Book a Review

Been There, Read That

12 Months of Books: June #1

Title: Lord of the Flies
Author: William Golding (with comparisons to the 1990 film by Harry Hook)

First published in 1954, Lord of the Flies has been something of a staple book for many kids in the UK, falling into their reading list in secondary school. I was lucky enough – or unlucky, depending on your viewpoint – to be in an English class that read a lot of classics but unfortunately Lord of the Flies wasn’t one of them and that is how I end up being twenty-four years old, not fourteen, and settling down with a copy of the book on June 1st.

This might be something to my advantage – one thing I hated about English classes was that you had to take from a book what you were told to take from it. Solo reading allows you to feel what you want to feel, naturally, from the pages you’re reading from. So…what did I feel for myself, clutching my copy of Lord of the Flies?

William Golding’s synopsis says:

A plane crashes on a desert island and the only survivors, a group of schoolboys, assemble on the beach and wait to be rescued. By day they inhabit a land of bright, fantastic birds and dark blue seas but at night, their dreams are haunted by the image of a terrifying beast. A the boys’ delicate sense of order fades, so their childish dreams are transformed into something more primitive and their behaviour starts to take on a murderous, savage significance.

Savage and murderous, yes. Primitive, definitely. But I’m not sure there was ever really a sense of order – delicate or otherwise!

The book begins with Ralph and Piggy finding one another on the island. Ralph is sprightly and lithe, quick to strip naked and swim in a pool of water formed in the middle of the island, despite the fact he and whomever else he was previously on a plane with have just crash landed in the ocean. Canon Ralph, in comparison to the version of Ralph played by Balthazar Getty in the 1990 film adaptation, is initially somewhat sharper and more determined in his managerial role: Ralph isn’t exactly friendly with Piggy when he’s met by the chubby young man to begin, coming across as barely tolerant, whereas the film depicts Ralph as softly spoken and somewhat reserved, and definitely more eager to jump to Piggy’s defence in the face of Jack Merridew from the outset.

It is Simon, however, who held my heart throughout the book – and the film. Every story has its line of innocent beauty when all else falls and I find that, in the canon text, Simon is that very representation of innocence and honesty; he is quiet and soft and sensitive. Simon holds onto his youth and humanity while the boys around him fall victim to their own idea of what life should be like in their new Lost Boys world. In the film, Simon was played by James Badge Dale (Badgett Dale) and has a look of soft, child-like sweetness about him, coupled with his very smooth voice – despite not having the exact, canon appearance of Simon, Badge Dale inhabited every inch what the book described Simon to be like and I found that a brilliant transition.


I think the role of Piggy was to be Dad – a sort of Step-Dad who has to talk through Ralph to make the other’s hear his genuinely intelligent thoughts without prejudice. Ralph can make them see sense – for a while a least – but the sense comes from Piggy and the boys don’t see that. Killed for being right, to all intents and purposes, Piggy is certain that they can be rescued by working together, by holding onto something as close to a civilised life as they can. He argues that Simon’s death was accidental and they cannot be blamed while Ralph becomes consumed by guilt for the boy’s murder; he maintains that they need to work together with ‘laws’  and science but the boys, taken by their natural, darker instincts that require a better sense of self to overcome, take his words as nothing more than drivel. Piggy suffers the consequences of trying to be level-headed and just in a world that’s suddenly consumed by bad.

Piggy in the film is definitely another character who is played close to the canon, if a little more pathetic on-screen than in text. A visual you had probably no doubt built up in your mind whilst reading the book is perfectly captured in the film.

The film has Jack’s character spot on, too, I think. Jack Merridew – the one who is set solely on death, leadership and rebellion – begins both on-screen and in the canon text as a lot milder and grows into his primitive, unruly character. He’s the opposite of Ralph in this respect, who begins the story proud of his position and slowly loses his ability to keep the strength – this is most evident after Simon’s death: Ralph seeks counsel from Piggy out of true guilt and sorrow for [not stopping] Simon’s death and Piggy doesn’t console, simply remains with his idea that life is ‘scientific’ and states they can’t be blamed. If Simon was the sense of innocence between the boys, I believe Jack to be all that is wrong and unstable within a person: Simon’s death allowed for Jack to grasp a bit tighter.

