Monday, 31 January 2011

The Sunday Read: Room by Emma Donoghue

A young girl kidnapped, repeatedly raped by her captor, and imprisoned in a modified garden shed. It’s hard to imagine a more grim start to a book, and certainly the narrative situation that you find yourself placed in hits hard from the very first page. But then, so it should - inspired by the case of Josef and Elizabeth Fritzl, this a story of desperation, of near-insanity and a deep exploration into the effects of abuse combined with a lack of freedom; and this is a book which utterly deserves its Man Booker prize nomination.

With such a hopeless and disturbing subject matter, Room could easily have been a step too far; a subject just that bit too uncomfortable to face for 400 pages. Donoghue, though, approached her seventh novel from an interesting perspective that made it all the more intriguing and, ultimately, haunting: it was narrated by the kidnapped woman’s five year old son, Jack.

And what a narrator he is. Guiding the reader through the entirety of the novel, Jack brings a heart-breaking viewpoint to the desperate situation that the voice of ‘Ma’, the only other human he has ever spoken to, would have struggled to have done to quite the same effect. And this is not because Jack has suffered at the hands of his captor more than Ma, no; this is because through Jack we see what it would be like never to have known freedom, and that is a concept which has a potential to seriously disturb any reader.

He refers to everything in the room in the singular - not because he is linguistically delayed (in fact, quite the opposite), but because he has only ever seen one of any object - and so he speaks of Bed, of Blanket and of Rug. He and Ma do have a TV set, but, to Jack, everything he sees there - from Dora the Explorer to war documentaries - are ‘TV’ only, and belong in his mind to some kind of cruel, parallel, pretend world. He doesn’t think, even for a moment, that anything exists out of Room, equating ‘Outside’ with Outer Space; and he doesn’t believe that anyone else is real or exists apart from him, Ma, and the man he names ‘Old Nick’ - their captor.
Jack doesn’t know what it is to have choices, variation or, indeed, any kind of freedom; and it is that, and his growing realisation that the world contains more than just Room, that turns the book from an intriguing concept to a haunting read.

Narrating from Jack’s point of view also makes dealing with Old Nick, their captor and Jack’s biological father, particularly poignant. Jack, of course, views the situation at first with a childish acceptance, tinged with apprehension; he speaks of being shut away in Wardrobe at night, hearing the Beep Beep of Door and hearing Bed creak, and then: "I always have to count till he makes that gaspy sound and stops." Old Nick certainly does disturb Jack - but, it has to be said, no more than the wrong kind of vegetables at dinner does, for example. Because for Jack, of course, this is normality; and what would have made the read unbearable and grotesque from Ma’s point of view makes it, although not quite, almost so from Jack’s too, because of his faithful acceptance that this is normality; this is the only life that he has ever known.

Of course, it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that, as with the Josef Fritzl case, the captives finally escape mid-way through the book; and here we then see through a very confused five-year-old’s eyes as Outside, a world which existed purely in TV, suddenly becomes a bewildering reality.

Donoghue’s novel can perhaps best be described as a claustrophobic read; it leaves you gasping for freedom from Room itself, and then just as overwhelmed by the sudden extreme freedom of Outside - a feeling which Ma herself struggles to come to terms with after seven years of captivity.

In as much as Room is an examination of freedom, it is also an intimate portrayal of mother-child relationships; it is only because she has Jack to care for that Ma has managed to hold on to some semblance of sanity; it is only because she longs for him to have some kind of normal childhood that they have a strict daily routine of exercises, reading, meal-times and bath-times. Jack is the only thing that means anything to Ma in the world; although they never explicitly say I love you, it is imprinted in their every word and every gesture.
More than freedom, these two characters need each other; and so, ultimately, Room goes one level deeper than showing the importance of freedom; it shows the importance of strength and capacity of love in the face of adversity, and of the tests and tortures - such as removal of freedom - that can be survived through strong, loving bonds.

A claustrophobic and seemingly realistic portrayal of what it must be like to experience a true lack of freedom, Room is a powerful and profound novel, narrated exquisitely, and one that, beyond its recent hype and accolades, offers a unique viewpoint which will leave you feeling affected by the story long after the last page.



The observant of those among you will realise that it's actually Monday I'm posting this, and not Sunday - sorry about that, but it's been a hectic week and a hectic weekend and this is the first chance I've had to write a review. Still, I hope you like it! Back to Sunday next week.

