31 Mar 2012

Less reading, more walking

Lately, I have been reading a whole lot less than normally. Not because I don't feel like reading, I do, but I used to read on the tube and the bus to and from work but as spring has set in, I have decided to walk instead. It takes 45-50 minutes, it is a journey of a little over 4 kilometers each way and it does mean that I don't get to read as much. Instead I get to:

1) Listen to audiobooks - so please please please recommend good ones!

2) Enjoy the sunshine and the fresh air

3) Enjoy the sight of amazing architecture (pictures will follow)

4) Exercise

So I have to say that it is a pretty good deal. Instead I will try to read in the evenings and not watch as much bad TV - less reality shows, more books must be the new way forward.

I am still reading though; currently I am reading two books (changing between them depending on mood):

"The Cure" by Rachel Genn

"Cassandra at the Wedding" by Dorothy Baker

28 Mar 2012

Review: "Model Behaviour" by Jay McInerney

New York. 1990s. Are you looking for Carrie Bradshaw? Then you've come to the wrong place, but what I can offer you is Connor McKnight. Boyfriend of leggy, luscious model Philomena. Graduate of Japanese literature, aiming to be a writer at a prestigious magazine but in reality he is slaving away at "Ciao Bella", a celebrity focused magazine for 20-something girls and he is not liking it. He is not particularly good at it either... As much as he is trying, he simply cannot get a get his head about charming the editor and he can't get a an interview with an elusive teen heartthrob. Another thing he can't do is find his girlfriend. Phil, his taken-for-granted personal piece of gorgeousness, has disappeared of on what he thought was a fashion shoot and now she has vanished. Connor has a feeling that this was his own fault but instead of looking to himself for the answers, he decides to seeks comfort with sympathetic airhead stripper Pallas and his anorexic sister Brooke. 

During the last year I have really come to appreciate the writing of Jay McInerney - the guy is funny, really funny. His "Story of My Life" is a like a light, hilarious crossover between Gossip Girl and "Bonfire of the Vanities" by Tom Wolfe and the short story collection "How It Ended" is full of goodies, little moments that make you laugh or think or both. 

Unfortunately, "Model Behaviour" doesn't quite live up to that level... It is good, it has its funny moments, it is alright. It is not a gem and to be honest, I wasn't that keen on Connor. Honestly, I can't blame Philomena for running off because the guy is quite annoying. He is full of ambitions but he never seems to act on them, he is happy to be the boyfriend of a famous model, that seems to be enough. So when she leaves, there is nothing left. 

And maybe this is exactly the problem, because Philomena leaves early on in the book and for the rest of the book, you are stuck with just Connor. Actually, this probably would have been a much better book had it been Phil's story instead. So Mr. McInerney, if you are reading this, please lend a voice to to beautiful Miss Briggs!

Read it if: You wonder who the winners of America's Next Top Model end up dating. You love the thought of strippers named after Greek mythical figures. You are out to read everything written by Jay McInerney (but please don't start with this one). 

26 Mar 2012

Paris, je t'aime

Like delicious French patisserie? Enjoy a bouef bourguignon? A good glass of red wine? Feeling slightly hungry now? Then you - like me - will be drawn to "The Little Paris Kitchen: Classic French Recipes with a Fresh and Fun Approach" by Rachel Khoo. 

It is a cook book with a twist. It is written by Rachel Khoo, a gorgeous young lady (watch out Nigella), who left her native London and her steady job to become a chef in Paris. And not just any old chef. This girl opened a restaurant in her tiny flat, cooking for a maximum of two diners at a time in a seriously spartan kitchen. And she became a hit with fashionable Paris. 
Such a hit that she now has her own show on the BBC. I have just watched the first episode and it was mouthwatering. I am up for cooking salted caramel chocholate fondant (it was called something far more poetic in French!) right this moment and feel tempted to spend a large amount of money on cook books and kitchen paraphenalia! 

So "The Little Paris Kitchen: Classic French Recipes with a Fresh and Fun Approach" by Rachel Khoo is going straight on my TBR!! 

