Monthly Archives: September 2011

September’s Incomings…

I have to admit I actually had to hunt around the whole house to check that my eyes weren’t deceiving me when it came to putting this month’s incoming books post together. I couldn’t quite believe the two very humble piles of new books that had arrived this month. This doubly hit me when I heard it was ‘Big Book Thursday’ yesterday. No, I had never heard the expression before, which caused guffawing laughter and comments of ‘call yourself a bookish person’ from my family, cheers thanks a lot. Apparently yesterday was the day when all the books for Christmas came out? Sounds like bobbins to me, though it was on Radio 4 apparently.

Anyway back to books that have arrived here, and first lets cover the books from the lovely publishers, note there were five more than this but I am saving them for another two arrivals which are all getting a special post of their own…

  • The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender – This year I am loving Windmills books, ‘Forgetting Zoe’ by Ray Robinson was ace, if very dark, then there was the wonder of ‘The Borrower’ by Rebecca Makkai. Before Richard and Judy chose this I had been eyeing up this novel, about a girl who can taste the emotions of those who cook the food she eats, since I heard it raved about on Books on the Nightstand. I think this sounds really original so have high hopes.
  • Pure by Julianna Baggot – Yes that book is actually plain bright white. This is a very, very, very advance (unsolicited) copy of an ‘apocolyptic’ book that’s out in February. It sounds intriguing but I can’t imagine I will read it before at least January as I will forget everything about it, but who knows.
  •  Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner – The publicist at Windmill was enthusing about this so much when I asked for Aimee Bender’s book I simply couldn’t say no.
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs – This looks wonderfully creepy and comes with Victorian pictures interspersed throughout of ‘freak show’ characters from the olden days, sounds my perfect cup of tea and came all the way from America thanks to Quirk publishing. I think this will be read very, very soon.
  • The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue – I was thinking ‘wow, she wrote this quickly’ when this arrived, apparently this came out a few years ago and is being reissued. It sounds like a wonderful Victorian tale, so possibly a perfect read for the colder darker nights.
  • Collected Ghost Stories by M.R. James – I have a really battered cheap copy of this so I am welcoming its replacement and the nudge for me to finally read these spooky tales.
  • The Sound of Gravity by Joe Simpson – I have to admit I haven’t even seen ‘Touching the Void’ but my family have a copy of the book and the film thankfully as I am interviewing Joe at a solo gig in Waterstones in two weeks so will be having a Joe Simpson binge in advance, I have a feeling I am going to be feeling very chilly and snowbound throughout this binge, so maybe wait till the Indian Summer Manchester is having is over.

Now for the books I have been lent/given or naughtily bought, again I should add I am missing two of these which are going in a post about something else and I will also be buying ‘The Slaves of Solitude’ today by Patrick Hamilton for a book group my friend Joe has started, we are going to be called ‘The Bookaholics with Beards’ and if you don’t have a beard you can’t come in, yes this group was started after one too many drinks but it’s a great book choice from what I have heard from others (and is £3 in Fopp!, what more could you need?). I digress…

  • The Long Exile by Melanie McGrath – After having Melanie/M.J. at Bookmarked I was so enthralled with her tales of the arctic I was desperate to read ‘The Long Exile’ and thanks to her publicist Chloe I am, I have promised to send it back after. Thanks for the loan Chloe.
  • The Game/Locked Rooms by Laurie R. King – I haven’t read the first of these Sherlock spin off’s but so many people have said I would love them that when I saw these pristine for 50p each I snapped them up.
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgensten – Lynne of Dovegreyreader said I needed to pop this up my TBR imminently, well I hadn’t been sent it (I think almost everyone has though, weird) but thankfully Paul Magrs has let me have his. So that’s one to read, though the hype worries me. I am trying to avoid it so the read will be based just on that, the reading.

So that’s it. What do you think? Have you read any of these? Should I get to any sooner than others? What have you had in the last month?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Discovering Daphne… A Reminder

Back in the month of June, which seems oddly much longer ago than it really was, the lovely Polly of Novel Insights and myself announced that we were going to be hosting ‘Discovering Daphne’ a whole month of Daphne Du Maurier delight, we won’t only be reading Daphne books all month though. Well it all starts in just two days, so I thought that I had best remind you all. I bang on and on about how brilliant Daphne is and so hoping lots of you will be joining in to celebrate her or try her out for the first time. Here will be treats and giveaways and post prizes along the way, all that to be announced on Saturday when we kick off.

