Thursday, 17 May 2012

Book Review: Heft

Heft is a tale revolving around the two distant lives of Arthur Opp and Kel Keller, the two most influential men in Charlene’s life. 
The narration is skilfully divided between the two characters and overall flows effectively, however what was disappointing about this novel is that I enjoyed the narration of Arthur far more than I did the narration of Kel. I found the character development and personality of the teenager’s narration disappointingly unrealistic, which is a shame considering how enjoyable I found the loveable and well built life of Arthur Opp. Despite that, I was on many occasions drawn into Kel’s emotional turmoil: I felt frustration and sadness on his behalf and I was moved by what he went through. However, in my opinion, his narration was far too stable and well-thought out to realistically match the teenage habits and misdeeds he partook in, thus rendering his character inaptly contradictory. 
I did enjoy the relationship between Arthur, the overweight former teacher, and his new house maid: Yolanda (so much so that I could have happily read a novel about just these two characters). Their relationship is one between two lonely outcasts, however one has a positive outlook on life whilst the other negative. Moore blends comedy, fear, loneliness and satisfaction engagingly within Arthur’s narration, and I emphasise once again my despondency that this blend wasn’t sustained throughout the entire novel, as its strength was lost between the deviation between the two narrators.
However, I can’t claim this to be a bad novel. I would conclude it to be a mildly enjoyable read as it did move me and entertain me at times, but unfortunately my emotions were only engaged periodically and for far too brief a period of time. 

Book Review: The Help

You’re welcomed to Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960’s by the humbling voice of Aibileen, the help of Elizabeth Leefolt. Her job? To clean and raise white children: currently she’s raising Mae Mobley. She’s raised more white children than most of the help in the town, most have all grown up, have help of their own. But they’re her only family around. Her son was killed a little while ago.
Her best friend, Minny, can’t hold her tongue to save her life. She keeps getting fired for her attitude, well, actually, she has no attitude. She speaks the truth. The white people don’t like hearing it. But there’s one person who doesn’t mind the truth. Skeeter, whose just returned home from graduating University. She wants to write, but the town stifles her, and she wants to rant, but the only set of ears who would listen to her have gone; her mother’s help, Constantine. Where has she gone? Well, that’s something her mother is too ashamed to confess.
These three voices leap between the chapters of the novel and guide you through the suppression faced. In a small town like Jackson no one’s safe from domestic violence, rejection, heartbreak, death, alcoholism, racism - but none of those construct the main concern for the town, oh no, the only main concern is the diseases black people can give white people, and the solution: separate toilets.
This was an unbelievably moving novel. It was funny, heartbreaking and rather scary at times. I haven’t seen the film but some of the incidents within here are so graphic I highly doubt they would have made the film, which is a shame, as they were what built the novel’s character.
The most powerful emotion I felt in this novel was pride of the movements: I wish so much I had been born as part of the generation which helped push the fight for equality, because my admiration for all those who did shoots through the roof every time I think about what they went through and how much they accomplished.
The severity of racism wasn’t as extreme as I was expecting, which actually worked in the novel’s favour of not being a dark read, thus rendering it, in my opinion, more powerful and effectively moving.
I adored the narration, and even more so by the fact it wasn’t dominated by the main white character but dominated by the help. That’s what I wanted to see. When I saw adverts for the film I obviously see Emma Stone taking centre stage as the body behind a movement, and I was praying the novel wouldn’t concentrate on her but on those being oppressed - and honestly, it didn’t disappoint.
It far exceeded my expectations. I cried several times and the ending was brilliantly realistic and powerfully unsettling that, despite it seeming almost borderline inconclusive, it completed the journey poetically with a really strong sense for the need of continuation of the baby steps which are required to break down what appears to be unbreakable barriers, and the need to highlight that nothing can wholly be accomplished in one movement: it requires more voices and more eyes. ★★★★

