The Driver's Seat - Muriel Spark



Summary from Amazon:
Described as 'a metaphysical shocker' at the time of its release, Muriel Sparks' The Driver's Seat is a taut psychological thriller, published with an introduction by John Lanchester in Penguin Modern Classics.
Lise has been driven to distraction by working in the same accountants' office for sixteen years. So she leaves everything behind her, transforms herself into a laughing, garishly-dressed temptress and flies abroad on the holiday of a lifetime. But her search for adventure, sex and new experiences takes on a far darker significance as she heads on a journey of self-destruction. Infinity and eternity attend Lise's last terrible day in an unnamed southern city, as she meets her fate. One of six novels to be nominated for a 'Lost Man Booker Prize', The Driver's Seat was adapted into a 1974 film, Identikit, starring Elizabeth Taylor.

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I read this book as part of a new Book Club organised by the wonderful bookshop Looking Glass Books for #readwomen2014 and I think it's a perfect book to read and discuss! I came in having my thoughts about the book and I realised there were so many details I had missed! I think I'll reread the book soon and will probably see other things. It's one of those books that can have so many shapes that everyone can take something different out of it.

It's hard to talk about it without giving any spoilers (and this is definitely the type of book that can really use being read without knowing anything about it) so I'll keep things quite general. I learned that this book is Muriel Spark's favourite from all her works which is an interesting fact and I'm looking forward reading more of her books to try to find out why that is.

I have only read two of her books but I feel there are some common characteristics which I gather are very 'Spark'. I like that she has a style that is so intrinsically hers no matter how different the stories are. The writing is at times witty and playful but with crisp and sinister undercurrents. 

There are various themes in the book, it goes from religion to fashion and lifestyles. One of the things I loved the morst about this book is Spark's relation to the reader. It's as if Spark is tricking us into thinking one thing about the character or story (mostly using our prejudice) while actually writing the opposite. I found the book so inspiring to read because it really challenged the way I look at life and at stories as well. The title in itself is the key. Are we ever in the driver's seat? And if we are, like the main character in the book, are we actually in control? 

Lise's journey through the book gets more baffling and shocking as it goes and it is amazing how much this book can challenge the reader in a little over a 100 pages. the writing always goes straight to the point.

I don't think I want to say more for fear of spoiling the experience but I really loved it definitely want to read more of Muriel Spark's books!

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Next book up for the book club is Honour by Elif Shafak which I'm really looking forward to reading!

Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction longlist 2014


                             


Launched in 1996, the Prize is awarded every year to celebrate women's writing around the world. The judges this year were Helen Fraser, Mary Beard, Denise Mina, Caitlin Moran and Sophie Raworth. 

I used to only look at the shortlist but I've read so much and so much more varied books since last year that I'm actually incredibley excited about this year's longlist and have quite a few of my favourites I was expecting to be part of the list and others whom I wasn't expecting.

This year is also the year to read women writers (#readwomen2014) and the longlist for the Prize is the perfect source of inspiration if you're planning to read more women writer and are not quite sure where to start. I have to admit I generally read more books written by women (out of the 16 books I've read so far this year, 10 were written by women) but I'm always keen to discover new authors.

What do you think of the longlist?



Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Fourth Estate
Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood, Bloomsbury
The Dogs of Littlefield by Suzanne Berne, Fig Tree
The Shadow of the Crescent Moon by Fatima Bhutto, Viking
The Bear by Claire Cameron, Harvill Secker
Eleven Days by Lea Carpenter, Two Roads
The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter, Fig Tree
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, Granta
Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies, Oneworld
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, Bloomsbury
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, Picador
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner, Harvill Secker
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, Bloomsbury
The Undertaking by Audrey Magee, Atlantic Books
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride, Galley Beggar Press
Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson, Mantle
Still Life With Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen, Hutchinson
The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout, Simon and Schuster
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, Little, Brown
All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld, Jonathan Cape

I've only read The Luminaries and I've had on my radar Americanah, Burial Rites, The Flamethrowers, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, Almost English, All The Birds, Singing and The Goldfinch of course so I'm looking forward to read those and discover the other authors from the longlist.

Looking for JJ - Anne Cassidy


 

Summary from Goodreads:
Three children walked away from the cottages on the edge of town toward Berwick Waters. Later that day, only two of them came back. . . . Alice Tully knows exactly what happened that spring day six years ago, though it's still hard for her to believe it. She'll never be able to forget, even though she's trying to lead a normal life--she has a job, friends, and a boyfriend whom she adores. But Alice's past is dangerous, and violent, and sad . . . and it's about to rip her new life apart. Includes a reader's guide.

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This book is one of my wife's absolute favourites so I knew I would love it, but little did I know that it would literally blow me away. It felt like a punch in the stomach. Over and over again. I haven't felt like reading a lot of YA lately, and I even fell out of love with it slightly. But reading this book reminded me why I loved young adult fiction so much.

We start the book with 17-year-old Alice Tully who is working as a waitress in a coffee shop. Alice seems to be obsessed by a crime committed six-years ago by 10-year-old Jennifer Jones. Jennifer Jones killed her friend and has been in prison ever since. The media loved that story and Jennifer has been in and out of the papers for half a decade. Now the media is in uproar because she is soon to be released.

It might be a slight spoiler to say that Alice is none other than Jennifer Jones herself. She has been given a new identity and is trying to start her life again. She was released six months earlier so that journalists wouldn't find her easily. It would sound like Alice's life is set to be a real new start, with a job, a boyfriend and University starting soon. But the newspapers keep talking about Jennifer Jones and Alice's guilt is eating away at her. No matter how far she is from her old life, the past always seems to find her again. 

