Thursday, 24 March 2011

Review: 'Never Let Me Go' by Kazuo Ishiguro

Date finished: 9 March 2011

Rating: 3.5 stars

Format: eBook

Source: Bought (December 2010)

Genre: Literary fiction; Dystopian fiction

Published: in March 2005 by Faber and Faber

The Synopsis (taken from waterstones.com)

Kathy, Ruth and Tommy were pupils at Hailsham - an idyllic establishment situated deep in the English countryside. The children there were tenderly sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe they were special, and that their personal welfare was crucial. But for what reason were they really there? It is only years later that Kathy, now aged 31, finally allows herself to yield to the pull of memory. What unfolds is the haunting story of how Kathy, Ruth and Tommy, slowly come to face the truth about their seemingly happy childhoods - and about their futures. Never Let Me Go is a uniquely moving novel, charged throughout with a sense of the fragility of our lives.

The Review

I originally bought this after reading a review of it over at The Book Stop . Then the film, that I didn't even know existed, started being advertised in the UK so this one got bumped up my reading schedule to avoid my inadvertently being dragged to see the film before having read the book. I hate that...

The novel is told from the perspective of Kathy, who is a 'Carer'. Facing an end to her time in this role, Kathy reminisces about her life and her experiences and ponders her immediate future. The tone of Kathy's voice is perfect and refreshingly honest. She has made mistakes and handled situations badly and may even have some regrets. One thing that can be annoying are characters who respond to every put-down with a perfectly timed sarcastic barb or every romantic advance with just the right gesture/statement. Kathy is nothing like that and it made the book so much more enjoyable and, ultimately, powerful.

Pace is another aspect that Ishiguro has managed to judge perfectly. The story doesn't move quickly but that is to its credit. This novel has a fascinating debate at its core and without the time dedicated to character development and the subtleties that can be incorporated as a result. Readers can watch the characters grow from young children to adults in such detail and with such consistent accuracy that I found myself remembering

At Hailsham, though, something always feels not quite right. The children are well cared for and educated, with a particular focus on developing their creativity. They are encouraged to grow and create, but absolutely not to be ambitious. It's this kind of hint at a more sinister undertone that drive you on.

Overall: This is absolutely worth a read and I have lost count of the people I have recommended it to so that I can talk to them about it. The writing has some flaws but the plot and moral/scientific twists that are thrown make everything worth while. It's hard to describe how much this book will wrench your heart without ruining it - so just take my word for it and read it!


**If you want to avoid SPOILERS, look away NOW**


I considered reviewing the book without mentioning what I would consider to be a spoiler and in the end decided that I was dying to talk about it so thought I would tag it onto the end.

The subject matter in Never Let Me Go is a moral minefield - the children of Hailsham are "bred" in test tubes using the cells of 'regular' people for the sole purpose of providing organs to those people. Until they are ready to donate, they act as Carers for their friends, watching them excrutiatingly donate their organs until they 'complete'...which obviously doesn't mean that they've done their time and move on to live happily ever after. The realisation that this is what the characters you have come to love were born to...die and nothing much more was a shocking one and the last quarter of the book is utterly devastating when the revelations just keep on...

While this was unsettling enough as it was, the response of others when they interact with the donors is what is the most disturbing. As though they are happy to reap the benefits of a supply of organs for their loved ones and don't want to consider the source. I think in a society which is driven by genetic development and cures to all kinds of health problems the tale is extremely poignant.


I would love to hear from someone else who has read this one - what did you think about how the story pans out? I could rave on all day about my thoughts and feelings about the issues so if you've read this and have some to share, go right on ahead :)

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Review: 'Thief With No Shadow' by Emily Gee

Date finished: 28 February 2011

Rating: 3 stars

Format: Paperback

Source: Bought (pre-TBR Dare 2010 binge...)

Genre: Fantasy fiction

Published: by Solaris in May 2007

The Synopsis (from Amazon UK)

Melke is a wraith, which means she has the ability to walk unseen. After being forced to steal a necklace, she is hunted down by the victim of the crime, Bastian sal Vere. He explains that the necklace was strung with tears, and that without it, Bastian cannot break the curse that is destroying his family. He orders Melke to regain the necklace, in exchange for her brother to be healed. But she had given the necklace to the salamanders, the fire breathing creatures that live underground. She must risk her own life. Meanwhile, Bastian becomes involved in solving a brutal murder of a young pregnant girl in the town of Theirry.

The Review

This wasn't at all the book that I was expecting it to be. That isn't to say it isn't good; it is. However, I picked it up after having my heart broken by The Girl at the Lion D'Or, expecting some light relief and, I'll admit, a little fantasy frivolity.

The plot was fairly simple but it worked. There weren't any huge surprises so, for me, this was all about the characters and how they interact.

