Trainspotting: Irvine Welsh

‘Choose us. Choose life. Choose mortgage payments; choose washing machines; choose cars; choose sitting oan a couch watching mind-numbing and spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fuckin junk food intae yir mooth. Choose rotting away, pishing and shiteing yersel in a home, a total fuckin embarrassment tae the selfish, fucked-up brats ye’ve produced. Choose life.’

So. I watched Trainspotting, the 1996 film, a couple of weeks ago and fully enjoyed it. So much so, that I went out and bought the book. Obviously, it is one of those things that has been everywhere at the moment, what with T2 Trainspotting coming out at the beginning of this year (might I add that the book sequel is actually called Porno). I have read an Irvine Welsh novel before, Filth, and found it thoroughly enjoyable – aside from the graphic violence, twisted narrative and phonetic Scottish writing.

Trainspotting is set in Leith, Edinburgh, following Mark Renton and his friends in their social interactions and encounters with heroin. The book documents Renton’s attempts to quit the drug, and all of those who cross his path, often being sucked into his orbit. It is made up of various monologues, not only those of Renton, yet also those surrounding him – giving insight into all aspects of Leith’s drug crowd. The book was begun from several short stories Welsh wrote, giving Trainspotting a more bizarre feeling in its non-linear approach. As Renton tries to rise above his friends, many of them spiral into the lives addiction has chosen for them. It is all very powerful stuff.

Again, obviously the writing style, being a mixture of Scottish, Scotch English and just plain English can make the reading a little difficult, yet it is definitely worth sticking to. If you are somebody who has watched the film, I would definitely recommend reading this – they are both complimentary but very different entities. Some great characters are missing from the film. Most of all, Trainspotting offers an intriguing perspective on addicting and its effects on character. Renton is the classic anti-hero, but the potential of him and his friends, wasted in their situations – making him someone the reader can emphasise with.

This is a definite recommend to a friend, especially if they have only seen the film.

Dalton Trumbo: Bruce Cook

As I write this, I am in the process of watching this book’s 2015 film adaptation. It stars Bryan Cranston as the titular Trumbo and is actually pretty good. To be honest, I had never heard of Dalton Trumbo, nor did I know much about the Hollywood blacklist. I picked up this book mainly because it was 50 pence and sounded pretty interesting. I do love a good biography.

Dalton Trumbo is actually a pretty interesting book about a pretty interesting guy. Trumbo was one of the highest paid screenwriters of the 1940s-1960s. This book was researched and written within the last years of his life with his permission, as he was facing a lung cancer diagnosis. It starts with his difficult upbringing in Colorado, and the eight years he spent working in a bakery, supporting his family. In 1947 Trumbo was brought before the committee of unAmerican activities for his membership of the Communist Party, along with nine others – the Hollywood Ten. All were sentenced to jail time and blacklisted from ever working in Hollywood. Trumbo aimed to break this, continuing to write screenplays, sold under aliases or in the name of others. You may have heard of one, Roman holiday? The film that made Audrey Hepburn’s name. He in fact won an Academy Award for it whilst on the blacklist. His  role as writer was only reinstated fully in 2011. 

As a period I knew little about, and as a historian, I found this book intriguing. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to learn something new about such an interesting man. Despite the book being written without Trumbo having approved any of it, you can tell that author Bruce Cook is in awe of the man-he writes with such love. If anything, now I really want to read Trumbo’s key anti-war novel, Johnny Got His Gun

Under the Almond Tree: Laura McVeigh

I am going to be honest, this was a bit of a random pick. I saw it in a second hand shop, the title and blurb sounded intriguing, so I just went for it. When I began reading it became clear that this was the story of an Afghan girl, fleeing her country with her family by travelling the Orient Express end to end. I found this in itself quite intriguing. It is rare to find writers on Middle Eastern issues that are not of that origin. McVeigh is in fact an Irishwoman, yet qualifies her ability to write about such things in a writer’s note – referencing her upbringing during the Irish Troubles, her work with charity projects and a need for writers to draw upon that which they do not know, to write most vividly.

