A collated review | recently read

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Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Hannah Kent’s writing style is engaging from the very first page. The characters she writes on and explores are intriguing and at times heartbreaking.

I cannot recommend this book enough to anyone, and I mean anyone. I knew nothing about this except that it is set in Iceland around 1820 and focuses on three convicted murderer’s who allegedly killed two people in a small town. As the reader you do not know if they are innocent or guilty which for me I enjoyed reading as it holds the suspense for the novel’s entirety.

The struggles faced not only in that era but in Iceland are something I was not aware of. Set in a time period where supply and money were low for many, the vast and oppressive landscape are part of the characters’ lives and struggles. The challenging way of life is indicative of people only in it for themselves. For women especially, the hardships they faced daily are included but not limited to: child birth, relationships, marriage, sexualisation, assault, ownership – it does not sound like a pleasant time to have lived through.

Character development is a key element throughout and one I enjoyed most. Agnes’ character goes through many highs and lows as does the family at Kornsa – especially the mother Margret.

The religious influences throughout were never overbearing or persuasive but simply, how things were in Iceland. As the reader you feel a general consensus that the country took it very seriously and looked down upon those who did not abide by or follow it. Religion for many in that time played a role in every aspect of a person’s life including society as a whole.

For me this novel gave everything a reader can hope for – interest, suspense, deep sadness and knowledge. I would love to know if any of you are interested in reading this or have read it already. If so please leave your comments below.

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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

What I have grown to appreciate and love about novels are the unexpected ones, the ones that move me in a surprising way – The Bell Jar did exactly that. Sylvia Plath’s unique writing style is a pleasure to read, taking the reader right into the main character’s life. I love nothing more than character development in any novel and this one does exactly that but with a twist.

The progress the central character Esther makes is heartbreaking and terrifying at times. The topics Plath covers in The Bell Jar (mental health and the role of women), would have been very ahead of the times when it was first published and I like that element. An interesting way Plath demonstrates this is not only through the novels title The Bell Jar but through the dialogue. It is elaborated upon several times in the novel however for me two quotes from Esther stand out:

“I knew I should be grateful to Mrs Guinea, only I couldn’t feel a thing … because wherever I sat – on the deck of a ship or at a street cafe in Paris or Bangkok – I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air” (p. 178).

“But I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure at all. How did I know that someday – at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere – the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?” (p. 230).

Esther in the second half of the novel struggles with mental health quite a lot and finds it difficult when pondering on life outside the hospital. The quotes above reflect her anxiety and depression about this. She feels happiness will never come and encircle in her arms ever again – it is a heartbreaking moment in the novel to read but one of extreme importance for the reader.

I enjoyed reading this novel and would highly recommend it purely for Plath’s writing style and ability to create such depth for a character.

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The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark

Written in third person narration The Driver’s Seat is a quick 100-page read that is engaging form start to finish. It follows the story of Lise – she never goes on a holiday but decides one day to pack up and gain new experiences for a few weeks. Her fate will be met on her holiday and as the reader you don’t know how and when. It is crucial with this novel to pay attention to dialogue and character introductions.

I thoroughly enjoy Spark’s writing style. Little snippets of information are trailed along the way to provide the reader with just enough to get by. The language is quite descriptive yet nonchalant. The story appears to have a bigger meaning and Lise appears to makes sense as a character yet not at all for either. The reader follows Lise around on her adventures from speaking to someone on the plane to having lunch with a motel neighbour. The reader gets a sense that Lise is aware yet oblivious of her predator, making the killer even more frightening.

I don’t want to give too much away but this novel ends in a way that is completely unexpected. The reader is led to believe one thing when it is in fact another which I think it a fantastic technique by Spark. The final hook is fantastic however on a whole it isn’t a novel I see myself re-reading over and over again.

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