Book Reviews Thread

Nicola

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We have this thread over at FFI.

Just write a review for any books you have read, they have to be somewhat decent in length, and please give it a score.

Reviews written so far:

Wilkie Collins - Basil Nicola
Wilkie Collins - Armadale Nicola
Samuel Richardson - Pamela, Or Virture Rewarded Nicola
Ian McEwan - Atonement Nicola
John Buchan - The Thirty-Nine Steps Nicola
Gaston Leroux - The Phantom of the Opera Nicola

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Author: Wilkie Collins
Title: Basil


'Basil', being one of Collins earlier works, was never going to be as exciting or thrilling as his later novels 'The Woman in White' and 'The Moonstone'. I ventured to expect this when I voluntarily picked this book up to see the roots of the later masterpieces.

'Basil' is the beginning of the mystery thriller that Collins would adopt later on, and the inferiority of his treatment of this genre is easy to see. Whereas in 'The Moonstone' things were difficult to predict, and unable to see where things are going, the signs in 'Basil' are not discreet enough, there are no red herrings, what you read are the glaringly obvious hints that lead the story on and lead you to guess the subsequent events. This makes reading 'Basil' a lot less thrilling to read, and will pale in comparison to what you may have read in TWIW and TM. If you have not read these two novels, and you want to give Collins a try, this is not a good introduction (unless you take the length of the novel into account, which took me a day to read, whilst his later novels take three days). There is too much foreshadowing, and too much of it is made very clear.

'Basil' has a good basic plot, his characters well drawn out, but verging on stereotypical which is demonstrated on Basil's first dream of the two ladies in his life. One is dark, shrouded by wood in shadows, the other is pure and white, illuminated by sunshine and pleasant landscape. This is the basic concept of Margaret, his deceitful wife, and Clara, his virtuous sister. The protagonist can be difficult to like sometimes, his reasoning can be unconvincing, and his actions verge on stupidity, not on behalf of the character, but on behalf of Collins, on creating him. Other drawbacks are seen in the plot holes, and things that just wouldn't make logical sense of any person to act. Such as Robert writing a whole confession on everything he had done, leaving evidence of himself and Margaret to other eyes. On top of that, he chooses to omit certain details of his confession which seems nothing more than a scape goat of Collins as he cannot think of a decent enough argument that might have swayed Margaret to act as she did (though her motives are clumsingly added later on).

This early work has flaws, but it's only a short work, and if you wanted to enlighten yourself of Collins' earlier work, this would be a good place to start as it foreshadows many themes to take hold of later novels, and also seems to have quite a bit of autobiographical detail which can allude to his secret life with his mistresses (the protagonist also has the exact same interest as Collins regarding his career). By all means, pick this book up, it's surely inferior, but it's highly readable and satisfies many curiosities that one may have of the author.


__________________________________________________

Author: Wilkie Collins
Title: Armadale


No, this is not as good as 'The Woman In White' or 'The Moonstone'. The pace and the style of writing is really quite different (Collins was immensely ill whilst writing this book). There is something lacking in this novel that the other three big novels of Collins had plenty of.

Armadale is not as mysterious as the other novels. The only real secret kept from the reader until the end is the truth of Lydia Gwilt's past. This secret of her past is not something that I craved or cared that much about, all I cared about is what she was going to do next which she always clearly spells out what she is going to do, pages or chapters before she does it.

All this said, it is still a fantastic read. It took me a long time to get through because this novel seems to be split in two, and the first part is quite tedious. Midwinter is an admirable character, but Mr Armadale is extremely annoying, and Midwinter, in turn, for caring so much for him is quite annoying. As a reader I was really willing Miss Gwilt on, and agreed with her on every count of Allan Armadale's character. The pair that consists of Armadale and Midwinter somewhat mirrors the pair of Marian Halcombe and Laura Fairlie from 'The Woman In White' where one is incredibly strong and the other is weak, needing constant care and attention from the stronger of the pair. The first part of the novel focuses on their relationship and foreshadowing dreams. Even Midwinter's character becomes a bore when he obsesses over fate and destiny.

