A Bloody Book Funk Indeed…

Well that teaches me doesn’t it? Here comes Simon promising you that Savidge Reads will be all singing and all dancing again and then what happens… I promptly fall into an epic, seemingly never ending Book Funk. So severe in fact I haven’t picked up a book in just over two weeks which is really, really, really horrid and really, really, really unlike me. I have just felt a bit booked out, like the world was a never ending spiral of books I would never read, let alone write or talk about. Yes, THAT BAD! The sort of thing that is almost nightmare inducing.

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The book wormhole of doom…

This is quite possibly all my fault, I may have taken on too much at once. I decided to take on the Not The Booker shortlist, which is a prize I really love and indeed loved being part of the judging panel a few years ago. This year though the entrants have just isolated me with the exception of Dan Micklethwaite’s The Less Than Perfect Legend of Donna Creosote and Tiffany McDaniel’s The Summer That Melted Everything (to be fair I haven’t tried the Deborah Andrews yet, I will ay some point) and also I have found it unusually snarky on the comments this year. It seems people are focused on what they don’t like about the books rather than what they do which loses its charm and appeal, so I have backed of a bit. I also agreed to do a buddy read of Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children which the bloody lovely Adam of Memento Mori, but it is a beast and one with a very annoying and rambling main character who utterly pisses me off, so I had to have a break… after three chapters. I will continue again soon though because it is good and there is an absolute harridan in it who I love to hate, plus a promise to a fellow booktuber is like an oath. Ha. So I will pick that up soon. I also think work and moving and all that jazz has taken over. Sometimes, as weird and frankly disturbing as it sounds, maybe we just need a break from books now and then? Or have I just blasphemed?

 Yet a book has arrived that I really want to curl up with and read later this evening, which is something I have not felt the desire for in quite some time – in fact my bedside table is currently awash with half read or just started and abandoned books that I don’t seem to be getting anywhere with. Which is the book? Well it is Angel Catbird which is Margaret Atwood’s first foray into graphic novels and I think, with it’s mixture of superhero and Atwood, will be the perfect thing to get me back into the joy of words., so wish me luck.

Have any of you got any tips for how to deal with book funks? Or any ways to keep them at bay or spot the warning signs? All suggestions welcome. I decided just to sit it out until the right book came along, should I have just plundered on?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #82 – Robert Davies

Hello and welcome back to the series Other People’s Bookshelves. If you haven’t seen them before these are a series where a guest takes over the blog and feeds into the book lust we all feel by sharing their shelves. This week we are off to lovely Wales, the land of cwtchs and witches, to join Robert Davies and have a nosey through hisshelves. Before we do Robert has kindly put on a welsh spread of utter delight for us all and is going to introduce himself before we rampage through his bookshelves…

I was born and grew up in South Wales and was encouraged by my parents at a young age to read as much as possible. I studied English Literature at Aberystwyth University which, despite being an excellent degree programme, shattered my interest in reading for pleasure for a long time. I now work in a large South Wales university, and I make use of the local public and academic libraries as much as possible. I’d love to eventually move into the library department, hopefully one day gaining the qualifications necessary to become a librarian. Outside of work I’ve spent time writing, recording and releasing music, and I like to use my free time visiting interesting places like local castles, ruins, forests and museums with my girlfriend. I write reviews of what I’ve been reading on my blog, Book Mongrel.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I try to keep everything on my shelves but I’m reaching the storage limit in my small house. I’ve just started to transfer a few shelves’ worth of “read” books over to another bookcase but I think I’ll hit the space limit on that pretty soon too. I’m not concerned with what’s on display – even books I didn’t enjoy or never got round to reading stay on the shelves until I decide to sell or donate them. At the moment the shelves are in disarray (just how I like it), with piles of books put on the shelves in front of the other books which are stacked upright. I quite like how the contents of the shelf are always shifting – I’m either pulling out a new book to read or going back to an older reference book to check some details, so the main bookshelf never stays the same for long.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

