Saturday, 30 December 2017

Book #63

Antigone by Sophocles

The remarkable story of Greek tragedy's most intrepid heroine.

Little Black Classics describes Antigone above as an intrepid heroine, but I prefer the term total fucking badass.

Her uncle, the king, declares her rebel brother’s body as undeserving of a proper burial. Antigone disagrees, and despite the order issued that anyone who attempts to bury the body be put to death, she goes ahead and does it anyway in the name of tradition, honour, and familial love. She stands up for what she believes in, never erring from her path, and was comfortable paying the ultimate price for this. Yas, queen.

This section of the Theban plays, however, focuses more on the vile King Creon, than Antigone herself. His decision to punish her for disregarding the law he has passed, seems just, and would be the consequence of any other to defy him. To put her to death, particularly as his niece, however, is unduly harsh. Unable to recognise any flaw in himself, and refusing to listen to reason, Creon represents in this tale the dangers of believing oneself to be correct and refusing to weigh up every option before taking (seriously dangerous) action. His downfall is tragic, heartbreaking, and entirely pitiful. But is it just?

The morality line here is very thin - what is more correct, being loyal to the laws of the gods and burying your dead correctly, allowing them to travel safely to the underworld, or being loyal to the laws of your city, sending a message to those who dare defy you in an attempt to instil order? Neither can be said to be entirely wrong, but Sophocles allows us to consider where thought has to be applied to both arguments in order to come to a sound conclusion. Neither Antigone or Creon, both being passionate about their cause, were prepared to stop and think about their actions, instead running headlong into what they thought was right, and orchestrating a tragedy of untold severity.

Such an intense and beautiful part of the Theban plays.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Book #62

Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner

The brand-new Eiffel Tower is the glory of the 1889 Universal Exposition. But one sunny afternoon, a woman collapses and dies on this great Paris landmark. Can a bee-sting really be the cause of death? Or is there a more sinister explanation?

Nineteenth century crime set in Paris is something completely up my street. Couple that with the murder taking place at France’s most infamous landmark, and I was living for this concept. I am sorry to say this whole novel was très atroce.

My first disappointment was the sheer subtly of the murders themselves. People stung in the neck, presumably by an insect, and expiring instantly, doesn’t have the same sort of brutal drama I cling to in a crime novel. For the Parisians to be bumbling around terrified of a swarm of ‘foreign killing bees’, was laughable, and a little bit pathetic.

Secondly, Izner did nothing to create tension, nor to evoke in the reader an appetite to discover who the killer really was. After pages of Legris either coming to ridiculous conclusions and making an arse of himself, alternating his shagging of two women, or having eureka moments and bursting out of the door of his bookshop like a total madman, it got old really really quickly.

So many red herrings and clues were introduced that it was impossible to keep hold of them all together. Whenever Legris came upon another conclusion, I had no idea how he had ended up there. 

And wow, what a number of characters were introduced in a less than three hundred page novel. I could barely keep track of them, had no idea who Legris was speaking to, or pointing the finger at next; the whole thing was a confusion of dapper and sophisticated Frenchmen, any of whom could have been THE BEE. Mon Dieu!

With that being said, the ending was wound up nicely, with everything explained well and contained; it was just a shame the rest of the novel didn’t give me anything so solid and suspenseful to keep me going.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Book #61

The Woman Who Went to Bed For a Year by Sue Townsend

The day her twins leave home, Eva climbs into bed and stays there. For seventeen years she's wanted to yell at the world, 'Stop! I want to get off'. Finally, this is her chance. Her husband Brian, an astronomer having an unsatisfactory affair, is upset. Who will cook his dinner? Eva, he complains, is attention seeking. But word of Eva's defiance spreads. Legions of fans, believing she is protesting, gather in the street. While Alexander the white van man brings tea, toast and sympathy. And from this odd but comforting place Eva begins to see both herself and the world very, very differently.

So Eva waves her twins off to university, and after doing so finds a soup spoon on the chair it took two years for her to embroider. The remainder of the soup is thrown over the chair, and Eva goes to bed for an entire year. That’s basically it; there are no underlying mental health issues to speak of, no particular traumatic events in her past which have led her to this. She just feels like it.

