Monthly Archives: September 2010

Prequels, Sequels and Spin Off’s…

I mentioned when earlier in the week when I discussed adaptations that I had been to see the musical ‘Wicked!’ again with The Converted One, my mother, my little sister and her best friend. Now many of you thought it was for the second time, it was actually the fifth!! Anyway it started me thinking about prequels, sequels and spin offs NOT written by the original author and this discussion has come up again a few times in the last week so I decided I should bring the discussion on here too. I hope you will all join in?

It was actually ‘The Wizard of Oz’, and therefore ‘Wicked’, as opposed to instant titles you might think of that have been spinned such as ‘Rebecca’ or indeed ‘Pride and Prejudice’ that got a conversation started on just this subject between myself and one of my fellow Green Carnation judges Nick Campbell when we were out at a book launch on Tuesday night. You see as a child I was rather obsessed with the film ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (and indeed ‘Return to Oz’ though I think people thought that film was rather uncool so maybe I shouldn’t admit to that) ask Granny Savidge Reads… I used to insist on watching it once a week apparently. It seemed that so is Nick and not just of the films but of the books. So I of course asked if he had read ‘Wicked’ by Gregory Maguire and ‘Was’ by Geoff Ryman (the answers were yes and no).

I personally loved ‘Wicked’ when I read it several years ago and it has indeed become one of my very favourite books because it took something I adored and turned it on its very head (making Elphaba a misunderstood witch who was actually best friends with Glinda at university in Shiz not far from Munchkinland. Interestingly though I was then really rather disappointed when I went onto read Gregory Maguire’s sequel to his ‘Oz’ spin off ‘Son of a Witch’ it didn’t cast the spell (pun intended) that I wanted it to once more. Maybe ‘A Lion Among Men’ will? I wonder if I would be such a fan of ‘Wicked’ if I had actually read the original Oz books or would I instead consider it some kind of barbaric sacrilege?

I mean most of the people I know who love ‘Pride and Prejudice’ think anything that is a spin off of that novel they hold in such high esteem is the work of Satan simply doesn’t cut the mustard no matter how good it is. The very fact that it is a spin off of from such a successful story is deemed an author cashing in or writing a book rather lazily to be honest (not my words a rather toned down watershed version of some of my friends actually). Is this the case or are their some gems out there they are simply being too snobbish to admit to? I mean look at ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ by Jean Rhys which has become rather an acclaimed novel and yet is a prequel of sorts to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre’.

I applied the notion of prequels and sequels written by another author to my favourite book which is of course ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier. Whilst I have copies of Sally Beauman’s ‘Rebecca’s Tale’ and Susan Hill’s ‘Mrs De Winter’ I have not touched either of them or really been tempted to and considering the latter is one of my favourite authors I am wondering if there is something in this. Can I simply not bear the idea of my favourite book being ruined by another great author who no matter how good or how hard they try simply cannot recreate the atmosphere Daphne did? I suppose I won’t know the answer till I try… but just having looked at them again, I got that same unsure feeling, so I don’t think I will know for quite some time.

Are there any prequels, sequels or spin offs by your favourite authors or the ones mentioned above that have really, really worked for you and managed to embody/channel the voice from the original? Have any ever been better than the original itself? Which prequels, sequels and spin off’s really should never have happened?

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Purge – Sofi Oksanen

There are some books that I read where I simply want to type ‘you need to read this book’ a few hundred times instead of actually doing a review and ‘Purge’ by Sofi Oksanen is one such book. Of course I wouldn’t expect you to go off and buy a book just on my say so and of course I shall be giving you my thoughts rather than simply copying and pasting ‘you need to read this book’ over and over again. Can you pick up any subliminal messages I might be leaving in this opening paragraph at all?

‘Purge’ is going to be rather a hard book to write about in part because of how big the story is (not in terms of pages just in terms of story and subject matter) or because some of the book is harrowing to say the least but also because to give too much away with this story, I think, would lessen the impact it could have on a reader coming to it and to do that to a book/reading experience such as this would be a disservice. Anyway let’s see how we get on.

Aliide Truu lives a slightly solitary life near woods in the Estonian countryside. One morning after waging a war with a fly, which initially you think are the only bane in her life – you’d be thinking wrong, she spots something in her garden. That something turns out to be young woman, one who is wearing expensive clothes and yet is covered in dirt and bruised, a young woman who has appeared under her tree in the dead of night, a girl Aliide knows she shouldn’t take in because you can almost feel the danger coming from her, and yet Aliide does.

Slowly but surely as Aliide spends the following day or so with the girl, Zara, both Zara’s recent horrific past (the fact this setting is the early nineties was quite shocking for me) starts to unfold as  does Aliide’s which is a past with her sister over fifty years ago which she has wiped from her brain and buried deep elsewhere. As we read on two stories unfold that look at the history of Estonia and its women, the trials they have had to face and how they endured and survived. I shall say no more on the plot other than I think this is a tale that needs to be told and therefore to be read and heard by us no matter how difficult it can get in parts.

Sofia Oksanen has written something quite amazing. It is a rare book that takes me on such an emotional journey and to such dark places and yet leaves me almost unable to put the book down. Her prose is absolutely stunning (and here I should credit Lola Rogers on a fantastic translation) and without ever being too graphic she manages to drop in enough information to let the reader work out what’s going on and yet leave enough unsaid that we create the scenes in our own minds which is often the more disturbing and effective than spelling everything out.

Her two main characters Aliide and Zara are incredible creations. One initially a rather eccentric old lady living alone becomes a kind of unsung heroine, the other a girl who dreamed of a better life and took the opportunities to get there naively and with dark consequences yet who is a survivor. These characters make what could have just become a completely harrowing book (and it’s not because there are some moments of humour here and there) a book that is really about triumph and how people can and will cope when pushed to the edge. It’s also a tale about families.

