To be honest, I could have given this anything from zero to three stars. So I've erred on the generous side.
In short, it's a really difficult read, eTo be honest, I could have given this anything from zero to three stars. So I've erred on the generous side.
In short, it's a really difficult read, especially the opening 20-30%. Once you wade through that, accepting that you'll just have to go with the flow and let the words wash over you rather than care too much about what's actually going on, things start to fall into place and you can actually settle down and appreciate and even enjoy what he's doing here. Even if you feel you've never quite got a complete handle on it.
Other reviews will do a better job of conveying what the book is about. And the aspects of it that I most enjoyed/appreciated were not just the humour but also some very telling insights into human nature and society in general, not just the racial aspects he's focusing on.
But overall I felt it was too self-consciously over-clever. and I'm surprised to have read that the author is somewhat frustrated that so many have focused on the humorous aspects of the book and that he feels he's not a satirist. And there's too much (spot-on) physical humour, even slapstick, here for it not to have been deliberate.
If it hadn't been for a book group, I'm not sure I'd have persevered with it. I did get something out of it, but not sure I'd ever recommend it or attempt a re-read....more
Don't get me wrong. This is highly readable - if you enjoy Caitlin Moran's style of writing, which I do - whether in her journalism or in this book.
BuDon't get me wrong. This is highly readable - if you enjoy Caitlin Moran's style of writing, which I do - whether in her journalism or in this book.
But the concept is flawed, and I came thinking that was enjoyable, but what have I learnt? Has she changed my mind about anything? Is she likely to change the mind of anyone who doesn't share her outlook on life?
She writes amusingly - and occasionally movingly - about her life as a child, adolescent and young adult and how she has grappled with being a young adult and a young woman and arrived at her current outlook and views on society etc. bla bla bla.
The problem is that doesn't equate to knowing what it means to be a woman or how women in general should be women per se. How could it? It doesn't even seem to occur to her that not every woman is intrinsically like her. Not every woman has her body shape (which comes up a lot), her social interests or emotional needs, or her constitution (which she puts through a lot). Fine, she has figured out how to be the sort of woman that she is. It works for her, great. And I have to confess that I have a lot of admiration for her (based on her writing, at least; she may be a complete dick in real life for all I know) and that I espouse many of her views. But not everyone does or should.
So, if anything, this book should be called something like "How to be a Woman exactly like Caitlin Moran" and I'm not sure how it could really be about anything else.
That said, it's a bloody good read, for the most part....more
I really wanted to like this more. It started out so promisingly and there are beautiful touches throughout.
However, overall it completely dragged forI really wanted to like this more. It started out so promisingly and there are beautiful touches throughout.
However, overall it completely dragged for me. It was way too long and utterly putdownable.
On the plus side, the first-person voice of lead character Grace and her relationship with her best (and only?) friend Tilly was just perfect - charming, very clever and touching; utterly convincing. In her child's naivete, she is astonishingly perceptive. In fact, Tilly is the more perceptive of the two.
Also delightful for me was the nostalgic trip back to growing up in the 1970s (Penguin and Club biscuits, Angel's Delight, Kenneth Kendall reading the news...) and, in particular, the long hot summer of 1976.
But then there's the actual plot and the third-person narration involving the over-complicated cast of adult characters. Essentially, one of Grace's adult neighbours, Margaret Creasy has disappeared - and it's apparently something to do with what she found out about what the rest of the avenue's adults did in 1967, which has something to do with a fire at the home of another neighbour, Walter Bishop, which has something to do with a baby he was suspected of having taken. However, we are fed the backstory of 1967 in such a plodding and piecemeal fashion that this reader, at least, soon started to lose interest.
I think I grasped it all by the end of the book. But ask me what actually happened - who did what and why, and how it led to Margaret disappearing - and I'll probably soon glaze over..... And why she eventually came back, f*ck knows or cares.........
More Grace and Tilly, please. But no more convoluted plots and boring Sheilas/Sylvias/Dereks/Dorothys/Harolds and all the other grown-ups. Oh, wait, Eric Lamb was kinda cool. He can come back....more
I feel a bit mean giving it only two stars as I, in many ways, found it readable enough. But the truth is that overall I found it awfully contrived anI feel a bit mean giving it only two stars as I, in many ways, found it readable enough. But the truth is that overall I found it awfully contrived and forced, didn't 'buy' the story at all, and strongly disliked a lot of the writing (see some examples below).