The concept is interesting, and a lot could have been done here. Townsend starts off strongly, but we soon come to realise that although around one thousand madcap things are happening all at once, nothing is really happening at all to move the plot along. 

And don’t we all feel like staying in bed for as long as possible. Let’s face it, though, there are unavoidable tasks to be completed out of bed, such as feeding ourselves and going to the toilet. Eva’s reliance on others to help her with such tasks, and her willingness to starve rather than get out of bed to find food, was maddening. She was selfish and thankless in expecting others to succumb to her every whim, such as boarding up the window, or removing every stick of furniture from the room. Had these behaviours been attributed to some sort of illness, all would have made sense, however this was just the way Eva was. I hated her.

The finale is poor, as though Townsend also gave up and went to bed without properly rounding off some of the plot points she had only just opened up. I would have liked to have seen Eva reach some sort of conclusion about the way she had treated some of her friends at family throughout her holiday in bed, or even better, I’d have liked to have seen her comeuppance. 

As a lover of Adrian Mole, I wasn’t disappointed with the humour here. Townsend’s sarcasm is glorious, witty, and wonderful. Some of the one-liners from the characters had me grinning, and these made the story itself much lighter than I had expected. These flashes of comedy made the book worthwhile for me, and although the plot progression left much to be desired, I couldn’t actually put it down.

A definite lightweight novel for those looking for something not terribly taxing. Don’t expect a journey, a conclusion, or anything as funny as Mole, but you will laugh. 

Friday, 15 December 2017

Book #60

Sindbad the Sailor

A selection of fantastic and perilous adventures at sea from the Thousand and One Nights. 

I enjoyed this little glimpse into the Thousand and One Nights

Sindbad the Sailor recounts his travels and adventures to Sindbad the Porter, and although I found them somewhat far-fetched, brutal, and wondered how such a level of misfortune could befall one man, they felt almost like gorgeous little fables.

I’m interested in the origin of these tales; there is very little to go on in terms of where they’ve come from, and even less on who wrote them. That they’ve travelled over to the West slowly, is more than apparent, and that in this edition Allah has been amended to God is a curious fact to consider.

Although short and jarring in their seemingly random selection, Little Black Classics have achieved what I was looking for in this series: to open my eyes to new texts and spur me into buying the originals, which I’m sure for this addition in particular will display far more colour and vividness than three short stories can evoke here.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Book #59

Hings: the B-Sides by Chris McQueer

Just when you thought it was safe to move past Hings and read something else (how dare you), we present... the B-Sides.
Chris McQueer’s humour has achieved rave review through his debut collection and online, being described as “doing something similar for Glasgow” as Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting did for Edinburgh, so it’s a fine time to give you some more. Eight more stories, in fact.
Chris’ writing is weird and really bloody wonderful, and the B-Sides is that little refresher of short stories to keep you going.

After finishing Hings a few months ago, I tweeted McQueer begging to know if he was going to grace us with another masterpiece. Although he assured me he would, he also stuck in the wee jolting fact that it won’t be with us until next year. I can’t have been the only one with this appetite, and thank god, because now the B-Sides have arrived with us.

Comprised of eight short stories which didn’t make the final cut for Hings, it’s a perfect wee collection to keep us all going, and to whet our whistles for what’s to come in the future. Where the original Hings family was a dysfunctional one, the B-Sides are the members of the clan who were just that wee bit too weird, were shunned by everyone else, and eventually moved to Rothesay.

I got through all of these in a forty minute train journey, and I don’t really want to think that anyone was watching me reading. My standard commuting bitchface took on a look of familial pride as I got tore into Sammy’s Maw’s New Motor, I let out an endearing dry boke cough during Bursting, was wide-eyed in astonishment at the appearance of my paramour John MacKay in News, and best of all started laughing mentally at Love is Love, my favourite of the eight. They all must’ve thought the weird wee lassie in the corner seat had been on the halves at lunchtime.

The absolute worst part for me was knowing there were only thirty two pages, and by the time the train stopped at Larky, it’d all be over once again. The B-Sides have done nothing to change my opinion of McQueer’s writing at all; hilarious and rank with stunning social commentary. And although I’ve never had a step-da, I’d encourage you to take a read of this if you feel like getting rid of yours.

Absolute belter once again; I am bursting for more.

