National Book Lovers Day

In keeping with the date I have decided to dedicate this post to my favourite book of all time. I can hardly contain my excitement in getting to talk about The Great Gatsby yet again. I’ve got to say that it was a pretty close battle between The Great Gatsby and Gone Girl but I feel that Gatsby has more of a lasting impact. I can still quote it despite it being years since I last read it (though it is one of the only books I’ve ever read multiple times) and it’s hands down better written – Sorry Flynn!

The Great Gatsby

The Plot: The Great Gatsby is set in New York in the roaring 20s. It’s the era of prohibition but no one obeys the rules. There’s excessive drinking, the most extravagant parties you can possibly imagine and an element of dream-like romance to tie it all up.

The Characters: Let me begin with the almost completely aloof narrator. We never know a great deal about Nick Caraway, nor do we care. The story isn’t really about him, it’s about his observations. He’s a bystander, a fly on the wall if you will, taking note of all the drama that seems to just twirl in the air around these glamorous New Yorkers.

Then there’s Gatsby himself. He’s a man on money and a man of passion. Utterly smitten with Daisy he’s equally in love with his dreams. His persona is charming and you can’t help but feel empathy for any man who strives for something so hard.

Daisy herself is a pretty young flower, pure and sweet and innocent. I can’t help but equally fall in love with her spirit. She may seem flakey but I have a feeling she’s acting the part set out for her by society. After all, she makes the insightful comment concerning her daughter, “I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

Last but not least is Daisy’s husband Tom Buchanan. Playing the part of dominant husband and pro sportsman Tom at first appears to be the perfect husband. However, there is a darker side to him and as Shakespeare said ‘the course of true love never did run smooth’…

Language: This book is so full of passion. Perhaps it’s the affect of the American Dream but everything in this novel reads as if through rose tinted glasses. “The exhilarating ripple of her voice was a wild tonic in the rain.” Lines like this make me truly believe in the beauty of life. This brings me on to my fourth a final section, the quotes, (which is really just me emphasising how much I adore Fitzgerald’s writing).

Quotes: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past..”

“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”

“Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”

“There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams — not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”

“So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star.”

“It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

I simply cannot get over the beauty of these words. I am in awe of F Scott Fitzgerald’s talent and I hope and I dream that one day just maybe I might be at least semi capable of creating poetic prose like his. 

 

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The Grownup – Gillian Flynn

This book isn’t quite what I expected. ‘The Grownup’ is written by Gillian Flynn and was published as a stand alone short story just last year, in the November of 2015. Realising it was written by the same author as Gone Girl, a book I believe I’ll be in love with until the end of my days, I bought it immediately without even pausing to read the blurb. As it turns out, I should have read the blurb. This isn’t a typical Flynn-esque domestic thriller like Gone Girl.

‘The Grownup’ is an interesting concoction of horror, psychological thriller and damn right weird. It opens with an explanation as to how the main character, who remains unnamed throughout the text, ends up working as a psychic-come-hooker. Hoping to break through into the ‘spiritual cleansing’ business, she makes a home visit to new client Susan Burke. Ready to sprinkle her lavender water around as a part of her con – from which she hopes to earn $2,000 – she enters Carterhook Manor. However, upon entering she finds that the house is full of noises an uncanny goings on. She too believes it is haunted…

The Grownup

For me this book had too many twists in too short a space of time. Had the story been longer (but yes I understand it’s called a short story for a reason) then I think Flynn would have had more time to execute her plot twists better. The last ten pages seem to completely undo everything and then undo everything again, leaving you with no time for the dust to settle before the story is over. I understand it’s meant to have a shock factor, that that’s the point, but I don’t think it works. I don’t like open endings so I certainly don’t like books that leave you just hanging there, dazed and confused.

My guess is that Flynn – or more likely Flynn’s publishers – wanted to have a new book out in quick succession of the film Gone Girl to make a little extra $$$. To do this they printed an old text, a short story that was originally published as part of an anthology edited by George R. R. Martin, as a stand alone piece.

Perhaps it’s just that this story shows signs of underdeveloped writing that I didn’t particularly like. I was expecting something comparable to Gone Girl but given this was written a long time before, before Flynn had a chance to hone both her writing and her story-telling ability, then I’m not surprised it is subpar. Expectation can be a dangerous thing.

The work of a good book is to still be thinking about it hours, days or even weeks after you’ve finished it, but perhaps not if all you’re thinking is ‘what the hell was that all about?’

Mourning the Mockingbird

As I’m sure you’re all aware Harper Lee sadly passed away on the 19th February at the ripe old age of 90. And so, as tribute, I dedicate this post to her memory.

