Monthly Archives: September 2011

Lesley Castle – Jane Austen

Well it has finally happened. Whilst I can’t say I have read a full Jane Austen novel, I have finished a Jane Austen book, as ‘Lesley Castle’ is actually made up of two novella’s and essays, for want of a better word. Many people have been shocked that I have missed some of the ‘literary greats’. Dickens, Hardy, Trollope and Austen, until now of course, are four prime examples. So when I came up with the idea of ‘Taking Little Novel(la) Risks’ a few weeks ago it was ‘Lesley Castle’ by Jane Austen that really sparked it off. It is not, of course, a prerequisite that every lover of books must love the greats, in fact I know Susan Hill has said she doesn’t think much of Austen herself, but guess what… I loved this collection! I think I finally get what I have been missing.

Hesperus Press, paperback, fiction, 111 pages, from library

In ‘Lesley Castle’, a collection by Hesperus Press who have lead me to some great short novels in the past, we have three pieces of Jane Austen’s (I don’t think I can get away with calling her just Jane really) earliest works. There are two stories in the form of ‘Lesley Castle’ and ‘Catherine, or The Bower’ along side ‘The History of England’ which is a parody of a piece of non fiction at the time called ‘The History of England in a Series of Letters From a Noble Man to his Sons’ and is written by ‘a partial, prejudiced and ignorant historian’ which made me smile. Jane Austen it seems had more wit than I gave her credit for.

It is this middle piece of work, or early essays, on the reigns of kings and queens of the UK that I will quickly mention as we are all taught this at school, well if we are in the UK that is as I know lots of readers of this blog are not. Jane Austen was definitely a fan of the Stewarts and so this is a very biased account, again which makes it all the funnier, as she describes Elizabeth I ‘that pest of society’. It’s just an enjoyable read and one illustrated by her sister Cassandra. See that is the effect this book has had on me, I am now talking like I know the whole family, in fact the title story ‘Lesley Castle’ was itself was dedicated to Jane’s favourite brother.

I don’t think ‘Lesley Castle’ could have been a more perfect introduction, for it starts the book, for me to Jane Austen. This novella of letters initially between two friends, Margaret Lesley and Charlotte Lutterell, is incredibly witty and full of gossip and delightful expressions such as when Charlotte compares Margaret’s unfortunate abandoned brother ‘as tender as a whipped syllabub’. Both women are in the throws of drama’s, Charlotte’s sister has lost her fiancé to death, which Charlotte seems to find most unbecomingly dramatic because of all the wedding arrangements Charlotte had made and her sister Eloise most miserable company since. Margaret’s brother has been abandoned by his wife, indeed a divorce is forthcoming, Louise who as Margaret describes her ‘was naturally ill tempered and cunning; nust she had been taught to disguise her real disposition, under the appearance of insinuating sweetness’. There is also the mystery of Margaret’s fathers new wife, who it soon becomes clear is a friend, or foe the two merge often , of Charlottes and as the tale goes on all the characters being gossiped about start writing to the two women. It is a wonderful read and executed brilliantly.

The final of the three works is ‘Catherine, or The Bower’ and this is apparently, for I wouldn’t know as yet, like a test for the novels to come. Catherine is an orphan living with her aunt and with no prospects. In fact she fears she may end up like her best friends Cecilia Wynne, who has been sent to Bengal to marry an old man she had never met and doesn’t like, or Mary Wynne who is now a ‘lady’s companion’ and rather bored and miserable. One day however Mr and Mrs Stanley and their daughter Camilla arrive to stay. Catherine, or Kitty, is thrilled at the prospect of a new best friend, only to find this isn’t going to be quite the case as Camilla it seems is one of those girls who simply likes what she is told is becoming and has no mind of her own. There are several of these what I can only describe as feminist aspects in this collection actually.

“You have read Mrs Smiths novels, I suppose?’ said she to her companion.
 ‘Oh! Yes’ replied the other, ‘and I am quite delighted with them. They are the sweetest things in the world –‘
 ‘And which do you prefer of them?’
 ‘Oh! dear, I think there is no comparison between them – Emmeline is so much better than any of the others –‘
 ‘Many people think so, I know; but there does not appear so great a disproportion in their merits to me. Do you think it is better written?’
 Oh! I do not know anything about that – but it is better in everything -. Besides Ethelinde is so long’
 ‘That is a very common objection, I believe’ said Kitty, but for my part, if a book is well written, I always find it too short.’
 ‘So do I, only I get tired of it before it is finished.’
 ‘But did you not find the story of Ethelinde very interesting? And the descriptions of Grasmere, are they not beautiful?’
 ‘Oh! I missed them all, because I was in such a hurry to know the end of it.’ Then, from an easy transition, she added, ‘we are going to the Lakes this autumn, and I am quite mad with joy; Sir Henry Devereux has promised to go with us, and that will make it so pleasant, you know.’

There is a twist or two in the tale as a stranger arrives on the night of a ball, one which Catherine looks as though she will miss due to an awful toothache, and then Jane Austen twists the tale a few times so you are never quite sure how it is going to end. I did keep thinking of the story of Cinderella when I was reading this, I wonder if that was her intent?

As I mentioned at the start I loved the collection that makes ‘Lesley Castle’ and think if there is anyone out there who hasn’t read Jane Austen yet, unlikely I know, but who wants to then this would be a wonderful place to start. I had tried and failed with her before, I had been promised so much wit and simply got endless descriptions. Now I have seen the wit distilled in these tales I think it might be time to pick up one of her novels and persevere. I am quite excited at the prospect.

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Filed under Hesperus Press, Jane Austen, Review

Biopsies Not Books… An Update

I thought it was time for me to give you all an update on me. Not in a self obsessed way, I just realised that after updating you now and again on health matters I had suddenly stopped. I didn’t want you thinking that I was ungrateful for all the support you have shown. I also didn’t want you thinking ‘oh that Simon, as soon as he is better he just goes on as if it never happened’. In fact things are still really rather up in the air and as I am off to the hospital shortly, and knowing I had another post already scheduled today, I have decided to sneak a post in about it. If you are interested then read on, if not (and who can blame you, I am pretty bored of it – probably part of why I don’t mention it now) then there is a post on my first foray into the world of Jane Austen to come in mere minutes.

I guess the best way to describe my health at the moment is ‘unknown’ because we are in the ‘wait and see’ phase. Today I am off to have lots of biopsies taken from lots of different parts of me (all relevant though I assume, ha) to see if everything is in order, are there any abnormalities or traces of those naughty little cancer cells. I’ve been feeling a bit ‘ugh’ lately so caution is being taken. You see the problem with the cells I had, and I like to be positive and think ‘had’, is that when they come back they tend to be very aggressive and they tend to come back within two to three years. So the probing, prodding etc goes on until then.

