Tag Archives: Book

Book Review: The White Book by Han Kang

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the white book

 

Books are a vice for me. They do take up space, so I try not to buy too many. I have yet to define what having too many means.

‘The White Book’ by Han Kang was an indulgence: I wouldn’t normally buy a book like this on a whim. I picked it up, read the blurb and I just knew. To look at the world and write about only white things fascinated me.

Books are a vice for me, because my soul seeks to connect to the world, observe it, understand it, and feel as if it is a part of it. Books are one way in which I do this.

I have heard of ‘The Vegetarian’ by the same author, and I am now drawn to want to read more by her for a simple reason. ‘The White Book’ spoke to my soul.

Books are a vice for me: a way to connect to another observer’s viewpoint. This book is an observation on life and death. Of fragile fleeting moments most people wouldn’t notice happening. I feel sometimes as if I wander around and see things other don’t notice.

Are people not mindful? Are they selfishly wrapped up in themselves? Or most horribly of all, don’t they care? Don’t they care about a white handkerchief fluttering out of a window; about why two Yulan trees have been planted in remembrance; about the inner torments of the people who are ‘laughing whitely’?

Books are a vice for me. Unlike most vices that leave you wanting more, this book was satisfying. It is simply genius, if harrowing, but life is full of sadness. Sometimes inexplicable and sometimes obvious. It is sentimental, but then without sentiment and yearning for beautiful things, like minerals that glimmer, or seeing the Milky Way wielding overhead, connecting to the every day world is just that bit more mundane.

And that is why I would recommend this book; it comes from the idea of simply observing the mundane, picking out a detail (the colour ‘white’), and showing people how wondrous the world can be, even in moments of tragedy.

Books are a vice for me, because I write them too. It isn’t often I get a sort of envy that envelops me as a writer, which whispers in the back of my thoughts: ‘I wish I had written this book.’

 

 

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Book Review – Breakfast at Tiffanys by Truman Capote

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I have wanted to read Breakfast at Tiffany’s for a while now, so when I came across a copy that was a reasonable price I picked it up, and because I’m still easing myself into reading, and it is a novella, it was ideal.

I’m not going to lie, the vast majority of what I know about the story comes from cultural references to the film, rather than the novella. I’m rather partial to Deep Blue Something’s song of the same name, and I’ve seen a couple of clips of the film, including the opening scene, but I didn’t learn any of the plot. Other than that I knew absolutely nothing about the either the film or the book.

Except one thing, I was fairly certain I wasn’t going to like it.

And I wasn’t entirely wrong, as I realised when I tweeted the above feeling rather lost. I read it with an open mind, and I certainly liked the protagonist more than I had expected, and I loved Capote’s writing style.

But I cannot stand Holly Golightly.

I have nothing against dreamers, I am one, but I don’t like people who take offence really easily, because you have to be on eggshells around them. I don’t mind that she is direct, but this beloved character, is just a horrible person. I don’t get why everyone is so fascinated by her. If you do understand please do comment below because I would love to know more.

The only thing I can assume is that at the time it was written, and when the film was set, women just mustn’t have acted like this; she must have seemed intriguing because she was different, whereas now women being direct and independent is commonplace.

The thing is, as much as I don’t like the character, I do like the novella. I can see why it is a classic, because it is short, easy to read, and it lingers with you for a while afterwards as well. I’m not going to rush out and get more Capote, but I’m don’t regret trying it.

Short Stories

I can’t really justify having read the book and not talk about the short stories that come with the novella. I’m getting the impression the three I’ve read are the ones that are normally printed alongside Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but just in case there ever is any variety I read ‘House of Flowers’, ‘The Diamond Guitar’ and ‘A Christmas Memory’.

Now House of Flowers I really didn’t like, for a similar reason to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I just didn’t like the protagonist, and I didn’t think she was that nice a person. I just also wasn’t that fussed by the story.

