May Goodreads Challenge – The Magus

For May I chose The Magus to read from my remaining books. I’ve read John Fowles before – The French Lieutenant’s Woman is one of my favourite books so I had high hopes about The Magus.

It is a big book – not just in length but in content. The blurb talks about our protagonist, Nicholas Urfe, being held by a master trickster – but make no mistake, the master trickster in residence here is Fowles himself.

It took me a long time to read it – not because it was uninteresting or particularly hard, but because it just is a very big book. That being said, the last 200 pages roared by as the plot kicked it up about four gears.

Nicholas Urfe, as a typical rudderless middle-class graduate of the post-war era, finds himself teaching English in a Greek school for boys on a remote, isolated island. It follows nicely from Romance of the Forest with a travel literature edge. Fowles captures Greece wonderfully – his prose reminded me of holidays to Crete and Lesvos and brought back lovely memories. I also liked the TEFL aspect, especially so as Nicholas had similar feelings of unfulfilment regarding teaching that I had experienced in my short tenure.

The book is best thought of as London and England bracketing either side of the fat Grecian middle section. Nicholas flees a girlfriend, disappointment in his own failings and general disillusionment to an island that then reflects these three things again back at him. The master trickster he meets is a strange patriarch, Conchis, who Fowles paints expertly as a man who shifts in all but shape. There are powerful moments detailing Conchis’s life, in particular the recollection of his days serving on the front in WWI, but in typical Fowles style (a la French Lieutenant’s Woman) the rug is pulled out from under the reader’s feet. As a result, the story is lush, deceptive, and twists and turns at every page.

I enjoyed it, though it was strange, and at times felt a little laboured. (I am in the middle of my own editing so I’m seeing everything bloated and over-egged so I might just be projecting outwards.) As a mystery it was good to figure bits out, though sometimes the cycles of mystery were so dense it was hard to decide what the actual point of it all was. It felt a little too high-brow for me at times: a lot about psychology and psychiatry, which went over my head, and sometimes it was hard to keep track of what was real and what wasn’t (though I guess that was purposeful). Nicholas, our narrator, also did my head in from time to time. He was full of his own self-importance, but then again, all his flaws got called out on. This is a story about how our own selfishness and egocentric behaviour can drastically affect those around us – and Nicholas is forced to confront his own shortcomings. I’m not sure if he will really learn from his mistakes, but over the course of the novel he comes a step closer to comprehending that he is not the only player on the stage.

The ending was wholly ambiguous and I made my own conclusion, based on a Disney-fuelled happily ever after.

It is very much a sort of book that will haunt you, and it also makes you not trust anybody or anything they ever say, which is very helpful in everyday life.

My next book is The Meaning of Night, a contemporary Victorian crime thriller, which Maura is cuddling up to below.

April’s Goodreads Challenge – The Romance of the Forest

I was worried I might have to start this post reporting my failure to uphold my resolution. (Instead I need to start it with an apology that it’s so late, and a disclosure saying that I did in fact finish the book in April, and I wrote this post a week ago, but I’ve only just got round to posting it!) The Romance of the Forest proved a hard book to read. I could harp on about all the other things going on that have been taking up my time and attention, and granted they all exist, but in all honesty, I just really struggled with this book. But I’m happy to say I finished it, at about quarter to eleven last night, so just in time hurrah!

An eighteenth-century Gothic novel that has sat on my shelves for long enough, I had tried to read it before and stalled on the first page. I’m pleased I persevered, and I have enjoyed it (at times). The problem with eighteenth and nineteenth century writing – that I’ve found, anyway – isn’t in the old-fashioned style they use, the long sentences, the incomprehensible sentence structure, the wayward subjects or even subject matter now quite alien to a modern reader. I get all that and like all that. The problem is I am a fast reader. My imagination leaps beyond the words that I’m reading so when I’m in a story that has very dense writing, including join-the-dots descriptions and misleading sentence starters that begin somewhere and then randomly out of nowhere go off on a tangent, I struggle with it. I probably need to sit down with my imagination and tell it to behave. Not that it’ll listen, and not that I’d want it to anyway.

