Of Mice And Men

Reading Of Mice And Men in public drew some raised eyebrows from those around me; not because it’s anything like as controversial now as it has been in so many schools since it first became a noteworthy text, but simply because people were astonished that I hadn’t read it sooner! It’s a set text for so many younger high school kids, and somehow it was never taught in any class I was in. To be honest, I’m so glad that I wasn’t forced to read this in a classroom environment. John Steinbeck writes with a wonderfully dignified air of melancholy that perfectly compliments the characters and setting, and the gut-wrenching ending, to my mind, rivals any work of modern fiction. As I write this review, it’s been a few weeks since I finished the book, and yet George and Lennie’s relationship was so real to me that it still brings a small wave of emotion back each time I think about it.Read More »

The Wind in the Willows

When the books I’m reading start, cumulatively, to get a little dark, it’s nice to take a step back once in a while and indulge in a more playful book. The Wind In The Willows is a curious example this, because it treats its characters and scenes with a gravity that you simply don’t find in modern children’s fiction. The world of the Willows is a mishmash of fantastic ideas, and the sincerity with which Kenneth Grahame underpins the whole enterprise lends an air of wonderment to the proceedings, anchoring passages of unashamed fun to a substantial foundation while infusing the more emotional moments with oodles of pathos. This, in turn, creates a rock-solid emotional bond between the reader and the characters, making for an absorbing and emotionally satisfying narrative.Read More »

The Beautiful And Damned

There was one question that kept coming back to me during The Beautiful And Damned: how much can you enjoy a book where characters you like are subjected to a prolonged though well-deserved fall from grace? Or a book in which principle characters spend most of the story feeling interminably bored and doing nothing about it? The answer, as it turns out, is “a lot more than you’d expect”. I think the main reason for this is that F Scott Fitzgerald is a brilliant writer of two things: prose, and deteriorating relationships.Read More »

The Driver’s Seat

I’m…I’m honestly finding it difficult to work out where to start with this one. I loved the previous Muriel Spark book I read, and after reading this one I’ve certainly not been put off reading any of her other books, but this was…weird. Brilliant, in a lot of ways, but bizarre. Not “fun and kooky” type bizarre; more like “that’s-completely-out-of-the-blue-how-on-earth-was-I-supposed-to-expect-that” type bizarre. The Driver’s Seat is, unquestionably, a very dark book, but it has left me wracking my brain trying to work out what Spark is trying to say through it.Read More »

The Handmaid’s Tale

We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom.

We lived in the gaps between the stories.

It’s finally here – the review of a book that was recommended to me by so many people that I accidentally bought two copies of it, and didn’t even realise until months afterwards. Easily the most compelling book I’ve read recently, The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian, speculative fiction of astonishing invention and dynamism. Like Tess of the D’Urbervilles, this a chronicle of downtrodden and oppressed women in an insidiously male-dominated world, but unlike Hardy, Margaret Atwood doesn’t simply content herself with pointing at her characters and going: “Look how awful this is! Look! Isn’t it horrible?! So horrible right?!?!”. Instead, Atwood, persuasively presents her ideas to the reader in an intellectually engaging way, creating a novel that is almost in dialogue with its reader.Read More »

Tuesdays With Morrie

“The truth is, once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”

There are two things I feel I ought to warn you of as I begin this review. Firstly, there’s no way I can write about Tuesdays With Morrie without breaking my 500 word rule; and secondly, I really, really loved this book for intensely personal reasons, and probably not for the reasons that Mitch Albom intended when he wrote it, or indeed for the reasons that most people loved it.Read More »

Rebecca

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

This is definitely a departure from the last book I read, and was absolutely intended to be so. I am currently on my holidays, so this book counts as my “trashy holiday reading” – after all, I can’t keep reading classics forever. In a sense, though, I’ve completely failed to meet this aim; what Daphne du Maurier has written here is not only compulsively readable, but brilliantly written and tightly plotted to boot. Rebecca (both the book and the character) had me on the edge of my seat with a significantly raised pulse, especially in its final few chapters – none of which I shall spoil here (apart from in one subtle pun towards the end of this review), just in case you haven’t read it yet.Read More »

Peter & Wendy (Peter Pan)

All children, except one, grow up.