24 Mar 2012

Harry Potter or Edward Cullen? The King's verdict...

"Harry Potter is all about confronting fears, finding inner strength, and doing what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend.
- Stephen King 

(ps. there seems to be some controversy about whether or not Stephen King actually said this but I am going with the majority who seems to think yes) 

21 Mar 2012

The Emperor's Babe?

Last Saturday I was in the Museum of London with my boyfriend and his parents and while pottering around learning more about the London in Roman times, I came across a beautiful quote by Bernadine Evaristo about sitting at the beach by the river looking out across it. It was really gorgeous and I was trying to find out where it was from. And I think I have it - it must be from the novel "The Emperor's Babe" by the author in question (Bernadine Evaristo).

This is the describtion from amazon.co.uk:
Meet Zuleika: sassy girl about town, hellraiser, bored ex-child-bride in Londinium, AD 211. In the place (and time) to be ... Through the bustling, hustling city, we follow Zuleika, feisty and precocious daughter of Sudanese immigrants. Married off to a rich, fat, absent Roman, she is stranded in luxurious neglect, until, one day the Emperor himself, comes to town, bringing with him not just love - but danger ... Funky and funny, sexy and moving, this novel in verse is a triumph of imaginative writing - and of sheer lyrical and emotional vitality. 

So in the context - i.e. the quote being on the wall in the Roman times exhibition - it would make sense right? 
Do you know if it is by any chance? Have it hit on the right novel? 

I should be able to tell you soon because I have to get it and give it a try - I absolutely loved the quote and it does sound like a great book! 

18 Mar 2012

Review: "Into The Darkest Corner" by Elizabeth Haynes

Some books are unputdownable. Not many. A few. This one is one of them. It is an absolutely gripping story and from the very first page I was hooked and kept on reading to find out more. It is a story about domestic abuse and the awful consequences that it can have, how life is never the same again. Genre-wise it is somewhere between a mental disorder novel and a psychological thriller but mostly it is the last one. 

Catherine spends her life catering to the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder that is keeping her from living. By all means, she is surviving but living she is not. Every day she triple checks (or more) the locks on her door, her windows, the front door. If she fails to check it correctly, she has to do it all over again. And sometimes her world falls apart and she descends into a full-scale panic attack. The descriptions of living with OCD are scary in their truth, the way the disorder drives her life and dictates every little action. For a long time Catherine has been living alone with her disorder, not telling anyone about it though some are bound to have guessed it. Then a  new neighbour moves in, a psychologist, and he recognizes her symptoms and offers her a friendly shoulder to lean on and advice on how to get help. 

So far so good. 

The story is told in two tracks - one is set in 2008 and one in 2004. The Catherine in the 2004 story is a very different young woman. Outgoing, vivacious and full of life, she lives life as a single girl to the max - partying and having fun. Then she meets the gorgeous Lee who is very keen on going from date to full-on boyfriend and within months of their initial meeting, they are to all intents and purposes living together. However, something is not quite right. Lee is sometimes gone for days, working a job that he is very secretive about and sometimes Catherine gets the feeling that he is watching her, keeping tabs on her. 
Then one day he hits her for the first time and from then on the relationship becomes more and more violent until the day he almost kills her.... 

In 2008, Lee is a serving a three-year long prison sentence for the violence he inflicted on Catherine while she is serving a life-sentence in the prison that is OCD, worrying about the day when Lee will be released. 

This is a really really difficult book to read because it isn't (as so many psychological thrillers and crime fiction novels) something far off. This could happen to your or to your friends. Domestic abuse is an underreported crime that still smacks of taboo and I take my hat off to Haynes for having written such a strong novel about it. The description of the isolation that Lee manages to put Catherine in is what scared me the most - again because it was so incredibly believable. His psychopathic personality charms her friends into thinking that she is the one with the problem and thus he gets space, peace and quiet to beat her and treat her just as he wishes. 

