I started off really enjoying this collection of stories. They are mostly very short tales, many of which have an ordinary setting but contain some el...moreI started off really enjoying this collection of stories. They are mostly very short tales, many of which have an ordinary setting but contain some element of the fantastical or macabre; others are more explicitly fantasy, but somehow the style is too traditional and matter-of-fact for the book to really feel like it belongs within the fantasy genre. The main problem that it is simply too long, consisting of 50 stories, and after a while they begin to feel very repetitive. The themes frequently repeat themselves and stop being quite so funny, shocking or original. There is also an unpleasantly sexist edge to many of them which, at the beginning, I was able to ignore, but after encountering the same thing repeatedly story after story, it became exhausting and the whole book started to seem offensive. I think the author's work would have been better served by a compilation of perhaps 10-15 of the longer stories. (less)
The Rule of Four has often been likened to two other novels; Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and Donna Tartt's The Secret History. In my opinion, both o...moreThe Rule of Four has often been likened to two other novels; Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and Donna Tartt's The Secret History. In my opinion, both of these comparisons are misplaced. Fans of the former are likely to think this book slow-paced and unexciting; devotees of the latter may find the narrative voice somewhat shallow and the writing less accomplished. If, however, you choose to enjoy the book on its own merits rather than pitting it against others, it's much more satisfying.
The first few chapters are unpromising; so much so, in fact, that I considered giving up on the book altogether after reading them. But I persisted, and was pleased to discover that once the story has found its feet, it improves massively. The academic content makes it an intelligent read, without rendering it dry or hard to enjoy. The style of writing isn't exactly perfect, but there are moments when the authors come into their own, particularly when describing the emotional complexities of friendship.
It's most certainly not without flaws; some segments are poorly written, the characterisation is patchy, and (most off-puttingly for me as a female reader) the descriptions of and references to women frequently appear sexist and are mildly offensive. Their only purpose in the narrative seems to be to reassure the reader that the unusually close relationship between the male protagonists, Tom and Paul, is nothing more than platonic. It's a shame that such an intelligent novel has to concern itself with this, or resort to such crude tactics.
The Rule of Four is cerebral without becoming bogged down in historical detail, has moments of excitement and drama, and (in parts, at least) is assuredly well-written. It's not a rollercoaster ride of an adventure, nor a literary masterpiece; but if you don't expect too much from the novel, it's simply a captivating, enjoyable read - flawed, but not without charm.(less)
I read this when it was first published in 2001 (I was 17) and thought it was fantastic. Reading it again in 2009 (aged 25), I feel a little bit diffe...moreI read this when it was first published in 2001 (I was 17) and thought it was fantastic. Reading it again in 2009 (aged 25), I feel a little bit different. On one hand, Jon Ronson is a very good writer; his style is simultaneously hilarious and poignant, and he lampoons his subjects in an affectionate matter while making some very salient points about the dangers of both paranoia and complacency. On the other, I feel that some of the topics covered don't sit very well with the generally humorous tone; in particular, Ronson's experiences with Muslim extremist Omar Bakri and various members of the Ku Klux Klan lead to some genuinely disturbing encounters, and I'm not sure that portraying those involved as amusing, almost farcical characters is the right approach. However, the book is still worth a look and acts as a very readable and accessible primer for anyone interested in the truth behind conspiracy theories about the 'secret rulers of the world'.(less)
I loved this collection of short stories - I haven't read any of Edith Wharton's novels, but I really want to after this. The writing is absolutely ex...moreI loved this collection of short stories - I haven't read any of Edith Wharton's novels, but I really want to after this. The writing is absolutely excellent - the perfect balance of intrigue, satire and subtlety, with a hint of humour. The tales are just macabre enough to hold your attention without being too obvious or sensational, and they're all the perfect length. My favourite thing about many of these stories was that they are very open-ended, open to all kinds of interpretation - the ghostly, the metaphorical, the satirical. 'The Eyes' was genuinely frightening, aside from being brilliantly original, and I thought 'Kerfol', with its (literally) haunting dogs, was fantastic. I took this out from the library but will probably buy it at some point as I know I will want to read these stories again. Recommendations of what Wharton book to read next would be appreciated!(less)
I prefer the first Bridget Jones book, but this is still a very entertaining and funny guilty pleasure. Also infinitely better than the horrendous fil...moreI prefer the first Bridget Jones book, but this is still a very entertaining and funny guilty pleasure. Also infinitely better than the horrendous film. (The second film, I mean. The first film is one of the only rom-coms I actually like.)(less)
Basis for deciding against: a) too childish in tone, b) I thought the other two in this series were no better than averagely entertaining so it's hard...moreBasis for deciding against: a) too childish in tone, b) I thought the other two in this series were no better than averagely entertaining so it's hardly likely I'm suddenly going to be dazzled by this one. Trying to break the habit of reading books I know I'm only going to kind-of-like.(less)
