27 May 2011

Game of Thrones - George R R Martin

       A Game of Thrones is a very good book which somewhat perplexed me for a while. I was first introduced to it just over a month ago when Sky Atlantic aired it as their brand new Fantasy Adventure series. My Dad had recorded the first episode and said something to the effect of 'I think you might quite like this' so come thursday evening we sat down as a family, minus my brother who refuses to participate in Family Tv time, and we watched the first episode. I have to say it somewhat bowled me over, for a Tv series it was expertly done and in my opinion was on a par with some major films such as Lord of the Rings.
       I loved it so much in fact that i did something which completely goes against the grain with me, and something which I doubt I would have done if I'd know at the time that it was based on a book. I wikipedia'd it. I was eager to find out what was happening next week, upon reaching it's page I was both disappointed and gleeful that it had been released in America only one day prior to being released in the UK, it's the small things. However I was delighted to discover that it existed in novel format and I contemplated going out to buy it at the first available opportunity. The only thing which tempered me was that it was a mere fortnight before my birthday when this situation arose. My dad also mentioned that my God-dad had some of the books from the series and might be willing to lend me them.
        My birthday arrived and with it the present from my Godparents. Frankly it felt a bit like a brick, it was heavy. I opened it to find this inside and was quite excited. My mum almost immediately requested that she was allowed to read it soon, and my sisted sat there with a smug smile saying it was all her fault. As soon as I'd finished 'Holy Fools' I began to read, and made the immediate discovery as to why the Tv series was so good. The dialogue was almost word perfect to that of the book and the scenes were taken directly from the descriptions.
       This book however was a contradiction, I loved it but I had a nightmare of a time trying to get into it. I thought the storyline was fantastic but I fell asleep whilst reading it. I loved the fact that the Tv series had been so faithful as it's such a rare occasion, but I hated it. And the reason I hated that perfection was because it was what was causing my struggles with the book. I was practically reading something I'd already read and that for me is my worst nightmare, I hate it and I really struggle to do so in an immediate sense, although I did once reread a series of books it was approximately ten years later, they were some of the first full-length books I ever read, and as I did so it all cam flooding back to me. Anyway, this week I made a breakthrough, I managed to get ahead in the book of where the Tv series was and it was exactly how I think a book should be. I couldn't put it down and I really didn't want to put it down. This was also when I first started to notice discrepancies between the two, when things started to play out of order and when phrasings changed, they even added a couple of extra scenes. And, despite disliking the fact it deviated, I completely understand why they had to do it. The extra scenes covered flashbacks and thoughts which couldn't possibly be done any other way.
       Something else which I loved about this book was that I don't know which characters I trust and which I don't. I'll be learning to like one and then they'll do something which puts me off them. In this book there are 8 characters whose voices tell the story. and I like them to varying degrees. My favourite by a long way is Jon Snow who I pity and admire and also think can be a bit pig-headed. Next is Arya Stark, Jon's half-sister, I like her Tom-boy aspects and willingness to give everything a go, except sewing. Then come's Tyrion Lannister, who I really don't know how I should feel about, because he's one of the Lannister's who are undoubtedly the bad-guys, but he's so amusing and carries around the weight of the world on his shoulders that you can't help but pity him and have a little love for him. After Tyrion is Daenerys Targaryen, who seems at first wildly unrelated to the rest of the characters but you soon begin to see the links evolve, she pretty, and young and abused. Then is Bran, short for Brandon, Stark he was a bit of a wild-child like his sister Arya until the Lannisters pushed him from a tower and he broke his spine paralysing him from the waist down. Then comes the honourable Lord Eddard Stark, you want to be able to like him but for some reason find yourself to love him with the same fierceness you feel you should. Sansa Stark is second from last, I do not actively dislike her, yet she has a mean streak which causes me to, this is probably caused by her, as described in the book, being a 'little idiot'. Lady Catelyn Stark is my least favourite of the 8 viewpoint characters, this is because she is mean, insensitive and uncaring to Jon Snow, although she has an admirable love for her own five true-born children, she can't find it in her to care for her Bastard Stepson Jon Snow and is cruel to him at any given moment, you find yourself asking 'why blame the child and not the parent?' because Lord Eddard she does not blame.
         My God-dad lent me the next three books in the series;
And I intend to read them soon. However I'll be breaking them up with some books from the 1001 because I'd like to be able to intake other stories, I'd like to prolong this one as a lot of the characters are becoming good friends already and I also learnt a valuable lesson once, reading 32 books by the same author in a row will leave you feeling bored and jaded!


