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

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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

So How Are You Connected to the Author?

Have you ever turned up and just known you have over-sold yourself to get there? Moz does.

Person: So how are you connected with the author?

Damn, I hadn’t actually prepared for that question. In fact, I hadn’t given much thought to the fact that people would ask about me at the book launch of Alan Hollinghurst: Writing Under the Influence. Thus I spent the first twenty minutes (read: first glass of wine) feeling quite the fraud: A supposed book blogger at the launch of a book about an author I’d never so much as heard of. Journalistic integrity, catholic guilt, and that glass of wine obliged me to profess my ignorance to anyone who happened to drift onto the subject. To my utter shame.

Thankfully, my partner came to the rescue by having actually read at least one of Hollinghust’s works and being able to discuss it with those who asked. As you can see in the featured image we were at a book launch of an academic review of Alan Hollinghurst’s work thus far, which I’m genuinely shocked I haven’t read as is he an incredibly acclaimed author worldwide, having once been compared to Oscar Wilde (and indeed outmatching Wilde in a review by Nicholson Baker for the London Review of Books).

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The launch was held in the intimate setting of Gay’s the Word (previously mentioned here) where there was a warm welcome and a glass (or two) of wine for everyone, including this interloper. We moved ourselves toward the back of the shop where there seemed to be an opening in the crowd and found ourselves not only next to the soapbox for the introductions but also in conversation with one of the contributors to the book being launched. By the way, I hear chapter six is among the most interesting in Writing Under the Influence.

img-20161009-wa0000.jpgThe editors, Michelle Mendelssohn and Dennis Flannery, spoke eloquently yet briefly about how they had come by the idea for writing this book on the work of Hollinghurst. I believe there was come serendipitous cliff-side yoga poses and a whole lot of magic. Then the man himself took to the stage, or rather the mic, to say a word of thanks for the honour of the praise they have offered. Hollinghurst was modest and charming in his short speech but also while mingling with those at the launch even agreeing to sign a copy of his book for his newest fan. Although some cheeky fan did grab him right as he was about to leave and ask for an autograph and a photo (see left) to which he had a witty retort but agreed to with a smile nonetheless.

The venue lent itself to the occasion with ease. Being the number one place for Lesbian and Gay literature of all varieties, there was a distinct atmosphere of inclusion allowing even the uninitiated a chance to mingle with the aspiring writers and big fans alike. Jim, the owner of Gay’s the Word poured wine and sold books, all the while laughing and joking with his customers. Dennis and Michelle, the editors, rubbed shoulders, told jokes and made everyone they spoke to laugh with advice for how to best utilise signed copies of Writing Under the Influence. In all, I was delighted to have been there to meet Alan Hollinghurst et al. and have set about finding his novels (of which, a list can be found here). Let’s hope I’ll be asked back for another launch when his next novel emerges next summer.

-Moz

London’s Literary Locs Vol. 1

Want to feel the literary history and spend as little as possible, while avoiding the crowded tourist traps? Moz’s big day walking the bookshops of London Town has you covered.

Apologies for the long break, it’s been a hectic week, and my portable dongle ran out of internet before Sky have managed to hook me up. It seems the elders of the internet do not know who I am. Luckily my local library has internet access so I’ve managed to find a (free) haven to post from. In reviewing news, I do have a review of The Secret Scripture to come but thought seeing as you’ve waited 8 years since the book’s release you’ll wait a little long to hear what it is I think.

So, as the better half had an interview in central London yesterday afternoon I decided to get up and out and do some touring of my own. Due to my cash strapped nature I avoided the tourist spots of Platform 9 3/4, Baker St., and anything else that charges entry opting instead for the peace of looking in second hand book stores. Keep reading if you want to see great spots for reading/buying  books while avoiding crowds.

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This guy just hangs around outside the British Library.

Starting from King’s Cross underground station, the first stop had to be The British Library. Follow the signs for The British Library from the station, it shouldn’t take long to find the library, and once there you can see the massive collection of tomes available.

After breathing enough of that beautiful library smell and seeing the free exhibits, the other half and I headed to buy some of the titles coming up in the book club we are part of. Taking the Euston Road exit from the library we took a right along Euston Rd. then crossed the road and headed down Marchmont St. to Judd’s Books. Judd’s is a charming shop filled with hundreds and thousands of secondhand copies, downstairs in the old cellar there were even more than we had time to see as we were running along to try and fit in as many shops as possible on our tour. Continue reading “London’s Literary Locs Vol. 1”