Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Specter of the Covington Fencibles ~ William Deen

Well, the old adage says that you can choose your friends but you can't choose your relations and I'm sure some families would like to bury the memories of some undesirables within their ranks.  But not so with William Deen, for deep within the Deen family tree roots there lies a very unlikable man and an abhorrent act, and now he's been revealed!

Living in Australia I'm not too knowledgeable about the Amerian Civil War, but I found that the opening imagery set the scene very well and the overall feel was like that creepy Clint Eastwood Civil War movie The Beguiled.

We follow Deen's ancestor from the Civil War into civilian life where times were tough and he was tough on his family, and the victim of the crime that he committed when fighting as part of the Covington Fencibles is waiting.......waiting.... and one can only imagine the weight of the guilt that the real life L B McGrew carried with him to have been so haunted on his death bed.

With one foot firmly planted in historical fact and the other tottering in the spectral realm I found this a nice tight creepy read before going to sleep.  I was was pleasantly surprised.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Belly of Paris ~ Emile Zola

If a book can be written like an impressionist painting then this novel is it.  The plot itself is rather banal with its direction only becoming evident within the last few chapters, but it's the descriptions of the food in the markets that make the reading of this book so worth while.

The premise is simple—Florent, a wrongly convicted man, has escaped from Devil’s Island and returns to Paris.  The opening scene has him lying close to death in the road where he is rescued by a woman on her way to Les Halles markets with a cart-load of vegetables.

Florent re-unites with his brother who is a corpulent owner of a butcher shop, and married to the plump but ‘beautiful’ Lisa.  Welcomed with open arms, Florent soon finds his feet but is dissatisfied with how much Paris has changed and the greed and complacency of the well-to-do.  Rather than comparing the rich with the poor he looks at them as being the ‘fat’ and the ‘thin’.  Lisa and her husband are ‘fat’ and ‘plump’ whereas Florent himself is always described as being thin, skeletal or a ‘longshanks’ and his appearance give rise to some sort of fear, or alarm, to those around him.

Florent begins to spend his evenings with a group of equally dissatisfied friends, and between them they discuss the idea of a starting a revolution.  When the beautiful Lisa gets wind of this, she cannot stand to think that something could happen to change her comfortable way of life and, unbeknownst to her husband, plots to betray Florent to the authorities.

The story is totally centred around Les Halles markets and it’s various gossiping and bitchy stallholder’s and the butcher shop.  Zola truly ‘paints’ with wonderfully descriptive words the colours, sights and smells of all the food at the markets.  And, oh boy, I could certainly smell the fish market and it was quite disturbing to see how the food was stored and handled there without the knowledge of today’s food handling practices.

One morning as the light begins to illuminate the fish market Zola remarks:

“…… these precious colours, toned and softened by the waves—the iridescent flesh-tints of the shell-fish, the opal of the whiting, the pearly nacre of the mackerel, the ruddy gold of the mullets, the plated skins of the herrings, and the massive silver of the salmon.  It was as though the jewel-cases of some sea-nymph had been emptied there—a mass of fantastical, undreamt-of  ornaments, a streaming and heaping of necklaces, monstrous bracelets, gigantic brooches, barbaric gems and jewels, the use of which could not be divined.”

There are plenty of passages like this, one even describing the various tones and shades of the green vegetables.  It  certainly makes you look at your food in a different way. 

I can’t say I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, but I can say that I really appreciated the writing, and by the end of the novel I felt like a glutton myself for having been exposed to so much food. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

David Copperfield ~ Charles Dickens

David Copperfield has been on my ‘must read list’ for longer than I can remember.  I don’t know what took me so long to pick it up, but I’m so pleased that I finally did as it was truly a very enjoyable read.

I was expecting a tale of destitution and cruelty with life only coming good towards the end.  But it was not like that at all.  It was a linear tale of David’s life, told in remembrance by David  himself, commencing from the date of his birth when his Aunt Betsy Trotwood appears out of the blue to meet the new baby girl only to disappear just as quickly upon being told ‘it’s a boy!’  Betsy later redeems herself by taking care of the orphaned David and paying for his schooling and articling him to a proctor.

David’s early life is happy enough until one day he is asked if he would like to go on a little holiday with his beloved nurse-maid Peggoty.  When he returns he finds that his widowed mother has  re-married, and life will never the same again. Mr Murdstone and his steely sister cast a gloom over the once happy home with physical and mental abuse, and David is sent away to a questionable school where he becomes friends with two boys who will play very different roles in his later life. 

