a character study: a curtain held aside, revealing the intricate little world of two people. No guns, no high stakes, just people living and the tragedy that ensues, as it may ensue with all of us, if only time will tell.
people with deep character flaws, because the protagonists, Marianne and Connell, have many. An abundance, in fact. It is hard not to like them, though, because that is reality. No one is just a piece of a glass, we are all scratched in some way.
the effects of the end of the Celtic Tiger subtly discussed
something which spans the youth of the pair, following them from sixth form into adulthood, and chronicles how the relationship between the two develops.
irish scenery and dublin to feature heavily
a narrative which discusses troubling issues, such as suicide, sexual assault, domestic abuse and drug use
an elegant writing style, but no speech marks for the dialogue
something that will be a relatively quick read
a book that was on the Man Booker 2018 Longlist
a book which will not affirm your life. Because it won’t. It will depress you but you will not stop reading because something in you wants to see where the shrapnel will fall.
If you have answered yes to any of the above, then I prescribe to you: Normal People by Sally Rooney.
And here sits words, they together being both Milkman, and simultaneously number one prize winner in twenty-eighteen. It seems odd. Many have complained about their not-wanting-to-read-it feeling. ‘Challenging’ that it was: although the shiny pinkness it exuded might have made them feel safe, because that it was what they came to the pink book for, yes. That was my answer, and another answer is that perhaps the problem is not with the book, but with the readers’, the objectors’ literacy. Or their poor literacy. Not everything is limited to a monosyllabic nature, even if that is essential a twenty-first-century-mode-of-communication, headless of the need, or is it heedless, or is that the same thing now, that in real life people talk more and shout less than they do in that other place, the internet. Because, of course, there is still culture, somewhere in the world, although not in the maybe-hole-of-the-internet that everyone lives in now. The real question- the one we should be asking ourselves, and not only because asking questions is important, but because it allows us to feel like to have some autonomy in matters which really do not concern us, individuals- is will Author, the one who gave us the gift of difficulty and through Narrator reminded us that reading-while-walking is a dangerous activity, will Author be able to continue on her one long path down the halls of authors and poets who write Classics and become pictures of classical greatness. One good pink book is something, indeed, but another book in the same specific tone, about the sadness or the troubles or the difficulties in that warping nineteen seventies madness, and it could be jamais-vu. Today people might find tablets girl, a.k.a. girl who was really a woman, something to talk about, but if another maybe-boyfriend hoards superchargers in the same way but in another text, will the problems be limited to ‘over the water’ or will Author struggle to find her book land after the splash, quite a splash, that was made by this pink book? It is a good time to meet Milkman nonetheless. Well, no, it is never a good time to meet The Milkman, (not The Real Milkman, but) renouncer-in-state Milkman Milkman, because that is when Narrator becoming interesting. Becoming interesting is a problem. Eyes on you and beyond you, the rumours becoming truer than true and you sit here wondering well hell is this not our world, were those implicated for violences and celebrity rumours guilty of everything that they were told they deserved. Terrorism is a theme for today, being that people are terrorised today by everything because that is what they were taught, but not in the same way that people were taught not to be too sad if Somebody McSomebody’s brother’s head was in the road. And then there is being interesting, as aforementioned, but not in the way of flashing lights, also, either, but in the way that interesting manifests on trains and buses and lots of people pressed together and one single Milkman driving his white van alongside the road whilst you are reading-while-walking. Not having paragraphs is something strange, to be grappled with. Difficult it is, to be stopping, pulling away, because breaks are not clean and today we like a clean-break life, yes. Tell me, you like the clean-breaks but life is not like that, no, it is one long messy feed of pictures and noises and message you do not want to read but do because you are bored, and anyway: relevancy. Relevancy. We will read the pink book, winner of the big prize? Yes we will, reader-of-mine.
He smiled the most exquisite smile, veiled by memory, tinged by dreams.
It hard to grapple with something that does not exist: nothing, no bones, to tie the language together
And all the lives we ever lived and all the lives to be are full of trees and changing leaves
In our world full of pictures and pages, each curated to our little personal dreams, it is hard to be beautiful, and but it is even harder to make sense, and have authenticity tumble through your work.
