Goodbye Christopher Robin by Ann Thwaite review

Hi everyone! Today I am reviewing Goodbye Christopher Robin by Ann Thwaite, an abridged text taken from Thwaite’s 1990 biography of A.A Milne. In this new edition, there is a lovely introduction by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, one of the screenwriters of the recently released film of the same name, as well as a new preface by Thwaite herself.

Goodbye Christopher Robin begins in 1919 when A.A Milne is having success as a playwright, with his shows being performed up and down the country and in the States. His only child, Christopher Robin, was born in the following year and would obviously become the inspiration for his father’s most famous stories. The reader follows A.A Milne as he starts to write his children’s books, beginning with When We Were Very Young to The House at Pooh Corner and his subsequent refusal to write anymore. We also witness how Christopher and his toys influence his father’s writing, leading to the creation of Winnie-the-Pooh.

To be truthful I knew very little about A.A Milne. I obviously knew Winnie-the-Pooh (I may or may not still have a cereal bowl with his face on it), and I knew he had written a detective novel but that was it. I don’t think that affected my enjoyment of the book. Thwaite does a great job of clearly explaining events as well as Milne’s work. She goes into a lot of detail and you really gain a great understanding of the Milnes and what they went through during this period. While I do now want to pick up his poetry, it isn’t necessary beforehand. I didn’t feel I lost anything by reading the book first.

I also really liked how Thwaite added various sources into the text. We read snippets of both Milnes’ autobiographies, numerous letters and interviews, and critics’ opinions, both recent and contemporaries of Milne. I found these parts particularly fascinating, especially reading about the relationship between father and son, with both of them giving their views on the subject and not always agreeing with one another. Those moments felt quite poignant, and made the disintegration of their relationship later on seem tragic. I’m not sure if they ever, or if they could, communicate with each other well, which I found in turns both frustrating and saddening.

The inclusion of the critics I found interesting as well. They stop the book from being a by-the-numbers biography where we merely follow Milne’s life. You are given an insight into how his works were perceived. Whilst his four children’s books were generally well received there were some detractors, most notably Dorothy Parker. I enjoyed reading about the books in a critical context, seeing how they fitted into the literary scene of the period. The addition of more modern critics helped to emphasise the enduring legacy of Winnie-the-Pooh, and how people can read and interpret those stories in many ways decades after they were first written.

I really enjoyed Goodbye Christopher Robin. Like I said I really want to read some of Milne’s work now, and Thwaite’s full biography as we focus mainly on the Twenties here. She writes so clearly and eloquently that I think anyone, whether you’re a massive fan of Milne or a complete novice, can understand and gain something from it. The inclusion of various voices such as the Milnes themselves or critics helped to invoke the events Thwaite describes. I haven’t yet seen the film though I’m planning to, but if it’s as good as this book I’m sure I’ll enjoy it immensely.

Have you seen the film and what did you think of it? Or do you have any recommendations on where to start with Milne? Let me know in the comments!

Goodbye Christopher Robin is published by Pan Books and more information can be found here.

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Poets, Artists, Lovers by Mira Tudor review

Hi everyone! Today I will be reviewing Poets, Artists, Lovers by Mira Tudor. The novel is set in Romania in the nineties and early noughties, and follows a group of friends who are all artistic in some way. We have Henriette who is a sculptor caught between two men, her sister Alice, a writer with an interest in art history, Ela, a piano teacher turned book reviewer, and translator Anca. The group often meet up at monthly parties hosted by Pamfil, a violinist with a passion for sixties music who is a suitor to Henriette. As the novel progresses we watch the four women attempt to create art while navigating their relationships.

I liked the friendships depicted between the four main characters. In a lot of fiction I’ve read which features female friendships their conversations are dominated by men. They aren’t given much else to talk about. In Poets, Artists, Lovers we have a lovely mixture of topics. Yes, there is some talk about boyfriends, but the characters also talk about trivial things (gaining weight) and broach more serious subjects like art and philosophy. I felt that gave them more of a personality and you were able to care for them. In particular I liked the friendship between Henriette and Alice. They each had their own distinct voice which I liked, and I always enjoyed reading their debates, especially as one is an artist and the other studied art. You were given different perspectives on the same subject. I’m interested in art though know little about it so I found the facts Alice mentioned fascinating, and liked how Tudor got into the mindset of an artist trying to create work.

