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Posts Tagged ‘grief’

December 31 1999.  Ten year old Amy Archer goes missing, and is presumed dead.  Her body isn’t found, and ten years later, her mother Beth is still struggling to cope with her grief.  On December 31 2009, there is a knock at her door, and a young woman claims to know where Amy is.  Beth is then introduced to a girl who looks exactly like her daughter, and knows things that only Amy could have known.  But this girl is only ten years old.  As Beth tries to understand the truth behind ‘Amy’s’ sudden reappearance, her enquiries take her down dark paths and reveal secrets long hidden.

I am in two minds about this book.  I think the premise is interesting – I don’t personally believe in reincarnation, psychics or mediums, all of which are discussed in this book, but I don’t think that you need to to invest in the story.  The narrative moved fast, and was interesting enough to keep me reading for hours, but the main issue for me was that I did not like any of the characters.  Not Beth, not Libby (the young woman who knocks on her door) and not even Amy/Esme, the young girl who claims to be Beth’s daughter reincarnated.  The other problem was that this author really REALLY liked his imagery and symbolism, and initially that annoyed me a little.  However, as I got further into the book, I must have got used to his way of writing, because I noticed it less and less.

Much has been made of the ending – I am not going to reveal anything about it here, but I personally did not mind it so much as other reviewers appear to have done.  I think if you are a fan of psychological thrillers, I would probably recommend this book, but beware that it does detail some particularly dark scenarios, which could make for uncomfortable reading.  Overall, I wouldn’t say it was a book I’d rave over, but I enjoyed it enough to read further books by this author.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Sage Singer is a 25 year old baker, from New Hampshire, who wants to hide away from the world, because of the scars, both physical and psychological that she has, resulting from an accident three years earlier.  She is in a relationship with a married man, which is going nowhere, and does a job that allows her to work at night, without contact with others..  When she befriends 95 year old Josef Weber at her grief group, she is able to open up to him in a way that she hasn’t been able to with anyone else, so when Josef tells her that he is a former Nazi, responsible for countless deaths, and requests that she helps him to die, her world is turned upside down.

(Don’t worry, all of the above happens very early in the book, so there are no spoilers here.)  I have always found Jodi Picoult’s novels to be compelling and thought-provoking, and this one was no exception.  It is stated early on that Sage’s grandmother Minka was a prisoner in Auschwitz during World War II, and a large part of the book is given over to her description of life during that time.  This may be a fictional story, but Picoult spoke with Holocaust survivors while researching this book, and while Minka may not really exist, the horrors described are all too real, and I was moved to tears while reading about them.

I liked and sympathised with Sage – she was a well rounded character, with flaws and insecurities that made her very believable.  The main theme of the book is forgiveness, and Sage’s dilemma in this regard was fascinating.  Her struggle to reconcile the elderly pillar of the community who she had become friends with, with the former war criminal who killed indiscriminately, was interesting and well described.  Can we ever forgive on behalf of someone else?  Does Sage have the right to forgive Josef’s sins – as he asks her to do – when it was not her who was personally sinned against?  All of this crops up throughout the book.

I also adored and admired Minka.  I would have liked to have seen more of Leo, the agent who has made a career out of tracking down war criminals and bringing them to justice – while he was immensely likeable, I didn’t feel that he was as well drawn as some of the others in the book.  This is only a slight niggle though, as for the most part, this book was truly hard to put down.

The ending was a surprise, and I’m still not sure whether I liked it or not.  I don’t want to give anything away, but it left me feeling slightly unsatisfied.  However, it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of what had gone before, and overall, even though it’s not my favourite by Jodi Picoult (that would probably be Nineteen Minutes) I would certainly recommend this book.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This book features two timelines, which eventually connect.  In 1980, five friends fresh out of university, find an abandoned old cottage in the Peak District, and decide to stay there for a year, living off the land, and being self-sufficient.  The group includes Kat, an insecure young woman who is hopelessly in love with another of the group, Simon, a charismatic but arrogant young man, who assumes the role of leader within the group.  In the present day, Lila and her husband Tom are struggling with the death of their baby daughter.  When an old cottage is bequeathed to Lila by an anonymous benefactor, she is puzzled but decides to renovate the property as a way of helping her work through her grief.

I have mixed feelings about this book, although generally speaking, I enjoyed it.  The writing was pacey and easy to read, and I particularly liked the character of Lila (she was one of only two characters who I really cared about throughout the story).  The 1980 storyline almost was also quite compelling, especially when the friends’ happiness almost inevitably turned to misery and tension as winter set in, and they found their self-sufficieny harder to maintain.  An unexpected arrival at the cottage creates further tension, and that was when the (1980) storyline really picked up pace.

