Book Review: The Eyre Affair

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It took three people to recommend it before I finally read The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. My mother, who described it as ‘a world where librarians reign supreme’ (what’s not to love), a uni friend, and then finally, my friend, Sophie. And the only reason that she succeeded is because she quite literally mailed it to my house.

The Eyre Affair follows literary agent Thursday Next in a parallel universe where England and Russia have been fighting in a war that has lasted over a century; where literary agents have a status that rivals the FBI and where issues like ‘Did Shakespeare really write those plays?’ is on the tip of everyone’s tongues. Like my mother said, book nerds here reign supreme (FINALLY!).

Thursday Next is enlisted to help track down the evil mastermind Acheron Hades, her former university professor, who also has the ability to shape shift, stop bullets and avoid any form of photographic detection. While Thursday Next survives a stakeout on Hades (that leaves everyone else dead), things manage to turn from bad to worse, particularly when Hades tracks down the original copy of Jane Eyre and threatens to kill off the leading man, Rochester. How does he plan on doing it? By using an invention created by Thursday’s batty but brilliant uncle Mycroft, which allows anyone to enter a book’s universe – and as long as he makes changes to the original, then he’ll make changes to all copies around the world.

What a great concept for a storyline, right? After all, it’s one thing for a character in a novel to be kidnapped and killed (a character we were only recently introduced to), but quite another to kill off a character and story that has been beloved by millions for over a century. Imagine Pride and Prejudice without Mr Darcy? Harry Potter without Harry (or Voldemort for that matter). While literature may not be quite as beloved in our universe as it is in Thursday’s, I think most of us can feel our hearts break a little at the thought of Elizabeth Bennett stuck with her mother (and Mary) for the rest of her life.

However, while the concept of The Eyre Affair was fantastic, I have to admit that I didn’t love this book as much as I really should have. While I think that is partially because I’m not the biggest fantasy/sci-fi fan, I think it was more Jasper Fforde’s execution. Though his writing was witty, I didn’t have much of an emotional connection with the characters, ironic considering the central plot. And though the novel was called The Eyre Affair, the first half of the novel actually had little to do with Jane Eyre, but rather had a slow build up that included Charles Dickens’s Martin Chuzzlewit, Thursday moving towns, a somewhat lacklustre romantic lead and a loophole in the time-space continuum. Once again, this may be because I’m not into sci-fi, but overall I spent a great deal of the first half of the novel wondering when the actual plot would begin to start.

Yet in saying that, I can see why The Eyre Affair is loved by so many readers. Jasper Fforde definitely has a flair for the original, and his ability to tie in much-loved classics with his own bizarre universe is really quite impressive. Plus, I have to give him points for changing the storyline of Jane Eyre so that his ending made sense. For someone who has actually never read Jane Eyre (I know, terrible), I was delightfully surprised how he managed to make the faux-version so realistic that I kept wondering why anyone would read a novel with such a disappointing ending.

Have you read The Eyre Affair or anything by Jasper Fforde? How would you feel if your favourite literary character was kidnapped? Let me know!

the eyre affair by jasper fforde

The Eyre Affair – (image taken from http://www.wiki.uiowa.edu)

 

 

Book Review: Compulsively Mr Darcy

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As we all unfortunately learnt with 50 Shades of Grey, sometimes terrible fan fiction gets published and terrible consequences follow. And by ‘terrible consequences’, I mean me reading a book that, shall we say, left a lot to be desired.

Compulsively Mr Darcy by Nina Benneton sounds great in theory, but the execution managed to let it down. A modern retelling of Jane Austen’s classic, Pride and Prejudice, the storyline of Compulsively Mr Darcy had the promises of a terrifically silly, funny read. Set in Vietnam and the United States (I know what you’re thinking – NOT set in England? Excuse me?), Mr Darcy is a billionaire who suffers from OCD and Elizabeth Bennett is a doctor who is working in Vietnam for free. When the two cross paths after Mr Darcy’s family friends, the Bingleys, try to adopt, confusion, love and a whole lotta bad sex follows.

I don’t actually know if Compulsively Mr Darcy originated as a fan fiction, but the use of famous characters names combined with very frequent and very terrible sex scenes sure gave the impression that it was. And while I can understand the sexual angst that comes with any Austen novel, there is definitely such a thing as too many sex scenes, not to mention too many sex scenes that are described in wayyyy too much detail. One such example? When Mr Darcy comes in Elizabeth, and the author uses the term, I kid you not, ‘he spilled his broth into her’. Not only does one not want to have to read about sperm, regardless of how much the author tries to ‘sexify’ it, using the term broth just conjures up images of soup…something of which I, unsurprisingly, haven’t eaten since.

