Tag Archives: literature

Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace) Revisited by Rhys Morgan

I don’t necessarily have a favourite novel of all time, but if I were ever pressed to choose a work of fiction that has captivated and has brought me the most joy whilst reading it I would probably opt for Infinite Jest by the late American author David Foster Wallace. It sometimes feels like a bit of a cop out saying this, or a bit cliché, because it seems as if many readers of my generation—well, in America anyway—would arrive at the same decision. Much like Nirvana’s Nevermind, Infinite Jest carved its way into the cultural milieu of the 1990s with such force that it almost goes without saying that it’s one of the greatest artistic endeavours of the decade—and perhaps even the century—within which it was produced. And in tandem with the music of Nirvana, its legacy owes much to (and is intricately wrapped up in) the counterculture of its time—or more specifically, a category of young people known colloquially as ‘Generation X’. By the end of 1996 (the year it was published), Infinite Jest had sold well in excess of 40,000 copies, and as of today its sales have exceeded one million, making it an enormous commercial success.

 

Yet when we analyse the success and popularity of Infinite Jest a bizarre paradox can be seen: loads of people bought it, but very few actually read it! This may have been in part down to its reputation as a complex and impenetrable novel, but its size was certainly a determining factor too. In appearance it’s practically a modern day War and Peace; a weighty tome coming in at over a thousand, densely written pages in length. Perhaps the reason that so many people bought it (particularly male college students) without ever reading it was so they could display it on their dormitory bookshelves as a symbol of the alternative, intellectual lives that they led, possibly in the hope of getting laid. But in my opinion, these two points are mere illusions. Yes the book is complex, but certainly not impenetrable, even with its often experimental and mutable prose: its contents are beautiful, moving, funny and thoroughly entertaining. And while it does take you on an intricately textured journey into the nature of humanity and society at large, it’s written in such a way as to make its philosophical meaning instantly perceptible, by striking at the heart of your own experiences as a human being. Referring to its size, superficially it does look daunting: I was most definitely intimidated by its heft to begin with. But because it’s such an entertaining novel it never feels like a chore to read; you become so invested in the story it has to tell that you just want to keep on reading and reading and reading. At one point I can remember noticing that I was just over halfway through, and this realisation disheartened me in a way because I simply didn’t want the novel to end.

 

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David Foster Wallace

 

I suppose the main reason I’m writing this piece is due to the fact that in the UK Infinite Jest doesn’t seem all that famous, even among avid readers. I’d never heard of it until a close friend of mine recommended it to me, and to this day she’s the only person I know who’s read it and who I can discuss it with. This is such a shame, as I see Infinite Jest as one of those novels that every reader, regardless of age, sex or background, should consume at some point in their lives.

 

In trying to sum up the plot of Infinite Jest, I find it helpful to draw on the TV show The Wire as a useful point of comparison: it’s made up of several stories which at first appear separate but which eventually come together to form a cohesive whole. And much like in The Wire, each narrative and story builds up to an astonishingly rich view of the fictional world within which the novel is set, where every little detail counts. This fictional world is set in the not-too-distant future, where the USA, Canada and Mexico have formed a political union and which now exist as a kind of superstate known officially as the Organization of North American Nations (O.N.A.N.). In addition to that of political space, the concept of time has also changed quite drastically, and is now governed by something called ‘Subsidized Time’, where each year is both subsidized and named after a certain corporate sponsor. We have, for example, the ‘Year of the Whopper’, the ‘Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar’, and the ‘Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland’, which all lead up to the ‘Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment’, in which the majority of the novel takes place. Indeed, the world of O.N.A.N. is completely dominated by corporate advertising, which impinges unrelentingly on the lives of its inhabitants and which seems to affect every aspect of their daily routines. The central hub of the novel’s plot is the city of Boston, Massachusetts and its immediate environs. Set within and around the city are three focal locations: the Enfield Tennis Academy (E.T.A.) where young, aspiring tennis prodigies are sent to develop their skills in the aim of becoming professional players; Ennet House, a rehabilitation centre in which drug addicts and alcoholics recover from their illness; and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), from which a prominent radio show is aired. A significant chunk of the novel also takes place within the mountains of Tuscon, Arizona, where a politically- and philosophically-charged conversation between two characters ensues, which encompasses some of the main themes and messages that the novel attempts to express.

