Other Books 2013/14

Other Books – The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides Read 27/11/14

*Just a note to say that this post discusses suicide and some may find it triggering*

One of my absolute favourite Booktubers is Sanne over at booksandquills and I read a lot of books on her recommendation. The Virgin Suicides was one of them. I like coming of age stories and the like so I put this on my wishlist on Bookmooch, a site where you can swap books for free. Quite a while after I had requested it, and forgotten about it, I got a copy in the post.

The Virgin Suicides is in many ways for me like the film The Tree of Life. One of the major themes is memory and perception of other people and both are set in leafy suburban America. The Virgin Suicides is the story of the 5 Lisbon sisters all of whom kill themselves. The sisters’ story is recalled by a group of boys who watch them with wonder from across the street. and stole precious few moments with them before their tragic end.

I can’t really describe the plot because not much happens and right from the beginning you know that all the sisters are going to die. What is so captivating about this book is the writing. The narrative is filled with the heady awe of the boys, none of whom we really get to meet or know. Some are referred to by name but you can never grasp the full picture. How many boys are there? Who is telling the story right now? It is as the reader has been invited to read a very private diary in which not everything is explain because only people who already know have access to it.

Similarly, we never really get to know the Lisbon sisters. We are only presented with the boys vision of them, not who they really are. Of course they romanticise and build them up to be impossible people and sometimes as the reader we see a little more of the truth as we can remove ourselves from the boys adoration. This has the effect of making everything appear to happen behind a veil; an in between space of people who don’t really exist.

I really recommend this book. It feels to me like a discussion about escape. The boys try to escape the boredom of their conservative neighbourhood, the girls try to escape the boredom of their stifled lives. For the boys the girls are the escape and for the girls the escape is suicide. Neither is healthy, neither brings happiness,  only a strange infatuation with something that is forbidden and incomprehensible. Read this book it is so well written. It is consuming and absorbing and fascinating. It is a work of art in that it joins seamlessly the style and narrative so that everything overlaps and fills you with heady intrigue.

Rating:4/5

Would recommend to: contemporary fiction lovers.

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The Big Read

No. 19 – Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernières Read 25/11/14

All I knew about Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was what I had learnt whilst studying AS Film Studies, the film had been a complete flop and everyone was really surprised because the book had been so incredibly popular. I never watched the film and knew nothing other than what was on the back cover when I started reading and so I shall share with you my first thoughts upon starting this book.

Where was Captain Corelli?

Seriously, I hate that. This story is called Captain Corelli’s Mandolin but it should be titled Pelagia’s Story or something similar because the story is by no means Corelli’s. The plot follows Pelagia and her father, a doctor, who live on the Greek island of Cephalonia. Pelagia wants to become a doctor like her father, and is engaged to a local fisherman Mandras but when the Second World War breaks out he leaves to fight the Italians. Halfway through the novel the eccentric Captain Corelli swans in with his most prized possession; his mandolin. It soon becomes obvious that Pelagia and Corelli will have to question their allegiances as they fall in love.

So sounds like a pretty standard romance? Nope. Make no mistakes about it this book is about war. It is a very strange mix because 2 opposing stories are being told. There is the light hearted almost foolish romance between Pelagia and Corelli and then there is this hard hitting, thought provoking, shocking even tale about the occupation of Cephalonia and Greece’s position in WW2. It makes for a strange read because it is a bit bottom heavy. All of a sudden out of nowhere comes this weight of emotion almost like a Shakespearian tragedy and it is hard to believe that a hundred pages before there were jokes about piles. Somehow this works. I think it is because it mirrors the way the residents of Cephalonia must have felt. I learnt a lot about Greece’s role in WW2 from this book and the real human story is incredibly moving and I am glad that it is being told through this book.

One of my favourite parts of this book is Carlo’s sub-plot. Carlo joins the Italian army so that he may nobly put his homosexuality to good use by falling in love with a fellow soldier and then dying to save him. It is described as though Carlo intend it to be an extended form a suicide but Carlo’s story of courage and bravery is so moving and the love he describes was much more interesting to read about than the forbidden love between Pelagia and Corelli.

I don’t normally enjoy romances but there was enough other stuff happening in this book that I really didn’t mind. This book would have been interesting enough without the romance if I am honest but then again I know that’s what appeals to most people. What I must mention about this book is the tone. It is wonderfully written and I can’t identify what it is. It feels rich and warm and conjures up these wonderful images of sun drench provincial scenes. It is also touching, heart warming and makes you glad to be alive.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: historical fiction lovers.

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