240When Cecilia finds a letter by her (very alive) husband that’s not to be opened until after he has died, she immediately faces a dilemma that we know will end with her reading the contents of that letter. Unfortunately, it will be another 200 pages before the secret contained in that letter is revealed. And therein lies one of the many problems with Liane Moriarty’s newest novel The Husband’s Secret.

As Cecilia struggles with her little dilemma, distracting her from her hyper-organized life, Tess learns of her own husband’s secret. He has fallen in love with Tess’ best friend (and close cousin). Tess lets the two deal with their feelings while she jaunts off to her mother’s house and takes up with an ex-boyfriend. Connor, the ex, is already on Rachel’s radar as the potential murderer of her daughter 30 years previously. Thus all the characters’ lives intertwine in this contrived chick lit thriller.

Yes, The Husband’s Secret, is a chick lit thriller. While not fully intentional by Moriarty, there is a menace lurking in the background of this novel. From the overused references to the Berlin Wall (which start out as an astute reference and slowly turn trite) to the unsolved murder of Rachel’s daughter, it’s clear that something violent will occur in the climax—there are just some 200 pages in the middle to slug through before arriving there.

Moriarty has created two compelling heroines—Cecilia and Tess—trapped in a sea of one-dimensional characters. But as she haphazardly switches perspectives from page to page, it becomes difficult to track which character we are with (especially since she refers to the numerous female characters by their Christian names which all blend together in one’s mind). And, as she juggles these three main plotlines, the story remains simplistic and clichéd. Whereas a novel focused on just one or two of the characters could have been developed into something more complex and fulfilling.

Ultimately this is a distracting enough novel to accompany you at the beach but lacks enough depth to be fully engaging elsewhere.


The CUCKOO Is CALLING for You to Read This Hardboiled Mystery Novel

Famed supermodel Lula Landry has plummeted to her death from her third-story balcony in what the police assume is a suicide. But three months later, her brother John Bristow seeks out private detective Cormoran Strike and presents some compelling evidence that Lula was actually murdered. Strike is warily convinced, but he desperately needs the money and so enters this world of models, designers, and film producers to discover the truth.

book-articleInlineBy now we all know that The Cuckoo’s Calling was written by J.K. Rowling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. So much of the novel’s form and voice is reminiscent of Rowling’s writing (including the 5-part division that mirrors The Casual Vacancy); and Calling is filled with Rowling’s Dickensian character names—Rochelle Onafide, Freddy Bestigui, Kieran Kolovas-Jones. (Of course, it’s easy to see the similarities knowing Galbraith’s identity, but those few who read the book before his true identity leaked had no idea Rowling was behind it.) That being said, a hardboiled mystery novel would be a natural extension of Rowling’s writing abilities considering all the great mysteries that filled her Harry Potter series.

Strike is a likable yet gruff protagonist with an intriguing backstory that is slowly revealed throughout the novel. More amusing is his temporary secretary Robin who fancies herself a detective as well, donning aliases and scouring the internet for clues (if you’ve ever wanted to be a sleuth, then you’ll easily identify with her). In fact, all of the characters in the novel are striking in their own way. Rowling vividly describes these characters while attributing recognizable accents and speech patterns (you’ll be thinking in a British accent by the time you finish this book).

The biggest problem with the novel is its length. At 450 pages, it seems to be exceptionally long for a mystery novel. But Rowling’s sprawling style is entertaining enough that you never really get bored reading it. It is also very dialogue heavy with so much of the story being revealed by Strike’s interviews with the various people in Lula’s life. Some find that problematic, but I greatly enjoy dialogue scenes and found it very enjoyable. (Until the end, when the dialogue-heavy climax feels clichéd and lazy.)

The style of The Cuckoo’s Calling is more reminiscent of Raymond Carver and Dashiell Hammett as opposed to contemporary crime fiction. It has a nostalgic air that adds to its appeal. This is the kind of mystery novel that would suck in many a reader, even those disinclined to read mystery/crime fiction.