Monthly Archives: August 2011

Up at the Villa – W. Somerset Maugham

Well either I have been very lucky in the novellas that I have chosen for ‘Taking Little Novel(la) Risks’ so far or this way of testing out authors that I have meant to read might be favourable to any author. Either way ‘Up at the Villa’ by W. Somerset Maugham has been a resounding hit with me. I have always thought that I might rather like W. Somerset Maugham. I think probably because of the era that he wrote in covers two of my favourite periods in history, the end of the 1800’s and the 1930’s and 40’s. I loved the movie adaptation of ‘The Painted Veil’ when I saw that a few years ago and had thought then ‘oh, I must read some of his books’, however I proceeded not to do that very thing. We have all been there I am sure.

Vintage Classics, paperback, 1941, fiction, 120 pages, from the library

When I started ‘Up at the Villa’ I knew it was more than likely that I was going to like this book a lot. It had a slightly familiar feel, its protagonist Mary Panton is a widow (though you think she could easily have been a divorcee if fate hadn’t intervened ‘setting us both free’) who has fled to the hills above Florence to escape the world back home and think about her failed her disastrous marriage. She has however made friends, in the form of ‘The Princess’, and also found herself with more than one suitor already happy to share her future. There is Edgar, one of her fathers friends, who wants to look after her and clearly adores her and there is also Rowley Flint, a rogue if ever there was one, who Mary believes (possibly quite rightly) simply wants to have her.

I was prepared therefore to simply comfortably find myself embroiled in a love triangle that would take place over several lavish dinners, fuelled with wit and banter as the men tried their hardest to woe Mary and would have been quite happy if that had been the case. But it wasn’t. After one dinner and a brilliant sparing match between Mary and Rowley, Mary does something very rash on the way home, something which leads her into a situation that would shock and scandal the society that she is in, and the book takes a much darker turn. I didn’t see this coming (and of course I am not going to tell you what it is, but you wouldn’t guess it from the demure cover – see one below which is older and brilliant) and was literally thrilled by it.

If that wasn’t a revelation of its own then Somerset Maugham’s writing was. I was expecting something that would be much harder work, and yet I flew through this book if about an hour and a half – admittedly it is very short. The characters were marvellous if a touch stereotyped Rowley is the typical incorrigible bachelor who ladies shouldn’t love but do, The Princess was a typical rather wry matriarchal character who loves everybody else’s business and wants to tell everyone how to go about it too. It is Mary’s character that I found fascinating, a woman with fairly good means who doesn’t seem to know what to do with her life and so does something rash, and something she will regret, a woman who at thirty seems to be discovering a different side to herself even when she has had quite a trying time. I liked her a lot. I also liked how Maugham used her to describe the situation women might find themselves in at that time, and just what they shouldn’t go about doing whilst also showing that there are more to the stereotypical male than Mary, and women at the time, might think.

“The Princess gave him another of those quiet smiling looks of hers in which there was the indulgence of an old rip who has neither forgotten nor repented of her naughty past and at the same time a shrewdness of a woman who knows the world like the palm of her hand and come to the conclusion that no one is any better than he should be.
   ‘You’re an awful scamp, Rowley,and you’re not even good-looking enough to excuse it, but we like you’, she said.”

‘Up at the Villa’ is a perfect book when you want something slightly familiar and yet something that completely throws you. There is a comfort in Maugham’s writing that is rather like finding a wonderful black and white film on the telly on a rainy afternoon. That probably sounds ridiculous, or a big cliché, but it sums up my experience of this book the best way I can. You can’t help but loose yourself in it and find you are left wanting to turn to the next one as soon as you can.

The only question is which Somerset Maugham, as I now have 19 more to treat myself to, I should go for next? I don’t know if I am quite ready for ‘Of Human Bondage’ and I can still remember ‘The Painted Veil’ so maybe I should turn to ‘The Magician’ which I have on Mount TBR anyway? Maybe I should go for another shorter one… oh I don’t know – can you help?

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Filed under Books of 2011, Review, Taking Little Novel(la) Risks, Vintage Books, Vintage Classics, W. Somerset Maugham

After a Book Breather I Want Something Seaside Specific, Can You Help?

