The Good Samaritan- John Marrs

It’s fair to say that this book’s description does not do it justice. I imagined that it would be dark, and with that I imagined tension. However, I hadn’t quite imagined how dark or tense The Good Samaritan would be, and I was pleasantly surprised- if anything can be pleasant about such a dark subject…

For the first few pages it is difficult to imagine the action that might follow later in the plot, and it seems that Laura might actually be a good samaritan. But it doesn’t take long to realise that this isn’t true, and her worryingly sadistic tendencies become more and more apparent the more you read on. Even when you begin to learn possible explanations for Laura’s difficult-to-understand pleasures, it is hard to feel sorry for her because she is so relentless. It is not just that she doesn’t see what she is doing is wrong, she truly believes it is acceptable and justified. This is frustrating, but it is also great to read a book in which you are supposed to detest the protagonist, and that I did.

When I say that Laura is relentless, I mean it wholeheartedly. Nothing and no one will get in the way of her quest to help, or rather encourage, people to die. I certainly thought that she would meet her maker at numerous points in the narrative, but it seems that when someone has so little to lose, they have no fear. For the entirety of the narrative I was sure I had figured out what was going to happen, reformulating the possibilities and getting it wrong every time. In fact, even at the end of the book, it isn’t entirely certain that she face the consequences of what she has done.

The further I read, the more The Good Samaritan held my attention, as I truly feared what might happen next. It becomes clear that Laura isn’t simply obsessed with the idea of people dying, but of being in control and having the upper hand. It seems that she has no mercy, and is even prepared to utilise her children as a tool to assert her power. This intense desperation still didn’t make me pity her, I just hated her more. The book is filled with injustice, which makes for a frustrating narrative and also pushed me to keep reading out of desperation to see justice served.

I liked that Marrs made the dual narratives intertwine as it helped to highlight the differences in how a sane person interprets the situation, and how Laura understands what is happening. However, it did this in a clever way that didn’t always simply tell two identical scenes from different perspectives, but rather added reflections and comments into each narrative to acknowledge the event.

The Good Samaritan made me question how genuine everyone working at helplines, such as the fictional End of the Line might be. Though you’d like to think that someone as dangerous as Laura would not slip through the net, it definitely made me consider that people might not work for such charities for the right reason: something I had never thought about before.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone that enjoys drama and tension. While there aren’t any mysteries to be discovered, I became so invested in the need for justice that I could barely put the book down. The Good Samaritan is one of the best books I have read in a while, and I will be sure to check out some of Marrs other works!

This Modern Love- Will Darbyshire

I had been meaning to read this book for a while, but it somehow always got overtaken on my to-read list.  However, after spotting it on my friend’s bookshelf, I decided to prioritise it.  I had no excuse not to.

I had read about This Modern Love, and was incredibly intrigued by the book’s inspiration: Darbyshire’s unluckiness in love and, when I first began reading, it was great to see that, in spite of his bad experiences, he hadn’t given up on love. Instead, Darbyshire was on a quest to learn all about the beauty of love in the rest of the world.

The introduction and various other explanations throughout the book definitely added to how heartwarming it was. It allowed me to appreciate the book as more than just a collection of different letters, and as a result of someone’s vision and hard work. What’s also great is that Darbyshire uses his online presence to create something as tangible and concrete as this book. Using his online presence and global audience, Darbyshire was able to target, and curate letters, from such a wide spectrum of people, meaning there are a variety of different viewpoints in the book. I thought the question about how technology impacted relationships, for better or for worse was important, given that this book was only possible as a result of these people using technology. The answers to this question were equally interesting, as even those who said it had a positive effect recognised its potentially damaging nature. I suppose I had never considered this before. I mean, I know that our contemporary reliance on technology is not necessarily the best thing for us as humans but, considering that it has facilitated my long-distance relationship for the past five years makes it difficult to say much bad about.

I thought it was interesting that the contents page divides the narrative simply into ‘beginning’, ‘middle’ and ‘end’, framing this as a story in its most simple terms, and recognising that love can have and end, sometimes on good terms and sometimes on not so good terms. Of course, Darbyshire did have control over the ‘narrative’ as he selected which letters were to be included, but he did not edit the ones he chose. I suppose, in this way, This Modern Love reminded me a little of PostSecret, except that most participants chose to disclose their names, which I think added to how heartwarming these stories were as they weren’t ashamed of the intense love they felt.

I found myself smiling constantly as I was reading. Of course, some of the letters were sad, but the majority of them were largely positive. Not only did I feel privileged to be let in on the candid love and happiness of these people, it also gave me hope that there is quite so much love in this world that is so infamously terrible at times.

The inclusion of images, as well as singular words to describe love, that punctuate the collection of letters demonstrate the many ways in which love can be expressed, yet sometimes not articulated.

