Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

They left me in the cabin, that I might rest. Blessed be sleep! It visiteth all alike, descending as the dews of heaven on the bond and free.”

After watching the recent Academy Award Winning film, it was time to delve into the source material and see from whence it came. Separated from the star power that brought the story to life on screen (seriously Fassbender, Ejiofor and Cumberbatch – 3 guys I’d love to be in the same room with), the 1853 memoir loses nothing of its gut wrenching power through the medium of prose. As readers however we should all be grateful to Steve McQueen for shedding light on the source material and a man who overcame unthinkable obstacles just to return to his ordinary life.

Northup’s narrative is so engaging and speaks clearly of an intelligent, genuine, family man who is ripped away from everything he holds dear and treated like chattel. Forced to hide the true circumstances of his status as a free  man for fear of life threatening beatings, Northup, once absconded by slave traders, remains enslaved for an unbearably lengthy time ( as the title suggests).

I have to admit to being more pleasantly disposed to the Canadian carpenter character in the book than the movie. The Pitt factor was too much of a distraction in the cinematic interpretation.

5 out of 5, as MJ said “It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white”

Monday, 26 May 2014

Frog Music a novel by Emma Donoghue

"How dare Jenny have posed as a great eccentric, a dazzling original, the exception to all the rules of womanhood?"

I had the great fortune of being front row for Emma Donoghue’s closing address to the Sydney Writer’s Festival and had eagerly devoured her latest novel, Frog Music, in Anticipation. What an engaging speaker and what a compelling read! I can't believe I forgot to bring my copy - no signing for me - boo!

Closing the cover, upon completing my reading, I mused on the subject matter of her books and the notion that if I’d really known up front what they were about, I’d probably be dissuaded from picking them up in the first place, thereby missing out on some amazing novels (I refer to the two novels I‘ve read, this new one and the oftentimes shocking, albeit in a well-crafted way- Room).  Emma’s speech was enlightening, for it covered that exact topic and particularly the importance of taking a reader on a journey they might not feel the need to embark on.

Back to the novel, which features a saucy French burlesque dancer/ lady of the night, Blanche Beunon, whose life will be altered by her introduction to a pants wearing, frog catching, bicycle riding, enigmatic, yet free spirit, called Jenny Bonnet. Her friendship and the hitherto unprecedented pull of maternal affection that Blanche feels for baby, P'tit, pave the foundations for the action of the novel and an entertaining murder mystery. I feel loathe to give too much away, I’d rather you just read the book and then we could have a nice chat about it.

Perhaps one of the more intriguing aspects of it is the pull that various influences have on our lives, sometimes in a destructive way. The reunion with her baby, shifts her drive from whore to mother, and yet muddies the waters as Blanche tries to make these two sides of herself meet in some kind of manageable way.

The book has some historical basis, which the author has kindly provided on her website, however I wholeheartedly agree with her recommendation to leave the facts until after you’ve finished the book.

Lust, frogs, murder, smallpox, San Francisco 1876 – if that doesn’t whet your appetite, give it a try, I’m sure you will be drawn in.

5 out of 5 frogs sing its not that easy being green.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

War with the newts by Karel Capek

"And then all that was to be heard was a dark and boundless rushing sound as of rising waters"

I have a large pile of books to be read and seem to be choosing them in a strange fashion. It is weird that while reading about newts, I was simultaneously making my way through Twelve Years a Slave, Frog music  and  The Origins of the Species.  I say that's weird as evolution, amphibians and slavery all have their part to play in this unusual Czech novel.

I was guided to it by its place in the 1001 books to read list and I have to say it took a while to get into. While not a particularly lengthy tome, the writing is quite dense and the satire takes it time until you find yourself at moments simply laughing out loud at the absurdity of some of the action, and, almost in the same breath, stepping back and pondering what man's treatment of the ugly newts says about man. The initial superficial response to the newts is to brand them as something of an unattractive novelty, a 'devil ' , or a handy collector of pearls. The fake quotes are a hoot
                    "They have no sex appeal. So they can't have a soul - Mae West".

The newts increased interaction with mankind and ability to read and speak leads to some amusing action, before venturing more firmly into political satire and finally all out war - as the title suggests.

Not as quick a read as one might expect by its size, yet certainly an interesting and entertaining one.

5 out of 5 slippery salamanders can be sticklers.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

“Pasquale’s eyes felt heavy and he thought it might be the most intimate thing possible, to fall asleep next to someone in the afternoon” 

What a delightful respite from the world of deadlines and curmudgeon like workmates. This story is all about missed opportunities and semi-idyllic locales. Throw in a soupcon of Hollywood glamour and you just know this is one you should pack to take on holidays. Or, like me, if you need a break from the perpetual ground hog day of life, this is the perfect remedy.

I really enjoyed the layered story lines that converged in a particularly entertaining fashion. It is romantic, at times sad, at others hopeful. In summary it is definitely worth checking out and did I mention Liz Taylor, Richard Taylor and ITALY!!

