Monthly Archives: September 2009

The Saddest Reads

Today’s Booking Through Thursday carries on with the ‘recent theme’ and asks us “What’s the saddest book you’ve read recently?” I have had to really wrack my brains about this one as I don’t think I have read any particularly sad books of late. Though I will admit to having read a lot of books that I have been sad to close the final page on and could quite happily read again, but that’s not the sort of sadness we are after.

I don’t tend to hunt a sad book down. Which makes me wonder why do we read sad fiction? I think if I know a book is sad then it looses some of the effect that the author had intended, forewarned is forearmed as they say. It tends to be the books that surprise me by their sadness or shocking events that hit home the hardest.

A few books have disturbed me slightly and a few have made me ask a lot of questions about how people can behave in a negative way but nothing particularly sad. I am always banging on about this book, but the last book that actually made me cry was ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote. That was because there was one scene that was shocking but written with such directness yet filled with emotion it set me over the edge and I had a good old cry. I don’t think a chapter of a book has moved me that much in a very long time or made me feel so wrought with emotion. The one before that was ‘The Book Thief’ by Marcus Zusack back in the pre-blogging days.

I do have some sad books on the TBR though and thought that I would share those with you. I have them quite high up but because they all share the same theme (war) I think I will be reading them with quite a gap in between. They are…

   

  • Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally – The film made me cry, very recently, like I have never cried at a  film before so this could be quite the reading experience.
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank – I think almost everyone knows the story and the ending of this book, I am yet to read it though which is a surprise as its been on my must read list for quite some time.
  • Sophie’s Choice by William Styron – I have no idea what happens in this one (no plot spoilers please) but have heard that it’s incredibly sad. I also have the movie at home; it was free in one of the Sunday papers once, but even though I love Meryl Streep am holding off until have read the book first.

What are your saddest reads recently? Why do we read sad books? Have you read any of the above and did they move you? Has any book actually reduced you to tears, not because it was so dire or frustrating, because it was so moving or emotional?

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This Evening, When You Read This…

…I shall be stuffing my face, full of popcorn and chocolates with the delightful Novel Insights by my side whilst we both watch this…

After reading the book recently I am actually really looking forward to the film. I also think its the perfect film for the Sensation Season and so how could I not go and see it on the big screen? I will of course be letting yuo know what I thought over the next day or three…

Has anyone else seen it (I have actually set this post to go when am sat in my seat phone off in case anyone says it was rubbish – I like you all to be honest) at the cinema yet? Is it on peoples ‘must see’ or ‘must avoid’ list of films?  Can films ever manage to be as good as the book was in your head?

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Corduroy Mansions – Alexander McCall Smith

I was delightfully recently asked to take part in the ‘online blogger book group’ for the new Alexander McCall Series (and sequel to Corduroy Mansions) in The Telegraph. Now you all know me well enough by now that I cant read a series of books a few along. I have to start with the first one. This is being delivered in the post by the lovely people who asked me to join but I needed to be up to date before Monday and so I couldn’t wait. What emerged was a slightly crazy charity shop dash (which involved buying some books that weren’t Corduroy Mansions) through South West London, people doubted I could get such a new book at a bargain price but I did! The only problem was that in said shop this was t he window display, I think its best I don’t mention what else I walked out with…

Not a good sign

So was all the chaos worth it? Would the book be any good, if not would I be able to cope with following the new series ‘The Dog Who Came in From the Cold’? Also bare in mind that I had already tried McCall’s ‘Scotland Street’ series and wasn’t too sure about it even though I loved the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series and still do, which category would this one fall into?

Corduroy Mansions is the tale of the inhabitants of…well Corduroy Mansions, and those they interact with outside of the building they reside. William lives at the top of the building with his son Eddie, though he wants Eddie out going as far as getting a vegetarian cat loving dog (the wonderful Freddie de la Hay) and then moving in the besotted Marcia as a flatmate, perfect situation for some wonderful comedy. One the floor below lives a group of flat sharing girls. Jo an Aussie fresh to the UK but loving it and possibly one of her housemates, Dee who works in vitamins and pharmaceuticals and wants to give her assistant a colonic, Caroline an Art Student who once featured in Rural Life Magazine and is now sort of infatuated with James who is worried he might be straight and the bookish Jenny who works for the odious Oedipus Snark (brilliant name) the nastiest Liberal Democrat MP you could ever wish to meet.