So here is the schedule…

  • Saturday 1st of October to Saturday 8th of October 2010 – A special ‘Discovering Daphne’ week, with lots of guest posts, Daphne inspired reads, some interviews and some treats to giveaway. Sunday the 2nd of October will see the first of the Daphne-read-along’s that we would like you to join in with her first novel ‘The Loving Spirit’. Then…
  • Sunday 16th October: ‘The House on the Strand’ – speculative time-travelling Daphne showing how versatile she is.
  • Sunday 23rd October: ‘Don’t Look Now & Other Stories’ – a collection of Daphne’s short stories which are always wonderful and rather dark.
  • Sunday 30th October: ‘Rebecca’ – if you have read it before or if you haven’t already, we will be discussing possibly the most famous of Daphne’s novels which should prove a perfect way to end the season.

Polly and I are very excited, and we do hope you will be joining in? You can find out more here by the way. Do let us know if you are and do spread teh word as Daphne deserves to be discovered by everyone. Right I am back off to curl up with the joy that is Daphne…

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Putting A Voice To The Face/Blog/Prize…

They normally say that its nice to put a face to the name, or a face to the voice or some such thing (pick that silly sentence apart at will, I am very tired) and as part of the Green Carnation Longlist ‘shenanigans’ going on today, and if you haven’t seen the list please do they are all cracking reads and ones I want to get everyone takling about, I did an interview with the lovely Gavin Pugh of Gav Reads all about the longlist. So after some coaxing I thought that I would share it with all of you, so if you want to have a listen then do pop here.

I don’t sound as silly as I felt at gone 11pm after a day of longlisting, I sound a bit tired and say ‘erm’ a lot though, apols. It has made me wonder if there is room for a British Book Podcast by some bloggers… but that is another project and post altogether and today is about the wonderful books on the Green Carnation Prize Longlist. Let me know your thoughts on the list, the interview… and even the idea of podcasts! Oh and do spread the longlist around, the prize needs all the love and support it can get, it’s only year two after all.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness, The Green Carnation Prize

The Green Carnation Prize Longlist 2011

Sorry I have been off blog for a few days. Brussels completely relaxed me, though I didnt get as much reading done as I would have liked, and then I have come back to the whirl of books and been in the final discussions (through email, skype, phone, face to face meetings – you name it) and deliberating over the mass of submissions we had to make the Green Carnation Longlist 2011. So a drumroll please as here we have the thirteen books that have made this years rather diverse longlist…

  • By Nightfall – Michael Cunningham (Fourth Estate)
  • The Strange Case of the Composer and his Judge – Patricia Duncker (Bloomsbury)
  • The Proof of Love – Catherine Hall (Portobello)
  • Red Dust Road – Jackie Kay (Picador)
  • The Retribution – Val McDermid (Little Brown)
  • Purge – Sofi Oksanen (Atlantic Books)
  • There But for The… – Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton)
  • Remembrance of Things I Forgot – Bob Smith (Terrace Books)
  • Ever Fallen in Love – Zoe Strachan (Sandstone Press)
  • The Empty Family – Colm Toibin (Penguin Books)
  • Role Models – John Waters (Beautiful Books)
  • Before I Go To Sleep – S.J Watson (Doubleday)
  • Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? – Jeanette Winterson (Jonathan Cape)

I am very pleased with the list indeed, despite a few of my favourites not quite making it through and I am looking forward to getting back to all the titles as the re-reading starts before the shortlist on November 2nd 2011. You can find out more on the website here.

So what do you think of the longlist? Any questions (I will try and answer any I can without breaking the submission clause) you have? Which books are you suprised to see on there, which are you surprised aren’t on there? Which have you read and what did you think? Any that you particularily fancy giving a whirl? As ever I would love your thoughts.

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Reading With Authors #8: At Swim, Two Boys – Jamie O’Neill; With SJ Watson

  

Firstly Steve thanks for coming all the way to Brussels to join me, especially after you’ve just been travelling to Oz and back. It was a very last minute work trip but I have found a nice quiet café where we can have a good natter, what would you like to drink, I’ll get us lots of Belgian chocolates to have with it. Oh, was the Eurostar ok? 

