Book Review: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Book 87

Brave New WorldThis is Huxley’s vision of the future in his astonishing 1931 novel Brave New World – a world of tomorrow in which capitalist civilization has been reconstituted through the most efficient scientific and psychological engineering, where the people are genetically designed to be passive, consistently useful to the ruling class.

Dystopian fiction is not something I have read a lot of but it is a genre that interests me greatly.  The small amount of dystopian books and films I have experienced are always very dark; the main characters that are rebelling against the autonomous society do so with fear for their lives.  Brave New World is in complete contrast to my previous perceptions.  Nobody lives in fear as they are conditioned and drugged to be happy with their place in society.  Even Bernard our protagonist, who is trying to resist the psychological conditioning he was given as a child, never fears any consequences for his actions.  It is this that makes this book so refreshing and almost light-hearted even though the realities of the book chillingly echo the way society has progressed since the 1930’s.

If you have never heard of this book and you read the above premise, you may be feeling very confused.   There is no point in trying to explain Huxley’s futuristic world as my review would be far too long and I could never explain it in the way the book does.  In short, children are no longer born naturally but are created and nurtured in laboratories.  This allows the society to be controlled by the World State as they create the different levels, or castes, of human beings that are required at any given time, so that society has every type of person it needs to function in a peaceful way.  There is no religion, but people do worship Henry Ford, the person whose principles about how society would work better if it was based on how a production plant would be run is what forms the basis for this society.  I won’t say any more, you will have to read the book.

What I liked about this book:  The beginning of the book was my favourite part.  Learning all about how the World State works by following a group of new recruits as they take a tour of the Hatchery and Conditioning Centre.  The language is evocative and brings the scene to life;I felt I could imagine the centre perfectly, especially the decanting room.  My favourite part is when there is an exchange between Lenina, a hatchery worker, and Henry who is the tour guide.  My first thoughts were that they were having a secret tryst, that maybe something untoward was happening.  However you soon find out through Lenina’s conversation in the women’s changing room that casual relationships are part of normal society and the more sexual partners the better.  Which in a way creates more intrigue than Henry and Lenina carrying on in secret.

What I didn’t like about this book:  Bernard.  At first I pitied Bernard; he feels like an outsider and cannot quite fit into his place in society.  He yearns for a deeper connection with his peers, something which is not encouraged in the World State.  But as the book goes on he became more despicable to me; I no longer pitied him but thought him quite childish and arrogant.  I do feel this is how you are supposed to feel about Bernard, it is not necessarily a flaw in the story line, but after I could no longer root for Bernard I wasn’t sure who I should be rooting for.

This is definitely something different to read, something that you could continually bring up in conversation as a stand out book for its uniqueness if nothing else.  It was easily to read but also deep in places with the ideas it portrayed.  Despite the lack on fear from the characters it was still a scary thought to think of our world becoming the World State, although with all the drugs they hand out it wouldn’t be as bad as some other autonomous states portrayed in literature and films.  I would say Brave New World definitely deserves its spot on the top 100 list and would urge anyone reading this to give the book a go.

Book Review: Vicky Angel by Jacqueline Wilson

Book 86

Vicky AngelJade and Vicky are best friends, but when Vicky is killed in an accident she doesn’t let a little old thing like being dead interfere with her life. Instead, she continues as normal, following Jade around, telling her what to do, how to think, how to behave and ruining any chance Jade may have to make new friends. Eventually Jade tires of it all, and although she still loves Vicky deeply, she realises she has to get on with her own life.

I feel the premise above does not portray the tone of this book.  You would think that a book about a young girl being haunted by her best friend might be a chilling tale, or at the very least overly sad.  Instead it is a heartwarming tale, with humour in the right places.  The book is  a mix of emotions; Jade’s anguish and grief come across but there is also nostalgia and loneliness.  Above all I felt Jade’s confusion throughout the book.  She is confused about why Vicky died, she is confused about what is going on with her parents and she is also confused about her peers and who she can trust.  The more Vicky clings to her the more Jade feels separate from those around her and the more lonely she feels even though she still has her best friend.

What I liked about this book:  I liked that Jacqueline Wilson hasn’t taken this subject lightly.  After reading Girls In Love earlier in my challenge I did wonder what this book would be like as even though Girls In Love does deal with difficult subjects, I wasn’t sure if Vicky Angel would convey the right amount of poignancy and understanding required to deal with the subject of grief.  It does deliver though, without being too heavy for a young reader, and the experiences Jade goes through seem genuine.  I didn’t feel at any point that the book was too farfetched, apart from the obvious story line of Vicky the ghost.

