Book Review: The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi

The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi

Genre: General Fiction, Contemporary

Publishing Info: January 2009 by Faber and Faber (first published 1990)

Pages: 288

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

The hero of Hanif Kureishi’s first novel is Karim, a dreamy teenager, desperate to escape suburban South London and experience the forbidden fruits which the 1970s seem to offer. When the unlikely opportunity of a life in the theatre announces itself, Karim starts to win the sort of attention he has been craving – albeit with some rude and raucous results.

The Buddha of Suburbia is one of those books I neither love nor hate, hence the middling three star rating. It was an easy read that explores themes of identity, gender, belonging and racism. It didn’t take me long to finish it as it is a short book. It isn’t slow and doesn’t drag too much which probably makes it more palatable.

The characters are painted quite vividly, which is one of the best aspects of the novel. I found I had a clear picture of the appearances and personalities of Karim’s family and friends as we pick them up along the course of the novel. This is a coming-of-age story in which Karim takes a path to find what he wants to do with his life. He spends a lot of time floating around between the houses of his family, sleeping here and there, but not seeming grounded. Is he grounded by the end of the novel? I’m not sure. It seems that at the end he is on the way to this place, but maybe hasn’t quite reached it.

The book is supposedly a comedy. The cover is littered with quotes by authors and newspapers saying how funny it is. But obviously I just didn’t get it. There were some slightly amusing moments, hardly able to even lift a humoured smile to my face, and I certainly wasn’t laughing. Maybe I just didn’t get this kind of humour. It was at times rather odd. There are some strange people and some strange goings-on in this book. Maybe I didn’t get the 70’s references?

Overall, the word to sum it up is average. I didn’t think it was anything particularly amazing but it wasn’t exactly bad either.

Book Review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Genre: Adult, Mystery, Thriller, Science-Fiction

Publishing Info: April 2013 by Harper (first published 2012)

Pages: 391

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

The girl who wouldn’t die, hunting a killer who shouldn’t exist…
A terrifying and original serial-killer thriller from award-winning author, Lauren Beukes.

1930’s America: Lee Curtis Harper is a delusional, violent drifter who stumbles on a house that opens onto other times.

Driven by visions, he begins a killing spree over the next 60 years, using an undetectable MO and leaving anachronistic clues on his victims’ bodies.

But when one of his intended ‘shining girls’, Kirby Mazrachi, survives a brutal stabbing, she becomes determined to unravel the mystery behind her would-be killer. While the authorities are trying to discredit her, Kirby is getting closer to the truth, as Harper returns again and again…

The premise of The Shining Girls excited me when I first read the blurb: a time travelling serial killer? Sounds interesting. Perhaps I set my expectations too high. It was a bit of a let-down for me, and not as good as I was hoping. I felt the author could have done so much more with this interesting, creepy idea.

The structure didn’t do anything for me. It switches back and forth with lots of different points of view in lots of different time frames which left me feeling rather confused. Most elements of mystery/suspense were taken out by the fact that we know the ‘answer’ to the mystery Kirby is trying to solve because the first person point of view of the serial killer is included. I didn’t feel motivated to keep reading and wasn’t intrigued like I like to feel when reading mystery/thriller. It was just lacking in tension and suspense.

The characters could have been developed more. They felt quite flat, their personalities not really showing through, particularly in the main characters.

It was quite repetitive, with lots of time given to each of the murders Harper committed. The only thing I liked about this part was that the author gave some details about each of the victims that made them like real people rather than just unfortunate victims.

The ending was a bit abrupt and I personally would liked to have seen more resolution. The little epilogue at the end was quite clever though and brought the end in a loop back to the beginning.

This concept had so much potential but I just wasn’t a fan of the way it was executed and found myself checking frequently how much longer it was before I finished it. Ironically, it lacked shine, it lacked the spark of something special to me.

Book Review: The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark

The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark

Genre: Adult, General Fiction, Mystery

Publishing Info: 2006 by Penguin Books (first published 1970)

Pages: 128

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

Lise is thin, neither good-looking nor bad-looking. One day she walks out of her office, acquires a gaudy new outfit, adopts a girlier tone of voice, and heads to the airport to fly south. On the plane she takes a seat between two men. One is delighted with her company, the other is deeply perturbed. So begins an unnerving journey into the darker recesses of human nature.

