Gerald’s Game by Stephen King

After finding Gerald’s Game in a charity shop, I decided to give it a go and the blurb had grabbed me straight away. Interesting storyline, but it turns out the 400 page novel could have easily been chopped in half and been much less tedious to read. 

At the start of the story, Jessie and her husband Gerald are in their holiday home in the middle of nowhere near a lake. Jessie decides, after Gerald has handcuffed her to the bed, that she doesn’t want it to happen anymore and ends up killing her husband. This was pretty shocking and leaves so many questions that the reader wants to get the answers to; how will she cope with her husbands death and body? How will she get out of the handcuffs? The descriptions and story from this point on was fairly tedious and I really had to push through to get nearer the end of the book, merely because I needed to satisfy my curiosity of what would happen. King uses pages and pages of descriptions for things which only need one page at most, and would have made the book a much more page-turning story and gotten to the point quicker. For example, he spends 11 pages describing how Jessie is trying to reach the glass of water on the shelf above her. 

It grabs more of the reader’s attention around a third of the way through, making me want to know what happened in Jessie’s past between her and her father. However, once that is revealed I was pushing on again to see if and how she escaped. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the voices in Jessie’s head, all arguing with each other on how she was going to get out and taunting her with her past. I found myself rooting more for the tough and insensitive voice in her head telling her to get on with it, more than I sympathised with Jessie herself, bound to the bed in handcuffs with her dead husband on the floor. The descriptions just made me willing for her to die just to shut her voices up and end the situation. One aspect of the writing I did like, however, was the way King conveyed Jessie’s past and how the events from the fateful night at the lake were told to the reader in two different ways; via the third person being present with Jessie and via a letter Jessie later writes to an old college friend.

The ending really gripped me, giving information on what the reader is led to believe is Jessie’s insanity. This could have saved the story slightly but I felt some questions still weren’t answered and there were things not making sense regarding the creepy man making an appearance in the lake house and why he didn’t do anything to Jessie or, more to his taste, Gerald’s dead body. 

Unfortunately, I would not recommend this book to anyone and was disappointed to find what I thought would be an interesting topic was given across in a tiresome and lengthy way. 

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Papillon by Henri Charriere

I decided to read Papillon because of its status as a classic and must read book, actually appearing in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. It was a struggle but I got through it and Henri Charriere’s story and life adventure in and out of prison left me shocked and amazed at how much one human being can go through before the age of forty. 

The story of Papillon, named according to the butterfly tattoo on his chest, follows him through various countries and places in South America after he has been sentenced to the penal settlement in French Guiana. He plans and succeeds in many escapes from the different prisons he finds himself in, as well as also failing a fair few attempts. He has been wrongly accused and sentenced for manslaughter and throughout his incredible story he endures two separate solitary confinement sentences of two years and then five years (which was originally set at eight years but a noble act from Papillon reduces the time), meets and has two indian wives for a period of time while out of prison and sees the body of one of his good friends get taken down and eaten by sharks. The conditions of the solitary confinement shocked me more than anything, as well as the fact that Papillon endures the sentences of two and five years and comes out still sane. He is such a strong minded individual and describes the lives of those around him who do not make it through their solitary sentences. He is locked in a dark basement cell for these sentences, given only few very small meals a day, predominantly consisting of cabbage water. 

I found myself shocked, not just by Papillon’s strong-willed actions, but also by the legal system in South America at that time. The prisons, prison staff and the way they ran seemed much more lenient than I would have expected, granting Papillon more freedom and favours than you would think. Saying that, there were also a lot of barbaric and shocking scenes described throughout, leaving the reader, or at least myself, feeling I could never survive a life in prison. A lot of favours are given to him throughout the story and he seems to meet a lot of beautiful women, but all of this, exaggerated or not, definitely adds to the charm of his unique story. 

Despite leaving out some information on certain events, the story was slightly tedious to read at times. However, Henri Charriere gives the reader a reasonable amount of information in order to take you through and relive his incredible adventure. His courage and persistence are at the forefront of everything told in this book and how he came out of it all healthy, alive and sane is beyond me. A truly motivated and fearless individual, I won’t forget Papillon’s story for a long time. 

