Tag Archives: Novel

The Passage by Justin Cronin

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It’s not often that I choose to read books more than once. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald) and The Catcher in the Rye (JD Salinger) are three of my favourite books of all time. I am a sucker for classic literature, presumably given my academic pursuits and natural adoration of English Literature from being a very young age and each of these books are dog eared and beaten, in some cases there are pages slightly torn and weathered from constant, perpetual use. Modern literature doesn’t grab me in the same way and although I’ve read books more than once it hasn’t been because they’ve gripped me and made me feel the same way the aforementioned have, it’s because they’ve been simple and easy, frothy and lighthearted enough to allow me to while away the day sipping tea, wrapped in a blanket – they soothe the mind, rather than challenge it or excite it. However, The Passage by Justin Cronin contradicts my sensibilities somewhat, in the sense that it too is dog eared, weathered and remains the only modern book that I have ever read more than nine times. This current read through, actually, makes it my tenth. Suffice it to say The Passage is the greatest novel written within my entire lifetime and I don’t use those words lightly.

The novel was handed to me not too long after its original release in 2010 and the person who loaned me the novel said that it was the greatest thing they’d ever read and urged me to start reading immediately. When someone tells me things like this, I usually roll my eyes at the sheer melodrama and shove the book somewhere in my increasing ‘to be read’ pile and get around to it when I can be bothered, but, for some reason, I decided to read this one straight away. At the time, most of my reading was done on the commute to and from work/university, so it was slipped into my bag and I decided it would be read on my next hour long journey… After reading the first page, I was hooked: It was one of those novels that instantly held my attention and filled my sensibilities regarding literature with intense promise. This is going to be good, I remember thinking and it soon became the book that I would spend my evenings reading until my eyes became heavy with sleep and I awoke, book still in hand the next day. In short, it was my favourite book.

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The Passage is a post-apocalyptic-cum-vampire novel that, in my opinion, entirely reinvents the concepts behind a traditional vampire novel. The usual clichés writers use in abundance when writing their version of a vampire story are gone; there are no shimmering romantic heroes, or melodramatic teenagd hormones running rampant throughout the pages of Cronin’s epic. Instead, The Passage takes on an almost clinically scientific approach, giving the original concepts behind the vampire novel an intensely realistic re-imagination, making it far more thrilling and far scarier than the routes writers usually take when tackling the traditional vampire concepts; this is not your run of the mill Transylvanian vampire novel, this is something else entirely. Something better.

I think part of the reason behind why I love this novel so much is that it cannot truly be explained without giving away the entire plot and to give away the entire plot without reading the novel really doesn’t to dthe novel justice. Without reading the simplistic, yet entirely intricate language and imperative detail would be disastrous; this novel needs to be experienced first-hand, word for word. Cronin uses his blatant expertise to create a concept that is, essentially, so brilliantly basic that it stands out as one of the most important novels I’ve ever read; it’s like, everything you’ve wanted to read before, but better in every sense of the word. His characters are written so perfectly, that you feel you could reach into the pages of the novel, take them out and they’d be just as amazing as you’d imagined. It’s a novel of almost cinematic brilliance, which makes no sense until you’ve actually read the novel.

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Admittedly, if I didn’t know that this was going to be a trilogy, I may have felt disappointed; a lot of things were left unanswered and had I not read The Twelve and be highly anticipating the third and final novel, I would have felt cheated and the magic, so to speak, of the novel would have dissipated somewhat. It would not have been the first time that I’d read a novel with so much promise, only to be left bitterly disappointed and sad by the end. However, if you go into the novel knowing  that it’s the first of an epic trilogy, then your mind is put at ease and you can enjoy the not knowing with the promise that eventually all of your assumptions and hopes for the novel’s conclusion be answered, or at least reinvented in a far better manner than you could do yourself.

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In short, I found the novel awe-inspiring and absolutely astounding. I am reading it for the tenth time, but each time it feels like the first. Only better. I really to urge you to read it.

Buy the novel here.

Visit Justin’s Website here.

Buy the second instalment here.

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A Different Shade of Grey:

Today sees the release of Fifty Shades of Grey in our cinemas and with it, comes the controversy and the heady, dizzy frenzy surrounding the novel and subsequent movie will hopefully begin to subside… There will be an undoubted rush of women bellowing for all to hear that on-screen Christian Grey is as much of a romantic hero as his character in the novel, of which most will know my opinion! I recently wrote an article over on Femtellectual that explains why he isn’t anything of the sort and why women shouldn’t let Christian Grey anywhere near their sex lives, but even I have to admit, with all of my judgements and peeling a part of the novel to reveal the less than savoury centre, that EL James and her violently domineering romantic hero has changed the manner in which we view sex and relationships exponentially.