It is important firstly to say that this isn’t a book that everyone will like. Being written in 1970 it is in many ways very different to the books we commonly find on our shelves now. It is short, more of a novella than a novel, and for fast readers you could probably get through it in one sitting (assuming of course that you found it engaging enough to do so). It tells the story of Lise, an eccentric girl who goes on holiday and whom we are told (very near the start of the book so this isn’t a spoiler) that she will be founded murdered by the end of the day. We spend the rest of the novel following her around wondering who the murderer will be.

I felt no attachment to Lise. Really and truly we know hardly anything about her. The narrative is written in a way that we are very detached, almost like reading a police report or looking in from the outside. In a day and age when we like to be ‘connected’ to the protagonist this can feel like a very odd experience.

Being so sort there is little plot, basically just a ‘who murdered her?’. In a way it is intriguing, though also baffling because much of it is confusing and seems illogical. However, the end is a good plot twist which I wasn’t expecting and which made me look at what I had read in an entirely different light to how I had done while reading up to that point.

It is certainly not a book for everyone. At the end you are left with numerous unanswered questions and frankly feeling rather confused about the whole affair. But, being so short at least if you didn’t like it, it wasn’t too much of your time wasted.

A Sequel to You?

So a few days ago I posted a book review of You by Caroline Kepnes. For the most part my review was positive so when I discovered her next book would be coming out in September I thought I would eagerly await it. Until I discovered it is a sequel to You. Really? The book is called Love and tells the further story of Joe as he continues trying to find love and creepily stalks girls.

Now, as much I loved You, does it really have sequel potential? I thought the book ended quite roundly, and when I read it I didn’t have any inkling that there was any possibility of a sequel. In some ways it could be interesting to see what turn the book takes. But at the same time I can imagine it just being a repeat of You but with some new characters for Joe to interact with. I think Kepnes is stepping on dangerous ground and it will have to be something fresh and different from You to please me.

I will read and review Love when it comes out in September, but I won’t be expecting much, so that if it actually surpasses my expectations it will be a pleasant surprise.

See my review of You here.

Book Review: You by Caroline Kepnes

You by Caroline Kepnes

Genre: Adult, Contemporary, Thriller

Publishing Info: Kindle Edition, Published September 2014 by Atria/Emily Bestler Books

Pages: 433

Star Rating: 4/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

When a beautiful, aspiring writer strides into the East Village bookstore where Joe Goldberg works, he does what anyone would do: he Googles the name on her credit card.

There is only one Guinevere Beck in New York City. She has a public Facebook account and Tweets incessantly, telling Joe everything he needs to know: she is simply Beck to her friends, she went to Brown University, she lives on Bank Street, and she’ll be at a bar in Brooklyn tonight—the perfect place for a “chance” meeting.

As Joe invisibly and obsessively takes control of Beck’s life, he orchestrates a series of events to ensure Beck finds herself in his waiting arms. Moving from stalker to boyfriend, Joe transforms himself into Beck’s perfect man, all while quietly removing the obstacles that stand in their way—even if it means murder.

A terrifying exploration of how vulnerable we all are to stalking and manipulation, debut author Caroline Kepnes delivers a razor-sharp novel for our hyper-connected digital age. You is a compulsively readable page-turner that’s being compared to Gone Girl, American Psycho, and Stephen King’s Misery.

 

You is at once an incredibly unique, interesting, disturbing and gripping contemporary suspense novel. It isn’t exactly a romance, as the nature of Joe’s obsession over Beck makes it too unnerving to be classified so. It is the only book I have ever read that is written entirely in second person. At first, it felt a little odd to read, but it is written so well that after a while it feels natural, and I felt it wouldn’t have worked so well if it had been written in any other way. In many ways the book reminds me of The Collector by John Fowles, but Kepnes definitely puts those ideas of obsession into a contemporary novel with new verve.

When Beck walks into the bookshop where Joe works he is instantly captivated by her. He stalks her, falls in love with her, and ensures that their paths cross again. The novel tells the story of how Joe’s feelings develop, how their relationship changes, and how he would do anything to get her, and keep her.

