I am planning to reduce my blog post frequency to fortnightly or monthly posts, so I can use my time to write shorter reviews of more books, rather than focusing on the ones I can write longer reviews for each week which has been my main pattern for nearly 8 years (!) of blogging.
I am also planning to reread a few books this year, mostly ones I first read when I was a teenager. ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ by George Orwell is not quite the blueprint of the modern dystopian novel, but it is probably the one which has had the most cultural significance since it was first published in 1949 and the concepts of Big Brother, Room 101 and the Thought Police remain commonly used terms. Even if you haven’t read ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, you may well be aware of the basic plot in which low-ranking member of The Party, Winston Smith, secretly denounces the government and begins a forbidden relationship with Julia. Needless to say their rebellion is risky and complicated and it is remarkable just how prescient and perceptive Orwell was about the sinister consequences of certain technological developments in the 20th century and the ways in which totalitarian states seek to gain control through surveillance. As a reread, the thing that struck me most was how powerful and fitting the ending is and it’s easy to see why ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ has become such an enduring classic.
‘Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas’ by Adam Kay is not just a stocking filler – it is essential reading all year round despite its seasonal setting. Anyone who enjoyed Kay’s phenomenally successful book This Is Going to Hurt will also enjoy this short collection of diary entries based on the six Christmases from 2004 to 2009 when he worked in obstetrics and gynaecology NHS hospital departments as a junior doctor. Winter is the busiest time of year for the NHS and while the festive period adds poignancy to the emotionally distressing cases, there is light relief in the grimly funny tales such as the one which will ensure you will never look at a Mars Bar wrapper in the same way again. The book is very short and I expect Kay has now mined most of his best stories from his medical career, but I am looking forward to the BBC TV adaptation of ‘This Is Going To Hurt’ later this year.
I enjoyed reading Things In Jars by Jess Kidd last year and recently read her second novel ‘The Hoarder’ (also known as ‘Mr. Flood’s Last Resort’). Maud Drennan is a carer tasked with cleaning and decluttering the huge house occupied by Cathal Flood, a cantakerous old man with a complicated past. Maud plays amateur sleuth to uncover what happened to Cathal’s wife who died in a mysterious accident and it becomes clear that she has her own childhood secrets. As with ‘Things in Jars’, Kidd mixes different genres here with a strong element of magical realism. Her imagination knows no bounds and ‘The Hoarder’ is an intriguing modern gothic tale with strong characterisation.