Monthly Archives: February 2010

The Blasphemer – Nigel Farndale

Remember I talked a while back about bookish grumps? Well one book that I had three quarters finished and then put down was the one I am going to talk about today as finally a week or so ago I finished it. I originally started it at the beginning of January so its been quite a process and I have needed another week or so to mull it all over, look at the book notes made in my book note notebook and finally come up with something that I think I can share with you all. I thought I would explain all this to start so you can see that for my posts a lot of thinking and mulling and behind the scenes work goes on.

‘The Blasphemer’ is the first book I have read by Nigel Farndale and it has been quite a reading journey with some stops and starts along the way. Essentially it is two alternating stories one is set in the present and is a tale of Daniel Kennedy and his wife Nancy who whilst holidaying in the Galapagos Islands endure a horrifying time when their plane ditches into the sea and the events after that as Daniel saves himself before remembering to save Nancy and all that follows from his actions. The other tale is of Daniel’s great grandfather Andrew and starts in 1917 as he prepares to go over the top to fight for his country and his life.

Now reading the above synopsis back I am thinking how on earth could I have had a hard time with that? Both stories sound quite thrilling and gripping and indeed they were but despite the writing of the modern tale (the scenes of the plane crash are incredibly tense and terrifying and not for those of you who like me who don’t like flying anyway) it read more like a good thrilling summer read as opposed to the other war torn harrowing and horrific storyline which to me read like an award winning book. Together the juxtaposition just didn’t gel for me initially and I was having a hard time with the transition from one to the other but by the end it’s worth the effort.

The second challenge for me was sadly Nancy and Daniel. I didn’t really understand why they were married as they didn’t seem to like each other before Daniel almost forgot to save her life. Yes ok they had been through a traumatic event and must have been in shock but you’d think they would celebrate surviving and they didn’t they just moped and griped. Yet in the other storyline you had an amazing love story between Andrew and Madame Camier which makes your heart bleed. I think, well I hope, that Farndale was trying to contrast the couples as well as Daniel and Andrew and the fault probably lies with me for not trying hard enough to involve myself in the modern storyline.

The final challenge for me (and I am saying challenge and not hurdle as challenges can be positive) was how much Farndale was putting into the book for example Daniel had only been in the UK a few weeks after the plan crash when he witnesses a terrorist bomb when a van five cars ahead of him blows up so terrorism becomes a topic. We also have another character Daniel works with who is a professor that sleeps with and beats his students which then opens up huge questions about education and then a can of worms about religion (I can’t explain it would take a while) and though I am good at suspending belief with a book I felt I was stretched at points and I haven’t even mentioned the angels – yes there is an angel subject in the book too. It’s quite a lot to take in, but all written really, really well.

With so many idea’s, topics etc in the book I did start to notice I was becoming a cynical reader when I was thinking ‘oh and now we have a gay male character that’s another subject and box ticked’ when actually the relationship between Daniel and his best friend is a wonderful insight into men who care for each other in a purely platonic way. When I got to cynical I stopped reading again but that war time tale of Andrew running along side kept drawing me back to the book again. An interesting read for me in many ways.  I wouldn’t be shocked (or horrified) to see this in the Booker Longlist actually.

All in all and taking lots of stops and starts into account I enjoyed it. I just felt, and this is a compliment, that Farndale had so much to say maybe there should have been two books but then the end result wouldn’t have worked. Ok maybe it should have been a longer book, but then would I have read on if things had been explained slowly with more time to flourish in the long term? Oh it’s a difficult book to sum up even after I have mulled it over and given it space yet its one I am definitely glad I have read. I think its one to get and read slowly and yet pay quite a lot of attention to. Maybe its one to go back to and read again in a few years when I am on holiday on the beach and can give it much more time. As long as I don’t read the beginning on the plane that is!

Have any of you read a book that’s really taken you on reading journey like this, from loving, indifference everything in-between and back again? Has anyone else read ‘The Blasphemer’ and what did you think? I would like to try another Nigel Farndale book, any recommendations?

