Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Crome Yellow

Title: Crome Yellow

Author: Aldous Huxley

Number of pages: 176

Started: 22 April 2008

Finished: 29 April 2008

Opening words:

Along this particular stretch of line no express had ever passed. All the trains - the few that there were - stopped at all the stations. Denis knew the names of those stations by heart. Bole, Tritton, Spavin Delawarr, Knipswich for Timpany, West Bowlby, and, finally, Camlet-on-the-Water. Camlet was where he always got out, leaving the train to creep indolently onward, goodness only knew whither, into the green heart of England.

Plot summary:

Denis Stone, a naive young poet, is invited to stay at Crome, a country house renowned for its gatherings of 'bright young things'. Crome's hosts, the world-weary Henry Wimbush and his exotic wife Priscilla are joined by a party of colourful guests whose intrigues and opinions ensure Denis's stay is a memorable one.
In the course of the weekend Henry tells his guests fantastical stories from the history of the house, Mr Barbecue-Smith invents inspirational aphorisms conceived in trances, Mary dispense with her virginity on the roof, the local vicar prophesies the Apocalypse, the annual Crome Fair takes place and Denis tries to capture it all in poetry and has his heart broken.

Summary from Amazon.

What I thought:

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is one of my favourite books, but it has to be said that this one has not been added to the list. The book is one of the ‘between the war’ books that looks at a decaying world of decadence, but that just isn’t my kind of book and although I read it to the end, I didn’t really enjoy it. Not my sort of book.

Monday, 21 April 2008

The Midwich Cuckoos

Title: The Midwich Cuckoos

Author: John Wyndham

Number of pages: 224

Started: 18 April 2008

Finished: 21 April 2008

Opening words:

One of the luckiest accidents in my wife's life is that she happened to marry a man who was born on the 26th of September. But for that, we should both of us undoubtedly have been at home in Midwich on the night of the 26th-27th, with consequences which, I have never ceased to be thankful, she was spared.

Plot summary:

Cuckoos lay eggs in other birds' nests. The clutch that was fathered on the quiet little village of Midwich, one night in September, proved to possess a monstrous will of its own. Imt promised to make the human race look as dated as the dinosaur.

Plot summary taken from Amazon

What I thought:

I liked this book. It had quite an intriguing and mysterious plot and did John Wyndham’s usual thing of turning ordinary lives into something so much more than that. It did make the thought go through my mind several times about what would we do if we were faced with a scenario like that, would we all just want to think that these were people that were a bit ‘different’ or would we consider that it was something more sinister than that an what difficult decisions would we be willing to make in order to deal with it.

None of the Wyndham books I have read have been as good as The Day of the Triffids, but they are always thought provoking reads.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Alias Grace

Title: Alias Grace

Author: Margaret Atwood

Number of pages: 534

Started: 6 April 2008

Finished: 18 April 2008

Opening words:

Out of the gravel there are peonies growing. They come up through the loose grey pebbles, their buds testing the air like snails' eyes, then swelling and opening, huge dark-red flowers all shining and glossy like satin. Then they burst and fall to the ground.

In the one instant before they come apart they are like the peonies in the front garden at Mr. Kinnear's, that first day, only those were white. Nancy was cutting them. She wore a pale dress with pink rosebuds and a triple-flounced skirt, and a straw bonnet that hid her face. She carried a flat basket, to put the flowers in; she bent from the hips like a lady, holding her waist straight. When she heard us and turned to look, she put her hand up to her throat as if startled.

I tuck my head down while I walk, keeping step with the rest, eyes lowered, silently two by two around the yard, inside the square made by the high stone walls. My hands are clasped in front of me; they're chapped, the knuckles reddened. I can't remember a time when they were not like that. The toes of my shoes go in and out under the hem of my skirt, blue and white, blue and white, crunching on the pathway. These shoes fit me better than any I've ever had before.

Plot summary:

In 1843, a 16-year-old Canadian housemaid named Grace Marks was tried for the murder of her employer and his mistress. The sensationalistic trial made headlines throughout the world, and the jury delivered a guilty verdict. Yet opinion remained fiercely divided about Marks- -was she a spurned woman who had taken out her rage on two innocent victims, or was she an unwilling victim herself, caught up in a crime she was too young to understand? Such doubts persuaded the judges to commute her sentence to life imprisonment, and Marks spent the next 30 years in an assortment of jails and asylums, where she was often exhibited as a star attraction. In Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood reconstructs Marks's story in fictional form. Her portraits of 19th-century prison and asylum life are chilling in their detail. The author also introduces Dr Simon Jordan, who listens to the prisoner's tale with a mixture of sympathy and disbelief. In his effort to uncover the truth, Jordan uses the tools of the then rudimentary science of psychology. But the last word belongs to the book's narrator--Grace herself.

Synopsis taken from Amazon

What I thought:

I quite liked this book and when I was reading it I found it engaging, but as soon as I put it down, I found no great urge to pick it up and continue with it. It was well written book, but I think perhaps overly long – although I can’t really come up with anything specific that could have been cut. I have read other Margaret Atwood books and found them to be better than this one. Other people have described it as having a good psychological edge to it and making them think “did she or didn’t she?” but I can’t say that it had that effect on me particularly. I just felt a bit non-plussed by it really.

