mini review: ‘The Children’ by Carolina Sanín

Image result for the children carolina sanin cover

3 stars

‘The Children’ starts off as a peculiar story, but at least one I could follow and make sense of. Effectively Laura, a middle aged woman (who lives alone with her greyhound, Brus), comes across a small boy who appears to be homeless. She takes him in, makes reports through all the relevant channels, and then hands him over to the social care system. She continues to think about him, so tries to get back in touch with him and makes enquiries with a friend of the family who works in that department.

Then slowly, it all gets a bit odd. Surrealist elements start creeping in and I’m not quite sure what to make of it. From my recent venture into attempting to read ‘The Hearing Trumpet’, it seems that surrealist fiction doesn’t appear to be my type of thing.

Anyways, it’s pretty clear that this is a commentary on the welfare state and care of orphaned children in Colombia, but told in this kind of allegory… I think it went a bit over my head. It very much reminded me of ‘Fever Dream’, not that the stories are much alike, but more in the sense that I had a similar reading experience with both of them. Both are short, punchy, translated reads that are surreal and in some moments quite frightening, but at the roots are trying to tell you something quite important. I’m just not sure I quite ‘got’ it this time.

I think I’ll definitely benefit from a reread of this. But in the meantime, if you’ve read this, or have seen a good review around that goes into more depth, please let me know your thoughts!

sign off heartJess
Advertisements

mini review: ‘Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir’ by Maggie Thrash

Image result for honor girl cover

4 stars

4 stars for this one even though the art style wasn’t my type of thing at all. I can easily look past the art style though, and even become a little fond of it, when the story it’s portraying is so beautifully and emotionally authentic. I love that this was a true story and that Maggie Thrash wasn’t afraid to shy away from depicting personal and awkward moments in her life. I liked that her brute honesty allowed this story to have an atypical ‘unhappy’ ending. Even though the art style isn’t something I can necessarily appreciate on it’s own, I will definitely keep hold of this graphic memoir as it’s one of the most original ones I’ve read.

sign off heartJess

mini review: ‘The Sense of an Ending’ by Julian Barnes

Image result for the sense of an ending cover

3 stars

Edit: In hindsight, I’d rather give this a solid three stars instead of the generous 4 stars I gave it initially. I realised the ending was actually pretty weak and not as smart as I gave it credit for.

zigzag

I think it says a lot that, for such a short book, I almost had a complete 180 change in opinion of this at about a third of the way in.

At first, I was not seduced by the story at all. Whilst the writing was good (albeit a little lad-dy and crass for me at times), the narrative of a white public school boy whining about his privileged upbringing and friendship circle just grated on me.

But then it was clear to me that the philosophical musings and look at suicide (slight spoiler? sorry!) really did have a deeper meaning, and the characters really became archetypes that I think managed to give the story some heart.

It’s hard to explain this short book without giving away information that I feel is better revealed as you read. Whilst I’m still not 100% convinced by the ending, it did leave me mulling over what I had read, and I really did feel a sense of an ending.

More of a 3.5 if I’m being critical, but I do want to check out the movie of this and see how they bring this peculiar story to the screen.

sign off heartJessica

review: ‘Big Little Lies’ by Liane Moriarty

Image result for big little lies liane moriarty

3 stars

I only picked this one up because I recently watched and adored the HBO miniseries ‘Big Little Lies’. The show is absolutely fantastic and I wanted to compare it to the source material, and see how much artistic license they exercised in the adaptation.

Whilst I did enjoy this, I found it to be much fluffier and more chick-lity than I expected considering the darkness and serious drama of the TV show. Obviously I am a huge fan of the story itself, and the show doesn’t change much of the plot at all actually, it stays very close to the novel. The only real difference is the setting, the book being set in Australia and the show being set in America instead.

Somehow they do a much better job at handling such serious subject matters on the show. There is a lot more humour in the book, it’s somewhat more tongue in cheek and whilst Moriarty does handle the issue of domestic violence with delicacy, the novel just didn’t affect me anywhere near as much. I can’t say whether I would have seen the twists coming, as clearly I already knew what they were from watching the show, but I suspect that I would have. Hints and clues are definitely dropped throughout, there isn’t much in the way of subtlety. As harsh as this sounds there isn’t much to the writing style either, it’s simple but very readable and fairly compelling.