 

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Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson

I was bought Before I Go To Sleep and later had it recommended it to me by a friend and so was looking forward to reading it. I think my expectations may have been a little too high…

The story is told by Christine, a woman who experiences memory loss every time she falls asleep at night, and follows her through her struggle to fight against her condition and attempt to live a normal life. With the narrator suffering from memory loss, the book, as you may expect, does start to get repetitive and slightly dull fairly quickly. I did struggle through parts, as they were repetitive and not captivating enough for me. However, the book did manage to hold my interest and intrigue despite its repetitive nature.

I found that I did not really connect with Christine throughout the book. In my opinion, it is important to develop some sort of connection or understanding to the narrator, or at least the main character of a book. Even if that relationship causes you to dislike or disagree with them throughout their narrative, I find it important to hold strong feelings for the narrator by the end of the book. I just found Christine’s character to be mundane and weak, which obviously would have some effect on the story itself. I just didn’t find her convincing or believable because of the nature of her ‘rare’ condition and the ways that is portrayed throughout the plot.

However, although the first two thirds of the book were fairly dull, I feel the subject matter has been tackled well by S J Watson and the story has been well executed in order to deliver a good twist at the end of the book. The last third, I would say, did pick up and gave the reader some suspense and excitement to then deliver an unexpected (at least for me) ending. Saying that, the reader is relied upon to suspend their disbelief quite a few times throughout the story but mainly at the end. 

I would say that the topic and theme of the book is interesting and the ending is suspenseful and exciting, however, does a good ending make up for the rest of an otherwise repetitive book? Not too sure it does in this case.

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One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest by Ken Kesey

Like most classics, this book has always been one which I feel I should read, as well as intriguing me into wanting to read it. Ken Kesey brilliantly explores the inner workings of a psychiatric ward, drawing from his own experiences to deliver a descriptive and realistic story.

The narrator, Chief Bromden, takes the reader into the mental hospital whereby Nurse Ratched and the ‘combine’ run the place with many restraints and rules in place. Those orders and the boundaries placed on the patients are pushed to the limits when Randall McMurphy enters the institution, with dramatic but often funny results.

One of the main things I liked about this book was the characters and the depth created by the author.  You really get attached and find yourself rooting for them to break free from the restraints of Nurse Ratched. McMurphy is the rebel who comes in and attempts to change the rules and to physically, emotionally and mentally free the patients from the psychiatric ward. He quickly forms bonds with all the patients on the ward, with Chief Bromden giving the reader full access to all the happenings. He also has exclusive access to the ‘behind the scenes’ activity of the ‘combine’ which adds to the story greatly.

The narrator may not be reliable, and he may be a paranoid schizophrenic, but I really grew to like him and found his narration made the story extremely interesting and insightful. The only problem with having such an unreliable narrator, was differentiating between what was reality and what were his own hallucinations. I did find this difficult but having now looked into the deeper themes of the book, they are there to represent the Chief’s deeper thoughts and views on how the institution is ran. 

If you appreciate a book with under the surface meanings, then you will enjoy this. I would also say that it can be enjoyed without knowing or looking into the themes, especially if you’re interested in psychology and mental health. Although it took me a while to read and was hard to follow at times, I thoroughly enjoyed One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and found I missed it once I had finished it. That’s when you know you enjoyed a book. This book is definitely on my to re-read list!

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Trust Your Eyes by Linwood Barclay

Linwood Barclay is one of my favourite authors and so I did not hesitate in going straight out and buying his latest novel, Trust Your Eyes. I had very high expectations of this book and, as always, Barclay did not disappoint.

The plot was completely original, with the modern day theme of technology being the main focus. Whirl360 is the equivalent of google maps, whereby the user can view any street in the world from their computer screen. Thomas, a schizophrenic with an extraordinary talent for memorising maps, stumbles across a murder captured by the camera of Whirl360 and so sets out with the help of his brother, Ray, to figure the whole thing out. Barclay does a great job of handling the mental health issue of Thomas with care and portrays him in a good and sympathetic light. The characters of Thomas and Ray are believable and have a depth to them that makes the reader believe the, at times, extravagant plot Barclay has created. 

