Tuesday, April 26, 2016

april 2016 books…

More book stuff:
The Narrow Road To The Deep North (Richard Flanagan): A simply brilliant, exhausting book… about, amongst other things, the despair, degradation and nightmare of a Japanese POW camp on the Death Railway. Reading it, I felt as though I was actually experiencing what it must have been like to be a prisoner. The book’s flysheet describes it as a “savagely beautiful novel… about the many forms of love and death, of war and truth…” – and I can’t argue with that. Flanagan is a wonderful writer and I was particularly drawn to his focus on how hard it is to live after survival. Dedicated to his father (Prisoner 335 – who, himself, was a POW prisoner), it’s a book about the incredible power of the human spirit. A stunning, wonderfully powerful book – probably in my all-time top ten list of books. Yes, THAT good!
Attention All Shipping (Charlie Connelly): Moira found this book in a charity shop and thought it would appeal to me. It’s essentially a book about the Shipping Forecast – or, rather, the thirty-one sea areas that make up the Met Office’s Shipping Forecast on Radio4. Connelly decides it would be a good idea to take a journey around all these sea areas. Frankly, it took me some time to “get into” the book. It seemed like a pretty spurious excuse for a book and, initially at least, I found his “humour” just a little tiresome and a “bit over-the-top”. However, I gradually warmed to both his task and his writing style and the book proved to be a fascinating, informative and amusing travel book.
Ariel (Sylvia Plath): Plath died in 1963. She committed suicide, aged just 30. She was married to Ted Hughes and I’d previously read his book of poems (“Birthday Letters”), published 35 years after Plath’s death. I have to admit I struggled somewhat with “Ariel” (published in 1965) – the writing is beautifully eloquent but, all too often, I found myself labouring over the meaning of individual poems (perhaps my intellect just wasn’t up to it?!) and yearned to read some background notes for each of them to help put them in context. I found them very dark and they frequently seemed to point to her impending suicide. Interestingly, I’ve just read an article by Lauren Niland in The Guardian, dated October 2012 (“Sylvia Plath – reviews from the archive”) in which she points out that: “The majority of her poetry was published posthumously, and most of the reviews of her work react against the knowledge of her suicide. Reading through reviews of her work, before her poetry became so intrinsically linked to her death, is an interesting experiment”… Bernard Bergonzi, for example, had reviewed her first collection of poems (published in 1960) and had admired Plath’s “highly personal tone and way of looking at the world", concluding that he "read this collection with considerable pleasure". By and large, it was only AFTER her death that her “Ariel” poems “established the idea that she raced headlong into suicide through her art”, as Niland puts it.
Starter For Ten (David Nicholls): This is a book (published in 2003) about a student (Brian Jackson) in his first year at university in 1985. The “Starter for Ten” title is a reference to Jackson’s place on the college’s University Challenge team. It felt like I was reading a book entitled “Adrian Mole, aged eighteen-and-a-quarter”… it was entertaining, funny and, at the same time, an excruciating reminder of all those embarrassing memories of my early years of university life (actually, not ALL my early memories are embarrassing, I hasten to add!). An enjoyable, albeit “unchallenging”, read.
Ethan Frome (Edith Wharton): Published in 1911, this short novel is about life in a fictional, desolate town in New England. Ethan Frome is a man with a history of thwarted dreams. He and his never-happy and sickly wife are joined by his wife’s cousin (who lives with them to help out around the house and farm). It’s a sad, haunting, compelling tale of their relationship – told in “flashback” form, 24 years after a life-changing incident. I found it a very good read.

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