 

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Modern day Boston, Massachusetts

 

Thematically speaking, it would be impossible for me to even scratch the surface of Infinite Jest’s ideas and motifs within a short online article, such as this is. But I will briefly discuss two of the most important ones. Addiction, both as an illness and a concept, represents an all-pervading presence within the novel; several key characters are battling their dependency to hard drugs like crack and heroin, principally those who end up as residents at Ennet House. As an ex-addict myself, I found this all very poignant, mainly because the ways in which David Foster Wallace deals with this topic are so utterly realistic and identifiable. A life of drug addiction is simple and manageable, while the alternative—the recovery—is almost unimaginably complicated as it runs the risk of leaving oneself open to feeling emotions that desperately need suppressing. Yet Infinite Jest shows us that drug and alcohol dependency are only a small facet of addiction, and that potentially harmful addictive tendencies penetrate each of our lives, whether we realise it or not. The inhabitants of O.N.A.N., for example, have access to a form of digital media known as ‘InterLace’, which allows them to watch any TV show or film or sports event (and so on) ever recorded whenever they want. In this sense, when reading Infinite Jest we are confronted with an entire nation addicted to watching TV, and anyone who binge-watches Netflix content today will find this hauntingly familiar. The acronym ‘O.N.A.N.’ is deliberately chosen here: it’s a reference to onanism, and it’s basically telling us that this fictional nation is consumed by addiction and hedonistic behaviour to such an extent that it might as well be continually masturbating all day, everyday. I guess what David Foster Wallace is saying here is that addiction forms a fundamental and inescapable aspect of human life, and that freedom from addiction (paradoxically) comes in the form of choosing what we may or may not be addicted to.

 

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The addict’s perception of self

 

Another of the novel’s key themes is communication, or more specifically the transferal of thoughts and ideas from one person to another. This is represented primarily through the character of James Incandenza: a seminal filmmaker who becomes disillusioned with the avant-gardism of his earlier work and who later tries to communicate his ideas in a more accessible way through the medium of action movies. This obsession drives him to a life of chronic alcoholism and he ends up committing suicide by cooking his own head inside a microwave, which happens shortly before the novel is set. Later on, James Incandenza takes on an almost god-like presence in his ability to affect the lives and decisions of the novel’s characters, even from beyond the grave, and he may therefore be seen as an extension of the author himself. David Foster Wallace came from a strong postmodernist tradition (a movement known for its complex and often incoherent content), and it’s possible that within Infinite Jest he is desperately trying to drag postmodernism kicking and screaming into the 21st century, but in a far more accessible and entertaining form. In other words, it seems as if his yearning to communicate his ideas more coherently forms the entire basis of this novel, and that an inability to do so was a consistent source of fear for him. Yet this fear moves well beyond the realm of artistic expression; it encroaches into our own daily lives and thought processes, as a person’s failure to communicate their thoughts clearly to another person is surely a sign of their own insanity.

 

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James Incandenza’s suicide

 

I’m not saying that Infinite Jest is one of the greatest novels ever written—I feel like there are very few people sufficiently qualified to draw that conclusion, and I’m certainly not one of them. I’m not even saying that Infinite Jest is perfectly written: there are parts that seem pretentious, even intellectually ostentatious. The insistent use of endnotes is a key example, which aren’t really endnotes at all but are actually integral elements of the novel itself, packaged in an academic way. But for me, one of the amazing things about Infinite Jest is that its story and its characters are so compelling, so thoroughly well written, that I’m able to forgive all of its shortcomings. And who knows, maybe upon rereading it I may even grow to love them. Once I finally finished reading this novel, I had the instant realisation that David Foster Wallace quite literally poured everything he had into it. It can be seen as a mirror to his own psyche—a near-perfect reflection of it. His passions, his fears, his intellect, even his own mental illness—which eventually led to his suicide in 2008 and which caused him to do some questionable things throughout his life beforehand—can all be picked out within the text. And upon researching the history of Infinite Jest, it’s easy to see why this is. The writer Mark Costello (who is David Foster Wallace’s former housemate), once intimated that the process of working on this novel kept David Foster Wallace from killing himself in the early 90s; he said that while he was writing it he, temporarily at least, stopped feeling bad about himself.

 

Overall, Infinite Jest is a truly incredible novel, and despite its reputation I believe it’s one that anyone can pick up and enjoy. It’s also a rather unique experience; I can’t really think of any other novel I’ve read that manages to create a fictional world that is both gargantuan in scope and encyclopaedic in detail, but which simultaneously revolves around an intensely character-driven plot. Thinking back on it, I really cherish the time I spent reading Infinite Jest, and I’m actually saddened by the idea that I’ll probably never read anything like it again.

 

by Rhys Morgan

Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad) Revisited by Rhys Morgan

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is one of those novels that has stuck with me for pretty much my entire life. Its content—the story, the themes and the prose—have been etched into my mind ever since reading it for the first time as a teenager, and because of this (along with its miniscule size—you could easily read it in a single afternoon) it’s a novel that I go back to time and time again.

