Book Reviews, Contemporary

You – Caroline Kepnes Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

I have a secret love of true crime documentaries, particularly, anything to do with scary serial killers and their psychology. Even though they leave me creeped out for days afterwards, I also enjoy the fear a little bit. This book felt just like those documentaries feel, but worse. If you’re looking for a book to make you feel a bit creeped out – or probably, very creeped out – look no further. Let me introduce you to the scariest book I have ever read.

You is a story told from the perspective of Joe, a bookseller in a used and rare bookstore. One day, Beck walks into his store, a young creative writing student, and he is instantly smitten. But, this isn’t just a crush. Joe descends into a full-blown obsession with Beck, ehe is determined to have her, and will do anything to remove obstacles between them. The novel traces his various manoeuvres to not only successfully meet Beck, but to get her to fall in love with him, and to keep her by his side.

Hands down the best thing about this novel was the narration. The entire story is told from Joe’s perspective, in the second person, as if he is talking to Beck directly – the ‘You’ of the title. The effect of this is striking from the first page, and Kepnes really captures Joe’s voice as he explains everything that he is thinking and feeling. Sometimes it reads like he is writing a letter to Beck, sometimes it reads more like a stream of consciousness narrative, as if we are actually listening to his own inner thought process. It is incredibly effective, and elevates the creepiness factor to brilliant heights.

The plot itself is also exciting. Joe has no limits, and it makes the book both a thrilling and horrifying read. On the one hand, you’re intrigued to see how much further Joe will go to secure his goal. With every new thing that he does, you are shocked to find that he has taken that extra step, from tracking down a person’s social media, to their address, to their location on various social outings. By the halfway point, I was convinced that the rest of the book would be a downhill ride, because how could Kepnes keep up the pace, but she did! On the other hand, it’s also terrifying to read, as you realise that Joe has no boundaries, and that he doesn’t care. He understands social norms and that his actions would be considered weird or dangerous, but in his mind, he is justified, and it is everyone else that is insane.

Overall, this book was brilliant from start to finish. It was a tightly woven story that never got boring, the stakes were consistently being raised to heighten tension, and the second person narrative escalated the suspense even more to the point where, at times, I was trembling with shock and excitement at the latest plot twist. I could not recommend this more, but warning: it will scare you.

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Book Reviews, Contemporary

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

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Rating: ★★★

I have found it so hard to review this book because it is so unlike most of the books I have read. Junot Díaz’s writing is unique and effortless, it is a beautiful read and loved the intertwining of stories, but I sometimes felt like the overall story and unity of the various plots suffered under the weight of them all.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is, obviously, about Oscar. He is an overweight, nerdy, and eternally lovesick Dominican boy who lives with his mother and sister. He wants desperately to experience love, and although he experiences it very often, he has yet to have it be returned. Díaz’s narrative spreads not only across Oscar’s formative years, but as far back as previous generations, exploring the curse, or Fuku, that they believe has overshadowed their lives for decades.

I did enjoy this aspect of intergenerational storytelling, and particularly in the context of talking about an immigrant Latino family, it felt very appropriate. In my own Latin American upbringing, I have always been raised to consider my family history to be as strong a part of my identity as my own likes and dislikes, so I could really relate to this method of exploring Oscar’s life and beliefs and the events that had formed him. The experiences of his relatives even years before directly impacted his life, and by the end, we not only see a clear chain of events across generations, but also wonder whether the Fuku is real.

The downside to this was that sometimes I just found this secondary stories to drag on a bit. There were things that I didn’t understand the importance of, meanwhile other storylines were left by the wayside and I would have liked to have had the chance to explore more. As interesting as the stories of the different characters were as standalone stories, and even though by their end I could see how they linked in to Oscar’s story, sometimes while reading them I felt lost in their story and struggled to see the importance of some of the detail. Also, despite understanding that these events and people formed Oscar’s own identity and life, I felt like Oscar’s own story at times felt weak. For example, the final chapters of his story felt simply silly at times, and whilst his neediness and desperation for love had been endearing, I simply grew frustrated with his narrow-mindedness and decisions, and the ending, rather than feeling poignant and moving, just felt a bit – dare I say it – stupid.

