The Most Intense Dinner I’ve Ever Sat Through [BOOK REVIEW]

Book Reviews

I just finished reading The Dinner by Herman Koch, my first February book review for Random House Canada. This is probably the most difficult review I’ve ever had to write…

cover

I found The Dinner to be an exceptionally difficult read for the first 100 pages or so. Why? Well because I didn’t really like any of the characters…and yet I thoroughly enjoyed the book. How is that possible? To be honest I didn’t think I would ever get through a book with characters I didn’t like but it’s an enriching experience. I found that I paid attention to them more, I wanted to dig deeper into who they are and what they bring to the story. I needed to understand why they were written the way they were. By the end of the novel I had a deeper appreciation for Paul, Claire, Babette, Serge, and Michel. I understood the demented and uncomfortable purpose of each of them, as well as the satirical nature of this novel.

The Dinner reminded me immensely of Wild Girls by Mary Stewart Atwell and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. It took me a little longer to sink my teeth into but once the appetizers were over I couldn’t wait to get to the next course — I mean that literally since the book is made up of  five parts (Aperitif, Appetizer, Main Course, Dessert, and Digestif).

I must admit that the writing and the way Herman Koch compares and explains people, emotions, and situations is absolutely brilliant. Like the way Paul describes how different Babette is when he greets her at the dinner,

“Yet there was something else, something different about her this time, like a room where someone has thrown out all the flowers while you were gone: a change in the interior you don’t even notice at first, not until you see the stems sticking out of the garbage.” (Page 31)

See what I mean? You can literally SEE the changes in this woman who you have just been introduced to! Brilliant. As the novel progresses the writing keeps getting better, the characters become more interesting, and the plot gets thicker. The Dinner is probably the most thought-provoking, intense, and shocking novel I’ve read in a while. On the surface The Dinner is just a story about a family trying to find their own happiness but it becomes so much more than that.

“…we would be able to go on living as a happy family. A scar would remain somewhere, true enough, but a scar does not have to get in the way of happiness.” (Page 149-150)

Love Always

Vanessa Xo 

—–
SYNOPSIS (FROM THE RANDOM HOUSE OF CANADA LIMITED WEBSITE)
An internationally bestselling phenomenon: the darkly suspenseful, highly controversial tale of two families struggling to make the hardest decision of their lives — all over the course of one meal.
It’s a summer’s evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse — the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.
Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.
Tautly written, incredibly gripping, and told by an unforgettable narrator, The Dinner promises to be the topic of countless dinner party debates. Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy.
** THE DINNER COMES OUT FEBRUARY 12th! **

The Most Intense Dinner I've Ever Sat Through [BOOK REVIEW]

Book Reviews

I just finished reading The Dinner by Herman Koch, my first February book review for Random House Canada. This is probably the most difficult review I’ve ever had to write…

cover

I found The Dinner to be an exceptionally difficult read for the first 100 pages or so. Why? Well because I didn’t really like any of the characters…and yet I thoroughly enjoyed the book. How is that possible? To be honest I didn’t think I would ever get through a book with characters I didn’t like but it’s an enriching experience. I found that I paid attention to them more, I wanted to dig deeper into who they are and what they bring to the story. I needed to understand why they were written the way they were. By the end of the novel I had a deeper appreciation for Paul, Claire, Babette, Serge, and Michel. I understood the demented and uncomfortable purpose of each of them, as well as the satirical nature of this novel.

The Dinner reminded me immensely of Wild Girls by Mary Stewart Atwell and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. It took me a little longer to sink my teeth into but once the appetizers were over I couldn’t wait to get to the next course — I mean that literally since the book is made up of  five parts (Aperitif, Appetizer, Main Course, Dessert, and Digestif).

I must admit that the writing and the way Herman Koch compares and explains people, emotions, and situations is absolutely brilliant. Like the way Paul describes how different Babette is when he greets her at the dinner,

“Yet there was something else, something different about her this time, like a room where someone has thrown out all the flowers while you were gone: a change in the interior you don’t even notice at first, not until you see the stems sticking out of the garbage.” (Page 31)

See what I mean? You can literally SEE the changes in this woman who you have just been introduced to! Brilliant. As the novel progresses the writing keeps getting better, the characters become more interesting, and the plot gets thicker. The Dinner is probably the most thought-provoking, intense, and shocking novel I’ve read in a while. On the surface The Dinner is just a story about a family trying to find their own happiness but it becomes so much more than that.

