Monthly Archives: February 2011

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet – David Mitchell

When ‘The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet’ by David Mitchell was chosen for book group I had two reactions. The initial was an inward groan as I had read ‘Cloud Atlas’ and sort of hated it (it was pre-blogging but I found it confusing, cold and rather patronising – I know lots and lots of people have loved it) which annoyed me because the cover was so lovely. The second reaction I had was ‘ooh this could be a challenge’ and I found myself both strangely pleased at that. So which was it? Well, oddly it was both.

Upon finishing ‘The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet’ I had four reactions. I thought both ‘wow the author can write’ along with ‘blimey it’s rather formulaic, a little pretentious and boy is David Mitchell letting you know how much research he has done ‘. I also came away thinking ‘that was a challenging and thought provoking read’ along with a sense of ‘thank goodness that’s over’. Completely polar feelings in one book I find rather fascinating, but what was it about it that made me feel like that? Well the story, or stories, was the first factor.

The book is set in several parts. If you were to only read the first chapter of this novel, and indeed the first part of the book, before buying it you would either feel disgusted or completely gripped as the scene of a traumatic and complicated birth is graphically played out over the first few pages. However from that point the novel suddenly changes to the tale of Jacob de Zoet who has freshly docked on the floating village of Dejima, just off the harbour of Nagasaki, in 1799. Here as a clerk for the Dutch East Indies Company, trading basically, he meets a young midwife, Orito Aibagawa, who he rather falls in love with.

Along with all this Mitchell creates a huge cast of characters (over 100) and the way of life at the time but I couldn’t say, despite how descriptive he is – and he really is, that the characters, other than Orito, were vivid and nor could I say that I felt the atmosphere of the place. It felt a little cold and one dimensional, so much was going on that I couldn’t quite focus and here Mitchell let me as a reader down as instead of allowing me to build some of the picture myself he explains so much in such detail I felt like his intellect and imagination was being forced down my throat and he didn’t trust me to use my own. That might seem harsh, but all is not lost quite yet.

If I am 100% honest had it not been a choice for my book group I would have given up on Jacob and his tale there and then. However I like to try and read a book group from cover to cover and thank goodness I did as part two was just incredible. It is Orito’s tale, after Jacob believes she has vanished, which sees her in a nunnery that is not all it appears to be at first and in many ways is some kind of religious cult which needs children to be born, how those children are produced and what for I will leave for anyone who chooses to give this book a whirl but I was left stunned by it and followed Orito the way you would follow a thriller, pages were speedily being turned. I also liked the feel that this was almost a homage from Mitchell to writing of the 16th and 17th century, it felt rather ‘Dracula’ meets ‘Castle of Otranto’ in some ways.

Sadly after part two we head back to the world of Jacob again of which I shall say no more other than the hard work you put in during part one of the book sort of pays off… sort off. I personally wish that David Mitchell had written ‘The Thousand Autumns of Orito Aibagawa’. Whilst all that Jacob de Zoet encounters is rather interesting in terms of history, it does start to feel like a text book, there are even pictures every now and again, and my imagination seemed to be penned in. Yet when I was with Orito the book came into its own, I was gripped and found her story fascinating.

‘The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet’ has quite a lot going for it, and I am fairly sure that anyone who has read Mitchells previous books will have read it by now regardless and most likely loved it. For me it was a book of two halves. I am certainly glad I read it, I feel I challenged myself in terms of returning to an author I vowed I never would – but I am not convinced I will go through his back catalogue just yet, though at the same time I will be very interested to hear what he writes next. 6/10

Rather like ‘Brighton Rock’ though its not a book I instantly loved its definitely one that’s got me thinking about what I read and the way I read it – and of course what I look for in a book. I don’t always want comfy, I need a book like this to give me a jolt sometimes. I am sure lots of people have read and adored this book and I would love to hear from you if you did and of course if you didn’t. It received a mixed bag at book group with one member loving it and really getting passionate about it (and who I am sure would love any more Mitchell recommendations you might have), a few of us having quite liked it and several other members who couldn’t get through the first part. So a mixed bag, but sometimes those books make the best book group books don’t they?

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Filed under Book Group, David Mitchell, Review, Sceptre Publishing

A Great First Book Group Choice…

Only a quick post today but one that I am hoping that you will help me with. Not that I need to question that, you are all always really helpful! I’m looking for recommendations of books that would make the perfect first book group choice for the first discussion meeting.