So The Romance of the Forest is a book that moves too fast and too slow all at once. Confusing? Yes. At least the majority of the characters have different names, right? Well, up until the last few chapters and then we had two characters with the same title and it was all a bit of a blur. The main character is Adeline, and I think the reason I didn’t like her is because I saw much too much of myself in her. She’s a melodramatic, melancholy slip of a thing, prone to bursting into tears at the slightest thing, and she just annoyed me a little too much. The storyline starts with a mystery, then more mysteries come up and unless I totally just didn’t pay attention, the mysteries are all resolved at the end. Hurrah! Adeline is an orphan, essentially, and is placed under the care of the La Motte family, who are themselves fleeing debtors. Together they take refuge in a spooky abbey, where they find all these mysterious objects, some of which suggest a sinister past to the abbey. Then the abbey’s real owner appears and makes their lives very difficult.

There are some serious plot twists in this book. A lot of the twists happen in about the last 50 pages, and some twists are fun little false twists too, which do work quite well to keep you guessing. Part of the book’s style is the way Radcliffe starts by introducing a sinister motif, or a thrilling moment, and then dissolving it – spoiler alert: for example, Adeline sees a mysterious man in the woods and is afraid, but he turns out to be a nice chap indeed.

Radcliffe was a travel writing buff and so her own writing is rich with descriptions of exotic places that she herself may not have made it to. I must admit I did skim through a few of the longer passages waxing about the beauty of this French town or this lake with its acacias.

I thought I would enjoy this a bit more than I did. I gave it 2 stars on Goodreads, which is an OK rating on the Goodreads scale. It just was a bit of a slog, unfortunately.

For May I’m jumping into The Magus by John Fowles. Now Fowles wrote one of my favourite books ever, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, so let’s see if this one can live up to my high expectations. The blurb suggests it should be right up my street. I am feeling some The Name of the Rose vibes with it, so we shall see!

Kipling photobomb

The Magus, by John Fowles: On a remote Greek Island, Nicholas Urfe finds himself embroiled in the deceptions of a master trickster. As reality and illusion intertwine, Urfe is caught up in the darkest of psychological games. John Fowles expertly unfolds a tale that is lush with over-powering imagery in a spellbinding exploration of human complexities. By turns disturbing, thrilling and seductive, The Magus is a feast for the mind and the senses.

The Books Everyone Lies About Reading

I heard this on the radio the other day at my mum and dad’s, but before they said what the top book was, the first one I thought of was The Lord of the Rings. It didn’t come out at number one, but was a close second. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve not read No 1 – James Bond (I presume they mean “all” rather than “any”, though I have listened to the Octopussy audiobook as read by Tom Hiddleston, which was a great listen on the commute to work, even if I was laughing sat in traffic at the amount of times he says “pussy”, not very mature I know), but I’ve never said I have read it. So I inspected the list on the original article, found here, and I’ve gone through it with what I have and haven’t read: Continue reading “The Books Everyone Lies About Reading”

April’s Goodreads Challenge: Starting Line

I get to come into April with a bit of a clean slate. Alongside my allotted monthly books I’ve been catching up with Robin Hobb’s Fitz and the Fool series, in anticipation for book 3 coming out soon. I finished the second book last month so have a relatively low on-the-go pile.

While waiting about in the lambing shed I started re-reading a book I’ve attempted many times – Stephen King’s The Gunslinger, Book One of the Dark Tower series. I’ve read lots of Stephen Kings over my time, including what is probably one of the scariest books ever, It. Have you seen the trailer for the new film coming out this year? It looks absolutely terrifying. I mean, clowns, hello! The scariest things out there. When I have kids we are so not having clowns at kids’ parties. And Pennywise isn’t even the big bad in It – he’s just a facet, a mouthpiece.
Continue reading “April’s Goodreads Challenge: Starting Line”

My Goodreads Challenge 2017 – March

This month I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. I chose it for my Challenge because I had bought it to read for the PGCE I never finished (like most things in my life) and everybody was raving about it. It’s sat languishing on my bookshelf for long enough.