Overall, I do appreciate Junot Díaz’s talent in writing this book, and I do appreciate the various features of its structure and storytelling, but I simply didn’t like the plot. It felt disjointed at times, and the main plot and character disappointed me.

Book Reviews, Contemporary, Historical

The Penelopiad – Margaret Atwood

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Rating: ★★★★

I’ve wanted to read more work by Margaret Atwood since I read The Handmaid’s Tale at school, but I’ve never gotten around to it. When a friend recommended this book to me, and then by lucky coincidence I found a second hand copy a few days later, I decided to give it a try. I was not disappointed. Atwood’s writing is so easy to read but its simplicity is wound up with subtle commentary on the world around us.

The Penelopiad is a retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey. In the original tale, Odysseus leaves his home and wife to fight for Helen in the Trojan War, setting off on a decades long journey battling monsters and sleeping with goddesses. When he returns home, a hundred suitors are vying for his wife’s attention, and he kills them all, and his wife’s twelve maids, for betraying him. Atwood’s version, however, gives Penelope a voice of her own, agency, and strength. In this story, Penelope’s role is more than just that of a sitting duck. She develops a scheme of her own to, alongside her maids, keep the suitors at bay, by lying to and manipulating them. Although when Odysseus returns home her experiences are ignored, the story gives her a life, depth, and character.

Atwood shows us Penelope’s life before she met Odysseus, her views of him, or her cousin Helen, of the island where he takes her, of her life when he disappears. We see the life of a woman who hears nothing of her husband for decades but rumours of his exciting travels, death-defying feats, and different sexual partners, all whilst she remains at home trying to be the perfect wife. My favourite part of it, however, was the fact that Margaret shows us Penelope’s life after death. The story is told by Penelope from the other side of the River Styx, looking back on her life. It’s interesting to hear a story told by someone who has the benefit of hindsight, and even better, we see her interactions with the people that she knew in life, and so, in a very small amount of pages, Atwood shows us all of these ancient characters in a variety of different positions, and at various times of their lives. For example, Penelope’s twelve maids appear as a chorus after every chapter, giving their own commentary on the events.

The Penelopiad is a very short book, and so it was a quick, single-day read, and I really enjoyed it. I have not read The Odyssey, but I was familiar with the story, and I always find it interesting to see retellings of familiar stories. I loved the focus on the women in the story, who are relegated to minor, background roles in the original, but are now given a starring role. I also liked how Atwood gave Penelope depth, but that her character was not typically ‘nice’. She is a faithful wife, but that is not all that she is – she has a mind of her own. Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Penelopiad, and I can’t wait to read some more of Atwood’s work.

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Book Reviews, Contemporary

The Vegetarian – Han Kong Review

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Rating: ★★★★

This book was recommended to me by a friend who absolutely loved it, and  I was intrigued by it because she had said she found it difficult to describe properly. To put it simply, this is a book about a woman who spontaneously decides to become a vegetarian,  and the effects of this decision. The novel actually touches upon issues such as women’s place in society, freedom, identity and mental health.

Yeong-hye and her husband have an ordinary and average life. They are ordinary and average people. That is why Yeong-hye’s decision to stop eating meat shocks her husband so much. In the first section of the novel, that is narrated by him, he tries and fails to understand his wife’s decision to change her eating habits, and how she can completely disregard his comfort, and her own appearance. He is angry that she would make such a decision without running it by him first, subject him to her dietary choices, and frankly, make any decision by herself. The subsequent two sections of the novel are also narrated by those close to Yeong-hye: her brother-in-law and her sister, as Yeong-hye is admitted into psychiatric care multiple times.

