Tuesday, 30 June 2009
Monday, 29 June 2009
Friday, 26 June 2009
Thursday, 25 June 2009
(I’m not asking for you to list your ideal “beach reading,” you understand, but the book that you can read at any time of year but that evokes “summer.”)
Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Saturday, 20 June 2009
The Secret Scripture will stay with me for a long time. And I know I need to say more about it than that, but that just seemed the most important thing to say. It's the story of Roseanne Mcnulty (nee Clear), who has spent the last sixty years residing in a psychiatric institute in Ireland. She is writing her memories of her life before her committal and hiding them under her floorboards (calling it her Testimony of Herself). At the same time, Dr Grene is trying to ascertain whether she is actually insane as the hospital is being demolished and he is tasked with deciding which patients should be moved to the new facility and which could be released into the community. But throughout the novel it is made clear that whether Roseanne was committed for the right reasons, or just to get her out of the way, at nearly 100 years old, and having lived two thirds of her life in an institution she is not fit to be released to community living.
Roseanne's testimony starts with her life in 1920's Ireland, a time of great social upheaval, and religious conflict. She talks about her mother (also committed to an asylum), but with more love and feeling about her father. She recounts the whole of her life, including her father's death, her marriage and the eventual birth of her child and committal to Sligo mental asylum. In parallel with this Dr Grene relives certain aspects of his life through his commonplace book, notably the disintegration of his marriage and the reasons why. He is unable to convince Roseanne talk to him though so his account also documents his attempts to discover Roseanne's history for himself. fairly early on it becomes clear that these accounts do not always match up, which leads nicely on to the crux of the novel, the idea that memory is unreliable.
Throughout the story it is never clear exactly whose account is true, if anybody's is. Roseanne's memory is called into question with particular reference to events concerning her father. But this subject is broached fairly early n in the novel, when Roseanne herself says
"Memory, I suppose, if it is neglected becomes like a box room, or a lumber room in an old house, the contents jumbled about, maybe not only from neglect but also from too much haphazard searching in them, and things to boot thrown in that don’t belong there"
Memory and the perception of time, and how it affects life runs throughout this book. Ideas of memory, time and history an be summed up quite succinctly in the following quote
"For history as far as I can see is not the arrangement of what happens, in sequence and in truth, but a fabulous arrangement of surmises and guesses held up as a banner against the assault of withering truth. "
With the novel set against the backdrop of civil war and religious upheaval in Ireland, it is also focuses on how religious doctrine and dogma, as well as the authority of religious ministers can affect a person's life, and totally control how people view them, treat them and even influence the outcome of their lives. Testimony from a priest was nearly always believed, and in fact led to Roseanne's downfall. Even today, Dr Grene reluctantly says that based on Father Gaunt's testimony, he would have had no choice but to commit Roseanne. Just as a further note on Dr Grene, his and Roseanne's life intertwines to the end of the novel, and I did find the end slightly dissatisfying, although every detail was threaded through the story to ensure it didn't seem too convenient and implausible.
Thursday, 18 June 2009
As she puts it:
So! In my Official Capacity as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, I hereby proclaim June 23 Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Day! A day of celebration and wonder! A day for all of us readers of science fiction and fantasy to reach out and say thank you to our favorite writers. A day, perhaps, to blog about our favorite sf/f writers. A day to reflect upon how written science fiction and fantasy has changed your life.
So … what might you do on the 23rd to celebrate? Do you even read fantasy/sci-fi? Why? Why not?
When I first saw this question, my immediate response was that I couldn't answer because I don't read any. But the more I think about it, I realise I have read some, just not very much. I am nervous of both those labels though. If you gave me a book and told me it was fantasy or science fiction I'd run a mile. But I think this just goes to show that labelling books as particular types is a bad idea, and ma possibly narrow it's audience. This is borne out when you consider what I've actually read that might fit these categories, because I don't think many of them would have been marketed as fantasy or science fiction
Starting with my childhood reading, there's Lord of The Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. Fantasy I suppose. But I did try numerous times at high school to read Terry Pratchett because everybody raved about it, but just couldn't get into it. I think that might have been what originally put me off anything specifically labelled as fantasy.
