Wednesday, 30 May 2012


Title: Middlesex

Author: Jeffrey Eugenides

Number of pages: 544

Started: 19 May 2012

Finished: 30 May 2012

Opening words:

I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. Specialized readers may have come across me in Dr. Peter Luce's study, "Gender Identity in 5-Alpha-Reductase Pseudohermaphrodites," published in the Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology in 1975. Or maybe you've seen my photograph in chapter sixteen of the now sadly outdated Genetics and Heredity. That's me on page 578, standing naked beside a height chart with a black box covering my eyes.

Plot summary:

'I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of l974. My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver's license records my first name simply as Cal.' So begins the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides, and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City, and the race riots of l967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Point, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret, and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction. Lyrical and thrilling, "Middlesex" is an exhilarating reinvention of the American epic.

What I thought:

I read this book as part of a group read over at Me and My Big Mouth.  This was not my first Eugenides novel, having read The Virgin Suicides previously and enjoyed that,

This book was not what I expected.  It was much more family epic, much more about the things that made the main character, Cal, come into being.  It was a book narrated by Cal, who had omniscient qualities at times seeing things back in the mists of time and certainly well beyond Cal’s sphere of knowledge.  That isn’t a fault, that is part of what makes the book what it is, but it casts doubts on the accuracy of the narration.

It was a readable book, although perhaps a bit longer than it needed to be.  It was also an interesting reading experience moving through the novel with the aid of other people’s observations.  The book was worth reading, although not as good a read as The Virgin Suicides.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Revenge of the Tide

Title: Revenge of the Tide

Author: Elizabeth Haynes

Number of pages: 344

Started: 10 May 2012

Finished: 15 May 2012

Opening words:

It was there when I opened my eyes, that vague feeling of discomfort, the rocking of the boat signalling the receding tide and the wind from the south, blowing upriver, straight into the side of the Revenge of the Tide.

Plot summary:

Genevieve has finally escaped the stressful demands of her sales job and achieved her dream: to leave London behind and start a new life aboard a houseboat in Kent. But on the night of her boat-warming party the dream is shattered when a body washes up beside the boat, and Genevieve recognises the victim.

As the sanctuary of the boatyard is threatened, and Genevieve s life seems increasingly at risk, the story of how she came to be so out of her depth is unfolded, and Genevieve finds out the real cost of mixing business with pleasure…

What I thought:

This was another enjoyable (again I use that word with some reservations when it comes to her books, given the subject matter) book by Elizabeth Haynes.  It was a decent story that set up an intriguing scenario – a woman living on a boat having given up her jobs in London, sales woman by day, pole dancer by night.

I did think the book was longer than it needed to be - it could have done with moving at a slightly faster pace in places.  The book also was not as good as Haynes debut novel, Into the Darkest Corner, but given all the plaudits that has received, that might not be the easiest to achieve.

It was a very readable book and possibly the reader would benefit from reading this book before Into the Darkest Corner because if you like this one, you then have an even better one to read by then turning to her debut novel.  I am nothing if not full of helpful suggestions…

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Moon's a Balloon

Title: The Moon’s A Balloon

Author: David Niven

Number of pages: 336

Started: 26 April 2012

Finished: 9 May 2012

Opening words:

Nessie, when I first saw her, was seventeen years old, honey-blonde, pretty rather than beautiful, the owner of a voluptuous but somehow innocent body and a pair of legs that went on forever. She was a Piccadilly whore.  I was a fourteen-year-old heterosexual schoolboy and I met her thanks to my stepfather.

Plot summary:

Takes readers back to David Niven's childhood days, his humiliating expulsion from school and to his army years and wartime service. After the war, he returned to America and there came his Hollywood success in films such as "Wuthering Heights" and "Around the World in 80 Days".

What I thought:

I saw some interviews with David Niven on TV recently and that prompted me to read the first instalment of his autobiography.  It was a very readable book, although I was not entirely sure if I found it 100% credible – not that I thought there were untruths in it, but that maybe memory had amplified things a bit at times.

I have to say that I had not realised quite what a well-known film star he was (being a bit before my time) and I certainly hadn’t realised he mixed in such high circles – chats with his friends Winston Churchill and JFK no less.  It also has to be said that there were a lot of people who died in his life.  Some of that was because of World War 2, but nonetheless I think he had more than his fair share of death the deal with.  His life was a mix of a film star and lots of people dying.  Is that the perfect combination for an autobiography?  I shall leave you to decide.