This is a new type of post for me, one I hope you’ll enjoy, where I’ll tell you about the books I’ve enjoyed (or not) over the past month. I’ll try and talk about a range of genres. So, without any further ado, here are the books I’ve enjoyed this November.
The English Patient– Michael Ondaatje
The English Patient centres around four characters living in a villa in Italy towards the end of the Second World War. Hana, a nurse, is staying there to care for a patient who was rescued from a burning plane and is severely injured, with no idea of who he is. It has been assumed that he is English, yet the only piece of his identity remaining is a copy of The Histories by Herodotus. He is Almasy- the English patient, and an ex-desert explorer.
When Hana looks through The Histories, she finds details of a past-love affair with married Katharine Clifton in handwritten notes scrawled over the pages. Yet Almasy is not the only one of the Villa’s inhabitants haunted by the past: Hana herself is struggling with her father’s death; another character, Caravaggio, is a former spy whose thumbs were cut off when he was caught, and he is struggling with a morphine addiction. The final character, Kip, risks his life on a daily basis as part of a bomb disposal squad, and eventually becomes Hana’s lover.
I had watched the film just before reading the book, and enjoyed it, but for the first time I found myself glad I’d done things that way round because I think if I’d have read the book first I’d have been bitterly disappointed by the film. That’s not to say it’s a bad film: it’s not, and (my favourites!) Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas’ acting is amazing. It’s just the film doesn’t quite capture the poetic nature of the book, and I think the book’s powerful ending (the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) is undermined on-screen. Watching the film, I didn’t really understand the link between Caravaggio and Hana, and I didn’t especially like Caravaggio’s portrayal. On page, I think Caravaggio was my favourite character.
I didn’t get into The English Patient immediately, but now I’d count it as one of my favourite books. I really recommend it.
Northern Lights- Philip Pullman
I picked up Northern Lights after it was recommended by my Auntie. It’s technically aimed at children/ young teenagers, but to be honest I think it appeals to most ages. If you liked Harry Potter, you’ll probably like Northern Lights.
Lyra lives an untamed existence at Jordan College, spending most of her time playing with other children around Oxford, and generally misbehaving. Like Harry Potter, she is a typical child protagonist who can see all the things wrong with the adult world but is largely unable to prevent them. Her world is not dissimilar to our own; the most striking difference is that it is ruled by the Church.
One of the Church’s agencies forms the main plot for the story: we first hear of the Gobblers as a game played by Lyra and her friends, but they become a more immediate issue when Lyra’s friend Roger disappears- a suspected kidnapping. The suspected kidnappers? The Gobblers. Lyra sets out on a mission to find Roger, taking her on a fantastical quest to the North where she discovers the truth of the Gobblers and her parentage, as well as another world in the skies.
I have frequently heard Pullman’s writing praised (this book itself won the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian award), but it really is brilliant. The characters, too, were engaging: headstrong Lyra, her mentor and daemon Pantalaimon, the mysterious Lord Asriel, the beautiful but wicked Miss Coulter… Actually, the last scene made me especially keen to find out more about Asriel and Coulter- hopefully they feature more prominently in the subsequent books.
I really enjoyed Northern Lights- my sole complaint is how overt the messages were in the story. The Church is bad etc. Less subtext, more HUGE GLARING LETTERS. Still, it’s not a book to be ignored on the basis of its target audience. Well worth a read.
So this was a short one, since I’ve not quite finished the book I’m currently reading, but December’s will hopefully feature more books. Feel free to comment below with book recs/ opinions on the books above. As ever, I appreciate any constructive criticism 🙂