Full House Reading Challenge – The Immoralist – Andre Gide

Genre: Classics, Translated Literature, Philosophical

Narrative Style: First person narrative 

Rating: 4/5

Format: Kindle

Published: 1902

Synopsis: Gide presents us with the confession of Michel, a man who seeks to live by his own desires. Having married to please his aged father, Michel soon discovers beauty in the shape of an Arab boy and is changed irrevocably. He starts to live by his own desires. He becomes restless and despite his wives ill health, travels constantly until at the end he arrives back at the place where he first discovered beauty. 

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge: European author.

This is not an easy read. Not because Michel abandons his wife and social convention to follow his own desires. In fact, it is still possible to like Michel even though he behaves badly towards Marceline. His questioning of moral constraints and his longing for a freedom that is meaningful mean that the reader is able to understand his behaviour.

The unease comes from Michel’s fascination with the male children that he meets. He sees the beauty in them and begins to spend all of his waking hours with them, leaving his wife to her own devices to be with them. The oldest of these children is 15. It is important to note that everything is innocent but still it makes for uncomfortable reading. Michel is fascinted by them and longs to follow his desires. So begins his journey towards becoming an immoralist.

Michel’s striving for freedom makes him restless and he cannot settle to anything, He becomes fascinated by the farm workers on his estate, with criminal lowlife and allows himself to become involved with poaching his own estate. Towards the end, he needs to keep moving, despite the fact that his wife is dying. This restlessness relates to his homosexuality which, in the end, he acknowledges with the last line of the novel when he says that he prefers the brother of the girl who has been looking after him. Earlier, he has the opportunity to take his freedom, through his friendship with Menalque but instead stays with his wife, who is representative of all  that society expects from Michel.

Whilst feeling uncomfortable with the object of Michel’s desire, it is still possible to empathise with his struggle. In fact, it is this aspect that is so difficult. Michel is not evil. He is conflicted and selfish and longs to be free of society’s constraints but in the end, he is recognisably human.

Full House Reading Challenge – American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Narrative Style: Third Person

Rating: 5/5

Published: 2001

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Shadow is looking forward to getting out of prison and seeing his wife again. However, on the day of his release he receives the news that his wife has been killed in a car crash. Then on the plane home, a strange man asks him to work for him. He knows things about Shadow he can’t possibly know and when he tries to escape him, he finds he can’t. This is only the beginning of the oddness that will now occupy Shadow’s life. The Gods are going to war and who knows what will be left afterwards.

Reading challenges: Full House Reading Challenge: Genre Two word title. 

I was hooked from the very beginning of this book. Shadow was intriguing from the very start. On the plane on the way to his wife’s funeral, he meets Wednesday who knows an awful lot about Shadow for a stranger. He wants Shadow to work for him. Shadow wants no such thing but finds it is impossible to escape his fate.

Shadow meets a lot of Gods along the way. Some were more obvious than others, perhaps due to my familiarity with certain legends over others – I’m much more familiar with Norse and Egyptian legends than I am with Native American for example. All of them are well drawn and recognisable even in their human form.

The old Gods are all dying out, due to lack of belief. Having been dragged to America from their native lands, they are finding survival in the modern world difficult. New Gods such as media and technology are trying to take over. Wednesday wants to take on this new world. He takes Shadow on a journey, trying to persaude other Gods to join forces and fight.

Of course, all is not what it seems and Gaiman carefully plants clues to the truth of Wednesday’s plan and Shadow’s place in it from the very start. There is a lot of talk of cons and sleight of hand so it should be no surprise that as an author, that is exactly what Gaiman does to the the reader. Not that it feels like a cheat. It certainly doesn’t. More like the satisfaction of watching a master pull of an impressive trick. Why didn’t I see that coming?

Gaiman is also a master at melding fantasy and reality. This tale of gods and myths takes place very firmly in modern America. The myth and the truth are not two separate things. It is easy to accept the magic because it feels like an everyday thing.

Full House Reading Challenge – Big Brother by Lionel Shriver – Contains spoilers

Genre: Literary Fiction, Family

Narrative Style: First person narrative

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2013

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: When Pandora goes to pick up her big brother, Edison, from the airport, she doesn’t recognise him. He has become a literal big brother, that is he is extremely fat. Pandora’s husband is a health nut and when Edison starts to cook extremely unhealthy meals for everybody, things become tense. Then Pandora decides that something drastic needs to be done and moves in with Edison to help him shed the pounds. 

Reading Challenges – Full House Reading Challenge – Size word in title.

There is a lot that is good about this book. I always enjoy Shriver’s novels and the way she tackles big themes. Here, the thoughts on obesity and the way society eats its problems are dealt with in an interesting and emotional way. The characters of Pandora and Edison are complicated and realistically drawn. I did get fed up with Edison’s constant jazz talk but it was consistent with his character. It would annoy me in real life so it was nothing to do with Shriver’s writing.

The story starts when Pandora goes to pick Edison up from the airport to stay with them as he has nowhere else to go. There is already tension between Pandora and her health nut husband, Fletcher, about the visit. So when Edison arrives and he is 200 pounds heavier, you know there are going to be sparks flying.

