Somehow Summer is now coming to an end and that period of time which seemed so vast back in May has shrunk away to nothing and I haven’t managed to do half the blog posts that I wanted to. But no matter because secretly I’m really excited to catch up with everyone I haven’t seen since last term after what has been a particularly difficult Summer for me overall.
One of the main joys of my Summer however, has been the reading for leisure, that, while studying an English and Film course, you just don’t get during term time because you’re too busy reading a hideous number of Victorian novels and feverishly taking notes on them all…or is that just me?
And so now, being the slow reader and feverish note taker that I am, I have packed up all my leisure reading and started yet again on the assigned readings for next trimester but since I enjoyed a number of the books I read over the past couple of months quite so much, then I thought this might be a good opportunity to share them with you too. So here is my Summer reading of 2017 ranked in order of my favourites.
#8 Neil Gaiman – American Gods
Neil Gaiman is one of the top fiction writers of the moment so I was really looking forward to having my first chance to read one of his novels, however, I hate to say that I was left unimpressed. The story follows the character of Shadow as he re-enters society after a period in prison. When he learns of his wife’s death he is distraught and, with no better offers on the table, takes a job with the mysterious Wednesday, who leads him into situations that he never thought possible.
Don’t get me wrong, the plot premise was quite an intriguing idea which is why it still made my list but in the same way that I didn’t enjoy the television series Breaking Bad, I sometimes felt it was trying way too hard to be clever or original and just failing miserably. Maybe I went into this novel with too high expectations? Maybe I’m just not cultured enough for a story of this calibre? But all I can say is that I was left a little bored and lost at the number of plot twists and slightly unbelievable events as they played out within the narrative.
I also think that to truly enjoy this novel you need to have a really good grasp of the Greek and other Gods from history and even though I though I had quite a good knowledge of this, I struggled at points to match the character from the novel to the god they represented, All in all, it didn’t leave me running to watch the Amazon television series that is newly based on this story.
#7 Irvine Welsh – Trainspotting
Now, if you know me, you know that Trainspotting the film is one of my favourites and so I thought it about time that I got round to reading the original novel which inspired it but I think inspiration is as far as we can go to make links between the film and the novel itself. For anyone who isn’t so familiar with the story itself it basically follows a group of young heroine addicts from Edinburgh as they try and fail to get on in life.
I found that there are far more characters involved in the novel than in the film and the narrator changes between chapters so it is not only Mark Renton who we hear from which was an aspect of the novel I actually quite liked. The additional plot lines in the novel also gave a deeper insight into the community in which the characters were living in as well as the heavier focus on the illness of aids as a theme gave the book a higher sense of seriousness and depth that the film lacks, perhaps.
However, why I will possibly stick with the film in this case is because I thought that the plot itself in the novel was quite jagged and slightly disjointed and just didn’t run as smoothly as it did onscreen. I also think the story of Trainspotting just works better when you can visually see what’s going on and it seems to have more impact in this way. For me, Trainspotting needs Danny Boyle’s visual effects to make it great so this book remains quite low on my list.
#6 Andrea Levy – Small Island
Small Island was actually a book that I acquired by accident while ordering last years uni books but, since I had enjoyed Andrea Levy’s other novel, Fruit of the Lemon, I decided to give this one a go too. Small Island has similar themes to Fruit of the Lemon in which race and racial prejudices are key but it is set back at the time of the Second World War which gave it a completely different feel as a novel.
It follows four main characters, that of Queenie, Hortense, Bernard and Gilbert and their varying experiences during the war and in post-war Britain as well as exploring how this differs as a result of their ethnicity and the colour of their skin. Just as you would expect this was a really thought-provoking and important novel in so many ways but Levy’s use of comedy and light-heartedness throughout made it pleasant to read at the same time.
Although it was slightly too close to term time reading and a number of the themes I had covered in my first year modules to fully appreciate the novel at this time, I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would and I would urge everyone to give this book a try.
#5 Jonas Jonasson – The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared
This novel is an experience to say the least and I can honestly say it is just as delightfully odd as its title may suggest. For a long time I actually wanted to write a specific blog post entirely dedicated to this book, mainly to help myself to get my head around it too, but I unfortunately ran out of time to do so.
The story begins with hundred-year old Allan Karlsson deciding on a whim one day to leave his care home behind and go on an adventure and, believe me, he gets exactly that. Not only do we get to follow Allan through all the weird and wonderful scenarios that he gets himself into on his travels but as the story unfolds we also get an insight into the weird and wonderful past that he has already lived.
For a while, I was a sceptic that thought the story was just too downright ridiculous to actually work but as I read on I discovered a great fondness for the silliness and the humour which is used so well throughout. I have to warn you before you read it that it is a little bit bonkers and doesn’t really make any logical sense at all but if you are looking for an easy, enjoyable read, especially for holidays, then you can’t possibly find a more perfect book than this.
#4 – Emma Donoghue – Room
And from one very light-hearted read to one with a much more serious message to convey. Room is, in many parts, a very difficult one to power through but one that should definitely not be disregarded. It basically manages to give an insight into the world of Jack and his mother who live in Room. It is told from the perspective of five year-old Jack which gives a child-like innocence to the story which is very much needed when we learn the truth about why they both live in one solitary room with no means of ever seeing the outside world.