I loved all of the different species in this novel - there was something almost mythical about it and it was fairly unique in that regard. One of the predominant themes of the book, in fact, was inter-species harmony and how the different creatures interact; in particular, the wraiths are spurned by society because they have the ability to become invisible. In typical fashion, the people of Theirry are frightened of the unknown and assume that wraiths will only use their abilities to steal, assassinate and generally do bad things. The ironic part of it all was that Melke was desperate to prove to the Sal Vere family that she was worth more that she's more than a 'thieving wraith', all while trying to make up for having stolen from them...Call it a self-fulfilling prophecy if you will...

The concept of family is a particularly strong one in this book which was good and well used to incorporate some moral questions along the 'what would you do to save a family member?' lines. Romantic love is less well used and almost seems a bit contrived towards the end (perhaps I'm becoming unromantic in old age...). Bravery and what it means to have courage and pride were major features too so thematically, this book is very strong.

While I always love the study of characters and the societies in which they live, it was a shame that more wasn't made of the fantasy aspects of this book. The mentions of the fantastical creatures were there but partially glossed over and really only used as an object of fear (inflicting some fairly horrific 'punishments' along the way...).

As a minor health warning, there are absolutely some "adult themes" in this book and I certainly wouldn't be giving it to even a young teen...I'm 24 and found some of it a tad disturbing! (Ok, so I'm a wimp when it comes to horror but I'm not squeamish as a rule...)

Overall: I find myself unsure of this book - I think I would recommend it to fans of the genre because it is unique. I definitely wouldn't recommend it to someone new to fantasy fiction because it uses some of the more usual elements in some unusual ways that might be off-putting.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Readalong #2: 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' by D.H.Lawrence

I had a great time with the Rebecca Readalong in January (hosted by Allie at A Literary Odyssey) so I've been keeping a good old eye out for another that I can participate in. That would have been easier had I not sworn myself out of book buying until the end of March...mainly I've been waiting for another readalong that relates to a book that I already own but have yet to read.

Unlikely though that coincidence seemed, April's readalong is...


I got this as a free eBook when I first got my eReader but just haven't got round to it yet.

My college English teacher was a huge Lawrence fan and we read excerpts of Women in Love every time a sentence was vaguely relevant to what we were supposed to be studying. To the extent, in fact, that I never managed to summon the desire to read all of those excerpts in their proper order! This is a way of getting to read some Lawrence without having to face a demon so of course I'm in!

Looking forward to reading such a scandalous novel! (Ah, nobody does offended sensibilities like the Brits, eh?)

If you want to sign up and go all risque for April too, just head over to the sign-up post here.


You know you want to...

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Review: 'The Girl at the Lion D'Or' by Sebastian Faulks

Date finished: 23 February 2011

Rating: 4.5 stars

Format: Paperback

Source: Gift (I think...)

Genre: Literary fiction

Published: in January 1998 by Vintage

The Synopsis (taken from waterstones.com)

A beautifully controlled story of love and conscience, will and desire, which begins when a mysterious young girl arrives to take up the post at the seedy Hotel du Lion D'Or in a small French town in the mid 1930s.

The Review

I have read and enjoyed a number of Faulks' novels (i.e. not just Birdsong...) and yet for some reason, after my dad passed on a 'spare' copy he had acquired somehow, I allowed it to languish on my shelves in our apartment, moved house and allowed it to languish some more (approximately one year) on my new shelves in our house. I definitely enjoyed all of Faulks' other books but this one just never grabbed me. I have no clue why. Having finally read it, I have absolutely no clue why!

There are so many reasons why this book is so much more than it seems but it largely comes down to some superb characterisation and exceptionally sensitive writing. I don't remember reading a book with characters that felt so real - I found that each character was a complex blend of admirable qualities and flaws, just like they should be. Take Anne, for example. I started the book feeling almost protective towards her because she appeared so frail. Her fragility is something I felt continued and yet she avoids being a stereotype because her clear issues with love and trust. There were times when she demonstrated a remarkable strength and then others when I just wanted to shake her and drum some self-awareness and self-respect into her.

The most poignant moments for me, however, were those featuring Clare, Charles' suffering wife. Her private heartbreak and stoicism are devastating to read, sidelined as they are and revealed every so often through the eyes of Clare herself. For a character who is involved so little, she adds a balance to the story that tempers the eager tone of Anne. Ordinarily in stories with love triangles, the author takes the easy route and makes 'the wife' almost to blame for some reason. You know the type: the unfeeling/absent/non-Stepford wives who are peripheral and allow us to suspend our moral fibre just enough to believe that the 'true' love of the protaganists isn't wrong, somehow, but virtuous.

Interestingly, there are also some political thoughts and historical notes intertwined too and the era shows through most in the post-war sense of life and freedom that seeps into the character of Charles. For the most part it works but occasionally I found myself reading something that I felt wasn't quite made relevant and made a conversation stilted. Its great as a support to the characters' situations though and only serves to make the story more real.

Overall: This novel is outstanding - not necessarily because of the plot but because the characters are achingly well drawn and I found myself utterly believing in them. There are entertaining moments and some heartbreaking ones. This is very much a book about people and I would recommend it to anyone looking for an intense look at shattering love.