Although this is about Yeong-hye’s choice to stop eating meat, it is actually about much more than that. From the first section onwards, we see that what is really shocking to people is that she has made any decision for herself at all, that she stands by it, and that she defies tradition – her family are a family of meat-lovers, and even try to force feed her at a family dinner. Eventually, Yeong-hye’s lifestyle becomes even more radical, as her whole identity changes and she begins to become more and more like a plant, stripping to absorb sunlight and insisting that she doesn’t need food, only water. Although her decisions are seen by others as a sign of lunacy, by the end of the novel, in the section narrated by her sister, we wonder which character is most trapped.

I have read some modernist works before, and the style of writing in The Vegetarian is quite simple, so I didn’t find the novel too difficult to grasp. In fact, I read it in one day as it is quite short. I enjoyed the symbolism and the way it addressed themes such as women’s subjugation. I think that it approached this theme really well, as we see different aspects of control over women throughout the book, w whether it is her Yeong-hye’s husband’s expectation that his wife always think of his feelings first and put them before her own, her father’s violence, her brother-in-law’s obsession with her, or her sister’s doubt over how her sister is being treated.. We also barely see Yeong-hye speak herself, and her story is wholly told by those around her. However, I am grateful that this book wasn’t longer. By the end of the novel, I was starting to, not lose my way, but grow a bit tired of symbolism and allegory and wanted to return to my usual explicit action and plot. I was starting to read faster just to get ahead in the book, and so I think that I probably will have missed details in the final chapter, which I will probably return to so that I can really look at it properly.

Overall, I can see why this book made such waves when it first came out, and why it is receiving so much attention. It looks at various themes about women and society through the lenses of different characters, and really makes you think about how they play out in reality. Although I started to get bored towards the end, I put that down mainly to the fact that I wanted to finish the book by the end of the night. Whilst modernism isn’t for everyone and can be a bit difficult to get your head around or get back into if, like me, you studied modernist texts as a student, but this book at just under 200 pages isn’t too much to handle in my opinion, and unlike some older classics in modern fiction, its prose isn’t rambling or confusing at all, so it might be a good place to start.

Book Reviews, Contemporary

After You – Jojo Moyes Review

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Rating:★★

I kept forgetting to write this review, not because updating this blog is not important to me, but because I literally kept forgetting that I had even read this book. Where Me Before You stayed with me for days, I could barely be bothered to finish this one, and once I had, I realised that it had left no impact at all.

After You is the sequel to Me Before You, which you’ve probably heard about. If not, you can read my review for that book here. If you want to avoid spoilers for the first book (there’s a pretty big spoiler ahead) then, as much as I love that you have come here to read this post, I would advise you to skip this post altogether – here are some alternatives!

After You picks up a few years after Me Before You’s dramatic ending. Louisa has done what Will wanted her to do after his death – she has travelled, met people and done exciting things, but now she is back in London, working another dead-end job, and has realised that she hasn’t dealt with her grief at all, but rather has just been shoving it aside. After an accidental fall from her rooftop garden, which family think was a suicide attempt, Louisa is forced to enter a grief support group. Meanwhile, a shocking revelation in the form of a strange girl appears on her doorstep and Louisa must revisit her time with Will again.

I’ll get to the point quickly – this review really didn’t need to happen. I suspected that this would be the case before I read it, but I kept pushing on in the hopes that I would be proven wrong. Unfortunately, I was right. The mysterious new character’s identity was such a cliche that, for me, the book read too much like mediocre fanfiction. I think that as Me Before You was so driven by the relationship between Louisa and Will, Louisa on her own with a bunch (literally, so many) new characters with either a tenuous link or no link at all to the original story just didn’t work. I didn’t really care about any of the new characters, for example, I could barely differentiate one support group member from the other, and the ‘will they won’t they’ romance storyline was dull, because the relationship lacked the same banter and drama that Louisa and Will had.

