A very short review of “Skin Deep” by Liz Nugent

I finished this book yesterday and can’t stop thinking about it so I suppose that means it was good? Well it was certainly unforgettable. The problem is I didn’t like it at all. In fact I found it truly horrible. It’s about beauty inside and out, a sort of beauty and the beast idea, only the beast is inside the beauty. It’s also about obsession and its consequences.

The main character is beautiful to look at but she is totally amoral, cold, selfish, utterly self-absorbed. It’s very difficult to say much about this book without giving away the plot; enough to say that anyone who comes close to her, who really tries to love and care for her suffers for their efforts.

The settings are wonderful, from the island off the Atlantic coast of Ireland to the riviera, Nice and Monaco. I have to admit I loved them; I could see and hear and smell them.

There were many times when I wanted to throw the book over my shoulder and walk on, especially around the middle of it but the narrative drive was so strong I had to find out what happened. The other characters were believable and the pace and shape of the story was good. There were a few weak spots in the plot which I don’t want to give away.

Over all it’s a well-written book but I don’t think I will read this author again. For me is was truly horrible. Has anyone else read this book? Or others by Liz Nugent? I’d be interested to know how other readers felt about it.

If I was formally reviewing this book I would take away two stars, one for the weakness in parts of the plot, and one because it made me feel so bad.

A Review: The Woman who Rode Away by D.H.Lawrence

This is quite a long, short story but it should be read at one sitting; it is strongly rhythmic, repetitive, bearing you along in a trance that Lawrence has made for you. It tells of a woman, married with two children, who lives in a remote area of Mexico.

I don’t love this story; I’m not even sure I like it but I couldn’t forget about it. Right from the beginning it is about death and the desire for death. In the fourth paragraph:

” . . . she saw a dead dog lying between the meat stalls and the vegetable array . . . Deadness within deadness.”

The lady in question is:

” . . . not thirty-three, a large, blue-eyed, dazed woman, beginning to grow stout.”

After ten years of living in isolation near a worn-out silver mine the woman wakes from her daze; she becomes aware and restless and when she overhears two men speak of the Indians who live in the far-off mountains, she feels in her heart that she has to find these secret places and the strange people who live in them. A day comes when she packs food and water and rides off alone. The journey takes a long, weary time, plodding on and on, following a narrow trail up into the mountains, making camp where she can, trying to sleep:

“She was not sure that she had not heard, during the night, a great crash at the centre of herself, which was the crash of her own death.”

She gradually becomes aware that the Indians are near, watching her. They come closer, strongly-built dark men in dark clothes with “glittering” black eyes and “rivers” of long, black hair. They take her on another, longer journey yet. The night passes:

“A long, long night, icy and eternal, and she was aware that she had died.”

They arrive in a village, deep in a hidden valley where the woman is unceremoniously stripped and given a new tunic to wear. She is given a soporific drink which makes her vomit, then leaves her with a drugged feeling. For many months she is kept apart from village life, fed and drugged until:

” . . . the languor filled her heavy limbs, her senses seemed to float in the air, listening, hearing . . .  as if she were diffusing out deliciously into the harmony of things.”

She sees that the men are not aware of her as a woman:

“Only that intense, yet remote, inhuman glitter which was terrible to her.”

Counterpoint all the time between the large, dazed, white, blue-eyed woman and the strong, dark men; the words death and drugged and river and glitter repeated throughout.

A young Indian who speaks English, explains to her that the white man has stolen the sun and the white woman has stolen the moon. And that she, the white woman, must be given to the sun so that the Indians will be full of power again.

One day then, she is taken from her chamber, drugged afresh and given new clothes; she is taken up in a litter and to the sound of drums, the villagers form two lines to dance:

“And across the flat cradle of snow-bed wound the long thread of the dance, shaking slowly and sumptuously . . . their black  eyes watching her with a glittering eagerness, awe and craving.”

It is impossible to convey in a short review, the way this story lulls you until you are almost as dazed as the woman herself, ready to lie down and accept your own fate!

The last line of the story says:

“The mastery that man must hold, and that passes from race to race.”

