Books of Late II

This post will come as a surprise to many.  Actually, only to me.  After long months of reading many books, I’ve finally decided to do another post on reviewing a few of them.  Here goes:
1. Most recent: Atonement – Ian McEwen

First and foremost, I wish I’d read this book before watching the movie.  I actually think that at the time of writing this piece, McEwen was a genius.  All the major plot twists and turns are mentioned in passing in a way that is shocking, but wildly captivating at the same time.  Damn, that it all should have been ruined by the movie starring Keira Knightley (I actually don’t think she’s that bad, could have been worse).  More than half of the book is spent setting the scene for the fateful day – therefore, more than half the book is spent detailing one day in the lives of the characters – but it’s beautiful, really, and sets the story in motion very well.  You receive a good amount of detail on each of the characters so that you know how they think, act and what their motivations are.  So nothing really comes as a shock to you.  It’s great.  I really enjoyed it, read it in less than a week (surprising, with uni) and was sad when it ended.

4/5 stars

Points of improvement: Perhaps the war scenes, that tend to go on and on and on, with trauma after trauma after trauma, so that the shock doesn’t quite register any more.  But, hey, it’s still great.

2. Before that: The Fault In Our Stars – John Green

Don’t know what I expected before diving into this book.  Something for teenagers solely perhaps (note the way I don’t even consider myself a teenager any more), another tragic cancer book, a black comedy?  But it surprised me, it really did.  And I think it shouldn’t have, because I feel I’ve read enough books to know when the plot twists are being set up.  I really should have expected, after a long stretch of happy, to come across complete disaster.  But, alas, it still surprised me.  Also, I never thought I’d come to really fall in love with a character called Augustus (it just reminds me of Augustus Gloop, you know, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), but I did.  And also, I bawled in a way that hasn’t happened since Goodnight Mr. Tom and (I’m sorry to say) My Sister’s Keeper.  Looking back on this work (finished it in three days), I still find the scenes striking and memorable.  A fantastic book.  The jokes are funny, the characters lovely, the emotional scenes desperately emotional.  The sort of cancer book when even death, that you sort of expect, sets you off balance.  Anyway, literally, I could not put it down.

5/5 stars

Points of improvement: I wouldn’t even say the name Augustus, because even that grew on me.

3. Anne Frank’s Diary – Anne Frank

I wish I hadn’t read this with the ending in mind, but inevitably, I did.  I enjoyed Anne’s little commentaries about her classes at school and the various boys that chased after her (wish I was popular with the boys at like 13!) and then I watched sadly as the family went into their little cramped existence in the Secret Annexe.  It was interesting reading something, for once, that was  never meant to become a novel or even to be read by anyone, something without a plotline that’s been thought out by someone, characters that have been drafted and re-drafted, but then again, this was someone’s life, the source of all plotlines and the purest form of plotline in existence.  Existential pondering followed.  And, of course, it was sad.  Although the diary finishes before Anne even knows she will die, her constant musings about what she will do after the war is over is tragic.  Also tragic is the way she wants freedom more than anything, the way she falls for Peter van Dam and the way she matures so much in that tiny little hovel surrounded by the same people for years.  It’s quite incredible.  Sort of uplifting, the way the family tries to keep uplifted spirits, but disheartening in the same way.  It made me think about things.

You can’t rate a book like this out of 5 stars, because inevitably it will seem disrespectful to the author if you give a critique of it, you know.

Points of improvement: see above

4. The Getting of Wisdom – Henry Handel Richardson

Picked this one up because it was one of those books sitting in my bookcase with a bookmark eternally left halfway through, never to reach the end.  So I finally read it.  Yeah, not bad.  I wanted to read it mostly for a peek into boarding school life, which it gave me.  It was very whingy, however, going on and on about this girl’s trials.  Every time something good seemed to happy, the trials would come on the double.  It never seemed to get better!  Not even, really, at the end.  Interesting, though.  Characters were okay.  I didn’t fall completely in love with the main character.  She was a bit irritating.  Probably because of all the complaining, and a bit of a bratty attitude.  And the ability to get herself into a pickle very easily.  Probably a good book for kids to read, sort of like those morality ones that are supposed to teach you about life’s lessons without life experience per se.

3/5 stars

Points of improvement: less whinging, please, and more happiness.  I don’t usually say that.

