Monthly Archives: February 2012

Muriel Spark Reading Week

As I have seemed unable to write a review (or indeed read a book) in the last week, I thought I would spread the word of Muriel Spark Reading Week whilst I try and get my mojo back. The delightful duo of Simon Stuck in a Book and Harriet Devine will be hosting this Spark fest on their blogs from the 23 – 29th of April this year, it seems a long way away but I bet it’s here before we all know it.

Thomas of My Porch has done them the wonderful badge which I hope I will see popping up here and there over the blogosphere as everyone signs up. I am much more resistant of challenges and read-a-longs this year but this one I can’t resist as though myself and Spark don’t always get along as I would hope, you can see our relationship here, she is an author who intrigues me as much as a person as she does with her work.

I am not going to pre-empt which of her novels I will read for the occasion, as I am on a diet of whim reading (even though I seem in funk at the moment)  this year. It might be one of her out of print novels maybe, or it could be the one I have always stored for last as I feel I might like it the most. Who else is up for some Spark based shenanigans in April? Which might you read? What have you read already and what did you think?

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Two Bookish Books I Think We Should All Be Reading…

I try not to bark ‘read this now’ as an order too often on Savidge Reads. If I really love a book then I hope the enthusiasm comes of the screen and you might want to go and have a look at it in a book shop or read about it more online. It’s very unusual then that I am pretty much going to bark the orders ‘read these now’ about two books that I actually haven’t read myself the whole way through…

 

‘Stop What You’re Doing And Read This!’ and ‘The Library Book’ are two books from separate British publishers which are all about books, reading and libraries. Really that should be enough to have you rushing to your nearest bookshop or book selling website shouldn’t it, in fact it might already have done just that, however I thought I would tell you a little more about both – just to really push you over the edge.

‘Stop What You Are Doing And Read This!’ is an anthology which asks the question ‘why should you stop what you are doing and read a book?’ The ten essay responses collected here are from the likes of authors such as Jeanette Winterson, Blake Morrison, Mark Haddon and Zadie Smith, along with Jane Davis founder of ‘The Reader Organisation’ and Carmen Callil who founded Virago and rather famously quit the International Man Booker judging panel. These ten essays simply tell you, in varying ways, the power of the book and the joys of reading. I have only dipped in and out of a few so far but from what I have seen it’s only going to make my love of reading and desire to read all the stronger. I know that Simon T of Stuck in a Book loves this book.

There is a different twist on the joys of reading with ‘The Library Book’ as this book is of course celebrating the library itself. Some of my favourite authors like Susan Hill, Val McDermid and Alan Bennett (there are lots more Kate Mosse, Julian Barnes, China Mieville, Stephen Fry – I could go on, there are 23 pieces in this collection) have all contributed works to this book, not all of them are essays though as of course we go to libraries for fiction, and so some of the authors have made fictional shorts along with the other essays throughout – all about the library, of course. Again, I have only had a glimpse at this book (as it only arrived this morning) but I am very, very excited about what’s inside. In fact what am I doing here writing this? I should be reading them already!

What I think is another thing that’s special about these books, if I haven’t sold these two you by now you may be a lost cause, is that they are working with the charity The Reading Agency (all the proceeds of ‘The Library Book’ are definitely going to this charity, it doesn’t say with ‘Stop What You’re Doing And Read This!’) which encourages people to read in all sorts of ways and is developing exciting library programmes. What could be better?

I am hoping some of you have stopped reading the blog by now and run off to find out more, or even gone and got the book. I am off to sit with my copies for a while. I will report back, I hope you will too!

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My Top Five Victorian Reads by Essie Fox; Part Two

After a wonderful guide to some of the literature of the times yesterday, today Essie Fox gives us her guide to her top five Victorian Pastiche novels. I have to say I have never been sure if I like the term Victorian Pastiche, it almost sounds like its work that is mocking or merely copying the original works when these modern novels can be a real treat. I suppose that ‘contemporary novels set in the Victorian era’ is rather a mouthful, though someone mentioned neo-Victorian yesterday in the comments which I quite liked. Anyway enough from me, over to Essie…

The Quincunx: The Inheritance of John Huffam – by Charles Pallisser

Oh, but this is brilliant. I really can’t begin to recommend this book highly enough. It is a very big novel in every sense of the word and one in which the story’s hero, John Huffam, bears the middle names of Charles Dickens, of whose inheritance this book is a worthy champion. Huffam’s story artfully reflects that of Dickens’ own creations, filled as it is with stolen documents, deceitful women, laudanum addicts, sewer scavengers, asylums and dens of thieves – but this pastiche also has modern sensibilities so that our narrator is not always the most reliable, and there are many ambiguities.

