Sunday 17 October 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Two book reviews in a row! Don't thank me yet.

Twin girls have been left a flat and a small fortune by an aunt they knew nothing about. If they wanted the fortune though they had to live in the flat for a year and their mother was not allowed to step foot into the flat. The twins immediately agreed and set off for London. As well as cultural differences (the twins were from America) they had to put up with a crazy neighbour, their aunts elusive boyfriend and their aunts ghost.

Before I tell you my thoughts on this book I feel I should set up the background of me wanting to read it. From that you will probably guess my feelings for the book but I feel the need to share anyway. Everyone, apart from possibly cavemen, will have heard of the authors first book "The Time Travellers Wife". If you haven't you will at least have heard of the film which came out a few years later. I read the book when it first came out in paperback. Round about the time it was hitting popularity. A friend recommended it to me and I enjoyed every minute of it. It was well written. It had some adventure, some mystery, a touch of romance and a touch of despair. This was one of those books I couldn't put down despite not wanting to ever reach the end. That year it was my favourite book. I raved about it everywhere (including another blog I had at the time even though I didn't usually use it for book reviews). I encouraged friends to read it and I even sent it to a friend in France who also loved it. The only person I loaned it to who didn't like it was my mum (and I was so disappointed I may have insulted her at the time but she did only read two pages before giving up). It was one of those books that I loved and felt that all my friends would enjoy it too. This is a rarity since we all have such different tastes.

You can imagine my excitement last year when this new book came out. I felt at the time that it was a long time coming. Despite that I was willing to wait. See the first book was one of those that I loved curling up with. I can't do that with a hardback. They are pretty but not the comfiest things to hold. I decided I wanted to wait until the paperback came out. Knowing that I possibly had 6 months to a year to wait until then I avoided all reviews (my book industry knowledge does come in handy sometimes). I refused to read the back. I ensured that I learned nothing from friends who had read it. I was successful. By the time it came out in paperback I still knew nothing about the book other than it was about twins. My book group decided to read it when it first came out which was my excuse for buying yet another book. Half of us had read it already and the ones that had were actually very good about it. They refused to say anything as they wanted to hear what the half who hadn't read it thought.

I thought they were being good to us but turns out we might not have read it if we had listened to their opinions. This is quite possibly one of the worst books I have ever read. It borders on the absurd but not in a good way. The good way the absurd is usually intentional (and when that happens a classic can be created). In this case it wasn't. I could rhyme off everything I hated about it but I would be hear all day so I will only go into some of it. The characters first of all. Absolutely none of them were likable. Each and everyone was self absorbed and horrible. The problem is that I don't think they were meant to be. The only character I hoped would have a good ending was the crazy neighbour and his storyline was secondary to the plot. I know some people didn't like the fact that one of the twins fell in love with the aunts boyfriend. That didn't actually bother me so much. The age difference wasn't that bad and she never knew the aunt. What did bother me was that she dressed in her dead aunts clothes to go on their first date. No one in the book seemed to think there was anything disturbing about that. Then there was the plot so that one of the twins could gain independence from the other who was too controlling. In the normal world she would have waited out the last 6 months, taken her half of the money and then went on her merry way. Not quiet good enough for this book. No instead she faked her own death, which involved the mortuary agreeing to fake the embalming, only to have her body stolen by her aunt who turned out to be her mother. If that wasn't ridiculous enough the boyfriend knows what happened and isn't happy. He still runs off with the body stealing aunt and gets her pregnant. After setting up house and she then has the baby he decides he can't stand what she has done and does a runner. Since he knew about it from the start surely he wouldn't have run off with her in the first place!

As you can tell I was overwhelmingly disappointed with the book. I can't believe that this was the same author. There was actually a bidding war for publishing rights and a movie deal has been signed. I have also since learned that the reviews were all good and yet vague. It's almost as if no one can quite believe how bad the book actually is. I actually wanted to toss the book across the room after I finished. Thankfully I am not alone in this feeling. I have come across just one person who liked it. A friend returned her book straight to the store and the rest of us palmed our copies off to second hand book stores. There is no way I would pass it on to a friend. I like my friends too much. Sadly lots of people are going to buy the book. After the success of the first it's no surprise and the book was number one in the charts for a long time. I have learned my lesson however. I won't say I will never read a book by this author again as I still say the first one was good. I will be more cautious. There will be no more expectations of greatness. I will also probably just borrow a copy from the library rather than hand money undeservingly over to the publisher (authors generally make peanuts).

Saturday 16 October 2010

The Innocent by Ian McEwan

Yes, gasp in horror! After a month of all quiet I have another book review. That doesn't mean I have stopped reading. It has just taken me that long to write these. I now have a back list.

Leonard has moved away from home for the first time. He is excited and proud to be learning to live for himself. He is also going to be starting a new job as part of a surveillance team. A young and innocent Brit in the city of Berlin just after WWII. Culturally out of his comfort zone and away from his friends and family. Yet his (author would probably say innocence but I would say arrogance) doesn't let this enter his head. His innocence of other cultures and social and work situations get him into a bit of bother now and then. Nothing series other than a sharp reprimand from his only friend and boss. His ignorance of these things though mean he doesn't understand he has done anything wrong but instead feels hurt or angry. He also falls in love for the first time and once again his lack of knowledge gets him into a bit of bother. One horrible night though everything goes wrong and any innocence he had is stripped away. The events instead threaten not only his future but the future of the British-American surveillance team.

About a year ago now (possibly more than that) I finally got round to watching the film "Atonement". I had heard nothing but praise for the film. Whilst it didn't seem like my kind of thing the praise meant that I was curious (took a long time in curing that curiosity). I loved it! I don't mind admitting that I shed a tear or two and from then on was a fan of James McAvoy. By the following weekend I had also read the book and thoroughly enjoyed it. I found myself riveted to the war scenes which is also very unlike me (I skipped them when reading War and Peace). At the time I decided I would have to give his other books a try. To be honest that really doesn't mean much. I say that about a lot of new authors I try. I have good intentions but am always distracted by other books. There are too many new ones catching my eye so that I never get round to reading other authors back lists.

However, a while back I was at a second hand book sale. This one was still there by near the end and I felt I should take it home with me since out of most of the other book there this was actually a good author. I started it that weekend although the blurb at the back didn't really appeal to me. Once again I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Especially since I didn't find the main character in any way likable even taking his innocence and naivety into consideration. Despite the era it was set in I felt at the age of 25 he should know better and that even then there was no excuse for some of his actions (one in particular involving his girlfriend). There was, however, something endearing about him. I think I could relate to some of his social awkwardness although not his response to it. In the end I wanted everything to turn out for him. I kept this hope as I read desperately to the end. The ending wasn't quite the one I had hoped for but I think it was better for it.

As a result I have added Ian McEwan to my list of favourite authors. I have no doubts that I will read his back list. I have even looked up some of his other titles and they all look very good. I have added "Saturday" to my 'to read' list. I think what made me so cautious of this author is my friends reaction to him. People I would expect to like him and that I have shared tastes with didn't. It made me a little wary about trying others even though I loved Atonement. Not so wary now though.