Review: Strange Meeting by Susan Hill

Susan Hill’s novel set in World War One takes its name from a Wilfred Owen poem – Strange Meeting – but, as she says in an author’s afterword, there’s very little else to connect the novel and poem together. Written in 1971, it tells the story of John Hilliard, a soldier who, in the first few pages, is wounded and returns to England. He spends a little time there, then goes back to the front where he meets David Barton, a new officer yet to experience battle. The two of them become very close; at some points it seems that they’re …

Review: On Writing (Stephen King)

You must not come lightly to the blank page. Stephen King‘s book about writing – On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – is part autobiography and part advice manual. It’s a great read for anyone interested in the nuts and bolts of writing and looking for some practical, down-to-earth suggestions. The first section is the autobiography – what got King into writing the books he does, his long love of horror films and horror novels, his first attempts at submitting stories to magazines in his teens, gathering a large collection of rejection slips on a nail in his bedroom, through submitting …

Review: Wide Sargasso Sea

The prequel to Jane Eyre is often hailed a classic of post-colonial literature: does it live up to the name? Wide Sargasso Sea (Penguin Modern Classics) is the story of Bertha Mason, Rochester’s unfortunate wife who ends up locked in the attic at Thornfield, a ghostly presence tormenting Jane – and Rochester – throughout the book. According to the student edition (an excellent version for anyone interested in studying this text) Jean Rhys disliked the way that Charlotte Bronte had demonised her character from the West Indies, and thought that her presentation suggested racism endemic in the British Empire. To an …

The Fault in Our Stars

Buy at Amazon John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars was recommended by a sixth form student, who said reading it had changed her life. Any book that can be that influential is worth reading, so I downloaded it to my kindle as soon as I got home. It coincided with a Times article about how this ‘nerd’ had become a teen-lit favourite, and I’d watched his ted-talk about Paper Towns (the title of one of his books) and how online education has the potential to change the world (he is apparently also a prolific vlogger, having tutored his brother …

Jack Maggs: A problem of expectations

The problem with Jack Maggs (Kindle) isn’t really a problem with the novel – it’s the expectations it’s sold with. The description suggests it’s a “variation on Great Expectations, in which Dickens’s tale is told from the viewpoint of Australian convict Abel Magwitch which isn’t really what I got. What I expected was a close relation. What I got was more like a third cousin twice removed. There are similarities; Maggs is a convict, transported for life, and has made good in Australia. He’s given a young man, Henry Phipps, a good education and a home to live in (which Maggs …

Ways to Live Forever: Sally Nicholls

Sam is a 12 year old boy with leukemia. He starts writing at home, because he’s too ill to attend school, and starts making lists of questions he wants answered, and of things he wants to do before he dies. He writes in a very honest and open way about his fears, hopes and worries about dying, and what the rest of his family are experiencing. At the same time, though, there’s a depth to it because Sam doesn’t explicitly describe a lot – he ignores his parents’ relationship, his sister’s emotional difficulties and other things he alludes to but …