I nearly gave up on reading the short stories after I read that one, but I am really glad I didn’t because I absolutely love ‘The Diamond Guitar’ and ‘A Christmas Memory’. The former of those two is a really good, atmospheric, sort of love story, and it the perfect short story. You have in depth characters, a contained plot, and a bit of a twist.

‘A Christmas Memory’ though, oh my god it is so beautiful. It is about what Christmas means to me; it is about being generous with your time and with what you are able to give, while being with your loved ones. It is a charming story of two best friends, going through their rituals of Christmas together and being utterly delightful at the same time. I’m not a big fan of Christmas but I love this story, because it is not about excessive wealth, just wholesome good fun.

Book Review: Black Butterfly – by Mark Gatiss

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black butterfly

This is a long overdue review of this book. Re-reading what I wrote about ‘The Vesuvius Club’ and ‘The Devil in Amber’ it is obvious to me now that I discovered Mark Gatiss’ novels right at the beginning of when my mental health was bad and getting worse. They certainly helped me feel better when I needed anything that would help.

It was harder reading the last one, and one of the reasons for the delay in reviewing the book is because I had put off reading it; I didn’t want to be disappointed; I didn’t want the series to end; and I read it at about the same time that I just had to set aside superfluous tasks and try to get better.

I have been left with the lingering impression that when I read the book, I hadn’t enjoyed it, except I know that isn’t true, I know I enjoyed it, I just didn’t have a healthy mind set. Thinking about it more objectively, reading the book was a joy.

And I know this because I absolutely love the books. While ‘The Devil in Amber’ is my favourite of the three, it isn’t because the third doesn’t live up to expectations, the second one just happens to be my favourite story.

Black Butterfly is slower in pace than the first two, and like with the second book, Gatiss has masterfully toned the book to reflect that the protagonist is older. He’s created a plot that is more reflective on the past than the previous two, but he has lost none of the fun and while Lucifer Box’ body might not young any more his mind and delightful wit is still as sharp as a tack.

It is a fine ending to the trilogy, though if another one or two Box stories could be added, then I wouldn’t say no. I’d be screaming yes, please.

Book Review – Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman

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call me by your name book

Having fallen in love with the film adapted from Andre Aciman’s book, I just knew I had to give the book a go. I had some trepidation as sometimes when a book is adapted the film isn’t as good, or even vice versus if you happen to have seen the film first. I’ve found this before with Joanne Harris’ Chocolat. I liked the film better.

However, in Call Me By Your Name’s case, I love the book just as much as the film.

It isn’t often an adaption of a film translates so well, but for me the book and the film are almost one. The book gives insight into the mind of Elio and the agony he endures silently during the film. While the film gives you the silence of those moments when Elio is in agony, and the perspective of those without insight into Elio’s thoughts and what they perceive to be going on.

But I have already talked about the film (and I’ll try not to talk too much more about it). This is the book’s review, and I can happily say it is gorgeous.

I thought at first the long (sometimes very long) sentences were going to annoy me, but like with any writing style I adapted quickly enough because the style suited the tone.The agony of the sort of love Elio feels, full of doubt, pain, confusion, hope, passion and anticipation, and then sorrow suits the long trailing sentences.

The slightly distorted timeline reflects that this story is something being remembered and portrays how wonderfully love can sometimes make memory distorted. You can remember everything, but you don’t necessarily remember it in the right order.

Aciman has written Elio and Olivier’s relationship so that it feels like an endless love affair: a long, hot summer in Northern Italy shared by two men as they discover the happiness total intimacy can bring them, while Elio also grows and begins to figure out who he is as a person.

Having seen the film a couple of times and having now read the book, Aciman’s story is timeless. As Elio remembers Olivier, it is as if that summer lasted forever and I quite believe for Elio it did, because he became himself that summer.

And there is certainly quite a few things that the book does better than the film. There is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding their affair, and themes of shame come across better in the book. I’m not really in a position to comment on being ashamed of being in love as the attractions I predominately feel aren’t something that society judges.

