Book Review – The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R Carey

Book Review – The Girl With all The Gifts by M.R Carey

If you are a regular reader (and thankyou ever so much for stopping by!) you’ll know that I recently  joined a post-apocalyptic book club. Well I went to the second meet-up this week and we discussed The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R Carey. The overall consensus was that we really enjoyed the book, thinking that it started off extremely strong and whilst some of the plot developments might employ a few too many zombie-story tropes the characters, for us, redeemed it.

The novel starts by introducing us to Melanie, who just like any other little girl loves stories, enjoys going to school and dreams of growing up and becoming a beautiful princess. However Melanie is not like other children. Along with her classmates she is infected with  Ophiocordyceps unilateralis a parasitic fungus which turns its host into a zombie-like creature with a craving for human flesh. The rest of Britain has been virtually wiped out by the spread of this virus; however some infected by the fungus – all of them children – maintain their mental functions, existing in a state somewhere between the ‘hungries’ and the humans. The classroom Melanie is in is on an Army base where an array of teachers aim to see how much cognitive function the children retain.

Miss Justineau is the children’s favourite teacher. With them secured into wheelchairs and Miss Justineau covered up with an e-blocker that prevents her scent from reaching the children, she teaches them about Greek Mythology as well as countries and cities of a civilisation that once was. When the bases resident scientist, Caroline Candwell decides that the only way to discover the root of the fungal infection is to kill and dissect all of the children – Miss Justineau steps in to save Melanie. As she confront Caldwell the base is attacked by junkers (other survivors, who are not part of the Army) . They have driven vast herds of hungries into the base – destroying their defences as well as wiping out the majority of surviving humans. Melanie, Miss Justineau and Caldwell are unexpectedly thrown together and as they escape are joined by two military men. Because of what Melanie is – the two men want to kill/abandon her; however (albeit due to different motives) Miss justineau and Caldwell convince them to keep her with them. They reach a compromise and muzzle her – setting off on an attempt to reach a place where they believe there to be survivors – the Beacon.

What I really liked about this book was the character of Melanie; she develops so much throughout the story. Initially we meet an exceptionally bright young girl who has no memory of the world outside of the space she occupies – instead she gains her information from old textbooks and pieces together mythology to make sense of her world. When she realises what she is – a hungry – she soon begins to notice what separates them and her, and even manages to control her hunger. By the end of the novel we realise how important these hybrid children are to man’s continuation, and more specifically how important Melanie is – as she has learnt about the past and is thus able to inform the future.

As a book club we also enjoyed how well thought out the fungal parasite was – having all seen the articles about how a similar parasite exists within ants. The parasite explained why the hungries would congregate together – something which always I have always queried in zombie movies. Drawing ideas from nature, animals often congregate to reproduce and that is what this parasite motivates within the hungries, when mature they congregate in order that the fungi might grow together and thus release the spores needed to infect more victims.

Have any of you read this novel? Who was your favourite character? I have to admit that I had a soft spot for Caldwell – even though she was totally inhumane she was so so dedicated and determined to do what she believed was right that I couldn’t help but grudgingly like her.

Becqui

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite writers, there is something about the dystopian worlds she creates that draw me in and her description is so uncannily precise yet strange enough to create a slightly off-kilter image. I have read The Handmaid’s Tale several time, and decided that as I enjoy it so much I should give it a re-read and review it. It’s a sign of a good book when you can re-read it and enjoy it just as much as the first time – and The Handmaid’s Tale did just that for me! I think this time small details stood out to me, such as Atwood’s descriptions, and I took pleasure in these more than the story.

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The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel, set in a future where due to excessive levels of pollution as well as a virulent sexually transmitted disease fertility levels have dropped, and the women that do fall pregnant often miscarry or deliver ‘unbabies’ – so deformed they won’t live. In addition to this a movement called ‘The Sons of Jacob’ has overthrown the United States Constitution and instituted a patriarchal, compulsory Christian regime – with the pretext of a focus on society multiplying.  Society is segregated by class, and within the classes by gender – with each person’s role being visibly shown by their clothing. Military men  and their wives have the highest standing; they are given concubines /handmaids (women who have been proven fertile) and are also served by Marthas (women too old to bear children) as well as men who are of such low standing that they are not given a women. If a handmaid fails to bear children in a designated time, or commits any other crimes – such as having any kind of relationship or doing a prohibited activity such as reading – then she is shipped off to the ‘Colonies’ where felons undertake dangerous work such as clearing up radioactive waste.

Offred is the protagonist in this tale, a handmaid old enough to remember the time before when she lived with her husband and her daughter. The narrative flits between the present day and he past – so we catch glimpses of the situation and how it builds up to the regime in which she is living. Through her we learn how women’s rights are slowly stripped away, their bank accounts are closed down and they are made redundant – so that when the overthrow happens they are virtually powerless.  In her current position Offred is a handmaid; proven fertile she has intercourse with the Commander at designated times – in a strange ritual which involves her lying in between him and his wife. This is her only role, the rest of the time she exists in a kind of limbo – unable to have friendships, or any entertainment such as reading.

