While My Eyes Were Closed- Linda Green

Aware of the wide range of different books now available on the Amazon Kindle Store, and in need of something new to read, I decided I would consult it for my next choice. Not only was While My Eyes Were Closed in the general bestsellers list, it also occupied first place in the free books and its description sounded great- after Gone Girl, I quite liked the idea of another book that featured a disappearance.

 

The narrative was fairly straightforward and the situation of the disappearance fairly feasible: mother and daughter play in the park, mother turns her back and the daughter hurts herself. The daughter insists she can continue playing and, of course, that is where everything changes. I never found myself blaming Lisa for her daughter’s disappearance, but I kept changing my mind as to whether I was supposed to as so many of the characters seemed to have at least thought about it.

 

A few pages in, I was hooked, and the multiple narrators definitely played a part in this. I found Lisa to be easy to identify with, she is confident and headstrong, but emotional when she needs to be, and is, most importantly, always honest with the reader. Muriel, and her narrative was infuriating, yet I still couldn’t bear to put the book down, with the irrational worry that I would miss something important. I was desperate for her to either slip up and be found out, or to realise that she had done wrong and confess all, but the narrative kept me hanging, actually meaning that I devoured the entire book in one Sunday when I really should have been revising.

 

What I liked about the book was Green’s undeniable ability to create real, living characters. After being introduced to each, it was easy to paint a clear image in my head and I could assimilate each one of them to at least someone I know. Green’s ability to create tension is also great; everytime the phone rings I shared Lisa and Alex’s anxiety for what news Claire had to deliver. It was also interesting that almost all of the named characters had a particular role to play in the narrative, even if they at first seemed a mere attempt to bulk to the story out. This means that characters linked up in ways you may not expect to begin with, unravelling the story further.

 

The inclusion of British popular culture, such as the BBC and The Sun, were little touches that made a big difference to the narrative. In making direct references to these media sources, the story was really brought to life, given that people encounter them everyday and can only imagine how it must feel to be a feature of them. I probably would not have minded if they were replaced with fictional alternatives, but their presence was definitely a positive addition.

 

However, there are a few things that were disappointing in the While My Eyes Were Closed. Firstly, Matthew’s narration seemed somewhat half-hearted. I understand that his point of view would be difficult to portray in any way other than a diary, but given that his voice was only given a handful of chapters, we learned very little from him than the very basics that held the plot together. Whilst, in terms of narrative progression, this did what it needed to, it did seem a little rushed. In the same vein, towards the end some parts felt rushed, or underdeveloped. For example, when Muriel is standing ‘on the edge’ with Ella- such a big build up is made with a very underwhelming decision against what she plans and we are left with no insight as to why and how her mind changes so quickly.

 

The book also ends on a cliffhanger, which is satisfying in parts and frustrating in the other. Given that almost the entire narrative is based on the investigation into Ella’s disappearance, it seems natural that we will finish with a conclusion, but we are left almost in media res. Perhaps it is my personal preference, but I would like to have been given the eventual situation, given that it would have been impossible for the culprit to go unpunished.

 

With all considered, I have mixed feelings about Green’s ebook. I would definitely recommend it to others because of the intensity of the majority of the story, and the fact that I couldn’t finish each page quick enough to learn what would happen on the next, but I would definitely warn them about the end- just one more chapter, perhaps told from the future, would have been enough to satisfy me!

How To Be a Woman- Caitlin Moran

Since we began studying contemporary women’s journalism at Sixth Form, I have been fascinated by Caitlin Moran. I have admired her for her ability to convey such important messages about feminism without laying all of the blame on men, taking other factors into consideration, laying accusations that feminists are all man-haters to rest. As I began developing my own views on the matter of feminism, which became stronger and clearer the older I grew and the more media I consumed, I was intensely intrigued to read her book How To Be a Woman, and after Moran’s name popped up in a French politics seminar discussion about the similarly amazing Simone de Beauvoir, I realised that this book may actually be a useful influence on my current studies, rather than simply just for my entertainment, and ordered it mid-seminar. Having read it, I think I was right, but it definitely entertained me, too!

 

I’m not sure what I was expecting out of Moran’s book, really, except her wit and humour that is apparent in so much of her writing- and she certainly didn’t disappoint. I suppose I thought it would be a critique of modern day society, and the negative impacts the Patriarchy has on women; I expected her to pepper her arguments with anecdotes, for credibility and comedy value. However, what I found was almost an autobiography, or memoir, of her life, illustrating how the world can be a difficult place for women to exist, despite their vital role in it.

