Book Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Title: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Author: Stephen Chobosky

Publication Date: 1999

Why did I choose to read this book?

This has been on my to-be-read pile for ages. I can’t even remember when I bought it.

After reading Hangover Square and having started to re-read A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin, I was looking for something a bit less demanding. The Perks of Being a Wallflower seemed to fit the bill.

Summary

From the blurb of the Pocket Books paperback:

Charlie is a freshman. And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years, yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it. Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But Charlie can’t stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what life looks like from the dance floor.

Review

I enjoyed The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Although I’m nearly old enough to be his father, I really identified with Charlie and his struggles to understand the world around him. His relationship with his best friends, Sam and Patrick, a really important element of the storyline, was dealt with very well by Stephen Chbosky -it was both touching and believable.

I’ve read quite a few coming of age novels. Whilst reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower I was reminded of Naive.Super by Erland Loe, Train Man by Hitori Nakano, and, of course, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. The Perks of Being a Wallflower wasn’t as good as these other titles, but it held up surprisingly well.

One of the things that I liked most about The Perks of Being a Wallflower was that it referenced other books. Throughout the story, Charlie’s English teacher, Bill, gives him books to read, such as: To Kill a Mockingbird, On The Road and Naked Lunch. Twelve classic books are mentioned in total, and these become Charlie’s favourite books. At some point I’d love to read all of these books. Most would be re-reads for me, but some of the titles (Walden, for instance), I’ve never read before. Perhaps I’ll run it as a reading challenge on The Book Base.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is being made into a film (due to be released in 2012). Emma Watson, Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies, will play the part of Sam, and Charlie is to be played by Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson). Luckily, the film is being directed by the book’s author, Stephen Chbosky, so the source material shouldn’t be tampered with too much. However, as is the case with most book to screen adaptations, it’s probably a good idea to read the book first.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is not the best coming of age story I’ve ever read, but it is both poignant and well-written. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I regret leaving it on my to-be-read pile for so long.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Book Review: Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton

Title: Hangover Square

Author: Patrick Hamilton

Publication Date: 1941

Why did I choose to read this book?

I received this book as a Christmas present from my Mum. She’d read an interview with Charlie Brooker in which he’d recommended Hangover Square, and she thought I might like it. The book has been sitting on my to-be-read pile for the last five months.

Summary

Hangover Square is set Earl’s Court, London and the story takes place in 1939. George Harvey Bone is overweight, down on his luck and hopelessly in love with Netta, a beautiful, yet cruel woman who doesn’t reciprocate George’s feelings. George also suffers from ‘dead moods’, in which he undergoes a personality shift and sees the world through different eyes. The novel charts George’s attempts to deal with his feelings for Netta and negotiate his ‘dead moods’ by drowning his sorrows in the Earl’s Court pubs and bars.

Review

Hangover Square is really dark. If you’re searching for an uplifting read, look somewhere else, because this is book of grimy Earl’s Court pubs, unrequited love, unfulfilled potential and madness.

George Harvey Bone is not an easy character to like. He’s maudlin, anxious and his love for Netta has completely taken over his life. It says a lot about Patrick Hamilton’s skill as a writer that such a downtrodden character managed to sustain my attention for the entire novel. At times I felt sorry for George, at times I was angry with him, and at times I was frustrated by him, but at no point in the novel did I stop caring about what was happening to him.

The way in which Hamilton describes Earl’s Court just before the start of World War Two is one of the main strengths of the book. The gloomy London pubs, clubs and hotels contribute to the bleak tone of the story, yet they also provide a welcome dose of nostalgia.

Reading the book felt like going out for the third night in a row when you’re older than thirty! I got through it, and really liked parts of it, but was left feeling tired, drained and hungover. I won’t be rushing out to find another book by Patrick Hamilton, but I may well read more of his work in the future – once the hangover’s worn off!

Rating: 7 out of 10

Book Review: The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Title: The Prince of Mist

Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Publication Date: 2010 (English translation), 1993 (in Spanish)

The first of Carlos Ruis Zafon’s books to be translated into English was The Shadow of the Wind, but The Prince of Mist was his first published novel and it came out in Spain (as a young adult book) in 1993 as El príncipe de la niebla.

 

 

Summary

From Amazon UK:

1943. As war sweeps across Europe, Max Carver’s father moves his family away from the city, to an old wooden house on the coast. But as soon as they arrive, strange things begin to happen: Max discovers a garden filled with eerie statues; his sisters are plagued by unsettling dreams and voices; a box of old films opens a window to the past. Most unsettling of all are rumours about the previous owners and the mysterious disappearance of their son. As Max delves into the past, he encounters the terrifying story of the Prince of Mist, a sinister shadow who emerges from the night to settle old scores, then disappears with the first mists of dawn . . .

Review

I have read and enjoyed both The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game so I was really looking forward to reading The Prince of Mist. Unfortunately, I was a little bit disappointed by the book. The Prince of Mist is spot on in terms of atmosphere and tone, but I was never completely convinced by the plot. As I was reading the book I kept getting the feeling that Zafon was writing himself into a corner and didn’t really have a clear idea of how all the strands and threads of the storyline were to be tied up. The conclusion felt rushed and I was left feeling somewhat unfulfilled. I think the book would have benefitted from being about fifty pages longer.

It’s really obvious that The Prince of Mist was originally published before The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game. There are a lot of story elements in The Prince of Mist which reappear, in a more sophisticated and satisfying way, in his later novels. It’s almost as if Carlos Ruis Zafon’s used The Prince of Mist as a testing ground for his ideas.

The Prince of Mist is not a bad book by any means. Like all of Carlos Ruis Zafon’s books, it is very readable and atmospheric, and I thought the characters, particularly Max, were believable and well-written.  However, although I’m glad I read it, for the reasons discussed above, I did not enjoy it as much as his other books.

Rating: 6 out of 10