As we already know from this blog, I’m a hugely petty person. It’s a source of much mirth for my family that I watched the film Dunkirk simply to prove my sister’s boyfriend wrong about it. What can I say? He was wrong and I wasn’t about to let him get away with it. So, yeah, pretty petty. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as much of a shock that the only reason I finally decided to read Autumn by Ali Smith was due to my need to prove someone wrong. An account I follow on Instagram didn’t exactly react well to the news that Lincoln in the Bardo had won the Man Booker Prize last year. That, in itself, wasn’t enough to incense me despite the fact that I thought George Saunders was absolutely deserving of the prize. I get that Lincoln was a divisive book and understand why some people may not have enjoyed it. It’s not conventional literature and a lot of people prefer the safety of a traditional narrative. It was only when this person made the bold statement that Autumn was the only book that deserved to win that I couldn’t ignore it. I mean, how can anyone make such a bold and obstinate statement? I had to check it out for myself.
It’s nearly the end of 2017 and, as is customary at this time, I am looking back over my literary year. I can’t say that I’ve read a great deal this year but, having never set a reading goal for myself, I consider every book finished to be a victory in itself. 2017 has been a year of great reading slumps and hard slogs through difficult books. If we’re talking stats, I finished 26 book at this point but, fingers crossed, I’ll get another one out of the way before midnight on December 31st. I managed to read 4 of the 17 books on my Most Anticipated Books of 2017 list. I own less than I did from my 2016 list at this point but, more importantly, I actually one more of them. I guess that’s a step in the right direction. Anyway, as I was looking back over the past 12 months, I was faced with an Instagram prompt that demanded I pick my top 5 books of the year. It wasn’t as tough as I expected. I’ve read a lot of good books this year but only a handful of great ones. Almost exactly 10 as it turns out. What a happy, happy coincidence.
- Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders : I have to admit that the order of these books is subject to change at any time. I’ve changed my mind even in the few hours between posting a photo of my top 5 to Instagram and starting this post. However, one thing that is never going to change is my number 1. Lincoln in the Bardo is a reading experience unlike any other that I’ve ever had. It’s well written, original and absolutely captivating. There is real emotion at its very core but, thanks to the large cast of characters, has enough light-hearted moments to keep it moving. I loved this book from start to finish and I am really glad that I didn’t listen to my gut and ignore it. Although, if I’m being honest, this book was made for me because of the audiobook. I really do think it’s the definitive way to approach this tale. You get more of a sense of the characters and it really comes to life. I know some people who weren’t happy about the outcome of the Man Booker 2017 but I will always think this was a worthy winner.
- First Love by Gwendoline Riley : When I reviewed this book on my blog way back in the first half of the year, I admitted that it had faults. There are some things about the narrative and its scope that just didn’t work for me. However, Gwendoline Riley’s writing is absolutely beautiful. I was stunned from the first word. It’s a tough read about characters that you’ll never really like but the language is something you can’t miss. I nearly read this book cover to cover on a train ride to London. There hasn’t been another book all year that has been so easy to get through.
- Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman : Another book that I “read” as an audiobook but there is something about hearing Neil Gaiman speaking these tales that make them click. These retellings of the classic Norse myths don’t necessarily flow as easily as a Neil Gaiman original but he manages to bring his own sense of charm to the well-known stories. These are a fabulous thing to dip in and out of. He really captures the spirit of the original tales whilst adding a cheeky modern interpretation to some aspects. It’s got things that lovers of both Gaiman and his subject matter will enjoy.
- Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead : Part of me feels unoriginal by putting this in my top 5 considering it’s one of the books of 2017. However, I can’t deny that this is a powerful and incredible read. I don’t think its a flawless read, as I pointed out in my review here on the blog, but Colson Whitehead is a great writer. His unique take on this important aspect of American history is as captivating as it is tragic. I still think he could have taken it a bit further but his ability to create characters that you believe in and care about is astounding. Out of all of my top 5, this is probably the one I’d be least likely to reread but I’m very glad I finally read it.
- And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie : This is only as far down the list because it was a rereading and it didn’t seem fair placing it higher. I’m a huge Christie fan and this novel really is one of the best pieces of crime fiction ever written. She crafted such an intricate and surprising narrative within these pages that means it is still entertaining when you know who the killer is. She creates memorable and interesting characters. This is a must read for fans and newbies alike.
