January Reads, Part 2

Winter truly is the best time for staying indoors and burrowing into a book. Here are some more books I’ve managed to squeeze in before the end of the month:

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  • White Oleander by Janet Fitch
  • A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

White Oleander

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Goodreads | Buy

Premise: After Astrid’s mother is jailed for murder, Astrid is taken into a series of foster homes.

Review: Although some of the scenes and characters in White Oleander can be rather over-the-top, I enjoyed it. From the first page onwards, Fitch’s words flow with a poetic ease, rendering the story a smooth and quick read. Fitch employs a variety of metaphors that accentuates the poignant quality of her writing. In addition to Fitch’s way with words, I appreciated her ability to create vivid, complex relationships among her diverse cast of characters, especially between Astrid and her mother. It was interesting to see Astrid learn lessons from each of her foster mothers and the impact they had on her as she drifted from home to home.


A Study in Scarlet

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Goodreads | Buy

Premise: Watson and Holmes help solve the baffling murder of a man in a room in which the wall is marked with a single word written in blood.

Review: A Study in Scarlet is the very first instalment in the infamous Sherlock Holmes series. As such, this is the book in which Holmes and Watson meet for the first time. Holmes is such a well-developed and interesting character; from the very start, the reader is able to discern his eccentricities and flaws. What makes Holmes such an interesting character is that for however much he excels in deduction and logic, he falls short just as much in other areas of life.

I enjoyed delving deep into the motives of the characters involved in the murder and then learning how these all culminated in the murder scene. Everything is very clearly delineated for the reader, including the reasoning process of Holmes. As many other readers have said, the shift in the middle where we get a backstory of what led to the crime is quite jarring. I wasn’t quite as bothered by the shift as others, but I was glad to return to Watson’s more engrossing narrative at the end.

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I own the Barnes and Noble leather bound collectible edition, which contains all four novels and fifty-six short stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. I’ve only read A Study in Scarlet, but I’ll be continuing with the second novel (The Sign of the Four) within the next few months.

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I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose…

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This durable edition comes with gilt-edging and a matching gold silk ribbon bookmark.

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

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Goodreads | Buy

Premise: With the admittance of new patient McMurphy, the nurse-in-charge’s oppressive hold on the mental ward inhabitants gradually deteriorates.

Review: The events that occur in the mental ward are narrated by Chief Bromden, a patient who is considered mute-deaf by his peers and the staff. Given that Chief Bromden is a paranoid-schizophrenic, the narrative often weaves in and out through scenes of flashbacks, reality, and hallucinations, leading you to question the reliability of Bromden’s narration. Although the hallucinations may throw the reader off at times, these imaginative scenes can be more indicative of reality than reality itself.

The events told by Bromden are a harrowing depiction of the state of the mental health system during the 50’s and 60’s. The repeated clashing of McMurphy and the Big Nurse brings to light the continuous struggle over the control of the individual as well as non-conformity. It was extremely satisfying to see the cowed patients gradually stand up to the mechanized ways of the institution.

I haven’t watched the film adaptation, but I have heard many good things about it as well, and I’m interested in watching to compare the two. I highly enjoyed this book, for its highly memorable cast of characters and its thought-provoking content.

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This is the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, with deckled edges and cover art by professional cartoonist Joe Sacco. The comics panels continue onto the inside French flaps.

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Like a cartoon world, where the figures are flat and outlined in black, jerking through some kind of goofy story that might be real funny if it weren’t for the cartoon figures being real guys…

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The Remains of the Day

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Goodreads | Buy

Premise: An English butler embarks on a motoring trip through the countryside and reminisces about his life and career.

Review: The Remains of the Day is a slow, but quietly introspective read. Hauntingly subtle, the narrative provided by Stevens, the quintessential English butler, slowly but surely progresses, as if peeling back layers of an onion to reveal the core of the story. As a butler who has worked in the presence of many prominent and important world officials, Stevens looks back on his career and allocates a considerable amount of time pondering various pivotal moments during which he might have acted differently. It is through these memories that we are able to piece together information about Stevens and his failed relationships with others.

The theme of lost time is a very relatable one; Stevens often wonders how his life could have been different and strives to convince himself he has lived a meaningful life serving humanity. His preoccupations with his profession, maintaining “dignity”, and suppressing his emotions were quite exasperating, especially when we see how these hindrances prevented him from living his life fully. Despite the heaviness of the content, there are some moments that I found amusing, such as the conundrum of how to properly banter and the disregard for very obvious social cues.

Perhaps then, there is something to his advice that I should cease looking back so much, that I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day. After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?

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4 Comments

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  1. oh dear, that edition of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is just gorgeous!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m really curious about Remains of the Day.
    I wonder if I’ll like it as much as Never Let Me Go! Your review makes the book seem just as I imagined it to be!

    I heard so many great things about One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.I remember downloading the movie and watching the beginning,before I stopped,as I had something to do.Afterwards my laptop crashed and I never downloaded the movie again.I’m happy I didn’t get to see the movie as it’d have spoiled much of the story! The movie is ranked high on IMDB’s list; so I think it’s worth your time!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think there is a high chance you will enjoy The Remains of the Day! It’s very similarly written to Never Let Me Go, with all the subtlety and atmospheric reminiscences. I was more aware of my enjoyment of Never Let Me Go while I was in the act of reading it, whereas for The Remains of the Day, I only realised my enjoyment after I had finished it and had time to think it over. Hope that makes sense!

      I’m sorry about your laptop crashing! I’m also glad I didn’t see the movie of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest prior to reading, but I’ll definitely be watching it soon now. 🙂

      Like

  3. Remains of the Day is the one that stands out most. So need to read it.

    Liked by 1 person

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