Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

I had to give this novel two stars on GoodReads due to the uncomfortable subject content and plot of the story, especially due to the recent sexual abuse allegations in the media.

For those of you readers who do not know the storyline of ‘Lolita,’ it is about a 37-year-old man named Humbert Humbert who moves to America and in order to get close and groom the landlady’s daughter, he chooses to marry her before her untimely and horrific death; thus means Humbert enables to court Lolita whilst travelling across the US.
What makes this novel so arguably brilliant and disturbing is that Lolita or Dolores Haze is twelve years old at the beginning of the novel (and seventeen and pregnant at the end) and is sexually abused by the protagonist that plays her only father figure that appears throughout the novel. Humbert does not appear to be the monster that would naturally be portrayed in the media and in real life, this is because he is the narrator and has the ability to blur the lines between real life and his fantasies. This makes it hard for the reader to be able to truly believe what is really happening in the novel, for example, Humbert suggests that it is actually Lolita who seduces him rather than the other way round. However, the reader is able to assume based on Lolita’s behaviour and hostility towards her step-father that she cannot stand the abusive relationship that she is trapped in but over their travels, she learns how to manipulate him for sex (becoming an unwilling prostitute) in return for a small amount of freedom. Through this manipulation, Humbert is also able to fall victim to Lolita’s nymph-like features and attitudes and portrays this through his love and protectiveness of her, therefore, showing his own innocence.
The narration is beautiful and imaginative, and does not explicitly describe in detail the main consummative events of the novel, however the reader is able to understand through subtle euphemisms what is taking place. That is the main reason why I haven’t enjoyed the novel because I’m not naive enough to not understand the events taking place and with more and more celebrity abuse scandals being revealed in the media it only brings the subject closer to home and more real. It does make you question whether Nabokov himself was a paedophile as he is able to write from the position of Humbert very successfully.

Overall, this novel has opened my eyes to a different type of unreliable narrator and variation of character that features throughout modern and classic literature. Whilst I did not enjoy the novel and wouldn’t read it again (if it wasn’t for studying it in my second year of university), it is one novel that I can cross off my reading bucket list.

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What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? – Peter Hedges

I felt incredibly privileged to arrive at work a few months ago and open up the package addressed to myself from Fox, Finch & Tepper (a publishing house based in Bath, UK) giving me one of the first UK editions ever printed of ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?’ by Peter Hedges.
I knew the film was released in 1993 and starred Johnny Depp and one of my favourite all time actors: Leonardo Dicaprio but had no idea until I contacted the publishing house that it was originally novel. When I received the book, I told myself that I wouldn’t watch the film until after I’d read the book so as to not influence myself based on the caliber of actors starring in the film.

I found the blurb to be really basic and not very descriptive as to how the novel would pan out but I actually preferred it that way because as I had previous knowledge or assumptions of the story, I could read and imagine what happens next completely innocently. I would predict what would happen but every time I was wrong. I was so sure I knew what the outcome of the ending would be based on Gilbert Grape’s telling of his story and his increasingly strange and abusive behaviour. I was wrong, it took a completely different turn to what I had interpreted.

Hedges writing was so simplistic but had such a powerful impact on me, especially the fond way he would talk about his “retard” brother Arnie Grape, the main character Gilbert writes as if he doesn’t care about his family or himself and his own emotions but he quite often writes “I wanted to say this but didn’t, instead I said,” which just proves the intense conflict he has with himself and how in order to protect him and his family he speaks what they want to hear. Gilbert Grape takes the father role from a young age after his father’s suicide when he was younger despite Larry being the eldest son in the Grape family and this has an incredibly severe impact on himself and the eldest daughter Amy. Whilst obese Momma is sat smoking, eating and watching television every day Amy and Gilbert become the mother and father of the household, looking after everyone and taking responsibility of things they shouldn’t have to whilst living at home and taking care of their mentally handicapped brother when their mother is lazy and fat.
It is not an overtly sad story but if you choose to read the novel in depth and read in between the lines, then you can see the pain, sadness and other emotional baggage that every single character within the novel has and influences their behaviours and various personalties and relationships with others. The ending is pa enrtially sad not because of the crucial event that takes place but how the characters respond and act, in particular Gilbert and Amy Grape.