Friday, 28 January 2011

friday fives

5 photos

1. link
2. link
3. link
4. link
5. link

5 links

1. Plainness by amazing photographer Anna Aden
2. Dreamcats - photos of cats taken in a dreamy way
3. Gorgeous ballet photography by Jason Schmidt for Vogue Russia
4. Fab London date ideas from The Date Guy London
5. An exhibition of photographs for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Prize, at the National Portrait Gallery, which I reeeally want to see!

5 of the best... of Topshop's current floral dresses

1. Purple Winter Floral Tea Dress
2. Floral Shift Dress
3. Floral Stud Dress
4. Cream Floral Vintage Print Dress
5. Floral Dress by Rare

5 highlights of the week

1. Black Swan - amazing!
2. Home-made flapjacks (mmm)
3. Reading an amazing book - Room by Emma Donoghue
4. Lovely dinner with my cousin
5. Walking through Trafalgar Square at night and appreciating London

5 things to look forward to next week
1. Seeing friends tonight for drinks
2. A weekend in Oxford
3. Dinner with more friends planned for next week
4. Planning for my Rome trip, now under a month away!
5. Writing, as always


By the way, I just wanted to say a massive thank you to the lovely Alkyoni who has given me two wonderful awards over on her blog - The Versatile Blogger and The Stylish Blogger Award! Thank you so much :)

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

blue swan / stefan giftthaler

This gorgeous photography is by Stefan Giftthaler, an amazingly talented photographer who has already, although only in his late 20s, had his work appear in many international Vogue, Elle and Glamour magazines. He just takes the most beautiful, dreamy photos and loves to experiment with polaroids, which I guess explains it!
This shoot is called Ballet and is just gorgeous - the quality of the photos almost make the photos look like paintings. I'd love a print of the first and second photos especially!


Have you seen Black Swan yet?
I saw it last weekend - and wow. Just wow. I love dark, twisted films that make you think; and I also love ballet, having danced it (and quite seriously) for many years, which made Black Swan pretty much an ideal combination for me.
For those who haven't seen it yet, it's the story of Nina Sayers, a "sweet and innocent" kind of girl who is a dancer in a ballet company; and, when it's announced that they're putting on Swan Lake. Of course, Swan Lake requires the principal ballerina to dance two swans: the white, pure, good swan and the black, dark, twisted swan. Thomas Leroy, the company's choreographer and by all accounts a bit of an odd character who has taken a bit of a disturbing fancy to Nina, gives her the part, and so ensues Nina's journey to dig past her White Swan exterior and unearth the Black Swan persona that is inside her. And, while I won't give the game away in case anyone hasn't seen it, suffice it to say there are some quite dramatic consequences of her making her Black Swan persona come to the surface, and the film seems to muse not only on the true nature of ballet and what it can do to you, good and bad, but also on coming of age, the influence of others, and so on.
Yes, I think the film was full of cliches; yes, it was all a bit much at times; and yes, it's hard to know whether it's a work of genius or just plain weird (or, I suspect, a bit of both). However, the thing that I loved about this film (and anyone who has danced ballet seriously will be able to agree with me on, I hope) is that it showed some great insights into a dancer's life - good and bad. It showed the extreme dedication to the art form, the way that dancers tolerate their feet being covered in painful blisters (after all, it's to be expected when you're standing on blocks of wood all day, which is what's inside the pointe shoe), and, most of all, the search for perfection. Ballet is horrendously difficult, painful and, in the main, thankless; but, when it eventually goes right, even for a minute, it can give you a euphoric feeling like nothing else. When, after years of practising for hours each day with strict routines and regimes, you can stand in front of the mirror and do pirouette after pirouette without falling over, and you know that you look beautiful - that what you're doing looks elegant and effortless and painless, and more importantly, almost perfect - then it all pays off. And that is what the film captured (albeit quite dramatically); ballet is a discipline, a challenge to make the most difficult balances and positions look simple and natural and graceful, and getting your technique perfect, even for just one small moment after years of practice, really does make it all worth it. I used to call ballet addictive torture, and in all honestly I still stand by that now - and I think Portman captured that phrase quite perfectly in her performance - but I wouldn't trade my time dancing ballet for anything in the world.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Sunday Read: Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

I didn’t want to read Birdsong; in fact, I’d deliberately avoided it for quite a while. Books that I seem to love the most are ones that no one’s really heard of, no one’s talking about, and no one’s telling me that I must read - and Birdsong is a classic case of the complete opposite. Hype brings with it heightened expectations even before reading the first page, and this always seems to mean that I’m left with a huge sense of anti-climax after reading the last.

