Thursday, 19 April 2012

New Website

Hi everyone,
Thanks so much for following my book reviews.
I am of course continuing to write them, but I have moved to a new location.
My new website includes my book reviews, as well as some of my creative writing, and a new personal blog. I hope you enjoy it.
Check it out here:

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Coraline - Neil Gaiman

ISBN: 0747562105

This is a children's book. And it has pictures in it. However, that is where the comparisons end between this and all the usual children's fiction. This novel is eerie and surreal and genuinely frightening. Dave McKean's illustrations, too, are the stuff out of nightmares.

In his usual brilliant way, Gaiman creates a whole other world, which he startlingly draws us into. Yet, in this book, the world he creates is so like our own that it seeps under our skin and follows us around like a sinister shadow. It is this sameness which is so creepy about this book.

Gaiman managed to write for children without once belittling them. the language is mostly simple, but the images he uses leap out of the page like a jack in the box. One with a sinister leer. He appeals to the imagination like no other writer, which is echoed superbly with McKean's not-quite-there illustrations.

This novel will appeal to anyone who has ever felt bored of everyday life, to anybody who has thought that the grass was greener on the other side, and to anybody who has thought about exchanging their family...

Rating: 8/10

Monday, 19 March 2012

Life of Pi - Yann Martel

ISBN: 184195392X

For the most part, I actually found this book quite boring. Martel tells the story of a teenage boy who is trapped in a lifeboat with a huge tiger. Surreal as this novel is, Martel narrates, through Pi Patel, in what feels like real time. And so, of course, the plot moves very slowly. This is all very well, but considering nothing more is going on than a boy and a tiger stranded in the middle of the ocean for the majority of the novel, this failed to capture me.

It certainly wasn't entirely uninteresting though--far from it. Martel grapples with issues such as what it is to be human, and are we just animals? He presents us with life when life itself is the only thing we are fighting for. And by the end he raises questions about reliable narrators and the nature of fact and fiction.

The character of Pi himself is unique and brilliantly created, with Martel building up a whole personality around his nickname, with the stories surrounding it. I found this enchanting. There is also a long discussion about religion towards the beginning of this novel, which is fascinating, illuminating and charming in its naivety. With more of these aspects, this work could have been brilliant.

There was also a very interesting snapshot of a dystopia in miniature, which I would have loved Martel to go into much deeper. What is unique about this novel is that we are shown social and environmental set-ups that we have seen many times before, but in such a microcosm that the elements are distilled to their very basics.

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Anne of Green Gables -- L. M. Montgomery

ISBN: 0141323744

I thought it was time I reviewed another classic. This novel is simply delightful; it is full of charm and sparks of life that cannot fail to bring one joy. Montgomery's characters, particularly the eponymous Anne, are instant gloominess dispellers with their quick-fire wit and beautiful naivety.

Though written for children, Anne of Green Gables, is a social satire which will bring amusement to any age, perhaps more so as we get older. It is Anne herself, though, who I find most captivating. As we watch her grow in stature and wisdom, we fall for her all the more. This good-hearted girl cannot help getting into trouble, but usually manages to talk her way out of it.

We are presented with a heroine who is as imaginative as Montgomery herself and who weaves castles in the air that we feel we could leap right into. Though Anne, as well as other characters, always learn something through their misadventures, this is not a book that feels preachy, and we delight in the playful revelry.

The scenery of this book, too, is just beautiful. Montgomery captures rural Canada at the turn of the century with such detail that we can almost feel the blossom of the trees against our fingertips and smell the bread baking in Marilla's oven. This is a book that makes it feel like perpetual springtime.

Rating: 8/10

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

ISBN: 1853260207

As today is World Book Day, I thought I would write a special review. So, here goes. This is my review of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (it bothers me that this blog site doesn't seem to let me type umlauts... although there is a fairly interesting story behind the umlauts, so probably they shouldn't be there anyway). Normally I would shy away from reviewing such an infamous classic, but it is my favourite work of fiction, which I like to think makes this a special post.

