books · Dystopian · fiction · literature · review

Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan

At times of political uncertainty, dystopian fictions seems to appear more frequently. It’s through fiction that we can attempt to explore our own issues in another time and place. A distraction as it were of today’s issues.

Machine’s Like Me does just that. Instead of today’s political issues, we’re transported to an alternative 1980s London. Familiar enough so we recognise the world we’re in. Different enough to allow us to question the future. Current issues are very much weaved into Machines Like Me: the climate crisis, war and the fear of losing our jobs to technology. There are still the human issues on love and friendship but perhaps the biggest question of all is what makes us human?

Can humanity be created?

Charlies comes into some money, he could have bought a house, instead he craved a companion. One of the very must human machines, he openly stated he wanted an Eve the female version, but wasn’t quick enough to secure one. He brings home Adam instead.

Adam’s traits can be programmed, he can be customised to be the ‘perfect human’ depending of course, what we each consider to be the best traits in others. But Charlie halts in making Adam into his idealised human, after all, humans are created with a mixture of two people, he therefore chose half of Adam’s traits and asks his upstairs neighbour, Miranda to choose the other half. Thus making Adam more human.

But Adam is not human and that causes its own problems. He’s owned by Charlie, he’s not truly his own person. He’s restricted with what he can and cannot do, he can be switched off at a moment’s notice… Or he could until Adam begins to learn to overcome the restrictions humans have placed on his technology.

Machine’s Like Me made me question our human traits, behaviours and restrictions. Our freedom of choice is one of the biggest things you could argue makes you truly human. But these freedoms are always restricted to a degree through the society we live in.

There’s fears of what the future can hold. Are technology advances too fast in today’s world? Is it making us lazier, more forgetful, more dependant on having the world’s information at our finger tips? Is it also making us more demanding, for something more, something we can fully control?

You won’t get the answers in this book, but it will make you question the world that might be. That could be. We are, after all, the race that has created these problems for ourselves, and it is our responsibility to view how they can impact the world, before it it too late.

The details:

  • Published in paperback: 5 March 2020
  • RRP: £8.99
book review · books · fiction · literature · review · Shakespeare

Hag-Seed

Margret Atwood introduces her Shakespearean spin-off in this clever tale; beautifully captivating the strength and hope of human life.

We begin with the Felix putting on The Tempest at a Canadian theatre festival, but things quickly don’t go to plan. While he is ousted by a colleague he goes off the grid for a quiet life, plotting revenge as he goes. His own daughter, Miranda, echoed as a ghost in his small abode follows him as he begins to work under a pseudonym.

The story opens out into a tale of hope, of humans pushed to the edge as Felix begins a production of the Tempest inside a correctional facility. Inspiring the inmates to put on the show in time for a visit from his previous colleague Tony. A slice of revenge served twelve years later… what could possibly go wrong?

A clever portrayal of human emotions wrapped around one of Shakespeare’s famous plays, it’s certainly one to read.

book review · books · classics · fiction · literature · reading · review

Love Story

We are surrounded by love stories before we even learn to read; fairy tales and Disney princesses condition our expectations of true love. It’s an emotion that influences every tale, evert text and narrative as we try to define this complex emotion.

Erich Segal’s Love Story is an American classic, Jenny and Oliver are an unsurprising couple brought together from two different paths in life. But the power of love is something that is beyond human comprehension. It’s a tale of love and loss; of gaining parental approval and choosing your own way in life.

There is something in Segal’s writing that manages to capture the character’s depth across the short tale. The writing is at times brutally honest in its depiction of the unfair problems of life, but also the moments of pure happiness are intertwined with more romantic prose.

If you’re looking for a short novel for an upcoming summer holiday — this is certainly one to read.

fiction · literature · reading · review

Swing Time

This novel is an incredible depiction of friendship; of differences and similarities, competition and support. It begins in London at a dance class where two girls come together through their aspiration to be dancers and similarities in skin colour.

