The Girl On The Train – Paula Hawkins

413uEtL4GzL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_I started reading this book mostly to discover what the hype was about after hearing people praising it and finding my colleagues at Foyles talking about the plot in hushed tones.

Those looking for an eloquently written book deserving of maximum high brow literature success, I doubt you’d find that in this book. For me, the writing wasn’t the highlight of this book, but it was made up for in other ways.

However, I zoomed through this book in three days in between working and sleeping. The final hundred pages were utterly compelling and by this point, I was completely absorbed in Hawkins’ narrative. In between reading sessions, I was finding myself constantly thinking about returning to this book because of how thrilling this book was in my opinion.

The role of the unreliable narrator is one that is used a lot (maybe too much you could argue) to add another layer to a plot that is perhaps not all it seems. In The Girl On The Train, it worked perfectly to provide a background of intrigue and surprise throughout its pages. I loved not knowing everything the narrator did to add to the thrilling aspect of this book and start to make you think whether the events recalled are fiction or truth. The plot and this narration is ultimately what keeps you reading.

My only problem was that I found the main female characters quite pathetic and part of me began to think about the sexist implications of the female representation, especially with the wide power difference between the men and women it seems. I found at times the female characters never got quite past their stereotypes, which I found quite problematic.

Despite this, however, the saving grace in terms of female representation is arguably the themes the book explores, such as domestic abuse, marital abuse, pregnancy, miscarriage, alcoholism and emotional turmoil. From multiple perspectives, this book provides a great starter and some awareness for conversations around these important topics, which is in some ways refreshing to see these topics tackled without adding some blame around the female.

In summary, I feel that some people would find some issues with this book, whether its the narrative style or the feminist (or lack thereof) representation. However, for the sheer pleasure of reading and reading something that completely absorbed me, this is a book I would recommend and I thoroughly enjoyed reading, even if it was for just reading something a little different to my usual reading list.

I give it a 4 out of 5

Advertisements

Girlfriend in a Coma – Douglas Coupland

863058While not a great sentence to start a 4* review, it’s true that I’m still not entirely sure why I picked up this book to read in the first place. Maybe it was the cover? Maybe the £2 price tag? Maybe it was my memories of shelving Coupland’s ‘Generation X’ from my previous bookselling job? Whatever the reason, I’m glad I did though for my first experience of the weird and wonderful Coupland.

It’s best to start reading this book, not knowing too much past the basic premise – this book is set around a group of friends in the 1970’s, mainly through Richard’s eyes whose girlfriend, Karen, goes into a coma one evening.

What precedes is one of the most interesting and strangest books I think I’ve read in a while, but there was something incredibly original and so enjoyable about this book. However, like I saw in many Goodreads reviews, this book is quite literally a book of two halves.

As I expressed to my friends, the first half feels like a drama – a coming-of-age story following Richard as he copes with his girlfriend suddenly being in a coma and coping with being in a place where Karen is not quite dead, but also not quite alive either. This part was great, I particularly loved Richard as a character and his narration. I imagine him particularly like a teenage Chief Jim Hopper from Stranger Things.

However, suddenly, this coming-of-age story transforms into a sci-fi and then a supernatural novel without (for me anyway) too much warning. At this point, although I enjoyed the book as a whole, the second half I felt was not as well-crafted as the first half and at times felt like Coupland had two ideas for a novel and just decided to combine them both. In some ways, it works well, but, for me, it was such a change that it left me slightly disengaged from the book latterly.

This book has been described as a moral fable or a post-apocalyptic novel – whatever it is, it’s clear that Coupland is concerned about how the human race is progressing, how people are more lonely than ever, choosing advertising over friends and family, going with the motions of the day rather than doing something productive. These arguments are still relevant now, nearly two decades after this book’s release, and they are arguments that make you think about what we are prioritising in our day-to-day lives. As I saw in a review, Coupland makes you think deeply about the world around you without overwhelming you or feeling too preachy.

