Monday, 19 May 2014

Rumpole à la Carte - John Mortimer

This was my first foray into the Rumpole series, but I found that, apart from the occasional (footnoted) reference to the events of previous stories, it didn’t really spoil my enjoyment. Characters are introduced succinctly but enough that you get the gist of their personality, even if they’re new to you.

Rumpole’s narrative voice is slightly pompous, but benevolently sarcastic and willing enough to laugh at himself as well as others. It reminded me rather of P G Wodehouse, whose narrators manage to turn trivial events into amusing anecdotes. While each short story centres around the conclusion of a court case he’s involved in, the settings and characters vary enough to maintain interest, and the narrator remains likeable throughout.

It’s not the book to read if you’re looking for excitement, but it is a charming and amusing set of short stories, ideal to dip into with a cup of tea and guaranteed to leave you in a good mood.

Next up: The Final Sacrament, by James Forrester

Thursday, 15 May 2014

All the time in the world

This week's Booking Through Thursday is:

If you had all the time in the world, what would you read?

The obvious answer is: everything!

One thing I really want to get through is Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series - I've got novels 1-7 and have only made it through the first two so far. Other than that, pretty much everything.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Plot or characters?

This week’s Booking Through Thursday is:

Which is more important when you read — the actual story or the characters? I’ve read books with great plots, but two-dimensional characters, and I’ve read multi-layered characters stuck in clunky stories, and I’m sure you have, too. So which would you rather focus on, if you couldn’t have both?

The obvious answer is that both are important – a great novel wouldn’t be great without memorable characters and a plot to drive it along. If I had to choose just one, though, I think I’d go for realistic, three-dimensional characters, much as I hate reading Virginia Woolf and other purely character-based novels. Having interesting characters to get behind is such a vital part of a novel, though. Without that, you spend the whole time frustrated at the lack of them, and that spoils it even if it is a well-crafted plot. At least rounded characters who don’t end up achieving much is true to real life.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

Sunday, 4 May 2014

The Prestige - Christopher Priest

Having seen the film adaptation of The Prestige some years ago, I thought I knew what to expect from the book. I soon found out, however, that it was a rather loosely based adaptation, with the main characters and premise transplanted into an almost entirely different plot. Not that it wasn’t good – I remember enjoying it and being surprised by the ending, even if I had a lot of difficulty telling Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale apart.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have to say that I prefer the book – as with most film adaptations, a lot of depth was lost in translation to the screen. The novel is narrated by four different characters – two Victorian illusionists, and their modern-day descendants. With each retelling of events, we learn more about what occurred, and the differences in perspective between characters are clearly shown. The reader can also get a better insight into each character individually, as we read their views (in the form of dairies or notes, in the case of the illusionists), and it is interesting to see the parallels between the two men who make themselves sworn enemies.

It’s explicitly stated in the novel that Borden and Angier’s feud really is petty, and that both regret it at some point. For me, this adds a poignancy to the fact that they helped to ruin each others’ lives for no major purpose. The repercussions of the illusionists’ actions on their descendants 100 years later also frames the narrative in a way that (if I remember rightly) is lacking in the film.

The results of operating the device Angier has Tesla create for his magic trick are less melodramatic than in the film, but more spine-chilling for all that. Priest creates a hint of the unnatural as well as the scientific, evoking almost an H G Wells-like feel by the end as the full repercussions of Angier’s use of the machine are felt.

As I expected events to pan out the way they did in the film adaptation, parts of the novel were a genuine surprise to me. I realised after finishing that, as with any good magic trick, I hadn’t been given enough information to fully explain events, but that, in the midst of the action, I hadn’t even noticed.

Well worth reading if you’re a fan of the film, or even if you’re not. And if you enjoyed reading this, watch the film! It’s different enough that it’ll still surprise you.

Next up: Rumpole à la Carte, by John Mortimer

Saturday, 3 May 2014

The Way of Shadows - Brent Weeks

This was one of those books you really can’t put down, and keep thinking about even once you’re finished.

Azoth is a young boy trying to survive in the brutal world of the slum guilds, who dreams of becoming a wetboy (assassin aided by innate magical ability) like the legendary and fearless Durzo Blint. He manages to get taken on as Blint’s apprentice, and grows up in a world of intrigue, suspicion and plotting in his new identity as Kylar Stern, dispossessed nobleman. We see Kylar/Azoth’s progression from vulnerable urchin to professional killer, and his struggles to keep those he loves safe in a dangerous world.

The only negative thing I could say about The Way of Shadows is that sometimes the wide range of cultures that meet in the novel result in so many different cultures, titles, regions, and legends coming together that it becomes difficult (or did for me) to remember all of them. That said, the rich and diverse background to the novel really does give a sense of the metropolis in which the novel is set. It’s quite possible the reason I had difficulty remembering things was because I did most of the reading on night shifts, where I was sleepy and frequently interrupted by the need to do work.

There is a wonderful intricacy in the way in which many different characters’ stories intertwine, and in the way the consequences of someone’s actions change the course of another character’s life. While the focus is on the protagonist, parts of the prose are written from other points of view, which adds to the sense of an interweaving pattern.

Throughout the novel the action is fast-paced and compelling, if vivid and gruesome at times. Plot twists and surprised leap out frequently, not just at the end, and the reader is drawn in, wanting to discover more. There’s an ambiguity to it that feels very human, rather than attempting to justify Kylar’s choice of career on a moral level to make him likeable as a character. It isn’t just a story about a boy becoming an assassin, it’s a story about hatred, love, cruelty, betrayal, and redemption, and it’s well worth reading.

Next up: The Prestige, by Christopher Priest