Tag Archives: Britain

Book Review: The Isobel Journal by Isobel Harrop

The Isobel Journal by Isobel Harrop Title: The Isobel Journal
Author: Isobel Harrop
Publisher: Hot Key Books
ISBN: 978-1471402272
Genre: Graphic Novel, Teens
Pages: 208
Source: Borrowed
Rating: 5/5

“The Isobel Journal” by Isobel Harrop is the real journal of a real girl. She is eighteen and on the brink of life and everything else in between. The journal is disjointed, in parts and pieces and speaks of everything she goes through – well some of it for sure. It is an illustrated scrap book so to say. It is a slice of her life and all that she wants to be and do and who she really is.

It is almost a love letter to other teen girls about life, loving, living, animals, parents and everything else in between, which makes this book even more unique and different. The book is full of illustrations and might I add, life. She does not get preachy, nor is she annoying. She is just how most eighteen year olds are and yet has a personality of her own. There was no writing to begin with as such, and yet the illustrations spoke volumes.

Isobel Harrop sketches and talks of her life, the way it evolves – in fragments and in coherent pictures. The Isobel Journal is both – heart-warming and sad. It is wistful and thought provoking about a teenager’s life who will not be a teenager soon enough. It is honest and right there, waiting to be devoured by readers, even though it is mostly full of illustrations and yet resonates and reminds you of when you were eighteen and full of life, or perhaps not.

387 Short Stories: Day 5: Story 5: The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield

Title: The Garden Party
Author: Katherine Mansfield
Taken from: The Garden Party and Other Stories

the-garden-party and other stories

Today’s story selected by me was “The Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield. It is about The Sheridan family and the garden party they are about to host. Things of course go unplanned and create a riot. That in short is the plot of the short story. There is more, however, I cannot give that away.

At a very superficial level, it is also about the class system prevalent at that time – the story was written in 1922, when the class system was at its peak and the story also is centered on that. There are other themes that run along the entire story – death, life, reality, the surreal and the way human beings go through life.

The story is slow. It does not pick up pace and not meant for readers who like their stories to rush through. This one you have to think through. A stupendous work of fiction.

You can read the story here: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/mansfield/garden/garden.html#party

Book Review: Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley

Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley Title: Clever Girl
Author: Tessa Hadley
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 9780224096522
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Tessa Hadley as a writer has a quiet way about her. Her books are not loud and neither are her characters. The stories told by her are subtle and have the sort of old-world charm to them, which is what attracts me the most to her books.

“Clever Girl” is about a woman and her life – told right from the 60s to today. That is probably the way this novel could be described and that to be very honest is just speaking about it on the surface. The story may not even seem that special to some, however it is mainly about the writing. It takes the reader to various places in a woman’s mind – right throughout her life – the incidents, the small heartaches, the big things and more, which are so inherent to this magnanimous piece of work.

The magic of the book lies in converting the mundane to something special. The everyday ordinary is just transformed to something special when it comes to Hadley’s words and the scenes she creates for the reader to soak in completely. Stella’s views, her perceptions, her prejudices, are all clearly laid out – right from her childhood to the time she is a grown woman. Tessa Hadley does not let go of a single moment, which is what binds you to the book, the way it does.

Clever Girl is not an easy book when it comes to reading or analysing and yet, the characters are complex and the story moves in the pace that one isn’t used to. Despite this, the book worked for me on so many levels. The writing reminded me of subtleties of life, the quiet way, the delicacy so to speak and that in itself is most comforting. The atypical narrative was only an added bonus. All in all I can say that read this book, only if you have some time and a few thoughts to spare. A book which will not disappoint you at all.

Book Review: Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

Title: Sweet Tooth
Author: Ian McEwan
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 978-0224097376
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I remember reading the first Ian McEwan when I was sixteen. I started with, “The Cement Garden” and the idea of a book where only young adults featured while the adults were on a vacation intrigued me and rightly so. The book did not disappoint a single bit and since then I have not stopped reading everything written by him.

Ian McEwan’s female characters have always been enigmatic and rather a mystery, that need to be known and revealed, one page at a time. Whether it is a confused young wife in “On Chesil Beach” or a couple torn between desire and experimentation in “The Comfort of Strangers” or an obsessed lover in, “Enduring Love”; no matter what the book or the plot, McEwan’s characters shine above their plots and come on their own in the books. That is why his books work and seem to connect with readers, or at least with me.