This is a novel for people who love multiple genres, particularly if you’re looking for something different. Coupland twists the boundaries of the literary genre to provide a tale that debates the morals in ourselves, our perceptions of the world and particularly, the media. I’m interested to know what Coupland thinks of our world in 2017…

I give this book a 4 out of 5

The Girls – Emma Cline

the girlsSet in the late 1960s in Northern California, it is the start of the summer for Evie before she will start at a new boarding school. Lonely and stuck in the suburbs, Evie becomes enchanted by a group of girls, carelessly dressed and surrounded in an aura of danger and freedom. Evie befriends one of them, Suzanne, and becomes part of their cult run by a charismatic older man. As she becomes engrossed more and more into their cult, Evie does not realise that she is being pulled closer and closer to the danger and violence that awaits them.

~~~

I wanted to read this after becoming compelled by the cover last summer and hearing some great reviews. The background behind The Girls sparks from an interesting place, partly based on the Charles Manson murders that killed five people at the house of film director, Roman Polanski.

It reminded me a lot of Girls On Fire by Robin Wasserman – taking bored, young suburban girls into these real life adult situations, testing their friendships and to some extent, their naivety. I enjoyed Girls on Fire somewhat, and would definitely recommend The Girls if you’re a fan of this one and the other intense, young friendship stories that seem to be littering bookshops currently.

I did really enjoy The Girls and definitely enjoyed more than Girls On Fire. The language is probably the element of this book which sticks out in my mind the most. Looking at some reviews, others found Cline’s poetic language a bit too distracting from the plot and its characters. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how much the language tied into the story as well as Evie’s narration in a way that really brought the whole novel together. I’m personally not always a fan of this kind of storytelling, however, in The Girls it really worked to tie it all together.

The book’s structure flicks between the present and past as there is this undeniable sense of unnerving inevitability becoming more and more intense as the novel progresses towards the final act. It is this that I think kept me engrossed in the narrative as well as Evie’s own narration, telling the story of a girl caught in the middle of adolescence and womanhood – a feeling I definitely can relate to.

I really enjoyed this book and I would highly recommend. It is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year – perhaps not the most original premise with the whole hoards of books, TV shows and films that seem to be bringing the horrible Manson murders to light again. Nonetheless, it is done with maturity and becomes a story much bigger than just the murders. If you’re looking for that last summer read before autumn well and truly comes, I would definitely recommend this one.

I give it 5 out of 5

Instagram – for better or for worse?

instagram feedI remember when Instagram hit the world in 2011. It was this shiny new app that no-one really knew much about, but changed everything about the way people posted on social media. Instead of forming words to describe your feelings or your life in one moment, now your photographs were front stage and centre, which is pretty incredible really thinking about it as, now, I no longer had to download my images onto my laptop from my Samsung flip phone and then post them on Facebook even though they definitely weren’t in focus. It’s amazing to think how easy it became to post photos of ourselves online within seconds of taking it, even in 2011.

Since then, Instagram has been developed from a personal social network amongst friends to a marketing tool for brands to a place for bloggers and vloggers to thrive behind the scenes. In recent months, I’ve heard increasingly about people proving accounts have been photo shopped, buying followers or Instagram being used by brands to advertise next to your best friend’s selfie. However, most of all, I’ve heard more and more about people’s sudden realisation about how augmented, how unrealistic and how constructed Instagram has become as a medium. On one Instagram feed, you can see posts of your friends and family interlaced with celebrities’, bloggers and brands’ photos – all ranging in quality of their images and the quality of the lives perceived online.

For some, this is a surprise. For me, in all honesty, it’s not. Most of all, it’s not a surprise because I did my dissertation looking at the representation of women on Instagram. I chose to tackle gender representation originally because it’s a cause I’m passionate about, while I chose Instagram as both something different to talk about and because it was – and still is – the social network I use the most.  Throughout the many months and tears shed over my dissertation, I learnt a number of things, but nothing quite as clear as truly what Instagram is and what is represents. I had case studies like Kim Kardashian’s naked selfie; parody account Sociality Barbie; Instagrammer Essena O’Neill; Taylor Swift’s Instagram account and finally, many self-harm and anorexic Instagram accounts, which, for some people, becomes the result of all that pressure and perfectibility filling our heads.