Birdsong, though, is different: it is truly breath-taking. From the first line you find yourself captivated, drawn in to authentic descriptions of French rusticity and to characters so perfectly described it’s difficult to believe they’re not real: Stephen, a young English graduate sent out to France on a work placement, the French family he begins the novel by staying with, and, later on, the World War I soldiers, some who briefly feature before brutal deaths, and others who linger a little longer and tragically deteriorate in all senses of the word.

Indeed, the novel’s first real strength must be its characters. Stephen Wraysford is consistent, determined, strong, and yet has a touching vulnerability and a yearning desire to love - which we see so exquisitely in the first hundred pages - that makes him a man that you want to befriend, that you want to travel with, concerned about, through to the end of the novel and beyond. And it is easy to see why Stephen loves Isabelle, the wife of the French businessman with whom he is staying; exuding glamour, French sophistication and yet a deep sadness and longing, the married woman and the younger single man are captivating, and their developing relationship must be one of the most erotic pieces of writing you could hope to read. Hazy, rushed, lustful and desperate, in the details of their intimacy these characters become even more realistic, and it is an uplifting moment when they eventually elope to begin a new, happier life together.

Of course, this is a war novel, and so any happiness that the couple have must be short-lived; discovering she is pregnant, Isabelle suddenly leaves, and so begins the rest of the book, where we journey with Stephen and his unfaltering desire and longing for the only woman he has ever loved, but expects he will never see again.
Their love is stifling, intense and giddy, but makes for an excellent opening; ultimately, it is from having seen Stephen’s vulnerability that it makes it all the more painful to then watch him harden through his suffering year after year of war.

Indeed, six years later we re-join Stephen, now an officer in the British Army, placed in the trenches to face the Germans over the vast expanse of No Man’s Land. It is here that the book, after a brilliant opening, really tightens its grip: this is a story of brutal death, of injustice, of gruesome trench warfare and of, most tragically, the loss of hope.

Faulks wasn’t in the trenches, but his repugnant prose makes you believe he was; as we journey day after day and year after year with Stephen, the trenches become ever more realistic, until you can almost hear the bullets whistling past your ears on the battlefield, and all but smell rotting corpses, witness scattered body parts and total destructions and hear the desperate cries of fallen comrades. This is a tough read, of that there can be no doubt; at first, there is complete shock; next, repulsion, to the point where you almost want to put the book down and retreat from it, hoping you’ll forget every gruelling description you’ve just read. And, finally, as it goes on and on and Stephen and his ever fewer surviving comrades lose more and more of their innocence, hope and humanity, and look upon death as expected rather than feared, this ebbs away to sadness - a deep sadness that touches a spot where few other books really can; a sadness that remains beyond the last page.

And yet, the real effect of this book is felt in moments of reflection after reaching the final page. A few generations ago, many of my relatives fought in this war, and, although we learnt about World War I at school, and about the terrible conditions in the trenches, nothing quite brings it to life like Faulks’ heart-breaking depiction of Stephen and his comrades in the midst of it all. Faulks has made it real, and, with that, allows the reader to end the book with a deeper, more personal respect for all the men who fought and lost their lives.
This, truly, is a book that will change your life; that goes beyond hype and beyond the last page to grab a permanent hold on you.

And, reading this book around the time of Remembrance Sunday last year, while in France visiting a friend, I found myself pausing midway through a particularly unbearable description of a battle to look out at the peaceful countryside around me. I tore myself away from the noise of devastating warfare to the present day, and to the tranquillity and freedom of modern day France. And, looking at the peace around me, painfully reminded by Birdsong of how so many gave their lives to maintain it, I silently, again and again, thanked those who died fighting for us all to be free.


Saturday, 22 January 2011

friday fives

5 photos:
  1. link
  2. link
  3. link
  4. link
  5. link
5 shopping finds
  1. This gorgeous vintage-inspired brown lock satchel that I need in my life
  2. A very pretty memoir charm bracelet.
  3. This lovely floral 1950s dress I found on eBay
  4. A Cath Kidston tiny rose business card holder from the new range; perfect for my new business cards that arrived this week
  5. ...and, while we're on Cath Kidston's new range, I love this briar rose handbag

5 blog posts
  1. A mention of my Sunday Read reviews and book recommendations by the lovely Megan at Time After Tea - thank you!
  2. Daydream Lily's wonderful feature on Balthazar, who takes gorgeous photos and writes and sends love letters to anyone who wants one (yes, really).
  3. A Liberty print suitcase called Phoebe, from Wishwishwish.
  4. Drool-worthy churros con chocolate from Malaga (where, I can affirm, having spent a lot of my childhood there, some of the best churros in the world are found) over at ...sending postcards
  5. Dreamy interior inspiration from little blue deer.

