27 September 2009

200 word review: 'Lesley Castle' by Jane Austen (Foreword by Zoe Heller)

This is a collection of Austen’s early writings, including Lesley Castle, The History of England and Catharine, or The Bower. All three works were written when Austen was about sixteen years old – and will induce envy in any budding author.

Lesley Castle is a novel composed of letters, parodying a popular style of the time. The plot is a little muddled, but you can already see Austen’s use of characterisation and exposure of hypocrisy. The History of England is another parody, in which a, “partial, prejudiced and ignorant historian,” comments on the monarchs from Henry IV to Charles I. Despite the narrator’s self-proclaimed ignorance, it actually made me think about how well informed Austen must have been to comment on each monarch, when I struggle to remember who came between Victoria and Elizabeth II. In Catharine, a story of a young lady with little wealth or family connection who falls for a rather caddish young man, you begin to see the seeds of her later works and her most famous characters.

While these works are not of Austen’s usual standard, her knowingness and observational humour is so evident that it is hard to believe they were written by a teenager.

17 September 2009

200 word review: 'Died in the Wool' by Mary Kruger

‘”A body in a yarn shop.” He snorted. “Sounds like a bad mystery novel.”’

Well, I must give Mary Kruger credit – at least she’s honest. This is a bad mystery novel.

Ariadne Evans opens her yarn shop one morning to find an old, wealthy and unpopular lady on the floor, murdered with a garrotte made of her best friend’s hand-spun yarn. Nice. The detective who comes to investigate just happens to be handsome, brooding and a good cook. It couldn’t get much cornier – but somehow it does. The dialogue is cheesy, the constant descriptions of people’s appearance reminded me of creative writing lessons in primary school, and the whole premise just seemed bizarre to me.

It’s a harmless enough novel, a no-brainer that you don’t have to think about too much. But I’m afraid I’ve read better no-brainers. I’m sure that the combination of knitting and murder mystery would appeal to a lot of women, just not me. Perhaps I would have actually got caught up in the plot had I not accurately predicted the murderer about halfway through.

There is one good thing to come out of this novel, though – it inspired me to try designing a cardigan myself!

Next book review: 'Lesley Castle' by Jane Austen

12 September 2009

Generous Journal: Carrot-Man and libraries

Well, I've been very slack with my Generous Journal recently, but thankfully that doesn't mean I've become a materialistic, resource-eating monster. I've still been trying to live a Generous life, just with nothing remarkable to say about it. But here's a few things that have been going on recently. First of all, meet Carrot-Man:

Heehee! This was part of our (very modest) carrot harvest, we only had three others sadly. But we are inundated with potatoes (weeks after harvesting them!) and runner beans, and have had a good crop of broad beans with more on the way. I've just had a lunch including salad leaves from the garden, which needed a good picking because they were starting to grow out of control. We had a few very small onions so not much better than last year there. But all in all I'm quite pleased with our progress in the garden, especially when we have very limited space and poor, shallow soil. Our indoor dwarf chilli plants are also faring well, giving us an abundance of tiny chillis to dry for future use. They had a spidermite problem recently but that's sorted now. (Tip: If you get a spidermite infestation, which is noticeable by very fine webs on your plants, spray the plants with a hose until all the webs and tiny little beasties are gone. Sorted ours out.)

So we're doing well on the grow-you-own front, bringing down our average food miles nicely. What's great is that our families are also in on the act so we can get home-grown fruit and veg from them too - I'm currently trying to think of things to do with piles of plums and greengauges!

In other Generous news, I've been side-tracked from my library-going recently, partly because of a rather disappointing trip a few months back where I couldn't really find anything good. But today I went and found loads of books I'd love to read! So once I've finished my current book, I'm going to try to only read books from my local library until the end of the year. I would do longer, but I'm bound to get a book or two for Christmas. It's a start though, and I do believe in supporting local libraries as they're very important community resources.

I'll try to post more about Generous stuff ... maybe I should start a diary so I remember when I've done something interesting ...

05 September 2009

200-word review: 'Life of Pi' by Yann Martel

I think I’ve lost my literary mojo. I should have liked ‘Life of Pi’. After all, it was the 2002 Booker Prize winner, and it’s extremely well written.

Yann Martel’s story of the childhood and coming-of-age of Piscine Molitor Patel, known as Pi, is best known as the book about a boy who gets trapped in a lifeboat with a tiger. This dismisses the fascinating part of the novel before the shipwreck, in which Pi grows up as a practising Hindu, Muslim and Christian. Not a theological standpoint I sympathise with, but interesting nonetheless, and vitally important to understanding the meaning of the novel. The bulk of the novel dealing with Pi’s time at sea is also beautifully written and, at times, engaging.

Despite that, I didn’t enjoy it. This may be because I am an animal lover with a strong sense of empathy, and some horrific things happen to animals. I also found much of the ‘at sea’ part tedious. That’s probably a literary effect to reflect the monotony of Pi’s life, but it was difficult. However, I thought the ending raised interesting ideas about belief and tolerance. But it’s definitely not a book I want to read again.

Next Book Review: 'Died in the Wool' by Mary Kruger