Thursday, 25 March 2010

Book #22

Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan

The French Riviera: home to the Beautiful People. And none are more beautiful than Cecile, a precocious seventeen-year-old, and her father Raymond, a vivacious libertine. Charming, decadent and irresponsible, the golden-skinned duo are dedicated to a life of free love, fast cars and hedonistic pleasures. But when Raymond decides to marry, he lets loose in Cecile raw, ungovernable impulses to destroy, with tragic consequences

I enjoyed this, it was really interesting. It reminded me a lot of The Great Gatsby, and when I read the blurb, someone else had likened Sagan to "the French F. Scott Fitzgerald," so I might be brainer than we had all initially imagined.

My favourite part was Sagan's in-depth analysis of different people's behaviours and motives behind them. There was hatred, schemes, love, loyalty, betrayal and more.

The imagery in the book was gorgeous too, I almost felt like I was rubbing my feet into the sand of Côte d'Azur as I was reading.

It perfectly captures teenage struggles and adventures, meaning Cecile is a teenager you can believe in. She won't apologise or conform, rather wishing to remain in her innocence and youth as long as she possibly can manage.

I was quite shocked when I discovered Sagan had this book published when she was only 18. It's an extremely mature work, I had believed it to be written by an older figure, a kind of Nabokov character.

My next mission is to read this in the original French texts.

22 / 66 books. 33% done!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Book #21

If Nobody Speaks Of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor

On a street in a town in the North of England, ordinary people are going through the motions of their everyday existence - street cricket, barbecues, painting windows. A young man is in love with a neighbour who does not even know his name. An old couple make their way up to the nearby bus stop. But then a terrible event shatters the quiet of the early summer evening. That this remarkable and horrific event is only poignant to those who saw it, not even meriting a mention on the local news, means that those who witness it will be altered for ever.

I have heard people rave about this book like it was their own work of art. I really can't see what the fuss is all about with this one. There are some little nuances that I really enjoyed, but overall I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would (or, indeed, how much I'd been told I would).

It began, basically, with "Something has happened. I'm not telling you what is was, yet, but it was a TRAGEDY" and I had to keep reading until almost the final page to find out what it was. And what it was, was nothing much.

In certain areas of the novel, few of McGregor's characters were defined by names, rather by other characteristics such as the street number they lived at, or a physical trait. Although I think this is a very interesting idea, it became tiresome here, and I found it difficult at times to follow along with who was who.

The book also flicks between two different time periods with three years between them, one describing a morning on a lower class street, the other detailing the life of one of the girls who lived on the street. This girl was completely lost to me in the earlier timeframe. I could never quite work out which one she was supposed to be, or which house she lived in. I thought I had cracked it, once, then realised I was probably wrong.

There was also an unexplained obsession with tea. Tea, tea, tea, someone was always making, drinking, or thinking about tea. WHY?!

I can't help but feel that nothing really happened in 275 pages. McGregor describes every person on the street in excessive detail, frequently jumping from neighbour to neighbour. It all seemed a bit too much.

In short, I'm sure there are some brainboxes out there who will say I've missed something wonderful, but I'm not particularly interested. It was a bit too poetic for me, and there was far too much smoke and mirrors for me to entirely enjoy myself.

21 / 66 books. 32% done!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Book #20

The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom

Eddie is a fairground operator, who checks the safety of the various rides. He is 'an old man with a barrel chest and a torso as squat as a soup can', and dies while trying to save a young girl from a falling cart. Eddie goes to heaven - a most unexpected place - and meets five people who were instrumental in some way in his life. He learns not only about his life but also about what his time on earth meant.

This is my favourite book. I have recommended it, loaned it, bought it for and forced it upon too many people to count. I have read it more times than I can possibly count. It remains the only book I have ever come across where I have been tempted to read it again from the beginning the second I've finished it. It stirs both new emotions and identical emotions to the last time, every time. I am so incredibly in love with every word, it is unreal.

This is such a captivating and inspiring novel. The title gives the book a kind of religious premise, but religion barely even features. The book is more spiritual than religious, and yet so much more than just that. It handles life, death, fate, and how every tiny action can affect your course, and the courses of others, like a ripple effect.

Eddie is a beautiful character, one that you are instantly drawn to. The extent of his loneliness on earth makes you want to befriend him and be there for him. He thinks his life means absolutely nothing, and his five people are put there to show him otherwise.

