Categories
2012

The Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks

Lost Memory of Skin

Five words from the blurb: sex offender, trapped, encampment, relationship, past

The Lost Memory of Skin first came to my attention when it was listed as a ‘Book of the Month’ on Amazon. It went on to appear on many ‘Best of 2011’ lists in America and I was drawn to the reviews which described it as bleak, unsettling and powerful. It was released in the UK earlier this year and I bought a copy, hoping I’d love it as much as everyone else. Unfortunately it wasn’t a complete success, but I was impressed by many aspects of this compelling narrative.

The Lost Memory of Skin is controversial, thought provoking and original. It focuses on ‘The Kid’, a twenty-one year old man who has recently been released from prison. As a registered sex offender he must live 2,500 feet away from anywhere children might gather, which, due to the large number of schools and nurseries, means he is restricted to living under a causeway in a makeshift camp with numerous other sex offenders. Here he meets a Professor who is studying the homeless. The two form a strange friendship which develops as they reveal the truth about their pasts to each other. During your treatment you may have slight discomfort, or a heat sensation on the skin. Our Laser has a patented dynamic cooling device that minimizes discomfort by cooling the skin. You may experience redness, bumps, and slight swelling in the area for a few hours post procedure. If these conditions persist, topical creams such as aloe, calamine or hydrocortisone may be applied along with a cool compress. For more information about Laser Hair Removal Session you can click here to investigate.

The beauty of this book is the way it makes the reader feel sorry for sex offenders. It questions the way American society deals with these criminals and points out many failings in the treatment of them. It occasionally felt a little preachy, but I was willing to forgive this as the rants were often thought provoking in nature:

We cast them out, we treat them like pariahs, when in fact we should be studying them close up, sheltering them and protecting them from harm, as if indeed they were fellow human beings who have inexplicably reverted to being chimpanzees or gorillas, and whose genetic identity with us and their shared ancestry with us can teach us what we ourselves are capable of becoming if we don’t reverse or alter the social elements that caused them to abandon a particularly useful set of sexual taboos in the first place.

‘The Kid’ was a fantastic character. He was deeply flawed, but as the book slowly revealed the extent of his crimes I became increasingly attached to him. It was possible to understand the motivations for his actions and feel sympathy for his predicament – a testament to Russell Banks’ skill as an author.

The first half of the book was fantastic (easily a five star read), but unfortunately things went downhill after that. The book started to concentrate on the professor and I found his storyline bizarre. I didn’t have any empathy for him and his story didn’t really fit with the rest of the book. The narrative went off on some weird tangents and I lost interest on several occasions. Luckily the plot eventually reverted to ‘The Kid’ again and the ending was OK.

The sexual subject matter will put off a lot of readers, but anyone with an open mind will find themselves looking at sexual offenders in a new light. Any book that is capable of changing my opinion on a subject deserves high praise and so, despite my reservations about the last half of this book, I can only recommend it.

Categories
2012 Booker Prize

The Lighthouse by Alison Moore

The Lighthouse Shortlisted for the 2012 Booker Prize

Five words from the blurb: man, Germany, guest house, mother, lonely

The Lighthouse is a short book with wonderful imagery, but I can’t decide whether or not it works. It is one of those strange books that balances on the thin line between genius and madness. I’m still thinking about it many days after finishing, so I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt.

The book follows Futh, a middle-aged man who recently separated from his wife, as he heads off on a walking holiday in Germany. He arrives at a German guest house cleverly (?) called “Hellhaus” (which translates as lighthouse). The book is then narrated alternately by Ester, the owner of the guest house, and Futh. The story itself is very simple, mainly involving themes of loneliness and belonging. Revealing anything else about the plot would ruin the magic that may/may not be there.

I can’t really fault the writing – it was powerful, with a wonderfully claustrophobic sense of foreboding.  Each scene was described in a detail that some people might find excessive, but I loved the way it indulged all the senses – especially the inclusion of smells, which are so often ignored in novels.

My main problem with the book was that the symbolism was heavy handed. There was no subtlety and I felt as though I was being beaten over the head by the continual reference to lighthouses.

