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Reading Club Reviews ‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley

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Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Total Stars out of 5: 2.33

 

This book is a classic and clearly a dystopian version of a future world. Since it was written a few of the things he wrote about as fiction would now be considered fact and that in itself is more frightening than prophetic.

On the whole the reading club found it unusual and interesting but, did not enjoy the story.

The descriptions of this ‘Brave New World’ is quite chilling in many respects. The wholesale indoctrination of children from infancy, the test tube babies taken to the extreme degree, society has pretty much being turned on its head. The very things that make humans human has been eradicated as evil or outdated. A family, mother and father, marriage, in fact emotional attachments are discouraged or forbidden outright.  Their lives are ‘happy’ but only in the shallowest sense, all deeper meaning has been removed.  Being an individual is discouraged, you must listen to your programming and follow all the precepts set down by the Controllers. If this is the ‘only’ way to have a happy and stable society we want nothing to do with it!

We decided that instead of it being called a ‘Brave New World’ it should be called a ‘Horrible, Scary World!’

Reading Club reviews The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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4.5 Stars 

A truly entertaining magical piece of fantasy.

All of our readers enjoyed the beautiful descriptive writing of Erin. Some found the beginning a bit difficult to follow with the abrupt changes of time and scene, though others found the whole mystery of it all utterly engrossing.

Basically, there are two ancient magicians who set their two star pupils against each other to find out who is the best. The issues are that the pupils don’t know the rules, or how the winner is declared. The competition arena, is the Night Circus.

There is a great deal that is left to the reader’s imagination as not everything is completely explained, which only adds to the enigmas and magic entwined in everything. This is not an ordinary novel. We first get a full view of the almost playfulness of the magic and later the darker aspects of it are explored. How everyone involved in the circus whether directly or not is caught up in it and pays a price as well as benefits from it.

Walking through the circus is so beautifully written that it feels as if you are there, smelling the caramel popcorn and watching the white flames dancing. The joy of the circus permeates the pages, people who visit the circus leave it ever changed.

The love story between Marco and Celia is restrained, elegant and ultimately otherworldly in its strength and beauty. They ‘write love letters’ to each other through the different tents in the circus. The demonstrations of their affection to each other are so beautiful; so dazzling as to wish that everyone could find such love.

The competition though integral to the story becomes the hardest part to reconcile as the pages flip by and the costs mount up for the magic being used, the balancing that must be maintained. Some of these costs are very heavy, burdensome and even fatal. The darker side of the competition is shown in all it’s sinister aspects and we are left waiting for the ‘other shoe to drop’ so to speak.

To show that this book is not for everyone, half of our readers adored this book and would absolutely recommend it as a must read, and the other half were not at all convinced, conceding only that the descriptive writing was excellent but the plot felt thin.

 

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

Reader Review: 5 Stars

Thoroughly enjoyed this book. Emma is a consummate story teller. Her characters are so real and multi faceted that you cannot help but be completely drawn in. I highly recommend this book.

Reading Club reviews CHILD 44 by Tom Rob Smith

 Total stars: 4.66Photo 08-05-2017, 17 51 10

We all agreed that it was a very intense book and for those of us who weren’t fully aware of what it was like to live in Stalinist Russia during that time our eyes were surely opened!

This book takes you through the transformation of Leo Demidov from a complete ‘company man’ of the Russian State to a real person listening to his own sense of right and wrong.  We meet him as a no nonsense officer of the MGB willing and able to follow through on his orders and completely committed to succeeding. We also get glimpses of his insecurity because no one is safe under the scrutiny of the State. He is very aware of this and the long running jealousy of Vasily is a constant reminder of how much someone hates him and desperately wishes and works towards his downfall. From the beginning the life of Leo is shown for the stark reality it is. There is no happy family man here, or even a happy career man, it is purely survival in a very structured and dangerous place.

The relationship between Leo and his wife Raisa is another that is deep, raw and completely honest. Their relationship ebbs and flows according to the State plan, but the book takes a serious turn when Leo is faced with the decision of denouncing his wife. Seeing into their marriage is like facing a needed surgery, the inevitable pain is necessary to start the way to healing. Raisa is the stronger character in my view, never losing her sense of humanity but knowing how to hide herself in order to survive.

Leo’s decision starts a chain of events that leads to him discovering that murders are occurring the breadth of Russia, and since there is no crime in Russia he is the only one trying to convince anyone of the scary reality that a serial child killer/s is on the loose.  His commitment to this brings further scrutiny on him and he feels the full force of the authorities and experiences a complete reversal of circumstances. Where he was the one arresting people and transporting them to the most notorious prison Lubyanka, he is now the one in the prisoners seat.

There are twists and turns in this book that will knock the breath out of you. A seriously brilliant book.

