Wednesday, 7 December 2011

This Is Just To Say

That I'm not dead, and will resume the blogging in due course.

This is also just to say....

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

William Carlos Williams

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Unknown Citizen by W.H Auden

Oh HI blog. I temporarily forgot you existed.

I wish I could come up with some fabulous excuse for my absence - like I've spent the last week and a half in the New York office, working on some incredibly important papers, nicotine and coffee-filled to my eyeballs, ordering interns to "bring me those files, stat!" before firing someone in a violent fit of efficiency.

Actually I've spent most of my week making photocopies. Hurrah.

And in the light of this, here is a somewhat appropriate poem by the always excellent Auden.

The Unknown Citizen

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in a hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

W.H Auden

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Briefly It Enters, Briefly It Speaks by Jane Kenyon

I'd never heard of Jane Kenyon until last week and I've already decided to do everything in my power to look like her. This is a beautifully simple poem that's probably about God. Funny how that put me off at first - until I realised how hypocritical I was being, considering I have a poster of The Last Judgement on my bedroom wall.

Briefly It Enters, Briefly It Speaks

I am the blossom pressed in a book,
found again after two hundred years. . . .

I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper....

When the young girl who starves
sits down to a table
she will sit beside me. . . .

I am food on the prisoner's plate. . . .

I am water rushing to the wellhead,
filling the pitcher until it spills. . . .

I am the patient gardener
of the dry and weedy garden. . . .

I am the stone step,
the latch, and the working hinge. . . .

I am the heart contracted by joy. . . .
the longest hair, white
before the rest. . . .

I am there in the basket of fruit
presented to the widow. . . .

I am the musk rose opening
unattended, the fern on the boggy summit. . . .

I am the one whose love
overcomes you, already with you
when you think to call my name. . . .

Jane Kenyon

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

I don’t care if Evelyn Waugh lived a century ago, I WANT HIM TO BE MY FRIEND.

Five Points About This Book Which I Thought Of And Wrote:

1. The Characters

The novel opens as Captain Charles Ryder, after stumbling across a stately home in war torn England, begins to reminisce about the two most important people in his life: Sebastian and Julia Flyte. So begins the “revisiting” referred to in the title, and one of the funniest, most heartbreaking and poignant stories you will ever read.
Beginning with his university days, Charles is taken on a journey of debauchery and “naughtiness” by teddy-bear holding, atheist socialite Sebastian, introducing Charles to his home at Brideshead and his religion obsessed family. Sebastian is a complete personification of the Roaring Twenties spirit; frivolous, extravagant and ultimately, doomed.
Charles semi-infatuation with Sebastion occupies the first half of the book, whilst the second half focuses on his love for Sebastian’s equally profound and religiously confused sister Julia. The thing is, Waugh writes so BLOODY beautifully that you cant help but fall in love with these characters yourself, sharing Charles dizzying highs and pathetic lows with the two.

2. The Writing

Sometimes Waugh writes so well that I don’t even realise until I’m making dinner several hours later, shout “wait – what did he say?” and rush off to check while my macaroni cheese foams over the sides of the saucepan.
Take a read this passage to understand what I’m talking about:

This was the creature, neither child nor woman, that drove me through the dusk that summer evening, untroubled by love, taken aback by the power of her own beauty, hesitating on the cool edge of life; one who had suddenly found herself armed unawares; the heroine of a fairy story turning over in her hands the magic ring; she only had to stroke it with her fingertips and whisper the charmed word, for the earth to open at her feet and belch forth her titanic serpent, the fawning monster who would bring her whatever she asked, but bring it, perhaps, in unwelcome shape.

Yes, that is one sentence. Now go and make some macaroni cheese.

3. The Comedy

Imagine two Oxbridge students from the1930s, add champagne, strawberries, frivolity and homoeroticism and you get a flavour of the humour of this novel. Waugh writes with a biting wit, so caustic that it could burn a hole through the page, expressing great disdain through his characters for the multitude of well-to-do stereotypes that inhabited that particular era.
My favourite comedy scenes though involved Charles and Sebastian, who spend much of their time inebriated and carefree, talking about “rot” and “getting tight”; only occasionally reflecting on their behaviour as in this passage which made me cackle like a mad witch on the tube:

“Ought we to be drunk every night?” asked Sebastian one morning.
“Yes, I think so.”
“I think so too”.

Oh Sebastian and Charles, I want to be in your gang.

