Speak – Louisa Hall

Speak

 

Wow. I loved, loved, loved this book. I found myself going to bed at increasingly early times just so I could read this. True Story: I am usually in bed by 10pm most nights, then I read for an hour, one night when I was reading this, I was in bed for 9pm. I know I can read anywhere is my flat, but my favourite place to read is in bed. Or in the bath. Bath probably trumps bed, but you get the idea.

The book follows 5 narrators, each from a different point in history, all of whom have contributed to a single artificial intelligence. A baby bot. Then there is the additional narrator, that of the AI, and it is she, who is telling the story, through each of the narrators own stories, their own histories, and how those have contributed to the AIs existence, and their knowledge. And the writing, oh the writing! It is absolutely beautiful. But, let’s go back to the beginning.

I found the opening confusing, but in a good, drawing you in way. I was, however, concerned about the comparisons to Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. A book which I read, and expected to love, but didn’t. I even watched the film, which I felt demonstrated the link between the characters more clearly, but resulted in a lack of clarity in respect of the important details. I also saw part of it being filmed in Glasgow, so that was exciting, but I digress. I actually really enjoy this literary device, multiple narrators, telling their own tales, and seeing how they weave together. I am not sure why, but it is a way of telling a story that I find really satisfying. Particularly when they stretch across different times in history. I love seeing the parallels, and this was wonderfully created in this novel.

As I said above, the writing was stunning, the metaphors are incredible. One of my favourites from the book was, “For some time the writer looked upon shell: white, and patterned with rust, and having a lip like a pearled trowel”. How incredible is that?  “A lip like a pearled trowel. I couldn’t get the phrase out of my head through the following few pages. I found that the metaphors were so potent, that they pulled images to my mind unbidden. Another that I loved was “His handwriting on labels like little flocks of black birds”. There were so many though, that it was almost distracting from the writing, I kept pulling back and just thinking, “wow”.

I find that sometimes, with writing so detailed, and so thought over, that often it can feel forced, but the whole narrative, all the descriptions flowed seamlessly, and beautifully, it didn’t feel overthought as I read it. It all seemed so natural, when I know, that the author must have put so much time and effort into each and every word. Including, a word which is new to me ‘Contumacious’, which is an excellent word and means ‘refusing to obey or show respect’, in the context in which it was used. I may need to start using it in everyday life. But, anyway, the narratives all felt effortlessly interweaved, through all the characters and all the timeframes.

Each of the characters stories was fascinating, and I did not prefer one to the other. Instead it just kept me turning pages, well past the point where my eyes had initially started to droop. The chapters are so short and sweet, it was always too easy to think, another one…just one more…OK, this is definitely the last one, and before you know it, it is all ‘Shit, I have work in the morning’. Which seems quite apt in this respect, as the novel discusses time and the nature of time, and how past and present will both be contained in the future. I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately, and it just felt like the right book to be reading right now, and I am really sad it is finished. Although, probably not as sad as my bank account, owing to my spending spree in the bookshop today in a bid to find something to replace it with.

I mean, I could have taken my time with it. I could have savoured it, but instead I walked down to Drygate on Sunday to have a look at the Urban Market (their name, not mine) that is held there, and to get a pint and to finish the book. I am unsure what music they were playing, I don’t know if it is just general background music, but it was perfect, and seemed to tie into the final few chapters of the book so well and it was just a lovely, relaxing way to finish off the weekend. Despite the judgement from everyone around me for daring to go to the pub and sit by myself and have a pint. What else are Sunday’s for?

So, this book is a definite 5 out 5, 10 out of 10, whatever you want to call it. Either way, you should absolutely, 100% read this book. It is worth it. Next Sunday’s book is ‘The Girls’, by Emma Cline, which has been on my reading list for a little while now.

I took some time last week and today to type up my ‘to-read’ list, which is nearly 2 full pages of A4. Then, typically, I struggled to find the books that I wanted, and ended up buying other books. ‘The Girls’, is actually the only one off my list out of the three I bought today. I need to start ordering ahead.

Also, if you enjoy reading about ancient cities that have disappeared, and are clearly ripe for exploration in a fantasy novel, you should read the article from The Guardian on Thonis-Heracleion. The description of it makes me feel like I want to disappear into it, to step back in time and to experience it. Both as a traveller, seeing it for the first time, and as an inhabitant at all the strata of its society (well, maybe not all). It is strange that it is gone forever, and that we will really never know what it was like, or entirely how it functioned, or all the other minutiae of day to day life that each of it inhabitants would have taken for granted. In the way that we take so much of our understanding of how the world functions at this time for granted Even if you were to go back 100 years to a blood relation, you would never really know, or understand, the ins and outs of their lives. Things get misinterpreted, or misplaced, or are purposefully obfuscated, so that descendants will never really know what happened, or where motivations lay. I guess that is the beauty of stories. We can always imagine.

