Thursday, 30 December 2010

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

Being over 650 pages long and set in an Irish boarding school I read this book purely because so many other bloggers loved this one. Since I enjoyed it so much, I'm going to conclude that these bloggers have great taste (I knew this anyway really)

Daniel ‘Skippy’ Juster dies in the first chapter (although you might have gathered that from the title) the book then travels back in time and shows the reader the events leading up to Skippy's death. Most of the plot takes place in Seabrook College; the boys boarding school that Skippy attended where a whole host of characters from Skippy's friends, teachers and the girls in the neighbouring school are introduced.

The teenagers in the book spend large parts of it being quite nasty to each other in an environment where bullying seems to be rife among the more unpopular students. Copious amounts of drugs, eating disorders and sex seem to be on the cards for many of the more popular teens. Added to the mix are the teachers exploits making this a sometimes sad and depressing book but also thought provoking and laced throughout with humour.

'When he came back from summer holidays this year the boys had changed. Suddenly everyone was tall and gangling and talking about drinking and sperm. Walking among them is like being in a BO-smelling forest.'

The boys themselves and their environment are drawn well and are typical of the age they live in where all the teenagers have the latest gadgets and the use of mobile phones and the internet mean nothing is secret for long.

There is a lot in this book and one which I found highly enjoyable, if heartbreaking to read.

If you find the kind of rude things 14 year old boys say to each other quite funny then you will find many funny moments in this book. I do and so I laughed out loud even if the characters did ruin the poem The Road Less Travelled for me.

Verdict 4/5

Posted by Jess

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

A Reading Year in Review by Jess

I hope everyone had a marvellous Christmas/holidays, I feel as though I need another week off work to recover from all the festivities and all the eating that went on. As I slowly come around to the idea that I’m now back at work I thought I would share some of my thoughts on my reading over the past year.

This year I read just over 105 books. Out of those 100 I would have given 51 four stars or more and I estimate that I only gave up reading about 8 books making this a very successful year (or maybe I'm just easy to please). 20 of those books contained over 550 pages so I have certainly not shied away from your big chucksters but at the same time I have given more time (although not much) to reading novellas and short stories.

Because of the blog I have read a lot more classics this year and I read a Russian novelist for the first time. But I have also read more brand new releases than I normally would have because of the recommendations flying around the blogosphere when a book is first released. Some of these new releases such as Skippy Dies and Room were highly enjoyable and I’m glad I read them while they were still in hardback, but others such as The Passage taught me to not necessarily fall for the hype in future.

One of the biggest changes in my reading habits this year has been the type of books that I feel I am able to tackle. I am now willing to ‘work’ on a book and to challenge myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to go out and attack Ulysses, but I am less intimidated and more willing to give something a go at least.

A special mention has to go to some fantastic authors I discovered this year which include F.Scott.Fitzgerald, Kazuo Ishiguro, Daphne Du Maurier, Helen Dunmore and Toni Morrison. Three of those authors I discovered when taking part in challenges so I would like to thank the people that take the time to organise these.

What are my plans for this year?

I would like to get a lot further in my American Classics project, take part in a few read-alongs and maybe the odd challenge. Roll on 2011.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

While I was compiling my list of American classics to read I thought that I should have at least one Western in there. Not being at all familiar with this genre I chose Lonesome Dove as its Pulitzer Prize winning credentials gave me some reassurance.

I have to admit that I almost rethought this when the novel arrived from Amazon and I then realised that Lonesome Dove is over 950 pages. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy to tackle a massive epic book over 950 pages under normal circumstances, but this was a genre I wasn’t familiar with or even overly interested in. But heck I will give almost anything a whirl and I did as part of a read-along hosted by My Friend Amy, reading a manageable ten chapters a week.

Having never read this genre before I was not sure what to expect. What I did get were good guys, bad guys, gun fights, harsh landscapes and the odd damsel in distress and I loved every bit of it.

The plot in essence are the adventures of the Hat Creek Cattle Company as they make their way from Texas to Montana driving their cattle. Of course the author has to keep the readers attention for 950+ pages so there are a huge array of characters all with interesting back-stories, an epic plot in which you find plenty of sub-plots and some twists and turns to keep the reader on their toes. I was certainly never bored.

