Monthly Archives: November 2011

13:55 Eastern Standard Time – Nick Alexander

I am sometimes really rubbish at reading books that people tell me to, or in the case of ‘13:55 Eastern Standard Time’ by Nick Alexander a book which a friend (the lovely Dom who shares a slight Mitford obsession with me) thrust their copy of it in my direction after going on and on about how wonderful it was and I didn’t read and had to give it back when I moved. I hadn’t thought about the book since if I am honest, oops. Yet when I was stuck in my slight reading funk, which I think I glossed over, I saw a copy in the library and thought ‘ooh why not’ and so took it home… and really enjoyed it.

BIGfib Books, paperback, 2007, fiction, 156 pages, from the library

I would describe ‘13:55 Eastern Standard Time’ as a series of snippets of peoples lives, basically very, very short stories like snapshots. All these characters interlink and yet they have no idea that they do, and sometimes you as the reader have to wait a little while for the connection to make sense. That’s not a criticism as actually I rather liked feeling clever when I joined the dots and started to reveal the fuller picture. There are some characters who return as these stories progress and in the main we follow Alice who as we meet her has moved to The Big Apple looking for a change, and a fresh start yet on the day we meet her she makes her first new possible friend and looses one of the dearest people to her. It’s the butterfly effect of these two incidents, actually sparked by one in China in the opening story ‘OK Sticker’, which we follow.

I am aware that probably doesn’t sell the book well enough but because every story is such a snap shot it would be hard for me to write too much in detail. I can say that we go to Germany, England, America, China, from the busiest cities to the wilderness of the outback, from chance meetings in Apple stores (Alexander’s description of the Apple store had me in hysterics, its very, very true to life) and gay sex bars and the perfect home life’s to the lonely existence of a bed-sit. In many ways you could say that not only does ’13:55 Eastern Standard Time’ covers life in the modern world. I am aware that sounds grand but these people are from all walks of life, all ages and sexualities, some poor some verging on celebrity, and at pivotal points in their lives both good and bad.  

I thoroughly enjoyed ‘13:55 Eastern Standard Time’ and read it rather greedily in one sitting. I wanted to know where the ripples of events and actions would lead me next and Alexander does very cleverly, and not in a clichéd way, make the whole collage of these lives and characters come full circle. I laughed, was rather shocked (sometimes if you peak into the private lives of people you need to remember you might learn or see more than you bargained for) and also incredibly moved in parts, in fact very like the characters created by Alexander in this book I went through the emotional spectrum and couldn’t put it down.

I am not sure I would have picked this book up without the recommendation (and eventual and rather tardy follow up of said recommendation) from my good friend, Dom so to him I owe huge thanks. What was the last book you were recommended by a friend you didn’t think would be your cup of tea and most certainly was? Has anyone read any of Nick Alexander’s other novels?

P.S I have used the Kindle edition cover of the book as its rather less garish, I didn’t read this on a Kindle.

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Filed under BIGfib Books, Nick Alexander, Review

Book Blog Based Banter

If you love books and book blogs then you might like to listen to the latest episode of The Readers, a podcast I do with Gav Reads, as this week we have a special guest in the form of the wonderful Kim of Reading Matters. We have a right good old chin wag between the three of us about “Books, Blogging & Culling” in Episode Nine, oh and what we’ve been reading, want to read and are excited about reading.

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If that wasn’t enough book blogging delight we also have the lovely Polly of Novel Insights and five of her favourite books too!

We will be featuring more book bloggers and the like in future episodes, so be you a blogger (or just a fan of blogs or books) and fancy contributing then let us know. Oh and, as ever, we would love your feedback. Hope you enjoy this Book Blog Based Banter!!

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Filed under Book Thoughts, The Readers Podcast

My Cousin Rachel – Daphne Du Maurier

There are some books which you finish and feel a mixture of utter joy that you read something so wonderful, swiftly followed by that lurch in your chest when you realise that these books come few and far between and that you won’t have this exact experience ever again, even if you were to re-read the book from the start… something which you invariably want to do in these situations. This was the exact set of feelings that I had after I had read the very last line, and oh what a closer it was too (no spoilers coming though I promise), of ‘My Cousin Rachel’ by Daphne Du Maurier.

Virago Books, paperback, 1951, fiction, 304 pages, from my personal TBR

Philip Ashley is the narrator of ‘My Cousin Rachel’ he is a rather naïve young man who has grown up under the care of his elder cousin Ambrose, who owns a large estate, and has become like a mixture of father, brother and best friend. He is also being lined up as Ambrose’s heir and replacement as manager of the estate which often means when Ambrose has to go away to avoid the winters Philip is left in charge. On one such trip to Italy Ambrose writes to Philip that he has met ‘our cousin Rachel’ a woman who slowly looms larger in letters before Ambrose announces they have married, only soon after Ambrose suddenly dies after sending Philip some much more ominous correspondence and soon Rachel herself descends upon Philip’s life.