Well-written, well put together with lots of page-turning moment and a good pace, this is the perfect read for a lazy weekend or to bring with you on holiday. 

Read it if: You are a fan of believable psyhcological thrillers. You prefer your crime fiction well-written and clever. You want to read a truthful representation of life with OCD. 

17 Mar 2012

Review: "Disgrace" by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Right, whoever came up with the title "Disgrace" for this book by Jussi Adler-Olsen should be given a prize. "Lamest Title in 2012" perhaps or "The Lack of Imagination Award". The original title directly translated is "The Pheasant-Killers", not an easy title but at least it has punch and imagination. It stands out. "Disgrace" doesn't at all, actually it blends in so well with all the other Scandi crime fiction books that it is enough to make you loose appetite... The American title "The Absent One" is much better and whoever chose to go with "Disgrace" in the UK should seriously find another job because title-picking is not his forte.

Losing your appetite for the book over a lame title would be a shame though because as crime fiction goes, this is pretty good! This is the second novel in the Department Q series, the first one "Mercy" (another lame title) I reviewed some months back. In "Disgrace" we are back in the land of Detective Carl Moerck who is as grumpy as ever. Though Carl's intention is as ever to do as little as possible at work, a case lands on his desk that sends him and his team into the depths of the Copenhagen jetset. A brother and a sister has been brutally murdered in a cottage years earlier and when this old, unsolved case surfaces, it turns out to have ties to some very powerful socialites (hence the title "The Pheasant-Killers" as they go hunting in the weekends).

Meanwhile, a woman named Kimmie is wandering the streets. Ever aware of being under watch she steals luggage from travelers on their way to and from the airport and changes her look often. She lives on the streets, keeping company only with a heroin-addicted prostitute and she lives largely on her memories of the time when she herself was part of the socialite circle.

For Carl Moerck this is a case that takes more than a normal amount of work, skill and intuition. Nothing is as it seems and when the scale of crime and pure bloodlust comes to light, Carl is in the deep end fighting not only for justice and for what is right but also for his own life.

Let me be clear, this is a great book! You like the Millenium series by Stieg Larsson, you like Jo Nesboe? You will like this! For crime fiction this has a depth that you don't see often enough. The subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) comments on wealth, love and the way we choose to live are abundant and it is clear that we are talking about a writer with a mission here. Sometimes it gets a bit much but at the same time it is refreshing that there is an agenda that goes beyond entertainment.

Though the plot is different and imaginative, it is the characters that really bring this story to life. Kimmie with all her demons and memories is very credible and not entirely likeable, Carl Moerck on the other hand is likeable but slightly annoying at the same time and his assistant Assad is entertaining as well as fascinating. They drive the story and are the fuel on the fire of what is (in my opinion) a very good crime fiction novel!

Read it if: You like Stieg Larsson or Jo Nesboe. You are looking for something to take the place of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo". You are planning a trip to Copenhagen.

12 Mar 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: My Top Ten Classics

Every week the delightful people over at the The Broke and The Bookish provides us with another theme for a Top Ten and today I am going to do my Top Ten Classics - a list of masterpieces that should only be bought in hardback editions to be read again and again. 

10) Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
Some parts of this book were difficult to get through because they really touched me and made me worry so much about justice and fairness and the way that life sometimes does not go according to plan. 

9) Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Be ready for some serious emotional rollercoastering when you read this book. I went through loving, hating, pitying and being infuriated at the main character Emma Bovary is so trapped by dreams of something, someone better than she forgets to live her life and instead stumbles in her own greed for a better version of life. 

8) Tender Is The Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Another book that made me emotional and enthralled me. A beautiful piece about the difficult dynamics of marriage and a novel that I personally enjoyed more than The Great Gatsby by the same author. 

7) Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Don't let the brand and image of this book scare you off. It is a masterpiece both in terms of writing and in terms of the way it deals with an incredibly difficult storyline. Read it, then judge for yourself. 

6) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
This book is the classic love and mystery novel. It is the novel that has inspired a whole tribe of romance novelists such as Victoria Holt but no one ever comes even close to mastering it the way Charlotte Brontë does. Chuck out your romance paperbacks and buy a hardback edition of Jane Eyre instead. 

5) Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
My favorite children's book even and one that can easily be read and enjoyed by adults. A book that makes me both cry and laugh 

4) Emma by Jane Austen
Emma is the popular girl, the pretty girl, the lucky girl you want to be. She is also egoistical, bored and unable to think through the consequences of her actions - yet she is lovable and you will root for her as she tries to make couples of all of the single people in her village and instead makes a mess. A humorous classic that Elizabeth Bennett (See number 1 on the list) would have loved. 

3) The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Not only does this book have four main characters that all have each their own definite personality, it also has a plot that is full of political and love intrigues and the most scary female villain ever. Dumas is at his best in the action packed classic and I am still debating with myself if it should be number 2 or number 3 on my list... 

2) The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
This novel has it all: love, revenge, hate, jealousy, a plot that twists and turns. Maybe that is why it is so incredibly long... mind you, I wouldn't have edited out even one page. A masterpiece from an author that I will never stop loving. 

1) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
If you are a living, breathing person and have not read this book yet then go buy it and call in sick until you have turned the last page. This has to be one of the best novels ever written. The story, the characters, the heartbreak and the humour, this book has it all and Austen writes like no other author ever has or will.  Oh and it features my all time favorite main character Miss Elizabeth Bennett. 

11 Mar 2012

A Replacement for "The Replacement"

Sometimes you come across a book so uninteresting and so blah that reviewing them seems like a task instead of a hobby. I am sorry to say that "The Replacement" by Brenna Yovanoff is one of those books. From the tenth page and onwards I kept losing interest and by the time I had actually finished it, I wasn't sure that I could have made it another ten pages. 
What is so frustrating is that the plot idea is really good - the story line could work really well - but in the end it (as so many other books) is dragged down by a cast of cardboard, 2D characters! 

On amazon.co.uk the product description is this: 
Mackie Doyle is a replacement - a fairy child left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago, to replace the baby when it was stolen away by the fey. So though he lives in the small town of Gentry, Mackie's real home is the fey world of tunnels and black, murky water, a world of living dead girls ruled by a little tattooed princess. Now, because his fey blood gives him fatal allergies to iron, blood and consecrated ground, Mackie is slowly dying in the human world. Mackie would give anything just to be normal, to live quietly amongst humans, practice his bass guitar and spend time with his crush, Tate. But when Tate's baby sister goes missing, Mackie is drawn irrevocably back home to the fey underworld of Gentry, known as Mayhem, where he must face down the dark creatures, rescue the child, and find his rightful place - in our world, or theirs.

Mackie as a character is quite boring and quite self-obsessed, he never seems to sit down and think about things from Tate's perspective or from Alice's or from his sister Emma's. After a while that becomes really annoying. Tate is not much better, she seems to be there merely to fill up a gap in the plot and only acquires an actual personality when fighting... 
As for the relationship between Mackie and Tate... oh dear. They make Bella and Edward Cullen seem like the perfect, normal, happy couple. All they ever do is fight and make-out - when Mackie is not busy chasing after other, more cheerleader-ish girls. 

So if you are considering reading "The Replacement", I suggest you think again - you can spend you time better, there are so many other good books out there! However, if you are very very keen to read about fey and faery creatures living inside a hill why not try "The Elfin Hill" by H.C. Andersen? 
A beautiful haunting classic - allow me to finish with this quote from the fairytale:

Then the elfin girls had to dance, first in the usual way, and then with stamping feet, which they performed very well; then followed the artistic and solo dance. Dear me, how they did throw their legs about! No one could tell where the dance begun, or where it ended, nor indeed which were legs and which were arms, for they were all flying about together, like the shavings in a saw-pit! And then they spun round so quickly that the death-horse and the grave-pig became sick and giddy, and were obliged to leave the table.