The characters are likeable because they are depicted honestly rather than the clichés they could have been but what surprised me most about this novel was the humour. There are a lot of laugh out loud funny moments in this book and I found myself chuckling in quite a few places.

The ending did feel a little rushed, almost as if the author was in a hurry to finish the job and quickly round everything up but I can forgive him for the 40 or so pages at the end when the other 900+ ones were so brilliant.

I never thought I would enjoy this book as much as I did but I really loved it. As a result I be participating in the Western Read-a-long hosted by C.B.James in May. The read-along is easy, all you have to do is read one western book during the month of May and the details can be found here.

It just goes to show that its sometimes a very good idea to venture into a genre you are not at all familiar with and I'd urge anyone who hasn't to give the Western a whirl.

Posted by Jess

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Bibliojunkie hosted a read-along of Midnight's Children which I was very eager to join even though this isn't a book which was on my TBR list. The reason why I joined this particular read-along, aside from the fact that I seem to be addicted to read-alongs, is because I just wanted to say 'oh yeah I've read Rushdie' Totally the wrong reason for wanted to read a book I'm sure but what the hell, I'm just being honest.

Once I downloaded the book and I started to read it my heart sank when I realised the novel was an example of 'Magic Realism'. The only other book I've read which contained Magic Realism elements is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez which I gave up on as my brain seemed to do a mental block when anything which I deemed 'weird' happened, which was a lot.

For some reason though I was perfectly fine with the Magic Realism elements in Midnight's Children and in fact I rather enjoyed them. I have no idea why I couldn't get to grips with the Magic Realism in García Márquez's writing as I haven't read enough of it to tell the difference, but for whatever reason, with Rushdie I was completely on board.

The novel follows the life of the narrator Saleem Sinai who was born at midnight at the exact time that India gained independence. The story has a political thread as India's history and emotional stances speed by (and clashing) with Saleem's own life. The history in the book is not entirely accurate as the book has not been researched. It is instead written from Saleem's own memories, so parts are in the wrong order or plot elements are given away far to early or late. This may give you the impression that there is no structure to the novel but there is, an almost rigid one.

Most chapters (if not all?) start with Saleem in the present who gives an introduction/update on his present life to the reader. His lover Padma will often intervene here asking questions and instructing Saleem to stick to the point. I can't say I particularly connected with any of the characters unfortunately but I was willing to stick with the novel and the overall story, it didn't at any point occur to me to stop reading.

The biggest thought that sprang to my mind while reading Midnight's Children was 'where the heck is this all going'. Most of the novel just seemed to meander through different places, plot lines and themes. I had no idea if there was a point to it all as I just could not see where it was all leading to. Normally this wouldn't bother me but at over 650 pages I wanted something other than a fizzled out ending to all this.

I should have had more faith in Rushdie as 96% of the way through (I made a note of the % on my kindle) suddenly everything slotted into place and as everything came round full circle I realised that Rushdie had had a plan all along so I was left feeling a happy reader.

Reading Midnight's Children has certainly been an experience and while large parts of it went right over my head or I lost it completely this didn't seem to matter as I always managed to keep up with the story and the unbelievably layered writing. This novel would certainly benefit from a couple of re-reads and I can see myself doing this in a couple of years time.

While I would describe the novel as a challenging read I never found it a chore but it is unlikely I would read another book by this author..

Posted by Jess

Dream a little dream...

I really enjoy fiction and now read much more of it than non-fiction. Made up stories never appealed to me before but nowadays I read little else. For all my enthusiasm there is one aspect to fiction that irritates me a great deal. When a chapter ends with a character falling asleep I know that at the beginning of the next chapter I will be unwillingly whisked away into a surreal world of bizarre imagery and nonsensical rubbish. I'm talking of the dream segment.

My main question is: Why?

I have been giving it some thought lately and I cannot fathom what possible benefit a dream gives to my reading experience. Exactly what relevance to a story is a dream? When I encounter a written dream I invariably skip over it and try to forget it was there. I just cannot see the point of them.

