‘Emma’- Jane Austen

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STAR RATING: (★★

BLURB: Beautiful, clever, rich – and single – Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr. Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protegee Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected.

FAVOURITE QUOTE: (of coursE) ‘It darted through her with the speed of an arrow that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!’

‘I never have been in love; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall.’

READ IF YOU LIKE: 19th Century ramblings about living in the countryside and going to a lot of balls

If you’re going to read Austen, definitely start with this one. It’s your basic formula of romance and friendship, set in a quintessential early 19th C English countryside. It’s different from Pride and Prejudice (also Austen), and in my opinion better, but one thing P&P holds over Emma it is the classic moving scene between Darcy and Elizabeth in which he proclaims his love to her, such a great passage in English Literature scene I can almost recite it word for word. I would have loved to have seen the love affair between Emma and Mr Knightley played out more, and it annoyed me that Austen almost skirts over it- why is Emma so compelled to love Mr. Knightley after being so against marriage for so long? And why does she immediately give in to his declarations of love after proclaiming herself as the ultimate independent heroine ???

This took me SUCH A LONG TIME to read and after finishing it I feel like I’d climbed Everest – it was really hard to push through the middle section, the main developments and plot twists only happen at the end which is always really really annoying in a book. Also it’s one of those books in which an entire 4 page section could have been explained in one sentence, but then I guess the joy of Austen is the way she writes about human emotions and sensibilities, something which you do notice she has a sixth sense for, which you wouldn’t get without her rambling prose passages.

From the impression and previous things I’d heard from this book, I think the reader is meant to thoroughly dislike Emma. I completely disagree, I really enjoyed her independent woman attitude and how she was always messing with people’s love lives. She seemed by far the most grounded character in the novel, along with Mr Knightley, who I think are close contenders for cutest 19th c. couple (as opposed to Darcy+Elizabeth / Jane+Rochester)

Thus concludes my basic covering of Victorian novel reviews – safe to say I am pretty bored of them, and will be reading something slightly more modern now…

tl;dr: Too long, but the best Austen novel I’ve read and I’m glad I took the time to read it. Mr Knightley = bae

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Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

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STAR RATING: (★★

BLURB: Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine’s father. After Mr Earnshaw’s death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine’s brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries.

FAVOURITE QUOTE: Didn’t have one, and don’t think  I can bring myself to wade through the pages and pages of narrative prose that this book includes.

READ IF YOU LIKE: The Bronte sisters, classics,  gothic horror, love but not romance, repeated sequences of getting in and out of carriages, protagonists that you hate, protagonists that you can’t understand and very long passages describing weather.

PAGE COUNT: Approx 272 (print was v small).

This is something I’ve been wanting to read for a very long time, as an avid lover of Jane Eyre this was my only option for the next novel set in this period. And sadly, although it is deemed to be better than many books from this era (Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Persuasion, Jane Eyre), I really didn’t connect with the book. It came with so many obsessed reviews and high hopes, and the book was wildly different from how it had been suggested to me.

Basically, I hate hate HATED all the characters, and this often (always) stops me from enjoying a book. I thought that Linton (a character who enters halfway through and is like a leech that wont let go of you) is one of the most horrifically pathetic characters ever written into literature. And he isn’t like Heathcliff (main guy), who you love to hate because he’s the mean broody and good looking, strong and assertive man, whereas Linton is a shrivelled, snivelling little thing who is constantly ill. I grew quickly bored of the characters, and felt there was little light or joy brought to this book.

I was expecting one of the greatest love stories of all time (as has often been quoted to me), and yet Cathy, the supposed protagonist of this novel, DIES HALFWAY THROUGH?!?! Her ‘love affair’ with Heathcliff lasts about a page and a half. Entirely unsatisfying, and I was then left with the remains of this book, which, after Heathcliff’s disappearance and Cathy’s death, consists of Linton (see previous point) , and some other irrelevant characters. I came here for a love story!!!!!

Despite all this, this is one of the worlds greatest classics, and you can tell why. Bronte’s agenda was clearly to create a gothic horror storyline in which there was no hope or happiness, and the fact that I had such an aversion to many (all) of the characters is testament to her skill. Basically, at least I had a reaction to it.

‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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BLURB: With effortless grace, celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie illuminates a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafra’s impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in southeastern Nigeria during the late 1960s. We experience this tumultuous decade alongside five unforgettable characters: Ugwu, a thirteen-year-old houseboy who works for Odenigbo, a university professor full of revolutionary zeal; Olanna, the professor’s beautiful young mistress who has abandoned her life in Lagos for a dusty town and her lover’s charm; and Richard, a shy young Englishman infatuated with Olanna’s willful twin sister Kainene. Half of a Yellow Sun is a tremendously evocative novel of the promise, hope, and disappointment of the Biafran war.(Goodreads.com)

FAVOURITE QUOTE: ‘I am Nigerian because a white man created Nigeria and gave me that identity. I am black because a white man constructed black to be as different as possible from his white.’

READ IF YOU LIKE: African culture, Nigerian past, African history, stories of war torn countries and families, romance, drama, and crying.

PAGE COUNT: Approx 448.

STAR RATING: (★★★★☆) – only minus one star because it takes a while to get into…but persevere!!!

What struck me most about this book when I had finished it was how little I have been educated on African conflict, and the history of the African countries; how little it has been mentioned in my Western education. I had come across British imperialism in Africa previously in school, but again, that was based around Britain, and have never experienced anything like this written from the PoV of an African, and I only realised this when reading this book. I think most people who are like me will therefore agree that therefore this is a completely eye-opening and almost life changing book.

The book is told from the perspectives of five characters. Ugwe, the young (really young it turned out) houseboy goes to work for the university professor Odenigbo, who soon marries rich Olanna. Kainene is the twin sister of Olanna who falls in love with British Richard. As the war progresses, these four totally different characters find their loves and their lives turned completely upside down. Whilst never openly criticising white people, seen through the inclusion of Richard, who attempts to immerse himself totally in Biafran culture and language, the book doesn’t take that stupid egotistical position of white superiority and pity of African people that I know centres much of white culture.

I had never even heard of Biafra, or it’s civil war that engulfed Nigeria between 1967-70, and I felt that as the reader was hit with more and more plot twists and action it got better and better, so as the book gets sadder,  its gets more gripping. After the first 100 or so pages of introduction therefore, the book its heart wrenchingly sad and affecting.

Basically, this is a treasure of a book. If you have never experienced African literture , which I certainly hadn’t, then its great, not preaching or lecturing, but never sugar coating the struggles these people went through. We’ve all seen the photos in glossy magazines, emaciated babies with distented stomachs, but as Western readers we never really get the chance to fully engage with the why’s, what’s and how’s of the situation. This book gives a narrative voice to those images, and I felt I could exactly match what Adichie writes about with images I have become used to seeing. I have come out of this book more knowledgeable and aware. I am by no means an expert now, and am not saying spending a week reading this book has made me on a level with those who experienced the Nigeria-Biafra war, but I certainly want to go and read more about it.

‘Norwegian Wood’ by Haruki Murakami

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BLURB/SUMMARY: Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before.  Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable.  As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.

A poignant story of one college student’s romantic coming-of-age,Norwegian Wood takes us to that distant place of a young man’s first, hopeless, and heroic love. (Goodreads.com) 

READ IF YOU LIKE: Love stories, Japanese settings, stories with little plot

FAVOURITE QUOTE“’If you’re in pitch blackness. all you can do is sit tight until your eyes get used to the dark’”

PAGE COUNT: Approx. 389

STAR RATING: ★★★★☆ – a cult classic

Set in the 1960’s, (and yes, named after the Beatles song) it’s the story of Toru Wanatabe, reminiscing over his youth whilst at university in Tokyo. He is narrating from the future, but all the action takes place in his past. The book functions primarily as a love story, around Toru’s two main love interests. The first is Naoko, his first love who is incarcerated in a mountaintop rehabilitation centre by mental illness someway through the book. As he cannot see her, Toru spends a lot of his time pining over long lost Naoko and recalling her body and the way she looked naked (NB there are also a few sex scenes in this book which I didn’t expect). I didn’t much like Naoko, I didn’t find their love ‘heroic’ or great, or that significant, so I am surprised people describe her as the great heroine of the book, when she’s not. Other than her story just being really sad, she hadn’t even impacted me before she exited Toru’s life, so I didn’t have a strong emotional connection to her character, and much preferred Toru when he was with Midori.