Under the Almond Tree is the story of Samar, a young girl running away from the religious persecution and war in Afghanistan with her family aboard the Orient Express. Through the writing of the hardships of her life so far, Samar is able to come to terms with everything she has lost; her life, stability, and her home in Kabul – a little yellow house with an almond tree in the courtyard. I will not say anything else here, for fear of ruining the story.

Firstly, I would like to put out a warning for any would-be readers. This is not a happy book. It is unfathomably sad in many ways. If you are to read it, perhaps do not intend it as a light summer read or something to take to a sunny beach somewhere. I think that would be wrong. I have not heard of McVeigh,or any of her books before this one, but I would place Under the Almond Tree up there with Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. Actually, I would probably say it was better. I cannot recommend this book enough, a very addictive read.

Arthur & George: Julian Barnes

I know it has been a while. This one took a little long to read. Not just a slow burner, life has been pretty hectic over the past month. I have now relocated (if temporarily) back to my mother’s house in Devon, university life now being well and truly over. Hopefully, the peace and quiet will allow me a little more time to read (I highly doubt it).

And now, to Arthur & George. This one jumped out at me in the Amnesty Bookshop (back in York), partially because I had a vague inkling of a television programme of the same name based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s life. I was partially right, the book is based upon actual fact, yet is mostly focused upon the case of George Edalji. I have read bits and pieces by Julian Barnes before, chiefly A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters as a sixth form set text. That was pretty bizarre in itself, with one chapter being told from the view point of a word-worm on Noah’s Ark. So to be honest, before starting this book I wa not very sure what to expect.

George Edalji was a Birmingham solicitor, convicted in 1903 for the mutilation of livestock in the ‘Great Wyrley Outrages’ and suspected of penning a number of malicious letters to himself and his father, an Indian Christian vicar in Great Wyrley. He was  given a seven year sentence, and let out after only serving three with no explanation. It was at this point that Edalji contacted Conan Doyle for help, his case already having attracted 10,000 signatures and being publicised by his family. Conan Doyle aims to prove Edalji innocent and gain reparations for his case. The narrative flips between the viewpoint of Arthur and George, detailing their lives in third person – George in present tense and Arthur in past. A vast amount of context is provided, with the two protagonists not meeting until at least halfway through the book, if not further.

I did quite enjoy this book. One thing I must say, is that I read the whole story without googling the case, to be honest I was not even sure that it had really occurred. This I feel really aided the reading experience, as I was unaware of what would happen. I found parts of Arthur & George difficult to read, I am rather uncomfortable reading about people being obviously set up or discriminated against. But that is just a personal fault. At times though, I did find the writing style slightly cumbersome, the book took a lot of time to get going in its desire to provide detail. It was no Charles Dickens (detail-wise), but this style prolonged my suffering somewhat, and at times even provoked me to skip ahead to conclusions before going back and reading the detail (something I rarely do).

The 100-Year-Old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared: Jonas Jonasson

I have officially finished my degree folks! So I bring you new book reviews.

Today, I would like to discuss a recent read. The 100-Year-Old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared was a suggestion from the same friend who recommended The Kite Runner to me, and she was spot on with that one so thought I would give this one a try. When I found it in my favourite second-hand book shop, an Amnesty shop round the corner from the York Minster, I knew it was meant to be. Apart from anything else, the blurb was very intriguing – detailing the escape of an old man and the ensuing highly criminal chase. What’s not to like?

The book follows Allan Karlsson, an elderly man on the brink of his 100th birthday. Instead of attending the landmark birthday party thrown by his care home, he instead decides to make his escape, going wherever the whim takes him. Having acquired a suitcase full of cash he embarks upon a trip across Sweden, finding a group of friends/accomplices en route. The book flits between Allan’s adventures in the present day, and back to incredible events throughout his past. It quickly emerges that Allan has been present for most of the world’s biggest historical political moments, despite his hatred of politics.

I loved this book. It was refreshing and witty and strangely pure. I really engaged with the concept – I think a little old man running away from his care home is comedy gold. This book was also particularly great for me, as I was reading it in between studying and in snippets before I went to bed – it was really good to drift in and out of due to the switching between ‘history’ and present. The alternate history sections were particularly hilarious, the conversations Karlsson has with Harry Truman, Lyndon B Johnson, Stalin, Chairman Mao and Kim Jong Il are brilliant works of fiction.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a light but engaging read, perfect for casual reading around busy schedules!

