Book Review: Never Let Me Go

2 Comments

If you haven’t read anything by Kazuo Ishiguro, do so immediately. As in, right now. Doesn’t matter if you’re at work or meant to be studying or doing the dishes, here is the perfect excuse, handed to you on a platter, to go out and READ.

Seriously. This is by far the best book I’ve read in about a year. I loved Never Let Me Go – and even though I’ve seen the film, Ishiguro’s writing is so good that I was blown away all over again.

Set in a dystopian parallel universe in the 1990s, Never Let Me Go, is told from the perspective of Kathy, a student at the prestigious, if peculiar, boarding school, Hailsham. Kathy develops a close, yet complicated, relationship with fellow boarders Ruth and Tommy.

It quickly becomes obvious that Hailsham is different from other schools – the ‘guardians’ teach them little to no life skills, but rather the students focus on producing art; the students never return home in the holidays; and the guardians are adamant that they stay as healthy as possible. As Never Let Me Go progresses, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy begin adulthood together and eventually set out on the path that has been predestined for them.

There’s a lot I could give away about Never Let Me Go and while I would love to avoid all spoilers, there is one that needs to be discussed, as it’s the central plot of the novel. Kathy, Ruth and Tommy are clones – and they have been created so that once they reach a certain age, usually mid-twenties, they begin ‘donating’ until they eventually pass away. Ishiguro keeps the ‘donations’ deliberately vague, but the overall impression is that they have to keep donating organs until they die.

The way that Ishiguro has positioned Never Let Me Go is frankly brilliant. First, he creates a dystopian reality that is not set in the future, but rather the near-past – as though this is a reality that most of us could live with. Second, he creates an atmosphere that, while not dramatic, draws in the reader until the final page. Third, without coming across as a martyr, Ishiguro makes us question how far we would go for the sake of our health.

Never Let Me Go is a tragic story. While I didn’t cry, I was filled with that awful gut-wrenching filling that stays with you for days, even after I had finished. The premise of the story, which I won’t go into, is so harrowing that not only did it make me feel for the characters, but it also made me wonder where the line of ethics should be drawn.

Part of Ishiguro’s brilliance is that he is a master of the basic rule of storytelling: show, don’t tell. By that I mean he presents what is happening, but it is up to the reader to draw their own conclusions from the scene that they’re reading. As a result, Never Let Me Go is both plausible yet distinctly vague: it makes you ask questions. Why are Kathy and all the other clones so resigned to their fate? How are students at other schools treated? And most pressing: although they are clones, what makes Kathy different from the rest of us?

Read Never Let Me Go. Or anything by Kazuo Ishiguro. This is an author who spends years writing a book, wins a truckload of awards every time a new one is released, and most importantly, creates a lasting impression on the reader.

Have you read Never Let Me Go or seen the film? Are you a fan of Kazuo Ishiguro? Let me know!

 

Book Review: The Diary of a Young Girl

Leave a comment

Anne Frank’s diary is considered one of the most honest, and saddening, accounts of World War Two. It is a text that is routinely handed out in school, when the students are forced to learn about the harrowing history of Nazi Germany. Strangely enough, my school missed this memo. Instead, our take on World War Two was reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. That fact alone should explain a great deal about my reading tastes.

Everyone knows the plot of The Diary of a Young Girl: Anne, along with her Jewish family, are forced into hiding in Amsterdam after the Nazis announce that all Jews will be taken into concentration camps. Set in ‘the hidden annexe’ above a factory, Anne and her family, alongside a second family and a dentist, stay hidden for over two years. During this time, Anne deals with all the emotions and struggles that any teenager goes through – including anger, alienation, lust and angst – as well as the terrifying reality that her and her family could be discovered any day.

The Diary of a Young Girl is both harrowing and deeply moving. Reading Anne’s accounts, I couldn’t help but feel despair every time she dreamt of the future or imagined what would happen if they were caught. And needless to say, it is the abrupt ending to her diary, combined with the afterword, that is the saddest part of all. To learn that Anne’s father, Otto, believed that there was a chance that she was still alive, and then to have the strength to continue her legacy after he learns the truth is both awe-inspiring and deeply sad.

While there are other aspects of Anne’s diary that I found interesting – particularly their hopes that England would defeat Germany – it was the personal and innocent perspective of war that I think has made it into such a well-known book. Though there have been countless movies, memoirs, textbooks and plays written about World War Two, reading it as its being told through the eyes of a young girl is an experience all of itself.

Have you read The Diary of a Young Girl? What did you think? Let me know!

the diary of a young girl by anne frank

The Diary of a Young Girl – (image taken from http://www.scholastic.com)

Book Review: Friends, Lovers, Chocolate

Leave a comment

Apparently a sequel, Friends, Lovers, Chocolate is the stereotypical Alexander McCall Smith novel – not much happens, but it’s an enjoyable read all the same.