My shelves are mostly organised by “read” and “to be read”, but individual shelves aren’t organised in any meaningful way other that trying to keep similar-sized books together. Generally I’ll try to keep genres together, but it’s not something I’ll painstakingly work on as it never seems to look any neater. I have a lot of graphic novels, comics, coffee table books and textbooks that are generally too large to just stuff in amongst a bunch of paperbacks, so I try to make them fit in where I can. I’m also enjoying the recent Penguin 80 Little Black Classics series, and they are pocked-sized, so it’s sometimes difficult to make the best use of the limited space. I haven’t culled my bookshelf yet but I’m starting to identify which books should really be passed on – I’m planning to donate them to charity shops or give them to friends but I don’t think that will actually free up that much space anyway.

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What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

I had to think hard about the answer to this question as my parents were always very encouraging with my reading and would usually buy me something from bookshops when I was a kid, even before I was old enough to have a job of my own. I’d also make frequent use of the local library and read as much as possible, so it’s hard to pin down the first book I actually bought for myself. I think it was either a Penguin edition of George Orwell’s Complete Novels, or Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, bought when I was around fourteen or fifteen. I still have both of these on my shelves. They’re nice, well-read, thumbed-through copies, and I think 1984 is full of notes from my English GCSE classes.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

I don’t really buy into the idea of guilty pleasures any more – I don’t think I would be embarrassed by anything on my bookshelf. I’m interested in grisly stuff and horror/crime/occult books so I have a few items that probably don’t look that great, and may put a few people off based on the subject matter, but they’re part of my collection, and they belong on the bookshelf.

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

My grandmother gave me a very old copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination when I was younger, which I still have to this day. I’m guessing it belonged to her mother or another relative but I don’t have that much information I’m afraid. I found some publication information recently – it’s a Collins Illustrated edition from around 1920. There are some lovely illustrations that accompany the stories, but the pages are very delicate so I try not to handle it too much. I now have a cheap edition of The Complete Poe that I can use for day-to day reading.

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What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

My parents weren’t big readers so I never really saw many books around the family home. My mother used to read a lot of celebrity biographes and what I believe are called “tragic life stories”, things like “A Boy Called It” and the like. The only book I ever remember my father reading was a London gangster autobiography called The Guv’nor. I’m just not interested in that kind of stuff, so I always tried to seek out books that I was interested in myself. The first real “grown up” book I ever remember taking from the library was Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo. I took it home and tried my best to read it but obviously for a fourteen year old it was way over my head. I liked the cover design and the sense of extreme mystery within the book, and the fact that there was all this knowledge within the pages that my young mind just couldn’t decipher at the time. I still haven’t read it! I also remember my grandmother having a hardback collection of Great Ghost Stories by various writers that I never seemed old enough to read at the time. I now have this book on my shelf.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

It depends on the book. I generally only borrow books that I’ve read about beforehand, so it’s likely that I’ll enjoy the book anyway. In the last few years, I’ve read some great books that I’ve borrowed from libraries and friends, and then gone ahead and gotten my own copy. Some of the books available in the university’s academic libraries are very rare or out of print, so it’ll give me a chance to do some detective work to find a decent, relatively inexpensive copy in good condition if I want to buy it for myself. I try to make use of the libraries as much as possible but I certaintly do have a bit of a buying addiction!

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What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

The last books were 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke (I found the sequel, 2010, in a local charity shop so now I’d like to read the whole series), Under the Skin by Michel Faber (based on the film and a friend’s recommendation) and The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson (another recommendation from a friend).

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

Yes, quite a few! The ones I’d like to get ahold of next are: Rub Out The Words, the second volume of letters by William S. Burroughs, The Violent Bear it Away by Flannery O’ Connor and You Can’t Win by Jack Black. I usually have a pretty substantial list of books to be read/bought on my phone or in my notebook.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

I’m not sure what they would think… my friends and I have very similar tastes but I guess someone who didn’t know me might think that I have a wide range of interests, ranging from classic literary fiction to very low pulp fare. They may notice that I have a big selection of non-fiction, and not very much modern fiction. I don’t think I currently have any major prize winners on my shelves, so this might be something they notice. I think anyone would definitely realise that I’m a horror fan!

