Monday, 24 September 2012

Book #80 The Other Hand by Chris Cleave

The Other Hand

I picked up The Other Hand in a charity shop and I said to my friend: Isn't this the best blurb you've ever read? For the record the blurb goes something like this:

"We don't want to tell you what happens in this book. It's a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it...once you have read it you'll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens either"    

This is really clever, and I've never seen it before, but this book goes further still. Inside the cover there's a letter from the Editor utterly effusive in its praise for the book and compares it to David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas and Thomas Keneally's Schindler's Ark in terms of the global impact it's going to have.

Impressive, no? Then suddenly you realise that both the blurb and the letter are just part of a marketing strategy, designed to make you buy the book and talk about it, and that's all. But there's a problem here, if you're going to make this kind of extreme over the top guarantee that this novel will be a modern classic, that it will be one of the best books that you the Reader, will ever read, then it damn well better live up to it in every sense, or you look utterly ridiculous.

For the record, the assertion is utterly ridiculous.

The novel is average at best, and is yet another novel set amongst the crashingly tedious London Media and Social Elite which occupy about 1% of this country, but seem to occupy a lot of its novels.
There's the obligatory affair, the Home Office shindigs, the working mum who loves her son SOO SOO MUCH but is content to ship him off to a nursery which is literally described as airless and smelling like toilets, whilst she tells other women what to care about in a glossy magazine whilst agonising over whether she's obeyed that days dress code.   Her cowardly husband  is one of those right on broadsheeters who writes condescending articles telling other people they need to have a social conscience (yah, yah, etc)  but can't muster himself to have one when the time comes, and the actually vile lover who is the ultimate "someone else's problem NIMBY" all for donating to Oxfam but god forbid one actually helps an actual African!!!   

Also, at one point, David Blunkett gets called a twat, for no reason essential to the overall story. Does Chris Cleave know David Blunkett? Does he know him personally? Why single him out amongst a plethora of politician twats? It seems almost vindictive. Though, I'm sure had it been Darth Mandelson few would have objected!! 

Yes, the actual event which unites the 2 main female characters is utterly harrowing, but then with our Nigerian protagonist, who has all the hallmarks of a character one could come to care about; the author uses her voice to beat his target audience with the stick of "white guilt". It's all the fault of your ancestors, BE ASHAMED, sins of the fathers.

Ultimately the message is - you people who read books like this aren't you all self important, first world problems shits just like my awful awful characters. It's hard not to feel like the author is preaching on a soap box. There are some nice pieces of prose now and then, but the characters are by and large ugly, which makes it hard to like or care.

The lesson here with regard to its essentially artificially generated hype is: don't write a cheque your product can't cash 4.5/10   

Book #79 A Short History Of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

A Short History Of Nearly Everything

Firstly, what irritated me about this book was the title. It isn't a history of nearly everything, it's exclusively a history on Science. Neither, though it attempts to sum up the history of Science and therefore has abridged it would I consider it, at 579 ish pages to be especially short. So the whole title is a misnomer and annoyed me, though I'm probably just being a silly pedant about a fun title.

Bill Bryson's motive for the book was one of those old Science books that shows the inside of the Earth, he felt he never got the education he needed to appreciate the ideas behind the page. The book covers many things from cells to astronomy to atoms, to evolution and all the ideas as they developed therein.

Slightly frustratingly I have since read online that a lot of the information Bryson imparts is actually inaccurate, sometimes a little, sometimes entirely. The book is information dense, and I realised as I went along that though I understood it as I read, I wasn't actually retaining much.

Part of that is because the majority of the book didn't "blow my mind" though it's a history of Science, Bryson himself seems to have got side-tracked and made it a series of potted biographies about the scientists themselves, the tragic life of Max Planck, the rise of Einstein. He seems fascinated by the far most fascinating aspect of the book the unexpected cut throat rivalries between scientists and how many were done out of the credit they deserved. Though this is really interesting, it's not the history of the ideas but of the men.

The two things which really did stick in my mind during this book were his writings on asteroids and the consequences of impact and the possibility of an eruption from the Supervolcano under Yellowstone Park, the massive consequences of either event are both poo your pants scary, and a reminder of how fragile life on earth really is.

Towards the end of this book I got a bit fed up and was really looking forward to moving on to other things, so it was nowhere near as enthralling as other Science books I've read. Meh. 6/10     

Monday, 17 September 2012

Book #78 Anne Of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

Anne Of Green Gables

I tried to read Anne Of Green Gables at the age of about 7, didn't "get it" and had to admit despite my precociousness that I was "probably a bit too young".

Anne Of Green Gables then remained unread and misremembered as tedious until I had a dream in which I was held hostage by terrorists in a bookshop whilst trying to buy a copy! After a dream like that - well I had to read it then, so I downloaded it for humour value.

It was not at all as I remembered it. I fell in love with it from the off. Unmarried brother and sister Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert getting on in years decide they will take in a young boy from an orphanage to help on their farm, in the days before emails and phones and general legal enquiry, their message goes awry, and Matthew is met by a red haired eleven year old Anne Shirley.

Anne Shirley is no ordinary girl. With a flair for imagination, the dramatic and romantic notions about the world, she talks non stop and takes interest in everything around her.

Anne makes the book what it is, she is actually hilarious, over the top, and theatrical, her long speeches made me smile so much. She reminded me of a young me, and I hope that if I ever get to have a daughter she is a total Anne. Anne's funniest moments often come when by some unintentional mishap she gets into trouble, which like any teenager usually leads to her behaving as if the world had ended and refusing to leave her room.

Secondary characters are fun as well, Anne's touching relationship with Marilla that develops over time, and her understated secret love hidden beneath animosity for academic rival Gilbert Blythe.

Anne Of Green Gables was an utter joy to read, and there are several sequels yet to be read, though I doubt any of them will quite live up to this, I tore through this book, smiling constantly. From a book I once dismissed as being complicated and dull I'm now a massive, massive fan. 10/10      

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Book #77 Pure by Julianna Baggott


At the time of the "Detonations", Pressia Bellze was aged 6 and on the outside, a hot white light came and the doll she had in her hand, became her hand. Partridge Willux, son of a government official, had a place inside the Dome, and has remained unharmed and Pure.

Outside the Dome, the "wretches" were told they would be helped, eventually, but 10 years have passed, and no help has come, they live in fear of a brutal regime, but the regime within the safe, clean Dome is no less sinister.

Pure is another young adult dystopian novel, in the vein of the Hunger Games or Chaos Walking trilogies by Suzanne Collins and Patrick Ness respectively, the theme like those novels is of earnest, persistent strong young people fighting an unjust system. It also has shades of Justin Cronin's The Passage in its tone and delivery.

The imagery is inventive and arresting, original in its choices, particularly with the variety of fusions on display. Deliberate parallels are drawn to the real life events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a brave new world imagined from a global scale similar disaster. There are some holes in the plot, and unanswered questions, mainly unbelievable coincidences, lucky escapes that wouldn't occur and bizarre failure to properly act on extensive surveillance, but it is by no means a fishnet. 

It has the obligatory teen romance, which for both couples really feels a little weak and there by force, as though the publisher requested it to line it up with the current trend, and sometimes the dialogue is a bit Famous Five, they all seem to know rather a lot for, on the one hand, 2 kids with little education, and on the other, a kid with a heavily censored one. Bradwell particularly being ridiculously knowing about pre Dome history and politics for someone orphaned at the age of 9.

That said the book  as an opener to a new young adult dystopia trilogy or quartet was good, I did enjoy it, and will probably read the follow up as it comes out, if the other books I mention in this review appealed to you, this book will too 8/10