Other Books 2013/14

Other Books – Stardust, Neil Gaiman Read 28/5/14

I know you are supposed to read the book first and then watch the film, but unfortunately for me I saw the film without knowing it was a book, then discovered it in a bookshop and thought “let’s give that a go”.

I must admit after the rather heavy nature of The God of Small Things it was such a relief to get to a book so light and mysterious in nature. I had loved the atmosphere of the film and I can’t believe that they were able to capture the sense of the book so well.

Tristran Thorn promises the girl he loves that he will get her the star they have just watched fall to earth and so he sets off into the mystical world of Faerie where everything is simultaneously similar and strange. It is the kind of fantasy world I love where it feels so much more real because there are points of reference and familiarity. The story follows many of the conventions of a European fairy tale including evil witches and ‘noble’ princes.

Most of all it has the humour of Neil Gaiman which works so well in Stardust because of the dark nature of the story. He is able to use the fairy tale conventions to utilize his slightly warped comedy and everything works in such harmony it is as if Gaiman was meant to write fairy tales.

There is also a ‘coming-of-age’ element to the story as Tristran gets a lot more than he bargained for on his journey to find the star and subsequently with the star. There is adventure and romance and Tristran has to learn to negotiate the stormy sea of adulthood and everything it brings. I suppose that this story falls under the category of ‘Epic Quest’ but it has only just struck me as such because it was so fun and quests must be tough and serious and noble.

One of my favourite parts of the story is the sub-plot of the Stormhold princes who battle it out to become heir of their father’s kingdom. I just love the Monthy Python-esque attitude towards death; I am chuckling just thinking about it. Plus the plot comes round in such an unexpected way it makes the novel for me.

It’s a lovely read full of good old-fashioned English folk-lore and it has an ending to warm the heart if a little predictable.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: adults who want to read a fairy tale.

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The Big Read

No. 85 – The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy Read 24/5/14

I think that it is really important that we read books from outside our cultural tradition. In fact it makes me very happy that there are a number of books from non-European/American authors on the BBC’s top 100. Sure the majority of them are classics by ‘dead white European men’ but then we have The God of Small Things written by an Indian women! So I was incredibly excited to start this book.

It is a fascinating and frustrating story because you don’t progress through the story in chronological order. You know from the outset that something terrible is going to happen and so you wait longing to find out what it is. The story centres around the fraternal twins Esthappen and Rahel and their broken home. When their uncle’s ex’wife brings his English daughter to visit, the world they have managed to forge for themselves suddenly disappears.

As a reader you see the effects of this unknown event before you understand it and it really opened my eyes as to the ways that people’s lives are shaped. You can never truly know everybody’s story, why they behave the way they do and what they have been through it their life time. It is hard to understand a person when you only know fragments of their story. And this story for me is about understanding people. We see as a reader how the lack of understanding people’s actions damages the lives of the characters and we see it through the innocent eyes of the twins.

This book also taught me a lot about the Indian cast system, something I previously knew nothing of. Again the theme comes back to the lack of understanding. People who are different aren’t inherently bad or evil and the twins see this and they struggle to comprehend the prejudice of their elders. For me there was also an interesting question raised in that are people who are raised to be racist inherently evil or are they products of the system? To discuss further would give away the ending, which is beautifully written, so I shall just leave you with that question.

Which leads me onto the language of this book. It is what I call a ‘style over substance’ book where the art of the novel is more important than the plot. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and it is most certainly not in The God of Small Things. It is so beautifully written it builds the Indian jungle around you. I could feel the humidity whilst reading.

It’s a social commentary told in a way that excludes no one. Everybody is equally guilty which I like because it includes the reader in a way I can’t explain. It makes you think; you cannot remain impassive. For that reason I would call it an excellent book and I am incredible glad I read it. However, this isn’t the kind of book I enjoy which has decreased its rating but doesn’t discredit it as a work of literature, after all it won the Man Booker prize.

Rating: 3/5

Would recommend to: open your mind.

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Other Books 2013/14

Other Books – The Duchess of Malfi, John Webster Read 17/5/14

I only ever read plays if I am forced to for school and I completely disagree with the practice of reading and studying plays as a written text. A play needs to be heard, it needs to be seen. When you read a play you miss nine tenths of its meaning and impact. Therefore, this review is going to be comparatively short because there is much less to discuss. This may be the only play I ever review on Bernie and Books. Hang on that makes it sound like I actually saw the play, which I didn’t. The only script I shall review (much better).

