In the Flesh

Title: In the Flesh

Author: Cliver Barker

Summary: Terrifying and forbidding, subversive and insightful, Clive Barker’s groundbreaking stories revolutionized the worlds of horrific and fantastical fiction and established Barker’s dominance over the otherworldly and the all-too-real. Here, as two businessmen encounter beautiful and seductive women and an earnest young woman researches a city slum, Barker maps the boundless vistas of the unfettered imagination–only to uncover a profound sense of terror and overwhelming dread.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I disliked the last Clive Barker book i read enough that i didn’t think i’d ever pick up another. But when i discovered one of the creepiest films from my youth–Candyman–was based on Barker’s short story The Forbidden, i had to get my hands on a copy.

I was shocked and happy as soon as i started reading the first of the four stories, In the Flesh. It was instantly one of those stories where you know something isn’t right, where things aren’t what they seem, where there’s more to be revealed. It’s the kind of story that keeps my interest and keeps me reading. The characters were criminals, imprisoned, but they were sympathetic and likeable; i was scared for them and that had me invested in the story.

The second story was the one i’d been waiting for–The Forbidden. Much of it was familiar to me, having seen the Candyman film enough times. The creepy vibe of the film, and the Candyman himself in particular, came through in satisfying ways. But the story created even more, i think, than the film. The eerie, isolated feeling of the housing estate and the peculiar social structure are such banal things, but increase the macabre feeling in the story intensely. It draws on similar themes as High Rise, but with more of a horror twist and i loved it.

The Madonna is the third story in the book, and overall the weakest in a lot of ways. I hated the two main characters, so welcomed any nightmarish retribution that came their way. This was the one horror that i wanted to know more about, though. How did it/they end up inhabiting the pool? Do all their women come to them in the same way? What exactly happens to the creatures they raise? Where did they all go at the end? And in someways i think this was the story that dealt with more interesting themes and non-horror concepts. It’s the one story, maybe, that would work well as a longer story.

Lastly there was Babel’s Children. This one i liked a lot. It marked itself as different in almost every way from the other stories. It was obviously not a supernatural horror–it was a human one. Unlike The Madonna i feel like i got exactly the right amount of information to tell the story, without it begging more questions or being too full of answers. It was more like a mini adventure with an is-it-or-isn’t-it premise that was pretty delightful, actually. All the characters were likeable and it even made me smile. The end wasn’t sombre, but it did have weight and an unspoken captivity.

With not one story i didn’t enjoy, compared to the 700+ novel that failed to engage me, it’s clear Barker is a far, far more accomplished short story teller. While i’m unlikely to pick up one of his novels, i won’t hesitate to jump into another of his short story collections.

Bird Box

birdboxTitle: Bird Box

Author: Josh Malerman

Summary: Most people dismissed the reports on the news. But they became too frequent; they became too real. And soon it was happening to people we knew.

Then the Internet died. The televisions and radios went silent. The phones stopped ringing.

And we couldn’t look outside anymore.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I remember reading the synopsis for this book and being fascinated. What on earth could stop people being able to look outside? What happened if they did? I didn’t even speculate on answers to those questions, and jumped into this book without expectations, ready to find out.

The multiple narratives are great. We follow our main character, Malorie, during three stages of her life. In the present day she leaves the safety of her home with two children, blindfolded, to take a boat 20 miles down river. One flashback narrative is told in reverse, how Malorie trained the children to use their hearing, how she struggled being a new mother alone in a post-apocalyptic world, and how she risked her life gathering tools and provisions shortly after giving birth. A second flashback narrative documents the disaster, how Malorie arrived at the house and lived with her new housemates before giving birth. The two flashback narrative converge, completing the story’s history, just as Malorie is reaching the final stage of her journey down the river.

