Monday, 30 March 2009
Tuesday, 24 March 2009
Manon Gaudet is trapped in an unhappy marriage with a cold, cruel, brutal man. He owns a sugar plantation, and like most business men of the time relies on slaves as labour, both to work his plantation and for housekeeping. Manon’s wedding present from her aunt was a slave girl named Sarah, whom she can’t stand. In fact the feeling is mutual. Manon’s husband takes the idea that he owns everything and everyone in the household literally and has in fact borne two children to Sarah.
The story is told through first person narrative by Manon. She longs to be free of her husband and the house and go back to live in the town. She hates the cruel games her husband plays with the slaves and wishes her husband was more like her father who she believes to have been the perfect slave owner.
“Father was strict and fair. None of our people could marry off the farm, indeed they could never leave it unless they had some compelling reason, and visits by negroes from the neighbouring plantation were strictly forbidden. He didn’t allow them to work garden patches of their own, as he said it gave them a notion of independence and divided their loyalty,so that they might take more interest in their own patch than the farm.”
And after spelling out all the reasons her father was a good farmer and slave owner she finishes by saying
“I didn’t know, as a girl, how remarkable my father was”
However, she feels that she is owned by her husband and that this is wrong. She would love to be free of him and have her independence but does not see how this can happen and despises the system that makes this possible. Talking about a woman who had divorced her husband she says
“Sally sued to have her marriage portion, which was considerable, exempted from his creditors and restored to her. By some miracle she has won. Now she has her own income and is free of her detestable husband. Fortunate woman!”
And again, when dealing with her mothers estate,
“All this is mine, and yet not mine, because my husband can, and doubtless will, dispose of it just as soon as I can get it. ‘Is there no way to preserve this to myself?’ I pleaded with the lawyer. ‘”
When Sarah runs away and Manon goes to great expense to retrieve her, she says that if she has to live with Sarah’s wild offspring, then so does she. They both hate the husband, and they both have to deal with the consequences of being his property.
Incidentally Manon never names her husband. He is always just referred to as her husband, a telling fact that the relationship is one of power and property rather than love and respect!
The book only covers a very short space of time. The first section deals with Manon’s situation and her unhappiness, but there are hints throughout of problems to come with a slave rebellion. When this rebellion finally happens, Manon’s life is changed forever, and she gets the freedom she has longed for. However, the revelations that the end of the book contain just serve to illustrate the fact that women in this society will always be property, and can only be useful if moneyed.
I really enjoyed this. There is so much more to it than I can possibly write here, but it does give an interesting view on what slave owning actually meant for the slave owners themselves, and a good perspective on the rights of women, or lack of them in this period.
Saturday, 21 March 2009
Ok, that’s quite a short synopsis for such a long book. The book is written as both a third person narrative about Ben’s time in Greece, interspersed with Ben’s notes on Sparta, which are intended to be turned into some kind of thesis, hence the title, Notes on a Thesis. The historical information contained in the Notes sections is interesting, and necessary to the plot of the book.
The ideas about Spartans and archaeology run throughout the novel, as do Ben’s internal battlings with himself about his relationship with Emine, his wife and Nessie, his daughter. Things in this novel are hidden from the start. As well as the history of Sparta being gradually revealed, Ben’s violence towards his wife is hinted at, but not revealed until later on in the novel. Something is always hidden from the reader.
As soon as Ben gets to the dig at Sparta, he feels as if something is being hidden from him. There are constant references to us and others which Ben does pick upon. He has a constant desire to belong, to be part of the group. And even when he does feel he is included, he still feels something is being hidden from him. Which of course is true, and when this final secret is revealed, it’s horrific, and leads Ben to wish he didn’t know, and his desire for belonging vanishes. The group gives up it’s secret at the simultaneously with the ground giving up a horrific secret about ancient Sparta and the two combined make for a powerful conclusion.
I loved this book. Its full of secrets, hidden things, hidden feelings and even hidden history. And the writing is beautiful. There is a lot of dialogue and there were times I had to go back to remember who was talking to who, but I think that was because I wasn’t concentrating enough.
“And then all at once the weather began to weigh on him. It reminded him of Oxford and all that Oxford entailed. It became a burden of water he carried from place to place with his head bent, as if the rain chastened him.”
