Full House Challenge – Room by Emma Donaghue (Contains spoilers)

Genre: Psychological thriller

Narrative Style: First Person from the point of view of a child.

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2010

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: To Jack, Room is his whole world. He has never known anything else. The only human he knows is his ‘ma’ who also lives in Room. Ma tells Jack that nothing else exists apart from Room. Everything else is just TV and doesn’t really exist. The reader gathers that Ma has been kidnapped and Jack has been born in captivity. When Ma decides they need to escape from their prison, Jack has to learn all about the outside world really quickly.

Reading Challenges: Full House Challenge – Book on a list – Bestselling books of 2010. 

I didn’t read this at the time because I really didn’t want to read a book written from the point of view of a child. Some of my reservations were well founded. Although I did enjoy this book, it was hard going at times. If you can imagine a five-year-old constantly talking in your ear for hours at a time, then you can imagine what it is like to read this book. It was unrelenting.

The book is split into two parts. In the first half, we learn of Jack’s world and how his mother has tried to protect him from the truth of their captivity. Everything in Jack’s world is imbued with personality – from Rug to Wardrobe to Floor – and he doesn’t seem to ever feel bored or lonely.

There are a couple of problems with this. First of all, Jack is incredibly intelligent. He is precocious and his vocabulary is truly amazing. He knows things and songs that it seems unlikely he could have picked up even from all his hours of TV. Second of all, it seems unlikely that his mother could have managed to so successfully keep him away from their captor ‘Old Nick’. She makes demands of Old Nick that I feel stretch the reader’s disbelief. If she really had so much power, why was she still a captive?

This section also gives the reader a chance to get used to Jack’s narrative voice. Much has been made of how well Donaghue has captured a five-year-old’s voice. I’m not sure I agree. It certainly seems to fit with an adult’s idea of what it might be like inside a five-year-old’s head and that is probably why he seems so precocious and has such a good vocabulary. Also, it is too exact. Jack says the same things, the same way every time. I’m not sure that anyone’s thoughts are quite as exact as that.

I must admit that one of the things I found irritating about Jack’s voice was the lack of the definite article. I understand completely what Donaghue was trying to do and it was very clever but it made me cringe everytime it was missing.

The second half of the book documents the escape. This is another moment that does not ring true. Jack’s world is suddenly turned upside down when his mother explains her lies and persuades him to play dead. Old Nick happily drives off with him wrapped in a carpet – not even checking if the boy is dead or not.

However, once he has escaped and his mother is rescued, the book becomes interesting again as Jack and Ma adjust to life outside. Jack learns that there are more people in the world than he could have imagined He discovers stairs. Everything is too loud and too bright. His mother also has difficulty re-adjusting. This is definitely the most interesting part of the book.

While I did enjoy this book, I would probably recommend the film more. The main reason for this is we are able to see things from different perspectives and Jack’s voice wasn’t constantly in your ear. It would have been good to hear Ma’s voice for some of the book as I am sure her story would have been just as interesting as Jack’s.

Books Read in 2015 – 28. The Secret History – Donna Tartt (Contains spoilers)

Genre: Thriller

Narrative Style: First person41K7TYBGF4L

Rating: 3/5

Published: 1992

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: A set of misfits at an exclusive college studying classics decide to try and emulate the morality of ancient times. This sees them start to view themselves as being outside current morality and they begin to follow their own rules.

There is no doubt that Donna Tartt can string a sentence together and the strength of her prose is the main reason that I rated this as I did. Richard’s narrative voice is quite powerful and I had a clear idea about the personality of each of the group as he saw them and also of his own feelings on the matter.

However, I did not find the story particularly compelling. It was hard to feel anything for such a bunch of odd, emotionally stilted individuals. When reading about the rich and the privileged I always feel a little like I am viewing some sort of alien species and there was definitely an element of that here. These weren’t people like any I knew. As such, I didn’t care about their petty jealousies or there murderous intentions.

