Dear Lupin by Roger and Charlie Mortimer

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The book has also been turned into a play, which had a successful run at the Apollo Theatre

 

Dear readers,

Some say the message is medium: Dear Lupin is a collection of letters that span nearly 25 years, and through this form offer the most intimate insight into the Mortimers’ lives. If intimate is the right word- it seems like multiple opportunities to be delighted at the sheer hilarity of it is more suitable.

Letters. Seems dated now, doesn’t it? Something you only tend to at Christmas out of obligation, not because the simple act offers any sort of satisfaction. (I bet many people have said the same about over-indulging in mince pies, but there you go.) Here, it conveys admirably parental despair. In reality, nothing in our modern day with the prevalent technology could genuinely reveal to the same depth any relationship. Imagine being a historian, sifting through the one line texts. There’s no detail behind what we communicate now, because who has time to go into the neighbour’s health? Why bother? It’s this offhand thinking that not makes it difficult not only for people in the future to discern who we really are, but it makes life clouded for ourselves when we can’t even engage with each other. What does anything mean to us?

Roger Mortimer typically humoured the pages with self-deprecation or painstaking accurate remarks. “Doubtless you regard me as monumental bore, tolerated only at times because I fork out some cash, but senile as I am I probably know a bit more about you and your friends than you seem to realise” Hm. Bet a lot of parents today would be much more success in talking to their children if they realised in themselves these words.

Anyway, it is rather clear to see that although Charlie entertained a school career at Eton, it wasn’t exactly the most successful, as he was constantly reminded to try and get through a term “without a chorus of disapproval and despair from the unfortunate masters who have to try and teach you something.” Joyfully Charlie moves through life though, and it’s almost bizarre, like watching a time-lapse of a plant, to see the style and tone of the letters change. One moment it’s from a reprimanding father, another it’s from a more- well, still reprimanding father, but with a rather letter edge to the words.

“Dear Charles,                                                                                                                                        I am very impulsive. Your mother is also very impulsive. That is quite enough for one family. Let us have a little… deliberation from you. So to start with, get rid of that motorbike. I did not give you £40 for that, as you well know!”

But, like everything, things start to break down and crumble, and although the earlier letters were cheerful and lighthearted, punctuated with concerns, the hilarity seeps away towards the end of the collection, where above all Roger voices his fears of ageing, of dying. It is poignant and raw- often a gruff acceptance of fate that retells all our own fears. This is a book which will not only inspire you to laughter and morose reflection, but to start writing letters again yourself.

Best wishes,

Melrose

The Brain: The Story of You by David Eagleman

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Given that he serves as a professor at Stanford University, the department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, he certainly knows his facts.

Neurons fire and seeming random clustered pixels form to make words. Perhaps you’re sipping on coffee, eyes rolling as I attempt to predict your movements, the rim of the cup nevertheless brought to your lips. And then a miracle takes place. I know it; Eagleman devoted most of a chapter to how someone was able to perform the seemingly simplistic act of drinking, how the millions of decisions, which control your muscles, sense of balance and so on, all happen behind a veil of obliviousness. He sets out to explain the complexity of the actions we take for granted. These snippets of stories, such as how we walk or why we make friends with certain people, and half-formed scenes are underscored by in-depth, yet intelligible analysis- with accompanying surprising experiments to highlight the sheer beauty of the spongle-like muscle locked behind bone.

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This is an ingenious book because it tears away the shadow of mystery from a part of our lives. Why do we want to help others? Why do we connect with non-animate objects? Given that we’ve only recently evolved into a society which doesn’t hold the necessity of wild foraging as an imperative, it suddenly doesn’t seem like a completely unconsidered question. When our ancestors were lolling around, and the framework for our brains today were being carved out, it was about survival; holding the cave door open wouldn’t get you anywhere. So where did this altruism spring from (at least in some people… in others, sadly, it appears to be an evolutionary step which bypassed them).

