Books read in 2014 – 9. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde


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Reading Challenges: Eclectic Reader Challenge 2014The TBR Challenge

Genre: Alternate History, Fantasy, Humour

Narrative Style: First person narrative, Straightforward chronological timeline

Rating 3/5
Format: Paperback
Published: 2001

Synopsis: Thursday Next is a literary detective. Her life suddenly becomes more exciting when Arch Villain Acheron Hades starts kidnapping literary characters. Never mind the fact that her personal life is in tatters as the man she loves is about to marry someone else. When Jane Eyre is kidnapped, Thursday must see if she can return her to the book without causing to much damage. 

Time on shelf: About four years. This series has been recommended to me by a couple of people whose views I trust but I’ve always been a little hesitant. 

Part of me thinks I should have loved this book. After all, it’s literary, it’s clever and in places it is very funny. But at the end I just felt like it could have been so much better. There are an awful lot of ideas in this book but not really enough plot and character to sustain them. Perhaps if Fforde had held some of them back, it would have been a bit more satisfying.

Part of the problem is the characters are little more than hangers for various jokes and stereotypes and I didn’t really relate to any of them. Acheron was quite good fun as a villain but even he was a little flat. And by then end of the novel, I was completely fed up with comedy names such as Paige Turner or Millon De Floss. Maybe it’s just me but I’ve always thought that this sort of thing is okay in moderation but very quickly grows tired. It certainly did here.

The best parts of the novel occur when Thursday is stuck in the book of Jane Eyre and she and Rochester conspire with the servants to ensure that Jane’s narrative is undisturbed. In this world, Jane does not end up with Rochester, at least not until there is an almighty fight between Thursday and Acheron and a fire ensues. I think you can see where this is going. Of course, everyone preferred this ending. And understandably so as the alternate ending was quite dreary.

After this, the narrative returns to Thursday’s love life. Despite being hostile to Landen Parke-Laine (Groan!) for a lot of the novel, she suddenly decides to stop him from marrying the wrong woman only to lose her nerve at the last minute. But it’s okay – the lawyers from Jane Eyre step in to accuse his bride of bigamy. I must admit, I found this part of the novel a bit tedious and not as funny or clever as Fforde probably hoped

Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a terrible book. It definitely had its moments, just not as many as I might have expected.

Books Read in 2014 – 2. Beautiful Losers – Leonard Cohen

Genre – Erotica, Experimental

Date of Publication – 1966

Narrative Style – stream of consciousness. Non-chronilogical

Format: Paperback

Published: 1966

Synopsis – A three part story about three friends / lovers – the first part is a first person narrative after the death of his wife and his lover, F, the second part is a letter from F to the first narrator and the third part is a thrid person summing up of their stories. 

Rating: 3/5 047533-fc222

I’m a big fan of Leonard Cohens music but I hadn’t read any of his fiction before this one so I was quite excited when I got Beautiful Losers for Christmas. Certainly, I wasn’t expecting to read something quite so erotic and quite so experimental.

One of the things that is immediately apparent about this book is that it is written by a poet. Quite often the language and the rhythm take precedence over meaning which leads to some beautiful imagery but like a lot of poetry, I didn’t always understand what was going on.

This is an intensely erotic book. Indeed, one of the original reviews called it ‘verbal masturbation and another suggested that it was the ‘most revolting book ever written in Canada’. There is more than one love triangle in this book as the three lovers experiment. However, it is never merely sex for the sake of it. Quite often it is described in an oblique way or involves body parts that aren’t necessarily thought of as erotic.

What I found more difficult to deal with were the long passages about the Catherine Tekakwitha and her religiosity. I didn’t find the historic information as interesting as the events in the present day, maybe because I have very little sense of religion myself. Also, I have a low tolerance of miracles and pilgrimages.

There seemed to be a preoccupation with ownership, with occupation of lands and with colonialism – the Indians by the Catholics, the French presence in Montreal, for example. I must admit to a lack of knowledge of the history of Canada but this book did make me think I might like to know more.

Finally, I found it a little unsatisfying. I was reminded of reading Joyce or Amis, maybe. Masters of language and they may be but they left me feeling a little lost and disappointed with myself. I don’t like to feel I may have missed the point.

Eclectic Reader Challenge – New Adult – The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

I bought this book when the movie came out with the intention of reading the book and then seeing the movie. In the end, I did neither. It has been on my to-read list since then. So it seemed perfecphoto-14t for the Eclectic Reader Challenge category of New Adult.

