A prayer for Owen Meany

 I had never read any John Irving novels before this and didn’t really know what to expect. Lots of people had recommended Irving to me so it was nice to receive this novel as a birthday present just before my year of reading from home began. Although this was an intriguing novel from the start it was a novel that I grew to love the more I read.

John Wheelwright makes an interesting narrator of events switching between the present day (1987) and events from his life in the 50s and 60s. As a reader, and similarly for the characters in the novel, the main focus and person of interest is the strangely compelling Owen Meany. At the start of the novel he is just a small, squeaky, annoying school boy and little by little, as the people around Owen grow to love him and his peculiarities, so did I as a reader. Owen Meany is established as a curious character from the very start, not only because of his strange appearance, but because the reader knows from the very start that he is responsible for the death of John’s mother. Despite this it is subsequent events such as Owen’s performance in The Gravesend Players production of A Christmas Carol and his role in the local church’s production of the Nativity that solidify him as a creepy but ethereal character. A particularly entertaining event in the novel is how Owen enacts his revenge on his headmaster Randy White; his prank is superb and is enacted in Owen’s own inimitable style yet ultimately leads to his expulsion from Gravesend Academy.

One of the main themes in the novel is religion  and throughout the whole of the novel is Owen’s unwavering idea that God has a divine plan for him and the obsession he develops with the date of his own death. John Wheelwright’s relationship with religion is less straightforward and the spiritual journey he experiences makes for an interesting comparison with Owen’s. With this in mind Irving’s opening lines are especially powerful and begins to hint at the complex relationship that plays out between John and Owen:

‘I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice -not because of his voice,

or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death,

but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany’

Overall A prayer for Owen Meany takes the reader on a real emotional journey. It is not only funny and entertaining but also serious and thought provoking and I look forward to reading some more Iriving in the future.


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A Moveable Feast

 My copy of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast is particularly special to me as I bought it on my first trip to Paris a few years ago and was one of my souvenirs from Shakespeare & Co. It stayed on my shelf until this summer when I was lucky enough to visit Paris for a second time so I though it apt to take my copy of A Moveable Feast with me (I know that this was a real cheesy book geek thing to do!). It was great to be able to sit in cafes, stroll along the Seine and generally mooch about the city and then read about Hemingway’s own experiences in ‘A Good Cafe …’ or ‘People of the Seine’. I found the chapter on Fitzgerald particularly interesting and as a fan of Fitzgerald’s work I found it gave an insight into his character, the good and the bad, which I had not really explored before. Despite this memoir being published after Hemingway’s death, and the issues surrounding the editing and various draft forms of these chapters, I still found it to be the perfect companion when enjoying my own travels around the city.

N.B: If you are a Hemingway fan (or even if you’re not)  there is a good blog which was recommended to me by a friend entitled Lists of Note . I’m a compulsive list maker myself as well as a book geek so I’m definitely a fan of this one!

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The Big Sleep and Other Novels

 This a collection that I have been dipping in and out of over the course of the last year and have absolutely loved reading. As well as The Big Sleep the collection contains Farewell My Lovely and The Long Good-Bye and I was hooked from the very beginning.  Chandler’s way of describing people and places is great as I was instantly transported to 1940s California with the narrative playing out as a film noir in my head. I loved the character of Philip Marlowe in all three novels and would be hard pushed to pick an overall favourite from the collection. I enjoyed the scrapes that Marlowe found himself in and the continuous ducking and diving, treading a fine line between upholding the law and criminality. His character juxtaposed with the California showbiz elite and ultra rich is an entertaining and sometimes explosive mix as he is sought out to help pick up the pieces, whether it be the ‘wild’ daughters of General Sternwood or the dysfunctional marriage of Eileen and Roger Wade. It was also interesting to explore some of the social context to these stories and particularly biographical details about Chandler himself. I definitely want to reread this selection again as well as seeking out some others – it made me realise how much I enjoy reading detective fiction most particularly the American ‘hard-boiled’ style penned by Chandler and his contemporaries.

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A Short History of Nearly Everything

 Despite not being a regular reader of non-fiction books I was particularly drawn to Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything after reading his book on Shakespeare. I find his style funny and entertaining to read and quite fancied revisiting the subject of science, particularly after GCSE exams all those years ago managed to squash my interest almost completely!

This book has taken me a number of years to finish -which whatmariadid can testify to as I bought it in her company before she headed to NZ! It hasn’t been a chore to read this book or anything like that, though a version with pictures and diagrams might have helped me along in hindsight, but my attention span for reading non-fiction is much shorter than when I read fiction. Even the humour of Bill Bryson could not keep me reading beyond a chapter per sitting whereas with fiction texts I am the kind of person who will quite happily spend a whole day(s) reading (with a bit of eating and sleeping in there too).

