Strike Your Heart

strike your heart

Amelie Nothomb has written a short novel every year for the past twenty odd years. This, her twenty-fifth, is, of the ones I’ve read, certainly her best.

It deals with familiar, even archetypal Nothombian, themes: namely, female relationships, and the cruelty sometimes inherent within.

The crux of the book is that young Diane’s mother doesn’t like her. Cannot stand her, in fact. Blames her for her youth and vitality draining into a humdrum life. But she loves her other children – it’s just Diane whom she treats coldly. And it is this thread, and it how it affects and shapes Diane’s life, that the book is about.

Beautiful, cruel and heart-rending, the story is engrossing and the writing is absolutely top-notch. I tore through this book in one sitting. Highly recommended.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

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Brilliant Book Titles #269

under the wig.jpg
Blurb:

‘GRIPPING’ – The Times

How can you speak up for someone accused of a savage murder? Or sway a jury? Or get a judge to drop a case?

In this memoir, murder case lawyer William Clegg revisits his most intriguing trials, from the acquittal of Colin Stagg to the shooting of Jill Dando, to the man given life because of an earprint.

All the while he lays bare the secrets of his profession, from the rivalry among barristers to the nervous moments before a verdict comes back, and how our right to a fair trial is now at risk.

Under the Wig is for anyone who wants to know the reality of a murder trial. It has been praised as “gripping” by The Times, “riveting” by the Sunday Express and “fascinating” by the Secret Barrister, who described the author as “one of our country’s greatest jury advocates.”

Several prominent barristers, including Matthew Scott and Bob Marshall-Andrews QC, have said Under the Wig is a “must read” for anyone with an interest in the criminal law. Switch off the TV dramas and see real criminal law in action.

Well-known cases featured:

The Murder of Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common
The Chillenden Murders (Dr Lin and Megan Russell)
The Trial of Private Lee Clegg
The Murder of Jill Dando
The first Nazi war crimes prosecution in the UK
The Murder of Joanna Yeates
The Rebekah Brooks Phone Hacking Trial

REVIEWS

‘This is a gripping memoir from one of our country’s greatest jury advocates, offering a fascinating, no-holds-barred tour behind the scenes of some of the most famous criminal cases of modern times.’

– The Secret Barrister

‘Countless veteran lawyers have produced page-tuners based in the fictional world of law, but in Under the Wig William Clegg, QC, has distilled his extraordinary life in the criminal courtroom into a yarn equally as gripping.’

– The Times

‘One of England’s best barristers provides a fascinating sometimes hilarious combination of a personal odyssey and insider accounts of the most important and famous court cases of recent times.

‘From the infamous case of Colin Stagg and the Wimbledon Murders to war crimes in Belarus and Bosnia and the Murdoch phone hacking trials we share and applaud the author’s deep commitment to justice and his infectious enthusiasm for one of the world’s greatest professions. An absolute must read for anyone who aspires to join it (and anyone who already has.)’

– Bob Marshall-Andrews QC

‘Bill Clegg’s memoir draws on some of the most high-profile criminal prosecutions of recent years to illuminate the career of a defence lawyer at the peak of his success.

‘Deftly weaving personal reminiscences into the view from counsel’s bench, he solves one high-profile murder case long before the police and ensures that justice is finally done in another after the tactics adopted by a better-known QC have led to a miscarriage of justice.

‘Unlike many works of this genre, Clegg’s case-book eschews endless exchanges with long-forgotten judges, lawyers and villains. Like the successful jury advocate that he is, Clegg reduces his story to its essence.’

– Joshua Rozenberg

‘A must read if you’ve got any interest in the criminal law.’

– Matthew Scott, Barrister Blog

‘Economically, simply and engagingly written… It is a must read for anyone with an interest in the law and justice, aspiring barristers and those with an interest in legal history.’

– Catherine Baksi, Legal Hackette

Brilliant Book Titles #268

have you eaten grandma
Blurb: 

The go-to good English guide from the grammar guru himself, Gyles Brandreth . . .

‘Best thing ever, laugh-a-lot, spanning everything. Great book, I’m loving this’ Chris Evans, BBC Radio 2

‘Brilliant, clear, entertaining, very funny and often outright silly. Brandreth excels . . . in all his linguistic joie de vivre’ Guardian
__________

Why, like, does everyone keep saying ‘like’?

Why do apostrophe’s keep turning up in the wrong place?

Why do we get confused when using foreign phrases – and vice versa?

