Monday, 20 October 2014

Book #46

We Need to Talk Kevin Bridges

Aged just 17, Kevin Bridges walked on stage for the first time in a Glasgow comedy club and brought the house down. He only had a five-minute set but in that short time he discovered that he really could earn a living from making people laugh. Kevin began life as a shy, nerve-ridden school-boy, whose weekly highlights included a cake-bombing attack by the local youths. Reaching his teens, he followed his true calling as the class clown, and was soon after arrested for kidnapping Hugh Grant from his local cinema on a quiet Saturday night. This was a guy going somewhere - off the rails seeming most likely.

I was lucky enough to attend the book signing in Glasgow for this brand new autobiography. As you're all no doubt well aware of by now, I'm not a non-fiction girl by any stretch. Autobiographies are to me what Kindles are to Ray Bradbury, however Kevin Bridges is our national treasure and I was excited to read this one. 

It would be easy to assume, as I did, that this would be a story packed full of laughs, pranks, and high-quality humour, however Bridges takes a far more serious line with his narrative. Although the jokes are there, along with some pretty hilarious anecdotes that made me laugh pretty loudly on a quiet train, we learn about what the 'wee dick' was like before he turns into the 'big dick'.

Bridges admits early on in the book that he was a horribly anxious and self-aware child; one who was paranoid about everything, but in particular, what others thought of him. We're then taken with him on his journey of overcoming these fears and pushing himself to achieve his dreams.

The book takes us up to the first gig at the SECC in 2010, and stops there. The first half of the story focuses on his school days, his life as the class clown, and subsequently trying to make a living in the real world, hating every menial retail job he did. The second half speaks to us of his rise to stardom, making it in Glasgow, then making it across the UK, finally becoming the superstar he is now. Bridges really conveyed how this wasn't all glitter and giggles; in parts he makes trying to make it on the comedy circuit sound absolutely horrific. Talking to a crowd of five, all of whom were ignoring you, or sleeping in your own pish would definitely put me off it, but his work ethic really shone through as he did gigs for free just so he could polish up his set for next time.

I felt quite nostalgic in the earlier stages of the book, being the same age as Bridges and growing up in a similar area. I particularly loved how supportive his family came across to be, the obvious love they had in the house, and how grateful and humble Bridges sounded throughout the whole thing. It's clear he feels he wouldn't be in the position he is today without the support of his family, and I think that says a lot about the person he is, and the people he has in his life.

Bridges appeal to the masses is his incredibly relatability, and this comes across well in these pages, along with the feeling that he's just a genuinely nice guy. A gorgeous story of an ascent into dreamlike aspirations, this is a must for any fan of oor Kev.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Book #45

The Sandman: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman

The third book of the Sandman collection is a series of four short comic book stories. In each of these otherwise unrelated stories, Morpheus serves only as a minor character. Here we meet the mother of Morpheus's son, find out what cats dream about, and discover the true origin behind Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream.

Of the three so far, I've enjoyed this one least. As the blurb above states, Dream appears very briefly in each of the stories, and in the final one doesn't appear at all. Although there's no denying they were all well-imagined, I didn't connect with any of the stories as much as I did with the ones in previous volumes. 

I feel here Gaiman had got his introductions out of the way, and had room to stretch his legs a bit. Don't get me wrong, the stories were typically horrifying and twisted; they just didn't grip me as tightly as they should have. And don't get me started on that one about the cats. 

In all, I was severely unimpressed with this volume. I really enjoyed what was going on in The Doll's House, but felt this was completely cut off by these unrelated narratives. I'm sure this will be an incredibly unpopular opinion, and you may cry that I just didn't get it. Maybe I didn't, but I remain hopeful that volume three will be a strong bridge between two and four.

Book #44

The Sandman: The Doll's House by Neil Gaiman

After a decades-long imprisonment, the Sandman has returned to find that a few dreams and nightmares have escaped to reality. Looking to recapture his lost possessions, Morpheus ventures to the human plane only to learn that a woman named Rose Walker has inadvertently become a dream vortex and threatens to rip apart his world. Now as Morpheus takes on the last escaped nightmare at a serial killers convention, the Lord of Dreams must mercilessly murder Rose or risk the destruction of his entire kingdom.