Harper Lee

I read To Kill A Mockingbird as a GCSE text, and it is for this reason that I have a great affinity for it. It’s impossible to spend six months studying a book and not fall in love with it.

The book is set in 1930s Alabama and explores the town’s deep-set racial hatred through the eyes of two children, Scout and Jem. They live at home with their father Atticus and go to a comprehensive school just down the road. One summer they befriend a boy named Dill who is staying with his Aunt, and he is the one who tempts them to make Boo Radley come out. Boo is a recluse who no one has seen in years and whom it is believed stabbed his father with a pair of scissors. As children often are, they are curious about him and want to see him with their own eyes. Although the rumours infer that Boo is a dangerous man, it soon becomes apparent that he has a kind soul, and is just as interested in the children as they are in him, for he is leaving gifts for Scout in a hollowed out tree by his house.

Throughout Scout’s experiences at school she is made aware that not all the local residence attend, and not all of them can read. Even in this small integrated society, Scout is beginning to understand the class gap, and this is truly fascinating to read through the words of a child narrator.

Atticus Finch is a lawyer and is set to represent Tom Robinson, a local black man charged with a white woman’s rape. Some of the town think he shouldn’t ‘do too much to defend him’ but Atticus is firm in his belief that he should stand by every one of his clients, no matter the colour of their skin, especially if he believes in their innocence.

The rest of the novel is the trial and the outcome of said trial, although there is also a twist at the end. I don’t want to spoilt too much but it puts both Scout and Jem’s lives in danger and makes us see Boo Radley in a completely different light. It’s a thrill right at the end of a very charming but serious book.

to kill a mockingbird

I thought this novel, which is an incredibly YA friendly text, did so many things on so many levels. It teaches the reader about racial beliefs in Texas in this era, it teaches us about the innocence of childhood, it teaches us that not all is as it seems, and most of all it teaches us that society is constantly moving. It may be in ‘baby steps’ as Atticus puts it, but this shift in attitudes and beliefs can be said of every issue in every society now and in the past. As society begins to understand issues – racism, sexism, homosexuality, transgenderism – opinions begin to change. It proves that humans are only sceptical and damning of the unknown. This novel explores society’s capability to change, using a child narrator to emphasise the absurdity of the original belief.

I now cannot wait to read Go Set a Watchman, which was only published last year (2015). Although promoted as a sequel this is commonly believed to be a first draft of To Kill A Mockingbird. I don’t know much about this text, and am trying hard not to read any spoilers, but I do know that it begins with Jean-Louise’s return to the town of Maycomb, aged 26 after a spell of living in New York.

It may be a while until I get round to it – it’s quite a way down my reading list (she admits embarrassingly)- but when I do I’ll let you know how it compares!

One final thing: the 1962 film of To Kill A Mockingbird is exceptionally well done and definitely worth a watch. Over and out –

To Kill A Mockingbird

3 Days, 3 Quotes: Day #3

Thanks again to A Bibliophile’s Obsession for tagging me!

This is my third and final day of quotes!

The Rules:

1.) Thank the person who nominated you
2.) Post a quote for three consecutive days
3.) Nominate three new bloggers each day

Quote:

“The first draft of anything is shit.”
― Ernest Hemingway

My Nominations:

Em Does Book Reviews

Becoming the Oil and Wine

Critical Dispatches

3 Days, 3 Quotes: Day #2

Thanks again to A Bibliophile’s Obsession for tagging me!

This is my second day of quotes!

The Rules:

1.) Thank the person who nominated you
2.) Post a quote for three consecutive days
3.) Nominate three new bloggers each day

Quote:

“I saw that my life was a vast glowing empty page and I could do anything I wanted.”

-Jack Kerouac

My Nominations:

A Journal For Damned Lovers

Wee Little Penguin

Ana Spoke

Gone Girl

I know I’ve already talked about this novel but I just can’t seem to help myself in giving it its own post. It’s just that good. It reached me on so many levels.

Gone Girl came out in 2012 and somehow it slipped under the radar until David Fincher directed a film adaptation, then of course everybody went to see it and started reading the book. Of course you already know all this. The thing I don’t understand is how no one discovered it sooner.

gone-girl

Gone Girl is the novel I wish I could write. I wish heartily that I was as talented as Gillian Flynn. Not only does it have likeable and intriguing characters but it has a thoroughly developed plot and interesting setting. But what I think I love most about it is the writing style and the slow development of the plot through the form of Amy’s diary, which fall alternately been chapters on Nick’s story. We learn from her so many things about her relationship and her life through this diary and then BANG, we find out she’s been lying to us, that its all a fabrication meant  to incriminate Nick. I don’t know about you but I never saw that coming! Never before have I been successfully tricked like that. After the twist the novel continues with Amy in hiding and Nick undergoing a police investigation, and it keeps the alternating structure, which I just adore.