So now I am in a weird world of waiting that lasts the next three years. I am getting back to myself slowly but surely (and have to start at the gym soon which I don’t even like to think about, though I have lost about 2 stone naturally rather randomly) and yet there seems to be this cloud that hangs over you – no matter how upbeat you are. I think one of the most troubling things is how it affects your mental state. There’s a lot to take in, a lot to worry about whilst also trying to make everyone else think everything is ‘ok’ because technically you now are physically, sort of. Oh apart from the fact you seem to get a bug of varying kinds every few weeks.

It’s a hard thing to put into words but every set of tests, even if they are getting less frequent, carries with it the weight of waiting and unknowing. For the next two weeks, even though I will try and keep it somewhere in the back of my mind and be positive, there will be that feeling of ‘what if it’s back’. It’s a strange limbo in a way. But I have lots to be grateful for, lots of support on and off the blog, lots of projects on the go and there are lots of people much worse of than me so I mustn’t grumble. And I won’t.

I feel like I have bored you all with that quite enough for now and I don’t like to get all gloomy. Shall we talk about books again now?

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Why Must We Wait?

I am sure lots of you will empathise about the conundrum that I found myself in the other day. You see I was mooching through books on a certain website, as we all do, looking at the books that it recommended I read in case I was missing something wonderful. I soon spotted that I was could be missing out on something imminently when I spotted that Hillary Jordan’s second novel ‘When She Woke’ is out on October the 4th, when I looked into it though I discovered (to my horror I might add) that the book isn’t out here until 2012!!! Erm, what the heck is going on? I don’t like waiting.

I am pretty sure that many of you have been in a similar situation; in fact I know that several of the people who are following the Man Booker on its forum internationally have had them shipped from the UK to destinations all over the shop. I also am fully aware that not every book sells to all the publishers worldwide at the same time, just like if a book is bought by Penguin in the UK doesn’t mean it will be bought by Penguin in the USA or Australia etc. I am just impatient. I want to read ‘When She Woke’ on October the 4th; I mean look how tantalising it sounds…

“Hannah Payne’s life has been devoted to church and family, but after her arrest, she awakens to a nightmare: she is lying on a table in a bare room, covered only by a paper gown, with cameras broadcasting her every move to millions at home, for whom observing new Chromes—criminals whose skin color has been genetically altered to match the class of their crime—is a new and sinister form of entertainment. Hannah is a Red; her crime is murder. The victim, according to the State of Texas, was her unborn child, and Hannah is determined to protect the identity of the father, a public figure with whom she’s shared a fierce and forbidden love.

When She Woke is a fable about a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate an America of a not-too-distant future—where the line between church and state has been eradicated and convicted felons are no longer imprisoned and rehabilitated but chromed and released back into the population to survive as best they can. In seeking a path to safety in an alien and hostile world, Hannah unknowingly embarks on a path of self-discovery that forces her to question the values she once held true and the righteousness of a country that politicizes faith.”

Of course I could order it over the internet and have it sometime not too far after the 4th of October, the joys of the internet (and I am sure some of you will snigger at the e-reader hater in me as you can get it ON the 4th, don’t be smug) yet somehow that seems like cheating. Don’t ask me why, it just does. That’s why I didn’t order another book that I am having to wait ages for, ‘Little People’ by Jane Sullivan, again how good does this sound…

“When Mary Ann, an impoverished governess, rescues a child from the Yarra River, she sets in motion a train of events that she could never have foreseen. It is not a child she has saved but General Tom Thumb, star of a celebrated troupe of midgets on their 1870 tour of Australia.

From the enchanting Queen of Beauty Lavinia Stratton to the brilliant pianist Franz Richardson, it seems that Mary Ann has fallen in among friends. She soon discovers, however, that relationships within the troupe and its entourage are far from harmonious. Jealousy is rife, and there are secrets aplenty: even Mary Ann has one of her own. Relief gradually turns to fear as she realises that she may be a pawn in a more dangerous game than she imagined …

This gripping historical novel has all the colour and flair of the circus, complete with sideshows starring the little people themselves. A fantastical tale of intrigue and showtime glamour, Little People will charm and beguile you.”

Oh well its something to look forward to isn’t it, and we need books that are tempting us from afar don’t we. Maybe its a sign I am of the ‘instant gratification generation’ which someone claimed the other day? I prefer the term ‘excitable about books’ personally.

Which books can you simply not wait for and are you debating ordering from foreign shores? Are there any books out in the UK at the moment that aren’t where you are… or vice versa?

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Heat and Dust – Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

I have never been fortunate enough to go to India in the real world, it’s one of my ‘when I win the lottery’ destinations, but I am always fascinated by the life and culture it has both now and in its past. This is where fiction is a joy because at the turn of the page, with the right author, we can find ourselves transported into the lives of people we could never meet and the worlds we can’t simply pop on a train to. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s deceptively small novel ‘Heat and Dust’, as the title states rather effortlessly, transports the reader into India not once but twice, in two very different time periods.

John Murray, paperback, 1975, fiction, 192 pages, from my TBR

There are two parallel stories running throughout ‘Heat and Dust’. In 1923 we have Olivia who, knewly married, moves to India when her husband Douglas gets a job there working for the British Government. Whilst there she meets the local ruling Nawab, a prince, which leads to (and this isn’t spoiling the story, we know this very quickly) an affair and her desertion. Fifty years later, after hearing of her grandfathers first wife who disappeared, we meet an unnamed woman who wants to find out more about this mysterious Olivia and just what happened to her after she seemingly vanished and starts to follow her trail.

What is so interesting about the book is how the events of both women start to mirror each other yet at the same time are completely polar experiences. They are both in the region of Khatm and yet, with the time between them, they seem like very separate worlds and ones that in each case Jhabvala sets the atmosphere incredibly. The world Olivia inhabits is one of lavishness, to the point of being spoiled, she has lots of money and often bored, verging on miserable, with either too much time on her hands of being forced into ‘socialising’ with other expat wives like the matronly Mrs Crawford and Mrs Minnies, women she doesn’t like and who don’t really like her. It is a world that bares almost no relation to the horrors her husband Douglas sees which the Nawab accepts which Jhabvala gives us occasional shocking glimpses of.

“It happened when Mr. Crawford was away on tour and Douglas on his own in charge of the district. A grain merchant had died and his widow had been forced by her relatives to burn herself with him on his funeral pyre.”

Her step-granddaughter (which seems an odd title as they never met) however inhabits the poorer, if slightly more developed, Satipur. There is the thrill of the new world and also the mystery of piecing this woman and her scandal together. It’s a world of community, the relationship between her, her landlord Inder Lal and his wife, who people believe is possessed by spirits when we could see she has epilepsy, Ritu, also adds a whole new dimension to the novel. This is the world of the ‘heat and dust’ that we are promised from the books title, it’s a foreign, exotic and occasionally scary world, yet she throws herself into the life that greets her, albeit after having to get somewhat accustomed to it.

