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3.5 Star Book Review

Book Review: The Mark-2 Wife by William Trevor

10562183Title: The Mark-2 Wife

Author: William Trevor

Genre: Short Stories, Fiction

“It’s like gadgets in shops.  You buy a gadget and you develop an affection for it… but all of a sudden there are newer and better gadgets in the shops.  More up-to-date models.”

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository


review

I had no idea that Penguin did a mini classics collection, so stumbling upon this book was really exciting.  I’m not all that familiar with William Trevor (I seem to spend most of the time accidentally calling him Trevor Williams for some reason), but this collection of three ‘slice of life’ short stories really appealed to me.

The first story, ‘The Mark-2 Wife’, was probably my favourite.  In this story, the longest in the collection and oldest (it was first published in 1972), a woman waits alone at a party full of strangers for her husband, and becomes increasingly more paranoid that he is cheating on her as the hours pass.  She is looked after by an elderly couple who grow concerned for her health throughout her anxious episodes.  What I loved about the story was that the focus quickly shifted from Anna Mackintosh onto the elderly couple, General and Mrs Ritchie, and their quiet conversations conveying their worried thoughts for Anna.  As a reader, I spent much of the story wondering whether Anna was suffering from mental illness (the way her anxieties spiraled out of control was very convincing) or was actually right about her husband, and the events are wrapped up with a surprising and clever ending.

The second story, ‘The Time of Year’, didn’t really do much for me.  It follows the thoughts of a university student at an end-of-term party, who reminisces back with great sadness to an idea she had with her first love to go swimming at Christmas, which ended in tragedy.  However, I found that most of the story didn’t move me at all, and I think this was because there were so many characters at the party, and so many things going on that I found too distracting.

The final story, ‘Cheating at Canasta’, luckily redeemed the collection for me, in which a middle-aged man revisits a restaurant in Venice he used to enjoy dining at with his wife.  During the visit, he overhears an unhappy conversation between an American couple, which prompts memories of his own.  It wasn’t an exceptional story, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  There was also a line in it that I found particularly poetic: ‘Belittling melancholy, he shook his head.’  ‘Cheating at Canasta’ was certainly the saddest story of the three, and ended the collection with a bittersweet note that I found quite effective (ye olde book hangover strikes again).

Marriage was an uncalculated risk, Mallory remembered saying once.  The trickiest of all undertakings, he might have called it, might even have suggested that knowing this was an insurance against the worst, a necessary awareness of what unwelcome surprises there might be.

The collection as a whole had a very melancholy feel to it – it wasn’t necessarily the easy read I thought it would be, in that sense.  I think overall, particularly with that completely unmoving middle story, I wouldn’t rush out in search of more William Trevor books, but the mini classics concept by Penguin is ingenious and it made a perfect read for my daily commute.

Star Rating: ★★★½ (3.5/5)

Have you read any of the stories in this collection?  What are your thoughts on them?

Emma

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September 26, 2016
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Book Review: In Real Life by Cory Doctorow

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow

Title: In Real Life

Authors: Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang (illustrator)

Genre: Graphic Novel, Fiction, Young Adult, Fantasy

First Published: 2014

“This life is real too. We’re communicating aren’t we?”

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository | Amazon


review

In Real Life is a stunning graphic novel about teen Anda and her time spent on the MMORPG, Coarsegold Online.  Initially joining a clan to eliminate players who break the rules, she soon befriends one of the players she has sworn to destroy – he teaches her that things aren’t always as clear-cut as they appear, and that behind the game avatars are real people.

I was intrigued by this story since I’d first heard about it – I was curious to see how the online world would be portrayed.  I’ve dabbled in MMORPGs before and agree with the benefits of online gaming (and can also sympathise with the misunderstanding parents conundrum that Anda faces).  I thought the book approached gaming from a fair and neutral perspective; it showed the benefits of the community and the real friendships online gaming can forge, and also presented the downsides, exploring such things as cultural differences.  It appreciates the immense power of the Internet, and how online communications can affect real life.

Don’t just think because it’s video games people can’t get hurt.

The story was shorter than I had expected.  Events seemed to happen very quickly, and there are some areas that could have benefited from further development.  For example, I think I would have liked to have seen the friendship between the two main characters grow outside of the game; I would certainly buy any sequel produced that continued their stories.

The illustrations were one of the best parts of the book – the character creation page was particularly fascinating to look at, and the busy fantasy world scenes were colourful and exciting.

