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Four books I have read in the last day or two, spoilers for all - 104 Books in 2005 [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
104 Books in 2005

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Four books I have read in the last day or two, spoilers for all [Oct. 15th, 2005|06:44 am]
104 Books in 2005
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cross-posted to book_mouse and booksomg

Author: Craig Charles
Title: No Other Blue
Genre: Poetry

Like most people, I know Craig Charles best as an actor, in Red Dwarf. I've been aware of his poetry in a small way through Red Dwarf conventions and a couple of radio appearances, but he started out as a poet when punk poetry swept the clubs of cities across the UK in the eighties. He's toured with other Liverpudlian poets such as Roger McGough, and No Other Blue is the first time his poems have been collected together in a book. They are also, in what I consider a wonderful idea, illustrated. Not every single one of them is, which makes the text-only ones somehow more powerful - they are usually the love poems. Those that are illustrated read a little like comics, and have much more visual impact; perfect when you consider they were written to be performed.

His Introduction is a very clear look at the different writing mediums and how they are received; Charles knows and guages reaction and creation, and presents a well-written and concise history of his involvement in poetry and why he collected it together. The subject matter of some of the poems - being in prison, racial violence, his mother dying not long before his son was born - are thought-provoking and hard-hitting without being gritty and distanced from the reader. The illustrations really bring things home, and make the reader relate, makes them see more than just the words would. When you read poetry, it's possible to just see the words and imagery and be separate from them entirely; but Charles stands in front of you and says "This is my truth". Maybe it's something to do with how long I've seen him work and liked him, maybe it's just the power of the poems and illustrations themselves, but I couldn't read this book without sympathising, without being affected.

The title poem, "No Other Blue", is also one of the best love poems I have ever read. There are three types of love poetry; there's the Romantic Sweeping kind, with imagery and full of 'If I could give you the moon' large gestures; there's the Painful kind, disappointed love, unrequited love; and then there's my personal favourite kind, the Quietly Real kind, which consists of nothing more than 'I love you, and it's real, and I don't need to prove it - it just shines'. "No Other Blue" comes under that last category. It says, quite simply, 'I wouldn't swap this, and you, for the world.' It's beautiful.

Author: Michael Morpurgo
Title: Private Peaceful
Genre: Young Adults' Fiction

I went to a talk at a writers' group last week, on how to structure novels. One of the things we did was to look at the first page of a novel, and deduce from the language and layout of the page what the structure would be and who the narrator was. We were in twos to do this, and the woman who was giving the talk handed out photocopies of three different books, one to each third of the room. The one I and the woman sitting next to me examined was the first page of this book, and it intrigued me (another of the books also intrigued me, I got that out of the library as well - Notes On a Scandal by Zoe Heller, which I'll be reading this week), so I found it.

The main character and first-person narrator is Tommo Peaceful, a boy whose father dies when Tommo is a small boy. Set in the 1910s in England, the book is the story of the first eighteen years of Tommo's life, told in memories he wants to think about over the course of one night, one long night in the trenches in France in 1916.

It is beautifully written. The style flows, the characters are vivid, and the story has a clever and involving structure; use of the first person and memories takes you really inside Tommo himself, so you feel wholly involved in his life, in his family, and you care for them. Looking in from the outside, it's a joy to piece his life together, but as the book goes on the bittersweet air increases as it becomes clear that something is happening in the present, something momentous and most likely Not Good. Each chapter begins with a time; in the present, Tommo checks his watch, and looks at his surroundings for half a page, before we are plunged back into his memories with him. A sense of helplessness and underlying despair hardened over begins to rise up towards the end, and ... I don't want to spoil it, but the last parts of the book are set at the Battle of the Somme, and I have never in my life read anything about the Battle of the Somme without wanting to cry. The ending of this book destroyed me. I recommend having a sleeping purring cat nearby for comfort.

This is an excellent book, with believable and wonderful characters, written very well, switching from past and present tense according to how much Tommo really wants to immerse himself in the memory or just think it like a story. I'd say don't read it if you're depressed, because it is sad, but it's a beautiful kind of sad. Sometimes, I'll get into a state where I can't cry but I need to, need the release - I think I'll buy a copy of this and read it when I need that.

