“Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro: Review

Never let me go by Kazuo Ishiguro is a noel that paints a dystopic image of the world as we know it. The story is told by the main character Kathy, who narrates her life basically in three different acts.
In the first part she remembers her childhood at a boarding school called Hailsham for us. Those seem to be her best memories, although it is already hinted early on that this fictional place is not an ordinary boarding school and that the students who have been there all their lives are not ordinary either.
The students (and the reader) learn soon that they are very special indeed, because they are clones, created to be organ donors when they’re grown up. Kathy talks about how every donor is to give as much as possible, but that they usually only get to donate 4 times maximum before they reach their “completion”, meaning before they die.

Already in her memories from Hailsham Kathy tells the reader about her friends Ruth and Tommy, who later on engage in a romantic relationship, although it is always hinted that Kathy is actually the one who has feelings for Tommy and vice versa.
The second part revolves around the characters being around 16 years old and their time after they’ve left Hailsham and are to live together in huts. In their time at the huts they even try to track down the woman after whom Ruth was created, to find out if there is any likeness in character at all. Disappointingly they find none and begin to wonder whether their creation was actually important at all.
They also find out later on that Hailsham does not exist any more, because it was only an experiment to try and give the clones a good life and not raise them under inhuman circumstances. Unfortunately the funding for that project has stopped and Kathy, Tommy and Ruth were lucky to have been raised there and have a relatively good childhood.
In the last act we learn that Tommy and Ruth have already become donors and that Kathy is a carer. Carers are clones who take care of others when they have their donations. In those last years Kathy is a carer for both, Tommy and Ruth at some point, before their completion.
I think the book is absolutely brilliant, but it’s hard to say that I “enjoyed” reading it, because, while I find the topic it is dealing with highly interesting, it is also very gloomy. The idea of clones as a kind of human spare part boxes is not new, but as opposed to, for example the movie The Island by Michael Bay, which is a typical Hollywood blockbuster with lots of action and motorcycle/car chases, Never let me go approaches the topic very calmly and therefore, makes it seem all the more realistic. Nevertheless, it was a great book and definitely one of my favourites from author Kazuo Ishiguro. I’d also recommend to watch the movie with the same title, which is maybe even a tad darker than the book but otherwise very well adapted to  the screen and with Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield as the main cast it assembles some of Britain’s finest young actors.
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“The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce: Review

Harold Fry and his wife Maureen live a very ordinary life in Kingsbridge, Devon.  Recently retired, Harold likes to spend most of his time mowing the lawn or chatting with his widowed neighbour Rex. That is until one day he receives a letter that shall interfere with his daily routine and change his life and his marriage from then on.

The letter he receives is from Queenie Hennessy, a colleague who had worked with Harold in a brewery over 20 years ago. She writes to him to inform him that she has got terminal cancer and that she is currently living in a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed.While the news do not seem to affect Maureen very much, they shake Harold to the bone. He hadn’t seen Queenie in a long time and they never really got to say goodbye to each other, when she disappeared from one day to another. Not knowing what else to do, he decides to write her a letter, expressing his well wishes.
He tells his wife that he’ll just quickly post the letter and be back. He doesn’t even take his mobile with him, because why would you if you only go to the mailbox. But when he’s at the mailbox, he can’t bring himself to post the letter and so he just walks on to the next one and the next and the next until he is almost out of his town. He decides to get something to eat at a garage and talks to the girl who works there. She tells him that her aunt had cancer as well, and that she thinks that believing one can save a person does actually save them. This is what makes Harold decide to walk to Berwick-upon-Tweed to see Queenie and that he will save her by walking. He calls the hospice and asks the nurse to tell Queenie to stay alive because he is walking to her and he also calls his wife and tries to explain that this is something he has to do.
From then on he is steadily walking northwards, only wearing his yachting shoes and his everyday clothes. He meets lots and lots of interesting people all over the country who tell him their stories and he tells them his. At some point he becomes so famous all over England that he finds himself with a large group of people who want to walk with him to save Queenie Hennessy. The whole “pilgrimage” of his turns into a media event and eventually the other pilgrims even let him behind because they don’t think he will make it in time to see Queenie.
While Harold is walking he reflects a lot on his life, his marriage and his son David, who is often mentioned by him and his wife, but we never encounter him personally. Gradually the stories and traumata of Harold’s past are revealed to the reader by dwelling on his memories with him. It soon becomes very clear that the quiet, boring life and marriage is not at all what it seems. I really liked that the story is told through Harold and Maureen’s point of view, because that allows the reader to learn much more about both of the characters and their lives, than if one only gets one side of the story. I am a great fan of the book, because it tells such a moving story in a way you don’t read it all the time, but truth be told, it gets a bit repetitive at times, especially towards the end. But I guess that also fits the narrative of the story, because walking through a whole country by foot will be a bit repetitive from time to time. Nevertheless I’d recommend it, because it is a very nice read.
I am not going to spoil what the reader discovers in the course of the story and if Harold will make it to Berwick-upon-Tweed, because I think that by reading the book you go on some kind of journey yourself and it is great to discover everything piece by piece.

