Monday, 26 July 2010

A 1000 Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini

Book 3 for Cramlingtons newest book club was A 1000 Splendid Suns by Hosseini. This was Hosseini's second outing the first being The Kite Runner which is now (unsurprisingly) a film.

Most of us in the group had already read The Kite Runner, including me, however none of us had got round to reading this one. We all spoke so highly of the Kite Runner that we thought it would be worth giving this one a go.

It was easily available in paperback and about average length. As with 'Runner' it is set in Afghanistan however this time focused on the lives of two women - Mariam and Laila with the uprising of the Taliban inter weaved expertly in the background. The title comes from a Persian poem called Kabul and is really worth reading. I only read it after I had read the book and found that it shed a whole new light on the book. As well as talking about the beauty of Afghanistan (which despite the devastation that is going on around them Hosseini does manage to portray) it also relates to the two main characters 'May Allah protect such beauty from the eye of man!'

I was expecting emotion by the bucket loads as I cried my heart out reading the Runner and maybe in someway this set me up for a disappointment. Don't get me wrong I really enjoyed this book and there was moments that certainly pulled on the heart strings. It just didn't pack the punch I was hoping it would.

The group as a whole loved the book and most actually preferred it to the Runner. The reason being seemed to be that it was from a womans point of view rather than a males. I was expecting Tariq to die (I told you I was expecting emotion) however nobody expected the twist as we didn't expect Rasheed to be quite so devious.

We also really loved the background to the history of Afghanistan. Most of us knew the odd bit here and there about the Country - mostly in relation to recent events and so it was nice to read something that was about something more than Taliban and Sadam Hussain. I personally had no idea that the history was so vast. Hosseini really should be commended for the way he managed to get so much of the history across without alienating the reader of distracting from the story. I also had no idea as to the beauty of the country and the part where Tariq and Laila went with her father to visit the mountain statues really made me want to go!

As mentioned last month I asked everyone to mark the book out of ten to give some sort of quick reference as to whether we enjoyed it or not. For now the label at the bottom will always have the rating in so keep an eye out. This one averaged an 8 with one person even giving it a nine! Guess that means you have to go read it then.

Oh and apparently film rights have been sold to Columbia Pictures so expect a film of this one soon

What are you thinking of the blog so far? Do you think there needs to be more info as to what the book was about? More about the author? Less of me? Please do let me know. I am also next month going to start making a note of other books that we as individuals have read during the month and recommend. Kind of a further reading list.

Next months book is Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd. Never heard of author or book so am interested to get reading. Hope you enjoy it if you read it too. If you have already read it let me know what you thought. :)

Monday, 19 July 2010

The Road - Cormac McCarthy

Book 2 for Cramlington Book Club was The Road. It was suggested by me as my auntie had just read it and had said it was a really good book but not one to read if you were feeling depressed. Nobody had really heard of it before and I wasn't able to provide much details other than 'it's by the guy who wrote No Country for Old Men and its about a father and son walking, presumably on a road, through America'. I wasn't feeling depressed and had in my mind some sort of Road to Perdition esk book (well they both had Road in the title!) so it seemed like a good idea - Ah the benefit of hindsight....

Its basically about a father and son in post apocalyptic America. It was an Oprah Winfrey book club book by Cormac McCarthy responsible for the aforementioned Oscar winning film No Country. Its a relatively thin book with short paragraphs so doesn't take long to read. That's the good news.

The bad news is its very very grim. Not gory grim just depressing. Father and son are virtually the only survivors of what I presumed was an atomic bomb. The reader is never told exactly what caused the devastation they find themselves in. They have to hide from strangers who are either scavengers or cannibals, they are constantly at risk from starvation and the father starts coughing up blood with alarming regularity. The funny thing is that nothing actually really happens in the book, there is no beginning, middle or end. No solutions are given or questions answered and I realised pretty early on that it wasn't going to end happily.

I read it with a sense of dread that nobody would turn up to the next meeting due to them thinking the book was rubbish. The tone never changes the complete sense of desperation never lets up and some of the things they witness and indeed do are heartbreaking (the baby, the blind man, the man who steals their things at the beach).

I put extra signs up around Cramlington and did extra visits to Sainsburys to ensure prime position on notice board. It must have worked as we actually had one new member!

Everyone agreed that the book was a stinker. Nobody enjoyed it although it was commented that it was well written to keep up that level of intensity throughout the whole book. We all seemed to be disappointed with the ending of the book. For a book that was so lacking in happiness it felt as though McCarthy was trying to give it a happy ending. It felt a bit of a cop out. Its saving grace for most was that it was so thin and quick to read.