As the book progresses the relationships within the household change. Offred’s Commander begins to invite her into his study on an evening, offering her forbidden luxuries such as hand cream and magazines. At the same time The Commander’s wife – worried that her husband is sterile has Offred sleep with their driver in the hopes of them conceiving a child. Offred’s anxieties about being caught doing something illicit (as any relations outside of the prescribed copulation with the Commander are forbidden) are compounded when her waking partner confides in her that she is part of an underground movement.

I remember my first read of the book and I  galloped through it,  so caught up with the world Atwood had created. One aspect which really interested me was how the society recognises the frustrations the women must feel – being banned from so many things – and thus provides safe outlets for this energy. At births, which are such a rare occasion, all the handmaids and wives in the neighbourhood gather – there is illicit alcohol, and because it is a celebration they have respite from their chores. The second occurs during a public hanging that all the handmaids must attend. In it a man is accused of a brutal rape as a result of which the victim miscarried – and his punishment is a Particicution; which means that the handmaids bludgeon him to death.

On this re-read Atwood’s description stood out to me and kept me thinking about what they impart to the meaning of novel . For example Offred describes a young man’s face as being like the pale skin underneath a scab. Similarly when looking at the colours of tulips, she sees the darker pink as if it was a wound. These images are unsettling, because of the juxtaposition we get the sense that the everyday objects she describes have become disturbing due the context they are in.

If you are interested in dystopian fiction – then this book is a must for you! Have you read any of Atwood’s books? I think I might have to have a re-read of Oryx and Crake!

Becqui

The Monday Post // The Monday Poet #4

The Monday Post // The Monday Poet #4

Hello hello hello! So the eagle-eyed amongst you might have noticed that somehow my weekly round-up has slipped a day – from Sunday to Monday. It’s totally my own fault, I have had an incredibly hectic past few days consisting of the boyfriend’s birthday (and party with his family) then my own birthday followed by a trip up to Scotland for a friend’s wedding and then back again. By the time I got off the train at Piccadilly on Sunday I was too tired to do anything but curl up on the sofa in my brand new Snuggie (thanks Dan!). And I wasn’t organised enough to schedule a post either – therefore I am typing it up today!

Because it has been a week of celebrations I thought I would turn to a classic anthology I own – Penguin’s Poems for Life – which contains poems for all life’s events, from birth through to starting school, growing up, getting married, having a family of your own, and then eventually death. It is a great little volume; there are many well-known poems in there all of which suit life’s journey perfectly.  So today I turned to it, as I often do, in search of words to fit this week’s events.

The Monday Poet #4

Carmen BuganA house of stone

In the village where I was born, we wish
A house of stone to shelter the heart of the marriage

So here too, I wish you
Obstinate, strong love, unyielding and unending.

May you be in reach of each other when all seems lost,
May your tears and your smiles always happen face to face.

When you imagine that you have shared everything
May you know that you still have the rest of your lives
To do all of it again and again.

But now listen to the hurry of bells and
Look how petals of roses about the vineyard

Bring you the words, ‘husband’ and ‘wife’:
First words in your house of stone.

 The Monday Post #4

What I’ve read this week…

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: expect a review of this, one of my favourite books – soon!

Hater by David Moody: I read this as I am joining a post-apocalyptic books group and this is the first book they will be discussing.  Hater follows the dissolution of society as what starts off as an increased number of violent attacks on individuals begins to increase exponentially until these seemingly unmotivated attacks are happening all over the country. I’m excited to go to the first meet-up tomorrow, and just indulge in my love of post-apocalyptic fiction!

The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald: this was another birthday present from my lovely boyfriend! The blurb informs me that it follows a young, extremely wealthy, couple – Patch and Gloria – as they try to navigate the heady lifestyle of 1920’s New York. I find F.Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda extremely interesting – and I feel like this novel might potentially reflect some of the experiences they had together, so I am looking forward to reading it.

And the rest…

As you already know it was a pretty busy week for me! On Thursday it was Danny’s birthday, and he requested I make a traditional kids birthday tea for his family that evening. I had so much fun baking for pretty much the whole day beforehand; I made a birthday cake which was lemon sponge topped with marshmallow frosting and Lucky Charms, Rice Krispie treats, and homemade sausage rolls which I served up with loads of mini sandwiches, pizza, party rings and crisps. I think it went down pretty well. It was definitely a silly but fun night!

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Danny’s cake was a little wonky but I was still pretty happy with my efforts!

The next day (Friday) was my birthday and I got spoilt rotten. Danny got me a new Kindle, and a loose-leaf teapot as well as my first Moleskine notebook! I was so excited over the teapot and the notebook he was really concerned that I didn’t like the Kindle haha! After spending a lovely lazy morning opening presents we packed for our weekend in Scotland then got on the train. It was a long journey but the scenery was so beautiful it went surprisingly quickly.

