Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Otis Lee Crenshaw: I Blame Society by Rich Hall (4.5/5)

The back says: Married six times, all to women named Brenda, Otis Lee Crenshaw's bourbon-fuelled odyssey takes him from the high mountains of East Tennessee to the bottom of the music charts. A man not above faking his own death to sell more records, this is his not quite true story of romance, recidivism, country music, and an unshakeable belief in Marriage at First Sight.

I say: I’ve already confessed my love for Rich Hall and his writing and it’s only increased after reading this hilariously absurd story about Otis Lee Crenshaw.

I loved it.

Just really loved it.

Otis Lee Crenshaw, a self-professed white trash guy who grew up in a trailer park, is addicted to bourbon and has the eerie ability to fall in love with women named Brenda may be my new favourite anti-hero. Even though he tries, most of the time, to do the right thing it seems as though the world just won’t give him a break. He does a bit of crime, winds up in jail a couple of times, really can’t stop drinking and somehow always seems to get cheated in one way or the other and, as the title explains:

he blames society.

In some instances he is right, but instead of just giving up he always picks himself up and tries something else. More than anything I think I admired his resoluteness, ingenuity and just plain old pride to be a ‘hick’ and trying to show that it doesn’t equate him being a bad person. Also, though you probably wouldn’t think it by looking at him, Otis is really quite intelligent and has that sharp wit that I absolutely adore.

And, having been married 5 times, he has a lot of sound love advice.

And some of the best country music lyrics I’ve ever heard... 

“Women like dinner, women like lunch
Women like roses that come in a bunch
Women like hedges and flowers and trees
But when you’re standin’ behind one they call the police
When I see her there’ll be tears down my face
It might be love or it might be mace

But women call it stalking
Women call it stalking
It’s just selective walking
But women have a tendency to exaggerate
Gonna hug her, gonna mug her, gonna see her some more
Hey judge read the charges just a little bit slower”

 
And there are a lot of song lyrics to that effect.

Needless to say, I laughed so hard while reading this I cried. Yes, it’s that funny. Rich Hall is such an intelligent and witty writer, I still cannot get over it. He takes these seemingly simple people, puts them in the most absurd situations in a bowl of serious hilarity while sprinkling sage advice and manages to serve it all with a dash of social commentary.

I know, I know, my analogies suck (I was recently discussing Gordon Ramsey with my mother).

Now, even though I think that this is pure comedic perfection, the reason I’m giving it a 4.5/5 is because there were a few clichés and obvious jokes in there that I didn’t expect him to make. But I’m still looking forward to reading more of Hall – he just seems to get better and better.

Monday, 29 October 2012

I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan (4/5)

The back says: The end is nigh, and the Prince of Darkness has been given one last shot at redemption, if he can manage to live out a reasonably blameless life on earth. The Old Dealmaker negotiates a trial run – a month with all the delights of the flesh. (The flesh: slightly worn, one previous owner; a writer.)

But the experience of walking amongst us has more pratfalls and detours than Luce foresaw: instead of teaching us what it’s like to be him, Lucifer finds himself beginning to understand what it’s like to be human.

I say: I have always been intrigued by religion (my father was a priest, so that’s probably why) and I love to read/hear/see things that deal with faith, and the root of all evil and good, so obviously I had to read this.

This book is supposed to be the book that Lucifer writes, as Declan Gunn, about his experiences on earth. It starts out with a lot of foul and quite unpleasant language – explained by Lucifer as his unaccustomed use of the English language – and after a few pages I wanted to give up on the novel, but I stuck with it. And glad am I that I did because it gets better as the story progresses.

So, we have the Devil in a human body, told by God that if he manages to stay out of trouble (and evil) for 30 days he will be redeemed and allowed back into heaven when God destroys everything (including hell).  The Devil, as we can gather, accepts the challenge. At first he is so mesmerised by everything he sees and feels – note: he has never been human before – and I really liked the way that Duncan presented how astonished he was by everyday things. The sky, the sun, the streets, a dog, ice cream – it was all new sensations to him and he was savouring them all.

Of course, and this comes as a surprise to no one, he doesn’t live a good life as human. In fact, he goes about trying to do as much evil as he possibly can – there are limitations to being human, after all – all the while telling himself that he is trying to sort out Declan Gunn’s life. You see, Gunn was just about to commit suicide when God removed his soul and let Lucifer enter his body, so obviously Gunn’s life is a proper mess.