The book is series of letters to an unnamed person addressed simply as friend. They detail the ups and downs of Charlie’s life as he starts High School describing events and people with a warmth and naivety that was mostly charming. He is shy, awkward and has little grasp of social etiquette. He is befriended by a group of older misfits and through them goes to parties, takes drugs and learns about sex and relationships. While his voice was convincing, I think that I’d have enjoyed it more if I was nearer his age. I found myself feeling a little impatient with him, the way adults do with teenagers but for the most part I was keen to read on and find out what happened to him.

It is apparent quite early on that Charlie has psychological issues relating to the death of his Aunt Helen and he swings between depression and optimism throughout the book. Details are gradually revealed giving the reader clues to what the issues may be. However, the final reveal – I won’t give it away for those who have not read it – felt a little underwhelming. Not that it wasn’t a serious issue – it certainly justified Charlie’s issues – but that it wasn’t explored very deeply, was almost brushed off with an ease that seemed unlikely.

This book is often compared to The Catcher in the Rye and, in some ways, it is an apt comparison. Both Holden and Charlie are caught in cycles of behaviour that they seemed destined to repeat and both have distinctive voices. However, ultimately I prefer The Catcher in the Rye because it is darker and less twee. I found the end of The Catcher in the Rye devastating as so little progress has been made in Holden’s journey of discovery. I don’t know why but I find this easier to relate to then the sweet optimism of Charlie’s last letter.

GLBT – Eclectic Reader Challenge 2013 – Rent Boy – Gary Indiana

I read Resentment by Gary Indiana when I finished my MPhil in 2001. I really enjoyed it and I vowed to read more of his stuff. So here I am, 12 years later, finally getting round to it by reading Rent Boy for the Eclectic Reader Challenge.

The narrator, Danny, is a rent boy, as you might expect but also a waiter and an architecture student. He also goes under a number of different names. Danny is the name he goes by in the series of letters that make up the novel. The narrative voice is very entertaining – Danny is intelligent and funny, both about his clients, the other rent boys he knows and the social situations he finds himself in .

As you might expect, there is a lot of sex in this book and a lot of it is quite explicit. It isn’t, however, all that sexy. Danny’s world is not a glamorous one and he does not spare the reader some of the seedier details.

When Danny gets involved with a scheme to rob rich people of the kidneys they are not using, you just know that things are not going to go well for him and fairly soon he is up to his neck in trouble and having to leave New York at an urgent pace.298753

In the end, he gives two possible endings to this scenario, both of which involve him on the run. It is difficult to say which is true. We also discover that Danny isn’t his real name either. The final lines of the novel are devastating and poignant. Danny says “I have no real name. I live where nothing has a name, and the rest is silence.” The person he is writing to is never revealed but it seems they are no wiser than the reader as to who Danny actually is.

I really enjoyed this. It was funny, full of biting social comment and gritty descriptions of the underbelly of New York. I’ll try and make it less than twelve years before I read another Gary Indiana novel.

Venus in Furs – Leopold von Sacher-Masoch – Translated Literature – Eclectic Reader Challenge

I wanted to read something a bit different for translated literature for the Eclectic Reader Challenge and this had been on my to read list for a while. I’ve read De Sade before (although a long time ago) and I thought it would be interesting to read the author who had given his name to the opposite end of the spectrum to De Sade. I can’t help wondering how you would feel having such a thing named after you (in case you don’t know, the term masochism comes from Masoch’s name). Do you suppose he knew, did it happen in his lifetime? How would friends and family react to that?

The book itself was not really what I was expecting. It is not particularly explicit and the protagonist’s Severin’s beatings are not particularly graphic. That said, this was published in 1870 and was considered shocking at the time, particularly, I think due to the idea of female dominance and cruelty and Severin’s willingness to submit to it. venus

There are some parallel’s with Fifty Shades of Grey (although this is considerably better written). Severin is in love with his venus, Wanda and adores her so much that he is willing to submit to her every whim and become a slave. They sign a contract outlining the exact nature of their relationship. Interestingly, it is Wanda who seems to have the most misgivings – at least at the beginning. Severin is more than willing to be her slave.

Unfortunately for Severin, Wanda becomes infatuated with another stronger man (in a particular stroke of cruelty, she allows him to beat Severin, marking the very end of their relationship).  It seems that being allowed to be so cruel has killed any love she had at the beginning of the novel.  She finds that she wishes to submit to her new lover whom she loves with a greater passion.

Is this suggesting that this willingness to submit is a part of love, something that is present in all of us but which shouldn’t be acted on? Certainly, I like the way that roles seem more fluid in this book than in Fifty Shades of Grey and also unlike between Christian and Anastasia, it is Severin who wishes to submit who asks for Wanda to fulfil his dreams and Wanda, the dominant one, who has to be persuaded. This certainly made me less uncomfortable than the sexual politics in Fifty Shades.

