24 April 2010

The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud (Ben Sherwood)

Ugh, this book was AMERICAN. Overly sentimental and unnecessarily violent. With the kind of detail which you know the author has included because they think it gives their work increased depth when really it only acts to make the book longer. Obviously, if you are Dickens, this is important, as you are being paid by the word. However, Dickens had something to say with every one of those words. The superfluous detail in this story was the only thing retaining the integrity of the physical concept of 'the book'. The plot and characters were rendered irrelevant through the extreme use of hyperbolic emotional prose which only ever serves to alienate rather than draw the reader in. Your response is to say "Oh for God's sake, pull yourself together" rather than feel any sort of empathy.

Oh! The family are home! I await their invitation to come down to eat with trepidatious excitement.

And... alas. No invitation has been shouted from below.

Well, I'm not going down to find something to eat. I'll be fine. I have a bottle of water.

If the above interlude confuses you, refer to the post below.

Sherwood's novel tells the story of Charlie St. Cloud, who, whilst driving his mother's car when he was just a kid, inadvertently crashes and his younger brother is killed. Fast forward a few years and now Charlie is a gravedigger. Who can talk to dead people. He meets a woman named Tess who is straight out of a Mills and Boon. A bad Mills and Boon. One of the ones where the woman is irascible and selfish. They... talk and grow fond of each other. From here the book continues to bore the reader until the final, glorious denouement where we get to hear what sort of dog he's going to have in his future life. (A beagle. Bad choice. They're hard to train Charlie.)

The dialogue is plodding at best and I skipped many of the conversations because it was either that or risk becoming so tense that my neck veins would have ruptured. Of course, this meant I was often slightly confused as to what was happening. No matter. Confusion is the lesser of two evils when the other is to be so consummately acquainted with every nuance of Sherwood's writing that there is no conceivable way to escape from the knowledge that you are reading something obscenely pedestrian.

Apparently they are making a film of this book with Zac Efron as Charlie. Which is just perfect. Blocks of concrete deserve wooden rods to realise their full potential.

Rating: 3/10.

Hello All

Well, this is a bit sad. Posting on a Saturday night.

In my defence, I had a BBQ to go to. Hosted by an Australian and three girls from Mali who are all mad as cut snakes. That promised to be QUITE the evening. However, I forfeited these plans in favour of staying at home for a 'family dinner', as suggested by the people I live with as this is my last weekend with them. Of course, they went out this afternoon and didn't return, so I don't really know what I'm supposed to do with myself. What if they return with food and I'm eating? They'll be mad. What if I don't eat, they return having already dined out and I die of starvation in my sleep?

Oh, the conundrum.

I like my own company quite a bit (read: people annoy me after awhile) but tonight I wish someone was home. And not only to feed me. Whilst waiting for my boxes to be picked up today by the shipping company I watched a thriller set in Acton. Where people are raped and murdered. IN ACTON. Why? Why is it always my borough?

Additionally, I have just finished tonight's episode of Doctor Who which was TERRIFYING. I am scared to blink in case a Weeping Angel creeps up on me. Literally- scared to blink. I am alternating eyes at the moment. I already feel a bit motion-sick but that is infinitely preferable to having my neck snapped.

Thus, before the method of my untimely demise is revealed, I think I shall post a book review.

19 April 2010

Wives and Daughters (Elizabeth Gaskell)

I do not enjoy Gaskell. I find her quite, quite dull. I was going to add the disclaimer that this opinion has been formed from having read only two of her novels, but upon discovering that she only ever wrote six I feel that a blanket statement is suitable considering I have in fact read a third of her oeuvre.

We had to study North and South at high school. I remember that English class well. We had an entirely useless substitute teacher for most of the year. She set us 50 questions to answer on North and South. My friend and I, deciding that the task cut into far too much lying in the sun time, decided to submit the project as a joint effort. And neither of us finished our halves. The teacher laughed softly when we wove a fictitious tale of forgetfulness and camaraderie and we thought no more of it. It was only on the last day of term that she announced in high dudgeon that anyone who had not completed the assignment would receive an 'E' for the semester. Unlike in Harry Potter, this is not indicative of 'Exceeds Expectations'. An 'E' meant 'you go to a school where we do not award fail grades, but, be not comforted, we are not amused'.

