Sunday, 29 November 2009

Cobweb by Margaret Duffy

Duffy was a new author for me, but the book looked intriguing and I’m always happy to find new authors I like. I listened to this one rather than read it and I think that made a big difference. I really think I would have liked it better had I either read it myself or had there been a different narrator. It’s not that the narrator (Patricia Gallimore) wasn’t a good reader, just that I would have read it differently. Emphasizing certain aspects of the main character, Ingrid Langley, would have made the whole story much more fun.

As to the book itself, it wasn’t brilliant, but it was a good, light, fun read. I got the impression the author was going for more of a light hearted approach with characters who were too wise to take themselves seriously, and she achieved that. I also though her angle of using a retired MI-5 agent and his wife was an interesting one that left her more avenues open than standard police detectives have. She was able to play with the characters more that way. So, no, she’s not Ian Rankin, but she doesn’t have to be. If all crime were Ian Rankin like, life would get boring. She provides a good, fun alternative for crime enthusiasts who want something less serious for a change. That’s why I’m giving this one a 4/5.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

The Complaints by Ian Rankin

I’ve been an Ian Rankin fan ever since I discovered his Inspector Rebus series. But even outside of his most famous books, Rankin is just a really good writer. His characters are believable and likeable despite their faults and his plots are original with twists you can’t see coming from a mile away. So, it’s not surprising that I liked The Complaints. Although, maybe it is. There are other writers I’ve really liked who’ve become predictable and boring with time, but Rankin adeptly avoided this with his latest. The Complaints centres on the Internal Affairs division of the police. They’re the cops who bust cops and are not well liked for it. It takes a special kind of person to do the job. Malcolm Fox is investigating another bent cop when his world suddenly starts to shift under his feet and life becomes incredibly complicated. Who do you trust when you earn your living tattling on other cops? How do you know who will really help you and who is trying to pull you into the abyss. The Complaints is anything but a let down for those of us who were disappointed to here that Rebus was being retired. Brilliant book. A definite 5/5 for this crime novel.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The Girl Who Kicked a Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

This is the third and final book in the series and what a finale it is! Just when you think you’ve pretty much seen where the story is going, Larsson widens his focus to include all of the little ripples created by earlier events. Lisbeth Salander did indeed kick a hornet’s nest and is in danger of being stung in several different places. The trick is, she’s in hospital recovering from the gunshot wounds. She’s also under guard because as soon as she recovers, she’ll be arrested on several different, but serious, charges. Mikael Blomkvist is still fighting in her corner, but digging up Lisbeth’s final secrets proves to be more difficult and dangerous than he could ever have imagined.

The book is every bit as good as the first two. I can heartily recommend this one to anyone who likes crime thrillers. It’s a really good read all around. The only downside is that there will be no more by the same author. May he rest in peace. 5/5

Friday, 20 November 2009

Silas Marner by George Eliot

Silas Marner was an honest, hard-working weaver in a small, English village where all of the inhabitants were pious church goers of a rather superstitious sort. Not long into the novel, he is betrayed by his best friend, declared guilty of theft as the result of a lot drawing and as a result leaves the village and his religion along with it.

Silas finds another town where he is able to ply his trade and live in reclusive peace. His new neighbours try to be kindly and help integrate him into village life, but Silas has lost his trust in mankind. He shuns most contact with people and all contact with the church, which is the centre of village life at that time. He lives like this for many years earning money and hoarding it as his only trustworthy friend. It’s almost as if he is no longer able to stop and ask himself if he is happy and if there is anything in his life that he would like to improve. Unfortunately, Silas’ troubles are not over and he yet again falls victim to the evil of mankind and once again his life is changed forever.

