Monday, 26 January 2015

The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers (3/5)

First published: 1946
Page count: 163

The back says: Here is the story of the inimitable twelve-year-old Frankie, who is utterly, hopelessly bored with life until she hears about her older brother’s wedding. Bolstered by lively conversations with her house servant, Berenice, and her six-year-old male cousin — not to mention her own unbridled imagination — Frankie takes on an overly active role in the wedding, hoping even to go, uninvited, on the honeymoon, so deep is her desire to be the member of something larger, more accepting than herself.

I say: When I finished reading The Heart is a Lonely Hunter I asked myself if I liked McCullers and couldn’t answer. Having finished this I don’t think I do, and the two main reasons are that the prose is so unpredictable; some passages are magical and others are just meh; and all the characters are more or less the same in all of her novels.

This is a coming of age novel about Frankie who is obsessed with her brother’s wedding and the future she plans with the newlywed couple. She is childish and stubborn to the point of being a brat, and I really didn’t like her at all. Add to this the fact that I found everyone else around Frankie more interesting, this became a rather tedious read. Of course, most pre-teens are self-obsessed and think little of the world unless it’s in direct relation to themselves, but with Frankie this was a tad too much.

She was just a tad too much.

My feelings about this novel is in part my own fault because I read this directly after finishing The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, and because there are such similarities between the two young girls, Frankie felt like a bad copy of Mick Kelly. Because of my inability to separate the two – and all the other similar characters; the father, the little brother, the maid - I appear to have missed some of the deeper issues addressed.

Or maybe I just didn’t care.

Either way, 3/5.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (4/5)

First published: 1940
Page count: 368

The back says: At its center is the deaf-mute John Singer, who becomes the confidant for various types of misfits in a Georgia mill town during the 1930s. Each one yearns for escape from small town life. When Singer's mute companion goes insane, Singer moves into the Kelly house, where Mick Kelly, the book's heroine (and loosely based on McCullers), finds solace in her music. Wonderfully attuned to the spiritual isolation that underlies the human condition, and with a deft sense for racial tensions in the South, McCullers spins a haunting, unforgettable story that gives voice to the rejected, the forgotten, and the mistreated -- and, through Mick Kelly, gives voice to the quiet, intensely personal search for beauty.
I say: I think I fell in some kind of love with John Singer – same as everyone else – without really understanding why; which was the whole point, I suppose. Finding someone who will listen to any and everything you have to say without seeming to judge will do that to a person. Especially if they always make time for, and are exceptionally kind to you.

Apart from John, there are four main characters whose lives we follow in turns; all connected through John, though not exclusively so. There is tomboy Mick, who dreams of being a musician and whose descriptions of falling in love with music were very vivid and sometimes poetic; Biff, who owns a diner and quietly observes his customers while not giving away too much of his own life; Jake, an out of town alcoholic who decides to stick around in town because he doesn’t really have anywhere else to go; and Dr Copeland, an idealistic black doctor who wants more from and of his children and the black community.

It was interesting to see the way their lives brushed against each other and how each of them saw themselves and viewed the others. None of them could really understand why the others visited John, and it is therein the beauty of the novel lies. Obviously, as the title suggests, they are all lonely in their own way and searching for something they are convinced John can help them find or attain, neither of them ever really stopping to deeply question what John wants. They are all selfish in their need, while John is guarded of his. He never really converses with any of his visitors and saves up money to visit his former housemate whom he tells all. Unfortunately the former housemate has gone insane and doesn’t respond to anything John tells him, so it becomes a form or role reversal.

Although the prose sways from poetic to confusingly bland, I found myself wondering if I like McCullers or if it’s just her characters and their struggle I like. It is hard to pinpoint, but there was something lacking in the prose, and that is the main reason this doesn’t get a full 5/5.  

