A Summary of Recent Books – Keyes, Harris, Plath, Mantel & Mièville

Things this side of the screen have been a little hectic of late. Many things have been occurring including family birthdays and holidays. This has led to me being a rather absent and awful book blogger as the blog sits empty but my read pile increases. The monthly summary for last month was forgotten and I’ve read a good eight books without even mentioning them here. A few of them will be reviewed very soon, but I thought it might be an idea to recap what I’ve read in mini reviews and then start a fresh later this week.

All of these books are well known and well reviewed already, so it seems pointless for me to waffle on about them. Some brief thoughts should suffice. (For some reason the formatting of this piece is messing up my star pictures for rating the books. Apologies for the simple scoring).

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

I’d always wanted to read Algernon and never quite got around to it. I’m so glad I finally did. The story follows Charlie Gordon as he undergoes surgery to raise his IQ. He is the first human subject to receive the procedure after its successful testing in mice – particularly Algernon a small white lab mouse. The book is told in journal style and has perhaps the best use of narrative that I’ve seen in quite some time.

Keyes writes Charlie as a simple soul, he is looked down on by society and labelled as a retard. The first journal entry is misspelt, features terrible grammar and Charlie tells of his workmates with whom he has fun. As Charlie becomes smarter he sees the truth in his world and becomes more confident as his writing becomes more eloquent.

The novel is utterly powerful and explores many aspects of the human condition while holding onto plenty of morals. Charlie is one of the most endearing characters I’ve spent time with and his journey is filled with both hope and pain. The ending is heartbreaking and intelligent and Keyes writes with so much soul that you can’t help but be moved by the story. This is truly the wonderful work I thought and hoped it would be. 5 Stars.


Fatherland by Robert Harris

I read this book as a result of a poll on Twitter. Fatherland won by a landslide and I dived right in. It had been a while since I read such a fast paced thriller and Harris doesn’t let up once you’re in his grip. The book explores life in Germany had Hitler won the Second World War and we join Xavier March as he tries to solve a murder case.

The wonderful thing about Harris’ novel is how he plays with the history that we know so well. The ‘What if’ idea works so well but it’s the story that Harris tells within that world that goes the extra mile. March has many suspenseful scenes as the plot twists and turns through events that transpired in our world but have been covered up to the sprawling German empire.

Fatherland does exactly what you want a thriller to do; it pulls you in with a simple premise and takes you through many brilliantly convoluted moments that will keep you guessing and turning the pages. It’s worth reading if you have any interest in WW2 and Hitler. I’m eager to read more of Harris and received The Fear Index for Christmas last year, so may get onto that soon. 4 Stars.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I’d love to write for pages about the sheer beauty and brilliance of The Bell Jar, but I shan’t. This is mainly because I have a plan to tackle the subject of depression in a later post and incorporate this novel in those thoughts. What I will say is that as someone who was diagnosed with acute depression and anxiety six years ago I could relate to each and every page of this book. Plath writes the illness with such precision that whether you suffer or not you can step into the mind of such a person and feel how they would.

Of course it’s partly auto-biographical as Plath committed suicide (she suffered greatly from depression) after writing The Bell Jar, so we what see within the central character of Esther Greenwood is rather harrowing and ultimately upsetting. I don’t want to dive into the plot, all I want to say is that this book is so worth reading that I’m not sure how I can put into words how much I want people to grab a copy. 

It’s a short read, but it packs such a vast emotional punch that it will leave you thinking for days after. 5 Stars.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

What can I say about the Booker winning novel that depicts Tudor life? Well, in terms of story Mantel has taken some of the more important parts of our history and penned it in such a way as to not just bring it to life but to make it captivate the audience. Sure, some of it is a little dry in places and you would need at least a passing interest in Cromwell, Henry and his wives but what comes through is a passion for the past.

Wolf Hall follows the rise of Thomas Cromwell as he becomes one of Henry VIII’s most trusted courtiers. I love historical novels (not sure why it took so long for me to read this) and Mantel has worked a charm on the cast to make them both larger than life and also reveal unexpected traits that are often overlooked.

I’ll be honest and say that Mantel’s writing style didn’t really impress me until halfway through. Her structure leaves a lot to be desired and her dialogue can often be confusing with how she puts Cromwell as the main focus. Thankfully in Bring Up The Bodies (which I’m now reading) she has made it easier to read without removing the beautiful prose and character that litters Wolf hall. 4 Stars.

Perdido Street Station

I didn’t “read” this; I listened to it (that counts though, so there!). Mièville is a bloody genius and I hate him. Well, I don’t hate him; I think he’s probably one of the best writers in the UK and his awards and honours are totally deserved. The novel clocks in at 880 pages or 31 hours and 5 minutes to me, so I’m not going to explore the plot here.

What I want to talk about is the power that Mièville wields in his words. The man’s mind is brilliant. It’s the way in which he uses the mundane and makes it into something magnificent. He captures the imagination with simple premises that reveal complex and sprawling nuances. His characters leap from the words and become fully fleshed. Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin is a wonderful central character and the cast around him is equally astounding from his girlfriend Lin who has a human body but a scarab for a head to Yagharek who is a dominating creature that I pictured as a walking Eagle.

There’s so much contained within those 880 pages that it feels larger. It’s vast and epic and every word holds mystery and intrigue that pushes the reader on. This is a book I could recommened to everyone and talk about for days. I haven’t even mentioned the Moths, the city of New Crobuzon, the species that frequent the paragraphs, the lore that Mièville creates nor the scientific ideas that he proposes.

I almost hate to say it, but this book is a masterpiece and even as I wrote this small piece about it I was grinning at remembered moments and excited by the fact that such a great book exists. But that’s enough lunatic fanboy raving from me. Read it… or listen to it. 5 Stars.

(Also, I want to applaud Jonathan Oliver for amazing narration throughout. The guy deserves a medal as he voiced each character with differing accents and dialects. He also manages to carry a lot of drama and emotion in his tones. Superb!)

4 thoughts on “A Summary of Recent Books – Keyes, Harris, Plath, Mantel & Mièville

  1. Heather

    I loved The Bell Jar; I couldn’t get past the first hundred pages of Wolf Hall (one of only two books I’ve ever put down without finishing); and I recently read The Minds of Billy Milligan by Daniel Keyes, which was pretty good. Daniel Keyes is actually a friend of my inlaws–he and my father-in-law worked together at Ohio University.

    1. Dog Ear Post author

      That’s a shame about Wolf Hall, though I can understand why you put it down. I’ve heard many others say the same thing.

      I must read more of Keyes’ work. That’s a very nice claim to fame you have there 🙂

  2. Debbie Rodgers @Exurbanis

    I agree that the Bell Jar is a brilliant book – an terrifyingly accurate description of descending into madness. I read it many years ago when I was in the midst of a clinical depression as well.

    Flowers for Algernon was one of my favorite stories in high school. I remember seeing the movie adaption CHARLY with Cliff Robertson & Clare Bloom in 1968 and crying buckets. I watched it recently and thought it did a less than stellar job of capturing the book.


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