Hi Simon! Yes, thanks, the Eurostar was fine. I slept for the entire journey. I’m still suffering with jetlag, I think. But it’s nice to be back in Brussels. I was last here for New Year’s Eve about eight or nine years ago. There were some spectacular fireworks and very nice beer. I don’t remember much more after that… 

By the way, no chocolates for me. I’ve returned from Australia about a stone heavier than when I went. They do look good, though.

Oh well, maybe just one…

When you chose ‘At Swim, Two Boys’ by Jamie O’Neill you actually saved it from a fate worse than a charity shop, as I had had it on my shelf for years and just thought ‘it’s huge, am I really going to read it?’ It felt like fate. Why did you want us to read this book together and with readers?

There were a few reasons. I’ve been reading a lot of crime fiction, lately, so I fancied a change, and when it came time to decide what type of book I’d like to read I realised that it’s been a while since I read anything with gay themes. I remember loving things like ‘The Swimming Pool Library’, Edmund White’s books, ‘Becoming a Man’ by Paul Monette and so on. They were tremendously important to me as a teenager and in my early twenties, so I thought it might be nice to try something similar. Plus, if I’m honest, ‘At Swim, Two Boys’ has also been on my shelf for about five years – my partner loves it and has been nagging me to read it for all that time – so it felt like a good time to give it a go.

 But there’s something about a book that’s so long, isn’t there? It feels kind of daunting…

 Oh tell me about it, I was thinking ‘I am never going to manage this in time’. How did you get on with it as a read?

 Well, my first problem was finding it. We moved house earlier this year and haven’t unpacked all the books yet, plus I’d helpfully labelled all the boxes Miscellaneous. In the end I had to buy it again, out in Australia, so I began reading it on a beach in Sydney, on one of my days off. That was sort of weird, especially as the opening pages are so dense. I had no idea what it was about, so it was a bit of a struggle to get into it. But straight away I loved the poetry of the language – I think in some ways it’s a book to be read aloud – and that carried me through until I settled into its rhythm and started to understand the characters and their world. 

I thought this was going to be a real struggle for me for several reasons, the first being that it opened slightly like ‘Ulysses’, which I have tried and failed to read at least three times, I was expecting to be confused… then I was… and then suddenly I wasn’t did this happen to you? O’Neill introduces a lot of characters very quickly, but quite vaguely, so I was doing a lot of flipping back pages and keeping notes like ‘who on earth is Gordie’? Was this just me?

No. Exactly the same happened to me. It’s one of those books that creates its own world, but it’s not an easy read. Compared to many books today it asks a lot of the reader, but even in the early pages you can tell it’ll repay your investment.

How’s your coffee, by the way? I gave up caffeine while I was Melbourne so I’m kind of jealous. I did it on a whim, but I’m starting to wish I’d given something else up instead. Like chocolate. 

How can you give up on caffine, are you bonkers? It’s lovely, I am feeling very cosmopolitan right now. The book starts in 1916 as the famous ‘Easter Rising’ starts in Ireland, for the book is set in Dublin. I say famous, actually I had never heard of it and had to stop reading the book at about page 100 to go and find out. I don’t think the book sets it up for you, which I struggled with a lot, I was loving the characters (we maybe loving some, like MacMurrough who we will talk more about, is a bit extreme) but thinking what on earth is all this political/religious stuff? It was hinted at rather than explained for me.  

I agree. I was also pretty ignorant about that part of Ireland’s history. One of the things I loved about the book is that I feel I have a better understanding now of what happened at that time. But you’re right – the book doesn’t really give much of the religious and political background away. When writing it can be tricky to know how much background needs explaining, and how to explain it in a way that feels true to the story. You don’t want to end up in a situation in which characters are having conversations they wouldn’t have had, just to inform the reader about what was going on at the time! On balance I think the way O’Neill did it works, as the book is first and foremost a human story. 

What did you make of Brother Polycarp? I thought perhaps that was one element that felt unfinished, or unsatisfying at least. 

