Friday, 13 October 2017

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

"He could tell himself now, in all torturous sincerity, that in making his various arrangements on Vernon's behalf he, Clive, was doing no more than honouring his word."

In this rather slender Booker prize winning novel a cast of rather hideous, self absorbed characters are all reflecting on the death of their former lover, Molly Lane. A vivacious, free-spirit cut down in her prime by some form of dementia and then death. When incriminating photos of her former beau, the now foreign secretary, come to light, self-interest and scheming unleash some truly dark behaviour.
All roads lead to Amsterdam and a body count, so pass the champagne and settle in for a speedy and interesting read. I know I did.

This is also one of the 1001 books to read before you die which means I'm yet another step closer to that particular life goal. I'll take that as a win because today, I have a cold. On the plus side, that means more reading time. Nose to book for this bibliophile. Until the next review - adieu and watch your Champagne.

5 out of 5 - this book is not about youth in Asia.

How to Be Alone by Sara Maitland

"Over the centuries a remarkably wide  variety of individuals have spoken warmly of the enhanced sense of self they have found in doing something courageous on their own"

Have you ever opened the pages of a book in anticipation of learning something, only to discover there’s nothing within that you didn’t already know? That was certainly the case here. Perhaps, being such a solitary creature has taught me the value of alone time. That being said, everyone needs a little companionship at times. I admit I was having a bit of a moment, thinking that perhaps my destiny lies in perpetual solitude. Upon reflection, we are all on a journey and the signposted directions, for me at least, do not sit within this book. A treatise on the benefits of flying solo is not something I particularly need. I'd have to agree with the positive remarks about travelling alone, that is something tried and tested in my book. Never go to a beautifully, romantic city like Venice or Florence with a misanthropic,  ignorant,grumpy old man of a boyfriend, you will enjoy yourself far more alone. This goes double if his name is a three letter word that starts with B - trust me - I speak from experience.

3 out of 5 books do not have all the answers.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

"He caught a glimpse of Alice's wild dark fox's eyes rolling with terror and then half shutting with pleasure."

Every review I’ve just read on  about this mimics my own thinking. That is to say - Harry Potter for adults with sex and a dash of Narnia. I like all of these things and yet I did not love the book. Astonishingly, I actually preferred the television adaptation. It is worth noting that both iterations differ quite substantially in relation to the plot and also the importance of certain characters.
That being said, the central action is still enticing. After all who could resist fantastical, magical realms with added hormones? Sure, Quentin is a bit of a wet dish rag. That being said, Alice is far more interesting. Perhaps that's my inner nerd talking. I was glad when **spoilers**she gets her own back on her unreliable boyfriend through noisy shenanigans with Penny - such a strange name for a guy. Also is that what they meant by physical magic?

4 out of 5 magic tricks could be a double entendre?

Friday, 6 October 2017

Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner

"If your capacity for bad behaviour were being properly used, you would not be moping around in that cardigan"

In case there is any doubt, I loved this book and devoured it in no time. I've never read a book that so wholeheartedly captures the sense of unease that a woman of a certain age feels at being unwed and perpetually single. It can feel like a disease, merely because one isn't prepared to settle for mediocre misery. Those that have often look on in distaste and hidden jealousy due to the wagon on which they are hitched.

This beautiful novel is an emotional journey and it took me back to travelling to Italy with my mother - trust me that is an emotional journey guaranteed to make you regress to your hideous sixteen year old, self-conscious self. I distinctly remember talking to a lady travelling solo at another Hotel du Lac( its quite the common name for a hotel by the lake - go figure) and she seemed so grown up and self assured next to me with my mother- transporting me into a Jennifer (in the novel) like figure. Part of the genius of this Booker Prize winning novel is the recognition of parts of oneself in the imperfect characters. One minute I was the solo writer with a penchant for hidden dalliances and fear of mediocrity, the next I was the young lady (ssh I'm not that old) burdened by her mother's omnipresent shadow.

Finally, the ending, and I'm not giving that away, really makes the entire experience memorable and fabulous. ***Avast ye eyes, spoilers be ahead*** Mr Neville's limpid proposal almost had me convinced that it would be easier to settle; thank goodness Edith has the internal fortitude to recognise  that a half lived live is a lame one.

