Book Reviews · books · Literature

Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood: Book Review

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Oryx & Crake is simultaneously one of the most imaginative and intriguing books that i’ve read, however, despite this… I ended up not enjoying this book – and honestly I don’t think you’re supposed to.

The only thing I knew about this book was that it was written by the same author who’d written The Handmaiden’s Tale – and though I haven’t read the book, I became familiar with it because of how well its television adaptation was being received critically, I personally chose not to watch it because of how miserable it sounded, and to be honest i’m tired of consuming content containing unequivocal amounts of misogyny. 

Before I get into my review (Spoiler-free), here’s a brief synopsis:

SYNOPSIS: Published in 2003, Oryx & Crake is a post-apocalyptic work of speculative fiction about a man, once called Jimmy who now calls himself Snowman. He is presumably the last living human on earth and has been left in charge of a group of primitive human-like creatures called Crakers.

REVIEW: This story is essentially a cautionary tale about mans involvement and manipulation of nature. It explores some very dark and disturbing truths about people, systems and technology – some of which was rather uncomfortable to read about. The book starts of pretty slowly and during the first couple of chapters I began to question how reliable Snowman was as a narrator, the more i read the more I began to think about how much this book would have benefited from having multiple points of views, especially considering how detailed this story is.

“All it takes,” said Crake, “is the elimination of one generation. One generation of anything. Beetles, trees, microbes, scientists, speakers of French, whatever. Break the link in time between one generation and the next, and it’s game over forever.”

What I did like about this book was its originality and creativity – it’s thought-provoking, engaging and is very blunt about who these characters are as people. I would love to take a sneak-peek of Atwood’s notes on how she came up with some of the ideas for this story because it’s truly impressive. One thing that I really appreciated was how Atwood was able to name or briefly describe a scientific or abstract subject without making you feel as though you need to do further research on it – the context of the story is thankfully enough.

The romance aspect of the novel is both complex and controversial, I personally wouldn’t call it a romance, it read more as an obsessive, manipulative, ill-defined, but passionate relationship of sorts, that I still, as i’m typing this, can’t get my head around, which is why I again feel like this story needed multiple perspectives. Moreover, despite the exposition we get about why the world is the way it is when we meet Snowman, I found it difficult to understand the motivations of certain characters.

Overall, I enjoyed reading about this world – it’s imaginative but also realistic in the brutalist of ways that make you think about the many ‘what if’s’ about our own world which is what I enjoy most about the dystopian genre. If you’re like me and not a frequent reader of dystopian novels but want to read something different, i’d recommend giving Oryx and Crake a read. But know this, if you’re not familiar with Margaret Atwood’s work, know that this is not a story with a (generically) happy or hopeful ending.

3.9 / 5

P.S. I wouldn’t recommend this book for young readers.

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Book Reviews · books · Literature

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry By Rachel Joyce: Book Review

SPOILER – FREE! 👞

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If somebody asks me to name a list of my favourite books, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry will now be a book that I name.

SYNOPSIS: The story follows Harold Fry, a recently retired man who lives in a small English village with his wife  Maureen. One morning he receives a letter from an old acquaintance, Queenie Hennessy who is staying at a hospice and is writing to say goodbye. As he is on the way to post a reply, a chance encounter one that convinces him that he must deliver his message to her in person, leads Harold to begin his unlikely pilgrimage from one end of the country to the other to save her life.

REVIEW: I remember picking this book up last year, reading the blurb and liking it enough to buy and then placing it on my bookshelf and expecting it to remain there as a TBR (To Be Read) for whenever I felt like it was time to read admittedly it was very far down on my TBR list. However because I made the decision to read more books that I normally wouldn’t read, I thought this would be a perfect pick.

What I absolutely loved about this novel is that I was able to relate to a married, retired, sixty-something year old English man. Other than being born in the UK I have absolutely nothing in common with Harold Fry, yet through Joyce’s writing, she manages to effortlessly explore the most vulnerable sides of the human condition such as grief, love, faith, adolescence, aging, acceptance and so much more, which makes this story (at least for me) so relatable because it’s not just trying to get you to understand the character but also connect with the characters journey. Harold’s story is told alongside his wife, Maureen who left alone, is also forced to come to terms with her own life which serves as an interesting foil to Harold’s because of how differently the pilgrimage affects them both.

