Accomplished in April Part 2

As promised here is the second part of my April Wrap Up reviewing the second lots of books I read for Book Roast’s Magical Readathon, if you haven’t read Part 1 you can find it here!

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

The story begins by following the fate of Charles Hale, a man who is being stalked by a gang waiting to murder him. The story then proceeds with the repercussions of what happens to him and the desperate actions of the gang leader responsible, 17 year old Pinkie. The narrative jumps from character to character revealing the perspectives of Ida the last person to see Hale before he was met by Pinkie and his gang, Rose an innocent waitress who falls for Pinkie and gets dragged into the gang world, and, of course, Pinkie, a young gang leader trying to assert his authority, but who ultimately trusts no one.

I was really looking forward to reading this having heard so many good things about it. Unfortunately, I found it quite a tough read. The sentence structure and flow was quite odd and caused me to reread lines again and again to fully understand what was happening. Having said this, I did find the plot intriguing and wanted to discover what would happen next, it just took an awfully long time to get there.

My main issue with the book was that I constantly felt like I knew more than the characters and I was simply waiting for them to catch up with what I had read in the previous chapter. This really slowed the pace down and made it a bit of a chore to read. I am glad though, that I finished it and I do think that the story rounded up quite neatly and satisfactorily.

Conclusion: I thought that the overall plot for this book was great, however, the pacing really put me off and the sentence structure added to my negative view. I am not opposed to watching either of the films made of Brighton Rock as I do think some of the pace could improved with a more streamline text – not something I often say about book to film adaptations. I think Greene’s writing style is something you either get on with or you don’t. If you’ve enjoyed other books of his or you get the chance to read the first chapter and enjoy it definitely stick with it, but if like me you find the first few pages a struggle, I’m sorry to say that it doesn’t get much easier.

Rating: ★★★

Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg

I enjoy poetry from time to time, but I haven’t sat down with a book of poetry since school, so I was excited to read Allen Ginsberg’s work. I watched a film about him several years ago and was taken aback by his extraordinary life. I would say that having seen the film definitely helped a little in understanding his poetry as it gave a context to his writing. Honestly though, I was still quite lost reading Howl. It is probably the longest poem I’ve ever read and even after reading summaries and analyses of it, I still felt like I was missing something. I could appreciate the rhythm and flow of the writing and understand that it was skilful, but I felt more at home with his shorter poems because I was able to grasp more meaning from them.

My favourite of his poems was Sunflower Sutra, which discusses identity and how society and your environment can affect and blur the understanding of your own self. I felt a strong connection to this because of my conflicted feelings about money. We live in a capitalist society so my dreams for the future have been built around the idea of buying a house and having a well paid job that allows me to go on holiday and buy new gadgets and clothes when I please. But recently, I’ve become more concerned with the effects of my decisions upon the environment – hence I haven’t purchased any new clothes for about a year now and I have made some changes to more sustainable products in my beauty routine. So how do I uphold my morals and maintain my identity in a society that is based on consumerism? The other reason I really loved this particular poem was that I felt it was so universal. Pretty much everyone is told to be something different than themselves by society and I thought it was an encouraging plea from Ginsberg, telling his readers to remember who they really are and what they ultimately believe in.

Conclusion: I think I needed to ease myself back in to the world of poetry a bit more gradually to fully appreciate Howl, so I think this is a book I will revisit in the future. As I have said though, I thoroughly enjoyed some of the shorter poems and look forward to including more poetry in my future reading, although I think it might be one at a time rather than a book at a time.

Rating: ★★★ – this was affected by my ability to understand the poetry rather than the quality of it

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Muggle Studies

I loved this book! From the first page I was drawn in by the different writing style and within the first 20 pages or so I felt a really strong emotional connection with the main character. The story is written in the hand of Christopher, a 15 year old who, it is implied, is on the autism spectrum. This is conveyed by both the style of writing, which is very to the point and direct, as well as through Christopher’s explanations of why he finds it hard to understand other people.

He begins by telling the reader how he came across his neighbour’s murdered dog on one of his night time walks and aims to solve the mystery of who committed the crime and along the way write a thrilling whodunnit. The story, however, develops into a heat warming tale of a family trying, and often failing, to accommodate each others differences.

I found the writing style truly effective as it enhanced my ability to empathise with Christopher and helped me to better understand his perspective. The story line felt well paced as you discover things at the same time as Christopher, but you are also able to pick up on hints here and there, that he includes, but does not give much weight to, to keep you eagerly anticipating what will happen next.

I am not overly familiar with autism and what knowledge I have is mainly derived from TV shows. Therefore, I did take the time to see how others, much better informed than I, regarded the portrayal Haddon creates. The general feeling seems to be that he has done an excellent job in including autism within the story, elevating the narrative, without making it the focus.

Conclusion: This is one of the most emotionally powerful books I have read in a long time. I cried a lot, I laughed a lot and I found it agonisingly hard to put down. I would easily recommend Haddon’s masterpiece to anyone and everyone. It’s a lesson in kindness, but more importantly in understanding that we don’t all think and respond to situations in the same way and that these differences shouldn’t be used to separate us but to help us all become more empathetic.

Rating: ★★★★★

Inside the Whale and Other Essays by George Orwell

This was a mixed bag. The book is a collection of essays about a variety of topics including writing reviews, politics and lots more, including Orwell’s own personal experiences and those of others. Some of the essays I really enjoyed as I could recognise Orwell’s wonderful story telling structure and descriptive writing. I felt this most strongly in Down the Mine as I could see clearly in my mind the tunnels that Orwell was taking me down and feel the burn of the excruciating physical labour he was witnessing.

With other essays I felt like I was missing the context and sometimes an interest in the subject matter as the topics discussed are incredibly varied. Even in the ones I didn’t enjoy as much, however, I did catch snippets of opinions and thought processes that I could relate back to 1984 and Animal Farm which kept me more engaged.

Conclusion: This is not a book I would normally pick up. At university I was used to cherry picking the articles I needed, so would usually have only read one or two of the essays within a book like this. I think I would be better suited in the future to reverting to this process and reading essays such as these alongside others on similar topics rather than trying to read the whole book from start to finish. This is not a criticism of placing all of these texts together, but more of a suggestion that they should be respected and require further reading to fully digest their meaning.

Rating: ★★★ – again this is partly a rating based on my ability to derive meaning from all of the essays rather than a condemnation of the writing itself

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