Singapore, Singapore | Member Since 2013
Truth be told, I felt a little duped when I first started "I Capture The Castle". It had been recommended to me by one of those "You Might Like" algorithms, and I made the purchase impulsively (and uncharacteristically) with absolutely zero research. Almost instantly I realised “Capture” was unlike any other novel I'd read before, and I was baffled by the recommendation. I'm not drawn to novels in this genre, but all I can say is that I absolutely loved every moment inside Cassandra’s journal. I even feel a small sense of loss that I won't be spending any more time with the inhabitants of Scoatney Village, who feel so incredibly alive to me now.
I've subsequently done a little research on the book, and I can see it featuring on lists like "Classics All Young Girls Should Read" etc... This makes me a little embarrassed, as I'm a middle-aged man. I suppose I can understand some dismissing this as a “charming little girls book"—it is a tad heavy on young romance, first loves, stolen kisses, exciting marriage proposals (Dear God, I'm cringing as I write). But what a pity if they did pigeon-hole it that way; it has way more to offer. It is witty, thoughtful, clever and genuinely laugh-out-loud funny at times. And the characters are so deeply drawn, I guess I didn’t mind all the accompanying histrionics.
I should say that I did live in the UK for many years, so I know my nostalgia for the English countryside enhanced my enjoyment. My favourite quote: “It came to me that Hyde Park has never belonged to London - that it has always been , in spirit, a stretch of countryside; and that it links the Londons of all periods together most magically - by remaining forever unchanged at the heart of a ever-changing town.”
Loyal fans of the book have admired this audio version, and I totally support all praise for Jenny Agutter. This is a flawless narration and I can’t imagine a better way to enjoy this book.
Oh and—by the way—I think I’ve now realized why the algorithm recommended the book to me in the first place. I had “Cold Comfort Farm” listed as a favourite, and it’s only now that I’m starting to see the synchronicities between these two novels.
I’ve seen the destructive influence of unchecked depression, and this short play — in its simplicity and honesty — is so accurately painful.
If there is such a thing as “beautiful tragedy” I don’t think you’ll find anything closer than the dialogue between Jessie and her mama.
Eeh! I mun say th’ little book be a right s’prise. Aye, true capt.
I think the word “delightful” is overused, but it’s deserved in this case. I — and my three kids aged from five to nine-years-old — really, REALLY enjoyed The Secret Garden and every character in it.
Mistress Mary (in all her contrariness) and Master Colin (in all his despicable tantrumness) are somehow exactly what the other needed, and able to bring transformational healing and hope where no other could. Some elements (especially in the beginning) are a bit politically incorrect for 2014, but the heart of this story is pure.
This particular narration by Vanessa Maroney is incredible. There is a lot of Yorkshire dialect in this book, and choosing the right narrator is very important. Maroney does a great job bringing all the characters to life, and switching back-and-forth between the incredibly broad and common Martha and the uppity Mary.
I know this is not a film review, but I can’t help mention the 1993 film adaptation directed by Agnieszka Holland. It is almost as wonderful as the book. Apart from a few pointless-but-forgivable plot changes (and the total absence of my favourite character, Mrs. Sowerby) it’s delightful — that word again — to see the stunning secret garden come to life. And the incomparably gorgeous Yorkshire moor feels less like a locale and more like an important character.
I loved this book. And I’m afraid all efforts to explain why will sound corny or gushy. You see… I shouldn’t even like this book. The two protagonists are teenagers who—despite their relative intelligence and maturity—are teenagers. Teenagers. Who actually likes teenagers? John Green apparently, but not me. I didn’t even like myself when I was teenager.
But Hazel and Gus are not normal teenagers. They are a delight; the kind of kids you’d be proud to call your own. And the kind of characters I found myself thinking about as if they were real. Yes the dialogue is a bit trite, but teenagers are inherently trite.
I’m not proud of my love for this book, but I’m not going to deny it either.
Hazel and Gus disoriented me and broke my heart right in two. In the best possible way.
And Kate Rudd’s narration is—literally—perfection. I haven’t read the text version, but my biased opinion is that Rudd’s narrated version is better.
*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
First a confession: I am a total sucker for anthropomorphism. You could dish me up the most pathetic, pointless drivel and I’d lap it up as long as the main character is a cat who thinks like a human. Or it could be a fox. Or a lion. My affliction is not speciesist. I spent the entirety of Christmas Day 1986 weeping and hitting replay on Charlotte’s Web—it was a real bummer for the rest of the family. This ridiculous Achilles Heel has continued to this day, and I can barely mutter the words “That’ll do pig, that’ll do” without tearing up. Don’t even get me started on Watership Down—“Briiiiiiight eyes, burning like fiiiiire”.
