Categories
book reviews

The Phone Box at the Edge of the World by Laura Imai Messina

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Published: June 25th, 2020
Publisher: Manilla Press
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Literary Fiction

Thank you to Manilla Press for the gifted copy of this novel .

SYNOPSIS:

We all have something to tell those we have lost . . .

When Yui loses her mother and daughter in the tsunami, she wonders how she will ever carry on. Yet, in the face of this unthinkable loss, life must somehow continue.

Then one day she hears about a man who has an old disused telephone box in his garden. There, those who have lost loved ones find the strength to speak to them and begin to come to terms with their grief. As news of the phone box spreads, people travel to it from miles around.

Soon Yui makes her own pilgrimage to the phone box, too. But once there she cannot bring herself to speak into the receiver. Then she finds Takeshi, a bereaved husband whose own daughter has stopped talking in the wake of their loss.

What happens next will warm your heart, even when it feels as though it is breaking.

When you’ve lost everything, what can you find . . ?

MY REVIEW:

 “Grief, Yui had once told him, is something you ingest everyday, like a sandwich cut into small pieces, gently chewed and then calmly swallowed. Digestion was slow. And so, Takeshi thought, joy must work in the same way”

The Phone Box at the Edge of the World is an extraordinary novel. A soulful, moving and uplifting study of grief and honouring the spirits of those we have lost.

In Belle Garcia, Japan there is a phone box that isn’t connected to anywhere. Known as the ‘wind phone’, it is a place for the broken and lost. A place people come to spend time in the adjacent garden and to talk to the people they have loved and lost and hear their words carried out onto the wind.  This is the story of Yui and Takeshi. Of their journey through grief, to the phone box and to find happiness once again.

I truly believe there are times a novel will come to you at exactly the time you need it . And that is what happened for me with this book. Being in the early stages of grief after losing a close friend I was anxious about reading it but could not have chosen a better book to read. I am thankful that I read this as a buddy read with one of my closest book friends as it was great to be able to discuss our thoughts and feelings while reading such a moving story. 

Wonderfully constructed with delicate, lyrical prose, reading this novel was like a balm for the soul. Powerful, poignant, heartwarming and hopeful, it also doesn’t shy away from the raw pain grief leaves behind. I loved the author’s use of  little interludes filled with facts to break up the narrator’s chapters, which acted as a kind of palate refresher for your emotions.

Yui and Takeshi are both great characters. I loved how they brought out a better side to each other and taught each other it was okay to be happy again without it dishonouring those they had lost.  Their story could have so easily been cheesy but instead it felt authentic and natural.

Wholly immersive and breathtakingly beautiful, I can’t recommend this novel highly enough. The Important Note and Acknowledgements are vital reading at the end as they offer more information about the real phone box and story this novel is based on and the author’s intentions for writing it. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮.5

 

Website for the real phone of the wind

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Laura Imai Messina has been living in Japan for the last 15 years and works between Tokyo and Kamakura, where she lives with her Japanese husband and two children. She took a Masters in Literature at the International Christian University of Tokyo and a PhD in Comparative Literature at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. The Phone Box at the Edge of the World has been sold in 21 territories.

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Categories
book reviews

The Truants by Kate Weinberg ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Published: (UK) August 8th, 2019
(US) January 28th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, Kindle.
Genre: Suspense, psychological fiction, coming of age fiction.

 SYNOPSIS:

People disappear when they most want to be seen. During the first year of university, a group of friends discover the true cost of an extraordinary life in this captivating debut novel about obsession, rivalry and coming of age. 

Jess Walker, middle child of a middle class family, has perfected the art of vanishing in plain sight. But when she arrives at a concrete university campus under flat, grey East Anglican skies, her world flares with colour. 

Drawn into a tightly-knit group of rule breakers – headed up by their maverick teacher Lorna Clay – Jess begins to experiment with a new version of herself. But the dynamic between the friends begins to darken as they share secrets, lovers and finally a tragedy. Jess is thrown up against the question she fears most: what is the true cost of the extraordinary?

MY REVIEW:

“A tiny, insignificant crime. It’s only now, looking back at all the choices I was about to make, that I detect the faintest of watermarks, the first of many lines I was about to cross.”

Jess Walker had always yearned for the extraordinary. After she reads a novel that changes her life she applies to the University where the author, Lorna Clay, is a tutor. When she’s accepted she thinks this could be the beginning of the life she’s longed for. But Jess’s dream is about to descend into a nightmare in this coming of age story of friendship, love, obsession and tragedy. 

The atmosphere is thick with foreboding from the start, like the wheels have been set in motion and they’re powerless to prevent disaster. Truths are slowly revealed, tragedy strikes and the lives of those involved will never be the same again. It is a stark reminder of the consequences of even the seemingly small, insignificant decisions we make in our lives, and how quickly life can change into something unrecognisable that can’t be put back together like it was before.

“Amazing how, with three little words, she’d relieved me if the mantle of my ordinariness, made me believe that I had done something brave and true.”

I liked Jess and found her to be a relatable protagonist. I think we can all recognise that feeling of wanting more out of life, longing for adventure and wanting to be seen. We’ve all been that young person who’s trying to figure out who they are and what their place is in the world. And we all remember the first time we fell in love. I understood her desire to reinvent herself after an unhappy life and why she was drawn to the outgoing, rule-breakers who are the centre of attention of any room rather than fading quietly into the shadows as she has always done. But she doesn’t see the darker side of these people, what they’re masking with  their extrovert personalities and lifestyle, how adept some of them are at manipulation and deceit.

Though Jess is our main character, Dr Lorna Clay feels like she’s at the centre of this book from the start. Her book has become a kind of manifesto for life for Jess and after meeting her, Jess’ reverence only increases and she truly thinks Lorna will change her life. I was increasingly worried she was heading to have her heart broken by this woman she had put on such a high pedestal and could do nothing to stop it. The friendship between Jess, Georgie, Alec and Nick is integral to the plot and it is the immediate, strong and loyal friendship between Jess and Georgie that starts it all. They are opposites, the yin to each other’s yang, but complement each other wonderfully. The exotic, alluring, charming, Alec someone I felt sure had another level to him, a deeper mystery shrouded between the life he chose to share. He seems to be the ringleader, the one who first suggests they play truant, the one suggesting taking shrooms and smoke by the riverbank, and the one who is dating Georgie but seeming to fan the sparks sizzling between him and Jess, who is dating Nick. I didn’t trust him but couldn’t put my finger on why. I liked the different elements each of the characters brought to the story through their different personalities.

The English Literature course Jess takes focuses on the work of Agatha Christie and both her work and the novel by Lorna Clay, also called The Truants, are referenced throughout. As the story progresses, we see parallels with Christie’s novel and what’s happening to Jess and her friends. I enjoyed this aspect and how literature and reading were such a big part of the storyline. I read The Truants as part of a buddy read and the author shared with us the reading list for Lorna’s course, which I now have added to my own tbr. 

The Truants is a well-written, intriguing and multilayered debut. The author combines rich, beautiful prose with dense, cloying apprehension to create a beguiling read that I thoroughly enjoyed. 

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