Barclay stays true to his usual writing style, full of suspense and unputdownable moments. Just like his other books, the most recent being The Accident, there is a lot going on throughout the story, with many characters and events happening at once and eventually overlapping and merging into one. This is one aspect of Barclay’s writing that I like the most. He manages to give the reader plenty to think about and offers an exciting and eventful plot without losing the reader in the complications of the story. He keeps the reader guessing and wanting to read on and never fails to explain every part that may not be clear right away. Along the way there are many twists and turns, some of which I found to be predictable and could guess where they were going. However, just when you think you have it all figured out, something happens which turns the whole storyline around. 

As well as the usual traits of a good thriller book, which Barclay never fails to include, the novel addresses many different themes such as politics, scandal, humour, romance and, of course, murder. As well as these giving the novel extra layers and depth, Barclay’s novels all have similarities by the way of place names and characters, which I also like because it gives that sense of familiarity and makes his novels that much more enjoyable and believable; you feel as though you really know the characters and feel involved in their interactions.

After reading the book I found the trailer on http://www.linwoodbarclay.com, which would definitely persuade you to read Trust Your Eyes if you’re having any doubt. I would recommend this book to anybody who has read other Barclay novels, and if you haven’t read any then I’d say this would be an excellent place to start.

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A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen

A Street Cat Named Bob is an easy to read story about how a man on the streets of London found hope and started on the road to recovery by adopting a ginger tom cat who needed his help. James Bowen found the cat, later naming him Bob, in a bad way and nursed him back to a healthy, happy cat who then decided he wasn’t going to leave James’ side.

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this book, after hearing from a few people that it was badly written and just not the best book they had ever read. When I started reading it I knew exactly what they meant, but decided to continue as it sounded original and a good story to read. No, the writing wasn’t the best, but the book wasn’t intended to be the great American novel and James Bowen isn’t a professional writer. The story is what I ended up loving, along with the messages behind the story and the information it gives the reader. It really opens the reader’s mind and shows them a world many of us tend to ignore and will never experience. 

James Bowen is open and honest about his past and the reasons why he ended up living, as he often says, a ‘hand-to-mouth existence’. I grew to like him by the end of the book and admired him for having gone through such dark, scary times of his life and taking on the responsibility of looking after and caring for Bob. They have such a strong bond and the cat seems to be one of a kind. You really start rooting for them both to live happily ever after. 

Once I finished the book I even searched for ‘Bob the cat’ on the Internet and watched a few videos put on YouTube. Searching for this made me realise how much I had enjoyed the story and the videos just made me love Bob and James’ story even more. It is a simply written story but is touching and uplifting, as well as eye opening in terms of giving the reader an insight into life on the streets. If you are looking for a warm, uplifting story, this is the book for you.

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

This has been one of those books I have always felt an obligation to read and have thoroughly enjoyed reading it. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a story on its own, with Hemingway calling it ‘the best book we’ve had’.

This book follows the narrator, Huckleberry Finn, as he escapes from Miss Watson’s house of convention and rules, and then from his abusive father’s clutches, to embark on a journey down the Mississippi River with a black slave called Jim. Their adventure takes them down the river, coming across many different towns and happenings, including a feuding family and a fraudulent king and duke. Huckleberry Finn is such a loveable character and is portrayed as such a kind-hearted, considerate child through his language and the ways in which he deals with the ups and downs of his life. I really grew to love the language used throughout the book, especially that of Huckleberry Finn. Each character has his or her own way of talking, and although difficult to understand at times, it gave the story and characters great depth. The language of Jim, the black slave from Miss Watson’s household, is fairly difficult to grasp but contributes to his characters traits and likeability.

Mark Twain actually spent his childhood on the Mississippi and later worked on the river boats, his experiences forming the basis of his writing. This book is not only an adventure and coming-of-age story, but one which addresses many themes and issues present at the time of writing. One issue raised is that of slavery and the treatment of black slaves by white people in the south of America. Huckleberry becomes good friends with Jim and questions the rules he has been bought up to abide by and the ways of the society he lives in. The raft which him and Jim travel down the river on represents his freedom and finally allows him to be a child with no obligations and free to make his own decisions. 

This novel contains so many themes and emotions including friendship, adventure, deceit, fraud and racism, with the most enlightening thing about it being that all theses things are communicated through the words and actions of the lionhearted Huckleberry Finn. The reason I love this book is because the surface and the story itself is an exciting childhood adventure, then if you choose to explore the messages and layers of the novel, it evolves into an even greater piece of work from Mark Twain. A recommended read for all.

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