I haven’t read a book I truly have enjoyed as much as this in a while, it was something completely different to anything I’ve read about before. A poor family struggling to make ends meet in America is not a situation that I’m used to; it’s usually about the rich upper classes struggling to find love or becoming corrupt and killing themselves, very rarely have I come across a novel with such genuine characters that you could place into real life society and know they would fit in.

 

 

 

Anxiety & Exeter’s Underground Passages

Sitting here in my grandparents’ house exactly a year ago, my family and I were supporting my dad’s sudden mental breakdown and battle with anxiety and depression. A year later, he is much better and roles have reversed. In the winter of 2016, I had a severe breakdown whilst at university affecting various important relationships and even the standard of my uni coursework. It was only a few months later that I realised that nothing was going to get better if I didn’t seek out help from those closest to me and most importantly: a doctor.

Six months later, I’ve completed my CBT programme (thanks to Rebecca Thomson at Wiltshire IAAPT Service), taking 150mg Sertraline daily and taking each day as it comes. Every day is different. Some easier than others but all completely unpredictable.

Yesterday, as a family we decided to visit Exeter and explore the city that my dad once inhabited and to visit the passages that run under the centre of the city.
Ever since I was about 9 years old and visiting Cheddar Gorge and Caves, I developed a terrifying and paralysing fear of the dark and confined spaces because they make me feel trapped, blind and completely vulnerable to whatever lurks in the dark. That trip affected me so badly that I didn’t sleep properly for the following six months, surviving on only 3 hours sleep, at least, a night. I barely function on six hours a night, how did I manage on three?!
Since then, I have avoided situations like that due to the ‘worst case scenario’ part of my anxiety coming to the forefront, this meant I missed on an adventure trip to Wales in Year 8 (age 13) and just doing other things out of my comfort zone. I am conscious of when my anxiety comes out to play, I can feel it creeping up on me and beginning to constrict and control me; and this needs to stop. My dad suggested the trip to the underground passages and catacombs and at first I wasn’t going to venture 16 feet down under the city, but if I didn’t go I would not only continue to suffer from this irrational fear but also FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

So I went down. I hated it. The history of the tunnels was amazing and it was incredible to actually touch the walls that people from hundreds of years ago built and walked through in order to fix water piping, however it was tiny and claustrophobia inducing. A fat person definitely would not be able to fit through some of the passageways because even I had difficulty and my BMI says that I’m underweight! I took my water bottle because in ‘worst case scenario’ I would survive longer down there compared to the others without water; when I began to get panicky, the trapped feeling, and the tour guide told me to lead the way down one passage in which had a weird ending towards it I would clutch my bottle and focus on it and drink to help regulate my breathing if I began to hyperventilate.

On the way back to the entrance, we could do either the easy way back or the more difficult tunnel. My FOMO struck me again as all my family wanted to go through the difficult passage and my anxiety wouldn’t let me separate from my family and go with the tour guide who’s name was unknown and therefore I couldn’t know if I could trust him.
When he said it was a difficult passageway, he wasn’t far off. At one point it got less than a metre high, many people in front of me, and my mum and sister crawled on their hands and knees to the very end, but somehow (and I don’t know how) I managed to squat walk the whole way through without touching the walls or the ground with my hands.

I hated the experience and how anxious and panicked it made me feel despite the amazing historical background and importance of the passageways were to Exeter city years ago. I wouldn’t do it again in the near future, maybe once I have overcome the severest parts of my anxiety I would consider doing it again, but not yet. I am proud of myself for doing it and proving to myself that anxiety is manageable step by step and I can do anything if I’m surrounded by the right supportive people and not doing too much all at once.

Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton

Everyone knows the story of Jurassic Park but how many people know the original story as written by the Harvard medical graduate Michael Crichton? I am a massive fan of the films but as a firm believer in reading the books before watching the film, however considering the film was released a few years before I was born and I grew up knowing that that film was all there was.

I ordered the book off ebay because I’ve never seen it in a bookshop before. I am afraid to admit that I do judge books by their cover and usually, if they’re pretty, the content is just as pretty or even more so. I wouldn’t call the cover of Jurassic Park pretty, it was basic and simple. The cover told the unsuspecting reader that there is some relation to the reintroduction of dinosaurs to the world during the 1990s.

I was so surprised by how similar the book and film are, and how it still influenced the most recent film in the franchise: Jurassic World. The novel is far more scientific than I ever imagined but then researching Crichton’s educational background, he definitely shows his superior intelligence and how incredibly researched and plausible the whole novel actually is. I believe that if the film had included more of the scientific aspects of the whole creation of the park and the science behind extracting dinosaur DNA and combining it with that of an amphibian’s; then the film would never have become a popular cult film.

The book is incredibly underrated which is annoying because it is fantastic. The whole novel is excellently crafted and written that it surpasses the plot and construction of the film. The film has become outdated but the book has grown with time because there is no specific mention of certain models of phones or cars, therefore the imagination can conjure up anything it wants, whether modern or completely futuristic. I found the characters more realistic in the novel than any of them in the film. Jeff Goldblum playing Ian Malcolm is everyone’s favourite character (don’t lie to yourself, he is the best) but in the novel, he is a mathematician and far more intelligent and serious than ever portrayed in the film.

In conclusion, read the book! Learn the fictional science behind the park. Once finished, order ‘The Lost World’ by Crichton and see how that compares because that’s exactly what I’m doing.

The Day That Went Missing – Richard Beard

Words cannot describe exactly the sadness of this memoir. It is full of feeling and emotion. It is not overly emotional and sickly or forced, because of this the emotion is raw and very real. There is very little censorship and it reads like the mind of Richard Beard as if he is trying to piece things together and these are his thoughts.

This memoir is about recovering the memory of the events that happened leading up to the death of his younger brother Nicholas Beard and how the family coped and dealt with his death.
The truth is they didn’t. They locked him and all his memories in the attic and moved on with their lives as if he had never existed. Beard’s mother appeared to never had time to grieve because she had 3 children and a husband suffering from cancer to look after. The only way she managed to cope was by believing her son was horrible and would grow up to be a banker or a murderer. However, Beard was interested in discovering the real Nicholas as he had very little memory of his brother, and he wasn’t a horrible and twisted little boy but in fact he was anything but.

This was a very sad and emotional book that proves that people cannot grieve as quickly and as easily as it may seem. Grief also takes a manner of shapes and forms as highlighted by every single person mentioned in this memoir. Arguably actively trying to forget the memory of Nicholas was not the best way to grieve and move on after his death on a holiday in Cornwall in 1978. However, compared to self help books that teach and advise you how to deal with grief, this first person perspective memoir shows exactly how a real family, real people, deal with the death of a close family member in real life.

Men Without Women – Haruki Murakami

I was privileged enough to receive ‘Men Without Women’ as an un-autocorrected proof from the publishers Harvill Secker and I couldn’t have been happier to be able to read this before the official publication date.

This was the first Murakami that I have ever read but I’ve heard many good things about this author so I was very excited to receive the book. It is a collection of seven short stories about several male characters who live without women but not in the sense that you expect. It’s not about seven lonely men who live boring lives because their wives have died or they never got married. It is more complex and intricately written than that.
Each of the stories in the collection is as diverse as the other and this is what makes Murakami such an established and accomplished author therefore despite not being particularly enamoured by the first short story I wasn’t going to give up that easily. The stories did improve and grow on me because they were more to my taste and covered topics that intrigued me. I couldn’t pick a favourite from the collection because they were so distinct and captivating.

I definitely recommend reading this collection because until then I have never completed a full collection of stories but because Harvill Secker chose me I was going to make an effort and I’m glad I did. It has inspired me not only to read more of Murakami’s work but other short story collections by various authors.