Not only do we get to follow these colourful characters lives we also get to meet and in some cases follow the people that they have in their lives such as Oedipus through whom we also get to follow his mother Berthea, who is writing her sons biography, and her wonderful ‘spiritual’ brother Terence Moongrove. There is also Oedipus’s long suffering girlfriend Barbara Ragg who runs a publishing company and is about to have quite a change in life. These characters are also wonderful and make you want to read more; it’s almost like wonderful character overload.

Now if you are wondering why I haven’t mentioned plot… well there isn’t a huge plot to it. It’s much more subtle than that. There are small storylines for all the characters as McCall Smith himself puts it “these stories are character-based: what interests me is what makes the characters tick rather than intricate and potentially confusing plots” and with this many characters it could get confusing but it never does. I really, really enjoyed this book and would recommend it for anyone who loved Armistead Maupin’s ‘Tales of the City’ series though it’s somewhat gentler, though there is more adult humour in this one than in 44 Scotland Street as I recall it. I would also recommend it for anyone who likes a good old nosey peep into normal characters lives, their little quirks and how they all interact. Delightful reading!

Has anyone else read this? Is anyone a fan of McCall Smith? If not could you be converted by this book? Can anyone recommend why I should try and read more of the Scotland Street series, should I start again? Are you following the new series? Does serialization work for you?

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What Makes A Modern Sensation?

When I first set out to originally have a ‘Sensation September’ one of the reasons it swiftly became a ‘Sensation Season’ instead was that there were not only too many sensation novels from the original era that I wanted to read, but also too many what I would deem ‘modern sensation’ novels too. But what on earth makes a modern sensation novel, I hear you cry. 

Well as I am not Wikipedia I can’t give you the official definition of a modern sensation novel because there isn’t one… as yet! However I can happily make one up instead, maybe the Savidge Reads guide for modern sensation fiction could catch on? So here are what I deem the rules for modern sensation fiction… 

  • It must be set in the Victorian era or if modern be set in a spooky old house (preferable a manor or bigger and also maybe with a spooky old wood near by).
  • There must be much secrets and intrigue.
  • There must be plenty of plot twists and quite a few red herrings.
  • There need to be a lot of coincidences.
  • It needs to contain adultery, theft, bigamy, kidnapping, insanity, forgery, abduction or murder. Or even better all of these ingredients.
  • It can have a ghost or two in it… at a push!

Now taking all this into account I think that you could actually have quite a lot of ‘modern sensation’ novels. Half of the current (and past classics, such as Agatha Christie) crime fiction could be linked back to sensation fiction with just the murder part! I think the modern sensations need to have all of the above and a little ‘sensation magic’ which isn’t easy to describe, so instead here are the first five books I could think of that have all of these elements but were written recently. I have read one, am going to re-read another and read the other three for the first time over the next few weeks…

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters – ‘We were all more or less thieves at Lant Street. But we were that kind of thief that rather eased the dodgy deed along, than did it. We could pass anything, anything at all, at speeds which would astonish you. There was only one thing, in fact, that had come and got stuck – one thing that had somehow withstood the tremendous pull of that passage – one thing that never had a price put to it. I mean of course, Me.’ Sue Trinder, orphaned at birth, is born among petty thieves – fingersmiths – in London’s Borough. From the moment she draws breath, her fate is linked to another orphan, growing up in a gloomy mansion not too many miles away.

The Observations by Jane Harris – So there I was with two pens, my two titties, Charles Dickens, two slice of bread and a blank book at the end of my first day in the middle of nowhere. Except as it turned out it wasn’t quite the end …Scotland, 1863. In an attempt to escape her not-so-innocent past in Glasgow, Bessy Buckley – the wide-eyed Irish heroine of “The Observations” – takes a job as a maid in a big house outside Edinburgh working for the beautiful Arabella. Bessy is intrigued by her new employer, but puzzled by her increasingly strange requests and her insistence that Bessy keep a journal of her most intimate thoughts. And it seems that Arabella has a few secrets of her own – including her near-obsessive affection for Nora, a former maid who died in mysterious circumstances. Then, a childish prank has drastic consequences, which throw into jeopardy all that Bessy has come to hold dear. Caught up in a tangle of madness, ghosts, sex and lies, she remains devoted to Arabella. But who is really responsible for what happened to her predecessor Nora? As her past threatens to catch up with her and complicate matters even further, Bessy begins to realise that she has not quite landed on her feet.

