#BookReview Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland @babsbourland @QuercusBooks

Fake Like MeAbout the Book

CAREY LOGAN – She was the genius wild child of the New York art scene, and my idol.

FAKE – I was a no-name painter from the Florida backwater, clawing my way into their world.

LIKE – When she died, she left a space that couldn’t be filled. Except, maybe, by

ME – Everything that gets created destroys something else.

When a fire rips through her studio and burns the seven enormous paintings for her next exhibition, a young, no-name painter is left with an impossible task: recreate her art in just three months – or ruin her fledgling career. Thirty-four, single and homeless, she desperately secures a place at an exclusive upstate retreat.

Brimming with creative history and set on a sparkling black lake, Pine City and its founders – a notorious collective of successful artists – is what she’s idolized all her life. She’s dreamt of the parties, the celebrities, the privilege. What she finds is a ghost of its former self.

The recent suicide of founding member Carey Logan haunts everyone, lurking beneath the surface like a shipwreck. And one thought begins to shadow her every move – what really happened to her hero?

Format: Paperback (360 pp.)    Publisher: riverrun
Published: 11th July 2019   Genre: Literary, Thriller

Purchase Links*
Amazon.co.uk  ǀ  Amazon.com  ǀ Hive.co.uk (supporting UK bookshops)
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find Fake Like Me on Goodreads

My Review

I have to admit I know very little about modern art – or at least I did before starting this book. However, this was in no way a handicap to enjoying Fake Like Me. In fact, reading the book was something of an education into the movers and shakers of the art world and the physicality and science involved in creating artworks like those produced by the narrator.

The author convincingly conveys the intensely personal, almost visceral nature of the process of creating art for our narrator. ‘Everything for me is about giving birth… Somehow I get pregnant, and then eventually a painting comes out.’ On the other hand, the book exposes the commercialization of the modern art world and the commoditization of the artist by agents, collectors and galleries. As our narrator observes at one point, ‘We make work and it goes in the machine’.

As a fan of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (and don’t get me started about the wonderful film version starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine), I loved the frequent nods to du Maurier’s novel. There’s the fact that we never learn the first name of the second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca just as the narrator of Fake Like Me remains unnamed and all her identity papers are destroyed in the fire that consumes her studio. And in both novels the unnamed narrator is obsessed by a predecessor with whom she feels she can never compete. There’s also a particular scene in Fake Like Me that had me exclaiming, ‘That happens in Rebecca too!’ The literary allusions don’t stop there (don’t you just love a bit of intertextuality?) because there are party scenes in Fake Like Me reminiscent in their alcohol and drug-fuelled excess of The Great Gatsby. Another ‘fake’ of course…

There’s sly humour as well, including the ridiculing of pompous pronouncements about art, and the fact that events are often in opposition to the chapter headings. You might be able to guess what happens in the chapter entitled ‘Chastity’.

And of course I haven’t mentioned the mystery at the heart of the book – the events surrounding the death of Carey Logan that so dominate the thoughts of our narrator and will probably similarly dominate yours as you read. The revelation, when it comes towards the end of the book, is unexpected but also completely consistent with what has come before, being the product of artistic instinct and observation by our unnamed narrator.

Fake Like Me is an intense, vibrant and deliciously dark literary thriller.

Thanks to Katya and the team at Quercus Books for organising the buddy read and for my review copy. The weekly discussions on Twitter with fellow readers – sharing thoughts, ideas and theories (mostly wrong) – have been a delight and added an extra element to my enjoyment of the book. I shall miss our Monday night catch-ups.

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In three words: Dark, intense, compelling

Try something similar…The Body Lies by Jo Baker (read my review here)

Barbara BourlandAbout the Author

Barbara Bourland is the author of the critically acclaimed I’ll Eat When I’m Dead, a Refinery29 Best Book of 2017 and an Irish Independent Book of the Year.

Bourland is a former freelance writer and web producer for titles at Conde Nast and Hearst, among others. She lives in Baltimore with her husband and their dogs.

Fake Like Me was written with support from the Wassaic Project in New York where Bourland was a resident over the winter of 2017-18. (Photo credit: Goodreads author page)

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Blog Tour/Book Review: The Emperor of Shoes by Spencer Wise


FINAL Emperor of Shoes B T Poster (1)

I’m delighted to be co-hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for The Emperor of Shoes by Spencer Wise alongside my tour buddy, Emma’s Bookish Corner.  My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and for introducing me to a book I might otherwise not have read.  You can read my review below.

The Emperor of ShoesAbout the Book

Alex Cohen, a twenty-six-year-old Jewish Bostonian, is living in southern China, where his father runs their family-owned shoe factory. Alex reluctantly assumes the helm of the company, but as he explores the plant’s vast floors and assembly lines, he comes to a grim realization: employees are exploited, regulatory systems are corrupt and Alex’s own father is engaging in bribes to protect the bottom line.

When Alex meets a seamstress named Ivy, his sympathies begin to shift. She is an embedded organizer of a pro-democratic Chinese party, secretly sowing dissonance among her fellow labourers. Will Alex remain loyal to his father and his heritage? Or will the sparks of revolution ignite?

