The cultured teenager

the best of literature, film and music, shown through my rather short-sighted eyes

Tag Archives: book

Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson

It is rare that I would read a travelogue. For an 18 year old they are, for the most part, not that interesting. They are list of observations and facts rather than some elaborate, intense story which has the sole purpose in gaining and then keeping your attention for the entirety of the novel. Equally, when I read non-fiction it is far more likely to be with a specific purpose in mind rather than merely for a few hours entertainment; I am interested in History and enjoy History books but those books are read as much through educational purposes as through interest. It would also be rare for me read about a topic which I know well. The topic in question is the United Kingdom, the nation in which I live. I know it as well as most, well, at least that is what I like to think, but although I know lots of generalised information about the country, a country is not an entity in itself, but is instead a collection of places and people within specific boundaries. This is clearly Bryson’s point; a travelogue shouldn’t be a list or a simple account of what you can see where and lists of nice restaurants, but should be an experienced account of an ordinary person who could be doing whatever they want and chooses to explore.

Bryson, an already very successful writer and journalist, decided to explore this glorious and cynical nation before leaving it to voyage back to his American homeland. This anecdotal narrative highlights what is brilliant and what is dreadful about Britain, constantly entertaining the reader, making the story less of a travelogue and more of a journey of discovery, the British reader constantly empathising with his descriptions of the nations failings, and laughing at his witty, descriptive narrative. He summarises British culture and the British mindset easier than any biased Brit could possibly do, mocking our enjoyment in the dull, our witty humour and love of ridiculously named places, such as Farleigh Wallop and Titsey. “Before long I came to regard all kinds of activities – asking for more toast in a hotel, buying wool-rich socks in Marks & Spencer, getting two pairs of trousers when I only really needed one – as something daring, very nearly illicit. My life became immensely richer.” It is clear throughout the book that he is often taking the piss out Britain, but simultaneously is taking the piss out of himself and us Brits, but I don’t care because all of his observations and mockeries are completely true and justified. It makes me glad I’m not French. I am British and we have character and a sense of humour. The book, however, is not just an analysis of British convention but just as much of Bryson and his life in Britain and his connection with the country. This is a great, easy read, particularly as non-fiction goes, and is a particularly useful read for any wannabe writers. Bryson’s writing style is second-to-none, and since reading the book is something I have only idolised. Its a great book, an easy summer read, and is particularly witty when you are looking at it from the same British viewpoint as myself. I hope you enjoy it, regards 🙂

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

I can safely say, this is probably one of my favourite books. It’s cleverly written, has a lucid narrative, but also contrasts an embedded bleakness with many aspects of a thriller. It was through ‘Brighton Rock’ that Graham Greene found major commercial success, written in 1938, and by 1947 had been moved to the silver screen for John Boulting’s adaptation, which was itself brilliant, namely for Richard Attenborough’s ferocity as Pinkie Brown.

Pinkie Brown is the ultimate literary anti-hero, such that his malevolence and anguish still resonates with modern audiences and creates an utter fascination through the entirety of the novel. I am 17. Pinkie Brown is also 17. There is a slight contrast between us, lifestyle, time period, oh and I’m not a sinister power-hungry gangster, desperate to make not only cash, but a name for himself and a menacing reputation. One sentence in and Greene has already instilled the tone of the whole novel; “Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him”. The novel is structured around Pinkie’s attempts to cover up Hale’s murder, but these are somewhat thwarted by Ida Arnold, whom had met Fred hale in his last hours. Through Pinkie’s efforts to close the case on his gang’s and his own personal connection to the death, his story becomes intertwined with that of a young waitress, Rose. It is Ida’s purpose to stop Rose fulfilling her terrible, ominous fate; Greene shows Ida in complete contrast to Pinkie and Rose as a loud, secularist femme-fatale, allergic to the religious overtones and the images of redemption running parallel to Pinkie and Rose’s tainted relationship. Relationship isn’t the right word, it is more like a prison, or maybe purgatory. The only thing bleaker than Brighton and the gangster culture that inhabits it, is Pinkie and his aggressive, twisted attitude which devours all emotion he bears witness to.

Few people reach the disturbing evil that is enmeshed within Pinkie Brown and gang culture, but it is a story which still resonates, particular with youth culture, with this cultural boom of the 30’s foreshadowing those in the later 20th century, whether it be Mod, Punk or Urban culture. There will always be a dark undercurrent within society, but that makes it all the more interesting to me and, I expect, to those who read this bleak, brilliant novel. A consuming, outstanding read which I would highly recommend. Regards 🙂

Man and boy

One of my favourite films of all time is ‘No Country For Old Men’, but not only is it is great watch but also a terrific book. This led to me explore other books by the author, Cormac McCarthy, which caused me to read ‘The Road’; I had already known of its pedigree, as a book constantly mentioned on all literary websites, given multiple awards and therefore made it seem obvious that it would be a good book. However now I have read it, it would seem almost offensive to call it ‘good’. It is a beautifully harrowing story, showing the transformation of civilization and emotions when plunged into this frighteningly realistic, post-apocalyptic future. McCarthy paints a stunning image of the barren landscape and America’s future; however, drained of all colour and vibrancy, leaving only vivid memories of any natural life and humanity. The few humans that do exist are still drained of all life and vitality, an “ashen effigy” of their former selves walking through the dense of soot and snow in search of warmth.

Almost everyone is dead, ironically giving a certain humanity to the novel, and particularly to the man and his attempts to shelter his son. The whole way through the book, The Man and The Boy are unnamed, highlighting how nothing is important, not even names, in this hopeless, uncivilized world except for survival. Survival is therefore paramount to the emotions and actions by The Man, particularly where he shoots a barbaric figure trying to murder his son; it is harrowing and disturbing how such vulgar and grotesque actions become commonplace, especially cannibalism. McCarthy plods through the tense yet slow narrative, constantly increasing the fear and desperation running through the Man’s veins, not just his fear of starvation, rape and cannibalism, but he is also terrified for his son, which was further increased by being left by his wife, due to her immense fear of being attacked and preyed upon. The child is used by McCarthy to draw parallels with the reader, as the unaware and naive boy asks constant questions, the reader is intrigued by the same questions as we have the same level of ambiguity towards the apocalypse.

This makes me appreciate the humility and humanity built into modern society, rather than the barbaric nature of the characters here; parallels can be drawn with the recent London riots, as this novel highlights the break-down of society and the actions that come with it. Destructive actions come from anger and frustration, but also from fear, where the rioting is making a statement it shows the barbaric nature within people, however McCarthy shows the opposite being that the Man has every reason to be monstrous  and destructive yet the humanity of his relationship with his son stops him from doing that. Please read this brutally astonishing masterpiece. Regards 🙂