musings, Text Post

New edition of a childhood favourite

Ravenclaw House

“Where those of wit and learning will always find their kind” – The Sorting Hat. 

Absolutely adore these new editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, published by Bloomsbury to celebrate the 20th anniversary of this magical book being published. There’s beautiful additional content and illustrations, specific to each house. The covers are so simple and slick, both in design and colour.
I’m so grateful to have experienced the joy and wonder that these books created as I grew up – to have been part of that spectacular atmosphere. J.K. Rowling will always be a hero to me, like she is to countless others around the world, whatever Hogwarts House they may belong to.

musings, Text Post, Uncategorized

An unsuccessful reading month (with a good ending)

To say that May has been a hectic month would be quite the understatement. Between job applications and interviews, relatives being admitted to hospital, and various other dramas, my reading has unfortunately had to take a back seat.

However, I finished This Family of Things by Alison Jameson this morning. It’s due for UK release on June 8th, and I would seriously advise you to buy it. A full review will follow after it has been published, but what I will say is that it’s a wonderful novel. There are some really dark moments, but has joy and heartbreak in equal measure. A highlight of the month was getting half an hour to read it outside St. Paul’s Cathedral.

So now my task is to complete Cloud Atlas, and the audiobook of Three Daughters of Eve, and get ready to celebrate 20 years of Harry Potter magic in June!

In other news, I love that the weather is so gorgeous at the moment so i’ll be able to enjoy reading outside with a view of our flowers.

Have a wonderful evening!

Book Review, Text Post

The Glorious Heresies, by Louise McInerney (2015)

The Glorious Heresies. Wow. What a novel! A few days after being so captivated by the story that I read the last 120 pages in 2 hours and I’m still in awe. No wonder it won the Bailey’s Prize last year!

Set in contemporary Cork (Ireland), The Glorious Heresies pivots on the death of a man named Robbie O’Donovan. His demise influences numerous people in the city, whether they knew him directly or not. He is never alive in the novel’s world – he exists only in the memories of others. What this achieves is to show both how brief and fragile life is, and how one life, one death, one moment can have massive, unforeseen consequences. She weaves this wonderful web of interactions – individuals crossing paths often without knowledge of the connections they share or how they have influenced each other’s lives. Community is both real and imagined in this novel: felt keenly through harsh judgments or offers of solace, or understood only briefly at the mention of a name in conversation. It’s a beautiful and remarkable structure.

McInerney’s Ireland is harsh and brutal. So many fundamental aspects of Irish identity are changing or being erased in the twenty-first century landscape of her novel that the characters resort to desperate measures just to stay afloat. This is about people who do not or cannot ‘toe the line’ by conforming to Irish history and identities. Alcoholism, prostitution, drug addiction, rape, murder, child abuse and, perhaps most difficult to accept, the issue of the influence that the Catholic Church has on Irish identity and in Irish politics. There is an underlying anger towards religion itself coursing through the novel, but particularly towards the treatment of unmarried mothers in the Magdalen Laundries throughout the twentieth century. The characters face these traumas, often in the full knowledge of those around them, except no one wishes to confront the terrible truth directly. Neither the individuals nor their relatives, nor the authorities wish to accept the situation, allocate blame or receive the support they really need. People find their own ways of surviving – ways that both connect them with other characters and force them into further isolation. Those “glorious heresies” portrayed in the novel – glorious, because there is often or appears to be, no other option, meaning characters feel no need for shame- show survival of the fittest at its most raw, its most exposed. 

She presents in great detail how characters come to terms with their past, personal and national. This is particularly effective when it overlaps with parent-child relationships, or interactions between older and younger generations. While Maureen Phelan and Tony Cusack are trying to come to terms with their pasts, the younger characters are trying to escape theirs. In the cases of Maureen and Tony’s children, the past they are escaping is the fraught relationships with their parents.

Maureen Phelan is undoubtedly my favourite character. Her caustic humour provides some much needed relief from the often graphic scenes and subject matter that are portrayed – Chapter 10 is ‘laugh out loud’ hilarious. She is flawed, she makes mistakes and rash decisions, but her story and character remain affecting because she is so rarely self-pitying. She also genuinely wants to help people. She’s a perfect example of the ‘wise older woman’ trope from fairytales, except McInerney makes her ‘real’, with this complex past influencing her attitudes and actions. Our knowledge of her mistakes means we take to her advice to other characters much more easily. McInerney also doesn’t signpost that this is her ‘role’ in the story or that she fits the role comfortably – so often, the female characters written for that role are literally cardboard cut-outs of a ‘type’.

McInerney showcases a masterpiece of characterisation with Maureen. The other main characters are beautifully drawn, and often as endearing, but there’s almost an extra dimension to Maureen that makes her truly magical.

