Although A Town Like Alice had some fairly large flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
This was the second book I read for my reading group, and while I alsAlthough A Town Like Alice had some fairly large flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
This was the second book I read for my reading group, and while I also rated the first book, Depths by Henning Mankell, 4/5 stars, I preferred this one of the two. I think the biggest problem for me was the degree of detachment from the characters. Jane always seemed too perfect to be true, and although she and Joe met under circumstances that naturally created a strong bond between them, their romance never really felt much developed beyond that. It never quite rang true emotionally - details like Jane raising her friend's baby for several years, then handing him back to his father once the war ended and never mentioning him again made it difficult to connect with her. Although she had many admirable qualities, it all felt a bit much by the time every Australian with a radio within 10,000 miles of her was in awe of her pluck.
The framing didn't help with the detachment issue. The novel is told from the perspective of the elderly solicitor who handles Jane's inheritance, and while it's made clear again and again that Jane is entirely sensible enough to handle her own affairs, it feels strange for Shute to repeatedly show us how strong she is, and yet tell her story from a male perspective. The peripheral characters are thumbnail sketches more than people, so the myriad of deaths in the first third aren't as moving as they might have been. I raced through the first two thirds, but the last 75 pages or so seemed to drag, and at that point it was easy to set the book aside.
All that said, the basic story at the heart of A Town Like Alice is so compelling. I've read very little set in Australia, and even less - if anything - set in Malaya. I'm far from at home with war stories, and the dated attitudes at play here would normally annoy me. Yet somehow, all of these factors combined just worked. I find it much easier to write about things that irked me than I do to conjure up praise, but A Town Like Alice deserves it. I'd cheerfully recommend it to anyone, and while I definitely wouldn't expect unmitigated praise in response, it's a book that deserves to be read....more
In an effort to introduce some variety into my reading material (Stephen King and crime fiction are fine - reading nothing but Stephen King and crimeIn an effort to introduce some variety into my reading material (Stephen King and crime fiction are fine - reading nothing but Stephen King and crime fiction is not so fine) I recently joined a book group through my local library. Depths is the first book I read for it, and for the first 50 pages or so, I was almost regretting joining. Almost. It's a weird book, that's for sure. It's stark, it's bleak, it's excessively detailed, and in places it's so minimalist that entire chapters are a single sentence long.
While the prologue is fantastically gripping, what follows it really wasn't, for me, until I settled into the style. The main character is obsessed with measurements, so there's a lot of intricate detail, plus an underlying tone of total despair. Yet by the final third of the book, I stopped having to force myself to read a set number of pages per day, and began racing through it of my own volition. It's a tough one to explain - the protagonist is a reprehensible excuse for a human being, there's no one and nothing to root for here, and yet it became highly compelling nonetheless. (view spoiler)[It didn't help that around the mid-way point, I read a bizarre Guardian review that said the main character is a serial killer. He isn't. I spent the rest of the book waiting for this to be revealed. It wasn't. (hide spoiler)]
All in all, I'd definitely be interested in checking out more of Mankell's work (I really must try some Wallander, resolution to read less crime fiction be damned) because there was some really beautiful prose here.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
"Apt Pupil" is the story of a young boy, and a former Nazi in hiding. The boy has a twisted fascination with concentration camps, and upon recognizing"Apt Pupil" is the story of a young boy, and a former Nazi in hiding. The boy has a twisted fascination with concentration camps, and upon recognizing the aged Nazi from his library research, forces him to tell him all about the horrific acts committed during World War II.
I couldn't turn this one off. It must have been 7 or even 8am before I finally paused it and went to bed - the premise had me hooked, strongly and immediately. The way it unfolds feels a little too pat - both man and boy separately begin murdering the town's winos, unbeknownst to one another, which stretched the boundaries of credibility some (granted, the central conceit isn't exactly plausible, but it did make for compelling listening.) The end seemed very abrupt, particularly for the old man, but all in all I think it was my favourite of the Different Seasons collection - though "The Body" is probably the best-written of the four. 6/10....more
This charming epistolary novel follows a year in the life of author Juliet Ashton. Living in the immediate aftermath of World War 2, Juliet is a wittyThis charming epistolary novel follows a year in the life of author Juliet Ashton. Living in the immediate aftermath of World War 2, Juliet is a witty, original heroine who is immediately likeable and easy to root for. She begins a correspondance with Guernsey man Dawsey Adams, and the two bond over the works of Charles Lamb. Through Dawsey, Juliet is introduced to the rest of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - a group of Islanders both quaint and quirky in equal measure, whose experience of life during the Nazi Occupation inspires Juliet and her writings. The book has strong underlying themes of community spirit, survival against the odds, literature as escapism, and above all is a gentle, heart-warming read. Perfect for balmy summer afternoons curled up with a cosy book....more