This is one of those books that everyone raves about, but when it gets down to it, they’ve not read the book, but heard rave reviews about the stage adaptation. Their granny’s mate or little brother’s English class went to see it and it changed their lives.

Continue reading “My Goodreads Challenge 2017 – March”

World Book Day

It was World Book Day and if I was dressing up as someone out of literature I think I would have to be the Yorkshire Shepherdess, what with all the farming and such. We were up at the farm feeding up and tidying up and went to pick up a new calf, bringing our total to 7 (including the one with her mother). Only 3 are on milk so that’s not too bad. Where the calves are there is no running water so I have to lug a great drum of hot water about and it’s no easy task. My arms ache, especially when I can’t open the gate because the pin is too stiff for me, I can’t lift said drum over it because I’m too short, so instead I wedge it through the biggest gap in the fence I can find. It’s an ordeal, but looking after calves is my favourite bit so far so I don’t mind.

I think the Yorkshire Shepherdess is a fine person to look up to, and she’s certainly more relevant to World Book Day than the kid my mum saw in a Chelsea kit. The Chelsea Annual? Mmm, I think that’s pushing it a bit. Whenever I’m up at the farm and it’s chucking it down or I’m tired or struggling (read most days), I think to myself what would the Yorkshire Shepherdess do, and I find a reserve of strength (aka desperation) and I get on with it. I’m usually told off later for doing something wrong but I’m sure there are worse things that could happen.

But we all know farming isn’t my big interest. Oh, no. The big thing is the writing thing.

I have 3 weeks to finish my first book in my self-imposed deadline, in time for the How to Get Published conference at the York Literature Festival. I have about 12-15 chapters left to write, depending on how fast I can write/how ruthless I can be. Considering I’ve just written Chapter Twenty-Seven, which in my previous draft corresponded to Chapter Forty-Five, I don’t think I’ve done too bad in my cutting frenzy. It’s hard to fit writing in alongside everything else there is to do: the farm, feed calves, keep the house clean, do washing, rush about getting clothes in when it rains, cook tea, endless reams of washing up, panic about money and how I’m going to pay bills. I’m also going to be starting to work again come April, and before that there’s lambing to worry about. I stuck to my 500 words a day goal, but I think I might have to up it to at least 1500 a day, just so I can get some text down.

Part of developing as a writer is of course being a reader. I love reading – always have done, always will do. I studied Literature at uni at undergraduate and postgrad levels, have filled three houses up with books. As an only child, reading was a way to occupy myself when there was nobody about to play with (until I got a Gameboy, and then catching Pokemon was so much more exciting, but even then, I think I enjoyed reading the strategy guide more than playing the actual game). Reading seemed to naturally lead to writing. When I didn’t have my own stories and characters in my head, I rewrote existing stories, an exercise that helped me in turn appreciate story arcs, purpose and intent.

Being currently a frugal writer on a strict budget, there’s no space for book buying. Saying that, I did go to the second hand bookshop in Pickering a few weeks ago and buy two of Terry Brooks’s Shannara books (can anyone tell me if Book 1 is essential, as I’ve heard it’s vastly different to the subsequent two?). As part of my Goodreads Challenge I’m trying to read books I already have. In my early twenties, while most girls frittered their money away on posh makeup and going out dresses and holidays here, there and everywhere, little old me spent hers on books, music and car insurance. Hence why I can fill three houses with books and CDs and part a car at each house. Not that Millie the Puma can move at the moment.

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I know some people see reading as a waste of time, but the same could be said for watching TV, movies, sitting on Facebook. I use reading in a similar way that I write: for a moment, an evening, half an hour in the bath, I can completely forget my own silly little life and petty problems, and immerse myself in other peoples’ lives. Stories touch us in different ways and there are some books that I feel have changed my life, or my viewpoint, or have opened my eyes – The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, If This is a Man by Primo Levi, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, plus countless others. I’ve read His Dark Materials at so many different points in my life and each time it speaks to me in a different way, a huge accomplishment for what is often simply categorised as a children’s book.

