Thursday, 23 February 2017

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes

"Sarcasm was dangerous to its user, identifiable as the language of the wrecker and the saboteur"

This novel is a delicious surprise package. Looking at such a slim volume, the reader could be mistaken that this might be a short-lived distraction, lacking emotional weight. 
That would be a massive miscalculation. Perhaps it resonated with me particularly because, quite coincidentally, my first visit to a live symphony was actually a celebration of the work of Shostakovich. 
The tale is likely to resonate with the times we find ourselves in, fake news, blind agreement, mob rule; the Internet age has birthed its own thought police reminiscent of the dark times of Russian History. Where a talented man's art can fall victim to the vagaries of political expediency and the dominant rhetoric.
Casting aside the political, the aspect of the novel that is truly amazing is the lyrical style of the prose which is as beautiful and moving as music. It ebbs and flows with impeccable timing and is to be admired.
This is the kind of novel that writers dream of writing, intoxicating and beautiful.

5 out of 5 songs can also be cyclical.

Before Lunch by Angela Thirkell

"In it stood the largest, most hideous, most elephant-legged grand piano that Edwardian money could buy."

I really wanted to love this more, it had moments of such delight, despite the timing being a little off. Somewhere in the middle, my interest waned and then, just when I would consider abandoning it, it evoked the odd chuckle and my progress was reinvigorated. I was introduced to this novel by its inclusion in The Guardian's 1000 novels you must read.
I'd probably describe it as Wodehouse Light. It brings a lighter touch to the humour, which is more polite, hidden and yet often, more pointed. This is polished, amusing and subtle and yet it just lacked a little sparkle for me.

I'd really enjoy hearing some other views and I imagine this would make a fantastic television adaptation, somewhere between Downton Abbey and Miss Fisher minus the murder.

 4 out of 5 subtle chuckles.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

"As the winter deepened, the transparent clarity of Nook's eyes seemed to increase"

This was one of the rare occasions where I'd seen the movie adaptation first. If you're familiar with my reviews you will know that's usually something I try and avoid. Thankfully the book and movie are quite different and diverging beasts, so I was able to put it out of mind.
What's not to love about Murakami and his mix of the dreamlike and the visceral? I'm a fairly recent convert to his works and am certainly enjoying discovering each offering. The other worldliness of being a young adult at university is captured here, albeit with some rather depressing tones of suicide and mental illness. Sex is at the centre of it all, whether it be the one off, life changing kind, the casual hook ups that grow increasingly amorphous or the healing, feeling of belonging kind. Just like life its all a bit confusing and a bit of a mishmash. Set in the 1960s, and the title reflecting the favourite Beatle's song of the protagonist's friend, then later girlfriend (of a sort). She is Naoko, the former girlfriend of Toro Watanabe's best childhood friend ( who kills himself). Joined by their shared loss of KIzuki at the tender age of 17, Toro and Naoko have a strange and often strained relationship.
Toro's love life, and often lack of it, makes for engaging reading and introduces a strange and often tortured parade of characters. If it all sounds a little bit too gloom and doom, it isn't, it remains page turning-ly compelling and is a beautiful read.
I don't wish to ruin the book for you, so, semi-spoiler - the ending drove me to distraction and left me feeling bereft. When you take into account that the beginning of the book is Toro looking back miserably,it does, however, draw a someone perfect symmetry. I wish I understood Japanese so that I could really explore the source.

 5 out of 5 times you can never read too much Murakami.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer

"The tingle became an uncomfortable burning sensation in the base of her skull that quickly spread to clamp her entire head in a fiery vice."

I finally finished the series and while I commenced with vigour, that has somewhat dropped off as I've progressed. Yes, I know this is fodder for kids, that doesn't dissuade me usually. There's a sense of contractual obligation, both in my forcing myself ( in my contract with me) to finish reviewing everything I read and in the author completing the eighth and final episode.
How to tell you what happens without giving away everything?  Well, Opal Koboi is back, mad, bad and dangerous  and potentially about to destroy everything.  The Fowl family are firmly in her sights, particularly the familial home and one Artemis and his brother.
 Throw in the usual fairy crowd and settle in for one last ride.

4 out of 5 adventures all come to an end.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

"I wasn't about to do myself an injury, for the  sake of a sixteen-inch waist"

Sarah Waters has this amazing ability to transport a reader, well certainly this one, back into a vivid, palpable past. I'm certainly not the only fan of her work, this particular novel, published in 2002 to high acclaim, garnered nominations for the Booker and Orange prizes. I've come to this novel through its inclusion in the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die  list.

So, to the novel itself. Prepare to travel back to London in 1862 and some rather unsavoury pickpockets - or Fingersmiths- have the delicately, somewhat innocent, orphan, Sue Trinder. Her life is about to change, as she is engaged in an elaborate con under the guidance of 'the gentleman'. Taking on the position of a lady's maid to swindle the strange, Maud Lily, the unworldly Sue has no idea what lies in store and how much her world will be shaken up through this dodgy endeavour.

I don't want to tell you anymore, except that you should grab yourself a copy, and enjoy. I loved the carved up structure, the thriller-esque unfolding of events and the sense of being back in time.

5 out of 5 times you can't trust a fence.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

"Tuppence pulled herself together with an effort.Her voice shook a little, but she spoke out bravely."

I recall fondly my pre-teens when I was completely enamoured of the work of Agatha Christie. Happily I recently discovered this little treasure which is out of copyright and therefore freely available on the net. Tuppence is sick of being broke and laments her current cash strapped status while talking with her old pal, Tommy. Together they form, The Young Adventurers Ltd, ready to do anything for money. That sounds far more salacious than anything they volunteer for.
The two young adventurers find themselves swept up in some dangerous, international intrigue regarding a missing girl, some classified documents and the mysterious Inspector Brown.
Adventure, money, romance, spies and drama are all part of the status quo here and the pages fly back in merry succession. A very quick read and an enjoyable one!

5 out of 5 dynamic duos are always a winning combination.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Artemis Fowl and the Atlantis Complex

"A part of Artemis was horrified by this newfound superstition about numbers"

Artemis Fowl is not himself and it seems overexposure to the fairy world is to blame. Cut adrift from his ever faithful Butler ( who has his own adventures to deal with) things could get rather dicey for our usually evil tween mastermind.

Trapped deep in the recesses of his own mind courtesy of the titular Atlantis Complex, our anti-hero might now be in real danger. That being said, I kind of switched off on this outing. Artemis not being himself, makes his complex self a lot less interesting. This one feels like a speed bump as we await the final chapter. Hopefully that will be more enjoyable, although  this is perfectly readable as always.

4 out of 5 cranky fairies and scary robots