The Nanny Diaries – A Review

The Nanny Diaries Book

Sigh. You know what they say about diving into anything with preconceived ideas…something along the lines of: you’re usually disappointed. But I had to learn that lesson for myself, didn’t I? And the Nanny Diaries sure did teach it to me. I went in with the preconceived notion that I was going to get quite a kick out of it… and, in my defence, it has been raved about, gushed about and translated onto the screen; what was I supposed to deduce from such a response? However, to my dismay, I was left pondering one particular question: where the hell did all of this novel’s accolades come from? Did its reviewers even read the book? I sound unjustly harsh, I know. I sound a little over-critical, I know. However, in all seriousness, nearly every literary facet of this book left me disappointed.

The Plot

The Nanny Diaries recounts the  journey of New York University student, Nanny, as her childcare job with the X family steadily transitions from two-day-a-week child-minding to full-time surrogate mothering. Nanny battles the elements of the Upper West Side elitist lifestyle, frantically hunting for lavender water (whatever the hell that is), steaming kale for a four year old who just wants a hot dog and searching desperately for the panties of Mr. X’s mistress before they fall into the hands of his wife. This is a book about a nanny called Nanny who hates her job with ever fibre of her being but can’t quit for her love of Grayer X, the little kid who has her by the heart strings while his mother threatens to cut them.

If you allow me to be blunt, here is my opinion of the plot: boring, repetitive and anticlimactic. Yes, there were brief moments that brought a smile to my face or had me raging at Mrs. X but as an entire novel, The Nanny Diaries was quite a dull, and therefore tiring, read. While I do value a novel that provokes me into sharing its characters’ emotions, whether they be anger, grief, hope or euphoria, I do not enjoy spending chapter after chapter in a state of incessant frustration. As a result of a very cyclical storyline, whose action sequence was void of some much needed contrast, The Nanny Diaries lacked pause for relief and quickly began to feel like one tiresome rant about the Xs.

The minor sub-plots of the story, those involving Nanny’s romance, family and friends, were neglected by the authors and remained unconcluded by the novel’s completion. I found myself frequently yearning for a chapter devoted to Nanny’s love life or her eclectic grandmother, just for a little break from the stream of employment misery.  These things did flit across the pages every now and again but not often enough to satisfactorily compensate for the childcare tedium. These facets of the storyline seemed to me to simply be strings woven into the story but left untied. As a reader, I felt no closure regarding Nanny’s relationship, nor did I feel particularly satiated by the novel’s actual ending. Sorry, The Nanny Diaries, but your plot was weak.

The Writing

I will not unfairly claim that the writing was elementary, incomprehensible or bland; I quite liked the colourful vocabulary and the frequent wit, two elements of style that brought life and texture to the novel as well as to the main character, Nanny, from whose first person perspective the story was told. Unfortunately however, that’s where my positive feedback comes to a grinding halt. It took me a full four chapters to become acquainted enough with the authors’ style to easily flow with the writing. On too many occasions, I found there to be sentences ill-formed, nonsensical or missing altogether, making it difficult to easily (and therefore enjoyably) understand Nanny’s intentions. While this sporadic and candid style of first person prose was obviously used by the authors as a method of characterising Nanny, I often felt that its effect was lost as a result of poor structure and expression. Overall, the writing was not terrible and could definitely be classed as funny and intelligent. However, I found that certain ill-formed elements of the book’s style detracted from much of the characterisation and expression.

My Conclusion

The Nanny Diaries, by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, was a book that I was quite excited to read and picked up with a cheery enthusiasm. Expecting humour, wit and warmth, I was disappointed to find myself ploughing exhaustedly through endless chapters of frustration. While the mark of a good book is the sensation of being addicted to it, I found The Nanny Diaries to almost be a chore and was quite relieved when I finally reached its closing paragraph. Although certain elements of its style and characterisation were colourful and textured, the novel as a whole is certainly not one that I would read again, nor one that I would recommend.