I haven't read this recently, so I don't want to write a review based on incomplete recollections of the plot/characters/prose etc, but I've re-read i...moreI haven't read this recently, so I don't want to write a review based on incomplete recollections of the plot/characters/prose etc, but I've re-read it several times over the years since it was first a hit (in 2003) and it remains an enduring favourite which, like all the best books, never seems to lose its brilliance even with repeated readings. Barbara is one of my favourite fictional creations, and I am not ashamed to say that in some ways, I sympathise with her; that's the ultimate triumph of Heller's writing. A modern classic, and much, much better than the film.(less)
Based on the Ancient Egyptian myth of Isis, this is a very short book (a short story, really) containing a creepy, symbolic tale of the supernatural....moreBased on the Ancient Egyptian myth of Isis, this is a very short book (a short story, really) containing a creepy, symbolic tale of the supernatural. Iris Villiers, a young woman in (I think) Victorian England, is the protagonist and narrator. She lives a miserable life in her parents' imposing Cornwall home; her father absent, her mother drunk, two of her three brothers constantly teasing her. Her only respite from this depressing existence is her third brother, Harvey, with whom she shares an unusually close relationship. However, disaster strikes when a terrible accident occurs, and Iris is driven to take matters into her own hands, armed with local legends related by the old gardener and her grandfather's collection of occult books.
This little book is very well-written and creates a wonderfully spooky atmosphere which brought to mind Susan Hill's similarly brief ghost stories, particularly The Woman in Black. I think my favourite details were the scary tales told to Iris by Marsh, the gardener. Like most stories of this genre, it's an ideal read for a dark, stormy night; but it's unsurprisingly lacking in detail and after the pivotal event of the plot occurs, it feels very rushed. I also disliked Iris and found her hatred of the governess childish given that she's a teenager, not a little girl. I could have done without the denouncement of said governess as a 'harlot' and all the stuff about evil women luring men to their doom, too, though I am guessing this was meant to be a reflection of Iris's jealousy. Finally, the illustrations: these may have added enjoyment to the book for some readers, and it's true that with the story being so short, there's a need for something to flesh out the pages. But I thought they were very kitsch, and old-fashioned in the worst way.
Isis is worth the short amount of time it takes to read it, and if you're looking for a quick, spine-chilling read for Halloween, it's a perfect fit. It's insubstantial, though, and would work better as part of an anthology of short stories. (less)
Enduring Love has a simple but fascinating premise, which I was at least halfway familiar with before beginning the book (I think there's been a film...moreEnduring Love has a simple but fascinating premise, which I was at least halfway familiar with before beginning the book (I think there's been a film version, which I haven't actually seen, but remember reading about whenever it came out). Joe Rose, a scientific journalist, is about to enjoy a reunion picnic with his girlfriend Clarissa when he witnesses an accident involving a hot-air balloon; he and a small group of strangers rush to help, but the incident results in a man's death. During these events, one of the group, Jed Parry, catches Joe's eye and thereafter develops an obsession with him. As the story progresses, Parry's behaviour becomes increasingly disturbing and Joe finds his relationship with Clarissa disintegrating, leading to an inevitably dramatic climax.
At first I thought this was a fairly straightforward tale (rational man is harrassed by religious fanatic, relationship suffers) but to my delight, it became much more than that. Joe is a complicated character - obsessed by the rationality of science, he is nevertheless completely inept in the way he handles both Parry's behaviour and the problems in his relationship with Clarissa. In the first few chapters, his ruminations on matters scientific irritated and bored me, but later I began to understand that they are essential in establishing the basics of his character, the rationality that leads him to deal with his stalker in entirely the wrong way, only making matters worse. Parry's obsession, meanwhile, begins to reflect Joe's single-minded determination that he can restore Clarissa's love for him to its former state, creating a fascinating parallel between the two men - is Parry's love only categorised as madness because it has never been returned; does love require reciprocation to be validated as a normal mental state?
However, I couldn't help thinking it was all just too slight. Joe and Clarissa's relationship, Parry's obsessive behaviour, Joe's struggle to be taken seriously by Clarissa and the police - all would have benefited from further exploration, and the book could easily have been twice its actual length and still just as compelling. The opening of the book is incredibly effective - the reader is plunged straight into the action of the balloon incident - but because this is the first time Joe and Clarissa appear, and the problems between them start very soon afterwards, I found it difficult to get a handle on them as a couple deeply in love and happy (particularly as we only see Joe's viewpoint). I LOVED the element of uncertainty, the narrative's implication - as well as Clarissa's obvious suspicion - that Parry is actully a figment of Joe's imagination, some expression of post-traumatic stress, but again, this was resolved too quickly. Additionally, I didn't see much point in the sub-plot involving the balloon accident victim's family, which only made me want to jump back to the main narrative.