I almost never wish that I hadn’t read a book before, but After You is pushing me to the limit. A quick google search told me that there will be a third book to this series. Why? Me Before You was a great, striking standalone novel, and as much as you might wonder what happened to a character after a novel ends, that isn’t enough justification to extend a story that has finished. The rest of Louisa’s story, frankly, is just not interesting in the way that Me Before You. I don’t think it’s necessary for me to say that I’ll not be reading the next book about Louisa, but i case it wasn’t clear, I won’t. I would rather just think of Me Before You as a standalone book.

Have you read After You, and if so, what did you think? What are some series that you think would have been left as a standalone, or stretched on too long?

Book Reviews, Contemporary

Attachments – Rainbow Rowell Review

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Rating:★★★

Attachments is a very sweet book, as can be expected from Rainbow Rowell, whose books are basically like good 90s/00s romcoms in literary form. I loved the split narration styles and the setting in a time where the internet was new and exciting (and confusing). However, despite this being really cute, I did feel like the plot was quite slow and most of the action was concentrated in the last few chapters of the book.

The main character of this book is Lincoln. He still hasn’t recovered from his high school girlfriend dumping him in their first year of college, and since then, has spent a decade completing different degrees and unable to move on. He is trying though. In Attachments, he has just moved on with his mother and has a proper job for the first time. He works night shifts in IT at a newspaper, reading people’s emails to make sure they aren’t doing anything they shouldn’t do. It is doing this that he stumbles upon Jennifer and Beth, best friends who talk about their lives through email. Lincoln is swept up by their friendship, but soon realises that he is feeling much more than mere curiosity. How can he make nothing into something?

My favourite thing about this book was the different styles of narrating for the different characters. Lincoln’s stories are told in normal prose, but we read Beth and Jennifer’s story through their emails. I loved the chatty tone of their chapters, and I felt like Rowell really captured the humorous, sarcastic and gossip-y tone of best friends’ conversations. It was even more interesting when the characters started experiencing problems outside of work, and you could see that there were things not being shared over email and going on behind the scenes. It really added some mystery to the novel, as you are invested in this friendship and the characters but unable to see what else is happening. It was also really funny to see the girls talking about Lincoln over email, not knowing who he is and that he is reading their emails. The use of internet in this novel was really interesting, and even though this is set in 1999/2000 in an office where internet has just been provided to staff, I felt like the idea of feeling like you know someone because you’ve seen enough of them online, only to realise that in the real world you don’t know each other at all, is quite relatable even 20 years after the time the story is set.

The story is really, really cute for these reasons. You see two sets of characters only knowing each other from a distance, all thinking about each other, but unable to take the next step and make their relationship a real thing. However, it was quite slow. Beth and Lincoln don’t even meet each other until the end, and it felt like the story built up and culminated within a few pages, making the slow development of the entire rest of the book feel glaringly obvious. It wasn’t until the end of the book that I realised how little had actually happened, especially considering that the way the story ends didn’t actually relate to anything that had happened before, it felt like the ending was rushed.

I also felt like as the story began to come to its climax, the creepiness of the situation felt more and more creepy. While I do think that it is a reality in the 21st century that people do become interested in people from afar thanks to the internet, the fact that Lincoln was learning about Beth entirely through private emails and not through, say, social media, felt very intrusive to me. I don’t think it would have felt as odd to me if it had been social media ‘stalking’, but private emails between friends that Lincoln didn’t actually need to be reading because they weren’t discussing anything against the rules felt like it was just too much.

Overall, Attachments was a nice, sweet read. I wouldn’t say it made much of an impact or made me feel anything very strongly. The story was super slow, but I still enjoyed most of it. However, I felt like as I read more and more, Lincoln went from feeling like a bit of a nerd and a loner, which I can relate to, to feeling a bit like a peeping tom, which I felt more apprehensive about.

Book Reviews, Contemporary

The Roanoke Girls – Amy Engel Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I tried to write a review for The Roanoke Girls immediately after finishing it, but I was still buzzing too much to write anything half-coherent. This book was beautiful – creepy, but beautiful. Amy Engel’s writing made everything flow right off the page so that you feel like you are in Roanoke, boiling under the Kansas sun, and the suspense and mystery builds around you.

Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.”

From the beginning, there is something mysterious and fairytale-like about Roanoke, where the main character Lane is taken after her mother commits suicide. The house is a maze of corridors and turrets, and Lane spends a long, sizzling summer with there with her grandparents and cousin Allegra, before she runs away. Years later, her grandfather calls her to tell her that Allegra has gone missing, and so she returns to the place she tried to put behind her. The Roanoke Girls weaves together these two storylines, that of teenage Lane as she settles into Roanoke with easy after her mother’s death, blind to the secrets being harboured by her family, and falling into a heated relationship with Cooper, a local boy, and that of the older Lane, reluctantly dragged back to Roanoke to try and save her cousin and herself, to free herself of the hold that Roanoke has on her, and see if she can escape the same fate that all the Roanoke girls before her have.

With regards to pacing, the story in The Roanoke Girls doesn’t develop quickly, but I don’t think that it’s an issue. The atmosphere in the novel is so palpable that I felt there was so much to read out of descriptions of the setting and small exchanges with characters that I was entertained. There are also hints and suggestions from really early on at what the deep Roanoke secret is. I’m not sure if it was intended to be so clear, but I pieced together what the secret was very early on, but I think that added an extra layer of suspense to the novel, because I knew what the secret was, but Lane didn’t. I was reading and waiting for her to figure out. Would she figure it out and save herself, or would she fall into the same trap that so many before her had? Would she be able to save Allegra too? How many people knew? The layers of the secret are peeled away one by one so that we gradually, over the course of the novel, from the very start to the very end, discover the answers to these questions. I really liked the way that the secret wasn’t revealed with a big bang, and rather sort of fades into our consciousness as we read it, and that of Lane. It was also interesting to read about how so many people kept the secret,or suspected but didn’t say anything, and I felt that this was a very interesting exploration of how secrets like the one in this novel are kept for so long, and how people are manipulated into keeping them. It felt like, apart from Lane’s story, the Roanoke house, the Roanoke family, and the Roanoke secret had their own stories to tell, and I loved these various intricate layers to the novel.

I was a bit apprehensive about this novel when I started it because I don’t read a lot of adult contemporary, and the description didn’t give a lot away. However, Engel’s writing is brilliant, and makes everything feel real. In the first of the two storylines, she flawlessly creates an atmosphere of hazy summer days all blending into one, with moments of teenaged fun interspersed with tense moments that hint at the secrets beneath the surface of the happy Roanoke veneer. In the second storyline, the atmosphere is that of intense heat, pressing down on you from all sides so you can feel oppressed the way that Lane does, surrounded by the people she ran away from and afraid for her cousin. I loved the contrast between these two storylines, and even better, the individual chapters dedicated to each of the Roanoke girls that had passed through the house before Allegra and Lane, which really upped the creepiness factor. The chapters telling the stories of the other Roanoke girls, in my opinion, gave the novel a magical feel, like there were more lives and stories present in the house than just that of the characters still living. The fact that these chapters tell us solely about the fates of the Roanoke girls, either their deaths or their decisions to leave Roanoke, also adds tension as I was eager to find out what Allegra and Lane’s fates would be.

One aspect of the book that fell flat to me was that of the relationship between Lane and Cooper. While I enjoyed their flirtation in the early stages of the novel and when they initially meet again years later, I often didn’t understand their moods in the later stages of the relationship. This was put down to their pasts both making them incapable of settling down, but sometimes it felt too ‘Nicholas Sparks’ for my liking. However, this wasn’t too much of a downer for me. What felt really out of place for me was a revelation towards the end of the novel, a secret that Lane has been keeping since she has left. It was only discussed in passing, all in all I think around 3 times, but I felt like it was done too superficially for the nature of the secret. If it was going to be such a minor point, I would have preferred to not be mentioned at all, especially considering the fact that the novel is already sad enough as it is.

