Monthly Archives: June 2010

Do You Book Juggle?

I never thought that I would become a book juggler. Well in all fairness until about five or six years ago I never thought I would become an avid reader but there you have it. I have to say though until this year I was simply a one book at a time kind of guy, no multiple reading at Savidge Reads HQ. That all seemed to fly out the window a couple of months ago and so I thought today we could maybe have a natter about how we juggle books and why you do or don’t.

It was starting Justin Cronin’s ‘The Passage’ that changed my reading habits for a couple of months. Simply not being able to lug a book, no matter how good it was, from pillar to post as my work routine saw fit meant I was reading a short book on commutes. So whilst reading ‘The Passage’ became and on going project I read a good ten plus books along side it, and oddly it didn’t ruin my reading experience like I thought it might.

I won’t lie to you all whenever I have known someone reads several books at once, with the exception of maybe  a novel and a non fiction read at the same  time, I have always been slightly baffled and in awe of it. I just didn’t think that you could really fit several storylines in your head at once. Surely it makes the reading experience less enjoyable if you are being jiggled here there and everywhere. But recently I learnt a key to it or two. Firstly, they all need to be quite different, well for me at least. So for example whilst reading ‘The Passage’ I didn’t touch any books with a science fiction or vampire based storyline.

My notebook is also a key part for me, because whilst all the reading above was going on (and still on going now) I have had a book that has become its own battle to read. ‘The Lacuna’ after reading bits at a time for about three/four months I am now over half way. ‘Why are you bothering?’ you might well ask, well because it has some moments of genius and I get the feeling its going to really pay off in the end, it just might take me the rest of the year to get there ha. If it wasn’t for the brilliant bits I honestly would give up, I just have to have breaks during the erm, not so great bits. Hence the need for my book notebook, I am keeping everything fresh in there so when I step back in it doesn’t take me very long to orientate myself again.

Interestingly though despite having become much better at multi-reading/book juggling I am not sure it’s a style of reading that suits me. Not so much when I am reading a fiction, some non-fiction and maybe have a short story collection for in between reads  or just when I fancy a mini change. Juggling lots of different fiction doesn’t quite work, occasionally a character from ‘The Passage’ would pop up in my mind whilst reading one of the short books or vice versa. At one point too I have sulked with both ‘The Lacuna’ and ‘The Passage’ because I wasn’t getting them read as fast as I am used to. That might be the length, could be because one I was wading through and the other was so addictive. Weirdly though it didn’t effect my reviewing of the books short or long that I have finished, none suffered for it and I thought maybe they might.

So do you book juggle or are you a one book at a time kind of person? If you do how do you remember all the different stories and voices? Do you have some techniques? What are the pro’s and con’s of book juggling for you? Will be interesting to see what you all have to say on the matter.

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The Suicide Shop – Jean Teulé

I always find that when people send me books who I don’t know too well send me books they shoot up the TBR faster than from people who I do know well. I guess I think the latter won’t be offended! This has been the case with ‘The Suicide Shop’ by Jean Teulé which a very kind reader of this blog sent me as a treat and because they thought that ‘it would be a very Savidge read’ and ‘mixes dystopian literature with lots of dark laughter’. I always wonder if the blog gives enough of my personality away and if my reading, which is quite varied I like to think, ever shows a pattern of what might make a book quite ‘me’. It seems it might, though you may not agree?

Set in a not too distant future the life for people in the City of Forgotten Religions isn’t great. The world has gone into a huge environmental decline; the sands are taking over and sulphuric acid rains down from the skies. There isn’t much to live for really as the world seems truly without hope. That’s where the Tuvache family come, in for they run ‘The Suicide Shop’ which has everything a suicidal customer could want no matter what the budget. In fact at one point they give a tramp one of their free carrier bags to suffocate himself with as long as people can see the logo ‘Has your life been a failure? Let’s make your death a success’ clearly.

However there is a flaw in the Tuvache family, as after generation after generation of miserable sons have been born Mishima and Lucrece’s youngest son Alan is born with nothing but joy, love and positivity in his heart. This is neither good for custom or indeed for the family as it seems to be contagious, even elder sister Marilyn falls in love with the local cemetery warden not long after she is injected with a venom that means she can kill with her saliva, making her the perfect kiss-o-gram for the shop. What follows is a comic caper of family drama and a wry look at just what could happen to the future of society.

I haven’t laughed out loud so much at a book in ages, not quite sure what that says about me? I know it’s a delicate subject but sometimes we need to have a look at the comic side of the worst aspects of life and this book does just that. What makes it such a great read is that despite their being the setting of a future world where anything could happen and having situations that could go into melodrama Teulé never does, it’s always just funny enough without going too far and some authors simply can’t get that balance. Teulé’s humour is spot on. Translator Sue Dyson must also have great humour to have translated this so well from its French origins too.

