Thursday, 28 February 2013

Classics Spin Update (just a quickie)

So I think I've well and truly surpassed myself by finishing my spin book an entire month before the challenge deadline. Good effort, Ellie.

In order to feel like I'm still participating and not being a complete slacker, I'm going to challenge myself to read another one. Considering March is 'Modern March' and I have the Translation Challenge too, I've not chosen a long one to read. I borrowed The Lifted Veil by George Eliot from my first trip to the library and as I've felt no urge to read it yet I thought I'd challenge myself to read it. The version I have also has Brother Jacob in it which I will try to read too.

To sum up...I will aim to read The Lifted Veil (and Brother Jacob) before April 1st. Best get to it.

Bit of a jump from Eliot to Modernism but you've got to keep things interesting haven't you?!


Translation Challenge: Night and The Periodic Table

Elie Wiesel
Originally written in Yiddish, then translated into French and from the French into English by Marion Wiesel

The Periodic Table
Primo Levi
Translated from Italian by Raymond Rosenthal

'The witness has forced himself to testify. For the youth of today, for the children who will be born tomorrow. He does not want his past to become their future.'

This month for the Translation Challenge (hosted by Curiosity Killed the Bookworm) I decided to take a turn around Auschwitz. At uni I focused quite extensively on war writing (keeping things positive), so I am already quite well acquainted with Holocaust literature. Primo and I have met before in If This is a Man but I've never got around to reading Night even though the two were so frequently compared. Still, I've read it now and have had so many Deep Thoughts because of it my brain is practically exploding.

Night is Elie Wiesel's holocaust memoir for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize (go Elie!). It begins with Eliezer as a teenager in the early years of the war, completely unaware of the severity of the Nazi rule. We go through a number of years (1941-4) in a couple of pages until, seemingly quite suddenly, Eliezer and his family are deported to Auschwitz. I'm not going to go into the subject matter, I think everyone and their dog knows about the atrocious acts committed in Auschwitz and other concentration camps.

Wiesel has a very particular writing style, not wholly unlike Levi's, I think. The tone is generally quite matter of fact, informative even. He writes in short sentences that seem very impersonal. He tends to imply rather than spell out. But even with all that general lack of hyperbolic emotion, I can't lie, I pretty much bawled my eyes out (so what, I'm a sobber).

I sometimes find these books are difficult to read retrospectively. We know what Auschwitz means and it is hard to see how it didn't ever have that meaning. But for some, it was just an unknown. Elie and the people he is deported with don't know, even in 1944, what Auschwitz means, much to the disgust of another 'inmate': 'didn't you know what was in store for you here in Auschwitz? You didn't know? In 1944?'. Eliezer reads the inscription 'Arbeit Macht Frei' with no knowledge of its meaning which is again hard to comprehend. At uni it was pretty much hammered into us that you can't read history retrospectively, which I totally get, but it is just so difficult to do.  

The Periodic Table is essentially an autobiography that Levi has organised around the elements of, yep, you guessed it, the Periodic Table. Rather than just focusing on the holocaust years, Levi introduces us to life under Nazi rule. He was studying to be a chemist in the early years of the war and the text on his certificate well and truly demonstrates the effect his Jewish identity had on his life: 'on Primo Levi, of the Jewish race, had been conferred a degree in Chemistry summa cum laude'. Understandably it falls into science speak quite frequently which confuses the hell out of me but I generally got the gist of it. I just think there is something about the way Levi writes that grabs me every time. I can't explain it, but maybe it is the way he can be so emotive even when he narrates in a particularly flat and matter of fact voice. I don't know but Primo, I love you man. If anything it really makes me want to pick up learning Italian where I left off in the hope of reading it in the original language one day.

'It seemed to me that I had won a small but decisive battle against the darkness, the emptiness, and the hostile years that lay ahead.' 

So, the second month of the Translation Challenge is over and I've read three books. All of which have been revelatory in varying ways. This month has been particularly, well, let's say somber but I look forward to what I can discover next month. Has anyone else read much Holocaust literature?


