A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

‘A Man Called Ove’ is not typically a book that I would pick up, but it was what had been chosen for the book club’s reading that month. And surprisingly, I loved it. Fredrik Backman, in this novel, explores themes of love, loss, family, friendships, and if you’re looking for a book to tug at your heartstrings, then this is it. A Man Called Ove follows the story of a grumpy yet loveable man, who is a cranky 59-year-old Swedish man. Ove has lost his wife and now his job and is presented with challenges that someone would probably rather not face. Ove seems older than his years, having adopted the role of a bitter old man who observes people outside of his window like they are criminals about to rob him – with great unpleasantness. He has staunch principles, rigorous routines and doesn’t seem to like change.

However, throughout the book, you delve deeper into the person behind all the grumblings. In November a chatty young couple (Ove’s worst nightmare) moves in next door with their young daughters, they are not met with a warm welcome. Ove doesn’t enjoy the company – let alone the company of small children who seem content in doing the exact opposite of what Ove wants. The accidental flattening of Ove’s mailbox by the young woman inspires an unexpected friendship. The rest of the book shows how much one person can impact your life, and how the kindness of one family stopped Ove from attempting suicide again as he had tried at the beginning of the book.

This is one of those books that had me furious at the people rating it less than three stars on Goodreads. I know everyone will have a different opinion, but this book reminded me so much of my grandparents who the older they get, the more they resemble Ove that I couldn’t love it. I find that Ove is the exact reason why I can’t wait to be old, to be able to grumble about something as silly as cats without being judged. I mean all of this within reason of course, but there have to some perks of getting older right?

Let me know if you’ve read this book as well, and whether or not you enjoyed it.

Until next time,

-S

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

This book is one of those that had sat on my TBR list for about two years but for some reason every time I saw it in the bookshop I opted to buy something else instead. But what better time to catch up with the TBR list than during this big lockdown? And I have to say I regret not having read this book sooner. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest written by Ken Kesey is a story of a man in an Oregon psychiatric hospital with a narrative that serves as a study of the institutional processes that take place and how the human mind copes with it. It’s a study and critique of behaviourism and a tribute to individualistic principles.

‘Chief’ Bromden narrates the story, a giant yet calm half-Native American patient who pretends to be deaf and mute. The book mainly follows the antics of Randle Patrick Murphy who faked insanity to serve his sentence for battery and gambling in a hospital rather than a prison work farm. Murphy is the main focus of the story, with his arguments with the head administrative nurse, Nurse Ratched, invoking a sort of rebellion with the other patients. Throughout the novel, Ratched rules with complete authority and has become accustomed to not having any negative backlash from her patients, some of whom are entirely incapable of speech.

Most of the men in the psychiatric hospital are there because they are either a danger to themselves or the public. They are heavily medicated, which makes them more susceptible to control and so when a character like Murphy who in reality has no business being there can cause a lot of waves. Throughout the book, there unfolds a cataclysmic event which changes the perception of many characters and their behaviour.

One of the reasons that this book has been so popular was it was written (1959) and published (1962) during the Civil Rights movement, where there was a spotlight on how psychology and psychiatry in America. Kesey had worked as an orderly in a mental health facility in Menlo Park, California, which I think heavily influenced his writing of this book.

Though the book is centred around a sad topic of the treatment and life of people living inside a psychiatric hospital, I found the book enjoyable to read. The character development was perfect, and I didn’t feel that characters were over or under-represented in their importance to understanding the story. In some books, I have found that there is a large concentration of the story on a character who ends up being unimportant to the story itself, whereas I didn’t experience that in this book. I highly recommend that anyone read this book, and I’m wondering if anyone has seen the film and whether it’s worth a watch.

Until next time,
-S

The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

If you did an English A-Level or IB in a British school then most likely you studied Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. If you were particularly daring then maybe you didn’t even read the book properly but obtained the same info on Sparknotes and watched the film starring Leonardo Di Caprio. However, if you did read the book at age 18 or below, then you might have thought it was a great book, a true classic. However, try reading it now, and you’ll find you have a vastly different opinion of it.

