Station Eleven, Emily St.John Mandel


‘Hell is the absence of the people you long for.’

Station Eleven is at once devastatingly tragic and surprisingly hopeful. I already know that I’ll think about this book for a long time, and come back to again and again.

The post-apocalyptic novel revolves largely around the life and relations of Arthur Leander, the actor whose sudden on-stage death is the first chapter, preparing us for the speed and ruthlessness of the flu-epidemic that is to follow.

Every single character in this book is meticulously thought through, well-rounded, and entirely believable and engrossing. Finishing this was hard because I didn’t want to leave their lives behind. I can only hope for a sequel, although I’m not sure if it actually needs one (except to satisfy my own desires).

As well as discovering the links between all the characters and Leander, the plot of the novel follows the Travelling Symphony, a nomadic group of musicians and actors, whose existence in this post-epidemic world is to entertain, educate and keep culture and The Arts alive. ‘Survival‘, to the Travelling Symphony, ‘is insufficient’.

Shakespeare, science-fiction graphic novels, affairs, love and death, alongside some of the best and most evocative writing I have ever come across make this book a definite five out of five stars for me.

This has quickly become my new favourite book and I will recommend it to anyone. I’m definitely going to be reading the author’s other novels, and keeping my eyes peeled for anything new from Emily St.John Mandel.

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Podcast Recommendations

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So I’ve jumped on the podcast bandwagon and haven’t looked back.

There’s been a bit of a popularity surge in this twist on radio broadcasting recently, and it’s suddenly really trendy to listen to (or if you’re talented enough: create) all of the podcasts.

As you all probably know by now, I love to read. I love a good television series. I love stories. I love learning new and interesting things. And you’re not supposed to read a book or watch Netflix on your phone whilst walking down the street, so: enter podcasts! Pop those headphones in and get walkin’, girl.

They’re not radio shows – don’t be put off by thoughts of Desert Island Discs (if you are into that though, those are on the iTunes chart, too).

But, it did start out as a kind of experiment by The Guardian back in 2004, on “radio broadcasting”, combining “the intimacy of voice, the interactivity of a weblog, and the convenience and portability of an MP3 download”.

But it’s definitely come into its own unique genre since then, now with plenty of sub-genres, too. Just take a look at the iTunes podcast section!

Anyway, I thought I’d share with you all a few of my favourites:

The Bright Sessions

The Bright Sessions is presented in the form of tape recordings from the office of Dr Bright, a psychologist to those who consider themselves to be ‘strange and unusual’.

Think X-Men, but with teenagers and therapy.

This was the podcast (recommended to me by a friend) that got me into podcasts. It’s fiction, so it’s a bit like an audio book, but heard through tape recordings of the sessions, which makes it’s feel more real – like you’re listening in on conversations you shouldn’t be.

It’s currently in the middle of its third season, and I’m still hooked. I completely binged the first two seasons in about a week, so it’s killing me waiting for each new episode. But they’re really worth it.

My Favorite Murder

Yep. A podcast about murder and true crime.

Category: comedy.

This is a podcast about true crime, for those fascinated with serial killers and the like. Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff sit around being hilarious and witty, discussing murder in all its manifestations and exploring the reasons behind why people kill, and anything else that happens to pop into their ever distracted heads.

You either like it or you don’t!

Serial (Season 1)

I’m sure the second season of Serial is great, too, but I’ve just finished the first one. Sarah Koenig investigates the murder of Hae Min Lee, and everything that came after.

This one’s more of a documentary. I don’t want to say too much about it, except it’s probably one of the reasons why podcasting has become so popular in the past two years. This kick-started the whole trend, I’m pretty sure.

Alice Isn’t Dead 

A fictional story about a truck driver road-tripping across America in search of her missing wife, who she long assumed was dead.

Until strange things start happening.

The story is told through the tape recordings the narrator makes for Alice on her journey. Intense, vivid and often uncomfortable, this story is a thrilling and addictive mix of supernatural, murder and conspiracy.

And the narrators voice is the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to, so go and download it, if only for that.

 

If you have any good podcast recommendations comment them below so I can binge on them! 🙂

 

The Importance of Being Bored


It’s probably a bit hypocritical of me to try and cover this subject, since I’m one of the biggest culprits when it comes to being unable to turn off.

I’m either obsessively reading, binge-listening to podcasts, addicted to a TV show, mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or Reddit or Instagram, or generally running my mouth off about any of the above. (And I’m very aware of the irony around me writing a blog post at 11pm on a Sunday, whilst I preach about unplugging).

I really want to be able to just sit in the middle of something, thoughtlessly. To be neither hot nor cold about a topic. To let boredom wash over me, like sitting in a lukewarm bath, and let myself relax. But truth be told, I can’t even have a bath without a book, podcast or an album to busy my mind.