The Séance by John Harwood – ‘Sell the Hall unseen; burn it to the ground and plough the earth with salt, if you will; but never live there…’ London, the 1880s. A young girl grows up in a household marked by death, her father distant, her mother in perpetual mourning for the child she lost. Desperate to coax her mother back to health, Constance Langton takes her to a seance. Perhaps they will find comfort from beyond the grave. But that seance has tragic consequences.Constance is left alone, her only legacy a mysterious bequest will blight her life. So begins “The Seance”, John Harwood’s brilliant second novel, a gripping, dark mystery set in late Victorian England. It is a world of apparitions, of disappearances and unnatural phenomena, of betrayal and blackmail and black-hearted villains – and murder. For Constance’s bequest comes in two parts: a house, and a mystery. Years before a family disappeared at Wraxford Hall, a terrifying stately home near the Suffolk coast. Now Constance must find the truth behind the mystery, even at the cost of her life. Because without the truth, she is lost.

The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams – From her lookout on the first floor, Ginny watches and waits for her adored younger sister to return to the crumbling mansion that was once their idyllic childhood home. Vivien has not stepped foot in the house since she left, forty seven years ago; Ginny, the reclusive lepidopterist, has rarely ventured outside it. The remembrance of their youth, of loss, and of old rivalries plays across Ginny’s mind. Why is Vivi coming home? Ginny has been selling off the family furniture over the years, gradually shutting off each wing of the house and retreating into the precise routines and isolation that define her days. Only the attic remains untouched. There, collected over several generations, are walls lined with pinned and preserved Bordered Beauties and Rusty Waves, Feathered Footmen and Great Brocades, Purple Cloud, Angle Shades, the Gothic and the Stranger …

The Journal of Dora Damage by Belinda Starling – This work is set in Lambeth, London, in the year 1859. By the time Dora Damage discovers that there is something wrong with her husband, Peter, it is too late. His arthritic hands are crippled, putting his book-binding business into huge debt and his family in danger of entering the poorhouse. Summoning her courage, Dora proves that she is more than just a housewife and mother. Taking to the streets, she resolves to rescue her family at any price – and finds herself illegally binding expensive volumes of pornography commissioned by aristocrats. Then, when a mysterious fugitive slave arrives at her door, Dora realizes she’s entangled in a web of sex, money, deceit and the law. Now the very family she fought so hard for is under threat from a host of new, more dangerous foes. Belinda Starling’s debut novel is a startling vision of Victorian London, juxtaposing its filth and poverty with its affluence. In “Dora Damage” we meet a daring young heroine, struggling in a very modern way against the constraints of the day, and whose resourcefulness and bravery have us rooting for her all the way.

What do you think… about all of it?

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The Woman In Black – Susan Hill

In taking on my own challenge to read as much sensation fiction as possible over the next few months as part of my ‘Sensation Season’ I didn’t just want to stick with the originals for out there in the never ending world of books I knew, having already read a few or bought some that are as yet to be read, that there are many modern day books that have a sensational twist and Susan Hill is one (of my favourite) authors who I would categorize as ‘modern sensation’ with her ghost stories. So I thought it was the perfect time to re-read the book…

‘The Woman in Black’ is one of my favourite books and I think would definitely classify as my very favourite ghost story. Starting on a Christmas Eve (best time for ghostly tales, that or a professor or doctors office) the children in Arthur Kipps house are all telling ghostly tales. It is however Arthur whom first hand has witnessed the events and the effects of a most terrible ghastly tale himself. As he can’t bear to tell anyone the tale for fear of the consequences he writes it down, for you dear reader to see.

Arthur Kipps is a solicitor and one day in London he receives instructions that he must sort the estate of recently departed Alice Drablow in Crythin Gifford. He takes the many hours journey to the town where at first people are friendly, however as soon as they learn of his business and hear the name ‘Alice Drablow’ people eye him suspiciously or avoid him. It isn’t until he crosses to the isolated and marsh/bog bound Eel Marsh House that he begins to learn things are much darker than he could ever imagine and also starts to witness the work of The Woman in Black.

I can’t really say more than that on the plot because I wouldn’t want to give anything away but for a relatively short book it packs a lot of chills and quite a punch or two with the twists towards the end. The whole book is covered in suspense and how Susan Hill creates such an atmosphere needs to be read to be believed. The writing is sparse and yet incredibly descriptive and shows, as all her books do, why Susan Hill is a master at her game. My only criticism would be that I could have read more, but then really would that just be over egging the scary pudding?

If you haven’t read this then do give it a go. Perfect for a night in, by the fire (if you have one – if not just curled up on the couch) where you can get lost and spooked whilst deeply ensconced in a great book. This, for me at least, holds all the glorious details of a modern sensation novel, more on those in detail tomorrow though.

