Wakefield, United Kingdom
I wasn’t finding this a particularly easy book to read (or at least to listen to) until I was about halfway through. Then something clicked, and I realised what it was about the writing that felt strange: there’s no plot - or should I say that the plot is so old and well known that the author doesn’t bother with it. The characters are real people from our past and their life stories are history: set in stone, in a thousand textbooks, their fates are already decided, even if it's only us - the readers - that know it. And Hilary Mantel presumes we do, and so, freed from twisting and shaping a plot, she concentrates on their language: their thoughts and inner voices; the words they might have spoken; even their body language is used to take us deep into their lives and motivations, and Hilary Mantel certainly can write. Whether it’s Thomas More intellectualising his inhumanity or a coarse fisherman going on about some prostitutes her writing is fluid and believable.
Thomas Cromwell was unknown to me before I started Wolf Hall but now I’ve got the feeling that he’s going to stay with me as one of the great (non?) fictional historical characters. (I don’t know, or really care, if this is a true portrait of Thomas Cromwell, but the author made a great decision by putting him at the heart of this pivotal moment in history.)
He’s a wonderfully complex man: his fidelity to his friends, family, masters and ideals contrasts with the ruthlessness of his politics; his drive to free England of the shackles of Rome is bizarrely made possible by the whims of his King, and he accepts this and uses it; and most of all, his comfortableness with the commoners combines beautifully with his ability to motivate and manipulate his betters.
The narrator - Simon Slater - gives every character their own distinctive voice and he adds depth, menace or lightness as needed. So, overall, not an easy read but a beautiful and worthy challenge.
As always, after finishing one of Alain de Botton's books, you look up with a fresh perspective on something that had seemed sorted and steady in your mind; the world seems to be a slightly brighter and more interesting place. Here he takes on that multi-headed behemoth, the Media, and slowly dissects it and its relationship with us so that we can better understand its motivations and faults. A very good read, though the production (the music, and the constant interruptive numbers) was slightly distracting.
This is a fantastic book that puts some much needed perspective on the Europe we find ourselves living with at the turn of the 21st century. It filled in many of the gaps that lay in my ignorance of our continent, and opened my eyes - and mind - to many things of which I simply was not aware. Evocatively written, this is historical story telling at its best, and should be read by everyone with an interest in recent history.
This is the multi-talented Mitch Benn's first novel and, as I'm already a big fan of his satirical songwriting, I was delighted - if not all that surprised - to discover that he's a published author too. And then to see that he's following in the footsteps of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett and using Science Fiction as his medium - my cup of joy did overflow!
Terra is fun and funny, with heart and depth too, but it does feel like a first novel and its simplicity is probably its weakest point: it is quite predictable. However, I can't imagine where Mr. Benn will take us next, but wherever it is, it's gonna be fun!
This is a fantastic book to read alongside 'Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth' by Reza Aslan, as they both try to humanise Jesus, and peek behind the vast mythology that has sprung up around him. Whether or not you believe he was the son of God he was, first and foremost, the son of Mary, and her loss is the greatest, and this is beautifully portrayed in this book. A great read - fantastically narrated by Meryl Streep - and I'd fully recommend it.
This is a beautifully dated science fiction horror novel. The tone, style and language - brilliantly performed by the narrator in the audiobook I listened to - is of its time, in postwar little England, and what it lacks in action and pace it more than makes up for in tension and moral exploration. A great idea, excellently crafted, and thoroughly enjoyed.
I love it when a novel takes me to a place or time that's new and unknown to me, and 'Harvest' certainly did that. The vague impressions I have of that period in British history, around 1800, when the aristocratic landowners were able to clear the common lands of the common people, in order to use the forests for the much more profitable rearing of sheep, were brought to wonderful, brutal life by the author.
What I like about this novel, though, is that there are no innocents. The village is ancient, but not venerable; it's not a bucolic paradise but a closeted little world with harsh justice and a stagnant gene pool. The indigents may be innocent of the crimes they're accused of, but they're unforgiving and vengeful in the end; and the landlord, and his people, are, for better or worse, responsible for preparing the way for the industrial revolution and our modern world ... So we're all found wanting in this tale. It's well narrated (though the narrator's idiosyncratic pronunciation of 'cloth' as 'clorth' was distracting) and I'll definitely be searching out more of Jim Crace's work.
This was a cracking good story that had me hooked straight off. Stephen King's strength, I think, is in the way he gets you into his characters' heads, and thereby letting them get into yours. (This was helped by the absolutely brilliant narration of Will Patton whose performance was a master class in voicings, dynamics and story telling.) King's a very natural writer, and his dialogue sparks with beautiful home-spun idioms which really do bring the people to life. I don't think Doctor Sleep is particularly scary, but it is dark and tense, and that'll do for me. So, overall, an extremely enjoyable book that I would recommend to anyone who - like myself - always knew there was something sinister about motor homes ...
I've never read any Austen before, but having lived in the UK now for 20 years I've kinda soaked up the period drama thang by osmosis and was pretty sure of what to expect - or so I thought ... While the plot was fairly straight forward, when it came to the characters Ms. Austen didn't shy away from baring her teeth and taking a merry bite at the crass and petty snobs that filled her society. I thoroughly enjoyed the way she took the p**s out of the families and their obsession with class and correctness, and exposed their hypocrisy - especially regarding the ethics of wealth and family honour: she did it with a keen eye and a wonderfully subtle wit. (I listened to the audiobook narrated by Juliet Stevenson, and her voicings really did help to grasp the characters' natures.) Thoroughly, and surprisingly, enjoyed!
So, who does this Jesus fella think he is? I’d never bought the whole middle-class, middle-aged, middle-of-the-road pacifist guru-magician image that was thrust down our throats at school; I couldn’t quite see how that ancient Jewish peacenik could’ve inspired billions of people across thousands of years and cultures to such heights of beauty and horror. But, the Jesus portrayed in this book is one I like! A complex and charismatic Angry Young Man filled to the brim-stone with revolutionary zeal, with a talent for whipping up a crowd with his rhetoric and sleight-of-hand - this is someone worth reading about. Picture Jesus as a Jewish Nationalist Socialist (oh, the irony …) taking on The Roman Man with his mob of illiterate, fundamentalist peasants - it’s quite an image. And then throw him into the wonderfully described world of spirits, magic, gods, and the starkly brutal and bloody politics of Imperial Rome, and you’ve got one helluva story! That that Jesus was swept aside for early Christian PR reasons is a tragedy we may never recover from ...I like and respect Jesus of Nazareth much more than Jesus the Christ, and the Son of Man has a lot more to offer us than the Son of God does. An excellent and thought-provoking book - Amen!
The Maddaddam trilogy has been one of the audiobook highlights of my year: a wonderfully imaginative production of an amazing story. This is literary science-fiction at its best, and Margaret Atwood has used beautifully drawn characters, in a scarily plausible world, to explore such themes as the birth of religion, the consequences of science and our specie's place in the biosphere. Her writing is, as ever, rich with unexpected imagery and beauty, and she's always willing to go into the darkest places of our minds. An epic creation that I would thoroughly recommend to all. Cheers!
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