Friends, Lovers, Chocolate follows Scottish philosopher Isabel Dalhousie as she faces some of the greatest ethical questions of her life. Should Isabel make a move on Jamie, who, despite being her niece’s ex-boyfriend, and 15 years her junior, she has an immense crush on? Should she investigate the organ donation that has left newfound friend Ian with a (literally) new lease on life, but a burning desire to say thank you? Or should she just do what we all want to do – have a glass of wine, some chocolate and a bit of naughty fun?

Alexander McCall Smith is a lovely writer – there is really no other way I can think to describe him. His books are simple, pleasurable and exactly the type of thing that one wants when the weather is terrible outside. Granted, here in Australia we’re in the height of summer and the weather has been 35 degrees every day, plus I don’t ACTUALLY live in a house with an open fireplace, but that’s the good thing about reading, right? You can just use your imagination and transport yourself there! There, being Edinburgh in this case.

All of the characters in Friends, Lovers, Chocolate are lovely, if somewhat two-dimensional, Isabel included. The plot is scarily thin, and although a series of semi-plots start to develop, they don’t really come to any conclusion. What happens with Isabel and Jamie? What about Isabel and that hunky, if misogynistic, Italian? Will Isabel release an issue of her magazine that deals specifically with ethics and food? Even the main plot, that of Ian and his belief that cellular memory can occur in the heart has a somewhat lacklustre, and all too practical, conclusion.

Basically, what I’m saying is don’t pick this book up if you want anything of, well, substance. Despite being a hybrid of romance, philosophy and mystery, it will fail to deliver on all counts. However, if you want a book that’s easy to read, uncomplicated and not at all stressful, then I would recommend Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, a book that can easily be read in an afternoon.

Have you read Friends, Lovers, Chocolate? Are you a fan of Alexander McCall Smith? Let me know!

friends, lovers, chocolate by alexander mccall smith

Friends, Lovers, Chocolate – (image taken from http://www.upload.wikimedia.org)

Book Review: The Little Friend

Leave a comment

Donna Tartt’s second novel, The Little Friend, is perhaps her least known – despite, alongside The Goldfinch and The Secret History, having its own list of impressive awards next to its name. So what is The Little Friend lacking?

On the surface, The Little Friend is a murder mystery, surrounding 12-year old Harriet as she tries to find the man behind the murder of her brother, Robin, eleven years previously. However, in true Tartt fashion, The Little Friend is so much more. Set in the 1970s, with a faint air of the gothic deep-south, its plot centres around not only Harriet and her quest for justice, but also how her life has been shaped by Robin’s murder.

Written a decade after The Secret History, Tartt has stated that it was a frightening book about what happens when children come into contact with the adult world. While this is obvious in many ways, particularly the peculiar cat-and-mouse relationship that Harriet begins with Danny Ratcliffe (her chief and only suspect behind Robin’s murder), The Little Friend certainly has distinct undertones about the more disappointing and sinister aspects of adulthood: including that of disappointment, death, lies and, most ominous for Harriet herself, mistakes and the consequences because of them.

The Little Friend can only be described as a ‘brick’ of a novel, which is unsurprising considering it’s written by Tartt. And just with all of her other books, I was most amazed by the cadence of her writing, of her loving attention to detail, and the clear way that she writes and creates her characters: Harriet herself is practically crawling out of the pages. Whenever I read books of these calibre, I’m always soundly reminded that this is why I’m not a novelist – I couldn’t even begin to imagine how I could belong in the same sphere as Donna Tartt. Sure, she spends about ten years on each book, but it shows: each line has been thought about, each word is there for a reason, each character has their own personality and lives that stretch far beyond the pages of her novels.

Yet, believe it or not, this was almost the downfall of The Little Friend. Although, in terms of literature, it was an amazing book, in regards to the actual plot I continually became bogged down by an excess of information. At times the story seemed to almost crash to a halt because it was going so slowly, and while the ending was quite perfect in its own way, on the other hand it was unsatisfying and I felt as though I had stuck with Harriet and her murder mystery only to be left hanging.

I think the reason why Tartt’s other novels, particularly The Secret History, are so well-loved is because they have all of the wonderful aspects of Tartt as a writer combined with a thought-provoking, intense storyline. Sadly, The Little Friend had that one aspect missing that could have made it a memorable, enjoyable read, rather than just the high-quality literary read that it was.