I was swallowed right into this story within sentences, and I liked that, although the Roanoke secret is shocking, it didn’t feel sensationalised or intrusive, and the ending that she gives to the Roanoke family and their secret was a satisfying one. I also liked the way that this novel seemed to toe the line between different genres. At times, it felt like a YA contemporary, and at others, like an adult suspense novel. I genuinely believe that this novel would appeal to many different types of readers.

Book Reviews, Contemporary

The Versions of Us – Laura Barnett Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

Rating: ★★★★

The Versions of Us wasn’t like any other novels I had read before. The story is that of Eva and Jim’s lives, from their days at Cambridge University, but it isn’t just the one story. This book tells you three parallel stories, all starting from the same day when Eva and Jim first cross paths. Reading this was unlike any other reading experience, and the book really makes you think about all of the different possible routes that your life could take, even if it was a bit confusing at times.

The three stories in this novel start at the same place. Jim is walking through Cambridge, Eva is cycling through. She swerves and loses her balance. In one, Eva and Jim meet and fall in love, in another, they miss each other and go on in their separate paths, and the third is an unlucky mix of the two. Each of the three stories shows Eva and Jim’s lives after that initial moment. They marry; they live happily; they break up; they have children; they marry other people; they become successful; they fail to achieve their dreams; they suffer tragedies; they travel the world. This novel is an exploration of life, of missed chances, of fate, and of love. Can two people be ‘meant for each other’? Is it possible that you will somehow find your way to the person you are supposed to be with? Or is everything just a result of your choices, and of things that weren’t your choice to make?

the-versions-of-usThe stories themselves are not extraordinary. These are the lives of ordinary people, doing ordinary things, but that is what makes this novel so wonderful. It really made me think about all of the little choices you make everyday. Just as in one story, Eva suffers a punctured tire that Jim helps her to fix, but in another, misses the nail completely and keeps cycling past, it makes you think, what if I had gotten an earlier train this morning, or crossed the road one block later? The fact that the lives are so realistic means that you can relate to the stories. At times, it felt a bit like I was just reading about ordinary events and it was almost too real, like there was no escapism or excitement in the novel, especially in the parts where the characters are stuck in pretty awful situations or tough parts of their lives, but this really was a book of ups and downs, trumps and losses.

I felt so many emotions reading this book. I felt excitement at the things that were happening in Eva and Jim’s (and everyone else’s) lives, I felt anger at their choices, frustration and the things they couldn’t help, pity for the things that happened to them. I loved that none of the three stories can be described as ‘the happy story’ or ‘the one where everything goes wrong.’ In each story, Eva and Jim are thrown together, pulled apart, and it means that, although you’re hoping that they make the choices that you want them to make, you’re also stuck with this feeling of hopelessness when you realise that there are some things in life that you can’t control.

At times, particularly as the stories develop and grow more and more complex, with more and more characters and events to remember, The Versions of Us can be quite confusing. There were times when I would have to flick back to remember which of the stories I was reading, but I found this to only be a small issue. I enjoyed reading the stories and finding out what would happen next way too much to let it bother me too much. You might have to push through some parts of the book that are perhaps more challenging to understand, or bits that just dampen the mood, but if you finish, I’m sure you’ll find this book to be a rewarding and fun experience that really makes you think about life. Not only your life, but all the other possible lives that could be.

Book Reviews, Contemporary

Review – ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ – Mohsin Hamid

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I read this absolutely fascinating book in a day, and was captivated not only by the story but by the writing as well. It is written in a poetic and romantic way, whilst all the while addressing very current and controversial topics in a very human way.