When I discussed the book with a friend who had studied it for English at school, she was hugely focused on the conch – the seashell Ralph uses to call attention – whereas I didn’t fully grasp its significance. To her, the conch was a symbol of unity and order and, then for it to be broken with the death of Piggy – the intelligence of the group – it signalled a simultaneous death to order. Thinking about it, I feel she’s right – the conch drew the children in under Ralph and Piggy’s command initially, why would it not be significant then for it to be destroyed with the only sense of true realism that came with the words of Piggy? So, kudos to Gail for that one!

For me, Golding’s characters are all embodiments of what the human mind could consider, could fragment into, when isolated and alone. Man, when without real bounds, has freedom to make choices and yet the choices they make are never for the good of others, stating mankind is naturally singular, out for themselves and selfish beyond words, even to the point of “murderous savagery”.

In all I found Lord of the Flies to be a great preconception of a social experiment – Big Brother before the TV cameras and Davina came along? It’s trippy and childish with a very ‘Peter Pan and the Lost Boys’ feel to it if, indeed, they had been 1oo% less innocent.

Darkness and the somewhat demonic workings of the human mind are evident throughout – if you’re into demonology, history or religion you’ll have no doubt worked out – as I did – the name of the book when it is considered properly. For those who are unsure, google “literal translation of Lord of the Flies” and see where you end up. I’m certain the book will take on a much darker meaning for you when you do.


Book Review: The Gift by Cecelia Ahern

Cecelia has been a favourite author of mine since PS I Love You was around a year old and it is rare (though not impossible) that I don’t like something she has produced. But I think that top of my list of her books so far has to be the festive and fantastic The Gift.

I received the book for Christmas the year it came out, as a first edition, and was over the moon: what better a gift for a book fan than the newest works of one of their top authors? I carried the book around with me for a long time, not wanting to open the very sweet ribbon tied around it, but eventually couldn’t hold off.

Written with her usual dose of humour and magic, set in her chosen location in her native Ireland,The Gift, starts in Howth, Dublin and begins with Christmas morning being described like a picturesque biscuit tin lid scene before being ruined by a turkey…As with every book by this magical woman, the sprinkling of fairydust upon the text falls in very quickly and that is definitely a good thing: as police official Raphie tries to talk some sense into a a defiant teenage on Christmas day, the book becomes his story and we learn of our magical hero – Gabe.

Gabe appears out of nowhere but it is perhaps the perfect time. He walks into the life of a Dublin man when he least expects it and leaves, all too quickly, in a manner I don’t think anybody will be expecting.

I have no trouble at all admitting that this book made me cry – Cecelia is a dabhand at this! And while,or me, the gist of the story was easily recognised about a quarter in and I believe that many people will be able to pick it up rather quickly, the ending of the book will always be an amazingly kept secret that I hope surprises and moves everybody. As with her heartfelt debut novel, Cecelia manages to be simultaneously endearing, funny and heartbreaking and I commend her for this talent.

What The Gift perhaps lacks in length, it makes up for in wit and definitely in originality and depth. Cecelia embraces her ability for a touch of magic and her heritage and spins it into fantastic stories, of which I think this book is currently her best. It is in some places, maybe, a little too predictable, but 99% of the book is completely faultless. She has definitely set the bar high for herself and those around her as a fiction writer with a lot of heart.

Part of the beauty of Cecelia’s novels is that none of them correlate and so can be read in any order. With this in mind, I suggest that this either be your first, second or third choice of immediate-reads, along with PS I Love You, The Book of Tomorrow and If You Could See Me Now. Naturally I would say – in true Tumblr user fashion – “Read all the books!”, but definitely, if you read only one, let it be The Gift.

12 Months of Books: May

It’s been a slow month for reading, my mind’s been elsewhere (as is probably obvious by the fact that I didn’t post my reviews for my April books until last week!), but I did get around to trudging through a book I found at the charity shop my Mum volunteers at.





Title: Poppet
Author: Mo Hayder







I wasn’t familiar with the author, but the book’s cover really drew me in. It apparently falls within a series of books by Mo that feature her leading charater Jack Caffery but having never read anything of hers before, I wasn’t aware of this. I suppose I owe kudos to the writer in this instance as I felt as though the book had legs of it’s own, working very well as a stand-alone novel. 

Poppet centers around strange occurrences at a psychiatric hospital, patients are dying and harming themselves and claim that the reason for it is The Maude. Nursing Supervisor AJ LaGrande and his boss Melanie Arrow turn to DI Jack Caffery for help, hoping he can get to the bottom of the strange goings on at Beechwood. 