“Don’t you dare try and compare me and Adam to you and yer fuckin Tamagotchi burd, son.”

Book #58

Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti

A selection of Rossetti's most famous poems, from the hallucinatory 'Goblin Market' to 'In the bleak mid-winter'.
Goblin Market is a wonderfully interesting poem which can be interpreted widely and openly into various themes and meanings. Through the various sexual undertones rippling through the verses, I read of the dangers of temptation, addiction, and of women giving themselves to men. Depicting men as goblins, Rossetti paints a clear picture of untrustworthiness and cunning. She allows us to understand that the goblins are merely looking to use the girls, and are employing a smoke and mirror effect with their delicious fruit for sale. The suggestions and implications were interesting to understand and consider, with Rossetti’s feminist commentary shining through subtly, yet brilliantly.

The rhythm in Goblin Market is difficult to get to grips with, and I felt if I had managed this better (and sooner), I’d have had a better appreciation of the poem itself. On reading the other poems including in this edition, I was able to appreciate Rossetti’s varying metre and couplets, however I am yet to experience the wonder of poetry revealing its secrets to me in general.

Wondering whether to give up on poetry entirely, or whether to wait for something to fall into my lap which will change my views entirely.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Book #57

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

"Sometimes I whisper it over to myself: Murderess. Murderess. It rustles, like a taffeta skirt along the floor." Grace Marks. Female fiend? Femme fatale? Or weak and unwilling victim?”

Around the true story of one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the 1840s, Margaret Atwood has created an extraordinarily potent tale of sexuality, cruelty and mystery
Atwood impresses me once again. Having read The Handmaid’s Tale last year, and now Alias Grace, I’m only amazed it’s taken me so long to discover Atwood’s work.

In this tale of not quite fiction, not quite non-fiction, Atwood explores the life and imprisonment of Grace Marks, convicted of a double murder in 1843, at the tender age of sixteen. Arrested alongside fellow servant James McDermott after the murder of their employer Thomas Kinnear, and the housekeeper Nancy Montgomery, it was widely believed at the time that Grace and McDermott were lovers. Although McDermott was hanged for the crime, Grace’s sentence was reduced to life imprisonment; and questions still remain. 

The real story has always had a great number of holes in it, and Atwood does her best to fictionalise Grace’s life, and attempt to fill in some of the blanks. It’s unclear whether the entirety of Grace’s confession was true, or whether this was an account which was felt by her lawyer to be more likely to lead to a softer outcome. Her version was also a notable contrast to James McDermott’s final words, blaming Grace for encouraging him to help her carry out the murder.

To give more depth to Grace’s tale, Atwood introduces Simon Jordan – a doctor interested in studying criminal minds, with the hope of understanding catalysts. He visits Grace to hear her story, and so her whole bloody history is revealed. Atwood allows her a personality, a family, and a journey, none of which were granted her by the journalists or authors of the 1840s. Her story is written with a lack of dialogue punctuation, and this unsettles the reader into wondering whether Grace is speaking a particular thought aloud, or merely thinking it. This uncertainty is important here, as Grace is already an unreliable narrator, so our confidence in truth dissipates when we encounter her flighty methods of recounting her life story.  
This construction is delectable – we’re given excerpts from newspapers, words from books written about the case, and even quotes taken verbatim from Grace’s confession, as well as Atwood’s fictional imaginings of Grace’s life, feelings, and motivations. The juxtaposition of fact and fiction is utterly gorgeous, and completely blurs the lines of what’s real, linking in with Grace’s confusion and inability to properly remember exactly how the events unfolded.

I was interested to explore the feminine issues raised here, also. Social custom in the nineteenth century has always been something I love to sink my teeth into; Atwood’s commentary on status, poverty, expectations and humiliation was a beautiful thing to digest. Even more interesting, was the treatment of criminal women in those days, particularly in comparison to male criminals.

At the end of the novel, we’re still unsure about the answers to the outstanding questions – what really was Grace’s involvement in the double murder? Was she in love with James McDermott? Did she sexually entice him into committing the crime? Or was she really as insane as she behaved? So much time has passed that we’ll never know the answers to these questions, so Atwood’s indefinite conclusion feels sensible, respectful, but also leaves a curiosity fire burning with her readers.

