Ben Fowler

Lord of the reads 2303 Reputation points Help-d956b624e3a70f299ff60fb4f6e79359
  • Journey into Space

    Intriguing

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    Toby Litt's science-fiction story is something of an oddity. The spaceship Armenia has been sent from a ravaged Earth to find a distant planet on which to settle. Aboard are millions of people who are carefully monitored, reproduction being strictly limited so as to spare rations. Two of the first children born on the Armenia, August and Celeste, harbour a secret longing of life back on Earth and spend hours at a time poring over history books and describing impossible sensations to one another. Slowly but surely they stage a sort of rebellion, sowing the seeds of change in the ship's crew. The plot then moves on to discuss their son Orphan and two more progressive generations of the family, each one effecting a radical change on those around them. Litt's novel works best as a study of the ways in which society can change, how it can be both inclusive and exclusive. It's an interesting idea, albeit one that doesn't necessarily always make sense within the narrative. There ...Toby Litt's science-fiction story is something of an oddity. The spaceship Armenia has been sent from a ravaged Earth to find a distant planet on which to settle. Aboard are millions of people who are carefully monitored, reproduction being strictly limited so as to spare rations. Two of the first children born on the Armenia, August and Celeste, harbour a secret longing of life back on Earth and spend hours at a time poring over history books and describing impossible sensations to one another. Slowly but surely they stage a sort of rebellion, sowing the seeds of change in the ship's crew. The plot then moves on to discuss their son Orphan and two more progressive generations of the family, each one effecting a radical change on those around them. Litt's novel works best as a study of the ways in which society can change, how it can be both inclusive and exclusive. It's an interesting idea, albeit one that doesn't necessarily always make sense within the narrative. There are some rich descriptive passages here but the majority of the characters are cyphers, so it's hard to care about anyone involved. There are plenty of ideas on display here but they don't have any sort of emotive power. (more)

  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Penguin Classics)

    An unfairly neglected classic

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    Mention the Bronte sisters to anyone and chances are they'll think of Emily's Wuthering Heights or Charlotte's Jane Eyre. Their sister Anne tends to get forgotten but, whilst she never managed to muster the emotional power that Emily managed so superbly in Wuthering Heights, The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall has intelligence and feeling to spare. For me, it's at least the equal if not better of Jane Eyre. Anne shows a better understanding of the male perspective than either Charlotte or Emily in her protagonist Gilbert Markham. Unsatisfied with his life but unsure why, Gilbert's life is turned upside down by the arrival of Helen, a mysterious widow who is unwilling to share any details of her past marriage. As the two grow closer, much to the chagrin of the easily-scandalised local community, Helen tells Gilbert of her abusive marriage to alcoholic Arthur Huntingdon. Gloriously melodramatic, Helen's independent, forthright female protagonist is in the same spirit as Jane Eyre bu...Mention the Bronte sisters to anyone and chances are they'll think of Emily's Wuthering Heights or Charlotte's Jane Eyre. Their sister Anne tends to get forgotten but, whilst she never managed to muster the emotional power that Emily managed so superbly in Wuthering Heights, The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall has intelligence and feeling to spare. For me, it's at least the equal if not better of Jane Eyre. Anne shows a better understanding of the male perspective than either Charlotte or Emily in her protagonist Gilbert Markham. Unsatisfied with his life but unsure why, Gilbert's life is turned upside down by the arrival of Helen, a mysterious widow who is unwilling to share any details of her past marriage. As the two grow closer, much to the chagrin of the easily-scandalised local community, Helen tells Gilbert of her abusive marriage to alcoholic Arthur Huntingdon. Gloriously melodramatic, Helen's independent, forthright female protagonist is in the same spirit as Jane Eyre but she, ultimately, has more to contend with. Free of the fortuitous coincidences that Jane Eyre's final third is full of, Anne Bronte's Tenant is a fascinating feminist classic. (more)

  • Boy Meets Boy

    Adorable

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    A really wonderful young adult title set in a sort of teenage utopia where both gay and straight teenagers live side-by-side in harmony. There's no one scene - "they both got mixed up a while back" we're told. The protagonist is Paul, a confident gay teenager who's fallen for new kid Noah. So why is it now that his ex-boyfriend Karl seems to be interested again? And what can Paul do to help his best friend, whose religious parents refuse to accept that their son is gay? Mercilessly free of sermonising, this is light and fizzy read full of brilliant characters such as Infinite Darlene, the star quarterback who also happens to be a drag queen. It reads sort of like The OC (the focus is very much on boys, dating, fitting in, how to assert your own individuality) but, because of its setting, feels fresh enough to make it stand out from the crowd. For a more thoughtful story of teenage sexuality, try Meg Rosoff's superb What I Was, but if you're looking for something warmer th...A really wonderful young adult title set in a sort of teenage utopia where both gay and straight teenagers live side-by-side in harmony. There's no one scene - "they both got mixed up a while back" we're told. The protagonist is Paul, a confident gay teenager who's fallen for new kid Noah. So why is it now that his ex-boyfriend Karl seems to be interested again? And what can Paul do to help his best friend, whose religious parents refuse to accept that their son is gay? Mercilessly free of sermonising, this is light and fizzy read full of brilliant characters such as Infinite Darlene, the star quarterback who also happens to be a drag queen. It reads sort of like The OC (the focus is very much on boys, dating, fitting in, how to assert your own individuality) but, because of its setting, feels fresh enough to make it stand out from the crowd. For a more thoughtful story of teenage sexuality, try Meg Rosoff's superb What I Was, but if you're looking for something warmer then this is a good place to start. (more)