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And a huge thanks to Robert for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves.. If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance, I am catching up with all the latest volunteers. In the meantime… what do you think of Robert’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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Other People’s Bookshelves # 81 – Susan Davis

With Savidge Reads being back up in action it seems only right that the Other People’s Bookshelves series returns almost instantly. If you haven’t seen them before these are a series where a guest takes over the blog and feeds into the book lust we all feel by sharing their shelves. This week we are off to Shropshire, just down the road from my mum, to join author Susan Davis and have a nosey through her shelves. Before we do Susan has kindly put on a lovely afternoon tea for us all and is going to introduce herself before we rampage through her bookshelves…

I write in a converted coal shed in Shropshire which sometimes feels like an anchorite’s cell. If I stand on a chair I can just glimpse a slice of Wenlock Edge through the tiny window. Back in the nineties and noughties I published Y/A fiction along with short stories under my real name, Susan Davis. I now write psychological thrillers under the pseudonym Sarah Vincent, most recent of which is ‘The Testament of Vida Tremayne.’ When I’m not writing my own stuff, I work as an editor and mentor for ‘The Writers’ Workshop.’ I don’t have any cats, just a terrier who likes to chase them.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

They need to be special to earn a permanent spot these days. ‘Special’ would mean: Virago classics by old favourites like Elizabeth Taylor, or Barbara Comyns. Also contemporary fiction that gets better with every re-read like Sarah Water’s ‘The Little Stranger’ or ‘Gillespie and I’ by Jane Harris. All books written by friends and acquaintances. You can’t very well give them away, unless you’ve fallen out! Books with gorgeous covers – can’t resist the Scarlett Thomas books, although for me ‘The End of Mr.Y’ was the one that really lived up to its cover. Non-fiction and reference books which feed into my fiction, art books with lots of lovely pictures – a refreshing break from words. Otherwise books that have that read-and-let-go quality, are likely to be shipped off to charity shops when I’ve finished or passed around friends.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

Mostly by category. There are three main bookshelves in the house and a few smaller ones. The study bookshelves go something like this: top shelf for poetry and writer biogs which I’m addicted to. When I’ve got a dose of tortured artiste syndrome, I dip into Sylvia Plath’s journals for reassurance. A few Viragos up there also.  Second shelf: esoteric tomes and all the fiction I’ve published over the years, including anthologised stories. Also the teen trilogy ‘The Henry Game’ – their bright sweetie coloured covers do jump out a bit. Third shelf down: Art books, more weirdo esoteric stuff, reference, and so on.

Upstairs bookcase is all fiction, novels written by friends, some children’s books and short story collections. Living-Room book shelves are a mess. Which is odd when you consider that they are the only shelves on public display. This is because I share them with my husband – so the top shelf harness-making, birdie and crafty books are all his. Honest. No categories on my second shelf down. They just loll about together in a drunken fashion. I’m keeping a space for my daughter’s overflow of books as she’s moving house shortly.

I had a major book cull around four years ago in a mad de-cluttering moment. We were moving to a tiny cottage by the sea, or so we thought, so I had to be ruthless. Whole shelves were cleared, and I invited friends to come and take their pick from the boxes. They gaily carried off some gems, which I now regret chucking out. Sadly, our house sale fell through, leaving me with huge gaps to fill. I now cull regularly in case we decide to move again. Trouble is, every time I take books to the charity shop, I come back with another bag full.

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

It’s a toss-up between ‘Teach Yourself Astrology’ which I think I bought with money for my 11th birthday, or it could have been ‘The Lord of the Rings’ in hardback when I was 12, having just been introduced to ‘The Hobbit’ at school. I think my son must’ve nabbed that one when he left home because it’s not on the shelves now. Here I should perhaps explain that I grew up in the fifties, in a working class household where buying books was considered a dreadful extravagance. Why buy them when you’d only read once and could go to the library and read for free? My parents were avid readers, bless them, so the Saturday trip to the library was the highlight of my week.

