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Archive for the ‘novels’ Category

Book two of my not really holiday reading was Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood.  I first read this about eight years ago (and when I realised that I was a bit shocked!) but it’s one of a series so I got all three to read back to back.

The story is about a man called Jimmy, or Snowman, and is set in a future where science has overwhelmed nature: people, plants and animals are genetically modified.  Society is split into people in the Compounds – the areas of Corporations managing the scientific activities for profit – and the pleeblands, where everyone else lives.

When a global pandemic wipes out virtually all humanity, Jimmy has to save not only himself but the Crakers, a group of bioengineered humanoids created by Jimmy’s best friend, and find a way to survive the new world, with its newly released science experiment animals.

I won’t say more than that because I will be giving away too much of the story!

I chose this book because I enjoy reading Atwood’s work, because I knew I wanted to revisit the book, and because I love a dystopian future.  I didn’t read it for writing purposes.

Having said that, it’s always interesting to read Atwood – the concepts in this book are intriguing and disturbing, and I found myself wondering at what point I would think genetic manipulation had gone too far.  At what point do we as a society move from horrified to accepting?

There is also moral consideration about the behaviour of both Jimmy and Crake in relation to each other, to Oryx who is loved by both men, and to humanity as a whole.

It’s a hard future and much like other dystopian novel, there are elements already creeping into reality which make it particularly unnerving in places.

Reading it on a sun lounger wasn’t really the right environment… Still, I found it moving, thought-provoking and engrossing. It stood up well on second reading, although the gap may have helped 🙂

I have read the next book in the trilogy and am onto the third, so more on the future of humanity will follow!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

 

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I said yesterday that I had three books to discuss, but over the course of today I decided to split them into different posts.  That way, each one gets a bit more space to be discussed!

So the first book to talk about is The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht.  I am going to be totally honest and say I was first drawn to it by the name, and once I saw the cover I was hooked.

This book is a mixture of fact, fantasy, and folktale; from a writing point of view I was interested in how the elements were fused.  This book had a richness to it, a sense of the world being deeper and wider than imagined.   I particularly liked the ‘Deathless Man’ stories, which were like something from Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

The downside of richness is that you can have too much of something.  By the end of the book I did feel that there were so many stories, so many characters, so many details that I didn’t hold on to them all.  That isn’t always a negative but in this case, it’s difficult to write about the content of the book because I can’t remember it all.

So I will focus on the key elements that remain with me.  Firstly, the names of places are made up, but there is a clear sense that the tales take place in the former Yugoslavia – not only because of Obreht’s personal history, but because of the nature of the conflicts within the story.

Secondly, the tale of the Tiger’s Wife herself is of a woman finding freedom and finding her own path, and that being destroyed by people who are scared of the power that gives her.  In effect, it is the personalisation of the story of war.

Thirdly, this is the story of tragedy.  It feels as though whatever happens, violence recurs. It is not a book that leaves you feeling uplifted but it does make you think about how terrible things can happen, and the ramifications of them.

It wasn’t really holiday reading, and it was a bit too heavy going for a sun lounger, but it was an interesting book.

GoingTigers Wife back to the writing perspective, I have to be honest and say that the fusion of different folk tales didn’t always work form me, but I loved the Deathless Man idea, and how it twined in and out of reality.  I often lost track of where I was in time – Obreht did shift forward and backward in time on a number of occasions and it wasn’t alway immediately clear.  As someone who has used the time shift tool themselves I think it’s better to signpost the shift but it’s a narrative choice to make it blurry.

Overall this book was unusual, and poignant, and focussed on loss in a way I hadn’t anticipated.  It was not what I expected to be reading.  As a writer, I think that’s a brave strategy but as a reader I wasn’t prepared for the content!

I am not sure I will re-read this book but I am not willing to pass it on yet either – mind you, that might just be because I love the cover drawing…

This is one I just can’t quite make up my mind about.  Which I see as a writing positive, because at least I am thinking about it!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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This week I read a Poirot story with a difference.  The Monogram Murders is a modern return to Hercule Poirot, written by Sophie Hannah and approved by Agatha Christie’s estate.

