“…Summer’s lease hath all too short a date”

Sonnet 18, Line 4

William Shakespeare

 For the past week I’ve been on holiday on the Island of Evvia in Greece. I’ve met lots of lovely and interesting people, eaten delicious baklava, and topped up my tan, but most importantly… I’m now up to date with my ‘2013 100 Books’ challenge. When Goodreads asked me how many books I was aiming to read this year, back in January, I simply picked at random a nice, round-sounding number out of the air; a hundred seemed reasonably simple, yet seemingly impressive (yeah, I’m a showing-off type of reader. Deal with it.)

However, exams and revision got the better of me, and when I embarked on my holiday, I was about 6 books behind target… But no longer! So, without further ado, here are the eight novels I read over the past six days (Told you I was a show off 😉 )

  • The Marlowe Papers (Ros Barber)The-Marlowe-Papers-pb-jacket1 As a die-hard ‘Shakespeare was Shakespeare’ supporter, I have to admit the concept of this book made me sceptical. The idea is that Marlowe’s death was actually faked (he was also a spy, had friends in high places, etc.), meaning he was then forced into exile abroad, and so published his further work under a pseudonym… No prizes for guessing what name he chose! However, ignoring this ridiculous suggestion and focusing on the actual novel, this was brilliantly written. Poetical, yet plot-filled, philosophic, yet pacy, it was perfectly formulated in blank verse, the style used by Shakespeare in the vast majority of his work. The characterisation of Marlowe was subtly persuasive, and, I willing to concede that it did at least make me see the possibility of such an occurrence (although I still refuse to believe it!). I did feel somewhat less endeared to Marlowe by the end than I had at the beginning, but I guess that this showed the damaging and wearying effect of exile from the country and people you loved. Overall, definitely worth a read, whether it’s for the writing, the argument or the history.
  • The Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys) untitledI’d heard so much positive feedback about this book from such a variety of people, that, looking back, it isn’t really surprising it was *whispers* a bit of a disappointment. A little like ‘The Great Gatsby’. Yes, it’s an original idea – it tells the story of the first Mrs Rochester – and many passages are beautifully evocative, especially of the sticky summer humidity of Jamaica, but it just wasn’t quite as amazing as I had been led to believe. My favourite bit was probably the end and the inter-references to ‘Jane Eyre’, which, coincidentally is exactly what my next book was full of…
  • Lost in a Good Book (Jasper Fforde) – The-Marlowe-Papers-pb-jacket1This was completely and utterly my sort of book; witty, crazy and unique, with plenty of clever references to other books, and cool inventions that just made my heart sing. This is actually the second one in Fforde’s ‘Thursday Next’ series, a sequence of books about a literary detective, who has a pet dodo, a rogue time-traveller for a father, and several members of the villainous ‘Hades’ family after her. I’m reading the first one now (‘The Eyre Affair’), but you really didn’t need to in order to understand the plot. I seriously recommend this one; probably one of my favourite novels I’ve ever read. However, some advice for Fforde: if you’re going to create a crazy, fantasy world for your characters, don’t make a smarty-pants link to our world right at the end. It’s like you’re trying to give a massively patronising and over the top wink and a nudge to your readers, as in “See what I did there?” Yes I do, and it’s neither funny nor necessary. Saying all this, that was one paragraph out of about 400 pages of fast-paced, awesome hilarity.
  • The Boys from Brazil (Ira Levin) The-Marlowe-Papers-pb-jacket1The idea behind this thriller is both excellent and original; it tells of a Nazi-hunter’s discovery that Dr Mengele (the psychotically evil Nazi-doctor who experimented on Auschwitz inmates, and who was actually still alive and hiding in South America when this was written in 1976) is planning, through science, to re-kindle the Third Reich. I won’t give you any more information, because otherwise suspense is key to keeping up the pace and tension of the novel. A brilliant book for unwilling readers who prefer plot over description, and a quick and easy read for anyone. Definitely a page-turner. (And apparently there’s a 1978 film starring Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier which could be pretty interesting to see.)
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)The-Marlowe-Papers-pb-jacket1Obviously this is an incredibly inspired concept; a man sells his soul so that, whilst his own portrait ages, he remains youthful and beautiful. I’m really glad I read this, as it was quite different to how I imagined it – I assumed Gray had actually gone out and deliberately sold his soul to the devil, but it’s much more accidental than that. There are some really interesting ideas about beauty here and the characterisation of Dorian is endlessly fascinating, but there were pages and pages of description of different jewels and pieces of music and flowers and clothes that simply weren’t necessary. Perhaps they have some hidden meanings which would make studying the book great fun, but for pure reading pleasure, they were a little dreary. Still, one of those books you should read.
  • Out of the Dust (Karen Hesse) –The-Marlowe-Papers-pb-jacket1 Another story told through poetry, this time free verse, rather than blank. Hesse tells the tale of Billie Jo, growing up in the Oklahoma dust bowl, in a beautifully haunting and evocative manner. It makes the whole period (which few learn about) easy to understand, as it is both informative redolent and, as a bonus, can be finished in about an hour. However, this means that the book’s one error is that the oppressing duration of the dust is not quite felt as clearly as in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath’. However, still a superb and poignant book.
  • The Ghost Road (Pat Barker) The-Marlowe-Papers-pb-jacket1 Unfortunately, I brought the third in this series rather than the second, so obviously some bits didn’t make as much sense as they could have. It is the closing novel in Barker’s ‘Regeneration’ series, about the First World War; not only the fighting, but the psychological impact as well. The writing style is clear yet descriptive, and the characterisation is superb. I found it especially interesting to hear about the psychology, which is probably why Dr Rivers is one of my favourite characters, not just in the series but generally. That, and also Barker’s pitch-perfect portrayal of his likeable, very human, nature. Nevertheless, I felt that Barker let her characters down with an ending that left me feeling a little unsatisfied. Whilst it created a powerful sense of the futility and wastefulness of WW1, I felt the link to Rivers’ time in Africa was never as cohesive as I wanted it to be. It felt more like two different stories side by side at some points, and the ending which attempted to link them simply didn’t quite convince me.
  • The Best of Everything (Rona Jaffe) – untitledThis book has become more popular recently, having been seen in ‘Mad Men’, but it was actually written in 1958, about four girls living in New York in 1952; kind of a cross between ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Girls’. The novel is engaging from the start, but becomes less so as book goes on. Of the four girls, Barbara Lemont, the 21 year old divorcee mother, was my favourite, whilst Gregg, the aspiring actress who becomes obsessed with her lover, had, I felt, a ridiculously melodramatic story, and acted so foolishly I just couldn’t even feel sympathetic towards her. Once again there was a sadly unsatisfying conclusion; although April, the naïve beauty looking for true love, did have a happy ending (yay!), Caroline, probably the main heroine of the book, was left in limbo. The descriptions of the ‘hundreds and hundreds’ of women in New York are definitely the best part of the book. I’d probably class the novel as more intellectual than chick lit, but still quite a light read, and especially worth reading as an interesting portrait of an era from several women’s perspectives.