Eagleman answers the questions about yourself you never even thought to ask, and delights you with answers that make you wish, if you could swallow medical school, you too could be a neuroscientist.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Review: A Life Without Limits by Chrissie Wellington

23rd of April 2017. A massive day for some, it’s when this year’s London Marathon will be taking place, and amongst the tens of thousands, Chrissie Wellington will be competing. She may be one anonymous figure to you, but her fastest marathon time is 2:44:35, which is impressive enough. Especially as that was run immediately after a 3.8km swim and 180.2km bike. You may not have heard of her, but you should have, considering that Wellington is a 4x Ironman world champion and is regarded as one of the best female triathletes in history.

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Reading her autobiography, A Life Without Limits, was inspiring because it shows how determination can almost force results into existence. Wellington won her first world title only 9 months after leaving her day job, and a highly prestigious one at that, as a civil servant in Whitehall. She became a professional athlete at the age of 30, and this is incredible not only because it defies the idea that you have to be committed to a single discipline from a young age, but because in reality Wellington had no real background in sport either. This is one of the many reasons that I’ve come to respect Wellington; she had the security of an established, well paying job, yet she took a risk. She became an athlete and entered a brutal, competitive world in which she was chronically unfamiliar. But she prospered.

If you’re looking for any reason to read this book, it’s this: it explains the history of an athlete like no other, and not just an athlete, but a genuinely compassionate and interesting person. Wellington’s career includes Nepal working on aid, as well as triathlon, making it fascinating to read if you’re looking for an insight on their rural culture, or even as a civil servant.

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This is a book about triathlon, true. Yet it’s also about so much more; about aspects of her career that not only prevent monotony from the reader’s point of view, but also show that the physical attributes of someone can be just the beginning of someone’s personality, not their defining feature. In a book I’ve reviewed previously, Swim Bike Run by the Brownlees, featured there was basically just a skimmed version of their childhood, training sessions and races. A Life Without Limits, on the other hand, is much more varied.

If you want something that is inspirational, a book that will motivate you to achieve more (Wellington set an ironman world record time with shingles, after all) than you need to look no further.

Have you tried a triathlon before? What’s your favourite sport, besides reading marathons obviously 🙂 ? What’s the best sports (auto)biography you’ve read? Do comment below and let me know your thoughts!

Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All — Jonas Jonasson

A hilarious, thought-provoking and unusual read, Jonasson has delivered a novel which looks at our world through a completely different lens.

Imagine, a hitman. You know the type: leather jacket, yesterday’s stubble and the cool shades. There’s one in Stockholm, living in a hotel, and this novel follows his exploits (or how he has been exploited, more accurately), as the receptionist of the hotel and a priest use the hitman in order to create a business. Except, of course, the first attempt didn’t work, and the novel follows them as they try to set up three different businesses in succession, all with differing aims. As the trio’s professions change, their mindsets change with them, as each experience has altered their perspective and outlook on life.

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The plot flowed marvellously. It is hard, reflecting on it now, to see the seams of the novel, to segregate it into the pigeon holes of “Begining, Middle and End”. Even though there were three business opportunities, the way that Jonasson writes about them makes you feel like you are floating along with the current of the story. It is all smoothly executed; there were no random, stilted scenes. It felt like the characters were creating their own destiny, and that I was merely an observer. Which, of course, is enjoyable to read. But not as enjoyable as the humour that populated the pages, the small witticisms that punctuated the paragraphs and brought grins to my face. And how can I help it? It’s a funny book. Honestly. And if the chilly weather and darkness is affecting your mood, I’d recommend you read this.

The protagonists were certainly not the usual stereotypes: there was a scheming priest (who didn’t believe in God), a receptionist who ends up running a multi million dollar enterprise, and a hitman who had been recently converted to Christianity. By choosing such bizarre characters to star in his book, Jonasson puts creativity back into writing. Why couldn’t this happen? Perhaps it never would in the real world, but at least in a place without boundaries, it’s fun to allow yourself to imagine. Right now, there is a feeling that people are clinging to their clichés. We are a long way from books like Pullman’s Northern Lights, or one of Dahl’s creations. I know that they are both children’s books, but at least they have a sense of wonder about them, of the credibility coupled with the unbelievable. And that is what I have found here.

