Monday, 23 July 2012

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

In her debut novel, Erin Morgensetern reacquaints us with our childhood. The Night Circus is an enchanting read which invites us into Le Cirque de Reves.We stand in awe as we look at the black and white striped tents, smell the wafting fragrance of toffee apples and taste the mystifying scents of magic.Yes this book brings with it a sense of awe and wonderment; the type we got as children when we first entered a circus and saw the giant elephants, got a ride on a donkey’s back and watched clowns throwing knives at each other while blindfolded. One moment you look out your back window to see fields of green and the next moment the landscape has changed, utterly transformed into colonies of black and white tents, sitting, waiting for the sun to set and the fun to begin.
            A big part of the mystery in this novel is the charming and quirky characters which we encounter. The Night Circus would not be the same without the two twins, Widget and Poppet; Isobel, the fortune teller; the contortionist, Tsukiko; Herr Thiessen, the clockmaker and of course the illusionist Celia Bowen.  Erin Morgenstern introduces us to well crafted, complex characters, which will stay in our minds long after we place the book on our book shelves and walk away. These unassuming characters themselves are the very mystery the Circus breathes and needs to live. Without them the circus would no longer serve its purpose – spectacle for the public, and venue for a challenge.
            In this novel appearances are deceptive and not all is what it may seem. The circus is a world of its own, with its own dynamics.  Even the people associated within it are unsure of its workings; its power of manipulation, even its very purpose. In the thirty years the circus runs things become more confusing as the time blisters on in this time vacuum that is known as the Le Cirques de Reves. Things begin to get a little difficult, fissures appear and those close to the circus fear for its fate. All of this is in the name of magic.

Next Week Lady Ardour will be reviewing A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich. 

Monday, 16 July 2012

Regeneration by Pat Barker

Pat Barker’s novel, Regeneration, is the first book of the Regeneration trilogy. Set in 1917 in Craiglockheart, a psychiatric home for soldiers of the war, this is a fantastic read which gives the reader a great insight into WW1. Regeneration is a book which intertwines fact with fiction, yet, is a simple read. The novel has a simple storyline which follows a psychologist, Rivers, who works at Craiglockheart and the different patients he deals with every day; Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen are included amongst these. The book is full of rich details about the horrors of the war, and transports us back to 1917. This is a lovely read which explores the effects of war on the human mind.
The main protagonist in this story is Mr Rivers. It is his job to cure the soldiers and once they are fit they will return to the front-line. This is a daunting job and Rivers is deeply affected by the horrific effects the war has on his patients. This book explores a deep rooted question which surrounds not just the Great War but every war, whether there is justice in sending men out to die aimlessly fortheir country, and towards the end of the novel Barker articulates it perfectly “A society that devours its own young deserves no automatic or unquestioning allegiance.”  Sassoon and Rivers have many conversations about Sasoon’s withdrawal from the war and the reasons behind his protest, which opens the eyes of the reader and we see the mindset of the people at the time. Sassoon was not a pacifist as many people can interpret from his poetry; his protest instead was ignited from the prolongation of the war and the pointless loss of lives. Towards the end of the book Rivers sees himself as a changed man through his encounter with these different patients.
            Wilfred Owen, another great World War poet also resides in Craiglockheart; he and Sassoon become great friends, sharing their ideas and poetry with one another. From reading the blurb on the back of the book, one would think that the story focuses completely on these characters while this is not the case. In this novel we are introduced to many broken men who each have a different story to tell; Rivers extracts this information from his patients divulging it to the readers to gobble up. It feel as though we are working  alongside Rivers, gaining insight into the situations of these characters and understanding why they have ended up in Craiglockheart.
            Though Craiglockheart seems far away from the war front, the monstrosities of this war live on in the soldier’s minds; they haunt their dreams and prevents them from sleeping at night. The patients in Craiglockheart are caught in a catch 22 situation,  afraid to go back to the horrors of the war for fear of what they will see and the practicality of death, yet, guilt-ridden at the prospect of staying on in Craiglockheart as their comrades are dying on the battlefield.
            Speckled with bits of humour throughout Regeneration is a light read; I look forward to the next two books in the trilogy, The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road, and can reward this book nothing less than Five Stars. 

Next week Lady Ardour will be reviewing The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. 