9 Mar 2012

Review: "Seventh Heaven" by Alice Hoffman

I can't remember the first time I read "Seventh Heaven" by Alice Hoffman but I have a feeling that it must be approximately 13 years ago. It was definitely when I was in my early teens and I loved loved loved Alice Hoffman. She was my favourite writer. Every week I would go to the school library or convince my parents to take me to the library in our village and the best days were when I borrowed an Alice Hoffman novel. 
Alice Hoffman does magical small-town America in a way that no other writer can. She imbues the small everyday things with a magical, beautiful qualities and remind us that even the most ordinary things are sometimes more magical than what we call miracles.

"Seventh Heaven" was one of my favourite books at the time and the other day I decided to revisit it and see if the magic would still work on me and it did. Though I was not as enthralled as I was when I first read it, I still thoroughly enjoyed the story. 

"Seventh Heaven" takes place over a year from the summer of 1959 to the summer of 1960 and this timing has been chosen for a reason - it symbolizes the end of an era and the arrival of a new time. 
Nora Silk is a divorcee and single mother of baby James and eight-year-old Billy. She has been left by her charlatan of a husband and in an attempt to give her boys a stable, traditional, middle class upbringing, she moves from New York to the New Jersey suburbs to a newly built neighborhood. This is small-town America in the 1950s, full of white picket fences, newly mowed lawns, kids with clean teeth and ironed clothes and mothers who cook, clean and gossip. To them, the newcomer is a disturbance, an unwelcome interruption in the Stepford Wives-ish, surburban paradise so of course they shun her. Nora's insistence on fitting in, her attempts at making friends and making Billy part of the community are all in vain as she is increasingly isolated by her cold neighbors. 

The turning point comes when Nora begins to remember her roots and stops attempting to be like the other women, when she recalls the wisdoms of her grandfather, things start to change. Not only for Nora but also for the people around her. The prom-queen-wannabe Rickie Shapiro and her valedictorian-to-be brother; Jackie McCarthy the bad boy and aspiring criminal; Donna Durgins overweight and unhappy housewife and not least policemen Joe Hennessy and schoolboy Ace McCarthy. 
Their lives weave in and out of each and they are all changed by the magic Silk family just as Nora and her children are changing as they adjust to life in suburbia.

Read it if: You are nostalgic after 1950s, headbands and white picket fences. You grew up in suburbia. You like the movie "American Beauty". 

7 Mar 2012

Review: "The Franchise Affair" by Josephine Tey

Jospehine Tey is one of the perfect author names and when I read "The Franchise Affair", I kept thinking "What a lucky lady to be born with such a beautiful name!" Then I googled her and realised that she actually wasn't - her real name was Elizabeth Macintosh but she published her crime fiction under the name Josephine Tey and used the name Gordon Daviot for publishing historical novels. I had never come across her novels before until I saw mentioned on a blog as a master of classic crime fiction. For some reason coming across "a master" that I have never heard of always provokes me a bit so I ended up buying "The Franchise Affair" to explore her writing.

"The Franchise Affair" starts in the provincially distinguished offices of a lawyer in a smaller, English provincial town. Robert Blair, partner and solicitor, is finishing up for the day and is halfway out the door - going home to dinner served by his lovely, motherly Aunt Lin - when the phone rings. Two ladies, a elderly mother and her unmarried daugther, have been accused of a horrible crime. A young, fresh-faced girl is accusing them of having abducted her, beaten her and tried to force her to be their servant. The women deny everything and beg Mr. Blair to represent them in the horrible case. Mr. Blair reluctantly agrees and thereby shatters the quiet rhythm of his daily life.

Everything points to the guilt of the two women living in the big, shabby house "The Franchise" but as Robert becomes more and more involved with them and with the case, he also becomes more and more desperate to prove their innocence.

I liked "The Franchise Affair", I didn't love it and I might not read it again but I did enjoy it. Not because of the crime story which was quite predictable really and not that exciting. Robert Blair, however, is absolutely adorable in his own, bachelor-ish, parochial way and the two women at The Franchise are a breath of fresh air. Actually I would have loved to have read another story but with the same characters because they were the story for me.