“That smile became their first game, which sprouted word by word and started to blossom mistily, yellowish, the way dead languages blossom, rustling sweetly like the needle of a gramophone, playing like voices underwater. Quiet, whispering, they grew their own language. It was their shared secret, their game. As her mother did housework, her grandmother would sit in her usual chair, and Zara would take out toys and other things or just touch an object, and Grandmother would form its name in Estonian, silently, with her lips. If the word was wrong, Zara was supposed to notice it. If she didn’t know the word, she wouldn’t get any candy, but if she caught the mistake, she always got a mouthful of sweets. Her mother didn’t like it that Grandmother gave her candy for no reason – or so she thought – but she didn’t bother to intervene beyond a disapproving sniff.”

I strongly urge people to give this book a go. I don’t think books like this come around that often and it really needs to become a success worldwide (it’s already done very well in the rest of Europe). No its not a cosy read for these darker nights but it’s a gripping story that we all need to be told and one that Sofi Oksanen tells in a rather breath taking fashion. A must, must, must read book that may leave you changed a little after the final page. 10/10

I know some of you might now say that you would like to read this but it might be too disturbing and I hope you will look past that and test yourselves. I don’t mean that in a patronising way it’s just sometimes books need to test us and take us places that we don’t want to go. So I thought I would not only ask if anyone else has read this (have you?) but also for you to name me some books which have made for uncomfortable reading in parts but been an incredible and overall almost life changing experience to read as I would love some more recommendations of books along the lines of ‘Purge’?

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Filed under Atlantic Books, Books of 2010, Review, Sofi Oksanen

Adaptations

Since reading ‘Jane Eyre’ and going to the theatre this weekend to see ‘Wicked!’ once again, which ties in more with Thursday’s post, I have had adaptations on the brain. In fact since I have put Jane Eyre’ down I have actually been itching to start it all over again, however with a rather large TBR and long lists to re-read and book group choices to fit in I cant really justify an instant re-read. I shall simply have to make do with knowing I have a joyful re-reading to look forward to in a year or so. I do have the BBC adaptation on DVD though…

However can an adaptation, be it a TV series, play or film, ever really do the original justice? My mind instantly falls to the amazing and epic BBC version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ staring Colin Firth which I introduced The Converted One too a few weeks back and we both thoroughly enjoyed.

The irony of that choice by me as a great adaptation is of course that I have never read P&P so how would I know if it was a good version or not? I do have friends who are complete P&P lovers (see Rose Roberts for one) who say it is an exemplary adaptation. I will read it one day and find out I swear I will. I loved ‘Bleak House’ as well when that was on, haven’t read that either, but do we have to have read the book to say if an adaptation is good or not?

Any TV show can appeal just because the directing, acting, production etc, etc is so good (the same with a play or a film of course) or because it has one of your favourite actors in it so of course this can apply to an adaptation. Some may say the best adaptations come because the stories are so good but I think we could all think of a few adaptations which a quarter or half way through we have had to turn off or run from the theatre/auditorium screaming. Ok, maybe not screaming – you get my drift.

I myself need to have read something first, well if I know it has come from a book that is for sometimes we don’t. I did actually ask on twitter if ‘Downton Abbey’ (which is a marvellous new period drama starring Dame Maggie Smith we have here in the UK) was originally a book, it seems not its something wholly original and new though having watched the first episode I do wish there was a book. Some people can never be pleased can they? Anyway as I need to read things before I see them (on the whole) I have started ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro after seeing the trailer for the film which looks very good even if Keira ‘Pout = Acting’ Knightley is in it.

I have also lined up ‘Birdsong’ by Sebastian Faulks as it has not long opened as a play in London and its something I really, really want to see and I book I have been meaning to read for absolutely ages and ages. Everyone I know who has read it has loved it and said that they think I would too. Do any of you have opinions on that as a book choice for my future reading?

So which is my favourite adaptation? Well for me it would have to be Hitchcock’s version of Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’. It could actually have gone horribly wrong for me as it is my favourite book, however Hitchcock did it superbly, and I think he and Du Maurier had an affinity on this particular project I have to say. My worst? Well, that would be the recent film of ‘Pride & Prejudice’ actually I didn’t think anyone except from Mrs Bennett  could act in it, and that horrid final scene at Chatsworth Pemberley after the wedding on the terrace almost made me reach for a sick bag.

So which adaptations do you love and loathe? Do you think an adaptation can only truly be judged or enjoyed by those who have read the book? Are there any adaptations you are eagerly awaiting? Which books do you hope never get adapted? Have you seen any adaptations that were better than the books (such as ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ for example – ha)?

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The Hearing Trumpet – Leonora Carrington

One of the things that I love, on the near never ending list of things I love, about book blogging is that sometimes someone who has been reading your blog a while will recommend you a title that you have never heard of before but instantly sounds up your street. This was the case with ‘The Hearing Trumpet’ by Leonora Carrington, a book both with a title and an author that I had never heard of before and yet instantly appealed to me when I learnt more about it.

Marian Leatherby is given a hearing trumpet from her best friend (and the absolutely wonderful) Carmella. At 92 years of age Marian is living with her son and his family who really don’t want her there and on the first evening she hides away to listen to them all she hears that she is soon to be sent off to a home.  Marian is aware that she might not be everyone’s ideal house guest but this is her family and it’s a rejection and an upheaval all in one. Though this book does deal with the pitfalls of old age it is by no means a morose tale, in fact its both giggle inducing and laugh out loud funny on several occasions.

