Friday, 26 June 2015

Mr Mercedes - Stephen King // Book Review


Mr Mercedes
Stephen King
★★

I picked this up from the library recently; I was torn between this novel and another recent King novel, Revival. Of course I could have just picked up both and read both, but I have a habit of only borrowing one library book at a time – probably because it wasn't always as easy as it is now to renew your library books. The reason, then, that I went for this King novel instead of the other is probably because of the genre; I almost always prefer to read a crime thriller kind of novel than a horror, which is how Revival was categorised in the library. This isn't to say I don't like horror as a genre, but I don't read a lot of it – King is actually one of the few authors whose horror novels I actually want to read – whereas I always enjoy a good crime thriller, and I've been enjoying them even more than usual lately (I'm reading The Silkworm right now and loving it). 

There isn't a whole lot I can say about this novel without giving up the plot, and I think it's better not knowing too much about it going into the novel. It focuses on two men; the former is retired police detective Bill Hodges, the latter the eponymous Mr Mercedes. At first it seemed strange that the novel would so openly and immediately reveal things about 'Mr Mercedes', whose real name is Brady Hartsfield, but I think it worked out. Sometimes I have a real love/hate relationship with novels in this genre/similar genres because I end up finding the pacing of the revelations and discoveries too slow, or the revelations themselves are too obvious.

I think there's been a lot of criticism for this book because it's not the "quality" people have come to expect from King... and while I do know how disappointing it can be when an author you love releases a book that doesn't fulfil your hopes, I still think this was a good book, even if it wasn't as "good" as his most famous novels. I'll probably be reading the sequel, Finders Keepers, at some point in the future, although I'm in no hurry to pick it up as this novel can definitely stand alone and I didn't even realise that Finders Keepers was it's sequel until after I'd finished it. 





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Friday, 19 June 2015

Tampa - Alissa Nutting // Book Review


Tampa
Alissa Nutting
★★

This book definitely isn't for the faint hearted. The easiest way to describe it is probably to call it a gender flipped Lolita, as it focuses on a female teacher in Florida who is sexually attracted to fourteen year old boys. However, I think in a lot of ways, while you can compare or contrast this novel with Lolita, it's ultimately an entirely different book and presents a different reading experience. 

I should start out by saying that I never finished reading Lolita. I started it, and I think I probably read at least half of it, but ultimately I just ended up losing interest in it and after putting it back one day, I never bothered to pick it up again, until I accepted that it had been too long since I last read it to pretend that I had any intentions of finishing it in the imminent future. I could definitely see its merits as a work of literature, and I suppose I did enjoy it in the beginning, but I ended up disengaging with it the further on things went; I didn't care what happened anymore and I try not to force myself to finish books if I don't believe I can find something redeeming in them. Maybe one day I'll go back to Lolita and try again, but I don't feel like I'm missing much by not having finished it. 

One of the things that's so brilliant about Tampa is that it maintained the shock factor of the main character's perversions. I imagine some people wouldn't be able to stomach the details and the thought of the events of the book being something that could happen in real life, although I certainly hope that anyone who does read this book doesn't fall in the wrong direction and fail to recognise the criticisms and flaws of the main character, Celeste, and her actions. 

However, as hard as it is to stomach some of the sex scenes in the novel, it was also difficult to put this book down because I became so invested in Celeste's story and needed to know what would happen next; whether she would get caught, what would happen if/when she did, and how her life would pan out. 

Celeste's characterisation is undeniably the best thing about this novel, and Nutting's skill makes this book worth the read if you think you can handle the novel's graphic scenes involving minors.







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Friday, 12 June 2015

Station Eleven - Emily St John Mandel // Book Review


Station Eleven
Emily St. John Mandel
★★

This book wasn't what I'd expected it would be, but I can see why it's had all the acclaim that it has – I've used the image of what I believe is the US edition because I personally prefer it to the UK edition, and I feel like it better represents the story itself too.

I was really expecting this book to focus mainly on Kirsten, a young woman in a travelling symphony that performs music and Shakespeare after the Georgia Flu wipes out the majority of humanity. In a way, I was surprised (and a little bit disappointed) that it ended up focusing far more on Arthur Leander and a few of the people who were close to him – which includes Kirsten, as she was acting in King Lear with him when he died (that's not a spoiler – it's how the book begins!). 

This isn't to say I didn't enjoy the book, because I definitely did. I think I just wanted to hear a little bit more about life after the flu and how people are getting by and surviving; I almost feel like a few short stories or a novella about Kirsten or her friends would make a perfect finishing touch/addition for me, or a sequel. In particular, two of Kirsten's friends who leave the travelling symphony were characters who I wanted to know more about and whose story I was disappointed not to hear. 

One of the things I liked the most about the book was, as might be apparent, the portrait of life after such a serious epidemic – I love the idea of a troupe of performers travelling around to perform music and Shakespeare, but even within that I thought the characterisation of the members of the troupe was wonderful. Some of the troupe are critical of the fact that they focus so heavily on Shakespeare's works above any other plays, for instance, which I thought was especially realistic.

Another feature of the novel that I hadn't expected going into it was the role of the graphic novel/comics, from which the novel's title came. They were one of the slightly odd connections between the past and the present. In some ways it didn't exactly come to mean something in the way I had thought they would, but it's role in the book was interesting as it clearly had a strong influence on the post-flu world. If I was studying this text for a class I'd probably put a lot of time into thinking about the intent behind this, but off the top of my head I think it probably ties in with other aspects of the novel to show how art influences life even when life itself is so radically different.

artwork by Nathan Burton

All in all I would definitely recommend this book to most people – but I would probably try to make it clear that this isn't as much of a post-apocalyptic book as the blurb might have you believe (or at least, as much as I thought it would be – all I knew about the book going in was what I'd assumed based on the blurb!)
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