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Posts Tagged ‘isolation’

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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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Having just finished this book, I find myself a bit stumped as to how to begin a review.

The narrator in this book is our own point of view, and the reader is guided through a series of events, mostly somehow interconnected, and which we can only watch from the outside, never becoming involved with the characters.  The whole novel takes place during one night, when most people are at home, in bed.

The novel opens with a young girl named Mari sitting on her own in an all night cafe, when she is joined by a young man who she met a couple of years before. Some time later, Mari’s solitude is again disturbed when the manager of a nearby hotel seeks her help in assisting a prostitute who has been beaten up.

Meanwhile, Mari’s sister, Eri is in a deep sleep that has lasted for months.

The narrator shows us all these, and other seemingly unconnected scenes.  It is safe to say that not a lot actually happens – we are simply just following a number of characters throughout the night.  I enjoyed the book and found the writing spare and eloquent. However, my one complaint with this book was that I felt – perhaps mistakenly – that the author was trying to make some kind of point, or that the story was meant to represent something else, and I was not sure what point he was trying to make.

There is an element of the supernatural, and a general feeling of each character being isolated, even when interacting with others; essentially, they were on their own in the world.  I left the novel feeling that nothing had really been resolved – but maybe that was the author’s intention.

I didn’t feel that we ever really got to know the characters, except for the young man who Mari met at the beginning of the novel (he was the only character I felt able to warm to at all).  However, the lack of empathy which I felt towards the characters was in keeping with the themes of the novel, in that most of them seemed to be misunderstood by the people they encountered.

This was the first book I had read by this author.  I would be willing to read more, based on this book.

(For more information about the author, please click here.)

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Quite simply, this film is amazing.  Jeff Bridges (my all time favourite actor) is Max Klein, a man whose worst fear becomes realised when he is in a plane crash. However, Max not only survives the crash, but also leads other survivors to safety.

Surviving the crash causes Max to feel invincible, and he believes that nothing can kill him.  This causes tension in his marriage, and between Max and his son, who are unable to understand Max’s new attitude.  The only person who Max is able to connect with is a fellow survivor from the flight, Carla, a woman whose blames herself for her baby dying in the crash.

I feel that Jeff Bridges should, at the very least, have been nominated for an Oscar for this movie – his performance is simply outstanding,  Rosie Perez, who played Carla, was in fact nominated.  Also marvellous were Tom Hulce as the mercenary lawyer representing Max and his late business partner, and Isabella Rossellini, who played Max’s wife, struggling to come to terms with the change in her husband.

I found myself totally immersed in the story and lives of these characters; the film is totally compelling.  The story itself was beautifully told, showing how extraordinary events can have an effect on people far beyond anything they could have imagined.  The isolation felt by the two main characters was almost palpable.

Some people apparently believe that Max actually represents Jesus in this film.  I mention this because it’s an interesting point of view; however, I don’t actually agree with it.  But the movie is open to interpretation, and I love movies that make you think – this is definitely one of them.

The ending of the movie is particularly outstanding, but to single out one scene is perhaps unfair (there are many wonderful and moving scenes in this film; another that comes to mind is the scene where Max deliberately crashes his car to prove to Carla that she could not have saved her child, and therefore was not to blame for the child’s death).  This is simply a terrific film throughout.  Highly recommended.

Year of release: 1993

Director: Peter Weir

Writers: Rafael Yglesias

Main cast: Jeff Bridges, Isabella Rossellini, Rosie Perez, Tom Hulce

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