Sunday, 17 February 2013

Life After Life

I am going to be deliberately vague with this this review of Kate Atkinson's new novel. Life After Life should be discovered and enjoyed by readers for themselves and I am concerned that I may give away too much. This is a book that constantly surprises and changes its course jumping between different times in the protagonists life - or should I say many lives...

The novel begins with the following epigraphs which explain the main idea being explored throughout the story:

'Everything changes and nothing remains still'
Plato, Cratylus

'What if we have a chance to do it again and again,
until we finally did get it right? Wouldn't that be wonderful?'
Edward Beresford Todd

Ursula Todd is born at the idyllic Fox Corner on 11th February 1910 during a heavy snowfall. Unfortunately the baby dies. Ursula Todd is then born again on the same date, at the same location and survives. Don't worry all will become clear as you read the novel! Atkinson has created an existence for Ursula, which means whatever happens, she will be born again and again. And depending on her decisions, each life will turn out in different ways, although some situations are just meant to be.

This book is clever, maybe a little too clever. As a new section begins, we are introduced to new characters, who we slowly find out about as Ursula's life at that time is explained. The dialogue is witty and intelligent, I particularly enjoyed Ursula's conversations with her sister Pamela and her mother Sylvie. There are many quotes from literature, history or in European Languages (some, I admit, went over my head) and I would recommend taking the time to read this novel in large chunks to take it all in and fully appreciate it. I unfortunately had to read little snippets when I had the time and sometimes had to read back a bit to remember some parts.

This is a really interesting theme to cover. We are able to shape our own fates depending on our decisions, but sometimes some events are fate. A tiny decision can eventually become a huge one, a small event can be life-changing and sometimes one person can shape history.

I was lucky enough to receive a much sought after copy of Life After Life last year and I can't believe I only started reading it a couple of weeks ago! There is already much buzz on social media and Good Reads and I predict this book winning many awards throughout 2013. It is unlike anything else I have read before. It keeps you on your toes, makes you think and ultimately is enjoyable to read. I recommend pre-ordering this book right now and reading it as soon as you can before you hear too much about it!

Pre-order Life After Life here

Join in the conversation on Twitter #lifeafterlife

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Horrible Histories Live on Stage

I was a huge fan of Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories books when I was a child – a great way to learn about history in a gory, gruesome way you will never forget! The recent television series’ have made the brand more popular than ever and the live shows sell-out all over the country. I was very excited to have the latest live tour – Terrible Tudors and Vile Victorians – booked in at my theatre and was intrigued to see how the live action and 3D Bogglevision would work together.

 As we were waiting in the auditorium for the show to begin, there is a screen displaying the logo and a creepy soundtrack of drips, creaks and bangs before the cast make their entrance. The Terrible Tudors sees a band of players led by Dr Dee telling the more sinister stories of the Tudors, with a teacher – Miss Tree – filling in with the facts. The cast are full of energy and enthusiasm and clearly enjoying their roles which include pretending to be sick an awful lot! The children in the audience were loving the gory tales and joining in with lots of audience participation. The cast made the most of their Richard III sketch, just days after the skeleton in a Leicester car park was confirmed as the lost monarch’s body (‘Let’s bury him in a car park. Nobody will ever find him there!’) Most of the first act was of course dedicated to the most famous Tudor of all – Henry VIII and his six wives. We learn about this infamous king in a series of politically incorrect songs – ‘Henry VII was a big fat man, ate all he could from the frying pan’ was a chorus which was stuck in my head for days after! The famous ‘Divorced, Beheaded, Died…’ rhyme is also given musical treatment as an easy way to remember the fate of his wives. Henry’s romance with Anne Boleyn is portrayed in more detail with the King singing One Direction’s What Makes You Beautiful to woo her, before finally deciding on Greensleeves much to the delight of the children in the audience! The children also have the chance to be the jury on some sinister court cases, helping to decide whether the defendants should have a gory punishment – each one was found guilty as a result of our blood-thirsty audience!

Henry VII woos Anne Boleyn

During the interval, we are given the task of finding 3D ‘boggle goggles’ in the theatre to be ready for the 3D heavy second half. Be prepared to have a variety of objects racing towards you, from stones and bugs to the blood of poor Mary Queen of Scots during her unfortunate execution (this story truly is horrible).  The depiction of the Spanish Armada is particularly clever, with the feeling that we are on a rocking boat, while cannon balls and splintered wood come hurtling at us. The 3D genuinely made me duck and blink and the children in the audience reacted with equal screaming and laughing. These shows are a great way for children to remember important parts of history and learn in a fun way. The stories in the show will definitely be repeated at home and to friends and the adults watching had a great time too. Go see it!

Horrible Histories Live On Stage trailer:


You can find a list of tour dates here

Monday, 4 February 2013

The Cat's Table

Michael Ondaatje is probably most famous for The English Patient and I found his lyrical style of prose easy and beautiful to read with almost a poetic effect. The Cat's Table tells the story of eleven-year old Michael, on a lone voyage from Colombo to England. During this life-changing journey, he meets a cast of colourful characters who he will never forget.

The title comes from the table he is allotted at meal-times, furthest away from where the Captain dines, which he shares with a mixture of adults and two other boys his age - Cassius and Ramadhin. The two boys are experiencing a type of freedom for the first time and cause chaos on the boat, spying on thing's they shouldn't be and become obsessed with the mysterious shackled prisoner who only emerges under heavy guard at night-time.

The story is told from Michael's memory as an adult, and as he was a boy with an over-active imagination, there may be parts which are exaggerated. The novel is almost a series of short stories as we are introduced one-by-one to his ship-mates and told their life story. Their lives all become woven together and the events that happen on the ship will impact Michael's life forever.

I enjoyed reading this book in particular Ondaatje's narrative techniques when describing the sea, the long journey, the ship's 'secret garden' and of course Michael's fellow voyagers. This book would be perfect as a holiday read, so add it to your suitcase this summer.