Book Review: Jill

The story centres Kemp, a first year English Literature student at Oxford University during the Second World War. He’s a Northern lad, he hasn’t come wit much, but he was lucky enough to gain a scholarship to attend. Unfortunately, he has to share his dorm room with the other English Literature student at his college, a laddish Londoner named Charles. Shy Kemp doesn’t know how to take Charles’ drinking, gambling and smoking, but he starts seeing him as a role model, and despite Charles always using his tea-sets and copying his essays, he respects him.
But one day, Kemp lies to Charles. Just to see if he can get away with it, like a little revenge. He tells Charles he has a younger sister named Jill. He elaborates on her life, her looks, he even sends a letter to her. But then the idea becomes fixated in his head, Kemp becomes obsessed with his own creation, he wants her to have a story, have a life, so he starts writing her diary, but even that tires him out, it’s not the same, her image is fading in his own imagination. It’s only one day, when he’s wondering around a bookstore, that he sees someone. He sees Jill…
Larkin doesn’t give himself enough credit for this book. It’s straightforward but wonderfully realistic. I enjoyed the plot-line and I loved how it was written (though I was a tad biased to Kemp’s personality being as he was ever so similar to myself (:)  The only thing which let this novel down was, sadly, the ending, but when I take it into consideration, I can’t honestly think of how else it would have ended. The only impression I got was that it was, unfortunately, rushed. Besides that, the overall novel was excellently paced and not too focused on the timeline (so if one isn’t into WWII novels, this may be something you’re happy to hear, however if you’re like me, don’t worry, it’s not completely ignored, but it certainly isn’t a main feature). I would recommend it to any Larkin fans, or beginners. It has that lovely english charm you find in many English novels, so if you are fond of British literature for that reason, this is certainly a nice novel to add to your collection. ★★★★

Book Review: The English Patient

This story is set around the second world war, a setting which I personally adore when reading novels, but the two locations are pretty unorthodox, as the novel is split between Northern Africa and Italy. Within an abandoned villa in Italy lives Hana, a Canadian nurse, whom is treating a man referred to as ‘the English patient’- his identity is completely blackened out from the surrounding characters, physically and verbally, as the man is unrecognisably burnt after enduring a plane crash and refuses to reveal his identity, the only possession he has is an annotated copy of Herodotus’ ‘Histories’ containing details of his time spent in the desert. The other characters are Caravaggio, a friend of Hana’s father, who served for the British Intelligence during the war and the sapper, Kip, a Sikh soldier whom is working to dispose the unexploded bombs surrounding the area. The novel has one of the most powerful narrative frameworks I’ve  met in a long time, it glides between past and present, conversation and description like water, it feels like it was written so effortlessly (when you know it most certainly was not!) The skill of narration is by far Ondaatje’s finest quality, however the story itself certainly doesn’t fall short of the heights established my his authoritative talent. This type of novel is one which I like to categorise as a soul novel, one which is read as easily as one breathes. You live these types of novels, you’re there in these novels, it sinks in as easily as a calming film would. There is no vicious fighting, but it doesn’t lack action, and there is no inner turmoil of fetish fantasies and rampant sex, there is natural romance. Everything abut this novel is so realistic you don’t feel like you’re being told a tale, you see it instead. This is certainly up there in my favourite novels, it’s a fantastic read and I am thoroughly looking forward to reading it again soon.  ★★★★★

