The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

the_sun_also_risesI went into this book torn between scepticism and hoping to fall in love. I knew all about Hemingway, from popular culture, lists of the greatest writers and as a journalist in the Spanish Civil War. I had also read A Moveable Feast  back when I was a student and it was just the kind of sensory, cafe and liquor heavy prose I enjoyed then. The Sun Also Rises is the first of Hemingway’s novels I have sat down to read and while I didn’t have to force my way through it like another certain Jazz Age work, I wasn’t blown away either.

The book centres around a group of American expatriates after WW1, as they roam from the bars in Paris to the bullfighting rings of Spain, while dealing with their romantic entanglements with each other and disillusionment after the War. The star is Lady Brett Ashley and orbiting around her is the protagonist Jake Barnes. I had heard of these two before I even picked up the book as they are quite iconic.

Hemingway’s writing style is incredibly sparse and yet highly atmospheric. It is also heavy on the dialogue and often quite mundane dialogue at that. It should have been rambling and pointless and yet there is weight behind it. It’s like it all fits into the same dream. The mundane becomes relevant. I’ve seen other contemporary writers do this and found it tedious and pretentious and yet here it works.

“The world was not wheeling anymore. It was just very clear and bright and inclined to blur at the edges.”

Halfway through the book however the novelty had worn off for me. I enjoyed the writing but the characters weren’t interesting enough to me to keep me glued to a book without much of a plot. I didn’t really know much more about Brett or Jake at the end of the book then I did at the beginning despite having watched them drink their way across Europe. I also wasn’t impressed by the casual anti-Semitism thrown around by various characters and the greatest impression of my first reading of a Hemingway novel from this is; disappointment.


Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

americanah-300x0Americanah. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Copyright 2013. HarperCollins 2014

I’ve been making eyes at Half of a Yellow Sun for a while now but for some reason Americanah was the first book by Adichie I actually read. I definitely didn’t regret it. Americanah is a great sprawling book that challenges the complex issues of race and identity and yet also manages to tell a captivating story.

Ifemelu and Obinze grow up in military ruled Nigeria and their love seems to be an unbreakable thing. However as one heads to America and gets labelled “Black” for the first time and the other ends up as an illegal immigrant in the UK after being denied entry into the U.S, we watch them break apart and after 15 years move slowly back together again.

The book is written from the perspective of Ifemelu and Obinze and features a large cast of memorable characters. The narrative jumps back and forth between both characters first returning to a now democratic Nigeria, their days at university and their life in the West.

My favourite part of this book was definitely Ifemelu’s blog and her chatty articles on race, class, misogyny and colourism. I loved her writing style and the fictional blog is one I would follow myself.

“If you’re telling a non-black person about something racist that happened to you, make sure you are not bitter. Don’t complain. Be forgiving. If possible, make it funny. Most of all, do not be angry. Black people are not supposed to be angry about racism. Otherwise you get no sympathy. This applies only for white liberals, by the way. Don’t even bother telling a white conservative about anything racist that happened to you. Because the conservative will tell you that YOU are the real racist and your mouth will hang open in confusion.”


The love story between Ifemelu and Obinze isn’t just a backdrop for the themes or the plot but the driving heart of the book. I wasn’t unmoved at their first meeting or the way they fit together. They didn’t win me over completely as individuals. Their feelings of superiority over the other characters (something they occasionally realise themselves) and Obinze’s “gentle disdain” for the wife he cheats on were things I couldn’t ignore but as a love story they worked.

I highly recommend this book not only as an engaging piece of fiction but as a masterful look at immigration, the diaspora and the intricacies of race that we often find we cannot put into words ourselves. I found myself smiling over so many characters in this book who represented people I have met in real life.

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

51Le7099+QLThe concept of this book was too interesting for me to pass up. The protagonist, 17 year old Jazz, is the son of the most infamous serial killer in modern America. His father was arrested four years ago and put away with multiple life sentences but the shadow of him still hangs over Jazz and the town. And then when a mutilated body turns up, Jazz realises there’s another serial killer on the loose.

Jazz is a satisfyingly interesting character. He is charming, charismatic and manipulative and unfortunately for him so was his dad. I like the way Lyga didn’t pull any punches with Jazz’s upbringing. He knows far too much about murder from the criminals’ point of view and is both arrogant about his knowledge and worried he’ll start killing people too. The two people keeping him connected to “normality” are and his girlfriend Connie and his best friend Howie, a haemophilic.

“You were right,” he told Howie.

“Um I was?”


“Score for me. Beauty. But what was I right about?”

“She’s a she. Not an it. She’s always been a she.”

“Yeah, no kidding.”

“Don’t ever let me call her an it again,” Jazz told him. “Actually, don’t ever let me call anyone an it, ok?”

Despite being an expert I like the fact that Jazz does not always reach the conclusion faster than the police force, who understandably aren’t too keen on having a teenager “helping” them with the investigation whoever his dad may be. I also liked the relationship between him and the detective who finally caught his dad.

I raced through this book in under two days. It was very readable and, however strange to say about a serial killer book, fun to read. As usual I ended up suspecting everyone to be the serial killer and it ended up being someone I never even thought of. This is the first in a planned trilogy.

The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

672_largeIt’s not a good sign if you haven’t even read to the end of the first chapter of a book and you’re already thinking “the more time I spend reading this book the faster it will be over.”

This fictionalized account of Fitzgerald’s married life explores the Jazz Age and the decadence and dangers that being born into beauty and money can bring. The message Fitzgerald is painstakingly illustrating is that you need more than money to live a worthwhile life. It’s a good idea and his writing is poetic enough (although it didn’t blow me away) but I didn’t care about the characters and the plot (if you can call it a plot) meanders so drearily that I almost fell asleep reading it.

The protagonist Anthony Patch is too self absorbed to love another person or even make an interesting narrator so I found the whirlwind romance between him and Gloria the most pitiful example of its kind. I can see what affect Fitzgerald was aiming for but the characters are so unlikeable even before their troubles start with their antisemitism, racism against their Japanese butler and utter lack of interest in the world around them that I didn’t really care what happened to them at all. Worse than being dislikeable characters they weren’t interesting ones.

The style is definitely what I found most remarkable about the novel. The poetic interludes, the lines of dialogue and crisp subheadings. I found the way Fitzgerald inserted passages of plain dialogue very odd. It’s not that I didn’t like it. I found the technique appealing. But that attitude I had sums up my feelings for the whole book. Detached, vaguely interested in the technical style but overall emotionally and intellectually unmoved.

The dialogue between Beauty and The Voice is the very thin highlight of the book for me, It wasn’t groundbreaking but it had a lovely archaic poetry to it and joined the few brief moments I respected the authors writing. Also was the smart insight into the Patch’s marriage:

They were stars on this stage, each playing to an audience of two: the passion of their pretense created the actuality. Here, finally, was the quintessence of self-expression- yet it was probable that for the most part their love expressed Gloria rather than Anthony. He felt often like a scarcely tolerated guest at a party she was giving.

Overall this would have been better as a novella.  I became distantly interested near the end when they constantly argued about mundane day to day living in the same way I’d be half heartedly interested in watching an episode of EastEnders. As this is the first Fitzgerald I’ve ever read, however, it doesn’t compel me to read any more.