Flash Reviews (7th November 2013)

A Country Doctor’s Notebook by Mikhail Bulgakov ***
I absolutely adore The Master and Margarita, so when I spotted A Country Doctor’s Notebook on a book shopping trip, I could not resist picking it up.  I was expecting great things from this short story collection, but I must admit that I was a touch disappointed.  Most of the tales here are based upon experiences which Bulgakov had during the eighteen month period which he spent in a doctor’s practice in rural Russia.  The stories here, therefore, are partly fictional constructs and partly biographical.  The characters who feature in each are often highly dramatic, and provide an almost farcical addition to the whole, which I think was my least favourite aspect of the book.  The stories themselves were very well written and just the right length.  Whilst I enjoyed some of the scenes which Bulgakov created, others were a little too gruesome for my liking.

Paradise by Toni Morrison **
Paradise takes part in an all-black town named Ruby, in Oklahoma.  The building of the town is described in the first twenty or so pages, and whilst Morrison does set the scene well, it feels a little dry.  The novel is told by way of an omniscient narrator setting out the stories of eight different women – Mavis, Grace, Seneca, Divine, Patricia, Consolata, Lone and Save-Marie.  These women do not all live within the town limits of Ruby, but for all it is either a starting point or a destination for their stories.  The novel is therefore essentially made up of short stories which are geographically connected.  This technique works well, but it does add repetition into the whole, which is a shame.

Mavis’ story, the first in the collection, begins after her baby twins have been suffocated inside her car whilst she went inside the supermarket to buy her husband’s supper, and forgot to leave any windows open.  This was my favourite of all the tales, despite its melancholy.  Throughout, I did not always love Morrison’s writing, and the flow was not as good as it was in Sula.  The entirety of the book felt rather unsettling, and a little dark.  I did not love all of the stories – I did not even like some of them, if I’m honest – and I am glad that this isn’t the first of Morrison’s novels which I’ve read, for I would not have been overly enthused to pick up any of her other work on the strength of Paradise alone.  The construction of the novel was interesting, but it did not quite work for me overall.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams ***
I was a little unsure as to whether The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would appeal to me or not, but my boyfriend loves it, and so I thought I would give it a go.  I do not like science fiction as a rule, so I was rather surprised that I enjoyed the book.  I wasn’t expecting it to be such a light read when I began.  Overall, I felt that the novel was a very clever one.  I liked the parallels drawn between things on Earth and those in the wider galaxy – for example, the demolition of a house to create a new bypass, and the destruction of Earth to do the same thing on a larger scale.  If Roald Dahl had turned his hand to sci-fi, I imagine his creation would have been something akin to this.  Whilst I liked the novel, I am not interested enough in it to read the entire series.  I am, however, going to be watching the film adaptation (admittedly, mainly because darling Stephen Fry is in it).

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