Monthly Archives: July 2009

Somewhere Towards The End – Diana Athill

Having read such a fabulous tome of a book as the wonderful ‘The Taste of Sorrow’ by Jude Morgan I wasn’t ready to go straight into another tome in the form of (what so far is shaping another wonderful book) of A.S. Byatt’s ‘The Childrens Book’ and the start of my Man Booker-a-thon. So I didn’t quite know what I should read next. So I picked up the winner of the Costa Biography Award 2008 which is Diana Athill’s ‘Somewhere Towards The End’. 

I didn’t know anything about Diana Athill other than the fact she had written an award winning book about being old. Seriously I am not going to lie and say I knew that she was a literary editor and I didn’t know that she had written a novel, a complication of short stories and five other biographies before this one. So really I didn’t know what to expect but it was like finding a secret treasure trove. 

Athill herself writes about the feelings and thoughts of someone who was born in 1917 and what its like to be living in 2009 and what it is like to be old. Anything and everything is up for discussion from how “seeing Pug’s in a park” making her cross as she can’t ever own one as she cant walk it or it might outlive her to religion or sexual desires dying and awakening as you get older. It’s never rude or awkward just very, very frank and honest and open and that is priceless in an author of their own biography I always felt I was getting the untainted truth. 

I laughed a lot with this book from all the subjects in this book. (In fact I should have mentioned it in yesterday’s blog.) There is however the slightly dark and disturbing subject of death, something that Athill isn’t worried about its more that she just doesn’t want it to be ‘painful or horrid, and lets face it, it can be horrid’ and yet even in this harder subject, no one is really very good at death are they, she discusses it in such an honest and positive way that you feel much better about it. I wish you could bottle Athill’s happiness and optimism the world would undoubtedly be a much better place. But then again her life and experiences seem to have taught her life is short, for living and regret very little. 

Now anyone who says that ‘you have to be old to enjoy this book’ is probably one of those people who said ‘only people who have had children can understand We Need to Talk About Kevin’ and are wrong (these were both issues raised on the brilliant Guardian Book Club Podcasts and made me very cross). I mean Lionel Shriver hasn’t had children and she wrote that book. I don’t want to kill people but found ‘In Cold Blood’ fascinating, do you know what I mean? A good author will make you experience all sorts of things that we haven’t been through before and possibly never will. Well after reading ‘Somewhere Towards The End’ I am looking forward to old age a lot more than I was before. 

This is perfect for a relaxed afternoon read where you can read it all in one sitting as believe me you won’t be able to put it down. Like I said I didn’t know anything about Diana Athill and I didn’t know that she had written a novel, a complication of short stories and five other biographies before this one… I am thrilled to know it all now as I have absolutely loads more of Athill’s work to read and that is definitely a treat to look forward to.

Do you think you have to be older to enjoy this book, can you only enjoy books if you have experienced something in them yourselves? Have you read this and did you completely love it? Have you read any of Diana Athill’s other books of fiction or non-fiction?

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Filed under Books of 2009, Diana Athill, Granta Books, Review

Funny Ha Ha?

Today’s Booking Through Thursday looks short and sweet but is actually really, really hard. “What is the funniest book you have read recently?” And do you know what I am really having to wrack my brain as it sounds easy but thinking back it really isn’t. I suppose it all really depends on what you classify as funny. 

I suppose books that make me laugh out loud (generally on the tube when it suddenly for a rare moment goes silent) tend to be quite dry. For example Hotel du Lac in parts really made me giggle at the narrator, and therefore the authors, dry witty statements and observations of types of people. I don’t like it to be cruel, just very observational. Nancy Mitford is a prime example of an author who can make me laugh out loud, and sometimes for hours with dry, sometimes brittle, humour both in ‘The Pursuit of Love’ and in some of the anthologies of her letters. 

If we are going on ‘funny ha, ha’ then I am a bit stumped I would say autobiographies by comedians are always good for a laugh. Last year I read both Dawn French and Alan Carr’s books and they did give me the wonderful pre-Christmas giggles on the tube. Alan Carr’s humour particularly translates straight from his head to page, whereas Dawn French’s was a much better book overall though both were funny. 

It’s looking like actually I don’t read anything funny. In fact probably the last time I read something out loud was when I was reading my cousins some childrens books and I think I was enjoying them more than they were.