“The family of the shop downstairs also sleep in this courtyard, and so does their little servant boy, and some others I haven’t been able to identify. So we’re quite a crowd. I no longer change into a nightie but sleep, like an Indian woman, in a sari.
It is amazing how still everything is. When Indians sleep, they really do sleep. Neither adults nor children have a regular bed-time – when they’re tired they just drop, fully clothed, onto their beds, or the ground if they have no beds, and don’t stir again till the next day begins.”

There is a lot of mystery and often some tragedy in ‘Heat and Dust’, yet there is also some bright humour there too, often Jhabvala mixes them at the same time, bittersweet moments or a laugh that casts a dark show. A section in the book where the unnamed narrator takes on an almost obligatory relationship with a fellow Englishman, Chid, who has converted and in doing so seems to have developed a rapacious sex drive had me laughing a lot. Jhabvala wants to add some lighter notes in a world where poverty and lepers are rife, after all for some this is the day to day and it has happy moments. In the case of Olivia’s story line we have her gossiping with the leech-like Harry, a man who has somehow got into the pocket of the Nawab which itself then adds a dark undertone to how manipilative this ruler can be and how controlling.

I thought ‘Heat and Dust’ was a marvellous book, I should add it won the Booker in 1975 – a controversial year. It is a book that is about a country at two very different points in time, the tale of failed marriage, the mysteries of people and love in the unlikeliest of places. Many writers would have needed to write a huge novel to tell this tale, instead what we have is a book you can get lost in for a single sitting and be rewarded beyond expectation. Its an epic distilled in a way, if thats not a cliche. That to me shows the power of Jhabvala’s wonderful prose. I thought it was marvellous. It shocked me it’s not been in print for some time, along with a lot of the authors other work (which I am keen to read), however it’s coming out through Abacus in October, I’d advise you get a copy.

Have you read this and if so what did you think? Have you read any of the authors other novels? I seem to be having a good run with more of the classic Booker novels like this and ‘Moon Tiger’ any others you would recommend?

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Filed under Books of 2011, John Murray Publishers, Man Booker, Review, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

The Comfort of a Series…

There is a real comfort in being able to open the pages of a book, cosy in your perfect reading spot, and being surrounded by a world that is familiar and where you are joined by some of your favourite characters. To me this is the joy of having an ongoing favourite series, and it’s been a saviour in the last few days after what had been a severe bout of readers block.

I had got myself into a vicious thought circuit of ‘why am I not reading anything, why am I not reading anything, why am I not reading anything’ last week, something I seem to do which I am aware only adds to the pressure but it can’t be helped. I was well aware I had a few of the submissions for The Green Carnation Prize to get through, which has involved some stunning reading, as we announce the longlist in just over a fortnight – but I needed a break. I instantly thought ‘right time for something completely different’ and so pulled down the next of M.C. Beatons Agatha Raisin novels ‘Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell’ (if anyone is sniggering, these are awesome books) and before I knew it I had devoured that and polished off the next one ‘Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came’. Then I got what I call ‘series guilt’.

In my mind ‘series guilt’, though maybe guilt isn’t quite the right word, is rather like when you have an author binge. You read one, want to read more and then think ‘hang on I have almost read all their books and I have no idea when the next one is out’. In the case of Agatha Raisin this doesn’t really apply, I have another eight (as I read two out of sync) to go. Yet I do get this with other series I read. Hence why I have stopped with Sophie Hannah, Paul Magrs etc, I don’t quite know when the next one will be so am saving the latest one for a while instead.

There are however three series that I will be playing catch up with as a bit of a reading treat for myself and because I know that I have quite a few more of the series of Susan Hill, Val McDermid and Tess Gerritsen to go. So expect to see these three books featured in more detail…

   

Isn’t it odd that these series are all crimes, well and one spooky-goings-on series? I think I need to be looking outside of the box. Though they are perfect for this time of year as autumn starts to show its true colours. I have also thought that the only way to not have to worry if a series is running out is to find some more to get into the swing of, and this is where you come in.  I would like your recommendations for some new series to find.

So I wondered if you would share your favourite series (or two) with me but also if you could let me know of any series of books which aren’t of a ‘genre’ so I can branch out. The only one I can think of at the moment is Anthony Trollope’s ‘Barchester Towers’. I know there are many more than just those, can you help?

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Murder, Mayhem, McDermid, McGrath & More… In Manchester Tonight

I don’t think that I could have fitted in any more words starting with ‘m’ if I had tried then could I? Anyway, no Manchester isn’t about to have another night of rioting, unless it is of the bookish variety, tonight is Bookmarked’s second outing and we have a line up that it would be criminal to miss. (Did I just hear a collective sigh at that bad cliched joke? Come on, how could I not use that one?)

Tonight we have two wonderful crime writers coming to Waterstones Deansgate in the heart of Manchester, and I know they are wonderful because I have read them both. You will all know its only been in the last year that I have started reading Val McDermid’s novels but what a treat, in a slightly murderous way, they are – so I am delighted that she is attending and am looking forward to having a good old natter with her before hand. We will also be joined by debut novelist Melanie McGrath, or M.J. McGrath, who Val recommended I read (which I have and it was brilliant – in fact I reviewed it earlier today) and has kindly invited as a special guest. So it should be very, very good.

If you are in the area do pop in and say hello, it will be a night of much bookish banter and delights. If you can’t make it I will report back in due course. Ooh, the nerves are starting again. For more information visit the Bookmarked website here.

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Filed under Bookmarked Literary Salon, Random Savidgeness

White Heat – M.J. McGrath

If you are looking for something a little bit different in your crime novels then you couldn’t go wrong with ‘White Heat’ by M.J. McGrath. I admit that I don’t think I would have heard of this novel or its author unless it had been recommended by Val McDermid, who also kindly invited M.J. McGrath as her guest for tonight’s Bookmarked. But then again I am not yet a crime buff, even if I am working on it. What is it then that makes Melanie McGrath’s, for that is her full name, crime fiction so different?

Mantle Books, hardback, 2011, fiction, 381 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

Crime novels should be chilling shouldn’t they? Well ‘White Heat’ is chilling in more ways than just the murder, or murders, at the heart of it. The setting is the snowy and ice laden landscapes of the Canadian Artic and in every scene there is a sense of the coldness and almost other worldliness of which the characters of this novel inhabit. Our protagonist is hunting guide (which I have to say almost put me off her) and part time teacher Edie Kiglatuk, she might not be a detective but she’s inquisitive an observant, and you might say has a little too much time on her hands.

