Review: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/826846.The_Day_of_the_Triffids

5 stars

Synopsis:

Bill Masen, bandages over his wounded eyes, misses the most spectacular meteorite shower England has ever seen. Removing his bandages the next morning, he finds masses of sightless people wandering the city. He soon meets Josella, another lucky person who has retained her sight, and together they leave the city, aware that the safe, familiar world they knew a mere twenty-four hours before is gone forever.

But to survive in this post-apocalyptic world, one must survive the Triffids, strange plants that years before began appearing all over the world. The Triffids can grow to over seven feet tall, pull their roots from the ground to walk, and kill a man with one quick lash of their poisonous stingers. With society in shambles, they are now poised to prey on humankind. Wyndham chillingly anticipates bio-warfare and mass destruction, fifty years before their realization, in this prescient account of Cold War paranoia.

 


 

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There’s definitely a reason a this book is considered a classic.

I was already biased in favour of this book for a couple of reasons;

  1. I remember my mum telling me she had to read this book in highschool and that she was terrified that the triffids would come to get her. She also did a funny little dance and pretended to be a triffid, despite me having absolutely no idea what she was going on about.
    Now I’ve read the book, I can confidently say I still have no idea what she was going on about, but it was cute.
  2.  I watched a BBC adaptation of it on my laptop one Christmas, when I was still awake long after everyone else went to bed. It was the absolute tits (a good thing).
  3.  I’m currently eating pizza, I’m disposed to love everyone and everything around me until I’ve finished the last slice.

Down to the nitty gritty, I loved this story because the science in it was timeless (unlike ‘I Am Legend’ which upset my inner biology geek). The author postulated various reasons to account for most of the world’s population had gone blind and also why the angry cabbages where roaming the countryside and eating people once they’d cleared out the cities.

I liked the fact that the plants weren’t inherently evil or anthropomorphosised (a word that I never get to use, because I can’t actually say it out loud in one go), they were just carnivorous plants going about their business. The very end even suggests that the cause of the blinding light involved a man-made sattelite. That really appealed to me because contrary to most modern sci-fi where it would be some nefarious plan cooked up by the angry cabbages, rather than humanity shot itself in the foot (or in the eyes, in this case) and the plants are just clearing up the mess they left behind. Given that these plants are super intelligent and can communicate with each other, it seems extra fitting that they should knock some people off after they’ve been kept in what amounts to prison camps and had bits of them cut off to make them harmless.

The book follows the progress of Bill, a bloke who managed to make it through the blinding event intact. He then witnesses the aftermath and struggles to rebuild his own little corner of civilisation with the help of some people he meets along the way. Being a proper Brit, he does spend an unsurprising amount of time either drunk or in a pub.
I can’t really refer to it as the fall or rise of civilisation, it just changes and we get to see some very human reactions to what has happened to the world- for better or worse.

This book is a timeless classic and one I will definitely be reading again in a few years time, I’m a little disappointed that it doesn’t seem to be on the school syllabus any more so it may yet drift into osbcurity.

It’s pretty short too, so I would recommend reading this book if you have a few hours to kill.

“When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.”
John Wyndham, The Day of the Triffids

Review: The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

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4 stars

 

 

Synopsis:

They carried malaria tablets, love letters, 28-pound mine detectors, dope, illustrated bibles, each other. And if they made it home alive, they carried unrelenting images of a nightmarish war that history is only beginning to absorb. Since its first publication, The Things They Carried has become an unparalleled Vietnam testament, a classic work of American literature, and a profound study of men at war that illuminates the capacity, and the limits, of the human heart and soul.

The Things They Carried depicts the men of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and the character Tim O’Brien, who has survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three.


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Generally speaking, I refuse to watch war films, especially those recommended to me as ‘good’ and ‘realistic’ because I can’t bear seeing so much death. Industrially manufactured deaths now, the opposing side doesn’t even have to be there any more to pull the trigger and people are just as dead at the end of it. Possibly worse, they survive and have to go back home to Poundland, council tax and pop tarts.
Films either glorify wars, completely dehumanise them or on the rare occasion they are realistic, they make me sick to my stomach.

Slightly embarrassing confession, especially for a film buff and self proclaimed badass such as myself, I never made it past the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. I was about 13 when I saw it and the only thing that I could think was ‘what about the mum’s?’. Take a second to think about that horrifying thought and I guess you’ll see why I can’t bear to watch those films.

There was a point to that little ramble too – the point being that I have never read a book about war before, always assuming they’d be along the same vein but I to admit that this one was a little different. This story was from he perspective of a reluctant soldier who had no desire to go to war or leave his life behind him, but for better or worse, he went and he became a soldier in the truest sense. He got shot up a bit, saw most of his friends die then went back home and had to start rebuilding himself. There was no glory in it, he didn’t even know what he was doing there but he became good at what he did out of necessity.