Book Review: The Hobbit

And so we meet Bilbo, whom many (like myself), are guilty of only knowing for being the owner of the ring, for we were a select few members of the generation who delved into the film series of Lord of The Rings before even attempting the novels.
The Hobbit tells the tale of Bilbo’s main adventure, his adventure with thirteen dwarves in order to help them reclaim the Lonely Mountain with it’s treasure, but there’s a problem: there’s a dragon in the way.
This was such a wonderfully delightful story to read! There were so many charming quirks, Bilbo’s love of tea and cakes (of which the poor dear is continuously derpived of), his little buttons, his little handkerchiefs and hat, the Dwarves poetic singing, but then you have the most fantastical scenes of battles and goblins and spiders - Tolkien establishes, in my view, the most perfect balance of adventure with charm.
There was one main thought I had from the beginning of this novel: the ring. I came in knowing what it was capable of, yet I was so surprised at how differently it is treated in this novel. I was also expecting so much from Golem, but no, he has a chapter and is gone, never again. Now that was amazing. The secrets of the ring and Golem are touched on so lightly that it made me respect Tolkien even more than I did before, for now I realise how fantastically he developed these plot lines in the next three novels!
What I was always concerned about was the notion that this would be a very heavy ‘fantasy novel’. I’m not someone who’s into very severe and in-depth fantasy stories, stories which are borderline WOW. That never appealed to me and still doesn’t today. What’s strange with this novel is I kept forgetting it was a fantasy book, the details weren’t too heavy but that isn’t a bad thing, on the contrary, it made it such a beautifully pleasant read!
My years of worries about this novel were all so unnecessary, nothing was complicated, nothing was dark and heavy like I expected. They are rather unusual adjectives to use when describing fiction so allow me to elaborate - I read some fantasy novels when I was younger and they were fictional version of steel and iron; masculine, brash, forceful, not really my cup of tea. Thus I expected Tolkien’s novels to be so too, as they were labelled to me when I was younger as ‘boys’ books’. Whoever described them as such should be punished for depriving me of such a tale for so long! ★★★★

Book Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Well, technically this isn’t the correct name for the novel. It’s official title is ‘These Foolish Things’ but I didn’t know that when I saw it on the bookshelf at Watestones. I for one am not a fan of books with movie covers, so I approached the sales assistant to ask if they had another copy and they said no. I thought that was rather odd, but I really wanted to read the book so I took it home anyway, telling myself that I sincerely doubted it would be a life classic which I’d like to have an aesthetic value equal to its content, therefore the cover didn’t much matter. 
Well, technically I was right but that doesn’t distract from the fact that it is a very enjoyable read! Again, like the Descendants, I was pleasantly surprised with how it was written and how easily it made me laugh. This is a chuckle novel especially at the beginning. So what is it about?
Well, we first meet Ravi, a British Indian doctor and his wife, Pauline, whom have been landed, to Ravi’s displeasure, with Pauline’s father, Norman. Norman is what one would call ‘a dirty old man’, but he’s utterly hilarious for being whom he is, however, due to his character, he has been kicked out of so many retirement homes that now his daughter and son in law have to carry the burden. One evening, whilst complaining about his father in law to his cousin Sonny, Ravi inspires an entrepreneurial idea: a retirement home in India.
Thus the story is established. The novel skips back and forth between all the different lives of the pensioners in Britain who eventually all unite at ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ for differing reasons. A couple of the stories are rather heartbreaking, especially that of Muriel (I would be rather surprised if you did not, after reading the events that happen to her in Britain, hold a small silence of respect and reflection). We can’t escape the nagging in our heads about old age; either we know someone who is going through this, the worries knowing our parents will go through this, the tension knowing that we shall go through this, and let’s be honest, it’s not a time of life we associate with pleasure and happiness. Moggach doesn’t deflect from that concept, but it’s realistically challenged; why should it be viewed so badly? We don’t we just make the most of it closer to the end? the inevitable can’t be changed, so why should we carry on confining to the norm, living the same life we did day in and out we have until this moment? Spontaneity isn’t limited to the youth, to the childless, and once we pick one path in life we aren’t chained to it, and Moggach shows us that. It was a an extremely entertaining novel, though I was left feeling I’d been left behind at the end of the novel, like everyone had started a life without me and I was stuck here; an irony emphasised even more-so by the huge age difference between myself and the characters, but that was what made the novel successful - I was left feeling like I was missing out on what the elderly had attained. Now that is an accomplishment when writing about old age, so Moggach, I salute you. ★★★★

