My top 10

So here is the current version of my ever changing top ten favourite books. Number one has been pretty consistent for the past few years but the others are ever changing and in no particular order (click on the links to buy them on amazon)

1. Use of Weapons – Iain M. Banks

– his best Culture novel I think, very original, plenty of twists and the aesthetics had me hooked from the first page. The conclusion left me reeling and I could read it again and again ad nauseum

2. The God of Small things – Arundhati Roy

– brilliant, challenging a lot of things about identity and sexuality, very well told and since I’ve read it I’ve tried some other Indian literature such as Salman Rushdie, beacause I know almost nothing about India it’s almost like reading fantasy again  – set in another land but in a curiously relevant way

3. Let the right one in – John Ajvide Lindqvist

– The scarriest horror book I’ve read in a long time – though he gets pretty graphic and disturbing the scarriest bits are his characterisation. He’s so astute it makes the whole thing much more real (as well as the main character’s morbid fascination with murders even though he’s only twleve years old…)

4. Life of Pi – Yann Martel

– amazing. The narrator claimed it was a story to make you believe in God. It didn’t quite do that but it certainly challenged my devout atheism (which was in fashion seen as I was attending a convent school at the time). It doesn’t try to convert you, the main character is just particularly religious. It’s just a great yarn which the blurb explains better than I can

5. Good Omens – Terry Pratchett

– A brilliant reimagining of the apocolypse/book of revelations. Hillarious, witty and a very unique take on the character of Damien

6. The Wasteland – T.S. Eliot

– the poem is amazing. If you don’t understand it don’t worry, apparently that’s part of the point. Sparknotes have great explanations on it and there’s some amazing lines that will haunt you (“I will show you fear in a handful of dust“…)

7. Maus – Art Spiegelman

– Brilliant graphic novel, part of a reimagining of how to tell stories on the holocaust (see my previous post)

8. Paradise Lost – John Milton

– I know i sound a bit up myself/highbrow putting this on, and I swear I’m not showing off, it is and amazing book and to be honest part of the reason I loved it so much was Dr. Conrad Brunstrom’s lectures on it. Very insightful and entertaining, the book is an epic in the true sense of the word

9. On Writing – Stephen King

– I read a lot of books on how to write, how to improve your writing, how not to do it and even how to develope your creativity – basically lots of rubbish like that. This is the only one that I can still remember any advice from that I actually found useful, it was fun to read the biographical section in it but it’s filled with lots of practical advice on writing too

10. Wolf of the Plains – Conn Igulden

– I moved from fantasy to historical fiction after reading about seven consecutive books that were basically Lord of the Rings again. This is much better than his series on Caesar as it’s much more historically accurate and Genghis Khan (whom this series is about) is my favourite historical figure so it’s a win-win situation

Bonus no. 11. Anything by Douglas Adams – especially Last Chance to See

– Every word from that man’s MAC was pure gold but this one I think stands above the rest.

This was harder than I thought, there’s probably plenty I left out and more that will replace these by next week but for now that’s how it stands

Undergraduate Research Conference

I’m giving a brief talk/presentation at the first (soon to be annual) Dublin Undergraduate Research Conference next week. It’s organised by the DRHEA. Details of the talks and presentations on the day are available here, technically it’s too late to register but as they’re trying to promote it I reckon people can still come, application details available at the previous link.

My talk is called ‘Does the truth set you free? Imagination as an enabling and a disabling force in Neil Jordans The Butcher Boy and Jim Sheridans In America’

I’ll be speaking in DCU in the Helix at 10:00am Next Wednesday the 13th, It’s a twenty minute talk with time for questions at the end (and that’s the bit I’m worried about – the questions). I’ll be talking to strangers of all discipline (should be interesting trying to justify this to science students) and I’ve never given a talk like this before so hopefully it goes well. I’ll post details of the content of the talk and how it went etc. on Wednesday evening.

In the meantime, Wish me luck!

My nerves need it…

1st Person Vs. 3rd Person

So the battle of perspectives has begun.

I spent most of the summer obsessing over my Work-in-Progress (a novel): What will my main character be like, What order will things happen in, researching life in Ireland in th 1850’s, deciding that was too boring, changing it to Ireland in the 1950s…

Stuff like that plus staring blankly at the wall in front of my desk. There was a lot of that. So the most recent brick wall I ran into was that of Perspective. Should I tell it in the first or third person perspective.