The thing that is stand out for me, is how freaking creepy this book is. For the most part, the characters are locked up inside the house, which creates a claustrophobic atmosphere with tensions often running high; i was just waiting for something to kick off. The worst(/best) parts, though, were when the characters ventured outside. Blindfolded for protection against what they must not lay eyes on, the loss of such a main sense was palpable in the writing. I felt as anxious and on edge as the characters just reading. Most often i read in bed at night before sleep, and most nights i couldn’t read more than two or three chapters, because it would freak me out too much. (I loved it.)

It wasn’t until today, when i started reading during daylight hours, that i could plough through the book and got the second half finished in a matter of hours. Because that’s the other thing about this book: it kept me reading. I needed to know what happened. It’s the nature of the three time lines–i knew certain things of the future, but not how they came to pass, and i was desperate to find out.

The book isn’t perfect. The characters are somewhat lacking in depth; you have the main few who we’re supposed to like, a couple who are obviously supposed to be questionable, and the rest are pretty much filler without much individual personality. The writing is simple, but far from bad; it makes it an easy read, but (as above) still manages to create quite an atmosphere. None of these were so bad as to be off putting, just ways the book could be improved.

There was one question that i couldn’t help but ponder quite early: Where were all the blind people? In a world where seeing things proved deadly, surely there would be a higher proportion of blind folk still around, perfectly fine? Thankfully, this is addressed… but i wouldn’t want to spoil anything for you!

I loved the ending. I thrive on open endings, and this delivers that in the best ways, while simultaneously wrapping the narrative up nicely. If you’re reading to find out exactly why people can’t look outside, don’t expect a definitive answer. I’m still wavering between all the options, because i don’t want to have to settle on one. Aliens? New species? Parallel universe? Mass hysteria? I want them all!

Undermajordomo Minor

umdmTitle: Undermajordomo Minor

Author: Patrick deWitt

Summary: Lucien (Lucy) Minor is the resident odd duck in the bucolic hamlet of Bury. Friendless and loveless, young and aimless, he is a compulsive liar and a melancholy weakling. When Lucy accepts employment assisting the majordomo of the remote, forbidding castle of the Baron Von Aux he meets thieves, madmen, aristocrats, and a puppy. He also meets Klara, a delicate beauty who is, unfortunately, already involved with an exceptionally handsome partisan soldier. Thus begins a tale of polite theft, bitter heartbreak, domestic mystery and cold-blooded murder in which every aspect of human behaviour is laid bare for our hero to observe. But Lucy must be cautious and lock his bedroom door, because someone, or something, is roaming the corridors of the castle late at night.

Undermajordomo Minor is a riotous blend of Gothic romance and macabre European fairy tale. It is a triumphant ink-black comedy of manners and a timeless account of that violent thing: love.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: This is deWitt’s third novel. I adored the other two, which left me with high expectations for this one. Thankfully, i was not disappointed. If i had to choose one word to describe this book, i think i’d pick ‘weird’, but oh what a wonderful weird it is!

Without a doubt my favourite thing about this book are the conversations Lucy has with his boss, the majordomo, Mr Olderglough. They were just so… concise. Questions were asked, answers were given, and no judgements were ever made. They just seemed to click, but in a way where they never truly bonded, as that would require more words and expression than was necessary. Their dialogue stretched pages, and i spent the entirety of it smiling.

In each of his books deWitt has had a different, distinct and immersive narrative voice. This book’s, i think, is the most innocent. Lucy is young, starved of love and affection, but does not feel sorry for himself. He’s always looking forward and striving for better things, but without being obnoxious. He’s just… such a straightforward character and i kind of adore him.

All the characters were likeable, in their own ways. Even the ones i wasn’t supposed to like, i sort of did. I think it helped that there was no real tension in the book; even when something went badly, things were generally still okay. There were no heart-in-mouth moments, just a gentle bobbing of emotion. It made the book such a joy to read.

