Wednesday, 24 October 2012


I wanted to say I'm sorry. I havn't finished reading the books, I'm about halfway, I currently have about three books in various stages of review I havn't posted yet, I'm not sure when I will. 

I wanted to say that it doesn't look like I'm gonna get through all these books this year, it was a great idea at the time, but it's an extra stress I just don't need right now. So I'm taking the pressure off.

I'm still gonna read the books, I'm not gonna apologise for mixing them up with other books, if I hadn't I probably would have given up completely. But at the same time it might take me an extra whole year to get through them. 

I really do have a lot going on right now, mostly Uni, but I'm not gonna give up completely just slack a little. This happens to fall behind my sanity which until a very helpful conversation tonight was just threads away.


Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Amsterdam - Ian McEwan

Amsterdam was a frankly weird story of moral boundaries. It begins with the funeral of Molly Lane and then revolves around three of her former lovers and her husband in the fortnight that follows.

A bit of dynamic is added when you learn that two of the lovers are close friends, and the third they despise, while the husband wants them all out of the way. All four of them hold positions of power in some form or another. 

You have the despised lover, Julian Garmony who is the foreign minister and subsequently a senior politician. His life becomes a little unstuck when George, Molly's husband, finds some interesting pictures of him that belonged to his wife. 

You have Clive, the greatest composer in the UK, who lives alone and is working on a symphony for the millennium,  which is to have a preview in Amsterdam at the end of the book. 

You have Vernon, editor of flailing newspaper, The Judge. A bit of a general failure himself.

George offers the photos to Vernon's newspaper, Vernon buys the photos, Clive tries to dissuade Vernon from running the photos and subsequently 'shitting on Molly's grave', Vernon runs the photo's and they have a big bust-up. Clive escapes to the Lake District in order to find some peace and write the end of his symphony, just as he reaches an epiphany he sees a man and a woman arguing and the man treating the woman with some force. Vernon puts two and two together and realises this is the Lakes Rapist. He informs the police jeopardising the symphony for good. 

Both fake apologies and sell each others lives to a rogue Dutch medical company which will bump off your elderly relatives for a small sum and their signature. 

I'm not quite sure why it's supposed to be a very good book, it held little appeal for me and it's moral messages loomed false. I think the only reason I felt comfortable reading it was that it was only 178 pages.


Clarissa's Review

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd - Agatha Christie

I actually finished reading The Murder of Roger Ackroyd nearly a month ago now, I just was struggling to be able to write the review of it.

The Murder of Roger Acroyd frankly both exceeded and fell short of my expectations. I don't often read murder mysteries as they're part of a genre which doesn't much appeal to me. In that sense it exceeded my expectations as it managed to keep me fairly interested for the most part. 

However I read an Agatha Christie book when I was about 12, it wasn't a part of one of her big series, it was set in Ancient Egypt. I can't for the life of me remember what it was called, but I do remember it ended with a twist which i thought was quite fascinating.

This book also ended with a twist. It's a twist which was probably somewhat innovative at the time it went to print, but it's now become fairly commonplace. The twist, and look away now if you don't want the plot ruined, is that the narrator is the murderer. 

I have to admit I never entertained this possibility, I at some point or another suspected nearly every other character, but never Dr Sheppard. And the fact that it was him and that he was offered the opportunity to commit suicide somehow disappointed me to the extent that I've been conflicted enough to prevent me writing this.

It's still a worthwhile read though.


Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Ivanhoe - Sir Walter Scott

On Sunday I finished reading Ivanhoe, it took me a while, but I put this down to the Olympics, because it was fantastic!

Ivanhoe is a book of daring adventure and turbulent times, it reflects it's period as we all know it. It has three distinct parts to the story, which takes place over the course of about a week as King Richard the Lionheart returns to England to defend his throne from his brother John. 

I thought the title was a little odd given that in the first third of the book Ivanhoe was known only as 'the Disinherited Knight', in the second third he was mostly bed-bound, and in the final third he did his only really valiant act in saving Rebecca the Jewess in the second last chapter. However I suppose it wouldn't have sounded so good if it had been named after either Wamba or Gurth!

I can see why this book is a classic for sure, and why so many people over so many years have loved to read it. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes an epic adventure, cos sure it's written in a different style of language to that we use nowadays but for the sake of one of the best tales ever told it's easy to overcome!

Sir Walter Scott knew how to tell a good story that's for sure.


