11. The Martian 

So here is novel number 11 of the year, The Martian, by Andy Weir. I enjoyed the film very much, and was very excited to read the novel. This is another novel that is not on my Reading Challenge list, but what the heck right? We’ve got time!

The Martian – Andy Weir

You may have been noticing a little that I have been reading on the train quite a lot. Its true, long train journeys have been becoming a little bit of a regular occurrence and reading is a good way to get through those hours. The Martian is a very good example of a good train read. It’s well written, it had me laughing on the train, it had me nearly crying in a coffee shop later on, it is just a very good all rounder.

The plot follows Mark Watney, who is unavoidably stranded on Mars, and his plan to survive. Watney is one of those examples of characterisation that I am going to carry around in my head for a long time, that’s to say I almost miss him, because he was such a clear voice in the novel. The novel is full of his logs from his time on Mars and it’s a conversational narrative that is very engaging. It is almost as if you are sat over a pint and he is retracing his steps on Mars for you. But if it was only Watney’s log it would be a little exhausting, it’s a very long passage of time and without a break I think I would’ve lost interest. A lot happens on Mars, a lot goes wrong, and a lot of solutions are necessary along with some mad science.

The novel changes perspective to NASA and the red tape they are cutting through to rescue Watney which really rounds out the novel. NASA are of course fear stricken to realise they have left an astronaut on Mars and face the near impossible task of getting food to him before he starves, contacting him with no communication device, and building equipment to spec in next to no time at all.

This is a novel that covers science fiction very well without feeling science fiction. It’s about space, it’s about Mars, it’s about problem solving, but it’s very accessible. It’s got a sense of humour. There were moments of tension that were punctuated by humour that literary broke through the fourth wall and had me laughing on the train like a crazy person.

I was also really emotionally invested in this one as I was reading it. There is always a risk in falling in love with a film and finding yourself compelled to read the novel. There are of course subtle differences between the film and the novel, but they aren’t so significant that I can really critique them. In reality I felt that Watney on Mars in the novel, has a much harder time than Watney on Mars in the film.

This was a novel that I really struggled to put down. I really loved the intimate dialogue from Watney, I enjoyed the perspective shift to NASA, I enjoyed being as clueless as NASA as to where Watney was going at one point. This is a novel I will read again without a doubt and I highly recommend it.

10. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Well, what can I say I’ve really struggled through this one. I’ve always found James Joyce troubling. Currently time is of the essence and I have made myself incredibly busy. I have a deadline fast approaching and have been deconstructing poems, writing my own, and have honestly found very little time to read. The little energy that I have had has felt a little sapped by this novel.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

This is not one of those easy, light hearted train reads. There is a lot to get your teeth into and personally I have always found Joyce’s writing style quite resistant. I don’t find myself enjoying much of his work, I find myself reading out of spite and this novel was no exception unfortunately.

There was a moment, sat on the train, that I promised myself that if I got through the next twenty pages and it was still awful I would abandon it. I’m a sucker for needing to finish what I’m reading and I was very prepared to actually accept that I wasn’t going to finish this one. But just as I hit that hundred page mark the narrative suddenly got much more interesting and I was hooked – for about a quarter of the novel. Whatever it was that really caught my attention died quickly. I did finish it cover to cover, but it has left me feeling quite apprehensive.

The novel follows Stephen Dedalus along a journey of religious and intellectual awakening. Stephen questions the strict religious background he has grown up within and rebels against it resulting in a self exile from Ireland to Europe. This is not an easy route for young Stephen however, trapped between hedonism and a deep religiosity. Exploring both desires of the flesh and prostitution and also strict piety. Stephen’s confusion and bewilderment at navigating the world are a continual feature within the novel. Before Stephen ultimately concludes that Ireland is far too constricting a place to allow him to express himself as an artist.

If I had a different route into this novel and had studied it I believe I would have enjoyed it more. This is certainly a novel that requires far more time than I am willing to give a text when I am seeking novels to enjoy in my free time. It is quite resistant and unyielding. The philosophical debate and the existential crisis that makes the novel is a little exhausting to be part of. It’s a novel that deals with some very very heavy things and reading it certainly feels as if you are trying to tread water with a cannon strapped to your feet.

I am pleased that I have finally gotten around to reading one of Joyce’s longer works, as I had previously only read a couple short stories. But I am certainly glad it’s over.