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Filed under Nigel Farndale, Review, Transworld Publishing

Simon’s Bookish Bits #10

Did you know that today the 27th of February 2010 is the very first day of Jewish Book Week? Well if you did or didn’t know I only found out thanks to the rather retro library that I went to earlier in the week (they have a wonderful information centre on all things bookish too if I haven’t sold this library enough). Anyway I got a lovely brochure on an event happening in London starting today, sorry for the late warning, and going on until next Sunday.

I hope that any of you who have heard of it before will forgive me when I say that I thought this was the first year it started as I had never heard of it ever before. Having now done some research into the whole event it actually was initially started back in 1948 and yet I hadn’t heard of it until now and so am spreading the word to all of you. Hoorah! I will definitely be going to some of the upcoming events, will you? If you want more information than me just waffling on then go to www.jewishbookweek.com

This book week also made me think quite a bit and I am actually not sure how many Jewish books I have actually read whether they be by a Jewish author or with a Jewish theme. I thought I must have read a few yet it seems I haven’t read many. The only one that I could instantly think of and was indeed on the blog is ‘When We Were Bad’ by Charlotte Mendelson. I still have another of hers to read actually, maybe this is the week. I was thinking that what I might do is make take a slow and steady read of ‘The Diary of Young Girl’ by Anne Frank which I actually cannot believe I haven’t read. I though going through this slowly might be the way to go with the subject matter. What Jewish based books would you recommend? I would love your thoughts I may just have more in my TBR I hadn’t a clue about.

Oh and an additional note the lovely Simon T of Stuck in a Book did a lovely post on all this, which I wasn’t aware of when I scheduled this, and Simon T links into the next part of my Bookish Bits. I think I have mentioned that there is a UK Book Bloggers meeting going on in May, on Saturday the 8th as a matter of fact and you need to email Simon if you want to attend and get any further details. I will be there and am really, really looking forward to the whole day, including a book swap, and hope to see some of you there!!!

Now before I dash off for a day with Novel Insights looking at books but not buying them yet discussing them to death over coffee, I have another question for you which came to me when a book that I have been very excited about dropped through my letter box (I will be doing a bigger book incoming round up next week)…

Yes, big hoorah, the new Stella Duffy novel ‘Theodora’ has been sent to me rather in advance as its not actually out until June though naturally I will be reading it almost immediately. I wondered if seeing advance reviews, as in way, way in advance; actually make you want to buy/read/borrow a book. Or do you forget the book as it’s far off in the future? Would you rather read a review of a book just as it comes out? Let me know as it interests me, oh and Jewish books too. Thanks in advance!

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Simon's Bookish Bits

Memoirs of a Novelist – Virginia Woolf

I believe today is the final day of the wonderfully hosted Woolf in Winter challenge. Though I won’t be joining in with a discussion on The Waves because frankly I am still too wary of Woolf and anything too big I have gone on another rogue Woolfish path as I did with Flush and read a collection of her short stories instead which I managed to get from the library a while ago. I have decided I am going to take Orlando or The Waves away with me in May when I go away for a week somewhere sunny.

From the title I thought that ‘Memoirs of a Novelist’ was in fact some diaries of Virginia Woolf and so picked it up in the hope that after our bumpy relationship so far I might get to know her a little better. As I found out it is a collection of five of her earliest short works ‘Phyllis and Rosamond’, ‘The Mysterious Case of Miss V.’, ‘The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn’, ‘A Dialogue Upon Mount Penetelicus’ and ‘Memoirs of a Novelist’. Interestingly I did get to know more about Virginia through these works, what interested her from a younger age, her feelings on women and the way they have been treated and some of her passions. She also really took me on a journey of emotions with this work there is melancholic (which I was sort of expecting) to a degree and it was thought provoking but lacked some of the despair of her later writings I have encountered. She also made me have a few giggles and several wry smiles.

