Author: welloflostplots

Book Review of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

roger ackroydPretty sure this is my first Agatha Christie – and a pretty enjoyable read. Except for one thing – I picked the murderer at the start.

Now I couldn’t say why or how, but I knew. There were hints in the way the story unravelled.  Roger Ackroyd is a local figure with wealth – and plenty of people who want it. So his murder leaves a few key suspects who stand to benefit from his death.  But as legendary detective Hercule Poirot says (he just happens to be a neighbour in retirement here)  – everybody in this case has a secret.

Something in Christie’s weaving of the plot – one that is touted as one of her best, left this too open.  But with this said, there were still enjoyable elements here.  There some interesting choices made in regards to narration, and Poirot himself – a figure of some interest after the recent film adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, is an intriguing detective.

Classic crime storytelling – formulaic but educational in this.

Advertisements

Book Review of The Underground Railroad

underground railroadA complex story that would have been better explored in the written word rather than by audio, which is how I experienced it.

What’s powerful about this book is its bleak depiction of the cruelties of slavery  – of the lives of slaves on plantations, of slaves on the run who are hunted like animals and never feel safe, and even of free black men and women in a time where their brothers and sisters are kept as property.

The story centres on Cora – a black woman with some degree of freedom through her mother’s possession of a small pocket of land, although no matter what she does, she cannot escape capture and enslavement.  She escapes and lives under an assumed name but is taken – she is freed again and lives amongst other runaway slaves, but that same slave-catcher comes for her.  I guess like Cora, none of us can escape this history.

It’s important to understand that Whitehead has included many fantastical and anachronistic elements in the novel – likely to suggest the connections between many human cruelties and the ongoing nature of these.  For example, Whitehead makes the metaphorical underground railroad into a real one.  Cora also encounters a eugenics movement – this time looking to sterilise black women to limit the number of blacks in America.

Fascinating and compelling, this is indeed a story worth attention, discussion and no doubt at some point – study in schools.

Book Review of The Red-Haired Woman

I’ve been meaning to read an Orhan Pamuk- and I picked up this title purely in the spur of the moment.  It sounded intriguing, and while there was enjoyable stuff here, images.jpegultimately The Red-Haired Woman left me unsatisfied.

This is a story about fathers and sons – even though the main character Cem Celik, is estranged from his.  Instead, he begins to feel a friendship with Master Mahmut, a well-digger with whom he takes a summer job before he begins study at the university.  Its also a story tied up in other stories – in a love of literature and in the many canon stories that explore the relationship between destructive elements of the father-son relationship – Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex for example, as well as many of Pamuk’s local Turkish folk tales.

But back to plot…

Whilst digging a well and telling each  other stories, Cem and Master Mehmut draw close – but all of this is spoilt when Cem falls for a mysterious red-haired actress and has to hide his passion and obsession.  It’s an obsession that leads to a terrible accident, and Cem flees without ever really knowing the outcome.

Years later though, destiny catches up with Cem.  He discovers the consequences of his passion of the red-haired woman, and the fate of his father-figure.  There is some interesting – if unbelievable symmetry here.

The final part of the text is unnecessarily and strangely narrated by the red-haired woman herself.  But this makes things too concrete and less poetic for the reader.  A bit of mystery really would have made for a more thought-provoking conclusion.

Book Review of Switch – Making Change When Change is Hard

Switch.jpgLet’s face it – change is often hard.  And it is most hard when the status quo has been working for us.  Nobody likes to give up strategies that have been working for us.  And this is the key issue for organisational change – what is good for the organisation can sometimes get in the way of what is comfortable for the individual.

Dan and Chip Heath look at this in depth in Switch.  What I liked most about this this book was the ways to create change that they broke down and classified (see in attached picture.

They begin by looking at the mental aspect of change (they call this the ‘Rider’) and how to get people to understand the need for change, and the ways that can undertake it with ease.  Then they look at emotions (the Elephant) – which let’s face it, often trump our logical responses (you know another chocolate is no good for you don’t you, but who can resist?).  Appealing to emotions can prompt that visceral need for change and can build excitement for change. Finally they look at the small things – how to create a pathway for change to make it easier.  We often under-estimate how powerful a small behavioural change can be.  If I sleep in my gym gear, it’s so much easier to get up and go to gym in the morning. There was nothing complicated about that solution – just clever.  A small change can make a big impact.

