1984 – George Orwell

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1984, by George Orwell, like so many other books has been on my to read list for countless years. And also, like so many other books, 1984 has been on my bookshelf for another number of years. Recently though, I finally got around to reading it, and this  is where I decide whether the novel was worth the wait.

So, going into the novel I already knew the general idea. I think i’m pretty spot on in saying that most people do have some kind of understanding as to what Orwell’s 1984 is about, right? For me, my understanding of the novel centred around it being about this idea  of the ‘big brother’, about an all seeing eye, that is constantly watching you. Aside from that though, my knowledge of the actual plot was pretty limited. – And by that I mean I had no idea what was going to happen.

When you read 1984 you can identify why people enjoy this novel so much, and why it may be considered a classic. I found it was a novel that really questioned our modern world and the future that is ahead of us. Specifically when now, in the modern day, nearly 35 years on from when the novel was set this idea of being watched through electronics is something that could very easily become a reality. Though with all these news gadgets, the google home, and amazon echo etc, you really wonder whether this kind of monitoring has already started. Though that’s a debate probably left for another time. So, in general I quite enjoyed this aspect of the novel, and reading about a world that is so obviously monitored and controlled by the people in power.

However, I feel I was left a little bit disappointed (as with anything that is over hyped). I had high hopes for 1984. I was hoping for it to be this really insightful novel, that would stay with me for the days after I finished the last page. But nope, no luck there. I was pretty let down by the novel in general. I feel though, that is not necessarily because of the writing and the novel itself, but more because of the person I am when reading a novel. I was simply expecting more from the plot and something a little more gripping. I mean, the idea of there being an all seeing eye, really does open the door for a multitude of gripping plots. Though there are probably many other authors who have put pen to paper and written a story similar, inspired by Orwell’s work.

Although 1984 has left me feeling slightly disappointed, I am glad that I finally got around to reading it. No more am I in wonder of what Orwell”s pages hold. And though I was not blown away by this novel, I cannot fault the writing. Each page flowed well into the next, and I did keep reading without any stumbles, or any annoyances in regards to the written word. And for that I am grateful, because I would never have gotten through this book at all, let alone at a good pace, if the writing had been as disappointing as the plot.

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IT – Stephen King

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IT is Stephen King’s 22nd book. Though the novel was originally written in 1986, it has recently been thrown back into the limelight due to the hugely successful 2017 film adaptation. The novel itself is slightly different to the 2017 film, as that adaptation only focused upon one part of the novel, when the characters were children. The original novel, however, is set across two time periods: the 1950s and the 1980s. These two parts are not as you may think though, they do not split the book directly in half as you may assume, as I had. Rather they run alongside one another, and as a reader you are continuously swapping between the two periods.

The book focuses upon a small American town called Derry, which is haunted by an entity referred to as ‘IT’ which exploits the fears of the towns children. IT often appears as a clown to lure in its chosen victims, which is how King often describes this entity to his reader. The first time period follows a small group of children who become acutely aware of IT’s presence and decide to take it upon themselves to save the town from its influence. In the second time period though we are introduced to these same children, but as the adults they become.

I actually started reading IT in September, with the hope that I would read the novel in the lead up to Halloween. However, I didn’t actually finish reading King’s book until very recently, in January. I had an unusual approach for IT, and found myself watching the film adaptation before reading the book. – which I don’t usually do, in fear that i’ll be put off of the book, or just get bored because I know the outcome. However, because I knew the film did not cover the whole book, I thought I would be pretty safe. Unfortunately, although I did begin the novel really enjoying it, i slowly found myself dreading picking it up again. I found that King’s novel was just far too long for me. At over a thousand pages, it is the longest novel I have attempted to tackle – and probably the longest I will ever attempt.

I appreciate Stephen King as a writer, and realise when I am reading something that is well written, as IT is. It was a good concept, to combine the time periods and introduce the reader to the child and adult version of King’s characters. That was actually something that i did really enjoy. I liked seeing how the characters had progressed in life, after experiencing the trauma they did, and I liked how the bonds between the characters remained so strong over time. But again, I personally got bored. I felt I wasn’t being introduced to anything new as time went on. The story simply seemed to be repeating itself just with adults instead of children.

So, for me, I wouldn’t recommend Stephen King’s IT if you are not used to a longer read or if you like to be continuously engaged with new and interesting content. But definitely, if you are a Stephen King fan or even just a horror fan, give it a go, you may find that your attention span is far better than mine – which is very likely at the moment!

As I’ve mentioned IT has been recently adapted for the big screen. This was something I thoroughly enjoyed, and would highly recommend to everyone! Though it only focuses upon one part of King’s novel, I do believe there is going to be a second movie made in the future. So, fingers crossed!

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Hidden Figures – Magot Lee Shetterly

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Hidden Figures is the novel by Margot Lee Shetterly, based on the true story of the women behind the space programs in the mid twentieth century. The novel focuses upon the efforts of America to get a man into orbit around the earth, as well as the mission to get the first man on to the moon. Shetterly uses this novel to tell us this previously untold story of a group of black women who were behind much of the maths and calculations that made these missions happen.

Hidden Figures is a true but untold story, so it is difficult to dislike, as it is so unique. It was great to read about how these women fought both racial and gender struggles in order to do the job that they were doing. And what was also fascinating was reading about how some of these women were thought of as being ‘computers’. At a time when we are surrounding with technology it’s hard to imagine a time when computers and calculators did not exist to carry out our work and mathematics. But the reality is, of course there was a time like this. And at this time it was people with ridiculous maths skills that would be in charge of making these calculations – often they were calculations that would mean life or death.

