Review | Zastrozzi – Percy Bysshe Shelley

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Paperback (Hesperus, 136 pages)

First published 1810; this edition published 2002

Rating on Goodreads: 2 stars

“Zastrozzi, the arch-villain of the tale, is sworn to avenge the wrongs done to his mother. Prepared to go to any lengths to execute his horrific plans, he enlists the help of the willing Matilda. Together, they vow to destroy Verezzi and Julia, the subjects of their wrath, and embark upon a fateful chain of events that can lead only to catastrophe.”


You can definitely tell that this is Percy Shelley’s first published work. There are elements of skill peeking through, but overall Zastrozzi is a bit of a mess. It’s not coherent; the characters aren’t well-imagined in the least, and the plot is muddled. I really wanted to like this – especially after I picked it up in my university bookshop for £3 – but it just didn’t grab me in the least.

I’m definitely going to delve into more of Percy Shelley’s work – I love gothic fiction, it’s one of my favourite genres – but I wouldn’t recommend this as a starting point for anyone interested in his writing. I’m fairly certain there are better works of his to read.

Review | Animal Farm – George Orwell

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Paperback (Penguin Modern Classics, 120 pages)

First published 1945; this edition published 2000

Rating on Goodreads: 2 stars

“‘It is the history of a revolution that went wrong – and of the excellent excuses that were forthcoming at every step for the perversion of the original doctrine,’ wrote Orwell for the first edition of Animal Farm in 1945. Orwell wrote the novel at the end of 1943, but it almost remained unpublished. Its savage attack on Stalin, at that time Britain’s ally, led to the book being refused by publisher after publisher. Orwell’s simple, tragic fable, telling what happens when the animals drive out Mr Jones and attempt to run the farm themselves, has since become a world famous classic.”


 

What a load of rubbish.

I mean, I kind of expected it to be awful – what with father, brother, and friends telling me to stay away – but it’s Orwell. I had to try, at least. It didn’t take me long to read, but I honestly wish I’d never touched the damn book. It’s all sorts of ridiculous. A children’s fable for adults – but it’s just terrible. I suspect it was of its time, and perhaps it was more revered then, but I honestly can’t see the merit, nor the appeal. Yes, I am well aware of the connotations, but it’s just such an uninspiring book that the historical meanings seem to be of little consequence.

Stay away from this book. It’s absolutely terrible.

Review | Printer’s Devil Court – Susan Hill

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Hardcover (Profile Books, 128 pages)

First published 2013; this edition published 2014)

Rating on Goodreads: 2 stars

“A mysterious manuscript lands on the desk of the step-son of the late Dr Hugh Meredith, a country doctor with a prosperous and peaceful practice in a small English town. From the written account he has left behind, however, we learn that Meredith was haunted by events that took place years before, during his training as a junior doctor near London’s Fleet Street, in a neighbourhood virtually unchanged since Dickens’s times. 

Living then in rented digs, Meredith gets to know two other young medics, who have been carrying out audacious and terrifying research and experiments. Now they need the help of another who must be a doctor capable of total discretion and strong nerves.”


First of all, what a beautiful, beautiful cover. I mean, look at it. It’s gorgeous. It’s textured, too, which makes it all the more lovely.

However, the story within wasn’t nearly so lovely to read. In fact, it was dull. Extremely dull. And the science didn’t really make sense – granted, it’s more of a ghost story than a piece of science fiction, but you’d expect the science to add up, wouldn’t you?

The characters are unexciting and not nearly fleshed-out enough. I found that I didn’t really care about any of them, even Meredith. Their experiments are suitably horrific enough, but if I want horrific experiments, I know I’ll stick to Shelley in the future. Frankenstein portrayed the horror of morality in science far better than Printer’s Devil Court has. I know Susan Hill is supposed to be masterful at ghost stories, but truly? I’m not seeing it here. All I see is a jumbled mess of characters and half-baked ideas. If only Hill could have properly meshed them together. Perhaps then it would have been suitably gripping.

Review | The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton

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Paperback (Granta, 848 pages)

First published 2013; this edition published 2014

Rating on Goodreads: 2 stars

“It is 1866, and young Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men who have met in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely ornate as the night sky.”


 

How this won the Man Booker Prize is beyond me.

Overly complex, overly populated with characters, and written in a faux-Dickensian style, this novel is a bit of a disaster. It is far too slow, and nothing really seems to have save flashbacks given while a character smokes a cigar or drinks alcohol. Even the flashbacks are unexciting. I was expecting more of Moody in the beginning, but then he is abandoned for a completely uninspired, pompous figure called Balfour.