Wow! A mammoth post! Hopefully it’s given you a couple of suggestions for some summer (or even winter) reading – if you’ve read any of them, please let me know what you thought 🙂

“O Mistress mine, where are you roaming? O stay and hear! Your true love’s coming…”

Twelfth Night, Act 2, Scene 3

William Shakespeare

Pure Escapism. I would class both Muriel Sparks’ A Far Cry from Kensington’ and Elizabeth von Arnim’s The Enchanted April’ as wholesome, relaxing, diversionary escapism, but in an entirely different manner to the chick-lit of recent years. Whereas the books of Sophie Kinsella, Marian Keyes and Helen Fielding mostly focus on single women, usually in their late-twenties to mid-thirties, who eventually find the right man for them, Sparks and Arnim choose older women as their subjects, which I found actually rather refreshing.

Starting, then, with ‘A Far Cry from Kensington’.images The blurb was deceptively sinister:

“Now, years older, successful, and happily a far cry from Kensington, she looks back over the dark days that followed, in which she was embroiled in a mystery involving anonymous letters, quack remedies, blackmail and suicide.”

This ‘she’ is one Mrs Hawkins, later known as Nancy, an enormously fat book editor, who is possibly one of my favouritest heroines ever. Like Flora Poste of Stella Gibbons’ ‘Cold Comfort Farm’, she gets on with her own romantic affairs with minimal trouble to her readers, whilst retaining a cool, calm and collected demeanour even as ridiculous and slightly ominous events occur all around her. Indeed, although there are anonymous letters, quack remedies and even suicide, and all are treated with reasonable gravitas, they never bring the tone of the novel down irrevocably. Yes, sometimes it’s important to read about depressing themes and realise there is no happy ending, but from time to time I don’t want to dwell on the gloom.

Mrs Hawkins also gives some valuable advice to aspiring novelists (of which group I count myself, though I don’t seem to be able to get going at the moment!):

“’You are writing a letter to a friend. . . . And this is a dear and close friend, real – or better – invented in your mind like a fixation. Write privately, not publicly; without fear or timidity, right to the end of the letter, as if it was never going to be published, so that your true friend will read it over and over, and then want more enchanting letters from you.’”

This, in fact, is just how ‘The Enchanted April’ is written (although not in the first person).images Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Arbuthnot both attend the same club but have never spoken, until each is drawn to an advertisement in paper which calls to ‘those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine’. Together with two other ladies, who could not be more different to them, they rent an antique castle in Italy, or rather, in paradise. Natasha Tripney called the 1922 novel ‘a paean to the transformative power of travel’ and as someone about to embark on a gap year, this is just the sort of literature I like to read. The descriptions are gorgeous, the characters are loveable and there are one or two good romances in there too – all in all, everything you could want from an escapist novel.

Whilst Sparks’ book is more plot-driven, and looks at the atmosphere of Kensington and the publishing world, Arnim’s focuses on scenery, imagery and personal relationships. Both are enjoyable, with ‘The Enchanted April’ just edging ahead for me, purely because the ending is so beautifully tied-up. There are no loose ends, no one is unhappy, (despite their previous anxieties) and yet there is a small twist just to keep you on your toes. Easy to read, if you’re bored of the usual chick-lit, these are definitely worth a go.

images

“What’s done, is done”

Macbeth, Act 3, Scene 2

William Shakespeare

‘One Day’ (David Nicholls) and ‘Atonement’ (Ian McEwan) have been two of the most famous book-to-screen adaptations in recent years, as well as some of the most controversial; whether Anne Hathaway’s English accent in the former was pitiful or perfect, and if the infamous library scene between Keira Knightley and James McAvoy was carnal or cold…

Having just read both these books before watching the films, I was actually pretty pleased with the two adaptations. Let’s start with One Day’. lifeUnfortunately, such is the fame of both of these novels that I’d already heard of the big plot twists at the end of each, which obviously kind of ruined the surprise, but oh well, never mind. Despite knowing the premise and ending of ‘One Day’, that didn’t change the fact that it was a great read; not particularly gripping, but both easy and interesting. The characters are really the most important part of the story: Emma Morley, the chippy, intelligent Yorkshire girl and Dexter Mayhew, the rich, partying playboy.

It’s pretty clear from the start these two are meant to be together, so the question isn’t what, it’s when? They have countless opportunities, but somehow each one goes awry, meaning that (for me, at least) it becomes pretty frustrating towards the end – just hurry up, already! lifeA key problem I had was with Dex; he simply didn’t deserve Em at all. It’s true that, the majority of the time, she brought out his best qualities, but all the same he was basically an annoying, selfish, egotistical bore. How Emma stuck him for that long, I don’t know. However, admittedly, he does redeem himself slightly at the end of the novel, but it takes him a while. Not that Emma isn’t irritating, what with her pride and over-zealous principle. Nevertheless, I feel that whereas these flaws make Emma more believable, her continuing love for Dexter seems unrealistic, considering his behaviour.

Actually, in this case, Jim Sturgiss, who plays Dexter, did make me like the character a little more (although only a little!), and I honestly don’t think Anne Hathaway did that bad a job of the accent, despite it being more RP than Northern most of the time. The film missed out quite of events, naturally, but it wasn’t really the worse for that, though I did feel the earlier years went by rather too quickly – but that maybe just because I enjoy those scenes more than the later ones.

The premise – that of looking at two people every year on the same day over twenty or so years – really reminded me of ‘Merrily We Roll Along’, a Stephen Sondheim musical I recently saw at the Harold Pinter Theatre, which starts mid-1970s and travels back through the years to the mid-1950s, looking at the same three friends, tracing their journey from disillusioned, depressed forty-somethings to dreaming, inspired twenty year olds. Both tales have kind of a glum outlook on life, although both end seemingly positively. As John O’Connell wrote of ‘One Day’ in The Times:

“In spite of its comic gloss, One Day is really about loneliness and the casual savagery of fate; the tragic gap between youthful aspiration and the compromises that we end up tolerating.”