 

Joseph Conrad’s legacy within the modern Western canon is clear, and need not be discussed or regurgitated at length here. But it’ll suffice to say that it would be a hard task finding any author of fiction writing in the twentieth or twenty-first centuries who doesn’t owe at least something to his work. This is remarkable considering that Conrad himself wasn’t a fluent English speaker until he reached his twenties (he was born and raised within the Russian Empire in the mid-nineteenth century and emigrated to Britain later on).

 

Heart of Darkness is easily Conrad’s most well known novel. This may be in part down to the popularity of the 1979 film Apocalypse Now, which serves as a loose adaptation of the novel. Actually, this film acted for me as a gateway to Heart of Darkness—I had no idea the novel even existed before watching Apocalypse Now. This really is testament to the power of Conrad’s writing, because even though Apocalypse Now takes place almost a century after the novel does, and is therefore set within entirely different historical settings, its themes still translate with near-perfect precision.

 

Poster for the film Apocalypse Now (1979)

 

From reading its very first page you get the instant impression that Heart of Darkness is written in quite a unique way. It employs a first person narrative, yet the narrator is a nameless nobody—we learn next to nothing about him throughout the course of the story. The only thing we ever really learn about the narrator is that he is an idealistic young mariner working on board a cruising yawl (the Nellie) set to depart from London. Heart of Darkness employs a frame narrative, so the purpose of the narrator is to detail the experiences of the novel’s true main character (Charles Marlow) who is telling a story of his expeditions through the Congo Free State to the mariners aboard the Nellie. The telling of this story encompasses the entirety of the novel.

 

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Illustration of a steamboat traveling along the Congo River

 

Fundamentally, Heart of Darkness is about Western colonialism, and Marlow’s story brilliantly encapsulates all the horrors associated with this movement. He recounts his journey along the Congo River within what was then a Belgian occupied territory, with the prime objective of meeting an ivory trader known as Mr. Kurtz (the novel’s antagonist). Throughout his journey, Marlow discovers that Mr. Kurtz has adopted an almost legendary status as the finest Western agent within all of the Congo. Marlow even obtains a report written by Mr. Kurtz explaining how it is the White Man’s duty to spread civilization across the imperial frontiers of Africa, and we learn at this point that this is exactly what Mr. Kurtz has tried to achieve along the Congo River. Yet upon finally meeting him near the end of the novel, we are confronted with a man who has quite literally lost his mind. He has amassed an almost religious following among the natives who venerate him as a God-like being, whilst surrounding his house are wooden palisades with decaying human heads affixed to their tops (which presumably once belonged to his former prisoners). We also learn that he has begun raiding nearby villages for ivory, creating havoc among the natives. It seems that in his effort to spread civilization into the darkness of Africa, he himself has become darker, more savage, as a result.

 

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Illustration of Mr. Kurtz

 

In many ways Mr. Kurtz acts as the perfect embodiment of Western colonialism, as he asks us to consider how it’s even possible for us to civilize non-Western peoples when we are not civilized ourselves. This certainly rings true today, particularly when we think of the recent Iraq and Afghan wars, along with the ways in which we’re currently dealing with the so-called Islamic State. Yet in my experience, no two readings of Heart of Darkness are ever quite the same. The parallels drawn between Belgium’s colonization of the Congo and the Roman’s conquest of the Thames, for example, are there perhaps to reminds us that colonialism represents an all-pervading aspect of the reality within which we live, and has played a major role in shaping humanity’s history. The fictionalised setting within the Congo, on the other hand, may also be seen as a playground in which moral virtues evaporate and where those who are most hungry for power come out on top. Indeed, it’s the moral standoffishness with which this novel was written that means it avoids being interpreted in any singular way. Rather, it forces you to think for yourself.

 

Despite its tiny size, Heart of Darkness is a dense and richly textured novel which makes use of some excellent prose and symbolic undertones. It really is a fantastic novel, and definitely worth a read.

 

by Rhys Morgan

Dubliners (James Joyce) Revisited by Rhys Morgan

James Joyce is regarded by many as one of the most significant writers in the history of the novel. He is most famous for his contributions to a form of prose fiction known as literary modernism; a style of storytelling which emphasises, among other things, a stream of consciousness technique, which allows the reader to quite literally get inside the heads of characters and to experience their world through their own psyches. However, due to the convoluted style that Joyce often employs, he is regularly seen as a rather ‘difficult’ author to get into, one whose work sometimes borders on the incomprehensible. Ulysses, for example, constantly flicks back and forth between first- and third-person narratives, while Finnegans Wake is, let’s be honest, barely written in English.