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh (3.5/5)

First published: 1934
Page count: 221

The back says: Beautiful Lady Brenda Last lives at Hetton Abbey, a Gothic monstrosity that is the pride and joy of her devoted husband Tony. Bored and restless after seven years of marriage, she drifts into an affair with the shallow socialite John Beaver and forsakes Tony for the glamorous Belgravia set. But, instesd of her divorce bringing her happiness, Brenda feels increasingly isolated. Tony, meanwhile, in his desire to escape their broken marriage, is propelled towards a different fate entirely...

I say: This started out very intriguing and funny with Mrs Beaver and her son John at the centre of the plot. Then we are introduced to Brenda, her husband Tony, and their various friends as the plot thickens. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any of them very interesting and once Brenda leaves Tony it all quickly goes downhill.

I was disappointed.

It almost feels like two separate novels; before Brenda walks away there’s a sort of airiness to the prose and the people, which later turns bleak and rather dreary. Usually I love sombre novels, but because Tony’s departure meant such a vast change, I never got into it.

The same can be said for the ending.

Abrupt and sort of meh (although what happened to Tony was unexpectedly amazing chilling).

What I did enjoy was Waugh’s prose in the first part of the novel. There was wit and silliness mixed with social commentary, and even though I didn’t care for most of the characters they did seem believable. There were a few things that happened merely for the sake of moving the story forward, but they weren’t too intrusive, albeit obvious.

3.5/5 for this and I look forward to reading more of Waugh’s works.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

A Journey into the Interior of the Earth by Jules Verne (1/5)

First published: 1864
Original title: Voyage au centre de la Terre
Original language: French
Translation to English by:
Frederick Amadeus Malleson, 1877
Page count: 211

The back says: The intrepid Professor Liedenbrock embarks upon the strangest expedition of the nineteenth century: a journey down an extinct Icelandic volcano to the Earth's very core. In his quest to penetrate the planet's primordial secrets, the geologist - together with his quaking nephew Axel and their devoted guide, Hans - discovers an astonishing subterranean menagerie of prehistoric proportions. Verne's imaginative tale is at once the ultimate science fiction adventure and a reflection on the perfectibility of human understanding and the psychology of the questor.

I say: Wow.

I have waited far too long to read this, and yet did not wait long enough because it bored me to tears. There are no words to describe how desperately I wanted this to come to an end as soon as they had descended down the volcano, which is when I surprisingly lost all interest. Too many detailed descriptions of the different types of stones and whatever scientist of the age had researched before. And the sad thing is that it started out very captivating with Alex solving the puzzle of the manuscript and them setting off to Iceland.

Sigh.

I just could not muster up enough interest in the story because the prose was so distractingly awful. Perhaps it is this particular translation, perhaps I do not care for Verne... Who knows?

So yeah, 1/5 because ugh.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

A Day with a Perfect Stranger by Gregory David (1/5)

First published: 2006
Page count: 106

The back says: Her marriage is on the rocks. Her flight is overbooked. Now the guy in the window seat wants to talk about God - the perfect start to the perfect day! But for Mattie Cominsky, events are about to take an unexpected turn. An encounter with a perfect stranger re-routes her on a different kind of journey.  

I say: This is the most ridiculous religious drivel I may have ever read in my life. There is absolutely no redeeming quality anywhere; not the inane and predictable plotline, not the infantile language and none of the naïve characters.

I honestly felt insulted while reading this.

1/5 because that is the lowest score I have, but I would much rather give it 0/5.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen (2/5)

First published: 1993
Page count: 168

The back says: In 1967, after a session with a psychiatrist she'd never seen before, eighteen-year-old Susanna Kaysen was put in a taxi and sent to McLean Hospital. She spent most of the next two years on the ward for teenage girls in a psychiatric hospital as renowned for its famous clientele -- Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, James Taylor, and Ray Charles -- as for its progressive methods of treating those who could afford its sanctuary.

Kaysen's memoir encompasses horror and razor-edged perception while providing vivid portraits of her fellow patients and their keepers. It is a brilliant evocation of a "parallel universe" set within the kaleidoscopically shifting landscape of the late sixties.
Girl, Interrupted is a clear-sighted, unflinching document that gives lasting and specific dimension to our definitions of sane and insane, mental illness and recovery.

