Monthly Archives: January 2013

Book Club Meeting # 5 – We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

we-need-to-talk-about-kevin2

It took me over a month to finish this book (something which I discussed a little bit in my Blog Review of 2012) so I was actually in the slightly alien position (for me!) of not having finished the book on time. Thankfully, no one else had either. It seems that November and December are busy months for everyone!

A little about We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver –
The book is a series of letters written by Eva to her husband Franklin, after her teenage son Kevin murders his classmates in a massacre at his school. The letters give her version of Kevin’s upbringing, her doubts about motherhood, her reservations about his character and her struggle to love him, both before and after the event. The details of the massacre are held back for quite some time and the whole event is filed in the Eva’s mind as Thursday, looming over her and affecting every aspect of her life.

I found this book incredibly unnerving, how it makes you question a mother’s love for her child and the eternal debate on nature versus nurture in forming a child’s character. It was quite chilling to hear about Kevin’s childhood and, although it was skewed from Eva’s perspective, it did paint a picture of child without the same emotional and moral compass that we consider defines us as human (or humane). There were times when I threw it aside, fed up of the incessant and relentlessly wicked behaviour of Kevin, and Eva’s long looks into his actions and psyche, analysing every single thing in an attempt to make some sense of Kevin’s actions. I found the understanding that exists between a mother and child really interesting – for it is Eva who knows him best of all, and Eva who continues to visit him in prison despite the fact that neither of them seems to look forward to these visits.

I can’t make my mind up about who is responsible for his actions – Kevin is an intelligent boy and I think the reason that some readers struggle with this book is Eva’s attitude. Eva switches between trying to figure out where she went wrong; blaming part of the failures in her family life on her husband, and washing her hands of her son’s actions altogether. Eva also strikes a tone that I imagine would grate on some people – she is not one to shirk using a more obscure word when something more colloquial would do, and her status as a successful career woman writing travel books also brings up the issue of the battle between motherhood and career for the working woman.

Again, everything was related through Eva’s eyes so it is incredibly difficult to make up your mind about it all. That’s what this book is all about though, a mother’s perspective, however honest and frank Eva tries to be she will always be prejudiced when it comes to family. It was a very, very interesting book.

Everyone in the book club seemed to love it – as we met up when we were all still in the process of reading it we began guessing at what would happen and what our thoughts on Eva, Franklin and Kevin’s characters were. It certainly provoked a lot more discussion than other books we had read and I would recommend it for book clubs because of that.

Next month’s book is Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Gone GirlI’ve already finished it and it was brilliant – my favourite book club book so far! We’re meeting up next week to discuss it so expect a review soon after.

What is your book club reading this month?

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Book Review: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen & 200th Anniversary

Pride and Prejudice

If you’ve looked at a newspaper or books blog today, you may already be aware that today is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s most famous novel Pride and Prejudice. I bought the book in December as part of Penguin’s 50% off sale, as I really love the Penguin English Library covers (see above).

It was such a strange experience reading it – I watched the 2005 film with Keira Knightley, and have watched the 1995 BBC television series with Jennifer Ehle and, of course, Colin Firth, as Mr Darcy. In fact, I’ve even watched the Bollywood adaptation Bride and Prejudice. I don’t know why I had never picked up the book before – it seems strange to know the story so well and yet to have never read the book. Normally it’s the other way round when you see a film or TV adaptation of a book you love. I read Sense and Sensibility a few years ago and although I enjoyed it, it was nowhere near as good Pride and Prejudice.

As I said, it was strange, as I knew the story so well and had already a picture in my mind of each of the characters. It’s funny that even after reading it, my mind associates different characters with certain actors from the different adaptations. For me, Lizzy and Mr Darcy will always be those portrayed in the BBC adaptation, as will Jane and Lydia be. However, Mr Bingley, Miss Bingley, Mr and Mrs Bennett and Mr Collins are all drawn in my mind as they are in the film. I really wish I could watch it again but my DVD seems to have gone AWOL… I do have the BBC DVDs so I may watch them instead. But I digress. It’s funny how I never tire of Pride and Prejudice, I even found myself daydreaming about the characters. What is it about Pride and Prejudice that has this effect?

