‘The Shop Before Life’ by Neil Hughes [*Gifted* Book Review]

I just want to start by saying that, although this book review is gifted, I would have written a book review on this book anyway because it was just amazing. It really was.

To give a brief summary, The Shop Before Life revolves around the idea that there is a “prelife” before we enter Earth. Humans are born into the “prelife” first, where they choose what character traits they would like, from an arrangement of jars labelled “smart” or “inquisitive” or “brave” and many more. They pick these traits up at The Shop, before taking them into Earth, where they are born as a baby with these traits intact.

Faythe is one of the few people who decides to live in the “prelife”, before heading off to Earth. That is until she gets hired as the new Apprentice at The Shop. She has so many questions about the traits, how they were made, and how The Shop started – questions which no one will answer. But she resolves to find out.

I loved this book simply because of the concept – I was drawn in straight away by the characters, whom are unique but also relatable in their own way. However, it was the connection this book made with the real world that really got to me. This wasn’t just a novel about the world Neil Hughes created himself; it commented on human life as a whole – the way we think, the way we feel, and why we do the things we do, even if our actions seem incomprehensible.

I think the idea of picking traits is so typical of human nature – we see others with certain qualities and we naturally want them for ourselves, because we have this notion of the perfect human, or at the very least a perfect version of ourselves. We often don’t know who we are but we know who we want to become, and a lot of the time we don’t actually know how to get there. I thought it was interesting how this picking of traits in the book acts as a solution to this, whilst simultaneously not providing a solution at all. I guess humans need weird illogical systems to function.

I don’t want to give any spoilers in this review, because I really do think everyone should read this book and figure it all out for themselves, but, I can say, that this book really does reflect on the power and importance of belief. There was something about it that I just connected with. Perhaps it’s because I’m at a moment in my life where I’ve been working hugely on my confidence – I’ve realised that belief in myself really does go a long way – but also because the only way life moves forward is due to belief. No one has any idea what they are doing, as is reiterated numerous times in the book, but by believing we make changes to move forward in our lives anyway. Without belief, we would all be sitting back and feeling sorry for ourselves, and that doesn’t get us anywhere. The Shop Before Life is like a reminder that we can attract anything if we really believe we can do it, similar to the notion of the law of attraction.

I feel like some of the points I’m making here might not make full sense if you haven’t read it, but if you’re intrigued by my ramblings and want to understand more about the topic, then I guess you’ll have to read the book then!

There are so many good things I can say about The Shop Before Life because I feel like it really does focus on some of the most interesting questions about humanity and the universe. As someone who is a huge fan of philosophical topics of conversation, I loved this element of the book and I think that’s what made it so great to me – that the characters and subjects it raised existed beyond the book itself. And I think the greatest books are those that remain in your mind as you step back into everyday life, changing the way you see and understand things.

This is one of those books that I’m sure will stay with me for a while, if not for the rest of my life. There’s just something so unique and real about it and I just felt very connected to the themes it presented.

I thought I’d end this book review with a few quotes, if I haven’t convinced you of its greatness already.

“Why should we remain within the limits we are given?”

“Perhaps you’ve realised that not everybody is interested in how the universe works. To me, it always seemed unambitious to simply accept how the world is, without asking questions.”

That you choose is more important than what you choose.”

“…consuming is trivial, and it’s creation that’s the real magic.”

 

Go check out the book on Amazon here!

And follow Neil Hughes on twitter!

You can also find me on social media here:

Instagram: @mymindspeaksaloud

Twitter: @mindspeaksaloud

 

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig [Book Review]

“That’s the thing with time, isn’t it? It’s not all the same. Some days – some years – some decades – are empty. There is nothing to them. It’s just flat water. And then you come across a year, or even a day, or an afternoon. And it is everything. It is the whole thing.” 

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If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of the writer Matt Haig. I’ve written reviews on The Humans, Reasons to Stay Alive and Notes on a Nervous Planet, so here I am to naturally write a review on another of his books: How to Stop Time.

