Saturday, 29 May 2010


Title: She

Author: H Rider Haggard

Number of pages: 384

Started: 22 May 2010

Finished: 29 May 2010

Opening words:

In giving to the world the record of what, looked at as an adventure only, is I suppose one of the most wonderful and mysterious experiences ever undergone by mortal men, I feel it incumbent on me to explain what my exact connection with it is. And so I may as well say at once that I am not the narrator but only the editor of this extraordinary history, and then go on to tell how it found its way into my hands.

Some years ago I, the editor, was stopping with a friend, "vir doctissimus et amicus neus," at a certain University, which for the purposes of this history we will call Cambridge, and was one day much struck with the appearance of two persons whom I saw going arm-in-arm down the street. One of these gentlemen was I think, without exception, the handsomest young fellow I have ever seen. He was very tall, very broad, and had a look of power and a grace of bearing that seemed as native to him as it is to a wild stag. In addition his face was almost without flaw--a good face as well as a beautiful one, and when he lifted his hat, which he did just then to a passing lady, I saw that his head was covered with little golden curls growing close to the scalp.

Read more here.

Plot summary:

On his twenty-fifth birthday, Leo Vincey opens the silver casket that his father has left to him. It contains a letter recounting the legend of a white sorceress who rules an African tribe and of his father’s quest to find this remote race. To find out for himself if the story is true, Leo and his companions set sail for Zanzibar. There, he is brought face to face with Ayesha, She-who-must-be-obeyed: dictator, femme fatale, tyrant and beauty. She has been waiting for centuries for the true descendant of Kallikrates, her murdered lover, to arrive, and arrive he does – in an unexpected form. Blending breathtaking adventure with a brooding sense of mystery and menace, She is a story of romance, exploration discovery and heroism that has lost none of its power to enthral.

What I thought:

I had high hopes of this book. I read, and loved, King Solomon’s Mines and was hopeful that this book would be in the same league. Sadly, it did not live up to expectations. The opening chapters of the book were really good and set the scene really well, drawing the reader in to the unfolding mystery. But the rest of the book was not of quite the same standard and was written in what was, to a modern reader, quite stilted language.

I was not overly enamoured with the book and didn’t enjoy it anywhere near as much as I might have hoped. It had a lot of promise, but I felt the delivery did not quite live up to it. Do read King Solomon’s Mines though, as that is a really great read.

Friday, 21 May 2010

A Bend in the River

Title: A Bend in the River

Author: V.S. Naipaul

Number of pages: 336

Started: 14 May 2010

Finished: 21 May 2010

Opening words:

The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.

Plot summary:

Salim, the narrator, is a young man from an Indian family of traders long resident on the coast of Central Africa. Salim has left the coast to make his way in the interior, there to take on a small trading shop of this and that, sundries, sold to the natives. The place is "a bend in the river"; it is Africa. The time is post-colonial, the time of Independence. The Europeans have withdrawn or been forced to withdraw and the scene is one of chaos, violent change, warring tribes, ignorance, isolation, poverty and a lack of preparation for the modern world they have entered, or partially assumed as a sort of decoration. It is a story of historical upheaval and social breakdown. Naipaul has fashioned a work of intense imaginative force. It is a haunting creation, rich with incident and human bafflement, played out in an immense detail of landscape rendered with a poignant brilliance.

What I thought:

This book had moments of brilliance and some really beautiful writing at times. But at other times, I found it dragged and didn’t really flow.

It was a decent enough read, and by a Nobel Prize Winner no less, but I found that the book didn’t consistently draw me in in the way that I hoped it would. But it was a well written and decently plotted book and there were pats of it that were to be savoured. But as a book as a whole, I found that it didn’t quite work for me.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Fear the worst

Title: Fear the Worst

Author: Linwood Barclay

Number of pages: 368

Started: 7 April 2010

Finished: 13 April 2010

Opening words:

The morning of the day I lost her, my daughter asked me to scramble her some eggs. “Want bacon with it?" I shouted upstairs, where she was still getting ready for work.