Bitter and black, halfway down, in the darkness, in the shaft which ran from the sunlight to the depths, perhaps a tear formed; a tear fell; the waves swayed this way and that, received it, and were at rest.
Where is it, where is it? Are we built from a lust for life, or from a fear of death: is that your dusky illumination.
Could it be, even for elderly people, that this was life?–startling, unexpected, unknown?
What shines through the ink, is an enthusiasm for language and the twisting of words, so devoid from the other works which pseudo-intellectuals have branded their favourite, champagne literates, illerates.
The very stone one kicks with one’s boot will outlast Shakespeare
Were you a millennial, pre-emptive? Indeed, bubbling with ideas and hopes and knowledge and just wanting to be understood, the ideas larger than people’s capacity for understanding. Or was your ego larger than the need for the words to be pared down to be understood.
So that is marriage, Lily thought, a man and a woman looking at a girl throwing a ball
If I craved a string of quotes, with no meaning in context to each other except for the overwhelming existential sadness they all made me feel, I would go somewhere else: literature was not borne for this.
Some people may want to be out and about dancing tonight:
This can be fully recommended, because who doesn’t like wandering around at night and taking sweets from strangers? Right? But if you do prefer a quieter night in, away from all the ghouls and glamorous costumes, then you should definitely read The Monster We Deserve by Marcus Sedgewick.
Here is why:
It is set in an atmospheric and chilling cabin in the middle of the woods. There can hardly be anything more tonally appropriate for Halloween than that, as that is a classic settings for all horror stories ever. It almost seems like this book is and isn’t a parody of all horror stories. It contains all the classic features: ghosts, cabin in the woods, a victim and a monster, but there is a twist which is…
Frankenstein (and his monster)! This isn’t clear on the blurb, at least for the copy I bought, but the content of the book is about the protagonist’s encounter with Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein (read my review of that here). So there is a double blow of an amazing story (Frankenstein), within a ghost story (the actual text). This may be a parody of Frankenstein too, as the fictional author complains about how many stories within stories there are within Shelley’s work!
The title is just so compelling. I mean- ‘The Monsters We Deserve“. I did not even look inside the book before I had decided to read it. This is the power of marketing, people. But it worked, so I guess it was fine to succumb to it in this instance. Yet actually think about that phrase. Do we deserve the monsters we get in life? Do we? DO WE?!
It is short so that you can read it in one sitting. Like on Halloween. 263 pages may sound like it is too weighty a tomb to tackle in one go, but actually the margins are very wide and many pages have artwork on them, so it is surprisingly fast to go through. This makes it perfect to read tonight, on the spookiest of nights.
The message of the book. Yes, it is about monsters and so links in with the witches/ mummy/ zombie/ creepy theme, but it is actually much more philosophical than that, because the “moral” of this book is that our actions define us. That “we are responsible for our creations“, and if we do not manage these creations or our actions carefully, they will grow out of our control and take on their own life, which in turn affects us. In an everyday situation, it may be that something you say will be taken wildly out of context; if you do not manage that carefully then people could end up accusing you of horrendous things based off rumours drawn from something which isn’t true to start off with. Just look at celebrities. It really is a powerful message worth noting.
The Front cover and the artwork inside the book is exquisite. Really. There are some forest drawings in the book which truly complement the content, whilst the cover is aesthetically pleasing. It is a book you do not want to hide away in your shelf, with only the spine facing the world. No!
It is so quotable:
“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not himself become a monster” (This is actually Nietzsche, but is featured in the book anyway)
“we are responsible for our creations”
“That is what Victor’s true crime is; not that he creates a man, but that, having created one, he does not care for what he has created”
“Monster means to think. A monster means to think. So all our thoughts are monsters?”
“Our creations end up creating us, in return. Create a lie, and you become one.”
So there you have it. Have a wonderful Halloween you spooky creatures and I hope that you have as much fun as these guys seem to be having!
When prisoners were asked to rate themselves in terms of how moral, trustworthy, honest, dependable, compassionate, law-abiding, self-controlled, kind to others and generous they were, they said that they were better than average at 8 out of the 9 traits. Let’s read that again. Prisoners charged with violence and theft thought that they were more compassionate than the rest of the population. And had more self-controlled. Right, yes, that totally makes sense.