‘The Suicide Shop’ isn’t a book that I had heard about before I was so kindly sent it. My initial thoughts when it arrived where purely materialistic as ‘what a nice cover’ popped into my head along with the quote ‘you will die laughing’ it definitely had initial promise. However there has to be more to every book than a nice cover and a great quote, fortunately ‘The Suicide Shop’ is one such book. It didn’t change my life but it was damned entertaining. A darkly comic read that will leave you in shock by the ending that you won’t see coming, I had to read the last few paragraphs twice. I will be reading more Jean Teulé in the future if more of his books are translated. 8/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:

Little Hands Clapping – Dan Rhodes (set in the now this is a dark fairytale, rather than dystopian vision, or two which centre around a museum of suicide, its disturbingly funny)
Shades of Grey – Jasper Fforde ( the future has never been more dangerous nor so funny)

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Filed under Gallic Books, Jean Teulé, Review

Bloomin’ Lovely Lot of Loot

The post man seems to have gotten over his dumping of parcels in the street phase (maybe he reads this blog – ha, can you imagine) and some lovely parcels have arrived at Savidge Reads HQ. I was going to hold off writing about them but one had a very special significance and needed to share it and two I have already devoured and you will be hearing about very soon. So without further ado, here’s some lovely loot…

Now then I have decided to start doing this a bit differently by saying who sent them and what, if anything I know about them or don’t as it might be;

  • The Diary of ‘Helena Morley’ translated by Elizabeth Bishop (from Virago for my Reading for Brazil thing, this is a diary of a young Brazilian in the Victorian era – could it be more perfect?)
  • Dead Babies by Martin Amis (Vintage kindly sent as they know am on a book buying ban and this is the next Riverside Readers book)
  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (Oxford World Classics, can you believe that I have not read this ever or seen a TV/film version?)
  • London Triptych by Jonathan Kemp (Myriad, a very different sounding debut looking at three gay men over three periods in history, could Kemp be the new Hollinghurst?)
  • Quilt by Nicholas Royle (Myriad, another debut about the loss of a parent and clearing up the debris and life they leave behind)
  • The Suicide Shop by Jean Teule (sent by a Savidge Reader who lurks, Dave thought that this book would be very me, could be interesting)
  • A Samba for Sherlock by Jo Soares (from Savidge Reader Ellen who thought it would be perfect for my love of Sherlock and its author is Brazilian perfect for Reading for Brazil too – aren’t my readers kind?)
  • City of Veils by Zoe Ferraris (Little Brown, sent with Helena Morley, this sounds like a murder mystery/thriller with a difference)
  • The Killing Place by Tess Gerritsen (Bantam Press, I let out a rather big squeal when this arrived. Gerritsen is one of my favourite guilt-free guilty pleasures and this is the latest Isles and Rizzoli mystery, which reminds me I haven’t read one for a while.)

Now four books deserve a special read because I think it’s a series that every one is looking forward to after the first six were issued last year. It’s the next in the Bloomsbury Group series from, erm, Bloomsbury. Don’t they look delightful together…

  • Let’s Kill Uncle by Rohan O’Grady (the one I know least about but might have to read very soon)
  • Mrs Harris Goes To Paris & Mrs Harris Goes To New York by Paul Gallico (already heard lots of wonderful things about this but might leave it for a while in case of blogger over kill)
  • Henrietta Sees It Through by Joyce Dennys (more on this one in a second its special to me)
  • Mrs Ames by E.F Benson (excited about this one too because I have just discovered the joys of Benson through ‘Queen Lucia’ have heard this is very different)

So, ‘Henrietta Sees It Through’, now I don’t normally blow my own trumpet but I got very, very excited when this arrived because I loved ‘Henrietta’s War’ so much last year. I also almost cried/wet myself/laughed/jumped up/all of those at once and down when I noticed this…

Yes that’s me quoted on the back… under one of my favourite authors, on a book originally published in one of my favourite periods. It’s too much. I was asked for a quote a while back yet I thought it was going to be in the inside or something. I genuinely had no idea it was going to be on the back. So that’s been me on cloud nine (despite the blinking hay fever which has gone to a new level) for a few days.

So what books have you won/received/been sent/borrowed/bought of late? Read any of the above? Do let me know, I always love your thoughts.

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Queen Lucia – E.F. Benson

There are some series you get recommended by several people and simply have to read and the ‘Mapp and Lucia’ series by E.F. Benson has been one that has been recommended to me from bloggers (Elaine at Random Jottings and Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book I am looking at you) through to some friends and also even a celebrity (Julian Clary, no really) as one that I would adore. No pressure then. Thanks to the lovely Novel Insights I received the whole set for my birthday, in the wonderful retro 1980’s editions, as you know I have to read things in order. So I started with ‘Queen Lucia’ which came with a wondeful quote from none other than Nancy Mitford…

As ‘Queen Lucia’ opens we meet the title character, real name Mrs Emmeline Lucas, as she rejects the fly that her husband Peppino has sent for her and send it home with just her luggage in it in order to cause some gossip and wonderment through the village of Riseholme something as self proclaimed ‘Queen’ of the area she feels it is only befitting to do. E. F. Benson instantly gets us acquainted with the type of woman we are dealing with just from this opener and as the book goes on we learn just how Lucia tries to say queen when others decide they might want to usurp her role.

Two such characters are the ‘globe like’ Daisy Quantock and Lucia’s very own right hand man Georgie Pillson who both have things Lucia wants and could use them in becoming the most popular people in town which would never do. Daisy Quantock has the mysterious Indian Guru staying with her which is the talk of the village (it reads as slightly un-pc by today’s standards but written in the 1920’s and set very much in that era, people did have such prejudices, mind you George Pillson toupee is just as much talk of the town) and Georgie also has the most desirable friendship of Olga Bracely much to Lucia’s vexation. We watch on as the whole town bids to outdo one another and raise supreme, to most comical turns, whilst still looking like butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. It’s very, very funny stuff.