The story so far does sound a relatively simple one; however I have only really given you the gist of the very first parts of the book. As it goes on, and what sets it apart, the psychological intensity Du Maurier weaves through the pages along with the constant sense that she could pull the rug from under you at any given moment is incredible. Before Rachel even appears herself, around 80 pages in, she is quite the presence and the reader has quite possibly made up their mind about her through Philip’s utter jealously and then suspicion of this woman. Daphne then brings in a character quite unlike the one we would imagine. It is this game of Rachel being a misunderstood sweet if tragic innocent or magnificently manipulative calculating monster that makes you turn the page, are you right about her or utterly wrong?

“Since my journey to the villa she had become a monster, larger than life itself. Her eyes were as black as sloes, her features aquiline like Rainaldi’s, and she moved about those musty villa rooms sinuous and silent, like a snake.”

As with all of Daphne’s novels this is also a book about the human psyche generally, again this is often the case, the much darker sides of it. Jealousy is at the heart of this novel (I occasionally wondered about the nature of obsession too in terms of Philip and his attachment to Ambrose, or was there something other that dared not speak its name?), Philip makes all his initial opinions on Rachel on nothing more than that one pure emotion, after Ambrose’s death comes grief and anger and here too Rachel becomes the focal point for this. We also have to ask ourselves if Philip is an incredibly perceptive young man despite his almost closeted childhood, or is he possibly just as unreliable and possibly as innocently beguiling as Rachel herself? Something on every page makes you question yourself, it is quite incredible.

The atmosphere of the book is also utterly brilliant. In fact ‘My Cousin Rachel’ rather reminded me of the sensation stories of the late 1800’s, which I think is when this novel is meant to be set though we never officially know the time period. From the very opening sentence ‘They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days.’ we know we are in for a dark and brooding tale, and Du Maurier certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Many people claim this is like a sister novel to Du Maurier’s most famous work ‘Rebecca’ and I think to say that does do ‘My Cousin Rachel’ an injustice. Yes there is the gothic feel and uneasy atmosphere of both novels, they both feature large estates, we also have a mystery at the heart of each tale and a woman who takes over every page even though she may not be in the book that often. I grant the fact they do both also look at dark human traits but in very, very different ways and though ‘Rebecca’ will always be my favourite Du Maurier novel I am not sure that ‘My Cousin Rachel’ could be beaten for it’s sense of never knowing the truth, in fact I would say Daphne leaves much more to the reader in this novel than she did in ‘Rebecca’ and I loved that.

I had always been told to leave ‘My Cousin Rachel’ as one of the last of Daphne Du Maurier’s novels because it was one of the best. I would heartily recommend people read this as their first Du Maurier novel because once you have read it I can almost guarantee you will want to go off and discover more of her works, I really envy you joy you have ahead of you if you haven’t read this novel before. This will easily be a contender for my book of the year almost exactly fifty years after it was originally published.

I should actually thank Ruth (and I think Jeanette) for making me read ‘My Cousin Rachel’ much sooner than I had ever intended, this was going to be one of those ‘save it for a rainy day’ reads that would languish on my TBR forever. I had also not anticipated reading Daphne so soon after ‘Discovering Daphne’ with Polly. I am thrilled I read it and it’s another reminder that I need to stop putting off the books I really want to read and just get on and read them as I mentioned a week ago.

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Filed under Books of 2011, Daphne Du Maurier, Review, Virago Books

Addiction to an Author…

I mentioned earlier in the week that I shared a few pots of tea and then glasses of wine with my book loving (and book writing) friend Emma. We had a big chat about lots of literary based bits and bobs, one subject was funny books which I have already mentioned, and one of the things Emma was doing which I was quite jealous of was binge reading. She was reading all the Glen Duncan novels that she could get her mitts on after loving ‘The Last Werewolf’. This is not something I am often tempted to do and then don’t. I have started to ponder why on earth not?

I thought this even more when I opened a parcel that the postman was weighed down by, which both matched my recent desire for some Mitford Mania and also matched this train of thought marvellously, the parcel contained ‘The Penguin Complete Novels of Nancy Mitford’

This was a wonderful surprise and I noted, and giggled at the fact, I almost instantly thought ‘oh, well this will last me a good few years’ rather than ‘wow, that’s a selection that could give me weeks of my favourite author endlessly’.

