Archive for September, 2009

Clare first meets Henry when she is 6 and he is 36.  But Henry is no normal man, and due to his chrono-displacement condition (in short, he involuntarily time-travels), he is able to marry Clare when he is 30 and she is 22.

Their love is enduring and strong, but due to Henry’s disappearances to other times – which he is unable to control – it means that they have to adjust to a life where Clare often doesn’t know where, or even when, Henry is.

Their life together is therefore sometimes difficult but (nearly) always wonderful. Henry has met Clare when she was a little girl and has effectively watched her grow up while all the time knowing that they will fall in love and marry. However, while Clare can remember these meetings, Henry (when he is in ‘real’ time) can’t remember them, because they involve time traveling expeditions that haven’t happened yet – even though in one way they have already happened.

Sounds confusing, but it isn’t.  Audrey Niffenegger makes this story ebb and flow beautifully, and it is always easy for the reader (if not the characters) to understand what is happening.

I loved the character of Henry.  Rather than making him a tragic yet supremely heroic man, he is portrayed as a man who through necessity, often indulges in theft, burglary and violence (the first two out of necessity – wherever Henry travels to, he always arrives naked and without provisions; and the third in self defence when he has arrived somewhere in said naked state).  This serves to make him more believable.  Clare was somewhat less of a fully rounded character, but she was certainly realistic enough to be believable, and for the reader to care about.

Where Audrey Niffenegger has really triumphed though, is in making an outlandish plot seem credible.  I absolutely do not believe in time travel, and yet for the duration of this book, I found myself totally buying into the concept.  It helps that other characters in the book are as amazed by Henry’s predicament as you would expect anybody to be.

This is an original and compelling love story, between two characters who I really found myself rooting for.  But it’s not all hearts and flowers.  Clare and Henry suffer a lot of pain and heartbreak during their life, but while their time together is unpredictable and inconstant, their love certainly isn’t.  I will be nagging friends to read this book, and will certainly be reading it again myself in the future.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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More of the funny stuff in Adrian Mole’s second diary. In this book Adrian deals with his parents marital problems, his on-off relationship with Pandora and depression, and his ongoing battle to be recognised in the literary world.

Very, very funny, and something that can be read and enjoyed many times.

(For more information on the Arian Mole series, please click here.)

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The Devil comes to Stalinist Moscow, with his band of associates, consisting of a mischievous assistant and a feisty black tom cat.  It is not long before people are dying, disappearing and ending up in institutions for the mentally ill. Margarita is a Moscow citizen who is searching for her lover ‘the Master’, who has disappeared in Moscow after being depressed.  But in order to find the only person who matters in her life, she will have to deal with dark forces who are much stronger than she is. Interwoven into the story is the tale of Pontius Pilate, who is the subject of a novel which the Master has written.  However, the rejection of his novel by publishers led to his misery and despondency with his life.

I enjoyed this novel a lot, and I can understand why it is hailed as a masterpiece. The Devil (who here is called Woland), and his companions Koroviev, Behemoth, Hella and Azazello are extremely colourful characters and Koroviev and Behemoth (the tom cat) provide much in the way of laughs during the story. Margarita is also a beautifully drawn character, trapped in a unhappy marriage, while pining for her one true love.

I liked the way that events would take a sudden and totally unexpected turn, sending the reader down an entirely different road than the one which they started out on. There is almost a carnival atmosphere surrounding the actions of the perpetrators, and it’s hard not to to be entertained by them (some of the scenes involving Behemoth made me laugh out loud).

I honestly had no idea how the story would end, and when it came, the ending was a surprise, yet very fitting for the story which preceded it.

This book could be read on many levels; it can be read simply as a carnivalistic romp through a former time, or on a deeper level, where I compare the Master’s rejected novel to be a sort of parallel with much of the literature which was written and banned at the time (Bulgakov himself had his work frowned on by the authorities).  Either way, there is much to enjoy here, and this is a book that I can well imagine re-reading at some point in the future.

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A month after King Henry VIII dies, his widow Katharine Parr marries her true love Thomas Seymour, brother of Jane.  Everyone is surprised by the union of the cool and intelligent Katharine to the feckless and impulsive Thomas, but none more so than her best friend Catherine, Duchess of Suffolk, who doesn’t trust Thomas’s intentions. Catherine is worried by rumours that Thomas had tried to pursue Katharine’s step-daughter Elizabeth (later Elizabeth I).  But when she spends time with the couple, Catherine finds herself drawn to Thomas and they begin a passionate affair. Will Katharine discover that she has been betrayed by the two people she loves and trusts the most?

This story flows easily and is the sort of book that it’s easy to lose yourself in. It is written from Catherine’s point of view, and she is not an altogether likeable character, which is an interesting stance from which to narrate the story. The writing is very clean, which I liked and it was a quick and interesting read.  Katharine Parr is beautifully drawn, and I found myself liking her very much.

However, as a book about the Tudor period, it falls short.  This could have been a story about any two people, in any time period.  There are references to the way of life in those times, but I never felt immersed in the period, in the way that I do when reading say, Philippa Gregory’s books about the time.  Because it is written from Catherine’s viewpoint, the reader misses a lot of what is happening in Katharine’s life.

The language also feels very ‘modern’; almost as if it was taking place in the present day (it should be said that Suzannah Dunn raises this point at the end of the book, and acquits herself fairly well).  So apart from the fact that there are no modern conveniences, this book has a modern feeling about it that is at odds with it’s setting.

Having said that however, it does feature flimpses of the young Lady Elizabeth (an interesting and pivotal character) and the young Lady Jane Grey.

Overall, I would recommend this as an enjoyable book, but not one which sheds a lot of light on the Tudor period.  If you start it with that in  mind, it is a worthwhile read.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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