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Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

No, nothing to hide!  If I had I’d be more likely to have them on Kindle. I’d probably have squirmed a bit about the esoteric books at one time, books about ley lines and fairies and so on. Would people think me strange? Nowadays, I know they do, so I don’t care!

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

That has to be a dusty black hardback, a first edition of Ursula Bloom’s ‘Wanting to Write’, published in 1958. It was published well before the Creative Writing Industry took off, and is full of gems like: I have always found that the ordinary pen which requires dipping in the inkpot is far more helpful than the fountain pen or ballpoint which today is so much to the fore. When I stumbled upon it in a junk shop in the early seventies, I was a young mum bashing out novels on a Remington typewriter in my kitchen, and feeling almost ashamed of my compulsion to write. Bloom made me feel less alone. I do have a special shelf for these early ‘writing’ books which I collect, (which I haven’t included in the pics.) Which books would I save in a fire? I wouldn’t. I’d be more likely to try and save old photo albums. Books can always be replaced.

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and is it on your shelves now?

I discovered copies of ‘Fanny Hill’ and ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ in my dad’s dressing table drawer once, but they seemed dull at the time. When I searched again as an adolescent they had magically disappeared. I suppose the first ‘grown-up’ book must have been ‘Little Women’ which was one of the few books my mum actually owned and was much prized on her shelf. Is that grown-up enough? Followed closely by the usual suspects, classics like ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’ which I loved.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

Yes, occasionally. I’m more likely to do that with non-fiction books, often about rural life or travel, like Robert Mcfarlane’s wonderful ‘The Old Ways’ which I originally borrowed, then treated myself to. The same thing happened with ‘The Morville Hours’ by Katherine Swift, a beautiful book which is of local interest so good to dip into.

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What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

Peter Ackroyd’s ‘Albion’ ‘the origins of the English Imagination.’ Brand new and a bargain find in an Oxfam shop. Looks stunning on the shelf but I haven’t got around to reading yet.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

Hundreds. I’m looking for a copy of George Borrow’s ‘Wild Wales’ which I first read on my Kindle. However I’d rather have the real thing to take on trips to Wales with me. Oh, and there’s a beautiful new edition of Elizabeth’s Taylor’s Complete Short Stories. I plan to treat myself to that one soon.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

What would I like them to think? Hah, what an interesting person, she clearly possesses exquisite taste. Seriously, they’d probably be left scratching their heads. Who knows?

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And a huge thanks to Susan for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, apologies again for the delay but it was so worth the wait. If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance, I am catching up with all the latest volunteers. In the meantime… what do you think of Susan’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Savidge Reads is 9 Years Old Today…

Well who would of thought it? Savidge Reads is nine years old today, where has the time gone? It seems eons and eons ago, yet strangely only like yesterday, that I opened up a browser on Blogspot (for that is where it all started) and began keeping a diary of all the books I was reading and some of the random things I was doing. And then look what happened!!

I have actually been feeling quote nostalgic about it all over the last few weeks, especially with things like the Orion news and mainly last week when I was down in London and spent a few days with lots and lots of lovely people (Rob, Kate, Jen, Jean, Will, Catherine, Katie etc) all who I might not have met without the existence of this blog which is one of the greatest joys is has brought me, be they people in real life or online as I have made great friendships both ways, along with some wonderful opportunities and also some bloody marvellous books and reading experiences (some in other countries) ever since. Here is one of my highlights but there are many more, many, many more. I think that all calls for cake doesn’t it…

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It is all this wonderful nostalgia, great books, delightful people etc that have made me feel rather and guilty and rather bad of late because I have not been the best book blogger, in fact I have been wondering if I could still call myself that with the lack of posting. So I have had a break, done some thinking… And now I am ready to come back and get cracking with recommending you great reads all over again. More on that soon, because I might go wild an post a book review tomorrow (crazy I know). In the meantime though I just want to say thank you. Thanks for visiting here, be it little or often. Thank you for commenting, or just for lurking. Thank you to everyone who has had great bookish chats with me over the years, and thanks to many of you for some ruddy wonderful reads. Here’s to the next 9 years, more wonderful books, chats, friendships and memories. I need to get planning on what to do for the big 1-0 next year. In the meantime though, I think I best get back to that cake! Thank you all again. (Simon goes and weeps in a corner from all the emotion.)

