Book Reviews / Books / The Big Read

Review: Winnie The Pooh – A. A. Milne

Winnie the Pooh
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There are certain books I will always associate with people; The Shell Seekers with my mother and granny, Du Maurier’s House On The Strand with Yvonne, my step-mother, and a book called I Am David with my father; I am yet to read it, but during my phase of devouring Babysitter Club books and Nancy Drew mysteries, he gave it to me in the hope that I would broaden my reading horizons. Almost two decades on, I think it’s safe to say his wish was fulfilled.

Winnie the Pooh, the first of a collection of stories by A. A. Milne, will forever remind me of my step-dad Anthony. Such a fan of Milne’s work and E.H Shepard’s beautiful illustrations, he was utterly aghast at Disney’s announcement that it was being made into an animation film – furious at both the American accents and the garish cartoon characters. For him, it took away the magic and the charm of the original and much-loved story books. Such romanticism was shared by my mother; my maternal granny knew Christopher Robin when they were children growing up near Nettlebed, and the books were written for him by his father A. A. Milne. Thus, there is much family loyalty to these delightful childhood tales.

It is a sentiment shared by many; such is the book’s prowess that it entered the BBC’s Big Read at number 7 – ahead of great classics including Catcher in the Rye, Great Expectations and George Elliot’s Middlemarch.

And in a time where communication is digital, more children own televisions than books, and the great outdoors is no longer deemed safe, it is quite clear exactly why this classic collection of stories has stayed dear to so many of its readers.

The protagonist was named after a teddy-bear owned by Milne’s son, the aforementioned Christopher Robin, and the stories were set in Ashdown Forest, Sussex. The tales follow the lives of Christopher Robin, Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore the donkey, Tigger, Roo, Owl and Rabbit on their adventures in Hundred Aker Wood. With a beautifully detailed map drawn by E.H Shepard at the beginning of the book which includes such make-believe places as ‘The Pooh Trap for Heffalumps’, ‘Where The Woozle Wasn’t’ and ‘Eeyore’s Gloomy Place’ it is a wonderfully quaint childhood tale, designed to evoke the reader’s imagination and transport them to an era of nostalgia.

A delightful and enchanting book that should be read by everyone, Winnie the Pooh will always be a profound part of many childhoods; an accolade that is still very much true almost a century after its first publication in 1926. I dedicate this post to my wonderful Step-father Anthony who is, undoubtably, Pooh’s number one fan.

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Book Reviews / Books / My Favourite Books

Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray
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I first came across The Picture of Dorian Gray when my mum took me to see a stage production of it at our local theatre, The Hexagon. I was absolutely captivated by the plot, the wit, and the climatic ending and soon sought out the book.

Few people realise that despite being one of the most profound masters of the written word in our history, The Picture of Dorian Gray is Oscar Wilde’s only published novel. It narrowly missed out on a place in the BBC’s Big Read, coming in at number 118. The Picture of Dorian Gray is very much a work of Gothic fiction, with strong parallels to the protagonist of German legend Faust, who makes a deal with the devil, selling his soul in exchange of boundless debauchery.

Thus, Wilde’s only published novel tells the story of Dorian Gray, of the young and the beautiful, who is painted by Basil Hallward, an artist infatuated with Dorian’s good looks and youth. Dorian then meets Basil’s friend, Lord Henry Wotton who leads a life of hedonistic decadence and persuades Dorian to follow suit. After a throwaway remark in which Dorian wishes that Basil’s painting would age in his place, his wish is fulfilled and consequently Dorian embarks on a life of decadence and sin, playing with both  the beautiful and the corrupt. And while his immoral acts have no affect on his outward good looks, Dorian’s portrait clearly mirrors the decaying of his soul.

Both relevant and thought-provoking, The Picture of Dorian Gray is demonstrative of Wilde’s accomplishment as a writer; in both serious and witty realms. It is particularly relevant today where the quest for youth knows no bounds and vanity has infiltrated much of society. Like both Dorian and Faust before him, it seems that many are selling their souls to the devil in exchange for everlasting youth.