The five people Eddie meets in heaven each have an important lesson to teach him about his own life, and about life in general. These lessons are so incredibly profound and poetic. Each one can be identified with and redefined to show relevance to your own life.

My only problem with this book was the length. I wanted it to last forever. I want heaven to be like this.

I believe this is a must-read for everyone, whether they are religious or not. It makes you think deeply about mortality, love, family, and the way you treat people.

I'm now left with the same thought as I'm always left with at the end of this novel: Who will be my five people?

20 / 66 books. 30% done!

Friday, 19 March 2010

Book #19

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Speaking to us with the wisdom of age and in a voice at once haunting and startlingly immediate, Nitta Sayuri tells the story of her life as a geisha. It begins in a poor fishing village in 1929, when, as a nine-year-old girl with unusual blue-gray eyes, she is taken from her home and sold into slavery to a renowned geisha house. We witness her transformation as she learns the rigorous arts of the geisha: dance and music; wearing kimono, elaborate makeup, and hair; pouring sake to reveal just a touch of inner wrist; competing with a jealous rival for men's solicitude and the money that goes with it.

I had forgotten how much I loved this book, it's just so beautiful. I knew very little about Japanese culture and the art of geisha before reading this, but the book let you into every single little detail, and I'm now left with a feeling of being incredibly well-informed and understanding of geisha ideals.

It was almost as if all the geisha secrets were being exposed within these very pages, the way it's written is absolutely astonishing. I had to remind myself frequently that none of it was completely true. It's amazing to think that this book was written by an American man, it could just as easily be the real memoirs of a geisha.

The variety of characters in this novel is just gorgeous - the evil rivals, the patrons, the horrible old ladies, the friends. The beautiful descriptions and the intricate plot details made this book extremely difficult for me to put down.

The storytelling is almost poetic, and it's an extremely worthwhile read. My favourite thing about it was that I came out of it feeling as though I'd learnt something, which, I believe, is quite rare to find these days.

19 / 66 books. 29% done!

Monday, 15 March 2010

Book #18

Crime by Irvine Welsh

Now bereft of both youth and ambition, Detective Inspector Ray Lennox is recovering from a mental breakdown induced by occupational stress and cocaine abuse, and a particularly horrifying child sex murder case back in Edinburgh. On vacation in Florida, his fiancee Trudi is only interested in planning their forthcoming wedding, and a bitter argument sees a deranged Lennox cast adrift in strip-mall Florida. He meets two women in a seedy bar, ending up at their apartment for a coke binge interrupted by two menacing strangers. After the ensuing brawl, Lennox finds himself alone with Tianna, the terrified ten-year-old daughter of one of the women, and a sheet of instructions that make him responsible for her immediate safety.

This Irvine Welsh novel is just as gritty and harrowing as the rest of them. It's extremely dark, at times a lot darker than Welsh's other novels. It's also very obviously well-researched, tackling the difficult issue of child abuse.

I feel like Welsh has attempted to break a few boundaries with Crime. His novels are usually set in Scotland, particularly Edinburgh, but this time he takes us over to Miami, Florida, and unravels his story across the pond.

The characters are strikingly realistic, and Welsh shifts between narratives and tenses in such a complex way that it's extremely effective.

As is typical with Welsh, the subject matter is tough in places. I wouldn't recommend it to many people for these reasons, but for people who can handle it, it's good.

I'm a huge Irvine Welsh fan, I'll read anything he can throw at me. He's a grotesque kind of genius, and this is what is so appealing to me. However, I felt that he has done better with past novels, this one seemed almost like a shadow of Filth.

18 / 66 books. 27% done!

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Book #17

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Charlie is a shy and introspective boy, a wallflower always standing on the edge of the action. He encounters many of the struggles familiar to everybody from their school days, but he must also deal with his best friend's suicide and shocking realization about his beloved late Aunt Helen.

I must have read this book over a hundred times. Nothing gets old, I love it each and every time I read it. I always smile and cry at the same parts, and I always, always find new parts that make me smile and cry.

There is a lot of criticism for this book out there. Although I can see why many people don't like it, or don't think it's an excellent work of literature, I just have too much love for this book to bring myself to detail any of these evaluations here. I first picked this book up when I was quite young, perhaps fourteen, and it was before it was so hyped up that people deemed it "too overrated." So my love for the book still stands, it's helped me, and it will honestly stay with me forever.