I have another Margaret Atwood book that I want to read so it will be interesting to see what I make of that one. This book did remind me of another book I read a few years ago called The Alienist and that was a good book and well worth a read.

Friday, 4 April 2008

The Girls of Slender Means

Title: The Girls of Slender Means

Author: Muriel Spark

Number of pages: 144

Started: 3 April 2008

Finished: 4 April 2008

Opening words:

Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions. The streets of the cities were lined with buildings in bad repair or in no repair at all, bomb-sites piled with stony rubble, houses like giant teeth in which decay had been drilled out, leaving only the cavity. Some bomb-ripped buildings looked like the ruins of ancient castles until, at a closer view, the wallpapers of various quite normal rooms would be visible, room above room, exposed, as on a stage, with one wall missing; sometimes a lavatory chain would dangle over nothing from a fourth-or fifth-floor ceiling; most of all the staircases survived, like a new art-form, leading up and up to an unspecified destination that made unusual demands on the mind's eye. All the nice people were poor; at least, that was a general axiom, the best of the rich being poor in spirit.

Plot summary:

This is London 1945, when all nice people are poor. Muriel Spark sets us down among the girls of good family but slender means as they fight it out, from their Kensington hostel to the last clothing coupon until this charmingly light-hearted period in their lives descends into horror and tragedy.

Plot summary taken from Amazon

What I thought:

I didn’t really know what to make of this book. It had some amusing moments, but on the whole it didn’t really grab me. I just didn’t really ever understand quite where it was meant to be going. It was ok but, for me, easily forgettable.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Animal Farm

Title: Animal Farm

Author: George Orwell

Number of pages: 95

Started: 1 April 2008

Finished: 2 April 2008

Opening words:

Mr Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the popholes. With the ring of light from his lantern dancing from side to side, he lurched across the yard, kicked off his boots at the back door, drew himself a last glass of beer from the barrel in the scullery, and made his way up to bed, where Mrs. Jones was already snoring.

Plot summary:

Having got rid of their human master, the animals of Manor Farm look forward to a life of freedom and plenty. But as a clever, ruthless elite among them takes control, the other animals find themselves hopelessly ensnared in the old ways. Orwell's chilling story of the betrayal of idealism through tyranny and corruption, is as fresh and relevant today as when it was first published in 1945.

Plot summary taken from Amazon.

What I thought:

Animal Farm is one of those books that I should have read as a teenager at school, but as was my nature at the time, if it was compulsory reading I didn’t do it. In some ways, having now read the book, I don’t think that was necessarily a bad thing. That’s not because it was a bad book, but actually because it was a good one – but I think as a teenager I would have failed to see the (not so) hidden message in the book. It would have just been a story, and one that I sped through in order to get it read for school. What I would have missed though was a simple and yet really effective look at communism. At times the way Orwell crafted the story was so simple that it was really impressive that he could have boiled down the essence of communism to a story of some mere 90 pages – and told through animals at that.

My knowledge of communism it has to say is somewhat limited and even now many of the finer points were probably lost on me, but even so I thought that the story was really clever and yet charming in its own way – despite the downward spiral that it took.

A really good book that in less than 100 pages told both a fictional tale and passed scathing judgment on communism.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008


Title: Chocky

Author: John Wyndham

Number of pages: 153

Started: 30 March 2008

Finished: 1 April 2008

Opening words:

It was in the spring of the year that Matthew reached twelve that I first became aware of Chocky. Late April, I think, or possibly May; anyway I am sure it was the spring because on that Saturday afternoon I was out in the garden shed unenthusiastically oiling the mower for labours to come when I heard Matthew's voice outside the window. It surprised me; I had no idea he was anywhere about until I heard him say, on a note of distinct irritation, and, apparently, of nothing:

'I don't know why It's just the way things are.'

Plot summary:

Matthew, they thought, was just going through a phase of talking to himself, and they waited for him to get over it. Then Matthew started doing things he couldn't do before, like counting in binary-code mathematics. So he told them about Chocky - the person who lived inside his head.

Summary taken from Amazon

What I thought:

I didn’t really know what to make of this book. In some ways I really liked the simplicity of it. John Wyndham takes very ordinary English life and finds the extraordinary in it and there is something I find really impressive about that. But having read and loved another of his books The Day of the Triffids, I was a bit disappointed by this book. If this had been the first I had read, I am not sure it would have inspired me to read his others. There was something about it that was just a bit too mundane.

It was an interesting premise though, a boy ‘hears’ a voice in his head – is it an imaginary friend, is he possessed, he is mentally ill or is it something totally different? I found the way the author approached this to be really interesting and thought it showed the way that adults try to justify these things – and it leaves you with the question “what if this was something different, something real? What if we have missed out on a whole world that’s out there by limiting ourselves to what our own mind can comprehend? Thought provoking.