9. The Lonely Londoners

Hello there! I have finished the Lonely Londoners, a novel that I think was given to me and that I knew nothing about when I opened it. This is a quick read, I managed it in five days with very little difficulty. Originally published in 1956, the novel is also set in the 50s around the time when there was a great surge of emigration from the West Indies to London. Like the novel’s protagonist Moses Aloette, Sam Selvon is Trinidadian born. Selvon has given his novel a rich dialect and a tapestry of story telling that gives life and layers to his narrative.

The narrative follows Moses in an easy, relaxed story telling, mostly surrounding the mischief and struggle of both himself and his friends in bleak, foggy London. And no surprises here, but the novel acts as a social commentary as well as a tangle of lives. 

The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon

How did I find it? It’s a little disenchanting actually. We meet Moses at Waterloo Station as he waits for hopeful new arrivals from the West Indies. He meets Henry Oliver and as Moses is a Veteran of the city takes him under his wing. Henry Oliver plays the part of most of the new hopefuls coming to London expecting an easier life and to be a big fish in a far bigger pond than he expects. Moses having lived in London for years, takes pity on him and ultimately the narrative breaks into little stories about Henry ‘Sir Galahad’ Oliver and other members of their community.

Moses is pessimistic and disenchanted, by the end of the novel its is very clear he is struggling with homesickness, or craving a far simpler life than the one he possesses. However these feelings are mingled in with a great number of smaller tales that really feel like oral tales that are shared between friends. The novel is also written in dialect, so well in fact that in reading it you forget the dialect is present as it becomes part of the music of the novel. The character Harris, who has tried to social climb and rid himself of his accent, is clearly distinguished in dialogue and has tried to set himself apart from his friends. This integration of character detail really highlights the layers of social politics the workings of the novel.

Overall this novel deals with many thoughts and feelings that I am likely to under appreciate because of my background, ethnicity, and lack of knowledge. But it is a very enjoyable read and I feel is a time capsule of a London that is very different to 2016. This is a novel that deserves the title ‘modern classic’ and I certainly implore anyone to read it.

8. Boating for Beginners

Some of you might remember that I decided to take a little holiday from my Reading Challenge. Firstly I smashed through Divergent by Veronica Roth and I’ve slowly, very slowly, been drifting through Jeanette Winterson’s Boating for Beginners. Granted this is not a novel on my Reading Challenge list but like my Divergent post I thought why not? I haven’t been very active lately so let’s make a little effort.

Boating for Beginners by Jeanette Winterson

As you can see this novel is yet ANOTHER charity shop find. I know I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, charity shops are a limitless resource. If you are a big book worm like me who currently has limited resources use your charity shops. Sure you might not be able to find anything your looking for, but you might just walk out with six books you’ve been after for a long time.

This Winterson novel is a rewrite of Noah’s Ark story. It is very entertaining much like Sexing the Cherry, the Winterson novel I read earlier this year. It’s light hearted and satirical and very much a re-imagining. If you like Terry Pratchett’s work, you will very much enjoy this novel. It’s taken me a long time to get through it simply because I’ve had a lot going on.

“Freud says we are preoccupied with deluges as a safeguard against bed-wetting.” – Boating for Beginners, Winterson, p66

It follows Noah, and some other characters, in the discovery of what the Unpronounceable really is and how this deity has come to be, and how the flood comes about. There is friction in beliefs across this world, whether or not fridges and freezers should be allowed and if they are healthy. Ham, and his attempt at opening a fast food chain. Gloria who is having an intellectual awakening, from being spoon fed trash romantic fiction all of her life she discovers philosophy and feminism and transexuals. Generally this is a sweet and endearing little tale. It also works on the premise that Noah is trying to scam future generations with his rewrite of his manuscript that tells of the coming of the Unpronounceable. And of course, as always, Winterson’s writing is first class.

“She’s soggy round the edges and peculiar in her outlook but her heart is still loud; and to keep the roaring inside, however you do it, must be worth something.”Boating for Beginners, Winterson, p67

I always find myself falling in love with Winterson’s work, no matter how hard I try there are just always lines that I can’t get enough of. There are definitely a couple of lines that resonated with me and of course the characterisation is beautifully done.

“She had always imagined that pain suited her. It didn’t. It made her fat and a lunatic, and she realised it for the first time.” – Boating for Beginners, Winterson, p94

This is a novel that covers a lot of ideas and it discusses a lot of things very subtly and without judgement. In the best possible way it is human and charming and beautifully enjoyable and accepting. I will certainly read this again someday.

It is also a very good day for me, as I was given a little cash for Easter as I am mostly unable to eat mainstream chocolate. So I treated myself finally:

The Martian by Andy Weir and Issue 4 of Saga