Wednesday, 19 February 2014

A Song of Ice and Fire, Book One: A Game of Thrones, George R.R Martin.

After handing in my uni work I was desperate to read something good. 

Cue happy reader sighing noise- this was the first and only thing I truly enjoyed reading in the entire semester. At 800 pages, I thought it might be a bit of a slog but as it turns out the length was a joy, allowing me to be engulfed in the world for longer. I could remember enough of the TV show to know that it stayed very true to the book, but not too much that I could remember every detail of what was going to happen whilst reading. I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that I knew all the characters already, and got to know them better through the descriptions in the book. Martin is an excellent storyteller, an expert at battle scenes, dialogue, place descriptions and feeding information little by little. 
As with the TV show, each chapter follows a different main character, allowing the reader to keep up with what's happening on all fronts, and sometimes even seeing a situation from two different perspectives. 
I was glad I'd seen the show first, as it meant I didn't get confused between the many, many characters. But that might be simply due to my pea brain.
Game of Thrones was the best book I've read in a long time, and I'm very much looking forward to reading the next one.

5/5 *****

Thursday, 6 February 2014

A Blast of MA Book Reviews

It's been a while.

Although I'm annoyed with my absence on this blog, I have to say it's not through lack of reading that I haven't posted anything. In fact, I've read so much since I last posted on here that you could argue my lack of writing about reading is due to too much reading.
Since rejoining my MA course it's been a whirlwind of reading and writing, with barely enough time to keep up with my ramblings, let alone my rambling reviews. What's more, there were a number of novels I am yet to finish, which bugs me almost to the point of not being able to admit it. As a rule I never, ever leave a book unfinished, but some of the stuff I had to read was... to put it plainly... long and boring.

Anyway, without further ado, here are my mini reviews of books/parts of books read since September.  

Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut 

The reason we read this book on the module was because of its distinct crossing of genres. Slaughterhouse Five is an account of one man's experience during the second world war, with a side serving of sci-fi. The story jumps from one place in time to another, with the assumption that we are following the protagonist Billy Pilgrim's thought process in his unstable later years. 
The narrative goes out of its way to be wordy and weird at times, which is not a favourite thing of mine in literature. There were times when I wasn't sure what was going on. Having said that I still found the novel refreshing and different, especially the parts about the years that Billy spent on the planet Tralfamadore after being abducted for experimentation by aliens.  This off-the-wall fantastical plot was a refreshing change from the usual war fiction. 
The book has some beautiful ideas and passages in it, my particular favourite being when a part of a war film is watched backwards, thus creating a story of planes putting out fires, people going from miserable to happy, and bombs being locked away for good. Lovely.

The Ruins of Us, Keija Parssinen

The main character Rosalie is a persona I recognised as having met during my time living in Saudi Arabia. The story follows the American after her life has been turned upside down by the revelation that her Saudi husband of many years has secretly taken another wife. 
The story rang true with me in terms of the comfort, security and riches associated with marrying a Saudi and living in the Kingdom, as well as the price that a westerner pays to have these things.
I was particularly impressed by the realistic portrayal of how the husband Abdullah justifies himself, as well as his belief that over the years Rosalie has become too 'Saudi' for him. 
Rosalie  struggles with what exactly is the right course of action to take. By marrying a Saudi man did she give up her right to disagree with the possibility of him taking a second wife? And of course she is concerned about the endless issues relating to divorce and leaving the country, such as whether she can take her children with her, and whether she could live with herself if they could never then see their Dad again.
The two children, Mariam and Faisal, displayed two different sides of how it might be for children in Saudi who have a western parent. Mariam, aged fourteen, hates the restrictions placed on her and conducts small acts of rebellion such as getting into trouble at school for refusing to wear her headscarf. She also writes a blog detailing her life- using the Internet as an outlet in a way that previous Saudi generations have not been able to. Sixteen year old Faisal on the other hand resents his western Mum and longs to be more 'Saudi.' In my opinion this worked up to a point, but as Faisal went down a slippery slope towards extremism, so too, for me, did the credibility of the plot. The pinnacle of the story was nothing short of a farce: unbelievable, unrealistic and reinforcing the ridiculous idea that people should be wary of bringing up children in Saudi Arabia for fear that they will become terrorists. 
Despite the disappointing ending, The Ruins of Us was still a good read and the best insight into Saudi life that I have come across so far.   

American Chick in Saudi Arabia, Jean Sasson
An autobiographical work about a woman in Saudi. This novel was short, obvious, at times badly written, and boring. Don't bother. 

Short Stories:

The American Embassy, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A woman waits in line at the American embassy in Nigeria, thinking back to the horrific events that have led up to her being there. 
The Arrangers of Marriage, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 
A Nigerian woman attempts to settle into life in America with her newly wed stranger-doctor-husband.

Adichie writes compelling, hard-hitting and honest stories about life for Nigerians both in and out of the country.

The Necklace, Guy de Maupassant
A classic short story about a couple's life-long quest to pay back a friend for an expensive necklace borrowed and lost. The story has a good moral and makes you think about the danger surrounding money, society and greed.

The Happy Prince, Oscar Wilde
I always love Wilde, and this sweet and moral tale didn't disappoint.  

Desiree's Baby and A Respectable Woman, Kate Chopin
Interesting stories of marriage, misunderstanding and communication or lack thereof.  

Kindling and The Bath, Raymond Carver
I have to say I'm still not a fan of Carver, but read these in order to try to understand better how to use subtext in a short story. I find he really 'under says' things, leaving the reader to guess too much. Also, the stories were fairly uneventful.

Indian Camp, Ernest Hemingway
An easy read about a doctor taking his young son up the river to watch him help a native American woman give birth. Interesting and surprising.

Unfinished Reads (aka the list that bugs):

Visions of Cody, Jack Kerouac 
I would sum up this book with the words 'self-indulgent drivel.' In its day the novel was highly praised for being 'out there,' and 'groundbreaking' mainly because of the real taped transcript of the two main characters talking. Sure, it was ahead of its time (well done for that) but I don't see why it should be deemed so today. Anyone could tape themselves chatting shit. The story lacked, well, story and was, quite frankly, annoying. I read as much as I could before the tutorial and afterwards saw no point in torturing myself further.  

Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph, Frances Sheridan
A fairly interesting diary entry type classical read about a rich young society woman looking for love, but the word-count-to-how- -interesting-the-story-is ratio was not in the books favour. 

The Women's Room, Marilyn French
The story follows a group of women in 70's America, with their individual suburban and marital struggles. It's an OK story but 527 pages is far too many for something that doesn't compel you forwards.

Escape! from an Arab Marriage, Cassandra  
Coming in as the worst thing I tried to read, this racist account of a stupid woman who married a Saudi man in America and then regretted it, was absolutely diabolical. Missing the first clue in the fact that the author didn't even give themselves a surname, I bought this book to help with research for my piece. Yuk.  

Added to these titles I also read countless essays, chapters of text books and extracts of novels, including some truly monumental crap. But I wouldn't dream of boring you with all that. 

PS my module submission is over on my Story Stuff blog if you happen to be interested. You can read it here.