Book Review: Brideshead revisited

I strongly believe that this novel will be my lifetime partner and shall remain by my beside for all eternity. 
It is 1943 and Charles Ryder, a single, homeless and loveless army officer finds himself unexpectedly billeted at Brideshead, a grand estate house which is now being utilised by the military during the war. But Brideshead isn’t unfamiliar to Charles. It was the home of Sebastian, whom Charles befriended at Oxford University in 1923, and Julia Flyte, Sebastian’s younger sister.The novel centralises around their powerful friendship and the Flyte family’s relationship with Roman Catholicism. Charles, the agnostic of the tale, watches his friend submit to alcohol, whilst he and Julia are plagued by their own marriages and emotions. Critics have attacked the ending of the novel as being distasteful (of course I shan’t be telling you why for that would ruin the experience for you), but I don’t find it subliminally afflicting to my character in the slightest. I perhaps don’t agree personally with it’s ending, but that doesn’t make me dislike the novel. That would be like one stating they didn’t like Wuthering Heights (please do advance to the next paragraph if you are unfamiliar with the ending of Wuthering Heights) because they are, personally, anti-suicide, and they believe therefore through Heathcliffe’s actions, Brontë is essentially condoning its implementation. We all know such an analysis is pathetic.I shall never judge a book by the author’s religious preferences and beliefs, its ending marks it as artistic, and you as the reader can ultimately conclude as to if you feel it is a tragic or beautiful ending. What I shall tell you is that it is poetic, be it a tragic poetic or blissful poetic, it is entirely down to your judegement. And that’s what makes this novel so wonderful.Despite its religious challenges the novel is not short of intellectual wit (which is mainly delivered by Charles’ father and the homosexual atheist Anthony Blanche), romance and heartbreak. It encompasses every element of what makes a novel a classic and friend, and it shall forever be mine ★★★★

Book Review: The Paris Wife

Earnest Hemingway, one of America’s greatest writers, married four times, but his first wife, Hadley, was whom he moved to Paris with. It was she who witnessed the beginning of his creativity, it was she who watched him casually chat to the newly published and unknown F. Scott Fitzgerald, it was she who cradled their child in her arms whilst he wrote, and it is she who lay in bed beside him, pretending to be asleep, whilst his mistress lay on top of him…
There’s always the shadow to someone’s fame, and Hadley was that of Hemingway. Whilst he rolled in his imagination, the jazz age, art and sexual promiscuouness, his shadow has to admit defeat, admit that she has lost her grip on the love of her life once and for all. This novel is painful to read, as a woman I felt like screaming at her passiveness, at her reluctance to stand up for herself. Whilst playing the role of the shadow she forgets she, too, is a human like her husband. I always enjoy reading biography styled fiction novels, and McLain owes a lot, obviously, to Hemingway’s own work A Moveable Feast when writing about his Paris years, but she adopts the voice of the wife ever so cleaverly. I had the pleasure of meeting Paula last year where I got to ask her a question. I asked “You say you got a lot of Hadley’s thoughts and feelings from reading the letters that she wrote. Now, in this novel she puts up with so much, she’s so passive, she doesn’t scream, she doesn’t yell, she lies there and takes it. Was that a personality which she indicated in her letters or was that an authoritative creation? Did she not hate herself for being so weak to her own human sense of pride? Because in the novel she never scolds herself for being so allowing of Hemmingway’s cruel ways.” 
McLain, as elogant and charming as she was, was a little taken aback and just grinned in response “I actually never thought about that,” she replied “In her letters she never indicated self loathing or shame for how she handled the situations, but actually now that I think about it she didn’t really express much emotion behind her actions at all. I suppose you could say that is my own creation. I doubt we’ll really ever know how Hadley truly felt.
So, if you’re looking for an utterly true and realistic read of Hadley’s true emotions, feelings and expressions, I’m afraid sadly that won’t be available.
However, I get the impression McLain brought together the most realistic possibility of who Hadley was. The novel itself is brilliantly well written, it was certainly my favourite novel of 2011, and meeting McLain personally strengthened my affections for it even further. Those who haven’t read anything of Hemingway, like myself at that time, needn’t worry of the chance of being ‘lost’ or ‘disconnected’, because you can’t be.
You are a reader witnessing all the greatest artsists of the twentieth century casually mingling together, unaware of who they will grow to be, unaware of their future effect on the world of art, unaware of how their casual dining together over a bar would sound as mythological and unrealistic as reading about Shakespeare having brunch with Charles Dickens. The notion of putting them together is absurd, incomprehensible. Yet the novel contains such a fantastical collection of brilliant novelists and artists all nonchalantly collecting together that you’re thrown into a state of disbelief that this was, in fact, reality. That’s such a fantastic notion. In fact it’s wonderful. You don’t realise how close artists were until you put them all into one location, one of the most wonderful places in the world, Paris. I’m unable to state how delightful this novel is; despite being biographically influenced it is not historically heavy, for you can easily forget whilst reading that it’s not a complete work of fiction. McLain is an author to keep an eye out for, I’m pretty certain this is just the starting point of a brilliant twenty-first century writer.  ★★★★★