So, from the perspective of Hidden Figures being a big eye opener and a reality check for somebody who takes technology and pretty much life for granted, Shetterly’s novel is a great read. However, for me, I simply felt there were too many scientific and mathematical references. I felt because I am not somebody from that world and I don’t have a real grasp on space and maths, that I struggled to keep track and follow everything that was happening. Obviously for a book that is telling the story of these women in the space program it would be impossible to not include the science and maths, as that is the story. However, unfortunately for me, I did struggle with the novel a little bit.

I feel that Shetterly did a great job in bringing this story to the forefront of many minds, and it was great to learn that a program such as NASA, which most would associate with white males, actually had so many strong and powerful black females at its core. So, I would recommend this book for anybody who is after a book with something a bit different happening and something whereby you can learn from. However, if you’re like me and get a bit bogged down with terminology and references that you don’t necessarily understand, I would not recommend that you read Hidden Figures. Simple because I feel, like myself, you might find reading this book a bit more of a chore than a pleasure. That being said though, in 2016 Hidden Figures was adapted into a film. This I found to be so much more accessible, and allowed me to come to grips with the story so much more. So, although I am not here to recommend films, this is one I would recommend.

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Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk

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Fight Club is the 1996 novel by Chuck Palahniuk. The novel focuses upon an unnamed protagonist who sets up a ‘secret’ club allowing men to fight one another. You’ve surely heard the number one rule about fight club in your lifetime, ‘The first rule about fight club is you don’t talk about fight club’, well this is the origins of that reference. And, I apologise in advance for breaking this crucial rule.

I first read this book as part of my university course, on a module that explored the representations of masculinity in fiction. So, I’m finding it slightly hard to look at this novel without the discussions we had at university niggling away at me. For me, Palahniuk’s Fight Club is all that masculinity is. It demonstrates that archetypal need to prove ones masculinity continuously. I mean it is a novel about the creation of a fight club, a fight club that allows men to escape their everyday and act in violent ways, ways that society views as masculine. So, understandably it is painfully hard not to talk about this novel without referencing the portrayal of the masculine figure.

I felt that Palahniuk’s novel was too much of a blanket statement. By this I mean that the novel only portrayed males as being this architype of masculinity. I don’t recall hearing of a male character that knew about the club turn their nose up to it. Instead we were given male after male who felt they needed to be involved, and ultimately prove how masculine they were. Maybe this was the point though, that within every male there is that man who is struggling with their identity and struggling to accept their masculinity. Either way I felt it would have been more interesting to include somebody who did not bow down to these pressures, somebody who could see the club for what it was; a performance. Therefore, for me, although this novel attempts to portray masculinity it does not do a rounded job, as in reality not all men are like this.

That being said though, I did enjoy the way that Palahniuk wrote this novel. It is only a short novel of around 210 pages, yet he included such a brilliant plot twist that books of twice the length are unable to achieve. We know throughout the novel that the unnamed protagonist is an insomniac and that he has a friend Tyler who he talks about a lot. In fact, it was Tyler who the protagonist sets up the fight club with. Yet, what I was not expecting was the shocking twist of events towards the end of the novel. Which, if you read Fight Club yourself, you will find flips the plot and puts into question the events of the entire novel.

I think it’s safe to say that everybody knows of the movie adaptation of Fight Club. I, myself, have not actually seen it – and no I don’t live under a rock. So, I cannot compare the novel with the film in anyway. Though, after reading Palahniuk’s novel I will definitely be adding Fight Club to my list of ‘movies to watch’, as I am very intrigued as to how this novel has been adapted for the screen.

Palahniuk’s novel has a lot of violence and aggressive imagery in it, so if that is something that you don’t like reading, then obviously this book is not for you. However, I would recommend this book if you are interested in stereotypical masculine behaviours. Though, like I previous said, don’t be expecting a rounded evenly weighted argument of masculinity, as you will not get it.

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Lion: A Long Way Home – Saroo Brierley

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Lion: A Long Way Home is the true story of Saroo Brierley. The memoir tells the story of how a five-year-old Saroo boarded a train and got lost in India, and what has happened to him in the twenty-five years since this train journey. The first half of the book focuses on the struggles Saroo faced as a young boy lost in India. We learn of his experiences sleeping on the streets, how he was saved (twice) by a homeless man and how he was taken in by an orphanage. The second half of the book explores his adoption to Australia, his accomplishments and most importantly how he goes on to find his way back home to India.

This was a remarkable story, it seems incredible that a young boy lost so far from home would go on to make the journey that Saroo did. Even more so when you learn that Saroo finding his home town in India all these years later was a mere accident. However, the book itself was a little disappointing. The first half of Brierley’s story was great; it was full of interesting anecdotes and information. However, the second half I found began to feel a little repetitive. Brierley describes how he would spend hours upon hours searching on Google Earth for his village in India. Although understandably this was a repetitive act, I just felt that the book did not need this section to be quite so stretched out. It simply felt that Brierley was attempting to fill space so a book could be marketed.

Lion: A Long Way Home is also, for the majority, a story relying on very old memories. Often because of this, I would find myself questioning how reliable this story is. I understand people are different; sometimes traumatic experiences live with us very clearly, and sometimes our subconscious blocks out this trauma. So, I will not go into too much depth. But, there were a few moments in the first half of the book, when Saroo would have been very young, where I found myself questioning Saroo’s recollections – as it did not seem believable that these memories would still be so clear.

Saroo Brierley’s book was a pleasant read, the writing and grammar was decent so there were no problems with struggling to read it. However, there just seemed to lack a little something extra. I also felt as though the book could have been condensed much further and still have produced the same affect. So, although Brierley’s story was remarkable, I’m not so sure this was the best platform to tell this story. If you have not heard about it already, this book was adapted into a film, starring Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman. I’m no film critique, however I found the film to be far better, and I enjoyed it far more than the book.

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