3 Days, 3 Quotes: Day 1 – Wise Blood

Weezelle nominated me for this challenge. Thanks, Weezelle! At first I was flummoxed. I’m not the best at remembering quotes from anything. I’m more a “this was about this and it made me feel this” kind of person.

I had a think, though, and decided I would use the challenge to talk about three life changing books, and find a quote that summed up why each book meant something to me. Continue reading

Revenge

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Read 08/01/2016-09/01/2016

Rating: 3.5 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room Winter Scavenger Hunt Challenge

Revenge is a collection of short stories from the author of Hotel Iris and The Housekeeper and the Professor. Each story stands on its own, but is also linked to one or more of the others, whether by a place, a person or, in one instance, the pages of the short story collection itself. There is an uncomfortable undercurrent to some of the stories, akin to that in Hotel Iris. Ogawa’s skill with language makes each one seem gentle, almost harmless, so that the horror revealed so calmly feels more unsettling.

It is beautifully written, many of the stories are unsettling, but for me there was something lacking – perhaps it needed to be woven more tightly into a novel, perhaps the short stories needed a little more depth. I felt as though I was floating on the surface, never truly immersed. I found myself wishing Ogawa had written it as a novel. For me, it would have been more satisfying that way. A three course meal instead of a buffet.

Black Swan Green

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Read 13/02/2016-21/02/2016

Rating: 4 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room Winter Scavenger Hunt Challenge

This is a beautifully crafted coming of age novel. Mitchell uses language in a way that takes you to the person, place, time, event that he is describing. You can feel how much he loves words through the way he plays with them and allows them to tumble into each other.

The story is set at the time of the Falklands War, and is full of references to things from my own childhood – TV shows, sweets, games, school rituals. It felt very familiar, and at times uncomfortably true. As with all the Mitchell novels I’ve now read, there are links forwards and backwards to his other books, but this novel is less embedded in his ongoing saga of time travel and eternal souls. Black Swan Green is a smaller room in Mitchell’s literary mansion where a few supporting characters can hang out and do their own thing. Worth reading in its own right, though.

The first year of Jason Taylor’s teenage years is a full one. He negotiates a path between wanting to belong and wanting to be true to himself. He watches as his parents’ marriage falls apart. He tries to get his head around the subject of girls. He tries not to worry about the war in the Falklands. He encounters some unique individuals. He comes through on the other side stronger and wiser. I really loved this novel for the way Mitchell captured how it felt to be a young teen in early 80s Britain.

The Blind Owl

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Read 08/02/2016

Rating: 4 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room Winter Scavenger Hunt Challeng

I had read various things about this book that left me with a feeling of trepidation about reading it. It apparently has a reputation for encouraging suicide. Some consider its portrayal of women to be misogynistic. It deals with madness, drug addiction and murder in violent terms. Continue reading

Never Let Me Go

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Read 05/04/2016-07/04/2016

Rating: 4 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room March Madness challenge

The first book I read by Kazuo Ishiguro was An Artist of the Floating World. My mum bought it for me from the book club man who used to visit the library where she worked. It transported me and led me to other books by Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans. I haven’t read anything by him for years, so for the March Madness challenge I decided I’d nominate and read Never Let Me Go. I haven’t seen the film, but I knew vaguely what the story is about.

If Never Let Me Go can be classified as sci-fi, then it’s the kind of sci-fi that I like – something that could feasibly happen in a setting that I can imagine myself existing in. The setting of this novel seemed like a parallel universe to ours. I don’t know that it is sci-fi, though. The science fiction aspects aren’t to the fore in the plot. I think it’s more about the slowly creeping realisation that life isn’t quite what we would like it to be, or what we think it is, which is a universal experience. It’s also about trying to find meaning in life, and trying to delay the inevitable, to grasp a few more precious moments that might help you to understand what the point of it all was. Continue reading

The Island

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Read 30/01/2016-31/01/2016

Rating: 3.5 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room Winter Scavenger Hunt Challenge

This was a surprise, chosen at random from my local library, as per the instructions for day 12 of the reading challenge.

