Lowmoss Reading Group Reviews

East Dunbartonshire Libraries are working with the Education Team in Low Moss Prison to provide materials for their reading group. Here are some of their reviews.

THE BLACK HOUSE by Peter May

Never Judge a Book by its Cover
What we thought the book would be about..
..

We thought it would definitely be about murder and mystery and would have dark undertones to the story. We weren’t sure what role the actual black house would play in the story and some of the group were not sure what a black house was. We thought it would show an insight into island life that many of us were not familiar with. It seemed like the murder would not be the only plot line in this book and that the story would possibly delve into some of the characters past both on and off the island. We thought it seemed like it would be an exciting and gripping story with many twists and turns along the way.  

Book Review


The book is about a murder that happens on the Isle of Lewis.  Our lead character Fin, who was once an inhabitant of the island, is sent to investigate, only to find that he has been lured there. The book keeps you intrigued throughout and leads you towards an interesting conclusion of the case which has by fuelled by jealousy, resentment and the lengths that someone will go to seek revenge.

What I found interesting about the book was how it describes the culture on the Island. It describes some of the traditions that the islanders still have. The swings are still tied up on a Sunday because it’s the Sabbath, all the shops are closed, the kids are expected to be in early on the Saturday as it is an unwritten rule if they are out after twelve, it could mean trouble.

The main themes and messages of the book consist of how the island is still steeped in culture and the fact that Fin has been lured there. What he discovers is that both love and hate towards him has been bubbling beneath the surface of his community for the many years he has been absent.

The book is certainly worth a read for anyone who is interested in crime fiction. The way the scene has been set, how the setting is described and the plot to entice Fin back to the island makes a very worthwhile read.

Brian

Book Review

The Black House is a murder mystery novel by Peter May set on the Isle of Lewis. The main character, Fin MacLeod, is the murder detective who was born and raised on the island and then moved to Edinburgh after he left school. This is only the second time he has returned to the island since then and this time he drawn back to try and solve the gruesome murder local resident Angel McRitchie.

May switches time periods in many of the chapters so that we get a in depth look into Fin’s childhood and past, whilst also following the journey of him trying to solve the murder. Past friendships and rivalries all play a part in this story and it is easy to say the Fin is not welcomed back warmly by the islanders he once knew. The murder story is gripping but often it is the other stories surrounding it that turned out to be just as interesting.

I enjoyed the plot of this story and there were quite a few twists and turns to keep you interested. The setting is an often harsh and desolate landscape which in turn makes the story a lot more sinister and adds to the atmosphere. I also enjoyed learning about the traditions and cultures of the island and I feel the May describes this very well for the reader. However, I felt at times this made the plot a bit slow and I would have preferred it to be a bit more action packed throughout the middle of the book.

I would recommend this to anyone that likes a good crime novel or mystery book. If you are interested in places and people that you don’t know too much about then you would probably enjoy this book as well as it tells you so much about Lewis and what it is like to live there. Some of the characters are not the most likeable but I think this is because of the type of story and setting that the author has given it. It was definitely a page turner as every time I thought I had figured out who it was, there was another twist in the tale! I’d definitely now go on and read the other two books in this trilogy.

Ian

Book Review

The Black House by Peter May is the first part of The Lewis Trilogy. It centres around a detective who has moved away from the Isle of Lewis to Edinburgh for a number of reasons. The Detective, Fin MacLeod, has to go back to the island to investigate a murder. When he goes back it brings back a past to him that he would rather had stayed in the past. The murder victim is also someone he knew from his childhood that Fin would rather forget.

Having been put through the mill with family issues in Edinburgh, Fin thinks he is running away from all his problems, only to run directly into even more than he could ever have imagined.

I found the descriptions of the landscape in Lewis very informative and I could picture a really beautiful island. The more I read, the more I wanted to visit the island. As first I thought this book was going to be another murder mystery, but the lead character Fin has a lot more going on in his personal life, and by the last couple of chapters I did begin to really dislike him as a character. He seems to be constantly running away from his problems instead of facing them.

The main themes in the book are to not keep running away from your past and that you are better to confront it. Without giving the plot away, it is easy to say that this applies to a lot of the characters and much of the plot in this novel. There is also a hint of romance in the book between Fin and his childhood sweetheart.

I would say that most people would enjoy this book and would recommend it to anyone that likes a good page turner or detective novel. It explains island life very well and the more I read about it, the more I wanted to know about the place and its traditions. I am now looking forward to reading the second instalment of this trilogy, ‘The Lewis Man’.

Mark

Book Review

The Black House is a novel by Peter May, a murder mystery set on the Isle of Lewis. The writer utilises imagery throughout the story which helps the reader create a picture of the island in their mind as they read. May also portrays his characters in a true life manner, describing how real people who reside on the God fearing island live their life day to day.

