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review 2017-08-11 18:22
Book Review: Sweet Tooth
Sweet Tooth - Ian McEwan

Book: Sweet Tooth

 

Author: Ian McEwan

 

Genre: Spy Thriller/Fiction/Romance

 

Summary: Cambridge student Serena Frome's beauty and intelligence make her the ideal recruit for MI5. The year is 1972. The Cold War is far from over. England's legendary intelligence agency is determined to manipulate the cultural conversation by funding writers whose politics align with those of the government. The operation is code named "Sweet Tooth". Serena, a compulsive reader of novels, is the perfect candidate to infiltrate the literary circle of a promising young writer named Tom Haley. At first, she loves his stories. Then she begins to love the man. How long can she conceal her undercover life? To answer that question, Serena must abandon the first rule of espionage: trust no one. - Anchor Books Random House, 2012.

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review 2017-06-20 18:10
Review: The Comfort of Strangers
The Comfort of Strangers - Ian McEwan

Every time I approach an Ian McEwan review—all but the first time, I guess—I feel some dread. McEwan is an author who garners such strong opinions, good and bad. Some think he is a hack writer, overly elaborate with his prose and plots, offensive to say the least. Others think he has incredible talent, that his stories brim with the kind of details that bring them to life. There's probably truth in both arguments, though in the end they're just opinions. Whatever the general views of McEwan and his stories, reviews of McEwan's work can lead to excessive raising of the eyebrows, eye rolling, and unfriending (though I could be exaggerating).

I throw myself in with those enamored with McEwan. That's not to say I love everything he's written, but I do find myself always thoroughly entertained. Having read some of McEwan's most popular and highly acclaimed works, I've made it a point to read the author's earliest books and work my way through his career. If you've read my reviews of McEwan's first two books, First Love, Last Rites or The Cement Garden, you probably know that old McEwan had a distinctly macabre style once upon a time. In fact, his earliest works remind me considerably of the kinds of stories Stephen King might have written.

The Comfort of Strangers, McEwan's second novel, continues this King comparison, but also shows a break from it. It's not as dark as his earlier efforts, but depravity is still present. The primary difference is that The Comfort of Strangers shows more of McEwan's elaborate style. There was a hint of the literary in McEwan's first books, but here it's strong. The descriptions in The Comfort of Strangers really evoke the setting, pulling the reader in. Even when the story began to disappoint, which it did for me, I wanted to keep reading. Even when I myself began to roll my eyes and recognize the signature overwrought plot, I was so engaged that I couldn't pull away. McEwan is guilty in this one of forcing the characters into the story. It is evident that they have no other path than the one the author makes for them. There's not even an illusion that they have free will. So, in the end, I was disappointed with this story, but there was never a moment I wasn't entertained. And that's something.

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review 2017-06-16 19:37
When the Honeymoon is Over...
On Chesil Beach - Ian McEwan

I have been an admirer of Ian McEwan's writing style since my introduction to 'Atonement' (see earlier review) and when The Times listed him among "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945", I can plainly see why. By comparison, I was less enamoured by 'Solar' (also previously reviewed), but my latest dip into the McEwan listings, the novella, 'On Chesil Beach', is in many ways a quite remarkable piece of writing. 

 

Firstly, the book, comprising just 166 pages, split into five parts, is exquisitely crafted. The author's use of language is concise, but sumptuous and though short, the book packs a complex emotional punch, which the reader shares with newly weds Edward and Florence. From undiluted joy to excruciating despair, the couple's developing insights are naive and poignant in equal measure and McEwan tackles head-on the nature of intimacy and passion as they nudge towards the consummation of their marriage.

 

For the bulk of the book, the author succeeds in slowing time, launching back from the wedding day in successive reflections that map the couple's respective journeys. Each from very different backgrounds, Edward and Florence have managed to rise above the shortcomings of their parentage and by some quirk of serendipity, to find each other, which is of itself heart-warming. Yet, the book exposes potential flaws in the superficial 1960's courtship ritual and the brittle, untested facade, which they have contrived to create. There is little doubt that they love one another, but is it enough and can they fashion a workable compromise, on which to build a life together?

