Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Gateway by Frederik Pohl

“Anyway, that's what life is, just one learning experience after another, and when you're through with all the learning experiences you graduate and what you get for a diploma is, you die.”

In case the 5 out of 5 rating didn't tip you off, I really enjoyed this. It shouldn't work with he interruptions of advertisements, counselling sessions and the like, but it does. I was fully transfixed and transported to Gateway and the strange technology of the Heechee.

One of my favourite types of fiction is the genre-bending variety. This is classic sci-fi and recalls the tropes of the Western, bringing a sense of settling a new frontier on the back of pre-existing culture that is poorly understood.

The human race uses a spaceport full of ships left behind by an alien race to seek out more opportunities among the stars. Their understanding of how these ships work is rudimentary at best and a job seeking to plunder the universe's plenty can be lucrative but deadly.

I just loved that the protagonist is complex emotionally and the non-linear story telling style contributed to the sense of suspense. Sex is space, complicated relationships? This one has you covered. There is a lot going on here: shame, suspense, oh heck it has a treasure trove of emotional chaos perfectly suited to today's turbulent times. It seems that a one way ticket to space won't sort out all your problems, even when it includes full medical coverage.

I've told you too much dear reader. I say crack open the spine yourself and see why this novel still seems fresh some forty years after it was written. Why it won so many awards and why I really liked it. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

5 out of 5 black holes can really prolong the drama.

5 out of 5, 

Put Out More Flags by Evelyn Waugh

“He was used, in his own life, to a system of push, appeasement, agitation and blackmail, which, except that it had no more distinct aim than his own immediate amusement, ran parallel to Nazi diplomacy.”

Apologies darling, perhaps if life hadn’t been such a whirlpool of events and emotions of late, I would have given this novel the compliment of a five-star review.
Certainly, this is written with the vim and vigour of Waugh's other works and yet I just couldn't get on board.

I've since read a few reviews claiming this to be one of Waugh's forgotten masterpieces and it gave me pause. Perhaps I need to re-read, preferably on a warm beach when my view of the world is far more buoyant than wintery, overworked wench mode that I'm currently ensconced in.

4 out of 5 - moments that I really enjoyed, but not enough to distract me from life.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

How to be Champion by Sarah Millican

"The people you love can come in many forms. Men, women or dogs."

Whenever I've seen Sarah on television, I've just had to sit by the screen and watch the entire spot. She is always a delight. When I heard she had a book released, I was desperate to get my claws on a copy and I was not disappointed.
Her personality which shines through on the stage, translates with equal appeal to the page.

I love the style of combining biography with a self-help book narrative. It is both self-deprecatory and affirming at the same time. That sounds contradictory and yet it just works and will leave you smiling. What's not to love about that?

When I really enjoy a particular comedian's work, I always find it a strange thing. It feels like you know this person who has aired all their dirty laundry for your amusement. It is a rather intimate interaction. This book only serves to amplify that sense of familiarity and further solidifies my appreciation for this fantastic, be-spectacled comedienne.

One day, i'd love to sit down with a nice cup of tea ( because she doesn't drink booze as you'll discover if you crack the pages) and have a real chat with Sarah. In the interim, I'm pretty satisfied with reading her book. 

5 out of 5 hearty belly laughs make the world go round.

Never Greener by Ruth Jones

'If he could have replayed his life like a VHS tape, he'd have made it freeze-frame, put it on pause, and asked to pick up again from there. From that life-changing moment when he watched his beloved Belinda walk away and the whirlwind that was Kate Andrews came hurtling into his safe little world'

I loved Ruth Jones in Gavin and Stacey and Little Britain, so when I saw she had penned a novel, I immediately pre-ordered it. Had I waited for a bit more information on the plot, I’m not quite sure I would have been as super keen. Not to say that this novel isn't well written and entertaining, it certainly delivers on both fronts. Rather, it just lacks the level of humour that I had presupposed it would contain.

