Book Review: The Girl Who Reads on the Metro

Title: The Girl Who Reads on the Metro

Author: Christine Feret-Fleury

Publisher: Mantle (2019)

Rating: 5/5

Synopsis

Juliette has an office job in the beautiful city of Paris. She takes the metro everyday and often dwells on how uninspiring her current job is. Her favourite part of the day are the moments she snatches whilst riding the metro, as she imagines what everyone else in the carriage would be reading.

During one of these journey’s, Juliette travels to an unknown part of the city and discovers a bookshop owned by a man called Soliman. It is the most interesting and wonderful bookshop she has ever come across.

After getting to know one another, Soliman suggests she should become a passeur – a kind of bookseller who takes unwanted books out into the city to give them to people who look like they need it. The task is essentially matching a book to a person and sharing the love of literature just for the sake of it, Juliette is soon in her element.

This story is essentially a book about the love of books and how books can unite us all. We are all in some way, destined to cross paths with a book which will resonate with us completely. However, finding those books can take a lifetime of resilience. Which is why passeurs have such a role to play.

Juliette, after some unforeseen circumstances, takes it on herself to move into the bookshop and run the store. Her previous mundane life is soon turned upside down, in favour of spreading a love of books to the rest of Paris. This book is such a joy to read – it is as warming as it is comforting.

Review

I picked this book up in a time of need, when I was stuck in a reading rut and didn’t know what I wanted to read, but all I knew is that I wanted to read something, you know? I didn’t want to read something heavy or important, but something that would make me fall in love with books again, and this book did just that!

The story may be simple, but the message is enduring and comforting. Juliette, the main character, becomes involved in the running of a bookshop in Paris. Part of her role is to be a passeur; she takes the piles of ‘unwanted’ books from the bookshop and distributes them throughout Paris. She has to match the book to unknown individuals who she thinks will appreciate them. It’s a story which suggests everyone is searching for that one book that just fits them and everything they need – but that it can take a life time to achieve on your own, hence the need for a passeur.

Juliette is a staunch lover of books, and her mission in life combined with this new role, seems to be carrying this onto other people. Like most booksellers and lovers of books, she sees the value in books and how they can help us all. Thus, this appears to be the central message of the book. It is not complex or over-complicated but nonetheless an important one.

Although short and sweet, this book made me feel warm and reconnected with books once again. In these uncertain times, the value of books, stories, and escapism rings too true. A book about books is something every reader would love – and this book is certainly one I loved too.

This book won’t change your life, or how you see the world, but it has the ability to rekindle you with a love of literature – if you have temporarily lost it.

Lovely.

Book Review: Supermarket

Image: Amazon

Title: Supermarket

Author: Bobby Hall

Publisher: Simon and Schuster (2019)

Rating: 4/5

Its been a very long time since my last post. Due to things going on in my personal life, I haven’t felt like writing for a very long time. I don’t even feel fully like I can now but I thought I would try and write a short review to get back into things.

Synopsis

Flynn (at the start) is your classic aimless millennial who doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. He is still living at home, working in a Supermarket and trying to write a novel. Working at the Supermarket was supposed to give him a kind of structure in his life and enable him to work on making it as a writer. However, things suddenly, and shockingly, go very wrong.

As readers, we are embedded in the mind of a paranoid, psychotic, schizophrenic. Follow Flynn and the entrails of his mind as he tries to narrate modern life, all the while trying to make something of himself, form friendships and find love. This is a tale of living inside the mind of someone with an array of mental conditions, that is both alluring, funny at times and indefinitely inescapable.

Review

Looking at online ratings of this novel, my hopes were not high when I started reading it. Most people on Goodreads have rated it between 1-2 stars, which seems overwhelmingly harsh. The book is not perfect, but it had me gripped, and for a whole two days I didn’t want to put it down. It shocked me, made me laugh and made me wonder and think a lot about myself.

I was drawn to the protagonist, Flynn in many ways. He is seemingly imperfect, trying to make it as a writer, meanwhile working in a mundane job just to try and keep the money ticking over in the bank. In a lot of ways, his situation mirrored my own current one. Naturally, I felt a connection there.

When the book suddenly turns (and I won’t say why or how as it will give the story away) it gets a bit mad – granted. There appears to be a lot of loose ends that were never tied up, regarding Flynn’s girlfriend, Mia and his close friend, Red. All of a sudden the story ends in the space of five minutes and I was left wondering why and how for a long time. Nonetheless, the twist in this novel really did take me by surprise and I never saw it coming. I was so invested in Flynn and his situation that the final outcome was never something I had initially considered.

This may be a novel by first time author, Bobby Hall, however, I never knew of his musical background or lack of literary experience. In some ways, this does shine through in the novel, when considering the amount of loose ends that are left and the sense of the ending being rushed and suddenly skidding to a halt. However, I thought that this sense of breathlessness largely alluded to the whole premise of the novel and what is is like to live with a mental illness.

This book was unlike any I have read before. I was initially drawn to Flynn as a character and empathized with his lack of direction in his life. I enjoyed the twist to the novel, its occasional dark humor and reflection on societal issues and living with a mental health condition. I believe it deserves far more praise than it appears to have gotten.

Furthermore, it’s a book about writing the book the reader is reading, it knows its a book and flaunts it – which I like.

Give it a try and let me know what you think if you do end up reading it!

