Monthly Archives: April 2013

We’re Going Through Changes…

In case you are confused, this is still Savidge Reads… I just thought that it was time to have a minor facelift of sorts to be honest, and we all like a change now and again don’t we? This isn’t going to be one of those big revamps which involves lots of fireworks and shouting to everyone about it nor is it a case navel gazing because its coming from a positive place and just seemed like the right time.

As you might have noticed if you come here often or occasionally (and thank you if you do) in the last few weeks I have been a little bit quieter. This isn’t because I have ‘been thinking’ about everything blog wise –  which has happened in the past – but other things have taken priority. Firstly just with getting Gran sorted out with a hospital (as she was so, so poorly suddenly in the last two weeks), which as I mentioned before take so much rigmarole it is untrue, which took about four days of telephone calls, also with everything Liverpool Literature Festival wise and because I accidentally got a new job…

Yes, that is right (and I think I am allowed to tell you about it, though I don’t start till next week) I am now Social Media Strategist for Culture Liverpool three days a week and I am beyond thrilled – in part as I now get to go to all the summer festivals the city is hosting and also because the office is on the 10th floor overlooking the Mersey, I don’t normally like heights but the view is amazing.

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All this has meant I have had more time away from the blog and the needed step away to realise it had become a bit of a monster that needed feeding everyday and I was possibly struggling with it more than I thought. I also realised I didn’t feel I was in it as much, so be warned the posts and reviews are going to be less ‘professional’ and more my sense of humour, hopefully you will like it but sorry if you don’t. Hence the change really, and the changing banners (thank you Gavin) which I love, love, love – oh and I have made a Facebook page now too, can’t really be a Social Media Strategist if you don’t do your own.

Now speaking of that new role of mine again; one thing I will be doing, as well as the book reviews and book thoughts which are the main focus points of the blog, is keeping you informed of the lovely events and stuff I am going to be doing off blog. Some of these might be a retelling of an adventure I had recently walking to a ‘treasure island’ from the coast the other weekend, some might be the things I am doing for work. In the latter case, to clear any thoughts doubting Thomas’s might have up, I will not be messaging about them for work but because you might be interested in coming on the off chance or you just might like to hear about them after, as I know most of my readers don’t live down the road but miles (tens, hundreds and thousands) away. And hence I will simply pop two pictures below and you can do with the information what you see fit…

Council Estate of Mind Debut Authors

Not being funny but that is a pretty good line up isn’t it? Anyway, enough from me! I might be back with a review later, depending if I am happy with it, though I am actually hosting an afternoon tea with John Whaite (he won the Great British Bake Off last year, which I looooooove) this afternoon and might get lost with all that, which I will be reporting back on in due course. How is all with you? What do you think of my new view at work? Do you like the changes to the blog?

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The Machine – James Smythe

So it seems another day, another book that is a bit of a swine to review in many ways thanks to Mr James Smythe and his third book, though my first of his, ‘The Machine’. There are two main reasons that this book has vexed me from a ‘book thoughts/review’ aspect (as a reader – though is there a difference – I simply thought it was brilliant) firstly the fact that for me the book was so brimming with ideas and themes it will be difficult to encapsulate them, secondly I don’t want to spoil how the book pans out and so I am going to have to watch my words very carefully and allow you to stitch a picture of the book together yourselves, rather like the ominous relationship between the Machine, of the title, and memory in the novel…

***** Blue Door Books, hardback, 2013, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

It is a hot day on the Isle of Wight as Beth waits for a mysterious parcel. All we know initially is that whatever is contained in it is something that Beth both has her hopes and dreams encapsulated in, yet at the same time clearly doesn’t want anyone else knowing she had. (This is slightly scuppered when the delivery men have to take her window out in order to get it in her high rise flat.) Once they have left and the unwrapping begins we discover that Beth has bought, highly illegally, one of the few ‘Machines’ left since they were banned some years ago.

This ‘machine’ was designed to rewire the brains, and memories of those who suffered from dementia and Alzheimer’s, until someone saw the commercial benefits of an appliance, if you will, that could edit and re-write (“Purge. Commit. Replenish.”) memories and which then went wrong as Beth learnt when her husband, Vic – or Victor, with a nice nod to ‘Frankenstein’, started to use one after an incident fighting in the war, he now lies just a body with no memories in a home. Now though, Beth plans to re-programme her husband with ‘the machine’. But what if people can’t be programmed like a computer, what if ‘the machine’ has other ideas, and possibly memories, of its own?