From my recent reading would have to say that The Time Machine and The Time Travelers Wife class as science fiction and possibly Tanglewreck by Jeanette Winterson, and now I mention her, Stone Gods as well. For fantasy, both of Susanna Clarke's books are set in alternate realities where fairy's exist in a world with humans, and I really enjoyed Wicked, and since that's about witches and magic and the central character is green, I don't think you could get more fantastical than that! And where does The End of Mr Y fit? Science fiction, fantasy, neither or both?
I would have to say that the things I've read that are most obviously fantasy are things Dylan has pushed at me. The first that springs to mind is The Graveyard Book. I read this with trepidation, but really enjoyed it. In fact I think Dylan could write this post so much better than me since 80% of what he reads involves dragons, demons, vampires and magic! But then he is eleven.
I've waffled for way too long now, but I think the upshot of what I'm trying to say is that I can fit some of the things i've read into science fiction and fantasy, but that for one reason another I'm scared of those terms. Those labels put me off and I should work on judging a book based on what it's about rather than what it's categorised as.
Wednesday, 17 June 2009
I can't tell you who wrote this because we are supposed to guess. It's part of a project by Fourth Estate to "assess the importance placed on name and reputation over quality of writing." Called ANONthology, it's a collection of nine stories written by nine different authors, including Joyce Carol Oates, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Philip Hensher. A full list of authors and all the stories can be found here. The idea intrigues me, but I've got no hope of guessing who wrote what because I've not read anything by any of these authors so I've got nothing to go on.
Do is the first story, and is a really short story about a man whose daughter has died and the psychological affect this has on him. He spends all his time at the park watching a small child who laughs like his daughter, at the expense of all the other people he loves and who need him. dealing with themes such as obsession, mental breakdown and with an ambiguous, but possibly disturbing ending.
I enjoyed this one and I will go and read the rest when I get chance. And I will be interested in finding out who wrote what when it's revealed in October, even though I'm not qualified to guess myself.
Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Sunday, 14 June 2009
Thursday, 11 June 2009
Tuesday, 9 June 2009
Sunday, 7 June 2009
This is one of those stories that has multiple characters all introduced within the first few chapters. In that way it reminds me a bit of Stella Duffy's Room of Lost Things, but the story is totally different. Set in London, there is Job, an illegal immigrant from Zimbabwe working as a taxi driver, Ian, a South African teacher working in a bottom of the league school to complete his qualifications, Katie, an American immigrant running away from a failed relationship, Anna, an underage Ukrainian working in forced prostitution and Polly, British, divorced and forced to rely on cheap illegal au pairs to enable her to keep up her career as a lawyer, incidentally working for a law firm that defends asylum seekers appealing their deportation.
From this eclectic range of characters it should be clear that immigration and asylum seekers are a major theme of this story. And it's not altogether complimentary about British attitudes towards immigration, encompassing the general public, the press and government policy.
Its difficult to say what the story is actually about, as its about all these characters and their lives. At the start of the novel they all witness (separately) a body of a young girl being pulled out of a pond, and although this only directly concerns one of the characters, for the readers it is a central thread running throughout the book, who was she, who killed her, and why. Although who she is is obvious to the reader early on, but not the characters. As the story progresses, the characters start to intermingle in each others lives a little, and at the end, they are all interconnected and it is this interconnectedness that makes the story come together.
Back to the immigration theme, this being a major aspect of the story. We see the way immigration and asylum seeking status is viewed through the eyes of these characters and they all have a very different take on the subject. Polly, the immigration lawyer, gives us the government viewpoint, although she is highly critical of what she deems the highly random policy of who gets to stay and go. We also see the humanitarian side of it from her, as she struggles with her often pointless defence of people who will undoubtedly sent back to a country they will be killed or persecuted in. From Anna, the teenage prostitute, we see the horrors of people trafficking, and the way young girls are conned into coming here, purely for others financial gain. Job, here to earn money to send home, shows us how much some of these people just want to work to look after their families. Ian is different, as he is legal as he has a British father, but he works in a school mostly populated by immigrant children, and we see the hatred they have for their adopted country through his interactions with his students. He is concerned about the separatism and believes if they were made to feel more integrated things might be better for them.