However, terrible sex scenes aside, the real travesty is that the author essentially took some very well-loved characters…and destroyed them. Now, I’m not a particularly big Austen fan, but I understand the allure of Mr Darcy and Elizabeth, regardless, or perhaps because of, all their faults. And so when I read the blurb of a book that describes Mr Darcy as a man with OCD and Elizabeth as a pig-headed doctor, I could see how that could fit into their characterisation – and justly thought I was in for a light-hearted treat.

I was wrong. Aside from their names, the similarities between Austen’s Elizabeth and Mr Darcy (not to mention all the secondary characters) are non-existent. Not only is it NOT set in England, a wonderful aspect of all of Austen’s books, the author has also completely ignored the quirks and personality traits that make them so wonderful. And though I understand the appeal of writing in sex scenes for some of the most chaste romantic figures in literary history, the way Benneton does so takes away all the spark and chemistry of the couple. What could have been a fabulous modern retelling of a much-loved classic quickly became a tired romance novel that lacked the anticipation that is so needed in these types of books.

I’m not against chick lit, yet Compulsively Mr Darcy had all the traits that have led to the genre ending up with a bad reputation. A drawn-out storyline, lack of characterisation, and worst of all, silly plot lines that could have been resolved with a single conversation which I loathe – most couples, and indeed most women, are smarter than that.

Modern retellings can be a lot of fun, as Bridget Jones’s Diary so aptly shows us, but, except for the character’s names, Compulsively Mr Darcy has almost nothing in common with Jane Austen’s classic. Choose something else the next time you’re in the bookstore.

Have you read Compusively Mr Darcy? Where do you stand on retellings of famous works of fiction? Are you a fan of Jane Austen? Let me know!

compulsively mr darcy by nina benneton

Compulsively Mr Darcy – (image taken from http://www.gr-assets.com)

Book Review: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

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I so wanted to love this book. I was expecting to love this book. Me and Dave Eggers? We’re practically like *this* (crosses fingers). And yet, despite A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius being Eggers’s masterpiece, it just left me feeling a bit…meh. Which is saying a lot, considering the subject material.

Dave Eggers’s memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius follows his life after both of his parents die of cancer…within the same month. Not only is Dave left to deal with the emotional and financial repercussions of losing both of his parents in succession, but he also becomes the main custodian of his 8-year-old brother, Christopher or ‘Toph’. No easy task for a 20-year-old.

The premise for Eggers’s memoir is actually heartbreaking. To lose both your parents quickly, to have to raise your younger brother and to do so with all the wants, needs and worries that a 20 year old has? Heartbreaking. Yet surprisingly, Eggers’s manages to skate over the emotional turmoil that he endures, in a way that makes the book read almost as though he is doing so on purpose: ‘hey world, this is my memoir but look, I’m not sad’ – it’s as if he avoids it in writing, he can avoid it in life.

The main problem I had with A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was the style used by Eggers’s throughout: the dreaded stream-of-consciousness. Unfortunately for me, stream-of-consciousness is for the most part, not my cup of tea. Which is ironic, because if I ever get around to writing a book, it will probably be in the form of stream-of-consciousness, if only because I get off-track rather easily (ahem, like right now). The problem I have with stream-of-consciousness is that, for me, it dilutes the storyline and essentially, the emotions that are bound up within it. In the case of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, a memoir that had the premises of something truly harrowing quickly became, dare I say it?, boring.

Furthermore, and quite unexpectedly, I found this book made me actually start to dislike Dave Eggers. Which is saying something because a) until now, I thought Dave Eggers was one of the coolest authors going around and b) how can a book about your parents dying and having to raise your brother make you MORE unlikeable? But hey, there you have it. Until I read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, I thought Eggers must have been perfect: brilliant author, creator of McSweeneys, starts his own charity etc. etc. etc., yet reading this book I was sorely reminded that Eggers, just like everyone in their mid-twenties, was largely self-absorbed. And while this may have very well been his point, it didn’t make it for the most enjoyable read. There are too many authors out there who do self-absorption for me to want to read another book on self-absorption.

