Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Book #72

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

This novel is the story of Clare and Henry who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry thirty. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself pulled suddenly into his past or future.

I originally read this when I was sixteen and loved it. I am twenty-three, I have read it again, and I don't really love it at all. I am not sure whether this is due to my heart growing blacker and colder in these seven years, or whether it's due to my ever increasing literary snobbishness. It's probably a bit of both.

The premise is amazing, and I was drawn in for a while. Henry is a time traveller, and although he can't choose when and where he travels to, this is what makes it all the more interesting. The foreshadowing is nothing less than brilliant - knowing what's going to happen before it does is absolutely delicious. I liked that cause and effect got tangled up in knots, and I enjoyed (but perhaps didn't agree with) the idea that everything is already set out; everything in the future has already happened somewhere else.

The novel was filled with unnecessary padding, which I mostly just skimmed through. Niffenegger described the weather, and what people were having for dinner in great length as though these tiny things were incredibly intrinsic to the plot. I also got incredibly annoyed at the cultural name-dropping that occurred throughout the novel. Classical musicians, literary greats, American punk rock revolutionaries, and great painters were all mentioned, passages in the romance languages were peppered through the pages; it all just seemed slightly pretentious for what it really was. It could easily have been a hundred pages shorter.

I also noticed some mildly stereotypical characters, which I don't want to go into in depth, but which annoyed me. I also will only mention in passing the hints to Lolita. Yuck.

Henry and Clare were lovely characters until they met in the present and fell in love. After this there was little to no character development - they were just these two people who were married and in love. I felt distanced from them because of this, and I ended up very indifferent towards them and their predicaments near the end. A lot of the other characters were very, very flat - such as Claire's family. We were given a snippet of them and then nothing followed. I liked Henry’s father, but again we were only given so much of him, and then nothing.

This isn’t too praising a review and it’s a shame because I didn't really want to slate this too much; it was readable, but too many things irked me. I think most people have read this and enjoyed it, and I would recommend it to people who like a love story. I think this is my problem with the plot - it was perfect as a science fiction idea, but in reality it was a love story, which doesn’t excite me as much. Give it a try if you like a chick flick.

72 / 66 books. 109% done!

This will be my last book review of 2010, and although I'll continue my quest in 2011, I'd like to take this space to thank everyone who reads, follows and comments on this blog, those who encourage me and those who make it worth it. I appreciate every single comment and every single reader. Thank you so much, and here's to 2011! Happy reading!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Book #71

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Raskolnikov, a destitute and desperate former student, wanders through the slums of St Petersburg and commits a random murder without remorse or regret. He imagines himself to be a great man, a Napoleon: acting for a higher purpose beyond conventional moral law. But as he embarks on a dangerous game of cat and mouse with a suspicious police investigator, Raskolnikov is pursued by the growing voice of his conscience and finds the noose of his own guilt tightening around his neck. Only Sonya, a downtrodden prostitute, can offer the chance of redemption.

I'd like to say firstly that this is the first time I've dipped into Dostovesky, but it certainly won't be my last. I really feel as though I have been through something in the three weeks it has taken me to read this. His writing transcends time, and is still as relevant now as it was in the 1860s.

This is Dostovesky's most famous work, and rightly so as it is somewhat of a masterpiece. It's more of a psychological study than a story, and this is what makes it increasingly compelling. Our protagonist commits murder at the beginning of the novel, after which we are an audience to his accumulating feelings of guilt, anguish, paranoia and these (along with his attempts at self-justification) manifest and ultimately cause the collapse of his psyche.

Raskolnikov's constant agonising got to me, and made the book heavy to read in places. I felt that it was a really hard slog at times, but I also feel that this is perhaps intended and did add to the feeling of misery the novel was emanating. I did notice the style of writing causing me to empathise more than I normally would. The syntax employed could make me quite disconcerted, in keeping with the protagonist's feelings, for example hurried paragraphs made me feel quite agitated and fidgety. Some of the prose also seemed a bit dreamlike to me, and I ended up forgetting things only to be reminded of them again some pages later.

The novel also deals with various religious, moral, and philosophical consequences that arise from the actions of Dostovesky's characters. I particularly enjoyed the idea that the murder should be pardoned due to the woman's causing misery to various other people, charging them excessive amounts of interest on their pawned goods. Can the death of one person be justified if it means the salvation of many others?

I loved reading about life in St Peterburg in the 1860s. The descriptions of lodgings, dress and behaviours were so interesting to me. It was a nice history lesson, and the endnotes in my Wordsworth edition were helpful and enlightening.

I'd recommend this one. I think many people put it off as they think it'll be a difficult read - it's not! However, it does require an ounce of patience. Every written line has meaning, nothing is superfluous, and every character has their own importance. I also got a bit confused with the Russian names (I even thought at one point that someone had given a fake name on purpose!), but a bit of perseverance brings great understanding here.

It's gloomy and challenging, but it's also thought-provoking and beautifully written. I'd say come out of your comfort zone and at least give it a chance.

71 / 66 books. 108% done!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Book #70

Contest by Matthew Reilly

The New York Public Library. A silent sanctuary of knowledge; a 100-year-old labyrinth of towering bookcases, narrow aisles and long marble hallways. For Doctor Stephen Swain and his daughter, Holly, it is the site of a nightmare. Because for one night this historic building is to be the venue for a contest. A contest in which Swain is to compete - whether he likes it or not.

The rules are simple: Seven contestants will enter, only one will leave.

With his daughter in his arms, Stephen Swain is plunged into a terrifying fight for survival. The stakes are high, the odds brutal. He can choose to run, to hide or to fight - but if he wants to live, he has to win. For in this contest, unless you leave as the victor, you do not leave at all.

I was a bit indifferent about this one to begin with. I bought it for £1 from a supermarket, and it was a bit of an impulse buy. I only really bought it because it was set in a library; I had no idea it was science fiction, which is something I don't really read a lot of. I was dubious for the first fifty pages or so, it wasn't amazingly written, but what a story! I was gripped quite quickly.

An interesting factoid here is that Reilly had to pay for this novel to be published after being rejected by a good few publishing companies in Australia. I have a lot of respect for this; I think it shows true determination and self-belief.

I'm not a huge fan of science fiction or action novels, and this was a bit of both. I do, however, like fast-paced novels and this had wonderful plot flow. There were, however, some lovely but gruesome descriptive images put into place. This can sometimes be quite lacking in fast-paced novels, so I enjoyed the treat.

I liked the Battle Royale idea here, and I especially liked that each contest was a different species, all from different planets, each one being an alien to the other. They all had different shapes, and different ways of moving and fighting, which was incredibly interesting to read about.

There were parts that felt slightly clich├ęd in parts, but these do generally appear quite a bit in novels such as these. You are 99.9% sure that the protagonist won't be killed off with 200 pages to go, but the author tries to lull you into believing it anyway - there are a lot of narrow escapes. I'd normally be cynical of plot twists such as these, but this time it just added to the excitement.

This is a good, quick read, and would be wonderful for reading on a journey or even a holiday. I'd recommend it to anyone who fancies something different. It is by no means light-hearted, but easy to get through and compelling. £1!

70 / 66 books. 106% done!