The book starts on one of Edie’s trips which suddenly goes horribly wrong when one of the men, Feliz Wagner, on the outing gets shot and, being stuck in the middle of the snowy barren land during a slight storm, dies before he can get to hospital despite all the efforts of Edie and her step-son Joe. You would think that a police enquiry would follow, but this is not the case in a place like Autisaq where the elders (seemingly lead by Edie’s ex-brother in law) decide what’s the outcome is and they don’t want trouble or the hunting tourism affected and so the death is labeled accidental. However Edie isn’t happy, in part through guilt as she doesn’t say much at the hearing, with the verdict and so decides more needs to be done and contacts Derek Palliser, a police man from nearby, who she once worked with unofficially before.

“His case illustrated precisely why the elders preffered not to involve police unless they had to. Almost everyone in Autisaq, including Johnnies own parents, thought it would have been more humane to deal with him the Innuit way; take him up to the mountains and, when he was least expecting it, push him off a cliff. No one said this to the then Constable Palliser, of course, but he’d picked it up anyway. His insistence on bringing the case to trial had made him enemies.”

It’s this conflict of modern vs. the old way which adds to the books point of difference (sorry rather a business like word there) alongside the setting of the book and the inclusion of Inuit lifestyles and sets it apart from a lot of the crime fiction I have been reading. It comes as no surprise to know that Melanie McGrath has written several non-fiction books (including ‘The Long Exile’ which I now really want to read) which have focused on the Inuit lifestyle, and her passion/interest in this shines through as you read on. It added a certain something to the proceedings as the novel went on, and I found myself chilled in more ways than one.

Edie is also a great character. It took me a while to get my head around the fact that she hunted, but then she is doing the job so her step-son can do and study nursing – her ex husband isn’t supportive particularly even though he invites himself round at the drop of a hat. I admit when I read that Edie was an ex-drinker I did think ‘oh dear this could be another detective with a drink issue cliché’ but actually it’s more a background to the character and the situation than anything else. Edie has a certain drive too which you just can’t help respecting and liking.

I am certainly glad I was pointed in the direction of ‘White Heat’ and am thrilled to learn that this is the first in what is going to be a series of Edie’s unofficial investigations, she’s a character to watch from an author I hope we will be hearing a lot more about. If you want a crime with a bit of a twist then give this a whirl, I really enjoyed it… if you can enjoy a good crime.

M.J. McGrath will be at tonight’s ‘Bookmarked’ with Val McDermid at Manchester’s Waterstones Deansgate with me hosting, you can find more information here, it would be a crime to miss it.

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Filed under M.J. McGrath, Mantle Books, Pan MacMillan, Review

Reading With Authors #6: A Summer of Drowning – John Burnside; With Jane Harris

  

Well Jane I am not sure how you will feel about this, but thanks to the magic of the internet we have ended up in a wooden log cabin in middle of the Artic Circle which is most apt for our discussion of ‘A Summer of Drowning’. It’s a bit chilly so do grab one of those fashionable all in one sleeping- bag outfits hanging up. Whilst you’re doing that what can I get you to drink, anything to eat?

Ah yes, the all-in-one sleeping-bag suit, that most flattering of garments. And in lime green too! Many thanks – I must look a treat. As for refreshments, perhaps in honour of our book “A Summer of Drowning” we should eat Napoleon Cake and drink lashings of coffee (as the narrator and her mother do). Now, let me just zip myself into this suit . . . there! We’re all set to begin.

So Jane, you chose (and no that’s not accusation you can hear in my tone) this book ‘A Summer of Drowning’, which I believe is John Burnside’s seventh. What made you want to read it, well us to read it?

I think this book was on my mind when you asked me to do this discussion. I was wondering what to read next and since I was in a period when I felt extremely liberated and able to read anything I wanted (rather than just reading books connected to my own research) what little I knew of this novel appealed to me. I say I knew little about it because I never ever read a review of a book until I’ve actually read the book itself. If at all possible, I like to know nothing in advance. Reading about what happens in a book spoils it for me. It’s the same with films: I never read the reviews until afterwards. I like to discover stories for myself. So I knew very little about this book, apart from the fact that it was written by John Burnside. I met him once, almost twenty years ago. We did a reading together at Morden Tower in Newcastle, and he seemed an extremely nice, kind man. When I was thinking of what to read next, I found it intriguing that he’d chosen to set his latest novel in a Scandinavian country (I was hazy on the details at that point so wasn’t sure if the location was Norway or Sweden).

Ooh, we do the same thing with books; I don’t like to know much before either. Though in this case I broke with that rule slightly as I hadn’t heard of it so googled the blurb to see what it might be like and I have to say from the blurb I was really excited. It sounded like a wonderfully dark mystery meets fairytale all around the drowning of some boys and why suddenly these deaths happened, along with the spooky tale of this creature/thing called ‘the huldra’ on a remote island called Kvaløya. Did it live up to your expectations, if you had any? I know I was expecting something…

Well, like I say, I tried to read as little as possible about it in advance but yes, I had an expectation that it would be a dark Scandinavian mystery, with echoes of a lot of the stuff that’s there in the culture at the moment, in films like “Let the Right One In” and in mainstream crime novels by authors like Jo Nesbo and Henning Mankel. I’m a bit of a scaredy cat when it comes to thrillers and horror. I don’t read much in that genre because it affects me too much. I haven’t read any Nesbo or Mankel, though I may do, if I pluck up the courage. I suppose, in the back of my mind, I was hoping that “A Summer of Drowning” would have some of the edginess of one of those Scandinavian thrillers, without being too gory.

I can recommend the first Mankell, I though Nesbo was quite good. Neither of them have become favourites and I havent got on with the Larsson books. Can anyone recommend any books for Jane out there? Back to this book, and I hate to do this… but I didn’t like the book overall, I have to say. BUT, and this is a big but, I did like the sum of its parts. I will get the negatives out of the way first, and first up is the nature of the writing. There is no question John is a wonderful writer in terms of the way he puts his prose, but from the prologue alone I thought ‘goodness this is repetitive’. It was almost like he had to use every possible variation on ‘this is going to be a mystery’ and go on about it… admittedly in a beautiful way. Am I being too harsh as beautiful writing is beautiful writing?

He is a fabulous writer, isn’t he? I suppose I know what you mean about the writing being repetitive, and normally that would probably annoy me but I found it hard to dislike this book. I had a bit of trouble getting into it, at first, but once I did sink into its atmosphere – and atmosphere is, I think, the most stunning element of this novel – I almost felt like I was in a trance: a trance, or a dream which turned, at times, into a nightmare. I don’t know how he has done it, but he seems to have captured certain moods, emotions, states of mind, ways of being and ways of seeing, that I can hardly even put into words. There’s the immense lonliness of Liv, the narrator, and the sense of what it’s like to be young and living in a remote place. There’s the eeriness of being alone in a vast landscape, and what can be the sudden overwhelming panic and terror of that (something I’ve experienced a fair few times in my life). There’s the sense of being observed, and the addiction to observing, as experienced by Liv when she spies on her neighbours. Yes, at times, the prose was repetitive but I began to wonder whether that was part of the point – was this Liv, obsessively working things over and over in her mind, poring over every little detail, examining nuances, notions, neurotically trying to find answers to the mysteries in the story, unable to tell what was real any longer, and what was not?