The story’s protagonist is Fin MacLeod who grew up on the island. He is now a CID officer and lives in Edinburgh. Fin is going through a tough time with some personal problems in his life when he is sent to the island to investigate a murder. A body has been found in an abandoned building, circumstances bearing similarities to another murder he is investigating.

From the moment Fin arrives back on the island he is haunted by the past. His old life begins to unravel and through a series of flashbacks we learn about his life from childhood until he left the island. May skilfully provides and insight into the lives of Fin’s childhood friends contrasted with their present situation. May places their past ambitions alongside the reality of their dismal lives.

Overall, The Black House is a good read and a dark story with many twists that will keep a reader guessing until the end. However, in my opinion some chapters in the book were un-necessarily long and dragged on at times. May spends a disproportionate amount of time visiting the past rather than focusing on the murder investigation which is, I believe, the more interesting element of the story. Nevertheless, this book will appeal to those who enjoy a murder mystery and/or Scottish fiction.

Robert

Book Review

The Black House by Peter May is a gripping crime detective novel based on the small island community of Lewis. The setting is bleak and unforgiving, reminiscent of much of the great Scandinavian crime writing that is popular at the moment.

The main character Fin MacLeod is a police detective who was born and raised on the island. Unusually based in Edinburgh, he is drawn back to the island, and his past, when a resident of his village is brutally murdered. What follows is a trip back into his past where he must not only unearth the killer but also face up to many demons of his own.

May does an excellent job of depicting the island landscape, traditions and cultures, especially for a person who is not a native. The strong religious element to these people brings an interesting dimension to the plot, encouraging those involved in the murder investigation to put across a moral appearance when underneath all is not really as it seems.

Personally I do not find the main protagonist Fin to be the most likeable of characters, but perhaps this is essential when creating a detective. He is certainly troubled with his own demons and perhaps this makes him more human to the reader. Pretty much all of the characters are well developed and seem to have their own secrets to try and hide, making them all intriguing in their own way.

I found this book to be a thoroughly enjoyable and gripping read. The murder investigation almost became secondary to the story of Fin, the people he encounters from his past, and the secrets and traditions of the island itself. My only criticism is that the plot moves a little bit slowly at times, but May keeps enough surprises until the end of the book to keep you turning the page. I would recommend this to anyone that enjoys a gripping crime read with a shocking ending.

What we thought of the book by the end...

We thought the title had no great significance to the plot of the story – we expected something darker that was connected with a house.

Ending was a bit disappointing – would have preferred  it to be a bit less cheesy at the end, a bit more realistic, with all the loose ends not being tied up.

Landscape and culture is described very well – makes you want to go and visit Lewis.

Characters – Fin is not the most likeable of protagonists, but is a good stereotypical description of someone in that line of work. He can be quite unfeeling at times.

Masailli is probably the nicest character in the novel but her treatment from Fin makes us dislike him more.

The story is well told by May although we agreed it was too long at points.

The murder almost come as secondary to Fin’s story and that of the community.

Overall, this is an enjoyable book that tells us a lot about island life, its traditions and cultures. It could have been shorter and a faster moving plot but it was a good read.


'AMERICANAH' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

Book Review

Having read Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s previous two successful novels, and thoroughly enjoyed them, I was eager to dive into her third offering. Americanah centres around the lives of Ifemelu and Obinze, starting when they meet in secondary school in Nigeria, and traces their lives through to adulthood. Ifemelu’s journey takes her to America while Obinze ends up living and working in London. Their lives are not always together throughout the story but they are always intertwined, no matter how far away they are from each other.

Race is the main topic of Adiche’s story and here she is exploring the idea of racism and labels in both African and Western countries through the stories of the two main characters. Ifemelu sums this up by commenting that she never thought about being black until she moved to America, showing that Adiche wants us to think about the idea of skin colour and the prejudice connected with this being more of a historical Western construct.

Ifemelu moves from Nigeria to America to go to college, while Obinze’s journey takes him to the UK with the intention of eventually joining Ifemelu. By placing both characters in these settings, Adiche manages to explore the racial and cultural issues within both these Western countries. Ifemelu struggles with holding on to her Nigerian identity and at the same time immersing herself in American culture, education and politics. Obinze’s problems take more of a legal context and we see the problems many foreigners face when trying to settle in a new country and make money to support themselves.