“People were buying milk, or filling their cars with petrol, or even posting letters. And what no one else knew was the appalling weight of the thing they were carrying inside. The superhuman effort it took sometimes to be normal, and a part of things that appeared both easy and everyday. The loneliness of that.”

Joyce chooses to tell this story through memory, the further Harold goes on his journey the more we learn about his life. It is told in such a way that when there are big reveals about his past, they resonate more because they’re being told through his own visceral, repressed memories and as a result, we get to know these characters on a far more personal level.

The only thing I didn’t initially like about this story was the ending. It wasn’t what I expected… it wasn’t the spectacle I was hoping for it to be  it was stark and realistic which I ended up appreciating because it is how the majority of the book is written.

It’s rare that a book leaves such a lasting impression on me, I am so glad I chose this book to read and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a light but impactful read. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is truly a wonderful book.

4.9/5
books · Literature

✨ January Book Haul! ✨ & February – ‘Femmeuary TBR’

January Book HaulP

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Screenplay by J.K. Rowling – I’ve watched the film and I think it’s about time I read the screenplay – which I’ve heard good things about!

Two Owls at Eton by Jonathan Franklin – I bought this in hope of attempting my book goals for the year. It’s non-fiction and it’s autobiographical.

Thirteen Guests by J. Jefferson Farjeon – I read one of Farjeon’s detective novels last year and though it wasn’t my favourite, I really enjoyed the plot and characters.

The Gunslinger by Stephen King – I really enjoyed my first venture into King’s writing with ‘The Shining’ so I bought this to hopefully continue the streak.
*Look out for my review on The Shining coming soon*

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – This book was on my To Buy list for the longest time, I hope it’s as good as people say it is.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler – This book was one of the easiest to pick out, I love detective fiction and I don’t think I’ve read a detective/crime novel by an American author. *Hides face*

 

FEMMEUARY TBR

I never do TBRs because I prefer picking books to read at random – I feel like it’s more fun that way. A few days ago I came across Lauren and the Books YouTube channel and for the month of February she decided to read books written by women and pretty much consume all forms of entertainment created by women. A good chunk of the books that i’ve read in general and own are written by women but over the past year or so, the majority of what i’ve read has been written by men. So for this month, i’m going to take part in Lauren’s wonderful Femmeuary TBR challenge. My first book of the month will be Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry which I bought back in October last year and am looking forward to finally reading!

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What book(s) will you be reading this month? 😀
Are any of you taking part in Femmeuary?

Book Reviews · books · Literature

An Unbearable Journey! ..The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: Book Review

Spoilers ahead, featuring a few unavoidable grievances about the film adaptations.

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I first attempted reading The Hobbit around 7 or 8 years ago but never really got into it. I then gave it a second go shortly before the release of the first Hobbit film (I still don’t understand why a 364 page book was split into 3 films) and again I wasn’t able to get through more than a chapter or two. Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, I decided to pick up The Hobbit again and this time, give it a real go, and I have to say this book isn’t at all what I expected.

Synopsis: The Hobbit is J.R.R. Tolkien’s introduction to the spectacular world of Middle-earth. It follows the adventures of a reluctant hero – Bilbo Baggins, who accompanies the wizard Gandalf and 13 Dwarfs on a quest to regain their lost Dwarven kingdom from evil dragon Smaug.

It’s been long while since i’ve read any high fantasy novels and this one definitely took some getting used to. Despite being familiar with the world (mostly through The Lord of the Rings movies) I really didn’t know what to expect and by that I mean Tolkien’s writing. For starters, i’d forgotten that this was a children’s book. The opening chapters make this quite plain in both the tone and writing style which was both simple and easy to read. Moreover the style of the book also lends itself better to be read aloud – because there are so many names, locations and creatures to remember, I found myself often re-reading sentences or going back to check if I had missed something. Not to mention the songs throughout, which again I think would be more appreciated by a younger audience.