He talked about flash patterns. ‘The light,’ he said, gazing fixedly at the hazy horizon, ‘flashes every three seconds and can be seen from thirty miles away. In the fog, the foghorn is used.’ And Futh, looking at the lighthouse, wondered how this could happen – how there could be this constant warning of danger, the taking of all these precautions, and yet still there was all this wreckage.

Repeated mentions of camphor and violets also started to grate after a while. 

The ending was bizarre. I was initially disappointed that it seemed to end mid-scene, but on reflection I’m beginning to think it was quite clever. My only problem was that I’m not entirely sure what the book was trying to achieve. The excessive symbolism of earlier sections made me think I was missing some deeper meaning. My confusion and conflicting emotions make this a perfect choice for a book club – I’d love to discuss the issues in the hope that other people might enlighten me.

This is a strange little book with a lot to recommend it. I can’t see it winning the Booker Prize, but its originality makes it one of the most memorable reads of the year.

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The thoughts of other bloggers:

There’s a power to the amount of detail that Moore manages to pack into under 200 pages… Alex in Leeds

…it falls just inches shy of its aspiration to be something truly special because of a rather jarring ending which sadly feels a bit rushed, if not plain underdeveloped. Opinionless

I can’t begin to say what an incredible book this is; I loved it so much I bought extra copies to share with friends 2012: The Year in Books

Categories
Other

A Fantastic Night Out

Last week my husband and I were lucky enough to be invited to a Literary Dinner at Blenheim Palace. The evening was part of their Literary Festival and combined good food with lovely bookish entertainment.

Blenheim Palace was a stunning venue – the drive up to the gate was particularly beautiful:

Lake in the Grounds of Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace

Once into the palace we were treated to a champagne reception and then taken through to our tables for dinner.

Me and my husband in the Orangery
It was the poshest event I’ve ever been to. HRH The Duke of Gloucester was present, along with a vast array of other important people. It was quite amusing that all the speakers had to say “Your Royal Highness, Lords, Ladies, Your Graces, Other Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen….” before saying anything – even if it was just introducing the next person!

Frederick Forsyth

The main highlight of the evening was Frederick Forsyth. I hadn’t read any of his books, but he was an entertaining public speaker and I was persuaded to give one of his books a try (review for The Dogs of War coming soon). He captivated the entire room with his life story; explaining how he became a fighter pilot in the RAF, a journalist and then a novelist.
He attributed his success as a novelist to finding fantastic plots. I’m not sure I agree with him, but he thinks the perfect book is 80% great plot, 20% good writing. He admitted that his characters were two dimensional, but claimed it didn’t matter if the stories were compelling. I’ll let you know whether his style works for me soon!
Me with Frederick Forsyth

Ken Hom

During the night I also met Ken Hom. He was a lovely man – so warm and welcoming. I’ve added him to my list of people I’d love to have as a next door neighbour!

Me with Ken Hom

My husband and I had a wonderful evening. I highly recommend attending this event, so if you get the chance ensure you attend the Literary Dinner at next year’s Blenheim Palace Literary Festival.

My tickets to the event were kindly provided by The Landmark London who sponsor the Blenheim Palace Literary Festival. As a big thank you to them I’ve included some information about their hotel that I found on the hotels comparison website  below. It sounds like an amazing place too!

 

THE LANDMARK LONDON, Marylebone

The elegant five-star Landmark London in central London was built as the last of the great railway hotels and is a favourite with A-list celebrities. Now offering 51 suites, out of the 300 bedrooms available, The Landmark London offers the most choice of suite options in London.

The Landmark London offers a choice of four unique bars and restaurants. The Winter Garden, situated beneath a stunning eight storey glass atrium, creates a fantastic backdrop for any meal, especially its renowned Afternoon Tea and sumptuous Champagne Sunday Brunch. I think it looks simular to some of the high end restraunts in Arkansas casinos At EasyMobileCasino.com. It is overlooked on a mezzanine level by The Gazebo, a relaxing area perfect for coffee and light meals. The stylish bar and brasserie, Twotwentytwo offers fantastic cocktails, a vast selection of beers, spirits and carefully chosen wines, with a modern-European menu.  The Mirror Bar serves up Champagne, cocktails and some of the world’s finest Cognacs and Whiskies in its glamorous surroundings.