Joe is a very interesting protagonist. He is very much an unreliable narrator and it is both interesting and disconcerting to see the world through his eyes. Without giving away any spoilers, partly what makes him that way is how he is so in love with Beck, but shows a complete lack of emotion and compassion in some of the acts he carries out. He shows many characteristics of a psychopath, and although it doesn’t state he is one, I am pretty sure he must be. I like how Beck, the ‘love interest’, isn’t perfect. She has many flaws and is a very realistic character. So it was a nice change to read about imperfect characters, as so many books these days are all about how wonderful love is and happy endings. You, on the other hand, shows the destructive nature of love and moves away from idealised storylines.

For the most part, the novel kept me hooked, although towards the middle I did begin to get a little tired of it, just for a few chapters. There were plenty of unexpected turns, both in the plot and in Joe’s emotional state. Although, there were a lot of pop culture references, of which most people wouldn’t understand all of them.

However, it could have been better. It is by no means a perfect, five star book. The idea has been done before, and although it was written in a fresh and interesting way, I felt Kepnes could have twisted the plot a bit more. I would have liked her to have shaken things up just a bit more.

This is by no means a book that everyone will enjoy. Some will absolutely hate it. But I found myself liking it. There is something interesting in the way it is so creepy, something that really grabbed my attention and intrigued me. If you’re interested in psychology then you would probably like this. If you are after a romance story, this is not the book for you.

 

Book Review: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Genre: General Fiction, Adult Fiction

Publishing Info: Vintage; Reprint edition (3 Jan 2008)

Pages: 166

Star Rating: 2/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

It is June 1962. In a hotel on the Dorset coast, overlooking Chesil Beach, Edward and Florence, who got married that morning, are sitting down to dinner in their room. Neither is entirely able to suppress their anxieties about the wedding night to come…

On Chesil Beach is another masterwork from Ian McEwan – a story about how the entire course of a life can be changed by a gesture not made or a word not spoken.

I found this a peculiar novella to say the least. The book was well written, like all of McEwan’s works and is a fairly quick read since it isn’t very long. The whole of the book takes place on Edward and Florence’s wedding night, with some flashbacks about how they met and so on. So if you don’t like books that take place in a very short time frame (e.g. one evening) then I would not bother even picking this up. The plot is thin and focuses on the characters general everyday lives.

The characters were well written, although I found them a little plain and boring. I didn’t really connect with them at all and there was no development – they were the same all the way through. Surely experiences change people – not these two.

McEwan captured the 60s era very well, which I felt was one of the strengths of the novella. There was a real sense of setting and social expectations which influenced the characters and their actions.

It was a very slow book in which not much happens. It shows the characters feelings well, assisted by the dual narrative, yet this is the focus of the novella. There was nothing in it that kept me engaged and frankly I was bored a lot of the time reading it. The only reason I didn’t put it down is because it is so short – I thought I may as well finish it. As endings go it was nothing spectacular and kind of inevitable. However one small, tiny bit was quite touching.

I have little else to say about On Chesil Beach. It was a pretty mediocre book – it wasn’t good but it wasn’t exactly bad either. I think a lot of it depends on personal preference. Some people might really like his style of writing but unfortunately this book did not ‘wow’ me at all. I endeavour to read one of McEwan’s full length novels in the hope I shall enjoy one of his works, since he is undoubtedly a great writer.

Book Review: 1984 by George Orwell

1984 by George Orwell

Genre: Dystopia

Publishing Info: First Published by Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd 1949

Pages: 336

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’

Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth in London, chief city of Airstrip One. Big Brother stares out from every poster, the Thought Police uncover every act of betrayal. When Winston finds love with Julia, he discovers that life does not have to be dull and deadening, and awakens to new possibilities. Despite the police helicopters that hover and circle overhead, Winston and Julia begin to question the Party; they are drawn towards conspiracy. Yet Big Brother will not tolerate dissent – even in the mind. For those with original thoughts they invented Room 101. . .

 

To be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, but it wasn’t entirely what I had been expecting at all, if that makes any kind of sense. It was recommended to me by a friend and the opportunity arose for me to read it for my English Literature course so I dug out my copy to read.

