Monday, October 19, 2015

Book Review: "Katherine Carlyle" by Rupert Thomson

This was an odd but intriguing book, with a quirky and interesting protagonist.

When a book begins with the narrator recounting how she was frozen for eight years as an embryo awaiting IVF implantation into her mother, and she recalls how it felt as she was thawed and readied for implantation, you know you've stumbled upon something unusual. And while the whole book doesn't stay at that level of uniqueness, it's clear that this experience affects Katherine in many ways.

Katherine is 19 years old and struggling. She's still reeling from the death of her mother to cancer (for which she blames herself) and she resents her father, a television reporter, for his continued absences. She's preparing to leave Rome to go to college in England, when she suddenly decides to change the course of her life, to begin "experimenting with coincidence." Overhearing a couple in a movie theater talking about a friend in Berlin with a fantastic apartment, who was recently jilted by his girlfriend, Katherine decides to abandon her plans, cut off contact with everyone she knows, and head to Berlin.

"If I'm to pay proper attention, if this is to work, there's no option but to disconnect, to simplify. From now on, life will register directly, like a tap on the shoulder or a kiss on the lips. It will be felt."

The book follows Katherine on her journey toward self-discovery. In Berlin she makes interesting connections, with friends, potential boyfriends if she was willing to settle down, even a surrogate father figure. At times her adventures are simple and enjoyable, at times they have the potential to be dangerous. She is not willing to alight too long in one place; she keeps looking for the next spot on her journey, and all the while she is wondering how her father will react to her disappearance, and mourning the loss of her mother.

Katherine's voyage takes her to Russia, and then to a remote village on the Arctic Circle. By that time she has invented a new persona for herself, and pursued a new course for her life, but she is still haunted by her mother and lives in fear that someone will make the connection to her old life and alert her father or others looking for her to her whereabouts.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect of this book. Rupert Thomson has a very lyrical style to his writing, and his imagery is absolutely fantastic. Katherine starts out as a quirky, almost madcap character, and the book definitely gets much heavier as it unfolds. The more Katherine starts wondering about her father's reaction to her disappearance, the more the book veers into imagined sequences and I had to re-read more than a few to be sure I was clear about whether what I was reading was real or a dream.

This is a very interesting read and Katherine is a very unique character. There is emotion and intrigue, but in the end, I didn't quite connect with the book the way I would have liked.

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