Sorry, that went a bit philosophical there! Here is the link:

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/aug/15/lost-cities-6-thonis-heracleion-egypt-sunken-sea?CMP=share_btn_link

I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

Amy

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The Three-Body Problem – Cixin Liu

Three Body

 

OK, so I am not sure where I cam across this book, but it was near the top of my list in the back of my diary, so when I was in Waterstones, I picked it up. I am not sure what I was expecting, or what I anticipated, but what I did know was, it was a translated book, which, most of time, means it is excellent. I had taken part in a survey about translated science fiction books a few weeks ago, and it came up. Plus, it won a Hugo Award, so I was pretty sure I was going to like it. And for the most part, I did. So, let’s get into it.

The blurb states:

“1967: Ye Wenjie witnesses Red Guards beat her father to death during China’s Cultural Revolution. This singular event will shape not only the rest of her life but also the future of mankind.

Four decades later, Beijing police ask nanotech engineer Wang Miao to infiltrate a secretive cabal of scientists after a spate of inexplicable suicides. Wang’s investigation will lead him to a mysterious online game and immerse him in a virtual world ruled by the intractable and unpredictable interaction of its three suns.

This is the Three-Body Problem and it is the key to everything: the key to the scientists deaths, the key to a conspiracy that spans light-years and the key to the extinction-level threat humanity now faces.”

That is a really fair summary of the book, and I don’t want to go into too much more detail as it would ruin a pretty massive plot twist moment, which was a bit mental, but also entirely in keeping with the novel. Apparently, I did not read the blurb before purchasing the book though, so the ‘Three-Body Problem’, as a physics problem, was only introduced to me within this novel, but I am getting ahead of myself.

The book opens with a list of names, and as you know from previous blog entries, this immediately panics me. Especially as the names are Chinese names, and therefore, not as familiar to me as Western names. This is entirely a fault on my part, but as I can have difficulties following names anyway, this was concerning. However, in order to mitigate this risk (that is total work chat, need to stop talking like an auditor), I ensured that I read the names closely, and ensured that as I came across them in the text, I memorised their name, and the actions they were attached to. Which I know sounds obvious, but I also knew that if I did not make a conscious effort to do this, I would come across a name later and be like ‘Who? What did they do?”, before realising I had a read a whole chapter about them and failed to associate the actions to their name and could only recognise them in a particular context. This approach totally worked, and will be a system I will use in all books in future, as it isn’t uncommon for me to be describing a book to someone at a later date, and be entirely unable to recall the characters names, but to be able to talk quite happily about what they did, their character traits, and what their plot points were and so on. tl;dr, the names were not an issue.

It also interweaves the history of the Cultural Revolution in China throughout the narrative, which was fascinating, if grim, and made me realise just how little I knew about this. I have picked up bits and pieces from movies I have watched, other books I have read and various Wikipedia trawls in my call centre days, but my knowledge is really patchy and I am hoping to find the time to read a book on this in future. One of my favourite aspects of this book was that you learn pieces of Chinese history throughout, not just the Cultural Revolution, but older history also, key figures and characters that are part of Chinese shared culture.

The translator did a wonderful job of explaining small snippets that would otherwise have gone unnoticed by myself, or I would have skimmed over thinking that my not understanding or knowing something was down to my own ignorance. The translator’s note at the end was also enlightening, as he explained what the difficulties were in translating the text, and what he had tried to achieve in his translation, but his efforts in bringing forward the context for various parts of the book really added to the novel for me.

Another focus of the book, which I am sure was obvious to everyone else upon immediately picking it up is Physics. I am terrible at Physics, and I think I have mentioned this before. For example, in High School, in my Second year I think, we did a pretty basic Physics test. Now, I won’t reveal my score, just know it was below 50%, and I probably could have scored higher, but I made next to no effort in this class. That is the limit of my Physics knowledge, and had I known the importance of this to the book I probably would not have picked it up. However, most of the text around this was pitched at exactly the right level for me, it was explained clearly and simply and was easily followed. Despite that, there were parts I did not understand, and I suspect that there was much that I completely missed or did not realise I had misunderstood, but the fact that I, with almost complete ignorance in this area still managed to read and enjoy the book, is a testament to the author (and translator’s) abilities to appeal to the mass market.

Physics and Philosophy are also merged together, and while I don’t have a clue about Physics, from a philosophical standpoint the ideas expressed in the book are fascinating. The way the author has merged these ideas together is beautiful and invited me to consider these ideas and questions myself. Especially questions around the nature of the universe, the laws that govern it, and the  impermanent nature of Earth itself. I had tried to read the Stephen Hawking book, ‘A Brief History of Time’, and while it was fascinating, it escalated the physics and ideas a bit too much for when I read it, but I may give it a go again, as inspired by this.

Having said that, towards the latter half of the novel, I found the science became more complex and I found myself skimming certain parts that I knew I wasn’t going to be able to follow, but were integral to the plot itself. This allowed me to get a grasp of what was being discussed, without me being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the information. The novel is also a bit mental.

Some of the imagery described was just so fantastical, I wondered how the author had come up with it. It really is a work of great imagination, and the way all the ideas flow through it was just incredible. Still, it wasn’t really my kind of book, and then I discovered that it is part of a trilogy. And I am fed up of reading trilogies. Can someone please just write an excellent standalone novel? There are so many books I want to read, and I have read so many book series, and I am getting a bit frustrated at the dedication to reading these take. Also, quite often I find with trilogies, is that the first book is the best one, and anything after that is a bit lacklustre. I am not saying it is true in all cases – indeed, some of my favourite books are parts of series, but I was a bit disheartened when I found out this book was part of it.