‘Here I may add that I consider I am still a useful member of society and I believe still capable of being pleasant and amusing when the occasion seems fit. The fact that I have no teeth and never could wear dentures does not in anyway discomfort me. I don’t have to bite anybody and there are all sorts of edible foods easy to procure and digestible to the stomach. Mashed vegetables, chocolate and bread dipped in warm water make the base of my simple diet. I never eat meat as I think it is wrong to deprive animals of their life when they are so difficult to chew anyway.’

She is soon made to pack her bags and is carted off to one of the strangest institutions that there could be. A place where the houses that these old ladies live in are made in the shape of giant shoes, igloo’s, birthday cakes and mushrooms and where their inhabitants are almost as barmy. Marian becomes rather subconsciously obsessed with a painting of a winking Nun, Dona Rosalinda Alvarez Cruz della Cueva, who she soon learns was the founder of the institution with quite a bizarre and sordid past. Throw in a murder and a surreal almost apocalypse and you have one of the most bizarre yet brilliantly funny and original tale.

Discovering that Leonora Carrington was a surrealist painter made a huge amount of sense when I read Ali Smith’s (who I like a lot) introduction to the novel. Carrington paints a setting which is completely cuckoo and yet also vivid and so you can easily picture these ladies heading to their toad-stools and the like after dinner in the grand hall. I will admit towards the end I did get a little bit lost and it took me a little while to realise I was reading a story within a story at another point, yet you do go with it no matter how doolally it gets.

As well as just how surreal it can be Carrington’s characters and humour make this a real pleasure to read in parts. Most of the ladies at the institute be they evil, delightful or a bit racy were really enjoyable to read and spend time with. For me personally Carmella stole every scene she was in and had me in hysterics often for example as she thinks of ways of which to rescue Marian from dressing up as a nun to buying a helicopter, though she would have to win the lottery or marry a millionaire first, and rescuing her from above – in fact everything Carmella thinks and does has to go to the most unexpected of extremes. Marian of course as the narrator was also a joy and her darker wit really appealed to me.

‘I saw myself sitting in a warm parlour with scarlet curtains surrounded by happy, confidential but vague faces. I drank glass after glass of rich Portuguese wine occasionally washed down with a tiny French éclair. Everybody got happier and happier, they burst into applause as I reached the lighthouse, Anna Wertz had disappeared. She must have noticed that I had not been paying attention to what she was telling me. Poor Anna, how terrible for her that nobody ever liked listening to her talk.’

It’s not a perfect book and you might get lost here and there but if you want a highly original book that will have you laughing a lot and you can spend an afternoon with, as its only 144 pages, then I would highly recommend this be a read for you. I really enjoyed my time with it, and was very grateful for the recommendation which I am now passing on to all of you. A crazy old tale filled with crazy old ladies… lovely stuff! 7.5/10

Have any of you spent time with Marian Leatherby? I would love to know what others have made of this book. Do any of you know if there is a book about Leonora Carrington as reading the introduction and hearing about her escapades if there isn’t a book about her then there should be! Has anyone read anything else by Leonora Carrington? What’s the most surreal book you have picked up lately?

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Filed under Leonora Carrington, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

For my first ‘Spending Sunday With A Classic’ I thought I would go for what is seen as one of the classics in literature ‘Jane Eyre’. I can’t lie to you and say I wasn’t slightly daunted at the prospect of a classic over 500 pages long, because I was. I don’t always tend to fair too well with the classics on the whole. However I can report back that I owe everyone who has told me to read this book a huge thank you (my mother is staying at the moment and keeps saying ‘I told you so’ every so often as we have been talking about it a lot) as I think in Jane Eyre I may have not only found the perfect narrator but also what I could say is a near perfect book and read. The only problem now is how to do it justice with my thoughts but dear reader I shall try.

I admit that I didnt start ‘Jane Eyre’ with the highest of hopes – I will be honest. First of all there was my ‘history’ with Charlotte’s sister Emily’s novel Wuthering Heights’, which I thought was tosh, but we shouldn’t judge an author on their siblings efforts (Byatt and Drabble or vice versa for instance) should we? There was also the length, 500+ pages, to contend with, the fact it is labelled a ‘classic’ and also the fact it started of with an orphan. Books with orphans as the lead character have, to my mind, become the great cliché of writing however this is one of the earliest and therefore if anything people will have stolen/paid homage to this.

When we first meet Jane Eyre it is under the begrudging guardian ship of her venomous (and therefore I liked her a bit) Aunt Mrs Reed in Gateshead with her vile cousins who contanstly bully and blame her. We are of course instantly on Jane’s side; we always want the underdog to come through after all. Soon enough things come to ahead and the aunt who can never love her  sends her to Lockwood a charity institution for young girls where the uncaring Mr Brocklehurst believes the devil can be taken from the child. I could add in so much here it’s untrue, such as the wonderful Miss Temple and the delightful and tragic Helen Burns, but if there is anyone out there who hasn’t read it I wouldn’t want to spoil a second of the wonderful read you have ahead of you before the main story really starts, yes this wonderful first few chapters is just a warm up for Bronte.

Well, when I say main, I mean more the story we all think we know if we haven’t read the book which is starts as Jane leaves Lowood as a teacher and becomes a governess for the mysterious Mr Rochester’s rather irritating ward Adele. From the moment she ‘bewitches’ his horse something starts between the two characters and takes the story into a darker and more eerie setting in the grand house of Thornfield Hall.