Fitzgerald’s prose is beautiful, but the stories are bland. And that’s what I felt having read both Great Gatsby and The Beautiful and Damned. This book gave the reader a glimpse into the New York cafe society of the early 1920s; Anthony Patch the protagonist and socialite heir to a tycoons fortune who marries an equally unlikeable woman Gloria Gilbert. For anyone that’s gone to work in their life will find the characters of this mildly infuriating. The story follows Anthony and Gloria’s journey through alcoholism, partying and pretending to have a purpose in life.

Personally, my problem is not with the idea of two young people having the great fortune to be able to enjoy life without worrying about money or anything else. My irritation was more the sheer lack of acknowledgement of their position. Anthony is on a thinly stretched allowance from his grandfather, and when his grandfather suggests possible employment, Anthony is quick to dismiss it. The story becomes interesting when Anthony is deployed to the army, and the characters evolve into having semblances of a personality. Even then to me, they remain unlikeable throughout the book and not even like those characters that you love to hate.

I didn’t find the story exciting or beautiful, and the love between Anthony and Gloria didn’t even have the alluring interest for the reader that Gatsby and Daisy presented. I think sometimes Fitzgerald’s beautiful writing style overshadows the lack of story within his work. I honestly found the book almost boring and was continuously reading at a faster pace than I usually would. I was interested in reading the reviews on Goodreads, and I might be in the minority of having not enjoyed the book. I would be interested to hear what other people think of Fitzgerald’s writing. Is it just me that views Great Gatbsy different than I did the first time I read it? If anyone is interested in reading the book but doesn’t want to fork out the £9.99 it would cost to buy it in Waterstones, then iBooks has a FREE version available.

Until next time,
-S

 

 

May TBR

Photo Credit: Christin Hume on Unsplash

With the craziness going on in the world I had forgotten to keep up with my TBR posts but I’m back on track with it. So without further ado, here is my TBR list for May. Let me know if you’ve read any of them and what you thought!

  1. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  2. The Plague by Albert Camus
  3. Death in Florence: The Medici, Savonarola and the Battle for the Soul of Man by Paul Strathern
  4. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandre Solzhenitsyn and Harry Willetts
  5. The Secret Barrister by Anonymous

These are the 5 I hope to definitely get through, and who knows maybe if lockdown continues then I get through even more!

Until next time,

-S

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

Photo credit: Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

George Orwell is probably most of the well-known authors around the world, with his book Nineteen Eighty-Four being on almost all ‘every book to read before you die’ list. And while Nineteen Eighty-Four is a well written and thought-provoking book, I also feel that Down and Out in Paris and London is equally as important to read, but for a different reason. Nineteen Eighty-Four is a dystopian novel that centres around the consequences of government over-reach, totalitarianism, mass surveillance and severe regimentation of people and their behaviours within society, but Down and Out deal with an issue that might hit slightly closer to home.

In this book, Orwell describes the life of poverty in two cities, Paris and London. In Paris, he explains how he has just lost his job and all his savings, through unfortunate circumstances and a robbery by a strange Italian man. In a desperate need to find work, he and his friend Boris turn to the restaurant business and work long hours with extremely little pay. Throughout his time in Paris, Orwell describes the struggles of being a working man in Paris met with empty promises of job opportunities and a wistful desire for a better life.

The second part of the book moves to London, where Orwell is living the life of a homeless man travelling from shelter to shelter. He intended to be working for a family, but upon arrival, they inform him that they will not need his services for another month. So Orwell, similarly to in Paris, sells his clothes and tries to get by day-by-day. He spends the night in a series of dirty lodging houses, casual wards, and charitable establishments run by organisations like the Salvation Army. The story goes onto describe the people he meets and their backgrounds.

