So I finally read Good Omens…

Good Omens…and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it, actually.

The 1990 comedy novel about the end of the world, written by both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, both now giants in the fantasy genre (although both quite different writers, in my opinion), has been hugely successful in the nearly quarter of a century since its release, often being cited as a favourite book by many fans of either or both authors, and indeed by quite a large number of my friends. It often also makes various lists of the most popular books, and books you must read, and so on and so forth.

Considering all of this, it’s fair to say I came to this book with certain expectations. I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to blow me away, and it wasn’t going to become one of my favourite ever novels, but I expected to enjoy it a lot, and I thought I’d knock it over in a week at the most.

It ended up taking months to read. About three, I think. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad novel, and in fact the second half I gulped down in a couple of days, when I finally made the effort to do so. But the first half of the book just completely failed to hook me in a way that frankly should have put me off the book entirely. If it wasn’t so well talked about by so many people, I would have given up on this novel before reaching the half way point.

I’ve been trying to pinpoint in my mind what I did and didn’t like about Good Omens for a few days now. The idea in itself is quite clever, although it also leaves the ending somewhat predictable – either the world ends in a really chaotic but humorous manner, or it doesn’t end and somehow it makes some vague statement about good and evil and human nature and blah blah blah. There’s certainly lots of potential in exploring the apocalypse in a comedic way but I much preferred the way Douglas Adams addressed the end of existence in The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe.

The characters were really a mixed bag. I loved the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and I am fairly sure these characters were largely Neil Gaiman’s work (they just seemed more like him). I really like the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley, who if anything were the book’s main characters as they desperately tried to avert the apocalypse because both are quite happy on the Earth the way it is. Adam, the young boy on whom the fate of everything rests even though he has no idea, and his friends who follow his every word, get rather tiresome quite quickly, as do the witch-finders with their storylines. The prophecies of Agnes Nutter are quite funny in their own way, and help bring other parts of the story to life, but overall the characters were very hit and miss.

The writing, like the characters, is also hit and miss. There were times where I was totally engrossed in the story, and points where I was howling with laughter. There were also quite a lot of times where I was simply quite bored. One thing I have to admit is that while I am becoming quite a big fan of Neil Gaiman, I struggle to enjoy Terry Pratchett, and as Pratchett supposedly wrote the greater portion of this novel, I think that does pose a bit of an issue for me. I could almost tell which part was written by who because I enjoyed the parts that felt more like Gaiman, and was bored by the rest (and yes, I am aware there will have been some bits that were edited so many times they were probably written by both authors). I also thing the writing at times was too slow; as I have already mentioned, I nearly gave up on the book during the first half because it just felt like nothing was happening, both with the plot and the character development.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I quite liked the book. I just didn’t love it. I can see why people do obsess over it, as there is something awfully cult classic about it, and I know a lot of people do really appreciate both authors equally which I suspect would help in one’s enjoyment of it overall. Maybe my expectations were too high, which is always a dangerous approach to any book, film, music album or any form of artistic expression really, but Good Omens just didn’t blow me away by any stretch of the imagination. Good Omens is bang on – they certainly weren’t great omens. Just good.

A Picture Book For Adults!

As young kids, it wasn’t unusual to have picture books  and fairy tales read to us, and when we were old enough, we starting reading these same stories on our own. For many, this was the beginning of our reading lives, and as a result of this, we tend to assume that picture books, generally, are for children.

The Adventures of The Princess And Mr WhiffleThe Adventures of the Princess And Mr Whiffle: The Thing Beneath The Bed, by Patrick Rothfuss (yes, that same Patrick Rothfuss who wrote the brilliant fantasy novels The Name Of The Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear) and illustrated by Nate Taylor, is not a picture book for children. While the book certainly seems sweet on the outside, The Princess being a little girl and Mr Whiffle being her teddy bear, the book is actually a darkly comical tale with three different endings, and the whole thing is a sort of tribute to children’s picture books and the older style fairy tales.