The style of the book reminded me very much of Christopher Ransom and Chris Carter – dark and foreboding – just written a lot better. The language and pace of the book gives the reader much more information and time to process said information which puts Mo miles above her males writing counterparts in this field. Mo has a very reassuring way with our main character, AJ; he is instantly likable and is definitely the good guy, out to ensure his patients are cared for and respected.

My only issue with Mo’s style in this book is the narrative switches, hopping between following AJ and following Jack. The main story with AJ was gripping and while the sub-plot for Jack wasn’t boring, it permeated the main plot a little too much, leaving me skimming a few pages in order to get back to the deeper, more interesting story.

I would definitely recommend the book to anybody who is interested in crime thrillers or anything a little supernatural. Mo’s dark humour is complimentary of her aim in this book and the story is easy to grasp while it doesn’t give too much away too soon. It’s not frightening, if that’s what you’re after, but it’s the kind of book you’ll enjoy if you like a bit of a chase.

12 Months of Books: April #2

Title: Last Bus to Woodstock
Author: Colin Dexter

As a little girl, I was my Granddad’s pet and, like me, Granddad liked Detective stories on TV. I remember, if ever I was over there late into the evening or – rare as it was – sleeping over, we’d watch Inspector Morse or A Touch of Frost. I suppose you could say it was this that gave me the deeper-rooted love of Sherlock Holmes and the likes of CSI as I got older. And then with one of my loved actors – Shaun Evans – reprising the role of Morse in his younger years, my ‘love’ for this kind of thing (and the nostalgia) was brought back with a bump and I wanted to search out what it was that started the series off.

This is where Amazon came in and it’s amazing prices – I got the full set of Inspector Morse books for £10! I haven’t read them all yet and (if I’m honest though it embarrasses me to admit it) it took me six months to finish this book, but I have to say I like the style, even though it’s laden with Americanisms! The book’s set in Oxford and it gives good detail of the area in the sixties and it’s not wrong often, but the slip of American wording or spelling occasionally can sometimes ruin the overall effect of 1960’s England.

The story progresses well though and, had I not seen the TV series, I’d have been completely at a loss as to ‘who dunnit’. Dexter has a real talent for suspenseful crime fiction and I think that’s owed to having real knowledge and interest in this field.

The character of Morse is introduced in this, the first book, and I think owing to the TV series, I was able to build a picture of him in my mind with – of course – John Thaw’s exterior. But that’s not a bad thing. Colin Dexter is vague in his outward descriptions of Morse, allowing the reader to conjure up their own exterior appearance. To me, Morse has always been fatherly, a firm-but-fair and larger man which works whether or not I’m reading canon or watching the adaptation and that is a sign of Dexter’s ability to be open and still quite specific in his text.

The biggest complaint – perhaps, the only complaint – I have with the books is that they deviate a little. Like Charles Dickens, Dexter does have a slightly annoying habit of ‘bulking the text’ in manners that don’t always apply to the immediate scenario. This is good – showing off Dexter’s ability to create backstories and description very well – but it’s sometimes off-putting to me, as the reader, to hear a load of gumpf at the wrong time.

I’m keen to read on and delve more into Endeavour Morse’s life so that’s definitely a plus in the “I like Colin Dexter” pot. He has his wits about  him and a real talent for crime writing and I’m somewhat envious of that!

12 Months of Books: April #1

Title: Easy Company Soldier
Author: Sgt. Donald Malarkey (with Bob Welch)


Another read in a string of books about the men of Easy Company, Easy Company Soldier is perhaps my favourite read of all.



Written by Irish-American Don Malarkey – whose name and story was made famous when it was brought to life by Scott Grimes in Band of Brothers on HBO – the book gives a witty and open account of life growing up before the war and what it was like to be an Astoria-born man who chose to join the best of the best in the American Military.

The famous friendship shared between Malarkey and Skip Muck is documented throughout the book and is a delight to read about – Don explains how much more than a friend Skip – Warren Muck – became for him. It’s evident that Don loved him very much and missed him terribly after his death.

I suppose my main love for this book is that it once again gives realism to the characters I grew to love as part of the HBO series. Unlike Buck Compton’s book, which I found to be open and honest in a controversial manner (which I loved), Don Malarkey gives an Irish humour-laden account of life as a boy and a soldier and what it was like to live wit what he’d seen after the war was over.