Clarissa's Review

Friday, 20 July 2012

Orlando - Virginia Woolf

Orlando was a weird book, there really is no other way to describe it. In what other world would a man simply go to sleep for a week and wake up a woman? In what other world would someone be alive for 400 years and yet only be 36 years old at the end of the time frame? I know that it is really a comment on literature and it's evolution in many ways and that's the reason behind it's oddity but still it weirded me out a little.

The book had some pace at the beginning, and then Orlando changed sex. This threw me and I practically put the book down for a week. When I picked it up again I was by bribery able to make it to the end, but I can't say I relished the time I spent reading it. 

I felt some empathy towards the character of Orlando and sympathy for him in the beginning, he seemed to be someone who had feelings, was repressed and even rebuked for them. He left the country to escape their effect, and on his return was a woman who spent 300 years in a slightly mental state. She was cruel to a suitor as a woman she had suited as a man had been cruel to her.

There was some small connection with her in the 10 pages or so leading up to her eventual marriage, but as her husband then left and was never really seen again it wasn't lasting. As for the son she gave birth to, he was mentioned only in the line informing of his birth and a vague reference to the need to buy 'boy's boots'.

On the whole it seemed disconnected and I would avoid reading it if I had my time again I think. 


Friday, 13 July 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey - E.L. James

It isn't on our list but considering it is the biggest selling book of the year, I thought I would see what the fuss was all about. 

And I'm still waiting. 

I will admit the subject matter is... interesting, and much more vivid than D.H. Lawrence, which I thought might have prepared me for this. 

Yet there isn't anything else gripping in the book. Ana is constantly wrestling with her conscience about whether she wants to do this and Christian just wants her. 

That could be condensed to about 250/300 pages tops. 

The book is pretty simple to read and I can see why it has become the companion of so many women on the train. 

For me however, I read it in my room for the pure fact no-one needed to know I was reading it. 

Also I don't understand how you could want Christian Grey? Yes he has money and he can lavish you with everything under the sun, sea and sky but the man seems to have a few to many screws loose. 

He is the modern day Heathcliffe and I didn't fancy him much either, look what happened to him and Cathy in Wuthering Heights! 

In short the book is possibly the equivalent of sneaking a boy back to your room, your parents returning early and you having to throw him under the bed.

 It's not something to be proud of but you will do it once just to know what it feels like. 

I don't think I will be reading the rest of the series so I will never know what happened to Ana. Hopefully she cuts her ties with him, though unlikely. 

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Book Nineteen - Cranford

How do I write about a book like Cranford? 

It was so sweet in the sense you cannot dislike any of the characters as they only have each others interests at heart but even in 174 pages it seemed to drag for me.

Maybe it was the way it was written. Mary Smith could be considered an outsider as she often spends time away from Cranford which seems in itself an entire different world. 

Yet she is centre to all the action in the lives of Miss Matty and the others but does not acknowledge that she has such a big part. 

What did make me laugh is that the women have  their own hierarchy, they moan about men when they dare to enter their society and do not care for what might be considered the norm outside of their small town. 

That I did like. 

I agree with Rowen's point that the book has many plots that would not be amiss in Eastenders or Coronation Street but the resolutions were not exciting or left me a little miserable. 

I didn't connect with the book but I would recommend it. 

Read Rowen's thoughts here 

Book Eighteen - Casino Royale

For someone that generations of men have looked up to I was a little unimpressed with James Bond's first outing.

If anything the 2006 reboot with Daniel Craig is a good interpretation of the darkness the book presents. 

Bond does not like closeness and tries to distinguish between love and work. He will dabble with women, but he cannot commit to them, let alone work with them. 

Here enters Vesper Lynch, enigmatic and the first woman to shoot Bond where it hurts, in the heart. 

She doesn't come across well in the book and her final actions make her former toughness seem false and seems to suggest that being a spy is a man's job. 

The action scenes work much better on the screen, especially the torture scene where Bond suffers greatly at the hands of Le Chiffe. Le Chiffe is a terrible villain, in the sense he doesn't really do much and even the casino game can not build up much tension. 

You cannot sympathise with Bond, he isn't a likeable character and Fleming always calls him Bond which seems to suggest that he doesn't care for the spy either.

Whether the series picks up I do not know, but the spy didn't leave me shaken or stirred. 

Rowen's Review

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh

A tale of woeful reminiscence, Charles looks back on his association with the Aristocratic Marchmain family, and appears hollow as he reflects on how one by one he lost them.

I loved this book, it was fantastic. The way that the sheer emptiness and helplessness is related through the narrator. I loved the way that the time period it was set in echoed through its pages.