The three different endings are definitely the stand out aspect of this book. The first ending is the happier, sweet ending one would expect from such a story, but for the second and the third endings the story simply continues on from the same point. The second ending is quite a horrible one, almost the opposite of the first in terms of the feelings it evokes. But the third ending is the real one, and there is something deliciously wicked and funny about the way they have chosen to end the story fully. But of course, you’ll have to read it yourself to find out.

This book was first published in 2010, and stupidly I waited too long to buy it and it went out of print entirely. Luckily a few months ago it was reprinted with a slightly different cover, new author notes from Rothfuss, and at the back is a new section with some of Taylor’s original sketches, covered in handwritten notes about what was and wasn’t working for each of the two contributors, which is awesome just to see the idea in progress. Naturally I haven’t let myself miss out on this a second time, and it was well worth the investment to have this in my collection.

For anybody who is already a fan of Patrick Rothfuss, I can’t recommend this quirky little book enough. It is very much his style of storytelling and his sense of humour, although in a way you’ve never seen before. And even if you haven’t read anything by Rothfuss, I’d still recommend giving this a whirl – it is fun and different, and certainly memorable. Just remember not to read it to your kids.

What were your favourite picture books as a child?

Do you know of any other good picture books for adults?

The Prisoner of Heaven – Zafón takes us back to The Cemetery Of Forgotten Books

The Prisoner Of HeavenIt was a few years ago now that I was first pulled into the world of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s imagination with his internationally bestselling book, The Shadow Of The Wind. In this post-war Barcelona set book, we met such brilliant characters as Daniel Sempere, Fermin Romero de Torres, and every book nerd’s dream paradise in the form of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. After this Zafón released The Angel’s Game, set in Barcelona again but slightly earlier, and revolving around the writer David Martin.

In The Prisoner of Heaven, Zafón starts to connect the pieces of what, at first, seemed like two entirely different books. We return to about a year after the events of The Shadow of the Wind, and while Daniel is getting used to being a father and a husband, Fermin is preparing for his own wedding. However, there is a dark secret lurking in Fermin’s past, and he spends a good part of the novel telling Daniel of his experiences in prison (for espionage) following the civil war (which is alluded to briefly in the earlier books). Through all of this David Martin is brought back into the story, though I won’t explain how as I don’t want to give too much away. But I will say that if you read The Angel’s Game and at the end, like me, thought “what in the world just happened”, I’d recommend reading this novel as it clears some things up. By the end of the story, a lot of older storylines are at least explained, if not fully tied up, a villain is revealed who connects all the characters so far, and the ending makes it very clear there’s a fourth part coming (which Zafón himself has previously mentioned).

At under 300 pages this story is barely half the length of the first two books. But it is effective, and a lot of the imagery used is so strong it will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading – something I’ve always liked about the way Zafón writes his novels. However, he claims he wanted each of these stories to function as independent stories that happened to be connected to the others through various characters and settings, and I just don’t think that’s the case here – if you haven’t read the first two novels in this cycle (as he prefers to call it, instead of a series), you just won’t be able to appreciate this as much. What grabbed me about this was the attachment I already had to the characters – my fondness for Fermin made his story all the more moving, and my bewilderment by the oddity that is David Martin was only increased by the revelations in this book. I can’t help but feel that without these already existing feelings for the characters, this book would fall a little flat.

Ruiz Zafón photoAlthough this book struggles to stand alone as an independent story (especially with its somewhat cliffhanger ending), it does have a lot of positive points. The villain, a character named Valls, is a talentless aspiring writer who sadistically climbs the political ladder through his life, ever hungry for power and recognition of a talent and intellect he at least thinks he possesses. For much of the story, he is the director of the prison housing Fermin and David Martin, and when the novel returns to present tense more slowly is revealed of what became of him in the intervening decades. Through Valls, Zafón cleverly takes a swipe at Spanish literary circles, at history and at the politics of the time, but through his sometimes over dramatic story manages to keep it clearly fictional and not aimed at anybody in particular. Zafón’s descriptions of Barcelona, as well, are simply magic – even if you don’t like the story it is hard not to be magnetised by his use of language to paint such a vivid and dark image of this city. Lastly, inspiration is drawn from another classic work, The Count of Monte Cristo, which is referenced directly at numerous points throughout in a way that serves as both testament to the literary work and to Zafón’s writing and storytelling skills.

