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

The Girl With Glass Feet – Ali Shaw (NTTVBG – Book Two)

Welcome to the second in the first series of Not The TV Book Group. I am Simon Savidge and your rather nervous rabbit in the headlights host today. Joining me on the freshly plumped sofa’s are my lovely fellow co-hosts Kim of Reading Matters, Kirsty of Other Stories and your previous host Lynne of Dovegreyreader for a discussion of all things related to Ali Shaw’s debut novel ‘The Girl With The Glass Feet’.

Last time we came to you from the depths of rural Devonshire. Today you will all be joining us not in my current home of Tooting in South London, as I am saving that for ‘Skin Lane’, but from somewhere a little more appropriate to the book, in fact somewhere I used to live many moons ago. This is all thanks to the joys of this being virtual and as I am hosting today it’s also subject to my whims.

That’s right it’s my Grandparents old house. This wonderful old building on a forest covered former quarry in the depths of Derbyshire (Matlock Bath in case you are interested) was the home of my childhood and where I first learnt to read and became a rather large fan of the fairytale. So much of a fan I called my pet duck Rapunzel, no really it’s true. This seemed the perfect place for you all to pop by and chat about what I think is one of the best modern fairytales I have read. I am hoping you agree. Before we get on with the book do help yourself a nice cup of tea and to one of the many, many cream cakes I have brought from the famous local Bird’s Bakery (seriously nowhere is like it for cakes). Now then onto some book discussion…

I am slightly stuck on where to start with ‘The Girl With The Glass Feet’ and this makes me even happier that I have twenty four hours and more to go on discussing it with you all as it was so full of discussable delights, for me anyway. I guess to start at the beginning would help wouldn’t it? Like all good fairytales you need a great setting and for this such tale we are given St Hauda’s Land an archipelago of islands somewhere snowbound and filled with forests and mystery and yet somewhere very much of ‘the now’ even if a little different from the rest of the world and the mainland.

“Maybe you noticed something different. When you returned to St Hauda’s Land. A taste on the air. A mannerism the birds have. A peculiar snowfall, making almost mathematical patterns. A white animal that’s not an albino.”

Someone who has indeed returned is Ida MacLaird, for when she first came to St Hauda’s Land something unusual happened after a run in with Henry Fuwa and a strange creature, the after effects being that she is slowly but surely turning into glass. Feeling that Henry is the only person who can help her she returns but Henry doesn’t want to be found, instead meets an unlikely hero in the form of Midas Crook a man she can’t help but like and a man who she feels can help. As it happens Midas is a man so emotionally complex and deeply withdrawn, a man who prefers to look at the world via a camera lens than his own eyes could take quite some time to unfold (well it wouldnt be such a good read and indeed such a fairytale if things went too smoothly) and possibly rescue her, time however is something that Ida does not have.

I was mesmerised from the opening of the book, which actually throws you in a lot quicker than I thought it would. We are literally bundled into the world of Midas there and then on the very day that he meets Ida, it’s that instant. I was expecting something slower, a tale that lead up to a fateful event rather than this delightfully different start with a slow unfolding of background stories, explanations, added twists and coincidences following on. I liked and didn’t predict that everything from the tale to the characters all seem to interlink somewhere along the way weaving a web you drawn into and held by.

I know we said we would discuss endings on the NTTVBG, and we all can, but just I don’t want to pop the books ending on the main post as I genuinely feel it would ruin it for anyone who hasn’t read the whole thing, pop back to the comments when you have would be my tip for the day. Is this a cop out? Maybe, but seriously I had no idea what the ending would be and if I had I think I would have felt something was stolen from me, does anyone else think that – ooh that’s something to discuss in the comments as the day goes on. So instead of endings I will turn to the rather quirky characters.

As hero and heroine, an unlikely pair at that and occasionally utterly maddening, naturally we spend most of the time with Ida and Midas and so for me at least they needed to be likeable. Oh I did like them, flaws and all (I bet Snow White and Prince Charming had issues Disney just deleted them) and actually I think the flaws only made them and the story stronger for me. I also loved the crazy reclusiveness of Fuwa another unlikely important figure in the whole proceedings. They all spoke to me, I wanted to spend time with them, get to know them and most importantly read on.

The writing, oh the writing… see there is so much to talk about. The writing for me was modern and yet poetic it had that magical like quality and yet never seemed far fetched or unconvincing even when tiny moth-winged cows were flying about the landscape. This to me is the sign of a great book and a marvellous writer, it could have been easy for this book to have become a parody of a fairytale and instead I was captivated and utterly spellbound for the whole journey.

