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