Hello everyone! Did you enjoy Wimbledon? Now that all the Andy Murray drama and celebrations are over, why don't you sit down and enjoy this month's A Blogging Good Read? Joining me this month are Elise from Foof & Faff and Emily from What Emily Did Next.
Up first is my choice, Delirium by Lauren Oliver:
YA fiction and dystopian settings are a common pairing at the moment. This book is set in a fairly recognisable world but with the twist that love is a disease. It's dangerous, forbidden and it has to be eradicated. A cure has been developed and it's given to everyone on their 18th birthday, from which point on they quite happily function without it. The protagonist, Lena, is on the verge of being given the cure when she meets Alex, a boy from the Wilds, and realises that maybe love is worth fighting for after all.
The thing I like about this book is that it doesn't set things up as black and white. The reader's reaction is to assume that life without love would be unbearable but there's a real sense within Delirum that solace and comfort are found from undergoing the process - people who've had it aren't written as soulless robots. I don't pretend this is a perfect book. It shares a lot of the common YA faults but I forgive it a lot of them, solely because of the emotional impact the story and especially the ending have on me. Having said that, I don't forgive the way things turn out in the other two books and I wouldn't recommend going on to read them. I like this best as a standalone book, with an uncertain ending.
What were Elise's thoughts?
I had a slight chuckle when I realised Alex had picked this book - I actually first heard about it from her and read it ages ago! In fact I'd just ordered the third one from the library when she emailed me, so that should tell you how much I enjoyed the first two. Maybe somewhat predictably, I'm going to compare it to The Hunger Games - it tells a completely different story but I found the styles similar and got completely sucked into each book against my better judgement. Delirium is a bit overly dramatic and 'teenager-y' in places but the idea behind it is pretty intriguing, so you want to keep reading to see where it takes you. Spoiler Alert - it takes you to a cliffhanger that will have you running out for the next book, you have been warned!
Did Emily like it?
I thought that Delirium was quite cheesy, and not in a very good way. While it was quite an enjoyable read, it didn't include nearly enough back story for what could have been a really fascinating plot, and had some of the most underdeveloped characters I've encountered in a while. The main character was intensely boring, although by the time I got to the end of the book I understood that she had to be boring, as she only really existed as a symbol, rather than a real character. Overall Delirium was far longer than it needed to be, far cheesier than it needed to be, and was packed full of very heavy-handed symbolism.
Emily's choice was The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano:
The Solitude of Prime Numbers follows the lives of Alice and Mattia, two people whose lives are not so much marred by tragedy as by a chronic sense of never quite belonging. They first meet as troubled teenagers, but life takes them in different directions. Later on, they meet again, and the emotions they buried boil over.
This was one of those books that I could not stop reading once I started. I was sucked in immediately and loved everything about it: the characters that stirred up a mixture of admiration and pity, the writing style that washed me along like a current, and the story that was fascinating and devastating in its far-reaching simplicity. I personally felt every emotion that Alice and Mattia experienced in the novel. Despite not being very mathematically minded myself, the thread of 'prime numbers are only divisible by one and themselves' is very rewarding and makes perfect sense in the context of the characters.
The Solitude of Prime Numbers is not a feel-good read, but is well-written, heart-wrenching and ultimately beautiful.
Do you ever read the reviews of a book and wonder if you've entirely missed the point of it when you were reading it? Everyone seems to laud this novel for its depth, minimalism and subtlety but I found it very under-developed and dreary. Maybe the reader is meant to imagine some sort of deep philosophical underpinnings but if that's the case, I clearly missed them. Alice and Mattia aren't interesting characters: they just meander through their lives, drowning in self-pity. There's no development or real character arc. It's just dull, and they're dull to read about. Every time you think something might happen or they might change and grow a little, that plot strand is dropped and nothing happens after all. I enjoyed the use of language but I can't say I liked much else about this book.
Did Elise enjoy it more than I did?
When I started reading this I found it quite similar to When God was a Rabbit - the brother sister style dynamic, the descriptive writing, the unconscious loneliness of the main characters - but as I got further along it seemed to fall a bit flat. The story became slightly predictable and the characters a bit one-dimensional, although the narrative jumping ahead a few years each chapter served as a good reminder that life really doesn't change unless you make it so. I was most interested in what happened to Mattia's sister after her disappearance, but I didn't feel it was resolved in a very satisfying way, especially since it seemed to be a fairly major event with a knock on effect on the rest of Mattia's life. Overall though, I did enjoy the book and I would look out for future ones.
Elise picked When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman:
I came across this book in a charity shop last year and picked it up because the cover looked interesting (isn't that always the way?). Since then I've read it twice and been gripped each time. The basic storyline follows a brother and sister through life, from Elly's birth in the 60s to 2001 and the fall of the Twin Towers (written about in an intriguingly different way than anything I've read before). There's a few magical happenings along the way, which may or may not be products of Elly's imagination, and the overall tone is a bit melancholy, which is exactly how I like my books - I felt like it spoke to the introverted part of me rather well.
What did Emily think?
For me, When God Was a Rabbit was ruined by its own hype. I bought and read it at the time when every blogger and book club was hailing it to be the best book ever written, and so the main mistake I made was to read it with that in mind. It was not the best book in the world, though it was a perfectly good book. Winman writes some good characters that I cared about as a reader, and manages to craft a nice sense of childhood confusion and naivety that permeates through the novel. The reason I can't say it was anything other than 'good' is because it just seemed to be missing a certain something, and at some points I felt as though Winman was piling tragedy on top of tragedy just to make a point, and to create drama and excitement, and that ultimately fell short.
I hate to end on a downer but dear god, this book bored the pants off me. All of the characters were more like caricatures - either we didn't spend enough time in their company to care about them or we did but they were so cartoony that they weren't worth caring about. A lot of it didn't ring true and the timeline felt off too. There were large sections spent in one time period and then decades were dismissed in a sentence or two. Now this isn't always a problem in fiction but here it bothered me as it didn't feel like the balance was right and consequently I couldn't feel involved in anything that was happening. The only thing about the whole book that sparked my interest was the Twin Towers subplot but even that fizzled out to an unsatisfactory conclusion. It's never a good sign when you finish a book thinking "Well, I might have liked it if it had just been the last third and it had been differently written and preferably by someone else..."
Well, I was a miserable arse this month, wasn't I? Thank you very much to Emily and Elise for joining in and I'm sorry I hated your choices!
Perhaps I'll be better next month when we're reading Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson, The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. See you then!