It could be the fact that I fear that once I have read all an authors work I will be bereft, especially those authors I love who are sadly deceased, or it could be the fact that I am constantly aware that there are so many authors and so many new books out in the world to discover. It is probably a mix of the two. I am now wondering though if when I next pick up a book by an author I love I should, if the mood takes me, promptly read the next one and not think about it and just follow the whim instead.

Do any of you read a whole authors works in a binge? Do you sometimes read one or two by your favourite author in one go or do you do the opposite and always make sure you slip in a favourite author now and again so you always know there will be a book you’ll most likely love on the horizon? I would be really interested to know, other people’s reading habits really do fascinate me.

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Filed under Book Thoughts

Browsing Bookshops…

I don’t know about you, but sometimes just browsing around a book store for a while (ok, maybe an hour or two) can be one of the best things to do when you are having any reading issues, or if you just want to calm yourself. I did this recently when my head was in a spin and it was just what I needed, a chance to gage where my ‘reading head’ is and let my eyes and mind wander over the spins.

As I went from A – Z, I saw authors I had been recommended only days before (Jenn Ashworth), authors that I had heard kerfuffle about and wanted to try (Leo Benedictus), authors I have started a book of recently and then not finished though I don’t know why (Jasper Fforde), authors I ‘really should have read’ but still ‘really haven’t’ but will honest (William Golding), authors I had never heard of but after the spine catching my eye, a read of the blurb and flick through I really fancy reading (Tama Janowitz), authors whose books have impacted your life (Harper Lee), authors who remind you of the excitement and reading possibilities in translation you haven’t as yet uncovered (Per Petterson), authors you seem to be hearing about all the time at the moment and have decided you simply must read them (Owen Sheers) and authors whose debut novels blew you away and you wish they would hurry up and write another one (Kathleen Winter).

As you wander the shelves, rather than be intimidated by the vast number of books you might not get to read, there is a certain joy in the books you spot be they the ones you love or the ones you might love in the future. Oh how a browse can be such bliss.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Finding Books Funny…

Nothing quite beats sitting down with a book loving friend in the flesh over a pot of tea/glass of wine or two does it? It is also great for catching up over what you have both been reading and passing on great reads. It also sometimes throws up heated debate, say about Jennifer Egan’s ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’, and some lively discussion which fires your brain about all things bookish. This is exactly what happened when I spent several hours with my lovely friend Emma yesterday and the first of two things we talked about which made me internally note ‘that would make a good blog post’ was funny novels. I have always struggled with comic novels and yet would like to read some as I do like a laugh. Yet we were both really pushed to think of that many novels that have made us laugh out loud.

I do pointedly say novels because I have noticed as Christmas draws near it’s that time of year when all the comedians decide it is really time to share their life story and generally, in my humble opinion, they are rubbish. The only good comedian memoirs I can think of are Alan Carr’s ‘Look Who It Is’ and Dawn French’s ‘Dear Fatty’, the latter was funny but also very moving.  

Dawn French was actually one of the first names I thought of, and her novel ‘A Tiny Bit Marvellous’, when I was thinking of contemporary writers who might be very funny, but I wouldn’t know as I haven’t read it (I should here apologise to my mother who bought me this last Christmas) as yet. I then thought about Stephen Fry and pondered if maybe his novels would be funny? Not memoirs, the fictional novels. Julie Walter’s novel didn’t sound like it was going to be funny, was it? Has anyone read them? Emma was struggling too, she mentioned Jon Niven and we both discussed Sue Townsend (though we also said Adrian Mole etc were funnier when we were younger) but then we were a little lost.

Even with classic funny novels I struggled, I could only think of three. Emma said Charles Dickens, and then told me to ‘get out this house’ when I shamefully admitted I have yet to read him. Dickens… funny… really? Anyway the first I thought of was ‘The Loved One’ by Evelyn Waugh and the second and third were ‘The Pursuit of Love’ and ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ both by Nancy Mitford. I have heard Stella Gibbons is very funny, ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ has been on my TBR for years, I really must get round to it… I must.

  

The thing is though that humour is subjective isn’t it. I like my humour dark in the main, hence the Waugh novel which is set in a funeral home and cemetery is right up my street, and also that dry observational wit which can leave me in stitches as Mitford does. I don’t like slapstick and I am not that fussed by pastiche. It is tricky isn’t it and yet quite unlike Zoe Williams who believes in a time of worry/crisis we should read nonfiction (you can hear me and Gavin discuss this article on the latest episode of The Readers); I think I might quite like the odd hilarious read instead.

So I thought I would throw this out to all of you and see if you could help. Have any novels by comedians been as funny as you hoped? Which books have made you laugh out loud be they modern or classic and why? Recommendations are highly welcomed.

