One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

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STAR RATING: ☆ 

BLURB:“In this classic of the 1960s, Ken Kesey’s hero is Randle Patrick McMurphy, a boisterous, brawling, fun-loving rebel who swaggers into the world of a mental hospital and takes over. A lusty, life-affirming fighter, McMurphy rallies the other patients around him by challenging the dictatorship of Nurse Ratched.’  (Goodreads.com)

I made the fatal mistake of watching the film (!!!! I know) before I read the book for this. I am not kidding, I will never EVER do this again. It completely colours the way you read the book and basically had me making comparisons the entire way through. I thought the film was good when I watched it, but reading the book made me see that it’s just a watered down version, with very little depth that the book has.

This book is deep. And you can tell Ken Kesey was high on LSD when he wrote it (which he actually was, he was taking part in trials while writing), and I feel like you have to read it very slowly, reading every single word to gather the high level of emotion he’s trying to convey in his words. You need to be completely alone whilst reading this, or it just won’t get through, and unlike some other books, I noticed a complete difference in my ability to digest this book whilst in the company of others.

I can’t even pin down if I enjoyed it or not, but I have to take into account that this book is way before it’s time, before mental health institutes were a common thing of books and films. It’s portrayed in the stereotypical way, especially when the book has been translated into film and stage, the obvious clinical and sterile atmosphere with the crazy and scary mentally damaged, so whilst reading this I had to try and cast off my natural dislike for this kind of thing.

Overall, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I hoped I would, but I genuinely think my opinion of it was tarnished by the fact I had watched the film before – SOMETHING I WILL NEVER DO AGAIN.

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A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

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STAR RATING: ☆ 

BLURB:“It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon.” This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she fell in love with Red that day in July 1959. The whole family—their two daughters and two sons, their grandchildren, even their faithful old dog—is on the porch, listening contentedly as Abby tells the tale they have heard so many times before. And yet this gathering is different too: Abby and Red are growing older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them, and the fate of the house so lovingly built by Red’s father.  (Goodreads.com)

PAGE COUNT: Approx 357. (hardback)

This is the only book I’ve ever read (or can remember recently reading) that didn’t make me anxious, or scared, or angry or any other negative feeling. And although that is sometimes what makes a book better, it is always nice to have a kind of break, and just read something that doesn’t focus on anything too heavy.

This is a completely family based novel, and although is not completely gripping or page turning, it’s very easy to read, doesn’t require too much brain power. If I had liked the plot more, I can imagine it being the kind of book a person would go back to for comfort reading again and again. It’s not that its overly happy, it deals with death and difficult family situations plenty, it just doesn’t take these to the extreme, choosing to focus on the details and storylines interconnecting a group of people. I did spend the majority of this book kind of plodding through it, waiting for some big bombshell to drop and everything to go pear shaped (as I often like in books, slightly sadistic of me I know), but realised towards the end that this was never it’s intention.

I like how Tyler writes, she’s amazing with words and imagery, and I couldn’t help thinking that with the right plot line, she could write a completely gripping book. She unfolds different parts of this family’s life one by one, chapter by chapter, but not in a disjointed way, in a very slick way that you hardly realise it, and by the end I not only had a complete image of this family in my mind, but also all the other nuances that make up a family and the people in it.

 

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

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STAR RATING: ☆ 

BLURB: When we first meet U., our narrator, he is waiting out a delay in the Turin airport. Clicking through corridors of trivia on his laptop he stumbles on information about the Shroud of Turin–and is struck by the degree to which our access to the truth is always mediated by a set of veils or screens, with any world built on those truths inherently unstable. A “corporate ethnographer,” U. is tasked with writing the “Great Report,” an ell-encompassing document that would sum up our era. Yet at every turn, he feels himself overwhelmed by the ubiquity of data, lost in buffer zones, wandering through crowds of apparitions. (Goodreads.com)

PAGE COUNT: Approx 180.

The one thing going through my mind when reading Satin Island was how in the world it got nominated for the Man Booker award, and that I’d really like to speak to the people who gave it such high praise. I was reading a review and someone described this book as ‘Flashes of brilliance amid interminable shite.’ which I think sums it up.