It’s written in the way I grew to learn is how he speaks he speaks – quickly and punctuated with emotional stops – but this isn’t a bad thing; it makes the book more real and acceptable as a memoir, like a slice of his life rather than just the detail of it.

I would recommend it to any military history fan or anyone delving into the lives of the Easy Company soldiers. Definitely worth the shipping costs!

12 Months of Books: March

My March books have been Military themed after I splurged on some literature surrounding the men who inspired the HBO series “Band of Brothers” – the real-life heroes of Easy Company. The books I read were A Company of Heroes – a memoir collection and family-focused interviews about a large portion of the men of Easy Company – and Call of Duty – the autobiography of Buck Compton.

I’m going to give a brief review of the latter:

Call of Duty was written by an Easy Company Lieutenant named Lynn Compton, or “Buck”. It’s his memoirs, released in 2008, setting the record straight about his service as a man of Easy Company and about the reasons why he was pulled off the line in Bastogne. It talks about his life before, during and after the war when he became a prosecutor.

The book is fantastic – if you’re into Military history in any form or even remotely liked the HBO series, this is definitely a book for you. It’s not the type of thing I’d recommend to somebody who reads prolifically just to have read the books; for this read, you need an invested interest otherwise it’s just another memoir of another man from the past.

Without a doubt my absolute favourite section of the book comes about mid-way through. Buck references something that Dick Winters – the man who rather famously led Easy Company – had remarked in his own book (Beyond Band of Brothers). He does bracket off the note that Winters was not being critical but I think for Buck the need to set the record straight was great and so it should have been:

Dick Winters wrote in his book (not critically of me) that I suffered a serious mental trauma after the shelling and simply “walked off the line”. He was at battalion headquarters at the time and not present in the area of my platoon, so his information cam second-hand. I mean no criticism of him by clarifying the facts.
In truth, I did not “walk” off the line.
I ran.

He does go on to explain why he ran, where he went and what happened immediately after but I think there’s a dig in there too, and why not?

To me, as a person who has enormous respect for anybody who serves in the armed forces but who also doesn’t like blowing smoke up somebody’s arse when it’s not needed, and so I say this with the utmost respect: I find Winters to be an amazingly brave man but I feel he is perhaps considered more readily than the other soldiers who warred at his side, so more power to anyone who stands for their own efforts.

The book’s grip of honesty is refreshing: Buck admits his faults, stands up to be counted and shrinks where he should and I admire him for that as well as his service toward the freedom of the world. Buck, like many other men, fought hard to win the right for our freedom and is far from perfect and he – like the likes of William Guarnere who fought alongside him- own that. To them, they were doing what had to be done and not for the glory and in the way the book is written, in Buck’s reminiscence, you can see he was a man of this mindset.

The afterword is written by Neal McDonough who played Buck in the HBO series. It’s mushy as you’d expect – Neal thanks Buck for changing his life, making a difference, bringing him joy – and where I’d usually assume it to be smoke-blowing, I think Neal actually means it. He has a loyalty toward Buck that you’ll get a glimpse of reading this book: the man deserves the praise and honour that Neal bestows upon him and it closes the book wonderfully.

It’s not a literary masterpiece but then what is? It’s open, truthful and diligent. It isn’t hero-worship or over-the-top adoration where it mightn’t be deserved: the book highlights one of histories great soldiers of the Second World War and it deserves to be read by anyone who’ll appreciate it.

12 Months of Books: February #2

Title: Stuart: A Life Backwards
Author: Alexander Masters


I’d seen the film adaptation for this book a few years ago, sitting back and enjoying it as a Benedict Cumberbatch fan but also as a person infinitely interested in the human condition. I like books, rather morbidly, about ‘inspirational’ stories, books like ‘The Kid’, ‘A Child Called It’ and ‘Scarred’. So knowing from the film what the outline for the book would be, I knew that ‘Stuart A Life Backwards’ would be right up my alley – and so it was…

Written from Masters’ viewpoint, the story is told backwards, trying to find out where it all went wrong for Stuart Clive Shorter, a Cambridge man born doomed…and with muscular dystrophy. As a child, he was sexually abused by his older brother and was later put into a children’s home where he was abused again [by known paedophile Keith Laverack].  Despite spending the majority of his life in and out of prisons and homeless hostels, he fathered a son and worked alongside Alexander Masters to free two wrongly-jailed Charity Workers…

The book, naturally, is vastly different in places and in information to the film which starred Benedict Cumberbatch as Alexander Masters and Tom Hardy as Stuart. With the book, I managed to build up a completely different image of Stuart in my head than the one I’d witnessed on screen: Stuart of the book was a lot more angst-ridden and it was easier to build up an idea of his general demeanor from Alexander’s written opinions and observations, rather than having to view Stuart (the character) from somebody else’s perceptions of the text [ie Cumberbatch].