“It is a mystery archaeology has failed to solve. No-one has found anything better than the fictions of fable and story. Sparta is all secrets and no actions. All rumours without substance. All rumours and chattering and whispers.”“They play strange games, Chrystos said. He was right,but the game isn’t the heart of it. They play at being Spartans with their secrets and their ridiculous thefts and hunts. They are like cats practising kills. They are like children, whose games are cruel and facile or meaningless to anyone but themselves. But the game is....something like a joke told to avoid telling the truth. It is a comedy mask. There is more to it than play.”
Thursday, 19 March 2009
Wednesday, 18 March 2009
Well I finally read this! I'm probably the last person to get to it but better late than never! And since there are so many reviews of this floating around, I thought I'd give Dylan a chance to review this one. He's been fascinated with this blog ever since I started it and really wanted to have a go for himself. He's only eleven and this is the first book review he's ever written and he's really proud to see it online.
This is a story about Bod, a little boy whose family is murdered and who goes to live in a graveyard. The ghosts of the graveyard look after him. Mr and Mistress Owens become his Mum and Dad and Silas becomes his guardian. Bod grows up in the graveyard and learns how to live as a ghost, practising skills such as fading, dreamwalking and the terror. He learns his alphabet from gravestones and makes friends with lots of ghosts.
I really enjoyed this book. My favourite part was when Bod went to school and scared the people who were being nasty to him, even though that meant he had to stop going to school. I didn't like the end of the book because it was sad and I thought Bod would miss all his friends from the graveyard.
My favourite character was Silas, but I don't think we learnt enough about him. I would have liked to know more about him and the Honour Guard. I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially people who like scary stories, such as the Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snicket.
So there you go. Dylan's perspective on this book. I'm not going to review it because I think everyone's either read this or read numerous reviews of it. This was both mine and his introduction to Neil Gaiman and we both really enjoyed it. I liked the wide ranging scope of the story, covering certain events in Bod's childhood life. I also agree with Dylan that it would be interesting to know more about Silas. There are hints dropped throughout the book that he has had a less than salubrious past, and I think a book about Silas could be written as an adult novel, when a lot more detail could be included.
So we both loved it, we will both be reading more Neil Gaiman in the future, and Dylan's pleased as punch that his review is online! Good stuff all round!
Monday, 16 March 2009
Saturday, 14 March 2009
I don't tend to watch a lot of films anyway, but I did think of couple that I wished I'd never bothered to see. I mentioned one in a post a couple of days ago but it upset me so much I'm going to mention it again, and that is the film version of Roald Dahl's 'The Witches'. Most of the film was OK but they changed the ending! Disneyfied would be a good word for it, and if there's one thing Roald Dahl wasn't it was sickly sweet and saccharine!
The only other one I could think of was Enduring Love, adapted from Ian McEwan's novel. I can't actually remember a lot about it, but I remember I didn't like it! I think what struck me most was that they changed character names, professions and even missed bits out and put different bits in that were not in the novel. As a stand alone film it was probably good, but since it's my favourite McEwan novel it narked me a bit (ok, a lot). So I wouldn't say it was the worst, but it was the only one I could think of!
Friday, 13 March 2009
“All that camp and unisex crap, said Andy dead babies now. When I was a kid they were doing all that.”
All the characters appear to be independently wealthy, and all somewhat reprehensible. But Amis takes the whole book to fill us in on their backgrounds and full character traits, and even then only one of them is a fully fleshed out character. This is Keith Whitehead, and the initial description of him is worth reading, if only for the repulsiveness that comes across in this short passage.
“Whitehead is an almost preposterously unattractive young man- practically, for instance a dwarf. Whenever people want to say something nice about his appearance they usually come up with ‘you’ve got quite nice colouring’, a reference to his dark eyebrows and thin yellow hair. That granted, nothing remained to be praised about his unappetizing person- the sparse straw mat atop a squashed and petulant mask of acne; the dour, bulgy little torso and repulsively truncated limbs; the numb, cadaverous texture of the whole."
