I must declare an interest here - the only reason I picked up this book in the first place is because the author is a friend of my cousin. It was partI must declare an interest here - the only reason I picked up this book in the first place is because the author is a friend of my cousin. It was particularly nice to read the acknowledgements at the back and see my cousin's name (plus my former boss, but we won't mention that!)
Having said that, I felt that the short stories within this book were well-written and enthralling. Evers tried several different styles of writing, most notably playing with the person-narrative - in one case using the 2nd-person. Obviously, some stories were stronger than others, but as a whole, the set worked well. All of them dealt with people who weren't completely happy with their lives, and the "smoking" element reflected that well. The theme of smoking was clear, but not too heavy-handed and it didn't feel like a massive beacon shouting 'Look, here's the smoking part'. It just gave the stories a bit of an artistic connection which I appreciated.
I don't always get on with short stories as I feel that just as you've become invested in the characters, the story ends and you have to get to grips with a whole new cast, but this book worked. I did sort-of subside at the end of each individual story, but got back on the wagon shortly after!
**spoiler alert** If you like spy stories and political thrillers, this is the grandaddy of them all! Set in the lead-up to World War One, it chronicl**spoiler alert** If you like spy stories and political thrillers, this is the grandaddy of them all! Set in the lead-up to World War One, it chronicles the adventures of Richard Hannay in his quest to defend Britain's state secrets against German spies. Having been written in 1915, this was obviously a very topical subject at the time and the narrative is, understandably, anti-Germanic to a point that modern readers may have trouble identifying with. This goes also for hinted viewpoints on Jews and imperialism which sit uncomfortably in the 21st century. However, don't let this take away from the book's merits, of which there are many. It is certainly thrilling and very exciting, though it is not without its flaws.
Firstly, much of the plot depends on some quite unlikely coincidences; for example, out of anywhere where Hannay could have chosen to hide as a fugitive, he picks the place where his enemies have their headquarters. Not only that but he quite by chance runs into someone who happens to be the godson of a high-ranking civil servant who is exactly the person Hannay needs to be in contact with. This must be why film adaptations often deviate quite significantly from the book. Also, the ending is a bit of an anti-climax.
All in all though, this is worth reading and I would recommend it....more
**spoiler alert** Well written and entertaining. I whipped through it in a couple of days when normally a book of over 350 pages would take about a we**spoiler alert** Well written and entertaining. I whipped through it in a couple of days when normally a book of over 350 pages would take about a week. The author successfully racheted up the tension and, although some elements were occasionally a tad predictable, the reader was swept along with the suspicion of the narrator, not knowing who to trust. I also felt that the structure of the novel was a good device for adding to the "thriller" factor. It put the reader in the same position as Christine, who was reading her own story as if for the first time, just as we were reading it actually for the first time. I did sort-of wish for a more definite ending - but when re-reading it and thinking about it, it couldn't really have ended in any other way.
Put simply, I would recommend this to anyone who wants an exciting and thrilling, but not too challenging, read....more
**spoiler alert** "Theo had begun to glimpse the distance which separates the nice from the good, and the vision of this gap had terrified his soul".
H**spoiler alert** "Theo had begun to glimpse the distance which separates the nice from the good, and the vision of this gap had terrified his soul".
Here, on the second page from the end, is the sentence which really sums up the whole book. Throughout, we see characters trying to be good yet feeling unfulfilled, and characters trying to be 'nice' and failing to be good. Set against the backdrop of a Whitehall thriller, mixed in with murder and the occult, you have 'The Nice and the Good'.
The message is not perhaps particularly inflammatory, yet what Iris Murdoch does is to highlight a group of people and explore how each individual struggles with the conundrum of being 'nice' or 'good'. Some choose to be simply 'nice' - entertaining, pleasant company but ultimately shallow and self-centered - while others attempt to be 'good'. Often they fail, and suffer in the attempt, but they come across ultimately as much more sympathetic.
All the characters, moreover, are fully-formed and believable people. Even the dog and the cat have distinct personalities.
I would definitely read this book again and recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading. It is not too hard a read, nor is it swamped by its message, but it remains with you long after the last page....more
A strange, unlikely tale whose often absurd surrealism exposes the surreal-ness of everyday life. It echoes the absurdism of Eugene Ionesco while someA strange, unlikely tale whose often absurd surrealism exposes the surreal-ness of everyday life. It echoes the absurdism of Eugene Ionesco while somehow making sense of ancient religion. A worthwhile read for anyone who enjoys the darkness of the weird and wonderful....more
I don't usually read Young Adult fiction, but this caught my eye when browsing. I am hugely interested in the whole Titanic story, and this was a wellI don't usually read Young Adult fiction, but this caught my eye when browsing. I am hugely interested in the whole Titanic story, and this was a well-written and original retelling of the tragedy, with enough to it to entertain adult readers as well. As far as I could remember, most of the drama drawn from "real" characters and events were accurate to what is known about them, though I did notice that one character's name was changed - for what reason, I do not know. All in all, a good addition to the Titanic canon for those who want something more than the famous film....more
The problem today with books about religion, whether they be pro- or against it, is that most readers will come to them with an agenda. Those who do nThe problem today with books about religion, whether they be pro- or against it, is that most readers will come to them with an agenda. Those who do not believe in a God will often read them with the aim of confirming to themselves that a deity is a foolish idea and that those who do believe have been duped. Those who do believe in a God will read to prove to themselves that God does exist. As a Christian myself, I admit that I began to read this book with the same prejudice, but quickly realised that this was to miss the point. Lewis was not writing to prove anything to anyone but merely to set out and to explain the main tenets of Christianity as he saw it to believers and non-believers alike. Yes, he does state that to him, Christianity is the only logical belief, but he does not force this down one’s throat.