4. The Tragedy

The triviality eventually fades away though, and the second half of the novel becomes a lot more introspective, examining the nature of addiction, religion and love. At the risk of giving anything away, I wont delve too deep but rest assured that even when Waugh writes tragedy, it’s never melodramatic. Everything is contained, bubbling under the surface. Charles’ infatuations shift from Sebastian to Julia, but it is really the Flyte family and the world they inhabit, Brideshead, that ultimately captures him and causes him to reminisce so vividly.
The real sucker punch is this – the biggest spoiler of Brideshead Revisited is on page one. Charles is a lonely soldier, and encounters Brideshead again completely by chance. I don’t need to tell you how his relationships with Julia and Sebastian turn out; the inevitable destruction of each character is really at the tragic centre of the novel.

5. The Relevance

Perhaps the aspect I enjoyed most about Brideshead Revisited was how many times I found myself thinking “good grief, that is so true”. I felt this especially when Charles described his experiences at University; he is told calmly that “you’ll find you spend half of your second year shaking off the undesirable friends you made in the first” (unbelievably true) and particularly when he thinks that “if I was not going to take up one of the professions where a degree is necessary, it might be best to start now on what I intend doing” (it has occasionally struck me that I ought to start on that novel I’ve been planning since I was fifteen – my degree in philosophy was rendered useless the day I discovered “Philosopher” isn’t an actual career).
Not only this, but the observations he makes about society and social niceties completely spot on.This is a remarkable achievement, considering that the novel was written 80 YEARS AGO. Evelyn Waugh could be transported into the here and now and feel perfectly at home – once he gets used to touchscreens and unexpected items in the bagging area.

Put quite simply, this novel is a masterpiece. Anybody with even a passing interest in literature should consider this a must read.


Monday, 10 October 2011

Genius by Mark Twain

It's days when your bank makes you wait for 35 minutes for no reason on your lunch break and the wind blows your skirt up just as a group of five teenage boys walks past, that you wish you looked more like Mark Twain. That moustache does not take shit from anybody.


Genius, like gold and precious stones,
is chiefly prized because of its rarity.

Geniuses are people who dash of weird, wild,
incomprehensible poems with astonishing facility,
and get booming drunk and sleep in the gutter.

Genius elevates its possessor to ineffable spheres
far above the vulgar world and fills his soul
with regal contempt for the gross and sordid things of earth.

It is probably on account of this
that people who have genius
do not pay their board, as a general thing.

Geniuses are very singular.

If you see a young man who has frowsy hair
and distraught look, and affects eccentricity in dress,
you may set him down for a genius.

If he sings about the degeneracy of a world
which courts vulgar opulence
and neglects brains,
he is undoubtedly a genius.

If he is too proud to accept assistance,
and spurns it with a lordly air
at the very same time
that he knows he can't make a living to save his life,
he is most certainly a genius.

If he hangs on and sticks to poetry,
notwithstanding sawing wood comes handier to him,
he is a true genius.

If he throws away every opportunity in life
and crushes the affection and the patience of his friends
and then protests in sickly rhymes of his hard lot,
and finally persists,
in spite of the sound advice of persons who have got sense
but not any genius,
persists in going up some infamous back alley
dying in rags and dirt,
he is beyond all question a genius.

But above all things,
to deftly throw the incoherent ravings of insanity into verse
and then rush off and get booming drunk,
is the surest of all the different signs
of genius.

Friday, 30 September 2011

General End Of Month Update

I haven't read as many books as I would've like this month, but the sheer super quality of the books I have read more than makes up for this. They are:

One Day by David Nicholls (this book DESTROYED me emotionally. Oh Nicholls, you build us up just to bring us down again, just like the irksome buttercup from that popular song)

The Wind Up Bird Chronice by Haruki Murakami (come and live in London, Murakami, so that I may befriend and subsequently wed you)

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (Just. Superb. Review will come imminently because I need to rave about this book to somebody other than my bathroom mirror)

This weekend I will be off round London to search for books as part of the Guardian Book Swap, pretending to be some kind of manic pixie dream girl.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou

The first time I heard this poem was when a lady in a coffee shop in Liverpool played the AMAZING acoustic version (below) that made me feel inexplicably good about myself. I think it's because insecurity has grown to annoy me - there's something sort of vaguely attention seeking and depressing and boring about it. What's refreshing is when people accept their flaws and either try to change them or flaunt them, which is exactly what Maya Angelou does in this poem. Fantastic.