Whilst normally a three day weekend would mean non stop reading, the Bank Holiday has only seen me read two novellas. I needed a bit of a reading break I think. I have read some brilliant, brilliant books lately (reviews coming soon) and sometimes after all that excitement I have to stop. I needed to clear my fictional head and today my head was officially cleared (after I extended my break) by the bracing sea as I went to Southport which looked suitably brooding…

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It was a random day out, though apt as its part of my heritage as Granny Savidge Reads is from Southport, but a delightful one. Not only did it clear my head and involve lots of laughing with my Aunty and her two year old twins (meaning I couldn’t read on the train, unheard of) it also inspired me as to something I might want to read next. I want either a crime novel set in a seaside town, some gritty seaside drama or a really creepy story set in a seaside town preferably with a Victorian feel (I’ve done Dracula). I’d like a pier in there somewhere if possible.

So is there anything you’d recommend? Please help, I have a reading craving!

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Moon Tiger – Penelope Lively

Some books you buy because you think one day you should really get around to reading them. This is the very feeling that I had when I snapped up a copy of Penelope Lively’s ‘Moon Tiger’ in a charity shop years ago because it had won the Booker Prize in 1987 and because I thought Lively was one of those authors ‘all book lovers should really read’, we all have books we buy in those circumstances don’t we? And yes I did say I bought this years ago, because after I snapped it up I promptly put it away in one of my book boxes and it then stayed lingering in the TBR pile limbo. If it hadn’t been for Natasha Solomons choosing it as our ‘Reading With Authors’ choice (discussion coming soon) I think that is where it might have stayed, which would have been a crime frankly as this is an utterly wonderful book.

Penguin Books, paperback, 1987, fiction, 208 pages, taken from personal TBR

There is, I think, a major problem for anyone wishing to write about ‘Moon Tiger’ and that is how to tell people to read the book without divulging the plot. You see ‘Moon Tiger’ is the life story of the beautiful writer Claudia Hampton, told by herself, starting from her childhood just after the First World War up to the present day, where we know she is in hospital at the age of 76 dying of cancer. This should therefore be easy to sum up should it not? Well, no, not really because we don’t get the book in a linear chronology by any stretch of the imagination, we have to work at it, and so (as I am going to tell you that you all have to read this if you haven’t before) it would spoil things to say anymore. I even think the blurb gives too much away.

It was actually this stopping and starting, backwards and forwards narrative (which I admit annoyed me for the first fifteen pages or so) that had me hooked into the book. It seems Claudia is in a delirious state, possibly from the drugs I imagine she would be on for her terminal illness, and so is slightly confused therefore her memory flits, and so do the tales she tells us. Only its not just that simple, Lively adds another brilliant twist. We get Claudia’s memories as she sees them, strangely in third person, and as the other person sees them. We get some very conflicting sides of each tale which I found fascinating. In fact sometimes she will do this with a situation but from four peoples perspectives. I loved it, I didn’t think I would but I did and I wanted to see how on earth Lively could keep making this work, which she does effortlessly. It also felt like a book and word lover’s kind of book, in the way Lively writes she almost tells us how she writes. I loved that too.

“The cast is assembling; the plot thickens. Mother, Gordon, Sylvia. Jasper. Lisa. Mother will drop out before long, retiring gracefully and with minimum fuss after an illness in 1962. Others, as yet unnamed, will come and go. Some more than others; one above all. In life as in history the unexpected lies waiting, grinning from around corners. Only with hindsight are we wise about cause and effect.”

The other thing, apart from the clever way it is told and the great story I cant say too much about, that I loved about ‘Moon Tiger’ was Claudia herself, even though in all honesty she is not the nicest woman in the world. I found her relationship between Claudia and her daughter a difficult and occasionally heartbreaking one. (‘She will magic Claudia away like the smoke.’) She gripes about her life, she has incredibly loose morals (there is a rather shocking twist in the novel that I didn’t expect and made me queasy), isn’t really that nice about anyone and yet I loved listening to her talk about her life. I think it was her honesty. I wanted to hear and know more, even when she was at her wickedest.

“Harry Jamieson has a damp handshake, damp opinions steeped in the brine of the local Rotary Association and the Daily Telegraph, an appalling homestead on the outskirts of Henley with tennis court, swimming-pool and sweep of gravel that apes the country estate to which he aspires. I have not spent more than half a dozen hours in his company since the wedding. This, let me say, out of charity as much as self-preservation: the poor man is terrified of me. At the very site of me his vowels falter, his forehead glistens, his hands dispensing gin and tonic or Pimms No. 1 fumble with ice cubes, send glasses flying, cut themselves with the lemon knife.”

So I loved ‘Moon Tiger’. I don’t think there is much more that I can say other than read it. This is yet another prime example of why I think I need to get off this almost constant contemporary road of reading, I am missing out on gems like this (and I don’t just mean Booker winners or books from the 80’s – I mean all sorts of books) and that is something I have to work on. So a big thank you to Natasha Solomons for making me read this wonderful book. I am very excited that I will be talking about it further with her in the near future, and again with you hopefully.

