Monday, February 28, 2011

For Review: Random ~ Craig Robertson

Crime isn't really my thing. Sure, I've read a bit of Ian Rankin and that was lovely and all, but it's just not something that pings with me. I get bored with the likes of CSI and Rosemary and Thyme are as far as I'd go. But, Simon and Schuster sent me Random. And it was random, receiving it in the post. It wasn't expected at all - so it was a sign! 2011 is a year for scoping out more genres and dipping my toes into pools they've never been. So while I can't say what makes the most clever crime fiction, I can say that Random was a fun read.

The Cutter is Glasgow's new serial killer and, as the title would suggest, the killer picks his victims at random. The story is told from the point of view of the killer, and any motives or methods behind his killings are gradually revealed throughout the novel. While I wouldn't necessary call it a twist, the conclusion did come as a bit of a surprise - the narrator knows when to drop information for maximum effect. Cold and calculated.

And he is. What I love about books told from a killer's perspective is how measured everything is. They know exactly what they're doing, how to murder effectively, how to cover their tracks. I enjoyed that obsessiveness on the part of The Cutter, that desperate streak that ran through his thoughts and actions.

Sympathy would be too strong a word, but The Cutter isn't always dislikeable. It's understandable that he has no friends, that his relationship with his wife is poor - but then, he does argue his reasons.

Random was a fun little read, with just the right amount of gory to keep it from becoming too gruesome or heavy. (I say that, but remember I read American Psycho without flinching). What I can't understand, though, and what really annoyed me, pedant as I am, was the American spellings - bastardized, apologize, realized. And The Cutter uses fahrenheit, not celcius. All a bit bizarre for a Glaswegian. Still, since being at Glasgow University, it was very exciting to be able to recognise places and street names. Now I really know where to be careful.


[Many thanks to Simon & Schuster for sending me this copy!]

Thursday, February 24, 2011

For Review: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe ~ C.S Lewis

There's nothing I can say about this that you won't already know. Suffice to say that it's a delightful, cute and cosy little read.

Despite having seen countless cartoons of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, I can't shake the image of Tilda Swinton as the Witch. That's no bad thing.

I wish I could go back and tell my nine year old self to read this and savour it, instead of devouring it in one sitting now.

Monday, February 21, 2011

For Review: Blindness ~ Jose Saramago

Typical me - doing Google searches for 'most disturbing books' etc. On more than one list, Blindness found itself on the podium of several lists. Clearly, it was going to be worth my time.

And it absolutely was. Blindness is disturbing in a very real way. It's not far out there in terms of plot so, if there really was an epidemic of blindness and the whole world couldn't see, I imagine the chaos would be exactly as Saramago described it. If not, then worse. Blindness requires breathing, and a reasonably strong stomach. Saramago's images of the fetid and the putrid are fantastic - I do love a man that's not afraid of his adjectives. Apparently, the disgust was obvious on my face as a rather worried boyfriend kept saying, 'What's wrong?' My answer, 'This book is brilliant.'

The first to be hit by the blind epidemic are thrown in quarantine. As the blindess spreads, there are more and more interns. More interns, less food, less space, less civility, more immorality. Saramago paints a very realistic picture of how greedy and base humanity really is. But for as many horrible people, there are the good - at least, those that offer altruistic kindness. The main group of blind people are never actually named, and the concept of words is one that Saramago explores.

What use are names to blind people? What use are labels to those who cannot see? Suddenly, words are more deceiving than they used to be - not accompanied by gestures, or certain looks. Really, it did make me wonder how different life would be without eyesight. No books to read, for a start. Then there are the practical difficulties. I don't think I ever really thought about the extent of the consequences of blindness until reading this book.



Saramago was a real literary genius. That man knew what he was about. Blindness does continue for several pages at a time without a single paragraph break. It looks exhausting, but it's brilliant. Saramago somehow controls emotion and pace with endless commas; the narrative is seemless, and it appears just so easy. At only very few points was I confused about who was speaking, or what was dialogue and what was action. That, and his tense switching, was just fun. Despite being a heavy read, Blindness was just brilliant. (I've used that word a lot in this post, I realise, but I think that word just fits.)

So, what next?