More drink or nibbles Jane? Could you give the fire a poke while I am doing that?

But of course. No more cake, thank you, otherwise I’ll never get out of this slug-suit. But I’d love some more coffee.

My second critique is that the book seemed to have so much to say, so many themes and yet no anchor to the story. Some books have no plot and they work really well, this had lots of threads, mystery, the pedophilic storyline, the coming of age, the relationship with mothers theme, the magical fairytale/fable element, the underlying horror… I could go on and on. After I finished whilst I was left impressed by all Burnside had written I didn’t feel they all cohesively worked. Again maybe I am being too harsh or didn’t get it?

Yes, in a way I know what you mean and I think that ordinarily, all that might have frustrated me. I suppose, to begin with, I was expecting something more plot-driven, some form of detective element perhaps, with Liv solving the mysteries of the disappearances and strange occurences. However, once I realised that I wasn’t going to get that, I just allowed myself to sink into the narrative that Burnside had created. And in a way, the book was more scary and creepy than if he’d worked on consolidating the plot or tying up the loose ends. It was more nightmarish because the strange things that happen remain unexplained. It’s not even as simple as knowing whether what happens is real or all in the mind, or minds, of certain characters. I’m not a huge fan of magic realism (that’s an understatement, by the way) and I love the way Burnside kept the story rooted in the real, while, around the edges, it’s almost as though a hidden, terrifying world is peeping through, threatening to overwhelm reality.

I loved the idea of ‘the huldra’, a Norse myth of a woman who seduces men and then kills them or rewards them dependent on mood, and how Liv (our narrator) thinks she is embodied to Maia who is a local girl on the island. There was  something in that which reminded me of when you are at school and you think your teacher is a witch etc. I thought this theme and story arch was my favourite, was it yours?

Yes, I agree. I found all of that stuff incredibly creepy and scary. The encounters between those two girls, the description of the painting that Liv’s mother paints of Maia, the sense of Maia being a power that cannot be reckoned with – all extremely powerful. It really did give me chills. Even now when I think about it, it makes me shiver.

‘A Summer of Drowning’ is told by Liv, who is looking back on it as memories, did this work for you? I wondered why Burnside used it especially with regard to the ending which is ambiguous to say the least…

That’s an interesting point and it’s always a very niggling question for a writer, I think – what point in time do you tell your story from? I always agonise over that because it has such an impact on how your narrator will tell the story, how fresh it is in their mind, how much they have been able to rationalise or gloss over events, and so on. To be honest, I didn’t really question the decision that Burnside had made so I suppose it must have worked for me. I like where he has the character of Liv ending up – it seemed inevitable that she is now doing what she does, and there’s a delicious ambiguity right until the end, which I enjoyed.

I have to say the ending made me cross. Really cross. I felt like after all that I ended up at a loss, and I am not a reader who has to have everything spelt out for them, I felt cheated like I had made all this effort and what for?

Yes, I know you don’t need everything spelt out for you because of what you’ve written about certain other books (ahem!).  Like you, I don’t tend to like everything spelt out either. I’m going to have to think a bit more about “A Summer of Drowning”. I just finished it this morning, so it’s all very fresh in my mind. I can say though that it didn’t make me cross because about two thirds of the way through I had a feeling I wouldn’t get the kind of answers that one might expect from a mainstream thriller and so I put aside that expectation and tried to accept the novel for what it was, and to appreciate the consolations of being drawn into such a creepy world, while not being able to figure out exactly how he (the writer) was making me scared and unsettled.

That all said I would like to try some of John Burnside’s other books, maybe this wasn’t the best one to start with?

If I were you I might try “A Lie About my Father” which is Burnside’s memoir.

So over to all of you, pop a sleeping bag suit on and get cosy in the cabin with some cake and tea. Who else has read this and what did you think? Is it reflective of John Burnside over all? What other books would you recommend of his to Jane and myself? Anything else to add?

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Filed under Jane Harris, John Burnside, Reading With Authors 2011

A Blog Breather…

Apologies for some blogging silence over the past few days. Have taken some time out as been a bit out sorts reading wise and in general but will be back with Jane Harris this afternoon for a bookish chat for the latest instalment of Reading With Authors.

So what have you all been upto? What’s news? Are you all well? Most importantly what have you been reading?

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Filed under Random Savidgeness

The Man Booker Shortlist 2011… Thoughts

With what I thought was a little lacklustre flare, but then again I was in a Museum taking my twin cousins for a morning out, the Man Booker Shortlist was announced earlier today and here it is…

  • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
  • Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch
  • The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
  • Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
  • Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
  • Snowdrops by A.D. Miller

I was really pleased to see Carol Birch (and doubly excited as she will be at Bookmarked in October with Jane Harris who a lot of people think was robbed a Man Booker long-listing, oops I might have let loose a secret there) on the list with ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’, delighted about ‘The Sisters Brothers’ too, happy to see ‘Snowdrops’, intrigued by Barnes and Edugyan which I will re-read and finish, and I did a chortle of glee that ‘Pigeon English’ was on the list – I almost cannot wait to see what all the book snobs are saying about that. I liked the book to a point though I didn’t love it, it’s not a typical ‘Booker’ book but hoorah for Kelman, it’s a bit of a fingers up at the vitriol that book has received.

So who do I want to win? Well there are two books it would make me happy to see take the crown, and those are Carol Birch and Patrick deWitt. Birch probably has the edge with me as I love the Victorian era, and this book really pleasantly surprised me. Expect a glowing review of deWitt in the next few days.

 

It could all change with a re-read and a finally finish reading though. We will see. What do you make of the list?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Man Booker

The Man Booker Shortlist 2011

At some point today, probably this morning as apparently the judges decided it a week ago; the Man Booker Shortlist will be announced. I have to say when I first saw the longlist this year I was really, really excited. There were some debut novelists, an almost 50/50 ratio of male and female authors, and lots of independent publishers. In fact the list had a lot of people saying ‘what??!!’. I thought I would update you on what I have thought of the list so far, and what I think (or hope) will be on the list when it gets announced later today.

Thanks to TheLiteraryStew.Blogspot.com where I found all the covers in one image.

