30 August 2009

Blackberry Wine Take 2 (Joanne Harris)

AHHH... I simply cannot muster up the required enthusiasm to review Blackberry Wine properly. Lack of enthusiasm? I hear our devoted readers ask. Pas de problème!

But it is a problem. Last time I panned one of Harris' books I was subject to a vitriolic tirade of derision from Earhart. Harris is one of her favourite authors and the outcome of this argument was that Earhart was right and in the future I will resist dipping my toes in the pool of negative reviews unless I know what I'm talking about.

So now I am sitting here, in my tartan pyjamas, drinking a cup of tea. I bought these pyjamas when I moved over here because I thought they were very English. These, combined with my tea, have been conducive in creating the zen that surrounds me at this very moment. I cannot muster up the energy to be disparaging about Blackberry Wine, knowing it could cause more sisterly tension.

THUS, I will be succinct in my criticisms:
The characters could have all benefited from further development.
Harris has since developed more subtlety in her work but this novel and The Evil Seed demonstrate Harris' earlier tendency to take her imagery and bash the reader over the head with it.
Jay, the protagonist, drinks wine made out of potatoes. I know, I know vodka can be made out of potatoes... but, no, I'm sorry. Wine? Ew.
I do have to commend Harris on her ability to make seemingly innocuous people or events very menacing. She always leaves me feeling slightly unsettled. Do I adore her novels... not particularly. But better to leave me feeling uneasy and jumping at shadows when I walk past the graveyard on my way home than totally unmoved. Apathy is not what I look for in a novel.

Rating: 6/10.

Coming up...

Orlando by Virginia Woolf.
If I Never by Gary William Murning
This Side of Paradise by F.Scott Fitzgerald

27 August 2009

Blackberry Wine (Joanne Harris)

I have just arrived home from the monthly meeting of my writer's group. We get together once a month (hence the monthly) and talk about our writing in a generally insufferable and overly self-indulgent manner. Much red wine is consumed (although the lad I shall refer to as 'H' for confidentiality reasons prefers Guinness... out of a CAN no less) and seedless green grapes are passed around. Now, I may be odd, but I don't see the point of EATING grapes when you can drink the smooshed grapes in your glass and enjoy the resulting effects. So I tend to just stick with the wine and ignore the grapes and spelt crackers (the Ken Follett aspirant is in charge of catering). This may be why I always have trouble finding the tube station at the end of the evening.

I think my other downfall is in consuming several glasses before I go to these seminars. I stress, this is necessary, not merely an indulgence. I simply cannot muster up the enthusiasm for anybody else's work unless I have already been drinking. Then I am the very picture of benevolent attention, nodding, smiling and looking horrified at the appropriate points. If I have not had these few drinks (sigh... generally a bottle) before I go I cannot take my eyes off my watch, waiting for the minutes to tick by so I can talk about my own work. And considering I don't even wear a watch this is particularly rude.

So in light of all that I am going to slightly postpone my review of Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris. It took me three tries to log in to Blogger and that, in my opinion, means I shouldn't blog this evening.

Please applaude my efforts in this post, I have triple checked everything to make sure there are no spelling mistakes, grammatical errors or confusions of tenses, even though the better part of three bottles of a RAWTHER nice Shiraz now lap pleasantly in my stomach.

26 August 2009

The Stranger (Max Frei)

I too am alive!! A quick run down of what has happened to me in the last couple of months:
-some arson
-some surgery
-a general AND a local anaesthetic
-a new job
-AND The Stranger by Max Frei. Really, this book is the main reason for the lack of posting on my behalf. A bit of arson I can handle no problem (I wasn't the arsonist, I was the arsonee); a five hundred page book that never seems to go anywhere...not as easy to get through. And then in preparation for this review, I just looked at the Max Frei entry on Wikipedia and discovered that it is the first of TEN books. That is a lot of not going anywhere.

What first grabbed me about this book was the quote on the cover: "If Harry Potter smoked cigarettes and took a certain matter-of-fact pleasure in administering tough justice he might like Max Frei". In my mind, Max Frei was a combination of Harry Potter, Philip Marlowe and someone from a Neil Gaiman book. Not so. More like a thirty year old insomniac who didn't have any kind of a life until he was transported to a land he first encountered in his dreams and told he had magic powers and made into the 2IC of the secret magical police. The crimes he has to solve are weird, and he seems to develop any magical power which the situation demands. In fact, in this new land ('Echo') it seems Sir Max can do no wrong. Yawn.

I seriously think I have been reading this book for about a month. It is enjoyable enough while I am actually reading it, but when I am not reading it, I have absolutely no motivation to pick it up again. In between sections of this I have read 5 Harry Potter books, a couple of upcoming YA novels (including the new Scott Westerfeld... excitement central), Jane Eyre (again) and The Secret Garden. Page turner this ain't. In fact, I still haven't finished it..I've invested 400 pages worth of time into it, I have to finish it at some point... just don't expect it any time soon.


Author Love: Sadie Jones

This is just a quick post to point you in the direction of this Guardian article on Sadie Jones' new novel Small Wars. I have a special place in my heart for The Outcast, her first novel which was released early 2008. It was the first novel I managed to read through in its entirety without falling asleep following an unfortunate glandular fever episode. I know the covers look a little mass-markety but Jones is a splendid writer who deals with relatively disturbing issues. Below is a review I wrote for the bookshop... short and sweet and not in the slightest verbose... I must have still been sick.