Praise for The Emperor of Shoes

‘Spencer Wise’s The Emperor of Shoes is one of the most complex, nuanced, character-rich first novels I have ever read. It is utterly original in portraying a twenty-first century Jewish diaspora, with one foot in homeland America and one foot in Asia creating consumer products, and, for Wise s protagonist, with an accompanying empathy for China s grassroots aspirations. Wise comes to us fully-flighted as a master stylist and a compelling storyteller’ – Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize winner

‘Fresh and innovative, Spencer Wise’s The Emperor of Shoes is the latest addition to the tradition of young-man fiction that starts with Bellow and Roth… I’ve taught for more than forty years; this is the best first novel I’ve ever read’ – David Kirby, National Book Award Nominee

‘What a haunting and intelligent debut novel. The confident and assured prose evokes easily the beauty of the complex relationships, the ugliness of the situation in the shoe factory, and the difficulty Alex faces when deciding between following his heart and his head. Just stunning’ – Louise Beech, author of How to Be Brave, The Mountain in My Shoe and Maria in the Moon

Format: Hardcover, ebook (320 pp.)    Publisher: No Exit Press
Published: 26th July 2018                        Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Pre-order/Purchase Links*
Publisher | Amazon.co.uk ǀ  Amazon.com  ǀ Hive.co.uk (supporting UK bookshops)
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find The Emperor of Shoes on Goodreads

My Review

In his praise for The Emperor of Shoes, Robert Olen Butler describes the book as ‘character-rich’ and I can’t disagree.  That doesn’t mean, however, that the characters are necessarily easy to like.

I found myself constantly shifting my view of Alex’s father, Fedor, accorded the accolade the ‘Emperor of Shoes’ (as he proudly reminds people).  One minute I felt he was merely an ambitious father trying his best to preserve the family business for his son in the face of changing market forces; the next minute, I was feeling reluctant sympathy for a pathetic, hypochondriac desperate for his son’s attention; the next minute, I was repelled by a monstrous figure up to his eyes in corruption with little or no regard for the lives of his workers.

Similarly, I started out condemning Alex for his naivety about working conditions in the factory.  How could he not have known what was going on?  Was he stupid, deliberately turning a blind eye because he couldn’t face up to the truth, or fearful of challenging his father?  However, the author skilfully takes the reader inside the mind of Alex, sharing his struggles with the difficult moral choices he faces and slowly gaining this reader’s sympathy.

Inspired by Ivy, the Chinese woman and activist with whom he forms a relationship, Alex begins to imagine making a difference to the lives of the workers in his factory.  But he faces opposition from the local state institutions built on bribes (euphemistically referred to as ‘gifts’) and corruption, personified by the malign and creepy Gang, described as ‘a Brooklyn mob boss in Mao jacket and togs’ who can make people ‘disappear with a nod of the head.’   A business proposition from Alex’s old friend, Bernie, offers the possibility of a third way but will mean taking a strikingly different path from the way his father has run the business up until now.    Does Alex have what it takes to face down ‘The Emperor of Shoes’ and start a quiet revolution?  And, if he does, will it take a greater sacrifice than he can bear?

The Emperor of Shoes made me think – and I always like that in a book.  For example, it made me question if, with a clear conscience, I could ever buy shoes made in China again without assuring myself of the working conditions in the factory.   ‘The elevator opened onto a room the size of an airplane hanger, and the dank warm air from the heat setter boxes slipped over my face like a pillow.  A boy with a Mohawk scowled at me: a stump for a right arm, severed at the elbow by the steel embossing plate on the leather grain press.  A girl, eyes jaundiced, punch-drunk, the first flush of benzene poisoning from cement glue vapors, scratched at her arm.  Everywhere, people and machines.’    A far cry from the conditions in Alex’s upmarket hotel.

The book also explores in an interesting way questions of identity.   An American by birth, Alex is nevertheless keenly aware of his Jewish and Russian heritage.  At one point, he is asked by Zhang, leader of the activist movement: “Russian, Jewish, American.  How can you be all?  Or do you pick one?”

There is real energy in the writing, along with acute observation and dark humour – for example, when Alex returns to his luxurious, air-conditioned hotel suite after a day at the factory (while the workers return to their dormitories subject to a curfew).  ‘There was a silver tray on my desk with a bottle of wine, a long stem rose in a champagne flute, a box of Godiva chocolates.  Even the gifts were a kind of mockery: here, enjoy a long sensual evening by yourself. These came courtesy of the hotel, once a week, for Ambassador level guests.  You reached Ambassador when you’d spent a good three quarters of your life on the road sleeping in their hotels.  It got passed down too, an inheritance you didn’t earn.  Death by luxury.’    

The Emperor of Shoes is an impressive debut – compelling, thought-provoking and spirited.  I, for one, can’t wait to read what the author creates next.

I received a review copy courtesy of publishers, No Exit Press, and Random Things Tours in return for an honest and unbiased review.  The Emperor of Shoes is the eighth of my 20 Books of Summer.

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Spencer WiseAbout the Author

Spencer Wise was born in Boston in 1977.  He holds a BA from Tufts University, an MA in fiction from The University of Texas, where he was a James Michener Fellow, and a PhD in Creative Writing from Florida State University.  Wise is currently a Visiting Lecturer at Florida State University in Tallahassee, where he is at work on his second novel, Holderness.

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