Monday, 7 October 2013

Lady Chatterley's Lover

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Author: D. H. Lawrence
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Published: 1st June 2006 (Originally published in 1928).
RRP: £8.99

The first thing to say about this book is that it really is quite surprising it was written so long ago.  Not only is the language blunt and shocking by even today’s standards, but the subject matter- an exploration of the role of sex within relationships, feels contemporary and ever-relevant.

 The lead character Connie marries Clifford Chatterley who, shortly after their honeymoon, is sent to war only to return paralysed from the waist down and completely impotent.  He becomes consumed in his success as a writer and with his coal mining business pushing Connie away and increasing her feeling of isolation.  She eventually sparks up a relationship with the groundskeeper Oliver Mellors and the remainder of the tale follows their exploits and the consequences of their affair.

  I’m a lover of classic literature, but it can get tedious reading stories that are much the same with women generally being wet and pathetic creatures who are easily manipulated and controlled by their male equivalents.  It is refreshing therefore that Connie is presented as such an independent woman.  Of course we could argue for hours that she is anything but strong and confident but ultimately she is a woman tired of her life, wants more and goes and gets it despite the hurdles in her way.  Hooray for her!

I think the book is a very honest analysis of relationships.  We would all love to think we could do the noble thing of sticking by someone who has become disabled despite there being a lack of physical and emotional connection , realistically though, this doesn’t happen.  The book doesn’t shy from the fact that sex is an integral part of human relationships and explores the voids that can develop when people are just not suited to each other. 

I did enjoy the book it was shocking at times, warm and sincere although hearing how much Connie’s womb tingled, flickered or other ridiculous sensation did get a little tiresome! 

Rating: 8/10

Sunday, 13 January 2013

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

Author: Jonas Jonasson
Publisher: Hesperus Press
Published: 12th July 2012
RRP: £8.99

  Funnily enough, this is the story of an elderly man named Allan Karlsson who on his 100th birthday decided he had had enough of the constraints of living in an old people’s home so climbed out of the window and disappeared.  The title pretty much says it all really.  Allan does not literally disappear but instead embarks on an exciting adventure where he meets a plethora of unique and extraordinary characters including gangsters, hot dog stand owners and an elephant whilst managing to evade the police desperately trying to locate him.

  Unlike the stereotypical portrayal of the elderly as weak and feeble, this book characterises Allan as a strong-minded, witty man, completely able to defend himself, at times a little too well.  An interesting character, the Jonasson has used Allan’s age to be able to intertwine elements of 20th Century History, in a very Forrest Gump-esque style.  

  It is a good, solid read, with plenty to hold your interest but for me I felt there was something lacking.  Throughout the book, from start to finish I felt as though I was reading a screenplay and not a novel.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, except a novel is what Jonasson set out to write.  Books to me should make you feel part of the world you are reading about, you should know the characters as you know your friends; this is achieved through the depth of the description that the author uses.  Yet I felt like an observer throughout this read, there wasn’t the development of the world for me to feel part of just the description of one event followed by another.  

  I think this would make a great Swedish arthouse film of a similar style to ‘Let the Right One In’, but to me it wasn’t quite the full package as a book.

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The Diary of a Nobody

Author: George and Weedon Grossmith
Publisher: Vintage
Published: 2010 (Originally 1892)
RRP: £5.99
  Everyone knows a Charles Pooter.  He is a lower middle class man working as a clerk in the city.  He is respectable, he has illusions of grandeur and fancies himself quite the comedian.  He decides one day that he will keep a diary for a year detailing everything that happens in his life.  He believes it will be an important record of his life, instead it ends up the trivial whining of a middle-aged man. 

  Although there are few real laugh out loud moments in the book, it never ceases to be amusing. I was not bored on a single page, my favourite moments being when he repeats jokes he makes when he believes no one noticed them (although it’s just that they aren’t funny).  The relationships are completely believeable, the solid marriage he has with Carrie and the friendships he has with the loveable characters of Mr Cummings and Mr Gowings (names which when first reading them, really did make me laugh, such is my sense of humour!).  The key events in the diary tend to centre on his son Lupin, who is not everything Charles expected him to be, he is loud, confident, funny and compulsive, everything Charles is not.  Furthermore, Lupin finds himself in not only work troubles but also in a mess with love.

  It’s hard to believe that this book was first published in 1892 the people seem like real modern people.  That may sound ridiculous but I’m sure I’m not the only one who has assumed that people living over one hundred years ago were prude and boring.  This book is a glimpse into the real world of the late-Victorian era.  It accurately describes the daily life, the jobs, the clothes, the food but it says much more about the people.  Englishmen really haven’t changed as much as we imagine.  A funny, warm and heartfelt read, it’s clear how this book has survived this long and I’m sure it has centuries left in it before the real nature of people change.