“She can’t call in sick again the following day, she knows, not this close to the end of term; so she leaves the house after making sure it’s all unplugged. She shuts the spare bedroom door behind her – the Machine’s room, she thinks as she does it – and checks the locks on her front door twice. She doesn’t know why. The Machine’s not going anywhere.”

As if that wasn’t enough of a story/plot for anyone Smythe throws in even more for his readers to ponder and involve themselves with. Firstly is the setting, when we first learn of the machine we get the feeling there is a science fictional element to the book and indeed we are proved right as we learn that global warming, thought it’s never spelt out as such, has caused huge weather changes and floods worldwide changing the landscape of all forever, London itself now has ‘the Barrage’ on its skyline to protect it from further flooding. Yet despite the newly found heat of the UK and the fact it hardly ever rains (almost impossible to imagine as a Brit, yet you do) little else has changed, poundland is still very much a commodity, pubs are still going, etc which oddly adds to the unease of the whole of the book. The sense of place and atmosphere, along with the machine itself are all at once familiar yet very ‘other’ becoming quite unsettling and adding a sense of horror around the edges.

“When it rains, most of the South Coast gets caught up in celebrating. It still rains a little more in Scotland, but the closer you get to London it almost entirely ceases. It’s not a drought any more, though so many people still call it that. The hosepipe ban started and never ended. When it rains, if the kids are in the classrooms, they get more restless than at the end of term. They can’t be kept, and sometimes one or two of them have just stood up in the middle of Beth’s class and walked out, choosing instead to dance around on the torn Astroturf outside.”

For me one of the aspects of ‘The Machine’ that really hit me the most, along with everything else yet this had a real emotional pull, was the theme of memory. Whilst Vic is not suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia his situation echo’s that of many of those who do suffer from it and also those left caring or on the outside, like Beth, from the affects of it. How does someone cope loving someone who can’t remember them let alone love them back? Do we ourselves forget what the person was really like as we look at someone who seems so helpless; do we not edit the memories of just the happiest of times with them? Even here though the sinister creeps in, as we hear more of Beth’s internal narrative (and struggle) we question just what she herself has chosen to remember of her husband, is he really the man that she describes with loss driven and lonely worn rose tinted glasses?

I found ‘The Machine’ was a book as chilling, and thrilling, as it was emotional and thought provoking. It is also one of those books that delightfully defies any labels of genre, delightful both for the reader and as one in the eye for those who want a book to be pigeonholed if at all possible. It is the sort of book – from the sort of author – that ought to be winning lots of prizes and being read by lots of people. I think that is all I need to say to be frank.

Who else has read ‘The Machine’ and what did you make of it? Which of his other books have your read? It seems that ‘The Explorer’ is meant to be quite something, is that the one that I should try next?

I will be in conversation with Mr Smythe (along with Kerry Hudson and Claire McGowan) on Monday night in Liverpool – scroll down this page a bit for more details – do come along.

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The Long Falling – Keith Ridgway

There are some books that are an absolute bugger to write about, simply because you don’t want to ruin a moment you yourself had as a reader for anyone else. In the case of Keith Ridgway’s ‘The Long Falling’ it is a moment where your jaw drops and you have to re-read the page to check what has just happened really has. This happened to me in chapter one, making it really bloody difficult (thank you Keith, tut) to extrapolate on the book too much, which I so want to do, without giving that moment away. I shall try though…

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Faber & Faber, paperback, 1998 (2004 edition), fiction, 305 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

 

Grace Quinn is a woman lonely and lost, yet actually not alone. First there is her husband, a man who likes to drink so much he killed a local girl in a hit and run. Secondly are the ghosts of her past lives, the one she had before she became Mrs Quinn and the one that she had with her sons; Sean who died, an accident but one she feels very much responsible for partly through her husband’s and the locals responses, and the other who left for Dublin as soon as he could after he had told his mother and father he was gay.

As you get to know Grace and learn of the sorrow at the centre of her life, which is really all encompassing, you don’t feel that things could go much worse for her, but they do. What happens I will not say, as you need to read this book for yourself to find out, yet it means she must go and take some time out from the world with her rather estranged son Martin and the big city life of Dublin. Yet the mother and son bond that was once so tight seems to have become elastic and awkward and there is the fact that both of them are trying to keep their lives rather secret from the other, only projecting the side  of themselves  that they think the other wants to see.

“Martin had always known something about his mother that nobody else knew. But he could not have said what it was. He was aware only that there remained something unspoken between them. Perhaps it was a simple thing, Common memories. Love. But Martin thought that it was something else. To do with their walking away and coming back. The risk in it. Like a dare. It played in her eyes. It had strength. It had stared out at him, and she had allowed no one else to see it but him. He remembered the strength of it. He looked for it now, but either it had gone, or he had forgotten how to see it.”

