Sunday, September 18, 2011

Book Review - "Room"

I thought I had better redress the balance after my review of The Gargoyle and give an example of a book which is packed with feeling from start to finish and luckily the very next book I read was such a book.

I confess that after The Gargoyle my faith in my own ability to choose a good book had been rather damaged, so it was with a little trepidation that I began Room by Emma Donoghue.  I needn't have worried.  I read about forty pages in bed one night and then consumed the rest of the book the following day.  This is what books should be like, in my view.  I want the book to become more important than the rest of my life so that I can do nothing else until it is finished.

The first time I remember this happening very clearly was during my "A" level year, when I started reading Lord Of The Rings.  I got to a certain point in the book and realised that it was probably more productive to just abandon my studies completely until I had finished reading it than snatch hours here or there and spend the rest of the time between worrying that I wasn't studying enough and missing the book.  Since then it's been the benchmark of a really good book that it can grab me that way.

So, back to Room.  This may not be in my top ten all time books, but it's up pretty high. I remember choosing it because from the blurb, I thought it was a great "what if" plot.  I 've always been fascinated by human psychology and was looking forward to exploring the effects of an extremely unusual situation on the development of the central character, a five-year-old child.  What I wasn't expecting was to experience so much of what his mother feels as well, the more powerfully because those feelings are never described.  Through Jack's account of events we are also in touch with Ma's experience of them.  Without being over-sentimental, the story was nevertheless very moving.

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I may not write any more book reviews here.  (Feedback on whether I should would be appreciated.)  As I think I've indicated, I enjoy most books I read and as I found it much, much more difficult to write about this enjoyable book than I did about the one I hated, the omens are not good.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Book Review - "The Gargoyle"

I haven't written about books here before but I've been prompted to start because of The Gargoyle.

I don't know why I bought this book.  A couple of months ago I was buying something else on Amazon and decided to treat myself to a couple of novels.  I was thinking ahead to having some holiday time and had just paid some cheques into my account and I decided I could probably afford it so long as I got on with it and spent the money on books before I noticed it was needed for something else.  The book may have been recommended to me by a friend but I'm beginning to doubt that.  Perhaps I just liked the sound of it and it was part of a "Buy all three for a knock-down price" package.

I've been gradually getting back into reading this year.  Finding the odd time to pick up a book again.  It's part of getting back a life but it's something I've found difficulty finding time for in the last six or seven years, to be honest.  As always, reading has been more concentrated into holiday time than any other time but I've mentioned that holiday time has been rather sparse round here so reading has more or less fallen by the wayside for some years.

So then The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson fell into my lap. 

The blurb on the back uses words like "engrossing, spectacularly imaginative, extraordinary, romance".  "The pages almost turn themselves."  (What?!)  I think it's supposed, amongst other things, to be about the ultimate quality of love.  Or possibly the quality of ultimate love.

The descriptions are thorough.  Emotions of many kinds are described at great length, with detail, embellished by all the sorts of things you expect in magical realism, which should have been a warning to me as I'm not really a fan. 

I've spent the morning, the first of my holiday, finishing the book.  I always want to get to the end, to find out what's going to happen and in that respect this book was no different.  I like to tie up loose ends.  Follow the threads that start early on in the book and find out where they lead.  Well, I did that.

But I really, really disliked the book.  And this is very rare for me.  I'll read all kinds of rubbish just to find out what happens to people.

Over the past few weeks I've been wondering what it was that I was disliking but this morning it has become clear.  I didn't care about anything or anyone in the book.  I felt nothing except boredom. All that excessive description but nothing moved me.  Passion was written about but seemed to me to be entirely absent in itself.  It really felt more like an academic exercise, proof that it could be done.  I think a book should make me feel something, anything.  Writing is an art form and what's the point of any art form if it raises no reaction in the viewer?

It reminds me of a painter I knew.  He was well thought of.  Well, he was certainly well thought of by himself.  Had been to art college, studied properly and poured scorn on anyone calling themselves an artist who hadn't had that proper training.  He could execute a picture very well, no doubt about that.  When I looked at his pictures, though, I always thought, "Why?"  "What did you feel that prompted you to paint this picture?"  or even "What am I supposed to feel when I look at this picture?"

The Gargoyle is rather the same.  Yes, it's possibly clever, ties in all kinds of different layers of things which have been well researched.  It may even be well written. 

But why?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

So, what's next?

What's next?  I'm just embarking on two weeks' holiday.  I'm not going anywhere.  I'm just not going to be working. I don't think I've had a holiday for at least two years.

I would say that I can't believe we're approaching the middle of September, but of course I can.  I know some of the things I did during the summer and even during the last six weeks or so since I last wrote here.An example of which is shown above.  The vegetable plot has been a success so far this year.  This particular day (Wednesday last week) was the best crop of beans ever but there have been many good days.  If bored with beans we can eat courgettes (can't everyone!) or swede.  We had carrots when they needed thinning but I'm letting them get a bit bigger now.  Spinach looks as if it will get going soon.  Sprouts and purple sprouting plants are beginning to look established.  And finally, only a few months late, I planted out my leeks.  I've no idea if the leek moth still considers it to be summer and is therefore still on the prowl for leeks but I'm not taking chances and have covered the whole bed in agricultural fleece.  It's said to be the only way to keep the buggers off, so we'll see if it works.  I do miss a good crop of home-grown leeks.

So, that's some of what I've been doing.  I've also been making pots, getting back into dog-walking (sometimes) and better quality cooking, and working at and for Gloucestershire Arts and Crafts Centre, of which I've written previously. 

The centre has now closed at its previous location.  It's moving to a smaller and more manageable premises in a better spot for footfall, hopefully, but I am  not moving with it.  Gloucester has never been a great place to sell pottery and if I'd had my sensible head on at all I wouldn't have let myself be persuaded to join the centre at all, let alone have ended up doing as much work for it as I did.  Don't get me wrong - it was a great place and we achieved a remarkable amount there, and I'm proud to have been part of the team that did that.  But it wasn't good for me personally.  Too much work for very little reward in terms of sales. 

The best thing about being involved at the centre, though, was getting to know a whole bunch of arty people that I didn't know already.  There were some people I did know from previous connections but over the eighteen months but I also met many new friends and really enjoyed being part of a group.  I'll miss that, and that has prompted me to start a new venture ....  no, I think I'll save that for another time.

So what's next is that with the extra time I'll be gaining by not working at and for the centre, I'm determined to catch up with the backlog of pottery production.  I've also got ideas for new embroidered canvasses.  I want to start a new silk-painting project, again that will have to wait for another time before I disclose the secret.  When I've time, I've got some great ideas for a small range of table linen to complement my pottery, too.

What's that you say?  Holiday?  Not working?  Ah yes.  It's an odd feeling.

I think I'm going to like it, though.