Thursday, 10 July 2014

Book Review: The Burning Air - Erin Kelly

I am sitting in bed, curled up with a mug of lemsip because it seems being free of illness for a year is much too much good fortune for anyone and the evil Cold Monster has finally caught up with me. So, bedridden, it is time for me to talk about a book I finished in a day - The Burning Air by Erin Kelly. 

I started reading the book, eager to get stuck into the psychological thriller. And my psyche was most definitely thrilled... The suspense - GREAT! The emotional unrest - GREAT! The evil and creepy characters that definitely have something to hide but you can't quite put your finger on what or why - GREAT! 

It has the components of every great psychological thriller and Erin Kelly has even been praised by Stephen King himself. 

I was gripped. I spent the day in London, and my friend told me she was going to be late. I did not mind at all. All the more time for me to sit in the cafe above Paperchase and read my book, uninterrupted. Completely enthralled.

So far so good, right? 

The train home - long and boring - gave me the best opportunity to read but the mysterious characters had revealed their true chilling identities, all the secrets of the novel had been revealed except for one. 

And this one, I expected to be huge. Bigger than all that had gone before. 

But it wasn't. And I was thoroughly disappointed. And because the final secret was not as SCARY and CHILLING as all that had gone before, all the SCARY and THRILLING events ceased to make sense. They ceased to be proportionate to their cause. And what's worse - the big secret that the character of Darcy tries to use against the outwardly perfect Stepford Family, the Macbrides - is not a secret at all! We, the readers, knew this from the beginning, there was only one shock - and maybe this makes me heartless - but it wasn't as big as everything we'd just read about! 

There was no heart stopping finish, but plenty of heart stopping beginnings and middles. 

Erin Kelly has the gift of suspense. Really and truly. But the plot, for me, lacked the vital and terrifying finale that all good psychological thrillers depend upon. 

This said - the book cannot be put down, even if the ending was slightly disappointing. I'd say give it a read - definitely - and then let me know what you think. It is definitely a novel to get you thinking - perhaps Kelly intended to have such a tiny ending upon which everything was based to make us question further the character of Darcy and the integrity of the Macbrides - who knows. 

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Book Review: The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt

You may wonder if this is a mirage - if you're even reading - because it's basically been a year since I last posted on my blog - BUT, my third and FINAL year of Uni got in the way. I had an amazing time - but the degree is over and life must begin.... But luckily for me, my desired career (in publishing... and hopefully one day as an author myself) means that books are my life... So, here is a review... And expect many as this lifestyle/formerly fashion blog transmutes into a full time lifestyle/book blog!


The Guardian has asked the question 'Is this the year of The Goldfinch?' And, I think I can see why.

I bought the book back in November. My father called me up while I was sleeping in late, the typical student life (oh student life, I miss you), on a Monday - 'Sara, Donna Tartt is speaking at the Union - get tickets!'

I murmured yes, in my haze of sleep, and on waking I realised I had no idea who Donna Tartt was. I called my dad back, and he sent me a link to the Meet the Author interview with her on the BBC. She looked edgy and cool - and I decided I would go to the Cambridge Literary Festival event, if only for some style tips. I bought her book 'The Little Friend' and hoped to read it in time, so that if I got a chance to speak to her I could act clued up and fan-girly. But unfortunately I didn't manage it, and it remains unopened. But when they day came, I took it with me to get it signed anyway.

Donna Tartt is intelligent, funny and charismatic. And I was convinced enough by her reading to spend £20 on 'The Goldfinch' to get it signed ("Darn - I should have bought it in Waterstones earlier and got that extra five pounds off!"). I managed to get it signed, awkwardly pretending to be a fan - but failing - and instead asking her a random question about characterisation. She saw through my facade and signed it only 'Donna Tartt' whereas the Number One Fan before me got 'All the best, Donna Tartt' - but I shrugged it off, fair enough.

Being Cambridge, a member of the audience asked Tartt - 'were you influenced by Homer's Odyssey because I can see many similarities'. Obviously this enthusiastic Tartt fan knew that Tartt studied Classics at University - and Tartt politely replied - 'not consciously, but I can see why you could think that'. But the member of the audience seemed to get the wrong end of the stick, in my opinion. This book is not meant to be 'literary' (see: Vanity or a copy of any Ancient Greek classics - or THE Ancient Greek classic - but a commercial text, first and foremost. Any connection to anything more intellectual is to add to the tone rather than the genre. There are many philosophical parts in the text, none more so than the final paragraph, where Tartt's own voice rings through loud and clear, muffling that of the narrator - but this is the novel's charm, its dual reality within the fiction.

