Book Review: Liz Moore – The Unseen World

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Everybody has a secret – mine is that I scoffed a Twirl before 8:30 this morning and it was bloody lovely.

Anyway, in what literally nobody is calling ‘Gruffsdad’s long awaited return to blogging and book reviews’ I am going to tell you all about Liz Moore’s The Unseen World.

I loved this book.

Ever since I became a father I basically cry at anything, Long Lost Family on ITV every week, Wales doing well in the Euros recently and A Rainy Night in Soho by The Pogues – anything and everything can set me off with the exception of books. Books can make me excited, angry, laugh etc, etc but I can’t say that I’ve ever read a book and found myself with tears running down my face. Only last night that’s exactly what happened as I reached the end of The Unseen World.

Ada Sibelius is the young daughter of David a professor in Boston who specialises in the development of artificial intelligence. Ada was born to a surrogate and is home schooled by David and spends her time almost entirely with her father and his colleagues at the university where he works. One evening during the traditional meal to welcome the new post grads to the university David forgets the answer to riddle that he asks the new students each year and this is the precursor to David’s illness which develops as the book progresses. As David’s succumbs to his illness secrets about him are revealed and Ada resolves to find out the truth about her father and this search for answers forms the backbone of The Unseen World.

Did I say that I loved this book? I really did, it’s not just a weepy story about a kid finding herself by finding out the truth about her life – it’s way more than that. It’s a desperate account about the effects of Alzheimer’s on a person and the people they love, it’s about a young child having the world she knows and loves being torn away from her and about how resilient kids can be when inside they are being destroyed by the events raging on uncontrollably around them. It’s about love, teenage life, the horrors of school and it’s also about the 1980s and how computer technology began to take over all of our lives.

Then as the book reaches the final stages Moore ruminations about what might happen with artificial intelligence in the decades ahead and I found this section fascinating. Predictions about the future can come back to bite authors on the bum but this was different and strangely moving. I know that Spielberg’s A.I. is loved and loathed in equal measure – I loved it – and without giving anything away there were sections in the section of the book in which I was reminded of it – whichever way you feel about the film then please don’t let this put you off! Can machines develop human emotions and what are the implications of that? Moore doesn’t have the answers but those passages and her views on this will stay with me for a long time to come.

The Unseen World leaps from decade to decade, past and present and we see people grow, we see them make mistakes and we see them die. Much to my surprise I found it all incredibly moving and it was during one of sections set in the past that I found myself wiping tears from my eyes as everything suddenly made sense and the reasons for the behaviours exhibited by one of the characters in the book finally became clear and it was genuinely heart-breaking.

I felt relief albeit tinged with sadness – life isn’t all about happy endings, sometimes things go wrong and they stay wrong and we come to terms with that, learn from it and move on with our lives.

I’m sorry to resort to cliché here but I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It is book crammed full of warmth, sadness and surprises and I’ll say it again – I really loved it.

Okay that’s my return to book reviewing – a little bit rusty but hopefully you’ve enjoyed and I really, really hope that some of you might be tempted to go and read the book because it really is fab.

Thanks for reading this and thanks to Christian for telling me I should blog again – he still owes me three pints of Coke Zero for last weekend though.*

Have a good weekend everybody!!!

* My Amazon wishlist is still available

My James Ellroy Reading Challenge

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Five years ago at a Waterstones in Bristol I bought the paperback of Blood’s a Rover by James Ellroy. I’d read a lot of his books over the years preceding its release in paperback and I really liked a lot of what I read and if I’m going to be honest some not so much but I did consider myself a fan.

I never read Blood’s a Rover – it’s still on my to read list over on Goodreads but this evening having sorted out the books on my Kindle I made a decision to undertake a blog reading challenge which I have given the following snappy title:

“Gruffsdad Goes Back to Ellroy and Reads the Books by Him That He’s Not Read Yet.”

First up will be the aforementioned Blood’s a Rover just as soon as I’ve finished Garnethill by Denise Mina* who is also another author whose back catalogue I’m currently making my way through.

I don’t know how long this challenge will take but I know that you my loyal and patient blog readers will wish me luck and I’ll report in to let you know how I’m getting on. As a bonus to get you back here, over the next few weeks I will post the following things:

  • A review of Denise Mina’s Garnethill
  • A review of a Super Furry Animals gig
  • A review of a Belle & Sebastian gig
  • A restaurant review

So that’s it for now but please come back soon.