The story takes place in a single afternoon in a café in Lahore, and we follow the conversation between two strangers. One is a Pakistani man called Changez and the other is an unnamed American. Changez tells the story of how he became, that’s right, a fundamentalist. He is currently a professor who is frequently accused of inciting fundamentalist beliefs in his students, but he has come a long way from his time in America, where he studied at Princeton and worked as a financial analyst at one of the best consultancy firms. He tells of how he loved America and felt so strongly attached to New York, where he lived, that he was ashamed of his native Pakistan. However his life and philosophy is turned upside down by the 9/11 attacks, and he finds himself lost in America, which seems to have turned his back on him. He returns to Lahore where he meets the unnamed American, and the book comes to a climatic and mysterious ending.

Reluctant_FundamentalistMy favourite thing about this book was the marvellous way that it was written. I have never read a book written in a similar stream of consciousness, monologue fashion that flows so well. In fact, despite the poetic nature of the narrative, the sentences never felt convoluted, and not a single word felt out of place. I thought it was astounding how the whole book is told through Changez’s speech – we never hear from anybody else, only what Changez replies. The opening paragraph is a perfect example of the writing style of the book: “Excuse me, sir, but may I be of assistance? Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened by my beard: I am a lover of America.” Hamid also managed to effortlessly switch between Changez telling his life story to Changez talking to the American in front of him, and to capture both a sense of reading a first-person narrative and also reading a person’s transcribed speech.

I was rather surprised that the actual events of the novel were not more dramatic, however I was pleased. It was quite a refreshing take on a topic that is addressed so differently in the mainstream media, and looked at the human story behind the sensationalised topic and Hamid does not shy away from showing ‘un-American’ views through his characters. The book is still ambiguous though; Changez is articulate, incredibly friendly, welcoming and generous to the America. Instead of being some sort of monster, he is a professor, who advocates non-violent forms of protest and supports the sovereignty of his country. One of his students has turned to a more violent method and so Changez is in the limelight, but is he really to blame? What made the book even more striking was the ambiguous ending, where it is not clear whether Changez is being hunted for his views or whether Changez really is the sinister figure that the book’s title would suggest that he is.

Mohsin-HamidI was also intrigued by the way in which every aspect of Changez’s life had a symbolic role in his development as a character. His employers’ motto of focusing on fundamentals seemed like a joke at times, and I actually did smile at the irony a few times. I was also interested in Changez’s relationship with Erica and his relationship with America, and Erica as a symbol of America. Particularly, I thought the description of America and Erica as living in a world of the past was fascinating, and what seemed to be, when I began reading, a simple story about a man’s radicalisation, turned out to be a complex analysis of America, and his relationship with it.

I think that The Reluctant Fundamentalist deserves far more than this simple 700-word review, and maybe something more along the lines of an essay with a word count of far over a few thousand. It was a truly mesmerising read, both in terms of the issues addressed and the style of writing that Hamid adopted. At times it felt like I was listening to a particularly articulate speaker and at others as if I was listening to a poetry recital. I would recommend this book to everyone – and have already started!

Book Reviews, Contemporary

Review – ‘Me Before You’ – Jojo Moyes

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I have stated several times in previous reviews that I am not ordinarily drawn to romantic novels – they’re too often predictable, soppy, and boring.. However, after seeing much on social media about Me Before You which is being adapted for the big screen and seeing cast members and readers alike talking about how much they love this story, I felt like I had to read Me Before You. This book is fantastic. I want to yell from the rooftops for people to go out and get themselves a copy of this novel. Me Before You is a story about friendship, love, choices, and life, and it made me smile, laugh, and weep.

Jojo Moyes’ novel centres around Louisa Clarke. She is a twenty-six year old woman who has lived her entire life in the same small town. She has held the same job in a local cafe for years, until one day, the cafe closes down and she is left with no direction in life. She reluctantly takes a job as a carer to Will Traynor, a thirty-five year old quadriplegic, who has lost the will to live after a motorcycle accident two years previously. Although initially the two don’t get along at all and Louisa finds it difficult to break though Will’s stony exterior, the two form a strong bond. When Louisa discovers that Will is intent on taking his own life, she undertakes to make him change his mind, taking him on as many adventures as she can find, and while she show him a whole new world, Will helps Louisa to broaden her own horizons.

