Monthly Archives: May 2013

Savidge on Sabbatical

As some of you may have seen on twitter the other day or guessed from my absence on The Readers this week, Granny Savidge is sadly very, very poorly indeed and so I have dashed over to Derbyshire to spend time with her and I will be staying here for the foreseeable future.

Derbyshire

Gran is doing really well considering. Now the nausea is more under control we have been having some lovely chats (and some bonkers one when the drugs really kick in – and I mean the drugs she is on) and a few laughs, in fact I have been told off for laughing too much, oops! We have been talking quite a lot about books, including a fascinating chat with one of the nurses about how we visualise books as we read them in our heads – do they stay as written words or become like a film or series of pictures and when in the process of reading does it happen? Really interesting!

As poor Gran can’t hold a book or really concentrate on the words too well I have been reading to her. Well I am unimpressed; she has got me breaking the habit of a reading lifetime and reading a series out of order, and what’s more when I started reading Tarquin Hall’s second novel ‘The Man Who Died Laughing’ it was ¾ of the way through just as the mystery was solved. I have to say though with all the giggling we have done I am looking forward to trying the series from the beginning myself. We might not be reading together in companionable silence, but we are still reading together through the hard times in our own way.

Understandably apart from Gran’s daily dose or three of Vishnu Piru, whilst having brought myself some lighter reads for this trip, I don’t seem to be able to concentrate on books at the moment myself and so I am giving Savidge Reads a bit of a sabbatical. If I manage the odd book or have something bookish to say I might pop back on but really right now it’s time for family and Gran. I will be back at some point though, Gran would be furious if I didn’t… she feels she’s become quite the celebrity from it. Ha!

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Filed under Granny Savidge Reads, Random Savidgeness

A Library Reborn…

I mentioned earlier in the week, when I was asking which five books you would fill a library with first, that I had the pleasure of a sneak preview tour of Liverpool’s all new and revamped library. Well today I thought I would share some pictures of what the stunning £50,000,000 make over and restoration book project has achieved because there is no question that it is one of the most impressive libraries I have ever been around and one which should prove a destination for book lovers all around the world as a complete book haven.

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From the outside of the library it looks very like many central library’s around the UK, a grand Victorian building constructed in grandeur and stone that is built to last. Indeed the facade is from the 1800’s and is Grade II listed. What it has hidden behind it though is rather like something out of a science fiction novel or the future…

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Many people have mentioned Star Trek apparently…

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Isn’t that just incredible!?! Normally I am not a fan of knocking down building and leaving the facade but a) I think this entrance will bring people flocking from miles around to have a nosey and encourage people locally to do the same getting more readers via inquisitive footfall b) they didn’t knock the original down but a 1970’s ugly edition that had replaced it prior. So in this case I am all for what they have done and love the welcoming ‘Read’ section where all the contemporary fiction is housed with its matching contemporary feel and shelves that light up.

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As you go on through the building each floor is dedicated to a different zone. ‘Discover’ is a library for children I could only have dreamed of in my youth…

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Further floors about include ‘Enquire’, for all your reference and academic books as well as ‘Archive’ which if you want to learn about the past, not only of Liverpool, has the most exceptional resources…

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It made me feel like I was in a movie and could go and solve some cold case murder. Anyway… You also have the top floor which is named ‘Meet’ where there are meeting rooms as well as the most amazing roof terrace which I think you will find me on for most of the summer sat with a book frankly.

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Though if you don’t like heights maybe take the lift back down afterwards…

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What is also amazing is apart from all this modern wonder the restoration project has been amazing. Both ‘The Oak Room’ and ‘The Hornby Library’ were rooms the public had not been able to use since their construction in 1914 and so were storage rooms. Now they have been restored to the initial glory and are area’s where you can see rare books from all around the world through all points in history.

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We even got to see them bringing out John James Audubon’s massive ‘Birds of America’, described as the greatest natural history book ever produced which was oddly thrilling.

