Posts Tagged ‘isolation’


The first book I read in 2019 was Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King. I loved it and doubted whether I would enjoy another book quite so much throughout that year (I actually did, but Sleeping Beauties is still ranked in my top 3 books of last year)).

This year the first book I read – not counting audiobooks – was Under the Dome by Stephen King. I may have started a tradition here by starting each year off with a Stephen King novel, and so far it has worked out well, because I loved this book too. It’s dystopian rather than horror – although there are certainly some horrific scenes contained within – and I do love this genre. And of course there is a reason that King is one of the most popular fiction authors of all time – he knows how to spin a good yarn.

The story revolves around the Maine town of Chester’s Mill, which is suddenly and for no reason enclosed within a transparent dome. Everyone in the town is trapped inside and there is no way in from the other side. Naturally the air gets dirtier and supplies run short; people panic and react in different ways. The situation brings out the very best and the very worst in people and pits townsfolk against each other. It’s a great big brick of a book with a big story and lots of characters, including some major players and some more peripheral parts. As the situation gets more and more dire in a short period of time, people get ever more desperate, and while some just want to find out what has caused the dome to be there and search for a way to get rid of it, others take advantage of the situation.

I loved every page, and would highly recommend this book to Stephen King fans, lovers of dystopian fiction, or anyone who just loves a good story.

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I’m not entirely sure how this film slipped under my radar for so long as it is exactly the kind of thing I enjoy, but I’m glad I caught it eventually.

There are three interlinked stories – all about the connections we make online, and the consequences.

In one, a couple (Paula Patton and Alexander Skaarsgard), ostensibly together but emotionally torn apart by the death of their child, have their identity stolen, and set out to find out who is responsible, with the prime suspect being the man who Cindy has connected with on an online forum for people who are bereaved.

Ben Boyd (Jonah Bobo), an outcast at his school, gets pranked by two schoolmates (Colin Ford and Aviad Bernstein), who create a fake online profile of a girl and fake a relationship with Ben, with disastrous consequences. Ben’s father Richard (Jason Bateman, great in a rare serious role) attempts to connect with Ben’s ‘girlfriend’ Jessica to see what might secrets his son was hiding, but in so doing finds himself becoming isolated from his wife.

The third story concerns a journalist (Andrea Riseborough) who is investigating a story about runaway teenage sex workers, who broadcast themselves committing indecent acts on the internet, but ends up getting too involved with the case of Kyle (Max Thieriot).

Each scenario demonstrates how online relationships can get in the way of real life relationships and cause people to disconnect from each other. At times the film is bleak – beyond bleak – and it doesn’t offer any easy answers or convenient endings – but it’s a stronger film for that. The characters are believable and in just under two hours, I came to care for a lot of them.

It’s a very relevant film with more and more people forging more and more relationships online to the expense of their real life connections – on countless occasions I have seen two people out for a meal or drink together, but both scrolling through their smartphones, and not actually speaking to each other.

If you get chance to see this hidden gem, I highly recommend it.

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This book has been receiving all sorts of accolades and applause, and after reading it, I can absolutely see why.

The story is told from the point of view of Eleanor Oliphant, a 30 year old accounting clerk who leads a regimented and lonely life. She goes to work in the week, where she doesn’t mix with her colleagues at all. Her weekends are spent in her flat, on her own, with two bottles of vodka for company. Eleanor’s only interaction with anyone else is her weekly conversation with  her mother, with whom there is a clearly a difficult relationship (and more about it is drip-fed throughout the book). Her life starts to change when she and a colleague help an old man who collapses in the street, and she is forced to interact with others and navigate her way through a world that is alien to her.

I’m not really sure what I expected from this book, but I absolutely loved it. The writing is fantastic and flows so well, balancing humour (and some of Eleanor’s thoughts and interactions are hilarious and simultaneously cringeworthy) and extreme sadness. Eleanor is literally to the nth degree and while she is clearly intellectually clever, she has no idea of how to behave in a social setting. (For example, upon learning that it is customary to take alcohol to a party, she takes a half empty bottle of vodka as a birthday present to someone, along with a packet of cheese slices, reasoning that men always love cheese.)

The ending contained one last surprise which I was not expecting, and which wrapped the story up beautifully That said, I would like to know more of what happened to Eleanor after the end of the book, but at the same time, this book was so perfect that a sequel just isn’t needed.

I highly, highly recommend this book – it will make you smile, it will make you laugh, it might make you cry and it will definitely make you think.


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Hundreds Hall in Warwickshire, home to the Ayres family for years, used to be a grand country house.  However, in the post-WWII era, it is dilapidated, practically falling down around the family’s ears, and the finances are such that they are struggling to maintain it at all, while coming to terms with a changing society.  Doctor Faraday – the narrator of the book – meets the family, the widow Mrs Ayres and her two grown children Roderick and Caroline, when he comes to the hall to treat their young housemaid, but he is drawn into their lives, and becomes friendly with them.  But a series of strange and unsettling events, starts to take effect on the Ayres’, and it seems that there may be something sinister within Hundreds Hall, that is taunting the family.

I have read all of Sarah Waters’ books, and without exception, have enjoyed them.  The Little Stranger was brilliantly written, with a slow, creeping atmosphere, that left me feeling unsettled a couple of times.  Waters’ writing always flows so well, and I found myself reading huge chunks at a time, just not wanting to put the book down.  It was not a light or happy read, and in truth, not all (in fact, not many) of the characters were easy to warm to, although I suspect that may have been entirely intentional.  The Hall itself was just as much a character as any of the people that lived in it, and it was vividly described, making it, and the events which took place in it, all too easy to imagine.  The Doctor’s narration too, perfectly described both the isolated life of the Ayres, and his own, somewhat lonely life as a bachelor with few real friends.