Have you read The Little Friend or anything else by Donna Tartt? Are you a fan? Let me know!

the little friend by donna tartt

The Little Friend – (image taken from http://www.anotherreadinglist.files.wordpress.com)

How to Score a Nomination at the 2015 Oscars

Leave a comment

If you’re unsure how the actors, actresses and directors got to their hallowed spot as ‘an Oscar nominee’, follow the below how-to guide on how to snag a spot on the Oscars stage. Bonus points if you turn this how-to guide into a drinking game on the night.

HOW TO GET YOURSELF A NOMINATION FOR:

BEST ACTOR:

Choose a film that’s based on a true story. It has to be a true story about a white, middle-class man though, because Selma has showed us that, regardless of the quality of the story, nothing else will do. If you’re particularly desperate for a nomination, go one further and make sure that you’re playing an upper-middle class, white, male genius who attended Cambridge. Because even the rich and brilliant can be marginalised, you know?

Disclaimer: If you’re Bradley Cooper, then just do whatever the fuck you want, as long as you’re playing an arsehole who’s obsessed with America, fiction or otherwise.

Special Mention: Although Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance in Nightcrawler was astounding, he did not receive a nomination because drastically altering your appearance and losing a lot of weight is soooo last year. Silly boy.

Who should win: Despite all my teasing and all the stereotypes surrounding it, Eddie Redmayne should win the award for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Anyone who can convincingly play Stephen Hawking as both a bit of a douche and a heartbreaking genius, while also successfully steering away from the sentimental crap that goes hand in hand with biopics deserves an award.

Disclaimer (2): In an ideal world, there would be a tie between Eddie Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch, where they have to fight to the death, British Style, for the statue. By British Style, I do of course refer to the two actors repeatedly going ‘I said GOOD DAY Sir’ with a flick of their locks, until one of them passes out from sheer exhaustion (or a crick in their neck).

BEST ACTRESS:

Play a woman who has faced such adversity and hardships in her life that it has taken away either her good looks or her standing in society. Preferably both. Oh, she can be a woman who eventually overcomes these struggles with the spirit and courageousness of her soul, blah blah blah, but she can never fully succeed, you know? Because who wants to watch a woman who defeats stereotypes, right?

Special Mention: Rosamund Pike’s take as Amy, the sociopathic wife who frames her cheating husband, does go against the grain of both Oscar nominations for 2015 and pretty much any film ever in the history of Hollywood. However, she still isn’t going to win the statue, regardless of how good her performance was, for the exact same reasons.

Who should win: Julianne Moore’s role as Alice in Still Alice, if only because she plays an unforgettable role about a person with Alzheimers.

BEST DIRECTOR:

Nothing screams OSCAR NOMINEE quite like a director who dedicates more than a decade to a single film. Prime example: Peter Jackson with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which he spent about ten years working on. Has he won any Oscars for The Hobbit? No, because if it doesn’t take up at least a third of your career span, then it isn’t worth a Best Director Oscar. Amiright?

Who should win: Richard Linklater for Boyhood, largely for the reasons above. Plus, filming a movie over twelve years, particularly with an attractive kid who still has to go through puberty (often an ugly ending for so many child stars) is risky at best and downright painful at worst. I think we all want him to win the award solely so we don’t have a painful rendition of Ralph Wiggums on the night:

ralph wiggums

Ouch.

While there are a bunch of other awards on offer at tomorrow’s Oscars, I haven’t seen enough of the performances to give an accurate forecast, and I’d end up choosing them based on likeability rather than acting merit (come oonnnnnnn, Emma Stone). Which isn’t the Oscars way, now is it?

Are you going to be watching the Oscars tomorrow night? Who do you think should win? Let me know!

Book Review: Before I Go to Sleep

Leave a comment

About three months ago, Paul and I went overseas and since I had forgotten to pack him a book (although after seeing how he treats his books, ‘forgotten’ might not be the right word), we were stuck at the airport trying to pick one out for him. As he read out title after title, which I would usually respond with ‘I own it, so don’t buy it’ or ‘You don’t want to read that on holiday, it’s too depressing’, I came to the sad conclusion that a large portion of my personal library consists of airport quality books and a scary amount of penguin paperbacks. Oh well.

The point of this story is that there was this one book, Before I Go to Sleep, that I had neither read nor owned and as such wanted Paul to buy so that I could steal it from him immediately. Unfortunately, Paul didn’t go with my terribly unselfish suggestion*, so I was forced to buy it myself two months down the track.

Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson is a thriller told from the perspective of Christine Lucas; a middle-aged woman who has no memory of the past twenty years. Every night as she sleeps Christine loses her memories all over again, and has to start from scratch each morning when she wakes.

After she begins seeing a doctor, Christine starts keeping a diary so that she read about her past when she wakes each morning. As the book (and diary) unfold, Christine begins doubting everything that her husband, Ben, has been telling her.