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It's the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
I say,
It's in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Maya Angelou

Thursday, 22 September 2011

For a Fatherless Son by Slyvia Plath

Here is a sad poem - I'm not sure why, as I'm in an uncharacteristically good mood today. It's also by Sylvia Plath, whose poetry I'm generally not crazy about. Good old Sylv wouldn't know a good mood if it smacked her in the face and in tribute to her misery and seriousness, here is a little ditty from "Winter Trees".

For a Fatherless Son

You will be aware of an absence, presently,
Growing beside you, like a tree,
A death tree, color gone, an Australian gum tree ---
Balding, gelded by lightning--an illusion,
And a sky like a pig's backside, an utter lack of attention.
But right now you are dumb.
And I love your stupidity,
The blind mirror of it. I look in
And find no face but my own, and you think that's funny.
It is good for me
To have you grab my nose, a ladder rung.
One day you may touch what's wrong ---
The small skulls, the smashed blue hills, the godawful hush.
Till then your smiles are found money.

Slyvia Plath

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Passage by Justin Cronin

A futuristic apocalyptic zombie/vampire/mutant thriller, based around an immortal little girl with magical powers called Amy. As ridiculous as it sounds.

Five Things You Really Should Know About The Passage Before You Attempt To Read It

1. The First Half

The outbreak of a deadly virus which turns the world’s population into murderous immortal super-humans had the potential be quite an interesting read. Throw in some sympathetic, engaging characters and a compelling plot and BAM! You’ve got yourself a bestseller. The first half of the plot generally followed this formula; great characters, some really memorable scenes (the zoo scene and the chapter in which the virals escape especially stand out)-overall a worthy effort. I genuinely sympathised with and cared about the protagonists, especially Amy and her police officer, make-shift, foster parent Wolgast. Everything was going swimmingly. That is until the plot jumped forward a hundred years, and all the characters we had grown to love subsequently disappeared.

2. The plot jumped forward a hundred years, and all the characters we had grown to love subsequently disappeared.

Sorry. But it is worth saying twice. This was such a huge risk to take with the plot and I really didn’t feel it paid off. Halfway through the novel, we’re introduced to a completely new set of characters; a community of survivors trying to put the bread on the table without being torn to shreds by the bloodthirsty mutants who roam the neighbourhood. The new characters themselves (Peter the eponymous hero, his brother Theo, Alicia, the token cold, beautiful and deadly female, and about a hundred and sixteen others) were incredibly uninteresting and all came with long established histories and relationships that I found difficult and frankly, boring to piece together. It was like starting a new, different book, just at the point where the original was starting to get interesting. I even resorted to flicking the pages ahead to make sure that Amy does turn up eventually, so that the book’s first half wasn’t rendered completely pointless. This would all be fine- if the book was under 800 pages long.

3. Did I mention the length?

Good God, this was a long read which, again, would be fine if for the most part it wasn’t filled with mind-numbing pointless details. If you’re considering reading this, my advice would be to hack off everything after page 300 with a flick knife and hand it to the nearest available tramp to burn for warmth. I bet even the smoke it gives off would be dull.
About 67% of this novel is made of unnecessary titbits of information, sometimes lasting for entire chapters. If there was a clever and compelling plot to make up for this ceaseless hoarding of minutiae, I could forgive the author (I’m looking at YOU, Tolkien), but it barely even scrapes that. What’s worse is that this that The Passage is only part one of a confirmed trilogy, which I find slightly unbelievable.

4. The Tone

This is a vain book, a book which thinks it is a lot better than it actually is. Only with complete self-assurance could the author introduce aspects such as “Flyers!”-what he imagines to be a commonly used swear word hundred years from now. Only with supreme confidence in his characters’ integrity could he allow most of their actions to be taken up by meaningless humdrum tasks. And to make a trilogy of this…this really is credence at its highest. Cronin has tried to make an epic but has failed to grasp that the word “epic” is not necessarily synonymous with the word “long”. However much it so desperately tries, I Am Legend, this is not-it doesn’t even have the grittiness of I Am Fighter.

