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Thursday, 22 September 2016

The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year by Sue Townsend

There were two main reasons why I picked up The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year. Firstly, the title is really eye-catching, and it implied an equally interesting premise. Secondly, I remember reading the first of Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole series and enjoying it. So I thought that this would be a safe enough book to peruse.

When Eva Beaver's twins leave for university, she gets into bed after having to still pick up after her children and husband, even when they aren't there. Not intending to stay there for more than a few hours, she finds herself unable to bring herself to move out of her surprisingly comfortable bed. Now her husband, children and matriarchs on both sides of the family must figure out what to do with her, while Eva herself contents herself with thought and the unexpected sympathy of Alexander, the white van man.
The quotes on the front cover lie. Honestly, I think that this premise could have gone quite well. It's the old adage, "You don't know what you've got until it's gone." If this had been well-written, it could have been a touching lesson about valuing people for their contributions to the lives of those around them, and not by salary or intelligence. There could have been some comeuppance for the adulterous husband or the protagonist coming out of the experience with a new sense of what she wants in life and the drive to get it. What we instead get is the story of a woman who stays in bed for a year for no real reason other than she can, and in the process proving to be the straw that broke the camel's back when it comes to keeping her dysfunctional family together. I don't see what is funny about that. I don't see what's funny about a middle-aged man who can't properly look after himself and doesn't have anywhere near enough emotional intelligence to maintain not one, but two affairs whilst still a little in love with his wife. I don't see what's funny about two autistic teenagers who have to deal with university life in general, a psychotic compulsive-liar for a room-mate, and the extremely public fallout of their mother's choice to hermit herself away. And I certainly don't see what's funny about a woman who is so determined to stay in bed that she pushes away the entire world, to the point where her doctors find no other option but to section her. Honestly, anyone who actually laughs because of this book must come from another planet, and I say that knowing that my sense of humour can be both utterly black at times and utterly bizarre at others. This is not a funny novel. End of story.
The other main thing that bothers me is that it just ends. I was hoping for an ending that would tie everything together and make the whole story make sense, but what I got instead was a year of Eva's life, no more and no less. What does it matter that the husband has given up completely and gone off to live with one of his mistresses, we never find out which. Why would we want to know what happened to the twins after they were apparently arrested? What possible reason would we have for wondering how they're going to stop that whole sectioning business from happening, because that shit doesn't just go away because hey you stopped doing the weird thing now. The ending is the mess that just tops off what was already a bit of a car crash anyway.

The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year is a complete embarrassment of a novel. Irritating characters with weak motivations do pretty much nothing but complain over the course of a year, and the ending adds to the pointlessness of the whole reading endeavour by wrapping up precisely nothing that had come up over the course of the narrative. It's a completely unfunny waste of time. Don't bother. 1/5

Next review: Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

Signing off,

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Sourcery by Terry Pratchett

Pratchett time again. Having enjoyed the previous installment from the Discworld series a great deal, I had understandably high hopes for Sourcery. In addition, it would be revisiting Rincewind, a character that I hadn't seen for some time and who might hopefully get a bit more of an even characterisation this time around.