The second half the novel consists mainly of Lydia Gwilt's point of view whilst being introduced to new characters way of thinking, such as Mr Bashwood and Mrs Milroy. The novel picks up here and becomes a lot more interesting. There are a few instances when we think we know where the story is going, but then takes a different way completely. She gains our sympathy as she tries as hard as she can to be moral and honest, only to find her efforts useless and forced back into her old ways.

This is worth a read, and some think this book is better than the more popular TWIW and TM, but I don't think so. The pacing is uneven, and some things are just too overly detailed and obvious. I was oddly dissatisfied when I had finished reading it though the character of Lydia Gwilt is a genius one. I'd advise to give this book a go, and to hold out until Lydia arrives on to the scene.

On a more thematic note, there is a lot in this novel (as with his other novels) about identity, the role of women, technology, geography, money and alienation. And where would a classic Collins novel be without opium?!

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Author: Samuel Richardson
Title: Pamela, or, Virtue Rewarded


It honestly shocks me that this was a best seller at the time and it caused a storm with the eighteenth century audience. Were they brain dead? It reminds me how the audience of today went crazy over the Da Vinci Code, but really, it's just a load of rubbish.

Granted, it was different at the time. 'Robinson Crusoe' was also madly popular, and the public wanted more of this new 'novel' form. This book is mainly an epistolary novel (pioneering attribute in the novel) that tries to convince its readership that there is truth in the words, and that the readers should go away and think about what a good girl Pamela was, and how she was rewarded in the end. So, ladies of the eighteenth century, did you get that? Be pathetic, a lap dog and worship and love those that try to rape you and kidnap you, and you will be rewarded by marrying your kidnapper! Great one!

What is terrible about this book is the character of Pamela, who is overly pure and perfect, who takes everything that is thrown her way, is tormented by Mr B constantly, but then decides, that in fact, she loves him! So she goes back, and takes torment from his sister instead! Very good. The character is immensely unbelievable and serves only as a message to the women of the time to obey their men and be like Pamela (which they wouldn't and couldn't have been; no human being can be like Pamela).

The worst part of this novel isn't even the issues or morals it sends out, rather, it's the form and style of story telling that it uses. There is no denying that it started the epistolary trend and gave yet more forms of narrating for novel writers, but the context in which it is written in makes the story laughable. Pamela is constantly writing letters. That's right. She writes letters even when she knows no one will read them, and she writes letters as things are happening. She must be writing 20 hours a day. How does she have time to be raped and kidnapped? It's a wonder. It's just common sense. It astonishes me that an author in the time where novel writing was highly looked down upon, and so tried to make their novels seem real, adopted the very narrative that made his book ridiculous.

There is hope, however; not all eighteenth century readers were duped by this. If you do get yourself through this awful, dull and boring novel (which is about 500 pages long of nothing), you must reward yourself (you deserve to be rewarded when you torture yourself, remember?!) and read the humorous 'Shamela' and 'Joseph Andrews' by Henry Fielding who took 'Pamela' for what it was: a novel that lacked any credibility.

If you have to read this book to find out the roots of the novel, the roots of the novel are simply not worth knowing about.

__________________________________________________

Author: Ian McEwan
Title: Atonement


Listening to the hype, I went out and read this as fast as I could and planned to see the film adaptation immediately after. I succeeded in doing this.

There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that this is probably the most beautifully written book I have had the fortune to read. He plays with language venturing into emotions, philosophies and imagination. His descriptions are vivid with his unique set of similes and metaphors, along with adjectives you would not expect to be teamed up with certain objects and landscapes. His exploration into a thirteen year old child's mind is extraordinary - he creates an atmospheric strangeness about her, contrasting her imaginary world and wild thoughts against the straightforward minds of the adults.

Equally, I never felt the hardship that soldiers went through in the wars until I read this book. McEwan effortlessly depicted the pain and struggle that Robbie goes through in northern France in the most heartbreaking manner. The true horrors of the period are brought to life by McEwan's brilliantly crafted arrangement of vocabulary.

Despite the outstanding writing, I did not enjoy this book much. It had its moments of excitement and suspense, but all in all, I found it difficult to turn the pages. Sometimes, I felt it was, perhaps, too arty as ninety per cent of a page could be a description or taking the reader into philosophy. I appreciated it, but personally, I wanted a story, and if all of the diversions were taken out of this book I believe it could have been a sixty paged novella. As it is, McEwan's style is relied heavily upon to pull this story through.