It is an enjoyable book, and certain readers will adore it, and I would recommend reading it, but I will not be reading the additional books in the series. Well. I say that. I am planning on having a look at reviews and seeing what they say, so I may come back to it in the future. Or, at the very least, skim over the plot on Wikipedia. I also had a lot of fun lying in the bath pronouncing the Chinese words probably horrible inaccurately. Still, what else is there to do while lying in a glitter filled, Lush bath-bomb paradise? This book is definitely a 4 out 5, and for those science fiction, Physics knowing readers, you will love it.

That is it for this week, and next week we have ‘Speak’, by Louisa Hall. I am finding it really hard to put down.

Amy

A Scanner Darkly – Philip K. Dick

Scanner

My second Dick book within a month, and I found I didn’t quite enjoy this as much as the first. I find his short stories far more engaging than his long form novels. From the blurb:

“Substance D – otherwise known as Death – is the most dangerous drug ever to find its way on to the black market. It destroys the links between the brain’s two hemispheres, leading first to disorientation and then to complete and irreversible brain damage. Bob Arctor, undercover narcotics agent, is trying to find a lead to the source of the supply, but to pass as an addict he must first become a user…”

I don’t think that is a fair description of the book, as there is so much more to it than that, but the blurb was the reason I picked it up. Still, I struggled to read this, and I found I skimmed the last 90 pages or so, just because there were so many inane conversations which didn’t seem to lead to anything. There are various stream of consciousness rants, which don’t move the plot, paragraphs in German, obscure scientific facts – and I don’t know if these were based on real scientific understanding at one point, or lifted from an academic journal, or were a fiction from Dick’s mind – and so much of the prose and conversations between characters seemed absolutely pointless.

However, there are moments where you see Dick’s genius come through, mostly in agent Fred’s thoughts. So, the main character is Fred, a.k.a Bob Arctor. Fred is an undercover narcotics agent, posing as Bob Arctor, and the narrative of the book flicks between the two perspectives, until there is a total disconnect between the two, and neither recognises the actions of one in the other. There is also the odd situation where Fred, as agent, is reporting on drug user, Bob Arctor, to his colleagues, but his colleagues do not know that Fred is posing as Bob Arctor. The reason for this, is that all agents wear, what are known as, ‘Scramble Suits’, and these cause a persons features to flicker constantly through as many variations of the human face as you can imagine, which renders them, ultimately, unidentifiable. Therefore, even when surveillance cameras and similar are placed in the home where Bob Arctor lives with a number of his junkie pals, they still do not know which one is Fred. Although, ultimately, they manage to establish who he is through a process of elimination.

This situation did not make sense to me, I did not understand why Fred would not simply disclose who he is to his colleagues. It was never sufficiently explained, and there seemed to be no real reason why his colleagues could not know who he was posing as. I considered that perhaps the reason for this facelessness, was to illustrate the facelessness of authority, and to justify the paranoia of Bob and his friends. Dick’s own paranoia comes through quite clearly in this book, and is manifested in a number of ways, including listing an impressive number of ways in which to hide illegal substances from law enforcement (the author note at the end of the book indicates the Dick was, himself, a drug user, so potentially these are from experience).

We can also consider the split personalities of the main character as a literal exploration of the concept of ‘Who am I?’, as both personalities seek to develop their individual conciousness. It also raises the question of who was in control, Fred, Bob or the drugs? Then, Fred starts to forget he is Bob, and Bob forgets he is Fred, and they become entirely different human beings, motivated by different ideas, emotions and needs. In the meantime, Fred is required to undergo psychiatric tests by his colleagues as Substance D starts causing him to behave more and more irrationally. The ending was unexpectedly dark (which is saying something for a book this grim), but fitted the overall tone of the book.

Having read a fair bit of Dick’s writing, there are a number of ideas and themes which are recurring, this includes paranoia (whether justified or not), his interest in loops, how the world is perceived, his politics, breasts – or tits in his parlance, and so on. While I found the premise of the book to be an interesting concept, which was reasonably well executed, I felt there were too many detours into pointless conversations and ramblings. I appreciate that this is meant to show a descent into drug addicted hell, but it is about as interesting as listening to other peoples “Oh my god, this one time, I was so drunk and I did xxx” stories. You know?

However, I would really only recommend this book to people who are Dick fans (lol), or who have enjoyed his other work. I would not recommend starting here. However, I did wonder, given that Dick’s books have inspired so many films, is this the book that inspired the show ’24’? Not that I ever watched it, so I may be way off base with that.

Next week’s book, ‘The Three Body Problem’ – Cixin Liu, which I am already enjoying immensely.

Amy

Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of The Sun King – Antonia Fraser

download

Recently, I became obsessed with ‘Versailles’, the TV series. Not the place…well now the place too, but I will come to that. Here is a picture of the cast of ‘Versailles’.