Being bored is not only lost on me, but it’s lost on most of us: the social media generation. Everything we need to keep ourselves occupied, is at the tip of our fingers, all the time.

And I’m not necessarily saying that this is always a bad thing. We’ve all benefited from the internet and social media, it’s an unavoidable and necessary tool for 21st century life. But, it’s also important to understand what it means to be bored.

It’s important to learn how to entertain ourselves, to actively and guiltlessly daydream, and keep our imaginations active. Otherwise, we end up becoming patchworks of everyone else, with nothing to say for ourselves.

I’m certainly trying to make an effort these days to media detox a little more often. So, here are some thoughts on the benefits of boredom, which I hope will convince both me and you to switch off now and again:

1. Boredom = mindfulness

When we’re not constantly ingesting the ideas and stories of everyone else, we can sit back and consider our own lives.

This is probably one of the reasons we’re so obsessed with being occupied in the first place. Sometimes considering your own situation is a lot less enticing than judging the lives of others. As unenthusiastic as we may be to reflect on our own lives, it’s important to face the things in life that we’re unhappy with, in order to begin to change them.

2. Boredom = creativity 

When you let your mind quiet, it allows you to look at your own ideas, and explore those things that have being sitting on the back shelves gathering dust. Exercising your mind of everything but your own thoughts once in a while is beneficial in so many ways for creativity. Take those ideas you probably didn’t remember were back there, dust them off, and see where they go.

3. Being bored = falling asleep quicker 

When your mind is constantly bombarded with stimulus, whether that be from the TV show you’ve been binge-watching, the podcast you can’t stop listening to or the book you can’t put down, then when you finally get into bed (probably after ‘one last scroll’ through Facebook/Twitter/Instagram) you can’t switch off. Decreasing your intake of external stimulation means you’re able to relax quicker in the evening, and get the beauty sleep you deserve.

 

So do yourself a favour, and switch off more often. Let yourself be bored and see where it takes you.

Elizabeth is Missing, Emma Healey

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Maud can’t remember the last time she saw Elizabeth. She doesn’t know why she has dirt under her fingernails or how she got to the bandstand in the park. But she knows that Elizabeth is missing. She knows that. The note in her pocket tells her so.

This book is an interesting look into the mind of an elderly lady with (assumed) dementia, who’s desperately trying to remember what she knows she needs to remember.

Following in the footsteps of many contemporary novels, it to-and-fros between past and present time, concentrating on twin mysteries – the disappearances of her sister and of Elizabeth. As the novel goes on, the two begin to merge, both in plot and in Maud’s confused mind.

It’s touching and sad and well-written, but I’m afraid it’s yet another book for me, in terms of plot and character, which didn’t live up to the hype that surrounded it.

It’s probably to do with the fact that Maud is, understandably, such an unreliable narrator. However, I don’t think that this is a good enough excuse for there to still be unanswered questions at the end of the novel.

I found myself much more engaged with the postwar story line which followed a young Maud and the suspicious disappearance of her older sister, Sukey. I felt thoroughly emerged in Healey’s 1940s London, and since the narrator is a lot more reliable in these sections, I felt a more solid attachment to the plot and a more emotive relationship to the characters.

If the feeling of loss and misunderstanding around the present day story of Maud and Elizabeth is intentionally meant to reflect the confusion and chaos in the mind of the protagonist, then Healey has done a thorough and good job.

If you like intentionally unreliable narrators and literary fiction then this is the book for you.

Nocturnal Animals, Austin Wright

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Love. Death. Retribution.

Susan Morrow and Edward Sheffield divorced fifteen years ago. Now a house-wife and mother in Chicago, married to Doctor Arnold Morrow, she one day receives a letter and a manuscript from her ex-husband, asking would she like to read his first book?

A compulsive worrier, Susan assumes that Edward’s getting back in touch means that there will be some hidden meaning in his story: “a new twist in their dead romance”. She’s surprised, intrigued and hesitant, but finally sits down to read the manuscript over a three day period.

The manuscript, Nocturnal Animals, is a thriller which follows Tony Hastings’ journey after a highway ambush, and the kidnapping of his wife and daughter.

Susan reads, as we all do, with the hope of taking herself out of and away from her own reality, so she’s unpleasantly surprised to find more of herself in this novel than she would have liked.

 

I really enjoyed most of this book and appreciated Wright’s consideration of the interconnection between real and invented worlds, and the relationship between the reader and the writer.

However, I wouldn’t call the book a thriller.

It didn’t have the expected or anticipated twist that a thriller needs. Even in the manuscript, I was waiting for something to happen. Some big twist that makes you throw your hands to your mouth and shout “OH!” in shock and realisation.

But, I don’t think that this is the author’s fault.