I clearly need inspiration for some more funny reads, in fact I think its best I simply beg you all to comment and leave me your recommendations of a really funny read (no joke books – too obvious) as I do like them now and again but it’s a style of book that I tend to forget, apart from at Christmas when you see all those novelty books here there and everywhere which I have to say don’t do it for me. Oh actually two did last year, I shall pop pictures of the one that really, really made me laugh. Though you might think ill of me, ha!

Grandmas Dead: Breaking Bad News With Baby Animals

Grandma's Dead: Breaking Bad News With Baby Animals

Honestly it made me laugh and laugh in fact books like ‘My Cat Hates You’ and ‘Pet’s With Tourette’s’ do make me giggle in book shops but I wouldnt normally buy them. The above though was bought for me by a friend who thought it was ‘very me’! But what else that isn’t novelty is out there? What funny fiction is out there, or very funny memoirs. Ooh Silly Savidge Reads I have just finished a very funny memoir that is on the blog tomorrow…  I shall leave you in suspense.

In the meantime I would love to hear your thoughts and recommendations as I think we could all do with a nice hearty laugh now and again. So do divulge…

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The Taste of Sorrow – Jude Morgan

I wrote a while back about how this had pleasantly landed upon my doorstep from the lovely people at Headline and though only having read one Bronte novel (which I didn’t really like very much – Wuthering Heights) I loved the premise of a book all about one of the most famous families in English Literature, if not the most famous. Having stayed in Haworth, drunk at The Black Bull and most importantly getting to walk round the parsonage I can totally understand people’s fascinations with the Bronte’s. Reading ‘Daphne’ earlier this year and seeing that Daphne Du Maurier was also intrigued only made me intrigued further, though I have still as yet never read another Bronte book. That, thanks in the main to Jude Morgan, is definitely something that I am going to rectify. 

‘The Taste of Sorrow’ starts in some ways as it means to go on, this is no fairy story. Those of you who have read up on the sisters or been to the parsonage will know they struggled through life until they finally published there books, which actually happens very close to the end of the book. In fact Morgan concentrates very much on the times before they became household names. The opening chapter and scene is that of the Bronte children’s mother, Maria Branwell on her deathbed and is told mainly from the eyes of their father Patrick Bronte, originally Patrick Prunty, as he watches his wife die not knowing what to do about or for his children.

Growing up motherless though they have their mother’s sister in the house Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte and Emily (Anne being too young and Branwell being a boy) are all sent to Cowan Bridge and The Clergy Daughter’s School to train to become governesses. The family not being rich the girls will need to make money for themselves “a pittance” as securing them husbands is not going to be easy. This part of the book is very dark and leads you through grim corridors, itchy uniforms and the evil watching eye of Miss Andrews who see’s all children as ‘hoydens’ which I think is a wonderful word (one of my cats, sadly no longer with us, was in fact called Hoyden) and its this sort of language that Morgan uses, along with some profanity I didn’t think people would have known back in those days. In many ways its Morgan’s very real language and dialogue, which never sounds modern, always grounded and readable and added to the pleasure of reading the novel. 

Anyway I digress. From the poor school, as Patrick cannot afford better, great woe comes as the eldest two daughters, who I always forget about, Maria and Elizabeth become ‘consumptive’ and like many of the girls in the school of the time sadly pass away. The girls in actual fact died just over a month apart, something which shocks and partially destroys the Bronte family unit. It also adds to the pressure of all the remaining children that they must become great successes however the fantasy world of ‘Angria’ is much more interesting and they throw themselves into it to escape the real world, only the real world can never quite be escaped. We then follow them as they struggle to leave ‘Angria’ behind in their childhood as they grown up and try to make a success of their lives, which isn’t for a very long time writing as ‘girls don’t write books’ and won’t get published. Some of you will know what happens in that time other’s will not and I refuse to spoil it.

I will say it is absolutely wonderfully written. I found it hard to tear myself away from the book and in fact spent a whole day in bed with it (well I did have swine flu too, had it been the weekend I would have made some excuse). Morgan brings to life the three famous sisters and their different character traits. Charlotte who is strong minded, yet fearful, independent yet nervous. Emily is quite cunning and dark and often compared to a cat. Anne the baby of the family who is quite quiet and meek and yet has a lot going on in her head and once you get to know her is much wiser than her years. Branwell and his downfall are of course there but at the heart of it this is very much a book about Emily, Anne and Charlotte… and now I want to run off and read all of their books.

