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.

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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

Review – ‘Someone Else’s Fairytale’ – EM Tippetts

I bought this because it was a free on my kindle, and I am thankful that it was free, as to have had to shelve out money for it would have felt like rubbing salt in a wound. This book was fortunately a quick read, but I could not take it seriously. The characters felt nonsensical, the writing clunky and the story long-winded.

someone-elses-fairytaleThis book’s main character is Chloe Winters, a student raised by a single mother with high aspirations. One night, after volunteering with her friends to be an extra on a movie set, she catches the eye of Jason Vanderholt, a world-famous movie star. The book is a romance, and so you can guess where the pair undoubtedly end up, but other background storylines include Chloe’s psycho half-brother and a short-lived romance with her friend.

Although the premise of the story is interesting and would have made for a great chick-lit book, one of the main things that ruined the experience for me was that Chloe Winters is an absolute drag. Yes, she is an appealing character in that she is the underdog, working while studying, humble and hardworking but so many of her habits frustrated me. I would have understood her insistence on her super famous boyfriend not buying her things if she hadn’t been so anal about it and if several pages had not been dedicated to arguments about him paying for her laundry. Also, her whole chattering on about being born ‘out of wedlock’ was ridiculous to me. Not only did the language itself belong several decades ago, but it seemed like such a closed-minded perspective for an otherwise modern character. I also felt like her family background could have been approached in a more sensitive way, rather than the clumsy way with which it was written, which I felt represented single-parent families in a negative way. Additionally, Jason’s character also made me squirm. From his all-day Skyping (Does a hard-working actor really have nothing else to do?) to when he spoon-feeds Chloe ice-cream, which made me squirm so much I had to take a break from reading.

19615422Another disastrous aspect of this book was the writing style. Almost all of the story was told through dialogue between the characters, and so the book was simply a flow of constant conversations between characters. Although dialogue is a fantastic way to show who a character is, it is also necessary for readers to see a character on their own. I cannot remember a single time when Chloe was on her own and when we saw the story told through her voice and her voice only. Instead, she was always on the phone to one character, which was then following by another character walking in and a conversation between them, which was subsequently followed by Chloe going to see another character and then another phonecall. Despite the whole book being told in the first person, I don’t feel like we see Chloe at all as her own person, instead only knowing her through her relationships with others. Further, the style of the dialogue itself made me squirm, with the writer making far too frequent use of sayings like “Omigosh” and “Soooo”. This writing style is too casual for my liking and would make sense if used in a text messaging context in the book perhaps, but not in normal writing of dialogue.

Although the story itself was not a bad one, I wish that less had been covered in the book and in more depth. Halfway through the book, Chloe and Jason had ‘got together’. Instead of the book simply focusing on the ‘Will they? Won’t they?” we then had to follow them through random events in their relationship until the end, but instead, the second half of the book felt aimless. I would have preferred for the book to focus on the lead-up to their relationship further in depth, exploring their relationship more, which would have made the book feel more like a well-written novel than an awkward fanfiction.

Overall, this book had potential and a promising storyline but the execution was what let it down. The writer would have done better to have focused on one central aspect of Chloe and Jason’s relationship, and the characters got on my nerves.