“Pride” dir. by Matthew Warchus: Film Review

Pride is a British movie, directed by Matthew Warchus that premiered in 2014.
The plot of the film is based on a true story that occurred in London and Wales in the years 1984/85. It starts out as the story of the 20-year-old Londoner Joe (George MacKay), who is slowly coming to terms with his homosexuality and therefore joins the Gay Pride London 1984. There he meets a group of new lesbian and gay people, whom he soon becomes close friends with. Joe is one of the few characters in the movie that is actually fictional. He was created to give the audience an access point to the whole story and the actual real life characters in it.
The story takes place during the time of Britain’s great Miner strike under Margaret Thatcher. Since the Miners struggle to keep their strike up, this little group of people found a group called “Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners”, trying to raise money to help the mining communities out.
At first the Miners Union does not want to take the money that was raised for them because they are afraid of the implications that would follow if they were openly associated with a group of gay people. Therefore “Gay and Lesbians Support the Miners” decide to donate their money directly to one of the affected mining villages. They find the little Welsh village Onllwyn and after meeting with the responsible member of the Union they start donating directly to the people of Onllwyn and are, because they have raised so much money for them, even invited to visit.
As can be guessed, a small Welsh village in the early 1980s is not exactly gay friendly, nevertheless most of the people to warm towards the shrill guests from London.

Since it is a BBC movie I was actually going in, fully prepared that it is going to be a dark and absolutely depressing British drama, but was pleasantly surprised. Although dealing with serious topics the film balances incredibly well between comedy and drama. It has got a very light-hearted atmosphere and assembles some of Britain’s finest actors like Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, Andrew Scott etc.
Unfortunately it is not in cinemas everywhere, but if you have got the chance please do go and see it, because I can most certainly say that Pride is the most beautiful film I have seen in a very long time.

“Good Omens – The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch” by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett: Review

Good Omens is the result of a collaboration between two of the greatest writers of our time, Terry Pratchett (Discworld) and Neil Gaiman (Sandman).
To sum up the whole plot of the novel would be rather too extensive but I’m still going to give it a try.
Basically, it’s the story of the apocalypse, but not in any way you have read about it before. The demon Crowley and the angel Aziraphale have been living on earth for a few centuries now and they have grown rather fond of it and their lifestyles. Nevertheless they are told by their respective bosses that the Antichrist is about to be born and that he needs to be taken care of, so that he can properly herald Armageddon when he’s old enough. Both sides observe the boy growing up, wondering when his destiny will show, since he does not seem threatening in the slightest. Only on his 11th birthday Crowley realizes that he and the satanic nuns might have made a mistake the night the boy was born and that the children seem to have been switched.
From then on it’s mainly Crowley running from his bosses and him and Azariphale deciding that they would much rather save the earth they live on. Aside from these two looking for the real Antichrist we also meet Newt Pulsifer, a member of the witchfinder army, who has become aware of some strange things happening in the village of Lower Tadfield, where Adam aka. the Antichrist happens to live. There Newt meets and falls in love with Anathema Device, a descendant of one Agnes Nutter, the very same Agnes Nutter who happened to predict the end of the world.
Crowley, Azariphale and Newt are not the only ones to make their way towards Lower Tadfield, but also the four horseman are on their way to join the Antichrist in bringing about the apocalypse. These four might seem a bit familiar if you are familiar with Pratchett’s writing, especially the fact that everything Death says is written in all caps is a feature of Pratchett’s Discworld novels.
To see how the grand finale goes down I strongly recommend you pick up the book as soon as possible.

It didn’t come as much of a surprise to me that I liked the book as much as I did, because I am a big fan of both Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett and even if you haven’t read anything by either of the two before, I am pretty sure you will love this book. It is absurd in a way that makes you smile constantly and also very witty, reflecting on society in a way that does not make it feel like it is being shoved in your face.
BBC Radio is also going to release a radio play for Good Omens, featuring some of Britain’s finest actors and also featuring the creators Gaiman and Pratchett themselves in a cameo appearance, just in time for Christmas. And as one of the actors who will be in the radio play, Colin Morgan, put it:

It’s a story about the Antichrist. There’s nothing more festive than that!”