11 May 2011

Holy Fools - Joanne Harris

I liked this book, but it took me a while to get into. It's one my dad got my mum because she's obsessive about 'Blackberry Wine' and didn't mind 'Chocolat' by the same author.
          I think that the cover design is distinctive, and I'm fairly sure that it's the only one which was done for this book, so you'd recognise it anywhere. Although they're about different people you can tell that the same author wrote this book and the two mentioned above from a simple glane at the covers, even without the name, because they are of a similar style which I think is reasonably unique to her.
           Another similarity that I've found between the three books, this is the only one I've read so far however I'm judging from my mother's descriptions, is that they're all set in France during a similar period, and they all explore sins and temptations. There is a common theme of food and of looking at the 'older, pagan gods' in favour of the Christian church, as all her heroines seem to outwardly respect the church, but secretly rebel against it.
           I liked also the fact that there was a twist in the plot which I think someone more astute than me may have picked up on, and which I half guessed, but which really wasn't very obvious. The characters were amusing and although the plot seemed tenuous it had enough twists, turns and excitement to make you want to keep reading.
          I didn't like the fact that it was written in three languages. Mostly english, dotted with some french words and quotes in latin. The quotes weren't too bad as i can't read that at all and so assumed each time that it was probably going to be translated for me and was definately from the bible. It was the french words, they were ones which everyone knows; soeur - sister, mere - mother, mer - sea. But then the names were often french versions of names we commonly use in England. As a result I found myself switching between the two languages not quite sure which my head should be reading in ... It couldn't make it's mind up.
            Overall I liked the book, even though there were parts which irritated me. It was amusing and didn't require too much effort or concentration, I think I may even have learnt one or two things from it.


1 May 2011

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


           This book I bought for two reasons; firstly it was in my version of '1001 books to read before you die' and secondly because I knew that I would be studying the relevent period of Russian history this year. It lived up to my expectations and did more or less what it said it would; described one day in the life of Ivan Denisovich, from the moment that he woke up until the moment he went to sleep.
             In history I've been studying Nazi Germany parallel to Russia, therefore I have a reasonable understanding of the Nazi Concentration camps whilst finding that the equivalent in Russia, the Gulag, are mentioned but never with any detail or depth. Because of the fact that they are in some respects described as being the same you find yourself making the assumption that they are Carbon copies of one another. However, after reading this book, you find that you can pick out a variety of differences, as well as similarities, between the two. It fascinated me.
            A year ago I read Primo Levi's 'If this is a Man', and I found myself drawing parallels with it as I read this book, this is unsuprising when you consider that one was written by a survivor of Auschwitz while the other was written by a survivor of a Gulag. I found a number of differences between the two; the first was that the prisoners in the Gulag's appeared to be valued more, possibly because they weren't classified as a sub-race, they were given more to eat. Secondly they appeared to be less supervised than in the Nazi camp except for when they were being moved to and from work-sites. Thirdly, a prisoner in Soviet Russia was actually able to fulfill his term, and go home, although it was likely to be to exile. One interesting quote I found was;

'Now he didn't know either whether he wanted freedom or not.'

          There were similarities to be found as well; Both camps apparantly had similar bartering systems between the prisoners; There was a similar hierarchy amongst the prisoners although the Gulag one was based more upon respect than the one in concentration camps which were built upon fear and hatred; and there appears to have been a similar attitude that you should live for the day but scrounge for the morrow and that above all you should keep your pride intact because that's what the camps were designed to drain.

Inside cover design

           My favourite thing about this book is the cover design which is striking. The pointing finger representing the Soviet power system and Stalin who simply had to point for you to be locked away. Open the cover and you're greeted by an equally striking image. A collage of pictures of prisoners and machinery, constructed in a way which best emphasises the clockwork nature of the Soviet superpower. I also loved the fact that when I bought the book from Waterstones it came plastic wrapped causing me to treat it with a certain amount of reverence, although not something I think would suit the majority of books it was perfect for this one.

          My least favourite thing about this book was that it had no chapters or divisions of any sort, beyond paragraphs, it was one long block of text from beginning to end. It made sense in the context of the book. Suited it even. But i really didn't like it. It made it hard to put down as there were no natural breaks and as a consequence I became reluctant to pick it up causing me to drag my feet whilst reading it.
          On the whole I found the book and informative, if slightly tedious read. I wanted to love it but I found it didn't quite equal other books of it's type; it didn't quite move me to compassion or tears.