Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Books with Friends – The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells – reviewed by Chris King

So today we have a guest review by the delightful Mr Chris King...


While most reviews tend to focus on new things and how fun – or terribly – they are, I like to think of the turn of the 20th century, a time I would have fit in with perfectly (or so I have been frequently told). The movies (2005 and 1953) of The War of the Worlds just do not do any justice to the original story of world invasion, by H. G. Wells, a master who defined science-fiction far more than I think Asimov ever did. The Invisible Man and The Time Machine were both genre-defining and The War of the Worlds is no different; it had to be  called a ‘scientific-romance’ when it was first published.

So, the movies are bad. The 2005 version has pre-earthed tripods emerge, shoot people (but not their clothes, so that the first time I saw it – and I have to say I did not watch much of it – I thought that the tripods turned people into clothes). This causes Tom Cruise to go into an angst spiral that lasts most of the movie (so I am told). It causes him to shout at his children and throw toast at windows while his children (whom he is estranged from, gasp, the drama!) explain how sticking your fingers in your ears and saying the name of the yellow Tellytubby repeatedly helps deal with the destruction of the world (or you know, America – I think it was pandering to an American audience’s perception of ‘the world’). So, that’s that one over with.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Books – Emma, by Alexander McCall Smith

AKA: In which I rant at length about Jane Austen.

After reviewing the modernised Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey, I’ve been excitedly waiting for the next installation of the Austen Project. For those less obsessed with Jane Austen than me, the Austen Project, is a new series, in which six novelists each take one of Austen’s novels, and rewrite a modernised version set in today’s world. As a massive fan of Jane Austen’s novels and a massive fan of adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels, you can understand why I’m excited by this project – and also why I’m a bit disappointed   

The latest release is Alexander McCall Smith’s rewriting of Emma. I was especially curious to read this as I’ve really liked the other modern adaptations of Emma that I’ve come across – the 1995 film Clueless and the recent youtube vlog adaptation Emma Approved. Both of these were, for me, somewhat more successful that McCall Smith’s adaptation. Don’t get me wrong - I did enjoy the modern retelling of Emma. It’s probably impossible for me to read or watch anything related to Jane Austen without enjoying it at least a bit. And the novel is certainly an easy read. As with Sense and Sensibility, I read it pretty much in one sitting. Mr Woodhouse is done perfectly. I love that Philip Elton gets arrested for drunk driving. I like the hints that Emma befriends Harriet partly because she’s physically attracted to her. It was a bit random, but it was deliciously random, even if it seemed to lead nowhere. There was a lot in this book that I loved; I figure I should make that clear before I launch into what I thought let it down.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Books – if nobody speaks of remarkable things, by jon mcgregor

(On the cover of the book there are no capital letters. I thought I’d honour McGregor’s choice.)

I refer you all to the first paragraph of my review of Life After Life, in which I ramble on about those books that are so fabulous and thoroughly amazing that you want everybody ever in the world to read them. And yes, this is another one of those books. if nobody speaks of remarkable things is truly on of the best books I have ever read, and certainly the best book I have read in the last year. Or perhaps two years. Since whenever it was I read Ishigruo’s Remains of the Day.

I have no words to explain the sheer brilliance of this book, but I can and will rant about how much I liked it.  if nobody speaks of remarkable things is a novel about the ordinary and the extraordinary. The books centres on one single street over one single day, in which normality is shattered by an awful event. Simultaneously we get the story of one of the street’s residents, looking back on that day from a few years on. It is a portrait of the normal existence of one street, and of the effects of tragedy, but it is also so much more. It is also a novel about death, family, friendship, love, life. I’m amazed at how this book encompasses so many snapshots of different bits of life in one single novel.

That McGregor manages to create such strong and moving characters by naming so few is incredible. Somehow the young man from number eighteen, the elderly couple from number twenty, the man with the scared hands, the twin boys, the girl with the short blonde hair and the little square glasses – all of these people come to life in details, in their actions, their movements, without ever being given the solid identifier of a name. And yet we recognise all the residents of the street as they appear again and again, moving in and out of view for the reader. It’s an incredible achievement.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Books – The Hungry Tide, by Amitav Ghosh

In a swirl of university work, short stories and a new job, I have missed one week and thus appear to have forgotten how to write book reviews. Ah well. Let’s a have a go.

I discovered Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide (2004) through my MA course, but it’s one of those books that was a joy to be forced to read. I’m not sure I would have chosen to read it from the cover; I have a bad tendency of sticking to what I know, of reading literature with a familiar setting, of reading books about books and people who love books. A book that seems to feature a man-eating tiger, several dolphins, and an entirely unfamiliar environment would not necessarily be my first choice, which is probably a mistake of mine. I’m very glad somebody told me to read The Hungry Tide. It’s a good read.

The Hungry Tide is what I might call a triple narrative. It tells the story of the Sundarbans of India, a tide country were villages lie on islands in the midst of rivers and jungles. The story begins with two outsiders arriving here. Kanai Dutt, a Delhi businessman, comes to the tide country at the request of his aunt Nilimia, in order to look over the notebooks his late uncle left behind him. Piya Roy, an American marine biologist of Indian heritage, comes for the dolphins. The notebooks of Kanai’s uncle give us yet another story, that of him, his interest in another village, and the difficult life of Kanai’s childhood friend Kusum. I love the way in which these narratives intersect each other, with Piya and Kanai’s stories overlapping and weaving into one another.