Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson was February's book club choice but I only managed to finish it this week, 6 weeks after I started. It's quite a weighty tome stretching to 621 pages and I found myself dipping in and out of it rather than devouring it like a lot of the book club did. This didn't hamper my enjoyment of it much though.
The premise is a simple one yet one I've not read before. What would you do if you could live your life over and over again? What would you change and how would you change it? This is explored from the very first page as we find Sylvia giving birth to our protagonist Ursula, but complications arise and Ursula dies within minutes. Darkness falls around her then she feels snowflakes. Ursula is now being born again, in the same place, to the same mother with the same surroundings, yet this time she survives. Just. Only for her life to end not long after. And repeat. Each time Ursula dies she is reborn on February 11th 1910 to Sylvia whilst a blizzard rages outside. It took a while to fully grasp the writing style but once I understood then it was a treat. We find out not just about Ursula and how her life pans out in several spanning arch's but also that of her family and friends. In one life a child is murdered whilst in another that same child grows up to wed Ursula's brother. There is never a conscious knowing if Ursula remembers her previous lives, but more that she has a feeling about what is right and wrong. Should she take the shortcut to get home or should she walk the long way? One way leads to a grisly confrontation so in the next life she unconsciously decides on the other path.
After the first few reincarnations her live's seem pretty similar and mundane, but then when Ursula turns 16 a shocking act occurs. I felt rocked by this act. I was emotionally sapped. I'd come to really enjoy Ursula's company and it veered away from the importance of focusing on how she's headed towards her deathbed to how she's going to cope with her current life. It was the first time I was happy for the story to start again, as that's the easy way out, rather than dealing with it.

Being born in 1911 meant that Ursula lives and experiences the second world war. Kate Atkinson has found several angles to approach this from. In one life we see Ursula living in Germany and has regular contact with Adolf Hitler himself, mostly in the mid 1930's. The book ask's itself not just 'What would I do differently?' but also 'What would I change?'. Does she pull the trigger on Hitler in the mid 30's to stop the war ever happening? And even if she doesn't in one life, does she in another? I must admit her time in Germany was the least engaging for me as I enjoyed her relationship with her family. Once she returns to the war in another life in London however I think this is the strongest part of the book.
The street's are transformed to rubble and glowing embers, explosions occurring almost hourly. The way Atkinson weaves Ursula into this is majestic. She throws several unlikely personalities together to create a band of amiable figures. Butchers, teachers, musicians all banded together to help clean up the streets along with Ursula. Sometimes Ursula lays down and accepts death and sometimes she's heading straight into a 20 foot mound of twisted metal and fire to see if anyone is alive, but never once do we feel that she's a different character each life. Her decisions in her life affect how she approaches the war. It was a very moving part of the book.

The main gripe with the book club though was the ending. How do you end it? Can she just keep being reincarnated  for ever more? I won't reveal how it does end but I disagreed with most of the club as I thought the ending was suitable and bitter-sweet. It was a long read, a sometime burden if I wasn't enjoying a certain route she had taken, but that route always ended a new path was taken as a new life. I would recommend it to most but perhaps make sure you devour it in a few sittings rather than the two dozen or so I had!
Rating books is a personal thing and I've decided against giving half scores this year. It's better than a 6 but not quite a 7, but I think it probably deserves the 7 for the devastating scenes alone so it's been awarded 7 cushions on the comfometer.

If you want to join the book club just add yourself to the Goodreads club and the Facebook club. Choices are posted at the end of every month to pick from and the winner announced when we chat about the previous book. We chat on Goodreads on the last Sunday of the month at 4pm but also have comments on Facebook too so if you only use one of these (Goodreads is best) then it doesn't matter.



Thursday, 13 March 2014

An update on the status of The Big Comfy Bookshop

On Tuesday evening I was invited along to the Fargo Village tenants meeting. This meeting also included a walk around the site. From the outside the place looks the same as it did in November but stepping indoors I can see a lot of progress has been made. The place has been sandblasted, cleaned up, doorways cut out and partitions have started to be put in place to divide the place into the units. As my unit is on the corner, the architect has decided to change my doorway from what it was, with it now facing a more central direction and including a large window. I think this will be better.
The roller doors will be my front door, partitions still to be put in
We were shown the rest of the village and it's all at varying degrees of completion. Once the walk-around was completed we shuffled along to the Fargo Office and started the meeting. About 20 tenants were in attendance along with Jo and Steve from Fargo and Wendy from the Federation of Small Businesses; a very valuable woman to know! Each person shared what they hope Fargo will become and what they will bring to the village. I brought a book. I know, original right? But not just any book, I bought The Legend Of Everwinter by local author Tara Behan and artist Matthew Hill, to showcase that I'll be involving local talent in the shop, with both of them hoping to have an author reading, discussion and workshop.
The Fargo Family checking out progress
We were shown through exactly how far Fargo has come since building started and what to expect over the next 6 months. The question on everyone's lips was obviously 'When does it open then?'. We were given a pretty good idea of when we can access the village, start creating the shop and eventually opening, but I won't divulge that here. I know in the past I've said 'Nearly there!' then it's delayed again and trust me, it's so frustrating, but as long as we don't get a blizzard or wind like the past month, then all should be ready VERY SOON.
I came away very positive. The unit was bigger than I recalled and definitely has a lot more height so I'm wondering how to fill all that room with wonderful things.
My front door
I've started to slowly buy up things that the shop will need. Bookcases are a priority but I know where I'll be purchasing them from. One worry was that I'd need to fork out for a counter soon. In a bitter-sweet email from Tinderbox Toys in Earlsdon it turned out my problem was solved. This lovely local shop that's been open for 5 years was shutting its doors, so they offered me a few things. I snapped up their counter amongst other bits and bobs. I also started to buy a few pieces from eBay. I couldn't resist this Roald Dahl cushion cover.
I have also set up an eBay shop to help shift a few more books and it's going OK. Early days yet. View the shop HERE and buy something. Please.

