Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Books - Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

Every now and then in life, you read a book that is so thoroughly brilliant you want to shout off the rooftops that everyone in the world should read it. I have read several books like this my time (Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day, for example, Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, plus, for me, most of Dickens). Since starting this blog a few months ago I’ve read a lot of very good books, but I’ve read two that come into this category. The first was Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall, and the second is this, Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life.

It is an incredible novel.

In 1910, a baby is born, and dies at birth. In 1910, the same baby is born, and lives through her first moments. In fact, every time Ursula Todd dies, she is reborn, with some vague sense of her previous lives hanging over her. So we follow Ursula through the First and Second World Wars, through the first half of the twentieth century, somehow both stuck to history and outside of it, because she can change her own. With her half memories, she manages to undo her mistakes, and avoid the mistakes of others towards her. We sit with her as she dies death after death, and lives life after life after life.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Books - Northanger Abbey, by Val McDermid

After reading, loving (subjectively at least) and reviewing Joanna Trollope’s modernadaptation of Sense and Sensibility, I was very excited to read the next novel in The Austen Project – Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey. I feel my excitement was justified.

Released in March this year, McDermid’s take on Northanger Abbey takes Catherine (now Cat) Morland out of the Bath winter season of balls and into the Edinburgh Fringe festival. She is constantly on twitter and facebook, and finds a lack of wi-fi to be definite proof of vampirism. And rather than being obsessed with the eighteenth century gothic of Mrs Radcliffe, she is obsessed with Twilight. It is, perhaps like all things related to Jane Austen, great fun.

Yet, strangely enough, I have to make the opposite complaint of McDermid’s Northanger Abbey than I made of Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility. I absolutely and thoroughly loved and enjoyed Trollope’s adaptation, but objectively I didn’t really think it worked in a modern framework – or at least, not in the modern framework Trollope used. With Northanger Abbey I found the opposite. Objectively I think the novel works far better than Sense and Sensibility. McDermid’s modern adaptation is, for me, much more convincing, aside from a few moments I’ll talk about later. Still, I’m not I enjoyed it quite as much. I didn’t sit glued to my sofa reading and grinning for hours on end as I did with Trollope’s new Austen. Although of course that’s not to say I didn’t still love it, because any Austen plotline is probably bound to win me over.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Books – Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

I appear to be keeping on an '80s theme. However, this novel shares little else with my last review, except perhaps my fondness for both novels. This was another one of my random finds: I picked Eleanor & Park off the shelf at Foyles without knowing anything about it, not even that it’s a piece of young adult fiction.

I want to talk about genre and audience for a moment, prompted partly this month’s Society of Young Publishers’ magazine, which was devoted to discussing Young Adult fiction – or ‘Crossover Fiction’, as it’s apparently now known. I somehow managed to miss out on Young Adult fiction when I was actually a ‘young adult’ (by which I mean a teenager; I’m fairly sure I’m still a young adult), because at thirteen or so I went straight from kid’s books to Victorian literature, where genre and age-based audience were somewhat less of a thing. In the last year or so, however, I’ve read and loved The Hunger Games, The Fault in Our Stars, and Eleanor & Park. I also reread and rediscovered His Dark Materials, and got much more out of it. According to the SYP magazine, over half the people who buy Young Adult fiction are over eighteen. This doesn’t surprise me, actually, because there are some Young Adult novels that are too good to miss out on simply because I happen to be a few years out of adolescence. I think I count Eleanor & Park as one of these.

Eleanor & Park is essentially a love story. Again, something I don’t read very often. I’m used to Victorian love stories, and subplot love stories. This is a love story about two sixteen year olds: Park, who has spent his life so far ensuring he is invisible, and Eleanor, who finds it impossible to be so. Park is fairly content; Eleanor, new in town and living once more with her terrifying step-father, sharing a bedroom with four younger siblings, is entirely unhappy. They fall in love over Smiths songs, mix-tapes and X-men comics.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Books - Meeting the English, by Kate Clanchy

Kate Clanchy’s 2013 novel, Meeting The English, was a random find of mine. Not necessarily an original find, as it was shortlisted for the Coast First Novel Award last year – but a random find nonetheless. I went into Foyles with a book token and picked three novels from the New Releases section, none of which I had heard of before. I briefly glanced over the blurb and first pages of each, but that was it. I like doing this, because it’s something I rarely got the chance to do during my degree, when novels are of course recommended and prescribed left right and centre. I also like doing this because, while I do own a kindle and often buy books online, I also like real paper books, and I also love bookshops, and I’m a little scared that one of these days both might die out.

So I started Meeting The English blind, and it was definitely a great discovery.

The novel, set in 1980s London, is somewhere between surreal romance and social examination, and I loved it. After the famous playwright Philip Prys suffers a stroke, the world of those around him alters, descending into a chaotic muddle of a distracted wife, an interfering ex-wife, two confused teenage children, and a terrified literary agent. Struan Robertson, a Scottish student taking on nursing in his gap year, is thrown into the midst of this chaos, and is bemused by the world he finds.