Friday, February 18, 2011

On Going To War

If you were going off to war (or some other similarly horrific situation) and could only take one book with you, which literary book would you take and why?
War's a bit of a sensitive topic. My dad was recently on tour in Afghanistan, and I wonder what he read. I should ask him.

My instinct is to say The Bible. But the chaplain would have a Bible that I could peruse. So, I technically wouldn't need to take that one. (Does it count as literary anyway?)

So what would I take?

Nae danger mate: a collection of poetry. My Norton anthology. It spans poetry from the beginning to now. What better thing for being at war, than being able to dip in and out of various walks of life, all the emotions of the rainbow, keeping sane with humanity as it is.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Because Thomas Hardy Wrote About Love

 The Satin Shoes - Thomas Hardy
{a little favourite of mine}

'If ever I walk to church to wed,
     As other maidens use,
And face the gathered eyes,' she said,                                       
     'I'll go in satin shoes!'


She was as fair as early day
     Shining on meads unmown,
And her sweet syllables seemed to play
     Like flute-notes softly blown.


The time arrived when it was meet
     That she should be a bride;
The satin shoes were on her feet,
     Her father was at her side.


They stood within the dairy door,
     And gazed across the green;
The church loomed on the distant moor,
     But rain was thick between.


'The grass-path hardly can be stepped.
     The lane is like a pool!' —
Her dream is shown to be inept,
     Her wish they overrule.


'To go forth shod in satin soft
     A coach would be required!'
For thickest boots the shoes were doffed —
     Those shoes her soul desired….


All day the bride, as overborne,
     Was seen to brood apart,
And that the shoes had not been worn
     Sat heavy on her heart.


From her wrecked dream, as months flew on,
     Her thought seemed not to range.
'What ails the wife?' they said anon,
     'That she should be so strange?'…


Ah — what coach comes with furtive glide —
     A coach of closed-up kind?
It comes to fetch the last year's bride,
     Who wanders in her mind.


She strove with them, and fearfully ran
     Stairward with one low scream:
'Nay — coax her,' said the madhouse man,
     'With some old household theme.'


'If you will go, dear, you must fain
     Put on those shoes — the pair
For your marriage, which the rain
     Forbade you then to wear.'


She clapped her hands, flushed joyous hues;
     'O yes — I'll up and ride
If I am to wear my satin shoes
     And be a proper bride!'


Out then her little foot held she,
     As to depart with speed;
The madhouse man smiled pleasantly
     To see the wile succeed.


She turned to him when all was done,
     And gave him her thin hand,
Exclaiming like an enraptured one,
     'This time it will be grand!'


She mounted with a face elate,
     Shut was the carriage door;
They drove her to the madhouse gate,
     And she was seen no more….


Yet she was fair as early day
     Shining on meads unmown,
And her sweet syllables seemed to play
     Like flute-notes softly blown.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

For Review: The Gospel of Anarchy ~ Justin Taylor

That was a read and a half!

Twenty or so pages of David masturbating and looking at internet porn. Then he bumps into his old friend and he's taken back to Fishgut; halfway house for hippies, anarchists, and anarchristians. David is suddenly faced with religion, politics, faith and love.

Fishgut is a home for the lost and found - a place for reflection, meditation, sex and drugs. They live by stealing, pulling food from 'dumpsters' and doing what they can to live a life of freedom. No laws, no material needs, no conformation. Just faith.

But every character in the story is working from a different faith, using the gospel of Parker and a life of anarchy to shape around their own needs. The beginning of the novel was neutral - just David, going through the process of a college dropout, living to work to pay the bills. But his time at Fishgut changes that - suddenly life has meaning, there's a will and a need behind human actions and emotions, and the mind is a powerful tool. It felt so optimistic and I was all for it: screw the system, be what you wanna be, do what you wanna do, who cares?

Things can't work that way forever. Soon lovers are torn apart, friends leave, and individuals fight with their own conscience; they come to realise that their faith, while everything, is not one and the same thing. Everyone's ideal is something different. Having hopes and dreams is one thing - but what comes with their realisation?

