The North Water by Ian McGuire

This book is violent. You have been warned.

Henry Drax is either dead or he’s in Canada, which if you ask me is near enough the same thing.” p. 199 (Just one of the many fantastic lines in the book)

4/5 stars.
ebook, 222 pages.
Read from December 20, 2016 to December 26, 2016.

This book was another one that got my attention off Goodreads. I patiently tried to wait for my library to get a copy but it didn’t happen so I caved and bought an ebook copy; it ended up being a very worthwhile purchase. This historical-fiction not only has a riveting and gruesome plot, it also spares no details in how the men on whaling were really like. Some of the characters are likeable, commendable even, while others are down right disgusting.

It is the 19th century and people still rely on whale blubber for many of their everyday resources. The whaling ship, the Volunteer, is about to head out towards the Arctic on an expedition that will end up becoming its last. To say these expeditions were brutal is an understatement. However, life aboard with the nasty Henry Drax makes a brutal expedition go foul. Drax is a thief, a cheat, a rapist and a murder and will do whatever he needs to get ahead. Also aboard is an ex-army surgeon named Patrick Sumner, who has shady past that he will not discuss. As it is his first time aboard a whaling ship, the crew wonder why someone of his standing would want to work such a crude job. Having discovered a horrible crime that Drax has committed, Sumner does what he can to make sure that he sees justice. Drax however has his own devious plan in mind. When the whole crew gets stranded it becomes apparent that not everyone will live to see the winter.

This book is as close as you are going to get to the savage and filthy environment of a whaling ship. Disease, dirty, horrible smells and a lot of grueling hard work. However, if you do not like violence, especially against women or children, or anything to do with rape then I would not read this book. This is probably the most violent book I have ever read. Having said that, the author is talented enough to keep it subtle and let your imagination do the rest, which is exactly the kind of adventure story I love. If Moby Dick had been more like this I can assure you every high school/university student would have loved it; more gore and less whale anatomy.

He is not ashamed of what he has been or done: a man makes his mistakes, he tells them, a man suffers as he must suffer, but the readiness is all.”

As much as I despised Henry Drax, he sure made the book interesting.  The writing style suited the characters and the plot was brilliantly delivered. In all honesty, this is one of the best adventure novels I have read in years and if you have the stomach for it, I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys history and adventure.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger

While this book came with mixed reviews from the millions of people who have read it, I personally enjoyed this timeless novel.

“I am always saying “Glad to’ve met you” to somebody I’m not at all glad I met. If you want to stay alive, you have to say that stuff, though.”

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 230 pages.
Read from December 13, 2016 to December 21, 2016.

If you know anything about my reading habits, it is that I like to read classics. I often feel like a neglectful reader and English major if there is a classic novel that I have not yet read so I try to work my way through as many as I can. While this book came with mixed reviews from the millions of people who have read it, I personally enjoyed this timeless novel.

Holden Caulfield is a teen on the brink of adulthood during 1949 in New York. Holden’s family is upper-middle class and as the eldest there is as a lot expected of him. Yet he fails to stay in the prestigious schools his parents keep enrolling him in. While Holden does well when he puts in the effort at school, he cannot seem to fake the persona needed to socialize and be successful in school. He is tired of the ‘phony’ people and these perceived necessary social constructs that he can neither understand and barely tolerate. His younger sister is the only person he feels he can be honest with as she is young enough to not be hindered by social constructs.  After getting kicked out of yet another school, Holden decides to put off tell his folks for a while and shacks up in a cheap hotel for a few days. Excessive drinking, wandering, flirting and sex ensue as Holden waivers between childhood and adulthood over the phony aspects of people and society.

I believe a lot of people don’t understand how this book can be timeless, or perhaps don’t understand the big deal that this book became, and that is because in this day in age we all pretty much do what we want. In the 1950s, children were raised to do what they were told and to do what was expected of them. They were literally expected to be seen and not heard and were restricted in expressing their individuality. This struggle that Holden goes through spoke to a whole generation of frustrated people. Salinger’s work was the first to be this honest and the types of feelings he depicted lead to the revolutions that you see in the 1960s and 70s where free spirit and individuality started to take presence.

I  believe this book is still timeless. Though we have that freedom of expression, Holden’s feelings of misplacement and being unsure with what to do in the next part of his life is practically universal for every youth.  Even the constant questioning of the world around him is consistent with youth all over. While Holden’s story reflects a different era, his feelings cross generations.

I would recommend this novel for any classic novel who has not yet read it and for those looking for a pragmatic read.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

World War II not only changed the scenery of the country but its people and atmosphere as well. Some clung to the only things that they knew while others tried to embrace or make change, our protagonist was the former.

I can’t even say I made my own mistakes. Really – one has to ask oneself – what dignity is there in that?”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 352 pages.
Read from December 6, 2016 to December 9, 2016.

Following some disappointment after reading Never Let Me Go, I was assured that this book was the better read by a few other readers. Well, they happened to be very right on this one.

Kazuo Ishiguo was born in Japan in 1954 but moved to England when he was only five years old. This book is set during and after World War II and while I was not alive during this era, Kuzuo seems to have captured this setting very well. World War II not only changed the scenery of the country but its people and atmosphere as well. Some clung to the only things that they knew while others tried to embrace or make change, our protagonist was the former.

Stevens is the butler of Darlington Hall, just like his father before him. All he has ever known is the hall in which he serves and what it means to be a good butler. However, times have changed and the hall is not as gallant and exceptional as it once was. Great halls and families are changing and becoming less and less prominent in post-war England. Stevens is formal, loyal and dedicated but to a fault. After receiving a letter from an old co-worker and friend he is encouraged by his employer to take some time off, something that Stevens has never done before. After much consideration, Stevens prepares his staff and takes a journey through the English countryside to meet his old friend. Through this journey Stevens offers insights to his past and what it means to him to be an exceptional butler while also revealing his true feelings and discomfort without shattering the image, dignity and appearance of a proper butler. As his story unfolds, you come to see what sort of sacrifice his duties required of him in his pursuit and dedication of his profession.

When I first started reading this novel I feared the worst. I mean I didn’t really care about the butler profession and feared that a good portion of the book would be dedicated to Stevens’ triads about it. However I quickly realized that Ishiguro did not waste a single word in this novel. Every bit of banter that Stevens utters is in relation to how he became unable to express his feelings or make a decision honestly without considering the dignity of his profession or employer. This book is a tragedy. Stevens is unable to express emotions and has missed out in opportune moments in his life, such as losing the opportunity for love and to grieve for his father. The journey that he takes is a slow realization of this loss but also a recognition that he is unlikely to change and perhaps would not have done things differently in the end.

At the end of the novel, I dropped the book in my lap and stared at the wall for a bit taking in the loss true-self that Stevens missed in dedication to his profession. I was also in awe at how the author wrote such a concise and pristine story. Ishiguro was true to the narrative and managed to show such remarkable depth about a person by not actually saying what they really felt, as Stevens lies to himself in his own inner dialogue. It isn’t until the end of the novel that the full potency of the story really hits you.

Anyone that appreciates literature, psychology, and the pains of appearance and dedication would appreciate this phenomenal story.

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