Review | We Were Liars – E Lockhart

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Paperback (Hot Key Books, 240 pages)

First published 2014; this edition published 2014

Rating on Goodreads: 5 stars

“We are the Liars.

We are beautiful, privileged and live a life of carefree luxury.

We are cracked and broken.

A story of love and romance.

A tale of tragedy.

Which are lies?

Which is truth?”


What an intriguing, twisting, intelligent story. Even those it’s a short novel, it really does manage to pack a punch, and I was left reeling by the time I turned the last page. I won’t elaborate further on the  plot, save that it will shock you and make you think twice about everything.

Honestly, read it. YA may not be your thing, but We Were Liars is one of those books that manages to transcend the genre and pass into adult fiction. It might have hints of Gossip Girl, but We Were Liars is infinitely cleverer, better fleshed-out, and somehow more evocative despite the short length.

Admittedly, I read this because of the hype surrounding We Were Liars – kudos to Hot Key Books for the successful marketing campaign – but I don’t regret falling onto that wagon at all. I might often prefer adult fiction to YA, but We Were Liars is tantalising, and I think it’s drawing me back into the YA world. E Lockhart has crafted a brilliant, poignant tale, full of likeable and loathsome characters, and her simple yet beautiful writing style is gorgeous to engage with.

We Were Liars is a book that still clings to my mind, and I suspect it will for quite a long time. I think I might read it again, if only to try and figure out how certain events unfolded.

 

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Review | The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch

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Paperback (Gollancz, 531 pages)

First published 2006; this edition published 2007

Rating on Goodreads: 4 stars

“The Thorn of Camorr is said to be an unbeatable swordsman, a master thief, a friend to the poor, a ghost that walks through walls. 

Slightly built and barely competent with a sword, Locke Lamora is, much to his annoyance, the fabled Thorn. And while Locke does indeed steal from the rich (who else would be worth stealing from?), the poor never see a penny. All of Locke’s gains are strictly for himself and his tight-knit band of thieves. The Gentleman Bastards.

The capricious, colourful underworld of the ancient city of Camorr is the only home they have ever known. But now a clandestine war is threatening to tear it apart. Caught up in a murderous game, Locke and his friends are suddenly struggling just to stay alive…”


Locke, you really are a little shit.

And that’s why I like this book. It’s clever, it’s often very funny, and the world-building is excellent. I know there have been comparisons between Lynch and Patrick Rothfuss – the latter even addressed this in his review of this novel – but I genuinely think that’s wrong. Both authors are distinct in their own ways, and I enjoy both writers’ works immensely.

That goes for The Lies of Locke Lamora. The chapters flip between present day Locke and interludes, where Locke is still a child, which gives the reader a nice insight into backstory. Initially I found the beginning of the novel difficult to get into, even considering putting it down, but I’m extremely glad I didn’t, for the sole reason that it very quickly turned into rip-roaring fun.

Fun. That is the word I would probably use to describe this book. It reads almost like a film – and I dearly hope some skilled director brings it to life one day, because it would be fantastic. The characters are well fleshed-out, the details of world-building tight and many. Locke’s wit and sarcasm is right up my street, and he is a character I quickly came to adore and despair at when he got himself into scrapes – which, by the way, is often. Oh, my god is it often. Little shit indeed. There is mischief and mayhem aplenty, and what a joy it was to read.

Fantasy-lovers, if you have not yet read this book: WHY NOT? READ IT. READ. And then read the sequel, which I certainly plan to do.

It is enchanting, riotously funny, and above all, epic. Honestly, I could not recommend this enough.

 

Review | A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing – Eimear McBride

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Paperback (Faber & Faber, 205 pages)

First published 2013; this edition published 2014

Rating on Goodreads: 2 stars

Eimear McBride’s debut tells, with astonishing insight and in brutal detail, the story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother, and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumour. Not so much a stream of consciousness, as an unconscious railing against a life that makes little sense, and a shocking and intimate insight into the thoughts, feelings and chaotic sexuality of a vulnerable and isolated protagonist, to read A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing is to plunge inside its narrator’s head, experiencing her world first-hand. This isn’t always comfortable – but it is always a revelation.”

 


After reading the blurb for A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing, I was hooked. It sounded like a wonderful novel, and I was eager to read it. By chance, I won the shortlist of books for the Baileys Prize For Women’s Fiction, and this novel was included. I began to read it within a few days of receiving the shortlist – but my hopes quickly faded.

I think one of the reasons I simply did not enjoy this story was the sentence structure and writing style – I know that it’s a sticking point for many reviewers and readers. I thought I could get past it, and I eventually did to an extent, but it still made enjoying the story difficult, and I ended up skipping many a page because I simply could not be bothered to wade through it. Perhaps I should have put it down and saved it for another day, but being the stubborn woman I am, I refused to give up.

I’m pleased I didn’t, but this book offered no reward for it. Not for me. It was a bit like the beginning of The Colour Purple by Alice Walker, sentence-structure-wise – but at least The Colour Purple became more and more readable as it went on. A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing… didn’t. Because of the writing style, I found it hard to relate to the characters or even at times understand what was going on – not ideal.

If you like unusual sentence structure, read this. If, like me, you prefer your tales to be a little more coherent, avoid.

 

Review | The Collector – John Fowles

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Paperback (Vintage Classics, 282 pages)

First published 1963; this edition published 1998

Rating on Goodreads: 3 stars

Withdrawn, uneducated and unloved, Frederick collects butterflies and takes photographs. He is obsessed with a beautiful stranger, the art student Miranda. When he wins the pools he buys a remote Sussex house and calmly abducts Miranda, believing she will grow to love him in time. Alone and desperate, Miranda must struggle to overcome her own prejudices and contempt if she is understand her captor, and so gain her freedom.”


This is a strange novel. I won’t avoid saying that. It’s a very, very strange novel. If you read the above blurb, you might be reminded of books similar to Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – but The Collector is not quite as compelling as the aforementioned book, nor as shocking. Though it is an interesting read, Fowles’ language isn’t as poetic as Nabokov, and nothing much happens in The Collector, despite the promising premise. The ending is sad, and I was left with a slightly empty feeling.

However, I did enjoy the characterisation of Miranda. I could relate to her personality, her love of art. She is feisty, clever, cunning, and I think she is this book’s saving grace. Perhaps most intriguingly, she gives the reader an insight into the relationship between captor and captive when the book turns from the protagonist Frederick’s POV to Miranda’s diary. This aspect definitely helped to flesh the story out, but the ending of The Collector felt a bit flat for me. It was anti-climatic, Frederick was a dull character (just because you are ‘withdrawn, uneducated and unloved’, it doesn’t mean you can’t be interesting), and I was left wondering quite what the point of the story was – if there even was a point.

All in all, if you like psychological games of cat-and-mouse, you might enjoy this. But Frederick isn’t evil, and this book isn’t gripping. It’s a quiet, curious sort of a novel, but I don’t think I will pick this up again. I don’t regret reading it, but I got nothing out of it.

 

Review | The Beautiful & Damned – F Scott Fitzgerald

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Paperback (Penguin Modern Classics, 364 pages)

First published in 1922; this edition published 2004

Rating on Goodreads: 5 stars

“Anthony and Gloria are the essence of Jazz Age glamour. A brilliant and magnetic couple, they fling themselves at life with an energy that is thrilling. New York is a playground where they dance and drink for days on end. Their marriage is a passionate theatrical performance; they are young, rich, alive and lovely and they intend to inherit the earth.

But as money becomes tight, their marriage becomes impossible. And with their inheritance still distant, Anthony and Gloria must grow up and face reality; they may be beautiful but they are also damned.”


How to describe the entirety of this novel?

Often I will put one or two lines on Goodreads after finishing a book. For The Beautiful and Damned, the lines were as follows:

What a beautiful and strangely desolate novel. My goodness.”

And The Beautiful and Damned is exactly that. It soars from theatrical beauty and then plummets to cold desolation, to unfolding of horrific emotion. The characters are at once vivid and on the verge of crumbling. The prose, as ever, is delicious, decadent and evocative.

The theatricality comes mainly in the form of Gloria, a shining beacon for the indulgence of the Jazz Age, who delights in the social freedom and seemingly exquisite nature of her life, and who enthrals Anthony Patch, a writer and the narrator of this tale of excess. Within the first few pages of their encounters, it occurred to me that both characters seemed to represent both Scott and Zelda. Once this idea had taken hold, I found it impossible to shake off, and by the time I closed the book on the final page, I was convinced that this was what The Beautiful and Damned was: Scott’s wishful thinking for their life and his bitterness and adoration for his wife poured into a single novel.

Which is heartbreaking, but it makes for a compelling and achingly wistful tale. Admittedly, it took me a good few pages to get into the story – I was waiting for Gloria to appear and ignite the fireworks – but when the lady arrived, I was gripped. I followed every encounter with wide eyes, and I admit that I had no idea how the novel would end, if it would be happy or not. When the end did indeed come, I found the climax very startling, very sudden. Some might argue that it was too sudden, that the novel feels cut off or rushed because of it, but I disagree. It left me shocked, but realising later on that it had been building up to it, with both characters hurtling towards trouble and not knowing how to stop. It was gripping, wonderful, and agonising all at once.

Anyone who knows me will tell you how much I adore Fitzgerald’s style, and The Beautiful and Damned only reinforced this love for his writing. It is a complex exploration of human character, and the heights it goes to are dizzying, as are the sudden falls.

I highly, highly recommend this. I cannot recommend it enough. The Great Gatsby might be considered his masterpiece, but I much prefer the characters in The Beautiful and Damned. They’ve stuck in my head much longer than Gatsby or Daisy Buchanan have.

And that really is saying something.