Friday, October 9

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" - Mark Haddon

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a murder mystery novel like no other. The detective, and narrator, is Christopher Boone. Christopher is fifteen and has Asperger's Syndrome. He knows a very great deal about maths and very little about human beings. He loves lists, patterns and the truth. He hates the colours yellow and brown and being touched. He has never gone further than the end of the road on his own, but when he finds a neighbour's dog murdered he sets out on a terrifying journey which will turn his whole world upside down."

It's difficult to know how to review this one. On the surface, I didn't really like the book...but the purpose of this particular novel isn't really to entertain.

For me, the majority of fiction I read has to serve one purpose, above all others: to entertain. I want to get absorbed in the story, lost in the words, hooked into the narrative, and basically use books as another form of escapism. Of course if the book also has an important message, that's icing on the cake. But I mainly read fiction for entertainment.

The Curious Incident didn't quite make it, and it was a bit of a chore to finally - finally - finish this book, which has been sitting forlornly on my 'to be read' shelf for possibly over a year now. The predominant emotion I felt throughout the story was frustration. And come on, when I'm on the train at 7:45am on a cold wet day being squashed against the window by a really big person sitting next to me - I'm already kind of in a sour mood. The last thing I need to be thinking is "This is the most frustrating, dysfunctional bunch of main characters I have ever spent time with".

Of course, the protagonist (and narrator) has every reason to come across as frustrating, and I guess that's where this book really shines through: realism. Every single other person that Christopher came into contact with struck me as incredibly real. The dialogue, their thoughts, their actions, and most of all how Christopher perceived them, seemed to leap off the page. Plus, I definitely have a bit more of a sense now for what it must be like to live with someone who has a mental illness. If I felt frustrated just by reading a (comparatively) short novel about someone with Asperger's, I can't imagine how difficult it would be to feel that way every single day.

I have a terrible feeling if I go on for too much longer, I'll fall into some horrible quagmire of Insensitivity and/or Political Incorrectness. Normally, I fully support this on the Internet - there's too much careful sidestepping and political correctness everywhere else in the world, it's often refreshing to find someone who doesn't give a damn and just says what they think. But for now, I'll leave this review with just one final comment...

RATING: ...I'm giving it points for sheer realism, and also for (as I call it) Dealing with a Significant Issue, but for me personally, I wasn't a fan of the book. 2 STARS

Thursday, October 8

"Jennie" - Paul Gallico

"Original, humorous, poignant, compassionate, Jennie has become a classic of its kind.
It relates the unforgettable adventures of a small boy changed into a stray cat and befriended by the indomitable Jennie, who initiates him into the lore of London's streets.
The Times Literary Supplement said: 'Jennie has the same simplicity as The Snow Goose; it is, like its forerunner, a family book, and as such deserves the same success.' "

I showed this blog to a friend at uni today, and she asked me which was my favourite book. I mentioned I hadn't actually reviewed it on here (and so I decided to remedy this immediately), and then proceeded to tell her what the book was about.
Unfortunately, when you try to describe Jennie to other people, this is another example of a really great book with Stoopid Plot syndrome:
"It's about a boy called Peter who sort of turns into a cat...and he meets up with another cat...and they go on all these adventures together."
Even though it sounds ridiculous, this is such a gorgeous story which I have read approximately 14, 753 times. It's one of those rarities that can transcend age boundaries, in my opinion, since children can enjoy the fantastical premise and the adventures of Peter and Jennie, while adults appreciate the gentle storytelling and cat-person references.
And oh man, I am definitely one of these 'cat people'. In fact I think I'm starting to sound like an old woman. Living alone. With fifty cats.
I have a feeling non-cat-people wouldn't appreciate the majority of this book, since it focuses so directly on cat behaviour. The author was a keen cat lover and wrote quite a few books featuring felines and their foibles (other examples include Thomasina and The Silent Miaow). However for cat lovers, it's a real treat to read about Jennie's careful tutelage to the newly-transformed Peter about how to behave like a proper cat - it's full of little moments of recognition, when you realise your cat does everything Jennie describes, to the letter.
It's an older book, with some subtle humour and more than a few lines of thickly accented Scottish speech (och aye) that some people might find difficult to understand, and one particular part of the story nearly always moves me to tears. It's also one of my favourite books.
Go read it. (Unless you're a dog person.)

RATING: Incredibly sweet, warmly told, and generally just a great story. 5 STARS