- The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet : One of the books from my Most Anticipated List that actually made the cut. I’m so happy! Despite the fact that this novel took me so fucking long to finish I absolutely adored it. This is the book that almost changed my top 5 after my Instagram post. However, this is such a niche and difficult book that I felt it had to sit just outside the greatest of the year. It’s an incredibly original and well-crafted book that expertly mixed historical fact with fiction. It’s funnier than a book on semiotics really has any right to be. It’s also a dense and fairly intense read. Before I read it, I kinda wanted it to be Roland Barthes meets The Da Vinci Code. Upon reading it, I found it too closely resembled the former at times and often felt like I was sitting back in my second year Literary Criticism seminar. Still, if you have the inclination and are interested in French philosophers and critics, then I’d say give it a go.
- The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker : Another book on the list has made it into the top 10. Hooray! I did really like this book but, as I mentioned in my review, I had some issues with it. It was Kayla Rae Whitaker’s debut novel and, at times, it felt really obvious. It was an interesting study of two women’s friendship and their passion for the art. The characterisation was incredible and I really like Whitaker’s gritty style of writing. However, there was far too much going on and I just lost it at times. The narrative was crammed to the rafters and it became difficult to engage. I also found the lengthy descriptions of animated sequences, though integral to the plot, rather awkward. The visual nature of the one medium mixing with the descriptive nature of the other didn’t sit well with me. However, this book was exciting enough that I’ll pick up her next book.
- New Cemetery by Simon Armitage : The only book of poetry that made it onto the list. I have a difficult and complex relationship with Simon Armitage. Part of me finds him really irritating for a reason I can neither explain nor really understand. The other part appreciates the way he can weave words together. This small collection really was beautiful. If it hadn’t been for the heft price tag, it probably would have been higher on the list. What can I say? I’m trying to be frugal over here.
- Autumn by Ali Smith : Don’t really want to say too much about this because I plan on posting my proper review on Wednesday. I only finished this read a couple of days ago but I really enjoyed it. Ali Smith is a wonderfully readable writer, which sounds way worse than it should. She elevates her simple narrative with stunning language and interesting narrative structure. It’s a really deceptive book. It’s high literature posing as lower literature (again that choice of words has all sorts of resonances that I didn’t intend). Unlike the person I saw on Instagram complaining about it, I don’t think it deserved to win the Man Booker but Ali Smith deserves to be recognised for the fucking great talent that she is. My blog isn’t exactly the best place to start but it’s something.
- Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad : Once again, this is a position not for the book itself but for the audiobook. Not that I have anything against Heart of Darkness. I love it, which is why I was so eager to “read” the story again. It’s a fantastic tale of obsession and the human spirit that deserves its place in literary history. It still wouldn’t have made it into my top 10, however, if it hadn’t been for the Kenneth Branagh Audible exclusive performance. I love Kenny B and his interpretation of this text was amazing. I mean aside from his dodgy female voice at the end.
- TUESDAY’S REVIEWS – A Christmas Prince (2017)
I’ve been feeling super Christmassy of late so I made the decision to watch as many Christmas films as possible. I started with this new Netflix classic that I’ve not been able to avoid of late. Is it the new must-see festive flick? Find out here.
- BOOK POST – 12 Days of Christmas Book Tag
I didn’t have a book to review this week so I had to pick a random book tag to do. It seemed appropriate considering my Christmas theme. Want to know more about me? Click here.
- TBT – Angel of Christmas (2015)
After trawling through Netflix for another random Christmas film I came across this gem. It’s very similar to A Christmas Prince but with added angels. What could go wrong? Find out here.
- Autumn by Ali Smith
- Women & Power by Mary Beard – Mary Beard writing a feminist manifesto? I mean as if I could say no to this?! This sounds perfect and I just couldn’t resist anymore. It wasn’t very expensive and isn’t very long. I can’t wait to read this.
- Nutshell by Ian McEwan – I’ve wanted to buy this for ages because it sounds amazing. I mean it’s like Hamlet but with a fetus instead of a Danish prince. I love it. I’m already looking forward to reading it.
- Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn – I’m in a bit of a Star Wars mindset at the moment that when this turned up for Kindle for 99p I couldn’t say no. I’m not even sure when I’m going to read this.