I had no clue as to how the story was going to end, and was eager to find out what would happen – and here is my only criticism of the book, because the ending was something of a let-down.  I don’t want to say too much, because I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I certainly did not find the big twist that I felt sure must be coming at any moment, the nearer I got to the last page.  That kind of left me with a “is that it?” feeling, when I finished the book, which is something that I’m not used to feeling with Sarah Waters books.  All the time I was reading this, I thought it was going to be a 5 star book, but because of the ending, I ended up giving it 4.

Having said that however, it was still a book which was thoroughly worth reading, and which I would recommend, purely because the writing itself is so good, and Waters really knows how to ratchet up the tension.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This was Cary Grant’s penultimate film, before he retired from acting – and it shows that while he may have felt the time was coming when he should hang up his hat, he had certainly lost none of his charisma and screen presence. In this film, he plays against type as Walter Eckland, a slacker who is dragooned into living on an isolated island during WW2, from where he can report any signs of Japanese ships or planes. His life is shaken up with the arrival of schoolteacher Catherine Freneau (Leslie Caron), who has been stranded on the island with a number of schoolgirls…

Cary Grant was a master at romantic comedies, and this is probably one of his best. I really liked Grant with a more scruffy unshaven look (he himself said that this role was the closest to what he was actually like in real life), and his performance here is spot on, and very funny. Leslie Caron is also great – she looks lovely and brings a lot of comedy to her role, although she always reminds me of Audrey Hepburn (and I actually think Audrey would have been wonderful in this role also).

The idea of two mis-matched people being thrown together is nothing new (see The African Queen and Heaven Knows Mr Allison, for two comparable films), and as this is a romantic comedy, you can probably guess where it’s going, although the ending is still a delightful surprise.

For my money, this is one of Cary Grant’s better films – I thoroughly enjoyed it, and would certainly recommend it!

Year of release: 1964

Director: Ralph Nelson

Producer: Robert Arthur

Writers: S. H. Barnett, Peter Stone, Frank Tarloff

Main cast: Cary Grant, Leslie Caron, Trevor Howard

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When teenage girl Catherine Ross is found murdered in Shetland, suspicion immediately falls upon loner Magnus Tait. Residents of the secluded village of Ravenswick have not forgotten another young girl who disappeared eight years earlier and who was never found.  Magnus had been arrested – although never charged – for that crime.  In this instance, the dead girl had only moved to Shetland six months earlier and was considered something of an outsider. Inspector Jimmy Perez is the Officer assigned to the case, together with a team from Inverness. Perez, who is also considered an outsider of sorts, due to his name and swarthy appearance is determined to get to the bottom of the matter, and doesn’t want to simply blame the most obvious suspect without proper proof.

As he digs deeper into the lives of the residents and starts to uncover secrets, it soon becomes clear that there are several people who may have had the motive and opportunity to kill Catherine…

This is the first in a series of four books set in Shetland and featuring Inspector Perez.  I enjoyed it greatly and will definitely be reading the three further books.  The writing flowed easily and I did genuinely find the book hard to put down.

There were several characters who I felt could have been the prospective murderer, but it did keep me guessing until the very end.  As one would expect there were red herrings and a few subtle clues thrown in along the way – but knowing which was which was not easy!

I have not been Shetland so couldn’t say how accurate the portrayal of life there was.  However, the book certainly created an atmosphere of isolation and mistrust, and painted a picture of a place where everyone thought they knew everyone else’s business.

I have to say that the characterisation was not brilliant.  Perez is well drawn and a very likeable character, but apart from that the character who was brought most vividly to life was ironically, Catherine Ross.  Most of the other characters were rather stereotyped, especially the males.  However, this is definitely a plot driven, rather than character driven book, and the plot was enough to keep me hooked!  I did not predict the ending at all, although I thought I had on a number of occasions!

Despite the subject, this was an absorbing read and one that it would be easy to lose yourself in for a few hours. Recommended, especially to fans of crime fiction.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This is a lovely, charming book, and a very quick read.  It tells the story of Miyuki, a half Japanese, half Welsh woman, who holidays on her own in the same small Welsh village every year.  Nothing in the village ever changes, and not an awful lot ever happens.  This being the case, there is a  bit of repetition in the book, but this is characteristic of the people and place, and does not detract at all.

However, on this particular holiday, Miyuki decides to get creative with some gold paint, and this leads to a chain of events, which become a big talking point in the village.  While this is ostensibly the foundation of the plot, in truth the book is more about a journey of discovery for Miyuki and the assembled cast of characters.  Along the way, we as readers learn about Miyuki, her background, her relationships and her insecurities.

Miyuki was an interesting central character, never quite feeling that she fit in anywhere except perhaps at this small village where everything is always reassuringly the same.

For me, the book did not live up to the claim on the cover, of being hilarious, but it was amusing in places, and poignant in other places, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It is the kind of book which I like to curl up with on a cold Sunday afternoon (and that is in fact exactly what I did)!, and which makes you smile.  I was also unprepared for the surprise ending, which was (deliberately I’m sure) ambiguous. 

Overall, I would highly recommend this quirky little gem.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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