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My favourite room of all, though room seems slightly inadequate as it’s gargantuan really, is the Picton Reading Room which too has been restored to its former glory and houses all the ‘reading only’ copies of books as well as the ‘reserved’ central stock.

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The reserved stock looks amazing, I was thinking of all the out of print or special older editions of books that might be found…

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Because really the shelves are endless…

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Isn’t it amazing? You can tell where I am going to be spending a lot of time on and off over the coming months and years. I am actually thinking of moving in and seeing if anyone notices? Do you think I would get away with it? It certainly highlights what a library can be in the modern world, if only everyone saw every little library as important as the people here have the central library. We need them after all don’t we?

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Maggie & Me – Damian Barr

Back at the start of last year one of the lovely publicists at Bloomsbury told me, with great certainty and authority, that they were publishing Damian Barr’s memoir and that I was going to ‘adore it’. In my usual contrary-Mary style I said something like ‘oh really’ with eyebrow cocked. Well Alice, who also told me I would love ‘The Song of Achilles’ and ‘Diving Belles’, you were right again with ‘Maggie and Me’ and in hindsight you really should have bet me a tenner that I would have loved it, in fact in the future you really must bet me that, plus interest. Anyway…

*****, Bloomsbury Books, hardback, 2013, non fiction, 256 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

‘Maggie & Me’ is Damian Barr’s memoir, mainly of his youth – though we do get to know more about him now thanks to the last chapter epilogue. It is the sort of book that I have pondered since reading if it would have been easier to have written as fiction. Why? Well, Damian’s childhood is one that came littered with difficulties, a broken home life, not much money and people around him who took advantage of that an abused him. One thing is for certain though; this is no misery memoir, not by a long shot.

‘We watch the news for our revision and it’s always strikers chanting ‘Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, Out, Out, Out”!’ Except for John we all join in. But it doesn’t quite feel right – hating her just helps me fit in. I don’t need to stand out anymore: six foot tall, scarecrow skinny and speccy with join-the-dots spots, bottle-opener buck teeth and a thing for waistcoats. Plus I get free school dinners and I’m gay.”

I do feel that ‘Maggie and Me’ is a book that you need to know as little about as possible in order to get the most from it. There were several times when I was genuinely horrified by what I was reading, yet never (and this is mainly thanks to Damian and the generosity he provides, possibly through hindsight) did I start to judge anyone, it is like Damian is saying ‘here is my life, this is what happened, take from it what you will’. He doesn’t want people to feel sorry for him, though I did at times (sorry). What I felt he really wanted, and it is what I got from the book, was that through his story, and in people reading it and passing it on, he hopes he might help other younger people in that position or older ones who had been through it.

I am worried I have made it sound like it is the misery memoir that I state it’s not, because honestly it isn’t. Despite the hard home life and lack of money and the coming to terms with his sexuality whilst the epidemic of Aids had arisen, there is always a shred of hope or escapism which keeps him going. As much as I was horrified and moved, like all the best reads I also found myself laughing out loud. This either came in the form of the wonderful Granny Mac, who Maggie Smith is destined to play at some point I feel sure, and her wonderful sayings like “Wit’s fur yae disnae go by yae.” or from many of the family members when they react to the people or situations around them.

‘Bottle blonde’, she huffs, furiously bleaching the inside of a teapot that we’ll all taste later. ‘Pound Shop Dolly Parton. Midden. Hoor’s handbag,’ she curses into the suds before shooshing me for asking what a ‘hoor’ is?’

‘Maggie and Me’ is also very much a book about books and how they can save someone and provide a huge sanctuary for someone. Interestingly (well I think it is) myself and my Granny Savidge were talking about how books and reading, which is by its nature a lonely pastime, has made us so many friends. This is what books did for Damian along with providing a huge amount of escape for him, intriguingly he had a taste for horror which one wonders might have been because they showed a more horrible world than his own could be at times.