I felt true sympathy for Charles as he lost first Sebastian to Alcohol and then Julia to the same religion her mother had. A religion which in several different ways had poisoned the relationships Lady Marchmain had with all those she loved.

I thought it was interesting how well it was explained, or perhaps demonstrated, the destructive effect that faith can have.

In fact I’m not sure there was anything I disliked in this book, the worst I can say about it is that the story saddened me, but therein lies it’s strength.


Clarissa's Review

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Book Seventeen - Amsterdam

Ian McEwan is a man I read so much of throughout A Level but he never ceases to amaze me. 

He is able to punch you in the gut when you least expect it.

He always picks subjects which are contentious and wows you with his ability to lure you into one way of thinking before creating a tense or dramatic situation which questions your way of thinking.

The story focuses mainly on the two of the three lovers of the recently passed Molly Lane. Vernon Halliday, an editor of The Judge newspaper, Clive Linely a composer and The Foreign Secretary Julian Garmony. 

Molly's husband George is a shadow in the background in this story of lies, deception, jealously and revenge. 

All these themes simmer below the surface and make an epic climax as you cannot feel yourself getting close to the characters. 

From a journalist point of views McEwan offers his views on tabloid sensationalism as Vernon holds a timebomb which ultimately ruins the three lovers in one way or another. 

The book won the Booker Prize in 1998 and still rings true in modern times with the discussion of euthanasia as Molly dies a undignified death and others do not want to follow suit.

It is a compelling read and I would most definitely recommend it.  

Rowen's Review

Book Sixteen - Birdsong

It has been a while since I was able to pick up a good fiction book. Unfortunately the works of Politics and History of Journalism beckoned with first year exams. 

So after a long departure I was able to soak up (some) sun and read what is entitled a modern classic. 

Well they were right in a sense, I really enjoyed Faulk's ability to capture the pain and suffering of the soldiers in the trenches. Yet it sometimes felt disjointed jumping from the past to the present just to compare similar plot lines. 

Also even as a huge romantic, I didn't enjoy the love story between Stephen and Isabelle. 

They were drawn together by lust in my opinion as Isabelle's nature is compulsive and leave Stephen alone twice. It is her very underdeveloped sister Jeanne who is there to pick up the pieces. 

This works well as we learn what she is like through Isabelle and how Stephen is able to retain some human qualities despite the miserable surroundings.

The books emotions come from the supporting characters who have good qualities. Wier and Jack are two that you sympathise with as they try to coerce Stephen into giving life another shot.

It is the tragedy and irony of the situations that show that war is not fair. The graphic details also give you a true flavour of the suffering of the men. 

The book leaves you with hope because it finishes in the present day. However you do go through a range of emotions which is what you want to experience in a book.

I am not going to say it is the best book written this century but for it opens a generation to the horrors we hopefully never have to experience.  

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

For Whom the Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemingway

I liked the story in this book. I didn't like the way it was written. I found the language stilted and it had a lot of repetition which I felt was unnecessary . It actually quite disappointed me because I'd heard a lot of good things about the book and as such I had high expectations of it.

I felt that the story, or rather the action within the story, really picked  up during the latter half of the book. It had a better pace and I felt more invested in reading it.

I wish that the romance which took place and was one of the central themes had more background to it. Personally I found the whole situation rather rushed. They met each other and 12 hours later had slept together and were madly in love, it just didn't seem to click. Robert Jordan also seemed to have conflicting views concerning Maria, at times he just wanted to protect her and other times he looked on her as a form of lesser human.

I did feel that the romance, although not quite right, lent some extra depth and emotion, without which it the book would have rung hollow. I also have to say I'm glad that I can assume Robert Jordan died after the end, not because I dislike him, more because it felt right. He wouldn't have made sense in a world where they'd escaped.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

London Fields - Martin Amis

It's taken me a while to write this post. I finished this book about a fortnight ago and even now I'm unsure what I make of it. 

Near the end it drew me in, but throughout the reading of it I struggled against it.  At times, frankly, it bored me.

I didn't like the use of language. Nothing happened, plot-wise, for most of the book. And most of the characters seemed shallow and underdeveloped. 

I felt sorry for many of the characters, each being subtly abused. Mostly I felt sorry for Sam, who thinks he has it all worked out, but he really doesn't.

I'd have liked for more to have happened. To have felt some movement. If the book had been a quarter of the length it was I feel it would have done a much better job of telling the story it had to tell. In and of itself the story was good.

I just didn't like the way it was told. Personal preference I guess.