This wasn’t a great read – it wasn’t terrible either – but in terms of historical interest and cultural significance, I’m glad to have read it at last.

Eclectic Reading Challenge – Made into a Movie – Election – Tom Perotta

election-tom-perrotta-paperback-cover-artI loved the movie of this book. That is why I chose it for The Eclectic Reader Challenge. So I had expectations. Perhaps that was the problem. In my head, Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon and a vivid portrait of high school life in America. Whichever way round it is – a beloved book or movie – it is often problematic when you approach the other version. (That’s why I still haven’t been to see The Great Gatsby and why I didn’t love The Life of Pi.)

The main problem for me was the switching between narrators. There were two problems with this. First of all, as they were all telling the same tale and it was linear, jumping between narrators was irritating and didn’t add much in the way of viewpoint, especially when sometimes the narrator might only have one or two paragraphs before someone else took up the tale again. The other problem was that none of them seemed that distinct from each other. They were lacking in personality.

The plot did drive me on though. And the theme of corruption in high school mirroring the corruption in American politics was clever and interesting but when it came done to it, the rigged election was a bit of a damp squib. I wasn’t attached enough to any of the characters to really care. Who was ruined by it and who wasn’t didn’t have an impact. The whole thing left me cold.

Maybe I would have liked this better if I hadn’t seen the movie. It’s hard to say. Without expectations, we are less disappointed. At the end, I just thought, well, there you go, that it finished. Nothing more or less than that.

The Road – Cormac McCarthy – Dystopia – Eclectic Reader Challenge 2013

I first read Cormac McCarthy years ago. I read Blood Meridian and really enjoyed it. It was gritty, violent, nihilistic and it really appealed to me. It is a little shameful that it has taken more than 10 years to follow up on that enjoyment and read another McCarthy book. To read The Road to fulfill the dystopia category for the Eclectic Reader Challenge 2013the_road.large seemed the perfect way to rectify this.

I had no expectations. I haven’t seen the film so I was aware only vaguely as to what this was about. McCarthy doesn’t give many details. There has been an unspecified happening and now there are (at first) unspecified dangers. This had the effect of unsettling the reader as there was no way of knowing exactly where the danger would come from. Details start to emerge but not enough to ever offer security to the reader. Not enough to allow knowledge of the future.

The crux of this novel is the relationship between The Man and his son, The Boy. The fact that they are not named gives the novel an universal feel. While specific events will have lead to this particular situation, there is a sense that it is a timeless situation. Acts of war, violence, atrocity have always existed and will always exist. The Man and The Boy are just the current version of the victims of this violence. Not the first, nor the last.

The Man tells The Boy to watch out for bad guys and that they are the good guys. And while the bad guys are cannibalistic and the signs we are given of their presence are horrific, The Man also acts in a way that The Boy perceives to be bad – he doesn’t help people when he could and when they are robbed, The Man retaliates in a way that is extremely brutal. This suggests that the ‘bad’ guys may also merely be responding to circumstances, in whatever way they can. In these extreme circumstances, the difference between good and bad gets smaller and smaller. After all, what would you do in order to survive?

The prose and the plot are not complicated but that does not stop this from being one of the most devastating books that I have ever read. The details that McCarthy does give build an atmosphere of tension and fear that is both compelling and horrendous. I wanted to read on and not to read on, both at the same time. I worried for The Man and for The Boy because it seems inevitable that it will not end well for them. There is no note of hope here. As such, the ending is open to interpretation. It could be seen as a rescue, as a hopeful moment but if we have learned anything in this novel, it is that human nature finds it difficult to retain its goodness under extreme circumstances and that it is difficult to tell who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. I want to hope for the best for The Boy because he, more than the man, does seem to represent the good of humanity. He often berates The Man over what he perceives to be bad behaviour but which we can can see is to do with self-preservation. Because of this, I do not feel that the ending can be straightforwardly positive but it can hope for the best. Perhaps that is all any of us can do.

The Lost World – Arthur Conan Doyle – Eclectic Reader Challenge – Action Adventure

Since I discovered that classics are free on the kindle, I have been reading more of them. I’m not sure I would have ever got round to buying this – there would always have been something more pressing to spend my money on- but when I was looking for my next kindle buy, it jumped out at me. I’ve read quite a few of the Sherlock Holmes stories and I was curious to know whether Conan Doyle could do anything else.

When I started to read this, I had just finished the Eclectic Reader Challenge and I didn’t really know if I was going to do it twice as someone suggested. However, I realised that it would fit with the category Action Adventure so this is now the second blog I have written in my second round of reviews.

