Monday, 19 June 2017

Review of 'The Great Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Review of 'The Great Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I'm a BIG fan of BBC1's Sherlock series. I'm always gutted that each series is only three episodes long, but they are incredible. And yet, I've put off reading any Sherlock Holmes novels for years. I've always wondered how an entire show with multiple series' could be based around a couple of books, but now I see: each chapter of the novels (I assume it's the same for all of Conan Doyle's works as well as The Great Adventures) encompasses a new mystery. 

Sherlock Holmes has become a household name because he is the first detective in the English literary crime canon who used intuition to solve crimes rather than clues. This strikes a massive difference to what would then have been more traditional mysteries. I am a big fan of the intuitive detective: TV crime shows are my thing, and The Mentalist (a show all about a man using his intuition to solve crimes) is one of my favourites. I can't imagine this genre not existing. 

Also, now that I've read one of the books, I can see how Benedict Cumberbatch is the PERFECT fit for playing Sherlock Holmes. The detective is quirky, tall, and likes to brood. I honestly couldn't imagine anyone else playing him so well. Anyhow, let's actually get on to reviewing the book shall we?

The novel is written from the perspective of Dr Watson, who is Sherlock Holmes' second-hand man. Watson is always a few steps behind Sherlock, but he documents their adventures together. The pair come up against an array of mysteries in the novel, including kidnapping, bank robbery and murder. Sherlock always has a great many cases that he is being asked to work on, often by Scotland Yard, as his opinion is so highly revered.

Once on the scene of a crime, Sherlock sets to work examining every last detail visible to the naked eye. From here, and from interviewing witnesses, or the victims of the crimes, he begins to form an image of who may be responsible, or what exactly is going on. Then he is able to make a focused inquiry into the crime and ultimately arrive at his conclusion far before anyone else can.

If you're interested in crime novels, especially how they've developed in the last few centuries, then I would definitely recommend giving this a go!


Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Review of 'Highly Illogical Behaviour' by John Corey Whaley

Review of 'Highly Illogical Behaviour' by John Corey Whaley

I really haven't read a good number of mental health related fiction novels, despite being very interested in the genre. Highly Illogical Fiction is a young adult book which deals with acute agoraphobia and the anxiety that comes with it. In my opinion, the author tackles the subject excellently: there are no sudden cures to the protagonist's mental illness,  but there is gradual improvement, and that's what recovery is all about. 

Solomon hasn't left the house in three years. Not even just to enter his back yard. Three years ago, things came to a head with Solomon's mental health, and he had a breakdown at school, stripping down, jumping into a fountain and staying there until he was removed. After that, he realised he couldn't bear leaving the house again. His panic attacks had become so frequent and so severe that they were no longer something he could handle.

Three years on and Solomon is doing a little better. Yes, he doesn't leave his home, but he keeps up with schoolwork and the panic attacks are less frequent, albeit they still occur. Everything is going fairly smoothly, and nothing is changing: just as Solomon wants. That is, until Liza comes around.

Liza Praytor wants nothing more than to leave her hometown by getting a scholarship to a good university to study psychology. But she needs to write a paper on her experience with mental illness. Not suffering from a mental illness herself, Liza hardly believes her luck when she goes to a new dentist and it turns out to be Solomon's (aka the crazy fountain kid's) mum. After a little snooping, Liza finds out that he's still stuck at home, and decides to befriend him and write her paper on how she's going to help to make him better.

Solomon reluctantly agrees to meet with this girl who sent him a letter via his mother, asking for them to be friends. Their friendship blossoms, and she begins to help him with his panic attacks. There's just one problem: Solomon has no idea that this is all going on record; an experiment aimed to get Liza the place at university that she wants ...

Have you read it? What did you think?

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Review of 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' by Truman Capote

Review of 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' by Truman Capote

And I said, what about, Breakfast at Tiffany's, she said she thinks she remembers that film.

I've had these lyrics stuck in my head for as long as I've been reading this novel, and I'm pretty sure everyone's sick of me constantly singing it. It goes to show how much this novel has affected modern culture: we have songs about it, a film about it. Speaking of the film, it features one of Audrey Hepburn's most iconic acting and looks. I had to see what all the fuss was about.

