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Posts Tagged ‘coming of age’

Black Swan Green is a fictional village in Worcestershire where in 1982, 13 year old Jason Taylor lives with his parents and sister. This book, narrated by Jason, tells the story of a year in his life. It’s a tumultuous year – Jason is clearly intelligent and sensitive,  but he’s also a young boy with a stammer, picked on at school and unable to pick up the subtle hints of disharmony in his parents’ marriage.

But Black Swan Green is also a very funny book, in parts anyway. Jason is an engaging narrator and entirely believable. The events he describes are things that we will all be familiar with and take on huge significance in a young mind. It’s less of a flowing story, more joined up snapshots of a year in the life. Each chapter concentrates on a different main event, but they all string together nicely.

I felt for Jason, partly because he was so believable. I wanted him to be able to go to school without fear of what the bullies would do next (and boy did I want those bullies to get their comeuppance). I wanted him to get the girl, to overcome his stutter (or more importantly overcome the misery it caused him). The other characters are beautifully drawn as well – I enjoyed the chapter about his visiting cousin Hugo – handsome, charming and loved by all, but who’s true colours are revealed, to Jason at least.

As someone who was also a teenager in the 1980s, this book resonated with me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I highly recommend it for it’s humour, truth and beautiful writing.

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As a teenager, Theo Decker survives a terrorist attack in a museum, which kills his beloved mother. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Theo makes a split second decision and steals a painting which his mother always loved – The Goldfinch. This incident, and indeed the painting itself, sets the course for his life – a life which as a reader, we join him on as he makes friends and enemies, makes bad decisions which reverberate for years, falls in love and in lust, and eventually gets mixed up in the criminal underworld.

Well, this is a brick of a book – coming in at over 850 pages of smallish font – if I’m honest, the size of it put me off reading it for a while, but once I picked it up I was glad I had done so. After reading it, I did what I usually do when finishing a book and went online to read reviews of it. What struck me the most was that it seems to be a very polarising read – people generally loved it or hated it. It certainly seems to be the least well received of all of Donna Tartt’s offerings, and this is good news for me, because if this is the worst she has to offer, then I definitely look forward to reading the best! I enjoyed the book a lot, especially the first two thirds, which cover Theo’s teenage years. It’s fair to say that not all of the characters are particularly likeable (except for Hobie, Theo’s guardian of sorts, who is just adorable), but they are all beautifully drawn and utterly believable.

The writing is elegant and often beautiful – Tartt uses a lot of words to describe the most mundane and ordinary events, and while this can be annoying with some authors (just get to the point!!) here it works really well, because it is just such a pleasure to read lovely prose. The story is told in the first person from Theo’s point of view, which is good because if we had seen Theo from the outside in, I think he would have been much harder to like or understand.

If I’m honest, I did think that the last part of the book paled in comparison to what had gone before, but it still held my attention and at the end, I came away satisfied.

All in all, I would highly recommend this book – don’t be put off by the size…while the story doesn’t always move particularly quickly, the writing does draw you in. I look forward to reading more by Donna Tartt.

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Skunk Cunningham (Eloise Laurence in her debut role) is a young diabetic girl living with her older brother Jed and her single father Archie, in an anonymous city in London. Also living in the house is Kasia (Zana Marjanovic) a babysitter/housekeeper, who has an on again-off again relationship with boyfriend Mike (Cillian Murphy). Their neighbours are the Buckleys (Denis Lawson and Clare Burt) and their emotionally handicapped son Rick (Robert Emms) and the Oswalds (widowed father Bob, and his three wayward daughters, Saskia, Susan and Sunrise).

When Skunk witnesses a mindless act of violence, her life starts to change. As the film progresses, the reason for the attack she sees is revealed and events in the little cup-de-sac soon spiral out of control.

Anyone who has seen this film or read the book it is based on, and who has also read/watched To Kill a Mockingbird, will see the comparisons between the two. After watching the film, I found an online interview with Daniel Clay who wrote the book ‘Broken’, where he said that he took the characters of TKAM as a starting point for his novel.

Despite the bleak subject matter (and it only gets more bleak as the story progresses), I really enjoyed this film. Tim Roth is, as ever, excellent and is by far the most likeable adult character in the show – a hard-working solicitor, who is trying his hardest to bring up his children well, while also attempting to resolve the tensions in his road.

