Death Comes to Pemberly by P.D. James

Click on cover to see Goodreads blurb

Click on cover to see Goodreads blurb

Why I have it: I picked this up when browsing in Waterstones with my mom. We’ve recently rewatched the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and when mom read the back of this and realised why the Pemberly of the title sounded so familiar we both got excited and eager to sink back in what is one of my favourite fictional worlds.

Main Review:

I didn’t immediately realise it was a crime novel, other than the obvious fact that the blurb says that Lydia believes Wickam, her husband, has been murdered. Obviously if I was familiar with P.D. James’ work at all I would have realised but alas I’m not.  That didn’t put me off reading the book as I do like and have reviewed crime novels in the past but it genuinely is just a crime novel, with very little added by the fact that Austen’s characters are used.  It is not even as deep as a crime novel should be due to the fact that she fails to go deeply into any of the characterisations and some characters are conveniently sent out of the room at odd intervals so that she doesn’t have to find a position for them in the ensuing ‘action’ (I use that word unwillingly). I did not find it to be very intricate or clever though others may find some of the revelations at the end to be more surprising than I ultimately did. Largely I feel like I read a detailed summary of a crime and a court case which the addition of Austen’s characters added little to.

I found it repetitive in trivial details which seemed to be an indiosyncracy of the author, though having not read James’ work widely or at all other than this novel I cannot confirm this. There was also several instances where information known by one character or worse still the omnipresent author would be inherited by another character. I was often left trying to figure out when Elizabeth and Darcy had had time to exchange information in particular, as they kept mentioning how little time they had to confide in each other. The exchanges between some characters was stilted and there were missed opportunities to delve deeper into relationships and characterisations which is the main point of reviving long set to rest characters is it not? Without spoiling the story the interactions of certain characters who have serious fissures in their past relationship were literally brushed over unceremoniously. In particular Lydia has maybe 5 lines in the entire novel which considering the premise of the plot is unfathomable.

There is evidence of extensive research into the social constructs of the time and the way the court system worked however characters who have little to no knowledge of the legal court occasionally become mouthpieces for what is evidently the authors views on how the court system of the time could have been improved. There is also mentions of Mary Wollstonecraft works which at first seems like a clever and enlightened way of showing the type of conversation which may have been had at the time but on further reflection is more of an unnecessary nod to what the author has read about the period.

Of course all in all it was amazing to delve into the world so magically formed by Austen so long ago. I am a recent but avid fan of her work and was delighted to dip back into the world of Pemberly in particular…I mean Mr. Darcy and Lizzie are magical together, I just wish this incarnation of them had been more successful as a whole.

As an added bonus there is a brief description of the interaction of characters of Pride and Prejudice with those of Persuasion and Emma, which was bizarre and frankly unnecessary in the case of Persuasion as it doesn’t add to either story and gives little depth of knowledge of those characters that a cursory reading wouldn’t gleam and is only slightly more successful in the case of Emma.

I gave it three stars on my Goodreads because though this review (like many of my reviews :/) concentrates on what was bad about the book it did have good qualities. I almost always love a book as I read it (otherwise honestly why would I bother reading it) but then have to sit down and reflect on it so that I don’t end up giving five stars to everything I read when they just don’t deserve it (in my opinion of course).  There is a lot of the start of the book given over to summaries of what happened in Pride and Prejudice which for me seems unnecessary as I can’t imagine why someone who hadn’t read the original text would want to read a glorified sequel. Though I have said that there isn’t a lot of depth given to any of the characters in the start surrounding the summaries is little snip bits of what James believes happened to these characters after Austen stopped chronicling their lives. Though she later looses me when she starts over analysing and in my eyes villainising innocent characters from the original book these first pages truly won me over and were what I wanted when I bought the book. Ultimately though I was tempted to just give it two stars I gave it three because I enjoyed the experience of reading it. It was engaging despite being at times too concentrated on the actual court case.

Rating: 3/5

What I’m reading now: The girl with the Pearl Earring, though this may change as I haven’t totally engaged with it yet.

The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers

books

Click picture to view at Goodreads

Why I have it: Technically I read this for college but I thought as the first book I read in 2013 (I’m still not used to the change in year…) and a pretty good book in it’s own right, it deserved to be the first book to be reviewed for the blogs relaunch of sorts.

