One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesley (book review)

13/08/2012 § 2 Comments

Bromden, a paranoid schizophrenic in a 1960’s mental hospital is taciturn and feigning deafness. Initially a remote narrator, Bromden is drawn into his own plot by the new and apparently sane patient, McMurphy. This venerated clown effectively unnerves the reader by representing at once a hero subverting the tyranny of ‘Big Nurse’, and a paedophilic psychopath with a warped vendetta. Powerful demonstrations of insanity are diluted by patient inactivity and Bromden’s long delusionary parentheses. This contrasts the monotony of institutionalisation with the terrifying immediacy of a psychotic break, with the unfortunately inevitable result of making the novel tiresome in places.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (Book Review)

11/06/2012 § Leave a comment

Lily, a fourteen year old living in 1960’s South Carolina, flees her abusive father and her cantankerous housekeeper’s racists attackers to search for answers about her mother’s tragic death. Led by an abstruse clue to a harem of black bee keeping sisters, Lily is transformed by their sacred world of honey, heart and home. Although at times implausibly cerebral, Lily’s narration is mesmerising; artfully rendering the intricacies of those she describes. A seductive new religion, bigotry, mental illness and grief are carefully balanced ingredients that yield a deliciously sweet read reminiscent of, if not quite equal to, Harper Lee.

Pure by Andrew Miller (Book Review)

30/03/2012 § 1 Comment

In 1785 a young engineer is instructed to remove the vast cemetery of Les Innocents in Paris, which is poisoning its city; literally and figuratively. As he commences his work John-Baptiste and those around him are consumed by the hellishness of their task; to purify the dead whilst fearing becoming them. This novel is enriched with parable and metaphors without being buried by them, and from the ashes rises a quirky story that is poetically written, often quote-worthy, and wickedly funny. Miller makes the engineer’s plight against madness and toward modernity a pungently gripping and compulsive must-read.

Before I go to sleep by SJ Watson (Book Review)

09/03/2012 § Leave a comment

Chrissie is unable to hold onto her memories as she sleeps. She is forced to trust the devoted stranger she wakes up to every morning, who tells of a terrible accident that robbed her of her history. That is, until Chrissie begins to keep a secret journal, the truths of which slowly unravel her fragile and transient existence, seeming to reveal everyone as dishonest and unfamiliar, including herself. An intriguing concept is subsumed by the necessarily repetitive narrative, which Watson fails to overcome. The anticipatory nature of the plot is dampened by consistent predictability making this a rather bland and feeble read.

Broadmoor Revealed: Victorian Crime and the Lunatic Asylum (Book Review)

29/01/2012 § Leave a comment

This non-fiction work retells the early history of England’s first criminal lunatic asylum, Broadmoor. Using its recently released archives as source material, Stevens creates a complete picture of the institution within the Victorian period that includes portraits of its staff and (in)famous ‘guests’ as well as escape attempts, births and deaths, all of which occurred within the confines of this eminent and progressive component of the judicial system. Retold in a readable and engaging manner this unexpected gem is an eye opening quick read for anyone intrigued by mental health, criminology or the justice system. And if you own a kindle, it’s free!

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (Book Review)

29/01/2012 § 1 Comment

Sixteen year old Jacob has long ceased believing his manic Grandfather’s farfetched tales about a childhood spent with ‘peculiar children’ and hunted by monstrous beings. But a traumatic experience has Jacob questioning his own sanity, and whether there was in fact some truth behind the old man’s fictions. Punctuated with genuine, thought provoking photographs, this novel has a unique pulling power. Unfortunately the story’s substance fails to equal the eerie intrigue or excitement that its images suggest, with an inconsistent narrative voice hindering the characterisation of its central figure. Peculiar children is an overly ambitious children’s novel, which unfortunately fails to translate for an adult audience.

The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose (Book Review)

13/12/2011 § Leave a comment

Jac is struggling to supress mental health problems and save her ancestral perfumery from bankruptcy. But when her brother uncovers a familial artefact that may be the saviour of controversial Tibetan beliefs in reincarnation, Jac’s precarious sanity is put to the test by cryptic clues, murder and a reunion with a long lost love. The bizarre plot is not adequately addressed by even the supposedly sceptical characters. However, the mysteries that the reincarnation catalyst ignites are entertaining; enhanced throughout by Jac’s bittersweet romance.  The Book of Lost Fragrances whiffs of intoxicating insanity comparable to Süskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.

Dark Matter: A Ghost Story by Michelle Paver

17/10/2011 § Leave a comment

Investigate the ‘phobic disorder’ of Jack Miller, a young disenchanted scientist who participates in an ill-fated expedition to the artic in the 1930’s. As his journal’s pages turn the tone alters from excitement to eerie disconcertment amid rumours of his destination’s penchant for ‘bad luck’. As the mission’s members are picked off by fate, the eternal darkness of the arctic begins to permeate Jacks very being. This atmospheric novel’s plot centres upon the value of companionship and the disastrous consequences of isolation. Read this alone by lamplight and you too will begin to wonder at what lurks in the shadows.

Tiger, Tiger by Margaux Fragoso (Book Review)

05/09/2011 § Leave a comment

This memoir of child abuse that doubles up as a deranged love story begins when Margaux was 7 and her molester, Peter, was 51. The writing style is tainted by the victim’s own numbness and detachment, resulting in some inelegant over-narration. This instils the intrusive sense of reading someone else’s diary. Tiger, Tiger is an education in child maltreatment and manipulation that is perversely engaging despite, or perhaps because of, some moments that are truly difficult to read. Purposefully controversialist, this book is worth the few hours it takes to read for those whose curiosity gets the better of them.

In Malice, Quite Close: A Novel by Brandi Lynn Ryder (Book Review)

15/08/2011 § 1 Comment

This artistically written novel opens with the shocking and beguiling account of the seduction of a fifteen year old girl by charming but perverse Frenchman, Tristan Mourault. Years later the working class girl has been reborn into opulence as her voyeur’s most prized work of art; preserved through lies and manipulation. This story, despite to soon giving way to narration by weaker characters, exhibits an intoxicating mystery to be solved, full of elegiac eroticism, decadence, forgeries and fakes. Every chapter creates a cliff-hanger, gradually exposing the reader to more sins and secrets than Tristan alone can be guilty of.

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