Friday 9 September 2016

A 5 Book Review

Book Review: Poirot // Harry Potter // The Muse // Girl on The Train // Ghostwritten

After finishing exams for the academic year a couple of months ago, I told myself I was going to get back into reading. It took a while, but hey, that's alright, I was practically living with my head in a book of some sort for months beforehand anyway. Allowing myself a bit of time off gave me the space to enjoy reading for reading's sake again, rather than reading for a strict purpose. I thought I'd group the past 5 books I read together and write kind of mini-reviews for them, just as a way to document what I liked and didn't like about them (I'm awful at updating Goodreads!). So, here they are. I'm going to try to avoid spoiling anything major about the plots, but there may be some slight spoilers ahead, so tread carefully if you haven't read any of these yet.

The Monogram Murders - Sophie Hannah 

This is the first novel written by Hannah where she picks up the reins left by Agatha Christie to write a murder mystery starring the beloved detective Hercule Poirot. In fact, it's the first novel published of its kind, with permission from the Agatha Christie Trust granted to do so, which is something of a reassurance to those of us who were worried about a Poirot mystery being written by anybody other than Christie. So, how does it compare? It's actually not too bad, and I enjoyed it once I'd accepted that there would be differences from Christie's writing style. These are well managed by the introduction of a new character for the narrative point of view, which was a wise choice. The voices of regular characters matched up quite well, with Poirot's idiosyncrasies being spot on. I did guess the guilty party, but the initial setup of the murders was intriguing and memorable enough for me to not be too annoyed at guessing it. Hannah's second Poirot mystery is released this autumn, so it will be interesting to see how she handles the character a second time.

Tl;DR: You'll enjoy it if you enjoyed the original Poirot mysteries. If not, it will do little to change your mind.

Ghostwritten - David Mitchell 

Mitchell's novels usually follow a set structure where the narrative is split across half a dozen characters or so, who each have influence on each others lives, if only in a minute way, and Ghostwritten is no different. This was written before the celebrated Cloud Atlas, and it's interesting to see how the idea of lives influencing others, or the passing on of souls, developed into the millennium spanning masterpiece that Mitchell is most renowned for. Throughout Ghostwritten however, I initially considered the plot and action to be a little more linear, with only one instance of a narrative travelling to the past that I can remember. I originally considered the title to be a comment on how parts of our lives are written by the people we meet and interact with, and how coincidence just happens to bring these people together. My opinions changed when I reached the end of the novel however, with the title taking on a far more literal meaning, and the meeting of all these people being controlled by something more than coincidence. I feel like I need to reread it to observe it in a new light (unfortunately not any time soon I think). The writing, as always, is spot on - each narrative view is subtly different, and completely believable as a complete human being; whether a terrorist, a nuclear scientist, an art thief, or a bodiless voice. There are moments of joy, humour, terror, and sadness, but the overarching theme is one of people striving forward for the best, despite their circumstances.

TL;DR: Characterisation and writing was a joy to read. The ending gave me a headache!

Book Review: Poirot // Harry Potter // The Muse // Girl on The Train // Ghostwritten

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - J K Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany 

Opinions about this are pretty much everywhere, and if you haven't read it yet then it's probably best to skip this review. I've read mixed reviews, and most people I know who have read it certainly have a few things to say! Personally, I do have problems with it, but I don't think the problems I have with it detracted from how much I enjoyed reading this. Because I enjoyed reading this a lot. It was quick paced, fast to read and didn't get bogged down in too many details. The plot was easy to understand (hooray!), and it's always nice to revisit the world of Hogwarts.

Now for my problems. Some of the action seemed a little too exaggerated at times, but I'm willing to overlook this because it was first and foremostly written for the stage, and I think certain elements would have looked better on stage than they did in my imagination (e.g. THAT part on the Hogwarts Express). I actually take more umbridge (lol, pun incredibly not intended for once) with the way a lot of the characters were written. Ron seemed like a cardboard cut out stereotype of himself, Snape just didn't read as being the same character, and I felt like other characters lacked depth too. You can tell that Rowling didn't write the speech, which is a shame. Also I struggled to believe a lot of the things that happened would have theoretically happened (which is a silly thing to say, because we're talking about magic and fiction here, but hey ho, and yes I'm talking about Cedric becoming a Death Eater, don't lie - you thought the same too, just don't get me started on a certain transfiguration). Though for all my complaining, I can't deny how much I enjoyed reading it, and I think it would work great on the stage.

