My Read of the Year

I’ve read a lot of great books this year, some admittedly better than others. This year has been the first for many where I read for pleasure. For many years my uni books took up all my reading time then I was playing catch up and trying to cram in reading all the books I wanted to. This year I’ve managed to read some current books rather than reading the best sellers from yesteryear.

The book which has stayed with me throughout the year was a novel I read waaay back in February. Americanah by Chimamanda Nqozi Adichie was not only an enjoyable read but it had depth and made a huge impact on the world of literature when it was released in 2014.

Here’s what I thought about Americanah. Oh and a Happy New Year to all!

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Ironically I always have my guard up when it comes to books which have rave reviews or those that have been nominated for various awards. I tend to find they can often be very indulgent and pompous but I wanted to give Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie a chance. And boy am I glad I did. This is up there with one of the best novels I have ever read.

Americanah follows the lives of two Nigerian lovers as they seek to improve their lives by travelling to the western world. Ifemelu and Obinze dream of a better life, intelligent and academic, they strive to attend the western world’s top universities and reach their goals and escape the rule of a military run Nigeria.

Ifemelu’s auntie moves to the US which acts as a great stepping stone for Ifemelu to travel there. Once there she hopes that Obinze will follow her but things inevitably aren’t straightforward. Ifemelu uses a friend’s work visa to try and find a job but still struggles to find work. She soon sinks into a deep depression as she cannot even find a job as a waitress and here for the first time she realises that her race is the problem. Meanwhile Obinze is refused a visa into the US and the young lover’s relationship begins to fall apart as Ifemelu finds it easier to cut contact with anything which reminds her of home. Obinze sends her numerous emails over several months but she changes her email address and her phone number but you can’t help thinking that somehow this pair will end up together.

Obinze also encounters racism when he lives in the UK on a friend’s passport. He finds himself cleaning toilets and living on friends’ floors. He even tries to arrange a sham marriage to legally stay in the UK but moments before the ceremony is about to be conducted he is deported back to Nigeria.

Meanwhile Ifemelu eventually begins to flourish in the US; she has several boyfriends, a good job and begins a high-profile blog on her race. She has a wide circle of friends but America’s views on race begin to affect her and how she looks at her herself. After many years she returns back to her native Nigeria where she finally meets up with Obinze.

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I relished this book. Yes it’s a big read and it took me nearly two weeks to finish but part of me thinks I wanted to read it for as long as possible. I love a narrative which charts a character’s development and offers the viewpoints of two different characters. At the heart of the book is a wonderfully real relationship but it’s the race debate which affected me the most. Still in the twenty-first century race is a huge deal in the western world when really it shouldn’t be. This is definitely a book which will stay with you and won’t let you go.

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Ross Poldark by Winston Graham

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Ross Poldark by Winston Graham

This year will be remembered as the year of Poldark. Whether you’re a fan of the TV series or books there was no escaping it (well, there was certainly no escape if you lived in Cornwall). In gift shops up and down the county there was everything from Poldark mugs to postcards and tea towels. Some scenes in the TV series are shot in a little harbour village called Charlestown which is ten minutes away from where I live. When they were filming for the second series it even made front page news in the local paper!

Even people at work were obsessed with it. The majority of this year’s Secret Santa presents consisted of calendars and mugs with Aidan Turner half naked. Not that I’m complaining.

I enjoyed the TV series and my mother had previously read some of the books however I didn’t think I would be too keen on reading them. Fast forward six months later and here I am having just finished the first Poldark novel aptly and rather originally titled Ross Poldark.

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Ross Poldark returns from war to find that his father has died and the girl he had hoped to marry, Elizabeth, is engaged to his cousin Francis. His former home is derelict and in need of repair and the miners and farmers of the district are struggling to make ends meet as work dries up. However Ross tries to make the best of a bad situation by sprucing up his house and throwing him himself into helping others, including trying to stop his friend Jim Carter from going to prison.

Ross attends a fair one day in Redruth and sees a poor urchin child fighting with boys. Disgusted with the spectacle he is witnessing he rescues the poor child and discovers it is a young girl dressed in rags and covered in bruises. Although he comes across often as hard and solemn, Ross does have a caring side and takes the girl called Demelza back home. He employs her as a maid in his house much to her father’s disgust and resistance. Demelza suffered a terrible home life where she was often starved and beaten.