On a personal note I found this book hit too close to home in regards to my own upbringing in the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Where Leo is hitting his head against a stone wall in trying to convince people of the danger they are ignoring, it reminded me very strongly of how difficult it is to convince or motivate the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Congregation Elders that the right thing to do when an accusation of child abuse comes to them is to immediately call the authorities. They instead stick to their own procedures in the face of irrefutable evidence and demonstrated experience that their procedures are dead wrong and need to be changed, they still refuse to listen and insist that their way of doing things is right and everyone else must be wrong.  They desperately work to keep their image clean just like the Russian Government insists that the State is always right. Thankfully there is an army of people worldwide working incredibly hard to expose there hurtful practices and in so doing protect the public from being sucked into this so called religion.

 

 

Bream Reading Club reviews The Good Father by Noah Hawley

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Bream Reading club met last night the 3rd April to discuss Noah Hawley’s work The Good Father.

(Spoilers ahead)

We found the book gripping but for the heavy historical accounts on other political assassinations – though it was agreed that the Father (Dr Allen) needed those accounts in his attempts to understand his son, no real connections were ever made to his son and his actions. Perhaps that was left to the reader but it left us wondering how it added to our own understanding of Dr Allen and his son’s relationship.

All the way through the book Noah manages to keep us hoping that Daniel was somehow in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the final blow is hard to take. The three men on the train kept us hoping that there was some kind of conspiracy, and to be honest global conspiracies have been born on far less.

The brutally honest look at Daniel’s life is haunting and painful in differing degrees. Here is a man that believes he should have died on an airplane when he was eight. It appeared to us that he was a child that desperately needed his parents and they were not there for him, something that damaged him to some extent. He shows extreme apathy and detachment, this is aptly demonstrated by him rolling of a girl during sex and just walking away. He deliberately chooses to leave university and go driving around the States on his own with no apparent plan for returning to normal life.

Obviously a parent cannot be responsible for everything that their grown child does in this life, but there are also realities that must be acknowledged, would he have behaved differently if his parents had not divorced and he still had the full support and foundation of a stable family? We think his detachment was born on that airplane and the line having being severed there was no way of reattaching it.

Dr Allen thinking that many other children who lived that kind of life of travelling to and fro between divorced parents, didn’t go on to kill anyone, just sounds like an excuse. A great deal of the book is Dr Allen desperately trying to understand what happened to his son, and to an extent ever more desperately trying to find out if he is responsible.

In his quest to either vindicate his son or himself, he neglects his younger sons and so threatens to repeat history. He had an image of Daniel that wasn’t true, and Daniel had an image of his father that wasn’t true either. They were two shadows trying to understand each other and failing.

The Father with his touch of arrogance was slightly better than the ex-wife, Daniel’s mother who was irresponsible and in turns blamed herself or blamed Daniel for everything that had happened. We placed a great deal of blame at her door as her selfishness was so glaringly apparent.

The way the book concludes is touching and gave us closure.  The woman Bonnie is shown to be far more open and loving to Daniel than his own parents were, and though we will never truly know the full story of Daniel’s motivations because of ‘those missing pages in the journal’ we do know that he was loved by others even if his own parents had semi-abandoned him.

Overall rating out of 5 = 4.33

Our next meet in May will be the 8th as the first Monday of the month is a bank holiday

 

Reading more in 2017!

The Reading Passport

Social media, political changes and financial unrest have been cultural standpoints so far in the ‘Teenies’. In a fast moving decade there has also been a move towards remembrances of things passed. In our final review for The Reading Passport we will look at a novel of whaling in the northern seas. This gripping story, though, is certainly not nostalgic!  Ian McGuire – The North Water (2016)

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The North Water by Ian McGuire

The pages of this novel are metaphorically dripping with blood. Sailors skin polar bears and club seal cubs. A sea captain shoots a mutineer in the head and a surgeon operates on an abscessed stomach releasing a torrent of fetid pus. This is not a book for the faint-hearted! Nor is it a book for those sensitive to bad language. There is swearing on almost every page. It is a story of a doomed Nineteenth Century whaling voyage: a voyage into the heart of darkness. The whole cruel and bloody business of whaling is so well researched that the language gives the tale an formidable reality.

The story opens violently. Drax, a brutish harpooneer kills a Shetlander and rapes a boy. Its clear when he joins his ship, The Volunteer that there will be trouble ahead. The Volunteer, owned by Baxter and captained by Brownlee, employs Patrick Sumner, wounded in the siege of Delhi, as the ship’s surgeon. He claims he wants six months’ work before he comes into property in Ireland. Shadowy motives and histories thicken around the crew of the Volunteer. Already there are rumours of risk: Brownlee has previously captained the Percival, “crushed to matchwood by a berg” with the loss of 18 lives and not a sixpence made by any of the surviving crew. And yet Baxter has now given Brownlee the Volunteer. An unlucky ship attracts unlucky and desperate men. As the story develops the men not only kill wild beasts, but also each other in a morally dead universe isolated in the treacherous northern seas.

The North Water is a fast paced and gripping tale written in a smoothly readable style with sublime descriptions of the Arctic landscapes. If you can stomach the blood and brutality, and the bleak vision where lives mean nothing, then you will find this a novel a convincing and compelling achievement.

If you enjoy The North Water you might like to read McGuire’s novel “Incredible Bodies”, a sordid and hilarious tale of sleeping on the job, sexual confusion, and terrifying departmental secretaries.

