Fragile Things

fragilethingsTitle: Fragile Things

Author: Neil Gaiman

Summary: Let me tell you stories of the months of the year, of ghosts and heartache, of dread and desire. Of after-hours drinking and unanswered phones, of good deeds and bad days, of trusting wolves and how to talk to girls.

There are stories within stories, whispered in the quiet of the night, shouted above the roar of the day, and played out between lovers and enemies, strangers and friends. But all, all are fragile things, made of just 26 letters arranged and rearranged to form tales and imaginings which will dazzle your senses, haunt your imagination and move you to the very depths of your soul.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2.5/5

Review: I love short stories. I mean i really love short stories. So i’m not giving this book two stars lightly. But this books took me over a month to read; i wasn’t excited to pick it up to carry on reading. It just… wasn’t that good. It wasn’t all bad, either, though.

I really loved Other People, it was by far and away the best story in the book. It immediately started with a hook and ended with a twist that made the entire story make sense. That is the perfect kind of short story to me. It packed so much into barely 5 pages of words.

Another notably enjoyable story was Keepsakes and Treasures, because the characters and the back story were so developed–i would love to read more about Mr Smith and Mr Alice. Harlequin Valentine was interesting, another story with a twist. I thought the idea behind How to Talk to Girls at Parties was brilliant, but was uninspired by the execution. And of course, having read and loved American Gods, i really enjoyed The Monarch of the Glen.

But. But to be honest, most of the other stories were mediocre, or half-hearted, or slightly interesting but not developed enough. October in the Chair, for example. I liked both the idea of the months of the year as characters–the relationships and banter there–and the tale of the two boys, one alive and one dead. What i didn’t like were those two ideas in the same story. They detracted from each other, for me. Either focus on why the months of the year are telling stories around the fire and what their meeting is really about, of focus on the boys and their relationship and the meaning there. Don’t throw in as much weird shit as you can and call it entertaining–it has to mean something, too.

Honestly, i just don’t think short stories are Gaiman’s forte. Short stories are a different beast. As Stephen King aptly put it:

A short story is a different thing all together – a short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger.

I did not enjoy these kisses; too much tongue, not enough pressure. Short stories have to punch a lot harder in a lot fewer words, and i think Gaiman shines more in novels. I absolutely adored American Gods, and enjoyed The Ocean at the End of the Lane. But i have to say i’ll likely avoid his short story collections in the future. Which is a very sad, telling thing for a lover of short stories to say.

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Swan Song

ssTitle: Swan Song

Author: Robert McCammon

Summary: Facing down an unprecedented malevolent enemy, the government responds with a nuclear attack. America as it was is gone forever, and now every citizen—from the President of the United States to the homeless on the streets of New York City—will fight for survival.

In a wasteland born of rage and fear, populated by monstrous creatures and marauding armies, earth’s last survivors have been drawn into the final battle between good and evil, that will decide the fate of humanity: Sister, who discovers a strange and transformative glass artifact in the destroyed Manhattan streets… Joshua Hutchins, the pro wrestler who takes refuge from the nuclear fallout at a Nebraska gas station… And Swan, a young girl possessing special powers, who travels alongside Josh to a Missouri town where healing and recovery can begin with Swan’s gifts. But the ancient force behind earth’s devastation is scouring the walking wounded for recruits for its relentless army, beginning with Swan herself…

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2.5/5

Review: So, i’ve decided it’s a thing. A read an epic apocalyptic dystopian over Christmas and new year thing. It really cheers me up over the festive period. In 2014/15 i read The Stand, in readiness to read Swan Song in 2015/16. I felt i had to read The Stand first, because chronology and all that. And in the end, it’s turned out i did prefer The Stand, but now we’ll never know if that’s because i read it first (but really, it’s not).

I loved the start of this book. It got straight into the action of launching nuclear weapons and we’re introduced to the characters as the bombs fall. I loved the lack of messing about and getting straight into the story. I loved the gruesome, realistic descriptions of the characters’ post-nuclear blast wounds. I loved how nothing was easy, everything was a struggle and how much the tension was set high from the very beginning.

