Saturday, 22 November 2014
On the outer deck of a North Sea ferry stands Futh, a middle-aged and newly separated man, on his way to Germany for a restorative walking holiday. After an inexplicably hostile encounter with a hotel landlord, Futh sets off along the Rhine. As he contemplates an earlier trip to Germany and the things he has done in his life, he does not foresee the potentially devastating consequences of things not done.
Sometimes when I read a book that has been shortlisted for a major literary prize I find it a little bit off putting and I half expect myself to be disappointed. But I really did enjoy 'The Lighthouse'.
It's not the most exciting book I've ever read and I wouldn't exactly call it a thrill a minute but the beauty lies elsewhere. Rather than being plot heavy it is character driven and cleverly crafted. It pulled me in from the beginning and I found that the pages were literally turning themselves. This is a story about memories and about how bad memories cling to the surface of happy memories like a snow drop sticking to a cold window. It is also a story that gives the reader time to breathe and time to fill in the blanks. I always say that 50% of a book is written by the person that is reading it. Alison Moore makes use of this with a clever use of subtle, yet powerful ambiguity.
I think it's the ambiguity that I like the most about this short novel. It's the story untold rather than the story told that makes it work so well. Whether it is deserving of a Man Booker Prize shortlisting, I'll let you decide.
Tuesday, 18 November 2014
Eight year old TC skips school to explore the city's overgrown, forgotten corners. Sophia, seventy-eight, watches with concern as he slips past her window, through the little park she loves. She's writing to her granddaughter, Daisy, whose privileged upbringing means she exists in a different world from TC - though the two children live less than a mile apart.
I have been waiting for a book like this to come along for a long time. It just goes to show what hidden gems are waiting for us in our local libraries.
As a nature lover it's as if this book was written for me. Each page is full of such wonderful prose, it's beautiful, almost edible. It's quite a short book but I found it impossible to read quickly, almost obligatory that I should read it slowly. The setting, an unnamed urban city area is as real as the main characters are perfectly drawn. This is one of those books that has an atmosphere. Or as Paul Farley, Author of The Ice Age: Poems, says, 'it has it's own weather.'
I was wandering through the brambles and the tree roots with TC. I was there. In this book and it captured me. What an impressive debut novel. You can find out more about Melissa Harrison at Tales Of The City
I can't wait for her new book.
Tuesday, 11 November 2014
On a trip to London a young man sees a woman sat on the opposite platform and falls head over heels in love. Then she disappears.
Yesterday I visited my local library and came back with five very different books and I chose to read this Quick Read first. The beauty of Quick Reads is that you have the opportunity to try out something different, something that you wouldn't normally even look at. This is what I would normally call a kitchen sink drama. There's no big storyline or plot, it just follows the antics of a couple of twenty somethings on a night out in London.
It's harmless enough but it left me feeling unfulfilled. The story is pretty unrealistic (especially the night out in London) and the ending is so convenient Josephine Cox may as well have wrapped it in a little cotton bow and finished it off with the famous last line 'and they all lived happily ever after.'
Try flicking through a woman's magazine the next time you visit your dentist and you may find a story just like this. That's all I can say really.
Monday, 10 November 2014
Set in post war Leeds, a young boy's world is turned upside down when a local man is hanged for a crime he didn't commit. A crime that goes to the heart of everything he believes in.
This could have been such a great read. It's nostalgic, the main characters are well written and the main story is enough for any reader to get their teeth into. But unfortunately this book commits the ultimate crime that has befallen many a book over the years. It tries to be too many things. For some reason the author didn't seem to have a lot of faith in his story (which was good by the way) and the story ends up going off into all kinds of strange directions.
For some reason he throws a rape storyline into the mix as well as a bizarre car chase and then an even more bizarre dead body in the back of a car and caps it all off with a mining disaster! Not to mention a couple of murders and the main character waking up to find a dead boy hanging at the end of his bed! There's too much going on in such a short book that it well and truly borders on the ridiculous at times. And the frustrating thing is that the main storyline is very good and didn't need everything that I've just mentioned.
I fell in love with the main characters and the main storyline was gripping and had everything that a reader would want. But sadly a good book has been ruined by going off into too many crazy tangents. It made the whole book unrealistic.
Monday, 3 November 2014
Anchored somewhere in the Thames, a sailor tells his shipmates a story. A story about savages, a story about an amazing journey, a story about ivory.
Ok I hold my hands up. I read this because Stephen King mentioned it in his fabulously helpful book 'On Writing.' But I can only describe my experience of reading Heart of Darkness by saying it's a bit like reading Marmite. In parts the writing is faultless. Conrad's prose and use of imagery is in places exceptional and anybody wanting to improve their writing can learn so much from it. The book also gives a fascinating and gloomy insight into what atrocities were committed at the hands of the British Empire. Most of us roll our eyes up at some of the terrible things that are happening around the world at the moment but books like this are a startling reminder that were arguably just as bad at one time.
However this was also a difficult read. At times it was like reading a very long and annoying cryptic poem. For such a short book it did feel much longer and I wouldn't advise anybody to read it too quickly. There isn't much of a plot and I can't honestly say that I enjoyed it exactly, although I did appreciate some of the wonderful prose.
To sum up I'd say that reading Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is like eating a very strange fruit. It's different and it tastes funny but it's not something you'd necessarily want to eat again in a hurry.
Fundamentally this is a story about power and greed. And coincidentally enough I can draw real parallels between this and my last read, The Great Gatsby. Both books revolving around selfishness and featuring mysterious elusive characters who come to a sudden, tragic end.
Did I appreciate it's educational merits? Yes. Did I enjoy it? Not really. Essentially books should be fun to read. This has no doubt been used around the world as an English homework staple but that doesn't mean it's fun!