This book was probably the saddest I have ever listened to - The Street by McCarthy being a close second.
The story is that of 11-year old Lucy who loses her mother in a typhoid infection that leaves her on death' door. To distract her, her father, being an absent, disparaging, misanthropic Cambridge scholar, ships her off to Egypt with a nurse/governess in the year 1922.
In Egypt, Lucy meets Frances, daughter of an American egyptologist. Lucy is drawn into the circle around Carter and Lord Carnarvon...
80 years onwards, a tired Lucy is being interviewed for a tv series on Tut. She reminisces about her life and the story skips from her life then and her life now.
I've said it once and I'll say it again: this book has made me cry buckets. I wept. It is not chick-lit, nor uplifting as, say, Major Pettigrew. But it describes life as it is. In this case, a life full of losses, deaths, departures and sadness.
Lucy is eye-witness to one of the greatest archeological finds of all times, and through her (flawlessly researched) eyes I too was witnessing the now lost Egypt of a hundred years ago. She isn't one of the persons on the center stage, but she is there, one the fringes, watching and observing. It made me long to go there, to glimpse what is left.
I had my issues with the story as well: Lucy practically never speaks or comments, so I never really got a feeling of her. She remained a canvas for the other people. Somebody to be spoken to, to have adventures with, yet she herself remains strangely inexistent.
The other thing, kind of spoilery: The last hours of the book wrap up the first third of her life, adding more losses, more tragedy, and I was left to wonder how anyone could live on like that for another 60 years. It is not being mentioned what she did in this time, but it can't have been happy, or Lucy wouldn't have been the person she was at the age of ninety-something.
Even so, full five stars for making me feel as depressed and hopeless as rarely before.
Skeletons is a non-violent, non-adventurous but very much character-driven story. Jen, after suffering from an absent father and no siblings during her childhood, very much adores her husbands large and warm family. They have two daughters, now both in college, and Jen muses about the void in their lives when she discovers her step-father in an ambiguous situation with a woman that is not her step-mother.
The whole story develops from here, and Jane Fallon manages to create a multi-faceted and likable character with Jen.The listener follows her doubts, decisions, thoughts and feelings throughout a story that is familiar to all of us, yet manages to draw one in.
Penelope Rawlins does a pretty good job narrating Jen's part of the story, but the other characters are done with way too much effort. Whenever Jen's husband Jason is talking I imagined Rawlings drawing her head back, chin in, to force "maleness" out of her box. Other characters are continuously excited, lamenting or breathless. It destroyed part of the charm that the book in written form surely has.
If you like "small stories", where people's interaction is what drives the plot, then this is a book for you. For you who expect really dark secrets (the proverbial bones) - non of it to be found here.
The book is quite cleverly set up as a mother/daughter story through which the main topic of the book is being narrated.
Eva is being recruited as a spy during WW II and even though she is very capable, she soon discovers that she is in a net whose dimensions are way beyond her understanding.
Several decades later she decides to tell her daughter about her past - and present...
William Boyd has done the trick: he has created characters that are large-as-life, vivid, intense, intelligent, flawed and totally believable. He weaves hand-movements with large story elements, descriptions of transportation with current fashion, current slang words with espionage vocabulary....all in all, he created a world that I was able to delve in.
I rarely rave as much as I want to do here but credit is where credit's due: This book has it all: clever story, thorough research, plausible development, character insight, wit and a good and fitting length.
The narrator's voice is suited to the people in the story, manages to convey who's talking without strain and her speech pattern was pleasant to listen to.
This book isn't overly brutal or vicious, it focuses rather on psychological effects than big bangs.