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Posts Tagged ‘obsession’

This is the first Ian McEwan novel that I have ever read – probably not the last, as I did enjoy it despite thinking for the first 25 or so pages that it was not my kind of thing.

Joe Rose is a successful writer, in a happy relationship with his partner Clarissa. However, their lives change when one day they witness a horrific accident involving a hot air balloon, in which Joe intervenes to try and help. Jed Parry, another man who also tries to help becomes obsessed with Joe and starts stalking him, hanging out outside Joe’s home and writing him letters, convinced that his love for Joe is mutual.

The fallout from the accident and Joe’s increasing concern about Jed’s behaviour has an impact on Joe and Clarissa’s relationship, as both she and the reader start to wonder whether Joe – who also narrates the novel – is suffering from paranoia.

This is the stuff of fast paced psychological thrillers, but in fact this book does not fall neatly into that category. The pace of the story is at times quite slow, and Joe’s narration is verbose and intellectual. As mentioned above, when I first started reading it I did think this might not be one I would enjoy, but I am glad I stuck with it, because I did find myself getting drawn in. I could sympathise with Joe, although I never really warmed to him. There were some surprises along the way, but not the sort of ‘gotcha’ surprises or twists that some thrillers deliver (which is in no way a criticism). Overall an interesting read and one I would recommend.

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I read Maria McCann’s novel The Wilding several years ago, in just a couple of sittings (most of it was read on a flight to Italy so I had little else to distract me). I had quite enjoyed that book so expected much of the same of As Meat Loves Salt, which was McCann’s debut novel. However, apart from the genre of historical fiction, there was little similar about these books. I far preferred As Meat Loves Salt, which is easily the darker of the two novels.

Set in the early years of the English Civil War, the anti-hero and narrator is Jacob Cullen, a man who is in domestic service with his two brothers, although they were originally born into wealth. Having committed murder (don’t worry, this is revealed in the first few pages and is not a spoiler), Jacob flees with his new wife and one of his brothers, but when things go wrong he finds himself joining the New Model Army fighting in the ongoing war, and befriending the enigmatic fellow soldier Christopher Ferris.

After they leave the New Model Army, Ferris returns to his home in London and offers Jacob a home there. For fear of spoiling the story for anyone who wants to read this book, I’ll not reveal more, except to say that things get very dark very quickly. Emotions run extremely high and Jacob in particular has little success in controlling his feelings. To say he is quick to anger is an understatement. He is a large, strong man, capable of committing much physical harm, and almost a slave to his own violent tendencies. He always acts without thinking and no matter how much he regrets his outbursts later, he is seeming unable to control his rage when it bubbles up inside him.

For all that he is a man who one would wish to avoid, he’s not the only one in this book. Ferris is charming and well meaning, but mercurial and manipulative. I actually cared for him very little, but the relationship between him and Jacob was a fascinating one. (It has just occurred to me that the women in this book come across by and large far better than the men.)

The one thing I would have liked to have known more about was the fate of Zeb – without giving anything away, I did think he would feature more than he did, and that there was an interesting story. If Maria McCann ever feels like writing the story from his point of view, I would definitely be interested in reading it.

Overall I would definitely recommend this book. It’s not an easy read, and there are a few very violent scenes. But it’s well written with a not very likeable but always interesting narrator – if this is the kind of book that appeals to you, I would give this one a try.

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Listened to as an audiobook narrated by Napoleon Ryan.

Andrew Sumner is having a run of bad luck, but he believes that it is at an end when he meets the beautiful and captivating Charlie. The two of them begin a very intense relationship and are smitten with each other, but Charlie’s irrational jealousy causes problems between them. When things start going missing from Andrew’s flat, and his friends start being attacked – or worse – he starts to wonder if Charlie could be behind it…could the woman he loves really be a murderer….?

I am really in two minds about this book. There was a LOT that annoyed me, and that was before I even got to the ridiculous ending. First of all, there were continuity errors (I guess that is what you would call them; certainly if this was a film that is what they would be). For example near the beginning of the story, two characters go into a cafe in a railway station to have a chat, but halfway through it becomes a pub. In another part, two characters decide to get drunk on two bottles of gin which somehow turn into vodka. Okay, these things don’t impact on the story, but they annoy me and I feel that if I noticed them without looking, any half decent editor should have done as well.