So I think the best place to start is looking at the longlist as a whole. I should say that there is a slight clause in this, I have read at least 100 pages of each of the books of the longlist, and I just haven’t finished all of them, or indeed reviewed all of the ones I have read. So I thought I would give you  a brief round up of the longlist reading experience. And if any of the ones I haven’t finished yet end up getting shortlisted then I will go back to them…

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes – The bookies favourite, but not actually mine personally. Whilst I agree it is beautifully written and emotive I personally didn’t ‘get it’. I think maybe, and this isn’t meant to sound as ageist as it will, I was too young for it, rather like last years winner. I didn’t think it was eligible being so small, but it did mean that I managed to read it in two naughty sittings at a Waterstones in town, but shhh don’t tell anyone. I wouldn’t be cross if this was on the shortlist, and think it probably will be, I just think there were more exciting rather than ‘literary’ reads. Oh, I know this is a ‘literary’ award in case you think I am being silly. I just think ‘literary’ is very subjective, shouldnt a ‘literary’ book be a work of literature accessible to all? Not that I am saying this book is being bandwagoned by critics… maybe I need to read it again, and not sneakily hidden away in a shop.

On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry – I will actually be rather cross if this book doesn’t make the shortlist. I had enjoyed Barry’s previous novel ‘The Secret Scripture’ but this one just blew me away. I was expecting another ‘Brooklyn’ (which is wonderful in itself) with the tale of a young Irish girl and her journey to America, I got something equally wonderful but utterly different and utterly devastating. I loved it.

Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch – Another favourite, I read this a while back and didn’t expect to like a book that was set so much on a boat (I have issues with books based on ships) I also loved this. It’s like a proper Victorian adventure, something that Conan Doyle would read and frankly he would have won a Booker prize, well he should have, if there had been such a prize then. I also found the emotional twist that develops in the second half of the novel was a pleasant surprise and one I wouldn’t have guessed.

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt – Possibly my favourite ‘surprise find’ on the list. I don’t think that I would have read this if it hadn’t made the longlist (and there will be a very positive review coming soon) because it is by all sense and purposes a western, which I would normally avoid if I am really honest. I thought this was, excuse my French, bloody brilliant. There is something so fresh about this book that if you wouldn’t normally touch this genre then you really should try deWitt.

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan – A book I knew nothing about and I am still not too clear on. I started it, popped it down and haven’t gone back to it yet. That makes it sound like I didn’t like it, not so as I would like to return to it, I just wasn’t grabbed and I am not sure why. Well written, interesting subject, one to return to and think over more maybe?

A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards – Another novel that I would have heard nothing about had it not been for the Man Booker Longlist. I was intrigued from the title and the intrigue carried on in the pages as I started to read. It is in some ways a murder mystery, and yet not all at once. That makes it sound experimental and it isn’t a particularly experimental novel, it just has some good twists and turns both in terms of story and delivery. I hope that makes sense. Oh and I liked not liking anyone in it, how odd is that?

The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst – Oh, oh, oh… ‘The Strangers Child’. Hmmm. I have the same issue in a way that I have with the Barnes novel. It is beautifully written… but. Whilst Barnes is a short novel, Hollinghurst’s is almost never ending. I totally understand people who are saying ‘oh my goodness the prose alone…’, I just think you need to have a story. Hollinghurst’s has several stories and yet none all at once, it’s also got a middle that (oops, ouch) sags and drags, it’s about 200 pages too long. They are a beautiful 200 pages though. I have been mulling reviewing this book ever since its release but am still on the fence… or simply undecided.

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman – I want to start off by saying that this book doesn’t deserve the vitriol that it’s been hit with since getting long listed. Give the book a bloody break people. It’s immensely readable, which is a quality that I think every good book needs. Sadly the story, for me, of teenage gangs and crime including murder whilst being very timely looses something in being told by a child narrator. A shame as I loved the narrative voice, the two aims of this book just didn’t quite go hand in hand.

The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness – I am midway through reading this. I can’t say that I think it’s the best book ever written but it has a certain something about it. It’s one of those things that you can’t quite put your finger on. I think the fact it’s slightly thrilling, slightly surreal and yet seems based so much on fact all merges to work for me. In fact it is reading about something that I know so little about that I think I am currently really enjoying. I haven’t finished it yet though but might just go out on a limb, there’s books that could be deemed ‘better’ and yet…

Snowdrops by A.D. Miller – Another one I have finished and haven’t written about properly yet as I only finished it recently. I liked this one despite the fact it was nothing like I was expecting. There’s a slight black and white noir film aspect to it, which I think sets it apart from ‘The Last Hundred Days’ which actually thinking about it now it is quite similar too in its sense of Englishman thrown into the unknown (how have I only just thought about this, too close to them), and then develops and becomes more and more compelling.

Far to Go by Alison Pick – I have reviewed this for We Love This Book but not on here yet. The more time I have had away from it the more it has grown on me. It didn’t fully blow me away, but only three or four of this years longlist have, yet the story  of the Bauer’s and the Kindertransport has stayed with me more than I expected. It’s a WWII story with a twist and is a little bit different. The modern story just bothered me a little, it felt a tiny bit like a forced ‘see how the war keeps affecting people’ device, if one that leads to an interesting conclusion.

The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers – I wanted to like this one, I liked the idea of a dystopian novel on the list and a small publisher being on the list too. I just didn’t really think it was a great book and have stopped. I think anything can happen in fiction, no limits, if the author can take you with them and sadly I am not convinced. I gave up at page 105! I might try it again though as it does have promise, just not as much as I hoped.

Derby Day by D.J. Taylor – I was excited about this one, I love all things Victorian after all. It started off so well. I loved how dastardly all the characters were and how much planning and manipulation there was. Yes, there is a but coming… I sort of got confused and too much started to go on… and someone else ordered it from the library so I let them have it. If it gets shortlisted then I will order it again, but I would rather see Carol Birch on there if we have a Victorian novel on there.

So from that I have decided (and I swapped two titles on the Man Booker forum but this is my final guess) that these are the six novels that I most hope make the shortlist…

  • On Canaan’s Side – Sebastian Barry
  •  Jamrach’s Menagerie – Carol Birch
  •  The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt
  •  A Cupboard Full of Coats – Yvvette Edwards
  •  Snowdrops – A.D. Miller
  •  Far To Go – Alison Pick

What do you think? What would your short list be made of? Could you give a monkeys? I have to admit the reason so few of these novels have ended up on Savidge Reads yet in more detail was my initial excitement started to turn into Man Booker Boredom, let’s hope the shortlist excites me again. Which six books not listed would make your ideal Man Booker Shortlist this year? I need to think about mine actually, I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours. Oh, and I will report back once the announcement is made. Thoughts please.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Man Booker

Apartment 16 – Adam Nevill

Every now and again I like to try something a bit off the beaten track with my reading. One genre I have never really gone for, but always thought I might like, is horror – especially as I used to devour Point Horror’s as a kid/teenager. I think I liked the thrill of feeling scared. So I decided that for my second choice at my book group with ‘The Ladies of Levenshulme and Paul’ I would choose something scary, but not a traditional ghost story, and so ‘Apartment 16’ seemed to fit the bill. I was really getting excited about being scared out of my wits, and also thrilled that several lovely ladies, and Paul, down the road might be in reading in bed scared out of theirs too.

