Review: ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ by George Orwell

Intelligent, haunting and incredibly post-modern, Orwell’s bestselling novel is both refreshing and eye-opening in a time of socio-political turbulence.

There’s a reason why Nineteen Eighty-Four had a surge in popularity recently. The classic by George Orwell, written in 1949, feels worryingly timely in the aftermath of Trump, Brexit and more importantly, post-truth politics.

A growing scepticism towards journalism, (fake) news and facts has meant that aspects of reality itself have come into question, and our perspectives have narrowed. It’s easy to interpret the Party members’ blind faith in the one, Big Brother narrative as being somewhat similar to the restrictive environment of online echo chambers.

By far the most interesting part of the book though is the excerpt of “the book” by Goldstein. Although an easy opportunity for Orwell to make his commentary more apparent, it’s here where the writer really shows off his intelligent way of writing through a lengthy essay. Much like Winston, at this point in the novel we become a bit more enlightened about the dystopian world of Oceania and The Party that runs it.

Yet, with this being quite a way into the book, one does wonder if having this essay earlier on in the book in some way would help the reader understand the fictional environment better. Although, this would probably be difficult plot-wise, and like most apocalyptic-style stories, the big reveal as to how the world ended up the way it did is usually left until the end – if it is indeed mentioned at all.

Like any classic, the book does have a fair amount of ‘re-readability’ to it. With a lot of underlying points throughout, it would probably warrant a few more reads before a reader has a better understanding of the philosophical and psychological arguments Orwell is making. Not only that, but with a rather unconventional ending, a few re-reads would help with a lot of things.

Rating: 4/5

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Review: ‘This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor’ by Adam Kay

Spreading a strong message through comedy is most likely one of the more difficult feats to pull off within the medium – make it too serious and the humour is lost, but add too many jokes and the call to action is diminished. Fortunately, when comedian Adam Kay wrote a book giving an honest look at the intense life of a junior doctor, such a balance was brilliantly executed.

Photo: Liam O’Dell.

Only a select few books have had the ability to make me laugh out loud, and that does in no way suggest that I don’t have a sense of humour (more that I find it harder to laugh at written comedy), and Kay’s book is one of them. Then again, it isn’t hard to make jokes about the profession and the bizarre medical scenarios in which a doctor can find themselves – look no further than the several ‘doctor, doctor’ jokes that have appeared to have survived the test of time for proof of this.

Throughout, the book flits between diary entries about Kay’s job, and those about how his personal life is affected, just as much as it jumps between the comedic and the tragic. Then, to make it very clear that this is about a genuine insight into the life of a junior doctor (at a time when they are continued pressure), This is Going to Hurt ends on a particularly sad and emotional note regarding one medical incident. It’s a tone which precedes an open letter to the Health Secretary, which tightly sums up the points raised in the book in a TL;DR-like fashion.

With an NHS under increasing pressure, it’s easy for us to imagine the stresses that staff face after having binge-watched a series of Casualty, but in This is Going to Hurt, we hear the pure truth without the over-dramatisation – the only ‘sugarcoating’ being the added benefit of comic relief when the truth hurts too much.

Comedic, insightful and educational, this book is a must-read to understand the true pressure our junior doctors face.

Rating: 4/5

Post Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back by Matthew d’Ancona (REVIEW)

How does one begin to explain the current social and political climate in the Western world? A chain of unprecedented events has created a plethora of new, futuristic vocabulary (such as alternative facts, fake news and the Oxford English Dictionaries’ Word of the Year for 2016, post-truth) that are yet to be properly defined. Although, that hasn’t stopped some individuals from taking on the mammoth task of providing much-needed clarity. Matthew D’Ancona’s exploration of post-truth delves into existentialism, post-modernism and digital mediums with a final call-to-action which is to be expected from an established British journalist and columnist.

Photo: Penguin Books.
With such a relevant background, one would assume that fake news – as a by-product of post-truth – would be featured heavily in the 150-page book. Yet, save for a couple of small sections on the topic, fake news isn’t mentioned that often. Instead, D’Ancona’s analysis of post-truth acts as a centre-point – a springboard – for him to jump seamlessly from discussions about social media and clickbait to the role of satirists.

