Review: Holding Up the Universe

28686840“Holding Up the Universe” does not stand out as a particularly good or bad novel. The two main characters grow and become more accepting of themselves by the end of the novel. However Jack’s repeated use of “broken” to describe himself as someone affected by prosopagnosia is unnecessary and out of place. Although it’s interesting and educational to understand challenges faced by prosopanosiacs and those deemed “fat”, the characters often seem to be infatuated with and reduced to these issues. Niven intends to show that Libby isn’t defined by her weight, yet Libby is defined by her weight in the book. She is bullied, thinks about it constantly, everyone else thinks about it constantly. Although it may be good to show weight-related bullying and make the audience empathetic, Niven talks about weight to an extent that it becomes Libby’s defining feature.

There is very little other than these issues in this book, except from romance and family problems. Furthermore there is a vast, faceless cast of supporting characters- friends and foes- who lack proper characterisation and differentiation, other than “friendly”, “bitchy” or “bully”.

The book is not slow paced, but could have been shorter and at times, it is melodramatic. However, my main issue with the plot is that it seems incomplete. The ending was incomplete, somewhat anti-climatic (although there wasn’t that much of a climax towards the ending) and utterly predictable.

Another problem: the first half of the book is almost wholly about weight-issues/prosopagnosia, but then the two main characters get into a car together- and BAM- they want to make out. I feel like the chemistry between the two main characters feels forced and sudden sometimes, but as the book progresses it does improve, although some of the romantic lines verge on the creepy or just weird (Niven has yet to master the prose of romance and the use of metaphors), however, at times the romance and friendship in the novel is sweet.

The book is also dotted with cliches from head to toe, although at times it does manage to cleverly incorporate cliches into its message. I also appreciated the diverse cast, especially in contrast to “All the Bright Things”.

tl;dr: book mainly about the protagonists’ defining issues (weight and prosopagnosia) with romance. This is not a terrible book, but there are better books out there.

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit

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A simple and enjoyable, yet challenging and thought-provoking novel on growing up in an evangelical Church community and discovering one’s true self. Winterson weaves complex ideas and heavy emotions into a simple yet at times fragmentary and experimental novel.

Jeanette was adopted as young age, and poised like Christ to save the world through her future missionary work. However, as she grows older, she discovers that the battle she must fight is not against the sinners ‘out there’ but within her own home and church, and ultimately she must decide to accept herself for who she is or remain in the rigid church community. The novel is laced with humour and sweetness, as well as interesting ideas.

However, I do wish that Jeanette’s lovers were better developed, but I understand the focus of the book was about her, her mother and the church, and the lovers played mainly a supporting role. I cannot help but feel the book is quite simply sometimes, perhaps it is the prose or the oldness of my copy. The ending did not meet my expectations and at times I disliked the fragmentary and brief nature of the novel. However, I still enjoyed reading the novel as a whole.

Review: I’ll Give You the Sun

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NoahandJude are inseparable twins. Jude is a daredevil who surfs and wears dark lipstick and short skirts against her mother’s wishes. Noah gets lost in art and is in love with the boy of his dreams. Their relationship becomes tense as they struggle for attention from their mother, the same friends and a place at a prestigious art schools. A tragedy occurs. The twins stop speaking to each other. The twins only have one half of the story each, if only they could come back together…

The first chapter is hard to get through. It sounds like something I’d write when I was 12. But trust me, the prose gets better. Noah and Jude jump off the page as realistic characters with their own voices, dreams and fears. The writing is pleasant to read, although punctuated with potentially annoying features such as Noah’s mind paintings and quotes from their dead grandma. Noah and Jude alternate as narrators at different points of time, and despite this, Nelson manages to make the story flow very well.

This is a book about secrets and revelations. It’s about 70% revelation and 30% actual action. At first, I admired how much Nelson was able to tie her characters and plot together. But by the end I felt that there were too many coincidences. The last few pages felt very rushed and the ending can be interpreted as uplifting. Or as I would put it: the ending was too happy.

I’ll Give You the Sun is ultimately a book about siblings, love, guilt, family, recovery and art.

Review: A Visit From The Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad

Bennie is an aging former punk rocker and record executive. Sasha is the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Here Jennifer Egan brilliantly reveals their pasts, along with the inner lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs. With music pulsing on every page, A Visit from the Goon Squad is a startling, exhilarating novel of self-destruction and redemption. (from Goodreads)

A Visit from the Goon Squad explores the effects of time on innocence, youth and success through its large span of characters. The novel works like a carefully threaded set of short stories, each short story relating to one of the main characters (Bennie or Sasha) and utilises new and innovative forms of literature, such as using powerpoint slides and interview texts. I enjoyed the revolving perspectives and styles, an interesting way to get a story across, these techniques allow Egan reach her goal of exploring the effects of time in a short novel.