Back in 2011, when the novel was released, I am sure I’m not the only person who reluctantly experienced, first-hand, what it was like to come face to face with a woman who had read the novel. Out of the woodwork crawled many dishevelled women who were positively tickled pink by the contents of the novel and the ‘activities’ carried out by Grey in his ‘Red Room of Pain’, many with comments articulating their desire for their own Christian Grey. It’s no secret that sexual confidence soared within so many women that I know in my real life, including family and friends, and, as much as I have nothing good to say about the novel, or the domestic abuse within the storyline, I can get on board with the sexual confidence that ensued following James’ terrible, terrible writing.

I’m not afraid to admit that I was ashamed that so many of my family and friends read the novel and got excited over the concept of Christian Grey and I was especially embarrassed when my mother and sister seemingly jumped on the bandwagon. Because they’re my family, I saved them the diatribe reserved for other folk and I let them get on, but I realised later on, especially when my mother began reading them, that her enjoyment had nothing to do with her supporting the abuse or believing that it didn’t exist, or even finding it romantic. For my mother in particular, she was positively aghast, but not necessarily in a bad way, that things like this went on, not only within the confines of the novel, but in real life too. Apparently, when she was reading the novel, she meandered into my sister’s bedroom, book in one hand, reading glasses in the other and with a presumably adorably furrowed brow said, “can I ask you to Google something for me? I don’t know what anal beads are…” turns out my sister didn’t either, so they both discovered anal beads in all of their glory and my sweet mama vowed never to ask her youngest daughter any sex related questions ever again, instead choosing to either Google them herself, or ask me. I’ve always been renowned for my cavalier attitude towards sex and all that it entails, so I think my mother felt emboldened and happy to discuss things she’d never discussed before. When we went shopping, she would slide into Ann Summers and giggle at all of the ‘sexy’ clothes and even wandered so far as the vibrators and turned pink in the cheeks as I switched them all on and told her about the merits of certain movements and how it pleasures the female, much to her amusement/horror/surprise! Yet, whipping, flogging and sex toys inserted into anus’ didn’t seem like her cup of tea but, “those jiggly ball things” that Christian uses on Ana seemed to intrigue her a great deal. When she found out I own a pair and she laughed so hard that tea came out of her nose, “Really?!” she screamed, “what are they like?!”

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One of my best friends got in contact with me this week to discuss Fifty Shades of Grey and asked if I was going to be going to see it or if I would like to have a girly night in my flat and we’d watch it together with wine, provided she could get either her partner or her mother to babysit (not us, a baby!). I informed her that I wasn’t all that supportive of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie and sent her the link to the article I mentioned earlier and her response was surprisingly different to most women. Promising anonymity, she allowed me to quote her:

I understand where you’re coming from with this, right, but ever since we’ve been young, you’ve been SO sexually confident. You’ve talked about sex toys like they’re your best friends and you’ve been so cavalier with your attitudes; what you like and what you don’t. I’ve never had that. I never understood where you got your confidence from, to be honest. But, after I read Fifty Shades I began thinking differently. As much as you were a lot of the inspiration behind my desire to be more sexually confident, a lot of the content in the book helped me begin to explore that with [her partner].

Admittedly, I was pretty shocked when I read her response, especially given my attitude towards the novel. I know and I do respect that people will have differing opinions and mostly, I just let people believe what they want to believe, but I have to say that it did surprise me that someone could feel so emboldened by Fifty Shades of Grey and that was one of the reasons behind one of my dearest friends exploring her sex life in a definitely more kinky detail.

My friends are, obviously, not the only people who have been affected by the novel, whether good or bad and it’s clear to see that EL James has inspired a surge within many factors of the sex industry. The sex toy industry for example, has positively boomed since Fifty Shades was released in 2011 and EL James has managed to bag herself a specific Fifty Shades inspired sex toy range that fans of the book/movie can purchase for their own sex play, which is available at LoveHoney and has proven extremely popular since it was first available online. There was obviously an existing BDSM inspired market, but with the popularity of the book and undoubtedly the novel, this has increased dramatically, and as much as I am firmly against the empire that EL James has created for herself, on the back of a book that undoubtedly promotes domestic abuse, but I can’t say that I’m unhappy that there are more and more women out there who have decided to positively and safely (presumably) explore a kinkier element to their sex lives.

It does extend beyond the bedroom, though, and I think due to attitudes towards online dating mellowing, I think a lot more freedom has been allowed for people to discuss their sexual preferences openly as part of the (for want of a better word) courting process, if you will. When I was single, I spoke to a lot of different men and used the likes of online dating to, at the very least, get my confidence (read: MOJO) back with regards to communicating with the opposite sex. Whilst I didn’t do it for very long, it did seem that every man I spoke to basically inferred elements of sex that they were into pretty much immediately. One man informed me, without any preamble, that he would like to see me hog died and insert sex toys into very specific orifices because that’s the kind of thing he was into… (three dots included) and whilst I didn’t respond to this person, it did seem to me that sex was the only thing that was on the table to this person and other people I spoke to as an immediate introduction to myself and presumably other women. In the past, where this might have been taboo to mention, or you might not have discovered until later on in the relationship, exploring kink and being open about one’s sexual proclivities has become a cultural norm and I do think the soaring popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey has something do with it; sensibilities have changed and, again, as much as I’m against the novel, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