The Island explores the history of a leper colony located on Spiraling, an island off the shore of Crete. Victoria Hislop’s book is well-researched, and the back history of the leper colony alongside the history of German occupation during the Second World War lifts it above the average beach read. Continue reading

Journey Under the Midnight Sun

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Read 24/01/2016-30/01/2016

Rating: 4 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room Winter Scavenger Hunt Challenge

In Journey Under the Midnight Sun, Keigo Higashino has used a very different style to that in his Detective Galileo series, something unlike anything else I’ve read within the crime genre. Initially, this wasn’t as satisfying a read as I was expecting it to be. I really enjoyed the previous books I’ve read by Higashino, and I wanted this to instantly be as good.

The first half of the book took longer to read than I was expecting. The style is episodic, and there’s little exposition, so I found it hard to get a clear sense of time passing. As I read on, it became clear that this was a deliberate ploy on the part of Keigo Higashino. The story needed to feel disjointed, so the reader would feel the way a detective investigating apparently unrelated events would feel. I also read that the story was originally serialised in a magazine, as discrete episodes. Continue reading

Blue Bamboo: Tales

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Read 21/01/2016-24/01/2016

Rating: 4 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room Winter Scavenger Hunt Challenge

This collection of short stories was my first encounter with Dazai Osamu. The stories have a dark undercurrent, and a black humour sits across them. I laughed out loud a few times. Dazai has an interesting writing style and a wry turn of phrase, highlighting the ridiculous in a situation. In a few of the stories, he reminded me of J D Salinger, particularly the stories about the Irie family, who are like a Japanese version of Salinger’s Glass family. The stories are self-referential, with characters reappearing and meeting each other across different tales, and focus on the frustrations of life in rule-bound Japanese society. Many of the main characters are disaffected, some of them are downright unpleasant, all of them are misfits. They try to break free of the very Japanese concept of filial piety (honouring your parents no matter what) and go their own, sometimes apathetic, sometimes debauched way. I don’t know if I enjoyed everything in the book, but I definitely appreciated the style, which is quite different to that of his contemporaries, Ryūnosuke, Mishima and Sōseki. Dazai seems very modern, as though he were living now, rather than 70 years ago. I will try out one of his novels.

The Martian

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Read 03/04/2016-05/04/2016

Rating: 2.5 stars

I wanted to read The Martian because I like science fiction, and the premise sounded interesting. I had high hopes for it.

I borrowed it from the library so that I could read it for the March Madness challenge. I’m glad I didn’t buy a copy.

In the end (or even from the beginning), I was disappointed in it. I found it too tech heavy, but not in an over complicated way. I found the level of detail patronising. The amount of explanation of each technical action didn’t add anything to the story. It also felt like it needed a damn good edit to move it from serialisation to novel. I didn’t engage with the characters because they were quite sketchy, not fully developed enough to care about. There were some funny moments, but mostly the humour was juvenile and wearing. Millions will disagree with me, but I don’t know what the fuss is about.
I don’t want to be a literary snob. I’m all for the democratisation of things, including making it easier for writers to get published without needing all those things in place that make it slightly easier to get published, as much as authors and publishers might deny they exist. I do wonder about the lack of editorial support for writers who self-publish. I’ve read a couple of things now where it’s really apparent to me that an editorial eye cast over a manuscript would have helped to polish a rough diamond into a gem. The Martian is an interesting case because, after blogging then publishing through the Kindle platform, the book gathered such a readership that it was taken up by a publishing house. Only a slight edit was applied. I think it needed more than a slight edit, personally. But millions of others clearly disagree with me, and it is good that a writer can get a break and have such a popular success.

As I read, because I wasn’t particularly engaged and found it both juvenile and patronising, I recorded my thoughts about it in a Mark Watney style, logging my reactions as I moved through the chapters. If you haven’t read it yet, or not seen the film, you might want to stop reading this post here. There might be spoilers.

Continue reading