The one aspect of the novel I’m unsure of is the relationship between Henriette and Haralambie. I was never sure why they were together, or how they got together in the first place. That aspect felt underdeveloped, especially compared to the relationship between Henriette and Pamfil. As a result, I didn’t quite see the struggle she had deciding between the two men (though admittedly I was pleasantly surprised by her decision). I would’ve liked to have seen more of Haralambie and maybe then her dilemma would have been clearer. There were also two spelling mistakes but they weren’t frequent enough to ruin my enjoyment or pull me out of the book.

Overall I really enjoyed Poets, Artists, Lovers. I felt the friendships depicted were very realistic and my favourite parts were when they got together. The fact that the acronym for the title is PAL pretty much sums it up. If you are a massive fan of art you’ll find plenty to enjoy as the discussions about the art world are interesting, or if you’re a bit of an amateur (like me) you might learn something new. While there were a couple of flaws they didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story and Mira Tudor seems a very promising author.

 Poets, Artists, Lovers is available on Kindle here.

Book was sent for review by author.

First Love by Gwendoline Riley review

Hi everyone! Today I’m reviewing Gwendoline Riley’s First Love, which was shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize earlier this year. Our narrator is Neve, a thirty five year old living in London with her husband Edwyn, who is much older than her and has various ailments. Told mainly through flashbacks, Neve looks back and reflects on her life, particularly her relationships with her abusive father and eccentric mother. She also remembers her romantic relationships as well and discusses her marriage which is fraught with arguments. However is Neve a reliable narrator?

I thought Riley’s prose was very beautiful. Her imagery was incredibly evocative, and whether the story was set in London or Manchester or Glasgow, you felt like you were there with Neve. Her observations about people as well I thought were witty and made me smile which, giving how grim a lot of this book is, was quite a relief. They rang true to me and I liked having them dotted throughout.

However, I did have a problem with First Love. I felt it needed to be longer. My edition clocks in at 167 pages and I felt it could’ve done with another 100. One of the aspects that was affected by the length was the characterisation. Now, I think Neve was wonderfully drawn. It was interesting to watch how these previous relationships were affecting how she acted in her marriage, whether consciously or not. I also liked how initially she seemed quite passive, yet she had this small spark inside of her that allowed her to stand up for herself at times. She wasn’t just a doormat. I also enjoyed reading about her mother and their relationship. Her mother often appeared both funny and tragic – her attempts to integrate herself with a particular crowd was amusing but also strangely depressing. The conversations where Neve is trying in vain to get her mother to see sense are my favourite passages from the book.

However, I thought Edwyn was quite one-note. Neve tells us next to nothing about him, we don’t hear how they met or what their relationship was like before she moved in with him. Subsequently, I couldn’t see why she loved him and wanted to be with him. I found him to be very manipulative and antagonistic – whatever Neve said seemed to set him off onto a rant. At one point he threatens suicide and suggests Neve would be delighted at that, which I found really disgusting and childish. There was nothing appealing about him. Perhaps if we were given more insight into Edwyn I would have felt different, or I could see why Neve did care for him. Instead his character fell flat for me. I didn’t care about his illnesses or their marriage – I found his constant arguing boring.

There was also the interesting idea of expectations in relationships. What happens if your expectations differ from your partners? How do you reach a compromise, or do you compromise at all? I felt these were touched upon but never fully explored. Again I think the book was too short to properly get a full discussion on them, which is a pity because I found these questions fascinating. Riley has crammed a lot into the novel, but I think some of the characters and ideas in First Love have suffered because of the length.

Overall I did like First Love and I would happily read more of Riley’s work. As I said, I think she has beautiful prose and I enjoyed reading about Neve. Yet I felt the book had problems, between underdeveloped characters and half-baked ideas. I just wanted more from it. If you’re a fan of Riley, or are really interested in this type of story then I think you’ll enjoy it. But sadly I won’t be in a rush to pick this one up again soon.

First Love is published by Granta Books and you can find more information here.