Once in the city, and in Martin’s world, initially we see just how much the distance has grown between them. Dublin is a city that is trying to modernise itself whilst in the papers and on everyone’s lips is the case of a 14 year old girl who is being banned from leaving the country to abort a pregnancy caused by rape. In fact one of Martin’s friends, Sean who I thought was a right ‘bod cac’ (look it up), is working on the case as a journalist which in itself becomes a twist in the book. Martin’s gay lifestyle is also completely alien to his mother, even though they take her to a gay pub, not only that but Martin is madly, almost recklessly, missing his lover Henry, a feeling Grace has no idea of. The more we read the more we see they are at odds yet the more we know this relationship and its bonds will be important as the book, plot and indeed characters unravel.

Ridgway’s prose is stunning. He can make the grimiest, and in the case of one of Martin’s less glamorous haunts (what is it with Ridgway and saunas? I must ask him) greyest, of scenes somehow beautiful. The writing can occasionally be repetitive and sometimes a little emphatic yet somehow he makes this seem like the poetry of his prose. He also creates brilliantly vivid and flawed characters that you care about, despite some of their darker traits. You can see why it won both the Prix Femina Etranger and Premier Roman Etranger in France.

“Imagine falling from a great height. Without panic. Imagine taking in the view on the way down, as your body tumbles gently in the air, the only sound being the sound of your progress. Your progress. Imagine that it is progress to fall from a great height. A thing worth doing. Though it is not a thing for doing. You do nothing, you simply allow it to happen. Imagine relaxing into the sudden ground. Imagine the stop.”

If I had a little bit of a literary crush on Ridgway’s writing after reading ‘Hawthorn and Child’ last year, I now have something of a full on crush on it from reading ‘The Long Falling’. It shocked me from the first chapter which slowly meanders before a sudden twist, which happens a lot in this book actually, yet unlike some books that first amazing chapter is bettered as the book goes on and for all these reasons I strongly urge you to give it a read. I loved it, if love is the right word? I was also thrilled that this was as brilliant as the previous Ridgway I read yet a completely different book in a completely different style.

You may now see why I am thrilled I will be talking to Keith Ridgway, along with Ben Marcus, tomorrow night as part of Liverpool’s Literature Festival ‘In Other Words’, more details here – do come. Who else has read ‘The Long Falling’ and what did you make of it? For another, and I think much more eloquent review see John Self’s thoughts here. Have you read any of his other novels, like ‘Hawthorn and Child’, at all?

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Filed under Books of 2013, Faber & Faber, Keith Ridgway, Review

World Book Night & Liverpool Literature Festival – Reminder #1

So tomorrow is, of course, World Book Night and lucky old Liverpool as we have the flagship events all happening up here! I am ever so excited about the event, well ever so excited might actually be a small understatement. With talks from Jeanette Winterson, Jasper Fforde, Jackie Kay, Patrick Ness, Frank Cottrell Boyce and Philippa Gregory (who I am hoping to grill briefly when I can for a special episode of The Readers) in the offing, book swapping and giving plus a literary themed cafe and much more! I think it is going to be my perfect kind of evening, books, book chat and book based food, what more could I ask for and what a perfect way to start Liverpool Literature Festival ‘In Other Words’…

Speaking of the festival I thought I would do a slightly shameless reminder *coughs* or two about two very exciting events that I have lined up in the first week of the festival just in case you fancied coming along (and it would be sooooooo lovely if you did).

First up on Wednesday I will be talking to one of my biggest currently literary crushes Keith Ridgway, whose novel ‘Hawthorn & Child’ was one of my favourites of last year and whose wonderful ‘The Long Falling’ I will be telling you about later, and also Ben Marcus who I am revelling in at the moment. Both authors have done something very different with their latest works and so the night is aptly called ‘Novel Approaches’. It is going to be super.

 Liverpool Lit Fest 1 

I have also been baking like I have never baked before for Sunday afternoon, as I will be hosting an afternoon tea with John Whaite, the winner of the Great British Bake Off last year, at the Liverpool Town Hall – with the Mayor, well one of them, we  greedily have two here as we do Cathedrals. His (absolutely stunning) cook book comes out this week and so I have been trying lots of the recipes in advance, though because the book is so beautiful I have been having to walk from kitchen to mess free zone to keep the book spotless.