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Americus – MK Reed & Jonathan Hill

I like books about books and books about reading. It was this that drew me to a copy of the graphic novel ‘Americus’ written by MK Reed and illustrated by Jonathan Hill. It was a book I hadn’t heard of and it was only by chance that I spotted it in the library and swiftly borrowed it and took it home. I seem to be having a little graphic novel phase at the moment, if you don’t tend to like graphic novels then still bear this one in mind as it does have a very bookish twist.

First Second Books, paperback, 2011, graphic novel, 2151 pages, from the library

‘Americus’ is a small town in America, where we find Neil and his friend  Danny getting very excited about the latest in the series of “The Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchilde” which has caused a storm in the reading world, and not just with the adults as the local librarian is also desperate for the kids to read the book so she can talk to them all about it.

Neil and Danny are bookworms and as we follow their daily routine at school we realise this is a deeply ‘uncool’ thing to be known for, especially as they are also about to embark on going to High School. Only after Danny’s mother catches him reading the latest ‘Apathea’ book, which she believes is promoting witchcraft and Satanism in children she wants is banned leading to a show down, an announcement from Danny which shatters her life further and his being sent to a Military School and his bitter mother on a crusade to ban all ‘Apathea’ books in the library.

 

If you think I have given too much away I haven’t, I promise. This book has so much more than the initial stories that greet us. It reminded me of some of the controversy that has followed the publications of Harry Potter and Twilight which have both had parents trying to ban them for just the reason’s Danny’s mother does. It also looks at the struggles we all have had, and that some of our children might have, as you go through those teenage years and the transition to the big scary school. It is also a tale of friendship but most importantly it is a tale about books and why they are so important.

I should have fallen in love with it just for that, and I did like it a lot, yet there were a couple of small quibbles I had with it. The first was the ending, it just seemed to fizzle out and after the story had been building so much there was a lot of drama and then suddenly ‘oh, it’s the end’. My second quibble was the interception of an illustrated version of “The Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchilde”, which while I thought showed how it fired these two young readers imaginations I didn’t really need quite so much of it in the book, especially as we never got the full story or idea of what the concept of “The Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchilde” was. 

 

I did enjoy ‘Americus’ though and I’m glad I pulled it off the library shelves on a whim. In fact borrowing this book from the library seems most apt given the story. It reminded me of a graphic novel version of ‘The Borrower’ by Rebecca Makkai (though the latter has etched itself on my brain and resonated with me a lot more) and is worth a read if you fancy a book about books or should you fancy dipping your toes into graphic novels.

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Filed under Books About Books, First Second Books, Graphic Novels, Jonathan Hill, MK Reed, Review

Books on the Nightstand & The Readers (and Some Questions About Book Podcasts)

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while will know that I have a favourite podcast called Books on the Nightstand. When Gavin and I started making ‘The Readers’ we knew that we wanted to have the chatty nature that the wonderful Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness have, like you have popped round to some friends houses for a cup of tea and lots of book based banter,  without becoming a copy of their show. Slowly but surely I have become ‘twitter acquaintances’ with Ann and Michael, emails can often fly across the ocean, and they are as lovely off the podcast as they sound on it, as you may have seen Michael even got Hillary Jordan to sign her new novel ‘When She Woke’ for me and sent it to me from America (as its not out in the UK till next year) just because he knew I was a big fan. This is all leading somewhere honest…

After we recorded the first few episodes of ‘The Readers’ we were both really nervous when we knew Ann and Michael were going to listen to it. Would they like it? Would they think we were trying to copy them? Well the answers were yes and no. They really like it and whilst we have *hopefully* got a lovely banter we have got two very different shows yet this week the two meet, sort of, as Ann and Michael have kindly each done their Top Five Books in a lovely chatty style and I have come away with some more books to add to/take from Mount TBR, which you should too. You can listen to it here. Do, its great.

They also left a lovely message at the end which made me and Gavin grin a lot, oh if you want a laugh listen to the first few seconds of the podcast to get my ‘personality’ – poor Gav what he has to work with. Anyway, we are hoping this won’t be the last Books on the Nightstand and The Readers collaboration; we are plotting away in the background so hopefully something will flourish. We are joining forces with another blogger in the form of Kim of Reading Matters who is joining us as our first guest host for next weeks show, should be fun.

Don’t forget we want your involvement, if you want to send us an mp3 recording of your Top 5 Books (email  bookbasedbanter@gmail.com and we will pop them up) then please do or even if you fancy being a co-host in the future sometime we would love to know… or any other feedback can be left in comments here or comments on The Readers website. Oh and I would love to hear what your favourite bookish podcasts are, I am working on a directory of sorts, so which ones do you listen to regularly?

