What To Read If You’re A Narcissist*

(August Book of the Month!!)

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.

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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.

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What do you see in these ink blots? Your answer may reveal more about you than you think…

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:

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Or, as put eloquently, here:

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All things considered, it’s most likely not what a great man once meant when, to delight of motivational posters stockers everywhere, he said:

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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.

*or just really interest in psychology.

East of Eden – John Steinbeck

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So take a left at the T junction, go straight past Eden and then take the third exit at the roundabout. Then you’re East of Eden.

Steinbeck said that ‘everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this’ novel, and he was certainly correct in saying that East of Eden was the literary finale compared to all his previous works.

At a hefty 602 pages, it may seem daunting at first, but unlike many of other long novels (like Tess of the D’Urbervilles), the content deserves to sprawls across hundreds of pages. In fact, sprawl seems to the wrong word. Each word seems to be carefully chosen, like Steinbeck was a gardener picking only the best fruit that the English language could offer. It is remarkable to think how Steinbeck could even begin to plan a novel of this magnitude; in no places does it, like an under-baked pie, sag under the need to get to the next exciting event. All of the plot is gripping and thought-provoking, and the meanings span across so many levels. Although I may indeed regret saying this, (the old adage being careful what you wish for!), it seems that in spite of its length, this novel would be a joy to study as there is just so much to unpack.

The first thing to comment on is obviously the book’s namesake, East of Eden, referring to how the plot loosely links to the story of Adam and Eve and ultimately Cain and Abel. Adam is both Adam from the Book of Genesis and Abel; Charles is Cain. This makes sense because if Cyrus, their father, is God, then Cyrus’ rejection of Charles’ pocketknife and adoration of Abel’s stray puppy mirror wonderfully God’s praise for the lamb and hatred for the crops offered by Cain. Following this cruel dismissal from God, Cain famously kills Abel, and so Charles beats Adam almost to death, before running off to get a hatchet to finish Adam before he eventually escapes. Again Cain becomes marked by God to prevent others from killing him, and so Charles becomes scarred when working in his fields. Lastly Cain didn’t have any descendants whilst Adam did, which can be a direct parallel to the lives of Charles and Adam. The interesting thing about the way Steinbeck did this was that it was never glaring obvious that the two stories paralleled each other, nor was the next chapter ever predicatable, whilst still holding true to the Bible original.

Furthermore Adam and Cathy can be interpreted as Adam and Eve from the Bible. When considering the original sin, it can traced entirely back to Eve, as she was responsible for all the acts of wrongdoing in Eden due to the loss of the pair’s innocence. In this way, Cathy can be regarded as a solely evil character because of all the ‘monstrous’ manipulation, lying, cheating and murder she carried out in her lifetime. Scholars believe her to be a representation of a debased form of Eve, as she seduces men at every opportunity for her own means; for example, from framing her parents’ death without remorse, to using the whoremaster to engineer a better circumstance to herself, to her betrayal of Adam and ultimately her own kin. The list of the other devious happenings she organised goes on, but essentially it’s clear that Cathy is undeniably a gruesome and perhaps hyperbolic version of Eve in the context of the Book of Genesis.

The important thing to remember when reading East of Eden, too, is that it’s not necessarily meant to be realistic. The narrator even mentions that Cathy has a ‘deformity’ within her soul, meaning that she is crueler and harsher than an average person. Cathy is an exaggeration of humanity’s worst qualities and yet she is still somewhat plausible, in a twisted sort of way. It’s worth mentioning this just because many critics at the time of the novel’s publication argued that the characters were unruly and unimaginable, making this not such a fantastic read after all, but then again these same critics did believe a certain man to walk on water, and so these contradictions in what is plausible and what isn’t make their arguments rather hypocritical.

All in all, although I was initially quite unenthusiastic about taking the plunge into East of Eden, when I did I was amazed by the vivid characters and plot that lay before me. So come join me! The water’s lovely…

Thwaites undergoats an udderly ridiculous joureny

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Goat and follow your dreams; if a man can become a goat, then you can definitely become a popstar

The concept behind GoatMan is ingenious. It sounds like an invention only someone desperate, determined and open-minded would do. Which is Thomas Thwaites in a nutshell, or should I say, goat’s cheese wheel.