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Foxlowe – Eleanor Wasserberg

Sometimes you just get a gut feeling about a book don’t you? You see it in a bookshop, or hear about it somewhere and just think ‘that is probably going to be the book for me’. That was the case with Eleanor Wasserberg’s debut novel Foxlowe, a book which caught my eye with its cover (a creepy looking big house gets me every time) and then became a must read when I discovered it was about communes. So I promptly asked the publishers if I might snaffle a copy. Yet once it arrived I did that awful thing when you have I crush, I became a bit shy of it (coy some might say; sideways longing glances and smiles) and dared not pick it up in case it wasn’t all I had hoped. Thanks to a booktube buddy read with Jean, Jen, Mercedes and Brittany I finally picked it up.

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Fourth Estate, hardback, 2016, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Tiny red beads came from the lines on my arm. Those soft scars give away like wet paper. There’s a game that helps: footsteps in the dust, twisting to match the old strides without taking any of the skin away from the Spike Walk. Another: name steps all the way to the yellow room end of the Spike Walk. Freya, Toby, Green, Egg, Pet, the Bad. I made it to the final nail and squinted at the arm. Red tears and the lines woollen hot; a crying face. I turned to Freya, her long arms wrapped around herself at the ballroom end of the Walk. She nodded, so I breathed deeper and licked some of the salt and coins taste to make it clean.
Freya spoke. – And back again, Green.

As Foxlowe starts we are thrown headfirst into the world of Green and the realm of the rambling old house of Foxlowe. Green , a young girl whose age we never really know because she doesn’t, we soon learn has done something she shouldn’t and so is undergoing ‘the Spike Walk’ a form of punishment by the commune of Foxlowe’s (self proclaimed, we discover) leading lady, Freya. Seemingly something called ‘the Bad’ from the outside world has worked its way into Green, children being more susceptible, and needs to be exorcised.

From here, through Green’s youthful and rather naive eyes, we are soon show how life within crumbling Foxlowe works; Richard and Freya being two of the Founders who have created various myths, half truths and full on falsehoods to keep both the younger (Green and October, or Toby) and older members (Ellensia, Dylan, Liberty, Pet and Egg) of ‘the Family’ away from the outside world. Green has never questioned the, often unwritten but very much felt, rules and regulations in free spirited Foxlowe, that is until Freya comes home with a new baby, Blue, who Green instantly hates with a jealous vengeance and starts to rebel against. Or has ‘the Bad’ taken her over?

It didn’t take long for Freya to see how I hated new little sister almost from the beginning. It was in the faces I gave her and the way I held her a little too rough. Then she overheard my name for her. I thought it would be the Spike Walk but instead I was Edged. Freya told the Family this one morning by tossing me the burnt part of the bread and they all saw. They all had to look away when I spoke and no one was allowed to touch me. I was alone, edging around the circles the Family made around New Thing. I snatched eye contact and accidental touch, watching and listening, haunting rooms.

After the arrival of Blue into Green’s world Wasserberg starts to turn things up a notch, the initial slightly creepy tension building and becoming more and more uneasy. At the same time the relationship between Freya and Green, who you are never sure if are real mother and daughter or not, starts to deteriorate and Green rebels. Throw in all the questions and hormones of a girl on the cusp of womanhood and you have quite the potent concoction that not even the most skilful of witches could brew up. It is here that Wasserberg then surprises us, as we lead to what we think is the dénouement, she takes us somewhere totally different years after and then asks us to work backwards. Suffice to say I loved this and not many authors can pull that trick off.

