Monday, January 15, 2007

In Cold Blood

I have just realised that I read another book from the list without even trying! I recently watched the film Capote, and as a consequence borrowed In Cold Blood from the library.

The book is the non-fiction novel that Capote wrote following the murder of a family in Kansas. Two young men broke into the house, supposedly thinking there was a large quantity of cash being kept there. When they found nothing they killed the entire family and stole a few dollars from the victims' wallets and purses. By all accounts Truman Capote became a little obsessed with one of the murderers Perry Smith. He visited both men whilst they were in gaol, researching his book, and was even present at their execution.

The book recounts the lead up to the murderers and follows the two men whilst on the run and in prison following their capitivity. The journalist style of the narrative is compelling and is you have any interest in crime novel or true crime, this is about as good and as gruesome as it gets. Whilst the reader is never led to condone the awful crime, you are given a sense of the boys humanity. Their vulnerability in society and perhaps the potential that was lost when they turned to crime and were forced to pay the ultimate price.

Monday, November 20, 2006


Well, I've strayed from the list again, but I noticed that this novel has recently been made into a film, for release next year, so I felt I should read the book before actors start interfering with my imagination.

The first Iam McEwan book I read was Black Dogs and I absolutely hated it. I can't remember why except that I felt that I was forcing myself to read each and every word. So, it was reluctantly that I finally read Enduring Love. I read Saturday when I was on holiday earlier this year and loved it.

I started reading Atonement in snatches on the tube and as a consequence it took me a few chapters to get into it. However, as is so often the way - it then became a "non-put-downabler". I found that the writing really pulled me in. You don't feel as if you are reading, but as if you are watching the events unfold.

The middle section where the action jumps to Robbie and the Dunkirk evacuation is at first a frustration, as you want to carry on with the narrative of the first section. However, you are soon pulled in again to this new perspective and it is equally frustrating to jump to Briony in the hospital back in London. These shifts keep taking you almost to the end and then pulling away from a conclusion. Manipulating the readers emotions wonderfully. As a reader you are left in suspense throughout, and the feeling that there are no happy endings and that loose ends will not necessarily be tied parallels Briony's inability to take back or fully atone for her actions.

I loved it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Lucky Jim

Back to the list, and I thought I'd go for some comedy this time with Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis.

This follows the trials and tribulations of Jim Dixon, a university teacher in a new university History department. He has little interest in his subject, plans his classes around attracting the pretty female students and spends a lot of time worrying about whether his contract will be terminated at the end of the year.

I have to admit that I had rather a love-hate relationship with this book. I found the first couple of chapters like dragging myself through a huge bog of boredom (ok Amis probably has a better turn of phrase than me, I admit). However, then I took it with me for a 2 hour train journey and suddenly it came to life. Maybe it is the sort of book that you need to sit down and appreciate, rather than snatching a few pages here and there on the bus and tube. Anyhow, I had no difficulty in reading it non-stop for the whole journey, and it almost made me laugh out loud!

I particularly enjoyed the description of the hangover which in part triggers Jim's troubles:

"His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he'd somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by the secret police. He felt bad"

I get the feeling that this book is probably a lot better than I have given it credit for, and that I should probably have given it more of my attention to do it justice.

May well be worth revisiting at some point in the future, but for now, onwards and upwards.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Oryx and Crake

I took at break from my 100 book list to read something contemporary for a change. This was just along the shelf from Lucky Jim (next on the list) so I grabbed it.

I first read Margaret Atwood during my A-levels when The Handmaid's Tale was on the syllabus. I have enjoyed all of her book (I think I've read them all) and this was no exception. This falls in with her dystopia novels and is very different from the more domestically based offerings such as The Edible Woman, The Robber Bride and Cat's Eyes.

Oryx and Crake is set in a future where the main protagonist Snowman, aka Jimmmy, appears to be the last human being alive. He moves around his world, whilst we are privy to flashback to his childhood and life before the 'event' which leads to his lonely existence.

Several reviews complain that the science fiction side of this novel is not well enough explored or researched, but I do not find this a problem. The futurist events are all progressions of current real life work and projects that we read about everyday in the paper - genetic modifications and selection for example - and this make the conclusion all the more haunting.