Despite being much older and a bit of a grumpy arse so and so there is something about Rochester that attracts Jane despite herself, and it appears Rochester can see something in Jane despite her plainness (is this where we get the term ‘plain Jane’?) and situation. Only Charlotte Bronte doesn’t let things run smoothly or the way you would assume and instead provides twist after twist taking her reader on a rather heartbreaking, occasionally shocking, slightly enraging, but immensely readable and gripping journey. She also takes you on it with an utterly wonderful narrating heroine who Bronte really puts through the mill and therefore also the reader on an emotional rollercoaster (not that they had rollercoaster’s in Charlotte’s day). Can you tell I loved it?

I still don’t think I have anywhere near done this book justice but then I don’t think I ever could. I could happily rattle on for a good thousand words or more though… However rather than give anything more away to those who haven’t read it and possibly ruin their enjoyment of it (as we can discuss it in more detail in the comments) I will simply say that ‘Jane Eyre’ has instantly become one of my all time favourite novels. I have even given ‘Villette’ a few enquiring sideways glances since I finished this yesterday. I would give ‘Jane Eyre’ an eleven out of ten only that would be breaking the rules. I shall simply have to give it a ten out of ten in bold. 10/10 There we go, a simply MUST read book, its even made me think about the way I read – and it takes the most special of books to do that to us I think personally.

Now can we all have a good old natter about it as I am simply bursting to!?!

(And yes I will be catching up with almost three weeks of comments today too when I can – as Mum is staying so to be on the computer too much might be deemed rude, apologies for my comment rubbishness of late!)

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Filed under Books of 2010, Charlotte Bronte, Review, Vintage Books, Vintage Classics

Help, A Bookshelf Dilemma!

I did have a post ready and raring to go today but as I had such good news yesterday and then a mini dilemma I thought that I would switch things around ad get your advice and opinions on a certain subject. First up though is the wonderful good news that after about two weeks of ridiculous stress and lots of paperwork, meetings, interviews and in many ways judgements which then culminated in over 4 hours at The Home Office yesterday (which feels like a prison and where staff seem to be paid not to smile) The Converted One now has indefinite leave to remain which is possibly the biggest weight of our shoulders ever. No more worrying about what will happen 6 months/a year down the line anymore. Hoorah!

So how does this link to books (I know that’s why your really reading – joke)? Well, afterwards we went for a celebration in the nearby Ikea, we are both a bit obsessed with their meatballs, and decided to have a little wander around. As a thank you for all my help with the process (and I will say if English isn’t your first language and you have managed to get a visa into this country well done as it’s so complicated I was struggling to sort it all) and sorting of paper work I was treated to a huge – though the picture doesn’t quite do it justice – new set of shelves for the lounge for books that I have read. I have recently had to give in to piling them next to the bookshelves giving the house a slight junk shop feel.

So they are now up and looking lovely but this of course has brought on a slight dilemma, I really want to keep all the books on my shelves? Although I have more room now for them oddly I am less sure all of them should be there. For example, and this is me being completely honest, I have some titles on there which I didn’t like but simply so when people pop round and have a nosey they can say ‘oh you’ve read that one’. There are also the books I haven’t loved quite so much but because I read them for book group or they were part of the Not The TV Book Group and so they have lovely memories attached to them despite my not loving them.

I also don’t know what to do with the books that I liked a lot but probably won’t ever turn to again. Part of me thinks keep them up there and the other part thinks why not give them to charity. Maybe I should try and be tougher like I am with my TBR. As you can see there has been some sorting going on…

It’s fortunate my mother is coming this weekend as it seems she will be taking quite a few bags of books away with her if I do have a major cull from the shelves (I have also been going through the TBR again) but she’ll love that. So this weekend I have questions for you on your bookshelves;

What makes a book you liked a definite for the bookshelves as opposed to going to a friend/member of the family/a charity shop?
Do you have bookshelf culls and if so what’s your culling criteria?
Do you ever pop books on your bookshelves that you didn’t love as you think you might one day or because, like me, then people will see them and know you have read them (I wish I could do this with Ulysses, alas couldn’t finish it) or ones that have a special memory when you read them or why you read them?
Finally, how do you organise your bookshelves, mine are in alphabetical order surname and sometimes series order by that author too, what’s your system or don’t you have one?

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The Birds & Other Stories – Daphne Du Maurier

Daphne Du Maurier is always an author that I adore but also worry about every time I read. I have always loved her books, in fact I have actually really loved all of her books so far, yet I always think the next one could be the one that puts me off. So with a mixture of excitement and trepidation I opened up my copy of ‘The Birds & Other Stories’ (have you noticed I am slowly but surely becoming a short story convert?) little did I know I was about to open up what is quite possibly my favourite short story collection so far.

From having read previous Daphne Du Maurier’s short stories , and indeed her full novels, I do like it when she goes to the darker side of both her fictional writing, humour and thoughts on human nature and ‘The Birds & Other Stories’ is really like a distilled collection of just those tales. It is of course ‘The Birds’, which is probably the most famous of all her short stories and which gets a full mention in the title, that most people will think they know because of the Alfred Hitchcock film. In actual fact the story is nothing like the film apart from the fact that birds do turn on humans. I would say that (having watched the film again since) Daphne’s original version is much darker and with its setting of a family living in a small town by the English seaside it actually creeped me out much more. What’s great about this collection is that the most famous story isn’t even the best.

I’m not going to give you the ins and outs of each and every tale, or why would you buy them (and I highly recommend you do), but I think a nice taster would be of benefit – and I have made sure I don’t give big things away just a hint or two. ‘The Little Photographer’ is all about a surprising love affair in a hot bored summer that soon turns bad and with devastating consequences, just when you think it couldn’t twist any more… it does. Along similar lines, and yet totally different (if you know what I mean), ‘Kiss Me Again, Stranger’ is one of the most macabre tales in the collection on how love at first sight can blind you from the truth. ‘The Old Man’ is a harrowing family drama and to even hint what Du Maurier does to turn this on its head would ruin everything especially as it’s the shortest story in the collection.