Main review:

The Member of the Wedding is a character driven novel centred around 12 year old Frankie Addams. It follows the development of Frankie’s naïve often absurd adolescent mind as she fantasises about her brother’s upcoming wedding. It is this wedding which appears to hold Frankie’s fragile psyche together. She immerses herself in its preparations in an effort to run from the fact that she does not feel as if she belong anywhere. She takes the adolescent cliché of, “Nobody understands me” to new, often shocking, heights. While Frankie should be an entirely unlikable character with her often cruel heedless remarks and quite selfish acts, an audience can feel sympathy for her plight. It is possible that the appeal of the novel and the sympathy we can feel for Frankie, grows with how much we are willing to examine ourselves while reading it. This is because in Frankie lies a little bit of everyone, an insecurity that is inbuilt in our society driven species; a desperate need to feel as if we belong.

The plot of ‘The member of the wedding’ is not entirely important. It is what we learn as we explore what it is to belong and the consequences of isolation that make this book worth reading. It is a compelling read in that it has the capacity to set up a mirror to its audience and show in an unapologetically, the fragility of the human psyche and the necessity for social interaction. While reading a novel with an uncertain, undefined, main character such as Frankie is often uncomfortable even off-putting it is the same element that draws you back to this book. In crafting her McCullers succeeded in creating a deeply turbulent protagonist (antagonist? It’s that kind of novel…) whose complexity rewards rereading.

Rating: 4/5 (though to fully deserve this rating I’d have to read it again with a more critical and appreciative eye)

What I’m reading now: I’m reading a lot of books for college at the moment but I’m also quickly learning the necessity  to keep reading for pleasure. So with that in mind I’ve made a list of books that having been lying around my house for years begging to be read and I’m going to read them in 2013. There are way more than the 26 that made the list but with college work set to increase,  I know I can at least get these read and reviewed. At the moment I’ve just finished The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and expect to have it reviewed soon and am browsing the shelves for my next adventure…:D

The Accident by Linwood Barclay

Click link for Goodreads description

Started: 3rd August 2012

Finished: 5th August 2012

Why I have it: Picked it up when book hunting with friends. *Looks guiltily at bookshelf of unread books* Probably shouldn’t have. :/

Main review:

Despite the pinch of salt you always have to take his books with, Linwood Barclay is a wonderful author. In ‘The Accident’, he presents us with his characteristic male protagonist, Glen Garber. Glen has just lost his wife in a car accident where it appears she was to blame. While battling to come to terms with his wife’s unexplainable actions, he must also contend with the revelations of what she was involved with in the weeks leading to her death.

If there is one thing Barclay does perfectly it’s creating a central character we can champion. From the start it never enters your mind that they could be the culprit. I’m not sure if he wants you to doubt them or not but taking the clues he gives us into consideration and the rate at which I figured some of the plot out, I doubt it. He also doesn’t demand a lot from his reader, which allows you to sit back and enjoy the story as it unfolds. In the past I’ve read other novels by Barclay that have needed me to suspend my disbelief a little more than I would have liked to accept the resolution but in ‘The Accident’ he ties everything up plausibly enough. I can’t quite put my finger on what he does to make you want to accept these little stretches of the imagination but it certainly works.

Another aspect of Barclays work that apppeals to me is that you can actually work with the main character to solve the mystery. You’re often wrong but once you’ve got a hold of the kind of story he’s trying to weave then you’ve only got to scratch the surface to uncover the truth. I’ve read a lot of the Sherlock Holmes series over the last year and I have to say speaking in terms of letting your reader work with you in solving the mystery, A.C. Doyle has lost me a couple times whereby Barclay is always engaging.

Actually I read this to try and break my Sherlock addiction and what should pop into the story but several references to the man himself. I’m being haunted!

A fault that I did notice is that Barclay has a tendancy to repeat himself. I found myself reading people’s titles everytime they came into a scene. Maybe I’m over analysing but in other novels once you get to know a characater by name then it’s unnecessary to give them their full title. I lost count of the number of times one of the detectives was introduced as, Detective Rona Wedmore of the Milford police’. It got annoying after a couple of chapters. It felt as if he didn’t trust his reader to pay attention to what was happening.

Barclay is a really good writer and I’d recommend this book to anyone whose looking for a quick engaging read. I’d also recommend ‘No time for Goodbye’ as well as ‘Never Look Away’. Though the latter was the less plausible of the two, both were really enjoyble and read at times I needed something to get me back into reading after exams. Which says a lot about the books in my opinion as my head can get so far into study and deadlines I often find it hard to concentrate on books I’m not studying.

