Review: Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell

1984This book blew my mind just a little bit. Okay, maybe a lot. I wish I’d read it sooner, I wish I had been able to read it at school and study it properly because I think I probably missed so much but on the other hand I don’t think I would have been mentally able to comprehend it all had I read it any sooner. It is just so complex that one – relatively casual – reading isn’t really enough. It’s by no means a new favourite but it’s a book I have huge respect for because it is just genius. I also just have to say that George Orwell is a fantastic writer and I’m ashamed I put this off as long as I did. Trying to make this review coherent is going to be a challenge in itself so I’m not even going to try and make a grand overview of everything!

Ultimately, the thing that was most powerful for me about this book was language. How in this world that Orwell has created, language as we know it is being shrunk down to nothing. That one word is being used with prefixes to cover all multitude of things and how that’s basically creating a world that cannot express itself so everyone can only think in one way. It’s just terrifying to think about it, that sort of censorship. Running parallel to that is our freedom to think. It is something we take for granted and it is a key element of this book, just the idea of policing thoughts is boggling. That any threat to the government – real or imagined – will be silenced, that’s pretty scary!

The world that was created was in itself interesting to read about. I can’t quite put it in to words what it was about it but it was just so well developed. The politics was actually quite interesting to read about, which is actually the bit I was dreading!

It’s also one of those books wherein you never quite know where it’s going. You never know who is trustworthy and who isn’t – there were a couple of twists that surprised me and I’m quite good at calling things! The ending is just devastating in all the ways I wasn’t expecting. There just isn’t words for that kind of ending.

Now more than ever it’s an appropriate book, and an important book, to read. With the increase in technology and social networking, Big Brother is always watching in many ways, our actions have paper trails and yes… I think this book is a cautionary tale in some respects, and one that wasn’t really listened to when it was first published. It’s timeless, it represents so many elements of the world we live in now that it’s hard not to be affected by the story as a whole.

This, as I said, isn’t going to be a favourite book but I understand its importance. I understand why people love this book. I couldn’t have comprehended it when I was 16, or even 18, but I appreciate it now and I think I will reread one day and appreciate it a little bit more still. I’ll happily give this 4/5 because it really got me thinking.

Review: The Girl With All the Gifts – M. R. Carey

TGWATGI only picked this up to read the first page or two when I didn’t know what I wanted to read. I picked a few books up before it, nothing sat right and then I picked up this and I couldn’t put it down. Seriously. I picked it up at 6:30 on Monday morning and was 100 pages through it by 9 after my daily commute.

It was such a fast paced book, as you can probably assume from a 100 page blitz before 9am! But I was practically glued to it when I had some free time, I didn’t want to socialise with my friends because I wanted to know what happened to Melanie.

Melanie, or our girl with all the gifts, has grown up in what is essentially a prison and we slowly find out why that is over the first hundred pages or so, but there isn’t a certain answer until the very end, really. I don’t want to talk too much about the plot because I want don’t want to ruin it – this book is such a Pandora’s box that I want to keep it that way!

It’s more than a ‘thriller’ – if anything it’s only tenuously a thriller. There’s nothing I can really compare it to either, it’s just a book that stands so beautifully on its own that I don’t want to throw it in to a category! It says a lot about humanity, and in a way it makes you question which person you would be if it came down to it. Some of the relationships are a bit distorted, lines are blurred, sometimes you don’t quite know who the good guy is.

I’m so glad I picked this up; truthfully it was quite low on my TBR so I’m really happy I did just pick it up by chance because I don’t know when I would have otherwise got around to it! My main issue is that the ending was quite rushed and I found some of the middle too long – it could have done with being a little more well paced towards the last third. The story is fantastic and I can’t fault it for that but I do feel it could have been something more. 4/5

Review: The Birds & Other Stories – Daphne du Maurier

thebirdsThis is the second du Maurier I’ve read this week. As expected she didn’t disappoint. I love her novels, but I think her short stories are equally as compelling. Previously I’ve read The Rendezvous and Other Stories which, though the least known of her short story collections, I really enjoyed and actually gave 5/5 so I went in to this – her most well known collection – with high expectations.