Monday, 25 February 2013

Musing Mondays


Musing Mondays asks you to muse about one of the following each week…
• Describe one of your reading habits.
• Tell us what book(s) you recently bought for yourself or someone else, and why you chose that/those book(s).
• Tell us what you’re reading right now — what you think of it, so far; why you chose it; what you are (or, aren’t) enjoying it.

Reading habit...becoming emotionally involved

I have a habit of really getting involved in the lives of characters in good books. I fall in love with them (*ahem* Stephen Wraysford *ahem*) and I hate them (*ahem* Percival Glyde *ahem*). I'm a bit of a floozy when it comes to falling for fictional characters and there is generally someone in most books that I have a tendency to wish was real then I could hunt them down and, well, marry them. And I really cannot be the only person out there who has had a ridiculously lifelike dream where they went to Hogwarts and ended up marrying Neville and becoming Ellie Longbottom. I mean, that's not crazy right?! Ah Neville. So yes, I get very involved in most books I read. There are often tears, blind rages, confusion and much much jealousy. Anyone else?


Mini reviews and a fangirl moment

Books v. Cigarettes George Orwell
Roy Lichtenstein Alastair Sooke
So I've been ticking through some of the shorter books on my pile. The pile doesn't visually get any smaller but it makes me feel better to know I've gone through a few books.
Anyone else adore the Penguin Great Ideas series? I think they're amazing, I keep my eyes open for ones I've not got in every bookshop. They're so small and full of literary goodness. Good effort, Penguin. This one, Books v. Cigarettes, is brilliant. It is a collection of Orwell's essays that mostly revolve around thoughts on books and writing. A while ago a friend recommended his essay 'Bookshop Memories' and that's included in this collection. That is definitely my favourite, along with 'Confessions of a Book Reviewer' and 'My Country Right or Left' which is an interesting look at the First World War and patriotism.
The other mini I've read this week is Roy Lichtenstein: How Modern Art was Saved by Donald Duck. This is where the fangirling comes in. I love Alastair Sooke. Literally, he is my future husband (I wish). A total babe who likes art. I mean, what is not to like about that?! A week or so ago I went to London with my Mother to see a talk given by Alastair Sooke at the V&A on this subject. It was a brilliant talk and after there was a wine reception (my kinda party) and book signing. The minute I laid eyes on this book it was love. The standard Penguin layout has been Lichtensteined and is complete with primary colours and Ben-Day dots. Ah-mazing. I'm going to skip over the bit when I met him because I went all red, whispered 'thank you for signing my book' and ran off. Classy bird.
Anyway, the content of the book itself is very similar to the talk given but it is a fascinating subject for any Lichtenstein lover. It is interesting to read the arguments that so many of his works are self-portraits. Plus, I never knew he played such an important role in starting Pop Art. According to Alastair, he is the architect of Pop. What a legend. It has put me in the perfect mood to hit up the new Lichtenstein retrospective at the Tate this week.
He signed my book (drool/sigh)

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Oops, I did it again

Before I was so unceremoniously made redundant I did a bit of shopping. I know, I know, I am not meant to be buying books. I just can't stop myself. It should be a recognised addiction. So, back when I thought I had an income and thought I'd be paid at the end of the month, I took a sneaky lunchbreak trip into the Oxfam bookshop (I mean really I'm just supporting a cause so it's not like I'm just buying books willy nilly. Even though I am just buying books willy nilly. Oh, shut up you). Anyway, here are my purchases:

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hamff
Property by Valerie Martin
Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres

Exciting stuff. And today I picked up my reserved copy of Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda from the library which I am practically about to devour in my excitement to read it. Seeing as I have joined the delightful land of the unemployed I am hoping that not having money will make it much easier for me to resist the buying of books. I'm sure I'll find a way around it but for the moment I'm being optimistic. I will just use the library. Oh gosh, I hope joining the library wasn't some sort of omen. Now I'm hysterical.

I'm off for some alone time with Scott and Zelda.


Friday, 22 February 2013

Oh, life

I'm going to paint a mental picture for you. A masterpiece, if you will. Imagine me curled up on a sofa, wrapped in my blanket, nursing a diet coke (and a hangover) and watching Skyfall (and welling up terribly at the end). Yesterday, I had one of the weirdest days of my life to date which ended in me, in the aforementioned position, sobbing hysterically at a James Bond film. Yesterday, I was made redundant when the theatre I work(ed) in was closed. I am now unemployed. I think I'm still in shock, I can't quite believe the fact that I will never stroll into The Brewhouse, don my headset and manage a show.

