Tag Archives: Juan Pablo Villalobos

My Books of 2012, So Far…

I mentioned the other day that we were halfway through the year and how I was taking stock of what I had read so far and what I wanted to read over the next few months. Well in terms of what I have read I thought I would give you a list of my top ten books of the year so far, we all like a list of books don’t we, each comes with a brief quote from my review – you can click on the title and author for the full reviews.

Diving Belles – Lucy Wood

“I don’t think I have been this excited or captivated by a debut author, or indeed a well known one, in quite some time… It’s the sort of book that really makes reading come alive and re-ignites or invigorates the joy of reading to anyone no matter how little or how much you read. I should really stop enthusing now shouldn’t I? It might seem a little obvious to say that this is easily my book of the year and will be a collection I return to again and again but it’s true.”

The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller

“I wouldn’t normally say that I was a reader who subscribes to adventure stories or love stories and yet Madeline Miller’s debut novel ‘The Song of Achilles’ is easily my favourite read of the year so far. The reason for this is simple, she’s a bloody good storyteller, a great writer and I think the enthusiasm she has for classics becomes contagious somewhere in the way she writes.”

The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey

“I was enjoying ‘The Snow Child’ so much from the start that I did something I hardly ever do. Rather than read it in chunks when I could, I simply devoted almost a whole day to it. I could have saved it and made it last, but sometimes you have to think ‘stuff that’ and just get lost in it all. So I did and read the book in pretty much one go just gorging on it. Now that is the sign of a truly magical book, I was completely spellbound… apart from having to pop the heater on and making the occasional hot drink as the snow really does feel like it’s coming off the page.”

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

“I don’t think I have yet read a piece of fiction which seems to encapsulate the entire breadth in which cancer can affect people and not just those in the eye of the storm it creates. Ness looks at the full spectrum of emotions for all those involved, from Conor, his mother and grandmother to those on the periphery such as Conor’s teachers. He takes these feeling and reactions, condenses them and then makes them readable, effecting, emotional and compelling in just over 200 pages.”

You’ll Be Sorry When I Am Dead – Marieke Hardy

“‘You’ll Be Sorry When I Am Dead’ is one of those books which manages to make you laugh out loud, feel ever so uncomfortable at its honesty, possibly makes you want to cry and then makes you laugh all over again. When someone writes their memoirs it isn’t necessarily that the full truth doesn’t come out, just that the author tends to look at things in a rose tinted way, highlighting their best bits – not so in the case of Marieke.”

Now You See Me – S.J. Bolton

“It is hard to say too much about ‘Now You See Me’ without spoilers or sounding too sycophantic. It is really a book of layers, you have the layers of the atmosphere of London (though the book does travel to Cardiff), the multiple facets and layers of the characters from the killer to Lacey and all the cops in between and also it is a book which has more than just a layer of murder, you get to know the victims and those affected by the horrific events that unfold you also get to look at some of the social issues affecting our times.”

Down the Rabbit Hole – Juan Pablo Villalobos

“Child narrators are something which either work superbly in a novel and make it or can completely ruin it with a more saccharinely sweet, naive and possibly precociously irritating tone. It is a very fine line and one that an author has to get just right. When done well they can be used as a way of innocently describing much more adult themes in a book or for leaving gaps in which we as adults can put the blanks, this is the way that Juan Pablo Villalobos uses his narrator Tochtli. Tochtli is a wonderful narrator as he describes the strange circumstances, somewhere in Mexico, he finds himself in as the son of a drug lord – of course Tochtli doesn’t know this but through what he doesn’t say we put the pieces of the puzzle together.”

The Lifeboat – Charlotte Rogan

“I was completely won over by ‘The Lifeboat’, enthralled in fact, so much so that would you believe it… I wanted more! At a deceptive 288 pages Rogan manages to pack in so much in terms of plot, back story, twists, turns and red herrings it is amazing that the book isn’t another few hundred pages long. Yet I think to be left wanting more of a book is always a good sign no matter what the length of it. If you are looking for a literary novel, because the prose is superb, that will have you utterly gripped and guessing along the way then I do urge you to give ‘The Lifeboat’ a whirl, I thought it was fantastic.”

Never Mind – Edward St Aubyn

“I always admire an author who can write beautifully and simply, an author who can create the most understated of melodramas will win me over. I also always admire an author who can write a passage that chills you before one that makes you laugh out loud and then another which horrifies you all over again. All these things are encompassed in Edward St Aubyn’s first Patrick Melrose novel ‘Never Mind’.”

Half Blood Blues – Esi Edugyan

“Edugyan delivers a novel that is brimming with atmosphere, is hauntingly written and will really move you (this book, clichéd as it sounds, really kicked me in the emotional guts) and it stays with you long after you read it. I am late to this book; don’t let yourself be though as it is a truly marvellous read and one I am glad I returned to at just the right time.”