I have to admit, I skim-read a few bits. It was just so dull, and far, far too big. It could have been far more short, and then perhaps it would have been enjoyable. The Dickensian style grates. It tries to be clever, and just ends up looking foolish.

Do not recommend. Stick to an actual Dickens novel, not this absurdity.

Review | Hild – Nicola Griffith

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Hardcover (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 560 pages)

First published 2013; this edition published 2013

Rating on Goodreads: 2 stars

“Hild is born into a world in transition. In seventh-century Britain, small kingdoms are merging, usually violently. A new religion is coming ashore; the old gods’ priests are worrying. Edwin of Northumbria plots to become overking of the Angles, ruthlessly using every tool at his disposal: blood, bribery, belief.

Hild is the king’s youngest niece. She has the powerful curiosity of a bright child, a will of adamant, and a way of seeing the world—of studying nature, of matching cause with effect, of observing human nature and predicting what will happen next—that can seem uncanny, even supernatural, to those around her. She establishes herself as the king’s seer. And she is indispensable—until she should ever lead the king astray. The stakes are life and death: for Hild, her family, her loved ones, and the increasing numbers who seek the protection of the strange girl who can read the world and see the future.”


I really wanted to like this. I mean, I’m studying early medieval history at university. This should have been right up my street.

But Griffith does too much telling instead of showing. There is no suspense. It reads very much like a dense history book rather than a gripping work of historical fiction. There are too many characters, and none of them save Hild herself are fleshed out adequately. Medieval history is fascinating, but Griffith manages to suck all of the life out of this novel. It was not gripping. It didn’t give me a sense of urgency or excitement – and you’d think a book centring around medieval conflict would give both.

The beginning was intriguing enough, but as I read further into the novel, I lost all sense of joy at reading this. If you’re looking for a wonderful historical novel set in the early medieval period, do not read Hild. It collapses under the weight of all its expectancies, which is a very great shame, and delivers no satisfaction to the reader at all.

Review | The Watcher In The Shadows – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

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Paoerback (Phoenix, 288 pages)

First published 2005; this edition published 2014

Rating on Goodreads: 3 stars

A mysterious toymaker who lives as a recluse in an old mansion, surrounded by the mechanical beings he has created… an enigma surrounding strange lights that shine through the mists that envelop the small island on which the old lighthouse stands… a shadowy creature that hides deep in the woods… these are the elements of a mystery that bind 14-year-old Irene to Ismael during one magical summer spent in the Blue Bay. Irene’s mother has taken a job as a housekeeper for the toymaker, Lazarus, but his house contains more secrets than Irene and Ishmael have bargained for.”


Interestingly, I picked this up in Waterstones off an adult fiction table, not realising that it was in fact a children’s novel. When I realised, I read it anyway, because let’s face it, children’s stories are often as fascinating than adults’, if not more so.

Zafon has created a suitably dark tale for children, however, I feel the translation leaves a lot to be desired. At times it seems very slow-paced and almost monotone, with not nearly enough suspense that would be assumed for a ghostly thriller, even for a children’s book. The writing was at times magical, managing to capture Zafon’s skill, but overall, it fell a bit flat. I may read another of his novels, but if I do, I hope those translations are a lot better than this.

Review | I Am Malala – Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb

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Paperback (Phoenix, 320 pages)

First published 2012; this edition published 2014)

Rating on Goodreads: 4 stars

“I Am Malala tells the inspiring story of a schoolgirl who was determined not to be intimidated by extremists, and faced the Taliban with immense courage. Malala speaks of her continuing campaign for every girl’s right to an education, shining a light into the lives of those children who cannot attend school. This is just the beginning…”


This is a remarkable book, I must say that.

How can I rate this anything less than four stars? Malala’s story is at once horrifying and inspiring, Christina Lamb must be commended for her skill in turning this story into words upon paper. I Am Malala is readable, enjoyable, and vividly written. Malala’s descriptions of her homeland are as lovely as the tales of the Taliban are horrific.

What I do find odd is the mix of centuries-ago history and the present that doesn’t seem to quite mesh well in writing. The history is welcome, but it doesn’t quite seem to fit in this memoir. Otherwise, Lamb’s skill in helping Malala tell her story is obvious and impressive.

The two of them have created a wonderful, compelling piece, and I urge everyone to read this, if only to understand the horrors of what so many suffer under the Taliban.