Did you, I thought there may be still waters running deeper, but he wasn’t a focus, or maybe I missed a trick? Once I got my head around the backdrop, which I would have liked O’Neill to paint in more detail, or maybe more clearly, the novel suddenly started to really set off. I think for me this was after the two boys, Jim and Doyle who are the great love story at the novels heart, finally met and also with the arrival of Anthony MacMurrough to the area after his release from prison, though this was about 100 pages in… 

I agree. I did wonder where the book was taking us in those early chapters. I didn’t get frustrated, as such, but I did feel that the story moved up a gear when Doyler and Jim met. I think it was because I still wasn’t quite used to the pace of the book. It’s almost languorous in places, and all too often we’re used to books with a bombshell on every page.  

More drink? Fancy some more of those chocolates, the pralines are lovely…

Thanks. I’ll have a hot chocolate, I think. And I will try a praline, but only because you’ve told me how nice they are. Oh, and pass me one of those marzipan fruits, would you? They’re fruit, so therefore have no calories, and quite probably contribute towards one of my five-a-day.

Hahaha, I have just eaten six of them so I won’t need the gym… this month. Hem, hem, moving on! I loved how the love story between the two boys developed, Doyler teaching Jim to swim seemed to me a great metaphor, and the aim of getting to Muglins Rock, a climax of sorts, though I was worried what would happen after… why is it there must always be a sense of dread in a love story, especially a homosexual one, why would I instantly think ‘uh-oh’? Did you, and did you enjoy how the love story developed?

I think the sense of dread, or threat, is probably vital in most love stories, if not all. Fiction has to have conflict, or else why read on? If they’d met and everything had gone swimmingly (pardon the pun!) then it would have been an unsatisfying read. But it’s interesting what you say about homosexual love stories. Maybe in some way the stakes seem higher, particularly in a story set in a time when homosexuality was totally unacceptable and gay people were regularly imprisoned, because there’s a feeling that these two boys have been incredibly fortunate to have found each other, against the odds, in secret, and that for their love to work they have to transcend a repressive and hostile society.

Of course things are better now, in the UK at least, but that’s still true to a large extent. And we mustn’t forget that there are parts of the world where even today Jim and Doyler would be imprisoned for life or even put to death for loving each other. But one of the things I love about the book is that it’s first a foremost a love story. The fact that it’s a love story between two men is almost immaterial

Of course the path of true love never does run smooth does it?

Certainly not in books, no!

I loved the MacMurrough’s even though I shouldn’t. Anthony is just letcherous and opportunist, whilst also almost mirroring the things that happened to Oscar Wilde, yet he is fascinating to read. His aunt Eveline is also a wonderful, if rather scary, character too. They were just so immensely readable I found, did you? I think the book needed them and not just for the plot.

I agree! I couldn’t stand Anthony at first, but his character opened up very quickly and I realised what a good person he is at heart. By the end he’s really teaching the boys how to love, and how to be who they are, knowing that their love for him will pale into insignificance next to their love for each other.

And Eveline? She follows a long tradition in fiction of slightly bonkers posh women that I love. I love them in real life, too, though I don’t meet them often enough. Maybe I’d meet more of them here in Brussels? More chocolates, by the way? I ought to get a box to take home with me. You know, as a present? Or maybe two. Just in case.

I did cry at the end, don’t take the mickey, but I did. Did you?

I didn’t, if I’m honest. I thought the ending was intensely moving, and I did have a lump in my throat, but I’m weird about what brings on actual tears. I think it’s more to do with me and the mood I’m in than the book. Sometimes I can cry at Coronation Street, other times I can be the only person in a cinema not blubbing away. But I would never take the mickey! I love it when books do make me cry. Isn’t that why we read, on some level? To be moved?  

Right, this is definitely my last chocolate.

Jamie O’Neill turned the book around for me. Initially I thought this was going to be a book I wouldn’t enjoy. It seemed a little pretentious and confusing, yet after the initial hurdle of 100 – 150 pages I was swept up in it and the last 400 or so pages flew by. Did you find this?

I did, yes. But, unlike with some books, I wouldn’t say those first 100 or so pages ought to have been edited. I think they were necessary to the book, in order to introduce the reader to its world.  

I wonder if the plodding start has put other people off and what makes you persevere. I don’t think I would have had we not read it together, so thank you. Will you be picking up any more of Jamie O’Neill’s novels? 

I’m sure the beginning has put people off, which is a shame. It’s really a fantastic book, poetic and beautiful and amazingly rich. I think I will pick up some more of O’Neill’s work, but I also intend to re-read ‘At Swim, Two Boys’ one day. I read it in less than a week, and with jetlag, so I think there’s a lot there that I missed. I think it’s a book that rewards the time you give it, so I’d like to give it more time at a future date.   