"Is there anything more terrifying than a dream come true? If so, it's almost certainly an answered prayer." (118)

The story lover in me really enjoyed this book - every character was deliciously described, and Taylor is very clever in his dipping in and out of their minds. The narrative is seamless in its free indirect discourse, so the movement is never jarring. It all just seems so simple!

On the other hand, the philosopher in me loved this book. The Gospel of Anarchy even flows like a philosophical argument; an introduction, the pros, the cons, and a weighing up of each, a dilemma, and a final conclusion. It's amazing when my MA in philosophy comes in handy! There's a lot of stuff to think about in here - happiness, what happiness is, where it comes froml; ditto - autonomy, faith, politics, desire.

The Gospel of Anarchy is a fantastic little package - authentic characters, intriguing relationships, thought-provoking, reflective, and amusing. It's a great read! Go, go!

[Many thanks to Harper Perennial for providing me with my copy!]

Thursday, February 10, 2011

For Review: The Magician's Nephew ~ C.S Lewis

I was so super excited to start my Narnia journey! 23 years old, always with a copy of the books at home, and I've never yet picked them up. After reading The Magician's Nephew, I'm so excited about getting through the series!

Besides the ol' Harry Potter, I'm not a series person, so the knowledge that I was reading something that would then lead into something bigger was very exciting. It was such a thrill to read Diggory and Polly's adventures, to witness the beginning of Narnia, even though I know what is to come. It was just a cosy little read, a cute little introduction to the series.

C.S Lewis really knows what he's about, and his use of dialogue is hilarious. The banter that goes back and forth between Diggory and Polly is a delight to read, as are the interactions between Uncle Andrew and the Queen. Just a jolly good riot, and I'm ready for more.

Monday, February 07, 2011

For Review: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

Devoured.

Fun/fast-paced/intriguing/thought-provoking/haunting.
And so small! I've never read any Stevenson before (I know, shame on me) but I'm really going to have to.

"The dismal quarter of Soho seen under these changing glimpses, with its muddy ways, and slatternly passengers, and its lamps, which had never been extinguished or had been kindled afresh to combat this mournful reinvasion of darkness, seemed, in the lawyer's eyes, like a district of some city in a nightmare. The thoughts of his mind, besides, were of the gloomiest dye..."

Gorgeous.

Important! For Victorian Literature Challengers!

Yup. Linky Tools is dead. The thing is no longer free. Bollocks. I'm ridiculously poor at the moment, so there's no way of me being able to pay for a subscription at the moment. So sorry for that, everyone!

SO

I'm going to make a new page for y'all to post your Victorian Literature Challenge reviews! Please do still leave a link so everyone can go take a peek at what you have to say.

Sorry, and thanks!~

P.S

Does anyone know of an alternative?

For Review: Northanger Abbey ~ Jane Austen

Jane Austen is so clever. Not only was she a master of romance, she nailed satire and parody. Northanger Abbey is a delicious addition to the Gothic genre. Catherine Morland, pretty enough but not quite fantastic, wealthy enough but not quite rich, moves in with the Allens and enjoys attending balls. She befriends the Tilneys and is whisked off to spend time at the mysterious abbey, exposed to all sorts of exciting and frightening imaginings. In fact, after reading this I went to bed and had a nice dream about a huge old house that Derren Brown sometimes stayed, according to the dream.

Austen wasn't afraid to attack the Gothic genre, and I imagine it as an equivalent to a really good, very well-written, tongue-in-cheek Twilight pisstake. Having read enough Gothic novels, I could understand and see the humour, though I wonder how much the casual Austen reader would gain from this. Either way, it's all very fun, and as per usual the characters are drawn up fantastically - Catherine as the typical heroine, Henry Tilney as the super-educated love interest. Some of the dialogue between them is fantastic.

It's a fun, short read at only 230 pages (or at least, my copy was), so any Austen fan should take to it immediately. Not an Austen fan? Just read it anyway. It's not the typical novel. Worth it for some incredibly witty oneliners, in any case.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Second Star to the Right?

What setting (time or place) from a book or story would you most like to visit? Eudora Welty said that, "Being shown how to locate, to place, any account is what does most toward making us believe it...," so in what location would you most like to hang out?