Finally, I've been confirmed to have a stall at the Earsldon Festival on May 5th. Last year it was the best experience I'd had since starting The Big Comfy Bookshop and was the catalyst for me joining the Fargo family. Have a look at what's going on at the festival and pop down!



Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Where is Fargo Village?

When asked where the bookshop will be, my reply is "The new Fargo Village on Far Gosford Street in Coventry that's opening very soon!". The next question is usually "Where's that then?".

Well Coventry resides in the centre of the letter 'a' in the word England. Look.
It's sandwiched between 2 other cities, Birmingham and Leicester, and just 10 miles from where I'm writing this blog from. Closer inspection sees it's located in the little gab in the letter 'e' in Coventry. Just to the West of Coventry is Meriden, the official centre of England for 500 years. 
 And once in Coventry, you don't even have to manoeuvre the love-it-or-hate-it ring road, as Fargo is just outside. See.

So there you go.


Sunday, 2 March 2014

5 Oscar films based on books

Once a year the biggest and brightest of Hollywood's elite (and their mum) show up on the red carpet for the Oscars. Several of the best films fight it out to win the coveted golden statue and a guaranteed increase in box office sales. Just being nominated increases the audience for a film and if that film is based on a book, then you'll see the book enter the top 20 best sellers too. Just have a look at the top selling books right now: Twelve Years A Slave by Solomon Northup, The Wolf Of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort, Philomena by Martin Sixsmith and A Captain's Duty by Richard Phillips amongst others have all entered the higher reaches of the chart since their film adaptations have been released and nominated. Always on the cultural pulse I have yet to see a single one of these films (I saw The Hobbit at the cinema last year, THAT'S IT!). What other Oscar winners and nominees have been based on books though? For the sake of argument, I'll be including films nominated in the Best Film catagory only.

The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy. 2001-2003
All three films were nominated between 2001-2003 but only the third, The Return of the King, came home triumphant, the first two losing out to A Beautiful Mind and Chicago. The cinematic achievement was huge and it was thought that although the third is often seen as the weakest (it is), it was handed the Oscar on the basis of the work put into the entire trilogy. The books by J.R.R.Tolkien have remained a classic since publication and the films only increased their reach. The Lord Of The Rings has become a behemoth since, with cash-ins around every corner from computer games, toys, artwork and board games. The Hobbit has since been made on the back of the strength of Lord Of The Rings.

The Shawshank Redemption - 1994
Probably the most famous Oscar snub in history is that the Tom Hanks tear-jerker Forrest Gump beat this Stephen King adaptation to the Oscar in 1994. It often tops Best Film categories and it's clear why: It's flipping brilliant. It's based on a short story written by the horror maestro entitled Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption in a collection called Different Seasons. In the same collection, the story The Body can be found, which was also adapted into the coming of age classic Stand By Me. Two of the best films ever made. A tonne of King's books have been adapted with varying success, but each time a new one comes along, the book it's based on sees a bump in sales.

Schindler's List - 1993
Steven Spielberg was often overlooked by the Academy but his take on Thomas Keneally's Schindler's Ark in 1993 was simply too powerful. The book was published 11 years before the film and is based on Oskar Schindler who managed to save over 1000 Jews in World War II. It came away triumphant beating another adaptation, The Remains of The Day based on Kazuo Ishiguro's novel of the same name. In the same year Spielberg made the BEST FILM EVER Jurassic Park, based on the Michael Crichton book. A fabulous year for Spielberg.

Life of Pi - 2013
Just last year this fantastical tale lost out to Argo. It was passed around Hollywood for years as it was thought to be un-adaptable, before visionary director Ang Lee tackled Yann Martel's tale and brought his unique style to it. The book it's based on (of the same name) won the heavyweight literary prize The Man Booker Prize in 2002 and sales rose steadily since. Once the film was released the book entered the top echelons of the charts once more. It split the reading and viewing public down the middle. I loved both the film and book.

The Godfather - 1972
Considered one of the best films of all time, The Godfather was adapted from Mario Puzo's novel of the same name, released just 3 years previously. It came away with the golden statue at the 1972 awards after Puzo had adapted his own book, along with director Francis Ford Coppola. It's a rare case of the film often being voted better than the book it's based on.

So these are 5 of the most well known, but travelling back through time you'll see dozens all based on books. Which are your favourites?