There’s a huge cast of characters here but we only ever see into the heads of three main women: Celeste, Madeline and Jane. The trio of friends are complex and contrasting female characters,but I have to admit I loved each one far more through watching the show, and certainly wouldn’t have related to Jane as much without having previously seen Shailene Woodley’s phenomenal portrayal. The child actors in the show are a real highlight as well, whilst they didn’t have anywhere near as great an impact in the novel. Basically, the casting for the show was brill and they did a really great job at picking actors who selected the best parts of their written characters and really built on those foundations.

Ultimately this is a good enough read, but I don’t feel that it left any long lasting impact on me. However, I would definitely recommend watching the TV show. It’s sleek, brilliantly acted and deeply affecting. I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to read this after you finish either.

sign off heartJess

some thoughts: Bailey’s Shortlist 2017

So I set a little project for myself this year with the Bailey’s Prize. Initially I intended to read every book on the longlist. Many of the books were already on my TBR, so I didn’t think it would be too much of a challenge. I started with the ones that most interested me and ended up reading and loving both ‘The Gustav Sonata’ by Rose Tremain and ‘The Lonely Hearts Hotel’ by Heather O’Neill before the shortlist was announced, and sadly neither made the cut. I was half way through my fourth book on the shortlist  when it was announced, so I figured I would just complete the shortlist for now and eventually get to the others when I felt like picking them up.

As I’ve now completed the shortlist I thought I would do a little round up. I won’t include synopsis’ as it will just make this wayyyy too long. I’ll note how many stars I gave each, sum up my thoughts briefly (and messily) in terms of likes and dislikes, and link any reviews for ones I wrote about at length. Starting from #6, I’m counting down from my least favourite to favourite. Clearly, these are just my personal opinions, and I would love to hear yours if you’ve read any of these! I’ll make my winners prediction at the bottom. So, here goes!:

6‘First Love’ by Gwendoline Riley

Image result for first love gwendoline riley

Gave it: 2 stars

Liked: Not much to be honest. I’m thankful that it was short, if anything (Although if it was longer I may have liked it better!) It was also an easy read, a quick read, and the characterisation was decent enough considering we had less than 200 pages to get to know them.

Disliked: The clunky, abusive dialogue. I get that I was supposed to hate Edwyn, and dislike the way he spoke to Neve throughout, but I heard a lot of people commenting that the dialogue was natural. For me, it was forced and excessive in order to shape a character that would have otherwise lacked depth in such a short amount of pages. I also just disliked the characters themselves. I understood that I was supposed to feel for Neve, but her nonchalance towards her situation irritated me and prevented my sympathy. More in my review, if you fancy reading it!

 

5‘The Sport of Kings’ by C. E. Morgan

C. E. Morgan - The Sport of KingsGave it: 3 stars

Liked: The bones of the novel, the overall story. I grew to like Henrietta and Allmon and the novel became infinitely more readable for me during interactions between these two characters. I also admire the themes and the overall message the novel is trying to bring to light.

Disliked: This was just too long, too ambitious, and at times it felt overwritten. Long chapters are separated by just as long interludes that had little to do with the overall plot and felt more like the writer eager to show off how well she can write (although to be fair, she does write quite well.) Too much use of the ‘n’ word, especially for a white author, regardless of the context. Also, I just don’t like horse racing and this was always going to distance me. In hindsight, maybe this is only a 2 star, but read more of my thoughts here!

 

4‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman

the power

Gave it: 4 stars

Liked: Rather enjoyable if you take it as just a quick, fun read. The multi character POV’s were clear cut and all very different from each other, giving diverse and interesting viewpoints. Fast paced. Sci-fi – A little something different, lighter than the others in the list. The concept of women being physically superior to men worldwide, to be considerably more dangerous and the implications of that gave me a lot to think about.

