Monthly Archives: August 2013

Travels With My Aunt – Graham Greene

Once again, this time with ‘Travels With My Aunt’ my final Greene for Gran read, Graham Greene has done that thing of writing a book which I loved, got a bit frustrated and bored with and then sat back and thought about and have decided that whilst it wasn’t my favourite read of all time it is a bloody clever book indeed. Oh Gran… why oh why can’t you be on the end of the phone anymore for me to have a good old natter with you about this book? So frustrating, thankfully I have lots of you to discuss it with hopefully.

Vintage Classics, 1969 ( 1999 edition), paperback, 262 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Henry Pulling is a retired man who is very comfortable with his life, he doesn’t really want for anything and the highlight of excitement in his life are his dahlias which he tends to in a way some might say could be bordering on obsession. No gardening pun intended on the ‘bordering’ there. That is until the funeral of his mother and the arrival of his long lost septuagenarian (a word I will be promptly adding to my vocabulary) Aunt Augusta. From their first meeting at the funeral of his mother, where Aunt Augusta announces that his mother might not have been his mother at all, and the coffee in her apartment after, where he meets her man servant/lover Wentworth who swaps Henry’s mothers ashes for some marijuana, you know things are not going to be all flowers and regularly delivered cooked favourite meals before.

“I was weeding the dahlias, the Polar Beauties and the Golden Leaders and the Requiems, when my telephone began to ring. Being unused to the sound which shattered all the peace in my little garden, I assumed it was a wrong number. I had very few friends, although before my retirement I boasted a great many acquaintances.”

Aunt Augusta is what many people would politely describe as a ‘character’, those who might want to be more base would say she was a slightly crazy woman in her seventies who isn’t against the odd illegal action along with an abundance of sex from many a lover, which as we learn has always been the way. She is brass, quite coarse, a bit vulgar and rather naughty (for which I naturally loved her) and also a woman of a certain sense of danger, darkness and mystery (which I naturally wanted to discover more of) in fact of all Greene’s characters I have come across Aunt Augusta is probably my favourite and cleverly Greene never allows her to become a farce no matter how funny or crude she is being. I did often laugh out loud at paragraphs like this.

‘I very much doubt it,’ she said. ‘My dear Henry,’ she added, ‘at my age one has ceased to expect a relationship to last. Think how complicated life would be if I had kept in touch with all the men I have known intimately. Some died, some I left, a few have left me. If they were all with me now we would have to take over a whole wing of the Royal Albion. I was very fond of Wordsworth while he lasted, but my emotions are not as strong as they once were. I can support his absence, though I may regret him for a while tonight. His knackers were superb.’   

It was strange reading this later, 1969, Greene novel as for the first fifty or so pages of the book I felt like this was an author simply writing for the pleasure of it (it was his twentieth novel after all) and it seemed much more carefree. A simple tale of a happy, but boring, man who meets a wild relative and finds himself gallivanting all over the world on her whims/dodgy dealings. Then throw in some crazy characters, like a CIA Agent who counts the amount of minutes he spends urinating every day, and lots of rather rude titillation and hey presto an entertaining romp. That would have done me fine. Yet like ‘Our Man From Havana’ Greene also has a lot more going on with the book which slowly comes to focus as the laughter started to lessen.

To hand it to Greene he fits a lot in with this book. He looks at prostitution, the Nazi regime and how WWII changed the world, the plight of third world countries and even manages to swing in some commentary on the apartheid in South Africa along with how the pill had, rightly or wrongly, changed women’s sexual awakening and responsibility. Oh and (just for a change, possibly a sign of too much of an author not always being a good thing as it really got on my wick in this book) of course the subject of religion and Greene’s favourite topic of conversation Catholicism.