The two tales that most interlinked for me were ‘Phyllis and Rosamond’ and ‘The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn’ as they look at the history of marriage and women though they are to very different tales. The first is of two sisters born and bred purley to marry in the year 1906. They have no other skills apart from helping their mother (which neither really enjoys) and learning how to be a good wife and run a household and what’s more they both know it, and so looks at how life like that must have been. The latter of these two tales didn’t start the way I thought it would and actually became a tale within a tale all done in merely 40 pages. Miss Rosamond Merridew (not the Rosamond of the aforementioned tale) is a keen historian and one day comes across a forgotten manor house and pays a call to investigate meeting the inhabitants and eventually getting her hands on the diary of one of their ancestors, Joan Martyn, a young lady in the 1400’s on the cusp of marriage, in fact rather late to marriage it appears. Both of these stories I enjoyed, the latter particularly for the off beaten setting and premise of a house and diary filled with history and mystery.

The title tale ‘Memoirs of a Novelist’ also seemed to be the tales of two women told at the same time, so two parallel stories if you will. Woolf wonderfully interweaves the tale of a fiction writer Miss Willatt and also of her later biographer Miss Linsett. So much detail and almost factual writing was in this I had to google to check that these people didn’t once really exist. I also thought the ending of this tale was quite remarkable in a slightly melancholic way, I will say no more. I could definitely see shades of ‘Flush’ in this story though.

‘A Dialogue upon Mount Penetelicus’ I didn’t really get, the story is just what it says it is as British tourists climb and descend the Greek mountain. It had a feel of her multiple switching narratives of Mrs Dalloway and found, despite it only being ten pages long, I didn’t know quite where I was and didn’t want to read it a second time to find out.

The final tale, though actually the second in the book, ‘The Mysterious Case of Miss V.’ utterly blew me away. It is only three pages long yet out of the whole collection it has stuck with me and even thinking about it now brings forth some emotions very quickly. I don’t want to really say anything for fear I would give something away and ruin it for anyone who dashes off to read it (highly advisable). I shall simply say it’s the tale of an unmarried woman. I was amazed three pages could have such an effect on me.

So overall this is a great short story collection and another case of me having the grumps at giving it back to the library. It’s left me with a definite feeling that there is hope for me and Ginny after all and even though we will have a break for a few months I am looking forward to getting to know her better on holiday later in the year.

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Filed under Hesperus Press, Review, Short Stories, Virginia Woolf

Accidental Library Looting

I am blaming all of you for the fact that I seem to have somehow gained lots more books from the library this week. I mentioned to you last week the bizarre and wonderful forgotten library I went to, which took me right back to the 80’s when I last used libraries lots and lots. As it is on the bus route to the supermarket I needed to go to I got off there to drop two books back and kindly take a picture for you which is here…

I think the grey threatening sky adds to the fact it reminds me of my youth, the 80’s always seem grey and wet to me am not sure why. No being a Wednesday I assumed it would be closed and I would take a picture, drop three books through the letter box and be gone. It was open!!! So naturally I went in and then came away with all of these…

I have decided short books from the library are fine (as you can probably see) as well as guilty pleasure I have no intention of buying but could do with between a more heavy weight book now and again – oh dear that sounds snobbish, it isn’t meant to. So my latest loot is…

Oscar and the Lady in Pink – Eric Emmanuel Schmitt
I have heard lots of great thing about this. Its written by a young ten year old boy in letters to God. He knows he is dying despite his parents never telling him and depicts his relationship with Granny Rose one of the elderly ‘pink ladies’ who come and visit. Sounds like will need a hanky but have heard its also beautifully uplifting.

Queer – William Burroughs
I have always wanted to read a Burroughs, I already own one but this is much shorter and is set in Mexico City which in my head was near Brazil and would therefore go towards my Brazil reads – erm, no!

Between Us Girls – Joe Orton
I have never seen an Orton book, that wasn’t his diaries, in a library so I snapped it up I was actually looking for the one longlisted for the Lost Man Booker Prize but couldn’t find it. This had caught my attention last time I went there so was glad no one else had taken it.

Eclipse – Stephenie Meyer
Yes, I know, I know. Me the man who said he refused to get into this series. Well it was ona  shelf, I dont want to get it for my Birthday and so I thought why not? I do want to know what happens now I have read two and this could be a perfect read between some books I have lined up in the non to distant future.

Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins
Though I am still really, really torn about reaidng The Hunger Games I think I am going to try and crack it this weekend. I was recommended by Sandy to have this on standby in case I love the first as you rush to read the second. I have also been told the second isn’t so good so could be interesting.

Right there you go, all because I wanted to take a picture for you ‘orrible lot hee, hee. What have you recently got from the library? Have you read any of these or anything by the authors?

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Filed under Book Thoughts

Do I Want To Read…?

I was actually planning today on simply doing a post saying that I was going to have a ‘blogging day off’ then just as I was settling down to sleep last night an idea loomed in my head and I thought ‘if I don’t do this ASAP then someone else will’ and so I thought I would introduce you to what will be a rather random little series simply entitled ‘Do I Want To Read…?’ With it I will highlight a book or couple of books (like today for example) every now and then that have caught my eye but I am on the fence about reading/asking for as a birthday present/getting from the library etc and so want your thoughts either if you have read them or have heard about them. So lets crack on.

The first book is ‘1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die’ compiled by Peter Boxall. I love a good list of books and indeed I love books about books and so when I saw this at the library the other week I almost had to take it out. Two things stopped me. Firstly I had reached my limit and secondly it is massive and weighs a tonne. I do always ponder with these 1001 things before you die series of books ‘how did they choose that list?’ or ‘what gives that person the authority to decide?’ Do you know what I mean? I also fear I’d start to read the book only to worry that I might never read all 1001 and then panic and go into some kind of bookish despair or get very cross I don’t have lots of them in my TBR. Then again I do love reading about books and it might introduce me to some lovely rogue reads, you can see my quandary I am sure.

The second book currently hovering on my radar I am blaming on Novel Insights as she emailed me with the subject ‘Walpole’ and the message “kind of want to read the book and visit strawberry hill and go to the exhibition as he sounds weird and a bit crazy!” There was also this link here. Well with all of that it was only natural that ‘The Castle of Otranto’ by the slightly crazy and intriguing sounding Horace Walpole is now firmly in my book thoughts. I like the premise “A haunted castle and a ruined bloodline Manfred, wicked lord of Otranto Castle, is horrified when his son is crushed to death on his wedding day. But rather than witness the end of his line, as foretold in a curse, he resolves to send his own wife to a convent and marry the intended bride himself. However, Manfred’s lustful greed will be disturbed by the terrifying omens that now haunt his castle: bleeding statues, skeletal ghouls and a giant sword – as well as the arrival of the rightful prince of Otranto…” I also want to read more gothic books but then I saw this quote “a series of catastrophes, ghostly interventions, revelations of identity, and exciting contests. Crammed with invention, entertainment, terror, and pathos” and I thought it sounds a bit, well, dare I say O.T.T and pretentious? So now am not sure?

Can you shed some light please dear readers? Have you read/heard about either of these? Is there a book that you are umming and ahhhing over at the moment that you need help to decide if you read or not?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Do I Want To Read?

Anthropology – Dan Rhodes

I mentioned on Valentines Day that I find books about love a difficult genre. I tend to like them to have an edge like ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ of the latest NTTVBG read ‘The Girl with Glass Feet’ rather than a straightforward slush fest. So imagine my joy at realising I had a collection of tales of love that all had an unusual edge, twist or way of looking at the subject.

When I first saw my copy of Dan Rhodes collection ‘Anthropology’ I couldn’t quite see how in a book of such a small size, for it is small indeed, you could possibly have 101 stories of love in all its forms? Well the premise is that each story is 101 words (or around that as I bet some clever so and so will try counting them) and so you get a story a page. Despite being a big fan of Dan Rhodes’ work I wasn’t convinced this would work especially as I am quite difficult with short stories anyway.