Stumbling along in life, with no job and acting as a unwilling trustafarian, Thwaites decided to turn his life around. Somehow, he thought that becoming an elephant walking across the Alps was the way to do it, with a grant from the Wellcome Trust. Which does still sound decidedly trustafarian-like all things considered, but at least the author wasn’t dog-sitting anymore.

Having trekked to Copenhagen and given some shamanic guidance in a hut, Thwaites realised he should’ve been a goat all along. It would’ve got my goat to say the least if I was part-way through an elephant design project and changed animal, but Thwaites didn’t seem to mind. Throughout the book we are guided through his process of realising his goal: visits to goat farms, creators of prosthetics, animal dissections (ft. snow leopard and an alpaca with practically tuberculosis) and a psychologist all feature. It’s exciting stuff.

Winning the 2016 Ig Nobel Prize for the project, as seen in the book GoatMan by Thomas Thwaites, this goes far deeper than merely thinking ‘goat-like’ thoughts. Impressively, Thwaites commits to the project with a level of dedication seldom seen elsewhere, and the documentation of this is displayed aesthetically, which appears to be the designer of Thwaites coming through, or in any doubt, a great publishing house. For every notable event, there is a technicolour image to boot, my favourite being (not the goat’s rumen spilling everywhere in graphic detail whilst I thought about my last meal, but in fact) Prof. Hutchinson’s freezer. It’s filled with hundreds of plastic bags with mysterious lumps and it’s all rather intriguing. Lumps being dead animals and intriguing meaning including giraffe necks and elephant feet. Check out his blog here: http://www.whatsinjohnsfreezer.com

As a concept it’s fantastic; sometimes it’s wonderful to do something just for the sake of it, not because it will ‘look good on my CV’. I hear this so often, with people wandering off on Duke of Edinburghs (it’s overrated- I ran out of food because my porridge pots broke and I woke up with frost on the inside of my tent), or attending up to 8 hours of extra curricular activities a week in the hope of impressing someone later in life in an application. Whilst pursing interests is important, I find that since the only incentive is to gain a place at an academic institution, it seems like a waste of time. Most people I know don’t even know what they want to do next weekend, let alone for their degree courses. Yet societal values have convinced us that the only path to success is: go to university, have a long working career- establishing yourself as upper middle class whilst you have a family, then retire. That’s the conventional measure of a happy lifestyle today, with the amount of wealth accumulated punctuating that achievement. But what if that isn’t true? There are so many assumptions in there, and now people automatically think they want going to university, but with no real incentive of their own except that that is what everybody else is.

So this book appeals because it is a rebellion of that. Sure, Thwaites did it to drag himself out of a pool of unemployment, but he could have worked as a waiter to do that. He didn’t know that he was going to win the Ig Prize for the Project. He received (and still does probably) uncertain comments from people around him surrounding it, but he preserved because that’s what he wanted to do. To live a simpler life is a noble aim, I suppose. It’s difficult to let go of everything, of contacts, the internet, unnecessary material objects. There’s an underlying fear of making that decision and getting so far behind with the world that if you don’t hurry, it’ll be too late to return.

Yet to take the time out and simply read this project counteracts that. You’ll never put reading this on your CV, and you’ll be so enraptured that you won’t think of your phone. Think of reading this as a little rebellion, your own holiday from being a modern Homo sapiens.

Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again…

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Even a battered, £2.50 book can fill me with delight. In the spare moments of my ‘very busy’ 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:

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The Endsleigh hotel, or Manderely? There’s even a dog and roses!

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.

 

 

 

A review of To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris

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Paul O’Rourke is a dentist who believes that flossing is pointless. He lives in New York, owning his business without having an office. He likes watching baseball. Until someone creates a website for his company, creating false bios about himself and even starting up a Twitter account in Paul’s name.

Whilst Paul meanders the implications of the religious messages spread as though from him, his relationship with others in his workplace unfold- ex-girlfriend receptionist, maternal hygienist and blank-faced assistant. As Paul flounders in the face of relating to other people, his lack of a personal life becomes entrenched as his dedication to dentistry fills in the gaps in his life. Paul denies himself the internet and is an interesting 21st century specimen (I feel like this word is appropriate), who articulates the fears that everybody has lodged deep within themselves, but aren’t willing enough to confront. One of the reasons why this is notable, is because it means that the person who has stolen his identity can operate for a vast length of time before Paul even identifies any issue.

