This book was a joy to listen to. I'd heard from a lot of people that it's unrelentingly depressing, and I remember my mother having a copy in her bed...moreThis book was a joy to listen to. I'd heard from a lot of people that it's unrelentingly depressing, and I remember my mother having a copy in her bedroom when I was young, which I'd try to avoid because the poor mite on the cover looked so glum! So I was expecting 18 hours of solid bleakness, but that's not how it went at all. If anything, I found it uplifting that the narrator, Frank McCourt, had such a dismal start in life, but was able to look back on it with such a cheerful slant. Yes, the McCourts had a terrible time of it, but they encountered a lot of goodness along the way too.
Many of his anecdotes were outright hilarious. I think the sombre but amusing nature of the book was best encapsulated in one about a school friend who had the other boys pray that his sister would live until at least September, so he could miss school for her funeral. He bribed them with a promise that they could attend her wake for free food and drink, and when he reneged on the deal, McCourt noted with a hint of relish that the boy himself died the following summer, when there was no school to be missed, which served him right.
The "growing up" portion of Frank's life seemed to come about very suddenly, but I suppose that was how it went when you were turfed out of the education system and expected to find full time work at 14. The last 3 or 4 hours did rather linger over his masturbatory habits, which wasn't entirely delightful, but all in all it was easily amongst the 3 or 4 best books I've read this year so far, and the top audiobook I've listened to to date.
Narrated by Frank himself, the tales and songs really came alive, and I was sorry when it all ended. I didn't realise until I was a good way in that the text is quite stylised - almost lyrical. Maybe I missed out by listening instead of reading, but books lacking punctuation for stylistic reasons have driven me barmy in the past, so perhaps not! I may get hold of the follow-up memoirs in time, but whether I do or don't, I'm glad to have read Angela's Ashes.(less)
The whole premise of this book annoyed me. I know it's a very teenage thing to want everyone who's ever hurt you to feel rotten about it, but Thirteen...moreThe whole premise of this book annoyed me. I know it's a very teenage thing to want everyone who's ever hurt you to feel rotten about it, but Thirteen Reasons Why takes it to such a level that I couldn't empathise with the main character. In short, Hannah Baker commits suicide and leaves a set of tapes blaming eleven different people for it. Bar a few towards the end, the majority had done nothing to her besides standard teenage rubbish - voting her "Best Ass in the Freshman Class", dropping her as a friend etc. Hannah's response - to force them to live with guilt over her death for the rest of their lives - is so overblown that to me she came off as worse than most of the people she was blaming. (view spoiler)[In one tape, she admits to having let a girl get raped, yet despite acknowledging that she's ruined this girl's life, she still sends her a tape blaming her for her suicide. Wow. (hide spoiler)]
I left it a few days after finishing to review, because I thought I might mellow towards it, but just thinking about it has annoyed me all over again.["br"]>["br"]>(less)
**spoiler alert** While I was reading it, Sister felt like a 3-star book. By the time I'd finished, it was definitely worth 4 stars. Lupton's debut no...more**spoiler alert** While I was reading it, Sister felt like a 3-star book. By the time I'd finished, it was definitely worth 4 stars. Lupton's debut novel tells the story of Beatrice Hemming as she attempts to solve the disappearance of her younger sister Tess.
It's stronger as a piece of literary fiction than it is as a crime thriller. The whodunnit element itself isn't particularly noteworthy - all the clues and key plot elements are heavily lamp-shaded early on, so I didn't find the eventual revelation of the perpetrator particularly surprising. There just wouldn't have been as much focus and back-story on the cystic fibrosis angle if it was going to turn out to be Tess' barely explored erstwhile lover or student stalker. One major niggle is that if the police had just checked Tess' incoming phone records, they could have solved the whole case much sooner. Still, I'd heard that there was a twist ending, so I was fairly assured of having sussed the whole thing with a couple of chapters still to go.
I love the fact I was wrong.
Throughout the novel, the first person narrative tried my patience. I sometimes keep a WordPad file of notes and quotes while I'm reading, to help arrange my thoughts afterwards. Scanning back my thoughts on Sister, about 75% of everything I've jotted down is trying to fathom whether the narrative is in letter form, in Beatrice's head, or a mixture of both varying between the constant tense changes. I honestly thought it was just clumsily framed, a bit confused. But no. It's brilliantly, fiendishly clever, and I absolutely did not see the end coming at all. That alone made the book for me.
There's also some really lovely writing and imagery throughout. From the very first page and the evocative idea of kindness smelling of lemons, I was quietly confident that I was going to enjoy this. I think some of it was a bit overused - Beatrice associating the rustle of a dressing gown with her mother's comfort was repeated so many times it lost its initial tender impact. But on the whole I enjoyed the narration, particularly the way the snapshot images of Tess throughout were all pulled together at the end.
I expected to fly through Sister within a day - it actually took a couple all told, and I did find it quite easy to put down and be distracted from - but really, my niggles with it have all paled in light of the ending.
One thing I really loved was Beatrice's reaction to the floral tributes left for her sister:
The bouquets made sense to me now. Decent people were trying to fight evil with flowers; the good fighting under the pennants of bouquets.
I just adore this passage, particularly in light of the significance it takes on in the last couple of pages.
**spoiler alert** One Day follows Edinburgh University graduates Emma and Dexter over the course of two decades, focussing on July 15th of each year....more**spoiler alert** One Day follows Edinburgh University graduates Emma and Dexter over the course of two decades, focussing on July 15th of each year. It's fairly amusing, with largely believable dialogue, and was just about entertaining enough to ensure I got all the way through it.
Sadly, that's about all it has going for it. Being believeable doesn't make the main characters in the least bit likeable. Dexter has a caddish charm about him that carries through, but Emma's soul purpose in the entire novel appears to be to moan. About herself, her appearance, her prospects, and absolutely every one and every thing else. She spends so much time belittling Dexter that it's beyond me why she means so much to him. He says that she's a good friend to him, but all we really see in these snapshot days are Emma being a moody cow. For over 400 pages.
The length does not work in the novel's favour - Nicholls just doesn't have enough interesting ideas to carry the gimmicky premise for that long, and so a great great deal of One Day is entirely mundane. There are long, long chapters where nothing really happens, yet when the protagonists finally get together, after years and years of increasingly implausible set-backs keeping them apart, it's all over and done with in a few dozen pages.
I know that this is largely the point. Nicholls isn't really writing about the romance, he's writing about the people, and how they grow and change with time. The book is a journey, in a way. Sadly, it's a journey that takes far too many long and twisting back roads and ultimately left me feeling travel sick. One Day to avoid.(less)