In 1998, following a five-year jail sentence for armed robbery, Stuart’s life reached its lowest ebb. Whilst living in a subterranean multi-storey car park, he was rescued by two outreach workers, and was found a flat to live in. He subsequently became one of the first people to bring The Big Issue into Cambridge, and his work as an activist for the homeless began when he presented a short BBC2 documentary, Private Investigations, denouncing police plans to ban homeless people from the city centre.

The book reads well: it flows a little sporadically at times, referencing back and calling your memory into effect, but Masters’ is sympathetic and honest – brutally honest – in his account of Stuart’s life that he managed to piece together. Masters refers to the idea of the book being Stuarts: telling it backwards like a murder mystery – what murdered the child I was? He also remarks that Stuart didn’t survive long enough for the book to be published and released, stocked on shelves around the country:

On 6 July 2002, just outside his home village of Waterbeach, Stuart Shorter was hit by the 11.15 p.m. London to King’s Lynn train, and was killed instantly. He was 33 years old. As to the cause of his death, the jury returned an open verdict. Despite an overall lack of evidence that Stuart purposefully walked in front of the train, the coroners report stating that this was contrary to how his body was positioned at the time of death, there are certain hints that suggest Stuart may well have intended to die. Stuart had a long history of attempted suicides and his sister Zoe once mentioned in an interview that Stuart informed her that were he ever to commit suicide he would be forced to make it appear accidental as he felt that the prospect of his mother losing both sons to suicide would be too much for her to bear

Overall, if you’re a big fan of books of this nature, those that are considered “inspirational stories”, then I would definitely recommend picking up this book.  Masters comes from a long line of writers and it shows in the eloquence of his speech and ability to curve the text for the reader, but mostly Stuart’s story – though sad – is one that’s worth hearing. If nothing else, it showed me that no matter what you’re faced with, you can achieve great things if you try.

12 Months of Books: February (#1)


 Title: Bending the Willow
 Author: David Stuart Davies (with Edward Hardwicke & David Burke)

As a Sherlock Holmes fan, it was only a matter of time before I sought out the books that went into the personal lives of those who had starred in various incarnations of the sleuth and his companion. I’d never heard of the book before the end of January when I came across quotes from it in the ‘David Burke’ tag on Tumblr. As a fan of Mr Burke, I was keen to see what else he’d contributed to the book but also, naturally, Jeremy Brett stood out as a person of interest for his role and because of the downward spiral at the end of his life; I have experience living with people with manic depression and so went into reading this book, about a man who completely lost himself to the disease, with great sympathy and understanding.

Written by David Stuart Davies, with two wonderful inserts from David and Edward that serve as a foreword, the book is confident and respectful of Jeremy and the illness that governed the later years of his life more readily. David remarks more than once that Jeremy was eccentric and larger than life and then, with some knowledge, helps to equate some of his more outward behaviour to the depression. The book is open and kindhearted with some very lovely shared memories from David and Edward that make it all the more personal and special.

As I have a Kindle copy for my Keyboard 3G, the pictures featured for each chapter appear in black and white, but I didn’t enjoy their addition any less: staged photo-shoots and some behind-the-scenes snaps show Jeremy, David and Edward on the set of 221B for Granada and add a realism to the dive into partially dissecting  the episodes that made up the series.

What didn’t surprise me one bit in reading the book is that there was not one bad word to say about Jeremy – even in his darker hours, the people he was surrounded by understood his illness as best they could and rallied around to be there in support, not in ridicule. That was a fantastic thing to read. Despite the hounding he got in the press when he was admitted to a care facility for ten weeks, Jeremy seemed to receive nothing but support from those who mattered to him and to know that is a comfort.

One of my favourite quotes from the book comes from a memory shared by David:

“We were on location somewhere and he serenaded me at a restaurant table in the middle of a very crowded restaurant in the evening…and when he serenaded me, he really did serenade me.  He wasn’t taking the mickey, it was absolutely serious as only Jeremy could be serious in a situation like that.  I was sitting there, and suddenly his voice was floating out all over this restaurant, and he improvised this song all about me and my beautiful wife and my beautiful son.  I was absolutely crimson with embarrassment.  But it didn’t make me love him any the less.”

