Review: ‘Prophecy’ by S.J.Parris

(This was a preview copy sent by Waterstones for reviewing, and is available for further reviews and purchasing here: http://www.waterstones.com/waterstonesweb/products/s-+j-+parris/prophecy/8009847/).

 

Despite the Elizabethan era being a time of rapid change and religious upheaval, Parris subjugates all of this to find a hero, and fails to live up to the excitement of the age.
The plotline is compelling enough, and provides a satisfying current to the novel, although by following Bruno, we follow one too many red herrings, and are only aware of the full truth within a matter of pages, leaving to a hurried resolution. However, the secrecy and duplicity is fascinating at points, as living a lie forces desperate and ingenious decisions to be made, albeit ones that lead to false conclusions up until the big reveal. It’s bothersome having to just assume people are right, with Bruno jumping to conclusions that are not proven constantly, instead of teasing us before revealing all.
Stylistically, I really didn’t enjoy the novel’s attempt to merge the contemporary with the past: the language seems more fitting to a Dan Brown novel than one supposedly set in the 16th century. The language was a bit too clunky: one moment, the intricacies of the Protestant-Catholic divide are being divulged, and the next readers are being directly addressed as if to solicit an opinion, when actually what is needed is guidance down the author’s intended path.
However, I did read through to the end, and wasn’t displeased that I did so, but this is mainly because I forgot I was reading an historical novel quite early on, instead reading it to see the plot through to the end. The biggest disappointment was the evident lack of thought towards the magic plot, which was explored in detail in the Earl of Arundel’s home and then left when it was of no more use, without a fitting conclusion asides from Fowler’s confession, where magic was seen as a ruse, a theme which could have been put to better use.
I see this novel as full of half-starts: we could see Bruno as human, but his fallibility is prevented when he resists all human desires and acts only on behalf of others; magic could be seen as psychologically real, but it is just a means to sorting out Henry Howard’s involvement; the invasion plot could be justifiable, but is left with an inadequate excuse…and so on.
I think as someone who enjoys intricacies and being caught off-guard by a storyline, this book was not for me.

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Review: ‘Mini Shopaholic’ by Sophie Kinsella

Becky's back: better or bust?

I’m an avid Sophie Kinsella fan, although the problem here is too much of a good thing: ‘Shopaholic’ was an addictive series, and despite Becky Brandon (nee Bloomwood) and her various failures, I always used to come out feeling like she deserved to be where the final chapters placed her, whether it was married or expecting a baby or shopped out (although I don’t think that one’s possible!). This book didn’t leave me feeling like that: I finished with a sense that I’d been led down too many paths with barely any resolutions.

Let’s start with the premise: it’s been two years, and Becky has a clone in the form of her daughter, Minnie. The idea of the Brandon’s as a family unit fell flat on its face: Luke was barely around, he and Becky were constantly on guard from keeping a million implausible secrets, Minnie was a half-hearted story (apart from in the company of Elinor, when she became a viable part of a storyline), and together they failed to represent a family that was succeeding by the end. Instead, a quick chat with Nanny Sue resolved Luke’s issues and he suddenly became the perfect husband and father, Becky magically resolved her shopaholic tendencies somewhere between the mannequin incident with Minnie and the party, and Minnie went from out of control to angel in six seconds flat. None of the family-oriented stories seemed to have any real substance and seemed to be resolved with no real credibility.

However, one storyline resolved this: Elinor’s. Kinsella wrote Elinor’s sections beautifully, and holding back from revealing Elinor as the party’s benefactor was perfect, as it admitted that not everything can end happily ever after, and any reunion would have compromised Elinor’s sorrowful and truly heartbreaking situation. I think this also brought out the best parts of Becky, which were sorely missed from the rest of the book: she can be utterly brilliant, respectful and act in the best interests of everyone, despite her extravagancies and often ridiculous plans. Elinor Sherman showed that it’s never too late to repent, and that sometimes love is knowing when to allow someone to live without you – and while we know that Elinor deserves no sympathy for the past, she certainly redeems herself here.