I shall start by quoting the review I wrote on Goodreads,

“Not quite so good as Shakespeare, a little easier to understand, everybody dies.”

That sums up in a sentence my experience with this script. It is much more accessible than Shakespeare because Webster doesn’t seem to have the flare for language that Shakespeare had. There is less figurative imagery making it easier to follow but also obvious; there aren’t the layers of meaning that almost need decoding in Shakespeare.

In terms of plot this play is a feminist nightmare. The only women in the play are all murdered by men. It is a story about power and control as two jealous brothers conspire to steal the wealth of their sister, the Duchess of Malfi. It is also about corruption, one of the brothers is a Cardinal, and incest, the other has the crazed desire for his sister. When the Duchess marries beneath her, they murder everybody. I shan’t spoil the ending but seriously George R.R. Martin would love this play.

Now I come to the part where I can’t really comment because whilst reading this script my impression of the play was “yeah it’s all right.” But that’s the thing, I don’t know this play at all I have only read the script. It could be incredible live, tense and gory and heart breaking but I can’t get that from a list of dialogue. All I can say is I think that it would be a good play.

Rating:3/5

Would recommend to: see live.

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Other Books 2013/14

Other Books – Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen Read 16/5/14

Two non challenge books in a row. I know. I don’t even have the excuse that they were for college either. I can only say that I read this book next because I was homesick for Hampshire and nothing is more Hampshirian than Jane Austen, except possibly Charles Dickens on a New Forest pony riding through Winchester.

This was the only the second Jane Austen I had read, the first being Pride and Prejudice some years earlier, and I was ready for it to be a struggle. But it wasn’t it was majestic. That is only how I can describe it I floated through this book. I love it so much that I am going to give it the title of My Favourite Book.

Quite a bold statement I know but that is the only way I can get across the joy that this book brought me. I don’t know if I just read it at the right time in my life or if it would have always had the same impression on me but I know I shall treasure the experience of reading it my entire life.

Elinor and Marianne Dashwood are forced from their home when their father dies and their half brother and his scheming wife cheat them out of their inheritance. With their mother they are forced to move to a small cottage in Devonshire and must rebuild their lives in a much more modest style. Elinor Dashwood is one of my favourite characters ever written;I have never sympathised with a character more. The story that she shares with her sister is so moving and there is that social commentary that I love of Jane Austen.

Yet, this book is also so funny. If you think that Mrs Bennet is the only outrageous old lady in Austen’s work you need to read Sense and Sensibilty for Lady Middleton. She is so well observed, so well written and it brings me great comfort to know that the middle-aged aunt who always teases you about getting married at family gathering has been making young women cringe for 200 years.

Rating: 5/5

Would recommend to: classics fans.

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Other Books 2013/14

Other Books – Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell Read 1/5/14

This is a very different kind of book for me for one thing it is a book aimed at people like me; young women who like reading. Now usually I stay clear of books like this because contrary to popular opinion I don’t like reading about people like me. It was the same when I was a child with Jacqueline Wilson, I don’t want to read about real life I want to escape it.

Anyway, I had read and heard so much about this book online that I bought a copy. Yes I actually bought a brand new copy of this book from The Book Depository something unheard of for me. I get almost everything I read second hand from charity shops or if it is a new book it was given to me as a present. I must admit there is nothing quite like the pleasure of a new book.

As with most YA literature this Fangirl is very easy to read primarily because the text is bigger and spaced further apart which I love! I want to enjoy reading I don’t want to have to strain my eyes to read some impossibly fine text just so you can make the book under 500 pages. On top of the pleasing typeface it is just an easy story to get into. A young girl leaves for university and will have to be separated from her twin for the first time. She is reluctant about going as she is rather reclusive and would rather spend all her time writing fan fiction.

The premise is simple but what makes it different is the references to internet culture which are so often wildly overlooked or misinterpreted by mainstream media. Now if you are reading this blog you are probably pretty familiar with the way the internet works but I must admit it was strange to see this world that I had previously viewed as secret, laid bare for all to read. Rowell has portrayed so accurately my generation it is a bit like we’ve been found out and now the adults are on to us. I feel like in 50 years time this book will be taught as a guide to the early 21st century.