The Raqqa Diaries: Escape From ‘Islamic State’ by Samer

It is very rare that a person comes across a book that surprises and makes them lose their words. This book did that for me. A number people I know who have read it also experienced the same thing.

In summary, Samer the writer is a 24 year old male university student originally from Raqqa in Syria. He has grown up surrounded by the violence of the Assad regime and presently Daesh (or ISIS), and the novel is about him escaping and standing up to these villains. The novel wasn’t easy to publish; Samer had to encrypt many messages to the UK and go through many third parties in order to keep his identity and family safe. The saddest thing about this story is: we don’t know his real name or whether he is safe now. He could be alive or dead. That’s the scary part.

I cannot stress enough how important this book is and I urge everyone to read it. I only knew about the horrors of Syria through the news, which chooses to report on issues that are less important or always against ISIS. Samer talks about the devastation caused by Western airstrikes on Aleppo and Raqqa, which has made me realise that rather than bombing the hell out of that country, we need to help their society fight back for themselves and save the innocent. The novel has opened my eyes to the real innocent lives of those Syrians living in wartorn areas scared that today might be their last. No human should ever live in fear of being publicly beheaded or kidnapped and tortured in order to promise that they are practising the ‘true’ (Daesh enforced), Islam.
What makes this book interesting is the background of the author, he was an average joe, as normal as you or I. He wasn’t rich and therefore found it easy to get his work published, he was forced to leave university, look after his family, work as often as he could to provide for his family. He was forced to flee Raqqa by his mother. There are no images, instead, it is presented and published in a graphic novel form with basic line drawings of several important events that take place throughout. Less is more. It certainly packs the punch.

The Raqqa Diaries is currently in being sold in hardback but soon it should be released in paperback, but whatever format you are able to get your hands on please please read this book. Everyone needs to know and understand that the terrors of Syria do not stop at what we see in the media, they are much worse and need to be stopped. The more we can learn, the more we can help. I thank Samer from the bottom of my heart for risking his life to let us know what he and many others have been through and are going through.

Please read!

Happy Mum, Happy Baby – Giovanna Fletcher

This is not a book or biography that I would usually go for so I honestly have nothing to compare it to. I’ve never read a pregnancy and childcare book nor have I read a woman’s biography on their adventures in motherhood. I’m open to everything.

I’ve had a love for the Fletcher family ever since I discovered the band McFly way back in 2004. Tom Fletcher was my favourite member and still is today despite meeting his other band mate Double Poynter in our local Church at Christmas – but that’s another story. Everyone who has a love for McFly or Tom knows about Giovanna and what a wonderful person she is and of course the wedding and the wedding speech (if you haven’t watched it, look it up on YouTube right now). So, when she announced that she would be publishing a book about her family and how she appears to take everything in her stride, I was more excited than I ever felt when her fiction novels were released.

I didn’t pre-order Happy Mum, Happy Baby because at the time of publication it wasn’t a huge priority, I had to work on essay after essay for uni so it was just going to have to wait. However, I did buy it about 2/3 weeks after it was released so at the time I bought it it was still number 1 in the nonfiction chart. Which is amazing! 

I read the book a couple of weeks later and finished it very very quickly. Giovanna states the whole way through that this is not a book on how to the perfect or ideal mother, its a book about how Giovanna has felt as a mother and an offer of support and love to those mothers who often dont feel like they’re doing a good job because of various external factors; similar to the many experiences that Gi Fletcher has gone through. This book has been inspiring, such an eye opener to the pain and happiness that a mother goes through and after reading it, I’ve definitely looked at my mum in another light. She’s always been there when I need her but maybe now and when I was younger I wasn’t always there for her or being the best me that I could be. Its also an eye opener in how difficult having children are, I dont want children just yet but someday in the future and this book helped me to realise even more now that I’m really not ready to have a family yet. It will happen when the time is right.

