Sunday, 29 April 2012

Lady Chatterley's Lover - DH Lawrence

Well... that was interesting!  When returning my last book to the library I decided to seek out another based on a list of classics I had taken with me.  Only, none of those books were available so I found myself walking up and down aimlessly, until I sat down for a moment and looked up to see DH Lawrence books on the shelf immediately in front of me.  And seeing as I am trying to widen my reading habits this seemed as good a time as any to read something a bit more controversial.

Lady Chatterley's Lover is one of those books that I'd heard of (I imagine most people have) but actually had no idea what it was about.  But I decided to read it with an open mind, and taking for granted the fact that 'classics' usually take me longer to get into.  Actually, as it turned out, the writing style is really easygoing most of the time, and so I found myself drawn in quicker than some of the fantasy books I've read lately.

The story is based in the heart of industrial England, during the years following the second world war.  After a varied, and somewhat wild, childhood, Constance Chatterley finds herself living in a manor house in the middle of nowhere, with very few people to talk to other than her husband, who was paralysed from the waist down during the war.

There's no dodging the fact that this is a controversial book - there's a reason it was banned for so long.  And the fact that the mentions of sex started on the third page told me that the reputation was probably well-earned.  Many of the 'encounters' throughout the story are described in explicit detail.  What seems most strange when reading isn't the language or description used, it's remembering that it was written by a man in the 1920s.  If Cosmopolitan magazine published similar descriptions these days then people would hardly bat an eyelid.

For me, though, the story isn't one that should be judged on those details.  If you take that out of the equation you are left with a story of loneliness, of struggling to cope when things turn for the worse, and of love.  There is a theme running throughout of what love is, what it truly means to say you love someone.  And there's very much the idea of having to choose between doing your duty and staying true to yourself.

All this is set against the backdrop of changes to the industrial world.  I actually found it quite interesting reading about the coal mines, although I found it harder to concentrate on the descriptions of the towns than of the people.  Mind you, even that didn't compare to trying to keep reading through Mrs Bolton's gossip, which at one point stretched to three pages.  I have to admit that I did not read every word so carefully that chapter.

Speaking of chapters, the sections in this book are quite long.  I nearly overran my lunchbreak by mistake one day as I was halfway through a 38 page chapter.  Getting over my hatred of stopping reading mid chapter had to happen quite swiftly at that stage.

Overall I enjoyed Lady Chatterley's Lover.  Partially, I think, because it didn't hold back.  There's something refreshing about saying things as they are.  Reading some of the dialect was difficult at times (I found sounding the words out in my head first helped a lot) but that added to the ambiance.  Reading Connie's journey from contentment to loneliness to despair to hope and finally to love made me think a lot.  And in my view, a book that makes you think has to be a good thing.

Monday, 23 April 2012

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd - Agatha Christie

Despite having many books of my own that I have yet to read, and even more on my list to read again, I decided to borrow a book from the library.  After reading my last book I was in the mood for something a little smaller but that would still get me thinking, and Agatha Christie seemed to fit the bill.  When I mentioned to some friends a while ago that I was reading several Poirot books, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was recommended to me as one of the best.

The story is based in a sleepy English village and, like most sleepy English villages in books, there is a collection of strange characters with complicated lives and plenty to hide.  Given the title, it probably doesn't give too much away to say that the victim this time is a Mr Ackroyd.  After his murder a moustached Belgian detective is found to be taking it easy in the village, and so the classic grey cells of Monsieur Poirot get to work.

I always enjoy the fact that Poirot takes seemingly unconnected events and pieces them together in a jigsaw that to most would be like a baked beans impossipuzzle.  As the plot evolves you are introduced to more and more of the characters' secrets and the events that surrounded the murder, but are never quite given enough information to get the full picture.

The recommendation was, in my eyes, correct.  The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was really, really good. I could probably say it's the best one I've read so far, but actually my favourite Poirot books are all so different that it's hard to compare them.