It wasn’t a positive conclusion for my dissertation by all means. My overall research and analysis came to the conclusion that Instagram is a trick. While this is just a short summary of what my conclusion actually said, it’s important to remember that while we all have the accessibility and choice to post what we want, the majority of pictures of our lives and of ourselves essentially showing off without consciously doing it. The constant perfection of Instagram accounts, like celebrities or bloggers or brands, means it brings about this constant self-assessment – “How do I look?”, “Do I look successful, pretty, thin etc?” – as well as this constant higher set of standards to live up to. We literally don’t think about it and even if we do, the majority of us move on and keep posting those Boomerangs. It is accounts like Socality Barbie that really put into perspective what we’re posting.

louise delage

Considering this however, I was incredibly enlightened and interested when I heard recently at work about Louise Delage. She was a French Instagrammer that gained thousands of followers and links within a few weeks. Her Instagram was full of her travels, her social events and showing what most of us would perceive as a good life. However, because we were so used to seeing these photos of a ‘good life’ – selfies, laughter, friends, trendy clothes – a lot of people missed one important similarity to all her photos…an alcoholic beverage.

It wasn’t until the last Instagram video posted that it became clear that Louise Delage did not exist. Instead, she was a character made up to show the subtle signs of alcoholism for a charity, Addict Aide, in France. While I have some issues with perpetuating the Instagram lifestyle for marketing, I was impressed by their intuitive thinking of using Instagram for what it is and what it represents now as well as a marketing tool. This begs the question – can Instagram actually have a positive effect? Can it actually be a place for people to share their woes, get it out on paper [or a screen] or carry positive, important messages from person to person? 

Who knows – I’m not a professional Instagrammer or a doctor of Instagram. Neither do I have the answers to everything, but it’s a topic I find incredibly interesting. I love Instagram even now, but sometimes it’s easy to lose yourself in the world it creates, the perfect lifestyle of even your best friends that it creates. It’s definitely important to take a step back sometimes and see the real world for what it is with #nofilter. 

5 Great Graphic Novels

 

Over the last few years, I’ve got more and more into graphic novels, mostly I think because it combines my appreciation for beautiful design and my love of reading into one. Graphic novels is honestly one of the most diverse and interesting genres of literature, as many authors and artists use the format to explore a number of social issues, personal stories and debates that can’t be explored in the same way with purely words.

Here are just some of my favourite graphic novels:

Soppy by Philippa Rice

This is one of the cutest books I have ever had the fortune to read!

If you’ve ever been in a serious relationship, had an awkward first date or ever purely appreciated just being in the company of someone else, this is the perfect book to reminisce with, bring a smile to your face and give you an appreciation of the small things in life we miss.

Take It As a Compliment by Maria Stoian

A beautiful mix of an incredible and stunning changing art style with distressing yet powerful real stories of sexual abuse victims and survivors. This graphic novel blew me away in the 15-20 minutes it took me to read it and so quickly resonated with me in such a permanent way. Maria Stoian displays so much respect for the stories of these victims – I highly recommend this to everyone!

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

Saga is simultaneously amazing and incredibly frustrating a series to read. On one hand this book holds such a great narrative set in this futuristic world. It has some diverse, amazing characters, particularly the family at the focus of its narrative. However, the narrative is so well planned and so absorbing that each of these books are almost too short, you finish one and already want the next one. I’ve so far read the first three books and already ready/saving up money to buy the rest.

Brian K. Vaughan also writes the Paper Girls series with Cliff Chiang which has a great Back to the Future meets Stranger Things meets 10 Things I Hate About You vibe. Image Comics are one of my favourite graphic novel publishers for sure.

Maus by Art Spiegelman

Spiegelman recalls his conversations with his father, a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust. This adds something special and unique to literature about the Holocaust, depicting WWII as literally a game of cat and mouse – the mice are the Jews, the fat cats are the Nazis.

I remember reading this around Christmas time and staying awake until the early hours of the morning over the week leading up to Christmas because I was so absorbed in this book. This is a powerful and heartbreaking read both about a personal account of the Holocaust, but also about the relationship between father and son. If you have any interest in reading a graphic novel, I urge you to make sure you read this one.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

This is the first graphic novel I read a couple of years ago. It is completely different to anything I had ever read before and I loved the mixture of history interwoven in this book with simply the story of a girl growing up and trying to navigate both adolescence and then adulthood.

This has since been turned into a film – all animated in the same art style as the graphic novel. On the first day I celebrated International Women’s Day a few years ago, I went to a local coffee shop to catch the film with my boyfriend who had lent me the book. He was one of the only men there, but absolutely loved the atmosphere and the film.