Within the book are explanations to things we saw on screen: Jeremy’s weight-gain in the later episodes, the ‘Watson swap’, the movements of the characters, the choice of words, the facial expressions. To Jeremy – and Edward and David – the roles they played for the Granada series became a second-life and, for Jeremy, it seemed that when his moods were even it was exactly what he was born to do.

What I like about the book is how open it is, how it feels as though you have a private look into what it was like for Jeremy during the spread of the Sherlock Holmes series, but that you’re doing so without prying, without picking away at things that, perhaps, he wouldn’t like you to know. It’s informative and written with a very sensitive air and it feels as though the information was gathered respectfully. My only criticism about it would be, perhaps, how soon it ends. I finished the book in two sittings – about eight hours over all – and now I find myself without another page to turn. I am definitely feeling the famed sense of sadness you get when a book you get stuck into reaches it’s end.

If you consider yourself a Sherlockian, a fan of Jeremy or just find yourself in need of a well-written book that is delivered well, then take the time to consider this one.

12 Months of Books: JANUARY





Title: The Haunted Book
Author: Jeremy Dyson



It’s no secret that I like the League of Gentlemen, so that was a definite pull toward The Haunted Book when I saw it displayed in Waterstones in Birmingham before Christmas. I had a quick look, drawn in by the cover [particularly the gratuitous endorsement by Mark Gatiss in the corner], and debated picking it up for the sheer joy of owning another paranormal book, this time written by the excellent Mr Dyson, somebody I knew I would be in safe hands with when it came to the slightly weird and wonderful side of ghost stories. I decided against purchasing it then, opting to wait until after Christmas. I then went on to first buy a copy on my Kindle and then got a hardback copy from Amazon when I saw the book was half price!


The book was written for (and with the help of) Aiden Fox, who believed Jeremy had the flare to turn the stories he’d accumulated into a book with an edge he lacked, despite being a journalist himself. Jeremy admits he was wary of taking up the proposal from Aiden originally, but found himself unable to resist.

The introduction to the book had promise, anyone who was a fan of the Royston Vasey lot will know that we rarely got glimpses of Jeremy on screen and so, unlike with the other 75% of the group, had less of a chance to scope out his personality – I felt like the personal dips into his life within the introduction, and the introductions to the stories, was a better way of getting a feel for who Jeremy Dyson is. As a fan-girl in her twenties, this was brilliant. Finally, Jeremy became more than just the curly, shy one from the League!

Unfortunately, the book seemed to lose my interest from there.

While the stories are good, they’re not unique or even that chilling that they become something more original. And while the book is brilliantly written with that Jeremy Dyson edge, the stories lack the sinister, singular edge I’d hoped the book would contain when I started it. It was spooky in places, the stories were by no means deadpan or lacking in ghostly goings on, they just failed to be new or inspiring of thought because they were so alarmingly similar to the stories published in every other ghost story book.

I found two portions of the book, however, that I did sit and ponder for a while. One of those was the quote I poked fun at regarding Jeremy’s ability to explain away the possibility of phantoms in the darkness with man’s age old ability to find faces in the darkness to be able to warn off predators way back in the day, something we still possess today which makes us susceptible to seeing ghosts.

we have been bred to see fearful phantoms in the dark, and, given that physiological evolution runs somewhat slower than social evolution, we have yet to grow out of this proclivity. As soon as I heard this rather elegant and beautiful piece of reasoning it made absolute sense and I felt I’d finally found an answer that explained and satisfied

I mocked that it was good for him to have found something he could quell his anxiety with but that explaining away the very nature of his book, the very ideas people have in their head when reading a book like this, is counterproductive!

The other portion of the book that I found has stuck with me is one particular story, the one story I would say I hadn’t heard a variation on before. It was by no means original in it’s setting or set up, but the delivery and content were brilliant.