An extraordinary and fascinating fictionalised account of the life of a murderess – Atwood has created a masterpiece here, and one which will stay with me for a long time.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Book #56

The Black Lady of Broomhill by Helen Moir

The Black Lady of Broomhill is an account by local author and historian Helen Moir concerning the urban myth and factual story surrounding a local ghost story from Larkhall in South Lanarkshire, Scotland.

The stories of The Black Lady have haunted me since I was a child. Back then, the only information I had was that you would die immediately upon locking eyes with her, that she roamed around the pub near my house, and that she was mercilessly killed a long time ago. That was enough information to keep me from straying too far from home, especially at night.

As I got older, morbid curiosity seemed to overtake the fear, and articles online gave me some more clues to who The Black Lady was. Everything has been pieced together, rumour and speculation, until this factual account by Helen Moir ended up in the aforementioned pub. I had to buy it.

The Black Lady was a real woman, brought to Scotland by Captain McNeil-Hamilton. She was brown-skinned, unused to the Scottish climate and customs, and (I imagine) completely out of her depth. She lived in the Captain’s household, until one day the locals noticed her disappearance. Claiming she had gone home, despite damning evidence otherwise, the Captain continued with his life and ultimately died at a young age. It’s highly likely we will never know exactly what happened to her, but it seems she haunts the Broomhill estate to this day. In this account, Moir names her as Sita Phurdeen, giving real humanity to the spectre of myth all Lanarkshire locals tell stories about.

Moir’s interest in the lady’s origins greatly surpasses my own, and it’s astonishing to contemplate the level of research she’s undertaken to put this booklet together. It’s filled with gorgeous factual accounts and pictures of the Broomhill house and their customs. Not only that, Moir has a close connection with the house and family who lived there, as members of her family worked for the household at the time Sita Phurdeen was resident. Recounting a series of recurring dreams she has over the course of many years, she speculates and surmises on the Black Lady’s fate. Most disturbingly of all, she compares a room she sees in her dreams with an old servant’s account, and it’s scarily familiar. Add in some ghostly sightings of the lady, and this makes for very curious reading.

Although my curiosity will never be fulfilled on this score until I learn the full story - one, I’m sure, which will never surface, this is a delightful and chilling collection of facts on Larkhall, the lady herself, and the man who brought her here. Whether he is to be vilified or not remains to be seen, however I have never thought of him as anything other than a villain.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Book #55

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the death of his mother, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness. Angry and alone, he takes refuge in his imagination and soon finds that reality and fantasy have begun to meld. While his family falls apart around him, David is violently propelled into a world that is a strange reflection of his own -- populated by heroes and monsters and ruled by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book, The Book of Lost Things.

It’s wonderful to read a book a second time, many years after the first read, and discover that it still evokes the same wonder and awe as it did the first time. Hell, this time it even coaxed a tear from my cold, dry eyes.

Connolly begins by immersing us into David’s life during WWII. He loses his mother, his father finds a new wife, David is given a half-brother. All of these factors contribute to an onset of anger, bitterness, jealousy, and grief. It’s so very real, this stark reality, that we’re not prepared for Connolly to begin trickling in some fantasy, and some serious mind bending events.

This is every fairytale you’ve ever heard come to life and twisted. It’s every monster you’ve ever dreamed of in front of you, ready to attack. David finds himself in a world of folklore and nightmares, and so begins his journey into gratitude, acceptance, and adulthood; and his awakening is magnificent.

Connolly’s writing is gorgeous and wonderfully paced. He slowly dips us into this strange land of phenomenon, introduces us to the wonderfully developed characters who are oddly real despite being plucked from fairy tales and torment. The band of communist dwarves, hellbent on teaching lessons to anyone who dares to oppress them, were a particular favourite.

This isn’t a kid’s book. I’d be tempted to suggest it isn’t even young adult. It’s dark as hell, with some really cruel plot movements and terrifying moments. We visit some themes which are truly heart-wrenching, and although I don’t want to talk about Roland for the sake of spoilers, the person he was and the fate he encountered was the saddest part of all.

Instead, my feelings on this is that it’s a lesson in humanity. Things will happen to make us bitter, to make us jealous, to tempt us to throw others into harm’s way in order to save ourselves. Connolly teaches us here to embrace understanding, and that it’s what we do with those feelings that matters most.