Grade:A

What I’m currently reading: I’m finally biting the bullet and finishing the ‘Inheritance cycle’. This series which started sith ‘Eragon’ all those years ago, has been with me throughout my teens just as Harry Potter was with me when I was younger. The character’s mean a lot to me and I want it to go out with a bang. But from what I’ve heard I may be disappointed…I’ll keep you updated.

Also sorry if the spacing is weird between paragraphs, WordPress wasn’t cooperating!

Anne of green gables #1 by L.M. Montgomery

Why I have it: Part of a classics boxset that a friend of my mom got me.
Main review:
This is a beautiful book, in the purest sincerest possible way. You cannot help but fall in love with Anne and the band of characters which Montgomery illustrates with ease, as if they were real tangible people waiting to be brought to life on the page. They are us in so many ways. Anne, the child who dreamed of a wonderful life and was given it. Marila, the mature woman who has learned the hard way that life is not easy but still holds the ability to humour Anne, while still shaping her into a sensible, respectable woman. Mathew, the shy, sensitive man with a heart of gold, knowing when to stand up for what he believes in but also when to let things be. I laughed, cried and felt for each and every character supporting or otherwise, an achievement rarely won by an author.

The imagery alone leaves one daydreaming of life in Avonlea, when reality proves too much. It evokes the most vivid images that I have ever been fortunate enough to read. I can be a lazy reader on occasion and have been guilty of glossing over descriptive paragraphs when it delays the real story, but I did not get the urge to commit that crime once during this book. I remember my mom reading this to me when I was younger, or at least I imagine she did, as I had vivid memories of certain aspects of it. I could not resist refreshing my memory by picking up again. It did not disappoint and though deemed a childrens book, like many classic novels relegated to the childrens genre it transcends this typecast and rewards anyone willing to take a chance on it.

Grade: A

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Click image for link to goodreads

Date started: 19th July

Date finished: 21st July

Why do I have it: I raided a friends bookshelf and found this 🙂

Review:

I was optimistic beginning this book, as it has won both the ‘Whitbread book of the year’ and the ‘booktrust teenage fiction’ awards. I don’t usually read book just because they win awards but it never hurts. Haddon’s book is the fictitious autobiography of one Christopher Boone, a 15 year old boy with autism. It is told from his unique perspective, chronicling how he sees the world and processes the life changing events which occur.

For a reader it is certainly a unique experience. Because the writing style is so different, it takes a couple of chapters to get used to the fashion in which Haddon has chosen to write. He uses very precise detail and clear language to describe the events which unfold. At times it felt as if I was reading a witness statement. While one would think that this would make the story all the more enjoyable, because everything was clearly laid out, it had the opposite effect for me. There was no flourish to the writing, instead it felt rigid and stiff. I like a challenging read and a little descriptive language never hurt anyone. But I do understand the reasoning behind the lack of it.

The real saving grace of this book was the understanding it gives you. The subject matter is delicate as it affects so many people world-wide and for that reason it’s not always spoken about openly. In his book Mark Haddon shows us how he believes those with autism (at least Christopher’s type) think and process information. It’s eye-opening to read christopher’s point of view. It is just shy of charming at times but can then turn completely emotionless and rigid in a second.

The mathematical motif employed by Haddon was used cleverly to give structure to the story and to mirror Christopher’s logical mind. Immediately as you notice the strangely numbered chapters (they’re numbered in increasing prime numbers) you gain an appreciation for how exact and rigid our protagonist is in his thinking.

Seeing the world from Christopher’s point of view was eye-opening as he reduced everything from body language to familiar metaphorical sayings to their most simple meanings. It is mentioned in great detail that his hero is Sherlock Holmes (an aspect I loved!) and as I read, I had to admit that his fashion of thinking is akin to how I would imagine the character of Sherlock thinking. But he was missing the most vital component to most holmesian deductions, Holmes’ instinctive understanding of why people act as they do. Christopher was completely unable to understand other people because as he explains it, they keep changing.