* I’m on course to finish it tomorrow – parenting got in the way of my reading today.

Why I love reading.

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I learnt to read as a young boy sitting on my Grandpa’s lap as he read the Daily Telegraph’s sports pages out loud to me. My parents took The Guardian perhaps as a balance to both sets of grandparents reading The Daily Telegraph and the end result of having newspapers in every family home that I lived in or visited was that I could read by the time I started school and my passion for books and reading has never really left me.

The first things I can remember reading were I guess the usual things for a child of the seventies – Ant and Bee, Topsy and Tim and a wide selection of Ladybird books covering subjects such as Captain Cook right through to a 50 page explanation of how a computer works which apparently is a very valuable book these days.

 Early on in my childhood I discovered Roald Dahl and he became a large part of my reading life but it wasn’t the usual Dahl books that I really loved, not for me Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or Fantastic Mr Fox. No, the one that hooked me and intrigues me to this day is Danny the Champion of the World.

 For me it’s unlike any other Dahl children’s book, it doesn’t have the signature comedic darkness that he is known and loved for, this one is dark in a realistic style and there are there are proper consequences to foolish or bad actions. There is a sense of sadness throughout the book that doesn’t really happen in his other works with the possible exception of my other favourite Dahl work, The Witches. From recollection the book doesn’t even really have a overly happy ending, just a resolution and the feeling that things will be okay but they won’t really get any better than this – there’s no chocolate factory to be had by Danny or his father.

 These days I read a lot, I need to read and my day doesn’t feel right if I haven’t read, even if it’s just one chapter of my book on the go. I like literary fiction, a bit of modern history and books about music but what I really love is a good crime thriller. I’ll be frank, sometimes there are times when I’ll read a rubbish one too just to get my fix of sadistic murders in various locations around the world – America, England, lots of Scottish crime writers seem to be on my Kindle and then of course there is the monster that is Scandinavian crime fiction but last week something really big happened to me and my reading.

 I was reading the first book by Icelandic writer Yrsa Sigurdardottir called Last Rituals and it had been on my ‘to read’ list for a while and I thought that the time had come to make a start on it. I’d read good reviews online about the book and the Goodreads feedback was okay and for goodness sake it was a Scandinavian writer so obviously it was going to be great, she is “the next Stieg Larrson”, “as good as Jo Nesbo” and it had a great arty cover promising sacrificial murder, mysterious Icelandic magic and sex – it couldn’t fail!!!

 Well to be honest I hated it. I struggled to care about anything in the book, the storyline, the characters the relationships between the characters were all generic, boring, interchangeable and frankly dull. There was no humour, I basically came to dread picking the thing up and carrying on so I did the thing that I very rarely do with a book – I gave up reading the thing.

I didn’t take this decision lightly, I weighed up on the options, did I need to know “whodunit”? Would my life always have that nagging doubt in it without knowing? What if the book got picked up as a TV series by Icelandic state television and then got shown on BBC 4 on a Saturday night and became the next big thing and I felt obliged to go along with the praise even letting friends and colleagues know that “Well of course I read her stuff a couple of years ago”? Could I cope with this? I even discussed the potential dumping of the book and the ramifications of doing this with my wife:

Her: “You’re not enjoying it?”

Me: “No.”

Her: “Well read something else, it doesn’t matter.”

So I did, I stopped reading it and picked up a book by Adrian McKinty called Dead I May Well Be which had me laughing and caring about the characters straight away. I’m thinking about that book right now as I type this. Last night I was up late reading to the end of a chapter and then had to carry on until the end of the next one too as I literally could not sleep until I knew what was going to happen to the narrator of the story in that particular section of the story. How he was going to get out of the situation that he was in? What was he going to do if what he was planning came off? When things happened to him and his friends I got so excited, I read too quickly and had to go back and re-read sections just to make sure that I’d got all the information on the page into my head and when I reached the end of that extra chapter I still wanted to carry on reading but I needed sleep and so fell asleep thinking about what I’d just read and how the book was going to develop when I carried on reading it during my lunch hour the next day.

That’s what a good book does for me, it consumes me, enters my waking hours, makes me sit on a chair or lie in bed for hours until I’ve finished it and makes me forget everything else that’s going on in the my life.

 That’s why I love reading.

My next book

My next book

This is Sparkle, it is by Rudy Yuly and he very kindly sent me a copy of it to me today to read on my Kindle. It’s got really good reviews out there on the Internet so I’m going to give it a go and let you know what I think.