I really did feel the fairy tale vibe to the book, with the castle, the very large hole, the armies fighting over nothing they could articulate, and the general easy going flow of the narrative. Of course there were bits that wouldn’t belong in a children’s fairy tale, but those were the bits that added an eerie, dark and comedic aspect to the story. Love and death were the two big themes of the story, and despite the generally light and tension-free narrative, i think it dealt with them wonderfully. Mirroring and contrasting points within three different love triangles and rivalries, it all unfolds by the end.

And the end is perfect. For Lucy it is neither happy nor sad; it is the kind of ending i love. The kind of ending where i can imagine several ways things play out past the last words in the book, and i love all the options.

I’m already pining for the next book by deWitt. My expectations are only getting higher, but my fear of disappointment is cheerfully low.

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Dead Girl Walking

dgwTitle: Dead Girl Walking

Author: Christopher Brookmyre

Summary: Famous, beautiful and talented, Heike has the world at her feet. Then she simply vanishes.

Jack Parlabane has lost everything: his journalism career, his marriage, his self-respect. A call for help from an old friend offers a chance of redemption – but only if he can find our what happened to missing singer Heike.

Each member of her band has secrets, not least newest recruit Monica Halcrow. Fixated on Heike from day one, she is driven by paranoia, jealousy and fear.

Pursued across Europe by those who would punish him for past crimes, Parlabane must find out what Monica is hiding before it’s too late.

Rating: ★★★★★ 4.5/5

Review: Well, first of all that blurb is misleading and inaccurate. Finding out what happened to Heike isn’t a chance at redemption–it’s a job. None of the band really has secrets, and Monica was not fixated or paranoid. Parlabane isn’t pursued by people wanting to punish him for past crimes and he only even knows Monica is hiding something in the last 75 pages or so.

Despite the poor summary, the book is good. I had missed Parlabane, and so had a lot of his friends, it turns out, because the man we meet at the start of this book is certainly not the Parlabane we know from previous books. Along with Brookmyre’s writing, Parlabane’s grown up a wee bit. I’d say he’s having a midlife crisis, but as his life is usually so full of comedy, adventure and danger, a midlife crisis for him is having no job, no wife and no hope.

When he gets a call from the sister of an old friend with a job offer, things begin to change. I saw the love-interest angle here from the get go, and from the get-go i did not like it. It seemed forced, and she seems like not at all the kind of partner Parlabane needs; she might be able to corral rock stars, but if she can’t make a sharp exit down a rope or keep her head in a crisis, what good is she to Parlabane? I would be much more interested if Parlabane and McLeod ended up dating. Journalist and copper. They’d disagree on a hell of a lot, but in a fiery wild way, and they’re both able to handle themselves in dangerous situations.

The best part of Parlabane stayed the course, though: his humour. His dry, cynical, straight talking makes me crack a grin every time, with more than a few chuckles.

He had recently heard some chinless Tory fuckpuddle say that London was a world-class city being held back by the rest of the UK. Parlabane had reckoned that if he poured all his money and efforts into fitting out his toilet he could almost certainly have himself a truly world class shite-house. Obviously there would be little in the way of cash or other physical resources for the development and upkeep of the living room and the kitchen, etc… but if anyone asked, he could tell them he had a world-class bog and it was just a shame the rest of the house was holding it back.

Parlabane is only half the book, though. The other half is Monica and Heike. I was ambivalent on the pair of them, to be honest. Throughout I seemed to dislike one or the other of them. I think they were supposed to be in their early 20s, but they often read like teenagers. They were moody and fickle and never properly talked to each other, which lead to many misunderstandings. I just really like it when two female lead characters are mature and get on with each other, so it’s a shame these two couldn’t manage it. I liked that Brookmyre included a lesbian character and a bi-curious character, but i couldn’t buy their relationship because it never seemed consistent enough

The story was fine–typical crime/mystery thriller type with a sex-traffic angle, though the missing rock star and band-on-tour blog added an interesting shade to it all. I looooved the start, in that the only thing revealed was that someone was murdered and someone witnessed it, but you don’t know who these people are. It had me interested and analysing everything right from the first chapter. Unfortunately the twists in the reveal weren’t a shock to me–i’d called most of them.

