Monday, 14 November 2011

Lauren Kate - Torment

Here’s one I’ve been looking forward to for the wrong reasons. After thinking Fallen was a bag of teenage drivel, my OCD led to buying Torment as I couldn’t possibly carry on not knowing the outcome of Luce and Daniel’s special, if not slightly ridiculous, love story.

The first thing I will say is that I’m bored (already) of reading about how these utterly moronic women get into teenage relationships with these guys who’ve lived for hundreds of years and the following two things always happening:

1. The guy not realising how mind-numbingly immature and pathetic they’re love interests are. Just for once I would like both parties to be equally as captivating so that the audience can actually buy into why the guys likes the girl, or have a complete idiot for a guy and girl who is a bit of a legend instead.

2. The feeble attempt at trying to grasp reality in a situation where someone is a vampire, angel or immortal being. Again, it takes away for the believability of the story. The only books to have done this effectively are Charlene Harris’ Southern Vampire series, in which the general public had to be aware of the vampires for it work.

The book gets progressively worse as it goes on, which is a shame because the opening chapter was actually pretty good. Mainly because it involved two of the angelic characters being completely isolated from the humans.

The first question mark came at page 20 where Luce describes a Black Alfa Romeo at her ‘absolute favourite car,’ which was also ‘a sweet sixteen present from her folks a couple of lifetimes ago.’ Now, firstly, Luce has not, before this point, shown a great deal of interest in cars, so this first statement was surprising. Also, as it was from a couple of lifetimes ago, that makes the make and model of the car at least 48 years old. Of all the cars in the world, a 1960s Italian car chosen by an American seems unlikely at best.

The moronisms continue on page 26 when Luce starts throwing a teenage wobbly about Daniel having to go stop some Demons from killing her or something. After being nearly killed, you would think she would at least be slightly grateful to him.

Page 48 almost made me internally combust with rage, when Luce, the girl in love with the angel, thinks she needs to be around ‘real people, who knew what life was like.’ This from a girl who is constantly followed by shadows, in love with an angel, and before that, went to a private school and wanted for nothing. You have got to be fucking with me. I can understand having a flawed lead but having one that a bare minimum of people would sympathise with is just plain stupid. Almost as stupid as Luce.

I didn’t make notes on the remainder of the 452 pages, apart from to highlight a terrible choice of words on page 276 (saying a building ablaze because the lights are on in the dark is not a good use of imagery) but basically it’s just a load of Luce getting off with Daniel and complaining about it.

However, towards the end of the book I starting thinking; what if I’m completely wrong about the idea behind the book? What if Lauren Kate is actually a complete genius and decided to take the piss out of Twilight? The sickening love scenes would lean me towards that idea and that’s one I can certainly get on board with. Luce may be a total moron but at least she is interesting compared to Bella who could be replaced in the movies by a stick woman with a frown. And that would make the fact that despite Daniel going on about how in love with Luce he is and yet acts like he doesn’t care, actually really funny. This theory would also be backed up by the Sun taking it seriously.

Torment by Lauren Kate was published by Doubleday in 2010. RRP £9.99 (Paperback)

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Alyson Noël - Evermore

This book will always serve as a reminder to not buy stuff in Tesco when drunk at 2am because it has ‘buy one get one free’ written on it. That’s the short and sweet version of how I ended up in possession of Evermore and its sequel Blue Moon. I have suffered much for attempting to read this during my lunch break. Apparently red tulips, a sad looking blond girl and the words ‘He said he’d never let her go’ doesn’t scream manly and opened the door for lots of homosexual jokes. It’s not a sophisticated office.

Anyway, on to Evermore. The first person present tense seems to be a popular thing with teen romance novels these days, not that I know a lot about them. Authors see it as a way of putting the reader in the ‘right here right now’ frame of mind, but in Evermore’s case it makes the book less of a story and more of a teenage girl’s trail of thought. Admittedly, Ever (that’s the girls name) isn’t the worst character in the world to be inside the head of for 356 pages. Nowhere near as bad as Bella from The Twilight Saga and that Luce from Fallen so we can be thankful for that.

Alyson Noël must have stumbled upon the world’s most bizarre name generator, especially considering the fact that it’s set in a modern day American high school. The main character is Ever, then there’s Haven, Stacia, Drina, Damen, Riley, Miles... it goes on. When a guy called Craig popped up I thought I’d picked up the wrong book.

