I read this book mainly because I went to see the play at the Fortune Theatre in London a few weeks ago. The play was really good. It wasn't the scari...moreI read this book mainly because I went to see the play at the Fortune Theatre in London a few weeks ago. The play was really good. It wasn't the scariest thing I have ever experienced, as some reviews claim, but it did make me jump and it was a fantastic performance carried entirely by two actors, with most of the fear factor delivered through good old fashioned darkness, sudden noises, closeness of the atmosphere (it was the smallest theatre I have ever been in) and the audience interaction (there were very frequent shrieks), rather than any advanced technology or complicated props. The play has been performed in London for the last 23 years and remains hugely popular, so I would thouroughly recommended it if you are ever in London and are theatrically inclined.
The Woman in Black is a short novella written by Susan Hill in the 1980s which tells the story of a young solicitor Arthur Kipps and his terrifying encounter with a ghost in a small market town on the East coast of England where he is sent to settle the affairs of Alice Drablow, an old lady recently deceased. The novella is a pastiche on the Victorian gothic literature and it certainly read very authentic with its languorous pace, isolated gloomy manorhouse setting and extensive descriptions of fog and other kinds of dreary weather. But therein also lies the main problem I had with this book. I can well understand the need to set the mood and the scene with some description of nature and the surroundings, but when I am faced with paragraph after paragraph describing the colour of mud and the dripping sky, my eyes soon start to glaze over. The intro and the build-up to the actual story were also far too long, given the overall length of the book (it is 30-odd pages before the hero even gets to the place in a book that's only 138 pages long) and the ending was too rushed and abrupt in comparison. Also, the comic relief, which was very well done in the play, was sadly missing from the book.
Overall, however, this was an interesting story and a quick read and I look forward to seeing what they have done with it in the film.(less)
Veronika is a 24 year old Slovenian woman who one day decides to kill herself, apparently because (1) "everything in her life was the same and, once h...moreVeronika is a 24 year old Slovenian woman who one day decides to kill herself, apparently because (1) "everything in her life was the same and, once her youth was gone, it would be downhill all the way" and (2) everything is wrong with the world and she feels powerless to make things right. After she takes an overdose of sleeping pills, Veronika wakes up in a mental asylum and the remainder of the book is, basically, a series of interactions between Veronika and a number of the inhabitants of the asylum, including a young schizophrenic named Eduard, who mainly stands around mutely and masturbates while Veronika plays the piano. Veronika (what else!) inexplicably falls in love with him, after she similarly inexplicably regains her joie de vivre.
I suppose, that tells you pretty much everything you need to know about Veronika, and certainly Coelho does not add much else in terms of characterisation. Some reviewers have pointed out that to create realistic characters or believable plot is not the point of this book and certainly not Coelho's intention. I guess one really has no choice but to agree with this as it is patently obvious that this is not so much a book as a meditation on insanity with characters and plot which are merely vehicles to convey the author's thoughts on the subject and encourage the reader to reflect on the same and to explore how they may feel/behave/think in similar circumstances.
Paulo Coelho himself makes a brief and pointless appearance at the beginning of the book to tell you that it is based on his own experiences as a mental patient and proceeds to bash you over the head with his message, which is that everyone is crazy, insanity and genius are two sides of the same coin and we should all let our inner freak out and stop trying to conform.
As a reader, I find this approach supremely unsatisfactory. For some reason, I tend to be much more receptive to the message when I can actually bring myself to care about the story or the characters, however unsympathetic they may be. I am sometimes able to forgive lack of plot or character development if the book is particularly informative or beautifully written or manages to turn me on or makes me think about a subject in a new and interesting way. Unfortunately, this book did none of that. Veronika fails even as a placeholder because her actions are so absurd and incomprehensible that I was completely unable to relate to them or to put myself in her shoes. So all that was left was the message and I had absolutely no patience for Coelho's particular brand of preachy self-help pop-psychology. (less)
Did not enjoy this one at all (in case this is not clear from my one star rating). The Eyre Affair was one of those books that sounded brilliant in su...moreDid not enjoy this one at all (in case this is not clear from my one star rating). The Eyre Affair was one of those books that sounded brilliant in summary but, sadly, turned out less than stellar in reality.
The book is set in the 1980s in an alternative universe where England appears to be a state overrun by various divisions of special services agents (SpecOps), police and a shady above the law weapons producing Goliath corporation, the Crimean war between England and Imperial Russia has raged on for over 130 years (where France and the Ottoman Empire fell out of the picture, as well as how this fits in with the two world wars, which I got the impression, still happened, is not entirely clear) and Wales is a sovereign socialist republic (fashioned after USSR, although clearly lacking quite the same scale and brute force factor).