For most of the book, i enjoyed all the main characters. I didn’t necessarily like them (i’m looking at you, Ronald), but i enjoyed their storyline and their representation–they interested me. I don’t think there was anyone i was overly fond of; there was no one i favoured more than the others, and for that, the deaths that occurred throughout the book were sad, but not genuinely upsetting, which felt like a shame. As much as i liked the characters, i felt far enough removed to see the deaths as a device to the story and other characters’ motivations.

My problem with the characters began when the two main groups of ‘good guys’ finally met up. I had been waiting and getting excited for it, but it was quite a let down, and actually left me disliking characters i had previously been fond of. You choose to traipse all over the country for seven years looking for someone you see in a magic glass crown, that’s your choice. Don’t get all righteous and demanding when that person’s trusted friends are protecting them from you because you are pushy, potentially dangerous, strangers. I’m going to side with the sane, rational people looking out for each other, not the bossy self-important ones who think they deserve something. I never fully recovered my fondness, unfortunately.

The, perhaps very strange, thing i liked most about this book, was its ability to make me wince. I’m a fan of horror, i’m used to gross and disturbing things, and it usually takes a lot to get to me. But there was something about the simple, almost blasé way this book described disfigurements, violence and injuries that had me screwing my face up and hissing through my teeth. And i loved that. I loved being physically affected in that way, because i so rarely am.

Something that bothered me from the very first chapter, continually, right up through to the last chapter, was the choppy–dare i say sloppy–point of view. It switched from person-to-person without warning and in no discernible pattern. No chapter or even paragraph breaks to distinguish and prepare the reader for the change, just -bam- you’re in someone else’s head. It wasn’t hugely difficult to follow, it just interrupted the flow of the reading, particularly when it would flit to one person only for a line or two, then switch back, or switch between a multitude of people in a short space of time. I understand it was to get across more and relevant information to the reader, but honestly it was a sloppy way to do it.

About halfway through the book, time skips ahead. By seven years. I know it’s seven years, because the narrative makes sure to mention that fact several times, very clearly and extremely pointedly. And at this point, i suddenly felt very far away from the characters i’d got to know over the several months the first half of the book spanned. Could not, instead, those first several months have spanned several years? To take the reader, gradually, on the journey with these character over the years and showcase the key points of their growth and spread the plot points out over the years… rather than skipping ahead as if nothing of note had happened in seven years. It rubbed me entirely the wrong way and felt entirely like a quick and easy cheat on the author’s part. “Let me introduce you to all these interesting characters! Aaaaand… skip to the end.”

The major turning point for me and this book was towards the end. When the two teenagers are pushed together in an awfully sexist fairytale way. A kiss to wake sleeping beauty… i strained my eyeballs, i rolled them so hard. I very nearly gave up right there and then, on page 627, with only 229 pages to go. But i persevered, and was rewarded only with more talk of how beautiful Swan was, with how much Robin loved her, even though they’d barely spoken 20 words to each other. Forget all the violence and gore–this made me sick.

Overall, the ending felt rushed and unsatisfying; the threads of stories weren’t so much woven as tangled haphazardly into a knot. It was a case of moving things along too quickly to pack everything in, and in an 856 page book, that’s quite something. Suddenly war and defence! Suddenly prisoners of war! Suddenly weeks later on the road! Suddenly ‘God’ and the end of the world! And still other things weren’t explored or utilised enough. For seven years a magical glass crown is converted, protected and hunted. Its vital role in the story is stressed and pages dedicated to an exaggerated ‘crowning’ scene… only for it to have no relevance to the dramatic conclusion of the book. It becomes a trinket. And i’m left with the overwhelming feeling of, ‘What was the point?’

What was the point? That was the ultimate feeling i was left with when i closed the book. For all it galloped to the big climax, the very end–the ‘they all lived happily ever after’–dragged. At that point, i didn’t care that much. I was just wanting it to be over.