Well I have read Emily’s but after reading ‘The Taste of Sorrow’ I might have to give it another whirl as I think it would have more resonance with me now, strange how a fictional account of her has made me want to re-evaluate my thoughts on her work. I think that shows the power of Morgan’s writing, whose back catalogue of works I will be adding to the TBR along with everything Bronte. A truly wonderful book that anyone who loves books, let alone anyone intrigued by the Bronte’s, should read. I am gutted it didn’t make it onto the Man Booker Long List, I think its safe to say it will make it onto my favourite reads list at the end of the year. Have you read any Jude Morgan which one should I read next? Where should I start with the Bronte’s?

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Filed under Books of 2009, Headline Review, Jude Morgan, Review

Man Booker 2009… 5 Out of 13 Ain’t Bad!

Okay, okay so I didn’t guess the Man Booker Long List but compared to my two correct guesses last year I don’t think that five is that bad? Yes, the Man Booker Long List has been announced, just over two and a half hours ago and the long listed novels are… 

  • The Children’s Book – A. S. Byatt
  • Summertime – J. M. Coetzee
  • The Quickening Maze – Adam Foulds
  • How To Paint A Dead Man – Sarah Hall
  • The Wilderness – Samantha Harvey
  • Me Cheeta – James Lever
  • Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel
  • The Glass Room – Simon Mawer
  • Not Untrue & Not Unkind – Ed O’Loughlin
  • Heliopolis – James Scudamore
  • Brooklyn – Colm Toibin
  • Love & Summer – William Trevor
  • The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters

The ones I guessed are in bold (you can see the others below) and I think the winner will be… I have no idea actually. I am disappointed that neither Jude Morgan nor Kamila Shamsie haven’t made it onto the list, the latter I think a few people will genuinely be shocked about. Am I going to read the Long List? Well yes I am going to give it a whirl and the publishers are behind me reading them which is very nice to know and also saves me around £260. I do think hardbacks are too expensive, sorry am drifting off onto another topic. 

I have already read ‘The Wilderness’ by Samantha Harvey but am going to read it again, slowly as I think I rushed it last time plus my review has never shown up and I have jiggled with it and allsorts. I don’t think I am going to re-read ‘The Little Stranger’ though unless it makes the shortlist as I read it quite recently. I will say in regard to that book that my opinion of it has greatly changed. I went from liking it to liking it very much after re-reading the last chapter, that’s all I will say. I can see this being one of the books people might moan about being long listed. We will see. 

What is quite funny is I could have guessed six out of thirteen as ‘The Converted One’ (previously known as ‘The Non Reader’) has already read Heliopolis by James Scudamore and absolutely loved it and indeed has even been raving about it to me. It’s set in Brazil where ‘The Converted One’ is from and I have now been told, and I quote “that one should win because its based in Brazil and Brazil is the best” I will see when I start reading it over the weekend. I actually found a picture of ‘The Converted One’ which seemed apt both to the new nickname and to the Man Booker theme today. It was taken on the train to Manchester a few weeks ago… 

From 'Non-Reading' to 'Man Booker Reading'

From 'Non-Reading' to 'Man Booker Reading'

I shall leave you with that for now and you can let me know just what you think of the Long List, I think its going to cause quite some debate. Do you think it’s the right 13? Have you heard of all of them? Have you read some of the more obscure ones? Should any definitely not be in there? Which books are you furious didn’t make it?  Do divulge all!

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Man Booker

Guessing The Man Booker Longlist

Now in case any of you think that I am cheating and releasing this on the day that the longlist is announced, I have actually written this a few days ahead, as am still in bed and its good to use this swine flu for something positive, anyway so its a timed blog that should be online from 2am. See all bases covered. So back to the point of the blog its the day (or will be the day – as I type) that the Man Booker Longlist is announced which in the world of books is quite a big event. So I thought I would have a guess (and believe me I have done this for two years running and only matched four of my guesses to actual longlisters so am not expecting better this year) and this years Savidge Reads guess is…