Camden Stable Market: The best book shopping experience

So this time I’m not going to talk about a book or film I’d like to recommend to you but a place where I love to do my book shopping whenever I’m in London.
The Camden Stables Market is one of London’s famous markets, which is also why you might not want to go there on Saturday or Sunday afternoon since there are going to be lots and lots of tourists roaming around in a very narrow space. However if you find the time to go there, try and visit this little stall at the far back of the underground stable market. The elderly gentleman who owns it loves to talk about books and he always gives me brilliant recommendations based on what I like. He also doesn’t mind if you just want to roam the shelves undisturbed for an hour.
You can find almost everything here, from novels, poetry, old travel logs to old anatomy books. Obviously all the books are second (or third/fourth/fifth) hand, but that allows you to find editions you couldn’t really get anywhere else. I’m really not one of the people who condemn modern book stores or online stores, because I order my books online or buy them in big chain stores just like everyone else, simple due to availability, but rummaging through the shelves in this little stall while being surrounded by this distinctive smell of old books makes it a completely different shopping experience. I could always stay there for hours and just get lost in looking at all the beautiful books.

This time I only left with the five wonderful books you can see in the picture on the right, but I’ll definitely be back next time I’m in town.  If you ever happen to be in London, I strongly recommend that you visit this lovely stall at the stable market and treat yourself with a few of those treasures 🙂

 

“Hector and the Search for Happiness” by François Lelord: Review

“Happiness is a certain way of seeing things” – François Lelord

Hector is a London psychiatrist who has a seemingly perfect life: a perfect job, a perfect girlfriend, following the routines every day. Until one day in the middle of a session with a patient, he is forced to think about the question whether he is actually happy with his life. Since he cannot truthfully answer that question with a clear YES he decides to go on a trip around the world to find out what makes people happy.
His journey leads him from Shanghai, where he befriends a rich business man, to a buddhist monastery, to Africa where he visits an old friend and helps out in his clinic and to many more stops all over the world. He meets a lot of interesting people and gets even more different answers to the question “What is happiness?”
His journey ends in America, where he visits his ex-girlfriend, whom he never quite managed to forget. However, she is happily married and a mother now. She makes him realize that she is not what will him happy and she helps him see what he really wants from his life and what has to do to actually live it this way.

Although Hector and the Search for Happiness deals with a rather philosophical topic it is still a very easy read , because it has a very light air to it. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry but most of all it’ll make you think about your life and about the question what happiness is for you. At least that’s what it did to me. If you happen to be fluent in French you might want to read the original “Le voyage d’Hector ou la recherche du bonheur” since it’s usually preferable to read it in the original language. Nevertheless I recommend to read this book no matter in which language. And I also strongly suggest that you watch the recently released movie starring Simon Pegg (Cornetto Trilogy, Star Trek) and Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl). It captures the feeling of the book incredibly well and Simon Pegg did an amazing job playing Hector.

“Life’s That Way: A Memoir” by Jim Beaver: Review

Actor Jim Beaver, well known for his roles in Supernatural, Deadwood, Justified etc, published a very personal and honest piece of work in the form of Life’s That Way.

Life seems good for Jim and his wife Cecily Adams, both having successful carriers and being the proud parents of little baby girl Maddie. That’s when the tragedy strikes the in the life of the young family and Cecily is diagnosed with lung cancer.
To keep friends and family informed about his wife’s condition and also as a way of dealing with everything that’s happening himself, Jim starts writing a regular e-mail newsletter. Life’s That Way is a collection of these very touching e-mails, starting in October 2007, telling everyone about Cecily’s condition and ending with an epilogue telling us how life went on for Jim and his daughter after his wife’s death.
Reading, how Jim Beaver writes about his wife and life, knowing that those little pieces of extraordinary well written literature are snap-shots of what was actually happening at this point of his life, gives the book an extremely personal touch and I think that it is hardly possible to not be affected by this family’s story.
Even though the book is definitely not some kind of self-help book to help you cope with bereavement, reading it did help me personally to deal with a recent loss in my life. Reading Jim Beaver’s story and seeing how he copes with everything and stays strong for his daughter is truly amazing and I think that he is a very inspiring person.
If you order a copy on lifesthatway.com you will actually get a copy with a personal message and a signature from Mr. Beaver himself. This little extra combined with how well and with how much emotion the book is written, makes it the most valuable book I own. And considering that Christmas season is almost upon us, I think it’d also make a marvelous Christmas present.