I was honestly surprised with the sexual liberation that emerged in Breakfast at Tiffany's. It actually challenges some conservative ideas that people still hold today. Holly Golightly, our protagonist, is essentially an escort. She earns her way through life by attaching herself to rich men, and doing (mostly) what they wish. Despite being accused of whoring herself out by several characters, Holly has only slept with seven men. 

Sadly for our narrator, he was not one of the seven, and at some points I'm sure he would have loved to have been. Through him, we realise that Holly is a woman who will never be boxed into a corner. All her possessions are eternally ready to move at any point. She can flit from one lover to another. She's almost an ethereal being in this respect: things and people don't impact Holly, Holly impacts things and people. 

I was truly surprised, and honestly happy to see that Holly was not straight. This is probably the oldest book that I've read in which a bisexual main character exists, and is free with the information about it. There are points at which Holly calls herself a 'dyke' in pretense; she uses the word to get out of sexual encounters with men. However, she does mention having sex with a woman at one point. This unfortunately fits into the homophobic rhetoric of bisexual women being promiscuous and sleeping around, but we do find out that Holly does not have as much sex as she seems to be having. 

I think this is such an important book to read, and to compare to American novels written a couple of decades beforehand. I haven't read many North American books written in the early 1960s, so it really felt like a massive shift was had when I came across this.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Review of 'The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes' by Anna McPartlin

Review of 'The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes' by Anna McPartlin

I knew this novel would be a tear-jerker from the start, but I wasn't prepared for just how attached I'd get to all of the characters. Reading this book made me feel like I was part of the Hayes family, and to ultimately lose one of them was devastating. Also, I haven't put a spoiler alert on this because the title makes it fairly clear that we're going to lose somebody during the course of the story.

Mia Hayes has been coined Rabbit ever since Johnny, a member of her older brother Davey's band coined the name for her due to her high long pigtails, and habit of scrunching her nose up to push her glasses up. Rabbit is obsessed with Johnny, and despite being four years younger than him, she never loves another boy. She spends all her spare time listening to Kitchen Sink, the band, playing in her parents' garage, and even ends up becoming their sound engineer when they start doing actual gigs.

This isn't how the reader first meets Rabbit though. We meet her as she's moved into a hospice to ease the pain she's suffering from with her stage four cancer. Rabbit thought the cancer was gone after it took her first breast, and then her second, but now it's so deep-rooted that it's made its way into her bones, and she's suffering from a serious break. 


What's worse is that no one can quite stomach the idea of telling Rabbit's 12-year-old daughter Juliet. Neither Rabbit nor Juliet know who Juliet's father is, and so it's always just been the pair of them, sticking together. The rest of the family: Rabbit's parents and her siblings, have rallied round. No one wants to believe that sweet Rabbit is quite literally on her death bed, and we go through a journey with each family member and how they begin to accept that they might lose their Rabbit.

This was such a beautiful novel. I would definitely recommend it!

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Review of 'Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman' by Mary Wollstonecraft

Review of 'Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman' by Mary Wollstonecraft

We've all heard of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, but Shelley's mother's literary-political works are much less well-known. Today I'm going to be talking about one of them. Maria, or the Wrongs of  Woman is an early radical feminist novel, which unfortunately has no ending. There are several fragmentary endings, but none are complete or fully coherent, as the author died before she had finished the work; it was published posthumously by her husband. 

The novel commences with Maria in an asylum. Her husband has placed her in there, as she attempted to flee his control, and has seized her child. Maria is completely sane. The woman who waits on her, Jemima, soon comes to realise this, and sneaks books in for her to read. These she shares with a fellow inmate Dartford. He's been put in the asylum because of a night on which he drink far too much; he too is sane. The pair begin to communicate through writing on the margins of the texts they both read. 