However, the whole cast is superb and nobody puts a foot wrong. Rory Kinnear is brilliant as the brutal, impulsive and reckless father of the Oswald girls (who are all, frankly, despicable). Cillian Murphy is an actor who has slipped under my radar until now,  but I enjoyed his performance a lot.

Plaudits have to be given to young Eloise Laurence however, as Skunk, upon whose shoulders the story largely hangs. I loved the easy father-daughter relationship between her and Archie, and her acting was incredibly natural and believable – hard to believe it was her screen debut.

If I had any criticism, it would be that there was perhaps just a little too much going on towards the end – that said, I was completely absorbed in what was unfolding, and did not get bored or restless at any point.

I’m not going to give away the ending, but I will say that while some reviewers didn’t like it, I definitely did. I thought it was beautifully and sensitively done, and there was a definite lump in my throat (actually, I just out and out cried!)

Overall, an excellent acting debut, solid acting from the whole cast, and genuine tension make this a must-see.

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Year of release: 2012

Director: Rufus Norris

Producers: Peter Hampden, Norman Merry, Joe Oppenheimer, Peter Raven, Wendy Bevan-Mogg, Tally Garner, Bill Kenwright, Dixie Linder, Nick Marston

Writers: Daniel Clay (novel), Mark O’Rowe

Main cast: Eloise Laurence, Tim Roth, Rick Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Martha Bryant, Faye Daveney, Clare Burt, Denis Lawson, Bill Milner, Rosalie Kosky, Zana Marjanovic, Cillian Murphy, George Sargeant

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The story is well known – in 1963, young Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman, goes on holiday to the Kellerman resorts in the Catskills, with her parents and sister.  There, she falls for dance instructor Johnny Castle, a man who seems totally mis-matched for her in every way.  It’s a classic film, with Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze taking the lead roles. (Swayze subsequently became a heartthrob for a whole generation of women.)

In my completely unknowledgeable mind, I imagine that this must be quite a challenge to transfer to stage – but my goodness, they certainly managed it.  This show stays extremely faithful to the film (I imagine there would be hell to pay from the audience if it didn’t), and includes all the classic lines and songs.

Roseanna Frascona was adorable as Baby (and looked for all the world like the twin of Jennifer Grey as she appeared in the film), and Gareth Bailey was a wonderful Johnny Castle – the mainly female audience certainly seemed to appreciate him!  His dancing was mesmerising; I could have watched him dance for hours.  Claire Rogers was terrific as Penny, Johnny’s dance partner – with legs that seemingly go on and on!  The rest of the main cast, and the ensemble dancers were also terrific.

This show is sexy, energetic, funny and sweet – and I even had a tear in my eye at the finale.  At the performance I attended, the whole audience gave an extended standing ovation, and it was well deserved.  I’m already looking to see if I can get tickets for further performances while this show is on tour.  Very highly recommended.

(For more information about this production, please click here.)

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Click here for my review of this production from May 2015.

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The diminutive (in size, but certainly not in heart) Owen Meany is the subject of this book, narrated by his best friend Johnny Wheelwright.  Owen believes himself to be God’s instrument, and that he has a very specific purpose on earth.  As an older John (in the late 80s) tells the story of his and Owen’s childhoods and adolescence in the 50s and 60s, the story takes several threads and brings them neatly together at the climax.

I wanted to read this, because I have read and enjoyed John Irving in the past.  However, I always find him to be a writer I can appreciate rather than always enjoy, and this book was no different.  The story started slowly and I wasn’t sure whether I would like it or not, as Johnny describes himself and Owen in their younger days, and how Owen accidentally kills Johnny’s mother with a baseball, as well as Johnny’s interest in the identity of his unknown father.  However, as the narrative progresses and the boys become young men with the shadow of the Vietnam War hanging over them, it picked up pace and I started to be drawn in.

As a narrator, Johnny is something of an enigma – I never felt that he was really fully fleshed out, but that actually worked, as it made Owen the true focus of the story, as he should be.  Owen was an extremely interesting character – highly intelligent, shades of arrogance, and not always likeable.  He rubbed people up the wrong way, some people were even frightened of him (not least Owen’s own parents), but it was clear that he always felt he had a mission to complete that was more important than himself.  A few times I wondered about the significance of certain plot points – exactly why was Owen so determined to master a tricky basketball shot? – but this made the ending so much more satisfactory as events are brought into sharp relief, and everything clicks.

