Book Review: Invisible Monsters Remix

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invisible monsters by chuck palanuik

If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll probably know that I’m quite a fan of Chuck Palanuik. Although he writes largely disturbing fiction (turning human fat into soap etc.), in my mind’s eye, he’s actually a super nice guy whom I would like to invite over to dinner. Where I’m sure he would manage to make me feel decidedly unhip, uninformed and probably not very well-read, simply because of his awesomeness. Damn you, fictional Chuck Palanuik.

Invisible Monsters Remix is Palanuik’s third novel, Invisible Monsters, republished in a slightly different format: instead of Palanuik creating a book that goes from start to finish, where the reader can determine how far away the end of the story is based on the dwindling pages, he decided on something new – to have the chapters all out of order, and hey! even some that you had to use a mirror to read.

In terms of actual plot, Invisible Monsters centres around an unnamed protagonist who was formally a model…until she had her jaw blown off. Now horribly disfigured, she joins forces with Queen Brandy Alexander, a beautiful, larger-than-life transsexual woman who takes the protagonist under her wing.

I’ve wanted to read this book for quite a long time, as the premise both intrigued and horrified me – what happens when someone beautiful loses their looks and their place in society? Considering my general awe surrounding Palanuik, I just assumed that Invisible Monsters would be a real treat; albeit a somewhat disturbing one. Yet unfortunately, for the first Palanuik book ever, this was not the case.

I had two problems with this book and the first was Palanuik’s ‘quirky’ way to laying it out. Sure, it was something different and I applaud him for trying, but as a sentimental book lover, I missed the structure of a normal book. It became simply frustrating to flick back and forth to the next chapter, and while he was trying to avoid being predicable, the chapters were still set out in a way that I could determine quite easily how much of the book remained. And while some of the chapters were actually little stories about Palanuik’s writing, and thus nothing to do with Invisible Monsters, I didn’t have the enthusiasm or the energy to try and hunt them down after I’d finished.

Secondly, I felt that Invisible Monsters was written for shock value, but little else. The protagonist though literally faceless (practically, anyway), is also faceless in her personality – I’m not given any reason to really care about her or know anything about her apart from that freak accident. And while there are certainly twists in the storyline, they almost seem a tad pointless, and they are surrounded by a plot that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and isn’t particularly propelled by any real motivation. In short, Palanuik appears to be riding on the fact his novel will shock people, but as a Palanuik fan who has read his other books, his style of writing or content doesn’t particularly faze me too much anymore. Plus, a novel should have more going for it than simply shock value.

I still love Chuck Palanuik and luckily Invisible Monsters Remix hasn’t put me off reading his novels – particularly the ones he wrote later on in his career, which I think really show his maturity as a writer. If you’re curious as to his methods of shock and a fair deal of depravity, I don’t recommend Invisible Monsters Remix – go for the famous Fight Club or even his newest novel, Beautiful Youinstead.

Have you read Invisible Monsters Remix? Are you a fan of Chuck Palanuik or have you read any of his other books? Let me know!

Book Review: Brother of the More Famous Jack

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Brother of the More Famous Jack, written in 1982, is the highly-acclaimed, debut novel of Barbara Trapido. It is a novel that has received critical success and is still considered highly relevant more than thirty years later. I’d never heard of it and thought it was a newish release; in fact, I largely decided to buy it because when I was at the bookstore I was pretty hungover and wanted something that wouldn’t require a huge amount of brain power. No Tolstoy for me that day, thank you very much.

Brother of the More Famous Jack is a coming-of-age novel centred around recently graduated Katherine. Stylish, beautiful and smart, Katherine becomes wrapped up in the rambling, eccentric family of her professor, Jacob Goldman, who has six children with his sharp-tongued wife, Jane.

While Katherine becomes entangled with the Goldman family she also starts dating their oldest son Roger, who despite being beautiful and brilliant, is also snobbish, cold and elitist. When he eventually rejects Katherine, she moves abroad until ten years later when she returns home and once more faces the Goldmans

As I wrote at the beginning of this post, Brother of the More Famous Jack has gained critical acclaim far and wide for being a thought-provoking coming-of-age novel. After completing it, I could see why: Barbara Trapido’s writing is fluid and emotive – it engulfs the reader so that they too almost become part of the story. Whole pages would flip past and it was almost a surprise when I turned over the last page – not because of the conclusion of the novel, but simply because I had managed to finish it so quickly. Basically, Trapido has succeeded in writing an intelligent novel that is a breeze to read. Hallelujah says my hungover self.

One of the other distinctive quirks I enjoyed about Brother of the More Famous Jack was the distinct lack of likeable characters – or, I should, stereotypical likeable characters. Though Katherine is beautiful and stylish, she is also weak-minded, shallow and dismissive of her family (although in saying that, at age 18, which of us aren’t a tad weak-minded, shallow or dismissive or our family?). And although the Goldmans definitely have an allure, they’re also a family that are simultaneously disordered, unclean, bickering and elitist. Yet despite all the major flaws of these characters, as a reader I still became immersed in their world – and although I disagreed with many, if not most, of their actions, I still also felt compelled to continue turning those pages to find out what happened to them all.

The only drawback to this novel though was that Katherine was constantly domineered by the men in her life, and for a novel that has the makings to be a great feminist manifesto, it was sadly disappointing. First Katherine is overwhelmed by Jacob Goldman himself, then his son Roger, who despite apparently being liberal, thinks it’s perfectly accepted to tell Katherine how to dress, what make up to wear and to look down on her for being into something as petty as fashion. I mean, excuse me, but what? And yet Katherine goes along with it all. I would like to argue that it’s due to her age, but as we see with her partner in Rome and even Jonathan, she is constantly manipulated into doing things for her partner’s sake, rather than her own. (There is one exception of course, but I don’t want to say it as it will give away a large part of the plot.)

Overall though, Brother of the More Famous Jack is a witty, sharp and intelligent novel. For an easy read that will still keep you hooked, I’d definitely recommend this book.

Have you read Brother of the More Famous Jack or any thing by Barbara Trapido? Let me know!

brother of the more famous jack by barbara trapido

Book Review: Yes, Chef!

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Lisa Joy’s first novel, Yes, Chef!, has all the makings of a good chick lit book – cute guy, bright cover, heck, even the protagonist Becca is described as ‘sassy’. What’s not to love?

Set in London, Yes, Chef! is told from the perspective of Becca Stone, a girl about to turn thirty who is stuck in a dead-end office job. When she gets the opportunity to work as the personal assistant to celebrity chef, Damien Malone, she’s at first hesitant – it’d be great for her career, but his nasty reputation precedes him. Becca’s life quickly becomes a whirlwind of work, travel and cute boys, but in the meantime she loses track of what’s really important, like her friends.

I enjoyed this novel, but admittedly there were a few flaws. First, it was abundantly clear that it was Lisa Joy’s first foray into fiction, because at times the writing came across as clunky and over-thought. This specifically occurred during the conversations that Becca would have with her work colleagues, and while I know that many authors struggle particularly with dialogue, these passages just reinforced that I was reading a make-believe world.

However, the other problem with Yes, Chef! is one that frequently occurs in chick lit, and that was the sloppy storytelling. While there were definitely storylines that didn’t really go anywhere (Becca’s friend who tries to kiss her for one), the two main plot lines were so thin they were almost laughable. First, the biggest problem in Becca’s life is that her friends get upset with her because she’s been working too hard and haven’t been making time for her. I’m sorry, but what? If Becca had dropped off the scene because of some boyfriend, then yeah, I could understand why they’d be a tad annoyed. But to get angry at her because she’s working outrageous hours for a bully of a boss (they should know, his their boss too) is simply ridiculous. And the love interest, though very cute and very nice, is both obvious from the get-go and so ‘convenient’ that I was routinely reminded that this was a chick lit. Like, I’m sorry, but it is very unlikely that Becca would ‘just happen’ to run into him both in Florence, but also just randomly on the streets of London. Have you ever been to London? It’s more than double the population of Melbourne, and let me tell you, not once have I ever ‘conveniently’ run into a cute boy I’ve been interested in.

So, in a nutshell, unfortunately Yes, Chef! is a bit routine. It’s entertaining yes, and if you don’t want to use your brain cells, go for it. It’s fun, and the character, though a bit exasperating, is likeable, so you want her to find success. Plus, the cover is delightful and the setting is in London, two things that are always thumbs up from me. Basically, it is exactly what you’d expect from a chick lit that isn’t particularly memorable, but is thoroughly enjoyable. Give it a read if you’re away on holidays, trying to avoid study, or want to be transported to ‘la la land’.

