Book 3: ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls

‘One Day’ is one of this year’s best sellers and I read it a few months ago.

The narrative and dialogue are very perceptive on both the human condition and circumstance. The ‘sliding doors’ idea is really explored as in this novel one single day is all you need to change your life.

I really love the unique structure to the novel as each chapter is set on a recurring date (15th July). Nicholls uses this in an intelligent way as to show the character development and personal journeys over a vast period of time,  without making the plot seem disjointed as you are constantly skipping ahead a year whenever something unexpected or dramatic happens (creating many a cliffhanger).

The raw and sardonic humour was very amusing. I never thought I would read a book in which I discovered how naive I was of Mexican food. Of course there is a very significant and important difference between tortillas, enchilladas, buritos and fajitas. How foolish I had been! Life lesson – learnt.

I found Dexter’s character the most fascinating of the two as his success in the televison world and his drug and alcohol addictions get the better of him, yet he still manages to make witty comments. His development and ultimately new beginning as a substance free man, in my eyes, is what made him finally worthy of Emma.

For me, the most powerful episode of this novel is at the end with the devastating accident. Tears gushing down my face, I could not believe what happened! For those who have not read this book I do not wish to spoil it, but a tip – make sure you have a packet of tissues at hand for the last 30 pages or so.

A good beach read full of emotion, substance and humour.

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Book 2: ‘Great Gatsby’ by F.Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby‘ is a well known classic 1920’s novel. This novel uses the most incredible language capturing the essence of the Jazz age, both its elegance and flaws. They say write what you know, and Fitzgerald did exactly that making the basis of his novel wealthy Americans surrounded by parties, alcohol (despite being set in a time of prohibition) and excess.

Among many things, this novel deals with identity. Can we change who we are by fulfilling our dreams? Is it possible to be ‘a penniless man without a past’, or do our histories haunt us for a lifetime? The subject of the novel Gatsby is charismatic and colourful both in persona and style. He drives the newst cars and has shirts flown in from China. Who would have thought he came from a lowly family of farmers? Jay Gatsby, or as he was originally known ‘James Gatz‘, strived all his life, like so many before him, ‘The American Dream‘.The idea that if you work hard you can have materialistic happiness.

Many see this novel as a literary criticism of such ideas as Gatsby has to become corrupt to gain his fortune through working with Wolfsheim (a jewish gambler said to have ‘fixed the 1919 World Series), but also because even though Gatsby gets rich he can not obtain his ultimate desire – Daisy Buchanan. Is Gatsby an unrealistic dreamer trying to relive the past and his Summer of Love with Daisy? Or should we admire his dedication to his dream? Does Gatsby deserve the title ‘Great’ which Nick, the narrator rewards him, or should we all learn from his errors and choices? Either way the emptiness and unsatisfaction of materialistic wealth is a message which most readers get from this novel as Fitzgerald conveys the emptiness and ‘restlessness’ of the commonly percieved as ‘glamorous’ Jazz Age.

The image of the eyes of T.J.Ecklebury in the valley of ashes where ‘ashes grow like wheat’, is extremely powerful. When Wilson mistakes those eyes for God‘s is shows the emphasis on materialism and conspicuous consumption as he mistakes an advertisment for God watching him. Or perhaps Fitzgerald is claiming that only those living in poverty in the Valley of Ashes can recognise anthing godly in the play and that there is nothing holy or rewarding in having the newest Cadillac or a golden swimming pool.

The contrast between East and West Egg is one of the main elements of the novel as there is still not a classless society, this is one of Gatsby’s biggest problems as Daisy is socially above him. Neither class appears satisfied and are ‘drifting’ and ‘restless’. After the First World War, many people found they lacked purpose or goals, this is emphasised by the lives of East Eggers the Buchanas + Jordan Baker.

This novel is incredible and one of my favourite books. Fitzgerald combines figurative language and imaginative with intense and unique cgaracters. It’s a classic.

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Book 1: ‘In The Country of Men’ by Hisham Matar

‘In the Country of Men’ is the debut novel from Libyan author Hisham Matar. It is a retrospective novel told by the adult voice Suleiman, reflecting and recalling his life as a nine year old boy living in Tripoli, trying to make sense of the controversial and dangerous world in which he is brought up.

The character of Suleiman is extremely controversial. At times, I felt, that he deserved sympathy as he is neglected by his father who is constantly on ‘business trips’ (ie running the revolt againt Gaddafi’s oppressive regime). This negligent relationship arguably forces Suleiman to grow up far too early and to see the sinful and frightening side of man (through the broadcasted interogations and executions) too soon at the age of just 9. His desire to be a child escapes when he is able to play in his workshop on the roof when the rest of the neighbourhood have their afternoon naps. However, there is definately something darker within him, causing him to lash out on his friend and cause suffering. When he calls the father of Kareem, his closest friend at the start of the novel, a ‘Tr-‘, the idea that he was about to call his friend’s father a traitor shows brutality but also highlights, in my view, one of the key themes to the novel : betrayl. He betrays his friend’s trust and kindness.  One of the issues raised for me in this story was the idea of Nature vs Nurture: if Suleiman is cruel and unkind, should he be to blame or his childhood, upbringing and experiences?

I found the symbol of the mullberries extremely original and creative. This is hardly surprising once you become aware of the fact that Matar wrote this book as a result of imagining the mullberry scene. The mullberries are perhaps that trigger to the genius of this novel. Suleiman and his family live on Mullberry road, yet as the time passed only one remained. Suleiman constantly refers to mullberries as being gifts from heaven after a story he is told by his mother and concludes they are ‘the best fruits God has created’. In the first scene with the mullberries Suleiman eats ‘another then another’ until he makes himself ill either from the fruit or the heat. This almost crazed consumption perhaps shows his need for nurturing, but also reflects his mother’s alchol addiction (or ‘illness’ as the nine year old sees it with vodka for ‘medicine’).

During this episode, the beggar Bahloul shouts ‘I see you, I see you’ at Suleiman. This causes Suleiman to question himself, is it stealing to eat the fruit from his neighbour’s garden? His answer: ‘I wasn’t sure’. Does this reflect the lack of moral structure this boy has from being brought up in a world of corruption and chaos? The almost omniscient role of the blind beggar shows irony as it is he who ‘sees’ the sin clearer than any of the other characters. Perhaps Matar is saying that those with least, living in poverty, are wisest as possessions and greed can not cloud their judgement.

After Baba, Suleiman’s father, returns from being tortured by the Revolutionary Committee, Suleiman takes his father to the Mullberry tree to find the Committee workers had been using it to ‘put their cigarettes out’. This image conveys how man have taken something pure and in Suleiman’s view holy (as the Angel’s gave them to us) and made it rotten and ‘disgusting’. Is Matar trying to show how the society in which he lives had been ruined and polluted by the sin of man? Or is this simply some fruit gone bad, with nothing more intended?

‘In the Country of Men’ clearly shows the dominance men have over the females in this book. The clearest example of this is when Suleiman’s mother was forced into marriage at the age of 14. She was suspected of being impure, so they tested her virginity. Possible outcomes for this little girl: Being shot by her Uncle for losing her purity or being forced into a marriage with a man nearly ten years older than her as she was found suitable. Either way, her fate was not her own and she had so little power. This type of culture shocked me as a female in modern society. It is almost impossible to imagine myself in this situation, and it horrifies me that it not only happened in 1970’s in this culture, but that it is still acceptable in many belief systems across the world.

This book is both gripping and insightful. It’s multi-layered so the reader can make their individual judgements and views. I would reccomend it.

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