Though I’ve joined a lovely book group in Levenshulme (we are actually meeting tomorrow to discuss ‘The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet’ by David Mitchell – thoughts soon) the house mate of one of my friends, who also wants in too which is ace, in the centre of Manchester has asked if I’d like to set up a book group with them and others in the city centre of town. Well how could I say no? I’m not leaving the Levenshulme one, I think I can manage with two and it is a great way of making more new friends and reading more diversely.

I’ve been asked to come up with the first title and I’m a bit stuck. You see when I cofounded The Riverside Readers we had a meeting where we discussed our favourite books, it seems in this group they just want to get a title and get cracking! All good with me but what oh what to choose?

I think something that is a mix of genres, is page turning and also wonderfully written, something not too new and not too old would be good, but are there any books out there which encompass all these things? Help!

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The Highs of Hebden Bridge & Heptonstall (A Book Crawl in Yorkshire)

Before I take you on a virtual tour which includes beautiful countryside, several book shops, Sylvia Plath’s final resting place and an impressive book loot, I just want to say a huge thank you for all the comments, emails and texts I got yesterday after I told you of the latest with my health. It was lovely to have all your thoughts and meant a lot. Anyway before I get any mushier let me tell you about a wonderful day out I had on Tuesday which was something of a destination lottery as it turned out.

Wanting to do something to keep me occupied before ‘results day’ on Wednesday myself and the lovely Paul Magrs decided we would head to the train station and pick a random destination to head to for some kind of bookish adventure. And what a lovely station it was that we chose, you know how I love my Victoriana…

As soon as we stepped inside I had a good feeling that we would have a great day for books and adventure when I saw this wonderful old signage from the original station…

We decided we would get the next train which happened to take us into the Yorkshire Dales with Hebden Bridge as its destination. With a lovely M&S sandwich selection (which Paul rather took the mickey out of me for) and some nibbles we got onto a train that looked like it should be sat on a snowy peak and be taking us off to the top of the alps. Instead it took us as far as Todmorden where we sneakily got off (sometimes you need to stop and hop off along the way)…

Paul had raved about a wonderful bookshop that was housed there; unfortunately it seemed that like most of Todmorden on a Tuesday it was closed… which was rather unimpressive, did they not know we were coming? Oh no, they didn’t. We did pop into several charity shops though before both grabbing a corned beef pasty (I might also have had a gingerbread man) which we ate by the canal…

Soon enough though we headed off to Hebden Bridge which has one of the most wonderful train stations I have scene, its literally like going back in time…

Again, sadly the independent book shop here was also closed on a Tuesday (maybe we should have said we were coming) it looked a corker too…

We did visit a marvellous remainder book shop…

In which I found an absolute gem I could have walked away with about five books from this store but I was incredibly restrained, well ok I was restrained because we had visited every charity shop going in Hebden Bridge and had already got a corking seven books in my bag. Which meant rather than walk all the way to the peak point of Heptonstall I begged to get a bus, which was driven by the happiest bus driver I have ever had the pleasure of meeting – he drove us back down too rather like a taxi service), and came to the stunning derelict Heptonstall church which either got struck by lightening or was bombed, I need to look it up…

It honestly was incredibly haunting and rather spooky. It has stayed with me since and seems to have got my creative juices flowing, I have been scribbling away in my notebook ever since seeing this…

Before we left we went and, after rather a lot of searching, found the final resting place of Sylvia Plath, I was rather surprised by her grave to be honest I think I expected something more showy or extravagant. Instead was a rather understated grave in the middle of a simple hidden church yard…

Paul and I then had a rather interesting, if slightly sacrilegious, discussion on the way back down with the jolly bus driver as to whether ‘The Bell Jar’ (which is the only Plath that I have read, I am not so good with poetry) would have been quite so successful if Sylvia hadn’t died early? All in all it was an amazing bookish day. Oh of course… you will want to know what books I came away with. So without further ado…

  • Murder At The Laurels/Murder in Midwinter/Murder in Bloom by Lesley Cookman – you may have noticed in the last few hauls I have managed to get almost all the Libby Sarjeant series. I will be tucking into these soon.
  • Dewey by Vicky Myron – I am actually rather cross with myself for buying this but it’s become a rather’in’ joke with Paul and I and for 50p I couldn’t hold back. A book about a library cat, I have an awful feeling that like ‘Marley & Me’ I will love this and be ever so slightly disgusted with myself.
  • Eating For England by Nigel Slater – I almost squealed when I saw this after LOVING ‘Toast’ earlier in the year.
  • This Is Not A Novel by Jennifer Johnston – You don’t see Johnston’s books very often in second hand shops and I do like her style and prose a lot plus I loved the title, so in the bag it went.
  • The House of Mitford by Jonathan Guinness – This was the bargain I found in the discount store, it was the most expensive purchase of the day at a whopping 3.99 but it’s normally over a tenner, its about The Mitfords which is themost important factor and is normally quite hard to get hold of – hoorah!
  • Fear The Worst by Linwood Barclay – I can’t deny that I am having a real ‘Savidge Reads Crime’ phase and I really liked the first Linwood Barclay ‘No Time For Goodbye’ so even though I haven’t read the one between these I picked this up anyway.