Rating: 7/10

The Shining

Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Published: 2007 (Originally 1977)
RRP: £6.99

  OK, I’ll admit it; I can be a snob when it comes to books.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets wound up by the amount of low quality literature that’s around.  If you set out to write a book, at least try to make it good.  The thing that baffles me most about these substandard reads is that they always seem to have such a huge readership.  The literary classics, for many, go untouched and instead they wait until a shockingly terrible adaptation is released on film...because obviously that’s the same as reading it.   

  Having had that rant I now want to make it clear that I love Stephen King books.  This may seem bonkers when you think I occupy most of my time reading the classics but everyone has their guilty pleasure.  Sure he isn’t a great wordsmith but he is an amazing storyteller.  His characters have clear voices, you feel as though you know them and the plot always oozes tension.  The Shining is no exception.  I have always loved the Stanley Kubrick film adaptation but now I have read the book I have realised that the film really doesn’t make much sense.  The film focuses on Jack’s decent into madness, the book however provides the insight into how and why this happens.  Most significantly, it provides the back story to the characters.

  Jack is troubled.  His past is full of anger and alcoholism.  He broke his baby’s arm in a drunken rage a few years ago (an incident his wife won’t allow him to forget), he then went on to start a fight with one of his students losing his job at the college.  He is offered the job as caretaker in an isolated hotel, ‘The Overlook’ situated in the mountains over the harsh winter months.  He moves in with his family and from there he begins to unravel the violent past hidden within the hotel walls.  His son, who has psychic abilities (the shining), is being pursued by the terrifying ghosts of the hotels past.  The hotel longs to have the boy, Danny, as part of its collection recognising his great psychic power and manipulates Jack in order to get at him.

  What Stephen King does so well is that he opens a window into the minds of his characters, we see their thoughts, we know their feelings.  Danny sees right from the start of the book how the story will end and the suspense is heightened as we see this premonition become a reality for him.  King expertly twists and turns making the situation for the family more and more terrifying.  It is unbearable to read, you grow to care about these characters yet know what will become of them.  The fact that grow to know the inner workings of Jack so well, makes his downfall painful to read, his not a bad man, he is a weak man manipulated to do evil things.

  Do not think for a moment that because you have seen the Kubrick film that you know the story.  Quite simply you don’t.  There is very little that is similar between the two in my view.  The twins aren’t in it, the tricycle isn’t in it, the ‘Here’s Johnny’ moment isn’t in it, the dead lady in the bath tub is though...eek!  Instead there are other sinister characters lurking in the depths of The Overlook, the remains of a shoot out in the presidential suite, a continuous masked party in the dining hall and my favourite ‘ghost’ of a man wearing a dog suit, barking mad with blood on his face.  Truly a gripping, terrifying read and for me has made the film, one which is already worthy of its own high accolade, complete.

Rating: 8/10

Friday, 26 August 2011

The Collector

Author: John Fowles
Publisher: Vintage Classics
Published: 2004 (Originally 1963)
RRP: £8.99

Frederick Clegg, a lonely, boring clerk becomes obsessed with the art student Miranda.  He watches her from his office window, he follows her into shops, but seriously lacking in any confidence or indeed social skills he knows she will never be his.  As his hobby he collects butterflies, an interest that he has been scorned for throughout his miserable, boring life and then one day he wins thousands of pounds in the pools.  Suddenly he has a greater sense of power, a feeling that he can do anything and he sets his sights on making Miranda the latest addition to his collection of beauties.  Knowing she will never love him, he buys a remote house, refurbishes the cellar and decides to keep her as his special ‘visitor’.  His motives are as innocent as wanting to spend time with her, disgusted by any physical intimacy and he spends the time showering her with gifts.  It’s not all roses and sunshine though and obviously these things don’t and never will end well. 

The first section of the book is written from his perspective, you feel as though you really get inside the strange mind of this lonely and pathetic man and in some ways it stirs up sympathy towards him.  It later switches to the diary Miranda kept whilst in captivity so you are equally able to understand how the experience effects her and how her feelings towards him change almost hourly from disgust to pity to fury.  Seeing the story from both angles is an excellent tool to really help the reader know the characters and see how they change but I couldn’t help feeling annoyed and bored by the Miranda diary section.  I just didn’t like her enough!  