I imagine that Lucia herself being such a strong character could make a reader either love her or loathe her. She is a caricature of a certain type of society in her day but on occasion the sudden turn of speaking Italian to anyone and everyone, whether they understand or not, or babyish discussions with ‘Naughty’ Georgie could really grate I imagine as the first few times I read it I was rather unsure of it. However I was completely won over, in the main by the flamboyancy of the characters and just how funny E. F. Benson’s writing is and the situations he puts these people into. Despite the fact some of it is quite ludicrous you could imagine in those days people getting up to just such japes at the vexation of others. Some may also be tempted to call it twee but the dry humour throughout stops it from ever falling to far into that style.

“’Yesterday morning I was in Rush’s,’ said Georgie, ‘seeing about some crème de menthe, which ought to have been sent the day before – Rush is very negligent sometimes – and I was just saying a sharp word about it, when suddenly I saw that Rush was not attending at all, but was looking at something behind my back, and so I looked round. Guess!’
‘Don’t be tantalising, amico,’ said she. ‘How can I guess? A pink elephant with blue spots!’
‘No, guess again!’
‘A red Indian in full war paint?’
‘Certainly not! Guess again,’ said Georgie, with a little sigh of relief. (It would have been awful if she had guessed.) At this moment Peppino suddenly became aware that Lucia had guessed and was upto some game.”

I am really pleased I finally gave this series a whirl as I have a feeling that it, and of course its wonderful cast of characters, is just going to get better and better and possibly even barmier.  I look forward to seeing what lengths they all go to next and what E F. Benson throws at them. It’s actually a real shame that apart from the omnibus editions and the solo ‘Mapp and Lucia’ these books aren’t available individually in stores. But you can find them on certain websites for a bargain and I suggest you give them a try. 8.5/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners;

Henrietta’s War – Joyce Dennys (I haven’t laughed so much at a book as I did this one, a wonderful depiction of wartime village life)
Peyton Place – Grace Metalious (if you like a book with a cast of characters and all that goes on behind their closed doors I don’t think you could do better) 

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Filed under E. F. Benson, Review, Transworld Publishing

Simon’s Bookish Bits #25

I have killer hay fever so forgive me if my bookish bits are a little brisk today, I am having slight issues with my eyes hurting (a lot) and being unable to concentrate on anything other than not sneezing. But I am back with bookish bits such as a new Savidge Season to announce, a bookish den that I wanted to throw myself into for eternity, some winners and erm… there was something else. Oh yes a change in Bookish Bits proceedings for the future.

It’s ironic my hay fever has gone stratospheric in the week that I have been plotting away on a little Savidge something. I have decided that the week of the 3rd to the 11th of July will be ‘Savidge Summer Season’ and I am going to have a week that should leave you all with lots and lots of summer reading suggestions. And they might be reads that surprise you. I have some recommendations coming from other bloggers as well as the people behind the books both publishers and authors so that’s something to look forward to. As it’s only a week I am not going to have an official logo or anything but I do feel that a summery picture should be inserted now…

Before I go onto the den of bookish delight I should announce a winner for a copy of The Housekeeper and The Professor (which would make a superb summer read actually) shouldn’t I? Congrats to Teresa of Lovely Treez Reads, it looks like number one is your lucky number as that’s what was plucked at random. Congrats, email me and the book will be on its way.

So yesterday I was making a mammoth trip to the charity shop and post office to give/send some books away. I noticed a new charity shop had opened up the road and I had promised Granny Savidge Reads I would look for a copy of Margaret Atwood’s ‘Surfacing’ which we had been discussing on the phone that morning. My favourite haunt was fruitless, I am allowed to buy other people books this year by the way, I thought I would try this new one out and this is what greeted me…

Oh and then I turned a corner and was greeted by this…

All for 50p each! As much as I love my Gran I couldn’t face digging through them all. That is part of the problem with such a book lovers den, and sometimes when I am sorting out the TBR the spare bedroom doesn’t look far off this. I thought it might make you all salivate and also show just how strong willed I have become when it comes to book buying there were some gems in there, Muriel Spark in particular.

Now these bookish bits… well I have decided that from now on my bookish bits might not be every week or indeed on a Saturday in the future. This isn’t because I’ve stopped enjoying them. It’s more that something random will come up I want to gas on about. It’s also because the blogosphere seems to be getting quieter and so I have less to report on. There was only one big post I wanted to tell you all about but I am devoting a post to it next week instead hee, hee!

It has gone quieter though around the bookish blogs I don’t think I am imagining it, but then its those summer months, speaking of which am off into a darkened antihistamine filled room. Hope you all have lovely weekends planned? What books have you got on the go at the moment? Anything else bookish you’d like to share with us all?

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Surfacing – Margaret Atwood

An author that seems to be universally loved by three generations of book addicts in the Savidge Family is Margaret Atwood. Both my Gran and my Mother are avid fans and, though it took a little longer with me, I have now followed suit. I was trying to explain on the phone to my Gran at 7am this very morning how I love Atwood’s prose despite the fact that on occasion I find it hard. Not as in hard to read, though that can be true on occasion as she is super intelligent, rather she doesn’t do namby-pamby literary writing, its more focused less floral. Am I making sense, sometimes I can’t tell! Yet with my latest Atwood read ‘Surfacing’ (which I literally picked up on a whim, I was planning on reading Cat’s Eye as my next Atwood read – and yes I do have the lovely green virago edition) I feel like I have seen another side to her work completely.