  • Starter for Ten

    Oddly flat

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    David Nicholl's comic campus novel, set rather decidedly in the 80s, concerns geeky undergraduate Brian Jackson and his love for University Challenge. Rubbish with women, intelligent, struggling to remain friends with his friends back home...Brian is clearly meant to be the sort of plucky loser we're meant to fall in love with. The problem is that he's never really that sympathetic as a character. The broad plot involves Brian joining the campus University Challenge team, where he meets the bewitching Alice. However, he's clearly meant to be with sharp-minded leftie Rebecca. With this kind of novel, it doesn't necessarily matter if the ending is signposted early on. However, Nicholls seems to use this as an excuse to practically ignore Rebecca as a character. She's drawn in broad strokes - clever, political - and then pretty much abandoned, only to return with full force towards the end of the story. Starter For Ten is so concerned with Brian's graceless courtship of the i...David Nicholl's comic campus novel, set rather decidedly in the 80s, concerns geeky undergraduate Brian Jackson and his love for University Challenge. Rubbish with women, intelligent, struggling to remain friends with his friends back home...Brian is clearly meant to be the sort of plucky loser we're meant to fall in love with. The problem is that he's never really that sympathetic as a character. The broad plot involves Brian joining the campus University Challenge team, where he meets the bewitching Alice. However, he's clearly meant to be with sharp-minded leftie Rebecca. With this kind of novel, it doesn't necessarily matter if the ending is signposted early on. However, Nicholls seems to use this as an excuse to practically ignore Rebecca as a character. She's drawn in broad strokes - clever, political - and then pretty much abandoned, only to return with full force towards the end of the story. Starter For Ten is so concerned with Brian's graceless courtship of the impossibly beautiful Alice that there's no real sense of connection between him and Rebecca. The book is full of comedic set-pieces that are, for the most part, uninspired: a midnight meeting with Alice's naked mother, Brian's first spliff etc. Some of this might raise a smile but it's not laugh-out-loud funny and much of this appears very "lad lit by numbers". Unsurprisingly, David Nicholls is a TV scriptwriter and much of Starter For Ten reads like a one-off TV drama on ITV. The story was much better served by Tom Vaughn's film version, with its energetic 80s soundtrack and a rumbustious performance from James McAvoy, who manages to make Brian a lot more appealing than he appears on the page. (more)

  • Evolution and other stories

    A unique collection

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    This is an interesting collection of stories, varying in length. Some are very short, snippets of a very specific moment in a character's life. Others are longer and offer something more surreal. The author is fond of disorientating her reader. In one story, the characters are only known as "the husband" and "the wife" and a couple of the stories are written in the second person. This habit of catching the reader off-guard is Evolution's strong point. We get the sense that all of Leduc's characters have rich emotional lives but they are tantalisingly withheld. Instead, the reader is fed tiny pieces of information with which to make up their own mind about a character. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the enchanting - and very short - "Red Dress". Personally, I do feel that Leduc is better when dealing with the everyday than with the surreal. Religion, mostly in the form of angels, appears several times throughout the collection. It is, by turns, benign, incompreh...This is an interesting collection of stories, varying in length. Some are very short, snippets of a very specific moment in a character's life. Others are longer and offer something more surreal. The author is fond of disorientating her reader. In one story, the characters are only known as "the husband" and "the wife" and a couple of the stories are written in the second person. This habit of catching the reader off-guard is Evolution's strong point. We get the sense that all of Leduc's characters have rich emotional lives but they are tantalisingly withheld. Instead, the reader is fed tiny pieces of information with which to make up their own mind about a character. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the enchanting - and very short - "Red Dress". Personally, I do feel that Leduc is better when dealing with the everyday than with the surreal. Religion, mostly in the form of angels, appears several times throughout the collection. It is, by turns, benign, incomprehensible and secretive. All of this comes across very well in the writing but I'm not entirely sure that, in some cases, the theme is completely connected to the character. This is particularly apparent in the first story, "Evolution", which didn't grab me as I think it was supposed to. However, this is a small niggle with an otherwise very intriguing, original set of short stories. My favourite was a story about a couple who invite a student into their home. Stripped of the kind of histrionics one might expect from this kind of scenario, Leduc focuses fascinatingly on the everyday rituals and insecurities of her characters, revealing just enough to keep the reader interested but never so much that it feels melodramatic. (more)

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