To find out if she wants bacon and to read more here
Plot summary:

The worst day of Tim Blake's life started out with him making breakfast for his seventeen-year-old daughter Sydney. Syd was staying with him while she worked a summer job - even if he wasn't entirely sure what her job at the Just Inn Time motel actually was - and Tim hoped this quality father-daughter time would somehow help her deal with his divorce. When she didn't arrive home at her usual time, he thought she'd probably gone to the mall to hang with her friends. When she didn't answer her phone he began to worry. When she didn't come home at all, he began to panic. And when the people at the Just Inn Time said they had no Sydney Blake working at the motel and never had, he began to see his life going into freefall. If she hadn't been working at the Just Inn Time every day, what had she been doing? Something she couldn't - or wouldn't - tell her own father about? To find his daughter Tim doesn't need to simply track her down - he needs to know who she really was, and what could have made her step out of her own life without leaving a trace. Only one thing has him convinced the worst hasn't already happened: the fact that some very scary people seem just as eager as he is to find her. The question is: who's going to find her first?

What I thought:

This was a decent thriller. It was a fairly fast moving read, with a few twists that were possible to foresee, but mainly one that encouraged you to keep turning the pages. I don’t really tend to read crime novels anymore, but Linwood Barclay’s books are quite light reads and ones that are a decent distraction from some novels that are perhaps more hard work to plough through. It was also good to have a book that wasn’t entirely sewn up in some warm and fussy happy ending.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Robinson Crusoe

Title: Robinson Crusoe

Author: Daniel Defoe

Number of pages: 252

Started: 29 April 2010

Finished: 6 May 2010

Opening words:

I was born in the year 1632, in the city of York, of a good family, though not of that country, my father being a foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull. He got a good estate by merchandise, and leaving off his trade, lived afterwards at York, from whence he had married my mother, whose relations were named Robinson, a very good family in that country, and from whom I was called Robinson Kreutznaer; but, by the usual corruption of words in England, we are now called - nay we call ourselves and write our name - Crusoe; and so my companions always called me.

I had two elder brothers, one of whom was lieutenant-colonel to an English regiment of foot in Flanders, formerly commanded by the famous Colonel Lockhart, and was killed at the battle near Dunkirk against the Spaniards. What became of my second brother I never knew, any more than my father or mother knew what became of me.

Being the third son of the family and not bred to any trade, my head began to be filled very early with rambling thoughts. My father, who was very ancient, had given me a competent share of learning, as far as house-education and a country free school generally go, and designed me for the law; but I would be satisfied with nothing but going to sea; and my inclination to this led me so strongly against the will, nay, the commands of my father, and against all the entreaties and persuasions of my mother and other friends, that there seemed to be something fatal in that propensity of nature, tending directly to the life of misery which was to befall me.

Plot summary:

The sole survivor of a shipwreck, Robinson Crusoe is washed up on a desert island. In his journal he chronicles his daily battle to stay alive, as he conquers isolation, fashions shelter and clothes, first encounters another human being and fights off cannibals and mutineers. With Robinson Crusoe, Defoe wrote what is regarded as the first English novel, and created one of the most popular and enduring myths in literature. Written in an age of exploration and enterprise, it has been variously interpreted as an embodiment of British imperialist values, as a portrayal of ‘natural man’, or as a moral fable. But above all it is a brilliant narrative, depicting Crusoe’s transformation from terrified survivor to self-sufficient master of his island.

What I thought:

This was a strange, but enjoyable, book. It was not the most straightforward read and one that took a bit of time to get used to some of the language, but once I did I found that I enjoyed the tale. At times it went into more detail than was perhaps necessary to describe some of Crusoe’s life on his desert island, but the story warmed up as the tale unfolded.

It was an interesting take on the castaway story, and presumably one of the first, and strangely it did not ever really focus on the sense of being alone and how that affected Crusoe. It did bring in his reflections on life and God and other such things, which might not sit entirely well with some modern readers, including the rather imperialist role that he takes on ruling over all those he comes into contact with. But it’s a good read and given that it is thought to be one of the first novels, one that I am glad I have read.