This book has no plot, no theme, and no character development. It alienates the reader by talking about topics that are completely inaccessible to the average reader, for example long winded passages based around anthropological terms and examples which made absolutely no sense to me, and infuriated me. It is pretentious drivel and is exactly the kind of book I detest, expecting the reader to just follow along and keep track of all its obscure references. It consists of mini chapters within chapters (e.g. chapter 1.1 etc.), which I actually like as a structure, but the lack of progression and development of the protagonist made it feel a lot longer than it’s short 180 pages. (one of the only things I can commend it on)

U (the main character..yes that’s his name) spends long sections talking about things and imagining situations written with such complexity that it made me feel stupid. I can’t shake the feeling that in disliking this book, I am less intelligent than those who described it as one of the ‘great English novels’, as if my primitive mind needs a plot or dramatic twist and turn to keep me entertained. I feel like I’ve missed something essential which made this book so amazing and it really infuriates me! McCarthy is clearly a talented novelist, I just wish I was able to follow along and get more pleasure out of reading his work.

I understand that this book is more than about plot, that McCarthy is trying to unpick the world in which U lives in, through the eyes of the anthropologist living in a corporate world. I also understand that not all of the greatest books hand you everything on a plate, but I was just naturally drawn to the intermittent passages in which U’s personal life and friends were explored, rather than long descriptions of his daydreams and a more than normal interest in oil spills. At times, it seemed that we would be given something more, in which it seemed something big was about to happen, which failed to.

 

The Man Booker Prize 2015…

For Christmas, I was gifted the ENTIRE shortlist of the books on the Man Booker Prize of 2015 shortlist!! When I say entire, I mean 6 books, but 6 is a lot, and at least 3 of them are 600+ pages. So, for the next couple of months I will be exclusively reviewing these 6 books. Even if they don’t all appeal to me, if A Little Life was anything to go by, then I am extremely excited and will read every one.

Here are the 6 books in the order I am reading them in, and I will add in the review once I’ve read them! (and they’ll have the cute little Man Booker Logo so you know when I’ve finally stopped reading them!)

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

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STAR RATING: ★★★★★★

BLURB: When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

PAGE COUNT: Approx 720.

Having just finished this book, I don’t know what to do with myself. It completely consumed me and has left me emotionally changed. The journey I went on with Yanagihara’s characters is unlike any I’ve been on in a book before. I can’t move on with my life and will certainly not be forgetting about it any time soon.

Until now I thought I had read good novels. A Little Life has made me realise that I was very wrong. Never once feeling like I wanted it to end (despite its length) proved this to me, and honestly, this book has restored my faith in good fiction. A book has never made me feel the extreme range of emotion this one has, it pushed me up to the barrier of a reader-writer relationship and I was in this new world in which I just had to keep reading it no matter what, or no matter how much pain it caused me. I stayed up until crazy hours of the morning, I cried at it, I screamed and sobbed at it, in parts I smiled so much my face hurt.

Yanagihara is a magical writer, and gets so deep into the minds and lives of her characters that I feel like I know them, and I am in a kind of grieving period after finishing the book as they are no longer in my life. Although the overarching feeling is pain and sadness, I think it’s what makes it so magical. It makes you feel deep and raw emotion for people you’ve never even laid eyes on, people that don’t even exist!

However, before you read this book, please be warned that it deals with some seriously heavy issues. Although it explores the depth of human friendship and love in such a way that brought me deep joy, its fundamental plot is based around issues such as self-harm (a LOT of it), child sex abuse, drug related issues and suicide. Many critics feel that the graphic descriptions of self harm got too much, and although I think it should have been the winner, is maybe why it stayed on the shortlist for the Man Booker prize. Admittedly, there were times when it got too intense and I had to take a break, but I don’t think it would have been half as good if it didn’t push you to the extreme, which it successfully does.

Despite it being fundamentally and extremely depressing, this book is an epic. It will make you feel things you didn’t know books could make you feel and I am utterly thankful that it came into my life.

‘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

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.