Clarissa's Review

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Agnes Grey - Anne Bronte

Agnes Grey was a lovely book to read. It was an example of it's period both in the language used and the scenes and settings within the book. 

The theme of the story was of a young girl moving away from home to become a governess after a financial crisis within her family and subsequently suffering disillusionment. She suffers at the hands of her employers in both situations she holds over a period of about 3 or 4 years, and the primary causes of these sufferings are unwilling pupils, neglectful parents and a tendency for others to look through her. 

The story takes a brighter turn when one Mr Weston moves into the neighbourhood and becomes her friend. As one of the few people, and the only one of equal station with her, who treats her civilly and with the respect she deserves it is unsurprising that she falls in love with him. After her long period of doubt as to his affections it is a happy ending when she agrees to be his wife.

I'm not sure really what the purpose of the first situation was within the book, unless to show how cruel and blind the very rich could be, or to make the second family who were by no means a fluffy fairy-tale seem much less harsh. I suppose it made her affection for her pupils within the second family understandable.

Not a bad book.


Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Casino Royale - Ian Fleming

The first thing I have to say about this book is how blatantly sexist Ian Fleming is and how he projects that onto his central character. Bond is a shallow protagonist who believes himself to be God's gift, and is interested in woman only for their attractiveness and willingness to sleep with him. 
Casino RoyaleVesper, the female lead, is made out to be an empty-headed simpleton who turns out to be a double agent who has simply be stringing Bond along, although at some considerable cost to her own heart and health. When Bond finds out what she's done and why she did it, he completely compartmentalises her and removes all traces of her from his life. This being a woman who he was willing to marry.
My second comment has to be on how surprised I am that Bond isn't dead. On page 8 of the book, and I quote 'he lit his seventieth cigarette of the day', forget about dying of lung cancer or a bullet, how isn't he dead from smoke inhalation???
I also thought it came across well how different a time period the book was written during than the present day.
It was a good book, but having both read the book and watched the film I have to admit that the film was an excellent version of the story which brought it up to the present day brilliantly. If you're not one for shallow dialogue and would rather see the action played out than painstakingly reading about it it's probably more worth your while just watching the film, something I don't often say!

Monday, 23 April 2012

Disgrace - J.M.Coetzee

I don't know how to describe this book. I didn't enjoy it exactly, but I didn't not enjoy it either. It was a bizarre book of self-discovery in one who by rights should be too old to discover a lot about himself. He learns to hate himself and what he has become.

The book starts with an act by him towards a young woman. Not rape, she was willing. But it is then echoed in the rape of his own daughter. After this event he begins to reflect more upon his own actions. He realises an apology from himself. 

It is odd because where society would have accepted a false apology from him at the start of the novel they are unwilling to accept a true apology later on.

David Laurie is made to feel continually awkward and so becomes a recluse. The only people he is able to capably interact with are the dogs which he puts in the incinerator.


Clarissa's Review

The End of the Affair - Graham Greene

Not at all what I was expecting from this book it started out very bitter and ended very bitterly and had a joyous stage in the middle. I had been expecting a happy beginning and a bitter ending. The bitterness in the ending doesn't stem from the reasons you would expect either.
At the center this book is a tale of two lives gone wrong. Two people who are so much in love you could say they are destined to be together who never get that chance and deliberately estrange themselves from one another.

You get the chance to see what religious fanaticism can do. How it can spoil lives on a small scale. 

You observe jealousy and you empathise. It's easy to empathise, because at the center of yourself you know there is a part which would be exactly the same under those circumstances.

Observe in this novel the easiness with which multiple men, a string of them, fall in love with a beautiful, kind and caring woman. How they continue to love her, against their own reason, long after she has left them.

It was a very good book, I can understand why it has become a modern classic.


Clarissa's Review

Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon

This book was indescribably unique from the perspective to the composition. The style of writing compelled you to read more and the story was all there. It was a book I couldn’t face putting down.

There were so many things I loved about this book. Seeing as I’m studying maths all the mathematical content couldn’t help appealing to me. I loved the fact that the chapters were numbered using the Prime numbers rather than the Natural Numbers. I loved the fact that the Narrator broke things up a bit. I loved the way he took things to heart. I loved the fact that you could understand the perspective of someone with Asperger’s Syndrome during the telling of this novel.

It was brilliant.

It was possibly the best book I’ve read this year.

I would definitely recommend reading it. It’s almost definitely not inside your usual style of book. But it’s definitely worth taking the time to read.


Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day – Winifred Watson

This was a light-hearted novel about a downtrodden middle aged woman who has reached her absolute limit, if she doesn’t get work today she’s headed for the workhouse, as a result she has decided to grasp anything that comes her way.