In the Discworld, the eighth son of an eighth son is destined to become a wizard. The eighth son of a wizard, a wizard squared if you will, is destined to be a sourcerer, a source of new magic in the Discworld. When a powerful wizard breaks his vow of celibacy and creates a sourcerer in the process, the child makes his way to Ankh-Morpork and the Unseen University to claim the mantel of arch-chancellor. And the only wizard to stand in his way is Rincewind, the hapless protagonist from Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic.
I'm probably not going to make any friends saying this, but Sourcery is at best a mixed bag. It's a really weird thing, because I've been gleefully quoting parts of the story that amused me, and they were plentiful. But when I turned the final page and actually finished it, the overall impression that I got was kind of average. Thinking through it though, I can more or less pick out what did and didn't work so well.
So, what worked? First, the asides are absolutely brilliant. These will be, for the most part, points where Pratchett puts the narrative on hold in order to explain a little bit about how the Discworld works. They are always amusing, and a lot of the time really interesting from a world-building perspective. For example, there's a bit about how ideas and inspiration work, where an idea is already formed out in the ether and must make an almost impossible journey through space and time in order to appear in the right head at the right moment for the inspiration to make everything fall into place. When it works, great things are done and understood. When it doesn't, you get a very confused duck with grand ideas about clean electricity generation, if it doesn't miss entirely. Stuff like that is great, and I think that I would have enjoyed Sourcery a lot less if there hadn't been as many of these witty asides.
Second, there is the eternal delight that is the Luggage. It was by far my favourite part of the previous installments including Rincewind, and that has not changed in the slightest. It is still my favourite murderous walking bag of holding, and the little adventure/extinction-filled rampage that it has on its own is wonderful. More Luggage is always appreciated, especially when it's drunk. Likewise, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse were great, although not strictly needed narrative-wise.
Now, onto the not-so-great parts. Firstly, the plot has a tendency to meander a hell of a lot more than some of the previous Discworld books. I mean, in Mort, the perspective was either with Mort, Death or briefly Albert. By the end of Sourcery, we had sections with Rincewind, sections with the non-magical companions that he meets on the way, sections with the sourcerer Coin and the Unseen University, sections with the Luggage, and sections with the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Trying to keep all of these in check and equally interesting is not something that Pratchett succeeded with, quite honestly. If the plot had stuck to two, maybe three groups at most, it might have tightened the ending up and made it feel less anti-climactic.
Secondly, the majority of the characters didn't really appeal to me. There's Rincewind, who I want to like more than I do. I mentioned in my review of The Colour of Magic that Rincewind probably wouldn't work as well without a character like Twoflower to bounce off of, and I think that Sourcery kind of proves my point. Rincewind is a character that needs a source of manic energy and recklessness to bounce off of, and when it isn't there it becomes a mystery what he's even doing in the narrative. Pratchett makes no bones about how much of a coward he is, so it just doesn't sit right with me that he continues to be involved in the plot after the initial reason for joining the quest is no longer an issue. As for the non-magical characters, I just wasn't impressed. Conina, the barbarian woman who just wants to be a hairdresser but can't resist getting into fights, should have been so much more interesting, but wasn't consistent enough characterisation-wise. Nijel, the skinny wannabe barbarian hero, was funny at first, but quickly became irritating. The less said about Creosote the better. The sourcerer, Coin, was probably the best character-wise apart from Luggage, as a ten-year-old with powers beyond anything anyone else can conceive and guided by a malevolent presence and will to use said powers. I wish there had been more of him, as opposed to the weak-willed wizards surrounding him, so he feels like something of a wasted opportunity.

I want to like Sourcery more than I do, but as a novel it's only average. The asides dealing with world-building and the sections with the Luggage and the Horsemen of the Apocalypse had me laughing out loud, but the overall plot and characters are too weak to stand up by themselves. It just needed a little tightening really. 3.5/5

Next review: The Woman Who Went to Bed For a Year by Sue Townsend

Signing off,

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

As is my wont, I have left reading one of the most touted books of 2012 until now, long after any kind of hype has died down. I even put off seeing Gone Girl in the cinema because I don't like seeing the film adaptation before the original book. So after all that, was it worth the staunch praise, and can I say that suffering through Mr Turner was worth not having it spoiled? 

Gone Girl follows Nick Dunne, a former writer and current bar owner, on the day of his fifth wedding anniversary to Amy. He hasn't been looking forward to the day due to their marriage hitting a few bumps, but things look to get a lot worse when he goes home after work to find the door to his house wide open, signs of a struggle in the living room and Amy nowhere to be found. The police are soon involved and quickly find that maybe Nick and Amy's marriage isn't as rosy as he would like to present it as. 
This book is messed up in so many ways and I absolutely loved it. There isn't much I can really say plot-wise beyond the summary provided above for risk of spoilers, but I will say that it is really worth going into Gone Girl without any prior knowledge of the plot. The twists and turns are spoon-fed to the reader over the course of the narrative, so while there were several parts that I hadn't expected, it never felt like the revelation was unnatural or forced. 
The character development is similarly solid. Flynn has a real talent for balancing positive and negative qualities in characters, then bringing out certain elements in order to create a certain caricature depending on what the narrative needs. Only towards the end do you get a real grasp on what makes certain central characters tick. And it really explores just how far you can stretch a husband-wife dynamic before it stops being real. 

A very short review this time, but only because there's only so much that I can say without spoilers and you really need to read this with a fresh perspective. If you like thrillers in any way, then you need to read this if you haven't already. The plot and character building are pulled off masterfully. 5/5 

Next review: Sourcery by Terry Pratchett 

Signing off,