Monthly Archives: May 2010

Light Boxes – Shane Jones

I was alerted today’s book of choice thanks to Frances of Nonsuch Book a while back. I then promptly forgot about it until a few weeks ago a little parcel from Penguin arrived and there inside was a compact novel. By compact I mean it’s about half the size of an average paperback both in depth and height. I then whizzed back to Frances post to see what had made me want to read it so much initially

In an unnamed town, where you soon learn things are not what they seem, February has taken over and flight has been banned. For over 300 days the town has been in perpetual winter, children are going missing or killing owls and villagers who rebel are being found in the woods dead their broken jaws filled with snow (one of the images that haunts me still), leaving the people of the town with no other option than to start a war with February. Our would be hero of the hour and in many ways catalystfor all that follows, is  a balloonist Thaddeus. After his daughter goes missing one night leaving only a bed filled with snow and teeth swears to get revenge and finish February once and for all, though he is tricked along the way, whatever shape it may take. It is also the voice of Thaddeus that despite the varing narratives the story is told fromguides you from start to finish.

In some ways it’s a thriller, you want to know who, why and what February actually is with many twists along the way.  In some ways it has elements of science fiction. In the main with its ghosts, secret underground worlds, moss that can eat anything slowly from the feet up, and endless impossible possibilities it’s an adult fairytale (I don’t think I would let young children read it) where anything can and often does happen though it tends to be the things you least expect. In others ways it’s a fable, and a tale of hope.

The film rights for this book have already been sold and, for once, it’s actually a book I am looking forward to seeing on the big screen because it’s written so visually. I found that, though I might be the only one, the book with its short chapters was in some ways like a series of wonderful slightly abstract watercolours that left imprints on your mind for some time after you had read each snap shot. It is of course all down to Jones wonderful writing that this is the case I did also wonder if the fact it is also written in first, second and third person adds to it.

You can’t help thinking that whoever designed this book added to the magic of it all. After all it has six different fonts in several sizes and is written with a sentence on one page, maybe a list on another, maybe just a paragraph or a full three page chapter (for that’s as long as they get), though this could be the authors doing of course. Either way it’s a magical book that’s very visual without being illustrated which for a debut novel I find quite incredible.

I could sum up Shane Jones debut novel ‘Light Boxes’ in one sentence. An adult fairytale filled with surreal magical feel that pulls the reader into another reality. Really it’s just a marvellous escapist read that’s darkly beautiful and will leave you thinking of it for days. 9/10 (Oh and its out later in the week here in the UK, I think elsewhere it’s already published.)

I can’t think of any suggestions to go with this one because I honestly haven’t read anything quite like it before. Has anyone else given it a whirl? What are your thoughts on the ‘magical realism’ genre?

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Filed under Books of 2010, Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books, Review, Shane Jones

Fledgling – Octavia E. Butler

Well apart from the tears that were shed in the fact that this book was the last title for the Not The TV Book Group I was really looking forward to reading what promised to be a very different vampire kind of book. Not that I have anything against vampire as I have ended up being addicted to the Twilight Saga , well what I have read so far anyway. So would this be the pigeon hole busting vampire book that I was promised?

I have to say Octavia E. Butler’s final book ‘Fledgling’ is quite unlike any vampire book that I have read before in lots of ways. For one the vampire in question, Shori, is a 53 year old vampire with amnesia under the cunning guise of a ten year old black girl. When we meet her she is a mystery to herself just as much as she is to the reader lost in the woods with no memories at all just heightened senses. In many ways Butler played a clever card as the reader makes the journey alongside Shori into finding just what she is and how she came to be. We soon discover that the remains of a village burnt down is not far from where Shori has been cocooned a village Shori is fairly sure she might have lived. She needs answers, and so do we, and so goes searching.

Now this is where it all started to get unsettling for me because in finding civilisation she meets Wright a hairy hulk of a twenty three year old and not too long after this they start having sex after she bites him (something she soon learns is addictive, necessary and highly pleasurable for both parties). I hit a certain ‘ewww’ situation here because this seemed to be rather paedophilic, ok so Shori is technically 53 but she looks ten. This made me put the book down for quite some time before soldiering on.