My expectations were founded on the way the book has been recently advertised. For me, it’s definitely more literary fiction, focused on Susan’s compulsion to read and her fear of reading, and this is the part that, in my opinion, is done really well.

The conceit at the heart of this book is intellectual and stimulating: reading the book alongside Susan, even if she is neurotic and passive, means that our reactions are her reactions, our thoughts are her thoughts. We are the reader.

It’s also a book about revenge. The manuscript itself seems enveloped in it, as well as the strange relationship between Edward and Susan. However, I think that their relationship was left unexplored and the focus on the eventually pretty average novel that Edward wrote, meant that their complicated past (and indeed complicated present) was unfortunately left behind, to the detriment of this novel.

Overall, although I felt slightly disappointed when I had finished this book (because it was missing the cheap thrill I expected), I really enjoyed reading it. It’s given me a lot to think about, which can only be a good thing, in my opinion.

 

Have you read this? Let me know what you thought in the comments below!

Book review: Only Daughter, Anna Snoekstra

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As I briefly mentioned in my last post, I joined a book club! A real one with real people where you can go to a bar once a month and drink gin and talk about the thing you all love to do (read, obviously… and drink gin).

So, I went to my first proper meeting tonight and it was great, and so good to talk to people who enjoy the same things as I do. I also won next month’s book in the raffle – woohoo! Good start.

Anyway, January’s book was Only Daughter by Anna Snoekstra, and I hated it. Not such a good start.

But hear me out. Bear in mind when I read it, I had just finished the BBC series The Missing, so this might have skewed my judgement, and the premises are very similar: girl goes missing, girl comes back years later, but is it really her? Nope.

Sorry! But that’s not a spoiler. You learn that pretty much immediately in the book. The plot line is more about what happened to the real daughter, why, and by whom?

The story is told from both the girls’ perspectives, alternating back and forth from 2003 when the real Rebecca went missing, and 2014 when the posing Rebecca appears.

This was definitely enough to get me intrigued, my attention was successfully caught by the blurb and I was ready for a juicy new thriller.

The story itself was good, but the actual writing was a bit of a let down. It was really easy to read but I felt like the sub-plots were predictable, disappointing and boring. If this was written better, and the plots and characters were more fleshed out, I really think I would have loved it.

The last thirty or so pages were filled with suspense and plot but sadly I felt like the rest of the book lacked this, and so many threads were left loose at the end! I imagine that this is so that Snoekstra can easily write up and sell a sequel but I just feel like it’s a bit of a cop out really, and I don’t think it’s fair on the reader to be left with so many unanswered questions.

The book is apparently being turned into a film, so it’ll be interesting to see if the how the characters and plot come across for that. I don’t think I’ll be rushing to see it though…

Have any of you read this book? What did you think? I know some people in the book club really liked it so would be interested in your opinions!

Borrowed Time

::an uncertain and usually uncontrolled postponement of something inevitable.

Borrowed time

Sometimes we feel as if we might be living on borrowed time. Stuck, suspended, waiting for … something.

It’s difficult, I think, for graduates lately. We’ve been given all of these expectations about what to expect when we finally finish our education. We’ve been told that if we finish with a great grade, if we gain enough work experience, do enough extra curricular activities, then landing our dream job will come naturally.

We come into the world with a (very expensive) piece of paper, declaring that we’re capable, we can be adults now. Things will just be there, waiting for us to take them. But unfortunately, it’s just not that simple. Things don’t wait for you, and you can’t wait for them. And that becomes a disappointment – but it really shouldn’t be.

Of course, some people know what they want, and they will do anything to achieve their goals, and that’s great and they’re sure to get there. But it’s also completely normal to not know what we want to do with our lives just yet.

Since graduating 10 months ago (wow), I have applied for countless ‘dream jobs’. Jobs I thought would be the kick start to my ‘career’ – jobs in magazines, newspapers, for websites, and media companies. Because a job in publishing seems like the natural next step, for an English graduate who will read anything she can get her hands on.

But, needless to say, I didn’t get an interview for even one of these jobs. And that’s because I don’t actually think any of them excited me all that much – and as much as you try, that shows in your application.

“Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life.
The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives
Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.” – Baz Lurhman, Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen

As soon as I broadened my horizons, and started applying for jobs outside of my comfort zone, outside of my realm of obvious experience, I started getting call backs, and invited to interviews. These jobs scared and excited me, because I love to learn new things, and I love to challenge myself.

I now work in a job I wouldn’t have even considered applying for this time last year. Doing something I never would have imagined I’d be able to do. And I really love it. I’m challenged every day and my sense of responsibility both within my team and within the company is growing as fast as my confidence.

I still love to read, and I still love to write, and I will continue to do these things as long as they excite me.

I am not living on borrowed time, none of us are. I am living now, and I am very, very happy about that.