  • Between The Assassinations – Aravind Adiga
  • Strangers – Anita Brookner
  • The Childrens Book – A. S. Byatt
  • The Lieutenant – Kate Grenville
  • The Wilderness – Samantha Harvey
  • The Book of Negroes  – Lawrence Hill
  • Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel
  • The Taste of Sorrow – Jude Morgan
  • Burnt Shadows – Kamila Shamsie
  • Brooklyn – Colm Toibin
  • The Slap – Christos Tsiolkas
  • The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters
  • Breathe – Tim Winton

Will I be even close? I would love to be and possibly feel a little current and with it, at the same time I would like to be quite wrong and see lots of talent I haven’t spotted that I can then read if that makes sense? Out of my list I would most like Kamila Shamsie, Jude Morgan or Samatha Harvey win, though really its a close battle at the moment for Kamila Shamsie and Jude morgan as to who has written my favourite read of 2009 so far!

Who do you think will get longlisted? Are you going to try and do the longlist? I think I am, I just need to pace myself properly with ‘other books I want to read along the way’ as I didnt do this with the Orange. So how close will I get… we will have to wait and see, let me know all of your thoughts!

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Hotel du Lac – Anita Brookner

I don’t know if I included this in the photo’s from yesterdays blog (see below) but I also bought ‘Hotel du Lac’ by Anita Brookner as I am slowly but surely determined to read through all of the Man Booker Winners and this was one that I didn’t own already. It being so short and having heard very mixed reviews I sadly admit that I wanted to read this straight away to ‘get it out the way’ which just goes to show you should always start a book with an open mind as you might just find a diamond before you. 

I absolutely loved Anita Brookner’s 1984 (I was two when this won) Man Booker Winner, seriously loved it. I can easily imagine this becoming a slightly underground classic in the future as the characters and story are just wonderful. Hotel Du Lac is the story of Edith Hope as she takes a break from the world and her writing of mildly successful romance novels. She has, it unfolds, been sent away by her best friend Penelope Milne who she is in disgrace of (along with a fair amount of her social circle) and would only be forgiven if she went to Switzerland to “disappear for a decent length of time and come back older, wiser and properly sorry”. If you loved that line, like I did, then you will love all of the wording and wit Anita Brookner provides throughout a mere 180 pages.

Of course you then want to find out just what disgraceful act Edith has been apart of and as the novel and her character develop you soon realise it could be more than one thing. Once she is in the hotel though you also want to learn about all the stories of the other random guests who are staying in Switzerland ‘out of season’.

There is the fabulous Lady X or ‘the lady with the noisy dog who smoked endlessly and ate only ice cream and cake’ who we learn to love and learn her real name is Monica, sent by her husband to stop eating and loose weight. We also meet Madame De Bonneuil who has been dumped there by her son who visits once a week whilst he and his wife, who hates her, spend all her money and live in her fabulous mansion. There are the fabulous and incredibly wealthy Iris and her daughter Jennifer Pusey who have come merely to shop… endlessly, and drink unbelievable quantities of champagne and gossip. They also like to think they are talk of the town and whilst Iris is her daughter Jennifer “inexpressive as a blank window” doesn’t seem to be following her mothers lead, though there is a dark twist where she is concerned.  

One final quest is Mr Neville who claims himself ‘a romantic’ and thinks he knows just what Edith needs to sort her life out if only he can show her. As the obvious romance story evolves between the two characters I was initially touched and then started to get very disappointed in where the novel might be leading. I shouldn’t have worried as Brookner pulls out a very final and very clever twist as well as finally letting us in on Edith’s past.

I actually hugged this book when I had finished it and really wanted to start the whole thing all over again. It reminded me of the wit of lethal wit, scandal and romance of a Nancy Mitford novel only with modern twists and turns. It also looks at the roles of women at a time, I am guessing it is set in the late sixties early seventies though you are never sure, when rules and ways were changing and they had more options yet weren’t really meant to use them.

All in all this was a short riveting funny and clever novel and what in my eyes isn’t what a Man Booker Winner is normally like. If the judges were to choose a ‘Man Booker Dozen’ filled with novels like this then I would read the whole long list without stopping. There will be more on this year’s long list another though as am doing something special the day before it is announced, so watch this space.

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Filed under Anita Brookner, Books of 2009, Man Booker, Penguin Books, Review

A Few More Aquisitions

So last weekend when I wasn’t ill in bed with the delights of pig flu and had finally gotten around to unpacking most of my things Novel Insights came round and we went to my favourite ‘5 Books for £2’ store and I went a bit crazy, as did she. However I then went back again the next day… and on Monday, whoops. I love seeing the treasures that you have brought back when you have been shopping and so once again I thought I would share mine.