In fact, the only trait where they didn’t supposedly surpass the rest of the population with was in ‘law-abidingness’, where they “rated themselves as equally law-abiding”. Which is ironic, as they were the ones behind bars. This phenomenon of wanting to elevate your own status is not new, and the vast majority of people when asked these very questions thought that they too are better than average at practically everything. Yes… I know, the maths for everyone being better than average doesn’t quite add up, does it?
So humanity are keen to establish their superiority over others. But who really are the best, the so-called superhumans of our race, and can we become like them? As Oscar Wilde once famously said:
No one likes the thought of being sub-par: yes, people are lazy and do things against their self-interest, but there is always a part of them that wants greatness. Fame, money, social recognition. It’s the way contemporary society works, and I am no different. The Ink Cloud hit the Fringe this past August, and during my free time I wandered into Waterstones (surprise surprise) with about £100 worth of book tokens to spend. As some readers may have gathered from my reading choices, I’m extremely interested in sport (namely triathlon). I will be the first to say that I am ambitious person whose overwhelming confidence in certain situations is almost laughable (as you can also probably tell from my posts). Unashamedly, I do want to succeed, especially in triathlon which I train a lot for. So it’s no wonder that Rowan Hooper’s book Superhuman captured my attention. I was drawn to the title and blurb, because I wanted to find out how I too can be like them: there was an attraction finally hearing the secret of how to be superior. It sounds unattractive perhaps, but I bet you feel the same way, too. Deep down. Don’t deny it.
In the book, Hooper finds those who excel in various walks in life, whether it’s their ability to be supremely intelligent, fast, resilient or even happy. There are many interviews and scientific studies, as well as witty quips. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for well-designed book cover, and the sprinter on the front really did it for me. Because if I’m going to part with £20 for a book, it may as well look classy. Right? Anyway, I was hoping to come to Superhuman to find some secret, some little insight into how I could reach the level of sporting success that I crave. Maybe ‘crave’ is the wrong word, because I train copiously everyday, so it’s not like I just sit in bed and hope for it. But you see what I mean.
Thus the main message behind Superhuman, I can exclusively reveal, is that genetics is at play. A could be called a useful catalyst. Nice to have, sure, but not essential. This is because time and time again it was actually hard work that was the driving force the success people experienced. Yes, elite runners with innate talent may have learnt to walk a little faster, but talent hadn’t woken them up at 5AM so that they can go to a pre-school training. What I took away from it all was:
But I knew that anyway, and you probably did too. Yet reading this book was nevertheless genuinely enjoyable and hearing about all these successful people truly drove that message home.
Are you the type of person who also spends more time choosing an outfit for an event than preparing for the lecture you will give there? (An optimistic guess of the core readers, but I’ll run with it.)
Do you want to spend hours admiring your many talents by doing Are You Smarter Than Einstein quizzes and having wonderful daily rambles into the realms of self-reflection?
Do you feel constantly under-appreciated by all others in your family, even when you did all their laundry, walked the dog and made their Chilli Costume at 10 pm for World Taste Day as little Tommy only remembered at bedtime that it was the next morning? (Actually, that probably is a fair one.)
If so, then PSY-Q is for you! Oh, and you’re a narcissist.
Anyway, the book is littered with many curious, engaging and thought-provoking tests which ultimately tell you more about yourself. We all know that our IQ is highly superior (by default) to everyone else’s, but it’s always fun to do the personality tests, Rorschach tests and Raven test that Ben Ambridge includes in his hefty book amongst many others.
But the quizzes, riddles and multiple choice questions are all part of a larger scheme to explain the psychology behind It All. By that, I mean the basic prinicples of all kinds of things, for example neurological and linguistic disorders, with everything tied together by the results of your test. Sounds neat? Well, it is.
One of the many fascinating things that Ambridge discusses is selective attention. Take the test below by watching the video- it’s awesome (and it’s very popular, so you may have already done it).
Ambridge walks us mere ordinary citizens through why selective attention occurs, and how it is useful when implemented in everyday life, (it allows us to have a conversation on a busy train, for example, as all the other voices can be blocked out instead of distracting us). But that’s not all. Ambridge also offers the reader a whistle-stop tour through first-year psychology, explaining not only everyday revelations but deeply personal ones too, such as with the sunk cost fallacy.
