Saturday 30 March 2013

Pantomime, The Re-Read…

I read a lot of books. On average I get through three novels a week. Some of those I may not ever read again. Some I know as soon as I’ve read them I will want to read them again. They get spirited away onto the bookshelves that I end up rearranging after each new release and they get re-read in the next few years. And there are some that I want to read as soon as I finish them and I will go back and re-read them as soon as I can.

But I don’t think any book has nagged me quite so much for a re-read as Laura Lam’s Pantomime did. I read and reviewed it last October before the release (the review is here if you aren’t familiar with the book) and thoroughly enjoyed it. The characters are so well depicted, the story itself is compelling and I knew this would be the kind of book that would be just as rich a reading experience the second time around.

So, five months on the nagging had become too much and I went for the re-read. Even though I already knew what was going to happen and had already experienced the tension, the drama and the secrets unfolding, I enjoyed the book as much as I did the first time. There were little details that perhaps I did not notice or register on the first reading, and there were elements of the plot that I had forgotten only to be surprised and impressed by them once again.

I can’t put my finger on exactly what is that makes this book work so much for me. It explores identity in terms of discovering who we are and being true to ourselves rather than shaping ourselves to how other people say we should be. This is a topic close to my heart, being a firm believer that no one should have to comply with the expectations society places on them or change elements of themselves to suit another person or situation.

So that is possibly why I feel such a connection to this book. It could also be the skilful storytelling; the arranging of a narrative in such a way that its secrets and mysteries are revealed slowly, little pieces of the puzzle coming together here and there to always be simultaneously rewarding the reader for coming this far and tempting them with the promise of more. Events in the present are interspersed with various moments from the past to complete the story whilst at the same time raising more questions.

Whether it is the exploration of identity, the narrative structure or the elements of magic and the inherent appeal of the circus that makes Pantomime such an absorbing read, I cannot say. For me I think it is the combination of all of the above. It is a story that conceals as much as it tells so perhaps the appeal is the reader’s desire to know the full story. It is a book that has a lot to say and a wonderful world and story to tell it in. I know it will be one that I will read time and again and maybe I will never quite know why, but the only way I can categorise it is ‘spellbinding’. Whatever magic it weaves I have been truly captured.

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday 23 March 2013

Heather Gardner…

I went to see this adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler at Birmingham’s Old Rep Theatre this week, and knowing it had been set locally my main intention was to see how well the Norwegian’s play would translate to 1960s Birmingham.

The answer to my question was very well. The 60s setting gave a very Mad Men feel to the whole thing. Lots of pouring scotch and sherry, lots of smoking cigarettes, amid funky 60s costume and furniture. The Birmingham in-jokes helped to ground the piece and overall the adaptation was a great success.

The overall themes of power and control and their changing of hands as the story progressed were still well in situ so the essence of the play was truly visible. Undeniably Elisabeth Hopper as Heather stole the show, bringing the right amount of seduction and bitchiness to the role. As a protagonist Heather is captivating as her downfall unfolds slowly and to the seeming obliviousness of those around her.

Robin French’s adaptation began strongly and ended suddenly, in just the same manner, taking full advantage of foreshadowing, symbolism and irresistible self-destruction in more than one character. When I come away from watching an adaptation wanting to re-visit the original I consider it a success.

Elloise Hopkins.

Saturday 16 March 2013

Book Review: Sutler...

The Kills Book One,
By Richard House.

Stephen Lawrence Sutler receives a phonecall that is about to change his life. His chance to set up a new military base and city is gone and he has nine hours to get away. They’ll set up money in an account only he can access, they tell him, but he has to disappear. Sutler had no choice but to listen to them. He runs.

All he has to do is transfer the money and create a new life for himself, but the situation is not as straightforward as it seemed. Accessing the money is harder than he imagined and now it seems he is being framed for the embezzlement of far more money than he was promised. A wanted man, Sutler has to put all of his energy into becoming someone else and getting to the cash.

Sutler is a political thriller and Stephen Sutler’s journey is rife with conspiracy, tension and at times confusion. Whilst he does not always seem to act in the best way to conceal his identity and purpose, he is nonetheless an interesting protagonist, perhaps because he is flawed; he does panic and get flustered like we do in real life, he does blurt things out and then have to create a story to support them.

The book is infused with video and audio clips that enhance the story, showing the reader elements of the characters’ lives that are not otherwise available in the narrative. This helps to round off the characters, particularly those who are not used as point of view characters as frequently as the protagonist. It also helps to connect the reader to the author’s vision.

This is the first part in a four book series called The Kills so as you would expect, particularly with it being a thriller, there is little resolution in this part of the story. Many questions are raised and many sub plots come into play which we can only expect will be explored and resolved as the series continues.

As the beginning of a series, Sutler is compelling and succeeds in creating empathy in the reader for the characters. The one thing Sutler is certainly not, is predictable. There is great scope for the story to continue from this point, and to attempt to imagine where it will head next would only lessen the suspense of waiting for book two. Aside from being a strong conspiracy-based tale, Sutler is also a triumph of descriptive prose and House brings the settings to life in rich detail.

At the moment you can get hold of Sutler for the price of a tweet: so there’s ample reason to give it a try.

Elloise Hopkins.

Thursday 7 March 2013

Crayola Colour Mood…

My current Crayola Colour Mood is Electric Lime! Which totally equates to the fact that I am freaking out, meaning I am in the middle of a freaking pre-mid-life crisis.

Why? You may well ask. Well I still haven’t got the results of my MA, which zapped years of my life not to mention the money and sweat, and quite frankly the wait is turning me into a total basket case. Much as I love Green Day, feeling like a basket case is not much fun.

I’m all edgy and strange. I wake up daily from bizarro dreams. I have a constant nagging craving to do something reckless. I want to change every aspect in my life. Nothing seems good enough. Nothing seems to be sitting right and indeed if I manage to sit still for more than five minutes it is a complete miracle. I’m hyper active yet getting nothing done and it feels like I am totally out of control. In fact writing this wacky blog is the most productive thing I’ve managed in over a week.

Hence the freaking out Electric Lime sensation crawling its way through my veins. If this was a drug maybe I could find out how to kick it, but this unsettled consciousness, this knowing that whatever is causing this odd behaviour is out of my control, is utterly doing my head in.

But hey, Electric Lime is pretty cool in a way. Perhaps I should see this transitional phase as a good thing. Perhaps answers will come out of the vivid wilderness.  Here’s hoping.

Elloise Hopkins.