Friday, 30 September 2016

Made You Up - Francesca Zappia

“If nothing’s real, then what does it matter?” he said. “You live here. Doesn’t that make it real enough?”

I saw this book, I wanted to read this book, I left Did I Mention I Love You? by Estelle Maskame at 53% so that I could read this book right about now. I'll go back to the former one day though - the author is from Peterhead so I feel like I should.

Anyway, Made You Up is about Alex, starting her senior year in high school, schizophrenic. She has an awfully difficult time telling apart her delusions and reality, and thus makes an unreliable narrator. I really love those. Anyway, she wants to graduate really bad and go to college and not be sent to a mental hospital, so she tries to keep all of this in check.

She makes friends, she tries to live a normal life, falls in love, all that. This part of the book was kind of interesting but at the same time I wanted more emphasis on the disease itself. Alex's friends are nice and interesting, Alex herself feels like a real person, it's all good...

...Except that the way schizophrenia is portrayed in this book is pretty much the most unrealistic thing ever. Alex portrays only the positive symptoms (named so because they add to normal behaviour, not because they're a good thing) and few to none of the negative ones. It's a special snowflake YA version of an actually serious illness, and that's just not okay.

Sadly, I liked it. My knee-jerk reaction was to give this book a 3.5,/5 and be happy with it, round it up and carefully recommend. But the more I think about it - how inaccurate are you allowed to be without it being dangerously awful? I mean, this amount of misrepresentation should be a crime (kind of like the Leave campaign for Brexit... forever salty.) and how can you give a book like that a good score, no matter what it accomplished (not much, really). So I went back and put it down to three, then two. Now I'll say it's just a half rounded up. The half simply comes from the likeable characters and the one good plot twist that I liked. The rest is just lack of research culminated into a pretty bad book. Charlie especially was so likeable, the little sister I never had. I want to give five stars to Charlie alone and none to the rest of the book.

'“C’m’ere, Charlie.” I spread my arms. Charlie hesitated, then ran across the room and climbed into my lap. I wrapped my arms and the blanket around her. She saved me from trying to figure out how much I should tell her. “I don’t like it when your head breaks.” I knew she was old enough and smart enough to know that my head didn’t actually break, but she’d been calling it that for so long it didn’t matter anymore. I think it made her feel better to think of it like something broken that could be fixed.'

Another problem I had with the book were the side plots; all of them were weird and unrealistic and disconnected; I just didn't feel like they added much to the story. There's this thing about the scoreboard at the high school that was mentioned again and again and again and Alex didn't understand it and neither did I. There is, however, a very good central theme about a lobster tank (red lobsters, to be more precise), and it's a shame it's wasted on a pretty bad book.

The writing isn't that bad, it's just the research that's lacking. And by extension, it's also lacking the care to write a good book. What a pity, really. You shouldn't write about these things without any background knowledge / research or at least asking someone a lot smarter than you. I wish this book had never been published or alternatively, that Alex was just portrayed a different kind of weird. Some fantasy special snowflake weird, whatever. What I read was just plain disrespectful. And I really wanted this to be good, too.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Ian Fleming - Casino Royale

‘Surround yourself with human beings, my dear James. They are easier to fight for than principles.’ He laughed. ‘But don’t let me down and become human yourself. We would lose such a wonderful machine.’

I picked this book up because I suggested to J we should read it for our book club - we had both been meaning to. You might want to know that I'm not a huge James Bond fan myself, but I do enjoy the movies. Some of them, anyway. Honestly, I've seen Casino Royale once and had no recollection of what happens in it. It was a pretty dark book, honestly. I don't blame them for waiting so long to turn it into a movie.

Considering the book itself, I imagine many people would be surprised by Ian Fleming's style - it's surprisingly detailed and extravagant and definitely detailed, if that wasn't already clear. There were more casual French phrases thrown around than I ended up managing to Google, but most of them were rather self-explanatory.

It was actually this specific line that drew me in for the thrill ride, a tenth of the book in:

'We therefore recommend that the finest gambler available to the Service should be given the necessary funds and endeavour to out-gamble this man.'

I mean, if you don't think that makes for a very interesting espionage story, I don't know what you're thinking. An MI6 double-o agent out-gambling a dangerous criminal? Yes please.

Regrettably I have to admit that towards the end especially, the book became stifling and I found it harder and harder to make one last half an hour of time to actually finish it. The casino part was over (all too quickly for my liking, but it was awesome while it was happening) and in hindsight it was easy to see the James Bond storyline. Still, it was very dark in comparison to the gadget fun adventure Bond I've grown to know, and I enjoyed that.

The book is very misogynistic and very much a work of that time, and I would recommend strongly you just look past that and pretend it never happened. I would, except it kind of gets too glaringly awful and I couldn't look past it anymore. Here are some examples I picked up just so that I wouldn't have to put into words what the problem is (Because that would just anger me, I mean, it even shows the women belong in the kitchen -mentality and James Bond getting turned on by the concept of rape, yikes):

'Bond was not amused. ‘What the hell do they want to send me a woman for?’ he said bitterly. ‘Do they think this is a bloody picnic?’

'And then there was this pest of a girl. He sighed. Women were for recreation. On a job, they got in the way and fogged things up with sex and hurt feelings and all the emotional baggage they carried around. One had to look out for them and take care of them.'

'And he knew that she was profoundly, excitingly sensual, but that the conquest of her body, because of the central privacy in her, would each time have the tang of rape. Loving her physically would each be a thrilling voyage without the anticlimax or arrival.'

'This was just what he had been afraid of. These blithering women who thought they could do a man’s work. Why the hell couldn’t they stay at home and mind their pots and pans and stick to their frocks and gossip and leave men’s work to the men.'

Also, an incredibly interesting thought on history and the way ideologies work, if you're into that - I mean, this was the beginning of Cold War and it shows.

'Today we are fighting communism. Okay. If I’d been alive fifty years ago, the brand of conservatism we have today would have been damn near called communism and we should have been told to go and fight that. History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts.’'

Something I don't think Casino Royale handled very well was giving James Bond an actual personality. It was hard for me to understand why he made certain decisions throughout the whole thing, and that's just kind of weird. It does however provide him with a solid, dark past - making a good ground for more books to follow.

Shortly; good writing, misogynistic writing, interesting plot that didn't carry through. Probably won't read the rest of these but no regrets having read this one. I think I'll watch the movie again, because I think it might actually work better when you don't have to listen to all of Bond's mostly awful thoughts. Solid 3/5.

PS. I never knew James Bond Ian Fleming was also Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Ian Fleming. Weird stuff.

PPS. I went back and upped my rating of The Last Wish to a solid 5/5. I definitely loved that book.