‘Somehow he’s managed to smuggle new horror books out of Newarthill Library – our junior cards don’t permit Stephen King, James Herbert or Dean Koontz. But here they all are. I’d never dare but Mark would. We take turns reading out loud. Particularly gory bits get read at least twice. Pennywise the Clown smiles his big red gash and boils our blood for candyfloss. Cujo is off the leash. Red-eyed rats swarm around our feet, their filthy fur tickling our ankles before they shred our shins.’

Interestingly as I was reading Damian’s memoir I was also thinking of Kerry Hudson’s ‘Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma’ and is like a fictional naughty little sister of ‘Maggie & Me’. I kind of like the idea of just having them next to one another on my shelves, companions to recommend to everyone, though as I like my books alphabetised the idea is abhorrent in reality. Like Hudson’s wonderful book, with ‘Maggie and Me’ I found a background which really evoked mine to me again. Whilst I was never abused we didn’t have much money (I remember water on my cereal when we couldn’t get milk), I wasn’t particularly popular and was the last person to get picked for games (until I started forging my own notes, ‘bad knee’) and always felt somewhat apart and so turned to books. I wish the younger Damian and the younger me had been friends really, or at least geeky book and boy loving penpals.

Anyway, back on track away from the waffling, as you may have hazarded a guess I really loved ‘Maggie and Me’. I related to it – something that only happens to your very core or bones once or twice in a blue reading moon – and empathised with it. It was the sort of book my younger self was crying out for someone to put in my hands. I can only hope some lovely relatives, librarians, teachers or other influential bods make sure this is passed on to both the younger generation, especially those who call rubbish things ‘gay’, and to everyone they know really. Books like this help make being different both more acceptable and understandable, we need them.

Who else has read ‘Maggie and Me’ and what did you think of it? In a way I have a feeling it’s like Augusten Burroughs book, which is high flattery indeed as I love those, and hopefully will get the attention that ‘Running With Scissors’ had, or indeed Edmund White’s memoirs or Maupin’s ‘Tales of the City’. I am waffling again. What other books about being a ‘child of Thatcher’ do you know as I would like to seek more out?

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Books of 2013, Damian Barr, Non Fiction, Review

Fiction Uncovered 2013

One of the bookish initiatives that I love the most has to be Fiction Uncovered. In case you haven’t heard of it, as I know it is a UK initiative and not sure how much worldwide audience it gets, the aim of Fiction Uncovered is to really do what it says on the tin… It uncovers fiction that might have gone under the radar in the last year and undeservedly missed out on any awards or, more importantly I feel, word of mouth on the scale it deserves. Each year I get more and more excited about what the list might be as each year it has supplied me with some books I have really loved. Plus we all love a list of books we might not have heard about don’t we?

Guess what? The list has now been released and here are the eight novels that I think we should all be getting very excited and interested in at the moment. Like last year I will give you the bumph the book comes with and then my initial thoughts in order of authors surname so you don’t think I have favourites…

All The Beggers Riding – Lucy Caldwell

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. (Trad.) When Lara was twelve, and her younger brother Alfie eight, their father died in a helicopter crash. A prominent plastic surgeon, and Irishman, he had honed his skills on the bomb victims of the Troubles. But the family grew up used to him being absent: he only came to London for two weekends a month to work at the Harley Street Clinic, where he met their mother years before, and they only once went on a family holiday together, to Spain, where their mother cried and their father lost his temper and left early. Because home, for their father, wasn’t Earls Court: it was Belfast, where he led his other life…Narrated by Lara, nearing forty and nursing her dying mother, “All the Beggars Riding” is the heartbreaking portrait of a woman confronting her past.