The novel was definitely a great and gripping read, however, I really like to get my hands dirty with characters and I felt sometimes this wasn’t possible in this novel as we only get glimpses of most characters.

I would have liked a more diverse range of characters. Almost all the characters were musicians or professors, a horny boy/man, conventionally sexually appealing women/men, etc. The whole cast is pretty fucking white middle class if you ask me. Furthermore, the topics of gender and sexuality is very there when Egan portrays relationships, but never really given its own discourse. Which is a pity.

In conclusion I would say it was an enjoyable read, but not a book I’d go back to time after time. I definitely think characters could have been better developed and more diverse in terms of personality and backgrounds. The characters feel like a blur, when really after reading a book you want to hold onto them and cherish them.

Review: Radio Silence

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Hello.

I hope somebody is listening.

::

Frances has always lived as “School Frances”- the perfect headgirl, the robotic high achiever devoid of personality. But when she meets Aled, the ingenius creator behind her favourite podcast, she feels free to be herself for the first time. But when the fragile trust between them is broken, Frances is forced to confront the past. She has to confess why Carys, Aled’s twin, disappeared. And she has to rescue Aled from Universe City before it’s too late.

::

A fast paced, contemporary YA novel that explores relationships in a digital age. On one hand, Radio Silence revolves around an Internet mystery- an anonymous Youtuber who creates a popular podcast series called “Universe City”, and on the other hand, it follows a group of stressed and tired sixth-form students who are about to make the most important step in their lives- go to university (or so they think). When these two worlds collide,  everything explodes: fandom, the effects of fame, friendship & trust, sexuality, the thin veil between reality and fiction, the ‘real’ person vs how they appear, expectations vs staying true to your self.

At the heart of the book is two things: Alice Oseman’s wonderfully diverse and fascinating characters, and a discussion about going to university- something that’s become a rite of passage for British teenagers (or should I say, new adults?). Alice Oseman has no difficulty getting her message across, doing it succinctly and with style.

Review: Tess of the D’Urbevilles

Neither fully a woman, nor aware of the dangers of the outside world, Tess is driven by her family’s poverty to claim kinship with the wealthy D’Urbevilles. However, her ‘cousin’ Alec is more interested in her body than her desperate poverty. Tess is raped. Despite Tess’ moral purity, she is stained by her sexual impurity, through no fault of her own. Tess struggles against social convention and finds comfort in Angel- a son of a clergyman who preaches against tradition, yet his own ideals of Tess as a perfect woman, a pure “daughter of nature”, will endanger their relationship, and Tess must decide whether or not to reveal her unfortunate past.

Tess of the D’Urbevilles is ultimately s “tragedy of those who escaped the imprisonment of the established convention”, as D.H Lawrence put it. Hardy portrays the Victorian convention that condemns Tess to isolation and hardship as unnatural, and the desire between two loving individuals as natural. Hardy challenges the Victorian idea of “purity” in a woman, he illustrates that purity is found not in the outcome- her sexual purity, but in the intention of a woman- her moral integrity. By narrating the life and exploring the psychology of an individual in detail, Hardy uses a microcosm of society  to comment on the cruelty of a godless world- for Tess is a tragedy which cannot be fixed by divine power-, and the forces of the fates- “heredity and environment, character and society” on the destiny of the individual.

Hardy’s long and beautiful prose describes the changing landscape of the rural community and the unstoppable arrival of modernity. He captures a sympathetic photograph of rural life, the hardships and joys of rural folk, as well as the dying rural traditions. The decline of old rural life is paralleled with the decline of Tess’ ancient D’Urbeville family and Tess as an individual, which makes Tess both a personal and greater social tragedy.

Tess is a great read for anyone who enjoys Victorian literature, beautiful descriptions of landscapes, and bleak tragedies.

Review: Nights at the Circus

Audiences clamour for her arrival, which will coincide with that of the new century.

For we are at the fag-end, the smouldering cigar-butt, of a nineteenth century, which is just about to be ground in the ashtray of history.

Sophie Fevvers, a woman with wings- the Venus Cockney, fact or fiction?

Sophie Fevvers is an aerialiste– with wings! She retells her own tale to Walser- hatching as an egg, an adolescent with wings- who becomes so enthralled in her tale that he becomes a clown to follow her. This is a story about breaking from the gilded cage, the egg– of individuals discovering their true identities and love beyond which they were prescribed.

Angela Carter’s tale knits together her magical prose with a magical plot and magical characters: dancing tigers, prophetic pigs and a flying woman. An interwoven set of stories about a cast of colourful characters at the end of a century. It captures a sense of transformation that takes place in the last moments of the nineteenth century (fictional or real)- women who think for themselves, men who see beyond their physical strength, anarchists and socialists who dream of a better world.

A fantastical read for anyone who wants to lose themselves in a hurricane of a mythic history.