"My initial apprehension before reading this novel came from the comparisons it has had to Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro. I need not have worried, Jones has given us a beautiful yet sparingly written novel about a young boy's childhood after the death of his mother. The subsequent traumatic events are dealt with tastefully and honestly and the characters are incredibly constructed. Corseted to a distant father and immature stepmother, Lewis becomes increasingly alienated from the small Surrey neighbourhood in which they live and seeks stimulation and redemption in seedy London nightclubs. Jones has created a wonderful tale, polishing what is essentially a very basic plot line until it resonates off the pages and can be considered worthy of the comparisons which have been made."

A review of Small Wars will follow shortly.

25 August 2009

Then We Came to the End (Joshua Ferris)

This book is EVERYWHERE. You can't walk into a second-hand bookshop without the offensive neon yellow of the cover jumping out at you. When I first saw Then We Came to the End on Charing Cross Road my reaction was to shy away immediately. The font on the spine looks like a Christopher Brookmyre novel and heavens to Betsy that man hurts my brain. Upon discovering that this was NOT in fact a Brookmyre novel my curiosity was piqued and I picked it up. It then took me a long time to open the covers and have a read. I was worried. One book in that many swap shops is a warning. People do not want this book in the house. It's like when I had to read The Gathering by Isobelle Carmody for English class. The book disturbed me so much I felt compelled to give it away after the exam. Creepy, doomsday teenage fiction set in an ABATTOIR... I did not want it on my bookshelf, giving me goosebumps every time I caught sight of it.

I therefore assumed Ferris' novel to be similar. People do not routinely sell junky, mediocre fiction they purchased for a beach holiday. Those inane titles tend to sit on bookshelves for years, hidden behind The Kite Runner and A Fine Balance, saved for those times when an appendix has ruptured or heart has broken. People sell books that have inherently upset them in some way.

However, I don't know who would be upset by this book. Granted, I haven't finished it. Probably because it was so unbelievably boring that to finish it would have been a feat equal in perseverance to an amputee stumping their way up Everest. From what I have read, I can tell you this. It is about people who work for a publishing company. It details the minutiae of their working lives. I believe it to be narrated from a group perspective, thus giving a lovely, communist vibe to the whole thing. At one point a little girl is abducted and they all spend an afternoon making posters to advertise her disappearance.

That's where I stopped. If you would like to know if she turns up, I suggest you go to ANY second-hand bookshop in the English-speaking world and pick up a copy. It will probably be my copy.

Actually, you will probably be upset by it if you bought the novel based on the endorsement from The New York Times- "One of the ten best books of the year." Ohhh... a bad, bad year for literature then.

The writing is actually very, very good. Ferris has an unusual style to his sentence structure and he has a firm grasp on the tense which is unusual in these long-winded, philosophy of the mundane novels. I think this could have been brilliant if it had the slightest bit of passion, but the whole thing comes across as a bit soulless.

Which may in fact, be the point- highlighting the pedestrian nature of our working experiences. In which case, well done Ferris. You have achieved your goal and subsequently, have written a novel no one can read.

Rating: 4/10.

24 August 2009

Pete Doherty: My Prodigal Son (Jacqueline Doherty)

We're alive!!

My only excuse for not having posted in such an abysmally long time is that I was feeling remarkably uninspired by reading, writing and life in general for the past month or so. 'What is the point?' I asked myself daily, hands shaking from the 6 espressos I was consuming in order to stay awake in case my inane and pedestrian existence suddenly managed to become interesting again.

However, I have been to Italy and back and have achieved a seriously awesome tan. It seems that is all it took to get me excited about getting out of bed in the morning again.

As for Earhart, I have no idea why she stopped blogging. I think we both needed a break and can now resume author/novel ripping with renewed vigour (with the occasional positive review because we do like the free books that have been coming in... thank you publishers!)

My comeback review is on Pete Doherty: My Prodigal Son, by his mother Jacqueline Doherty. When I saw this in my fave Oxfam bookshop (Notting Hill... recommended, but don't get into conversation with the owner. Unless you have A DECADE to spare) I grabbed it immediately. I'm a sucker for musical biographies at the best of times, but the chance to read about the early life of a drug-addled musician whom I adore from the probably biased, blinkered and no-doubt naive perspective of his mother was not something I was willing to give up.

It did not disappoint.

Jacqui seems a little deliberately obtuse and sheltered about the whole thing. She is always happy that Pete has no track marks on his arms and is ultimately dismayed when chasing is explained to her. She also takes an old stuffed toy of Pete's to a gig in hopes it will cheer him up. However, the book is bearable because she has a mischievous sense of humour (the kind reserved for the very young, the very old and the terminally positive), telling Pete not to drop the soap the first time he is sent to jail being one such moment. She and Pete's grandmother also seem to have attended numerous gigs of Pete's, which makes her awesome in my book. Imagine Jacqui and Nanny Doherty, standing there in a Babyshambles gig whilst Pete siphons blood out of his arm and squirts it on the audience (ALLEGEDLY). I'm not sure my Grandma would enjoy that sort of evening.

The writing style is passable for someone who is not a writer by nature. She does that cute older person thing where they put slang or terminology alien to them in inverted commas and she goes off on tangents (frequently religious) far too often but other than that the overall style is tolerable. What I was really disappointed in was the scanty amount of information about Pete that was in there. I want to read about childhood experiences that could have spawned the lyrics for 'Don't Look Back Into the Sun', not how one Christmas Pete came to the table not at all appropriately dressed and was asked to go change his clothing.


I give this a tentative thumbs up if you want to read about how the Doherty family are affected by the 'Peter Problem' as they call it, but if you want to read something superb, raw and shatteringly perspicacious, read Pete's The Books of Albion, which is a collection of his letters, diary entries, song lyrics and general scribblings. Much of it is somewhat illegible and most of it is esoteric in the extreme, but upon completion you will understand what it is like to delve partly into the mind of an utter genius.

Rating: 5/10.
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