Solar Bones by Mike McCormack review

Hi! Today I’m back with another review and this time it is for the Man Booker longlisted Solar Bones by Mike McCormack. Set just outside Louisville in County Mayo, Ireland, the novel takes place over the course of an hour, with our narrator Marcus Conway sitting in his kitchen reflecting on his life. In particular, he remembers his relationships with his father, his wife Mairead and their two children Agnes, an artist living in the city, and Darragh, who is currently in Australia on a round-the-world trip. Marcus also discusses his career as an engineer as well as touching on Irish events and politics.

Before I started reading Solar Bones I felt quite apprehensive about it. The novel is told in a single sentence with the narrative non-linear. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to understand it or that the structure would be pretentious or gimmicky. My fears were totally unfounded. On the contrary, I found this technique to be a really effective way of telling the story. It felt like a man reflecting on his life, nothing premeditated or omitted, just a natural flow of thought. McCormack was able to write how a person thinks, with all the little asides and jumps to different memories which we all do, which I was impressed by as I imagine that can be quite difficult. After about 10 pages or so I forgot that it was a single sentence and became really engaged with the story.

The use of a single sentence to tell the story also reflects the imagery recurring in the novel. Early on Marcus recalls a time he returned home from school to find out his father has disassembled the tractor. He remarks how something so solid can come apart so easily and begins to look at another examples of this. However by reflecting on his past, Marcus is essentially doing what his father did. He is taking something substantial – life itself – and is breaking it down to this random collection of memories which on their own seem insignificant. And in a way, McCormack has done the same with the novel, having stripped it down to its bare bones, the narrative. The idea of something being strong and solid, yet ultimately fragile, appears throughout the novel and is reflected in how McCormack wrote it.

The character of Marcus I also found to be engaging. In many ways he is just an ‘ordinary’ man – nice house, good job, family etc. Yet I never found him dull, he is a very well-rounded character. He uses very dry humour at various points, which I enjoyed as it helped to create a contrast between the sadder moments in the story. His exasperation at his son Darragh was particularly funny as well as tender, and their conversations were the highlights of the novel for me. Yet there are times when I didn’t like Marcus. Sometimes his actions or words were horrible and I found myself questioning why I had liked him previously. Yet when the novel was finished, I found myself reflecting on his character the most. Looking back, I liked that Marcus was a flawed character, it made him feel realistic and made me want to read more.

Overall I really enjoyed Solar Bones, and I’m disappointed it didn’t make the shortlist. I found the characters to be very engaging and I really cared for them at the end. Despite my trepidation at the beginning, I found this book really readable, with the stream of consciousness prose helping you get under the skin of Marcus and seeing the world from his perspective. Whilst it may not be as action-packed as maybe some other books I’ve read, I definitely didn’t feel bored reading this. As cheesy as it sounds, the book made me appreciate the smaller things in life which we sometimes take for granted. Solar Bones is a fascinating study of one man’s life, set against the backdrop of contemporary Ireland, and I highly recommend it.

Solar Bones is published by Canongate and you can find more info here.

Literary Dundee Launch Party

Hi everyone! Today is a different post for me (the reviews will be back early next week) and it might be a bit short but I thought, since it is book related, some people might be interested.

I was kindly invited to the Literary Dundee Launch Party last night (13th September) by the lovely organiser Peggy Hughes. Literary Dundee is a book festival which takes place in Dundee, Scotland each year, and the dates for 2017 are the 18th to the 22nd October. I have been to a couple of festival events previously and really enjoyed them, (their discussion on First World War poet Joseph Lee was amazing) so between my nice experiences there and my general love of books, I was excited to see who would be featured this year.

The Launch Party was at Waterstone’s, the main bookshop in Dundee. The upstairs area is a cafe where the staff had arranged free tea/coffee and cake to help us through the evening. Some of the authors who would be appearing this year also turned up, so it was lovely to meet them and be able to put faces to names.

Launch Party
The amazing front cover design of the programme.

I was really nervous at first. I had never been to a Launch Party before, didn’t know anyone who was going, and was generally terrified of making a fool out of myself (a skill I have mastered over the years). But my unease was completely unjustified. Everyone was really nice and friendly – and turns out I did meet someone I knew so I didn’t feel like the total interloper I was.