I went into this book with extremely high expectations. I’ve connected so much with Haig’s other books and they’ve been so impactful in my life that it was hard to go into this book with a clear frame of judgement. I loved the concept of the book from the beginning. I’m a huge fan of dystopian so it was immediately up my street. However, the novel initially seemed rather confusing and jumbled. I found myself concentrating a bit too much on what was going on and wondering how it all fit together (since the chapters were split into different time frames). Of course, I was disappointed, since I loved all his other books straight away and I wished this one would be the same.

Nevertheless, I stuck with it. Perhaps if I hadn’t loved his other books so much, I might have stopped reading it. But I’m glad I didn’t. About halfway through, I feel like the book picked up its pace. I was becoming more attached to the characters (better late than never) and if anything I was just intrigued to see how it would end.

Honestly, I’m still conflicted about my thoughts on the book. It’s not the best book I’ve read, but I still can’t help but love Haig’s writing because it’s just so quotable. I find myself wanting to underline phrases and use them as quotes in my life because he has a way of understanding how humans work and think and knowing how to reach your heart. And that’s why I can never really hate his work because it feels like he knows the reader too much.

Although I felt like the book could have been structured better to capture the reader’s attention at the start, I absolutely loved the ending (don’t worry, no spoilers) and I think it was perfect for the book. There’s so many things to take away from How to Stop Time, regardless of the few criticisms, and I think if you’re the kind of person who picks up and appreciates the smallest details, then this book may be for you.

Below, is one of my favourite paragraphs from the book. I think it poses some really interesting questions about humanity and the way that we live.

“And, just as it only takes a moment to die, it only takes a moment to live. You just close your eyes and let every futile fear slip away. And then, in this new state, free from fear, you ask yourself: who am I? If I could live without doubt what would I do? If I could be kind without the fear of being fucked over? If I could love without fear of being hurt? If I could taste the sweetness of today without thinking of how I will miss that taste tomorrow? If I could not fear the passing of time and the people it will steal? Yes. What would I do? Who would I care for? What battle would I fight? Which paths would I step down? What joys would I allow myself? What internal mysteries would I solve? How, in short, would I live?”

And I also thought this quote was powerful too, and very relevant to my life at the moment:

“What starts as a doubt in a mind can swiftly become an act in the world.”

All successes start with doubt and it is a natural part of the process. This quote reminds me that it’s human for me to doubt my blog, or who I am, or the way that I portray myself to the world. I shouldn’t let it stop me from being who I am and who I want to become.

Have you read any books by Matt Haig? What were your thoughts?

Instagram: @mymindspeaksaloud

Twitter: @mindspeaksaloud

Gattaca [Film Review]

Gattaca is one of those films that is just beyond any explanation or trailer of it. Honestly, I have no idea where to start when writing a review on it because it completely blew me away. But let’s start with the premise.Image result for gattaca

Gattaca is based around the concept of genetics and how these affect us as people. Set in the future, it follows a time where science determines your future. Everything about you can be found out through testing, from what diseases you might get, to when you will get them. Job interviews don’t matter because science knows what matters. It knows who you are, what your future is like, and thus determines whether you are suited for that particular career. Of course, this causes many problems, particularly for those who are seen as inferior.

Vincent, played by Ethan Hawke, has always wanted to travel into outer space; however, he is one of the inferior “in valids”. His genes do not work in his favour and so he can’t follow his dream – as simple as that. But accepting this as fate, of course, wouldn’t make for a good movie. The film follows the journey of Vincent fighting against this by using the genes of Jerome (Jude Law) who is “valid” and can’t work due to injury. He fakes the identity in order to pursue his dream.

Dystopian books and films have always been something I’ve found intriguing; the idea that there are unlimited possibilities out there for the future and we have no way of telling what could be real. It was, therefore, inevitable that I would love Gattaca. However, the plot simply kept surprising me. The acting was brilliant; the writing was incredible (so much so that at one point I thought it was originally a book) and yes, there were plot twists, and yes, they were amazing. Apparently, there was even an alternate ending which was originally used for a tester audience before it was released. However, many thought it was too intense/emotional or just reiterated meaning that the film had already presented. Personally, I agree with the latter.