5 links
  1. Some gorgeous photos from the Fifty Years of The Royal Ballet exhibition on at Proud Chelsea at the moment (and which I intend to go to soon!)
  2. An Insider's Guide to Lovely Things to See and Do in the UK - do check this one out as it's a gorgeous site!
  3. Cats vs Internet funny which will appeal to anyone who has a little feline friend
  4. A rather happy penguin
  5. ...and Rafael Nadal's Armani underwear shoot, which is, it has to be said, quite something...

5 highlights of the week
  1. Lovely drinks with friends
  2. TV highlights from Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, and working my way through the boxset of Tribe
  3. Seeing my boyfriend last weekend and just having time to relax with him
  4. Doing yoga every evening before bed
  5. Getting a little gig to write a review for The Times Online

Friday fives are a little delayed this week as things have been busy the past few evenings - so they're Saturday Fives for one week only! Back to Friday next week though.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

balham house

Time for a little interior inspiration from this house that I stumbled across the other day.
Called Balham House, it's used for photoshoots and as a filming location and you can really see why - it's got a real rustic charm, with some great touches like the lovely little pale lilac watering cans, despite actually being located in London!

It's the result of the vision of interiors stylist Catherine Woram and her architect husband, Michael Bains, who painstakingly turned the seven bedroom, three bathroom house into the gorgeous home it is now.
You can read more about the house, including a lovely interview with Catherine herself, over here.

I have to admit, I'm usually one for slightly more colour in houses - just a colourful feature here and there at least - but I really do love this house. So very pretty; it's obviously the result of a lot of hard work for both Catherine and Michael.
What do you think of it?

Monday, 17 January 2011


This is the beautiful work of photographer Tim Walker - isn't it gorgeous?

English Tim Walker was born in 1970 and his love of photography grew so much over his teenage years that he studied it at university, graduating with a BA (Hons) Photography degree from Exeter College of Art. After graduating, he worked as a freelance photography assistant in London and moved to New York to take up a job as a full-time assistant to Richard Avedon.
At the young age of 25, he shot his first fashion story for Vogue - and the rest, as they say, is history; he's regularly shot for the British, Italian and American editions ever since.

What I love about Tim Walker is that he's not afraid to be different. I know that a lot of photographers claim to be, but Tim Walker really is different - look at the creativity and the imagination behind his shots. And he appeals to me in particular because what he loves more than anything is ethereal, fairytale-inspired photography; the kind of photography that makes every model a princess and every girl want to be one. It transports you away to some kind of dream world - the perfect photographic escapism - and, to me, one of the greatest things about photography is its ability to transport its audience to somewhere else; somewhere dreamy; somewhere better than real life.


These are exactly the images I need to see during this drizzly week! What weather we're having (and how British I sound) - I'm longing for the days now where I can actually see some sunshine during the day, rather than going to and from work in the dark! Not too long now, surely?! :)
And how were your weekends? Mine was lovely and lazy - mainly involved relaxing with Richard, watching hour after hour of wonderful Tribe with Bruce Parry, and drinking just a little too much wine at a friend's birthday party on Saturday! Can't wait for next weekend already - I have drinks with friends, vintage shopping and London markets scheduled so think it will be a good one!

Sunday, 16 January 2011

The Sunday Read: The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

Have you ever seen a book with black-edged pages? I certainly hadn’t, until I spied The Gargoyle on the shelf. A blood red cover with black-edged pages and a burning heart on the front, it certainly appealed to me, and even more so when I read the blurb. A mix of romance and adventure, reality with a hint of reincarnation thrown in? As someone who can't resist time-slip novels, I was walking out of the shop with The Gargoyle under my arm before I knew it.

It was only when I got home and googled the novel that I became aware of the immense hype surrounding it. Comparable to Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose and Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient? Author receives a seven-figure advance salary? Oh dear. I can’t stand hyped-up novels - more often than not, they tend to fall a bit flat for me, as my expectations are always too high - but I was determined not to let that put me off this book. And, I have to say, I’m glad it didn’t.