As the authour sagely mentions at the start of the book, everything links back to psychology, even money- no, especially money. It’s all good and well, being that told you’re a relatively open person with extroverted tendencies, because you knew that already. But being dropped the bombshell that you’re actually culpable to mental financial tricks (like the sunk cost fallacy) is something else. Here is what it is, in a nutshell:
Or, as put eloquently, here:
All things considered, it’s most likely not what a great man once meant when, to delight of motivational posters stockers everywhere, he said:
But it stills applies. The point is that there are many pitfalls that we face in life which are clearly explained by a proper psychologist (none of that self-proclaimed Instagram riff-raff) across a broad spectrum of topics which may end up not only informing your future decisions, but helping you to guide them. To use the SCF example from earlier, like when you’ve spent £300 on a plane ticket you no longer want, instead of paying an extra £1000 and wasting 4 days of your holiday going to a place you don’t even like to make sure that the plane tickets are wasted, you may remember the sunk cost fallacy and take the £300 loss. Or not. It’s your cash.
Of course, the explanations, whilst thorough, are superficial because we of the public don’t have medical degrees, so it’s not likely to be useful to anyone with much grounding in psychology already. Laughably, by the end of the book Ambridge finishes with this optimistic note: I hope at least some of you are now inspired to go on to study psychology at university, or even go onto your postgrad. Wait. What? I’m sorry brother, but I’m not going to switch my university choice just from a few fancy tests of yours. Your book is interesting and all, granted, but you need to tone your expectation levels down or you will sorely disappointed!
Except, maybe after reading PSY-Q, YOU will be the one Ambridge is talking about who starts a new degree. Not convinced? Give the book a read and prove me wrong. Because that’s what narcissists like to do, after all.
Even a battered, £2.50 book can fill me with delight. In the spare moments of my ‘verybusy’ summer holiday, I found time to read Du Maurier’s classic, Rebecca. Which is just as well, because ten years ago, skirt askew and blazer crumpled, I was in a house at school called Du Maurier. We all got little green pin with a gold lined book and a pen engraved into the enamel. Along with various other inspirational women whom the houses were named after, the name meant nothing more to me than that it signified the colour shirt I wore on Sports Day. Now, sufficiently literate, I have decided to finally pay attention to Du Maurier, and pick up one of her greatest pieces (although, admittedly, not enough to buy a copy at full price)!
There is the magnificent setting itself, Manderely House, where the protagonist a Mrs de Winter and Max de Winter live. Although it’s precise location is never revealed, in the author’s note I read that Du Maurier’s old home Mandabilly was the main inspiration. It’s a brooding place, full of complexities and has such an animate character that if the plot was set in a cottage, or some other half-hearted building, it would simply be an awful reading experience. Much like pathetic fallacy with the weather, it is seen with the house and that is what makes the novel so impactful. Also, the description reminds me rather a lot of somewhere I go often, Endsleigh House so the nostalgia and memories of that trip trickled perfectly into the narrative:
There is something so dark about the narrative, so wonderfully obscene about the twist of events that I cannot help but find myself, like a child drawn to the trigger of a gun, mesmerised by it. It’s an oddly comforting storyline, in all honesty; after all, it confirms humanity’s vulnerability, that no relationships can be idealised, except perhaps when you are judging other peoples’. That’s precisely what the second wife, Mrs de Winter, did. She was swept away by the façade, daunted by the expectations following Maxim’s previous marriage, that it choked her potential. It’s needless to say how to many teenagers can find this book liberating; think of Instagram accounts of the rich and famous as one huge Rebecca and Maxim marriage, except without the honesty and the murder trial. Agreed, that a minority of famous bloggers unveil the reality behind the laborious process and their undying emotional instability even though millions of people comment about how much they want to look like them, but it’s just that those that don’t, lead us to believe that the images are their true nature, therefore forcing our own standards higher.
So, the novel’s called Rebecca. But what is the name of our protagonist, the young school girl? It’s one of the best plot devices of all; how du-Maurier neglected to mention her name, left us hanging on a string of anticipation. In the end, though, we aren’t troubled by this absence, but are riddled with speculation, with the sheer curiosity of this. After perusing the internet, some thought that she was called Daphne, after all it was cited early in the book that Maxim said she had an unusual name, and many believe this story was written to reflect the author’s own experiences. Others think that du Maurier merely forgot. But if you’re composing such a masterpiece, sifting day upon day on material, now stale from being constantly looked scanned for improvements, then of course you simply wouldn’t have forgetten. It’s almost farcical to suggest such a notion. Personally, I believe that it’s a reflection of Mrs de Winter’s own shyness, own timidity that she couldn’t even draw that much attention to herself to speak up on the number of occasions where it could have been mentioned.
