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Cecilia Ahern: The Time of My Life
The Time of My Life tells Lucy Silchester's story with a fairytale-like twist. Her life isn't exactly as she wants it. She broke up with her boyfriend of five years, lost her swanky apartment, her high-end job and is now struggling in a new job that she absolutely loathes. Alienated from her family and friends, her life is in tatters.
A gold envelope lying on Lucy's carpet invites her to an appointment with her life, which Ahern personifies as a character named Cosmo. Ahern paints Cosmo as as a real person that Lucy gets to meet and talk to. After suffering from Lucy's negligence, her life decides that a face-to-face meeting is in order. Skipping one appointment after the other, Lucy finally decides to have a heart-to-heart with Cosmo.
Lucy is an unlikable character; it's extremely difficult to sympathise with her. Her immaturity and obsession with trivialities might cause you to throw your arms up in exasperation. She concocts lies that cause her life to spin out of control; harmless little lies that turn her life upside down. On the other hand, Cosmo is a pleasantly amusing character. At first, he arrives as a dishevelled, poorly-groomed man, mirroring Lucy's own life and gradually begins to smarten up as Lucy puts her life back together.
The Time of My Life introduces an intriguingly unfamiliar concept of personifying Lucy's life outside of her as a character. It offers a vivid demonstration of what happens when one stops paying attention to the things that really matter. Although the magical element in the story doesn't reinforce its sincerity, it makes for a humorous and witty read. The novel is thought-provoking, emotional and funny. It gets readers to think about their own lives and how easy it is to lose sight of the important things in life when one is so immersed in everyday chores.
Ahern's writing is engaging and succeeds in eliciting heartfelt laughter from readers. The bizarre originality of the book is to be applauded, but the development of events is a tad predictable.
The Time of My Life might not be a literary masterpiece, but falls right into the category of a lazy weekend read. Cecilia Ahern knows how to keep her fans guessing about her next book, and more often than not, she manages to deliver a uniquely original plot.
Penny Vincenzi's latest novel The Decision tells the story of Eliza Fullerton-Clark and Matt Shaw who live in London in the 60s. Eliza is a society girl, carving out a career for herself in the fashion industry and Matt becomes a millionaire by working in the property market.
Introduced by Eliza's brother, they get married, but it's not long before their seemingly-solid marriage goes downhill. Eliza wants to keep pursuing her career, but Matt's old-fashioned notions require her to stay at home and raise their only girl, Emmie.
The entire story is pretty much given away in the synopsis. It feels like the author is robbing you of the element of surprise; you already know they are getting a divorce. The only part that the author holds back on until the end of the novel is the results of the court battles over custody of their daughter. Emmie is a spoiled brat of a child; a fact that makes it difficult for readers to sympathize with her.
There are many subplots seamlessly woven into the main plot, adding richness and depth to the story. Readers might even find themselves more interested in the fates of the secondary characters than Eliza's and Matt's.
Vincenzi's writing is laden with poignancy. She accurately describes how marriages that are often fuelled by so much passion can gradually deteriorate into a battle. In this aspect, Eliza and Matt are extremely relatable.
The Decision is such a long read, but that doesn't detract from its enjoyment. The longer pages only mean additional engagement with the characters' lives, but it also means that Vincenzi ends up repeating herself quite often.
The story captures many of the time’s ill-founded ideas against women, but it also includes many female characters that challenged the ideologies of the 60s. Louise, Matt's business partner, is a headstrong woman who won't let anything come between her and her goals, while his sister Scarlett is another female character who does things her own way.
The author takes readers back to the 60s and offers vivid portraits of different aspects of life back then; however, the plot could have easily fit into any other time.
Vincenzi's avid fans might find The Decision a tad disappointing. It's not quite as addictive as the rest of her novels, and it generally sticks to the author's pattern, making it even more predictable.
Born and raised in Texas, Gretchen McCullough's teaching career has taken her to Egypt, Turkey and Japan; currently, McCullough teaches writing in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition at the American University in Cairo.
Released earlier this year, her latest publication is titled ‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’; a compilation of short stories revolving around a host of eccentric individuals and their experiences in Cairo. A large bulk of the stories are driven by the thoughts rummaging through the characters minds and, more often than not, they transpire to be both charming and relatable.
‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’ has a colourful team of characters with strong presence, charisma and an air of familiarity. Digging deeper into their personal lives and problems, her writing style is distinct, bringing an American charm and non-linearity to her stories, which builds a pleasant intricacy.
With many of the characters connected by a single building in Garden City, McCullough allots the main characters in her stories as small cameos in others, spreading the characters' presence and allowing for further development.
In ‘A Little Honey and a Little Sunlight’, we are given insight into the raging nature of Professor Gary by his dying neighbour, Joe Pulaski - a poet - reminiscing his days spent living in Cairo. Many pages later in ‘Pure Water’, we find ourselves reading from the eyes of Dr Gary as he spends time with his bulky Greek friend, Kolombos, in a mental asylum before the uprising of January 25th. The title story, meanwhile, sees two main protagonists; journalist and teacher, Mary Beth Somers, and her dentist, Dr Samy. Far from sappy, the two fall into a love which avoids the overt romantic notions seen in cliched literature, despite ending on a melancholic note.
Aside from the characters, Cairo as a city is portrayed as an integral player in the stories. On regular occasions, vivid descriptions of popular places in the city are given, such as El Horreya, Windsor Bar, the Gezirah Club and Koshari Abou Tarek. Having visited all these places ourselves, it's obvious that McCullough has immersed herself in the city, and amongst its people, well beyond the point of a touristic escapade. She’s become a sort of semi-native, in touch with Cairene culture, but maintains enough outside insight to give a new perspective to those who’ve been living in the city for too long.
With its mix of emotions and interesting character troupe, ‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’ promises an entertaining, comforting read for both locals and foreigners alike.