September Books List

Sunday 29 September 2013

A round up of the books I read last month:-

(1) Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
Mystery/Crime Fiction Thriller - "The year is 1954. U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels and his new partner have come to Shutter Island, home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, to investigate the disappearance of a patient.  However, no one who visits Shutter Island leaves unscathed, because nothing at Ashecliffe Hospital is remotely what it seems."
I really wish I'd read this before I saw the movie.  The plots twists and turns are very clever and well thought out, coupled with intelligent prose that immediately elevated it above most mainstream thrillers that I've read in the past. It constantly keeps you guessing, but you do need to immerse yourself into the story to fully appreciate it, otherwise you may find yourself getting a bit lost along the way.  Shutter Island evokes all the very best parts of what I love about classic, dark psychological thrillers, and it was a hard book to put down.  [4/5]  

(2) Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Romantic Literary Classic - "Weaned on sentimental novels, Emma Bovary longs for a life of luxury and high romance.  She is married to a kind but mediocre country doctor and is plagued by expectations of something more, some more intense experience, some wider horizon if she could only find it."

Oh Madame Bovary.  I read this with a Feminist Book Group and truth be told, the majority of participants (including myself) ripped it to shreds.  The main issue discussed was obviously Emma Bovary herself and why she was hailed as such a strong female character when she's anything but.  Seriously, she has to be one of the most annoying characters ever to be created in literature!  Dubbed as the original 'Desperate Housewife', Emma spends her days wishing she could be anyone else but herself, and pines away in a state of misery and boredom.  I understand that you should always read an old classic from the POV of the times in which it was written, but honestly, I could not like or enjoy Madame Bovary at all.  Just not my cup of tea!  [1/5]

(3) The Coma by Alex Garland
Contemporary Mystery - "After being attacked on the Underground, Carl awakens from a coma to a life that seems strange and unfamiliar.  He arrives at his friends' house without knowing how he got there.  Nor do they.  So begins a psychological adventure that stretches the boundaries of consciousness."

This was a strange novella.  It follows a man called Carl who is attacked by a group of men one night on the London Underground.  This episode of violence puts him straight into a coma and when he awakes, he appears to be in a static 'dreamland' as he tries to regain his memory and identity.  Starts off promising, but the story just loses track of itself and tries to be a lot cleverer than what it actually is. I did like the black and white woodcut prints that accompany the writing though as they made the story feel more eery.  [2/5]   

(4) The Plague by Albert Camus
Philosophical/Political Literary Classic - "A gripping tale of unrelieved horror, of survival and resilience, and of the ways in which humankind confronts death.  The Plague gradually becomes a omnipresent reality, obliterating all traces of the past and driving its victims to almost unearthly extremes of suffering, madness, and compassion."

I have a penchant for seriously depressing reads, and the revered Camus classic, The Plague, has got to be in the top 10 depressing reads of all time.  The story centers itself on a small Algerian town, whose residents begin to see dead rats appearing in their streets, in their hallways and on their doorsteps.  So ensues a horrific bubonic plague which is told in a way that's used to describe the real life suffering of French people under Nazi occupation in WW2.  The comparisons are frankly chilling.  As the town is quarantined and forced to face the consequences of what's happening around them, the depressing facts of life rise quickly to the surface.  The Plague makes you immediately question what you think about death and war, as well as basic human behaviour in a way which really opens up your mind.  [4/5]  

(5) The Contortionist's Handbook by Craig Clevenger 
Contemporary - "John Vincent Dolan is a talented young forger with a proclivity for mathematics and drug addiction. In the face of his impending institutionalization, he continually reinvents himself to escape the legal and mental health authorities to save himself from a life of incarceration."

The Contortionist's Handbook is one of those books that just hooks you in from the very beginning and carries you on a weird and wonderful journey.  The protagonist, John, is a typical down and out type from an outsider's point of view.  He's someone you're naturally wired to hate, but through his charisma and intelligence, you just can't help but love him. The phrase 'own worst enemy' immediately springs to mind.  John's a master forger who can perfectly fake just about anything, which comes in handy for his other past time of being a drug addict (thinly veiled under the guise of someone who experiences 'godsplitting' headaches and then self-medicates to the point of regular overdose).  Due to his appreciation for narcotics, he finds himself in and out of hospitals and uses his talented skills to knock up a brand new identity for himself each time to prevent the men in white coats trying to lock him up.

It's a perfectly scripted piece of escapism as you constantly wonder if the authorities will ever catch up with John (or whatever his name is that week).  While the ending was a little weak IMO, the intelligent, witty prose and clever one liners completely won me over throughout.  [5/5]

What have you been reading recently?
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  1. Loved this! I just finished Madame Bovary too this month- I'm surprised you didn't like but I can see how she was annoying. I'll have to check out the other books. x


    1. I think it's because I had a lot of trouble trying to understand her behaviour and the writing sort of grated on me too much. Just wasn't my thing xx

  2. I read The Plague in high school and loved it. I should probably read it again. I need to pick up Shutter Island, since I loved the movie--wish I had read the book before I watched it, but oh well.

    1. Yeah it's always a little strange reading a book when you've already seen the film / know the story! That said, Shutter Island is so much better than the movie IMO so I think you'd love it :)

      Happy to hear you loved The Plague too! x

  3. I haven't seen Shutter Island yet, so glad I can read the book first without any spoilers to compare it to! Love your monthly round up of reviews, always so concise and intelligently put :)

    Nell @ &NellWrites

    1. That's always the best way! Thank you Nell :)


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