On Tuesday we were told that Wednesday night would be the last ever show at The Brewhouse (the show happened to be Jane Eyre). I had, I guess, the privilege to manage the last show and it was the oddest shift I have ever worked. There were drunk staff members everywhere, the slightly more sober ones were leaving with bags full of sweets from the kiosk and I had a fight with a reporter who tried to get into the auditorium whilst the show was still on. I blocked his way and offered to show him my guns (by which I meant my biceps, and yes, I had been drinking already by this point). At the end of the show the entire team of staff poured into the auditorium to watch the Brewhouse Director make a speech. I have never seen so many adults cry at once. After his speech and after the audience had given the staff a standing ovation there was a mass exodus of crying people to the bar. Mental.

Once all the audience had left, we then began to drink the bar dry. We succeeded. And then we did this:

Yesterday, I woke up with a stonking hangover and went into The Brewhouse to sign forms in the hope that we will get our wages from someone governmenty. We had to go through a security guard to get in, hand in our keys and walk out under the beady eyes of the Administrators. In a word, it sucked.

So I've had an emotional couple of days which has stopped me from reading. All I want to do is lounge in front of the TV and watch bad guys get taken out. I might just have a Bond marathon. Followed by a Haz Poz marathon because I've really got a hankering for some magicy goodness. And Neville in the last couple of films. Ah, Neville.

For a mini update, I've started The Mystery of Edwin Drood which was my Classics Spin selection. I've got it on my kindle so I've been reading it in the gym. Reading seems to make the cross-trainer so much easier and far less boring. I'm really enjoying it actually. I was worried that I'd be disappointed but it's got all the best Dickensian traits, including some wonderful characters. I'm particularly taken with Mr Grewgious and his clerk Bazzard.

Even this cloud has a silver lining: unemployment will give me lots of reading time.


Monday, 18 February 2013

Classics Spin Update

This morning the number for the Classics Club Spin Challenge was revealed. The lucky (or perhaps, not so lucky for some) number that was chosen is 14. For me this corresponds with The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens

At the moment, I'm not sure how I feel about this selection. I'm happy and excited but then I'm a tad apprehensive. I mean, it's Dickens. Sometimes I love him, others I hate him. At the moment I love him and I don't want Edwin Drood to send me flying in the opposite direction. Anyway, let's see how it goes.

Check back on April 1st to see if I manage to finish it. And no doubt I'll have some rambling thoughts to share. You can always count on me for rambling thoughts.

For those participating, what was your spin selection? Good, bad or downright ugly?


Musing Mondays


Musing Mondays asks you to muse about one of the following each week…
• Describe one of your reading habits.
• Tell us what book(s) you recently bought for yourself or someone else, and why you chose that/those book(s).• Tell us what you’re reading right now — what you think of it, so far; why you chose it; what you are (or, aren’t) enjoying it.
Right now I'm reading....Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford
After a bit of a break I've picked up Parade's End again (so glad this is on kindle, it is an epic chunkster). I'm not even sure why I stopped reading it because I was really enjoying it but I guess there are just TOO MANY BOOKS. I want to read all of the books. Anyway I'm back to it and enjoying it once again. I think Christopher Tietjens is just a babe and Sylvia is a brilliantly cold, cruel and sly character. She's a perfect example of a woman who knows she's beautiful and uses that knowledge to get what she wants. 
I decided to read this after watching the BBC adaptation of it that was on at the end of last year. It was a really well made adaptation and so far it seems to be very close to the book. The novel (or novels, it is four in one after all) has just the right balance of gender politics, war and relationships for me. I read The Good Soldier at uni and really loved Ford's writing style so basically what went through my head when I chose this book was: 'come on Ford, show me what you've got'. He's certainly showing me. 
Did I mention Christopher is a babe? Yes, that.


