The Woman Who Died a Lot – a Review

The Woman Who Died a Lot (Thursday Next, #7)The Woman Who Died a Lot by Jasper Fforde
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s a while since I’ve read a Jasper Fforde book – and this one did not disappoint. Here’s advice to anyone new to JF. When you start reading, it will seem like absolute nonsense, but persist. Ride the nonsense roller coaster and you’ll be rewarded.

Like all previous Thursday Next novels, the gags and puns come thick and fast. Explanations for common-place things – such as why Aldi never has any brands you recognise – are witty. The mocking of local government and large corporations is cleverly done.

There’s a lot in this book that will make you smile. I loved the idea of hard-core librarians, feared more than the SAS.

Another added bonus are the illustrations and the postcards at the back. Pictures used to be commonplace in books – up until the First World War when they disappeared because of paper shortage. It’s nice to see them.

I would hesitate to recommend this book to anyone who is new to Jasper Fforde because it helps to know a bit of background about Thursday, the main character. Start at the beginning with The Eyre Affair and work your way onwards.

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100 Not Out – A Review

100 Not Out100 Not Out by Gordon Lawrie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Searching for something to read for your commute – whether that’s for work or for a flight out on summer holidays? Try 100 Not Out. The author has collected together examples of his flash fiction, i.e. very short stories, grouping them in categories such as love, crime, politics and more. Many of the stories will make you laugh out loud – they will certainly make you think.

A light, but satisfying read. I’d thoroughly recommend it.

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The Wave Singer, by Greg Michaelson

The Wave SingerThe Wave Singer by Greg Michaelson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Wave Singer isn’t a book I wouldn’t usually read, but a quarter of the way through I started to really enjoy what I was reading. To use the cliché, I was grateful that I had been pushed out of my comfort zone. I always think the ultimate compliment or a book is how quickly one reads it and I read this book in three days – really, it would have been much sooner if I hadn’t been working.

I loved the starkness of the language and its simplicity. I felt that the author was giving the reader lots of scope for their own imagination. The setting of the book isn’t made clear, except that it is probably a post-apocalyptic east coast of Scotland – and the thought of an abandoned Edinburgh was intriguing.

I liked the individual explanations for the characters and the religious analogy. I also appreciated the little domestic touches which I thought really brought the life of people living in this world to life. Not having the ingredients to make curries for example, or not keeping pets.

The story moves along at a reasonable pace and the explanations given fit with what you have learned so far. It’s an interesting and satisfying read.

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You can buy The Wave Singer on Amazon.

The Outcast, by Sadie Jones

The OutcastThe Outcast by Sadie Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thought this was an astonishing book – a debut novel too, no less. I found it in my local library, put off reading it for a while, took it up one evening and then couldn’t put the book down. I read it in one night.

The book tells the story of Lewis Aldridge, starting with his release from prison in 1957 at the age of 27. It then backtracks to the end of the Second World War when Lewis’s father returns from the war, interrupting the cosy life he and his mother have made together without him. Tragedy strikes and father and son are unable to help each other through it.

Lewis is a deeply flawed protagonist, but the author deals sympathetically with him at all times – and with most of the other characters who surround him. You feel as if the author really wanted to explain why people act in certain ways and why they are unable to rectify situations.

The portrayal of 1940s and 1950s English life seems very vivid and realistic and it’s an interesting exploration of social mores and how they constricted people’s lives. The writing is beautiful and the ending satisfying.

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The Beauty Myth – Review

The Beauty MythThe Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been aware of this book for a long time, but I’ve only just got round to reading it and I wish I’d read it years ago.

Wolf puts across many thoughtful and considerate arguments for why the beauty myth exists and its use to control women in society. Beauty, she argues, has taken the place of what religion used to do and it’s an insidious and powerful tool of oppression. Without the enforced obsession with the appearance (and the projected image is impossible for most women to achieve, and certainly to continue to achieve), how much more would women do, Wolf argues, how powerful would they be?

If you’re not convinced by the arguments that dieting doesn’t work (it almost always results in disordered eating and it ruins the metabolism), then be convinced by Wolf’s political arguments against dieting –

“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”

And definitely be convinced by her arguments against the cosmetic surgery industry.

“Whatever is deeply, essentially female – the life in a woman’s expression, the feel of her flesh, the shape of her breasts, the transformations after childbirth of her skin – is being reclassified as ugly, and ugliness as disease. These qualities are about an intensification of female power, which explains why they are being recast as a diminution of power. At least a third of a woman’s life is marked with aging; about a third of her body is made of fat. Both symbols are being transformed into operable condition so that women will only feel healthy if we are two thirds of the women we could be. How can an ‘ideal’ be about women if it is defined as how much of a female sexual characteristic does not exist on the woman’s body, and how much of a female life does not show on her face?”

The book was published in 1990 and I found it rather depressing that many of situations she describes and ruminates on have worsened. Facilitated by the internet, for example, the preoccupation with appearance and looks is worse than ever in my opinion while the growth in the cosmetic surgery industry continues at a frightening rate. It’s completely debilitating for women everywhere.

Having said that, the book is really worth your while reading. The majority of women will recognise the situations Wolf describes. The text is easy to read and absorb, and the book allows you to equip yourself with knowledge. I felt as I had known a lot of what Wolf describes, but her elaboration made it clearer and brighter, and knowing what is behind the beauty myth makes it a lot less powerful for me, which can only be a good thing.

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