The book is written in letter format, which is a style I've always enjoyed. The main character, Charlie, is so incredibly loveable from the outset. He has a sort of honest naivety that surrounds him, as well as wonderful intellect and depth. He says how he feels, or what he thinks, and you nod because you know what he means.

The book doesn't have a plot as such, instead it follows Charlie around as he takes on major issues such as love, friendship, homosexuality and sexual assault. Aside from these massive themes, the book also allows the reader to step back and think about the small things that cause happiness in life, and what really matters.

The moral I took from the story is a nice, positive one. Although Charlie definitely has his flaws, I believe the book is telling us that people come in all kinds of different packages, urging us to remain true to ourselves, and to pursue happiness as far as possible. It's beautiful in an unconventional sort of way.

This book is an absolute rarity, and it's one I believe everyone should attempt at least once. It's an emotion stirrer, and that's what reading a book is all about. It's wonderful, believe me.

17 / 66 books. 26% done!

Friday, 5 March 2010

Book #16

The Tales Of Beedle The Bard by J.K. Rowling

'You've never heard of The Tales of Beedle the Bard?' said Ron incredulously. 'You're kidding, right?' The Tales of Beedle the Bard played a crucial role in assisting Harry, with his friends Ron and Hermione, to finally defeat Lord Voldemort. An exciting addition to the canon of Harry Potter, the tales reveal the wonderful versatility of the author, as she tackles with relish the structure and varying tones of a classic fairy tale. Translated from the original runes by Hermione Granger, the tales are introduced and illustrated by J. K. Rowling. Also included are notes by Professor Albus Dumbledore, which appear by kind permission of the Hogwarts Headmasters' Archive.

I loved this! It's a cute wee book of wizarding fairy tales, and I can see myself reading it again loads of times because of the warm and fuzzy feeling it can give you as a reader.

I particularly love the thought that these particular tales will have had a lot to do with the upbringing of the Harry Potter characters we know and love - particularly the Weasleys who, no doubt, heard these stories a million times over throughout their childhoods.

Each of the stories had morals attached to them, which were then analysed and relayed to us by Dumbledore in some footnotes he had left behind in his will.

Dumbledore's footnotes were filled with humour and his little quirks. They gave us more insight into the history and cultures of the wizarding world, which was lovely. I particularly enjoyed his mini-rant about censorship within the Hogwarts library in relation to the Malfoys.

I'd recommend this to anyone, particularly hardcore Harry Potter fans. It's definitely not as deep or epic as the novels in the Potter saga, but it's sweet and believable, and it works wonderfully as a companion to our previous knowledge of the wizarding world.

16 / 66 books. 24% done!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Book #15

Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Independent and spirited Bathsheba Everdene has come to Weatherbury to take up her position as a farmer on the largest estate in the area. Her bold presence draws three very different suitors: the gentleman-farmer Boldwood, soldier-seducer Sergeant Troy and the devoted shepherd Gabriel Oak. Each, in contrasting ways, unsettles her decisions and complicates her life, and tragedy ensues, threatening the stability of the whole community.

I am a huge Thomas Hardy fan, and this book has done nothing to change my mind about him - I loved it.

Hardy is a man for intricate details and thorough character development. I love his attention to detail in setting and characters. He is also very much a symbolist, so great thought has to be applied when reading his novels. Although the stories can still be enjoyed without meticulous symbol analysis, I find it to be more rewarding to do it this way.

This one is a bit of an unconventional love story. The heroine of this story, Bathsheba (name!), starts out as a bit of an irksome cow. She's extremely strong-willed and determined not to let go of her values. She manages to find herself not one, not two, but THREE suitors, and proceeds to tell them all to beat it. Then she slowly (but dramatically) develops throughout the novel in many ways, turning into a much lovelier person. I found myself relating to her greatly, and falling in love with her. All of the characters were so realistic and even charming, that I found it quite difficult to put the book down.

Hardy is also excellent in conducting humour in different ways throughout the plot. I found myself laughing out loud at many different intervals, each one as clever as the last. It's more of an eloquent wit that Hardy has here, rather than an overbearing kind of humour.

Hardy's characters mostly suffer from extremely cruel twists of fate somewhere around the mid-point of the novel, and this one was no different from the others I've read. Although I do enjoy these parts, it's always refreshing to see that the character's misfortunes usually stem from a certain error in decision-making that they have previously made.

Hardy is definitely one of the greats, and a complete master of the English language. I'd recommend this book to anyone, but particularly for people who savour detail.

15 / 66 books. 23% done!