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Archive for March, 2016

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At the start of this book, Joanna, her partner Alistair and their 9 week old son Noah are at the airport waiting to fly from Scotland to Melbourne, where Alistair is from. The trip is part holiday, part opportunity for Alistair’s mother to meet her grandson and also in large part for Alistair to make a claim for custody of his 14 year old daughter Chloe, who lives in Australia with his first wife.

After landing in Australia, Noah goes missing; thereafter the story focusses on the resulting search and investigation into what happened to him. The parents, and in particular Joanna, come under close and mainly unkind public scrutiny with people speculating on Twitter, Facebook and in blog posts as to what has happened.

The story is told mainly from Joanna’s point of view (in the third person) and in Alistair’s ex-wife Alexandra’s point of view (in the first person). Alistair and Alexandra’s marriage broke up after his affair with Joanna and she is still bitter.

I enjoyed the book a lot and read it very quickly. I was surprised that the reader is told what happens to Noah straight away – as events unfold in fact – so whereas I was expecting a mystery where I would be kept in the dark as much as the characters, in fact it was more of a study of how people react and treat each other in the face of such a tragedy.

Although I raced through the book, it wasn’t without flaws – I felt that Joanna and Alexandra were fairly well drawn, but other than that, I only got the broadest sense of the rest of the characters. Alistair was almost a caricature, and deeply unlikeable.

Overall I would say that this book was satisfying at the time, but probably won’t stick in my memory for very long after I finished it.

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Set in Ghana in (initially) the 1930s, this is the story of Matilda, a 14 year old girl who has to grow up quickly when she is chosen to become the second wife of successful lawyer Robert Bannerman. With no say over her future and an avaricious family who are keen to capitalise on Matilda’s marriage, her childhood meets an abrupt end. The marriage is also a horrible affront to Robert’s current wife Julie, who forms an instant hatred of Matilda and will go to almost any lengths to make her life a misery.

On the other side of the island is Alan Turton, a genial Englishman who has moved to Ghana and taken up a role working for the Governor. While he embraces his new way of life, his new wife Audrey hates it and takes to drinking all day long and longing for a return to England.

The book focusses slightly more on Matilda’s story – certainly I felt that out of all the characters, Matilda was the one who was depicted most clearly and who was easily the most distinctive voice (although the book is told in the third person).

I enjoyed the insight into Ghanian life in the 1930s, and in particular into the life of a young girl with no control over her future. I also liked the political backdrop with some people – such as Robert – welcoming the colonials and believing that it will eventually be good for Ghana’s independence, while others resent it seeing it as the British Empire trying to assert themselves where they have no right. There are also descriptions of Christianity versus Traditionalism, and the pervading sense of racism features in the book too.

I found that apart from Matilda, who was a wonderful character, I did not really like any of the other characters. Audrey was difficult to warm to, although I could sympathise with her situation. I didn’t like her husband who despite his friendliness and apparent liberalism, was entirely selfish in the way he couldn’t – or wouldn’t – see how unhappy his wife was, and even when he did, he was not prepared to do anything whatsoever to try and help her. Robert was charismatic but in many ways a cowardly chauvinist and Julie was despicable, although her shock and humiliation was understandable. Most of all, Matilda’s family were the worst – they cared only about what they would gain from Matilda’s marriage, and expected her to put up with deplorable behaviour for their sakes. This is not a criticism of the story, as I am sure they were intentionally shown that way.

The writing was rich and descriptive, and I did enjoy the book in the main. I am not sure I would be waiting in line to buy a new book by Marilyn Heward Mills, but I think I would certainly be interested in reading more  by her at some point.

 

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Ten strangers are invited to a remote island off the Devon Coast. with no sign of their mysterious host, U.N. Owen, they are all shocked when on their first night there, they are all accused of heinous crimes. And then the killings start…one by one, each of the ten is killed and with no-one else on the entire island, the horrifying truth becomes clear – the murderer is one of them. As the body count mounts, those who remain start to grow paranoid and suspicious of each other.

Full disclosure – I knew who the murderer was before I read the book, because I had seen the excellent 2015 BBC adaptation (in fact, that adaptation was the whole reason I wanted to read the book in the first place). With that in mind, I did wonder if my enjoyment of the book might be somewhat hampered, and I did try and work out if I could have guessed who the murderer was if I had not already been aware.