It was strange, almost uncomfortable at times, to read a point of view that appeared so logical in certain circumstances but who could just as easily rationalise hitting someone or smashing a window when emotions were introduced to the equation. It was shocking to realise that it was easier for Christopher to strike out than to try to process this unfamiliar emotive data. He carried around a swish army knife and was capable of being incredibly violent because he could rationalise any situation into simple terms, in a ‘this is a threat and I am justified in neutralising it because it is self defence’ kind of way. I had a bad feeling the book would end bloodily throughout just because of the frightening ease with which he could strike out if one wrong move was made. While it was informative I don’t relish being uncomfortable while reading and this is the effect this book had on me. But maybe that’s just me, perhaps that is the point of the novel, to make us uncomfortable for a time because people like Christopher are never truly allowed to be comfortable.There is a chapter where Christopher talks us through a recurring dream he has where all the people in the world that are what we would consider normal die out whilst the ‘special ones’ as he calls those like himself live on. Its saddening because all he wants is to be left alone but it’s also disturbing because in his explanation he shows that in order to be alone he wouldn’t mind if people had to die, doesn’t show any remorse.

It’s not possible to understand completely how people with autism think, but this book gives us a hint of an idea. While aspects of Haddon’s portrayal of autism are frightening from our prospective it is (or can be viewed as) normal, even logical, to those who have it. From reading ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’, we gain an understanding of difficult life can be on both the parents and the children and through this understanding gain a deeper acceptance of this affliction.

Grade: C

Amber

The Rye Man by David Park

Click for goodreads link

Started: 11th July
Finished: 14th July
Why I have it: The library is currently feeding my book addiction!

Review:

“The Rye Man” by David Park is an obscure book published in 1994. Frankly it’s obscure for a reason. It tells the story of John Cameron, a primary school teacher who has just been given the position of headmaster in his old primary school. As he takes up this position he is haunted by memories of an event which made him the local hero, while his wife is battling a depression brought on by their collapsing marriage and lack of a child. The reader is drawn in with a promising synopsis, which includes lines such as “The Rye Man is a compelling and powerful novel about the links between past and present…” Having reviewed “When God was a Rabbit” last week I was immediately intrigued by a book which was written with a similar premise. However from the first line, Park let’s you down. He begins with a frankly clichéd opening line, “I still had time to change my mind.” Maybe I’ve turned cynical over the years but that had me rolling my eyes and wanting to point him in the direction of a creative writing class. But not one to give up on a book I persevered.

For unknown reasons Park spends the first 50 pages of the story describing in detail his first day as headmaster. This doesn’t add anything to the plot and there are so many characters introduced that I found myself going back to double-check who exactly people were. For a time I enjoyed the interactions of the characters, but after having sat through pages of him describing an interminable staff meeting, reading it changed from escapism to work. There were hints to the wider plot scattered throughout the book but it was as if they were stuck in as an afterthought. It made the text clunky and unnatural. At times it was reduced to a level of bad novice writing, where everything must be explained in precise detail. If the protagonist (and I use that term loosely) opens the door then I found myself reading about how he went through it, closed it, locked it and then continued on his journey. At other times in the novel Park’s writing was so obscure that I was left completely lost, not knowing if I was reading about the past, present or the future. At times like this only references to his ‘mammy’ killing him over ruining his shoes hinted that I was reading about his childhood or at least had me hoping I was.

Something which I found extremely strange is the fact that David Park is actually a teacher himself. This in and of itself was a normal piece of trivia only for the fact that I only looked it up because he was so bad at writing teacher interactions with both pupils and other staff members. The word to describe it would be downright inappropriate. In the case of the teachers he appeared to talk about their personal lives in full view of the class, while in the case of the students the following line had me fleeing to the ‘About Author’ section in horror, “He playfully and gently pulled at one of her locks.”

50 pages into a book (especially a 200 page book) I expect to be completely lost in the narrative but in this instance I found I was still no wiser as to what the actual plot was. It was still introducing the story, which is acceptable in a large book, but in a book the size of “The Rye Man” I expect some sort of complication to have presented itself past simple references to a ‘loss’. A loss which when revealed does not add anything to the overall plot. It actually serves to alienate the reader as this had appeared to be the big mystery of the novel but instead the answer is thrown at the reader. From that moment on Park makes a habit of throwing revelations in the fashion of a young student throwing an answer out to his teacher. Relief that he’s managed it is evident but the answer is left shapeless, leaving the hard work to the observer, in this instance the reader. While my experience of contemporary literature is limited (for the moment) I doubt I’ll come across a book which appeared to promised so much and delivered so little. Though I would have hated for it to be longer it feels as though Park spent the entirety of the book setting up the story and rushed the ending which made the whole book seem pointless. There are so many unanswered questions but unlike other books I feel they were left unanswered because Park either forgot about them or just simply could not explain what he had produced. How this was ever published is beyond me!

Grade: F

Amber

P.S Kate gives her apologies for the lack of a review last week. (Don’t worry I’ll make her do two!)