What I didn’t like about this book:  Throughout the book I felt Jade’s confusion and felt her struggle to make sense of what was going on around her.  This was crucial to the storyline and Jade’s grieving process but it left many unanswered questions for me when the book came to an abrupt end.  There were various subplots that I felt where not fully explained as such and I couldn’t see why they were included in the story as a whole if they were not going to come to a proper conclusion.  I don’t want to put any spoilers here so I won’t divulge further but I was left feeling slightly perturbed when I read the last page.

I did enjoy this book but not as much as Girls In Love though.  I think a few paragraph at the end of the book from Jade, maybe in the form of an epilogue, explaining how she now feels about all the events in the book would have tipped the balance for this book.  Without that summing up I do feel there is something missing from the end of the book.  It is still enjoyable but I feel it is more attractive to the younger reader rather than a wider audience.

3 Out of 5 stars

Book Review: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Book 88

Cold Comfort FarmWhen sensible, sophisticated Flora Poste is orphaned at nineteen, she decides her only choice is to descend upon relatives in deepest Sussex. At the aptly named Cold Comfort Farm, she meets the doomed Starkadders: cousin Judith, heaving with remorse for unspoken wickedness; Amos, preaching fire and damnation; their sons, lustful Seth and despairing Reuben; child of nature Elfine; and crazed old Aunt Ada Doom, who has kept to her bedroom for the last twenty years. But Flora loves nothing better than to organize other people. Armed with common sense and a strong will, she resolves to take each of the family in hand. A hilarious and merciless parody of rural melodramas, Cold Comfort Farm is one of the best-loved comic novels of all time.

As stated above, Cold Comfort Farm is a perfect melodrama.  It has a heroine forced into a situation due to circumstances beyond her control and various characters who all, in one way or another, require her guidance.  Yet the twist in this is that Flora is not naive, she is intelligent and can see things for what they are.  It is her choice to go and live with her relatives in Sussex; she does not have to go and she is aware that she probably won’t like what she sees when she gets there.  She has already decided that anything or anyone that can be moulded into her view of the world will be; anything that requires her help and organisation will receive it.  At first the book has echoes of Emma by Jane Austen; a young woman trying to help those around her even when her help might not be welcome.  But as the story goes on it has more of a Mary Poppins/Nanny Mcphee feel to it; Flora is a woman who knows exactly what she is doing and is a force to be reckoned with.

What I liked about this book:  Well the obvious one is Flora.  She is different from most heroines you find in this sort of book.  She is fully aware of her actions and the repercussions and faces up to her mistakes.  She is very frank with the reader yet she does not lie to the characters she is involved with in the story, more that her manners always shine through when giving guidance to the various members of her new family.  I also love the cows: Feckless, Aimless, Graceless and Pointless.  Bless them, they seem to get ignored by everyone except the slightly mad, 90 year old farm hand Adam and with such unfortunate names they definitely stand out.

What I didn’t like about this book:  It is supposed to be a comedy.  If you read any of the original broadsheet reviews the general gist is that this book is hilarious.  I think the comedy in this book does not transpose across the eighty years since it was published as I found it amusing, but not hilarious.  As it is a melodrama I think most of the comedy is situation comedy and would be funnier if you lived in the period it is set in.

I definitely enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who has a fondness for period dramas or light-hearted stories.  I will also investigate if Stella Gibbons published anything after this book as I feel it would be worth reading.

Second Guessing and Niggling Doubts

Hi everyone

I used to always believe that I would read anything, that I had broad tastes when it came to literature.  Despite this, I only tended to read certain types of books; books which would loosely fit into the rom com or chic lit genre.  This wasn’t necessarily because this was all I liked but more because there is a huge abundance of this type of book so it is readily available and also very easy to read.  There are some excellent authors in this genre; Sophie Kinsella, Nicholas Sparks and Marian Keys being some of my favourites.  But I became bored with reading the same type of book over and over again.

The problem was I didn’t know how to step out of my comfort zone.  There are so many books out there, so many different authors and genres, I didn’t know where to start.  All my friends who did read also did not venture outside of the chic lit genre so I had no one to recommend a good book to me.  This is why I decided to find a book list so that I could challenge myself to step out of my comfort zone, to try something new, to broaden my horizons so to speak.  I picked the BBC’s Big Read Top 100 books because it had been voted by the British public rather than literary critics and was a good mix of all sorts of books.  As it was the top 100 books I was expecting every book to blow me away.  I am not so naive as to believe they would all be to my taste but as I believed I had broad tastes I didn’t expect to find any of the books difficult to read.  I thought after starving my brain for so long of good quality fiction I wouldn’t be able to stop myself when presented with these stories.  It has therefore been a bit of a shock when only thirteen and half books in I have had at least 3 books which have felt like torture to read and only maybe a couple of books which I would read again at some point.