Silas Marner is the study of human nature and the ways it can fail or succeed depending on the surroundings and people. It’s something like an early proponent of networking to get along in life. If you know people you can rely on and are willing to follow the social rules set up by society, your life will be much easier than if you go it your own way. Eliot explores the good and the bad of religion and of mankind. Her outlook is positive and perhaps a little idealistic, but that really makes for a good story, even if not as realistic as it might be. This one is another 5/5 for me just because I thought it was a happy, cheering story. The only negative thing I have to say is that the first half is a little depressing, but it’s necessary and not overly dramatic, so I can forgive that. I’ll be reading more of Eliot in the future.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The Bell by Iris Murdoch

Ever since having watched the movie Iris with Judy Dench and Kate Winslet (excellent film), I’ve wanted to read something by Iris Murdoch, just to get a glimpse of what went on in her mind before she fell to Alzheimer’s. Since her books aren’t available through Audible, I waited until I could get my hands on a real copy. It was worth it.

The Bell centres on a lay community adjacent to a reclusive Abbey. Imber Court is only in its beginnings as Dora Greenfield returns to her husband, who is staying at Imber for research purposes, after having fled from him a short while before. Toby Gashe, a young student wishing to experience life in such a community, also arrives at the same time as Dora. The community itself is aware that they must grow sometime, but is afraid that the new comers will disrupt the lives they have just started to live, so as the two arrive, tension is already fairly high.

The focus of the novel continually shifts from one member of the community to the other, with the narrative giving insight to the thoughts of Dora, Toby and Michael, the pseudo leader of the community, as they go about their lives. As such, the book is very introspective and examines the motives for both actions and reactions of all the characters. What becomes clear through this particular form of narrative is that things below the surface are not as they are above. This is later reflected in the lake surrounding the Court where Toby finds the old bell which had been thrown in many years ago in an attempt to save it from marauders and plunderers. The new world is above while the old world lingers below and waits to be rediscovered. The narrative reveals parts of the characters which they either hope not to ever show to the world at large, or have not yet discovered themselves.

As I think back on it, there were a lot of things I either missed or failed to make a connection with while I read the book the first time. I think it would really benefit from a second reading if you wanted to really get to know the book, which I’m certain I will do eventually, just not at the moment. I’d like to go on and read more of Murdoch before re-reading any one book. All in all, I think she’s really worth exploring as an author in general. The Bell gets a 5 out of 5 from me.

Monday, 16 November 2009

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

I was introduced to A Tale of Two Cities in high school and immediately fell in love with it. As with many of Dickens’ books, it’s just a bloody good yarn.

The book is more of a tangled web than a book with things disappearing from the plot, only to return later in a completely different context but with much dramatic effect. A good, short summary is impossible, especially without giving anything away. It begins with the Dr. Manettes “return to life” after having been a prisoner in the Bastille for 18 years. He is withdrawn and lost in his own world; it’s almost like he has been forgotten and left to sink to his own death as best he can. The only person able to bring him back from the depths is his daughter, Lucy, who does the best she can to help him and does succeed to a great degree after they bring the doctor back to England.

Meanwhile, the erstwhile servant of Dr. Manette, M. Defarge, has begun a revolutionary group to fight the injustice of the aristocracy in France. Along with his wife, Madame Defarge, he is in charge of condemning the aristocracy and recording their crimes, a record of which is knitted into Madame Defarge’s work readable only by herself, to be used as evidence when the time is right for revolution. Eventually the revolution does begin and Manettes, along with Lucy’s husband, Charles Darnay, are drawn into the dangers of France and Paris during a revolution which saw the deaths of hundreds of French aristocrats, regardless of their true guilt or innocence.

One thing that struck me after this reading was how evil human beings really are. On the one hand, there are the aristocrats, who generally treat the common people with such utter contempt and disregard that it’s easy to see where the impetus for the revolution came from. However, the revolutionists, personified in the book by the Defarges, are so zealous in their attempts to stamp out the outrageous behaviour of the aristocrats, that they become just as contemptible, and just as guilty, as the aristocracy. It’s like when the political left swings so far left that they almost become the political right. What starts out as retribution becomes a blood bath for both the guilty and the innocent. The revolutionists become like misers counting their spoils, only with them, it’s heads they’re counting instead of coins.