I’m glad you enjoyed it, though. It was a lot of pressure, choosing a book, so I’m glad I went for one that surprised both of us!

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Filed under Jamie O'Neill, Reading With Authors 2011, SJ Watson

J’adore Brussels…

I have not been in Brussels long, in fact not even half the time I’ll be here, yet I am already quite smitten.

It’s a beautiful city (two people I know said it was dull… Wrong), the people are lovely, the food is fantastic and it’s really, really sunny! I’ll be reporting back in more detail with a tour after I go sightseeing tomorrow.

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As for all things bookish… I’ve already been bookshop hunting, and I am meeting The Sleepless Reader later today for coffee and bookish chat! What more could I ask for? And I’ve still days to go!

Though speaking of books I have committed one epic fail, when I unpacked which book had I left at home (aren’t the hotel cushions fancy?)…

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…Villette! I could kick myself am most cross! I’m instead charging through The Loving Spirit by Daphne Du Maurier for the start of ‘Discovering Daphne’ which starts next weekend!

What are you all up to this weekend?

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The Strangers Child – Alan Hollinghurst

I have been sitting on this review for months, well ok not literally sitting on it but certainly debating if I should put it up. I then thought, as I am out of the country, why not? You see my relationship with Alan Hollinghurst’s latest novel was one of excitement (as I got a bound copy before the advances came in), self hype of my own making, the hype upon release and then the joy of the first hundred pages, before sadly it all began to fall apart. Plus, the books sold a shed load now and I am well aware me being a little grumpy review wise about it won’t do it any harm, and its not really a normal Savidge Reads review, rather a bit of a disappointed grumble. 

Picador, hardback, 2011, fiction, 576 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Before I go into what I hope will be a fair critique of ‘The Strangers Child’ I should really discuss the premise of it. The novel is really a tale of people of years and years, the novel itself is told in five sections each relating to a different decade. The two main characters, well I thought they were the main force of the story though others may disagree, Cecil Valance and Daphne Sawle meet, along with Daphne’s brother George who is equally smitten with Cecil (this made me think of ‘Brideshead Revisited’ though apparently that’s not something you should say to Mr Hollinghurst, oops, but it does give the book a slight feel of ‘oh haven’t I been here before?’) and really we follow their lives from their first meeting and join them at various points in time as the book progresses.

As much as I am being vague to not give any spoilers away, I was also slightly at a loss as to why we meet these characters when we do, and why they tend to wander off. Yes, that’s real life… well possibly real life if you are very rich and can spend life being unlikeable yet fabulous.  These points in time, to me, didn’t seem pivotal, and I couldn’t get a hold on them. I didn’t mind the fact they were all rather unlikeable but as the novel progressed I just kept thinking ‘where is this going, and do I care?’ Some will say the rather random way in which the book is written is one of the cleverest points of the novel, really? I don’t expect my books linear at all, yet I sometimes wonder if ‘clever’ (which is the word I have seen in many reviews) is a good way of describing ‘we don’t get it and so it must be the authors intention to be a little unconventional, it’s the art of the book… how clever’. Hmmmm.

I can say the writing is utterly stunning, yet ‘stunning’, ‘beautiful’, ‘elegant’, ‘effortless’ (as the reviews keep on saying) prose can only go a certain way and I honestly feel in the middle of the book it became all about the prose and it simply didn’t stop. The beautiful prose started to drag and the effect of it started to sag and I thought ‘I’m not going to finish this’. Yet I did and as the last third starts the book indeed picks up again. The random plot threads make a little more sense, then they don’t and tantalise and then they sort of do.The characters stay being dislikeable yet readable and I liked the way it ended. Yes the way it ended, not the fact it ended.

This of course has left me very torn. There is no doubt that ‘The Strangers Child’ contains some utterly gorgeous prose, no question of that at all. I just wish there had been a much tighter edit on the book as with about 200 pages taken out of it, or several thousand of those wonderfully worded words, this book would have become a possible favourite of mine, I do love an epic after all. Instead I became rather bored, if somewhat beautifully.

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Filed under Alan Hollinghurst, Man Booker, Picador Books, Review