Despite the reported errors and inaccuracies (not that I know enough about science to have noticed these) I did enjoy reading this book, albeit with a longer time scale than most others, and it was a good one to dip in and out of between fiction reads.

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IQ84: Book One and Book Two

 I can’t believe that I managed to hold off reading this one until the summer! I spent the first half of this year eyeing my copy of IQ84 on the shelf, desperate to read it but knowing that I needed a nice, relaxing, work-free chunk of time to enjoy it! I totally loved reading this book! I knew that I would as I’m more than a little bias after being introduced to Murakami by a couple of friends (whatmariadid and fromtherooftops).

The novel tells the story of Aomame and Tengo with alternate chapters showing events from their point of view. As soon as Aomame leaves the safety of her taxi to climb down an emergency/maintenance stairwell on the busy Tokyo Expressway I knew it was going to be like Alice heading down the rabbit hole and I couldn’t wait to read on!

When the reader first meets Aomame the first impression is of a confident, conservative business woman. As the story continues we learn that her ‘business’ is as a killer and that the circumstances in which she came about this profession is far from straightforward. Alongside this Aomame has begun to notice strange things about her surroundings traced back to the moment when she climbed down the stairwell on the Expressway. Tengo in the meantime is a maths teacher at a prep school, a quiet, awkward individual whose main aim in life is to become a published author. Approached by his editor Komatsu, Tengo reluctantly agrees to edit a manuscript submitted for a literary contest by a young girl named Fuka-Eri. Tengo becomes troubled by the task of editing the manuscript, not only because it is breaking the rules of the competition, but because he can feel himself being drawn to the enigmatic girl Fuka-Eri and the strange tale she tells in ‘Air Chrysalis’. As the story unravels so does Aomame and Tengo’s view of the world as fiction and reality begin to merge and 1984 becomes IQ84.

I totally loved every second of reading this, hence why I’ve not given away too many spoilers in the synopsis above, and I can’t wait to read IQ84 Book Three!! A particularly good thing about my self imposed book ban is that I’ve had to wait to read Book Three just like Japanese readers did (it was published around a year after Book One and Book Two!) Although my book buying has been curbed by my year of reading from home I can’t wait to get my hands on this one and see how the story ends!

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A Discovery of Witches

  This novel is one that I received as a birthday present just before my self imposed year of reading from home. I managed to save this one up, along with Murakami’s IQ84, as one of my summer reads. This also highlights how rubbish I have been with the blogging as I’ve had this post languishing in my drafts since August!

Although A Discovery of Witches is not literature with a capital ‘L’ it is an entertaining read and keeps you hooked from the beginning. I like the fact that the main characters are academics, with Oxford University providing the backdrop to the story, and the historical feel that Harkness brings to the novel. This is a story of witches, vampires and daemons and an old bewitched manuscript called Ashmole 782.

Diana is a witch, Matthew is a vampire, and they are brought together by the various wranglings and secrets the manuscript is said to hold. Obviously they begin to fall in love, obviously the love is forbidden by their own kind but it makes for a real entertaining page turner.

Trashy might be a bit of a harsh way of describing this novel, and it doesn’t take anything away from how much I enjoyed it, but the best way of summing up where this novel fits is as a Twilight for ‘grown ups’ with a bit less sex appeal than the True Blood series. However, will I be reading the next in the trilogy? YES!! (though I didn’t realise I was being sucked into reading a trilogy when I started!) and there is the excitement of a film adaptation in the pipeline too!

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Tick, Tock

My year of reading from home is drawing to a close! I may have been spectacularly rubbish with keeping my blog updated but I have been unwavering in my goal and have not purchased a single book for myself this year. I have even managed to stick to my rule about borrowing books -the rule I set myself was that I could borrow books after I had reached the six month mark (a bit of a get out clause I suppose!) or borrow books at any point in the year if I required them for work purposes.


Books borrowed for work: Resistance, Owen Shears; Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, Roddy Doyle; About a Boy, Nick Hornby; Hobson’s Choice, Harold Brighouse; An Inspector Calls, J.B Priestley and A Taste of Honey, Shelagh Delaney.

Books borrowed to read for pleasure: Oblivion, Anthony Horowitz. I managed to get to the end of October before borrowing my first book!

Its been a long while since my last blog post but I have been busy reading and back in the summer (it seems like a lifetime ag0) I was able to while away the time by reading some of the following: A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness; The Big Sleep and Other Novels, Raymond Chandler; A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway; A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving; IQ84 Book One and Two, Haruki Murakami and A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson.

My aim is to try and blog on as many of these as possible before the year is out (tick, tock) and reflect on what is to be gotten from a year of reading from home and where I go from here!

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