I loved it. As I expected. I loved it. There were only 6 stories and, truthfully, they were probably more novellas than a short story. They were all well fleshed out, had the signature du Maurier feel to them, the characters were superb as I’ve come to expect and ultimately, it was a fantastic collection. I was going to just do an overview but, for the sake of completeness, I’ve decided to review each story independently.

The titular story features first and The Birds is a story about a man who is plagued by evil birds. In this copy it was around 40 pages and it revolves around this man’s attempt to save his family from these evil birds. Really, it’s quite bizarre but amid all of the screeching and aggressive window-pecking it feels really intense. It was quite psychological as well, actually. I enjoyed it, I’m probably now going to be paranoid when a bird looks at me but I really enjoyed it.

Monte Verià takes up practically a third of the book. The story itself is an odd one – there is a lot of depth and suspense there and it only really makes sense once it’s fully read. Many people have said that it was too long – I agree in some respects, it was quite long and maybe it could have done with a bit of editing but her writing is just so wonderfully readable that I couldn’t put this one down. The premise is again a little weird and our narrator for this is really not the main character but the eyes through which we see the story. Essentially our unnamed narrator tells the story of his friend Victor and his wife Anna. Victor and Anna go on holiday and climb a mountain and something peculiar happens while up the mountain… I really loved this one actually. The ending was a little “meh” but on the whole this was a really good story.

The Apple Tree was a peculiar one. It follows a man who has recently been widowed who is embracing the freedom that has come from it and he notices the apple trees in the garden; one reminding him of his wife and the other reminding him of the young farm girl he once kissed. I don’t really know what I was reading when I read this, it was completely bizarre and at points I did find it hard to follow. I don’t think this was du Maurier at her best; it was good and her writing was sublime as always but it wasn’t her best.

Next up was The Little Photographer and truthfully the only thing that kept me reading this was her writing. The plot was quite lacking and the protagonist was shallow and it just dragged. If it was anyone else I probably wouldn’t have even finished it but it was du Maurier and I felt obliged. There was a slight twist at the end that almost redeemed it but… It stell felt like it was lacking something.

Kiss Me Again, Stranger is one I feel could have actually been developed more. It was a little frustrating, the narrator wasn’t particularly likeable for me but I feel that the girl could definitely have had a novel to herself. I really loved the twist in this one but, as I said, it could have done with more.

Finally there was The Old Man which is the shortest story of the collection. This was a bit nondescript initially but the ending, oh the ending. It was something else. It really just proves how wonderful a writer du Maurier is, to have to think one thing and twist it completely with 3 sentences. It’s one I don’t want to speak much about as at only 10 pages there’s not much to tell but it did make me go back and read it again with the end in mind.

Ultimately this was a good collection, the writing here is just sublime and while the stories themselves were a bit hit and miss it’s hard to not like this! I prefer her novels, I actually find them more well paced but her short stories are just little flashes of genius and I’m looking forward to the other 3 collections I have yet to read! 4/5

Review: If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things – Jon McGregor

insortI’m actually starting this review prior to having even got half way in this book. In fact, I’ve hardly started this book, I’m 70 pages in. I just wanted to make sure that I put my initial thoughts down.

Why did I wait so long to read this?

I bought this book in September after Sar begged me to but it because she adores it. I trust her judgement, she’d been on at me for years to read this and damn I’m glad I finally did. My only question is that one above. It’s just beautiful and I can see why she loved it and recommends it so highly.

Seriously, this book is just word porn. I actually found myself reading parts aloud because it just sounds so beautiful. The prose in this is just exquisite; it forms more like poetry and I think I’m a little in love. It’s just a breath of fresh air to read something like this, especially after my previous read.

While beautiful, it took me a while to actually sink in to it and actually understand where it was going. Really, it’s quite mundane. It’s just the way in which it’s written makes what would ordinarily be quite dull story vivid and just beautiful. It’s a slow mover and sometimes it’s a little hazy but it’s nonetheless a great book.

Essentially, this book follow a day in the life of a street through a series of vignettes from our narrator, but also interludes from the other people on this street. Each character is only identified by their house number, which can sometimes get a little confusing but it’s an interesting factor as it does just prove that people are more than a name or an appearance. This book is a very intense character study really, showing that ordinary people can be extraordinary if we only look hard enough. From the very beginning there is foreboding of what’s to come as all events are set over one day, with insights in to the past and future at times, and we don’t find out what happens until the last 5 or 10 pages wherein it all happens at once.