So, obviously, I feel great discontent whenever I think about North and South. It was not sufficiently gripping to hold my attention and I have long written it off as a plodding tome that extols the idiocies of the upper class and the inadequacies of the lower class with no hint of hope for either.

But this post is not about North and South. Nay! It is about Wives and Daughters.

I shall be brief in my criticism because the book itself was brief. I borrowed it from the library and did not realise I had taken the "In Half the Time" version. Supposedly, these editions cut out unnecessary minor characters and plot lines which have no influence over the ending. Considering Gaskell died before finishing the book I feel that this approach is slightly cavalier. John Smith who was cut out in chapter three could well have been meant to turn up in the final chapter and save the day!

Not that the day needed saving. That would suggest that the book was in any way interesting. And it was not. It was duller than David Cameron's dishwater. It was also silly and insipid. I don't understand why Gaskell is so often compared to Austen. Even the emptiest of Austen's novels (Emma... vomit) could steamroller over Gaskell's works. I shudder to think what the novel is like if this is the interesting, important cut of the work. Cynthia was the only sympathetic and mildly intelligent character and she promised to marry Mr Preston if he'd loan her twenty pounds.

A classic best left on the shelf I feel. Behind a locked glass cabinet. With a warning sign- "Open at risk of death from supreme boredom".

Rating: 4/10.

18 April 2010

Dance Dance Dance (Haruki Murakami)

I don't think I've ever actually reviewed a Murakami book here before, although I may have mentioned in passing that I love love love him. So great is this love that I may or may not be in a Facebook group called "Haruki Murakami is (almost) God". (I am). The thing about Dance Dance Dance is, even if I had never read a word of Murakami in my life the quote on the front would have made me pick it up immediately- "If Raymond Chandler had lived long enough to see Blade Runner, he might have written something like Dance Dance Dance." Could you imagine a better endorsement?

I think the reason I've never put a Murakami review to paper (or screen as it were) is that he is so incredibly hard to describe.

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle- There's this man, and he lost his cat, and kind of lives in a fantasy land, and follows a lady in a pink suit around and then sits at the bottom of a well.

Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World: There is a man who is on some kind of IT hit squad who goes underground to fight mysterious "things" and is given a unicorn skull. Half the story is set in a strange land where no-one can go outside the city walls and there are herds of unicorns running about.

Dance Dance Dance: Our hero feels he is being called to the Dolphin Hotel, a dodgy, run-down establishment he stayed at with a call-girl called Kiki some years previously. When he returns the dodgy hotel has been replaced by a high end luxury resort- L'Hotel Dauphin. He bonds with one of the girls on reception over a strange experience she had on one of the floors of the hotel. He meets a rather angry teenage girl whose mother has just abandoned her in the hotel. He goes back to Tokyo and reconnects with an old school mate who has become a super-star actor. You spend a large portion of the book vaguely confused about what is going on, which is actually a similar state of being to our narrator. He allows himself to be swept along by all the slightly mad people surrounding him - to interesting ends. A few dead bodies turn up along the way. There is a sheep-man who gives him strange messages. The whole book is an amazing experience.

I realise I've essentially not reviewed the book at all and really this should be an 'Author Love' segment because I love love love this author. He has got THE GOODS! (See tag below!)

Rating: 9/10

The Private Life of Books

Looking down the list of my draft blog-posts which never saw the light of day I can see that most of them start with "am feeling so guilty about not having posted in weeks/months/centuries" and then I start writing about a book and then my internet cuts out and I get fed up. Admittedly I have dodgy internet that does cut out a lot- normally when I am trying to balance laptop and dinner on my lap on the couch whilst watching Peep Show. I wonder if that has anything to do with it? Anyway, since I spend a lot of time writing about my guilt, I've decided to absolve myself of any guilty feelings and just get down to it.

This article in the Guardian about the private lives of books made me think of my favourite second-hand-book-buying story. I warn you now, it is a bit pretentious, but when you're talking obscure dyslit gems found in the south of France, how could you be anything but?

Picture this- my first year of university, I meet french learning, guitar playing, dyslit reading Russian. (Le sigh). Said Russian turns up to class to tell me he found copy of 1985 on the weekend. I gently correct him, saying "I think you'll find it's 1984". He looks at me like I am an idiot and says "Uh, no. 1985. Anthony Burgess' critique of 1984 which consists of a theoretical essay followed by his own fictional account of the future". I blush. Then spend years futile-ly trying to track down a copy of 1985- I love Orwell, I love Burgess... but I didn't love the Russian any more thus borrowing his copy was out of the question.

