10-pages-in book review: The Reincarnationist

I don’t usually do sponsored book reviews as 10-pages-in reviews. I try to keep them distinct, partly so you’ll know books I’ve stumbled upon serendipitously versus books I’ve been offered to review, and partly because if someone is going to the trouble of sponsoring a review (in this case, MotherTalk provides a copy of the book and a $20 Amazon gift certificate) the least I can do is read the whole book before reviewing it!

In this case, I’m going to make an exception. I would have likely been curious enough about this book to pick it up on my own anyway. Plus, I didn’t receive it until a week or so ago, and quite frankly – I just haven’t had time to finish it yet! Right now, I’m about two-thirds of the way through.

After all that, on with the review. Today we’re talking about MJ Rose’s The Reincarnationist, a suspense thriller with a historical twist, akin to Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code meets Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian.

Photojournalist Josh Ryder witnesses a terrorist attack in Rome, one that kills a nearby security guard and nearly kills him as well. From that moment onward, he finds himself haunted by waking nightmares, visions and hallucinations he can’t explain. They are flashbacks to Josh’s prior life as Julian, a fourth-century Roman having an illicit affair with the last of the Vestal Virgins.

The narrative swings from Josh’s story to Julian’s and back again. As the narrative leaps from modernity to ancient Rome with stops in between, the reader is drawn deeper into a complex web of interlocking mysteries that include a modern-day murder and the theft of a set of mystical objects called Memory Stones, rumoured to have the power to help the holder know all of his or her past lives.

It’s an intriguing novel and I find myself becoming more drawn into it as the story progresses. I compared it earlier to The Da Vinci Code and The Historian, and I don’t think it’s quite as compelling or well executed as those two novels – although I can’t quite put my finger on the reason why. I wish I had a better feel for Josh – and for Julian, for that matter. I have neither a clear picture in my mind of the character, nor do I quite buy into his behaviour.

Regardless, it’s one of the better books I’ve read this year, an exciting story full of page-turning suspense. There are sinister forces at play, a likeable hero, more than a hint of romance, and a handful of mysteries to be solved. What more could you ask of a book?

What I am particularly enjoying, and frankly wish there was more of, is the philosophical examination of reincarnation. I’m ambivalent about the topic myself – I tend to agree with Hamlet, who said, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” So while I won’t discount reincarnation outright, I also can’t say I’ve ever been compellingly convinced of its existence.

I had never really thought before reading this book about why the Catholic Church has such a problem with the idea of reincarnation (I’ll paraphrase it to “we can’t leave the eternal redemption of the unwashed masses in their own hands; whatever will our priests do?”) and found the historical description of the evolution of religion in the early years of the Church quite intriguing. I wish I knew / remembered enough about history to know whether it’s an accurate portrayal.

With a full third of this book left to read, it’s just getting really good now, and I’m quite hooked. Divergent story lines are just starting to come together, and I’m curious to see how it all comes out. If you’re curious, you can read more about The Reincarnationist on author MJ Rose’s website.

So, what do you think about the whole reincarnation thing? Were you a peasant farmer or wealthy noblesse in a past life? Or is this your one and only kick at the can?

10-pages-in book review: Everything’s Eventual

It’s a bit of a challenge to write the usual 10-pages-in book review when we’re talking about a book of short stories. I’m about half way through this book, and I’ve consumed (it’s a deliberate word choice; reading Stephen King is a literary gastronomic delight for me) a little bit less than half of the stories and the other half remain unexplored territory. But I really wanted to write a post about this book because of the excitement and sense of discovery it has inspired in me. The book, by the way, is Stephen King’s Everything’s Eventual, a collection of short stories released way back in 2002.

When the movie 1408 came out this past summer and the ads trumpeted that it was based on a Stephen King story, I was perplexed. I only saw the trailer, but it sure didn’t look like any Stephen King story I’d ever read, and I was pretty sure I’d read all the ones that had been anthologized.

When they started advertising for the DVD release a couple of weeks ago, it piqued my curiousity again and I went looking for the story on which the movie was based. I stood for a long time in Chapters, flipping through the pages of Everything’s Eventual and reading a paragraph or two out of most of the stories, and the more I read, the more convinced I became that I was holding in my hand a whole collection of Stephen King stories that I hadn’t read before. I was beyond delighted and bought the book on the spot.

That evening, I started reading it on the bus on the way home and sure enough – I recognized the second story, a rather hair-raising story about a young boy who meets the devil while fishing on the banks of the river near his home. It was the description of the devil that triggered it for me, a pallid but otherwise ordinary fellow in a black suit who just happened to have deep flaming pits where his eyes should have been. No doubt, I had read that story before. But the first story was only vaguely familiar and the third story was definitely virgin territory. So either some of the stories were anthologized elsewhere, or I got interrupted the first time I had the book and never got back to it. Since it would have been issued around the time Tristan was a newborn, I suppose that’s conceivable, but just barely.

All this to say, I am again beyond delighted to be savouring an entire book of undiscovered (for me, at least) Stephen King stories. The stories so far run the gamut from melancholy but only vaguely odd (“The Death of Jack Hamilton”) to creepy (“Everything’s Eventual”) to genuinely frightening (“The Man in the Black Suit.”) Now that “1408” is out on DVD, I’m debating whether to read the story first or watch the movie first. Ordinarily, I’d choose the story, but I do love me some John Cusack.

Aside from the simple joy of reading good stories, I love this anthology because it’s basically an annotated version. King’s introduction to the book acts as a sort of elegy for the short story as a literary form, and each story is introduced by a few paragraphs that explain how he conceived and realized it. I’m absolutely fascinated by the processes of writing, from inspiration to creation, and am especially intrigued by Stephen King’s insights. Much as I enjoy the stories themselves, I think I enjoy each snippet of insight into the process just as much.

As if finding a whole, thick anthology of fresh Stephen King isn’t enough of a gift, I’ve made another discovery. As I’ve said before, I’ve long been a Stephen King stalker fan. There were a few books back in the 1990s that weren’t very good – I’m thinking Rose Madder, Gerald’s Game – and that seemed more like he was calling them in through the haze of his then-drug and alcohol addiction. But, simply because even on his worst day he’s better than most, I’ve always gotten around to reading just about everything he’s written… with the exception of his Dark Tower books. I don’t know why, maybe it was the term “Gunslinger” that always turned me off. For whatever reason, I decided back in the day that I didn’t like that series and was always annoyed to discover a shiny new Stephen King book in the bookstore only to realize it was yet another one of the Dark Tower books.

Well, there is a short story in Everything’s Eventual called “The Little Sisters of Eluria” that is a kind of prequel to the Dark Tower series, set in the time just before Roland sets off on his epic quest. It was an engaging story, one of the best in the book so far, and I have no idea why I ever rejected the Dark Tower series in the first place. So now, in addition to a delicious new anthology, I’ve got an entire series of seven brand new epics to read; it’s like finding out JK Rowling released seven more Harry Potter books while you weren’t looking!

On this, the Canadian day of Thanksgiving, I’m extremely thankful to have not only a good book to read on a rainy holiday, but a whole line-up of new reading material stretching out ahead of me!