It almost seems as if it was tacked on. And it’s ambiguous. Does Lawrence mean that urge which permeates all cultures that ever were, the urge to control an uncontrollable world by placating the Gods, by touching wood or saluting magpies? Or does he mean man’s need to control women?

A review of “Never Let Me Go”

I hardly know how to rate this book. It’s a great book but – I didn’t like it. It cast an atmosphere over me every time I picked it up, and even appeared in a dream or two. And it left me with several questions.

The premise is this: Children/Clones are bred for the sole purpose of donating their organs when they reach thirty or so. They are brought up in special schools with Guardians and Teachers. They have  no contact with the outside world other than seeing delivery men, gardiners, postmen etc. When they are very young they are told of their future – and not told. They know – and they don’t know:

Since I went to a boarding school myself (but no boys) I could identify with the intensity of every little thing; the way every word and rumour is scrutinised for meaning and consequences; the importance given to the unimportant; the groups forming and re-forming, the conspiracies. At lessons the emphasis is on creativity; drawing and writing being particularly encouraged – why? This question, at least, is answered eventually. All the children read literature and philosophy and spend hours discussing these topics.

The main characters are Kathy and Ruth, best friends from their earliest memories which seem to begin when they are five years old. And later on, there’s Tommy, who forms the apex of a triangle which dominates their lives. When the book begins, Kathy is caring for Ruth who has just become a doner. The narrative goes back then to their childhood, and is riveting! This book is a page-turner for sure. Kathy is like Darrell Rivers in “Malory Towers” (if anyone else remembers that far back), a good, caring girl with a big heart. Ruth is devious and controlling, and Tommy needs a good shake, but each in her, or his, own way is loyal to the others.

When they grow into teenagers they are moved to other homes, in smaller groups; they know what is coming but they never speak of it.

“By that time in our lives, we no longer shrank from the subject of donations . . . but neither did we think about it very seriously, or discuss it.”

Apart from the fact that they are sterile, they are the same as other young people, although sex is treated in a very matter of fact way; no coyness, no mystery, no romance, no future either. Relationships form, break-up and begin again.

Right from the beginning there is an undercurrent of uneasiness, an unspoken fear which works its way into the readers minds. It did to mine anyway! And you care about these characters. Is there no way out of their terrible future? Have they no choices? This book is a great read and, of course, the writing is impeccable. I love Kazuo Ishiguro and I am obliged to give it full marks even though I didn’t like it.

Review of French Exit by Patrick de Witt

This is Patrick de Witt’s latest book, his fourth, published in 2018 and it certainly lives up to the standard of the other ones. Ablutions, the first, The Sisters Brothers next, and Undermajordomo Minor – I love them all. It is impossible to categorize them as they are all completely different.

So, French Exit – as the title implies is mostly set in France although the first quarter of the book is set in New York. It is a wonderful romp of a book – you’d pick it up with a smile of anticipation. The main characters are the wealthy Frances Price and her son, Malcolm. Frances is beautiful and elegant and totally irresponsible. Malcolm is vague and pleasant. He is engaged to Susan, a girl he professes to love but can’t quite commit to.

The story takes off when Frances realises she has spent all her money and is completely broke. The pair decide to go and live in France when a friend offers them an apartment in Paris. They sell everything they have left, jewellry, pictures and furniture and take  all the cash with them. They also bring their cat, Small Frank, so called because Frances believes him to be a reincarnation of her husband, Franklin.

To give a small flavour of the text:

‘Frances sniffed the flowers and asked, “Who has died, and what was their purpose, and did they fulfill their potential?” The doorman didn’t hazard a response. Frances made him uneasy; he believed there was something quite wrong with her.’

‘Frances suddenly became aware of the chair’s dimensions. It was an exciting thing to know and she was happy she’d been told about it. “What did he choke on?” she asked. “Ah, lamb.” “And have you eaten lamb since?” “No. But, you know, I never liked lamb much in the first place.”‘

‘Tom’s foremost characteristic was his handsomeness; his second was his normality; his third was his absolute lack of humour; his fourth, his inability to be embarrassed.’

In France they pick up an entourage of hangers-on, impossible to describe. I have looked for quotes to illustrate them but it’s impossible to take them out of context.

The book is very funny but all along it has a darkness to it. It is perfectly shaped and paced and I can only recommend that you read it.