How wrong could I have been? I really, really liked this collection and I think it actually goes to show just how good a writer Dan Rhodes is. In around 101 words he encapsulates a relationship with ease. You have tales of a girlfriend who has been in out of space and wont shut up about it on return, a man who’s girlfriend is kidnapped and objects to a high ransom especially when they keep chopping bits of her off and not reducing the price, a man who’s girlfriend goes off to work with gay people in Mongolia only to become one though he thinks she literally has become a gay man from the Village People with the beard and all. All these tales and more are cleverly depicted in 101 words, how many authors could do that?

The other thing that I really liked about the book was the emotions. Each story has a very different depiction of love be it true love, young love, unrequited love, obsessive love, the ending of love. It also looks at all the emotions behind them the good, bad, happy, ridiculous, compulsive, sad and funny. I thought I would treat you to two of the tales the first a more sombre and sad tale of a love that’s ended called ‘Museum’…

I turned our flat into a museum. Visitors are welcome to marvel at the daintiness of the pumps she left behind, and to look at the band with which she would tie back her hair from the face I kissed so many times. There are cabinets full of photographs, and letters she sent me. There’s a framed birthday card on the wall, with three big kisses in silver pen. No one ever visits but I am here everyday, keeping my head as still as I can. I don’t want to lose any of the brain cells that hold those precious memories.

And here is a funnier one which will hopefully leave you will a smile on your lips called ‘Beauty’…

My girlfriend is so beautiful that she has never had cause to develop any kind of personality. People are alays wildly glad to see her, even though she does little more than sit around and smoke. She’s getting prettier, too. Last time she left the house she caused six car crashes, two coronaries, about thirty domestic disputes and an estimated six hundred unwanted and embarrassing erections. She seems quite indifferent to the havoc she causes. ‘I am going to the shop for cigarettes’ she’ll say, yawning with that succulent, glossy mouth. ‘I suppose you’d better call some ambulances or something.’

I wanted to print one story called ‘Innocence’ which is so rude I couldn’t for fear of offending anyone but when I read it I actually cried with laughter for about ten minutes, read it again and laughed another ten. Yet more proof, for me anyway, of the masterly writing of Mr Rhodes. I am not reading any more of his for a while though as I am getting through his back catalogue rather quickly. I know what to grab of the shelves when I next need a pick me up though that’s for sure. I think this might be my very favourite short story collection too. What’s yours?

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Filed under Canongate Publishing, Dan Rhodes, Review, Short Stories

The Day After The Day Before…

I am not going to do the longest of posts today. It’s fair to say after spending pretty full day on the internet hosting those of you who turned up to discuss my first choice of the Not The TV Book Group that I am rather tired. What a great discussion we had about ‘The Girl With Glass Feet’ though, and its still going on with people joining in during the night last night well after this host had gone to bed, that’s the joy with this project you can come back with your thoughts whenever you like. I now need to think about all the virtual cleaning up I need to do, its made havoc with the carpets, ha!

I am not one to get all sentimental that often but I do just want to say thank you to everyone (including those who lurked and may not have commented and from the traffic we had that was one heck of a lot of you – do join in next time, we love it) who joined in and made it a great day. I really enjoyed it, so I hope you did? It was lovely to see some friendly faces as well as meeting some new ones. Myself and the other co-hosts were emailing each other a lot during the day and we are all thrilled with how its going, and are already plotting something quite special yet quite different for the Autumn, more on that sometime soon!

I do hope I will see you all again in two weeks when its Kirsty of Other Stories choice and we all head to hers for ‘Vanessa and Virginia’ by Susan Sellers. Ooh, I do need to mention a date change in the programme. Myself and Dovegreyreader swapped due to unforeseen circumstances and so ‘Skin Lane’ by Neil Bartlett will be held by me on April 11th and ‘The Boys in the Tree’s’ discussion will be with Lynne on April 25th.

Right, well, after the high of yesterday I am off to the office (boo hiss) I will be counting down the minutes as I have a week of from tomorrow and cannot wait, I am exhausted. I am looking forward to some unadulterated whim reading in particular and having a holiday in my house. I was having a mooch through the shelves yesterday and have whittled these out as definite contenders…

You are all always very good with book recommendations so please give your thoughts on any of these you have read, or indeed heard about, or just the authors if you have read any other of their works.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Not The TV Book Group