Saturday, 28 January 2012

Book #11 Parallel Worlds by Michio Kaku

Parallel Worlds

Last year I read Michio Kaku's Physics Of The Impossible in a bid to expand my knowledge around the subject of physics, something which, alongside maths and chemistry was not a particular strong suit for me when I was still in the education system. I enjoyed it so much that I determined that I would eventually get around to another. I've had Parallel Worlds now for some months and eventually got around to it this week.

Parallel Worlds is at once accessible and complicated. It splits into three categories.

1) Historical approaches to theoretical physics and the birth of the universe : Einstein, Big Bang
2) Literary approaches to parallel universes and how this could be possible within string theory
3) What might happen when the universe dies and how human life might survive

The early sections of the book are quite easy to digest as they are mainly historical. I found later discussions on M-Theory and string theory difficult to comprehend, but as is quoted in the book, if you think you've understood quantum mechanics then you probably haven't as it is at the farthest edge of what humans are capable of comprehending.

I came to this book mostly in search of quotes in relation to quantum science  and got what I was looking for in that respect, but, the final third in relation to the possible death of the universe was so beyond my lifetime as to disinterest me a little.

What I did love about this and found rather heartwarming, is that Michio Kaku among others is clearly of the belief that the existence of human life with its frail balance of not just ecosystems upon Earth but within the grand exacting balance of the universe itself, points to some kind of argument of intelligent design. As a spiritual person I liked this a lot, but men of Science and men of faith are seldom one and the same. Kaku is an eminent physicist and like me, sees no reason why the two beliefs cannot coexist.

The book has dated slightly as it was published prior to the advent of the LHC in CERN in Switzerland. Kaku was aware of the approaching advent of the LHC and speaks theoretically of it in this book. I think I would like to read a bang up to date book by him.

Interesting and detailed if often a little overwhelming, Parallel Worlds is a gateway to some serious existential philosophising. I enjoy Kaku's approach and will certainly continue to read his physics books for lay people 8/10

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Book #10 The Girl In Times Square by Paullina Simons

The Girl In Times Square

The Girl In Times Square was recommended to me more than six years ago by an Internet pal, and I just never got around to it, one of those "always meant to pick it up, never did" books.

It's about Lily Quinn, a young struggling artist who has flunked college. Her Grandma sends her to Maui to take care of her mother for whom familial concern is growing due to her erratic behaviour. Whilst there she recieves a phonecall from the police to say that her best friend and roomate Amy has gone missing, in the midst of all this she discovers that she has won the lottery and then discovers she also has cancer.

If The Girl In Times Square sounds like a busy novel it is. There is a lot going on in this book. A missing persons investigation, family dysfunction, skeletons in closets, extra marital affairs, alcoholism, medical crises, secrets, lies and a love affair. It seems like all these plotlines might overwhelm a book or feel shoe-horned in somehow, and they probably would in a lesser book with lesser writing talent on show. The book becomes a proper juicy pot boiler of gossip overflowing with the action that is often seen in the events of the lives in an extended family. Think Maeve Binchy but in New York and with a somewhat grander scale. This isn't a criticism, I love Maeve Binchy's early work.

I have two rather slight criticisms of the novel, though I loved the Spencer/Lily dynamic it is the height of unprofessionalism in relation to her position in the investigation, and I very much doubt that in reality Spencer would have been allowed to continue in this manner nor Lily not share the rest of her family's anger toward him. My other issue was to do with a suspect in the Amy disappearance case, a total panto melodrama if ever there was one.

In spite of these slight flaws I really engaged with both the story and the characters, really enjoyed the book and would recommend it to others. I read it in two short bursts, it felt like a good gossip and was good fun. The closing paragraph really gives the book a satisfying conclusion even if it does follow one of those horrible sequences whereby you are updated as to the fate of each character with a few sentences each. The conclusion of the Amy investigation is also satisfying.

