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Not To Be Overlooked

By Emily Simms and Shridula Singh

Not To Be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This week’s column covers a review of the novel, Panenka by Rónán Hession and A Beginner’s Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations by Pico Lyer.

Panenka by Rónán Hession

Review by Emily

After becoming enamoured with Rónán Hession’s writing through reading Leonard and Hungry Paul – which if you have not read already, stop reading this and order directly through Bluemoose Books – Panenka compliments it beautifully. In the standalone novel, Panenka is a fifty-year-old retired footballer who lives with mistakes which he cannot seem to shake off or forgive himself for. In the mirror, all he sees is his failure: his failure to be a great footballer, his failure as parent and husband. But his commitment to making amends is what truly defines him as a good man.

Although Panenka is centred around the titular character, it is the ensemble that fleshes out the novel. There is Arthur, Panenka’s sweet and no-nonsense grandson, Marie-Thérèse, his ambitious and exhausted daughter, as well as Esther, the kind hairdresser, who he has no choice but to adore, and a whole number of people who all have a place in his jigsaw of a life. None of these characters feel like paid extras to move the story along, as you are invited to see why Marie-Thérèse is having a hard time at work, or the thought process as to why her ex-husband Vincent wants to win her back. Rather than reading as disjointed, Hession glides from one character to the next, always leaving you wanting more as the narrative effortlessly rolls along like the formation of a sentence.

This novel could genuinely be read by anyone, as it centres on normal people, with everyday anxieties and messy relationships. For those of us that love to highlight particularly meaningful quotes, you will need a highlighter on standby as Hession is able to formulate notions we can sometimes find hard to express. For me, it was the perfect commute novel, as the short chapters meant that I could pick up as easily as I left off, and the calm and ease of the writing allowed me to escape the rushed feeling of the morning. Savour this novel, because when you inevitably get to the final pages, you will feel a loss for the world of Panenka.

A Beginner’s Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations by Pico Lyer

Review by Shridula

The acclaimed writer of The Art of Stillness, and one of the most celebrated travel writers known for his eccentric writing, Pico Iyer, presents us with a contemporary look at Japan and its culture. The book takes you on a journey to Japan through Iyer's eyes which is an exceptional point of view because, after living there for thirty-two years, he has seen it all. In A Beginner’s Guide, he shares both his favourite things about the lovely and unique Japan, as well as his frustrations with it.

The style of the book is very irregular: the paragraph blurb format for most of the book is only broken up by more extended anecdotes every few sections and is written in a very poetic manner.

Japan is so fascinating, so different. Iyer shares his conversation, reflection and readings about the country in a very playful yet profound manner:

The people around you on a Japanese train are often strikingly poker-faced and self-erasing. Yet the cartoon figures in the books they're carrying have bulging eyes and sport blaring colours, their ejaculations delivered in block capitals rife with exclamation points, the equivalent of "POW!" and "ZAP!!!" and "WOW!"

He recounts his journey from a meditation hall to a love hotel, from the west point to the Kyoto station, and how different the stations are in Japan, but also picks up important topics like equality between men and women in the country and how one should be dressed for certain occasions. His reflection on raising his children in a Japanese culture compared to his growing up gives you an eye-opening outlook on how vastly different British culture is.

Overall, it's a remarkable book. It takes you on a tour of Japan, but you will be surfing the internet for the next hour trying to gain information on how to plan your trip to Japan.



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