Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

girl-on-the-trainThe Premise: Rachel is a girl. She rides on a train. While doing this, she takes an unhealthy interest in a couple who she often sees in their garden. When the female half of this couple goes missing, Rachel gets a bit obsessed with the whole thing and bad things happen. Oh, also, she’s an alcoholic. Oh, and also a bit crazed. Can we all say “unreliable narrator”?

Happy Bookworm: Having seen this book talked about all over the internet, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. Sometimes I do this: reading a book everyone else has read so I can dislike it and feel snooty and intellectual. In the case of The Girl on the Train, I can’t disregard it so easily. Although it was definitely slightly trashy, I found myself so caught up in the story of what happened to Megan and how everyone else was involved that I ended up reading the whole thing in one sitting and going to bed far too late. This was largely because I thought I knew the answer to the mystery and it seemed very important to know if I was right (I was). So the thriller-mystery aspect of the book is certainly effective.
Call me crazy, but I really liked Rachel. Although she’s a little too prone to drunken midnight phone calls to her ex, it’s hardly her fault he left her for another woman, and, as Rachel’s backstory develops, I found it impossible not to feel really sorry for her. That’s as far as my sympathy goes though; everyone else in this book is literally a monster.
Before reading, I didn’t realise there would be narrators beside Rachel, so I was surprised when Anna (“the other woman”) and Megan’s voices popped up. It helped to flesh the story out a bit, but, as all three of them had some serious reality issues, the switching narrative didn’t offer much in the way of clarity.

Sad Bookworm: The idea of a whole story populated by hideous people is only entertaining up to a point; I found myself feeling quite worn down by how awful everyone was. It didn’t feel particularly realistic; I claim to hate everyone, but secretly I believe in the innate goodness of humans, so The Girl on the Train ground me down a bit. As a throwaway thriller, it was fine, but it didn’t make me rethink my literary snobbery.

In Conclusion: I think everyone has already read this book by now, so probably my views make precisely no difference. It was fine. It won’t change your life or anything, but it’s a perfectly serviceable thriller.

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Review: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

the-wonderThe Premise: Lib Wright, a nurse trained by Florence Nightingale, comes to mid-19th century Ireland to observe Anna, an 11 year old girl who is claimed to have gone without food for 4 months. Is it a miracle? Is it a scam? Does Lib display almost dangerous levels of skepticism about the whole thing? All these answers, and more, await.

Happy Bookworm: The Wonder is worryingly compelling; I was far too absorbed in the whole story and yearned to get back to it every time I had to put it down. Lib’s cynicism about Anna’s ‘Wonder‘ status drives the novel, forcing the reader to assume there must be more to the story than she thinks (because otherwise, what would be the point of all her eye-rolling?); despite this, Lib is a really sympathetic character, extremely well-realised and interesting, with a back-story that is carefully revealed throughout.  The central plot creates a really good mystery; I found myself trying to figure out the truth from a really early stage, and Donoghue provides enough twists to keep the reader intrigued throughout. The story is set against a realistic backdrop of 19th century Ireland, with the potato famine and intense focus on religion playing important roles in the events, and I found this historical setting very fascinating.

Sad Bookworm: I can’t really think of any faults with The Wonder. I wasn’t a big fan of Donoghue’s massive hit, Room, so I went into this without colossally high expectations, and was very pleasantly surprised. Some of the developments are quite upsetting, but handled very sympathetically.

In Conclusion: The Wonder had a lot going for it before I even started reading; it’s qute short (very helpful for someone trying to read all the books in the world) and has a very beautiful cover. These things matter to me. Aside from these superficial advantages, it’s a deeply enthralling, quite creepy and unpredictable read, which will intrigue you from start to finish.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books that Make Me Thankful

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish, is about the books for which we are thankful. This gives me a clue that it must be Thanksgiving soon…

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Oh look, I’m mentioning The Handmaid’s Tale, which I hardly ever do. I’m grateful for the impact this book has had on my life and also for the impact I see it having on my students when I teach it. After the political events of recent weeks, it’s more relevant than ever.