This could apply just as well to ‘Merrily We Roll Along’; both show this ‘tragic gap’ – a growing disillusionment and confusion, a loss of clarity and belief, and bewilderment: “How did you get to be here?”

A message which is pretty dismal if you’re only eighteen and have your whole life ahead of you – I’m now fully aware that, basically, it goes downhill from here 😉

And regret seems to be the theme of the day, since I would say it’s also a key, if not the key, feature of Atonementlife Briony Tallis, the protagonist (or one of them at least!) spends her life regretting her thirteen-year-old self’s actions and the irrevocable consequences that they cause. However, the book also examines the issue of reliability; Part Three reveals the true narrator behind the story and how they have manipulated events for dramatic effect. Just like ‘The Turn of the Screw’ (Henry James), this means the truth of the whole story is questionable. Personally, I think the film presented this far better than the book did. The final part of the novel is overly drawn-out, whereas the film is concise and to-the-point, although I did miss seeing some of the characters after aging.

The casting is perfection in the adaptation, with Knightley, McAvoy and Saoirse Ronan (who plays the thirteen year old Briony) putting in stellar performances. But the best bit of all is the beach scene at Dunkirk. life I mean, the part of the book focusing on the WWI retreat was brilliantly evocative, but the film part was incredible – an almost continuous tracking shot demonstrating the wastefulness of war, an exploration of all the different groups of weary, worn down soldiers; those desperately singing hymns reminiscent of home, those drinking their sorrows away, those regressing to a childlike state on the carousel… I almost cried, as the beautiful soundtrack swirled and combined with the poignant hymn of the soldiers. Definitely my absolute favourite bit of either the book or the film.

Overall, both books and both their on-screen adaptations were good, I think, but ‘Atonement’ definitely wins this battle on both counts. It’s a novel with a lot more depth and much more believable characters; even though Briony is extraordinarily slow at some points. I guess you can forgive her more because of her youth and her efforts to compensate for her faults later on in life, whereas Dexter hardly ever seems to learn from his mistakes.

Thoughts?

 

“So wise so young, they say, do never live long”

 Richard III, Act 3, Scene 1

William Shakespeare

Love this quote. There’s something both humorous and sinister about it that sums up Richard’s character completely, so much so that I thought it simply couldn’t be used in any other context. But it actually relates beautifully to the two books this post is about: ‘The Chocolate War’ by Robert Cormier and ‘A Clockwork Orange’ by Anthony Burgess, both of which deal with the subject of violence and psychological games and tricks amongst teenage boys and both of which are amazing.

Let’s begin with one of my new favourite books, Cormier’s Image‘The Chocolate War’; reminiscent of ‘Lord of the Flies’ (Goulding) since it shows the malevolent presence of evil within schoolboys games and gangs. The protagonist and hero is Jerry Renault, a young, ordinary boy who has just joined the strict Catholic ‘Trinity School’, which annually runs a chocolate sale. Each boy volunteers to sell a certain quota of boxes in a fund-raising effort which is also a display of ‘school spirit’. But this year, even more relies on the chocolate sale than normal. Brother Leon, surely one of the creepiest and darkest characters ever, has taken over the school and demands a 200% increase in sales at all costs. Even turning to the mysterious, sinister school gang ‘The Vigils’ isn’t too far for him; although each year the most crafty, wily member, Archie Costello, hands out complex, rebellious ‘assignments’ to specially-selected vulnerable freshmen in order to assert their authority and disrupt school life. And against both these powerful forces, Jerry takes a stand. He becomes the first person in the school’s history to refuse to take part in the chocolate sale. This small act of defiance starts a chain reaction exposing the corruption running throughout Trinity. There is only one solution: Jerry must be destroyed.Image

 

I know, deep, right? Like ‘Lord of the Flies’ it examines the evil in human nature and its ending is shockingly negative to say the least. But one of the great features of the book is that it packs a whole lot into only around 200 pages; you could easily read it in a day or so, though the thoughts and ideas that arise from reading it stay with you for a long time.

The characters are brilliantly formed; not only do we bear witness to the events, lives and thoughts of the main protagonists, Jerry, Archie and Brother Leon, but short scenes from other pupils’ lives are also presented as the boys begin to choose sides. Even these minor characters, who only appear for a few pages at a time, are extraordinarily detailed; each one has their own back-story and their own personal reasons for who they support. Plus, I love the idea of the ‘Assignments’. Obviously they’re completely cruel and more than a little bit sinister, but the whole idea of ‘The Vigils’ and the ‘Assigner’ is a genius creation. They present the fine line between brawn and brains, between violence and psychological games, between friend and foe.

Yet the most powerful thing of all must be the ending. Obviously I can’t tell you it here, because I’ll completely spoil the book and then you’ll never read it, which you must do. However, suffice to say that it keeps you guessing; you’re never sure who will triumph and you keep telling yourself desperately, as the tension builds, that surely, it must have a happy ending, surely, who could be so cruel? Robert Cormier is who. The villain.

In contrast, ‘A Clockwork Orange’a clockwork orange, although similarly having a surprising ending, is actually more uplifting; one is able to believe that Alex, the previously sinister protagonist, will be able to transform into a fully-functioning adult. Saying this, just because it has a more positive ending, that’s not to say that it is any less violent or damning of human nature than ‘The Chocolate War’. Whilst Archie and Alex are both leaders, both willing to subject those more vulnerable than themselves to a kind of torture, Archie prefers psychological games whereas for Alex, his first and last resort is ‘ultraviolence’.

A great feature of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ is its entirely fabricated vocabulary of the ‘nadsat’ language, used by the teenagers of the novel. However, this can be a deterrent to some when first opening the book – I had to look up them up on Wikipedia (though it was interesting to find out that most of the words are derived from Russian), but after a while you just become adjusted to it. Put it this way, it doesn’t restrict your enjoyment of the book. It actually enhances it in a way; though it does make the separation between these teenagers and the readers over-emphasised, which perhaps lessens the idea that this could happen to anyone; the idea of universality.

