Saturday, 22 March 2014

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

I'd been wanting to read this for a while as there was so much hype about the book and then the film. I have not seen the film. Mum was throwing out some books and this was among them so I thought I'd rescue it and read it.

So what did I think? Um, where to start and how to be nice about it. I didn't think a lot of it. I can't see what all the fuss was about.

So we're in Nazi Germany, and 9 year old Bruno is the son of a high-ranking Nazi who is sent to run Auschwitz. He befriends a Jewish boy who's on the other side of the fence around the camp, and sneaks off daily to talk with him through the fence. Then one day he crawls under the fence, dresses himself in a set of striped pyjamas his friend acquired for him, and finds himself rounded up and put in the gas chambers. Sorry, gave away the ending there.

This should be a powerful, tear-jerking story. Of course it's meant for children, but should still have the power to hit adults hard as well. But it's just so unbelievable. We're supposed to accept that Bruno doesn't know what a Jew is, and has no idea about the prison camps. He comes across as not naive - more like a simpleton. Yet he's able to sneak away from the house every day and no one wonders where he goes, and he and his friend are never spotted by guards when they're talking through the fence.

I remember as a young teen reading When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit - and that gave me a far better idea of what the Nazis did to the Jews than this book would give the current generation of kids. I thought it was twee, irritating, not credible, repetitive and poorly written. Sorry and all that.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Life After Life

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

I've been a fan of Kate Atkinson since her debut Behind the Scenes at the Museum. I was waiting for this one to come out in paperback as I really wanted a physical book to keep but not a hardback. Finally it came out and I bought it in the supermarket.

I was not at all disappointed - it's a brilliant book, a cracking good read. The premise is - what if you could keep living your life over and over again, until you got it right? In the first few sections, Ursula is born during a snowstorm in 1910 and gets to various points in her childhood before dying. Gradually in subsequent lives she begins to have deja vu - she can remember being here before. She makes different choices each time and gets further along. Some choices are huge, eg fighting off the boy who raped her at 16. Some far smaller but still with a profound effect on her life. The London Blitz features heavily in some lives, eventually leading her to wondering what if Hitler was killed before he became Fuhrer, would there still have been such a terrible war?

I love Atkinson's style of writing - the way she drops in tiny snippets of backstory, often in brackets, remembered lines of dialogue. The reader remembers along with the character. She's a master of the tiny flashback. She's a master at showing how small actions by her MC can have big consequences, and knock-on effects on many other characters. And that's what this book's all about, really.

I absolutely loved it, and did not want it to end.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

The Accident

The Accident by C.L.Taylor

I was lucky enough to be sent a review copy of this book by the publisher.

This is a stunningly good psychological thriller. Sue’s daughter is in a coma, after having stepped in front of a bus. Sue’s convinced it was not an accident, but why would Charlotte want to take her own life? Sue finds a disturbing entry in Charlotte’s diary, and that sets her on the trail of finding out what was going on in her daughter’s life in the last few weeks before her accident. And in doing so, she has to confront demons from her own past.

The story alternates between Sue’s actions in the current day, and Sue’s own diary entries from 20 years earlier, when she was caught in an abusive relationship with charmer James. But how can those long ago event have any bearing on what happened to Charlotte? Sue is sure they do, even though everyone, including her husband, think she must be going mad.

Brilliantly paced, the tension builds throughout this novel to a dramatic conclusion. The author is better known for her funny, light rom-com novels, but I very much hope she writes more of this kind of thing. Tense, compelling, and thoroughly recommended.