Have you read this and what did you think? Where should I go next with Penelope Lively, I think I could currently happily binge on her books after this one, what would you recommend?

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Filed under Books of 2011, Man Booker, Penelope Lively, Penguin Books, Reading With Authors 2011, Review

Reading With Authors 2011, An Update

So there is some good news and some not so about ‘Reading With Authors 2011’ this morning. Unfortunately myself and the lovely Natasha Solomons haven’t managed to catch up, and through the magic of the internet also have you, in her summer house to discuss ‘Moon Tiger’ by Penelope Lively yet. It is coming I promise I am just not quite sure when, I have hidden aside some of her favourite biscuits for when we do though. I will be putting my thoughts on ‘Moon Tiger’, to say I loved it would be an understatement – where oh where has Penelope Lively been all my life, up later today so if you have read it (and I think a few of you were) we can natter about it twice in the next week or so. So what is the good news?

Well I think I mentioned in the first post on ‘Reading With Authors 2011’ that there were two more authors who were planning on joining us for cake/biscuits, coffee/tea and conversation over the next few weeks, I can now reveal who they are. First up we will be joining Jane Harris somewhere delightful to discuss John Burnside’s ‘A Summer of Drowning’ (I have always wanted to try John Burnside) and then at the end of the ‘Reading With Authors 2011’ we will be discussing ‘At Swim, Two Boys’ with SJ Watson. I am thrilled both authors are joining us. So now the ‘Reading With Authors 2011’ schedule looks like this…

  • Sunday 7th of August: The Man Who Fell To Earth by Walter Tevis with Belinda Bauer
  • Sunday 14th of August: Pigeon English by Steven Kelman with Naomi Wood
  • Sunday 21st of August: Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susan with Paul Magrs
  • TBC: Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively with Natasha Solomons
  • Sunday 4th of September: Ruby’s Spoon by Anna Lawrence Pietroni with Beatrice Colin
  • Sunday 11th of September: A Summer of Drowning by John Burnside with Jane Harris
  • Sunday 18th of September: Even The Dogs by Jon McGregor with Isabel Ashdown
  • Sunday 25th of September: At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill with SJ Watson

Hope you will be joining me later to talk about ‘Moon Tiger’ and hopefully see you at some of the future meeting of minds too come.

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The Murder Spots of Matlock with Special Guest Ray Robinson

Now if you are thinking that I have gone completely off my rocker then do bear with me. This isn’t as weird a post as it may sound and if you are after pictures of the gorgeous English countryside then today’s post should be up your street, as should it if you like the slightly spooky/creepy side of it too. You see last weekend I found myself on the Transpeak from Manchester and through the sunny countryside…

Off to my home town of Matlock, unusually not for a weekend with Granny Savidge Reads but to stay with my aunty who lives on the opposite side of the valley. I was also off to meet an author and possibly make a new pal, though I am so not good at first meetings. Anyway I was back in my home town, where by randomness the author Ray Robinson (and International Man of Mystery – he wasn’t even in his own Fiction Uncovered interview video, so I have labelled him so) has been staying. How did I know this? Well after I reviewed his novel ‘Forgetting Zoe’, Ray emailed me to say thanks (lovely when authors do this, yet slightly weird as you forget they might read what you wrote) and to ask me, being from the Peaks, I knew Matlock because he is researching a character and a murder scene setting there. So we agreed that when I was next in town I should say hello and help him hunt possible murder spots. This meant, as it was in my brain, that everywhere became a possible murder spot, like the normally idyllic park we call ‘The Whitworth’…

The old Peak Trail, only used for a steam engine for tourists, suddenly started to look like something out of one of those American Southern Gothic novels, especially in the unusual sunshine…

Especially with the spooky old carriages down a rather spooky path…

In fact it became a game of ‘where’s a good murder spot’ with my aunty, two cousins (aged 10 and 7 – what am I doing to their minds) and I all weekend. A walk up the never-ending hill to Riber Castle supplied a great view of the whole area…

And also the old ruins of a castle (which isn’t as old as it looks and is becoming swanky flats no one normal could afford) which could make a perfect setting…

Eventually myself and the international man of mystery and writer Ray Robinson met up and went for a long walk through the dales so we could chat, hunt a few possible murder sites out and pop to a pub or two. I did manage to get a picture of a glimpse of the author and man of mystery at one random old derelict house by the River Derwent, please excuse the graffiti…

We also had a random toilet stop in a place that looked like it could have come straight out of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre…