The key concept of the novel is that a delinquent, even one as bad as Alex (who assaults, rapes and even murders innocent people), can be transformed by a psychological process into a respectable citizen, though whether this is for the good or the bad you’ll have to read the book to find out!

So, in summary, two great books dealing differently with the idea of evil within human nature, but both using young boys to show that evil can dwell in supposedly the most innocent of people. Short but powerful, and such incredible writing – definitely recommended!

In other news, I went to see ‘The Book of Mormon’ at the Prince of Wales Theatre yesterday and it was totally amazing and completely hilarious, if hugely offensive to practically everyone. Go and see it.

And this Sunday I’m going to see ‘Othello’ at the National Theatre, starring Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear which I am super excited about, so I’ll try and write about that asap afterwards. As usual, thanks for reading 🙂

“We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”

Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5

William Shakespeare

Sorry for not posting for ages – my History coursework got the better of me and I’ve been ill for the last few days *pity me* But, on the bright side, it’s now the Easter holidays and so you’ll probably be hearing a lot of me while I’m procrastinating from dreaded revision.  Plus, I finally finished ‘Cloud Atlas’, which is a pretty hefty tome, so now I have loads to write about.

Today’s post, then, is about the two lengthy contemporary novels I’ve recently read, both dealing with the subject of the relationship between the past and the future, reincarnation, philosophy and particularly, sociology. Both ‘Making History’ by Stephen Fry and ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell deal specifically with the idea of society and the changes any slight or great event can cause to the rules of a society.

So, I’ll start with ‘Making History’ by Stephen Fry. This was actually recommended to me by my current History teacher, since the main period of History it deals with is Hitler’s Germany and the Third Reich which I’m sitting an exam on this summer.100_2149 However, it really isn’t a history book, but a novel about what happens when Michael Young, a postgrad Cambridge history student, just about to complete his doctoral thesis, and Leo Zuckerbaum, a physics professor with an unhealthy obsession of Auschwitz, combine forces and…hold your disbelief… Change history. That’s right, they time-travel back to before Hitler was born and sterilise his father so that the darkest period in human history never happens. Naturally there are huge consequences for this decision that no one can forsee… duh duh duuuuhhh…

crap

It’s pretty good if you’re studying the whole historiography stuff, as it suggests the individual is not as important as the context ; without giving too much away, another, even worse ‘Fuhrer’ rises up to take Hitler’s place. And if you aren’t into all that ‘what if’ conjecture, the novel itself is pretty well written, though very obviously Fry-esque. The plot is reasonably fast-moving, although unfortunately much of the story is told through Michael’s viewpoint and he is, to put it kindly, a little bit slow when it comes to observing things. Yes, I know, once again I found the protagonist irritating; he lacked all common sense, was ridiculously over-eager and pretty pathetic a lot of the time. That said, he wasn’t so annoying that he spoilt the book – I just think the character could have been more likeable. You will absolutely have to suspend your disbelief for much of ‘Making History’. What with time-travel, fictional recounts of Hitler’s life with his parents, the CIA, bugging, spies and a whole invented history of modern Europe, most of the novel requires quite a lot of imagination and a willingness to embrace the crazy.

Personally,  both my favourite and my most infuriating section would have to be the part where Michael finds himself in the ‘present’ he has created. I loved discovering this altered world through his eyes, yet I also found his bewilderment highly annoying. I know, I know, if I had time-travelled into a parallel universe where I was the same person but different, but I could only remember my old self, yes, I suppose I would be pretty confused too. I accept all of that. But that doesn’t change my excessively low levels of tolerance when it comes to main characters.

Luckily, David Mitchell’s ‘Cloud Atlas’ has a wealth of protagonists to choose from, as it combines six different stories set in the past, present and future into one mammoth novel, in a pyramid structure from 1850-1931-1975-present day-dystopian future –post-apocalyptic future and all the way back again.100_2149 Basically in order of interesting-ness it goes:

  1. Robert Frobisher – 1930s disinherited, aristocrat composer whose story is told through his letters to one of his friends in England. Robert is quite clearly the best and funnest character in ‘Cloud Atlas’. He is by turns satirical, lyrical, witty and poetic, and you can see why his correspondent, Sixsmith, can’t stop himself helping him at every opportunity. Even though his story (his life whilst staying at the house of a blind composer, Ayrs, in Belgium and *SPOILER ALERT* the events leading up to his tragic suicide*END OF SPOILER*) isn’t the most interesting, his character is just so fun and charming that he has to top my list.
  2. Sonmi~451 – Set in Nea So Copros, a dystopian, futuristic Korea, a totalitarian state evolved from corporatism, Sonmi is a clone, bred specifically to serve humans, or ‘purebloods’ as they are known. This section of the novel is a lot more action-packed than Frobisher’s, and probably this is why it’s my second favourite. Although I admired Sonmi’s desire for justice and intelligence, I found her story much more interesting than her character; the twist at the end is amazing!
  3. Luisa Rey – Backpedalling through time at bit here, Luisa’s story takes place in 1975 California and, written in the style of a thriller, is the paciest of all the tales. Once again, there are tons of twists and turns that kept my on the edge of my seat, biting my nails to the bone, worrying about who or what would survive. However, although the story was certainly gripping enough, and Luisa herself was pretty strong and independent, though reckless, most of the other characters were just thick. Maybe, because we know all sides of the story the whole way through, I just find it impossible to have sympathy for them and their obliviousness. But whatever the reasons, the fact still remains that I found them irritating – so sue me.
  4. Timothy Cavendish – Timothy is ridiculously annoying, but in a very different way – since his is the comedic story, I’ll let him off. Despite the slightly surreal feel of some elements, the story is the only one set in the modern day, and I found it became increasingly funnier and more enjoyable as it continued. Saying that…the reason Timothy doesn’t come higher up on my list is his pompous manner; it took me ages to get used to his style and actually find it funny, rather than just confusing. His story was fun, but not by any means the most meaningful or unique.
  5. Zachry – I’ll be honest, Zachry’s only saving grace was the fact that his story took place in a post-apocalyptic world, meaning that there were all sorts of things to discover about the new rules and why humans had regressed back to an almost primitive existence. Overall, I found this story one of the most boring and lengthy of all the six, and the mystery surrounding its history was the only thing that was truly interesting; Zachry wasn’t particularly special in any way, and the plot was really slow.
  6. Adam Ewing – Adam must be one of the slowest characters. Ever. Not only is his story pretty boring, he as a character, I feel, is almost unrealistic in his naivety and stupidity; Robert guesses the ending way, way before he has even the tiniest inkling. Unfortunately, his section both starts and finishes the book, which, for me made beginning and ending the novel seem something of a trial.

