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Foundation and Empire - Isaac Asimov

The second of the Foundation trilogy wot I am reading because it is all important and significant in science fiction, like. It starts off as if it wants to be the same sort of sequence of narratives as the first book, but it only got two stories in, which didn't quite work. I also spotted the plot twist well before it was revealed, and that was a bit irritating (because of the wanting to shout at the dim characters). Also, we got a proper female character, but one whose main role was to be a love interest and that was cross-making. But I can see why it started off tropes which have since become so pervasive, and that was the point in reading it.

The Lowland - Jhumpa Lahiri

Another of the Bailey's Prize for Women's Fiction - I'm glad I decided to read these, actually, as they've all actually been jolly good (even if I still have my Issues with A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing). This is another book in the 'let's talk about people who move from country A to country B and explore that whole immigrant experience thing', which is either the only topic that's generating decent writing at the moment (unlikely) or is the Sort Of Thing one feels should be short-listed for prizes. But I digress, that's less about this book and more about the sorts of things I've been reading recently.

This particular book is beautifully lyrical - the prose style has a sparseness but also a force and direction which pulls you through. I found myself getting really quite drawn in and wanting to know what was going to happen next after what felt like quite a slow-ish start - about a third to half of the way through, despite the fact that the action didn't get more - action-y, you wanted to know what was going on with the characters and it became more and more urgent to pick up the book and follow the story through. It's part sprawling family saga, part political thriller, part individual voyages of discovery, part exploration of parental dynamics, part tale-of-the-immigrant, part analysis of fraternal relationships. There's so much richness to it - the book begins with two brothers in Tollygunge, a suburb of what was then Calcutta, and traces the way their lives develop, intertwine and eventually almost get absorbed into each other or split or... it's all a bit complicated and I don't want to spoil it, but there are twists and turns that I didn't expect but felt utterly realistic, which says something about the depths of characterisation.

Now I'm writing this, I also realise that there's a lot there about the way that place affects identity - there are very clear emotions associated with certain areas, buildings, landmarks, patterns of walking and movement and so on, which make the whole book particularly thematically interesting for me. The different reactions of one brother to his hometown versus his new home of Rhode Island is particularly strong. But that's not the only good thing about it, of course. Do pick it up - I really enjoyed it, although only realised how much towards the end!
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December 2016

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