I realise that I haven’t written much of a review here – I’m sure most people are familiar with the story, that of Lizzie Bennet and her four sisters and their mum trying to find husbands for them all. Cue the arrival of Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy – Bingley and Jane seem to hit it off while Lizzie thinks Mr Darcy is a bit pompous. And the rest, as they say, is history…

I loved the book – I felt so familiar with the characters, and although a lot of the dialogue in the adaptations I’ve seen is lifted from the book, it was still nice to take my time with it, and find out a little more about the characters. Like when you go back and reread a book that is an old favourite. Pride and Prejudice is definitely one of mine now as I suspected it would be – I like the chatty, conspiratorial tone of the book; how much it ridicules some of the characters; and do you know, it just makes me wonder what ladies did all day long. As much as I love my work and know that I would become bored really quickly, wouldn’t it be nice to have been a lady of leisure for a while, spending your days reading, playing piano, visiting and going on tours for weeks on end? I think it sounds lovely (and maybe exposes me as inherently lazy) – although I definitely would not relish the idea of having to find a rich husband quite so much, or having Mrs Bennet for a mother for that matter.

What is your experience of reading Pride and Prejudice? If you had only seen the adaptations, does it live up to or exceed your expectations? And which adaptation do you prefer?

I also have to share this updated version of Pride and Prejudice, a video series on youtube called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries which I gratefully discovered today by way of Iris on Books. The series is highly addictive, if at times wonderfully obnoxious, and it had me continually clicking on to watch the next episode. I think I may have even written this post influenced by the dialogue. I feel like I haven’t said anything particularly worthwhile about the book. Oh well, here’s a quiz The Guardian featured today called Know Your Bingleys From Your Bennets. I only managed 6 out of 10 which is quite shocking considering I only finished reading the book on Saturday.

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Reading Plans for 2013

What my reading looks like for this year so far...

What my reading looks like for this year so far…

I tried the structured approach last year, with my reading list. Although I think that was useful as it brought together some of the books I had been wanting to read for some time, I think this year I will be reading more on whim. There are always interesting books that pop up throughout the year so the list of books I want to read grows and grows. I have already finished reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn which was just brilliant and I only first caught wind of it a couple of months ago. It was a book club pick so I’ll wait until after then to discuss it more and leave you hanging on…

I will be working my way through my bookshelves as they stand at the moment. From this, two portions of planned reading have emerged, thanks to a little pre-Christmas indulgence when Penguin were doing their 50% discount deal.

The first of these two will be a burst of classics. I really like the Penguin English Library covers and I used it as an excuse to buy some classics I hadn’t read. I’ll be starting this in mid-January, finishing (hopefully!) by the end of February. The books on the list are stellar, and I am a little ashamed to say that I have never read them:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I know, I know, I hang my head – a young woman who loves Kate Bush and hasn’t even read Wuthering Heights?! I did start it when I was younger but didn’t get very far… This will be duly rectified soon and I cannot wait – I want to see what all the fuss is about! The 28th of January sees the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice so I will be reading that after finishing off my current read, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.

The next planned reading session is an Evelyn Waugh month. I read Brideshead Revisited a few years ago and really loved it, and since seeing Stephen Fry’s film Bright Young Things I have been keen to read Vile Bodies as that’s what it is based on. Again, these were picked up for a steal from Penguin. There are three to read and I may try and make a little event out of this – I’m pencilling this in for April at the moment but this may change. The books I’ll be reading by Waugh will be:

Vile Bodies
A Handful of Dust
Scoop

I quite like the idea of small, focused challenges to get stuck into as I think they’ll also make me more focused in my blogging. Time will tell! If you fancy reading some of these books along with me then do let me know – the more the merrier.

Oh, and all the best for 2013!

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Blog Review of 2012

A quick round-up of my first year in blogging.

Cleveden Bookshelves

Way back in January last year, I took the decision to start this blog properly, and to try and read books I had been meaning to read for ages or new ones I’d just discovered. I started it off with my post New year, new booklist and I thought that on looking back over it that I would hardly have read any of them. I’m pleased to say that’s not quite the case: out of the 22 on my list, I’ve read 11 in full and dipped in and out of 2 of them.

I managed to read 46 books last year – I had set myself a target of 52 but didn’t quite manage it. The main reason for this is a few changes in my life recently. I moved closer to my work and now have a 20-minute commute compared to an hour and 20 minutes. I used to do a lot of reading on the bus and could easily meet my target of a book a week but now, although I have more time, I’ll admit that half of it is taken up by an extra hour in bed in the morning! Since the end of November, I had been reading one book. This book was called We Need to Talk About Kevin. I had been enjoying it but the problem is I kept getting distracted by shorter reads, opting for poetry, or short stories or little snippets from The Etymologicon. I’m hoping I’ll get it finished this year as my TBR list is growing continuously! I’d also like to add that this time last year I definitely didn’t know that TBR meant ‘to-be-read’. I’m aiming for 52 books again this year!

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