Have you read Yes, Chef! by Lisa Joy? Are you a fan of Chick Lit? Let me know!

yes chef by lisa joy

Yes, Chef! – (image taken from http://www.amazon.com)

Book Review: The Serpent Papers

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The Serpent Papers, despite being Jessica Cornwell’s first novel, has already been signed on by the publishing house (and it’s a big one) to be made into a trilogy. Yet after finishing this novel, I wasn’t exactly sure why it needed to be a trilogy – or alas, who would take the time to read it.

The blurb to The Serpent Papers sounded great. Set in Barcelona, Spain, it tells the intermingling stories that centre around Anna Verco – a ‘book hunter’ who also has a strange, supernatural gift. Surrounding the main plot of Anna trying to track down a really old and powerful book is the crime story of four women who were brutally murdered 10 years ago. As Anna tries to help the police solve the murders, she sets herself on a path that may very well lead to her discovering the book…but also getting herself killed.

Sounds cool, right? It’s got old books, a book hunter, an awesome setting and a bit of alchemy thrown into the mix. Despite being a fiction book there were tonnes of facts about real people, which is something I really love too (it makes me look extra brainy at trivia nights). Yet this book fell flat, and it held no emotional or intellectual appeal for me at all. In fact, from about page 200 (its about 500 pages long), I was longing for the end – and if I didn’t have the rule that once I start a book I need to finish it…well, I wouldn’t have finished The Serpent Papers.

There were two problems with this book and they both can be described as such ‘biting off more than you can chew’. Jessica Cornwell is clearly a very intelligent woman, but unfortunately she seems more interested in including everything she knows about alchemy and history onto the pages, without dumbing it down to people who have never studied it. I know that we give authors like Dan Brown a hard time for essentially writing ‘low brow’ literature, but the reason he’s so successful is that he gets all these facts that most of us have never heard of and spins them in a way that is both relevant to the story, as well as understandable to the average reader. And while Cornwell may argue that her novel is for more of an educated audience, I stand by my point that even educated people don’t know much about 16th century alchemists.

So, as a result, while these facts could have been stimulating and in fact add colour to the storyline, what ended up happening was that I became so dulled and confused by them that I zoned out for pages at a time.

The second issue with The Serpent Papers is that Cornwell simply had too much going on. In those 500 odd pages, she had the main story of Anna searching for her book; a 10-year old murder case to be solved; perspective from the accused murderer (from ten years ago); then we go backwards and forwards from a few centuries ago where a series of letters are being written about Rex Illuminatus; and to top it all off, the story starts mid-way, so that we’re unsure who we’re dealing with at first – Anna, or one of the dead women?

And while including so much information has the unfortunate side effect of being confusing, the bigger issue is that things that should be included are left out, and things that aren’t necessary are kept in. For example, there’s a 60-page  story arch about a character who was accused of the murders – so we hear about why he was the supposed killer, we hear from his roommate and hey, we even learn that a friend of his was actually a lesbian. NOT RELEVANT. Why is this not relevant? Because he isn’t actually the killer, surprise surprise, and after that 60 pages dedicated to him, we don’t really hear from him again. Yet, this information is included, but at a cost – Anna’s discovery, which essentially leads to the ending of the book is sloppy, underdeveloped and too easily solved – she does it simply with her psychic powers. It was as though Cornwell just lost steam by the end of the novel. And for a crime novel, I think most people would agree that that’s just disappointing.

I feel bad to leave such a bad review about The Serpent Papers but it just really disappointed me. What could have been a really great premise for a novel fell flat almost immediately, and while Jessica Cornwell definitely has the knowledge and intelligence to be a great writer, I think she needs a strong editing team and a bit of experience before she gets there.

Have you read The Serpent Papers? Are you a fan of crime novels? Let me know!

the serpent papers by jessica cornwell

The Serpent Papers – (image taken from http://www.gr-assets.com)

Book Review: The Buried Giant

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Kazuo Ishiguro is one of my favourite authors…and this is only the second book of his that I’ve read. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

The Buried Giant is set in England during the middle ages, a generation after King Arthur reigned. The story follows an elderly couple, Beatrice and Axl, who are on a quest to find their son. While Beatrice and Axl have to contend with old age and deadly creatures, they also have to deal with a mysterious mist that has settled over their lands – stopping anyone from having memories for longer than a few days.