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How can you not want to watch that? I love men with long hair, I love historical fashion and I really love a historical drama, so of course, I started watching it, and now I am obsessed with ‘Versailles’, Versailles, and Louis XIV. So, during my trawl of Fopp, when I spotted the book about the women in the life of Louis XIV for £3, I kind of had to buy it.

Immediately, the book was kind of intimidating. I have read a number of historical biographies, and history books, I have a degree in history, but there was so much detail within the first few pages, I was pretty sure I was going to get lost of lose the plot, or not enjoy the book. Here is an example, there are 8 pages detailing a ‘Chronological Political Summary’.  I did not read this, first, because I knew I would forget it all immediately, and second, because I know very little of this period of history, and I knew it would confused me when I tried to relate bits of the chronology to parts within the book itself. We then have 4 pages of principle characters. And I don’t mean a size 14 font over a few pages detailing these people, it is size 10, tiny font, detailing around 50 people, with a bit of additional information about each. Once again, I did not read this, as I knew it would confuse me. Finally, before we reach the meat of the book, we have two family trees…I would repeat as above, but I am pretty sure you have gotten the picture.

TL;DR, this book intimidated me. A lot.

Did I have reason to be intimidated? A bit, but the Fraser makes it clear from the outset, who is who, who relates to how, what part they play, how they will be referred to throughout. I can’t say I totally knew who everyone was the whole way through the book, but I had a pretty good idea, and I flew through the first 50 – 65% of the book, it was so engrossing, so interesting, and then suddenly. I did not have a clue what was going on.

We seemed to spend some time veering away from the women and into politics, and then into the historical context, and I know that is important and that we need to know this to understand certain parts of why who acted how, but I ended up lost and confused. There are so many illegitimate children made legitimate, so many legitimate and illegitimate children that died, there are family members from this royal dynasty, from that royal dynasty, from that royal family and so on and so forth, through what seemed to be all of the aristocracy in the world.

What didn’t help, as it turned out, was the TV show ‘Versailles’. Apparently, some parts are pretty inaccurate. However, some of these issues and errors, are of course, due to the nature of TV programming, but, at the end of each broadcast in the UK, we have a 5 minute show called ‘Inside Versailles’. This helps clear up what is true and isn’t, what is and isn’t accurate, and I have to say it is highly satisfying watching these 5 minutes and already knowing the facts they are spouting, so clearly, I have taken in more than I realised about the book. Also, Professor Kate Williams comes across as slightly manic in this segment, however, I have read two of her books and have really enjoyed them both, so she gets a pass.

Anyway, the book, overall, was excellent. It is a highly readable piece of history, and although I didn’t quite want to be in the court of Versailles (it sounds highly stressful and political), it does give it a wonderful sheen, and you kind of wish you could have been there, or even just go to see it as it was. There was a quote in the book from Madame de Sévigné, who is a famous letter writer who was present at the court, wrote ‘I believe that the histories which will be written about this court after we are gone, will be better and more entertaining than any novel, and I am afraid that those who come after us will not be able to believe them and will think that they are just fairy tales.’

The book gives you a real sense of that, of a moment in time to never be repeated, fleeting, ephemeral, and made me wish that I could be part of something like that. The book is engaging, and so well written, that although I felt it fell down at the end, even just flicking through it for the purposes of this entry, made me remember how good it was. If you enjoy French history, then definitely read this, if you just enjoy the TV show, then I would still recommend giving it a go – especially if you can pick up a cheap copy.

As for me? My friend H and I are planning a trip to Versailles next year and I am so excited. She is my fellow history geek, and we spend a fair amount of time talking about history, visiting galleries and museums and making plans about what we would do if we won the lottery (hire out Versailles for the day, get period clothing made for us, and swan about). Although, hilariously, she does not enjoy history books by female authors as a whole – I clearly disagree – and when I mentioned I was reading this book she asked if it was good. I replied that I was enjoying it, and she could have it when I am done. Her response? “I don’t like Antonia Fraser, she thinks she can write books just because she is married to Harold Pinter”. Hilarious, but not quite true.

I am also planning on reading more books about this period of French history, the next one being, because of course I am obsessed with the Mitford sisters, Nancy Mitford’s ‘The Sun King’. Gah, I am excited just thinking about it.

Next week’s book shall be, ‘A Scanner Darkly’, by Philip K. Dick. Yes, I will be making more dick and boob jokes, if only because he mentions the word ‘tits’ a lot in his books…until next time,

Amy

 

Minority Report – Philip K. Dick

Minority Report

So, I was in Fopp, having a browse, and what happens? Oh, I buy 4 books. Well done. Still, they were cheap, I got 4 for £10, which is pretty impressive considering today I spent £18 on two books from Waterstones. Then again, I did have book tokens, so really it was £8…but you get the idea.

