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Jenny Kramer is the subject of a brutal rape and in the immediate aftermath her parents make the decision to give her a controversial treatment which causes her to forget the attack. However, the drug does not wipe out the knowledge of the attack or the trauma and fear that the attack caused, and eventually Jenny has to decide whether it would be better to regain her memories so that she can begin to cope with what happened. There is also the question of bringing the perpetrator to justice – without her memories, finding the guilty party is nigh on impossible – and in a small town, nobody wants to believe that one of their own could do this to someone.

I had high expectations for this book – I think it had an interesting premise with a moral dilemma at it’s core…is it ever ethical to remove someone’s memories, even if done with the best intentions? However, I have to admit that while the book held my attention and kept me reading, I was somewhat disappointed. This was largely due to the narrator. The story was told by Dr Alan Forrester, who became Jenny’s therapist – and also therapist to her parents who were struggling with holding their family together. Unfortunately Dr Forrester was condescending and pompous in the extreme; I have no idea if it was the author’s intention to make him so dislikable but if so, it certainly worked. When talking about his wife for example, Dr Forrester makes no bones about stating that he is intellectually superior to her but he loves her anyway. Indeed, he clearly considers it extremely generous of him when he states that he has encouraged her to study for a Masters degree, so that they might be able to enjoy more intellectual discussion!

The other problem for me was that of all the characters in the book, the one who I felt I never got to know at all was Jenny. The narrator ended up telling his own story far more than that of Jenny and it seems a shame that after she was violated in such a terrible manner, the author did not then do her the justice of at least making her into a fully rounded out character.

On the positive side, the revelation of who had committed the violent crime genuinely surprised me, and I thought that aspect of the story was well plotted, although the plot line relied somewhat on coincidence and things that did not strike me as very feasible. I can’t say that it didn’t have any sort of flow to it – the writing was well paced although sometimes the timeline seemed a little confused – Dr Forrester is talking about the events in the book from some time in the future but how far in the future is not really clear.

Overall, this book was not a terrible read for me, but did not live up to the expectations that I initially had for it. If you choose to read it be aware that the rape and another similar event are both described in quite graphic detail.

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Emma O’Donovan is the girl every girl wants to be. She is clever, beautiful and the envy of her friends. Until the night that she goes to a party and her life takes a downhill turn. All of a sudden everyone hates her, she is classed as a whore and there are lurid photos of her all over Facebook. It’s made clear to the reader that what her friends and schoolmates initially consider to be her sleeping consensually with a group of men, was actually a group rape; however this doesn’t stop people taunting her and calling her all sorts of names.

Emma’s life falls apart when the case becomes public knowledge, her family start to split at the seams and people still blame her for what happened, and the book shows the aftermath of the terrible event.

I am in two minds about this book. I think it’s an important subject, and I quite like that O’Neill does not wrap everything up in a neat bow at the end, although I didn’t actually like the ending she chose to write. However, Emma is (I suspect intentionally) in the beginning at least, a deeply unpleasant young woman. She tries to get her friend’s boyfriend to fancy her, she is jealous of any girl who may be approaching being as pretty as Emma herself is and is unnecessarily unkind to people. None of this matters a jot – or at least none of it should matter a jot – of course when she is horrifically violated. What happened was wrong, full stop. The reaction of others was almost as horrific as the violation itself.

The first half of the book lays out Emma’s character and shows events leading up to the night of the party, while the second half deals with the aftermath. I did not like Emma’s mother at all, and felt that she was at least partly to blame for Emma’s obsession with her looks. Her father was not a likeable character too, although I suspect that his treatment of Emma after the rape was for some, all too accurate. I did however like her brother Bryan.

I feel that this is a book that people should read, and it is certainly one I raced through due to the flow of the writing, but can I say that I loved it? No – it’s hard to love a book with this subject. But I would probably recommend it.

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Okay, confession time. I have never seen the film The Shawshank Redemption. That’s right, I’m the one. And maybe this is a good thing because when you see a play that has also been made into a film (although they were both adapted from different source material, in this case Stephen King’s novella ‘Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption’), it can be difficult not to compare. I’m reliably informed that this play is actually closer to the source material than the film is, but nonetheless both tell the same story of Andy Dufresne, a banker who is imprisoned for the double murder of his wife and her lover. Andy is innocent but he still serves years in prison for the crime he didn’t commit, and during that time he becomes best friends with Ellis Boyd Redding – or ‘Red’ – who is also in prison for murdering his wife (although Red freely admits that he is guilty).

Despite his physical incarceration, Andy refuses to allow the cruel and corrupt prison staff or the more sadistic fellow prisoners to trap his mind or break his spirit, and his determination to remain true to himself and his values, slowly changes those around him. As Andy’s imprisonment goes on, he becomes involved in doing accounts for the prison warden and helping to shield corrupt financial practices from the authorities, but despite now having the protection of the staff, he is still determined to get his freedom.

The part of Andy Dufresne was played by Paul Nicholls, who was excellent in the role and perfectly conveyed the character’s sense of self-worth and strength of mind. However, the standout role was Red, played by Ben Onwukwe. Red is arguably the biggest character in the play, and certainly has the biggest speaking part, as he narrates the story of Andy’s life in prison and speaks directly to the audience. The rest of the cast were also excellent, including Jack Ellis as Warden Stammas.