I’m so bad I couldn’t even finish the first chapter of “Art of Racing” without having a bit of a blub. But I quickly learned—and I would’ve never predicted this—this is NOT a story about a dog. It’s not even really a story about this particular dog’s (Enzo) relationship with this particular dim-witted owner (Denny). This is a story about the destruction of Denny’s family, and it just so happens that the narrator was his dog. But that narrator could’ve just as easily been Denny’s budgerigar… or his table lamp.
I couldn’t tell if Enzo’s naïve, platitudinal world-view was a brilliant character study, bringing to life the type of delusional person who refuses to see fault in their chosen idol—or just a lazy way to tell this specific story with these specific characters.
And speaking of characters—what a bunch. Dear old dense Denny, who sends his dying wife (and grieving daughter to boot) to live with her parents for—what was the reason again? And then invites a horny, up-for-it teenager for a sleepover. Sheesh. He’s not a bad person. He’s just bad at life.
And the twins! What a pair of bitter and evil old sods. Or was that just the perspective of the unreliable narrator? I guess that’s the root of my critique; was Denny really a bumbling fool and all we saw was “Denny the Superhero” through Enzo’s idol-worshipping, love-addled eyes? If that was Stein’s intention, kudos to him for writing a novel way more subtle than I’ve given him credit for. Or was “Art of Racing” really just a bunch of stale self-help —“that which you manifest is before you” — dressed-up in messy, Hollywoodesque story-telling.
I wish Stein asked my opinion on his first draft. I would’ve told him to cut it half and introduce a second act: the same story told completely from the perspective of Eve’s cat who looks on with disdain and questions every idiotic decision made by the whole jolly lot. I guess I could be speciesist after all.
For what it’s worth, the narration was pretty good.
Why David, why? Why don't I like you? I really tried, honestly I did. After I panned "Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls" everyone told me I'd started in the wrong place. Everyone told me your very best work was actually “Me Talk”, so I dutifully went back for a second round with fresh hopes and a forgiving heart.
Oh David. The uneven but occasionally funny “Diabetes” was actually better than the extremely even (i.e. never-once-interesting) drivel in “Me Talk”.
David, David, David. We really should've hit it off, but I'm afraid your anecdotes are just a little too pointless, laughless and — dare I say — truthless for me to bother with Round 3. If this is the best you have to offer, let's just agree to go our separate ways. It's not me, it's you.
Blahblahblah for the first two-thirds — the entire beginning part of this book felt like an amateur piece of pseudo-journalistic historical biography with no theme and nothing important to say. NPR’s Heller McAlpin reckons Nemesis has an “odd secondhand quality” and I couldn’t say it better.
But then — thank God — something changes. For those who’ve read the book, the turning point I’m referring to may be different to your own, but I thought things got interesting when Roth gave Bucky the impossible choice to either stay in the relative luxury and safe-haven of the Poconos summer camp [with his horny, nubile fiancé noless] or return to the sweltering, disease-ridden Newark [with its terrified kids and heartbroken parents].
At this point I was immediately reminded of the confronting themes of Ash Barker’s “Sub-merge: Living Deep in a Shallow World”. I’m talking less about the God of Sub-merge, and more of its themes: having a personal call to be countercultural; gaining our lives by losing them; taking up a “socially downward journey" among the urban poor.
Of course, this moment is just a springboard. The last third of the book explores some even more interesting themes of control, choices, community, commitment, betrayal, loss, theology and — in my opinion, most compellingly — deciding which of the burdens from our past we choose to yoke ourselves to and which we choose to cast aside.
It is this shift in Roth’s narrative that eventually saves Nemesis from itself, gives it something important to do and makes it a worthwhile listen.
Yes, I’ve been living under a rock—I only recently discovered Barnes through his most recent novel, "The Sense of an Ending" (2011). I couldn’t wait to dig into his back catalogue, and thought a sensible place to start would be the very beginning i.e. "Metroland".
Thematically, Barnes doesn’t seem to have strayed too far from his sweetspot over his 31 year career… my review for "Sense" noted themes of “memory, remorse, history, philosophy, secrets and lies” and this could literally be copy-pasted into my review of "Metroland" without arousing suspicion.
For my money, "Metroland" was more of a slowburner—a little sluggish to get moving but deeply satisfying by the end. It was profoundly uncomfortable to recognise some cringey parts of myself in Chris. But even more so to recognise bits of me in the incredibly prickly Toni.
Now that I’ve experienced Barnes’ bookend novels, I’ve concluded his true gift is in creating mundane and disappointed worlds with overt lack of sympathy that—somewhat paradoxically—leaves the reader with a sense of gentle optimism. Not a small feat.
Can’t wait to throw myself into "Flaubert’s Parrot".
As for this specific audioversion, Greg Wise is fantastic and sublime.
What a quirky little thing this turned out to be—like a collaboration between Dr. Seuss and Robert Frost. I can’t help but wonder if “The Wonderful O” features on Carol Vorderman’s must-read list?!