The first section of the novel details this stay in all its gory detail. As Edison pours his heart into making massive, unhealthy meals, Fletcher becomes more and more controlling of his own intake.  No one discusses Edison’s obesity but ignore the problem so he becomes a literal elephant in the room. Fairly soon, things reach a breaking point.

When it becomes apparent that Edison has no prospects at all, Pandora decides to help him lose weight and they move in together, much to the annoyance of Fletcher. (If truth be told, it was hard to understand what Pandora saw in Fletcher. He could have done with a little rounding out, character wise.) They then embark on a miraculous diet which eventually sees Edison losing the required amount of weight. This section was interesting as it started to explore the reasons behind Edison’s weight gain. Edison becomes livelier and more like the brother that Pandora remembered from her youth as he loses weight. He becomes a metaphor for the way that society views fat people as not quite human. His humanity returns with his slimmed down body.

At the end of this section, they throw a huge party to celebrate Edison’s weight loss. All is going well until Edison realises that Pandora will return to Fletcher and he will be on his own. He begins to overeat again and quickly regains the weight. All through the novel, the nature of the sibling relationship is examined and compared with that of a married couple. In the end, Pandora realises that her relationship with Edison is unhealthy and returns to Fletcher.

This is where it all goes a bit wrong. Suddenly, Pandora begins offering different possibilities for Edison. Maybe he did this, maybe he did that and then we are into the final section of the book. Pandora then confesses that she didn’t move in with Edison and that none of that section was true. I know on some level it is stupid to complain about a writer selling you a lie but I find this particular narrative trick incredibly annoying. It’s a cheap trick. I can see the point Shriver was trying to make – Pandora feels guilty that she did nothing to help Edison so she concocts the fantasy to make herself feel better after his death. Also, it is a more realistic ending than the miraculous weight loss. Still, it had the feeling of being led up the garden path.

It’s a shame because I had been really enjoying this book. I couldn’t put it down but now all I am left with is the feeling of having been cheated.

 

Top Ten Tuesday – Spring TBR list.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This weeks topic is Ten books on your Spring TBR list. So here is what I plan to read over the next few months. Although to be honest, it may take me the entire spring just to read War and Peace.

  1. The Noise of Time – Julian Barnes – I don’t actually possess this book yet but I love Barnes and I do intend to buy it as soon as possible.
  2. Room – Emma Donahue (Full House Reading Challenge – Borrowed book) I didn’t really fancy this book when it first came out but since then I have seen the film and I am keen to see how it would work as a book.
  3. Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides (Full House Reading Challenge – Diversity). I really enjoyed The Virgin Suicides so I’m looking forward to this one.
  4. The Immoralist – Andre Gide (Full House Reading Challenge – European Author) This has been one my TBR list for a long time although I have only just come into possession of a copy.
  5. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller (Full House Reading Challenge – published Pre 2000) I recently inherited a copy of this book which has also been on the list for a long time.
  6. After Alice – Gregory Maguire – I got this for Christmas a couple of years ago and really ought to have read it by now.
  7. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers (Full House Reading Challenge – On TBR Shelf for more than 2 years.) There was a lot of competition for this category. I chose this because it is a classic and I feel I should have read it by now.
  8. Even Dogs in the Wild – Ian Rankin – After reading a couple of this series that I’d missed from the middle, I am now going to read one from near the end. Who says you have to read them in the correct order!
  9. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy  (Full House Reading Challenge – More than 500 Pages.) This is next on the list once I’ve finished reading Big Brother by Lionel Shriver. I must admit, I’m a bit daunted but now that I’ve said I’m going to read it, I have to read it so that’s good.
  10. Fingersmith – Sarah Waters – This has been recommended to me a couple of times lately so I bought it for my kindle.

Top Ten Tuesday – Books I loved more or less than I expected.

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s list is books that you loved more or less than expected. I’ve decided to do five of each.

Books I Loved More Than I expected:

  1. American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis I wouldn’t actually say I love this book. It’s not that sort of story. But it is compelling and it isn’t merely misogynistic violence towards women. Patrick Bateman is a tragic character who sums up the vacuity of modern life.
  2. Looking for Alaska – John Green I had previously read The Fault in our Stars and while I didn’t hate it, I did find it a bit annoying. I expected that Looking for Alaska would be the same. Instead, I found a sweet and tragic story with a lot fewer of the tics that makes Green so hard for me to read.
  3. The Song of Fire and Ice series – George R.R. Martin – Back before the TV series started, the first Game of Thrones book was reccommended to me by a pupil in one of my year 11 classes. I wasn’t really convinced- it was not the sort of genre I usually read – but she thrust the book into my hand and it seemed rude not to read it. I was immediately hooked.
  4. Some of Your Blood – Theodore Sturgeon – I had no idea what this was about or who Sturgeon was. I was expecting a trashy horror story. Instead, this is a psychological tale with many layers of horror.
  5. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh – I don’t really do classics but I’m glad I picked this one up. It is beautifully written and was compelling all the way through.

