Tag Archives: relationships

Book Review: The Only Story by Julian Barnes

“Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less, and suffer the less? That is, I think, finally, the only real question.”

This is how it starts, and I immediately knew, just by reading those words, that I will be witness to a beautiful and heartbreaking love story that will leave me, after the last page, with a heartsore. I was entirely right.

“Most of us have only one story to tell. I don’t mean that only one thing happens to us in our lives: there are countless events, which we turn into countless stories. But there’s only one that matters, only one finally worth telling.”
As a younger man, the narrator becomes entangled with an older woman, and their story is told in three parts. Interestingly, the perspectives change from first person, to second, to third, possibly reflecting the narrator’s maturing, and the distance he places between himself and his love story over time. As the ‘only’ story continues, many other facets of love emerge including commitment, sacrifice, and obsession to the point of addiction.

The author explains his choices to use these narration techniques better than I ever could. .“And first love always happens in the overwhelming first person. How can it not? Also, in the overwhelming present tense. It takes us time to realize that there are other persons, and other tenses. ”.

“The Only Story” is a story about a powerful love destined to fail, about hope, social conventions, shame, unspoken guilt, and loss. It is a beautifully written novel, as everything Barnes writes, but I do recognise that a slow moving plot and a deeply contemplative style is not everyone’s idea of a bedtime read.

“You realize how sympathy and antagonism can coexist. You are discovering how many seemingly incompatible emotions can thrive, side by side, in the same human heart.”




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Book Review: The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild

improb love

This book had a pretty good plot.  It concerns the rediscovery and sale of an 18th century French masterpiece called The Improbability of Love.  The novel opens on the night of the auction where we learn about all the fuss and attention of the sale and we also learn a little about the people buzzing round the painting; potential buyers and those hoping to profit directly or indirectly from the sale.  Then the novel jumps back 6 months to the initial discover of the painting in a junk shop then moves us through the identification of the painting and the discovery by certain characters of it’s very dark history and then back to where we opened on the night of the sale.  Along the way we have; romance, struggles with alcoholism, sex, greed, lies, a woman arrested and imprisoned for a crime she did not commit, Nazism, murder…and more!  Sounds like rollicking good read?  Well unfortunately it’s just really badly executed.

A major problem is that there are too many characters and most of the characters don’t play a part in the actual story.  We learn all about the backgrounds and wealth and…wardrobes of the incidental billionaires and millionaires hoping to purchase the painting but this knowledge doesn’t take us anywhere of achieve anything.  I guess Rothschild is trying to establish just how important the discovery of this painting is by showing us how many people are effected and involved but the problem with all her characters is that they are either A – totally boring, or B – totally over the top and not slightly believable or C – totally boring AND over the top and not slightly believable (mostly they are C).

Aside from all the bit parts we do have a couple of main characters at the heart of the tale.  Jesse and Annie are the innocent romantic leads unwittingly caught up in the chaos around the painting.  Annie is the young down at heel cook who buys the painting as a birthday present for a date who stands her up and Jesse is a struggling artist she bumps into in a gallery a little later who is helping her identify her mystery painting.  A bigger pair of sappy dull wet fish are difficult to imagine.  Reading about the development of their relationship and growing connection and attraction is the least sexy thing I have read since…Mein Kampf!  She is just a saintly goody two shoes with ‘victim’ written all over her (aside from discovering the painting she is nursing an alcoholic mother and her own broken heart from the end of a long term relationship) and he, well we don’t really know too much about him other than that he has floppy hair and a “slightly feminine mouth” and that he fell totally in love with Annie’s goodness and sweetness the second he laid eyes on her and will do anything to help (YUK!)

Most of the characters are mega rich, the leads are the only exception but are as about as convincing a picture of working class life as you’d find in a Richard Curtis script.  Annie comes to London after being dumped by her long term romantic and business partner in Devon.  She has no connections and no formal qualifications as she ran her own catering business with her older boyfriend from the age of 16, she has no references either as it would be a bit awkward asking her ex!  So what does she do when she arrives in London?  Find a room to rent in a shared property using Gumtree ?  Get a few zero hours shifts at a Sports Direct while getting a cleaning gig in the evening to pay the rent? NO!  She rents an entire one bedroom flat to herself (in London…in 2015…) and somehow gets a job as an assistant to a world famous film director – as you do!  The job is lowly but obviously flings her into the orbit of the rich and influential, her connection with the film director gets her a job as a chef with his wife, an art dealer, which then gets her catering gigs with the great and the good.  Honestly, rich people must think us down here are all mugs wasting our time complaining about minimum wage and job seeker’s allowance when apparently it’s that easy to go from nothing to being quite successful with only hard work, talent and goodness in your armoury.  It had the massive chip on my shoulder itching and throbbing painfully.

I considered quitting this book many times.  But the plot kept me in there as I was curious to find out what happened to the painting, but you know what they say about curiosity?  Don’t make the mistake I did, save yourself the pain and don’t get started.




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Book Review: If You Go Away by Adele Parks

If you go away

I’m afraid this book has gone on to my small life is too short pile of unfinished books.  The book was highly recommended to me by a friend so clearly not everyone feels this way!

It was just so humdrum and dull (IMO).  I gave it a fair chance, I got to page 233 before I decided that I had no interest in finding out what happened to these characters and would quite easily shut the book and never think of them again (obviously I’m thinking of them now – but only because I’m writing the review).