I do see the fuss, but if you are after a plain good story, this is not the book to satisfy you. It's simply about a thirteen year old girl that witnesses things she does not understand, and fabricates an idea of what she thinks it means, and ends up destroying the lives of her sister and her lover. It's a fine exploration of guilt and forgiveness, of making mistakes and learning from them. So, if you are after a very well written book, and want to marvel at the pure genius of a writer, this is the book for you. I personally found a lot of it a struggle despite appreciating the talent on display.

__________________________________________________

Author: John Buchan
Title: The Thirty-Nine Steps


Being a short novel that was published in 1915 do not expect 'The Da Vinci Code', but you can expect the slight innovative ideas that were bounced around during this period that brings us the post-modern version of the thriller we have today.

It is dated for obvious reasons - the cliff-hangers and non-stop incidental action is something current readers of thrillers will slam as cheesy, unlikely and clumsy (though they were slightly more original during the time).

Obviously there are early twentieth-century colloquialisms and slang terms with the odd Scottish dialect placed here and there. The gender bias is a bit shocking; there are not any female characters in this at all (unless you include housemaids and fat women on buses) - this is an extremely boyish novel and many female readers may find it hard to appreciate considering the protagonist's primary concern is to be manly. Lastly, there are the common attitudes of the day which may be regarded as offensive to today's readers (there are some obvious anti-Semitic sentiments in the story) and Germans are considered the common enemy (unsurprisingly). All that said, do not be fooled by the 'Classic' status by the publishers; it's in the first-person narrative that has a verbal, colloquial tone, making this novel an extremely laid-back, easy read.

We are treated to mad several weeks following the hero, Richard Hannay, who is on the run from the police and "the Black Stone" (German spies) and so we get to see him in many disguises, telling many lies, meeting a shocking amount of nice people up in the Scottish moors who he knows to trust instantly and then heads back down to London to save the United Kingdom from German spies pretty much on his lonesome. Far-fetched would be an understatement, but so is James Bond, Bruce Willis in a white vest and Dan Brown novels, so if you can turn your brain off when you are watching action films or reading daft novels there's no reason why you can't do the same for this book. It's just a bit of fun, with the odd dash of political statement. If you do not take it too seriously, you can have a fun few hours reading through this slim volume (the actual story is 104 pages long) and it's interesting to see the early rise of the spy/thriller novel. Like Dan Brown, do not expect anything deep or profound, it really is just daft, unlikely action from beginning to end.

__________________________________________________

Author: Gaston Leroux
Title: The Phantom of the Opera


Reading through this story, one can start to think its a 'Ghost-story.' But the narrator, as it turns out, dedicated a part of his life to this 'Opera-Ghost,' wanting to be sure of his existence - or non-existence. He has sources, archives, spoken to the people of the time and he tells their story, and he tells it well! When I was reading this story, the possibility of this 'Phantom' of ever existing was totally ruled out in my book. How can one be in walls, have a bodiless voice, be here and there, be everywhere? Is this a ghost story? a fantasy? The Phantom's 'supernatural' behaviour wasn't so 'supernatural,' just a genius ahead of his time; and what a pitiful genius he was!

If you know of Andrew Lloyd Webbers version, you will be impressed to learn that the book and the musical are very much different. Raoul in the musical seems brave and wise, in the book he strikes me as a pathetic love-sick puppy. A character which has no part in the musical has a dramatic effect on the real story; the Persian. Christine who seems to be a mad woman at the beginning turns into the pity stricken beauty towards the end as she is in the musical. The story is twisted and turned. So just because you have seen the musical, that does not mean you know the story of The Phantom of the Opera.

This book is a very easy read, if a bit disjointed and clumsy in places. It's possible to get mixed up with names, but the characters that you do get mixed up with are unimportant to the plot, so it doesn't really matter. The narrative keeps you reading and you will curse whatever it is from every day life that pulls you away from it.