The next issue is that Sid Vicious in not the lead singer of The Sex Pistols. What has this got to do with an American teenage novel you say? Well it comes up that Americans know fuck all about British bands in the first few pages and it’s a ridiculously small amount of research not to do in order to write a 300 page novel a fraction quicker. But then again, seeing as Noël wrote a fictional book set in California where she lives, I expect she banked on not having to do any research whatsoever. That’s the only reason I can think of that she would make such a lazy mistake. There is also no reason at all from Ever to be listening to the Sex Pistols. I’m sure that there are lots of other punk bands Ever could listen to that Noël actually knows stuff about.

I would have thought that Twilight would be the main influence but it seems to take more from Fallen, a book I labelled as ripping Twilight off. It has taken the whole love between normal human and strange being from Twilight and then taken the whole reincarnation principle from Fallen. There is essentially nothing original about this book. Even Damen’s immortal character can be closely linked to that of the iconic Dorian Gray, aside from the fictional characters of Edward Cullen, vampire extraordinaire and Daniel Grigori, angel wonder-kid.

Although Ever isn’t on the same par as Bella or Luce in terms of annoyance, she isn’t without her faults. On page 312, Miles, one of Ever’s friends makes a pun on her name and her narrative follows it up with, ‘he loves making puns on my name.’ 312 pages. Set over a few weeks, maybe even months... he can’t love it that much. Ever also has an unnatural hatred of some physic lady called Ava (also from bizarre name Ava doesn’t actually do anything wrong and her hatred is more from childish jealousy than protectiveness over her sister, which goes against her more grown up character.

The author interview is back is quite entertaining in that, it could be completely fictional. Noël compares her husband to Damen who is meant to be the perfect man. Why would you ever say anything bad about your husband in print for the world to see? Not even a complaint about dirty socks. People want honestly from these interviews, not bollocks. She also labels the main influence of the novel of personal grief, which is a smart move. With all the obvious similarities to other books of the same genre, who is their right mind is going to argue with that?

Evermore: The Immortals by Alyson Noël was published by Macmillan in 2009. RRP £6.99 (Paperback) Also buy one get one free in Tesco for limited time only.