In between getting updates about Lucifer’s doings in Gunn’s body, we get to find out Lucifer’s side of creation, heaven, the Garden of Eden, hell and everything in between. It is clear here that Duncan has read and been inspired by Paradise Lost by John Milton because the notions he presents about all those things lie in direct likeness to Milton’s. However, I don’t really see this as a negative (although it did result in me marking down the novel); if you’ve read the poem you’ll recognise it and if you haven’t it won’t really matter.

I must say though, Duncan presents it in a much nicer form that Milton did.

[Aside: I think that remark is considered blasphemous in literary circles]

One of my favourite films is Constantine and this novel reminded me of that; angels and demons taking human form and having their battles here on earth. There are no battles in this novel, but a few confrontations. I have to say that I’m really impressed with the way that Duncan unfolded the story, how he started out with making Lucifer all crude and one-track-minded and then had him sort of humbled by the human experience. After all, he’s spent most of his existence in writhing pain trying to persuade humans to do evil in order to own their souls, so it was great to see him understanding what that means in human terms.

I also like the touch of Lucifer remembering a few people mentioned whose souls he had battled for – I think that made him think differently of his work.

I, Lucifer is a great novel and the only reason I’m not giving it a full 5/5 is because of the Milton thing.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Kill Order by James Dashner (4/5)

The back says: The prequel to the New York Times bestselling Maze Runner series.

Before WICKED was formed, before the Glade was built, before Thomas entered the Maze, sun flares hit the earth and mankind fell to disease.

Mark and Trina were there when it happened, and they survived. But surviving the sun flares was easy compared to what came next. Now a disease of rage and lunacy races across the eastern United States, and there’s something suspicious about its origin. Worse yet, it’s mutating, and all evidence suggests that it will bring humanity to its knees.

Mark and Trina are convinced there’s a way to save those left living from descending into madness. And they’re determined to find it—if they can stay alive. Because in this new, devastated world, every life has a price. And to some, you’re worth more dead than alive.


I say: As much as I loved the Maze Runner Trilogy, the one thing that I always wanted to know was how it all started; why the kids were sent into the maze and how the earth turned into what it had become. Much to my great joy – I literally shouted YAY! when I found out about this prequel – James Dashner decided to let us all know how it started.

And glad am I that he did.

Usually, I get kind of annoyed having to read (or see) prequels; I always wonder why they just didn’t tell us the entire story from the get go, but this time it was ok. Perhaps because the first book in the trilogy, The Maze Runner, started out with such a bang I was much more focused on what was coming rather than what had led to it.

Either way, in The Kill Order we find out exactly everything that I wanted to know – amazing, really. I can’t really go into details about the plot since that would equal spoilers, and also I think the blurb above is sufficient. What I really like was that Dashner answered all of the questions in a plausible way and left the story exactly where it needed to end without dragging anything out. As always, it was fast paced with a lot of twists and turns and he kept me guessing at how they were going to pull it off. Most importantly, I liked all of the characters – he is great with creating believable characters – and I liked all of the subplots and side-tracks that came out of nowhere.

So yeah, having found out how it all started I would still recommend reading the trilogy first and then The Kill Order; it’ll make it all the more interesting – and frustrating trying to figure it all out. I have really loved the mind games that Dashner has played on me, and I wouldn’t mind reading more of his works.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (3.5/5)

GoodReads says: From her first moment at Merryweather High, Melinda Sordino knows she's an outcast. She busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops - a major infraction in high-school society - so her old friends won't talk to her, and people she doesn't know glare at her. No one knows why she called the police, and she can't get out the words to explain. So she retreats into her head, where the lies and hypocrisies of high school stand in stark relief to her own silence. But it's not so comfortable in her head, either - there's something banging around in there that she doesn't want to think about. But, try as she might, it just won't go away...

I say: This one of the few books where I thought the film was much better. I did see the film first, and I cried, so I couldn’t wait to finally read the book. 

This is such a powerful story I can’t even know where to begin. Also, I don’t want to turn this into a comparison, but there are a lot of elements of the story that are better conveyed if you can see them. Melinda spends a lot of time working on her art project, which is to draw/create a tree in different mediums, and although we are told how difficult and frustrating it sometimes is, it was easier to understand when I was seeing it.

Having said that, I think that Halse Anderson does a great job of describing the ostracism, loneliness and desperation that Miranda goes through every day. It’s frustrating being on the reading end because all you want is for her to tell someone – anyone – but the words don’t come out for a long time. Also, the guilt and the way she blames herself makes this all the more poignant.