5. The Unoriginality

I mentioned I Am Legend, and at the end of the day, there are hundreds of other post-apocalyptic dystopian vampire (virals, vampires, whatever) novels that are shorter, smarter and simply better written than The Passage. The Passage is what you get when you castrate The Stand, from which it has heavily borrowed; the two do display some uncanny similarities (the significant dreams, a war between good and evil, a community of survivors placing an elderly black woman at the centre, etcetera, etcetera, et-bloody-cetra). In contrast to the The Passage though, The Stand is a novel with intense depth and meaning.
If nothing else, the front cover of The Passage should give you clue-whilst I’m sure it was designed to convey a potent mixture of mystery and horror, the greyish dirty face of Amy simply displays an unmistakable look of boredom.


Friday, 16 September 2011

Black Cat by Rainer Maria Rilke

A brilliantly layered little poem by somebody that I'd previously not heard of, Rainer Maria Rilke. (Google Image him. Seriously). I especially love the last two lines. Partly because the image of the black cat's eyes staring into your soul, sucking it in, is so powerful; partly because it reminds me of Jurassic Park.

Black Cat

A ghost, though invisible, still is like a place
your sight can knock on, echoing; but here
within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze
will be absorbed and utterly disappear:

just as a raving madman, when nothing else
can ease him, charges into his dark night
howling, pounds on the padded wall, and feels
the rage being taken in and pacified.

She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen
into her, so that, like an audience,
she can look them over, menacing and sullen,
and curl to sleep with them. But all at once

as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;
and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,
inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
suspended, like a prehistoric fly.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

If you were hoping for a manual on industrial buildings mass producing hymenopteran insects, then I’m afraid you will be disappointed. If you were looking for a novel which unrelentlessly grips you from page one, leaving you buzzing even long after you’ve finished, then please step up and enter-if you can bear it-the extraordinary private world of Frank, just sixteen and unconventional to say the least (Note: apparently I'm pretentious today).

Top Five Things About The Wasp Factory The Book, (not “The Wasp Factory”, the factory) (or “The Wasp, Factory” about a young wasp named Factory):

1.The Shock Factor

The first and last thing you will always hear about The Wasp Factory is the spectacular way it offends, nauseates and unsettles the reader. With fiction like this, it’s helpful to think of the clichéd rollercoaster analogy. You simply have to accept it for what it is trying to do, because only then can you appreciate the ride; resist and you end up angry, sick and completely oblivious to the purpose of such an activity. Make no mistake-graphic animal abuse, child murder and a series of twists unlike any that you are unlikely to ever encounter again mean that this is no Space Mountain. It’s only once you dare to enter the world of sixteen year old, serial murderer Frank, and embrace it’s every facet, that you can really recognise the scope, creativity and originality of this novel.

2.The Hypnotization

Once you do enter the world of Frank, you’ll quickly find it difficult to leave. Even the blurb sold me.

“Two years after I killed Blyth, I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different reasons and more fundamental reasons than I’d disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did my young cousin Esmeralda, more or less on a whim. That’s my score to date. Three. I haven’t killed anybody for years, and don’t intend to ever again. It was just a stage I was going through.”

Enough said. Who wouldn’t want to find out why this sixteen year old was driven to murder? How he can be so nonchalant? How has he gotten away with it? How the murders were committed? Once the novel begins, we are faced with other questions. What drove Frank’s brother, Eric, insane? (Clue: you almost definitely won’t be able to guess). What is The Wasp Factory? Iain Banks unravels the mystery slowly and carefully, slapping the reader in the nose with a tremendous twist at the end.

3.I <3 Frank

Frank is a lot like the protagonist of A Clockwork Orange, Alex. You don’t want to like him-you loathe the things that he does-but you just can’t help yourself. Frank is really nothing more than a bored, insecure and massively misinformed teenager, shaped by his label and fart obsessed father, absent mother, clinically insane brother and his own social isolation. His actions are in no way excusable, but we are pulled towards Frank, in spite of everything, because of his humanity and vulnerability. At one point lamenting “Looking at me, you’d never guessed I’d killed three people; it isn’t fair” Frank displays characteristics of the average teenager. His moods range from low self-confidence, to fantastic self-assurance. His brother Eric is crazy, most certainly-but he isn’t. Killing dogs for food is barbaric, but exploding rabbits with dynamite is a fine way to spend ones afternoon. Frank is a quintessentially flawed character-a cold sadistic killer, he is not, however much he would like to be. It is these insecurities and contradictions that drew me to Frank, and even (dare I say it) encouraged me to cheer him on. Just because he’s a psychotic murderer doesn’t mean you cant sympathise with him. I’m a strict vegetarian, yet I still think bacon smells amazing.