Simon says: Not to start off on a negative slant but the blurb mentions horses in the first line, I don’t like horses or books with horses in… and this book is now making me think of horses. However as you read on the blurb actually sounds very interesting and here we have one of those things that I love… someone looking back on their life and possibly a domestic drama with the added subjects of ‘the troubles’ and possibly some secrets, or am I reading too much into ‘where he led his other life’. The fact the narrator is looking after someone who is dying, bearing in mind my current situation with Gran, might be tough but it could also be therapeutic. Sorry I have gone on…

How I Killed Margaret Thatcher – Anthony Cartwright

Why Sean Bull sets out one day to assassinate Margaret Thatcher…’Judas Iscariot’s here, look. Here comes Judas Iscariot…’ Nine-year old Sean has never seen anything like what happens on the day Margaret Thatcher takes power and his grandad discovers his uncle voted for her. So begins the start of a family secret and the end of Sean’s idyllic childhood in the industrial Midlands – until, one day, deciding that someone’s got to stop the train of destruction, he sets out for revenge. A heartbreaking and timely story of a moment of national crisis as felt by one family, How I Killed Margaret Thatcher delivers a devastating English twist on the dictator novel.

Simon says: Have people been expecting Maggie to die imminently for a while? First Damian Barr and now Anthony Cartwright, though technically it is the other way around though we haven’t heard so much about this book. As one of ‘Thatchers Children’ (which to me means I wouldn’t have voted for her, but couldn’t have anyway yet I cannot deny her leadership affected my childhood completely) I do find hearing about people of around the same generation as me and how it affected them, so I want to read this one soon.

Black Bread White Beer – Niven Govinden

Amal is driving his wife Claud from London to her parents’ country house. In the wake of Claud’s miscarriage, it is a journey that will push their relationship – once almost perfect – towards possible collapse. In this, his latest novel, Govinden casts a critical eye on a society in which, in spite of never-ending advances in social media communications, the young still find it difficult to communicate. A devastatingly passionate and real portrait of a marriage, ‘Black Bread White Beer’ keenly captures the abandon, selfishness, hazards and pleasures that come with giving your life to another.

Simon says: I am slightly kicking myself as this has been in my bureau, printed off especially as I wouldn’t read the e-book which is how this came out initially, for quite a while. I am definitely going to read it, well I was anyway, all the sooner now though. I think it sounds fascinating… Sorry I haven’t read it sooner Niven – though that might be because I was promised it would come with a Caramac chocolate and it didn’t!

The Village – Nikita Lalwani

“The Village” by Nikita Lalwani is a disturbing and utterly gripping modern morality tale set in contemporary India. On a winter morning Ray Bhullar arrives at the gates of an Indian village. She is here to make a film. But this will be no ordinary tale about India – for this is no ordinary village. It is an open prison, inhabited by murderers. An apparent innocent among the guilty, Ray tries hard to be accepted. But the longer she and the rest of the crew stay, the more the need for drama increases. Soon the fragile peace of the village will be shattered and, despite Ray’s seemingly good intentions, the motives of the visitors and the lives of the inhabitants will be terrifyingly, brutally exposed.

Simon says: I feel like I might have heard small rumblings about this book, now having read the blurb I cannot believe I haven’t read this book as it sounds soooooo up my street. Firstly as i have been meaning to read a book set in India for a while, secondly because ‘an open prison, inhabited by murderers’ sounds genius in terms of fictional potential tension, atmosphere and danger.

 The Colour of Milk – Nell Leyshon

“The Colour of Milk” is the new novel by Orange longlisted author and playwright Nell Leyshon. ‘This is my book and i am writing it by my own hand’. The year is eighteen hundred and thirty one when fifteen-year-old Mary begins the difficult task of telling her story. A scrap of a thing with a sharp tongue and hair the colour of milk, Mary leads a harsh life working on her father’s farm alongside her three sisters. In the summer she is sent to work for the local vicar’s invalid wife, where the reasons why she must record the truth of what happens to her – and the need to record it so urgently – are gradually revealed.

Simon says: Every year there is one book I have already read which I have loved, and may partly be while I therefore feel tuned in with FU, I absolutely adored this book when I read it last year. Thrilled.