Three years later, I was backpacking in Avignon, have run out of books to read and facing a six hour train trip the next day. I spent a little while googling until I found evidence of an English bookshop. I made a trek across town. I found a bookshop in the middle of nowhere. There I found found a copy of 1985... cue delirious excitement. I started reading and things became even more exciting. The previous owner of the book had some pretty strong views on some of the stuff Burgess wrote. Lots of underlining. Lots of '?!' in the middle of paragraphs. A couple of instances of 'ugh!'. My personal favourite, which made me burst out laughing during Burgess' musing on the state of socialism: a whole paragraph underlined and a single word "BALLS!" written in the margin. Fantastic. I do not know who Mr Millwood is (and that is my assuming the previous owner was a man) but I owe him a most exciting book find, and an entertaining read.
If you do ever come across a copy of the (obviously) out of print 1985, I highly recommend picking it up.

16 April 2010

Sexing the Cherry (Jeanette Winterson)

Oh I really don't know Jeanette. This was just a tad too over the top for me.

Hark? What's this you say? You LOVE magical realism Alcott. You adore it. How will you NOT be citing this novel as a sublime source of inspiration when you finally have an oeuvre to call your own?

I didn't read it in one swift gulp. Perhaps that is why I wasn't completely enamoured with this trip of a novel. It's hard to read something called Sexing the Cherry when you work with children. I had to hide it between the covers of a Where's Waldo. The unanimous verdict is that I SUCK at Where's Waldo.

This is a highly theatrical novel. The characters of Jordan and The Dog Woman are not quite sculpted enough to be real, which adds to the ethereal nature of their journey. I say ethereal, but that doesn't sound quite right. That word is so beautiful, filled with light and music. These characters are dark and putrid and flea-ridden and grotesque. They are without softness, which makes their struggle towards gentleness that much stranger. Essentially, this is the story of a mother and son moving towards a discovery of themselves, with some hilariously bizarre humour, disgusting anecdotes and a fairytale thrown in for good measure.

Something about this novel made me think of Russell Brand. I can imagine him on stage, flinging out lines of prose from the story; scurrying to and fro imitating The Dog Woman's misconception of fellatio, Jordan's quest for Fortunata, the twelve dancing princesses slowly but surely annihilating their husbands. Brand, for all his curmudgeonly ways, has a likeability and empathy about him which would bring joy to the words. As they are now, Winterson's story reads as though it has no sympathy for human frailty. I feel like the book is waiting to swallow me whole if I am not strong enough to read it. To be scared of the book you are reading is entirely unsettling.

Alternatively, the other setting where I can see the prose from this novel fitting admirably is a group of players, waltzing down a street on market day in a parade, loudly declaiming the lines, entirely naked. The words they shout draw the crowds and then, one by one, the players pick off the weaklings and eat them. The bones they throw to a pack of salivating Shar-Peis.


I THOUGHT I had a friend back in Australia who told me with glee she got most of her sex education from this book. I profess myself worried, although I suspect that maybe she said The Passion, also by Winterson.

I bloody hope so.

Rating: 7/10.

15 April 2010

Pulitzer 2010

This year's Pulitzer has been announced. Let's hope it's better than last year's Oprah novel.

According to this article in the Guardian, this is the first novel from an independent publisher to have won the Pulitzer since A Confederacy of Dunces. The novel, Tinkers, just looks to be available on Amazon at the moment, although I'm betting now that that small publisher has been completely overwhelmed with orders from bookshops who, a month ago, would have refused to put the book on their shelves.

14 April 2010

Cakes and Ale (W. Somerset Maugham)

Satire does not make you smile. Satire makes you sneer knowingly. Or shake your head helplessly. Or flap your hands about nervously. But it does not make you giggle gleefully or find you with a stupid smirk on your face, tongue stuck between your teeth, lost in thought. Satire, in short, does not make you silly.

