Re-read 2/11/12: There's no getting away from the fact that this is a children's book. I can understand adults reading this for the first time who get...moreRe-read 2/11/12: There's no getting away from the fact that this is a children's book. I can understand adults reading this for the first time who get a little way in and think well, this is boring then give up and cast the book aside. I can also understand those who compare it unfavourably with The Lord of the Rings. The thing is though, they shouldn't even really be compared: they're very different books.
J.R.R. Tolkien clearly set out to write a prose epic for children here and nothing in the book deviates from that simple path: there is no character development (in fact, the characters are very poorly defined anyway, being little more than names on the page) there is no moralising and there are no twists in the tale. Perhaps children might feel the excitement, peril and danger more than an adult reader (I think I did) and that is really all this is about.
A pleasant little man sets off with a bunch of strangers and has an adventure. Like all good adventures there's a dragon at the end and gods, trolls, elves and magic in the middle. That sounds pretty uncomplicated and it is but the influence of the tale on subsequent children's literature is clear; it places the story firmly back in the fore as a thing of importance in its own right, something that can be enjoyed for its own sake without having to be taught a lesson. We're back to those epics again: the idea of sharing a story and reading it aloud over many nights.(less)
Shame on me for leaving this unread on my shelf for nearly six years. I first bought it knowing nearly nothing about it, simply that it was a highly r...moreShame on me for leaving this unread on my shelf for nearly six years. I first bought it knowing nearly nothing about it, simply that it was a highly regarded piece of literature about 100 years of life in a village. Shortly after I bought it, friends coincidentally suggested it to me, but told me nothing other than that I'd enjoy it. I did, and it is about life in a village - and it's not.
Quite simply this is nothing like what I was expecting. The prose is absolutely lyrical - it's history as a fairy tale. It's a fairy tale history though, where the fantastic is in the mundane. Macondo (the village) exists on the very edge of reality, that's not to say in a fantasy world, but one in which humans don't belong. It's founded by a family afflicted by solitude and nostalgia and, although the story follows that family faithfully, it's clear that those qualities are as much a part of the character of Macondo as of the individuals.
The family and the place exist together in a way that reflects so many partnerships - building together and finally destroying eachother.
I completely understand why no-one told me anything about it, and why it was so difficult to find synopses of it - the book is a highly original work of art and it's simply too difficult to know how to even begin describing its many, many layers.(less)
For my money, the best of the early twenty-first century food supply chain shock books - perhaps because it focusses on the situation in the UK. The a...moreFor my money, the best of the early twenty-first century food supply chain shock books - perhaps because it focusses on the situation in the UK. The author was (is?) a Guardian journalist and much of the contents of this book was researched through undercover journalism.(less)
I'm really glad I picked this book up - I wouldn't have done so not too long ago.
As a child I used to read a lot of fantasy novels, and then I stopped...moreI'm really glad I picked this book up - I wouldn't have done so not too long ago.
As a child I used to read a lot of fantasy novels, and then I stopped. Whether this was because of a general perception that the genre wasn't for adults, or due to a feeling of my own that that was so, I couldn't say. The feeling's persisted however and I've generally avoided fantasy books for the last 17-18 years believing them to be formulaic and poorly written.
There are some exceptions to that - I re-read J.R.R. Tolkien in that time and, after the BBC Big Read, I read Night Watch by Terry Pratchett. I really enjoyed that book and read it again earlier this month. As I was finishing it, I came across a review of something else online, which spoke of how Steven Erikson and George R.R. Martin had transformed fantasy writing in the last decade, so I thought I'd give it a try.
This is the first book in a ten book series and it does feel like that at times, but what shines through is the quality of writing. It's not as challenging a read as some have suggested, but neither does it molly-coddle you. In short it's a fantasy book that's been written with adult readers in mind. Many genres suffer from poor writing - "chick-lit", thrillers and sci-fi among them, so why fantasy should have languished so long is a bit of a mystery to me.
Erikson has a degree in anthropology and archaeology and the world is well developed and thought out with different cultures as well as races (and not an ork, a goblin, an elf or a dwarf in sight!), gods, demi-gods, a complex magic system and (only right at the end) dragons. I'd recommend this for anyone with imagination who also enjoys more complex writing.(less)
Re-read 03/04/13: This was the very first Discworld book I ever read and, returning to it more than twenty years later, I'm very glad to see that it's...moreRe-read 03/04/13: This was the very first Discworld book I ever read and, returning to it more than twenty years later, I'm very glad to see that it's a worthy introduction to Terry Pratchett's writing. This is basically Discworld-Noir: fairly early on in the series Pratchett begins to seek a voice beyond that of genre satire and this, more than any other, shows him quite accidentally stumbling across the template he was to pursue with such success.