I normally whack out a few questions at the end of a post, I know Lynne isn’t a fan of this, today I think I will get the ball rolling with one quick question. What did you think then? There, I will leave it in your capable hands; I will be back around 10am to conflab further as there is still so much I want to discuss!

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Filed under Ali Shaw, Atlantic Books, Book Group, Book Thoughts, Books of 2010, Not The TV Book Group, Review

Simon’s Bookish Bits #9

On these weekly bookish bits I am beginning to sound like a stuck record, once again last week was a busy one so I am once again spending this morning catching up on commenting back and other people’s blogs. However now that the latest issue of the magazine I write for is done I have a week off! Hoorah, a week for some unadulterated reading pleasure and so am mulling over my reading plans. So I think today I will in the main hand over to you and see if what you are reading or have been reading can inspire me.

The book I am just about to crack open and have been itching to get into for well over a week is ‘A Life Apart’ by Neel Mukherjee. It has been in the house since just after Christmas but I like to put my thoughts up after something’s published date rather than before so you can all get hold of it. For the last week I have been sneaking glimpses at it and getting very exciting about reading it, does anyone else have moments like this or is it just me? I have heard marvellous things about ‘A Life Apart’ (Mariella Frostrup was raving about it on Open Book – and I like her), has anyone else read this? I seem to have gained two copies so maybe a giveaway is in the pipeline?

It is nice to be foot loose and fancy free in terms of reading, even if I do have two titles lined up for reading in the non too distant future. The latest Riverside Readers choice of ‘July’s People’ by Nadine Gordimer, which I got from the library the other day – the first book group choice I have managed to actually, is going to be one I read in preparation for meeting on the 4th. Then of course we have ‘Vanessa and Virginia’ by Susan Sellers for Kirsty at Other Stories hosting of the Not The TV Book Group choice in two weeks. I am so nervous about mine tomorrow I don’t even want to speak of it, in fact am trying not to think of it.

Apart from ‘A Life Apart’ the only other book I really am itching to read arrived in rather mysterious wrapping this week…

It is ‘Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand’ by Helen Simonson and the note inside side ‘I have sent you a book you must sit down with a nice cup of tea and some biscuits’ which the lovely Penelope at Bloomsbury had also thrown in (along with some lovely greeting cards), she must be a little psychic as I adore shortbread! I am now very excited about what I think will be a reading experience with all these goodies. I also have two copies of this so I think some nice giveaways are definitely lined up!

So what are you all reading? What’s been your favourite book of late? What book are you really, really excited about right now? What are your weekend reading plans? Any other bookish bits of business you have to divulge?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Neel Mukherjee

A Single Man – Christopher Isherwood

You probably all know by now that I am someone who actually has to read a book before I see the film (unless I don’t know it’s a book or I was young and had no idea it was a book) and so naturally I wanted to read ‘A Single Man’ by Christopher Isherwood before I see it, for me its one of this years must watch movies. I was told by someone over dinner on Saturday night ‘to skip the book and simply watch the film… the book is well… just watch the film.’ This of course only made me want to read the book even more, that and the fact since reading ‘Goodbye to Berlin’ Christopher Isherwood is an author I have wanted to try many more books of.

‘A Single Man’ is the tale of a day in the life of George. A British man teaching English and living in California who’s life has changed through the complex emotions grief bestows upon someone since loosing his partner Jim. Though you are never quite told when the book is meant to be set I got a feel of the late 1950’s, the book was written in the early 1960’s a time when homosexuality really wasn’t still accepted though there was a slight change in the air. We follow George through his day and in doing so learn how a man copes with the loss of a loved one, for he is technically a widower, when he cannot discuss it.

“George is ashamed of his roarings because they aren’t play-acting. He does genuinely lose his temper and feels humiliated and sick to his stomach later. At the same time, he is quite aware that the children want him to behave this way. They are actually willing him to do it. If he should refuse to play the monster, and they could no longer provoke him, they would have to look out for another substitute. The question is – is this play acting or does he really hate us? – never occurs to them. They are utterly indifferent to him, except as a character in their myths. It is only George who cares.”