In this day and age, it is hard to know how to act towards homeless people. While I am always inclined to give food rather than money, sometimes I try and remember not to pass judgement on them so quickly. There is a particular inclination to believe that all homeless people will spend their money on drugs, but is that any different than all the 18-year-olds nowadays going to clubs and taking coke? Why is that more readily accepted, than an adult who has probably faced a lot of hardship to get to that point where they are living on the street.

While reading Orwell’s book, the idea struck me of how displaced we become from understanding homeless people, and how comfortable we feel in judging them. I suggest anyone read Down and Out if you’ve never spoken to someone in that situation before and want to see it from their perspective. Obivously I understand that book is set in a different time period, but the feelings and experiences do not seem to be greatly different.

Until next time,

-S

Little Man, What Now? by Hans Fallada

Photo by Ronan Kraft on Unsplash

Hiya! It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything onto this page. With everything going on in the world and the precariousness of my financial situation posting on this blog took a little bit of a backburner. But now that I have more free time, I want to get back into and what better than starting with one of my all-time favourite books.

You’ve guessed from the title; this post is going to be about Hans Fallada’s ‘Little Man, What Now?’. I picked this book up on a trip to Hatchards in London, and I am so glad I did. I had previously read Alone in Berlin by Fallada and loved it. After reading Little Man, it quickly climbed its way onto my top books I have read in my 20 as I have developed a love of books with slow plots and almost dull stories. Though it tested my patience at first reading books that never seem to have a climax in the scenario, I found that after a while, it was quite relaxing. Life nowadays moves so quickly, and I like reading about people in books whose lives seem to be infinitely slower.

‘Little Man, What Now?’ is set in the years after the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the first years of the Great Depression. It tells of a man and his girlfriend trying to survive the conditions of the white-collar workers of the time. Fallada illuminates the roles of trade unions, governmental institutions, and sacking in the labour market. Very quickly the readers find out that the main character Johannes Pinneberg and his girlfriend Emma “Lammchen” Morschel are expecting their first child, which is premediated by Pinneberg losing his job. This combined with an unhelpful family, it is difficult to navigate their situation, and they find themselves moving all over the country in search of a better life.

The book does a great job of telling the lives of ordinary people and the struggles they faced. Lammchen develops money saving techniques and rises to the challenge of raising a child with little to no income. Fallada highlights the benefits of Germany’s social care system which pays unemployment benefits, takes care of medical bills for the baby and pays Emma so that she does not have to work in the weeks before and after giving birth. The book isn’t a story of drastic turns and plot twists, but more a telling of what was probably a genuine situation for ordinary people during that time. Businesses are shown to exploit their workers in ways similar to conditions, even in today’s world.

If you’re looking for a thrilling page-turner, this isn’t the book for you. But if you want to glimpse the world of white-collar workers in Germany and immerse yourself in a book filled with family dramas, money problems and a couple who love each other immensely then this is the book for you. Fallada quickly became a personal favourite author of mine, and I recommend any of his other works, especially Alone in Berlin.

I hope that everyone is staying safe during this quarantine. Until next time,
-S

Normal People by Sally Rooney

I will hold my hands up and admit that I had been avoiding reading this book for a very long time. I had heard mixed reviews about Sally Rooney and after picking up her other most well-known book Conversations with Friends in Waterstones, I put it down 20 pages later as I simply didn’t enjoy her writing style. But after attaining this book in a book swap that I was doing with my friend, I knew that it was time to bite the bullet. And so I began. 

