Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

The Casual Vacancy

The review below is of The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling. I reviewed it on Goodreads on 11th October.

I’m not sure whether the format was designed to make me think of a Jilly Cooper novel, with all these characters introduced, and a mix of upper-class twits, well-meaning social workers, and rough-but-golden-hearted working class heroes, but that was the echo that haunted me throughout.

The concept of a pervasive Parish Council in an English town is quite foreign to me, having grown up in a Scottish city, and although unfamiliarity of location isn’t usually a barrier to enjoyment of a novel, I didn’t feel like I connected much to Pagford.

The Casual Vacancy is a commentary on social values which isn’t original, but still has a place. The self-satisfied Pagfordians – particularly the Mollisons (who are implicitly raging Tories) – are almost comedy villains, while the Weedons are caricatures of every right-winger’s bête-noir. Such extremes aren’t unknown, but felt a little contrived for the sake of the story. Yet they each have a purpose in this tale, which bowled along nicely and started to wiggle its way into my brain. The denouement surprised me and actually changed how I felt about the whole story; the absence of any neatly tied loose ends felt authentic and encouraged me to examine my prejudices towards the characters.

Overall it was well-written, and some techniques – such as the extended sections in parenthesis which extended our understanding of a character’s thoughts or background – were unusual enough to give a fresh feel to the novel. Recommended to others – but you should have no expectations as you pick up the book. Harry Potter it is NOT – but it is no poorer for that.


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The Lighthouse

The review below is of The Lighthouse by Alison Moore – one of the novels long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. It is published by small independent Salt Publishing. I reviewed it on Goodreads on 2nd August.

The LighthouseThe Lighthouse by Alison Moore

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a tale Alison Moore has woven. The Lighthouse is written economically, but no less beautifully for it.

Futh is an almost entirely unsympathetic character, and yet I felt for him in this world he didn’t quite fit into or understand. He has a real affinity for smells; the memories they create for him provide a link to a world which doesn’t have a place for him.

The Lighthouse, and the journey Futh undertakes, is bleakly pessimistic – and yet I loved it. Moore has such a way with words.

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I’m struggling through one of the choices for next month’s Book Group at the moment. When God Was a Rabbit, by Sarah Winman, seemed like a decent enough choice at the last meeting, a few of us had heard good reviews and it’s in the Top 100s, so a fairly safe bet. I just don’t Get It, though. I’m finding it slow, and far from gripping, and it seems such a huge effort to lift it and wade through a few short chapters every evening. I’m very close to giving up – and I never do that!

Maybe it’s me. Perhaps I’m in the wrong mood for another family saga, or maybe it’s my innate aversion to books with ‘Extra Material for Reading Groups’ (it’s like saying, “look at my book, it’s clever and insightful and you will want to have guided discussions on my intellectual sub-plots”). Or maybe it’s just not very good.

Our second book for next month I read several years ago, so had to re-visit in order to recall anything of use. The Cutting Room, by Louise Welsh, is dark, Glaswegian, and bitingly witty. Much more my kind of thing. I liked it even more this time round – perhaps with all the extra wisdom of my subsequent years I could appreciate some of the finer nuances.

I rarely enjoy both books we do each month, but it’s one of the benefits of the group – we pick material that I would often not look twice at in the library, and I have been introduced to some writers I have loved (see Helen Fitzgerald – on Twitter, @FitzHelen). So I do feel as if I should persevere with When God Was A Rabbit. On the other hand, there are so many books I *do* want to read in this ol’ world of ours, and maybe life’s just too darn short to waste on something I don’t love.

Opinions gratefully received.

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