And then a creepy old Psycho like house where someone was collecting lots of books in the dark recesses of their abode. It was a really creepy old building…

In the end we set down in a pub, well a few pubs actually to chat about books, publishing, our childhoods, inane sillyness and more. The only thing was we both had one too many of these (I’m so not the professional I should be)…

So what did I learn about this author for you, well after hours and hours of nattering away I’m afraid the only things specific to the blog I learned were that Ray’s favourite word is ‘elbow’ (I am not sure if they are his favourite band though) and that his favourite book is ‘Underworld’ by Don Delillo which I have never tried because its huge and looks a bit too, erm, intellectual for me. Maybe I should give it a whirl? I know I should have done better, I didn’t even get my copies of his books signed, I did bring you all some nice photos though and had a lovely lot of hours, which flew by, just nattering away and laughing a lot what more could you ask for of a weekend away back in your hometown?

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Filed under Random Savidgeness, Ray Robinson

Commenting, Or Lack Of…

Quick note, before a lovely tour of some of Derbyshire that you might not have seen before on Savidge Reads… I want to apologise for my rather rubbish commenting, or more specifically lack of, in the last month or two. It’s been shoddy and, along with reading lots of wonderful books on a whim, is something that I will be catching up with and rectifying over the three day long weekend here in the UK.

I am very sorry, and am feeling really rather bad about it and how rude it looks. My blogging life with my reading life and that strange thing called ‘real life’ haven’t quite known how to oc-exist for various reasons – I think its all sorted now and conversations in comments will be resumed. Apologies again from me. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

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Memories of My Melancholy Whores – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

So yesterday I told you about how I was embarking on ‘Taking Little Novel(la) Risks’. I wasn’t sure which one to start my journey on and so I plumped for one that I thought was going to be the hardest work, ‘Memories of My Melancholy Whores’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, though I admit that is was a close toss up between this and the Ayn Rand. I have tried Garcia Marquez twice and failed with both ‘Love in a Time of Cholera’ and ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’.  I think I didn’t believe I was clever enough for them, or maybe I was just being a lazy reader at the time, and so I took a deep breath and started reading…

Penguin Books, paperback, 2005, fiction, 208 pages, translated by Edith Grossman, from the library

I couldn’t initially decide if I was going to find ‘Memories of My Melancholy Whores’ a mildly titillating read from its title (if I am being totally honest, especially after my failed attempts at Garcia Marquez before, I will admit that I thought that if it was it might help) and whilst there is some innuendo, bragging of the 514 women that he has slept with, a few very funny scenes of failed seduction and indeed of utter advantage taking, there is so much more going on in this novella.

As the novel opens we are introduced to our narrator on his ninetieth birthday where he has decided that he will give himself ‘the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin’. In fact no sooner have we met him than he is in contact with Rosa Cabarcas, the town’s most infamous madam, who after a struggle finds him Delgadina a young girl of about fourteen. I will admit that when I read the ‘fourteen’ I wasn’t sure if I should read on, I was enthralled by the prose thus far but did I really want to read about a ninety year old man and a girl so young? Well, in the end I decided I should (in part because it was translated by Edith Grossman and I thought it couldn’t be too horrific if a woman had translated it, I don’t mean that in a sexist way just, oh… you understand) and thank goodness I did because what develops as the tale goes on is a touching story not only about love but also about age and a man who has never really had love in his life.

It was really this nameless man who makes this book a really special read. Not only as he goes from being this quite cold man who is very aware that he is difficult, ‘I pass myself off as prudent because I am so evil minded’, to a man in the rather belated first flushes of youth. I also really liked him because of his humour, from tales of taking his maid Damiana by surprise (quite literally), which made me laugh out loud, to his sardonic wit in statements like ‘Movies are not my genre. The obscene cult of Shirley Temple was the final straw.’ I found myself starting to really like this grumpy old so-and-so and really hoping that love might not escape him this time.

Of course I cannot tell you what happens, there was a murderous twist somewhere along the line that gave the novel another dimension of trickery which I really liked, as I wouldn’t want to spoil the reading, and I do recommend you give ‘Memories of My Melancholy Whores’ a read. Don’t be put of by the title, it’s apt but the contents aren’t as salacious as you might think. I would definitely suggest this to anyone who, if you are like me, might think Garcia Marquez’s writing is impenetrable; you will be pleasantly surprised and probably quite moved. I can’t say I am rushing to read ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ or ‘Love in a Time of Cholera’ just yet, but I will be trying more of his work and then giving one of those epics a go, any recommendations?

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Filed under Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Penguin Books, Review, Taking Little Novel(la) Risks