With the possible exception of Frankenstein, this is the first review I’ve written for a book where I was familiar with the story before I’d even seen the first page (though it won’t be the last, I’m sure). In this case that was actually very helpful – once the basic beats of the plot were dealt with (given that I knew them so well), I found myself much more able to focus on the conceits of J.M. Barrie’s writing that make Peter Pan such a timeless and magical story.Read More »

Nineteen Eighty-Four

There are two things I ought to clarify as I start this review. Firstly, although I read Brave New World quite recently, I will keep comparisons between that text and this one to a bare minimum, because cleverer people than I have written more insightfully on the two texts together than I could hope to, and I don’t think I have anything new to add to that discussion. Secondly, and this is important to note: this is not a perfect book. I ought to make that abundantly clear to begin with, because this retrospective will look like an almost unabashed love letter to what at least one eminent critic described as “[George Orwell‘s] final masterpiece”, when in truth I’m not sure I could truthfully say that I even loved the book. The pacing, especially in the first 100 pages, is all over the place – there are whole passages of such dense exposition that the story literally stops dead while the reader is caught up – and as the book progresses Orwell becomes so dogged in his pursuit of reaching the logical conclusion of his ideas that there ends up being very little in the way of narrative resolution by the novel’s end. But thematically, politically and imaginatively, Nineteen Eighty-Four is so uncompromising and so consistently brilliant that one can’t help but feel a sense of awe at what Orwell has accomplished.

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Heart of Darkness

It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream–making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is of the very essence of dreams…No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence–that which makes its truth, its meaning–its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream-alone…”

I’ve set myself some pretty interesting challenges on this blog over the last few months, but I can’t remember having as much trouble trying to figure out my thoughts on a book as I have with Joseph Conrad’s brilliantly written yet enigmatic tale of the dark side of imperialism and man’s obsession, Heart of Darkness.Read More »

Brave New World

Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly – they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.

When it comes to critical theory there are, broadly speaking, two opposing schools of thought regarding how one should view a work of art – whether that be fine art, literature, film, music or a well-made lasagne. One side would argue that it is impossible to review a work outside of the contexts in which it was created; the contextual date provides valuable insight that can inform one’s perception of the work in question. The other side would say that this is exactly what ought to be avoided; that a work should be examined completely independently of context in order to judge it purely on it’s own merits, and that a critic should try their best not to have their opinions coloured by any extraneous information pertaining to a piece of work that does not originate within the work itself. As with many things, I usually fall somewhere in the middle of this when I review a book – I try to remain a little sympathetic to the environments and contexts surrounding the creation and release of a book as I read it and write about it in order to increase my understanding, but I rarely use this information to excuse the flaws of a book or to showcase it’s merits.

But rules are made to be broken, and as I was thinking about the imaginative scope of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”, it struck me as a breathtakingly inventive novel even before I thought about when it was written. But when it is placed within this context it becomes, to me, more amazing and more interesting still.Read More »

Tender Is The Night

One of the things I hated about English in high school was when teachers would attempt to explore the deeper themes of a text which was all surface and no substance. Trying to “uncover the author’s intentions” would turn into an exercise in wild speculation which would invariably have nothing to do with the author’s intentions or ideas, and would therefore be incredibly frustrating to study – like a game of Hypothetical Eye-Spy, except with more chance of being shot down by the teacher if you offered up an idea that was too tangential to their lesson plan.

The Great Gatsby was different. At 16 (the first year of A Level) I was finally studying a text that felt, for the first time, like even the deepest discussions only scratched the surface of the author’s intentions. Read More »