The central motif of the novel, Fabritius' Goldfinch, seems to confuse readers in deciphering the novel's 'aim'. I can see that perhaps it started out as an Art History essay by Tartt and then transformed into a novel, but really it has become a commercial, and highly popular novel and for good reason. At points I questioned Tartt's depth of character (so maybe she viewed the character question I'd asked her as a subtle insult), but as I was drawn in by the plot, the characters began to make sense - and they became complex because of this. The main character, Theo, begins as a simple teenage boy, but following personal tragedies he quickly changes along with his circumstances and friendships. And it may seem far fetched, but it could not be more realistic, in my opinion. Theo changes often (but remains the same... the ultimate cliche) which at first baffles the reader, but when we are baffled, we understand that Theo himself is baffled at this rapid change of Fortune and, consequently, character.

Donna Tartt has been described as a perfectionist - but there was one tiny detail that she forgot to edit out before writing, and sticking with, its opposite which niggled at me all the way through. I shan't tell you what it is, in case it niggles at you throughout your reading of it (and you must read it!!). But perhaps you're not as obsessive about such things as me... but I'll leave it out for now.

I won't give you any plot spoilers, I'm sure there are many out there on the internet as it is, but I will say simply that I didn't want the book to end. I could put it down, yes! Because some parts were so emotionally charged it was a relief to take a break from it every so often. That's the beauty of the form of the novel, and Tartt takes full advantage of this, holding nothing back in her writing of the tale. But, what is perhaps more telling of my admiration of this novel, I PAUSED the Hunger Games: Catching Fire film JUST TO READ THE BOOK SOME MORE. Only for five minutes, admittedly, but surely that's the prime sign of a great novel?

(I'm a new Hunger Games convert - previously I had refused to watch the films or read the books in case they were anything like the addictive but awful Twilight novels and films - but IT IS AMAZING AND I CAN'T WAIT FOR THE NEXT FILM ... OH WHY OH WHY DO I HAVE TO WAIT? I WILL HAVE TO READ THE BOOKS AGAIN TO QUENCH MY HUNGER- but anyway, I digress).

At 771 pages, you'd think I'd get bored - but no. Not bored. Never. It's a great read, and perfect for Summer, or Winter. Or Spring... Or even Autumn. So read it, I implore you.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Book Review: Petals of Blood - Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

Set in Independent Kenya, on the surface Petals of Blood is a murder mystery novel. But do not pick this up as a bit of light reading - you will have to get your head round what it's "really" discussing to really gain value from the book. Though I don't think this value is hard to miss.

The novel begins with the suspicious deaths of three men of social superiority; Mzigo, Chui and Kimeria. The three 'suspects' are our protagonists; Abdulla, Karega, Munira and Wanja. Wanja is our lead into the feminist (or anti-feminist, depending on your reading) issues raised throughout the novel: she is a strong woman who gains respect from the reader and her fellow characters almost immediately, and throughout the novel, this respect is diminished and regained intermittently. She is a strong feminine figure, not without some controversy, but, for me, she represented what little hope there is in the novel, and despite a cruel past, her future seems the most uplifting - though I use 'uplifting' in a relative sense here. Karega, a school teacher and union leader presents the optimism of the youth for independent Kenya - an optimism which was seemingly had by all who fought for independence and expulsion of the British but has since diminished significantly. Abdulla is the shop keeper, injured in the Mau Mau rebellion and Munira, arguably the 'main protagonist' in the novel, is a school teacher. 

Our children must look at the things that deformed us yesterday, that are deforming us today. They must look at the things which formed us yesterday, that will creatively form us into a new breed of men and women who will not be afraid to link hands with children from other lands on the basis of an unashamed immersion in the struggle against those things that dwarf us.
page 294. Penguin Classics, 2002 edition.

The novel depicts the lives of individuals and a town needing help and aid, forgotten by its politicians, and religion. The most captivating parts of the novel, in my opinion, are Karega's story and Wanja's story, and the villagers search for aid in the city. It is a heavily political novel, causing one to question the effect of Imperialism on both education and capitalism, the negative impact of westernisation and the corruption of the politicians, post-Independence, creating a sombre outlook on what was once an optimism and hope for a Kenya after colonial rule. Such a hope, through Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's eyes, seems to have evaporated completely as, after the momentary joy of independence, corruption and tragedy quickly and devastatingly returns. 

The book takes a while to get into, but it is captivating when you do. I found myself having to re-read sections to ensure I hadn't missed something, and the characters take a while to 'get to know', in a sense, though perhaps you're never really meant to know them at all.

Ultimately, the book is rife with fantastic quotes to pick out, wonderfully written in parts, but the story is not just a murder mystery, and the value lies in the politics behind, or in front, of the plot.


Sunday, 14 July 2013

Book Review: A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth

This 1474 page whopper may not be the first book that springs to mind when you think 'light, holiday reading', but it certainly should not be crossed off your list. While it is long, it is not tiresome, amazingly. I read this in just over two weeks, (not continuously, though I wish I could have dropped everything to just read this). 