Saturday, 16 February 2013

On rejoining the library

Yesterday in my lunch break I power-walked up to the town library, stormed (in the most positive sense) to the information desk and un-expired my library card. I rejoined the library. It was an emotional half an hour.

I have always loved libraries and some of my best childhood memories are in libraries. It used to be a treat to go to the library in Wootton Bassett (now Royal Wootton Bassett) and sit in the model train full of children's books, pore over the picture books and look at the miniature scale model of the town that was tucked away behind the adult fiction. I remember finding one book in the children's train that was amazing (to four-year-old me) and being desperate to find it again after it had been returned. I never did. It was very sad.

After moving to Somerset, I used the town library constantly. Which does explain why I sometimes read a book then realise half-way through that I've read it before. I then struck up a friendship with the school librarian who always commented on my endless reading (I, unfortunately, was that girl). 

Basically, what I'm trying to tell you is that I LOVE LIBRARIES. Buildings full of books...what on earth could ever be better than that?!

To cut a long, nostalgic and boring story short, I then went to uni and realised I liked owning books and adorning my bookshelves too much to only ever borrow books. It was then that I fell into the den of iniquity that is Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles, Oxfam and every other bookshop in the world. I was lost (reading gives you a flair for the dramatic).

Anyway, back to today. I've been thinking for a while that I need to go back to the library. I feel guilty whenever library cuts come up on the news and I know I'm not doing my bit (I did buy The Library Book, but I'm not sure that counts). It was all a bit of a shock when I walked in. The library has moved into the 21st century, complete with self-scan borrow/return machines (I had to ask for help obvs). What really struck me though, was all the space. Where were the stacks and stacks of shelving, why were the shelves not stuffed to bursting like I remember them? What happened in my absence? A book apocalypse? (I told you, flair for the dramatic). 

My feelings in general are mixed. I'm slightly disappointed by the outdated stock, the huge gaps in the stock, and the abundance of impractical hardback editions. But then I'm happy that they have a good ordering service, the books are free to read, and I feel like I'm giving back a bit. Sharing the book love, so to speak. I have made it a belated New Year's resolution to use the library this year and take out, say, one book a month, or even just visit and sit in the cafe. 

To be perfectly frank, I may have just been completely overwhelmed by the whole experience and I do tend to get a bit giddy when I'm surrounded on all sides by books, books and more books. I'm going to see how it goes. In the meantime, I obviously borrowed books and I'm obviously going to share what I did borrow. So, enough talk, insert the damn picture and zip it.

Pompeii by Mary Beard
The Lifted Veil/ Brother Jacob by George Eliot
Any of you have any thoughts on libraries? Do you love them but not use them? Or do you borrow more than you buy?


Friday, 15 February 2013

Review: The Land of Decoration

The Land of Decoration
Grace McCleen

'In the beginning there was an empty room, a little bit of space, a little bit of light, a little bit of time.'

The Land of Decoration is Grace McCleen's debut novel (and what a debut, might I add) that tells the story of 10-year-old Judith and her father, members of a Christian fundamentalist sect. Judith and her father are patiently awaiting Armageddon in order to get to the paradise saved for believers. Judith, who is bullied at school, makes this paradise, the Land of Decoration, in her bedroom out of rubbish and other materials she finds. One day, in order to avoid a dunking in the school toilet, Judith makes it snow in the Land of Decoration. The next day she wakes to find it has snowed in the real world too and there begins the struggle of the novel as Judith starts to believe she can make miracles happen.

I must say, it is easy to think Armageddon is already on its way in this novel. It is set in the mid-80's and there are strikes, hunger, deprivation and hostility. Generally, it's a pretty nasty world. The writing itself is wonderfully descriptive, particularly as the world is seen through the eyes of a rather imaginative 10-year-old. I've never been a massive fan of child narrators, I think it is a tricky one to get right. Room by Emma Donoghue is one which uses a child narrator perfectly and I think Grace McCleen gets it just right. Judith is wise well beyond her years but also terribly naive (certain aspects of the male anatomy are a complete mystery to her even though they are not to the rest of her class). She is definitely what I'd call fervent, but the way she sees the world around her is refreshing.

'I looked at the sky. It was so white it might not be there at all. It was like paper, like feathers. Like snow.'