“…we would be able to go on living as a happy family. A scar would remain somewhere, true enough, but a scar does not have to get in the way of happiness.” (Page 149-150)

Love Always

Vanessa Xo 

—–
SYNOPSIS (FROM THE RANDOM HOUSE OF CANADA LIMITED WEBSITE)
An internationally bestselling phenomenon: the darkly suspenseful, highly controversial tale of two families struggling to make the hardest decision of their lives — all over the course of one meal.
It’s a summer’s evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse — the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.
Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.
Tautly written, incredibly gripping, and told by an unforgettable narrator, The Dinner promises to be the topic of countless dinner party debates. Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy.
** THE DINNER COMES OUT FEBRUARY 12th! **

When you forget your fears, the BEST you shines through

Just for Fun, Lifestyle/Personal, Toronto Adventures

One Toronto Street, home of Random House Canada

I walked into the elevator of One Toronto Street with my big-girl boots on, my very professional notebook full of flowers, and my advanced reading copy of Wild Girls tucked under my arm. My heartbeat was surprisingly calm as the elevator doors opened and I stepped out onto the third floor; inhaling all that is the office-space of Double Day Canada, Knopf Canada, Random House Canada, Vintage Canada, Anchor Canada, and Seal Books.

I could feel the camaraderie of book-loving people as I spoke to the receptionist. Within minutes I was greeted by (the lovely) Lindsey Reeder and before I knew it I was in the boardroom sitting across from Mary Stewart Atwell, author of Wild Girls. I recently reviewed her novel here and couldn’t be more thrilled to meet her.

I tried to write down her answers word-for-word but I soon become so engrossed with our conversation that I couldn’t get it all down! So here is the best of my interview with Mary Stewart Atwell.

Where did the idea behind Wild Girls come from?
Mary Stewart Atwell wrote a version of this novel in her mid-twenties but it didn’t have the Sci-Fi or Fantasy elements that it has today. That version didn’t go anywhere, until she met her husband who was working on a film with a Sci-Fi element to it. His work inspired her to go back and add something different to the Wild Girls – a story about girls acting out in a more metaphorical way.
What was the process from manuscript to agent to publication like? 
She admitted that the whole process came with a few bumps. Her American agent scooped up her manuscript in 2010 and really believed in it – she just wanted the ending changed. The novel took four years from manuscript to publication – I don’t think many people realize the time it takes to put a published novel together.
What is your writing routine like?
Mary told me how much she likes having a routine and being organized when it comes to her writing. Most days she drops off her son at day care and allows for a few hours of writing. She is no stranger to the fact that some days won’t allow for a lot of writing but she takes each day as it comes.
Many writers seem very quiet and shy when you meet them (or as far as stereotypes go), are you shy?
Mary Stewart Atwell said that she’s always been shy and very observant. She likes to sit back and listen to people before she speaks – this is a great thing for every writer to do since it helps generate realistic dialogue in your writing. She also admits that when it comes to fun things like readings, interviews, and book tours, she had to develop a certain persona to allow her to put herself out there.
Back to Wild Girls – can you tell me more about Mason, Clancy, and the sex scene?  *SPOILER ALERT*
Mary Stewart Atwell knew that Mason would never be a long-term romance possibility for Kate – he was always in despair. Mason and the role he plays in this novel effected Mary; she felt bad for him and his impending fate. It’s easy to get emotionally attached to your characters, whether writing about them or reading about them. Clancy, on the other hand,  is definitely better as an adult and longterm boyfriend. At this point I interjected and squealed, DID KATE DELETE CLANCY’S MESSAGE? Mary laughed and said she left that part up to the reader. Wild Girls ends with an epilogue and no room for a sequel – something I was truly happy about. The epilogue gave closure to the novel and left a little breathing room for the reader to finish the story themselves. As far as the sex scene goes, Mary admitted that she had never written one before. She wanted to keep this one tasteful and more focussed on Kate’s awkwardness and the imperfection that comes with the “first time”.
What are you working on now?
Mary is writing a literary fiction novel about a woman who has a great career as a novelist but is very well-known for being a feminist too. Her daughter runs away and she spends her time tracking her down. It’s mostly about mother-daughter relationships and how difficult it is for a mother to let go of her expectations.

I wish I had thought to record the interview – my little summary can’t even shed light on the witty, humble, and sweet personality of Mary Stewart Atwell. It was a joy talking to her and from a writing perspective I truly learned a lot. One thing she said that I really took to heart (as an aspiring writer) is,

“You can’t just write a book and pat yourself on the shoulder. There is always a way to make your book better and you have to be willing to see that.”

Thank you, Mary, for making my first author interview a fun experience. I look forward to your next novel and I hope our paths cross again. And a huge thank you to Lindsey for making this happen and for telling me to just be myself and forget my nerves; I think that’s why the interview went so well 🙂

I had a bit of a fan moment and had to ask for her to sign my copy! 🙂

Love Always
Vanessa Xo

P.S. Mary, if you ever plan on teaching a Creative Writing class in Toronto PLEASE let me know.

“There was a spirit here…once it got into you it wouldn’t let you go…”

Book Reviews, Toronto Adventures

“…Swan River, could have been known for murder the way Chicago is known for pizza, Roswell for aliens,” (page 1).

On a depressingly gloomy Tuesday, I received a surprise ARC of Wild Girls by Mary Stewart Atwell. I read it in twenty-four hours! Not since The Hunger Games and Blood Red Road have I NOT been able to put down a book: not even to make a coffee or go to the bathroom. From the first sentence in the prologue, Wild Girls gripped me into a frenzy of flipping pages.