A good involving read with plenty of incident and family drama, though rather sexistly I do think it has more female than universal appeal. 8/10

Book #9 PopCo by Scarlett Thomas


Around Spring/Summer of last year I read The End Of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas and thought it was AMAZING, I genuinely loved it, the story and the philosophical questions it posed. As a result I definitely wanted to read other work by her. I didn't do so immediately largely because I didn't want to read PopCo in too close a promixity to The End Of Mr Y, I wanted to enjoy it in it's own right. I didn't want to spend time reading it wishing I was still reading Mr Y.

Where Mr Y tackled quantum physics and existential philosophy within a fictional structure; PopCo has two strands, mathematics specifically cryptography and corporate globalisation. If you think those two don't sound like they go together you'd be right.

PopCo is the story of Alice Butler, a traditional geeky misfit who wrote crosswords for a living until she was headhunted by toy company PopCo. Alice wears a necklace, a gift from her grandfather at the age of nine, within this necklace lies a key to an age old mystery a secret which pervaded Alice's childhood. Alice travels to a country manor to participate in a work team building conference but whilst there recieves a series of coded messages, but who are they from, and what are they about? I loved this side of the story, it  was just good old fashioned storytelling at it's best. You cared about Alice, her development as a character during her time at the PopCo retreat, the new general knowledge imparted to you as a reader via the fiction, her rebellious yet moral grandfather. The book also does some quirky things like including a cake recipe,  a crossword and a list of prime numbers, and some great lateral thinking puzzles. There is also a painfully accurate depiction of what it's like to be a teenage girl.

Which is why when a degree of authorial intrusion occurs towards the end of the novel it is very grating. One character becomes a mouthpiece for the anti globalisation movement and rails against corporate exploitation, the global village and the tricks played upon the consumer, particularly the teenage consumer. I went to university around the time that No Logo by Naomi Klein was published and we studied it a lot during one or two semesters. The arguments presented in PopCo frustrated me, as it seemed very much an attempt to educate the reader upon these matters, and I had been there, done that quite some time ago. It felt very much like the author herself on a soapbox preaching to her readership than part of a natural progression in the novel itself. The resolution of the story of Alice's grandfather, by far the best aspect of the novel ends up becoming something of a forgotten postscript.

I also REALLY hated the postmodern twist towards the end when Alice tells her friends she will write a book about what it was like to work for a toy company. They tell her to change the name. So she calls it PopCo. Sorry if that's a spoiler, but I had to mention it, because it seriously annoyed me.
I hate stuff like that, the first time it's clever but not the umpteenth.

Did I enjoy PopCo? Yes, I did. I loved all the mystery aspect, Alice's childhood etc, but I hated the end and I hated being unsubtly preached at, both about globalisation and about veganism.  I do think that it would be a great starting point for the more mature teenage girl as an introduction to socio-political issues, I don't know so much if it encourages the development of independent thought and debate though as it pretty much tells you what you ought to think.

I liked certain aspects of this novel, but it's messy and at times irritating. 7/10

Monday, 16 January 2012

Book #8 The Second Coming by John Niven

The Second Coming

Around the time of the Renaissance God decided the human race was in good shape, thought it was high time he took a holiday and went fishing. As time in Heaven passes quicker than that on Earth, he returns a couple of weeks later to find 2011 and the world in an absolute mess, summons Jesus and sends him back down to rectify matters.

The first 60 pages of this novel are sublime. They are genius. Hilarious, eminently quotable and genuinely exciting. Though some of the Christian faith might find this controversial novel heinously blasphemous (it is) if you're open and you have a decent sense of humour you'll still love this depiction of God beating Halo 3 and Jimi Hendrix getting stoned with Jesus. I did. Oddly, the only thing I found uncomfortable was Ronald Reagan, I didn't object to him being in Hell so much as the cruel way he was depicted. I was a bit offended by that, but the rest of it was so outstandingly original I was majorly excited for the remainder of this novel. And then..........?

And then this novel dies on its arse. Dies. And becomes dull, pedestrian and cliched. It's one of the biggest disappointments in a novel I have EVER experienced. JC in his thirties in 2011 as one would hope is hanging out with the poor, the mentally ill, the abandoned, the social bottom rung and trying to help them. He also has a sideline as a musician. One of the problems in the novel is JC's social circle, so hard to care about that I finished the novel on Saturday and now can't remember most of their names. The arc with Claude particularly feels redundant and puzzling.