However, there are definitely aspects of this book that are great. Eggers’s writing is intelligent, witty and caused me to chuckle out loud more than once. Certain aspects of the book, such as the difficulties and stigma that Eggers faces because his parents are dead make for interesting social commentary. And the endearing, strong love between Dave and his brother Toph, though never stated, is the heartbeat of the memoir, and makes it from something average to something a little bit heartwarming.

Have you read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius or anything by Dave Eggers? Are you a fan of memoirs? Let me know!

PS I just realised that Dave Eggers’s named McSweeneys after his mother’s maiden name. Annddd, I’m a little bit in love with him again.

a heartbreaking work of staggering genius by dave eggers

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – (image taken from http://www.upload.wikimedia.org)

Book Review: The Case of the Missing Boyfriend

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Sometimes, looks can be deceiving. And by ‘looks’ I mean one actually owning a flat in London.

CC (real name Chelsa, which she hates, though ‘CC’ sounds even tackier), is nearing forty, and though her life ‘on paper’ looks great, she feels as though she’s missing out. She owns her own flat in Primrose Hill (though there are no mentions of picnics, which may be what she’s lacking), she’s got a great job in an advertising firm, and she has tonnes of great friends, gay and straight. But despite having what has to be the definition of a cosmopolitan’s wet dream, CC still dreams of owning a country home, growing her own veggies and leaving the life of consumerism behind. Only thing is, CC needs a man for this. And CC has got no mans (to quote Anthony from Sex and the City).

The Case of the Missing Boyfriend is written by Nick Alexander, who I’d never heard of, but who turned out to be a well-known homosexual writer who is an outspoken advocate for gay rights. Considering that there was essentially chick lit that was a) written by a man and b) containing numerous gay characters, gay exploits and a shout out for the need for more gay rights, this didn’t up being too surprising. And though The Case of the Missing Boyfriend didn’t have quite the same whimsical charm that a great rom-com can have, it was a nice change to be introduced into a world that I know little about, and for that matter, don’t frequently get the opportunity to read about either. Plus, it worked as a great reason for why CC never seems to run into eligible straight men, despite being attractive, smart and successful.

However, while this book was well-written and succinct, it lacked aspects that could have made it from a ‘meh’ read into something memorable. The main factor being the idea that CC has to come to terms with the fact that she may never meet a man, and for that matter, that she doesn’t need a man in order to fulfil the life that she wants (mmm-hmmm sista!). While the entirety of the novel seems to build to the idea that, hey, there’s more to life than a boyfriend, the conclusion inevitably goes down the ‘cliche romance path’, so not only does CC find herself a rich, successful, handsome boyfriend, but he’s also one that gets along with gay guys AND he has his own country home in the South of France! Basically, the conclusion of The Case of the Missing Boyfriend is that you CAN have everything you dream of…as long as you’ve got a man who can make it happen.

The other problem I had with The Case of the Missing Boyfriend was the characterisation, or for that matter, the lack of it. Despite being our narrator, I felt like I didn’t particularly know, or like, CC. While Alexander attempts to give her a sad back story, it seemed as though it was put in as an after-thought, and though reading about gay guys was lots of fun, sometimes their stereotyping was a little over-the-top. Finally, while CC’s ‘dream man’ is introduced early on, it’s almost too subtle for the reader, so there isn’t enough of the ‘will they, won’t they?’ excitement propelling the reader to the conclusion.

The Case of the Missing Boyfriend definitely had potential for a fun, enjoyable read. I enjoyed Alexander’s writing style, his references to beautiful London and hilarious scenes that almost stole the entire show. (A taster: CC goes on a date with a man who declares that, though he’s still married, he’s going to find another woman before he can get around to breaking up with his wife).

Have you read The Case of the Missing Boyfriend? Have you heard of Nick Alexander? Let me know!

the case of the missing boyfriend by nick alexander

The Case of the Missing Boyfriend – (image taken from http://www.gr-assets.com)

Film Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service

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Colin Firth in a film that takes the piss at James Bond, Savile Row suits and all? Bring it on.

Centred around two plots that intertwine, Kingsman follows a British secret service that is all about the suits, the British accent and the special-effects toys. Oh, and occasionally saving the world. The first plot centres around Richard Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a billionaire mastermind who plans on releasing SIM cards that allow him to control the world’s population at the press of a button. The second plot surrounds Kingsman Harry Hart (Colin Firth), who has a debt to owe and finds it in the form of Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a smart, resourceful teenager who, due to his social standing, continually finds himself in trouble. After he bails him out of jail, Hart convinces Eggsy to go through a rigorous series of tests in order to become a Kingsman…AND SAVE THE WORLD (or something like that).