Christopher Paolini - Eldest and Brisingr

I’ve been inspired to do my first double review as I read Eldest some time ago and, at the time, found nothing worth noting. I since acquired Brisingr from a friend and it allowed me to find lots of positive things to say about Eldest.
Eldest is a well constructed tale of a journey from A to B with various obstacles to overcome and characters to befriend or make enemies with. It is cleanly written and not elaborately overdone. Compared to Brisingr with its super-enhanced lexical jargon and character’s who were capable of normal speech in the last book, now say things like, ‘pray, tell’ and ‘mayhap’ like Alageasia had suddenly jumped back in time over 400 years, or Paolini spent much of his time playing Two Worlds on the Xbox360 instead of writing. In the opening chapter, Paolini is keen to show us how many new words he’s learned (from Xbox or otherwise) and continues to do so throughout the book.
However the new star spangled vocabulary is the least of my issues with Brisingr, but first let’s look at an ongoing problem that started in the midst of Eldest. When Eragon is with the elves he decides he is going to become a vegetarian or something. He only does it because the elves do it and, worse than that, makes a few sideways comments toward his dragon buddy about eating meat, to the point where he might as well be saying, ‘I can’t believe you’re eating that. Don’t you care about its feelings?’ TO A DRAGON. YOUR DRAGON. Would you rather your dragon stopped eating meat and died you little shit?? Don’t think so! I was almost relieved when Eragon eats a lizard and a rodent in Brisingr but Paolini’s narrative is quick to remind us how disgusted he is with himself for it.
This sort of behaviour continues and is made worse by his sucking up the elves by doing their cultural gestures of politeness. It’s fine if he just does it, but he narrative shoots him in the ass by stating how smug he is for remembering, even though what he did was the elvish equivalent of saying ‘how are you?’ after ‘hello.’ I’ve written a note in my book that sums up the first hundred or so pages with, ‘Eragon is a bit of a dick.’ Apparently I got fed up with writing the amount of times he is smug about tying his own shoe laces.
Paolini’s understanding of human nature comes into question on page 99. There is an argument between Nasuada and Fadawar about giving some tribes more power within the Varden to the point where they cut each other for leadership. I’m down with that, in fact, it was a pretty cool scene. However, before that Fadawar says that Nasuada should give him what he wants because of ‘blood’ as they are from the same tribe. He then goes on to say that she is an outsider who has never lived among her people. This makes her feel bad. It’s all very stupid, trying to get something from someone based on their roots and then undermining the roots that you’ve used as leverage in the first place. Even if Fadawar was intended to be that stupid, Nasuada definitely shouldn’t be but she doesn’t acknowledge his hypocrisy because of loyalty. It’s all very backwards.
There are two more small issues with Brisingr and one massive one. Eragon further extends his bizarre behaviour with a blatant piece of name dropping. The note reads, ‘Eragon is a kiss-ass.’ There is no need for him to mention Angela, nor the fact she is a herbalist at this point of the book, yet he does anyway. It’s pointless an ineffective dialogue. Towards the end of the book, when talking about his new sword, he says, ‘It bursts into,’ - then some narrative about why he didn’t say fire – ‘flames.’ When does anyone ever say bursts into fire?? I never heard it before but then again, I don’t know as many words as Christopher Paolini, the novelist.
This bring me nicely along to the colossal (an underused word) error on page 576 where it states, ‘Nasuada lifted the hem of her green dress and sat on the small chest of belongings Katrina had brought with her from Carvahall.’ Out of everyone who lived in Carvahall, only two people didn’t leave with the rest of the villagers and one of them was Katrina. She was taken by the Ra’zac and, it wasn’t mentioned in Eldest but I don’t think they afforded her the luxury of packing a small chest of belongings to take with her. Paolini and also Michelle Frey, who got a special mention in the acknowledgements for ‘tightening the manuscript,’ should feel ashamed of themselves. Katrina not going to the Varden with the rest of Carvahall was a big plot point in the second novel so for the author to have forgotten it and for it not to be picked up by the editor is totally careless, especially in a day and age where new novelists are struggling to get published and are writing with a lot more care and attention than established novelists.
Eldest by Christopher Paolini was published by Doubleday in 2006. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)
Brisingr by Christopher Paolini was published by Doubleday in 2008. RRP £16.99 (Hardback)

J.V. Jones - A Fortress of Grey Ice

A ways back, I review a book called A Cavern of Black Ice an original fantasy novel which, besides a few negative comments, I quite enjoyed. For one reason or another I put off reading book 2 in the series for a long time. Maybe it was the 734 page length that had me a little shy of diving straight in, but nonetheless, I got there in the end. And I wish I had much sooner.

My main quip about the first book was that there was a lot of unnecessary words being used. Pages of them, in fact. Whereas Fortress doesn’t shy away from words, it doesn’t matter because they all feel necessary to the story. There are perhaps a few chapters that add nothing at the moment, but every detail seems to count for something and I’m sure even the smallest details, which have not been fully explored in this book, will have some kind of factor latter in the series.

The ending left a lot of cliff-hangers and unanswered questions which is definitely enough encouragement for me to get involved with the next one. However, it is now apparently impossible for me to get to the end of a book without finding something wrong, although Fortress came very close.

To demonstrate how well written the book is, the only two mistakes I saw in the first 300 pages were a double space and ‘every’ instead of ‘ever,’ compared to Stephen King’s Carrie where spelling went out of the window after eighty pages.

A golden rule of writing is that if you are reading something and it takes you out of the story, there is probably something wrong with it. I had such an experience with the sentence, ‘He looked Marafice Eye in the face.’ Jones is forced to use face because of the character’s name but it just sounds stupid. I mean, if you look someone in the face but not in the eye, that’s just creepy. It also feels like a poor attempt at avoiding cliché.

Another slip, again involving character names occurred later when I was confronted by ‘Ask’ when too travellers called Ash and Ark are travelling together. Of course the misspelling by itself annoyed me but it is quite an important one as the line of preceding dialogue would indicate a great deal of character development if said by Ash.