This should be required reading in school.

There’s one ‘scene’ that I really loved and that stood out so clearly, and that is when Miranda scribbles something on the bathroom wall at school and then returns later to find replies from other girls. It’s all anonymous, but it becomes such an empowering moment for her, and I think that’s the deal with being a teenager; you don’t want to be alone in your thoughts and experiences.

So, even though I really love this and the message and I probably would have given it more than a 3.5/5, the film version made me sort of see it in a different light since they told the story in a different way. It’s wrong to say it was told in a better way, it was just a different version that I prefer.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Things Snowball by Rich Hall (4/5)

The back says: ‘America is like a beauty contestant. It’s gorgeous until it opens its mouth.’

From the similarities between US gun laws and British drinking hours, to what cryptic crosswords really tell us about the British psyche, American in London Rich Hall casts a keen eye on the lunatic contradictions and weird marvels of his native and adoptive homelands in this hilarious book.

I say: I have been in love with Rich Hall since I first saw him on QI and decided therefore to buy his books (and see him live in February – weee) and I am so glad I did. Some comedians are funny on stage but not as funny on paper, but because Hall has such a dark and terse wit it translates well in both mediums.

Well, I love it in both mediums (I know some people just don’t get him).

Anyway, this book is full of anecdotes and observations about the US and Britain and I laughed out loud almost the entire time. When you see Hall on QI or when he’s doing his stand-up routine he seems like a grumpy old man (Moe in The Simpsons was based on him) but when I read this he comes across as very intelligent and eloquent. I realise that this says more about my prejudices than it does Hall, but I was expecting some random cultural jokes mixed with a little nonsense, but he talks about his grandparents, amongst other things, with such warmth and humility it was a welcome surprise to me.

I have highlighted a lot of funny quotes and I know that this will be the type of book that I’ll turn to when I need a laugh.
“They say you have to sell your soul to the Devil to really play the Blues. This I did, though several days later the Devil returned and tried to give it back.

‘I wasn’t thinking clearly at the time,’ he announced. ‘Your soul is worthless.’ I pointed out that the transaction, which took place at a crossroads somewhere in Mississippi (now the site of a brand new Walmart), was binding. He claimed he was entitled to a five-day ‘cooling off period’. Fine. If fame has eluded me, there’s your reason. My advice to any would-be Bluesman is try to get something in writing from the Devil.” – p 37-38


That’s from a short story about a Bluesman that takes the most absurd turns.

Needless to say, this book has made me fall deeper in love with Hall. I think one of my favourite stories is about what happened to him on 9-11-11. It’s a very serious subject, and a part of me felt bad for laughing at his antics, but another understood that it is through humour we can deal with things.

So yeah, Rich Hall for president king everything.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

The End of Everything by Megan Abbott (3/5)

The back says: Lizzie and Evie are inseparable. They walk home from school together, sleep over at each other’s houses, even flirt with boys together. And they tell each other everything. Or at least, that’s what Lizzie thinks – until Evie goes missing, and Lizzie suddenly realises their friendship wasn’t quite what she thought.

A mesmerising novel about two young girls discovering their sexuality; about fathers and daughters; about family and friendship; about jealousy, secrets and lies, The End of Everything offers a powerful reminder that things aren’t always what they seem...

I say: I’m not really sure what to say about this. It all started out like your typical Young Adult novel, but then slowly descended into something sinister and ended in the depths of depravity. Or maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but I really didn’t like the resolution.

Evie goes missing and while everyone is busy looking for her in all the wrong places, or gossiping about what may have happened to her, Lizzie becomes some kind of sleuth that manages to uncover clues and leads that the police have missed. At the same time Lizzie slowly gets closer to Evie’s father and arouses the wrath of Evies sister.

Emotions get confused and muddled and it all takes a bad turn.

Like I said, it started out really interesting and I was desperate to know what had happened to Evie, and I think Abbot did a great job of giving away little enough to keep me interested in the plot. I didn’t very much care for the relationship that formed between Lizzie and Evie’s father – it seemed forced and more like gimmick to extend the plot. The same goes for the relationship with the sister.

This may be considered a spoiler so highlight if you want to know: once we found out what had happened to Evie I lost all interest in the story. It was basically a rip-off of Lolita and that angered me. Yes, I know that Lolita wasn’t the first book to handle that subject, but it was all I could think about and it all seemed so implausible it nearly angered me.