 

Perhaps some matches are made in heaven, but to succeed they have to be made to work at the human level. In this frank and at times crude exploration of 'need', it seems clear that we can be a fickle bunch, and even among the well-educated, sometimes held hostage to irrational base instincts. 

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text 2017-05-28 22:04
Summer Reading List 2017 (in a Nutshell)
Nutshell: A Novel - Ian McEwan

I've been on a bit of a reading slump in the month of May.

 

Oh, I'm still reading every day. But instead of having 3-5 books going on in various categories, I've mostly just been reading Philippa Gregory novels. To mixed effect. (You can read more about that in my last post here: http://carissagreen50.booklikes.com/post/1566197/in-her-head.) And always a poem, or two or three, every day (mostly).

 

I suppose it's partly an end-of-school-year thing. Lots of energy gets invested in the last weeks of April and beginning of May when you work in academia, regardless of your job. I also read like a champion in February-March, preparing for our university's Writers Conference, completing a personal project, and working my way through August Wilson's Century Cycle, one of my 2017 reading marathons. 

 

Being in a slump with relatively low reading energy and focus was frustrating, because good things continued to happen in my reading life. A friend sent me his new novel (look for a column on that soon). An interlibrary loan request fell through, so our local library just purchased the book and reserved it straight through for me, which was nice. Another friend published a new middle grade novel. There's a writer's conference with free public readings coming up in my area in June.

 

But now it's Memorial Day Weekend, the official summer kick-off, and time to publish my Summer Reading List for 2017. You can read the "app" list on BookLikes here: http://booklikes.com/apps/reading-lists/792/summer-reading-list-2017. Each book fits a category that I've been working with for the last several years of these lists, and I'm going to walk you through my choices below:

 

1. An Ian McEwan novel - "Nutshell." McEwan is one of my favorite living authors, and "Nutshell" is his fall 2016 release - too late for last summer's list. Last summer, I read "The Comfort of Strangers" from far into his backlist, and it was firmly in the "Ian Macabre" phase of his career. I'm happy to get back to his more current oeuvre. 

 

2. A Michael Chabon novel - "Moonglow." One of my other favorite living writers. I went to the Cities back in December for Chabon's book signing. I've saved the book for this summer because, except for graphic novels and screenplays, I'm pretty much completely caught up with his published books. 

 

3. A recent "big" book  - "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot. I just can't be the last person on planet earth to read this important, beloved book. Plus: Oprah movie.

 

4. A classics I have neglected - "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" by Anne Bronte. Saw that Bronte biopic on PBS earlier this spring and realized I had completely neglected poor Anne. 

 

5. A YA / Middle Grade book - "Wonder" by R.J. Palacio. Film releasing soon (always read the book first). My boss' kids loved it. Who didn't love it? 

 

6. A play - Finish August Wilson's Century Cycle, so the last play, "Radio Golf," will stand for that.

 

7. A baseball book - "Slouching Toward Fargo" by Neal Karlen. Last year, I discovered a cool website called the Casey Awards, which honors the best baseball books of each year. These kinds of "best of" lists are one of my true loves, and from it, I found a book that not only fulfills the "baseball" part of my summer but also relates to the region of the country in which I live. 

 

8. A recommendation from a friend - "The Luminaries" by Eleanor Catton. Both my aunt, who read it before her NZ adventure, and my friend D., who included the book in his students' syllabus last year, said I'd like it. Say no more.

 

9. The book from last year's list that didn't get read - "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell" by Susanna Clarke

 

Not on the list, but coming up quickly, will be "Life on Mars" and possibly another work by Tracy K. Smith, who is reading in my area on June 21. Poetry (always) and plenty more to be determined. Won't you read along with me?