- Netflix Binges: Miranda, Luther, Parks and Rec
- TUESDAY’S REVIEWS – Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond (2017)
I’ve been waiting for this documentary to come to Netflix for so long and, when it finally did, I couldn’t wait any longer to watch it. Was it worth it? Find out in my review here.
- BOOK POST – The Guilty Reader Tag
Amazing! I finally have something to say for this section of my rundown. It’s not very inspiring but this tag might give you a little bit of insight into who I am as a person. Find out for yourself here.
- TBT – Man on the Moon (1999)
I couldn’t not watch Jim and Andy and then miss the chance to (re)watch the original film. Did the behind the scenes view have an impact on my viewing? Find out in my TBT post here.
- Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
- Autumn by Ali Smith
- Cheap book haul
So I bought a couple of new books when I found them on offer on Amazon for Cyber Monday and I also snagged a few new Vintage Penguins. Amazing result.
- Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – I bizarrely don’t seem to have a copy of this book anymore so I couldn’t resist the gorgeous new (I think) hardback edition from Harper Collins. Plus, it was also only £4. Genius.
- Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood – Another cheap buy and one that I’ve wanted for ages. Although, I’ve have a few of these Shakespeare rewritings on my shelf for a while and never got anywhere with them. The Tempest really isn’t my favourite play but this sounds really good. And if anyone can make it interesting then it’s Atwood, right?
- Vintage Penguins – I bought a few more of these than I needed to but I can never resist a beautiful vintage penguin.
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
- Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
- My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
- One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
- The Nuremberg Trials by R.W. Cooper
- Netflix Binges: QI, Compete to Eat
Despite all of my best efforts I am still without a computer of my own. Not, I would like to point out, because of my limited skills but because of the postal service. I am awaiting an important component to arrive before I attempt to revive my busted laptop. So, I’m once again writing today’s post fairly quickly during an interval in which I have access to the internet outside of my phone. Which is a shame because I’ve wanted to see this film for ages. The Julian Barnes novel it was adapted from sat on my bookshelf, unread, for years. As winners of the Man Booker Prize go, it’s a pretty small book but I just couldn’t bring myself to read it. Until a few years ago when I did and promptly realised that I probably should have waited for a bit longer. It was a great book, don’t get me wrong, but I think it deserved a better reader. It was one of those books that really takes you to the heart of a character and explore’s the idea that our individual history’s will always be, in some respects, unreliable. I definitely want to read it again because Barnes is a great writer and it’s such a complex but readable story. So, when I discovered it was being turned into a film starring the fabulous Jim Broadbent I knew it was going to be a must see for this year.
The other week, as I was going to sleep, it suddenly crossed my mind that, one day, Judi Dench is going to die. I mean it’s an inevitability but it was an incredibly sad thought that kept me up a good few hours. I never really thought of myself as being terribly attached to Judi Dench but this nighttime realisation really hit me. She’s both a brilliant actor and, from what I can tell, an incredibly lovely human being. I try not to get too caught up in the social media frenzy of melodrama when news hits of a the death of a famous person but I would be genuinely saddened by this. I only mention this because, upon watching The Sense of an Ending, I felt the very same thing about Jim Broadbent. He’s the kind of actor that turns up in things that you wouldn’t really expect and, as such, has probably been a big part of my cultural upbringing. Having the ability to turn his hand to anything has meant he has been seen in some of my favourite films and television series. Without wishing to sound like an absolute dickhead, a world without Jim Broadbent would be a sadder one.
It is Broadbent, after all, that makes the film adaptation of The Sense of an Ending so compelling to watch. As is often the case with book to film manoeuvres, there is a lot that has been lost in translation. The film really only scrapes the surface of the novel and neatens everything off into a pleasant Hollywood ending. It never quite reaches the dizzying heights that Barnes managed to. Yet, thanks to Broadbent’s turn as Tony Webster, the film is perfectly watchable and quite enjoyable. The role is ideal for the actor and he gets to play every old man stereotype perfectly whilst also exploring the deeper history that is hidden away. This isn’t the jolly old gent that has become the Broadbent staple of the past few years. Tony is a curmudgeonly man who tends to put his own interests first. He’s a little pompous and rude but has a deep love for his daughter (Michelle Dockery) and ex-wife (Harriet Walter). He is content to live his life as he always has until a blast from his past forces him to review his version of history.