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Filed under Book Podcasts, Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Time to Think and Time to Cull…

I interrupt the scheduled posts with a random one about bookish puzzlement… 

Whilst most of the UK was watching the X Factor, or possibly out on the town I found myself typing about books whilst watching the adaptation of Armistead Maupin’s ‘Further Tales of the City’, which I have borrowed for some cheer as I have the sniffles (though the idea of a few days in bed with a fever and lots of books is lovely, I don’t actually want a cold) this weekend. It was this DVD that sparked off half of today’s post along with recording episode eight of The Readers yesterday morning. I am feeling like I need a book cull and a little like I have lost my way with my reading habits (not my blogging habits, this isn’t a ‘moaning blogger naval gazes’ post honest, though I might talk about blogging a bit) somewhere recently, though I think this feeling has been brewing a while. I feel like I have lost my reading identity.

Armistead Maupin is a favourite author, interestingly though he is not an author I have really blogged about. This in itself doesn’t make sense. How can an author I love and want to read everything by have not had a single book read and reviewed on the blog, I have actually read one which was long listed for The Green Carnation Prize last year so I couldn’t talk about it on here, that still isn’t enough Maupin in my reading life though, in over four years? That doesn’t make sense. I even made a pact with myself to read more Maupin… almost three years ago. So why have I not?

This doesn’t just apply to Maupin; it applies to favourite authors like Daphne Du Maurier, Muriel Spark, Margaret Atwood, Arthur Conan Doyle, Susan Hill etc who I have read ‘some’ of in the last four years of blogging. I wanted to read much more of their stuff, they are my favourites after all and yet I haven’t. Have I lost my way with reading? I weirdly think I have a little, not the spark of reading itself, just the reading I am doing isn’t quite where I think I should be at in my reading life. This doesn’t mean I am not enjoying what I am reading; I am just not sure why I am not reading all the books that are ‘me’. I wonder if I am making sense.

Since I have gotten more into blogging, both in the upkeep of Savidge Reads with posting and commenting (which I am finally up to date with, hoorah) and in reading all the other blogs I love (which I am catching up with at the moment) the amount of books I want to read has quadrupled, well that’s an understatement if I am honest, but with all these endless possibilities of reading I seem to be forgetting all the authors I wanted to wander off with in favour of new delights. Books are tempting me from publishers etc. Plus its nice to be reading things that I wouldnt normally. Yet what about me reading more books from or about India, or lost classics, or fairytales for adults? Where is the focus?

Fickle? Maybe! And with the ever growing Mount TBR delightfully expanding all the time (no complaints here honest) I seem to be in a battle to catch up with my old favourites as the new arrivals pile up. I know some of them will become firm favourites of the future, but I must not forget the authors I loved before the days of reading and writing blogs. I feel a little out at sea with it all and am in danger or drowning in a delightful deluge of books.

Being adrift makes me feel a little uneasy; it seems to have become a little apparent, ripples have been appearing on the blog, which many of you, including Dark Puss, have  picked up on. Though I wouldn’t call it lacking self confidence I am lacking reading confidence and a little reading direction. I also think I have fallen into the ‘oh that book sounds perfect… so I will save it for a rainy day’ syndrome (the irony of this as I live in Manchester, one of the rainiest city, hasn’t passed me by) why save it why not just read on and read what I want when I want? I think I need to find my way again, but how?

Well it is going to start with a cull. I don’t mean one of my regular routine culls; I am talking about a major cull (which will prove doubly helpful as I am moving in the next month or two). Like a reverse of out with the old and in with the new. Not quite a case of starting from scratch but something near that. This won’t happen over a weekend, this will happen over the next two or three weeks with a box of books dealt with here and there, this should be more effective and more stringent than a weekend of culling madness. A clearer Mount TBR might mean a clearer reading mind. Here’s hoping.

Any tips for finding your reading modjo/identity once more? This isn’t readers block, its something else. Any other advice on tips for culling, how ruthless is too ruthless, how flaky is too flaky? I’ve also reminded myself of the small pact I have planned to bring in from the 21st of December 2011 until the 21st of December 2012, it’s a tough one but I think it should become my mantra once more. Do you have any book buying mantras or the like?

…Normal service will resume shortly, I apologise for this unscheduled meandering post.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Is Anyone, or Has Anyone, Been Watching ‘The Slap’?

I thought I would ask as I have and yet I haven’t seen much discussion about it and I think its quite a good adaptation. I am not saying it’s perfect, but then what adaptation is, but it’s got some great characters playing some really dislikeable characters really well. What say all of you?

