Book Review: The Glass Lake, Maeve Binchy

** Whilst I truly thought this tale was heartfelt, beautiful and moving, I will be giving it a low rating for the errors that occurred throughout the book. The edition I had of The Glass Lake was published in 1999, five years after the original publication in 1994. I will describe in more depth the full amalgamation of errors further below. **

The setting of this novel is in the small town of Lough Glass, which means the “Glass Lake”, in Ireland.

The lake truly is the heart of the town. It is the habitat of an old nun, Sister Madeleine, who lives on the lake’s shores in a cottage. It is where Bridy Daley drowned many years ago. It’s where the eschewed travellers live in their caravans. It is also the place Helen McMahon, mother of Kit and Emmet and wife of Martin, died.

Helen is known as a ravishing beauty who married plain Martin, a chemist. She married him because he loved her and she knew he would provide for her. One night, Helen disappears and the only one that knows what happened to her is that magnificent lake.

Martin McMahon’s boat is found upturned the following morning and a search begins for the beautiful Helen’s body. Kit discovers a letter from her mother left on Martin’s pillow, and she burns it, believing that her mother committed suicide and, if the note were to be found, Helen would be buried outside the cemetery for committing such a sin.

Kit and Emmet grow up and Kit slowly begins to understand what really happened to her mother that night four years ago.

The book focuses on the relationship between a mother and her daughter and on secrets: secrets in marriage, friendship, companionship. The small town of Lough Glass is full of secrets and Sister Madeleine is the key to unlocking them all as she is the confidant of the town.

I really loved the characters in this book and the way Binchy portrayed them. They were all rounded characters who were, mostly, likeable and whom I felt sympathy for. The town they lived in seemed like a real place and I felt like I knew each of the inhabitants as a friend, or as if I myself lived amongst these people.

In terms of the structure and the plot, I found it faltered a little bit between about pages four hundred and five hundred. Perhaps the novel did not need to be as long as the 562 pages that it was.

I was struggling to think where the plot could possibly go next. And the ending, the grand finale, all seems to happen in the last twenty pages and feels extremely rushed. Perhaps those hundred pages could have been taken out and the twenty pages at the end could have been expanded on.

Overall I did really enjoy The Glass Lake. I thought the characters were excellent and well portrayed. I loved the relationship between London life and Ireland life, including the parallel narratives where coincidences were constantly joining the two together.

Glass Lake

The grammar and spelling of my edition was a huge problem for me, however.

I found it to be distracting and off-putting in my reading. I don’t just mean there were ten mistakes in the whole novel, but more like a hundred or so. And not small mistakes such as missing articles and use of the singular instead of the plural. There were misspelt characters names and inconsistent character names. Emmet appeared once as “Emnet”, an easy mistake with the M and N on a keyboard being so close together. But it was a mistake that should have been picked up before publishing.

The Millar’s name is also interchangeable with the other spelling, Miller. The two would change throughout the text which, whilst not a spelling error, is annoying and confusing.

Other problems included “to far” instead of “too far” (see left), as well as many other spelling errors that would be too many to list here. Perhaps a more recent edition would have all such errors removed.

 

I tried to remember that Binchy is Irish and that the syntax of some sentences might be strange because they are in Irish dialect. Regardless of this, the errors were not for this reason alone.

Unfortunately, for this reason, I will rate The Glass Lake:

Overall rating of The Glass Lake: 2/5

See more Goodreads reviews here.

Book Review: Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven: just another post-apocalyptic tale?

Yes, I thought the same thing before I began Station Eleven, but this one really is different.
A virus, named the Georgia flu, has spread throughout the planet, killing off 99.99% of the population. The novel follows the citizens that are left and their fight to live in what is left of the world, a world without air travel, paracetamol, or electricity.
Station Eleven begins on stage, a production of King Lear with an A-Lister, Arthur Leander, as Lear. He mysteriously drops dead mid-performance. The Shakespearean theme continues throughout as the book jumps to 20 years after the arrival of the flu.
The Travelling Symphony travels through settlements, performing Shakespearian plays such as Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King Lear. They are made up of musicians and actors who perform to entertain the survivors, and perhaps to remind them of a past long gone. Their slogan? “Survival is insufficient”, a line taken from Star Trek.
Station Eleven has two main parallels, pre-flu and post-flu: the life of Arthur Leander up until the day he died, and Year Twenty, where the Travelling Symphony are roaming through America. In this way, Mandel can demonstrate the relationships between the characters from ‘before’ and ‘after’.

Book Hint: If you have the hardback edition, there’s a special surprise waiting on page 304, but don’t get over-excited and skip ahead!