However, I guessed the connection between the timelines and the twists to the story fairly early on; in fact they seemed so obvious that I wasn’t really sure if they were intended to be twists, as they were pretty well signposted.  This didn’t necessarily spoil my enjoyment, but if you like a lot of surprises in your novels, this might leave you feeling slightly disappointed.  (Having read other reviews of the book, I see that I was far from being alone in guessing what would happen).

Also, I got very annoyed with two of the characters.  It’s not spoilerish to say that Kat was a complete doormat when it came to Simon, but the way she is written with regard to her lack of self-respect just made her irritating rather than sympathetic.  And as for Simon himself – don’t get me started!  If ever there was a character who needed someone to just stand up to him, it was Simon.

I think if you are a fan of psychological thrillers, and don’t really mind the twists being easy to work out, you would probably enjoy this book.

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Ralph Fiennes is Heathcliff in this adaptation of Wuthering Heights, and Juliette Binoche is Cathy.  The story is well known, but in essence, Heathcliff is an orphan rescued by Cathy’s father, and they grow up together and fall in love.  However, Heathcliff is treated like a servant by Cathy’s brother, and Cathy ends up marrying Edgar Linton, a decent man, who she unfortunately does not live.  Heathcliff is both furious and devastated, and wreaks a revenge that will last well into the next generation.

The problem with Wuthering Heights, for me anyway, is that Cathy and Heathcliff are basically horrible, selfish people. He runs off for two years without a word to Cathy, and then gets a huff on when she marries someone else.  She cuckolds the man she marries, and is incredibly disrespectful to him, especially when Heathcliff takes it upon himself to return, and declare it all her fault.  He gets married himself, but treats his wife terribly, beating her up, amongst other things.  Obviously, that is essentially the way the characters are written in Bronte’s novel (sorry, but I don’t buy into all that tragic, undying love story – they both just wanted what they couldn’t have and didn’t care two hoots about who they hurt in their selfishness), and there is only so much that an adaptation can do to make the characters sympathetic.  That all said, there have been enjoyable adaptations of this book, but this was not one of them.

Ralph Fiennes is a fine actor, and does a reasonably good job as Heathcliff.  He is quite menacing, and pretty hateful.  Juliette Binoche however, seems wildly miscast as Cathy.  Her French accent can often be heard, and while she does have a lovely voice, she is very unconvincing as the Yorkshire born-and-bred Cathy.  Also, the point at which Heathcliff strops off and Cathy decides to ruin Edgar’s life (sorry, can you tell that these characters annoy me?) by marrying him, comes far too early in the film, so this great love that supposedly exists between Cathy and Heathcliff does not really seem to be all that deep, or great (or lovely).  Also, there is an annoying, but thankfully only occasional voiceover which narrates part of the story (in particular the parts where there is a jump in the timeline), which is supposed to be that of Emily Bronte.  Bronte herself actually appears as a character, played by Sinead O’Connor, bookending the film, by appearing at the beginning and ending of it.  Her narration at the beginning actually serves to remind the viewer that this is a fictional story.

On the positive side, Simon Shepherd did a great job as Edgar Linton, and Sophie Ward was very good in her minor role as Isabella.  However, the standout performance for me was Ellen, Cathy’s maid, played by Janet McTeer, who shone in every scene that she was in.

I think maybe there is a bit too much story to fit into a film of one hour and 45 minutes, and some of the storyline does seem a bit rushed.  Overall, I would say that this is not a terrible film, but it’s not brilliant.  Worth seeing for McTeer and Shepherd’s performance, but be prepared to want to throw things at the screen every time Heathcliff or Cathy bemoans their lot.

Year of release: 1992

Director: Peter Kosminsky

Producers: Simon Bosanquet, Mary Selway, Chris Thompson

Writers: Emily Bronte (novel), Anne Devlin

Main cast: Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Janet McTeer, Sophie Ward, Simon Shepherd, Jeremy Northam, Jason Riddington

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Richard Dreyfuss is daredevil pilot Pete Sandich, who specialises in putting out forest fires, and Holly Hunter is his girlfriend Dorinda Durston, who loves him, but worries about his safety, particularly as he shows no real caution when flying.  Pete is killed in an accident, and in the afterlife he meets an angel (for want of a better word) named Hap, played by Audrey Hepburn in her last film role.  Following her advice, he tries to help his girlfriend through her grief, and mentor novice pilot Ted Baker(!), who falls for Dorinda.

I only really wanted to watch this film for Audrey Hepburn’s appearance.  She isn’t in the film for long, but her parts are lovely, and who better than Audrey to play a serene angel?  She had largely retired from acting at this point, and died four years after this film was made, but it is a fitting role for her swan song.

The film itself was hugely enjoyable, but you will DEFINITELY need tissues, because it is a real tearjerker.  Dreyfuss and Hunter are excellent, and the relationship between Pete and Dorinda is really believable.  John Goodman provides excellent support as Pete’s friend Al, who tries to look out for Dorinda after Pete’s death.  And Brad Johnson plays Ted Baker with sympathy.  Although Pete is hearthbroken to think of Dorinda being with someone else, Johnson makes Ted such a nice guy that it’s hard not to root for  him too.

