Sunday, 13 December 2015

Thinking about birds and bees

I've just updated my MA tumblr blog- only been 16 months! - and in it I used a metaphor about writing ideas and birds.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Reviews: 'The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry' and 'Perfect' by Rachel Joyce

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Joyce's debut novel is a work of art that explores how we should look at our lives, forgive ourselves and others for the past, and make the most of our future.

Joyce writes fluently and effortlessly, there are no awkward sentences, no jolting dialogue to disturb the flow of this read. By making her protagonist a retired man we can look back at his life, understand his decisions, feel for him over his mistakes, and look forward to a new beginning as he makes both the physical and metaphorical journey to a form of salvation. But do not think this is some sentimental piece of smulch: it is never cloying, never sickeningly sweet.

In 'Harold Fry' Joyce has achieved what Paolo Coelho set out to do in 'The Alchemist': give us hope and incentive to make the most of our lives. What Joyce doesn't have to do, but Coelho relied heavily on, is regurgitate the teachings of religious texts in an overt way. At the end of this book I felt that I had learned something, without it being rammed down my throat, that I could change my life if I acted upon it.

This is an enjoyable read that I would highly recommend.

View all my reviews PerfectPerfect by Rachel Joyce
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I chose this book as I had just finished Joyce's 'The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry', which I really enjoyed.

To begin with I enjoyed the read, but I became irritated with one of the characters which put a bit of a dampner on the experience. The character's flaws were necessary to make the plot and storyline what they are, the irritation is purely of my own making - I find both fictional and real people like that incredibly annoying! - but the novel was saved by the way in which Joyce writes.

Joyce has a lovely use of language that means that you can trot through the book at a decent pace, feeling neither rushed nor as if the story has become lethargic. Her background in writing radio plays is evident in the way she keeps the storyline moving.

The Perfect life is, as we all should know, not attainable, though sometimes we get close, and Joyce shows that behind the curtains all is not as it would seem. 1972, when time was adjusted by 2 seconds, fractures Byron's seemingly perfect world. However, we are shown and Byron comes to see that, 2 seconds or not, perfection is not within the grasp of his family. The latent snobbery of the school mothers reminded me of Marjory from the Good Life except here there weren't any laughs.

The ending was particularly poignant and, as with 'Harold Fry', we are reminded that whilst life is far from perfect and we all make mistakes there is still hope.



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Monday, 13 April 2015

Review: Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

Elizabeth Is MissingElizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dementia is my greatest fear. To gradually lose your mind, for your memories to become disjointed and your ability to communicate to deteriorate, as you become a completely different person to those who know and love you, and to yourself - I can't imagine how frightening that must be.

Healey does well to put across the deterioration of the mind of Maud, in her 80s and concerned about the whereabouts of her friend Elizabeth. Her continuing concern - Elizabeth is Missing is written on little notes stuffed in pockets, her bag and around the house - is not just for Elizabeth but for the solution to a mystery that dates back almost 70 years.

The clues to the latter are woven into Maud's increasingly random comments and questions, as she fails to recognise her daughter and granddaughter. I worked out the solution to the mysteries fairly early on, but that did not stop me wanting to read on. I was interested in how Healey could present the solution without betraying her characters - she managed it.

Healey manages it because she writes so well. The prose flows, unlike Maud's jerky and repetitive mind, and I read this book in less than a day as the words swept me along. Ordinarily, I am frustrated by people who repeat themselves - I'm well known for sighing like Maud's daughter Helen as a story is retold for the umpteenth time - but this was one unreliable narrator I didn't want to turn away from.

Healey portrays Maud with dignity, showing Maud's own frustration at not being able to remember simple words, not just the frustration of those around her. The end is particularly poignant and saddening, a reminder that whilst old mysteries can be solved, there is no turning back from this awful illness.

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Sunday, 1 March 2015

Pandora's Box of Writing

I recently opened my W-I-P box, my personal Pandora's box.
The MiniaturistThe Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A well-researched historical novel is a pleasure to read from a such a viewpoint, as was this work by Jessie Burton.

Burton also uses language well, with actions and adjectives ascribed to things you would not normally associate them with. This kept me hooked, the pace of the book without such skill would have seen it gathering dust on the bedside table.

The pleasure I found in Burton's writing also saved it from the mass of messages she was trying to impart. Feminism, homosexuality, racism, puritanism and capitalism were all combined in the cauldron with a sprinkling of ghostliness in the form of the eponymous miniaturist; the pot was in danger of boiling over. Burton did manage to keep the lid on it, but I think her recipe would have benefited from an ingredient or two less.

The feminism theme was heralded with the introduction of Peebo, the protagonist's parakeet. A caged bird: how free will it be allowed to fly, will it be burned like Coco in Wide Sargasso Sea, or will it remain in a gilded cage? The reader is under no illusion- this is a feminist text: an unmarried sister, a young woman who will readily flaunt the accepted rules of womanhood and a maid who steps beyond the usual limits for a servant. Then there is the cabinet-size replica house - a doll's house - the nod to Ibsen and the strong-willed Nora. All it needed was a madwoman to be discovered in the attic and we would have the full house.

As for characterisation, the female characters are believable but they are nothing new. Nella is young, naive yet strong-minded and liberal, whilst Marin is the archetypal austere, dominating, unmarried sister dressed in black who runs the household on a shoe-string despite their wealth. Johannes, on the other hand, is rather two-dimensional: he has his work and his vices and I cannot understand where his pleasure in Nella comes from. As for Otto, he is shepherded in and out of the plot and we do not really get to understand the character who is so pivotal.

All this seems rather negative for a book that I have given three stars to, but these are really my only bug-bears (other than understanding the true size of the miniatures - how could she see Jack's doll on the doorstep?). It is beautifully written, the jacket blurb and copious reviews that adorn the inside pages of the book are not wrong there. Whilst slow-paced there is sufficient intrigue to keep the reader wanting more, with some surprising twists and turns, and some less so.


An enjoyable read, but not as powerful as historical feminist pieces such as those by Sarah Waters.

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Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Quick Review of 'Dancing for the Hangman' by Martin Edwards

Dancing For The HangmanDancing For The Hangman by Martin Edwards
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very well researched book that gives a fictionalised autobiographical account, interspersed with extracts from actual records of the events, of Crippen's life leading up to the murder or disappearance of his wife Cora, aka Belle Elmore.

A certain amount of sympathy is elicited for Crippen, and questions whether he truly did murder his wife, a crime for which he was hanged.

The book moves along at a good pace and the characters are very well drawn with both Cora and Crippen depicted as dreamers who would never quite make the grade, try as they might. Crippen was part of the homeopathic quackery that was big business in the late Victorian period onwards, whilst Cora dreamed of being an operatic star, subsequently downgrading to vaudeville and failing even at that. Not only is the book a look at the events leading up to Crippen's 'crime', conviction and hanging, but a light touch look at Victorian/Edwardian society in London.

An enjoyable read.

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