It’s a bold book that covers race and class, poverty and the rich, mixing each world together with tremendous ease. Smith captures the unique pull of Africa, the sense of community and spirit that embodies the narrative, in contrast to the bright lights of New York and London. There’s a feeling of authenticity in her writing, a world totally believable and accessible to anyone who opens the page.

The novel is able to explore friendship with accuracy, something that not many narratives tackle. It’s a relationship that is often tried and tested, and the separation that follows is difficult to overcome; when two very different paths are chosen, it’s hard for them to merge together once more.

This may have been the first Zadie Smith novel I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last.

books · fiction · review · writing

The Wonder

the-wonderHaving been encapsulated with Emma Donoghue’s writing since reading Room, a must if you’re yet to read this masterpiece. The Wonder takes us on an altogether different journey, one of mystery, religion, and a suspected lie.

We move back to the 19th century across the Irish Sea with Lib, a Nightingale Nurse, who has been chosen to watch the miracle of the fasting girl. Suspicion is clear from the beginning of this tale. It’s not possible to live without food, certainly not to have survived four months on a daily spoonful of water.

Through Donoghue’s writing we become absorbed in the small Irish village life, and a mystery that seems impossible to discover. Lib’s matter-of-fact mannerism allows her narration to appear honest, as she tries to make this miraculous girl eat again. It’s a tale that puts belief and religion into the structure of this girl’s world, unearthing additional secrets at each turn.

Based upon the stories of the real fasting girls dotted throughout Irish history, this novel brings together the moral questions and desire for forgiveness that will cross most of our paths. It shows that things are never truly what they seem, life is full of secrets.

It’s certainly an intriguing read.

books · fiction · literature · reading · storyteller

Thoughts on the storyteller

There’s an aspect of life that we often find hard to explain. We may understand the  expectations of life, yet we are often left searching for the meaning.

Before you assume this is a philosophical questioning of life, the world, and the universe. It isn’t. I’m talking on a slightly smaller scale. Instead I reach for literature, theatre, film or music as a manner of expression. They hold the form of storytelling at their core, a manner of expressing life as we know it, but managing to turn it upside down too. It gives us a comparison. A metaphor if you prefer, for the heart of life.

Literature allows us to escape to a new story, but one that holds enough similarities to make it appear real — elements that hold meaning and parallels to our own lives. It gives us a platform to feel, to love, and to learn. It turns the everyday into the adventure we crave. Literature places this all back into perspective, we view another life, a story, and compare it to our own. We give an interpretation on the story placed in front of us, an interpretation that we wish to mirror in our own lives; big or small. Afterwards we decide to follow our own dreams, and be above all, the very best versions of ourselves.

If literature can tell us all of that, and be a form of education, inspiration, and entertainment it’s something we maybe should hold in higher esteem.

book review · books · fiction · literature · review

The Little Paris Bookshop

Sometimes I feel as though I can never find a good book, that’s probably why I reread my favourites again and again. But when I spotted The Little Paris Bookshop sat upon the shelves, I thought I couldn’t go too wrong.

The Little Paris Bookshop was an encapsulating read, comfortably set within a bookshop itself (could the setting be more perfect?) it takes you on a tale of adventure, love, and time. Although this bookshop is not one you’re used to walking into off the streets. The Literary Apothecary in a barge bookshop, and its owner can tell what book you require — without any previous description.

Ultimately the best thing about a barge bookshop is its ability to travel. The adventure of Jean is certainly amusing in his decision to cast off without any money, ensuring all necessities must be exchanged for books. Yet, there are more serious undertones to the novel, as Jean desperately travels to seek his forgiveness 20-years too late. The unopened letter previously forgotten holds a past that must be revisited, with intriguing turns to the tale.