As time goes on and with Ross’s care she flourishes into a wonderful young woman. This doesn’t go unnoticed by Ross as they begin a romantic relationship and later marry, much to the shock of the county. But there is always the cloud of Elizabeth over their relationship – Ross thinking what may have been and Demelza worrying she is second best. Which initially she is however as the novel progresses Ross really does fall in love with Demelza.

Running parallel to the main narrative is Verity, Ross’s cousin, and her desire to be with captain Blamey. Against her wishes her brother, Francis forbids her to see him as there are rumours that he killed his wife. As the novel progresses Demelza and Verity strike up a close friendship and the books ends with Demelza persuading Ross to let the two lovers meet in secret.

At the end of the novel Delmelza is presented to Ross’s family who are of the gentry at a Christmas meal. She is a roaring success but trouble can only be around the corner…

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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

JANE IS MY ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE NOVEL! Yep, that needed capitals for emphasis. Even after dissecting it inside out as part of my dissertation I still love it. Last Christmas I asked my parents if they could get me this rather beautiful bound copy so it could have pride of place on my bookshelf.

The story begins with the orphan Jane Eyre living with her Aunt Reed and cousins. Deeply unhappy in her Aunt’s care she is ostracized and picked upon. She attends a boarding school throughout her teenage years which she enjoys however struggles with the strict rules and rather grim food. She flourishes so well that she becomes a teacher at the school albeit rarely gong outside of the school grounds. But after several years in post she decides it’s time to broaden her horizons. She puts a notice up in her local area asking if anyone is seeking a governess. She soon receives a response from Mrs Fairfax at Thornfield Hall for a young girl called Adele.

Adele it turns out is also an orphan and has limited English after she was brought over to England by the dark and brooding Mr Rochester. During the first few weeks at Thornfield Hall Mr Rochester is an enigma, he’s always spoken about but never seen. When he does come back from his travels the staff go into over drive making sure all his correct for his presence.

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To begin with Mr Rochester and Jane have a cool relationship. He asks blunt questions with no intrigue or care. But as Mr Rochester asks to spend more time with Jane each evening the pair begin to form a close bond. However when he invites a party to the Hall including the rather beautiful Miss Ingram. As Jane begins to let the reader know of her feelings for Mr Rochester word soon spreads that the master of the house will marry Miss Ingram.

Halfway through the book we get the action we’ve been waiting for! Mr Rochester reveals his feelings for Jane. His supposed relationship with Miss Ingram was a ploy to make Jane jealous and he dismisses her by lying about how much money he has. The pair embark on a romantic whirlwind, declaring love for each other every five minutes and needing to be around one another at every opportunity.

But this is a novel and not everything goes according to plan. At the altar it’s announced that Mr Rochester is in fact married to a lady called Bertha who is a ‘madwoman’ he keeps in the attic. Distraught at what has happened and despite his pleas Jane runs away.

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Desolate, she spends three days and nights at the mercy of the moors begging for food and shelter. The only kindness she receives is from a military man and his three sisters – St John, Diana and Mary Rivers. Once her health is back Jane is offered to run a school by St John but that’s not all he wants. Once he learns that she has inherited money due to her uncle’s death St John asks for Jane’s hand in marriage. Still longing for Mr Rochester she refuses.

One night she hears her name being called and knows it’s that of Mr Rochester. She returns to Thornfield only to find that is has been burnt down. She learns that Bertha caused the fire which left Mr Rochester blind and without a hand. Bertha commits suicide by jumping off the burning building. The moment Jane and her master meet again has to be one of the most romantic parts of any novels and it all ends happily when they marry.

The sub plot surrounding Bertha I wish could have been explored more as her presence is felt throughout the novel. And as mental health has moved on considerably since that time, the way she is treated is alien to us now.

Why I love this novel is because the love and affection shown between the two protagonists is believable. Yes it’s full of over the top declarations of love but at its heart is a love story, a feeling we can all relate to. Jane is a strong woman and has modern tendencies; she marries for money not love. Brontë described both Jane and Mr Rochester as not particularly attractive which is refreshing in modern day when everyone must be beautiful. In Mr Rochester she has unintentionally created a pin up.

This will always be a classic.