Liverpool Lit Fest 2John Whaite

So hopefully I might see some of you in attendance?!? I myself, apart from the World Book Night evening of delight, am planning on going to a talk on Thursday in the depths of the Williamson Tunnels (a must opportunity for anyone who loves the Victorian era and likes to be spooked) for a night celebrating the life and works of James Herbert with a host of horror writers as sadly James was due to host this event himself. I also have plans to go and see Roger McGough and Brian Pattern (who wrote my favourite collection of poems ever, ‘Gargling With Jelly’) on Friday night – phew! I may relax on Saturday though, as next week is even more bonkers, yet there is a book swap going on at Metal Library which I might not be able to resist!

So that is my social calendar sorted for the week, what about you? Will any of you be at any of these events in Liverpool (and have a look at all the listings here IOW Listing Brochure 22-3) over the week, as I would love to say hello if so. What are your plans for World Book Night be you a giver or not, anything special planned?

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Granny Savidge Update #4

I thought it was time for a little catch up post, as I know that many of you have enjoyed her appearances on the blog and since she has been sick have asked how she is either on the blog in comments or via emails and the like and having spent most of last week with her I thought this would be timely.

Poor Gran, she has had a rocky week or so. Her walking has deteriorated and so now she can stand up but that is about it, which is so irritating for both her sense of independence and also having accomplished so much over the last few months since her stroke-that-was-actually-a-tumour-bleed that left her half paralysed. I think it must be maddeningly frustrating especially after the rigmarole of radiotherapy (which we are all pleased she has had as it’s given us another 6 – 9 months and amazingly after losing some of her hair it is now growing back black, she says black hair with white around all the edge will be a new trend!).

She has also just been feeling generally unwell and not wanting to eat from a constant dizziness and nausea. The other thing, and I don’t mean to moan but sometimes a vent is helpful, is that to be honest the NHS are being absolutely s**t, we have an NHS Care Manager who doesn’t care and a District Nurse who tells us to contact her and is, erm, never there. I normally think we are very lucky for the NHS, and know this won’t be the same for everyone, but at the moment it is proving a nightmare. I spent 5 hours on the phone, when I could have been sat with Gran, sorting out a Macmillan nurse at the hospice for her simply because no other bugger had.

Sorry for the mild swearing there but it is just so infuriating, someone with a terminal prognosis of ANY length should be looked after and have the minimal admin, form filling, telephone calls and general sorting out of stuff to do. They should be allowed to do whatever makes them happy in their final months, seeing family and friends, eating ridiculous amounts of chocolate (and falling asleep so being caught in the act – see picture below) and just enjoying their time. Not spending hours and hours with bureaucracy and pen/paper pushing. Oh and don’t even get me started on the night time care, I wouldn’t normally slate charities but Marie Curie have been dreadful, they have pulled out of the last four nights of care last minuet… anyway, let us move on. End of rant.

Caught in the act...

Caught in the act…

As usual of course Gran and I have been talking lots about books. She has read and very much admired Laurent Binet’s ‘HHhH’ (which I need to pilfer back) and has started and absolutely loved Tarquin Hall’s series of detective mysteries featuring Vish Puri and set in India. She has just read her first Val McDermid, seems she is having a crime phase, which she found ‘very page turning’ and is now deep into the latest Philip Kerr. Oh and she liked the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist (and has read a few of them, including the Mantel which she will not bash) though she did say ‘why has the name of the prize become so long, not catchy is it?’ Ha!

So that is the latest with Gran really, I will keep you updated and pass on your thoughts. I am off mid Literary Festival on the 6th as, bless her, she has to have one of her teeth extracted and a root canal, as if having a brain tumour wasn’t enough hey? Back with bookish bits tomorrow… In the meantime if you know any books like the above Gran might like do please let me know!

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Ghana Must Go – Taiye Selasi

There has been a lot of buzz; I don’t want to say hype as that is always an off putting word, building around debut novelist Taiye Selasi in the last few months. She became one of the Waterstones 11 authors this year, there were murmured Man Booker predictions around blogs and forums and then this week she was announced as one of Granta’s Best of British Young Novelists. We also learn that her first published short story was written due to a deadline given to her by none other than Toni Morrison. Therefore, before you have even turned the first page, you might have been put off reading ‘Ghana Must Go’ because of the buzz or be expecting something that will completely blow you away. Well, I am about to add to the buzz because I was completely bowled away, and my expectations were high.

***** Viking Books, hardback, 2013, fiction, 318 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

They say that death is the end, in the case of ‘Ghana Must Go’ it is the beginning as in the very first paragraph we find Kweku Sai dying in his garden, he proceeds to die for the next chapter and indeed then for the first ninety-three pages, which is also the first section, of the book. This is a very clever writing device of Selasi’s because, again as we are told is the case, parts of Kweku’s life start to flash before his eyes and what we learn of is a man who tried hard to create a life for his family away from Ghana, in America, and who failed and fled abandoning them all when he did so.