The Heart Broke In – James Meek

Would you betray your lover to give them what they wanted? Bec Shepherd is a malaria researcher struggling to lead a good life. Ritchie, her reprobate brother, is a rock star turned TV producer. When Bec refuses an offer of marriage from a powerful newspaper editor and Ritchie’s indiscretions catch up with him, brother and sister are forced to choose between loyalty and betrayal. The Heart Broke In is an old-fashioned story of modern times, a rich, ambitious family drama of love, death and money in the era of gene therapy and internet blackmail.

Simon says: Now I had an unsolicited copy of this last year (kicking myself again) and Ritchie as a character, from the blurb, put me off so much with the rock star to TV producer story line (the idea bored me and I felt I had seen it before) that I gave it to a relative, who I don’t think has read it yet but I can’t go and steal it back off. It is the only one I feel a bit unsure about… at the moment, maybe I need to be more open minded?

Orkney – Amy Sackville

On a remote island in Orkney, a curiously-matched couple arrive on their honeymoon. He is an eminent literature professor; she was his pale, enigmatic star pupil. Alone beneath the shifting skies of this untethered landscape, the professor realises how little he knows about his new bride and yet, as the days go by and his mind turns obsessively upon the creature who has so beguiled him, she seems to slip ever further from his yearning grasp. Where does she come from? Why did she ask him to bring her north? What is it that constantly draws her to the sea?

Simon says: I definitely heard a lot about this book last year, lots and lots, which is probably what put me off it. Apparently it is a book about books and writing though so again maybe I cut my nose off to spite my face with this one too around the time it came out. Not that I had a copy, I just mean when all these people were raving on book shows I sort of switched off – oops.

Secrecy – Rupert Thomson

It is Florence, 1691. The Renaissance is long gone, and the city is a dark, repressive place, where everything is forbidden and anything is possible. The Enlightenment may be just around the corner, but knowledge is still the property of the few, and they guard it fiercely. Art, sex and power – these, as always, are the obsessions. Facing serious criminal charges, Gaetano Zummo is forced to flee his native Siracusa at the age of twenty, first to Palermo, then Naples, but always has the feeling that he is being pursued by his past, and that he will never be free of it. Zummo works an artist in wax. He is fascinated by the plague, and makes small wooden cabinets in which he places graphic, tortured models of the dead and dying. But Cosimo III, Tuscany’s penultimate Medici ruler, gives Zummo his most challenging commission yet, and as he tackles it his path entwines with that of the apothecary’s daughter Faustina, whose secret is even more explosive than his. Poignant but paranoid, sensual yet chilling, Secrecy is a novel that buzzes with intrigue and ideas. It is a love story, a murder mystery, a portrait of a famous city in an age of austerity, an exercise in concealment and revelation, but above all it is a trapdoor narrative, one story dropping unexpectedly into another, the ground always slippery, uncertain…

Simon says: Ok, this one really excites me and weirdly enough I was looking at this when I was wandering round an empty library only yesterday, and please don’t tell my new work, I don’t have membership at that library… not that you could take them out anyway. I definitely want to read this one.

What are my thoughts on the list overall? Well, thank you for asking! I am overall excited by it. I had that initial moment of ‘well, I have hardly heard of any of these’ – which is the point silly Simon – before realising that maybe I had heard of one or two. It is a diverse list which I like and with Nell Leyshon as a choice I feel already I will bloody love the others as much as I did that. We will see. I will say I was surprised by how many of the authors have won awards either with the book on the list (Govinden, Meek) and how many of the authors have been listed and indeed won awards before with other works (Lalwani, Sackville) and how many are still eligible for some of this year’s prizes ahead (Sackville again, Thomson) but maybe they haven’t been submitted, or maybe that isn’t the point. Safe to say I want to get my mitts on all of them of course.