Overall this is a great book – not Zafón’s best, but still very good. If you enjoyed his other work I would definitely recommend this one to you, and if you haven’t read anything by this master of the gothic tale, I strongly recommend starting with The Shadow Of The Wind first and working your way towards this one. As for me, I can’t wait until the next part of this cycle comes along and I can find out what happens next!

Have you read this book, or any other books by Zafón? What are your thoughts on them? How do you compare them to other books of the genre?

Norwegian Wood – a breathtakingly beautiful masterpiece

Norwegian WoodAs I sit here listening to Rubber Soul by The Beatles, the album which contains the very song Murakami named this novel after, I find myself struggling to know where to start with this review. Norwegian Wood is the first Murakami work I’ve read, after gathering the general opinion that it’s the best starting place for Murakami newcomers, despite being quite different in style to some of his other books, and I must say that already it’s left quite an impression on me, and a desire to keep exploring his writing.

First published in 1987, though not published in English in most of the world until 2000 (when it was translated by Jay Rubin), the novel is from the perspective of 37 year old Toru Watanabe, who upon hearing the song Norwegian Wood begins to reminisce about his college days in the late 1960s in Tokyo. The story is about love and loss and sexuality, as we see Toru torn between Naoko, his first love who is deeply emotionally unstable, and the outgoing, quirky classmate Midori, for whom he develops feelings as the story progresses. He is bound to each for various reasons, Naoko in particular as she was the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki, who we find out early on died at the age of 17.  All of this is set against a vague backdrop of civil unrest, as students strike in attempts to start a revolution, although their quick back-down suggests nothing more than mere hypocrisy and no real desire to change anything.

What I love about this story is how developed the characters are, and how this depth is revealed. Out of the book’s eleven chapters, one chapter in particular covers about a quarter of the story, as Toru visits Naoko in a mountain sanatorium away from society. There he discovers the full story of her past, and why she is so fragile, while also meeting Reiko, a talented musician in her late thirties who’s mental illness caused the destruction of her career and marriage. This chapter could have been so slow, so boring, so overdone, but it’s not – rather it’s quite perfect, and by far the most memorable chapter of the whole novel. And when Toru first meets Midori, it’s hard to make an assessment of her, but as time goes on and she reveals herself, I found myself taking her side each time her and Toru clash about something.

One of my biggest concerns when I started reading this was the fact that it was a coming of age novel – other novels of this nature have often disappointed me (and I think are usually overrated). But the themes of adolescent love and loss are not forced in this story, and they are instead entirely believable. It balances out the high points with the low points of such times in one’s life, and as a reader it is easy to feel part of the emotional roller coaster Toru himself goes through. The awkwardness of the sex scenes is described just enough to convey that naivety perfectly, yet they are still heightened with that same rush of adrenaline one would expect. I particularly liked the fact that amongst the 1960s ideology of sex and free love, when this is explored in the novel through one night stands it is met with a feeling of emptiness and self-disdain afterwards, rather than being praised or brushed aside as just part of the social conventions. There’s an honesty, particularly with regard to adolescent sexuality, that fills these pages yet is so often missing from novels of this kind.

Haruki MurakamiLastly, we come to the language. Oh, the beautiful language – Murakami really is an exquisite, masterful writer, there is no doubt about that. Even if the story was rubbish, the writing is so powerful you would keep turning the pages anyway. He evokes the most intense feelings with such ease, and often with simplicity, yet can slow down to a meditative pace when the story requires it without becoming boring in the process. I was magnetised to this book for so many reasons, but the ultimate aspect that kept drawing me back was the way Murakami told this story, bringing a beauty to what, at many points, is a very tragic tale.

