Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

img.php

Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn

Those of you who’ve heard of Gillian Flynn will probably know her as the author of the popular thriller Gone Girl. I read and was amazed by it a year and a half ago, and read another of her novels, Dark Places (which is being adapted into a Charlize Thereon film), shortly afterward. I received Sharp Objects for Christmas from my sister, and I read it in a day. I couldn’t put it down.

Sharp Objects is about an reporter who returns to her hometown to investigate the murder of two young girls. Like most of Flynn’s protagonists (all, in fact, except arguably Amy Dunne), Camille Preaker has had a somewhat disturbed and traumatic childhood, with the death of her younger sister and a history of self-harm. Her relationship with her parents is difficult to say the least, and home seems to contain nothing but bad memories.

So how does Sharp Objects differ from Flynn’s other works? (I won’t say ‘previous’, as it’s actually her first novel.) There are some common themes: difficult parental relationships, childhood trauma, signs of alcohol dependency and a character returning from a big city to suburban Middle America. Like most writers, Flynn’s work has characteristic common themes, but that doesn’t mean all three novels are the same. There’s a sickness at the heart of the Preaker family about which I’ve never previously read in any literature, for one. Although the nature of the crime may at first seem similar to Dark Places, it occurs for vastly different reasons. The focus of Sharp Objects is far more upon familial relationships than romantic ones, and the focus on personal history is altered; it’s all about returning to somewhere that haunts you, rather than merely recalling memories. The characters of this novel are equally as interesting and twisted as those in Gone Girl, but they’re also vastly different. In fact, I’d even go so far as to call Sharp Objects more disturbing than GG.

A lot of people trash thrillers as lowbrow fiction, but Flynn’s work is very clever. Twists and turns are what she’s good at, and her writing style is so easy yet engaging that you really get that “just one more chapter” feel. Her depictions of mental illness, marriage, teenage behaviour and family life are insightful and very believable; she’s had to deny accusations that some of her work is autobiographical, so close to the mark is her writing. You plunge right into the twisted world she creates, and you lap it up.

What I love about this novel is the clever way Flynn makes us realise things. Camille puts together the pieces and slowly, almost unconsciously, becomes aware of some unpleasant family truths and Flynn’s skilled, subtle reveal means that we become gradually aware in the same way the protagonist does. I also enjoy that the twists and turns keep going until the last minute- just as you think everything’s sorted, it’s all turned on its head once more. I finished the novel with that ‘mind blown!‘ feeling I love so much, that Gone Girl delivered but Dark Places didn’t quite.

If there’s one criticism I have to make, it’s the way Flynn tries to make self-harm seem artistic, even romantic, at times. Camille carves words into her body, something which I have never heard of a self-harmer doing, although I am far from an expert on the topic and could be wrong about this. Her reason for cutting certainly seems profoundly unrealistic: trying to ‘trap the words’, rather than an outlet for personal pain, a way of feeling something or of taking control (although, to be fair, one could argue that these other reasons are implied). Trying to ‘trap the words’ and feel them wasn’t credible, and seemed like an attempt to be poetic and profound. Camille even as a sexual experience where a man ‘reads’ her, and it comes off as a twistedly romantic encounter. Not only was this a dubious way of tackling a sensitive and important issue, from a literary point of view I also felt that it was rather heavy-handed.

In general, however, Sharp Objects is a fantastically addictive book; I can’t decide whether or not I prefer it to Gone Girl. I didn’t leave the house all day and read it in under twelve hours. I have no regrets.

The Iliad

536795_Homer_The Iliad.indd

The Iliad – Homer

Yesterday I posted about The Iliad‘s sort-of-sequel, The Odyssey, so really, these posts are in the wrong order. I wrote about The Odyssey because I wanted to challenge the notion that it is dull and difficult to read, which made sense because it is generally considered to be the more accessible of the two, however it got me thinking and I decided that The Iliad deserved the same treatment, not least because I actually preferred The Iliad.

In a sense, I’m very mainstream in my literary tastes- I rarely like something that everyone else hates- and so when my lecturer mentioned that students tend to prefer the ‘easier’ Odyssey, I assumed that I would follow the same pattern, but I ended up bucking the trend. The Iliad is more difficult to read than The Odyssey but it’s also much more rewarding; it’s more complex, more ambiguous, more varied in its characters and a much more moving piece of literature.