So yeah, 3/5 for a good start and an unfortunately bad ending.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Paradise Lost by John Milton (3/5)

GoodReads says: ‘Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n …’

In Paradise Lost
, Milton produced poem of epic scale, conjuring up a vast, awe-inspiring cosmos and ranging across huge tracts of space and time. And yet, in putting a charismatic Satan and naked Adam and Eve at the centre of this story, he also created an intensely human tragedy on the Fall of Man. Written when Milton was in his fifties – blind, bitterly disappointed by the Restoration and briefly in danger of execution – Paradise Lost’s apparent ambivalence towards authority has led to intense debate about whether it manages to ‘justify the ways of God to men’, or exposes the cruelty of Christianity.


I say: Goodness me, was this a piece of work. I sort of knew that before I started reading it, but a lot of classics are said to be difficult and aren’t, but this definitely fits the bill. And not merely because of the old-timey English or the fact that it’s a poem and therefore the line breaks make no sense, but mostly because Milton goes into such painstaking detail about things and has an annoying overabundant use of similes. Nothing was ever just anything, it had to be compared to three of four things, preferably named things, from Greek mythology, or Roman history, or Jordan geography.

I didn’t know half of the people, events or places he was talking about so it all just went over my head.

Now, this is an epic poem and I like what he’s done with the story of Heaven and Hell, Adam and Eve, Good vs. Evil etc., and I did learn a great deal about some of the ideas I’ve heard of before but never bothered to find out from whence they came (ha!). Likewise with the quotes, there is a richness of amazing quotes here.

There are so many different subjects of discussion here – I’ve just written an essay on the meaning of Satan being able to enter paradise after being banned from Heaven, and the way evil and hell are portrayed – and it’s all incredibly interesting. Even if you’re not a religious person (I’m not, but I love reading about the different religions) it’s still a great tale. I also found interesting how Milton differentiates between Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub and Mammon which people tend to say is the same person.
 
Well, Lucifer and Satan are the same, but even so.

So yeah, as much as I would love to give this a 5/5 because it really is that epic, I simply cannot because of what I mentioned above. I do see myself re-reading this in a few years, and perhaps I’ll find Milton’s way of writing less annoying.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Theban Plays by Sophocles (4/5)

GoodReads says: One of the most famous poets from classical antiquity, Sophocles was one of three important ancient Greek tragedians, the others being Aeschylus and Euripides. Writing during the 5th century BC, Sophocles created some one hundred and twenty three plays during his lifetime, of which only seven have survived in their entirety. In this edition are included the three so-called Theban plays, as translated by Francis Storr, which are widely considered his most important works. These works include "Antigone" the story of its title character, a strong heroine whose complete commitment to familial duty brings her to challenge the will of her king; "Oedipus the King", the legend of Oedipus who is exiled as an infant by his royal father because of a prophesy of patricide and incest; and "Oedipus at Colonus", a drama which finds Oedipus at the end of his life caught between the warring kings of Athens and Thebes who each desire that Oedipus' final resting place be in their respective lands. These classic tragedies are essential reading and their influence on modern literature and drama is a profound one.

I say: I’m going to sort of write a review of all the three plays, and therefore it will contain spoilers, but since I am reading so many plays for my drama course, I can’t really be arsed find the energy to write full reviews of them after having dissected them for class.

So, despite that blurb above, the order of the plays is Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus and then Antigone.

I’m not sure how many people actually know the origin of the term Oedipus Complex – as coined by Sigmund Freud – but I’m thinking quite a few. I had heard of the term and its meaning, and we learned about Oedipus in grade school, but I had never read the play about him. Having done so, it’s clear the term becomes somewhat sketchy – but I’m not going to go into that here. In Oedipus the King Oedipus parents are foretold at his birth that he will murder his father and marry his mother, so they do what most parents would have done (sarcasm) and ask their servant to throw him off a cliff. The servant instead gives the child to a shepherd who raises him as his own. Later in life he murders his father on a road and then marries his mother – unknowingly, of course. They have three children. However, now being king himself he decrees that whoever it was that murdered the previous king will be expelled from Thebes. After a lot of hoopla it comes out that he is the murderer and his wife is his mother, so she commits suicide, he blinds himself and leaves Thebes.  

In Oedipus at Colonus we find out that he has left with his daughter Antigone and they are later joined by Ismene, the other daughter, at the town of Colonus.  His sons, Etyclene and Polyneices are fighting over who should run Thebes, and after Polyneices is run out of town he goes to visit his father. Oedipus, however, curses both his sons to die – which they do at battle – and thus ends this play.