Ultimately what makes this book, like any other Brookmyre, is the writing. It is witty, relevant, concise and addictive. It might not be quite as crude and immature as his early books, but it’s miles better than your average crime fiction. I’m looking forward to more Parlabane soon!

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Popshot Magazine: The Adventure Issue

wp-1472915662992.jpegTitle: Popshot Magazine: The Adventure Issue

Author: Various

Summary: Popshot is an illustrated literary magazine that publishes short stories, flash fiction, and poetry from the literary new blood.

From the pavement to the pubs to the playhouses, our peculiar little planet is full of storytelling. Popshot aims to publish just a few of the more articularte and well-observed versions of these stories, illustrated by some of contemporary illustration’s finest.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: My partner bought this for me randomly, thinking it would be something i’d enjoy. It is. A collection of short stories and poems, beautifully illustrated and brought to life. This magazine is wonderful.

It started off strong with two sci-fi stories. Shadows, the tale of two spacemen who get lost in darkness and time and aren’t quite sure they make it out unscathed. Seventh, set following an unspecified apocalyptic event, follows a girl travelling, trying to find the one person left who means something to her.

All the stories here include–i’m hesitant to say twist, as it’s not always as shocking as that implies, but they have something. The end reveals enough to change to mood of the entire story, to give more meaning and depth to everything you’ve already read. And that is how the best short stories are told.

A young girl accused of being a spy, or an elderly lady in a hospital? A shipwrecked man gradually exploring a trail of islands, or going backwards and forwards between two? A young boy leading his little sister into a dangerous situation, or attempting to share a touching moment they’ll remember forever?

My favourite story was Bucket List, in which a group of strangers share a balloon ride that turns dangerous. One of them saves the day and completes his bucket list at the same time. It actually brought tears to my eyes, which is quite a feat for a short story!

I’m not a poem buff, and they were more hit and miss for me here. I enjoyed several, while others feel flat for me. Without a doubt, though, the last poem–and final piece in the magazine–was the best. Some Other Day just captured something wonderful about personal growth, about change, and about leaving parts of ourselves behind.

Standout throughout the magazine is the artwork. Each piece is gorgeous in itself, but they both give and receive so much in relation to the words they represent. They string the stories and poems together and make the magazine as a whole a piece of art.

This was issue number 15 of Popshot magazine, and i’m extremely tempted to subscribe for future issues. They seem so wonderfully light, interesting and beautiful; i want more.

Show Me the Map to Your Heart & Other Stories

comix-coverTitle: Show Me the Map to Your Heart & Other Stories

Author: John Cei Douglas

Summary: A collection of stories ranging from nostalgic coming of age tales to long distance relationships, being stranded on desert islands, coping with mental health problems and the childlike wonder of exploring fantasy worlds.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I picked this little book up at my local comic shop on a whim, and I’m utterly delighted with it. The whole book has this quiet, slowness about it. Reading it, i felt safe and warm and understood.

Several of the stories don’t have any words–no narration or dialogue–just the images of each frame to progress the story. I loved that, because it made me focus on the images more, to tease out what was happening through visuals alone. It also leaves the details of the story much more open to interpretation. Footnotes, for example, shows a couple in a long distance relationship gradually drifting apart, but without insight into their thoughts or conversations it’s left to the reader to decide how and why they ended up drifting apart.

One of my favourite stories was Living Underwater, which uses the idea of living underwater as a metaphor for depression and mental health problems. How you can slip into the water without realising it’s happening, how it can become an isolating ocean, and how you might be able to find the direction to dry land.

The title story, Show Me the Map to Your Heart, is wonderful. It puts a fantasy adventure twist on a new relationship, to explore the ideas surrounding discovering each other and yourself. The middle pages of the book are a large fold-out image mapping the trail the lovers take, it’s quite beautiful. And this story included my favourite line of the entire book:

Her heart was hole but lost

She was so caring she had left pieces of it behind, not thinking that one day she might need them herself.