When I saw the trailer for this, my first thought was ‘B grade film’, yet then I saw that the reviews were all consistently saying ‘this film is hilarious’, I decided to give it a re-think. Thank goodness I did, because dragging my arse to see Kingsman turned a very average night into a highly enjoyable one.

Sure, Kingsman is over-the-top, silly, frequently reliant on special effects, but who cares? It’s a film that is actively taking the piss both at previous spy films (particularly James Bond), but also, at itself! To do so in a way that is self-deprecating, witty and still lots of fun is no easy task, but Kingsman pulls it off with aplomb.

The film really is great on a number of levels. The cast each pull off their characters with ease: Samuel L Jackson as the ridiculously melodramatic villain; Mark Strong as the straight-faced Kingsman and newcomer Taron Egerton as the strangely likeable smart arse who likes to drop the F-bomb. And while Colin Firth could play a pompous upper-class toff in his sleep, his ability to do so combined with the necessary comedic timing for this film shows that when he puts the effort in, he can be so much more.

And while this film is filled with violence, swearing and references to anal sex, it also, shall we say, has a ‘softer side’ (ha). The introduction of puppies to teach the recruitments about team work (PUPPIES!) is definitely very cute, but it was the references of elitism that is still riff today in English society that proved that there was a serious vein in the film after all.

Finally, for those who flinch at violence, I can understand why you wouldn’t want to watch this film, but trust me, as someone who does not like gore, even I was able to have a laugh at the fight scenes throughout. In the same manner as Tarantino, don’t expect anything too realistic, and in fact, a series of heads being blown up is depicted as fireworks, creating a surprisingly nice scene to look at.

If you’re after a laugh and some good quality writing and acting, then I would recommend Kingsman: The Secret Service. Sure, it may not win any awards, but that isn’t why we go see an action film on a Friday night, now is it?

Have you seen Kingsman: The Secret Service? Are you a fan of James Bond or Colin Firth? Let me know!

Book Review: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

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Joshua Ferris’s To Rise Again at a Decent Hour isn’t the first book that he’s written, nor the first book that has gained the attention of the awards committee (do book awards even have a committee?). However, it is his first novel that was nominated for The Man Booker prize. Which we all know, is an entirely different kettle of fish.

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour tells the story of Paul O’Rourke, a 40-year-old dentist who borders on the cranky and the obsessive compulsive. Although he achieves success professionally, Paul feels as though there is something missing; whether that’s his lack of joy by the Red Sox’s victory; his inability to connect with other human beings; or even just the infuriating nature of his patients, who never listen to his urgings to floss.

When someone begins impersonating Paul online, things start to get a bit weird. Not only is this ‘Paul’ proclaiming the virtues of an obscure religion, but he also seems to know the real Paul better than Paul knows himself. Worst though, as things progress, Paul has to ask himself – would he be happier if he started living life like his fake, online self?

First, I have to admit that when I read To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, I was at home in bed sick, and whenever I read a book when I’m unwell, I end up not particularly liking it. Whether this is simply a coincidence or I inadvertendly turn my ‘I’m sick’ angst towards the book I’m reading at the time, I’m not sure, but either way, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour underwhelmed me.

Which is disappointing, because it started off so strongly. Stephen King described it as ‘the Catch-22 of dentistry’, which has to be the best description for a book, ever. And for the first few chapters, I could see what he meant. Paul O’Rourke, cranky, curmudgeonry, but still kinda likeable, managed to waffle on about a whole lot of not much, while still making it entertaining. In a way he reminded me of Graeme Simsion’s beloved character, Don Tillman, a man with Aspergers whom everyone still enjoys spending time with.

But then…the plot started to go nowhere. And while Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 has a lot of not much going on in it, it all comes together in the end, as though it’s one big joke that we’ve spent the past 500 pages waiting to hear the end of. This isn’t the case with Ferris’s To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. While Paul is cranky and curmudgeonry, it is never particularly explained why, or if, there is any resolution to his problems. His compulsive behaviour, obsessive attachment to other people’s families and even his insomnia are never explained, making me question why they were introduced in the first place.

And as the references to some obscure religion droned on and on, so that there would be pages where I zoned out, only to zone back in, so to speak, and find that I hadn’t actually missed anything pivotal in the plot. As a result, the book felt as though it sagged in the middle – a strong start and a mediocre ending, but a truly boring middle section.