I understand that some people believe dreams can have some sort of meaning either subconsciously or perhaps some form of clairvoyance. Perhaps other readers feel a dream gives a book the impression of mysticism and intrigue. My cynicism tells me it is nothing more than a poor attempt by the author at padding; throw in a few pointless dreams here and there and you can waste up to ten pages saying nothing of benefit to the storyline

Does anyone enjoy reading about dreams in a book?


Friday, 17 December 2010

The Old Man and the Sea

I am relatively new to Ernest Hemingway's work. This was the third of his books I have read and I must say it was my least favourite of the three.

The Old Man and the Sea, arguably, has only one character; Santiago. A down-on-his-luck fisherman who rows out one day and hooks an enormous Marlin on his line. What follows is a desperate battle, fought over several days, during which the Marlin drags Santiago and his little boat further out to sea whilst Santiago stubbornly holds onto the line and refuses to let the fish go.

There were several positive aspects to the book; I felt Hemingway portrayed the self doubt and struggle of Santiago well throughout the book, the pace was good and the actions and thoughts of Santiago were shown well albeit in Hemingway's usually sparse and direct style and initially I found the simpleness of the story very appealing.

Ultimately I didn't like this book which saddened me as it is generally considered one of his best works. Although I initially liked the sparse nature of the story and the fast pace, by the end of the book I felt very strongly that the story needed more meat on its bones. I never felt as if I got to know much about Santiago, the story became very repetitive after a while and frankly too much time was spent in the boat with Santiago when other characters could have been introduced and developed. I found the wholesale, haphazard slaughter of sea creatures uncomfortable reading however I did expect it knowing what a fan of big game hunting Hemingway was. As for Santiago repeatedly eating sea creatures raw (including a dolphin and several flying fish from inside the dolphin's stomach) I felt Hemingway had gone a little too far with his obsession with macho behaviour. For most of the book I was actually rooting for the Marlin rather than Santiago which I'm not sure I was supposed to do.

According to critics and literary experts the novella is full of hidden meaning and some religious significance. Personally I did not see any of this but rather the idea of Man against Beast which has been done to death.

Perhaps I am missing the point of it, who knows? All I can say for certain is that I didn't really enjoy it.

Overall rating 2/5


Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Persephone Secret Santa

It's the Persephone Secret Santa reveal day today and its time for me to reveal my secret Santa.

I was very lucky that mine arrived all the way from across the Atlantic from Minnesota and I received a wonderful package from Amy at newcenturyreading. Bizarrely enough I visited Minneapolis/St Pauls many years ago during the summer where I took a trip on the lakes, drank loads of long Island Iced teas and merriment was had until the early hours LOL

I apologise now for the very naff photo taken with my phone (I've lost my camera) but as you can see I have not one but two books to get very excited about. The Persephone title is 'Someone at a Distance' by Dorothy Whipple. I'm really pleased with this choice because I've heard quite a bit about Dorothy Whipple and her book about a deceived wife and foolish husband looks like it goes beneath the surface which always appeals to me.

I thought the second book at first glance was some kind of travel book as it doesn't look at all like the kind of paperbacks we get over here in England and plus the title is 'Main Street'. However once I looked closer I realised that in fact it was a novel by Sinclair Lewis, the only Minnesotan Nobel Prize winning author and is a scathing look at the authors home town.

I would like to thank my secret Santa sending very much for this, I thought the second book was such a thoughtful gesture and a wonderful surprise and I am looking forward to reading it shortly and adding it to my American Project list.

Last but not least there were also some chocolates in the package (I was a bit overwhelmed with the generosity at this point) I am sure you can't tell from the photo but on the day I received them I was er 'resting my eyes' on the couch when my two year old son very stealthy and without actually taking the lid off them ate nearly all of them. Thankfully he saved me one which was very nice! Since all traces of the stolen ones have gone my son also gave them the thumbs up.

Lastly I'd like to say that organising something like this takes time and then the person organising it all has to worry about whether the packages have all arrived etc. So I'd also like to say a huge thank-you to Claire for organising and coordinating us all so well.

