Keeping an Open Mind

Today I’d like to share my thoughts about two books I read recently. My favourite genres are usually thrillers and sagas. I also love a good tale of triumph over adversity, which is a theme that traverses across many genres. However, I try to keep an open mind and try something new once in a while, especially if it’s something that has been talked about a lot or that is performing very well in the Amazon sales charts.

I was going through one of those reading lulls recently when nothing I read really excited me. Although I had read a few books that I thought were quite good, none of them set me on fire and I was eager to discover something that gripped me. Then I found, not just one, but two books that made an impact on me. Neither of them was in my usual genres, which shows that it’s good to keep an open mind. Here are the two books and my thoughts about them:

Me before You by Jojo Moyes

I picked this one up at my local pub (more about that in a future blog post), and the reason why I chose it was because I knew that Jojo Moyes is a very popular author yet I hadn’t tried any of her books before. I was also familiar with the title and had a vague recollection of it being a movie.

Wow! This was one of those books where the appeal lies in the storytelling as much as in the story itself. Jojo Moyes is a brilliant author and I’ll certainly be reading more of her books in the future.

It tells the tale of a young woman, Lou, whose life lacks direction. Will, on the other hand, is a highflyer, ambitious and adventurous, until an accident changes his life completely and he becomes a quadriplegic.

When Lou loses her job at the Buttered Bun teashop, she comes to work as Will’s carer. Finding it difficult to adapt to life as a quadriplegic, Will is embittered and has given up on life. At first he is antagonistic and patronising towards Lou but she eventually wins him round. There is a lot more to the novel than that but I don’t want to give too much away.

I found this book deeply emotional, which really drew me in. The story was told with a sensitivity and perception that only the most skilled of authors could pull off. Jojo Moyes is truly a talented writer.

But the book wasn’t all pathos; there were touches of humour that helped to break up the bleaker moments. I especially liked the author’s witty comments regarding the love-hate relationship between Lou and her sister, and Will’s sense of mischief.

As I read the book I could actually visualise it being played out on screen and it left me wondering whether the movie is in sympathy with the book or whether the producers have altered parts of it. Having read a little about the film since, I note that it caused a backlash because of its insensitive approach. That’s a shame because I didn’t feel that the book was insensitive at all. I can honestly say that this book touched me more than anything I’ve read in ages, and I’ll definitely have to watch the movie version to see what I think.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

I was drawn to this book for two reasons. Firstly, it’s a bestseller, and secondly, it’s the ultimate tale of triumph over adversity.

Heather Morris gives the reader an insight into life inside Auschwitz and Birkenau as seen through the eyes of the prisoner of war camps’ tattooist. The book definitely made an impact on me as it transported me to that time and place and, although most people are familiar with the hardship suffered by prisoners of war, this book lays it all bare. The author actually interviewed the tattooist so the book is told from his point of view, revealing what life was like for him and the other prisoners.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is undoubtedly harrowing but I felt that it lacked the emotional depth of Me before You. Having read the two books in quick succession, it did make me wonder whether this was due to differences in writing styles or whether it was a conscious approach by Heather Morris. Perhaps the emotional depth had to be lacking, otherwise the whole novel would have been deeply disturbing and depressing.

Furthermore, the writer’s matter-of-fact approach may have been a reflection of how hardened the prisoners had become to the harsh regime. As it was based on the tattooist’s own story, it was necessary for the book to reflect his thoughts and feelings. In fact, in the Afterword written by the tattooist’s son, he describes how his mother reacted when, many years after their release, they lost their home. He was curious as to why she was singing and had a smile on her face, and she explained to him that after surviving the prisoner of war camps they could deal with most things.

Both of these books were the types of novels that left me pondering long after I had finished reading. That’s the sign of a really good book, I think, and I highly recommend them both.

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