Affinity by Sarah Waters

This spell-binding story draws the reader into a brooding, slowly swirling vortex in which an unmarried well-to-do woman has suffered a nervous breakdown and is far too reliant on laudanum. Now seeking to become ‘useful’ in the world she is visiting those less fortunates in the gothic maze of Millbank prison. But there she is mentally imprisoned herself when drawn into the seemingly magical world of Selina Dawes, a young, disgraced spiritualist medium. Incredibly sensual, eerie and dark, this is a very clever book.

Note from Simon – I too loved this book, in fact out of all her works this remains my favourite though I haven’t read ‘Fingersmith’ yet.

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

The sheer magic and dizzying prose of this post-modern feminist plot will enthral you. It is the story of Fevvers, a circus trapeze artiste who was raised in a brothel and who may or may not have a pair of wings sprouting out from her back.

Note from Simon – I had no idea that Angela Carter had written a novel set in the Victorian period, let alone that it was one of her most well known. I shall have to read this pronto, I always seem to pick up her dystopian works.

Angels and Insects by A S Byatt

This is actually made up of two novellas, both written in Byatt’s gloriously sensual style, weaving fact with fiction, and reality with magical romance. Morpho Eugenia is the story of a young naturalist, William, who finds himself immersed in the lives of the Alabaster family, gradually and naively drawn into their dark world of depravity. The Conjugal Angel is the tale of a group of spiritualists, one of whom is mourning her dead lover, the young man immortalised in Tennyson’s ‘In Memoriam’ – and Byatt’s own poetry is also woven into the plot.

The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox

An exceptional Victorian crime thriller which tells the story of Edward Glyver and his obsession with Phoebus Rainsford Daunt, a man who has stolen all that is rightfully his. The story continues in a sequel, entitled The Glass of Time.

Note from Simon – Sorry I keep bustling in on your recommendations Essie, I had this to read and it sounded so up my street, one of my old flats got flooded and which book took the brunt. Yes this one. Its 600+ pages soaked up most of the damage and saved a few others. Just a little bookish aside.

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A huge thank you to Essie for doing this, especially at short notice as I had been a bit lax, and sharing a wonderful list of ten books to get stuck into, especially as she is currently rather manic with The Somnambulist’ being on The TV Book Club tonight and all that entails. If you want to see the first part of the Victorian reads bonanza pop here, and for Essie’s wonderful Victorian-fest of a blog head to Virtual Victorian. Which of her recommendations have you tried and what did you think? Which Victorian Pastiche or neo-Victorian books have you read and loved? I must give yet another heard up for ‘Gillespie and I’ by Jane Harris, one of my personal favourites. Do share the ones you have enjoyed too. Who knows Essie might come and chat with you about them!

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My Top Victorian Reads by Essie Fox; Part One

Yesterday on the blog I was discussing my latest desire/reading whim seems to be for Victorian books be they written at the time or contemporary novels set in the period. (I also said that I would have another review of a book set in the era, thing is they are so full of twists and turns its hard to do anything without spoilers, it will appear honest.) This was in part, as I mentioned yesterday, thanks to reading Essie Fox’s debut novel The Somnambulist’ and I had an idea. With her blog Virtual Victorian who would be better than to give her suggestions for just these types of books? Essie of course, and so here is the first of her selection of novels from the time, tomorrow she will be giving us her recommendations of modern novels set in the period…

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Said to be one of the earliest examples of English detective crime fiction, Wilkie Collins’ thrilling sensation novel is full of unnerving gothic twists – not to mention one of the most hideous anti-heroes that you will ever chance to ‘meet’ in the obese personage of Count Fosco. Once you start reading, you will be gripped.

Note from Simon – “this is one of the best books ever written and if you haven’t read it then you must, or else.”