Author: Kate Cann
Title: Footloose
Genre: Teen Fiction

After Private Peaceful, I wanted something light and readable, and I found the perfect one in Footloose. It follows our main character, Kelly, as she goes to Greece for the summer with two friends, Jade and Sarah, while Sarah's boyfriend Mike goes touring with four of his friends.

I like the way this was written. When I picked it up in the library, and read on the back that Sugar thought highly of it, I expected a nicely-turned girls-on-holiday bit of fun, and that is indeed what Footloose is. It is also, surprisingly, half way to richly written, with characters coming into themselves and being comfortable with who they are, but doing it so subtly you don't really notice until they do. All the characters are likeable and recognisable; Jade the sporty never-stopping woman who takes charge and likes to be followed, Kelly the emerging woman who stands up to her boyfriend and knows what she wants, Sarah the shy slightly depressed worry-wort who comes out of her shell and finds what she really likes to do, and Mike the overpowering man who learns to back down when he's told to piss off. They're all about eighteen, and it's very much a coming-of-age finding-your-feet story, thoroughly enjoyable and fun. Even the minor characters feel real, which is something that not every author who writes this type of book spends the time on that Cann does. If you're in the mood for good, finding-yourself fiction that isn't too demanding, I'd say give this a read.

Author: Neil Gaiman
Title: Coraline
Genre: Children's Fantasy

I've been looking for this on and off in the library for a while - my local library is great for teenage and children's books (and crime and general fiction and has a good selection of science fiction and fantasy, though woefully lacking in any new genre books) and I thought I'd probably find it there. Yesterday, I did, and I read it today.

I've not read much Neil Gaiman before, so I can't compare the style to that of his other novels written for adults, but this is an excellent children's book. The tone isn't patronising or condescending, the adults are relying on Coraline even as they help her out, and it's intelligently written. It's one of those fantasy books that are kids' books because the central character(s) are children, not obviously and necessarily because you'd read them and think "This is written for kids", though it is and you can tell. It just doesn't whack you in the face with it.

It is also completely creepy. The other mother is sinister even when she's being pleasant, to the extent that you're almost glad when she's angry and weird because at least you know where you are with that. The structure and the hunt was great, very enjoyable and vivid, giving it the feel of an adventure book without the accompanying adventure-book-ness. It's a little hard to put Coraline into any one category - it's part weird fantasy of Lemony Snicket proportions, part adventure hunt, part mystery, and part ghost story. You do start to wonder where any of Coraline's friends are and if she just moved to the area why she doesn't think about the friends she left behind, but the pace of the story is pitched at that wonderful not-too-fast-not-too-slow speed that you soon get swept up in it and forget to wonder. (Mostly.)

The character of the cat, by the way, is a perfect cat. I could see every cat I've ever encountered in its voice, the swish of its tail, and certainly its didain for human things such as names. I felt sorry for the other father, and for Coraline's parents, on the level of what happened to them, and on the level of how they were a little underdeveloped. The scene with the other father waking up was a good showcase for him, though, and one of the best scenes in the book - I really felt for him, even as she was running away from him, and so did she.

The character of the other mother creeped me the heck out, and it was so good. At first she's this beguiling villain, then as more and more about her is revealed, she just gets creepier and creepier. She's wonderfully and vividly drawn - the most care and attention in the writing and character development is definitely given to Coraline and the other mother, which is absolutely fitting, given that this is Coraline's world and in this part of her world and her life, herself and the other mother are the clearest and most concise things she has an idea of. She's self-sufficient enough that when she has to, she can fend for herself as normal and in an odd copy-world ruled by the other mother. She only goes to her parents when she is bored or frightened, and they leave her to her own devices in the main. Her age is never talked about, but I'd put her at about twelve, no older, so I suppose at this age she's separating from her parents and growing up. It seemed a touch kids-story-book, though, to remove all the adults and other people and just have her on her own. Great for this particular story, but that's the one thing that stops it feeling like a fantasy book that somehow got wrongly put in the children's section.

I liked this book a lot. If I had kids, I'd read it to them and/or encourage them to read it, and I'd encourage anyone else to read it, too, if you feel like a great creepy story pitched nicely somewhere in the childrens'-but-accessible-for-adults range.

Two last things: Coraline's attitude to food would make Jamie Oliver wince. And I do believe in the mouse circus, I do, I do.