For those out there though that do or ever have felt shamed by society, what I hope you can find in either the book or the film (or both) is a love story you can enjoy, because the only barriers to resisting their feelings, in either Elio or Olivier’s case, don’t come from external forces.

No-one judges them for what they feel between them, though there are certainly hints that for Olivier he would face judgement from others. The only barriers that makes them resist or hesitate are the ones they form themselves, and I think that is what I love the most about this story.

They are the only ones judging them, no-one else does, and honestly it is no-one else’s place to do so; their journey towards their intimacy was truly their own. The only antagonistic force against them was themselves.

‘Call me by your name’ by Andre Aciman will be a book I shall return again and again, because it is just as simple as two people falling in love, and sometimes a love story is all you want, even if the idea behind calling each other by their own name is a bittersweet touch.

 

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

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I enjoy Neil Gaiman’s books and I love the Norse Legends, so I thought that this book was would a great little read. However, I will admit I was left feeling a bit flat.

There is a little bit of context in my reaction, it isn’t just the book. My reading has slowed down in recent weeks as my own writing has been pretty dominant. Also, I bought the book in hardback, which was a massive mistake as I was discouraged from reading it simply because it wouldn’t fit in my handbag. So not the greatest context in which to try and read the book.

However, my biggest problem is very much centered on the fact that I much preferred Joanne Harris’ ‘The Gospel of Loki‘. I simply couldn’t put that book down. There was a central character to get behind, protagonists and antagonists to root for (Loki fell into both categories simultaneously). The plot was intricately woven together and there was pace that kept you turning the page.

I felt flat with Gaiman’s interpretation because there was no central character to get behind, and the characters themselves felt really two dimensional. I know that in Norse mythology the characters themselves probably aren’t that fully formed but I had thought that in a re-interpretation by Gaiman, the characters would have got fleshed out.

Instead there was a just a series of characters in a series of disconnected myths and legends that Gaiman had interpreted. I didn’t feel much incentive to read the next story, and coupled with my hardback mistake I struggled to motivate myself to read the book. And I was disappointed by this because I know this is a passion of Gaiman’s, and I just thought he would do a better job.

I try not to make massive comparisons between books on similar topics, but in this case I can’t help it. I would recommend Harris over Gaiman on this one. The former is just more entertaining.

 

Book Review – Vinland by George Mackay Brown

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vinland

I lost my heart to Orkney years ago. I think at first it was the tranquility and the silence. Then it was realising the silence (compared to a city I mean) isn’t as quiet as I first thought; the birds, the wind and the waves are the sounds of Orkney, and I grew to love it even more. That was my first trip; on the second trip I got engaged at the Ring of Brodgar, so what was already a special place for me became even more so for us.

The second best thing to being there, is reading about Orkney through the words of Orcadian writer George Mackay Brown. ‘Vinland’ might make its way onto my list of all-time favourite books. It is utterly stunning to read and I want more. I’m not familiar with Mackay Brown’s poetry, and the only other book I’ve read by him was ‘Beside the Ocean of Time’, which I will have to pull off the shelf again, but after reading ‘Vinland’ not only did I want the story to go on and on, I also want to see what else he wrote.

This the reaction I want when I finish reading a book. If I put off reading the last few pages because I don’t want the tale to ever end, it is for me the sign of a perfect book. The book is set in the Medieval Scandinavian world, including Orkney, Iceland, Greenland, Norway, and Ireland, as well as North America. The title ‘Vinland’ is a little bit misleading, as only part of it is set in North America, when Leif Ericson tried to settle a colony there, however the dream of Vinland is carried on throughout the protagonist’s life.

The book charts the life of Ranald Sigmundson, a boy who goes to sea with his father, and ends up with Leif Ericson in Vinland. He returns home to Orkney, and evens goes to war in Ireland. I’m particularly fond of this period in history, and while I certainly don’t know as much about the Scandinavian World as I think I should, I had briefly studied the Vinland Sagas as a student, in what I would say is one of the best modules I ever had the privilege of undertaking. This book brought this world to life.

