Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

Category: Read in 2010


Invisible, Paul Auster

Yet again, Paul Auster does not disappoint. Invisible is concerned with the memoirs of Adam Walker, beginning with his student days 1967. After meeting a glamorous yet seedy bohemian couple his life starts moving in unexpected directions. (Albeit in rather exciting cities … Paris and New York anyone?) A confession: at first I was worried Paul Auster had written a story, a straightforward story! But for dedicated Auster fans, don’t panic – although this is probably one of his more mainstream novels, all his quirks remain. Invisible is set in three parts, with different narrators and different styles of narration. Like a lot of his books, underneath the plot, the book is about the act of writing books and the hoops the author can make his readers jump through. I’ll try not to spoil it, but midway through the characters start acting out quite taboo scenarios, and credit to Auster being a brilliant writer – he can make you completely question what you know and what you expect your reactions to be. One more compliment: what I really loved about Invisible was that characters are like unexpected versions of people wandering about in an F. Scott Fitzgerald masterpiece.

Wild Swans

Wild Swans, Jung Chang

This biography is so eye opening. Jung Chang uses traces her family history back through her own lifetime, her mother and her grandmother in order to comment on the larger history of China from 1900 up until 1980s. Her grandmother had her feet bound according to tradition and was ‘married’ off to a warlord as a concubine. Her mother and father were communist officials under Mao’s initial reign, although later fell out of favour during the cultural revolution. Prior to this book, I knew nothing of China’s history and had absolutely no idea it was so brutal. It is written with honesty and is so personal it really draws you in. Banned in China, it is a bestseller in other countries, and Jung Chang has also written a biography of Mao.

The Pendragon Legend

The Pendragon Legend, Antal Szerb

There can’t be many translated hungarian novels set in Wales, can there? This was Antal Szerb’s first book, published in 1934. It is an utterly brilliant satire of so many genres, chiefly gothic horror, murder mystery and conspiracy theories. On the surface this is so lighthearted, poking fun at various european stereotypes as well as some very familiar myths and legends. But with the hindsight of Szerb’s death in a concentration camp in 1945, theres a lot of darker humanism in the book too.


Elegant Hedgehogs

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery

1. Philosophy

2. Tolstoy

3. Japanese culture

4. Language

If you like any or all of these things, and have a passing interest in french literature, dark comedy, or reading something original, you’ll like this. I read it in more or less a day (breaks at work and the journey from/to home) and it really brightened up what would have been rather ordinary. At first I didn’t like it, but once I got used to her style, there is a shocking amount to think over – Barbery manages to capture a hell of a lot of humanity in a relatively short book!

The Crimson Petal and the White

The Crimson Petal and the White, Michel Faber

I finished 838 pages of pure perfection and immediately went and bought my own copy. Instantly makes my top five books of all time. I read it getting sadder and sadder because each page I turned I would never read for the first time again!  Briefly, it is about a prostitute called Sugar, her sugar daddy, his mad wife, his wannabe reverend brother, his unattainable love…. Not to mention a historical romp around victorian london. I keep trying to write a review but I just cannot do it justice. Just trust me, this is truly excellent.

Under The Dome

Under The Dome, Stephen King

I confess, I was yet again suckered in by clever marketing of book covers. Which you can enjoy here. My my, how have I gone so long without ever reading a Stephen King novel? Absolutely fantastic! So readable, despite being quite a beast of a book, it reads quickly and easily. There is a huge cast of characters though, so the book needs to be long so you can really get into who is who. In a nutshell (slight pun intended), Under The Dome is about a small town in America which all of a sudden becomes trapped under (can you guess?) a giant, impenetrable dome. Aliens? Government conspiracy? All I will say is that I started thinking one, and then really hoped it was the other. But really, Under The Dome is as much about the psychology of people in tense situations as it is about action.

Reading this, I was reminded of the film The Village. But this is loads better. I’d recommend it, even if you aren’t generally a reader of science fiction. Stephen King, I happily join your legions of devotees. What a ride!

Let the Great World Spin

Let The Great World Spin, Colum McCann

1. Breathtaking

2. Epic, but in a small way

The lives of several new yorkers existing seemingly worlds apart are all united with one image: Phillipe Petite’s tightrope walk across the twin towers in 1974. The image, while not directly part of the story, serves as a metaphor for a lot of the book’s micro/macro focus on individual lives in a very grand scale. This book is a book for people who love books. The characters are varied, and I found myself falling for the ones I least expected to. Whats more, Colum McCann’s writing is utterly beautiful from start to finish. I loved the whole motto of the novel, which seemed to be that we all have sadness and hardships in our lives, but there is good stuff too: when times get hard, just keep breathing because the world will always keep spinning.

We Need To Talk About Kevin

We Need To Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver

All the hype about this book is justified, and I wish it hadn’t put me off reading it for so long. The subject matter of a woman (mother, wife) trying to sort through the events causing and surrounding her son’s columbine-esque high school massacre is obviously very dark, and is utterly fascinating. Shriver does well to tackle such taboo subjects concerning motherhood and women who do not feel like ‘natural’ mothers; to the point that I realised my own reactions to stories about Kevin as a child were unsettling. There is a lot of interesting material for psychological debates about nature and nurture, but to be honest even though I finished the book a couple of weeks ago, I haven’t sorted it all out in my head yet. The story definitely stays with you, and I love books that can do that. And back to basics, Lionel Shriver is a wonderful (if that word doesn’t sound too ‘nice’ compared to the subject matter!) storyteller. Plus this book, like Notes On A Scandal, gets to play around with not just unlikeable narrators, but unreliable ones too. Fictional or no, this kind of violence in children can be seen as a worrying side effect of our culture so we really should talk about subjects like Kevin through books like this, rather than solely sensationalist tv programmes and the like.


Hawksmoor, Peter Ackroyd

Well. This book… No other book like it. My copy is the rather excitingly designed penguin decades edition. The plot of this book is strange but appealing- Ackroyd turns the real life Nicholas Hawksmoor into Nicholas Dyer – architect of seven churches built on human sacrifice. Nicholas Hawksmoor becomes a policeman in the 1980s (when the book was written) who is investigating modern day murders on the sites of these churches.

Sound good? I thought so. However, I’m not sure whether Peter Ackroyd is so clever that this book was totally lost on me, or whether he is the kind of writer that is so clever he wants to show off everything he can do at once, rather than spinning a good yarn. Nicholas Hawksmoor is the least developed title character I have ever come across!

The best bit about this book is probably the doubles throughout – every character in the 1600s has a parallel in the eighties, every conversation is repeated in some form, everything is mirrored. It seems as though the murders that take place in the modern day are repeats of the murders in the past: time is cyclical, the city creates the same scenarios, people never change.


The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, Douglas Adams

What more is there to say other than Douglas Adams is the funniest, the cleverest and the most quintessentially English writer ever. I love his books. I love his writing. He is utterly brilliant. His books are my childhood.