‘Surfacing’ was Margaret Atwood’s second novel released way back in 1972 and has become something of a cult classic particularly in her homeland of Canada. It tells of an unnamed narrator whose father has disappeared and who has come back to her homeland, a place she visits as rarely as possible, in order to try and find out what has happened to him. She doesn’t come alone but with two close friends, a married couple, Anna and David and her first lover since her divorce Joe. It’s in part the divorce and the shame her family feel that has kept her away though in truth she hates the city she resides in now as much as where she came from.

During her stay in her former childhood home, which is a remote island on a large lake in Northern Quebec and is beautifully drawn for the reader, she inevitably looks back in a mixture of nostalgic joy and regret at her childhood and those formulative years. She then starts to take a greater look at herself, why she only seems to coast in life slightly aimless and never truly contented. That’s at least what you get on the initial surface of the book and yet being Atwood there is so much more to it. It’s a look at what it was to be a woman in Canada after the war and we don’t just see one view, we also get glimpses into Anna’s ‘happy marriage’. It’s a book about nature and what impact it has on the people we are. It’s also about discovery, or rediscovery, of oneself.

It’s a small book with a huge amount to say but Atwood is a true master of getting the most out of a sentence and will produce gems like “that was before we were married and I still listened to what he said” a simple line that conjures up a situation and mood in just those words. She also has the same knack with characters. Often something minimal that a character does is written into the book in such a way that you are instantly given a picture of there personality in one go.

“Anna told us that. Everyone can do a little magic, she reads hands at parties, she says it’s a substitute for conversation. When she did mine she said “Do you have a twin?” I said No. “Are you positive,” she said “because some of your lines are double.” Her index finger traced me: “You had a good childhood but then there’s this funny break.” She puckered her forehead and I said I just wanted to know how long I was going to live, she could skip the rest. After that she told us Joe’s hands were dependable but not sensitive and I laughed, which was a mistake.
From the side he’s like a buffalo on the U.S nickel, shaggy and blunt-snouted, with small clenched eyes and the defiant but insane look of a species once dominant, now threatened with extinction. That’s how he thinks of himself too.: deposed, unjustly. Secretly he would like them to set ip a kind of park for him, like a bird sanctuary. Beautiful Joe.”

I don’t feel that I can do this book justice, which makes me most annoyed with myself, but its such a subtle slow burning book with so much in it that to encapsulate it in less than a thousand words is nigh on impossible. It’s also very, very funny. I cackled a few times especially when Anna would say something terribly un-pc that you yourself would wish to say and follow it with ‘am I awful?’ she’s a great character. I don’t know if its just that Atwood’s style has changed the more she has written or if she has done this with recent books that I haven’t read as yet, but the prose matches the gentle pace, it is almost floral in parts (apt as the book is so much about nature as it is people) but never for the sake of it.

“The wind starts again, brushing over us, the air warm-cool and fluid, the tree’s behind us moving their leaves, the sound ripples; the water gives off an icy light, zinc moon breaking on small waves. Loon voice, each hair on my body lifting with a shiver; the echoes deflect from all sides, surrounding us, here everything echoes.”

Every word counts and everyone has been carefully picked. Well, that’s the feeling you have when reading it and I think its one of my favourite Atwood reads so far. 9/10

I don’t want to compare this book to any others as I am not sure there are any that I could recommend or would feel fair comparing to. So instead I thought I would leave you with two of my most recent favourite Atwood reading experiences below, both completely different from this one. Which is your favourite Atwood novel? Which one must I turn to next? Has anyone noticed the hardness in some novels (maybe bluntness, no – I can’t get the word exactly) compared to others, maybe it’s the more ‘speculative’ novels that have this? Have you yet to try any Atwood?

Good Bones – Margaret Atwood (a great selection of her shorter works, some essays and some stories, which would be a great way in for a beginner to Atwood, or a delightful addition to any Atwood collection a fan may have)
The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood (her Booker winner and the novel widely described as her masterpiece so far, though all the works of hers I have read have been a delight. Its hard work and needs patience but the reward for your efforts is fantastic)

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Filed under Books of 2010, Margaret Atwood, Review, Virago Books

The Long & Short of It

I think that Justin Cronin’s ‘The Passage’ is one of the longest books that I have read, if not ever then certainly in a long time. It’s funny how sometimes what you read can suddenly make you only too aware of where some of your reading weaknesses lie. Ok I have to come out and admit it to you all, I can hide it no longer. I tend to be a little scared/daunted/put off from reading long books and it’s actually a habit of my own that really annoys me. I would much rather, mentally from the out set, grab a much shorter book. I don’t think I am alone in this, but I thought I would explain it and how slowly but surely I might be changing my mind.

I think a picture I took this morning will illustrate one of my biggest issues with long books…

Look how many short and medium sized books I could have read instead? I always think as a reader you want to read as much as you physically can. Does anyone else sometimes have the dreaded thought of ‘I will never actually be able to read every thing that I would like to read in my life time’? It’s something Granny Savidge and I were discussing only the other day. But then in only reaching for the shorter books am I selling myself and my reading a little… erm… short?

 Time is a major factor, and not just in the fact that a long book takes much longer to read, though that does nark me a little. I also, and this is me being totally honest, see bigger books as being boring bricks and they need to be fantastically great in order to pay off the time invested in them. However when you get a great one like ‘The Passage’ it opens your mind to them once more and you start to see all the positives.

