Friday, 30 March 2012

72/111 - The Fallback Plan by Leigh Stein

I was looking on Amazon earlier to see what other people had thought of this novel, and holy shit there are some morons reviewing this. This is a book I bought very recently for two main reasons - firstly, it was published by Melville House, who I interned for a couple of years ago, and secondly, it's about a girl who graduates from University and then has to move back in with her parents living a very aimless life and trying to find her way, so I thought it was sort of appropriate.

I quite liked this, even though at first I thought it was going to be bleak and unenjoyable. It was a strange sort of story - Esther, the main character has returned back to her parents' home after graduating and gets a job as a babysitter for a couple who lost one of their children the previous year. At first she gets on extremely well with Amy, the mother, and falls in love with May, her adorable daughter. Slowly, Esther and the husband, Nate, start a weird sort of affair where they get high and kiss in Esther's car. The marriage seems to be going nowhere since the death of their child, however Nate is kind of a coward and doesn't know how to end it. Esther is also kind of a coward in some ways, but they are understandable ways as I also feel like kind of a coward sometimes.

I'm also glad that it wasn't too sentimental. There's lots of opportunities for Esther to have some sort of meaningful epiphany, such as when she finds out that she's being used for sex by one of her friends, or when she realises that Nate is also using her. In a way, I would have liked her to have an epiphany, or at least a moment where she declares that she won't be treated this way any longer, or something. But she doesn't, and that made it very realistic to me. There are no dramatic declarations and she doesn't really change much, and I think that's probably what people are like in general. I mean, I've changed a lot in the last ten years, but by the time you reach your mid-twenties, I think you've probably changed as much as you're ever going to.

The bits of the novel I didn't like were the parts where Esther is imagining herself in a story about a little lost Panda, or something. I skipped those bits because they seemed clumsy and forced to me. Could have done without them I think. And although I found Esther realistic, I also found her frustratingly passive - once she returns from University, she sort of wallows for a bit, hoping for a serious illness so that she can claim benefits. She reads emails from her friends about all the things they're doing and allows herself to basically be used by Nate and that other guy. The only time Esther is really all that interesting, or funny is when she's with May.

I can kind of relate to the frustration of the strange hell of living back at home once you've graduated and are looking for work, but at least I haven't been passive about it. I don't think so anyway. I have worked myself to the point of illness trying to find work, while all my friends around me are Real People with proper jobs and even buying their own houses. I'm halfway there now, got the job and now I need to see if I can get the money together to move out.

Anyway, that's a little off-topic. I enjoyed this book, but if I hadn't been in the situation I'm in now/have been last year, I think I would have found it a little dull. The parts that really spoke to me were related to Esther trying to find her place in the world.

Next: Not sure, still trying to get round to reading the last Thursday Next book, but I keep putting it off for some reason.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

71/111 - An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison

I've had this book for a little while, I think it's one of the books I bought on my last spree before I left Waterstone's and wanted to carry on using my staff discount for as long as possible, even though I had an obscene amount of books already.

The tagline for this book is 'a memoir of moods and madness' and it tells the story of Kay's battle with manic depression. However what makes this more interesting and I guess a little more credible than some of the literature out there is that Kay is a working psychologist.

I don't really want to write too much about this book, but I did really enjoy it. It was very captivating, and I actually read the whole thing in one sitting, even though my eyes were so so heavy at the end!

Next: One of our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde

70/111 - One Dimensional Woman by Nina Power

I've had this book for a little while now, and I've been looking for the satisfaction of reading something quick and short, and it turns out this was it! At the moment my bookshelves are organised pretty haphazardly, and on one of my top shelves, I've got a load of books on feminism that I've been gathering up for a while until I feel suitably angry to begin reading them again. I think now might be the time, and this might be just the distraction I need.

I quite enjoyed this book, and there are a lot of interesting ideas in here, however it's very short and there were a lot of ideas which I wish had been fleshed out more fully. There's a section on the feminisation of labour which has some cool ideas - such as the idea that most part-time work is carried out by women, and when you apply to temp agencies, they have feminised names like 'Office Angels', who can offer you a job for no more than 13 weeks because then they would have to start paying you like a real employee. She also talks about the blurred lines between work life and your private life, and the idea that you need to be some sort of walking CV in order to get a job.

It's now much more common to be friends with our bosses and co-workers on Facebook, and I work in an environment not only where I can't really be open about my job in public, but it is also the norm that everyone at work socialises with each other, so there are no real boundaries anymore. I myself am in a relationship with someone I met at work, and although we don't work in the same department, we probably see one another most days per week, as well as several nights. I'm not really being critical of this, because I would far prefer to have colleagues that I get on with, and bosses that I get on with. That's all I have to say about that really.