As well as from the central characters, we also see how these people are exploited when they do get here. If they come and work illegally, they can work, because they are willing to work for much less than the minimum wage, just to be working. The people that employ them for money they can't live on come in for criticism too. This is where Polly's dilemma lies. She is guilty of this, but can see no other way of continuing her career, and providing a decent life for her children.
It's obviously social commentary, and it's obvious where Amanda Craig's heart lies on this issue.
I'm going to avoid getting political and stating my opinions because I could be here all day, but I do think this story makes us realise we need to have compassion, and perhaps use our hearts and minds more when thinking about these things. It's a good story too though. I'd hesitate to call it a mystery, but that theme is definitely there throughout, and the mystery of the girl in the pond is not resolved until the end of the book. Its definitely worth reading, and could go down as one of my best books of the year so far!
Friday, 5 June 2009
Thursday, 4 June 2009
This was really hard to do quickly. It's not in my nature to just write down the first things that come into my head, I'd much rather think and analyse what I'm writing! But here goes, 15 in 15 minutes!
- The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Nifenegger
- English Passengers by Matthew Kneale
- Tess of The D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
- Dracula by Bram Stoker
- Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones
- The Beach by Alex Garland
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
- The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice
- Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice
- The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
- The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter
- The Witches by Roald Dahl
- The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend
- The Secret History by Donna Tartt
- The Octopus Nest by Sophie Hannah
Ok, that was really hard! And I cheated slightly because the last one is a short story. but a fantastic one that I don't think I'll ever forget. And although I wrote this in 15 minutes I know won't be able to stop myself thinking about it so no doubt I'll think of others that should be in there!
Wednesday, 3 June 2009
1.What author do you own the most books by?
Margaret Atwood or Anne Rice. Unless you want to count all the Enid Blytons from my childhood, but I'm not sure where some of those are! Probably in my parents loft/garage!
2. What book do you own the most copies of?
Tess of The D'Urbervilles (I have two because one has so many notes in it it became impossible to read just for pleasure!) And I also have two copies of The very Hungry Caterpillar because I refused to let my children have mine!
3. Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
Erm, No. I didn't even notice!
4. What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
I think have would have to be Lestat. Not sure I want to think about what that says about me!
5. What book have you read the most times in your life (excluding picture books read to children)?
Tess of The D'Urbervilles, The vampire Lestat. can anyone spot a running theme here! Lol
6. What was your favourite book when you were ten years old?
Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild.
7. What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?
I don't know. Probably Gut Symmetries by Jeanette Winterson. but I didn't finish it so I don't know if that counts. It's the only one I could think of though.
8. What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?
Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones
9. If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?
I wouldn't want to force anyone to read anything! I think that defeats the point of reading!
10. Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature?
Don't know. Couldn't even start to answer that one!
11. What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
I find this difficult to answer. I can't think of anything I would particularly like to see made into a film. I just don't think I see books that way. I spent ages trying to think of one but now I've given up!
12. What book would you least like to see made into a movie?
The Time Travellers Wife. And I know it's already being done, I just can't see how it can be made, or be as good as the book!
13. What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?
Atomised by Michel Houllebeq. Easy to read but impossible to understand!
14. Roth or Updike?
Never read either. There are some shocking gaps in my reading. I would like to read both though!
15. David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?
Difficult to make a judgement. I don't like Sedaris, but I've only ever read one short story by Eggers, which I enjoyed but isn't really enough to judge him on. So a qualified Eggers I suppose.
16. Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?
From an English graduates viewpoint, Shakespeare has the edge over Chaucer very slightly. Don't especially like Milton. But I wouldn't read any of it for pleasure!
17. Austen or Eliot?
Austen easily. Eliot is too wordy. Presuming of course this means George. I really like T.S Eliot.