Book Review: Five Thousand, Three Hundred Miles, by Cecily Knobler

28425192I am not really into romantic novels as most of the times I have tried and get into one, and I either don’t feel related to the characters or I don’t like the story, and so I end up leaving it midway. However, I was gladly surprised when all the contrary happened whilst reading Five Thousand, Three Hundred Miles.

To put you into situation: Beth, the main character, receives a three days trip to London from her sister for her birthday, and, as expected, she falls in love during her trip. Almost half of the story is set in London, and the main character is a simple American girl to whom everyone can feel related to quite easily (because of the setting and the character itself, I am obviously not American). The first Irish man she meets in the story is the perfect representation of one of plenty you could easily find here any evening out (sadly), and the second and charming man, Jack, is the proper stereotypical image of the English gentleman, who is a bit less easy to relate to (they are endangered species), but who is obviously the one Beth falls for, giving the story that “Hollywood rom-com” atmosphere, which will make any young girl fall for this book.

What also surprised me is that, even though the way it is written is nothing too exceptional, the author achieves to be pretty funny and close to the reader, which matches the story and the characters involved in it pretty well.

“I wanted to ask him everything about his life just because he had an English accent. The same went for the cabbie, the gentleman in customs and the lady who took my train ticket. I wanted to Facebook friend request every single person I came across, but I decided to tone down the Yankee in me, if only for a moment.”

The story is written in first person narrator, but it switches from Beth to Jack, the charming English man, from chapter to chapter, which makes the whole thing a bit more interesting having these two points of view. Why so? Because *spoiler alert* their ways are separated before they can swap details, due to an unfortunate situation right before Beth is leaving to the airport, and so they cannot find each other once she returns to America. This gives the author a great opportunity to explore both characters months after this happened, as the author does not stay in a simple love story, but narrates more realistic situations in their now separated lives, like the fears of being with someone unsure if they are the right ones, the uncertainty of love and the fear for the unknown future. Yet, the part I liked the most was the one set in London, but mainly because here is where the change happens, and where the story gains its intensity.

“His eyes, now looking as green as Hyde Park, lingered on me for a moment. They then expressed a sentiment that read: “Please forgive me, but I can no longer not kiss you”. If only there were just one word for that. I’ll bet the French have it. But English speakers don’t, so thankfully we can read eyes.”

It was a lovely reading. It was also refreshing to read a new author for once, not knowing what to expect. Recommended for any hinting people out there who is avoiding romance; you may fall for this one.

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Book Review: The Vegetarian, by Han Kang

5fa98b3d-55de-498e-bc0c-4d568001aeb4_editedI have always believed that for a story to be good it has to have an interesting plot and it also has to be well written, and I try to found my inclinations on this. Therefore, and based on this, I will dare to say that I have not disliked a book this much since Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (oh yes, I did hate that one indeed).

I understand if some of you disagree. This book has great reviews, and it promised a lot at the beginning, and I chose it myself mostly because of the way it was written -or, at least, promised to be written:

“However, if there wasn’t any special attraction, nor did any particular drawbacks present themselves, and theferore there was no reason for the two of us not to get married.”

But before you even finish the first part, this greatness-to-be fades away and the book is just a quarter of what it could have been. It tries to tell the story about how a woman decides to stop eating meat and then everyone around her starts going nuts.The book is divided in three different parts, each part narrated by a different character, and all these narrators seem to be equaly unpersonal and noncredible, and as flat as the rest of the characters in the story.

For me, the reason why it does not make justice to its promise is mainly because there is too much going on and the author did not really solve the problem, and cahotically and barely put the story together, leaving the reader with that feeling of apathy towards the characters.

I hope you do not get me wrong, the “main” character Yeong-hye- “main”, as she does not really have a voice of herself in the story- is intense and surrealistic, and I do get why the book has got so much attetion, as it presents something new, but this character, a character one should be able to feel at least empathy for, simply feels emtpy and unreal. There are inclusions of dreams throughout the book, which aim to give the readers clues of what is on her mind, but to me they just seemed randomly placed and non-related, and, again, they did not comply their finality.

“Sleeping in five-minutes snatches. Slipping out of fuzzy conciousness, it’s back – the dream. Can’t even call it that now. Animal eyes gleaming wild, presence of blood, unearthed skull, again those eyes.”

The worst thing that can happen to you when reading a book is that the book conveys you nothing, and that is what happened to me with The Vegetarian. Easy and quick to read, not a pleasure.

New Purchases

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How many times have you heard “New Year, New Me” so far this new 2016? To me it is more like “New Year, New Reads”, and I am already planning what my reading list is going to include this year (open for sugestions as always).

So here are my picks of the month again, which are basically auto-christmas presents as I like to call them:

The Bachelors, by Muriel Spark

Interesting plot, intriguing idea, and good reviews all over the place, I will be very disappointed if I do not like this one. Set in London, it presents “The Bachelors” as its characters, and the torments these will too suffer, which means drastic changes and excentric situations, or at least that what I expect.