In terms of simple plot expectations the sign-posts could not be clearer in the opening of the book - a giant, polite, kind human is told his true species (he was adopted and raised by dwarves) and is dispatched to the city. Meanwhile, in that same city, cloaked figures assemble to conjure a dragon with the intention of revealing the "true king" who will naturally appear to slay the beast. So far, so predictable.
At some stage though, whether by design or by happy chance during writing, the author came to realise that the city was the real star here - and a star needs a co-star. Enter Sam Vimes. Owing a great deal of debt to Sam Spade, Vimes is a cynical, hard-drinking, embittered police captain. Naturally, he doesn't like his city being made to look foolish and it's down to him to battle that foolishness en-route to the dragon's destruction (with, needless to say, a little love interest thrown in on the side - but not on the femme fatale model!). Overall then, although it doesn't tackle any big and complex issues like the later Discworld novels can, this is still a well-crafted and enjoyable piece which can serve as a suitable introduction to the Discworld books for anyone interested.(less)
Re-read 10/8/14: Is OrlandoVirginia Woolf's most accessible novel? I guess it must be since that observation's so often repeated. Perhaps that owes...moreRe-read 10/8/14: Is OrlandoVirginia Woolf's most accessible novel? I guess it must be since that observation's so often repeated. Perhaps that owes something to the fantastical nature of the setting but, above all other things, I think it's largely because this is her most personal and passionately written novel (yes, even more than To the Lighthouse). It's also far more in tune with the rest of the author's output than it might first appear: surely only Woolf could write a book about a time-travelling transsexual which focuses on the minutiae of daily life rather than big historic and life-changing events?
I'm not the first and I shan't be the last to think that Virginia Woolf could not only see the significance, the importance and the drama of the little things in life but convey that to her readers in a way that is almost beyond compare. Here, in her most contrived creation, it is given added emphasis by the monumental events that occur off the page as she leads us up to them but then whisks us away to something else apparently more trivial.
I always think of Woolf as a philosophical writer and it must have been this, the first of her books that I read, that instilled that impression in me. Perhaps more than in her other books she is also here, however, a witty and humorous writer, very aware of her own engineering.
It's no secret that Orlando is Vita Sackville-West but I think there's also a case here for Orlando the book, rather than the protagonist, to be seen as a homily to the Bloomsbury group as a whole. Her use of metaphor throughout is superb; the various epochs transcended almost tangibly even as they say more about Orlando's character than they do about the physical world. But is it Orlando's character or the Bloomsbury Group's? Woolf's disdain for the Victorians is palpable in the novel (even including a sly dig at her father, Leslie Stephen) and thus contrasts strongly with Orlando's concern with private life and the importance of personal relationships. If these concerns fight a war with literary fame and success then surely this can also be said of the catty Bloomsbury set? And if G.E. Moore's ideas of intrinsic worth are pivotal to the book then they are given free expression in the natural world: bounteous, solid, enduring, dependable and wild; character-shaping and reflecting emotions. Surely someone must have written an essay contrasting nature in Orlando with E.M. Forster's use in A Passage to India?(less)
Re-read 9/7/12: Stella Gibbons may have never written anything worthwhile after her debut novel, but what a wonder that one hit is. Justifiably often...moreRe-read 9/7/12: Stella Gibbons may have never written anything worthwhile after her debut novel, but what a wonder that one hit is. Justifiably often cited as one of the funniest novels of the twentieth century it's precisely the book that anyone who gets annoyed and disgusted by Thomas Hardy's self-pitying protagonists would wish to write. I count myself in that category.
The protagonist in this book, Flora Poste, finds herself leaving London society, at the age of 20, to live with some distant cousins on their farm. Instead of moping and whining, she energetically and determinedly begins to turn around not just her own life but that of everyone else around her.
The ending may be a little Hollywood but having steered just clear of the saccharine through the rest of the book - always dealing fairly with each Dickensianly named character - it doesn't appear out of place.(less)