This novel is cherished by many, and rightly so. This is a book that, I believe, contains everything a good book should. This is Gothic fiction at its finest, its sharpest and its most poignant. This is not a girly book. It contains romance, yes, and is probably the most genuinely romantic book I have read, exploring the idea of soulmates and the connection that this brings. But it is so much more. This is a novel that is ground-breaking, tragic and genuinely terrifying.

The language Bronte uses is so precise that each sentence reads as poetry for the word sounds alone. She conjures settings with uncanny realism, which sucks us into the vortex of the novel. And we do not want to escape. More than this though, the emotions she evokes are so exact that we feel them to our core. We weep and lust and recoil just as our heroine Jane does as she boldly leads us through the plot, taking each hurdle in her stride, but also thinking upon it deeply.

It has been said many times before, but I will say it again: this novel was truly ahead of its time. Here we have a first-person narrator who is not only a woman, but is an independent, working, thinking woman. She longs for equality with men in a way that does not deny her femininity. She is young and inexperienced, but incredibly wise at the same time; I truly admire the faith Bronte furnishes this character with. If you have not read this book, I implore you to do so.

Rating: 10/10

Saturday, 18 February 2012

The New Death and Others - James Hutchings

ISBN: n/a - available here

I've heard it said that in Victorian times people were obsessed with death whereas sex was a taboo, and that today this is the other way round. However, Hutchings smashes this theory out of the water with this collection of short stories and poetry. Not only does he talk about death in this book, but death is the entire premise, which he does mingle with sex, fame and much wit.

This collection made me laugh out loud several times with its clever twists and incongruities; always poking fun at death. However, at times I found the humour forced, and some of the puns were embarrassing.

Hutchings has a distinct voice throughout this collection which almost acts as a theme in itself. The dryness of his tone is the glue that holds the work together. Anachronisms abound in a way that it sometimes funny, often clever, but in places I found just too bizarre. From time to time they made me groan, and even confused me. There are also inconsistencies in the tense in places, which made the pieces difficult to read.

Altogether, though, this is an intelligent book, one that is fascinatingly morbid and entirely up-to-date with contemporary culture. The poetry, too, is that odd mix of old formats and new ideas, which works well, and is rhythmically very satisfying. If you like Neil Gaiman, it's worth giving this book a read.

Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 12 February 2012

When God was a Rabbit - Sarah Winman

ISBN: 9780755379309

This novel is sad and beautiful, like sunshine on the morning of a funeral. Winman writes about love, loss and reunion in a charming way, that is ultimately underpinned by tragedy; tragedy of the most personal and affecting kind.

The book is split into two parts, not a before and after, as the narrator Elly tells us, but bookends. Elly speaks to us first as a child and then as an adult, in a unique and creative voice that colours the world around her with her own personality. Winman does characterisation very well, in this sense, particularly with the odd and beautiful images that Elly comes out with. However, I felt that at the beginning of the novel, some of Elly's comments were too poignant or insightful for a child.

Winman presents us with what life is like if God is nothing more to us than a rabbit. There is loss around every corner, and a sense of hollowness as each character grapples towards something... though they are never quite sure what. Like Woolf's To The Lighthouse, there is a large section of the plot missing half way through this novel, which reverberates like the gaping hole in the characters' lives.

This work is brilliantly accurate and well observed, whilst also including magical realism in a way that shines like the book's cover. We are constantly left a little bit in the dark as to Elly's grip on reality, but that is what I found most interesting and satisfying about this book. This raises questions about the nature of a 'God' we are seeking or creating.

However, I felt like Winman was trying to include too much for a 300-odd page novel; the themes are huge. The ideas and question about memory that Winman brings in through the second half of the novel, though alluded to earlier, I think clouded some of the other issues that she was dealing with quite cannily and more consistently throughout the book.

Rating: 7/10