Normal People by Sally Rooney is what you would call your typical book club read. It’s highly emotive, and a good conversation starter. Longlisted for the Man Book Prize and the Women’s Prize for Fiction, it eventually ended up winning the Waterstones Book of the Year in 2018. For me, the jury is still out on whether or not I like it. Though I don’t usually use rating systems on my blog for books, I feel like there is no other way to explain what I thought of this without using a numerical value; 7/10. Admittedly, like everyone else, I found this book impossible to put down. The constant battle between the two main characters made for a riveting piece – one that I finished in about 4 hours. The ending wasn’t predictable, but it was somewhat disappointing. After the emotional rollercoaster that Rooney takes you on, I was expecting to find out what happened between the characters. Instead, it’s vague and unsatisfying. I will admit to getting emotionally invested with the main characters Connell and Marianne, but their constant back and forth got quite frustrating.

Without giving away spoilers, the book is about a topic that I think everyone can either relate to having lived or have experience through similar situations through friends and family. Boy and girl fall in love, and then because of extenuating circumstances, they cannot ride off into the sunset before first experiencing a whole hoard of problems. It’s an easy read as Rooney uses simple sentences and a plot that is straightforward and not convoluted. 

Overall, I suggest reading Normal People if you’re looking for an easy read or just want to see what the fuss is all about. Usually, in most of my blog posts, I try and link the book to an external topic, to give it a bit more human relevance or pazazz. This book doesn’t need that, as it’s a book to enjoy reading rather than learn something from. However, a lesson to take from it is to simply pursue wholeheartedly the person you like. It might end in heartbreak, or it might end in love. You never know unless you try. 

Until next time, 

-S 

The Outsider/The Stranger by Albert Camus

I think, like most other book bloggers, I am not going to write a review of every single book I have ever read. I cannot even imagine how much work that would be. But one of the reasons why I decided to write a review on Camus’ work is because it seems to have gone through a name change. When talking to my mother about this book she was surprised to learn that the title on my Penguin Classics version was ‘The Outsider’ and not ‘The Stranger’. This made me consider some interesting points about the text that becomes lost in translation. I recently attended the Society of Young Publishers Conference in Oxford, where a point was made about how only 4% of books released are translated pieces. Growing up in a bilingual household it’s interesting to hear the different word association people have with things. Whilst it is fantastic that works like Camus are translated, it does highlight that reading a text in translation will never have the same impact as in the original language. And maybe that’s why there is so little push to increase the number of books translated each year. But let’s get on with the review.

The protagonist is named Meursault, a Frenchman, who lives in Algiers. Just by knowing this you can already see where the title comes from, he is already a foreigner because he is a Frenchman living in Algeria. He’s a peculiar character, to say the least. The opening line of the novel “Mother died today. Or maybe it was yesterday, I don’t know” suggests from the beginning that he’s going to be a controversial character. To anyone reading the book who has experienced human emotions, it is chilling that someone cannot remember the date of their mother’s death. Especially when that day was recent. A point on the difference one’s translation can make to a text is shown in the slight change Sandra Smith made to Joseph Laredo’s original 1982 translation. In Laredo’s translations, he writes the first line ‘Mother died today’. However, in Smith’s translation she inserts a possessive pronoun, ‘My mother died today.’ This massively changes the tone set for the character. Instead of sounding distant and cold, there is a sense of personal shock. A better book reviewer than me would most likely read both translations and try and see the difference but I do not think myself so skilled in the art of linguistics to be able to properly pick them up. For anyone that hasn’t read the Sandra Smith translation though, I will add that in her translator’s note she does add that she changed the name of the book because in French étranger can be translated as ‘outsider’, ‘stranger’, and ‘foreigner’. Smith concludes that Meursault is all three and that using the word ‘outsider’ encapsulates all of these possible meanings rather than using ‘stranger’ which is less definitive. I hope this isn’t starting to sound like an English essay, I just find it quite interesting so thought other people would too.