One issue I discovered though, was that the antagonist wasn’t dislikable enough. He was known as The Count, and would constantly be talking about chopping people up, but not exactly in a menacing way. Actually, I found the way he spoke, and was referred to, more humorous than anything else, and so this made it difficult for me to feel any sense to rally against him. It’s a minor issue, because the novel’s not really centred around the antagonist vs. protagonist theme, but it’s worth mentioning nevertheless.

So, looking for something a bit different, something light-hearted? Then find a copy of Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All. Have you read it- how did you find it? What’s your favourite comedic book? Do comment below and let me know your thoughts!

Burmese Days by George Orwell

Myanmar has only had 69 years of Independence. The past is closer than you think- and you can immerse yourself in it in Orwell’s first novel.

Imagine the existence of places centuries ago. We are all familiar with the concept of Victorian London, or the America as Columbus saw. But can we ever really believe in that place, petrified by the weight of history? Not simply in terms of overpaid actors, but understand the place that existed only a lengthy string of years ago?

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Yes- if you read Burmese Days. Since Orwell himself was stationed in Burma as a policeman there is an inescapable authenticity to the novel, and the blank way he causally refers to cultural customs illustrates that he wasn’t desperate to impress readers with his knowledge. (Unlike those authors who adopt the manner of *And here is a recipe for a rare national dish, inserted for no purpose whatsoever except to show you that I didn’t intend to spend countless hours trawling the internet for no credit.*) Due to his experiences (Orwell could even speak Hindi and Burmese) the novel felt genuine and gave me a clear idea of life at the time, and should be regarded as a valuable resource to anyone studying Burma in the early 20th century.

The plot itself could be considered mundane. There is a languid pace; it moves at the speed of someone overwhelmed by the summer heat. It’s mundane, almost. All that happens is that a British man abroad struggles (and fails,) not only to secure his Indian friend a membership to the European club, but the marriage of a girl. This is what the story is driven by, and after awhile it does become rather repetitive.

But then again the ending was shocking, and ends the sense of banality that had been previously lurking. It was so depressing (and tragically realistic,) that it made you ponder the entertainment value of reading it after all. (Why do I spend hours of my life, in happy solitude, staring at bits of paper?)

Thankfully this is interspersed with Orwell’s vivid descriptions of the scenery- he indulges much more in the literary side here than in his other works. For this reason, it would be useful for any fan of Orwell to read this first novel, so that not only can they enjoy the contrast to his later more refined tone, but see how from the start he was interested in discussing political and social ideologies. In fact, Burmese Days foreshadows the themes that would be seen so boldly in his books later on; the individual flailing against the tidal wave of an inhumane society.

A bold and unashamed novel, Burmese Days challenges British colonialism in Burma, offers a rich insight into the life of officers and has an unnerving finish despite the light hearted manner veiling the rest of the novel. If you are interested in political affairs (for Burma/ Myanmar, is rising globally currently), then this is an essential read. After all, if you seek to know something, you must first understand it’s history.

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan September Book of the Month

marrr“Marina wouldn’t want to be remembered because she’s dead.” wrote Anne Fadiman, her university professor, “She would want to be remembered because she’s good.”