Posted by Jess

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The Natural by Bernard Malamud

Bernard Malamud was (according to Wikipedia) one of the great American Jewish authors of the 20th century. The Natural was his first novel which was written in 1952 and follows the story of Roy Hobbs, a baseball player who's career was cut short in his youth. When Roy reaches middle age, he gets the chance to use his natural talent to achieve status in the world of baseball once again.

I really really didn't like this book, at all.

My husband has an unusual interest in baseball. Obviously in America/Cuba/Japan etc. this is not an unusual interest, but in the UK where the sport is not televised on terrestrial television (I don't think it's even on the satellite channels) it is an unusual interest. As a result I have seen my fair share of cheesy baseball films which all seem to be made by Disney. Well this book was like reading the script of one of these films and seemed to contain every cliché going.

Now of course this book was written in 1952 and the ideas within the novel would not have been cliché at time of publication, I know this. But having seen my fair share of baseball films I am afraid that I inwardly groaned when the next plot development crept in.

The main character Roy is a self destructive man with a major chip on his shoulder. He is hired by the 'New York Knights' a team which is on a losing streak. Once Roy joins, the main star of the team, a man called 'bump' takes an instant dislike to Roy for no reason whatsoever and they become enemies. Roy then falls for the coaches daughter who happens to be the sweetheart of.......his enemy bump (surprised? I wasn't) I'm going to stop with the plot outline now before I cry.

I feel bad about this, the writing itself wasn't bad despite the lack of character development and to be fair Malamud did avoid the very last cliché which is used at the end of the film (you know where its all down to the player who is the last to bat and the team need a home run, then its strike one, strike two etc etc)

Malamud went onto win the Pulitzer prize with his novel The Fixer so perhaps I just read the wrong book? Perhaps the plot chiques are part of the point and not being a baseball fan I simply don't get it?

All I know is that the film version staring Robert Redford is apparently far far better.

Verdict 1/5

Posted by Jess

Sunday, 12 December 2010

A Farewell To Arms

Ernest Hemingway joined the ambulance service in 1918 and saw action in Italy where he was wounded twice. Out of his experiences came ‘A Farewell To Arms’ a semi-biographical novel quite unlike anything I have read before.

This was my first Hemingway book and I must say I was very impressed. I had heard tell of Hemingway’s trademark ‘no frills’ style of writing, what you see is what you get and it is certainly true that Hemingway doesn’t waste pages and pages talking about a sunset or what a character is wearing. I found that once the story gets going you soon realise that underneath the deceptively straightforward surface of the story there is an incredible depth Hemingway leaves up to the reader to discover. I have never seen character development like it.

The story itself is bleak, which is to be expected from a story which takes part during the First World War however there is lots of humour too. The main character, Frederic Henry, is a dark horse. Not much of his personality is obvious at first glance but it's there if you look closely enough. Most of how he feels or what he is thinking is shown via his dialogue as his inner thoughts are rarely delved into.

One of Frederic’s most obvious characteristics is that he is an alcoholic. There is barely a page in the book when he is not drinking and he thinks nothing of drinking at the most inappropriate times such as early in the morning, when he is on duty and even when he is in hospital suffering with grievous wounds. In fact his drinking is so out of control he is almost reported for court martial when he suffers from jaundice as a direct result of his drinking. I am certain this obsession with alcohol is not a coincidence considering Hemingway’s own struggle with alcohol abuse. From reading other works of Hemingway heavy drinking is often a feature.

The characters in the book are first rate and easy to care about. Many of them are Italian and numerous glimpses are given into their personality, how they cope with war and what they think of it. This is particularly interesting to me as the Italian view of the First World War is not often portrayed.

The only character I did not appreciate was that of Frederic’s love interest, the English nurse Catherine Barkley. She played the role of a submissive, doting sexually driven young woman willing to do almost anything for Frederic. She whines a lot and demands constant reassurance from him. Initially she is not in the book too much but towards the end I found her presence a real drain.

The ending to the story is devastating but then this seemed appropriate considering the wartime setting, I am certain that re-reading this book (as I most certainly will) will reveal all sorts of hidden meanings I missed the first time around as Hemingway’s style is so deceptively simple.