It's fair to say that I was completely in the dark about who did it.  In fact I didn't have a clue who to suspect in the slightest until two paragraphs before it was explicitly stated (thankfully I did at least work it out to be the right person at that stage!).  The fact that I've been really tired for the last few days may have contributed to my lack of clue, but mostly I think it was the wonderful way in which the story was crafted.

If you haven't read any Poirot books before then I'd recommend reading one or two of the earlier ones before you read this, just to get your eye in really.  But once you have got your head into the world of Hercule Poirot then this is really one you HAVE to read.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Voice of the Gods - Trudi Canavan

After getting completely addicted to the second book in the trilogy it was never going to be long before I bought and read the third and final Age of the Five book.  It didn't disappoint.  Once again I found myself completely immersed in its world and wrapped up in the lives of the characters.  I was itching to get through the day just so that I could go home and read more of the lives of the Circlians, the Pentadrians and, perhaps most of all, the Wilds.

Voice of the Gods sees the power of the world is balanced so finely that the smallest thing could be enough to bring about another war between the Circlians and the Pentadrians.  Much of the plot is focussed on the two sides making stands and solidifying their battlelines (metaphorical or otherwise).  Interesting as that was, my favourite parts were (clearly!) the journeys the characters took of self-discovery and self-development.

As with the second book, it is Auraya that faces the biggest decisions and has the potential to change the most.  But the difference she makes to those around her isn't small either.  There aren't many characters that end the trilogy feeling the same way they did at the start (if any at all).  There is a strong theme of identity and staying true to who you are, but perhaps more importantly a theme of finding out who you really are.

Did I enjoy the book?  I think that's a pretty obvious yes.  I was so disappointed to get to the last few chapters and realise that I would have to leave the world behind.  But the ending was great and felt in fitting with the trilogy as a whole.  And the fact that I read the last page (before the epilogue) at pretty much snails' pace is a testament to how much I didn't want it to be over.

I really liked the little touches, such as Mischief playing some important roles in the final build-up and the dream-link conversations that are shared just to keep contact.  The ever-changing chemistry between characters is what I'll miss the most.  Although the world is quite well developed in terms of description it's not something I ever 'pictured' as such.  But maybe next time I'll pick up on it more.  Because while my 'to read' list is still expanding, I think I'll sneak this trilogy back in there again before too long.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Last Continent - Terry Pratchett

G'Day.  For the last week or so I've been a bit busier than normal, and so it's been handy to read a book I could dip in and out of.  I find Discworld books particularly useful for this because of their lack of chapters - which, weirdly, increases the number of places it feels appropriate to stop reading.

Having read Jingo at an earlier point, The Last Continent was next on my list of Discworld books to read.  This book features Rincewind and the (other) wizards on a trip to sunnier climes.  Far too sunny as it turns out, but that's another matter.  The theme for the story is all things Australian, with the usual mix of very obvious comparisons and several more subtle references.

I enjoyed this book more than I expected to, I admit.  The wizards tend to annoy me after a while and switching to a Rincewind plot doesn't always ease it off.  And at points it did seem to be dragging its heels more than making interesting diversions.  But I really liked some of the ideas involved, like the building of an extra continent at the last minute.  The evolution god amused me as well.

Despite annoying me, I did like reading about the wizards, particularly their reactions in a foreign environment and seeing which relationships stayed the same and which differed.  I always find it amusing to read about wizards who experience a lot of magic but actually use very little of it themselves.

One warning I should give to anyone who hasn't read this yet is that you may pick up some of the constantly-used language.  Thankfully it's not too out of place, as I think I said "no worries" to every person I spoke to on the phone at work today!

The final thing I should mention is the final thing mentioned in the book.  In fact it is talked about in the last 3 paragraphs.  It's one of my favourite sensations.  And if that doesn't make you at least look at the last page of the book, I don't know what will!