Given the short length of the book, Matthew is quick to jump to the heart of his commentary, which appears to be that of post-modernism. To explain such a complex subject (and one which lacks clarity) with a critical perspective that is just as vague and detailed is a bad move, but a move d’Ancona makes nonetheless. Whilst he should be commended for trying to define the indefinable, a couple of sentences is not enough to clarify the main basis for his argument. Long story short, I was thankful that my knowledge of post-modernism from A-Levels hadn’t left my mind completely, but that’s not to say that I didn’t struggle to understand the basis for d’Ancona’s argument. As someone who approached the book with a brief knowledge of what post-modernism entails, one has to wonder whether someone without said understanding would be able to comprehend the more intrinsic aspects of Matthew’s commentary.

Nevertheless, like most works of non-fiction, Post-Truth includes some interesting and thoughtful points about the decline of trust and accuracy following Trump and Brexit. It’s towards the end of the book – the fifth chapter titled ‘”The Stench of Lies”: The Strategies to Defeat Post-Truth’ – where d’Ancona really sells his perspective. Summarising the best bits from previous chapters, the columnist reminds us of the current situation, and attempts to provide some solutions to the post-truth problem the Western world is currently experiencing. Although this section contains the motivational bravado possessed by most successful newspaper columnists, it still feels somewhat disorientating despite D’Ancona stating many options for society going forward.

If anything, Matthew d’Ancona’s Post-Truth raises more questions than it does providing answers, although that is understandable given the complexities of the subject matter. Whilst it is far from the definitive conclusion to the problem of falsehood, the journalist has at least begun to shed some light on an important socio-political issue in this small publication.

Review: ‘Child Taken’ by Darren Young

An investigative journalist looking into a missing person’s case is nothing new in the world of crime fiction (one only has to look to Mikael Blomkvist and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for a classic example of this), but as with most books in this genre, it’s about the characters. A struggling young reporter trying to get her big break at the local paper had me interested as a student journalist, and I soon began reading Child Taken by Darren Young.

Cover for Child Taken, with a child in a yellow dress on the beach, with her back to the camera, looking out to sea
Whilst it was the blurb which primarily had me hooked, part of me was curious to find out just how many stereotypes about newspaper editors and journalism would end up in the novel. Aside from the character of David Weatherall sounding a little like J. Jonah Jameson from the Spider-Man movies and one day off too many, the Gazette‘s newsroom wasn’t too unfamiliar…

Admittedly, having read this book over the space of two or three months, the first half of the book has been somewhat forgotten. However, it can be described as a ‘slow burner’ of a novel. As the mystery unwravels over the course of 438 pages, it’s around two-thirds of the way in where the pace really starts to pick up, with action in every chapter.

It was at this point that I was reminded how good a movie or TV Show Child Taken could be. Written in an intriguing and descriptive narrative style, it was one of the few books which made me imagine every scene in detail. It made each action scene more intense, and the big finale even more impactful (no spoilers).

Gripping and thrilling with a perfectly constructed plot, Child Taken is a brilliant debut from the writer, Darren Young.

A huge thank you to Red Door Publishing for sending me an advance copy of Child Taken and apologies for the review going up late! Whilst I was sent a free copy, this review contains my honest opinion.

Review: ‘All That She Can See’ by Carrie Hope Fletcher

Note: This review contains spoilers.

As a devout fan of Disney, music and the theatre, it’s no surprise that YouTuber and actress Carrie Hope Fletcher’s genre of choice is magic realism. After the phenomenal success of her previous novel, On the Other Side, Fletcher writes with increased confidence and enthusiasm in her second work of fiction, All That She Can See. Set in Plymouth, the plot focusses on the loveable Cherry Redgrave and a very special gift she possesses…

'All That She Can See' book

In their review of the book, the Mail on Sunday said: “Think Chocolat with a heaped tablespoon of Bake Off “, and it’s a fair comparison to make. Add elements of Nanny McPheeThe Golden Compass and Divergent to the mix (pun not intended) and you start to get a better idea of the imaginative story at the heart of this novel. There’s something for everyone.

As mentioned previously, All That She Can See centres on a tight-knit community in Plymouth and a positive tone is set (all of the character’s eagerness to agree with one another at first was something which I was a bit sceptical of to start with), that is, before the main source of conflict is introduced – Mr Chase Masters.