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

From Wilkie’s good friend Mr Dickens. Such a wonderfuly ‘human’ psychological drama which really has it all – love, lust and deception, class and wealth, not to mention one of the finest gothic heroines in the tragic yet dangerous form of Miss Havisham. And then, there is the house in which Miss Havisham lives, a brilliant realisation of materialised decay and corruption: Satis House, where every clock has been stopped, Satis House, where Satis means ‘Enough’. And it is, in every sense of the word.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I had to think very hard about my favourite Bronte novel, and although I might prefer to read Charlotte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ these days, if only for the beauty of the novel’s style and construction, in my heart Emily still has me enslaved, just as she did when I was seventeen, when I first read the story and wept for days at the doomed love of Healthcliff and Catherine. But, for those who may not have read Wuthering Heights, it is so much more than a simmering tale of thwarted love…think more warped passions and violent revenge, the twisted ambitions that result from desire for inheritance and wealth that seed like a canker in the flesh of those who live on after Catherine’s death.  It also has a very interesting structure – with varying levels of narration opening up like magic boxes to reveal the truth at the novel’s heart.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Oh, this was so hard – and again I had to really think to choose between Bram Stoker’s work and other supernatural tales such as Stevenson’s Doctor Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, or Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray. But ultimately Dracula wins out for sheer gut wrenching terror imbued with a dark sensuality that still has the power to draw one in to such a compellingly dangerous world. And my, what fan fiction it has produced!

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Flaubert’s debut, and his masterpiece. How a male writer so convincingly enters the mind of his passionate ‘heroine’ Emma Bovary is in itself a wonder. This is a far more ‘realistic’ novel than any of my other choices. It shows, with enormous psychological awareness, the unravelling of a woman’s mind – a woman who sees her life as if a romantic novel. But dreams and ideals are soon to be dashed in the mire of adultery and social ambition. A devastating cautionary tale. A woman born before her time.

NB: I realised too late that I’ve not included any Thomas Hardy, which is terrible omission. Perhaps ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’, or ‘Jude the Obscure’, of the tragic ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ should replace my ‘Madame Bovary’ – but why not read and decide for yourself?

What a great selection of books Essie has chosen, and she is another person to recommend ‘Great Expectations’ by Dickens who as you know I have somewhat struggled with in the past. Maybe it’s time to just give him another whirl? Which books have you read from Essie’s list? Which Victorian novels would you add?

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Victorian Based Books…

One of my favourite things to read, which Essie Fox’s ‘The Somnambulist’ reminded me of especially after talking with her about it, is a good Victorian novel and yet weirdly I have seemed to have strayed from them in the last few years. I don’t just mean the originals like the wonderful Wilkie Collins who I have binged on in the past (though I have been considering some of his novels I haven’t yet read and as you will see I have been debating trying Charles Dickens again what with his birthday having come and gone) but also the contemporary novels by authors like Sarah Waters and many more. I did have a brief binge on one after reading Essie’s, which I will be discussing tomorrow, but I think once I have finished of the wonderful letters between Nancy Mitford and a bookshop I think it is time to gorge myself on all things Victoriana. I love the dark atmosphere and sense of mystery that the period brings and it seems perfect at the moment as Britain seems to be having a big freeze. I already have three books lined up for the weekend…

‘The Sealed Letter’ is the only Victorian fiction, though contemporary, I have at the top of the TBR so far. I had to get this from the library as I forgot I had lent it to someone and suddenly fancied it. It will be my second and a half read of any Emma Donoghue, I got half way through her short story collection ‘The Woman Who Gave Birth To Rabbits’ when someone selfishly (joking) ordered it for themselves and so back to the library it went. ‘Room’ is obviously her most famous novel but with ‘Slammerkin’ and others it seems Emma likes this period so I am hoping it is good.

The other two books are non-fiction. ‘The Maul and the Pear Tree; The Ratcliffe Highway Murders, 1811’ by P.D James and T.A. Critchley was been inspired read by the fascinating experience that listening to the audio book of Judith Flanders ‘The Invention of Murder’ is proving to be. In the first several chapters I have listened to the case of the Ratcliffe Highway murders and not only how they were the case of the first real serial killer, but also how they changed the way the police worked. I couldn’t get enough and so pulled out this book dedicated just to that and seeing the wonderful P.D James playing a cold case detective for real, fabulous.

‘The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper’ either the official memoirs of Jack or simply the mad ramblings of James Carnac arrived by surprise the other week. I am one of those many people fascinated by this case because of course no one ever found out who Jack the Ripper was – in the case of James Carnac’s writing it could be that he really was him or that he was a bit mad and wrote a very grisly and almost too knowing novel about Jack. I am going to play detective and try to decide the truth, I have ordered a few Jack the Ripper books to read alongside this one. Does that make me a bit morbid having a grim fascination with it all?