In true Ishiguro fashion, The Buried Giant deals with the concept of loss and the many forms that it can come in. Though a completely new genre for him (fantasy, though he doesn’t like it to be described as such), aspects of The Buried Giant felt familiar – as per usual, Ishiguro makes us examine ourselves and ask questions that we may not want to know the answers to.

Using Beatrice and Axl as his devices, Ishiguro examines memories and their importance. Is it more important to remember everything so that you know exactly what you’ve gone through in life? Or is it better to have forgotten, so that you have time to heal and love again? Can we truly be ourselves if we don’t have our memories?

Yet while these were all absorbing questions, unfortunately they were a bit sparse throughout the novel, and as a result the plot was sometimes slow-going. While Ishiguro’s writing was as beautiful as ever, there were aspects of the dialogue that were a bit jarring, and the repetitive use of ‘princess’ stopped me from getting fully immersed in the story. And though his fantasy world is described beautifully, to me it lacked emotion – while Beatrice and Axl stood out clearly, their background often faded to an uninteresting blur.

However, I do wish to point out that The Buried Giant is positively teeming with metaphors and allegories, and as such, there are bound to be tonnes that flew right over my head. The ones that did resonate however did stick with me, and as with any good metaphor, they have stuck with me ever since. Perhaps most haunting of all was the ending – should I take it at face value, or is it a metaphor for something greater and far more sinister? Essentially, though the story may not have been as compelling as his other works, Ishiguro still managed to drive the same result home – constantly thinking about his novel, weeks after I turned the final page.

PS. Though it is rather fickle, I really, really loved the cover of The Buried Giant, and it is by far the best one I’ve seen all year.

Have you read The Buried Giant? Are you a fan of Kazuo Ishiguro? Let me know!

the buried giant by kazuo ishiguro

The Buried Giant – (image taken from http://www.thetimes.co.uk)

Film Review: Big Eyes

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A Tim Burton film usually means a certain kind of film: Gothic, a bit weird, German expressionism and Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Yet with their recent split, it seems that Helena Bonham Carter ‘won’ Johnny Depp in the divorce…and thus, Tim Burton was forced to go in a new direction. The result? A refreshing change.

‘Loosely based’ on a true story, Big Eyes is set in the 1950s and 60s, when Margaret (Amy Adams) flees an oppressive marriage and moves to San Francisco with her daughter. Struggling as a single-mom who spends her weekends painting unique portraits, she soon meets fellow artist Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) and the two begin a whirlwind romance. In awe of his confidence and success as an artist, Margaret falls for Walter and the two get married.

However, things don’t always meet the eye, and Keane’s scenic paintings fail to impress the local art dealer, and when Keane convinces the jazz club to showcase his and Margaret’s paintings, he’s horrified to discover that people are far more interested in Margaret’s waif-like children with enormous eyes than they are with his dull Paris scenery. And when one buyer wrongly identifies him as the painter ‘Keane’, he does not correct them. After all, combined with his charisma and Margaret’s skills, they have the opportunity of a lifetime to become rich and famous. Well, he has the opportunity to become rich and famous.

Of course, the best bit about this story is that it is in fact based on a true story. Sure, there was bound to be tonnes of ‘artistic embellishment’ but surprisingly, the most notorious aspects of the film are actually true. And though Tim Burton has added a layer of commentary that brings up the gender inequality, in light of the continual debate about the gender pay gap, it felt relevant. Because while Walter Keane may have been more charisma than Margaret, his ability to sell her paintings largely stemmed from the belief that as a male he was automatically a more superior artist than his wife. Pah.

What I enjoyed best about Big Eyes was the refreshing change of pace for a Tim Burton film. Truthfully, the past few Tim Burton films I’ve said have been woeful, and it felt as though Burton was relying on his usual cache to deliver box office results: that of Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp and a distinct undertone of Gothic. So while his divorce with Bonham Carter may had led to the different direction in casting, it turned out to be a positive one.