Having heard it discussed at last year’s crime writing convention by the editor of the Estate (who was really interesting and of course a great salesperson when it came to this story) I decided to buy it when I saw it in a charity shop.

I am fascinated by the idea of continuing a set of stories created by another person, and how well – or otherwise – a voice may be captured.  In this book, I didn’t feel that Hannah was trying to recreate Christie’s voice as such; I have not read all of her work but it didn’t feel the same as the stories I have read.  However, she was trying to make Poirot live again.

I feel a little unsure about this one.  In terms of the story, I enjoyed it and it was an easy, quick read despite being nearly 400 pages long.  It was engaging and I was wrong about who I thought had done it, and why – there are twists and these worked for me.

But it didn’t feel like it needed to be a Poirot story – marketing-wise I’m sure that was helpful! but it felt more like a story that happened to have Poirot in it than a story in which he was integral.  This is an important point because I have actually felt that about another Poirot story I read, called The Hollow; and maybe this treatment of the character is more reflective than I appreciate.

I didn’t read this with a particular learning point in mind but I did want to successfully read something after my last efforts were wasted!  However, from a reading point of view I can say that the style of the ‘golden age’ of crime writing really appeals to me.  I do not like violent, graphic crime and the slick cleverness of this one was much more entertaining to me than a lot of modern crime writing.

I don’t know if I’d choose to read Sophie Hannah’s other books – she writes psychological thrillers usually, which aren’t really my preference – but I’d read her other Poirot to see how it compared.

I would want to compare it to an original Christie though!

Until next time,

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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This Thursday I am doing something a little different.  One of my brilliant nephews, Zed, is undertaking sponsored tasks to raise money for a project, and I have sponsored him to provide a book review for me.

Normally reviews are shared on Tuesdays but I thought this deserved to be treated as the special post it is.

And now I’ll hand you over to Zed…

Time Riders

Time Riders is a series of books written by Alex Scarrow. He wrote other titles too, such as Afterlight and the Candle Man. Time Riders is one of the best book series that I have ever read and as I went through the series I found myself getting addicted (in a good way) to it.

In the first book the Time Riders are introduced and the concept of time travel is explained. If you are wondering what the Time Riders programme is and why it was set up, it is a secret organisation that prevents history being changed (in case others have or are building a time machine despite it being against the law). It was set up by fictional billionaire Roald Waldstein who was the first to experience time travel and the first to realise it is not meant to happen.

The future in the book shows a smart virus being created and unleashed on the world (the Kosong-Ni virus) but not knowing the virus’ place of origin its release can’t be prevented. Over the series the Time Riders get suspicious of why Waldstein is trying to fuel the extinction of humanity and not trying to change history to create a better future.

In the final books the Time Riders are chased out of their home/base and the have to flee to Victorian England (during the time Jack the Ripper was still at large) to get away from Waldstein. Then, after many days of planning they go to a man named Adam (who they encountered earlier in the book series) and go to a hidden city in the Mayan Period to find a time portal beam going through the core of the earth and time, to Jerusalem during the time of Jesus Christ. Finally, some of the Time Riders end up going to Waldstein and the rest of them go to the other end of the time portal beam.

Ever since I started reading this series I have been on the edge of my seat, glued to the page and reading and reading and finally getting to the last book to finish what I had started… The best book series I have ever read.

And there you have it; if you are looking for a young adult book series, Time Riders sounds like a good option.

I think I’ll ask Zed if I can borrow his books!

Happy reading,

EJ (and Zed)

🙂

P.S. if you like this review and want to let Zed know, please say so in the comments!

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The book is Rachel Cusk’s Arlington Park and I did indeed give up.

I cajoled myself to read a bit more after last week, but this one isn’t for me.  It may well suit me at another time, but I have too many books I am excited to start reading to keep going with one I am not really enjoying at the moment.

I don’t really relish the writing style, which is the biggest issue for me: metaphors, word repitition and prolonged descriptions abound.  All have their value of course, but all at once it can be a little overwhelming and I found myself wanting to skip through it. Also, the first four characters I met all showed fairly unedifying personality traits.  Put these together and there’s no hook for me, as a reader.