Oh and if you are wondering what I will be reading all these on, check out this reading chair (which the books were photographed on) below, doesn’t it look like a wonderfully modern contemporary version of a Victorian chaise longue? It’s very comfy I have many wonderful hours ahead.

I am now mulling over which classic Victorian novel to dip into at some point too. I have some of Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s lesser known works, some more Wilkie Collins (and I believe his biography by Peter Ackroyd is on the way) or do I take the plunge into Dickens? After all Susan Hill makes a compelling case on Dovergreyreader today, do visit. What would you recommend? Are you a fan of books set or written in the Victorian era and which are your favourites? You may inspire me.

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The Somnambulist – Essie Fox

Some books catch your eye with the covers and ‘The Somnambulist’, Essie Fox’s debut novel, certainly did that when it came out in hardback because it was a rather vivid pink. My instant reaction was ‘possibly chick lit’ but I picked it up had a nosey and realised it was a modern take on the sensation novel. I love sensation novels, partly because I adore the Victorian period but also because invariably they are filled with mystery, gothic old mansions, illicit affairs and some melodrama. What a treat to read. The cover though would I read it on the train? What was I going to do about that? Well I left it however it was sent to me a few months ago, by the kind people at Cactus Productions along with all the other TV Book Club choices, with a new redder cover (and one a little less heavy) and so I decided it was time to settle down and get lost in it.

Orion Books, paperback, 2012, fiction, 400 pages, kindly sent by the TV Book Club

‘The Somnambulist’ is one of those really tricky books to review as you fear you will give lots away. Like all good sensational tales there are mysteries to solve and unexpected twists and turns in store and I wouldn’t want to spoil them for anyone else. Interesting then that as I started to read the tale of Phoebe Turner I guessed what was coming about fifty pages in.

At this point I briefly considered stopping, so many books to read and all that, but the writing and characters kept me going and I am so glad they did because the author has many more unexpected twists and turns in the narrative along with murky mysteries and spooky gothic moments to come which wrong foot the reader. Or do they? As with this book you sometimes think (or hope) another twist is coming and occasionally they don’t or sometimes they do and keep on twisting. I am aware I am being rather cloak and dagger but with books like this you have to be.

Phoebe Turner is a young woman growing up in Victorian London’s East End. She is a girl living with two very polar influences over her life in the forms of her mother Maud and her Aunt Cissy. Her mother is god fearing and restrictive, her Aunt is former stage star who makes occasional appearances at Wilton’s Music Hall and Phoebe finds herself being ruled by one and yet tantalised by the other. Things change in Phoebe’s life , though what of course I am not going to say, and she soon finds herself living in the sparse countryside of Hereford at Dinwood Court, where she becomes a companion for Mrs Samuels, a rather mysterious woman who has become somewhat of a recluse. Here in the old country house strange things begin to happen, some very creepy, and there are mysteries lying in wait which might have more to do with Phoebe than she could ever believe.

My initial criticism, and one which I actually thought might mean I left the book unfinished, was as I mentioned the feeling I knew what was coming. Yes there were some twists I didn’t see coming but the main one I predicted from the start. I should mention here that I was in the very lucky position of interviewing Essie Fox on the latest episode of The Readers with Gav and having talked to her I discovered she wanted you to know more while Phoebe didn’t so you had the feeling of watching something awful coming from the sidelines, and then being surprised further. Obviously I read the book before that and so didn’t have that knowledge at the time, so what was it that made me read on?

I hate to use the cliché of ‘page turner’ because some people seem to think this is a dirty word (why I am not sure, the point of a book is surely that you want to turn the pages and read on) but ‘The Somnambulist’ is definitely such a book. I read the first 120 odd pages, which makes up the first of the books three parts, in one evening simply seeing if this might all be leading the way I thought it would. I found myself really enjoying the company of the main characters, though Phoebe does remain somewhat of a mystery throughout, and the supporting cast of characters such as Old Riley who is Cissy’s right hand woman and becomes a marvellous fraudulent spiritualist medium (I find spiritualism, especially in the late 1800’s fascinating) and Mr Peter Faulkner who is wonderfully lecherous and stole any scene on any page he turned up on. Oh, how could I forget Mrs Samuels’ butler, Stephens, who came across most Danver-esque.

‘The Somnambulist’ was simply a pleasure to read all in all. I enjoyed getting drawn into it and the fact that I knew what was coming gave me a rather comfortable feeling weirdly. It was a perfect read for several very cold windy nights; I felt a certain safety with it despite the books overall darkness. Yes things surprised me too, which was an added bonus, but there was a familiar side to the book which I found immensely readable along with a bunch of characters I wanted to spend my evenings with. It’s a rather promising start to Essie Fox’s writing career and from what I have heard I will be enjoying her darker more twisted second novel when it comes out in the autumn. Mermaid’s, madness and brothels in the Victorian era, oh yes please.

Has anyone else read this book and if so what did you think? I will be watching the TV Book Club with interest this Sunday when they discuss it. I wonder what they will make of it. Oh and I should say that if, like me, you love all things Victorian do pop and read Essie’s blog on the era, it’s great. I have a feeling that you will be seeing a lot more Victorian based reads over the next few weeks and months on Savidge Reads as it’s given me the appetite for them again.

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You Have Read Me, You Have Heard Me, Now You Can See Me…

This may be of little interest to people but I thought I would pop this up in the interim as I am tweaking a review for later. I always think it’s really nice to see pictures of the people behind the blogs when they choose to share them. If you are like me you spend a good percentage of your week reading their thoughts so it’s nice to put a face to them. The same with videos and voice, I think doing The Readers podcast has probably given people much more of a sense of my sense of humour and the like and I love bloggers like Eva who does video journals now and again. So I thought I would share a little, very brief indeed, video of me talking about The Green Carnation.

Last week before the moving madness I had the joys of a day in a studio filming various bits for a Green Carnation Prize documentary and some bits for the TV Book Club. One of the things I have really wanted to do with The Green Carnation Prize in 2012, now that I am at the helm solo (for now) is to let people see the workings of the prize, hear more about it and hopefully get a better insight into it and the passion behind it. Anyway here is the taster, I wonder if I come across as you might have thought I would? That’s right it’s all about me, me, me – I hope you know I am joking there.

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Do I Want To Read… Charles Dickens?

I haven’t done a ‘Do I Want To Read’ post for sometime but seeing as I know I will be moving when this goes up, there really are occasional bonuses to being able to schedule a post if it all goes right, and as it will also be his 200th Birthday (I could go on about what would happen if we celebrated everyone’s 200th but I won’t, oh I did) I thought maybe it would be appropriate to ask you all about Mr Dickens and what you would recommend this reader do with the ‘Dickens difficulty’ he has.

Happy 200th Birthday Charlie-Boy!

My mother, no less, has said on many occasional that I shouldn’t really call myself a reader if I haven’t read Dickens, or maybe it was Hardy… or maybe Austen (I have failed at all three in the main). I tried to argue this one out and failed, she is an English teacher after all. We have also come to snarky sneery banter about Shakespeare; I hated him at school and have been unable to shift this phobia. Anyway let’s discuss my ‘Dickens dilemma’ further, for it is his birthday and should be all about him.

I have tried and failed with Dickens on four occasions now. ‘Oliver Twist’ was first, I thought being a tale for children it might be the easiest way in, along with the fact it was one of the shortest. The 22 year old me just didn’t like it, remember he wasn’t the best reader though – or certainly not a patient reader shall we say, I have no idea why now but I simply didn’t enjoy it and so probably promptly moved onto an Agatha Christie.

The following year came Andrew Davies adaptation of ‘Bleak House’ which being made by the BBC and starring Gillian Anderson (I am of the X Files generation, what can I say) enticed me to watching the whole 15 episodes which I really enjoyed and thought ‘ooh I must read the book’. I started it and thought it was ok, then I got lost with all the characters and plot (which seemed so much more graspable in the adaptation, enough said) and these dreaded words ‘well the TV show was much better’ were actually muttered out of my mouth. I think dear reader I might just have heard you muter ‘heathen’ under your breath. Rude.

Moving in with a very well read family member in December of 2010 who was also, very important for this post, is a huge Dickens fan I found my interest peaked again. ‘Great Expectations’ was the recommendation, apparently his most accessible work. If I remember rightly I think Polly of Novel Insights and I were considering reading it that Christmas, in fact knowing our Christmas Classics pact she probably did, I picked it up, got on with it ok but wasn’t held enough to read it right through. My bookish magpie eyes kept seeing other newer shiny reading gems. We parted ways about page 80-90, we haven’t faced each other since.

