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Archive for January, 2017

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Margaret Atwood is probably one of the most popular writers of dystopian fiction. For my money, The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the best and most disturbing books ever written, and it was with eagerness that I picked up The Heart Goes Last.

The story is set in America in the near future, after an economic meltdown has resulted in unprecedented unemployment and homelessness (which makes me hope that Atwood is not also a fortune teller, given the current political climate!) Stan and Charmaine, a once happily married couple, are now resorted to living in their car, eating whatever they can scrounge, scavenge or afford from Charmaine’s low-paid bar job, and constantly avoiding the thieves and violent gangs who roam the streets.

So when they see an advert for a new social experiment called Consilience, they are keen to join. The idea is that everyone who lives in the restricted community will be given a nice house, a good job, and will have money for food and luxuries. In return they will have to give up their new luxury home every second month and go into Positron, the prison in Consilience…but even that doesn’t sound so bad. They get square meals, a bed and a job within the prison. However, once they are inside Consilience they realise that there is no way out – and that their every move is being watched. Each of them develop an obsession with their ‘alternates’ – the couple who live in their house during Stan and Charmaine’s prison months and vice versa – which only leads them further into the tangled reality of what really goes on in this promised utopia.

If I’m  honest, I am still not entirely sure what to make of this book. I definitely don’t think it is up to the standard of The Handmaid’s Tale, but that was truly one of my favourite books ever, so maybe it’s asking too much to enjoy every Atwood novel quite so much. For me, The Heart Goes Last started out very promisingly. The awful situation the main characters was living in was all too believable and I could see how they could be drawn into something which would seem like a wonderful way out of their dire straits. However, as the story progressed it got more and more unrealistic – and here’s the thing…for me at least dystopian fiction has to have an element of feasibility. Not that you would want it to actually happen in real life, but you have to see how it could. This novel just did not have that. The last third of the book in particular almost seemed to descend into farce, and this wasn’t helped by the fact that neither Stan nor Charmaine were particularly likeable or relatable characters. (In fact, there were very few people in this book who I felt I could root for).

That said, I still liked Atwood’s acidic humorous writing, and she does have a marvellous turn of phrase. The book is funnier than I expected, and it was an undemanding read despite some distinctly unsavoury events within the book.

This has not put me off reading more books by Margaret Atwood, and I probably would recommend it with caution to fans of the author. However, if you are trying her novels for the first time, I would suggest starting with The Handmaid’s Tale or maybe The Robber Bride.

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This book is the first in Agatha Christie’s famous Miss Marple series and the third novel by Christie that I have read. I have a long way to go until I’ve read the rest of them and based on what I have read so far, I am looking forward to it!

When Colonel Protheroe is murdered in the local Vicar’s study, there are plenty of suspects – after all he was not a popular man in the small village of St Mary Mead, and tongues are set wagging. Miss Marple however is less interested in idle gossip and more interested in getting to the bottom of the case, and she applies her methodical thinking to solving the crime for which everyone seems to have an alibi.

What surprised me the most about this book is that Miss Marple is actually a fairly minor character in the story, at least until the end. The story is narrated by the Vicar Len Clement, and he himself gets involved in amateur sleuthing to try and uncover the murderer. He is a witty and self-deprecating character, and his observations about his fellow villagers are frequently very droll and amusing; I was actually surprised at how funny this book is.

But the story is essentially a murder mystery and as such it works very well. Just as with the Poirot book The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which I also read recently, I did not guess the murderer beforehand, and it helped that there were plenty of potential characters who could have done it (I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have guessed the murderer in And Then There Were None either, except that I watched a TV adaptation before reading the book).

I would definitely recommend this book to fans of the mystery genre – it’s more of a gentle pace then most thrillers, but if you enjoy whodunnits, I think this is definitely one to check out. I look forward to reading more Agatha Christie and soon!

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Larissa Stark has it all – a loving husband, three great children, a big house in a good neighbourhood, good looks and lots of money. But everything is turned on it’s head when she meets a young man in parking lot and finds herself drawn to another life. Her existence becomes a ongoing deceit and web of lies as she struggles with her conscience and tries to decide whether to stay or go. But is it possible to exchange one life for another quite so easily – and is the grass always as green as it appears on the other side?…

I have read several of Paullina Simons’ books over the years and enjoyed them all (I especially recommend The Bronze Horseman, The Girl in Times Square and Tully, the latter of which touched on many of the same themes as A Song in the Daylight). So it was with eagerness that I started this book, as well as maybe some apprehension (it’s almost 800 pages long and if I didn’t enjoy it, that could be a bit of a slog!) And after having finished it this morning, I find I have mixed thoughts. On the positive side, I do like Simons’ style of writing – she takes her time telling a story, so if a fast moving plot is what you are after, this may not be the book for you, but she really grounds out the situation for the reader so that you are immersed in events. Her prose flows and I found that I was reading large chunks at a time, and yes I did look forward to picking it up and continuing to read.

However, I found that I absolutely detested the main character. Now, I don’t think it’s necessary to like a character to enjoy a book  – for me, American Psycho is one of the best books I ever read and there is no universe in which I can say I like Patrick Bateman – but there does have to be something about them to draw you in, to maybe see things from their point of view even if you don’t agree with it. But Larissa just came across as a spoiled, selfish and pretentious narcissist who rode roughshod over other people to get what she wanted. Not only did she treat her husband and family badly but she also stopped caring about her friends and stopped seeing when they clearly needed her support.

Most of the other characters were also fairly unsympathetic – I found that as a reader I never really knew much about her young lover Kai; somehow I feel like he was the least fleshed out character of all. I did quite like Jared in the end, and also Larissa’s friend Maggie, but not her pretentious navel-gazing husband Ezra, although he came across better in the last third of the book, when the point of view is switched to that of Jared.

Overall, I did enjoy this book and would still read more by Paullina Simons. That said, if you had never read this author before and wanted to give it a go, this would not be the book I would recommend you start with.

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