So, reader, give it a try. I had put off reading Rebecca long enough, unexcited by the drab premise, but I have to say it’s now officially my favourite book (yay! Finally something to say at dinner parties… well, not dinner parties, but you know what I mean). It has affected me so much I have even named one of my bonsai trees (I have a few) Maxim. Yes, the level of adoration is serious.
The B-word. The British Exit. We all dread it now, eyes flicker over headlines over delays and arguments caused by it, before reluctantly scanning the article- our livelihoods will depend on the outcome of it, on a global spectrum.
The racism and xenophobia that the fateful referendum has unpeeled in British society is horrifying. In the preceding days after the vote, there were over one hundred recorded incidents of hate crime, all unashamedly open. Brexit had revealed in many Britons an underlying fear and hatred for immigrants, refugees and people who don’t fit into the British stereotype. It gave them an excuse to be ‘patriotic’, if their idea of patriotism was to threaten people unlike them. Many talk about the supposedly apparent ‘taking of resources’ and demanding to send them ‘back where they came from’, unsatisfied at the answer that they did indeed live in Stoke. To have any skin colour apart from white, to have any heritage apart from fully British to the dawn of time, suddenly made people targets. I understand that firstly a large number of people voted to remain and moreover some people who did vote Brexit did so because of other reasons, but I can’t help but notice how society has transformed in the days since.
Perhaps it was cognitive biases of the prediction market, leading people to believe that we were to remain until the last moment, or maybe it was just people waiting for a confirmation of their beliefs amongst others in society, but the surge in hate crime ever since Brexit has revealed one thing: there needs to be more information given to those who have unreasonable prejudices against those in society who are in the minority. Hence The Good Immigrant, whose blurb is simply; “What’s it like to live in a country that doesn’t trust you and doesn’t want you unless you win an olympic gold medal or a national baking competition?” It is a powerful selection of essays from 21 authors who are black, asian or minority ethnic in Britain today. From an actress who was told that she’d only be cast as a terrorist’s wife to the westernised evolution of the word ‘namaste’, it brings into perspective the lives of those who often are most targeted today. And actually, even if you do win the famous Great British Bake Off, as Nadiya Hussain says, she still “expect(s) to be shoved or pushed or verbally abused, because it happens, it’s happened for years.” Despite the blurb, it turns even if the famous aren’t even exempt.
It was edited and complied by Nikes Shukla, who has commented ‘I’m really sick of talking about diversity because I feel like we were beyond that conversation decades ago and we’re still having it and it doesn’t move on. People throw knee-jerk reaction panel events and money at diversity so we can all sit and talk about it rather than actually doing anything that has any long-term benefits.” I think that this book has long term benefits, though: it was the winner of the Books Are My Bag readers’ choice award 2016 and has sold nearly 10k copies in paperback. It challenges the idea that many from the BAME community say they feel about the imperative they have to prove they deserve a place in the UK, that they are worth it: an example of this is BAME actors. Representation is an issue, as Darren Chetty in his essay pointed out: “According to the 2011 Census, inner east London boroughs have populations that are somewhere between 45-71 per cent BAME. So, how many of the top 50 most impactful characters in this programme (EastEnders), set in the East End of London and aiming for realism, were BAME? None.” It’s a shocking but representative fact of the media today; it’s why questions like Could Iris Elba really be the next James Bond are circling, because it seems like he wouldn’t get the role on merit alone. No, people have to have a reason for being on the stage, because ‘being quite good’ just doesn’t cut it for some people.
Well, those type of people should read this book, or simply those who are interested in an enlightening, humorous and illustrative read.
A darkly hilarious and witty novel exploring the day the world will end.