I would definitely encourage anyone to read This Modern Love. There are few things more endearing than learning about why other people love each other so much, and I know that I will pick the book up again in the future. Perhaps I wouldn’t read it again from start to finish, but I will definitely flick through it when I am in need of something to make me smile.

 

The Text- Claire Douglas

It’s been a while. I think it’s fair to say that I had underestimated the intensity of final year, only made worse by the fact that I had a year abroad, which entailed very little studying. I got a bit swept up, and was not prioritising reading for pleasure. Now that I have had reading week, and a chance to catch up with myself a little, I am determined for this to change.  Let’s see…

I downloaded The Text from the Kindle store a while ago, thinking I could fit in time to read a 40 page short story. Apparently not. However, I am glad that last night I finally forced myself to. Don’t get me wrong, I love my degree, but there’s only so much french feminist writing, or medieval french romances that I can bring myself to read.

The first page was gripping, which is pretty vital for a short story and, though the plot wasn’t the most complex or the most convincing, it did keep my attention. I like how the narrative begins in media res– Douglas wastes no time in introducing her characters, allowing her readers to get to know them as the story progresses. I could identify with Emily straight away: desperate to vent to a friend, too involved with what I want to say to check what I’m actually saying….The Text really does show you that a typo can be fatal, and proof reading (even a text) can save lives…

(Half) Joking aside, Douglas does touch on some serious issues considering the mere 40 pages that the narrative is spread across, including abusive relationships and affairs, and how these can impact those involved and others around them. It was also impressive that the author managed to squeeze a plot twist into the story in such a short space, and I didn’t even see it coming.

Though Emily does resolve some of the problems in her life by the end, the narrative does still leave a lot to be desired. I would say the short story feels more like a chapter from a book (albeit a busy one), and there would definitely be room for a sequel. The cliffhanger isn’t the worst thing in the world, though the conclusion does feel like it creates a double meaning for the book’s title.

I would say that The Text is worth a read, if not for the fact that I don’t tend to read many short stories, and it is interesting to see how narrative technique and character building varies to that in a novel. It is evident that Douglas is an incredibly competent author, and I would definitely read one of her novels to see how she writing style changes. Perhaps not the most breathtaking book I have ever read, it certainly did not feel like a waste of time.

 

The Casual Vacancy- J.K. Rowling

I remember there being a lot of hype about The Casual Vacancy when it was first published. Personally, I couldn’t believe how an author that had spent so much of her time creating such a detailed fantasy world could ever come out of that, and authentically write about something different. I made this judgement without even having read the blurb of this new venture, and I had no idea what the book was about. However, after having recently rejoined my local library and finding it on the ‘suggested reads’ shelf, I decided I had nothing to lose by giving it a try.

The first thing I have to say is wow. Why  did I not read this book sooner? My judgements about J.K. Rowling couldn’t have been more wrong, and I severely underestimated her. I have never read a fictional novel, set in a fictional place, that is so representative of the ‘real’ world and the people that live within it.

Even once I had began reading, I had no idea what the title actually referred to, and I am truly amazed by Rowling’s ability to display how, what is effectively a mundane event, can have such a huge impact on the lives of so many people. She also captured human nature wonderfully, and the fact that, in such a small geographic space, people can have such different attitudes. The narrative follows a series of different people, who are all affected in a different way by this ‘casual vacancy’. I must admit that some of the characters are more memorable than others, and some are definitely more likeable, but as I was reading I could envisage exactly what each looked like, without any real time being spent on their physical description.

My favourite aspect by far was that of the Weedon family. It wasn’t so much that they were likeable, but rather that, as a reader, I had an intense desperation for their situation to better. For them to somehow surmount their unfortunate situation, and prove other characters wrong.

At no point did I feel I knew where the novel was heading, but this made it such a pleasure to read. Though Rowling’s narrative destination wasn’t clear, the message she was trying to convey was, and it really made me reflect upon how I view other people without really knowing or understanding their situations.

The book was deeply upsetting at times, but I could not read it fast enough. Desperate to see how the narrative was going to unfold, and who was going to be proven wrong and right. It was written so beautiful, and it was clear how much thought and consideration had been put into every word chosen, and the structure of every sentence to achieve this magnificent end result. As I was reading, I couldn’t stop telling everyone I spoke to about how amazing it was, insisting they must read it.

The narrative resolution is abrupt and shocking, but I believe that, once again, this is simply a reflection of the path that life can take, and this was just another technique Rowling used to made The Casual Vacancy such a fantastic reflection of this.

Love & Gelato- Jenna Evans Welch

I chose Love & Gelato without even reading the description. The title was enough for me : summery and playful. I presumed this book would simply be about falling in love in Italy, without much else to the narrative, but I was pleasantly surprised. You needn’t be put off by what some might describe a ‘sickly sweet’ title (pardon the pun, given the gelato reference), as it’s not all about romantic love, there’s something a little deeper in there, too.