I just cannot put in to words how beautifully this man writes; so I’m going to put a few quotes below just to make a point.

“The whole city stopped – And this is a pause worth savouring, because the world will soon be complicated again.”

“I wonder how many ways there are for a mother to produce that wreckage in her own daughter, and my muscles tense as I think of them.”

I’ve just had to really think how to rate this because… it’s difficult. On the one hand it’s absolutely beautiful but, on the other, half the time it just felt like a bunch of pretty words all coming together and not making all that much sense! It was a long decision for me to eventually settle on this: 4/5

Review: A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing – Eimear McBride

A Girl Is a Half-Formed ThingI’m just going to throw it out there – this was nothing like what I was expecting.

I picked this up in Oxfam after a few people I know mentioning it saying that it’s just a book that you “have to read”. I do agree with that statement. It is by no stretch of the word an easy read, it’s quite difficult in fact and truthfully, I really didn’t enjoy reading it much. But I am so glad I did read this. At times it was frustrating, it was difficult and I wanted to throw it at a wall but I persevered and it’s one of those books that I think is going to haunt me a little bit.

It’s told in a somewhat more modern take on the stream of consciousness technique, it’s broken, it’s haphazard. I struggled at first, I’m a fan of a stream of consciousness but this was very broken and it was difficult to settle in to. It does hold such a power; when the narrator is desperate, you as a reader feel that desperation because the writing becomes even more disjointed and fractured and that’s just such a powerful thing for an author to accomplish. There wasn’t one gramatically correct, fully complete sentence in this book. I also maybe think that it would have been a book better read in short bursts than for a readathon as it was for me; I think maybe I would have enjoyed it, or at least taken more from it, had I read it over a longer period of time. At the same time, I think it’s a book that is best consumed all at once. I’m very conflicted on a lot of points with this.

The story itself follows a young woman (initially as a girl) growing up; it’s a coming of age story. She has a brother that has had a brain tumour and it’s really not an easy read. It’s a story that has been told endlessly but the writing style gives this it’s own, unique voice and a perspective that is very individual to it. Truthfully, I didn’t understand what was going on half the time because it was so broken.

I can understand why this was so popular with the book-award circle; it’s experimental and new and very…award-y. But as a standard, every day reader, I’m a little conflicted. In one respect, I was thinking about this more than I’ve thought about a book in a long time, I don’t feel that it’s necessarily a book there for you to just enjoy – it’s one that’s made to make you think and made to make you put it down to just take a moment and question it. It’s not a book I think I ought to read at the time I did – I’m emotionally raw and this book does take it out on you a little bit!

I’ve sat on this rating for a while; I’ve been flitting back and forth from 1 star right through to 5 because I am just so conflicted about it. Ultimately, I have to give it 4. It’s just so raw and consuming. Maybe I’m just raw at the moment, maybe this book is a little close to home but… it just had a power to it that I can’t put in to words. It’s not a book for the casual reader, you have to be patient with it because it will frustrate you. It’s dark, it’s twisty but damn it’s a good book. I read it in 2 sittings, I just threw myself in to it – partially because it was for a readathon and partially because I just didn’t really want to stop. I had this morbid fascination throughout it.

So yes, this one has had me thinking quite a lot and it’s a comfortable 4/5 (though in time, I may change my opinion)!

Review: The Loving Spirit – Daphne du Maurier

the-loving-spirit-by-daphne-du-maurier I decided to pick this up for the Underhyped Reads readathon as, aside from her big 4 novels, all of her published works have under 5000 ratings on goodreads and as I wanted to read more from her I thought this was a perfect excuse.

The Loving Spirit was du Maurier’s first novel and, wow. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love this woman, she is just beyond words. I picked this one as it was her début novel and what better way to work through her bibliography than chronologically?! This really didn’t feel like a 400 page novel, I just sped through it. du Maurier is just so wonderful at creating an atmosphere, I don’t think there’s anyone quite as good at it as she is. She’s one of these authors that just writes a scene so vividly it has a tendency to consume you, the air is crisp and you can almost taste the sea air and there is just a magic to her writing what is hard to compare anything to.