The Colour of Magic

tcomTitle: The Colour of Magic

Author: Terry Pratchett

Summary: On a world supported on the back of a giant turtle (sex unknown), a gleeful, explosive, wickedly eccentric expedition sets out. There’s an avaricious but inept wizard, a naive tourist whose luggage moves on hundreds of dear little legs, dragons who only exist if you believe in them, and of course THE EDGE of the planet…

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2.5/5

Review: I’ve never had the inclination to pick up a Terry Pratchett book. I picked this one up because it has dragons in it, and i wanted to tick that off my bookish bingo. To be quite honest, i wish i hadn’t bothered. I still have no inclination to pick up a(nother) Terry Pratchett book.

I had issues with the book almost immediately. To put a positive twist on it, i’ll say the book wasn’t boring; there was always plenty going on, lots of think about, imagine and keep track of. The book did, however, have too much happening. Pratchett has one hell of a vivid imagination, but that doesn’t mean he has to include every detail he thinks of in the bloody book. There were side characters whose history, present and future were thrown in over a few pages and then never heard of again, while adding nothing to the actual story.

Talking of the story, this book didn’t have one. What was the plot, exactly? Because i must have missed it. There was nothing driving the main characters. They hopped from one tricky situation to the next, never actually striving or aiming for anything, which in turn left me not rooting for anything. There was also nothing resembling a satisfying ending. Now, i love open and ambiguous endings, but there has to be some kind of conclusion; something has to be wrapped up, even if not everything. The problem here was there there was nothing to wrap up!

The main characters, Rincewind and Twoflower, i did rather like. They make an interesting duo, the inept cowardly wizard and the joyful naive tourist. It was funny seeing them repeatedly get themselves into sticky situations and fumble their way out of them. The luggage stole the show though. Other characters came and went, and i was mostly unconcerned with them; there were far too many passing characters to get attached to any. There was one specific set of characters i was highly disappointed with and, to be frank, pissed off about…

The female characters. For the number of characters in this book (a lot), the fact that i can count the females on one hand is bad enough, but then we get down to the characters themselves. The first two mentions of women were simply as whores. The second two mentions of women introduced them with the specific fact that they were beautiful and naked. The third mention was of a female hanging upside down and only talked about how odd her breasts looked that way around. The fourth, and marginally the least offensive of the lot, was simply “The Lady” who was also simply described as being “beautiful and that she had green eyes”. The fact that she is the character that outwits all the others can’t make up for the rest of her representation. Honestly, the general representation (and lack thereof) of women in this book and the fact that i have been told the later books get no better, is the main reason i will never pick up another book by Terry Pratchett.

It’s a pity, really, because at times Pratchett has an excellent way with words, being very witty, clever and generally amusing. But then, when it seems he’s trying so hard to be those things, he’s has to succeed a few times, right? And it’s not worth trawling through all the problems i had to find a few great passages.

This knocks one square off my Bookish Bingo: Dragons.

Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis

cocoaTitle: Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis

Author: Wendy Cope

Summary: Already well known for her hilarious send-ups of contemporary writers, Wendy Cope is perhaps the most accomplished parodist since Beerbohm. This first full-length collection includes work by Jason Strugnell, the subject of the Radio Three programme, Shall I Call Thee Bard?, as well as other parodies and literary jokes. There are, in addition, telling lyrics and a number of remarkable love poems–candid, sometimes erotic, and very funny indeed.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2/5

Review: I’ll admit straight away that i only read this book to tick off a couple of boxes on my Bookish Bingo. I can’t recall having heard of Wendy Cope before and I’m not a connoisseur of poetry… so it was highly unlikely this endeavour was going to end in anything above three stars.

I’m particular when it comes to poetry and verse. I like either dramatic and epic, like Shakespeare and Poe, or silly and rhyming, like limericks. Some of the poems in this book, on the whole, are walking a line somewhere close to silly and rhyming, but while still being meaningful. Others were just silly enough for me. Others still just baffled me, to be honest… i didn’t “get” a lot of them.

My favourites were definitely the nursery rhyme parodies. Baa Baa Black Sheep in the style of William Wordsworth and Hickory Dickory Dock in the style of T.S. Eliot. They were clever and funny and perfect. I could happily have a read an entire book of those. (Still craving an E.E. Cummings nursery rhyme, not going to lie.) I also really enjoyed the love poems, ‘From June to December’ and ‘My Lover’. These are the poems i can see myself wanting to go back and re-read.