The book gives us alternate chapters following our heroine then hero over the same time period.  Our heroine is Vivian a very beautiful (we’re told this repeatedly) and slim (which we’re told over and over again) debutant.  Slim, beautiful Vivian is a popular girl who hopes to make a good marriage and help raise her family’s flagging fortunes but then when she fears she is losing the attentions of the man she has set her sights on she has sex with him in an attempt to seal their relationship.  This is a shocking thing for a high born young woman do to in 1914 and, although it is not clear that the details of her indiscretion are widely known, her reputation is damaged so her family rush her into a hasty marriage much more lowly than they had hoped for.  Her husband is not cruel or anything but he is cold and unaffectionate so their marriage is rather unsatisfactory.  It gets worse for Vivian when war breaks out her husband goes to war and it’s decided she should relocate from London to their relatively modest country home in the midlands where she is very lonely and isolated.

Our hero, Howard’s, story runs concurrently.  He a handsome (we are told this repeatedly), tall and manly (we are told this again and again) playwright who has a promising career ahead of him.  But then war breaks out and Howard is pressured to sign up, he resists because he does not agree with war and instead goes to the trenches as a journalist.  There he sees the horrors of war first hand and becomes even more convinced of the futility of war.  He returns to England just as conscription is introduced.  He becomes a conscientious objector and is imprisoned because of this.


Howard witnesses the horrors of life in the trenches

At this point I felt the time was coming for our heroes to meet as Vivian had befriended Howard’s mother in the country and she had started to talk to Vivian about the plight of her son.  That’s when I decided I just couldn’t go on.

It’s hard to put my finger on why this was so rubbish.  I guess in a way it wasn’t terrible just so so, it seemed to have nothing to offer that hadn’t been done better elsewhere.  There have been better books about lonely neglected wives and much better books about the horrors of war.  The characters were very two dimensional with nothing about them that drew you in or made you feel an emotional link to their journeys.  I just thought they both sounded fairly inoffensive but dull and I couldn’t imagine having an interesting conversation with either of them (even though I’m sure they would have been very nice to look at!)

I’d really like to hear from anyone who strongly disagrees with me on this.  What is it about this that you liked so much?  Does something extraordinary happen in the second half to make it all worthwhile?!




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Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L.James

Am I the last person in Britain to read this book?

Am I the last person in Britain to read this book?

I know, I know…I’ve come to this late, late, late!  The fuss, the controversy, the film have all been and gone but here I am finally reading the book for myself.

It’s quite weird reading a book you already feel you know all about – on the plus side it’s unlikely I’m going to accidentally deliver any spoilers!  You all know the basics but here you go away…

The plot involves innocent student Anastasia Steele meeting and falling in love with the mysterious billionaire Christian Grey.  The tale is told from Anastasia’s point of view.  She meets him while interviewing him for a student paper, they are immediately attracted to each other but she lacks confidence.  She does agree to meet him for dates however and he quickly informs her that he doesn’t do romance and instead wants her to sign a contract laying out the conditions for their relationship (which includes, among other things, conditions about performing kinky sex acts).  The rest of the novel is basically them getting to know each other and bargaining how their relationship will work.  She has deep reservations about signing a contract (understandably!) but is also attracted to Christian and really enjoys having sex with him and exploring aspects of submission and domination.  He is resistant about having a conventional relationship (partly because he was abused as a child which we don’t learn many details of at this stage) but he likes Ana so much that he is prepared to compromise his conditions too.

Scene from the film adaptation: I haven't seen it, wondering if I'd surprise myself my liking that too!

Scene from the film adaptation: I haven’t seen it, wondering if I’d surprise myself my liking that too!

Now for the shocking bit…I liked it!  It was the last thing I expected.  All the articles either celebrating it for encouraging women to explore their sexuality or condemning it for romanticising abusive relationships and all the articles in between seemed to agree it was terribly badly written but I disagree and enjoyed the writing style.  What I think James does well is capture the uncertainty, insecurity and fear that come with youthful first love.  This was what I most liked about it.  It really took me back to the early stage of my own relationships where along with passion and romance you’re bombarded with less friendly feelings.  I think there’s a tendency to forget or deny the truth of this stage of love.  If the relationship is successful you remember the early stages as an exciting blissful time conveniently forgetting all the jealous you felt when he mentioned an ex-girlfriend, the doubts ‘does he love me too?’ or ‘Am I ready for commitment?’  If the relationship quickly fizzles out or ends badly you like to pretend you were never bothered anyway forgetting the times you sat staring miserably at your phone waiting for him to text you back!

The 'saucy' aspects of the book had surprisingly little impact on me.

The ‘saucy’ aspects of the book had surprisingly little impact on me.

Overall I thought it was a good book about relationships, the sexual aspect made little impact on me I sort of forget that differences in their relationship were related to kinky sex!  It seemed irrelevant as the style of compromise and negotiation they go through could have applied to any source of division such as who does the washing up!  It’s probably just my reading of it but I took the extreme aspects to the book as almost metaphors for real life, his being a billionaire was symbolic of differences, the contract he asked her to sign was symbolic of the more informal ‘contracts’ we all agree to when entering a relationship.  I supposes it’s a failure of the book that the sex scenes that caused such controversy neither aroused nor disgusted me.

In terms of other negatives I felt the book was too long.  The interesting observations it has to offer on relationships could have been made in a much shorter book or even short story.  I guess it’s a bit like listening to a friend whine about why her new boyfriend finished his latest text with just one x, rather than the usual xxx, you try to be sympathetic at first but when she’s still whining on and over analysing it an hour later you lose patience!  It outstayed it’s welcome and I don’t feel any need to read the sequels but I did enjoy it and found it a gentle but thought provoking read.



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