For such a small book it is brimming with ideas, emotions, and people and actually took me a while to read at there is so much to take in. It’s utterly remarkable. Through George’s ordinary day as he gets up, gets ready, drives to work, works, visits a hospital, has a dinner with a friend and gets very drunk Isherwood crams different emotions behind all his actions. Sometimes bitter, inept, nostalgic, angry, sad, aroused, giddy – basically the whole gambit that grief with put you through and so far in my ready experience I have never read it better and though its not written in first person you can feel it all. We also get his back story, Jim’s too and then we have the wonderful character of Charlotte a fairly close neighbour.

“In any case, she absolutely refuses to learn to drive. If she needs to go someplace and no one offers to give her a ride, well then, that’s too bad, she can’t go. But the neighbours nearly always do help her; she has them utterly intimidated and bewitched by this Britishness which George himself knows so well how to employ, though with a different approach.”

Charlotte is another lost person and the two cling together despite that fact that when they are apart she repulses George slightly, but she knew about Jim and is one of the few people to which he can talk about him, relive those times. I was fascinated by her though only in the book for 30 pages her character is just as complex and destroyed as George only she turns to alcohol and lets every emotion be seen. She also adds a dark comedy towards the end of the book which adds a different perspective. Speaking of the ending, I will say no more than I wasn’t expecting it and don’t read it just before you go to sleep, I lay awake for about twenty minutes after.  

I could go on and on about this book but really what I should simply do is urge you to read it. It’s a small book filled with subtlety and a such a deep and clever internal dialogue which says so much you feel you want to read it again and see what you missed. People have said this is Isherwood’s masterpiece and he himself said that it was his favourite of his own works. Having only read one other of his books myself so far I don’t feel qualified to comment on that, I can say I will be reading much more of him and comparing in the future.

Have you read this? What did you think? I have Mrs Norris Changes Trains on the TBR but as my birthday is looming what other Isherwood have you read and would recommend I throw myself in the direction of, or throw people wanting to buy presents in the way of?

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Filed under Books of 2010, Books To Film, Christopher Isherwood, Review, Vintage Books, Vintage Classics

Looting from a Long Forgotten Library

It’s yet another crazy old week this week, what on earth is going on with the last couple of weeks? Has anyone else been having a bit of a manic old time? I think I need a long weekend! Despite all the busyness I have been checking on other blogs though not always having time to comment and have finally been getting around to responding to all of yours over the last couple of days, it is taking me a while as there have been lots and it’s been lovely.

I have also managed to go to the library and though I did a loot not long ago I thought I would do another in honour of Eva at A Striped Armchair to celebrate her return to vlogging about hers. I am wary of too many posts with pictures of book selections as I know people are either lovers or haters and today’s picture is a bit rogue as UK library books have this glossy covering which plays havoc with a flash device! 

I was actually only meant to be going to get ‘July’s People’ by Nadine Gordimer as it’s the next choice for The Riverside Readers. Now my very local library didn’t have it but one a mere but ride away did so off I travelled. The library I found was like a relic from the 80’s (and my childhood) and I loved it. Compact but with a much better selection than the very busy one I normally go to. I think you all know where I will be going from now on – and why I am not saying which one it is, selfish aren’t I?

For some reason ‘July’s People’ had been put in the basement as ‘it has had its day really’ which I thought was interesting considering the student who was helping me had no idea who the author was an needed it spelt verbally four times before I gave in and wrote it down and who looked totally lost when I said ‘she won the Nobel for writing’. Whilst he went into the depths of the library basement (I feel it’s a place if I found I might never leave) to found it I had a perusal. My eyes caught two Persephone books ‘Saplings’ by Noel Streatfield and ‘The New House’ by Lettice Cooper (I love the authors name alone). I did also see two Joe Orton books I wanted to read, the second in the Hunger Games series (though I still haven’t read the first) and ‘Eclipse’ but I got to the student again and was told, almost with delight by the whippersnapper, that I had ‘reached my limit’.

I should clear something up before I leave and hand over to you all. I mentioned on Saturday I was ‘persephone’d out’ which then goes completely against the my latest loot. What I meant by that was not that I don’t like Persephone Books anymore (seriously I had an email or two from some Persephone fanatics) what I meant was I see them around a lot more and so tend to avoid the ones everyone is talking about or has been, it gets a bit much for readers I think. That could just be me. It happens with all books I see getting over hyped; I get a bit turned off and so leave them a while. There that’s better. I am sure many of you feel like this with a book or books now and again?

So what have you gotten from the library of late? What books have you had the joy of receiving or buying? What should I be looking out for when I next go to this new yet brilliantly bizarrely retro library?