So then why do I find myself acting so vapidly whenever I look at the cover of Cakes and Ale? Maugham's favourite of his own works, this novel takes a direct stab at the London literary scene, satirising the elevation of popular authors and the artistic appreciators who surround them. The narrator Willie Ashenden is Maugham's voice and conscience throughout, although how much their experiences overlap is anyone's guess. I suppose I could read the introduction and then hazard a more informed opinion in this area but I DON'T HAVE THE TIME! Also, introductions bore me. The unfortunate person who pens such a chapter is so often enamoured with their own brilliance and insight that they mistakenly assume they are the main event between the covers.

The novel is chock-a-block full of tasty literary mouthfuls I plan to immediately turn into sound-bites. Sigh. One of these days I really must stop being so referential and find out if I have an actual brain beneath all the stuff I have absorbed over the years. Probably not.

However, the real charm that I now associate with this novel is what happened to me whilst coming home on Sunday evening on the tube. I was reading Cakes and Ale, scribbling in the margins as I am wont to do. I could feel the person next to me staring. This often happens on the tube and most of the time it is someone creepy or it is some old professor who lectures me about writing on my books. So I steadfastly refused to look up. The next moment-
"Excuse me, do you have the time?"
I looked up and saw a guy whose smile was too big for his face, in a very charming kind of way. I was not in the mood, having spent several hours with a friend. I have a limit to how much time I can spend with people these days and my socialising quota for the day had been filled. Thus, I fixed him with a stern look.
"I don't wear a watch. I will get my phone out of my bag but please don't snatch it and run off because I'm too tired to chase you."
He assured me he would not and then seized the covers of my book.
"I love Maugham! Although, as a woman, don't you find him quite sexist?"
"I suppose. Can I have my book back?" See? I was still not in the mood.
"You're so friendly! You're definitely not from London."
At this point, with me glowering at him, I decided he was probably still wired from a big evening the night before. This was further affirmed with his next, loud declaration.
"You're not supposed to talk to strangers on the tube. Everyone in here is looking at us! Because we're enjoying each other's company but we're on the tube! We're breaking down social barriers here!"
I tried in vain to snatch my book back but he had opened it at a random page and began quoting out loud. The people opposite me looked horrified. Despite myself, I was beginning to enjoy the conversation. No sooner had I begun to talk about Faulkner then he started quoting Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls (he got a bit muddled, but full marks for effort I suppose). His next musing was how films and books would be different if all wartime stories were totally populated by female characters. Very seriously he said "Now, I'm not saying you'd be giving each other manicures, but I'm having trouble coming up with a female equivalent for the male camaraderie that prevails in all those stories... OH! This is my stop! What's your name fair lady? I must find you on facebook and we can continue!"

At this point I decided I had nothing to lose and gave him my name. He gave me a cheeky salute and vaulted off the tube, pausing to stick his head back inside. "It was a pleasure. An absolute pleasure Miss." I then had to sit through three more stops with everyone in the carriage staring at me. It was quite, quite mortifying yet an altogether satisfying way to end the weekend.

So despite Maugham's fantastic wit and the highly sympathetic character of Rosie, this book will always make me think of that idiot on the tube and thus will always make me smile.

Rating: 7/10.

Some New Fresh Hell Awaits

Well, I have two and a half weeks of work to go; a fact which I am having trouble processing. Was there a time in my life when I didn't feel homeless? (When I say 'homeless' I am obviously talking about a home for my heart and soul. I am certainly 'with house', so please don't worry. I don't need care packages delivered to a doorway on Oxford Circus).

Last night I wrote myself a list of things I need to get done before I leave Acton. The list was panic-inducing. I am not good with practical things like calling up the bank and asking to switch to electronic statements. But it is the forms that need to be filled that cause me real upset. I am dreadful with forms. I second-guess every question, trying to work out what they are REALLY asking me. I figure the person reading the form has a set list of 'correct answers' and if I don't put those down I will be rejected for international shipping/ waiver of quarantine fees/ entry visas. This kind of thinking propels you to a very unhealthy place very quickly. Is that REALLY my birthday? Is that how you spell my middle name? I KNOW I was born in Sydney... wasn't I? Yes, I definitely was. I'll just check in my passport.

On this hideous, torturous list is a line that should fill me with delight but it panics me almost as much as the line below it- 'sort through my paperwork'. The former says- 'finish all outstanding books and review them.'


I have two and a half weeks to go and about twelve books I haven't even cracked open. Let alone the ones I have read and not reviewed yet. Whilst school holidays are still on I have very limited time to read during the day, what with Monopoly, cricket and finger painting. But I am going for it anyway. Obama has faith in me. YES WE CAN.