Soon, Maria begins to fall for Dartford. He becomes more and more intrigued by her character and ultimately requests her to spell out her past to him. Maria's husband seemed like a wonderful man prior to their marriage, but she soon realises that he's a libertine. As well as spending all of their money with no cares, he repeatedly cheats on her. Maria draws further away from him, and the idea of having sex with him becomes abhorrent. He forces himself upon her and Maria gets pregnant. Things are getting worse and worse, and Maria knows she needs to get away, but the social climate simply won't allow it...

Have you read it? What did you think?

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Review of 'The Story of an African Farm' by Olive Schreiner

Review of 'The Story of an African Farm' by Olive Schreiner

Whenever I read a novel from the first-wave feminism era, my reaction is generally split into two: I'm either shocked at how forward-thinking the novelist is, or appalled at how restricted their thinking is. The Story of an African Farm falls into the former category. 

As it's part of first wave feminism's literary movement, although the novel is set in Africa, we don't see any intersectional feminism. It's very much about a Dutch white family living in South Africa and how they approach feminist ideals.

At the beginning of the novel, the three protagonists Em, Lyndall and Waldo are children. Waldo is an overtly Christian boy, who believes in the teachings his father passed down to him, whilst Lyndall constantly expresses more modern ideas about the world she lives in. 

Lyndall leaves the farm to study at a boarding school, but comes home disheartened at the fact that they teach her 'women's duties' such as sewing. She wanted to learn about the world, become more adept in mathematics and scientific study. Back at the farm, Em has fallen for a man named Gregory, who loves her easy feminine acquiescence and mannerisms. He hates Lyndall when he first meets her: she is abrupt, outspoken and 'unwomanly'. But soon he sees a charm in her that he overlooked at first. Now Gregory falls for Lyndall.

Gregory asks for Lyndall's hand in marriage. She however, has other ideas. Lyndall does not plan to get married, ever. She's in love with a stranger, whom the others have never met, but tells Waldo that she intends to cohabit with this man. She does not wish to marry as she wants both herself and her lover to be free to move on if the relationship wears thin. This was obviously quite a revolutionary idea at the time, and it's interesting to see how Schreiner lets it play out.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Review of 'The Beautiful and the Damned' by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Review of 'The Beautiful and the Damned' by F. Scott Fitzgerald

We all love The Great Gatsby, right?! It's practically a rite of passage in the UK if you do an English A-Level. I studied it for a second time whilst I was at university, and out of my 15-person seminar, only 1 person hadn't studied it before, and that was because they were an international student with a very different curriculum. 

I loved TGG. It was the simplest book to analyse - I mean, the colour symbolism is good enough to keep you writing for days. I knew that I'd want to read more works from Fitzgerald in the future. 

The Beautiful and the Damned strangely reminded me more of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath than TGG. It had the same soul-crushing destruction of the ideal of the American Dream. As you moved through the book, you began to realise just how hollow the protagonists Gloria and Anthony were; not hollow as characters, but hollow as people. They were empty shells of people, filled with airy dreams. As we move throughout the book, piece by piece their dreams start to crumble, and by the end, the pair have nothing inside them anymore. 

Anthony Patch is the grandson of an infamous New York philanthropist. As such, he feels it's a bit pointless to work: he's going to inherit a fortune one day, so why bother? Gloria is a beautiful young woman who has the attention of any and every man she could want. Yet, she just toys with them: none really appeal to her until she meets Anthony. His flippant cynicism awakens something in her, and she finally finds herself actually wanting a man.

After their marriage, things get a little rocky. Anthony's once proficient allowance from his grandfather is a lot less useful when stretched between two people. The amount of parties, having two homes and buying new clothes all the time hardly helps either. As he gets more stressed about their financial situation, Anthony beings to drink heavily. 

They're having the time of their lives, and the hangovers from partying the night before are worth it for the party itself. That is, until Anthony's grandfather (who advocates prohibition) walks in unexpectedly during one of their drunken flings. He struts out, disgusted by the pair, and dies a few weeks later. They're no longer in his will. Now begins a great legal battle to have Anthony re-instated as legal heir to at least part of the millions the old man had amassed. As the battle goes on, Anthony and Gloria become more and more disillusioned with the lives they lead, and it's not until Anthony trains for the war that they realise how pointless their existence had become

Have you read it? What did you think?