This Christmas we had another adaptation of Dickens ‘Great Expectations’ on the BBC, and again with Gillian Anderson once more I was drawn into the show. But I decided to hold off watching and try to read the book instead. Until I saw someone on twitter give away the fiery ending and so I thought ‘what’s the point now?’ I soon settled down with some of his ghostly stories instead but Scrabble, Spite & Malice or (the most likely) a Snowball cocktail lead me away from them.

Yet I do still want to try him, so oh wise readers of this blog… where should I start?

(And will anyone else please own up to not having ever finished a Dickens so I don’t feel such a literary loner? I have also noticed I didn’t mention the Queen yesterday, but frankly 60 years ruling a country vs. me moving house, which is bigger news? Ha!)

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Moving On…

I have learnt that this is something I say a lot, which seems apt as it is what I am in the midst of. After a lovely stay with family while I got back on my feet I am moving out into the big wide world again, if only ten minutes away from where I was (they haven’t got rid of me that easily) by train. I really don’t like moving, and along with the fact I will be missing the five faces I have been with its all a bit emotional, but will be good too.

No, I haven't moved to Leighton Buzzard...

As you will all know, and so can imagine, it’s a bit of a stressful and scary (whilst also exciting) time, there’s the sorting, the packing, the sorting again as you unpack. Ugh! Funnily enough during this period the blog might be rather sporadic while I get sorted… and get broadband. Hopefully you can all bear with for a while!

P.S This may also be why if you have emailed or made comments I haven’t responded yet, oops. Will do, honest.

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Books at Bedtime and Audiobooks Again…

Just over a year ago I did a post that caused some quite interesting responses and debate. It was a post on audiobooks and one where I said that, for me personally, audiobooks felt like cheating. The debate ranged from people feeling the same (though people mainly emailed me this, it seemed they didn’t want to put it in print) as me, to people thinking I couldn’t be more wrong and even people taking umbrage and saying I was being discriminatory towards people with certain disabilities. The last bit I tried not to dwell on as anyone who knows me would know this wasn’t the case. I also said I would try more audiobooks out… and then didn’t really (well actually I tried some Agatha Raisins but more on those shortly).  I’d not thought about this much until BBC Radio 4 had ‘My Dear I Wanted To Tell You’ by Louisa Young as their Book at Bedtime.

For anyone who doesn’t know of it ‘Book at Bedtime’ is a show on Radio 4 each weekday evening which chooses a different book each fortnight to adapt into. ‘My Dear I Wanted To Tell You’ is a book that I have ummmed and ahhhed about reading because it has had some great praise but not ever quite seemed my thing (it’s a war book and sounds a bit like lots fo other war books if I am honest), however as Olivia Coleman was reading it – I love her acting, her comedy, her voice – I thought I would try it. I enjoyed it, I felt taken back to my childhood and the nights I would put a tape in my tape recorder to fall asleep to. Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘The Norman Conquests’ was a favourite. Yet I didn’t want to run out and buy the book, I think this is meant to be a small part of ‘Books at Bedtime’ the main being that it is, well, a book at your bedtime-ish!

This came up again when Will Wiles tweeted me the other night, when I was debating a book to actually read at bedtime last week, that his book ‘Care of Wooden Floors’ was going to be the latest Book at Bedtime choice and I should tune in. I thought about it and decided not to because I actually wanted to read the book. Hear me out before you all say ‘it is like reading a book’ because the main reason was that it would be an adaptation and if I listened and really liked it (which I have been told I would) I wouldn’t have quite had the full story, but I would know the end and might not therefore be inclined to read the entire book knowing the main spoiler. Interestingly when I listened to Agatha Raisin last year, I liked it a lot but it wasn’t the full unabridged stories and I felt a little cheated. But what about trying audiobooks again?

Fate kicked in at the weekend twofold. Firstly I realised I had ‘Nocturnes’ by Kazuo Ishiguro as an audiobook which I had no idea of (sorry Gemma at Faber as I think you gave this me, oops) and I also had the book so I could cull a book, awful reason but I was desperate, plus it was one about music and apparently this has the music in it. Then I spotted ‘Gillespie and I’ by Jane Harris on audiobook in the library and so I thought ‘I loved that book, I know it inside out, what could be a better audiobook to compare the listening-reading to reading-reading’ so I borrowed it and one more for good luck.