The Spa & Health Club at The Landmark London is one of the leading destination spas in the Capital. This exclusive urban sanctuary in the heart of Marylebone offers a contemporary and luxurious environment in which to relax and be pampered.  The spa is complete with a 15-metre chlorine-free heated swimming pool, a glass-walled poolside Klafs sanarium, menthol and sandalwood showers, steam rooms, a whirlpool, plus lavish treatment rooms and a state-of-the-art gymnasium. The spa offers wide range of ESPA & newly introduced VOYA treatments and products. The spa also offers relaxing and revitalizing Ayurvedic treatments, based on traditional Indian medicinal therapies.

For more information visit www.landmarklondon.co.uk or call 020 7631 8000

 

Categories
1940s Classics

The Plague by Albert Camus

The Plague (Penguin Modern Classics) Translated from the French by Robin Buss

Five words from the blurb: people, plague, death, isolation, fate

Albert Camus is one of those authors that has always intimidated me. I assumed his writing would be complex and difficult to understand, but eventually my love for disaster based fiction won through and I decided to give The Plague a try. I was surprised by how readable the book was, but disappointed that it lacked the psychological insight I was hoping for.

The book describes the way the Algerian town of Oran copes when a deadly plague breaks out. The first section, describing the emergence of the plague, was promising – it contained intrigue, tension and a dark sense of foreboding.

Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.

Unfortunately everything went downhill after that. The narrative was written in a calm manner that distanced the reader from the distress that individual families went through. The authorities implemented sensible precautions to prevent the spread of the disease, the people coped surprisingly well and everything seemed under control. Perhaps I’m weird in wanting a bit of panic/disaster to spice things up?

The writing quality was very high, but it felt dated. The public behave very differently now and so it was a glimpse into the past rather than a prediction of the future. The main aim of the book appeared to be analysing the way a population would behave under the threat of an epidemic, but since its publication in 1947 many other books have covered the subject. It may well have been ground breaking on publication, but as a reader in the 21st century it was all well-trodden ground – books like Blindness cover the topic in a much more thorough/eye-opening way.

The book occasionally went off on a tangent, preaching about the inadequacy of religion. These sections felt a little out of place amongst the rest of book and may offend those with a strong faith.

The entire book contained a depth that would reward the re-reader, but I’m afraid it didn’t inspire me enough want to do this. I’m pleased that I’ve read The Plague, if only to see the development of the genre, but unfortunately this isn’t a book that stands the test of time.

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Have you read The Plague?

Have any of his other books aged better?

Categories
Other

Three Abandoned Books

Gone Girl

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Five words from the blurb: wife, disappears, police, suspect, secrets

Gone Girl seems to be the most popular book in the blogging world this year. I’ve seen raving reviews everywhere and so decided to see what everyone was getting so excited about.

Gone Girl is narrated by an American couple, Amy and Nick. On the surface they appear to be normal, but Amy goes missing on their 5th anniversary and Nick becomes the prime suspect. Amy’s sections are in the form of extracts from her diary; whilst Nick’s chapters focus on the present day.

My main problem was that I found Amy extremely irritating. She was over excited about everything and very spoilt. I found her enthusiasm draining and her “problems” laughable. Poor girl had her trust fund reduced to $100,000 and could only afford to rent a massive house instead of buying one outright.

Their annoying back-story seemed to go on forever, with very little plot development. I became bored and so at p80 I asked Twitter when this book picked up. I was informed that everything got going at p212 so I skipped straight there and was surprised by the events of that page. Unfortunately the excitement didn’t help with my main problems and I quickly lost interest again. I skim read the rest of the book, focusing on the pages Twitter people told me were good. I’ve now read all the major twists and was mildly impressed by their original and surprising nature, but I found all the in-between bits dull/irritating. I seem to be in the minority though, so go ahead and give it a try – you’ll probably love it as much as everyone else.