In a typical science fiction style, there is a concept, widely known- such as the end of the world- but through the lens of literature is spun around and examined deeply. Here, the embodiment of Good, Aziraphale an angel and Evil, Crowley a demon (formerly Crawley the snake from the garden of Eden) battle over who can manipulate the Antichirst into siding with them, so that when the fateful Judgement day arrives with the expected war, the child would launch a particular side to victory. Not that the pair wanted a war. Both the angel and demon rather enjoyed being on Earth, having gotten used to human schisms in the way that their compatriots hadn’t. In fact, the Crowley and Aziraphale have a close friendship: not only have they known each other centuries, but they realised that they actually had more in common that anyone could imagine. Yet thanks to a mishap in the baby-swap securing the Antichrist, the forces shadowed and prodded the wrong child for over a decade, meaning that instead of bursting with virtues or spewing threats, the 11 year old antichrist Adam was just a defiant country boy, and an ordinary boy Warlock had been wrongly harassed by demons and angels his entire life. That’s where the trouble started.
When two of the funniest, most renowned authors in their field join to write a novel, it will produce something glorious. There are a wide range of characters, from Metatron (the voice of God) to KGB agents who feed ducks. The hilarity, but not obtuseness, that pervades this novel is astounding, and is guaranteed to provoke reactions from even the sternest of readers. (It even says in the Afternote that all the pair were trying to do was to make each other laugh.)
It started off as a parody of the Just William books, where William was the Antichrist, but soon evolved into something much smarter and engaging: after all, on the Judgement Day there are Four Horsemen, although as it’s modern day, it’s now Bikers. Famine, for one, sells diet books and invented nouvelle cuisine, whilst War was a war-correspondent, who somehow always managed to be in areas of conflict before they even started (the other two Bikers can be a surprise for you to find out). All said, it’s amazing. Even better is Anathema Device, a self-procclamed occultist with a book from her ancestor- The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter- that predicts correctly the future. (As it was so accurate, nobody bought it.) This supernatural element is counter-balanced by Newt Pulsifer though, who is a begrudging member of the Witchfinder’s Army, and has the awkward history of his ancestor burning alive Agnes, making the union between the two incredibly interesting.
The highlight of this book for me was undoubtedly the intricate footnotes. Apparently Gaiman and Pratchett would write footnotes for each other’s work, resulting in quips bursting with puns, which always lightened the mood. On the other hand, the subplots added a great twist to the story, helpfully giving the reader a refreshed perspective of the main plot as they often added useful background information. But occasionally they were spasmodically inserted and felt random, being often obscure and hard to follow, and felt like sometimes they were only there so that a few jokes could be made.
I would recommend this novel to fans of fantasy, science-fiction, or anyone who is vaguely interested in the works of either author. It’s a fantastic reading experience!
A pocket-sized explosion of character and immense profundity.
Porter create separate strands of perspective using multiple points of view, which help form a precise map of emotion concerning the aftermath of a women’s death. It weaves a journey through the characters’ catharsis, too.
This isn’t a dazed process though: grief is personified as a crow. A whimsical and fantastical idea, as Crow contrasts the moping father by inserting humour into the piece, especially when he becomes borderline hyper-emotional:
“The whole city is my missing her. Eugh, said Crow, you sound like a fridge magnet.”
Crow adds a technicolour aspect to the novel, with his attitude to the suffering family of sons and father offering a fresh view of what grief truly is.
The father, a Ted Hughes’ scholar, awkwardly straddles his new-found parental responsibilities over his two sons by ignoring them completely, his sons gently breaking the rules for the sake of it. There are nights of numbness, lasagne, easy laughter because they managed to forget, forget that the hole burnt in their lives by loss exists and should be suffocating them.
The boys are never separated. They remain always identical, similar to A.A.Gill when he referenced the Twins. Although they have different opinions, floating across the page with lyrically, they are always referred to as one. Like youth in many situations, they aren’t indifferent, but more indifferent in an aching way. They don’t linger on the event, but steely smile on, brushing aside their father’s solemn outlook on life.
The concept of metaphorizing an emotion is simply an idea which I believe we all wish we came up with ourselves. It is written in the style of a continuous poem, with the imagery created outstanding and resulting in an ethereal engagement in the text on the reader’s behalf. Presented in the style of snippets of babbling thoughts, poignant reflections and fragmented memories, the brief novel consumes the themes of realisation and sadness beautifully, deserving to be absorbed by all.