My two absolute favourites however were ‘Monte Verita’ and ‘The Apple Tree’ – though ‘The Birds’ wasn’t far behind, I just thought I new it better than these two which I had never heard of before. When ‘Monte Verita’ opened with two leading male characters who spend most of their spare time rock climbing, I admit I thought ‘oh dear’. Slowly and surely Du Maurier weaves in a mysterious lover and the story of a mysterious legend deep in the mountains of a far off land and soon I was completely hooked. My very favourite of the stories had to be ‘The Apple Tree’ which is a superb and really creepy tale of unease all based on the relationship between a widow and old gnarled apple tree in his garden. Oh so subtly from minor little goings on after his wife’s death Daphne builds and builds odd happenings and you will soon be preying the protagonist doesn’t do just what you know he is going too.

I actually cannot recommend this collection enough. In fact I would say this book might actually get a re-reading over the next few weeks as the darker nights draw in. Even though I have already read them I have no doubt that Du Maurier’s words could build the tension again and again and leave me feeling pleasantly chilled. This is a collection I know I will return to again and again.

A book that will: have you curled up and gripped through the night. Afterwards you might want to leave the lights on and certainly won’t want to walk past cemeteries late or night, or even an orchard! 10/10

Can you tell I thoroughly enjoyed this book? What made it even more delightful was that I then discovered I could take two books of the TBR as my rather rare (with its wonderful cover) copy of ‘Kiss Me Again, Stranger’ is the American title of the 70’s edition of the same collection only in a slightly random order and with two additional stories which can be found in ‘The Breaking Point and Other Stories’. So which Du Maurier’s have you read? Has anyone else given this or any of her other short stories a go? What’s your current favourite short story collection?

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Filed under Books of 2010, Daphne Du Maurier, Review, Short Stories, Virago Books

Very First Favourite Books

When I was up in Manchester just two weekends ago something happened which really took me back to my earliest reading days. I was looking after my two year old twin cousins whilst both parents were off doing things around the house and these two delightful girls wanted ‘big cousin’ (I didn’t get called Simon once, ha) to read them a story. The main choice seemed to be ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ of which I think I read three of the series at least four or five times each over the course of the weekend. When I went to go and look at the pile of possible other titles (for fear I might have too much of Thomas the Tank – not possible for these girls) I was taken by as there amongst the mass of books these girls have were two of my earliest favourite picture books (we arent talking full on childrens books today)…

I think that ‘Elmer’ by David McKee and ‘Meg & Mog’ by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski could quite easily be the two favourite published books that I can actually remember being asked to have read to me again and again as a child. They are also two books that I can remember actually reading to myself and I do wonder if that added factor of actually learning to read with specific books makes them all the more cherished in memory?

The pictures though are what I vividly remember and when I was sorting through what to read next (I might have had a mini sulk that the girls didn’t want either of these titles or any other in the series – I read them all when they had a morning nap instead) I found the images that send me straight back to my childhood both in Derbyshire and Newcastle. With ‘Elmer’ it had to be the vivid celebrating painted elephants…

And with ‘Meg & Mog’ for some unknown reason it’s the scene where they are all eating breakfast. I wonder if again that’s to do with the colours…

I did then have a god long think and came up with some other adored titles such as ‘Each Peach, Pear, Plum’ and ‘Burglar Bill’ by Allan and Janet Ahlberg (I read another collaborative Ahlberg book that weekend and spent half of it frowning, sometimes you shouldn’t go back it can ruin the memories), ‘Gumdrop’ by Val Biro, ‘The Giant Jam Sandwich’ by John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway and, of course, ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’ by Eric Carle though I think it went out of favour. Oh, and also the He-Man and She-Ra books though they were when I got older actually.

Now I mentioned those were my very favourite published children’s books because my truly treasured collection were tales of a witch called Esmerelda, a cat called Marmalade, a mouse called Mitch, a duck called Rapunzel and some hens… oh and a little boy called Simon! These were a series of books that my granddad ‘Bongy’ made for me, I have mentioned this series before (but do pop back if you haven’t seen it), and would send me in the post every week or so when I was living with my Mum in Newcastle and are unquestionably my very favourite children’s books of all.

So what were your favourite first books, which ones did you ask for again and again? Do we have any in common? What’s your first memory of books?

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Truth – Peter Temple

I actually first heard about Peter Temple’s novel ‘Truth’ via Lisa of ANZ Lit Lovers after she had announced it had won The Miles Franklin Award this year – one of Australia’s most prestigious book awards. Below in the comments was what sparked my interest because Meg said ‘of all the good books on the list they had to pick this one’ and Lisa followed up with I notice that Morag Fraser (one of the judges) said there hadn’t been any criticism of their decision. Morag, that might be because we’re all thunderstruck…’ I also noticed that ‘Truth’ was a rarity as it is a crime novel, I do love a good crime, and crime novels don’t tend to win or even get long listed inn literary prizes… Now myself being the judge on a new prize I wanted to know and read more and so hunted it down at my local library.

‘Truth’ opens with an almost impossible and unsolvable murder. On one of the highest floors of a new skyscraper complex, which can only be reached with various security cards, a woman is found in the bath with her neck broken. What makes this all the more difficult to solve is that it happened on the opening night of the Casino down below and the security system went down. In steps Stephen Villani, currently acting as Melbourne’s Head of Homicide, who’s mission it is to solve the riddle. It is also Villani who later thinks what initially looks like another random murder of three men in the suburbs of Oakleigh might actually be connected. From here Temple weaves in a mystery which is just as much political as it is about catching killers.