So, I hear you ask, what happens next? Well in a nutshell nothing but all of us going off and reading a few/all of them really. One of the things that I find the most charming about it, which might sound odd from someone who has set up a book prize, is that from the list of the eight titles the judges (including the lovely Dovegreyreader) decide upon there is never a singular winner, they are all deemed winners. (That said I do think that is what any good book prize’s short and long lists should be about frankly, just saying!) Which I think makes Fiction Uncovered all the more lovely and sets it out from other prizes etc. Can you tell I am a big fan?

Now, over to you… What do you think of the initiative and the list of eight Fiction Uncovered titles this year? Which of them have you read and what did you think? Which ones have made you desperate to give them a read and uncover a fabulous story or two in the future?

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In A Dream Library…

I have meant to put up several posts and book reviews in the last few days, either I have not thought the book reviews were quite right or good enough (I am still slightly sulking that none of you commented on what has been one of my favourite reviews I have written ever, ha) or I have been too manic in the final few days of Liverpool’s Literary Festival, ‘In Other Words’,  which ends on Sunday. This week the big, big news is the forthcoming reopening of Liverpool’s Central Library on Friday… and guess where I was today?

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I have to say that walking through a fairly people-less library is a very odd feeling indeed – especially one that sprawls over five stories and goes into several different buildings. It has to be seen to be believed (and I can’t give too much away yet but expect a post on it this weekend). I can say they have pulled off something very rare as the library mixes the brand spanking new with a facade from 1860 and the restoration of The Hornby Library and Picton Reading Room from 1906 which link into the main building magically. Oh go on then… as you have seen some of the new I will let you see some of the newly restored too.

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As we were shown the finished building I discovered that it took 4 months to stock the library (with old and new stock – I imagined it was all knew and that they had binned, thank heavens they hadn’t) which has 15,393 metres of shelves which can house approximately 355,000 books. Amazing! You can guess where my new favourite place in Liverpool is going to be! This also made me ponder…

If you had 15,393 metres of shelves at your disposal, for your own lending library, what would be the first five books that you would put in them for people to borrow? I would love your suggestions (I am bound to have read hardly any of them) and will reveal mine when I do a big library reveal blog post later in the week. So over to you, name your five…

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Trick or Treat – Richie Tankersley Cusick

Well we are going from one extreme to the other on Savidge Reads. Yesterday we had the latest Persephone Project instalment, the diaries of a victim of the holocaust, now today we have the first in the Point Horror Book Club organised by the lovely James Dawson. Some might see this as going from the sublime to the ridiculous. Well, that is how we roll here at Savidge Reads as, after all, we all like to read a wide range of varied material don’t we? I have to say reading ‘Trick or Treat’, by Richie Tankersley Cusick which was also the 6th ever (out of hundreds) Point Horror novel, has been a chilling, comforting, nostalgic and occasionally laugh out loud experience.

**** Scholastic Books, paperback, 1989, fiction, 209 pages, from my own personal TBR

As ‘Trick or Treat’ opens, our heroine (though this becomes debatable, as she is a bit of a pain in the arse – more on that later) Martha has been uprooted from her life in Chicago as her father, only two years after the death of his wife and Martha’s mother, has married (via elopement, shock horror) Sally and so now they are all moving in together, with Sally’s son Conor, to a house in the arse end of nowhere that is very creepy and resides between a wood and a cemetery. Once there Martha feels an extra specially spooky coldness in her room, as if something awful happened in there, and soon enough she starts getting strange phone calls. Could this be to do with the not so distant murder of the young girl, Elizabeth, whose room it was and who Martha looks rather spookily like? (Erm, yes!)

‘The phone rang.
With a surge of relief Martha remembered that Blake was going to call, and she raced for the phone before Conor could answer it.
“Hello?”
“Hello, Elizabeth,” the voice whispered.
And it wasn’t Blake who drew a long, raspy breath… and let it out again… breathing… breathing… while her heart beat like a frantic wing in her throat.
“Who – who is this?”
It wasn’t Blake who began to laugh and then suddenly went quiet – the awful, terrible silence going on and on forever…
“Hello/” Martha cried. “Who is this!”
“You’re dead, Elizabeth. Trick or treat.”’