Ian McGuire lectured in American Literature at the University of Manchester, where he now teaches creative writing.

Reading More in 2017!

The Reading Passport

Noughties buzz words included globalisation and communication. In your Reading Passport Journey this week we will look at a novel by a Turkish writer, Orhan Pamuk.

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Snow by Orhan Pamuk 2002

Snow is a clever thriller that explores the dangerous relationship between Western secularism and Islamic fervor, and has clear resonance today. A Kafkaesque character known as Ka is stranded by snow in a north-eastern Turkish town called Kars. Ka is a poet and political exile who plays the part of an intrepid reporter investigating the suicides of a number of young women (one of which is stopped from wearing her Muslim headscarf at university). During his investigation, Ka finds himself caught up in a political coup organised by a revolutionary actor opposed to the Islamists and supported by the dreaded “Special Operations” force, MIT. He falls in love, witnesses an assassination, meets disaffected youth and writes poems in an attempt to arbitrate between the revolutionary forces and the Islamists. His end is terrible, but he is one of literature’s most moving heroes.

The novel is full of thrilling descriptions of murder, interrogations and sudden disappearances. But, the novel is more than just a thriller, examining the volatile arguments across a range of contentious issues from police surveillance, to what it is to be a Turk or European, to love, suicide and God. The novel’s relaxed realism and intelligent provoking demonstrates how novelists can expose important truths.

If you enjoy “Snow”, you might also like Orhan Pamuk’s “White Castle”, a novel about a young Italian scholar who is captured by the Ottomans and becomes the servant of a man eager to absorb the knowledge of the West.

Reading more in 2017!

The Reading Passport

 

The 1990’s was a decade of multiculturalism and alternative media.  Your Reading Passport journey continues with a look at “The Emigrants” by the German writer W. G. Sebald.  Sebald settled permanently in England in 1970, becoming Professor of German Literature at The University of East Anglia. He wrote all his books in German which were then translated into English.

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The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald

“The Emigrants” is an unusual book: part puzzle, part dream. Is it a fictional novel, or is it a memoir? Are the pictures that are interspersed through the text  really taken from a family album, or are they devices to give apparent authenticity to the text? And, how do the four stories of people vaguely known by Sebald fit together into a coherent narrative.

 

Dr Henry Selwyn, whom Sebald meets when renting a flat in Norwich was originally a poor emigrant from Lithuania. He became wealthy after moving to England. He married but became increasing estranged from his wife, and committed suicide with an old hunting rifle kept from his African hunting days. Paul Bereyer, Sebald’s gifted teacher in Germany also commits suicide by throwing himself under a train after suffering bouts of claustrophobia since the war. Sebald’s Great Uncle Ambros was butler to the Solomon’s of Long Island before committing himself to a Sanatorium in Ithaca. And, Max Ferber, a reclusive German artist Sebald met in Manchester kept quiet about his parents until , as he was dying, he gave Sebald his mother’s journal for the war years before she was sent to a camp.

Sebald’s prose style is very precise, and although cautious seems to simmer with implications. He writes of the small things that stick in the mind, building inexorably into a picture of catastrophic loss. Although the Holocaust is never mentioned by name, and the book is neither a novel, nor history, nor a witness statement, it becomes a powerful invocation of the private devastation’s of Jewish experience that lingered long after the war.

If you want to read more Sebald after “The Emigrants” try his book “Austerlitz”, the story of Jacques Austerlitz, a Jewish refugee child during the war trying to trace the fate of his father in Prague and Paris. Like his other books, it is a blend of history, reportage, memoir and fiction.

Reading more in 2017

The 1980s was a decade of technologies, music and fashions sparking a renewed vigour towards consumerism. New political thinking was creating new social structures, reflected in the literature of the decade. The feminist literature of Margaret Atwood marked the political mood. This week we take a look at her novel “The Handmaid’s Tale”.

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale uses her sensual intelligence and rigorous narrative gifts to portray in beautifully descriptive prose the life of an enslaved woman in a puritan dystopia ruled by men. Its a novel full of incendiary discussion and extraordinary scenes.

 Handmaids, Guardians, Angels, Eco wives, Marthas and Commanders all have defined roles in the Republic of Gilead, a bible oriented North American State established in reaction to the late twentieth century sexual permissiveness. Offred is a handmaiden, a woman capable of bearing children in a nation of plummeting birth rates. Her own husband and daughters are forbidden subjects of the past as she has to try and conceive a child with her Commander. But, even in an age of absolute submissiveness there are underground movements of protest.

 Offred’s account of her repressed life is a detailed description from some surviving cassette tapes found in a house two centuries later. Its a tale of her mental and physical degradation, and her fears of what has happened to her family and what will happen to her if she rebels. Some critics claim that the anger of its feminism dates it, but it is still a powerful evocation of the necessity of emotions.

 If you enjoy The Handmaid’s Tales, you might also like “Oryx and Crake” where she imagines a world in which humans are almost extinct and replaced by humanoid Crakes.

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