Temple also captures an interesting picture of Australia with ‘Truth’ as the bush fires rage in the background it looks at the state of the politics and it’s business climate which I admit if I had known it dealt with beforehand would have put me off slightly, however I read on and didn’t get bored once despite it not being quite my cup of tea subject wise. What I will admit I struggled with initially was the fact that the prose of the book is so taut every single word counts to the point where it’s almost so shortened and saying so much per sentence or sparse conversation you sometimes need to re-read. Once you have gotten around that and are in the full flow of the book you see the purpose of it, it speeds everything up and heightens it.

The other thing that made this book good and also slightly clichéd all at once (if that makes sense?) is Villani himself. He’s so flawed (adulterous), blunt, complex (always concerned about his daughter, has a weird relationship with his father) that he ends up rather a typical crime novel anti-hero. Why is it so many authors tend to do this with lead male detective type characters in modern crime novels? All in all though, this is a crime novel with a difference, and one I would say fans of the genre should give a whirl.

A book that will: possibly take a little while to get into because the prose is so to the point, but it makes it’s something different in its genre and worth it overall. I have a feeling if you liked ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ then you would enjoy this. I didn’t like the Larsson, but interestingly I ended up liking this one rather a lot, you may feel the same too. 7/10

Is ‘Truth’ worthy of a big literary award? Well, I wasn’t on the panel and I haven’t read the other books submitted so I couldn’t comment. I also wouldn’t want to take anything away from Temple by saying that his winning gave the prize a huge amount of slightly controversial publicity which I think some people feel it did. I can only judge it as a crime/thriller and on that front I found it a taught, unusually written, hardboiled novel that delivered and made me want to try more of his work if maybe not something with such a political pulse at its heart.  

So why is crime fiction being listed for an award not aimed solely at its genre specifically such a big deal? If they do it tends to spark some heated debate as ‘Child 44’, which is what I am thinking of more than ‘Truth’, did with the Man Booker! I always find it an interesting point any ideas? Who else has read ‘Truth’? Has anyone read anything else by Peter Temple they could recommend?

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Something Sporadic in the Eyre (Reading Slower)

Get ready for a bit of a rambling post today as I am trying to tie a few things together that are still a little loose in my mind and it might work or it might not. But its of course something that I would love your thoughts on, as usual this post ends with lots of questions aimed at all of you. Anyway I am rambling and digressing already! So back to the matter in hand… I didn’t do a post on Sunday which is very unlike me. I normally have a post up my sleeve or more realistically I normally have lots to say. Yet I was very busy, very busy sleeping. In fact I had over ten hour’s straight and then woke up in a mild panic that I hadn’t put anything on the blog… before promptly falling back to sleep again. Lethargy is what seems to be in the air in Savidge Towers at the moment and I don’t think I am alone.

Actually from various chats I have been having with various people it seems to be around London in general full stop. I think it’s the time of the year, is anyone else that I haven’t spoken to feeling this, anyone outside London too? Some of you lucky so and so’s will be spared this currently as you will be heading for your Spring and Summer but you might know this feeling from when your autumn hit. That’s the thing you see autumn has come and it appears drained me of all energy… so thank goodness for Jane Eyre.

I thought this old postcard of Haddon Hall most appropriate both in a sense of this time of year and it is just how I picture Thornfield Hall... as did the BBC when they filmed Jane Eyre here.

I won’t discuss Jane Eyre too much right now as I am saving that for Sunday when I am hoping that you will all be joining in for a bit of a chat about it. My mother is staying that weekend and I have already asked her to have her thoughts at the ready especially as she has taught it so that could add an interesting insight.  Suffice to say I am really enjoying my first Charlotte Bronte book so far in fact it was another reason I didn’t blog on Sunday and has rather cleverly highlighted how I am unintentionally reading at the moment. But let’s take these things one at a time.

You see I was enjoying my first few chapters, as I started it a little later than wanted, of Jane Eyre so much that the thought of leaving the book, turning on the computer, writing a post, then getting distracted by other lovely blogs would suddenly mean half my Sunday is gone and Jane is left unattended and possibly rather vexed with me. It is after all reading that sparked this blog and sometimes in writing it and commenting back (which I have been a little lax with of late) I actually end up missing out on the reading. Though both make me happy if I have not read anything then what do I have to discuss.

Now to how Jane has made me aware how I have been rather unintentionally reading of late. In fact it’s actually Charlotte Bronte and Daphne Du Maurier that made me spot this. No its not that I read newer fiction over classics, though it can be the case, its that sometimes I am not taking as much time as I should with a book. I find if I am loving a book I want to hurry it up so I can talk to all of you about it, and actually I should be taking my time letting the full effects of what’s going on in the book take hold and building a picture of the book that’s going to last longer than a blog post. Does that make sense?

This isn’t a post about me not writing blogs ever again or every day, because I have done the latter before – I have never wanted to give up the blog – and then carried on as I was (and I have noticed I have posts scheduled to the end of the week). It’s much more about time and how precious time with special books is and finding the balance. So there might be less posts when I am concentrating on a classic, or re-reading the longlist for The Green Carnation Prize which I keep forgetting to do despite them looming over me on my desk – after Jane I will though. There might be the same amont of posts, who knows, but while autumn hits and with it this strange lethargy I think I might spend more time curled up on the sofa with a book on my lap… rather than the laptop, especially as this is the time of year the longer books seem to come off the shelves.

Are we all feeling like this, or do certain books or times of year make us sit back a little and take stock now and again? If you’ve had a book thats made you think differently about how you read I would love to hear about it. Do you find autumn and the shorter days and longer nights mean you, like me, start to pick up the bigger books you have been meaning to read? Over to you…

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Begging & Reminding

A very quick ‘in between’ post because I have a little beg of you all, a new blog to introduce you too and a worldwide book giveaway to remind you about. Really the post will be that simple.