James Joyce c. 1918

This simply isn’t the case with his first novel, and it is this novel which I consider (perhaps controversially) to be his true masterpiece. The work I’m referring to here is of course Dubliners, first published in 1914. While technically not a novel per se—it’s actually a collection of short stories—Dubliners certainly reads as if it were a singular novel because all the stories within are tightly interwoven and constantly overlap. The clarity of the writing is astonishing: even by today’s standards it often reads as fresh as paint. Throughout, Joyce employs a very straightforward style of narrative which makes use of some brilliant poetic prose and is replete with striking metaphoric imagery. On this basis alone it really is a joy to read.

Each story revolves around a very simple plot. For example, Eveline is about a woman torn between staying in Dublin and fleeing with her lover to Argentina; Two Gallants deals with a pair of criminals in their attempt to steal from a young woman’s employer; whilst Ivy Day in the Committee Room focuses on the failures of Irish nationalist politics in Dublin at the turn of the twentieth century. And in true modernist fashion, each story begins by throwing us straight into the middle of its characters’ environment and circumstances. There’s no messing around with developing the story’s background or context beforehand; instead, both background and context emerge as the story unfolds.

Yet despite the simplicity of the narrative you are always aware that there’s something incredibly complex going on underneath, and this really strikes at the heart of why Dubliners is so masterfully written. The individual fine details contained within the text eventually build up to reveal a strikingly detailed picture of Dublin and its inhabitants during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Deep-seated religious tensions, economic hardships, social mobility, even the Catholic Church’s implicit acceptance of paedophilia—all of these themes are dealt with, and many more. As you read Dubliners, Dublin becomes your entire world, and the sheer levels of detail you encounter about this city are almost ethnographic in scope. You can pick up this novel feeling like you know nothing about Dublin, and once you’ve finished you can walk away feeling like you know everything there is to know.

On the other hand, in amongst all of this social complexity are characters that are instantly identifiable and which conjure in us a mixture of different feelings and emotions ranging from admiration to downright pity. The character of Maria in the story Clay is that of a woman who is trying her best to be as kind and as helpful to those around her as possible, despite the fact that the circumstances within which she lives are frustrating and monotonous. The old man in the story An Encounter, however, is a character whose sexual promiscuity is so great that at one point he indulges himself in a spot of public masturbation. When referring to the work of Shakespeare, the rapper Akala once said that the power inherent in plays such as Hamlet or Macbeth lies in their ability to portray ways of being human that transcend the time and place within which they were written. I believe that this certainly applies to the work of Joyce as well, and particularly to Dubliners. Whether we like it or not, we can see a little bit of ourselves in each of Joyce’s characters, and as a result they each force us to think about our own human character and the ways that we conduct ourselves.

Grafton Street, Dublin, at the turn of the twentieth century

Overall, Dubliners is one of those ‘classic’ novels that really has stood the test of time and is absolutely still relevant today. I believe the reason that not many people have read this novel is because they’re perhaps put off by the avant-gardism of Joyce’s later work. But I recommend Dubliners to anyone who is a fan of literature, and I think it has the capacity to surprise you, so it’s well worth having a go.

By Rhys Morgan

Review: Wax by Gina Damico by Sian Thomas

Even though I’ve read a lot of books this year (we’re into the 20s, I think), and even though I have a lot more books to read (I have 21 in my room, but reading all the books out there would be stellar, too), I think I’ve found the best one this year. My favourite one for this year. My favourite one, possibly overall? The first book that might have just overtaken all the others that I love. Wax by Gina Damico swept me off my feet, and I couldn’t be happier.

One of the most remarkable things about this book is that it’s so funny. There were so many times that I genuinely laughed at what was happening – and that was new for me. I’ve smirked or smiled while reading before, sure, but I’ve never had to take a step back, put the book down, and have a right giggle before building myself back up and carrying on. The main characters Poppy and Dud erupted the most laughter from me, but a close second being the character ‘Jesus’.

All the characters were remarkable. My favourites no doubt being the main, Poppy Palladino and Dud. I can’t get into the relationship or their dynamic too much without spoiling it, but I did love the outspoken female who acts sort of like a role model or confidant, and harmless boy whose loyal to her. They felt like best friends, and reading their interactions were always great.

I love stories lately where most (if not most, then all) of the characters end up okay, with a happy ending. I got so tired of studying Shakespeare plays and watching all the characters die in the last few scenes, I got so tired of tv shows that were “going there” and killing off main characters, I got tired of books with “twists” that just kind of stung, and didn’t impress. In truth, I got real sick of characters dying, and it isn’t like I can reach the authors I’ve read lately, shake their shoulders, and tell them there are other things that can happen in life, and I’m so glad I didn’t feel this way at all with this book. The ending reminded me a little of Big Hero 6. Bittersweet, but still ultimately happy. With and without death, I suppose. You have to read it, to know what I mean, and so I don’t spoil everything horrendously.