4.The Twist…

…is the very definition of a twist. One of those ones where you have to read the book a second time, to really allow the impact of the twist to sink in. A bit like Fight Club (which if you haven’t already seen, literally go and watch it NOW).

5.The Impact

Days after I finished the book, I was still thinking about it. The character of Frank, Eric’s traumatizing experiences, the grisly deaths of Paul, Blythe and Esmeralda, and the huge twist at the's completely engrossing, in the same way that a car crash is-you want to look away, but find yourself unable to. This is a book that will stay with you. The attitude, tastes and tenacity of the individual reader decide whether this will be for better or for worse.


Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Ozymandius by Percy Shelley

I am terrible at blogs, as much as I love them; not having updated in three weeks seems terrible but, unfortunately, pretty inevitable. I dont know why I am trying to reason with you, the internet, but I feel I need an excuse. To be fair, I've had RIOTS to deal with and I also got a job, the one which required excellent communication abilities. Not sure if I have those just yet, but here is a man who most definitely did. It's everybody's favourite Romantic poet that's not Wordsworth or Byron; that's right it's PERCY SHELLEY, or as he's known to his friends, Perky Shellfish.


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away".

Monday, 1 August 2011

The Writer by Richard Wilbur

Something to inspire me as I struggle to think up potential answers for my interview tomorrow. They want "excellent communication abilities". So. Yikes, then.

The Writer by Richard Wilbur

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which

The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.

I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash

And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark

And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,

And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,

It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.

It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland

My first thought as I started reading this book was "more things should have exclamation marks on the end"*. My second thought was "this is quite good actually".

Top Five Things Which I Also Thought About This Book That You Might Find Interesting:

1. The Story:
Cheryl is a high school student, who has recently married Jason in a secret Vegas ceremony. A few days after, she is shot dead in a massacre at her school. The novel explores how a single day can irrevocably change the course of a life forever. Coupland demonstrates humour, subtlety and sensitivity in documenting the effect this tragedy on the character’s lives, over the years.

2.The Characters:
The story is told through four different characters, at four different times. There is Cheryl, the final victim of a high school massacre whose absent minded scribblings (God is nowhere, God is now here) are taken vastly out of context by the media and who now speaks to us beyond the grave, Lovely Bones style. Ten years later we are introduced to Cheryl’s sweetheart Jason who is left to cope with the aftermath of the massacre, Cheryl’s death and his heroic actions at the scene being vastly taken out of context by the media. Next, we are faced with Heather, Jason’s girlfriend who has their relationship vastly taken out of context by a gold-digging psychic. Finally there is Reg, Jason’s father, whose sense of reality is taken vastly out of context by his extremist religious beliefs.
The first two characters, Cheryl and Jason, I found to be endearing, humorous, sympathetic representations. Towards the middle of the book though, it felt like Mr Coupland had run out of steam. Heather was by all accounts a pretty boring character, with not much to say for herself. It’s almost like the author realised this and threw a few “quirks” into her character (like her Muppet-style private jokes with Jason) to make her seem a bit more three-dimensional and likeable. Reg, the final character, was a clichéd religious zealot who sees the error of his ways after a stint in hospital. Thankfully, Heather’s chapter has an engaging plotline to it, which distracts from her dreary personality and Reg’s chapter is quite short. So it all works out for the best.

3.The Themes:
The story essentially explores the effect that the Columbine-esque massacre has on each of these characters; this is refreshing for the simple reason that this is often the side of tragedy that you don’t hear about, that doesn’t lay itself open to examination, because grief has evolved to be a solitary mental activity. And this is another aspect which the novel explores-the impact that is produced when this inherently personal reflection is propelled into the public arena by the media. There are misinterpretations and exaggerations, mimicking the media furore that was seen after Columbine**. On a broader note, the themes of death and loss reach into every part of the novel. The characters are essentially defined by their experience of loss, the entirety of their lives being shaped and moulded by one event that happens at the start of the novel.

4. The Humour:
Some parts were ridiculous. I’ve only read one other Coupland novel before this-“Girlfriend in a Coma”-which featured an apocalypse at its climax, before the events of the novel were reversed and everything went back to normal. So I wasn’t exactly unprepared for some, more surreal, occurrences. At one such point, the protagonist Jason’s brother Kent dies. His brother’s wife asks Jason to impregnate her, as Kent was infertile and Jason, being his brother, has the same DNA as him. Jason agrees, but only if they get married in Vegas first. Oh also, when a friend notices them on the way to the chapel, Kent’s wife immediately murders him. As you do.