The idea behind ‘Cloud Atlas’ was interesting; the universality and fixity of human nature was demonstrated by the birthmark all the protagonists share, and recurring themes throughout the stories. 100_2149 I liked the variety that so many different tales gave as well – there really is something for everyone, but the problem there is also something not for everyone. Anyone read this and agree/disagree with which characters are the best? I’d be interested to know if this is just personal preference or a general agreement. One thing I found a bit clumsy was the random philosophical thoughts of some of the characters. Although they were often very beautifully put, they simply felt out of place and just shoved in hotch-potch to make the stories more intertwining. An enjoyable read, but not as jaw-droppingly amazing as I’d heard – though I still really want to watch the recent film.

Wow…hope I haven’t put you to sleep with this ridiculously long posting, and that you’ve actually enjoyed reading it. Currently I’m reading D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Sons and Lovers’ and next Monday I’m going to see ‘Macbeth’ starring James McAvoy – ahhh exciting!  Thanks for checking out my page, and please comment with any suggestions of what to read next 🙂

“Thou, Nature, art my goddess.”

King Lear, Act 1, Scene 2

William Shakespeare

Yeah, I know. As usual, it’s currently raining outside my window, and I highly doubt any of my English readers are really going to be calling nature a ‘goddess’ at this moment in time, but, having recently read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, both of which celebrate nature with beautifully descriptive passages, I’m actually more pre-disposed to celebrate rather than commiserate at the constant winter that seems to be stalking England at the moment.

So anyway, onto my first book this week: ‘The Scarlet Letter’ by Hawthorne. If I’m honest, the real reason I decided to read this was because I absolutely love the film ‘Easy A’, which references this book all. The. Time. .images The main plot revolves around Hester Prynne, a woman found out to be an adulteress in the strict religious society of Puritan Boston in the seventeenth century who is forced to wear the eponymous scarlet letter ‘a’ on her chest and is isolated from society with her strange, fairy-like, illegitimate daughterThe book isn’t so much about the act and discovery of her sin, but more the consequences of it for both her and her daughter, but also her husband and whoever the secret lover is…oooh the mystery!

(I make it sound a lot more cryptic than it is – you’ll guess it in about five pages).

Ok, I’m not going to lie to you; this book did not live up to the hype it got in ‘Easy A’. It had possibly the most boring opening chapter of any novel I’ve read, just random descriptions of how the author found out about the story and all the different characters he met whilst working in a town council somewhere or something…I think…? What was even more annoying was that this opening prologue section had absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the story; Hawthorne might just as well have left it out, or at least warned me it was more a preface than a prologue. life If you’re going to read this, you might as well skip it.

The actual book was reasonably good; not one of my favourites, but it examined interesting themes like revenge, guilt and blame and justice in pretty great depth. I particularly liked the descriptions of Hester’s isolation, and the slow way in which the villagers came to terms with Hester’s presence whilst never actually accepting her:

“In this manner, Hester Prynne came to have a part to perform in the world. With her native energy of character and rare capacity, it could not entirely cast her off, although it had set a mark upon her more intolerable to a woman’s heart than that which branded the brow of Cain. In all her intercourse with society, however, there was nothing that made her feel as if she belonged to it. Every gesture, every word, and even the silence of those with whom she came in contact, implied, and often expressed, that she was banished, and as much alone as if she had inhabited another sphere, or communicated with the common nature by other organs than the rest of human kind.”

Although Hester’s blank mask can get a little annoying at times, it’s clear that this is her only method of survival in the face of such hatred. Living in London, and having travelled quite a lot I suppose I often forget that for some it seems impossible that there is life outside their own small village. This meant it took a little while for me to understand why Hester and her daughter, Pearl, didn’t just leave for somewhere else where they wouldn’t be subject to such daily humiliation and hatred. Yet once I got this, I began to like the book’s long-winded descriptions a bit more. I did find the more supernatural and overtly religious elements a little too much at times, so overall some interesting themes, but not one of my favourite classics.

However. ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ has just made it onto my top ten list.100_2149 It. Is. Amazing. Whereas in most books (i.e. ‘The Scarlet Letter’) my eyes accidently skip over the descriptions to get to the dialogue or the action, there are whole chapters of beautifully, skilfully written descriptions of nature and the land and they were almost my favourite sections of the book. You can see the expertise from the very first paragraph:

“To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth. The plows crossed and recrossed the rivulet marks. The last rains lifted the corn quickly and scattered weed colonies and grass along the sides of the roads so that the gray country and the dark red country began to disappear under a green cover. In the last part of May the sky grew pale and the clouds that had hung in high puffs for so long in the spring were dissipated. The sun flared down on the growing corn day after day until a line of brown spread along the edge of each green bayonet…”

Just… I can’t even describe how amazingly beautiful and effective I think his writing is. Having a little bit of a fan-girl moment over John Steinbeck right now.

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Ok, got my breath back 😉 The other effect of the alternate descriptive chapters is to show both the broad and the personal effects of the huge numbers of migrants who travelled from Oklahoma to California in the 1930s. The story of the Joad family was expertly handled, meaning that you really understood the emotions, thoughts and feelings, and, indeed, felt so close to them that each blow, each piece of luck was a personal disappointment, a personal joy. Yet the more general chapters really emphasised the epic scale of the constant false hopes, thwarted desires and broken dreams that populated migrant life. And you know what? It made me angry. Really mad. The description of ‘the fruit was fruitful and starving men walked on the roads’ and the selfishness of the owners were both hugely effective.

“and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”

Steinbeck definitely achieved his aim: ‘I’ve done my damndest to rip a reader’s nerves to rags, I don’t want him satisfied.’ The ending was in no way conclusive, but actually wasn’t any worse for it.

Basically please just read it! It’s my first ten out of ten book this year and is not just enjoyable, but also extremely thought-provoking.

Well, that’s it for this week! Hope it wasn’t too serious for you –I’m currently deep in Stephen Fry’s new novel ‘Making History’ so next week should be a little more light-hearted 🙂 As usual, thanks for reading and liking and following. Every notification I get makes me that little bit more happy 🙂 Not to be too cheesy or anything 😉

“There is history in all men’s lives…”

Henry IV, Act 3, Scene 1

William Shakespeare

To be honest with you, I am absolutely sick of history at the moment, as I’m writing my Irish coursework.