Character-wise, I missed Suze, and I think Kinsella’s presentation of Becky needed Suze to make her more realistice:  she tries to show our favourite shopaholic as independent, when she’s actually always needed those around her to grow and be shown as naive yet lovable for her efforts to us.  This is seen when Becky tells Suze she doesn’t need help with the party, and later has to crawl back – Suze allows Becky to be seen as an adult instead of a caricature.

Essentially, the plot took things a bit too far this time: yes, from previous experience we can believe that Becky would go crazy in a discount store and if she was banned from shopping, but Minnie having spent her pocket money until 2103 was insane, as was Becky’s suspension then sudden dramatically high promotion to the Board of Directors: reality mixed a bit too much with fantasy, and the movement of this borderline was a bit tedious at times, although the leaps into Becky’s far-fetched imagination are always entertaining, mainly because we’ve all had that moment when we’ve imagined something out of proportion to what is actually happening. And likewise, we’ve all had those penny-pinching moments where we’ve overspent in the cheaper shops because we thought we were saving money – oops!

I would have been interested to see how Becky coped at Nanny Sue’s academy, instead of jetting off to L.A. at the end: it seems like one extreme facing another, a land of restriction versus a shopper’s paradise, and we’ve already seen Becky in New York so the former would have been a refreshing change. While my read of ‘Mini Shopaholic’ wasn’t exactly a consumer joy, it was a nice break from a world of recession, and it hasn’t put me off reading the next one, let’s just hope Kinsella returns to her designer chic best!

Review: ‘About a Boy’ by Nick Hornby

Nicolas Hoult and Hugh Grant in the film adaptation.

Having finally read the book, I can safely say that the film version of ‘About a Boy’ got it spot on: it relates Nick Hornby’s tale of growing up perfectly.

The story is simple enough: Will is thirty-six, Marcus is twelve, and yet the latter is infinitely more adult than the former. Whilst simultaneously learning to grow-up and act their age, Will and Marcus explore issues that monopolise everyone’s lives: from learning that your parents are fallible to finding the special someone who likes you for you.

Hornby’s success comes in his language: he doesn’t try to explain everything – Fiona is depressed, we don’t know why; Will is aimless, yet there’s no reason for his lack of orientation. In fact, the only thing that truly makes sense, ironically, is Marcus: he is defined by the his surroundings – his mother and her eccentricities, his father walking away too quickly, his friends abandoning him to enjoy a bully-free existence…Despite how odd he appears, Marcus is the only character who can be fully explained. This lends legitimacy to Will and Fiona’s stories. They are able to come to their own realisations because Marcus needs them to react to him without him explicitly saying so. The shoes incident is a major example of this – Will can only realise that life isn’t as simple as wearing the right outfits by Marcus being vulnerable, and likewise Fiona can only realise Marcus’ needs when she feels like she’s losing him. It’s more what Marcus leaves unsaid than what he verbalises that enables the characters around him to finally step out of their own bubbles.

The sidestepping of the over-psychological analysis of everything feels like Hornby is stating that life isn’t always definable. By treating Fiona’s suicide as an unspoken threat, and Will’s relationship with Rachel as something that happened as opposed to over-analysing why it happened, Hornby is able to show his readers that life happens whether we like it or not, and that it is up to us to mould ourselves around these events. Telling the story from Will and Marcus’ viewpoints helps to achieve this – the two people who think least are forced to think, which creates intensity within the sometimes minimalistic information we are provided with. For instance, Fiona’s suicide is seen by Marcus as the culmination of Dead Duck Day, and by Will as an oddity occurring outside of his sphere of interest, therefore when it comes to it, both have to extend themselves to understand and cope with such events. Will’s later relationship also shows his inability to verbalise his comprehension of an alien subject – Hornby could undoubtedly talk too much about this, and fully explore the feelings and emotion of each character, but the reader is left with just enough information to think for themselves – after all, isn’t self-expansion the point of the story?

‘About a Boy’ started off, to me, as a simplistic read, but ended up being more intense than I imagined it could be: by using the two central characters with a limited view of life, Nick Hornby is able to expand both their and our horizons. One of the most poignant moments that spelled this out to me was when Rachel told us why she could never just give up on life: it would be awful to miss out.