The Iliad covers an eventful few weeks during the final year of the Trojan War (although it jumps around a lot and much backstory and legend is related, as is the way with epics) and presents the reader with viewpoints from the Greek and Trojan side. It covers disputes within the Greek army, as well as the petty battling among the gods, and, unlike The Odyssey, things are most certainly not in black and white. It’s not so much a case of picking a side as it is of watching helplessly as two characters you find yourself rooting for battle each other to the death. War in The Iliad isn’t right versus wrong but man versus man, and victory and tragedy become one and the same. Although the text was written thousands of years ago and includes much myth and legend, its presentation of war still rings true and is perhaps more pertinent today than ever.

The Iliad is, in short, an astounding piece of literature. The legends are drawn together so seamlessly and the narrative moves so fluidly back and forth in time that one can only speculate that this must have taken months, perhaps even years, to plan. There are many long and tedious battle scenes, but in between that there are stories of love and loyalty and a very touching familial scene between Hector and his family. It can also be difficult to keep track of who’s who if you don’t know much about Greek legend (which I didn’t) but you get the hang of it after a while, and the varied cast of characters and their tangled lives certainly keeps it interesting- sometimes it feels more like a soap opera than an epic Greek poem! The most difficult (and deathly boring) part of The Iliad is definitely the epic lists, such as the Catalogue of Ships in Book II (not gonna lie, I just skipped it). The epithets can also be distracting and a little repetitive (they were a poetic convention but they just seem redundant and often annoying today) but you get used to them.

So to sum it up, The Iliad is more complex and much less familiar in form than The Odyssey, but it is also a much more gratifying piece of literature. You learn more about Greek myth and legend, experience an interesting portrayal of humanity and war and learn more about the disputes and petty jealousies of the gods. It’s not an easy read, but remember that easy doesn’t equate to good, and it’s nowhere near as difficult or boring as I thought it would be. It’s still literature that you can sink your teeth into, and if you take it Book by Book then you’ll have it finished in no time!

Lo, Lola, Lolita

n58389

Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

Ah, Lolita. One of the most controversial books of the 20th century, perhaps of all time. It’s a novel which approaches the incredibly taboo subject of paedophilia from a very unusual angle- a romantic one. We are drawn into the twisted mind of Humbert Humbert, an attractive European academic, who develops an infatuation with his landlady’s daughter, who reminds him of a lost childhood love. Nabokov does not portray Humbert as a hero, but does allow him the odd moment of sympathy throughout, and he boldly resists characterising Lolita as an angelic, innocent child.

This novel is, in short, mind-blowing. From Nabokov’s lyrical writing style- which often makes the novel seem more like poetry than prose- to his wonderfully complex portrayal of the disturbing relationship between Humbert and Lolita, he takes your expectations of a novel about paedophilia and turns them on their head. At times, novel is erotic- romantic, even- and forces you to empathise with Humbert’s desire for Lolita through wonderful descriptions of her tanned, bony feet and glossy hair. Even though Lolita is Humbert’s victim and her life is effectively ruined by him, she is often portrayed as cruel and manipulative. Meanwhile Humbert, the predator, who does despicable things such as have Lolita perform sexual acts upon him in the car whilst he watches children walk out of school, often seems weak and pathetic- in making Lolita the object of his affections, he gives her the upper hand. In the end, it is Lolita who breaks Humbert’s heart, not the other way around. Lolita is undoubtedly a victim and suffers some terrible things, but she is strong whilst Humbert is weak, and Nabokov challenges convention- and flirts outrageously with controversy- in playing with this unusual balance.