Talking about sex is, I feel, wildly important within relationships because everyone should be open and honest about their preferences and their boundaries; whilst having discussions within two sentences that reveal one’s sexual appetites is potentially a little full on, it’s still a good sign of confidences and shedding the ‘taboo’ moniker of sexual intercourse – everyone does it, but not everyone talks about it and Fifty Shades has helped that. Dating sites such as Plenty of Fish have even begun including specific sections of their website dedicated to people who like the novel and the ability to be able to specifically search for a dating site that caters to your needs has never been easier. Following the popularity of the novel, areas of the market have opened up and BDSM has become a popular, relatively normative sexual practice, with sites such as 50shadesofgreydating.com that allows you to sign up to the ‘luxury BDSM dating site’ for free and allows you to explore your inner dominant or submissive side by finding your Ana or Christian…Red room included! It’s refreshing to see that a kinky lifestyle is not only available, but widely promoted online and that people are exploring potentially dormant desires to be dominant or submissive in the bedroom by reaching out to like-minded individuals. It would be intruiging to find out whether these sites operate under the full safety of written contracts and promotion of safe words and loving/supportive after care for all involved, but even so, if two consenting adults actively go into a situation knowing full facts about BDSM, then I guess it’s up to the individuals to ascertain their boundaries, rather than the company, but it would still be interesting to find out.

It just goes to show that whether you love it or loathe it, Fifty Shades of Grey has had an impact on our sex lives and the manner we conduct our relationships in significant ways, and, whilst I am still fundamentally against the concepts of the novel and the promotion of domestic abuse within the poorly written pages, I am hoping that the movie depicts the relationship in a more consensual, loving manner that better represents the BDSM community, allowing for people who are potentially experiencing Fifty Shades of Grey to explore their potentially dormant proclivities in a more positive and safe manner.

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The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice

editThis book is one of my favourite books of all time and there is not a year goes by where I don’t settle down with a large mug of tea in the most comfortable place in my house and read this novel. It’s by no means the greatest book ever written and probably didn’t win a plethora of awards upon release for being some kind of wonder-book, but it is one of my favourites all the same, so I thought I’d write about it.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is one of those rare treats, like a huge furry blanket or a rain dripping on the window pane as you snuggle up toasty warm after a long day. The novel is set in post-war England during the 1950s and centres on our protagonist, a delightfully awkward teenager, Penelope, her wonderfully eccentric best friend Charlotte and her mysteriously sardonic cousin Harry, as well as a host of secondary characters, all so beautifully written that they don’t seem secondary to the plot. Rice writes about her characters in such a way that each individual seems more imperative than the next; each so wonderfully eccentric that their storylines are almost as captivating as the central plot, which is of course, a love story. I’m usually very wary of love stories. I grew up reading a lot of them due to my inherent adoration of romance and my desire to be swept off my feet in some grandiose romantic manner, which says a lot more about me than I’m willing to admit. Eventually, though, after reading so many, I felt I was becoming too immune to the plots, I rolled my eyes at a lot of the same language being perpetuated from novel to novel, author to author and thus stopped reading altogether. I’ve never felt that with The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets and when in need of a pick me up, a cosy love story to warm my cockles, I reach for Penelope and her band of merry friends and family, to soothe the hopeless romantic in me. Rice writes in such a manner that, although her language is relatively the same as the novel progresses, that it doesn’t really matter; instead of feeling that Rice is writing it from the perspective of Penelope, you feel as though the teenager herself was writing the novel, thus repetitive use of the world ‘giggle’ seems all the more acceptable – in honesty, I feel that it is a triumph in Rice’s career to be able to write something so encapsulating, that it doesn’t feel like I’m reading a novel at all, but diary excerpts of a teenager learning about life, friendship, love and rock and roll.

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Rice has a distinctively excellent manner of encapsulating the reader into the 1950s and brings the decade alive on the page; the settings within the novel, such as Penelope’s grand, crumbling ancestral home, her friend Charlotte’s auntie’s full to the brim, jumbled, messy flat, as well as the parties she attends in the capital are all filled with decadent detail that make you feel as though you were there – like I say, the novel doesn’t read as such, it reads like a memoir of a teenage rock and roll fan, on the brink of something huge. It’s a spectacular book.

Of course, the plot is entirely predictable, but Rice manages to hide it in such a manner, that it really doesn’t matter; the dialogue is too captivating, the 1950s setting too entrancing, the characters too enchanting, that you really don’t notice the romance developing until it actually happens and by then you’re so engrossed in the novel that you can’t help but whoop with glee, or shed a tear for the protagonist and her magician. I love this book with a passion and every time I finish, my heart feels full to the brim with longing and a desire to read it again and again. As far as romantic, girly novels go, this one is the cherry on top of the frothy, creamy cake for me.

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