Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Book Worm

I love nothing better than a good read, and have found the invention of the Kindle to be a godsend to me.  It means that in the many activities to which I ferry my kids, I can sling the Kindle into my handbag, where it rattles around happily with the plasters, sachets of Calpol, odd bits of loose change, a crumpled but clean tissue, several very sticky Chupa Chups lollies, a biro without a lid and a lipgloss.  Out of this little haven it emerges, at every possible moment – you know, the times you find that the most annoyingly competitive mummy has set up her chair next to you at cricket training, or when it is bucketing down with rain and you are in the car watching your child sloshing around unhappily at football training or when you have just half an hour of dance to wait for and so you are sitting in the corner of the room unobtrusively.  Often I wish I could take it out during the actual matches, but that simply wouldn’t be cricket (or football, or rugby… you get the gist). 

But it is amazing how much you can read, when you put your mind to it, and because I dabble in writing, it is one of the most common questions that I get asked ‘What’s a good book to read?’ ‘What’s your recommendation for a holiday/plane/recovery from operation book?’  Bearing this in mind, I have decided to write a couple of bi-monthly reviewlets (I’ve coined this phrase as I would hate for them to be seen as pukka reviews, but merely my take on the books, and not to be used against me…) These books have not been forced on me by the authors, nor have they been given to me, merely selected by me from the smorgasbord on offer at Amazon.  I find it extremely difficult to abandon a read – but on the odd occasion it has had to be done, and if it happens from henceforth, I will be honest and tell you why…

The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak

Set in World War II Germany, it is a moving story of an orphaned German girl who goes to live with a foster family, whose grown up kids have moved out of home.  I found it initially very difficult to get in to, and this was probably because I started it at the beginning of the Easter holidays and was dipping in and out of it.  This is not a dipping in and out of book.  The storyline is fairly dark, with some hilarious childhood moments – a bit like Anne Frank meets The Railway Children.  I was probably 20 or 30 pages into it before I was totally hooked.  And you can see why it has been snapped up by Hollywood and is already into Oscars territory.  It is written in a concise and matter of fact way, but every sentence is carefully positioned and well thought out – from the pale seemingly insignificant characters like the Mayors wife to the supposed cruelty of the foster mother, the vindictiveness of the Hitler Youth and the gentle passiveness of a hideaway Jew. Events unfurl, and as a reader you are powerless to stop it, and the narrator, who is Death, jumps tantalizingly back and forward over timelines, pulling you unwillingly with him as you desperately hang on for dear life (no pun intended). The children grow, people die, villages are raised to the ground, and yet there is the human capacity for hope that makes you switch off the Kindle at the end with tears rolling cathartically down your cheeks.  Absolutely highly recommended – although possibly not for a plane read unless it’s long haul and you can blame your puffy eyes on the travelling…

The P45 Diaries by Ben Hatch 

Totally different in terms of style, but a great read nevertheless.  This is from the view of a laconic and slightly annoying 18 year old male who floats in and out of jobs, trying to find and justify his way in life.  I say slightly annoying because there is a part of me that is like his frustrated and recently widowed, heavily drinking father that wants to simply shake him and tell him to get his s*** together.  But it is only at that point that our antihero (rather like a wannabe Citizen Smith he rants against society) becomes more human, he falls in love, and we realise that actually he is still coping with his grief, and that of his family, for his deceased mother - with whom, it turns out through his diaries, he has a poignant and close relationship. There is a very real and touching affiliation with his young brother whose struggle to come to terms with the changes in his family is reflected in moments of OCD.

Rather weirdly, I’ve actually done (and walked from) some of the dead end jobs that he dips in and out of – the Ad Sales Company, the Financial Sales Company, all replete with mantras and office characters.  So true and so funny.  And a priceless bit involving a trouser press. There are elements that made me think of my own childhood, but knowing teenagers now as I do from a mum's perspective, there was a distinct lack of use of mobiles and social media, which was a little at odds with the present setting. That not withstanding, this book is riddled intelligently with elements of both old and new -Death of a Salesman, Catcher in the Rye, Bread, The Inbetweeners and Miranda.  It makes for both laughter and tears in equal force. It is a romping read and a great book for your holiday!  Highly recommended.

Next time I will be reviewing The Expats by Chris Pavone and another (suggestions welcome).

Please feel free to comment!