In Antigone the two sisters go back to Thebes after burying their father, and Antigone tries to persuade her sister to bury Polyneices, who, since he died as an exile, is not allowed to have a proper burial. Ismene refuses to help and Antigone buries Polyneices herself. She is caught by her uncle, and now ruling king, and sentenced to die in a cave. Everyone tries to dissuade him from this decision, but he won’t listen to reason, and his son, who is in love with Antigone, hangs himself in the same cave as Antigone. His wife then commits suicide and its proper tragedy all over.

I really enjoyed the first and last plays. The second was ok, but it felt merely like a filler (it was also the last one Sophocles wrote). It was really nice to finally read the original plays about Oedipus, and there are so many different issues brought up; destiny (can we change it?), suicide, pride, beliefs, promises (are they worth it?), and so too much to mention here, and I have to say that I really enjoyed the discussions we had about these characters – just to see the different ways everyone had interpreted the plays.

The characters I connected with the most were Oedipus and Antigone; the first because he did the right thing and left Thebes after finding out what he’d done (with as much pride as he could muster still intact) and evern though I cannot condone him cursing his sons, I understand why he did it; and Antigone because she stood up for what she believed (and what she had promised) and didn’t even let the threat of death dissuade her.

I don’t know if I am, but I wish to have convictions that strong.

Aside, part the first: when I was eleven, my biggest dream was to die a martyr. But at eleven my biggest hero was Macbeth so maybe that point is rather moot.

Having said all that, I recommend everyone to read these plays. Not just because of Freud, but because they are interesting and they bring up a lot of issues (especially the one about honour killing in Antigone, which was a huge issue in Sweden a few years back) and I truly think we can all gain something from the plays.

Aside, part the second: I feel like Stephen Fry going on about how we can all learn from the Greeks. Yay!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Hamlet by William Shakespeare [re-read] (4/5)

GoodReads says: "Hamlet" is the story of the Prince of Denmark who learns of the death of his father at the hands of his uncle, Claudius. Claudius murders Hamlet's father, his own brother, to take the throne of Denmark and to marry Hamlet's widowed mother. Hamlet is sunk into a state of great despair as a result of discovering the murder of his father and the infidelity of his mother. Hamlet is torn between his great sadness and his desire for the revenge of his father's murder

I say: I’ve had to read Hamlet for both of my literature courses within a week of each other, which was a breeze since I’ve read it quite a few times already.

Aside: back when I was a Shakespearean nerd I used to quote Hamlet (and Macbeth) all the time.

The annoying thing with having read, reviewed, written essays and analysed something as much and as deeply as I have Hamlet, is that it becomes increasingly difficult to write a simple review. I mean, I have just analysed why he doesn’t kill his uncle, whether or not he’s crazy, what his actions and inactions mean and what sort of person Hamlet really is, so I’m a bit Hamlet-ed out.

And I doubt anyone wants to read my essays.

Especially since they’re in Swedish.

Having said all that, every time I read Hamlet I seem to go from loving him to hating him to pitying him to wanting to slap him – it all depends on where I am in my life. This time around his brooding didn’t exasperate me at all (at times I refer to him as a whiny bitch) and it felt like we were on the same page. Yes, he does spend a lot of time pondering things, but he is contemplating murder after all, which is something one shouldn’t take too lightly.

Note: I am not condoning murder.

For the people who think that Hamlet is a bore, I wonder if they’ve missed the gravediggers. They are hilarious and always make me snigger. Moreover, ever since I read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard I cannot take either of them seriously. Nor can I help but feel extremely sorry for them. Yes, they were doing the king’s bidding, but I still think Hamlet was too harsh on them. However, he probably didn’t know how little they knew.

Either way, Hamlet is eternally stuck at a 4/5 because of that last scene, which never fails to piss me off. I mean, seriously, Shakespeare.

*shakes head*

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Doghouse Roses: Stories by Steve Earle (4.5/5)

The back says: Earle’s stories reflect the many facets of the man and the hard-fought struggles, the defeats, and the eventual triumphs he has experienced during a career spanning three decades. In the title story he offers us a gut-wrenchingly honest portrait of a nearly famous singer whose life and soul have been all but devoured by drugs. “Billy the Kid” is a fable about everything that will never happen in Nashville, and “Wheeler County” tells a romantic, sweet-tempered tale about a hitchhiker stranded for years in a small Texas town. A story about the husband of a murder victim witnessing an execution addresses a subject Earl has passionately taken on as a social activist, and a cycle of stories features “the American,” a shady international wanderer, Vietnam vet, and sometime drug smuggler – a character who can be seen as Earle’s alter ego, the person he might have become if he had been drafted.

