Archive for September, 2008

This is a very short book (91 pages) which I read in one sitting, and which is perfect for a lazy afternoon (which was when I read it).  The book tells the story of a man, who is always referred to simply as The Time Traveler, who invents a time machine, which takes him to the year 802,701.  There, he finds that the human race has evolved into two species’ – the Eloi and the Morlocks.  On the face of it, the Eloi seem to live a wonderful existence, filled with pleasure.  However, the time traveler discovers that, as they want for nothing, and therefore have nothing to strive for, the Eloi have also seemingly lost the ability for intelligent thought.  (Without goals, there is no need for strategy and forethought).  However, there is a darker reality lurking underneath the surface (both literally and figuratively), in the Morlocks – a species who only come out in the darkness, and who inspire fear in the Eloi.

To say more would be to give away too much of the plot, although it is at this point that the story really began to take root.  Suffice to say that I ended up feeling more sympathy with the Morlocks than the Eloi; I have no idea if that is what the author originally intended.

However, I do believe that this book may have revealed Well’s fears for the future; if the upper classes never have to do anything for themselves, they will not be able to look after themselves, and therefore must rely on the lower classes to provide everything they need.But in return, they must give something back to the providers…as demonstrated in quite a clear fashion in this story.

It’s hard to describe how I felt about this book.  It is of course a classic, and with good reason.  Yet, I found it very difficult to engage with any of the characters.  However, I did enjoy it and would definitely recommend it to others.  It is one that I have kept, and will almost certainly reread at some point in the future, as I think it could well be a book that becomes more enjoyable with each reading.  It definitely made me consider reading more books by the same author.  It’s certainly clear that Wells had a vivid and intelligent imagination.

(For more information about the author, please click here.)

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Despite the title and the subject matter, this is not a dark or depressing book, and is actually very amusing in places. It is a very quick read (less than 170 pages), and it’s quirkiness and irony makes for a very entertaining story.

Set at an undefined period of time in the future in France, we learn that Earth has been ravaged by man’s selfishness and greed.  Mankind is a depressed race, which means that business is booming at The Suicide Shop.  This business has been by the Tuvache family for generations – they sell anything and everything that one might need to commit suicide, including some very clever inventions.  The parents, Lucrece and Mishima, are very contented in their misery, and proud of their two eldest children Vincent (named after Van Gogh) and Marilyn (named after Marilyn Monroe).  These two youngsters are both incredibly bored of life, and depressed.  However, Alan (named after Alan Turing), the youngest son, is a worry to the family.  He is full of the joys of life, and has an constant sunny nature.  He refuses to buy into his parents’ misery, and this worries them.  But despite their resistance, Alan is determined to spread the joy…

All the way through this book, I was thinking that it would definitely make a great film, if someone like Tim Burton were to get their hands on it.  It’s an unusual premise, and is actually a lot of fun, but it definitely has a sting in the tail.

The characters are almost caricatural, but this is in keeping with the whole of the book, as many of the things that happen are somewhat over the top, but fit in with the point of the story.  I couldn’t help thinking that the author must have had some fun in coming up with some of his very inventive ways for someone to kill themselves.

Short enough to read in one sitting, I would definitely recommend this for a lazy afternoon!

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The first thing to note about this book is that it is not a dictionary!  I mention it, because reading reviews on Amazon, I noticed that some people thought that it was, which was why they bought it.

The book is narrated by ‘Z’, a 24 year old Chinese girl, who is sent to England by her parents, to learn the English language.  Inevitably, she learns far more than just the language, and discovers much about the differences in the English and Chinese cultures, as well as learning lots about herself.  It is written almost in a dictionary format, with headings for different chapters being new words or phrases she has learnt, which generally have a tenuous link to the events of that chapter.

The book is written in deliberately bad English (which does improve, as Z spends more time in England, and learns the language).  The first half of the book is rather charming, and we do see things which we are used to and take for granted, through Z’s eyes.   

She falls in love with an English man, and the culture clash causes a few difficulties in their relationship.

Unfortunately, about halfway through the book, it started to lose it’s appeal.  Both Z and her boyfriend are irritating and selfish characters.  I found myself wanting to shake Z, and tell her to get a grip!!

I think it is a shame that Z seemed only able to define herself by the way men felt about her.  Indeed, she had no interest in female friendships or bonding (there are barely any other female characters in the book, and those that are, are peripheral characters).  Undoubtedly, Z’s language and understanding of a foreign culture advanced, but I’m not sure that she advanced emotionally very much at all, which is a shame.

An interesting idea, with some flashes of brilliance, but overall, I would say that this book was a wasted opportunity.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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I received a proof copy of this book, and was not sure whether or not I would enjoy it.  In fact, I loved it!

It is a retelling of the Frankenstein story, but in this instance, the narrator is Victor Frankenstein himself.  At the beginning of the tale, Frankenstein is at Oxford university with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.  Shelley is actually a prominent character in the book, as his wife Mary Shelley (who of course was the author of the original novel ‘Frankenstein’).  Lord Byron is also a character in the book.

So, an ambitious undertaking then – but in the hands of Peter Ackroyd, it is brilliantly executed.  He manages to being some sympathy to the character of Victor, and also the monster himself.  Shelley, Mary Shelley and Lord Byron are entirely believable characters, and the way they are portrayed is in keeping with the way they are largely perceived to have been, and the London which they inhabit is vividly brought to life.

The reader is taken on a journey with Victor, as we witness his interest in creating such a creature turn to obsession, and finally horror and despair at the consequences of his actions.  There is a definite twist in the tale, which I could not have predicted.

The writing is eloquent and descriptive, and I really felt able to lose myself in this novel.

(I’d like to thank NewBooksMag for sending me this book to review.  NewBooksMag’s website can be found here.)