I remember looking at this book and thinking it was a horror. I don’t remember why, it was a long time ago, and it sat in my Amazon wish-list for a really long time before it came into my hands. I think I noted the idea of spooky wax figures and was sold, because at that time I was super interested in getting spooked by a book. Even if that was my initial reaction, and was not the outcome, I’m glad of both. I’m glad I (somehow, even if the memory of how is blurry) found the book, and that I read it. I read one chapter yesterday, and the rest of the book today. I blitzed through it immensely fast because it was just so immeasurably enjoyable.  I’ve read the last two chapters a couple more times, now. I just love it so much. I am not sure anything else I read will come as close to how highly I think of this book. Which is both good (I found a new really great book!) and bad (I have so many other books to read and I am worried that they will not be able to come as close to how good Wax was). But nonetheless I give it five stars and recommend it wholeheartedly. It was so good. I don’t even have the words. I want to read it all over again.

Review: Alien Rain by Ruth Morgan By Sian Thomas

This review contains spoilers.

I recall seeing this on the Twitter page of I Loves The Diff’, which is what got me intrigued to read it.
Alien Rain by Ruth Morgan pulled me in for two reasons. Firstly, it was more of a sci-fi novel, and as someone trying to widen my horizons when it comes to reading, this struck me as a good a place as any to go to try something new. Secondly, the book is set in Cardiff. It’s firstly set in Cardiff (but on Mars), so the names of well-loved streets and public places are used here and there, but later is set in real, Earth-Cardiff.

I enjoyed an incredible amount that the novel was set in Cardiff (both on Earth and on Mars). This is something I have not experienced before. The closest I’ve ever come has been the Welsh theme of The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater, or the occasional mention of a Welsh name in the webcomic, Homestuck. I’ve never seen something be based in Cardiff so heavily – and it was wonderful to see. However, I do worry that this was the only aspect of the book that I really liked.
While the sci-fi elements of it was good, I found it a little sad to hear the descriptions of a ruined and decrepit Cardiff. After all, I live here, and it’s still bustling and full, and I like that. To hear that Animal Wall was gone, or the Museum was falling apart, or that Cardiff Castle was more ruin than attraction, was a bit disheartening to envision.

The plot itself wasn’t too bad. I liked the message that intelligence can thrive in ways other than purely academic, and with that, the message that there is worth to be found in people outside of their academic achievement. As a student currently waiting for some exam results, this was pretty nice to hear, and eased my conscience up just a little.

However, my biggest bother with this book was the presentation of some of the characters. I usually consider myself easy to please, when it comes to literature. I usually find reasons to love characters anyways. I often welcome a love interest with open arms, and usually am able to trudge through a plot even if I find it particularly difficult to, or if it doesn’t sit well with me. This book was different to that, and I got more grateful that I was nearing the end with every page flip. I didn’t mind the flowering relationship between Bree (our female main character) and Halley (the male love interest), as it seemed a simple and innocent enough relationship that I could get behind. However, it was later found that Halley initiated the characters’ friendship and by extension, relationship, on being bribed to do so for the easiness of a science experiment – so it was fake. My biggest criticism of this is that when called out on this by Bree, Halley said:

(Halley): “Bree, you’ve got…”
“Don’t tell me I’ve got it wrong!” I (Bree) laughed.
“I was going to say, you’ve got to forgive me.”
(…)
“Why should I forgive you?”
“I’m the one who doesn’t deserve to be on this mission. I’m only here because I agreed to lie and cheat and spy on you for Carter. I am a liar, I’m despicable and I know I am. Still, you have to forgive me.”
“That makes no sense,” I said.
“Love makes no sense.”

And later,

(Halley): “I’ve fallen in love.”
“Will you stop using that word?” I (Bree) cried. “No one says that word! If you think for a moment that I could ever believe what you’re saying…”
“You have to,” he whispered. “Or I don’t know what I’m going to do.(…)”