First up one of my dearest friends, who longs to be a Mills and Boon writer, has entered her very first novel into the Mills and Boon ‘New Voices’ Competition and you can vote for her entry and help her get the attention of the judges. That’s not quite a beg exactly, more a MASSIVE hint.

Secondly she has started a new blog, so if you would like to follow the very funny and delightful written world of Rose Roberts then you can quite easily. I cant think who the friend she is referring too is in her opening post can you????

Thirdly don’t forget you have just under 48 hours to win a copy of the third Peirene Press title ‘The Portrait of a Mother as a Young Woman’. Its brilliant so I suggest you pop here and enter your details.

Right that’s me done for now back in a bit with something longer.

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The Big Four – Agatha Christie & Alain Paillou

From the title of today’s post you could be mistaken for thinking that Agatha Christie had co-written some novels in the vein of James Patterson with some of his thrillers, however this is not the case. In fact what we have here is an adaptation of one of Agatha Christie’s Poirot novels ‘The Big Four’ which has been turned into a graphic novel by Alain Paillou. I am not sure if this was something that has been done to encourage a new readership to Christie or not? When I saw it at the library, with my new found appreciation for graphic novels, I thought it might be something interesting to try. I was also aware it could be a book that I either loved or loathed.

It appears that ‘The Big Four’ was something quite different for Agatha Christie, and not just because in this case it’s been adapted into a graphic novel. The premise is highly ambitious as this sees Hercule Poirot thrown into the world of an international spy thriller along the lines of a James Bond novel, in fact at once point there is a laser gun harnessing atomic energy in a secret mountain hideout that could leave its creator holding the world to ransom. But wait a minute I have gotten ahead of myself, what’s the story?

As the book opens Captain Hastings is returning to England (not being overly familiar with the Poirot novels I am assuming he is in few as Watson to Poirot’s Holmes?) to see his friend Hercule Poirot. Once at his friends flat a troubled man arrives clearly in fear of his life from ‘The Big Four’ a group, it would initially appear, of evil assassins with some dastardly plot to hand. The man of course is then found dead within hours. I am loathed to say anymore for fear of giving too much away and also in part because through this medium I never really got to grips with the whole set up like I think I would have in the book itself.

The thing that I love about Christie is her plotting, the red herrings she leaves and the quirks she pops into her characters, all of these seemed to be lost in a graphic version. This version, though I haven’t read the original and maybe that’s part of the problem, of ‘The Big Four’ seemed so focused on the action on a comic (and I don’t mean ha, ha) level that it lost everything else. Some people may say thats all there is to a graphic novel but having read another recently I know its not true. There wasn’t really any suspense it was just action, action, action and seemed to be missing out on the background. Maybe this isn’t in the novel of ‘The Big Four’ but with Christie I would find that very hard to believe considering all the other books that I have read by her.

I also need to mention the actual pictures, which whilst being far better than I could ever draw, they didn’t seem to fit the book. It looked more like Tintin than anything else (I like Tintin so that’s not a snipe) and Poirot isn’t Tintin. They were also all really dark by which I don’t mean graphic I mean brown. In fact maybe this was an added problem I threw in. I expect graphic novels to be quite colourful and this was a bit dull and murky, I wanted a splash of something to give it life and yet nothing ever did. I wonder what Agatha would think?

Weirdly I actually want to try another one of these graphic Christies. I don’t like to write something off until I have given it a chance or two and this wasn’t so bad it put me off them full stop. It has really made me want to read the novel version of ‘The Big Four’ (which of course, being sod’s law, I don’t own a copy of) and see just what I was missing, as even though I know the ending I want to see just how Agatha managed the scope of it’s premise.

A book that will: provide you with some escapism and may bring new fans to Christie. I have the feeling a true Christie fan will find too much missing in terms of motives, red herrings, twists and background to enjoy this thoroughly and some may even have visions of Christie spinning in her grave after they close the final page. 4/10

Have any other Christie fans read the original of ‘The Big Four’ and is it worth a read, have any of you tried graphic versions of Agatha’s other novels? Finally another question that I was actually discussing with a friend last week (we were discussing Scott Pilgrim which my friend loves and I then looked at in Foyles) and this book highlighted it again… Just what is the difference between a graphic novel and a comic, is it merely the length like a novella and a novel – or is there more to it than that?

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Graphic Novels, Harper Collins, Review

Library Loots & Latest Incomings

I do find it odd that only a few months when my ‘refurbished’ local library reopened its doors I was a little bit snobbish about it. I didn’t like the fact that it was self service and though the building still has its old exterior I weirdly missed the old interior and the fact that trying to find a book published after 2000 was pretty much impossible. However over the last week or two I have been converted and have been visiting a lot.

Unlike the library I did like (especially as it has a new swanky supermarket next door killing two birds with one bus journey) one tube stop away the one just down the road now always seems to have just the books I want or have been mulling over. It also helps they have been lottery funded and so they keep getting the latest books in pristine condition. It’s almost like going into a book store which as I am on a book buying ban and can cart a load off for free is ideal. This week I got four new ones to read…

  • The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington – I had not heard of this Penguin Modern Classic until I got an email from a reader last weekend telling me that the tale of Marian Leatherby’s committal to an institution by her family would be just my cup of tea, low and behold the library had it in pristine condition.
  • Solo by Rana Dasgupta – Libraries are great for taking risks with books and I have been watching the Not The Man Booker Prize with interest this year and was actually going to see if I could get any of the books listed for this year, I couldn’t but I did get last years winner which I have mulled over before.
  • The City &The City by China Mieville – I asked you all if I wanted to read this, pretty much all of you said I did and the library had it so it seemed like fate.
  • The Big Four by Agatha Christie – A graphic novel of Agatha Christie which sounds like it could be a James Bond novel only with Poirot. I think I will either love this or hate it but its something different to try.