This is such a brilliant way of saying he’s short, fat and ugly! The other characters are less filled in, but we have background information on all of them and do finally get to know why they behave as they do. There’s violent, unsatisfied Andy and his girlfriend Diana, charming, respectable Quentin and his wife, Celia, permanently drunk Giles and his obsession with his teeth, the three visiting Americans who regularly have threesomes and Lucy Littlejohn, Andy’s ex-girlfriend/whore.
During their weekend they are permanently under the influence of some sort of substance and although the talk is constantly of sex, not a lot of it seems to actually happen, due to effects called street sadness, false memory and other such pretentious sounding ‘ailments’. They have a picnic, clobber a cow, visit some strange avant garde theatre and have various discussions about modern society and its failings, which usually comes down to sex or violence. And some bloke called Johnny keeps playing unpleasant practical jokes on them all.
As I said at the start I’m not sure what I thought about this. I don’t think I even understood it properly. I think it might have supposed to have been a satire on upper class society in the 60’s/70’s, but I’ll stand corrected on that. I did enjoy it though, even if I didn’t quite get it! It was actually funny in places, and the conversations between the characters were brilliantly written. It is definitely a novel of dialogue. I also really liked the fact that the author was frequently popping up and commenting on the story himself.
“Enough? Have we had enough? Nothing would be easier of course than to give the Americans some food, some sleep even and pack them off....unfortunately there is no going back on things that in a sense were never meant, things that got started too long ago. These things go on. It isn’t over. It hasn’t begun.”
And the ending is brilliant. It involves Johnny, of course, but it sneaks up on you and even once you’ve read it, and then read it again, you can’t quite believe that it has actually happened.
Thursday, 12 March 2009
Or, What book do you think should NEVER be made into a movie?
This one was hard. I think all books can be made into good films as long as it stays relatively true to the book. One that immediately springs to mind that didn't was Roald Dahl's The Witches. They completely changed the ending! But I tend not too like films made from my favourite books, so I'm going to suggest a couple but I hope no production companies are reading! Lol
My first thought was Wilkie Collins The Moonstone but I'm sure a film of that has already been made, I've just never seen it!
Other than that I'd like to see a film of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, and possibly The Five People you Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. I don't know if this could be done but it would be interesting if it was done well.
Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Steinbeck obviously felt passionately about everything he wrote about. In fact, the introduction to this collection said that he reserved the right to only write only about the things he wanted to. But It didn’t really need to say this. It comes across in his writing.
Being as Steinbeck’s most famous novels are about the starvation and human injustice that took place during 1930’s America, this seems like as good a place as any to start. The series of articles that he wrote about the squatters camps are almost unbearable to read, but at the same time compelling, and very moving. His sense of social injustice comes across in virtually every word.
“If you buy a farm horse and only feed him when you work him, the horse will die. No one complains of the necessity of feeding the horse when he is not working. But we complain about feeding the men and women who work our lands. Is it possible that this state is so stupid, so vicious and so greedy that it cannot feed and clothe the men and women who help to make it the richest area in the world? Must the hunger become anger and the anger fury before anything will be done?”
“I heard a man tell in a monotone voice how he couldn’t get a doctor while his oldest boy died of pneumonia but that a doctor came right away after it was dead.”
He also writes a lot about the struggle to gain equality between blacks and whites, which would have been a very pressing issue at the time he was writing. In fact he mentions numerous events that I had to look up, since I’m not American and my knowledge of American History is woefully sparse! Things such as Littlerock, and the Bus boycott meant very little to me. His strong feelings on equality can be summed up with this quote from late on in his career.
“We will not overcome the trauma that slavery has left on our society, North and South, until we cannot remember whether the man we just spoke to on the street was Negro or white”
It’s not all doom and gloom though. A lot of the articles seem to get his point across whilst still being entertaining. He writes about a porter in Ireland who wouldn’t fetch bread and whiskey because it was against the rules, the joy he felt as a child when the circus comes to town, the horrors of war, the rights of war, What it means to be French through a conversation with French people, politics and so much more.
What struck me most was that a lot of what he says still seems to be relevant today. It is sometimes hard to believe that this was written between fifty and eighty years ago. Below is just a selection of quotes that could be just as relevant today as they obviously were when Steinbeck wrote them.
