Monthly Archives: April 2012

Book Review: Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris


Publisher: Faber & Faber
Selected edition: Paperback
ISBN: 9780571238309
Published: 05.01.2012
No of pages: 624
Price: £7.99

LONGLISTED FOR THE ORANGE PRIZE FOR FICTION 2012

Jane Harris’s second novel Gillespie and I (longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2012) begins in 1933, when a Miss Harriet Baxter (a woman of independent financial means) begins writing a memoir of her time in Glasgow and, more specifically, her relationship with an artist, Ned Gillespie, and his family.

In 1888, Harriet moves to Glasgow from London in time for the International Exhibition and walking down Buchanan Street one day her first aid training helps save the life of a Mrs Elspeth Gillespie. Elspeth’s son is the up-and-coming painter Ned, with whom Harriet strikes up a friendship. As Harriet’s time in Glasgow goes on, she becomes more involved with Gillespie and his family, amd privy to the intimate details of the family’s life.

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Book Review: James Joyce’s Dubliners

James Joyce's Dubliners - Penguin Modern Classics

I read a few of the short stories from James Joyce’s Dubliners when I was studying Modernism at university but I am ashamed to say that I remembered very little about them. I am finding more and more frequently that some of the books I have read over the years have failed to leave a lasting impression on me, one of the reasons why I started this blog, so that I could engage more with what I’m reading, analyse my thoughts on it and hopefully interact with other readers to find out how they relate to it.

I don’t know why Dubliners didn’t stick at the time. I certainly remember being captured by his idea to represent his city in a series of snapshots of characters and events, fractured and mainly unrelated moments aiming to give a sense of Dublin as a whole. So much so, in fact, that I had vague notions that I could do something similar with a central character tying the collection together – a snapshot of moments from close friends and family to complete strangers, in order to try and give a more rounded sense of what character means. Four year later and those short stories are yet to materialise… But, I digress.

I came back to Dubliners after booking a weekend away to Dublin, particularly because of Dublin’s One City, One Book event, an initiative which “encourages everyone to read a book connected with the capital city during the month of April every year” and had elected James Joyce’s work as 2012’s book. (You can read more about the initiative and this year’s related events here.) I started reading it while I was in Dublin and was immediately struck by its sense of place. There is no doubt that these stories take place in Dublin; characters walk its streets, visit its landmarks, discuss its politics and religion, and talk its language (using both dialectical and Irish phrases). I was there for only three days but had gained enough of a sense of the city to see how alive it is on these pages, itself a character in the lives of the people Joyce created in his stories.

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The Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling reveals the title and synopsis of her upcoming book for adults

J.K. Rowling

Although I imagine most people with an interest in books and publishing will have heard this news last week, I didn’t like to let it go by un-noted.  J.K. Rowling has announced that the title of her new book for adults will be The Casual Vacancy.  The synopsis on Little, Brown’s website describes the upcoming book as a black comedy centred on the election df a new member of the Parish Council in the seemingly idyllic English town of Pagford after the unexpected death of one of its members. The resulting election means war in the town and brings up “unexpected revelations”, revealing the darker side of Pagford lying beneath its idyllic façade.

I am intrigued about J.K. Rowling’s novel as she is in a unique position: the legacy of Harry Potter means that her first novel for adults will undoubtedly get a lot of press and, most likely, a higher degree of scrutiny than most new novels. I am really looking forward to it though, as I enjoyed the Harry Potter books not just for the world they created, but for Rowling’s ability to create memorable and conflicted characters and intelligent dialogue. The release of The Casual Vacancy on the 27th of September 2012 will be one to watch.

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Review: Sweet Valley Confidential by Francine Pascal

Sweet Valley Confidential UK cover

(Disclaimer: If you weren’t a fan of Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High, then this review might not be for you…)

Sweet Valley Confidential sat on my bookshelf for a while, patiently waiting for me to have the courage to open it up and start reading. I’ve spoken about how I grew up on Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High in the My Quarter-Life in Books post, and I really devoured a lot of the books when I was younger. Now that I’m a “grown-up”, this book seemed like the ultimate in guilty pleasures – I gave in to temptation and jumped headfirst back into the world of Sweet Valley.

The book dishes the dirt on what the twins have been up to after graduating from college and fits in perfectly with all of its predecessors; Jessica has really outdone herself this time in her betrayal of Elizabeth and is trying her best to gain forgiveness (again!). This time, it may just be unforgivable – Jessica has stolen Todd Wilkins, Elizabeth’s boyfriend of I-can’t-remember-how-many-years-but-oh-my-gosh-it-seems-like-an-eternity. And what’s more, they’re planning to get married! Elizabeth has run away to New York and is feeling lonely despite being followed about by men who find her super hot. She is of course, oblivious, and more concerned about the fact that Jessica has gone too far this time. Elizabeth wants Revenge.

I’m afraid the writing in this novel is pretty horrendous, and it’s quite obvious why Francine Pascal remained merely the ‘creator’ of the Sweet Valley series all those years, the books actually being written by ghostwriters, such as Suzanne Jamie and Kate William. Francine Pascal hasn’t done the best of jobs. In real time, Jessica and Elizabeth would be in their mid-thirties by now, if not older. Pascal puts them in the present, at the age of twenty seven, and they are all over twitter, google, facebook, Blackberrys and iPhones. It all feels a bit forced, like Pascal is trying so hard to be down with kids and the lingo of the street but she just ends up falling flat on her face.

Jessica has descended into some kind of parody of Summer Roberts from The O.C. who feels like so awful at messing up Elizabeth’s life for like the millionth time ever. (It’s having detrimental effects on my writing style just having read the book!) And, oh my freakin’ gosh – the twins swear now! Cos’ they’re like so grown up, dropping the F-word and the sh-word, and of course, they’re having sex now too. It was pretty obvious that Jessica and her fellow cheerleaders weren’t angels (all short skirts and dates with super hot older college guys…), and even Elizabeth, the supposedly wholesome twin, was not averse to steamy make-out sessions with the Toddster. However, to fit in with the twins’ wholesome image and the books’ teen-reader market, it could never really be stated. In Sweet Valley Confidential however, it’s so obvious it’s excruciating.

There are some shocking, and I mean SHOCKING revelations in the book but I won’t spoil all of the fun for you SVH fans. While it’s not really surprising that Lila Fowler would get a boob job and cheat on her husband, and that Winston Egbert would still be a loser, there are other soap opera turns that are a little more surprising.

Yes, the writing is pretty horrible and the story isn’t really that interesting, but I thought the book was fabulous. The dirty revelations about the Sweet Valley characters had me cackling away to myself (there’s a little epilogue at the back “For all you true Sweet Valley High fans” to bring you up to speed on what everyone has been getting up to which is particularly entertaining) and it felt easy to slip back into the twins’ ridiculous but lucky lives. It felt like having a good gossip with old friends who haven’t changed much. If you were a fan, I’d recommend the book for a long-awaited catch up and some nostalgic giggles.

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