However, I disagree with those who call the novel ‘immoral’, or even ‘amoral’. Although he is a desperate, pitiful man at times, we are never permitted to forget that he is a lecherous paedophile and any brief flashes of sympathy are soon replaced by enduring disgust. Humbert wishes to view himself as a lover, and in a sense, he is- the problem is, his ardent passion is directed towards a child. He tries to delude himself, and the reader, that his relationship with Lolita is a great love affair, but he has moments of clarity when he is overcome with self-loathing and begs her forgiveness- much to her disgust. Nabokov delights in playing with conventions of romance and his style is poetic, but at the centre of Humbert’s magniloquent narrative lies a rotting core of disturbing obsession; Nabokov leaves no doubt as to who the villain of the piece truly is. However, Lolita is not a morality tale, and nor should it try to be; do we really need a work of fiction to tell us that rape, exploitation and murder are wrong?

Have YOU read Lolita? What did you think? I’d love to know your thoughts, so please leave a comment!

The Odyssey

m-CawDIkBmZTPzr-M5KXcBA

The Odyssey – Homer

I had to study this text for my Classical and Biblical module last year and whilst it’s not the sort of material I usually blog about, I thought I’d write a post about it because I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, and it’s actually a lot more accessible than most people think. The Odyssey tells the story of the Greek hero Odysseus as he tries to return home to Ithaca after the Trojan War, an epic journey that takes him ten years. Back home, he is presumed dead and his wife and queen, Penelope, is being inundated with marriage proposals from suitors, who are also taking advantage of the palace’s hospitality.

I assumed that The Odyssey would be boring and difficult to read, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I had the Oxford World Classics edition, which is translated into prose, and so the poem reads almost like a novel. In fact, The Odyssey is often cited as one of the most significant precursors to the novel. The timeframe of the story is not linear and there are frame narratives along the way, so it’s necessary to pay close attention to that to avoid getting confused, but other than that I really wouldn’t describe The Odyssey as difficult to read. And it’s far from boring; there’s romance and adventure aplenty as Odysseus fights a cyclops, beds various goddesses and flirts with a young princess (whilst expecting his wife to remain faithful to him, even though she’s 99% sure he’s dead- double standards. But it’s Ancient Greece, what can you do?).

As well as being pleasurable, The Odyssey is also a great way to get to grips with various classical myths and legends, such as Scylla the Sea Monster and Clytemnestra’s murder of Agamemnon. I’ve always been interested in Greek myths, so this was a great way to learn more- some of the stories are incredibly juicy. Parts of it are also very modern and it’s an interesting reflection of Greek life, culture and society if you’re interested in history!

So if you’re interested in classical literature/myth and legend, fancy something a bit different or just want to sound well-read, I’d definitely recommend The Odyssey to you. It’s an easier read than The Iliad and is certainly entertaining, plus a prose translation means it’s not difficult to read if you’re new to classics and poetry. It’s a beautifully written work and is one of the oldest in the Western cannon. I certainly prefer it to The Aeneid, which I’d only recommend if you’re very interested in classics and history as it’s drier and more political, whilst The Odyssey is more sensual and entertaining. Plus, you can get a free version on the Kindle, so you’ve got nothing to lose (although I really do recommend the Oxford World Classics edition). Happy reading!

Have YOU read The Odyssey? What did you think? Please let me know in a comment!

Ultimate Book Tag

So I thought I’d do a book tag because since I’ve been away from the blogosphere for a while I’m trying to do a few posts a day and I do love doing these things. If you’re reading this, I tag you! Feel free to post your answer in the comments section as well as on your own site, or just comment if you don’t have a blog but want to do the tag!

Questions: 1. Do you get sick while reading in the car?
Yes. I hate it, because otherwise reading would be a perfect way to whittle away a long journey.

2. Which author’s writing style is completely unique to you and why?
This is hard because I think that every writer has a unique style. Jean Rhys has a beautiful, haunting style and I love the way F. Scott Fitzgerald writes- the New York Review claimed that Fitzgerald’s prose has “the tough delicacy of a garnet”, and I think that’s a wonderfully apt way of describing it.

3. Harry Potter Series or the Twilight Saga? Give 3 points to defend your answer. HARRY POTTER ALL THE WAY. The Potter series creates a whole, incredibly, amazingly well thought out magical world you can get lost in and believe in; I love the friendships in the Harry Potter series; and Twilight is incredibly sexist- Bella can’t be happy without a man and her relationship with Edward meets almost all of the criteria of an abusive relationship.

