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The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy: And Other Stories
The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy: And Other Stories
by Tim Burton
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars A fine short story collection, 30 Dec 2013
Burton's illustrations are just as charming as the stories themselves, and together, they work brilliantly. The stories/poems are both childlike and adult in nature, which was something I really loved, as I'm a big fan of black comedy.

The characters in the author's stories are often in terrible situations, and yet the language used is breezy, conveying a sense of innocence and playfulness.

Even though this is only a little book, it is well worth the money. This collection of stories isn't the kind of thing you read once and banish to your bookshelf for forever more. Indeed, many of the stories can only really be appreciated on the second or third reading, when you start to absorb the simultaneous effects of the language used, the stories themselves and the illustrations accompanying them.

You get the sense that Burton wrote the book knowing it was different and being proud of it. The result is one of the best short story collections I have ever read. The stories are full of fun one minute and tragedy the next, both tugging at the heartstrings and making you laugh.

Essential reading.

Requiem for a Dream (Penguin Modern Classics)
Requiem for a Dream (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Hubert Selby Jr.
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A tragic masterpiece about misplaced dreams (spoilers), 16 Dec 2013
I suppose it's a bit of a strange thing to 'like' Requiem for a Dream, novel and film adaptation alike. It is of course a harrowing story about the consequences of drug addiction.

Unfortunately, I watched the film before reading the book. I say unfortunately not because the film is a bad one. In fact, it's one of my favourite films of all time. It was unfortunate because the book is even better than the film that followed, with more layers to the characters.

That's not to say that Aronofsky's adaptation is an example of surface over substance. Whilst it's true that as an Amazon reviewer brilliantly described, the film is an 'assault on the senses', it is still a tragedy, just like the book. The problem I have is with film in general, in that you only have around 165 minutes max, or in this case, 100, to get to the depths of a character.

Because whilst Requiem for a Dream has been described as the ultimate anti-drugs advert, I would argue that where the novel succeeds even more than the film is that it is also a story about dreams, and in particular, misplaced ones.

Indeed, whilst reading Hubert Selby's story, I was reminded several times of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby. In the classic novel, Jay Gatsby is always brooding over the 'green light', which is a symbol of his love for the careless Daisy Buchanan.

Sara Goldfarb's misplaced dream is to be on television. As a widow and a mother of a son, Harry, who is more interested in get rich quick schemes than tending to his increasingly isolated parent, Sara's only stimulation is her television. The television is the centre of her universe, with her watching game shows fanatically, looking up to those who appear on them.

The characters in this novel are so rich that it makes me cringe to mention something as clinical as a 'message', but I do think Selby was trying to say something about television. Published thirty-five years ago, this message seems even more relevant today, considering the large section of the public obsessed with vacuous reality television and talent shows.

Harry's false dream, along with best friend Tyrone, is to get rich quick. Early on in the book, Harry talks with girlfriend Marion about opening a café franchise. He appears to be serious about the idea, but as his heroin addiction starts to take hold, he neglects it, instead preferring to chase a quick buck by stashing drugs and selling them off at a high price when the street supply is short.

Ultimately, Harry ends up being responsible for the misery of both his mother and his girlfriend, becoming so desperate for a fix that he encourages Marion into prostitution. The irony of course is that Harry had everything he needed at the beginning of the novel: his mother's and his girlfriend's love. If only he had been less self-centred, then the fates of his mother and his girlfriend would have been much happier ones.

After reading the novel, I would still describe Requiem as a tragedy, but I would argue that it is more about the tragedy of misplaced dreams than the one of drug addiction. In this case, misplaced dreams do lead to addiction, but I think we can all relate to the idea of having wasted time chasing something we didn't need in the first place.

Much like with the film, anyone who reads this novel would be put off taking drugs for life, but at its essence, this story is more than about the terrible consequences of addiction. It's also about people failing to appreciate what they have. Namely, we are talking about relationships, which Harry should have realised provide more warmth in life than heroin ever can.