A thoroughly enjoyable, meaningful book and an excellent introduction to Hemingway’s troubled genius.

Final verdict 4/5


Thursday, 9 December 2010

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

"Hale knew they meant to murder him before he had been in Brighton three hours."

Bright Rock begins with one of the best opening lines (and has one of the best finishing lines) which perfectly sets the scene for an edge of your seat thrilling first chapter where the two main protagonists are introduced, Ida and Pinkie.

Pinkie is an interesting character. A murderer, mob member and all round nasty boy (he is only 17) he finds himself in a predicament when he is forced to marry the character Rose because he is a witness to the crime committed in the first chapter. Pinkie was also brought up a strict Catholic and as a result he spends large parts of the book pondering over mortal sin. He is also disgusted by the idea of intimacy and sex and believes that hell is all around him, he believes he is living in it.

Ida Arnold on the other hand lives life to the full and is the sort of character that will embrace life and everything it has to offer. Ida knows Pinkie is a murderer and she sets out to follow and torment him and Rose until he confesses. Ida is a huge contrast to Rose, the other main female character. Whereas Ida is feisty and street smart, Rose is submissive and infuriatingly naïve.

The action calms down after chapter one to accommodate the themes above and to allow for character development. The novel does have suspense and has a gritty realism feel to it, but I did feel as though it went on slightly too long and I found parts of the ending a little far fetched. There were also a few plot holes in the main story (why not just kill Rose) but overall I enjoyed very much my first Graham Greene novel.

Verdict 4/5

They have made a new film version which is due for release in the UK in February and here is the trailer.

Dame Helen Mirren is playing Ida and as she is much older than the Ida in the book I think they have changed the story slightly to accommodate the actresses age. I am assuming this is because British films get a special grant if they cast either Dame Helen Mirren or Dame Judy Dench?

The other thing that me and Chris noticed from watching the trailer was that despite the story being set in Brighton, and the main characters being born in Brighton, all of the actors speak with a cockney London accent. Not just any London accent but a breathy 'I'm a gangster and I'll give you the concrete boots' cockney accent. Its the south coast of England FFS. However I'm sure most of the audience won't care about that and I'm sure it won't spoil the film, but nobody from Brighton talks like that.

Posted by Jess

Ida Arnold: "I'm like those sticks of rock. Bite all the way down, and it'll still read 'Brighton.'"

Monday, 6 December 2010

Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Gregor Samsa awoke in his bed one morning from uneasy dreams to find himself transformed into a gigantic insect (or ‘monstrous vermin’ depending on which translation you read)

Poor Gregor! As if life isn’t bad enough being worked half to death as a lowly travelling salesman desperately trying to pay his family’s debts without waking up as a giant bug.

But God bless him, Gregor doesn’t give up. If only he could learn to control all his legs which all seem to be moving on their own accord while he is trapped on his back. If he could only manage to get onto his front he is sure he would only miss a couple of days work.

Of course a man turning into an insect is ridiculous, surreal and absurd, the whole situation is funny. Gregor is bizarrely accepting of his condition and it is his family and other people he encounters that has issues with his appearance. When it dawns on Gregor that he will never lead a normal life again, instead staying confined to his room and becoming a burden on his already stressful family, the story takes a sadder turn.

The family’s reactions to Gregors situation as first seem understandable. But as they start to blame Gregor for their financial predicament they now find themselves in and the fact that they are now unable to move to a smaller house because of the logistics of moving Gregor, their attitude towards Gregor become one of disgust and cruelty. It’s a hopeless situation and can only end one way...

Due to the simple narrative and the nature of the Metamorphosis it is not surprising that the meaning behind the story has been debated ever since its publication and I am sure that any literature student will have a field day with it.

While I read it for the pure enjoyment of it rather than looking into anything too deeply, it did leave me with one question. Why did the family seem better off upon Gregors death than they were when Gregor was alive? This of course leads me to other questions such as was Gregors martyr-like existence in supporting his entire family before his predicament actually detrimental to his family in some way? I am sure questions like this will spin around in my head for evermore.