The narrator, who remains nameless throughout the novel, is not the most likely of heroes. A beautiful, arrogant and misanthropic porn-star with a rather strong coke habit and a soulless existence, he is seemingly the result of a much-disturbed childhood blended with an equally as disturbed modern adult lifestyle, and bombards his way through the book with a sarcastic, scathing and cynical attitude. Foul-mouthed and ungrateful, you’d find it easy to really dislike him, if it weren’t for the fact that the poor man has suffered a horrific car crash and severe burns as a result, losing his pride and career along the way, as well as certain body parts which mean that a return to the porn industry is now impossible.
Davidson has no doubt done his research into burns victims and their treatments, and it is this which initially grips and disgusts the reader; it is a wearing read, exhausting and stomach-churning, in particular because of the narrator’s insistence on describing each and every treatment, peppered with memories of his childhood and crude observations on his old lifestyle, and the new one which awaits him.

Enter Marianne Engel. A gargoyle carver by trade and a psychiatric patient in the hospital where the narrator is being treated for burns, she visits him during his treatments, telling him stories of a time in 14th century Germany where they were, she maintains, lovers. As you may expect, our disillusioned and cynical narrator finds this all rather hard to swallow, but a strange relationship slowly forms between the characters nonetheless. Just as she takes care of him initially, so does he begin to take care of her after his recovery and as the novel progresses, it is hard to know who needs the support of hte other more and what will become of these two peculiar characters, debatably connected to each other by dozens of intertwined previous lifetimes, pulling them together once again.

And the lives are described in great detail; richly depicted and atmospheric, the reader is taken on a journey from medieval Germany, where Marianne Engel apparently cared for the narrator after he received horrific burns, to Japan, Iceland and Italy, in a mass of colourful descriptions and vivid action. It is these haunting depictions which undoubtedly make the book.

Aside from some amazingly vibrant descriptions, the writing tends to be a little disjointed (the recurring snake-in-the-spine analogy, in particular, does not work), although the characters are, at least, complex and somehow strangely plausible; Marianne Engel has a chilling dark side lurking beneath her too-good-to-be-true exterior, and the narrator himself even breaks out of his cynicism and negativity to mull over the works of Dante and give appropriately wry observations at times. No, these are certainly not one-dimensional characters, and any clunky writing can, with a little effort, be mainly overlooked.

Did these characters truly live together in different times? Are these personalities connected together for eternity, condemned to returning to each other over and over? These interesting questions are left mainly unanswered by Davidson, in a tactic which, even if deliberate, leaves the book feeling a little incomplete and unresolved.

It is hard to know how to rate The Gargoyle; it has all the imagination, inspiration and promise of an extraordinary novel, but ultimately lacks the high standard of writing needed to match, and so ultimately falls just a little short of the mark. Is the writing some of the best you will ever read? No; there are great characters and mesmerising period descriptions but these are interspersed with clumsy prose that can verge on being dull at times. But is The Gargoyle worth reading for its daring and captivating ideas, for its imagination? As a book containing concepts which, more than a year after reading it, I still find myself thinking of and wondering at, the answer has to be, undoubtedly, yes.


Friday, 14 January 2011

friday fives

5 photos:
  1. link
  2. link
  3. link
  4. link
  5. link
A new year, and a new little feature on the blog that I'm trying out - the friday fives.
So the principle is this: I post five things in five categories, on a weekly basis, as a little online and offline round up of my week.
Starting with my 5 favourite photos, above, here's the rest of my favourite fives this week:

5 shopping finds
  1. Dresses by - beautiful and simple.
  2. This gorgeous azure cameo from This Charming Girl's online store
  3. These vintage buttons from Buttoned Up Betsy
  4. A gorgeous, rose-adorned Lush bubble bar
  5. This mug from NikkiMade

5 blog posts
  1. Field of Dreams - an excellent new project from Bangs and a Bun and a must-read
  2. Gorgeous dresses and even more gorgeous dresses from Lobster and Swan
  3. My new vintage fashion blog find of the week, Strawberry Koi - do check out her blog if you haven't already
  4. 9626 Deventures - where two cousins, one living in Brisbane and one in Brooklyn, post a photo each day under the same theme, reflecting each others' lives
  5. Gorgeous wintry warmer photos from Fabric of My Life

5 links
  1. Arty, clever images from The Invisible Man
  2. 20 untranslatable words from around the world
  3. A gorgeous bedroom from Elle Decoration
  4. A man writes, wonderfully, to his future wife
  5. Gorgeous holiday getaway properties from The Landmark Trust

5 highlights of the week
  1. Booking tickets to see Carlos Acosta dance in Romeo and Juliet, in London in June this year
  2. The arrival of my boxset of Bruce Parry's Tribe
  3. Donating to a homeless charity, and having a feel-good smile on my face for having done so
  4. Seeing amazing film The King's Speech at the cinema
  5. Having a read of the amazing Philippa Gregory's latest book, The Red Queen.
Do feel free to tell me your top moments of the week - link, memory, photo, find, whatever they might be!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011


