Sunday, 26 February 2012

64/111 - Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde

Finally onto the 4th book in the Thursday Next series. I don't want to go into too much detail with the plot of these books, as they're so complex and intertwined. I think I've said it before, but Jasper Fforde's writing really reminds me of Douglas Adams. Very absurd and funny.

Something which I would like to focus on is the way in which Jasper Fforde does comedy very well, but he also does sadness very well too. In all of these books so far, there have been some very touching moments which have even managed to bring a tear to my eye, which is very rare for me, especially with a book.

In Something Rotten, Thursday goes to visit Granny Next several times. She's a recurring character throughout the other novels, and helps Thursday out a lot when she's working in the Bookworld. She hints at her own history of working for SpecOps and the Bookworld, however we never really find out much about her. She is over 100 years old, and continually insists that she cannot die until she has read the ten most boring books.

At some point in Something Rotten, Thursday receives her punishment for altering the ending of Jane Eyre, which is to spend ten years wearing gingham, and no death until she has read the ten most boring books... just like Granny Next! It finally clicks that Granny Next is in fact an older version of herself, and she arrives at the care home just in time for her future self to die. Very sad.

Next: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde

Sunday, 19 February 2012

World Book Night 2012

In a couple of months, World Book Night will be happening for the second time ever. Last year I reported live from World Book Night at the event in Trafalgar Square, and then later in the Southbank Centre, which was great. This year, I won't be reporting from that side, as such, however I will be participating as a 'giver'!

At the end of January I decided to apply to be a giver, partly on a whim and also partly because one of the books for this year is Misery by Stephen King, which is a great book.

In my application, I had to answer questions on who I planned to give the books to, and why I had chosen this as my first choice. For who, I'd like this book to go to two kinds of people; first of all, people who turn their nose up at Stephen King. I've written before about how he's widely considered trash by a lot of literary snobs, but that he's my absolute favourite author. Surely a free copy of one of his books would be enough to get people to at least try? Secondly, I'd like to get people reading who don't read very much, or at all. Working for a technology company, I come across a lot of people who sometimes take pride in the fact that they've never read a real book, which I think is a real shame. Maybe Misery will get them started?

I chose Misery because I love Stephen King, however I had to write something a little more substantial for the application, so I wrote something along the lines of: Misery is about how relevant and real storytelling can be for people. For Annie, Paul's characters are like her own family and a lot of people feel this way about the characters that they know and love (I'm thinking of things like Harry Potter). It shows us that these characters and the worlds they inhabit have a real impact on our lives and they become something more to us than just entertainment. And just as in Annie's case, they can bring out the obsessional side in us, too.

I wasn't expecting to be chosen as I'm sure there were loads of people who applied, but I'm very proud and excited. Guess I had better read Misery again before April rolls around!

63/111 - Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

This is the last book in the Hunger Games trilogy, and I can't decide whether the second or third book is the weakest of the lot. I thought that I was disappointed by Catching Fire as it was suffering from that whole 'middle of a trilogy' thing in that it's left relatively unfinished.

This book left me feeling pretty unsatisfied. After Katniss is rescued from the arena, she's taken to District 13 where the corrupt president forces her to become the spearhead of the rebellion as the Mockingjay. Once again, lots of focus on what she's wearing or what's she's eating. Snore. Katniss spends half her time moping, and half her time breaking the rules, with a bit of hunting, nightmares and kissing Gale thrown in for good measure.

It soon becomes apparent that District 13 is really no better than the Capitol, and is oppressive in other ways - people are expected to be frugal and forms of expression are looked on with distrust. Even celebrating a wedding is unheard of. The president is never really convincing as a good guy, so when she turns at the end and becomes just as corrupt as the president of the Capitol, it's extremely predictable.

We also discover that Peeta is being kept alive in the Capitol and experiments are being carried out which alter his psyche and his memories, and cause him to hate Katniss. The rebels rescue him from the Capitol and he treats her like dirt from there on, and slowly starts to warm up to him.

Then there's the final battle, which had none of the drama of the previous books.

Finally, the ending. What the fuck?! The battle is won, and Katniss is sent home back to the destroyed District 12 (without her family or friends) instead of being celebrated as a war hero. Gale and her mother? We never hear of them again except for a sort of vague explanation that they're living elsewhere. Katniss goes back to live in her old house alone, and eventually Peeta turns up, hating her slightly less. The last chapter consists of the two of them gazing across a field that their children are running around in. LAME.

I get that we're not really supposed to like Katniss, as such, but surely the characters and the story deserve a more complete and satisfying ending than that? Disappointing, for such a strong start to the series.

Next: Back to Jasper Fforde with Something Rotten.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

62/111 - Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

This is the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy, and follows on almost immediately after the first book. It’s not quite as good, in my opinion, but I still worked through it pretty quickly so I guess I must have enjoyed it.

In this volume, Katniss has made it out of the Hunger Games alive, however her rebellious nature has gotten her in trouble with the president of the totalitarian state, and it’s clear that he has plans for her future. She and Peeta are entered into the next round of the Hunger Games with victors from previous years, making the challenge of winning that much more difficult, however there is a resistance movement who also have their own plans for Katniss.