When the mother of his first love dies she leaves him something in her will. Whilst this is confusing enough, matters are further complicated when his ex-girlfriend (Charlotte Rampling) refuses to hand over the diary. It was written by Tony’s best friend from school Adrian (Joe Alwyn) who committed suicide whilst he was at university. Adrian, Tony and Veronica had been part of a love triangle of sorts after Tony introduced his friend to his lover. Instead of reacting in the understanding way that he’d always allowed himself to remember, Veronica reintroduces Tony to the awful truth regarding the end of their friendship. A venomous letter, written in the heat of the moment, not only destroyed the relationship of the young men but set about a series of events that had a monumental affect on many people’s lives. Tony must come face-to-face with this truth and, as a result, come to terms with the man he really is.
The Sense of an Ending is, at its most basic, a story about how history is recorded. We are told history is written by the victors to highlight their heroism but, by that same token, it must also be written by the bad guys who wish to diminish their role in proceedings. Once Veronica comes back into his life Tony comes to understand that the good guy he thought he was was merely a whitewashed version he allowed himself to remember. I really enjoyed this film but I was a fan of the book. It isn’t the greatest of adaptations so I can see that some people might not see the appeal. The narrative that takes us back to Tony and Adrian’s youth are wonderful and vivacious scenes that work well with the slower insights into contemporary London. Full of their references to Dylan Thomas and a youthful hunger to learn and impress people with their knowledge. However, as the film plods on the message wears a little thinner and the final reveal doesn’t quite have the same impact as the book. It all feels a little flat by the end.
That’s not to say that it isn’t perfectly enjoyable in its own right. Jim Broadbent and co are all remarkable in their roles and bring the complexity of each relationship to light. The story has its absorbing moments and themes that really resonate through the whole narrative. However, for a film all about first love there is a lack of passion on show. It’s as is the film didn’t really know what ending it was supposed to be showcasing and everything got a bit muddled. There is a sense of a grandeur here that only a film adapted from such a critically acclaimed novel really has. It never allows itself to ease into the story or the characters and is constantly aware of everything it has to do. It’s a shame because, really, the performances are all rather enjoyable and Broadbent carries the whole thing off remarkably.
Those of you who also follow me on Instagram will be aware that I gave myself a little treat this week and finally bought the Lego The Force Awakens video game. As a fucking huge fan of pretty much all of the previous Lego games, I’ve wanted it ever since I knew it was coming out. However, I can never justify buying new games because they cost a shitload and I never have the time to play them enough. But I had a few vouchers to use up and ended up finding a copy for a reasonable price and I’m so glad I did. I’ve spent every spare second I have playing it and I love it. Playing as BB8 is the best thing in the game. It’s amazing. I realise that these games are for kids but they are so great. The characters look so good, the storyline is so loyal and the game play, except when it comes to flying/driving as it the problem with all these games, is so easy. It’s not the most difficult thing you’ll ever play but these games are rewarding in so many different ways. It’s the greatest purchase I’ve made all year. Although, it has meant my reading hasn’t vastly improved this week. I need to start dividing my time better.
- Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
- Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra
- Losing It by Emma Rathbone
- Not Working by Lisa Owens
Another book from the list. This first appealed because it’s about a young woman who quits her job to find her true vocation before realising she has no idea what that it. It sounded all too familiar to the 28 year old that is having a shitty time finding a job she both wants to do and that wants her to do it. Again, I’m not expecting it to be too hard a read but it sounds like a good thing for me to read right now. I imagine it’ll be uplifting and full of more hope than I currently am.
- Nicotine by Nell Zink
- Angels and Demons
- The Grand Tour
Once again, I’ve have a Sunday off and I’ve done fuck all. This week has been a bit of a boring one. Work is increasingly frustrating and applying for jobs is back in full, repetitive, swing. Still, I’m remaining hopeful and trying to look into ways that I can prove myself. Bribery, selling my soul to the devil, that kind of thing. I’ve also, finally, come to the conclusion that I am too keen to wilfully spend my money on shit I don’t need so I’ve been trying super hard to not do that. Unfortunately, the shit I don’t need is actually really fun. So it’s been a difficult start. I am, however, a stubborn old mule and will persevere. If I can only get rid of some of my stuff as well I might actually start resembling a functioning adult… or at least someone who could one day turn into one.
