Finding Lines of Beauty in Hollinghurst

I must say some of the ideas posed by Gerald Fedden, the pompous, patriarchal MP who takes our protagonist Nick in, are as hilarious as they are eerily imaginable. Yah.

38b33f0e511e840310e1e9a46a1dce2cTitle: The Line of Beauty
Author: Alan Hollinghurst
Available: Now (Amazon , The Book Depository)
Moz’s Rating: 4/5*

 

 

 

 


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Perhaps he only ran away from the sheen of sweat on my forehead.

About  four months ago, I had the great pleasure of meeting a complete stranger who had as little a clue who I was as I did he. That stranger turned out to be the much (much, much, much) acclaimed Alan Hollinghurst. He also turned out to be leaving so our actual encounter was incredibly brief, details of which can be found here.

Having owned up to the shame of turning up to lauch of a book about an author knowing literally nothing about him, I resolved to educate myself on the work of the eponymous author. My partner ensured I made good on this by buying me a copy of The Line of Beauty for Christmas. As usual, I’m way behind the crowd on this one, but the political satire of this treatise in hedonism and conservatism certainly hasn’t expired in the interim.

Continue reading “Finding Lines of Beauty in Hollinghurst”

Review: A Man Called Ove

Please just let Ove succeed in the next chapter, I prayed every night as I cracked the spine of my Kindle.

a-man-called-ove-9781476738024_hrTitle: A Man Called Ove
Author: Fredrik Backman
Available: Now (Amazon, BookDepository)
Moz Rating: 3/5


Ove wants to kill himself. That’s pretty apparent from the first page, what was less apparent was how much I would also want Ove to kill himself by halfway through.

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The Sellout

Beatty isn’t writing to give us a belly laugh, but instead to call out our prejudices however ‘well-intended’ they may be.

Title: The Sellout
Author: Paul Beatty
Pages: 306
Rating: 4/5


In the Man Booker Winner of this year, Beatty tackled one of the largest issues in the US of A over the last five (hundred) years and undoubtedly many, many years to come, race relations.

Page after page of this biting satire is jam packed with that word white people just can’t say yet still find oddly titillating (probably because we know that word is no longer for us), and shrewd jarring comments on today’s society both black and white. That is not to say though, that it’s inaccessible or heavy. It’s hilarious, in the sick way that the rest of 2016 has been.

Beginning in a courtroom, like all stories of landmark race relations novels, the story focuses on Mr. Me (an African-American urban farmer who grows not just the juiciest watermelons but some of the sweetest ghetto philosophy) as he battles the law with sidebars from his history and evidence floating through the protagonist’s mind. One of my favourite axioms came in this early supreme court scene when Me served us a slice of his sweet sweet philosophy on Abe Lincoln: ” Would he read the paper and see that the Union he saved was now a dysfunctional plutocracy, that the people he freed were now slaves to rhythm, rap, and predatory lending, and that today his skill set would be better suited to the basketball court than the White House?”. Running with this notion, Beatty uses Me to explore the racism of modern day USA which comes down to the African Americans from all sides, including their own.

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Review: Paulina & Fran

“She wanted to be her, or be with her, or destroy her” – Paulina & Fran

I received a lovely copy of Rachel B. Glaser’s “Paulina & Fran” from Granta Books in exchange for an unbiased review. I was unfamiliar with the book but the cover really drew me in (I’m a sucker for a funky cover) and I was very excited to give it a read. The results were…a bit of a mixed bag.

paulina-and-fran-book-coverThe book centres around the larger than life character of Paulina and her trials and tribulations as she bluffs her way through art school, determined to create as much chaos and adventure as possible to facilitate her dreams of living her glamorous life to its fullest. She feels she is too good for the hipster circles in which she finds herself and longs to realise a greater calling – as soon as she discovers what that is. Along the way she meets Fran, a quiet but intoxicating presence in Paulina’s life and they quickly form a close bond. The book follows the girls as their friendship deepens and struggles through the trials and tribulations graduation and harsh life realities throw their way.

I definitely enjoyed this book overall. Glaser’s breezy yet sardonic prose suits the story and the world these characters inhibit. She takes an environment that can seem so vapid and ridiculous and makes you care for characters that, if you met them in reality (and sadly reader, I absolutely have) you would cross the room, road and potentially state lines to avoid. However the book is far more than a particularly drawn out and tedious episode of “Skins”. I found her depiction of the girls’ lives post-university incredibly affecting. Fran’s floundering in comparison to her friends’ perceived success really rang true and I found myself all-to-easily relating to the panic and confusion of exiting the college bubble. Glaser handles this deftly and I definitely found it novel come into its own in its second half.