Midori Kobayashi is the second woman Toru encounters, and as she is practically the opposite of Naoko, she was my favourite character. The book is infinitely better in the passages she is in. She is eclectic and enthusiastic and bouncy and fun, but you’ll have to read the book for yourself to find out who Toru chooses to be with…

Above all else, this book is depressing and solemn, I didn’t feel any kind of excitement or rush when I was reading it, but more of a calm sadness. If you haven’t read Murakami then definitely read this one, it’s his most famous for a reason and gives a good insight into the classic Japanese literature (really reminded me of Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go) and I loved all the Japanese settings with the mountains and countrysides so will definitely be reading more Murukami, despite its depressing nature.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

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BLURB/SUMMARY: Oryx and Crake is at once an unforgettable love story and a compelling vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining (Goodreads.com)

READ IF YOU LIKE: Dystopia/adventure novels, the Chaos Walking series, trilogies, post-apocalyptic settings

PAGE COUNT: Approx 448

STAR RATING: ★★★★★ 

If you’ve read the type of other reviews I do and books I love this is exactly my thing, basically being a combination of adventure and dystopia.

Margaret Atwood is also my new literary heroine and although this is only the second book by her that I’ve written, I’ve enjoyed it hugely and now want to read everything she’s ever written. Everyone will tell you the same thing about Maragret Atwood and for a good reason, her imagination and writing style is completely unique and satisfying. The names of people and places in this book alone were inspiring and exciting. In short, it’s a post apocalyptic adventure novel told from the POV of the only surviving human, Jimmy, or Snowman. The story is told alternating between episodes where he (Snowman at this point) is naked in a hammock, wearing one lense sunglasses and eating fish surrounded by humans which aren’t really humans, and stories from his past years as Jimmy. His past, and the world that has now been destroyed consisted of ‘compounds’ in which medical science has gone slightly too far. Think GM foods, but with animals and to a pretty extreme level. It is slightly too close to home, whilst also obviously being an unimaginable situation.

I obviously can’t fill in the middle and how Jimmy came to be Snowman in an extinct world, and Atwood also (annoyingly) withholds this information until the end. Like in other dystopia novels, the protagonist is different, and in this case Jimmy/Snowman differs in that he is the only real human left in the world. Further, his cynical view on his past also sets him apart from the people in his past life. Although not completely likeable, sometimes outcast and consistently sexually driven, he is relatable as basically the only normal human in the book. So you grow to love him, albeit if this is forced upon the reader. Basically, a great book and completely my cup of tea. Bar the slightly vulgar descriptions of pornography and other teenage boy fantasies, this is a really worthwhile and easy read.

Plus, I feel like if you haven’t read Margaret Atwood before it’s a pretty easy way to start and experience her technique. Also, it’s a trilogy. I don’t know if the other two are worth a read, but certainly read this one.

‘The New York Trilogy’ by Paul Auster

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BLURB/SUMMARY: Originally published sequentially as City of Glass (1985), Ghosts (1986) and The Locked Room (1986), it has since been collected into a single volume. Ostensibly presented as detective fiction, the stories of The New York Trilogy have been described as “meta-detective-fiction”, “anti-detective fiction”, “mysteries about mysteries”, a “strangely humorous working of the detective novel”, “very soft-boiled”, a “meta-mystery” and a “mixture between the detective story and the nouveau roman. This may classify Auster as a postmodern writer whose works are influenced by the “classical literary movement” of American postmodernism through the 1960s and 70s.

READ IF YOU LIKE: Detective novellas

FAVOURITE QUOTE“In the end, each life is no more than the sum of contingent facts, a chronicle of chance intersections, of flukes, of random events that divulge nothing but their own lack of purpose.”

