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text 2018-11-15 23:20
Reading progress update: I've read 35%. -wonderful but tough on the emotions
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain

This is, in many ways. a beautiful book. The language is rich and diverse without being pompous or self-conscious. The themes of war, loss, fear and purpose are handled with a deft, light touch that nevertheless refuses to look away or to pretend.

 

At the heart of the book stands Billy Lynn - nineteen going on twenty - unassuming - just coming to terms with life and what it holds for him - matured by the war in ways he's only beginning to understand - puzzled and troubled by the ferocity with which his fellow Americans talk about the war as the thank him for his service.

 

Billy is real and likeable. He's not a message or a symbol. He's just a guy in a shitty place trying not to screw up and hoping not to get killed today.

 

I've just finished the chapter with his one-day Thanksgiving visit with his family during his victory tour. This is when Billy finally understands what he has to lose. Yet he goes back to the Army, who will send him back to Iraq because that's what he signed up for.

 

This is a tough book to read but only because it seems so truthful.

 

 

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text 2018-11-13 08:58
Reading progress update: I've read 10%. - this is going to be good
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain

"Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" came out in May 2012 but slipped right by me somehow.

 

That's a shame because this is a remarkable book: accessible, authentic and as is the way with such things, taking you someplace you didn't know you were headed to but that you're glad to arrive at.

 

This is the story of nineteen-year-old Billy Lynn, of Bravo Squad, a hero of the Iraq war being taken on a victory tour of the USA before being sent back to Iraq to complete the last eleven months of his extended tour of duty.

 

Now I honestly thought, when I bought this book in October, that my restless trawling of digital book stacks had rewarded me with this gem but it turns out I'm just another happy cog in a marketing chain. I see now that this five-and-a-half-year-old book was in my sights because Ang Lee releases the movie version this month.

 

Now that should be interesting given that the book opens with a slightly bemused Bravo Squad finding their story being turned in Hollywood movie fodder, with Hillary Swank being considered to play the role of Billy, although whether she'd do so as a woman playing a man or a woman playing a woman is still an open question.

 

I'm reading "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" for the Armistice Day door on the  24 Festive Task reading challenge.

 

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review 2018-10-01 12:49
"The Queen Of Bloody Everything" by Joanna Nadin - Highly Recommended
The Queen Of Bloody Everything - Joanna Nadin

"The Queen Of Bloody Everything" is an astonishingly good novel that tells the story of Dido Jones and her relationship with Edie, her unconventional mother.

 

Daughter of a flamboyant, convention-challenging. larger-than-life mother and absent any knowledge of her father, Dido has no greater desire from the age of six to thirteen than to be normal and in a "real" family. She satisfies this desire initially by adopting the family next door, weaving herself into their lives so thoroughly that her presence is taken for granted.

 

Starting with six-year-old Dido moving from a London squat to an Essex village in the exceptionally hot summer of 1976 and carrying on into Dido's adult years, "The Queen Of Bloody Everything" captures the language and attitudes of the times perfectly, displaying them to through the eyes of a child and the adult remembering being that child.

 

The storytelling is very accessible despite following a clever and complex structure. It starts in the present day, with Dido talking to her hospitalised mother, and reveals itself through a series of recollections of Dido's life in chronological order, interspersed with commentary in the here and now.

 

It is a riveting read, filled with strong, believable characters, realistic dialogue that is crammed with life and truth and scenes that capture moments of triumph, deep cringe-worthy embarrassment, abuse and loss and sometimes, a little bit of hope. 

 

Dido's understanding of herself and her mother is deeply shaped by her reading and the gap between the worlds she reads about and the life she's lived. In the beginning, the chapters have names that refer to children's books: "Heidi" or "Third Year At Mallory Towers". Later, the literary signposting of the chapters becomes more adult with titles like "The Bell Jar" or "Brighton Rock".  

 

My heart was captured by the characters but what really intoxicated me was Joanna Nadin's ability to help me to see the same thing from multiple points of view at the same time: how I felt then, how I feel now, what I failed to see then, what I wished I could do now and so on. She embraces the complexity of real life where questions have more than one answer and narratives overlay one another over time like layers of lacquer on our lives.

 

Both the ambition and the craft of this approach are shown on from the first page of the book. It starts:

Now

So how shall I begin? With Once upon a time, maybe. The tropes of fairy tale are here after all - a locked door, a widower, a wicked stepmother, or a twisted version of one at least. But those words are loaded, tied; they demand a happily ever after to close our story, and I'm not sure there is one, not yet.

 

Besides, Cinderella was never your scene: 'Don't  bank on a handsome prince, Dido,' you would sneer through the cigarette smoke that trailed permanently in your wake; that cloaked you, tracked you, like a cartoon cloud in Bugs Bunny. Like Pig-Pen's flies. 'If they bother to show up it'll be late, and then they'll only beg or borrow. Or worse.' And the twelve-year-old me would roll her eyes , like the girls in books did, and think, Those are your princes, Mother, not mine. And I'm not you.

 

But I am, aren't I? Though it's taken me four decades - half a lifetime - to admit it.

I fell in love with the tone of this writing from the first page and stayed faithful to it to the last.

 

"The Queen Of Bloody Everything" was intense, sometimes funny often painful but always felt like the truth to me. The ending is perhaps a little more hopeful than one finds in real life but even that felt like a benison of sorts to the characters and the reader.

 

I strongly recommend the audiobook version of "The Queen Of Bloody Everything". Kelly Hotten's narration is perfect. You can hear a sample of it below.

 

I liked the book so much that, having listened to it happily, I went out and bought I a hardback copy so I can keep it to hand.

 

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text 2018-08-30 17:56
Reading progress update: I've read 31%.
The Queen Of Bloody Everything - Joanna Nadin

This is astonishingly good and the audiobook narrator is perfect. 

 

It's the story of Dido Jones. Daughter of an unconventional mother and absent any knowledge of her father, she has no greater desire from the age of six to thirteen, than to be normal and in a "real" family. Starting with six-year-old Dido moving from a London squat to an Essex village in the hot summer of 1976, it captures the language and attitudes of the times perfectly, displaying them to through the eyes of a child and the adult remembering being that child.

 

Now if only it counted towards a Halloween Bingo square.

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text 2018-08-28 09:25
Reading progress update: I've read 2%. - I should stay silent but...
Normal People - Sally C. Rooney

...removing quotation marks around direct speech is not innovative or doing something daring with form. It's annoying and discourteous to the reader. 

 

I know that makes me sound like the grammar police but punctuation serves a purpose.

 

You'll be reminded of its purpose when you read a novel like this that ostentatiously leaves out quotation marks. Your reading slows down. You have to work harder to know not just who is speaking but whether anyone is speaking.

 

This is the writing equivalent of Brexit: I can see what it destroys but I don't see any benefits or any compelling reason to do it.

 

Rant over. I'll go back to the book now. Which is quite good by the way.

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