Book Reviews of The Handmade’s Tale, The Life of Pi, The Great Gatsby and The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Summer is already over in Sydney and I wanted to share with you a couple of books I read while away in Sunny Queensland.

The Handmade’s Tale


I am a huge sucker for political science-fiction books starting with “what if” and I actually wrote the start of the short story with the same premises: a world where pregnancy would be outsourced to lower class people. Aside from the fact that my story was WAY better (of course) the idea is really interesting and it was nice to see a different story unfold from the same basic concept. However the book falls short on the actual writing point of view and I did not enjoy the reading as much. I found it hard to relate to the main character – but after 3 months still remember the main scenes of the story. Powerful storyline but writing and characters were so-so in my opinion. 5/10

The Life Of Pi

I did not have high expectations (popular book, you know…) but I have absolutely blown away by The Life of Pi. The story was magical, very well-written, original and most importantly I felt I had discovered something when I finished the book. I am not a religious person but the lesson from the book – after all life is already gloomy let’s choose the better story – had a special resonance for me. I saw the movie as well – good but as always nowhere near as entrancing as the book itself. My favourite moment is the green island and the meeting with the French cook. I felt that there was something to take-away at all levels of the story both literal and metaphorical. I loved it. I would definitely recommend it if you have not read it yet. 9/10

The Great Gatsby


I had never read this giant of American literature and I understood what all the fuss was about. Excellent writing and style. You feel immediately immersed in a different time and place and the strength of the characters take the story to another level. I can’t wait to see the new movie adaptation coming out this May because I feel it has a very “cinematographic” feel. Short, visual, clear scenario and an intensity to be carried out by the characters. 8/10

The Perks of Being a Wall-Flower


I had not watched the movie and read the book without any idea of what is was about. I felt the writing was very basic and that I probably was not the intended audience of the book – it has a very “pre-teen” feel. I was quite annoyed reading the first couple of chapters but somehow this book grew on me after a little while. The characters were very well depicted and despite the number of “skeletons in the closet” the story had a good rythm. Why not for a younger reader? 6.5/10

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Why I was bored reading The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus’ story boils down to impossible love between two young people raised to fight each other. They are competing by showing off their magical skills to each other and to the rest of world by building an enchanted circus that tours the world in a Victorian era.

Magic, love, Victorian era: what’s not to love? After reading overwhelmingly positive reviews on Amazon I downloaded the Kindle version and took aaages to finish this book. Like at least 3 weeks. This is never a good sign (as an upside I was falling asleep extremely quickly).

“OMG we love each other but we can’t be together”

Firstly I felt a little too quickly that I had read this plot many times in different stories. This is such a strong teen fantasy and so many best sellers have been based on the identical storyline these past few years. Impossible love between a human and a vampire. Impossible love between two contestants of a death game. Impossible love between a native Indian and an English explorer (my favourite Disney!). Impossible love between a human and a blue alien. Impossible love between two Italian nobles from different families (well that one was probably a little older…). Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think having a completely original plot is a pre-condition for a good book but it seems a little too much in l’air du temps.

“We need to stop fight other but we can’t… What can we do? Oh my Romeo!”

After the storyline my second grievance is against the two protagonists. They. Are. Just. So. Boring. I did not feel at any point attached, sad, entranced, or any other kind of emotions towards those two people. They were just empty until quite late in the story when they are suddenly discovering they love each other (as the reader of course it’s understood immediately). And past this point they became a little too lovey-dovey for my liking. They just seem to have no willpower or anything interesting to say. I like to have brilliant, crazy, cruel or just quirky characters in my books. These two are magicians but seemed just so plain vanilla. Sorry. I can’t even remember their names. Other characters were more interesting. Her father, his card-reader lover, the clockmaker, the previous challenger. They had stories to tell and had much more depth.

Easily annoyed?

And the ending… Really? I don’t want to spoil the book for you but I was mentally face-palming myself thinking “oh dear… embarrassing” at something that cheesy. Maybe at the end of the day I was not the target audience for the book. Again I had the feeling it is the story I might have wanted to read when I was 13. Many gimmicks annoyed me throughout the book including the use of French (why? because I’m French maybe. Ha.)

But the circus is pretty!

OK, so that’s for the story and characters. Now and because I don’t think everything was bad and to finish on a positive note: the circus was cool. It was great picturing and imagining the decors and the environment of the circus and I think this book would make an ok-movie only because of the visuals and descriptions of the different tents. It could also be a cool circus to wander in.

Verdict

It would have been a better painting/short movie than a book. Or maybe a nice interactive website to explore. Story and characters were blah but settings have a lot of potential. I would pay for my ticket to le Cirque des Rêves… however not reading the book again.

Marking Time – Marquer le temps

Sometimes your weeks and months seem to have a special theme or flavour. I have been listening to the French radio podcast “On Darwin’s shoulders” (from France Inter) on my dad’s recommendation. I am currently listening a looong series of talks about time, nature, science, the universe, etc. It is such an amazing show, always different, talking about science but borrowing from literature and philosophy. The last 35 podcasts have been about “the beatings of time” and when I saw that the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney was hosting an exhibition called “Marking Time” I thought it was right in my last couple of weeks’ theme.

Rainy Sunday & museum nearly rhyme, don’t they? There was a huge crowd at the Museum because of the Clock exhibition. It’s apparently a must-see but the very long queue was a big turn-off for us and we made our way to the 3rd floor where Marking Time was hosted.

(Also on the forecourt of the museum there was an architectural exhibition/live performance called Daschshunds UN basically a replica of the UN amphitheatre with dogs instead of dignitaries from different countries. We could not see much under the forest of umbrellas (it was pouring down that day) but such an awesome satire to show this cacophonous debate among sausage dogs.)

Marking Time had different types of art pieces and I don’t know much about contemporary art so I will only talk to you my favourite one.

The first one were 2 videos from Daniel Crooks that were showing a man in movement (an old Chinese man doing his Tai Chi routine and a boxer training in an American gym) while slowing down the intermediate phases between movements so that the eyes would see the phases we are not able to see normally. A reflection of the man is “coming out” of the real person and you get the impression that there is 3 Tai Chi men or 3 punching boxers in the video.

Static No.12 (seek stillness in movement)
Static No.12 (seek stillness in movement)
2010, HD video, 16:9, 05:28 min, Stereo http://www.danielcrooks.com

This was so interesting and relevant thinking back at the radio show on the “beatings of time”: seeing what is happening between two beats, what’s invisible to the eyes.

I have finished reading the latest book from Oliver SachsThe Mind’s Eye and one of the conclusions I drew from the book is that the sight is only one way to perceive the world and reality, probably not even the best one. Humans are relying on it so much that they forget or can’t realize that reality is only interpreted by their eyes. Fascinating read as always.

The Mind's Eye book cover
The Mind’s Eye by Oliver Sacks (October 26, 2010) Paperback, Alfred A. Knopf

I wholeheartedly recommend listening to “On Darwin’s Shoulders”, seeing Daniel Crooks’ videos and reading The Mind’s Eye. How stunning that I get to enjoy all these different insights and points of view in such a short period of time!