The character of the Phantom will stay with you forever, compelling stuff. It is one of those ambigious texts that is not sure if its protagonist is villain or anti-hero. He commits evil deeds, but the characterisation has us feeling sympathy for him. He is a memorable character, and I imagine that any reader will think of him after putting the book down.
 

Lirael

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Stardust - Neil Gaiman

***

Story: The story of Neil Gaiman's Stardust is, quite typically, a fairytale. It follows Tristran Thorn, a young man who ventures into the world of Stormhold to find a fallen star for his "true love" Victoria Forester. If you've seen the film, don't expect to find many similarities. The original story is very different; it's less clever in places and the ordering of some events is different. However, it's still good, and I enjoyed every moment of it.

Characters: While I preferred and had more sympathy for the princes, I didn't feel much for either Yvaine or Tristran (sad, since I loved their characters in the film). Yvaine came across as a bitch, while Tristran was presented as a naive little boy. I suppose they were more stereotypical, but they weren't quite as charming as they were in the film.

Writing style: The writing style certainly fits into the genre of a fairytale; it reads like a children's fairytale. But with the language used, and some of the scenes, there's no doubt in my mind: it's meant for adults. The description, while not immense, is nice, and each key scene is painted in the mind perfectly. Other than that, you pretty much have to create the scenery yourself.

Conclusion: I loved the film, and this book held many great ideas, but Yvaine seemed more bitchy. The relationship between her and Tristran (in the book he's called Tristran) developed too fast. The love wasn't even as clear, and she still seemed very distant. It was a bit too kiddy for my liking, despite being an adult book. However, it certainly reached the limits of a the fairytale genre and is a classic example. I love the story, but I just preferred the film.
 
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I'll go ahead and sticky this thread.

-----o-----

Title: Man's Search for Meaning
Author: Dr. Viktor Frankl


This is probably one of the most interesting book I've read regarding the Holocaust. Frankl weaves his very own terrifying experiences in the Nazi Germany Concentration Camps and managed to create an almost real-like atmosphere and picture as I read his book. He not only spoke of his own experiences but also created a unique special way of dealing with coping and suffering through methods of logotherapy and means of personifications, which were undoubtedly an inspiring read.

He describes the hardships of prisoners and the environment they were in. In fact, as I read through, it highly suggests that gradually, they went from being healthy individuals to "walking corpses" who were weak, vulnerable, and emaciated. He spent part of his life in the infamous Auschwitz and was sadly separated from his pregnant wife, which I thought was one of the most emotional read I've encountered as it clearly shows in the way he vividly worded his tale.

As a doctor, Frankl's duty was of course, to provide care to the prisoners. I am led to believe that his profession is one of the reason as to why he survived the horrendous events, while his friends and those prisoners he was acquainted with had met a most unfortunate fate.

I cannot even begin to describe how I felt as I finished the book. I would like to say that it is a very inspirational and touching book. It gives an insightful look to finding meaning and love even in the grimmest of circumstances. Finding meaning in situations that occur, good or bad, seems to be an excellent way to cope and take on a new perspective.

I highly recommend this book and shall give it a score of five stars.


 

The Illusive Man

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Im going to put up a review but be warned, if your under 18 you wont be able to buy this book!

The Average American Male.

Quite possibly a very interesting spin on modern day life and a tale of relationships from an average males point of view.

The story follows an un-named character through his day to day life, as he makes his views on the people and the world around him as well as coping with his relationship with his girlfriend who he has grown to hate Carey and his possible new love interest Alys.

Throughout the story the un-named lead, takes you through his every day world and you meet a whole host of characters, including his best-friend and typical playboy, to his token gay friend carlos.

Although the book is full of leud behaviour and blue language, if you can stomach it you'll find a very interesting story to be read, with an excellent twist at the end.

This book is definatley a "must read" by all the guys out there, as it is a real eye-opener and will definatley have points where you will be laughing and say "wow thats me, I did something like that once", only the bravest and most open minded of females need apply, as the book can be a little shovanistic in places and can be a bit too over the top in terms of leudness.

Overall Id give this book a 3.5/5 I would have scored it a 4 but the general leudness and blue language may be too much to some peoples tastes, and can really put people off reading, what is a very interesting piece of work.
 
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