Monday 2 November 2015

While I’ve Been Away, Part II

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy – I’ve always been slightly intimidated by the prospect of reading Tolstoy, and judging from people’s reactions to me reading this I’d say I’m not alone in this. However, it quickly became apparent that this was entirely unjustified. Yes, Tolstoy had a tendency toward long novels, but this was so easy to read, honestly. It focuses not merely on the Anna/Vronsky/Karenin complicated tangle of relationships but also on a rather sweet romance between Levin and Princess Kitty. Many issues are dealt with throughout – financial concerns, the importance placed on social class, familial politics, love, jealousy, and much more beside. At turns intense and dramatic, a must for any lover of nineteenth century literature.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell – In this popular psychology book Gladwell explores the human ability to thin-slice (making judgements intuitively). It’s an interesting read that demonstrates how thin-slicing can sometimes prove more accurate than careful analysis of large volumes of data, but also how this can sometimes have disastrous consequences. He also gives examples of how biases can be so ingrained that when thin slicing we make judgements based on this even when consciously we reject such biases, a fact I found quite disturbing. He uses real life scenarios from museum curators debating the validity of an apparently ancient statue to music, advertising, and even speed-dating. For the lay reader it’s a fascinating, thought provoking read but received a fair amount of criticism from professionals for exaggerating the power of the unconscious.

The Ask and the Answer, Patrick Ness – I somehow left it two years between reading The Knife of Never Letting Go and this, its sequel. It did not take long to once again become engrossed in the world that Ness has created. With a split narrative and our two protagonists having very little contact throughout we are given an insight in to how they are being manipulated, and see how far their loyalty is being stretched. The reader is left constantly guessing as to whose intentions are honourable. With some harrowing scenes Ness certainly knows how to pull on the heartstrings. Don’t be put off by the YA labelling, this is a series worth reading at any age.

Notes from an Exhibition, Patrick Gale – This had been sitting on my bookshelf for what must be close on ten years, but I’m so glad that I finally picked it up. It tells the story of the recently deceased artist Rachel Kelly and her family, using notes from a retrospective as a way to shape the story. The narrative jumps from the present to Rachel’s first pregnancy and subsequent child-rearing offering the reader simultaneously both the back story and the effects their bi-polar mother’s parenting has had on her now adult children, an engaging technique. Full of interesting characters and a complex family history that is revealed gradually, this well-written novel is certainly worth a read.

The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman – This story of a woman sent mad by being confined for recuperation is a powerful, haunting portrayal of the powerlessness of women in the nineteenth century. Rarely have I come across a short story that is so immersive and affecting. This particular edition is accompanied by two of her other short stories – The Rocking Chair, and Old Water, both disturbing and engaging. A real gem of a book.

1 comment:

  1. the yellow wallpaper is easily the most frightening of all three tales, gripping and enthralling to the very end.