However my main grievance comes in the form of Raif’s final battle with Shatan Maer. The whole book talks about how coming into contact with the unmade can made you unmade also. But for some reason Raif takes a pounding from the beast, the narrative reads like he is torn to shreds, and after he wins he just strolls outta there like it was nothing. Out of all the 700 plus pages used to get this far, the last 20 feel so rushed. It’s a great shame especially as Raif’s journey is the one of the most captivating, original and entertaining in modern fantasy fiction.

A Fortress of Grey Ice by J.V. Jones was published by Orbit in 2002. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)

Terry Pratchett - Nation

This is another book that came to me by chance and definitely a reason to get people to agree with each other what to get you for Christmas. There once was a boy who loved Terry Pratchett sooooo much that he wrote to Santa Claus a huge list of Terry Pratchett books. He then gave this list to his mum who then, instead of shipping it straight to Mr Claus himself sends it round to all of the boy’s relatives. And that’s how he by ended up with two copies of Nation. One of which he subsequently gave to me.

Terry Pratchett, probably best known for writing the Discworld series and his strange sense of humour, decided to branch off from his usual fantasy world and create a strange new one, based roughly on our own lovely planet. The differences, however, are completely irrelevant because he sets the entirety of the book in a small set of bizarrely named islands some distance from a strangely warped Australia. My point of all this is that including a world map in the front and back of the novel is pointless if you aren’t going to use it.

The book itself is pretty good. The main protagonist Mau develops at a steady rate throughout the book and courage and determination, even if he is a young boy, is actually believable. When he meets Ermintrude, or the ‘ghost girl’ as she is referred to, there is the problem of the language barrier which is a tricky thing to replicate in the novel format especially with Pratchett’s approach. We meet Mau first and all his dialogue is in English even though, when we meet the ghost girl, she is speaking English too, for our convenience. They overcome it by drawing pictures in the sand and it could have become really confusing, but Pratchett handles the perspective well.

There are a few niggles and one of them is really basic. The spelling, grammar and punctuation goes out of the window around page 159 of 404, leaving 245 pages of missing ‘a’s and repeated words, strange commas and absent full-stops. This is isn’t as bad as Stephen King’s Carrie but it’s also not Terry’s first novel.

I don’t really have much to say about the story, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. It goes from A to B, doesn’t throw any curve balls or push any envelopes and these days that’s quite the achievement. However the second half of the book seems to be missing Prachett’s ironic satiric twang which I found disappointing. The lack of envelope pushing led me to switch off for literally pages at a time but when I switched on again I found that I hadn’t missed much and that means there is a quite a large amount of unnecessary narrative.

I have to say, I think Terry anticipated this review. After I got to the end of the story I read through the author’s note at the end and he seems to have thought, ‘Okay This is My Face. I know what you’re about so here! Now try picking my novel apart.’ There are a list of justifications in the back about things that happened in the book, such as bullets being shot through water and the whole multi-verse theory. So thanks for the material Terry! Now I can criticise you instead.

There is nothing worse about an author who feels the need to justify his research. By explaining in the note that his world in an alternate reality, it not only gives him the leeway to get historical facts wrong, but further negates the need for the stupid map in the front, and the back, of the book. We can see from the map it’s an alternate reality. By stating it again in the notes, thinking you’ve pulled the wool over our eyes, is just plain insulting to the reader. As for the other justifications, it just shows that Pratchett doesn’t have faith in his own narrative. And if people cared that much (like me) they would go away and research the things they doubted.

Whew, I wasn’t expecting to get that worked up. I guess it did push one envelope after all.

I think ‘good’ is a fair summary of Nation. It’s by no means great but it’s not the worst fantasy book I’ve ever read. As far as recommendations go, to people who aren’t familiar with Pratchett, I would suggest giving this one a miss and reading the Discworld novels instead.

Nation by Terry Pratchett was published by Doubleday in 2008. RRP £16.99 (Hardback)

Robin Hobb - The Dragon Keeper

I like dragons. They are cool and come in many forms. I’m not too keen on those Japanese long thin things, (usually called wyrms, in some tales) or the really fat ones. I like the ones who are quick, strong, acrobatic, can breathe some kind of awesome stuff that kills people and, probably most important of all, excel in mounted combat.