Peggy also made a small speech about the upcoming festival. It was clear that she is so passionate about books and the festival you couldn’t help but get excited. The excitement was quite infectious, you could feel people becoming more and more anxious for October to roll around and Literary Dundee to begin. An event she mentioned which caught my eye, featured three contributors to the Nasty Women anthology who were going to be having a discussion about their work. Nasty Women is a collection of essays by various people discussing what life is like as a woman in the 21st century. I have heard nothing but good things about this anthology and I will hopefully be able to check it out sometime.

Launch Party
Just some of the people invited – and my first attempt at a panoramic shot!

Overall I had a really nice evening and I shall leave a link to Literary Dundee down below for you to check out the lineup. But last night got me wondering:

What is your favourite book festival? Have you been to one recently and what did you think? I’m curious about other festivals, especially ones I’ve never heard of before. And I may or may not snoop at the lineup to see if I can find new, interesting authors to check out. Because I act like a fool on the Internet as well as in real life apparently.

The lineup for Literary Dundee 2017 can be found here.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry review

Hi everyone! Today I’m going to review Sebastian Barry’s Man Booker long listed novel, Days Without End. Our narrator is Thomas McNulty, an Irish emigrant who comes to America via Canada in search for a new life. He meets John Cole and they quickly become lovers. The novel follows the men from their days working as dancers in a mining community, to their time as soldiers in the Indian wars and subsequently the American Civil War.

Days Without End was a very visceral read for me. Barry’s prose is very beautiful and lyrical, and I was rereading several passages just because of how stunning they were. It seems odd talking about how beautiful the language is given how violent the battle scenes are. Barry really captures the sights and smells of war that there were times when I had to look away. My stomach churned a little at some of the more graphic moments as his word choice was so vivid.The long sentences with no pauses also helps to place you in the heat of the action. There is no rest, a lot of action is happening at once, and you just keep going without really thinking about it. It is only after the battle is finished do both McNulty and the reader become more contemplative and reflect on what they have witnessed. I really liked Barry’s use of language, both to describe the heat of battle and also the aftermath. It places you amongst the soldiers and you really feel for them.

I also liked the character of McNulty. I thought he had a very distinctive voice which Barry kept up throughout the novel. He is a man who has been through a lot of trauma and yet still has this amazing thirst for life. His love for John Cole is also really beautiful and the adoration he has for his partner seems to radiate from the pages. My only criticism is sometimes I think he appears quite detached. For example, we might be told a fellow soldier is a friend to McNulty and Cole. That soldier would then die in battle and he is merely brushed off. McNulty would simply say the soldier died and moves on. It felt really cold and unbelievable at times. I would of thought McNulty would have been affected by the death of a fellow soldier, especially one he considered a friend. Also McNulty is the narrator so we obviously see everything from his perspective, but I still would’ve liked to see more of John Cole. I think he was a very interesting character and I think he could of been fleshed out a little bit more.

Overall I really enjoyed Days Without End, and think it is very easy to see why it made the longlist. It is a very beautiful novel with some of the best prose I’ve read this year. The novel tackles some big themes including gender, sexuality and war but it never feels muddled. Barry weaves these into the narrative with considerable ease which I admired. There are some criticisms regarding characterisation, but reflecting back on the story, they seem quite minor compared to the wealth of positive attributes in the novel. This is my first novel by Barry and I can’t wait to pick up another of his works.

Days Without End is published by Faber & Faber. Click here for more information.

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy review

Hi everyone! I am back with another review and this time it is the first of Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, All the Pretty Horses. In the novel we follow John Grady Cole, a 17 year old who lives on his grandfather’s ranch in Texas and is passionate about horses. His parents are divorced, and when his grandfather dies his mother decides to sell the ranch, as it is losing money and she wants to start a career as an actress elsewhere. Dismayed by this, Cole and his friend Lacey Rawlins saddle up their horses and head to Mexico to seek a new life. Along the way they meet a third boy, Jimmy Blevins, who joins them on their adventure in a foreign land.

That is all I shall regarding plot as there are so many twists and turns. At times I thought I knew the direction the plot was heading in, but then suddenly McCarthy would go completely off-piste and I would be unsure again. That sense of unknowing, the feeling of anything could happen, really added to the atmosphere of the novel. You share this feeling with the characters as they traverse new landscapes and encounter the people who live there. The shared state of unknowing helped to create sympathy towards them and their plight.