I’ve realised that I never wrote about the actual book of ‘The Slap’ by Christos Tsiolkas as it was a longlist contender for The Green Carnation Prize last year, I have always felt funny about writing about long or short listed books if I have read them after they have been submitted. I am wondering why it hasn’t made one of the main channels here (its on BBC Four) as the book has been huge, maybe it’s the subject matter. Any readers in Australia can tell me how its gone there, big success? What about in the rest of the world?

I could almost be tempted to pick it up again after watching the show, but that would mean I would be reading it for the fourth time in just over a year which might be overkill. I did read ‘Loaded’ this year and am quite keen to read ‘Dead Europe’ any thoughts on those?

So have you enjoyed ‘The Slap’ on the telly? What did you think of the book? What about his other books? What other adaptations have you enjoyed of late, which ones have you really not? Just thought would throw all that out there.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Books To Film

The House of Silk – Anthony Horowitz

I am a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes. It is quite possible that you have heard me mention that fact that Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle were two of the reason that my reading was saved at two varying points in my life.  I was therefore both interest and slight unease that I felt when I heard that Anthony Horowitz had been approved by the Conan Doyle estate to write a new Holmes and Watson mystery. ‘The House of Silk’ is the result and it was, once again, with interest and unease that I opened the novel and read on.

Orion publishing, hardback, 2011, fiction, 304 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

I don’t want to give anything away about the plot of ‘The House of Silk’ because like all good mystery novels to give anything away would be to the detriment of anyone contemplating reading it. I can say that we join Holmes, through the narrative of Dr Watson once more after he has been starving himself for several weeks for a case (could this be ‘The Adventure of the Dying Detective’ from ‘His Last Bow’ by any chance?) now finished and bored waiting for another. Watson has just come to stay and sure enough a new case turns up on the doorstep in the form of Edward Carstairs, a young London art dealer, who believes someone is following him, someone who might want revenge after an incident in America in Carstairs’ past. And the game is afoot…

There is of course much more going on than meets the eye, Watson points out early on that nothing is ever simple and yet it’s the simple trivialities that can make or break a case, and actually in Watson’s introduction we are told that there are two strands to this in the form of both ‘The House of Silk’ and ‘The Man in the Flat Cap’, where they merge and why though is all up for discovery. It is also Watson’s introduction that tells us why, after Sherlock’s death some years before he has chosen to finally divulge this tale which was ‘simply too monstrous, too shocking to appear in print’ and ‘would tear apart the entire fabric of society’.

So how does Horowitz do as writing a Holmes novel or telling one through the voice of Watson? Well, apart from occasionally rather too often mentioning that this was ‘the greatest’ or ‘most difficult’ of his cases (which seemed a little self congratulatory) I thought this was excellent and I am a big Holmes fan and a big cynic. I could tell that Horowitz was a true fan of Sherlock and through his passion and knowledge, like when in the first chapter Holmes deduces why Watson has come to visit just as he did when they first met in ‘A Study in Scarlet’, the voice rang true.

Holmes reached out and took the strip of silk from me. He laced it through his skeletal fingers and held it in front of him, examining it in the way that a man might a poisonous snake. ‘If this was directed to me as a challenge, it is one I now accept,’ he said. He punched the air, his fist closing on the white ribbon. ‘And I tell you Watson, that I shall make them rue the day that it was sent.’

I really, really enjoyed ‘The House of Silk’, it drew me in. I loved spending time with Holmes and Watson again and was gripped and tricked along the way. I just loved the adventure of it all. It doesn’t try to take Holmes anywhere new that the loyal fans will be unhappy with, nor does it become a pastiche of a Holmes novel. I knew it wasn’t Conan Doyle but I knew I was in safe hands. It has certainly made me want to turn back to the original Holmes novels; I hope Horowitz and Holmes fans will do the same, to me that is the sign of a great return and a successful one.

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Filed under Anthony Horowitz, Books of 2011, Orion Publishing, Review, Sherlock Holmes

Crime – Ferdinand Von Schirach

If you are something of a crime fan, like myself, then a book with simply ‘Crime’ as the title is going to pique your interest. I hadn’t heard of Ferdinand Von Schirach until I was mooching around the library and the cover and the title caught my eye. My interest was piqued and so it made its way home with me (and possibly one or two other books, I couldn’t comment), this is the joy of the library – you never know what treat might be lying in wait for you.

Chatto & Windus, trade paperback, translated by Carol Brown Janeway, 2011, fiction, 192 pages, from the library

‘Crime’ is a very interesting book in many ways. In part it is a collection of short stories which then reads like a novel because it is the same nameless lawyer telling is the tale of some of the clients that come into his life through work. Each tale is relatively short with an average length of about twelve pages, the longest ‘Summertime’ being just under 30 pages. What links all eleven of these tales is that the people involved all commit incredibly criminal acts, yet they get away with it. Some of it is with the lawyers help but some of it is because of the circumstances behind the crimes. Why each crime is actually committed is where all of these tales lie.