This dreamy shoot is from Mirage magazine - the model is Elyse Taylor and the excellent photographer is Antony Noblio (I thoroughly recommend you to check him out if you haven't already!)
I'm posting this shoot not because I like the clothes - although it is a fashion shoot, and I have to say I quite like the white lace leotard in the first, left-hand image. What I love about this shoot is the dreamy, light-filled photography, the model's expressions, the lake-side, countryside setting and the slightly-out-of-focus-on-purpose atmosphere that Noblio creates.
Would I, usually, want to wear a leotard, denim shorts and white cowboy boots? The answer, I can assure you, is no - I'm generally all about dresses, florals and flowing, feminine outfits. But, looking at this shoot, I actually start to want to dress like her; and that, I think, is the art of excellent fashion photography - when the setting, model and execution of the photographer can make fairly 'ordinary' and uninspiring items seem, all of a sudden, like must-haves.
What do you think of this shoot?

Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Sunday Read: Cold Earth by Sarah Moss

Every so often, you find yourself picking up a book and wanting to read it not because you've heard the title before, not because you're drawn to the setting or the location, the genre or the style of writing, but just because the concept is so intriguing that you feel you just have to know more.

Cold Earth is one such book; a book that promises to be an apocalyptic tale about a virus sweeping over the earth while a team of people in a remote location cope with isolation and survival in the face of it all. I couldn't wait to start it.
A group of six archaeologists all assemble in the West Coast of Greenland to research lost Viking settlements; their team is led by Yianni, a professional archaeologist, who receives a large amount of funding for a dig to find out how medieval settlers, once present on Greenland, may have disappeared. He brings with him four archaeologists - two men and two women - and a further woman, Nina, his unrequited love interest.

And it is Nina who begins the narrative. A petulant and immature character whose only interest is Victorian literature (and certainly not the dig), Nina epitomises high-maintanence, and her introspective self-absorbed whines really do get rather old rather quickly. Of course, it doesn't help that she is the sole character to narrate the story until about a third of the way into the book; and by this point, with little to no mention of the deadly virus which one is assured is the focus of this 'apocalyptic' book, it's easy to begin to wonder whether it's worth the read after all; whether there's somehow been some awful mix-up between the published blurb and the actual content.

But then at last, in a break from focussing on Nina's increasing insanity and hallucinations as she struggles to cope with Greenland, Ruth takes over, and things improve for the next third of the novel - well, at least somewhat. An upbeat American, Ruth is much more likeable as a character; but, unfortunately, her 100-page narrative is primarily used by Moss to describe Nina's hallucinations from the view of another character - hallucinations which are neither fully addressed nor explained in the remaining third of the book. Indeed, devoting more than half of the narrative to Nina's troubles just seems a little pointless; set the scene before introducing the idea of the virus and of isolation, yes, but is there really a need to spend two-thirds of the book scene-setting and dwelling on Nina's growing insanity, leaving just under 100 pages for the remaining four characters to rather suddenly describe the effects of the virus?

It has to be said, though, that when the virus storyline really kicks in, it's rather good; and, if you can resist the urge fifty pages before the end to skip to the last paragraph, you ought to be commended on your strength of character. Their internet connection breaks down, they hear of the virus, food runs low, and then the team are left, it seems, to die - and thus emerges an interesting few pages which say a lot about survival, about characters, and, if you're prepared to look deep enough, about something much deeper. It is, of course, spoiled slightly by the fact that Nina is back to narrate the final chapter, and I'm afraid that not even an intriguing twist could save me from the deep frustration that she should be left to finish the book, as she began it, when one of the other more interesting characters could, I'm sure, have offered more worthwhile insights.

I wanted to like this book. I really did, and perhaps if my only qualm had been the construction and preoccupation with Nina's character, I may have been able to conclude that the book was a very worthwhile read nonetheless. But Nina's character wasn't my only issue. The language was, perhaps purposely so, sparse, emotionless and hollow in places; some characters were overdeveloped while more interesting characters were hardly explored at all; the twist at the end really made little sense and was just a further source of frustration; and, for a novel which takes two-thirds of the narrative to set the scene, the location of Greenland and the details of the camp, surroundings and even the dig remained surprisingly unexplored.

It has to be said, Cold Earth was excellent in places - but I'm beginning to think my expectations were too high. It was billed as an apocalyptic, gripping novel which offers some real food for thought on issues of survival and the traces we leave behind, and I think I was hoping for a 28 Days Later-come-Lord of the Flies affair. Silly me, perhaps; it is most certainly not that. What it is, however, is an interesting piece of work which is perhaps purposely slow and frustrating up until the final fifty tense pages, which really do have something quite profound to say about themes of survival, love - and, in a deeper sense - society, and the nature of humanity beyond that.

And it is an incredibly short novel, Cold Earth - at a little under 300 pages, you can't help but think that if Moss had taken the time to extend the novel; to make the dull scene-setting with the rather dull case study of Nina's insanity a half or a third of the book rather than two-thirds, it may have made the novel into the gripping apocalyptic narrative it is billed to be.

A unique and interesting read, so much so that it's almost worth persevering through the first 200 pages for the intrigue of the final 100; almost, I'm afraid, but not quite.


Saturday, 8 January 2011

looking back and looking forward

So I know I've already posted a couple of things in 2011, but it occurred to me that I hadn't really 'rounded off' 2010 or 'started' 2011 properly, officially, on my blog. So...

What did 2010 hold for me?
- In January, we had a lot of snow and I found what I still consider to be the most beautiful house I've ever seen.
- In February, I did a little blog project called Love Week, which I was really pleased with - and I celebrated my boyfriend's 21st birthday on Valentine's Day by treating him to a chocolate-making workshop and tickets to see comedy show 39 Steps, making me girlfriend of the month ;) I went to the Bee Ball, organised by my university to help save the dwindling bumblebee population, where I blew bubbles, danced and won some champagne in a raffle. I also let my hair down with some friends at a Baz Luhrman-themed night, which was very extravagant and entertaining with fancy dress
, dancers, stunt artists and clips of his films playing (and I dressed up as Juliet). Oh, and I got some gorgeous roses for Valentine's Day.
- In the spring, the intense work needed for my third and final year of my degree really kicked off, and really didn't ease until the summer - and I am ashamed to say that blogging really took a back burner, as I hardly had time to talk to my friends or family, let alone spend time on the internet. Over the next few months, the few activities that I actually managed to have time for included going to see pianist Ludovico Einaudi perform in Brighton, hearing linguist David Crystal speak at my university (which is very exciting when you love langauge as much as I do), trying my hand at lomography for the first time, and sitting on the beach watching as the piers on Brighton beach disappeared in a volcanic ash cloud and then eerily re-emerged.
- In the early summer, I spoke in a Linguistics conference in Manchester, which
was one of the proudest moments of my life (geek), and I finished my dissertation and took my final exams, initially celebrating that my degree was over before experiencing the bittersweet reality that I would no longer be studying Linguistics, and that I'd have to leave Brighton and move home to London to find work.
- In June, I stayed in Brighton for one last month of lazy days of playing around at the beach, amazing meals at restaurants like Terre a Terre and parties with best friends, as well as going a girly holiday to the very hot and beautiful Greek island of Kos.
- In July, I celebrated my 21st birthday with a lovely meal with my best friends, got taken to see The Phantom of the Opera by my boyfriend, celebrated my auntie's 80th in a stately home in Surrey,
saw stand-up comedy by Russell Kane and Chris Ramsey and saw amazing dancer Carlos Acosta in his self-titled show in London. And, in one of the biggest moments of my life, graduated, and went to my graduation ball.
- In August, I moved home to South London and started an internship at Shiny Red, and entered the working world of digital PR and social media marketing. Suffering from Brighton withdrawal symptoms, I spent a lot of my weekends back there, sitting on the beach. I also saw Inception at the iMax, which bl
ew my mind.
- In September, I had a proud girlfriend moment at a pretty big gig one of my boyfriend's bands were playing in, and I got back into blogging - finally!
- In October, I celebrated me and my boyfriend's 3 year anniversary, and we had a long, lazy weekend in the New Forest. I also gave my thoughts on the Chilean Miners' rescue and what it meant for all of us'.
- In November, my internship turned into a permanent job, and I went to visit my friend Lauren in France, absorbing French culture and a complete village-in-the-middle-of-the-Alps kind of isolation.
- And in December, I struggled with a lot of snow causing chaos to the country, went to an amazing Chocolate Festival, and celebrated Christmas, getting some lovely presents.