Me-Before-YouI was initially apprehensive about the story of this book, fearing that Me Before You would be an experiment in how much we could be made to pity Will. The truth is that there is so much more to this story. This is not a four-hundred page book sob story. Instead, this is a book about two people who would never have ordinarily met, forming an unbreakable bond. They may not have met each other if it wasn’t for Will’s accident, but his disability is not the main part of their relationship. In fact, at one point, Louisa even says that his body became “a thing to be dealt with” and “the least interesting part of him”. Will encourages Louisa to try new things from foreign films to scuba diving, and as a result, Louisa pushes him to try his former hobbies again, accompanying him to concerts and even pushing him to agree to a holiday. Furthermore, the really emotionally tough aspects of this book, such as Will’s suicidal thoughts, were dealt with in a subtle and genuine way that didn’t sensationalise or trivialise his feelings at all. Moyes did a great job at making us understand the views of all the characters and Will’s own way of thinking. I loved that right until the end of the novel, we are left guessing and yet the ending, when it comes, feels like it fits just right, like it couldn’t have ended in another way. Moyes doesn’t play the shock card when dealing with important issues, but deals with them subtly and compassionately.

The characters of Will and Louisa, as well as the various others in the story, all felt like realistic individuals. I like that despite Louisa being quite closed-minded and not venturing further than what she knows, Moyes didn’t make her a boring character, but just a character who needed a gentle shove in the right direction. I like that she explained Louisa’s way of being without using too many flashbacks or information dumps, but rather slowly showing us how Louisa’s experiences and family life makes her feel tied down to her family home. Similarly, Will’s character was also largely clear to understand without many flashbacks, in fact, there is only one flashback right at the beginning of the novel. Instead, through the use of objects around the house like photographs, conversations with past friends, and a few lines of dialogue, we could understand exactly what he had lost. A standout line for me was the line where he and Louisa return from the concert, and he expresses his wish to forget everything, and just be “a man who has been to a concert with a girl in a red dress.” In this way, we could understand the characters without it feeling like we’re being forced to see them in a particular way by the author.

Moyes also did a fabulous job with the secondary characters in the book, from Louisa’s family and boyfriend Patrick to Will’s own family and friends. In particular, I think that Moyes brilliantly captured the dynamics among the families so that they felt ordinary and familiar. Particularly Louisa’s family felt so realistic, from her parents doing everything they can to make their family comfortable, to Louisa’s love-hate relationship with her sister Katrina. I loved how Moyes included a few chapters from the point of view of these other characters spread out throughout the book. It was a great way to get us inside their heads of characters like Will’s parents, carer Nathan, and Katrina, without dividing up all of the chapters among them and therefore keeping the focus on Louisa and Will.

jojo_small_portrait_crop-212x300The relationship between Will and Louisa was so much fun to read. Jojo Moyes captured a lightness and humour in their dialogue that made their conversations feel real and genuine. Will’s cruel sarcasm in the opening chapters of the book slowly becomes what turns into a back-and-forth joking with Louisa, and in this way, we can slowly see their relationship develop without it needing to be spelt out to us. Rather, it isn’t until quite near the end of the book that the friendship between Louisa and Will takes a more romantic turn, rather than these feelings simply being suggested.

I really cannot think of a single complaint against this book. It was easy to read and the characters all felt familiar, as if I knew them myself. I loved how we got to know the characters of Will and Louisa so well without any information dumps, and that Will’s disability wasn’t as defining to the central relationship as I feared it would be. When I picked it up, Me Before You conjured up images of TV movies which forcefully pull your heartstrings, but really, it was much more subtle and emotional. Me Before You is not a story about disability, it is a love story about bonds transcending boundaries, physical or not, and about how one person can change your outlook.