Victorian England, please. I've always wanted to try out Victorian England is various ways - as a poverty stricken maid, as a lady with a little wealth and the prospect of a good husband, and as a highly aristocratic socialite. Love it.

I'd be there to flirt with Jude Fawley before Arabella got there.

Skip forward to hanging out with Patrick Bateman. (I'd do Dorsia, but I do have my limitations).

Tokyo with Murakami's men and women.

And back to happy slap Alec d'Urberville.

I've got some literary agendas to sort.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

For Review: Girl, Missing ~ Sophie McKenzie

Deep breath.

Okay. So I don't do crime/thriller and I don't do children's books. Or YA. Or whatever you want to call them. Unless the book is incredibly well written and charming, I have no interest. Goes with anything, really. So... I gave Girl, Missing a try.

Hmm.
My youngest sister is the same as protagonist Lauren and while hormones etc etc are playing their part, I would really hate to think that my sister was as stupid and selfish as Lauren is. Thankfully, this isn't the case.

So Lauren thinks she might have been adopted, finds out that there's a missing child that looks just like her reported from America. She finds this out by Googling.

Next step? No, she doesn't do more research, she doesn't even think of emailing the adoption agency.
She manages, somehow, to convince her family to book a holiday to America and they leave very shortly. Dad can't make it cause he's working, so she brings friend (oh, but he's not my boyfriend) Jam. She and Jam run off to go find out where she's really from. But they can't tell her cause she's not 18. But she breaks in, and makes a bunch of silly decisions that lead to all sorts of FBI investigations.

In fairness, Lauren wouldn't learn anything about her past if she hadn't gone and done all this. There would be several questions and crimes never solved. But really?

Maybe I don't know young people these days. Maybe I'm so out of the loop that I think that young people have some description of intelligence and dignity. Maybe I'm wrong. I don't know. This is why I have always struggled with books written for young people, featuring young people, who behave in ways that young people are apparently stupid enough to behave.

I'm trying to place myself in an eleven year old's head, trying to imagine how I might have received this book if I was that age. But really, I can't.

Whatever Sophie McKenzie's doing, however, is clearly working - winner of various awards. If McKenzie has made reading more popular and is encouraging more eleven year olds to be bothered to read, then that's a good effort. Who am I to criticise? I'm not eleven anymore.

In fact - I just found another review of this book and there are girls absolutely in love with her stories. Good work! Next time I should put a little girl hat on.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

For Review: Glamorama ~ Bret Easton Ellis

Bret Easton Ellis. Yup, we're back to him again. Let's not pretend that I'm not in love.

Glamorama - Victor Ward is a model, popular, gorgeous, the It Boy of the month. Face and abs everywhere. He's hot property. And, quelle surprise, he has his pick of stunning celebrity women (and men, for that matter). So far, so fabulous. But then Victor is asked to go find a Jamie Fields in London and bring her back to the States. She's needed, lost, and a sweetheart from Victor's Camden days.

So Victor is pulled from the glamour of New York to the glitz of London. But it would seem things aren't quite so cool as he would like them to be. There's a missing girl, teeth in a wall, a stolen hat, Photoshopped photographs, film crews and extras. Naturally, Ellis offers everything on a platter.

Though I sometimes wondered if it was too much of a platter. Around half way through, when things with Victor start becoming slightly crazy, I was holding my breath in the hopes that it wouldn't end up in the multitude of ways that I imagined it might. It didn't, but it did turn into a crime novel towards the end, featuring a big long spiel that puts the pieces together. I don't want my pieces put together. As much of a romantic as I am in my heart, I've got a firm philosophical head. Let me think, let me wonder, let me argue with myself over motivations.

Still, as much as my attention might have waned with all the action towards the end, Ellis knows how to charm and keep attention with his words. The boy's got skills. There's the gorgeous attention to detail, directing the reader to things that might otherwise go unnoticed. There's the insistence of pop culture and the amazing and highly amusing way that Victor assimilates lyrics into his dialogue. It must be incredible to be at a point in your career when you can crossreference your own novels and their film adaptions. So clever.

Ellis doesn't disappoint. Maybe I'm just biased, being so in love with his brain. But there's no denying the wit, the attention and craft in those pages. It's cool, baby. So cool...