Monday, 29 October 2012

Books to Read When You Can't Sleep

Posted by Daisy
I HAVEN’T slept in a while. I’ve tried camomile tea, wine, hot baths, and exercise. Nothing works. Invariably I find myself lying in the dark tap-tapping on my phone and indulging in my new guilty pleasure – the Mumsnet Relationships forum. Nightly, I read posts entitled ‘He's left me for another woman’, ‘Is this behaviour normal?’, ‘Please help me I feel so low’ or ‘Do you think it’s ok to settle?’
It’s depressing and enlightening, and very addictive. Whole lives are played out by anonymous women posting their stories online and asking for the advice of strangers.
Insomnia also enabled me to read ‘The Casual Vacancy’ in two nights. JK Rowling described her book as ‘very English’ and initially, it did remind me of Sue Townsend’s ‘Adrian Mole’ series, with its bleak language of elections, council meetings and town planning. I hated Mole and his use of words like‘hoi polloi’ and ‘proletariat’, and thought ‘The Casual Vacancy’ would be similar.

But the characters in Rowling’s book make the story fizzle. There is Terri Weedon, the junkie mother who regularly sleeps with the local drug dealer, and her daughter Krystal, a rebel who had her moment to shine on the rowing team. There’s Parminder, the local doctor and her overweight teenage daughter Sukhvinder, who is being bullied daily by a schoolmate who posts links to hirsutism and hermaphrodite websites on her Facebook page. There’s the weak deputy head of the local comprehensive, who is hiding a grotty secret, and his wife, Tessa, the school counsellor, who wears lumpy green cardigans and wooden jewellery.  And Kay, a social worker in her thirties who moved to Pagdon with her beautiful daughter, Gaia, to further her relationship with Gavin Hughes, who has no intention of marrying her.
Everything is so banal and everyone is so grubby, hiding behind the fa├žade of life in a cobbled-streeted, flower-filled small town in England.
Just like Mumsnet, in fact. All these people with seemingly perfect lives, yet in reality they hide in bedrooms typing furiously into their phones about DH’s (Darling Husband) abusive tendencies, DP’s (Darling Partner) elopement with an OW (Other Woman) or MIL’s (Mother In Law) refusal to meet her first grandchild.
And like Mumsnet, the internet plays a pivotal role in the plotline of ‘The Casual Vacancy.’
My verdict: Definitely a slow starter, but soon shows its brilliance.
(Top illustration by Marc Johns)

Books for the Mellow Mood

Posted by Matilda
This is one of my all time favourite books to read when I want a reminder that I’m not the only one who chooses the wrong man – dark, unreadable, world weary. It goes hand in hand with the whiff of I-can-fix-you syndrome.
The protagonist Catherine is no exception. The story follows the relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff – an orphan taken in by her father. Though she falls for him, Catherine is encouraged to marry a boy of her own class, Edgar, leaving Heathcliff pining over his lost love by showing Catherine what a poor choice she has made. It is clear Catherine has no passion for her husband but it begs the question - why doesn’t she want Edgar Linton? His love is no less intense than Heathcliff’s and has none of the controlling, self obsessed qualities either but it’s not enough. It never is. It’s simple. He is predictable and safe. The strength of this book lies in the flawed characters – unmistakably human and identifiable.
This book makes me feel good about myself. I will no longer make the same decisions once I re-read it. I am much more aware of the pitfalls of falling for the emotionally unavailable man. I could tell Catherine a thing or two.
You can read this book easily in one sitting. However, it should come with warning – the reader will cry. Lots. If I’m feeling weepy with nostalgia for lost love, I take out this book reminding me  of the futility of a relationship without communication. I don’t mean the hours on the phone and the usual time you spend with a loved one, I’m talking out-in-the-open, raw and honest. What’s really going on.
This book charts the journey of young newly-weds. One of the skills of McKeon is to successfully create a time frame of one day (Saturday, for example) or a single weekend, like we have in this book.  It’s beautifully written, the language evocative and the images carefully structured to mirror the young couples’ relationship. Often it’s the language used that speaks more than the story itself.



Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Books with a little more bite!

Posted by Jenny
The clock strikes midnight. Instead of leaving, Cinderella kicks off those damn slippers and orders another vodka and Red Bull.
What if Cinderella lived in this day and age? I imagine that she could have grown up in foster care. This Cinderella is vulnerable, has low self-esteem but knows how to fight her corner. Would she be invited to a prince's ball? My Cinderella is more likely to end up at a house party, do a variety of shots, perhaps take some pills, and end up having a little some-some with a guy in a corner. If that was the ball, she'd meet her prince. I'd worry about the quality of said prince, and what would her happily-ever-after look like.
Within the make-believe settings of fantasy novels, I like the characters to be believable. That suspension of disbelief only happens for me if the protagonist makes sense. Female characters that go through serious hardship or, in Cinderella's case, endure significant abuse and neglect, generally don't go to balls and become princesses. They fight hard for their space in the world and have a story to tell.

One of the reasons why I enjoy Kelley Armstrong's 'Bitten' is because Elena resembles a modern-day Cinderella. Within the werewolf culture (hot!), Elena figures out who she is, what she needs and what that means for her without allowing herself to be coerced by steamy kisses from a half-naked werewolf built like a brick shithouse. (Although there's plenty of that too) (double hot!)
Go on! Give it a go and see if you agree!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Books for the Newly-Single

Posted by Daisy
Vanhercke Christiaan copyrighted & licensed for further re-use
IT’S Saturday night and I’m sitting in watching ‘Sex and the City’ re-runs, eating beans on toast, and anything else I can find it the cupboards.

This day last week I was on a river cruise in the sun, dressed up in a fur coat and silk scarf for a Mad Men themed hen party, sipping vodka and elderflower cocktails. The weekend before that, I was singing ‘Going to the Chapel’ at another hen party in West Cork.

And the week before that, I was in Italy, on a two-week holiday with my boyfriend - people-watching and drinking vodka and coke from a kiosk for hours on the esplanade in Salerno, eating mussel and bean soup from a sunset balcony in Positano, and sampling balsamic vinegar and making pizza on a Foodie tour of Rome.

But somewhere near the end of the holiday, we had ‘The Chat’ and decided that we weren’t, in fact, compatible. The fact that I am six years older than him may have had something to do with it.

So I’m single again. A state I know inside out at this stage of my life. I couldn’t face the usual drama of tears and texts. So I decided to skip it. Like a dynamo, I organised lunches, visited all the friends-with-babies that I hadn’t seen in ages,  and had many nights out. I didn’t mention the break-up to anyone for three weeks. Until I was able to talk about it without crying. I watched soppy movies (e.g. The Vow/The Notebook) whenever I felt sad. And I re-read the books I always read after a break-up.

I’ve read it about five times and it always makes me feel better. The protagonist, Julie, lives in a horrible apartment in Brooklyn with her husband. Her job bores her. So she decides to cook her way through ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking'. This book comforts me in two ways – 1) Julie is hitting 30 and hasn’t figured out her life yet and 2) Reading about artichoke leaves dipped in butter, and potato soup, and cooking lobster, and extracting marrow from a cow’s bone makes me forget about my broken heart – while reading this book, I just feel hungry.

Unashamedly chick-lit, this book also makes me feel better about myself after a break-up. The Godmother has random one-night stands, most of her friends are married with kids, and she spends lots of time shopping or drinking with vapid friends of friends. Her feelings are my feelings sometimes.

Drought has come to a small town in America. The people are hot, restless and frightened of losing their homes and farms. The local banker, a woman in exile from another city, calls for the Rainmaker. His arrival brings upheaval and strange events begin to occur.

This is a comfort book, purely because the writing is so evocative that the pages of the book begin to smell damp and earthy while reading it. I’ve seen this book in lots of second hand shops, and I think it may have been free with a magazine. I love it.