Sunday, 7 November 2010

Book reviews: Mark Haddon, Stephen King, Agatha Christie, Nell Dunn

Poor little book reviews. They have really fallen by the way-side! I keep stacking the books up for when I have time to review them, as I do like keeping a record of what I am reading, but the pile is starting to look the same size as my printer. So here are the latest four…

Up the Junction, by Nell Dunn
Blaze, by Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon
Appointment with Death, by Agatha Christie

Up the Junction, by Nell Dunn
First published by MacGibbon & Kee Ltd, 1963
This edition published by Pan Books Ltd, 1966

‘Up the Junction’ is a slice of gritty sixties realism, far from the beautiful people. Nell Dunn uses colloquial speech of the time in her sketchy portraits of Battersea residents – girls with scuffed shoes and messy beehives, boys with leather jackets and crow-bars in their back pocket. There is no real story as such, but each chapter works as a vignette, giving us a glimpse into working-class life.

This book still has the power to shock now, so I can well imagine it was a bit of an eye-opener back when it was published. Controversial subjects are brought into the light, such as back-street abortions, slum clearances, living on higher purchase, casual sex, and teenagers with no prospects. Nell Dunn made her name from writing such truisms, alarming the Establishment. ‘Up the Junction’ was awarded the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize, adapted for television, and made into a film. To say it touched a nerve for entire generation is an under-statement.

Blaze, by Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman
First published in Great Britain by Hodder & Stoughton
This edition published in 2008

As much as we are Stephen King’s Constant Readers, he is our Constant Writer, a prolific author who can bring out a book under his name and that of his pseudonym in the same year. This is what happened with Blaze, released alongside Stephen King’s novel ‘Desperation’.

Richard Bachman books nearly always see life from the bitter slice of the lemon. Blaze is about a mentally challenged man who hasn’t had much luck in life. He pairs up with a con-artist called George who plans to kidnap a millionaire’s baby and live off the reward money. After George dies Blaze attempts to continue the kidnapping, all the while asking George for guidance. And eventually, George starts speaking to him again…

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon
Published by Jonathan Cape, 2003
This edition published by Vintage, 2004

This novel won the 2003 Whitbread Book of the Year and the 2004 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book. After reading it you can see why – it is a refreshingly unusual story. It is told in the first person perspective of Christopher, a fifteen-year old with Asperger’s Syndrome and the tight viewpoint mirrors his condition. The story starts with his investigation of who killed a neighbour’s dog but reveals far much more than anyone intended.

I found it a clever book that is more of a galloping read than a story to linger over, although curiously (how apt) the impression of the story, and what isn’t told, is something to ponder long after the book is closed. It really gives you an idea of what it is like living with a child who sees the world in such literal terms – you feel for him and his parents. The only note that jarred for me was when Christopher hides in the luggage compartment of a train. On trains these are simply tiny, a small shelf in which to stow suitcases, and try as I might I cannot see how a fifteen-year old could possibly hide and be undetected in such a small space, not on a busy train to London. But then again we see things from Christopher’s perspective, so maybe because he didn’t notice anyone, we didn’t as well. It’s that sort of book!

Appointment with Death, by Agatha Christie
First published by William Collins Sons & Co Ltd, 1938
This edition published by Fontana Books, 1980

Oh how I love Agatha Christie books – she leads us neatly up the garden path when all along we should have been looking in the house, or rather, at the red cliffs of Petra. Appointment with Death takes us on a journey to Jordan where we meet the monstrous Mrs Boynton, a woman who likes to pull the reins of power tight around her family. Too tight, perhaps?

Poirot shines as ever, despite the dust and the heat wilting his magnificent moustache. I find Agatha Christie books are ‘comfort-reads’ for me – odd considering they are murder mysteries!

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Jemi Fraser said...

I always think of Agatha Christie books as comfort reads too. I read them all originally when I was a kid - maybe 13 or 14 - and loved them. Such great stories!

I LOVED The Curious Incident... - so nice to see a story told from that perspective. Loved the chapter numbers being prime numbers :)

Old Kitty said...

When I was in the throes of my flu (oh what a drama queen!!LOL) I read and re-read all my Agatha Christie books. They were the only ones that gave me pleasure and not make my headaches worse!!!

Great, great great reviews as always!! The Stephen King writing as R Bachman is a new one on me - oh but I love the blurb of this book!!! Wow!!!

Take care

Ann said...

I read and re-read Agatha - having the memory of anaging goldfish helps as she can lead me up the garden path again and again and it usually only dawns on me on the final page that it was Mrs Whatnot what did it. A x

Ann said...

That should say "an aging" - I also have the typing ability of a two fingered sloth (do they exist?). anaging goldfish do sound rather exotic...

Jayne said...

Ann - I never get the murderer either after many re-reads.So we both have exotic anaging goldfish memories! :)

Jayne said...

Old Kitty - oh poor you with the flu, it is really pesky, isn't it? Glad you like the reviews - and my blurb of Blaze. Despite his situation you do feel sorry for him... do try it if you see it!

Jayne said...

Jemi - The Curious Incident was just one big bunch of clever. The chapter headers, the puzzles, the pacing - I can well see why it got so much acclaim. Agatha Christie's seem to be comfort reads all round!

Mary Mary said...

I think of the four you reviewed, I would really enjoy Up the Junction. It sounds gritty and controversial, the kind I like to read and write.

And I hear you on book reviews falling by the wayside. ☹ It just seems like so many of us don't take the time to READ anymore!

Kyna said...

Curious Incedent was an AWESOME book. Very fresh and interesting. I read the whole thing on a four hour plane ride to see Chuck.

Stephen King is one of my favourite authors. Because he's made his fortune off of popular fiction, I don't think he gets enough credit for his imagination. He created a whole world in his Dark Tower novels. I would have been interested to see how they ended up had he not been hit by that van.

I have Blaze, but have never picked it up to read it. For awhile there, King had a period where I was very disappointed with his writing. Whether he was writing as Bachman or himself.

Emily said...

I have never read Agatha Christie before. Maybe I should. I haven't read a mystery in a long time. Thanks for the reviews!

A Certain Book said...

Thanks for the reviews. I always go for the edgy rather than the cosy. Mark Haddon and Neil Dunn for me. I've yet to read an Agatha Christie, but because I'm from New Zealand, I think I'll start with Ngaio Marsh, one of the Golden gals of the same period. :)

Rose said...

as you know I love an Agatha and I think Appt with Death is one of the best- but I've re read it recently too so maybe I'm biased. I loved the ending- which is cosy. I saw the TV adaptation recently too and although I love those didn't like the changes to the story very much. Agatha should not be messed with!

I read The Curious... when it was everywhere and I did really like it as an idea but I don't know if I'd re read it