The Long Walk – Sławomir Rawicz

"I think snakes are our only chance. There's hardly anything a starving man can't eat." The Long Walk - fact or fiction?

“I think snakes are our only chance. There’s hardly anything a starving man can’t eat.” The Long Walk – fact or fiction?

This ‘true story’ is an account by Sławomir Rawicz of how he, along with several others escaped a Siberian gulag and trekked across Asia to freedom.  You’ll have noticed that I put ‘true story’ in inverted commas, that is because there’s been much debate at to the authenticity of this story.  Some say it’s true, some say it’s true but not of Rawicz, others say it’s fiction and others think it’s a composite of various people’s memoirs.  I don’t know which is correct, so I’ll just treat it like any other story. BUT DID IT HAPPEN?

The Catcher In The Rye – JD Salinger

The Catcher In The Rye - "The trouble with me is, I like it when somebody digresses. It’s more interesting and all.”

The Catcher In The Rye – “The trouble with me is, I like it when somebody digresses. It’s more interesting and all.”

Perhaps due to boring literature lessons in school, as a teenager I sort of fell a bit out of love with reading.  The Catcher in the Rye helped reel me back in.  Although it was initially written for adults, it’s characters, theme and style have appealed to teenagers ever since.  The narrator is Holden Caulfield and we as readers see the world through his eyes and in his words.  The novel has come under some criticism for its frequent swearing, but to my mind, it adds authenticity to the story.

The story begins as Holden is facing expulsion from his exclusive school.  After arguing with his dorm-mate, Holden decides not to stay for the last few days of term and instead catches a train to New York City and checks into a hotel until he is due to return home.  Here he contemplates his sexuality, as he labels other residents ‘perverts’.  He goes out dancing and agrees to take a prostitute home, but feels sorry for her and subsequently decides all he wants to do with her is talk. FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THIS SENSITIVE CHAP

The Interpretation Of Murder – Jed Rubenfeld

The Interpretation of Murder - I'm a bit unsure why Freud is there at all!

The Interpretation of Murder – I’m a bit unsure why Freud is there at all!

I love the idea of this book – a murder mystery including real people in a fictional setting.  I really enjoyed about the first three quarters of it, but then somehow, I got a bit bored.  All of a sudden it seemed a bit daft and disjointed and I didn’t really see the point of it.  Overall, I think I liked it, but it’s not quite as clever as it should be.

The basic premise is a murder mystery based in New York in 1909.  A sadistic killer is bumping of high society girls and the mayor, coroner and detective must solve the case.  Alongside this, Dr Younger, our part-time narrator is hosting his hero, Sigmund Freud and his entourage, including Carl Jung in the U.S.  This part is based on fact, Freud did indeed visit the States in 1909 and returned to Europe with a strong aversion to ever returning.  Why he hated the States I don’t know, but this novel attempts to give us a reason, albeit fictional.

Younger is asked to help treat one of the killers victims, Nora Acton, who has survived but has no voice or memory of her attack.  With Freud’s help, Younger attempts to psychoanalyse her and help restore her memory, thus helping the law men solve the case.  This bit’s all good, there’s twists and turns and it keeps you guessing until the end who the killer is.  Don’t worry, I wouldn’t tell you here, I’m not that mean.

Yet there’s a couple of side stories that are really surplus to requirements.  Firstly is Freud’s ongoing feud with Jung, who is painted particularly unsympathetically here.  Whilst it’s an interesting relationship, it has no relevance on the story whatsoever and seems there only to serve the purpose of including Freud in the book.  Freud himself has little impact on the murder case and seems there only to add a slant to a good old murder mystery tale.  It doesn’t really need that slant.

Secondly, Younger has an obsession with ‘solving’ Hamlet.  What does the ‘to be or not to be’ speech really mean, why did Hamlet talk but not act?  What relevance does this all have to our murder mystery story?  None really, except it gives a reason to talk more about Oedipus.  There’s just no reason to include any of this into the novel and yet I quite liked that it was there, as if Dr Younger was preoccupied with his own self-indulgent studies and not really concentrating on the case.  This perhaps makes him a more believable character.  I suspect really that Rubenfeld was preoccupied with his own studies and not really concentrating on the plot, but I didn’t really mind that.

What I did mind was the last few chapters.  There was a build up throughout the whole book and then in the space of a few pages, everything is neatly wrapped up pretty unconvincingly.  I swear I could hear the author thinking ‘crap, this is turning into a pretty long book, I’d better finish it quickly!’