But she isn’t good. Marina is phenomenal. Her fiction stories, each no longer than twenty pages long, are delicately composed featuring wildly different plots and characters. One is set in the sandy planes of Iraq, relocating Iraqi families and written purely in letter form. Another, prose, revolved around a theatre-set in Cape Cod, paragraphs littered with late night drinks and angst. And so it goes on. They are unique, seemingly revolving in their own literary sphere, untouchable. But there are ties: these characters are not built of marble, they are fallible. Keegan has portrayed them as real people, with true problems, refreshing as, unfortunately, despite it being an important rule of fiction, you often find unrealistic, overly successful characters . As a reader you could sympathise with their fears, relate to their worries. The stories were all ideal lengths too: even if they were only a few pages long, you seeped into the characters’ mindset seamlessly, and I never felt bored or disengaged with the narrative. Fresh, too, with Keegan’s voice gleaming from under the printed words.

‘”Why didn’t I think to rewrite Mrs. Dalloway? I should have thought to chronicle a schizophrenic ballerina. It’s inexcusable. Everyone is so successful, and I hate them.” and “I’m so jealous. Laughable jealousies, of everyone who might get a chance to speak from the dead…I worship the potential for own tangible trace. How presumptuous! To assume specialness in the first place.”

I won’t tell you how Marina Keegan wrote this incredible collection of short stories and essays as part of her graduation piece, and how, only five days after she graduated from Yale in 2012, she died in a car crash. I won’t mention how she was only twenty two, or how she had acted in and wrote numerous plays, was the President of the Yale College Democrats and had already secured her ideal job for her life after Yale. Because, instead I told you how inspiring her collection is. Marina wouldn’t want to be remembered because she’s dead. She would want to be remembered because she’s good.

 

The Book of Strange New Things- Michel Faber

Have you ever dreamt of being missionary to another species? To aliens living in a settlement, half the universe away? If so, then this is a novel engage your fantasy, and if not, you should still read it anyway.

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It is set in an indefinite time in the future; all the notable landmarks of our time period are still there, such as Heathrow airport, but there is a menacing undertone behind the news. In the opening scene, Peter discusses with his wife the monumental collapse of businesses and how many transport systems have simply slipped out of reality. But Peter doesn’t have to worry about that: there’s also a space travel at this point, too, and he is about to be transported to another galaxy, to a growing settlement called the Oasis, which run by an elusive corporation called USIC. Half the universe away. With his co-workers being mechanical engineers and elite geologists, he is surprised at having landed a role so out of this world. Peter is not a scientist, a genius whose name is framed by the list of letters succeeding it. His main function will be to satiate the native beings’ desire for Christianity. He is a priest, and his ‘people’ will be the Oasans. Oasans, with faces Faber insisted on continually describing as like “two foetuses”.

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On that note, the writing in general was elegant; like a minimalistic house gracing an interior design magazines- there were hints of simplicity, but that added to the beauty of his writing. However, as with all magazines, you are bound to find repeats, and Faber would often use the same word to describe the same object at various points in the novel. This is a large book- nearly 600 pages and by the fifth time he describes the air as swirling you’re bored.

The idea fuelling the novel itself was intriguing, and was embedded in the classic science fiction duvet of; “Let’s put a major concept out of context and see how it floats”. The concept in question here was religion, specifically Christianity, and thanks to Faber’s portrayal of Peter, the novel is not only engaging to those who do, or don’t share the faith, but it is also not offensive without Faber being overly cautious in with his language. This is largely due to Peter’s characterisation, I believe, because although the novel oversees his tantalising mental transformation, in essence he is a mild mannered man with firm morales. (Do not conceive him to be merely a meek man though…he has a startling history, which is agonisingly drip fed to you throughout the novel.)

Faber’s strengths were shown when he wrote about Peter’s time with the Oasans. Firstly, his style came across as more fresh there, and it was interesting to read as it contrasted starkly with Peter’s time spent back at the USIC base with humans, which frankly was largely mundane: there were chapters of him merely wandering around the corridors, uncertain of what to do with himself and where to find something to eat. Relatable, perhaps, to ravenous nights at a hotel, but not as engaging as reading about alien races with bizarre rituals and delightful dressing habits.