I also think Gillian Flynn totally understands the female mind. She was spot on with her description of ‘cool girl’, I think it’s something every young woman can relate to, and I respect her for creating a character who wants to do something about this image stereotype – though Amy kind of went overboard.

gone-girl-teaser-posters-slice

Gone Girl opens with Amy describing her life in New York, running through the motions of how she met Nick and what an amazing life they had together before she was made to move to a small town in Missouri with him in order to be close to Nick’s elderly mother. For some reason I’ve always been hooked by books set in America. Everything from The Great Gatsby to The Lucky One (please don’t judge me for the trashy read – North Carolina sounds beautiful) has inspired me. I suppose it’s because you’re reading about a culture so very different from our own when somehow you expect it to be quite similar. I imagine New York to be like London but after reading several book set there I realise I am very wrong, and I imagine North Carthage, Missouri, to be like any suburban little English town, and again,  I’m completely mistaken. I’ve come to the realisation that not only are all these places completely alien to anywhere you’d find in England, but they all sound kind of better. In England it’s always raining, grey and miserable (I can hear the rain pattering on the roof and the wind blowing a gale as I write this) but in America the sun is always shining, you can eat al fresco, people have balconies they can use, the rivers shine, the people smile and the New York streets are alive. Maybe it’s just me – the grass is always greener on the other side and all – but I love reading novels set in beautiful or exciting places.

new-york-city

Then there’s the characters. I’m not going to argue that Nick is likeable, but he’s so genuine, so believable – I know hundreds of Nick Dunn’s – he’s the type of guy I can imagine a lot of people ending up with, myself included, someone who’s pretty average, someone who seems great at first, attractive and witty, and then slowly disappoints you.

On the flip slide, Amy I completely adore. I know I shouldn’t because she’s calculating and vindictive – and lets not forget she murdered someone – but I want to be her. I truly admire her organisational skills and her ability to think so far ahead. She was planning what she did to Nick for a whole year. To create all these fake diary entries, to buy a car and keep it at a public car park, to befriend the pregnant neighbour and do little good deeds around the neighbourhood so everybody loved her, to fake a fear of blood – it was so utterly well thought out. And I’m not condoning framing your husband for your murder or anything but at least she had her reasons. She wanted to teach her lay-about, disappointment of a husband a lesson, and it worked, didn’t it? By the end of the novel he realised he needed to make more of an effort, though I’m not sure Amy needed to go to such extremes. And it was a shame about Desi, he seemed nice, albeit a little wet and needy.

Gone Girl - 2014

Another thing I loved about this novel is that the whole marriage-gone-sour thing is so understandable. Nick looses his job, Amy loses hers, they move house to somewhere Amy hates, she is unhappy, she takes it out on him, he looses all ambition, he has a wife who dislikes him, and he is unhappy, so he finds comfort elsewhere. The marriage becomes a disaster. It could happen to anyone – and does every day. I love the fact that such a disturbing thriller has such a ‘normal’ backdrop. And this story is a true thriller, it’s deliciously creepy and sinister. That’s something else I love about it. I admit that I’m intrigued by dark writing and this definitely falls into that category.

This is, without a doubt, the novel I enjoyed most last year – and the film’s great too – so I’m making it my number one book of the year. Gone Girl is a must-read!

The Importance of the Book Cover

I remember having this discussion in a class a few years ago regarding Lolita. Each of us came to class clutching a different copy of the classic text and upon placing them all down on the table our teacher made us discuss what we liked and disliked about each of the different covers. As some of you may know this is a novel that has received a lot of criticism for its covers over the years. Most of them contain an image of a sexualised young girl even though Nabokov always claimed he never wanted a girl of any description to be present on the cover. I believe this was for two main reasons: the first was that the character of Lolita was very open to interpretation, that if you empathise with Humbert Humbert then everyone has ‘their own’ Lolita, and secondly, the novel was designed to be a psychological portrait of Humbert so if anyone should be on the cover it ought to be him (though ideally Nabokov wanted a sweeping American landscape to take centre stage).

lolita cover.jpglolita cover 2.jpgScreen Shot 2016-01-05 at 20.55.19.png

lolita cover 4lolita cover 5.jpglolita cover 6

But as you can see, nobody followed his wishes and all these covers, which have been printed over a number of years, contain some kind of image of Lolita which is either highly sexualised or hinting at a loss of innocence. And why is this? Because sex sells – it advertises the book as something it’s not in order for you to pick it off the shelf at your local bookshop.