Now for those of you who have read this far and fancy reading the book for yourself I have a copy that I am going to give away. I would have loved to have given away tickets for the show which is excellent but some of you live far afield and so wouldn’t be fair!! All you have to do, by Friday, is leave me a tale of something spooky that has truly happened to you (I don’t know how I will know if its true or not, but I just will) then The Converted One will pick a random name out of a hat on Saturday! Good luck!

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Filed under Give Away, Review, Susan Hill, Vintage Books

What Our Furniture Says About Us

Just a very quick reminder that the new sequel to ‘Corduroy Mansions’ Alexander McCall Smith series starts today. You can read the first chapter of the book right here.

I won’t be reading it today,even though I was lucky enough to get this weeks advance chapters, but will be properly from tomorrow (I have to be honest about these things).

I have very fortunately managed to get my mitts on a copy of the first series which I am devouring and will easily finish on the tube back home tonight, I know we are getting sent one but by now you guys know me and I have to read things in the right order. It also means will be able to give one copy away in the not too distant future.  Plus . Anyway a small reminder today for you.

There will be another “non McCall Smith related” post later today that includes a give away so do make sure you pop back then!!!

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The Law & The Lady – Wilkie Collins

And so it is already to the second of The Sensation Season novels and Wilkie Collins ‘The Law & The Lady’. Now before I do go on to discuss my ‘book I do feel a little bit of a con-man as I still have about twenty (gripping, I am sure) pages to go. I am shortly about to get a bus to Wimbledon so will no doubt finish it on there so technically I am almost done. I just wanted to say as I don’t feel quite right writing about a book I haven’t quite finish, it does feel like cheating. But if I don’t pop a post up now won’t be able to for hours. Anyway, sorry to digress, back to the book…

‘The Law & The Lady’ was Wilkie Collins 27th novel (that’s right 27th – good to know I have so many left to go) and actually came out in the middle of his sensation period, though really all of his books were sensation novels. Here we meet our narrator Valerie Brinton just as she becomes Valerie Woodville on the fateful day of her marriage. In his own way that only Wilkie Collins does he manages to set the scene in your head within the first page.

The church was in one of the dreary quarters of London, situated between the City and the West End; the day was dull; the atmosphere was heavy and damp. We were a melancholy little wedding-party, worthy of the dreary neighbourhood and the dull day. No relatives of friends of my husband’s were present; his family, as I have already hinted, disapproved of his marriage.

In a few sentences within the opening page of the book we are not only firmly in dark Victorian sensation London; we also have a hint that something isn’t quite right. Why would the family of Eustace Woodville not agree with his marriage? I found it interesting that like in his novel The Haunted Hotel we have a character whose marriage is completely disapproved of as one of the main characters and one of the big themes in the book.

The hints keep coming as Valerie looks back at their courtship, you never doubt for a minute that they are completely besotted with each other. However, friends won’t give him more than minimum references of his conduct to Valerie’s uncle (both her parents are dead) and he even at one points offers to leave her though why she is never quite sure.

I love Collins style, every chapter moves the story forward, builds your intrigue, gets slightly darker and you know you are being woven into something incredibly clever with some big twists on the horizon and a reason to read the next chapter as soon as you finished the last. I also love the use of coincidence.

A prime example of both of these is early on (I am trying not to spoil the plot though for some reason publishers give a lot away in Collins blurbs sadly) when Valerie is going through her husbands things the day after their wedding night in Ramsgate and comes across a picture of his mother. That day on the beach a woman drops a letter on the beach and who should it be? It is of course his mother who then goes on to not recognise her daughter in laws surname and when meets Eustace and finds out of his new wife the chapter ends with her walking away turning and saying ‘I pity your wife’. How can you not read on that instance?

What I wasn’t expecting is partly the change that overcomes our narrator, though to say more would spoil things, and then also the amount of Victorian law we get to see. This should have been obvious in the title ‘The Law & The Lady’ but in my mind I had a story of a female highwayman embedded in my head, not a court case of which there is one. Do not let that put you off as though yes there is some legal schpeel in this part there is of course, as ever with Wilkie Collins, some shocks and high drama. A brilliant book that managed to add sensation to law, plenty of trademark twists and has a narrator who “upturns the conventions of polite nineteenth century society” what more could you want than that?

Can you tell that I loved this, yet another brilliant sensation novel from Wilkie Collins? Next week’s sensation novel, which I think I will have to start fairly imminently, is Armadale. One of the Wilkie Collins books that I have been most looking forward to reading for a long time and for some reason (possibly to deny myself having read it and it being done, does anyone else do that?) have held off reading. Hopefully some of you will be joining in on that as its meant to be a real corker!

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Filed under Penguin Classics, Review, Sensation Novels, Wilkie Collins