The other thing which was interesting was the way Nina Power criticises a lot of contemporary feminists, people like Jessica Valenti for example, for a type of feminism that she sees as being driven by a love of chocolate and shopping. I don't really feel as strongly about this as she does, and I happen to have quite enjoyed some of Jessica Valenti's writing, however I understand where she's coming from. I can't really get on board with a feminism which sees our main problem in terms of whether we can wear high heels and still be respected, or whether we should pay for our own meals on a first date. The kind of feminism which is concerned primarily with middle class white women's struggles is valid up to a point, however it shouldn't be the most important thing we focus on. Things like fashion magazines really piss me off and offend me as a (intelligent) woman, but I'm under no illusions that we have much bigger fish to fry, such as the financial distress of single mothers, reproductive rights, and on a larger scale, the treatment of women across the globe. These women are not so concerned with fighting for their right to pole dance, as fighting for their right to stay alive when a society favours male babies, fighting for their right not to be violated as a weapon of war, and fighting for their right not to have their genitals mutilated in the name of purity. So basically what I'm saying is that I get where she's coming from.

That's all I have to say about that.

Next: An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

69/111 - Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

I picked this up recently because it's the sequel to Delirium, which I read last year. It's the second book in the trilogy, however I was quite surprised by how slim it is - I was expecting a somewhat meatier volume, based on the trends of other teenage girl trilogies, but whatever.

I remember sort of enjoying the first book, in that it was an interesting idea, but too safe and chaste for my taste, and this book was much the same, really. The book alternates between two timelines - the first is Lena after she has escaped into the Wilds, and she is taken in and nursed back to health by a group of people she has been taught to fear and hate. In the second timeline, she is working as a mole back in regular society, trying to infiltrate a hardline organisation run by a pretty nasty piece of work. He is so against love that he is willing to sacrifice his son Julian, who will probably die from the procedure, to prove a point.

Obviously, something is going to happen with this dude.

So as far as Lena knows, her old love, Alex, was killed while they were trying to get over the border. In between mourning him, she seems to harden up a little bit and eventually starts warming to Julian. There is all sorts of subterfuge and hiding, escaping and being very hungry, and eventually they discover that they have 'feelings' for one another. More deception and stuff happens, and then the ending appears to be relatively happy - everyone is safe and they're back on their way to go into the Wilds to re-group and plan their next attack. Then guess who appears? ALEX! Wow, didn't see that one coming (I totally did).

It was okay, kind of lame and cheesy, but the idea is quite interesting, so I'll probably end up reading the last one when it comes out. It's a nice for what it is, which is an easy read and a bit of escapism.

Next: Not sure yet, I'll see how I feel.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

68/111 - Misery by Stephen King

I've read Misery a couple of times before, but I decided to read it again since I'm going to be giving it out for World Book Night next month. It's funny how every time you read something it becomes something slightly different, or at least it does for me. I guess most people don't tend to read books more than once, however that's very much what I like to do with Stephen King books, because by the time I've reached the end of his whole catalogue, I can pretty much start again without remembering much. For example, I've read the whole of the Dark Tower series, and a new one comes out next month, and ideally I would probably read them all again before reading this next one. When I was reading the Dark Tower series a couple of years ago, I absolutely burned through them - absolutely loved them. It took me a little while to get started, but I got there in the end.

ANYWAY. This is about Misery.

I feel like everyone should know the story of Misery because it's such an awesome book, and one of the few Stephen King films whose film actually does it justice. Paul Sheldon is the author of the hugely popular bodice-ripping series of books starring Misery Chastain, however he's tired of writing these in place of 'real' literature, and so decides to kill her off.

On his way home from completing this manuscript, his car gets caught out in a snow storm and he crashes. His next memory is of huge pain, and finally coming round in the room he'll be trapped in for the next six months or so. His nurse is the unstable Annie Wilkes, and she is his number one fan. As you would expect with a Stephen King book, things take a dark turn fairly swiftly, and once Annie finds out that Paul has killed off he favourite character, she commissions him to write a new book, just for her...

For me, this is a really good example of a love for something taken to its most extreme point, and you see it less and less nowadays with books, but things like Harry Potter and Twilight still cause this kind of mania in the fans. I kind of like this, because it shows that people are still able to get excited about books (even if they are books I wouldn't necessarily enjoy) and this doesn't happen often enough for my liking.