Though perhaps a little too earnest, Amy Adam’s performance as Margaret was strong, likeable and realistic – she portrayed succinctly a woman who despite being intelligent and resourceful was still trapped by the emotions of a man. Christoph Waltz however, though entertaining to watch, was somewhat over-bearing, as though he was a cartoon character or a melodramatic villain in an old black and white film. Granted, it may be because his voice is so distinctive (thus conjuring up his other movies, where he plays the villain), but the way Waltz portrayed Keane made him instantly unlikeable and untrustworthy – in fact, I wasn’t even sure why Margaret fell for him. And in a film where he is meant to increase his sheer madness, it felt like Waltz started off too strongly and then had nowhere to go as the story developed. And as for Krysten Ritter, who plays Margaret’s best friend, and Jason Schwartzman, the snobby art dealer, while their performances were strong, they had almost no screen time, giving their characters with little chance to have an impact on the story.

I enjoyed Big Eyes and it was a fun way to spend an afternoon. I’m thankful that Tim Burton decided to go in a new direction, while still maintaining the charming aspects of his film-making: quirkiness, beautiful cinematography and strong female characters. Definitely recommend if you’re up for something a bit ‘arthouse’ without being too weird.

Have you seen Big Eyes? Are you a fan of Tim Burton? Let me know!

 

Book Review: The House of Silk

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So, OK, The House of Silk may not be written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. And OK, if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle knew that people were STILL being forced to write Sherlock Holmes stories (something he grew very sick of during his lifetime) even after his death, well, he’d probably be groaning in his grave. But screw it. I love Sherlock Holmes, and if someone manages to emulate Conan Doyle successfully, then I’m going to go out and buy their books. Kapeesh?

Written by crime-writing legend Anthony Horowitz, The House of Silk begins with Dr Watson announcing that this story is so scandalous that it can only be told years after both his and Sherlock’s deaths. A combination of two stories, The House of Silk first tells the story of ‘The Flat Cap Gang’ – a criminal gang in America whom a wealthy English man believes is seeking revenge. When Sherlock enlists the help of the Bakers Street Irregulars to find the suspect, the illusive House of Silk becomes involved in Sherlock’s investigation and suddenly things go from simple to sinister. Deaths, an escape from jail and a truly abhorrent club all become mixed into Horowitz’s attempt to create a new story about a beloved detective.

As I wrote in a previous post, I think Anthony Horowitz does a marvellous job of not only creating a suspenseful and page-turning crime thriller, but also of portraying Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson is an accurate way. Sherlock Holmes is the most adapted character on the screen and page, and unfortunately, more often than not, the adaptations aren’t a fair representation of Conan Doyle’s creation. (Apparently, there’s a screen adaptation where Dr Watson is the brainiac and Sherlock is the slightly slow sidekick. The thought actually hurts my soul.)

Of course, recreating Sherlock Holmes is a double-edged sword. Not only does Horowitz have legions of fans to consider, but he also has to create a realistic story…set one hundred years ago. Not an easy task. Yet it is something that Horowitz does with aplomb. One of the finest aspect of a Sherlock story is the descriptions and inclusions of olde ye London, and in this regard, Horowitz does not fail to deliver – not only did it make me nostalgic of London (don’t worry London, I’ll be back there in a couple of months!), but it also played a necessary character in the storyline.

Since Horowitz is practically a legend in the crime-writing world (he writes the screen plays of Poirot and Midsomer Murders on top of everything else), I find it almost unnecessary to add that he does a fantastic job of creating a story that keeps you guessing until the end – not to mention, one that includes all the characteristics of a typical Holmes’s investigation – i.e. Holmes’s deducing facts off the barest of information and Dr Watson thinking he is solving the crime when he is really acting as part of Holmes’s bigger plans. Finally, Horowitz, on top of all of this, also manages to weave the beloved secondary characters into his storyline – Mrs Hudson, the Baker Street Irregulars and even Professor Moriarty. Bravo, my friend, bravo.

Plus, I appreciate that Horowitz doesn’t even attempt to add a hokey romance into the mix, which so many authors deem necessary. As Horowitz himself adds in the afterword, there has only ever been one woman for Sherlock Holmes.

Have you read The House of Silk or anything by Anthony Horowitz? Are you a fan of Sherlock Holmes? Do you think adaptations can be done successfully? Let me know!

the house of silk by anthony horowitz

The House of Silk – (image taken from http://www.images-amazon.com)

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