I say: I fell in love with Earle’s prose last year when I read his debut novel I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive, and it’s a shame that it’s taken me this long to read his collection of short stories. As with most short story collections, I find it hard to write a thorough review because some of them I love and others I don’t. With this collection Earle makes it even more difficult because of his ability to write so convincingly in so many different voices.

His talent is immense (and I really should start listening to his music).

What I really love about Earle’s prose is its mixture between the way music gently finds its way into your heart and the way poetry softly breaks it. He is a songwriter so obviously knows how to turn a phrase or two, but prose is something different. Some of these stories are about the “hard men” in, of and by America, but they all have a certain warmth to them that Earle sort of sneaks in there.

Well, maybe not the man in The Witness.

I got drawn into all of these different worlds and latched on to the characters with a concoction of dread, compassion, hilarity and sheer astonishment. The way their tales were weaved sent chills down my spine and I wonder at Earle’s imagination. Some of these stories were beyond magic and above perfection.

I wouldn’t mind living inside of his head for a day or two.

I would have given this the full 5/5 if it weren’t for a couple of stories that I didn’t think were as great as the others, but as far as a collection goes this is nearly flawlessness.

Favourite stories: Jaguar Dance, Taneytown, The Internationale, The Red Suitcase, A Eulogy of Sorts, The Reunion, and The Witness.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) by Karel Čapek (4/5)

My synopsis: A few scientists have managed to create humanlike robots that they ship all over the world to do the menial work that humans don’t want to. Fast forward ten years in the future: the robots have acquired souls and revolt against the humans, leading to dire consequences.

I say: I was watching a rerun of QI the other day and came across the episode where the glorious host Stephen Fry explains that the word “robot” comes from the play R.U.R. by Karel Čapek. Being the knowledge-hungry nerd that I am, I just had to read the play.

And so I did.

The play consists of an introduction, three scenes and a short epilogue. In the introduction, we are introduced to Helena Glory, the daughter of the president, and also the president of the Humanity League, who visits the factory that makes the robots, Rossum’s Universal Robots, in order to convince them to shut down their operation. She believes that the robots should be treated like people. While there, all the six humans that run the factory fall in love with her, and she finally agrees to marry one of them, Harry Domain, the general manager.

In the following acts it is ten years later and Helena has just found out that one of the experimental robots, Radius, is apparently malfunctioning. However, it turns out that he is revolting. In her desire to humanise the robots, Helena has convinced one of the scientists to secretly give the new robots souls, and now they have realised that they are better than humans and are in process to extinct them. Out in the world (the factory is located on an island) the revolt has already begun, and the scientists are considering giving the robots different races and languages to keep them from further rebellion. Unfortunately this idea has come to them too late and the island is invaded by more robots.

I realise now that I kind of had to give away more of the plot so that I can give a little side eye to Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot (and the film) for not giving a nod to Čapek since he wrote the plot 30 years earlier. In fact, I cannot believe that this isn’t more known – it has been translated into 30 languages and should therefore be all over the place.

Or maybe it’s just me who’s never heard of it.

Either way, even though I knew what was going to happen I really liked this play, mostly because of the sheer brilliance of Čapek’s imagination. The way he described the robots and how the scientists thought them up was very convincing, as well as the expected revolt – they always have to revolt. The pictures from the production that I’ve seen online are a bit comical. They’re also from 1921 and I would love to see this in a modern production.

The only problem I had with this play was the end and its religious overtones. I can understand what Čapek was going for, what with man considering himself God and ultimately being destroyed by his own creation, but it was a bit over the top.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson (3/5)

The back says: 'As I sleep, my mind will erase everything I did today. I will wake up tomorrow as I did this morning. Thinking I'm still a child. Thinking I have a whole lifetime of choice ahead of me ...' Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love - all forgotten overnight. And the one person you trust may only be telling you half the story. Welcome to Christine's life.

I say: A few pages into this I had a sneaking suspicion that I had read it before, or seen a movie with the same plot. It was really unnerving because I knew what was going to happen before it did.

Or maybe the plot was just that predictable.