So now I am winding up this redundant, time-wasting post to finish Maugham's Cakes and Ale. Then I will cook fajitas for lunch, finish writing a skit entitled "Spongebob and Patrick Kill Hannah Montana and Escape" (I chose neither the title nor the premise) and then hopefully bang out another review. During the reviewing process I will be wearing earplugs so that one of the kids can practice the recorder (I am forced to allow her to practice now that she is officially the worst in the class. But really, is there a more ungodly noise in the world?) Then I will make cupcakes and start on Sexing the Cherry.


13 April 2010

Nocturnes (Kazuo Ishiguro)


I reject this book.

I reject the short story form Ishiguro decided to use. I reject the admission of any of the characters to the Syd Barrett Memorial Room. And I most certainly reject the assumption Ishiguro made that just because he feels he is past his prime as a writer he can churn out any old thing and we won't profess ourselves disappointed.

I have waited a few days to post this, as I needed time for the book to simmer in my subconsciousness for awhile. I knew I was disappointed with the collection when I ventured to compare it to his other works. But, if I took this as a new author, someone I had no preconceived notions of, what would I think then?

I would think that it was as boring as watching a game of darts being played in a pub where the only thing on tap is lemonade. Slow-burning is one thing and then there's wrapping a potato in foil, sticking it on the ground in the English sun and waiting for it to cook. If this were the only book of Ishiguro's I had read I would never be tempted to pick up another of his books again.

The writing, inarguably, was beautiful. But there was no soul behind it. Ishiguro tried to tap into the depressing and selfish psyche of the struggling musical artist, but this exploration felt forced and insubstantial.

This is, I suppose, an obstacle that a writer must overcome when writing short stories. With a limited space to foster the reader's connection to both plot and characters every sentence needs to resonate with everything the author wants to say. The best short stories I have read seem to be bursting at their seams, DYING to say more and pummelling the bars of the cage that is the short story format. With these stories, Ishiguro almost seemed to have structured them in this way because he didn't have enough material to turn this into a novel.

I think Ishiguro is a highly intelligent, lyrical and lovely writer. Unfortunately, I kept getting distracted from reading Nocturnes because Tom and Jerry were gallivanting on the television. So I choose to just pretend I never read this book and wait with eager anticipation for his next.

Rating 6/10.

08 April 2010

White is For Witching (Helen Oyeyemi)

You know those people in life who are unlike everyone else? They make you catch your breathe and then keep catching it, drawing in short little breaths as you remember something they did or said. You can't breathe normally again until the memory has played out. Afterwards you are light-headed, which exacerbates the intense happiness or sadness that inevitably crashes over you. The sadness occurs far more often but it doesn't matter, because those brief waves of joy are far heavier on the scale than anything else.

We don't meet these people very often. There is not one for every person. In all likelihood, they have this effect on many people, so you are only one in a crowd, virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the swooning masses. On the occasions when you are alone you find it hard to speak, to create a fascination around yourself. You want to voice everything you've ever thought to them but are crippled with the suspicion that nothing you say could ever be interesting or unique enough.

This feeling of wonderment can also happen with books and music. For me it is the books. When I was younger and my mother asked me to do something she would always have to touch me when asking, or write it down for me to read. Sounds by themselves don't seem to stick properly in my brain. But I understand for other people that music is by far the greater emotional stimulant.

Today I held a book in my hands that made me hyperventilate. The story- a spooky concoction that includes a dash of The God of Small Things and a pinch of The Secret History, had ensnared me with the first line. I was shamefully derelict in my duties. Lunch was boiled milk and mushrooms which was received with much derision from a duo that had been promised 'Tagliatelle with a Delicate Creamy Mushroom Sauce'. I couldn't help it. Like the magical hold the house in Dover has over the Silver women, this book had the same numbing effect on me. Nothing else seemed as real in the room as the book I was holding in my hands. The book cast more shadows in the room than the sun and I felt the characters' hearts beating out from between the lines.