4. Do you carry a book bag? If so, what is it in (besides books…)?
No- haven’t since primary school!

5. Do you smell your books?
Yes. Are you telling me that there are people out there who don’t?

6. Books with or without little illustrations?
Without. I’m not five.

7. What book did you love while reading but discovered later it wasn’t quality writing? (Ex. I read Twilight before I read HP and thought the writing was amazing but read HP and now think Twilight is a little bit of a joke.)
I’m ashamed to admit this, but I did love Twilight when I was about thirteen. I didn’t really understand how unhealthy Edward and Bella’s relationship is and you have to admit that the idea of vampires that sparkle is pretty stupid. I picked it up about three years later when I couldn’t sleep and realised what drivel it was.

8. Do you have any funny stories involving books from your childhood? Please share!
I thought Hogwarts was real, but then what nine-year-old doesn’t?

9. What is the thinnest book on your shelf?
Hmm. Maybe Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad- it’s so short it’s basically a novella (96 pages).

10. What is the thickest book on your shelf?
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell- 1011 pages.

11. Do you write as well as read? Do you see yourself in the future as being an author? Yes, I’d love to be an author and I’m working on my first novel right now. It’s hard because I’m so used to writing short stories and I hate planning, but I love doing it- I’d love to get it published but I am realistic about it. Anyway, it’s a while before I’ll be anywhere near completion and it will need a LOT of editing before I even consider maybe sending it off or publishing it via Kindle.

12. When did you get into reading?
I’ve always loved it. When I was little and starting school I couldn’t wait to learn to read- I got so annoyed when they gave us those books without any words where we had to make the story up ourselves! The first book I read that I really loved was The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark when I was eight, and ever since then I’ve pretty much always had a book on the go!

13. What is your favorite classic book?
Oooh, tough one. I love Jane Eyre and Mansfield Park, but then a lot of my favourite books are considered to be ‘modern classics’… so it depends on your definition of classic, really.

14. In school was your best subject Language Arts/English?
You got it… English and French have always been my favourites!

15. If you were given a book as a present that you had read before and hated…what would you do?
Depending on who gave it to me, I’d probably tell them that I’d already read it- but not that I hated it! With gifts it’s definitely the thought that counts so I’d still let them know how much I appreciated it.

16. What is a lesser known series that you know of that is similar to Harry Potter or the Hunger Games?
Maybe the Maddaddam trilogy by Margaret Atwood- the dystopian elements as well as the hybrid creatures mean (and the Painball arena) mean that Hunger Games fans would probably like it! As for HP… it’s incomparable.

17. What is a bad habit you always do (besides rambling) while blogging?
Not proof-reading before I post- I never do that! And not blogging for a long time then listing the boring reasons why. I also often find it hard to think of books I love off of the top of my head and so I tend to repeat myself a lot and talk mainly about books I’ve read recently, leaving some great ones out!

18. What is your favourite word?
Vom, short for vomit. Urrr, in all seriousness I don’t really have one.

19. Are you a nerd, dork, or dweeb? Or all of the above?
I was always called a nerd at school because I cared about schoolwork, but now I’m at uni and everyone’s clever and cares I’ve sort of shed that reputation. I’m probably the least “nerdy” out of my friends- I haven’t read/watched GoT, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Sherlock etc.

20. Vampires or Fairies? Why?
I’m not a huge fantasy fan… I’d probably say vampires at a push because they’re a bit more badass but neither of them really do it for me- I’ve definitely moved on from Y/A fiction.

21. Shapeshifters or Angels? Why?
Again, doesn’t really apply.

22. Spirits or Werewolves? Why?
Never read a book about spirits so… werewolves.

23. Zombies or Vampires?
I like the movie Warm Bodies so I’ll say zombies.

24. Love Triangle or Forbidden Love
Both can have their merits- I love anything romantic really.

25. AND FINALLY: Full on romance books or action-packed with a few love scenes mixed in?
It really does depend on the book. I enjoy a variety!