Additionally, Andrew as a protagonist was just…blah. I couldn’t understand why any woman would become obsessed with him, although there’s no accounting for taste. More than anything he just seemed unbelievably stupid for putting up with so much of Charlie’s irrational behaviour, and largely (it seemed) because she was adventurous in bed. The ending was the biggest let-down. I don’t mind a good twist, but this was so mad as to be just plain stupid, and asked the reader to discount everything that had gone beforehand.

As a narrator Napoleon Ryan was fine when he was being Andrew – and as the book is narrated by Andrew, that was most of the time. But female voices are NOT his forte. In particular, Charlie’s voice just made her sound like a caricature out of a bad sitcom.

Yet – despite all this, I did find that the story rattled along at a good pace, and at one point I even found myself wanting to extend a long run so I could see how one particular subplot played out. So I do believe that Mark Edwards is capable of creating solid tension and mystery, even if his way of resolving things seemed to have come completely out of left field.

Would I listen to or read another book by this author? Well yes, I probably would. But I liken this one to eating junk food. It’s pretty enjoyable at the time but even while you’re consuming it, you know it’s not really that great, so it’s not something I would probably recommend to a friend.

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This film is not a biography of Mozart; rather it is a tale of obsession and revenge.  Antonio Salieri, himself a famous and respected composer, is a great admirer of Mozart’s work, but when he meets Mozart, he is upset that such a tremendous talent is in the hands of a vulgar and crass person.  (Note: I do not know how realistic the portrayal of Mozart as shown in this film is, but certainly according to Mozart’s letters, he had a crude sense of humour.)  Salieri cannot believe that God has chosen to channel such beauty through Mozart, and is upset that Mozart will probably be remembered for all time, while he himself will probably sink into obscurity.  The film starts with the attempted suicide of Salieri, after which the story is told mainly in flashback, with Salieri recounting to a Priest how he came to know Mozart, and eventually seek revenge upon the young composer for his talent, of which he was so jealous.

F. Murray Abraham won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Salieri (one of eight Oscars eleven nominations for this film), and I can see why (although he was up against Jeff Bridges for Starman, and when Jeff is up for an Oscar, I always always always root for him to win!)  Additionally, Tom Hulce, who played Mozart, was nominated for the same award.  He too put in an excellent performance, but I do think that Abraham had the edge here.  He does a fine job of making us understand his motivations, and the reason that he both detests and admires his rival.  Despite his underhand behaviour, he does elicit some sympathy for his pains.

Naturally, the music is sublime.  I am not a particular fan of classical music or opera, both of which feature prominently in this film, but I could certainly appreciate it in this context.  The costumes were also very lavish and beautiful, and the Oscar which was won for Best Costume Design was also very well deserved.

There was some comic relief, mainly provided by Hulce, but this was mainly a touching and somewhat disturbing film – and when I say disturbing, I mean it in a good way.  It demonstrates how a sane and rational person can let their jealousy turn to obsession, and cause them to act out of character; in the hands of a lesser actor, this might not have worked, but fortunately, F. Murray Abraham handles it incredibly well.  It’s not a short film; I saw the director’s cut which is just shy of three hours – but it is an enjoyable and absorbing watch.  I would certainly recommend it, whether or not you are a fan of Mozart’s music.

Year of music: 1984

Director: Milos Forman

Producers: Michael Hausman, Bertil Ohlsson, Saul Zaentz

Writer: Peter Shaffer

Main cast: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Jeffrey Jones

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Maggie Wilson moved to Brighton to make a fresh start…but it doesn’t seem to be working.  She has no friends, no boyfriend, lives in a horrible basement flat, and the well paid job with American Express which she’s told her family about doesn’t exist.  But she can hardly let on that she’s working as a stripper in a seedy bar.  In short, Maggie is lost and lonely – but one day she accidentally discovers a way of eavesdropping on her neighbours Libby and David.  Soon she is absorbed in their lives.  Even though they are barely aware of her existence, she knows all about their secrets, their arguments and their plans for the future.  When she discovers that they are planning to move to Cuba, Maggie wonders how on earth she will cope with their absence…so to her it seems obvious that the only thing to do is follow them, get to know them, and make them be her friends….