Seth manages to incorporate numerous conflicts, and struggles of India, using a wide range of characters to depict these struggles 'first-hand', in a sense. Everything comes from a personal angle, using characters with whom you can relate easily. I am not incredibly interested in politics, and there are numerous pages dedicated to the workings, personal and political, of the Indian government, and while some of the lexicon was lost on me, I was able to follow it easily and it is not long until the political side of things becomes closely, and valuably, intertwined with the filial relationships within the book.

The conflict, already well known, between Hindus and Muslims, is wonderfully documented in the relationships and friendships within the novel, creating a new dimension for discussing the rift, and similarly unity, between the two religions and cultures. 

The blurb describes it to be primarily the story of a girl, Lata, attempting to find a suitable boy. I agree, and simultaneously disagree. It is so much more than Lata's story, but at the same time, while reading about the other characters and their stories, I found myself wanting to know what was happening with Lata and her marriage problem. All the suitable men in the book appeal at one point or another, and I think Seth deliberately plays the ending against the hopes of the reader... because, well, that's life. 

It is a book that depicts India in a glorious, tragic, and optimistic way but I can't prescribe it as THE book to read to discover India's post-colonial, newly-independent, post-partition self. Even the stories of the villages focuses mainly on the richer inhabitants, giving brief profiles of the poor, but never going into enough depth. It is a book that depicts an India I haven't read a lot about: the upper classes. I would suggest also reading Rohinton Mistry's 'A Fine Balance'; with a similar narrative technique and numerous characters, the lower classes are delved into a great deal more, and reading the two would be a 'quick guide to Independent India', in my opinion.

Vikram Seth is a poet, and this is clear throughout. The first half of the novel contains numerous snippets of poetry, and many of the characters are greatly interested  in literature. Sometimes these rhyming couplets can get annoying... but eventually, they help bring amusement and light-heartedness to a novel that is not always so light-hearted. 

The relationships within the novels are not perfect, but you can't help emotionally involving yourself to the point that you hope they all work out... you wish Lata could clone herself into three, (or more) so that she can marry all of the possible men she has lined up. Even the marriages that are built on rocky foundations, cracked with adultery, are precious and you hope that they work out too. 

Furthermore, it gives a whole new definition to 'marriage' from the definition pop-songs and movies give to Western society. Romance is very different, and love comes in many forms. Sometimes the mind comes first and leads the heart, preventing the (sometimes irrational) heart from leading the mind.

Overall, this book was one that I did not want to end. I wanted it to continue forever and ever... Perhaps Vikram Seth did too, but by the time he got to 1400 pages he thought he better wrap it up for his publisher's sake. You cannot help but involve yourself in the book. As much as it seems that the first pages keep you firmly as an outsider looking in through a pane of glass, the pane of glass quickly evaporates and you become each and every character, and are rocked by every opinion. You view every story from the insider's angle, even when the insider was the outsider a few moments ago. 


Tuesday, 9 July 2013

happy birthday, mumma.

Friday was my mum's birthday, and, as always, we like to do something special. Both my dad and I are born in winter, and you can never do terribly much in winter. Mum's birthday always seems to be super hot... even  in England. This year, Mum and I decided to put our sun hats on, and head on up to Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. The Hyde Park summer festival was going on, so we even got to listen to Bon Jovi singing his heart out while we were swanning around the gardens, ice cream in hand. 

We had lunch and smoothies (and super expensive olives!!) on the fifth-floor terrace of Harvey Nichols. Laaavly!! The view was amazing...and high.

I was wearing one of my mum's dresses from when she was younger... it seemed only right considering it was her birthday, and thus we turned it into a mummy appreciation day.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

may week

I apologise for my excessively long absence... but I'm back... with some pictures of May Week, etcetc. These are all the excessively posey ones... of course, but there are many many more on film, so when they get developed, prepare for some drunken ones.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

of sun and moon

Revision is taking over my life, slowly but surely, but I've been making sure to enjoy the beautiful sunshine, even if it does mean sitting outside the Law Faculty (I'm not even a lawyer) on the grass with my books trying to revise.

Oh well... Only 3 and a bit weeks and they'll be done! And I can relax for summer and start topping up my tan in the glorious British sunshine, (almost an oxymoron isn't it?).

Sunday, 5 May 2013

a room with a view

So, inspired by Lisette from Lisette Loves, I thought I'd show you my room at Uni. Our College rooms are all pretty standard... and uniform and quite difficult to make homely and because we have to bring everything back home after each term, then start all over again the next, I try to take as little as possible to make my room look nice. This term is exam term, however, and I haven't gone overboard with decorating - my pin board is dull and filled with 'DO REVISION' motivation notes. But... I'll show you some little things I have done to make it feel a bit better. I have a balcony, so that's good, with a gorgeous view of the gardens. Yay! Anyway, without further ado... Welcome to my humble abode.