PAGE COUNT: Approx 314

STAR RATING: ★★★★☆ – extraordinary and intriguing

I’m not quite sure what I thought of this book, having finished it five minutes ago it is proving quite hard to gather my thoughts and decide. It both frustrated me and intrigued me, remaining a complete mystery even after it had ended. It is comprised of three parts, City of Glass, Ghosts and The Locked Room. All take a twist on the classic detective novel, and although never explicitly linked, all are loosely connected with the use of names and figures. Overall, the smooth and rich writing of Auster coupled with the sneaky and ironic use of recurring names and personas makes this a completely unique read which takes the motif of the detective novel somewhere different.

City of Glass – focuses on a man who is accidentally hired to protect a man from his father after his release from prison. After following, and losing, both the father and the family he was hired to protect, he goes mad and starts living homeless on the street, never finding either party again.

Ghosts – Again, a man (Blue) is hired to follow another man (Black), and moves into a room across the street from him in order to spy on his every move. The mystery is that there is absolutely no mystery, Blue being driven insane by the lack of

The Locked Room – The protagonist is unnamed in the final piece, and centres around another character named Fanshawe, who’s entire life and story of his disappearance being documented by Auster and unlike the first 2 books, leaving little to be imagined. It came to the strongest conclusion and resolution and is often seen to be the best of the three novellas. I connected far stronger with the characters of this last book than with any of the others, whose plots were so protagonist-centric that I found myself bored of them half way through.

These first two books (City of Glass and Ghosts) had a similar journey I thought, they both focused on one lonely protagonist who never really forms strong connections with another character, remaining detached and descending into madness or solitude for the large portion of the story. As much as I did focus on the writing which I enjoyed and the way Auster exploits the form and structure of the detective story, the long rambling monologues of the main characters who had little communication with the outside world made me feel a bit stir-crazy.

The last book, The Locked Room, as I said was by far the best. It was more substantial, with a more accessible plot line and more of a resolution at the end of the book, however still followed Auster’s pattern of leaving the reader dissatisfied, almost able to come to closure, but not quite. Some continuity there! Coupled with the endless paradoxes and contradictions questioning the existence of man and humanity I often felt frustrated, and  with Auster’s writing being so smooth and clean, it was more about the substance of the individual words than the plot development, meaning you have to read extremely carefully and attentively – not my strong point…

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the New York Trilogy, as it gave me an insight into a fundamentally different way of writing, a twisted world of connections and signs all centred around the idea of a detective novel. Auster’s writing is unique, and although the NYT can frustrate at times and is somewhat of a challenge, I recommend it!!

‘Elizabeth is Missing’ by Emma Healey

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It’s quite rare that I don’t finish a book, and so it’s even more rare that I would write a review about a book I haven’t finished. However, this book disagreed with me so much that I didn’t really have the strength to go on after 89 excruciating pages. I know. 89 is a bit of a pathetic effort on my part. But this came at a time in my life when I needed a comfort book, something that would reassure me that life is okay! (which the next book I read did) And this book obviously, due to its rather depressing premise, did not.

It centres around Maud who is ‘forgetful’ i.e she has debilitating dementia which honestly, and I think accidentally, reflected in the writing of the book. I still don’t want to ruin the story for me incase I suddenly take it upon myself to start it again, but the basic gist of this book is that her friend Elizabeth, has disappeared from her usual routine, and because she’s the mad old lady nobody takes her seriously so she decides to take it upon herself.

Its a slow, slow, slow read (or the parts that I read anyway). And the reason I didn’t battle through the book like I did with A Secret History (read my review here) or Alone in Berlin is that the protagonists of those books felt like they had things to offer me, or at least write rudely about. Maud really really bored me, and sadly that was due to the writing, because other than that a book about dementia could have been handled really well. But the challenge to depict the mind of a senile old woman wasn’t handled well by Healey, and I found myself with a case of Reading Every Single Sentence 10 Times Because I Kept Getting Lost on the Page Due to Extreme Boredom.

If you feel like spoiling the end for me, or buying my copy, feel free, as it is unlikely I will be returning to this book.