The book was written in a very factual way, O’Brien tried to keep it factual and paint a vivid picture of how things were – not how he saw them to be. He explained very masterfully the power of storytelling in keeping people sane out in the least sane environment.

I think this story will stick with me a long time and has opened my eyes to a new genre of literature, though I don’t think I’ll be immersing myself in it all in one go – easy does it! I certainly won’t be reading any rubbish about wars from the political perspective any time soon.

“A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil. ”
Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

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Synopsis:

In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men.

As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.


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Lisa See is another author who actually tweeted me directly when I mentioned her work, which I feel was pretty special. Just by taking the time to acknowledge my interest in her work, I feel more inclined to pursue her writing and also continue researching the bizarre and fascinating tradition of foot binding.

The beauty of this novel is that it follows the lives of women in a time and culture where women’s history wasn’t considered important enough to be recorded. Women were not allowed to make their mark on the larger ‘men’s’ world so they were forced to make a mark on their own, this is something that I find particularly fascinating.

When I first read this book in 2006, I was a teenage girl with a best friend in school and had clear ideas of what life would be like. I loved this book for its elegance and the way the two main characters related to each other. That women were confined, literally and figuratively. Their feet were bound for ‘beauty’ but also so they couldn’t walk properly and they were kept in the women’s quarters upstairs, they wrote in their own language and did what they could within the restrictions imposed on them by tradition. I loved the grace of these women and how they managed to become the very best they possibly could with what was given to them.

Now, almost 10 years on I appreciate this story from another perspective. Like the book is split up into the different parts of a woman’s life, I’m clearly on the next step of my own. I’m no longer close friends with my accomplice of 2006 and have absolutely no idea of what life will or should be like, I can see now the hardship and strength in all of the relationships in this book. These women were bound together by real love and were, despite having perfect lily feet and being ‘worthless branches on the family tree’, complete badasses.

I think we (or maybe just I?) forget in the over indulgence of modern cinema, where kickass women wear a lot of leather and kick things in the face, that there are other kinds of more subtle badassery. Women who survive a world that doesn’t care if they live or die, who keep their children safe in the face of adversity and women who go through all of the above and still show kindness to those around them.

In another 10 years, I suspect I will read this book again and I’ll see or feel something else in the story that I wasn’t able to understand this time around – I can’t recommend this book enough if you’re in the mood for something poetic and heart wrenching.

“I am old enough to know only too well my good and bad qualities, which were often one and the same. For my entire life I longed for love. I knew it was not right for me – as a girl and later as a woman – to want or expect it, but I did, and this unjustified desire has been at the root of every problem I have experienced in my life.”
Lisa See, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Review: Ghost Light by LeeAnne Hansen

ghost light

5 stars

Synopsis:

Fiona Corrigan sometimes has difficulty discerning between the reality of stage and real life, especially when it comes to the attentions of her handsome co-star, the dark, brooding, Patrick Berenger.

Before they can depart for Edinburgh for their next performance, Patrick and Fiona’s acting troupe are mysteriously summoned to a remote village in Scotland, in the dead of winter. Once there, although stranded by a massive storm, Fiona is happy that she will finally have the time alone with Patrick that she needs to seduce him.

Unfortunately, Fiona couldn’t have anticipated Sean’s appearance, (Patrick’s equally handsome, drunken cad of an older brother) or his devastating effect on both her and Patrick.


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**This book was kindly gifted to me by the author in exchange for an honest review and honestly, this book had me at ‘drunken cad’.**

After reading the opening scene of the book, I knew I was on to a winner – I was instantly hooked and still managed to finish this book this week despite the release of Fallout 4 (there hasn’t been a whole lot of sleep going on in this house this week). I’m not going to go into a great amount of detail about the plot of this book because I really think you, yes you, should read it and I won’t give the game away!

The writing style was perfect, I did wonder before I started if it might be a little bit over the top with words like ‘caddish’ and just win my affection based on camp value alone but nope, it ticked all my literary boxes and I couldn’t get enough of it. The fact that the saga started in Wales only added to the big word-gasm I was already having for this book.

The 1920’s theme along with the murder mystery had a nice and classic Agatha Christie-ish vibe to it, right down to the character’s use of language straddling the line between modern and Victorian. You got the sense that the characters were real people rather than falling into the trap of becoming charicatures of the 1920s stereotype (even flappers had days off).

It wrapped itself up neatly at the end as all good whodunnits should and I was delighted that there weren’t huge hints dropped along the line to help you guess the culprit, so it was nice and unexpected though I did decide somewhere around the middle that it was the minister who was murdering people and was slightly disappointed to find out that he really was just a minister with theatrical aspirations.

Being a romance novel as well, there was a fair amount of shenanigans going on. More than a fair amount, some might say…. the one thought that did idly occur to me while I was reading this was: how many unwanted pregnancies are there going to be by the end of this book?! Did the pill even exist in 1920? (Google tells me it did not. Fiona Corrigan, you wanton hussy!)

