Book Reviews





Books to make time for - Part 4

Part 4 of my "Books to make time for" feature is here!

The fourth book I'd like to feature is: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.

I picked this book out of a freebie box someone brought to work to give away, as they were moving to Australia and couldn't take everything with them. I'm so glad no-one got to it before I did!

What is it about?

Vida Winter, a famous novelist in England, has never been forthcoming when it comes to her past. Her entire life is a secret, and for fifty years reporters and biographers have attempted to discover the truth. With her health quickly fading, Ms. Winter enlists a bookish amateur biographer named Margaret Lea to bear witness to the tragic story of the Angelfield family, their eccentric beginnings as well as their demise. Margaret, who has family secrets of her own, must unravel the mysteries of the past in order to reconcile not only Miss Winter with her ghosts, but also Margaret with her own. [from wikipedia]

Why should you make time for it?

The author makes no pretences to the fact that this book takes every famous gothic novel she's ever enjoyed and mixes them all into one furious pot of mystery, tension and creepiness. It's the honesty of the references that makes this book so great, you can just sit back and wonder how all the plots will intertwine - and when you think you've guessed it, something else will come along. No, it's not original, but it is great fun!

You might like this if you like...

18th Century gothic novels, atmospheric surroundings, mystery

This book is similar to:

Jane Eyre, The Turn of the Screw, Rebecca

Where can you get it?

Find it at Amazon

The Help meets The Big Screen

I hopped along to the Cambridge Film Festival this weekend to catch a screening of The Help on the final day. As you may know from this gushing post, I adored the book and have lent it to many people since finishing it, with "You HAVE to read this" on a post-it on the front. When I heard it was being made into a film I was wary - and you will probably know the familiar sense of foreboding if any of your favourite books have been made into 1.5hr visuals. *coughGoldenCompasscough* However, Emma Stone was cast as Skeeter and this gave me hope. I l.o.v.e Emma Stone.

And oh my daiz... It was actually good. I sat there as the credits played in stunned silence and appreciation. If I was Kathryn Stockett I would be one mega-happy woman! Few minor points aside (I'll get to these later) the film was everything the book was. The characters were so well cast (Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly... who knew such a sweet actress could be so downright nasty?!), and it was great to see real lines from the book used in the dialogue. Very few plot events were missed and the emotions soared and plummeted with great feeling. I think I could watch it again right now!

However, there were one or two things I found a bit strange. They didn't detriment the film or the book really, I just found them to be odd decisions... And those were plot changes. If you haven't read or seen The Help yet, please be aware there are spoilers ahead.

The strangest plot change was the decision to change Constantine's daughter from being white, to being a stong minded black lady. I have tried thinking why this would have been changed but the only thing I could come up with is that they didn't have the extra 5 minutes it would have taken to explain... But as a result of the plot change, Constantine's dismissal wasn't quite as momentous as in the book.

Also, the decision to have Skeeter's mother accept that Skeeter wants to write, and be happy that she wrote The Help. I can only assume they wanted the "I'm proud of you" moment for Hollywood audiences. I'm also puzzled by the way they left the mother's illness with a "she's better now" message. The woman had cancer, in the 60s - I'm pretty sure the ability to overcome it without treatment back then was one in a million?

But like I say - they were very small things far outweighed by the brilliance of the rest of it. The relationship between Minnie and Celia, for instance, was so great to watch. Please buy a tacket and see it for yourself, you won't regret it.

Oh, and here's a little fact for you: The Help was rejected 60 times before it was eventually published. And I thought Harry Potter's rejection rate was bad...

Dude watchin' with the Brontes

This is complete genius and totally what I mean in this post!

Thanks so much to Yasmine for letting me know about it! (She's flippin' brilliant, and if she had a blog I'd link you to it!)

Craziest career choice I know

"I'm going to write a book". That's something I'm willing to bet my sandwich that almost everyone will say, or at least think, at some point in their life. It's an attractive, whimsical prospect. Imagine, you could be out by that lake, sipping peppermint tea, waxing lyrical about the heady swell of a summer breeze a la Colin Firth in Love Actually. Or mooning masochistically over muscley rebels of your imagination like the Brontes. Or even winding up a few institutions like Philip Pullman (high five Phil!)

It would be nice to write a book. I think I would like to be a novelist. You know, get my Byronic-Hero-ness on and live it up like its 1800 again... But it has always seemed like the craziest career choice. My teachers weren't exactly celebrating the idea when I mentioned it. "Why don't you be a journalist?" They would ask... well, Mrs Careers-Advisor, journalists generally can't invent Hobbits. But to be fair, they had a point. Wanting to write fiction should get you a free pass to the looney bin. The career choice is crazy.

I mean, one book just doesn't cut it these days. Everything has a sequel or is part of a series. You can't write a Catcher in the Rye and be done with it any more. When I was younger, for example, I thought Danielle Steel was many, many people with the same name, because I didn't think anyone wrote more than one book! (I was about 5, ok!) And I've often wondered how authors like Jodi Piccoult and Stephen King can publish so many books in a life time. How do they do it?! In my head, books take a lot of time to write! Maybe it's me... Maybe I'm misjudging what it takes to write a novel or over-analysing the process. But if I was faced with a 6-book deal, I would panic. What if I didn't have 6 ideas?! ("Well Emma," I hear you say... "This is how we ended up with the dirge that is titled New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn." And I would take your point and smile.)

Another thing that leads me to think "novelist" has a good reason not to be on the ticklist of career options at school is the lonliness. Writing is the most solitary thing I know. You wake up, you turn on the laptop (/pick up a pen if you're making a statement), avoid interruptions like they're the plague, drink inhuman amounts of caffeine that leads you to mumble instead of speak, and then you go to sleep again. The only people-contact you get is if you run out of Gold Blend (how very British, eh) and pop to the shop, at which point you still don't get a conversation because you're mumbling, remember? And if you start writing your epic at, say, 16... how will you ever find the love of your life you so furvently believe in? (as demonstrated by the 3 chapters of "legally different" Elizabeth/Darcy you've just sweat blood and real tears writing).

Next up is the high insanity risk, closely related (I'd imagine) to the above observation. If you have read The Shining or watched Secret Window you'll know what I mean. When your head is so often pre-occupied in a lone world where things can be whatever you want them to be, that's got to have an effect.

But theultimate reason being an author is a ridiculous decision? You'll spend all that life-time being a hermit and writing, with the fact that even Harry Potter got 12 rejections before it got published at the back of your mind. How much do you have to believe in your writing? a HELL of a lot. And what's the worst affliction of every writer? self criticism. The odds are, im afraid, STACKED against you.

And despite all this, I'd still like to be a writer, actually. Now... pen or laptop?

The Hunger Games: trailer

Dont look now, but here's the first Hunger Games trailer. Doesn't show you much but Katniss does seem to be characterised the way I imagined her at least (can tell a lot from a stalk-y run these days dont ya know. I'm supernaturally perceptive! [yes, that's sarcasm] )

I honestly don't know why they insist on making books into films so quickly now. Well, yes, I do, but I'd like to think not everyone in the world is willing to sacrifice the legacy of good writing for a quick buck on the fan-train. It's such a shame that a book can't ride out its own success before people begin to over look it for the hour-and-a-half condensed version with pre-packaged faces.

Having said that, I feel justified in being excited to see the film as I have read it already. I'd like everyone else to do the same, and feel the anticipation without guilt, or the guilt I will impose on you. Fingers crossed it's not another "Golden Compass" type massacre.