This book was as comforting as a soft blanket and a cup of tea. I felt like I had those from reading alone, and for a book to evoke that kind of calm feeling was lovely to experience.

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The Wild Girls, Plus…

TWG+Title: The Wild Girls, Plus…

Author: Ursula Le Guin

Summary: Nebula Award winner The Wild Girls, newly revised and presented here in book form for the first time, tells of two captive “dirt children” in a society of sword and silk, whose determination to enter “that space in which there is room for justice” leads to a violent and loving end.

Plus… Le Guin’s scorching essay Staying Awake While We Read, which demolishes the pretensions of corporate publishing and capitalism as well; a handful of poems that glitter like stars; and a modest proposal.

And Featuring: Our Outspoken Interview which promises to reveal the hidden dimensions of America’s best-known SF author. And delivers.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I’ve yet to go wrong with Le Guin. She’s consistently interesting, well-written and thought-provoking. So much so i recently backed a kickstarter raising money to make a documentary on the life of the author.

The short story here, The Wild Girls, is the only piece of fiction in this collection. I love how simply and seemingly effortlessly Le Guin can lay out the details and intricacies of a society and culture. The class and currency systems, most especially, were odd but recognisable. In terms of plot, it’s simple enough, but this is quite a character-driven story. I rooted for those girls from start to finish, and though some justice was had, it was not nearly enough.

Where i really found myself loving this book were Le Guin’s essays. I absolutely adored Staying Awake While We Read, which addresses they ever-consistent, though somewhat low, number of book sales, and how and why this is seen as bad in a society that is unhealthily obsessed with economic growth. Le Guin make her arguments in witty and rememberable ways; she’s smart and pulls no punches. I really didn’t want that essay to end. Several times i wanted to pull out a pen and underline sentences or mark passages, only remembering at the last minute that the book was borrowed. I’ve had to settle to taking photographs and typing out quotes for tumblr!

I enjoyed the poems, though particularly the shorter ones–i think Le Guin can do a lot with few words. The essay on modesty was interesting, though didn’t grab me quite as thoroughly. And the interview, well… at points i felt for the interviewer, who quite obviously was not getting the answers they wanted, but at the same time, i adored Le Guin’s straightforward, humourous and no-nonsense responses.

There are several unread Le Guin books on my bookshelves, but i can promise they won’t be unread for long. And i plan to hunt down and read the hell out of any other non-fiction essays she’s written–i’m completely and utterly smitten.

The BFG

bfgTitle: The BFG

Author: Roald Dahl

Summary: The BFG is a nice and jumbly giant. In fact, he is the only big friendly giant in Giant Country. All the other giants are big bonecrunching brutes, and now the BFG and his friend Sophie must stop them guzzling up little human beans–with some help from Her Majesty the Queen.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: This was, undoubtedly, my favourite book as a child. I remember my mum reading it to me at night. I remember when i had learnt to read, reading it myself. This is the book of my childhood. And one of the films of my childhood, the only real ‘kid’s film’ i remember watching. So many childhood memories wrapped up in this book for me.

And it stands up to the test of adulthood. I still love it. In some ways, i love it even more, in other ways, slightly less. Overall, though, just as much love.

The BFG is fabulous. His way with words is wonderful and hilarious, and i would never get sick of it. I could read his switchfiddling the English language around all day. I also want to introduce the word ‘whizzpop’ into my everyday vocabulary. But aside from the language, the BFG is so effortlessly wise, and despite the communication difficulties, makes himself perfectly and easily understood. The lessons he teaches Sophie–and the reader, if they’re paying attention–about the world are relevant and important beyond the pages of the book. There was one section of several pages that made me stop and smile with how simply he demonstrates the hypocrisy and arrogance of the human race.

