Archive for August, 2014


Sense of an endingTitle: The Sense of an Ending

Author: Julian Barnes

Date Finished: 11/08/14

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : No

Overall: 5/5 – absolutely fantastic

I picked up this book a year or two ago when it was on offer since it had won the Man Booker prize in 2011 and looked like an intriguing read.  It had slowly but surely been making its way up my TBR shelf and it’s so small I just popped it into my suitcase for Italy in case I needed a third book for the week.  I did in fact need it after having raced through Atonement and I also really really enjoyed this book.  It is a reflective book – the narrator Tony recounts anecdotes and memories focusing on his childhood friend Adrian and his old girlfriend Veronica and later in the book events start to occur relating to his old acquaintances.

The plot is quite detailed considering how short the book is – only 150 ish pages – and Barnes employs all sorts of tactics for creating suspense, especially withholding information in the form of Veronica.  I was kept guessing to the very end and had to do a lot of thinking to actually puzzle out what had happened in the final stages of the book.  Despite its short length, I actually felt like the book had just as much depth and detail (if not more!) than most “normal” fiction books of about 400 pages…I guess this is why it won the Man Booker prize.

The characters aren’t very numerous; you can’t introduce too many in 150 pages or they just have no development and it was quite interesting to have the narrator Tony comment several times on his own reliability of narration.  One of my friends did an extended project on unreliable narrators focusing on Catch-22, The Wasp Factory and American Psycho so I could spot a few similarities here when Tony was saying things like:

Again, I must stress that this is my reading now of what happened then.  Or rather, my memory now of my reading then of what was happening at the time.

This introduces doubt and questioning for us, as we have to accept that these anecdotes and memories we are reading about may not be 100% true.  This is compounded at the conclusion of the book when events and revelations are quite confusing and you do find yourself slightly doubting some things – what really was the relationship between Tony and Veronica’s mother??

Overall, I found this a really compelling read and I thoroughly recommend it.  Its shortness and readability make it perfect for travelling or one of those afternoons where you just sit down and read for a few hours.  I am looking forward to reading some more of Barnes’ works in the future.

Atonement – Ian McEwan

atonementTitle: Atonement

Author: Ian McEwan

Date Finished: 8/08/14

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : The Classics Club

Overall: 5/5 – absolutely fantastic

I was very pleasantly surprised with this book – I didn’t know what to expect before I picked it up.  On holiday last week in Italy I thought it would be good to get my teeth into a more challenging read so I chose this.  It is actually much easier to read than I anticipated and certainly a lot more gripping.  The setting is (firstly) 1935 in England at a family estate – the book focuses on one very eventful day in which Briony commits a crime she will try to atone for over the course of her life.

Despite knowing the basic outline of the story already, the way McEwan manages to make pretty much every page totally gripping is amazing!  I just had to keep reading, especially in part 1 (the setting at the house).  I did rush through the ending a bit and maybe that’s why I thought it was just slightly weak compared to the rest of the book – this encourages me to put it on my re-read list and definitely to watch the film adaptation which I’ve heard lots of good things about.

The characters are a unique bunch a lot of whom I will be remembering for quite a while.  Briony, Cecelia and Robbie were very very vivid and following characters from childhood (or young-adulthood) through their lives always makes you feel like  you know them very well.  McEwan manages to comment on many types of person in this reasonably short book (371 pages) – a distracted husband, a caring but ineffective mother, lovers, deceivers, victims, manipulators and cowards.  Of course he also brings the brutality of WWII to us very vividly and manages to show how damaging the soldiers’  experiences were to themselves in later life.

This is a very very good book and I really recommend it to you.  It’s rather brutal and honest in its language and storyline but it kept me reading and gave me lots to think about at the same time too.

 

Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell

CranfordTitle: Cranford

Author: Elizabeth Gaskell

Date Finished: 4/08/14

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : The Classics Club

Overall: 4/5 – rather good

I’d been looking forward to reading this for quite a while – a gentle, rather short classic that I knew nothing about was appealing and I enjoyed reading it.  The rather slow pace of the story and the busyness of my life at the moment meant I certainly didn’t fly through this book but during my week’s holiday at Lake Garda in Italy I managed to polish it off.

The plot focuses on the fictional town of Cranford and the daily lives of its (mainly female) residents.  It is mostly light-hearted and warm and very different from modern life, so it was quite a refreshing read.  Each chapter seems to focus on a slightly different story which, despite the slow pace, helps to keep the storyline moving.  Some plots were a bit sillier than others but I enjoyed pretty much all the chapters.

The characters are the most memorable feature of the book – Miss Matty, Miss Deborah Jenkyns, the conjuror and more.  They are all very unique and easy to picture; I think Gaskell does very well to paint such vivid portraits of them in such a short book really.  I’d quite like to watch the adaptation of Cranford to see whether they all match up to how I expect them to.  Have any of you seen it?

The setting of Cranford is quite simple, as there aren’t really enough pages to waste time with long passages of describing the town in lots of physical detail but you can picture everything easily nevertheless.  The language is wonderful, of course, and just fits perfectly with the setting.  The way women are rather obviously more important than men in this book (it is no doubt who is in charge of Cranford!) was quite a brave move by Gaskell I think, considering it was published in 1853 and I think behind the cheerful and light-hearted storylines and characters there is quite a powerful message about the roles of women and men at the time.