The killing of Bunny is signposted straightaway and the reasons for it were quickly obvious. Bunny himself, was irritating even before he knew that the group had killed someone in a bacchanalian night of excess and I watched detached as they plotted to kill him. It was hard to feel any sort of suspense as I didn’t care whether they carried it out or not.

There is still a lot of the book to go at this stage and I do feel that it could have been shorter but Richard analyses every emotion and every action afterwards as the group fall apart in various different ways. The only one who seems to have any sort of control is Henry who was the main force behind killing Bunny. He is the one who tries to keep the others in control. It was clear that he was meant to be some sort of monster but he just seemed cold and empty and he made me feel sad rather than anything else. When, in the end, he shoots himself, I felt nothing, no shock or emotion at all. It just made me feel pleased that the story was nearly over.

 

Books Read in 2015 26. Sleepyhead – Mark Billingham

Genre: Detective, Thriller

Narrative Style: Third person from various points of view, first person from the point of9780751531466_Z view of a surviving victim

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2001

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Three women are found dead, seemingly from strokes, when a pathologist spots that it may be murder. The next victim survives but is unable to communicate with anyone. Enter Tom Thorne, detective, who quickly realises that this victim is the killer’s one success. This is what he was aiming for all along. Equally quickly, he forms an idea of who the killer is and will not let it go even when the evidence is against him. 

I like to read detective fiction but I find I am often disappointed by it. The first series I liked was Ian Rankin’s Rebus books and they set a high standard, one that is rarely lived up to. I was pleased to discover that I loved Tom Thorne almost as much as I loved Rebus and I decided pretty quickly that I would be reading on.

There are a number of similarities. Thorne is equally unpredictable. He ploughed his own furrow and was not afraid of annoying his superiors. When he decided who he thought the killer was, there was no shaking his certainty. Even when this turned into obsession, the reader stayed with him and I desperately wanted him to be right, even while I knew he probably wouldn’t be. Like Rebus, he was a lone wolf and didn’t make friends easily. His relationship with Anne, his love interest in the novel, was equally complicated.

The plot was also strong. The idea of a killer aiming to leave people in a coma as they viewed this as the ultimate in freedom was as interesting as it was disturbing. Thorne’s unpredictability meant that it wasn’t always possible to spot what was going to happen next. And while I certainly put some of the clues together, I didn’t manage to come up with the whole picture which is always good.

The third person sections were written from a number of different viewpoints and often  used ‘he’ instead of immediately naming the character which added suspense and meant that the reader always had to work to understand who was being talked about. The first person sections from the point of view of Alison, the one surviving victim, were poignant and added emotional resonance to the story.

Overall, this kept me reading and I’m pleased to discover another series that I can really get my teeth into.

Books Read in 2015 22. Before I Go To Sleep – S. J. Watson (Contains Spoilers)

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Genre: Thriller, Epistolary

Narrative Style: Diary entries, framed by a undated first person narrative

Rating: 2.5/5

Published: 2011Unknown

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Christine has amnesia. Every morning when she wakes up, she can remember none of her recent life.She has lost nearly twenty years of her life. Every day, her husband, Ben, tells her what has happened to her. When her doctor suggests that she start to keep a journal, she soon discovers that things are not what they seem. 

Reading Challenge: Eclectic Reader Challenge 2015 – Genre epistolary.

I saw the film of this last year and I really enjoyed it so I assumed that I would also like the book. I was wrong. The film was taut and thrilling and for some reason it was easier to suspend my disbelief. However, the book just made me feel annoyed and by the end I couldn’t stop thinking about how many unlikely things had to happen for the outcome Watson gives us.

Like other books I have read that have narrative quirks – The Time Traveller’s Wife, for example – I find that they quickly wear thin and rub me up the wrong way. With Before I Go To Sleep, I kept imagining how long it would take Christine to re-read her ever-lengthening journal everyday. And then in the evening she had to find new ways to hide her writing from Ben. It quickly became repetitive.