In these cases we meet a man who kills his wife, a boyfriend who cuts out a part of his girlfriends back to see what she tastes like, a gang who steal something from another unwittingly, a prostitute found mysteriously dead in a hotel room, a boy who kills the local sheep and many more. Each of the stories in their own right makes for enthralling reading, if a little uncomfortable on occasion (Schirach is quite detailed and the book is a little graphic), it is the motive or circumstance behind the action that I became more and more fascinated.

I couldn’t believe as I read that if I had been a juror on the case involved in ‘Fahner’ I too would have let a man off the murder of his wife and what of the man who dismembered his girlfriends “client” in ‘Bliss’. Was I not pleased the old man defended himself in ‘Self-Defence’? These are not cut and dry cases, they are also not all ones where you feel for the criminal. In ‘Summertime’, ‘Green’ ‘Tanata’s Tea Bowl’ and ‘Love’ I was horrified that people had walked free, it makes you think who might be walking down the street with you – be warned, yet fascinated how they did.

After finishing the book I went and did some research into the author and was amazed to discover in a review of ‘Crime’ in The New York Times that “his grandfather, Baldur von Schirach, head of the Hitler Youth for most of the 1930s and later the wartime governor of Vienna, was convicted of crimes against humanity at Nuremberg. Perhaps influenced by his family history, the younger von Schirach became a criminal defence lawyer, and in the mid-’90s sprang into the national consciousness by defending Günter Schabowski, a senior East German official, against charges of complicity in the shoot-to-kill policy along the Berlin Wall.” It seems that the theme of guilt and what makes us guilty is very much at the heart of this novel, and reading the authors background I know why.

With this in mind I was more surprised by the slight flaw in the collection for me. I never quite bonded with the narrator, and Von Schirach is in the trade which makes it so real but he never fills the stories with legal jargon, or the people he created. They read like fascinating cases, not really fully fleshed short stories. Oddly they still worked and I was mesmerised throughout. I don’t think it was down to the translation (from German by Carol Brown Janeway who translated ‘The Reader’ wonderfully) but was actually a stylized decision. It gives you distance and the lack of emotion means you put yourself in the defence lawyer’s place, clever and effective I agree but also slightly cold. There were two exceptions though and in both ‘The Cello’ and ‘The Ethiopian’ I found myself incredibly moved by the people, cases and circumstances in both tales. ‘The Ethiopian’ is the most hard hitting, emotional and yet hopeful, and ends the collection very well.

Overall ‘Crime’ is a great collection of tales. It might not be the most literary book of the year, but it is one of the cleverest that I have come across this year. It makes you think that really we can never judge a crime we read about in the papers unless we know the full facts, it looks at what makes humans guilty and what are extenuating circumstances, it will make you question your morals and who on earth you sit next to on the bus – be warned! I am very much looking forward to his next collection due next year, and hope he is working on something longer for the future too. I am also left wanting to know where the line between Von Schirach’s experience and telling a story lies, though maybe it would freak me out even more if I did.

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Filed under Ferdinand Von Schirach, Review

The Readers; Double the Delight & We Want To Hear From You…

I am dubious about writing too much about all the other book based projects that I do on the side of Savidge Reads. For example if I go on about the Bookmarked Literary Salon that I was doing (its taking a sabbatical for a while) in Manchester I worry it comes across like self promotion rather than me telling you about a bookish project that I love . The Green Carnation Prize is another project I have been quieter about on here this year for the same reason. Plus with Bookmarked there is the fact that as Savidge Reads is read all over the world, which thrills me but I find very odd (hello to you all), not many of you can physically come so is it really of any interest? I had the same worry with The Readers, the podcast I have started with the lovely Gavin of Gav Reads, though with the joys of it being on the internet (and iTunes) the likelihood of you being able to listen in and join in is much greater, and that is what we want.

We have popped up two episodes this week; one is a Manchester Literature Festival Special and includes some behind the scenes nattering as well as interviews after I was whizzing round the festival to report back on events starring (and where possible interviewing them afterwards) the likes of Colm Toibin, Alan Hollinghurst, Sarah Dunant, Patricia Duncker, Catherine O’Flynn, Kishwar Desai , KO Dahl and many more. The second is a ‘Sherlock Holmes Special’ and sees Gavin and I nattering away about Holmes, interviewing Anthony Horowitz on his novel ‘The House of Silk’ which sees Sherlock return.

Holmes and Watson... Or is it Gav & I planning Episode 8 of The Readers?