Disliked: That it’s being showcased as a work of ‘feminist’ fiction. It totally could have been that, I just wouldn’t call this an innately feminist work. I also didn’t like the characterisation of ‘Roxy’ – Cockney’s just don’t speak like that, her dialogue was jarring and cringe worthy. The ending was open ended (which I understand a lot of people would have liked), but it just fell short for me. Also ‘the power’ itself is pretty underdeveloped, a bit vague. A lot more work could have been done to explain how it develops, how it’s triggered, why has it taken so long for a revolution if women had always had this ability?

 

3‘Do Not Say We Have Nothing’ by Madeleine Thien

Image result for do not say we have nothing by madeleine thien paperback

Gave it: 4 stars

Liked: A whole lot actually. The writing was beautiful, some passages felt very fable-like. The characters were all unique and wonderfully brought to life. It was very sad at times, but powerful and the hard moments were necessary. It’s a very emotive insight into China at the time, and also it’s clever how Thien weaves in how this still has its affect on families generations after the revolution. It looks at identity and culture, family ties and loyalty. There’s classical music swirled throughout, and it was wonderful to read about the characters passions for it. For quite a long book, it really didn’t feel like it, I was eager to read on. It constantly switches timelines and I think this helped keep my interest piqued.

Disliked: Honestly, I felt a little disappointed in the ending, a little let down! I think for such an emotional novel I wanted more of an emotional payoff at the end. Again, this was ambiguous and it felt cut off at a point where she was running out of story to tell rather than rounded up in a satisfactory way.

 

2‘The Dark Circle’ by Linda Grant

Image result for the dark circle linda grant

Gave it: 4 stars

Liked: The time period, the unique setting, the bold and unconventional characters. I loved the dialogue and the different interactions between each of the patients in the sanatorium. Alderman take note – this is how you write cockney teenagers. There was warm moments, funny moments, sad moments. I got some serious ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ vibes from this, as a character comes into the sanatorium and changes the pace and dynamics of those living in it, and I really liked that. Beautifully written throughout, I definitely want to pick up more from Linda Grant. As quiet and inconsequential as some may see it, this is just a damn good story.

Disliked: Again, the ending of this is probably it’s only downfall for me. It just felt a little rushed. All of a sudden a bunch of the characters have gone on holiday and you don’t really know where you are, or why you’ve been wrenched out of the story so quickly. It did all make sense in the end, and I did feel we left the characters at a natural place… Maybe I just wanted more!

 

1‘Stay With Me’ by Ayobami Adebayo

Image result for stay with me ayobami adebayo

Gave it: 5 stars

Liked: Oh god, this was just brilliant. The writing itself is just beautiful and I can’t wait to read more from Adebayo in the future. Although she has written short stories, this is her debut novel (to my knowledge?!) and she seems relatively young and this is just hella impressive if you ask me. The way she writes about being a mother and how the characters deal with such heartbreaking and tragic events, is so powerful. I love that you’re not sure who you feel for most at different parts of the story. It’s interesting to see how cultural and familial pressures are so much more prominent in certain places of the world (this is set in Nigeria), and although I can’t understand these pressures from experience, I think they were written about with integrity and understanding.

Disliked: If anything, my only negative comment would be that the ending (again!), may have come across as slightly predictable. Having said that, these characters had such a hard time and they deserved that happy ending goddammit! So, that’s not really a dislike at all. Oh – but I don’t like the UK cover. So I featured the upcoming American one instead. Bite me!

zigzag

And now for my Winner prediction!:

Image result for the power naomi alderman

‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman

Why?: There’s no question that this one stands out from the other novels in this list. Although I personally find this one the least well written, it’s fast paced nature, interesting concept, and multi-narrative perspective is going to do a lot for this book. Margaret Atwood is quoted on the front of both the hardback and the newly released paperback, and as Alderman’s mentor this is going to do a lot for this book as well. As much as I don’t personally consider this a very feminist read, the fact its being marketed as such as going to act as a buzz word for people wanting to show support for such a book. Ultimately, I just have a feeling. I may be wrong – but we shall see!

zigzag

Thanks so much for reading, especially if you read all my thoughts (sorry if they’re a bit jumbled), I really appreciate it!