I fear this is all babbling pretension and not a proper review, but I have had a purely emotional response to this novel. Oyeyemi's style is unlike anything I have ever read. She plays with the words on the page to create illusions of safety before jolting the reader into uncertain and unearthly territory. Her complete control over the authenticity of the characters is so superb it is invisible. This is the first book I have read in awhile that effectively uses authorial interjection and even then Oyeyemi plays with this concept, taunting the reader with her omnipotence that she would have us believe is just hopeless devotion to a story that had already been told before she thought of it.

I feel as though I have met someone amazing, this book as a new character in my life. This is not a book to be forgotten. It is to be read again and again. Perhaps with sizeable gaps in between or I could end up fainting. Even now, sitting at my desk, I am being hit with images from the story that clamour to be relived, making me hold my breath as the scenes spell themselves out again and again. I feel extremely rattled sitting in my usual spot so I have rearranged the furniture to the position it is normally in for when I watch Lost. Back to the wall, eyes on the door, doona pulled up securely to cover everything except my face- waiting to be attacked.

Like those awe-inspiring people that one occasionally meets, I was overly reluctant to share White is for Witching with you. I feel like some of its power or magic may diminish the more popular it becomes. However, considering it is part of Waterstones's hideous 3 for 2 offer (which I regularly take advantage of, hating myself the entire time), I feel this is probably a redundant worry.

Rating: 10/10.

A Long, Long Time Ago & Essentially True (Brigid Pasulka)

I've never had a burning desire to go to Poland. The only person I can remember talking about Poland during my childhood is Basil Fawlty. We might have skated over it briefly during history classes but due to the soporific powers of my teachers I really have no idea what was going on during those times. Cue Alan Bennett and his play The History Boys, where one of the teachers talks to the boys about Auschwitz and how bizarre it is that it is now a tourist destination.
"What has always concerned me is where do they eat their sandwiches? Drink their coke? Do they take pictures of each other there? Are they smiling? Do they hold hands? Nothing is appropriate."
Thus, shrouded in swathes of depressing history and with Bennett's stamp of disapproval, Poland has not been high on my To-See list. After reading this book, it may not have creeped much higher up that list, but my entire perspective on the country has changed.

Pasulka's novel is divided into two time frames- the first is a small village in Poland during the German invasion of WW2. The second is set two generations later in Krakow. Before I delve further into the story I'd like to take umbrage with the Guardian's review. The 'miraculous links' which Catherine Taylor describes as the ties between the first period and the second are that it is the same family, two generations on. ASTOUNDING. I was positively BOWLED OVER by the literary capoeira Pasulka had to perform to provide us with such a plausible connection.

Tsk. Rusbridger- hire me. I will read the books.

We are first introduced to Half-Village, which is the scene for the extremely slow-burning love affair between the local beauty Anielica and a young man named The Pigeon. Their love is interrupted by a series of increasingly dire obstacles as Germany invades Poland and then Poland is forced to become part of the Eastern Bloc under the Soviet Union. The horror and gargantuan size of these events is offset by Pasulka's characters, who maintain their idiosyncrasies along with their strength throughout.

Fifty years on, their granddaughter Baba Yaga is living in Krakow with her cousins. This is the part of the story where stirrings of recognition began to occur in my brain. What made me feel twisted and guilty inside was that they were all insults and bigoted generalisations that I have heard made about the Polish since I moved to England. (We don't talk about the Poles much in Australia.) Issues with prostitution, drinking and drugs, roped together with a die-hard pessimism are all touched upon. Baba Yaga, as a relatively low-key character, acts mostly as an observer rather than an instigator. Yet her situation is no better than most and you would think that she would be dying to escape the country. Yet she has a moment of triumph towards the end of the book that perfectly summed up for me the steely strength the spirit of this novel is built upon.
"You think you can have any Polish girl you want? You think you can take advantage of us because you have pounds and we have zlote? Learn history. We Poles have fought against the oppressor again and again. For centuries. And now that we have our freedom, we are not going to be turned into prostitutes by a bunch of pickle-faced skurwysyns..."
The book is fanciful but ultimately overly depressing. I still don't want to go to Krakow or visit Auschwitz or go to a small Polish village where they may ask me to slaughter a pig. But A Long, Long Time Ago & Essentially True has made me think of Poland as a country of strength and passion, rather than a 'broken' country as we would call it in England. A country where people stay because it is their home and they cannot imagine living anywhere else. A country that may not have always been loyal to itself at the highest levels but has had persistent and enduring patriots propping it up from the bottom for centuries.

