All The Pretty Horses

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Book club books will always be easier to review when it comes to putting pen to paper. Logically I suppose, the process of discussing a book out loud (however fruitful or not that discussion may be) never fails to help me compartmentalise my thoughts.

I’m fully aware that all I’ve moaned about lately is the lack of a good simple story and, although Robert Graves’ is helping to remedy that at the moment with his wonderful (and surprisingly uplifting) memoir Goodbye to All That, book club choices are always risky business. A double-edged sword of absolute hidden gems or books that are simply ‘ok’. Given the stellar reputation of The Road, we were all excited to read Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. Although undoubtedly a modern classic, the more I think about it the more I feel like this might just have been ‘ok’.

John Grady; unassuming young cattle rancher from Texas, has just lost his Grandfather and, along with him, the prospect of a future on the family ranch, which with the death of its owner is now due to be sold. Seeing no future for him at home, Grady takes his horse and heads of south towards the Mexican border, taking his friend Lacey Rawlins along for company. Encountering madcap teenager ‘Blevins’ and his suspiciously majestic horse along the way, the boys set off on (for them, please note) an unforgettable adventure, full of danger, risky relationships and, oh yeah, some horses.


 

One book clubber very 7555187astutely described this book as ‘cinematic’. She was right. McCarthy’s descriptions of the majestic landscape these boys travel across are breathtaking; the approach of the oncoming storms terrifying (as Blevins will attest). It is hardly surprisingly that it was transformed into a film with Matt Damon back in 2000 – albeit a dull one. Lauding this book however, on the front cover of all things, as ‘one of the greatest American novels of this or any time’, I take slight issue with.

In my desperation for good stories, I can’t help but take that kind of wild claim to heart. The simple fact is that it should in fact read; ‘one of the greatest American novels of this or any time in my opinion.’ I mean, I’m used to bookish hyperbole, but this is just ridiculous.

This book is a true modern classic; where you can be sure to discover some seriously quality writing. From depictions of the wild landscape to describing the most subtle interaction between man and horse, McCarthy really knows his onions and it is just so satisfying to read. The dialogue, though hard to get into at first due to the distinct lack of pronouns and quotation marks, once clicked is just so perfect and entirely natural.

However, although I appreciate a bit of realism as much as the next person , the endless, monotonous journeying of the boys became seriously repetitive. Let’s face it, there are only so many ways of describing a bivouac. Of far more interest to me was their arrival and employment as cattle drivers at the Hacienda on the Mexican plains; full of history and human interest (least of all the hot romance that ensues). Also, although John Grady is a doubtlessly sympathetic character, the female contingency of the book group (i.e. 90% of us on the night in question) felt that McCarthy laid it all on a little strongly. What? He’s strong, handsome, sensitive, good with animals and fluent in Spanish?! And he’s only 16? … Pull the other one…..

Strong writing and the occasional nail-biting scene could not, in this case, hide the fact that full-blown Americanah, full of cheese and testosterone, jarred a little with our cynical, feminine, Mancunian minds. The ending was a little weak and readers simply don’t appreciate too many lines written in a language they don’t understand. It spoils the flow hombre.

McCarthy writes beautifully, but I won’t be reading the rest of his Borders trilogy.3 stars

 

 

Which ‘great American novel’ do I really need to read? Help me adore this literary location!

Authors: a review

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Since my Ishiguro experience a few months ago and having the honour of seeing and at least saying hello to the great man in the flesh (albeit for all of 5 seconds) I’ve been given some serious food for thought. Reading is an essential part of my life. An activity I spend a whole chunk of that life doing and, given the time, would do a whole lot more of. I delve into these magnificent worlds, the fantastic imaginings of brilliant minds…it’s a pretty intimate experience when you think about it. But am I particularly bothered about getting to know these minds I feel I know so well in the flesh? I can’t say I do. Harsh, I know.

One astute blogger recently wrote a thought-provoking piece on escapism that really spoke to me. I have a fairly frenetic lifestyle and escapism is a necessity to keep me from going completely bonkers and to give my head a break from reality. Some do it with TV, etc, I do it with books and frankly, I suppose coming face to face with the creators of these worlds I love so much makes things just a little too real and, well, let’s face it, could leave a reader open for some serious disappointment….

That said, I’ve been mulling on those writers, living and not-so living, that I could make an exception for…..

1. Terry Pratchett (1948 – 2015)

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I haven’t read nearly enough Terry Pratchett in my life and am worried I feel a little too old to be able to delve into Discworld as deeply as I once might have been able to. Regardless of my woeful familiarity with his work, Pratchett’s public battle with Alzheimer’s Disease brought much-needed publicity to the illness, along with welcome donation to Alzheimer research. An inspiring man and author.

2. Margaret Atwood

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This woman is just epic. The creator of so many wonderful worlds; from the Canadian wilderness to 1930s Ontario to the terrifying, dystopian Republic of Gilead. I can’t read her back catalogue too quickly… What happens when I run out?!