I say: I often hear about books that I tell myself I’m going to read, and then somehow forget about them for a few months/years/decades and when I finally pick them up - full of anticipation – it can only go one of three ways; either I fall in irrevocable love; in irrevocable hate; or in irrevocable nothing with it.

I fell in nothing with this.

Just pure meh.

This is a memoir, which always makes me a bit wary with my reviews, but to be completely honest I found nothing little about Keyser interesting – all the people she described in the mental ward were more interesting than she was. Perhaps this was a manifestation of her illness, I don’t know, but she makes it hard to even argue that point since she spends the last few chapters arguing that she was never mentally ill at all (she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder).

I can’t even know what to say...

It feels cruel to say that it wasn’t worth the time it took to read, but that’s how I honestly feel. Especially the last few chapters felt extra superfluous; like she has something to prove and I wonder if anyone had cared if it weren’t for the fact that she stayed in McLean Hospital where so many famous people had stayed before her!?

2/5 because of the other girls in the ward who kept me reading.

 

Monday, 17 November 2014

The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls by Emilie Autumn (4/5)

First published: 2010
Page count: 274

The back says: Presenting Emilie Autumn's long awaited autobiographical, reality-bending thriller, "The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls." This beautifully bound hardcover volume measures 8" x 11.5" and clocks in at a massive 274 fully illustrated pages. Positively packed with hand-written memoirs, photos, and paintings, this profoundly empowering epic not only deserves a place on your tea table, it is also one of the most complete accounts of bipolar disorder ever penned, and will take readers behind the doors of both modern day psych ward and Victorian insane asylum in this true life horror tale of madness, murder, and medical experimentation.

But reader beware: It's much easier to get into the Asylum than it is to get out.

I say: If I had read this in my teens it would have ruined me completely.

In the best of ways, of course.

However, being an adult I could recognise some parts of Autumn’s tale that seemed like fabrications artistic licence for the sake of the story – it is classified as an autobiography. One of these were the fact that she says that the carers in the asylum allowed her to keep her socks even though she very easily could have hung herself with them. This could be true for all I know, but it seems improbable. I am not going to go into what the other little things I questioned were, but that is the main reason this didn’t get a full 5/5.

So there.

What we have is the story of Emilie admitting herself to an asylum on her doctor’s recommendation after a failed suicide attempt. While there is isn’t allowed to check herself out – as she had been promised – and is put in the same ward as those with serious mental illnesses. While in the asylum she receives letters in her notebook from Emily who is admitted into an insane asylum in Victorian England. The narrative weaves between the two characters and also includes illustrations by and pictures of Emilie.

I found both stories intriguing, although I was more engrossed in Emily’s tale, which seemed more fleshed out. Admittedly there doesn’t appear to be very much to do in a mental ward, but the prose and flow of events made more sense in Emily’s parts – which seems like a strange thing to say since [spoiler: highlight to read] Emily is just the alter ego of Emilie, but there you have it. Also, the monstrous hardships Emily had to endure were so vividly described I just had to root for her.

Having said that, Emilie also had to go through some serious things that I do not want to look lightly upon (regardless of me believing all of it or not).

The book itself looks amazing and although I was enthralled by it, I found no interest in Autumn’s music or the future theatrical musical production of the book.

No offence meant, it’s just not for me.

So yeah, 4/5 due to reasons explained and the instances of magical realism which I didn’t particularly care for.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Maze Runner by James Dashner (4.5/5) [re-read]

First published: 2009
Page count: 375

The back says: When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. He has no recollection of his parents, his home, or how he got where he is. His memory is empty.
But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade, a large expanse enclosed by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning, for as long as anyone can remember, the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night, for just as long, they’ve closed tight. Every thirty days a new boy is delivered in the lift. And no one wants to be stuck in the maze after dark.

The Gladers were expecting Thomas’s arrival. But the next day, a girl is sent up – the first girl ever to arrive in the Glade. And more surprisingly yet is the message she delivers. The Gladers have always been convinced that if they can solve the maze that surrounds the Glade, they might find their way home… wherever that may be. But it’s looking more and more as if the Maze is unsolvable.