A member of the Travelling Symphony, Kirsten, was on stage with Arthur when he died. She was 8, and she finds herself collecting newspaper clippings about him found in derelict houses though she doesn’t know why. Kirsten also owns a copy of a comic, Station Eleven. She doesn’t know who it belongs to, but that it was created by M.C.
Mandel also introduces us to Jeevan. As a journalist, he met Arthur through doing interviews with him. Jeevan has also photographed Arthur’s first wife, Miranda, though Arthur isn’t aware of this. Kirsten owns a paperweight that was once Miranda’s, though she doesn’t know this or how she came to own it. There’s also a man known as ‘The Prophet’ hunting towns and taking women as his wives. But who is he, and how exactly does he fit into the jigsaw that Mandel has created?

Will all of these lives eventually come together in an unorthodox way?

Through her novel, Mandel explores the meaning of what it means to be happy. She throws in reminders of the ‘old world’ through the glamour of paparazzi and glossy magazines. She explores the thoughts of characters who can’t imagine what air conditioning might feel like. It is a reminder to us of what we have, and how difficult it would be to live without it.
Kirsten discovers a house on her travels and thinks: “That’s what it would have been like, she realized, living in a house. You would leave and lock the door behind you, and all through the day you would carry a key.” What is normality for us in our world is complete madness to those that live in Year Twenty.
Mandel leaves us feeling, not in fear of the end of the world as we know it, but appreciative of everything we have in the present.

Overall rating: 4/5

You walk into a room and flip a switch and the room fills with light. You leave your garbage in bags on the curb, and a truck comes and transports it to some invisible place. When you’re in danger, you call for the police. Hot water pours from faucets. Lift a receiver or press a button on a telephone, and you can speak to anyone. All of the information in the world is on the Internet, and the Internet is all around you, drifting through the air like pollen on a summer breeze. There is money, slips of paper that can be traded for anything: houses, boats, perfect teeth. There are dentists.

Book Review: “Fahrenheit 451”, Ray Bradbury

This week’s read was Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, which, being only two hundred and twenty pages, I read in an afternoon.

Fahrenheit 451 s a great read for those who don’t read very often or feel they don’t have enough time to read long classics such as War and Peace (of which I’m eighty pages in), which stands at around one thousand three hundred pages!

It is a classic dystopian novel which should be read by everyone. I understand that it is on the English GCSE curriculum. It was not something that I ever got the chance to study and so I felt I should read it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, especially the larger meanings that were hiding behind Bradbury’s book-burning metaphor.

The Plot

The plot focuses on Guy Montag, a fireman who is paid to start fires and burn books rather than put fires out. Bradbury clearly uses books as a metaphor for education and knowledge and the fear that society has of the educated.

The classic saying “knowledge = power” truly demonstrates the fear that Bradbury presents. He shows that too much knowledge produces a power that society is afraid of. In this futuristic world, knowledge is controlled by a higher government. This government can choose what people are listening to. Each citizen is provided with a “Seashell Radio” set that they place in their ears and watch on their wall-sized televisions.

Montag encounters a young girl, Clarisse, who makes him question the way he lives his life. Most importantly, she asks why he is burning books. Bradbury doesn’t provide a clear reason for the books being burned, but hints that it is because books are offensive.

According to Beatty, Montag’s boss, groups and minorities began to object to books that offended them. Gradually, all books and their content began to look the same. Authors began to avoid any ‘offensive’ subjects, of which are unspecified. Society began to burn books rather than allow any conflicting opinions that could separate society.

The novel was set in 1954 but has a futuristic setting. It was written before computers, the internet and in the early days of television. Bradbury was clearly very forward thinking. His televisions are projected on all four walls, and can interact with you. His creation of the in-ear radios is astonishing for a 1950s book.

Overall

I would recommend this book to anyone, regardless of whether you like futuristic novels or not. While Fahrenheit 451 is slightly fantastical, it is easy to forget the fantasy element. You become involved with the characters and the act of burning books and, therefore, knowledge.

Overall rating: 4/5

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you are there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.

 

Books similar to this one:

Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

4 Seriously Pretty Books: Fitzgerald Classics

These Fitzgerald classics were released on the 70th anniversary of his death, and they’re absolutely stunning.

I can’t help but buy pretty books when I see them, even if I’ve read that particular book 10 times, and have three copies of it. If it’s a different cover to one I’ve got, and it’s pretty, I’m buying it. And that’s exactly what happened with these 70th Anniversary F. Scott Fitzgerald classics.

Fitzgerald classics - Gatsby

photo courtesy of novelsandnailpolish.com

I mean, look how pretty and shiny they are.

Fitzgerald classics

The books aren’t cheap, at £14.99 per book. I didn’t buy the whole set (I think there’s six in total), but they’ll sit nicely on a shelf in my office so I an stare at them all day.

What are your favourite book covers?