History can seem at times to be a bit cold and a bit distant, and the further back in time you go, the less evidence there is to help you reconstruct the past. The reason I enjoyed this book so much is because of the people. The political and religious turmoil certainly made the plot intriguing, but it is the characters, mainly Ranald, that makes the book so evocative. I’m sure that there is more metaphorical meaning within the work than what I have interpreted for you here, and I’m sure many of you would enjoy the book for those reasons.

For me I loved it because I didn’t just escape into a book, I also got the chance to escape into a period of history that I adore.

I remember picking up the copy of ‘Vinland’ in a lovely little bookshop in Stromness where Mackay Brown lived in Orkney. These days I’m keen on having context and a bit of life woven into the tapestry of my experience with a book. While I am planning on going back, I don’t think I can wait to go back to Orkney to get more books by him though; I think yearning for them badly enough to order them will have to be experience enough.

Book Review: The Devil in Amber by Mark Gatiss

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Needless to say, I picked up the second of Mark Gatiss’ novels, and the protagonist Lucifer Box leapt off the page. Lucifer is so damned sarcastic, and I do love a bit of wit. There was context as well; I’d just finished ‘Slade House’ and was more than a little bit wired up, so I thought I’d make a start on ‘The Devil in Amber’ in order to lighten the mood (and ensure I didn’t need a nightlight).

One line was enough to ease my tensions about attics. One line; quite remarkable really. And the next day, when I did venture to the second line and quite a way beyond because it isn’t easy to put the book down (I really should stop tying books to myself as if they are mittens) I was once again hooked in by Lucifer’s adventures.

It is twenty years on from his romp in ‘The Vesuvius Club‘; he might a bit older, but still young at heart, and just as fun. I would say that the tone of the book is a little bit more serious, but it reflects that Lucifer Box has had experiences in the intervening years between the books (mostly World War One) that have matured him.

Though thankfully not too much; there is still plenty of wit and a few silly names, not least Lucifer’s sister who makes a prominent appearance and is called Pandora. (I’m ashamed to admit that it wasn’t until I’d finished the book that I realised the reference- no need to face-palm, I’ve done that myself already. Several times.)

The serious tone also flatters the subject matter better. The light-heartedness in which Lucifer dealt with the murders of the Vulcanologists suited the Edwardian Era and nature of the story Mark Gatiss told in his first book. Dealing with 1920s fascists and satanists who want to summon the devil does need to be a bit more serious in tone. The book is still fun and addictive to read, but it is respectful of history as well.

This seriousness and the slightly bittersweet tone of the protagonist lamenting not being quite a young as anymore is what makes me love this book. Except it is a different sort of love than the thrill I got from the first novel, which I fell in love with because of the vibrancy. This is more of a settled love; the sort you feel over time after you’ve got to know someone and are more comfortable with all their quirks and foibles.

When I reviewed ‘The Vesuvius Club’ I remarked upon how much I enjoyed getting to know Lucifier Box’s distinct character voice. It’s why he leapt off the page from the very first line. The groundwork of establishing the character in the first book paid off, because in the second novel Lucifer Box’s adventures held onto my attention from the first to the last line with minimal effort. I wanted to know what happened next because I already loved the character.

I enjoyed the story of the first book as well, but the plot of The Devil in Amber is even better. Lucifer was persecuted in the first book, but this time the threat to him is more personal, and the devilish plot to end the world much more sinister. There is a move from the slightly steampunk nature of the evil grand plan in ‘The Vesuvius Club’, to a supernatural threat in the second. Given Mark Gatiss is a talented writer he pulls of the change in which speculative genre to delight us with masterfully without the books ending up disconnected.

Can’t wait to read the third and last (sob) Lucifer Box book, ‘Black Butterfly’.