This is completely different from her previous book, 'The Miniaturist', which I enjoyed, though not as much as some others in our book group. In that book, there had been somewhat of a mystery element in that [SPOILER....] you don't know all the way through who the miniaturist is and, in fact, the revelation at the end is not particularly satisfying.
So the fact that, in this second novel, the author has made the mystery element so core to the structure and plot of the book sent alarm bells ringing for me. Yes, the final twist did come as a surprise to me. But if you take that surprise out of the equation, you're left with a book that has been forcibly written, seemingly solely to aid that revelation. (And the feeling of "Oh, that wasn't who I thought it would be; that was kinda clever" is rarely powerful enough by itself to leave a lasting impression of a book.)
There are two potentially good novels here if you were to split apart the 1930s Spain plot and the 1960s London plot. Jumping to and fro between them, with a disorienting authorial viewpoint (even within each section), leaves each of them failing to convince (me, at least).
Some examples of writing that I didn't like. In some cases, I can't fathom what it actually means. In other cases, I just don't buy that people would naturally express themselves in this manner. Or it's just would-be cleverness for would-be cleverness's sake. I know it's a very personal response and some may love these excerpts, but for me........not so much.
Teresa didn’t know what to say to this fizzing girl, with her plaintive, open face. The Schlosses were so short-handed with each other, that it usually neutralized any depth of reference to their past lives. They were actors in costume, in the moment, performing through the house as if it were a theatre stage and Teresa their sole audience. She desperately wanted to see what happened when they took off their robes and walked into the wings, the darker corners where memories shifted. Olive had now lifted the curtain a little, and shown her the shapes and patterns beyond. Teresa worried that to say something wrong would make that curtain drop again, and break the spell of their solicitude.
He looked out of the window, down the slope towards the village path. He had never been able to hold Arazuelo in proportion. It never stayed the same, and yet it always seemed the same. It was a self-reflecting place, insular and welcoming by turns. He was continually trying to leave it, although he could never exactly say why. Arazuelo was part of his body. Madrid was the moon, Bilbao was outer space, Paris a place of biblical fantasy – but Arazuelo could overtake a man like no place else.
When life is running out, such decisions may not seem so invasive or dramatic, and you willingly commit. This was why she spoke to Edmund Reede with no fear of reprisal; she knew she was soon to be reprised entirely.
That last sentence plain doesn't work. The noun 'reprisal' and the verb 'reprise' have completely different meanings. (The context here is that 'she' (Marjorie) is dying. She has nothing to fear from Edmund because she won't be around much longer. The sense is clear, but linguistically it doesn't work.)
And would a 19-year-old English girl talk as follows in English (in 1937) to a 20-twenty-something Spanish man, even one with surprisingly good English? (And even if she did, would it be a surprise if the reader found these people annoying and unconvincing?)
‘Oh, God, I could wring your neck. You’re so naive – it wouldn’t have worked out the same way at all. There’d be no flirty letter from Peggy Guggenheim, no exhibition in her new gallery on the basis of one painting, nothing like it. And it would take all my energy “changing things” as you put it, with none left over to paint – which is the whole bloody point of everything. The energy a man might use on – oh, I don’t know, making good work – you want me to use on “changing things”. You don’t understand, because you’ve lived your life as an individual, Isaac. And yet everything you do as a man is universal. So enjoy the glory, enjoy the money, and do it for me, because I certainly wouldn’t have been allowed.’
And this......when one character's boyfriend leaves her to go abroad and they drift apart.
I’d like to say that the elasticity of youth meant the skin stretched easy.
And, almost at the end:
It was a time of new experiences, without the benefit of the old to mitigate the after-effects. My life was a beanstalk and I was Jack, and the foliage was shooting up and up, abundant, impressive, at such speed that I could barely cling on. I loved and I lost love; I found new creativity and a sense of belonging. And something deeper happened, something darker, which we have all gone through – and if we have not, it is waiting for us – the indelible moment when we realize we are alone.
And the book finally ends on the tritest of tritenesses:
Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: in the end, a piece of art only succeeds when its creator [...] possesses the belief that brings it into being.
I've read a lot about sleep in the last few years and didn't find much new here. Nonetheless, it is a very well-written book... and pretty funny too.
AI've read a lot about sleep in the last few years and didn't find much new here. Nonetheless, it is a very well-written book... and pretty funny too.