There are so many things with this especially, which did shape the whole novel and the perception of it and other characters, that I found astoundingly bad.
This is a book in the YA genre. This is a genre that I continue to enjoy, because it was the one I experienced mostly as I started to really enjoy reading, and as of recent years, it’s becoming a wonderful and diverse genre, and one doing far better than it used to. This is a genre for people my age, and people younger. These scenes I have a problem with. While I was able to spot the problems, I’m not sure others would have, and it’s a dangerous line to blur for younger people.
Pushing forgiveness done out of love, when the relationship itself began on deceit is, firstly, not love. Expecting to be forgiven because you love someone, is not a reason alone to be forgiven. I do worry the author has made a mistake, consistently using “You’ve got to” or “You have to” as a way to make a male character feel far more forceful in wanting to be forgiven, and then using guilt to further this. A guilt trip into forgiveness when he was in the wrong just feels like poor writing, or even ignorant writing. People, especially recently, do not have the tolerance for this kind of characterisation and neither do I. I worry this would be behaviour people could attach themselves to and then look for – especially young girls who may enjoy the YA genre – and land themselves in a relationship where their feelings are not considered and their emotions are, effectively, abused.
This pushes the forcefulness of males which comes off very poorly. If a man was telling me I had to forgive him because he loved me I think I’d turn and run as fast as I could and for as long as I could go. This is a stereotype we need less of, as many, many people have coined on to its hindrance on men’s emotional well being, which needs to be addressed as much as hindrance of women’s chances in society, as this scene and beyond it only pushes the submissiveness of Bree, which goes against the rest of her character established through the rest of the novel. She is a character that went to great lengths and seemed perfectly capable of standing up for herself – until giving in and forgiving when Halley got hurt in a later scene, and then jumping straight back into action into her much stronger female role, which had already been established.

I’m angry. And I expected better of a book published so recently (2016), and a book written by a woman. A part of me feels let down, and I’m hoping the next book I read will bring my spirits back up.

I still give the book 2 stars. I did still enjoy that it was set in my hometown, which made it slightly more enjoyable, and on some level, I did enjoy the sci-fi story.

Review: One Was Lost by Natalie D. Richards by Sian Thomas

One Was Lost was a book I picked up because I had decided I wanted to branch out a little further from my normal cheesy YA book, or my normal poetry book. I have a tendency to stick close to my comforts in a lot of areas, including reading, and this book was able to help me breach this constraint.
I had decided to stretch out further and try my hands at a story more centred on thrill, horror, mystery, suspense. For a while now, I’ve wanted to experience a book that made my chest constrict in a funny way, in a way that made me scared. I know we’ve all had our hand at murder mysteries and crime novels and even television crime dramas or horror movies, but none of those ever seemed to settle right with me, and none of them ever seemed to really be what I was searching for. One Was Lost managed to do something that a book had yet to do for me.
Most things that I read I can usually guarantee a happy ending, or at least ones where all the characters live, save for Shakespeare’s works. Most of the time, I’m pretty much certain that’s how things will go, and I usually hope for that, too (I am guilty of really, really loving a happy and pure ending). With One Was Lost, I was less sure of this, and in turn, I hoped for it much more fiercely. I wanted it to end well so desperately and was so torn that it was the a book that just might not do that, that I felt that little constraint in my chest that I had wanted to feel. As the characters got put in more and more danger, and the likelihood of a happy ending seemed to dwindle, I got more and more entrenched in the story and more and more hungry for answers and a good ending. When there was one, I felt relief and happiness so big and all-encompassing that I was sure I was a balloon that had been blown up to bursting. It was such a wonderful feeling, another I admit I am guilty of enjoying, to watch characters trudge through the unimaginable, and come out the other side. I hope my praise can reach out to the author, Natalie D. Richards, because I am brimming with it.  The feelings I had throughout my read were incredible, and something I’m glad to have experienced.

All the characters are interesting, with their own little stories that fade impact and shape the bigger, overall plot. Each of them (like our main character, Sera, and the others, Emily, Jude, Lucas) were all lovable and easy to attach oneself to in different ways. All of them had characteristics I loved, and attributes I admired, and in the midst of their heavy story, it was still wonderful to see them in my mind’s eye interacting and even laughing. A brief summary can be found on Natalie D. Richards’ website: http://nataliedrichards.com/books/onewaslost/  as this can supply an explanation and introduction to the book better than I can, as I do not wish to spoil anything.
To add to this even more, the writing made this feel even more real. It was clear and concise, and unbelievably detailed. There was a period in the text where Natalie D. Richards describe the feeling of thirst so well and so closely, that I found myself feeling thirsty and scrambling for bottles of water to get me through.

I give this 4 stars. It was a good introduction to the other aspects of my usual YA genre with a far more intriguing and mysterious core, and I did enjoy the story of it incredibly so. I very much loved it.

Review: The Thief Lord, Cornelia Funke by Sian Thomas

(5 / 5)

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke has been a long time favourite book of mine. I read it first about five years ago, and I remember reading it, loving it with my whole heart, finishing it, and instantly reading it again.

Once upon a time, I was recommended it. Someone that I knew once knew how much I loved the Professor Layton game, “Professor Layton and the Last Spectre”, as within this game there was a small gang of poor and homeless children who banded together to keep each other safe and warm who I took an overwhelming attachment to. The Thief Lord reminded them of these characters, and in turn, of me. And I could not be more grateful to have discovered a book that reminded me so much of characters I already loved, and created whole other characters who I loved just as much – perhaps more. Not only did these characters hold such a special place in my heart, they’ve stayed there undeterred for years. Even as I continue to consume new media and content and entertainment, there has yet to be something that knocks Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord from its #1 spot in my heart.