Unfortunately for me this was the most interesting part of the book. I put the book down in the middle because it had gotten a little slow, which was a shame because when I picked it up again there was quite a twist. It was all pretty routine up until I stopped reading then it got a little more my cup of tea; less boy drama more hard hitting life stuff (very intelligent phrasing there).

If I had to describe it I would say it was alright. Interesting and I have never read anything like it before but not my cup of tea.

Rating: 3/5

Would recommend to: young girls who like reading or parents who want to understand why their teenage daughter spends all her time in her room.

 

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The Big Read

No. 49 – Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian read 28/4/14

Now I have rather a personal connection with Michelle Magorian. Not only is she from my home town, she also attended the same drama school that I do and I knew none of this until I opened the front cover and read her biography. This book had sat on my shelf for years and I had never read it. I remember a TV film from my childhood and I knew there was a theme of child abuse *I’m going to put a trigger warning here* and so I had avoided it on the assumption it was going to be really depressing. But when I finally picked it up as part of my challenge I fell in love with it.

Obviously, there is a lot of the part of the world I grew up in the writing of the village Little Weirwold and so this story felt so much closer to home for me. Willie Beech is sent to live with the rather bitter old man Mr Tom as part of the evacuation process of London during the Second World War. Mr Tom doesn’t really want Willie there but he knows he must do his bit so he takes in this painfully timid little boy. Gradually they grow to rely on each other: they bring each other back to life and build a home together. But then Willie has to return to London.

Next thing you know you get your heart broken and you’re on the train back to university trying to stifle the sobs that refuse to go away. That is how painful this story is. The abuse that Willie receives at the hands of his mother is unimaginable, unfathomable. That poor,poor boy. I have never wanted a happy ending for a character more. It is too horrible because it is never certain.

I shan’t give away the ending because I urge you all to read this book right away. No matter how many books are in your TBR pile, no matter if you are half way through 10 unfinished books get a copy of this book and read it. It’s short and easy to read because it’s a children’s book but it will enrich your life so much.

Even away from the story Goodnight Mister Tom is beautifully written. Magorian creates a sanctuary in here writing of the countryside, which made me fall in love again with the place where I live. The character development in this book is spectacular as Willie and Mr Tom’s fondness for each other grows so does the reader’s; both seem distant and cold but the layers are peeled away to reveal people who have been broken by life’s cruel injustices. They both have a place in my heart and this book has a place in my Top 10 favourites.

Rating:5/5

Would recommend to: break your heart and warm your spirits.

 

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Other Books 2013/14

Other Books – Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead, Paula Byrne Read 20/4/14

More Modernism, more biography. This is unlike any other biography I have ever read as it focuses on such a specific part of Evelyn Waugh’s life. There is a little general history but it is specifically about how he came to write his most famous work Brideshead Revisited. Every issue discussed in this biography shaped not only Waugh as a person but the story of Brideshead.

I loved Brideshead Revisited it has all the glamour of rebellion of the 20s and Personally I think Evelyn Waugh is the British F.Scott Fitzgerald. So this book was not just a biography for me it was a contextual analysis of Brideshead. I know that according to Barthes ‘Death of the Author’ theory the life of the author should have no effect on a work or your reading of it but I feel that these two books together are the argument against that. Having read Mad World I feel so much more in touch with the world of Brideshead and the case is just too strong, the parallels are just to prominent to suggest anything other than Brideshead is an autobiographical work.

That is not to say that Brideshead Revisited is an account of Waugh’s life, it is a fictitious depiction of the world he observed but was never quite a part of. That is primarily what I learnt from Mad World, Waugh never quite belonged and he made it his work to document the fading world that he had somehow stumbled across.

Mad World on its own is a fabulous book. It gives a true depiction of  an exclusive part of life in 1920s Britain. It shows all the scandals and how the new ideas were choked by the old. There is tragedy and soul searching and all the things that I love about Modernist literature but it is all real. It is hard to believe that the characters you are reading about, because that is what they feel like, are the people in the photographs in the centre.

However, I suggest that you read Brideshead Revisited first. If you need convincing any further you can read the review I have already written of it hereMad World is a bit like the special features on a DVD; all the behind the scenes bits about how it came together and interviews with the cast. Now they are fascinating to watch but there purpose is to enrich your experience of the film, the same goes for Mad World. 

I enjoyed reading this book so much. I was completed transported to another place, which I never thought I would experience from a biography.

Rating: 5/5

Would recommend to: read once you have read Brideshead. Then read Brideshead again.

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