The second main section of the novel alongside  Jesus and his crew is his entry into an American Idol style contest. All of this section is horrible writing. Steven Stelfox is Simon Cowell with the exaggeration dial turned up to 3000, and it is a parody of the misery of this sort of contest and the surrounding celebrity culture. Pop Idol first hit our screens about 10 years ago, the zeitgeist of this sort of satire has long since passed. It is as old and done to death in pretty much every medium as the opening of this novel was fresh. It's practically mouldy. It made me a bit sad that this was the best he could do. 

The third section is inevitable and even practically predictable from the moment Jesus and friends move onto their farm. Niven takes some well aimed shots at the worst of religion, both Christianity and Islam in this and the prior section, but that's about it. Gutted. Actually gutted.

If you are in a bookstore, take this book and sit down with it in the coffee shop, read those stellar 60 pages and then put it back on the shelf. 10/10 for those extraordinary pages, 3/10 for the novel as a whole

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Book #7 The Damned Utd by David Peace

The Damned Utd

It may surprise a lot of people to read that once upon a time I knew a fair bit about football, I knew all the first team players names and many of the players names on teams I didn't support, the managers in the league, the fixtures, transfer window rules, and the meaning of 'on aggregate' and 'offside'. But for social reasons (and for that read bullying) I stopped "following" football when I left school, I didn't need the hassle anymore and now would be hard pressed to name more than a handful of current players on all sides as a whole.

Initially, I believed that The Damned Utd was a biography of Brian Clough and would therefore cover my "non fiction" quota. But, though it is based on biographical information, it is in fact a novelisation of his life. A known character of the football world Brian Clough was a man who was never afraid to say exactly what he thought, and do exactly as he pleased, but this approach made him enemies and lost him friends. The novel tells the story of his rise and fall as a manager between 1965-1974.

Told in "present day" 1974 in which Clough has just become manager of successful Division One side Leeds United, the novel flashes from his ill fated 44 day tenure there to Clough's past as a manager of Hartlepools and Derby. It chronicles something of an existential crisis for Clough who adored Derby and was a Derby man to his core, but having left the club on bad terms goes to manage Leeds. The problem is throughout his managing career Clough's passionate hatred had always been for Leeds and their former manager Don Revie. He is unable to see them as his men or his team, but Revie's men, the rotten dirty cheats he has always known. Lonely, isolated and homesick, Clough's world spirals out of control.   

The novel provides this fascinating psychological portrait of a man who lived for the game, and who was consumed by it, it was more than a job, there was real emnity and drama off pitch. The prose at times can be slightly repetitive "Revie. His team. His players. His club" and lists of wins, losses and draws against various sides, but this is to reflect the obsessional nature of Clough and the repetition does  convey this aspect well, and actually didnt irritate me it added to the atmosphere.

A film starring Michael Sheen was made, but, I liked the story as I saw it in my own head and I imagined Clough as he was back in the day and wouldn't want to see someone elses portrayal I don't think. The story also shows a bygone era of football before it became more of a commercialised business and also of a bygone era of society, where men were drank like fish and smoked like chimneys and spoke as they found and didn't care if they gave offence.

I liked The Damned Utd very much there was something quite addictive and charming about it, and it took this bluff arrogant alcoholic and made you see his frailties and his flaws and made you love him and root for him and pity him. It made you hate Don fucking Revie too. A must I think for any Clough fan or football fan but if you are neither it is still a great story about a man unable to stop sabotaging himself teetering on a psychological brink.

Really enjoyed it 8.5/10

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Book #6 Far To Go by Alison Pick

Far To Go

Far To Go tells the story of the Bauer family, there is a connection to the true life story of the family of Alison Pick who escaped Czechoslovakia for Canada during the war. In this, it bears some similarity to Anne Michaels Fugitive Pieces which I read at the end of last year.

