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Whit by Iain Banks

‘Whit’ by Iain Banks was my reading group’s choice for November, and I wasn’t expecting to like it at all. Science fiction is the one category of books that I just don’t seem to like. I thought Iain Banks was a science fiction writer (he has written a lot of science fiction books in the past, but this isn’t one of them) and the cover image reinforced this expectation.

The back cover didn’t help:

A little knowledge can be a very dangerous thing. Innocent in the ways of the world, an ingenue when it comes to pop and fashion, the Elect of God of a small but committed Stirlingshire religious cult: Isis Whit is no ordinary teenager.

When her cousin Morag – Guest of Honour at the Luskentyrian’s four- yearly Festival of Love – disappears after renouncing her faith, Isis is marked out to venture among the Unsaved and bring the apostate back into the fold. But the road to Babylondon (as Sister Angela puts it) is a treacherous one, particularly when Isis discovers that Morag appears to have embraced the ways of the Unsaved with spectacular abandon.

Truth and falsehood; kinship and betrayal; ‘herbal’ cigarettes and compact discs – Whit is an exploration of the techno-ridden barrenness of modern Britain from a unique perspective.

It just sounded weird!

So I picked up the book, expecting to have given up within a few pages. I was wrong! It did start off quite slowly, but I quickly began to like the main characters. It was very well observed, and even made me smile in a few places. The plot was a bit strange, but many aspects of it were very clever. By the end I was totally hooked, and will try to search out more books by Iain Banks in the future.

Surprisingly good.

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2008 Books for Children Recommended books

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

 

I bought this book after seeing it recommended by 3M. It is beautiful! Everything from the gold page edges, to the amazing illustrations inside, makes you want to read at this book.

 

‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’ tells the story of a twelve year old boy living in the walls of a Paris railway station. His secret life is put under threat when he meets the owner of a toy shop. The mystery of Hugo’s mechanical man, a stolen key and a strange notebook are solved through both sequences of illustrations and text. The plot is quite simple, but it is such a page turner that this doesn’t matter.

 

The book is aimed at 9 – 12 year olds, but my three year old boy loves it too. He asks me to read it again and again. He’s still a bit young for the full story, but he really enjoys looking at all the pictures and listening too a more basic version of the plot. I think it will be perfect for him in a few years time.

 

If you have, or know any children, particularly ones that like mechanical things, then you should get this book for them now. If you haven’t got any children, then this book is still worth a read – the mixture of images and text will mean that you remember this book for a long time.

 

Highly recommended.

 

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1990s Booker Prize

Amsterdam – Ian McEwan

‘Amsterdam’ by Ian McEwan won the Booker prize in 1998. It begins at Molly’s funeral, which is attended by her husband George, and three of her previous lovers: Vernon, Clive, and Julian. In the days after her funeral Clive and Vernon make a pact that binds them together forever.

I read it in one sitting, but this was more due to the fact it was such a short book, rather than because it was any good. It was fairly well written, but the characters failed to engage me. I found many sections quite dull, and started to wish the book would end, so I wouldn’t have to endure them any more. I’m sure there was a lot of humour and irony in there, but it’s not that not the sort of thing that I find amusing.

The ending was a big disappointment. I could see it coming a mile off – even the cover illustration seems to give it away! The whole plot just seemed a bit child-like in it’s simplicity.

Overall, I was yet again disappointed by a Booker winner. Do I really want to read them all?!!

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2000 - 2007 Booker Prize

Bitter Fruit – Achmat Dangor

‘Bitter Fruit’ is set in post-apartheid South Africa, and explores the harsh realities of a mixed race family living in this transitional period. The central character is Mikey, and the book follows him as he discovers that his mother was raped by a white police officer.

It started off well, and there were many similarities between this book and ‘Purple Hibiscus’, both in writing style and content. Unfortunately, I began to lose interest about half way through the book. The characters failed to come alive for me. The surroundings were only described very briefly, so the sights and sounds of Africa did not come across, as they did in ‘Purple Hibiscus’ or ‘The Famished Road’. I felt like I was being told about these events, rather than feeling as though I was a part of them, as you are with a really good novel.

The reactions the characters had to the difficulties they faced didn’t seem very realistic, and the incest especially, seemed to have been thrown in for shock value, rather than any genuine reason.

Overall it was fairly average, with a reasonable plot, but characters that failed to engage me.

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1990s Booker Prize

The Essence of the Thing – Madeleine St John

‘The Essence of the Thing’ was shortlisted for the Booker prize in 1997. It is set in London’s Notting Hill and it gives an accurate portrayal of the breakdown of a modern relationship.

The characters were vividly described and had realistic emotions, but not a lot happens. The majority of the book is just gossip between the friends of the former couple, which although accurate, had no real substance.

It was OK, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

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2000 - 2007 Booker Prize Chunkster

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

 

‘The Blind Assassin’ won the Booker prize in 2000. It tells the tale of two sisters and the secrets that lead to one of them committing suicide.

 

This is the first book by Margaret Atwood that I have read. Reviews of her books always seem to be very positive, so I was expecting a good book. Unfortunately I was very disappointed. The plot was predictable and uninspiring. The characters had no special qualities, and came across as boring people. The writing was OK, but not particularly atmospheric. I was expecting much more, from a prize winning book by a critically acclaimed author.

 

 

Many reviews state that this is a hard book to get into, and confusing, as it skips around so much. I didn’t find this to be a problem, as there was a good read before the book skipped time frames (although perhaps I’m just comparing it to ‘Beloved’, which I read recently, and is very complicated) I also found it quite easy to get into. The book flowed along well throughout it’s 600+ pages, but at the end I felt let down. I’ll have forgotten about this book in a few days, as there was nothing special about it.

 

Very average.

 

Also reviewed by Belle of the Books, Care’s Online Book Club