I really enjoyed this book. Certainly, Conan Doyle proves here that he is capable of writing in more than one style as this is really nothing like the Sherlock stories. The main character Edward Malone is a news reporter who, at the start of the story, proposes marriage only to be turned down by the object of his affections and told that she could only love a man who has had a great adventure. So, obediently, Malone finds himself an adventure to go on – off to the amazing lost world of the dinosaurs. (Interestingly, by the time he returns, she has married some one else – a clerk, no less. At the end of the novel, Malone is planning another adventure – presumably so he doesn’t get hurt again by one of those fickle women.)

The characters are all very well-drawn. Professor Challenger is superbly arrogant and annoying in his condescension. His intellectual rival, who is initially sceptical of the dinosaurs, Professor Summerlee is equally argumentative and arrogant and the pair have some superb arguments. The descriptions also give a wonderful sense of place and the platea

u is made to feel creepy and otherworldly before any of the dinosaurs are even s

ighted. In fact, it is a good third into the book before they even arrive at the plateau. Not that this was a problem for me – the events beforehand were all important  – but I could imagine it trying the patience of someone more used to modern literature.

lost worldIt has to be mentioned that some of the attitudes in this book are a little hard to stomach now. For example, it is taken as a given that the white men are superior, being further along the scale of evolution than any of the native characters. The one black character is loyal to the point of stupidity and talked about as if he were a pet rather than a human being. There is also a sense of imperialism, with the discussion of what to call the lakes and forests they discover as well as the assumption that the land was now theirs. This book is a hundred years old and in these attitudes it really shows. However, the sense of adventure and the action in this book are just as appealing as they ever were.

The End of The Eclectic Reader Challenge

I started the Eclectic Reader Challenge in January and I was really looking forward to trying some new genres and to focusing my reading. I have really enjoyed knowing what my next book is going to be. In recent years, I have become a little pedestrian in my reading choices, choosing authors I knew I would like because I have read them before, reading a lot of detective fiction because that is a genre that I like. The Eclectic Reader Challenge has helped me to broaden my horizons again.

I didn’t expect to be finished it by now. And I must admit I am going to miss it a little bit. Someone suggested that maybe I should do it twice and maybe I will but at the minute I am actually relishing having a free choice of which books I read next. Also some genres I liked better than others and maybe I just chose the wrong books but I’m not sure I want to read anything from those genres again.

It has been a very positive reading year so far. I have read 21 books including the ones from the challenge when I only managed to read 32 in the whole of last year. At least part of that has been because of the challenge. But also, last year I was unemployed for a bit and while that may sound like a perfect opportunity for reading more when you have all the time in the world, it doesn’t always lend itself to getting a lot done.

Now that I am back at work, I am back on public transport and so I’m back to having a book at home and a book on the tram. The kindle has been great for this and I’m actually getting used to using it now. It is also a chance to get away from my bookshelves (with that immense to-read pile) and go for something new. It also pleases me that my books no longer get bashed by being carried around in my bag.

It isn’t only in terms of numbers either. 12 of these books were from new authors. In the course of doing the challenge, I discovered Josh Lanyon, Jeffrey Eugenides, Wilkie Collins, Gore Vidal, Jane Rodgers, Suzanna Keysen and Suzanne Collins. As well as that I have read Patrick McCabe, and Michael Faber on the kindle. All of which I will read again.

I didn’t realise that I had lost some enthusiasm for reading. I always read. It would seem weird not to. But I wasn’t trying very hard. I was going for the tried and tested, whereas now I am excited by each choice that I make.

80000 words so far.

Over the last week, I have been reading over the 80000 words that I have so far written of Choose Yr Future. I decided to read through even though it is not finished because I felt, on the one hand, I was getting lost, and on other, my ideas were spiralling out of control. Getting to grips with my original ideas seemed like a good idea. Some of this was written quite a while ago when I was editing Shattered Reflections so I wanted to see if it all still fitted together.

I don’t work in a linear fashion. (That’d be too easy, right?) It has always been the same for me, whatever I have written, essays, lesson plans; I just don’t seem to be able to work in a straight line. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know where this is going and I do have a plan of events and also other things that I wish to include. But the story will be told from different viewpoints so if I get going with one of the characters I might write all of the events that they are going to narrate, rather than the events in chronological order.

As you can imagine there are endless possibilities for confusion with this method. But I am satisfied that it will all come together in the end. It always does. And it is good, I think to remind yourself of what you have done and where it is going.

It is interesting that some of the oldest bits of this writing are definitely the worst. They explain straight off to the reader what I have expressed more subtlely in other places. It will involve more re-writing then I might have envisaged at this stage. Ultimately though I am pleased to have done it, to see which ideas work and which don’t means I can focus my attention now instead of waiting until the very end.

So, a lot of work still to be done but this is the part that is the most enjoyable so I don’t really mind.