I actually read Room very quickly by my terms because the suspenseful nature of, especially the middle section of the novel, makes you desperate to see what will become of the two protagonists of the story, so much so that you find yourself completely losing track of time. Another thing really got me about it was the fact that you fully connected with the characters of Jack and his mum and are so desperate, for his mother especially, to get on well after everything that has happened to her that you sometimes forget that it is fiction.
But I guess, one of the things that is so shocking about this novel is it’s real-life aspect because as horrible as it is, what happened to Jack’s mother has actually happened in today’s society and this novel is able to show us, however slightly, just how terrible a thing that truly is.
#3 – Louis de Bernières – Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a novel which was recommended to me a number of years ago but, and I hate to say it, I kind of judged it on it’s cover for a long time and simply thought it might be quite tedious and boring. I am happy to announce that I was very wrong.
The story is set in Cephalonia in Greece during the Second World War and the German and Italian invasion which occurred there during that time. It follows the family of a doctor and his daughter, Pelagia, in particular as they see their village overrun by soldiers including the eccentric but highly lovable character of Captain Corelli, who is assigned to live with the family. It also jumps to other aspects of the war as we hear about soldier Carlo’s experiences and difficulties both in life and throughout combat while giving us an overall view of wartime Greece and how life changed there.
One of the biggest strengths of the novel was definitely its ability to completely transport the reader to the Greek island it was set on, to a degree which I have never before experienced and I honestly felt myself falling in love with a place I had never even visited which was a wonderful thing. The characterisation was also second to none as I felt myself feeling such strong feelings for each and every one of the characters involved as the story progressed and I couldn’t quite get over just how much I cared about what was going to become of them all.
The novel’s one weakness is that I found the ending to be too obvious and drawn out and I kind of wished the story had ended maybe fifty pages before the end just for more of a fitting, poignant and clean conclusion but every other aspect of this novel having been done so well still catapults it to very close to the top of my list.
#2 Bret Easton Ellis – American Psycho
I don’t know whether the fact that this novel is second on my list should worry me or not but I can’t deny the fact that this was one of the most interesting and unapologetic novels I have ever read in my life. It follows the life of Patrick Bateman, a highly successful businessman on Wall Street who, on the surface, is wealthy, well-groomed, completely in control and exactly what society wants to see, but his life also has an unexpected flip-side as he doubles as one of the most gruesome serial-killers I have ever encountered.
Never before have I felt quite so much like throwing up during a novel, never before have I wondered quite so many times what on earth is going on in a section of a book, never before has an author managed to fit quite so many designer labels and brands into one chapter but never before has my interest been peaked quite so much by the nature of a man in society and how everyone views him versus who he actually is.
This novel is not for the faint-hearted or the squeamish among us but it is an exceptional critique of modern day society and materiality as well as showing us a character who is quite so clearly psychopathic that I started to wonder about Bret Easton Ellis’s own psyche whilst writing it. There’s a reason it has become such a modern classic and I say just to read it because it will be a novel that you never forget.
#1 Stieg Larsson – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Millennium trilogy rose to popularity a number of years ago and has been something on my must-read list for a long time. Unfortunately, when it first came out it really wasn’t appropriate for seven year old me to be reading so it has taken me until now to finally get round to it, and I am so glad that I did. As you can probably see from my top two choices, my favourite genre in both books and films is psychological thrillers and this novel managed to mix this genre with an incredible who dunnit style mystery which keeps you guessing until the very last piece of the puzzle has been put in place.
The mystery itself is decades old but is something that wealthy businessman Henrik Vanger is determined to discover the truth about before he dies. He calls in financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist to look over the mystery of the disappearance of his niece Harriet Vanger one more time and, along with the help of expert computer hacker and social introvert Lisbeth Salander, you won’t believe what secrets are uncovered as their investigations play out…
The mystery itself is a highly intriguing one and you find yourself examining the clues found for yourself too, desperate to find out what happened to Harriet and why certain characters act the way they do before Mikael discovers it for himself. Not only that, but the dynamic and seriously unconventional figure of Lisbeth Salander is an incredibly strong addition as we follow her individual story just as closely. It is hard-hitting and suspenseful and just plain brilliant at times and is honestly up there with one of the best crime novels I have ever encountered.
I can’t wait to read the next instalments in the trilogy and plan to do so very soon once I get through some of the endless amounts of reading I am now entrenched in for my course as I can’t wait to find out what will happen next for Lisbeth and the other characters involved in her life now that the mystery of Harriet has been solved. But one thing that makes me incredibly sad is the fact that Stieg Larsson, the author of this amazing narrative, did not live to see the amazing success and acclaim that it has achieved.
So there you have it. My Summer reading is now finished and after writing this article I think its high time that I returned to feverishly taking notes on Victorian novels and, rather weirdly, stories about monsters which also seem to be rather prevalent on my course…but I really hope that this list gives you some inspiration next time you’re looking for an interesting read and that no-one changes their perspective of me once they learn that my two favourite books this Summer were almost completely concerned serial killers…Happy reading folks!