Dickens, as always, has brilliant characters who inspire sympathy and hate in equal measures on both sides. The two sides, or cities, play off each other to strengthen the impression they give the reader. Lucy is the epitome of love and innocence while Madame Defarge is the personification of evil inspired by revenge and the desire for power. Dickens also verbally draws his characters so well that it’s quite easy to picture them. Madame Defarge is forever imprinted in my brain as a wizened little woman sneering evilly to herself as she knits her condemnation into her work, while Lucy all but has the golden halo above her head.

I could go on forever, but I’ll spare you my verbosity. I love this book and always will. I can especially recommend it to any first time Dickens readers since it is the shortest, yet one of the most powerful books he wrote. 5 out of 5 for this one.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Brontës Challenge

Interested in classics and missing the Classics Challenge? Why don't you try Laura's Brontës challenge in the new year? I know I'll be joining!

I'm thinking I'll re-read Agnes Grey, Tennant of Wildfell Hall and Jane Eyre. What are you planning on?

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Howard’s End by E.M. Forster

Set at the beginning of the 20th century, this novel revolves around the lives of the Miss Schlegels and the Wilcoxes. The Schlegels are a wealthy, although not exceedingly, but rather arty family who disregard many social prejudices and views of the upper classes. The Wilcoxes definitely belong to the upper class with all the trim and trappings, including the attitude of superiority over the rest of society. In rank, the families are much the same and therefore come into contact with one another frequently. There is also a mutual attraction among some of the family members which keeps the acquaintanceship going. However, their views being so different from one another often leads to much discussion and disagreement, especially with the elder son, Charles, who is most definitely a world class snob.

Enter in the Basts who are from the lower middle class and who struggle for a living. The Schlegels, with their liberal views, desire to help them, while the Wilcox’s would prefer them to just disappear. They feel that the existence and well being of someone on such a low rung the social ladder is of no consequence to them and therefore don’t bother much, even when their advice to the young clerk turns out to be quite disastrous. They feel no responsibility for having steered them in the wrong direction and leave them to get on as best they can. The Schlegels, on the other hand, feel so responsible that they are almost desperate to help them, whether the Basts want their help or not.

This is a book about extremes in social life. The Wilcoxes on the one end and the Basts on the other. The Schlegels are in the middle and feel the need to try and bridge the gap between the two. Unfortunately, they are a little naïve as to the ways of the world and neither realize how ill-used they are by the Wilcoxes nor how their attempts are doomed to damage the Basts.

Sadly I can’t remember who it was who reviewed this and mentioned that they didn’t care for it, but whoever it was, you were right. I had been looking forward to reading this, but was quite disappointed in the end. While the premises were good, the events taking place all seemed a bit contrived, almost like a Wooster and Jeeves adventure. It’s as if Forster said, “I want to obtain this” and then fit his story around his goals instead of writing the story as it came. As a medium for discussion about social ills, it serves its purpose, but I think the story itself got in the way of this becoming a truly great book. A little less P.G. Wodehouse would have served it better.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Classics Challenge Roundup

The Classics Challenge 2009 is sadly over, so here I am to sum up how it went.

The list I started with is as follows:

Silas Marner by George Elliot
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carol
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
The Tenent of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
Saturday by Ian McEwan
The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

What I read was:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier
Dune by Frank Herbert
King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard
Martin Chuzzelwit by Charles Dickens
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Saturday by Ian McEwan
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Middlemarch by George Elliot
I, Claudius
Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carol

So basically except for Silas Marner I got to everything on my list and then some.

Thanks much to Trish for hosting! You're brilliant!

I need to review a couple of more books, but I'm a bit short of time right now. I hope to get to it within the next couple of days.