A notable proportions of the book was also written in letter form: Peter can only maintain contact with Bea, his wife, through this way, and the insights Bea gave into the world collapsing around her, whilst Peter was working, isolated from the news, in another galaxy, was insightful. These letters were not only fascinating in themselves, illustrating the changing dynamics in the pair’s relationship as their separation became prolonged, but it also offered variation. There was a balance between the prose and letters which was struck sublimely.

Whilst I would recommend this novel to anymore who is attracted to science-fiction novels, I would also say that those fantasy readers with an inter-galactic taste would enjoy it too. The pace is erring on the sluggish side though, and is more contemplative than action-filled. The Book of Strange New Things offered me an insight into the world of science-fiction, which I am tentatively exploring, and generally, it has done a brilliant job in doing so.

August- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

The device, or computer you’re looking at, is stoically emitting a soft electric light, and my words, mere dark pixels in a sea of white, make a message. And then the email  from Peter flashes at the top your screen, briefly dragging your attention away as you connect with the words of a person miles away, without any physical strain. In Station Eleven, the human population is scarred by a pandemic, the horrific Georgia Flu. Those who remain, do not waste their breath on trying to maintain the internet. Or electricity. and running water. They simply can’t: when 99% of the human race is decaying, the chances are that the people who do know how to harness the wind turbines, or restart the grid, are dead. And everyone who is left, is battling for survival.

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This was an incredible novel, because it made you start to appreciate what a miraculous world we live in. Yes, you’re reading this whilst stuck in the airport because your plane was delayed, but isn’t the mere thought of heavy panels of metal levitating into the sky and transporting us wherever we want to go in the world, in an under an day, fantastic? When the world is put into a context where all of these modern inventions are suddenly taken away, the luxury of our society suddenly becomes apparent, especially when St. John Mandel returns to a thread of storyline set before the disease, which creates a sharp contrast. I liked that part of the novel because it followed a famous actor Arthur Leander. His life was portrayed in a way that was fascinating because I felt that at times, it was genuinely similar to the alien lifestyle of a modern day celebrity. There were however, parts which I thought were not realistic, like his recklessness in interviews where the  PR manager let him spill his secrets to a random journalist.

Do not be fooled into thinking this novel is a glittery tale about middle aged actor trying to pull himself together; the other part of the plot is dark and thrilling. We are twenty years into the future, in a world desolated by the flu, and we follow the Shakespearean actress Kirsten on her journey travelling around settlements in America, as part of the Travelling Symphony. In a world where there are no laws and no one to enforce justice except leaders of the small societies, the desperation that many people face in the wilderness takes threat and danger to a completely different level.

I absolutely loved this novel, the writing style was surprisingly beautiful and eloquent, and variance between the cruel reality of Kirsten’s world on the road, and the puzzle of the glamorous Arthur Leander’s life worked perfectly. Definitely put this on your TBR list, especially if you’re interested in young adult, fantasy or science fiction.

Room by Emma Donoghue

The best part about Summer is undoubtedly spending time outside, whether it’s having picnics, simply enjoying the sun or staying out late with friends. But for Jack, the Summer is like any other time of year; he has lived his entire life is a single room, with his Ma. The borders of Jack’s world is the walls of Room, where the foundations of his world is Table, Bed and Wardrobe. For him, it is practically inconceivable that anything else can exist outside Room, even when his Ma, with whom he has never let out of sight, told him so.

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Jack is five years old, and this novel is written from his point of view. This is a challenging perspective for Donoghue to choose, and I admire how authentic the sentences sound, because writing in that style is counterintuitive. There are copious amounts of (intentional) spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, which are uncomfortable to read. (Like when you read a sign or an email and there is a blatant error which you want to correct, except you have that nagging feeling throughout the entire novel.) It was so annoying, in fact, that when I first started the novel I hoped this was an introduction of sorts, and the next chapter would be Jack at an intelligible age with a more complex mental syntax so that I wouldn’t have to endure 400 pages of rough language.