“Since the river polluters and the air poisoners are not criminal or even bad people, we must presume that they are heirs to the early conviction that sky and water are unowned and they are limitless.”
“Indeed the cult of sexual excitement over underdeveloped females seems one more evidence of the American preservation of adolescence beyond its normal span."
“It is one of the less attractive of human traits that everyone wants to look down on someone, to be better than someone else”
I could go on forever but I really should stop somewhere! I think it’s probably fairly obvious by now that I really likes this. It was surprisingly easy to read. I’ve been scared of reading Steinbeck for a long time now, and based on this I really shouldn’t have been. On to some of his fiction next I think. I’ll leave it with one last quote that although Steinbeck is talking about a small Italian town, sort of sums up how it feels to read his writing.
“It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone”
And this one just made me laugh when I read it!
And if the book were printed on rye bread it would be very much thicker. Further, your bread book would solve two problems. The reader would never lose his place since he would eat each page as he finished it;also the lost profit of the borrowed book would be eliminated. And people d like to read while they eat. A few years ago, a public librarian in Birmingham, England, earnestly requested the subscribers not to use bacon or kippers as bookmarks because the grease soaked through the pages and the odour might repel future readers. -John Steinbeck
Monday, 9 March 2009
Sunday, 8 March 2009
A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone. ~Jo Godwin
So to follow the unicorn is to track one aspect of mankind's progress across 2500 years.It is a windy road with many charming vistas and many strange ones. Before stepping out on it le us deal with one negative expectation that might otherwiswe spoil the journey. For most of recorded history people thought that the unicorn existed. Recently we have come to know that it never did. So this book must end in disappointment. Not so. Unicorns did exist. There are photographs.-from The Natural History of Unicorns by Chris Lavers (introduction)
Saturday, 7 March 2009
To those with ears to hear, libraries are really very noisy places. On their shelves we hear the captured voices of the centuries-old conversation that makes up our civilization. ~Timothy Healy
"a person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe" From Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones
Friday, 6 March 2009
We join the story when they have been on the island for a number of years, and the two youngest children Daisy (3) and Finn (8) have no recollection of their mother, who they have been told died in the flood trying to rescue daisy. Alice (14), however remembers her mother and the world before, and it is through Alice’s questioning that we first start to question the father’s story. Alice is sure she has memories of her mother being on the island, but she can’t remember clearly enough to be sure.
It’s very difficult to review this book without giving too much of the plot away, but suffice to say all is not as it seems. The book is divided into two parts, with both parts having multiple narrators. As a reader, you quite often find you are reading about the same event from two different perspectives and it is not until you have read all the accounts that you know what is actually happening. I found myself constantly changing my mind as to what had gone on as I got further into the story. The first part is alternately narrated by Pa and Finn, with Alice’s distress being expressed through her reactions with them. Finn’s chapters are narrated in a strange, half phonetic style that makes them very difficult to read.
“I don’t have many pictures of her in my head only five or six but in two of em shes here.
Here I echo
On the I-land
I kinda snort and say Well thats wrong
How do you no.
Cus Ma were never here. She never made it to the I-land. She died saving daisy dint she.
But in my pictures shes here Alice sists. I member it.”
It is Pa’s narrative that suggests most that all is not as it seems. He seems on the surface to be the loving caring family man, doing his best for his family in the most extreme circumstances but certain things seem to suggest otherwise. He drinks a lot, kills Finn’s cat in a fit of temper and seems very concerned about another person approaching on the sea, telling his children to ignore everything he might say to them.
The second part of this book is narrated mainly by Pa and Alice and is concerned with the arrival of the stranger on the island. From this point on the whole thing unravels and the insanity of the father is exposed, finally culminating in Alice reading her fathers journal and the whole truth being revealed to her and the readers simultaneously.
The language and writing styles of the various narrators play a major part in the understanding of this book. Finn’s childish, half phonetic speech is brilliant at conveying his childish belief in everything he’s told and complete faith in his father. And it does get easier to read as you adjust to the style. Through the narration of Alice, Finn and Pa we see the degeneration of the father, with his language descending into stream of consciousness interspersed with religious dogma when he’s at his worst, as well as the continued frustration of Alice with the world she now has to live in. There are only three books on the island, Grimms fairy tales which Daisy reads and Finn refers to frequently, The Bible which Finn is just starting to read and Shakespeare, which Alice is reading. Specifically Alice is reading Romeo and Juliet and struggling with the idea that she may never know love like that.