5 out of 5 holiday romances can remain with you forever.

The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordon Belfort

"In the past, I had stuck drugs up my ass too—going through this coun­try or that—and it wasn’t a bar­rel of laughs. "

What can i say about this one that hasn't been said before? The author is a pathetic excuse for a human being whose moral compass is probably lodged firmly in the place where he might have smuggled drugs previously. This is a case where the movie was probably less repugnant than the book, merely because it was a fiction and this claims to be a true story.
It reads like an advertisement for quaaludes and prostitutes. Women are merely a commodity, ripping people off is a career and putting people's lives in danger through utterly stupid behaviour is tossed aside as an amusing anecdote.

Belfort's behaviour is so atrocious that you might feel some kind of prophylaxis is required before you touch the pages.. lord knows where they've been.

No wonder we had a global financial crisis and at least he went to jail for a short time. Mind you it is almost unfathomable that the guy is now making a living as a motivational speaker.

Still, I read the book,so where does that leave me? Well, I finished it unscathed and after the week I've had I can see the allure of some Lemmon 714.

3 out of 5 dwarf tossers agree.

Friday, 9 May 2014

The Hotel on Place Vendome by Tilar J Mazzeo

"Simone de Beauvois left Ernest Hemingway surrounded by half empty bottles of scotch and rumpled bed clothes, the next morning.The Hotel Ritz wasn't the only thing that was liberated that night in Paris".

Scandal, collaboration, a steady stream of cocktails and suspense; the history of the famous Ritz Hotel in Paris is action packed, salacious and makes for an entertaining read. There are high points and low, the heady heights of fashion combine with the seedy underbelly of wartime collaboration and seduction and the pages just fly by.

Much has been written about World War II, yet this fresh perspective opens an intriguing window into the changing fortunes of a top hotel, its guest and its invaders - be they American or German. This melting pot of drama for the rich and famous involves the reader in the intrigues of household names including Hemingway, Chanel, Marcel Proust and Marlene Dietrich - now that would make for an entertaining dinner party - non?

Its not all high fashion and high balls, the stark reality of war certainly retains its presence  including the ugly aftermath of post occupation retributions - one minute you're a feted, popular actress enjoying the high life despite the war; the next people are shaving off your hair and calling you names ( and that's if you're lucky). As always, and particularly in the case of Chanel, it helps to have powerful friends.

5 out of 5, I imagine 'papa' Hemingway and I would have had a whale of a time together.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

"She had a brisk air of bristle, like a terrier bitch. There was ex-whore written all over her."

Despite what amounts to a very cool looking cover and the fact that I've really enjoyed some other works by the same author; this one just really didn't do it for me. Perhaps it was the continued weirdness, yes , I get that its fantasy but the cockney feathered lady was just a little bit too much for me, never mind the other weird characters.
I have to say, I find the idea of the circus repugnant and I'm never sure why. Other people I know marvel at Cirque de Soleil, but for me the circus is to theatre as porn is to movies. Sure its filmed the same way, but it leaves you feeling a bit dirty and the stars strike me as something tainted. It's a personal bias but one that probably drives my inability to engage with this novel.
It also doesn't help that Jack comes across as such a hopeless sap. I prefer a male protagonist that is a bit more together than this love sick pup who at times really loses it 'cock a doodle doo".

2 out of 5, I'm scared of clowns

The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault by Angela Carter

"A beautiful soul is one thing, a beautiful face another. But love alone can touch the heart."

What is not to love about Ms Carter's translation of the age olde french fairytales that inspired some of Walt Disney's most famous works? The moral to Red Riding Hood in particular is just plain gold.
There are ogres and horrid creatures, scary characters and adorable ones, yet they appear far more adult and foreboding than the Disney variety. This does not detract from the tale at all. Certainly, the brevity of these tales belies how great they are.

Who could resist the cover of this book at any rate?

5 out of 5 ...ooh look these shoes fit!

Legend by David Gemmell

"Blood, death, conquest, starvation, plague and horror"

Damn this is good! Well, let's just say I wasn't having the best time of it. University take home exam and all, but in snippets of spare time- dinner, lunch etc, I managed to devour this fantasy gem.
Weirdly, in the midst of death and destruction, it is the love story that really brings it all together, that and insurmountable odds, big battle scenes and ... oh what am I saying, pick up a copy and find out for yourself, you won't be disappointed.

I know I'm  late to the party, the author died in 2006 which is doubly tragic, since I've just discovered his brilliant work and to think it was written way back in 1984 - yes indeed  I am a late bloomer where it is concerned, fortunately, I note he wrote other books.. so there are still more to devour.

What more can I say, other than THIS IS EPIC! It is hard to believe that this was a debut novel. Reading that the author described himself as "tall and flawed" in an interview - err... hello that just about describes yours truly - made me love this all the more upon reflection.

This novel is the stuff of legend... read on!
P.S. Steve if you haven't read this already, get thyself a copy pronto.

5 out of 5 warriors go berserk at the prospect of an un-winnable war