So before I dissuade you from reading a copy, let me guide you through the positives. The characters are well rounded individuals, full of flaws and somewhat morally ambiguous. That is to say, they come across as real, human, individuals and that is to be applauded. There are aspects here which sit uncomfortably, especially the infidelity aspects, and particularly with the added complications of children and unplanned pregnancies. Yet life is full of unpleasantness and the novel does provide an interesting format to challenge  presumptions about such circumstances.
Despite, or perhaps because of their flaws, I found I could relate to aspects of all of the characters. It was almost impossible to not experience some form of empathetic response to the messed up circumstances they all undergo. Life is not black and white and Jones delivers an intriguing palette of greys.

Did I also mention I finished this in a day, it is one heck of a quick, easy read and that is also a sign of a talented writer.

4 out of 5 - turns out being a successful, beautiful actress isn't necessarily all its cracked up to be.

4 out of 5

Sunday, 1 July 2018

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride

"And night. And us, sleeping nose to nose warm. Waking each other up for more."

Getting into the swing of reading this novel can take a little while. It is a slow burn. Its almost poetic style is at its most evocative when the action is its most intimate. When Irish drama student, Eily, moves to London she begins her journey into adulthood and if you had read McBride's other novel, you might guess that things can get rather dark.

This winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize is at its best when Eily and Stephen, her much older and troubled love interest, are in the bedroom. The sex scenes have an almost internal monologue, stream of consciousness  perspective that is powerful. So often you read sex scenes which just seem patently ridiculous or overly clinical, McBride manages to avoid both these problems and deliver something resembling the ethereal confusion of lust.

Similarly, there are some absolutely gut wrenching moments when Stephen relates his tales of abuse and the story behind why he is an absentee father. 

What you have here are moments of gold painted on the page, interspersed with a little narrative confusion which can often detract from the reading experience. This is not a happy read, it is possibly one that may require a stiff drink after because it is rather intense. I'm really intrigued to read others' impressions who have read this.

4 out of 5 noisy landladies are a good idea to move away from.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

The Riviera Set by Mary S. Lovell

"All went well until the matador slew the bull and presented Rita with the bloody ear."

On a recent trip to Canberra, I was lucky enough to enjoy a visit to the Cartier exhibition. I was struck by the jewels of one Daisy Fellowes and eager to find out more about the tantalising life of the Singer Sewing Machine Heiress. That led me to this book where she is name checked. Unfortunately she is only a minor character in the proceedings. The book focuses on Maxine Elliot and her palatial digs on the French Riviera.
Her initial rise to fame and riches is intriguing and once established the focus changes to her development of the Ch√Ęteau de l'Horizon and then the history of its hey day from the thirties until the demise of its next owner, Prince Ali Khan.

This is an easy read with some interesting tid-bits - particularly for those interested in the social life of Winston Churchill or my favourite pin up, Rita Hayworth. There are a gaggle of well known names here and some interesting bon-mots which could have perhaps provided even further salacious details to keep the reader on board. Not that the book isn't fantastic, I just wanted a smudge more.

4 out of 5, right now I'm dreaming of expensive vacations on the Riviera while dealing with a rubbish winter.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Saturday by Ian McEwan

"Henry can't resist the urgency of his cases, or deny the egotistical joy in his own skills, or the pleasure he still takes in the relief of the relatives when he comes down from the operating room like a god, an angle with the glad tidings – life, not death."

This was one of those occasions where I made the mistake of purchasing the e-book rather than the physical variety. I wish I hadn't. This was so great that it really deserved sharing. There is so much going on here in so few pages, it is expertly rendered and almost poetic in its depth.

One of the more unexpected notes is the literary references which pepper a novel about a neurosurgeon. It is really interesting to see the interactions within a family peopled by the artistic, creative types - Hugo the musician, Daisy the poet; and the practical - Henry the surgeon and his wife , the journalist, a chronicler of facts. It was almost hand crafted for someone trying to finish the 1001 list of novels to read before you die ( hello – that's totally me!).

It is amazing how McEwan captures the heightened sensations of a post 9-11 world, coupled with much more immediate threats of violence. This book has non-stop thrills and spills that have your heart beating at a faster pace, while it also tugs at your fears about ageing and dementia.  How can so much fit within such a slim volume? It truly is a masterpiece.

I feel it would be terribly mean of me to give away the main action, other than to say it is gripping and you definitely need to get yourself a copy. Energy, suspense, depth of feeling, this one has it all.

5 out of 5 this one really spoke to me.