I would recommend anyone and everyone to watch this film because honestly, it’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen. It creates a futuristic world that is so different to reality and yet is completely possible; it manages to hit you with enough force to feel connected to the characters and their motivations. For this reason, it is huge success.

‘Never Let Me Go’ [Film Review]

A while ago I posted a review of the book ‘Never Let Me Go’. After finding the adaptation of it in a charity shop unexpectedly and claiming it as the first DVD watched in my new house at uni, I’m here again to review it.Image result for never let me go

I’m not sure what expectations I had before watching this film. Naturally, I was excited about seeing it because I always am when I know I’ve read the book of it, but I was wary that the imagery I’d created inside my head was most likely not going to be lived up to. And I was somewhat right.

At first, I really wasn’t convinced by the film. The book has so much detail and I found the film skipping over a lot of scenes that I would have considered important. Of course, I wasn’t confused by this because I already knew the plot, however it made me wonder whether someone who hadn’t read it, would be.

I think the actors/actresses in general portrayed the characters how I would have expected, however I feel like they did not focus on Ruth enough and the way she manipulated Kathy and Tommy. I imagined her as being more outgoing and flamboyant than she was, however at parts I think the disturbing nature of her character did shine through. I thought the acting itself was overall impressive, especially that of Mulligan. She seemed to portray the internal distress of Kathy very well. And I think the colours and setting really moulded well into the storyline. I found the orchestral music heightened the intensity of Kathy’s position at the end, as the only one left.

As the film went on, I found myself liking it more and more. It’s inevitable that plots have to adapt to fit the film and so I found myself accepting these aspects more. Some of the final scenes were really quite powerful (especially that of Tommy screaming, excellently acted by Garfield) and I found myself on the verge of tears.

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Overall, I would recommend watching this film, even if it didn’t turn out perfectly (but what film ever does?). I think what disappointed me most was the fact that a lot of my favourite quotes were left out, when they could have quite easily been written into the screenplay. But, as always, it was cool to see Kazuo Ishiguro’s words come to life and I think his book is immensely difficult to create a film for, therefore I think they all did a pretty good job!

‘The Humans’ by Matt Haig (Book Review)

“…this is what happens when you live on Earth. You crack. You hold reality in your hands until it burns and then you have to drop the plate.”

Having already read ‘Echo Boy’‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ and ‘Notes on a Nervous Planet’ (and written blog posts on them), you could say I’m a pretty huge fan of Matt Haig. I heard of ‘The Humans’ quite some time ago and yet had pushed it away as not my kind of book, because why would I want to read about alien life? And yet this book is so much more than this. The Humans

In short, the book is about an alien from the future taking over the body of a mathematician on Earth to prevent him from proving the Riemann Hypothesis and to, therefore, save the planet from advancing (because humans supposedly can’t deal with this level of progress). At the start, you are thrown into Earth as someone who has absolutely no idea about the planet and how humans act. It’s actually pretty funny, the comments the alien makes on other humans and the way he believes he is able to act, because he doesn’t know what is expected at all (hence he runs around the town at night naked, getting arrested – read to find out more, I guess).

It is hard not to cringe at some of the things the alien considers as acceptable, and yet I felt this urge of pity since the beginning. The alien has come from a perfect future – one where no one feels pains, or love, or anything in between. But what was so amazing about this book was the way it gets you to think about emotions and how important they really are. Yes, we feel pain, but isn’t that better than feeling nothing at all?

Behind the surface of the story, it’s not only about the alien learning how to live on Earth, but it’s fundamentally about the depths of humans and the way we think and act. Matt Haig explains himself, in the back of the book and in ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’, that the book actually represents the isolation of depression and coming to love the world and humans again. This completely changed my perspective of the book into something that metaphorically delves into the world of understanding mental health. The alien symbolises the change in mental health as it can drive someone to seem like a completely different person, or incapable of living like anyone else, and yet inside they are still the same as anyone, because we are all humans and we all think and feel.