So I thought I would create a little table with pro’s and con’s of each (tongue firmly in cheek)…

Long Books

Short Books

You can’t read as many in a week You can read loads in a week
They need to hold you from the very start If you don’t love it initially what does it matter you wont have to read it for long
You have to lug them about in a bag when your commuting You can run out of a read mid journey and have nothing for the return
If you find a gem you don’t want to put it down but you have to for work If you have a gem you can devour it in a few sittings
You get to immerse yourself in a wonderful world (with the right book) for much longer which is nice You have to say goodbye to characters and places that you love much quicker
The plot and characters have more time and freedom to develop Just as your characters have developed you leave them
They can take a ridiculous amount of time to get going You are thrown in straight away which can be a little disorientating
Once you have read one you have much more space on your shelves for more Though you get through your TBR quicker, you cant actually tell… disheartening when  you have a few hundred plus
You only need a couple on a holiday or one on a long round trip train journey You need masses if you go away for a long time
They can be heavy and cumbersome and you begrudge carting them about They can be so light you forget to pack them when you leave the house or loose them in your over full man bag
When you have read one mammoth book you have a sense of achievement When you have read a great short book you can swiftly pop to the next

I know there are more pro’s and con’s to each – this is just the results of a quick ten minute brainstorm. It’s actually fairly 50/50 which surprised me even as I was writing them down. I also noticed looking at some of my favourite reads of all time that very few short books are in the mix, it’s the great epics that have captured me and not wanted to let me go which have stuck in my mind. Wilkie Collins ‘The Woman in White’, Michel Faber’s ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’ etc, etc. So why don’t I read more? (I have actually noticed that since I finished The Passage I have read two much longer books maybe that’s just coincidence though it could be subconscious.) Maybe for the next few months I should read one long book for every two or three short books and see how I go?

What other pro’s and con’s have I missed? Are you ever put off a book because of its size? Do you like short books over long books or vice versa? Which do you think are better? Do you read the perfect mix? How long is too long, how short is too short? What’s been your favourite never ending read (you might give me some good reading suggestions of where to go next)? Do you have your eyes on a tome that you just cant get round to quite starting yet? What might be your next big read?

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The Passage – Justin Cronin

I have been trying to think of the last time I have seen so many posters of a book as I have for Justin Cronin’s ‘The Passage’ on the underground in London. It almost feels like its every station plus every single book site it going crazy about it. It’s already being heralded as ‘the publishing event of the year’. When I received the proofs from the publisher (I got two, they were very keen I read it, and gave on to Novel Insights) I knew that this was going to be a huge book, not just in size, for 2010. There were four pages of quotes from Orion staff almost screaming how much they loved it, its film rights have been sold to Ridley Scott and the book arrived in November, a whole seven months before its release. Now that’s a lot of pressure for any book and a huge amount of hype so instantly my mind was made up ‘it won’t be worth it’ then  when someone mentioned the word ‘vampires’ I could feel my eyes visibly roll, shows how wrong you can be though doesn’t it?

There is something I want to say about ‘The Passage’, before I go any further, do not watch the promotional trailer. It gives something away about the book that you aren’t even sure about as you get to page 500. In fact I would be wary of reviews unless, like I am about to do, they say they aren’t going to give too much away. Erm, I am not going to give too much away!!

‘The Passage’ is a very hard book to encompass in a review purely from it’s size, plot, cast of characters, twists and turns and I do think some people might just blurt everything out from excitement and that could ruin the reading experience. I was most cross when someone let the word ‘vampire’ out the bag before I had even started, but that is a bit of a given with this book and without mentioning them you couldn’t explain how brilliant this book is, don’t let vampires put you off like they almost did me as you would be missing out on a trick.

The only way to categorise ‘The Passage’ is epic, not just in size but also in scope. You can’t label it a thriller, horror, science fiction, supernatural or literary fiction because actually it’s all of those and more. Cronin has a vision and imagination that has no bounds. ‘The Passage’ starts in modern times (I found out late on when a character looks back it actually starts in 2012) with three characters going about their lives. Anthony Carter is facing the death penalty for murder. Agent Brad Wolgast is on what he thinks is simply another assignment. Amy Harper Bellafonte has just been abandoned by her mother at the doorstep of a nunnery. Elsewhere in the world, Bolivia in fact, the army have found a horrifying virus but power hungry as we humans are someone decides to harness it as a weapon against terrorism creating a new species of ‘Subjects’ semi-human weapons (vampires, but not like we have seen vampires before) by infecting prisoners on death row. Only they now need a child to test it on. What’s more is humans haven’t bargained on these ‘Subjects’ thinking for themselves and the true nature of the virus.

“Subject Zero glowed. In the infrared, any heat source would do that. But the image of Subject Zero flared on the screen like a lit match, almost too bright to look at. Even his crap glowed. His hairless body, smooth and shiny as glass, looked coiled – that was the word Grey thought of, like the skin was stretched over lengths of coiled rope – and his eyes were the orange of highway cones. But the teeth were the worst. Every once in a while Grey would hear a little tinkling sound on the audio, and knew it was the sound of one more tooth dropped from Zero’s mouth to the cement. They rained down at a rate of half a dozen a day. These went in the incinerator, like everything else; it was one of Grey’s jobs to sweep them up, and it gave him the shivers to see them, long as the little swords you’d get in a fancy drink. Just the thing if, say, you wanted to unzip a rabbit and empty it out in two seconds flat.”

You might now be thinking it sounds like it gets magical. It doesn’t.  It’s just a new race of super killing predators have been created which changes the world forever. What happens after?  You would have to read it to find out as I really, really don’t want to give the slightest thing away for anyone. I think I can say that the book does very much feel like it has two parts as at one point Cronin suddenly  tips everything you have thought, assumed and been heading towards right on its head in front of your eyes. I gasped. Yes it’s a book with vampires in but its also a book about the nature of humanity too.