There were, however, in my opinion, several flaws. On the subject of morality, Lewis makes certain assumptions (which are products of his time) which may be somewhat contentious to a modern mindset – namely on homosexual relationships and a woman’s role in a marriage. These views, however, should be taken in the context in which they were written – long before Women’s Lib or Gay Rights – and should not detract from other more reasonable demands which Lewis makes. As an intellectual exercise, I found ‘Mere Christianity’ to be a very interesting, if often uncomfortable read. Because of these flawed arguments, many other readers may strongly disagree, finding the holes which one can find too large to get over. To me, however, his explanations of certain aspects of Christian faith were truly illuminating and perhaps could be a starting-block to improve my own faith. It certainly made me think a lot harder about my own nature and behaviour. But, I underline, this is only my perspective.
Another problem with works on religion, especially those with a didactic tone, is that they can be so personal. One reader may gain a lot from them, another may increase in scepticism. In other words, while Reader A may find ‘Mere Christianity’ to be a helpful spiritual aid, Reader B may scoff at its teaching, but find it worth reading for academic reasons. Reader C, on the other hand, may find nothing of worth for him/her in it at all. In many ways, it’s up to you. ...more
I was very interested to read (just before beginning to read the book) that Bo Caldwell based the character of Joseph Schoene on her ownSOME SPOILERS!
I was very interested to read (just before beginning to read the book) that Bo Caldwell based the character of Joseph Schoene on her own uncle and his life. http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/readersg... Although the author had not visited Shanghai herself, she had obviously researched the city and the period so that the all-important setting was very believeable. She based her descriptions of life in prison under the Japanese and the Chinese on her uncle's own experiences, strengthening the reality of the fiction. So massive kudos for that. However, structurally, I felt that this novel had a couple of problems. In sticking to a strict chronological structure, the concept of distance or separateness seemed to be diminished somewhat. For example, when Joseph returns to California during the war, Anna is left wondering what he has been through, and being somehow at a remove from him; the reader, however, has already read about this. Also, we are told that Anna uses her father's diaries to write her account of his life. Why then do we not simply read these diaries in Joseph's own words? Maybe the author intended for Joseph to simply become a man without his own voice, perhaps to underline the fact that he was away so much during Anna's childhood, and to emphasise Anna's lingering resentment? I don't know - but these questions kept niggling at me and prevented me from completely appreciating what was otherwise a very instructive and entertaining read. ...more
This ambitious novel, spanning several decades with a large cast of characters, could easily have become cumbersome and incoherent. However, I felt thThis ambitious novel, spanning several decades with a large cast of characters, could easily have become cumbersome and incoherent. However, I felt that the narrative flowed really well, deftly keeping plotlines going right through over 1000 pages. Each of the main characters were well-rounded - the "heroes" were not saints but real humans striving with their flaws, the "villains" could be understood and even empathised with to an extent. The historical time period seemed on-the-whole to be fairly accurate, and the author certainly knew his stuff when it came to describing building methods and styles of the time, though I must admit that I sometimes got a bit lost in these descriptions. If I were to make a small criticism, it would be that it might have been a little too long and that some of the female characters seemed to be cast of similar moulds to each other, creating different variations upon a theme rather than fully individual people. However, these criticisms are tiny niggling details in an epic saga that definitely exceeded my own expectations....more
Very well translated - the English flowed as though that was the original language and didn't sound like a forced vernacular. I sometimes got a littleVery well translated - the English flowed as though that was the original language and didn't sound like a forced vernacular. I sometimes got a little confused with the sheer number of characters, and had to occasionally keep flicking back just to check what a character had been doing the last time we encountered him/her, so as to keep the lines of narrative clear in my head. I also sometimes found the politics and social commentary a little bleak - the poor were almost always kept at the mercy of the rich, and the weak at the powerful. The poor characters were never (except perhaps one or two towards the end) allowed a just victory over their suppressors, only a violent or dishonest victory, or else a defeat. I think that this was the social situation that the author was highlighting, and as such has drawn a successful portrait. Whether or not it is realistic, I do not personally know, having no great knowledge of modern Egypt; however, reading the novel as a grim satire of the author's homeland, I did get pulled into the narrative and associate with the characters. ...more
Having seen several different film/television adaptations of this book, I was all set to make this my favourite Jane Austen novel, but a few things keHaving seen several different film/television adaptations of this book, I was all set to make this my favourite Jane Austen novel, but a few things kept annoying me. Part of this was, I think, due to cultural differences between now and the early C19th. I found it hard to sympathise with the moral that those who knew their place and stayed in it would be happier.
However, the characters were very well developed - all with likeable and dislikeable qualities - just like people that anyone could know in real life. Emma, whom Jane Austen said that no-one would much like except herself, was an intriguing heroine whose motives and actions could always be understood, if not always condoned. The satire of small-town life was exceptionally drawn, often cutting slightly too close to the bone.
I read this in preparation for an essay on Julian the Apostate and his historical reception and I have to say it wasn't an easy read. I think that ifI read this in preparation for an essay on Julian the Apostate and his historical reception and I have to say it wasn't an easy read. I think that if I had seen it performed, it would have been easier to relate to but sadly this is rarely performed. If I get the chance to go, it is currently running at the National Theatre in London (heavily edited), but until then I must make do with what I can. I can only give it three stars for that reason, but I intend to re-read it properly when I don't have to study it and maybe my rating would change....more