Friday, 15 April 2011


by Knut Hamsun

Just thinking about this book makes me feel hungry.

Just learnt that it is set in Norway as well, and not Hungary as I originally thought. That would have been a quite clever title, although whether it would work in translation is doubtful...

...the front cover is quite nice too...

Ok, I've put off talking about the actual book as much as is possible. It's about a man who is driven crazy, or is already crazy, depending on how you look at it. I think the author must have been crazy personally. Every time he makes any money he does something stupid, like give it away, or buy something idiotic rather than sensible food to keep himself alive. This is why I disliked him, he is not down and out on luck, facing hard times or even a victim. Every thing that is wrong with his life is his own god damn fault and yet he continues to blame everyone else.


Unfortunately, unlike 75% of the books on this European Novel course, he doesn't commit suicide or die at the end. Isn't even gravely injured. If ever there was a character I wanted dead, apart from Werther, who was waaaaaaay too whiney, it was this guy. And he tempted me... wandering by the docks in the early light of dawn, I was willing him to go all Virginia Woolf. Unfortunately he got on a boat and that was the end.

This is pretty much all I have to say about this book. He was hungry, miserable and crazy. That sums up over two hundred pages of rambling prose about walking through the streets with cold feet (which is about the only thing I can sympathise with, having chronically cold feet myself).

Unmemorable to say the least.

So Catrin Says

Wednesday, 13 April 2011


By Niall Griffiths

I hate this title, and I really dislike this book, which is in turn disgusting, derogatory and generally weird.

But I'm not going to focus on that, you'll be pleased to know. The descriptive scenes of West Wales are stunning, eliciting images of the beautiful and dramatic mountains, moors and heath. It almost seemed reminiscent of The Mabinogion, with it's flow and cadence, at times both poetic and timeless, fitting the heritage of Wales. The author clearly did his research when it came to the animals in the novel, which, even though usually followed by some horrific event (I'm thinking lamb with it's eyes plucked out dying slowly as a child tries to replace the eyes with stones) are accurate and described beautifully.

It takes a very good author to make a barren bit of hillside in Wales, with little but rock and gorse, being pelted with rain or shrouded in mist appear at once beautiful and lifelike.

I also liked the discussions that raged in our Devo seminars about nature versus nurture, and whether the main character was inherently evil and screwed up, or merely a product of the series of terrible events that formed his childhood (personally I'm on the fence, believing in a bit of genetics and a bit of upbringing). I also liked that the issue of devolution or identity wasn't shoved down the reader's throat, apart from the determinedly provocative title, as the question of the formation of a welsh assembly was present in certain scenes in a manner that fitted the situation and the characters, eg on the news, overheard in the pub, or background noise from the radio. It's realistic, not overly complicated.

However, as I've stated, I'm deliberately avoiding the horrific and scaring events of the novel, which at times made me nauseated. This is not a book for anyone remotely squeamish... and I'll leave it at that.

So Catrin Says

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

On to London

Brick Lane
by Monica Ali

I dislike this book. I find it quite dull, and I don't get what all the fuss is all about. It's about the experiences of a Bangladeshi woman who moved to England to marry in an arranged marriage. And I sympathised with her, I really did, but I couldn't empathise, if you understand my point.

If this book was meant to make me culturally sensitive or aware, it did not succeed in making me believe in the actions of a patriarchal society in which women have the same role they did in Britain 200 years ago. I hated Chanu, and his willingness to blame everything wrong in his life on  racism, his overwhelming desire to return home and his unwillingness to integrate into society. I hated the situation that Nazneen's sister, Hasina, was placed in and the way in which she was treated in Bangladesh. Overall, I hated the situation that Nazneen was in, without any control over her own life.

Despite this, I do believe that the book gave me a different perspective to the events surrounding and immediately following 9/11. As a child at the time (either 10 or 11) all I understood was that all the adults were very upset and scared, even in our little corner of Wales, and that something truly terrible had occurred. People were screaming and shouting on the news all day long and everyone was on the alert. However, in my area, the number of Muslims, or even people of Asian decent is about zero, and I don't think I had the awareness that others living in bigger towns or cities would have been aware of. In this, the book showed me a perspective that I would never receive through the news or local society.

It gave me an insight, but I found it difficult to get through.  Not necessarily a bad thing, and I appreciated the discussions it provoked, as to when someone becomes English or British, and the difficulties or retaining or losing one's culture... This I honestly found a lot more interesting than the book, and if I'm honest, out of choice I wouldn't read it again.

So Catrin Says

Monday, 11 April 2011

Howells Family Trip to the Theatre

to see.....

We Will Rock You!

staring Rhydian from X-Factor and the scottish girl from Over The Rainbow.

Still not really sure what I though of it. The choreographed ga-ga pop dancing was pretty amazing, but the first half was pretty slow until the bohemians arrived in the form of Britney Spears (a very hot scottish guy) and Meat Loaf (OTR girl). Any scene with the bohemians had me dancing in my seat, singing along and cracking my sides laughing, in comparison to scenes with the Killer Queen who I found a bit dull, and not as scary as Rhydian who looked like a Nazi SS officer.

Perhaps I was prejudiced though, having seen the original cast perform at the Queen's Jubilee, where Killer Queen was played by Sharon D. Clarke, who is so astoundingly brilliant and gives me goose bumps that no one was ever going to really compare.

The little one off quips really carried the script, with references to all kinds of cultural icons, from The Wombles and Mr Blobby to Simon Cowell, The Beatles and Michael Jackson. I giggled a lot.

