Review: Swimming Home

Swimming Home
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the first Man Booker short-listed book that I struggled with (bare in mind I haven’t read Will Self’s Umbrella which I’m expecting to be the second). More of a novella that a novel, the clunky text, maybe to contrast against the poet’s prose or to highlight the disturbed emotions of the characters, made it a chore to read. The words didn’t have a rhythm and felt as jarring as someone trying to make sense of my stammer; it kept making me aware of the narrator more than the content.

There was some nice imagery, such as the rain, but for me this was just a so-so read.

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Review: Atonement

Atonement
Atonement by Ian McEwan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I struggled with this book, almost laying it to rest on at least a couple of occasions. The prose was so bloated in the first one hundred pages, paragraphs of nothingness spanning multiple pages, that it became a chore to read. Several friends suggested I persist, and I did, making it to the end where like a marathon, the satisfaction of crossing the finishing line was stronger than the joy of the experience. It was a tough read, a battle to get to the end, and I do feel ignorant for not liking it more than I did, especially given the critical praise the book has received.

Yep, some sections I enjoyed, such as the French chapter, and yep, the characters were strongly defined, they were all believable, but I’d struggle to recommend this book to others.

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Review: Writing the Breakout Novel

Writing the Breakout Novel
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Aside from overusing the word ‘breakout’ (it appears pretty much in every other sentence), Donald Maas has written a very readable book on how to construct a novel. He focuses on the themes that make a book engaging, such as the sympathetic characters and the twisting plotlines, rather than advice on how to strengthen your prose. Very readable, excellent advice and useful examples.

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Review: On Writing

On Writing
On Writing by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stephen King is very good at what he does. And what he does, is write. I’ve read his books for the past thirty or so years and have always loved his style. His novels are imaginative and his prose is tight, understandable given he taught english language. So when he writes a book about writing, you feel, as does every other budding author, that this book will enable us to achieve his level success. Now, the problem, as with all very able people, is that they believe everyone else should be able to grasp what is obvious to them.

The problem I have with all self help books is that once I see a chink in the armour, then the book is weakened. In this case, this is King’s argument that the book should be written quickly, unplotted, permitting the characters to develop and mature on the page, not stagnating as he says in the author’s mind. For me, this is impossible. I tried this approach with a 3k word short story and it was a mess – story threads became lost and the twists were diminished without the forethought. I fully appreciate that as a full time author, and someone at the top of their game, they can plot an entire novel in their grey matter, but for me this doesn’t work, I need to plan.

That said, this book is a great read, parts were unnecessarily bloated (Frank’s story must’ve been written during an alcohol relapse) but the main learning point in all this, is read Stephen King. His writing about writing focuses you on his words, and when that happens, you truly appreciate how good he is…

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Review: The Heather Blazing

The Heather Blazing
The Heather Blazing by Colm TĂłibĂ­n
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Colm Toibin’s ‘The Heather Blazing’ is a masterclass in understated prose. The book follows the High Court judge Eamon Redmond, with flashbacks to his early years. The writing is sparse, lacking any emotion, mimicking Eamon’s state of mind, despite several key events in his life. I liked it and would recommend the book, but did feel a little bit of purple prose wouldn’t have gone amiss.

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Review: Jamrach’s Menagerie

Jamrach's Menagerie
Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was another good read from the Man Booker 2011 short list pile (a year behind but at least the bottom is in sight…) The book starts with a ‘coming of age’ for cat food wannabe Jaff, and ends with a touch of culinary experimentation of his own. Not my favourite of the short listed titles, but one I’d certainly recommend.

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