I was already at one remove before the Internet came along. I need another remove? Now I have to spend the time that I’m not doing the thing they’re doing reading about them doing it? Streaming the clips of them doing it, commenting on how lucky they are to be doing all those things, liking and digging and bookmarking and posting and tweeting all those things, and feeling more disconnected than ever? Where does this idea of greater connection come from?

It’s true though. Why in society today do we genuinely need more connection? How is my life made any better by knowing that Charlotte did 500 squats in the gym? If tt make me feel inadequate,  I should abandon Facebook, and if it does not invoke a response at all, what’s the point in engaging in the first place?

Paul has a fascinating take on religion. He admires churches and synagogues and rituals, although being an atheist himself. The saddest thing about the rejection of religious practice to him, is not the lack of a guiding figure or book to lodge his thoughts in, but instead the vocabulary. Faith, charity, hope. These are ingrained in religions and it is these words he desires the most in life.

This is no surprise as Paul is an inherently lonely person; it is a winding novel and there is a plot, but it is padded with flashbacks and stuffy bits of information about the protagonist. One of these things are his relationships; he has no friends for certain, but his two girlfriends were heavily imbedded in religious communities and it was these things he was truly attracted to: the sense of belonging, of a wider place in society. Subconsciously, he saw that these girlfriends were his ticket to spot, to becoming enveloped in the Jewish/ Christian way of life. Now, two breakups later, religion is back in his life again as Ulmist messages are being spread across the web; not that he even know what an Ulm is.

The novel takes us on a journey of self-recognition and of realisation of others around you, as well as a reflection of life (and death) itself. This is more of a thought-provoking piece than anything else and although there is notable humour, the selling-point for me is the examination of Paul. He isn’t real. But his portrayal invites the reader to examine their own selves to identify flaws and to try to improve them. What better type of writing can there be?

 

This is my favourite quote from the entirety of the novel:

She no longer lived in a world of speculation or recall and would take nothing on faith when the facts were but a few clicks away. It drove me nuts. I was sick to death of having as my dinner companions Wikipedia, About.com, IMDb, the Zagat guide, Time out New York, a hundred Tumblrs, the New York Times, and People magazine. Was there not some strange forgotten pleasure in reveling in our ignorance? Would we just be wrong?

Dear Lupin by Roger and Charlie Mortimer

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The book has also been turned into a play, which had a successful run at the Apollo Theatre

 

Dear readers,

Some say the message is medium: Dear Lupin is a collection of letters that span nearly 25 years, and through this form offer the most intimate insight into the Mortimers’ lives. If intimate is the right word- it seems like multiple opportunities to be delighted at the sheer hilarity of it is more suitable.

Letters. Seems dated now, doesn’t it? Something you only tend to at Christmas out of obligation, not because the simple act offers any sort of satisfaction. (I bet many people have said the same about over-indulging in mince pies, but there you go.) Here, it conveys admirably parental despair. In reality, nothing in our modern day with the prevalent technology could genuinely reveal to the same depth any relationship. Imagine being a historian, sifting through the one line texts. There’s no detail behind what we communicate now, because who has time to go into the neighbour’s health? Why bother? It’s this offhand thinking that not makes it difficult not only for people in the future to discern who we really are, but it makes life clouded for ourselves when we can’t even engage with each other. What does anything mean to us?

Roger Mortimer typically humoured the pages with self-deprecation or painstaking accurate remarks. “Doubtless you regard me as monumental bore, tolerated only at times because I fork out some cash, but senile as I am I probably know a bit more about you and your friends than you seem to realise” Hm. Bet a lot of parents today would be much more success in talking to their children if they realised in themselves these words.

Anyway, it is rather clear to see that although Charlie entertained a school career at Eton, it wasn’t exactly the most successful, as he was constantly reminded to try and get through a term “without a chorus of disapproval and despair from the unfortunate masters who have to try and teach you something.” Joyfully Charlie moves through life though, and it’s almost bizarre, like watching a time-lapse of a plant, to see the style and tone of the letters change. One moment it’s from a reprimanding father, another it’s from a more- well, still reprimanding father, but with a rather letter edge to the words.

“Dear Charles,                                                                                                                                        I am very impulsive. Your mother is also very impulsive. That is quite enough for one family. Let us have a little… deliberation from you. So to start with, get rid of that motorbike. I did not give you £40 for that, as you well know!”

But, like everything, things start to break down and crumble, and although the earlier letters were cheerful and lighthearted, punctuated with concerns, the hilarity seeps away towards the end of the collection, where above all Roger voices his fears of ageing, of dying. It is poignant and raw- often a gruff acceptance of fate that retells all our own fears. This is a book which will not only inspire you to laughter and morose reflection, but to start writing letters again yourself.