Now to be fair, if this happened to me I would be quite miffed. Yet Martha practically screams (and scream she does a lot, or often ends on the verge of a scream, hand clasped to mouth) VICTIM. She’s clearly very hormonal and full of teenage angst, mainly hating everyone in the world she finds herself and yet wondering why she can’t make many friends. A mystery that isn’t it?

Fortunately she is fairly pretty and the local heart throb, Blake, takes a shine to her. In fact many men seem to fall for her – it must be her almost constant fear of everything and blonde hair – even one of her teachers (who is Blake’s cousin) and possibly her own stepbrother seem strangely besotted with her. Ewww. Mind you, one of them is most likely a murderer, so not really a catch after all. I have to say if I had spent much time with her I might have been tempted to become a psychopath myself and wanted to kill her, so I started to thoroughly enjoy her torment and whoever was causing it the more the book went on.

To be serious for a moment (all adopt serious faces please, right now) I have to admit that Richie Tankersley Cusick, who shall be known from now as RTC to save my fingers, is bloody (see what I did there, oh no serious face again) good at creating a real sense of unease. She makes an old spooky house really spooky, a school late one evening very threatening and I did genuinely get chills and thrills as I was reading along.

 ‘“The house looked strangely ghostlike, rising through pale wisps of fog, its dark stone walls and chimneys interwoven with bare, twisted trees. Silhouetted there in the twilight, its gables crawled with dead ivy, it’s tattered awnings drooping like eyelids hiding secrets. Like something in a dream, not quite real. Not quite safe…”’

I also did rather a lot of laughing, in a nice way. The younger me who read these, and I am sure I read this one back in the day though it is a fuzzy memory, would have been revelling half thrilled and half horrified in the melodrama of it all. Now, as a 31 year old, part of me was still scared (no, really, I was – delightfully so) but part of me just laughed at the camp nature of it all.

‘“I’m dead,” Martha whispered, and she began to cry, and Conor held her tighter and rocked her.
“No. It was only a nightmare. Go back to sleep.”
“I’m scared,” Martha said, her voice was muffled against his bare shoulder, and sleep was a deep, deep sea, pulling her down.’

See isn’t Martha a drama queen? Honestly, tut – she had only seen a shadow! I think we all know who Martha grew up to be don’t we?

I am so, so glad that the lovely James of Dawson has decided to start this book group/challenge. I had forgotten the world where everyone drove a ‘station wagon’ (which I thought every American owned and was so jealous we just had a Nissan Micra), where your teachers were “boyishly handsome”, where all the boys were “so strong, yet so tender” often running “hands through thick, tawny hair” and where your parents were writers and artists and just buggered off for weeks leaving you alone at the hands of a psychopath! Honestly… it is compulsive reading, you can see why I loved them can’t you?  They are like the horror of Stephen King meets the camper jumpy horror of the Scream films meets the gothic of Rebecca meets teenage Mills and Boon meets Scooby Doo. Genius! If you haven’t read one you really should just for the experience and ‘Trick or Treat’ ticks all the Point Horror boxes. You’ll be chilled, thrilled, laugh a lot and just really enjoy yourself, what could be better in a book than that. I can’t wait for R.L. Stine’s (the God of Point Horror) ‘The Baby-sitter’ on the 13th of next month.

Speaking of enjoyment, I have really enjoyed reviewing this book. I am pondering if I should make all my reviews like this, slightly sarcastic yet good humouredly so, what do you think? Back to Point Horror’s though, who else read this – either as a teenager or an adult – and what did you think? (Do not forget to read, and comment on, James’ hilarious review of this book.) Will you be joining in for more frightening frolics as we go?