I like the premise of the novel, and the execution was well-done, but because it didn’t offer any elements of surprise for me, it was kind of boring. Even if Christine had lost all of her memories, I’m not sure I bought her level of helplessness. Nor did I buy her naivety. It was the small things, like not knowing what a mobile phone was or how to use it, how disoriented she was when she ran out of the house and almost got hit by a car, and the way she blindly believed everything she was told. Now I know that she may not have any reason to mistrust her husband or doctor, but it just seems so odd to me that she initially just went along with everything she was told.

She kept making excuses for everyone.

We are not told what type of person she was before she lost her memory, but I can’t get over how she never questioned not having anyone in her life beside her husband.

Having said all that, how ludicrously detailed was her journal? I know that some people have great memories, and this is after all merely fiction, but I simply cannot believe that she remembered all those conversations word for word. Also, was she writing in shorthand? Sometimes she’d write pages and say that she only had a few minutes.

Impossible.

The mere fact that I kept focusing on these minor details are an indication of little I invested in the story. Like I said, it felt like I already knew what was going to happen before it did, and I was pretty much reading to find out if I was right.
 
And that cheesy ending.
 
Ugh.

So yeah, 3/5 because it was a nice idea, and it was nicely written, just a bit too predictable.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (3/5)

The back says: “Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.”

Los Angeles PI Philip Marlowe is working for the Sternwood family. Old man Sternwood, crippled and wheelchair-bound, is being given the squeeze by a blackmailer and he wants Marlowe to make the problem go away. But with Sternwood’s two wild, devil-may-care daughters prowling LA’s seedy backstreets, Marlowe’s got his work cut out – and that’s before he stumbles over the first corpse.

I say: If it weren’t for that damn 100 Classics Challenge and that damn Dorothy Zbornak of The Golden Girls (who was obsessed with detective stories) I would never have touched this novel, and could have gone on with my life having missed nothing.

Because, to me, this was nothing.

Or maybe just a tad ridiculous.

Characters like Marlowe are the reason I don’t read detective stories because they make it all seem so absurdly impossible to believe the outcome. How do they know all the things they know, and why don’t they ever show enough clues? Maybe I’m too thick to get it, but some of the plot here was too over the top.

Now, Marlowe himself was a rather decent guy – I liked him – but all the other scame across as caricatures. The way those Sternwood daughters behaved; all the gangsters and seedy characters; the silent but all-knowing butler; the dying father who knew more than he let on, etc. bored me to tears and I couldn’t wait to get to the end to rid myself of these people.

Ugh.

In all fairness, I don’t enjoy this type of literature, which is why I’ve given it a 3/5, because as far as detective stories goes I suppose it was alright. The writing was very old-timey, which I liked for the most part, and the f word was censured out, which took me by surprise. The slang became somewhat of a novelty, but what I couldn’t stand was the all similes.

“Like and undertaker dry-washing his hands” and “like a scarecrow’s empty pockets” are the only ones I can still remember, but they were sprinkled all over the place, much to my annoyance.

All in all, it was a short read that didn’t give me much pleasure or grief. It left me a bit meh – which is probably one of the worst thing a book can do.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

All She Ever Wanted by Patrick Redmond (3.5/5)

The back says: Only the weak fall in love. The strong survive on their own.

Tina was weak once: a scrawny, vulnerable child, deserted by her father, bullied at school, an object of derision and fun. Not any longer. Now she's Chrissie. Bold, self-reliant, beautiful. Girls envy her. Men desire her. She is everything she ever wanted to be and nothing, especially a man, will ever be allowed to change that.

But whether she likes it or not, Chrissie is also human. When love does enter her life, unexpectedly, shockingly, it threatens this carefully-crafted personality she has worked so hard to create.

And nothing can ever be allowed to do that. Control must be maintained and love must be on her terms. No matter how dreadful those terms might be...

I say: I read this in two sittings (I had to break to eat dinner) because I really wanted to find out who did what to whom. The story starts off with a suspect about to be interrogated by the police, so we know that something serious has happened; since the police refer to the brutal crime that has been committed. Usually I hate stories that begin like this, also it wasn’t listed as a thriller in the online book store (or I’d never have bought it), but as I just wanted something to read that wouldn’t require much thought from my part, I went on with it.

And I’m kind of glad I did because it wasn’t so bad.

The story starts with have Christina – Tina – sailing with her father and the love is obvious between them.  Her mother doesn’t really pay her any mind, everyone at school bullies her, and the only people who seem to care for her are her aunt Karen and her two children Adam and Sue. When her father disappears things get bad at home; her mother blaming Tina for everything. Until one day when Tina sticks up to a bully and vows to never be treated like a victim again.

Dun dun dun duuuun...

So far, so predictable.

We fast forward a couple of years and Christina – now Chrissie – is rather successful, gorgeous and plays any man that crosses her path. They can’t be trusted. But then she meets Jack, the guy that changes everything and we follow her through the emotions.

Just like it says on the tin.

What it didn’t say on the tin was how vividly Redmond describes Tina’s feelings when she is being bullied. All her thoughts, fears and distress just jumped off the pages and made me remember my own childhood. It was awful – the reminiscing, not my childhood. I saw so much of myself in Tina, and maybe that’s one reason why that initial part of the story is what hit me the most. The other reason is that there were so many emotions on every page; the bullying, the longing for her father, the jealousy of her cousins, the fighting with her mother. All of it was so powerful I was really excited about how this was going to end.

But then we got to Chrissie who turned out to be boring and one-dimensional, and the story just sort of fizzled out. All of the characters were predictable, there was no depth to any of them, and even the dialogue felt stilted. Yes, there were a few witty jabs here and there, but in the end I was just reading to find out what happened to Tina.

And then when I did find out, I was all a bit meh and preachy.

Honestly, the second part of the book read like a mixture between a bad thriller and a chick-lit/flick all wrapped up in thinly veiled morality. The diary entries, clips from newspapers and interviews with relatives were supposed to add to the whole whodunit feel, but after a while they started to annoy me. By then I had checked out of the story and I had an idea of who it was - I was right, btw - but In the end it unfortunately just felt like there was a lot of repetition.

Yes, we get it: bad parenting leads to scarred adults (who will turn into emotionally disturbed psychos).

So yeah, 3.5/5 because I loved the compelling beginning, and all in all it wasn’t a bad read (if you are able to turn your mind off and ignore all mentioned above).

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky (5/5)

The back says: Prince Myshkin returns to Russia from an asylum in Switzerland. As he becomes embroiled in the frantic amatory and financial intrigues which centre around a cast of brilliantly realised characters and which ultimately lead to tragedy, he emerges as a unique combination of the Christian ideal of perfection and Dostoevsky's own views, afflictions and manners. His serene selflessness is contrasted with the worldly qualities of every other character in the novel. Dostoevsky supplies a harsh indictment of the Russian ruling class of his day who have created a world which cannot accomodate the goodness of this idiot.

I say: I cannot even know where to begin to explain how much I love this book, and how deeply I fell in love with Myshkin. This book is just pure perfection of immeasurable amounts of layers for discussion, it’s an instant favourite and I’m already looking forward to reading it again.

And again, and again, as it goes.

As with most things Dostoevsky, The Idiot deals with everything that concerns human life; religion, philosophy, love, hate, crime, revenge, society, class, etc. all set within the Russia that I have come to love (and long for) and presented with a language that is moving, witty, intelligent and just plain captivating.

I had a hard time putting this down, and even when I had finished it I wanted to start right over again.

One of the main questions is, as the title may reveal, whether or not Myshkin really is an idiot. I think every single character in the book both calls him an idiot at least once and then takes it back at a later stage. In my opinion, he was perhaps more of a simpleton than an idiot. He never told a lie, immediately felt remorse when he had inadvertently hurt someone, believed in the goodness in everyone, and even though he knew that people were taking advantage of him he didn’t feel the need to call them out on it. As I see it, the people in the novel were so cynical that, when faced with his honest and gentle nature, they were only able to liken him to a child or an idiot.

Yes, he did make a few mistakes, but they were all based on his trusting nature and want to please everyone.

There are, as with all of Dostoevsky’s novels, an abundance of carefully and brilliantly carved out characters – too many to mention here – and what I particularly love about them was their unpredictability. Well, some of them did act according to a specific formula, but there were so many twists and turns and secrets that I was so lost in the story I never wanted to get out. The basis of the plot is Myshkin returning to St Petersburg after spending some years in a Swiss institution. Soon after his arrival he becomes the central part in a couple of love triangles concerning a “fallen, kept woman” and a young girl from a very good family. Because of his kind and gentle nature he is unable to properly discern what to do, all the while being taken advantage of by not so innocent bystanders.

Did I mention that I love this?

The only two things that brought me some annoyance were when the narrator got too familiar (I cannot stand that) and when a dying young man had his last words to the world read out (it was just too much in one go). So, 5/5 for this masterpiece and I look I can’t wait to go back to Dostoevsky’s Russia to meet Myskin again.