Wide Sargasso Sea

415XXT7CS3L

Wide Sargasso Sea- Jean Rhys

As fans of Jane Eyre will probably know, Wide Sargasso Sea is a prequel- or an implied prequel, at least- to Brontë’s classic love story, detailing the life of Bertha Antoinetta Mason (Rochester’s ‘mad woman in the attic’ first wife)  before and during the early days of her marriage to Rochester. It’s a novel which has always divided opinion, with one friend of mine telling me it was ‘bitter, feminist crap’ and others proclaiming its brilliance. I’ll admit I didn’t expect to like this novel, partly because I’m a Jane Eyre lover and I’m also not a big fan of colonial and postcolonial fiction. However, it turned out to be a very interesting read…

The novel is set a short while after the Abolition of Slavery in 1834. Antoinette Cosway is the daughter of a former slave owner and along with her disabled brother and widowed mother, has been somewhat abandoned in the Caribbean. The family does not fit in with the local black population, nor the new class of white immigrants settling in the Caribbean. There is a profound sense of isolation throughout the novel; indeed, the first line reads “They say that when trouble comes close ranks, so the white people did. But we were not in their ranks“. Although the peculiar societal position of the Cosway family is crucial to the story and creates the unique perspective of slaveowners as a victimised minority, it did irritate me that Rhys changed the time frame of the story to achieve this effect. Were she to have stuck to the time frame of Jane Eyre, Antoinette’s childhood would have taken place in the 1820s when slavery was still practised and her family would have been affluent, as well as belonging to the ruling class of Jamaica. Although Rhys’ changing of the time frame allows her to explore a fascinating transitional period in history, and one that has seldom been explored by other writers, it seems almost as though she’s done it to make Antoinette a victim from the off, and thus rendering Rochester more of a villain- essentially, being extra anti-establishment, just for the sake of it. It also irritated me that his infidelity was made much of, whereas hers was kept very quiet until the end, despite it being much more frequent.

However, although Rhys does present Rochester as the ‘bad guy’ in much of the novel, he is a victim too, of scheming on the part of his father and brother. Due to cultural influences and vicious rumours, he genuinely believes that his wife is his enemy. Rhys tells much of the story from Rochester’s perspective and so we are able to understand and sympathise with him, even if we know him to be mistaken. In the end, Antoinette and Rochester are both victims, of society and of each other.

Not only this, the novel helps the reader see Bertha Mason as something other than the symbol she is in Jane Eyre. She becomes a character with thoughts, feelings and fears, and Rhys’ beautiful, yet haunting, writing style draws us into the dark centre of her psyche as she becomes increasingly isolated and out-of-touch with reality. In fact, Rhys’ writing style is one of the best things about this novel, and makes it an absolute pleasure to read. It’s very ambiguous and full of hints and shadows rather concrete facts, which achieves a very appropriately disconcerting effect, since the novel deals with a mental breakdown. But Rhys’ prose isn’t the only thing that haunts the novel; Wide Sargasso Sea is haunted by the ghost of Bertha Mason, since as soon as you pick up the novel, you know it can only end in one way…

Wide Sargasso Sea is, in short, a fantastic novel. Its disturbing power borders on hypnotic, meaning that it won’t take you long to read it. You can enjoy it whether you’ve read Jane Eyre or not, and I suspect that the novel you read first probably impacts your perception of the other. Jean Rhys has created a masterpiece which is as beautiful, abstruse and troubled as the Caribbean itself.

Have YOU read Wide Sargasso Sea? How well do you think it interacted with Jane Eyre? It’s one of those novels I could discuss for hours and I’d really love to know what you think, so please please leave me a comment!

Bleak House

51vCWT3y50L

Bleak House- Charles Dickens

I had to read this book for my course, otherwise- I freely yet shamefully admit- I probably wouldn’t have done. I read some Dickens in year ten (before my literary tastebuds had fully developed, granted- do they ever stop developing?!) and I wasn’t very keen, so when I found out that one of Dickens’ longest novels was required reading, I was far from thrilled.