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Filed under Review, Richie Tankersley Cusick, Scholastic Books, The Point Horror Book Club

An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum 1941-43

I have to admit that I was glad that I ended up putting The Persephone Project on hold for a month as I have to admit I struggled with the fifth title. One of the downsides of reading them in order and with a deadline is that you might not be in the right space for a book and also you feel the need to simply get it read. This was what I was experiencing with ‘An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum 1941-43’ and I didn’t want to let that affect the book, so when I knew I was having trouble keeping up with blogging I popped this down for a while before I picked it up again, and I am glad I did because when I came back to it I suddenly found I was reading it in a much better frame of mind.

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**** Persephone Books, paperback, 1941-43 (1999 edition), non fiction, translated by Arnold J. Pomerans, 430 pages, from my own personal TBR

I have to admit something that really worried me about the book when I started it was that I didn’t really like Etty very much. As we meet her she is clearly going through a rather traumatic time where she is having major self doubt and bouts of depression. She is seeking help from an older man, a psychoanalyst who she simply calls ‘S’, who she also seems to be having a rather erotic and worrying connection with – they spend a lot of the time wrestling and him telling her he can’t love her, yet clearly getting aroused and passionate with her. In the background we also have the start of people being moved into concentration camps and Etty’s observations, initially minor ones, on this.

As I was reading on I was finding myself getting more and more frustrated with Etty not getting/realizing/understanding the bigger picture and simply being rather self absorbed and unhappy. This of course, knowing that Etty ended up in Auschwitz where she died, made me feel really guilty that I didn’t really like this woman and her thoughts. I felt very conflicted about all of this and started to over think what it meant about me and so I put the book down to end the self analysis, in hindsight I can see that weirdly  this was just what Etty was prone to.

A few weeks ago I finally picked the book up again and strangely found that my attitude, as I read a long, had undergone a slight turnaround. As I read her thoughts I started to find her rather grimly fascinating. Born in 1914 Etty went on to study law, psychology and Russian at the University of Amsterdam. She was also very much a modern woman, she herself didn’t believe she was ‘meant for one man’ and as we see with ‘S’ and even her landlord she could be very free, she was also in some way full of issues, she seemed confident but lacked it. In fact Eva Hoffman, who wrote the preface for the book, describes Hillesum as “an intellectual young woman”, a private person, who was “impassioned, erotically volatile, restless”, while her journey was “idiosyncratic, individual, and recognisably modern” and you couldn’t really put it better than that. She was no angel and whilst initially was something I struggled with (why should we assume all Holocasut victims were perfect people after all?) I became intrigued by her.

“I half wanted to read some philosophy, or perhaps that essay on War and Peace, then felt Alfred Adler suited my mood better, and ended up with a light novel. But all my efforts were just tilting against the natural lassitude to which I wisely yielded in the end. And this morning everything seemed fine again. But when I began cycling down Apollolaan, there it was back, all the questioning, the discontent, the feeling that everything was empty of meaning, the sense that life was unfilled, all the pointless brooding. And right now I am sunk in the mire. And even the certain knowledge that this too will pass brought me no peace this time.”

As the diaries continue, and then turn into letters, Etty’s story changes because of the fact she herself gets taken to Westerbork, a transit camp, with many other Dutch Jews. The writing here naturally changes, the horrors that Etty sees and the terror she feels come straight off the page. To have the contrast of her personality from earlier on is part of what makes this such a hard hitting, and indeed (cliched as it sounds) important book tfor people to read, no matter how uncomfortable or difficult it gets. I must admit when I finished the book, and the last postcard Etty wrote which amazingly she threw from the train from Westerbork to Auschwitz and some farmers posted, I thought that just a collection of the letters would have been a better volume by itself. My opinion has changed as I think having both the diaries and letters creates a haunting picture with its depth and layers and so hits you harder.

With ‘An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum 1941-43’ we have a distinct and very different voice from a part of history that we need not to forget and to learn from. I may have found her hard to work with at the start, yet strangely after finishing the book I felt that this is what makes the book so different and so powerful. Etty’s is a voice I will never forget.

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Filed under Etty Hillesum, Persephone Books, Review, The Persephone Project