Some parts are genuinely moving, and other parts are extremely funny – the nativity scene with the four feet tall Owen playing a swaddled baby Jesus, had me laughing all the way through.

Overall, I am very glad I read this book.  It was not always easy going, but I felt that it paid dividends to readers who kept with it, and I imagine it will be a story that I will remember for a long time – particularly the wonderful ending.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This book – set in the 1950s and 1960s, is a charming coming-of-age story.  It tells the story of (and is narrated by) Tara Jupp, a young girl who grows up in the shadow of her older sister Lucy’s beauty.  However, Tara has one thing that Lucy doesn’t have, and that is a fabulous singing voice.  When she is discovered by the record making husband of an old friend, Tara is spirited from her home in Cornwall, to the bright lights of London, where she is transformed into Cherry Merrywell, the city’s latest singing sensation.  Tara attends glamorous parties, meets exciting men (falling in love with two of them), and experiences the effect of fame…but will she be able to keep hold of who she really is, or will Tara Jupp be lost forever to Cherry Merrywell?

I was looking forward to reading this book, as I had thoroughly enjoyed Eva Rice’s previous novel, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets.  In fact, some of the characters from that book are also in this one (but this novel is not a sequel, and you do not have to have read the previous book prior to reading this one).  I was glad that I read it – I enjoyed the story a lot.

Tara was an endearing and loveable narrator, and I felt that the author really captured all the pain, pleasure and confusion of being a teenager.  I also liked the frustrating but impossible-not-to-like Lucy; and Clover, Tara’s mentor in London.

The feel of the 1960s came through well, and there was a lovely nod to the Rolling Stones, who of course broke onto the scene in spectacular fashion in 1962.

The story flowed beautifully, and although the book came in at over 500 pages, it did not feel like a particularly long novel (and there was no sense of ploughing through it, which I sometimes get with books of that length, if they don’t hold my attention). There were a couple of places where I felt it could have done with a bit of editing – Tara’s age in relation to Lucy seemed to jump about a bit (unless it was me getting confused), and at one point a character was telling a story from his childhood which he said happened when he was three, but in the very next paragraph, it was happening when he was five!  However, I should perhaps mention that my copy of the book was a proof copy, and it may well be that these slight errors are not in the finished copy.

Overall, this was a delightful and sweet story of a young girl’s adolescence, lived in extraordinary circumstances.  I would recommend it, and I look forward to reading more of Eva Rice’s novels in the future.

(I would like to thank the author for sending me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

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In 1965, Annie Cradock is a 10 year old girl, living in the quiet village of Muningstock with her strict parents, and spending most of her free time with her best friend and next door neighbour, Babette.  When a series of murders rocks the village, and Mrs Clitheroe, a local lady beloved of both Annie and Babette, is a victim, Annie’s world turns upside down.

More than 30 years later, Annie is a music teacher, living in London with her second husband Alan, who wants to move to New York.  Annie’s marriage is in trouble, she cannot make up her mind whether to stay in London or move to the USA, and the strange events of 1965, still haunt her.  Only when Annie has come to terms with what happened in her past will she be able to face her future.

Annie narrates both the events that happened when she was 10, and the problems which she is facing as an adult, and the narrative cuts between the past and the present.

I quite enjoyed this book, but cannot say that it was one of those occasional, almost magical reads that you fall in love with.  I liked the character of Annie, both as an imaginative child, and an intelligent woman, but sometimes I did feel like shaking her and telling her not to be so silly.  The author did portray the confused mind of a frightened child very well however, and I preferred the parts of the story that were set in the past more than those set in more recent times.

The mystery of the murders is not fully solved until the end of the book.  I won’t give away the ending, but suffice to say that while I was confident that I had worked it all out, the story threw me a curveball, and I was surprised when the story resolved itself.

Despite the subject matter, the book is not a depressing or miserable read.  There’s actually a lot of humour within, thanks to Annie’s narration, but while some parts did actually make me laugh out loud, at other times the humour seemed somewhat forced.

So, while this was not a book that set my world alight, there was quite a lot to enjoy in this story.  It’s a book that I liked, but which I doubt would make any lasting impression in my memory.

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