Unlike many books that get this sort of hype and have the mix of thriller, sci-fi etc not only does this have fantastically fast paced plot (page turning addiction) it has a marvellous set of fully living and breathing characters and is very well written. I don’t know if we have had literary vampire fiction before have we, ha? The plot and speech of the characters are designed to move the book forward quickly but never at the expense of the prose. And what a cast of characters, women will fall for Wolgast as he is brave and caring though never clichéd, you will feel sympathetic for Carter despite the fact he is on death row, Sister Lacey may be the best fictional nun ever, later on you will love Auntie and the strong willed Alicia. Every character has a back story you learn about, even those who are only featured for a page or two. Cronin also has the master stroke of giving us some of the viral ‘Subjects’ back stories and humanising them.

There was one down side for me, caused really by the addictive nature of the book, and that was the size and sheer weight of it. I initially thought it might need a good editor but that’s not the case, it needs to be the length it is and I never got bored or thought ‘hurry up already’. I just couldn’t cart it everywhere with me and I really, really wanted to. In fact at one point the book and I nearly fell out because it was making me want to read on and yet I couldn’t just sit and read it in one go. I had a rather large sulk, but I guess that’s a positive though really?

Do not let the media craze put you off ‘The Passage’ or indeed it’s size. It’s a fantastic read that will grip you, entertain you, horrify you all in one go. Did I mention how real it is? You can actually imagine it all happening which is really rather scary. The characters are marvellous – though never get too attached, they don’t always last out as long as you might hope (and sometimes you will be hoping with every fibre of your being). This is a book that’s actually worthy of all the fuss, don’t let the hype put you off as you’d be missing out on a treat. I would never have picked this book up had it not been sent my way but I am very glad I did. 10/10 (Yes, even with the small huff along the way.)

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners;

The Road – Cormac McCarthy (though much shorter than ‘The Passage’ this book is a tale of love and hope in an apocalyptic world and Cronin has moments of true human emotions, hope and beauty after the end of the world that this book does)
Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell (I wouldn’t dare compare ‘The Passage’ and this classic as I would be berated to infinity. I can compare its sheer scope though and the fact a futuristic world is created to the tiniest levels of detail yet remains readable whilst page turning and combines science fiction with the literary)

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Filed under Books of 2010, Justin Cronin, Orion Publishing, Review

The Prose Practice: Neglected or Forgotten European Fiction

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the launch of the Peirene Press book ‘Stone in a Landslide’ which I have previously raved about here on Savidge Reads. One of the joys, apart from the wonderful BookHaus book shop in which it was held (picture below – any excuse to share a small independent book shop with you all) was getting to meet Meike Zeirvogel who runs Peirene and getting her feedback on blogs, blogging, publishers and the three combined. It’s Meike who has also come up with the latest Prose Practice Problem…

Dear Savidge Readers,

I am the publisher of Peirene Press, a publishing house specializing in the translation of Contemporary European literature. Part of my job is to liaise with European publishers and assess  if any of their books are worthwhile to be translated into English and published by Peirene. However, the best tips come from passionate readers.

I am continuously on the look out for recommendations of European short novels, novellas and collections of short stories which have not yet been translated into English but really ought to be. The books should be maximum 200 pages, published after 1945 and can be from any European language. Do you read another language and have come across a book that to your amazement hasn’t yet been translated into English? Or has a friend from a European country raved about a book that isn’t available in English? If so, then please let me know. I’d be delighted to hear from you.  

Best wishes Meike

Simon Says: Well I am stumped as actually I read a shockingly poor amount of European fiction. I seem to do well on Canadian, American, Indian, African, Japanese and Chinese authors (and am broadening my Brazilian reading) but I am really not great on European literature which is actually really shoddy on my part and needs addressing. So I will be watching this post with intrigue and looking forward to what gems of fiction I will never have heard of, and hopefully will be new to Meike too, that you put forward. I think I need to look at which countries I read from and will come back to this in a future post. Right then Savidge Readers, get suggesting…

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The Secret Life of Wives – Pietro Aretino

You may remember back in February that I was completely charmed by a character called Nanna in Pietro Aretino’s risqué ‘The Secret Life of Nuns’. I was then sent the whole trilogy of Nanna’s tales as an early birthday present by the publishers Hesperus Press. I was in a mini book slump the other day (I have been book juggling and it’s made me feel a little wobbly, more on that later in the week) and couldn’t decided what quick read to take on the tube and Nanna popped into my head and I knew I had to read ‘The Secret Lives of Wives’ next.

‘The Secret Life of Wives’ is the sequel to the rather wonderful Italian once banned (and now of course a classic) ‘The Secret Life of Nuns’ and though you could read them separately as they stand alone, once you hear Nanna’s voice and some of the tales she has to tell I can almost guarantee that you will want to read the whole collection. As Nanna and her friend and confident sit in the sundrenched vineyard Nanna regales her favourite partner of gossip with the tales of her marriage and what wives really get up to with their husbands away.