In Far To Go, the Jewish Bauer family find their lives both metaphorically and literally under threat as German aggression begins to absorb Czechoslovakia into its borders. Pavel Bauer who has lived a secular life does not really believe it will happen to him, but begins to identify with and explore his Jewish heritage when it comes under threat. Initially, he is unwilling to part with his precious son Pepik but as the threat of the Holocaust marches closer, he begins to consider to try placing his son on the Kindertransport, the initiative of a British man who saved the lives of many Jewish children. 

Far To Go was longlisted last year for the Man Booker Prize last year but didn't make it to the shortlist and though it is not a bad book and is eminently readable, it is flawed and its potential is wasted I can see why it wasn't shortlisted.

The Kindertransport is a really different angle to take on the stories of the Second World War and would make an involving book. Unfortunately this isn't that book, the bulk of this book concerns Pepik's nanny Martha, her loyalty or in my opinion lack thereof to the Bauer family. It also covers the well trod ground of the encroaching fear and sudden oppression of Jewish communities in Nazi Occupied Europe.

Both Pepik and first cousin Tomas make it out of Europe on the Kindertransport but little to nothing is made of that experience and what that was like for children. In fact the first page of the book informs us that Tomas reached a family in the UK, he is never referred to in the novel again, and Pepik's experience is completely truncated. It just seems like a totally missed chance. Towards the end of the book it becomes all about main character Lisa's research, and how the story was pieced together as best she could from her research. In fact though the title Far To Go implies the journey and the front cover is of a child with a suitcase the novel is barely about the Kindertransport at all. And thats the disappointment. I think I would like to read a novel that is actually about that experience.

I also disliked the manner in which Martha is painted as a heroine of sorts at the end, when in point of fact she wasn't and ultimately sabotaged the safety of her beloved Pepik and Pavel.

So, yes, this novel whilst a very readable very well written book is a pretty big disappointment and though somewhat based on the Pick family experience is lacking in terms of anything new to say. It's still worth a read but if you wanted to read a novel about that era and asked me for a recommendation, I would recommend Markus Zusak's The Book Thief among others and this novel would not spring to mind instantly 7/10

Book #5 Disputed Land by Tim Pears

Disputed Land

*slight spoiler alert*

Disputed Land by Tim Pears is frankly, to me, a bit of an oddity of a novel. It begins with a man intent upon recording some aspect of his family's history for his children, who seem bemused by this.
At this point I anticipated a story set in the 1970's about the man's past in connection to the current present. However, when we flashback we are in 2008 our "present day". Theo, the story's author and main character is a teenager and is meeting up with his relations, a rare occurrence, for Christmas at his grandparents home. It transpires that his Grandmother has cancer and has brought them all together so that they can divide her possessions prior to her death. There is bluff selfish businessman Uncle Jonny his obnoxious twins Xan and Baz and his beautiful wife Aunt Lorna. Theo's Aunt Gwen who has newly become a lesbian, her partner Melony and her daughters Sid and Holly with golden child and favoured grandson Matt set to follow on.

What bugged me is that with the reveal or twist in the closing pages of this novel, like Theo's children I wondered what precisely the point was of this particular story he told. It didn't seem to bear any relevance or importance to the lives which his children and grandchildren now led, and would seem in many ways likely to anger them with the laissez faire arrogance of the past and the almost fairytale like plenty. The truly interesting story for me was Theo's present in relation to his past, of the past there is plenty but of the present there is next to nothing.

What remains is essentially the story of your average middle class privileged Christmas with everyone trying to be civil and get along. And the strange, uncomfortable yet important act of sorting out someone's possessions when their death hasn't yet occurred but is known to be impending.  
Though these are common experiences, it's a bit boring, and nothing special. The idea that Theo is writing this from a future that was predicted yet not heeded is supposed to be what makes this special.  If there had been a continual juxtaposition of this concept throughout the novel it might have become moving even alarming but instead it just feels like a juvenile sensational addendum to a thirteen year olds short story, and a riff on the ideas of the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present.