Book Review: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

So, there’s a rumour going around that there’s a mole in the Circus, but who is it? Only one way to find out…send in Smiley.
Smiley wasn’t ready for retirement anyway, but this is a tricky task. He’s spying on the spies. “Commander”, the old head of Circus is dead, and now the suspect could be anyone, from the new head of Circus, Alleline, to any one of his deputies.
This, my friends, is not an easy novel to follow. If you’re a little novice to spy literature like myself, perhaps this is a heavy start. I wanted to challenge myself to read spy novels, I’ve always groaned at the concept of James Bond etc, but recently my curiosity has grown and this is where I started. If you are new to this kind of literature I wouldn’t recommend it as a starting point; it’s heavy and detailed and I had to reread pages numerous times and flip back now and then (my poor spy novice brain got confused from time to time). However, confusion did not detract from the fact that this was yet again a brilliant read. Normally if I find a novel hard to get through I tend to put it aside for a while (either weeks or years), but this I couldn’t bring myself to part with. Now that for, for a spy book (a genre to which I have chosen to avoid in the past) is saying something. Carre is one of the most fantastic British writers I have encountered, everything about the novel was charming, in fact I read the entire novel with a very swarve British chap’s voice in my head (which came naturally, and as a woman who is easy to swoon, I can’t say I complained…). Overall a fantastic read, and I can now say…bring on the James Bond series! ★★★★★

Book Review: The Descendants

Matt King, a descendant to one of Hawaii’s biggest land owners, finds himself taking care of his two daughters alone after his wife, Joanie, falls into a coma after a boating accident. As if he wasn’t going through enough with that, his daughter’s obscure personalities make the situation more difficult for him to grasp. Scottie, aged ten, idolises a girl in her class who acts and dresses like a slutty eighteen year old, whilst Alex, seventeen, is a recovering drug addict who drags a strange lad called Sid into the family picture. Whilst informing famly members and friends that Joanie isn’t going to pull through, Alex drops a bombshell on her father - Joanie was having an affair…
 This novel turned out to be, by far, the most engaging new novel I have experienced in a long time. Considering the severity of the plot line and perhaps the standard sounding list of characters, the novel steered clear from all cliches and possible predictabilities. Hemmings brilliantly wrote a powerfully realistic novel whilst simultaneously making a tragedy lighthearted through refreshing humour. Not once in this novel was a tempted to skim over a sentence or passage; I wanted to absorb every letter on the page. The thought process of Matt is so well constructed that I, as the reader, sunk into the mindset of Matt so swiftly and comfortably that after finishing the novel I felt like I was recovering from an amputation. 
I cannot recommend this novel strongly enough, it is certainly on my list of must reads of 2012, in fact, a book to read before you die. Yes, that’s how affected I was by this short novel. It sits upon my bookshelf with pride, it shall never be facing a charity shop in my lifetime. 

Book Review: Surgeon of Crowthorne

So, the Oxford English Dictionary. A masterpiece in itself. But did you know they couldn’t have done it without a murderer? An insane, Yale graduate surgeon who butchered a man and spent his life in a mental asylum devouring books, through which he developed the skill of compiling quotations which were used to illustrate ways particular words were used, making him one of the biggest contributers to the OED.  This isn’t fiction, it’s all true, but the book is so well written it flows like fiction. It made me squirm, it made me squeal, but it also fascinated me. You never get through to understanding this intelligent man’s thought process, but at the same time you are left questioning what the borderline is between insanity and genius. How do the two fit so easily together with this one man? I guess we’ll never know. Am I being too generous with my ratings? No, I just happen to have some fantastic books recently. ★★★★★