The Virgin Suicides

Following reading Middlesex by author Jeffrey Eugenides I opted not to track down his other novels not because I didn’t like Middlesex but because I really did. He seemed to create this complex world fraught with identity issues that just seemed to inhabit my brain for the duration – one of my friends is very well aware how much I loved this book, I barely shut up about it!  It’s been a couple of years since I read Middlesex and I thought I would try his first offering, The Virgin Suicides, published in 1993 and later turned into the well received 1999 film, written and directed by Sofia Coppola*.

Set in 1970’s Michigan the story is told to us in retrospect by a man who was once part of the stereotypically voyeuristic neighbourhood boys obsessed with the odd and distant nature of the five Lisbon girls, leading up to and the aftermath of their suicides. Their role or lack there of in the girl’s lives despite their desire and attempts to touch them, both physically and emotionally, is told to us through day to day teenage existence and dry comedy, all tinged with a deep sadness which reflects how far five girls, not of this world long, had the potential to effect their surroundings. This is shown in the story through the evolution of not only their family home but also the surrounding neighbourhood and its occupants.

Enjoying such a subject doesn’t seem quite right and I wouldn’t say it had the drive of a ‘page-turner’, again due to the nature of the subject, but there is a style that Eugenides seems to embody that just makes you get lost in a world. To me his books feel like looking at an old photograph but having someone behind you to tell you a part of the back story, not all of it but just enough to keep you involved.

It’s not quite as good as Middlesex but it certainly leaves a mark.

*always assume I haven’t seen the film.

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The MaddAddam Conundrum

Following the discovery of Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye novel in a local charity shop I have been wondering which of her many novels to read next… and then MaddAddam came out to rave reviews and I thought that this could be the one. I have been umming and ahhhing as to whether I should read the other two in the trilogy first. It wasn’t until I read a review in The Times that I was persuaded it actually could be an experiment as to how well it stands alone.

So, I read the introduction and then the summary of the first book (Oryx & Crake), followed by the summary of the second (Year of the Flood) and went straight online to order them. I am not missing the chance to read two outragious sounding books just so I can read the last one ASAP.

Following finishing Dangerous Women Part 1, a collection of tales edited by George R. R. Martin & Martin Dozois, I will be picking up Oryx & Crake and enjoying the ride this triology offers.

I’m not going to lie, I’m a little excited!

Battle Royale

It may have taken months but I have finally finished Battle Royale, the epic and pretty horrific dystopian novel by Koushun Takami. This is one of the few books I have read because I have seen the film, both of which seem to have a similar cult following.

Completed in 1996 but not published until 1999 it wasn’t long until the film followed in 2000 along with a Manga series by the same author. A best selling book, a highly grossing film this is a tale that clearly caused controversy and in turn success.

I don’t know much about films, they are not necessarily my thing, but what I took from the Battle Royale film was that the plot is solid but I needed more characterisation… enter the book. It is gripping, edge of the seat stuff, while making each student terrifyingly realistic.

In a world where Japan is a police state and democracy and freedom of speech are not permitted the government uses a ‘battle royale’, a fight to the death, as a show of dominance over their teen population.  Annually a random class is chosen, nobody knows which or when but they are chosen and any form of resistance by family, friends or by their teacher is quickly extinguished with gun fire.

This year there are 42 students, 21 males and 21 females, all but one from the same class. Gassed and taken to an island at an undisclosed location they are fitted with tracking devices and given a pack containing the bare minimum required to survive and a random ‘weapon’; guns, knives, miscellaneous outdoor survival gadgets. It’s luck of the draw. Rules are put in place. Escape is futile. The only option is kill or be killed.

The ‘game’ ends only when there is one person left standing.

It is the original and gritty Hunger Games.

As the reader you are supplied with a map of the island and a list of all students and their number in a list entitled male and female. Firstly, the best books have maps and secondly the list of names was very handy as a lot of the student’s names are similar or it is difficult to interpret gender.

My initial thoughts were that the names would make it difficult to follow the story but this was far from correct. Some of the names are seen so regularly you know exactly who they are, some less so but their back stories make them memorable, others don’t have the chance to last long into the games and therefore become irrelevant pretty quickly.

While gruesome at times – I read one page with one eye closed in the hope it would seem less horrible – it just enhances the desperation of the situation and it doesn’t seem gratuitous because of the characterisation and a very engaging and fast paced plot.

If you’ve read the book I highly recommend you see the film.

If you’ve seen the film I highly recommend you read the book.

Lies We Tell Ourselves

This year, mainly because of the introduction of book reviews for work, I have been trying to embrace all manner of different genres. The opportunity to open myself up to styles I would not have previously thought of is mainly due to the fact that if I am lucky I get hold of the books for free. So, when the opportunity to review a YA fiction novel with a focus on circa 1950’s America and specifically the Civil Rights Movement I jumped at it (a particularly horrible A2 level in history hasn’t managed to put me off a clearly disturbing and very real subject).

Lies We Tell Ourselves is Robin Talley’s debut novel that opens from the compelling perspective of Sarah, a black girl corralled into joining 9 of her friends at a formerly all white high school in Virginia. We see Sarah struggle with the desire to be mature and strong in the face of emotional and physical violence on a daily basis. What Talley does that I thought particularly fascinating was also to show the views of Linda, a student already at that school, brought up in a traditional Southern State family with a staunch anti-desegregationist father who has added anger issues to boot. All of a sudden it becomes quite difficult to dislike Linda for the views she seems to hold but doesn’t fully believe. She is a victim of ‘tradition’ and her father’s particularly belligerent views on equal rights.

The additional element of the growing, confusing feelings the girls develop for each other felt slightly shoe-horned into the story and while not wholly far fetched didn’t add what I think the author intended to the plot. Linda and Sarah’s friendship is abhorred enough without the need for the additional drama of the girls loving one another in an already desperately unforgiving environment.

A positive of this plot addition however is that tackling discrimination in any form should be applauded and although not my particular favourite element of the book Talley does take it on with respect for the subject and the need for historical accuracy.

The subject is gritty, the characters are powerful and I think that this, on the whole, is how a YA novel should be. Thought Provoking.

7/10