Perijee and Me by Ross Montgomery
This is the first book I’ve ever taught which a whole class has loved. Usually there is at least one dissenting voice complaining, “I hate this book,” but Perijee has united my year 7 class with its charm and humour.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
My husband is not a big reader but, this year, he has finally (after 10 years) started listening to my brilliant book recommendations. Ready Player One is what started this off.

let-fury-hav-the-hourLet Fury Have the Hour edited by Antonino D’Ambrosio
A long time ago, I asked for a book called Passion is a Fashion for Christmas. It’s a book about the band The Clash and, while my mum was dutifully purchasing it, she happened to glance at the ‘Other People Who Bought This Also Bought’ section and found this; a book of journalistic writing about the band. It was in this that I discovered Lester Bangs (the greatest rock journalist of all time ever) and a beautiful relationship between an impressionable teenage girl and a long-dead, drug-addled writer was born.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
There are few nicer feelings than reading with a child and hearing them laugh hysterically at the book. My daughter loves this book, as do my nephew and a friend’s son, all of whom have been incapacitated with giggles by the end. I won’t lie; it makes me laugh quite a lot too.

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
I read this when I was about 17 and am planning to revisit it next year. I’m thankful for it for three reasons: Becky Sharp is a truly badass character and I love her; the narrative is incredibly snarky and I love it; probably most significantly, the amazing speech Dobbin makes to Amelia about how she is not worthy of the love he has shown her. I used to it written on a post-it I kept in my purse because I am emotionally well-balanced.

Fever Pitch and High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
In writing these brilliant books about football and music, Hornby basically provided me with handbooks for two of my main passions, and, having found these books at a very impressionable age, I’m very thankful for the ways in which they made me feel like my obsessions were really quite normal.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
This was the book that got me reading YA; I expect I would have made my way there eventually, but All the Bright Places sealed it.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Obviously this is a deeply traumatic book to read and I can still barely see it on my shelf without having a little cry, but I am thankful for it because I always thought I hated Thomas Hardy and it was Tess that made me realise he was actually a genius. I read all his major works in 2015 and loved them.

Review: The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild

the-improbability-of-loveThe Premise: unlucky-in-love Annie unassumingly buys a painting for a man. She ends up keeping it. Unbeknown to her, it’s a famous painting. Cue lots of stuff about art dealers, Russian billionaires and forgery.

Happy Bookworm: The Improbability of Love is quite exquisitely written; it reminded me of Nancy Mitford in its style, which is a very good thing. Ostensible main character Annie is a sympathetic focus for the reader; at the beginning, she’s quite drippy, but, as the plot develops, so does she. Her relationship with her hard-drinking and unreliable mother is one of the novel’s most fascinating subplots, and the story that develops around the feasts Annie makes based on paintings is inspired. It inspired me, anyway, or, more specifically, it inspired my appetite. In the presentation of poor, sad Annie, I was reminded of Scarlett Thomas’ books, namely PopCo and the lovely Our Tragic Universe, although Annie is ultimately roused to greater action than the protagonists of either of those novels.
Rothschild uses one of the most bizarre narrative tricks I’ve witnessed, having the painting itself – the eponymous Improbability of Love – narrate from a first person perspective at intervals. It’s initially too weird and seems like a witty trick too far, but as the painting’s history is revealed, it sort of makes sense for the work of art itself to tell us about it. It doesn’t stop being odd, but a bit of oddness never hurt anyone, did it?

Sad Bookworm: it’s not so much ‘sad bookworm’ as ‘confused bookworm’ in the case of this book. It took me a long time to get into, partly because of the continual shifts in narrative perspective, and I didn’t care about all of the characters. The Russian guy, for example, could have been removed entirely and it would have made no difference at all to the plot. The cast of characters is massive and I’m not convinced that this was necessary.
The pace is a bit plodding too. It’s not a particularly action-packed story, which is completely fine, but having to be introduced to seven thousand characters does not help to add any impetus.

In Conclusion: I nearly gave up on The Improbability of Love a few times, but persevered on the assumption that, having been shortlisted for the Baileys Prize, I must have been missing something. Overall, I think my enjoyment just about shaded my frustration in reading it, but it was a close call.