The fact that I cried at the end of this novel speaks volumes. It’s so so powerful and gorgeous. 

Monday, 13 November 2017

Book #54

Socrates’ Defence by Plato

Somewhere between a historical account and work of philosophy, Socrates' Defence details the final plea of Plato's beloved mentor. 

Socrates is put on trial for his free thinking, for his exploration of the space between heaven and earth, and for expressing his thoughts free of charge to the youth of Athens. In this gorgeous work by Plato, we are shown him arguing for his life whilst exposing the twistedness of his accusers.

He expresses his defence in the simplest terms available to him in order to quash the accusations of his confusing eloquence. Despite the simplicity of his words, his argument remains thought-provoking and profound as he explains why he believes himself to be innocent. The attempt at vindication itself should be read to appreciate the wonder of it, which is why I won’t go into further detail here.

Despite his carefully put explanations, Socrates is sentenced to death. Plato beautifully allows us to understand why this is a grave mistake from the jurymen of Athens as Socrates describes his lack of fear pertaining to death, and also reminds us that no one knows whether death is worse than life - we only assume.

The accusers of Socrates feared him for his individuality, for how he differed from them, for how he was wiser than them. They feared him speaking the truth, and for the population to realise he was speaking the truth. They made him pay for all of this, and I defy anyone to disagree with the fact that people are still persecuted for all of these things today. It’s mind-bending, maddening.

‘If you think that by killing men you can prevent someone from censuring your evil lives, you are mistaken; that is not a way of escape which is either possible or honorable; the easiest and the noblest way is not to be disabling others, but to be improving yourselves.’

It truly is unbelievable how relevant this text is today as it was in the fifth century. Socrates was targeted simply because of who he was, and he paid the ultimate price for his distinctiveness. It doesn’t take a philosopher to see how that jars with 2017 - many already have been forced to drink the hemlock merely because of the way they are.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Book #53

Strange Scottish Stories by William Owen

Ghosts, witches, unexplained mysteries, and the supernatural are the basis for this fascinating Ghost Series which relates ghost stories from Scotland.

I was prepared to be thoroughly terrified by this collection of stories; I wasn’t. Instead, I was filled with an immense feeling of intrigue, curiosity, and (bizarrely) déjà vu. As each of the tales originated in Scotland, mainly the Highlands, I felt a huge impact of patriotism and an odd pride at seeing my ancestors cut each other’s heads off.

Owen’s collection of tales range from myth and legend, to those he tells us are absolutely true. We are left alone to decide which of the stories fall into each category - an uncomfortable and difficult feat. Murder, ghosts, deceit, revenge, and even Falkirk’s favourite - the kelpie, are themes within the book, and each glimpse is as grim as the last.

My favourite thing about this book is its commentary on old Scottish custom and social hierarchy. We’re going as far back as the 1700s here, and it was gorgeous to read of the ways of the people in our country at that time. Even if, y’know, they were plagued with the ghost of a widow bent on vengeance.

It’s nothing that will keep you from sleeping, but there’s something really queer about it that I can’t put my finger on. Well worth a read for us Scots, and for anyone else who’s looking for a piece of something arcane. 

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Book #52

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Yale hopeful Bronwyn has never publicly broken a rule. Sports star Cooper only knows what he's doing in the baseball diamond. Bad body Nate is one misstep away from a life of crime. Prom queen Addy is holding together the cracks in her perfect life.
And outsider Simon, creator of the notorious gossip app at Bayview High, won't ever talk about any of them again.
He dies 24 hours before he could post their deepest secrets online. Investigators conclude it's no accident. All of them are suspects.
Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you'll go to protect them. 

This is a stunning reinforcement of my opinion that young adult fiction is for everyone.

McManus’s range of characters was a big hit for me here. Painted on the cover as stereotypes - the geek, the jock, the criminal, the princess - they were so diverse, so complicated, so not stereotypical at all, and so dredged in teenage angst, that I was gripped from the beginning. Each of them having that Breakfast Club vibe in the modern time was only a bigger hit for me. Add in the murder and we’ve got ourselves a party.