Would I recommend this? If you’re only going to read one thing by Kafka, why not make it The metamorphosis his most famous work? It’s also worth mentioning that I downloaded this free on the kindle so if anyone has an electronic reader it’s certainly worth getting.

Posted by Jess

Final verdict 4/5

Friday, 3 December 2010

The Woman in Black

At the time I began to read this book I was sitting in a small holiday cottage in the middle of nowhere, the hour was late, the Mrs had gone to bed. Outside the wind was howling, driving the pouring rain against the walls and windows of the cottage. Conditions could scarcely be more appropriate for reading a good ghostly yarn.

Perhaps the spooky atmosphere of the cottage contributed something to the feelings of fear I encountered whilst reading this book but I can say for certain that The Woman in Black is the most terrifying book I have ever picked up.

The story is straightforward enough; a young solicitor named Arthur Kipps is sent by his firm to a small community living in the English countryside. Here he attends the funeral of a reclusive client named Mrs Drablow. Kipps is also tasked with searching her home for any important documents that need to be retrieved. Upon his arrival Kipps quickly discovers that whenever the name Drablow or her former home is mentioned the townsfolk clam up and won’t discuss it with him. After he sees a mysterious woman at the funeral Kipps begins to suspect there is something odd going on. Mrs Drablow’s home is located deep in the marshes at the end of a causeway which is impassable most of the time because of the tide. Once Kipps arrives at the house he is forced to remain alone until the tide is low enough for him to leave. It is then that the ghostly happenings begin...

The book is very well written in general, the characters are few but well developed and the story moves at a brilliant pace, slowly building up the tension but not falling into the trap of spending too long setting the scene. The horror is mostly suggested and the ghost only makes a handful of appearances but that is more than enough. A combination of the terrible fog, the unseen force, the feeling of being trapped and bumps in the night all combine to move to reader to the edge of their seat. I can honestly say I was scared by what I read and I finished the book in one sitting.

I highly recommend reading it late at night, preferably by yourself during a rainstorm, it won't be an experience you'll soon forget!

Final verdict 5/5


Now book related but Snow related - a tale of saga and woe

Oh I wasn't going to do a 'snow post' but as I have exhausted all my families ears with my snow saga I feel I must go one step further and get it off my chest on the blog.

The whole county of Surrey got caught out on Tuesday and I don't think anyone was able to foresee the events that took place that afternoon/evening. OK so it had snowed the night before, but not much. You could still see the ground and most of the roads where clear. I was able to drop my little boy off at my parents-in-law that morning with no bother before driving 7 miles onto work.

During the day it began snowing heavily so I arranged with my boss to work through my lunch hour so I could leave at 3.30pm to get a head start on the traffic. Now was that not sensible of me?

Unfortunately when I left at 3:30pm and get onto the main road I hit traffic, but I expected this. The traffic is slow moving but it is moving. But this goes on for much longer than I expected and by the time I turn off the main road to get to my In-laws house its 6pm, I've been in the car for 2 ½ hours when normally this journey would take 20 minutes. According to my mum there are two lorry's overturned in the nearest town, and one has overturned and ended up in some ponds which is blocking all the traffic.

Its around this time that I realise how hazardous the side roads really are. As I turn corners my car starts to slip and I see other cars having to be pushed by kindly passers by. I find myself by now queuing in a road and the traffic is now not moving at all and we get the news that the road I am on is completely blocked. I ring my In-laws and let them know that I cannot get to them, my son will be spending his first night away from home (which upsets me) and I then turn around and start to drive home. Its now 7:15pm.

The road is clear for around 2 miles with me driving very slowly on a 40 mph road at under 20mph. But then 5 miles from home I hit a wall of traffic which is not moving at all and this is where I will stay for the next few hours.

While the snow is still falling heavily and while the snow under the cars are turning to solid ice as the temperature drops, this is how I am spending my time. I'm turning my engine off (to conserve petrol) and sitting there for at least ten minutes. Suddenly everyone starts to switch their engines on, everyone's lights pop back on and my heater kicks into gear, we all eagerly move 4 or 5 car spaces (some wheels slipping more than others) before stopping and switching our engines off again for the next ten minutes. The monotony of this is broken at times while I call my mum and moan or I call Chris before he sets off to work and almost cry.

