Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Rabbit, Run by John Updike

"That was the thing about him, he just lived in his skin and didn't give a thought to the consequences of anything"

I was really reticent to read this novel, having read somewhere about the rather depressing denouement and yet, given its place on so many "must read" lists, I cracked the spine. Much has been said about how horrible a character Rabbit is and yet in someways he's relatable to us all. A once brilliant athlete in high school, his glory days are long gone and adulthood, full of responsibilities becomes an all together too dreary prospect. So, as the title suggests, he runs, albeit out on his heavily pregnant wife.

This is quite a common phenomenon  and I can kind of sympathise with that notion of impending entrapment that both parties might feel with an upcoming birth. A woman whose body is no longer her own, and a man who only comes to the realisation of how that might impact his life at a space way where it is too late to really back out.

Rabbit runs and finds his old coach and the accommodating Ruth. His self absorption continues and he weaves a path of destruction in all his romantic entanglements. For they are less about romance and more about fending off the monotony of reality. Rarely have the unuttered and unlikeable thoughts that secretly plague us all been so vividly realised. I finished this book in an hour it was engrossing. Our own poor behaviour is acceptable to ourself as we explain it away, and yet our impact on others can be so devastating and never more so than here.

I'm eager to see where the sequels go.

5 out of 5 gritty but engrossing pages fraught with imperfect humans.

Midnight Jewel by Richelle Mead

"Thinking of my ankle made me think of Grant, and thinking of him made me think of his hands on my leg, and thinking of that..."

Undoubtedly I made for a somewhat tragic figure reading a Glittering Court romance on the sand during my holiday. That being said, I regret nothing. I do so enjoy a dalliance in Richelle Mead's other worlds. In fact, I'm ashamed to admit that I've fallen in love with Grant, which might make things a little difficult for our heroine, Mira.
The latest instalment in this extravaganza of big gowns, big hair, big jewels and the odd pirate completely delivers. It might have taken longer to get into than I would have liked, however that was entirely due to life getting in the way of reading - don't you hate when that happens?
This was quite possibly the perfect selection of pool side reading material, provided no-one was looking over my shoulder. Was it the sun or was Grant getting more dashing and appealing?

The amazing Nicki was kind enough to loan me this copy and I might be returning it slightly sun damaged and sandy - I apologise profusely, I just had to finish it. Drawn into danger and adventure and excitement and sneaking out, it was just like being seventeen again. Which is kind of fitting, since the last time I was here ( on holidays in Vanuatu), I was that exact age - full of enthusiasm and unconcerned about dull things.

Far from dull, Mead's latest addition is a joy... and now I eagerly await more. Get tapping those keys Richelle, the back cover says "trilogy" and I'm hanging out for the next one.

5 out of 5 because a girl has to be a fighter and a dancer.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

"There didn't seem to be anything alive, including ourselves. We were dislocated, we were not there, now we were ghosts."

So I distinctly remember writing an amazingly glowing review of this book and it appears to have disappeared. I blame the average mobile coverage at my current destination and yet, we shall persevere.
This has to be one of the best books I've read this year, even if it loses its driving, visceral momentum towards the end. What stand out is how very different it is. Whereas other novels have covered similar periods of history, this transports what could be a typical story into something beautiful, inherently masculine ( seriously the pages almost sweat testosterone) and yet remain tender and interesting.
I don't want to go in depth into the story, I want to leave that to you. I found myself re-reading passages and continually appreciating something new - a rarity of late.

5 out of 5 men in dresses that kick a#$@.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Hatchet by Gary Pauls

"He fingered the Hatchet at his belt. It was the only weapon he had, but it was something."

It is very easy to see why this children's novel is a Newbery Honor recipient. Sometimes the best children's books are those who don't treat children as anything other than slightly smaller, less experienced adults and this certainly fits that bill.