The protagonist, Thursday Next (yes, really), is a thirty something female SpecOps LiteraTech agent and a Crimean War veteran is pulled into an investigation of the evil wrongdoing of a criminal mastermind by the name of Acheron Hades, because the said villain used to be her professor and she is able to identify him by sight. Hades is wanted internationally for murder, theft, extortion, kidnap and the like and is the most diabolically villanous indestructible evil villain you could ever hope to imagine. Did I mention he is evil? OK. Along the way Thursday meets a Goliath Corporation operative named Jack Schitt, is reunited with her former fiance Landen Parke-Laine, learns that her mad scientist uncle Mycroft (these names just keep on coming and, after a while, they stop being amusing) has built a potentially world-changing device which the Goliath corporation is bent on acquiring at any cost and ends up in the Jane Eyre manuscript with drastic consequences.
I don't think I liked anything about this book. It tried to be very very clever and failed miserably. The whole eclectic mix of alternative version of history, blurring of boundaries between fictional and physical realities, time travel and time rifts, literary allusions, vampires and so on just didn't work for me. The writing was cliched, uninspired and very rough around the edges. Fford is the kind of writer who has his heroine pick up a mirror and describe what she sees in order for us to learn that she is plain, middle aged and dark haired. The characterisation was extremely poor with most (I mean all, really) of the characters being just two-dimentional cartoons with amusing names. I note that the book has been labelled as a "mystery", however, one knows exactly how the book is going to end as soon as the "mystery" is concocted. And the ending was just an awful box ticking exercise resulting in some sort of nightmarish phantasmagoria of answers popping out jack-in-a-box style all over the place without so much a s a by-your-leave. Yet somehow it inspired the kind of apathy where I couldn't even be bothered to get angry at it. I spent almost two weeks dragging myself through this book and my give-a-fuck-o-meter was at about minus 20 the entire time.
If I could put one sentence on the front of the book it would be "abandon all logic ye who enter". In some respects it reminded me of The Hitchhikers' Guide, just much less clever and much less witty.(less)
What Ms. Harris used to do well is tell a light, fun, uncomplicated mystery with some excellent sexual tension between light, fun, uncomplicated chara...moreWhat Ms. Harris used to do well is tell a light, fun, uncomplicated mystery with some excellent sexual tension between light, fun, uncomplicated characters and some light, fun, uncomplicated comedic relief along the way. By now, however, with well over three thousand pages of Sookie spewed out, she has ceased to care anything for her characters or her story and it is painfully obvious in this book. There's no fun left, no mystery and no light at the end of this tunnel. My gripes for this book are legion, so I will just concentrate on those that irritated me the most.
Some are unrecognisable, others brought in pointlessly, some suddenly develop traits that are completely at odds with their character and all are senselessly and wastefully mutilated.
Since when has Eric started acting like a 5 year old having a tantrum? Where has the man who could turn up at a party in pink lycra and still be HOT disappeared to? When has he started taking no for an answer? Where's his charm, sarcasm, smouldering looks, confidence, all the things that made him Eric?
Pam, probably my favourite character of the entire series, had maybe one line where she only just sounded like herself, the "what kind of a husband are you" comment.
Sookie is revealed as a great reader, all of a sudden. Have I missed something before? She has never struck me as a great lover of books. Yet here she is devastated by having to burn damaged books, she reads (!!!!! Have we ever seen her hold, let alone read, a book before? If so, I have no recollection of this) a Nora Roberts book and she can answer most of the questions about writers on a TV show, since she reads a lot.
Alcide, Lily Bard, the Big Bad Sandra Pelt, Hunter, Amelia all make completely pointless appearances.
Oh, the endless moralising. The goodness and the pseudo-Christian pontification of Sookie that is shoved down our throats at every turn. She has always been a prude and a hypocrite but it has grated more than ever in this book. She just does not shut up with moral judgements on everything and everyone around her, yet is completely unable to see how morally suspect her own views and actions are. She does deliberate on whether what she is doing is right at times, I will admit, but she barely scratches the surface with what she actually considers and what she comes up with in terms of her attitudes to other people and their actions is astounding in its hypocrisy.