So while Robin Hobb’s dragons aren’t of Japanese origin or overweight, they still don’t satisfy my coolness criteria. They don’t like humans - no mounted combat, they can’t breathe anything except for having bad breath which doesn’t count; they are all underdeveloped, can’t fly are not strong and the only speed the show is when some already dead food is put in front of them.

There was one dragon at the start who was promising, but after three years of tending the young ones, she got bored and fucked off with some dude dragon she met in the local dragon nightclub. Not college material.

So that’s three paragraphs on why I don’t like the main focus of the novel. And it gets worse. I’ll start with basic grammar. There are... things in The Dragon Keeper called liveships. They are made of the casings that dragons hatch out of and are, in essence, part dragon. Let’s use the Titanic as an appropriate example. Note, the italics used the show the name of the ship. When the first liveship, Tarman is mentioned, it is written without italics. However, later on, it was written like this; the Tarman. So using my deductive skills, I decided that when the ship was referred to as a person, it was non-italicised and when it was referred to as object, it was italicised. It still seemed a pretty odd decision to make, why not just stick to one or the other, but I was so proud of myself for working it out that I thought I’d roll with it.

Simple, right? Not quite. It fluctuated a lot, especially in the middle part of the book, so it read like the author didn’t really know why they were doing it either, until the latter stages of the book where it became fixed. It’s probably down to poor editing but it looked silly and was confusing.

The next thing is another basic one that keeps coming up in writing classes all time and rears its head throughout the novel. Punctuating dialogue with the effect you want the dialogue to have is poor prose. I would have said it was a confidence thing, had The Dragon Keeper been Hobb’s first novel, but constantly for three pages during an argument between a married couple, the prose states there is tension. Firstly, it’s an argument. Secondly, the dialogue and character descriptions are actually strong enough without the added prose of, ‘by the way, did I mention there is a lot of tension in this scene?’

This prose punctuation thing has a complete melt down on page 525 where the captain of the Tarman is talking to his boat. The punctuation reads, ‘There was no response. He hadn’t expected one.’ To be honest, neither did I. The boat hadn’t said a word for over 500 pages. If it suddenly burst into monologue or song in response to his rhetorical questions, that would have been a response I wouldn’t have expected.

Despite everything I’ve said, I did enjoy a large portion of the book. I liked the majority of the characters and I kept liking them until they met each other and that is quite a talent Hobb displayed. She managed to make almost all of her characters unlikable in one go. The dragon we’ve been following becomes rude and obnoxious and every other major character shows some kind of bizarre jealousy towards another and it all gets a little bit depressing. Especially because they all seem to undergo personality transplants to get to that stage.

There is another classic line on page 427. ‘She felt like a messenger who’d forgotten the words he’d been paid to say.’ If there had been a huge deal made about the difference between men and women in the novel over the previous 400 pages, this again would have been fine but there isn’t, so it looks Alise has forgotten, in the space of one sentence, that she is, in fact, a woman.

And nearly at the end of the 553 page extravaganza, there is possibly my favourite cock up thus far. Our dear captain Leftrin starts his day, on page 521, with a cup of tea. I found this weird because his morning ritual usually consists of tar-like coffee. Even so I was still amazed when after five pages of thinking, his tea had magically become coffee! I guess Hobb thought his morning ritual was coffee too.

I’ll admit I’m not the best when it comes to picking out stuff like this, but everything above could have been fixed with a few edits and a little bit more time with a red pen.

Another thing which really annoyed me was the understating of two of the characters’ homosexuality because it was obvious from the very beginning. There is a whole flashback scene where Hobb ‘reveals’ the gayness between the two, which is totally unnecessary and ruined what was a great hook.

Near the end, there is this thing about dragon’s true names. The main dragon refuses to tell the humans her true name, (obnoxious bitch) makes a big deal about it and so none of the other dragons’ true names are revealed except for one dude called Mercor. I thought it was a mistake, a made a note in my notebook to refer back to it, but then got right to the end of the book when Mercor turns around and says, not in these exact words, ‘stop being a dick Sintara. Give these humans your true name, they deserve it.’ I realised that his name appearing earlier was not a mistake but simply the author highlighting the fact that the name thing was going to come out at the end. The whole homosexual storyline felt like it was meant to be a secret and was dragged out for over 300 pages. The name thing isn’t even hinted at until the very end and we as the readers already know all their names anyway, none of the characters react to it and the whole ‘mystery’ feels completely pointless.

