Category Archives: novel

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things fall apart, Chinua AchebeThis is the story of Okonkwo, a man of the Ibo tribe in Nigeria. It is also the story of his father, his various friends, his 3 wives and his collection of children. Okonkwo is an upright, uptight sort of man, with a firm sense of the proper way for a good Ibo man to behave. Ultimately, he finds himself at odds with the encroaching laws of the white colonialists.

What I liked about this book:

The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende

house of the spirits, novel book cover, book review This book is on the reading list for one of my Birkbeck modules this year. The debut novel of a Chilean author, Isabel Allende, and originally written in Spanish, this is an English translation.

The style of writing is rich and dense. With a host of eccentric characters, a story line that spans many years and a meandering style that goes off on numerous digressions, it reminded me of Continue reading The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende

The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy

The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy - book coverThis is a rich, multilayered book which tells the story of various members of an Indian family and the calamities that befall them.

When the book begins, we see the world through the eyes of the grown up daughter, Rahel, returning to her family home to visit her mute twin brother, Estha. Then we flash back to the twins’ childhood and there are a serious of lengthy passages where the histories of various members of her family are described – the awful great-aunt, the frustrated grand-father, the divorced mother, the spoilt uncle, etc. The timeline bounces back and forth. We know, very early on, that someone died in the past Continue reading The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy

Rates of Exchange, by Malcolm Bradbury

Rates of Exchange, Malcolm Bradbury, reading review by Ruth Livingstone This book is set in a mythical mid-European country. It opens with a 10 page travel guide to the imaginary city of Slaka and the first chapter follows with an account of a plane touching down on the tarmac. Aboard the plane is a Dr Petworth. He may or may not be an important character in the story to follow. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you whether he was, nor can I tell you what happened to him – as I read no further Continue reading Rates of Exchange, by Malcolm Bradbury

When We Were Orphans, by Kazuo Ishiguro

When We Were Orphans, Kazuo Ishiguro - Ruth Livingstone reviews this bookThis book was published in 2000 but, the story is told in the first person and was ‘narrated’ during the 1930s. There is an authentic, old-fashioned feel to the writing. It is not a particularly easy read, being told in a non-linear fashion and with complexly constructed sentences. It took me some time to get into it.

The narrator – Christopher Banks – is brought to England as a small boy, after both his parents disappear. Initially, it is unclear whether he is, or isn’t, one of the orphans alluded to in the title. Continue reading When We Were Orphans, by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Bellwether Revivals, by Benjamin Wood

Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin WoodThis is the first published novel by one of my Birkbeck tutors.

And, because the author is one of my tutors, I was nervous before I read it. What if I didn’t like it?

I needn’t have worried.

The story is crackingly good and involves a lowly care worker, Oscar, who falls under the spell of the Bellwether family. Specifically, he falls in love with Iris Bellweather and becomes enmeshed with her charismatic brother, Eden. Continue reading The Bellwether Revivals, by Benjamin Wood

Damnation Alley, by Roger Zelazny

Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny - coverThis is a unputtadownable book. But, luckily, it is also quick and easy to read in one sitting (I read it over the course of a long train journey on a single day).

The story is a fast-paced action adventure set in a dystopian future. The story follows the classic ‘journey’ format. The main protagonist is an anti-hero, who is asked to take part in an impossible mission in exchange for a pardon from life-long imprisonment. I won’t tell you much about the futuristic scenario, except to say it is set in the USA and involves how life has changed post nuclear-war. The dangers include the usual stuff – radiation and lawlessness – along with fiercesome storms where solid objects rain down with deadly consequences. Continue reading Damnation Alley, by Roger Zelazny

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson

This is a who-dunnit, with the main protagonist being an investigative reporter who takes up a commission to write an old man’s biography. But his real mission is to investigate the disappearance of a young girl.

The journalist’s task is complicated by the fact the events took place many years previously and there is considerable antagonism displayed by other family members to the supposed biography. In addition, the journalist faces an impending spell in prison and is embroiled in a messy love life.

This is the first book of a trilogy and I confess I haven’t read the other two in the series yet.

What I liked about this book: I liked the density of the story. There was a real sense of place and the characters were well rounded. Tension and uncertainty were maintained throughout the book and the resolution of the mystery was credible but unexpected. The plot was complex. There was no artificial happy ending.

What I didn’t like: The book began slowly and I was put off by the extended family and the parade of different characters with their foreign names, making it hard to follow who was who – despite the helpfully provided family tree.

In fact, the main problem I had with the beginning of the story was my uncertainty about who to identify with. Initially, it seemed unclear who the main character was, until the author appeared to settle on the journalist. It was brought home to me how important this element is to a reader. Near the beginning of any book, we expect to know who the story is about. Who do we focus our attention on?

There is a part of the book, near the end, where a particularly horrendous series of crimes is uncovered. This is never satisfactorily dealt with (maybe it is revisited in subsequent book in the series) and almost pushed aside as being too complex to address. I felt the late revelation of this aspect of the story, and the almost dismissive trivialisation of the crimes, was unsatisfactory and undermined some of the realism of the rest of the book.

But this is a great book and well worth reading. It demands some attention. I plan to read the next two books in the trilogy, but I am waiting for some dedicated reading time to appear in my schedule.


Everything You Need, by A.L. Kennedy

I had read an extract of AL Kennedy’s work for a writing assignment and I have seen her on television. She has a great reputation and comes across as intelligent, articulate and funny. So I was really looking forward to reading one of her novels and I was pleased when I found this one, Everything you Need, in my local library.

You can’t fault the writing. This book is written in a high literary style. Every paragraph, every sentence, every phrase is perfectly crafted. Words are used in new and different combinations. The evoking of place and atmosphere is spot on. The author’s considerable abilities shine through. The writing is stylish. Elegant. Clever. Thought provoking.

But, after getting half way through, and having renewed my loan for the third time at my local library, I decided life is too short to read something that is a chore, rather than enjoyable.

Why did I find this book so difficult to read? Continue reading Everything You Need, by A.L. Kennedy

Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Love in the Time of Cholera was written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a Colombian author, and originally published in Spanish in 1985 and since translated into English.

The story is set on the Caribbean coast of South America and sprawls across a period of 50 years spanning the late 19th and early 20th Century. The language is dense and the tale is complex with a host of characters. On the surface, this is a story of a long running love affair – bordering on the obsessive – between a somewhat indifferent woman and her ardent suitor. Continue reading Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez