Normal People by Sally Rooney

normal people

A divisive novel, both personally and socially, by which I mean, I am still not sure how I feel about this book and indeed, I often  catch myself revising my opinion about it, but also divisive in the sense that I have sat in on a large number of arguments among friends about the novel’s merits.

On reflection, this novel is a bit like a radio or TV advertisement that has horrifically catchy jingle. You hate it passionately but reserve a great deal of respect for its creator. The novel’s protagonists are extremely irritating, who make frustrating decisions, have frustrating conversations and lead frustrating lives. They struggle in late adolescence and young adulthood through genuinely traumatic and trying circumstances. However, at this point, reality starts to exhaust itself for Connell and Marianne, and many of their social circle, seem to embody a fetishised version of college going Irish young people whose origin I am not certain of. For all I know, they may very well have stumbled inebriated out of a Hollywood film. They’re all beautiful, they have lots of sex, they’re incredibly smart, and they’re all troubled and disaffected (but in a cool way). For this reason, rather than earning my empathy, I veer towards regarding them with ridicule.

But, I have to assume that this is all part of Rooney’s design. Almost everyone I’ve spoken to about this novel has reacted in a similar fashion to what I’ve outlined above, although I should note, some have not and argue that her depiction of life for a certain cohort of Trinity students to be spot on. You could never accuse the novel of inconsistency. You do get a sense that Rooney is in control here, and that every word is carefully chosen.

What I did struggle with was the quasi-YA aspect to the novel. The style, while meticulous, can be at times a bit drab and full of the understated melodrama of teenage angst, which is another irritant.

For all my irritation though, it’s a book that gets under your skin. I’m just still not sure if I liked it.

The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

faceless

Welcome to Night Vale is a bimonthly podcast set in the fictional town of Night Vale, where all manner of weird and wonderful things live and happen. One of their recurring characters, and fan favourites, is The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home (yes, that is her name), and she is voiced by Mara Wilson (the little girl – now grown up – who was the little girl in Matilda and all those other 90’s movies).

I was a bit hesitant to get this book. Their first novel, Welcome to Night Vale, was utterly brilliant and incredibly moving. Their second, It Devours, was – well, I hated it. So I didn’t know what this would be. What it is, essentially, is an historical novel about piracy that tells the story of her life.

Growing up alone with her father in an estate (which was her dead mother’s, not her poor father), she discovers that her father is involved in criminal enterprises (we are in the 1800s here) and seeks to join. A lot happens that I won’t spoil, but she ends up going on a series of adventures that are great fun, beautifully drawn, with some excellent supporting characters.

What I loved about this book, without spoiling anything, is that it doesn’t go where you think it will. It takes the tropes of these books – the historical novel, the seafaring novel – and circumvents them, and ultimately, this book is a sad book about a person destroyed, literally losing herself and becoming faceless, the terrifying Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home. It is a book about love and revenge and is very much recommended (and, you don’t have to have listened to Night Vale, or read the previous books to read it!)

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

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

anna

I have never written a book review before.   I’ve verbally enthused about a book, anything by Jane Austen is up there at the top of the list J and of course I am happy to read other authors!  However, if a book doesn’t grab my attention / affection within the first few pages then it won’t be read.   I really hate not finishing a book so this might explain why I stick to what I know!

It was suggested to me that I read Anna Karenina.   I admit that it was never on my radar, maybe I was intimidated by Tolstoy, or just the size of the book and so, as I thought at the time, I took on the challenge. Challenge?  It was a challenge to put it down!   Those of you who have already read it know how brilliant it is.   If you haven’t read it yet, then I envy you the fabulousness that awaits you.   I will read it again but it’s not the same as reading it for the first time.   As Dolly says when trying to come to terms with Oblonsky’s infidelities “the first explosion of jealousy once past could not be repeated”.   In the same vain, with reading a book, first is best.

There are very intellectual reviews about this book, this is not going to be one of those. Yes, it is about families, economics, things that were absolutely applicable in the era and are also applicable now, studies of life, love and despair and everything in between.   Life for the people back then had just the same highs, lows and worries as it does now.   And it’s all packaged as a wonderful read.

What appealed to me, what I loved about it was the ‘turn of phrase’, the beautiful, descriptions…..

Part 2 Ch13: “On the Thursday the wind fell and a thick grey mist rose as if to hide the secret of the changes nature was carrying on”.

Part 3 Ch26: {Levin} brought back as he always did after a day’s shooting, a splendid appetite, good spirits, and the stimulated mental condition which in his case always accompanied physical exertion”.

Part 4 Ch7: (Levin talking to Oblonsky…. landing on deaf ears I’m afraid J)   “Just think, this whole world of ours is only a speck of mildew sprung up on a tiny planet; yet we think we can have something great – thoughts, actions! They are all but grains of sand!”

