Saturday, 22 July 2017

Review of 'The Savage Detectives' by Roberto Bolaño

Review of 'The Savage Detectives' by Roberto Bolaño

I was doing really well at keeping up to date on posting on this blog last month, and then I read this massive tome. So, sorry for my absence, but this novel took a while to work through. I was meant to read it two and a half years ago as part of my lit course, but it was big and heavy with small font so I avoided it at all costs and Wiki'd it for the seminar. I've read quite a few nice, speedy novels recently so I thought it was time to tackle it.

The Savage Detectives is one of Bolaño's longest works. Initially a poet, he turned to, in his opinion, an inferior form of literature: fiction. Bolaño was a traveller, and spent most of his life poor, finally turning to fiction as a way to secure income. 

Usually I wouldn't do a little author bio for you, but as one of the main characters, Arturo Belano is a loosely autobiographical figure, I felt as though it was important.

The novel is very much a South American novel. Not all of the text, or possibly not even the majority of the text, takes place in South America, and yet it remains an intangible zone throughout the entirety of the novel. It's there in the conversation between narrators, and there in the discussion of literature, which features heavily in the book. 

The Savage Detectives is written in three parts. The first is a story from the viewpoint of a 17 year old poet named Garcia Madero. He becomes entangled with a group of poets who name themselves the visceral realists. Even if you search this term, all you get are mentions of Bolaño and this novel. It's a form of poetry that is discussed at length in the text, but as with any avant-garde form of art, it's true form is never pinpointed. It's un-pinpoint-ability is part of what it is.

The second part features over 40 narrators. It's confusing, and at some times mindless. Some narrators only feature once, and some come in waves of repetition. It took me a while to link this mass of scenes, but the one thing they all have in common is that these people have met Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, the founders of visceral realism. These people tell stories that span twenty years as well as multiple continents. Movement between chapters and narratives is harsh and abrupt. It constantly keeps you questioning and leads you off into different realms of thought. Again, I feel as though this is part of the idea of visceral realism.

If you define 'visceral' you come across the idea of something relating to ones feelings rather than to ones intellect. This features throughout The Savage Detectives. We're met with  crude sexual scenes, scenes of abject poverty, alcoholism and the desire to learn. Belano and Lima do not do what they need to do in life, they do what they feel like doing. 

The final section picks up exactly where the first section leaves off. Belano, Lima and Garcia Madero are travelling across the desert with a prostitute they saved from her pimp. The pimp is hot on their tails, but they're also in search of a visceral realist poetess, who has only ever published one piece of work. This final section follows them in their journey to the heart of visceral realism. 

Have you read this? What did you think?

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Review of 'The Sorrows of Young Werther' by Johann W Goethe

Review of 'The Sorrows of Young Werther' by Johann W Goethe

The Sorrows of Young Werther has been heralded to me as a great work of European literature forever, and it's something that a lot of Romantic authors have alluded to in their novels. I was expecting a tome of intense language and powerful scenes, and I have to admit that I was left feeling a little underwhelmed whilst reading the first two-thirds of the novel. But, as the novel started to reach its end I finally saw why this has its own pedestal in the literary world.

Goethe actually wrote The Sorrows of Werther within six weeks, and it's a vaguely autobiographical account. The majority of the novel is formed through letters from Werther to his friend Wilhelm, whilst the last section is more of a narrative. 

Werther moves to the countryside at the beginning of the novel, and falls in love with a peasant girl named Charlotte. There's one problem: she's already engaged. But, Werther continues to befriend this motherless girl who is rearing her younger siblings. 

Soon, the sadness Werther feels at the fact that he cannot have a relationship with Charlotte begins to overwhelm him and he moves away. Eventually he realises that he cannot be away from Charlotte, and sinks into a deeper depression.

Werther returns to the countryside, and finds Charlotte married to her beau. The pain he feels is getting worse and worse, but he just can't keep away. Eventually, Charlotte is forced to ask him to leave her, and things go rapidly downhill from there ...


Have you read it? What did you think?