As part of a separate project I was once asked to redesign a book cover and I figured Lolita would be the perfect material to work from since so many people have written about it and there have been so many competitions floating around. However hard I tried, unless I really went to basics with Lolita written in a child’s hand, I found I could not escape an image of a girl. I didn’t want to sexualise my Lolita though, and I wanted to make it clear she was a fabrication from his pen. This is the result of a few hours playing around on Photoshop and InDesign:

IMG_1732

In order to prepare for this assignment, I did a little research on what makes a book cover appealing. Here were my top five results:

  1. Use contrasting colours – dark and light colours used correctly will make your cover ‘pop’ off the shelf amongst a sea of drab.
  2. Choose a suitable typeface and never have more than two.
  3. Use lots of empty space (called negative space in the design world) to free things up. Minimalistic sells.
  4. Make it clever – use something symbolic or something witty – remember, the book cover is still a form of art.
  5. And keep it simple, no one likes clutter.

However much most of us don’t want to admit it, a book cover is usually the first thing we are enticed by. The front cover is what gets it into the consumer’s hand for them to read the blurb.

Here’s a few covers I think do a pretty good job:

to kill a mockingbirdafter me comes the floodgone-girl

I usually hate film covers but Gone Girl I can totally forgive (yes alright, I’m a bit obsessed). The way Amy’s eyes are just watching everything is so uncanny, it’s like the eyes of Dr TJ Eckleburg all over again. That’s a definite favourite with me.

Until next time, ciao!

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Hello, me again! So after perusing my bookshelf for the next book to begin I noticed something alarming – I’d missed On the Road off of my last post! I knew I was bound to forget a few but I feel awful for missing such a classic, so here’s its own little post:

I read On the Road on a recommendation from a friend. He said to me, “it’s a whirlwind of American culture”, and having been in love with The Great Gatsby, although of course that’s set approximately two decades earlier in the roaring 20s, I felt I was in the mood for a little more of the rolling jazz age and took it on.

On The Road Cover

At first I have to admit I wasn’t overly impressed. It seemed to me like an awful lot of fuss had been made about a book with absolutely no characterisation and very poor plot development. It raced along at such a pace that I hardly had time to process what was happening before Sal Paradise, the protagonist, was suddenly in a new town meeting a totally new bunch of people. My friend had described it as a ‘whirlwind’ but I felt it was more of a ‘stampede’. Sal spends the entire book galavanting around America accompanied by his best mate Dean Moriarty, hitchhiking with a great variety of different characters, sleeping in dodgy places, meeting new people, and drinking more than you’d think humanly possible. I mean, prohibition was over so why not I guess, but I think they took things to the extreme here.

After my initial disappointment, however, I decided to do a little research on the novel and discovered that it is totally biopic. I think it’s a case of not translating well. It’s a ‘you had to be there’ kind of thing, and somehow I don’t think the medium of fiction could possibly do it justice. If you were adventuring around with Kerouac and his mates I’m sure it was an absolute blast but reading about it on paper is just a bit of a let down.

It can be said, however, that I have a new-found respect for the novel upon learning this. It was written in a very short space of time (in fact Kerouac is known to have attached several pieces of paper together, making one long page so he wouldn’t have to pause to change the sheet in his typewriter – I think you can see it in a museum somewhere) and all the characters are people he knew and travelled with in real life. When you take into consideration that it is all authentic – from what he can remember in his intoxicated state anyway – then you realise the true power behind it. (N.B Kerouac died from cirrhosis of the liver so I’m guessing he definitely did over-do it with the drinking). On reflection, I’m not surprised there’s next to no characterisation and that the plot seems to run along at a million miles per hour. It was never meant to be the next award-winner with elegant descriptions and a steady Aristotelian plot structure. It wasn’t really meant to be a novel, just a memoir of his experiences. So maybe he’s not a great author but his devotion to writing is incredible and his passion comes straight from the soul.

Kerouac Manuscript

So after a little reflection I can say that I really enjoyed this novel. You just have to know a bit about it to truly appreciate its brilliance.

I’m now tempted to watch the 2012 film adaptation but Kristen Stewart is cast in the role of Mary Lou and I’m not sure I can bring myself to sit through that. (If I ever get round to it I’ll let you know what I think). It’s a shame all previous plans to make the movie fell through, it deserved a good, rustic 60s or 70s film. Maybe someone will make an epic remake in a couple of years to make up for it. Hint hint Hollywood.