TL:DR: It's like A Very Potter Musical, without the music, and at times a little more absurd. But just as fun!

The Girl on The Train - Paula Hawkins

This was undoubtedly the book everyone was talking about last summer, so when I read it shortly after its release (my views on this book have been simmering for a while) it was no wonder I felt like it didn't live up to its hype. The initial idea intrigued me - Rachel's daily commute takes her past the same spot everyday, where she sees the same man and woman go about their daily life and imagines what their life must be like. When the woman, Megan, is announced as missing, Rachel decides to piece together the information she has from seeing the couple regularly, and assist in the search. I like the idea for a plot, but unfortunately I think I failed to connect with any of the narratives in a way that I enjoyed. All three narrative points merged into one for me, with little difference between the syntax and voice of the three women narrating this story. I became annoyed at how little I cared about the characters, and I feel like it would be easier to say that I disliked the characters because of their actions, when actually it's more of a case of not caring about them because they didn't read like real people, and more like puppets of the plot.

 The plot does pick up and the pace quickens when (SPOILER) Megan is discovered to be dead, however for me the mystery surrounding her death wasn't engaging or intriguing enough for it to be a gripping thriller. The highlight was definitely when Megan's secret past was revealed in a tragic flashback, and I wish that there was more of this connection to the characters throughout, rather than feeling quite distant from their troubles. I even felt at a distance from Rachel's problem with alcohol, even though this was discussed in detail, and I just have to put it down to the fact that I didn't connect to the writing enough to care about the characters. I've heard and read quite a few good reviews, and I can't help but feel like I'm missing something. Perhaps if it hadn't been hyped up so much?

TL;DR: Not connecting with it after such positive reviews made me feel like this. I actually think it's not so bad, and think the film adaptation should be great from what I've seen so far.

Book Review: Poirot // Harry Potter // The Muse // Girl on The Train // Ghostwritten

The Muse - Jessie Burton 

Burton's The Miniaturist received high levels of acclaim from readers and critics alike, and whilst I haven't read it yet, I was excited to try the The Muse. The plot is split between two periods; the first being a first person narrative set in the late 1960s from the view of Odelle Bastien, a PoC who has recently moved to London from Trinidad, and about her settling into her new job as a secretary of an art gallery. The second is a third person narrative set in the 1930s, shifting between Olive Schloss, her mother and father (who have escaped to Spain from a German-occupied Vienna), and Isaac and Theresa Robles, locals who endeavour to assist them in order to earn a living.

What connects these two narratives is a painting: Rufina and The Lion, painted in Spain in the 1930s, and rediscovered in the 1960s, Odelle has to work to uncover the truth about the creation of the painting, and the stories that lie beneath the paintwork, and doing this changes her views about the creation of her own work (as a poet). Both narratives focus on female creativity, challenges faced by overcoming prejudice (whether it be status, gender, or race), and inspiration. At first I thought it was pretty clear who 'the muse' was, but as I neared the end of the novel it seemed like there were many muses; Olive for Theresa, Isaac for Olive, and Olive and Theresa for Odelle. The plot was written in a clever way, where I truly believed I had figured out what the big twist was going to be, only to be proved wrong at the end. The ending is also very satisfying, without being white-wedding-perfectly-happy; loose ends are tied up and it becomes clear why the novel is structured and split between first and third person. An easy and enjoyable read.

TL;DR: It's like Fake or Fortune, but with added feminism, civil war, and tragedy.

I might do more of these in the future because I enjoy revisiting what I've read and mulling over what I took away from each. Let me know what you thought if you read any of these (or have any recommendations you think I'd like!).

On my reading list: The Luminaries // Norwegian Wood // The Crucible

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