The relationships between the three main characters were also beautifully drawn. Each had their own distinct personality which really shone through, and allowed McCarthy to create some interesting dynamics which were fascinating to read. In particular, the friendship between Cole and Rawlins was the most touching. Their dry humour manages to alleviate some of tension you feel as the story develops, but it never feels inappropriate or out of place. I think the humour is a bit of a relief, just a moment to pause before you dived back into the drama. Also, sometimes they don’t necessarily mention their individual plans to each other but the other one always knows what’s happening. I really liked that as I felt that made their friendship realistic, and I appreciated that McCarthy didn’t spell out the plot via characters. You were able to watch the story unfold more organically in a way. I also liked how the boys’ passing from childhood into adulthood, and that loss of innocence, was reflected in the changing way of life particularly the ranch closing down. It reminded me of the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, that passing from the Old West into a more modern world.

However, the thing I enjoyed most about All the Pretty Horses was McCarthy’s writing. It was simply stunning. He effortlessly writes detailed, beautiful passages about the landscape (I really want to visit Mexico now!) and manages to juxtapose them with sudden bursts of violence or drama successfully. The beauty of the landscape, compared to the harsh realities the characters were facing, made the novel really enjoyable and kept me wanting to read on. The dialogue, which flits between English and Spanish, also helps to highlight the difficulties Cole, Rawlins and Blevins faced. There are very few English translations of the Spanish so, as a non-Spanish speaker, it added to my not knowing what was coming next. The lack of translations was really effective in that regard. And the final image of the novel is perhaps the best I’ve read in recent years.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, action-packed novel this isn’t for you. In fact, if I had to nitpick, I would say the first third of the novel was a little bit too long as it dragged in some places. But if you like a great plot with plenty of surprises, amazing character development and stunning prose, you should definitely pick up All the Pretty Horses. This is definitely  my favourite McCarthy novel and I can’t wait to read the rest of the trilogy.

All the Pretty Horses is published by Picador. Click here for more information. 

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler review

Warning: review contains spoilers  

Hi everyone! This is my review for Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler which is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series. For those who might be unfamiliar with the series, various authors have been given different Shakespeare plays to adapt into modern retellings. As I’m a massive fan of Shakespeare, and obviously write a book blog, I thought I would read and review them all in between the other reviews. Some have already been released while there are plenty more in the pipeline, so if you’ve already read one or are really excited about a particular adaptation, drop me a comment as I’d love to hear your thoughts.

And now on to the review! Vinegar Girl has set the action of The Taming of the Shrew in Baltimore, with the novel following Kate Battista, a 29 year old pre-school assistant who lives with her autoimmune professor father Louis and teenage sister Bunny. Juggling her job plus household duties, Kate is unfulfilled with life. However it is all about to change, as her father arranges for her to meet his lab partner Pyotr. His visa is set to expire soon, and with her father’s work nearing a significant breakthrough and Kate’s lack of romantic options, she is faced with a bizarre proposition; will she marry Pyotr so he can remain in the country?

I will be honest, The Taming of the Shrew is not one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. But it is a damn sight better than Vinegar Girl. My biggest gripe is with the characters. I was shocked to learn that Kate was 29. From the way she was portrayed I had assumed late teens/early twenties. She seemed very stroppy and sullen throughout, not one ounce of wit compared to her Shakespearean counterpart. There were one or two moments of vulnerability from her, but not enough for me to actually feel sorry for her plight. Kate just seemed like a teen going through a ‘I hate everyone/everything’ phase. The fact she had that attitude but also did nothing to change her circumstances, really irked me. I think this total lack of initiative also made the fact she was a grown woman unbelievable. She has a job, if she doesn’t like having to live with her family, she could surely afford to move out?!

The other characters do not fare much better. Louis Battista is the stereotypical ‘mad scientist’, putting his work before everything, including his daughters. Bunny comes across again as the stereotypical ‘blonde bimbo’, although to be fair to Tyler she breaks out of this later in the novel (I’ll mention why later). The biggest victim to the stereotype is Pyotr. Although it is never explicitly said, it is alluded to that he is Russian. At first I was interested. There could be the possibility of a culture clash, something I hadn’t seen in versions of Taming. This could bring something new to the story. No. I was wrong. Instead most of the jokes seemed to revolve around his accent, his forgotten or mispronounced words being a recurring gag. It was a cheap laugh that I didn’t find funny, just lazy. I was disappointed in Tyler as I think she is very talented and she could have come up with much better, nuanced portrayals than these.