There is plenty of drama and   tragedy and not all of it relates to David, but to some of the many people he comes to know from all walks and class of life – with the class divide being a major theme throughout.

This novel was Charles Dickens’ favourite, being semi-autobiographical, and it contains some very memorable characters such as Mr Wilkins Micawber and Uriah Heep, and I think it could well become my favourite too.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fight Club ~ Chuck Palahniuk

This is now my third Chuck Palahniuk novel and he is well on his way to becoming an author I’ll be looking out for in the new release lists.

The genre is Transgressional fiction and though the subject matter he chooses could be distasteful it is not, and neither are the characters.  They are quirky and funny.

It’s hard to write about Fight Club without giving the plot away so if you think you might read this novel, and haven’t seen the movie, then just a warning that the rest of this review contains a plot spoiler.

The novel is narrated by a sleep deprived protagonist, telling the story about his troublesome friend Tyler Durden.  It is only as the plot progresses that it is revealed that Tyler is actually our protagonist's split personality who, when our protagonist is asleep, is running around America setting up ‘Fight Clubs’ and organizing ‘Project Mayhem’. 

Mayhem is what ensues in our Tyler’s life when he tries to stop what his other self has started.

Palahnuik crams so much of the story into each paragraph, starting at different points in time and weaving it backwards and forwards.  It keeps you reading at full pelt. I loved it!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ben-Hur ~ Lew Wallace

Ben-Hur is a Biblical tale of betrayal and revenge set during the time of The Christ. 

Judah Ben-Hur is a wealthy Jewish Prince who is betrayed by his childhood friend, the Roman Messala, and during the course of the narrative Ben-Hur’s path runs parallel, and crosses, with that of Jesus Christ.

I found this novel to be a bit dated and over descriptive but hugely enjoyable.  Wallace suggests the foundation for the birth of modern Christianity and rather than being preachy he has just told a damn good story.

Some of the elements are a bit hard to swallow, such as the literal translation of the Christ's miracles and I only wish I could have got the image of Charlton Heston from my mind as Wallace’s Ben-Hur is way more gorgeous.

The only disappointment for me was  after the build up to the Circus, and the huge description of the stadium, the race itself fell flat.  It could have done with an injection of excitement of the kind written by Matt Reilly.

Ben Hur, however, is quite an achievement for the era that it was written in and well worth the read.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Keep it In Yor Knickers ~ J R Sanders

This was a light and surprisingly enjoyable read about the on/off relationship between 'Judi' and 'George' that spans across the continents.  It was ‘racey’ without being pornographic and I think that there are a lot of women out there who will be able to identify with an erratic roller coaster relationship though perhaps not on this Transatlantic/Pacific level, but may it be a lesson to us all as it smacks of desperation!

Based on actual events Ms Sanders said that the story was embellished a little to make it more exciting so I really hope that she didn’t give ‘George’ all those chances.  Actually I felt that she was a bit of a stalker, not letting go, sending emails trying to keep in touch and asking heartfelt questions after each break up.  It’s easy for someone to send a reply and tell you what you want to hear in an email – he could have been in bed with someone else whilst he was sending it!  I think it would be very interesting to have this story told from ‘George’s’ point of view!!

In some parts it comes across as very naive – I think I must be a bit of a cynic when it comes to men but truly they do love differently from women.  Women invest their heart and soul into a relationship but men (in my experience J) just want food and sex.  I think the amazing Tim Minchin sums up a man's point of view perfectly………….“If I didn't have you, someone else would do”!  Tongue in cheek?  They do say many a  truth is told in jest.

There is plenty of humour throughout however, though I think the story would have benefited from a bit more depth with regards to the travel locations (they interested me much more than the sex) and I think an editor would have been worth the effort (Ms Sanders said she didn’t use one) as apart from some grammar and punctuation errors they would have picked up on the heinous spelling of Cold Chisel’s ‘Khe Sahn’.

I was reading Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks in tandem, which could not have been further from the other end of the scale as far as sexual liberation for women is concerned and I found that I was picking up Knickers more often to read than Desire.  So, in summary, Keep it in Yor Knickers is certainly a roller coaster ride of sex, love (?), heartbreak, a lot of travel and a warning of what not to do when trying desperately to hold onto something that is not really there.  Be broadminded or you might be shocked with the opening chapter; it’s a fun read with plenty of aspects within it that one can identify with. However, if I do find myself free and single in my 50s, this story will inspire me to do things much more gracefully than our fifty and fabulous 'Judi'!