Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Books – Go Set a Watchman

There has been so much hype, controversy and discussion about Go Set a Watchman that I was almost nervous to read it. It came out last month, and is the “sequel” to Harper Lee’s famous 1960 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Yet calling it a “sequel” is misleading. It is in fact a first draft manuscript of a novel that Lee wrote before writing To Kill a Mockingbird; it theoretically takes place after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird, and deals with many of the same characters. It follows Scout – now known as Jean Louise – when she is in her mid-twenties, returning to her home town after years in New York, to find her neighbourhood and her family not quite as she remembered them. The history of this manuscript is roughly this: on reading the original draft of Go Set a Watchman, Lee’s editor suggested that the strongest sections were flashbacks to Jean Louise’s childhood and teenage years, and so Lee went away about wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. The manuscript of Go Set a Watchman was lost or hidden or at least unread – until now.

I think it’s very important to remember that Go Set a Watchman is not a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. It is a rough first draft of the characters and world that became To Kill a Mockingbird. If you read it as a sequel, I think you might be disappointed – but if you read it as an interesting insight into how To Kill a Mockingbird as a novel came to be, then I hope you will not be. 

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Books – All That Is, by James Salter

James Salter’s All That Is was published two years ago. Its story (if we can call it that) roughly follows the life of one man, Philip Bowman. It opens with his experiences in the navy as a young man, and takes us through decades of his life, as he works as a book editor in New York. The novel revolves around his romantic and sexual experiences with various women throughout his life, as love continues to evade him.

Before I begin, let me say sodmething to clear my conscience. I am in general a positive person. I like books, and I like to like books – and even if I read a book that I don’t especially like or that isn’t really my cup of tea, I can normally find something good to say about it. I can distance myself, be objective, point out how it may appeal to others, if not to myself. I in general give brilliant reviews, good reviews, or mixed reviews. I rarely give bad ones.

So I apologise for the fact that I have nothing good to say about this book.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Books – Monsters, by Emerald Fennell

Monsters, by Emerald Fennell, comes out in about a month’s time, and is by far one of the creepiest books I have ever read – in a good way. It tells the story of two children who meet on their summer holidays, in a seaside town in Cornwall where murders are starting to occur. These two thirteen-year-olds are, let’s say, less than pleasant individuals. They both have quite troubled lives, alongside a worrying interest in violent crime. Together they decide to solve the murders going on in the town.

So it’s a sort of detective story. It deals with a lot of really dark issues in a very light tone, and is wonderful, readable, and quite disturbing. It’s very funny, a dark comedy that at times slips from the comedy into the purely dark. For me it reads like a mixture between Roald Dahl and Angela Carter – a terrifying, beautiful, mixture.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Books – Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Published two years ago, Americanah is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s third novel. It follows the lives of Ifemelu and Obinze, who fall in love in Nigeria as teenagers. However, life pulls them apart; Ifemelu moves from Nigeria to the US, Obinze to the UK. The book follows their experiences abroad, as both struggle being black immigrants in countries with complex attitudes towards race.

On the one hand, I really admire this book. I think the themes are incredibly important, and Adichie explores them deftly and interestingly. It is certainly a thought-provoking, deep book – and nor did I find it overly moralistic. It’s more a novel to make you think, to answer questions you didn’t even realise you had. One of my favourite aspects of this book were the contrasts drawn between different kinds of racial experiences. For example, the difference between being Nigerian and moving to the US, or being African American and having grown up there; or the differences Obinze and Ifemelu encounter between the UK and the US. The cultural differences between Nigeria, the US and the UK are likewise all fascinatingly explored.