All of that said, it was a great original idea with interesting characters and I will probably read the sequel. But only when it comes out on paperback.

The Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb was published by HarperCollinsPublishers in 2009. They should have positions for proof readers available soon. RRP £8.99 (Paperback)

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Zombie Apocalypse - Created by Stephen Jones

I thought Zombie Apocalypse could be a lot of fun. I mean, zombies plus end-of-the-world normally equates to good times. And it’s an original concept, written through ‘emails, blogs, letters, diaries and transcripts’ so it’s kind of like a fictional non-fiction book about zombies and the destruction of the human race.

So what was good? Firstly, the individual set pieces work well and link together subtly. There is a problem with having many different people provide the narrative which include a few continuity slips, but that’s to be expected. There is a huge one though, but I’ll come to that later.

There was a bit that really stood out as some of the best atmospheric writing I’ve seen in my short blogging career, and that was “Special Powers” by Paul Finch. Out of the 478 pages, this was easily the standout 32. It sets the scene beautifully, night time in London with loads of weird stuff happening but no one knows what. Even though we know that there are some zombies (otherwise the title would be lying) it still gives the fear of the unknown and not you never know when a zombie is going to pop out and take a chunk out of someone.

The thirteen year old girl’s diary is good too. It adds to the perspective seeing it through the eyes of someone who would normally be in the background in such a disaster. She still sees the real world despite the doom and is desperately trying to cling onto it. There is something horrifically tragic about her story that really links with the Apocalypse in the title.

Right, that’s the good stuff, now back to that tricky continuity slip. This really irritated me because I was enjoying the book thoroughly and then this part, while being groundbreaking in its approach to the zombie genre, doesn’t making any sense in the context. And is completely stupid.

SPOILER. Page 342 “Wasting Matilda” by Robert Hood toys with the idea that eating zombies makes you immune to catching the disease. This doesn’t work for the simple reason that, in the same book, people get infected by zombie blood going into their eyes and mouth. While it would be a good stand alone piece with fresh ideas, it has no place in this collection because it doesn’t agree with the rest of the book.

SPOILER. Now for the ending. I’m all for innovative storytelling but having zombies become world leaders?? Just for once, I would have liked to see the humans win! That would be more innovative and different than, ‘I’m the president... oh and by the way, I’m a zombie.’ Then there could also be a sequel about how we recovered from said apocalypse.

I would recommend it despite the glaring things that I didn’t like. There is some really good stuff in here and it proves that multi-writer continuative storytelling can work.

Zombie Apocalypse was created by Stephen Jones and was published by Robinson in 2010. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

J.K. Rowling - Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone

For years I had been purposely going out of my way to avoid touching or going within a hundred feet of the Harry Potter books for fear of bursting into flames at the sight of the spectacled wonder kid. Then I got one of the books for Christmas, (I think it was the second one, which was stupid in itself as everyone knew I hated Potter. Why assume I’ve read the first one? Or am I the only person in the world who doesn’t care about order?) and while I didn’t spontaneously combust, I still found myself disgusted by the idea of reading it.

Anyway, the years rolled by and Christmases came and went without a sniff of Potter books coming my way. The movies came too and I saw a few of them on DVD and I was thinking the same thing; I fucking hate Potter! Then I decided to study writing and all its wonderful elements, including popular fiction, but I still managed to avoid Potter until my final year, when I became old and wise enough to put aside almost thirteen years of irrational prejudice and read the first in the series.

I have to stay, reading the book as opposed to watching the movie totally did not change my mind. Harry Potter on the screen did not work for me for the simple reason that Harry Potter is eleven years old. Sure he’s got a wand and that but so does everyone else around him and they have more experience and therefore, no matter how incompetent they are made out to be, should not be bested by an eleven year old boy and his two friends.

For the sake of fiction and fantasy, I don’t have a problem with the potion and chess puzzles to get passed doors, and I’m fully on board as far as a magical invisibility cloak goes, (if I got one of those for Christmas, I would love it) but I draw the line when you write a book full of magical stuff and totally ignore the fact that common sense plays a big part in day to day life, even if you wear a pointy hat and ride around on a broom.