I finished this on a beach chair in Port Vila, Vanuatu on a cloudy but warm tropical day - does that make you jealous? It was suitably enthralling despite being such a slim tome.
I like the way the author juxtaposes the upheaval that parental divorce imposes on a child, with far broader and more worrying issues, namely that of survival.

Bear Grylls has nothing on this kid and yet his MacGiver like skills keep the reader on board as they have a somewhat organic nature that delivers real credulity.
I might lend this to my cousin's kids as I'm sure the adventure and sense of suspense will have them entranced. I also know a few adults, myself included, who will also find this hard to put down.

5 out of 5, watch out for the berries and the bear.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf

 "All I could do was to offer you an opin­ion upon one minor point—a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fic­tion; and that, as you will see, leaves the great prob­lem of the true na­ture of woman and the true na­ture of fic­tion un­solved"

I know that Virginia Woolf is considered to be one of the most amazing authors and yet I find her almost impossible to read. Not because the sentiments here aren't spot on - they are. Sadly, women face many of the same issues today as when it was first published in 1929, many still struggle for financial independence, we grapple with inequity of earnings and the glass ceiling. That being said, I feel she could have got to the point in about half the number of pages and still conveyed the same message. Her meandering style never fails to drive this reader to distraction and long for a fast forward button - terrible to admit I know.

Money, freedom and education are necessary to facilitate women's voices to be heard and to record their view of history. There I've basically summarised the essay in a sentence. Throughout history circumstance and social convention have contributed to the empty shelves concerned with the history of women, and let's hope that has changed at least. For this at the very least, we should be grateful for Woolf's contribution.
For who could argue with making the most of the opportunities that have been so hard won for us?

As the author suggests, "A thou­sand pens are ready to sug­gest what you should do and what ef­fect you will have. My own sug­ges­tion is a lit­tle fan­tas­tic, I admit; I pre­fer, there­fore, to put it in the form of fic­tion" and as an avid reader myself, I can't help but agree.

5 out of 5 for the notions, despite the long path to get there.

Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley

"Gumbel talked. He talked of the marriage ceremonies of octopuses, of the rites intricately consummated in the submarine green grottos of the Indian Ocean. Given a total of sixteen arms, how many permutations and combinations of caresses?"

When sifting through the many and varied tomes on the 1001 novels list, the synopsis of this Aldous Huxley novel sounded suitably mad cap and intriguing. Just the kind of thing that would appeal to me, pneumatic trousers no less. I'd like to say that promise was realised, and yet that was not to be the case. Despite the blurb pointing to boundless hilarity I was lucky to raise a wry smile, well if I'm honest probably my face moved to some kind of mild smile around four times at its content.

Admittedly, life has been distracting me from my reading. Adventures far more delightful than the content of this novel and a much needed respite from the past two years cursed by a Voldemort-like figure of misery, have impeded my reading progress somewhat. Nevertheless I persevered, albeit at a snail's pace. Possibly a snail with a limp.

On Monday, I was sitting on a plane to the nation's capital- a rather quick flight - and finally the end seemed nigh. I began to fly through this novel and even raise the odd smirk. A rather delightful passenger sat next to me (he was reading a far better book) and commented on his disbelief that I was actually reading at the speed the pages were turning. Indeed I was flying though the text, desperately seeking some kind of humorous interlude that I really never found. The novel has this rather condescending tone and yet, at the same time, makes fun of the intelligentsia. It made me wonder, to whom it would appeal. It screams " look at me I'm clever and speak Latin and French" and despite the fact I could understand those quotes, I felt a very real sense of disconnect. Possibly the only times I felt entertained was when the topic turned to sex - or possibly that's just where my head's at currently. Perhaps that also extends to the fact that the facts of life don't change, whereas economic and social circumstances do and contribute to our appreciation of satire.

When everything is going well and your heart is light, perhaps the cynicism of this novel isn't the best reading selection. I wonder if I read it last year, whether I would rate it more highly? Probably.

 3 out of 5 - I'm just not in the mood for this old hay.