– Your Fathers, Where Are They? And The Prophets, Do They Live Forever?, by Dave Eggers

I mean, who is not attracted by that title? I am sure the “weird title” and the bright cover are a very well done marketing strategy, but I am certainly sold. Thomas and Kev, abductor and abducted respectivelly, find themselves in an abandoned military base, a perfect place for them to have “a conversation”, so high expectations for this one.

– How To Be Both, by Ali Smith

Not sure if I have the “camera” version or the “eyes” version of this book, but either way I am expecting something interesting and moving. It involves art and changes of time, mirrowing two different eras with different characters. Thanks to my friend Vivi for letting me borrow this one,  I have a feeling I am going to like it coming from her.

And I may be repeating the repeated now, but Happy New Year everyone, hope you have a good start and a better ending to this 2016, and please, read a lot.

Holi-yay

I’ve come back to the not-so-sunny-now Spanish coast for a few days right before Christmas, because it is my birthday and because the flight was way cheaper.

It is only a couple of hours in between the two countries, but I have decided to take some books with me, and, of course, bring some back with me as well.

My pick for the plane will not surprise anyone as I already mentioned this on my New Purchases blogpost: The lovely Franzen and his How To Be Alone. I really want to start this one, and I just thought it would be an easy reading for the waiting in the airport and the uncomfortable Ryanair seats, and a relief after The Vegetarian –and you will understand why soon. I will also bring some beloved books that I will have to abandon there, as the lack of space is starting to be an issue. Atonement and Pygmy among others, besides a HUGE AND GEORGEOUS compilation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels, praying for my suitcase to be within the weight limits.

From my old room I will bring some books I left behind when I moved to London. I will get back to Freedom by Franzen (I am repeating myself, I am not sorry), as I never finished it and I would like to do so before getting into Purity. I also have a feeling that I will bring some Classics with me as I am weak and I love a classic novel in winter time, but that will highly depend on the space I have left after I pack my suitcase with all sorts of Spanish goods.

I am excited to put on a real Christmas tree, and eat as much as I can,  avoiding the fact that I will be one year older when I come back, but that is not such a bad thing as I am still here after all. Read you soon.

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Book Review: Bark, by Lorrie Moore

3170385-9788845279096I love compilations of short stories. There is something really intense about them, a fixed moment on a bigger story, a memory, filling up the gaps with your own conclusions, and Lorrie Moore has proved to be pretty amazing at them.

The basis of the stories put together in Bark are nothing you could ever expect. You get easily trapped in them from the start, and when they come to an end you just want to know the rest of the story, where those characters come from and what happens next in their lives.It feels like finishing a meal whilst thinking what you are going to have for dessert.

I will also dare to say that the combination of the stories’ themes and the way they are written is close to perfection. Somehow Lorrie Moore has managed to transmit the characters’ feelings and thoughts through their actions, something that is already hard enough to achieve in novels, and this is another reason why I am so impressed by this work.

“At this my heart sickened and plummeted down my left side and into my shoe. My appetite, too, shrank to a small pebble and sat in stony reserve in the place my heart had been and to which my heart would at some point return, but not in time for dessert.”

To be fair, she is basically good with words. The combination of words is outstanding, and she does not fall in the routine of using literary jargon just for the sake of it, the words are simple and pure, and so the message gets transmitted smoothly, and, of course, she does not forget about giving the stories a touch of irony and humour as well.

“You could lose someone a little but they would still roam the earth. The end of love was one big zombie movie.”

“The plastic panel where the number should show was clouded as if by a scrim, a page of onionskin over the onion – or rather, over a picture of an onion. One depiction on top of another.”

The stories are intense and touching, easy to read but nonetheless perfectly put together. A book anyone would enjoy and no one would regret reading.

NEW PURCHASES

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When it comes to books, I have to admit that I am more of a buyer, as I tend to buy books and collect them in between my tiny room in London and my not so tiny room in Spain, and I feel quite proud of my little collection, although it does not make a difference if you like to spend money on books or you prefer to read for free in the library, the list of books to read is never ending, and so I guess I will have to rent a bigger room eventually.

Anyways, and regardless my lack of space, these are my picks of the month (only three, I’m taking it easy, I still have books that I bought last month and haven’t had a chance to read yet):

  1. The Vegetarian, by Han Kang

Excited about this one, I read the first page before buying it and I was already loving it. It is the story of Yeong-hye and her husband, and how their life changes when Yeong-hye starts seeking for a more ‘plant-like’ existence. Definitely doing a review after I finish it.

  1. How To Be Alone, by Jonathan Franzen

I know we can always expect something good from Franzen, as he does not publish anything he is not really happy about, but I have not heard about this one before, although it is supposed to be a collection of essays with critic tones, and I am a sucker for those.

  1. Hangover Square, by Patrick Hamilton

This was a random pick, I was basically attracted by the title and I did not even check what it was about when I bought it. It is set in London 1939, and it is supposed to be one of those convoluted stories you get yourself trapped in, so it seems worth reading.