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling
- Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
Not really sure that I should include this on the list as I haven’t really read any of it. However, being unable to read Harry Potter in public because of my embarrassing dependence on other people’s perception of me, I’m carrying it around with me in case the mood should strike me.
- Haunted Castles: The Complete Gothic Stories by Ray Russell
- Pocket Penguins
- The Addams Family
- Rick and Morty
It seems as though last Tuesday was about a month ago but, as it turns out, it was only 7 days. You may remember that last week’s blog post was a bit of an unusual one thanks to some unexpected news. Instead of my scheduled review of the Man Booker 2016 Shortlisted His Bloody Project I spent the Tuesday review in a rather angry and sad analysis of a rejection for a job I really wanted. I’ve had time to come to terms with it now and, even though I’m still feeling all of those things, I’m not dwelling. I’m applying for more and trying to organise some useful shit to help me in the future. Now that I’m once again of sound-ish mind, I’m going to attempt to do what I wanted to last week. It may not have won the Man Booker Prize but His Bloody Project was a worthy, if unexpected, entry on this year’s shortlist. It’s my favourite entry on the shortlist… but, then again, it’s the only one I’ve actually read.
If you’ve been paying attention to my recent Sunday rundowns you may have noticed that it took fucking ages for me to finish this book. I partly blame the fact that during that time I was preparing for both of my recent interviews. The other portion of blame goes to me continued book slump. It’s a pain in the arse and it’s here with a vengeance. Whatever the reason, it certainly wasn’t any indication of the book’s quality. It’s an interesting read that I was desperate to pick up as soon as I heard about it. Taking the lead off the current trend for true crime, the author first recounts the tale of how he “found” a pile of documents pertaining to the trial of one of his relatives. What we have is a bizarre form of psychological crime thriller where, instead of witnessing a crime, the reader must put together the pieces of information laid before them to understand why three murders were committed.
The story is set in a remote village in rural Scotland in the late 1800s. The story is told through witness accounts, court transcripts and the memoir written as the guilty party awaited his trial. As the book’s subtitle states, it is a collection of Documents relating to the case of Roderick Macrae, a 17 year old crofter who confessed to the murder of three of his neighbours. The main chunk of the book follows Roderick’s own version of the events that lead him to enter the house of Lachlan Mackenzie one morning and kill him, his daughter, and his infant son. This account if further complicated by the medical examinations of the bodies, several witness statements from Roddy’s neighbours, and an evaluation of a top prison doctor. The mixed narratives all weave a complex web the reader must continue to untangle once they have run out of pages. It’s a captivating read that will keep you guessing for as along as you let it.
One of the novel’s greatest strengths lies in its historical setting. The novel presents a rich portrait of life in a 19th century crofting community and about legal proceedings from the time. The preamble that leads up to Roddy’s description of the murder presents a fascinating relationship between the poor members of the community tirelessly working for their unseen laird and living their lives according to their rigid faith. The murder is placed in a context of a stoic acceptance that bad things will happen no matter what. The community is shown to be at the mercy of so many powerful agencies that they no longer have control of their own destinies. They are victims of the circumstance and must bow down to those with any amount of power. And, as seen through Lachlan Mackenzie’s actions, when certain people gain power they find a perverse pleasure in torturing those below them.
His Bloody Project really is a fascinating read that really places the reader in the heart of the story. The historic aspects have a very authentic feel about them and the handy glossary helps overcome any potential language barriers beautifully. Despite the fact that we know from the outset that Roddy was guilty of the three murders, the novel continues to be surprising. It is also weirdly funny in a very The League of Gentlemen kind of way. It is an interesting way to present a crime novel and, instead of leading us to a conclusion in the traditional sense, Macrae Burnet asks the reader to consider the evidence before them and consider the psychological issues surrounding each individual.
Coming from a fairly new author and a small Scottish publishing house, His Bloody Project was always an unlikely and unusual addition to the Man Booker Shortlist, even before you take into account the prize’s apparent dislike of the crime genre. Plus, there is part of me that still feels like the attempt to portray the events as real is a tad too gimmicky for my liking. However, I can’t deny that I loved every moment of reading it and I think Macrae Burnet did a remarkable job of presenting the ambiguous natures of criminal proceedings. It deserves every second of its increased popularity since the nominations were announced and, despite not winning the actual title, it is a winner on so many more levels.