Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Books 64 & 65 of 2015: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro & The Dwarves by Markus Heitz

Before I start reviewing books, can we please just take a moment to celebrate the fact that this blog post celebrates a small landmark?

The official finishing of the Black and Red notebook I got for free from work, and the moving on to my snazzy emerald Leuchtturm lined notebook which I bought with some winnings from a sweepstake at work. Despite actually finishing the notebook last September, I wasn't actually officially able to retire it (read: label it and move it onto my bookshelf with my other books) because I was still using it for these blog posts. Until now... or rather, last week. Whatever.

You're probably here for the book review, not the inane waffling about which notebook I'm writing my book reviews in, right? Side note: if you blog about which notebook you write your book reviews in, share the link in the comments, I would read the heck out of that post!

Firstly there was the book I read for Week 36 of the reading challenge; a book with a love triangle. For that one I selected Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

This is set in a sort of alternative version of Britain where cloning has been perfected. These clones are raised to donate their organs to the people who need them and the story follows Kathy, Tommy and Ruth, beginning in their school years where they attend a rural boarding school as we, and they, gradually learn what waits in store for them in their adult years.

I first read this book as part of a 'book tree' many years ago. I immediately fell in love. I don't remember right now, without checking my notes, just how quickly I read it, but it didn't take me long. I devoured it. I kept on looking out for a copy of my own and in the end I wanted it so badly that I put aside my book snobbishness and went ahead to get the movie cover copy in a charity shop.

I still love this book but it does kind of frustrate me too. But in a good way. In the same way that Harry Potter frustrates me. Because I love the world that has been created here and I would like to know more about it, but all you have is what's given to you in the pages of this book. It doesn't stop me from wondering how the donor system works, what the other homes are like and how the world reached this point, but it frustrates me that I'll never really know.

The way that the story is told is really clever. You get little dribs and drabs of information which gradually build everything up. I've seen the film a couple of times and read the book a couple of times too and now I know how everything goes together. Back when I read it for the first time this approach made me feel like I had to know everything right now! And that's what made me get through it so quickly.

I also like the way that Kathy narrates the story. It's like she's speaking to another carer, donor or guardian, which is why she doesn't need to explain everything, because she expects them to already know. This adds to my feeling of wanting to reach into the book and ask her tell me more because I don't know all of these things.

At the same time, I can kind of relate to Kathy and the way that she sees the world. The way that she sees the world is not dissimilar to the way I view the world. That makes me like her a lot.

This reread (back at the beginning of September last year) made me want to watch the film again. As of this point (almost exactly a year later), I'm still yet to do that. I really must pick up a copy of it someplace. I'm fairly certain that the film stayed close to the book but I feel like a rewatch (and after all this time, perhaps another reread) to be sure.

One of my other minor issues that aren't really an issue with this book is the way it ends. It just ends. It's perfect for the story, of course, it just doesn't help me much with all my unanswered questions.

I follows up Never Let Me Go with a book which took me F.O.R.E.V.E.R. to read.

The Dwarves by Markus Heitz is this massive, high fantasy tome which is about warring factions of a race of Dwarves. There's something about electing a new leader and the main character, Tungdil, was abandoned as a child, raised by humans and isn't really sure where he fits in. Honestly, most of the time, I wasn't really sure what was going on in this book.

It was lent to me by a colleague at work who knew I was a big Lord of the Rings fan and I guess had read and enjoyed this. Or he was playing a cruel prank on me.

Dwarves aren't really my favourite of the races in Tolkien's works (though I'm not entirely sure why, I guess mainly because they don't come across as very likeable in The Silmarillion and in The Hobbit they're largely interchangeable) and I think they're severely underrepresented in fantasy fiction. You can't throw a stone without hitting an Elf or a Half-Elven creature, but this is the only book I've ever seen where Dwarves are the protagonists.

And these guys are Dwarves in the Tolkien sense of the word; none of your Disney Dwarfs here, thank you.

I really did want to enjoy it because I thought it would fill a gap left by The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I wanted to see someone else's take on the lifestyle and culture of the Dwarves. It really didn't live up to my expectations though.

It did have a few nods to Tolkien though, such as this:

Both sides of the alley were crammed with timber houses whose upper stories jutted out dangerously, almost meeting overhead. The uneven cobblestones never saw daylight. All in all, it wasn't dissimilar to an underground gallery, except for the stench of sewage and detritus. Mounted on one of the bulging walls was a sign showing a prancing pony; they had found their address.

Not a 'pony rearing on its hind legs' or anything like that. We can see what you did there Mr Heitz.

The book seemed to go on for an awfully long time without much happening. It was very much written in a 'tell, don't show' style. So you knew why people were doing what they were doing (to a degree) but you couldn't say what they looked like, what the places they inhabited were like, or how their outward emotions were covering their inward ones. Perhaps this is a side effect from it being translated from German. Who knows.

It probably seems like a bit of a petty complaint as well, but the names of the Dwarves and other characters didn't really tell you anything about the race they belonged to. I guess I've been spoiled by Tolkien where you know that Rory Burrows is likely to be a Hobbit, Shagrat is definitely an Orc and Thranduil has a definite Elven feel to his name. As I regularly forgot who characters were, it would've been useful to be able to use their names as a bit of a reminder so I knew at least which race they belonged to.

On the whole there were a lot of cliches and an overwhelming sense that I was reading a video game. A video game populated by an awful lot of fantastic conveniences.

It's the first in a book series and it took me eleven days to slog through it. I'm in now kind of a hurry to try the next one.

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