The WTF moments just kept on rolling in this book. Examples:
• When Immanuel suggests that Pam and Eric are having sex, Sookie is shoked and has to think about it a while. WTF? That should have been a complete no brainer with the whole blood bond thing and her constantly moaning on about how she is never completely alone in her skin whenever Eric is awake. Yet, the reason she dismisses it in the end is that Pam prefers the ladies. Again, WTF?
• The ice pack. Do I need to elaborate? Is that supposed to be sexy? The only words I have are: What. The. Fuck.
• (view spoiler)[The blood bond revocation. So turns out it's a complete piece of piss. All you need is some some string and scissors. What was the big deal? (hide spoiler)]
• Sookie is hugely upset that her hair was burnt in the fire-bombing (she cries about it) and she is told by the emergency hairdresser that he is cutting three inches off which makes tears well up in her eyes. Does she bother to take a look at herself in the mirror when the hairdresser is done? Nope. In fact even the next morning when Sam turns up she has not looked, or not that we hear about. “How’s the hair?” Sam asks (because he can't see for himself, obviously, even though Sookie's right in front of him) but Sookie has gone deaf and doesn't answer. She has looked in the mirror by then, we know that much, but makes no remark about it at all whatsoever. Does she like it, does she hate it, does it feel lighter/strange/surprisingly good? We don't know.
• Amelia's amazing research skills. She manages to identify and provide info pretty fucking pronto when her only search terms were "c.d." and "fairy artefact". And you wouldn't expect Google to turn up much on the subject.
Really really really bad writing
Charlaine Harris is not a great writer. She never was. She is completely incapable of creating an atmosphere or giving any depth or complexity to her characters. However, she has managed to descend to new lows to an almost unprecedented degree. Huge parts are just jumbles of sentences with almost no connection to each other and no sense whatsoever. Here's an example right at the very start, as Sookie goes into the attic:
"When the second story had been added to the original Stackhouse home decades before, the new floor had been divided into bedrooms, but perhaps a third of it had been relegated to storage space after the largest generation of Stackhouses had thinned out. Since Jason and I had come to live with my grandparents after our parents had died, the attic door had been kept locked. Gran hadn’t wanted to clean up after us if we decided the attic was a great place to play. Now I owned the house, and the key was on a ribbon around my neck. There were only three Stackhouse descendants—Jason, me, and my deceased cousin Hadley’s son, a little boy named Hunter."
Does she cart the attic key on a ribbon around her neck all the time? Does she carry all her keys in that manner? Does it give her neck strain? I don't know. It just doesn't seem that anyone would. Why? It's not like she uses it regularly. And if it is only then and not all the time, again, why? Just struck me as bizarre. What does the fact that she owns the house or that there are now only three Stackhouse descendands have to do with clearing with anything in that passage? Etc etc
Then, only one paragraph down, Sookie says: "Cousin Claude and Great-Uncle Dermot stepped in behind me." Who the hell thinks or talks like that? She is not at a cocktail party introducing them. I had completely forgot who on earth Dermot was and did need reminding but that was a really clumsy way of doing so.
Throughout the attic clearing episode there is nothing at all to convey any sort of emotion or give any colour to the scene. She mentions that it is hot but then does nothing to show the heat and sweatiness of the work (bar the mention of shirtless fairies, which is just tacky and hypocritical since they are her relatives and she is later appalled when it is suggested they may not necessarily view her in a strictly non-sexual light). Sookie appears to go through generations worth of stuff accumulated by her family with no emotions whatsoever other than contemplation of their potential value. But then, that's Sookie for you, I suppose.
Unnecessary details all over the place. Sookie thinks about soaking her clothes in Clorox 2, she eats Special K with Equal and 2% milk, and uses other cleaning products the names of which I cannot be bothered to look up. Why do we need to know these things? They do not add anything to the narrative. They do not make it more realistic. They are just bits of irrelevance which jar and irritate. Word space that would have been much better used by adding some much needed atmosphere and depth to the story. Is this product placement? If so, shame on you Ms Harris.
“Do you want us to sleep with you, Niece?” Dermot asked, in the flowery way of the old fae… What is flowery about that sentence? Can anyone enlighten me?
So, will I continue on to the end with this series? I honestly don't know. I have almost completely lost interest in the TV series and that has the added appeal of visual aids in the form of extremely hunky men all over the place (although, I have to say, as hot as Alexander Skarsgard is I absolutely hate the way they dress him in this series, he looks worse than Paquin whom I dislike intensely). My relationship with the books has definitely reached the stage where all the thrill and excitement has gone and everything about them just sets my teeth on edge but I have always been very bad at breaking up. So, who knows. Perhaps, I will finish them off just so I can rant about them. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)