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I know, poor me, right? So I thought I’d do a post on some actually interesting history books to raise my spirits on this icily bitter day.

The most relevant book to my titular quote is ‘The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared’ by Jonas Jonasson, in which the hundred-year-old man Allan Karlsson (it’s set in Sweden, if you haven’t guessed already) decides he’s had enough of sitting in an old people’s home, climbs out of a window and disappears. No kidding right? 😉 images Yeah, the title does kind of give the basic plot away… But I promise you, it’s a little more interesting than that. The action switches between Allan’s improbable adventures and the weird people he meets after escaping from the home and Allan’s past improbable adventures over his hundred years – and I mean improbable. As in he just casually rubs shoulders with General Franco, Stalin, and President Truman; just as casually invents the atom bomb and gives it to both the Soviets and the Americans; and then equally nonchalantly gets caught up in a criminal organization and an international drug deal. Told you it gets more interesting. The beginning is a little slow (plus the mean head of the home is called ‘Director Alice’. Not cool. All Alices are amazing – it’s a well-known fact), but the pace picks up reasonably quickly, and it’s very easy to get caught up in this crazy world. Another plus point is how much history you end up incidentally learning from all the different events Allan plays a part in; I learnt more about the Korean War in a chapter than I did in all of GCSE History! Overall, a fun and easy to read book, though not amazingly written in terms of evocative description, powerful imagery or deep, meaningful message (except, I guess, take life as it comes and don’t worry about the consequences. And don’t be political.)

This completely contrasts to ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

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Again, the title here kind of gives away the main premise of the story. Ivan Denisovich, otherwise known as Shukhov, lives in a Russian work camp, so I thought originally this was going to be a depressing read, reiterating the usual statistics and death tolls that many other books do. But the day is just a normal, ‘almost a happy day’ in his life and the real skill comes at the end, when you fully realise that you have been thinking of two slices of bread as a lot, a cigarette as a treat and not getting put in the cells as luck. Although there is naturally a dark, cold undertone to the whole story, it’s really only at the end, during the last lines, that you remember the huge scale of this:

“There were three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days like that in his stretch. From the first clang of the rail to the last clang of the rail.
The three extra days were for leap years.”

Although you get used to the fact that he might have to deal with this inhumanity for one day, the idea that this same process, the same uncertainty of never knowing if you’re going to get fed, get warm or get punished could be repeated over and over again for ten years is just horrific. A pretty impressive book all in all that really makes you think. Just as good as Jonasson’s novel, with a similar theme, but with an entirely different take on this idea of ordinary people’s lives in history.

Finishing with a more obviously ‘history’ book: ‘The Coming of the Third Reich’ by Richard Evans, I’m going to be honest here. I’m primarily an English student, not a History student, and this book was. a. struggle.100_2149 By about half way through I was ready to give up – all the interesting information really came at the end of the book, but by that point I was so sick of it, I didn’t really care. If you’re into your history or studying the Nazis, then this is probably a good book to read, but for God’s sake use the index. Unless you’re a history boff don’t bother reading the whole thing; it wasn’t even worth the sense of achievement I got from having finished it. Go see Evans in person instead – I just went to see him with my school at a history conference, and he’s a pretty good lecturer (as well as a surprisingly good singer; he sang “Hitler – he’s only got one ball” to a packed hall of teenagers – now that’s brave). So yeah. Kudos to Evans for writing the book, it’s packed with information, but unfortunately no fun to read, unlike the other two.

As usual, thanks for reading! Please comment with any suggestions you have to make Irish history fun – I seriously need some diversion right now. I’ve just finished Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ which I lurve so I’ll be posting about that next time, and I got some ‘Bookshop Bounty’ yesterday (no idea if that’s a thing, but ohmygod alliteration), so I’ll try and read those books speedily (yep, procrastination, I know). Thanks again 🙂

“And in the morn and liquid dew of youth/ Contagious blastments are most imminent.”

Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3

William Shakespeare

My title quote this week refers to the books ‘Regeneration’ by Pat Barker and ‘Brighton Rock’ by Graham Greene, two reasonably modern classics which both deal with the subject of young men undergoing traumatic experiences and the consequences of this type of involvement on a person’s psychology. I know, pretty heavy stuff, right?

Barker’s ‘Regeneration’ trilogy has become extraordinarily successful since its first publication in 1991; the Observer named it as one of ‘the 10 best historical novels’ last year. lifeThe three novels are a blend of historical fact and fiction, telling the story of the First World War through the psychological trauma of some of the soldiers, including among others, Siegfried Sassoon (who, I was surprised to learn, did not die during WW1, but much later in 1967) and Wilfred Owen, probably the two most famous war poets of the twentieth century. Okay everyone, bring out the banners, start banging the drums, ready the trumpets… I actually like the protagonist in this novel!  I know, it’s a miracle: ‘O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’ The central army psychologist, W.H.R. Rivers is compassionate, clever, troubled, confused and, above all, believable, as indeed are most of the characters in this novel.  What is particularly extraordinary is how much more moving at times ‘Regeneration’ is than any of the books which deal with war directly. Not only are the deaths, the injuries, the traumatic experiences written in a vivid and poignant way, but the isolation experienced by the soldiers among a crowd, the experiences of the women working in the factories and all the complex issues surrounding war, not just the Great War but all wars, are examined, not in such a way that alienates the reader, but still in minute and challenging detail. I often found my opinions confronted head on by viewpoints your brain immediately rejects, but is explained in such a logical fashion that it is hard to contradict them. Personally, I found these aspects and the dream-analysis sections particularly interesting, as I think all that psychological/ Freudian/ ethical problem stuff is fascinating, but I feel you’d still enjoy this book, even if all that isn’t quite your cup of tea.