The plot itself I didn’t really have any idea about. Truthfully, there wasn’t much of a plot to be had. This book simply covers the life story of four generations of a family in a Cornish fishing village. But the lack in plot allows for one of the most wonderful character studies I’ve ever read. We start with Janet, then her son Joseph, his son Christopher and finally his daughter Jennifer and we follow them. Each of them searching for his or her own way in the world, that missing part of their soul which completes them. The way this unfolds is just wonderful.

I’m not normally a fan of a family saga type book, I much prefer a book to focus in on one character and be done with it but this, this was different. I think it’s because each of the focus characters went from open to close quite well and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. Some of it was jumpy; but I can forgive her that. Ultimately it was just amazing. It wasn’t Rebecca or My Cousin Rachel but it was wonderful in it’s own right and it just shows what an amazing writer this woman is.

The book was given it’s title from a poem by Emily Bronte and there are large parallels between this novel and Wuthering Heights. Janet is very much like Cathy and her son Joseph has a lot of similarities to Heathcliff. There is definitely a lot of influence from Bronte in this novel, more so than in her later works which were also heavily influenced by them.

Yes. Ultimately this was fantastic. I’d maybe not start here with du Maurier, but definitely recommend it to someone who has already fallen a little in love with the woman.

This is a very solid 4/5 for me.

Review: Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

madamebovary“Love, she thought, must come suddenly, with great outbursts and lightnings,–a hurricane of the skies, which falls upon life, revolutionises it, roots up the will like a leaf, and sweeps the whole heart into the abyss.”

Madame Bovary is essentially a book about a woman who loves the idea of romance. Emma Bovary is a gem of a character, she’s entered a marriage with an idyllic viewpoint based on what she has read and finds out that love, marriage and sex isn’t like what she read about (I feel you, Emma. I feel you.). So, she decides to do something about it. The book follows her, and reads as an outsider looking in, as she embarks on a number of affairs.

There were a few glaring problems with this for me though; Emma as a character was far better than the book as a whole. I wasn’t keen on the writing style or the flow in parts. There are some beautiful passages, some descriptions are just so vivid but I think the core problem is that I didn’t feel like I was part of the story, I did just feel like an observer and that not being able to fully engage with it bothered me.

But Emma, oh Emma Bovary. You are a breath of fresh air and I love you. Just a little bit. It would be very easy to actually hate every character in this book, even Emma, but I found myself liking her. She’s quite conceited and narcissistic, she has an addictive personality but… She’s just awesome. She’s not perfect, she’s full of flaws actually, but she’s just intoxicating in a way.

I read this as part of my reading challenge for the year as a romance novel but, really, it’s not really a romance. It wants to be a romance and every character in the book wants their life to be a romance novel. But there’s a lot more to it than that and it’s not your typical fluffy romance either. By the end, it’s actually quite a sad book – beautiful – but heartbreaking.

Overall I’m glad I read this and I’m going to give it 3/5.

Readathon: #UnderHypedReads

So, like a crazy person I am I’ve decided that on top of my 2015 challenge I’m going to partake in the underhyped read-a-thon. It was started by Charlotte, a booktuber, who can be found at RamblingsOfAnElfpire. Underhyped can mean what you want it to, but I’m going to use the criteria of under 5000 reviews on Goodreads. It’s running from tomorrow (19th) through to Sunday (25th) and my TBR looks something like this:

2015-01-18 19.05.58-2

First off, we have The Loving Spirit by the wonderful Daphne du Maurier. I love du Maurier and I will forever be in debt to the friend that introduced me to her. This book was her first novel and it has only 578 ratings on goodreads. 578! I’ve wanted to read more du Maurier for a long time and given that only 4 of her works have OVER 5000 ratings this seems like an opportune time to pick up one (or in my case two) of her works.

The second book I’ve picked is The Birds and Other Stories again by du Maurier, this has 2969 ratings on goodreads and I’m feeling in the mood for a short story collection. I adored the last short story collection I read by du Maurier and have been wanting to pick this one up for an age. I’ve heard that when readathoning, a short story collection is often a good way to fill space so I thought why only read one du Maurier this week when I could read two?

Next is Jon McGregor’s If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things which I bought in September when Sar came to visit and it comes highly recommended. It has 4284 ratings on gooreads and is the highest rated of all the books I’m hoping to read this week. I’m going in to this completely blind, all I know is that one of my best friends loves it and that’s good enough for me!