The novel becomes a tale of her drastically changing herself to fit in with her new friends. As you read it you delight in the carefree attitude that embodies the specific class she has fallen into in the mid 1930’s.

It’s delightful watching a confirmed spinster lose her prudish attitude and fall in love herself. It’s miraculous being witness to her successful attempts at saving her hostess when she is constantly describing herself as a failure.

The novel seems to have little substance but is a delight to read none-the-less.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey

One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest was a strange experience. From it’s confines you could witness true madness, but it wasn’t madness which terrified, it was a madness which evoked pity and empathy.

The Narrator of the story, Chief Bromden, was someone who had spent much of his adult life isolated and looked through, continuing to the extent that he started to pretend to himself that he didn’t exist. He acted both deaf and dumb while he was perfectly capable of speaking and hearing. His madness was primarily a sense of Paranoia which was perhaps justified from one who suffered not just one or two, but hundreds of electric shock treatments.

The Main Character, McMurphy, probably was incredibly mad, but he was madness perfectly capable of acting within the confines of complete sanity. He was a leader of a revolution. While it was saddening to see him dead at the end of the book, you can understand why Chief Bromden killed him in the manner he did, to retain his pride and prevent him from further suffering.

The maddest Character of all is Nurse Ratchett. She dishes out medicines and treatments which she would probably benefit from some herself. Her overbearing nature is not helping any of the men who are supposedly under her care and from the very first page you come to despise her and her cronies.

The whole book can, in some ways, be summarised in the words of the nurse on the disturbed ward, who voices her wish to keep the two men away from Nurse Ratchett’s control, but bemoans the fact that it is out of her power.

This story is at it’s heart one of hope. How goodness and human nature and resilience can grow and flourish when nurtured even in the most difficult and trying of circumstances.


Saturday, 14 April 2012

Book Fifteen- Captain Corelli's Mandolin

Captain Corelli is one of my mum's favourite books, so I had high hopes when I read it.

Sadly I was disappointed.

The story is great and it is the love story that you want to see but there is to much going on that the story does not really get going until three hundred pages in.

Some would have given up by then, but I pushed through better than the first time I tried to read this book.

It's the fact you do not meet Corelli until some 200 pages in, this confused me, why are you building up Carlo, Pelagia, Iannis, Mandras when the title clearly suggests someone else. It may be character development but it was slow in my opinion.

The best bits are when Corelli and Pelagia are together, this is what I want to read, are they going to be able to be together? Or is the fact that he's Italian and she is Greek going to separate them? Pelagia's romance to Mandras was never going to happen not when Corelli came along, and I don't like Mandras anything, especially at the end. But I won't spoil it, because in my opinion it is probably the best scene in the book.

The end could be called predictable, but then what do you want from this book? Do you want the romance? Do you want the impact of war and how gruesome it is? Because you certainly get it and the book is also historical, this little Greek village is changed forever, as are all the characters, that is the best thing about this book. It has a story and makes it readable until the last of it's 420 odd pages.

Maybe I missed something and that's why I didn't enjoy it. However it is worth waiting until the end and it didn't need Penelope Cruz or Nicolas Cage to convince me.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency - Douglas Adams

A short but witty novel about the interconnectedness of all things and the somewhat mad Dirk Gently who uses this system to solve crime and con his way out of paying the bills.

This book is itself an example of the elemental concept upon which it is based. The first several chapters are seemingly unrelated but quickly resolve themselves into a single and cohesive whole.

The book is hilarious in the style which no-one but Douglas Adams would ever be able to replicate. The humour is unique but brimming and the sci-fi elements are subtle enough that most anyone could relate to them but definately present for the enthusiast.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, like other of Adams' books that I've read was written purely for pleasure and I thoroughly enjoyed the process. It was so easy to read I managed in a day.


On a side note I promise I'll try and read more of these soon and get up to date, it's nearly the summer and then I'll have much more free time.

Tom Jones - Henry Fielding

I was anticipating that this book would take a while to read, it's both long and old. I wasn't expecting it would be so tedious and consequently take me four weeks to read, it steered me off target when i'd been so well on target to that point.

The basic plot line of Tom Jones is very simple and as such I feel the story could have been significantly shorter than it was. While I know that it's length is a result of the way it, and many other books from the period, was published, it didn't fail to irritate me.