Pan Books, paperback, 2010, fiction, 368 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

The basic premise of ‘Apartment 16’ centres on a converted mansion block in London’s Kensington. The tale is told from the perspectives of two people there and how the building they are in starts to slowly take over their lives.

Seth seems to be stuck in life; he wants to paint but has instead ended up making ends meet as a security guard in the mansion block. He has also started to see things such as a hooded child figure that keeps following him, could this be his imagination working overtime as he is bored or could there be something more sinister going on? The second story was that of Apryl (the fact Apryl was spelt such I admitted at book group got on my nerves and off on the wrong foot) who inherits an apartment from her long lost aunt, not apartment number 16 which threw me, in the same block and moves over from America to sort the place out and discover more about her aunt, the discoveries of course being a lot darker than Apryl expects.

It’s very rare for me to be negative about a book, in part because I have stopped making the effort to finish books I don’t like, sadly though ‘Apartment 16’ was a book group choice (mine too, I was mortified) and so I had to finish it, and it just fell completely flat (no pun intended) for me. I think from the cover, which I loved, I expected that there would be chills and spills galore; instead what I got was a book that had some moments of chills, promptly ruined by scenes that in my head were like a very bad and cheaply made horror b-movie. So bad in fact I occasionally laughed, for the wrong reasons. In the books defence it was my imagination that turned them that way, but then I guess the writing led me there.

That makes it sound like Adam Nevill’s writing isn’t any good, and that isn’t true and wouldn’t be fair to say. His descriptions are vivid, sometimes disturbingly so, but I think I am more of the show less let the readers mind scare you more school of reading horror than the out and out gore kind of reader. The problem was when Seth started seeing some of the inhabitants crawling about on their backs like cockroaches I laughed instead of getting freaked out, then when he went into some of their rooms and the scenes of utter horror-gore were described I just started to feel a bit sick. That is where this book and I just didn’t click. I am the same with films, I laughed through all the Saw films because it was just so far fetched, and actually I did read ‘Apartment 16’ as a film, so it shows Nevill’s writing has a certain cinematic quality to it.  It did also feel like it was trying very hard to be American, yet stay British if you know what I mean?

I genuinely wanted to like ‘Apartment 16’, and the story of Apryl and her aunt (who through the diary entries of hers Apryl finds seems to be a bit of a nutter, which I liked a lot) was an interesting strand and one that I would have preferred on its own without Seth’s. But then I guess the book wouldn’t have worked in some ways. There were some rather scary parts with Apryl and also a brilliantly bizarre visit to a very, very weird and dark book group, it’s just a shame the rest of the book and its storyline just left me cold. I am sure for horror buffs, and I have seen several reviews by them, this is a great tale and so if you love your horror and haven’t read this then do. Me, I think I might leave this sort of ‘modern horror’ and go back to my old Victorian-esque ghost stories filled with things that go bump in the night, off stage. I think my book group felt the same.

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Filed under Adam Nevill, Book Group, Pan MacMillan, Review

Reading With Authors #5: Ruby’s Spoon – Anna Lawrence Pietroni; With Beatrice Colin

  

Welcome to the delights of South Manchester Beatrice, I hope you got here ok, was the traffic bad? Now can I get you a tea or a coffee and what would you like biscuit or cake wise before we begin? Would Fairy Cakes be an idea (I have become obsessed with The Great British Bake Off, so have whipped some up), as there is a fairytale theme with the book we are going to discuss…

Hi Simon. Glad to be here. No traffic on a Sunday. And yes a fairy cake or two would be great.

I chose ‘Ruby’s Spoon’ as it caused rather a stir in the publicity world when it came out in hardback and then sort of vanished. When I saw it at the time I heard it had witches and mermaids in it and do love an adult fairytale, would you say that is a fair summation having read it? What were you expecting?

I missed the stir so I hadn’t heard of it, but the reviews I read were good. I can’t say ‘adult’ and ‘fairytale’ really do it for me – I have a young daughter and have my fair share of mermaid stories such as ‘Ingo’ by Helen Dunmore. But I did go through an Angela Carter phase once and thought, hey, why not?  Being in Scotland, and ignorant of most of England’s geography, I can’t say I even knew where  Black Country was, but just the words, ‘Black Country’ did summon up something magically sinister.

Did you like it? I did though I did think that it was a little bit on the long side, is that unfair?

I found a lot to admire in it. Bit it was way, way too long and I really struggled to finish it. If I hadn’t been reviewing it for you, I don’t think I would have. I don’t know how many thousands of words, but it felt like it was at least three times the length of most novels.

I will admit the prologue made me think ‘uh-oh this isn’t going to work for me’. It didn’t seem to make any sense. I knew there was a witch on fire but apart from that I was stumped. In fact I was almost geared up to not like it. What was your reaction as the book itself, and the story, seems much clearer, in comparison to that?

I liked the opening. I found the writing brilliant, the descriptions vivid and unusual. If only she had changed gear for the rest of it. The whole novel was like the opening – tantalizing but elusive, coy and yet almost completely incomprehensible. There seemed to be almost no story, only description and revelation, exposition and exhaustively written detail.  Everything was given the same weight – a lengthy description of a walk along a path and then a crucial plot twist. It was all so convoluted. I felt as if weeks had gone past only to find it was only days.

And yet I loved the setting, the industrial landscapes and the button factory, the character’s names -Trembly Em, and Moonie Fly. It seemed that the writer had all this great material and yet didn’t know how what to do with it. It didn’t hang together at all for me – it was like listening to someone give a very poor rendition of the plot of a very good film. And then, and then, and then. Aaaaaagh. Sorry, I need some more tea.

Yes, apologies about that, I am being a dreadful host. There we go, lovely. The thing that I think I loved the most about the book was the sense of mystery. Isa Fly arrives almost out of nowhere and brings with her this mystery of why she is here and a feeling of change at the same time. I really liked this personally, it gave the book a drive and a pace, I wanted to know more…

I too wanted to know more. At first. But there was too much assumed, don’t you think? Why did Ruby want to go to sea so much? Also, with such a classic set up – stranger in town – the expectation is that something will happen. Most of what happened had already happened in the past. It was mostly an uncovering of old stories rather than being driven by anything current. I became rather annoyed when I realized that the hunt for Lily Fly was just a red herring. Ultimately though, I’m afraid that I was unable to suspend my disbelief and found my self having to drag myself through the story rather than being picked up and swept along.

Yes, I know what you mean about the revelations being more in the past than in the now, that’s a very good point. I couldn’t say I was dragged though, whilst I didn’t devour the book (I actually had other books I would turn to in order to give myself a breather) I did enjoy it once I picked it up ahain. A lot of the book relies on us having to empathise with or just enjoy spending time with Ruby. I worried that I just wouldn’t be interested or would find her a precocious type of early teenager, I couldn’t have been more wrong, she charmed me. Did she charm you?

