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.

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Edinburgh

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.

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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. 

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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.

Hystopia: David Means

2016 Man Booker Prize longlistee

Not to judge a book by its cover, but the very psychedelic patterning drew me in. Plus, anything making reference to history usually manages to tempt me. I love a good dystopian novel.

Hystopia is a bit of a strange one. It follows an alternative history, one where Kennedy was not shot from the grassy knoll, having somehow managed to secure himself a third term in office. Vietnam veterans returning from the ongoing conflict are ‘enfolded’ into treatment programmes that repress traumatic memories of the war. The book is written by Eugene Allen, as a book within a book written by David Means. Allen is a fictional character, yet part of his history and motivations for writing are explored in interviews and editor’s notes before and after the ‘book’. It is all very complicated and definitely makes much more sense when you actually read the thing, but do not be deterred.

It is a very strange book. Violent, aggressive, on verge of anarchic; it is definitely not the kind of thing that you come across everyday. Often I find violence in a book reads a tad disjointedly, but the extra detail of emotional and physical trauma really added to it. It could have been a real history of the US in the 1960s. To be honest, my American history is not that great, and I could definitely see how Means/Allen draw upon broad events to create such a detailed alternative history.

If you fancy something a bit different, whether you are into dystopian literature or just straight up war stuff, I am sure you will find something that appeals in Hystopia. I definitely enjoyed it, I just do not feel I ever got into the flow of it – potentially due to deadlines and history readings and various other life things that got in the way.

 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Douglas Adams

My guilty pleasure has to be science fiction. By science fiction I more specifically mean alternate universes. Think Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

Yet, it is only now that I have got around to reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I tried once when I was a lot longer but I just could not get into it. My Dad was the one who got me interested in Pratchett and he quite likes Hitchhiker’s Guide so I thought it was probably about time to read this. I definitely need a new book series to get into.

If you have never heard of this I am, quite frankly, surprised. When this book was first published in 1979, it was an instant bestseller in the UK. It has sold over fifteen million books in the UK, the US and Australia. It is loved by millions across the globe, and has developed a cult following.

Arthur Dent is a normal guy, on a normal Thursday, trying to prevent the demolition of his house for a new bypass. Little does he know, he should actually be concerned with another demolition that is about to occur…after the destruction of Earth, Dent may be the last human alive. Trapped with his friend Ford Prefect, who he now discovers to be an alien, on board of a Vogon demolition ship, his only comfort being the words ‘DON’T PANIC’ inscribed in friendly letters on the Hitchhiker’s Guide – a travel guide for the professional space hitchhiker. Now he must chase the meaning of life across the galaxy with a disgraced president and the cute girl from a party in Islington.

This is a classic example of the English humour I love – dry, sarcastic and brimming with underdogs in hilarious scrapes. The attention to detail creates a rich story, my particular favourites were the Babel Fish (they sit inside your ear canal and absorb brain energy aimed towards the host, spitting it back out as translated language) and Dent’s various attempts to teach the Nutri-Matic drinks machine how to make a cup of tea. My only complaint is that this book is evidently a ‘set-up’ book for the rest of the series. Not that much seems to occur, which is a tad annoying. Yet I will probably definitely read the other four in the series. Watch this space.

I would recommend this to any lovers of science fiction or that strange British witty charm.