The rest… the rest i was pretty unimpressed with. None of them were bad, per se; i didn’t dislike any of them. I just didn’t like them, either. I’m sure a factor in this is that i’m not too familiar with the some of the work, writers and themes Cope was toying with. So, while the poems read fine to me, they failed to interest me because i was missing their depth.

I’m unlikely to buy more of Cope’s work, but i will certainly remember and re-read the few poems i genuinely loved.

This knocks two squares off my Bookish Bingo: Author with your first name and author with your initials.

Metamorphosis and Other Stories

metaTitle: Metamorphosis and Other Stories

Author: Franz Kafka

Summary: Metamorphosis is one of the most terrifying stories ever written. a man wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a giant insect. Kafka describes his reactions and the reactions of his family—at first horrified, then kind, wrathful, despising, and finally negligent. This haunting parable on human reaction to suffering and diseases has already become a classic.

Other stories in this volume, which contains the best of Kafka’s short stories, are The Great Wall of China, Investigations of a Dog, The Burrow, In The Penal Settlement, and The Giant Mole.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2.5/5

Review: I had never read Kafka before, but Metamorphosis has been on my to-read list for quite a while. When i picked up this copy that includes several other short stories i was rather chuffed. Chuffed only lasted through the first story and a couple of pages into the second, unfortunately.

Metamorphosis itself was wonderfully dark and depressing. Through Gregor’s slow realisation that something is seriously wrong and how the people around him react there are so many things to consider. Gregor himself is the one affected by the metamorphosis, but he seems constantly to worry only about his family, despite their increasingly neglectful and hostile reaction to him. Very much a morbid story, but one i found rather fascinating.

The next three stories, The Great Wall of China, Investigations of a Dog and The Burrow, are where my problem with this book really lies. Rather than stories, i found them to be in the style of essays. Told mostly in first person (though occasionally drifting into third), these pieces discuss and analyse various concepts. Two of them from the point of view of an animal, but i think drawing on ideas from human life and putting them in an alternative context. I actually found the concepts discussed and Kafka’s general approach to them very interesting. However. I found the overall writing and the failed attempt at a story-like narrative rather dull. With no driving plot, no characters and no no dialogue, the entire pieces dragged. I mean really, when one paragraph stretches over four pages, it’s just ridiculous.

Things picked up again with In The Penal Settlement, which was much more of an actual story and felt like a breath of fresh air after the previous three essays. It was my favourite of all the stories in this book, but i’m still not sure if that was the story itself, or simply the relief it gave me.

If i ever read any more of Kafka’s work, it will be with more thorough research into what i’m getting myself into: story or essay. Either way i think it could be interesting and enjoyable, i would just much rather be prepared!

This knocks one square off my Bookish Bingo: Originally written in a different language.

The Hourglass Factory

hourglassTitle: The Hourglass Factory

Author: Lucy Ribchester

Summary: Meet Ebony Diamond: trapeze artist, tiger-tamer, suffragette. Where there is trouble, she is never far away. But now she’s the one in trouble, and she’d up to her neck in it.

Enter Frankie George: tomboy, cub reporter, chippy upstart. She’s determined to make her name on the London Evening Gazette, if only someone will give her a chance. The Ebony disappears during a performance at the London Coliseum, and Frankie jumps at the chance to find out what happened.

How did Ebony vanish, who was she afraid of, and what goes on behind the doors of the mysterious Hourglass Factory? From the newsrooms of Fleet Street to the suffragette headquarters, Frankie enters a world of society columnists, corset fetishists and circus freaks on the trail of a murderous villain with a plot more deadly than anyone could have imagined…

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2.5/5

Review: I bought this book on a whim after i saw in in a shop. The cover caught my eye, it had females leads, it included suffragettes… it seemed interesting. It seems like it will be the last time i buy a book on a whim.

