Saturday, January 28, 2012

'A Game of Thrones - Book One - A Song of Ice and Fire' - George R.R. Martin 1996.

I have jumped on the 'Game of Thrones' bandwagon very late for someone who considers herself an avid fantasy reader (Especially considering it has been around since 1996!). Somehow 'A Song of Ice and Fire' slipped under my radar the past few years, and when I finally got around to reading the first book in the series over the Christmas break I couldn't stop berating myself for not picking it up sooner.

George R. R. Martin has a seriously impressive talent for weaving a web of political intrigue, and the writing skill to pull off an incredibly complex series of relationships without overwhelming readers. Martin's setting for the series is very ambitious, more so than many standard works of fantasy fiction, but because of this a sense of place becomes integral to the development of many characters, relationships and conflicts.

This is probably my shortest review to date, but I really was a bit overwhelmed by this book. I would recommend it for just about anyone, even people who are not normally interested in fantasy. 'A Game of Thrones' does not have a strong emphasis on many of the 'traditional' fantasy staples such as magic, which makes it a bit more accessible.

'When you play a Game of Thrones, you win or you die' is the catchphrase of the story and it is applied in a satisfyingly ruthless fashion.

Love it, Read it,

Thursday, January 19, 2012

'The Handmaid's Tale' - Margaret Atwood 1985.

'The Handmaid's Tale' was a bit of a disappointment for me. I came across the title in a list of the best dystopian novels and I thought the premise was brilliant; a world where most women are infertile, and the fertile ones have been reduced to a single function 'breeding'. I must have skimmed over the next part of the blurb which reads "but even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire - neither Offred's nor that of the two men on which her future hangs" which should have tipped me off to the major issues I would have with this book. Having read another of Atwood's novels, 'Alias Grace', many years ago I should have also had some clues about what to expect from her writing style, however in all cases I was oblivious.

The premise is certainly not a unique one, the first similar example that springs to mind is Children of Men, but 'The Handmaid's Tale' focuses on an anti-female backlash against the feminist movement during the 1980's rather than simply rising infertility.

The chapters jump around in quite a strange manner which is not explained until the post-script, but the main flow of the story is that in the early 80's a group (of men presumably) took over the United States of America, and took away the rights of women. This began with taking away their jobs and bank accounts, and then extended to segregation of fertile and infertile women, and a complete restructuring of society to suit a very strange vision of the reproductive future of America. The protagonist is called 'Offred' which can be read as 'of Fred' meaning 'Fred's Handmaid'. As the handmaid allocated to Fred by the government Offred must wear a very bizarre red outfit, live in his house (with his 'blue' infertile wife) and hopefully bear his child after which she will be transferred to a different man.

While there are a lot of feminist ideas and issues raised throughout the novel, overall it is oddly anti-women. The only strong female characters, particularly the main champions of feminist ideals pre-takeover, are cowed and broken. The indecisive, frustrating protagonist eventually surrenders her fate to the various men who dominate her life 'legally', 'covertly' and 'emotionally'.

Despite the disappointment that this was not the book I thought it would be, I did enjoy reading it. Atwood's style in this case is abrupt, taking odd turns and branching off on tangents, and often is without a clear sense of timeline. The post-script, which explains the odd style, really made this book for me. It added so many additional dimensions and made me re-think so much of what I had read.

I have had a few people mention to me that they read it in high school, so I would love to know what you take on it is. Did you enjoy it? Was it ruined by high school English? What were the inevitable 'lessons' to be learnt from it?

Love it, Read it,

Sunday, January 8, 2012

'Women of Letters- Reviving the Lost Art of Correspondence' - Curated by Marieke Hardy & Michaela McGuire 2011.

This book is all about reviving the art of writing letters, the art of sharing stories in more than 140 characters, perhaps even the art of living and appreciating life enough to fill this space. This is also a book filled with the lives of amazing Australian women, so this post is for my aunt Rachel, who is the bravest woman I know.

'Women of Letters' began as a creative fundraising event for Edgar's Mission animal rescue centre and has grown into a monthly event, with an online community, and of course, the book which I just read. Hardy and McGuire invite talented musicians, actresses, politicians, writers and comedians to write a letter to topics as varied as 'the moment it all fell apart' or 'the best present I ever received'  and in the process revive the lost art of correspondence. At the monthly events, these writers then read their letters aloud to an audience, which lends a very intimate quality to the letters in this book, as each has a very distinct 'voice'.

This is a difficult book to comment on, as there are so many styles, and vastly different approaches to writing letters. But this is it's strength. It is a brilliant book to read a little at a time, I picked it up and read a couple of letters here and there, rather than from start to finish. Some of the letters were very candid, other were hilarious, and out of all the letters there were only two that I didn't like (and one of those was written by Paul Kelly).

I must admit that there are two things about this book which I would usually dislike. First is the 'celebrity factor'. Ever since I read a social science text with an infuriatingly pretentious introduction by Bono I have shied away from any kind of 'non literary' celebrity association. However, in this case I am willing to overlook this, because seeing Megan Washington's name was actually what made me pick up the book, and give it a proper look, rather than just a cursory glance. In addition, the actual idea behind the fundraising is based around famous Australia women, as so it isn't some tacked on celebrity endorsement.

Secondly, as any frequent reader of this blog will probably have noticed, I'm not really a reader of 'current' books. Those books that dominate newspaper columns and 'recommended this Summer' lists before falling into obscurity as mediocre. I had seen this book mentioned in a few Sunday newspaper reviews and there was a huge in store display, but I'm glad I swallowed my prejudices and gave it a try. 'Women of Letters' is something truly unique and well worth a read, it might even prompt you to see your own life in a different light.

Love it, Read it,

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

'The Day of the Triffids'- John Wyndham 1951

This book was a purchase from a quaint little second-hand bookshop in Yungaburra, whilst on holiday in North Queensland. I thought this novel would be similar to 'War of the Worlds' which I read earlier this year, but surprisingly it had few similarities to H. G. Well's famous alien invasion novel.

Oddly enough 'The Day of the Triffids' had some interesting parallels to 'Windup Girl', in that it deals with the fears of the time. Wyndham writes to the biggest fears of the 50s, the threats of satellite weaponry and the Soviet Union, while 'Windup Girl' dealt with peak oil, genetic modification and threat of global corporations.
Perhaps this explains why I found Windup Girl so frightening, and Day of the Triffids so 'quaint', as by tapping into the fears of the times dystopian novels may lose the menace as they age. I'm not certain of this, but I am certain that dystopias are written with the fears and issues of the time in mind, whether consciously or unconsciously.

The plot of this novel is really a 'love despite all odds' taking place in England after a 'meteor shower' blinds most people, except those who were accidently unable to look outside at that time. The protagonist was in hospital with bandages across his eyes and awakes to a silent world. In addition to the chaos one can expect in a world where most people are suddenly blinded, the strange, aggressive, plants called 'Triffids' which had been appearing over the last few years begin to take advantage of the population's blindness.

'The Day of the Triffids' is not a book with an overly happy ending, but I really enjoyed reading it. It was a great tale, with all the markers of a solid novel. I don't often read books more than once, but I think I may read about the Triffids again in the future.

Love it, Read it,