Eventually Shori finds some ‘others like her’ who we come to learn are in Ina ‘an ancient species of near mortals’ this is when the book starts to feel more like a sci-fi book than vampire tale, though the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive of course. It’s also when guns appear in the book and we go off into some action sequences, before (and I don’t want to give too much away) the book takes an almost courtroom drama twist though not your average ones being vampires and all. Into the mix of all these goings on Butler also somehow deals with race, polygamy, sexuality and our pasts it’s an interesting mix though for me it didn’t quite work. I couldn’t connect with Shori and despite the master and slave bond she creates with her human symbiants she never creates an emotional one and so therefore neither did I. I did read on, I was just never quite hooked or convinced though sadly. 5/10

I have since heard this was apparently a book that Butler wrote as a lark (heavens knows what a seriously dark book by Butler would be like, I don’t think I will be finding out to be honest) and so maybe this was meant to be a slightly throw away novel? I don’t think I helped myself with this book in some ways though because I looked at all the amazing reviews on a certain site which I think made me build up the book before I had started it. It probably also doesn’t help I am reading another book that twists the vampire tale on its head (and is bloody brilliant – do you see what I did there) which is of course the epic ‘The Passage’ by Justin Cronin. Hmmm a puzzling one. Have you read any Butler; if so was this the wrong book to start with? Should I have avoided those pesky reviews too?

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Filed under Not The TV Book Group, Octavia E. Butler, Review

Simon’s Bookish Bits #23

Don’t Saturdays seem to be coming around quickly at the moment? Before I know it its time to do a Simon’s Bookish Bits and I feel like I only did one five minutes ago. Maybe that’s just a sign I am getting older? So this week I thought we could look at what we all have on our bedside tables and I would also treat you to another gem of a book store that I found last weekend on my travels.

First up though, here in the UK it is a three day weekend. In fact I am getting rather over excited as next week is only a two day working week for me as I have another long weekend coming in the woods, more on that later in the post and in the week though. This weekend I am treating myself… to doing nothing! We unless you count spending the weekend reading (and a brief trip to see the musical Spamalot) in fact I am considering trying a little read-a-thon on my own tomorrow maybe.

There are some books though which will be getting my attention either way this weekend…

  • A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle, I have been craving to read a Sherlock Holmes for ages – in fact since seeing the film – and what better way than to start at the very beginning dear Watson.
  • Peyton Place by Grace Metalious, a book I suggested myself, Novel Insights and our friend Michelle all read before we go away next week so we can have a rogue book group. They have both started from what I can gather whilst I have not.
  • Theodora by Stella Duffy, its out next week and though I was sent it well in advance I didn’t want to write about it too far before. I have in the last week or three been so excited about it I have been saving it and saving it as a treat. Why do we do that with books sometimes, why don’t we just go for it?
  • The Passage by Justin Cronin, I will finish this epic this weekend, after all aren’t long weekends designed for long books?

I will also be catching up with blogs and comments as I have gotten slack again with that hence why I have no blog post of the week for you so I do apologise, can I possibly make up for it with a delightful book shop that I found when I was out and about last weekend?

I took The Converted One to Kew Gardens which is one of my favourite places in the whole of London. It’s the fact possibly down to the fact that though you wouldn’t initially think it the whole area is so Victorian, in fact here is a shot for you of The Converted One in front of one of the greenhouses from 1848.

It amazes me you can walk in the footsteps of all those people from the past.  It also makes you feel like you are walking in the jungle and so was perfect practice for myself and the autumn ahead in Brazil.

Anyway how does this relate to books? Well, as we were walking back through the village of Kew, I was saying how I wanted a house there yet it was a shame there wasn’t a book shop, we turned the corner and low and behold what did we find? A picture perfect bookshop, in fact I found this painting of it (my photo’s were lost as my Blackberry died this week, now have a lovely new iPhone which some of you recommended) which actually looks exactly like it.

Inside it’s a wonderful treasure trove, filled with shelves of delightful books and most importantly staff recommendations. I always look at those in bookshops. I had no idea until this week that The Guardian once wrote a list of the top London bookshops and this one is on the list. So thats yet another bookshop I would highly recommend paying a visit to, and you can visit Kew Gardens afterwards. Or maybe before, depending on which of the two you most prefer ha, ha.

Well I think that’s it from me, am off to go and read for a few hours (it’s just started to drizzle and The Converted One is studying for a very important exam on Wednesday). What have you lined up this weekend? Which books are lined up on your bedside? What are you reading and what have you loved in the last week?

Oh and a brief additional note, Simon’s Bookish Bits is having a holiday next weekend as have something else planned so it will be back in a fortnight by which point I will have lots of lovely links and the like to share!!!

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The Prince of Mist – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I don’t know about you but I loved ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. In fact if you haven’t read it please go to a bookstore/library and get your hands on a copy if you do nothing else today. I know it became one of those books that got incredibly hyped and you saw every Tom, Dick or Harry reading but sometimes (here ‘The Book Thief’ springs to mind) the rave reviews are just and all those people reading the book before you are spot on. So when I was offered an advance copy of his cross over book  ‘The Prince of Mist’ I had to say yes (I know, I know I did the same with The Angels Game and haven’t read it yet – that book is much bigger, ha) though naturally, as you may know my thoughts on cross over books, I was worried this might not really work for me. The fact that in Spain this was a best seller for two years, yes two whole years, made me think I just had to try it.