McCleen grew up into a religious sect which accounts for the detail and all round authenticity of the novel. One thing I love about the narration in particular is the use of capitals. Judith and her father Ponder the Bible, bitter greens are Necessary Things and they are living in the Last Days. I don't know why I find this particularly amusing or appealing apart from the fact that I think in capitals sometimes too. I would really recommend this novel; it is dark, unsettling, oddly uplifting, and has a wonderful narrator.

'I think people don't believe in things because they are afraid. Believing something means you could be wrong and if you're wrong you can get hurt.'

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Classics Spin

I wasn't sure whether to participate in the Classics Club 'Classics Spin'. You could say I was on the fence. But now I am thoroughly off the fence, in the garden and raring to go. The challenge is to choice 20 books from your classics list that you have yet to read (no've got to pick tricky ones too). On Monday (18th) the Club will post a number from 1-20 and you have to read whichever book is on that number by the 1st April. Do-able? I think so.

Five I'm dreading (please, no!)
1. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
2. Animal Farm by George Orwell
3. What Maisie Knew by Henry James
4. Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf
5. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

Five I can't wait to read
6. Save me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald
7. The Moon and Sixpence by W Somerset Maugham
8. The Lifted Veil by George Eliot
9. Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald
10. Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

Five neutral (aka books I need a kick up the backside to get cracking and read)
11. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
12. A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
13. Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner
14. The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
15. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Five by authors I have never read
16. The Stranger by Albert Camus
17. Beloved by Toni Morrison
18. Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert
19. Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers
20. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

I'm certainly keeping my fingers crossed that particular numbers won't be chosen (namely 1-5!) but in the spirit of reading I will read whichever book is chosen with much goodwill and general excitment.

Good luck to everyone who is taking part, I'm hoping no-one gets stuck with reading Ulysses or Pamela or anything equally terrifying!

The suspense is killing me...


Sunday, 10 February 2013

Reading Plans

In an attempt to start clearing out the TBR and become slightly more organised in my reading habits, I have set aside the books I want to read for the rest of February and March. This may all go terribly wrong. I have visions that I will rebel and read none of the books I am setting out to read. I'm like the naughty kid who always does the opposite to what they're told. There may be foot stamping and screaming. But then again, I may actually succeed. Let's see shall we?

On the left we have my reading material for the remainder of February and in the horizontal pile we have my reading for March. (Do you like my pig? I think he looks rather majestic). The Periodic Table and Night are my two selections for the Translation Challenge this month. As I said in an earlier post, I think it will be interesting to read these two together seeing as they deal with the same issues. I started The Land of Decoration today and so far I've been struck by how much of a religious undertone there is. I expect I'll review this one in more detail because I am loving the way it is written from a ten-year-old's perspective.

In March I am participating in A Literary Odyssey's Modern March event. For this I am definitely aiming to read A Moveable Feast (at last!), As I Lay Dying (this has sat on my shelf for about five years) and A Room of One's Own. I've got Jacob's Room up there as an extra in case I really feel the need for some Woolf in my life. Finally, The Bookseller of Kabul is my choice for the Translation Challenge.

I also need to get myself a copy of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathon Safran Foer. I have just joined the book club at my local independent book store and this is the first read. Apparently the meetings consist of talking about books and eating pizza so I am understandably pretty excited to join.

I'm still ticking on with Quiet by Susan Cain at the moment and, for all those on Team Wilkie out there, I've just put Peter Ackroyd's Wilkie Collins biography by my bed for some bedtime Wilkie loving.

Everyone cross their fingers (and anything else you wish to cross) and hope for my success in this potentially impossible venture.


Friday, 8 February 2013

Review: The Lost Books of the Odyssey

The Lost Books of the Odyssey
Zachary Mason

'After ten years' journeying Odysseus returns, again and again, to Ithaca. Each time he finds something different: his patient wife Penelope has betrayed him and married; his arrival accelerates time and he watches his family age and die in front of him; he walks into an empty house in ruins; he returns but is so bored he sets sail again to repeat his voyage; he comes back to find Penelope is dead.'