I liked her, yes, but wasn’t enchanted. I didn’t feel as if I knew her well enough. I couldn’t get under her skin but that was because of the writing. We kept on being told that she was enchanted by Isa Fly but I couldn’t really feel it. Likewise, she keeps asking questions  – surely this is the reader’s job rather than the main characters? She seemed a little like a device.

Ooh, I hadn’t thought about that side of it. Yes, now you mention it she does ask a lot. But then I thought that might be so the reader learnt more. There is the slight concern if a character is asking too many questions there is something amiss somewhere I guess. I have to admit I did get a bit confused about the water initially. Not just because Ruby was so scared for it, which initially I just didn’t get, and because of the way it surrounded the area of Cradle Cross (brilliant name) in the middle of the Black Country which was landlocked too… erm, what? I didn’t think the map really helped me, I just got more confused.

I like maps in books. Although I now realize that didn’t I glance at it once as I was reading. It wasn’t the geography of the place that confused me but the geography of the plot.

Oh you are on fire today Beatrice, have another cake. Now back to mapping… I always worry a little if a book has a map at the front; it’s like when someone puts a family tree in a book at the start too. It worries me, does the publisher/author think that the reader cant manage this novel and if they think that then what hope does a reader have…

Yes, it makes you wonder if the publishers panicked at the last minute that no one would understand it.

How did you fair with the fact the book was written in the old Black Country, which is a huge character as a place in the book, dialect. How did you get on with ‘take me back wi yo’ and ‘he ay made it easy for yo’? I admit it was one of the parts of the book that I struggled with…

I also struggled with the dialogue at first but I did grow to like it. It gave the novel a real flavour and nuance. You could really hear Ruby’s voice really clearly. I liked that.

What I also sometimes struggled with and also really loved, weirdly, was the magical elements of the book. They added so much and yet slightly distracted too. Can you tell I feel a bit mixed about the book (I think I need it to settle with me a bit more) overall?

The juxtaposition of the gritty northern landscapes and mermaids and witches didn’t work for me at all.

Ooh controversial…

I felt it meant she could just keep changing the goalposts . Surely the 1930s was enough? I felt all the witches and mermaids stuff undermined the serious detail, the widows and their losslinen and absent men.  Did it need more? I would have found it far more moving and involving without the magical elements.

I thought the shades of the WWI in the background adding a real tension and spooky element, especially with all the widows in the town, really added something to the novel, did you find that? It made the book seem more magical, oh I don’t know how to put that into words… can you help using your writing skills Beatrice?

I liked all the WW1 stuff and the period detail too. An awful lot of work clearly went into the research and you get a sense of the real visceral joy that the author had in the details. And yes, it feels like a community very much in decline  – times are changing.

Now the start is sort of the ending, did you like that aspect of the book or did it sort of mean no matter where the author took us, and the mystery as we mention throughout is wonderful, you already know what is coming. How did you feel at the end?

Glad to have got there. No seriously, the book has real resonance and a lovely flavour. The voice, the descriptions, the brilliant writing and all that detail about Cradle Cross stayed with me. I now wonder if the author was deliberately playing with plot, with expectation of a what a plot should be? Can all the story be in back story? I don’t think so. It made me realize that what I love in novels is a good story, one with action and character development. Beautiful descriptions, evocative names and interesting narratives are nothing without a narrative that hooks you and a character who in solving a mystery is also digging deep into themselves.  I wish I had been moved at the end. Sadly, I wasn’t.

I’d love to read something shorter by the same author, however.  I think she has a huge talent.  It’s always hard to balance research with the constraints of the plot. In the end, however, you have to be brutal. Less is always more and space is as important in a book as detail. Hopefully her next book will be shorter, simpler and will give her characters room to breath and come alive.

Well thanks for coming and chatting Beatrice, do stick around in case anyone else pops by for a natter. In fact, I better get some more cups of tea on the go and more fairy cakes out and we can see if anyone wants to join us for more bookish discussion over afternoon tea, let’s see if any of them have anything to add or discuss.

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Filed under Anna Lawrence Pietroni, Beatrice Colin, Reading With Authors 2011

No Books, Lots of TV… Blimey I Must Be Feeling Ropey, But I Am Thinking About Books on TV

I’ve not been feeling quite myself (tired, full of cold, drained, more tired) for the last few days and today its culminated in my reading going out of the window. I have been rather glued to the television, well television on demand if I am honest, and its been kind of lovely, though its made me think why oh why are there no good TV shows about books on every week, or fortnight, or something… But before I go off on that what on earth have I been watching?

Well when I am feeling a bit ropey there are two sorts of TV that I like. One such thing is reality TV, no I am not talking about Celebrity Big Brother (which I can inform you I have barely seen any of, in fact I haven’t been in the slightest interested this year) I am talking about shows with real British people doing terribly British things. This has included catching up with the whole of ‘Village SOS’, a show hosted by Sarah Beeny (always pregnant, quite busty who you wish was your mate) where a city saves itself, or its high street and tries to reboost itself and not become a ghost town. Fab. Though not quite as fabulous as ‘The Great British Bake Off’ which I am now utterly hooked on and cant wait for the next episode on Tuesday. It’s basically the comedy duo Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins (who loves a book) hosting a show where Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood judge average joe’s who have a passion for baking, whilst telling us the history of baking, and who have a bake off with three tests (we have so far had fairy cakes, pastry and bread) and if you loose you are off. So simple, so brilliant.

The other thing I have been in the mood for is some good murder on the telly box and so I am watching ‘Waking The Dead’ from the beginning. This might also have something to do with interviewing Sue Johnston on Tuesday (I must watch the first episode of ‘Brookside’ too) and ooh its good. I do love that show, how could the BBC cut it? Anyway this then led me to ‘Sue Johnston’s Shangri La’ where she goes in search of the world she read in the book ‘Lost Horizon’ by James Jilton, which I had never heard of, she read about with her mum as a child. Have any of you read that?

Looking on all the different ‘TV on demand’ channels I was really distressed, though it should come as no surprise, that there are no TV shows featuring books on at the moment in the UK. Not even the blinking TV Book Club is on. This needs addressing. I am now wondering how on earth you suggest a TV show to a TV channel, as I have an idea… and in involves Sue Perkins and Sue Johnston (who don’t know it yet but who both love books).

What would be your very ideal TV show about books? Who would you want presenting it, a celebrity or a (possibly unknown, ha) book lover? Who would you like to see on it and what books? A mix of old and new? Features on the book world or just peoples thoughts on specific books? Let me know. Time for ‘Dr. Who’ shortly, so must dash… yes that’s right MORE telly! Are you watching anything good at the moment?

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