Thursday, 26 July 2012

The News Where You Are

Title: The News Where You Are  
Author: Catherine O’Flynn
Number of pages: 309
Started: 21 July 2012
Finished: 26 July 2012  

Opening words:

He gave up any pretence of jogging now and walked slowly along the lane, following in the wake of an empty crisp packet blown along the tarmac. Without its example he wasn't sure he'd have the will to move forward.  

Plot summary:

Set in Birmingham, The News Where You Are tells the funny, touching story of Frank, a local TV news presenter. Beneath his awkwardly corny screen persona, Frank is haunted by disappearances: the mysterious hit and run that killed his predecessor Phil Smethway; the demolition of his father's post-war brutalist architecture; and the unmarked passing of those who die alone in the city. Frank struggles to make sense of these absences while having to report endless local news stories of holes opening up in people's gardens and trying to cope with his resolutely miserable mother.

What I thought:

I really enjoyed Catherine O’Flynn’s previous novel, and so had high expectations of this book. On the whole I thought it was an enjoyable read, a reflection on people, and aging and the value we place on things. I found it a touch contrived, but ultimately the book held together well and was a good and satisfying read.

Friday, 20 July 2012

We Had It So Good

Title: We Had It So Good
Author: Linda Grant
Number of pages: 352
Started: 13 July 2012  
Finished: 20 July 2012  

Opening words: 

Aged nine, Stephen standing outside the fur-storage depot where his father works, his sturdy legs in shorts planted on Californian ground. Feet wide apart, shoulders up, arms behind his back, his neck sticking out from the collar of a checked shirt to which a narrow bow-tie has been clipped, and his round Charlie Brown head dusted with the dark shadow of a crew-cut. All-American boy.

Read a longer extract here.

Plot summary: 

Born to hardworking immigrant parents in sunny suburban Los Angeles, Stephen Newman never imagined that he would spend his adult life under the grey skies of north London, would marry Andrea for convenience and stay married, and would watch his children grow into people he cannot fathom. Over forty years he and his friends have built lives of comfort and success, until the events of late middle age and the new century force them to realise that they have always existed in a fool's paradise.

What I thought:

I enjoyed this book and was pleased that it was a story that involved someone leaving America, rather than going there, which is often a theme in novels. I mean no offence to the USA, it is just a fairly common aspect of novels (or at least ones that I read). It was a well written story and a decent plot.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Northern Lights

Title: Northern Lights
Author: Philip Pullman  
Number of pages: 399
Started: 5 July 2012
Finished: 13 July 2012

Opening words: 

Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen. The three great tables that ran the length of the hall were laid already, the silver and the glass catching what little light there was, and the long benches were pulled out ready for the guests. Portraits of former Masters hung high up in the gloom along the walls. Lyra reached the dais and looked back at the open kitchen door, and, seeing no one, stepped up beside the high table. The places here were laid with gold, not silver, and the fourteen seats were not oak benches but mahogany chairs with velvet cushions.

Read a longer extract here  

Plot summary:

Lyra's life is already sufficiently interesting for a novel before she eavesdrops on a presentation by her uncle Lord Asriel to his colleagues in the Jordan College faculty, Oxford. The college, famed for its leadership in experimental theology, is funding Lord Asriel's research into the heretical possibility of the existence of worlds unlike Lyra's own, where everyone is born with a familiar animal companion, magic of a kind works, the Tartars are threatening to overrun Muscovy, and the Pope is a puritanical Protestant.  

What I thought:

I had been meaning to read this book for ages and finally got round to doing so. Despite all the plaudits this book has received, it didn’t really work for me. I know several people who have really enthused about this book, but I didn’t really enjoy the plot and never felt terribly much empathy or concern for the characters. Not the book for me.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

You Deserve Nothing

Title: You Deserve Nothing

Author: Alexander Maksik

Number of pages: 320

Started: 2 July 2012

Finished: 4 July 2012

Opening words:

You live in one place.  The next day you live somewhere else. It isn’t complicated. You get on a plane. You get off. People are always talking about home. Their houses. Their neighborhoods. In movies, it’s where they came from, where they came up, the hood. The movies are full of that stuff. The street. The block. The diner. Italian movies. Black movies. Jewish movies. Brooklyn or whatever.

Plot summary:

Set in an international high school in Paris, You Deserve Nothing is told in three voices: that of Will, a charismatic young teacher who brings ideas alive in the classroom in a way that profoundly affects his students; Gilad, one of Will's students who has grown up behind compound walls in places like Dakar and Dubai, and for whom Paris and Will's senior seminar are the first heady tastes of freedom; and Marie, the beautiful, vulnerable senior with whom, unbeknowst to Gilad, Will is having an illicit affair. Utterly compelling, brilliantly written, You Deserve Nothing is a captivating tale about teachers and students, of moral uncertainties and the coming of adulthood. It heralds the arrival of a brilliant new voice in fiction.

What I thought:

What to say about this book?  I have to say that before I even opened the cover to the novel, I was not convinced by the title.  It struck me as somewhat melodramatic and the type of title a teenager might choose for an essay.  My opinion did not really change as the novel progressed.  I found the scenes set in the school classes to be overly dramatised and didn’t find them convincing – I just didn’t believe what was written.  I didn’t find it credible.  Not because I don’t think there are teachers that try and inspire or challenge their students, but because I thought the way it was written was trying too hard to be profound.

To me this was a book that might be ideal for a teenager in terms of style and some of the content, but given the whole “teacher has an affair with student” scenario, perhaps not the ideal novel to recommend to a teenager.