Best wishes,

Melrose

The Brain: The Story of You by David Eagleman

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Given that he serves as a professor at Stanford University, the department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, he certainly knows his facts.

Neurons fire and seeming random clustered pixels form to make words. Perhaps you’re sipping on coffee, eyes rolling as I attempt to predict your movements, the rim of the cup nevertheless brought to your lips. And then a miracle takes place. I know it; Eagleman devoted most of a chapter to how someone was able to perform the seemingly simplistic act of drinking, how the millions of decisions, which control your muscles, sense of balance and so on, all happen behind a veil of obliviousness. He sets out to explain the complexity of the actions we take for granted. These snippets of stories, such as how we walk or why we make friends with certain people, and half-formed scenes are underscored by in-depth, yet intelligible analysis- with accompanying surprising experiments to highlight the sheer beauty of the spongle-like muscle locked behind bone.

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This is an ingenious book because it tears away the shadow of mystery from a part of our lives. Why do we want to help others? Why do we connect with non-animate objects? Given that we’ve only recently evolved into a society which doesn’t hold the necessity of wild foraging as an imperative, it suddenly doesn’t seem like a completely unconsidered question. When our ancestors were lolling around, and the framework for our brains today were being carved out, it was about survival; holding the cave door open wouldn’t get you anywhere. So where did this altruism spring from (at least in some people… in others, sadly, it appears to be an evolutionary step which bypassed them).

Eagleman answers the questions about yourself you never even thought to ask, and delights you with answers that make you wish, if you could swallow medical school, you too could be a neuroscientist.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Review: A Life Without Limits by Chrissie Wellington

23rd of April 2017. A massive day for some, it’s when this year’s London Marathon will be taking place, and amongst the tens of thousands, Chrissie Wellington will be competing. She may be one anonymous figure to you, but her fastest marathon time is 2:44:35, which is impressive enough. Especially as that was run immediately after a 3.8km swim and 180.2km bike. You may not have heard of her, but you should have, considering that Wellington is a 4x Ironman world champion and is regarded as one of the best female triathletes in history.

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Reading her autobiography, A Life Without Limits, was inspiring because it shows how determination can almost force results into existence. Wellington won her first world title only 9 months after leaving her day job, and a highly prestigious one at that, as a civil servant in Whitehall. She became a professional athlete at the age of 30, and this is incredible not only because it defies the idea that you have to be committed to a single discipline from a young age, but because in reality Wellington had no real background in sport either. This is one of the many reasons that I’ve come to respect Wellington; she had the security of an established, well paying job, yet she took a risk. She became an athlete and entered a brutal, competitive world in which she was chronically unfamiliar. But she prospered.

If you’re looking for any reason to read this book, it’s this: it explains the history of an athlete like no other, and not just an athlete, but a genuinely compassionate and interesting person. Wellington’s career includes Nepal working on aid, as well as triathlon, making it fascinating to read if you’re looking for an insight on their rural culture, or even as a civil servant.

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This is a book about triathlon, true. Yet it’s also about so much more; about aspects of her career that not only prevent monotony from the reader’s point of view, but also show that the physical attributes of someone can be just the beginning of someone’s personality, not their defining feature. In a book I’ve reviewed previously, Swim Bike Run by the Brownlees, featured there was basically just a skimmed version of their childhood, training sessions and races. A Life Without Limits, on the other hand, is much more varied.

If you want something that is inspirational, a book that will motivate you to achieve more (Wellington set an ironman world record time with shingles, after all) than you need to look no further.

Have you tried a triathlon before? What’s your favourite sport, besides reading marathons obviously 🙂 ? What’s the best sports (auto)biography you’ve read? Do comment below and let me know your thoughts!

Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All — Jonas Jonasson

A hilarious, thought-provoking and unusual read, Jonasson has delivered a novel which looks at our world through a completely different lens.

Imagine, a hitman. You know the type: leather jacket, yesterday’s stubble and the cool shades. There’s one in Stockholm, living in a hotel, and this novel follows his exploits (or how he has been exploited, more accurately), as the receptionist of the hotel and a priest use the hitman in order to create a business. Except, of course, the first attempt didn’t work, and the novel follows them as they try to set up three different businesses in succession, all with differing aims. As the trio’s professions change, their mindsets change with them, as each experience has altered their perspective and outlook on life.