The book contained a lot of waffle, with Fielding often repeating himself, or simply rambling aimlessly. The book was comprised of several shorter 'books' each of which started with a chapter devoted to fielding preaching about literary infidels and how he hoped he wouldn't be looked down upon. I've never come across this in any other book and it was a major sticking point for me as every time the story gained momentum i would hit one of these chapters and be stuck trying to force myself onwards. The book was full of purposeless details, such as four chapters describing the earlier life of a character whose only purpose was to let Tom sit in his living room overnight. Tom Jones also seemed somewhat cyclical to me. There was a seemingly enless series of Tom chasing Sophia, being caught in an act of moral failure and losing her only for it to once again resume.

The first 400 pages of this book bored me to the extent that I was using Chores to bribe myself through it. If asked I would say I have no idea how this tedium became a classic and would recommend you find a plot summary rather than read the book, you'd gain as much from it and waste much less time.


Clarissa's Review

Monday, 12 March 2012

Book Fourteen The Swimming Pool Library

Alan Hollinghurst's novel is ground breaking, the first book to openly discuss homosexuality.  

Also it is honest view of a life most of us don't know about. There is promiscuousness to the highest degree from the main character Will Beckwith. Will can live without working due to the fortune of his grandfather Viscount Beckwith. 

This makes him spoilt and for me the idea that he can do and have whatever he wants.

The physical descriptions of his conquests is not always for the faint hearted. He is obsessed with physical beauty, often acting on instinct and sleeping with random strangers. Will is carefree and often quite unbearable yet he slowly unravels and I do mean slowly. 

His relationship with Lord Charles Nantwich is the catalyst, you see a change in  Will as it transpires his perfect life is not so perfect, particularly as he learns secrets closer to home.

The other side of the book is the homophobia, Will is violently attacked by skin heads, characters are arrested by policemen for their sexuality, it doesn't only reminisces to a time past, but the present controversies only reflect  how little we understand homosexuality really. 

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

This book compelled me and confused me. At it’s heart it’s about a woman who’s in her eighties and
is reflecting on her life with a multitude of regrets and sorrows and guilt.

Her name is Iris.
The book starts with the phrase ‘10 days after the end of the war my sister drove off a bridge’ I finished this book a fortnight ago now, I know bad me, and that phrase is still playing around in my head. The book is about 650 pages and I’d guess it had nearly 100 chapters, I didn’t count them and they’re not numbered, it’s a guess. But it wasn’t until about 3 chapters before the end of the book that the reason, or reasons, she killed herself come to light.
Some of the first chapters are newspaper clippings. They describe the suicides, cleverly covered, of Iris’ Sister, Husband, Daughter and Father.
The book is written in parts which alternate between the old Iris reflecting on her life, and a young woman living it, living an affair to be specific. It was the young sections which sucked me in, drew me back. I read them for their story and the second story they contained. They contained hope, while the old chapters contained despair. When I started reading I thought they were about one woman, by the end of the book I knew them to be about another. It doesn’t really matter both stories were told in a roundabout way.
This is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and yet it haunts me...

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Book Thirteen - London Fields

I will admit I struggle with Martin Amis as a writer, I do not like his approach to books as he often appears as a misogynist. Often he writes crude and crushing things about women, "If you're going to be violent stick to women. Stick to the weak." 

That came within the first 10 pages and its set me up to think I just need to get through this book.

The concept is quite a good idea, an author with decades of writers block trying to find a story. However the length he goes to get this story is supposed to create "black humour". I didn't find the book funny at any lengths, it was disturbing. 

The books opening page was ominous, "I know the murder I know the murderee. I know the time,  I know the place." 

I will compliment Amis on his ability to create suspense, it doesn't make you comfortable. One of the methods he uses is telling the story through unreliable narrators, four narrators, helping the author tell the story. 

None of the characters have redeeming characteristics, they all use each other. Keith Talent, the thief or cheat, Nicola Six, the motive, Guy Clinch, the weak one and the author Samson Young who is terminally ill but will do anything to get his break.

Throughout the book what the characters do will make you raise your eyebrows. Yet the ending s probably the best bit without sounding to callous.

After Miss Pettigrew most books were going to fall short. But one thing I can say is that Martin Amis is a successful writer however he is one I don't enjoy.

Rowen's Review

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Book Twelve - Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day

At this current moment in time, this is my favourite book so far. A triumphant story for the lead character who has had nothing but sadness in her life.

Miss Pettigrew is an aging woman, approaching 50, she has had no job, love, family or home to call her own. A chance when she visits the home of Miss LaFosse changes her life forever.

Each chapter documents hours in this one day and with each chapter Miss Pettigrew develops. She begins, shy and maybe a little prude, flustering when Miss LaFosse is intimate with male companions. 

