Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Book #36

Room by Emma Donoghue

Jack is five. He lives with his Ma. They live in a single, locked room. They don’t have the key. Jack and Ma are prisoners. 
I was very much looking forward to reading this novel. Although the storyline is straight out of a modern-day newspaper, the narrative is very original, personal, and thought-provoking as the story is told by five year old Jack. He lives in the room with his mother, and the story of how he came to be there is harrowing. 

The way Jack narrates the novel is endearing. Many objects in the room are anthropomorphised, like Duvet and Wardrobe, and Jack shows us how adaptable a child's mind can be. Along with his mother, Jack has various rituals which must be done every day, and his mother has put lots of measures in place to protect him from the truth of what's really happening, and to raise him in a relatively normal way. This is reflected in Jack's narrative, and it sometimes feels as though they are living quite a comfortable life considering. I was never impacted with the severity of this situation due to the author's choice of narrator.

I did feel, however, that there was something lacking in the delivery of the story. It was a disturbing one, one which should have hit a nerve with me. I'm a very (some may say overly) emotional person, and I'm not a stranger to bursting into tears whilst reading. I didn't bat an eyelid with this one. I didn't care for any of the characters, not even Jack, and was irritated by each of them at least once (but usually more than once) throughout the novel. 

There's a lot more I'd like to say on this novel, however I'm struggling to think of anything without spoiling it. It's worth a read for the unique and unreliable narrator, however this format also has its flaws. I believe it's definitely one to throw out there; it's a "love it or hate it" novel. Please let me know if you've read it, and how you felt.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Book #35

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. The black sign, painted in white letters that hangs upon the gates, reads: Opens at Nightfall, Closes at Dawn. As the sun disappears beyond the horizon, all over the tents small lights begin to flicker, as though the entirety of the circus is covered in particularly bright fireflies. When the tents are all aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign appears. Le Cirque des RĂªves. The Circus of Dreams. Now the circus is open. Now you may enter.
The circus arrives without warning. What a sentence that is, and the first one of the novel. That sentence draws you into the book immediately, captivates your attention, and injects you with the knowledge that there will be many other sentences like this. This sentence tells you everything and nothing, piques your interest, and frightens you, setting the scene perfectly.

Morgenstern's writing is pure, beautiful, lyrical, and jumps off the page. Each sentence catches a small gasp in your throat, the imagery is completely enchanting, and her characters are shown to us slowly, but with rich, dark pasts and lots of secrets. I loved every single one of them in their own ways, and was devastated to leave them behind by closing the back cover.

As you read, you learn the circus is only a venue for a duel between two magicians. Without giving too much away, this is the most wonderful duel imaginable. It's no Harry and Voldemort; it's abstract and gorgeous. The descriptive power of Morgenstern, and the way she made the two rivals fall for one other whilst expressing this passion during the duel, was outstanding.

The story isn't anything like the synopsis suggests. It's not fast paced, nor filled with action packed magical fighting. This is something else. There's beauty and betrayal, loyalty, guilt, sadness, even cruelty, all amongst the magic. The story is by no means linear. Morgenstern jumps from time and place effortlessly, and rather than confusing matters, gives us clarity and understanding by showing us both past and future events. These changes keep the plot flowing well, adding twists and answering questions before throwing us across the Atlantic to hear some other person's side of the story.

Sections of the novel are written in second person narrative, which transports you into the circus and makes you become a part of it. These parts are set in an unknown time period, until Morgenstern slips a small hint to timeframe at the finale. This was so subtle, it amazed me, and was nothing short of dazzling. Morgenstern's choice to include these sections was wonderful, and they were a very important part of the novel for me.

As always, I could rave about this story for far longer than I should. I can't review this properly because I am completely and utterly biased and in love with it. I am sure there are flaws somewhere, but I simply did not notice them, or was subconsciously willing to overlook them.

I would urge anyone to read this book. I finished it more than a week ago, and I'm still getting goosebumps remembering some of the passages. If you trust my judgement, and I'm grateful that most of you do - this is essential reading.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Book #34

The Faraway Tree Stories by Enid Blyton

When Jo, Bessie and Fanny move to a new home, an Enchanted Wood is on their doorstep. And when they discover the Faraway Tree, it proves to be the beginning of many magical adventures! Join them and their friends Moonface, Saucepan Man and Silky the fairy as they discover which new land is at the top of the Faraway Tree. Will it be the Land of Spells, the Land of Treats, or the Land of Do-As-You-Please? Come on an amazing adventure – there’ll be adventures waiting whatever happens.

These stories are so special to me, having read them a million times each when I was younger. I'd had a craving for a blast of nostalgia, but my copy was no where to be found. Looking to buy a new copy I found, in a serious case of political correctness gone mad, the childrens' names had been changed to Joe, Beth and Frannie, and Dame Slap was now Dame Snap. Ridiculous. Luckily, I found the above edition in a charity shop with the stories having escaped diplomatic amendments. These books are nothing but artefacts of their time; a little girl going by the name of Fanny isn't going to warp any modern-day kid's tiny little mind.

I was captivated by this book when I was younger, and I was just as captivated almost twenty (twenty?! Ouch!!) years later. Blyton's imagination is awe-inspiring, and the morals she weaves into the tales are something to learn from and respect. The sheer adventure, mystery, and magic running through these pages is absolutely delicious, and everything about the stories is perfect for both children and adults to enjoy. They're not something I'd recommend for adults to read alone (unless, like myself, you're reminiscing), however reading these with kids would really be something special.

A must-read for kids - just make sure you find an older version. I'm sure Dame Slap is much more formidable than the Dame Snap she's become.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Book #33

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

On a remote jungle island, genetic engineers have created a dinosaur game park. 
An astonishing technique for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA has been discovered. Now one of mankind's most thrilling fantasies has come true and the first dinosaurs that the Earth has seen in the time of man emerge. 
But, as always, there is a dark side to the fantasy and after a catastrophe destroys the park's defence systems, the scientists and tourists are left fighting for survival.

Jurassic Park is one of my favourite films, but I've never taken the time to pick up this novel. I often quote the film as something that can't be topped, a work of sheer mastery that could never be rivalled. I am also well known for my "book is always better" mantra when faced with a book-to-film adaptation. Today, I hold my hands up and admit myself to be wrong, because this is one of the very rare books where the film is better.

Don't get me wrong, there were great parts of this novel which I loved, and which should absolutely have been part of the film. There were excellent academic explanations of how the park was possible, explanations which evolved my understanding of dinosaurs, and science in general. Most of these, however, were completely unnecessary and verbose, completely taking away from the suspense and thrill created in the previous pages.

Every character in the novel is there to serve an almost stereotypical purpose. We have the 'omg dinosaurs' palaeontologists, the crazy and stubborn old man, the great white hunter, the kids in danger, the cynical brainbox, and the traitor. None of these characters are developed into heroes, and none of them are given an adequate back-story to allow us to get on their side. What Crichton does do, however, is place them strategically around the plot to either cause some tension, move the plot along, or make a point. They are horribly flat and boring, however, and I didn't feel much for any of them.

I really enjoyed Crichton's message here, though. John Hammond creates this park simply to make money. He doesn't want to invest in helping people through medicine, such as a cure for cancer, as this would have to be government-controlled and sold cheap. He wants to make as much money as possible by doing something no one as ever done before. Money, glory, and the most dangerous creatures you can imagine. Crichton shows us the problems involved in trying to control nature, trying to reach beyond your grasp, and underestimating the power of the unknown.

This is worth a read for dinosaur/science fans, but it's definitely not a must-read.