A round-up of the books that I read last month:-
Contemporary / Satire: "In denial about his breakup with his girlfriend and baffled by the triviality of his life, Martin gossips online at his desk and makes plans for the weekend until people start flying airliners into office buildings in New York City."
Eleven is a story set on 9/11, and is compiled as a series of e-mails throughout the day. Our protagonist is Martin Davies, a guy who is desperately stuck in a rut in his boring, pointless, corporate job, and who longs to be an author in control of his own life but doesn't know how to make it happen. Like anyone who has ever been trapped in the mundane hell of an office job that they don't like, Martin takes out his frustrations and boredom in a series of e-mails that he sends to his work colleagues and friends, and the constant replies that he receives back makes up this short and snappy novella.
As the day progresses, 9/11 finally happens and the conversation of the emails (most about unrequited love, break ups, drunken exploits, office politics and bad management etc) takes on a somewhat different tone, or does it? Eleven makes you stop and think for just a moment about how short and precious life is, and whether you want to spend it working in a job that you hate or whether it's time to go out there and do something different. It'll appeal to anyone who loved The Office, and movies like Office Space, as it has a very similar kind of satirical theme. [4/5]
(2) The Age Of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Classics / Literature: "The return of the beautiful Countess Olenska into the conventional society of New York sends reverberations throughout the upper reaches of society. What will Newland do?"
The Age Of Innocence is a classic that I missed out on reading in English Lit classes as the new Head of English decided to pull it from the lesson plan, and later raved about how much he despised reading it himself as a teenager. I vowed to read it as an adult just to annoy him, and here we are, a decade or so later.
Wharton's classic transports the reader into late 19th century New York and throws us into this splendidly elaborate secretive society of the upper classes. There are rules upon rules to learn, as one has to behave in exactly a certain way, or face being exiled socially into the middle classes forever. Wharton goes into great detail to describe this hidden sect with its archaic traditions and belief systems, and paints a picture of a tiny class of people who appear to have everything (wealth, beauty, power), yet it's all built on a delicate platform that could come crashing down around them, by their own doing, at any minute.
To illustrate this, the story revolves mainly around Newland, a successful lawyer, and his upcoming marriage to May, a beautiful yet quiet young woman. Newland is the heir to a highly privileged New York family and the marriage has been arranged to further strengthen this bond, yet Newland's eyes begin to wander when he meets May's cousin, the Countess Ellen. Ellen's appearance in their lives tempts serious scandal and with so many reputations at stake, a suffocating struggle of maintaining the status quo or abandoning age-old traditions ensues. It's a sad tale of forbidden love and the social and cultural ties that can drive people away from what they really want, and truly brings to mind that old chestnut of money not always bringing you happiness. [3/5]
(3) Rage And Reason by Michael Tobias
Contemporary / Political Thriller: "An outraged ex-Special Forces veteran turns to violent retribution in defence of the earth and its fauna".
Rage and Reason is a book that will undoubtedly divide people who are compassionate about animal rights as it takes the path to violent revenge over, shall say we say, more 'peaceful' options. It follows two ex-Special Forces men who hunt down and kill people like vivisectors, furriers and poachers, in the name of animal rights.
Whilst I love a good vigilante story as much as the next person, Rage and Reason just reads like a cheesy low-budget, action thriller, with an excessive use of guns, and brutal acts of murder thrown in for cheap tricks. I also hated the misogynistic tone of the writer who seems to have zero respect for women. If the book hadn't been so short and fast paced, I doubt I would have finished it. OK for a trashy read, but terrible if you're after a political thriller with any depth or real intelligence to its issues. [2/5]
(4) Orlando by Virginia Woolf
Classics / Historial Fiction: "Virginia Woolf’s Orlando ‘The longest and most charming love letter in literature’, playfully constructs the figure of Orlando as the fictional embodiment of Woolf’s close friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West."
Orlando is a crazy and hilarious, historical fantasy that spans over five centuries, yet is crammed into a mere 228 pages. This weird and wonderful magical realism story is set out like a biography for this fictional noble poet named Orlando; a young man who undergoes a sex change and becomes a young woman. It details his/her life taking in the great eras, and befriending the literary people of the time, as Orlando is mysteriously able to live for centuries without ageing.
It was probably one of the first popular books of the 20th century, to make the reader start to question gender, and whether it's 'fixed' or if it could be 'fluid' and thus changed. Although the overall mood of the book is playful and fun (completely different from anything else I've read from VW!), Woolf still manages to make some subtle hints about sexism, and the public perception of transgendered people. Considering that this was published in 1928, it's quite interesting to see how slowly and yet how far, the Western world has come to now being more accepting and understanding of gender fluidity in 2016. [4/5]
(5) The Green Mile by Stephen King
Horror / Thriller: "The Green Mile: those who walk it do not return, because at the end of that walk is the room in which sits Cold Mountain penitentiary's electric chair."
Having read a good number of Stephen King's books, I think it's safe to say that my favourites by him are the ones that are more gritty and realistic, and rely less on the supernatural side of things to give me my horror kicks. The Green Mile is definitely one of his best books, and there are few situations that I can think of which would be more terrifying than being in prison on death row, waiting for your final appointment with 'Old Sparky'.
Set in 1932, the story is narrated by Paul Edgecombe, the death row supervisor, a man who understands his job and yet still shows empathy and compassion to those under his watch. His character is contrasted perfectly by the evil and sadistic prison guard, Percy Wetmore, who hides behind the safety of his family connections to avoid repercussions for his vile acts of abuse against the prisoners. This is all set to change with the arrival of John Coffey, a 6ft 8 black man who has been convicted of the murder and rape of two white girls.
Coffey displays some intriguing special healing abilities and as Paul develops a friendship with him, he comes to suspect that Coffey's an innocent man after all, but how can he prove this? The abilities angle gives the story a magical realism feel, but it doesn't stray too far into the realms of fantasy and instead maintains a strong stand in the bleak and depressing reality of death row. An interesting spin on what could have been a clichéd prison saga, but King has instead developed something fresh and thoroughly engaging with The Green Mile. [4/5]