5. Wolf Totem – Jiang Rong

Had to know this was a great book when I picked it up and it said it won the Man Asian Award.  Especially because it was about 700 pages long.  So I figured that if a judge of the Man Asian Award managed to get through all 700 pages and after that found themselves duty bound to give the author a significant monetary prize, it had to be good.  And it was!  I was sceptical at first because of all the description and seeming lack of a storyline, the difficult-to-pronounce names of the characters and the sheer amount of characters.  But, over the course of those 700 pages, I found myself hooked.  It suited me very much, as a bit of a nature lover, as it described the beautiful landscape of pre-development Mongolia.  Also, those 700 pages in itself, I found, was a literary device.  The story spanned for a long time, a couple of months to a year, and described just about everything that happened.  It plunged me into the world of inner Mongolia for about six weeks, I suppose, as I wandered through the hefty volume.  And by the end of it, I couldn’t believe I’d finished it, actually read the last page, put it down, been cut out of that world.  It was sad.  Also because the ending wasn’t exactly happy.  Not terribly tragic, just sort of long-term saddening.  Anyway, fantastic thing and the scenes remain in my mind today.  Read it.

5/5 stars

Points of improvement: oh, I don’t know.

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Why Boots are the Best Invention Ever

Boots.

Boots on the tarmac,
Boots on the staircase,
Boots on loose gravel,
Baby boots.

Boots that stalk,
Boots that kick and slide,
Boots that are thrown
Into the face of the Minister for Education.

Boots that jingle,
Boots that flop,
Boots that are heavy
And have thick layers of rubber where the ground should be.

Boots that think they are boots
But actually are poor excuses for
The very fine category that is
Enclosed footwear.

Boots are boots
Are boots are
Boots are boots are

Boots.

Boots are the best invention ever.

Not Mum

An exercise we did at a writers’ group last night: write 5-10 sentences each starting with ‘your mother’ without involving any ‘ya-mum’ jokes

Your mother’s hair is longer than yours even though she is nearing that age when it shouldn’t be long at all.  Your mother eats Chinese takeaway from the place down the corner every weeknight, and ever waiter there knows her name.  Your mother never stops talking about when she went to Argentina as a young girl, even thought you’ve never found a single photo, souvenir or plane ticket that serves as evidence.  Your mother has been wearing the same handmade jumper for years, even thought the stitches are coming out and tend to catch on things.  Your mother says she was born in Oslo, even thought her birth certificate says Sydney.  Your mother says her parents are both dead, even thought an older couple rang the doorbell a couple of days ago and asked for her.  Your mother ran away.  Your mother decided Perth was a nice place to go to all of a sudden.  Your mother doesn’t call herself a mother any more.

The Run.

The Run.  Or: Two Lovers Flee In The Night From The Strange And Frightening World They Live In.

In the night we ran, we ran away fast, speeding til it hurt, the exhaust jetting out, accelerator pressed against the floor of the car.  The street lights streamed behind us through the windows, their fluorescent light burning lines onto the pages of our eyelids.  We drove so fast that no one could find us.  We drove so fast.

We sat back and we thought about the way the wind against the car sounded like a great river, or a waterfall.  And our hearts pounding staccato.  Like drums.

Beat.  I watched her and she got up and she left with me.  And I watched as her life merged seamlessly with mine.  As if the addition of fear and abnormality was easy but also meaningless.  And we didn’t talk as I drove.  Just watched the street lights as they passed.  Until there were no street lights any more.

Beat.  He said softly when I woke up.  Come Now.  It’s Time To Go.  And there weren’t any other words to describe it.  Just going.  We drove and we drove as the night deepened and we never, ever looked back.  We were strong.

Beat.  The petrol lasted the drive.  We surged out of the city and nobody saw us.  And when we reached the great dark, empty roads outside it, there were no other headlights that passed us by.  We were afraid to look back into the bright city, afraid of what we would see.  And so the cool night sped past us, chilled, frantic air between us and what we lived before now.  And we let that space become wider and wider.

And then the night began to shrink away and when the trees became visible, spiking the horizon, we stopped and we knew we were finished because the petrol tank was empty.  We left the car in the middle of the dusty, broken road.  We sat on the crisp yellow grass with our backs against the splintery bark of a tree.  We watched the night collapse into day.  Then we dug a hole underneath the grass and crawled into the warm earth to lay, like rabbits, away from the sun.  Then no one could find us, and we waited, feeling one another’s breaths on our cheekbones, for the night to come again.

We tried, but after long our tired hands curled into muddy fists and the dirt beneath our fingernails reached deep enough to hurt.  And so we stood and looked at our shallow concave of earth.  Then we sat by the roadside hand in hand, waiting for someone to come by.  We wept onto one another’s shoulders and when one seemed weak the other was always strong.  We waited there until the sun hurt our eyes and the noise of the car metal groaning in the midday sun hurt our ears.  And we could sleep in our stupor no more.

 

BELOW:  inspiration for this post was gained from about the first ten seconds of this song.  The rest is meaningless to me, but nice.