3. Donna Tartt

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Totally peeved that I can’t find a picture of Donna Tartt I’m allowed to use because she is too cool. So cool with her androgynous vibes that I’d probably feel a bit intimidated if I met her…but I wouldn’t mind too much. Anyone who came up with the wonderousness that is The Goldfinch is worth a meet in my book.

4. Joanne Harris

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Joanne Harris’ novels are just sweet as pie and, as I read a Dickens’ every Winter, I’m beginning to wonder if I should read one of her books every Summer, for that bit of sunshine-filled magic. Mmm. Plus she’s hilarious on Twitter. Someone I could definitely see myself partaking of a few gins with… chin chin!

5. Beatrix Potter (1866 – 1943)

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A country girl like myself, I feel like Beatrix would have been a joy to be around. Full of imagination and sweet stories and passionate about nature and animals, I love Renée Zellweger’s interpretation of her the best.

6. Derek Tangye (1912-1996)

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Derek Tangye was my kindred spirit. Leaving his city job to retreat to the countryside with his flowers and animals (most famously, his cats) I would give anything to follow in his footsteps. Perhaps I will one day!

7. Neil Gaiman

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Another author I haven’t read nearly enough of but, after reading the wonderful, comforting The Ocean at the End of the Lanereally need to experience more. Plus. He’s a total dude. (Another favourite Twitter account)

8. Paul Gallico (1897 – 1976)

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Another author chosen almost purely (as well as his wonderful writing of course) based on his love for cats. Purrr!

9.Hilary Mantel

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Another engaging lady I would be honoured to meet. She’s so utterly smart and passionate and, let’s face it, although a novelist knows her onions when it comes to the Tudors. Her 2013 speech on the Royals was powerful and just check her hold her own against the patriarch of Tudor historians David Starkey;


10. Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961)

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Oh Ernest, I’m sure the rumours are true and you were a total pr**k, but cor blimey I’d like to tussle with you. You live loving, hunting, fishing, bullfighting son of a gun.

Which authors would you like to meet in real life? Who have you been lucky enough to meet already?

Cloud Atlas

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by Judy Schmidt via Creative Commons

For years Cloud Atlas, arguably the best known of David Mitchell’s award-winning novels, has been floating around on my periphery in a rather irritating way. A scratch that I’ve really not known whether to itch. Bouncing up and down my TBR list for years, the Marmite reviews from friends and fellow book bloggers left me feeling understandably apprehensive. Having read and enjoyed Number9dream for book club a couple of years ago (unlike some of my fellow members) I’d long-ago decided I would take the plunge at some point.

Using my shoddy skills to even attempt to describe the, admittedly utterly unique, plot of this novel to you all is a futile task. Enter my woeful little diagram:

Capture‘Fanning’ out in 11 sections, Mitchell’s plot (that readers will find either completely rare and wonderful or totally frustrating) rides as follows :

  • The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing – (mid 19th century) lawyer sails from the Chatham Islands back home. Rescuing a native stowaway who hides in his cabin, Ewing becomes gravely ill on the journey.
  • Letters from Zedelghem – (1930s) a young musician forces his way into the home of a famous composer, begging work as his apprentice. Much naughtiness and deception ensues.
  • Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery – (1970s) A budding young journalist investigates rumours of wrongdoing at a nuclear power plant, at her own extensive risk.
  • The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish – (present day) fleeing the criminal family of one of his more interesting clients, publisher Cavendish inexplicably finds himself ‘imprisoned’ in a retirement home.
  • An Orison of Sonmi~451 – (dystopian future) the confessions of Sonmi; a clone who has become self-aware. A terrifying glimpse of our imagined near future.
  • Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After – (post-apocalypse) the narrative of Zachry, now an old man, remembering his youth on ‘Big Island’ (Hawaii). A life crushed by ignorance and poverty, plagued by violent tribes and in awe of the goddess; Somni.

What I did manage to glean after some painfully obvious clues is that the main characters of each section are supposed to be reincarnations of one another…much pondering therefore ensues on what this is exactly supposed to signify….


 

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As much as it pains me to say it, I really struggled to get through this book and find that everyone I ask either feels exactly the same, or the violently opposite, way. How come?

This is an undoubtedly rich, complex, multi-faceted, clever and utterly unique tale; both in its content and the way it is structured. David Mitchell’s imagination is vast beyond belief and the concept striking despite its vagaries. Did I feel my mind open just a tad to his weird and wonderful adventure? I suppose so.

However, upon (finally) finishing the book I found myself asking whether any author should have to try this hard. The answer? No they shouldn’t. Mitchell’s prose is way over-complex, bordering on strained and even pompous-sounding at times. Check this out:

Sometimes the fluffy bunny of incredulity zooms round the bend so rapidly that the greyhound of language is left, agog, in the starting cage.