So when I got the opportunity to read his latest book, “Sweet Tooth”, I could not contain my excitement. Sweet Tooth promises everything to a reader that should be expected from a well-written book – the plot, the characterization, the story-telling prowess, the setting, the emotion, the drama, the adventure, intrigue and to end it with masterful strokes. There is not a word which is out of place in this book.

Sweet Tooth is set in the early seventies in England. The world was in turmoil and the Cold War was at its peak. Serena Frome is the cultured attractive daughter of an Anglican Bishop, and a dominating mother (sort of reminded me of Mrs. Bennett). She is coerced into studying Math at Cambridge, while she wanted to study literature. She continues to bury herself in books and the world of fiction, searching for the perfect romance. She falls in love with her boyfriend’s married tutor, Tony Canning. Tony prepares and grooms Serena for the intelligence service. There is more to their brief affair which I will not reveal here.

Serena manages to get through to the screening process for the British Intelligence Service and starts working for MI5 in a very junior position. She is keen to rise through the ranks and because of her knowledge of literature, is given her very first mission, called Sweet Tooth. MI5 have set up a cultural foundation to help writers who speak out against communism (essentially anti-Soviet) and she is to act as a representative of the foundation. Her job is to encourage a young writer called Tom Haley and fund him, allowing him to get into the fold and write full-time, without being aware that the funding is coming from MI5.

Serena undertakes the mission and as always there is a catch in the novel. She gets involved with Tom – emotionally, mentally and physically, giving the so-called relationship her all. From there on she is torn between undertaking and successfully seeing through the mission and being loyal to the one she loves. This in essence is the plot of the book.

The book in an overall sense is not really about spying. There are layers to it which are only known as each page is turn. Ian McEwan touches on topics that defined the 70s like no other era – sexual freedom, cultural values, the dawn of a new era (so to speak), feminism, sophistication, power cuts, political changes, terrorist threats, and mini-skirts. He writes about all of this and that is what makes the narrative gripping and real.

The crispiness of the prose is superlative. As a reader, I definitely did not feel burdened by the volume of the book, considering the pace in which the story went ahead. In fact, I loved the detailing. The elements that needed all the attention – the surroundings in the 70s, the spy association, the love-affair (doomed or not, I leave that to you to discover), and the friendships forged and betrayed.

Sweet Tooth, for me is Ian McEwan’s best work after On Chesil Beach. There are sub-plots and stories that grip you from the very start. The characters are all caught up in their own little turmoil, playing out as the script demands and seeking redemption, but it is not that easily given in the book.

McEwan knows how to structure his story and his characters speak for themselves. Serena and Tom are characters that will live on in the reader’s memory long after the book is over.

The reversals in the book are plenty and have the capacity to either shock or surprise. Sweet Tooth is a cleverly written book, with imaginative prose and a great twist at the end. A must read for all those who have not tried McEwan yet and for those who have read his works, you sure will not be disappointed.

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Book Review: Homesick by Roshi Fernando

Title: Homesick
Author: Roshi Fernando
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1408826362
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 200
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

When I first started reading, “Homesick” by Roshi Fernando, it came to be like any other book of displaced families and forgotten voices. Of the second generation and third generations, wanting to search themselves and what they stand for. However, though the book did run on these lines, it had a different voice to it.

Homesick is a book of many layers and each layer has a unique and original voice. When I say layers, I but obviously mean the inter-connected stories and at the same time, there is something that tugs at the heartstrings that gives the book the enrichment and understanding it deserves.

Homesick is a collection of seventeen stories – telling the tales of SriLankan immigrants carving out new lives in sometimes warm and a sometimes hostile Britain. The narrative is cohesive and sticks to the larger framework of the book – of alienation and getting to know the new ways of living. At the same time it is contemporary (the issue will always be at hand, no matter what nationality) and complex, being careful about the emotions and voices of characters. There is a silent boy who experiences life through Charlie Chaplin, a man stuck in the aftermath of a war, to a family’s life destroyed by a child’s murder, each story comes together and linked by the theme of cultural displacement and its trauma, so to say.

Roshi Fernando’s writing is crisp and razor-sharp. She does not sugar-coat emotions, though there are moments in the book when she had me laughing or at least smiling at the situation. There is an ambience created by the writer that lingers in the readers’ heads long after one has finished the book. The cast of characters is intricate and appear in more than one story, unraveling themselves, little by little; getting the reader familiar and that is what I love about interconnected stories. The transitions are handled with ease, from one story to another and that is what also makes the book so strong. The questions of identity and belief are still left unanswered, which in a way works to the book’s advantage. All in all, Homesick is an evocative study of what home means and sometimes what is takes to create a new one.

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