Overall the story was easy to read, and I finished it in just over half an hour.  I would read it again, but the plot wasn’t quite as exciting as I had expected.  Considering the landscape they had to play with, I was hoping for something more like Username: Evie, but instead IRL focused more on morals and culture than adventure.  It’s a shame that the story didn’t quite meet my expectations, as paired with those gorgeous drawings, it could have been a winner.

Star Rating: ☆☆☆½ (3.5)

Have you read this book?  What are your thoughts on it?

Emma

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May 16, 2016
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Book Review: Here by Richard McGuire

Here

Title: Here

Author: Richard McGuire

Genre: Fiction, Graphic Novel

Do you remember the guy who used to live here?

Goodreads | The Book Depository


review

I’ve just finished this intriguing graphic novel, after being drawn in by the simplicity of the cover.  The book follows a room over
millions of years, how it develops from a patch of land to the home of a number of different people.

It is an easy read – I finished it in no more than half an hour – but it is interesting to follow the lives of the house’s occupants.  In the years before the house is built, we see the history of the building behind the plot, and I love how much is revealed of the family who lived there, and how the age of the house is commented on even when it is obscured by the walls of the room and we can no longer see it.  The book is never just about what is inside the room, but about the entire space around it too.

From the book, I got the sense that the author could have taken any square of land anywhere in the world and written a history of it that was engaging and entertaining.  It made me think of my own house, of what stood there several hundred years ago, let alone thousands or millions.

Speech bubbles hold snippets of conversation – this one made me smile, reminding me of my own soppy dogs.

The illustrations are too simple at times, but that’s probably just because I am not a huge fan of minimalist art.  In the context of the book, they seem appropriate, but particularly at the beginning I got the feeling the same scene has just been copied and pasted onto multiple pages with little change.  Arguably, this shows how in that time period, there was little activity in the room, but I still found it a bit boring.

I can’t say I would pay the £22.99 retail price The Book Depository are asking for it, though really it is more a piece of art than a book, and I would love to have it on my shelf to flick through now and again.  Personally, I found that no mountains were moved for me, but it is still a beautiful concept for a book.

Star Rating: ★★★½ (3.5/5)

Has anyone else read this book?  If so, what did you think of the minimalist art style?

Emma

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September 29, 2015
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Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl

Title: Fangirl

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Contemporary

Format: Paperback

‘To really be a nerd, she’d decided, you had to prefer fictional worlds to the real one.’

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository


review

Being a bit of a geek, my initial thought, before I even opened the book was: ‘I am going to love this’.  I wasn’t exactly right, I didn’t love it, but I did enjoy it, though not for the reasons I thought I would.

The story follows Cath, a socially awkward writer of fanfiction, who moves away from home to start college with her twin sister, Wren.  It is quite a difficult book to summarise, as there are a lot of issues tackled.  Cath must make peace with her social anxieties and adapt to being separated from her more outgoing twin and her mentally unstable father, not to mention pass her classes and attempt to befriend her outspoken and slightly terrifying room mate Reagan and Reagan’s ‘sort of’ boyfriend.  I couldn’t help but feel that Rowell was trying to squeeze too many personal battles into one book, and I don’t know if any one of them was focused on enough to make me feel like there was any closure for Cath.  At the same time, I applaud Rainbow Rowell for showing how difficult those college years can be to juggle everything.

Sadly, I feel that the loaded promise of the ‘Fangirl’ title was ultimately a bit disappointing.  The fanfiction element relates to Cath’s love of writing about the characters in the famous Simon Snow series (which I figured was meant to be a Harry Potter spoof).  However, because I’m not familiar with the Simon Snow series (seeing as it was created for the book), the excerpts from her writing meant little to me, and I found myself skimming over them, uninterested (though obviously I appreciate that she couldn’t just steal Harry Potter due to copyright).

Nevertheless, I did enjoy Fangirl, and like with all of Rowell’s books, I zoomed through most of the story with enthusiasm.  I did find Cath and eventually Wren quite relatable, even if Regean’s character was too sour-faced to be believable.  I almost gave this book four stars, because I did have an hour’s book hangover after reading, but I think I wanted to like this book more than I actually did.  I didn’t feel the fanfiction theme was dealt with in a way that made it engaging for me as a reader, but I’m definitely curious to read books of a similar nature (maybe some comparisons would change my perspective).

Star Rating: ☆☆☆ (3.5/5)

Emma

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May 13, 2015
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