This has taken me over a month to read, it was so hard going. The worst of it is, though, that there is nothing i can point to to say ‘this was bad’, but at the same time, not much i can point to to say ‘this was good’. It wasn’t so exciting or engrossing that i wanted to pick it up to keep reading, but it wasn’t so bad that i just wanted to give up altogether. I wanted to have read it, i just didn’t want to read it. And in some ways, that’s worse than just disliking a book enough to not finish it.

It had a great concept, a great premise. The era it was set in and the suffragettes… except the plot was so (so, very, very) slow to get going that instead of being interesting in the book itself, i was more inclined to research more details about the suffragette movement. In fact i have a copy of The Militant Suffragettes on my bedside table to read in the near future now i’ve (finally) finished this book!

I liked the characters, at least, the characters i was supposed to like. And i disliked the characters i was supposed to dislike. It was all very easy–too easy. What i would have liked is more. There are hints and trickles to these characters, but nothing more. Inspector Primrose and his wife particularly gained my affections and interest, and i wanted to know more about them. Instead they seemed like bit-part characters filling the role of stars. The same can be said for all the characters. I liked Frankie, but we’re only ever given hints of her feelings. Does she regret her childhood sweetheart married someone else? Does she feel for the women she gets to know over the course of the book, or is she only interested in making it in a man’s world? Milly and Ebony seemed too far away to reach… too attractive to be very deep. Liam seemed smart and highly under-appreciated, and i would have liked him and Frankie to stop arguing and acknowledge the value of each other at some point.

The plot meandered, with the characters fumbling from one clue to the next, not really figuring anything out until it was put right in front of their noses. And never actually finding the missing Ebony–instead she finds them. The end culminates in action-packed fashion, but mostly i didn’t care, unfortunately.

There was just so much to like about this book… but it was so lacklustre and mediocre. I’m annoyed with it for not being what i had hoped it would be.

Rosemary’s Baby

rbabyTitle: Rosemary’s Baby

Author: Ira Levin

Summary: Rosemary Woodhouse and her struggling actor-husband Guy move into the Bramford, an old New York City apartment building with an onimous reputation and only elderly residents. Neighbours Roman and Minnie Castavet soon come nosing around to welcome them and, despite Rosemary’s reservations about their eccentricity and the weird noises she keeps hearing, her husband starts spending time with them. Shortly after Guy lands a plum Broadway role, Rosemary becomes pregnant and the Castavets start taking a special interest in her welfare.

As the sickened Rosemary becomes increasingly isolated, she begins to suspect that the Castavet’s circle is not what it seems.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2/5

Review: I had such high hopes for this book. Mostly simply because horror, but still. I’ve owned the film on DVD for a few years, but had never watched it. Now i’m not sure i ever will (or, if i do, i wonder if this will be a rare case of film > book?).

I found the book to be much more of a psychological horror, rather than a gothic/supernatural horror the “devil baby” premise would have me believe. That itself isn’t a bad thing; psychological horror can be fantastically scary. Rosemary’s Baby, though, did seem to want to be a gothic/supernatural horror, while it also roamed the edges of psychological. Ultimately, it failed to get its teeth into either.

It scared me, i’ll give it that, but not in the way i like to be scared by horror, and not in the way it was trying to scare me. I wasn’t scared by the Satanist old couple next door, or the suspicious drinks, or the noises through the walls. I was scared by Rosemary’s husband claiming to have slept with her while she slept and her being okay with it. I was scared by Rosemary’s husband telling her not to read a book given to her by a by a dead friend, then throwing it away and, again, her being okay with it. I was scared by Rosemary’s husband, doctors, neighbours, “friends” constantly telling her what to do, what to think, controlling her every second. I was scared by Rosemary’s relationship with her husband, i was scared of how easily Rosemary was manipulated…

I was plain scared of Rosemary. I didn’t fear for her, i didn’t feel sorry for her, i didn’t even like her very much. I pitied her, and despised her husband. The kicker was, of course, the end. When Rosemary plucks up the courage to do something, to go after the people who stole her baby. But even in that, she was far too easily manipulated into overlooking the lying, the raping, the poisoning, the kidnapping… because BABY! All Rosemary was was a baby machine, but in the end, that was apparently exactly what she was happy being. It made me sick, but again, not the kind of sick horror is supposed to make me feel.