There is one particular moment where the alien speaks to his “son” and says ‘maybe we should try not to understand so much, and accept some more.’ and this is so damn important. We can never be fully understood by someone who is not ourselves (how can we, when we are all unique beings with our own private mind?), so acceptance is the only way we can move forward. Reading the relationships the alien built with this family that wasn’t actually his and vice versa, shows the purity of loving and accepting others as your own even if they’re not who you know them to be, or want them to be.

I particularly loved the focus on change in the novel because it made me realise that change isn’t just necessary in that we are constantly moving forward in life, but necessary for our own health and our own survival.

These were two of my favourite quotes in relation to this:

“The single biggest act of bravery or madness anyone can do is the act of change.”

“I realised, though I was on Earth, I had been living this past year as I had always lived. I was just thinking I could carry on, moving forward. But I was not me any more. I was a human, give or take. And humans are about change. That is how they survive, by doing and un-doing and doing again.”

Not only is change about bravery into the unknown, but allowing yourself to change through changing your surroundings. When I read “I had been living this past year as I had always lived” it made me think, what can I change this year to make it different and to make me feel better and more at home as a person? There have been times in the past where I had been reliving a year the same as the year before, and looking back I realise I shouldn’t have, because it actually had a huge effect on the way I viewed myself and the world. Changing things up inevitably brings fear, but also excitement. And isn’t excitement and new things what we live for? It’s human nature to get bored or fall into unconscious habits and pushing yourself out of these things is what gets you to rethink your life and yourself.

Matt Haig is so good at getting me to think beyond the book, into my own life and changes I can make, and for that I’m so grateful I have his books to read. The feeling I get when I read or listen to music or watch films was perfectly explained in this short extract and so, naturally, it makes sense to end on this note:

“It takes time to understand humans because they don’t understand themselves. They have been wearing clothes for so long. Metaphorical clothes. That was the price of human civilisation – to create it they had to close the door on their true selves. And so they are lost…that is why they invented art: books, music, films, plays, painting, sculpture. They invented them as bridges back to themselves, back to who they are.”

 

You can find me on social media here:

Instagram: @mymindspeaksaloud

Twitter: @mindspeaksaloud

The Handmaid’s Tale [Book Review]

I finally read The Handmaid’s Tale! After it being a massive topic of conversation lately, especially with the TV series, as well as a lot of people studying it for A level, I knew I had to read it because it was starting to get just a little bit embarrassing. And I’m really glad I did!Image result for the handmaids tale

Dystopia is actually one of my favourite genres of book. I love the idea of throwing myself into a manipulated version of reality where things are the same but also really not. It especially surprised me that The Handmaid’s Tale was written back in 1985 because to me it seems contemporary. After reading this book, I totally understand why it is so significant in terms of patriarchy and the way women are treated and ceased of their natural abilities, especially in terms of the natural process of birth. It’s crazy to think that procreating becomes the only reason to live in this book, as if any other part of human experience means nothing. But really, what is the point in procreating if there is nothing to live for? It’s all a major contradiction and I found myself asking all these questions as I was reading it. Since happiness, for me, is the most important part and goal of life, there was no way I could remotely justify the world of this book, not even if I tried. However, I am glad I put myself into this world through the concept of reading because it’s only once you’ve transported to a world worse than this one that you realise that actually you might quite like to live in this one after all. 

I just wanted to leave a few of my favourite quotes below because I feel like a few things really resonated with me, whether it was the words themselves or the way it was written.

“I know why there is no glass, in front of the watercolour picture of blue irises, and why the window only opens partly and why the glass in it is shatterproof. It isn’t running away they’re afraid of. We wouldn’t get that far. It’s those other escapes, the ones you can open in yourself, given a cutting edge.”

“Modesty is invisibility…Never forget it. To be seen – to be seen – is to be – her voice trembled – penetrated.”

“We have learned to see the world is gasps.”

“But if it’s a story, even in my head, I must be telling it to someone. You don’t tell a story only to yourself. There’s always someone else. Even when there is no one.”

“But who can remember pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain marks you, but too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind.”

“No mother is ever, completely, a child’s idea of what a mother should be, and I suppose it works the other way around as well.”

“You can’t help how you feel…but you can help how you behave.”

I’m sure a lot of you have read this book too so please let me know your thoughts on it, or your favourite quote!