New Books... And More New Books 

Portrait of a Marriage by Nigel Nicholson – This is an account of one of the most famous literary marriages and quite an unconventional one. “Vita Sackville-West, novelist, poet, and biographer, is best known as the friend of Virginia Woolf, who transformed her into an androgynous time-traveler in Orlando. The story of Sackville-West’s marriage to Harold Nicolson is one of intrigue and bewilderment. In Portrait of a Marriage, their son Nigel combines his mother’s memoir with his own explanations and what he learned from their many letters. Even during her various love affairs with women, Vita maintained a loving marriage with Harold. Portrait of a Marriage presents an often misunderstood but always fascinating couple.”

The Sun King by Nancy Mitford – I am a slight Mitford addict and that’s after having only read their letters to each other and the first of Nancy Mitford’s novels ‘The Pursuit of Love’ but believe me that is enough. Now finding this very rare and out of print copy of one her non fiction novels I was completely overjoyed.  

Martha Peake by Patrick McGrath – A gothic mansion and a mystery tale, which kind of sold it for me, plus it’s in almost brand spanking new condition. I haven’t read any McGrath yet but have ‘The Asylum’ in my TBR too. This was a slightly random purchase.  

Tales from the Town of Widows by James Canon – I liked the title, I won’t pretend it was anything more than that because it wasn’t. Well… I liked the blurb too, a town of widows and how they cope with war as well as each other.

Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor – I have seen a few very good reviews of this and though I have STILL not read ‘The American Boy’ when I saw this in mint condition I couldn’t say no. There must have been a book group which this was the choice of as there were about six brand new copies in the store.

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron – I have a vague notion of what this cult classic is about and feel I may cry my eyes out when reading it (please don’t anyone give me any spoilers) this has been on my radar in previous visits to the shop and finally gave in. 

Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold – I have been sent a review copy of Glen David Gold’s latest novel ‘Sunnyside’ and I wanted to give what has become some sort of modern cult classic first.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt – I want to try my hand at more non fiction and have heard some people say that this is as good as, if not better, than ‘In Cold Blood’ which I think is absolutely fantastic so this had to be purchased. 

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt – Actually I bought this on a quick dash into the store on Monday after I had heard the sad news that Frank McCourt had sadly past away. After hearing from so many of you how wonderful this book is I decided I really needed to read this.

Playing With The Grown Up’s by Sophie Dahl – When I was young Roald Dahl was one of my favourite, if not favourite, author’s and I have been intrigued by the fact his now famous Granddaughter Sophie becoming a writer. I wouldn’t have bought this if it wasn’t for the fact that one of my friends who doesn’t read very often has raved about this endlessly so I hope they are right.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith – At book group Claire brought this in as her favourite read. I have always quite fancied giving it a go anyway however this made it a future must read. The books that Claire has reviewed and that I have read and she has loved I have also loved so her recommendations are ones I always hanker after.

This Charming Man by Marian Keyes – I hope that Savidge Reads isn’t a snobbish book blog and accepts all different sorts of literature or at least has a go at them. This is undoubtedly one of the biggest selling books of the year and I gave Twilight a go so why shouldn’t I give this one a try. Two people who I like very much have also raved about her writing.

Passion by Jude Morgan – I have just started ‘Taste of Sorrow’ and my mother has been raving about ‘Indiscretion’ which I bought her (and I own) so I have a feeling that Jude could become an author that I like a lot. If not it was only 50p. I know little about Mary Shelley and the idea of reading a fictional account of her excites me, I loved Frankenstein.   

Devoted Ladies by Molly Keane – I have heard of ‘Time After Time’ but not this one. I admit I bought it for the cover and the fact that the blurb sounded so art deco and fabulous. Two female friends who aren’t actually as friendly as they might appear sounds like a recipe for 1930’s fun.

The Journal of Dora Damage by Belinda Starling – I saw a review of this on Bath Books and have been hankering after it ever since. Gothic late Victorian London, a book-binding business gone bust and Dora Damage must go to any lengths to save herself and her family. It has been compared to some of Sarah Waters earlier work… I cannot wait.

Do you own any of these? Have you been hankering after any of these? What books are you itching to get your hands on? What have you bought recently?

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