1st person pros:

I want the book to be character driven. I want to leave a certain ambiguity around a large portion of the events (i.e. did they really happen or was it all in her head?). and this will be easier to achieve through 1st person. I’ve read a few books from a child’s perspective such as Room which gave a really unique slant on events. I’m already 8,000 words into a draft written in the 1st perspective.

3rd person pros:

I can tell other characters stories in much more detail than if i used 1st person. The main character won’t have to be there for all major events. I write better in 3rd person, I’m more comfortable with it. I’m only 8,000 words in so if I want to change perspective the time is now instead of re-writing 40,000 words later down the line. I don’t know if I can write this particular story (convey my themes etc.) using the linguistic register of a child (Just to clarify, I’m aiming the book at adults).

So how did i figure it out?

By doing nothing.

I left the book alone for three weeks, not wanting to go much further in case I’d be forced to change it all later on. I wrote a few notes and things. Went back to college, caught up with friends, joined more societies than what’s strictly healthy and read a lot.

1st Person Vs. 3rd Person

This book solved everything for me. Recommended to me by a friend it told a brilliant story, from the point of view of a child, in the third person! It helped me decide early on in the in a scene where the protagonist is walking through the woods, intercut with the antagonists point of view (don’t want to ruin it but if you’ve read it you which bit I’m talking about), the scene is very complex and handled very skilfully. He handles dark complex things in an adult register while still showing a certain degree of childhood innocence which is exactly what I want to capture (though I don’t want to go quite as disturbing and unsettling as he goes at some points). I finished the book and learned a lot from it.

So off I go to start again back at page 1 but with a much clearer idea of how to go about it. Doing nothing finally paid off.

Holocaust Narratives

"Beatrice and Virgil" Book Cover So without consciously intending to, I’ve read  several books about the holocaust recently. I read Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel, The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak and MAUS by Art Spiegelmann. All turned out to be great books and all turned out to be about the holocaust but they told their stories in very different ways.

Beatrice and Virgil is a new departure from Martels previous, bestselling work Life of Pi. I read Life of Pi years ago and loved it so I was looking forward to more of the same, a fantastical story with well developed characters involving animals. Instead Martel bludgens us over the head from the get go with his overrriding message that traditional narratives are unable to capture an experience as horrific as this with any degree of accuracy. Which is fair enough in itself and despite a few episodes apparently added to pad out the book (like the essay on taxidermy) I really enjoyed it. He found thoroughly original ways of describing horror and I enjoyed his theories about how writing needed to change to reflect this (I will not go into his methods here to avoid spoilers but they were truly original). However, I still have a few issues with the book:

1. the extremely abrupt ending, it did not seem to fit in with the rest of the book and for days I was unsure if i liked it or not, if I could make it fit with the rest of the characters or not.

2. there were a few episodes in the book that seemed to add nothing to either the plot, the characterisation or his overrriding message. (such as the essay on taxidermy, the scene near the end with his cat and dog or the protracted description of flip books at the start)

The thing is I’m not sure if these issues are even issues. He could easily have added them on purpose to show how perplexing these events are, how random some events can seem, how monotony can reign at the heart of violence or any number of things like that.

Though the book did have issues I ultimately liked it because it made me uncertain.


Holocaust NarrativesThen I read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I think it’s a young adult book but it again deals with some dark and complex things. I like that it doesn’t talk down to it’s demographic like so many others I read recently. It’s about a girl living in Germany during world war two and it’s narrated by Death.

The authors’ concept of death is strikingly original, even moving at points. the story is full of intergections from him that add variety to the self-conscious narrative. Though the book was never going to end happily Zusak fills it with all degrees of emotion, giving yet another unique perspective on one of the most devastating events of recent history.

Next I read MAUS. And again I found a startlingly original way of telling the same story. The Nazis are depicted as cats, the Jews as mice and panel after panel, picture after picture, Art Interviews his Father on his life in GErmany during the Holocaust and we get a deeply moveing multilayered story not only of the Holocaust itself but of survivors guilt and how people like Art and indeed myself, who never went through anything like this, had extremely easy lives in the aftermath of such trauma, try to understand it.

I feel I’ve gone on too long, but this is a topic I will return to again, narratives of trauma and how art constantly finds new ways to tell the same story. How, fifty years later, this story is still relevant and still evolving with each telling.

Survival without internet

So I’ve moved back to college and due to an ongoing battle with a certain internet provider, who shall remain nameless for the sake of my sanity, I have not had internet access in weeks. So apologies for not putting up any posts (not that anyone reads this but it’s nice to be nice), and luckily the ideas have been building up so i should have a few up in quick succession