Each of the accused give us their first point narrative in alternating chapters. This allows us to get under the skin of all of them, find out what their motivations could be to commit the crime, and understand everything else going on in their lives. Even the sub-characters were perfectly rounded - I have a particular love for the badass we call Maeve. Relationships, family issues, and ill health were all part of their struggles, and McManus paints them all in such a way that we can’t believe any of them had anything to do with it. How could they?

An author’s skill in these types of novels is to leave ambiguous clues for the reader to guess what’s happened before the big reveal. If you have the intellect (or, if you’re like me and have read so much Sherlock Holmes you should probably consider joining the police), you’ll be able to work this one out pretty quickly. McManus peppers little hints throughout the pages, which can either lead the reader to the secret, or make the plot even more tantalising. Everyone wins here.

It’s difficult to say much more without descending into spoiler-realm, but I will say this: if you think young adult novels aren’t worth your time, you are missing out immeasurably. One of Us Is Lying is the most gripping, enjoyable, addictive and plain readable novel I’ve had the pleasure to encounter in a long time.

Get buying. 

Monday, 30 October 2017

Book #51

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh.
Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children's cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she'll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn't know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.

Zombie-lit has never been my thing. The moaning, shuffling undead, hellbent on chewing the flesh of a group of protagonists who are mostly armed and ready to send them from dead, to completely dead. Throw in a couple of character development points, probably a couple of them falling in love, and we have ourselves a novel. No thanks.

I didn’t know this was a zombie novel until I was pretty far in. It was a blessing, but this is one novel I am finding very tricky to review.

Britain has been infected, and Melanie is a child born after the Breakdown. She lives in a cell in a military base, and is transported to her classroom each morning by wheelchair, shackled, muzzled, and restrained. She isn’t clear on why she’s in this situation, but she loves learning, and loves her teacher. Melanie is infected, but she has still retained her intellect, her humanity, and her capacity for love. Her hunger is triggered by the smell of flesh, and with the measures taken by the staff at the base, she never feels it. Until the base is attacked and Melanie escapes alongside he teacher, a sergeant, and a doctor.

Melanie becomes the only hope for a cure. Literally none of the group travelling with her have any particular desire to keep her alive, apart from the teacher who isn’t willing to sacrifice her due to personal feelings of guilt over an incident in the past. Lady, let the doc slice her brain open, let’s cure the country and go back to sitting comfortably at home watching X Factor rather than running across the barren metropolis as zombie bait.

The book is essentially a commentary on humanity, what makes us human, and the blurred lines between what is good and what is evil. Melanie is torn between her human thoughts and feelings and her survival instinct to feast on those she has escaped with, and who are keeping her safe.

Carey spends time giving us back stories to each of the characters, helping us understand where they’ve come from, and their motivations. These stories also give us a good grasp on what happened to the country at infection, and how the government handled this going forwards. Despite the stories, I felt the characters blended into each other by having similar dialogue. I found it difficult to understand who was talking, and I would have appreciated some more differentiation.

There’s loads of action in here, plenty of tension, and the suspense killed me in places. But I didn’t love it. I don’t even know if I liked it. All I know is that if you asked me to read another zombie novel, I’d be asking you what option two would be.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Book #50

Transit by Rachel Cusk

In the wake of family collapse, a writer and her two young sons move to London. The process of upheaval is the catalyst for a number of transitions—personal, moral, artistic, practical—as she endeavors to construct a new reality for herself and her children. In the city she is made to confront aspects of living she has, until now, avoided, and to consider questions of vulnerability and power, death and renewal, in what becomes her struggle to reattach herself to, and believe in, life.

I was bought this book as a gift, and didn’t realise until this very moment that it had a predecessor. I wondered if this was why I maybe didn’t get it, but quickly realised I did get it; I just didn’t like it.

Faye moves to London with her two sons in the aftermath of her divorce. Once there, she stumbles into various people with whom she has highly unlikely conversations. These small glimpses of sub-characters lives are what make up the plot. I’m sure there’s something there about Faye making sense of her life through other people, but these tiny vignettes did nothing to pique my interest, and only seemed to distance us further from Faye. Not that this was problem, as Faye was as bland and emotionless as they come.

Our sub characters, however, were all philosophy personified. Each of them had incredibly profound and intellectual views on life, and the human psyche; each of them an unrealistic, trite piece of work. You’re lucky if you can find one person in life who you can have these types of conversations with - for it to be every single person you bump into is simply fantasy.

