There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby – Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

I really, really wanted to enjoy this book. I spied it in Waterstones, loved the title, read the blurb, did some research and decided that this author, definitely one I will enjoy.

However I felt a bit lost due to the nature of the stories. I struggled to draw any meaning from them and often, any sense. They were, in a way, twisted fairy tales, but not ones that I recognised. I remember having a discussion with a friend of mine about writing. He was studying journalism at the time and one of his lecturers/tutors said that a book is a good book when there is a meaning beneath it, when it tries to use the medium to present a commentary, this has always stuck with me and is something I try to do in my own writing. This book didn’t have that for me, or if it did, I missed it. The introduction actually made much of the fact that the writing itself was representative of the time, place and experiences of Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, but I didn’t pick up on that at all. That, however, is probably due to my ignorance of Russia at the period in which this was written (as you can see from books I have read in the past, I am more of an 18th Century aficionado, which, if anyone could recommend, I would really like to read social history books about France in this period).

Anyway, back to the book; the stories were twisted and dark and even though it was a translation, the writing itself was wonderful. I was amazed at the imagination these stories were pulled from, however, it wasn’t a book I enjoyed reading and I really had to force myself to finish it.

While this is a good book and I can appreciate why people would enjoy it, it isn’t something I would read again, however, there are people I know who would pull more meaning and understanding from it that I could.

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The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

Argh, I missed two weeks of reviews, however, there is good reason for this.  The first is that the book below took me some time to read, however, it was great and you should read it – more details in my review below!

Secondly, work has been crazy and stressful and difficult.  This meansI there is less time for me to do what I enjoy and when I do find time, I inevitably decide to spend it in a different way.  However, I’ve had a few thoughts about this recently. Sometimes I just can’t be arsed and I reasoned today, as I sat here hungover, that if I want to do something and do it well, it is going to involve me doing things in my own free time when I can’t be bothered. I want to do this blog and I want to get back to my writing, however, because in my head it isn’t something I HAVE to do, it doesn’t get done.  I have to make it something I have to do, I have to make it a priority and I have to find time even when it seems like there isn’t any. (This also applies to exercise!), so I am going to redouble my efforts on that front.

Thirdly, it has been my birthday! Hence the hangover today. I am now 29, in the last year of my twenties and feeling old and a bit of a failure – doesn’t everyone feel like a failure though? I am sure I read a quote attributed to George Orwell which states that everyone remembers their failures and always forget their successes.  So here is to trying to do things differently, do I what I want to do and be less afraid of standing up and announcing it to the world.

So if you read all that, huzzah and well done! Here is my review.

In a sentence, I loved this book, it was incredible.

The premise is that Harry August returns to live his life again every time he dies. He isn’t the only one, there are others like him who help each other in clubs all round the world. They have a few rules, but generally, they all live hedonistic lifestyles and pass messages to others that have come before them and those to come. Ultimately, one of Harry’s contemporaries uses his rebirth to advance science beyond where it should be for the time with catastrophic consequences.

It sounds complex, it could have been complex, and there were certainly a few passages that I found myself having to re-read. However, this was not a drawback at all, if anything it only served to highlight how complex an idea this was. The story itself also jumps back and forward between Harry’s lives, which while it could have caused confusion, this non-linear approach did not affect the readability of the book. Indeed, it added a reality and vulnerability to Harry which helped you to relate to the character, despite his circumstances.

I spent a lot of time imagining what I would do with limitless time and the experiences I could have. It is a bit like the Sylvia Plath quote;

“I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life. And I am horribly limited.”

Which meant I was horribly jealous of this character (I am really hoping that this is not fiction, and that I will be one of the chosen few to get to redo everything), however, I did get to live at least a little through him, and isn’t that why we all read anyway?

This book is really enjoyable, but the dense subject matter meant that it wasn’t a book I read quickly. It was a book I really had to take my time over, to consider, ponder and to bemoan my complete lack of scientific knowledge. Definitely a five star read and will be going into at least one person’s stocking this Christmas.