Sunday, 21 October 2012

REVIEW: 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' by Stephen Chbosky

Since the film recently hit the cinemas I thought it would be timely to review The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I haven't seen the film, but I do really want to. Please let me know in the comments what you thought of it if you've seen it.

What's it about?
The main character who calls himself Charlie is about to begin his first year of high school and feels apprehensive due to the recent suicide of his only good friend Michael. He doesn't feel he can talk to his parents or siblings, as the only person in the family who understood him was his Aunt Helen who died on Charlie's seventh birthday. At school he soon befriends two seniors- Sam and Patrick, who along with his English teacher, introduce Charlie to many new experiences.

What did I think of it?
This is an extremely popular and well loved novel, but it fell a bit flat for me. I found the idea that a rather weird and shy freshman had become such good friends with seniors rather unrealistic, and I think that disconnected me from the novel a little. Also it reminds me of The Catcher in the Rye which I hated, and Before I Die which I wasn't blown away by either. It's a genre that I don't seem to get on with too well.  Despite this, I did like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, there is something special about this book, and I can understand why it is a favourite book for a lot of people. 

The novel is presented in form of letters from Charlie to an anonymous friend, who he hears the girls at school talking about fondly.  I thought the epistolary form of the novel worked very well, and I soon felt I was the 'Friend' that these letters were addressed to.  In these letters you learn about the personal growth of Charlie through the many new things he experiences, leading to him feeling that he doesn't have to be a wallflower. The letters document all all Charlie's observations, feelings and activities. The letters are jammed pack with popular culture, with songs, films and literature playing a large part. I really liked the use of literature and songs in the book. The letters also deal with friendship, suicide, abuse, sex, drugs and depression. From the letters you can see the development of Charlie's relationships with the other characters in the novel. I particularly liked seeing the relationship he had with his sister change and develop, and gradually learning about his past. I'm still unsure how I felt about his relationships with Sam and Patrick. I enjoyed the scenes between them but in the back of my head I constantly had that nagging feeling that in real life it would never happen. 

It's is a very commonly quoted novel, and I understand why. It contains lots of beautiful and sometimes quite deep quotes. Charlie's voice is very striking, and is a highlight of the novel for me. It is child-like yet at the same time wise and adult. Charlie makes observations which we often take for granted and it is quite moving to hear his remarks on these occasions. For instance: 

"The fact that one of these ladies was my mom made me particularly sad because my mom is beautiful. And she’s always on a diet. Sometimes, my dad calls her beautiful, but she cannot hear him."

This quote rings incredibly true for a lot of women and I know it frustrates and saddens me. Probably the most common quotes  from Perks are : We accept the love we think we deserve.” and  “And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.

Chobosky's writing is excellent. The humour is very dry, and the whole novel is incredibly touching. I found the second half of the book far more enjoyable than the first. It took awhile to get used to Charlie and let my doubts go, but by the end I was definitely moved, and feeling rather emotional!  I think this is a novel that requires a re-read to appreciate fully.

I think everyone should read this book, you may not love it (I didn't) but I think it is an experience that one should have, especially adolescents.


Goodreads Reading Challenge
This book is number 13 out of 50

Friday, 12 October 2012

REVIEW: 'The Casual Vacancy' by J. K. Rowling

One fact you probably don't know about me is that I'm a gigantic Harry Potter fan. I would say I was part of the original HP generation, aging at a similar rate to Harry and his friends, as the books were released. Since I am such a huge fan of Harry Potter, there was no way I would be able to resist reading The Casual Vacancy. Part of me wanted to resist but I was curious and I was going to see J.K Rowling at the Cheltenham Literary Festival read from The Casual Vacancy, talk about the book and answer audience questions. I had to read it!

I had a wonderful time at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, meeting J.K. Rowling and having my book signed was a dream come true, and it was fascinating to hear her talk about her book. Whilst I was there I also saw Benedict Cumberbatch talk about making BBC Sherlock. A great event, and I recommend the Cheltenham Literary Festival to all book enthusiasts.

What's it about?
When Barry Fairbrother suddenly dies in his early forties, the outwardly idyllic village of Pagford is shocked. Behind closed doors of Pagford, there is always a war going on between husbands and wives, parents and teenagers, teachers and pupils. Barry's death leaves a casual vacancy on the parish council, which causes the largest war that Pagford has ever seen. 

What did I think of it?
I had no idea what to expect with this book. I simply read it because it was written by J. K. Rowling. I knew it would be nothing like Harry Potter and I was proved correct. The foul language was one of the greatest surprises.  I didn't expect so many F words or C words!

At first I wasn't sure if I'd get into it, but after awhile I was sucked into it all. There were some characters' storylines that I preferred, and some I struggled to care about (Gavin). I thought the book brought to light some challenging issues, for instance one character is the troubled daughter of a drug addict, trying desperately to prevent her younger brother being taken into care, whilst another teenage character is struggling with self harm. There are also some very unpleasant family relationships and the old mother-in-law issues. I didn't expect any of that but gave the book a bit of grit.

In essence this book is a character study similar to old nineteenth century literature. There isn't much in the way of plot other than the election of a new councillor and the debate over who should be responsible for the council estate on the edge of Pagford called the Fields and it's addiction clinic. The novel focuses on around 17 or 18 characters of several different generations and upbringings. It examines the theme of responsibility, and the impact each action has on others and the character themselves.

There is also a theme of redemption. J.K. Rowling herself said that she thought only two of the characters beyond redemption- Simon and Obbo. The others all have some sort of goodness in them. Her favourite character is Fats, who is a rather unpleasant teenage boy trying to deal with the fact his father possibly hates him. I was somewhat surprised as I disliked Fats- I felt sorry for him, but not enough to like him as a character. My favourite character in the book is Krystal, who is a teenage girl living in the Fields, with a heroin addicted mother.

The novel is fairly heartbreaking in places but there are definitely plenty of funny and comical moments.

This book is very much for those who enjoy delving into characters and are not plot driven readers. If you like a linear fast moving plot with a few central characters (much like Harry Potter), then this is not the book for you. If however you do like a slower book that examines characters more intimately then you'll probably enjoy it.  


Goodreads Reading Challenge
This book is number 12 out of 50