I feel like I’ve barely began to explore my feelings about this novel, but after several days this is the most organised attempt I can muster at revealing just how much I loved Norwegian Wood. It’s beautiful, it’s sad, it’s inspiring, and if you haven’t read it you are simply missing out on a modern masterpiece of storytelling. It appears I’ve started my 2013 reading on a very strong note indeed.

Have you read Norwegian Wood? If so, what were your thoughts on it? Have you read any other works by Murakami?

My Top 5 Books of 2012

Looking back over this year, it seems I’ve read all sorts of different books. Some of them I’m surprised to realise I only read this year – they feel much more distant in my memory than that. But still, I’ve flicked through them and decided on my favourite five, four of which I knew before I began writing this post.

The top three were all published (in English at least) this year, the other two are not overly old either, interestingly enough. Anyway, enjoy!

Billy Connolly Bravemouth5. Billy Connolly: Bravemouth by Pamela Stephenson

Billy Connolly has been my favourite comedian since I was very young, and this was only further cemented when I saw him perform live in 2006, when I was 20, where he talked for over three hours and I laughed so hard I was in pain for days. This book is the follow-up to the best-selling biography “Billy”, in which we learned of his dramatic childhood and rise to comedy stardom. In this, we read about the build up to his 60th birthday, including insights into his still hectic life from the man himself and his wife, Pamela. Just as funny and moving as the first book, I loved this and would highly recommend it to anybody who is a fan.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog4. The Elegance Of The Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

This is one of those books which I loved, and then the majority of people I recommended it to either found it average or simply didn’t understand it. But for me, this story of the bourgeois apartment building in Paris, and of the cultured concierge pretending to be a simpleton and the suicidal but genius pre-teen, both of whom think the world would not appreciate their true selves, was quite moving. Sure, the story was a little slow, though I don’t think this book was about the story, but about the slow revelations that dawn on the characters as they grow, while all around them remains stagnant to an extent. It takes a swipe at a certain kind of society with this progression, all the while written beautifully and thought provokingly. This isn’t for everyone, but I personally quite liked it.

The Time Keeper3. The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom

My favourite novel by Mitch Albom (Tuesdays With Morrie, The Five People You Meet In Heaven) so far, this story is a careful and clever tale about time, how we spend it, how important it is, and how we shouldn’t allow it to rule our lives in the way we do. It centres around three characters, Father Time, who was the first man to measure time and has since been punished with listening to people’s pleas for more time for centuries, a wealthy businessman who intends to live forever and cheat time, and a teenage girl who is about to give up on life and cut herself short of time. It is beautifully written and very thought provoking, and a book I would recommend to everybody, to be honest.

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared2. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

I bought this book on a strong recommendation as soon as it was translated to English from Swedish (the recommender had read it in Swedish a year or two prior), and I can see why it is one of the most popular books from Sweden in recent years. The story quite literally tells the tale of a man who, on his hundredth birthday, decides to jump out of the window of his retirement home and run away. In the process he ends up causing all sorts of havoc, meeting up with various equally crazy characters whilst on the run from a crime gang, police and detectives. His past life is also revealed as the book goes on, adding depth to this seemingly bizarre character. Overall this is one of the funniest books I have ever read, and again I would recommend this to anybody, especially if you like a bit of humour in your stories.

The Fault In Our Stars1. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

I knew as soon as I had finished this book a few months ago that it would remain my favourite for the whole year. It’s the story of Hazel and Augustus, two teenage cancer patients currently in remission, but with full knowledge that their futures are short and unpredictable. As the two spend more time together and develop feelings, Hazel is forced to re-evaluate how she’ll let her illness define and control her, and how this will affect her life and legacy. What I loved about this book is that the characters are so incredibly real, rather than idolised or romanticised. The writing is stunning and often very funny, which helps reel you in as a reader, though the whole time you are of course bracing yourself emotionally for the worst. It is an incredible book, and a testament to John Green’s insightful writing abilities. Though the subject may be a little close to home for some (it is for me), I think if you don’t read this book you are truly missing out on a gem.