Having said that, a novel isn’t shortlisted for the Man Booker prize and the Orange prize for nothing. Room is challenging, facing the issue of captivity boldly, and this is not to be taken for granted. Although I wouldn’t say this novel changes how I perceive the world, (as other people have commented) it certainly puts our general freedom into perspective, and brings to the forefront of our consciousness some horrific issues that are still present in the world today.

However, there were some slight problems, too. I found that when Donoghue was describing a few of Jack and his Ma’s days spent in Room, I got bored. An incredibly detailed description of one day would have satisfied me, because they were all similar to a vast extent. Perhaps this was Donoghue attempting to get across the monotony of their lives; if so, that same monotonous feeling transferred to me. In-depths accounts of what Jack was watching on the TV ceased to interest me very rapidly, as well as how many bits of cereal he ate for breakfast (this is relevant because they have to ration to food, but still not very interesting). Also, I found that Jack’s mother was strangely lenient with him; she didn’t tell him off or have his actions corrected, because despite the pair being in a close relationship, Jack was becoming increasing petulant as the novel went on, and surely Ma would want to teach him manners? Ma was also inconsistent as a character, which I found confusing, because for the majority of the novel she is a fierce mother, and then after the climax she (for those who have the novel) takes an action which forces Jack to stay at his grandparent’s house. Some may argue that this is because of the overwhelming change that Ma is having to face, but it does suggest that she isn’t as close to Jack as originally perceived. Also, the climax. It happens halfway through! I reached it, and then thought, what happens next that can be as interesting? (Nothing, was the answer.)

This novel is worth reading if you are looking for something to stretch and test you as a reader; it is unique in it’s perspective and will offer a great sense of variation from all the many other holiday novels that you may be reading.

The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt

It’s a classic. Not a vaguely successful novel that is dubbed a “modern classic”. Published in 1962, this exhilarating and wonderful read has been translated from its original in Dutch, and has continued to delight generations internationally.

It is set in a fictional world that is bursting with knights galloping on horses, glorious castles and looming forests. It is a fabulous tale about chivalry, and is reminiscent of King Arthur and the Round Table. Tiuri, 16, has been training his entire life to become a knight, and only has one more night, which according to tradition must be spent in silent contemplation in a chapel, until he marches through the city and is officially knighted. There is a woeful cry for help, and Tiuri is drawn to the voice, and the moment he inquiries how he can help, he knows that he is risking his career forever. Yet the mysterious stranger asks him to deliver a secret letter, to the King of land he has never even visited before. Tiuri is honour bound to accept, but as he sets off on his monumental quest, peril follows closely behind in many forms, whether it’s vicious robbers, ruthless assassins or spies.

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This was a fantastic novel; there was a steady flow of action to keep me interested and the world in which Tiuri is so familiar with, is charming. In an a
ge full of iPhones and emails, it was refreshing to encompass oneself in a place where there isn’t even any electricity, so that you can pretend even for a short period of time it doesn’t exist. As for the writing, I am unsure if this is merely as a result of the translation by Laura Watkinson, or if it is the intent of Dragt himself, but it seemed at times sentences came across as stilted and brief. The writing would have been improved if
Dragt had indulged herself in more elaborative detail, but it was adequate to read nonetheless. It is worth bearing in mind though, that it was written over 50 years ago, and therefore the taste of the audience that Dragt was presumably writing for, has most likely changed dramatically.

This is not the most challenging read, but will enthuse those readers looking for a light Summer holiday read, where one frolicking through mountains and fields and through dangers. One that note, the man sent to assassinate Tiuri, Slither, who is th email source of angst and menace, does not feature often, and when Tiuri’s path is crossed by thieves, he is “surprisingly” set free and let off lightly. This does add a slightly genteel edge because you feel as though the protagonist is often cushioned from danger. That aside though, this is  a delightful tale about a teenager whose monumental quest not only sees him through multiple kingdoms, but through the process of changing from an aspiring boy into an experienced young adult.