Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Recent Reads #2

I was doing so well with my reading pledge, and then suddenly it all seemed to go downhill. Season 3 of Orange is the New Black happened, and then I had to catch up on Pretty Little Liars, and then I occasionally went out and to work, and reading took a back seat compared to all of these other, mostly, less important and totally mindless things. But then my summer holiday arrived: 2 weeks in Italy. Travelling with only a rucksack, with minimal space for books concerned me so I borrowed my mum's Kindle and it was the best decision I have ever made. For a start, I was pleasantly surprised by the Kindle. I was extremely sceptical about reading a book on a screen, but it didn't feel like that at all. And secondly, after several train journeys, flights, airport waits, afternoon in cafes, and stifling days in the Sicilian apartment, I found the time to read a lot more novels than I had room for in my rucksack. I'm a speedy reader and got through 8 books whilst on holiday, so here's part 1 of my holiday reading review series: the first 4 books I read. 

The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins
It felt like this book had been everywhere for months and I'd never quite got round to reading it. Described as a new, better 'Gone Girl' I had pretty high expectations since I'd enjoyed that a few summers previously. It sort of disappointed, because I didn't think it was better, but I still thought it was a good holiday read. Much like 'Gone Girl', I had an interesting relationship with the novel because I didn't like any of the characters and wasn't really rooting for anyone. Nevertheless, I found the plot gripping, as any good thriller should be, and was pretty absorbed from the moment I started reading it. I am sucker for multiple narratives, and thought that the story really benefitted from having our 3 female narrators - it make a fairly simple novel slightly more challenging and convoluted. Hawkins developed the characters well, and I particularly liked the relationship between Rachel and Scott. As much as this is a novel about a murder, it's also one about relationships and I think these sub-plots were explored really carefully and became a fully formed part of the story. The ending wasn't bad by any stretch, but it wasn't as surprising as I would have liked it to have been: it's no 'Gone Girl' twist, put it like that. Overall though, I did really enjoy the novel. I don't think it helps it having been consistently compared to 'Gone Girl' in the media (and now incessantly by me), because it's difficult competition. It was a good, convincing story with well developed characters, and I remained intrigued all the way through.  

4 / 5

Us - David Nicholls

It's always nice to read a book about someone who's in a similar situation to you. Whilst I'm not a middle aged man, with a failing marriage and a son off to university, I was travelling Italy with Douglas, our protagonist. But this wasn't really a novel about travelling; it was about love and marriage, when you're middle aged. Without giving too much away, we follow Douglas and Connie's failing marriage around Europe, a journey overwhelmed by the curiosities of travelling, simultaneously educating and constraining an 18 year old, and meeting new people along the way. Nicholls is good at emotions, and inciting emotive responses in his readers, and he does this particularly well in 'Us'. I experienced Douglas' troubles with him, but also Connie's with her, and Albie, their son's, with his. The content itself wasn't hugely inspiring - the plot moved quickly, echoing the momentum of the travels, but there was nothing to be blown away by. It's the emotions that got me! But I finished feeling kind of empty, cathartic perhaps: knowing the ending was the right thing, upsetting, but inevitable. Nicholls has a way of doing this - the same in 'One Day' and 'Starter for 10' - he writes a novel with an inescapable ending, but we don't always realise this is the case until the end. I like that, and I think it's really clever. In this case, I just wish the journey had been a bit more stimulating. 
3 / 5

What You Wish For - Mark Edwards

This was, without a doubt, the weirdest book I have ever read. Not good weird either. I was sitting in Naples ferry port, flicking through what books were already downloaded on the Kindle, and I came across this and thought I'd give it a go. This book can be accurately described in 3 words: UFOs, Alien Porn. It was described as a 'psychological thriller' which it was not. We meet a local newspaper reporter and follow his relationship with a UFO enthusiast who goes missing. The novel is mostly about his journey to find his girlfriend, involving UFO conventions, alien cults, and alien porn producers. It wasn't funny, it wasn't well written, and the ending was disappointing (which isn't saying much because the whole story was pretty dire). The one star owes to the fact that it was innovative and weirdly captivating; although I knew I wasn't enjoying it, I felt shocked and confused into finishing it. It was like nothing I'd ever read before, and hopefully like nothing I'll ever read again. 
1 / 5 

The Children Act - Ian McEwan
McEwan is back, well, back on my reading list - and this was a good one. It is two fairly separate stories in one novel that become very well connected. On one hand, it's a novel about 'The Children Act', a legal construct designed to protect children's health from the decisions of their parents. Most notably, we follow the story of a dying teenage Jehovah's Witness who would benefit enormously from a blood transfusion. It becomes a question of what is more important: life or dignity, and who's decision we must respect even if it's different from the one we would make. It's challenging and provocative, and I was fully invested in this part of the story. On the other hand, McEwan explores the marriage of the lawyer dealing with the case: her crumbling relationship with her husband. McEwan juxtaposes this dying marriage with a dying boy, putting both cases into perspective, and posing two huge challenges for our protagonist to deal with. I love a book that leaves me pondering, and this one definitely did. The story had integrity, honesty and challenged me. Maybe not an ideal 'holiday read', but I'd definitely recommend it. 

4 / 5 

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