However, if you’re more into violence and gore, perhaps ‘Brighton Rock’ would be more worth a try.100_2149 There’s something cold and brutal about a knife versus a gun, and that is perhaps what makes some of the violence in Greene’s novel so chilling; a knife is somehow more personal – you have to really mean it to slice someone to ribbons. Basically the novel is about gang warfare in Brighton in 1938 (they changed it to 1964 in the movie, I guess to make the rivalry more intense between mods and rockers. Then again, they changed a bunch of stuff in the movie, so the date really wasn’t a major concern), specifically about a series of incidents brought about by the leader of one gang, Kite’s, death. Pinkie Brown, not even an adult yet, must assume the role of leader; as Kite’s prodigy he is devoid of any love, ruthless, literally cut-throat, a figure of pure evil. Stopping at nothing to avoid retribution, he silences the only witness to the murder of Fred Hale, Rose, by making her fall in love with him, even though the whole idea of adoration, love and sex is completely alien to him; even, perhaps, the only thing that really scares him. Meanwhile, Ida Arnold, a woman used to getting what she wants, is determined to avenge Hale’s death and will stop at nothing to find out everything she possibly can about the gang, Rose and the increasingly sinister events that proceed. Although I found the book a little hard to get into a first, after a while, it certainly lives up to its reputation as ‘gripping’. I couldn’t put it down; definitely recommended for those who like action-packed, pacey novels. In terms of the film (starring Helen Mirren, Sam Riley and Andrea Riseborough), as I’ve said, they change a lot of details, especially Pinkie’s aversion, nay, repugnance at the thought of any physical contact, but theImage plot isn’t spoiled for any of the additions/deletions. However, in the book, the character of Pinkie is incredibly complex and is much more explored than in the film, and that was what drew the story forward for me, just as the psychological elements are what interested me in ‘Regeneration’. However, you don’t need to find these interesting to enjoy the books – they’re both amazing anyway; just read the reviews ;).

So… that’s it for this post!  I’ve just read ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and loads of books coincidentally all talking about modern history and fascism vs. communism, so I’ll upload a post on that asap. Hope you enjoyed it, and thanks for perusing my page 🙂

P.s. Sorry about the awful photo formatting – I think my blog has turned on me or something; I’ll try and get it under control by next post 😉

“Sap checked with frost and lusty leaves quite gone, Beauty o’er-snowed and bareness everywhere”

Sonnet 5

William Shakespeare

I’m afraid for those serious readers out there that this is yet another frivolous post, but come on; everyone needs something to curl up with in a cosy corner somewhere away from the slush that seems to be creeping into every single pair of shoes I own. So I’ve decided you all need some guilty pleasure books to warm your cockles in case for some crazy reason you don’t like hot chocolate with marshmallows or straight-out-the-pan pancakes 😉

As I’ve mentioned quite a few times, Cecelia Ahern’s books are great for an easy, light but thoughtful read, and I’ve just read her latest – in hardback; yeah, get me 😉 – One Hundred Names.

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Unfortunately, because it’s chick-lit, naturally it has a sappy heroine, in this case, journalist Kitty Logan, who has, in a scandal reminiscent of the McAlpine Newsnight humiliation, virtually destroyed her career.The one woman who has always believed in her, her mentor, is dying of cancer and at her bedside Kitty asks her the question: what’s the one thing you’ve always wanted to write? Constance directs her to a file buried somewhere among the clutter in her office, containing a single list of one hundred names. No explanation, no contact details, no nothing. But before Kitty can talk to Constance, it’s too late. On the verge of losing her job, best friend and her sanity, she takes on the crazy task of finding all these people and finding some way in which their stories connect. Of course, because this is a rom-com type of book, she not only ends up helping some of the people sort out their lives, but also solving all her own problems as well. Yay for lucky Kitty.

There’s nothing to really dislike about this book, apart from the incompetence of the protagonist, but it isn’t one of Ahern’s best like ‘P.S.I Love You’ or ‘The Book of Tomorrow’. However I did love some of the stories that Kitty discovers, like that of the Serial Proposer. I only wish Ahern had written more; she only has time to discover six of the 100 and I found their tales much more enjoyable than Kitty’s.  But, saying this, Kitty’s narrative ties them all together, so I guess you can’t completely eliminate her. Shame.

As usual, the characters are beautifully crafted, and there’s that little tinge of mystery throughout the novel as to what Constance’s story really is that keeps you reading, even at some of the more slow-moving bits. Basically it’s great escapism; the story is reasonably gripping, there are loads of couples to root for (because what’s chick-lit without a perfect couple, right?!) and, as expected, there were some lessons to be gently learnt: you don’t need to be nasty to get ahead and everyone has a story to tell. Hooray for humanity, it always triumphs in the end (I’m feeling just a leetle bit cynical at the moment, as I’m watching Charlie Brooker’s ’Black Mirror’ which has possibly the most depressing outlook on the future of the human race of anything I’ve ever seen. But it’s good. So. Good. Seriously, go watch it now, the last series is all on 4OD – the second episode’s the best).

So…moving on from that tangent to my next escapist novel: ‘Happily Ever After’ by Harriet Evans.

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Yet another ridiculously inept heroine, Eleanor Bee this time, finds herself without a job (of course), without a boyfriend (naturally) and without much intelligence, as far as I can tell, but obviously, fate gives a helping hand and gives her job at a publishing agency. The rest of the book charts her rise through the career ladder, her relationships and friendships both good and bad and her troubled family life.

Classic escapism, but with some brilliant twists that you actually can’t predict from the beginning (unlike most guilty pleasure books, where you can ear-mark exactly who the heroine will end up with from the first page), I do think this is one of the better chick-lit novels I’ve read, though not the best. One thing I was glad about was how quickly time passed; everything doesn’t take place over just one month, or one year, but almost thirty years which means that loads of the boring stuff is skipped over and you can move onto the juicy bits! Towards the end it took a little too long for the obvious central couple to get together but the way actual events, like Diana’s death, were incorporated into the story was very effective and made it seem that little bit more real. The best bit, however, was all the book-nerd references. Since Eleanor works in publishing, there are quite a few lovely bits on the amazingness of reading and of pretty and old books which made me happy 🙂 yay for books.

Hope you’ve enjoyed that; please please please recommend me any more guilty pleasure novels for me to immerse myself in, because ‘The Coming of the Third Reich’ by Richard Evans is taking me forever and I need something actually enjoyable. If I see the word ‘Nazi’ one more time, I might cry. Which is unfortunate, since I’m studying them for A-Level. And weeping in my history class could be very awkward.