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All was not lost however; the dystopian ‘Sonmi’ section sang to my periodic desire for something a little frightening and apocalyptical. Fascinating, logical, political. I loved it.

That however, was pretty much my lot. Rather than keeping me intrigued, I simply found the elliptical structure to be hugely disruptive to any enjoyment, it taking me pages and pages to become even vaguely concerned with rather drab, unattractive characters before they disappeared from the story entirely. The link between them was not nearly forceful enough for me to give a damn and the climatic ‘middle’ chapter, written in an almost primitive, ‘back to basics’ language, was, by that point, far too tiresome to try and penetrate.

I’m not stupid, and this book makes me feel stupid. Boo to you David Mitchell …. Perhaps I’ll watch the film instead. It looks wonderful:

Ever had a book make you feel completely stupid? How many pages does it take for you to give up on a novel?

Beyond the Sea

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Good golly. Getting back into writing on this blog is a rather strange and marvellous process. I must take the opportunity to apologise to all you Relishers out there for my mysterious absence over the past few weeks. A tussle with my internet provider (see previous post) followed by a wedding (NOT mine!) and a much-needed holiday has made for a busy summer where blogging, and sometimes even the glorious books themselves have fallen right to the bottom of the priority pile.

However, I have been lurking about on other blogs liking your posts and commenting for a couple of weeks and finally need to take the time to enthuse about one book that I have finished and thoroughly enjoyed over these past few weeks. A thoroughly decent yarn that I really needed to help me through the madness. Beyond the Sea is Melissa Bailey‘s second novel and her deft pen flourishes in this thoughtful, atmospheric tale of grief, love and loss.

Freya, a tragically widowed young woman is finally returning home to Ailsa Cleit; the remote Hebridean island where she lived in a lighthouse with her husband and son; both tragically killed in a boating accident. Escaping the inevitable fuss of her family (but not the attentions of her tireless sister Martha) Freya’s seafaring world is peopled by down-to-earth friends who are well-versed in the mysteries that lurk in the depths of the Atlantic sea.

Saturated in the rich history and mythology of her surroundings, Freya embarks on a journey of discovery, starting with the appearance of a mysterious stranger; Daniel, washed up on her shore as if by fate. Where this will lead her only the intrepid reader knows, battling through shipwrecks and ancient superstitions in a quest for a peace.


I’m a bit fussy nowadays and have recently started to make a 25602986concerted effort to read all of those wonderful books I have collected and compiled in lists over the years and that have, thus far, remained just that; lists on Goodreads or my bookshelf that never get read. I’m careful about wasting my precious reading/thinking time and only delve into things when I’m confident I won’t walk away disappointed. Although tales of grieving widowers aren’t usually my cup of tea, the promise of a windswept tale of myth and legend in an isolated part of the world that I love so much lured me in, and it didn’t disappoint. (I also took the fact that the woman on the front is clearly wearing my winter coat from Next as a good omen!)

This story is permeated with the history and legends of Scotland’s Hebridean islands, some of which I’m already familiar with and this helped pique my interest from the off (and those elements I did Wiki just out of pure interest were perfectly accurate, allowing for some extra brownie points). This beautifully barren part of the world was a pitch perfect setting to play out this family tragedy; poignant without becoming oppressively bleak.

Bailey quite smartly transforms what could, under another pen, become a maudlin, stagnant picture of grief. Here, she transforms her heroine into a Robert Louis-Stevenson-style adventurer on her quest for understanding, finding keys, clues and hidden letters that allow her to retrace her family’s last steps. This treasure hunt sweeps the reader up and across the waves and keeps the narrative rolling on sharply towards its fantastical ending. There are no wasted moves here, nor wasted words as we, along with Freya, follow both her own son’s diary and the saga of a tragic 17th century sailor through his letters to his wife, his fate eerily mirroring her family’s own sad destiny.

I have, as per usual, been busting to read something simple, well-written and absorbing lately and I thank you, Melissa Bailey, because Beyond the Sea did just the trick. Compelling enough to become invested in Freya and her lonely life yet light enough that I didn’t feel as if my head would explode. Marvellous stuff. The predictable ending I also had in mind for this story also didn’t materialise which greatens my admiration and respect for an author with a great deal of promise.

What have you all been reading lately? Do you have a preferred country/part of the world to indulge in when you read?

BT Bobbins !!

I’m sure you’ve all been there …. The most perfect idea for a blog post … Half a handcrafted review completed and then SNATCHED in the blink of an eye as your stupid Internet connection  fails. 

The bf and I have been out of action wifi-wise for over a week and, due to the frustrating lack of customer service at BT (RUBBISH, avoid them like the p l a g u e) threatens to be out well into next week ! So, for now bookworms I’ll say a short cheerio. Using this temporary hiatus to get some much needed reading done AND have a think about my pending review of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. A tricky one to say the least ! 

Xxxx much love from the Relish iPhone, courtesy of some scarce 3G action xxx