Sadly the bulk of this novel is very Aga Saga esque and its failed attempt at a decent twist doesn't save it. If it were a paperback and not an ebook it would be off to Oxfam tomorrow I'm afraid. 5/10

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Book #4 Coconut Unlimited by Nikesh Shukla

Coconut Unlimited

Coconut Unlimited by Nikesh Shukla was nominated for the 2010 Costa First Novel Award. It tells the story of Amit, preparing for his wedding to Alice, Amit is visited by childhood friends Anand and Nishant and reminisces about their youth.

The novel reminded me a lot of Stephen Kelman's Pigeon English, like said novel, Coconut Unlimited is set within an immigrant community, Amit is first generation British and is of Gujarati heritage. Like Pigeon English the focus is on adolescence and the trials and tribulations of growing up. I failed to identify with Harrison Opoku and his friends in Pigeon English, their concerns and interests being somewhat post my era. With Coconut Unlimited however our protagonists are around age 15 in 1994, when I would have been 13, so there were aspects of their experience I could relate to.

On the one hand though Coconut Unlimited like Pigeon English offers a rare literary glimpse into a growing part of Britain's immigrant community, some stereotypes were in action. Amit and Anand for example are under intense pressure from their Indian parents to perform highly academically, a well known cliche. But, with this stereotype particularly it wouldn't have become such a cliche, if there wasn't some truth behind it. The school racism from both pupils and staff would still have been realistic around this time also, but Amit and his friends face the most ridicule for attempting to pretend they are of a different culture by getting into the rap and hip/hop scene and starting a hip/hop band. Amit's sister calls him a coconut "brown on the outside, white on the inside" and so the band Coconut Unlimited is born.

This concept of trying to find a subculture to be part of as a teen is very true to the teenage experience. I myself was into "indie" music and had a friend who was into the subculture which sprang up around Nirvana. Everytime you went into the city on Saturdays there were gangs of "goth" kids with skateboards being "alternative" outside Quiggins but also conforming to rules of their new tribe. So, whilst I wasn't into Nas, or Public Enemy or Tupac, I understood the nature and authenticity of the experience Shukla conveys. Though I am white I was also part of a minority and so I felt the realism of the outsider experience also.

Despite being a very identifiable piece about adolescent angst, Coconut Unlimited is frustrating as a novel because ultimately the plot goes nowhere and terminates abruptly, although many teenage bands and friendships do ebb away by nature I felt that neither the main book or the epilogue had a particularly erudite conclusion and it was somewhat disappointing, as were character outcomes.

It is a book I think many men of my age would enjoy reflecting as it does elements of the 90's teen experience but it isn't knock your socks off special and I wouldn't be in a huge rush to obtain it. It is fun and humourous but having made comparison to Pigeon English I would say the latter is the better written and more endearing work 6.5/10

Book #3 Boy A by Jonathan Trigell

Boy A

On the last day of last year I read and was thrilled by Jonathan Trigell's latest novel Genus, a work of speculative fiction about the future of "designer babies". I gave it a rave review. This review was subsequently read by Jonathan who retweeted it on his own Twitter feed and followed me. I nearly cried I was that pleased. So, Jonathan has two other novels Boy A and Cham, neither of which I had read. The controversial and critically acclaimed Boy A was adapted into a drama starring Andrew Garfield, I didn't watch it because I hadn't read the book as that is the choice I usually make: read the book first.

Boy A is the story of "Jack Burridge" a man who referred to as Boy A in court has adopted said alias upon his release from prison because his true identity cannot be known for his own safety. At the age of 12, he and another boy killed a fellow child and a national furore arose.

In the past I have been critical of the ethics involved in taking a well known crime and using it for the sake of fiction. The ethics and also the originality. A prime example of this is the way in which the back story of the character Joanna echoed that of Josie Russell in the Kate Atkinson novel "When Will There Be Good News?" I didn't like it.