All this said it is difficult to get past the irritating character of Paulina. I have, in the past, been criticised by friends for needing my protagonists to be likable but I take umbrage at this accusation. I certainly don’t need to “like” my protagonists; however I do ask that they don’t enrage me and make me roll my eyes so much as to cause self-induced headaches. Perhaps it comes from mingling in college circles that featured individuals like Paulina – individuals that elicited sighs and more eye-rolling from this ever-so-cynical Die. There were moments where Glaser allowed glimpses of Paulina’s uncertainty and vulnerability to shine through and these were highlights for me, however they were not plentiful enough to allow me to reassess her overall. Unfortunately I felt the novel needed you to buy into and root for Paulina to be an out-and-out success and alas, I just could not bring myself to care that much.

Overall “Paulina & Fran” is short but enjoyable with enough glimpses of brilliance and curly hair commentary to look forward to future works by this author

TL;DR: Some lovely human moments with annoying human characters. Lots of hair and dancing – 3.5/5

– Die

Cover Image via favim.com. Novel Image is Die’s own

Grief is the Thing with Feathers

Like the crow of Porter’s novel, I am also often drawn to the pain of my fellow man and so I couldn’t resist plucking this from Die’s outstretched hands.

I will not cry on the tube.
I will not cry on the tube.
I will try to not cry on the tube.
I will not cry often on the tube.

I have cried on the tube.

Max Porter’s tender, true-to-life first novel, Grief is the Thing with Feathers, made me the man in the verse above. Right from the beginning I knew this wasn’t even close to anything on my shelf. The story begins with feathers on the pillow of the Boys and slowly unfurls around them and their Dad in the wake of Mum’s death.

We guessed
and understood that this was a new life
and Dad was a different type of Dad now
and we were different boys, we were brave
new boys without a Mum.

Continue reading “Grief is the Thing with Feathers”

Review: A Little Life

“Wasn’t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely?” – A Little Life

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I started Hanya Yanagihara’s “A Little Life” just over a month ago and finished it within the last few days. I went into this book completely blind. I was aware that it had won many awards and was highly acclaimed, and I knew this must have been enough for me to add it to my Goodreads “To Read” list many months ago. I take my Goodreads “To Read” list incredibly seriously and as one book is cleared I move on to the next one on the list, often forgetting what it was that piqued my interest enough to add it in the first place.

And thus it was with A Little Life. I downloaded it onto my Kindle (so I did not even have the benefit of a blurb for guidance) and just started reading. When I had started it, Moz (of this parish) asked me what I was reading and, upon hearing my answer, took a sharp intake of breath and said “jesus, isn’t that supposed to be awfully grim?” Grim, I asked him? But this just seems to be a lovely coming-of-age story of four college student friends? What could be so grim? But then I read on. And then, the tears came.

The premise of the book is, on the surface, incredibly simple. We follow the lives of Jude, Willem, Malcolm and JB as they navigate college and life beyond it. Their friendship faces much upheaval, so much coming from the childhood trauma of Jude, their mysterious friend about whom they know so little. To say any more than this would do the reader a disservice as, I believe, the less you know the better.

I could imagine there are many reasons why someone could be put off reading this book – the length (another thing I was unaware of when I started – I really need to do more research before starting books!), the heavy subject matter, the cover (more on that later) – but I cannot stress enough how much I would recommend it to anyone. The writing is stunning, both simplistic and gut-wrenching. There are many areas where it would have been so easy for the book to go wrong: the unbelievable success of all of the characters (Jude is not just a lawyer, he’s one of the best in New York! Willem isn’t just an actor, he’s a superstar!), the enormous wealth they go on to enjoy, the upper class, hipster circles of which they are part, the almost overwhelming sadness that pervades the characters’ lives. However Yanagihara is such a skilled author and writes with such beauty that you just believe it and what’s more you want to believe it and get swept up in it and be left utterly broken but completely satisfied by the time you turn the last page.

The book is not without faults. While Yanagihara navigates the above issues deftly they cannot be completely ignored either. The character of Malcolm could have done with a bit more fleshing out as he becomes an increasingly more periphery figure as the novel progresses. And, while it may not have affected me when reading on the Kindle, I cannot stand the cover of the book. For me it does not accurately represent this novel and feeds into the “grim” perception that unfortunately does not do this novel justice – personal preference of course, but irritating nonetheless.

It is difficult to really delve into the many reasons I loved this book without giving away too much of the story which, as I mention above, would be an incredible shame. Suffice to say I loved every page of it. I laughed out loud (albeit infrequently) and wept uncontrollably (sadly, not-so-infrequently) and finished the book truly feeling I had finished something the like of which I had not read in a very long time and would not see again for perhaps longer. Truly a phenomenal book that I simply cannot recommend enough.

 

TL;DR – 5/5: An easy read despite its length that will make you feel emotions and cry many tears. An absolute must-read

Review: The Secret Scripture

As The Guardian’s Joseph O’Connor pointed out way back in 2008, when the novel was released originally, the Barry writes like some heavenly blend of dramatist and poet. The beauty of the prose in this novel was nothing short of astounding adding further to the acerbic political and social observations of Barry which are also strongly stated throughout the piece.

