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?

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Book #45

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Dorian is a good-natured young man until he discovers the power of his own exceptional beauty. As he gradually sinks deep into a frivolous, glamorous world of selfish luxury, he apparently remains physically unchanged by the stresses of his corrupt lifestyle and untouched by age. But up in his attic, hidden behind a curtain, his portrait tells a different story.

I’m not sure which I loved more; this story, or the questions it poses. If you could cast all of your sins onto an object, an object which will rot and decay with each wrongdoing, would you try to be good to preserve the object, having a tangible reminder of your morality as an incentive? Or would you consider the object your saviour, and allow it go to seed as the foulness of your soul becomes more and more visible each day?

Dorian Gray chooses the latter, and in doing so allows us to wander through his malicious deeds and see him digress from a pure young man into a horrible villain without even obtaining the smallest wrinkle.

Of course, Gray’s gorgeous good looks and perpetually young face make others believe he is truly good. Associating goodness with appearance, as we know, is incredibly problematic, and Wilde shows us this clearly. It’s also disappointing to note that this still happens today - we’ve advanced almost 130 years since this work was first published and people are still discriminated against based on how they look. Ironically, this is the novel where the below quote is taken from:

“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”

I wonder what each of us would do in a life of no consequence. It really doesn’t bear thinking about. But Wilde shows us the emotional effects of a life without dread, without grief, without regret. Gray becomes a numb, emotionless void. His only joy is in his sin and vanity, with the aftermath being borne by a painting in a locked room.

Although Wilde has written this novel as an exploration into the human condition rather than a fantasy, I forgive him for this. I don’t even think there was such a genre as fantasy in Wilde’s day. However, the picture itself is in the novel only a few times. I would’ve loved to have found out how this curse managed to take root; I would have liked to have been able to witness the slow decay after each of Gray’s transgressions. Despite these hopes, the social commentary and the moral questions posed more than made up for it all.

There is so much to take away from this. Melancholy, brilliant, with the perfect hints to Faust, I was mesmerised.