As a people they share a camaraderie that automatically excludes those who do not have the residue of hundreds of years of Polish history running through their veins. Ultimately, it is not the story which makes this book so remarkable, nor the characters. It is that I felt I was holding something that was actually a bit of Poland in my hands. Reading this novel, I was being allowed a glimpse into a country that I can never fully understand.

And BONUS- I now have a new curse- 'Cholera'. It is perfect for everything. I have already used it three times today.

Rating: 8/10.

07 April 2010

All the Nice Girls (Joan Bakewell)

This book should serve as a cautionary tale for those journalists who attempt to write novels. Say it with me people- journalism is different to novel-writing.

Joan Bakewell has written All the Nice Girls, which is her debut novel. I would mention her age, but a recent article in the Guardian on Bakewell stated that she hated people talking about her age. And calling her the 'Thinking Man's Crumpet'. Fortunately, I am a tactful and gracious reviewer and will raise neither issue.

But, CHOLERA, this book was bad. Confession- I did not finish it. I had to go to Madrid and I had a limited amount of time to pack. With five minutes to go before I had to rush out the door I tried to decide which book to take. All the Nice Girls was the obvious choice, as I was half-way through it. Instead, the white rabbit gesticulating wildly to the time, I speed-read through the first chapters of my three other options and chose from one of them. I almost missed my bus to the airport and then failed to open the covers of this new book for the entire trip.

Anyway, you've been warned, I did not finish the book, but I am going to critique it anyway. The fundamental flaw of this novel was the detail that Bakewell CRAMMED in. There are well-researched novels and then there are novels which would have nothing left if the detail were taken out. Nothing at all, not a single word would remain, were I to extract all the ridiculous details that were included.

That is a bit of a lie. I admit, there was a story. The narrative seemed (remember, I haven't finished it) to be constructed from an extremely rickety triumvirate of plot lines- a ship in WW2 that a girl's school adopts; a mother who is unsure if she should give her daughter a kidney; and an illegitimate love child. Unlike the milking stool, the tripod and the surety of the number of events that are going to occur, this triumvirate is more akin in stability to the three-wheeled car from Mr. Bean. Prop it up with characters who are mostly flat and occasionally horrid and voilĂ , Britain has yet another uninspired wartime romance novel to stuff onto its shelves.

Bakewell, I have no doubt, is an extremely intelligent woman. That is why she is the Thinking Man's Crumpet. I assume that is why she treats the reader like an idiot. Every thought is reasserted, every joke explained, every emotion analysed with historically accurate pop psychology. Competent writing? Absolutely. As scintillating as a documentary on the migratory habits of octogenarians in the South of England? Just about.

I would just like to take this opportunity to get on my virtual soapbox, now that I have your attention, and extrapolate further on one part of the story that particularly upset me. I have always been confused by people who wanted to sell their organs to pay for things like their children's ballet lessons. What if that child needs a kidney later on and you can't give her one because you gave it up for sodding ronds de jambe? Then we have this woman, Millie, who doesn't want to give her daughter on dialysis her kidney. She feels resentment towards the doctor who assumes she will. I did not finish the story and I'm assuming she has some sort of change of heart but really. REALLY. How could anyone have a child in need and not give up an organ they will not miss? WE HAVE TWO!

To be fair, I will not give this book a rating, as I did not finish it. But you would be correct if you had suspicions that I did not enjoy this book in the slightest.

01 April 2010

Easter Hiatus

Once again, I am forced into the embarrassing situation of having to confess that I know not where my sister is. She has not posted here in weeks, nay, MONTHS. More worryingly, I sent her an overly amusing text message three days ago to which she has not replied. Either her right frontal lobe needs examining or she is occupied with greater hilarity elsewhere.

Luckily, I can at least vouch for my own whereabouts. At this very moment I am in London, but am flying to Madrid tomorrow morning for an extremely brief Easter break. This may seem an overly redundant post considering I go for long stretches without posting here, so four days with no books reviews should raise few alarm bells. However, I began writing a review of Joan Bakewell's All the Nice Girls and realised I couldn't do the review justice in the ten minutes I have before my cough medicine kicks in and I fall into a blissful slumber. Whereupon a great feeling of guilt washed over me for not posting and I decided to hammer out this little gem for you instead.

You are so very welcome.
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