Minority Report, once again, have read the book, haven’t seen the film. For those that are unfamiliar with the plot (oh, only me prior to reading it?), the blurb from the book says

“The Department of Precrime has cut major crime by only 100% How? By looking into the future, arresting potential criminals, sentencing them and punishing them – before they actually commit the crime. No one doubts the efficiency and fairness of the system, until Precrime Commissioner John Anderton finds himself accused. If he is to remain free, he must go on the run as a convicted murderer…”

Uh, guys, I don’t know if you (or Spielberg) noticed, but that is an amazing story-line, and the book was amazing. Although Dick, has a total thing for breasts (which is true on many levels, but let’s not go there). The female characters are all a bit stunted and under-deformed, which I am going to forgive him for, if only because the book is really good. The plot was a bit hard to follow at times, which is due to Dick’s prose, and appears to be common in his other books/short stories (there are more Dick reviews to come. Dick. Need to stop typing Dick.), but it is done in such a way, that I feel stupid, as though I just can’t keep up with him. Which I probably couldn’t, but that is another conversation for another day. Still, I was about 40 pages into a 290 page book and I was thinking, “How is he going to stretch this out for another 250 pages? It seems to be coming to an end?” Then it did come to an end, and it turns out the edition I bought had numerous additional short stories for me to peruse. Total score. So these stories were are follows:

Imposter – I think I was drunk when I read this, I vaguely remember it, but can’t really provide a plot summary. I am going to pillage Google, back shortly. Shit, apparently this was first published in ‘Astounding’ magazine, June 1953. I would subscribe to that. Here is the summary from Wikipedia:

Spence Olham, a member of a team designing an offensive weapon to destroy invading aliens known as the Outspacers, is confronted by a colleague and accused by security officer Major Peters of being an android impostor designed to sabotage Earth’s defenses. 

There are definitely some common themes running through this…

Second Variety – Which is along roughly the same lines as Bladerunner – who is the robot and who isn’t? But in a creepy war zone environment

War Game – This is from the perspective of a group of approvers/merchandisers. Toys are provided to them from beings on another planet, and they have to assess whether the toys are fit for release in their world or not. There is one toy, where you put on an outfit (in this case, a cowboy outfit), and you start to see the world as the character you are dressed as. It is very virtual reality, and a pretty cool concept for the 1950’s. Anyway, I really enjoyed this short story, and it had a very good Roald Dahlesque twist at the end, (or were Dahl’s twists Dickesque? Lol. That works on many levels. Dick. Again, must stop typing it.)

What the Dead Men Say – This one was really weird, basically, once you die, you are put in a kind of stasis, which allows you to be brought back to a kind of half life on occasion, which lets you live on for even longer. The character who has died, is a Kingpin in this world, a kind of gangster of sorts, and when he dies, they try to revive him, only they can’t. Instead, a voice starts coming from outside the galaxy that sounds like him, and then they are trying to figure out where the voice is coming from, how this will impact an upcoming election, who his inheritance should go to… Yea, it was really weird, and I am still not sure I understood it. Enjoyable though. Although there was a bit about a woman – who I think was a receptionist – who had her breasts out and painted blue for some reason. That is either this story, or another one, or possibly both. Dick was definitely a breast man.

Oh, to Be a Blobel! – Right, so there was a war between humans and Blobels. As part of this, undercover agents were sent to the Blobel world disguised as a Blobel. Except, this required a complete genetic overhaul, and on their return, post-war, they were provided with the cure to turn them back into full human. Except, it didn’t really work, instead they are human half the time and Blobel the other half. It opens with the guy discussing his mental health because of this change, his inability to meet someone because of his condition, and eventually he is matched with a female Blobel, who was a spy on their side, who has the same problem. This also has quite the twist at the end, you kind of see it coming, but the story is so well played and structured, it really doesn’t matter.

The Electric Ant – This one is very Blade Runner (I know that the film was based on ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’, but the plot is quite different between the two), but ends up being really existential. It touches on what is consciousness, how it is formed, what is real, all through the eyes of a robotic man essentially.

Faith of Our Fathers – Similar to above, this is about the nature of reality, and the steps that Governments will take to ensure that we only see what they want us to see. It also considers the nature of bureaucracy, and what people will do to get the top – specifically in a civil service type setting. It involves drug taking (you don’t say!), and hallucinations. It seems to be a common theme in Dick’s books/stories.

We Can Remember it for You Wholesale – A quick comment on the capitalisation of certain words in the titles – I am following how they are presented in the book. I know they look weird. Sorry. OK, I can’t remember this one much either – let me skim read. Oh, yeah! This is the story that the film ‘Total Recall’ was based on. I think I have seen that film, but I don’t really remember it at all. So, there is a guy, who wants to live out his fantasy of being a secret agent that has gone to Mars, so he goes to a clinic which specialises in implanting these memories, so that he will think he has gone to Mars on a secret mission for the Government. But, while implanting the memories, the clinic realises that someone has already been in his brain to remove/replace memories, and they can tell it was a Government job, so they stop their work, decide not to tell him, and refund half the money back. The guy who wanted the implanted memories half remembers the mission, and goes back to get the rest of his money, and it all goes a bit metal from there. This story was so, so good. If you have seen the film you will know the plot, if you haven’t I don’t want to spoil the story for you, but you really should read it.