 

-cg

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review 2017-03-06 16:51
Nutshell by Ian McEwan
Nutshell: A Novel - Ian McEwan

Trudy has betrayed her husband, John. She's still in the marital home—a dilapidated, priceless London townhouse—but John's not there. Instead, she's with his brother, the profoundly banal Claude, and the two of them have a plan. But there is a witness to their plot: the inquisitive, nine-month-old resident of Trudy's womb. Told from a perspective unlike any other, Nutshell is a classic tale of murder and deceit from one of the world’s master storytellers.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Ian McEwan brings readers a murder mystery told from the unique perspective of an unborn child. Trudy is nearing the end of her pregnancy but is currently estranged from her husband... because she threw him out. Not for infidelity or anything like that... no, she'd just grown a little bored and dissatisfied with the man. Trudy gently opens up the "maybe it would be good for us to have some time apart" conversation which ends in husband John moving out and shortly thereafter John's brother Claude secretly taking his place.

 

A night of heavy drinking gives Claude and Trudy the inspiration to end John's life. At this point, our unborn narrator expresses his concern over what kind of situation he's being born into... he explains having a natural desire to love his mother as one tends to feel towards someone keeping you alive and all... but all this talk of murder weapons and methods leaves him unsettled! Listening in on conversations through the stretched skin of his mother's womb, baby-narrator doesn't get the impression that John is all that horrid, despite what Trudy's wine-loosened lips might say. A 6'3 teddy bear of a guy, John seems to be a people-pleaser, which annoys Trudy. She finds him weak and kind and considerate to a fault (aka total doormat of a guy). But baby-narrator reasons that there are definitely worse traits to find in someone -- just look at John's brother, Claude! Dumb as a bag of rocks, obsessed with having sex multiple times a day, making lewd comments or gestures when not in the actual act, table manners of a Neanderthal. What is Trudy thinking?!

 

All in all, I had mixed feelings about this short novel (less than 200 pages). For much of it I was thinking plot-wise this thing was about a 2. Just not enough tension for me. But then I realized I was actually having some fun reading these characters, just them as people. Claude grossed me out most of the time, and I was stumped trying to make sense of Trudy's thought process, but she does make a little more sense when you get closer to the end. I actually ended up feeling a bit sad for her. Still not cool that you were throwing back so much wine though, girl. Seriously. 

 

What truly carried the story for me was the thin vein of dark comedy McEwan weaves into everyone's narratives. The surprise visit from John and Trudy's casual:

 

"Claude, darling, kindly put the glycol bottle away." 

 

LOL, I may be a little twisted but I love that kind of humor. 

 

The unnamed, unborn narrator -- at first I was a little troubled thinking,"This is an unborn child, how would he have such a developed intelligence about him?!" but an acceptable explanation for that is later provided. But that intelligence gives him an already-done-with-it-all edge to his voice that I enjoyed. 

 

 

I also grew to like John, in the few scenes he appears. He struck me as a good dude, if maybe a little neglectful, a little oblivious of Trudy's growing discontent before she booted him. The doormat impression is strong with him until one scene where he gives a quiet speech, subtle in tone yet darkly funny which is directed at Trudy and has an unspoken "I'm on to you" kind of message. Trudy and I were similarly left speechless! But then he snaps out of it, they get to talking about the good ol' days, John reminiscing about when he and Trudy met, back when he enjoyed reciting poetry and was a javelin thrower on the track & field team. This leads into my favorite exchange in the whole book:

 

Trudy: "I never want to hear another poem again."

John (pointing to his brother, Claude): "Well, you certainly won't get any out of that guy."

 

BOOM. And then he just leaves. Yep, I liked that John.

 

The inspiration for the title of this book comes from a line in William Shakespeare's Hamlet, which McEwan references before the story begins. While this little novel of his is not a direct retelling, I could definitely see inspiration and likenesses between the two throughout. 

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: Doubleday Publishers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book & requested that I check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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