On The Road Movie

The Year in Books

I thought a brilliant way of rounding off the year would be to discuss what I’ve read this year and what I thought of each title. Yes I’m publishing this a little late as 2016 has already set in but it’s never too late for a little reflection, right? I’m more than likely to miss out a fair few of the books I’ve read this year; I have a bad habit of forgetting what I’ve read unless I own a copy – that’s why I find it absolutely impossible to part with books meaning I now a bookcase which is absolutely fit to bursting. I’ll only say a few words about each and aim to write proper reviews soon. So here’s a taste of the past year’s reading:

There But For The – Ali Smith

This novel has one of the strangest plots I think I’ve ever read – and I’m not saying that is a good thing. During a dinner party, specifically between the main and the sweet, one of the guests locks himself in a spare bedroom and refuses to come out, causing a media frenzy. I know this novel has won loads of awards and is highly esteemed but I really don’t see what all of the fuss is about. The idea is intriguing – the fact that such a small action can have such enormous consequences and the unexpectedness of it all –  but I also find it totally unbelievable and that’s my problem with this novel. I think I just found the whole idea silly.

‘Hills Like White Elephants’ – Ernest Hemingway

This is one of Hemingway’s short stories and, although I had to read it about three times to truly grasp all of its excellence, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The story is simply a couple discussing the logistics of getting an abortion whilst sipping beer in a Spanish train station. The story revolves entirely around their dialogue and I think it’s just so wonderfully simple you’d be silly not to sit down to its mere 1300 odd pages.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid

This was a novel I didn’t have high expectations of and I think that helped. Changez, a Pakistani man, tells a seemingly nervous American stranger in a Lahore café his experience of living and working in London, including the intimate details of his relationship with a heartbroken Erica. The descriptions of these scenes are truly spellbinding. During his time in London the 9/11 bombings happen in New York and he notices a change in attitudes towards him. Eventually he realises there’s nothing left for him in America and he returns to Pakistan. The novel ends with the conclusion of their meeting but obviously it’s not as straightforward as that. Usually cliffhangers really irritate me because you read all those pages and get left with an unsatisfying ending but this one I just loved – it was so totally unexpected!

’55 Miles to the Gas Pump’ – Annie Proulx

This is one of the most powerful short stories I have ever read and it even encouraged me to write a similar tale myself. Set on a ranch in America, it’s the realisation of what’s really going on behind the scenes that’s most shocking. I won’t spoil it for you – go and read it. It’s a must.

The Gathering – Anne Enright

This I wasn’t such a fan of. It was fine. It was alright. It did what it set out to do. Yes the descriptions of death and depression are great, truly deep and harrowing, but other than that it didn’t do a lot for me. It tells the story of an Irish woman from a large Catholic family losing her brother and holding a funeral and wake with the whole family, recounting memories from her childhood along the way. It explores childhood and memories in an interesting way – the kind of way that makes you say ‘oh yeah, I don’t remember whether that memory was me or my brother doing that either’ and ‘was that memory really mine or have I just been told about it?’ Other than these few moments of enlightment however, it’s very average. I’m starting to think there’s something wrong with me. I never like the award-winners.

Remainder – Tom McCarthy

Gotta admit that I skim-read this and don’t remember it in a great deal but perhaps that’s because it was so ridiculously repetitive. The main character is in an accident involving ‘something falling from the sky’, from which he receives eight and a half million pounds compensation. He then uses this money to re-enact vaguely remembered scenes from his past, complete with building sets and employing actors to work around the clock. He’s driven by the need to create a scene with 100% authenticity and they must re-enact almost non-stop. So he’s a bit of a nutter really and all this repetitiveness doesn’t make it a very interesting book.

Never Coming Back – Tim Weaver

Never Coming Back is the forth book in the David Raker series but I somehow didn’t realise this when I bought it and went ahead and read it anyway. Until the last 50 pages or so it’s a really good thriller – and it apart from a few mentions of a previous accident involving a gun and his recently deceased wife it didn’t seem to matter that I hadn’t read the other books. A family suddenly go missing – like really suddenly – ‘dinner’s cooking, the TV’s on’ but the family are nowhere to be seen and David Raker makes it his mission to find out what happened to them. It gets a little silly at the end but overall a very decent thriller.

Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

This is the first Austen novel I’ve actually ever read. I’ve seen the movie adaptation staring Alan Rickman, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson so I knew what to expect but reading it is something really quite different. The language is so deliciously rich and proper that you definitely get far more absorbed with reading the novel but film adaptations of Austen’s books are usually very good so if you’re mainly after the plot then the film will probably do.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson

Up until this moment I had never understood what people meant by saying ‘the Jekyll and Hyde affect’ or ‘a bit Jekyll and Hyde like’ etc. Now I get it! What I like about this is that it’s relatively short and to the point. Plus it’s such an exotic idea that one could use a different persona to commit their evil deeds and just get stuck in the transition. It’s kind of like an adult fairytale.

Dracula – Bram Stoker

I’d wanted to read this for absolutely ages and finally got around to it this summer. I’ve managed to avoid all the movie adaptations so as not to spoil it for myself and I’m definitely glad I did so. It’s spooky and chilling and wonderfully original in feeling. It’s so good to read a book that’s truly at the heart of vampirism. A must read.

Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

I think just about every woman under the sun read this this year but I’ll talk about it anyway. To summarise: Amy frames her husband of five years, Nick, for her murder, basically because he doesn’t live up to her expectations, then changes her mind and comes up with a miraculous tale that explains her coming back to life. This does however involve her killing and framing old school chum Desi Collins in the process but he was just necessary collateral damage, right? I saw the film first and I wish I hadn’t (I always prefer to do it the other way around). I feel like it might have spoilt the shock of realising Nick couldn’t possibly be guilty. I absolutely adored the fact it was written as diary entries, allowing Amy to fool the reader totally for a really long time – what with making up her fear of blood, making out that Nick was violent to her, that he didn’t want children and that she made friends he never even knew about. It’s all so clever and expertly organised that I really admired Amy – like REALLY admired her. I couldn’t believe her level of organisational skills! In fact, I found myself so in awe of her that I really wanted her plan to succeed! And that’s aided in the movie by Nick being played by Ben Affleck. It’s impossible to feel any sympathy for Ben Affleck let’s admit it. Gillian Flynn was just so on the ball with this novel – even down to her explanation of cool girl – it’s like she was inside my mind. Amy Elliot – my new heroine.

The Castle of Otranto – Horace Walpole

For a very short story I found this actually horrendously complicated, but perhaps I was having a slow day. There were just a fair few characters and similar things happened to all of them. However, this is said to be one of the first ever Gothic novels and I’m all for educating myself. What I did like about it was the myth-like style it had, I guess just because it was written so long ago. It’s nice to read something different and this was definitely different.

‘The Purloined Letter’ – Edgar Allan Poe

This was the first ever Edgar Allan Poe I’ve read and I absolutely hated it. The story involves someone stealing some letters and the detective, Dupin, finding them in plain sight. Enough said.

‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ – Edgar Allan Poe

This was even worse than the last Edgar Allan Poe and I don’t think I’ll bother with another unless someone can recommend a good one. SPOILER alert here but the murderer turned out to be an orang-utan in the middle of Paris. Absolutely ridiculous.

Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie

Murder on the Orient Express was my first Christie novel as well and apart from its rigid formula I did really enjoy it. I suppose really I just like mystery, thriller and suspense novels – as you can probably guess from this list – and I love trying to work out the twist ending and always failing. It sounds silly but that’s strangely satisfying. A murder is committed when the train is stuck in a snow drift and therefore stationary between stops, allowing no-one to either get on or off the train. This means the murderer must be one of the twelve travellers already on board but luckily there’s a detective on board to interview everybody and work it all out. It sounds corny when you explain it like that but it was lovely to read a traditional golden age detective story.

The Monk – Matthew Lewis

The Monk tells the story of monk Ambrosio who deteriorates into sin and gets tempted by the devil to commit the most dreadful sins. Set in Spain it’s just something a little different and again part of a category I seem to love: the Gothic. Plus the fact his love interest Matilda dresses up as a male monk for the first part of the novel in order to get close to him is just quite funny when you think about it. Why do so many older texts have dressing up in them?

The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins

I did enjoy this novel but it’s the longest wild goose chase you can possibly imagine. It takes approximately 300 pages for Mr Franklin Blake to find out what happened to the diamond that is stolen at the very beginning of the novel. They could have rounded it up a lot quicker but of course it was first published as a serial so of course Wilkie Collins was bound to string it out as long as physically possible just to fill his pockets.

Zofloya – Charlotte Dacre

I’ve got to say I’m a bit on the fence with this one. I disagree that adultery is hereditary but it’s plot is an interesting one. Zofloya is a magical sort of character who appears just when Victoria is in need and seems to grant her every wish. What she doesn’t realise, however, is that every wish granted has its consequences. She is slowly selling herself to the devil.

