Le chef d’œuvre inconnu- Honoré Balzac

Whenever I have read Balzac before I have always found it a little bit of a struggle. Now, this is usually because the texts I read are chosen by my university, and I am reading these (very lengthy) novels not just for pleasure, but to obtain specific information that will help me pass an exam or some coursework. When I saw Le chef d’œuvre inconnu  on the bookshelf, I was intrigued at how short (a.k.a accessible) it appeared, and I instantly wanted to read it- giving myself the opportunity to enjoy such a classic French author’s work without slogging through hundreds of pages.

The first thing that struck me, even in the first handful of sentences, was the beauty that is intertwined in the text. Both in the imagery that Balzac creates, and the sheer delicacy of his choice of words and the fluidity of his sentence structure. Also, it is amazing to see how things can change so dramatically in such a short space of pages- and how this change is influenced by something that so many people would never think twice about: art.

It was interesting to see how someone could be so passionate about something that wasn’t simply love with another person and the lengths it could drive them to if it goes wrong. Though, having said that, of course, what would a 19th C narrative be without the influence of a woman’s beauty to shake things up a little?

 

I would definitely recommend this to anyone who has struggled to enjoy a Balzac text before, as it works as a type of stepping stone into appreciating his undeniable skill as an author, and has definitely encouraged me to pick up one of his longer works for fun again!

All That Remains – Hannah Holborn

Having read a handful of romantic novels recently, I was craving something a little more ‘meaty’ and intense. The first few words of the book description was enough to draw me in “Meet detective Harvey Sam” as, like I’ve mentioned before, I am obsessed with the ITV series Broadchurch, and it has seriously whetted my appetite for detective drama- in television or book form.

Firstly, I think it is important to say that I read All That Remains from start to finish in a matter of hours- once I got into the narrative, I couldn’t bring myself to put it down!

From the very first page I could tell that the book was going to be a little on the darker side, mainly because of the confusing, messed-up nature of the criminal. In fact, Willard is so odd that it did take me a little while to properly understand what was going on- especially as Holborn doesn’t make it as clear as possible- which is definitely a good thing as it adds to the feeling of suspense. As the narrative unfolds, the reader begins to learn Willard’s reasoning behind his crime, which does evoke some sympathy- though not enough to condone what it is he has done and continues to do.

In fact, I find it interesting that the entire book forces the reader to ‘feel’ about different characters. For the most part, it is empathy and sympathy that the reader feels towards a handful of characters that wish, ultimately to do well, but past life experiences and circumstances perhaps prevent them from doing to their best potential (for example, Detective Harvey Sam’s family situation influencing his attitude towards his job, and Chase’s ability to do the right thing, out of fear that she will trip herself up and get herself in trouble. However, ultimately, the most sympathy the reader feels is for Gabriel Wheeler, whose mother is so infuriatingly uninterested, who can never see the bad in people, because he has grown up thinking that this ‘bad’ is actually normal.

Holborn is great at creating characters that really make the reader feel, and this is an important factor of any book for me. The narrative wasn’t necessarily the most surprising I have ever read, but there certainly were points that could have let it go either way- and it is these points that kept me turning the pages. I also liked that the narrative resolution wasn’t clichéd- it wasn’t convenient and easy, as often happens with mystery novels, and up to the very end it was unclear how the book was going to end.

I would definitely recommend All That Remains  to anyone with an interest in drama, mystery and suspense. It’s got the suspense without the gore or violence that can often come with these types of novels, which means that it is perfect for those newer to the genre. Also, whilst the base of the narrative is fairly common (a missing child) the other issues in the book, as well as the way the narrative pans out is much deeper and more interesting. A satisfying read for anyone.

Love For Scale – Michaela Greene

One of the reasons that I chose Love For Scale as my next read was that, not only did it seem like a light-hearted, easy-read, romantic comedy novel, the protagonist seemed to have more of an interesting story than similar books. The more I read of the novel, the more I began to appreciate that it really was the characters that made this book so enjoyable.

I finished this book in just a matter of days, not only because it was an easy and enjoyable read, but because I actually really liked the characters. I thought everyone in the book could pass as ‘realistic’, which is an important element of a book for me.

Rachel and her best friend spend their weekends trying on wedding dresses, in spite of the fact that neither of them have any intention (or rather, hope) of getting married any time soon. This, along with Rachel’s rather overbearing Jewish mother, constantly concerned with feeding Rachel and trying to put her marriage in place, contributes to the general humour of the book.

 

Naturally, the narrative follows Rachel’s journey in love. However, this doesn’t happen without a journey of self discovery and growing confidence, which makes for an endearing read. She finally takes control of one of the things that bothers her the most: her weight. The great thing is that Greene actually shows this in a realistic light- joining a weight loss group doesn’t necessarily make for an easy ride, and she shows this in Rachel’s behaviour- towards other people and towards herself. It is also encouraging to see that, although Rachel wishes to change her weight herself, no other characters have any negative perceptions of her weight, and they even reassure her that, even if she weren’t to change, she would still be perfect as herself. I think this is important in a time where, thanks to the media, people are more conscious than ever of their body shapes and sizes.

In spite of the difficulties she does face, it is great to see how Rachel’s weight loss journey helps her to take control of other parts of her life, such as moving out of her parents’ home. Although the news is broken under far from comical circumstances, the way other characters react to her decision manages to add to the novel’s comedic value.

Whilst even at the end of the novel, it is clear that Rachel is not entirely confident in herself, the transition between her character at the beginning is astounding, and incredibly encouraging.  In my opinion, ending on a point that doesn’t show the completed journey helps to give more dimension to the narrative as the reader gets the impression that the characters’ lives continue beyond the pages of the book.

Even though this may not have been the most complex novel, I definitely think it’s worth a read because it is so easy to establish similarities between your own life and Rachel’s. Whether you are on a similar weight loss mission, or a self discovery journey, or not, I think everyone would be able to compare the novel’s characters to people in their own life- which usually means you become more invested in the novel.