5 out of 5 quiet hotels are torture with relatives or solo.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

"We are all migrants through time"

Every now and then you pick up a book and are transported to some far away world or location that speaks to the everyday in a way that a more literal, nonfiction treatise might not. Such is the case here. I love Hamid’s writing, it is both bare and beautiful. He really got my attention with The Reluctant Fundamentalist in a far more aggressive fashion. This novel, however, ebbs and flows like the crashing waves of young love, all enveloping to begin with and then petering out into the sands of time. Getting my hands on a copy has been high on my agenda since The Book Club  featured it in April of this year.

The love story begins in an atmosphere of growing violence and terror with escalating civil unrest at times keeping the lovers apart and finally bringing them together. The reader is unsure of the exact location of their home, just the need to escape and that is where things get really interesting. Doors open up to other locations in the world and random cities experience huge influxes of refugees through these magic portals. First Mykonos becomes overwhelmed by mass immigration, culminating in violence that the pair must escape, via the assistance of a young local girl, through another door to a mansion in London. Empty spaces are filled by the needy as the world magically faces the plight of the refugee. On such an epic scale of violence, fear and cultural clash, Saeed and Nadia’s relationship weathers and alters in a profoundly human fashion which reflects the way shared experiences bind you, while growth and maturity often send you in different directions.

It can’t just have been PMT; I actually felt quite teary when I finished this, it was just beautiful. In a world full of terror and violence, it’s reassuring that regardless of where we come from, what we choose to believe in or not, what language we speak or who we vote for, there are some experiences that transcend all of these and on that level we can all understand each other a little better. One can hope at any rate.

5 out of 5 times I’ve opened up a door and thought, “Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

I served the King of England by Bohumil Hrabal

"And then our naked bodies twined together and everything seemed liquid, as though we were snails, our moist bodies oozing out of our shells and into each other's embrace, and Lise shuddered and trembled violently, and I knew that I was both in love and loved in return, and it was so different from anything before."

I must confess to having seen the movie before reading the novel in this instance, something I’m usually loathe to do. That being said, I absolutely loved the movie and was eager to dive into the novel. Fortunately for my list ticking habits, this one also features on the Guardian’s 1000 novels everyone must read (fittingly in the Comedy section). 
Our hero, little Ditie, gives men of shorter stature a good name. Surely I can name a recent ex who 's life would improve with a dose of this character's optimism and deep ceded appreciation of women and Ditie does quite a bit of appreciating, particularly when he discovers the delights of the Paradise, a rather popular brothel. This tale is reminiscent of Bocaccio as it is earthy and amusing and yet it also includes insightful social commentary. In particular it explores the self serving lengths people will go to in the name of survival and  self promotion - marrying a nazi no less and aiming to be approved as suitable Aryan breeding material for example.
Every time the character of Zdenek made an appearance, I was reminded of my own Czech friend of the same name and his penchant for wild, roaming stories, much like this one.

While I loved the movie, I equally enjoyed the book.Now to find a man who will worship me with well placed flowers- one can dream. 

5 out of 5 naked flower arrangements.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Beloved by Toni Morrison

"All the time, I'm afraid the thing that happened that made it all right for my mother to kill my sister could happen again."

The week when work dramas and social chaos are pushing you towards some pretty silly behaviour is really not the week to appreciate a novel about slavery and killing kids and rape and other unsavoury things. I say this, by way of explanation, as I felt a little overwhelmed this week and reading this novel did nothing to help. In fact its style was so creepy and frustrating that even when horrific events happened in the novel I had some kind of delayed onset reaction to them. I was drowning in words and every now and then my head would hit the surface and think, crumbs, why am I reading this?

The answer would be, perhaps, that it is included on almost every must read list there is. How could I resist the siren call of a novel that is on almost every must read list? I couldn't. I succumbed and yet I didn't really enjoy or appreciate the experience. Upon reflection, I can appreciate its brilliance and originality. The tone and phrasing are something new to me and  only really reveal themselves as being memorable when revisiting the novel, days and dramas later. There's something wafting and dream like about it, the kind of dream that swings continually into nightmare territory. When is the perfect time to read an unsettling piece of literature? I wonder?

4 out of 5, sometimes you just have to take the unpleasant path.