The Master And Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov

Good cat *strokes his back warily*

Good cat *strokes back warily*

I wanted so much to love this book.  On paper, it should really appeal to me, but something just didn’t click.  I think, as is my problem with a lot of Russian literature, it was just too long.  It feels as if it’s actually two separate books in one.

The first half I loved. It concerns Professor Woland (Satan), a mysterious ‘magician’ who appears on the streets of Moscow alongside his retinue including Koroviev – his grotesque valet and Behemoth – his gun-toting talking cat amongst others.  SO WHAT DOES THIS MOTLEY CREW GET UP TO?

A Confederacy Of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

“I mingle with my peers or no one, and since I have no peers, I mingle with no one.”   Ignatius J. Reilly

“I mingle with my peers or no one, and since I have no peers, I mingle with no one.” Ignatius J. Reilly

Published several years after Toole’s death, this book quickly became a cult classic.  It won the Pulitzer prize posthumously for Toole and is recognised as a classic of modern American literature.  Quite right too.  This book is superb!  Daft, funny, clever, witty and colourful it follows the life of Ignatius J Reilly of New Orleans. HE SOUNDS LIKE A FUN CHAP, TELL ME MORE…

Watership Down – Richard Adams

Not just for kids

Not just for kids

This is a story I know from childhood, from watching the film, and crying as Art Garfunkel sings.  However, it is only now, in adult life that I have decided to read the book.  Once again, it is because it was on the BBC’s Big Read list that I chose to read it now.  Although the story follows the migration of a group of rabbits, it’s not as cutesy as I thought it would be.  This is a book that would appeal equally to adults as well as children.  Bizarrely I’ve heard two adults independently quote from it in the last week.*

Throughout the book we learn little bits of the rabbits’ language and their culture.  We learn about their hierarchy  (the owsla), their enemies (elil) their god (Frith) and ultimately, how their lives are fraught with danger.  Yet even though I was reading about rabbits, they are so anthropomorphised that I found myself really rooting for them.  The book is often seen as allegorical, with the rabbits’ struggles symbolising the fight between freedom and tyranny. BUT WHO WINS?

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich – Aleksander Solzhenitsyn

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich - surprisingly not depressing

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich – surprisingly not depressing

When it was first published in 1962 this story caused great controversy as it was the first time life in a Soviet gulag had been depicted in literature.  Solzhenitsyn himself had first hand experience of the camps and subsequent exile and so his descriptions are, we are assured, accurate.

Ivan Denisovich Shukov has been sentenced to 10 years hard labour in a Soviet gulag after being convicted of espionage.  He is innocent but has no choice but to accept his hardship.  As the title suggests, the book follows just one day in his life.  There are, of course flashbacks, explaining how he got there, but the main action concerns just one day. MUST BE A PRETTY EXCITING DAY, RIGHT?

Memoirs Of A Geisha – Arthur Golden

Memoirs Of A Geisha - I thought it would be boring but, turns out I was wrong!

Memoirs Of A Geisha – I thought it would be boring, but turns out I was wrong!

This is the story of Chiyo Sakamoto, better known by her geisha name of Nitta Sayuri.  As a young girl, Chiyo is sold to an okiya (boarding house) in Gion  which is where her miseries begin.  Bullied by their housemate Hastumomo, Chiyo and her friend Pumpkin dream of becoming famous geisha in order to escape the life of a servant.  More importantly, Chiyo longs to find the Chairman, the only adult to have shown her true kindness since she arrived in Gion.

Several years later Chiyo is chosen as the protégé of Mameha, a beautiful and clever geisha who is also Hatsumomo’s greatest rival.  As Mameha plans to destroy Hatsumomo’s career she pays extra attention to Chiyo’s (by now known as Sayuri) development.  Through their work as geisha, Mameha and Sayuri once again come into contact with the Chairman and his business partner Nobu. BUT WILL THE CHAIRMAN REMEMBER HER?