And something about the girl’s arrival is starting to make Thomas feel different. Something is telling him that he just might have some answers – if he can only find a way to retrieve the dark secrets locked within his own mind.

I say: I don’t really have that much to add to my first review, other than that certain parts towards the end left me rather impatient, but that was more due to my knowing what was going to happen. The main reason I re-read this so soon was because my niece read it prior to seeing the film, and she needed someone to discuss it with.

Also, this is probably our next trilogy for our yearly book club.

Although everyone knows that I love to moan about how films always ruin the book, this time I was seriously seething.

They.

Ruined.

Everything.

Quite literally.

It was not the same story that I fell in love with, but some inane bastardisation that left me cold and unhappy. There were added scenes that did nothing more than waste time and the brilliance of the maze was turned into something I can’t even begin to describe.

Ugh.

So yeah, don’t see the film because it was terrible. Do read the book. It wasn’t better the second time around, nor was it worse.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

All My Friends are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman (3/5)

First published: 1999
Page count: 120

The back says: All Tom's friends really are superheroes.

There's the Ear, the Spooner, the Impossible Man. Tom even married a superhero, the Perfectionist. But at their wedding, the Perfectionist was hypnotized (by ex-boyfriend Hypno, of course) to believe that Tom is invisible. Nothing he does can make her see him. Six months later, she's sure that Tom has abandoned her.

So she's moving to Vancouver. She'll use her superpower to make Vancouver perfect and leave all the heartbreak in Toronto. With no idea Tom's beside her, she boards an airplane in Toronto. Tom has until the wheels touch the ground in Vancouver to convince her he's visible, or he loses her forever.


I say: I first came across Kaufman when I read and adored The Tiny Wife, and I have been meaning to read more of his works for quite some time, which is probably why I found myself a tad disappointed with this.

The whole premise of the novella is that all Tom’s friends are superheroes – and I understand what Kaufman did with that – but I didn’t really like it. I don’t have a particular reason for not liking it other than it feeling a bit contrived.

It just wasn’t the wonderful story I was hoping for.

I don’t really have anything to say about either the prose or the story itself; I just read it to read it, which is sad because every now and then a little nugget of profundity would slip through my hardened exterior and make me smile.

3/5 because it was a short and worth the read (my expectations were just too high).

Monday, 10 November 2014

The Liquor Store Diaries and Other Ramblings by Nathaniel Carroll (2.5/5)

First published: 2014
Page count: 100

The back says: You work at a liquor store. People want to drink, you make it happen. Pretty straightforward, right? Wrong. Find out what it's like to be submersed in a world of desperate change-counters, pesky co-workers, and outrageous alcoholics. Discover how easy it is to learn a lingo and go from clerk to implicated felon. Experience through the eyes of the entrenched the toll taken on the soul after years of catering to and enabling the cream of any town's most depraved crop. Not for the faint of heart, the raw observations and judgments captured in this collection are sure to make you cringe, laugh at times, and walk away with a renewed sense of appreciation for the public servant who holds the key to your salivation.

I say: This was a Kindle edition that I downloaded during my brief trial period of Kindle Unlimited (which I didn’t continue because it just didn’t seem worth it) and to say that I am disappointed would imply that I was looking forward to reading it.

Which I wasn’t.

The most annoying thing about forcing my way through this rather short read was the abundance of spelling and grammatical errors on nearly every page. If I wasn’t re-reading sentences that made little sense, I was cringing at the flagrant lack of editing.

Couldn’t anyone have read through this just the one time?

Having said that, I understand where Carroll was taking his anti-hero, but I quickly lost interest because it was all just a little bit too over the top for my liking. I suppose selling urine in the liquor store may be feasible, but I just couldn’t deal with where any of it was going.

Although the other ramblings left much to desire, I can still see myself reading something else by Carroll in the future under the strict guidance of an editor and proof reader because there was something about the prose that I did like. It's a shame it got lost in all the mistakes.