I read three books over the Christmas - one of which was a re-read. I adored two and alternated between enjoying and wanting to shake the third! Here are my condensed thoughts on each of them.
'Breakfast at Tiffany's' by Truman Capote
"Never love a wild thing,[...] If you let yourself love a wild thing you'll end up looking at the sky."
This was my re-read and I loved it as much the second time as the first. I loved the movie too ('Moon River' was mine and my husband’s first dance song at our wedding) but the book is a lot darker than the film and apparently Truman Capote stated the adaptation made him want to throw up! Not a glowing endorsement and I can see how he may have felt the book was overly sentimental but for me the two versions of Holly Golightly are two completely separate characters.
The book, or novella rather, follows ‘wild thing’ Holly Golightly’s whirlwind life in New York as she tries to outrun her small town past and reinvent herself as a glamorous, charming, socialite - leaving a trail of mystified jilted men, some dodgy dealings with the mob and the scent of perfume in her wake. When a writer moves into the apartment downstairs from Holly the two become friends and we begin to see the cracks in her facade appear.
Like her cat - which Holly simply calls ‘Cat’ because to name him anything else would be to stake an unfair claim over him - she is terrified of being caged up and tamed by anyone but also terrified of being alone.
I loved this book as much as on the first read - and Capote’s Holly is so much more complex than the film version. It’s really a character study of a very scared and lonely woman and can be read in an afternoon. A must-read and re-read!
'Noughts & Crosses' by Malorie Blackman
“I used to comfort myself with the belief that it was only certain individuals and their peculiar notions that spoilt things for the rest of us. But how many individuals does it take before it's not the individuals who are prejudiced but society itself?”
I’ve been reading more teen fiction lately partly because it’s nice to be able to chat to teens at work about what they’re reading and partly because I recently read the Hunger Games trilogy and it opened my eyes to how clever modern-day teen fiction can be (well aside from the final instalment in the trilogy that is!!).
I loved the concept at the heart of Noughts and Crosses - it’s set in an alternate historical reality where black people rule over white people and slavery has only recently been abolished. It revolves around two star-crossed teenage lovers - Sephy who is a Cross and belongs to the dark-skinned ruling class and Callum who is a lowly Nought. But in their world the classes don’t mix and the racial tension and prejudice begins to encroach upon their relationship. Can they find a way to be together….drum roll...
So good concept but not so good execution in my opinion. I just found the characters too underdeveloped and one dimensional and the writing too melodramatic. Maybe the Hunger Games made the romantic sub-plot a little too restrained and simmering, but Noughts and Crosses is guilty of the opposite. It felt like the relationship drove the plot points rather than the other way around - and drove it down some slightly ludicrous avenues for that matter. I’d have loved more exploration of the racial background. But having said that this probably is a good book to provoke debate amongst teenagers and maybe I’m just too old and cynical for the melodrama!
'Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage' by Haruki Murakami
"One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds. Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility. There is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed, no acceptance without a passage through acute loss."
I should probably preface this review by saying I’m a huge Haruki Murakami fan and he can do very little wrong in my eyes. So maybe this book could be accused of being a little paint-by-numbers in terms of featuring his signature checklist of characters and themes - the lonely, detached male protagonist, some musings on classical music, a beautiful woman who offers some form of redemption, and a side helping of surrealism - but if it ain’t broken don’t fix it as far as I’m concerned! The fact that I got to meet Murakami at the Edinburgh Book Festival and get my copy of this book signed also gives it a special place in my heart. (Let’s not dwell on the fact that I was so dumbstruck when standing in front of him that I was reduced to incoherent mumbling!).
The book follows Tsukuru Tazaki, who in his 30s is still haunted by his sudden and unexplained social expulsion from his close-knit gang of four school friends. The ‘colourless’ part of the book’s title comes from the fact that in the group, Tsukuru was the only one whose name did not include a colour, making him question if he contributed anything to the group dynamic in the first place or if his personality is equally colourless and bland and at the heart of the rejection.
Upon the insistence of his new girlfriend that ‘you can hide memories, but you can't erase the history that produced them’, Tsukuru sets out to find his old friends and discover why they cast him out so brutally and irrevocably.
This book is a really interesting exploration of the value and meaning of social ties and that sense of belonging. What happens to someone’s sense of self when it becomes so detached and isolated from the world around them and what effect do we have on the people closest to us in the first place?
I wrote a little about my own personality in this post a while back and how I feel I’m primarily an introvert but with extrovert tendencies, and I think that’s partly why I love Murakami’s books so much. I need a balance between being a wallflower and watching the world unfold around me and interacting with it. Most of Murakami’s protagonists in the novels I’ve read hover somewhere on the boundary between these two traits also (albeit on a more extreme level)- and while they may detach themselves a certain amount there’s still an invisible thread connecting them to the world around them and anchoring them.
The book left me with a few unanswered questions and a couple of underdeveloped plot lines but I like that it made me fill in these blanks more myself. It’s not my all-time favourite Murakami novel - but that would be a tough feat - but I found it a really absorbing and gentle read.
So what have you been reading? Any must-read gems you can recommend?