Is it ‘may be’ or ‘maybe’? Should it be ‘past’ or ‘passed’? Is it ‘referenda’ or ‘referendums’?

FFS, what’s happening to our language!?

Our language is changing, literacy levels are dwindling and our grasp of grammar is at crisis point, so you wouldn’t be alone in thinking WTF! But do not despair, Have You Eaten Grandma? is here: Gyles Brandreth’s definitive (and hilarious) guide to punctuation, spelling, and good English for the twenty-first century.

Without hesitation or repetition (and just a touch of deviation) Gyles, the Just A Minute regular and self-confessed grammar guru, skewers the linguistic horrors of our time, tells us where we’ve been going wrong (and why), and reveals his tips and tricks to ensure that, in future, we make fewer (rather than ‘less’) mistakes. End of.

(Is ‘End of’ alright? Is ‘alright’ all right? You’ll find out right here . . . )

And why not check out the Have You Eaten Grandma? podcast, starring Gyles and a host of other grammar and linguisitic lovers and experts

Almost Love by Louise O’Neill

almost love pic

This is Louise O’Neill’s third novel. I started reading Only Ever Yours but I didn’t fully get it and gave up halfway through. Asking for It was a good book but the ending made me extremely angry, because it was very realistic. So I didn’t know what to expect from this one.

Almost Love is the story of Sarah, an art teacher living and working in Dublin. She is currently in a relationship with Oisin who idolizes her but she is still obsessed with her ex, Matthew, who doesn’t. The book jumps between her present day life and back to her time with Matthew. Although she thinks she’s in a relationship with Matthew, it is clear to everyone around her (and to the reader) that he is just using her.

Although we should feel sorry for Sarah, we don’t. She is quite a horrible character, and a bit of a mess as a person. She has been through a lot, her mother died when Sarah was young and her father didn’t cope very well, but this in no way can excuse her behaviour. She’s very narcissistic and so full of self-importance. She blatantly treats everyone who cares for her like rubbish, constantly insulting her home town and the people living there, then can’t understand why people aren’t fawning over her or why she doesn’t know what’s going on in her friends’ lives.

This probably isn’t a great review because I honestly don’t know whether or not I liked this book! I will say it was engaging, and I read until the end, but I also felt a bit icky while reading it. But I think this is a common thread in Louise O’Neill, she writes books that can make the reader uncomfortable.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984: A Graphic Memoir by Riad Sattouf

the arab of the future

The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984: A Graphic Memoir is written by the 37 year old cartoonist, Riad Sattouf, son of a Syrian father and a French mother. In this darkly funny graphic memoir saturated with satire, Sattouf recounts how his parents met as students in rural France, forged a bond and had a child together. Sattouf sheds light upon his father’s nationalistic notion of Pan-Arabism and his increasingly deluded idealism that had an impact on the future of his family and on the turn that their life took henceforth. He recounts how the family moved first to Gaddafi’s Libya and later to Hafez al-Assad’s Syria in search of this chimera as it was pulling a slow dive into the neopatriarchal mindset of his father. He recounts how his father was increasingly expressing a desperate need for an ethno-national identity as fabricated by his memory and as driven by his sense of marginalization, instead of embracing that universal human condition that welcomes fluidity of identity, tolerance and the fight for human dignity in the one’s present reality. This ingenious graphic novel will make you contemplate on such concepts as hybridity – the  fact that hybridity is essentially a reality that every citizen (that is, immigrant, emigrant, and one who has never emigrated) has to encounter, an inner journey that each embarks on on one’s way to attaining personal freedom, self-respect and respect for the fellow human beings, or else, to self-imprisonment and fear, discrimination, racism and violence, as can be manifested by either side of that fabricated binary opposition (the so-called West versus East, European versus Arab, Christian versus Muslim, and other sectarian divisions).

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries catalogue here.

Brilliant Book Titles #267

i'm a joke
Blurb: 

‘Joyfully entertaining. Full of warmth, wisdom and affectionate delight in the wonder and absurdity of being human.’ Observer

‘Funny, honest and heart-warming.’ Matt Haig

What better way to understand ourselves than through the eyes of comedians – those who professionally examine our quirks on stage daily? In this touching and witty book, award-winning presenter and comic Robin Ince uses the life of the stand-up as a way of exploring some of the biggest questions we all face. Where does anxiety come from? How do we overcome imposter syndrome? What is the key to creativity? How can we deal with grief?

