Saturday, 24 January 2015

Charles Dickens by Simon Callow

"This was pure bliss for Dickens: making things happen by throwing all his energies at them, performing the role of the director - and indeed the role of the character in the play - to the hilt, leading his band of players and prompters to the top of the theatrical mountain."

I liked this book so much I bought it twice. Let me explain. I was supremely fortunate enough to witness first hand Simon Callow's address to the Melbourne Writer's Festival on Charles Dickens and quickly snapped up a copy post speech. That copy sat in my to read pile through 4 moves - namely because I have a large to read pile.

I finally cracked the covers some time last year and was immediately enchanted. So much so, that the book accompanied me on buses, ferries, trains and taxis and at page 160, that is no doubt where the ill fated tome ended up.

When its replacement arrived recently, I figured it was time to make haste while the sun shined and was not disappointed. Callow's joy in Dickens' works and portrayal of the importance of theatrical performance and character study is fantastic.

I have to say that after listening to his speech, I started reading a number of Dickens novels that I had avoided to date - intimidated by size and language. One unforgettable message is the power of reading Dickens aloud - something which has the power to truly alter your experience, if like me, you had been a little reticent to jump in.

The life, loves, performances and personal history of the author is delightfully captured and Callow's prose is easy to devour.

5 out of 5 best of times.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong

"Zipless, you see, not  because European men have button-flies rather than zipper-flies, and not because the participants are so devastatingly attractive, but because the incident has all the swift compression of a dream and is seemingly free of all remorse and guilt"

Ah Isadora, ditching your boring dependable husband for a decent sexual adventure with an unreliable Englishman; what would you make of today's Tinder fuelled get togethers?
I was torn by this book, some of it was a tad close to home; honestly lady, get out of my head.The rest was a little frustrating.

Choosing freedom and unbridled lust works for a while, but then, after celebrating the notion of no guilt and just enjoying life, she misses poor old reliable Bennett and bubble-bath.That really annoyed me!

Perhaps that is all our cross to bear as the female of the species. We're constantly told that we have to settle - mainly due to the horrendous beating of the reproductive drum. If we dare to unleash the inner minx, we're branded with horrid slurs and sometimes end up believing them.

There is a navel gazing honesty in this novel that explains its success and its ability to remain relevant. Then of course there is also that train scenario which, lets face it, sounds pretty tempting. Ladies, if you haven't had an Adrian like crazy episode in your life, your memoirs might be sadly lacking, but your life might be just fine. I'd take the memoirs option.

5 out of 5 eternal optimists dream of a happy ending.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum by Heinrich Boll

“He had wanted a bang, hadn't he, and I'd banged, hadn't I?”

This is a relatively short read that for me, necessitated a second look. Perhaps I read through it a little quickly on the first pass and on reflection I derived a whole  lot more than the first.

It seems oddly appropriate for today, where the 24 hour news cycle acts as judge, juror and executioner, to explore this story. The prose is direct and to the point, it reads almost like a police report and that fits perfectly with the subject matter.

 4 out of 5 words get twisted in the ether.

Friday, 9 January 2015

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

"I don't know what  I expected, but I expected something"

Another hard fought tick of the 1001 books to read list down for the year and this one proved an initially difficult read. Engagement with the convoluted plot and diverse characters was particularly challenging, right up until the final few chapters.

Strangely enough, it was the ending which completely drew me in and made me re-evaluate my initially negative response to the text. The books is quite postmodern, a book within a book, challenging the divisions between the real and imagined.

It is the story of 15 year old Alma Singer that drew me in, one of a number of tales that appear completely independent save for their interaction with the book The History of Love. The mystery that surrounds the book and its authorship almost make it another character in of itself.

4 out of 5 books are full of love.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

The Lady Vanishes by Ethel Lina White

"Her witnesses must satisfy the most exacting taste - being British to the core."

Reading the novel that formed the basis of the Hitchcock classic was lots of fun. I'm currently re-watching the film to refresh my memory and there are a great deal of differences and yet some central similarities.

Warning: Spoilers lie ahead.

In the novel, there is quite a lot more back story with Iris and her scandalous friends. This is hinted at in the movie where she throws her money about, drinking champagne and tossing people out of their rooms in the hotel, but neglects the partner swapping and near naked hi jinks of the novel.

Miss Froy, while middle-aged, seems a lot younger in the novel and is not part of a spy ring, so as you can imagine, the central business of the story is changed significantly.Mind you, I absolutely love the Miss Froy of the movie - it is almost impossible to watch the film without loving her.

In the novel we learn to harbour a fear of the Doctor character far earlier on, with Miss Froy's tale about the wrongly diagnosed young woman trapped in the asylum.
The reason for the lady vanishing in the novel lies more in what Miss Froy is a witness to rather than humming a tune to relay information back to the Foreign Office as in Hitchcock's film.

Put simply, both works are great and I really enjoyed their differences. The novel reads more like a morality tale in some ways. Ignoring and treating fellow hotel guests with disdain leads to a lack of sympathy from them when Iris gets into trouble. All the passengers, particularly the 'newly-weds' (the adulterous couple whose story is more fleshed out in the novel) have their reasons to ignore Iris' pleas for help, wanting an uninterrupted return to England and thus put the life of Miss Froy in danger.

The movie to me, seems more about the growing love story that guides Iris' progress and I confess to enjoying the visually appealing couple in focus.

5 out of 5 train trips are never this eventful.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

“Drink­ing and dri­ving is the ab­solute worst, be­cause un­like doing coke in your base­ment while you teach your­self gui­tar, you could kill some­one else”

I didn’t expect to enjoy this even more than her comedy counterpart’s recent book BossyPants, but I did. Amy seems like the kind of crazy I’d enjoy hanging out with.

Amy is self deprecatory, effusive in her praise for her friends and colleagues and of course, down right funny. The photographs and mementoes included are destined to bring a smile to your face. I loved the the time travelling swim suit too.

The section on the mobile phone reminds me so much of myself, that and the reaction to the Haitian chauffeur.

My first book read for 2015 and what a positive start to the year! Perhaps I should have had writing more insightful reviews as my resolution, but who keeps those anyway.

5 out of 5, yes I’ll have what she’s having.

The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde

"The King and Queen had told me she needed educating, and a fact-finding mission to the wildly unpredictable Cambrian Empire might be just the thing"

The third instalment of the Last Dragonslayer series is, put simply, great fun. I love Fforde's zany tales, and Jennifer Strange is such an endearing character. 

Throw in a dangerous quest ( is it a quest, well it sort of is a quest, but unofficially) in a treacherous land, with a ten year old tour guide, a trainee wizard and a disguised princess of Snood ( that disguise isn't fooling anyone).

Off to find the Eye of Zoltar, will Kazam's acting head triumph or fall victim, the statistics don't look good. Chock full of giggles and unlikely adventures this will keep your inner child entertained.

5 out of 5 plastic dragons make good pool toys.