I like Lina, the main character, because she doesn’t fall into any stereotypical categories of teenage girl. Rather than being delighted to spend her summer in Tuscany, dreaming of catching a killer tan and finding herself a gorgeous Italian husband, Lina couldn’t be less fussed. It’s very clear that she’s only there because it was her late mother’s dying wish, but she’d really rather be at home.  During the narrative, she’s wary about everything that comes her way,  rather than jumping at the chance to go to the parties she is invited to, she considers her option. This whole attitude is quite refreshing and it makes her character seem more realistic, as she doesn’t fit into a cookie cutter category.

In fact, the author seems to have a gift for creating characters, as each with a major role in the narrative really did feel real and relatable, and I had no problems with creating mental images of them, or their voices. Her trick seemed to be not overloading, as each character serves a real purpose, and each get their own ‘screen time’, so to speak, However, I do feel that I would like to learn more about them, and spend more time with each character, so I definitely would be interested in a sequel.

Soon after arriving, a couple of things happen that, though she might not realise at the time, change her entire opinion on staying in Italy. The most important of which is her mother’s journal, which helps her on the quest to find her father- a journey which is not quite as smooth or romantic as one might hope or imagine. The journal is a great narrative technique that allows us to learn about Lina’s mother and hear her voice, without her having a real presence in the narrative. This makes it easier for the reader to make judgements later on in the book, where her honesty is questioned.

Though Lina’s such a likeable character, and I really did want the best for her for the entirety of the book, the ‘bumps in the road’ did make for a better read. I was unsure of how the story would resolve itself, and was pleased to see it perhaps wasn’t what I might have imagined from the beginning.

Love & Gelato kept me interested from start to finish. Perhaps not because it was the most complicated story, but instead because the characters all seemed so genuine, and I cared about what was in store for them. The great thing about this book is that it explores love on multiple levels, and ends with an important lesson about what love can mean (on more than a romantic level). I don’t have any criticisms of Love & Gelato, it was just the sort of heartwarming book I love.

La femme gelée- Annie Ernaux

I had read one of Ernaux’s other works, La Place, in the first year of uni, and I remember it being the one text that made that module bearable. Her writing style just feels so right, and her feminist sentiments seeps into her every word, without being overbearing, so I knew that I would like La Femme gelée.

What I liked most about La femme gelée is that, unlike other feminist texts, where the writer seeks to escape the oppression of their childhood, Ernaux realises that her childhood situation was actually the exception to the rule. Instead of urging her to start a family and settle down, Ernaux’s family encourage to be career driven and successful. It is then later in her life that she has to learn that it might not always be so easy, and that one can’t necessarily escape the patriarchy forever.

The non-linear narrative is interesting, and I suppose might reflect the struggle against the patriarchy as changing and inconstant. But I also think it could reflect Ernaux’s own inner struggle and confusion at how what she knew as normal from her child can be so different to the reality of her adult life.

In spite of the fact that La femme gelée is very much an account of a real woman’s life, the writer manages to distance the narrative from herself just enough that it could easily be about any woman, meaning it could represent the life and struggles of so many, but with enough detail to keep it real and relatable.

The heartbreaking thing about this work is that it is true life, and that a woman as driven and intelligent as Ernaux could not, through no fault of her own, have all that she wanted and deserved. More than anything, this book affirms the truth that women, men, all genders, should decide their own place in society, and should not have roles predetermined for them. Read this book for a different perspective of how restrictive the patriarchy can be.

 

The Husband’s Secret- Liane Moriarty

The Husband’s Secret  was recommended to me by a friend, and she told me I wouldn’t want to put it down. I couldn’t wait to read it, as I was in need of a real page-turner. I have to say, my friend wasn’t wrong. I loved this book, and my only regret is that I couldn’t read it sooner because life got in the way!

One of the things I liked about the book, oddly, was that it was set in Australia. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with this as the main setting, and it was enjoyable to read something a little different. For the most part, of course, I wouldn’t have noticed that it wasn’t set in the UK or America, but somehow knowing made the world of difference. I also liked the multi-narrative aspect of the book, as it meant I could appreciate the narrative from different points of view. Though I must admit, I probably would have liked for there to have been some parts from the men’s points of view, as it was very much a female oriented narrative.

The book’s title makes it obvious that there is a bombshell to be announced at some point, though it is not clear until further into the narrative who it is that has this secret. I thought the way Moriarty broke it to the reader was very smooth, and potentially realistic, likewise was his wife’s reaction ( I don’t want to mention names, because it really does give everything away!). Until the very end of the narrative, it is unclear as to how the couple are going to recover from the discovery, and it certainly didn’t end the way I imagined it would.