In fact, here is something that the movie did better than the book. Stopped Potter from talking as much. Every line that Potter has is the voice of a character three or four years older than him and also his way of thinking. His parents are dead, he’s been locked in a cupboard and bullied for the whole of his life. A giant knocking down a door and taking him away on a flying motorbike, while being quite cool, does not take away eleven years of pain and suffering. Even if it did, you would surely be a little more grateful to people that rescued you that to break almost every rule going and consistently do the opposite of what you’re told.

To me, its lazy character development. All idea and no substance. I’m not saying J. K. Rowling is a bad writer, far from it, technically she’s great and gets all the little details of the writing bang on. But there is this thing missing from HPATPS that fits somewhere between the page and the idea that connects to story to the real world, something that allows the audience to buy into the story, regardless if it’s for children or adults.

I’m not going to make recommendations because the chances are you’ve already read it, or you don’t want to.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K.Rowling was published by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc in 1997. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Melvyn Burgess - Doing It

There was a lot of localised hype surrounding this book during my first year at University when several of my peers had to read it for some new contemporary literature module. There were, of course, the standard student grumbles; ‘Why do we have to read this shit?’; ‘Melvyn Burgess? Not exactly the next Shakespeare?’; ‘I’m not going to bother reading it, I’ll just find a summary on the internet. Ha ha ha, I’m so clever.’

Whereas the last option is one that some took, the book is 330 pages long with text big enough to warrant reading the entirety in one sitting. The first option is one I thought myself, I mean, a cover comprising a woman’s legs with her undies just above her knees doesn’t exactly scream Booker Prize Winner. But books are like people, they can be deceiving on the outside but it’s what’s inside that counts. Or, to coin an overused cliché, you can’t judge a book by its cover.

However, you can be forgiven for prejudging Doing It, if not by its front cover, then by its first paragraph; “‘OK,’ said Jonathon. ‘The choice is this. You either have to shag Jenny Gibson – or else that homeless woman who begs spare change outside Cramner’s bakers.’” The book is pretty much that, banter between 17 year old lads. Page 68 is home to one of my favourite ever lines; ‘Mr Knobby Knobster grinned his woozy little hardman’s smile.’ Does it get any better than that? No.

Doing It not only deals with the sex lives of the main characters, but also focuses on the pain of dealing with parental separation and adultery. Burgess gets the balance about right. His characters are well developed and, mainly through the use of dialogue, their reactions to situations suit their ages.

Controversy is a word commonly associated with Burgess, which is a shame because if the controversy is the main reason behind the success of his novels, then it’s a waste because on evidence, he is a very talented writer. Sure, he is no Shakespeare or Joyce (although this may give Joyce too much credit) but his writing is clean and his stories are well-shaped and not overdone. I don’t want to wade through ten pages of description of Dino’s house, which intricate details of every single ornament and carpet, and a tangential story about how his cat went missing. I do want to know if he is going to get into Jackie’s pants. Burgess understands this and while, yes all the plates and stuff needs to be tidied away before the party, he doesn’t let it take away from his story.

I think that’s all of the good stuff... wait! There’s one more. Conversations with more than three people involved. Burgess gets it right without having to pin each line of dialogue with who is speaking. Again, this is because of his skill as a writer and cleverly created characters.

Now for the reverse argument. Yes, Doing It is a well written book, but it is fairly simple, and therefore there is less margin for error. The Children’s Book bored the hell of me but its tremendous length and complex structure made it a great work of fiction even if it wasn’t my cup of tea.

Also Doing It doesn’t come close to a conclusive ending, it just stops. It comes out of nowhere, you’re approaching the end of the book and wandering where the rest of it is. Is there a sequel? Burgess seems to be worried about waffling on too much, but I think there could have been at least another hundred pages left to this one. It’s not inclusive to point where I’m satisfied and thinking of my own conclusions, but simply disappointed because I wanted to know where the characters went. It’s mentioned that Dino goes to University. I wanted to know more about what happened to him, and the rest.

This is one of the few books I would recommend to my close friends, but that is purely for inside jokes, and the fact that they all love The Inbetweeners. But if you don’t take your books too seriously, are not easily offended and fancy a few hours of light entertainment, Doing It is definitely for you.

Doing It by Melvin Burgess was published by Andersen Press Limited in 2003. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)