So, all in all, a busy year!
And what does 2011 hold for me? Well, it's the first year where I've started the year in a full-time job; I'm taking a holiday to Rome in February; I'm going to turn 22, and, apart from that, the rest is somewhat of a mystery at the moment!
To guide me through the year, here are my top five New Year's Resolutions, as were posted over at Novelista Barista, in my guest post last week:
  1. Write a complete first draft of my novel
  2. Make a mega bucket list and start to work my way through it
  3. Continue to have a great and very strong relationship with my boyfriend
  4. Make more time for the following hobbies: photography, languages, ballet, travel
  5. Blogging: blog regularly here, and build a really good writing blog
What do you think of my resolutions?

What were the highlights of your 2010, and what are you looking forward to in 2011?

Thursday, 6 January 2011

como agua para chocolate

The last weekend before Christmas, I caught wind of the fact that there was a chocolate festival in London. Yes, that's right. A chocolate festival. A celebration of all things chocolatey. Rows and rows of stalls of the stuff being sold - complete with free samples and tasters galore. And, being a girl who fits the term "chocoholic" in every single way, it was really no surprise that I soon found myself down at Southbank, wandering around in awe.

As amazing as the Chocolate Festival was (and it was amazing, as I hope you can tell by the sheer amount of yummy photos I took), we were a little dismayed at how expensive everything was - after all, we're only just out of the student lifestyle and mentality, and are used to thinking of Lindt chocolate as "splashing out a bit" in terms of price (oh dear).

Imagine my face when, after I had a free sample of what I can only describe as heaven - luxury lemon curd dark chocolate - I went to buy some, o
nly to find out that a small box would set me back nearing £20. Ouch.
Our cunning plan was then to taste as much as we could, and treat ourselves to one expensive bar of chocolate; because it all tasted so delicious, it would be worth the price. And so, a few hours, a hot chocolate, a box of churros con chocolate and a whole load of free samples later, we came away from the festival with two bars of the best chocolate I have ever tasted in my life - from pioneering organic chocolate company Original Beans.

I really urge you to check them out, if you're a chocolate lover - or, to be honest, even if you're not, because this stuff will convert you. Not only is the chocolate actually the most delicious I have ever tasted (and I've tasted a lot), it's completely organic, and each bar has a fantastic system whereby for each bar that is sold, the company will plant a tree. Simply enter a code on the back of your bar into a form on their website and you can see where your bar's tree has been planted - love it! So: great chocolate, great for the environment, and great for the local people in the countries that produce chocolate too - have a look at this article for more information.

What's the best chocolate you've ever tasted?

Monday, 3 January 2011

hello 2011

Happy New Year, lovely blog readers!

Have you made any New Years resolutions this year?
I've made a few - one of which is to keep up with this blog! I'm very excited to say that, despite being a bit absent from this blog, I've guest posted over at The Novelista Barista - one of my favourite blogs and one that I would definitely recommend you to check out if you haven't already! I've written a list of my new years' resolutions over there, which Jen has kindly posted on her blog for me. What do you think of my resolutions?
Check out my guest post at The Novelista Barista here.

And how were your Christmases and New Years? I've actually had a really great festive season this year - with quite a lot of travelling around the country! I spent Christmas with my family and my maternal grandparents, and then ventured over to Buckinghamshire - a lovely, picturesque county to the north-west of London - to spend a few days with my paternal grandparents, over Boxing Day and 27th December. It was filled with cups of tea, dog walks, snow, cosying up by the fire and jigsaw puzzles, and was perfectly relaxing.
Next up was Brighton for a few days. Any semi-regular reader of this blog will know that Brighton, a town on the South Coast of England, is not only my university town and where I used to live but the town that really holds my heart, and so it was great to go back down there for a couple of days. I visited my friends Alex and Lauren - Alex has a flat down there, and Lauren is living in France but was staying over with Alex for a few days. It was wonderful to be with the girls again, and a lot of catching up, shopping, Desperate Housewives and chocolate and wine consumption ensued!
And I then ventured up to Oxford on 30th December, to see my boyfriend Richard who lives up there. We spent New Year together at one of his friends' parties, and enjoyed being with each other until today - even squeezing in another day trip down to Brighton and a visit to a comedy show down there. Lovely!

Caught up in festivities and days off, I've been away from the blog for a few too many days, but I am back, and in full swing with this blog for 2011, so I hope you'll keep up with my blog this year!

And because I haven't yet shared what I got for Christmas, here's what I got - what do you think? I think I got a great haul this year!

A gorgeous calendar, filled with florals and teacups

A cupcake notecard set

A Cath Kidston sewing set

...and two Cath Kidston mugs
(I am now well on the way to owning the entire contents of the shop)

Some really great books

Gorgeous floral coathangers

And a beautiful leather diary
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