That in itself could be enough story to fill a large novel, Selasi some manages to tell his story but also the ripples and repercussions that have come from that event several decades later and how his family must reunite and face the past and the memories it brings upon learning of their estranged father’s death.

 “Kweku dies barefoot on a Sunday before sunrise, his slippers by the doorway to the bedroom like dogs. At the moment he is on the threshold between sunroom and garden considering whether to go back and get them. He won’t. His second wife Ama is asleep in that bedroom, her lips parted loosely, her brow lightly furrowed, her cheek hotly seeking some cool patch of pillow, and he doesn’t want to wake her.
He couldn’t if he tried.”

‘Ghana Must Go’ is a book almost overflowing with themes and ideas, in fact sometimes you are amazed at how one story, and one family no matter how estranged, can create all the questions and thoughts that run through your head as you read. The main theme for me was acceptance; how we want to feel accepted by our family no matter how different from them we might be, how we seek acceptance in the place we choose to live and yet want the continued acceptance of where we are from, acceptance in society and most importantly acceptance of ourselves – oddly probably the hardest thing of all.

Home is another theme. It has been well documented that Selasi herself has moved around a lot; born in the UK where she returned to study some of the time, lived in Brookline in the USA, spent time in Switzerland and Paris, now lives in Rome and visits Ghana and Nigeria frequently. As I read ‘Ghana Must Go’ for the first time ever it occurred to me that home isn’t the building you place the label on but it is literally, cliché alert, where the heart is and that is because really you are your own home and the people you surround yourself with make different walls and a ceiling at different times. See, it really, really had me thinking and yet this is all done without bashing these ideas over your head or making the novel a huge epic tome, they just form as you follow the Sai families story.

It is also a book about consequences. Some thinks happen to us and we are obviously conscious of the consequences, in this case Kweku’s death in the present and his abandonment in the past and how it affected his wife Fola and their children both initially and as the years go on. Yet there are also the consequences of things that ripple through we might not think, for example with Fola and the Biafra war and how that changes her life or how our parents and grandparents might have acted or not acted upon things.

What I loved so much about ‘Ghana Must Go’ was that at its very heart it is the beautifully written and compelling tale of a fractured and dysfunctional family and the characters and relationships within it and also a book that really looks at, and gets us thinking, about so much more. It is a book filled with hidden depths and one that left me feeling a real mixture of emotions; heartache, shock, horror and also hope. At a mere 318 pages I think that is an incredible accomplishment and am very much in agreement with anyone else who thinks Taiye Selasi is one author to most definitely watch out for.

If you would like to find out more about the book I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon with Taiye last week and she is the latest author on You Wrote The Book here (I think it is my favourite interview so far, if I am allowed to have favourites?) so do have a listen. Who else has read ‘Ghana Must Go’ and if so what did you make of it? Is this book on your periphery at the moment? What are your thoughts on buzz and hype?

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Filed under Books of 2013, Review, Taiye Selasi, Viking Books

The Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist 2013

So here are the six books that have made the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist 2013…

Womens-Prize-Shortlist-News-Item-2

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson (Doubleday)
May We Be Forgiven – A.M. Holmes (Granta)
Flight Behaviour – Barbara Kingsolver (Faber and Faber)
Bring Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate)
Where’d You Go, Bernadette – Maria Semple (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
NW – Zadie Smith (Hamilton)

Alas this year I couldn’t play ‘guess the shortlist’ as I knew it in advance so that I could do a feature for We Love This Book from ‘the man’s perspective’, along with my initial thoughts on the short listed books which you can see here on the website (not a Mantel bashing in site). You will also learn there that, yes indeed, I am going to read the whole of the shortlist, including re-reading A.M. Holmes and trying again with Zadie Smith, this year.

Obviously not having read them all I am in no real position to say which one I think will win, however I did randomly decide that it would be Kate Atkinson that would win this year, and so far the signs are good. I have decided that will be the last of the shortlist I read. I am going to start with Kingsolver, partly because it is the one I am the most daunted by and also because I am at Gran’s and she has a copy and I don’t, ha.

Who else is thinking of reading the short list? I am not going to suggest an official read-a-long but if anyone is reading them might be nice to have some support and people to swap notes with. Even if you aren’t planning on reading all of them what do you make of the list? Which have you read and which do you fancy reading?

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