5.The Style:
For a book with such deep themes, it’s incredibly simplistic in its writing, and this is a great asset. There’s nothing worse than a book which is highly meaningful and profound, but the writing style is so impenetrable that you come away from it uninterested, confused and frustrated (I’m looking at YOU, Moby Dick). If you are unemployed, bored and live in a country where it rains incessantly (I tick all three boxes) you could easily get through this is in a day. And what’s better than spending a day reading a good book? I don’t know, probably bungee jumping or something.

*******1/2 (That’s seven and a half stars out of ten).

*Like this

** Especially with regards to student Cassie Bernell who supposedly answered “yes” when asked by one of the killers if she believed in God, just before being shot. This exchange has later been disputed by witnesses and investigators.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Young by Anne Sexton

There has been a lot of complicated, nasty things happening lately. So here is a simple and sweet little poem.

Young by Anne Sexton

A thousand doors ago
when I was a lonely kid
in a big house with four
garages and it was summer
as long as I could remember,
I lay on the lawn at night,
clover wrinkling over me,
the wise stars bedding over me,
my mother's window a funnel
of yellow heat running out,
my father's window, half shut,
an eye where sleepers pass,
and the boards of the house
were smooth and white as wax
and probably a million leaves
sailed on their strange stalks
as the crickets ticked together
and I, in my brand new body,
which was not a woman's yet,
told the stars my questions
and thought God could really see
the heat and the painted light,
elbows, knees, dreams, goodnight.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Don't Go Far Off by Pablo Neruda

Pablo is always good for a bit of heart-broken anguish.

Don't Go Far Off

Don't go far off, not even for a day, because --
because -- I don't know how to say it: a day is long
and I will be waiting for you, as in an empty station
when the trains are parked off somewhere else, asleep.

Don't leave me, even for an hour, because
then the little drops of anguish will all run together,
the smoke that roams looking for a home will drift
into me, choking my lost heart.

Oh, may your silhouette never dissolve on the beach;
may your eyelids never flutter into the empty distance.
Don't leave me for a second, my dearest,

because in that moment you'll have gone so far
I'll wander mazily over all the earth, asking,
Will you come back? Will you leave me here, dying?

Friday, 15 July 2011

The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ by Phillip Pullman

The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ

Phillip Pullman’s latest venture is a re-telling of The New Testament that took me under a day to read (as opposed to The New Testament).
Don’t be put off by the title-there’s plenty to enjoy whatever your belief. I, personally, have no belief, except the belief that I don’t know enough to have any kind of belief and I liked it enough to give it 7 out of 10.

Here are exactly five notable things about this book:

1. The Story:
If, like me, you were incredibly confused by the title and the blurb, allow me to clear this up. The novel is essentially a “what REALLY happened”; instead of Jesus Christ being one person, Pullman has split the character in two. We are now presented with Jesus, a strong, determined and impassioned preacher and his twin Christ. Christ is the opposite of Jesus, weak, intuitive and an overall relatively simple character who dedicates his life to documenting his brother’s activities (the finished product is implied to be the basis for The New Testament itself). Because the concept of twins as opposites isn’t exactly original, you could be forgiven for thinking that the rest of the story is this predictable. But Pullman manages to pull off a deep and complex narrative, with twists; not only twists of fate, but twists on a story which everybody in the Western world is so familiar with.

2. The Humour:
There are some real comic turns which will probably make some people scream “blasphemy” whilst shaking their fist disapprovingly and/or write an angry review on that will earn them a “1 out of 184 people found this helpful”. At times it actually made me LOL (God, I hate that phrase). The scene depicting the twins’ anything-but-immaculate conception springs to mind; a voice coming from Mary’s window whispers “so sweet and so gracious, to have such eyes and such lips….”. Mary enquires about the gentleman caller, he claims he’s an angel sent to fertilize her, and Mary’s reaction is along the lines of “fair enough”. It’s this blatant naivety that is satirized by Pullman throughout the novel. Miracles are not really miracles, merely ingenuity and mistranslations. Pullman fully exposes the ridiculousness of these events and at times, all you can do is laugh.