Finally is A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride. This was actually originally published by one of my local independent book shops and only came on to my radar when the woman who runs another bookshop mentioned it to me; I immediately snapped it up and I’ve been putting it off and off for months. It has a total of 2012 ratings on goodreads and yeah, it’s not something I would have picked up by myself so I’m looking forward to it!

So ultimately, it an be said that I’m crazy. Completely stark raving bonkers even. This isn’t going to be easy but I’ve finished almost all of my coursework that’s due and it’ll be a week or so before I’m given anything new so I’m going to be taking advantage of a bit of free time I have and just reading! All books will be reviewed but I’m going to stagger them slightly as to not clog up timelines. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can achieve this – if I could I’d feel amazing!

Review: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

hitchhikersguideThis book (and every other book in the series) was bought for me by a friend for my birthday in November. I was assured that I would love it and, actually, I sort of did. I think jumping in to this from something the calibre of Dickens negated a lot of its wonder, but it really did make me smile and I’m so glad I read it. It’s a wonderful interlude between two classics!

I really don’t know how I’ve never had any contact with this before, I really don’t. Until recently I’d only ever heard it mentioned in passing and, as an avid reader, my friend who gave me the series as a gift was outraged. I’d never seen the movie, I never even thought of reading the book. Truthfully, sci-fi scares me!

I think in picking up this book you either throw it away because you can’t get your head around it or you totally appreciate the head-spinning sensation and dive right in. I’m one of the latter. You need a wee bit of crazy, a lot of quirky and a love for all things wacky (all three which I possess in large quantities) to appreciate the magnificence of this space odyssey. This book is crazy; absolutely crazy and I loved it. It’s not the best book ever written, it didn’t effect me on an emotional level, it doesn’t have a complex plot but it made me laugh.

This book is also timeless in the sense that it really could have been written last month. Sure things like ‘touch sensitive screens’ now have names but the foresight in this book is just mindboggling.

I read this in one day (a Thursday, funnily enough) and I was grateful to have this interlude. I will definitely be picking up the rest of the series because they’re short, snappy, quirky books that just fill an afternoon with laughs! This is a 4/5 for me – it was far from perfect but making me laugh always wins me over!

Review: The Old Curiosity Shop – Charles Dickens

OldCuriosityShopThis really wasn’t what I was expecting. If we’re being honest here, I was expecting a Dickensian version of Victoria Wood’s Acorn Antiques and, if like me, that’s what you were hoping for, I’m sorry to ruin it for you but it isn’t. Quite sadly, the eponymous shop barely shows face but don’t let that distract you because honestly? This book is quite the masterpiece.

A lot of people have a love-hate relationship with Dickens. His writing style is quite unique. He’s the definition of superfluous (but when you get paid by the word, it literally pays to be that way so he had his reasons) and that annoys a lot of people. When reading through this, it was often quite dry in places and I was reading through a rather unnecessary paragraph when bam – there’s a piece of beautiful prose. This happened frequently. There’s no denying that Dickens could write and I’m really glad I started with this book (aside from A Christmas Carol) as my venture in to Dickens this 2015.

The Old Curiosity Shop follows the story of little Nell Trent and her beloved Grandfather. Along the way we meet the adorable Kit, the evil Quilp, Punch and Judy, a waxwork woman, Mr Dick Swiveller (hehe) and Miss and Mr Brass to name but a few. Dickens is a master of characters, each of them is unique and distinguished from the rest. I actually can’t remember the last time I read a book with such a large ensemble of characters and could really remember them each as individuals. The growth in each of them, their development, it’s just something that I actually found refreshing as it’s not often found to that scale.

I found it quite slow paced, it took me much longer than I was anticipating to actually get through it. It’s one of those books that is a bit varied in it’s momentum; the first 100 pages were slow, 100-300 were quite fast paced and then it became quite slow and rather difficult to read again; this was on a repeat cycle and the final 150 pages I just whizzed through. I’m glad I persevered though because it really was worth it! Sometimes a slower read is a good thing, it was just frustrating in parts as it’s a book I found I had to devote all my energy to, I couldn’t have another book going on the side!

Ultimately, this is wonderful. Absolutely amazing and I will definitely be reading more Dickens. Primarily because of the slump in pace I give it 4/5.