The Britain in "The Franchise Affair" is the stern, make-do-and-mend post-war Britain full of gossiping  old ladies and - oh horror - unmarried independent women and men being looked after by their aunts. It is charming really so read it for the setting and the characters but note for the excitement.

Read it if: You love E.F. Benson's Lucia or Dorothy L. Sayer's Lord Peter Wimsey or adore Agatha Christie novels.

4 Mar 2012

Review: "Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady" by Florence King

One of the strongest American stereotypes most be the Southern Belle. If you have ever read "Gone With the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell, you know exactly what I mean. It is a way of life, an identity oozing overpowering feminine charm and delicately wrapped female vile. It is the exact opposite as being one of the boys.

"Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady" is Florence King's tale of growing up in a Southern family, ruled by the soft and well-manicured yet steely hand of her grandmother. Granny has aspirations to be a grand lady and she dreams of raising a Southern belle - however, her own daughter is more of a man than a woman really, loving baseball and suits, so when a granddaughter comes into the world, Granny does everything in her power to turn her into a real lady. Growing up in a bohemian household with Granny, mama and a book-loving Englishman for a father means that Florence has a childhood far away from the norm. From day one the three main adults in her life has three very different agendas and Florence has to find her own identity from a young age.

I read about "Confessions..." at one of the blogs I follow and loved the sound of it. I wasn't really sure what to expect but from the first line of the first page, I loved it. Absolutely loved it. Florence King has a talent for observing the awkward and funny, the little humorous gems of an extraordinary life. Her observations on the American female of the 1950s are both disturbing and hilarious - I was appalled and fascinated at the fact that all of the other girls in her sorority at college took a marriage prep class. Homework involved washing their boyfriends socks!

To describe these girls who are forever worrying that no-one will marry them and depend on guys to give them self-esteem and self-worth, Florence and her father comes up with the word "malkin". A fantastic word that I will definitely keep in my vocabulary. Is is bound to come in handy.
Florence herself was far from a malkin - though she looked like the perfect young Southern lady, inside her there was a real academic mind hungering for books as well as a sexual creature hungering for, well, sex. The story follows her battles to study French (she ends up studying history instead) and to lose her virginity without falling pregnant. Quite rebellious pursuits in the South in the 1950s but Florence has courage and is not afraid to go after the things in life as she wants.

The book is written with intelligence and personality, it is full of anecdotes and scattered words of wisdom and it poses questions about femininity and the role of a woman that are as relevant as they were in the 1950s. Because what defines you as a lady? They way you look or sound? A ring on your finger or who you sleep with? It is probably a question that each of us have to answer for ourself just as Florence King did. And as she herself says in the book - she may have gone to bed with both men and women but she never ever smoked on the street.

3 Mar 2012

Buying Books - at Work!

This week The Book People made Thursday a very special day at work for me because they set up a charity book sale just a few metres from my desk! Obviously I was one of the first people there - having circled the area of the sale several times while they were setting up. I found some really really good stuff, here is what I bought:

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
From BookPeople.co.uk: Set in Oregon in 1851, The Sisters Brothers are the notorious professional 1850s Gold Rush killers Eli and Charlie. On their way to kill a man named Hermann Kermit Warm, they experience a series of violent and unsettling experiences. Bickering brothers who are very different, Charlie will kill anyone for money, while Eli doubts his vocation and falls in love. When they finally meet Hermann in California, they discover he is an inventor who has come up with a magical formula that could make them all very rich. A gripping, stark and sad story about lies and loyalty that is full of dark humour, this is an emotional but exciting second novel from the award-winning Patrick deWitt, author of 2009's Ablutions.

Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes
From BookPeople.co.uk: Catherine has been enjoying the single life for long enough to know a good catch when she sees one. Gorgeous, charismatic, spontaneous - Lee seems almost too perfect to be true. And her friends clearly agree, as each in turn falls under his spell. But there is a darker side to Lee. His erratic, controlling and sometimes frightening behaviour means that Catherine is increasingly isolated. Driven into the darkest corner of her world, and trusting no one, she plans a meticulous escape. Four years later, struggling to overcome her demons, Catherine dares to believe she might be safe from harm. Until one phone call changes everything. This is an edgy and powerful first novel, utterly convincing in its portrayal of obsession, and a tour de force of suspense.

The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
From The GuardianIf you want shopping at Bendel's, gin martinis at a debutante's mansion and jazz bands playing until 3am, Rules of Civility has it all and more. If you want something original that doesn't borrow at all from Breakfast at Tiffany'sThe Great Gatsby or even Boardwalk Empire, you might be a little disappointed. Me, I lapped it all up ... In the opening chapter it's 1966 and Katey's at an exhibition looking at a picture of the man who changed everything for her: Tinker Grey. She is immediately transported back three decades to the night she first met him – on the eve of the most memorable year of her life. Tinker is enigmatic, adorable and lives his life according to George Washington's Rules of Civility. Except that he definitely hasn't read the last rule: "Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience."

1 Mar 2012

Review: "Juliet, Naked" by Nick Hornby

Do you know those books that have been on your radar forever but that you never get around to actually reading? "Juliet, Naked" by Nick Hornby was one of those books that I have been aware of and kind of wanted to read for years. Then the other day at the second-hand book shop, they had a buy-1-get-1-free offer and I picked it up as the free option. I had anticipated that it would be on the shelf unread for ages but then suddenly I felt that NEED to read it now.

"Juliet, Naked" is a typical Hornby novel in that it deals with the topic of obsession. Anni is an English graduate working as a museum curator in Gooleness, an English seaside town. She lives with her partner of fifteen years, college teacher Duncan and she is the second-most important person in his life. The most important is Tucker Crowe. A Leonard Cohen/Bruce Springsteen kind of singer who had a massive hit with the record "Juliet" and who vanished mysteriously twenty years ago. Duncan is one of a small group of fans (very small, twenty or so people) who obsess about Crowe and his music. Meeting in online forums, they write essays, discuss and interpret lyrics and post pictures from visits to his home town and other "important Crowe locations". Living with a dedicated Crowologist is taking its toll on Anni who is worried that she has spent the last fifteen years in a boring town in a boring job with a boring man.
The something happens that shakes up the world of Duncan - a new Crowe album is released, "Juliet, Naked" and Duncan is the first to get his hands on it. Excited and smug, he reviews it. But so - in a fit of sheer annoyance with Duncan - does Anni. And someone claiming to be THE Tucker Crowe responds to her reivew.

As with all of the other Hornby novels I have read, obsession is fuel that makes the wheels turn in Ducan's life and for years, Anni just goes along with it. Then suddenly she realised that she is too old to ever have the child she so dearly wishes and her insistence that there must be more to life drives the plot. I understand her so well, I find it hard to imagine anything much worse than spending a winter in Gooleness with a man like Duncan. He is so self-absorbed in his adoration of all things Crowe that I found it impossible not to dislike him while at the same time enjoying reading about him being a jerk.
Anni is likeable on the other hands and I was rooting for her.

The angst and the mid-life "is that all there is?" crisis was mildly worrying, I never want that to be me! But at the same time it functioned very well as a reminder to live life every day and to make choices that make every day a better day.
In typical Hornby style, the story has amazingly funny bits. It features the worst most judgmental therapist I have ever come across in a novel and Duncan is wonderfully incapable of any self-reflection.  Anni is slightly neurotic and her worries about mid-life-crisis-sex are hilarious as are the two Gooleness legends Gav and Barnesy. Tucker Crowe is a good character though not as well-developed as Anni and Duncan - though he reminded me a bit of Judas Coyne from "The Heart-Shaped Box" by Joe Hill.
All in all a good, slightly neurotic and fun read that I will re-read.

Read it if: You have a cup of tea and need a good, warm read to go along with it. If you need to remind yourself why it is better to be single than to be with the wrong person.