My favourite part of the entire book, however, was actually the epilogue. This surprised me as I’m not usually a big fan of these; I usually find epilogues a bit of a pointless addition. However, because the actual narrative ended in media res , the epilogue was a great way of tying the whole story together and its characters together- it’s not completely clear how all of them are connected until the epilogue. It certainly added more depth to the characters, and intensified the sense of tragedy surrounding events in the narrative.

I would definitely recommend The Husband’s Secret to anyone looking for a new page turner! It would make the perfect holiday book, as you just want to keep on reading. I think the book perfectly portrayed how the desire to keep up appearances can affect an individual and their family life. A great read!

Parole de femme- Annie Leclerc

I have always been interested in feminist literature, and feminism as a theory in general. My favourite type of feminist literature is that from the personal point of view, but I don’t appreciate when authors become too righteous as, in my opinion, it detracts from the issue in hand  – I really enjoyed Simone de Beauvoir’s Mémoire d’une jeune fille rangée, for example- the perfect balance of a serious, important message mixed into personal life, with just the right balance of confidence.

I thought Leclerc’s Parole de femme was just as good, if not better than Beauvoir’s Mémoire, strangely because it wasn’t mostly based on in-depth information about her personal life. What I liked most was that I could tell her beliefs come from a deeply personal place, based on important experiences that she had had- and to which she alluded- but she didn’t make the argument entirely about her. Instead, it was about femme as a whole.

Studying French, I am also deeply interested in language and its connotations, and I find myself analysing author’s word choices almost subconsciously and as a matter of habit. But what I loved about this book is that it consciously brought the issue of language to the forefront…I suppose this is hardly surprising given the title…parole. But I loved how Leclerc tore into the meaning of certain words, and how this differed for men and women, but also for different types of women. She repeats this words both explicitly and implicitly- as if she is trying to rid them of meaning- proving that language isn’t really gendered, it is we who make them so.

I genuinely enjoyed the entirety of Parole de femme, and found it one of the most interesting non-fictions I have read, and I really couldn’t get enough of it. I was stuck in the dilemma of wanting to read faster in order to learn more and more, because I have never agreed with any text more, and not wanting to read too quickly so that it didn’t finish too soon.

One of my favourite arguments within the work ( it is not merely a book, its messages and arguments are too important), is that in order for women to be liberated, they must become liberators. I wholeheartedly agree. And not even necessarily just in terms of gender. I feel that, too often, people hold onto the things that hold them back, almost as if they thrive on this inability (as odd as it may sound). It is only when we work to free ourselves and believe ourselves free of limitations that we are able to succeed.

 

I would thoroughly recommend Parole de femme to everyone. Just because it is a feminist work, it hold important messages for men, too (yes- I know men can be feminists). Even though I would have considered myself a feminist before I started reading, it definitely opened my eyes even more, and changed my thinking even more….read it!

One Perfect Summer- Paige Toon

Paige Toon is a name I’ve heard about lots, and I knew that people tended to enjoy her work, but I’d never got round to reading anything of her’s myself. I chose My Perfect Summer in the same pattern that I usually choose my reads: a heavy, gritty thriller of some sort, followed by an easier-to-read ‘girlier’ book.

If one thing is certain it’s that One Perfect Summer is girly. It follows Alice’s life as she loves and loses- and loves again. I thought Toon captured the concept of a teenage, first-love, holiday romance perfectly, as a slightly over-the-top and tongue in cheek experience as Alice and Joe experience these feelings for the first time. At times this was a little irritating, but the promise that a twist was coming kept me reading.

Though I did know a twist was coming, I wasn’t actually expecting the severity of what was to come- and I certainly didn’t expect the narrative to extend as far into the future as it did. This longer time-frame meant that the emotions that originally seemed over-the-top could actually be played out, and the impact that Alice’s summer romance at 18 years old had on the rest of her life. In fact, this almost made me feel bad for initially writing off her feelings as exaggerated and  juvenile.

The second part of the narrative is set in Cambridge, where Alice attends university. As I was reading I matched settings to places I had visited in the city, which really helped to bring the book and its characters to life. Again, as the characters became more tangible, I was able to empathise with and believe their emotions.

Something I found a little strange, however, is the stark contrast between Alice at the beginning of the novel, and the Alice at the end. Of course, years have passed, and she would have inevitably grown up, but she also seems to have changed significantly- almost to the point that she’s a different character. I understand that the trauma and heartbreak she would have felt would impact her personality, but not in the way it seems in the novel.

 

I found One Perfect Summer a pleasant read, though I wouldn’t offer a more exciting adjective than that. There was nothing to particularly dislike about the novel, but there was nothing that impressive, either. It would be perfect for someone looking for a book that doesn’t require too much concentration and isn’t looking for a fast pace. Having said that, I would be interested in reading the e-book sequel One Perfect Christmas to see how the cliff-hanger ending plays out.