Joshua Ferris is clearly an accomplished, witty writer who has the potential to produce something exceptional. For many people, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is that ‘something exceptional’. For me though, it read as though Ferris was more focused on the wittiness of his writing rather than plot or character development, and the overwhelming feeling was though it needed a harsh editor to cut out at least 50 pages from the middle section. But hey, remember, I was sick and cranky myself when I read this.

Have you read To Rise Again at a Decent Hour? Do you think it should have been shortlisted for the Man Booker prize? Let me know!

to rise again at a decent hour by joshua ferris

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour – (image taken from http://www.themanbookerprize.com)

Film Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

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Now, before you all turn away from this blog post in disgust, first, let me say that I know all about the domestic violence/rape allegations that surround Fifty Shades of Grey. Also, that it was a fan fiction (that Kim got me onto years and years ago), and that E L James has essentially used Twilight characters to sell lots of books. I am well aware of all of this.

Yet I wanted to see the movie anyway – even if it was going to be terrible (in more ways than one). Plus, my best friend and I were having a girly weekend and she scored cheap tickets to the movies, so it seemed fitting, right?

Before I get to the panning stage of this review, I’d like to give a shout-out to the director, Sam Taylor-Johnson, who tried to turn the frankly plotless Fifty Shades of Grey into a credible film. The cinematography, subtle irony and awesome shots of Seattle all made this film a lot better than it could have been. God knows why Taylor-Johnson came anywhere near this franchise, but she did, and thankfully, because she managed to tone down the whole ‘isn’t Christian the perfect man?’ aspect of the story. She also emphasised safe sex, consent, the usage of safety words in BDSM and most importantly, Anastasia’s ability to walk away. Plus, the use of Beyonce’s song for one of the sex scenes managed to actually make one of the sex scenes sexy (more on that later).

The main problem with Fifty Shades of Grey though is that it tries to make a thoroughly disturbed man into ‘dream boyfriend’ material. Deeply flawed characters are not a new thing in fiction, and in fact, they are often the most entertaining, thought-provoking and complex characters around. Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter Morgan and Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert are two examples of very, very unappealing people whose minds we have entered and whose stories are largely unforgettable – yet the author never paints them in a light that makes them attractive.

This, unfortunately, isn’t the case with Christian Grey, and as much as Taylor-Johnson tries to make it an empowering film, at the end of the day, Christian gets pleasure out of hitting women. I could go into the (entirely valid) argument that Fifty Shades also does a disservice to the BDSM community, whose participants engage in their sexual activities for mutual pleasure and respect, but I won’t – instead, I just want to focus on the idea that Christian uses it as an excuse to physically and emotionally hurt the woman he is meant to love. And while fans of the book talk about redemption and having a scarred past etc. etc., at the end of the day, no person ‘needs’ to hit another human being, as Christian states in the film. So, essentially, even if everything else about the film was great, that alone would leave me with an icky taste in my mouth. Not to mention, as Ana’s mum points out, if someone isn’t making you happy, then you probably shouldn’t be in a relationship with them (no matter how many billions of dollars they have).

Unfortunately though, the rest of all the film wasn’t great, in fact, it was boring. How a film that is at least 60% sex and 50% nudity (with both bushes proudly on display) could be boring is beyond me, but hey, Fifty Shades prove it’s possible. The sheer repetitiveness of the script meant that time and again we were back at the same spot, and Christian and Ana were having sex – again. Granted, I don’t find the main actor, Jamie Dornan, attractive at all, but regardless, a film needs to have some sort of tension or point in order for it to be entertaining. Conclusion, if you take away the frankly disturbing aspects of manipulation and control, Fifty Shades of Grey is less a proper film and more a poor version of porn. Yawn.

Don’t see Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s crap. There’s actually no other way to describe it. Doesn’t matter how many attractive people they’ve crammed into it; how many butts, boobs and bushes are shown in the sex scenes; or how many times Dornan’s abs are on show, this film is a flop. With lines like ‘I don’t make love, I fuck, hard’ and talk of anal fisting said with complete sincerity, it’s safe to say that this is a film that won’t last the ages.

I don’t usually do ‘stars’ per say, but for Fifty Shades of Grey, I’m giving one of out five stars – and that’s solely because Jamie Dornan wears some impressive suits – and not many men can pull off a sateen blue suit with aplomb.

Have you seen Fifty Shades of Grey? Did you read the book, or the fan fiction? Do you find Christian Grey attractive or are you disgusted, amused or bored by the whole thing? Let me know!

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