It’s a shame because I was really hoping to see something more from this.  From other reviews I’ve seen it’s quite deeply feminist and I wonder if that also has an impact: if something is overtly political it can seem more focussed on the message than the plot. Interestingly (to me!), the last book I gave up on was also overtly political.

Mind you, I have been put off by what I consider overuse of metaphorical devices before too.  Some examples can be beautiful but for me as a reader it is much more enjoyable and much more effective when it is deftly controlled.  In this book it felt out of control.

If you look on goodreads you’ll see it’s definitely one that divides opinion.  I know that some people adore it – and some of the descriptions really are brilliant.  It’s just that I prefer not to notice every description because when you notice the writing too much, you stop living in the world the writer has created.

If I am going to take a learning point from this book it’s that intelligent and unexpected word choices can improve a story, but there has to be a balance between action and description.  It is of course up to the writer to define what that is, because you’ll never please every reader!

Perhaps one day I’ll return to it, but now I am going on to something a little different…

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

 

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I have just started a new book, which I chose because I thought it would give me a standard to aim for in my writing.  The blurb calls the writer ‘strikingly elegant’ (I assume in her prose not her person!) and the subject matter is domestic reality, which is really where all my stories are centred.

These made it seem like a good read for learning and improving my own work.

However, I am a little concerned by the start.  It is not to my taste, I kept losing focus and having to re-read lines, and after only a short space of time I am left with limited memory of the section except it being vaguely irritating.  I will carry on but I wasn’t really engaged.

Saying that, I do remember noticing some interesting descriptions and an unusual choice of words here and there which I did appreciate. Maybe it will all make more sense when I get a bit further…

It’s not a huge book so I hope to finish by next week – if I haven’t, I have probably given up!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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I finished!

Over the last couple of weeks I have been reading Gillespie and I, by Jane Harris.  Now I have got to the end of it, I am confused…

The story is narrated by Harriet Baxter, a woman in her 70’s, and is split between her current life in 1930’s London, and her life in Glasgow in the 1880’s.  We learn about her relationship with Ned Gillespie and his family, his struggle to get the recognition deserved for his art, and her role as friend and confidante to all, until tragedy hits the family. We also, in her current life, learn about her vague, but growing, fears for her safety.  I won’t say more here because anything else is likely to be a massive spoiler!

I started the book thinking it was some sort of mystery, which it is, but it’s also a story about mental health issues, murder, loneliness, loss and betrayal, and I still don’t know exactly what role the protagonist played in the deeply painful events described.  Harriet’s story is very much her own.

As a writer, I have often come across examples of the unreliable narrator in exercises, but this particular one has worked very well for multiple reasons.

Firstly, it’s not explicit that she really is an unreliable narrator: it could just be my imagination.  That ambivalence about her honesty or otherwise is really powerful and such a great way of muddying the waters.

Secondly, it is not clear how much of what she says is factually true.  Many points are debated and obviously we see her point of view, but there is no gauge to show whether she is lying or just putting her perception of events forward. There is always an explanation because she only tells the story she can explain.

Thirdly, the story she tells is allegedly about her time with the Gillespie family, and yet much of what she reports is through the prism of how Ned Gillespie might have viewed it (albeit from her point of view).  That makes Ned unreliable too.  His characteristics are a contradictory mishmash of blunt politeness, of honest self-censorship, that leave me questioning their interactions.

I started the book expecting a more genre-specific mystery and it took quite a while for me to realise I didn’t feel certain about Harriet, either in her behaviour or her reports of her behaviour.  I can’t say more than that here, except it does explain why I thought it was so slow to get going!

From a writing point of view this was fascinating to unpick.  The imagery, the style, the narrative technique, the characterisation and the setting were all very cleverly interwoven and this was a very tightly packed book, stylistically speaking.

From a reading point of view I was hoping for more of a payoff at the end, although the foreshadowing of what comes after the book is shut was another technique I have to consider further in my own work.

I can see this being a great reading group book or intensive study book, because it has so many facets to it that I probably missed quite a few, but for me personally, it is a real education in the power of the right narrative decision, and the right narrator.

It’s not a book I would naturally choose for a second read, but I wonder how I would view the story, knowing what I know now.  It has definitely piqued my interest, that’s for sure!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

 

 

 

 

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