So what for the episodes going forward? Well we will still be covering book news, doing an author interview here and there; reading a book together and discussing all thing books based which we can banter about. We really want you involved though, and not just to listen to us nattering on, we want you to help us shape and be part of the podcast. How? Well…

We really want to hear from all of you who either read this blog, and Gavin’s of course, or who listen in. We would like to know what we are doing right, what we could do better and more importantly we would like you to join in with all the fun. We have already got a few bloggers in on the act, some who have sent us recordings of their top five books which we will be including in the future and one who is joining us as a special co-host for an episode, and we would love more of you to do the same whether you have a blog or not – yes publishers you too. The show is called ‘The Readers’ after all and that is what we want it to be all about, all readers! Do you fancy it?

If you want to record a voice memo with any suggestions for topics of discussion, or you top five books, then do feel free to email it (because it costs nothing ha)  to bookbasedbanter@gmail.com or if you simply want to leave us some thoughts and/or tips do so on the website or in the comments below.   

P.S Do you want to hear about these bookish projects that I do on the side of the blog? I don’t want Savidge Reads to become a place of promoting anything other than my love of books, and I don’t want you thinking I am some shameless self promoter either. Just so you know! Thoughts welcomed…

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Filed under Random Savidgeness, The Readers Podcast

The News Where You Are – Catherine O’Flynn

Sometimes an author event can be the perfect nudge needed for you to pick up a book you have been meaning to read for ages. This is certainly the case with Catherine O’Flynn’s second novel ‘The News Where You Are‘ which I have been ‘meaning to read’ (those immortal words) since it came out after I read, loved and admired her debut novel ‘What Was Lost‘ back in those hard to imagine pre-blogging days.

Penguin Books, paperback, 2010, fiction, 320 pages, from my personal TBR

Frank is a local television presenter in the Midlands where he is seen as a bit of a joke, because like his predecessor Phil has built his career on making rather lame knowing jokes on air. The only difference is that Phil went from Franks job to becoming a huge tv celebrity, until he was killed in a hit and run. Phil’s death becomes another addition to the deaths that Frank becomes rather obsessed by, only these other dead people are the lonely souls forgotten by most who have no one not successful TV personalities, and who, apart from Frank, have no one show up at their funerals.

This could be easily enough of a story for a novel yet Catherine O’Flynn adds much more into the mix by bringing in Franks family. We meet his wife Andrea and daughter Mo, who show that Frank isn’t some death obsessed oddball, as well as his widowed mother Maureen who lives in a home. Maureen, who is one minute heartbreakingly sad one minute and hilariously wicked and vicious the next, adds a whole new strand to the story as does Franks dead architect father. Maureen represents the loss of youth and seeming happiness, his father a loss in general but as the buildings he designed start to be knocked down O’Flynn brings up the subject of the modern world and it’s obsession with ‘out with the old and in with the new’ both in the form of people and in the forms of the objects all around us.

I am hoping I am not making the novel sound too melancholy as whilst there are some heartbreaking moments (I would never have thought a scene at a car valet in an industrial estate could actually choke me up, but O’Flynn made it happen) it does have some moments of high humour and genuine celebration of life.

There are three other things that make this book stand out and excel. Birmingham is not used as a setting enough in fiction, and is a city at once beautiful and absolutely not, O’Flynn embraces this and makes the reader. The cast of characters in the forefront are marvellous and those on the periphery too are wonderful; the bad joke writer, the forgotten wife, the tv wannabe and the ladies in the bakery, whoever they are they live and breath. Adding the mystery element of a hit and run is just the final master stroke. In fact I kept thinking of Kate Atkinson only less mystery, more its surroundings and the people it effects even though you don’t think it would.

It would be easiest to describe ‘The News Where You Are‘ as a tale of a local tv news reader, who is obsessed with the past and lonely people being forgotten, trying to discover the mystery behind his predecessor, and now friend’s, hit and run whilst also trying to deal with his parental relationships I would make it sound like modern day mystery meets family drama. It is, yet that summation simply doesn’t do this superb novel justice. This is a novel brimming with as many ideas and characters as it brims with joy, sadness and comedy. It’s a book that encompasses human life and all those things, emotionally and all around it physically, and celebrates them. I loved it and will be recommending this, if rather belatedly, to anyone and everyone.

Who else has read Catherine O’Flynn and what did you think? I should mention I saw her talking about the book as part of Manchester Literature Festival and if you pop to the sixth episode of The Readers here you can hear me interview her after the event, and catch up with all the other events I went to and authors I met.

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Filed under Books of 2011, Catherine O'Flynn, Manchester Literary Festival 2011, Penguin Books, Review