I’m curious however, in spite of what may seem to you to be a determinedly negative response to this book, whether you found it be at all enjoyable and what you liked and disliked about it. Do you feel I’ve been unjust in my criticisms? Would you recommend this book? Share your thoughts!

‘The Road’ – a journey with Cormac McCarthy

The Road Cormac McCarthy

Last week I was perusing the shelves of an acquaintance’s personal library that I’d define as an amalgam of thriller, mystery, crime and action novels, predominated by the works of Daniel Silver, Lee Child and James Patterson. I came across one book among the many however, that didn’t quite fit in with its neighbours: The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I’d heard of this book of course, there now being a ‘major motion picture’ of it, but I’d never really taken much of an interest in it and therefore knew little to nothing about it.

Aside from the blurb, the back cover showcased an impressive collection of review exerts from major global publications, all commending McCarthy on this literary triumph.

“Consistently brilliant.” – The New York Times

“Wildly powerful.” – Time

“The writing throughout is magnificent.” – Chicago Sun Times

And so, I decided to read it. I wonder, why has nobody ever recommended this book to me? To describe it in a handful of words: intriguing, sobering, chilling, heart-warming and heart-breaking.

The Story

‘The Road’ will break your heart, warm your heart, soften your heart, harden your heart and make your heart skip a beat or twenty. A searing, post-apocalyptic tale of father and son, the book is essentially an exploration of the heart, the mind, human instincts, the mentality of survival and the nature of unconditional love. Without ever mentioning the names of the two main characters, nor the names of any countries, towns or dates, McCarthy very powerfully strips his book of superficial distractions and thereby creates a timeless, focused and naked tale of love.

The Writing

The first thing you notice when you begin reading McCarthy’s highly acclaimed best-seller is the complete and total lack of chapter titles and quotation marks. At first, I found this slightly off-putting, as the descriptions and the direct speech wove in and around each other seamlessly, standing in stark contrast to the highly punctuated literature that I’m used to. But once immersed in the story and flowing easily with its rhythm, I found that this style of writing served to accentuate the story’s themes of sparsity, simplicity, bare survival and unadulterated love.

In addition to this very daring and clever bastardisation of the traditional narrative, I can confidently say that McCarthy has an astounding command of the English language, exercising his knack for vividness and poignancy throughout ‘The Road’. While some paragraphs were purely for the sake of reporting action, others were dedicated entirely to intense, moving and thought-provoking contemplations, delving into the very fragile psyches of the post-apocalyptic mind.

My Conclusion

‘The Road’ was a spontaneous read for me and perhaps that’s why I enjoyed it so much; I was free from preconceived notions of its content, style or calibre. I read it without knowing anything about it and I loved it. Never before had I read a book of such style and simplicity, finding myself at first disconcerted but soon intensely moved and rapt. Without the clutter of your traditional narrative, Cormac McCarthy very effectively focuses ‘The Road’ on a handful of absorbing, provoking and affecting themes and had me, by its end, in a state of deep contemplation. He simultaneously broke and warmed my heart and although I wouldn’t add ‘The Road’ to my favourites list, I would definitely recommend it as a quick, wonderful and profound read.

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul: Better in theory than in execution?

You know the feeling, I’m sure, of being positively enthralled by a wonderful book, hooked on every word and drunk with literary satisfaction. This kind of a book, whose plot and characters and scenery are so blissfully intoxicating, often leaves you feeling a little lost and sad when you finally finish its last page. You just want more. Some books however, can have quite the opposite effect; a sigh of relief when you finally reach its end. The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul was, for me personally, an example of the latter kind of reading experience.

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul

Set in modern-day, war-torn Afghanistan, Deborah Rodriguez’s novel is a quaint tale of five women and their interconnecting journeys of love, friendship and the suppression of women. Isabel, Candace, Yazmina, Halajan and Sunny, five extraordinary women from wildly contrasting corners of the globe, meet under the roof of Sunny’s coffee shop in Kabul. The cafe serves regular coffee and ordinary meals but fosters love, revolution and the wonderful power of women united for a common cause. It’s safe (or as safe as a place can be in Afghanistan), it’s warm and it becomes home to these five extraordinary ladies whose feelings and ambitions push the boundaries of the Afghani ideas of women’s place in society.