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Beautiful scenery on the way up, the colours were so vivid!

For the wedding weekend we stayed in the Loch Lomond Arms Hotel, which was also where the wedding reception was held. It was an incredibly perfect place for the celebrations – not only did it look quirky with loads of taxidermy, tartan and antlers, but the staff were helpful and the overall atmosphere was cheerful and friendly. On the Friday night a large group of us had dinner in the hotel restaurant – I had scallops with pancetta and apple to start, followed by ‘Piggy Black’ sausages with crispy kale, creamy mash and red onion jus, and even managed a pecan pie dessert. I always say that in Manchester I miss amazing ‘pub’ food and that is exactly what this hotel delivered, which boded well for the wedding meal!

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Stuffed owls in the hotel restaurant, there was taxidermy everywhere.

This friendly atmosphere carried on into the wedding itself on the Saturday – even the priest at the church was extremely affable, making jokes and relaxing the guests. Erin (the bride) looked absolutely beautiful and the whole ceremony was lovely. Afterwards we went back to the hotel for the reception; and after another amazing meal it was time for some music from a live band. There was ceilidh dancing which despite being totally chaotic at times was the most fun I’ve ever had at a wedding reception. Even Danny loved it!! I know I have thrown a lot of adjectives at this paragraph but the wedding was spectacular, everything from the scenery (near the beautiful Loch Lomond) to the food to the friendly relaxed atmosphere that continued all though the night, was perfect. I’m sending all the best to Chris and Erin in their married life together, two lovely people who deserved such a beautiful day.

On the Sunday Danny and I spent a relaxing morning walking by the loch, before getting the train back. Phew! So after that incredible week I am ready to get my head down to some serious reading and studying. How was your week? Have any of you visited Loch Lomond before? I would love to go back, I would like to visit a lot more of Scotland if truth be told.

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One of my favourite photos from the loch, it was so peaceful and beautiful.

Becqui

Book Review: The Running Man – Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman)

The Running Man – Stephen King (Richard Bachman)

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The Running Man was first published in 1982 by Stephen King – but writing under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. I have to admit, this is only the second Stephen King novel I have read – the first was 11/22/63 which was a massive, complicated yet enthralling text.  Naively I thought that all Stephen King novels would be similar so when I ordered this one off Amazon I was surprised to see what a slim volume it was.  When I got tucked up in bed one evening and prepared to read it, I wasn’t expecting a reading marathon – yet I was wholly engrossed in the story and it was so easy to read I finished it in two hours!

Set in a dystopian America, the scene this novel paints is bleak. The world’s economy is in free-fall, there is no job security or indeed employment rights– we see how workers in menial jobs work in dangerous conditions, which result in severe injuries or even death. These conditions have created a large population of people living in poverty – unable to afford even proper food they live off supplement pills, and we see the main character’s wife resort to prostitution in order to pay for basic medical care. Bizarrely the only things that seem to be cheap and available to everyone are television, cigarettes and marijuana.

Living in these slum conditions is Ben Richards, who is currently unemployed and black listed from his relevant trade. We discover that this is because he refused to carry on working without adequate protection from the radiation he worked with that left many workers infertile, he refused to continue taking that risk knowing that his wife desperately longed for children. Now, having been sacked from his job, his eighteen month old daughter is sick with pneumonia and Richards is unwilling for his wife to continue prostituting herself in order to pay for medical care. In desperation Richards enters The Game Centre – a television station which runs twenty-four hours a day. It specialises in violent, unethical reality television programmes. One example which Richards narrates is a programme in which people with a heart problem are put onto a treadmill and rewarded with cash sums; earning more money for the longer they stay on it – for their medical bills. Inevitably many of these contestants collapse and/or die.

After vigorous medical as well as psychological testing Richards discovers he has been chosen to take part in one of the Game Centre’s most extreme games. He is to be let loose in the city and given a head start before being tracked down by a group of savage Hunters, who aim to kill him. Richards is sent on his way with some cash in his pocket, a camera and videotapes, which he is to use to make twice daily recordings which are then televised. His family receive money for every hour that he lives and if he manages to evade his pursuers for thirty days he gets set free and a jackpot of $1 billion. The current record holder for the games lasted only eight days. Armed with this knowledge Richards is released and the hunt begins…

Ok, I won’t give away what happens; suffice to say that it is a fast paced chase with sufficient twists to keep it interesting. This book wasn’t what I was expecting at all – I was looking forward to some more of the Stephen King I had already experienced – a large knotty story to get your teeth into. Instead this was incredibly easy reading with just enough of a dystopian theme to satisfy me. I woke up the morning after feeling a bit cheated that the book had passed by so quickly (does anyone else get that feeling?) but sitting down to type up my thoughts made me realise just how much I enjoyed it. So if you are looking for a novel you can easily get caught up in for a few hours without having too much of a “fluffy” read, this is the one for you!

Becqui