Alice in Wonderland: Lewis Carroll

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass

I decided to have a little trip down memory lane a couple of weeks ago and picked up a copy of probably one of the most prolific children’s books in the world. I have not read this book in such a long time, and I kind of felt like it was time to reflect. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was written by mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), based on a tale he created for a friend’s daughters and published in 1865. I ended up reading most of this book on a day trip to Edinburgh, in various coffee shops across the city. Definitely a good way to experience a book.


Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: the first of the two stories follows Alice as she falls down a rabbit hole and finds herself in the land of the Queen of Hearts. On her adventures she meets all manner of strange creatures; the chief of which being the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter and of course the Queen of Hearts. Based upon a game of cards, the world Alice finds is complicated and plays around with logic.

Through the Looking Glass: on another little jaunt, Alice is able to pass through the mirror in her drawing room into the mirror opposite room.This time, the alternative world is based upon a game of chess, with Alice having to pass across the chessboard, passing through every square to become a queen. Both the Red and the White Queen help Alice in her voyage, whilst she meets various nursery rhyme stars.

Excellent Veggie Haggis whilst enjoying the Adventures of Alice

Even as an adult this book was highly enjoyable. Yes, at many times the stories seem to be complete gobble-di-gook. But its fun, its wacky, and of course it makes a highly entertaining read. I feel with this one I don’t need to recommend, considering its massive cultural following, but I do suggest revisiting such a timeless classic.

All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses an Eye: Christopher Brookmyre

This is another one of those charity shop finds. What with the stresses of writing dissertations and life in general, the brain was in need of a little rest. I have always enjoyed a sarcastic detective novel, and decided to pick this up as the blurb sounds relatively hilarious. Anything that references hard core hoovering is right up my street. Oh the irony.

‘All Fun and Games’ is based around a for hire specialist black ops team, tasked with recovering a missing scientist. To do this, the team-leader (Bett) decides to bring in the scientist’s mother (logical I know), to use her lethal mothering instinct to protect her own. The mother in question, Jane Fleming, is a 46 year old grandmother stuck in a mid-life rut. She spends a lot of time attempting to smuggle herself across the English channel and being trained up to become a secret agent type. All in all, this book featured a lot of ass-kicking, beautiful locations and a perfect form of escapism for my frazzled brain.

This was a brilliant, witty, fairly plot-y book, if you ignore the irrationality of training up the target’s mother which is altogether a time consuming exercise when you have a team of experts to hand. I definitely enjoyed reading it though, and would probably recommend this for anyone looking for a cheery read.

A good gift for a parent, might inspire them to become a black ops agent.

A Spool of Blue Thread: Anne Tyler

2015 Man Booker Prize Shortlistee

2015 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlistee

Trying to keep up with book posts! I found this book in an Amnesty book shop in the centre of York, having popped in for a browse on a lovely sunny day a couple of weeks ago. The guy serving me complimented my choice, recommending The Accidental Tourist by the same author. Anne Tyler is actually quite an interesting woman – before 2012 she had not given an interview in 40 years! That is a ridiculously long time. Her books are based around Baltimore, where she lives, and focussed upon middle class suburbia. 

A Spool of Blue Thread follows four generations of the Whitshank family as they grow around their beautiful house, built by Junior, the first known Whitshank. The first section meets his son Red, and his wife Abby, as their family moves from the 1990s to the twenty first century – meeting the great-grandchildren of the family. The second section travels back to when Abby first fell in love with Red, as a young visitor to the Whitshank household. The final section meets the elusive Junior, explaining how the family came to live in Baltimore and their lack of familial roots, before ending with a movement on from the beloved house, to the next chter in the family’s lives. 

This is a beautifully crafted book. The complexities and mysteries of the Whitshank family keep the reader entertained and engaged. However, this is a great book to put down and pick up, or read on an sunny day at the beach or in the park. It is a pleasant book, with suitable amounts of drama. I particularly loved the Whitshank house, it fits perfectly into the centre of the story, as another character almost (a massive cliche, I know).

I would recommend this, especially for anyone looking for a holiday reading.