Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Books - The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars, published in 2012, written by American author and vlogger John Green, has taken the world by storm in the last two years. It has become a huge fandom, as well as achieving critical success, and everyone seems to be talking both the novel and the film, which came out in the UK last month. This of course must be at least partly due to John Green’s internet success as half of youtube’s The Vlog Brothers, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t there that I first heard the novel mentioned. But the novel’s success can’t entirely be down to this, because it also happens to be a very good book.

I’m not entirely sure what I have to say about The Fault in Our Stars that hasn’t been said before. But I may as well give it a try.

The novel tells the story of Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sixteen year old suffering from thyroid and lung cancer. At a support group for other young people with cancer, she meets Augustus Water, a cancer survivor, and the novel primarily follows their relationship.

It is both a novel about cancer and not a novel about cancer. I think the narrator Hazel’s description of her favourite novel, An Imperial Affliction, is apt here: it deals with cancer, but ‘it’s not a cancer book’. The Fault in Our Stars is not about the main characters being strong in the face of adversity, although of course at times they are both. What I like about the novel is that it’s more about the people than the illnesses they have. It is, to me, not about dying from illness but about living with it, about what’s left in life when its longevity is threatened.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Books - Sense and Sensibility, by Joanna Trollope

First off: apologies for the rant. This is my longest book review yet. I think I got slightly carried away.

I said in my first blog post that I love nineteenth century literature, and named Austen as one of my favourite authors. So as you can imagine The Austen Project is of great interest to me. Started last year, it is a series of reimagined and modernised versions of Austen’s six novels, bringing her plots into the twenty-first century.

The first in this series, Joanna Trollope’s new Sense and Sensibility, brings the Dashwoods into the modern day, into a world where horses are now cars and the landed gentry are (sometimes) replaced by high-flying London property developers, where everything is somehow rather different from the early-nineteenth century, and somehow a little bit the same.

I’m a big fan of adaptations, and was curious to see what the Austen project would be like. I have a soft spot for the film Clueless, based on Austen’s Emma, and have loved the youtube series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved. As a great admirer of Austen’s novels, it’s nice to see alternative interpretations of them. But I’ve never come across a literary reinterpretation of her work before, so Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility was, to me, something very new, and very, very interesting.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Books - The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

Published in 2009 and translated from Swedish into English in 2012, this is a book everyone seems to be talking about. I heard people mention it long before I read it, although as it happens what I picked up from other people was only the book’s name, and not a smidge of what it’s actually about. So I was rather surprised to find myself reading something that seems a cross between a history of twentieth century world politics, a black comedy, an adventure novel, a crime drama, and a Wes Anderson film.

This novel is very, very strange. In a good way. I think.

Allan Karlsson climbs out of his care home window on the day of his one hundredth birthday, and takes a bus as far as his money will take him. Several pages later he ends up on the run from the police alongside a petty thief, an eternal student turned hotdog stand owner, a red-haired woman who constantly swears, and a dog. Oh, and an elephant. Then, because this turn of events is of course not nearly bizarre enough for this strange novel, we simultaneously learn about Allan’s long and astounding life as an explosives expert, prisoner, spy, interpreter, general world traveller, and charmer of several historical figures.