Holiday Reads

I love summer, don’t you? One of my favourite things about the summer is going on holiday and finally having more time to finally read all day everyday on holiday. It’s the perfect time to get through that long book that’s scared you all year or just relax after a stressful few months in the sun and your favourite author. I’m going on a few trips this summer and these are the books I’m planning on devouring.

Holiday Reads 1

Once And For All – Sarah Dessen

There is always that author that feels a little bit like home when you go back to one of their books. For me, that is Sarah Dessen and I was so delighted to hear that she was bringing out Once And For All this summer. I love her summery settings, her great characters and writing that is witty and makes the best easy read in the sunshine. I’d also recommend The Truth About Forever and Just Listen.

IMG_5701The Mandibles – Lionel Shriver

When I go on holiday, it is the perfect time to read without having to fit reading in amongst working and other errands. The ideal book for these long periods of sitting and relaxing in the sun or for a plane or car journey is a longish one to get stuck into. I’ve wanted to read The Mandibles for about a year now since I saw it in hardback and heard about it in Rosianna Halse Rojas’ video.

The novel is set in 2029 and the dollar is practically worthless. The rich Mandible family cannot count on their inheritance any longer and their normal life existence disintegrates and changes completely. I’m so looking forward to getting stuck into this book and interested to see where this book goes.

IMG_5700

Stars Above – Marissa Meyer

I finished the epic final book in the Lunar Chronicles, Winter, last summer within three days and bought Stars Above and Fairest (two mini novels set in the same world) pretty soon after. I love this series and I think it’s a great read for sci-fi and dystopian fans as it has a little bit of everything within this interesting, magical and intriguing world.

The Power – Naomi Alderman

I successfully predicted from the longlist that The Power would win the Bailey’s Women Prize for Fiction, especially with Margaret Atwood’s backing behind it. The Power tells the story of what happens when young women are able to shoot electricity from their fingertips and cause the gender balance within society to shift.

This sounds like such an interesting and potentially powerful concept. I’ve purposefully not found out much about its plot so I’m interested to see how it is structured and the way the narrative unfolds throughout this book. I’m also reading The Handmaid’s Tale at the moment, so I’m interested to see how this compares also.

 

Carve the Mark – Veronica Roth

30117284.jpgTo some extent I did really enjoy this book, but also I felt pretty ‘meh’ too.

When I think back to everything I’ve heard about this book, the majority of the stuff that comes to mind is pretty negative. I remember having a debate about the controversial issues that arose when Carve the Mark was released with two other colleagues when I worked at Foyles. One of which had already read an advanced review copy and was surprised to hear the allegations, the other had not and took the decision not to read the book. On the other hand, I decided to give it a go, despite the controversies around its narrative and marketing, for three reasons: 1) I was intrigued to find out for myself, 2) It felt important to me to make my own opinion and 3) Before I heard about the controversy, I was genuinely excited for this book from an author who wrote a dystopian series I loved.

There was a lot of potential for this book, especially with Veronica Roth as its writer, which was perhaps part of the problem considering everyone expects something of the calibre of the Divergent series. I wanted the thrilling action, the political background and the overarching love story that I liked about her previous books.

In Carve the Mark, while there was plenty of politics, a vague love story as well as some great action, thrills and surprises at certain points, the ability to hook from the very beginning until the end  – as Divergent did – just never happened for me.

I felt a lot was explained in the first couple of chapters leaving very little backstory or detail to be discovered later on (particularly in terms of Cyra), therefore the book fell flat in the middle section and took a while to pick up again. It meant that after knowing everything about the world and the characters, there was nothing intriguing to get me through the book until the final conclusion. I feel a lot of the problems with this book – both with its controversy and my enjoyment of this book – comes from its structure and the sequence of events Roth has chosen.

However, at a lot of moments I did enjoy the book, largely at the beginning and particularly the end few chapters – which were incredible and the kind of writing I wanted the whole way through. I liked the characters, the world building was interesting (I loved the idea of the current) and the plot could have been decent – it was the writing that largely let this book down for me.

I’m disappointed by Carve the Mark in terms of my expectations for the book, for the author and for its marketing, but it did have a couple of glimmers of brilliance showing what this book could have been.

Will I read its sequel? I’m not sure, I don’t feel too invested in this book because the book felt somewhat quite final until the last page, but to some extent I am intrigued by some of the few seeds left unanswered in Carve the Mark.

I give it a 3 out of 5