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Sometimes, you read a book that you love so much, you want to tell everybody you know to read it. This is one of those times.  This book is beautiful, sad, moving and funny.

The book is narrated by Enzo, a dog of indeterminate breed, who is on the eve of his death. He is not scared though, because he is convinced that he is going to be reincarnated as a man, and will finally be able to speak, and will be the proud owner of a pair of opposable thumbs.  Unlike many books where the narrator is an animal, this is not written as a comedy, although parts of it did make me laugh out loud.  

Enzo narrates his life, from the moment he was picked out of a litter of puppies by his master Denny, and a deep bond of love and loyalty was formed.

Denny meets Eve and they have a daughter, and for a while all is well with the family, but then a tragedy strikes them, and life starts to come apart at the seams.  Throughout all of Denny’s problems, Enzo is right there by his side.  He sees the sacrifices Denny makes, and how Denny has to put his dreams of becoming a champion race car driver to one side.

Enzo displays far more humanity than many of the humans in the book.  He is a deeply intelligent dog, who is frustrated by his inability to express his thoughts to the people around him.  He loves watching tv, and especially videos of Denny’s races.  He is certainly a beautifully drawn character, with an incredible soul.

Through his eyes, we also get to know Denny incredibly well (after all, someone’s dog sees that person at their highest and their lowest!) Denny was another extremely well portrayed character, but of course he is not the true hero in this tale!

The title is an allusion to Denny’s motor racing, which is a theme which runs throughout the book.  However, you certainly do not need to be a racing enthusiast to enjoy this book (I am not one, although I did learn some interesting facts about Formula One along the way)!

I also don’t believe that you need to be a dog lover to enjoy this read (although I am certainly doggie crazy).  This book was very moving indeed, and made me cry, but also made me smile through my tears.

After finishing it, I wished I had read it earlier, but simultaneously wished that I hadn’t read it yet, so that I still had that pleasure to come.  Highly recommended!

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This is a lovely, charming book, and a very quick read.  It tells the story of Miyuki, a half Japanese, half Welsh woman, who holidays on her own in the same small Welsh village every year.  Nothing in the village ever changes, and not an awful lot ever happens.  This being the case, there is a  bit of repetition in the book, but this is characteristic of the people and place, and does not detract at all.

However, on this particular holiday, Miyuki decides to get creative with some gold paint, and this leads to a chain of events, which become a big talking point in the village.  While this is ostensibly the foundation of the plot, in truth the book is more about a journey of discovery for Miyuki and the assembled cast of characters.  Along the way, we as readers learn about Miyuki, her background, her relationships and her insecurities.

Miyuki was an interesting central character, never quite feeling that she fit in anywhere except perhaps at this small village where everything is always reassuringly the same.

For me, the book did not live up to the claim on the cover, of being hilarious, but it was amusing in places, and poignant in other places, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It is the kind of book which I like to curl up with on a cold Sunday afternoon (and that is in fact exactly what I did)!, and which makes you smile.  I was also unprepared for the surprise ending, which was (deliberately I’m sure) ambiguous. 

Overall, I would highly recommend this quirky little gem.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Having just finished this book, I find myself a bit stumped as to how to begin a review.

The narrator in this book is our own point of view, and the reader is guided through a series of events, mostly somehow interconnected, and which we can only watch from the outside, never becoming involved with the characters.  The whole novel takes place during one night, when most people are at home, in bed.

The novel opens with a young girl named Mari sitting on her own in an all night cafe, when she is joined by a young man who she met a couple of years before. Some time later, Mari’s solitude is again disturbed when the manager of a nearby hotel seeks her help in assisting a prostitute who has been beaten up.

Meanwhile, Mari’s sister, Eri is in a deep sleep that has lasted for months.

The narrator shows us all these, and other seemingly unconnected scenes.  It is safe to say that not a lot actually happens – we are simply just following a number of characters throughout the night.  I enjoyed the book and found the writing spare and eloquent. However, my one complaint with this book was that I felt – perhaps mistakenly – that the author was trying to make some kind of point, or that the story was meant to represent something else, and I was not sure what point he was trying to make.

There is an element of the supernatural, and a general feeling of each character being isolated, even when interacting with others; essentially, they were on their own in the world.  I left the novel feeling that nothing had really been resolved – but maybe that was the author’s intention.

I didn’t feel that we ever really got to know the characters, except for the young man who Mari met at the beginning of the novel (he was the only character I felt able to warm to at all).  However, the lack of empathy which I felt towards the characters was in keeping with the themes of the novel, in that most of them seemed to be misunderstood by the people they encountered.

This was the first book I had read by this author.  I would be willing to read more, based on this book.

(For more information about the author, please click here.)

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This is an interesting book, the first half of which was more enjoyable than the second half. It tells the story of John Fitzpatrick (‘Fitz’), a taxidermist and university lecturer, who finds himself on the trail of the last specimen of a now extinct bird. However, Fitz is not the only one on the trail of the bird, and he finds himself mixed up in deceit and trickery, as others try to find the bird before him. Along the way, Fitz’s past is slowly revealed to the reader, and we find out how he ended up where he is.

Alongside this story, is the fact based story of the renowned naturalist Joseph Banks, who sailed with Captain Cook, and subsequently became celebrated and successful. The story of Banks, his connection to the bird, and his relationship with a mysterious woman is also revealed bit by bit, and the reader discovers the truth at the same time as Fitz.

The book is eloquently written, and obviously well researched. The characters are believable, and Fitz is highly likeable. I do feel that it would have been better if it had been slightly shorter, as I found my interest waning in the last 100 pages or so (although the ending itself was good). None the less, it was an interesting enough read for me to consider reading more by this author.

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