Fowles apparently wrote the book to show the dangers of power getting into the hands of people incapable of handling it, of course the subject matter clearly establishes this but the fact Miranda is so unlikeable and arrogant takes away from the argument.  I get that she is meant to be a strong-minded idealistic ‘artist’, but in my opinion she seemed just as inhuman as Frederick (and that’s saying something!).  I think the book feels like an over-the-top sermon by one of those TV priests, preaching about God, what it is to be human and art, it’s relentless.  References to butterfly collecting are clumsily added in here and there as though an afterthought during Fowles’ final draft.  Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate it, I genuinely found the character of Frederick quite interesting but that wasn’t enough for me.
Rating: 4/10

Friday, 1 October 2010

I'm the King of the Castle

Author: Susan Hill
Publisher: Penguin Decades
Published: 1st April 2010 (Originally 1970)
RRP: £8.99

  This is the story of a boy named Edmund Hooper who lives in a grand old house with his widowed father and an old collection of moths.  Mrs Kingshaw, a divorcee, is employed to live with them as a house keeper and brings her son Charles with her.  The boys are made to spend time with each other by their parents but they instantly take a dislike to each other.  Hooper intimidates Kingshaw and belittles him constantly, even Kingshaw's plan of escaping the bullying is ruined when Hooper follows him into the woods.  They get lost, Hooper nearly dies and Kingshaw becomes more confident in who is, however when they are found everything reverts back to normal with Hooper dominating him.  Their parents get closer and are oblivious to the torment happening under their noses until it's too late.

  The blurb of the book describes the story as 'a chilling portrayal of childhood, cruelty and persecution, of parental blindness and of our own ambivalence to what are supposed to be the happiest days of our lives.'  I think that sounds like quite a gripping storyline.  Yes, the book certainly does explore the relationship between the two boys in great depth.  Yes, we are given valuable insights in to the minds of each of the children to help deepen our understanding of the cruelty going on.  Yes, the parents are too wrapped up in their own blossoming relationship to contemplate the effect on their children.  Yes, the mother does come off looking particularly poor.  But...the book was just not interesting.

  What I found particularly boring about this book was that nothing really happened.  I don't feel that the bullying that went on was particularly intense, it was just a lot of boys calling each other babies.  I got that the whole experience in real like for a child like Kingshaw would've been intense and horrific, but this is story-telling, you've got to grip your reader and it just wasn't full-on enough.  On the whole the book was a series of incidents, most of which felt insignificant because I just didn't care about any of the characters at all.  All the way through I was just thinking 'What now?' and tapping my foot impatiently counting down the pages.  I can imagine, because of the amount of speech, that this book would be better performed on stage as a play.  It may appeal to those who want to read about realistic scenarios but I want escapism, something completely apart from everyday experiences.

Rating: 2/10

Sunday, 26 September 2010

The Children of Dynmouth

Author: William Trevor
Publisher: Penguin Decades
Published: 1st April 2010 (First Published 1976)
RRP: £8.99

  Dynmouth is a dull seaside town on the south coast of England full of seemingly mundane characters going about their monotonous daily business.  Except Timothy Gedge.  Timothy Gedge, a lonely teenager, likes to watch what the adults of the town are up to.  He knows all of their secrets.  Determined to become famous and enter the Easter Fete 'Spot the Talent' competition he uses his knowledge to manipulate the adults and children around him to achieve his goal, without any remorse for his actions.

  Originally written in 1976 I can imagine that this book raised a few eyebrows and I think it still achieves that. The book tackles many difficult themes; infidelity, homosexuality, murder, suicide, secrets and the damage life has imposed on a teenage boy.  Cleverly written, it feels like a film with each scene being seen through the eyes of a different character, this enables you to feel the effects Timothy's actions have on the people around him. The story unravels at a gentle pace much like the pace of life in this quiet town and feels as though it will reach a huge climax, maintaining suspense throughout.  There are no hard-hitting action scenes in the book, instead the interest lies in the manipulation and creepiness of Timothy.

  I did enjoy this book, it was macabre and gripping.  Having a child as the central character, achieving all this destruction I found interesting; instead of being horrifying, I just found it sad.  In the penultimate chapter Mr Featherstone states "His eyes were the eyes of the battered, exceot that noone had ever battered Timothy Gedge...Existence had battered him."  Although the character of Timothy was strange, I did feel great pity towards him, an unwanted child, neglected of attention, determined not to work in the sandpaper factory and had developed distance from people.  The book was really thought-provoking and I would recommend people give it a go.  It's not action-packed but it is definitely full of intrigue.

Rating: 7/10