“You is a human bean and you is saying it is grizzling and horrigust for giants to be eating human beans. Right or left?”
“Right,” Sophie said.
“But human beans is squishing each other all the time,” the BFG said. “They is shooting guns and and going up in aerioplanes to drop their bombs on each other’s heads every week. Human beans is always killing other human beans.”

“I think it’s rotten that those foul giants should go off every night to eat humans. Humans have never done them any harm.”
“That is what the little piggy-wig is saying every day,” the BFG answered. “He is saying, ‘I has never done any harm to the human bean so why should he be eating me?'”

I missed these wise words as a child, or, at least i didn’t consciously recognise them for what they are. It could have had more of an affect that i realised, because i did grow up to be a vegan who holds strong anti-war opinions…

The thing that unfortunately didn’t hold up to an adult reading was the nature of the heroic conclusion. A queen who holds authority over the army and the air force, who takes the revelation that giants exist in her stride and invites one to breakfast, who commands so absolutely that no politicians are involved and no one else bats an eyelid at the giant because if they queen’s cool with it then it’s fine. I hold little respect or regard for the royals, and am just unable to stomach the queen being a realistic go-to figure to help save the day. And okay, yes, fiction, but in that case, magic up an evil-giant zapping machine or make Jack and his beanstalk a reality. Don’t base the solution in fact, but have it be so unrealistic. …Turns out, if i let myself, i feel quite strongly about that aspect. Oops?

Thankfully, the disappointing resolve of the story doesn’t do enough to take away from the BFG himself and his perfectly splendiferousness. If only human beans could be as wise, insightful, eloquent and… friendly.

This knocks the final(!!) square off my Bookish Bingo: A book from my childhood.

The Paper Men

tpmTitle: The Paper Men

Author: William Golding

Summary: Fame, success, fortune; a drink problem slipping over the borderline into alcoholism, a dead marriage, the incurable itches of middle-aged lust. For Wilfred Barclay, novelist, the final, unbearable irritation is Professor Rick L. Tucker, implacable in his determination to become The Barclay Man.

Locked in a lethal relationship they stumble half-blindly across Europe, shedding wives, self-respect, illusions. They confront terrifying abysses – physical, emotional, spiritual – continually change roles, change themselves, change the worlds about them. The climax, when it comes, is as inevitable as it is unexpected.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4.5/5

Review: Golding is an author who’s work i am making my way through at a sedate pace. I haven’t loved every book i’ve read so far, but i have liked, appreciated and admired them all. He’s an author who doesn’t stick to the same genre, format or message. Each of his books is unique, and i love that. The Paper Men was, gladly, another score for the ‘love’ list.

I was apprehensive at first, as i had read some pretty damning reviews. The only thing those bad reviews liked was the ending; they adored the last line. Unfortunately, as i am wont to do, i had already flipped to the last page and read the last line. So i knew going in exactly how this book ended. (Therefore it was not at all as unexpected as the synopsis claimed–they never take into account people skipping ahead!) But screw all the bad reviews–this book was brilliant!

There is humour–oh, so much humour, i laughed loud and often. There is meaningfulness, introspection, commentary. How people can gloss over or miss that and complain that not enough happened makes their taste and intelligence poor, if i’m being honest in my own opinion.

I adored Wilf. I’m not sure i was supposed to, but there we have it. He isn’t perfect, by any means, but he is unapologetically himself, and hurts almost no one but himself. Almost, except those closest to him (though whether he is close to them is debatable), and of course Rick L. Tucker. Wilf travels the world on no whim but his own, drinking, sleeping and writing. He makes no demands on people, letting the wind take him wherever it decides to blow. Rick L. Tucker, on the other hand, goes exactly where Wilf does. His obsessive, stalker, relentless behaviour really, really bothered me. He just wouldn’t give up chasing Wilf around, trying to convince him to let him be his official biographer. How many times can Wilf say, “No,” and disappear to another country before Rick gets the message? Never enough, apparently. Sorry, but harassment is not an endearing quality, and for all Wilf’s faults, i’ll take him over Tucker any day.