Naturally, any reader would be quick to assume that Cherry and Chase would go on to develop a romantic relationship, as with most books in this genre. Whilst that is the case, the important thing is that a valid reason is given, and it is not simply a cliché. What makes it works is that the bond taps into the bigger picture Fletcher was trying to paint with the novel. Underneath the metaphors for human feelings, there were a few comments about happiness and emotions which Carrie was trying to make. Consider it a fictional extension of sorts to All I Know Now, as it were.

However, it isn’t long before the bubbly Nanny McPhee style of the story fades away into darker territory akin to that of Divergent. Unlike On the Other Side, there were some shocking, haunting scenes in this book, which only shows development on Carrie’s part as a Sunday Times bestselling author.

It pays off, too, being one of those books which can invoke specific images in one’s head when reading (sadly a select few can do that for me these days). It was halfway through the book, when Cherry’s dilemma got worse, that I truly got engrossed in the story. Even now, I remember certain parts of the book having me shout out loud in shock. At some points in the novel, I was so sure of what was going to happen, but Fletcher continued to surprise and intrigue with exciting twists and turns. What’s even better is that it ends in a way which suggests there’s more to come, and a trilogy of books from Carrie Hope Fletcher would be a very exciting thing indeed.

Disclaimer: A huge thank you to the wonderful team at Little Brown for sending me an advance readers’ copy of All That She Can See! Whilst I did receive this for free, all opinions stated in the above review are honest and my own.

Review: ‘Happy’ by Derren Brown

The best non-fiction books are ones which state the obvious, whilst presenting it in an entirely different light which changes our view on an issue. So, when the illusionist Derren Brown explores a feeling we’ve experienced on many occasions during our lifetime – happiness – one would be forgiven for thinking we know all about joy, feeling good and how to be positive. However, Brown approaches such an intriguing topic with refreshing insight, sincerity and the occasional dash of humour – making us question something we thought we’ve understood for years.

Throughout the book, Derren takes a whistle-stop tour of the many things which affects happiness – from fame to grief to anger. The magician constantly refers to what history tells us about being happy, often referring to Stoicism and easy-to-use techniques for readers to adapt in their everyday lives. Constantly, Brown rubbishes current self-help manuals about happiness, instead offering a simplistic alternative.

Whilst the author’s main messages are clear, the only downside is that it is not a book to be enjoyed in bitesize chunks. Unfortunately, the gap caused by my second year at university has led to me taking several months to finish this book, but as mentioned previously, this has not stopped me from understanding the main tone of Happy.

It’s a book which can be seen as being the second part of Brown’s recent stage show, Miracle, which tapped into the idea of us having the power to rewrite our own life stories. It’s this theatrical performance style – which sees Derren present philosophical and psychological ideas in a sympathetic tone – that is transferred into this book.

Warm, inspiring and uplifting, Derren Brown’s Happy is an eye-opening exploration of a sentiment we always thought we understood – until now…

Review: ‘The Method’ by Shannon Kirk

There’s always something risky about the hostage subcategory of the crime fiction genre. If done poorly, the ‘slow burner’ plot can easily put off the average reader. Thankfully, with strong developed characters and a story which cuts to the chase from page one, Shannon Kirk’s The Method is a novel packed with intensity and intrigue.

The main character in the story is Lisa Yyland – a pregnant 16-year-old girl who is kidnapped. Through detailed first person narrative, we’re able to gain a strong insight into the thought processes of a teenager who wants to fight back against her captor.

As she plans her escape, her labelling of tools as ‘assets’ strikes some interesting comparisons to the analytical skills of Sherlock Holmes. Without wanting to give away spoilers, her pure disgust towards her captor has some similarities to Lisbeth Salander. With an authoritative mindset, Lisa is almost like the teenage version of Stieg Larsson’s protagonist – something which really made this book enjoyable.

Whilst the book did feel a little bit descriptive and confusing at times, that didn’t impair my ability to imagine certain scenes in the novel. Kirk’s ability to paint some vivid pictures with powerful metaphors and adjectives adds to the strength of the novel.

As mentioned previously, numerous novels about kidnaps can fall victim to a monotonous and dull day-by-day account of the victim’s activities, but this is not the case for this particular book. In fact, this cliché is humorously referenced by Lisa herself. Instead, The Method sees Kirk construct a well thought-out story that sees readers wanting to see the escape, but also what happens next.

Rating: 4/5