Title: The Secret Scripture
Author: Sebastian Barry
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Available: Available now from your local bookshop


Sebastian Barry, it seems, has dedicated himself to telling the story of the Ireland we don’t talk about. The rough and ready, fierce and fearsome. By all accounts Ireland has a rocky history. From prehistoric violence of the Celts, and the raiders from elsewhere, right up until modern times with the blood-soaked revolution and “Troubles” of Northern Ireland, we’ve had our fair share of fighting. However, this macabre history seems to have left behind a country willing to fight for what it wants (some of the time) and yet able to forgive those who have committed wrongs against us (as with the fighting, some of the time). In his novel, The Secret Scripture, Barry delves into the shortcomings of one of Ireland’s most notorious institutions, the mental health service, with the backdrop of the civic strife of war both within and without the borders.

women-1421096_960_720This dichotomy of fighter and forgiver is reflected in the main characters, Roseanne McNulty and Dr. Grene. Roseanne, a veritably ancient lady at over 100 years old, has been committed to the “lunatic asylum” where she resides under the somewhat distracted eye of Dr. Grene, a psychiatrist from England, taken up residence in Roscommon. Rose’s sojourn in the asylum has left her disconnected from the outside world, however, in the beginning it is not quite revealed why it is Roseanne is so hopelessly alone, instantly drawing us in with the tantalizing mystery surrounding the woman writing to us so frankly in her diary. This technique is definitely used to the fullest by Barry to show us the Roseanne, in spite of being wronged by so many in her life, holds no grudges against these people.

 

Contrasting this, Dr. Grene intermingles the story of his scornful wife in his record of the hospital (his commonplace book) which very rapidly loses the guise of professional record-keeping and becomes a personal therapy of sorts. I don’t want to spoil anything here, so I’ll not say much more on that. Dr. Grene also gives the insight into the closure of the old facility and allows the readers a glimpse of what was going on in the background of the “present day” of when Roseanne is writing her chronicle. It is through this commonplace book that we learn about the others in the hospital who are all under assessment by Dr. Grene to see if they should be “released” from the asylum or moved to the new facility.These people are often described as not actually requiring mental health care per se but rather were committed at a time when that was what people did with inconvenient relatives or those with undiagnosable conditions. As such the tough decision falls on Dr. Grene to keep them “locked up” or send them into “exile” in Grene’s own words. Through this work Grene becomes obsessed with this old woman who seems so banal in every way besides her extreme age, Roseanne.

I found the way Barry intertwined the two characters’ lives to be nothing short of masterful, each has echoes of the other’s at different times, for example Roseanne’s father has a funny anecdote of an “Indian angel” who defied death in a motorcycle crash. This idea of an Indian guardian comes up later in the doctor’s own history as his job was bequeathed to him by an Indian doctor of vague acquaintance. This kind of recurrence of events is common in novels and often becomes trite and nauseating, especially in a book of just over 300 pages. However, Barry manages to avoid cliché just enough with these overlaps. Although perhaps not later on in the novel. This technique is again used as our characters’ lives are reflecting the Ireland in which they are describing, with Roseanne’s tumultuous story in the 20s and 30s being just as violent as the Ireland at the time; Grene’s Ireland is likewise filled with internal struggle, but not always of a violent nature.

As The Guardian’s Joseph O’Connor pointed out way back in 2008, when the novel was released originally, the Barry writes like some heavenly blend of dramatist and poet. The beauty of the prose in this novel was nothing short of astounding adding further to the acerbic political and social observations of Barry which are also strongly stated throughout the piece. “Women were wiser and went off to America and England double-quick, before their boots were sunk and stuck for good in the mire of Ireland” is but one statement revealing the backdrop of the 20s-30s, 40s, and even 50s in the novel that is charged with social commentary. Should you read this book and I do HIGHLY recommend you do, I’m sure far more will jump out at you, particularly anyone who has lived in Ireland or in fact any country in which the rights of women and the mentally ill are particularly strained (AKA every country ever).

However, going back to the cliché mentioned earlier, I’m sure you haven’t let that one slide readers, don’t worry neither have I. There were some stunning descriptions of Ireland in the novel, of places I’ve been and could picture just as described giving me goosebumps while reading, but there were also others which left me cold and surprised that Barry left them in. Perhaps others would call these the “Yeatsian” references, Yeats himself being from Sligo this is probably on purpose and my brow is simply not high enough to appreciate them. Furthering this literary cliché the story did decline towards the last 20 pages and I found my eyes rolling more than once as I finished the novel. But no more on that as I did just highly recommend it to you!

TL;DR: GREAT book, wonderful prose, a touching story. 4/5*

-Moz