That covers the plot, really. The rest of the interest of the book is more Wilf’s mind and thoughts, so i supposed having a soft spot for Wilf makes me more inclined to enjoy his words and the book itself. He is very much a writer, often comparing the world to how things would be done in one of his novels, and offering insight into the mind of a writer. He tos and fros between thought processes, opinions on himself, and choices and reasons. He’s an intellectual and literary man, and he’s also one of the most unreliable narrators i have ever read. His words were a joy, his drinking problem worrisome but occasionally controlled, his paranoia palpable but relatively harmless. He was, ultimately, fascinating.

There is, really, only one point of criticism i have of The Paper Men. As much as i loved reading it when i was reading, when i wasn’t reading, i had no drive to get back to it. I didn’t think about the book when i wasn’t reading it. When i picked it up again i often had to re-read the last paragraph of the previous chapter to remind myself of the exact circumstances it had left of on. And while this didn’t impede my enjoyment of the book when i was reading it, i did miss that burn–that desire to still be reading and to know what happens. I missed it enough to be distinctly aware that it wasn’t there.

But still, the book itself, regardless of my emotions towards it when i put it down, is thoroughly enjoyable, insightful and such a hoot. I loved some sections so much that when i did have a pencil to mark passages i… i used a pen! And i don’t regret a single inked line.

This knocks one square off my Bookish Bingo: Published in my birth year.

Much Ado About Nothing

much adoTitle: Much Ado About Nothing

Author: William Shakespeare

Summary: Set in a courtly world of masked revels and dances, this play turns on the archetypal story if a lady falsely accused of unfaithfulness, spurned by her bridegroom, and finally vindicated and reunited with him. Villainy, schemes, and deceit threatens to darken the brilliant humour and sparkling wordplay–but the hilarious counter plot of a warring couple, Beatrice and Benedick, steals the scene as the two are finally tricked into admitting their love for each other in Shakespeare’s superb comedy of manners.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: Like most people, i read and studied a bit of Shakespeare at school. I never hated his work as vehemently as some, though i didn’t love it either (excepting A Midsummer Night’s Dream–that play is a hoot!). However, in my maturity (ha!) i have wanted to read the plays i didn’t get a change to at school. I’ve finally started that task by reading Much Ado About Nothing.

At first it was hard to get into, the language is awkward and difficult to get your head around, but it was only that way for a few pages. I realised quickly that i was reading as i would have at school; slowly and meticulously in order to pick apart the words and figure out how they’re put together and decipher their meaning. As soon as i was conscious of what i was doing, i stopped doing it. The moment i stopped trying to analyse the language, it all started to make much more sense. I didn’t have to know exactly how something was being said to understand what was being said.

Beatrice and Benedick certainly do steal the show, despite the main plot being Claudio and Hero’s engagement and drama surrounding it. For me, it was because they were the characters i liked the most. They were witty and intelligent and, despite the verbal sparring, they were respectful of each other. The other characters, with their preoccupation with marriage, interference and lies, were much more difficult to sympathise with.

The plot was simple enough, but then the play isn’t long. I can’t say i enjoyed the conclusion, with Claudio and Hero marrying despite the accusations that were so easy thrown around. But what this story had plenty of was humour. I genuinely laughed out loud on several occasions. While each character had a moment or two to shine, and Beatrice and Benedick shine throughout, the funniest characters by far were Dogberry and the watchmen. Every ‘deformed’ with a capital D gave me a little chuckle.

I would urge anyone with the slightest inclination to give ol’ Shakespeare a go. He’s more awesome than you think, and basically invented half the words we all use today… not to mention the insults! This book also left me thinking in Shakespeare for a few hours after i’d finished. And now, i can finally get around to watching Joss Whedon’s adaptation!

This knocks one square off my Bookish Bingo: A play.