Requiem is a brilliant novel, up there in terms of its grittiness and relevance with the likes of Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club. A must read.

Sputnik Sweetheart
Sputnik Sweetheart
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable if formulaic novel, 28 Oct 2013
This review is from: Sputnik Sweetheart (Paperback)
In many ways, Haruki Murakami's Sputnik Sweetheart is a typical novel from the Japanese writer. Certain themes and motifs are present in many of Murakami's works. Sputnik Sweetheart follows the brilliant Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, the novel I believe to be Murakami's masterwork. Whereas that story was like a labyrinth, this is a more straightforward kind of tale, or as straightforward as a Murakami story can be.

Interestingly, after the other labyrinth-like work, Kafka on the Shore, Murakami also followed that with a more contained kind of novel, After Dark. And at the centre of both Sputnik Sweetheart and After Dark are female characters, which is something of a rarity for the author.

Neither Sputnik Sweetheart nor After Dark are bad novels. In fact, they are very good novels. But it does seem that these novels are a kind of `break' for Murakami. Similarly, the expansive work Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World was followed by the more intimate Norwegian Wood. Therefore, when you look at Murakami's bibliography, you do see a pattern emerge.

Whilst The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was a story about a missing cat, Sputnik Sweetheart is about a missing woman. The woman in question, Simire, is a young aspiring novelist, and realises she is a lesbian when she meets a woman named Miu at a family member's wedding. Up until meeting Miu, Simire's sole focus in life was writing. Although Simire is at the centre of the novel, in typical Murakami style, it is narrated by a male protagonist. This man, named `K.', is Sumire's only connection with the real world before she meets Miu. K. is in love with Sumire, although his feelings are not reciprocated.

Unfortunately, I do think the narrator could be more compelling, as he doesn't seem to react much to the woman he loves falling for someone else. This is where the novel falls short slightly. Of course by nature, Murakami's protagonists are somewhat apathetic, but this did feel a little unnatural. What was also frustrating was the lack of closure. Ambiguity isn't something that I normally find a problem in stories - The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is perhaps Murakami's most ambiguous novel, yet it is also my favourite. But the loose ends in Sputnik Sweetheart feel a little unfair on the reader. Whilst in Wind-Up Bird the reader effectively had a whole world to play with, again, this is a story which is quite contained, and so it feels more important that we find out the answers. Ultimately, this is an enjoyable read, but it does feel as though Murakami doesn't see off the dangers his formula brings quite as well as he does in other works.

Kindle Paperwhite, 6" High Resolution Display with Next-Gen Built-in Light, Wi-Fi
Kindle Paperwhite, 6" High Resolution Display with Next-Gen Built-in Light, Wi-Fi
Price: 109.00

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How good does it need to be?, 23 Oct 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I was an Kindle adopter, buying the Kindle Keyboard. That broke and so I replaced it with the Kindle Touch. This year I have started having problems with the display on that, so I promptly ordered the second Paperwhite when it was announced.

My Mum owns the first Paperwhite and said that the similarities between the second Paperwhite and the original do not end with their looks. Although she did not have her Paperwhite side by side with mine, she said she could see no real difference in the display. I would argue that you could only buy every third Kindle and not be missing out on a lot.

Onto the Paperwhite itself, and there's no question that the built-in light is a very nice addition. There is obviously a change too from the display on my old Kindle Touch. But it's not as significant a difference as I was expecting. The text does look sharper and the contrast between e-ink and background greater, but I don't think the reading experience has been transformed.

Ultimately, I think the problem is how good this technology needs to be. Tablets are a different matter, but in terms of e-readers, how good can the display get before the reader is completely satisfied?

Again, the device turning on and off when you open and close the case is very nice, but not essential to my reading experience. In terms of software, there are some nice tweaks, but no significant improvements.

On the whole, the second Kindle Paperwhite has some very nice bells and whistles, but if you have the first Paperwhite, or Kindle Touch, and don't need to upgrade out of necessity, I would question whether this is worth the money.

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