The plot is sweet, and something I loved all those years ago an equal amount as I still love it now. It is mysterious and alluring and downright fun – and to top it all off, the way it’s presented is unimaginably atmospheric, which is a factor I love an immeasurable amount. Being set in Venice, somewhere I have always wanted to go but have yet to find the opportunity to get there, it was like I got to go there for myself. And even better, it was like I got to go and I got to relive this story again and again in a place as beautiful in real life as it is in my mind’s eye.
The writing made this atmosphere even more incredible. The way Funke would describe the water and stone, the pathways and alleys, the boats and the famous buildings was mesmerising. The way it was written had a hand in shaping my own writing goals, as I also love at atmospheric touch in my own work. This has shaped me for so long and is so intrinsically a part of me that honestly I am so, so happy.

The characters are all lovely, each with their own unique personality and lovable traits. My favourites were always Prosper (our main character), Victor Getz, and Ida Spavento. I always thought, and continued to think of them, as lovable forces who would keep anyone safe – which they did. Prosper takes care of his younger brother, Bo. Victor Getz helps care for them (and the other runaway kids), as does Ida Spavento. They all just seemed like the sweetest  characters, who I feel unimaginably lucky to have discovered and cherished as much as I do.

I give the book 5 stars, as it holds such an important place on my bookshelf and in my heart. It remains my absolute favourite book, and I’m sure that will continue to be the truth in the foreseeable future, and probably also beyond that. I cannot recommend it enough, especially to those who love  heart-warming tale.

Review The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini by Sian Thomas

 

(5 / 5)

 

I  recently read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, and I don’t know if I have the words to describe my reaction to it.

Five stars, first of all, let’s start there. I don’t think I want anyone I’m close to missing out on such an outstanding and completely mesmerising book like this one. I’ve read so many books lately, and all of them have been good, but I think they have been good in their own right. However, none of them (at least, none of the recent ones I’ve read) have been quite as enthralling as this.

I don’t want to go too far into the plot (I don’t think, for one, I could do it justice as it was incredibly intertwined and intricate), however I do want to say that it’s probably the saddest and most bittersweet plots I’ve ever had the utmost pleasure to experience. Two boys in Afghanistan, their lives and endeavours and trials and tribulations to come – everything life throws at them. It was truly tragic, with sprinkling happiness and and overall wonderful redemption.
Sad stories are the best ones, I think. But I never expected this tale to be so true of that statement and also, somehow, change it. Sad stories are the best stories. I’ve learnt about the concept of catharsis at school and I think I really, truly, felt it. So maybe sad stories are the best ones, but maybe the sadness should be in moderation for me (it was really, honest and truly, the most heart wrenching and devastating yet amazing books I’ve ever read).

One of the things I’ve noticed after reading this was how sure I usually am that, as a reader, I am going to receive my happy ending. This book changed that. Situation after situation that tugged my heartstrings and made me tearful made me less and less sure of myself. I’ve felt the normal, almost-rush of fear when you notice a book has a lot to complete yet so little pages to do it in. And I had that with this book. Yet, with every other book I’ve read I haven’t truly felt afraid that things wouldn’t work out. I always knew they would, because they always do. I didn’t have this with this book.
I was unsure. A good kind of unsure. An exciting and all-encompassing unsure that left me not knowing if there could possibly be a happy ending coming my way after the turmoil the main character (Amir) had gone through, as well as the turmoil all the other characters had gone through, as well. There was one, single chapter left, and I did not know whether, within about the forty minutes it would take me to read it, I would be grinning or crying. Eventually, it was both, and I’m quite happy with that.

As I said, it was an extremely bittersweet book, with the excellent kind of plot execution that always draws you in for the entire time (and then some – I’ve only just finished it and it’s still the only thing on my mind). It had the kind of writing that was honestly beautiful, full of lovely description and meaningful dialogue and fantastic general, actual, real storytelling which struck a cord somewhere within me and really made my heart feel for it(/the characters).

I bought it to expand my horizons, to diversify my bookshelf. And I’m so glad I did. I went in borderline completely blind, and I came out the other side a little different to how I went in. I’ve been given a history lesson, a gratitude lesson, and probably also a lesson on writing (which I hope to carry into the future).

I feel as if, through reading this book, the kind of problems I have faced or am expecting to face have been minimised and put a little into place. Which doesn’t erase them, but does make me feel a lot more at ease with my life tonight than it did when I woke up in the morning. And I like that. I’m happy I got that. It was unexpected and nice, almost like an extra gift from the author as well as a phenomenal experience.