What an ace bookish day it was. Books, Sylvia Plath, adventures in the dales, and stunning locations. No wonder we had to have a drink afterwards in central Manchester to calm ourselves down. Have you visited Heptonstall? Read any of the books that I picked up? When did you last go on a random book haul trawl and where?

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Cosy Crime Time…

Over the last few weeks, maybe even months, you may have heard me mentioning how my health has been all over the place. This of course has to some extent affected my reading, as while I have had more time for it in waiting rooms and on long bus journeys etc my mind hasn’t been able to concentrate on it in quite the way it should. Not quite readers block exactly more a reading head fog. Anyway this week saw the final results come in and it wasn’t the best news but it wasn’t the worse, it seems a certain bunch of evil cells (and you all know what I am getting at here) have set up home in my colon and over the next week we will be seeing what can be done (more procedures) and where we go next. I didn’t know if I should make this big news as a) I like to keep the blog positive b) I don’t want other people worrying c) I’m never sure how much sharing is too much sharing on the blogosphere?

Anyway, in general I’m doing ok with it all and dealing with it all in bits whilst remaining in quite a positive place. I finally feel like I know what I am dealing with and though its not great we aren’t at curtains just yet plus after having felt so sick over the last few months with no answer I now know it wasn’t just all in my head. I will admit though that I think for the next few days it’s going to need to be a time where I, through whims of course, turn to some comfort reading and one particular genre is calling out to me…

…Those lovely cosy crime novels. I have sifted through some of the many boxes of books in the house and come up with a delightful collection that are going straight on my bedside table for some fun reading times ahead. Some of them are old favourites like the wonderful Agatha Raisin, who I have also been listening to lately and really enjoying, plus some of the Edwardian M.C. Beaton mysteries that have recently been republished with lovely (rather camply fabulous I think) new covers. I am also going to crack on with a whole new series and author Lesley Cookman (though I know her through the Green Carnation Prize I have never read any of her books till now) which I seem to have managed to randomly get the whole ‘Libby Sarjeant’ series of after a trip away this week which I will be reporting back on tomorrow.

It looks like I have some marvellous murders ahead doesn’t it? I know I have some about a crime fighting cat; I just haven’t been able to locate those yet. I’ll have to have another hunt when I re-box my books that have started to go a bit curled in the garage. Which cosy crime novels do you turn to now and again? Any you would recommend I seek out I might have missed?

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The Tooth – Shirley Jackson

Well that’s what you get for scheduling posts isn’t it? Yesterday I promised you not one but two reviews and this then didn’t go live, but it means I am a few days ahead so that’s ok and really I do think that Shirley Jackson’s collection ‘The Tooth’, which is another of the mini classics Penguin are publishing that I mentioned yesterday. Like with Carson McCullers ‘Wunderkind’ I thought that Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Tooth’ was going to be a novella and instead found a gripping and rather dark collection of tales instead.

All the five tales included in ‘The Tooth’ actually come from Shirley Jackson’s extended collection of short stories ‘The Lottery & Other Stories’ which was originally published in 1949. Having previously read ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ I have to say I had high hopes that this mini-collection would be full of dark little tales that unnerved me and they didn’t disappoint. It’s a collection that unnerves you as the tales all have a familiarity with the real world going on as normal in the back ground while the lead characters undergo trying horrors and eerie moments.

I would say that of the collection it is both the title story ‘The Tooth’ and ‘The Lottery’ which are the most famous of his short stories. ‘The Tooth’ being a very unnerving, especially as I don’t like anything to do with teeth so this one actually bothered me a lot, tale about Clara Spencer who must travel to New York City in order to have a tooth seen too. On her way there a stranger, Jim, keeps appearing in wherever she goes and things get stranger and stranger from there. It’s an interesting look on one person’s perception of reality and in some ways how we see the world differently when we are undergoing pain or stress.

‘The Lottery’ was again a tale that bothered me. In a small village people are randomly chosen, hence the name of the tale, to be stoned to death by friends and family. It’s an odd tale because what would be a horrific and scary act for the villagers is almost seen as a time of celebration and catching up. It’s a tale that seems to be about the façade of people and how really you never know what your neighbours and friends might be thinking, could they actually be evil. It chilled me in a way none of the other stories quite did. The theme of identity and society both in the two tales previously mention both merge in ‘The Intoxicated’ in which Jackson uses the setting of a house party to show some undertones of darkness slowly but surely as two guest’s converse.