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Book Reviews / Books

Review: Chocolat – Joanne Harris




Most of my close friends, and indeed some of my not-so-close acquaintances, will, at some point, have been a victim of my Joanne Harris campaign. In previous posts I’ve touched upon my tendency as a reader to demolish entire back catalogues of writers whose work I enjoy, and Joanne Harris is certainly no objection to the rule.

I still remember where I was when I first bought perhaps Harris’s most acclaimed novel. Having been given some HMV vouchers for Christmas, I made my way to the far right corner of the store where they stocked a small selection of books. Enticed by the front cover – this particular one bore a picture of Johnny Depp – there was also a quote from the Literary Review underneath the blurb: ‘Is this the best book ever written?’ it asked; and so I made a hasty purchase, adding to my ever-growing pile of tomes to read.

Chocolat is set in a fictional French village in Southern France, which immediately lends and atmospheric and evocative air to the book. It tells the story of Vianne Rocher and her six-year-old daughter Anouk, who, upon arriving in Lansquenet-sous-Tannes set up a Chocolaterie. It being the beginning of Lent, such is greeted with heavy disapproval by the local priest, who sees it as a provocative move. While initially much of the village treated Vianne with a level of polite hostility, she soon wins them round with her winning combination of charm and decadent delights.

A simply delicious tale, Chocolat appeals to all the senses as Harris’s descriptive style of writing brings alive an insular French village from a bygone era. Fusing romance, religion, temptation and sin, this magical novel is beautifully written and truly deserves its accolade as one of the best books ever written.

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Book Reviews / Books

Review: The Beach – Alex Garland

The Beach
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Like many girls my age, I spent much of the nineties with a horribly tragic crush on a certain floppy haired blonde called Leonardo DiCaprio. Much to my mother’s horror I had, amongst others, an eight foot poster of him adorning my bedroom wall and I was so jealous of Claire Danes playing Juliet to his Romeo that I never watched an episode of My So Called Life again. I watched Titanic seven times at the cinema, thinking I was oh-so-cool for getting in to a 12-rated film when I was, in fact, only 11, and left each time in huge, racking sobs. By the time the film of The Beach came out in 2000, Josh Harnett had taken DiCaprio’s place as flavour of the month but I still had a soft spot for him, nonetheless.

I adored the film, and found its depiction of Thailand and the characters therein both fascinating and somewhat disturbing. It wasn’t, however, until 5 years later that I got around to reading Garland’s most famous novel. I took a gap year, horrifically middle-class I know, post Henley College and set off round the world beginning my adventure in India. It was while I was on the final part of my Indian journey in Palolem, the most southern part of Goa, that I came across a copy of the book, and just days away from flying to Thailand I settled into the sand and began.

It tells the story of a young English traveller called Richard, who, when staying in a cheap hostel off Koh San Road, is left a hand drawn map of an allegedly hidden island off the Gulf of Thailand by a strange Scotsman who later commits suicide. The novels follows his journey as he meets young and beautiful French couple – Étienne and Françoise and they set out to find this hidden haven. Their search for this unspoiled paradise certainly resonated with me at the time of reading the novel. In a time where Western culture has infected much of the world, it is almost impossible to find untainted land. Even in India, which certainly wasn’t considered a traditional holiday destination when I was there, I was shocked by the infiltration of tourism in parts of Goa. Thus, while on its surface, The Beach is very much an adventure story, it also explores deeper issues, such as why we, as humans, seek such heights of Utopia.

When the trio arrive on the beach, the plot takes a sinister turn and it is clear that Garland was quite heavily influenced by works such as Lord of the Flies, which also examines claustrophobic relationships in isolated situations.

The Beach is a relevant, thought-provoking book, and one of the most profound novels I’ve read, particularly given my interest in travel. It is a stunning combination of a gripping plot and perfectly illustrated characters, and leaves the reader questioning the very fine line that distinguishes heaven from hell.