In volume two, the series becomes more impactful in its confidence and meaning. We begin with ancient tale of Dream falling in love with a mortal - the stuff of Greek legend - and witness the destruction this reaps. This displayed clearly just how Endless Dream and his family really are, ruling since forgotten times. Most of all, Dream's weakness for mortals is displayed here, and read like a hint of things to come. The volume follows a similar path to its predecessor - where in volume one, Dream had to locate his totems which were stolen from him, in this volume he returns to his kingdom to find some of his dreams and nightmares have escaped, and he sets out to locate them.

Gaiman's characterisation in this volume is much more rich than in the previous one. The vortex, Rose, moves into the 'doll's house' with a host of strange characters, and Gaiman uses their dreamscapes to explain their past and present to us. We visit a serial killer convention, and the stories of these characters are incredible, with Gaiman's brilliance seeping out of each of them. We are introduced to a gentleman in a pub who is rejecting death completely and claiming it's for the weaker man. Dream speaks to him, and offers to meet him in the same pub in one hundred years' time. We travel through time with both of them, and watch them both develop as they meet in the same spot every hundred years. Absolutely glorious.

I'm still absorbed in the idea that Dream has six brothers and sisters, and I'm excited to meet them all. We had a brief introduction to Desire and Despair in this installment, and they both seemed deliciously abhorrent.

There were no allusions to DC characters in this one, Justice League or otherwise, and I must admit I preferred it this way.

A wonderful read, with the twisted darkness of Gaiman still very much shining through. He takes a mythical  structure and moulds it into his own fantastic realm. On to volume three.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Book #43

The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

In 1916, Dream is captured and encased in a glass globe in a failed attempt by an Edwardian magician to bind Death and attain immortality. Dream bides his time for decades until he finally escapes. We then join Dream on his quest to recover his totems of power, which were dispersed following his capture: a pouch of sand, a helm and a ruby. 

The beginning of Dream's story is utterly compelling. Here we have a mysterious enigma, the lord of imagination, captured and contained for decades by a power-hungry magician. We see the world struggle in sleep, unable to hope or dream as usual. Upon his escape, we see the extent of his power whilst he tracks down his three essential amulets, but are reminded he is still weak without them. Gaiman characterises Dream as a member of the family of the Endless, and lets us meet his sister, Death, in the final issue, after alluding to the others throughout volume one. Dream reminds Death he was captured by accident, and the trap had been set for her.

The art is incredible, with  heavy emphasis on the horror theme. The colours are quite garish, which adds to the impact of the gory imagery. I felt as though I was going to be sick over a few of the more macabre pages.

I was really surprised to see some familiar characters and monuments from the DC universe. We meet the Scarecrow and Doctor Destiny in Arkham Asylum, and John Constantine appears for a brief spell to help Dream locate one of totems. This being my first read of Sandman, it felt odd that this world wasn't self-contained, that it shared a universe with Batman. Dream's world and story seems far more mystical and supernatural than this. It jangled me.

I've heard (from friends and also by Gaiman's own admission) that volume one isn't the strongest installment in the series. I enjoyed it, but came away with an unerring feeling of confusion. It's clear Dream has a long road ahead of him, so I look forward to volume two.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Book #42

The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Tom Ripley is chosen by the wealthy Herbert Greenleaf to retrieve Greenleaf's son, Dickie, from his overlong sojourn in Italy. Dickie, it seems, is held captive both by the Mediterranean climate and the attractions of his female companion, but Mr. Greenleaf needs him back in New York to help with the family business. With an allowance and a new purpose, Tom leaves behind his dismal city apartment to begin his career as a return escort. But Tom, too, is captivated by Italy. He is also taken with the life and looks of Dickie Greenleaf. He insinuates himself into Dickie's world and soon finds that his passion for a lifestyle of wealth and sophistication transcends all moral compunction. Tom will become Dickie Greenleaf--at all costs.