I think it was actually ‘The Witch’ which is one of the shortest of the bunch (along with ‘Charles’ which is only a page shorter) which I was most shocked and slightly disturbed by and there for I enjoyed the most. However being so short I can’t give too much away and shall simply say is the tale of a boy who whilst entertaining himself on a coach plays i-spy and ends up getting much more than he bargained for. I loved how dark it was and it seemed to encompass the whole feeling of the collection in ten pages, and it’s a great collection I would highly recommend. 9.5/10

This collection has bowled me over far more than reading ‘We Have Always Lived In The Castle’ which I enjoyed but might have read to much hype about. I am going to have to read ‘The Lottery & Other Stories’ without a doubt. I did wonder though, and maybe you can help, will any of the other stories be as good as these ones of have they taken the best ones from the collection? Any other Shirley Jackson books I should be looking out for?

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Filed under Books of 2011, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review, Shirley Jackson

Wunderkind – Carson McCullers

I am rather aware that there haven’t been many book reviews on Savidge Reads for a little while and that’s because I am reading slower and thinking more about what I am reading slower. However today you are in for a treat of not one but two reviews of some of the Mini Modern Classics that the publishers Penguin are releasing to celebrate their 50th anniversary. The first is ‘Wunderkind’ by Carson McCullers, an author I have always wanted to read and never quite gotten around to until now.

I was expecting before I opened the cover that ‘Wunderkind’ would a small novella that Carson McCullers had written at some point and hadn’t seen the light of day for a while. In fact it’s a collection of four short stories, which make up just over sixty pages, taken from a collection of hers called ‘The Ballad of the Sad Café and Other Works’ originally published in 1951. It’s always hard to write a review of a short story collection, especially one so short, and not give anything away. I will however try and give it a go. Though I don’t think I understood ‘The Jockey’ and anything it was trying to say in its ten pages and so will steer clear of that one.

The first story in the collection, and the title story, ‘Wunderkind’ was actually Carson McCullers first piece of work ever to be published which she wrote aged 19 and makes a lot of sense. It’s the tale of a specific music lesson between Frances who after being proclaimed a prodigy isn’t becoming one. The tale is basically a wrought set of intense emotions and desires which overcome her during this one session. The fact Carson herself was not far from the narrators age and could possibly well remember these feeling gives what in some ways is a tale we have all seen before have a certain edge, its believable, it rings true and you are left feeling as puzzled as the narrator at the end.

‘A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud’ is another intense emotional tale but is the polar opposite of ‘Wunderkind’. In a small town a man tells of his wife of “one year, nine months, three days, and two nights” and how her leaving him and his obsession with finding her wherever she might be has taught him to love and what loving really means. This sounds rather abstract but is done in rather a haunting way, both sad and hopeful through the way McCullers leaves the reader at the end.

My favourite of the four was ‘Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland’. This to me hard a certain Sparkness to it which I think was why it appeal so much. It’s an initially light hearted tale of a new teacher at Ryder College in New York who seems to be perfect, however as the tale goes on little signs that there may be more to Madame Zilensky than meets the eye creeps into the reader. That’s all I can say on it without giving anything away and therefore spoiling the read.

I guess the best thing is to end with reviewing the collection as a whole. It’s definitely a mixed bag, I wasn’t fussed about ‘The Jockey’ yet despite some of them feeling a little unfinished I think all the others will stay with me for quite some time. This collection excels in doing what I think Penguin are aiming for in a small £3 pocket sized book… it has introduced me to an new author and left me wanting to read more of her work, which is of course published by Penguin. There is a certain sadness in McCullers work that doesn’t depress but haunts and I have found that strangely enticing. I must read more. Who new a 61 page pocket book could provide so much food for thought?

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Destination Unknown

Excuse spelling as I am writing this on a train to nowhere, ok technically it’s a train to Manchester but from there I don’t know where I could end up all I know is that the aim of today, which I am spending with Mr Magrs, is a big book crawl and possibly a big book haul!

I’m armed with my notepad and pen, an M&S picnic, a sense of adventure and two little pocket sized novellas, what more could I need?

Of course we could end up somewhere dire (though there would still be laughter involved) and we may not buy any books (highly unlikely) but it’s a bookish adventure waiting to happen and with a big results day at the hospital tomorrow it’s just what I need!

I will report back in due course! Do any of you just do a random railway trip simply picking a destination and grabbing book stops as you go?

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