In short, I loved pretty much everything about this novel. The first couple of chapters are really great at introducing the main players, and then suddenly drawing them together and revealing the connections. 

Yes, it’s dark and graphic, but it’s also funny and affecting. There are some parts that seem a little slow, but this let you process events, and the underlying tension keeps you turning those pages.

This should definitely be added to your “To Be Read” list!

Book Review, Text Post

Review: Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell (2008)

Non-fiction isn’t really my thing, if that makes sense. It’s not that the non-fiction works that I have read weren’t enjoyable. Simply that my first instinct is to pick up a novel.

So when a friend bought ‘Outliers’ for me, I was initially unsure. The subtitle, ‘The Story of Success’, initially brought to mind those ‘How to be successful’, confidence booster style books. However, my friend had clearly enjoyed it and I trust her recommendations completely so it went to the top of my ‘to be read list’.

Gosh, were my first impressions (based on the title and subtitle) wrong. 

As the introduction, The Roseto Mystery, both explains and demonstrates, Gladwell aims to explore why ‘outliers’ – individuals or communities who stand out from the crowd in a certain time or place (anomalies, if you will) – occur. He takes examples from a variety of times and locations to understand what circumstances enabled remarkable achievements of individuals, companies, or communities. 

The concept really is fascinating. Be it elite hockey players, software pioneers, educational systems, sought-after lawyers, Gladwell shows that alongside the intelligence and dedicated hard work of individuals, outliers often come to exist as a result of some exceptionally random circumstances. Opportunities arise that, once noted and taken, give those people the chance to develop their skills and motivations, and so achieve these extraordinary things. 

Birthdates; cultural histories and legacies of geographical locations; racial and ethnic relations at given moments in time and place; personal, national or global economic events; so many seemingly trivial (and often unknown) things can build up to produce momentous results.

Gladwell’s style of writing I found to be really comprehensible and effective. It’s like he’s sitting next to you, explaining these things in person. He’s a magnificent story-teller. That’s essentially what ‘Outliers’ is: a collection of stories, though these are real events that are being analysed and understood anew. Gladwell details the context and the minutiae of each example so well that it was as though (as happens when I read fiction), I was being pulled into that world. It reminded me how much skill is involved in finding the right tone and approach in writing so tjat the reader remains engaged.

“He is the best kind of writer – the kind who makes you feel like you’re a genius, rather than he’s a genius.” – The Times

This quote used on the blurb is so true. I learned so much from reading this book. Each case study either referred back to previous examples or was supported by others in briefer detail (don’t worry, Gladwell’s writing style ensures that this never feels like an overload of information). ‘Outliers’ has opened my eyes to how society constructs narratives of success. There’s such a tendency to create almost sickeningly sweet rags-to-riches stories that suggest that extraordinary people ‘appear’ out of nowhere. Gladwell doesn’t take anything away from the remarkable achievements, talents or hard work of the people he discusses. What he does is try to give a broader picture, showing how certain circumstances aligned so that those individuals harnessed their talents at the correct historical moment and had the vision to use them in ways that achieved extraordinary things. 

Gladwell encourages us to imagine how different it might be if those opportunities had been given to someone else or had not happened at all. Some case studies show the importance of changing attitudes and making moves away from aspects of cultural legacies. In showing how much can be understood from ‘outlier’ cases, Gladwell argues for broadening those opportunities for as many people as possible. He shows how much greater our world and our achievements might be if more people had the same opportunities as these ‘outlier’ cases to use their personal abilities.

I’m definitely going to add Gladwell’s other works to my ‘to be read’ list now and I’m going to try to read more non-fiction too. 

This book is definitely worth a read. It’s interesting, it’s well structured and written, and there are great ‘personal’ touches too that really enhance the work. Enjoy!

musings, Text Post

Musings: March

Honestly, how is it March already? This year needs to slow down! So many books to be read and the days just seem to melt away. This month is a really busy one for me so I’m hoping I get chance to read. I want to finish ‘The Essex Serpent’, and get through The Glorious Heresies (Lisa McInerney), and perhaps a classic for a bit of a change. I’d also love to have finished the Harry Potter series before I go to see The Cursed Child in the middle of the month but it’s not looking likely.
I’m in ‘March’ in The Essex Serpent too (I loved that coincidence of real life and book trajectory matching, hence the picture).
Perry is such a ‘visual’ writer – her metaphors and the descriptions of landscapes are so incredibly vivid. There’s so much ‘movement’ in her plot – at this point of the story, each chapter includes a character taking a long walk and/or having an extended period of contemplation. Perry manages to grasp both the physical and mental movements which is really effective: you feel like you’re literally being carried along.
She has a beautiful writing style that I’m finding really enjoyable and the plot and characters are engaging too. 
What is everyone else reading?