Informed by personal insights from Robin as well as interviews with some of the world’s top comedians, neuroscientists and psychologists, this is a hilarious and often moving primer to the mind. But it is also a powerful call to embrace the full breadth of our inner experience – no matter how strange we worry it may be!

Brilliant Book Titles #266

the incurable romantic.jpg
Blurb:

‘Frank Tallis brings a lifetime’s clinical experience and wise reflection to a condition that, by its own strange routes, leads us into the very heart of love itself. This is a brilliant, compelling book’ Ian McEwan

Love is a great leveller. Everyone wants love, everyone falls in love, everyone loses love, and everyone knows something of love’s madness. But the experience of obsessive love is no trivial matter. In the course of his career psychologist Dr Frank Tallis has treated many unusual patients, whose stories have lessons for all of us.

A barristers’ clerk becomes convinced that her dentist has fallen in love with her and they are destined to be together for eternity; a widow is visited by the ghost of her dead husband; an academic is besotted with his own reflection; a beautiful woman searches jealously for a rival who isn’t there; and a night porter is possessed by a lascivious demon. These are just some of the people whom we meet in an extraordinary and original book that explores the conditions of longing and desire – true accounts of psychotherapy that take the reader on a journey through the darker realms of the amorous mind.

Drawing on the latest scientific research into the biological and psychological mechanisms underlying romance and emotional attachment, The Incurable Romantic demonstrates that ultimately love dissolves the divide between what we judge to be normal and abnormal.

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

a head full of ghosts.jpg

I enjoyed this but I think it was going to be slightly better than I thought.

Merry is 8 and her 14 year old sister Marjorie is possessed. Or is she?

Fifteen years later, Merry is being interviewed for a tell-all book about the possession and the resulting reality tv show, The Possession, that came out of it.

A dark twisty easy-to-read story that has some good twists. What I liked about it is the complete lack of clarity over whether Merry is possessed or if she is putting it on. What might be the devil, might also be a teenage girl crying out for help.

Definitely worth reading, and I’m going to read his other novels, but I’d skip the post-novel material, in particular his notes on each chapter – the novel doesn’t really warrant this kind of introspection and the author’s clear love of horror is fine within the context of the novel and the character of Merry but by this point, it’s a little grating. Also, don’t set up a clearly ambiguous moment in the story that you purposely don’t explain, only to poke the bear by pretty much explaining it in the notes, but not really.

Also, it’s been optioned to be a movie, and will definitely be a good movie.

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You can reserve a copy on South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

Foundation by Issac Asimov

foundation

Really enjoyed this one. Has plenty of shortcomings but the strength of the core idea is enough to give this book serious regard.

Thousands of years into the future, mankind has explored and conquered the outer reaches of the galaxy. The all powerful galactic empire, enormous in size and prosperity, has reigend in relative peace for thousands of years. But as thousands of empires had before them, the rot within is festering. In response, the proponents of a revolutionary new science called psychohistory, which enables man to predict large scale historical events, isolate themselves on the planet Foundation at the periphery of the galaxy in a bid to preserve the achievements of their great civilisation and limit humanity’s fall into chaos.

What unfolds is the death of the old and the birth of the new empire and the reader gets to observe with omnipotence. The novel’s greatest weakness is the lack of character driven narrative. Instead, the book feels like a large scale imagined social experiment being related to us by an excited scientist. The novel is divided into 3 sections and in each section, the burgeoning empire peacefully overcomes a threat or obstacle using a different civilising influence to cow thier aggresive neighbours; the sharing and trading of resources, the exporting of religion and the rise of capitalism respectively.

Despite this, the scope of Asimov’s imagination and the disquieting truths within Foundation’s rise to power make the book well worth the read.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

Brilliant Book Titles #265

three uses
Blurb:

A paperback edition of award-winning dramatist David Mamet’s acclaimed collection of theatre essays. Renowned playwright, screenwriter, poet and essayist David Mamet explains the necessity, purpose and demands of drama. A celebration of the ties that bind art to life, Three Uses of the Knife will enthral anyone who has sat anxiously waiting for the lights to go up on Act 1. In three tightly woven essays of characteristic force and resonance, Mamet speaks about the connection of art to life, language to power, imagination to survival, public spectacle to private script. Self-assured and filled with autobiographical touches Three Uses of the Knife is a call to art and arms, a manifesto that reminds us of the singular power of the theatre to keep us sane, whole and human. ‘Mamet’s writing is tight, spare, and as accurate and ruthless as a scalpel’ Sunday Times