This novel oozes with mystery, murder, magic, and friendship. Meeting Kate, Willow, Mason, and Clancy is an enriching experience since they all have something different to offer the plot. Following Kate through her senior year at Swan River Academy with the consuming fear that she’ll turn into one of the monstrous wild girls that menace the community, throwing flame from their hands fuelled my need to read on.

Mary Stewart Atwell grabs onto the trials of the average teenage girl and places them in a backdrop full of dark magic and myths. The emotions, sentiments, and problems Kate faces are very real. We may not relate to the ravenous and blood-hungry wild girls, but we can relate very well to Kate, her teenage angst, her yearning to leave her small town, her struggle in discovering who her real friends are, her crushes, and her (sometimes) naive judgements of her family and friends.

When you (sadly) reach the end of Wild Girls you realize that it’s less about magic and more about the power of making choices. Every girl has a wild side within them; they have a dark side that they keep hidden. It’s the choices they make that can save them from that dark and dangerous side. Having drive, independence, and determination is wonderful. Having a fire within you is a good thing. How you use it determines who you are and what you will become.

“There was a part of me that wanted to misbehave, to make my own rules, and that part of me admired Willow’s confidence,” (page 47).

Love Always
Vanessa Xo
__
Synopsis (from the Random House of Canada Limited website)
A mix of Prep’s critique of boarding school culture and the suspenseful and high-stakes plot of The Secret History, this highly original debut is part coming-of-age story, part riveting supernatural tale about teenage girls learning their own strength.

Kate Riordan fears two things as she grows up in the small Appalachian town of Swan River: that she’ll be a frustrated townie forever, or that she’ll turn into one of the monstrous Wild Girls that menace the community, throwing flame from their hands. Struggling to better her chances of escaping, Kate attends the posh Swan River Academy and finds herself divided between two worlds: the simple town and its dark twin, a commune off Bloodwort Road, where hippie farming and occult practices led to a disastrous end; and the realm of privilege and achievement at the Academy. Explosive friendships with Mason, a boy from the wrong side of the river, and Willow, a wealthy and charismatic queen bee from school, are slowly pulling her apart. Kate must decide who she is and where she belongs before she wakes up with cinders at her fingertips.

"There was a spirit here…once it got into you it wouldn't let you go…"

Book Reviews, Toronto Adventures

“…Swan River, could have been known for murder the way Chicago is known for pizza, Roswell for aliens,” (page 1).

On a depressingly gloomy Tuesday, I received a surprise ARC of Wild Girls by Mary Stewart Atwell. I read it in twenty-four hours! Not since The Hunger Games and Blood Red Road have I NOT been able to put down a book: not even to make a coffee or go to the bathroom. From the first sentence in the prologue, Wild Girls gripped me into a frenzy of flipping pages.

This novel oozes with mystery, murder, magic, and friendship. Meeting Kate, Willow, Mason, and Clancy is an enriching experience since they all have something different to offer the plot. Following Kate through her senior year at Swan River Academy with the consuming fear that she’ll turn into one of the monstrous wild girls that menace the community, throwing flame from their hands fuelled my need to read on.

Mary Stewart Atwell grabs onto the trials of the average teenage girl and places them in a backdrop full of dark magic and myths. The emotions, sentiments, and problems Kate faces are very real. We may not relate to the ravenous and blood-hungry wild girls, but we can relate very well to Kate, her teenage angst, her yearning to leave her small town, her struggle in discovering who her real friends are, her crushes, and her (sometimes) naive judgements of her family and friends.

When you (sadly) reach the end of Wild Girls you realize that it’s less about magic and more about the power of making choices. Every girl has a wild side within them; they have a dark side that they keep hidden. It’s the choices they make that can save them from that dark and dangerous side. Having drive, independence, and determination is wonderful. Having a fire within you is a good thing. How you use it determines who you are and what you will become.

“There was a part of me that wanted to misbehave, to make my own rules, and that part of me admired Willow’s confidence,” (page 47).

Love Always
Vanessa Xo
__
Synopsis (from the Random House of Canada Limited website)
A mix of Prep’s critique of boarding school culture and the suspenseful and high-stakes plot of The Secret History, this highly original debut is part coming-of-age story, part riveting supernatural tale about teenage girls learning their own strength.

Kate Riordan fears two things as she grows up in the small Appalachian town of Swan River: that she’ll be a frustrated townie forever, or that she’ll turn into one of the monstrous Wild Girls that menace the community, throwing flame from their hands. Struggling to better her chances of escaping, Kate attends the posh Swan River Academy and finds herself divided between two worlds: the simple town and its dark twin, a commune off Bloodwort Road, where hippie farming and occult practices led to a disastrous end; and the realm of privilege and achievement at the Academy. Explosive friendships with Mason, a boy from the wrong side of the river, and Willow, a wealthy and charismatic queen bee from school, are slowly pulling her apart. Kate must decide who she is and where she belongs before she wakes up with cinders at her fingertips.