I was hooked from the first page (though the prologue did throw me a bit, just crack on after that and you’re fine) until the end, which I have to say absolutely chilled me with its final paragraph. No, I am not spoiling it by saying that, it is just fact and was also something that made me love the book all the more. That said it takes more than a full on body icy dread chilling ending to make a book a success, you have to get there first and Wasserberg had me captivated throughout.

One of the main reasons for this are the twists and turns and mysteries within Foxlowe and its characters, plus the dynamic of the internal world and the external. The other is Green’s narration, which might take you a little while to get into the rhythm of, as she writes with a mixture of hindsight, a child’s eyes and slightly skewed viewpoint. Her naivety and misinformed (or groomed, if we are being honest) mean she spots things that seem normal or minimal to her, yet we read very differently. I bloody loved this, and then there was Freya…

Freya loved rolling dough. She thwacked it onto the bench, pummelling with her fists. I gave up mine, stuck on the bench in stringy clumps, and watched her. A thick line of white ran through her black hair, which she wore twisted up in a high bun. Her long skirt was pulled down over her hips, and above it she had tied her t-shirt in a knot. Silvery lines zigzagged over her skin, around her back.
She caught me with her eyes. In the gloom of the kitchen there wasn’t a fleck of colour in them, so dark they made the whites seem to glow.

I am an absolute glutton for a villain in literature; regular readers will know how much I adore Rebecca’s Mrs Danvers, you shouldn’t but you do. Freya was like that only worse, I didn’t adore her but I was grimly mesmerised by her. She is a fascinating character study of what makes a cult leader. As much as she is beguiling at her core she is a scheming, vicious (some of the things she does to the children is appalling and some readers may find deeply upsetting, be warned), manipulative, power hungry monster who uses her body and people’s need for love and acceptance to get what she wants. And she gets worse and Wasserberg’s depiction of how people can be brain washed, at any age, is pretty haunting. I loved to hate her.

As well as some of the bigger elements Wasserberg captivates you with more hidden, subtle and intricate elements. This is all because of her writing; one of the things I liked in particular was how easily I was lead into such a dark book and all its themes, no showing off. For example she doesn’t make a big song and dance of how Foxlowe crumbles at the rate Freya’s relationship with Green does, or how that also links into the crumbling of Freya’s own power and mental stability. It is all just there in the background. Oh and another big favourite things of mine, fairytale and myth are all interwoven within Foxlowe which becomes as big a character as any of the people within it.

At the end of his first week the weather turned cool, and we made a hot dinner. I dipped bread in egg, pushing it under to make it soggy. Freya took the eggshells and smashed them in her fists.
– So witches can’t use them, she said, and winked at me.

I won’t forget Foxlowe for quite some time, and not just because of that ending, which gives me the shivers every time I think of it also because it is one of those books where it’s atmosphere lingers with you. It is an engaging, uncomfortable, gripping and pretty darn chilling story of the power of manipulation and desperation to be loved. It is also a deft exploration of the psychology of brainwashing both for those doing it and those who fall prey to it. I cannot recommend this book highly enough; whatever Wasserberg does next I will be rushing to read it.

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Filed under Books of 2016, Eleanor Wasserberg, Fourth Estate Books, Review

Eileen – Ottessa Moshfegh

One of the (few) books that I correctly predicted would be longlisted for the Man Booker this year was Ottessa Moshfegh’s debut novel Eileen, having read it earlier in the year. It was a book that I had not yet managed to get around to reviewing. The reason? Well, Eileen is a book that is rather like its main protagonist and narrator; complex and puzzling. It is hard to pin down, a book that you really need to let settle, have a think about and then find other people to talk about it with before your final feelings on it come through, which after quite a few months (well seven, I read it in January, oops) they now have.

