The past month was pretty disappointing with regards to the books I read. Here are my takes on Atonement and Brave New World amongst others- as always please feel free to comment with your opinions on these books and this post, or with any book recommendations, which will be greatly appreciated.
Stolen- Lucy Christopher
When Gemma agrees to have coffee with Ty in a café in Bangkok Airport, she has no idea of the chain of events she has set in motion. It isn’t long before she, an average 16 year old girl, wakes up to find herself in a shack in the middle of the Australian Desert, with only Ty for company. He has stolen her.
Stolen, as I mentioned in my post on Narrative Viewpoints, is written in second person. This is Gemma’s letter to her captor, explaining her feelings about her kidnapping and towards him. This is the book’s selling point, because it is such an unusual style of writing. It makes reading a lot more interesting, which made me especially keen to read and review it this month. This time round though (I’ve read it around three times), the format seemed tired. The story didn’t grab my attention at all, and I had to force myself to finish it.
I’d definitely recommend Stolen to teenage or young adult readers, though, because it is a good read. I first read it when I was about fourteen and now I’m seventeen, so maybe that also impacted on my enjoyment because I felt I couldn’t relate as well to Gemma anymore. She seemed a little immature at times, even if she’s only supposed to be a year younger than me. Christopher writes well in the teenage voice, though, which is somewhat unusual- I generally dislike teen/YA novels because I don’t think adult writers capture how we teenagers think.
The ending of Stolen is quite ambiguous- will Gemma save Ty? Is she suffering from Stockholm Syndrome? I think Christopher does romanticise the kidnapping, which makes the reader want Ty and Gemma to really be in love, and for Ty to be a good guy. Although this is potentially problematic, it is saved by the fact that you really have to suspend your disbelief when reading about why Ty kidnapped Gemma. It’s a bit too implausible to be to be concerned with the nitty-gritty of their relationship, as it’s only ever likely to happen in fiction. -3/5
Atonement- Ian McEwan
Atonement is Ian McEwan’s bestselling tale about family breakup- or, rather, annihilation. Briony is just thirteen when she commits a terrible crime which will hurt all involved for many years to come. The ball is set rolling when she reads a letter addressed to her sister Cecilia from a childhood friend, Robbie. In it Robbie identifies his growing attraction to her, struggling to articulate it until he types the raw, fateful words: ‘In my dreams I kiss your cunt’. Yet, neither Cecilia nor Briony should ever have seen this letter- it is a horrible mistake of Robbie’s that they do, and it is one of many mistakes made that evening.
The latter half of the book is set some time in the future, when Robbie is a soldier fighting his way back through France to Cecilia, and Briony is training to be a nurse, leaden down with guilt. Hence the book’s name: ‘Atonement’, though, in my opinion, my time needs atoning for, because it was wasted on this book.
There is no doubt that McEwan is a great writer- his prose is clean and crisp. This was an advantage in On Chesil Beach, the only book of McEwan’s I had read prior to Atonement, where Edward and Florence battle with English reserve and prudishness to consummate their marriage. McEwan’s style of writing aided the feelings of almost detached horror Florence had towards the idea of having sex with Edward.
In Atonement, such a style was a disadvantage. I wanted passion and emotion; I couldn’t understand the characters; they didn’t interest me. I couldn’t understand why Briony committed her crime- lying as a witness to her cousin Lola’s rape- or why she was listened to, or why Lola didn’t speak up herself with the truth. The lack of understanding I felt with regards to the characters meant I didn’t engage with the story. I like books I can immerse myself in, and reading Atonement felt like trudging through mud. Atonement is a non-story. A girl makes a mistake, as a result a young man suffers wrongfully, and the girl feels guilty. I had to force myself to finish the book.
A great peeve of mine is excessive swearing in literature. I go to sixth-form every day. I hear a lot of expletives. They don’t remotely shock me, or disgust me. I’ve had comments on my own writing saying this, and I’ll say it here about Atonement: littering a piece of writing with ‘fuck and ‘cunt’ has no impact. Using swearing infrequently in writing makes it ten times more effective. McEwan, in fairness, is using it to speak like a soldier (not a sailor!), but that doesn’t mean that that usual writing ‘rules’ don’t apply. If you want to swear, for goodness sake, mix up which word you actually use. Just for variety’s sake.
Atonement has rave reviews. Everything I’d heard prior to reading it was positive. Personally, I thought it was a let-down. You can write as brilliantly and as beautifully as you like, but if your actual story is boring, no subtle crafting in the world will make it interesting. -2/5
Brave New World- Aldous Huxley
I picked up Brave New World because I had a sudden urge to read Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four- a book that, for some reason, does not feature in my family’s extensive collection, and that isn’t cheap enough to download as an eBook for me to consider not getting it in paperback (and in turn get some Waterstones points!). So, alas, no Nineteen Eighty-Four- at least until I buy a copy- which left me pondering what to read. I went for the “other” major dystopian novelnovel of the last century, Brave New World.
Brave New World is set in a future society where all babies are born in test tubes and conditioned to perform certain roles within society. As a result of this conditioning, even the lowest of the low- the Epsilons- are perfectly content with their lives, and, if they aren’t, well, there’s always some soma to take away their unhappiness. The drug leaves them blissful, untroubled. They are taught from their first existence that they should be like this, because “a gramme is better than a damn”. Another trait the people are taught they should be is sexually available, as monogamous relationships are looked upon with disgust, as is, to an even greater extent, motherhood. Children are not conceived and carried naturally in Huxley’s vision of the future.
For all the observations upon society and technology are interesting, the story only really kicks off about a hundred pages in, when the ” perfect” society is challenged first by outsider Bernard and then by an acquaintance of his, John. Bernard meets John on a trip to see the “savages” who live without soma and conditioning. John’s mother is a rarity, as she has experienced both a “civilised” and a “savage” existence. Both she and John return to civilisation with Bernard, at which point the end of the book is in sight. The events to follow are dully anticipated, but are actually quite horrible to read in print. Though I was unsurprised by it, I found society’s reaction to John’s mother in particular repulsive. Scarier still are the parallels between this dystopian future and our present day existence. Definitely food for thought, but I found the first half dragged, and this let down a novel filled with ideas well worth contemplating with regards to our society today- 3.5/5
The one I put down: The Hobbit- J.R.R. Tolkien
I first attempted to read The Hobbit when I was in primary school, and then I only managed the first chapter before yawning and putting it down. Now, several years on, I decided to pick it up again. This time I read until I was about a third of the way through, but even that was a struggle. I can’t pinpoint exactly why: I didn’t dislike the book, yet nor did I like it. As a Potterhead, I would have expected to enjoy The Hobbit a lot more than I did, as I understand JK Rowling borrowed a lot from The Hobbit/ Lord of the Rings trilogy. Then again, I’m not a great fantasy reader, so perhaps that’s why The Hobbit, hailed as one of the greatest fantasy books ever written, failed to grab my attention.
Someone care to explain its appeal?