In fact, everyone should read more Philip K. Dick. Also, while examing the blurb on my book I found out that Colin Farrell was in the ‘Minority Report’ film. Therefore, I am going to need to watch this, he is my new man crush, even though I hate Tom Cruise. I also wasn’t that keen on Colin Farrell, until I listed to an interview with him on the ‘Nerdist’ podcast, and now I am totally in love with him. I don’t usually have a thing for accents, but on Farrell I really enjoy it. I also need to watch ‘The Lobster’, maybe I can pick up a cheap copy in Fopp and not buy more books…

Until next Sunday, when I will be writing about the book, ‘Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of The Sun King’ by Antonia Fraser.

Amy

Another hiatus brought to a close part 4

Ok, so this should definitely be the last one. Also, I realised while talking to my Mum the other day, that one of the books I read last year was recorded on Goodreads, but not included as part of my book total for that year. I am starting to think they are at it.

That book was

Remains

The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro – This was of course what the film staring Anthony Hopkins was based on – not that I have seen it. I really need to catch up with my film watching. It follows the life of a butler in an old school, upper class, British household, and is composed of him reflecting back on his life, and his choices while he takes a driving tour round England, on his way to see a former colleague. It provides an intimate portrait of his life, and his thought process in trying to justify his choices, his manner of living, and his employer’s manner of living, and the legacy that their employer has left behind. It was a slow and a sad book, which I really enjoyed, and the film has made it onto my ‘need to watch’ list. I loved ‘Never Let Me Go’, by Ishiguro, which I adored, and lent to someone and never got it back. Le sigh. I did enjoy the film of the same name, which for once, I have seen. This leads us neatly onto…

Giant

The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro – I really hated this book, it was a struggle to read, it was a slim book, but it took me ages to get through it. Which, is odd, given how much I enjoyed the above two books. In ‘The Buried Giant’, we follow a couple as they travel across their world, in search of their son who has left them. The world is a forgetful place, where people rapidly forget what has happened the day before, it is cruel, and scary, and filled with some fantasy elements. Throughout the narrative it weaves various stories and tales, including that of Camelot, and it was full of symbolism (which as usual, I probably didn’t recognise). I didn’t find the ending satisfying, and I struggled to find any particular meaning in the novel. It isn’t a book I would recommend, and it is currently sitting in a pile to be donated to the pile of books at my work.

Tawny

The Tawny Man Trilogy – Robin Hobb – As I enjoyed the Farseer trilogy, I was very pleased when I spotted this on sale in a charity shop, and I picked it up, along with a few other things. I then got really excited, as it is a first edition hardback, sad news is, it isn’t worth much. It picks up on the tale of Fitz after his adventures in the Farseer trilogy, and everything that made that so good, is continued in here. I have so far only read the first two books, and have not quite made it to the third. The reason for this, is that I kept on going into the Waterstones on my way home from work, and they have other books, but not the specific third one. I picked up a book, thinking it was the third one, and not only was it not, it also spoiled the ending of the Tawny Man trilogy for me. So I am frustrated at both myself, and Hobb’s naming conventions.

As a quick overview, the Fool comes to find Fitz, who is living in isolation which his adopted son. The Fool has been sent to recruit Fitz for a task (as his Catalyst), which is to ensure that the current Prince of the Kingdom weds the person to whom he has been betrothed. I feel as though these books move a bit slower than the Farseer trilogy, and that they have possibly been stretched too thin, but they examine political power plays and force you to take sides, and most of what happens in them, can also be applied to real world events, and force you to explore your thoughts and opinions on these. In this respect, they are enjoyable. If you enjoy Robin Hobbs then you will definitely enjoy these, but I would recommend you start with the Farseer trilogy, not only because I found them better and more enjoyable, but also so you have an awareness of the backstory going in.

Shrill

Shrill – Lindy West – As a card carrying feminist, I am a huge fan of Lindy West. I don’t remember how I came across her, whether it was through Jezebel, or the Guardian, or through the podcast that she did for ‘This American Life’, where she confronted her troll, regardless, she is amazing and fearless, and I bought this book on the day it was released in the UK.

And…I was maybe a bit disappointed? I enjoyed the book, and she is an excellent writer, but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. It is autobiographical, and provides detail about being a shy, young woman, and then finding her voice and being able to express her opinions, loudly, clearly, and while dealing with vitriolic abuse online – the story about the troll is just awful. It also talks about finding acceptance with being fat – which is the word West prefers to use, rather than large, big etc. She talks about reclaiming it, about reclaiming herself, and is unapologetic for taking up space in a world where women are taught to be smaller, to be less than. A lot of the feminist ideas she speaks about I am familiar with, and I always love seeing these put in new contexts.

I don’t think the book was hilariously funny, but I do enjoy her crude turns of phrase. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to hear her speak at the Glasgow Women’s Library (it was also my first visit, and it is amazing! I have been meaning to get back down when I get the chance), and in some ways it was better to hear her talk about the book, and talk about her experiences, and to hear her reading excerpts from it. It was a really good evening – I even got my book signed, and tried to have some chat with her, but I was just so awkward she kind of made a ‘let’s move this along here’, face at me. Gah. Still, it was signed, which is the important thing.

Perhaps my feelings on the book are because perhaps it wasn’t aimed at me. I am not fat, I probably don’t look like an outsider, I am not particularly vocal or loud, but I did relate to being shy and quiet, and not having a voice, and not being able to find that voice. It was a good book, and even though it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, I would say a 3.5 out 5 rating from me.