In thinking of how to write about this book I was drawn to two of the tag lines that I have seen for ‘The Prince of Mist’ one is ‘for the young, and the young at heart’ and the other is ‘nothing is more powerful than a promise’. These do actually really some up the book here and I could say ‘well the job is done then’ and stop here as if you want a book review in two lines I would borrow those. However I think I will flesh it out a little more than that for you.

In the summer of 1943 thirteen year old Max Carver and the rest of the family are rather surprised when Maximillian Carver (Max’s father) decides to relocate his family. Leaving the city is not something the family want to do, however as the war gets nearer a life by the sea seems to be the ideal solution. As the family arrive at the town instantly Zafon starts to let a slight unease build in the story in the forms of the train station clock, which goes backwards, and a rather over friendly large cat (never trust a cat that’s too friendly) who seems intent on befriending them.

Things get steadily creepier as the family are told of the history of the house previously owned by a couple whose child drowned at sea with no explanation. The house itself seems to hold secrets, you never feel alone, and there is that strange cemetery at the bottom of the garden which houses a rather evil looking mausoleum to a clown. As something awful happens to one of Max’s sisters Irina in the house, Max, his sister Alicia and their new friend Roland are drawn into the legend of ‘The Prince of Mist’ and are soon to discover that if you make a promise you have to keep it, no matter what the consequences are.

It’s hard to not get over excited and share too much with a book like this. It does indeed appeal to the young adult in you as you read along. From pretty much the very first page until the last sentence Zafon takes you on a fairly non stop adventure involving secrets, legends, mausoleums, ship wrecks, murder and magic. Whilst all this is going on there is a good dash of emotional drama going on, the upheaval of a family, those dreaded teenage hormones, young love and occasionally the sense of dread of the war in the background, such as when Roland mentions he may have to enrol soon. In fact this was the only teeny tiny thing that stopped this book being a bigger hit for me, I did from time to time think there was almost too much going on, but then isn’t that just what makes for great escapism and a great page turner?

Now I know its meant to be a ghost/horror story for younger people but I have to say it is actually properly scary too, I even jumped reading one bit, something I think books rarely make you do physically. I am very glad that we have another three in this series to look forward to over the next three years. I am almost tempted to go and learn Spanish just so I can read them all in their original form ASAP as I am not sure I can wait a year between each one. 8/10

Have you read any Zafon? Have you read ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ and did you think it was superb or not? Which other cross over books would you recommend (no mentioning The Hunger Games, I tried and… well I didn’t get on with it) as after Neil Gaiman and now this I am beginning to get fonder of books that appeal to my twelve year old self? Do you like cross over fiction or do you avoid it like the plague?

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:

The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman (this is much scarier though but just as much fun)
The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon (because its excellent and has the tension this one does)
The Woman in Black – Susan Hill (a fantastic adult ghost story)

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Filed under Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Orion Publishing, Review

The Prose Practice: Lonely Men in Cardigans

From yesterday’s erotica to something almost polar opposite, though maybe actually not if these cardi-clad men are very lonely, anyway… I mentioned earlier in the week that your advice would be called upon, as unwitting participants of The Prose Practice, not once but twice and so here is a rather unusual and utterly brilliant question from a new reader of the blog all the way on the other side of the world to me in Australia. Can you all help with some suggestions for some masculine reading material that might involve lonely men in cardigans though not necessarily read by them. I have so far only come up with one and its not one I have read so I could be barking up the wrong tree completely.

Simon,

Greetings from Australia. I am a new reader of your splendid blog.  I am especially interested in novels which I can only describe as examining the Male version of Anita Brookner’s characters [I have already posted about her on your site] – that is, men of a certain age who have lost their way, given up hope or just accept the general tragedy of ageing with stubborn stoicism or sad irony. This is an unexplored genre. I seek recommendations from you and your bloggers. Where are the novels dealing with lonely, single men in cardigans?

Norman, Australia

 

Simon Says: Hmmm… books about lonely single men in cardigans. (Can I just say trendy men in their late twenties – and younger – now where cardigans too in fact I have been known to don one, ha!) Well the one that instantly came to my mind isn’t one that I have read and so I could frankly be completely wrong with my suggestion. However the book that I did think of was Man Booker winning ‘Last Orders’ by Graham Swift. It’s a book that I have sat in the TBR and may now very well have to read having gone off and read the synopsis. I am not sure that it’s quite the right suggestion?

What say all of you readers out there?