Bleak House is a book with a lot of faults. Many of the characters are flat- especially the protagonist, Esther Summerson. The blurb of my copy calls her “psychologically interesting” but I disagree. She’s a complete Mary-Sue and far too much of a goody-two-shoes for to be likeable, plus she exhibits an annoying amount of false modesty; for example, she claims that she doesn’t find herself beautiful, but goes on to describe at length how many others find her so. Yet saying that, towards the end of the novel an unexpected depth to Sir Leicester Dedlock, who at first seems to be nothing more than a pompous old fool. His declaration that he is on “unaltered terms” with Lady Dedlock in spite of some shocking revelations about her reveals him to be a man unparalleled in nobility, forgiveness and unconditional love. His speech is one of the most moving moments of the book and even brought a tear to my eye, whereas I was previously indifferent to the Dedlocks.

The novel is also very unusual, plot wise. It’s experimental, and there’s a lot going on that you’re not told about until later. There are many plot threads and so many characters that it’s hard to keep track of who’s who, or it would be if they weren’t all so unusual. Bleak House is a satire on the English Chancery, a social commentary and a prototype of the detective novel. There’s also a very unusual relationship at the centre of it, between Esther and Mr Jarndyce, who becomes a father figure, then a romantic interest and then a father figure once more. It’s most bizarre and a little bit Freudian, and Esther’s romantic feelings towards Jarndyce aren’t much discussed- we know she regards him very highly as a father figure and seems to have to real objection to marrying him, even though we know there’s someone else she’d prefer (we’re just not told who). Perhaps it’s due to her perfect and uncomplaining nature or perhaps she’s confused herself, but either way a bit more exploration would have been nice, Mr Dickens.

I’m glad I’ve read Bleak House, but I’m not sure I’d read it again. I found that the last two hundred pages were very interesting as the story really developed- a reward for wading through the previous five hundred- and the ending was satisfactory, but I could never really bring myself to particularly care for any of the characters. Then again, Dickens isn’t famed for his round, psychologically complex characters so maybe that’s to be expected. I’d recommend this novel if you’re interested in narratology or the evolution of the novel, or a Dickens fan, but if you don’t fall into any of those categories then I wouldn’t expect you to find it particularly enjoyable.

Have YOU read Bleak House? What were your thoughts? I’d love to know, so please leave me a comment!

Maddaddam

81SteV0BJtL._SL1500_

Maddaddam- Maragaret Atwood

The cover of my copy of Maddaddam warns that it’s a wild ride, and it’s not wrong. This is the final instalment of the Maddaddam trilogy and my expectations were high. It didn’t disappoint.

The novel follows the ragtag group of God’s gardeners, Painballers, Crakers and Jimmy who have assembled on the beach at the end of The Year of the Flood. At the end of the second book, the Painballers are tied up but not killed, Amanda is traumatised, Jimmy gravely ill and the future of the world looking uncertain. At the start of Maddaddam the brutal Painballers trick the Crakers into releasing them and the group find a new home and start to rebuild their lives, as much as is possible in this post-apocalyptic world. Once again, much of the novel focuses on a character’s backstory, this time the story of Zeb, the former Adam Seven of the God’s Gardeners. We find out about his difficult childhood and his subsequent escape with his brother Adam- and no, it’s no coincidence that his brother is called that.

What I loved about this novel was how flawlessly it tied in with the other two; it’s as though each novel contains several piece of the puzzle, and they all fit together perfectly. There are some surprising revelations (who knew the creator of Scales and Tails, the sex club for which Ren worked, would turn out to be Eve One?) and there are more of Atwood’s fantastic dystopian inventions, such as a sexual online beheading game and the church of PetrOleum, a religious cult based on the worship of oil (not so hard to imagine, is it?). There’s also a lot of humour, much of which derives from the Crakers believing that ‘Fuck’ is a helpful spirit after hearing Jimmy curse.

It was great finding out more about Zeb in Maddaddam, since he’s a character who’s always raised a few questions, and I loved the development of Zeb and Toby’s relationship, although I would have liked to see a little more of the Ren-Crozier and Ren-Jimmy relationships. Ren is seen caring for Jimmy but some interaction from their own perspectives would have been nice- I would have liked to have listened in on a conversation between them and to know what he thought of her. Although Ren and Crozier end up very much a couple, we are made away that Crozier is unfaithful to Ren with Swift Fox, a character you’re pretty much guaranteed to hate. As far as we know, Ren is never made fully aware of his cheating and for all we know he might do it again which is somewhat frustrating, but also reflects a lot of relationships in real life.