Although I felt the writing flowed beautifully, and Cusk’s language was lyrical, it blundered along like a bad dream. I understand the benefits of the passive listener, but this was really dire.

Style over substance. 

Friday, 13 October 2017

Book #49

My Dearest Father by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

A selection of personal correspondence between Mozart and his most important mentor and supporter, his father. 

A not incredibly interesting collection of collections between Mozart and his father, Leopold. Unless overly (and I mean overly) interested in the composer and his life, you won’t take much from this.

Both men write to each other in the awkward state that is the result of parental lectures and childlike defences. With father trying to make son see the frivolity of his expenses, and the fact that he’s slowly surrounding the family with debt, and the son hotly justifying his failure to account for every penny, their love and frustration for each other was abundantly clear.

Other than the family commentary, however, the correspondence is filled with arias, symphonies, compositions, orchestras, and a thousand other terms I wasn’t familiar with. Names, faces, places; all swept by as a fog as I gave up the energy to understand.

My favourite part was when Mozart got drunk and sang, “O you prick, lick my arse,” but that probably just says more about me than anything else.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Book #48

A Little Candle by Letitia McClintock

No summary available.

This little book came to me in a strange way. I say strange way, what I mean is that I have no idea how I came into possession of this book. A few nights ago, it appeared at the top of my (digital) reading list, so I inspected my shelves. There it was. Written in 1904, and with no explanation on what the book held inside, I opened it up to find the following inscription:


What I found inside wasn’t, as I had feared, ancient ghost stories within a cursed tome to haunt me for the remainder of my days. Instead, I was treated to three little stories (with the book’s namesake story being slightly longer) of morals and the power of Christianity.

As someone who believes in no God but myself, and who will undoubtedly have some sort of throne of honour installed in hell when my time comes, you’d be forgiven for thinking I hated this. But maybe it just came at the right time. Religion aside, the stories teach their reader how to be a good person, and how to love her peers. Sorrowful, heart-rending; they were exquisite in their simplicity.

Although the mystery remains of how this time-worn, modest book arrived in my home, I feel a better person just having read it.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Book #47

Anthem For Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen

The true horror of the trenches is brought to life in this selection of poetry from the front line.

This is a very strong introduction to Owen’s war poetry. Making no apologies for the truth, he shows us the horror of the trenches in wonderful verse. It's bleak as hell, yet enlightening, with not one glory included. 

His opinion of war is clear here; young men are sent to die, are bound to die, for the good of their country. It's heartbreaking to note that these poems were written in the midst and tumult of WW1, only for their poet to be killed some days before the war ended. There's something in that.

These poems are so important in reminding us of early wars, and the people, rather than the numbers, behind them. It's amazing that we see such atrocity still happen almost one hundred years later, but we are bound to forget those who fought and died for us.

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, -
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
Thr old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Book #46

Weave a Murderous Web by Anne Rothman-Hicks & Ken Hicks

No good deed goes unpunished. When Jane Larson—a hot-shot litigator for a large firm in New York City—helps out a friend, she is sucked into the unfamiliar world of divorce and child support. 
Jane's discovery of the deadbeat dad’s hidden assets soon unravels a web of lies, drugs, and murder that keeps getting more dangerous. 
Soon, Jane is involved in a high stakes race to recover a missing suitcase of cash and catch the murderer before she becomes the next victim.

The plot is wonderful at weaving webs, hence the title, and we soon find each of the characters seems to have something to hide. All are suspicious, and all could be killers. There’s a lot going on here - a number of characters, a healthy amount of legal jargon, and in-depth descriptions of New York which made me wish I was more familiar with it. The plot is rammed with action, and is incredibly fast-paced, which is perfect for a thriller.

Jane is an excellent protagonist - an intelligent, career-focused litigator, hard as hell, with a serious aversion to taking crap and letting things go - she lets her mouth and her bad decisions get her into trouble, but always manages to use her brain to talk herself out of situations. Although she was our narrator, the authors skilfully didn’t display every single one of her thoughts to us; this allowed for a bigger reveal both at the novel’s finale, and in other sections of the plot.

There’s a lot to keep up with here, particularly the relationships and backstories; however - dodgy dealings, drugs, murder, red herrings, twists - what’s not to love?