3. The Simplicity:
The minimalistic style mimics that of the Bible itself. It’s an extremely quick read, and even though there’s a lot to consider, you could probably get through it in a few hours because of the wonderfully reductionist prose. This simple approach is both a blessing and a curse. Barely any characters are developed beyond your original image of them. The disciples, Mary and Joseph, Mary Magdalene, John the Baptist and King Herod all appear but, apart from a few tweaks, they’re all pretty much what you’d expect. However, the character of Jesus makes a massive turn around towards the last few chapters; he decides to have a little sit down in the Garden of Gethsemane questioning the nature of faith and reason, the evils of church and state, finally concluding that God doesn’t exist. You know, those type of thoughts we all get from time to time, which often result in a SOLILOQUAY THAT GOES ON FOR TEN PAGES. My thoughts when I first read it-“1. This is very poetic and deep, but it’s going on a bit” 2. “Ohhh, THIS must be where all the character development was hiding.”

4. The Accessibility:
One of the most appealing aspects of this novel is the fact that can be appreciated by a person of any faith (unless you’re one of those crazies that Louis Theroux always does shows about, in which case the only thing you’ll appreciate is if I dedicate my life to shooting homosexuals and Bibles out of cannons). Phillip Pullman is famously atheist, so I went into the book expecting an attack on God, Christianity, miracles, praying, faith crystals, yoga, fairies and Bigfoot, especially with comments describing the book as a “rebel scripture” (The Independent). If there is an attack here, it’s on organised religion and not on faith itself- but for the most part I felt like the story was the priority, and that the true meaning is left up to the interpretation of the individual reader. I think the beauty of a novel such as this one is that, like the blurb says, it is a “story about how stories become stories”; exploring the power of individual interpretation is essentially the novel’s purpose, rather than to provide another tired comment on religion.

5. The Reviews:
I’m going to finish up on a bum note here. This book is reasonably enjoyable, quite thought provoking and most of all, superbly overrated. It is no way going to change your life or how you view the world, and it will most certainly not “want to make you put the book down and say “wow”” (Times Educational Supplement). It is not “Pullman at his very best” (Guardian)-for that you need to go and read His Dark Materials. I think because Pullman is an atheist and the book is focused on religion, providing an alternate series of events, critics have automatically seen it as an explosive and damning critique of religion and faith without bothering to really think about what’s being said.
This is a clever, mainly entertaining, sometimes philosophical read; it is by no means a divine read.

******* (That's seven stars out of ten)

If you like these things, you might also like this thing:
Paulo Cohelho, Richard Dawkins, anything else from The Cannongate Myth Series.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Desert Places by Robert Frost

Here's a bit of poetry while I write my next review. It's raining outside at the moment, I'm searching for jobs and everything is very dark and gloomy, so here is a dark and gloomy poem to fit the mood.

Desert Places

by Robert Frost

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

The woods around it have it--it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.

And lonely as it is that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less--
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars--on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

"Kafka on the Shore" by Haruki Murakami

********* (That's nine stars out of ten).

I’m going to start this blog of mine with a review of a book that I simply and utterly loved. It’s called Kafka on the Shore by an author called Haruki Murakami. You might have heard of him before; he’s pretty much the best thing to come out of Japan since Godzilla and before Pokemon. (1) I stumbled upon him quite by accident, about a year ago, when I decided to read arguably his most famous work “Norwegian Wood”. I’m a massive Beatles fan, and despite the fact I usually only read books by people I’ve heard of (2), I thought I’d give it a bash. It was brilliant. And then I read Kafka on the Shore. It was amazing. And then I made some macaroni cheese for dinner. It was a bit too cheesy but, in general, was also very good.

If you like......Twin Peaks, Lost, Mulholland Drive, Labyrinths (Luis Borges), 100 years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez), The Third Policeman, At Swim Two Birds (Flann O’ Brien) might like this, but you know, don’t take my word for it.

Things You Should Know About “Kafka on the Shore” (in no particular order):

5. The Surrealism:
And hence, the completely absorbing nature of the story itself. It shifts back and forth between two protagonists, one: a teenage boy (Kafka) running away from his home and his father to find himself. Yeah, we’ve heard it all before right? Only he’s actually running from an Oedipal prophecy which leads him to become bessies with a gay pre-op transsexual, oh, and he also falls in love with the ghost of a woman who isn’t actually dead yet. The other protagonist is an elderly man who encountered a UFO as a child which left him with the ability to talk to cats and summon fish from the sky, which then leads him on a quest to……well, it’s difficult to say, which leads me onto my next point.