“One doesn’t create art for the people who hate it. Plus, when it comes to other writers, if they think it’s bad they’ll hate it because to them it’s bad writing and if it’s good they’ll be covetous, wishing they had done it, and consequently hate on it all the more. So if you”re making your art based on others it’s a lose-lose. and if you say, “screw everyone, I’m gonna make something I love,” you’ll win every time.”

Book Review: Lolita

Title: Lolita

Author: Vladimir Nabokov

Rating: 4/5

Publisher: Penguin, Penguin Classics

Synopsis

Lolita, is a first person narrative novel, told through the eyes of a middle aged professor, Humbert Humbert. Humbert develops an obsession with a twelve year old girl, Dolores Haze, who he pursues for the rest of his days. Humbert nicknames his prey, Lolita, and attempts to gain greater access to her, in becoming a lodger at her Mother’s house in Ramsdale, New England.

It is here, where Humbert builds upon his disguse of being the studious professor, working on writing his book. However, this is when the access, and consequently, obsession, with Lolita begins. Soon, he will have unrivaled access, as he marries Charlotte, Lolita’s mother.

After a tragic set of events working in his favour, Lolita and Humbert embark on a road trip across America, staying in various motels along the way. Throughout this, Humbert engages in sexual activity with Lolita and constantly rewards her with the ‘things’ she desires – the mundane clothes, candy and magazines that young girls crave.

Eventually, of course, Humbert gets caught and his pursuit of Lolita suddenly comes to an end. The novel ends with Humbert imprisoned but still professing his love for Lolita,

“It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight.”

Vladimir Nabokov

Review

Image: Amazon

This novel made me experience a whirlwind of different emotions. Simultaneously, I was in awe of the construction of the novel and the sheer complexity of some of the images and prose Nabokov has created, but at the same time, was reeling in disgust due to the difficulties of the content. Scenes that detailed Humbert’s sexual encounters with Lolita, and his portrayal of lingering desire for young girls in general, left me with a sense of rage and disgust.

Nabokov, in the use of this first person narrative, creates an unrivaled account of a middle aged man’s erotic obsession with a twelve year old girl. This unrivaled account which has been deemed as “unreliable” by critics, means that Lolita’s point of view is swept away under the carpet. As readers, we are never enlightened into her perspective. Thus, there are many unanswered questions. Effectively, she is silenced, which I suspect is the very point. Additionally, the relationship is almost normalised, especially by the use of ‘relationship’ type prose throughout,

“I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever; but I also knew she would not be forever Lolita.”

Vladimir Nabokov

Moreover, the silencing of the victim is achieved in the crafting of this first person narrative. Many (i.e, Stephen Metcalf), have pointed to this as being Nabokov’s critique of totalitarianism under the Soviet regime. Nabokov was a known opponent of the Soviet government and opposed Tsarists autocracy, communism and fascism that he lived through. It is possible, that this silencing of Lolita, the stripping of her identity and childhood, conveys a sense of control not too dissimilar to that used by the Soviet regime.

Lolita immediately gained a ‘classic’ status despite its controversial topic, it was even banned from entering the United Kingdom in 1955. However, its classic status is arguably not due to the story or unconventional theme; but its literary construction. The reader is constantly exposed to a series of complex metaphors and lyric poetic passages that make it easy to forget the shocking undertones of the novel. It can be easy to get swept away by the beauty of the language and forget that something very sinister is taking place on the pages before you. However, as someone that is a sucker for beautiful prose, I appreciated this element.

What struck me as particularly strange and almost sinister, was Humbert’s own self awareness of the horror of his actions and desires. He constantly addresses the reader as “the jury” – putting himself deliberately on trial. But the novel is a monologue of his own account and he always refers to the brutality of his crimes,

“One moment I was ashamed and frightened, another recklessly optimisitc. Taboos strangulated me.”

Vladimir Nabokov

However, regardless of the morality Humbert places on his actions, there is a certain directness in his address to the reader and the narration almost feels like a sit down conversation between him and the reader. There is a sense of intimacy which is enlightening and highly disturbing. Behind everything, and perhaps most of his motivations, appears to be Humbert’s absolute frustration with the restraints of American society,

“….civilisation which allows a man of twenty-five to court a girl of sixteen but not a girl of twelve…”

“We are not surrounded in our enlighttened era by the little slave flowers that can be casually plucked…”

Vladimir Nabokov

I sensed a definitive obsession with what he perceived as the faults within society – for, the one he lived in permitted his relationship with a twelve year old girl. He believes these rules are in place due to the creation division between childhood and adulthood (page 124.)

Humbert as a narrator is truly, and honestly, self reflective which felt like an attempt to appear more human. However, despite this level of self reflection and awareness, he still maintained at the end of the novel that despite his obsession with Lolita being over, he would always crave the same thing,

“I would be a knave to say, and the reader a fool to believe, that the shock of losing Lolita cured me of my pederoins.”

Vladimir Nabokov

In a way, being able to acknowledge himself as a, “pentapod monster” who did wrong, but still wanting to pursue this, is the mark of a truly disturbed, and possibly incurable individual.

In sum, I found the book incredibly well written and thought provoking. I enjoyed the kind of lyricism Nabokov used and was drawn into the first person narration despite its flaws. There were no barriers or restraint, which made it an interesting psychological insight, as well as a literary joy to read.

This complex first person narration gives the reader nowhere to hide. It is compelling, disturbing and unforgiving. But its craft is a work of art just in itself. This paradox between the beauty of the prose, and the harrowing, disturbing nature of the subject fills the novel with complexity. I can see why this is a a classic; Lolita will linger with me for a long time to come.