Books that I loved less than I expected:

  1. The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood Atwood is usually a given love for me especially her dystopian works. This isn’t a bad story and if it had been written by someone else, I probably wouldn’t have been so harsh. But it just didn’t live up to her other works.
  2. The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins I often don’t love what everyone else loves and that was certainly the case here. It was too obvious what was happening and none of the characters were convincing. Over-rated.
  3. Divergent Series – Veronica Roth While this is an interesting idea, it didn’t grab me like The Hunger Games did. I just couldn’t see how the world could have come about.
  4. The Secret History – Donna Tartt I read this relatively recently although it had been on my to be read list for a long time. It was a case of not knowing what all the fuss was about. There is nothing exceptional about the plot or the writing.
  5. Porno – Irvine Welsh I must admit that I haven’t really enjoyed an Irvine Welsh book for a while now. None of them live up to the early books and this certainly didn’t compare to Trainspotting.

Full House Reading Challenge – Troubles by J. G. Farrell

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Genre: Irish Fiction, Historical Fiction

Narrative Style: Third personmfoudi1m_jcgjux-pirkv2w

Rating: 3/5

Published: 1970

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: The Major Brendan Archer arrives at the Majestic Hotel after fighting in the Great War. He may be engaged to the owner’s daughter,  Angela, but the details are hazy. This is not helped when Angela is evasive and the Major is too polite to force the issue. The hotel itself is starting to fall apart and its inhabitants too have seen better days. The hotel is a metaphor for the Irish question and the privilege of the Anglo-Irish. 

Reading Challenges: The Full House Reading Challenge – Prize Winner – The Lost Booker Prize 2010

I’m not sure what I was expecting from this book. Maybe more action. Or perhaps being more directly involved with the ‘troubles’. Anyway, it did not grab me. It was a slog to get through it. Don’t get me wrong, it was very well written, but nothing happened.

At first, I thought that it was just the fact that the book was older and so didn’t have the modern tendancy to start the story immediately. I kept thinking, it’ll start soon but it never did. There are a lot of clever set pieces but they don’t really lead anywhere. There is no narrative arc as such. More just a straight line.

The shambolic hotel and its owner, Edward Spencer are clearly meant to represent the English position in Ireland at this time. By the end, the hotel is falling apart and Spencer appears to be going mad. There is Padraig with his love of dressing up in women’s clothes who is humiliated by the British soldiers. There are run ins with Sinn Feiners and hints at the violence of the colonial world but again, it doesn’t quite add up to a story. Everytime, it seemed that an interesting plot line was going to get going, it instead disappeared.

It took me nearly a month to read this book. At times, I didn’t even want to pick it up. I’ve rated it 3/5 because it was well written and it was clever but it just wasn’t to my taste.

Full House Reading Challenge – The Falls – Ian Rankin

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Genre: Detective

Narrative Style: Third person from a variety of points of view

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2001unknown-1

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: A student disappears and the obvious target is her boyfriend. But isn’t that a bit too obvious? Rebus thinks so. The mystery deepens when it appears that she was playing an online game which lead her to the place where she died. When a strange doll in a coffin shows up near the home of the missing girl, Rebus becomes obsessed with finding other coffins that have appeared in the past. Is this case linked to other disappearances some 20 years ago? 

Reading Challenges: The Full House Reading Challenge: Genre Page Turner

This was a bit of a catch up read. The first Rebus book I read was right in the middle of the series and at first I just read whichever books I could get my hands on. Although I have read the first six in order, I have also read the last three. So rather than read the whole lot in order again, I am now in the process of plugging gaps. Of which this is one. I rationed myself a bit – I read the previous book – Set in Darkness  – before Christmas and deliberately did not let myself read this straightaway. As a result I was excited about reading it.

It did not disappoint. John Rebus is an interesting character who never tires in his efforts of self-sabotage. He becomes so obsessed with an old case where strange coffins containing dolls appeared shortly after the disappearance of a young woman that he misses more obvious clues to who the murderer was in his current case.

Siobhan was also playing lone wolf this time, showing that it may be true that she spends to much time with Rebus. It is interesting that there seem to be few options for her – she can either play the male game like Gill Templar and gain promotion or she can be an outsider like Rebus. As with Rebus, her keeping her information to herself could have gone badly wrong. However, it is not like things work out all that much better for characters who do toe the line such as Grant Hood.

The history of Edinburgh is one again used to good effect. The discussion of Burke and Hare and the strange Arthor’s Seat dolls gave the novel a macabre aspect which was very enjoyable. It is this element, as well as Rankin’s clear love for the geoegraphy of Scotland, that raises this series above the usual.

In the end, there were some cliches. The last minute rescue of Rebus’ girlfriend, the evil pathologist and the revelation of the murderer were all overused tropes. Having said that, this book was first published in 2001 and it is quite feasible that they weren’t so tired then. There is a proliferation of detective stories these days, both in print and on TV so it is bound to feel as if some stories have been told before. And even if they were already cliches at the time, I am willing to let Rankin off the hook because the writing was exceptional.