The Lost Books of the Odyssey was one of the purchases I allowed myself in the Shakespeare and Company bookshop when I went to Paris at New Year. It was a tad random as I'd never even heard of it before but, as every lit nerd will attest, when in a bookshop EVERY book looks good. As is usually the case, this random purchase really paid off as it is a brilliant book. 

The book comprises of forty-four re-tellings of sections of Homer's Odyssey. There are several different versions of Odysseus's return as well as alternative versions of Circe, the Cyclops, the war and the Trojan Horse. 'Blindness' is one of the most memorable for me as it tells the story of the Cyclops from his own point of view and he seems such a sweetie. I love how the chapter ends: 'Sometimes I think that I am grateful, that sight would be a distraction.'

'The Iliad of Odysseus' suggests that Odysseus made it all up. In this alternative, the war is disastrous, Odysseus is effeminate, he escapes/runs away, becomes a bard and makes up all the stories of the Iliad along the way. I've been doing some work on storytelling and this really made me think about the reliability of stories and the affect of oral storytelling on an original story. Things like how stories can change depending on who tells them because of the way individual insecurities become visible through fiction. I always like it when something I'm reading makes me think (got to get those cogs whirring somehow).

The language is really quite stunning, so much so that it didn't bother me that I had to look up a fair number in a dictionary (I usually don't like being faced with my own stupidity).  At times the sentences were a bit complex which made some of the re-tellings hard going but it general the writing is lovely.  Overall, though, it is a very readable book and will be a treat for anyone who is fascinated by The Odyssey. I found myself trying to recall sections of The Odyssey to match them to the re-telling and see what he changed (hours of fun for any nerd).  

I did a quick amazon search of this book (as you do) and Ransom by David Malouf popped up in the 'you may also like' section. Ransom apparently shines new light on the Iliad, adding 'twists and reflections'. I rather like the sound of it. I read Malouf's Remembering Babylon at uni and I recall rather enjoying it so with any luck, I'll enjoy this one too. Needless to say, it was promptly added to the wish list.

EDIT: I just flicked back through the book and found a brilliant line I had meant to put in this review. I actually chuckled uncontrollably when I read this (at the time I was tucking into a veggie burger and a usually harmless piece of tomato lodged in my throat causing uncontrollable coughing. I dread to think what the people in the cafe thought of me). It is such an amazing example of literary innuendo. I think it will particularly tickle the innuendo-ridden mind of Jess at The Art Grad. So here it is: 'he was innocent of clothing and evidently male'. Wonderful.


Tuesday, 5 February 2013

A Modern March

Allie over at A Literary Odyssey (one of my favourite classics blogs) is hosting an event in March to read literature from the Modernist era. Now, I don't like to blow my own trumpet, but massive chunks of my degree and, well, pretty much my entire masters was about Modernism so I like to think I've been around a bit. You know, been there, done that, got the t-shirt type thing. But when I'm not being all smug and annoying I actually realise that there are massive chunks in my Modernist education. For example, I've never read anything by Faulkner (shock, horror).

In the month of March I intend to rectify the somewhat shocking state of my Modernist knowledge and crack on with some Faulkner, some Hemingway and maybe a cheeky F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Yes, I am really rather over excited to participate in this reading event.


Review: Alys, Always

Alys, Always
Harriet Lane

Ok guys, prepare for a moan and a half about this book. I've definitely got my critical head on here and I found this novel MOST dissatisfying. No joke, I actually turned to my bestie when I finished and said 'I do not feel satisfied by this book', as we were both in our bikinis, lying on sun loungers, just chilling, with a rum and coke in hand (I promise it was after midday).

Anyway, on to the matter in hand, Alys, Always. I'm just putting it out there before I get down to the nitty gritty, but I did not like/enjoy this book (a little aside here: I've literally just had a really deep thought that I will get to in a minute so, you know, get prepared and all). I think I can respect this book but I really think something is lacking, like there is a gaping hole in the story. Mostly I think it is far too easy. It is really hard to explain without giving spoilers away but can anyone who has read the book agree with me? That the ending is just too neat, too happy and too unlikely? I would be really interested to see how others have taken it because, for me, it is entirely implausible. In any event I am generally struggling to get my thoughts together at all about this book.