Honestly this book is so friendly and easy to read and it just lifts you up when you see the various photos of the Fletcher family and know how much Giovanna loves and is proud of them. This book is heart felt and real and I’ve learnt so much from it. I’m glad I’ve read it at this time of my life.

The Bricks That Built The Houses – Kate Tempest

After reading around for some decent reviews that truly justify this novel, I felt it was only right for me to share my insight into the unknown wonders of Tempest’s debut novel.

I had heard of Kate Tempest before but hadn’t taken that much notice of her, in all honesty, I wasn’t sure what the fuss was about but when a very good bookseller colleague of mine recommended ‘The Bricks That Built The Houses’ not only did I feel I had to buy it because he has such good taste in books but finally I would learn what many people love about her.

I have to admit, I did read other books whilst reading this book at the same time and therefore it did take me a while to get through the novel but I was glad I did.
Tempest has a great way of creating sentences, they are so floral and beautiful. As I was reading, I let myself just bathe and soak in her language, I found it fascinating. She has a way with words. She writes with experience as if she’s seen the world for what it really is. She doesn’t mollycoddle the main characters but lets them experience the harshness of youth with full force.
My favourite thing about this book was the depth of character and the back stories of each character. The families and the problems that they all had were so relatable and I could see people in this day and age going through the same things. It was all too realistic.

I was warned by my colleague that Tempest’s novel is NOT about the plot and fast paced storyline but about the prose. He was right. Even though I was made aware of this, I still wanted a bit more movement something just to pull me out of the character’s problematic childhood but soon enough it did. It yanked me back to reality and suddenly, my heart was racing and I couldn’t wait for these Londoners to be jumping in the Ford Cortina and getting away from London as fast as that car made it possible.
If you don’t want to wait for the last 150 words or so for something to happen, then this book is not really for you but don’t disregard it. It’s a fantastic composition and for that reason I loved it.
For someone studying English Literature, it is a great way to introduce contemporary but not populist fiction. It’s one of the first modern books I’ve read in a long time that is filled with detail but not overpowering and off-putting, like some of Stephen King’s (namely Salem’s Lot).

Read this and your eyes will be opened.

ISBN: 9781408857304

And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie

After watching the BBC adaptation of Agatha Christie’s popular book ‘And Then There Were None’ and thinking it was so cleverly put together and not quite believing the murderer once they revealed themselves; it became the first Agatha Christie I would ever read.

I never forgot the impact and terror that as I watched it so at the next opportunity I got at buying the book without the BBC drama cover. In February this opportunity came up and I was lucky enough to buy the Crime Club version of Agatha Christie’s book. As much as you’re told not to judge a book by its cover, I couldn’t help it. The skeleton of the hand touching the house on Soldier’s Island chilled my spine and I couldn’t wait to devour it.

This week I travelled to Mallorca for a couple of days and my chosen book was this one. I was hooked from the beginning, the introduction and development of the characters were detailed and plausible, yet all pretended to be innocent and it was hard to believe that any of them had the capacity for murder. I sat by the pool and just read and read, I hated being disturbed by my boyfriend because I was so encapsulated in the terrifying world Christie had masterfully built.
I finished the book on the flight back to England and I just wanted more. As much as I loved it, I wanted to know more about these deaths. Not just the ones that take place on the island but those that happen outside of the novel. They were vague and necessary for the plot and Christie’s style, but I was hungry for more. More detail and description. Though this is just me being selfish, so all in all, I was thoroughly satisfied and shocked by this tale being so violent that I will definitely read it again. I feel that it is a story that just keeps giving, there is more to look out for. I will never forget the murderer, that has made a lasting impression.

If like me you’ve never read an Agatha Christie or even a traditional crime novel before (this is only my second crime book I’ve ever read) then this is a good place to start. It isn’t too long but neither too short. The chapters are split into smaller chapters so is able to be put down and picked back up again if it gets too much, or like me, you get distracted easily. It is a brilliant read and definitely one that should be on any avid reader’s book bucket list.

 

ISBN: 9780062484390