Monday, 2 March 2015

The Giant, O'Brien by Hilary Mantel / The Indecent Proposal by Louise Marley / The Full Cupboard Of Life by Alexander McCall Smith

The Giant, O'BrienThe Giant, O'Brien by Hilary Mantel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am probably the only person who has not yet read Wolf Hall, having been put off by its general brickness and also varying reviews of Mantel's writing style. I didn't want to find myself despondently trudging through hundreds of unengaging pages, yet I hate not finishing a book! So when I saw this shorter work on Audible, I thought it would be an ideal introduction. The Giant O'Brien is a historical imagining of the arrival in London of a particularly tall Irish man, Charles O'Brien, together with his hangers-on. At the same time, a Scottish surgeon, John Hunter, an early scientist, also comes to town to assist his brother and learn as much as he can about everything he encounters. The basic tales are true and Mantel has done a wonderful job of fleshing out the characters, the bizarre lives of displayed freaks in London at the time, and the shady underworld of procuring corpses for experimentation.

There is a lot of humour in The Giant O'Brien. While Charles, the giant, himself is eminently sensible and a compelling storyteller, much of the naivete of his group is played up. Initially this adds lightness to a desperate scene of poverty-stricken Ireland, but as the men sink into the London morass, their actions become selfish, decadent and, ultimately, sickeningly violent. On the other side of town, one of the funniest scenes is our surgeon listing tools to his grave robbers and explaining how not to get caught. Wooden shovels and rope ladders are quieter. Taking a body is no crime as it doesn't belong to anyone, but the shroud and funeral clothes do so leave them behind!

I enjoyed listening to this book and feel I learned a lot about the period. Mantel's characters are all strong individuals, although I wasn't convinced by Patrick Moy's voicing of all of them. The descriptions of the degradation of the Irish at English hands are sobering to hear and I was especially affected by the naming of Irish men and women who had been executed or died essentially as a result of their poverty. I think Mantel has put excellent research into this book, the detail is fascinating and, based on my positive experience here, I might just add The Brick (Wolf Hall) to my Goodreads TBR list!

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.

The Indecent Proposal (Short Story)The Indecent Proposal by Louise Marley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I discovered the short story, Indecent Proposal, through visiting Louise Marley's website where she very kindly announces that it is free on Amazon as a taster for her longer works! At only forty pages, Indecent Proposal is a fast read and its subject matter isn't too taxing either. Our naive heroine, Megan, thinks her rock star boyfriend, Ryan, is cheating on her having seen a magazine photo of him with another woman and jets off to Italy in consolation.

There isn't a lot of scene setting or character depth in Indecent Proposal, but the story has a good pace throughout and a suitably romantic conclusion. I liked Marley's writing style although the tale itself is too light for my taste. However, I'd definitely recommend this short to romance novel fans to introduce a new author.

The Full Cupboard of Life (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #5)The Full Cupboard of Life by Alexander McCall Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I saw a few other Alexander McCall Smith books proffered for the Read Scotland 2015 Challenge which reminded me that I still had this fifth volume in the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series to read. I picked up The Full Cupboard Of Life at the Camping Florantilles library several weeks ago.

Reading out of order, as I've skipped volumes three and four, didn't seem to be a real problem as McCall Smith fills in any backstory when needed. The familiar characters are still their positive-thinking joyful selves and I like the gentle pace of the novel. Perfect for today's hot Spanish sun! The reliance on nostalgia did wear a little thin towards the second half of the story and there is actually very little detecting in this detective story, but I came away uplifted and happy with the world which I believe is the point of the book.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

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