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Review of 'Room' by Emma Donoghue


Review of 'Room' by Emma Donoghue

People have been recommending Room to me for years. As in, I remember people telling me to read it when I was still in school, which is over five years ago now! But, I put it off and put it off and now I finally realise what I've been missing out on. Room is so well written, terrifying, thoughtful and endearing. I honestly could not put it down. It's also the first book I've read from the perspective of a child that actually nails what it's like to be a child. We see everything from Jacks perspective, and there are often times when he's confused or scared, and adult conversations go completely over the top of his head. But, he knows what he wants and what he needs. He isn't a perfect kid: he throws tantrums and annoys people, but that makes him seem even more real.

Room begins with five-year-old Jack and his Ma living in a room. Jack believes they have everything they need there: they've got Bed, Rug, Plant, Bath, Wardrobe and all his homemade toys. But, what Jack doesn't realise is that there's a whole world outside of Room ...

Jack's convinced that this is all there is to life, him and his Ma in room. And Old Nick, a man who enters in the night, makes the bed creak and brings them something they ask for as a Sunday Treat. Jack always wants to ask for something fun, but Ma says they need things like vitamins. Jack's Ma makes him keep fit by doing exercises each day and not just sitting in front of the TV.

Now that Jack's five, his Ma begins to backtrack on all the lies she's told him to make things easier. She tells him that there's life outside of Room, and that people on the TV are real, not just make believe. Jack struggles to get his head around it, and thinks she might be losing her mind ... hospitals and skyscrapers and helicopters and the sea can't be real, can they?

Soon Ma begins to hatch a plan to get them out of Room, but Jack's not sure he wants to go anywhere. He's happy to stay with his Ma in Room forever. 



This was such an incredible read, and I would highly recommend it if you enjoy thrillers!

Monday, 19 June 2017

Review of 'The Great Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Review of 'The Great Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I'm a BIG fan of BBC1's Sherlock series. I'm always gutted that each series is only three episodes long, but they are incredible. And yet, I've put off reading any Sherlock Holmes novels for years. I've always wondered how an entire show with multiple series' could be based around a couple of books, but now I see: each chapter of the novels (I assume it's the same for all of Conan Doyle's works as well as The Great Adventures) encompasses a new mystery. 

Sherlock Holmes has become a household name because he is the first detective in the English literary crime canon who used intuition to solve crimes rather than clues. This strikes a massive difference to what would then have been more traditional mysteries. I am a big fan of the intuitive detective: TV crime shows are my thing, and The Mentalist (a show all about a man using his intuition to solve crimes) is one of my favourites. I can't imagine this genre not existing. 

Also, now that I've read one of the books, I can see how Benedict Cumberbatch is the PERFECT fit for playing Sherlock Holmes. The detective is quirky, tall, and likes to brood. I honestly couldn't imagine anyone else playing him so well. Anyhow, let's actually get on to reviewing the book shall we?

The novel is written from the perspective of Dr Watson, who is Sherlock Holmes' second-hand man. Watson is always a few steps behind Sherlock, but he documents their adventures together. The pair come up against an array of mysteries in the novel, including kidnapping, bank robbery and murder. Sherlock always has a great many cases that he is being asked to work on, often by Scotland Yard, as his opinion is so highly revered.

Once on the scene of a crime, Sherlock sets to work examining every last detail visible to the naked eye. From here, and from interviewing witnesses, or the victims of the crimes, he begins to form an image of who may be responsible, or what exactly is going on. Then he is able to make a focused inquiry into the crime and ultimately arrive at his conclusion far before anyone else can.

If you're interested in crime novels, especially how they've developed in the last few centuries, then I would definitely recommend giving this a go!


Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Review of 'Highly Illogical Behaviour' by John Corey Whaley

Review of 'Highly Illogical Behaviour' by John Corey Whaley

I really haven't read a good number of mental health related fiction novels, despite being very interested in the genre. Highly Illogical Fiction is a young adult book which deals with acute agoraphobia and the anxiety that comes with it. In my opinion, the author tackles the subject excellently: there are no sudden cures to the protagonist's mental illness,  but there is gradual improvement, and that's what recovery is all about. 

Solomon hasn't left the house in three years. Not even just to enter his back yard. Three years ago, things came to a head with Solomon's mental health, and he had a breakdown at school, stripping down, jumping into a fountain and staying there until he was removed. After that, he realised he couldn't bear leaving the house again. His panic attacks had become so frequent and so severe that they were no longer something he could handle.

