Wednesday, January 27, 2010

School Book: The Golden Notebook

I am ridiculous happy to be finished Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook. It's about 550 pages long, very choppy and tough reading, and I managed to read it in four days (yes, I'm very proud of myself. If I can pull that off, especially with two of the days being virtual write-offs because I was busy, I can get any book read for school!) :D
The Golden Notebook is the story of Anna, told mostly through her five notebooks. There's the black notebook, which contains her writing life (mostly made up of her adventures in Africa), the red notebook, which contains her political life (she's a member of the British Communist Party), the yellow notebook, which contains her emotional life (told through fictitious characters she invented), the blue notebook, which contains the events of her daily life, and the golden notebook, which she buys near the end of the book to tie the other notebooks all together. The notebooks are split up, so you do not get their full stories at once, by each other and by the narrative of her life after the notebooks.
When I originally read the back of the book, I was intrigued. I planned on reading it over Christmas. It sounded pretty interesting. But after talking to some people in my class who said it was terrible, I had a hard time starting it (hence starting it four days before we would discuss it in class). And unfortunately, they were right; I didn't really enjoy reading it. The Golden Notebook is just too choppy - I started liking a section (say the yellow notebook) but then it ends and I'd have to read several pages of boring blue notebook. A friend of mine said that it is dated, which is also true, making it harder to relate to. And I didn't really like the characters. Anna and Molly kept jumping into the same sorts of relationships with the same sorts of guys over and over again. And the men in the book were terrible people. Everyone was miserable, parts of the book didn't seem well-written, and I found about 4/5th (I'm being generous. It was probably more) boring. Definitely not a recommended read.
But I will say, if you do read it, remember what the first line of the book is. It comes up again later, and I didn't realize it until after we discussed it in class.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Tempest

For my Identity in Contemporary British Fiction class, my seminar is going to be on John Fowles' The Collector. A lot of the criticism on the book mentions how it is similar to Shakespeare's The Tempest, so I decided to read the play so I knew exactly how The Collector is like it. Right off the bat, with the dramatis persona, I found that some of the characters from The Collector are named after characters from The Tempest. The overall plot was rather different, but I enjoyed reading it.
The Tempest opens with a storm shipwrecking the King of Naples’ ship. Everyone is scattered across an island, believing that everyone else has died in the storm. The storm was summoned by Prospero, the ex-duke of Milan; he has brought them here to teach them all a lesson and win back his dukedom.
While I wasn’t too fond of the scenes dealing with the King and his lords, I did enjoy the play as a whole. It was a magical, fun story that reminded me of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in some ways. I definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys Shakespeare and wants a quick, easy read.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Library Book: Northlanders Book 1: Sven the Returned

I grabbed this while I was at work because it looked and sounded cool. I mean, how can you not be intrigued by Entertainment Weekly saying it is "Vikings finally done right!"? So being sick of the crappy books I've read for school, I decided to give Northlanders, Book 1: Sven the Returned a shot.
Right off the bat, I have to agree: this is vikings done right. The story is brutal, with an art style to match. It suited the very idea of vikings. And Sven was sufficiently hard-core. But unfortunately, as with most of the things I've read lately, the story sort of died at the end. Maybe it was because Sven didn't have a particularly good reason to keep fighting here, or maybe it was because of some events which obviously happened behind the scenes, but there was no spectacular climax and nothing to keep me wanting to read more (or know what happens next).
Anyway, it was cool, but in my opinion not cool enough to recommend to everyone. If you really like vikings, you'll like this. Otherwise, you might be better off passing it by.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

School Book: Never Let Me Go

I thought Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go sounded intriguing, so I decided to read it next (plus Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus wasn't here yet, so I needed something else to read). Unfortunately, Never Let Me Go just never lived up to my expectations. Also, spoiler alert - I talk a bit about the plot here.
The back of the book says that Kathy, Ruth and Tommy are special. They grow up as students at Hailsham. And it is only after they are grown up and near the end of their lives that they realize just how special they are. Like I said, it's intriguing. But in practice, Never Let Me Go read like bad sci-fi. It didn't take me long to realize that these kids weren't normal, with the talk of being a carer for those who are giving donations. And there was never any talk of seeing their parents, or of going home for the holidays.
It turns out that these kids are clones, created so they can donate their organs when they get older. This is a strange and ineffective system going on: the kids grow up, have to care for older clones who are donating, then start donating their own organs once they're finished. It doesn't matter that a lot of people are un-suited to being a carer, this is the way the system works. The book never explains why they needed clones, either; wouldn't it be more efficient just to grow new organs in a lab?
Anyway, Never Let Me Go is the story, told from Kathy's viewpoint, of her and her friends growing up, and how their friendship is first shattered, and then brought back together later in life. Unfortunately, through almost all of the book, I kept wondering why I should care. None of the characters really seemed to come to life for me, and I had a hard time caring about them until the end. I thought the end was pretty good, when it explained everything and gave me a bit of a reason to care about the characters. But it was too little too late. And right after the climax, when all the mysteries are revealed (including what makes the Hailsham students so special), the book seems to meander to a close, and again I found myself losing interest in the main characters. Overall, I was unimpressed with this book. And don't be fooled by the quote on the cover from Time; this book wasn't a page-turner.