I would recommend this for anyone who enjoys a classic gothic ghost story, especially with a touch of romance. Hang on until the winter though, there’s a lot of snow in this book it goes best with some cosy socks and a mug of hot tea.

 

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Review: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

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3 stars.png

 

 

 

Synopsis:

A vicious fifteen-year-old “droog” is the central character of this 1963 classic, whose stark terror was captured in Stanley Kubrick’s magnificent film of the same title.

In Anthony Burgess’s nightmare vision of the future, where criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends’ social pathology. A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. When the state undertakes to reform Alex—to “redeem” him—the novel asks, “At what cost?”


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Overrate əʊvəˈreɪt/ verb:  have a higher opinion of (someone or something) than is deserved.

Firstly, in the Kindle format it’s impossible to read the glossary alongside the ridiculous vocab, though it’s simple enough to pick up on after a little while. This was a pain in the ass, particularly when I took a break from reading and the newfound ability to read and understand nadsat leaked from my brain.

The story itself is intriguing, particularly the brainwashing part (I’m just going to go ahead and assume most people have watched the Kubrick adaptation, if not read the book) though I found it a little tiresome how easily the brainwashing was completed and then reversed. I know, I know – the book was released in the 60’s but we had a man on the moon that decade, dammit – Pavlovian conditioning was described in 1903!

My angry behaviourist tendencies aside, the story was pretty good but I just felt that this book was lacking something given that it’s touted (yes, touted. I never get to use that word) as a masterpiece. I understand the fascination with the role of free will in the concepts of good and evil, thoroughly appreciating this as the focal point of the novel but I can’t help but feel that some authors did this better; naming Anne Rice for one. I am slightly biased as she’s already well established as my favourite author and possibly human being, more on that another day though.

 

To conclude, it was a very enjoyable if difficult read. Stomach churning at times, irritating at others but it was a good look at the evil of teenagers and the importance of free will.

Reading this to a soundtrack of Beethoven may have been the best decision of my adult life thus far.

“Civilised my syphilised yarbles.”
Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange

Review: The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

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5 stars

 

 

 

Synopsis:

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. He was laying on his hard, as it were armor-plated, back and when he lifted his head a little he could see his domelike brown belly divided into stiff arched segments on top of which the bed quilt could hardly keep in position and was about to slide off completely. His numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk, waved helplessly before his eyes.” With this startling, bizarre, yet surprisingly funny first opening, Kafka begins his masterpiece, The Metamorphosis.

It is the story of a young man who, transformed overnight into a giant beetle-like insect, becomes an object of disgrace to his family, an outsider in his own home, a quintessentially alienated man. A harrowing — though absurdly comic — meditation on human feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and isolation, The Metamorphosis has taken its place as one of the most widely read and influential works of twentieth-century fiction. As W.H. Auden wrote, “Kafka is important to us because his predicament is the predicament of modern man.”


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I read The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka as the first title for my 2015 Summer Reading Challenge, this is a book that’s been studied my literature students for decades but somehow escaped me until last week.

 

I thought I might include my views of this story before my ideas are influenced by the in-depth reviews already out there.

The basic premise of this story is that a travelling salesman who’s been supporting his family wakes up one morning and discovers that he’s turned into a bug. He (understandably) loses his job and his family keep him hidden from the rest of the world, their disgust turning to neglect before he finally dies and the family essentially lives happily ever after.

I think that the thing that most struck me about this story is that no-one questioned the fact that Gregor had turned into a bug, they were horrified, sickened and disgusted by him but not curious or sympathetic. They didn’t try to find out why it happened or if there was a way to reverse it, they just reacted to the situation as it was and gradually neglected him to the point of his death.

Gregor doesn’t question this either, but his love of his family stays with him til the very end even though he loses himself largely to his new form and instincts. Showing that he’s maybe the least changed of all of them, given how quickly his family turned against him.

Finally, the part that depressed me the most, is that once Gregor dies his family get their lives back on track – while he’s been holed up in his room they went out and got jobs (nothing stopping them from doing this before) and are now able to sustain themselves, now he’s dead they’re able to move to a place more within their means and come home without worrying about Big G the BugMonster skittering about their spare room.

After reading other reviews and notes:

The official line about this story according to a dedicated Kafka website is:

*Gregor being abused by his disapproving father is a reflection of Franz Kafka’s relationship with his own father, Hermann.

*It’s after a particular vicious assault by his father that Gregor begins his decline, mentally and physically.

This website was also particularly nifty and far more in-depth (peruse at your leisure).

All in all, I don’t think I missed as much subtext as I initially thought – I like to think that I take the time to take in the deeper meaning of the things I read, but I’m also not deluded about my reading habits- I read a lot and I read fast, I probably miss out on a fair chunk of the subtext in the books I read but in this case….. I AM A WINNER!!

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”
Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis