Brooklyn – Colm Toibin

•December 10, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I am not going to hold back I loved ‘Brooklyn’. I thought Toibin’s style of prose and narrative was simple and beautiful and throughout the whole book I was totally and utterly engaged. I liked and believed in all the characters and I loved the subtle simple plot. In fact ‘subtle and simple’ are possibly the perfect two words to sum this book up for me. Yet at the same time it’s quite an epic novel and one that covers a huge amount in fewer than 250 pages.

‘Brooklyn’ is a tale of Eilie, a young girl in Ireland after the Second World War where the economy is a disaster and jobs are scarce. Overjoyed simply to find a Sunday and occasional evening job when you can expect little more Eilie is suddenly offered a job and life in Brooklyn where work is easier to find and so is money and more importantly prospects. Eilie soon realises that this isn’t a sudden offer and in fact her mother, sister and brothers (in England) have been well meaningly plotting this for quite some time and really she has no choice.  After following her nightmare journey across the ocean we watch as Eilie settles into a new life with new people and new cultures in an unknown environment. We also watch as she grows from girl to woman and falls in love. It is eventually though a trip home that leads to the climax and a huge decision for Eilie… I wont say any more than that, I will say I bet the ending will either seal the deal for people or possibly put them off the book completely.

The plot brings us some wonderful, wonderful surroundings. I loved the Ireland we briefly got to see at the start and especially when Eilie ends up working in the local shop where supplies are low and people get special treatment, well bread that’s not off, if the owner likes them. When Eilie moves to Brooklyn you could vividly see the streets of shops and as Eilie works in one of these ‘Bartocci’s’ we get to see how everything runs and I could just envisage it so clearly. I will admit it; I ended up wanting to be there in Eilie’s house share in 1950’s Brooklyn!

The plot also brings up many subjects. The first is poverty and how the Second World War left countries like Ireland and all the people who survived the horrors of war behind. It looks at women’s roles and how they changed and strangely gained independence further during these times, they could go and work in other countries and start new lives even if the job opportunities were limited. It also discussed racism at the time as the colour of customers in Bartocci’s changes; this isn’t a subject at the heart of the book I did like its inclusion though as it would have happened at the time. In fact looking back with Eilie’s love interest being from an Italian family and Eilie not being an American in America different cultures is in a way a theme.

For me out of everything it was the prose and also the characters that really made the book the complete joy to read I found it. I liked Eilie though for me she was in a way a ‘nice and intrigued’ pair of eyes to watch a story through. It was characters like the scary domineering and gossiping Mrs Kelly who owned the corner shop and the fabulous Georgina, who I adored, and is Eilie’s partner in illness on one of the most horrendous boat crossings I have read… I did laugh though. With characters, plot and backdrops like this I would be amazed if you could fail to love this book. In all honesty this is not only one of my books of 2009, its also the book I think really should have won the Booker.

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Back With A Bang… (Or A Competition)

•December 7, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Finally… I hear you cry. It has taken some time and some sorting, and is still very much a work in progress (but then arent all blogs always), but finally the new improved WordPress version of ‘The Great Gay Reads’ is up and running. In the move some blog posts have vanished, some have appeared and some have been moved, its a little crazy but over the next week or so everything will have been sorted and all should be well.  

As a bit of a thank you to all of you who have been so patient whilst waiting for this blog to appear I have anaged to pull a few strings and have a bit of a competition for you which will be open until next Monday. I have some lovely copies of the first three in the Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin to give away thanks to the lovely people at  Black Swan/Transworld/Random House (it gets very confusing when you are chasing books and people in publishers hahahaha) you can see them below…


So all you have to do is send the answer to the following question:
“What number was the address that Mary Ann Singleton moved into and who was
her land lady?”

Please email your answer (comments won’t count – though do comment delightfully on the new site as your feedback is very important) to greatgayreads@googlemail.com Good luck!

The Breaking Point – Daphne Du Maurier

•December 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment

As I constantly drum into the heads of anyone that will listen, I am a huge fan of Daphne Du Maurier, even though I have actually own read ‘Rebecca’, ‘Jamaica Inn’, ‘The Parasites’ and ‘The Rendezvous and Other Stories’. When Virago actually sent me a copy of the re-issued (for the first time in around two decades) ‘The Breaking Point’ I almost popped with joy. After the initial ecstatic feeling one of dread came over me… what if I didn’t like it? What if it hadn’t been published for all this time because really it just wasn’t as good as one of my favourite books ‘Rebecca’ or other greats like ‘Jamaica Inn’? well I should have had dread in mind, but not for the quality of the stories or the writing…

‘The Breaking Point’, named because “characters are caught at those moments when the delicate link between reason and emotion has been stretched to the breaking point”, was originally published in 1959 and hasn’t been published since the early 80’s. Until this year of course! Daphne has always been known to write quite dark tales however this is said to be one of her darkest which of course added to the thrill of reading the book and I have to say that these are incredibly dark and brooding indeed. Written when her husband was ill, she was relocated nearby to a small cramped flat and then faced with her husband’s long term adultery, so possibly in quite a dark place herself.

Now this is a collection of eight of her short stories and me telling you about each and every single one of them might get a little dull and ruin the objective of actually buying the books yourselves. So I will focus on a few and simply say that all of them are quite chilling, even when at first you think that they might not be.

‘Ganymede’ for example is just one such tale, it starts with what seems like a tale of “the unspeakable act” of a classical scholar who when holidaying in Venice becomes besotted and slightly obsessed with a waiter. Of course in this day and age this really isn’t that shocking, however as the tale goes on what could be a romance story has a huge twist that shocks you and is then followed by a small chapter that then makes you completely reshuffle the story and its motive as you read the last line. It’s difficult to review any of these without giving away the twists in the tale at the end which all of them have in abundance.

‘The Pool’ is slightly different, as is ‘The Archduchess’ as they both have a slight, if dark, fairytale quality to them. Both seem to be set in ‘secret other world’ and yet deal with changes in emotion. The first is very much about a girl going through puberty and the change from child to adult and all the emotions that brings, forming women from other worlds that only she can see. Whereas the latter is more about the greed and darkness of the male human psyche and its endless need to devour and control as Daphne describes the made up land of ‘Ronda’ in Europe and its demise. Emotions are also at the forefront of ‘The Chamois’ which is a tale of a couple climbing a mountain and as they climb, the more they are pushed and the more the tensions in their marriage show its incredibly clever and of course has that all important twist.

My two favourites have to be ‘The Alibi’ and ‘The Blue Lenses’ for how dark they are (though ‘The Menace’ – which does what it says – is equally dark) and both of which are easily the eeriest things that I have read in quite some time. ‘The Alibi’ actually made me think of ‘Amercian Psycho’ as a man suddenly whilst walking with his wife, realises that he could kill someone randomly and so he sets about randomly organising it. It’s really, really creepy and the randomness of his decisions and actions makes it all the more real to imagine.

‘The Blue Lenses’ reminded me in some ways of something that Margaret Atwood might come up with. Set in a nursing home Marda West undergoes an operation to bring back her sight via the power of a new find in medicine called ‘The Blue Lenses’. When her sight is regained she sees things more clearly than she thought as people’s personalities create the heads of creatures that have their traits and though it sounds slightly out fo this world and comical, when she meets the person with the snakes head I promise it will chill you and turn you cold.

This is a fantastic collection of short stories be you a fan of Daphne or not! If you like complex and psychological, suspenseful and dark, if you like looking into the depths of the human mind or if you just want a fantastic read I cannot recommend this collection strongly enough. Daphne once again delivers, and it’s a treat for all those who turn the pages.

World Aids Day 2009

•December 1, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Please do remember to go and buy your ribbon today, this is a issue that effects not only gay men but people around the world and is such a worth while cause…

So please do buy a ribbon and donate today!

 

Call Me By Your Name – Andre Aciman

•November 26, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I love it when you email me your recommendations and so when one of you asked me if I had read ‘Call Me By Your Name’ by Andre Aciman and raved about it as one of the ‘most beautifully written books I have ever read but also one of the most graphically shocking’ I whizzed it up my TBR. Atlantic Books had actually sent me this a while ago and I hadn’t gotten round to reading it, this of course has changed.

Told by Elio, the son of an academic in the 1980’s in the Italian Riviera, this is a tale of love that shouldn’t be and obsession. When Elio’s father takes on a house guest and ‘summer helper’ seventeen year old Elio falls head over heels in love. However his father’s house guest is Oliver, a dark moody and secretive character who seems only to despise Elio. There is also the fact that Oliver is a man and therefore the attraction that Elio feels shouldn’t really be. 

It’s very difficult to say more without giving the plot away, I shall say that what follows is a tale of fascination and desire that threatens to overwhelm them both and take them on a journey that will change their lives forever. Aciman holds you in suspense as to what might happen for pages and pages and the prose is utterly taught and utterly beautiful. I don’t think that I have read such beautifully written and composed prose in a very, very long time.

Though in some ways it discusses the confused emotions of Elio, and in some ways second hand from Oliver’s perspective, over and over again it never feels repetitive even as Elio obsesses for almost 150 pages and nothing really happens you are still riveted by it. When something does happen between the lovers it is quite graphic and quite intense and definitely not for the faint hearted or those of you who may be of a delicate or slightly prudish disposition. Though actually I hope in this day and age there aren’t many of those readers out there. Read it for the prose and the love story.

Also read it for the ending as not only is it not what you expect at all, I can imagine a film of this must be in the making at the moment as I would imagine there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house. There is also one scene between Elio and his father which has touched me more than anything I have read in months and months, possibly even this year.

I don’t often demand that people read a book this is one book that I urge people to read. I honestly haven’t read anything so taught with emotions and complex feelings in a long, long time and that from me is seriously saying something. I know my review didn’t give very much away as to how the book unfolds or what happens but to tell you that would mean you didn’t have to read it and you do. The blurb says that ‘the six weeks together will prove to be an experience that will mark them both for a lifetime’ and I think the same could be said for anyone who has read this book.

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote

•November 20, 2009 • 3 Comments

In Cold Blood is a non-fiction account of the mass murder of the Clutter Family in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959. Where Herb Clutter, his wife Bonnie and two of their four children Nancy and Kenyon were horrifically murdered for what seemed like absolutely no logical reason whatsoever. Capote writes of the events leading up to the deaths of this family, onto catching the killers, their trial and then their execution through the eyes of the people of Holcomb and some of the detectives in the case as well as having had many meetings with the murderers Dick Hickock and Perry Smith to try and work out why people could do this and how these people could get caught.

At no point does this book ever feel like a text book which some non fiction can do for me. All the characters from the family and villagers to the killers and all those involved in the case and the trial are fully formed. You know the types too for example many of the gossips in the village who start to mistrust each other and spread rumours. It shows how a village that was in the middle of nowhere with no crime record dealt with such a shocking event, so in some ways it’s a study of humans and how they react. You also get to feel that you know the family and this adds to the trauma of when the events that actually took place that night, from the mouths of the murderers, it makes the impact greater and also makes what is a very emotional and gruesome event even more so.

The characters that you do get to know the best, possibly because Capote was fascinated by their motives and what drive people to do something so callous (and in the end only for $40 which was all they found in the house), are the killers themselves. Capote has researched their backgrounds, gone through letters, diaries and interviewed family members to find out if someone’s background and environment can create a murderer. It does appear that Capote was more interested in Perry Smith than Dick Hickock as the former is a much more researched and mentioned during the novel (some people, including those who made the movie believe Capote was obsessed/besotted with the killer, I am not so sure) and you feel that you have much more insight and time with him.

What I think made this book such a fascinating, with a subject like this especially as its real I don’t think you can call it a wonderful book, book to read was how Capote wrote it. The day of the murder is written so vividly and the settings so descriptively you could almost have been there. Note for the faint hearted the same applies when Perry actually admits what happened on that horrific night (I actually got quite upset by it). Undoubtedly it has to be said that this is an absolute masterpiece both of non fiction and as a book as a whole and I would recommend this read to anyone and everyone, particularly if you like crime. It has stayed with me for days since I closed the final page.

Many people say that In Cold Blood was Capote’s finest work and after so far this year reading Summer Crossing and Breakfast At Tiffany’s I certainly think that that statement isn’t far from the truth, though I have many more of his books that I desperately want to read. However I don’t think you can judge it along side the other two as it is a work of non-fiction. I am not the biggest fan of non fiction, I like the odd autobiography, diary or selection of letters but it’s not a genre I am drawn to. If I found more non fiction like this I think that I would possibly overdose on it all as this was utterly fantastic.

Goodbye To Berlin – Christopher Isherwood

•November 17, 2009 • 2 Comments

Goodbye to Berlin is less a novel, though it classifies itself as one, and more a collection of four stories and two diary entries. All these tales are based around the underground and lower end of society in 1930’s Germany as the Nazi’s slowly come to power and there is a great time of change in Berlin. Though written from the perspective of Christopher Isherwood a young writer at the time these, the author clarifies in the introduction, are all works of fiction – I wasn’t sure if I believed that as the characters we meet are so vivid.

One of the stories in the book, which do all interlink, and possibly my favourites is Sally Bowles and was the story that inspired the film I Am Camera that then became the iconic Cabaret. Sally is a wonderful character living on the wrong side of town and hanging out with the wrong kind of people invariably getting herself into trouble. She moves into the same apartment as Christopher that we see in the first Berlin Diary where we also meet the wonderful landlady Fraulein Schroeder who is a wonderful motherly, yet incredibly nosey landlady who takes in the tenants other people wouldn’t rent to.

We also see how men who liked men coped with such a forbidden love in On Ruegen Island, and tales of poverty in The Nowaks and The Landauers before a wonderful final Berlin Diary as Isherwood, both the character and the narrator bid farewell to the city and the love affair they have had with it and the people who walk its back streets. Through all of these tales we meet the minorities and the rejects of Berlin who give an unusual insight into Berlin during its history that I hadn’t read the likes of before.

Actually I tell a slight lie as some of the characters that you meet in the wonderful The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin are part of the Berlin Cabaret set though maybe not so vivid and that in part is why I find it hard to believe that the characters we meet, emotions we feel and the streets we walk are purely fictional they come so fully formed and so full of life even in the most difficult of circumstances.

I really loved this book, I sadly really didn’t love the version of Cabaret that I went to see this week though but I shall say no more. I thought all the characters I met in this book were wonderful and think Sally Bowles may be one of my favourite characters of the year. I also loved seeing that period in history and the lead up to WWII and the Nazi Regimes rise to power through such a different perspective utterly enthralling. It’s also wonderfully written evoking the emotions of the people and the sounds and smells of the streets.

I already have the other of Isherwood’s Berlin books Mr. Norris Changes Trains and may have to read that very soon. I may break one of my reading rules as normally I like to hold off from another read by a wonderful author I have just discovered, does anyone else do this? However with my new ‘read whatever’ whim takes me on or follow whatever journey the books I read lead me on and I feel Isherwood’s Berlin has much more to tell. Has anyone else read these or any other of Isherwood’s non-Berlin based books?