The survivors’  main quest in Maddaddam is to destroy the escaped Painballers and find Adam One, the leader of the God’s Gardeners sect. There’s a very touching moment between Zeb and Adam One and an exciting conflict, but just as you think things are resolved, Atwood has to stick the knife in one more time. The book’s epilogue, quite frankly, annoyed me. Two characters die (I won’t say which ones) in a rather anticlimactic sort of way that also leaves you with some unanswered questions. If these characters had died in the main conflict, I would have been sad, but accepting. It happens. But why seemingly resolve everything only to quickly pen an unsatisfactory ending for the characters? Yeah yeah, it’s probably a more accurate reflection of what living in a post-apocalyptic world would be like: no happily ever afters and you’d never be truly safe- BUT STILL.

This annoying epilogue aside, however, Maddaddam is a fitting end to the trilogy and it certainly didn’t fall flat. The trilogy has been incredible and an absolute pleasure to read, and I’m sad it’s over. Still, there’s the HBO series to look forward to, although I personally think that the structure of the books mean they’d work much better as films. With a film series, you could turn each novel into a film and include the backstories no problem, but I can’t see how that’s going to work with a TV series. So much of the books are set in the past and the backstories are really quite separate, so it’ll be interesting to see how HBO will handle that. Still, Margaret Atwood herself is one of the writers so I’m told, so things look promising!

Have YOU read Maddaddam? What did you think? Did you like the ending? Please leave your comments!

The Year of the Flood

{6FCC6474-A5A9-4D6F-9CC7-6F76E196F7FC}Img100

The Year of the Flood – Margaret Atwood 

The Year of the Flood is the second book in Atwood’s Maddaddam trilogy. I’ve often sound that the second book can be the weakest in a trilogy, but this certainly isn’t the case here. In fact, the novel would be intensely enjoyable even if you hadn’t read its predecessor, since it focuses on different characters, leading them up to the same place and point in time at which Oryx and Crake ends. Although Oryx, Crake and Jimmy do appear in in The Year of the Flood (along with several other characters and groups), the novel approaches the story from a different angle. In a way, the first two novels are prequels to Maddaddam, each one providing a backstory for different members of the group whose progress is charted in the final book. This novel tells the stories of Toby and Ren (Brenda, Jimmy’s briefly-mentioned high school girlfriend from Oryx and Crake), survivors of Crake’s plague and former members of the God’s Gardeners cult. Toby is living in the AnooYoo spa in which she worked under a false identity to protect her from her vengeful, rapist ex-boss and Ren is trapped in the quarantine room of Scales & Tails, the sex club in which she worked. The stories of the two women are told as Atwood once again uses her skilful blend of past and present, and they eventually team up.

One of my favourite elements of this novel was the God’s Gardeners cult, a religious sect into which Atwood has obviously put a lot of thought. The doctrines, theological ideas and practices of the Gardeners make their existence seem very plausible, and are clearly a result of meticulous planning and a very original mind. I found myself drawn into the fascinating world of the Gardeners and very much enjoying the daily workings of the sect. Not only this, I enjoyed the Jimmy-Ren romance as well as Ren’s feelings towards Shackleton, one of the fellow gardeners, the relatable though unjustified feeling of not wanting someone, but not wanting anyone else to have them either. The development (or non-development, as it were) of Zeb and Toby relationship was also a plot line that hooked me although, frustratingly, not much is resolved in this novel (fortunately, there’s more to come in Maddaddam). I also found myself getting excited when I spotted Oryx and Crake crossovers- “oooh there’s Jimmy!”, “oh hey it’s Amanda”, “is that young Crake?” (and so on). As I said before, the first two novels are more like two separate books that are merely set in the same universe, rather than being of the same series, and that makes the references all the more exciting to spot. Atwood has clearly planned this trilogy very well, and executes her plan with a great deal of subtlety. I also love the inventive, imaginative world that this novel is set in, but I mentioned that in the previous review.

The Year of the Flood is a fantastic novel, and one that won’t disappoint fans of Oryx and Crake. It’s well-thought out, easy to read, compelling and- strangely enough- it feels very realistic. I’d recommend it, along with the rest of the Maddaddam trilogy, to anyone, of any age.