Even though I haven't eaten since one that afternoon I am not hungry but I am bursting for the loo. The men in this jam have the advantage in bodily logistics in situations like these and often stand at the side of the road while I try not to think of waterfalls.

Eventually at MIDNIGHT I make it to the top of Reigate hill, a steep-ish hill about a mile long and there is a sudden abundance of abandoned cars. I almost contemplate taking the motorway but one look at that makes me realise that that would be even more dangerous than the situation I am already in. I later found out that there were 400 abandoned lorries on the motorway in Surrey that night. There are now many pedestrians having to walk home and I almost feel envious of them; at least they are moving.

Funnily enough I also bump into Chris here who is working as part of the emergency services. The last I see him he is talking to a girl who is crying hysterically because she has been in her car since 2pm.

As I start to slowly make my way down the hill I see more and more pedestrians and more abandoned cars (including an abandoned bus) but I am OK. As I come to a particular steep part of the hill however my brakes stop working and I shit myself (not really.) It was one of the most scariest things that has ever happened to me and I honestly believe I am going to hit the car in front. But all these hours of driving on ice has made me an almost expert in these conditions so I take my foot off the brake and then spin the car towards the curb while braking in a jabbing motion and I manage to stop. Some guys who have already abandoned their cars help me 'slide' the car into a parking space and I then pull the handbrake as far as it will possibly go and contemplate the mile walk home.

Thankfully a guy in a flashy looking sports car offered me a life to the bottom of the hill which while under normal circumstances I would not accept, I did this time. The guys name was Lee and he lived in Kent; I doubt he found his way home that night.

After being dropped off I finally walked into my house at just after 1am – 9 ½ hours after leaving work and travelling a total of 14 miles.

Aside from dreading driving down that hill again (to the point where its keeping me up at night) we have all recovered. Chris got the car back the next day after the road had been gritted and our son acted like nothing had happened (as long as someone's feeding and dressing him, it seems he's happy) and I thank God that my son was snowed in as at least he was safe and warm. Plus I at least made it home whereas many people didn't.

Well done if you managed to read all of that! I HATE snow. Normal service will shortly be resumed. Here's a satellite picture of the UK I found amusing.

Posted by Jess

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Doctor Zhivargo - Part Two

After struggling with most of part one before eventually losing myself towards the end of part one I ventured into Part 2 with slightly higher hopes. Unfortunately I immediately started to struggle again.

What I mainly had trouble with was the lack of dialogue and general dry prose which left me disengaged. However like part one I did find myself eventually becoming submerged in the story and the novel has got some great elements to it.

I truly loved the character of Lara and I think its because she is a more rounded character than in the film, in the book she is much more of a mother figure and is also a more resourceful and practical character as well as being the ‘love interest’. The hardships she suffers, the agony she experiences as she tries to keep her daughter safe and her sad fate I found quite heartbreaking.

I thought the novel demonstrated quite well how family and friends can suddenly become spilt and lost to each-other during wartime and how an individual can suddenly find themselves on the wrong side. Doctor Zhivargo quite often found himself talking to various characters he meets along the way, all of whom have their own tragic story to tell. These minor characters within the prose shone out for me and some of the more memorable tales and images came from these characters.

There were scenes in the novel which I truly enjoyed reading like the train scenes mentioned in Part One and the forest scenes in Part Two. I also enjoyed the scenes between Dr Zhivargo and Lara while they were at Varykino both for the atmosphere and the sudden abundance of dialogue between the pair of them. Unfortunately these wonderful scenes were inter-spaced with the rather laboured prose which at points became a chore to read and left me swinging from hating the novel to then loving it.

Reading Doctor Zhivargo has been a mixed bag for me but overall I am very glad I read it as it was worth it for the parts I loved, the character of Lara and the very moving ending. Even though the host of the read-along at Nonsuch Books did not enjoy it as much as I did, I am very glad that she hosted this and that I participated.

Posted by Jess