Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Revival by Stephen King

First off let me start by saying how surprised I was at how few of us had actually read a Stephen King book. I believe him to be quite a varied author and felt sure all of us would have had at least one or two of his books under our belts, but apparently not. I would say for at least half of the group Revival was the first time King had been purchased.

I really like Stephen King books. I enjoy the fact with him you never know what you are going to get. Yes he wrote The Shining and Salems Lot but did you also know he wrote Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile? It was also during this meeting that I realised he is practically the only author I have come across who can write a good short story. Why did we not think of him when attempting one previously? The brilliant Apt Pupil is an example that stayed with me for a long time afterwards so if you are thinking of sampling some King or want to read a good short story his collections of short stories are a good place to start.

Anyway Revival. I liked the setting (Maine, very King), the pace and the characters. I loved the first part of the book whilst Jamie was a boy and to be honest could have read a whole book just based around that era. One member commented upon why King pondered so long on this part of the story when the real action took place over many years not really involving many of the characters first introduced but I enjoyed it and wouldn't have had the first part reduced at all.

I also like how King dealt with the passage of time. Jamie was a small boy when first introduced to him and totally believable playing with his toy soldiers. Yet I also felt he was believable as a junked up late teen and then as a 50 odd year old still cycling 5 miles a day. Casual references to computers, Internet and how ones home town doesn't really change but totally does also helped with the passage of time.

I had no idea how the book was going to end and most of us didn't guess about Con. One member of the group suggested so much fell apart after Rev (Charles,Danny etc) died because the link he had with them somehow was gone. One member also suggested Jamie was so important to Rev because he was the first one he met in that town and perhaps the first one to be taken in by his electricity stunts (floating Jesus in the garage). But Jamie soon saw through these stunts like he did when the Rev started performing on people and someone brilliantly suggested that the beginning of the book where Jamie was playing in the mud and the Rev suggested adding water to make the holes better represented the book. Yes it did work for a while but afterwards the soldiers became buried by the mud and disappeared - Rev's fixes worked for a short time then basically messed people up and killed them. I love it when there are explanations like this tucked away in books. It always makes me wonder whether they are deliberate or whether us as readers are trying to find meaning because we want there to be.

Anyway I have managed to get so far without mentioning the ending and whilst I won't specifically give it away (but really if you read my blogs you should have read the book first as it's very hard to write anything in depth without some spoilers) the ending is where most of us fell out with the book, a step too far if you will. We went with the whole healing by electricity although I thought this was poorly explained in the book but what happened in the cabin was just too unbelievable. We drew similarities with Her Fearful Symmetry at this point. I also didn't like the fact King started off by saying something like 'you won't believe this but this is what I saw'. Have the balls to just say it is so rather than trying to qualify it or give yourself a way out. Our marking was reduced because of this chapter and it's a shame as I think it would have been a high scorer. We gave it a 7.

Do read Stephen King novels if you haven't read any before. Maybe not this one but no two are the same and they are worth it because even on an off day he's an enjoyable read.

I actually wrote the line 'floating Jesus in the garage' in this blog - not every day I write that! Which leads me to my question of the month - best line from a book?

Next book The Ice Twins by S K Tremayne

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Mrs Hemmingway by Naomi Wood

I have to confess I knew nothing about Ernest Hemmingway before reading this book so it was without presumption that I approached this fictional account based on the true story of his 4 wives.

First up was Hedley, meek, mild and with Ernest whilst he was a penniless nobody. In walks glamorous Fife (yes the names are silly) who makes a beeline for the couple, befriending Hedley and eventually taking Ernest to bed. One thing all the group couldn't get away with was the fact Hedley, despite knowing of her husbands affair, invites Fife to vacation with them which in reality lead to the end of her marriage. Why would you do that? WHY? We generally found Hedley too willing to roll over and just wanted her to slap Fife. She didn't though and when her marriage ended (having unsurprisingly given up on the 100 day seperation) she remained friends with both of them up until their deaths.

I admire Wood for the section that followed -Fifes. The reader was left hating Fife after Hedley and I really wasn't looking forward to reading her story. Nevertheless without making the reader fall in love with Fife, Wood gave an understanding to Fifes behaviour and at least she fought like tooth and nail when the inevitable newer woman appeared on the scene.

The third wife, Martha, appeared as though her story would be different with her section beginning with her wanting to divorce Ernest. She was much more career minded and her world didn't seem to revolve around Ernest like the others did. Yet she too fell for his charms and in the end their marriage only seemed to end because Mary his fourth and last wife arrived on the scene.

Mary was different and I wish Woods hadn't fast forwarded her story as she did. Abuse and serious depression were hinted at and it would have made a change to read about that as opposed to boy meets girl, falls in love, meets another girl and leaves. I really felt Marys sorrow once Ernest had died, her need to believe his death was an accident and then adding her effects to Ernests box of momentos, it was quite poignant.

We thought Harrys story was interesting and not knowing anything about Ernest I kept expecting the missing suitcase to make a reappearance. We decided Harry was a super fan bordering on stalker and I felt quite sad for him when he sat in the porch where Ernest died.

We all loved the settings of the book and the description which in parts reminded me of the very good Tigers in Red Weather (go read our post about it for more info).

Two of the group however made very good points. The first being that the book was very repetitive. In effect the same story happened over and over again. The second point was that none of the characters were really likeable except perhaps for Mary but as mentioned above her section was skipped over so we didn't really get a chance to like her. Ernest in particular appeared to be
a tortured genius who drank too much was childlike at times and extremely selfish. I've commented in the past how hard it is to like a book where none of the characters are likeable so it is to Woods credit that we liked the book as much as we did despite this fact.

It also massively wet our appetite for Ernest and his life. I had no idea about his circle of friends, his many wives, his drinking and his good looks and now am on a mission to find out more about him - question of the month! A Hemmingway book will perhaps be reviewed in the future. Watch this space.

The book got a 7 and next month's book is Revival by Stephen King. Happy reading.