This is a witty and funny book at times, with some serious questions on life and death, a book for those who seem to have read everything.

fiction · Harry Potter · literature · London · performance · review · Theatre · West End

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has claimed its place as the play of the year — it is quite simply magic.

hp-the-trioI am more than happy to admit that I am a Potterhead, I’ve read the books more times than I can count, watched the films; I’ve been to the studio, the wizarding world in Orlando, and most of the UK film locations too. So of course, I found myself online last year waiting patiently in the queue for tickets of J.K.Rowlings eighth story.

Wow, just wow, it was worth the wait.

From the emergence of familiar faces, characters we’ve seen grow up to the new; Albus and Scorpius create a duo based on strong friendship and a desire for justice. It’s a story that holds parallels to the series, that of bravery and friendship but also unexpected twists and turns. We return to some of the most memorable times of Harry’s world, in a totally new light, exploring the manner in which Harry, Ron and Hermione fight with the past. But this is truly a tale of Albus and Scorpius and a lesson on magic’s restrictions in today’s world. Albus’ determination mirrors Harry’s own adventures of bravery, and at times disobedience, with one of times biggest lessons to learn.

The theatrical side of this production is really where the play outshone. I’ve never witnessed such clever incorporations of dance, choreography and scene changes — allowing the story to flow continuously.

hp-hogwarts

Yet it is the magic of the show that takes centre stage, perhaps it’s the magic of theatre, the belief of the audience or the Harry Potter world the audience knows and loves. Spells from the good-old expelliarmus, to duels between Harry and Draco were dotted through the performance. My favourites included the use of polyjuice position, I still don’t understand how it happened on stage, to transporting into the Ministry of Magic in the famous red telephone box, and of course the use of floo power. Magic as I have never seen albus-and-scorpiusit before.

Writing about a show can never do it justice, especially a play embedded with magic from start to finish. Sam Clemmett captures Albus’ attributes perfectly, his sidekick Scorpius, Anthony Boyle, and their friendship is one of the strongest I have ever seen on stage. The golden trio are, of course, perfectly cast and captured. A production that shines with talent.

I laughed, I cried and I wanted to head straight back in for more. This was a most magical experience, brilliantly portrayed on stage — the perfect extension to Harry’s story.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is playing at The Palace Theatre, London – currently sold out until 2017 (with more tickets coming soon!). You can read about my ponderings of the play, and other Potter reviews here.

book haul · books · classics · fiction · language · literature · war

September Book Haul

September is in full swing, and unlike the rest of the working world I’m only starting to admit that summer is over. My third and final year has arrived, so here’s a selection of what I’ll be reading across my first semester. img_7932

My first module focuses on the First World War – the literature from within it and also the literature that reimagines the war. This seems to cover quite a range of literature, film and TV (of which Downton Abbey’s involvement may have persuaded me to pick this course). It’s interesting to view the literature that covers such a complex time across the century; from the days of post war Britain to the celebrations surrounding the centenary.

Engaging and a little different to the literature I’ve encounter so far is my experimental literature course; more specifically women’s experimental literature. It covers questions on how women’s writing must differ in its position as experimental and the often misconception that only women’s writing can hold feminist concepts. It’s trying to move away from viewing experimental writing as a failure, and instead show how literature can take any form, genre or purpose.

As you can see I’ve got quite a bit of reading to do as the nights begin to draw in, what are you reading this autumn?

book review · books · fiction · review

The Help

the-help-stockettHaving just picked up The Help for the fifth time, I thought it was worthwhile putting pen to paper as to why I keep coming back to this book.

There’s something unique to Stockett’s writing that transports you instantly back to 1960’s Mississippi. Whether it’s Skeeter, Aibileen or Minny narrating we’re pulled back to a time of harsh segregation and a desire to alter the perspective of America’s racists.

I love how this book describes not only the real-time struggles of a coloured maid in the deep south of America, but the hope and resilience of people coming together. It’s a testament of friendship, hope and exceptions. It relies on a group of women willing to risk everything for a chance at making a difference.

It’s a book of defying the society we live within, that shows no matter how small, we can all make a difference.