Also, so excited about Philip Pullman’s next series about Lyra!

When I have a child, alongside that child running around outside, playing and learning, understanding the importance of time, and money, and kindness, and gratitude, I will spend time reading with them. I have my mother’s set of Narnia books that she had as a girl and those will go to this as yet imaginary child. And of course if writing is to be (as I hope) my occupation, I’d like my child to understand the worth of that, and the importance of imagination, even if they have no desire to write (which is OK too).

So books are important, yay? I have big plans to make a study/library in Grandad’s house, and that will be my writing cave, where behind closed doors, the magic will (hopefully) happen.

Katy

My Goodreads Challenge – February Review, Burial Rites

So February has been and went and true to my goals, I finished my book for the second month of the year, and this time it was Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites. I’ve had this book on my bookshelf for a good long time and never picked it up so I thought now was as good time as ever. I must admit I think my enjoyment of it was certainly marred by the fact I started reading Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being and was utterly wrapped up in that.

Burial Rites is one of those books that was nominated for awards and was on everyone’s TBR list. There was a lot of hype and if everybody didn’t have a copy in their bag, they knew somebody who did. The story sounded compelling, and it fit into a perfect period of time: Nordic/Scandi thrillers, female-led murder mysteries. If it had been called The Girl in Iceland it might have sold even more.

Kent is only a young writer – one of these that have done Creative Writing XYZ and I’m not bitter at all (I half-wanted to do Creative Writing but everybody I spoke to about it scared me away from it with pitchforks and burning torches so there you go). The story is indeed compelling, about the consequences of a murder that has already happened in 19th century Iceland, of all places. Like Colman’s The Rule, a young writer from my neck of the woods, the barren, cold setting is winningly created with effective, sparse prose. I didn’t like the font the book was published in, which is ridiculous I know but when that’s what you’re staring at, it can really bug you if the story doesn’t drag you in and overpower you completely.

And this didn’t. I found it hard to get into for the first half of the book. There were a lot of viewpoints to follow, and the wet assistant reverend wasn’t my favourite of characters to follow, especially when he missed a lot of the action. Agnes, the central character and the only one with a first person POV, was the most interesting, but even when she told us the truth of the murder for which she was convicted and awaiting the death penalty, I didn’t feel gripped by her story. Based on true events, the narrative was haunted by unchangeability, and that was purposeful of course, but it felt like hopes were being raised every so often, all for nothing.

Kent is a good writer, but I felt the two daughters of the family Agnes stayed with were underdeveloped, bit players in the calm before the storm. Their mother was the strongest character, plagued by a cough, and I was happy she didn’t die in the end. As a newbie to farming, it was comforting to read familiar events and tasks in a cold, unforgiving environment. I think our technology on the farm isn’t much more advanced than theirs!

I haven’t picked my March book yet but it will be something short as I’m a little pressed for time. I’m trying to finish my own book before the end of the month plus we have a lot going on at the farm. I also started re-reading Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Assassin (Book 1 of Fitz and the Fool) after I finished Burial Rites, ready to start on Book 2 soon. Robin Hobb is one of my favourite writers, not just fantasy but overall. I’ve read lots of her trilogies and series, but I think Fool’s Assassin has been the hardest to get into. Fitz as a narrator is always compelling and sucks you into both his world and his thoughts, however in this book not a great deal happens over the first half. A plot point is introduced in chapter 1 and not picked up again, and instead we spend a lot of time with Fitz and Molly, and later Bee, in their home life. If I remember rightly, action picks up again, and I’m excited to see where that leads.

A Tale for the Time Being – Review

I do believe that sometimes we read books at a particular point in our lives for a reason – whether it reflects something within us, or something we are looking for. I’m heavily in the re-drafting process of my first book and I think I needed to read something awe-inspiring, just to really inject that spark back into it. This book turned out to be Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being.

