Bronte book challenge

Only a mini challenge this time. Unlike last time.

Samantha Ellis, author of How to be a Heroine and writer of a very funny 2-actor play called How to Date a Feminist, has a new book out. As far as I understand, it’s on why Anne Bronte is the best Bronte.

If you are a Bennet sister, everyone in the neighbourhood compares your looks. If you are a Bronte, they compare your writing. That’s probably better really.

I have no wish to be more intimately acquainted with Wuthering Heights than I already am. I consider it to be full of horrible people being horrible to one another, sometimes in an impenetrable accent.

I have read Jane Eyre, but not recently, so I will reread it. I will ease in gently by reading The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, which is sort of about Jane Eyre but not really.

I have not read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, or the other one, so I have no knowledge of Anne Bronte at all. I can’t even summon the name of the other one without looking, so I shall read both in order to fully appreciate the arguments in favour as Anne as “the best Bronte”.

2015 Book Challenge – #22 – The Bone Clocks

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas David Mitchell, not Mitchell and Webb David Mitchell, although I like him too and I’m particularly impressed at his marrying Victoria Coren) was mentioned in the article that promoted me to read The End of Mr Y. Apparently “Mitchell has an untroubled relationship with the devices he borrows from genre science fiction and fantasy”, and I think I’m OK with that.

The book passes from 1984 – just a little out of my memory, past us and into the future, where I enjjoyed the unforced use of futuristic slang. “I’ll device him”. “These slates are threaded”.
In contrast to the traditional “Yer a wizard, Harry” early-book revelations of what is going on, The Bone Clocks gradually lets us see things that are happening, switching points of view to allow us to piece things together as we go, with no promise that our current protagonist will discover the secret themselves (or even necessarily survive).
The end is, er, well, not necessarily the best in the world, but I enjoyed the journey so I don’t mind so much. A deus ex machina is tolerable if you’ve known all along that there are deuses around.

2015 Book Challenge #20 – The Bell Jar

First post of the 2015 book challenge is here

Things I knew about The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath before reading it

  1. It’s by Sylvia Plath
  2. If you want to fake someone’s suicide,  put a copy of this book on their bedside table with bits underlined
  3. She was married to Ted Hughes
  4. She killed herself (head in oven?)
  5. She left out bread and jam for the kids when she killed herself
  6. Gwyneth Paltrow cycled an old-fashioned bike near the library here I was revising while pretending to be Sylvia Plath

Things I did not know

  1. Where/when it was set
  2. Anything about what happens
  3. Whether the character actually does kill herself

I enjoyed this more than I expected to. It is quite describey, and Plath uses a lot of adjective phrases. I’m not sure of the precise term for them, but the first page alone has “google-eyed” and “country-wet” and “mirage-grey”. Too many of these drive me mad (see Suite Francaise and the pre-war parts of Birdsong) but in this case it added a tangible feel to the descriptions without making me impatient for action.

I would have happily read some more of the story of a college-aged girl in the 50s (?) who has a summer internship on a magazine, even without the rest.

I liked that there was no attempt to explain WHY she felt as she did. She just did. That’s what mental illness is like sometimes. It’s not always caused by a childhood trauma. It’s sometimes just how things are.

2015 Book Challenge – #19 – Her Smoke Rose Up Forever

First post of the 2015 book challenge is here

This was recommended by a colleague, who neglected at first to mention that the author is FASCINATING.

First, the book.

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James TipTree Jr is a collection of SF short stories from the 70s (ish).

I am not usually a fan of short stories – I find the format very tiring as I need to adjust to a new world anew characters every few pages. My preference for a book is that if I like it I want it long, I want lots of that one book so I can get the maximum benefit out of my effort in getting into it. That’s probably why I like a long series (e.g. Wheel of Time), and why I enjoyed the doorstopper The Pillars of the Earth.

So I found this book a bit difficult, but in most cases it was worthwhile. The stories often deal with sex, gender, violence, and the state of being human. The colleague who recommended it, on hearing that I was actually reading, commented “they are a bit depressing”. It’s true. And the nature of the stories makes it entirely unsurprising to me that James Tiptree Jr was a woman. (go look her up). Apparently many other writers of the time were very surprised.

So, recommended but not “easy”. Only if you are in the mood to feel challenged (and a little disgusted, in a few cases).

2015 Book Challenge – #18 – The Versions of Us

First post of the 2015 book challenge is here

The Versions of Us, by Laura Barnett, was recommended by a friend who actually knows the author. This is her first book, and my friend’s excitement was quite infectious. I was excited too when I saw an advert on the tube.

If I were pitching this, I would say this is part Sliding Doors, part One Day, and part Life After Life. The lives of two people (and many of their friends and family) and how they progress over 60-odd years, through three variations on one starting point.

I liked: seeing how experience changes people, poignant descriptions of relationships, that there is no “good version” of the world (each had positives and negatives), the Cambridge references in the early years.

I disliked: characters thinking “I feel like I should know you” – as far as I’m concerned that’s not how multiple universe work, no more books to read by this author (yet!).

Recommended.

2015 Book Challenge – #17 – Station Eleven

First post of the 2015 book challenge is here

Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel, was recommended on Twitter. Actually it wasn’t even directly recommended, I just overhead a conversation and had to join in.

How could I resist?

How could I resist?

Station Eleven is not set on a station of any kind. It’s set slightly before, and 20 years after, a flu epidemic has killed 99% of the world’s population. The station of the title is one in a science fiction comic that we see coming in to being, passing from hand to hand, and linking some of our characters in unintended ways.

I love a bit of post-apocalypse, and I like it when we know how the apocalypse came about – or at least that we try to find out about it. If the story is set after-the-end in our world I always feel a little disappointed if we don’t get a glimpse of how it happened.

The links between the people we know “now” and the people we see “then” start off tenuous and then become more entwined.

I don’t want to say any more other than that if you like this sort of thing even a bit, you should read it. If you know anyone who likes this sort of thing, and they are aged 12 or over, they should read it. (in terms of suitability it’s less violent or sexual than the Gone series by Michael Grant, which is definitely deliberately aimed at kids).

2015 Book Challenge – #16 – My Family and Other Animals

First post of the 2015 book challenge is here

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell was recommended to me without any particular explanation, so I started it “cold”.

I only really glanced at the cover – if I had paid attention I would have noticed the “50 year anniversary edition” badge. When I read The Goldfinch, I stopped a little way through to look at when it was set, because I felt that it could be any time from 1950 to the present. In this book I also stopped to check the time – 1930s.

This is a very pleasant and nicely-described story without much going on. It reminded me rather a lot of the early parts of Life of Pi (before they get on the boat), where Pi is dabbling in every religion going.

The eccentric family and Greek “peasants” feel a little over-the-top, but exaggeration can be forgiven in reminiscences.

The anthropomorphizing about of all of the animals (particularly dogs, and magpies) is by turns amusing and just a bit too much for me.