Before I Go to Sleep was an entertaining read but overall nothing particularly special. I don’t frequently read crime or thriller novels yet even I could tell from the get-go that there was going to be a twist and it was going to be about her husband Ben. I wanted so badly for the twist to be outrageously melodramatic, where Christine loses her memory every night because her husband Ben has been feeding her a specially concocted potion so that she forgets that SHE’S NOT IN LOVE WITH HIM. Just so that the book wouldn’t fall into the trap of taking itself too seriously. Unfortunately, I only got half of my wish, which means I was stuck with the melodramatic storyline without the overly dramatic overtures, a la The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. In short, I got a typical thriller.

Granted, I have to admit that I went into Before I Go to Sleep already disliking the author because he referred to himself (herself?) as S J Watson. Sorry, but unless you’ve written Harry Potter you’re going to look a bit pompous for rendering yourself that way.

Nevertheless, it was still a fun read. Perfect as a holiday read when one is lying on an Indonesian beach, for example (*cough Paul cough*). The writing flowed and it was well-edited: there wasn’t a great deal of ‘dead work’ that bogged the story down. However, there were definitely aspects that could have been improved, largely the context of what is occurring in Christine’s life. Though the amnesia could quite possibly occur, the circumstances surrounding it and her subsequent rehabilitation are frankly unbelievable, and read as though Watson has written a first draft and couldn’t be bothered filling in the gaps. It was however, Watson’s first novel, and considering Before I Go to Sleep has ability to keep readers hooked until the end, it shows promising signs of a debut novelist and I will probably read whatever Watson produces next.

Have you read Before I Go to Sleep or seen the movie? Are you a fan of thrillers? What is more important – a believable storyline or an unexpected twist? Let me know!

* He ended up going with Sherlock Holmes, a book I own two copies of at home. Oh well, if you’re going to have multiple-anythings, it might as well be Sherlock.

Book Review: Eleanor and Park

Leave a comment

A kooky love story between two misfit teenagers, Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park has a more serious side to its light-hearted plot line.

Eleanor is new to town and clearly has no intentions of fitting in with her unruly red hair, patchwork jeans and chaotic family life.

Park is the quiet boy on the bus, always in black, listening to music with his headphones on, reading the latest comic book.

Neither of them realise that they’ll become friends when Eleanor sits next to him on the bus on that first day. Neither of them realise that friendship can just as quickly become something more, regardless of the barriers that may come between them.

While I view the opinion of a fellow blogger very highly, I’d have to strongly disagree with her opinion of Eleanor and Park - to me it was a bittersweet love story between two teenagers that just seemed so real. What I loved about it was that the two protagonists, Eleanor and Park, are so different from the ‘cliche’ of what is expected from YA fiction – neither of them are outrageously beautiful, sporty or popular, yet they’re still in love with one another. I.e. how love works in the real world.

Don’t get me wrong, their flaws, particularly Eleanor’s, are frustrating to read at times – mostly when she fails to let Park into her life and as a result pushes him away (which sounds so very cliche, but I swear it isn’t when you’re actually reading it). But that only makes it more realistic, and more enjoyable.

While the storyline of Eleanor and Park isn’t particularly complex, and there is very little ‘love tension’ between Eleanor and Park, it doesn’t stop it from being an absolute pleasure to read. Rainbow Rowell has captured that feeling that exists between teenagers and first love – not much might happen, afternoons spent listening to CDs may take place instead of romance, but in that time and space it’s the whole world. School becomes something exciting, weekends turn into a drag and hours spent doing absolutely nothing together is pure bliss – all of this nostalgia that I’m sure we all feel about teenage love is perfectly captured by Rowell in this novel.

However, there was one aspect of the plot that I didn’t agree with and that was the way that Eleanor’s mother allowed Eleanor and her siblings to be abused by her husband, Richie. I will readily admit that I have never thankfully been in a position where I have witnessed firsthand what domestic violence looks like, but the idea that Eleanor’s mother actually says to Eleanor that she should ‘just endure it’ goes against every notion I have of what a mother should be. If I’m completely out of line with saying this, go right ahead and tell me, but it was the biggest flaw in the novel for me – that everyone else could see how horrific it is that a daughter could be abused by her stepfather, yet her own mother (who is described as a loving, warm mother) is OK for it to just occur. It just didn’t sit right with me.

Overall though, Eleanor and Park lived up its reputation – it is a lovely, genuine novel that depicts the ups and downs of first love in a way that will bring back nostalgic memories of your own.

Have you read Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell? Are you a fan? Let me know!

eleanor and park by rainbow rowell

Eleanor and Park – (image taken from http://www.rainbowrowell.com)

 

Older Entries

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 100 other followers