The Sea; achingly sad and wonderfully written

My rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

the seaThe Sea, by John Banville has been on my reading list for years, ever since it won the Man Booker Prize in 2005. It tells the story of a man at the end of his life who heads to a small cottage on the coast to come to terms with the recent death of his wife, as well as the death of a childhood friend. It’s stunningly written, particularly about feelings of loss and childhood. Banville said that the book was “a direct return to my childhood, to when I was ten or so. The book is set in a fictionalized Rosslare, the seaside village where we went every summer as children. Looking back now it seems idyllic, though I’m sure ninety-five percent of the experience was absolute, grinding boredom.” Nothing like the book then… A real treat.


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The Power; not as exciting as its premise

 

My rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)

the powerThe Power by Naomi Alderman is a dystopian novel about teenage girls around the world who suddenly find they have incredible physical power and can inflict pain at the flick of a finger. It has some big ideas about feminism and how the world could change when women find they are suddenly in control of everything, where men become fearful and how it could go too far the other way. I usually love these kinds of science fiction novels with far-fetched ideas, but this was just way too silly and actually, I wasn’t interested enough to care about many of the main characters.


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The Hobbit; still wonderfully brilliant

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My rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

the-hobbitI first read The Hobbit at school and was so enamoured that I wrote 3 of my own books about a mythical world with dragons and small creatures on great quests (complete with maps). I’m not much into dragons these days and don’t have much time for myths and legends but having just re-read it with my nine-year-old daughter, it’s still wonderfully brilliant. The writing is exceptional, “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread” and wouldn’t everyone love to be described “like summer”. And what an opening line: “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit”. It’s actually a supremely political book; along with the hard-hitting sequels of Lord of the Rings, it’s an allegory for World War One. And without any help from me, my daughter has become obsessed with her own maps, carefully carving out old-fashioned quests of her own, with mountains, dwarves, and small creatures. A must read.


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The Girls; superb teen angst with a splash of murder

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My rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

the girlsI first came across author Emma Cline in the Paris Review of Books in summer 2013 when I found her story Marion. The opening had me hooked;

“Cars the color of melons and tangerines sizzled in cul-de-sac driveways. Dogs lay belly-up and heaving in the shade. It was cooler in the hills, where Marion’s family lived. Everyone who stayed at their ranch was some relative, Marion said, blood or otherwise, and she called everyone brother or sister.”

I presume this is the short story that got her the writing contract for The Girls, because it’s based on the same premise – at the end of the 60s, teenager Evie Boyd becomes drawn into a gang of girls and towards their cult leader in LA. It obviously has the backdrop of the Manson murders in mind, highly fashionable at the moment (anyone seen The Invitation? It was a quiet, unsettling movie from 2015 that also has sinister LA cult behaviour as a backdrop).

The Girls is really wonderfully written. It didn’t feel like it had quite the same artistic punch as the short story, but it was pretty spectacularly done all the same. Highly recommended, if you want to be taken back to how agonisingly awful if was to be a teenager (Cline really nails it) amidst some very chilling characters indeed.


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When Breath Becomes Air; over-hyped and way too sentimental

My rating: 2 stars (out of 5)

when breath becomes airI had been wanting to read Paul Kalanithi’s memoir for a while, having read a rave review in the New York Times; he was an esteemed neurosurgeon, diagnosed with terminal cancer in his 30s, who wrote this memoir before his death. The reviews said it provided interesting answers to the question, “what makes a life worth living”. It’s well-written and clearly, Kalanithi was very talented as both a surgeon and a writer, but I found the book way too worthy and over the top (possibly because it’s geared towards US audiences when us Brits tend to be a little less sentimental in our tastes, even about death…) and it just left me with more questions than answers.


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The Luminaries; sooo long but worth it

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luminariesMy rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

My god, I made it. Eleanor Catton’s Booker Prize-winning first novel is not for the faint-hearted. It is long. And I mean long. It’s also historical fiction, which really isn’t my bag, but ten minutes in, I was hooked. It’s set in New Zealand in 1866 and follows a group of men in a small frontier gold town and the two women who weave through all their stories. It’s intricate, with a kind of detail that doesn’t allow for any loss of concentration. It has death, swindling, and superstition all wrapped up in a veneer of social respectability. Worth delving into if you don’t have a life.


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The Grownup; really very disappointing

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the grown upMy rating: 2 stars (out of 5)

I’m a huge fan of Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl, Dark Places and in particular, Sharp Objects) but The Grownup was a huge disappointment. It’s a short story and I think that’s the problem; the pacing feels off, like Flynn doesn’t quite know how to approach the limited confines of a shorter story. The big reveals feel clumsy and manipulative, the characters are interesting but unclearly defined and we never even meet one of the main characters, which left me feeling cheated. It felt rushed. I had to give her 2 stars because I love her writing and flawed heroines but I can’t recommend it and it’s not worth recapping the plot. Go read one of her others instead…


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