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The House of the Mosque – Kader Abdolah

I don’t really know how to introduce ‘The House of the Mosque’ by Kader Abdolah. It’s not a book that I had considered reading until I popped my name into a draw for it over at Lizzy’s Literary Life, not expecting that I would win. I did and as all winners were to think of some questions to ask Kader Abdolah we needed to crack on with it. I had one of those small ‘but there is so much else I want to read’ mini-tantrums internally before picking up the book which I then couldn’t put down.

How does one describe  a book such as  ‘The House of the Mosque’ because it’s not as easy to explain as it is to read? The book really is centred on the family of Aqa Jaan who live in the house next to the mosque (and also own it) in the Iranian province of Senejan and have done for eight centuries. Based on facts around the late 1970’s and the years after, with some real historical figures thrown in the book is set over a pivotal period in Iranian history as the reign of the American backed Shah comes to an end at the hands of the Ayatollah.

I have to say from the premise I wasn’t too sure about the book, wouldn’t it be a bit too much of a political read? How on earth would I keep up with all the religious references etc? I needn’t have worried because the way that Abdolah tells this tale you learn a lot without having noticed. That for me, who had no idea of what was going on in religious or political climates – other than it’s been volatile to say the least was a sign of masterly writing.

The first half of the book introduces you to the huge family, its servants and some of the locals in a very fable like way. Some people may only appear for a chapter or two, some last the whole book before you know it you feel like one of the family. It’s then the fact that you are a fan of the family (I thought Aqa Jaan was wonderful and in some ways reminded me of Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird, you just cannot not like him and admire his passion for his family) that makes it so hard when everything changes in Iran and times of uncertainty and darkness effect the country and of course everyone in the house of the mosque.

The book is so filled with idea’s, small plots behind bigger ones, characters galore and factual truth it’s really hard to sum it up or in fact to do the book justice. Yes it’s another one of those books where to try and write anything about it leaves you frustrated that you can’t make every single person who reads this want to rush out and buy it. I jut simply have to say I think it’s a masterpiece of our times. I admit I was sceptical and yet just fell into it, was carried away buy it and couldn’t put it down. I can fully appreciate why it has been an international bestseller and translated in so many countries. It’s a book that I think everyone should read as its eye opening, though provoking and magical story telling. I can say no more than read this book, I am tempted to open the book and start all over again.

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Filed under Books of 2010, Canongate Publishing, Kader Abdolah, Review

The Bookish Grumps

Dear readers, I have a little bit of a confession. Though I have had a rather good year of reading so far and read more by this time of year than I have any other year to date, I have also got a rather bookish grump on my beside table at present. It is a pile of unfinished books and its making me a little bit grumpy frankly. I am calling it the ‘Bane on the Bedside’.

I normally have a rule which I am sure I have mentioned to you all already; that if by page 80 I am not into the swing of the thing then I will simply stop. If it’s just a possibility that at that current time those bookish stars aren’t aligned and the timing is off it goes on a special shelf to be read another time. If I just simply didn’t like it then it goes to family, friends or charity so someone else can love it.

Now this ‘Bane on the Bedside’ is a selection of books that I have gotten past page 80 and (after having a quick glance) have actually gotten over half way through, in fact two of the books I am three quarters of the way through yet something has fizzled and I simply have left them languishing. Why? Well one of the two I had really high hopes for and half of it, the back story, is written like a potential Man Booker winner, wonderful prose, thrilling scenes. The other half is written like a bad summer read and the characters are miserable swine’s. I have been picking this up on and off since mid January and really think I need to just say enough’s enough. The other of the two is good but it’s a case of an author fitting in way too many ideas so the book is almost trying to say something new every paragraph, I like the enthusiasm but I get in a muddle.

What are the books I am on about? Well I just can’t tell you as I wouldn’t want to put you off buying them, one or two of you could fall under their spells. I know unless I finish them I won’t review them as I am of the mind that you can’t review a book that you haven’t finished (or write bookish thoughts as I like to think I write rather than reviews) impressions yes, but not a review or a score. That is one reason I make a promise to read every book group book from cover to cover no matter what, I don’t feel I can sufficiently discuss the book if I haven’t. I know people who can, we are after all different in many ways us human folk, but for me it doesn’t really sit well.

What I don’t understand is why I am not just saying farewell and am leaving them on the bedside table as constant reminders of my failings. That is what is making me truly grumptious. Does anyone else ever get anything like this? Or does anything else give you the bookish grumps?