Also, as you may have noticed walking down the streets after Halloween, it is Christmas season!  Which means Santa is coming with new books in his sack, and I think the 2016 list is going to be long…

Book review: Imperial Bedrooms, by Bret Easton Ellis

images  I am sure you all have watched American Psycho, and Bret Easton Ellis is the person we should all thank for such a master piece. Written with same satiric tones, Imperial Bedrooms will also play with your mind. Set in Hollywood, Clay is a current script writer who moves from New York to LA for the production of his new movie, and here is where everything gets complicated.

It is supposed to be a sort-of-continuation for Less Than Zero, although I skipped this prequel and went straight to the older Clay, but after reading Imperial Bedrooms I truly believe reading the first part would have helped me understand the character a bit better, which is not something easy to figure out through such an eccentric first person narrator.

From the beginning you can already tell it is going to be an intense story. Money, sex, drugs, you have all of those in this fiction, and it could not be any other way. The eccentricity of the work gives the plot and the character a tint of lunacy that will make you doubt throughout the whole thing.

The representation of the Hollywood society is what I loved the most. Bret Easton Ellis is a master in the art of “not saying anything but saying everything at the same time”. The background is explained by the actions of the characters themselves. Furthermore, the lack of punctuation marks and the overuse of the conjunction “and” will get you into the paranoiac of the situation, and the amok of the narrator’s mind.

“The movie was very different from the book in that there was nothing from the book in the movie.”

“She could be twenty. She could be thirty. You can’t tell. And if you could, everything would be over.”

If I had to choose one word to describe this work it would be chaos. If you can get easily offended and you dislike works with abundance of strange encounters and people that seem to be crazy, then you might want to skip this one, but I must say it is a sterling representation of the ostentatious life of Hollywood and the consequences of the greed for fame, and I do not regret reading it.

Favouritest

It is overwhelming how many books there are in the world, so picking up only a few favourites is not an easy thing to do, but I thought this would give you a better idea of what type of books I like the most and what my preferences are when it comes to reading. And no, you will not be surprised by my favourites if you are already into the art of the written word. I tend to be quite stubborn when it comes to reading, and I decided a long time ago I would read as many classics as I possibly can, as I want to see if they are as good as their recognition, and so my favourites tend to be classic readings that, honestly, everyone should read.

  1. Nine Stories, by J.D. Salinger

As it name announces, this is a compilation of nine short stories written by the Elvis of literature, J.D. Salinger, famous for his “The Catcher in the Rye” (and we all know why). Published in 1953, it has that characteristic simplicity of Salinger, combined with outstanding originality in the theme of his stories. Every single one of them gets you shockingly close to the “fuck-ups” of the world, in a beautiful literary way. Being “A Perfect Day for Banana Fish” my favourite one, none of them is disappointing and it is a great, if not the greatest example of the greatness of Salinger writing skills.

  1. The Great Gastby, by Francis Scott Fitzgerald

Oh the old 20s! There is something about the literature of this age that I love, and “The Great Gatsby” is the novel that really got me into it. Published in 1925, it can be summed up as a discectomy of the people of that era, with great romantic tones and amazing settings, that will definitely take you back in time. I am not much of a romantic myself, but I have to admit that no one has ever worked as hard as Jay Gatsby in order to get a woman, and I wouldn’t mind to be looked at the way he looked at Daisy Buchanan.

  1. Choke, by Chuck Palahniuk

Now you don’t know me yet, but if you did you would know that Palahniuk is my little baby. I have not yet disliked one of his novels, and I do not expect to dislike any in the future. Extremely shocking and explicit, his novels are not for everyone, but if you are like me and you like harsh language and difficult characters, then you will definitely add Choke to your favourites. The basics: sex addict with childhood traumas that earns a sad living by pretending to choke in restaurants, luring a “good Samaritan” into saving his life, asking them for money later on. You will probably dislike the character, but you will definitely recognise the greatness in this work.

  1. The 1984, by George Orwell

I decided to read this book during my uni days, a few years ago (not so many), and I am glad I did not know what the book was about before I got my hands into it. You will be disappointed if what you are expecting is hairspray and bad music, as this book is entirely set in a fictional world. Easy to relate to, the main character lives in a world of oppression, always watched by The Big Brother, unable to feel or express anything freely. It will definitely make you think about the world we live in, and it will show you the worst face of humanity. If you haven’t read it yet, it is a must.

  1. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner

Last but definitely not least. Harsh and realistic, it will make you go back in time, and the old times were not better. It is the story of Addie Bundren’s family, and their trip to Jefferson after her death (you were not expecting someone not to die with that title, right?). It is a story about honour, selfishness, death and sorrow, and a long trip full of misfortunes. It is also written in proper Faulkner way, so I would not recommend it if you don’t like jumps in the story line and non-expected changes of narrator.

Feel free to let me know which book is your favourite, I am more than happy to extend my already long to-read list.