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Delta of Venus – Anaïs Nin

I personally think there is a huge divide between pornography and erotica. Some people don’t. Then again some people will possibly have closed there browsers before they get further than that first line and some people will have found this blog for the first time because of it. Isn’t it interesting the power of the words… porn and erotica. Well today’s post is about the Madame of Erotica herself Anaïs Nin and author many have recommended I try and not for the reasons you might be thinking you mucky minded lot! Though this review could end up not being for the faint hearted or easily offended, you might want to avert your eyes.

As Anaïs Nin states herself in the preface of ‘Delta of Venus’ this collection was never really intended to be published, in fact when these tales were originally written they were simply created for someone she names only as ‘The Collector’ in order to bring in the money. What she did want to do with the erotic tales she wrote was create more of a story and flavour of literature rather than just the mechanical act itself. In fact reading these now, I imagine they were quite steamy stuff in the 1940’s, it’s the beautiful prose and the underlying themes that make Nin’s collection so interesting to read.

Yes ok so there is a lot, and I mean a lot, of sex in these stories but it’s not of the ‘wham bam thank you man variety’, well actually sometimes it is but behind each act there is a story and occasionally almost a moral to the whole tale. Reading these I was actually reminded of fables and folklore on more occasion, especially in tales such as ‘The Ring’ which takes place in Peru and looks at the madness love can create, the opening tale ‘The Hungarian Adventurer’ seems to have a moral twist looking at promiscuity and the responsibilities you have with it.

Through this collection of fifteen works Nin not only deals with differing kinds of sex from true love and true lust to acts of sadomasochism, she also looks at other things in life. Sexuality is naturally a  big theme in a collection, there is a tale set in a Brazilian boarding school which deals with homosexuality on several levels and bisexuality is a recurrent theme but she also looks at peoples circumstances, lifestyles and their psychological states.  This can lead to the darker side of life in fact in the collection there are some rather tragic tales. ‘Mathilde’ is the tale of a hat maker who men simply cannot resist, which starts of rather hilariously, yet soon she falls into the world of opium leading to harder drugs and dangerous and frightening circumstances for the heroine.

There are also moments of hilarity, in the aforementioned ‘Mathilde’ the way she gets propositioned by some ‘suitors’ is utterly hilarious. I wont share for fear of getting turned into an ‘adult site’, lets just say its comical and happens here there and everywhere. ‘Lilith’ which I think was one of my favourite stories (there was one or two that left me a little nonchalant, but only one or two) has me laughing out loud. Lilith doesn’t really like sex and so her husband swaps her sweetener for the almost Viagra like Spanish Fly drug and tells her after. Her response being “what a trick to play on me. And I promised Mabel that we’d go to the movies together. I can’t disappoint her. She’s been shut in at home for a week. Suppose it begins to affect me at the movies.” Imagining that conversation over tea in the 1940’s really tickled me. This is a beautifully written collection of eye opening tales which if you look past the sex have so much more to say, if only ‘The Collector’ had known! 9/10

Do you think erotica can ever pass for literature or do you think those who suggest such a thing, like me, need a good talking to? Have you read any Anaïs Nin?

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Filed under Anaïs Nin, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review, Short Stories

The Prose Practice: Reading Abroad #1

Your help is going to be needed twice this week as we have not one but two, yes two, problems for The Pragmatic Prose Practice Panel (I tried to think of another P word to take the alliteration to a whole new level but I failed) this week the first of which is another of those tricky problems we all have… finding books to read in the places that we are off to visit. Why is it that we always want to do this? Well, I am assuming most of us do?

Oh and in case you were wondering if the problem later in the week is also to do with foreign fiction, its not, I just numbered this one as I can imagine it could become a popular question to put to you all. Right so to the problem;

Dear Savidge Readers,
For my second wedding anniversary earlier this week my beloved shocked me beyond all proportion with a surprise gifts, and one that was almost better – or equal to – a huge pile of books… a trip for a week away to Lisbon in Portugal!!! I was (almost) speechless when I opened my card thinking that I was just getting some vouchers for Waterstones or Amazon.

 Now I know how helpful your readers can be like when you asked for reads for Israel, Istanbul (which got postponed indefinitely due to volcanic ash and a tight travel PR firm) or even just to the woods! So I wondered if they might be able to help with some Lisbon literature or if nothing springs to mind maybe some Portugal prose?
Simon, London

Simon Says: Well you may by now have guessed that this is indeed my problem and that yesterday The Converted One actually shocked me beyond the beyond with a week away in June/July (my work and deadlines being a nightmare to schedule around) to Lisbon and so I am looking for some fiction either from there, heavily featuring the city or just some fiction about Portugal. I have only found ‘Night Train to Lisbon’ by Pascal Mercier so far and it looks like it has received really, really mixed reviews, anyone read it? Any others that you could recommend from the city, region or country? Who are the portuguese masters?

So what do you recommend? Oh and dont forget if you have any prose problems you can email savidgereads@googlemail.com

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