Three years on and Solomon is doing a little better. Yes, he doesn't leave his home, but he keeps up with schoolwork and the panic attacks are less frequent, albeit they still occur. Everything is going fairly smoothly, and nothing is changing: just as Solomon wants. That is, until Liza comes around.

Liza Praytor wants nothing more than to leave her hometown by getting a scholarship to a good university to study psychology. But she needs to write a paper on her experience with mental illness. Not suffering from a mental illness herself, Liza hardly believes her luck when she goes to a new dentist and it turns out to be Solomon's (aka the crazy fountain kid's) mum. After a little snooping, Liza finds out that he's still stuck at home, and decides to befriend him and write her paper on how she's going to help to make him better.

Solomon reluctantly agrees to meet with this girl who sent him a letter via his mother, asking for them to be friends. Their friendship blossoms, and she begins to help him with his panic attacks. There's just one problem: Solomon has no idea that this is all going on record; an experiment aimed to get Liza the place at university that she wants ...

Have you read it? What did you think?

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Review of 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' by Truman Capote

Review of 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' by Truman Capote

And I said, what about, Breakfast at Tiffany's, she said she thinks she remembers that film.

I've had these lyrics stuck in my head for as long as I've been reading this novel, and I'm pretty sure everyone's sick of me constantly singing it. It goes to show how much this novel has affected modern culture: we have songs about it, a film about it. Speaking of the film, it features one of Audrey Hepburn's most iconic acting and looks. I had to see what all the fuss was about.

I was honestly surprised with the sexual liberation that emerged in Breakfast at Tiffany's. It actually challenges some conservative ideas that people still hold today. Holly Golightly, our protagonist, is essentially an escort. She earns her way through life by attaching herself to rich men, and doing (mostly) what they wish. Despite being accused of whoring herself out by several characters, Holly has only slept with seven men. 

Sadly for our narrator, he was not one of the seven, and at some points I'm sure he would have loved to have been. Through him, we realise that Holly is a woman who will never be boxed into a corner. All her possessions are eternally ready to move at any point. She can flit from one lover to another. She's almost an ethereal being in this respect: things and people don't impact Holly, Holly impacts things and people. 

I was truly surprised, and honestly happy to see that Holly was not straight. This is probably the oldest book that I've read in which a bisexual main character exists, and is free with the information about it. There are points at which Holly calls herself a 'dyke' in pretense; she uses the word to get out of sexual encounters with men. However, she does mention having sex with a woman at one point. This unfortunately fits into the homophobic rhetoric of bisexual women being promiscuous and sleeping around, but we do find out that Holly does not have as much sex as she seems to be having. 

I think this is such an important book to read, and to compare to American novels written a couple of decades beforehand. I haven't read many North American books written in the early 1960s, so it really felt like a massive shift was had when I came across this.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Review of 'The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes' by Anna McPartlin

Review of 'The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes' by Anna McPartlin

I knew this novel would be a tear-jerker from the start, but I wasn't prepared for just how attached I'd get to all of the characters. Reading this book made me feel like I was part of the Hayes family, and to ultimately lose one of them was devastating. Also, I haven't put a spoiler alert on this because the title makes it fairly clear that we're going to lose somebody during the course of the story.

Mia Hayes has been coined Rabbit ever since Johnny, a member of her older brother Davey's band coined the name for her due to her high long pigtails, and habit of scrunching her nose up to push her glasses up. Rabbit is obsessed with Johnny, and despite being four years younger than him, she never loves another boy. She spends all her spare time listening to Kitchen Sink, the band, playing in her parents' garage, and even ends up becoming their sound engineer when they start doing actual gigs.

This isn't how the reader first meets Rabbit though. We meet her as she's moved into a hospice to ease the pain she's suffering from with her stage four cancer. Rabbit thought the cancer was gone after it took her first breast, and then her second, but now it's so deep-rooted that it's made its way into her bones, and she's suffering from a serious break. 


What's worse is that no one can quite stomach the idea of telling Rabbit's 12-year-old daughter Juliet. Neither Rabbit nor Juliet know who Juliet's father is, and so it's always just been the pair of them, sticking together. The rest of the family: Rabbit's parents and her siblings, have rallied round. No one wants to believe that sweet Rabbit is quite literally on her death bed, and we go through a journey with each family member and how they begin to accept that they might lose their Rabbit.

This was such a beautiful novel. I would definitely recommend it!