Meursault throughout the book remains completely detached from his emotions, both in his platonic and romantic relationships. By Camus’ assessment in 1955 of the character ‘in our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death’. Instead of character progression, some could argue that in this book we’re seeing more a character regression. Without spoiling anything, by the end of the book, Meursault has gone on to make some questionable life choices. Life choices that I’m hoping most of us would not make. As this was the first book of Camus’ that I had read I was slightly unprepared for the turn that the plot took. I will comment though on the last line as it doesn’t spoil anything. Camus writes ‘I opened myself for the first time to the tender indifference of the world’. Despite all of the shortcomings of the character throughout the book, this line undoubtedly made me feel some pity for him. I think as humans we can all attest that at some point we have felt the insignificance of our existence, and have reflected on how big this world is.

Overall, I would recommend reading this to anyone interested in expanding their foreign literature collection. Having only read Sandra Smith’s translation I cannot recommend which is better, but if you love one of them maybe you’ll be inspired to read the other translation.

Until next time, happy reading!

-S

Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan

As an early Christmas present, my mother had gifted me a trip to Waterstone’s to pick up any five books of my choosing. I had nailed down the 4 that I wanted and was struggling to decide on my final one. With time running out, I made a split section decision to go with this Penguin Modern Classic by Francoise Sagan that included both’ Bonjour Tristesse’ and ‘A Certain Smile’. Two books for the price of one was sort of my thinking with it. Sagan, a French novelist, is known for her existential undertones that appear throughout most of her books and plays. Even her personal life can be seen as displaying that wild car feeling. In 1957 she was involved in an accident which left her in a coma. She liked gambling and was arrested and convicted with possession of cocaine in the 1990s. She was a long-term user of prescription pills, amphetamines, cocaine, morphine and alcohol. In 2002 she was unable to appear at a trial that convicted her of tax fraud in a case involving the former French President Francois Mitterand. Her writing and her personal life have an essence of scandal to them, which some argue make even more interesting to read. Popular culture gives excellent coverage to those artists like Sagan who appear more damaged, which is why there is a common myth that ‘broken’ people tend to become artists.

The book, set in the French Riviera, follows the protagonist Cecile who is spending a few weeks with her father Raymond and his mistress Elsa. This is where Cecile meets her lover/boyfriend, with whom she goes back and forth between having real emotions. Their holiday is interrupted by an old friend of Cecile’s mother, Anne whom Raymond had vaguely invited. Without spoiling too much, Cecile’s father has a choice to make between the elegant and classy Anne or the sweet and young Elsa. The book follows the typical life of a teenage child, fleeting summer romances and being told to do her homework.

Even though the book was short, I found myself a bit uninterested in the plot. The beginning of the book was relatable, as a 23-year-old girl trying to find my way in life, I could relate to the existential crisis that she was having. But I also expect some character progression, which I found this book to be quite lacking. Cecile continuously talked about her feelings towards her lover and her father. But the book ended with almost the same sentiments towards all characters as she had started. The whole book is centred around the fact that none of them has an actual personality. Or at least not an interesting one. Cecile has that typical teenage angst, but instead of being interesting, she comes across as boring. Her sabotage of her father’s relationship and her fleeting remorse makes for a boring read. The version of the book that I bought had attached another book of Sagan’s, A Certain Smile. Reviews are personal opinion, so if I’m insulting your favourite book then don’t be offended. But for me, A Certain Smile was one of those books that I so desperately wanted to put down and never pick up again. If there were one word to describe the book, then it would be drab.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend either of her books to anyone. Some merit can be given as I think Sagan wrote Bonjour Tristesse when she was just 19, but honestly, you can tell. It is an easy to read book, so if you’re looking for something that you don’t need to concentrate on… then no I still wouldn’t recommend it. Let me know if you’ve read it, and what you thought of it if you have!

Until next time,
-S

February TBR

Continuing with the series, below are my February TBR’s that I will (hopefully) finish this month. I have set myself a target of reading 100 books this year, and so I am trying to make sure that there is both easy and difficult reads throughout. So without further ado:

  1. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  2. The Library of Greek Mythology by Apollodorus of Athens
  3. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson
  4. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  5. A Little Princess by Frances Burnett Hodgson

Until next time,

-S