Adiche’s strength as an author has always been that she can depict a landscape and characters colourfully and in great detail, which she accomplishes beautifully in this book. I’ve always enjoyed how she weaves the history and sociology of a people and place into her characters stories, often teaching us something we didn’t know before we opened the novel. The issues she raises with regards to race and identity make this a very thought provoking read, although I would have liked the romantic thread to have found its way back into the story earlier than it did as I felt it was not explored enough by the end of the novel. Not Adiche’s strongest book but certainly well worth a read.

Anna

Book Review

The novel I read is called Americanah and the main theme of this story is racism and poverty in the African and American cultures. The main characters of this plot are Ifemelu and Obinze who are high school sweethearts, after school Ifemelu goes to America to pursue her dreams. Obinze was meant to go to America with her but has to go to London.

Ifemelu becomes very involved in American life and tries to fit in with the culture. She often phones home to hear her family’s voice and her family can hear that she is struggling to adapt in her new lifestyle, she becomes very involved in American life and tries to fit in with the culture. She struggles with keeping some of her African identity whilst fitting in with the people in America.

 She has to face certain types of racism when she is living in America as it is such a mixed society and she at one point has a white, American boyfriend. She states that she never thought about being coloured until she moved to the US where it is more racially divided.

Ifemelu eventually moves back to Nigeria and the culture that she misses where she ends up back with Obinze. When Obinze moves to London he hopes to end up in America but struggles because of 9/11 and the tightened security.

While Ifemelu is doing well in America, Obinze struggles to settle in London and does not achieve the same professional levels as her. He is experiencing living illegally as a foreigner which is a very different and depressing experience while at the same time missing Ifemelu. Eventually, to find success he also returns to Nigeria and ends up being part of the emerging younger well of culture. This shows us how African cultures are now changing for the younger generations.

In my opinion this novel shows the reader how very different various cultures can be and the effect it has on young people’s lives growing up. I enjoyed how it showed different aspect of Ifemelu’s life and the relationship between her and Obinze.

Jamie

Book Review

The book is about a Nigerian couple who fall in love. It also covers race and the difficulties which can be found when someone moves to another country. For example you may find push and pull factors involved here as some people had to move from Nigeria because of the military regime and some opted to move to America believing it was the land of opportunity only to find that life in America could also bring its own obstacles. There is a comment in the book which states that ‘they never knew they were black until they moved to America’. You will also find that some who had moved there had embraced the American culture while other still tried to maintain their own cultural identity.

The main character Ifemelu struggles with keeping her old Nigerian identity and accepting aspects of the Western culture that she finds herself surrounded by. She has American boyfriends and friends, even a Western education, but she still tries to keep certain African roots alive. The book jumps back and forward through time with the connecting scenes of her visit to a hair braiding salon to have hers done before she returns to Nigeria. In these connecting scenes we see small snippets of the various cultures that all come together in the ‘melting pot’ of America.

The main male character, Obinze, also struggles with being a foreign national in London. His problems are different to Ifemelu’s but something that many will face when trying to settle in the West. He is there illegally and has to struggle to find work and support himself. His story tells us more about the legal obstacles that face those who come to the West for a better life.

What I found interesting about the book is how it displayed the diversity which can be found within a country such as America. For example, through Ifemelu and the online blog that she creates we are told that much of the US cosmetic industry were only targeting white people and therefore ignoring the cultural background of at least half of their consumer. The book shows us that what may seem like trivial things such as this can have a far reaching affect on peoples cultural attitudes in the West.

The main themes and messages throughout the book include diverse relationships, culture and family. While a lot of the book how attitudes are shifting, such as when Obama is elected as President, at the same time, it also shows that you can still find racial tensions within countries so rich in cultural diversity.

Why the book appealed to me is the fact that it was not a book that I would normally have chosen but I feel I gained a lot from reading it. It is a long book so it’s particularly good for dedicated book worms and you can get really lost in the story and landscapes the author describes. I found the book to be very educational and informative, perhaps not one of her best novels but still a worthwhile read.

Brian

Book Review

Americanah is a novel by Chimamanda Nigozi Adichie.  The main characters Ifemelu and Obinze dated during their school days in Lagos, Nigeria.  When their country fell under military dictatorship, many Africans left their country.  Ifemelu embarked on a journey to study in America, where she experiences many cultural differences and racial prejudices.  Obinze had planned to join her on her journey, however, security following post 9/11 terrorist attacks he was denied entry to America.

Years later, they lose touch and after spending some time in Britain, Obinze is a wealthy man in the new democratic Nigeria.  Ifemelu returns as a successful writer after stating an eye opening blog on the subject of race while in America.  They are both re-united however face some of the toughest decisions of their lives.

This novel did not match my favoured style of literature.  The writer was too descriptive throughout and some chapters were longer than necessary.  Although it may not be to everyone’s taste, those interested in different cultures African culture in particular, may find this an enjoyable read.

Robert