At first I found the writing style challenging – not difficult, but I didn’t find it an easy read. However the style was something I got used to and enjoyed. It does start rather slowly and I really was wondering where Orwell was going with it at first (hence only 4 stars) but after the first few ‘set up’ chapters I got much more into the book. I can see why those first chapters were included and think they are necessary to establish the setting of the novel – it would have been incredibly confusing without the background information set up in those chapters.

As dystopia’s go this really is an excellent example. Before reading this the only dystopia I had read was teen fictions like The Hunger Games but I found reading 1984 so much more insightful into the genre and has greatly helped me with writing my own dystopia. If you’re planning on writing (or are writing) a dystopia then I really would advise reading 1984 as it has helped me massively.

The world building of 1984 is one of its strongest points and really makes the whole setting incredibly believable – I actually believe that our society could turn into the one presented in this novel, something which isn’t necessarily that easy to achieve. It is obvious that a lot of thought and time has gone into each aspect of the world that Orwell presents. The novel is very thought provoking, especially the ending (which I won’t spoil). It really made me think about our society and what it could become and the impact of war on the world and different people.

Overall, 1984 is thoroughly enjoyable and insightful, though you do have to plough through the first few chapters before the plot really gets started. I would recommend this read to anyone, but especially writers (of any genre, not just dystopia) as it is a really excellent example of how to write a great novel. However, this is definitely a novel not for younger teens or children, I think, as it is at times quite complex, both in its writing style and the concepts it presents.

 

Book Review: The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle

Genre: General Fiction, Adult

Publishing Info: Vintage. 5th May 1997

Pages: 226

Star Rating: 4/5

Summary: “This is the heart-rending story of a woman struggling to reclaim her dignity after a violent, abusive marriage and a worsening drink problem. Paula Spencer recalls her contented childhood, the audacity she learned as a teenager, the exhilaration of her romance with Charlo, and the marriage to him that left her powerless. Capturing both her vulnerability and her strength, Doyle gives Paula a voice that is real and unforgettable.”

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors is a book that I was required to read for my English Literature course and at first I was sceptical. It takes time to get used to Doyle’s style and the jump in time is at first confusing but something that you barely notice after a few chapters. My experience of the book may be different to one reading the novel for enjoyment, as in class I looked in more detail than an average reader would. Through my reading, I saw a story that has great meaning, and a character which develops and a style that is unique and captivating.

The peculiar title is very descriptive of the novel as a whole, and the realisation of its meaning only really comes in the latter chapters, but makes you think about the meaning even more so because of this.

The fact that the novel was written by a man is truly stunning, as Doyle so convincingly tells Paula’s tale, as a woman’s perspective, despite having no inside knowledge of the workings of a woman’s mind. The style of writing itself truly reflects Paula, and the first person narrative allows the reader to really connect with her. At times you feel frustrated with her, other times you pity her, and other times you scrutinise and are disgusted by her behaviour and choices. The way Doyle writes the novel leads you into Paula’s story gently, gradually revealing more and more about her, until you really feel happy for her, and sad for her to.

Reading this novel requires maturity on the part of the reader, and so I am glad that I did not study it in high school as there surely would have been immaturity. The ‘mature content’ is used sparingly but effectively and is not overwhelming, though at times makes you feel uncomfortable and shocked (as I believe was the intention of the author) as it gives you a greater sense of her unfortunate experiences (something that would be understood better if you read the book). However these moments are not described in mass detail and don’t take over from the rest of the book.

The topics the book covers are approached by Doyle in a very effective manner. Domestic and sexual abuse and alcoholism are real issues and he presents them in a realistic way, and gives the reader a sense of what it is really like to experience these things. It may be hard for someone to associate with someone experiencing something they have never experienced themselves, but Doyle shows these topics in a way that is sensitive yet truthful.

Reading this you may notice that I have not mentioned any bad points about the book, yet I have given it four out of five stars. I enjoyed reading the novel and acknowledge the wonderful and unique writing style that really makes the book what it is. However, I do not feel I can give it the full five stars, and I’m not sure how to explain why. For me, it doesn’t feel like five stars, but that does not mean it is not an amazing and recommendable read. There are many ups and downs and it is a very emotional novel at times (thankfully I managed not to cry while reading the novel in class but I may have been less restrained had I been reading at home). Rarely have I felt such a connection with a character, something Doyle has really achieved to the highest standard possible. So I would recommend you read this book as it truly is an inspiring read.