I have also been lucky enough to get some more unsolicited books in the last week or four. Actually no I tell a lie two of these books I had emails asking if I fancied and indeed I did (I will pop a star next to those) but that’s not asking which I have banned myself from. A few I had already but are now in lovely new editions (such as the Atwood) or paperback editions have come out, so maybe I will do some more giveaways over the next few weeks – don’t forget there is a giveaway here at the moment.

  • Angels of Destruction by Keith Donoghue
  • Ransom by David Malouf
  • Waiting For Columbus by Thomas Trofimuk*
  • London Labour & The London Poor by Henry Mayhew
  • The End by Salvatore Scibona
  • The Alchemasters Apprentice by Walter Moers
  • To The End of the Land by David Grossman
  • Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridason
  • Small Memories by Jose Saramago
  • Begginers by Ramond Carver
  • Balthazar Jones and the Tower of London by Julia Stuart*
  • The Complete Fairy Tales by Charles Perrault
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • The Dogs & The Wolves by Irene Nemirovsky

The David Grossman has a bit of a funny story attached to it, not as in the story of the book which is apparently heartbreaking… let me explain. I was banging on about ‘To The End of the Land’ to one of my friends saying how much I wanted it and how I couldn’t ask for it or buy it myself only when I then, less than 24 hours later, finally sorted through all my latest books and other books I had been moving around the last week or two proceeded to discover I did indeed have it already! Oh dear, a sign of too many books on the TBR? Actually I don’t think you can have too many books on a TBR.

So what lovely library loots have you got recently? Been bought any books or treated yourselves to any? Have you read any of the above?

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Portrait of a Mother as a Young Woman – Friedrich Christian Delius

Over the last year one of my missions was to read much more translated work. Well actually it was also to check out how much I read that was translated and wasn’t aware of, for some reason I always think that ‘translated by’ should be on the cover – not the case. One publisher that has helped me in this mini quest is Peirene Press who established themselves this year and whose previous titles ‘Beside The Sea’ and ‘Stone in a Landslide’ I have thoroughly enjoyed, one of them quite possibly heading for a place in my favourite books of the year list. So when the third arrived in the post I was really looking forward to it, yet I put it away for a while, I was nervous – would I like it as much as the first two?

‘Portrait of a Mother as a Young Woman’ sounds intimidating before you start it as the book is one long sentence which instantly filled me with dread. I don’t like it when a book does this for a few pages let alone a whole novella. However whether its down to the original, the editing or the translation (without reading the original in German I would never know – something I always think of when reading translations ‘was it this good originally, was it worse, was it better?’) it was a fear that proved unfounded as there are natural breaks in the pattern of the narrative.

Our protagonist is the woman of the title; we meet her during the war in 1943 as a young pregnant German woman residing in Rome while her husband is in army service in Africa. After doctors orders she is walking through the city from her guest house to the church. Initially she simply observes the city and looks back on how her relationship with Gert started and then starts to worry about the future, will her husband be safe, what world will her unborn child be born into? Normally a woman who believes that the almighty is powering and behind everything, worrying doubts are setting in her mind.

There is little more to the story than the way in which her thoughts progress as she wanders, you are simply privy to the internal workings and machinations of this woman’s thoughts. Yet this is not a book about plot, this is a book about time and place and Delius, through his portrait of this young woman, sets the time, place and surreal atmosphere in a city untouched by war yet very much feeling its effects (such as the coffee shortage – how did Italians cope with that?) now and again and forcing the reality of the situation into peoples minds when sometimes they forget.

The writing is simply stunning. Delius paints a vivid picture and an incredibly believable woman’s narrative voice, though the book isn’t in first person the flow of it and structure of a single sentence makes it feel like subconscious and very natural train of thought. Rome is painted vividly, I have never been and yet now feel I have walked those streets in that time period. In fact I feel I have walked those streets as that woman so vivid is the picture Delius creates.

Is there a downside? Well for me a teeny tiny one and that’s the title, which is actually perfect in terms of saying what the story is about and yet I keep getting it wrong when I talk or tell people about the book. I want to call it ‘The Portrait of the Young Woman as a…’ and then I think ‘no, it’s The Portrait of a Lady as a…’I am slightly worried I will tell people about it and they will grab Henry James or think James Joyce wrote a wonderful book about a young Nazi girl. Oh dear. The title though doesn’t really matter as the contents are so wonderful. (Oh and I must credit Jamie Bulloch on an incredible translation!)

A book that will: be perfect if you want something very different from your usual novella or novel and especially if you want to walk vividly in the footsteps of someone else. 8.5/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:

Miss Garnet’s Angel by Salley Vickers – The whole way through this book I wanted to head back to this novel, nothing to do with the story line but everything to do with the descriptions of Italy and in a way the mentions and thoughts of religion strangely.
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden – Again nothing to do with the story line or premise of Delius’s book because it’s so unique but another incredible example of a man writing women flawlessly.

Who else has read this book, what did you think? Will any of you be going to see the lovely Kim of Reading Matters in discussion with the author tonight at ‘The Big Green Bookshop’? If you are I may well see you there. Which books have you read that have left you feeling you have actually stepped completely into someone else’s shoes and life despite the fact they are fictional?

Oh and should you want a copy of this of you very own I am giving one away in the post below…

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Filed under Books of 2010, Friedrich Christian Delius, Peirene Press, Review