From a wife who took a shine to the local priest, a woman who forgets her husband and unleashes an internal demon after meeting the hermit on her new home land, two women happily married until they meet a local teacher and a prisoner (two separate tales) and Nanna herself who tells us more of her own tale you sometimes forget that this book is around 500 years old. It isn’t all just delightful romp as Aretino looks at two things that make the backdrop of the book whilst all the rogue behaviour goes on in the forefront. Antonia and Nanna do mention the state of the country and indeed Rome in several parts of the book and really Aretino is looking at the sanctity of marriage and what goes on behind closed doors of perfect looking marital homes with tongue firmly in cheek.

In its day it was deemed as erotica of the lowest order and banned. Yet now in our modern times this book reads like pure escapist entertainment, which lets face it we all need from time to time. Though its erotica/escapism (depending on your out look) its marvellously written in the form of two women speaking and having a natter. In fact you could imagine this being a rather wonderful and incredibly eye opening play or TV show as the two main characters are marvellous; Nanna for her gumption and honesty and Antonio for her pure relish of every detail. You feel you are sat with the two friends eavesdropping.

Nanna: Because anything’s better than a husband. For example, just think how nice it is to eat out.
Antonia: True enough: variety is the spice of life. Anyway, I can well believe you, since they also say anything’s better than a wife.

I honestly think that if you are ever looking for a book, or three, that you can read in a single sitting (they are each about 70 pages long) that will make you laugh out loud, possibly blush on occasion and get totally carried away with through the voice of a marvellous narrator then this is the book for you. It’s also a perfect book if you want to try something different. I am going to hold off from the third in the trilogy ‘The School of Whoredom’ for a while as I don’t like thought of not having anything new from Nanna after that, yes that’s how great I think she and this series are. 8/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:

The Secret Life of Nuns – Pietro Aretino (I always like to start at the very beginning)
Delta of Venus – Anais Nin (beautifully written classic erotica that now too reads like literature and caused interesting discussion on here when I posted about it)

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Filed under Hesperus Press, Pietro Aretino, Review

The Bloody Chamber – Angela Carter

I find there are some authors that people recommend to you again and again, you say you will get around to reading them yet take forever to do so and then when you do read them realise you might have been missing out on a marvellous author for quite some time. Novel Insights has been telling me for ages and ages I should read Angela Carter but it took Claire of Paperback Reader making April her Angela Carter month for me to finally get started on any of her work. I opted for ‘The Bloody Chamber’ a collection of Angela Carter’s magical short stories. Yet as you may notice it’s taken me almost two months, as I started at the end of April, to get through them. Not because they were hard work but because I wanted to savour the experience.

I find writing about a collection of stories much more difficult than writing about a book. You don’t want to give away the plot of each tale, especially as some can be as short as two pages, as why would anyone read them afterwards? You also don’t want to sound vague and have people not go out and read them because they have no idea what they entail. So I think the best way of initially summarising ‘The Bloody Chamber’ is to call Carters collection an unusual retelling of fairytales we all know and love in a very original and slightly salacious way.

Tales we know and love from our childhood such as Beauty and the Beast, Puss-in-Boots and Red Riding Hood get a modern and yet utterly magical makeover. Take for example the title story ‘The Bloody Chamber’ (I won’t give away which fairytale its based on though some of you could guess) which has a virgin bride marrying a much older man and leaving her widowed mother to live in a mighty French castle. For the first few pages you think it’s a tale of old with horse drawn carriages and turrets until our heroine gives her mum a call and weeps over golden dolphin taps. Or in another tale where we see Beauty whizzing from the beasts in a taxi to London. Yet Carter cleverly gives the modern world a surreal and magical feel that makes it all work and also makes it a very original retelling, if you can have such a thing.  

The reason the word ‘salacious’ springs to mind with the collection is that it’s a very sensual and often sexual world that Carter creates, there are lots of wedding nights and loss of innocence in fairy tales and Carter brings all this to the fore with much deflowering along the way. I don’t know if it’s just in these tales Carter does this or if all her work has an underlying sensuousness? In fact one of my least favourite fairy tales ‘Puss-in-Boots’ became one of my favourites in this collection because it was such a wonderful romp. Whilst these tales are in quite a dark realm they all have humour in them somewhere. Her prose is colourful, entertaining, and taught. I had a sense that as she writes each word needs to be there you never feel there is excessive description, she paints something vividly but leaves the reader with her ideas to work upon themselves.

I wondered if some where Angela Carters original ideas too as I didn’t recognise some of the tales in the collection, mind you I only heard of and read Bluebeard last year so I am not a fairy tale aficionado. Though this collection makes me want to become one.  If I had one minor quibble with the book is the order in which the stories run, those with a ‘beast in them being popped next to one an other and all the tales of wolves of all varieties being popped together at the back means they merge into one slightly. Mind you if you are reading one every couple of days then that’s not going to matter is it and I found them the most enjoyable bedtime tales. 10/10

I really enjoyed this and am now wondering which other authors have had a crack at retelling the great fairytales? I also wonder where I should turn with Carter next as I do want to read much more. Should I go for another short story collection? Maybe try more of her fairytales? Or go for a novel… but which one? Who else has read her and what would you recommend?

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:

The Breaking Point & Other Stories – Daphne Du Maurier (there is a darkness and humour that I think makes these authors great companions to be read together and this collection features some of Daphne’s darker tales)

Singling Out The Couples – Stella Duffy (the magically surreal in a modern world and sensual nature of the tales above are very much present in Stella Duffy’s tale of a cruel Princess in need of a heart)

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Filed under Angela Carter, Books of 2010, Review, Short Stories, Vintage Books, Vintage Classics

Celebrate Your Independent Bookstore

I have put my Bookish Bits to one side for a week again because something I hadn’t heard of has been brought to my attention I wasn’t aware of. This week, well the 14th to the 21st of June, is ‘Independent Booksellers Week’, no I had no idea either, so I thought what small little contribution should I/we make to this special week as we all love our local independents don’t we?