 

We are thrown into Moran’s hometown of Wolverhampton, on the estate on which she grew up, in her severely overcrowded house. What is most striking, to me, is how Moran acknowledges her misfortune as a child and does make clear her disadvantaged upbringing and slightly eccentric family, without ever showing signs of being resentful.

 

I must admit that I cringed at some points, with her crudely honest description of puberty and the stuffing of tissues in her underwear, but Caitlin opening up so early on just allowed me to appreciate her as a normal woman who had endured all of life’s struggles as much as myself. In fact, I think her account of shaving her legs and pubic hair just goes to show that absolutely no one has it easy when it comes to puberty, not even one of of the most admirable women in today’s society. These accounts reminded me somewhat of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾, just told more self-deprecatingly, given Moran’s retrospective view of the events.

 

I love how Moran leads us through each important stage in her life, chapter by chapter, reflecting the shock of each by finishing their titles with an exclamation mark. She never pretends that any part of becoming who she is now was easy, but she seems mostly thankful that most of it took place, and recognises that things are only wholly bad if you allow them to be. She teaches the reader that everyone, but especially women, must decide and make their own freedom, so that they aren’t passively directed by the Patriarchy.

 

She is not afraid to admit to the reader that she has fallen so behind on paying bills that her telephone was cut off, or that she has had her fair share of experimenting with drugs, but neither does she boast about these factors of her life. She shares the heartfelt story of her abortion, although, even this is shot through with humour at points, but doesn’t suggest that it should be the only option for a feminist.

 

The greatest thing about Caitlin Moran’s How To Be a Woman is that she simply encourages people to be who they want to be without being judged, or needing the approval from society. She points to many flaws in the media, for example, when she meets Lady Gaga, and makes the ‘shocking’ revelation that women may dress sexily in order to feel empowered and to impress each other, rather than to attract male attention, for whom they aspire to be sexually objectified. However, Caitlin also posits that, if women do want to go around having sex with different men, or women for that matter, then that is ok, too!

 

It is undeniably that she has come a long way from the bed she shared with her younger sister, in which her grandmother died, and the threadbare hand-me-down knickers she inherited from her mother, in which, her sister jokes, her younger sister was conceived. But Caitlin Moran never forgets where she has come from; she lets every event in her life act as a contribution to the person she has become, and the beliefs that she has now.

 

She makes it strikingly clear that being a feminist doesn’t mean that you hate all men and that you want women to run the world, there wouldn’t be male feminists, if that were the case. In fact, she openly states that she doesn’t want any men to have any of their rights taken away from them, she just simply wants women to be able to share more of them. To have an equal chance in the world.

 

Having enjoyed the book so much that I couldn’t put it down, I read right through to the end of the Acknowledgements, which rarely happens. I am glad to have done so because possibly my favourite part of her life story occupies the very last part: her dedication to her husband. However, in true Moran style, she wouldn’t be able to simply thank him for his support without adding a sliver of humour, and here it comes in the form of her admitting her culpability in breaking their door handle.

 

The fact that Moran shares so much in this book; that she admits her wrongdoings and that she stays true to who she is only makes me want to be more like her than I did before reading it. I think the combination of her title and her content really does teach her readers how to be women, or men, for that matter: simply be yourself.

Gone Girl- Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl is one of our most recent ‘It’ books, a must-read, a page-turner that everyone was talking about. As a result, I could not wait to read it; I wanted to be a part of the action that everyone was raving about. I purposely avoided watching the film at all costs, well-aware of the damaging effects film adaptations can have on reactions to books,  constantly having another option when it was suggested that we watch it. And I am so glad that I did! The whole time I was reading (which, admittedly, was only a few days) my boyfriend would attempt to spoil parts for me: “Have you got to the bit where [insert something strange that Amy does] yet?” And yes, I always had, because of the dual-narrative, I was able to learn both sides of the story almost simultaneously.

 

I must admit, it did take me a while to get hooked on the story. At 70 pages in I was questioning what all the fuss had been about and considered stopping reading. Of course, I didn’t, principally because, as I have mentioned before, I hate leaving books unfinished. I’m still not sure whether that was a good idea or not, considering I devoured the remaining 400 pages of the novel in just a couple of days which, whilst it was enjoyable and tense, did mean I left a lot of things in my actual life undone ( I favoured an extra 45 minutes in bed to read over my usual morning workout, and decided that perhaps the spinach and lined paper I needed from the supermarket could wait another day).

 

At first, I was frustrated that Amy’s chapters, or sections, were much shorter than Nick’s, and given that the whole plot surrounded her disappearance, I wanted to know as much as I could as fast as I could. I also presumed that I had the story worked out, that it would simply end in Nick being convicted for her murder and that would be about it- SPOILER: That isn’t what happens (although, given that I’m so late to the Gone Girl party, most of you probably knew that before I did).