Monday, 9 July 2012

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking is a beautifully crafted piece of non-fiction by Joan Didion. Didion’s life was turned upside down in 2003, when her husband died and her daughter became critically ill. In this book Didion gladly invites us into her life as she tries to come to terms with her husband, John Gregory Dunne’s death. The book brings us to the year anniversary of his death and we share the highs and lows of her journey until then. This is an honest and rich account of Didion’s feelings and thoughts after the death of her husband; a story where the reader can feel only sympathy for the author. It is a book which touched my heart and gave me a choking feeling in my throat as she confessed all in her delicate, eloquent yet simple tone. This is a heartfelt story about the journey of life and death, a story which I couldn’t leave down. In fact I read it in a day.
            In The Year of Magical Thinking, Didion explores the theme of death as she comes to terms with the death of her husband. The reoccurring italicised sentences throughout this book sums death up in a few words. ‘Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and then –gone.’ This is the exact account of how her husband died but also an image that shows the immediacy of death. One moment the person you love the most in the world is alive and the next minute they are gone forever. There is no way of retrieving them nor is there a way of talking to them. This is what Didion struggles with the most. Her year of magical thinking is the year directly after the death of her husband where she convinces herself he will come back to her and walk through their front door once more.
            In this book, Didion opens her heart to us.We take this journey with her; this is not just a story, it is real life and though it is daunting we feel like we are accompanying her as she goes through the grieving process, from denial to acceptance, self-pity to anger. She invites us into her world sharing memorable stories of the times her and her husband made together, the lifestyle they lived; how they spent their days together, the different places they settled, the restaurants they dined in, the friends they entertained and fond times spent with their daughter, Quintana, whom they both loved dearly.
            During the same year her husband died, Didion’s daughter fell ill. Without her husband there to comfort her she is faced with a terrifying scenario. Will her daughter die too? Her character emerges in this book, we see her personality, a strong women and a perfectionist. She must know every detail of her daughter’s illness and her husband’s death but for Didion some questions remain unsolved.
            Undoubtedly, this is a sad book but with it brings moments of happiness. The love for her husband is imminent throughout and though she is mourning his death, she is also celebrating their life together. Fond memories arise, warm words are spoken, and though her sense of her loss is prevalent her sense of love for her husband is what is strongest.


Next week Lady Ardour will be reviewing Regeneration by Pat Barker.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Titus Groan Inspires

I had a lovely message on Twitter from @AgrosFortune, who was inspired by my Titus Groan review.
Take a moment from your busy schedule to see how creativity works.

Once the seed is planted it transforms and blossoms into something beautiful. 

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

In the first book of The Gormenghast Trilogy (Titus Groan), Mervyn Peake introduces us to the world of Gormenghast; a rumbling down secluded castle, on the edge of the earth cut off from reality. Gormenghast is a place of traditions, rituals, and repetition. It is a castle whose dynamic is to constantly look back to the history of its past and embrace it. The characters of Gormenghast are moulded from the very stone the castle was built from, they are one breathing entity. They live non-lives, every day repeats itself. This world of Gormenghast is dead; the winding corridors of the castle are dead; the stifling air that the characters breathe is dead and their souls are dead. However, little do the inhabitants know that all is about to change with the birth of Titus Groan, heir to the Gormenghast throne.
            This story has a Once Upon A Time feel to it. Set in a bizarre place full of unfathomable strange characters and ludicrous traditions. Reality is certainly not the core of this book and these traditions have little reasoning behind them. The novel resembles something close to the middle ages; there seems to be few rules and to act on impulse is what is done. Although, in this dead world impulses are few. This book emerged after the war in 1946; unlike the other books which appeared at the same time it is not a book about learning from our mistakes and moving on. Instead it celebrates violent acts. The castle survives upon traditions, which have been initiated from the very first earl of Gormenghast.  Titus Groan is now the 77th.
Mervyn Peak is essentially describing an unchanging world, where nothing out of the ordinary ever comes to play. The language in the book evokes a feeling of lethargy, stillness and non-life. Yes it is flowery, ever so poetic and beautiful at times, but its description causes the book to move slowly, a technique Peake uses to his benefit. At times I found it hard going and I would put it away, intending not to continue reading but the book always pulled me back in, its descriptions ticking over in my mind and its strange characters haunting my memory.
            I found the characters of Gormenghast very fitting to their surroundings, mirroring the qualities of real people but ghastly over exaggerated. Lord Sepulchrave’s twin sisters for example, are whimsical characters; if you placed them in the world we live today they would simply belong in an asylum. Every character in this story is different and has its unique set of traits yet they are all connected to each other, Titus groan and the castle itself. Everyone’s actions have consequences. Personally my favourite character has to be Steerpike, a character largely influenced from World War II. A radical leader, no doubt, who uses people to get to the top. He can be compared to Stalin, the leader of Russia at the time telling people “Equality is a great thing, Equality is everything”.
The ending has left the story wide open for the second book of this trilogy and I am looking forward to getting my hands on it and seeing what happens next in Gormenghast Castle.

Next week Lady Ardour will be reviewing Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking.

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