The book starts with Alice Tully in her new life and is followed by a part narrated by Jennifer Jones where we see events that lead up to the tragic death of one of her friends. The structure is notable because it helps the reader get into Alice's head before knowing her past. A way for us not to be blinded by our prejudices. If the parts were swapped, I'm not entirely sure we would feel exactly the same way... The writing is so strong and raw. I was in Alice's head straightaway and felt her pain. 

I loved the portrayal of all the characters, they all had their positives and negatives and felt realistic. I was fascinated by Alice and how she relates to her boyfriend and Rosie (the social worker she lives with) as she doesn't have a great deal of experience when it comes to having what we would call "normal" relationships with people and especially boys.

There are a lot of themes in this book. Themes that make you think. Themes that hit you to the most profound of your beliefs. Can a child be inherently bad or can a terrible upbringing justify a bad action? Nature vs. nurture. Does society need to know about everything? Should a person who commits a crime be condemned for life or can they change? Do they have to relinquish their right to privacy? How much intrusion can we justify for our own security?
This book is so important because it asks the right questions and leaves it to you to provide an answer. It's easy to forget that this book was published ten years ago because the story resonates today more than ever. We have the same issues of culpability, nature vs. nurture and privacy. 

If you're looking for a brilliant example of quality contemporary YA, look no further.


Excitingly, a sequel is being released later this year. If you want to read a blog post by Anne Cassidy about writing a sequel ten years after publishing the first book, it's over here: "Never Say Never: The Story of a Sequel

My Best Books of 2013

Happy New Year!

I hope you've all had a lovely time over the Christmas period and are ready to tackle this new year! I have just started reading The Luminaries and after a few pages of getting into the Victorian writing style, I can't stop reading it! It is extremely fast-paced and gripping.

I have posted this on Twitter but I thought I'd do a formal blog post as well as an update with a book I had forgotten and the last book I've read in 2013 (Graceling). Here is the list of my favourite books of 2013:



Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Comforters by Muriel Spark
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng


The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

   

A Tale for The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
The Son by Philipp Meyer


Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Blue is the Warmest Colour by Julie Maroh

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Interestingly, 8 out of 11 books were written by women and more than half of them are backlist titles. The titles range from YA and fantasy to historical and literary fiction as well as a graphic novel. Only one is a translated/foreign language book which isn't too surprising as I've mostly read English-language novels this year but it's an area I definitely like to explore further. There is only one YA novel and that's mostly because I haven't read many YA books this year. 

One of the books which I loved but didn't make the list was May We Be Forgiven. I loved it when I read it (5 stars and all) but I realised that I had very little of it left with me 6 months later.

My absolute favourite this year has been The Son by Philipp Meyer. I heard a lot about this book before reading it and I saw the author at the Edinburgh Book Festival talking about it and his writing process. The book literally blew me away by the sheer scope of it. If there is such a thing as perfection in a book, this is it.

For 2014, I'm planning to continue reading in a variety of genres/age groups and I'm also aiming to read more Classics and more foreign language books/translation. I will also continue my Muriel Spark reading challenge!

That's it for me. What was your favourite book last year and do you have any bookish resolutions for 2014?

The Comforters - Muriel Spark




Summary:
In Muriel Spark's fantastic first novel, the only things that aren't ambiguous are her matchless originality and glittering wit.
Caroline Rose is plagued by the tapping of typewriter keys and the strange, detached narration of her every thought and action. She has an unusual problem - she realises she is in a novel. Her fellow characters are also possibly deluded: Laurence, her former lover, finds diamonds in a loaf of bread - could his elderly grandmother really be a smuggler? And Baron Stock, her bookseller friend, believes he is on the trail of England's leading Satanist.


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I absolutely loved this book and I'm not sure I'll be able to do it justice with my thoughts. You might actually rather read Ali Smith's words on it [here]. (You definitely should read Ali Smith's words on it.)

The book follows novelist Caroline Rose as she converts to Catholicism. After coming back from a retreat, she suddenly starts hearing the sound of a typewriter and voices who seem to comment on her thoughts and what is happening in her life. Her boyfriend Laurence is convinced his grandmother is part of a gang smuggling diamonds in the UK and he is investigating the matter.

There are so many characters in this book and they are all colourful and different. Not just different from each other but different from most characters you read in books. They are all described vividly and we get to see their good and not-so-good actions and thoughts.
I adored Louisa Jepp who proves that one can never be too old to start a gang and smuggle diamonds in bread loaves. It feels that unique characters were hand-picked, thrown together in a small arena and put through various challenges. And no, this isn't a prequel to The Hunger Games. Though how awesome would a Hunger Games book written by Muriel Spark be? No, really, think about it!

The writing is quite simply exquisite. There is so much personality running through the pages that I can't wait to pick up Muriel Spark's other books. There is wit, irreverence, playfulness, as well as musings on human nature and life. I feel that by seeing the darker traits of the characters, we're given a glimpse into who they really are and we can't help seeing them as flawed human beings. Except Mrs. Hogg who is just plain evil *shudders*

The book is also a metafiction because of the story in the story. Caroline seems to hear the narrator telling the story of her life and the narrator also hears Caroline's remarks on the storytelling. It gives an original twist on an already unique book.

There are many topics in this book (religion, mental illness, language...) and they are balanced by the deadpan writing and some truly comical scenes. I felt it was such an effective way to talk about such serious topics in this manner as it jolts the reader into paying more attention to what is being said.

There is A LOT happening in this short book and I still can't believe it was published in the 1950s. I'm really happy I set myself this challenge because Muriel Spark's books are an amazing - and timely - discovery for me. The book has already been a great source of inspiration (for writing and reading) and I can't wait to discover all her other books.



Also head over to the New York Times website where you can read articles about Muriel Spark and reviews of her books [here].