Detonating a Taboo

8:15 PM 24 OCTOBER 2016

This book was listed for World Book Night 2016 and though an unusual storyline (at fist glance recovery from teenage mental illness may not seem fertile territory for humour), Holly Bourne has successfully woven together a really positive ‘rite of passage’ novel, which reinforces the notion that a diagnosed condition need not define the person. In this instance the sixteen year old person is Evie and the start of a new college offers the prospect of a chance to re-boot her adolescent life, no longer identified as ‘that girl who went crazy’. Still, in her efforts to re-invent herself with new girl friends and prospective boyfriends, Evie is cautious about how much she reveals about the past, or even her experience of the present. By contrast, her family have lived with Evie the darkest lows and with her psychologist, try to help navigate the return to ‘normal’.

Indeed, the book is something of a roller-coaster from emotional highs to poignant lows, the reader follows the central character’s progress and setbacks in her burgeoning relationships and ongoing mental health challenges, but the author deftly avoids any mawkish tendencies. Alongside some laugh-out-loud moments, Bourne also explores interesting insights and manages to balance the interplay between the potentially crushing effects of illness, with the shared ‘madness’ that so often characterizes the human condition. A thoroughly enjoyable and compelling read, it turns out we are all a unique version of ‘normal’, just moving along our respective paths. If we are lucky, there are people who care alongside us on the journey. 

I’m passing my copy on, fully endorsing the World Book Night listing as a genuine celebration of reading and books in all its diversity. Remember the name. Holly Bourne is a very promising young writer.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The road to enlightenment

12:46 AM 15 OCTOBER 2016

‘The Pilgrimage’ has the distinction of being Paulo Coelho’s first major book and relates his extraordinary and at times mystical quest along the medieval route to San Tiago de Compostela. The mental and physical trials the author experiences and the insight he derives from this challenge are perhaps deliberately obscure, but also makes this a challenging read in parts. Complex metaphors wrapped around the enigmatic author and his strange guide (Petrus) give the impression that this book is multi-layered and yet I’m not convinced that careful unwrapping is necessarily worthy of the implied effort.

Certainly there were some interesting concepts introduced, such a ‘agape’ – total love. “…the love that consumes the person who experiences it… the highest form of love”. Moreover, enthusiasm is considered as “agape directed at a particular idea or a specific thing”. Still, Coelho postulates the ultimate challenge for each of us is how to harness these underpinnings of faith and happiness on our respective journeys. Invoking a term coined by St. Paul, the author examines what it means, “to fight the good fight”.

What should we be seeking to achieve with this wonderful gift of life and the talents we each possess? This is philosophical stuff and encapsulating the ‘bigger picture’ within the boundaries of a walk, albeit a very long one, was interesting, though somewhat dull. Rather than lift a veil on the meaning of life, Coelho has perhaps suggested we are each on a pilgrimage of sorts, to discover our own meaning and purpose. Still, my personal search for happiness is likely to include fewer such weighty or prophetic books. Life is afterall rather short.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Life is partly Survival…

2:42 PM 24 SEPTEMBER 2016

‘Life of Pi’ made the World Book Night list for 2011 and rightly so. Martel has created a modern masterpiece, which is beautifully written. The storyline is unusual and all the more absorbing for it. The ending too is intriguing and though the movie interpretation is good, it can’t do full justice to a wonderful book.

Notwithstanding the general assumption of the superiority of the human race, the author holds up an interesting mirror for the reader, which reflects man’s inherent, but potentially ugly, animalistic desire for survival. 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

SOURCE: HTTP://WWW.GOODREADS.COM/REVIEW/SHOW/1521143932

Servants No Longer De Rigueur…

2:16 PM 24 SEPTEMBER 2016

I was honoured to be given the opportunity to give this book, as part of the World Book Night 2012. This was my first choice and enabled me to wax lyrical about this deceptively simple story, which explores in detail the reflections and experiences of a butler, Stevens, as he contemplates his life in service and the relevance of a life spent in service at a time of profound social change. Empathetically written, Ishiguro’s prose is a sheer delight and his attention to detail and fine emotional expression is quite touching. Certainly not a thriller, yet I feel the intentionally pedestrian pace merely accentuates the absolute quality of the writing. A truly exceptional read! 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

SOURCE: HTTP://WWW.GOODREADS.COM/REVIEW/SHOW/1521144071

Poignant Dystopia

2:09 PM 24 SEPTEMBER 2016

I was so impressed by The Remains of the Day that I was inspired to move on to this book by the same author. Admittedly it was also shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, but the quality of the writing was nonetheless similarly beguiling. Ishiguro has created another thought-provoking novel, which tackles some quite profound issues around what it is to be human, the tyranny of a new form of slavery and the ethics of a system prepared to sacrifice the few for the good of the many. Albeit a fictitious social framework, it nonetheless invites critique around other man-made discrimination, which cast some people as powerless, or ‘undeserving’. Brilliant book, the nuances of which were not fully captured (in my view), by the movie interpretation.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

SOURCE: HTTP://WWW.GOODREADS.COM/REVIEW/SHOW/1521144086

Top 10 Literary ‘Hero’ Resides Here!

2:02 PM 24 SEPTEMBER 2016

For such an acclaimed classic novel, I’ve come to it late. I know the the reputation of the masterpiece by Harper Lee and the centrality of the character, Atticus Finch. What I hadn’t realised was that it’s written from the perspective of his young daughter, Jean Louise, aka ‘Scout’ and I think this was a masterstroke. Atticus is heroic because he acts as the conscience of the community of Maycomb, Alabama, albeit he is impotent in the face of 1930s racism.
Nonetheless, Atticus represents the rule of law and advocates for justice via the courts and crucially he has imbued his children with the ideals of what is right. And it is the naive belief of his children, unencumbered by the subverting effects of the prevailing white adult culture, which seizes the imagination. Throughout the book the invisible spectre of Boo Radley (local recluse) looms large for Scout and her brother (Jem), but so does the presence of their ‘coloured’ cook (Calpurnia) and as a consequence it is the simply balanced view of Scout, which deftly marshalls the sympathies of the reader. A remarkably well written book, which continues to stand the test of time.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

SOURCE: HTTP://WWW.GOODREADS.COM/REVIEW/LIST/51836771

Classic American Novel

12:30 AM 24 SEPTEMBER 2016

Beautifully crafted, classic American novel, the mysterious, detached Gatsby is dissected through his relationships with acquaintances, friends, businessmen and father. In spite of extreme wealth, he cuts a tragic,isolated figure at times, undone by emotional attachment. The backdrop of 1920s US is also utterly compelling.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

SOURCE: HTTP://WWW.GOODREADS.COM/REVIEW/SHOW/1521144352

Dark Matters

12:21 AM 24 SEPTEMBER 2016

A challenging read which plumbs psychological depths and questions the morality underpinning ‘crime and punishment’. I found the brutal killing and attendant emotional turmoil both disturbing and fascinating in equal measure and the abundant food for thought truly marks this book out as a classic.

SOURCE: HTTP://WWW.GOODREADS.COM/BOOK/SHOW/7138

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Political Theory

12:14 AM 24 SEPTEMBER 2016

A seminal work, which offers an interesting, if dated, critique of capitalism and an alternative way of perceiving the world’s dominant system of social organization. Certainly the thoughts expressed by Marx and Engels lays bare the assumptions which accompany our embrace of capitalism, but its longevity may owe much to the absence of a workable alternative to date (the subsequent attempts at the implementation of communism being largely discredited).  

SOURCE: HTTP://WWW.GOODREADS.COM/REVIEW/SHOW/1521144565

Rating: 3 out of 5.