What were your favourite books you read this year?

Have you read any of these five books I have mentioned?

So, I liked The Night Circus, but…

The Night Circus…I didn’t love it. I wanted to love it, and I certainly loved the concept of the circus itself, and the magic inherent in much of the descriptions of the circus. But the novel, as a whole, didn’t quite blow me away as I had expected.

Written by Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus is a fantasy novel that has proven to be quite popular, and it first caught my attention through the many reviews I have seen floating around the blogosphere. Most of these reviews are very much positive, and I can see why people love this book.

The story revolves around two characters, Celia and Marco, who are set up from their childhoods to go head to head  in a competition of magic. Only, they don’t know the rules, or even who their opponents are (at least initially). In the end, they battle each other by creating The Circus of Dreams, or Le Cirque des Rêves, a magical circus that is only open at night time, travelling around the world thrilling people with it’s increasingly amazing tents and acts, from illusionists whose magic seems so real it is impossible to figure out, to tents such as the ice garden where everything is made of ice, and so on and so forth. As each of the players adds more and more to the circus, they begin to realise who their opponent is, that they are in love, and also how much the life of the circus depends utterly on both of them.

Now I have no issue with the writing – the writing was brilliant, and the circus leapt off the page as far as I’m concerned. It wasn’t just the sights, but the sounds and smells that were described so vividly – I just wanted this place to be real, to walk through the tents, to smell the caramel wafting through the air. The characters likewise are also well developed, and there are a couple of deaths in the book which moved me quite deeply due to the fondness I had grown for these characters.

I think what lets the book down is the story, and perhaps to an extent the pace of the story. It is a good idea, and once all is revealed towards the end it rolls on to quite a spectacular finish. But for so much of the book you are left in the dark as a reader, and while this is a good thing for, say, a crime fiction novel, somehow it just doesn’t sit right with a fantasy. I didn’t want everything to be revealed from the start, of course, but towards the middle of the book it was developing so slowly I almost lost interest entirely, and didn’t touch the book for about 2 months. Some of my friends who have read this found the exact same problem – in one case they didn’t finish reading the novel. I understand that the novel is supposed to slowly build up, but with such a huge array of characters and so many story lines flying all over the place, it becomes difficult to follow when so little is revealed about so many of them.

So it took me several months to read this book, but in the end I did enjoy it. It was a great idea, and it was overall executed quite well, even if I felt like the middle needed a bit of oomph. I certainly look forward to seeing what Morgenstern comes up with for her next novel.

Have you read The Night Circus? What were your thoughts?

The Sense of an Ending: A disappointing book

There is always a certain amount of expectation when you read an award-winning book – you know that although a little subjectivity is bound to come into the decision, the book which wins must surely win for a good reason. My personal reactions to award winning books has varied – I loved The English Patient and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, winners of the Man Booker Prize and Commonwealth Writers Prize, respectively, while I found Midnight’s Children (winner of the Booker of Bookers) to be good, and intriguing, but far from a favourite book for me.

With an overall fairly positive response to award winning books, though, I came to The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize, with a certain amount of expectation. Silly me. I should know better than to raise my hopes before reading a book, or watching a film, or hearing an album. Only in rare events do I do this, and normally then it turns out to be warranted.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate this book. I just didn’t love it, either. I am disappointed, to be honest. The short, 150 page novel (or is this a novella? It sits in that awkward space in between the two, it seems, but this is unimportant) is split into two parts. The first, shorter part, focuses on Tony Webster’s young life – his education, his first girlfriend Veronica, his tight circle of friends and how they all let newcomer Adrian, who seems more serious and intelligent, into their lives. By the end of this first part, despite what happens, it’s clear they almost idolise Adrian. The second part skips forward several decades, to when Tony is now retired, has had a career and a marriage which ended in divorce, and he is no longer in contact with the characters from earlier in the book. His memory is of a calm life, never trying to hurt anybody, never having any real effect on anybody’s life, until a letter from his past causes him to question the life he has constructed in his own mind.

