Review:The French Lieutenants Woman by John Fowles

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I read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016 – #15 Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900.

I hate to say it but… I really didn’t like this book.

The novel is written about a young couple who are due to be married, staying in Lyme Regis during the Victorian period. At the resort, another young woman is seen often staring out to sea mournfully – after the French Lieutenant who reputedly stole her heart. She has occasional conversations with Charles (the fiancee) and the book is the story of what begins as his desire to help her going horribly wrong.

I found The French Lieutenants Woman to be quite a long book with not much action, especially by today’s standards. In particular, I found it really strange that the author would suddenly start talking to the reader to explain what was happening and what he thought he would do with the characters next. This took me out of the story, initially confused me and then annoyed me. There is an especially weird chapter 90% of the way in, where the future of each character is summarised and it appears that the book is over. Brilliant! I thought. I’ve finished unexpectedly early! But no. The author then writes that they are only joking and (ha ha ha) this is what really happened. You can imagine how happy I was to read that.

There is always a few lines of poetry at the beginning of each chapter (there are many) which I struggled to understand without the context of the rest of the poem and which I found very hard to relate to the text. Again, this broke up the narrative flow as some of the chapters are only a few pages long.

I hated the way that the women were portrayed in this book as simple minded and either foolish or scheming. The male characters appear to be entirely without guilt despite acting in morally questionable ways. I couldn’t warm to any of them and didn’t really care what their outcomes were.

The last 10% of the book seemed to squash a lot in, so the whole thing felt a bit rushed. I felt that all the way through, the characters acted in quite bizzare ways with very little explanation. It would also have been good to have a bit of explanation about what was acceptable behaviour at the time as you were left guessing if the characters had acted due to propriety or because they had had some kind of change of heart.

Overall I struggled to get to grips with this book. It’s long, there is very little happening for great swathes of it, there are very few characters, I didn’t like any of them and failed to be engaged in their story. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone despite the fact that I know it’s seen as a classic. Not for me I’m afraid.

Overall rating: 4/10.

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016

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Hurrah! I have completed the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016! Not bad considering I only started it in the summer!

I really enjoyed undertaking this challenge. I would never have read, for example, a food memoir but actually this turned out to be one of my favourites. I thought the challenge was a great way to expand my horizons and I’ve definitely read a wider variety of genres because of it.

The books that I read are:
1. Thinner by Richard Bachman
2. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
3. Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
4. Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
5. Spot the Difference by Juno Dawson
6. Shakespeare by Bill Bryson
7. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
8. So You Want to be a Wizard by Diane Duane
9. Yes Please! by Amy Poehler
10. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
11. Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell
12. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
13. Three Thousand Miles for a Wish by Safiya Hussain
14. The Teracotta Bride by Zen Cho
15. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
16. 1Q84 Book One by Haruki Murakami
17. The Wicked and the Divine – The Faust Act by Gillian McKelvie and Wilson Cowles
18. Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
19. Animal by Sara Pascoe
20. The Holy Woman by Qaisra Shahraz
21. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
22. Pretty Good Number One: An American Family Eats      Tokyo by Matthew Amster-Burton
23. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
24. Confessions of a Sociopath by M. E. Thomas

I found the books in a variety of places. I initially looked at my immediate TBR list and added those into the corresponding categories. Then I looked at my wider book collection and specifically searched for books which would fit into the remaining categories. Finally, there were a few gaps left so I hunted around online for recommendations and ideas and bought a few books in order to satisfy the criteria left. I don’t think I could have completed the challenge if I didn’t have the list laid out in front of me in advance (this doesn’t bode well for the Popsugar reading challenge).

So, according to my rating system the winner is….complicated! Because I gave Confessions of a Sociopath either 6/10 (based on how I thought the average reader would perceive it) or 10/10 (based on the impact that it had on my life) it is technically the best book that I read as part of the challenge. However, if I were to recommend one of the books on the list to a friend it would have to be my second highest rated – Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (I really loved that book). Honourable mentions also go to 1Q84 Book One by Haruki Murakami, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig, Shakespeare by Bill Bryson, Animal by Sara Pascoe and Pretty Good Number One: An American Family Eats Tokyo by Matthew Amster-Burton.

Books that I would happily avoid in the future/recommend to people I don’t like include Yes Please! by Amy Poehler (boring), The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles (hated the writing style) and The Holy Woman by Qaisra Shahraz (so predictable). In saying that, none of these books were terrible so I’m pleased that I didn’t waste any time reading something dreadful.

The most surprising book was definitely Confessions of a Sociopath by M. E. Thomas. I didn’t expect to suddenly understand so many of my own personality traits by reading about someone else’s experiences. This book has made a huge impact on my life and has helped me to understand not only myself but my friends and relatives too.

I think that reading Pretty Good Number One – An American Family Eats Tokyo by Matthew Amster-Burton really opened my eyes to the whole food memoir genre. The way that this book was written was funny and engaging and really helped me to understand Japanese culture (and (weirdly) my own British culture). I thoroughly recommend this book and would definitely read more of his work. I’m also looking forward to hearing more from Ernest Cline and Sara Pascoe, although I doubt she will be writing another book in the near future.

I really wasn’t looking forwards to watching a film of a book that I had just read – almost every film adaptation that I’ve ever seen has been a pale imitation of the novel it was based on. However, Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan seems to be the exception to the rule – I actually enjoyed the film more than the book. I also quite enjoyed comparing the two, which again I didn’t think I would.

As I like to read about five or six different books at once I did sometimes feel under pressure to finish at least one of them to stay on track. However, I found that this did push me to complete the more “challenging” reads in a relatively short timeframe, rather than having them lying around half read for years (and then having to start again from the beginning).

Next time I will be starting the challenge along with everyone else so I’ll be looking more at social media groups for suggestions and support. I think this will add another dimension to the challenge (hopefully positive!).

I will definitely be doing the challenge again – I’m already on the lookout for the 2017 list!

Review: Spot the Difference by Juno Dawson

This book was #5 on my Book Riot Read Harder Challenge list: read a middle-grade book.

I downloaded this super cheap little novella as it was one of the World Book Day offerings. Having already read Rainbow Rowell’s contribution and finding it ok-but-not-great I wasn’t expecting too much from Dawson but I was pleasantly surprised. I actually preferred this story to Rowell’s as I thought it was more coherant and had more exciting characters.
The story involves a young girl with bad skin who undertakes a miraculous transformation and is suddenly accepted into the ‘A team’ friendship group. It looks at themes of bullying, disability, entitlement and overcoming adversity and builds up to a great cliffhanger ending.

For such a short book it manages to raise some really interesting points and I think it would resonate with younger readers. If I had any criticisms I would say it was a little formulaic but it was still a great story.

Overall rating: 8/10