April 17, 2013

Book Review : A Treacherous Likeness by Lynn Shepherd

5/5 Stars

A Treacherous Likeness tells the story of the long-dead poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, his wife Mary, his first wife, Harriet, his friendships, and his writing all while interwoven with mystery, deceit and murder. For this reader, welcoming back a grown, more self-assured Charles Maddox was a great pleasure and I must admit, I found him more realistic and tangible, yes tangible this time.

Maddox is drawn into a scheme of blackmail at the instigation of Jane Shelley, the wife of Percy Shelley, the only living child of Bysshe and Mary. What develops from this meeting held my interest in its vice like grasp until the very last page. Initially, I was a little uncertain about reading A Treacherous Likeness as Shepherd is a twitter “friend”. What if I didn’t like the book. What if I were only able to give a low star rating. What if I gave and wrote a poor review and got a nasty email asking me whom I was to criticise when my own work has yet to be published. Why were these even considerations you ask? Because that is what happened with another twitter “friend” whose book really was only worth the 1 star I gave it. I decided after 6 pages none of these things mattered. The review was my own and I realised I am entitled to read and like or dislike a book as I please.

A Treacherous Likeness, however, was impossible to not like. I truly loved it.

What is obvious from the first paragraph is the relationship Shepherd has with her characters. Reading the first few chapters it is abundantly clear she knows them inside and out; even knows specifically what they look like.

It is also obvious that Shepherd has done her homework. The research that comprises this book is amazing. All the elements were perfectly placed and I found myself just reading the book for what was going to happen – there was no concern that the information was incorrect or flawed or misleading. I realise, though, there are other readers who have taken issue with Shepherd’s portrayal of the Shelley family and the world they created for themselves and I can see the crooked finger of accusation being levelled at me, because I am guilty of wanting my history and my fiction to be pure. What one learns, over time, is that history is never pure and the tarnish of the past will always appear on the fiction.

I cannot speak highly enough of this book. As I tweeted Lynn “this book has melted my brain.” Please read it. You won’t regret it and if you do, don’t tell me cause I am still savouring the way this book made my imagination feel.

April 16, 2013

Book Review : The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

DISCLAIMER : I received a proof copy of this book through goodreads and Julia Murday at Penguin UK.

3/5 Stars

Colonel Lewis Morgan is tasked with aiding the rebuilding of Hamburg. He takes ups residence in a requisitioned house, refuses to evict the German tenants, an architect and his daughter; and waits for the arrival of his wife, Rachel and his son, Edmund.

Having never read Rhidian Brook’s work, I had nothing to compare it to, so I relied on the praise of others who had read his work ahead of me. It is plainly evident why Brook is so popular. His style is fluid and logical, allowing the book to be simply readable.

This, however, is the downfall for me. The Aftermath is simple.

I wanted so much more from this book and the possibilities and opportunities were there. The characters, though believable, felt under developed. After 300 plus pages, I do not feel I knew any of them terribly well. I knew I was supposed to like Lewis, Rachel, Edmund and Lubert. I knew whom I was supposed to dislike. I knew who was supposed to be the antagonist but I never knew what the characters were truly capable of. In the end, I did not really like any of them.

Perhaps I am reading or wanting too much from this book; looking for something that is not supposed to be a consideration. For me, this book only brushed the surface of what it could have been. I would not have minded this book being twice its actual size if I could have had more depth, more detail, and more explanation.

It is difficult to write a logical and coherent review of this book as I am not completely convinced of its character. For me, the book was good. It did not open up a new world for me. It did not increase my interest in this period of history.

I am left to wonder if Brook knows the potential greatness of this work. It feels, for me, as though he has given his baby to the world prematurely.

Congratulations, also, should be given for The Aftermath being optioned by Ridley Scott. However, given Scott’s body of work, I cannot quite comprehend the outcome.

It has been a challenge to write even this short review. I feel I am working with smoke and kittens; easily blown away and skittish about direction. In short, I did enjoy this book, I just wish there had been more of it.

April 10, 2013

Review :: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Looking at some of the reviews for Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, I am left to wonder if I read the same book as my fellow bibliophiles. Multiple 5 star ratings appear on Goodreads and other internet sites. In the US, it was on the New York Times Bestseller list for eight weeks and was credited as being almost as big as Fifty Shades of Grey. In its first year of publication, over two million copies were sold. Reese Witherspoon’s production company, in conjunction with 20th Century Fox, will be turning it into a movie. Each of these factors clearly indicates that people have liked, enjoyed or loved this book.

The book, the story of Nick and Amy Dunne, portrays a marriage of one-up-man ship, where each character is desperate to be heard as the authority, where each character wants to have the final word. Within the first thirty pages, I learnt neither Nick nor Amy was going to be likeable and by the end, I hated both of them, wishing them all the joy in the world at being stuck, miserably together. Nick, the boy with a chip on his shoulder who grows into a man carrying a boulder and Amy, smug, narcissistic, and bitchy and most importantly, the most beautiful woman Nick has ever seen. Part of me believes this book only works because the characters are physically beautiful, therefore, able to capture the hearts and minds of Americans – the glossy, perfect couple at the pinnacle of what we, the lesser, average looking individuals, should aspire to. I cannot help but wonder if this book has done well because it is fake and over processed.

Sarah Rainey from The Telegraph quotes the publishers, suggesting the popularity of the book stemming from its female noir concept rather than chick lit. In part, I agree with the publishers, however, I feel there is too much manipulation from Flynn; a pushing of the reader into seeing this as a fable of marriage and its disasters rather than as a quasi-faux-feminist tale about how all the bad things in Amy’s life serve as the justification for her actions. Many people experience horrible moments in their lives but do not react like Amy.

Peter Craven for The Age, Australia, calls this book the thinking woman’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo replacement. I am not sure where this comparison is drawn from because there is no comparison.

The language of the book also managed to shock me. I am no prude when it comes to language; however, I was unimpressed. A majority of the swearing felt forced, as though the words did not convey the actual feeling of the character but were placed in the sentence to cover a gap. I wonder if perhaps this was a stylistic application for Flynn – an endeavour to push the reader further off balance and to create unease. This is specifically so in the case of Nick’s father, to whom we are barely introduced but are expected to believe from his ranting, is a misogynist. His appearances in the book see his constant muttering of “bitch”, which, in my reading, says more about his dementia than his opinion of women.

Where Nick’s father is created as a bully, his mother is created as a saint. A tried and true pairing. While the reader only has Amy’s unreliable point of view for this information, it builds an unstable dichotomy for the relationship. Just as unstable and unhealthy is the relationship of Amy’s parents, the Elliot’s. Fawning over each other and touching obsessively. It leaves you with that sick feeling.

Even the police work and forensic procedures in this book are flimsy. It raises the argument of how easily one could commit a crime and never face any consequences. This is perhaps the biggest annoyance for me. The complete lack of consequences for anyone in this book. No one takes responsibility for their actions, no one accepts their actions have been negative and harmful to the multiple other players and the ‘let’s just make each other miserable’ outcome succeeds in reaching out from the page and ensnaring the reader. It made me feel miserable. It made me feel that each one of us should strive to have healthy relationships with those around us. Life is not meant for being miserable, wishing and waiting for the end. Playing tricks.

Ultimately, I feel as though I have been tricked into reading this book, even though I made the conscious decision to buy and read it. In all honesty, I do not know to what kind of market I would recommend this book. Certainly not my parents, certainly not my work colleagues, certainly not the majority of my friends. This is a book individual readers need to come to independently of the hype.

Sarah Rainey

Peter Craven