*Disclaimer* Due to the extreme hype around this book, I am probably extremely WRONG about this book, I’m sure it’s amazing, but my A-Level exam brain had slightly primitive reactions to things that bored me, so I probably deserve to have it spoilt for me. Sorry Emma Healey.

‘We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves’ by Karen Joy Fowler

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BLURB: ‘Meet the Cooke family. Our narrator is Rosemary Cooke. As a child, she never stopped talking; as a young woman, she has wrapped herself in silence: the silence of intentional forgetting, of protective cover. Something happened, something so awful she has buried it in the recesses of her mind’ (Goodreads.com)

READ IF YOU LIKE: THE BIGGEST PLOT TWIST OF THE CENTURY

PAGE COUNT: Approx 310 (Penguin books)

STAR RATING: (★★★★★) – just read this book.

The most frustrating this is that I can’t go into intense detail about this book without revealing its long-withheld secret, and I would hate if someone had told me. I managed to miraculously evade it, so is just about the best plot twist I’ve read in years. It evoked such a strong feeling in me it’s hard not to relay what a great story this is. If you haven’t read it, LOCK YOURSELF IN A DARK ROOM UNTIL YOU GET A COPY.

So, forgive me.

This is an easy and enjoyable read yes, but it’s also a complex read that provokes you to think and has many different layers. I’m a complete sucker for books with twists, books with mysterious cliff-hanging last lines and dramatic moments. This book thrives off them. It brings up subjects that I had never read about, without being didactic or preaching, in a funny and wry way, which is hard to find. It’s a novel for people who love novels.

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‘To Rise Again At a Decent Hour’ by Joshua Ferris

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BLURB: ‘’Paul O’Rourke is a man made of contradictions: he loves the world, but doesn’t know how to live in it. He’s a Luddite addicted to his iPhone, a dentist with a nicotine habit, a rabid Red Sox fan devastated by their victories, and an atheist not quite willing to let go of God. Then someone begins to impersonate Paul online, and he watches in horror as a website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account are created in his name. What begins as an outrageous violation of his privacy soon becomes something more soul-frightening: the possibility that the online “Paul” might be a better version of the real thing. As Paul’s quest to learn why his identity has been stolen deepens, he is forced to confront his troubled past and his uncertain future in a life disturbingly split between the real and the virtual.” (Goodreads.com)

READ IF YOU LIKE: Middle aged men unhappy with their lives, men who are unlucky in love but not in the cute way, obscure religions from ancient times, the subsequent heavy investigation into these ancient religions, dentists.

PAGE COUNT: 337 (Penguin books)

STAR RATING: (★★★☆☆) – I couldn’t sum up to you what this book is about in one sentence.

[ First of all – I AM VERY SORRY. My absence in the past couple of months on this lovely website has been caused mainly by the fact that my A2 studies have become very intense and scary – thus I have not had any time to be reading for pleasure! However, although the studies are still piling on top of me, a couple of books I received for Christmas have prompted me to start reading for pleasure again. ]

If you’re going to read ‘To Rise Again at a Decent Hour’, just know that the only word I can think to describe it when telling other people about it is strange. This is a weird book. There are so many different aspects to it, centred around this quite frankly flawed protagonist that I’m never really sure where to begin when someone asks me about it. Sure, Ferris has a talent for quick wit, but the hard hitting plot is almost too disguised under his funny and heavily sarcastic commentary that when you realise you’re reading about some big issues its a bit too late.

The main character brought up issues for me. He’s a whiner and a hypocrite brought down by his sad childhood, father’s suicide and subsequent malaise for the whole book. There also seems to be a recurring cycle of him falling in love with girls and falling so in love with them that they get put off and dump him, him then becoming depressed and weird, and then doing the same thing again. In some books, having an unlikeable main character is good, and often increases the appeal. But coupled with Ferris’ rambling style of writing, having to listen to Paul O’Rourke talk about his relationships and moan about the dangers of social media and whining about WHY DO PEOPLE NOT FLOSS for 6 pages surprisingly didn’t really hook me in. Also the long excerpts from Amalekite scriptures that occur once every twenty pages are a bit tedious.

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