I am too stubborn to give up on any book, or this challenge, so I will keep going.  Hopefully as I move up the list I will enjoy my reading material more (this is the glimmer of hope that keeps me going!).  If not I believe that my blog this year will a record of my slow demise into madness due to forcing myself to absorb material which is not compatible with my mind.

On that happy note, have a good day!

Jennie

The master of avoidance

Hi everyone

I have been busy reading away and now have 3 reviews to do this weekend.  However I am digging my heels in when it comes to On The Road.  I can’t put my finger on it at the moment but something inside me is repelled by reading that book.  If I force myself to read it I end up not taking any of it in and getting very sleepy.  So far my strategy for dealing with On The Road has been to avoid it and read other books, a strategy which I have pulled off very successfully, hence the three books read in a week.  I am a glutton for punishment though so I will endeavour to finish it this weekend.  If I get it out of the way then I have lots of heavy (and by heavy I mean many pages) reading to look forward to!  As I said, glutton for punishment.

Have a good weekend

Jennie

Book Review: The Godfather by Mario Puzo

Book 91

Tyrant, blackmailer, Racketeer, Murderer – his influence reaches every level of American society. Meet Don Corleone, a friendly man, a just man, a reasonable man. The deadliest Lord of the Cosa Nostra. The Godfather.

A modern masterpiece, The Godfather is a searing portrayal of the 1940’s criminal underworld.  It is also the intimate story of the Corleone family, at once drawn together and ripped apart by its unique position at the core of the American Mafia.  Still shocking forty years after it was first published, this compelling tale of blackmail, murder and family values is a true classic.

The Godfather is Mario Puzo’s tale of the fictional Corleone crime family and it is set just after the second world war in New York State.  The book is split into several stories about various members of the family, almost like a collection of short stories rather than a continuous storyline.  Mario Puzo’s writing style is easy to read and all the characters seem well thought out with thorough back stories and meaty storylines.  The book does tend to go off on a tangent every now and then, and I didn’t see how the subplots contributed to the main storyline overall, but it was still enjoyable to read.  However it is quite a biased view of the mafia in the sense that there is only ever one side to each story, the characters are shown more as businessmen following their own set of laws rather than as criminals of any kind.  There are no repercussions from the law and the general society for anything that happens and there are no characters in the book that would represent a view of the mafia from outside the family.  Even though nothing is, in a sense, sugar-coated, the book to me represented a view of the family as they would want to be represented, a piece of mafia propaganda if you will.  That does not take away from the book, but you definitely get a sense of missing a piece of the picture.

What I liked about this book:  Mario Puzo portrays New York’s criminal underworld beautifully.  He doesn’t linger too long on describing anything that is particular to that period; instead he concentrates on the storyline as if the characters could be in any period of the last century, the period does not have much bearing on the story being told.  There are references to what is going on in the world outside the mafia but there is a perfect balance between the fictional side of the storyline and anything factual that needs to be told.  It feels as far from a history lesson as you can get with a book that is set 75 years ago.  Yet the events of the book are presented in a realistic light; there is no doubt that this is how things happened and probably do still happen today to some degree.

What I didn’t like about this book:  I felt that there could have been more of a continuous storyline.  The book spans almost a decade, so yes you need to have some of that cut out, but I felt there was too much missing from when Michael returns and the end of the book.  I felt the first story reels you in and then you are left hanging all the way until the end.  The other storylines are good, but a bit more of Michael learning the family business would have made it a more satisfactory story.

I can see why this is such an iconic book.  The tone of it is perfect as it depicts this dark, moody underworld that is ruled by power rather than democracy and is so intriguing you want to read more and more.  None of the main characters are two-dimensional; they all have a dark side as well as a good side even though they may be lacking in some morals.  The only thing letting this book down is that it starts too well and doesn’t quite carry that through.  I would still recommend it to anyone who has a penchant for this genre as it is the ultimate classic mafia book and the ideas and characters in this book resonate through so many other books, films and tv programmes that have followed in its path.

The Dog Ate My Homework

Hi everyone

I know I’m very late in doing my review for The Godfather, I have started it but I seem to be having a bit of writer’s block.  There’s no excuse for my laziness I know but I have pencilled in some time tomorrow evening to finish it and get it posted.  I need to finish the review asap otherwise I won’t remember what happens as it’s now been 10 days since I finished the book.  In the meantime I have continued to read; I’m about a third of the way through On The Road and I’ve just started Brave New World as well.  Neither books are overly long so with the long weekend coming up I’ll hopefully have three reviews to post.  Next after that is Cold Comfort Farm which is another book I have never heard of (there are quite a few of those!).

Hope you all have a good Easter

Jennie