To sum up: very good, full of interesting themes and meanings, but simply not long or detailed enough for me.(less)
AWFUL. Has the unique distinction of being the worst book I've ever managed to finish reading.
Below is the review I wrote at the time (circa 2002). I...moreAWFUL. Has the unique distinction of being the worst book I've ever managed to finish reading.
Below is the review I wrote at the time (circa 2002). It's a bit pretentious, but basically sums my feelings up well enough:
This is a strange, alarmingly self-indulgent book; filled with angst and shock for the sake of angst and shock, it seems intent on dragging a gullible audience further into believing that self-pitying 'unhappiness' is something to be applauded. The central character, Ruby, a vain, self-centred actress (or, as the 'cast of characters' would have it, 'a fuck-up') appears, from the very beginning, to hate and harm herself because there is nothing better to do. For this reason I found it impossible to sympathise with her, and a book with a protagonist the reader couldn't care less about is immediately in trouble.
The author never quite glamorises the main character's self-harm and bulimia, but she does have a vaguely romanticised view of such behaviour which suggests that her knowledge of it is gleaned from autobiographies and teen films, as opposed to real life. It almost seems that she expects us to revel in Ruby's self-abuse in the same manner the character herself does; one wonders if Forrest realises exactly how obnoxious her protagonist is, or if she is as blindly in love with Ruby as Ruby is with herself. The blurb paints Ruby as 'a seductive blend of heroine and whore', but she is neither seductive, nor as triumphant as 'heroine' suggests, nor anything as dramatic as a whore. She is simply an unpleasant mess through nobody's fault but her own. Forrest is a pseudo-Plath, desperate to emulate the anguish of true pain but quite clearly lacking in any experience of it whatsoever.
Elements of the story are simply unbelievable. We are asked to accept that Ruby is a Hollywood star, yet no satisfactory explanation is given as to how she attained this position. The juxtaposition of Ruby's 'fame' with a plethora of pop-culture references means that fiction rests very uncomfortably against fact. Forrest makes a show of the fact that her main character is sexually aware at the age of twelve, but rather than being frightening, or an explanation of why Ruby has become what she is, the fashion in which this is presented is so laughable it's just boring. Even the dialogue is often poor, and the device of telling the story from a number of points of view falls somewhat flat because Forrest's style varies little between characters.
In spite of all this, bizarrely enough, the book picks up once Ruby has attempted suicide and found herself in hospital. Forrest is at her strongest when writing surreal, dreamlike scenes which may or may not be happening. The conclusion, too, is more impressive than much that precedes it; surprisingly, when our 'heroine' has come to her senses and recognised that the world does not revolve around her, she is likeable. This is the only element of the novel that gives a glimmer of hope that Forrest is not a one-trick pony, that she is wiser and more aware than we might have previously assumed. However, Thin Skin undoubtedly ends as it started; self-indulgently. Is it pointless? I suspect so; it isn't written to argue a case, but nor is it an enjoyable piece of throwaway chick-lit. Ultimately, it's hard to shake the feeling that perhaps Forrest would have been better off leaving this particular tale in her imagination. (less)
I very much enjoyed this, but in parts - at least for the first half of the story - I found it immensely frustrating. Although I identified with the n...moreI very much enjoyed this, but in parts - at least for the first half of the story - I found it immensely frustrating. Although I identified with the narrator strongly, I felt her flights of fancy and daydreams were too frequent and quite distracting, and the book seemed to take quite a while to really get going and fully capture my interest. Having said that, the slow-burning nature of the plot meant the intrigue and suspense gradually built up, making it all the more exciting when something dramatic finally did happen. From the end of chapter 18 onwards, I couldn't put the book down and was hooked until the last page. Ultimately, this was a good read, but - for some reason I can't really put my finger on - I didn't love it quite as much as I felt I should.(less)
Wonderfully, deliciously melodramatic classic short story. I was drawn to this after reading Rachel Klein's The Moth Diaries, which directly reference...moreWonderfully, deliciously melodramatic classic short story. I was drawn to this after reading Rachel Klein's The Moth Diaries, which directly references Carmilla as well as owing an obvious debt to it. Laura, a lonely young woman living with her family and servants in a Styrian schloß, is thrilled when another girl, Carmilla, comes to stay at her home after being involved in a coach crash. The events that unfold thereafter are predictable and clearly signposted, but no less thrilling for that. The book is saturated with hysteria, sexual tension and a doom-laden kind of atmosphere: it's very Victorian, but also has a brisk narrative style which makes it very readable. I'll definitely be reading more Le Fanu in future.(less)