Yet she isn't prude, she is a character everyone can emphaise with. She has not experienced any positive emotions, so when she does at several points in the book, it is phyically heart warming.

 It is what you want for her, you adopt her as your motherly figure, as she displays wisdom to the younger characters.

For some people the constant happiness might become nausiating, they may even say that this doesn't represent real life. However, I couldn't put the book down because I wanted to know if Miss Pettigrew had a happy ending, if I said the book is based around Cinderella then it may put your mind at rest.

I reccomend whole heartedly this book, on any bad day read this and realise that life isn't terrible! 

If Miss Pettigrew was real she would be an inspiration to us all. 

Rowen's Review

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Book Eleven - Brideshead Revisited

The books had high hopes but it somehow drifted off in the middle and end.

If you like the themes in period dramas like Upstairs, Downstairs and Downtown Abbey this will be quite up your street. Taking you from the 1920s to the 40s with its glamour and class.

What you think is going to be the main plot of the book is either a misinterpretation or a cleverly crafted red herring by Waugh. 

The relationship between Sebastian and Charles Ryder is an interesting plot, it spans from their first meeting at university and follows their growing friendship. Yet you never really know if they have a strong friendship or their is romantic tension underlying it.

You never find out. 

Their relationship deteriorates slowly after Charles is introduced to Brideshead, the Flyte family home, as Sebastian is part of a noble family. 

The family is highly religious, and this is a theme that is dominant throughout the book and each character suffers at its effect. 

Sebastian seems so innocent, at university he is still carrying around his teddy bear and his ideas seem naive. His apparent eccentricity is because he is driven to despair by his families religious believes he ultimately succumbs to it.

Charles as narrator and protagonist suffers greatly because as an agnostic believer he is an outsider to the family in any case, and after Sebastian leaves his ties are nearly severed. 

This makes for a very sad ending and I don't feel Charles deserved it, he never did anything wrong. It seems going to Brideshead was his undoing, an ending which I feel is unjust.

Rowen's Review

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Book Ten - Cakes and Ale

Hitting the double figures with this small delight, yet the title is misleading as the book is not about food and drink.

Cakes and Ale is a book within a book, like Inception is a dream within a dream. W.Somerset Maugham's aim is to be ironic about the world of an author. 

The main character, William Ashenden, tells us through the first person narrative the true story. It is the surrounding characters who have their own ideals. For example Alroy Kear is attempting to write a book to launch his name again, but he requires Ashenden's knowledge of Edward Driffield and his first wife Rosie.

The book is light in tone, it is humorous and ironic, like Jane Austen is with Pride and Prejudice, a caricature. Ashenden is considered the outsider by everyone, but ironically he is the only one who knows the true story. Everyone else including Driffield's second wife Amy, are trying to create a story which they want. 

Only by doing research have I found the relevance of the title, it is from a line in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night; 

"Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?" 

Now that I know this it makes much more sense because Maugham is challenging the conservative nature of many of the characters, who are still very Victorian.

He creates Rosie, Driffield's first wife who is flirtatious, honest and confident in her sexuality. She is mistaken for common and a harlot as she has an easy going persona, making men flock to her. Including Ashenden, yet he is the only one who understands her. It is this fresh take that keeps the book from being stale.

Thoroughly enjoyable and very short, again the ending is not how you would like it to be, but it is the right one.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Book Nine- Disgrace

Yes I did read this in a day, I had to after the interesting experience of Tropic of Cancer, I needed to get the images out of my head.

Disgrace, the story of a man's fall from his profession after sleeping with one of his pupils. He refuses to apologies and is cast of acceptable society. His relations with women is stretched, he has two divorces and an estranged daughter. 

It is the focus on his relationship with his daughter Lucy that dominates the book. It looks the only way to redeem David, yet after a brutal attack on her farm, where he cannot save her from a terrifying rape, the book goes into a downward spiral. 

It is sad because David Lures seems on the path to recovery, but Coetzee never forgives his main characters sexual escapades at the beginning. The themes are about the failures of the human condition, and the debate between Lucy and David over whether she should keep the baby of her attackers is a moral dilemma. 

It is a easy book to read, it is fast paced and also it raises many social questions that you think about throughout the book. It isn't the expected ending but it is worthy of the title modern classic.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Book Eight - Tropic of Cancer

I'm just going to come right out and say it, I hate this book. 

By page 13 I was wondering what I had let myself in for, initially I thought I had picked up porn by mistake. 