The Heath brothers suggest that often you will need to work through all three of these aspects in order to be successful.  Some challenges might only need to consider one.

As usual, there are lots of clever and entertaining examples, and further steps that I don’t have time to outline here.  But this was a pretty enjoyable non-fiction read, and certainly one I can see myself referencing over and over.

Switch 2

Book Review of This Census Taker

census takerChina Mieville’s mind works in beautiful and mysterious ways, although this wont be among my favourite of his novels.

This Census Taker – a book I listened to first on audio and then read because I felt I must have missed stuff – has an intensely bleak setting and emotional tone.  The premise is engaging – but doesn’t really go anywhere leading to an unsatisfactory resolution.  It’s the kind of journey where you just have to appreciate the scenery because the destination just isn’t the point.

We start with a young boys who lives in a remote location, up the hill from a small town.  His mother is emotionally mute, although has taken pains to ensure he can read and write.  She occasionally tells him stories of places she lived before this.  His father though, is a figure of real fear and mystery.  He is a key-maker, but his key are far from ordinary.  They are like magic – opening up opportunities, trouble and the darkest desires of those who commission them. He has a predilection for brutally killing small animals and throwing them down a ‘rubbish hole’ a natural geographical feature on the hill which blocks view of anything thrown into the hole.

We begin the text with the boy’s claim that his father murdered his mother – and claim that initially comes out that his mother murdered his father.  It’s the first of many hints that our narrator nay be unreliable, and that his childish mind and remembrances (he is telling the story in his adulthood as a census-taker) may not be quite right.

With no evidence, while some people believe his claim, the boy is left in his care, treading carefully around a man he doesn’t understand.  Some of the townfolk initially ostracise him, but eventually it appears his particular skills encourage them to seek him out again.

One day, a census taker appears and provides a sympathetic ear to the boy, who pours his heart out to him.  We are left questioning, which man is more dangerous? (And, is he or the boy the census-taker of the title?)

So much is left unanswered in this book.  I like the sense of mystery – but I also like my mysteries to be solved – or at least solvable.

Book Review of Big Little Lies

BLLI avoided reading this incredibly popular book for quite some time, assuming it might be pretty average chick lit written only for mass appeal.  But I have to admit, I listened to this on audio and was completely spellbound.  I listened to it every moment I could and towards the end actually found myself sitting and doing nothing just so I could listen.

There are probably two reasons for Liane Moriarty’s success with this novel.  The first is with clever storytelling.  The blurb will tell you the book focusses around a death at a school trivia night, and this is true – but there is plenty  of drama in the lead up to this, and Moriarty cleverly capitalises on this by revealing just a little bit of detail at a time. the story of the months before the trivia night is interspersed with the interviews and investigations after the fact.  Every little tidbit gets your brain going – who died and how?

Secondly, there are actually some incredibly serious issues at play here – the foremost of which is violence against women.  You’ve probably heard about this already.  And also the difficulties of class, family and divorce.   So no, not as light as I thought it was.  And more importantly, Moriarty seems to actually have something to say about all of these issues.  All are dealt with in complex ways, and believable ones.  The characters in this novel could have been incredibly two-dimensional, but they’re not.  There is a kernel of emotional truth in all the choices that they make.

I’m glad I finally got to Big Little Lies.  If you haven’t yet, I would definitely recommend it.

Book Review of Autumn by Ali Smith

autumnAli Smith’s Autumn is a lyrical novel, but also a puzzling one.

Part of her Seasonal series (followed by the now released Winter), each of the novels is touted to deal with “time and how we experience it”.  This explains the non-linear narrative utilised in this novel.

The central focus here is the relationship between Elisabeth, a young girl (and at other times in the text, a young woman) and her neighbour, an elderly man called Daniel Gluck. Gluck is an exceptional kind of man – one who encourages Elisabeth to see the world in new ways. It is the central relationship of Elisabeth’s life – one that shapes her career and her future relationships.

Threaded through it all is ponderings on feminism, literature, art and Brexit – and how it could be signifying a shift to a more xenophobic world. Things no doubt high on Smith’s list of priorities and concerns in the world around her today.  It jumps around a lot – and we fins out more about Elisabeth than we do Daniel, who remains a somewhat mysterious figure.

I wouldn’t say I loved it, but it was intriguing and thought-provoking.  Much like her beautiful writing, Autumn takes things that appear mundane, and lifts them to a whole other level.