 

Once I had realised that I was, in fact, wrong, I could really get into the plot, backing Nick and becoming hugely frustrated with Amy’s parents, the police and talk show host that believe he is to blame. However, at the same time, I was becoming progressively more fascinated and amazed by Amy (well, she does call herself ‘Amazing Amy’) and I found myself admiring her intelligence, wishing that I could ever have the ability to achieve what she does. Taking out credit cards in a partner’s name and cutting and dying hair are obvious moves, but the backdating her diaries and faking your own antifreeze poisoning are on the next level. Although, I must admit that her readiness to harm herself is somewhat unnerving: a box-cutter to the wrists, forging rope marks and faking a rape to the point of physical injury…I’m not sure I have the words. I did also hope that people from Amy’s life pre-marriage that Nick spoke to on the phone had been pre-planned by her, but perhaps that was asking for too much?

 

I was a little disappointed with the somewhat unrealistic ending, although Flynn did succeed in building up suspense. I was sure that it would result in either Nick killing her anyway, or the police at least obtaining some form of punishment for murdering Desi. I think what was more frustrating was that Amy’s intelligence meant that any lead the police may have got to frame her as culpable would have been short-lived. I also feel frustrated that Nick did seem to give himself up so easily at the end, simply because he knew what she was capable of. I can’t help wondering if the final result was really a feasible outcome, if everyone really would just surrender to someone like Amy in the real world. But I guess that is the point of fiction, it isn’t necessarily supposed to be the ‘real world’.

 

There is no denying Flynn’s ability to create tension and to prevent her readers from putting her book down, especially in the final 150 pages, and I would be shocked if she were able to top Gone Girl. In fact, I’d probably also be a little scared to read such a text; I’d worry about the author’s capabilities.

 

In short, I thoroughly enjoyed Gone Girl and am excited to find another book that urges me to read so fast and so intently. I am now intrigued to watch the film, but fear that it will frustrate me and that some of the best (according to myself) parts will be forgotten or changed.

Regeneration- Pat Barker

Since seeing a theatre production of Sebastian Faulk’s Birdsong a few years ago, I have been interested in war literature, particularly World War One literature. As a result of this, I opted to study a module on it at university this year. I bought Regeneration because it was on the original reading list, although it didn’t make the finalised version. I wasn’t annoyed, though, because I thought it would be something I would be interested in reading anyway.

 

Having not heard much about the novel before I began reading it, I was surprised that I knew the characters, Sassoon, Rivers, Owen and Graves, that Barker introduces. Of course, these men are canonical war writers, but I had also studied their work in depth since January, which made me think I would really be able to get to grips with the text.

 

However, I was disappointed. I am well-aware of the critical acclamation this book has received, and cannot deny Pat Barker’s aptitude to writing, with some scenes written beautifully, but there was just something that didn’t click with me. I found myself reading for a handful of pages, without being able to remember what had happened in the narrative. I did like the way she opened the novel with Sassoon’s open letter, immediately throwing the reader into the mindset of a soldier who is actually against what is happening in the trenches, and speaking against the government. I find this interesting, as many people would not necessarily have been aware of these feelings during the war, given that propaganda was largely pro-war. I also enjoyed the scenes that focused on the progression of the relationship between Prior and Sarah Lumb, finding myself instantly more engaged with the text at these points, myself almost charmed by prior.

 

I do think Barker’s ability to interweave the facts of the Great War, and the personal situations of each of the characters into the fictional world of the novel is exceptional; it is done with such fluidity that it is barely noticeable. This makes for a well-rounded narrative based on truth and prevents it having the superficiality of the coincidence of a handful of famous men that happen to be in the trenches together.

 

What I liked most about the text was its demonstration that people did have reservations about the war, whether that was about the conditions the soldiers were forced to live in, or the implications it had on their mental health, and I think this is borne out of my recent studying of World War One literature, and essays written about this literature, as well as the factual experiences of men. Of course, I knew that the battlefront was not a pleasant experience, and I had heard of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but I had never really read much suggesting that soldiers were aware of the injustice in their situations.

 

Overall, I would say that Regeneration definitely has some positive elements: the mixture of fact with fiction, the demonstration of anti-war sentiments, and the progression of Prior and Lumb’s relationship. However, I don’t think I would choose to read this book again because it did not have that ‘something’ that prevented me from putting it down. I simply read it because I hate leaving a book unfinished, and I wanted to give it the chance to impress me, but unfortunately, it didn’t.