Nod

Nod – Adrian Barnes – The premise of this, is that one night, no one can sleep, and then again the next night, they can’t sleep and so on, until the world descends into a sleepless madness, apart from for the few.

I had gone into the Waterstones near my work, looking for another book (actually the final book in the Tawny Man trilogy, which obviously they did not have), and picked this one up instead. The premise sounded interesting, and it had good reviews on the cover. Instead, I really disliked this book, it was a slog to get through, it was slow moving, and the protagonist was a total fucking dick, with absolutely no redeeming features. So I decided to google the author, and to see reviews. Yup, the guy has cancer, and so I felt like a dick for hating this book. I mean, what have I done? Have I had a book published? Do I get incredible numbers for my blog? Do I have more than 100 twitter followers? Have I got a stellar career? Well, no. So who am I to judge a guy, who is dying, and has actually made the effort to write a book, which he then got successfully published?

So, I held off on reviewing it, and looking at my Goodreads star review, I gave it a 3, it is not worth a three. It is a 2 at most, I just changed it. Now, however, I figure, it is better to be honest, and I did not enjoy this. I thought it was a good premise, poorly executed.

Brazil

Boys From Brazil – Ira Levin – I am sure everyone knows the premise of this, as once again there is a film based on it, which once again, I have not seen, but if not, it is as follows. It opens with a scene of German scientists in a restaurant, having dinner, and discussing plans that they are looking to execute, it is overheard by a wannabe Nazi hunter, who then calls a famous Nazi hunter to tell him what he has heard. The race is then on to figure out what their plans are, and what they are trying to achieve, before it is too late.

Note I did not spoil the plot for you, unlike one of my manager’s did for me. I was heading back to work one day for lunch, and ended up buying four books, and back in the office, the manager exclaims – “Have you never read that before? I am surprised.” Yea, OK, thanks, there are a lot of books in the world and I will probably die not having read all those that I want to read, so no.  I haven’t read it. What I actually said was probably something like “No, not yet, I am looking forward to it.”

Cue me, at home, unable to put it down, but I had to because life. The next day in work, “Oh, wow, I am really enjoying this book it is so good!” Cue manager, “Yea, well, there were a lot of theories about [redacted], so it makes sense that someone would turn it into a book.” I hadn’t reached that part yet, so whole story ruined. The worst bit? The twist was literally on the next page I read when I got home that night. So, great.

Anyway, the book is great, and I loved it, and I couldn’t figure out what was happening until my manager ruined it for me. I have also read ‘The Stepford Wives’, by Levin, and that is also wonderful. Would recommend.

OK, so that is it for today, and as of next week, we get back into single book review territory. Thanks for sticking with it!

Amy

Another hiatus brought to a close. Part 3

This may be the final instalment of this…Let’s see how we go. So, I got up to ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell. The nest book I read was:

‘The Daylight Gate’ – Jeanette Winterson – I think this is the first Jeanette Winterson book I have read, I have read a few short stories, I think. Definitely at least one in ‘Gutter’ – which you should all subscribe too, because it is wonderful, which reminds me that I need to renew my subscription – , and I have been meaning to read ‘Oranges are not the only fruit’, forever, and I mean to get round to it at some point. But to this book, honestly, I was a bit disappointed in it.

It is loosely based around the Lancaster witch trials, but I think this was used more for inspiration, and the history in the story isn’t entirely accurate – but it is a fiction book, and that wasn’t really the point of the novel. It felt like a real slog to get through, and it is short, and the prose was beautiful, but I didn’t think the story was that great. This was reflected in other reviews that I read, and I can’t speak for the other reviewers, but I think there was just something that I didn’t ‘get’ about it. So, I am sure that if I had picked up on this, it would have been far more enjoyable. I will at some point get round to reading, ‘Oranges’, and I listened to an interview with her around the time she released ‘Why be happy, when you can be normal’, so that is also still on my reading list.

‘Station Eleven’ – Emily St John Mandel – This year, one of my resolutions is to only buy actual, physical books. Rediscovering book shops has been absolutely wonderful, and although it is easier, and cheaper to read books on my Kindle, the joy of having a physical book far outweighs that for me. So right now, I don’t know whether I will go back to my Kindle, but this was the first book I bought as part of my resolution. I hadn’t heard of it before, and I only picked it up as I saw that it had one the ‘Arthur C. Clarke’ award. (I was creeping around the sci-fi and fantasy section, which is where you will usually find me), plus I liked the cover (yes, I do judge books by their cover), and I am so pleased I picked it up.

It follows the story and interlocking lives of a number of characters, but primarily Kirsten, as she travels through the world, as part of an acting troupe, after the world has come to an end after an illness sweeps the world and wipes out most of the population. The way the stories interlock, and the way they are told, is engrossing. It was amazing, and after I read it, everyone I spoke to about it said they had read it, or were reading it, or that they intended reading it. I was behind the curve (as usual), but this comes highly recommended.