To answer both questions – my prior knowledge did not detract from my enjoyment at all, and I honestly don’t think I could have guessed who was the guilty party if I did not already know. This book was recently voted as the favourite Agatha Christie book among her readers, and although it is the first Christie I have read, I can certainly see why it is so popular.

The mystery is told very skilfully with plenty of reasons to suspect almost every character (the first person to die is of course exempt from any suspicion!) It is a very quick and easy read – I found myself reading huge chunks of the story in one go – and the denouement is extremely satisfying; I actually preferred the ending of the novel to the ending in the recent adaptation.

This is one of those rare books – a mystery where I honestly believe the murderer is practically unguessable and would be a total surprise to anyone who did not know what was coming from prior information. This may be the most popular Christie, but it certainly won’t be the only one I will be reading.

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Richard Gere heads up the cast in this thriller – he plays Robert Miller, a successful hedge fund magnate. Miller is desperate to try and sell his company before his dodgy financial dealings come to light, but is soon faced with an even bigger problem on a more personal scale. Desperate to cover up his involvement in a young lady’s death, he tries to out manoeuvre the tenacious Detectiver Bryer (Tim Roth), who knows Miller’s guilt (no spoilers here) and is prepared to go to any lengths to prove it. Throughout all of this, Miller’s family life with wife Ellen and daughter Brooke (Susan Sarandon and Brit Marling respectively) starts to crumble. Can Miller outrun the truth – and how long will his power and influence be able to protect him?

This was another film which exceeded my expectations. I watched it because of Tim Roth and from the description was not sure that it would be something that I would really enjoy. However, it held my attention from the moment it started and I thoroughly liked the whole story. The cast were excellent – Richard Gere was great as the powerful businessman who could feel everything he had achieved slipping through his fingers. He moved seamlessly from a loving father to a ruthless businessman and although I did not really like the character (and I don’t think we were meant to like him) I still found him interesting. Tim Roth was – of course – excellent in the type of role that he plays so well; determined and persistent. Although his character was essentially on the side of the good, Bryer’s own morals were somewhat ambiguous. I do feel that Susan Sarandon was somewhat underused, appearing in only really a handful of scenes, although there was one very relevant one towards the end – I won’t say more about that because the ending was excellent and I don’t think anyone watching this film should have it spoiled for them.

Also brilliant was Nate Parker as Jimmy Grant – a young man with a criminal past, who is  now trying to rebuild his life, but whose connections with Miller and a favour which he does for Miller threaten to ruin his future.

Overall, an enjoyable and absorbing thriller, which is well worth a watch.

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Year of release: 2012

Director: Nicholas Jarecki

Writer: Nicholas Jarecki

Main cast: Richard Gere, Tim Roth, Susan Sarandon, Nate Parker, Brit Marling

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Set (mainly) in Calcutta in 1971, this book tells of a time immediately before the Bangladesh Liberation War between India and Pakistan. A number of Western travellers have found themselves at the Lux Hotel, which in reality is a shabby fleapit. Among those who are in Calcutta at this historic time are Anand, the young man who runs the hotel, such as it is; Larry and Gordon, two would-be hippies who spend most of their time smoking dope and in Gordon’s case searching for the elusive meaning of life; Britt, an American photographer; Hugh, a philandering English journalist; and Freddie, an enigmatic young eccentric.

Despite the war, life is pretty laid back for most of these characters, with shared histories and complicated entanglements taking up most of their time – that is until two murders shake up their world. It will take more than 30 years for the truth behind the murders to come to light – and in the meantime, life marches on…

This book had been languishing on my shelf for about eight years, and I eventually picked it up more out of curiosity than anything. It turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. It depicts fictional characters against a factual backdrop, and while some of the characters might be slightly stereotyped, they are all distinct and interesting (if not all likeable – frankly Hugh was pretty detestable). The story was both interesting and amusing, and I was kept guessing  until the very end. I particularly liked how, through a series of letters and news reports, the time frame was brought up to 2003.

The India/Pakistan war was clearly well researched, but while it was almost a character in its own right, it did not dominate the storyline and did not detract from the interaction between the characters.

Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable story and I would thoroughly recommend it.

 

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