This novel completely reeled me in. Having never seen the film, I had no idea what to expect, however I found that this story isn't something that anyone could predict. It focuses immeasurably on the obsessions of Tom Ripley, and how they manipulate and mould his character in the most curious and disturbing of ways.

Tom Ripley is a very uncomfortable character, who seems to hate being Tom Ripley. He surrounds himself in so much self-loathing that he'd rather live a lie than live his own existence. He feels entitled to a life filled with luxuries and the respect of other well to-do folks, but doesn't want to work for this. These preferences are detrimental to most of the other characters in the novel - one more than others. Ripley presents himself well, but the contrast of this squeaky clean exterior to his gloomy inner monologues is very very concerning.

Highsmith leads us to believe Ripley is homosexual from the way he behaves around his new friend Dickie. He's eager to be with him at all times, to make him laugh, impress him, and to call him a friend. He's also entirely disgusted with Dickie's lady friend, Marge, and socially manipulates both of them, as best he can, into spending less time together. These actions clearly reveal Ripley's vicious envy. When he's confronted by Dickie about being "queer", he denies this profusely and becomes terribly offended. All of this combined with other small details of Ripley's character, such as his love for fine things and material possessions, make for an interesting study of his character. He's unable to love who he wants as he refuses to admit his sexuality, and he's unable to have the finer things in life as he's poor. Has all this repression contributed to his desire to shed his skin and become someone who can do all of the above?

The story's setting really appealed to me, and pushed the plot along in unique ways. Highsmith describes the Italian views, culture, and language in such a beautiful way that it's not difficult to understand why Ripley wanted to take on this peaceful and exotic lifestyle, whether he's chasing luxury or not.

We ultimately see Ripley committing murder and identity fraud. For a thriller, there was a disappointingly low level of suspense involved. The novel felt to me much more like an exploration of Ripley's character, than a classic crime novel. His premeditation and ability to justify his wrongdoings to himself simply by shedding a stolen identity, was incredibly precise, and at the same time horrifying. The efforts he went to in order to delude the Italian police were fascinating, and the pride he felt when he managed to do so definitely rubbed off, and I felt myself rooting for this maniac. The finale was definitely an anti-climax for me. I just wanted something monumental to happen to round everything up, but I was disappointed.

It's definitely a worthwhile read, purely for the chance to analyse Ripley's character.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Book #41

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Harry has been burdened with a dark, dangerous and seemingly impossible task: that of locating and destroying Voldemort's remaining Horcruxes. Never has Harry felt so alone, or faced a future so full of shadows. But Harry must somehow find within himself the strength to complete the task he has been given. He must leave the warmth, safety and companionship of The Burrow and follow without fear or hesitation the inexorable path laid out for him.

I can't even begin to describe how much my opinion of this book has changes with every read. Although I can't pretend it's my favourite of the seven, it holds a lot more sway for me each time. 

Many of the elements which I had distaste for on my previous read throughs have been redeemed in my eyes. I see the reason behind these now, the symbolism, and the meaning. For example, I didn't like Rowling's stories of Dumbledore's past, how she told of him dabbling in lowly, and ignoble acts. But, why not? Our heroes can't all be shiny, golden idols. I think Rowling is trying to make a point of the fact that Dumbledore made mistakes, he was imperfect, but what a man!

When the book came out in 2007, I was almost upon my 20th birthday (which is, incidentally, on the 31st of July, the same as Harry's, and JK's). I tried my best to be immovable, invincible, and impassive. I was of the opinion that Harry's death should have been inevitable. Rowling, however, felt the need to give Harry a loophole; a chance. And Harry deserved this, because good people deserve good things. This is what I've come to realise.

So, my opinion has changed. Yes, I am a massive fangirl, but these books mean so much more to me than light entertainment. This series has taught me, over a fourteen year span, the merits of friendship, bravery, honesty, and love. This will all sound horribly cheesy and unlike me, but there are only a bare minimum of you who I will expect to understand. No saga has made such an impression on me as this one. A different burst of emotion is experienced on every page. It is nothing less than wonderful, and I'd like to thank J.K. Rowling for giving me something that can be cherished as much as this can.