Book Review: Judith by Lawrence Durrell

Judith by Lawrence DurrellI wrote a review a little while back on My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell: an autobiographical account of the author’s unorthodox childhood in Corfu.  I liked the book very much and enjoyed getting to know Durrell’s pets, neighbours and eccentric family members.

Judith is written by Gerald Durrell’s older brother Lawrence.  Lawrence Durrell is in fact much better-known as a writer, having published a huge range of work including novels, travel writings, poetry and plays throughout his long literary career; I just happened to chance across Gerald’s work first.  I’m glad I did, actually, as I felt as though I had already got to know Judith’s author to some degree.  I was pleased to find that the same type of humour and clever character sketches which made me warm to My Family and Other Animals were also present in this novel, even though this is a very different kind of book.

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Book Review: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Catch 22 by Joseph HellerThis book has quite the reputation.  It’s one which everyone says you “must” read, and the phrase “Catch-22” is instantly understood all these years after being written.  It was published in 1961 and follows the fate of a group of American soldiers based in Pianosa, an imaginary Mediterranean island, during the Second World War.

From the legend created around this book, I was led to expect a bizarre story filled with post-war satire; a clever observational comedy aided by the luxury of hindsight.  While in theory this sounded right up my street (i.e. history mixed with humour and an element of the surreal), any book which is this hyped-up always fills me with a dread of feeling let down, so I was a little reluctant to start reading it.

Luckily, this particular modern classic delivers.  The characters’ frustration at the illogical decisions and the incompetence of those in charge, plus the skilful wordplay between Yossarian and his friends, cleverly gained my sympathy and made me snigger – out loud in a couple of places.

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Book Review: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara KingsolverThe Poisonwood Bible struck me as a strange but intriguing novel.  Beginning in the late 1950s, the Price family are uprooted from their comfortable home in America to live in the Belgian Congo.  Nathan, the father, is a missionary full of dangerously religious zeal, intent on converting everyone he meets to Christianity.  His is the dominant personality in the first half of the novel, and yet it is his wife and four daughters who are the narrators, alternating throughout.  In this way we see the consequences of Nathan Price’s overbearing personality through the eyes of the ones who suffer from it most.

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Book review: Not So Stupid! by Malorie Blackman

“The Devil seethed with fury; to be summoned in this way was galling but he had no choice.  The Book of Old had been found and the invocation spell had been executed correctly.

‘Your wish?’ he roared.

Mrs Engell, who stood before him, did not flinch.  The sight and sound and smell of the Devil was nothing compared to what she had been through in the last twenty-three years of marriage …”

(From ‘Detail’)

As a child and then as a teenager I read a lot of books by Malorie Blackman and enjoyed them all.  Her stories are exciting, her characters are genuine, and I always felt that her writing voice was speaking to me as to another adult, rather than talking down to a child.

This collection of short stories is one which will never leave my book shelf.  I’ve re-read them many times and they never get dull.  The first story – ‘Skin Tones’ – begins as an imagining of life after death in a sort of hate-filled Purgatory, and the second –‘Dad, Can I Come Home?’ – is set at the end of a futuristic outer-space war, so you quickly become accustomed to expecting the unexpected and opening your mind to the increasingly inventive stories thrown your way.

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Book Review: The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel“The naked child ran out of the hide-covered lean-to towards the rocky beach at the bend in the small river.  It didn’t occur to her to look back.  Nothing in her experience ever gave her reason to doubt the shelter and those within it would be there when she returned…”

So begins the first in the Earth’s Children® series of seven novels.  It’s been a bestselling series, but somehow I’ve only discovered it just prior to the release of the final instalment in March 2011.  I was intrigued by the prehistoric setting (I lap up historical novels like whipped cream) and I wanted to know more.

I can’t bear to start a series in the middle, never mind the end, so I decided to try the first book, first published in 1980.  The novel is about a Neanderthal tribe which takes in an orphaned child.  The child is not of their clan; she’s not even of their race.  Ayla is one of the Others, and she is tall, blonde and blue-eyed, standing out from everyone around her and deemed ugly next to their short, dark and hairy bodies.  Her personality is also vastly different from theirs: she shocks them by wanting to hunt with the men, talking too much and being able to count.  Luckily she is keen to learn their ways, and so step by step we and Ayla are initiated into the clan’s way of life.

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Book Review: The Temptation of Jack Orkney: Collected Stories Volume 2 by Doris Lessing

The Temptation of Jack Orkney by Doris Lessing“Her name was Hetty, and she was born with the twentieth century.  She was seventy when she died of cold and malnutrition…. Her four children were now middle-aged, with grown children.  Of these descendants one daughter sent her Christmas cards, but otherwise she did not exist for them.  For they were all respectable people, with homes and good jobs and cars.  And Hetty was not respectable.  She had always been a bit strange, these people said, when mentioning her at all.”

‘An Old Woman and her Cat’

I always find it’s more of a challenge to discuss short story collections than a full novel.  There’s a lot more to talk about, but inevitably you’ll like some more than others – do you rate a collection on its average content or on the merits of your favourite, or even least favourite?

There were a few stories in this collection, such as ‘An Old Woman and her Cat’ and ‘The Thoughts of a Near-Human’, which I loved and which touched me.  ‘An Old Woman and her Cat’ is, in essence, about the homelessness and loneliness of an old lady abandoned by society.  ‘The Thoughts of a Near-Human’ is narrated by a Yeti-like creature who is fascinated by the human inhabitants of a remote village and attempts to make contact with them, with tragic consequences.  Both stories appealed to me because they delve deep into an exploration of human nature and society’s pack-like rejection of the abnormal.

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Review: Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

 

            “To tell the truth, I do not know this thing called ‘mind’, what it does or how to use it.  It is only a word I have heard.”

“The mind is nothing you use,” I say.  “The mind is just there.  It is like the wind.  You simply feel its movements.”

Murakami’s surreal imaginings deservedly earn him an international following.  He possesses the skill of making even his most fantastical ideas seem familiar: in Hard-boiled Wonderland we delve into an underground tunnel hidden in an office-block closet and discover mythical golden beasts, yet we don’t even flinch.

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