Hard-core Sci-Fi fans might consider it a little light-weight, but it is gripping and hugely readable, so give it a go.

If you liked Oryx and Crake, you might also try Never Let Me Go.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

I, Claudius

I have vague memories of my parents watching the BBC production of this when I was a child. I can vividly picture Derek Jacobi as the stuttering limping Claudius and John Hurt as the increasingly mad and out of control Caligula.

So, I was very interested to read the book which had spawned the series and see how it compared.

Overall I really enjoyed it, and found it for the most part hugely entertaining. There were a couple of moment where the narrative wandered off into the details of the Germanic wars and such like that my mind might have floated elsewhere, but on the whole it was great.

The most remarkable feature of the book is the relentless blood lust - character after character is 'removed' from the stage of Roman politics in more and more nasty ways. From Livia's poisoning of anyone who gets in her way, to the gladitorial 'games' to mass executions for so called treason. No one was safe from the plotting and scheming and life was held at very little value. On attending a gladitorial display, Claudius discribes how everyone laughed hysterically when one of the competitors arms got lopped off!

Apart from perhaps Claudius himself, most characters are unlikeable. Those that seem like they may have some sort of morality or goodness in them are quickly dispatched n one way or another by their less honorable colleagues.

Inconclusion - all in all a good romp though the Roman Empire, and deserving of its place in the 'best debauchery' category.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

I picked up this book whilst cat sitting at my mum's house last week. I remember starting it before, but for some reason stopping halfway through. When I flicked through it an old cinema ticket for The Phantom Menace dropped out - dated 7th August 1999. I therefore find my second go at reading it is almost exactly 7 years to the day after my initial attempt.

I don't remember why I didn't finish it the first time, as I sailed through it this time around. I haven't seen the film, and I missed out on the recent London stage production.

I am starting to think that a large percentage of drama is fundamentally about freedom. In this novel the main characters are in mental institution. Some are sectioned and some are just so worn down by the world and their experiences in it that they voluntarily allow themselves to be imprisoned. The ward is ruled by the all powerful Nurse Ratched, or Big Nurse as the narrator calls her, but it is turned upside down by the arrival of the charismatic McMurphy.

McMurphy shows the other inmates that they have forgotten how to live, and their safe world of routine, medication, group sessions and therapy is disrupted. Inevitably the freedom that he offers them brings with it risks and consequences.

The book questions the nature of insanity and what it is to be normal. We never really find out whether Mack is faking his 'condition' or not, and it really doesn't matter. Meanwhile, Big Nurse's struggle for power over the seemingly broken souls on the ward reveals a certain tendancy for megalomania.

I found this book funny, moving, sad and thought provoking. Recommended.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Ok, so maybe this isn't as straightforward as I imagined. I'm heading towards the end of the second book, 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest'. I picked up a copy of this and a few others on the list on a visit to my mum's house last week. However,whilst I was back at home I also popped into a charity shop on the offchance that they would have the second Bridget Jones book - it's a long story, but I need it for my PhD. (More info on that here.) Whilst I was in there, I found a copy of A Suitable Boy for £2, and couldn't resist. This isn't on the list.

Also, yesterday the booker long list was announced. Last year this led me to a good few books that I really enjoyed, but obviously they aren't on the list.

So, I think this list reading task is going to be more of a long term aim - I don't think I will be able to put aside other books I come across from time to time in order to plod on with the list. So, the list will be more of a backdrop to my reading - always there, but not necessarily to the exclusion of everything else. Afterall, such a list only represents a snapshot of literature - it is more than possible that a new book could push an oldie out. Dynamic, and so that is what I will have to try to be.

Ben has introduced me to an interesting book site Librarything. It's definitely worth a look. You can log your reading, write reviews and see what other people thought. I think it is a wonderful idea. Sometimes I find a book which has really captivated me and I want to share it with someone. There is no point talking to your nearest and dearest about it unless they have read it too. Reading is solitary by its very nature, but this takes the edge off it - at least for those of us who can't commit to a regular reading group or such like. It's a nig old world out there - chances are someone is reading the same thing as you!