Friday, September 21, 2012

End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas. Number 3 of #365BigGreenBooks

Book 3 in the challenge. Already way behind schedule.
This is one of those books that I've been meaning to read for years. I've had so many people come in to the shop and pick it up and say, 'oooh, have you read this? it's amazing'. And i've shuffled my feet and said ', yeah. I've heard it's really good'. And so earlier this year I finally got round to reading it.
The End Of Mr. Y
Well, it didn't take me too long to realise why people were raving about it. This is a truly wonderful book. It's trippy.
 I still haven't quite worked out how to describe it. Is it a fantasy? An adventure story? A philosophical conundrum? A magical time travelling freak festival?
What I can tell you is that it grips you from the very first moment you open the book.
The main protagonist, PHD student Ariel, comes across a seemingly impossibly obscure book which, whilst incredibly important to the studies she's doing, also has a 'curse'. Everyone who reads it or is in any way involved with it, dies. Yoinks.
The book takes her on a most amazing journey, both in reality and in her dreams.
There are some parts of the book that I had no idea what was going on, but I have to tell you, it made no difference to my enjoyment whatsoever. Scarlett Thomas knows how to write. She knows how to engage the reader.
I guess it kind of looks at life, existence and being (trippy, like I said). There is also a mouse god in it called Apollo Smintheus. YES.
I am not going to reveal anything more about this book, because I want YOU to read it. It is book that people should read.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Earth Abides by George R Stewart. Number 2 of #365BigGreenBooks

Here is the second book of the ridiculous challenge i've set myself. We have a few Book Groups at the shop. I oversee the one we hold on the second Tuesday of each month. How we choose the books is quite democratic. Everyone writes their choice down on a piece of paper and puts it in a hat, and then one is picked at random. It seems to work well. A couple of month's ago, out of the hat came Earth Abides.
Earth Abides
This pleased me greatly. I like a bit of post apocalyptic fiction, and by the sounds of it this was right up my street.

"Oh no", I hear you cry, "not another one of those 'end of the world', over the top stories".


The story is set around California. Nearly all of the population has perished an unknown disease. Ish Williams, having been on a scientific study of the mountains around California, somehow survives. Returning to civilisation he finds no humans alive. Being something of a loner, Ish is able to deal with this far better than the other (very very few) survivors he encounters.
It dawns on him that he is now in a position of great responsibility if civilisation is going to survive and begins a quest to find people who will help him rebuild and repopulate the earth.

What is so very very special about this novel is that it doesn't go over the top, like so many other books on the subject. It is beautifully paced, and incredibly thoughtfully put together. It looks specifically at the issue of what would happen to the planet if humans were virtually wiped out. It not only focuses on practical issues such as the neglection of roads, and water pipes, the eventual end of electricity, food, transport and homes, but it also looks at stuff like religion and reproduction.

Ish finally finds Em, who, like Ish understands the importance of her survival. She's a hugely important figure in the book (possibly the most important), and together they begin to build a Tribe, a group of people who will hopefully be able to repopulate the world.
It very cleverly then goes follows the Tribe through 3 or 4 generations and looks at how this group of people develop and thrive.
I don't want to give too much away, but I was pretty blown away by this book.
The Book Group were also full of high praise for it and (of the 22 people who attended the meeting) its lowest score out of 10 was 6.

I gave it a 9, because it's that good.

If you want to buy it you can do so here. FREE P+P.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Swimming Home by Deborah Levy. Number 1 of #365BigGreenBooks

So, the challenge that I've set myself begins. To review 365 books in 365 days. Books that I've read since January 1st 2012. You can read a little bit more about this here 
Where do I start?
Well, I guess this is as good a place as any.
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
I was on holiday last week. Yes, it was lovely thanks. We went to Bude in North Cornwall. So I took some books with me to read. This was one of them. It's been longlisted for this years Man Booker Prize and I'm delighted that such a new and small publisher such as &otherstories has a book on the longlist, although to be honest when it comes to sales, it's only when a book reaches the shortlist that things really start to kick off.
Anyway, I thought I'd give it a go. It's probably not the kind of book I would usually read, but the more I think about it, it has many of the ingredients that I like in a book. Dark humour, unusual prose, and a powerful and thought provoking storyline. Hey, what's not to like?
The story is set in a villa near Nice in the mid nineties. A famous poet, just arriving there with his family sees what he thinks is a body in the swimming pool. It turns out that this body is in fact very much alive. It is Kitty French, who is about to turn the whole families holiday upside down.
She is a huge fan of Joe's and wants to share a poem with him that she's written.
The family (strangely) insist she stays with them until she sorts out alternative accommodation. Kitty seems to possess a kind of hypnotic hold on the people she encounters throughout the book, and her self destructive nature threatens to destroy all of them. It looks at how depression can affect people differently and how difficult people can find it to totally remove it from their lives. If I had to fault it, I'd say that Jurgen the hippy German handyman, who spends his days getting stoned and reading Hermann Hesse seemed caricatured, but this is a  small fault.
At just over 150 pages, it didn't take too long to read, but to suggest that 150 pages is too short would be doing the book an injustice. I think that Deborah Levy uses language thoughtfully and doesn't fluff the novel out with flowery descriptions or pointless asides. The story is tight, powerful, sometimes disturbing, but delightfully written.
Whether it makes the Booker Shortlist, we shall find out tomorrow. I suspect not, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't (my predictions for the shortlist by the way are, Hilary Mantel, Will Self, Nicola Barker, Alison Moore, Michael Frayn and Ned Beauman). If it does, then it will make doing this years Booker Book Challenge a bit easier.
So part of the rules of my challenge is that I have to mark books out of 10. Remember, this is just my opinion. You may have very different thoughts about it.
It's available to buy here. Free P+P too (and we also pay our corporation tax). x