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Penguin Press, hardback, 2015, fiction, 272 pages, kindly sent by a lovely friend from the USA (also available in here in the UK from Vintage Books)

In what we can only guess is the present day, Eileen Dunlop takes us back to the 1960’s when she was not long past the cusp between girlhood and womanhood. Back then she lived with her neglectful (to put it mildly) father and worked at the local correctional facility for men. She also hints that the time she is reflecting on was also the brief lead up to when she left her hometown, ‘X-ville’ New England, a time when it seems Eileen was frankly pretty much as sick of the town as she was herself.

And back then – this was fifty years ago – I was a prude. Just look at me. I wore heavy wool skirts that fell past my knees, thick stockings. I always buttoned my jackets and blouses as high as they could go. I wasn’t a girl who turned heads. But there was nothing really so wrong or terrible about my appearance. I was young and fine, average, I guess. But at the time I thought I was the worst – ugly, disgusting, unfit for the world. In such a state it seemed ridiculous to call attention to myself. I rarely wore jewelry, never perfume, and I didn’t paint my nails. For a while I did wear a ring with a little ruby in it. It had belonged to my mother.

The catalyst for this change soon becomes clear to the reader. After many days dragging by in the dull and nonexistent life in the prison, where she spends most of the time fantasising about what she would like to do to Randy and vice versa, the arrival of a new face stirs things up for Eileen in almost every sense. This arrival, Rebecca, is at once alluring and also to Eileen (a lot like most of the things in her life) utterly repugnant, yet she can’t help being somewhat mesmerized.

In any case, this woman was beautiful and looked vaguely familiar in the way that all beautiful people look familiar. So within thirty seconds I’d decided she must be an idiot, have a brain like a powder puff, be bereft of any depth or darkness, have no interior life whatever. Like Doris Day, this woman must live in a charmed world of fluffy pillows and golden sunshine. So of course I hated her. I’d never come face-to-face with someone so beautiful before in my life.

It is at this point that the reader starts to realise, from the growing clues in Moshfegh’s writing, that something awful this way comes. It is also the point that we start to realise that either Eileen, Rebecca, or possibly both of them, are not quite the sort of girls that they like everyone to think they are. By this point I was of course hooked, especially as I began to realise that, whether Eileen was villain or victim in what was to come, she was a completely unreliable narrator and probably not intentionally. Eileen it seems is playing a slight cat and mouse game as she whispers in your ear with regards to all things truthful. And who doesn’t love that, especially when you have the dreadful foreboding that something truly awful, or several things, is/are going to happen as you read on?

A grown woman is like a coyote – she can get by on very little. Men are more like house cats. Leave them alone for too long and they’ll die of sadness. Over the years I’ve grown to love men for this weakness. I’ve tried to respect them as people, full of feelings, fluctuating and beautiful from day to day. I have listened, soothed, wiped the tears away. But as a young woman in X-ville, I had no idea that other people – men or women – felt things as deeply as I did. I had no compassion for anyone unless his suffering allowed me to indulge in my own. My development was very stunted in this regard.

What that something is I can’t say because I don’t want it to spoil anything for you. I can say that it made my jaw drop because it came completely out of nowhere. In hindsight there were some intricate signs from Moshfegh but at the time it properly knocked my reading senses for six. Which was great, however… Yes, there is a however coming here. It was after this revelation that the whole premise of Eileen as a novel and as a character, became slightly unhinged for me (you can choose if you would like to take that as a pun or not). Let me explain why.

Moshfegh is, without a doubt, a very, very good writer. She likes to play with words and expectations as much as she likes to play with her readers. Great examples of that are the moment she hints she wanted to work in a prison because she was hoping for sexy danger, or the initial focus point for all Eileen’s fantasising being called Randy. There’s lots of these wonderful moments. Moshfegh’s writing is at its most compelling and chilling when she delicately and intricately weaves the most finely spun (by that I mean thinnest, but it is also when she is literally at her finest) of spiders webs around her readers head. This deftness is some of her most powerful writing. It is also when she is at her darkest be it in setting, character or mood which makes the uneasiness it’s most concentrated. There are some sections like below, where a few subtle lines say so more than meets the eye, particularly in the last line.