Boy A however is a very different beast. Whereas in the case of the Atkinson and a couple of other novels with similar elements I have read in the last 18 months, the crime is treated in a somewhat tawdry manner, as one more ingredient in the pot, for Trigell it isn't a throwaway nod, it's a real, multi-layered look into a crime which rocked British society. Though Jack Burridge is fictional so much of his story correlates to the original crime that Boy A is rather more a piece of faction beneath which lies both psychological analysis of a perpetrator and a modern social commentary. Boy A is not a sensationalist exploitative piece is my point, but a novel with something relevant and important to say about a crime so shocking it affected the national psyche.

The crime I am of course referring to is the murder of toddler James Bulger by schoolboys Robert Thompson and Jon Venables in 1993. I grew up not far from the area in which he was killed and I remember the local as well as national reaction, and I was only a year older than his killers at the time.

Some of the factional echoes Trigell describes include a Sun campaign to prevent the release of "Burridge" - something which actually occurred in real life. The novel also makes reference to the manner in which many adults gathered to hurl abuse at the police van carrying the two boys, I remember being asked to reflect upon the morality of this in an RE class: Should grown men and women be hurling profane abuse at two children no matter what they had done? Shouldn't they be questioning themselves their politicians and community leaders about the breakdown in society that had led us to this tragic situation? Didn't their behaviour further illustrate unnerving social decay?

In Boy A Jack Burridge is released from prison and tries to establish a new life, a job, friends, a girlfriend, but his past follows him almost as if he were under surveillance from it. Haunted and hunted Burridge will never escape his past actions.

The remarkable prescience shown by Jonathan Trigell in Genus is also bizarrely evident in Boy A. I took main character Burridge to be based more upon the life of Venables than that of Thompson. In the media coverage Thompson was more demonised and Venables depicted as the softer boy who was led along. In Boy A, Burridge only admits a share in the responsibility for the little girl's death when his contact with a kindly support worker is threatened. His psychologist is also hoping for something good to write for the sake of career progression. In the novel, though perhaps not in real life, there is a hint of doubt as to his guilt.

Boy A was published in 2004, in 2010 Jon Venables new identity was blown, he was also revealed to have violated his parole, had been involved in viewing child pornography and was returned to prison. A six year difference between the events of Boy A and a similar yet not quite real life mirroring. With this, alongside the riots of Genus if I were Jonathan Trigell, I'd be a bit worried I was psychic at this point. Boy A also reflects upon the hounding nature of the British press, a hot topic in the UK over the last 12 months.

With its real life counterpart set aside, Boy A is an intriguing novel about the human capacity for forgiveness, individual forgiveness, national forgiveness, and most importantly the forgiveness of ourselves. I was reminded of a quote from one of my favourite films 'The Shawshank Redemption' said by aging criminal Red as played by Morgan Freeman :
Cause not a day goes by I don't feel regret. Not because I'm in here; or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can't. That kid's long gone and this old man is all that left. I gotta live with that. Rehabilitated? It's just a bullshit word. So go ahead and stamp your forms, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don't give a shit.
 I recommend reading Boy A, Sarah Waters called it : 
 "a compelling narrative, a beautifully structured piece of writing, and a thought-provoking novel of ideas. It's a wonderful debut."
I love Sarah Waters anyway and can only concur. But beware if you had or have strong feelings regarding that crime or type of crime, you may find yourself having sympathy for the devil..... 10/10

Book #2 The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth

The Etymologicon

When I was 17 or so I did a bit of etymology (study of word origin) at A Level and rather enjoyed it, "Santa came from St Nick which is related to Old Nick which means Devil" that sort of thing. Some of these books which make a splash around the festive season can be gimmicky but when I noticed that The Etymologicon was 99p on Kindle, I got it I first thought that it was perhaps a etymological dictionary but at that price : a bargain. It isn't quite that though.

Author Mark Forsyth a clear aficionado etymologist takes us on a circular journey through the origin of popular words, phrases and cultural references, beginning and ending with book and phrases which use terms like "to throw the book" and "cooking the books"

The book is often amusing and gives the sensation of a man with a passion for his subject talking at you incessantly about it at a party or something, but, far from being annoying this machine gun fire discourse is really interesting and often entertaining, Forsyth certainly has a way with words and can often be amusing.