I'm wandering away from the point. Right a quick summary: Alys, Always is a short novel written through the eyes of Frances Thorpe, a journalist working in the books section of a newspaper. She is quite uninspiring, dull and a bit of a loner until she witnesses a car accident one day and happens to be with the driver (Alys) when she dies, hearing her last words. Alys's family ask to meet Frances and from there on she begins to worm her way in to the family with interesting results.

Don't get me wrong, I think the premise of the novel is very interesting. I just have a problem with characterisation and plot progression. Frances is a disgusting (too strong?) person, horribly ambitious and manipulative to the point I'm not sure she's even human. But that probably is too strong, I'm sure there are people somewhere in the world like her. The rest of the characters are really quite flat, I didn't get any sense of personality or dimension. It is tricky though because as it is written in first person, it's very hard to see anything other than what the narrator sees. Even though I don't think the book actually ever got going and I somehow don't understand why 'thriller' has been thrown around so much in relation to it, I cannot deny that it is mighty unsettling. Just check this bit of freakish manipulation: 'Smilingly, I stand back, my eyes lowered, and I wait for their eventual gratitude.'

Here comes the deep thought: what actually makes a book good? Does the writing have to be top notch as well as the story be interesting? Can you have one but not the other? Can you think a book is good but hate every single character? Or do you need to empathise with characters? Can you appreciate a book for its literary skill but not actually have enjoyed it at all? Is it enough that a book can make you react? My head is fuzzy thinking about this stuff. Deep thoughts give me headaches.

Alys, Always certainly has provoked a reaction from me and raised quite a few questions about the difference between enjoying and appreciating a book. I don't think I can say I did either but I do respect the novel for causing such a reaction. I wouldn't recommend it, I don't think, unless of course you want to see what I'm making a massive fuss about. Is there anyone who has read and enjoyed this book that can point out what I missed? Maybe hit me round the head with it to make me see sense?

Sorry for getting all deep on you. And moaning. A lot. I promise I'll be cheerier for my next review!


Holiday reading round-up

So, I'm back from Egypt. I've had a brilliant week of reading, drinking and soaking up some of those UV rays. I've come back a few pounds heavier, not much browner, and with a slightly cooked lobsterish tinge to my scalp (I always burn my scalp, I'll never learn to just wear a hat).

Considering the actual number of hours I spent reading, I think I've read a fair number of books. We were unusually active during the week, going on excursions and attempting to join in with the evening entertainment (including an English music quiz which my friend and I, as the only English people there, lost). And I lost a whole day to that 'finished one book don't know which one to read next' feeling after finishing Dark Places (which was awesome, by the way).

To the round-up:

I started off with Gillian Flynn's Dark Places for the aeroplane. I cannot stand flying so I figured a bit of a thriller may help distract me from the turbulence and the kids crying. I was right, I couldn't put this down! A good story and I couldn't guess the ending (I thought I'd got it down but was totally wrong) which is always brilliant. My sister has just started reading Gone Girl and I will be swiping that from her as soon as she's done for sure.

As per Laura's sparkling recommendation I hit up The Sisters Brothers when I arrived. Such a perfect book, thanks Laura for encouraging me to read it (pretty much going to read everything you recommend now Laura, you know that right?!). Alys, Always was the let down of the week. I'm not going to say anything else about it because there will be a full review following soon. The week picked up with The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry which had me sobbing on the beach. Literally. Such a sad/hopeful/amazing book. The last book I finished was The Half Blood Blues. This was a bit of a departure from my usual reading and, apart from the attempt at writing in dialect, I really enjoyed it. I quite like books that start at the end, fill in the middle and then reveal something about the ending I thought I already knew. Does that make sense? Probably not so, moving on. 

On the plane back I started re-reading The Shadow of the Wind. I find it odd that I don't remember the plot of this at all but I am looking forward to rediscovering it. I remember at least that I really enjoyed reading it the first time so with any luck I will enjoy it all over again.

I hope everyone has had a lovely week! I'll leave you with the view from my sun lounger. I'm surprised I got any reading done when I just stared at this for so long (it's been a while since I've seen blue sky).

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