‘The Haunted Hotel’ – Wilkie Collins – This is a horror book, hence the title, and is a classic. Apparently. (Who decides these books are classics?) I believe it was written around the early 20th century, and I hated it. It was boring. It was a chore to read, and I was not one bit terrified. It tells a story of, murder, inheritance, and a supposedly haunted room at a hotel in Venice. The ending wasn’t even worth it. Just avoid. I really can’t find any more to say on it than this. On to the next!

‘Signal to Noise’ – Silvia Morena-Garcia – I picked this up because, once again, I liked the cover (sometimes it works!), and it was one of those books that had the title card underneath it with ‘Staff Recommended’, and a blurb about what the book was about. I read the blurb on the back of the book too, and it didn’t really seem like my thing, but once again, I liked the cover, and usually, the staff picks are really good, so I went against my instincts and picked it up. And, the book was OK. It was pretty middling. I enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t read it again, and it is in the pile of books to go down to the charity shop. It tells the story of a woman, who returns to her home town/city, after her father dies, and is left to clear up his flat, and when she is there, she remembers one particular summer of her childhood, where she and two childhood friends can use music to create magic. This is also tied into her relationship with her father, her friends, her family, her childhood and subsequent career decisions. It was enjoyable, and it is worth a read, but it wasn’t a standout book for me.

‘The Girl on the Train’ – Paula Hawkins – Yes, I am as prone as the rest of the world to reading the current ‘It’ book (shocking, I know). See also, The da vinci code (compulsive, but terrible), Fifty Shades of Gray, (terrible, terrible story and sex scenes), Twilight (loved it at the time, but after reading many detailed critiques, realised how wrong I was), Gone Girl (I really didn’t like the book, and then I went to see the film, and didn’t enjoy it either. Not sure what I was expecting?) and so on. I guessed the ending just before 50% of the way through, but I read it to the end because it was enjoyable. It was a good, light, easy read. I would never read it again, but I like that I have read it. I will probably see the film too, but mostly because I like Emily Blunt. (Also, you do you think that Ben Affleck was miscast in Gone Girl? I feel as though he would be better in ‘The Girl on the Train’, as Emily Blunt’s ex-partner).

First Law Trilogy – Joe Abercrombie. There are three books in this trilogy (no shit, Sherlock), so I am not going to bother reviewing all three individually. I enjoyed the books, I felt as though the second one was the best, however, the books, pacing wise were actually quite odd. Sometimes it felt as though nothing was happening, and that the pacing wasn’t quite right, but then I would realise 5 pages on that loads had happened in that time, and that Abercrombie was just setting things up in a really fascinating way. The books are set in a world where there are three main powers, the Union, the Gurkish Empire and the Northmen. Effectively the Union is fighting on two fronts, and the story follows a mismatched band as they try to navigate through these ways, each taking parts in different ways. The oddest thing is, most of the characters are total dicks, but you love them for it. You can understand their motivations and why they do what they do, and you sympathise with them.

I don’t think that the books are for everyone, as when I have discussed it with other people, with similar tastes to me, they have not enjoyed it. If you enjoy fantasy, I would suggest you read them, but only when you have a chunk of time to dedicate to them – they are massive books!

‘The Dinner’ – Herman Koch – I picked this up as my ex-partner’s Mum, got me one those ‘page a day’ calendars, and this was one of the books. It sounded interesting, as the premise is that the two sets of parents go to dinner to discuss how to deal with their two sons, who have broken some sort of law. It isn’t clear what this is until near the end of the book, when it all comes to the fore, but I was interested to read the build up to the big reveal. It is also a translated book, and generally, I have found, that books translated in English, are generally always amazing, so I had pretty high hopes. Only to have these horribly dashed.

The two couples are related, as the fathers in each couple are brothers. A lot of the book is spent exploring the hatred of one brother for another. The main protagonist, one of the brothers, is just awful. I could literally find no redeeming features to him, and reading his bile was just drudgery. A lot of the book seemed to focus on Dutch culture, among certain classes, as critique, which was interesting. But, it felt as though the book was not was I was expecting, and while this isn’t always a problem, it was in this case as I did not enjoy at all. Thanks page-a-day calendar.

‘A Little Life’ – Hanya Yanagihara – I have seen a number of reviews since I read this book, kind of slating it as misery porn, and as saying in some ways it is too idealised, but I absolutely loved it. I just could not put it down and ploughed through it. It is a huge book, but it was so engrossing, and I was incredibly attached to all the characters. It follows the lives of 4 boys from college through to adulthood, primarily focused round one main character, who has had a traumatic and debilitating past. It is set in New York, which sounds a bit cliche, but who am I to complain? (Oh wait…my above review, oh well!) It was wonderfully woven together, and I could hardly wait until I got the opportunity to read it all day. I read one review, where the reviewer said they never wanted it to end, and I kind of have to concur with that. I could have kept on reading it and never gotten bored. If you are looking for a long, engrossing read, whether for a holiday, long-haul flight, train journey, whatever. I would recommend you take this book. It may be bulky, but it well worth finding space for it.

OK, I am going to finish there, but unfortunately, it looks as though we are going to have a part four. My quick, fast-paced reviews seem to be getting longer, and longer. I must be getting back into the swing of things! Until next Sunday then…