The general concept of this novel sounds wonderfully heart-warming and thought-provoking which was precisely why I picked it up in the first place. And I suppose it partially was. I can acknowledge that the girls’ stories were lovely but, in all honesty, I found their to be a lack of the promised profundity. In theory, The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul, is a powerful expose of feminism but in execution, it lacked the depth of relationships and strength of atmosphere that I feel defines a truly great work of fiction. While it was a perfectly fine book for casual reading, I just couldn’t “get into it.” Lacking that special something that earns a novel a place on my favourites list, I cannot describe this book as exceptional but I do recommend it to women with an interest in women and to anyone in need of a light read.

If you’ve read The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul and have an opinion of it that differs from mine, do comment and share your own thoughts. I know different books offer different things to each reader so while I was slightly disappointed, you may have adored every page. I want to hear your thoughts! Free Page Numbers is a literary forum; a place for discussion, opinions, suggestions and recommendations! Join the madness!

 

Tomorrow, When Australian Literature Was Good

Call me unpatriotic if you must, but the sad fact is that much of Australian literature is very poor. I know that that’s a sweeping and partially unfair generalisation because there are indeed a handful of wonderful Australian writers but, for me personally, the majority of Australian books has left quite a lot to be desired. Throughout both primary and high schools, when required to read and review the works of an Australian author, I was always filled with dread. While it could simply be my own personal disposition towards certain types of literature and have nothing to do with the calibre of Australian writing, I distinctly remember regarding all Australian books and poetry as very dull and very close-minded. War, the outback, the bush, farm life and English settlement were the predominating themes of most of what I encountered throughout school and after my tenth poem about the old gum trees, I had developed a strong aversion to Australian writing. In its stead, I sought out American and English books for their promise of adventure, diversity, colour and excitement.

Tomorrow When the War Began

However, when I was around fourteen years old and perusing the shelves of my school library, a stumbled across a book with a very intriguing title: Tomorrow When the War Began. Written by an author I knew nothing about, John Marsden, I picked up the book and read it’s blurb.

Ellie and her friends leave home one quiet morning, wave goodbye to their parents, and head up into the hills to camp out for a while; seven teenagers filing in time during school holidays.

The world is about to change forever.

Their lives will never be the same again.

Would you fight? Would you give up everything? Would you sacrifice even life itself?

Tomorrow, When the War Began asks the biggest questions you will ever have to answer.

I was immediately hooked as only an adventure-loving nerd could be. Though not all too fond of war novels, I loved stories about young friends, discovery and adventure and this book promised all three so I proceeded to the librarian’s desk. Two days later, I finished the last chapter and was utterly astounded. The book was a triumphant and imaginative tale of survival, friendship, youth, innocence and humanity and what made it even more remarkable was its Australian setting and authorship. I had found an Australian book that I loved! With a powerful command of the English language and a deep insight into the ideas of youth, innocence and friendship, John Marsden had written a novel that exemplified Australian literature at its finest and as a result, had managed to change my perspective on Australian writing.

I followed up Tomorrow, When the War Began with the second of the series, The Dead of the Night, and was not disappointed. The breath-taking story of Ellie and her friends continued with as much insight, suspense and adventure as was displayed in the first book and subsequently led me to read the entire seven book series.

There is now a major Australian film based on the first novel, which you may or may not have heard of but which has definitely done its written counterpart justice. The film features a cast of emerging Australian actors and is surprisingly wonderful given the Australian film industry’s history of flops. Another success for the Australian arts scene and it’s all attributable to John Marsden.

The Age wrote that the Tomorrow books are “The best series for Australian teens of all time.” And I whole-heartedly agree.