Christine herself was annoying. In the film, Nicole Kidman was utterly convincing and also quite sympathetic. Christine in the book was a bit pathetic and her narrative voice spent a long time running round in circles which was also annoying. While it is understandable that she might not trust her memories – especially as her doctor tells her that amnesiacs often fill the gaps with fiction – but after a few times when she doubts everything, I was bored.

Having seen the film, I knew what the twist was and it was entertaining to look for clues about Ben’s real identity. (Actually, this may be responsible for my lack of patience with the narrative. Perhaps I expected her to notice more.) As the ending drew nearer, I hoped for the feelings of suspense that I felt in the film. And it was quite tense when Ben was driving her to the hotel as it is starting to become apparent even to someone who had not seen the film, that all was not what it seemed. However, there is another hiatus when Christine finds the pages that Ben has ripped out of her journal and I just couldn’t believe that she would have time to read them before he reappeared.

Then it was all reliant on Claire, Christine’s friend, who somehow works out where they are and saves the day. Mike is helpfully killed and Ben and Adam reappear. Very neat and tidy. Of course, Christine still doesn’t know if she  will remember what has happened but there are hints that she will as Doctor Nash informs her that they found no physical reason for her amnesia. I’m sure it would have been annoying if she had miraculously got her memory back. Nevertheless, this was an unsatisfactory ending and made me feel that the whole book had been a bit pointless. Overall, a disappointing read.

Books Read in 2014 – 45 The Good Girl – Mary Kubica (contains spoliers)

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Genre: Thriller, Romantic Suspense

Narrative Style: Different first person viewpoints, non-chronologicalgood girl

Rating: 2/5

Published: 2014

Format: Kindle

Reading challenges: Eclectic Reader Challenge

Published in 2014

Synopsis: Mia Dennett has disappeared. Her mother is convinced that she has been kidnapped although her husband thinks it is just Mia being Mia. Gabe Hoffman is the cop determined to find Mia and bring her home. However, the case will prove to be less simple than anyone could have imagined.

This was a very disappointing read. This book has been compared to Gone Girl and I now realise exactly how well put together that book was. Compared to this one anyway. I was expecting a thriller and for all Gone Girl’s faults, it certainly was that. This fizzled out pretty quickly. I have problems with romance at the best of times and this was not one of those.

The first problem was the different narratives. They all just seemed the same. Little attempt was made to differentiate the voices or give the characters any sorts of quirks. They were differentiated by their actions not by their voices. I didn’t believe in Colin the kidnapper from the very first and he grew more and more unconvincing as the book went on. Mia was similarly one-dimensional.

The second problem was that the twists and turns were too clearly signposted. Mia is rescued quite early on with severe amnesia and her mother’s description of her daughter’s behaviour and Colin’s narrative intertwine with non too subtle hints being given as to what the next big thing would be. The ending was no surprise and even a little disappointing.

Finally, I think that the balance could have been better between romance and suspense. It was apparent from the first that there was the possibility of romance between Gabe and Mia’s mother. This was just distracting. Furthermore, the romance that blossoms between Colin and Mia doesn’t ring true. There is little in the way of development, just straight from hate to love.

It was pleasing that Mia’s father gets his comeuppance as he was truly unpleasant and one of the few characters who didn’t seem wooden. That this was at the hands of the daughter that he despised was a neat form of justice but unfortunately just too obvious.

 

Books Read in 2014 – Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (contains spoilers)

 

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Genre: Thriller

Narrative Style: Two first person accounts of events. Chronological timeline

Rating: 3/5

Format: Paperback

Published: 2012

Synopsis: Nick Dunne’s beautiful wife goes missing on the eve of their fifth wedding anniversary and he doesn’t react the way that loving husbands should. What secrets is he keeping from the police? But is this crime as obvious as it first appears? 