Please do let me know in the comments section if you have read any of these and what your thoughts were. Also, who do you think will win and why?

sign off heartJess

review: ‘Nutshell’ by Ian McEwan

Image result for nutshell ian mcewan cover

What can I say about this one. Before we begin, this was my first McEwan. In hindsight I feel it might have been a mistake to start with his most recent work. One which is no doubt more experimental than some of his staple novels.

‘Nutshell’ is a story told like no other. The novel is narrated by a baby. One that is not yet even born, and is recounting the peculiar events unfolding before his birth, from inside the womb. The mother often gets drunk, thus so does the baby. And if you were ever wondering how to write a baby as pompous and instantly detestable – ask McEwan.

Trudy, the mother, has requested a break from her husband John. She has sent him off and he’s moved into a London flat while she takes possession of his dilapidated family townhouse that has been the marital home up until this point. Trudy has taken a lover, Claude, who we soon discover is in fact the brother of exiled husband John. It’s all starting to feel a little incestuous isn’t it?

You’ll be pleased to know that more than once in this novel our unborn baby recounts the sensation of feeling Claude’s penis pressing against his barely formed spine whilst Claude engages in sex with his mother. Being told this even once is one too many times if you ask me. Also the phrase ‘clitoral snood’ was mentioned at some point and the less said about that the better.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention. Claude and Trudy are actually plotting to do away with John (and the baby by the sounds of it), so they can stake claim to the house and the little money his Poet salary provides. Nice!

So, this was just a weird one for me. As a concept, I think its brilliant. Really original, and it certainly grabbed me with its peculiar synopsis. The first couple of pages hooked me in even, it was an oddly refreshing experience to read a novel narrated by a foetus. But let me tell you, if a foetus could narrate a story, it would not be as pretentious as this. He even goes off on little tangential rants about the state of the world from the information he has learnt through his mother listening to podcasts to cure her insomnia. It just got a little bit too ridiculous.

There is some suspense here, but we come to a fairly predictable ending in my opinion. Aside from an odd moment when an incorporeal figure appears in a doorway, it ended pretty much how I expected.

In conclusion, I am glad I picked this up, if only to say I have actually read some Ian McEwan. But I highly doubt this is his best work. Didn’t hate this though, and some passages I found extremely well crafted. Slightly outnumbered by the large amount of cringe though, but never mind. I’ll definitely be picking up something else by McEwan in the future. Any suggestions of where to continue, or perhaps start afresh, are welcome!

Thanks for reading.

sign off heartJess

 

review: ‘Sisters by a River’ by Barbara Comyns

sisters by a river

5 stars

This is it folks, the last review in retrograde. Let’s see how long it takes me to post after this one. But this was a goodun!

zigzag

This came out of nowhere for me! Absolutely loved this little read.

Sisters by a River isn’t really a novel with a linear narrative structure like I was expecting. I would probably describe this more as a collection of vignettes, or snapshots, into the lives of this curious family.

From what I understand, this novel is semi-autobiographical. The narrative voice we hear throughout the book is from one of five sisters. She is named Barbara, the same as our author, although we don’t actually find out her name out until the very end.

This book is a great example of really well executed, believable characterisation, achieved in a fairly small amount of pages, especially when there isn’t much of a single plot to speak off, and it’s perfectly done for me.

Honestly, none of the characters in this book are particularly nice people. The dad is an abusive drunk, the mum seems cold and detached, the grandma comes across as spiteful and selfish, and the children can be very cruel to each other and to the occasional animal (albeit often with good intentions gone awry.) There are also a whole other herd of oddball characters that pop up throughout the book, all with their faults too, getting up to some very strange antics. But weirdly, despite their cruelties, despite their unorthodox upbringings, despite their suspect behaviour, they can be quite endearing and I loved reading about their lives.

Interestingly, throughout the book, quite a few words are frequently misspelled – but this is very clearly on purpose, in order to stress that our protagonist is recalling childhood memories. Some people may have found this too obvious, and may have preferred more subtle devices to depict childhood, but I think this really helped in warming me to the characters. All in all, a surprising, original, fab read. I want more from Barbara Comyns asap!

sign off heartJess