Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Any Human Heart by William Boyd

“I looked at the punters, the drinkers – my species sharers – and wished them all dead”

I feel ever so slightly fan-girlish for admitting that reading that this books was  a favourite of Tom Hiddleton‘s certainly pushed it in my direction. This is a lengthy and expansive journal style novel that traverses countless historical events and figures – Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Ian Fleming and others make intriguing cameos – along with the continents of Europe, America and Africa.

 Logan Mountstuart lives a life full of  love, lust, adventure and misadventure all with a somewhat Hugh Grant-esque persona. There is a sense that he is somewhat out of control and life is what happens when he isn’t even making any plans. Here is a man controlled by whim, who floats through life seemingly without a care and yet experiences intense pain and hurting many as he meanders through life. Most of the hurt he deals out is a result of his lack of fidelity, and when he finally finds the perfect mate, tragedy ensues.

Beginning with his school days, then progressing to University at Oxford, Mountstuart’s life is never dull, and never particularly financially secure. As he ages, a trace remains of the younger man, even when the body might not be quite able to keep pace.

5 out of 5 lives are full of the unexpected.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

"Around them the house stead­ied and lo­cated them, above them the hills slept watch­fully, small ed­dies of air and sound and move­ment stirred and waited and whis­pered, and the cen­ter of con­scious­ness was some­how the small space where they stood, four sep­a­rated peo­ple, and looked trust­ingly at one an­other."

Prepare yourself for a creepy read. This is the kind of book designed  for October 31st, or to be read around a campfire. There is a constant state of fear, suspense and impending doom.
Dr Montague is seeking scientific evidence of a haunting and is joined by Theodora, Eleanor  and Luke. Will they survive living in the spooky expanse? Queue banging doors, changing temperatures, and unusual experiences all around.

Clearly I'm not the only one who liked this supernatural tome. It appears in the Guardian 1000 novels you must read list, along with a number of other recommendations I've noticed online. Published in 1959, it was also a finalist in the National Book Awards for 1960 and, according to wikipedia, formed the inspiration for two feature films and a play.

I had to leave the book alone in the bedroom and head out for some company before starting on this review.

5 out of 5 creaking doors and temperature changes

National Book Award Finalist for Fiction (1960)

The Witch Of Napoli by Michael Schmicker

“Women have been deceiving men since the Garden of Eden. They’ve had centuries of practice.” 

I was lucky enough to receive a review epub of this book through, the only draw back being I had to read it on my iphone. This took me quite awhile to complete. Fittingly, I finished the book in Italy, sitting on the front porch, fruilano wine in hand.
It is an enchanting tale of a young man and his interactions with an infamous psychic, who just may be the real thing.

Could the enticing Alessandra Poverelli, the titular witch of Napoli, be one of the few mediums to actually commune with the afterlife? A posse of scientists are out to discredit her. Some will believe, some will fall for her and one will be an insidious nemesis. For young would be journalist and narrator Tommaso, a european escapade with the mysterious medium offers new opportunities for adventure and self promotion.

One thing is for sure, you are going to, at best, vehemently dislike the character of Huxley.

4 out of 5 levitating tables are a bit wobbly

The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

"What was it to love some­one, what was love ex­actly, and why did it end or not end?"

I wanted to read this before seeing the Cate Blanchett helmed adaptation that is soon to hit the screens. As with the Ripley stories, Highsmith's writing is a delight as she explores this love story that cannot be.
Is Therese merely in the grip of a school girl crush on the sophisticated Carol, as her boyfriend would have her believe, or do they really have something? Life will conspire to ensure that this unlikely pairing will have drastic ramifications. Terry is so frustrating in her youthful insistence on disregarding anything but her intense feelings, particularly when Carol is initially so distant and appears to treat Terry as merely the latest novelty. Carol's friend, Abby, cuts a sad figure throughout.

Ultimately this is an intriguing tight novel which is certainly worth a read and I'm interested to see how the adaptation works out. I imagine they will amp up the sexual relationship which is muted and hinted at more than anything in the novel.

 4 out of 5 doomed love affairs are everywhere.

Monday, 24 August 2015

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

'A gated com­mu­nity of a his­tor­i­cal sort, a fortress of bar­ris­ters and judges who were also mu­si­cians, wine fanciers, would-be writ­ers, fly fish­er­men and racon­teurs."

There is a clear reason why Ian McEwan has consistently appeared on the best seller lists, he has an extraordinary manner of invading the minds of his characters and bringing them into the light. Here I sit, having just finished this intriguing novel, in a small Northern Italian village, and yet I've been transported to London's Courts for an emotional visit.
Fiona is an erudite high court job with family problems of her own that might just impact her ability to impart impartial judgements in family law cases. One case, that of a young teen Jehovah's witness in dire need of a blood transfusion, will have a considerable impact on her life.
This is compelling stuff and certainly something I would recommend. I think in part because of the surgical way it dissects emotional upheavals and brings them to light. The dryness and unexpected upheaval that the death of a sexual relationship can bring about, along with the neediness engendered when parental constraints are turned over is intricately explored. There are many layers, all of them fascinating.

5 out of 5 watchtowers weren't sung about by Jimi Hendrix.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

"It doesn’t make sense, and I could scream with the frus­tra­tion of it, the not know­ing, the use­less­ness of my own brain."

Everyone it seems is raving about The Girl on the Train, and settle in readers, I'm about to do the same. Told from the perspective of three very different women with a lot more in common than they realise, it is captivating in its doling out of suspense by the truck load.
Along with the crime mystery aspects it delivers an insightful portrayal of the unsavoury results of infidelity and divorce - sadness, loneliness, alcoholism, jealousy - all rear their ugly heads within.
Rachel is unable to cope with her divorce from Tom. Her inability to have children has led her down a dark path of copious drinking, black outs and the termination of her marriage. Tom meanwhile has moved on to Anna and now has a little baby, to Rachel's constant consternation. Having lost her job, Rachel pretends to go to work every day on the train and is fixated by a couple whose window she spies in passing. 

When the woman from the couple in the window disappears, Rachel will be drawn into the web of mystery. Her black outs make her an unreliable narrator and really add to the suspense. What happened that Saturday night? You will want to finish it and find out.

5 out of 5 train trips haven't been this intriguing since Hitchcock.

The Rosie Project By Graeme Simsion

"If Gene and Clau­dia had owned a rab­bit, it would have been in se­ri­ous dan­ger from a dis­grun­tled lover."

It is rare for me to actually enjoy a novel or film that is of the romantic comedy variety. Usually everyone is oh so perfect and annoying, this is the exception. It gives me unending joy to think that it harks from a Melbournian writer and it made me smile every time I recognised a location from my previous home of several years.

Don Tillman is a little unique, to put it mildly, and yet he is adorable. Unable to read social queues, the professor of genetics, realises that he faces a lonely future and so embarks on 'the wife project' to find a life partner. His dating mishaps are hilarious, as is his continual naiveté and wonder at the goings on around him.

When his dodgy friend, Gene, sends him an unlikely candidate in the form of bartender Rosie, Don's life gets turned upside down. A new project threatens his job and his  way of life, but promotes intriguing changes and Gregory Peck style costume changes and I really enjoyed the ride.

5 out of 5 restaurants require jackets.