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The plot flowed marvellously. It is hard, reflecting on it now, to see the seams of the novel, to segregate it into the pigeon holes of “Begining, Middle and End”. Even though there were three business opportunities, the way that Jonasson writes about them makes you feel like you are floating along with the current of the story. It is all smoothly executed; there were no random, stilted scenes. It felt like the characters were creating their own destiny, and that I was merely an observer. Which, of course, is enjoyable to read. But not as enjoyable as the humour that populated the pages, the small witticisms that punctuated the paragraphs and brought grins to my face. And how can I help it? It’s a funny book. Honestly. And if the chilly weather and darkness is affecting your mood, I’d recommend you read this.

The protagonists were certainly not the usual stereotypes: there was a scheming priest (who didn’t believe in God), a receptionist who ends up running a multi million dollar enterprise, and a hitman who had been recently converted to Christianity. By choosing such bizarre characters to star in his book, Jonasson puts creativity back into writing. Why couldn’t this happen? Perhaps it never would in the real world, but at least in a place without boundaries, it’s fun to allow yourself to imagine. Right now, there is a feeling that people are clinging to their clichés. We are a long way from books like Pullman’s Northern Lights, or one of Dahl’s creations. I know that they are both children’s books, but at least they have a sense of wonder about them, of the credibility coupled with the unbelievable. And that is what I have found here.

One issue I discovered though, was that the antagonist wasn’t dislikable enough. He was known as The Count, and would constantly be talking about chopping people up, but not exactly in a menacing way. Actually, I found the way he spoke, and was referred to, more humorous than anything else, and so this made it difficult for me to feel any sense to rally against him. It’s a minor issue, because the novel’s not really centred around the antagonist vs. protagonist theme, but it’s worth mentioning nevertheless.

So, looking for something a bit different, something light-hearted? Then find a copy of Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All. Have you read it- how did you find it? What’s your favourite comedic book? Do comment below and let me know your thoughts!

Burmese Days by George Orwell

Myanmar has only had 69 years of Independence. The past is closer than you think- and you can immerse yourself in it in Orwell’s first novel.

Imagine the existence of places centuries ago. We are all familiar with the concept of Victorian London, or the America as Columbus saw. But can we ever really believe in that place, petrified by the weight of history? Not simply in terms of overpaid actors, but understand the place that existed only a lengthy string of years ago?

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Yes- if you read Burmese Days. Since Orwell himself was stationed in Burma as a policeman there is an inescapable authenticity to the novel, and the blank way he causally refers to cultural customs illustrates that he wasn’t desperate to impress readers with his knowledge. (Unlike those authors who adopt the manner of *And here is a recipe for a rare national dish, inserted for no purpose whatsoever except to show you that I didn’t intend to spend countless hours trawling the internet for no credit.*) Due to his experiences (Orwell could even speak Hindi and Burmese) the novel felt genuine and gave me a clear idea of life at the time, and should be regarded as a valuable resource to anyone studying Burma in the early 20th century.

The plot itself could be considered mundane. There is a languid pace; it moves at the speed of someone overwhelmed by the summer heat. It’s mundane, almost. All that happens is that a British man abroad struggles (and fails,) not only to secure his Indian friend a membership to the European club, but the marriage of a girl. This is what the story is driven by, and after awhile it does become rather repetitive.

But then again the ending was shocking, and ends the sense of banality that had been previously lurking. It was so depressing (and tragically realistic,) that it made you ponder the entertainment value of reading it after all. (Why do I spend hours of my life, in happy solitude, staring at bits of paper?)

Thankfully this is interspersed with Orwell’s vivid descriptions of the scenery- he indulges much more in the literary side here than in his other works. For this reason, it would be useful for any fan of Orwell to read this first novel, so that not only can they enjoy the contrast to his later more refined tone, but see how from the start he was interested in discussing political and social ideologies. In fact, Burmese Days foreshadows the themes that would be seen so boldly in his books later on; the individual flailing against the tidal wave of an inhumane society.

A bold and unashamed novel, Burmese Days challenges British colonialism in Burma, offers a rich insight into the life of officers and has an unnerving finish despite the light hearted manner veiling the rest of the novel. If you are interested in political affairs (for Burma/ Myanmar, is rising globally currently), then this is an essential read. After all, if you seek to know something, you must first understand it’s history.