Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thought's on Howard's End & Plague

Busy, busy reading as usual.  I have just finished Howard’s End by E M Forster.  It wasn’t quite what I expected as I was thinking it would be an Austen type love story, but I was way off the mark.

The story is mainly about the division of the British classes at the turn of the century, and it brought to mind a couple of other novels that I have read.  Margaret Schlegel the main protagonist reminded me very much of Dorothea Brooke from Eliot’s Middlemarch;  She is a strong minded woman in what appears to be at first an unsatisfactory marriage to the capitalist Henry Wilcox.  Both Henry and his eldest son Charles are good representations of those fickle selfish wealthy types that were portrayed in The Great Gatsby.

It took a while for me to get into the story, I felt at the beginning there was a lot of unnecessary back story to build up the plot, and although the tragic Leonard Bast was a main part of the plot I found his character to be the least well developed.

As well as focusing on the division between the social classes in 1910, it also looks at the generation gap which probably became more apparent with the advent of the motor car.  The younger generation would take to this over walking or taking a carriage.  When one of the Wilcox’s cars runs over a cat, Margaret makes an interesting observation that in their class the women hide behind their men and the men hide behind their servants for it is easier for them to send one of the servants with some cash to pacify the owner of the cat.

I did enjoy this novel but it just didn’t quite have the charm I was expecting.

My other read was Plague by Albert Camus, which I had really been looking forward to reading as I’d heard great things about other Camus works.  Whilst this was a good read, I didn’t feel that it was a great read, maybe I am missing something?  I was of the understanding that the narrative was in the same vein as Kafka, but I’ve read Kafka and I didn’t think this was the case.

The novel centres on Oran, a town in Algiers in the 1940s, and is a fictional account of a plague epidemic that strikes the population and results in the town being quarantined.  I liked the way that Camus built up the tension with the discovery of the dead rats, and the feeling that something wasn’t quite right.  As the plague sweeps through the population the town is isolated and then we follow the emotions of a group of men as they deal with separation from their loved ones, the desire to escape the town and their duty to help the afflicted. The graphic description of the final hours of a young boy will stay with me for a long time.  It was sheer suffering.  So, needless to say this is not a light read.

Well, I shall be off the ‘airwaves’ for the next couple of weeks as I’m heading West to spend some time with my family, and especially to meet my new grandson.  I do hope to get plenty of reading done however and have selected Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Lightkeeper’s Wife by Karen Viggers (Caffeine & Chapters Book Club group read), World War-Z by Max Brooks and The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks.

So, I’ll sign off for now and happy reading all J

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Just for the Record, The Weather Today is Frazzled

I have just finished listening to probably one of the wierdest books I've 'read' yet (not including that horrible Naked Lunch).  It was called Diary and was written by Chuck Palahniuk.  I read Choke a little while ago and really enjoyed it, but it certainly didn't prepare me for this dark little satire.

At first, I wasn't sure where it was going, and I went back to the beginning a couple of times.  This was an audio and I wasn't keen on the narrator (Martha Plimpton) so it didn't quite grab my attention until half way through the novel.  It's rather twisted and disturbing with plenty of clues throughout to give you an idea where the plot is heading, but I didn't really pick up on many of them until nearly the end!

Basically it's about an island legend that is re-enacted every third generation.  It's a story about re-incarnation, torture and ritual sacrifice, and should really be my cup of tea but I didn't like the way it was written.  Misty, the protagonist, writes the novel as a diary.  It's a 'coma diary'. Misty's husband is in the hospital in a coma after what appears to be a failed suicide attempt. Misty's mother-in-law encourages her to keep a diary so that when he awakes he can catch up on the time that he has missed.  But it doesn't really read like a diary, and Misty calls herself Misty and her husband Peter 'Peter' with the occasional  reference of being 'your wife' or 'you' which kind of brings you back to the fact that it is a diary.  There is another diary is the story which is owned by Misty's mother-inlaw who claims to know what Misty is thinking or how she is feeling because it is in the diary.  The reason for this becomes apparent towards the end of the novel. 

As in Choke, there was a repeated phrase throughout.  This one being 'Just for the record' or 'Just for the record the weather today is.......' with the weather being Misty's current mood.  It was quite a claustrophobic novel, and the vibe was very much The Stepford Wives.  I think that if I had read the actual book instead of listening to it I may have enjoyed it more than I did.

My next read?  Something light and turn of the century is beckoning - Howard's End by E M Forster :)