The Postman Always Rings Twice – James M Cain

This is one of my favourites this year – though of course nothing beats Gone Girl. I love American books like this – they’re so absolutely different to anything British writers seem to churn out. It tells the story of a boy who takes up part time work at a gas station and enters into a relationship with married woman Cora. She’s not only married but she’s the wife of his employer. You know it’s not going to turn out well right from the very beginning. And it doesn’t. In fact, it couldn’t really go worse. Must read.

‘The Sandman’ – ETA Hoffman

‘The Sandman’ was a short story I read for my course, the point being that if the protagonist isn’t aware of what’s reality and what’s not then the reader isn’t going to have a clue either, and it worked well. I’ve learnt to incorporate this technique into my own writing and it’s a real strength to have, to be able to bend and shape your character’s reality and occasionally add an element of madness to spice things up.

In A Lonely Place – Dorothy B Hughes

Another of the best books of the year. This is a new style of crime fiction. We know who the culprit is but we never see him commit the crime, and what’s more, we follow him around with such a close third person narration that we feel for him and totally understand his damaged mental state, namely his anxiety. I think perhaps I’m not very good at foreseeing endings but this was another quite unexpected one for me. It seems some of the characters – by some I mean Sylvia – have more to them than meets the eye.

‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’ – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

2015 was a year of a lot of firsts. This was my first Sherlock Holmes and I have to say I was quite unimpressed. I thought the story was lame but perhaps it’s just not a great one – maybe I’ll try The Hound of the Baskervilles.

‘The Meat’ – Janice Galloway

Another wonderfully powerful short story. The thing with this is that we don’t know what the ‘meat’ is until the end my God it’s grim.

‘The Demon Lover’ – Elizabeth Bowen

This is another Gothic story with an interestingly modern setting. It’s a new take on the Gothic.

The Talented Mr Ripley – Patricia Highsmith

Having been a fan of the film I was really excited to read this novel and actually felt a little let down by the end – it’s amazing what expectations do to us isn’t it? The book is actually far simpler than the film and felt quite dumbed down in comparison. Also, I remember from the film that Tom Ripley gets himself into a fair amount of close shaves with his impersonation of Dickie Greenleaf (after brutally killing him) as he bumps into people who know Dickie well but there’s no real sense of danger in the book – apart from when Freddie knocks on his door but we all know what happens there – crash – bang – smash. I also felt a definite hole where Cate Blanchett’s character was utterly missing from the book. I had no idea they had just added her to the film but I missed her in the book. In this case, and I don’t think I’ve ever said this before, the film is better. Maybe that’s just because Jude Law and Matt Damon are such excellent actors but I would recommend it over the book any day.

The Killer Inside Me – Jim Thompson

In some ways this was pretty similar to In A Lonely Place, except that Dorothy B Hughes is a far better writer. In The Killer Inside Me we learn quickly just how many mental problems Lou Ford has. He’s really screwed up in just about every way imaginable, from being forced to get a vasectomy at a young age to enjoying abusing a prostitute and thinking nothing of killing her. What I didn’t like so much about it was the politics behind some of the motives. There’s a sub plot running alongside about the suspicious death of Ford’s brother and how Ford wants revenge, which to me just seems like too much, but hey, maybe that’s just me.

The Wicker Man – Robin Hardy

I’m beginning to realise I’m talking about films in this post just as much as I am books but I guess that’s just how this year worked out. The Wicker Man 1973, NOT the awful 2006 re-make, is a really excellent film and this being a film of the book, was equally top notch. There are a few unexpected added details but they do no harm and what I really loved about this novel was the inclusion of the songs. The soundtrack of The Wicker Man is so iconic, what with Oranges and Lemons and The Landlord’s Daughter, that it was just wonderful that the lyrics were included.

Brighton Rock – Graham Greene

I’m not a massive fan of gang novels and this was no exception. It has a childish tone, what with the nicknames Pinkie and Dallow, making it hard to take seriously. It has a very strange opening with the magazine man Fred Hale’s death and an end I didn’t even fully understand – the protagonist manages to kill himself with a bottle of vitriol (sulphuric acid) but I thought for ages that he’d thrown it at someone else and didn’t understand how he was suddenly dead. ANYWAY this isn’t a novel I’d particularly recommend.

Roseanna – Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

After reading the Millennium series last year, written by Stieg Larsson, I was keen to read some more Nordic Noir and this wasn’t a disappointment. It was very different and less complex but just as grisly and dark. What lets this novel down is the awful translation. By the end I got really sick of everybody saying ‘actually’ all the time.