Another major thing that caught me of guard was the journey itself, which takes up pretty much the entire book. I’d based my expectations for this part of the story on the films, which was my mistake because it really made me wonder why this book was titled The Hobbit: There and Back and Again when really it should have been called The Hobbit: An Unpleasant Journey or The Hobbit: An Unbearable Journey or The Hobbit: A Journey I Could Have Avoided If I Had Just Listened To My Own Advice And Stayed At Home.. as we’re so often reminded by the protagonist. It’s literally the worst journey I’ve ever read about – setback after setback with only very few triumphs. I suppose it does show the amount of tenacity the characters have, but for a children’s novel the story itself is rather bleak.

Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?

I have to admit that I wasn’t particularly fond of the main characters. Bilbo I liked because we spent the majority of the novel through his point of view, I found even Gandalf to be annoying at times. What’s more I didn’t think I would come across a character that could surpass the broody, A Song of Ice and Fire’s (Game of Thrones) Jon Snow but the character of Thorin Oakensheild – King and leader of the dwarfs, I think definitely takes the cake. On a more positive note, the world building is truly fascinating and the different beings and creatures we’re introduced to throughout the novel make you want to learn more about their history and how they came to be – it’s things like this that really bring to the forefront Tolkien’s extraordinary ideas and the depths to his imagination.

Lastly, (and this is me just being nit-picky) I was really looking forward to reading about Legolas who appears in the adaptations, unfortunately, there is no Legolas… none at all. If by chance you haven’t read The Hobbit or seen any of the Hobbit films, I would advise you to read the books first before seeing any of the films.

Overall, though I liked learning more about Middle-earth, The Hobbit was not quite the enjoyable read I was expecting it to be.

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3/5
books · Literature

October Recommendations – Monsters in Literature! 👽 👻 🦇

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October is officially here and for many of us that means getting into the spirit of Autumn/Fall or if you love Halloween, getting prepped to do all things scary and spooky (I like doing a bit of both). At first I was going to make a list of book recommendations based on the gothic and horror genres but I thought about it and decided to focus on the thing that really stands out to me when I read these books – the monsters.

I’m not going to lie, I’ve seen some of these monsters in films/television and they’ve contributed to my interpretations of them. Nonetheless their vivid descriptions give the reader the opportunity to create their own terrifying monsters with their imagination. Below is a list of books with monsters that I found to be both intriguing and scary to read about.

*Note* I did plan on putting images or gifs of these monsters throughout this post but they’re too scary to look at for more than a few seconds.

Dracula

WEREWOVLES Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

The event of becoming a werewolf in this world is painful and traumatising. The pack mentality is also very intimidating especially because you read about it from the protagonist’s point of view who is a human. They’re also not the friendliest bunch in either human or wolf form.

VAMPIRES Dracula by Bram Stoker

The build-up of the narrator’s fear throughout this book is intense and you feel it from the get-go. Dracula himself isn’t as imposing as you think but the little things like not having a reflection, turning into a bat and having secret passageways are described a lot more sinisterly and makes you feel uncomfortable.

Moreau

BASILISK Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K Rowling

I would rather face Dementors or Umbridge or even the Hungarian Horntail than a Basilisk! It sneaks around in pipes, is 50 foot tall and can kill with only a glance. Its presence throughout the book is shrouded in mystery especially when we learn that Harry can hear it speak and move when nobody else can. 

GHOSTS The Turn of the Screw – by Henry James

While the ghosts, though frightening, don’t actually do anything, the effects they have on the living characters end up being both catastrophic and irreparable. Because only certain characters can see the ghosts, we’re left to guess whether they’re real or just a figment of the characters’ imagination.

HUMAN – ANIMAL HYBRIDS The Island of Dr Moreau by H.G. Wells

This book creeped me out when I first read it it reminded me that vivisection is a very real thing in our world. Imagining what these hybrids both looked like and what they must have gone through at the hands of Dr Moreau is unimaginable.

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A MONSTER Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by R.L Steverson

Mr Hyde is the alter ego of Dr Jekyll. Hyde’s physical appearance reflects his sinister character; the most disturbing thing about this ‘monster’ is that it implies that we are all in some way suppressing our own true nature it may not be as severe as Jekyll’s but it’s definitely somewhere in there, waiting..

THE MONSTER Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein’s monster is many things, he is intellectual, compassionate and longs for acceptance, however he is also menacing, driven by vengeance and a crazed killer. Personally, despite being more familiar with its visual adaptation, I found Shelley’s descriptions to be even more chilling.

So there it is, enough monster Lit to keep you occupied for the month! 