The plot itself was decent enough, but not well written. The hints and clues and foreshadowing were less than subtle, and the fact that the book is told from Rosemary’s point of view, that Rosemary is seeing the big obvious plot points the reader is, but she doesn’t manage to put together what they mean, is insulting to both Rosemary and the reader.

Unfortunately, i just can’t get past the weak and pathetic character Levin has created in Rosemary. If this had been played out as a psychological horror, but cleverly, without the simple-minded, meek and cliched housewife, it could have been something pretty amazing. But i can’t even mourn the potential in this book; the disgustingly bad in the book was as rank as the tannis root.

I had to fight to finish this book. It just made me angry and frustrated every time i picked it up, and i seriously considered throwing it across the room a couple of times. It’s just… bad.

This knocks one square of my Bookish Bingo: Set somewhere i want to visit.

The Man Who Was Thursday

thursTitle: The Man Who Was Thursday

Author: G.K. Chesterton

Summary: Gabriel Syme is dispatched by Scotland Yard on a secret mission to infiltrate the Central Anarchist Council — an organization plotting to bring down the existing social order. The seven members of the group are named after days of the week, with the mysterious Sunday — who calls himself ‘the Sabbath and the peace of God’ — as their leader and mastermind. Having successfully infiltrated their ranks, Syme himself becomes known as ‘Thursday’. But he soon finds himself in a surreal waking nightmare, in which the lines between freedom and order, fact and fiction, become irrevocably blurred.

Written in 1908, and drawing heavily on contemporary fears of anarchist conspiracies and bomb plots, The Man Who Was Thursday remains uncannily relevant. It is a fascinating mystery, a spellbinding allegory, and an entirely chilling classic of crime fiction.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2/5

Review: This book sounded intriguing. A policeman infiltrating a group of anarchists, lines being blurred. Unfortunately what i imagined from the summary and what i got were… very different.

First of all the idea of an anarchist group with fractions across Europe and elected representatives and leaders… does Chesterton even know what anarchism means? (And no, it’s not chaos or lack of order, but from what i understand “no masters” is a significant aspect.)

Then that Syme, the main character and rookie policeman, all but strolls into a secret location and takes part in a meeting and gets himself elected–by a group of anarchists who have never met him–to the “Central Anarchist Council” all in one day. I just… no.

The book only get more bizarre from there, with slapstick chase scenes and lack of logic. The book seemed to go all over the place without actually going anywhere at all.

There are seven main characters in the book, comprising of the members of the “Central Anarchist Council”, but really, i could keep track of no more than three. They were all so bland and lacking of any character. I had no feelings for them at all, save perhaps boredom. And poor characters will always make a poor book, as far as i am concerned.

There were a few amusing one-liners throughout the book, and some aspects of the story were great, if poorly executed (twist after twist, even though i saw them all coming from very early on).

Despite all the outrageous action and bonkers plots, it was only during the last chase and the final scenes that i actually stopped and thought, “What the hell is going on?” And i still don’t know what the book is about, really. What points Chesterton is trying to make.

From reading others’ reviews, i get the impression that perhaps i am missing something and wasn’t reading “deep” enough. (And apparently not being familiar with biblical references has put me at a disadvantage–a disadvantage i have no regrets about, however.)

When a book barely keeps my attention, is all over the place in terms of action and direction, has such poor characters and seems to have no point, it can’t then expect me to dig any deep and meaningful reading from it. I just don’t have the time for that shit, when the book is this shit.

Care of Wooden Floors

13131066Title: Care of Wooden Floors

Author: Will Wiles

Summary: Oskar is a minimalist composer best known for his piece Variations on Tram Timetables. He lives with his wife and two cats in an unnamed Eastern European city. But this book isn’t really about Oskar. Oskar is in Los Angeles, having his marriage dismanteled by lawers. Meanwhile, he has entrusted an old friend to take care of his perfect, beautiful apartment.