Review The Girl From Venice, Martin Cruz Smith by Sian Thomas

(3 / 5)

In the past, I’ve always been quite wary of wartime fiction, or general historical fiction. It was never something I particularly enjoyed, as I wasn’t big on history, or war, or reading about either.

Since then, however, I have slowly brought myself away from this view. This is where The Girl From Venice comes in. Though not my first experience of historical or war fiction, it was still one I wholeheartedly enjoyed. Set towards the end of World War Two, the main character, Innocenzo (Cenzo) Vianello works as a fisherman in Pellestrina where he finds (what he thinks is) the drowned corpse of a lady. Wanting to do the right thing, he tries to take her where she can be identified. On the way he is intercepted, and by the time he is allowed back on his own boat, she’s hiding on the boat eating his food.

The story follows their interactions, eventual separation and search to find one another again. Also exploring other factors in between, such as familial complications, political endeavours, the conclusion of the war, its impact, and love.

I’ve only read one other book set in Italy, and that’s The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke. That book stood as my all-time favourite for a very long time, and remains as such. The writing and scenery helped it gain this title. So, setting in Italy has always appealed to me. I love that the writing style in The Girl In Venice goes perfectly with it. Especially with this story. What with being a fisherman, Cenzo spends a lot of time in the water. The description of it (among the other places the story was set, as the characters did travel) saw that I got my fair share of gorgeous writing that made me feel so involved in a scene and so hooked into the story. If anything, it was probably my favourite aspect. It was an inspirational style, and one that drew me in until the very end.

The book was very good. My interest in historical fiction and war time fiction seems to be developing nicely, and I’m glad I read this book and it helped me to see as such.

 

Review 300 Things I Hope, Iain S Thomas by Sian Thomas

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(5 / 5)

 

Iain Thomas has, for a long time, been one of my absolute favourite authors. This title of favourite has not wavered since I read I Wrote This For You: Just The Words some few years ago, and continues to stand strong as his other works, such as this, find a place in my hands and a home on my shelf. I come short of saying I adore him, his writing, his books, his style. All of it has meant a lot to me, and this has not fluctuated – ever.

300 Things I Hope is, at the title suggests, 300 things that he hopes. For you, me – for us – the readers. They are simple sentences, little lines, all of them hopes I do not doubt are wholeheartedly sincere and stretch all the way from the author straight to me, here. A part of it I can’t deny is a little odd. To be talked to through pages like this, indirect and directly, not in a way that’s exactly poetry or a story or an article. I know there are more people than only me that these words are going to be reaching, but it always feels like they were written just for me to read and love (which I do).

I like words. There’s the brunt of it. I love words, and I love writing, and I love reading. I love finding work that somehow manages to shake up my thoughts and make me remember this so clearly. I put post-it notes on my favourite pages, because they did just that. For example, number 84, “I hope love moves through your heart like light moves through glass” because is that not a gorgeous sight to see? The glass on my front door reflects rainbow coloured sunlight on to my floor, and the idea that it could equate to love was such beautiful imagery that in went the post-it note because I felt changed, because I felt reminded of words and what they can do. They did this, after all.
Or, number 101, “I hope that any noise you hear in the night is only someone you love coming home” because I have a lot of fears about things like this, and I was soothed.
Or, number 144, “I hope that if something bad happens to you, that the world suddenly starts turning backwards and it unhappens to you” because a word that isn’t a word is used but it makes sense, and I liked that.
Or 161, “I hope you find something unexplainable on the side of the road, like it was left there just for you” because I liked the idea of writing something that could stem from this idea myself, in all honesty.
Or 211, 212, and 213: “I hope you write a message, put it in a bottle and throw it into the sea”, “I hope it’s a secret, and that someone, somewhere, knows it.”, “I hope you are someone’s secret and that somewhere in the ocean, there’s a bottle with your name in it”, because this also sounded like something lovely to write, and they way I imagined that glimpse into a story from a simple three phrases was so captivating that I didn’t want to let it go. Also, I think everyone quietly romanticised the idea of putting a message in a bottle and hoping someone, somewhere, picked it up. I did, even though I’ve never done it (though I have found one, once – it was, I assumed, a child’s drawing of a house. There was a lot of blue.) – but after the little helpful push from these three hopes, could I not do it through words? I could, I think, and I would like to.

I’m trying to say that I love words. I love this book. I love this author. Not many other words or books or authors have pinched my mind and stolen my interest and held it, inspiring me to do something of my very own, and never letting me forget the spark in me at words strung together in a way that makes me so immeasurably happy.

Five stars, because I have a lot of love to give, because this deserves every piece of it I am able to give.