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review 2016-12-29 13:48
The Girls; superb teen angst with a splash of murder
The Girls: A Novel - Emma Cline

I first came across author Emma Cline in the Paris Review of Books in summer 2013 when I found her story Marion. The opening had me hooked;


"Cars the color of melons and tangerines sizzled in cul-de-sac driveways. Dogs lay belly-up and heaving in the shade. It was cooler in the hills, where Marion’s family lived. Everyone who stayed at their ranch was some relative, Marion said, blood or otherwise, and she called everyone brother or sister."


I presume this is the short story that got her the writing contract for The Girls, because it's based on the same premise - at the end of the 60s, teenager Evie Boyd becomes drawn into a gang of girls and towards their cult leader in LA. It obviously has the backdrop of the Manson murders in mind, highly fashionable at the moment (anyone seen The Invitation? It was a quiet, unsettling movie from 2015 that also has sinister LA cult behaviour as a backdrop).


The Girls is really wonderfully written. It didn't feel like it had quite the same artistic punch as the short story, but it was pretty spectacularly done all the same. Highly recommended, if you want to be taken back to how agonisingly awful if was to be a teenager (Cline really nails it) amidst some very chilling characters indeed.

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review 2016-01-22 11:36
The Interestings; vivid, evocative and really bloody good
The Interestings: A Novel - Meg Wolitzer

I hadn’t heard of Meg Wolitzer but when I read some of the reviews in The New York Times and The Telegraph, I discovered she is much-loved and regarded, in some circles, as highly as Jonathan Franzen and Hilary Mantel. So her story about six friends over the course of their lives  – The Interestings – seemed too good to resist. And by the time my Scribd trial had ended, half way through the book, these characters had so pervaded my head that I simply had to hunt down the book in any form possible, just to find out what they were up to.


The NY Times review described it as a book about ideas and that’s true. But each of the characters are so well drawn – gay, straight, male, female – that it really does what all great books do; it nails the daily feelings about love, envy and lust and makes you analyse your own feelings in relation to the characters and your own experiences. Just wonderful. What’s more, because it follows the characters from their teens to middle age, it’s a great book to read in January when most people are assessing their New Year’s resolutions and where they are in the world in relation to where they want to be. It made me laugh and made me cry; something that books rarely do at the same time. A brilliant book to start the year.


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Source: ellenallen.co/2016/01/22/the-interestings-vivid-evocative-and-really-bloody-good
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review 2015-12-31 21:51
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared; a long-winded unfunny dose of Forrest Gump
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared - Jonas Jonasson

So I get that The Hundred-Year-Old Man by Jonas Jonasson is meant to be a satire on politics and politicians throughout the 20th century and I get that some people find it hilarious but I thought it was boring, long-winded and not very funny. The premise is brilliant; a guy celebrating his hundredth birthday climbs out of the window of his old people’s home and boards a bus, stealing a suitcase from a local thug on a whim. He gets chased, lots of people die elaborately in a way that ensures he doesn’t get framed and he meets many of the major players from the twentieth century (Stalin, Truman, Mao etc.). Only read it if you want another dose of a very long-winded Forrest Gump.

Like this? I occasionally send out newsletters full of useful writing advice and reading titbits. If you want to receive them, click HERE to subscribe.

Source: ellenallen.co/2015/12/31/the-hundred-year-old-man-who-climbed-out-of-the-window-and-disappeared-a-long-winded-unfunny-dose-of-forrest-gump
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review 2015-10-08 08:40
Enduring Love; a huge letdown
Enduring Love - Ian McEwan

I’m a tremendous fan of Ian McEwan’s books (particularly On Chesil Beach and The Comfort of Strangers) but this was a huge letdown. It has a wonderful plot; a couple are on a picnic on a very windy day when they see a hot air balloon that is in trouble. A young boy is stuck inside the basket, his grandfather has fallen out and everyone in the vicinity desperately tries to grab hold before the balloon blows away…


I’m rather partial to literary books but this one felt like it was trying too hard. It came across as a bit pompous in tone, which I couldn’t remember or hadn’t noticed in his other books. It was distracting. The book was strongest when discussing the breakdown of the couple’s relationship (McEwan is really wonderful at nailing human emotions and antagonism between people) but it didn’t deliver on the fear factor that he has really conveyed in his other work.


I very rarely say this but watch the film instead. It’s much better.

Like this? I occasionally send out newsletters full of useful writing advice and reading titbits. If you want to receive them, click HERE to subscribe.

Source: ellenallen.co/2015/10/06/enduring-love-a-huge-letdown
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review 2015-07-28 11:51
Sharp objects; mesmerising, malevolent and bloody brilliant
Sharp Objects - Gillian Flynn

There’s a point in Sharp Objects when one of the characters, the youngest daughter of three, asks her mother which of her children she loves the most; she’s trying to assuage her fears that she can’t possibly be loved the best, that the first or second born must be the preferred children. Gone Girl is Gillian Flynn’s “third child”, her third book, and the best known and loved, but it’s Sharp Objects that does it for me.


I’ve been working my way through Gillian Flynn‘s back catalogue – Gone Girl then Dark Places – but Sharp Objects is definitely my favourite. A problem with writing horror/ thriller/ suspense, is that once the book barrels towards the end, you generally know who might be the killer and the book falls flat as the author ties up all the loose ends (and thrillers generally have tons of loose ends in explaining the hows, the wheres, the whys, etc.) This didn’t. Despite it being about the manhunt for the killer of two dead girls, it wasn’t an unrealistic gorefest. It was very menacing (listening to it in the dark in my bed meant on a couple of occasions I had to actually turn on the lights because I was a bit scared). A feeling that was only heightened by feeling completely sympathetic to the central character, a broken mess of a woman, whom I really cared about.


If you love sick, twisted thrillers, then her two other plots are great in their own rights but I think this one is more taut and the most sinister. Moreover, the way she writes about this f*$cked up, small town and its inhabitants who have been stewing for too long, is just fantastic. The descriptions of feelings, the people and their behaviour, puts her right at the top of her game: “There was nothing I wanted to do more than be unconscious again, wrapped in black, gone away. I was raw. I felt swollen with potential tears, like a water balloon filled to burst. Begging for a pin prick.”


A menacing, mesmerising thriller that I relished in the dark, that I didn’t want to end.

Source: ellenallen.co/2015/07/28/sharp-objects-mesmerising-malevolent-and-bloody-brilliant
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