Continue reading “A Tale for the Time Being – Review”

My Reading Challenge 2017 – January recap

So at the beginning of this year I decided I would read more. I have three houses full of books now and it’s high time some of them got read! So I set myself a relatively easy goal: 12 books in the year, 1 book a month. I went through my bookcase in my house and picked 12 books. Some are fiction, some are non-fiction. Some are brand new, some are second-hand shop finds. The idea is to read 1 a month. If I finish that month’s book early, I won’t read the next one for the month. Then I’ll have to pick another book up. A good solid plan.

January’s book was The Magicians by Lev Grossman. A former coworker of mine used to rave about this book and I thought it sounded right up my street: a magic university? What happens when Harry does his degree. I’m a big fantasy fan and I like me a good bit of magic realism too, so I was happy to start off with this one. Continue reading “My Reading Challenge 2017 – January recap”

Reading Challenge 2017

As most people know, I love me a good book. Some people buy clothes, shoes, handbags, makeup, and others buy cigarettes, magazines, whatever, but I like my books. Always have done, and so Casa Katy is filled with books. When I moved out of home I determined to only bring with me books I hadn’t read and wanted to read, which meant that Windy Farm is now full of books I’ve read that I can’t bear to part with just yet or that I will probably never ever read but look pretty good on a shelf somewhere. Last year I didn’t do as much reading as I wanted to. I finished the Wheel of Time, which was a biggie, and I even tried to re-read A Song of Ice and Fire but I got three chapters into Clash of Kings and remembered why it took me so long the first time.

Towards the latter end of 2016 my little life had a bit of a switch-around. Not only did Scott and Fly move in, but I left my job, he then left his job, and we turned to joint endeavours (the farm), which led to days being full of lots of outside work and then evenings full of falling asleep on the settee.

But no more! This year I am committing to the Goodreads 2017 Challenge. I was going to do a reading challenge on my own, but I saw others engaging with this, and since I never make much of a go of my Goodreads account, I thought I would combine the two.

To make it simple, I’m sticking to one book a month. The other morning I went through my bookshelf and pulled off a big mix of books to read. Some are fiction, some are non-fiction, some I’ve started before, some have just languished, their secrets untold. I have visions of reading them in a seasonally appropriate order, so maybe the heavier non-fiction bits might be the sun lounger reads of a hot sticky summer. Who knows!

I’m starting off my 2017 Reading Challenge with The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I’ve had this book for a while now and held off reading it for a couple of reasons, usually the typical started it and something else came along, but in all honesty, I swerved from it because in setting and topic it is quite close to my own story in #MFB, being that they are both set in a magical university. I suppose I worried I might be too influenced by Grossman and subconsciously assimilate some of his themes and features into my own writing. (I also had this highly egocentric fantasy of being read/reviewed/interviewed about #MFB and being able to say “actually I read The Magicians after I finished #MFB so no it didn’t influence me in the slightest”.) But a big part of being a good writer is being a good reader. So I’m going to give it a go.

Plus, I recorded the TV series on my Sky+ box and it’s sat there taking up space, so once I’ve read the book I will watch that before we move and I lose all my recordings. PS. Does anyone know if you can keep your Sky+ box and your recordings if you move from one house to another??? The boy may be heartbroken if he loses all of his Heartbeat episodes.

So I will read The Magicians, my book for January. My rule is that if I finish early I won’t start another book on the list, I will either persevere with other outstanding books (Middlemarch, here’s looking at you) or start something else, and then come 1st February, pick the next one.

Here is my reading list in full! Tell me about yours. What will you be reading? Or what have you read recently? I’m always on the look-out for good books!

Katy’s Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge

The Ice Museum – Joanna Kavenna (non-fiction)
Empires of the Deep: The Rise and Fall of the British Navy – Ben Wilson (non-fiction)
A Discovery of Witches – Deborah Harkness
The Magicians – Lev Grossman
Magician – Raymond E Feist
Burial Rites – Hannah Kent
Enduring Love – Ian McEwan
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
The Meaning of Night – Michael Cox
The Romance of the Forest – Ann Radcliffe
Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis
The Magus – John Fowles