Don't get me wrong the cover art is a picture of a naked woman, which suggests nudity is going to be a theme. However not even reading D.H.Lawrence could have prepared me for the aggressiveness that Miller explores and describes sex. Most of the passages are to explicit to write about.

So what can I actually say? Miller is sticking his finger up to society, he makes that pretty clear from the start. "this is a prolonged insult, gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty" The cancer is society itself, and Miller's aggression makes for uncomfortable reading. 

The fact it is autobiographical, means these are Miller's true feelings. He isn't embodying a character because the main character is Miller, the other characters are based on people he knows. Is this shocking? I don't know how a person can feel all this, but then it is a side of desire which is often hidden and not discussed in literature. The closest I have experienced is Martin Amis' The Rachel Papers and I came away from that exactly how I am now. 

The Tropic of Cancer is cancerous it rips to shreds love literature with just one word continuously written, which is to rude to write.

When I read books which were previously banned i.e. the likes of D.H.Lawrence and Radcliffe Hall, you see it was 'obscene' because they were modern ideals thought of 80 years before they were considered acceptable in society.

I don't agree with Tropic of Cancer and by the end I was to disgusted that all I can think of Henry Miller as is a dirty man. 

Next book please... Quickly.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Hideous Kinky - Esther Freud

Hideous Kinky was like looking into a diary. From the point of view of a five year old. With more sophisticated language.

It was a series of recollections from Lucia, the little girl, about the year or two she spent in Morocco. It is obvious that she was very young when she arrived there because her memories of beforehand are very hazy.

It's a genious book, because it has a simplicity which can only be woven from a child's perspective. However it also has complexity in that it very much simplifies so very difficult struggles. Such as the constant wait for "my money from England".

You can't help but sympathise with Lucia and her sister, two children who're uprooted every time they settle in. And at the end you feel Lucia's pain at leaving behind Bilal who has very much so been treasured by her.

I raced through this book, literally couldn't put it down.


The Riddle of the Sands - Erskine Childers

This book was described as one which 'never loses pace' by the Independent on Sunday. It's fairly accurate, the book doesn't ever lose pace, it does however take a while to pick it up. I think it was around Chapter 12 before I felt that there was any progression within the story.

I felt that while the earlier chapters were necessary to the plot they could have been combined to increase the speed of it; for example the first Chapter describes Carruthers receiving a letter from Davies, and in the second he collects some items which he was asked to bring. If I'd been using my dad's 50 page rule this book would have been gone before it reached the good bits, and I think that's a shame.

My other criticism of this novel is that it has too many technical details for my taste. They are relevent to the story but I don't think there really needed to be so many... This is just personal preference, I'm sure the details would appeal to many men and boys, especially those from the era in which it was written. However it's definately possible to tell it was written by someone who, like Davies, is an enthusiast.

I really enjoyed this book, once it gained pace. I became involved with the characters and because of the emotions I felt for them felt that the ending was a bit too abrupt, I would have liked to have eased out.  I think to have made it perfect for me I would have needed a few more chapters at the end and a few less at the beginning.


Monday, 13 February 2012

Book Seven - The End of the Affair

The End of the Affair is a strange book, it doesn't at any point make you want to cheer for Bendrix and Sarah, the two lovers who are kept apart by her marriage and his jealousy and obsession.   

To be honest you feel empty and void at the end of the book, just like Bendrix does, and he is pretty miserable throughout due to his obsession with Sarah, the only person he seems to be truly human with.

The book is loosely based on Greene's own affairs, the key scene in the book, the bombing is based on his house. The End of the Affair is also openly questioning religion, and loving God vs believing in him, along with the other themes of jealousy and obsession.

However in my personal opinion the characters seem too flawed and you cannot feel anything for them. Sarah though she is in love with Bendrix, has a strange fixation with destiny and letting God decide. 

Is this weakness or blind faith? I'm not sure because she stuck with her husband who was a total bore, but she wasn't brave enough to leave him for Bendrix the man she loved because she was so uncertain about religion. 

This conflict of interests didn't make me stand up for her. I can't defend her because in the end she appears, even her escape (a euphemism to avoid spoilers) seemed weak also. Greene creates Sarah Miles as a woman who is in a catch-22  situation, she's damned if she does and she's damned if she doesn't. 

Bendrix doesn't believe in anything, not love, not God and in the end he hates both even more. He started the book believing his affair would end quicker than it started, Sarah was the extreme opposite and it is this contrast which gets you through the book, you want to see who is right, and you may be surprised by the ending.

Rowen's Review