Night Train – Martin Amis

I still don’t know what to make of this one. The police officer in this department is female but named Mike Hoolihan – and don’t get me wrong, I’m all for transgender equality – but it’s just never given any kind of explanation. And I’m afraid I can’t move on from or ignore this point. I just don’t get it. Maybe someone can enlighten me.

Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë

I’ve wanted to read this for so long and finally got round to it over Christmas. It wasn’t at all what I expected. I was thinking of something along the lines of Jane Eyre since it’s another Brontë novel but it’s completely and utterly different in every way fathomable. It’s so much darker and really quite sad, not because I feel particularly sorry for the fact nobody got a happy ending, because they’re all such horrible people, but because it must have been an awful existence. What surprised me the most was the fact that Cathy was barely in it. I’d always assumed the whole novel was the love story of Cathy and Heathcliff and it’s not like that at all. Really would recommend if you don’t know too much about this one.

The Bloody Chamber – Angela Carter

This is a re-read and I’ve already done a post on it so I won’t go into too much detail but I can’t leave it out when it’s such an excellent collection of adult fairytales. With Carter it’s the language I love the most. She has this ability to phrase sentences that are so articulate and beautiful it’s all I can do not to bow down to her.

Publishing

And that’s it. That’s my reading list from 2015. Gone Girl has found a special place in my heart but I’ve enjoyed most of them and learnt a lot this year. Happy reading in 2016 everyone!

 

 

 

 

The Time Traveler’s Wife

The Time Traveler’s Wife is American author Audrey Niffenegger’s debut novel and my God is it moving. From beginning to end it’s a whirlwind of emotion.

The Time Traveler's Wife

The story revolves around protagonist Henry DeTamble, a time traveller, only it’s not as glamorous as all that. Henry suffers from a genetic disorder and has spent his entire life being unable to control when he time travels. Some things trigger it directly such a stress but usually he travels to a time in his own past, naked and unable to return until his body makes him travel again. He is taught the ropes by an older version of himself, how to pick locks, self defence and pick pocketing, and on one slightly weird occasion even has sex with himself.

He meets Clare Abshire when he is in his late 20s but she’s known him since she was a young child as he spends the later years of his life travelling back to this time. On one of these visits he gives Clare a list of dates so she can know to expect him and leave out clothes for him. Their relationship begins here. Come her 18th birthday she has sex with him for the first time and they eventually marry.

Wife

Their relationship blossoms and Clare becomes pregnant but undergoes several miscarriages as her unborn foetus has inherited the same genetic disorder as Henry, making it travel out of her body and die. After several miscarriages Henry and Clare begin to fight over the possibility of having any more children. Henry gets a vasectomy but during a night a younger Henry time travels to see Clare she becomes pregnant again and nine months later baby girl Alba is born. Their daughter has the same genetic disorder but she has some control over when she travels.

Henry time travels to a school field trip of Alba’s and discovers that he dies when she is just five. During his last year alive Henry travels to a freezing Chicago where he is unable to find shelter and suffers from hypothermia and frostbite, resulting in the amputation of his feet. Without the means to escape it is clear he will not last many more time travels and in 2006 Henry travels to the woods where he is accidentally shot by Clare’s brother, a scene previously foreshadowed. Henry returns to the present and dies in Clare’s arms.

After Henry’s death Clare finds a letter instructing her to ‘stop waiting’ for him but she struggles to come to terms with this. She spends her life hoping he will visit and in the last scene in the book, with Clare aged 82 and Henry aged 43, she is waiting for him.

And it is these moments in the novel that have such an impact on the reader. Clare’s endless waiting and the shared knowledge between Henry and the reader that he is dying, the hurt it will cause Clare and Alba, bring the reader to tears. Imagine knowing you’re going to die. Imagine the impact it would have on your family. And then imagine endlessly waiting to see someone you loved one last time.

The novel has such an interesting concept that I was hooked from the beginning and the characterisation is so good you really feel like you’re on a journey with these characters. Some plot points are a little confusing and weird and sometimes it is difficult to follow the time travelling. One minute Henry is 40 and Clare is 5 but it’s being told from Clare’s point of view and in the next scene Henry is 30 and Clare is 29 and it’s all from Henry’s point of view. It’s a little hard to follow at times but the story laid out apart from these minor details that it more than makes up for it. And then the sad ending. Expected but I still cried and I’d say you were a tad heartless if you didn’t. Overall, a wonderful story with a very moving plot structure.

 Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler’s Wife has also been made into a very successful motion picture and captures novel’s essence very well. I don’t believe any film is as good as the book but this is a very good adaptation and well worth a watch.