Thursday, 27 November 2014


This week's Booking Through Thursday is:

How much do you actually read? Few of us get as much time as we’d really LIKE for reading, but do as much as we can, so … how many books do you read? How many hours a day?

I'd say I get through 4-5 books a month, on average - obviously that depends on how long or tedious those books are. In terms of time spent, on workdays I read through my lunch break, so that's 30 mins, and at weekends I try to spend an hour or so reading in a café. If I have to do any travelling on the train I always read through those journeys, which gets me through books a lot faster. I'd like to read more, but having to go to work (and my video game habit) gets in the way a bit.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The Face of a Stranger - Anne Perry

This novel really stood out for me among other detective fiction. For one thing, it begins very unexpectedly – with the detective having entirely lost his memory following a carriage accident in which he suffered head injuries. William Monk’s sense of loss and his discomfort with feeling at odds with his former self are portrayed well throughout the novel. The other thing that sets it apart is the fact that, as well as the central mystery, this story is very much about people. They aren’t merely pieces in a puzzle, but feel like well-rounded characters with a past and a future. You really come to care about their fates in a way that I don’t often find in detective series.

The only negative thing I have to say about The Face of a Stranger is that it does tend towards being anachronistic in its values. Monk feels contempt towards his former self’s apparent social mobility, now thinking of the upper classes as no better than the lower, and the female protagonist, Miss Hester Latterly, is predictably independent with no patience for convention. Both characters are well-drawn and compelling, but neither really seem to suit the environment in which they’re placed. That said, it’s very hard to find historical novels that don’t modernise the views of the central characters to some extent.

The central mystery itself is cleverly done, and very human rather than being a contorted logical puzzle, which fits the tone of the novel very well. Definitely worth reading!

Next up: Half Moon Street by Anne Perry

Friday, 21 November 2014

Better endings

This week's Booking Through Thursday is:

If you could change the ending of any book you’ve read, which would it be and how would you change it?

The one that stands out most for me is Charles Pallister's The Quincunx. I read it some years ago, and it's a wonderfully thick novel in the style of Charles Dickens. All the way through it was detailed, atmospheric, and featured strong and interesting characters. It felt as though it was leading to a strong, revealing conclusion, but instead ended in an ambiguous, and for me very unsatisfying, way. I'm sure it was done deliberately, but one of the things I really like about nineteenth-century realism is the reassuring fact that you know things will be resolved at the end. Having invested so much time and become so attached to the characters, I felt almost cheated not finding out their endings, and the rest of the novel was so well written that I'm sure it could have been a fantastic ending, if he'd chosen to include it. I feel like it should have ended in a bittersweet manner, or maybe even tragically, but I really wanted closure one way or another.

How about you, what would you choose to change if you could?

Monday, 17 November 2014

Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

I’ve been meaning to read Brave New World for years, and I wish I’d done so sooner – this novel is intriguing, disturbing and surprisingly engaging as well. The reader is shown round a world in which technological progression has reached the point at which babies are replicated in bottles, growth stunted or assisted according to their destined caste, and then conditioned as children to believe as their caste should. Everybody is happy because they have no wish to be anything other than they are – and when they are unhappy, there is the intoxicating drug soma to distract them for a while.

Bernard Marx, however, is a misfit, trying to reject the ideals of instant gratification and mindless enjoyment and to think, and feel, for himself. When he brings a ‘savage’ back from a reservation outside their utopia, questions start to be asked and human passions begin to cause turmoil in the stagnant, content society.

The main characters are well-developed and interesting, as well as the overarching ideas, and the way Huxley’s society in this novel views the human past with revulsion forms a challenging reversal of viewpoint. Brave New World strikes a disturbingly relevant note in our own increasingly materialistic, instant-gratification-demanding world, and really makes you rethink your values.

Overall, very thought-provoking and well worth a read, if you haven’t already. Also, I have no idea what's meant to be on the cover of my edition. I think I can see a face, but maybe I'm just imagining it? Guesses welcome below!

Next up: The Face of a Stranger by Anne Perry

Friday, 14 November 2014

Early birthday present!

I got home from work to find a big Amazon parcel waiting for me - an early birthday present from my brother! I've been trying to improve my French by reading (currently trawling my rather depressing way through Les Fleurs du Mal), so I wanted something a bit lighter and more approachable to be going on with.

Contents consist of:

La Princess de Clèves by Madame de Lafayette
Germinal by Émile Zola
Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant (I loved the film adaptation and have been really wanting to read this one)
Le Chef-d'oeuvre Inconnu by Honoré de Balzac
Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
Le Comte de Monte-Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (which I have read in English but loved so much that I'll happily sit through the whole lot in French as well)

All shiny, new, sharp-edged and exciting!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Absolution by Murder - Peter Tremayne

664AD has to be the earliest-set detective story I’ve read so far. Absolution by Murder is set during the Synod of Whitby, where religious delegates from the rival Christian factions of Rome and Iona met to decide the future of the kingdom of Northumbria. When a visiting Irish abbess is discovered in her room with her throat cut, Sister Fidelma, an Irish religieuse qualified to investigate legal matters in her own country, is asked to find the killer. Alongside a Saxon Brother, Eadulf, she races to uncover the murderer before rumours between the two factions spark a civil war.

Initially I found this novel difficult to get into, as the beginning is extremely heavy on early medieval religious history and politics, and the unfamiliar Saxon names also made it easy for me to mix up some of the characters. Once the action had really started, however, it became much more enjoyable.

Sister Fidelma is a refreshingly strong, forthright female detective, not taking sidekick position to her male counterpart, and refusing to defer to the expectations of the men she interacts with. Apparently this sexual equality is historically accurate, which makes a pleasant change to modern values being copied and pasted onto historical situations.

Overall, rather a slow start, but bear with it and it’s definitely worth it – enjoyable and intriguing reading, with plenty of historical ambiance.

Next up: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Monday, 3 November 2014

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey

I saw the film adaptation almost 10 years ago (wow, now I feel old), so while I had a general idea of what to expect from this novel, my expectations were pretty vague.

Randle McMurphy is a new patient in a somewhat old-fashioned psychiatric ward, taking what he thinks will be the easy way out of a prison sentence. His bravado and stubbornness bring a sense of optimism to the inmates, and, not used to having his freedom restricted, McMurphy engages in an unwise power struggle with the glacial head nurse.

For me the book was more effective than the film, partly because so much takes place within the minds of the characters, and that’s very difficult to portray when all you can see is external action. Also, the film focuses almost exclusively on Jack Nicholson’s character, McMurphy, while the novel is seen through the eyes of the ‘deaf and dumb’ Chief Bromden. As well as McMurphy’s central plotline, we come to understand Bromden’s own past and psychoses, and having the world filtered through his eyes adds another dimension to the story. That said, what I remember of the film was very good indeed, it’s just that I feel this is one of those novels where so much is internal rather than external that much is lost in a film adaptation.

I get the feeling with this one that, if I was studying the novel rather than reading it recreationally, there’s a lot of symbolism and subtext going on – if they’d let us study this during American Literature at university rather than forcing us to read the entire speech made on the Mayflower crossing, I’d have enjoyed the module much more. Even on a surface reading, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a powerful, frustrating and touching story that keeps you thinking long after it’s finished.

Next up: Absolution by Murder by Peter Tremayne