It is an okay premise for a story, with some interesting pondering on how we construct our own truths from our memories, and how accurate these internal biographies might be, but the book had some flaws. The writing overall wasn’t amazing – not bad, but there wasn’t any moments I found myself swept away by the language style. However, this isn’t always important -I have loved some books with similarly average writing. What disappointed me with this story was the fact that at times it seemed to lack direction, and more than just in plot – it felt like I was constantly guessing what kind of story it was, whether or not it was a “whodunnit” as the back of the book suggests, or a romance story, or who knows what else. And when I finally got to the end of the book, after all of the unpredictability, I found a twist about ten pages from the end to be amazingly poignant and powerful, only to have another twist in the final couple of pages, which was entirely unnecessary and pointless, completely ruin the ending. My reaction to finishing the book involved putting it down, shaking my head, and mumbling “what the hell was that” to myself.

I’m not saying this is a bad book. It was just disappointing, and I don’t really understand why it won an award – the insights into life and memory are interesting, but far from profound or new. The writing is not sensational. The story itself is odd and ultimately pointless. The characters are developed in interesting ways, and perhaps this is the one aspect keeping this book together, but on the whole The Sense of an Ending did not blow me away.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it, if so? Do you think it deserved to win this award?

Not another blog post about Catching Fire and Mockingjay (The Inevitable Blog Post, part two)…

A month ago, I wrote a blog about the first book in The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. Now, at long last, I have finished the second and third books in that series, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, and have decided to blog about them simultaneously.

I did enjoy the first book, but found the plot almost relentless, with everything happening so fast that as a reader you barely had time to digest what had happened before something else would occur. But that novel did a good job of setting the scene and atmosphere for the next two books, and possibly made it easier to confront the horrors that await the characters in these later parts of the trilogy.

The simple truth is, both CF (Catching Fire) and MJ (Mockingjay) are, in my opinion, considerably better than HG (The Hunger Games…I probably don’t need to be explaining these abbreviations, but oh well). In CF, the pace of the story slows down, allowing time for development of both the characters themselves and also the relationships between the characters, particularly the relationships between Katniss and Peeta and Katniss and Gale. At the same time, the brutality of the governing powers is ramped up almost immediately, with some deaths actually causing my eyes to widen in shock (I very rarely react to the point of showing it on my face to a book). But despite what might seem like shock value, I found the themes of political tyranny, abuse of power and repression of basic living standards were actually given their due attention in this book, in a way which fits the young adult genre quite convincingly.

Many people have attacked CF for being slower at the start, but I think I preferred this part in a lot of ways, because once they got into the arena again at the end of the book, it was starting to feel a little repetitive. If I was to name a key flaw for CF, it would have to be the predictability of the plot. Without spoiling anything for those yet to read it, I found the events of the final few chapters I had guessed almost exactly at about the halfway point in the book. Despite this, though, I was rather impressed by how my predictions about the plot came to fruition, and it was this that led to the stunning cliffhanger this book ends on.

Just as CF was an improvement upon HG, MJ was that much of an improvement upon CF. The final book in the series is by far the most shocking and horrific, but also the most realistic. The true colours of all the characters are revealed in this book; as we start to sympathise with characters like Haymitch, respect for other characters (I won’t mention who) quickly disappears. Many characters’ lives are not spared during the violent revolution that takes place across Panem, which, as sadistic of me as this might sound, I liked – it would have hardly been believable if all the most loved characters magically survived (I also won some cookies from a bet with a friend over who in particular died – aren’t I lovely?).

The themes of political and social revolution, alongside warfare, are examined thoroughly throughout this book, as Katniss and several other characters constantly question whether what they are doing is right, and who the enemy really is in all of this when so many lives are lost amongst both the governing powers and the rebels. Again, I have read books that drive deeper into such philosophies, but I think this is more than thought-provoking enough for a young adult book – enough to stir their imaginations without smothering them.