And now I have two very exciting bits of news (for me, not for you. Sorry, but this is my blog 😉 ) I’ve just got tickets to see James McAvoy acting ‘Macbeth’ and for an after-show talk with the cast and I discovered that Roger Allam is playing Prospero in ‘The Tempest’ at the Globe, where I am both seeing many plays and working as a steward (come and say hi, if you’re around!) and I love Roger Allam so much because he is the original Javert, played Falstaff and acts in ‘Cabin Pressure’, one of the funniest radio programmes around. So yeah. To say I’m excited would be an understatement. And you should be excited too, because you get to read my reviews of them. ‘Hooray!’ I hear you say, in a non-sarcastic way. And if you are being sarcastic:

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“I shall never laugh but in that maid’s company”

Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 1, Scene 4

William Shakespeare

A massive THANK YOU to everyone who’s been reading and following and liking and commenting recently 🙂 I hit 2000 views last week, and although I know that isn’t a lot to most bloggers, I’m super excited about it! So thanks guys – hope you’ve enjoyed reading these ramblings…

Let’s move on, before I get all embarrassingly gooey and emotional, to the main part of this post: humour books, of which I got a whole bunch for Christmas, starting with…

  • ‘Is It Just Me?’ by Miranda Hart – This topped the bestseller hardback charts for aaagggges, allImage through the Christmas period, showing just how successful Miranda’s trademark clumsy, awkward style has become. Now, I am a massive fan of the show. I even went to see Episode Six of Series Three (the latest one) being filmed. But if you find her clutzy, hyper, talking-to-the-camera thing annoying, step away from this book! If you’re not quite sure who Miranda is, or have only seen her on ‘Call the Midwife’, here’s the online blurb to give you a little taste of what her style is like:

“Well hello to you dear browser. Now I have your attention it would be rude if I didn’t tell you a little about my literary feast. So, here is the thing: is it just me or does anyone else find that adulthood offers no refuge from the unexpected horrors, peculiar lack of physical coordination and sometimes unexplained nudity, that accompanied childhood and adolescence?

Does everybody struggle with the hazards that accompany, say, sitting elegantly on a bar stool; using chopsticks; pretending to understand the bank crisis; pedicures – surely it’s plain wrong for a stranger to fondle your feet? Or is it just me?

I am proud to say I have a wealth of awkward experiences – from school days to life as an office temp – and here I offer my 18-year-old self (and I hope you too dear reader) some much needed caution and guidance on how to navigate life’s rocky path.

Because frankly where is the manual? The much needed manual to life. Well, fret not, for this is my attempt at one and let’s call it, because it’s fun, a Miran-ual. I thank you.”

And yes, to some people, that can get pretty annoying, pretty quickly. However, if you too find Miranda’s sitcom hilarious, you should enjoy the book; the intimacy which she creates by speaking to camera is mirrored in her language, as she calls the reader ‘My Dear Reader Chum’ (MDRC for short) and carries on conversations with her eighteen-year old self who, to someone almost eighteen at least, sounds ridiculously childish. But then again, maybe I am ridiculously childish and just don’t realise it (see my Shakespeare duck for proof of this theory). Maybe in thirty years time, I’ll look back on this post and chuckle softly to myself at my supposed ‘maturity’, shake my head amusedly, and think “You have absolutely no idea, little Alice…”

…And then again maybe not. Anyway, back to the book. I basically found it fun to read, but not always laugh-out-loud-hilarious. To be honest, I found the answer to ‘Is it just me?’ was all too often ‘Yes. Yes, Miranda, it is just you.’  The anecdotes that accompany the Miranda-specific problems are still funny, but just not as entertaining as those you immediately identify with, like her Diet Book.

“Chapter One – Eat less. Chapter Two – Move more. The End.”

That is the sort of thing that makes this book stand out from the other celebrity autobiographies. Although at times the determined goofiness can seem a little trite, it’s original, silly and often snortingly funny, unlike…

  • ‘Moranthology’ by Caitlin Moran, unfortunately – I love love loved Moran’s first: ‘How to Be a Woman’ and this just wasn’t any near as good. Waaahh, I feel so let down. Although there were some entertaining sections (like the bit on ‘Sherlock’. I love Sherlock. But more on that later…), I felt she dwelt far too Imagemuch on her troubled background for my liking. Not to be mean but after the twentieth ‘oh look at my hilariously weird and wonderful background which I can use both for comedic and serious points, because although it now seems hysterical, it actually raises some very grave issues about the state of society both now and then’ column, it simply left me…bored, if I’m honest. It was just too much of a muchness for my liking. On the plus side, every single piece is superbly written, especially those on Lady Gaga and her in-bed conversations with her husband; I just needed some more variety in ideas and themes to keep it interesting and fresh. I didn’t get the belly-laughs and shoulder-shaking I wanted, more a slight smile as I turned the page, eager to get onto my next book for some proper funny.
  • ‘Mrs Hudson’s Diaries: A View from the Landing at 221B’ by Bob and Barry Cryer – Now, as I’ve said, I am infatuated with both the BBC’s ‘Sherlock’ and Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, so the promise of more Holmes combined with Barry Cryer’s quick wit,Image which he demonstrates on ‘I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue’ every week on BBC Radio 4, got me pretty damn excited. However, again, I was left disappointed, but in an entirely different way; whereas, had I not had such high expectations from Moran, I would probably have thought it was much better, this book just left me…ambivalent. What can I say about it, except that this Oliver Philpot chap who kept turning up was clearly meant to be amusing but was actually ridiculously annoying? There wasn’t nearly enough on Sherlock and Watson, and far too much on random characters invented to be friends to Mrs Hudson and fill out the story. The idea itself had a lot of potential, but this book was neither funny nor serious, neither excellent nor awful, merely average. Saying all this, many of the reviews on Amazon are very complimentary, so maybe I’m being harsh? But whereas I would probably recommend the other two books, I felt this was just a waste of time, as I plodded through it like thick custard, just waiting to get to the sweet, tart humour below, but it never came. So then I was left with just a bowl of custard. (Metaphor gone too far? Yeah, I agree. It stops here, don’t worry).

Wow, this a long post. Sorry guys – I lost half of it and then had to re-write and blahblahblah. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading it anyway! I’m going to see ‘Turn of the Screw’, an adaptation of Henry James’ novella at the Almeida this Friday, so I’ll be sure to report back on that. Currently I’m wading my way through ‘The Coming of the Third Reich’ by Richard Evans to help with my History A-Level, and then I’ve got a short novel lined up, kindly given to me by one of my teachers, but any suggestions for what to read after that would be gratefully received 🙂