The White Lie

The White Lie by Andrea Gillies (audio book)

Five words from the blurb: Scottish, family, loch, killed, grave

I first came across The White Lie whilst researching contenders for the Orange Prize. This book had an impressive number of 5 star reviews on Amazon and a range of glowing quotes from famous authors. The overwhelming positive response led me to seek it out and as my library only had an audio book available I settled for that. Unfortunately that might not have been the best format and may have contributed to my disappointing response.

The White Lie is set in a remote Scottish community and is narrated by a man who drowned in the local loch. The exact circumstances of his death remain a mystery, with the truth slowly revealing itself over the course of the book.

The White Lie was wonderfully atmospheric, perfectly capturing the isolated community. Unfortunately the pace of the book was very slow. I know that some people love meandering stories with numerous tangents, but I craved some forward momentum.

I also found that there were too many characters and they weren’t developed enough for me to differentiate between them all. The narrators (from the text and the audio book) lacked enthusiasm and I failed to warm to them. This meant that I didn’t really care what happened next and I eventually abandoned the book after 2 discs.

Recommended to those who enjoy quiet, atmospheric books about family relationships.

 

PhilidaLonglisted for 2012 Booker Prize

Philida by Andre Brink

Five words from the blurb: slave, Cape Town, family, freedom, journey

Philida is set in Cape Town during 1832, a turbulent time during which slavery was coming to an end. The book focuses on a Philida, a strong woman who is determined to gain freedom for herself and her children.

The premise of the story was great, especially as it covered a period of history I was unfamiliar with. Unfortunately I didn’t like the style of the book. There were too many narrators, giving the book a disjointed feel and making it difficult for me to connect with any of the characters.

The writing was fantastic, but some of the scenes were distressing due to the vivid descriptions of events:

I was nine, remember – sobbing snot and tears because our feet are bleeding and the Oubaas refuse to stop or rest except for a few hours’ sleeping at night, he is always right there beside you or behind you on the big black stallion, the riding crop in his hand to spur you on whenever he think you are malingering, bleeding welts on your back and your dusty bare buttocks, nine years old, and at that time there’s some even younger children walking too, all the way.

This is normally the sort of book I’d love, but it failed to hold my attention. There was no narrative thread to drive the story forward and I found it increasingly difficult to pick up once I’d stopped reading. I also became frustrated by the excessive references to penises.

This book may well come together in the end, but I wasn’t engaged enough to want to invest that much time finding out. I gave up after about 80 pages.

 

Categories
2012 Non Fiction Uncategorized

Thinking in Numbers by Daniel Tammet

Thinking in Numbers: How Maths Illuminates Our Lives

Five words from the blurb: imagine, universe, counting, mathematics, everyone

Daniel Tammet is an autistic savant with an amazing ability to recall words and numbers. I loved his autobiography, Born on a Blue Day, so much that I went to hear him talk at the Edinburgh Festival last month. His new book, Thinking in Numbers, aims to promote a love for mathematics. Tammet explains that the subject is similar to fiction in that there are many different genres, each of which you will enjoy to a greater or lesser extent dependant on your personal taste.

Like works of literature, mathematical ideas help expand our circle of empathy, liberating us from the tyranny of a single, parochial point of view. Numbers, properly considered, make us better people.

Thinking in Numbers proved this concept by highlighting many different areas, some which I loved and others which bored me completely.

The book is divided into 25 chapters, each exploring a different area of mathematics. Tammet uses real life examples to show how important numbers are with topics as diverse as snow, Tolstoy and poetry. My personal favorites included the section that explained the different ways other cultures count and the one estimating how long an individual will live.

The quality of Tammet’s writing has improved massively since Born on a Blue Day. Everything was written clearly, with complex theories explained cleverly so that those unfamiliar with them could understand, whilst those already knowledgeable weren’t patronised.

I was a little disappointed that the book didn’t include any more explanation of the way Tammet sees numbers as complex, colourful shapes, but I did enjoy the more personal chapter about the thoughts that went through his head as he broke the world record for reciting Pi to 22,514 decimal places.

I found this book thought provoking – it is one of those books that you find yourself quoting to others. I guarantee that you won’t enjoy every chapter, but there is enough contained within it to entertain everyone.

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