Which of these monsters do I find most frightening?
Though I wouldn’t fancy being bitten by a vampire or basilisk, ghosts scare me the most – nobody would believe you and you can’t exactly get rid of them with a wooden stake…

Which of these monsters frighten you the most? And do you have any Monster Lit recommendations? 🙂

books · Life · Literature

⊘ Banned Books Week 2017 ⊘

September 24th – 30th

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Books are books but we can’t ignore their influence and power.

I’ve never really thought about why books have been banned, growing up the only book that I knew of being banned or challenged was the Harry Potter series and while looking through my bookshelves to see how many banned books I owned, I found that I had more than I expected – a lot more than in the image above. Some of these books actually still remain on banned or challenged lists around the world, which really puts into perspective just how much words can influence people.  

Here’s a list of a couple of banned books that I picked out:

  • 1984 – George Orwell
  • Beloved – Toni Morrison
  • Fanny Hill: Or, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure – John Cleland
  • Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
  • Harry Potter Series – J.K Rowling
  • Holes – Louis Schar

    Was challenged for being too violent and inappropriate for its intended age group.

  • Snow Falling On Cedars – David Guterson
  • The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
  • The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

    Its challengers cited violence, sexually explicit content, religious viewpoint and underlying political themes.

  • To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
  • Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe

Was banned in some parts of the world for its negative portrayal of colonialism.

  • Ulysses – James Joyce

 

If you’ve read or been reading a banned book this week that hasn’t been mentioned in the list above please let me know in the comments below. My TBR (To Be Read) is disappearing at a faster rate than I expected!!

“The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame”.
― Oscar Wilde

“Yes books are dangerous. They should be dangerous – they contain ideas”.
― Pete Hautman

“Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance”.
― Laurie Halse Anderson

 

Book Reviews · books · Literature · Uncategorized

Review: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – ‘All is not as it seems’

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Fun-Fact: Did you know the word Scientist didn’t exist when Frankenstein was first published in 1818. Before the word was coined in 1833 by William Whewell, Scientists would have been referred to as Natural Philosophers, who were studiers of nature and the physical universe.

Gothic literature isn’t my go-to genre but it caught my attention when I had to read a book called, The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (1764) for a module I was taking at university. The book also happens to be the first gothic novel and became a source of inspiration for future gothic writers. When I think about it, I don’t actually like Gothic or horror movies at all, i’ve dabbled a bit but after watching Nosferatu (1922) as a kid when I was supposed to be asleep, I pretty much stayed away from the genre up until a couple of years ago where again I had to watch a number of gothic films for a module.

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When you hear the word Frankenstein, I’m sure some version of the image to the right comes to mind, comes to mind – along with the indistinct groans, the out-stretched arms and every Halloween costume sold during the month of October. However, all was not as it seemed… When I began reading the book, two things became very clear:

1 – Frankenstein is not the name of the monster; but the name of his creator.

2 – The monster is not a mindless creature in a blazer but is in fact, an intellectual, compassionate, conscious being who speaks as if he’s a character taken straight from one of Shakespeare’s plays. He craves human interaction, to the point where he is so lonely that he begs his creator to create another being like himself, after he is rejected by human beings. Who would have thought it?

Victor Frankenstein spends the majority of the story becoming increasingly deranged after he creates the monster’ and the rest trying to avoid then search and destroy his creature. The two main narratives make for sympathetic characters which enables the reader to gain enough of an understanding as to why both characters make the decisions they do. Ultimately the story becomes one of revenge, remorse and regret. It’s interesting, had the story been written solely from the perspective of Victor, I probably would have shared his opinions about the monster but as the story progressed and I learned the drastic reasons behind his motivations, the scary ‘Frankenstein’ monster many of us imagine upon hearing the name, began to steadily disappear.

Overall, I rather enjoyed reading Frankenstein, it wasn’t the story I expected when I started reading and I definitely didn’t expect to feel sympathy for the monster. Moreover, the questions it raises about creation, evolution and humanity become very intriguing, particularly when you consider the time the novel was published in.

Would I recommend reading this novel? Absolutely! The story was compelling, it’s an easy-read and I feel, a good introduction to the monster side of the gothic genre. And for you English-lit buffs out there, I think one of the better (Western) literary canons.

4.1 / 5