4. The Mysteries:
At the beginning of this post, I compared Kafka on the Shore to Lost, and whilst they are similar in many ways-the surrealism, the bending of time and space, the shifting narratives, the flashbacks-they differ in the respect that an avid Lost fan had to sit through six series to find even half the answers to the questions the show had built up over it’s 8 years. It wont take you 8 years to read Kafka on the Shore (unless you are an incredibly slow reader, in which case I’d stop reading this immediately as it’s probably taken you several weeks to get this far) which is good, as the mysteries can all be solved with a bit of deep and abstract thought. Don’t expect any concrete or definite conclusions within the text, however; the not-knowing, the feeling that the answers are just out of reach, is part of the book’s appeal and everything depends on your own interpretation.

3. A bespoke genre:
In case I haven't already implied it with my previous gushing, it was completely genre defying. Part murder mystery, part epic romance, part Greek tragedy, part comedic buddy story, part horror-it’s these constant shifts in the fabric of the story that made the book so addictive. I, personally, became wrapped up in the romance at the centre of the story (as I usually do, with any work of fiction, because I’m SUCH A BLOODY WOMAN) which was just bizarre and magical, but there are so many layers to this book, that there’s really something for everybody. Above the age of, let’s say, thirteen. Which brings me onto…..

2. There is explicit sex and very explicit violence towards cute animals in this book so maybe just be prepared for all that:
My general view about both these things is that if it’s not necessary to the story, then it probably doesn’t need to be there,(3) because if I want to read graphic cringe worthy sex scenes, I’ll read a Mills and Boon novel.(4) In this case, the sex scenes, though relatively explicit, were written with sensitivity and were necessary for the story to progress; because the teenage protagonist Kafka is essentially on a quest to discover himself, sexual discovery must be included as part of this. The animal cruelty scene was horrific and needed to be. If there was a turning point in the novel that scene would be the main contender, and needed to be as horrendous and memorable as possible in order to motivate the characters and provide momentum to the narrative. If it’s still hard for you to swallow, please do remember that it is A WORK OF FICTION.

1. The Characters:
The characters are layered and genuinely likable. Both characters are so compelling, that once you get caught up in one narrative, it switches to the other-and the exact same thing happens. It’s a page turner with a capital PT. Basically if you like magic realism, fantasy, romance or horror, you will love this book. If you like excellent writing, superb characterization and a plot that will keep you completely involved and engrossed from page one, then you will love it too. There’s nothing more I can say, JUST READ IT WILL YOU.


(1) I think that, in a way, the evolution of the Japanese portrayal of monsters reflects the portrayal of the Japanese culture itself-once a mysterious, fearsome and solitary beast that reacts aggressively when threatened, now a lovable, cute and quirky bunch that just want to be friends with everyone and explore the world, usually in groups of about 150 or more.

(2) I do this because I figure that if it’s famous, it’s most likely a good enough read. Not true. I should probably think about changing this tactic at some point actually.

(3) More on this when I review The Slap.

(4) I actually love Mills and Boon.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Here Is An Introduction

Hello and hi.

I like books. Do you like books? Do you want to read books? Do you want to read about books? Do you want to read around books? Do you want to read books about books? Do you want to read books about reading around books? And most importantly, do you want to read a blog about reading books about reading around and about books?

If so, then you have stumbled blindly upon the right place.

My name is Roisin, (no not raisin; that is a dry fruit) which is pronounced Ro-sheen, not that it matters, because this is about books and blogs and other things I like. Why would you want to read about things I like, I hear you ask? Why should you care even slightly about my opinions, you cry?

Moving on, the general concept of this blog is that I will review books. There are thousands of other blogs which do the same; however I am only going to review books that you have probably heard of and thus are more likely to read than, say, "The Greek Tycoon's Virgin Wife" the like of which (although it clearly is a classic) will get no further mentions on here.

If anyone has any requests for books, I would just love it. Partly because I feel that this exercise is slightly futile if nobody reads it, and partly because approval from other people is all I want from life. Here is my reading list:

Oh, and this:

And if you stick with me, I promise that I will get less annoying and desperate sounding as time goes on. Only joking! We all know that "annoying and desperate sounding" are essentially the only criteria needed for a blog such as this one. I tick all the boxes!