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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Two Classics Set on the French Riviera

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I recently went to an old fortress off the coast of Marseille called Chateau d’If. I’ve been wanting to go for eons because it features heavily in the book, Count of Monte Cristo (it’s where Edmond Danté was falsely imprisoned). I wanted to put myself in Dantès’ shoes, although I confess that I still haven’t read it; it’s 15 million pages long and in French, it’s proving a little difficult to get through (and I can’t give up and read the damn thing in English!). But then it occurred to me that the French Riviera, where I live, is full of literary settings and references.Continue Reading

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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Goodreads challenge 2017

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Having set myself a target last year on Goodreads to read 27 million books – and clearly failing when real life kicked in – I’m setting a much lower target this year, namely 0. That way, I won’t be disappointed when I can’t keep on top of everything and will be pleasantly surprised when I overachieve. If you too want to set yourself a similarly spectacular aim, click here.


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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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