 Maddaddam review to come tomorrow!

Oryx and Crake

oryx-and-crake

This is my first blog post in over a year, so please bear with me if it’s a little substandard! I won’t bore you with the reasons I haven’t written, but essentially university and travelling mean that I haven’t had a lot of time to write, or to many books to blog about (unless you’d all enjoy a review of ‘Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English Speaking People’?). However, I have read some books along the way that are most definitely worthy of a mention, and none so more than Margaret Atwood’s ‘Maddaddam’ trilogy and so I’m going to write a review of each book over the next three days.

Right, that’s enough pre-amble; on with the review…

I received Oryx and Crake and its sequel, The Year of the Flood, as Christmas presents from my sister. I knew Margaret Atwood was a critically acclaimed and prolific writer, but I wasn’t sure that the novels were going to be my cup of tea. I’ve dipped my digits in the dystopian before (The Hunger Games, 1984) but it’s not a genre I frequent, and I’ll admit that at first terms such as ‘pigeons’ and ‘Crakers’ did baffle me a bit. This wasn’t an issue for long, however, as Atwood has such a clear way of explaining her outrageous creations, although perhaps that’s because the world she describes is frighteningly possible. A few chapters in and I was hooked.

Oryx and Crake tells the story of Jimmy (a.k.a. Snowman), the last surviving human who has been entrusted with the care of the Crakers. The human race has been all but wiped out and the Crakers are sort of like Humanity 2.0- they’re humans with all of the flaws removed. As Jimmy remembers his life, his friendship with Crake (the creator of the Crakers) and their relationship with the beautiful and enigmatic Oryx, we learn about the dystopian world which existed before humanity was culled, and how the cull was brought about. It’s a fascinating portrayal of a terribly corrupted world, as well as one of love, loneliness, nostalgia, bitterness and jealousy.

Atwood has denied that her novel is science fiction and has instead called it ‘speculative fiction’, which I agree is a much more fitting term. Yes, the world of Oryx and Crake is saturated with corruption and dishonesty, but it isn’t that dissimilar to our own. Yes, Jimmy is in a unique and rather improbable situation (or so we’d like to think), but he’s something of an everyman. He isn’t a particularly good character, nor is he particularly bad. Throughout the novel attention is frequently drawn to his averageness, especially in comparison with brilliant Crake, and this averageness allows- perhaps even forces- the reader to relate to Jimmy, to put his or herself in his situation. You come to the realisation that you are Jimmy, that he does what you would do, that he feels as you would feel. You can no longer palm off the story as ‘unrealistic’ or ‘impossible’; you are drawn into it and forced to confront it. By giving Oryx and Crake an unremarkable protagonist, Atwood renders it a remarkable novel.

But the novel’s merits don’t end there. Atwood’s writing style is incredibly easy to read without ever feeling simplistic, and full of shrewd observations about human nature. She’s often very funny too, particularly in the scenes with the naive Crakers, who know nothing about the world before. One such incidence is when Snowman, irritated by their incessant questioning, tells them to “Piss off” and they endearingly respond “What is ‘piss off’?”. The mixture of past and present Atwood uses is also compelling; we delve into Jimmy’s past but are never allowed to forget his present and we discover enough at a time to interest us, yet leave us wanting more.

Oryx and Crake is a novel that’s hard to sum up. It’s beautiful, brutal, funny and painful. At first it seems far-fetched, then it becomes a little too close for comfort. It’s romantic but realistic. It deals with universal human emotions, yet it’s not an overly sentimental novel- some critics have gone as far to say that Atwood’s writing is unemotional, but I disagree with that entirely. In short, it’s a work of genius and I’d recommend it to everyone. You don’t have to be a sci-fi lover (I’m certainly not) or a serious bookworm to enjoy them; I’d say they have a pretty universal appeal as there are so many different elements to the story- you’re bound to find something you like in there!

(I was going to include a discussion on an event near the end of the novel in this post but decided better of it due to spoilers. The post will follow shortly!)

Have YOU read Oryx and Crake? What did you think? Please leave me your comments here!