Part 5 Ch31: (Anna with baby Anna)   “The plump, well nourished baby, as usual when she saw her mother turned her little hands – so fat that they looked as if the wrists had threads tied tightly round them…. waving them as a fish moves it’s fins”.

Part 8 Ch17: “The wind obstinately, as if insisting on having its way, pushed Levin back”.   “A white curtain of pouring rain……”

I loved the sarcasm and (unintentional) humour….

Part 1 Ch3 (Anna about Countess Lydia Ivanovna)   “But it is really funny; her aim is to do good, she is a Christian, and yet she is always angry and always has enemies – all on account of Christianity and philanthropy!”

Part 1 Ch34 (Vronsky’s 2 different sorts of people “in his Petersburg world”)

“One – the inferior sort – the paltry, stupid, ridiculous who believe that a husband should live with the one wife to whom he is married….. that one should pay one’s debts and other nonsense…..old fashioned ridiculous people.

But there was another sort of people: the real people to whom he belonged….well bred, generous, bold, gay, and to abandon themselves unblushingly to all their passions and laugh at everything else”.

Part 2 Ch7 (Princess Myagkaya: Her husband said that Karenin was a remarkable statesman!)

“If our husbands didn’t talk we should see things as they really are; and it’s my opinion that Karenin is simply stupid.…..I thought I was stupid myself because I was unable to perceive his wisdom, but as soon as I said to myself, he’s stupid (only in a whisper of course), it all became quite clear”.

Part3 Ch20 (Vronsky about Anna)

“….she was for him a woman worthy of as much, or even more respect than a legitimate wife.”

Part 7 Ch20 (Oblonsky lamenting that he lived in Moscow and not Petersburg)

“In Petersburg children did not hinder their father’s living”.

Part 8 Ch16   (Levin’s brother (Kaznyshev) on the decision to go to war with the Turks)

“Well, if you want to gauge the national spirit arithmetically, of course that is very difficult to do! Voting has not been introduced in our country, and cannot be because it does not express the people’s will”.

I loved the observations of people’s behaviour.

Part 2 Ch3 (Kitty crying on Dolly’s dress)

“As if tears were the necessary lubricant without which the machine of mutual confidence would not work properly between sisters, after having had a cry they started talking of indifferent matters and in so doing understood one another”.

Part 2 Ch8

“Karenin was being confronted with life….. He had lived and worked all his days in official spheres, which deal with reflections of life, and every time he had knocked up against life itself he had stepped out of its way.”

Part 5 Ch7 (Vronsky meeting Golenishchev in Italy)

“Vronsky would never have thought he would be so pleased to see Golenishvhev, but probably he was himself unaware how bored he was”.

There is a quote at the desk in Ballyroan Library, it says “Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are”.  Never more true than now, when we really have to stay put.

In the past few weeks I have been in the depths of a cold Moscow winter, sweated in the heat on a shooting expedition in the Gvozdevo marshes, been to Italy with Anna and Vronsky (not a pleasant experience), been over and back between Petersburg and Moscow several times, been involved in discussions and ponderings I never would have imagined, some enjoyable, some a little wearying, but all giving food for thought, and all in the company of some wonderfully witty and interesting friends.

The book is not just about Anna, she wasn’t even my favourite character.   It’s about much more than that.   I had no idea of the story before I read it and so, at different stages I had the privilege of imagining that things would turn out different.   Needless to say I loved it, and would totally recommend it to while away a few ‘isolation’ hours.

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” ― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

This Life: A Novelisation by Sam Colman

this life

Back in the mid-90’s, I knew this was the show for me when my elder sister, who also watched it herself, was appalled that 14 year old me was watching it. But how could I not, it was everywhere. The first series, on its repeat airing, in the run-up to the second, became the biggest TV show in years. Set in London, in a townhouse which five lawyers shared, it was about their messy loves and lives, but there was a honest queerness that I responded deeply to, in the characters of Warren and Ferdy.

So, when I saw this novelisation, I knew I had to have it, despite worrying that, honestly, it would be terrible, because if you’ve read a novelisation before, you’ll know – unless they’re written by novelisation standouts like Alan Dean Foster – they’re usually uniformly terrible.

This, however, delightedly, was not. Written by William Sutcliffe, under the pen name Sam Colman, who had then recently published his first novel, New Boy, it manages to capture the tone of the series very well. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the series, so I’m not sure how much was lifted directly from the script, but I liked the addition here and there of some inner thoughts of the characters – I had forgotten how much of a homophobe Miles was (which, of course, was there in the series).

Honestly, a rollicking good read that I would recommend to fans of the series, who can certainly pick this up for cheap now, and relive their favourite tv series from back in the day!

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