Viewer discretion is advised – there is a lot of swearing and depictions of extreme violence, including rape, so this is definitely not a show for children. However, it is a beautifully told, well acted, moving tale of the strength of one man’s spirit. Highly recommended.

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After a traumatic childhood experience, best friends Jennifer and Sarah create the Never List – a list of things which they must never do, in order to stay safe.  Despite all their good intentions however, they are abducted, and thrown into a three year long nightmare.  The book opens thirteen years later, with Sarah still suffering from the effects of the ordeal.  She never leaves her apartment, never has physical contact with people, works from home, and has no friends.  However, the man who abducted her and Jennifer is being considered for parole, and Sarah needs to make sure that he doesn’t get it, so she decides that the only way to secure her future is to revisit her past.

When I started this book, I thought I was going to really enjoy it.  The first few chapters throw you headlong into the story at break-neck speed, and it seemed to pave the way for an intense psychological thriller.  In fairness, it does keep up the quick pace all the way through, with plenty of twists and turns, and in many ways, was a quick and easy read.

Unfortunately though, I ended up feeling a bit frustrated by both the story, and the main character.  At the beginning of the story, Sarah is suffering from severe paranoia and phobias, but she seems to overcome them so quickly, that it is just not believable.  To assume that a woman who is too scared to even leave her apartment (even when she orders food in, the doorman to the apartments has to bring it to her, rather than the usual delivery person) is suddenly feel able to drive miles, and jump on planes, all in a matter of a few days, just felt inconsistent.  In fact, most of the main characters seemed to act in an entirely inconsistent manner.

I had my suspicions about what was going to happen at the end, but there were a couple of twists I didn’t anticipate – and it’s always nice to be surprised when reading a thriller – but I did feel that the final denouement was a bit tangled up, involving a few characters that didn’t really serve much purpose in the story.

The book did have some good points and there were some genuinely tense moments (and it’s certainly had some rave reviews) but I think it was probably just not the book for me, with some of the themes, such as torture and rape, feeling particularly disturbing.

 

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Shakespeare’s goriest play is by no means his most popular one, and I can imagine that some people would find it too distasteful to watch (I had my reservations, initially), but as this production, directed by Michael Fentiman proves, it can be successfully brought to the stage.

Briefly the storyline concerns the titular character who has returned triumphant from the war against the Goths in Rome.  He slays a son of Tamora, queen of the goths, in revenge for his fallen soldiers.  She in turn urges her two remaining sons to rape Titus’s daughter Lavinia (which they do in the most horrific fashion, also cutting out her tongue and cutting off her hands so that she cannot identify her attackers).  Titus’s sons are then framed for this grievous crime, and executed.  When Titus discovers the truth, he swears revenge on Tamora and her sons, and – well, it’s safe to say he gets it, although it’s also safe to say that there are no real victors in this play, which ends in a bloodbath (a bloodbath that is as uncomfortably amusing as it is wince-inducing).  Sounds bloodthirsty?  It was, and at the time that it was written, there was a great public appetite for such plays, and Shakespeare was obviously happy to provide one.

This production certainly made me grimace on occasion, but it was extremely compelling and watchable, and even managed to include some dark humour – no mean feat in such a gory play.

Stephen Boxer made an excellent world-weary Titus, whose descent into madness is clear to the audience.  The rest of the cast were also superb in their roles, especially Katy Stephens as the vengeful Tamora, John Hopkins as a very amusing Saturninus, and Kevin Harvey as Aaron – a truly detestable, and strangely charismatic character!  Rose Reynolds was also heartbreaking as the tortured Lavinia, who never finds the happiness she is owed after her brutal attack, and the murder of her husband.

Titus Andronicus is not a play for everyone, and I would recommend that people are aware of the storyline before going to see it.  However, I found it extremely watchable (even if I watched some parts through my fingers!) with excellent performances all round.

(For more information about the Royal Shakespeare Company, or this production, please click here.)

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Jean-Baptiste Baratte is an educated and enthusiastic engineer from Belleme in Normandy, who is given teh job of dismantling and disposing of the remains of the les Innocents church and cemetery, in Paris.  He initially thinks it should be a routine, if somewhat unpleasant job, but it soon becomes clear that there is a lot more to the matter than he first thinks.  Some of the locals who live near to the church are opposed to the destruction of the property – one in particular shows her feelings in an extreme fashion – and he realises that to find workers willing to assist in the project, he will have to call on outside help.  The book tells Jean-Baptiste’s story of the year it took to clear the remains of the cemetery and the church, a year that involves, love, rape, suicide…

There are certain parts of this book which I loved.  It won the 2011 Costa Book of the Year Award, and I can see why.  Based on real events, the writing is gorgeous and evocative, occasionally beautiful.  The destruction of a cemetery did not really sound as though it would make for an interesting story, but it does work, possibly because the book is also about how the job affected Jean-Baptiste and those around him.  I really felt as though Andrew Miller captured the atmosphere of the place and brought it to life. 

However, while I felt the scene was set beautifully, I found that it was hard to relate to or invest in any of the characters, including Jean-Baptiste himself, who I felt ambivalent about.  That said however, the female characters in the book – the mysterious Heloise, the sweet Jeanne and the no-nonsense Lisa, were far more sympathetic, and a lot more likeable than most of the males.  Overall though, I found myself reading the book with a sense of detachment – it never felt like a story I could lose myself in, although the writing is undeniably eloquent, and the story itself is pacey enough never to become boring.

I would recommend the book to fans of historical fiction, and would probably read more by this author.

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