This film is a remake of A Guy Named Joe (1943), and there are also similarities with Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore film Ghost, although Always preceded Ghost.  (I mean honestly, if Unchained Melody makes you cry because of Ghost, I’m sure that Smoke Gets In Your Eyes will have the same effect after watching Always!)

Overall, this is a beautifully acted, gentle and emotional film.  As mentioned earlier, I watched it purely because of Audrey Hepburn, but it is well worth seeing on its own merits.  I definitely recommend it.

Year of release: 1989

Director: Steven Spielberg

Producers: Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Richard Vane

Writers: Jerry Belson, Dalton Trumbo (screenplay ‘A Guy Named Joe’), Frederick Hazlitt Brennan (screenplay adaptation ‘A Guy Named Joe’), Chandler Sprague (story ‘A Guy Named Joe’), David Boehm (story ‘A Guy Named Joe’)

Main cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, Brad Johnson, Audrey Hepburn

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One morning, mild-mannered Harold Fry receives a letter from a former colleague named Queenie, who he has not seen for some 20 years.  The letters informs him that she is in a hospice, and is dying of terminal cancer.  Harold writes a letter back, and sets out to post it, but when he gets to the postbox, he decides to keep walking on to the next one.  And then he decides to walk a bit further, and his short walk eventually turns into a journey on foot from his home in Devon, to where Queenie is, in Berwick-upon-Tweed.  Though the going gets tough, Harold knows that somehow or other he has to walk to Queenie, and that as long as he keeps walking, she will keep living.

I had heard so many good things about this book, and was really looking forward to reading it.  The story is lovely, although a little far-fetched occasionally.  Harold meets many other people en route to save Queenie, and he realises that like him, everyone has regrets and worries in their lives, and that sometimes what we see on the surface tells us nothing about a person.

For Harold, the journey is metaphorical as much- as it is physical.  He believes that his walk can save Queenie, but he also seems to be seeking redemption for himself. As his walk unfolds in the pages, so does his history, and we learn all about the tragedies he has faced, the situations which he wishes he could change, his regrets about his relationship with his son, and the cause of a rift between himself and his wife Maureen.

At times the book is achingly sad, and at other times oddly uplifting.  I liked it a lot, but I was not as taken with it as I expected to be. (I had read reviews from people saying that the story had caused them to re-evaluate their lives, and it had made them cry.)  Having read so many positive things about the book, I would say that this puts me in the minority as it did not move me to tears, and while I would certainly recommend it, I would not say it particularly moved me.

It’s still an enjoyable story though, and I will be looking out for more by Rachel Joyce.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) and Arthur (Terence Stamp) play a married couple, who love each other very much, despite being very different.  She is outgoing, cheerful – and terminally ill.  He is reserved, unable to show his feelings, and well…grumpy.  She is a member of a choir of pensioners known as the OAPz (with a ‘z’ to make it street, as explained by the choir leader Elizabeth, played by Gemma Arterton), which Arthur adamantly refuses to get involved with.  Is it too late for Arthur to change his mind and honour his wife’s wishes by becoming involved with the choir, and mend his relationship with their son James (Christopher Eccleston)?  Time will tell in this sad, but ultimately uplifting film.

I saw this on a whim, and expected to quite enjoy it – but I absolutely loved it.  It is by turns hilarious (the free concert in the park where the choir showcase their talents to the locals is so funny that I was crying with laughter) and heartbreaking (Stamp conveys so much feeling with just one look or one small gesture).

With a cast that includes Stamp, Redgrave and Eccleston, it will come as no surprise that the acting is truly excellent.  I was not familiar with any other films featuring Gemma Arterton, so I was not sure what to expect, but she was actually lovely as the young lady who is much more able to connect with the pensioners than people her own age.

People will sometimes describe a film as unbelievably sad, but this is better than that – it is believably sad.  Stamp and Eccleston are truly marvellous as the devastated husband and son of Marion.  Their heartbreak manifests itself as resentment, withdrawal and anger, and you just can’t help rooting for these people to find some relief.

I cried several times throughout, but the comical scenes complemented the sad ones perfectly, and as mentioned above, despite the subject matter, the film is really very uplifting.  Totally, definitely recommended.

Year of release: 2012

Director: Paul Andrew Williams

Producers: Christian Angermayer, Marc Hansell, Sean Kelly, Tara Moross, Alistair Ross, Ricky Sans, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Ken Marshall, Philip Moross, Christopher Billows, Rachel Dargavel, Caroline Levy, Jens Meurer, Jona Wirbeleit

Writer: Paul Andrew Williams

Main cast: Vanessa Redgrave, Terence Stamp, Christopher Eccleston, Gemma Arterton

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