This is an interesting book, and one that will stay with me for a long time. I wish I could say more about it to review it better, but that would give away the plot and therefore ruin the suspense inherent in the novel.
Thursday, 5 March 2009
I'm going to go for the middle option, to read five classics plus a bonus that is something that is considered to be a new classic. My list is below.
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
- The Time Machine by H.G Wells
- The Grapes of Wrath-John Steinbeck
- To Kill a Mocking Bird-Harper Lee
I've got these on my bookcase, I just haven't got round to reading them. Maybe I should join the classics challenge then I can include them on my list and I might actually read them!
Tuesday, 3 March 2009
Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones
Not the End of the World by Geraldine McCaughrean
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
Tanglewreck by Jeanette Winterson
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance by Matthew Kneale
The Island at the End of the World by Sam Taylor-Review pending
Of Men and Their making. The selected Fiction of John Steinbeck-review pending
Of Men and Their Making:The selection Fiction of John Steinbeck
Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones
The Island at the End of the World by Sam Taylor
Support your Library Challenge 12/50
A-Z challenge 13/52
Chunkster Challenge 1/3
Whats in a name challenge 3/6
The Pub 09 Challenge 1/10
War Through the Generations challenge 2/6
Monday, 2 March 2009
This one made me think. Since starting this blog, I realised I used to read a lot more books when I was at university. Of Course whilst was studying I had a lot more time. Obviously I now have work, children and a house to run which wasn't a concern whilst I was studying. But I don't think that's the whole story.
When I was studying I would skim parts of books, or read very quickly just to get the book finished before the lecture or seminar. I could always go back for a closer reading of the text if I was going to use that particular text in an assignment. Now my reading is purely for pleasure, can read at my own pace and enjoy every word. I don't think I skim anything in a book now, in fact I am more likely to go back and read chapters or paragraphs again if I feel I didn't get the full meaning from them.
I don't think even when I was under time constraints to get books read, I ever skipped whole chapters! Quick skim reading of certain parts, yes certainly, but I can't imagine just missing a whole chapter out.
Sunday, 1 March 2009
A short story from the author of English Passengers, picked up because I really loved that book and I'm trying to read more short stories this year. This is very different to English Passengers but also very good.
The stories are set in various countries, and they all centre around slightly reprehensible characters or actions. The crimes in question are sometimes actually crimes in a legal sense, but more often than not they are more of a moral nature, and leave the reader with a feeling that something slightly wrong has occurred, but exactly what can be quite elusive.
My favourite story from this collection was the first one, Stone. This centres on a family who like exotic holidays, but always take organised tours, so never really venture off the beaten track. Under 'keeping up with the Jones's' type pressure, they take a trip to China under their own steam. From the first moment this doesn't go to plan as the language barrier leads them to the wrong town, where they are helped by a local man, who then doesn't leave them alone. When some expensive jewellery goes missing, the differences between western and Chinese bureaucracy become apparent, leading to horrific consequences.
Another one I particularly liked was 'Sound', which centred around a young man living in London, perfectly content with his new, expensive flat and developing relationship. All seems to be going perfectly well in his life until he believes himself to be being stalked by a man who keeps walking past his flat. After following this man himself he glimpses a knife and so arms himself, a relatively small crime. These two men never speak, and during the inevitable confrontation, it is not until one of them does that the misunderstanding becomes apparent, and a much larger crime is avoided.
Other stories in this collection include the downward spiral of a respectable city worker who stumbles upon a large quantity of Cocaine along with the previous owners phone. When this phone rings greed takes over and he realises he has a ready made market for the drugs. Again fuelled by a desire to keep up with the neighbours the downward spiral of the once respectable man, and the affect it has on his family is painful to watch. Linked with this one the next story involves the effects of Cocaine growing on a hardworking Colombian family, as well as how temptation can affect anyone, regardless of their circumstances.
As with all story collections some are better than others, but I really enjoyed this and it's inspired me to read both more short stories and more Matthew Kneale.