As an avid fan of the English language, this novella pushed all my pleasure buttons. But some of those buttons were pushed just slightly too firmly for a tad too long. As a concept piece, it could have done with some editing. However, as a work of narrative fiction it was actually pretty darn satisfying and memorable.
I believe the printed version has some delightful illustrations. So that may make a case against this audio version. But Phoenix Audio must’ve known they were competing against a multisensory print-version and decided to jazz up their audio version with (almost constant) sound-effects and soundtrack. Personally I found it enhanced the experience. And Melissa Manchester did not narrate – she performed. And it was fantastic.
This is just so damn British. I’m afraid my enjoyment for this book was enhanced a little too much by nostalgic memories of offbeat britcoms like Blackadder and (especially) Red Dwarf.
Speaking of influences I can’t help but wonder if—the very American—Futurama was partly inspired by Hitchhikers? Did anyone else notice the striking resemblance between Zapp Brannigan and Zaphod Beeblebrox? I had an image of Zapp in my mind every time Zaphod appeared on the page.
But back to Britain… when I learned the critical component of the Infinite Improbability Drive was a cup of hot tea… let’s just say it warmed my heart and provoked a spontaneous, gentle smile.
Apart from being terribly British, it’s also dreadfully amusing and easy-to-read. I loved it.
As for Stephen Fry’s narration of this audio-version --- *sigh* --- the man is a genius and has remained consistently on my list of “Fantasy Dinner Party Invitees” for the last 15 years so—obviously I would like to hack into the Audible website and somehow assign a sixth star in the category of “performance”.
To best enjoy this novel, please purchase a time-machine and travel back to 1985 when it was released. Your 1985 brain should swallow Orson Scott Card’s vision of the future more compliantly than your 2014 brain. Just a few examples:
1. Ender’s fantasy game features an “impossible-to-solve” puzzle with some poisonous liquids in cups. The solution is to kick the cups over (or some other super-inane and super-obvious action). Of course Ender solves it and—based on the subsequent dialogue between the adults who are creepily watching Ender from the shadows—we’re meant to take this as further evidence of his genius. I can only guess that in 1985, interacting with a game in this way might have seemed radical, but in 2014 games like this are played (and routinely won) by toddlers, so this entire sequence seems jarringly out-of-touch.
2. Ender’s computer retrieves a recent photo of Peter from landside, and the reader is then subjected to (unintentionally) hilarious dialogue about how this could possibly occur. Your 2014 brain suspects that Peter’s photo would be instantly and easily searchable, retrievable and re-postable from multiple social-networking sites so—again—the sequence comes across as stale.
3. The way in which Peter and Valentine create anonymous online personas and then achieve almost instant success is preposterous; their pseudonyms are even offered publication deals and syndicated columns. This may have seemed plausible in 1985, but your 2014 brain suspects that the future will host millions of online commenter’s and bloggers (both professional and amateur) all vying for public attention with billions of opinions being shared every day. The idea that two small kids (however insightful they may be) could achieve this kind of notoriety and recognition while remaining anonymous is laugh-out-loud absurd.
Don’t get me wrong… inaccurate and quaint visions of the future are kinda inevitable and not inherently bad. Sometimes looking back at what we popularly imagined the future to be can provide great interest and insight. But too much of the books plot and premise are based on these disconnects, I just found myself rejecting the entire thing.
Setting aside “the-future-is-wrong” argument, I found other issues too:
- Does Ender ever do anything so remarkable that all these sub-literate adults would be watching from the sidelines with such great interest? In the future, has every individual on the planet dropped 30 IQ points so that little Ender seems extraordinary by comparison? It’s truly baffling and bizarre.
- Card made some feeble effort to explain why Earth’s savior had to be a band of children lead by 10 year old Ender, but it was unconvincing and lazy. I spent the entire novel thinking “This is so nonsensical and pointless—just send in some trained adult soldiers”
- Playing mind-games with kids and making them believe dark and violent things about themselves has a label – it’s called “child-abuse”. I’m not prudish, but I do get disturbed when authors treat the mental health of children as a throw-away plot device. I could’ve probably overlooked this as necessary to the narrative, if I’d been swept along for the ride (as some other reviewers seemed to have been). But in the context of this silly book, I just found it unpleasant.
- The final battle sequence (with the molecular disruption device and exploding planet) is so implausible. The histrionic response from the adults was ridiculous—did they really need Ender to execute that battle? Honestly, Mazer Rackham (or anyone else with half a brain) couldn’t work that out?
I know this is not a specific criticism of the book itself, but Orson Scott Card has some pretty dodgy and archaic personal views. I won’t go into them here, but Google “Orson Scott Card controversy” if you’re interested. This cements my view that Card is one helluva confused individual and not qualified to write about the future of our society. I’m annoyed I spent any time in his world, but conversely proud of myself for enduring this tedious novel to the bitter end.
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