So there we have it. Have you read any of these and what did you think? Will these books still be in my top books of the year at, well, the end of 2012? I guess we will have to see. I know some of you have already given me your favourite books of the year so far but do please keep those recommendations coming!

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Down The Rabbit Hole – Juan Pablo Villalobos

I first heard about Juan Pablo Villalobos’ debut novel ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ when it was voted as a submission for the Guardian’s First Book Award last year but the newspaper’s readers. It was clearly a hit with the judging panel as it went through to the shortlist. I was intrigued by the fact that it was such a hit with readers and also a translated novel and so when I saw it in the library I snaffled up a copy. Well this was one of those books which you don’t want to give back.

And Other Stories, paperback, 2011, fiction, 130 pages, translated by Rosalind Harvey, borrowed from the library

All Tochtli, the seven year old narrator of ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ wants in life is to have a Liberian pygmy hippopotamus. We all want crazy outlandish pets as children (I really wanted a panther, I was bought a duck I named Rapunzel) only for a child like Tochtli this wish could actually be a reality as he lives in a strange wonderland (not quite the rabbit hole Alice fell down) where as the son of a very rich man anything is possible. Only it is the reasons behind his wealth and his father’s position in society at which this book gives a sly, often funny, sometimes horrific and occasionally disturbing look at over its shoulder. There is a lot more going on with this tale than initially meets the eye.

“This is what was on the news today on the TV: the tigers in the zoo in Guadalajara ate a woman all up, apart from her left leg. Maybe her left leg wasn’t a very juicy bit. Or maybe the togers were already full up. I’ve never been to the zoo in Guadalajara. Once I asked Yolcaut to take me, but instead of taking me he brought more animals to the palace. That was when he bought me the lion. And he said something to me about a man who couldn’t go to a mountain and so the mountain came to him.”

Child narrators are something which either work superbly in a novel and make it or can completely ruin it with a more saccharinely sweet, naive and possibly precociously irritating tone. It is a very fine line and one that an author has to get just right. When done well they can be used as a way of innocently describing much more adult themes in a book or for leaving gaps in which we as adults can put the blanks, this is the way that Juan Pablo Villalobos uses his narrator Tochtli. Tochtli is a wonderful narrator as he describes the strange circumstances, somewhere in Mexico, he finds himself in as the son of a drug lord – of course Tochtli doesn’t know this but through what he doesn’t say we put the pieces of the puzzle together. I will admit Tochtli is rather precocious, almost spoilt and yet he didn’t grate on me in fact I found him rather endearing in a way, often funny even when the things he discusses are horrendous. Villalobos uses this tool of child narrator adeptly and it shows the power of Rosalind Harvey as a translator that she makes this voice carry on ringing so true.

“Today there was an enigmatic corpse on the TV: they cut off the his head and he wasn’t even a king. It didn’t look like it was the work of the French either, who like cutting off heads so much. The French put the heads in a basket after cutting them off. I saw it in a film.

…On the TV they showed a photo of the head and the truth is he had a really bad hairstyle.”

The other thing that Juan Pablo Villalobos masters so well is making so much happen in so little time and space, both in the period that the book lasts but also with so few pages. To give too much detail would be to spoil what is a wonderful read. There are other things going on in the background the more you look at the book (and I read it twice once just before New Year and again just after) such as the fact that in translation Tochtli’s name means ‘rabbit’ and his fathers ‘rattlesnake’. It alsmot sums up the relationship in the book. More clever games are played with humour, there are some darkly funny moments yet soon there are some simply darkly disturbing ones.  I think I can say that I wasn’t expecting the ending at all and it left me with a very strange and uneasy feeling and one that has lasted with me for quite some time, it hit me even more the second time round and I wondered what Tochtli’s future might be. I shall say no more here though; I would love people to discuss this with though if you have read the book, maybe by email in case of spoiler.

‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ is a short, sharp (both in its humour and its subject) book of brilliance which can easily be devoured in one sitting, and I would almost recommend you do sit and read it in one go to truly absorb its power. I haven’t read anything quite like it and its once more highlighted the fact that I don’t read enough translated fiction, of this book is anything to go by there are so many worlds and experiences that I am missing out on and I am now desperate to discover more.

Who else has read this and what did you think?

Oh and I should give a shout out to the publishers And Other Stories who I went off and found out more about after finishing this. They are a new not-for-profit publishers sponsored by the Arts Council, I wish I had known about them sooner, especially if all their books are going to be this good, as I would have asked for a subscription to their works as a Christmas present, though of course my 30th is on the horizon.

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Filed under And Other Stories, Books in Translation, Books of 2012, Juan Pablo Villalobos, Review