Sunday, 23 December 2012

An Idiot Abroad, Karl Pilkington

The full title of this book is An Idiot Abroad, The Travel Diaries of Karl Pilkington, with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, but I think my chosen title is better seeing as the second two people didn't do a whole lot. Plus it's a bit of a mouthful don't you think?
I actually read this before reading A Christmas Carol, but amidst the excitement and flurry of all the Christmas cheer here in Saudi Arabia, I forgot to review it.
I've seen a few episodes from the TV series but Lee downloaded the book onto my kindle so I figured I'd give it a go. I do love Karl Pilkington: his generally unimpressed take on supposedly impressive things, his strange and intricate way of viewing the world and his unapologetic grumpiness. Perhaps I should take a leaf out of his book with regards to this last part, and stop apologising too.
An idiot abroad sees Karl on seven trips to see the wonders (the new ones, except one): the pyramids in Egypt, Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, the Taj Mahal in India, Chichen Itza in Mexico, The Great Wall of China, Petra in Jordan and Machu Picchu in Peru. I love the illustrations and photos-mainly of him looking miserable- but couldn't enjoy them to the full because my kindle is black and white. At the beginning of each chapter there is a famous quote about the wonder, followed by one from Karl. For example, he says of the Great Wall, "It was knackered. So knackered that it wasn't really a wall. I remember hearing that you're supposed to be able to see the great wall of china from the moon, but that has got to be bollocks 'cos even as I stood right next to this bit I had problems seeing it."
In general he hates everywhere he goes, partly because he's not a fan of being out of his comfort zone, but also because Ricky and Stephen go out of their way to make his life difficult. They force him to meet up with random, weird people and eat scary food such as fried insects.
I did find his pessimism and nonchalance a bit irritating at times, especially when he visited Christ the Redeemer, a place I really, really want to go to. I found that the more I read, the more he was actually putting me off going anywhere ever again. Then I realised how unfair it is that he got to do all this stuff for free, in fact he was paid to go to these places and see all these famous sights. How unappreciative! But that's just it, isn't it? Often when things are given to us for free we don't appreciate them.
But then I forgave Karl because he had an epiphany where he acknowledged that he was lucky to get to go to all those places for free.
And he is completely hilarious. He takes bags of monster munch with him on every trip and hates most of the customs and food of the cultures, but still jumps in and does everything he's asked/made to do with plenty of enthusiasm: from dancing on a float at the Rio carnival, to wrestling in Mexico and riding a camel for hours in Jordan. He is also very inquisitive and not afraid to question other people's customs.
The book has left me with images of a far too busy Christ the Redeemer, a dead sea with tons of spit in it, a great wall that's falling down and many more reasons not to go to any of these places. The one  wonder he didn't slag off too much, however, was Machu Picchu, which just sounds great and is still top of my list of places to visit.
I have to say I find Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant pretty annoying. They don't give Karl much credit for the fact that he is the funny one and the one whose words people enjoy reading. Just near the end of the book Ricky calls to tell Karl they've changed the name of the series from 'Karl Pilkington's Seven Wonders' to 'An Idiot Abroad.' Karl's pretty unhappy and definitely doesn't agree to it, but as the title proves he was bullied into it in the end. I suppose the bullying is all part of the act, and you could say that he would be nothing without the other two having made him famous, but still sometimes it's a bit much.
All in all, an entertaining, and surprisingly educational read.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Marley was dead, to begin with.
Those famous words that say to people around the globe: Christmas is here. I know for me anyway, when I sit to begin my annual reading of A Christmas Carol, the opening line makes me want to curl up in bed with a cup of tea, surrounded by fairy lights  and festive music to read the whole thing from start to finish.
If you haven't ever read the book, then you should. We all know the story inside out and back to front from all the different films that exist, but there's something about hearing it straight from Dickens' mouth that makes it all the more special. His descriptions of the surroundings, sights, sounds and smells are just wonderful, really transporting you into the atmosphere of the place. As a writer I could certainly learn a thing or two from Dickens in terms of description. He sets the scene beautifully, without going on and on like other Victorian authors (cough cough, George Eliot).
It goes without saying that I love watching the films as well, and I'm not ashamed to tell you that my forever favourite is The Muppet Christmas Carol. I was surprised actually in how true some of the speeches in the film are to the original text, to the point where I was visualising various muppets as I read.

For example:
The founder of the feast indeed! I wish I had him here. I'd give him a piece of my mind to feast upon, and I hope he'd have a good appetite for it...It should be Christmas day I'm sure, on which one drinks the health of such an odious, stinky, hard, unfeeling man as Mr. Scrooge.

Who said this? We all know the answer is Miss Piggy.
All that was missing from the novel is for her to say 'and badly dressed!' and for Melinda and Belinda to gasp in horror. I think if Dickens could see The Muppet Christmas Carol then he would surely agree to insert this line into the orginial.   
My only disappointment in reading A Christmas Carol this time is that I read it on my Kindle, where there were just explanations of the illustrations rather than the pictures themselves. But then I guess that's what you get for being able to buy the entire works of Dickens for 50p!
Which one should I read next?



Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Name of this Book is Secret- Pseudonymous Bosch

OK, I promise the next book I review will be adult fiction. But for now...

The Name of This Book is Secret is a children's mystery book that starts out by saying it can't possibly let the reader know anything about the mystery or secrets in question, for fear of danger. Names are changed and information blanked out with X's, all quirky but not something that can be kept up if there's to be any storyline. The book soon settled in to being more of a normal story, which I liked on one hand and didn't on the other. I felt that it was a cop out after all the going-on about protecting the secrets and changing information, and meant the style altered significantly a few chapters in. But having said that, it meant we could get on with the story.
The plot involves a girl called Cass, a 'survivalist' who carries around a rucksack of important things in case of emergency. But the thing is that Cass has never yet had to survive anything. She makes a new friend Max-Ernest and together they get themselves involved in solving the mystery left behind by a recently deceased magician. They find a symphony of smells- a scientific instrument that allows you to communicate through smell, which proves to be very useful. The children meet a beautiful couple- Ms. Mauvais and Dr L- who look too perfect to be true. The children soon become suspicious that Ms Mauvais and Dr. L have something to do with the magicians death. After lots of sneaking around and uncovering secrets, Cass and Max-Ernest believe that Ms. Mauvais is much older than she seems, and that she and Dr. L are in the business of kidnapping children. So when a boy from school called Benjamin Blake goes missing, Cass sets out to rescue him. She and Max-Ernest follow him to the Midnight Sun Spa, where he is going to be used horrifically to feed the needs of the youth seekers, of which Ms. Mauvais is the leader.

I found this book interesting enough and I think many children would like it. The problem for me is that the book pretty much copies Lemony Snicket's style (A Series of Unfortunate Events) but it's simply not as good. All the build up doesn't pay off, and I felt at the end that there was too much mystery still uncovered. There are four more in the series, but I don't agree with leaving questions unanswered and plot undeveloped just because there are more books to come. I firmly believe a book should be able to stand alone, as well as be part of a set.  

3 out of five