The rest of the book feels like a book about pain, very much in a physical sense with all the tortures that Annie unleashes on Paul, but also mental pain and determination, and how far you'll go and how much you'll endure to stay alive. Stephen King gets across Annie's madness perfectly and convincingly, and she reminds me a little of my crazy neighbour next door, but with more of a nasty streak.

Great book, and I'm looking forward to giving it out and hearing back from people on how they found it.

Next: One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

67/111 – First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde

This is the fifth book in the series, I believe? Got one more to go, and then there is going to be another release later this year.

I wasn’t sure how much I was going to enjoy this episode of the Thursday Next series, as it picks up about 20 years in the future and at first I thought I might find it a bit boring, although I suppose that says more about my opinion of middle-aged women than anything else.

In this episode, there is once again looooads of stuff going on, and a lot of it is concerned with time travel, which is so difficult to get a grip on, but still a really interesting idea.

I ended up still really enjoying this book, and as always Jasper Fforde manages to get hilarious right, interesting right and sad right. Bravo.

One of the saddest moments of this book that really stood out to me was related to one of Thursday’s daughters. She has a daughter called Tuesday, a son called Friday and another daughter called Jenny, who we never meet. At some point, Thursday suddenly panics as both her other children are accounted for, but she can’t remember what’s going on with Jenny. It turns out that Jenny doesn’t exist, and that she is a mind worm that has been planted on Thursday to make her pay for some other deed. Every time she asks where Jenny is, her family have to tell her and she goes through the process of losing her all over again. Because they care about her, they decide to humour her and they give various explanations for Jenny’s whereabouts (like being at a sleepover) in order to spare Thursday the pain.

I don’t know why I found that so sad, but I did. It kind of reminded me of the way you might treat someone with dementia or short-term memory problems. Very sweet.

So next, I suppose I should read the last in the series, however I might take a slight detour and re-read Misery in preparation for World Book Night next month.

Monday, 12 March 2012

66/111 - The Locked Ward by Dennis O'Donnell

This is a fairly new book, and I really liked the cover, so I bought it.

When I first started reading it, I thought shit, I've made a terrible mistake. The book opens with Dennis talking about his time cleaning up after elderly patients on a dementia ward, and I thought this is going to be too bleak and dull for me to read. However, shortly after this he is asked by another member of a team at the hospital to move to the locked ward for the more seriously ill and disturbed patients, and this is where the book really begins.

I really liked the premise of this book, and the care with which he treats the memory of his former patients is very humbling. There is a huge scope of illness, and the book was very educational in places, and a good way to get an insight into the day-to-day workings of being a psychiatric orderly on this kind of ward.

It was far from perfect - I feel kind of mean saying this, but I didn't always like the writing style. It seemed like it was trying too hard, and had too many mixtures of elements. There were lots of very awkward turns of phrase, and it was both too serious and too casual at the same time. The author's narrator voice is quite formal and instructional, and then the author as the character seems much more joke-y, and he writes himself with a Scottish accent (along with the other staff and patients). I found this to be distracting and unnecessary, and it didn't add anything for me (probably showing my southern bias here). The little puns and turns of phrase also turned me off (for example he says 'going out to blacken a lung' instead of 'smoking' - this phrase alone is fine, but he uses it repeatedly and it gets kind of lame).

I also wished we could have stayed with the characters for longer. At the outset of the book, Dennis explains that he has kept things at a deliberate distance and changed certain facts to protect the identities of the individuals involved, however the lack of consistent characters made it seem more shallow, I guess. I also didn't really come away with enough of an impression of Dennis himself.

Anyway, that's all.

Next time: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde

65/111 - Sunbathing in the Rain by Gwyneth Lewis

I bought this book a little while ago, but it's not until recently that I decided to read it. The strapline describes is as 'a cheerful book about depression', however I'm not really sure this fits the bill.

A couple of years ago I read Sally Brampton's Shoot the Damn Dog, which was excellent from both a personal viewpoint and as a way of explaining and putting into words what depression really is. On the contrary, Sunbathing in the Rain can't seem to decide what it wants to be - memoir, book of motivational quotes, poetry collection.

The book itself is written in lots of small sections, and the author explains that this is because she has designed the book in part to be accessible to people who are currently depressed, and so the chunks are very small because depression robs you of your ability to take in information. This is really thoughtful, however I found it to be quite distracting and I wasn't able to follow one train of thought, so the unconventional structure didn't really work for me.

That's pretty much all I have to say about this book. I skimmed it on the train, mostly, and didn't have any strong feelings other than mild boredom.

Next: The Locked Ward by Dennis O'Donnell