This was the second of my books towards the TBR Pile challenge and another great read - so far, its been a tremendously successful endeavour! :)

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Weekly Geeks: Long Live the Word


This weekend's Weekly Geeks post is about words. We all love them, we all read more of them than the average person (I have no proof for that, it's just a good sweeping statement for a Sunday evening!) but which do we hate and which would we be desperate to save?

As they say over at Weekly Geeks:

"Words make up our daily life, some we we hate, some are never to be spoken and some are so over used we wish they would just disappear"

This week's task? As follows:

1. Visit SaveTheWords. All the words there, looking pretty in the collage, are redundant and in line for a cull. Adopt a word (it's free, in case you're wondering...).

I chose ANTIPELARGY - "mutual or reciprocal kindness" - I figured that there can never be too many words for kindness of any kind, so let's keep one more!

2. What is your pet peeve word?

This is probably a Yorkshire thing but it gets on my nerves just thinking about it: for some reason, a large portion of the county's population (which I am not originally from, therefore leaving me able to see the glaring idiocy...) confuse 'learn' with 'teach'. For example, while in a previous job, my boss' response to a colleague's lack of system knowledge was, "Don't worry, I'll learn you". Nonsense!! Or more accurately, not necessarily nonsense but certainly not the sentence she intended.

I can't bear it. It makes my skin crawl and my heart break.

I also hate the word 'moist'. But that's because I'm infantile and the sound of the word is just...icky!

3. What is a word you adore, or a word that you feel isn't used enough?

This one is harder. I love the word 'impudent' because it just sounds lovely and old English and is great as a telling-off word ("Don't be so impudent!" just sounds good! I realise that's weird...)

What else? Erm, I like the word 'soliloquy' because it a) reminds me of learning about Shakespeare at school, which I loved, and b) it just sounds nice!

Neither are used very regularly so I'm going with those as, for some reason, all words are escaping my brain before I can grasp them...

4. What is your opinion on word culling, and the rise on 'text speak' that's happening now?

Although I think word culling is sad, I can unfortunately see the purpose. There will always be texts in which you can read the more 'old-fashioned' words and the internet for translating the more obscure. Dictionaries can only hold so much, however, and language must progress. I occasionally encounter 19th century deeds in my day job and am awed by the volume of words used to say the simplest thing! It is elegant and charming but by golly is it hard to make sense of!

Really, I don't think we can help but move along with a change in language culture - I know when I was younger, even, that I would use words in a manner that would make my parents stop in confusion. (Incidentally, when did 'sick' become a good thing...?!). Much though I love a good old 'hereinafter' or 'thou' and enjoy dallying with them when I have the time, perhaps I won't start re-integrating them into my speech...

I adore the flowery language of bygone days and think that the limited vocabulary of the modern world (I'm old, evidently...) is a shame. That said, I don't intend to start talking like a Dickensian character - nobody will understand me and I will fast become lonely. So, because it's Sunday and I'm in a relaxed state pre-working week, I can see the motivation for culling but that doesn't mean it saddens me any less - bit of fence sitting, anyone?

Maybe do a poll and cull those words whose meaning the least people know. Make it a poll of sentimental readers, actually, just to be on the safe side...and limit the amount of the cull, obviously...maybe 100 words maximum...every 100 years...

What are your favourite words? What word makes your ears hurt? Any thoughts on word culling?!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

How is it nearly Spring already?!


Ah, the mornings are getting lighter and the snow has gone away (for the time being...). What could be wrong with that? This month has been extraordinarily busy at work which has definitely impacted on my reading stats - ploughing through reams of law and cases during the day sometimes means I can't face any more reading by the time I get home! Anyway, here are the numbers:

Complete books read: 4


Pages read: 1,493


This month, they were:

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse
The Girl at the Lion D'Or by Sebastian Faulks
Thief with No Shadow by Emily Gee


Men v. Women: My end of January post saw the dawning of the realisation that I had all of the books I had read were written by female authors. This month, I evened that out to 50:50 unintentionally, so that's nice to know!


eBook v. Paper: Again, I read three paperbacks to only one eBook - I maintain that this largely owing to the fact to read from what I own before I buy anything new. So although I miss my lovely little eReader, he'll take a front seat again when I've ploughed through my shelves a little bit. I think the mark of how much I miss reading on it is a good sign! I'm truly converted!

As ever, I wish I'd read more...I'm looking forward to a nice holiday to catch up on some hours!


Challenges


The TBR Dare: I so nearly broke and bought some books this weekend but then I looked at my shelves and eLibrary and remembered exactly why I signed up to this in the first place!! I reigned it in and am having a lovely time reading from books I've been stashing for ages!



The TBR Pile Challenge: I've read another of my pre-chosen 2011 books this month (The Girl at The Lion D'Or) and it was just brilliant! I've yet to write a review but, when I do, it will be glowing - it was such a beautiful book and I can't believe how much it's overlooked and neglected when held up against Faulks' other novels. Another TBR Pile challenge success! :)


Enjoy the dawn of Spring everyone! Bring on the daffodils!! (What? They're one of my favourite things about Spring...)