Despite Oskar leaving extensive notes on how to keep his flat in pristine condition, a tiny oversight initiates a chain of farcical, and even fatal, disasters. Care of Wooden Floors is about loneliness, friendship and the quest for, and struggle against, perfection. And it is, a little, about how to take care of wooden floors.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2/5

Review: I bought this book on a whim from a bookshop. There were two books i actually wanted, but with a three-for-two offer on, i was adamant i would get another for free, and this was it. So, at least i can be glad i didn’t pay for it.

Fair disclosure: I didn’t finish this book. It left me in a reading rut for weeks, because i didn’t want to pick it up and carry on reading, so i didn’t read anything. Eventually i put it aside and started reading something else. I meant to get back to this book, but even now, months later… i don’t want to.

It’s a real shame, because there was so much about this book i did like. The writing, most of all, is wonderful, witty and more than a little quotable…

Aha, they would think, this is a man who knows how to use the tin opener.

There is a moment between sleeping and waking where one is free. Consciousness has returned, but awareness has yet to rip away the thin screen between the waker and his surroundings, his reality.

Neglect had a kind of gentleness to it that plucked at the sentimental. Time had passed here, undisturbed; I passed time there, undisturbed.

Regretful, after-the-event wisdom; the Germans must have a word for it. If they didn’t have such a word, they should. We rely on them for things like that.

Wiles has a wonderful way with words. I laughed often and also caught myself introspecting.

It is a shame, then, that Wiles doesn’t have a way with plot. For the time i was reading, not a lot actually happened. An unnamed narrator arrives at Oskar’s flat for an undetermined amount of time. He spends (too much) time describing the flat (in less-than-exciting detail; i hate useless over-description), and pondering what he will do. Then promptly does none of it. He gets drunk. A lot. And that’s about it.

I stopped reading during the events of a morning after a particularly heavy night of drinking, as the narrator explored Oskar’s flat to discern the damage he had wrought. Potentially, this was the point things got interesting, but i was already too bored by then.

The trouble was there was nothing driving the story. There was nothing driving me to pick the book up and keep reading. As well-written as it may have been, i found it had no substance.

A huge issue was my lack of connection (and actually, frustration with) the narrator. I found him self-centred and lazy and just, not a very good person. Not someone i could sympathise with at all. In all honesty, i preferred Oskar, the overly fastidious flat owner, absent as he was the entire time.

I feel sad having to give this book such a low rating, because there was so much that should have been so much better. But if i can’t even finish it, what use is it? Instead, i will have to imagine Oskar’s reaction when he returned home…

Canal Dreams

candreTitle: Canal Dreams

Author: Iain Banks

Summary: Hisako Onoda, world famous cellist, refuses to fly. And so she travels to Europe as a passenger on a tanker bound through the Panama Canal. By the end of her journey she had ignited one soldier with an oxy-acetylene torch, stabbed another through the chest with the spike of her cello, clobbered a guard with the butt of a rifle and raked terrorists with machine-gun fire before frazzling the survivors in an oil-covered sea.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2.5/5

Review: Having really enjoyed other books by Banks, and loving the sound of that summary, i was very surprised by how much i didn’t like this book.

It was slow. The story flits between Hisako’s life; childhood, adolescence and adulthood, and her present day; stuck on a ship in the Panama Canal during a war-like international crisis. My interest in both halves of the book varied wildly, both having some really interesting and really, really dull parts.

The first half of the book felt like a history lesson. Hisako’s history of how she became a cello player, and the history of Panama Canal. These weren’t necessarily uninteresting, but they weren’t exactly the thrilling, entertaining read i was hoping for.

The second half of the book is, to put it plainly, a rape-revenge. And, to put it honestly, not the best one. Was it satisfying to read about Hisako stalking down these men and murdering them without a second thought? Yes. Was it well written? Did it flow well, keep me entertained and want to keep reading? Unfortunately, no.

The synopsis covers the best bits, but i’d love to see the same synopsis on the back of a Christopher Brookmyre book. He’d write the same action, only with less rape and more entertainment.

The third aspect of the book, as the title might suggest, was Hisako’s dreams. And they were the most distracting for me. They could go on for pages, connect to nothing and i just found them boring.

Good elements, unfortunately poorly crafted. I think maybe he was trying too hard to get something more meaningful than there was from this story. The Wasp Factory, this is not.