Before I go any further I do want to thank both Cornflower Books and Stuck-in-a-Book as it was posts from them that alerted me to it as I haven’t seen much mention of it around.

Anyway I thought we could celebrate this event by telling each other about our favourite local independent book shops and I don’t mean second hand book stores that you might have up your nearby roads and by ways. I have decided to give you a selection of three, two of which you have seen before and one you haven’t.

The first has to be The Village Bookshop in Wandsworth (sadly it doesn’t have a website) which I accidentally spotted on the way to the local massive supermarkets. I had to get straight of the bus as soon as I saw this gorgeous frontage.

There is also the picture perfect Kew Bookshop (again no website sadly) which has featured in The Guardians Finest Bookshops and I found on a surprise day out a while back. It’s the sort of bookshop I would love to own one day in my dream world and is so picture perfect people have actually painted it…

Now for the one I haven’t mentioned before and I really, really should have mentioned sooner, and does actually have a website, its also just a bus ride a way which is just too tempting – I might have to pop in undercover soon and get some pictures of the lovely inside, until then here it is…

The lovely Clapham Books a book store in Clapham funnily enough, which has an impressive collection of new and classic paperbacks and hardbacks as well as a wonderful children’s section, ‘London’ section – I do like those, and much more. Not only do they have a website (which you can find here) they have also started to tweet of late. You can find them on twitter here. If you are ever in the area then I strongly suggest that you pop in, it’s a very nice store indeed. There that’s me done and my locals.

What about all of you though? What is your local bookstore that you absolutely adore? Any links to their websites or images of them would be marvellous! Let’s have a little celebration of our local independent bookstores this weekend and show our support. Oh and have a look at the Independent Booksellers Awards shortlist too, what do you make of that?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Bookshops I Love

The Housekeeper & The Professor – Yoko Ogawa

I am well aware that I am very, very late to the ‘The Housekeeper and the Professor’ party. It’s a book that pretty much half of the blogosphere has read and loved. It’s interesting with books like these; if I see too many reviews (and I mean more than six) of one book my brain goes one of three ways. I either want to read them instantly, start to feel nonchalant about them, or go off the idea of reading them for a good six months or so. I am sure I am not the only one in that? Let me know if you ever get any of those thoughts? Anyway back to the book…

‘The Housekeeper and the Professor’ is really a tale of two lonely people coming together and it changing their lives forever. The unnamed housekeeper of the title has come into her job after becoming a single mother disowned by her family as a disgrace. Her latest job happens to be for the professor of the title (sorry they don’t have names, so if it starts to sound a little samey in my bookish thoughts be assured it never is in the book) when she is hired by his rather severe sister in law. The professor was once a rather renowned mathematician though after a tragic accident has a memory that lasts no longer than 80 minutes yet he remains obsessed by numbers always asking what peoples shoes sizes are, their date of birth etc and analyzing what lies behind that number and judges people accordingly.

Through the housekeepers son, who the professor renames Root, these two people strike up an unlikely but delightful friendship (I did keep worrying some big romance was coming, but Ogawa is much too clever for that) and it’s this that you follow through the rest of the book. Though there is never really a huge plot snippets pop in and secrets are revealed which make you read on along with the characters and Ogawa’s prose. It’s a subtle book which never beats you over the head with how clever and thought provoking it is or how much it has to say.

I think that the professor maybe one of my favourite characters that I have had the fortune to read this year, and certainly one of the most unusual. In a scene where the professor awakes from a fever and goes through the notes attached to his suit (which help him become acquainted with his life at that point) and reads ‘you have a memory of 80 minutes’ almost broke my heart as Ogawa shows the professors breaking, I couldn’t help but imagine how that would feel every single day for the rest of your life.

If you have happened to flick through the book you will see there are quite a few maths equations, do not let that put you off. I will admit I wasn’t sure I was going to be a fan as though I was good at maths at school I never really enjoyed it (which has always baffled my mother). There are some equations but despite looking really complex the book uses them to move the characters and occasionally the plot forward in a very original way. Who knew a book with equations could be such an emotional journey. Oh and yes I did spot there are exactly eleven chapters which seems apt, the perfect prime number of parts of a rather perfect book. 10/10

I can’t suggest a book that I think is quite like this, but if anyone else knows of any do let me know. For any of those of you who haven’t had the joy of this book pop here for an international giveaway. Now who has read the book, what did you think? And was do you think when lots of the same books appear on blogs, just out of interest?

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Filed under Books of 2010, Review, Vintage Books, Yoko Ogawa

Giveaway… The Housekeeper & The Professor

Yes for those few of you, though I am sure there are more than I think, who have yet to read Yoko Ogawa’s wonderful book ‘The Housekeeper and The Professor’ I have a copy to give away internationally. All you have to do is answer one of two questions about numbers, either…

What is your favourite number and why?

What is your lucky number and why?

In case you were interested my favourite number is 12, I just like the way it looks and sounds – a rubbish reason but there you have it. Weirdly, well the professor wouldn’t think so, but my lucky number is its double… 24! I have won several games of bingo when the last number has been 24 (though never the lottery sadly) and also got married on the 24th when there was a cancellation! So over to you… you have until midnight Sunday GMT!

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