 

Somehow I managed to avoid any spoilers for this book. I always sort of intended to read it as it had so much hype around it but it wasn’t at the very top of my list. However, I did know that it was a twisty little narrative so almost from the first I was trying not to be fooled by it. I guessed straightaway that the anniversary treasure hunt was going to figure highly and that once Nick worked out the clues, he receive his present – in this case a very long jail sentence. So at the end of the first section, I was more pleased that I was right than surprised. Once you realised the importance of the anniversary clues then it seemed apparent that Amy was behind it all. For me, this was by far the best section of the book. The contrast between Amy’s faked diaries and Nick’s view of her and their marriage was well portrayed and it was exciting trying to figure out exactly what must have happened.

I found Amy’s real voice even more annoying than the fake sweet girl of the diary entries. She was arrogant, self-centred and vindictive – almost impossible to empathize with. I was actually pleased when the two people she’d befriended at the motel where she was staying robbed her of her remaining cash because she was under the impression that she was infallible. Nick, however, developed some backbone and I began hoping that when she inevitably returned, he’d kill her as he kept imagining.

The final section was disappointing, I felt. There was still some tension but it soon became apparent that Nick would not be able to escape Amy’s clutches. That Nick would decide to stay with Amy seemed a step too far into the unlikely for me. His reasons were understandable – she becomes pregnant using stored sperm – but all the same it didn’t quite work for me.

Ultimately, this book left me feeling a little depressed. Amy seems like every man’s worst nightmare; controlling, manipulative, self-centred – all those nasty words that men like to throw at women. Flynn points out in an interview at the end of the book that she does have good points – she’s organised, intelligent, meticulous but that is a bit like letting a sociopath off the hook because they planned their crime to the letter. She’s a  version of negative feminine stereotypes who wins in the end. Nick is her perfect opposite, taking the easy route of staying with her and appeasing his own conscience by saying its for the best for his inborn child. Some dubious sexual politics there. I was left wondering if the portrayal of Amy was sexist. Obviously not every portrayal of a woman should be positive but Amy is strong and she does get things done but she is also a monster. It made me feel uncomfortable.

 

Books read in 2014 – 7. Postmortem – Patricia Cornwell

Reading Challenges: Eclectic Reader Challenge 2014eclecticchallenge2014_300

Genre: Medical Thriller

Narrative Style: First person narrative, Straightforward chronological timeline

Rating 3/5

Format: Kindle

Published: 1990

Synopsis: Someone is strangling and binding women in Virginia, America. Kay Scarpetta is the chief medical examiner assigned to the case. The novel starts with the fourth murder and shows the way the murders are making everyone from single women to city hall officials to reporters jumpy. postmortem

I was excited to read Cornwell for the first time so I was pleased when her name came up on a search for medical thrillers. She was one of the major crime writers that I had yet to sample. I decided to start at the beginning of the Kay Scarpetta series, instead of diving in in the middle which is my usual habit. I wish I hadn’t.

This novel was published in 1990. I found I kept saying that to myself while I was reading it as if it was an excuse. Kay Scarpetta seemed the absolute product of 80s feminism; all bitter and distant from having to climb the corporate ladder in a man’s world. Okay, maybe that is how you would be but it made her difficult to like and even harder to identify with. She seemed to dislike men on principle regardless of whether they were sympathetic to her or not. That started to be a little wearing as the novel progressed and I found myself getting annoyed with her.

It was a bit of a distraction from what was a good thriller. It kept you guessing until the end. It was interesting to note the differences from modern crime stories which rely so heavily on technology. DNA profiling was still in it’s infancy and Cornwell seems a little unsure at times exactly what to do with her evidence. That said, the novel is full of close detail and medical information that is interesting. The process of working from evidence through research and finally to a solution was impeccably described.

In the end, the story was compelling enough to keep me reading despite my reservations about the characters. However, I doubt I’ll read on.