My daydreams of fingers and tongues and secret rendezvous in the back hallways of Moorehead kept my heart beating, or else I think I would have dropped dead of boredom. Thus, I lived in perpetual fantasy. And like all intelligent young women, I hid my shameful perversions under a façade of prudishness. Of course I did. It’s easy to tell the dirtiest minds – look for the cleanest fingernails.

However after the revelations of what happens we seem to go from carefully crafted psychological thriller to balls out freewheeling plot wise and I think this lost me to a degree. Not enough to ruin the book for me or stop me reading or throw it across the room, just enough to make me pause and have the dark gothic spell of Moshfegh’s prose broken for me slightly. And boy was it a wickedly enchanting spell up until that point. I kept thinking of HIghsmith’s Deep Water as I read on.

Bar that slight blip, I think Eileen is a pretty brilliant debut novel. I love dark, gritty, slightly uncomfortable reads and this certainly ticks all of those boxes. It is also an utterly fascinating character portrait looking at how the way we are brought up and treated affects us, as well as what we expect from women and how society views they should behave. I have been watching BBC Three’s brilliant Fleabag recently, which might seem like a random aside, where we also have a lead character who is dark, frank, tragic, slightly sinister and not quite right, yet we can’t quite get enough of her. I will be very excited to see what Moshfegh follows this up with.

Note. A reader of the blog has asked I add a trigger warning. There are some themes of abuse and violence some may find deeply disturbing. Apologies I didn’t think of that.

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Filed under Man Booker, Ottessa Moshfegh, Penguin Books, Review, Vintage Books

Not The Booker Prize Shortlist 2016

I may be in another country, however one piece of book based news I was keeping my beady bookish eyes on was the announcement for the Not The Booker Prize shortlist 2016 yesterday. I love the Booker as many of you will know, I am also deeply fond of it’s slightly rebellious relation (well not relation but you know what I mean) and was thrilled to judge it a few years ago when the Not The Booker opened itself up for a jury of judges. It was such fun taking part and I loved the bookish chats, I have also remained friends with some of the lovely folk that I judged with. So after having been torn for choice by the longlist I voted for two titles (there were many, many I could have voted for) an waited with baited breath by the pool in our villa. Here are the shortlisted titles…

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  • Walking the Lights – Deborah Andrews (Freight Books)
  • The Combinations – Louis Armand (Equus)
  • What Will Remain – Dan Clements (Silvertail)
  • The Summer That Melted Everything – Tiffany McDaniel (Scribe)
  • The Less Than Perfect Legend of Donna Creosote – Dan Micklethwaite (Bluemoose Books)
  • Chains of Sand – Jemma Wayne (Legend Press)

Here I have some shamefaced admittance (is that a word?) I have not heard of many of the six that have been shortlisted, in fact I have only heard of two of them. Tiffany McDaniel because I was sent it ages ago as the publisher said it would be right up my street, and admittedly it looks it, and Jemma Wayne as she was longlisted for the Bailey’s Prize a few years ago. This though, for me, is exciting. I love hearing about books that I have no knowledge of (I loved this when I discovered what the Man Booker longlist was, I love it with every prize). It is also good as there are a lot of independent publishers on the list and you know how I love those.

The list has set me off on a journey discovering more about them all and I have to say this does sound like a really interesting bunch which I might have to get a wriggle on and read. You have something massive, and slightly scary sounding with the Armand. A modern fairytale with heaps of bookish nods in the Micklethwaite, which by the sounds of it has the potential to be one of my books of the year. A tale of theatre and the young, drunk and messy, life of an actor with the Andrews. A small town distraught by the arrival of a young boy who could be the devil in McDaniel’s, which is one of the books I have been most excited about this summer and have for the bank holiday next week. And two novels of looking at war and conflict, and all that comes with those, with Wayne and Clements. I just need to get my hands on them…

Have you read any of the list? What do you make of it?

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Filed under Not The Booker Prize