And yet, I still think I liked it.  There was a number of characters introduced who I couldn’t remember and it turned out I needed to remember them.  The plot’s a bit scattered and the romance element unconvincing, it clearly thinks it’s cleverer than it is, and yet…I think I’m just a sucker for a good mystery!  There’s no other explanation.

Sample Text:

“There is no mystery to happiness. Unhappy men are all alike. Some wound they suffered long ago, some wish denied, some blow to pride, some kindling spark of love put out by scorn — or worse, indifference —  cleaves to them, or they to it, and so they live each day within a shroud of yesterdays. The happy man does not look back. He doesn’t look ahead. He lives in the present.”

Further Reading:

If you like a good historical mystery you might like The Shadow Of The Wind

If you like fictional books about real people you might like The English Patient

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson

“Armageddon was yesterday, today we have a serious problem.”  The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

“Armageddon was yesterday, today we have a serious problem.” The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

I finally gave in and read this book after resisting for quite a while.  It seemed everybody I spoke to had recommended it and I kind of backed away, thinking after all that hype I’d only be disappointed.  I’m happy to say I wasn’t. I was hooked straight away.

The basic storyline is this: an old man (Henrik Vanger) has been receiving strange birthday cards from his grand-niece who has been missing, presumed dead for 40 odd years.  Before he dies he wants to know what happened to her and so he hires Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative magazine publisher to investigate the case. After a while, Blomkvist realises he needs an assistant and so hires Lisbeth Salander – an expert computer hacker.  Ok, so the basic premise is a bit of a whodunit – a classic investigation story into a shadowy family history. I’VE HEARD A LOT ABOUT THIS SALANDER, WHAT’S SHE LIKE?

Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life In Wartime Sarajevo – Zlata Filipović

Zlata's Diary - a true account of life in wartorn Sarajevo by Zlata Filipovic

Zlata’s Diary – a true account of life in wartorn Sarajevo by Zlata Filipovic

Yet again, I must confess to buying this book for purely shallow reasons.  I used to work in a charity shop and this book sat on the shelf for so long that I began to feel sorry for it and so bought it myself.  This isn’t a novel, but a diary kept between 1991 and 1993 by Zlata Filipović, an 11 year old girl (born in 1980) living in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war. EEK, SOUNDS A BIT LIKE ANNE FRANK! BUT DOES SHE SURVIVE

Guernica – Dave Boling

Guernica by Dave Boling.  War, romance, comedy and horror.  What more can you want?

Guernica by Dave Boling. War, romance, comedy and horror. What more can you want?

The bombing of Guernica is rightly recognised as one of the most shocking and inhumane raids in modern warfare.  The German Luftwaffe dropped bombs on a defenceless civilian population, allegedly for experimental purposes.  As many facts and figures as history books can tell us, as many horrors as they describe, we read with a slightly detached view.  By introducing individual characters, people who have a back story and a future and a family and a personality can we understand how it would feel to be part of such devastation. IT’S NOT GOING TO END WELL IS IT?

The Grapes Of Wrath – John Steinbeck

“Why, Tom - us people will go on livin' when all them people is gone. Why, Tom, we're the people that live. They ain't gonna wipe us out. Why, we're the people - we go on.'    The Grapes Of Wrath

“Why, Tom – us people will go on livin’ when all them people is gone. Why, Tom, we’re the people that live. They ain’t gonna wipe us out. Why, we’re the people – we go on.’ The Grapes Of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath is the story of the Joad family and is set during the Great Depression.  The Joads are ‘Okies’ – poor farmers, displaced and desperately seeking work, as their farms were repossessed after crop failure due to the Dust Bowl.  The story begins with Tom Joad, who has just been released from prison.  Upon returning home is surprised to find nobody there, and very few people for miles around.  he learns that his family has gone out west, to California, to seek a future for themselves and so he sets off to catch them up.

Setting off with his friend, Jim Casy, Tom soon catches up with the rest of his family – Ma and Pa Joad, Uncle John, Tom’s brothers Al, Noah and Winfield, his sisters Ruthie and pregnant Rose Of Sharon, Rose Of Sharon’s husband Connie and Grampa and Granma Joad.  Together they set off for California, believing in the promise of work.  What they discover is that the roads are packed with people just like them looking for exactly the same things – dignity, hope and a future. DO THEY MAKE IT?