 

I now have about 65 hours of listening delight ahead. I think this mix of a book I know well, some short stories plus a non-fiction tome on a subject I love with Judith Flanders ‘The Invention of Murder; How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime’ which sounds right up my street to try out. So I now have some hopefully wonderful ‘listening-reading’ experiences ahead. Gav has been trying to convert me on The Readers so deserves a mention as I probably wouldn’t have been quite so likely to go so whole heartedly into this experiment without his pestering. I will report back and let you know my findings.

In the meantime what are your thoughts on audiobooks and Book at Bedtime/adaptations on the radio? Are they like reading-reading a real book? What have been your favourite audiobooks and what made them so good?

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Don’t Tell Me The Truth About Love – Dan Rhodes

I like collections of stories that feel like fairy tales for adults. I like books that are darkly funny. I like Dan Rhodes, he is one of my favourite authors. We then have I left reading his collection ‘Don’t Tell Me The Truth About Love’ for such a long time when I knew it would combine all three of these things? Well, if I am being truly honest, I forgot I had it. It wasn’t until I spotted it when looking for another book that I saw it and knew it must be read pronto. It also was one of the books that inspired the recent cull, too many gems I really wanted to read surrounded by those I kinda, maybe one day might read.

Fourth Estate, paperback, 2002, short stories, 198 pages, from my personal TBR

‘Don’t Tell Me The Truth About Love’ rather unsurprisingly given its title is a collection of love stories with a twist, brilliant, just my thing. If you are thinking these will be stories with a happy ending, you would be wrong. Like the proper versions of the fairytales we know and love from childhood, which are indeed much more sinister in their original form than Ladybird or Disney would have you believe, these are all wonderfully dark with some vicious and also hilarious twists as the tales develop. In fact the blurb of the book (I only tend to read these after I have finished a book, random fact, like I do other reviews and thoughts) does say this is ‘a homage to the brothers Grimm’.

There are seven stories in the collection all with one main theme, they all have a wonderful sense of magic, be they set in forests like ‘Glass Eyes’ or in the modern world as ‘The Violoncello’. We have tales of unrequited love between old men and young beauties, old hags who magically entice young lovers, men willing to literally become instruments for women to play with, women so obsessed their lovers don’t love them they will see how far they can test that love. As you can probably tell, love appears in many forms, always quite darkly and generally with a twist.

I will admit the first story ‘The Carolingian Period’ worried me that I might be a little disappointed, it didn’t do quite enough as a tale or effect me like I wanted it to, I also predicted the ending a little. That said it was still a great story, just having read Dan’s other works I wanted more. ‘The Violoncello’ changed all that. I admit I was thinking ‘if these are fairy stories why are we in modern Asia not the wooded lands’ but the magical element kicked in and, if there is such a thing, it became an epic short story. I loved it and reminded myself that stories should never be predictable and fairy tales can happen anywhere, ‘Landfill’ another marvellous example of that as it plays out in, well, a landfill. With ‘The Violoncello’ really I felt like I got a full novel in 44 pages, the story, the characters, the atmosphere, the emotion were all wonderfully drawn.

‘Coquettita was naked except for a string of pearls. He was naked too but with no one there to see it didn’t seem to matter. And they were in love. People in love like looking at each other with no clothes on. But as he saw in her contorted face the unvanquishable desire to pluck out his left eye he began, tentatively, to question the unconditionality of his love for her. For the first time in the six days since they had met, he felt the urge to hide his nakedness behind a tree or some ferns. He was frightened.’
Taken from ‘Glass Eyes’

It was those stories which had glimmers of the ones I loved as a child that I will admit I loved the most. ‘Glass Eyes’ was a wonderfully dark tale of a wizened witch disguising herself and wanting her beautiful lover to be as ugly as her. In fact beauty is a theme in my three favourite of the story’s as ‘Beautiful Consuela’ where a woman pushes the lines of love vs. beauty to extremes and my very favourite, and probably the darkest of the tales ‘The Painting’ shows the darkest effects beauty can have and what it can cause.

As I said at the start I like collections of stories that feel like fairy tales for adults. I like books that are darkly funny. I like Dan Rhodes. If you like anyone of these then you must get ‘Don’t Tell Me The Truth About Love’. It’s a veritable treat.

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Filed under Dan Rhodes, Fourth Estate Books, Review, Short Stories