The story is Ward Four Sixteen and it follows two students, Mara and Hal, who volunteer at the local special care hospital. The two are friends and while that seems enough, there is definitely a part of them both that wants it to be more. Mara takes to the job like a duck to water but Hal is a little more hesitant, put off by the warped view people grow up with, without any real knowledge, of what it is to be mentally ill. They work together on the first day, taking a group of the hospital’s residents out on a day-trip with Stuart, one of the members of the hospital staff. On the second day, the pair are split up: Mara stays with Stuart while Hal is sent off – to ward Four Sixteen. It’s here Hal decides that the job he’s volunteered to do perhaps isn’t for him when he’s given the task of tending to the personal care needs of a resident one would easily mistake for a child, her body so small and disfigured by her mental and physical disabilities. But it’s on his next task, when he leaves the girl who is most definitely a woman, that Hal’s entire body feels a fear like never before…

I’m not sure if the job I currently have working at a Residential Home or the story genuinely being one of the more sinister within the book made it stand out a bit more, but the fact remains that I was chilled by this particular story while the rest of the book merely kept me entertained.

To cut a long story short, it’s another collection of ghost stories by another writer with the same interests as you…however, if you’re just finding your feet with the paranormal world, this would be a brilliant place to start reading, that way you get the benefit of some great stories with a sinister edge, written by a master with an excellently macabre touch.

‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley

Like I’m sure a lot of people did when they got their hands on a Kindle, I downloaded many of the “Free Classics” that were up for grabs for the sake of filling up some space on my Kindle until the next book I truly fancied came along. Being a fan, I downloaded the complete Sherlock Holmes first and then flooded my Kindle with the likes of Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare and the many wonders of Edgar Allen Poe. Among the books I downloaded was the Mary Shelley classic ‘Frankenstein’.

I’m not going to lie, I had absolutely no knowledge of or interest in the book prior to seeing the magnificent screening of the National Theatre production starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller. Had it not been for that, I probably would never have even considered the book at all so I have the wonderful work of Nick Deer and Danny Boyle to thank for inspiring me to actually delve into the pages of what has become one of my favourite books from “way back when”.

Since the stage show ignited the story within me, reading the book was the next, natural progression but I wasn’t immediately taken by the text. As I have experienced with a few classics, I’m often bored by the old English language and the constant need for propriety like an episode of Downton Abbey. I did stick with it though and I was thankful I did. As I expected, the book held just as much magic and examination into the human condition as the live show had, if not more. Shelley’s story captures what it is be human and it has nothing to do with the way our body is assembled.

The book tells of Victor Frankenstein who, in a quest to prove his brilliance, creates life. His creation – his creature, his monster – learns as a child would, gaining emotions and fears and language. There comes a point where Frankenstein is so delusional for his creations and the ideas of where it could lead not only his life but science as a whole it soon becomes evident that, when examined closely, his creation possesses more of what it is to be human, much more of what it is to be alive than Frankenstein himself holds within his very real body.

Frankenstein’s creature explores the world with infantile wonder and a full-grown, grotesque body. He has strength and anger, hatred toward his master Frankenstein for giving him life and yet adoration for the same giving because he also has love. The monster feels as any normal human does and yet cannot express himself to the same level as his human counterparts. He becomes human by every stretch of the sense except he is a man-made project of science, a religious abomination, and feared by everyone whom he meets.

“Hateful day when I received life!’ I exclaimed in agony. ‘Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and abhorred.’ – Frankenstein”

I think if I had been a better student in my English classes I would be able to tell you about the many different themes this story touches upon in an elegant and sophisticated way, but sadly I didn’t. Despite leaving school with a respectable grade C in GCSE English Literature, I was never fond of the classes because you were never given the chance to sit back and just read a book, to take from it what you felt as an individual the writer was trying to convey. Teachers have the magnificent ability to read between the lines of books and find back-stories and meanings which don’t truly belong there. Suffice to say, this book is – to me – about acceptance despite our differences. It’s a story of courage in the face of everything going wrong around you, about becoming what it is you want to become despite the hurdles that might crop up.

I also think it’s about a personification of the multiple people we are; as an individual, there are so many sides to us. We laugh even if we don’t find things funny and then we laugh when we’re touched hysterically. To me, Frankenstein and his creation were two halves of the one whole, broken in two completely and forced to work out what it was they needed from one another – to learn or to share – to reassemble themselves into the one person again. (There, now I sound like my old English teacher!)

Please, please, if you ever get the opportunity, read this book. If you don’t have the time, skip the old black and white movies (most of which see the creature named Frankenstein! tsk tsk) and do everything you can – even if it’s illegal! – to see a version of the Boyle/Deer production of ‘Frankenstein’. It is vitally important you know this story and draw something for yourself from it.