THIS MONTH'S BOOK REVIEWS...THIS MONTH'S BOOK REVIEWS
James Gault reviews The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
This best-selling world-famous masterpiece, studied all over the world in literature courses, hardly needs another review. But no matter what has been said before, I can always find something new to add. No matter how erudite and thorough past critics have been, I am able to find new insights. There is no end to my arrogance, I’m afraid.
I won’t be saying anything controversial when I assert this is a great book by a great author. But will you, the new prospective reader, like it? Now there’s a question.
Do you read criticism of the real world into fictional works about dystopian societies? Are you sympathetic to protests over the exploitation of women? Does the misuse of power disgust you? Do class distinctions appal you? If yes, you’ll find a lot here to get your indignation juices to flow freely.
But novels aren’t just about social issues, are they? Will you like this subjected heroine, enslaved as a surrogate mother to the aged infertile ruling classes? Will you admire her, or will shout at the pages, telling her to stop being so docile and do something about it. Will you find her sexual involvement with the other hired help uplifting or sleazy? Offred, the heroine of this tale, is a hard woman to sympathise with.
Then there is the tone of the novel. Margaret Atwood is a brilliant writer, so you’re not going to be able to gloss over it. Life in the dystopian regime of Gilead is dark, dangerous and most of the time monotonous. The novel is the story of a woman whose life consists of programmed humiliating sexual encounters at the service of the rulers of society, interspersed with long boring periods which she has to fill up with... something. An action-packed fast-moving story it is not. Atwood will make you feel exactly like the girl feels, and it will not be a good. Will the lessons you learn be valuable enough to compensate for the pain?
This is a brilliant well-written book about serious issues which matter. A worthy work, but are you a worthy enough reader to take it on?
James Gault reviews Morvern Callar by Alan Warner
This book is published in the Vintage Modern Classics series. I’m not convinced it’s a classic, but it is a cult novel. Reading it, it feels like a celebration of the eighties and nineties in the UK in the same way that Kerouac’s On the Road celebrates the fifties in the US, or Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer celebrates the thirties in Paris.
It’s a first person novel with a distinctive diction that evokes the time, the social status and the ‘edge of civilisation’ location. The narrative voice is uncompromising in this refusal to make allowances for readers who are unfamiliar with the times, the people and the places of the setting. If the amoral behaviour of the main character doesn’t distance us enough from her, the inclusion of long playlists of long-forgotten minor hits puts the uninitiated reader firmly on the outside looking in on the life of this weird and strange woman.
Structurally and philosophically, I was reminded of Camus’s L’Etranger (The Outsider). For the first part of the book, Morvern, like Mersault, wanders through life in an unconventional, amoral and hedonisitic orgy, a lost soul in an absurd world floundering with no real purpose. Then, in the second, she gets fleeting impressions of a reason for living, as she flirts with religion and comes to terms with the responsibilities heralded by pregnancy. A philosophical resolution similar to that experienced by Mersault in his trial and impending execution.
All in all, though, I thought the philosophical messages and social and psychological lessons were mere undercurrents to the main flow of the book. It was essentially a depiction of life for certain people at a certain time. I’m too old and too distant for it to be familiar for me, and I felt a lot went over my head. But if you are a child of these times, I would suggest this book is for you.
Ted Bun reviews The Real Story Of The Boat That Rocked by Ray Clarke
The story of Radio Caroline, written by someone who was there, for part of it. A well written book sprinkled with dozens of amusing, scary and totally mundane anecdotes collected from former DJs, the Owners, office workers and supporters of Britain’s first commercial radio station.
The book covers the heady early days of the Station in the 1960s, through the low times, the shipwrecks, being impounded, to the modern day.
Radio Caroline still transmits to the East of England, 24 hours a day- everyday, on the medium wave and to the rest of the world via DAB and the Internet. They use the Radio Caroline ship, the Ross Revenge (a record breaking trawler before she became a broadcast ship) for a monthly broadcast under the guise of Radio Caroline North.
The book is illustrated with a selection of photographs, many of which unless you are a transmitter-mast nerd, look much the same.
I found it to be an interesting read.
Ted Bun reviews A Friend in Need by Elizabeth M. Hurst
A second story set in the same village and involving characters we met in Siren Spirit.
Once again we have a well written and engaging story of spirits trapped in a place beyond their time, while people try to deal with the issues in their own lives.
The representation of Selena’s depressive illness and behaviour is one of the best I have encountered in fiction.
A likeable story, a good fireside read for a cold winter’s evening … or maybe on a sun lounger by the pool.
James Gault reviews The Chain by Adrian McKinty
The writer has done everything right in this tense thriller about kidnapping in the high-tech twenty-first century USA. Yet it took me a long time to get involved in the story.
The plot involves a series of child abductions where the ransom is not only money, but the requirement to kidnap another child in order to get your own back, creating a terrifying chain which proves a real challenge to break. It’s an intriguing puzzle that has the reader guessing at every turn – just as it should.
The story runs along at break-neck speed, the tension is ramped up from the first sentence, the plots twists and turns at every revelation, everything a good thriller needs to grab and hold the reader’s attention.
In this genre, character development tends to be less important than the action, and this is the case here too. Nevertheless, the characters are interesting. As well as with the kidnapping, they each have to deal with their own personal problems: cancer, drug addiction, for example.
The cover of the book is splashed with accolades from other top thriller writers, and yet I found the novel slow to start with. I can’t even really say why; for some reason I just didn’t engage with the characters at first. However, once I got over that initial barrier, it was a true page turning story and I raced thought it right to the end.