Lastly, the ending. Did I like it? Yes, yes I did. Many people have complained about the ending of this series, and I don’t really know why. I don’t really think Katniss becomes any more or less admirable – she is a convincing portrayal of a teenager who has gone through the atrocities she goes through in these books, and we see her change from an awkward, emotionally closed off adolescent to a traumatised young adult who will never really recover from her experiences. And though the ending isn’t all doom and gloom, it isn’t super-happy either, and so it shouldn’t be – this is a dystopian story after all, and if anything the story is supposed to serve as a warning, so ending with “and they lived happily ever after” doesn’t quite seem fitting. I think this ending is the only logical and realistic way it could end, and if people want a fairytale ending, well, they’re reading the wrong books.

At the end of the day, I have to confess that this series is well worth the hype, and is a rollicking good read. If you haven’t read it yet, give it a try, because chances are you’ll like it more than you think. I would give the series a 4 out of 5, as a whole!

Have you read this series yet? Did you enjoy it?

If you have read it, do you think the ending of the final book was a worthy ending, or were you disappointed?

Much Obliged, Jeeves: A review

I’ve managed to finish two books in the last couple of days, including Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (which I will review doubled up with Mockingjay a bit later on, for various reasons), and just today, Much Obliged, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse. Having discussed Wodehouse before but never reviewing one of his books on its own, I thought, well, why not do it now?

It is tricky to review any Wodehouse book, to be honest. As Stephen Fry puts it, on the cover of this book, “You don’t analyse such sunlit perfection, you just bask in its warmth and splendour.” I must confess, I tend to agree with Fry on this one – there is something about the way Wodehouse writes which resists any analysis and critique, and I suspect he is one of the only writers in the history of writing in the English language who has managed to achieve this.

Much Obliged, Jeeves is part of the ‘Jeeves and Wooster’ series of novels, and compared with those which I have read so far, the story in this one stood out particularly as being a little more unique, while reprising many beloved characters and places from previous stories. Set in a place known as Market Snodsbury, the story centres around a chaotic local election between Bertie Wooster’s friend Ginger, and the rather firm and powerful Mrs McCorkadale. In the mix of all this are numerous engagements (with varying degrees of amiability between the couples), Bertie’s Aunt Dahlia, where everybody is staying, and who is trying to extort a large amount of money from the grumpy old Runkle by softening him up with her chef Anatole’s amazing cooking, and a book known as the Book of Revelations – a book shared among butlers which contains all of the deeds and misdeeds, routines and bad habits of their employers. When the book suddenly disappears, the dignity and respect of several people becomes jeopardised, including those involved in the election.

The story is great, and leaves you guessing right up until the last few pages how it will ever be resolved, and as always the resolution is startling in its simplicity and genius. If I were to critique one aspect of this novel, it is that the wit doesn’t seem as sharp as it has in other Wodehouse books I have read – however, this is only comparing it to other Wodehouse books, as on its own against most literature this novel is still highly witty and hilarious. And considering this book was first published in 1971, when Wodehouse would have been in his late eighties, it goes to show that even old age bore no real threat to his intelligence, charm and general verbosity.

I wouldn’t recommend Much Obliged, Jeeves as a first Wodehouse novel for those yet to read him, as it mentions far too many events and characters who have no meaning unless you have read his earlier works (I always suggest to start with Thank You, Jeeves), but for those more seasoned readers of this series (by which I mean you have read at least three or four), there is plenty of fun to be had between the covers of this book. For those interested, I rated this four out of five on GoodReads (and gave a considerably shorter review on there similar to this one).

Lastly, I have to share my favourite line from the book: “Where one goes wrong in looking for the ideal girl is in making one’s selection before walking the full length of the counter.”

What books have you finished recently?

Have you read any Wodehouse novels in recent times (especially as I keep bringing him up)?