But (if you want to avoid spoilers you might want to stop here) when I got to the second half of the book, my disappointed increased tenfold. My main problem with Taming is the portrayal of women, especially Kate after she marries Petruchio and he basically abuses her into submission. I know this is me reading an Elizabethan play from a modern perspective, and I know I probably shouldn’t do that, but I still find it uncomfortable. So when Pyotr started to show signs of being emotionally abusive, I was curious as to how Tyler would handle this aspect of the story. How would Kate react? Her wishes are ignored, he constantly demeans her (another gag of his is to constantly refer to her as a ‘girl’ and she corrects him) and at one point openly yells at her like she was a badly behaved dog. What would she do?

Nothing. She does nothing and seems to ignore his actions. Bunny, who is the only character who seems to notice the abuse, even tells Kate that Pyotr broke into their neighbours’ house and assaulted Bunny’s boyfriend. He confirms this, suggesting that the man deserved it. Kate not only seemed totally fine with her partner committing battery, but even defends his actions. I was stunned. Here was someone who was verbally and physically abusive, yet was being portrayed as the romantic hero. The ‘happy’ ending made me incredibly angry. Maybe if Tyler wanted to highlight abuse and explore why people stay in harmful relationships via this adaptation I would not have a problem. But given that quotes on my edition’s cover includes ‘her funniest book to date’, ‘delightful’ and ‘beautiful’ I don’t think that was what she was intending.

Yes there were moments where I smiled to myself, particularly the scenes set in the pre-school. However there was nowhere near enough of those moments for me. Combined with lazy stereotypes and the glossing over of abuse, sadly I cannot recommend Vinegar Girl. Kiss me, Kate? No thank you.

If you would like more information, you can find Penguin’s website here.  

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters review

Hi everyone! Today I’m posting my review of Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger. I read about an upcoming film adaptation and thought the plot sounded interesting, so I figured I’d read the book before the movie comes out. Set in post-war, rural Warwickshire, our narrator is Dr Faraday who is called one day to Hundreds Hall to tend to a poorly maid. The Hall, once famous in the area for its grandeur, has fallen into a state of disrepair despite the efforts of its owners, the elderly Mrs Ayres and her children Caroline and Roderick. As the relationship between Faraday and the family develops, increasingly spooky and sinister happenings begin to occur at Hundreds Hall. Faraday attempts to provide rational answers to these events but the question remains – is the Hall haunted?

One of the things I really enjoyed about the novel was the blending of genres. In parts it was a psychological thriller, a ghost story, a (sort of) romance and a social commentary on the class system in Britain during this period. I think in another writer’s hands it could have been very muddled, but Waters weaves all these elements together beautifully. You could have a very tender or light-hearted scene then suddenly something horrible occurs. That contrast really makes the violence and destruction in those moments more vivid and memorable. It also helped to create a feeling of unease. You were never entirely sure what was happening, which is exactly how the characters feel. Waters made it very easy to empathise with them as you were experiencing similar emotions as they were.

Speaking of characters, I think Faraday is brilliantly portrayed. He is possibly my favourite character of 2017 so far. In a way I don’t want to talk about him too much for fear of spoilers, but I feel compelled to. His character development is so subtle and so wonderfully executed. He starts off as this very practical, logical man, an outsider to Hundreds Hall who has rational answers to the supposedly supernatural events. You feel drawn to him, because he is able to provide solutions so he alleviates some of the unease. You also learn a lot about his background which helps to make him relatable. Yet as the story progresses he becomes much more ambiguous. Several times I found myself asking, what is his actual motivation? Is he hiding something? Is he going mad? He becomes such an unreliable narrator that you never sure that what he is saying is correct. It feels like he sort of lures you in with this facade at the beginning, yet as the novel goes on it is like his mask is slipping, showing you his true self. I think Waters subtle portrayal of this was exceptional.

The Ayres family are also beautifully drawn. They felt like fully fleshed characters and didn’t slip into stereotype. I really felt for their plight as they attempt to salvage their home, despite knowing their actions are fruitless. In particular I really liked the character of Caroline. At times she seems a very confident young woman, very sure of herself and what she wanted out of life, yet Waters also lets us see her vulnerability. While I may not necessarily agreed with all the choices Caroline made, I understood the reasons behind them and still sympathised with her. Also her relationship with her brother is very sweet. You can tell that the relationship between Caroline and Roderick, despite all that happens in the story, is very loving and caring. It makes a nice change from Faraday who is a bit of a loner.

I loved The Little Stranger (if it wasn’t obvious from this review!) The characters are so well developed that you really care for them and can’t stop thinking about them after putting the book down. The slow build of suspense and mystery as well made it hard to stop reading. Waters does a brilliant job of building that tension, every act of violence being more shocking than the last, as well as juggling the character development. I don’t really want to say anymore, because I can imagine you’re probably sick of me banging on about this book and I think it’s better going into this story not knowing a lot about it. Go read and enjoy! Just maybe have a light on when you do…

The Little Stranger is published by Virago. For more information click here: https://www.sarahwaters.com/books/the-little-stranger/

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood review

Hey! I thought I’d post another review today since I just recently finished Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Between the book and the current TV series I imagine a lot of you already know the plot so I will try and keep the summary brief. The novel is set in a dystopian future where we follow Offred, the eponymous Handmaid. Handmaids are a group of women whose sole purpose is to breed, and they are passed on from family to family in the hope they will have a child. During the novel Offred is placed in the house of the nameless Commander, his wife Serena Joy, their ‘Marthas’ (housekeepers) and chauffeur Nick. Whilst we learn of Offred’s current predicament we also see flashbacks to her previous life, and the changes from our society to this new one.

After hearing so many people rave about both the book and the show I had to pick it up. I found the concept really interesting, particularly after reading Naomi Alderman’s The Power. I think both authors dealt with similar themes very well, in particular I liked how they both used the symbolism of the female body to highlight gender inequality. In Alderman’s novel the bodies of the women empower them, while in The Handmaid’s Tale the female body is used as a means of subjugation. Offred and other Handmaids are reduced to mere bodies, and Atwood uses the word ‘vessel’ which sums it up perfectly. It was interesting to compare and contrast the two novels, especially as they have those similar themes.

But (and I feel really bad writing this) The Handmaid’s Tale didn’t live up to the hype. It has a lot of aspects that I usually like in a novel; slow build up, ambiguous characters, an unreliable narrator and all set in a dystopian world. Yet I struggled to get through it, especially the first half of the novel. I couldn’t connect to Offred at all. I never saw much in the way of character development- she was either quietly rebellious or really passive, almost accepting her fate. She didn’t seem to grow in the story, and remained flitting between the two emotions throughout the plot. I also found some of the secondary characters to be quite one-note. Serena Joy seemed like such a stereotype, the jealous wife who hates the ‘other woman’. That seemed to be her main function in the story and I wished Atwood had given her more depth. I understand Offred is our narrator so we see everything through her, but I just feel more could’ve been done with Serena. Similarly, I wasn’t keen on the portrayal of Nick. I never understood Offred’s fascination with him as he seemed bland to me, and he ultimately appeared more like a plot device than an actual character. It felt like he was there because he had to be there. The only characters I was actually interested in was the Commander and Moira, Offred’s friend, probably because they were allowed to develop. I enjoyed not knowing exactly how I felt about them, and how I thought I understood them, then Atwood would add a new development or twist and I would be unsure again.

While I would’ve liked more character development, I really didn’t need the ‘Historical Notes’ at the end. That section felt unnecessary, I felt we were being told a summary of what we had already read. It was quite condescending and gimmicky. Overall I was disappointed with The Handmaid’s Tale. Perhaps if I had ignored all the hype and went into it not knowing anything about it, I might have enjoyed it more. Certainly, as I said, it contained many ideas and narratives that I normally like. Instead the word ‘dreary’ springs to mind, in both plot and execution. However, I know I’m in the minority as I know plenty of people who like this book so maybe I missed something.

The Handmaid’s Tale is published by Penguin. For more info: https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/1032806/the-handmaid-s-tale/