Note – This is not to be mixed up with readers block, as that is something quite different. I am happily still reading away, I just get niggles of annoyance and grumpy moments as I see the ‘Bane of the Bedside’ out the corner of my eye.

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Brodeck’s Report – Philippe Claudel

Just over a week ago the Not The TV Book Group (or NTTVBG) had our very first book discussion on Brodeck’s Report by Philippe Claudel over at Dovegreyreader. The discussion was wonderful with people popping back and forth and who can say no to a book group where you can vanish briefly to watch Dancing on Ice/Come Dine With Me/The Rugby and then pop back, catch up and continue? I will pop the link for the discussion below first though here are my thoughts (you will probably see we all do this about a week after the NTTVBG on our own blogs if we weren’t hosting) on the very first NTTVBG book…

Brodeck’s Report is pretty much two stories within one narrative. Brodeck lives in a French village, possibly not too far away from German borders, where he collects data about the natural environment and writes reports for the government. However soon he is asked by the men of the town to write a very different report. One day the Anderer or ‘The Other’, a stranger, arrives into the town tensions rise and the locals decided he should never leave the town again and so Brodeck is given the task of and chronicling the change in the village since the Anderer arrived leading up to his murder by the locals, something they believe they had to do, but Brodeck isn’t so sure.

“Night has the curious power of changing most everyday things, the simplest faces. And sometimes it does not so much change them as reveal them, as if bringing out the true natures of landscapes and people by shrouding them in black. The reader may shrug off everything I am saying here. He may think I am describing childish fears , or embellishing a novel. But before judging and condemning, one must imagine the scene: that man, come from nowhere – for he really did arrive out of the blue, as Vurtenhau said (now and again Vurtenhau enunciates a few truths amid a great mass of idiocy) – as I was saying, one has to imagine that fellow, dressed like a character from another century, with his unusual beasts and his imposing baggage, entering our village which no stranger had entered for years, and more over arriving just like that, without any ado, with the greatest of ease. Who would not have been a little afraid?”

As Brodeck types his reports a second narrative of his life starts to tumble in between the tale of the stranger’s arrival in the village. It is the tale of Brodeck himself, of how he came to the village, of his time in a camp during an unnamed war and of people coming to terms with the affect effects of war and the legacy it leaves behind. In fact the more that Brodeck types the more he comes to almost empathise with the Anderer and question the locals, something which it would be very unwise to do as one of the villagers hints when discussing his pigs (this scene really, really unnerved me)…

“They’re capable of eating their own brothers, their own flesh. It wouldn’t bother them at all – to them, it’s all the same. They chew it up, they swallow it down, they shit it out, and then they start all over again, ad infinitum. They’re never sated. And to them everything tastes good. Because they eat everything, Brodeck, without question. Everything. Do you understand whatI am telling you? They leave nothing behind, no trace, no proof. Nothing. And they don’t think, Brodeck, not them. They know nothing of remorse. They live. The past is unknown to them. They’ve got the right idea, don’t you think?”

I think many people once they see ‘murder’ in a blurb think that the book is instantly a crime novel it’s not the case with this book. I found it more of a dark and slightly sinister fairytale/fable if it had to be categorised. I thought Claudel’ writing was wonderful; it’s very, very atmospheric and at times can be most chilling. I did have a small issue with the typeface but that’s nothing to do with the author. 

I found the fact Claudel never gives you a time when this book is set is clever though initially I was a little wary of it, ok so with a typewriter you can guess somewhat, but which war could it be? This is in a way a masterstroke because it shows the effects of war and that suspicion and the human condition are timeless. Claudel also makes the reader jump from the present to the distant past or recent past in a skip and a hop sometimes from paragraph to paragraph, I liked this it kept me on my toes. It’s by no means an easy read and you the reader are asked to do quite a lot of work, but sometimes with a book like this it’s definitely worth it.

If you haven’t read the book then I would urge you to give this a try (I think most libraries have it) oh, and in the USA its simply titled Brodeck, I keep forgetting that. If you have read it you can always pop to last week’s discussion and add your thoughts there. Don’t forget that this Sunday will see me hosting the second NTTVBG book ‘The Girl With The Glass Feet’ by Ali Shaw here, and if the number of visitors we had last time is anything to go buy I better get started on the making of snacks already… and borrowing lots of chairs from the neighbours, I really hope to see you there!

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Filed under Not The TV Book Group, Philippe Claudel, Quercus Publishing, Review