I found out many interesting factoids from Mr Forsyth: the contributions made by Milton and Shelley to the English language, why Wendy isn't a real girls name but Neverland is a real place, why a computer boots up and gets bugs and computer users experience Spam, why all guns are female and where the phrases "in the buff" and "before you can say Jack Robinson" come from.

There was one that I already knew in there though : the correlation between the Starbucks coffee house chain and Herman Melville.

The Etymologicon takes the style of some radio features I have seen where the song played on one day has a roundabout connection with the song played the next day and each chapter tends to end with the word which will be explained in the next. The trouble with this book is that though it is entertaining its rapid fire style can feel relentless and you can forget quite quickly what you've just been told, though I read the book in a linear way over a few days, it is much more the sort of book to be dipped in and out of, a coffee table or toilet book sort of thing. (I know of people who have kept books in their loo though I've never done it)

I enjoyed this book which also has a cryptic crossword style quiz at the back and would recommend it to readers and wordsmiths everywhere. I've already decided to buy this for a couple of people and if he brings out a follow up I will definitely get it. 9/10

Friday, 6 January 2012

Book #1 Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

Warm Bodies

If you wished to give Warm Bodies a pithy popular culture summation, you might say "It's like Twilight but with a Zombie" though this gives the general gist as to what the novel is about, it is unfair to both it and its author Isaac Marion.

Warm Bodies has been a resounding success for Marion, he originally self published it, but it took off by word of mouth to such a degree it has received a physical publication both here and in America and in February next year the movie adaptation starring British actor Nicholas Hoult in the lead will be released. This book was mentioned in passing (just author and title) to me on Twitter, but after looking it up and seeing it was a zombie novel and a romance at that, it took me mere seconds to buy it, and I'm not in the least ashamed of this!

Warm Bodies begins with the line :
I'm dead but it's not so bad. I've learned to live with it.
so right there in the opening line it gets you as all good novels are supposed to do, and thus begins the absorbing and slightly melancholic tale of R, a zombie living among a hive of fellow soulless beings at an airport. He doesn't have much of a vocabulary nor much of a thought process, but he has a wife, sort of, and kids, sort of.

One day he goes hunting with his friend of sorts M. Zombies savour the brains of their victims because they see their memories as they consume them giving them a fleeting remembrance of what it was like to be human once. Having done this to one man R recognises his next potential victim as his previous victim's girlfriend, deciding not to kill her, he drags her home to his unusual lodgings and our romance develops from there.

Warm Bodies is in many ways inherently flawed not least because a zombie by definition cannot have the feelings and behaviours which R exhibits, but neither realistically can a vampire. So you have to let that canon slide if you want to enjoy this book. It has some other mild issues it lacks a level of profundity at times despite good quality prose, is a little episodic in nature as opposed to a steady ongoing plot flow and I was torn over whether it's homage to the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet was utterly genius or utterly corny. I did read it in one sitting though, will watch the movie and would read other novels by Marion.

It is an endearing novel and certainly an original concept 9/10

Sunday, 1 January 2012

New Year, New Rules

Because in my last challenge, I found myself highly stymied by the need to finish a book I thought weak or atrocious once I had begun it, for 2012 there will be no such rule. If I decide to abandon a book mid way through, I will blog it and state why, but it won't count to the overall total, they will have to be REALLY terrible though in order for this to happen.

Some patterns emerged in last years reading, I read less non fiction than I had intended, posted less poems, and read several books by the same authors 5 by George RR Martin, 4 by Kate Atkinson, 3 by Sarah Waters and Suzanne Collins and 2 by Doris Lessing, Patrick Ness, Willa Cather and Ben Aaronovitch. It is highly likely that I will revisit several of the authors I have read this year but I will try not to overly do this in order to maintain variety.

I also read very few "classics" this year with Brideshead Revisited and Northanger Abbey proving the only two "proper" ones. I also hope to remedy this in the forthcoming year and hopefully throw in some Dickens and some Hardy, as always recommendations are welcome.