What I would say however is that this book was one that kept coming back to me after I had read it. My initial thought when reading about the wife/mother leaving to commit suicide was how selfish, how on earth could she leave them to fend on their own, a mother. However after reading it I began to think how it wasn't the mother who was selfish it was the father. On the face of it he was protecting his son, trying to provide for him and keep him safe. However the world was dying, all trees were dead, the sea was black with ash winter was setting in. There was no food, they faced death daily from either starvation or the 'bad people' they had to avoid but most of all the man was dying, and he knew it. He knew he was going to leave his son in the hell on earth he had lead him to. For me keeping his son alive was selfish and cowardly. He didn't want to be alone. Surely killing his son whilst he was in his sleep would have been the bravest thing to do. There is just no way I could have left my child in that hell hole without me there to protect her. Its one thing trying to keep them safe, to guide them and hope there is something better for them but to leave him a small boy, afraid and alone was for me unforgivable.

I'm sure that others would disagree with my view point, thinking him noble to fight against all odds for survival and your comments are welcome if you do! Although I wouldn't recommend this book it certainly got me thinking and probably stayed with me for longer than most.

Next book is a 1000 Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I'm going to ask everyone to mark it out of 10 to provide a more rounded opinion rather than just me prattling on.

Happy reading :)

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson

When telling people which book I was reading for the book club I was surprised by the number of people who had already read it. Kind of like when you book a holiday to somewhere you have never heard of and suddenly everyone as been. Nobody had a bad word to say about it which is pretty rare so I was really looking forward to reading it.

My auntie very kindly gave me a copy so I didn't need to buy it however it was widely available in Asda, Sainsburys (I told you we didn't buy food only books in Cramlington supermarkets) and Amazon stocked it quite cheaply.

It was quite a large book - 500 odd pages but was a paperback, with short paragraphs and relatively short chapters. It was one of three, the others being The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who kicked the Hornets Nest known collectively as the Millennium Trilogy.

I was intrigued to find out that Larsson died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2004. He lived an interesting life that can perhaps be said to be reflected in this book in particular. For example he worked for several magazines including as an editor like the books main character Mikael Blomkvist and had an interest in politics resulting in death threats.

Anyway enough preamble what about the book?

In a nutshell its about a swedish journalist (Blomkvist) who in the course of trying to nail the bad guy (Wennerstrom) gets caught up in investigating the disappearance of an elderly swedish businessman's (Vanger) grandaughter. I powered through it and hate to say I was disappointed. Maybe because I had heard so much hype I was expecting more. The beginning of the book seemed like a totally different book to the actual story. You were made to think you were going to read a post Berlin Wall dodgy dealing book where Wennerstrom typically got his comeuppance.

Not the case however! Blomkvist received a prison sentence (not usual for the good guy) and off we were transported to a little swedish town and bombarded with swedish name after swedish name after swedish name as Vangers unnecessarily large family were introduced. Blomkvist obviously tried to allow the reader time to process who was who by repeating names and connections to Vanger often and even producing a family tree at the beginning of the book however characters were not allowed the chance to develop so quite frankly the reader didn't care about remembering them.

The book then took a turn of pace again when Salander (apparently the girl with the dragon tattoo) turned up. From this point the book became interesting as it focused on gathering evidence around Harriets disappearance. I even thought at one point we were going to go all Dan Brown when bible quotations started to be bandied about but it steered back at the last moment. A brief but effective torture section emerged to be followed by a rather swift and unsatisfactorily exit of the 'killer'.

This wasn't the end of the book however. We still apparently had to deal with Wennerstrom and so we were back to feeling like it was two books sandwiched into one. I still haven't worked out how the two fit together. Perhaps being one of three this book merely paved the way for all to become clear at a later date. From what I can understand from the next two books however I don't think this is the case.

Oh and I guessed the truth about Harriet from the flower. Not to give too much away their.

It wasn't all bad however. The middle section where clues were coming thick and fast was genuinely page turning and the developing relationship between Salander and Blomkvist makes interesting scope for the next two books.

Enough of me however what did everyone else think?

For a start people actually turned up which was a relief and on the whole everyone seemed to love the book. In fact I was definitely the only one who wasn't overly keen. I was pleased as didn't want to kick off the bookclub with a book that everyone hated. They might never turn up again!

Everyone (including me) did agree on various points. For example, why was the book actually called The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Salander didn't really turn up until half way through and although she was a big character the book just wasn't about her.

Everyone thought that the book didn't read as well as it should have in that the Wennerstrom and Vanger parts just didn't gel. The general consencous was that it was an easy read once you got past the Vanger family tree but that the introduction of so many characters after being submerged in eastern European financial companies with lengthy acronyms was mind boggling and unnecessary.

Overall the book was a success. Most people said they would be reading The Girl who Played with Fire with one person having started to read it already. There was also talk of watching the film which was filmed in Swedish but has English subtitles. Me think I will give it a miss but as I like to see things through to the end wont totally write out reading the next one. Keep reading!

Next book by the way is The Road by Cormac McCarthy so keep your eyes peeled for the next post.