I was totally gripped by this book, and felt drawn into the story from the very first page.  The narrative switches between Maggie’s point of view, told in the first person; and Libby’s point of view, told in the third person.  I felt that Maggie was an utterly believeable character, and the blurring of the lines between what was real, and what Maggie saw as real, was portrayed in an all too realistic fashion.  Tragic events in her past have led her to the point where she is now unable to form proper relationships with people, and she is about to learn that you can’t force people to be the kind of friend you want them to be.  While she wasn’t an easy character to like, she was certainly an interesting one to read about.  However, to say much more about her would be to give away too much of the story.

I felt more ambivalent towards Libby.  She seemed to have a decent life, and a nice husband, yet she was never happy.  But as the story progressed, she was fleshed out and became a character who I could sympathise with and like.  Her husband David was also entirely believeable, as an honest and decent man, but with human flaws.

The story takes place mainly in Havana, Cuba, which I can only assume the author knows well, as she really brought the place to life.  The early part of the book was set in Brighton, which was also portrayed well, but the main part of the story does not unfold until the characters reach Cuba.  Maggie’s backstory unfolded gradually alongside the narrative of events that were happening at the time the story was set, and I felt that that helped the reader understand her actions, even when it was impossible to agree with them.  There was a sinister undertone running throughout the story, and I did find that it was one of those books which was hard to put down.  The writing flowed beautifully and at no point did I lose interest.  I did think that the ending was slightly anti-climactic, but overall this was a gripping story, and I would certainly recommend this author to others.

(A quick note about the cover: I rarely comment on the covers of books, but in this instance I did feel that the cover was not really suggestive of the content.  The picture was perhaps suited to something more in the chick-lit genre, which this book most certainly is not!)

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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‘Cherry’ by Matt Thorne

Steve Ellis is a 33 year English Teacher, who doesn’t like English, or indeed teaching. He has practically no social life, hasn’t had a girlfriend for 12 years and his home is literally starting to fall apart.  But his luck seems to change when he encounters a seemingly harmless old man in a pub and shares a drink with him.  Before long, an acquaintance of the old man turns up on Steve’s doorstep, and asks him about his perfect woman – down to every last detail.  Circumstances then land Steve in a hotel bar, where his perfect woman, who fulfills every criteria he specified – even down to her name, Cherry – walks into his life.  At first he is suspicious about the whole matter, but before long he realises that he is so happy to have his ideal girlfriend that he stops caring about who Cherry really is, or where she came from. However, Steve eventually comes to realise that if he wants to hold on to the beautiful Cherry, there may be a very high price to pay.

This book seemed to start out in one direction, and then quickly veer off into another.  Initially it appeared that it was going to be an amusing tale about one of life’s eccentrics, but then it seemed to almost turn into a sci-fi morality tale.

It’s narrated by Steve himself, which means that we only ever get to see things from his point of view, and how reliable his point of view is, is something to consider. On the plus side, the action moved quickly and it was engaging and entertaining fare – on the whole a fairly undemanding read.  The chapters are short and this is a book that can be read and enjoyed in just one or two sittings.

However, on the downside, it all seemed just a little bit too unbelieveable.  I could never really get too carried away with what was going to happen, because I felt certain that there would be ridiculously absurd ending (whether I was right or not is something that I won’t give away).  Also, most of the other characters in the book are very one dimensional, and it is hard to really care about any of them.  Cherry herself is seemingly devoid of any character and seems rather a boring person, even from Steve’s point of view.  I must say though that I rather suspected that Cherry’s lack of character was somehow part of the point.

At just under 200 pages, this story has the feel of a modern fable, and the somewhat ambiguous ending will leave you thinking.

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