What I loved most of all however was the overall presentation - without the amazing costumes and an obviously fantastic stage crew managing the plethora of lights the show wouldn't be half as good, despite the bloody good sound track. Overall a fab day out.

A little nod also to the Welsh Millennium Centre, which remains one of my favourite theatres ever. 

So Catrin Says 

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Ireland: part 2

Reading in the Dark
by Seamus Deane

This is my favourite book in this module by a long shot. Read it if you ever get the chance.

A piece of history, a mystery, a folk-tale, a memoir, and essentially an enthralling story.

We follow the narrator through a series of memories/events from early childhood to adulthood, along the way piecing together fragments of a story, of which no member of the community knows all. A murder, a betrayal, a punishment, a pregnancy and a missing uncle who is in Chicago/Las Vegas/ Dublin/ England/ Dead. Each person knows a little, but in a community where secrets are sacred and nobody speaks of the past a child grows up, trying to understand the silent tensions that control his very existence.

As each confession or secret is garnered a different facet of life appears to the reader, and each slightly changes the readers perspective, of events and of the family around which they circle. Many have transformed or gained myth-like qualities, and the traditional magical folk-lore of the island becomes entwined with each tale, as people seek ways to justify actions and find alternative reasons for the violence and drama around them. Memories, lies, confessions and stories; each is subjective, and the reader can never be sure of the position or role of any of the characters - there is no "good" or "evil", only shades between.

That the narrator goes unnamed makes him an every-man character. Is this representative of a childhood in the Irish troubles? Or a single screwed up family, in which each person's role has become twisted? Each individual garners a list of labels - protestant, catholic, nationalist, republican, unionist, royalist, police, labour. The removal of these labels to a child in the heart of the troubles then adds the question of how we classify him - a product of his family, or an individual, and in a society that clearly has already judged and classified him by his predecessors, does it really matter?

I truly love this book. It combined the history of politics with the heritage of the land in its style, and manages not only to be enlightening, but a bloody good read aswell.

So Catrin Says

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Onto Ireland

by Bernard MacLaverty

The story of a boy haunted by his participation in a crime which led to the murder of a protestant policeman, with him as the get away driver. To make matters worse, when he refuses further IRA work he is forced into hiding, leading him to the house of the policeman's wife (a catholic), whom he has grown to love.

Pretty unlikely, but a bloody good read, excluding the odd disgusting metaphor here and there.

From the outset, Cal is an outsider. A catholic on a protestant housing estate. An objector to some of the IRA stunts. A son who refuses to take on his father's role in a slaughterhouse. He fits nowhere, and therein lies his affinity with Marcella (policeman's wife) who is a stranger to the area, and who married a royalist law enforcer.

In the divisions between Cal and society, which accumulate throughout the novel, we then see the problems of Ireland through a single individual's eyes. No matter which road he takes, someone will be angry, being either a traitor or a terrorist and murderer. The crux of this is seen in the figure of Cal's father, a man who, after years of offending no one, except by refusing to leave his home in a protestant area, indeed who works in an all protestant slaughter house, is burned out of the home he built with his wife, leaving him a shell of a man, full of angst, fear and depression which further isolates him from the world.

The slaughter house is then a blatant symbol of the bloodshed that fills Irish politics and society of the time (and perhaps even now, after the murder last week of a CATHOLIC policeman, by whom no one knows, the book seems to be relevant once more...)  However the reader is left to ponder the ethics of Cal's predicament, and wondering what they would do in a similar position.

Or So Catrin Says

Friday, 8 April 2011

I suck

It's official, after one month I got caught up with essays, and eventually forgot my pledge to record every book. So as punishment, I shall blog every day until I'm caught up starting.... NOW

The Lonely Londoners 
by Sam Selvon

A story of the immigrants that flooded London (in particular, though not exclusively) from the British colonies in the West Indies after world war two. Through a number of (I want to say caricature, but this is definitely the wrong word...) character portraits of men and the lives they live in an isolating and sometimes cruel city we learn of the conflicting problems that arose, both to native Londoners as well as to the immigrants.

Between the desire to assimilate into British culture, and the need to replicate some of their native cultures in order to provide some comfort and familiarity in a foreign land, we see the opposing forces of old and new. The variety of characters and the manner in which their story is told - in fragments, fluidly moving between time, space and people -  ensures that the reader is never left with one idea of "The Immigrant". We see exploiters and con-artists contrasted with those who are exploited and duped, the work-shy with grafters, those who long to be a part of this new culture, to be English versus those who will not, or cannot, let go of their past and culture.

The main problem I had (not with the novel, but with the idea that arose around the whole immigration idea) was with characters who came to Britain to work, as was their right as citizens of the British empire, who then brought over their entire families from their native country.  The primary focus of this in the novel is seen in Tanty, the aunt of a worker who has travelled, along with every other relative, to the UK in order to look after her nephew. I'm not sure why I found this so arresting, but in some ways it just seemed wrong that every member had an equal right to entrance to Britain, not only those willing to work or their immediate family relations.

In the majority of characters we then see a general dissatisfaction with the life they find in London, a sense of being let down from the golden life that they were promised or imagined. At the end of the novel, I found myself wondering whether immigrants ever reconcile their homesickness with their new home, or whether it is an ever present factor nagging in their heads, and asking why, if they were really so unhappy, they did not return home.

The fact is, that no matter how lonely they found themselves in London, the prospects appeared greater than those of their own countries, whether the reality reflected this or not.

Or So Catrin Says.