Although I don't think it's helped me particularly, I would certainly recommend it to anyone who has trouble sleeping as it's very clearly structured and presented and has a wonderfully reassuring tone....more
Wow. This little book has such a precise and beautiful sense of time and place - almost insular-looking and, on the face of it, making few allowancesWow. This little book has such a precise and beautiful sense of time and place - almost insular-looking and, on the face of it, making few allowances for the unprepared reader - that it is initially hard to get into it. But, bit by bit, I was drawn in and right there in every scene with our lead character, young Leo, until the unexpected heartbreaking end. But two further books are promised, so all is not over for him...
It doesn't matter if you've no interest in horses. It's not (only) for the horsey set. We care about Leo. And horses are what he knows and loves. I don't know how Pears does it, but it's insidiously stunning. Just ignore the blurb and read the book.
Oh, and he's reading from the book next week and I hope to get there.
A highly readable conclusion to a solid trilogy on the Wars of the Roses. This is a period that has already been well-mined in fiction (though, of couA highly readable conclusion to a solid trilogy on the Wars of the Roses. This is a period that has already been well-mined in fiction (though, of course, nowhere near as much as the Tudor period that followed it), so you have to bring something new to the table. Or just do it very well. And it's so easy to come unstuck given the vast and confusing cast of characters and continually shifting allegiances.
Michael does a reasonably good job, but her narrative choices have both pros and cons. The 'new' she brings to the table is a reliance on extracts from chronicles to move the story along at frequent points in the plot. This certainly saves space and time and lends an ostensible air of authenticity to the narration. On the other hand, as she openly acknowledges in her note at the end, few of these were contemporary (for example, Thomas More was writing during the reign of Henry VIII) and were all clearly partisan, so should rarely be taken at face value. So, how are we supposed to read them, interposed as they are in the midst of her own narration?
She also tells her story from the viewpoint of multiple characters, continually changing, albeit within clearly delineated chapters or subdivisions. Much of this works really well. Notably, if there is a lead protagonist throughout this trilogy, it is Margaret Beaufort, mother of the future Henry VII. And she is wonderfully developed and captured. (And the suggestion that she was ultimately for remotely engineering the murder of the Princes in the Tower is certainly refreshingly inventive and provocative.) Despite what the blurb for this particular book says, Margaret of Anjou is no longer a major character by this stage and doesn't feature that much, but she is certainly well-developed in the earlier books.
Unfortunately, the jumping-around from one character to another is a bit messy, especially when she suddenly alights on one character briefly and then never again. Most frustratingly, despite him being a major character in much of this book, the viewpoint of the Duke of Gloucester / Richard III is neglected - and, of all the characters here, he's the one on whom we want to really know what her take is. So it seems a bit of a cop-out to have kept her distance from him. Then, suddenly, on the eve of the fateful Battle of Bosworth, we briefly inhabit his fretful, sleepless mind - which is more than a bit bizarre.
But, overall, this is probably one of the most readable series of novels on this period I've encountered in a while. There are more 'sweeping' novels that do a better job of drawing you in, but they are often shamelessly partisan....more
Unfortunately I can't make the book group meeting at which we'll be discussing this book, but I thought I'd read it in any case. I've never read PratcUnfortunately I can't make the book group meeting at which we'll be discussing this book, but I thought I'd read it in any case. I've never read Pratchett and I might not have got round to reading him otherwise.
In short, I loved it and it wasn't what I had expected. I expected something really quirky, funny and silly. And it was all that. But it was oh so clever and thought-provoking at the same time. Great stuff....more
Very short book. More a poem than a novel. Definitely quirky and different.
Will certainly give it a re-read (won't take long) before the book group disVery short book. More a poem than a novel. Definitely quirky and different.
Will certainly give it a re-read (won't take long) before the book group discussion on it at the weekend. That may reveal whether I think it is it truly brilliant or just an over-clever idea that doesn't quite work...........more
Could he be completely wrong? That's part of the excitement.
Will be fasciHighly readable. Challenging. Thought-provoking. Unexpected. Highly topical.
Could he be completely wrong? That's part of the excitement.
Will be fascinating to re-read this in 10, 15, 20 years' time and see how foresightful he was. Or maybe as soon as five years. (To be fair, he is not forecasting anything - just highlighting the possibilities of where we and the world might be going.)
By the way, I think it's helpful if you've read is previous book, Sapiens, before this one - just because it helps set the scene. But I don't think it's necessary....more