Wednesday, 27 May 2015

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson / Luminous Life Of Lilly Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin / Here In Harlem by Walter Dean Myers

I Am LegendI Am Legend by Richard Matheson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my Favourite Five Horror Stories for Halloween 2015 and one of my Top Ten Books of 2015

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Horror fiction isn't my usual fare, but when I saw a narration of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend in an Audible 2-for-1-credit promotion I thought I would give it a try. Written in the 1950s, the story is a classic and I assumed that, being of that vintage, it would not be as graphically gory as modern tales. In this I was right. There are flashes of horrific violence, but what made I Am Legend brilliant for me is its creeping dread and its overriding sense of loss.

Our protagonist, Robert Neville, believes himself the last non-vampiric human alive and lives an isolated existence boarded up every night in a home besieged by his hunters. My Audible version was narrated by Robertson Dean who does a great job. His world-weary tones perfectly suit Neville's predicament so it was easy for me to get past the unreal element and accept the world as Matheson created it. Set in the then future of 1976, the summer is not especially hot - was it in America or just Europe? - but the library contains actual books and I liked how Matheson has Neville take home volumes to study.

Without, hopefully, giving away too much of the plot for anyone like me who hadn't even seen one of the film adaptations, the flashbacks to Neville's previous family life are sad and reminded me at times of the panic and chaos of Jose Saramago's Blindness. The dog is particularly heartrending and I loved the final twist which is so unlike standard narrative fare that I didn't see it coming. Brilliant storytelling and I'm glad I took a chance on it. I think I will learn how to wire up a generator though - just in case!

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Books by Richard Matheson / Horror fiction / Books from America

The Luminous Life Of Lilly AphroditeThe Luminous Life Of Lilly Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite was recommended to us by Dave's daughter Carrie. He bought it for his Kindle account which I can access via Amazon's newish Sharing function for Kindle which is a great idea. This is my seventh review for the Read Scotland Challenge.

Like Midnight's Children, Lilly is born at the beginning of a new era - in her case the beginning of the 20th century. Through her eyes, we see the desperate poverty suffered by many people in Germany in the period from 1900 until the end of the Second World War. Another of my recent reads, Life After Life, touched upon this era and I was interested to learn more about it.

Orphaned very young, Lilly grows up in an orphanage under the care of her beloved Sister August, a Catholic nun. Befriended by an older girl, Hanne, Lilly is encouraged to climb the walls at night, selling roses in seedy bars before she is even ten years old. Hanne is the only other person who does continuously return to Lilly's life, whereas practically everyone else leaves her or she leaves them behind. Despite eventual good fortune, which is revealed through intriguing flash forwards before each chapter, this theme of abandonment and loneliness runs throughout the book and must have been the norm in a time that encompassed not only the two World Wars, but also the Spanish flu epidemic and a civil war, and the complete wiping out of the German currency caused by First World War reparation payments. Although the Nazi Party's actions will always be horrific, novels such as Lilly Aphrodite do allow some understanding of how a people could find themselves choosing such a path.

Beatrice Colin's research, inspired apparently by a great-aunt, was obviously thorough and her efforts pay off. Her prose brings Berlin alive and it is easy to believe in the characters she creates. I love the vivacity of her writing and will certainly be looking out for more based on the strength of Lilly Aphrodite.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.

Here in Harlem: Poems in Many VoicesHere in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices by Walter Dean Myers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am very happy that the AudioSYNC programme of weekly audiobook downloads is running again this summer. Last year I got the opportunity to hear several books that I might never have heard of otherwise and it looks like that will continue this year. Not all the books are downloadable to the UK so my first two for 2015, actually from Week Three, included Here In Harlem, a poetry collection by Walter Dean Myers.

Myers created his collection by remembering the people he used to live alongside when growing up in Harlem and writing around them. Dozens of people each have a short poem or prose piece allowing us insights into their lives, beliefs, passions and friendships. Women, men, girls and boys, of all ages and occupations all line up to speak and, with the audiobook, thirteen different narrators bring their words to life over appropriate music and sound effects. Whoever added the music certainly did an excellent job as this makes the atmosphere real to the listener.

I found the poems themselves a bit hit and miss. Some had strong characters behind the words, but I couldn't always find the person behind others. Perhaps brevity was at fault because most poems only allow the speaker one minute to project themselves. As a whole though, Here In Harlem gives an interesting overview of the district in its jazzy heyday.

Buy the audio download from Waterstones.

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