It was enjoyable, but also kind of clumsy in some areas. Same as last time, I didn’t like the way Collins tries to set up this love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and her friend Gale. I don’t know, it just rang false for me, maybe it would have helped to have chapters with them narrating, or a third person narrator. Because you’re in Katniss’ head the whole time and she’s sort of indifferent to the advances of both the guys, it makes it kind of hard to care about the love story element. It’s a little dumbed down. I’d like to think that if she were a real girl she’d actually have more of an opinion and more agency in which guy (if any) she chooses for her partner. There’s no passion, no turmoil, just vague indifference to either of them. I find it prudish.

Another dumbing-­‐down which also featured a lot in the first book are the overly long descriptions of what Katniss is wearing, and fashion shows seem to be an integral part of this storyline for some unknown reason. She has her own stylist, as apparently her looking fabulous is absolutely key. There are several passages in which her beautification and her outfits are described in painstaking detail. Skipped it.

This one felt a little weird because it’s the second one of the trilogy, the troubled middle child, and so doesn’t really round off in the way you want it to. So, onto the next!

Next time: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins 

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

61/111 - The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I've been bad and bought some more books.

I was at the cinema the other day and saw a trailer for the film adaptation of The Hunger Games, and thought it looked pretty interesting so I decided to take a little break from Thursday Next and read these with relative speed and ease. I've been vaguely aware of the series for a while now since working in Waterstone's, but I've never been a big fan of teen fiction as it's usually quite simplistic and corny. This definitely had some simplistic and corny parts to it, but overall was a pretty decent and suspenseful yarn.

Katniss is the main character of the novel, and she inhabits a dystopian future where there are only 12 remaining districts in the US with people still alive in them. Katniss is a lone wolf of sorts and spends most of her days hunting and trying to avoid starvation for her and her family.

As a punishment for the rebellion of the twelve districts, each year a girl and boy child are selected to play in the Hunger Games - a Battle Royale-type survival game where they must kill each other and the last remaining survivor is the winner. Katniss' little sister's name is selected, so Katniss puts herself forward in her place. The boy selected from her district, Peeta, has admired Katniss from afar for some time, but the hard-headed Katniss won't let herself see that, or feel anything. Together they must go to an arena to fight the other 22 teenagers from the remaining 11 districts and see if they can win the right to live, but obviously along the way they start to develop feelings for one another, which complicates things...

I generally quite liked this, and it was certainly a gripping read as I finished it in the space of two days, however it reminded me a little of Delirium in its simplicity and the way the story was told from the first person of a troubled teenage girl. I think if it hadn't had the element of being set in a post-apocalyptic world, I wouldn't really have enjoyed it.

I also have a problem with the slightly clumsy way books of this type deal with sex and relationships. There is lots of 'kissing', but we all know that teenagers are horny beasts and that there would have definitely been something more going on there. I dislike the way these books make the main characters seem so pure and devoid of any kind of desires, because I think this is a disservice to their human natures. Obviously for a book for teenagers you don't want it filled with Mills & Boon-type stuff, but at least be honest. It's annoying to read about a breathtakingly beautiful/smart/talented female character who is portrayed as having no idea of her unique abilities. Beautiful AND humble? Wow, what a great person!

Next: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins.

Monday, 6 February 2012

60/111 - The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde

The latest in my Jasper Fforde reading kick has gone very well indeed.

Pregnant and being chased by the Goliath corporation, Thursday decides to reside in a 'lost plot' for the duration of her pregnancy and tries her best to stay quiet and keep out of the way as much as possible, but of course this doesn't happen.

I really loved the way that Jasper Fforde has made the internal life of books come alive. In this universe, a book, even when published, is not a static work, it is constantly evolving and living. The characters are real and they understand the lines they have to say and the parameters within which they have to operate, but they also have down-time between their scenes where they live their ordinary lives.

Thursday's home is in the well of lost plots, which are stories which have not yet been completed or published - if a book doesn't make it to publication, then the entire thing could be broken down and its components cast back into the Text Sea, which is an ocean of letters and punctuation.

Thursday takes up a role as a Jurisfiction agent who is responsible for ensuring that plots remain the same, that Grammacites don't eat all the verbs or punctuation, and mediating anger management courses for the characters in Wuthering Heights. The vastness of the imagination that has gone into this universe is too huge to outline here, but it's really enjoyable and magical. Here are a few things I really enjoyed from the book:

At one point, there is a shortage of the letter 'u' in the Text Sea, so Juristfiction decides to remove the letter 'u' from several words and call it a local idiosyncrasy, which is why American words like 'colour' don't have the 'u' in them anymore.

Main characters can at times be payed by 'generics' who just say the lines, if the main character has to attend to other duties, which is why so many people disagree on the quality of the same book. The idea is that the characters are constantly 'acting' out the story while people in the Outland are reading it, and like a play, each performance of their part is slightly different and gives you a different reading experience each time.

There is a black market in the well of lost plots where people can illegally purchase more exciting plot devices to spice up their novels, such as severed heads.

Some of the characters become tired of their roles and so there is a character exchange program in place for those who want to take some holiday. In the case of Humpty Dumpty, he is given leave in a crime novel, and so the story of Humpty Dumpty falling off the wall becomes a murder mystery for a time.

Really enjoying this series, I have three books left to go, and Jasper Fforde also has another series which I might read, too.

Next: Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde.