Reading a new novel is like going on a blind date. There are the butterflies in the stomach. The anticipation. The sweaty palms. Will we click? Is it going to be worth my time? Or should I have stayed at home, digging into Ben&Jerry’s while watching endless repeats of How I Met Your Mother?
Then there is the chat up line. The one that can either make or break the magic. You know, the kind that will make you quickly retreat to the toilet, squeeze your bum through the way too narrow back window and leg it or the kind that will glue you to your seat, deep in the conversation with the other person until the cleaners throw the both of you out with the murky mop water.
To me, that very first opening sentence is crucial. If I like it, it means that most probably the characters and I will have a great journey together. It means commitment and long-term prospects. If it doesn’t grab my attention, it means that we will both muddle through that short “word fling” and after I’ve hit the last page I will never want to see that book again. Ever. My obsession extends even further to my notebook (compulsory lined pages) where I jot down gripping opening sentences (from “Poor old fox has lost his socks” to “I will not drink more than fourteen alcohol units a week.”), great words (this week it’s bucolic), and anything else that takes my fancy.
So, with a sweaty palm (the other equally sweaty hand was holding on to Peanut climbing up the bookcase to get to my iPod) and racing heart I opened Honour by Elif Shafak (a critically acclaimed Turkish novelist, columnist and academic who writes both in Turkish and English ) which arrived on my doorstep a couple of weeks ago (thank you BritMums and Penguin Bookclub).
“My mother died twice.” It had me at that.
I lost myself in a tale of two twin sisters – Pembe Kader and Jamila Yeter (Pink Destiny and Enough Beauty). This is an intricately woven family saga that with its twist and turns takes you on a journey to London, a small Kurdish village near the Euphrates, Istanbul and Shrewsbury Prison. A tale that provokes questions about family tradition, history and honour and paints a vivid picture of clashing cultures (Western and Eastern ; age versus youth; us and the outsiders, honour versus shame).
I could be waxing lyrical about the skilful narrative, the poetic language and magic realism (I wish I had a little djinn in my house to make me tea…sigh) filled with spirits, omens and enigmas. I still remember a beautiful passage describing a mother and her child waiting by a river for a passing stranger to name him.
I could draw diagrams of what the book’s title represents at many different levels. I could even make a PowerPoint presentation on how Honour fits in somewhere between Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits with its storytelling exploring the darkest territories of love, faith and betrayal . I could even ….
…but I don’t have that much time. Co-raising a baby, working and catching up on my snooze kind of take priority. Writing this blog and reading is all I have left of so-called fun in life. That and endless cups of tepid tea with an occasional ginger nut.
As for my book reviewing qualifications… Well, when I get to discuss books it is mainly with pint-sized adults who are pondering the metaphorical depths of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
I didn’t mind sacrificing my precious sleep time to get from the first sentence to the very last word.
If it was a blind date, I would not be forcing my bulging behind through that small toilet window.
This is the best recommendation for this compelling story you will ever get.
What other books do you currently recommend? I’m keen to expand my book dating horizons!
Disclosure: I was provided with a free copy of Honour. I’ve received no other payment to write this review , and all opinions are my own. It’s my blog and I will write what I want to.