With the admiration of all these ‘hot topics’ that Greene interweaves within ‘Travels With My Aunt’ also comes a slight criticism for me. I felt that Greene suddenly worried he was almost having too much fun and that actually really we should be focussed on these subjects in hand and think on. Whilst it did add meat to the book, for me it also really bogged me down. I found the final part of the book, which to be fair is only 80 pages of the novels total, a real slog until Greene suddenly stepped it up a gear leading to the ending, which I guessed part of and then had a real ‘yuck’ feeling around the final two sentences.

Greene does this too me a lot as an author, leaves me feeling like I have read something rather brilliant even if I didn’t always enjoy the whole thing, more the sum of his parts. His prose is always lush and masterful and yet his plots sometimes make me ponder. ‘Travels With My Aunt’ could have just been a really entertaining and quirky read, and in many ways it remains that, there is just a little bit of a forced feeling of an author wanting to be deemed worthy that dampens it on occasion and makes the book feel much longer than it is. Or am I being too harsh?

Gran and I would have argued the toss about this for a few hours I am sure, with me possibly having to admit defeat at some point, but then the best books inspire debate don’t they –  so thanks Gran for making me give this a whirl! Greene will certainly be an author I will be returning to… though maybe not in quite such a concentrated dose. What have been your thoughts on Greene, and if any of you have read ‘Travels With My Aunt’ did you find the deeper undertones a little too try hard, or did they make the book a more fulfilling reading experience for you?

And don’t forget to let me know if you have read any Greene’s for Gran, what you thought of them and if you reviewed them where you did so.

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Filed under Graham Greene, Greene For Gran, Review, Vintage Books, Vintage Classics

The Greene For Gran Gang!

So back at the end of July I decided that in honour of my lovely Granny Savidge Reads, who sadly passed away last month after a courageous battle with a tumour, that as she was such a bookish influence on me I should do something to commemorate that and her here on the blog, where she came to know some of you and vice versa. Her favourite author, well one of them, was Graham Greene and after the eulogy I gave at her funeral ended with me telling everyone to ‘go and grab a Greene for Gran’ I would do the same here and so Greene for Gran was born.

Well I have to admit, I was utterly blown away by the response and how many of you said you would spread the word and give Greene a go. Brilliant. I decided to go Greene crazy and read four very different novels of his. Well, I didn’t quite manage to complete the #GreeneForGran challenge that I set myself, but three out of four isn’t so bad – especially considering I have been working on an inaugural month long music festival. Plus, as with my experiences of his books before, Greene is one of those authors that I really, really like and sometimes find a little bit baffling. I utterly LOVED ‘The Ministry of Fear’ and yet really didn’t love ‘The Quiet American’; you will have to wait a teeny bit longer to see how I got on with ‘Travels With My Aunt’.

I haven’t managed ‘The Heart of the Matter’ but actually I think that is a good thing. Because I don’t want to only read Greene for Gran just for one month, I want books and an author (along with Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood, Andrea Levy and many more) that I can read from time to time and will make me think of Gran (I had a slightly emotional moment starting Atkinson’s ‘Life for Life’ the other day as I wanted to phone Gran and tell her how great it was and how she should read it) in the future, and I think a lot of books will.

Anyway, before I get too mushy, here are some links to those of you who have been reading some Graham Greene books and who may, or may not, get you dashing off to do the same – if you haven’t had incentive enough already – I am calling them Gran’s Gang, ha!

The Ministry of Fear

Some guy named Simon of Savidge Reads
Heaven Ali
Nose In A Book

The Quiet American

Harriet Devine
That pesky Savidge Reads again

England Made Me

Annabel’s House of Books

Stamboul Train

Harriet Devine
Heaven Ali

The Third Man/No Man’s Land

Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings

Doctor Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party

Annabel’s House of Books

Now as I mentioned I still have my thoughts on ‘Travels With My Aunt’ to come and I am pretty sure that I have missed lots and lots of reviews, my brain is addled after the last week, so if you have blogged about Greene or when you do please let me know and I will add you to the gang. If you don’t have a blog let me know what Greene books you have read and what you thought of them down there too, is lovely to see Gran’s love of a good book spreading, I just wish she could have a good natter with us about them!

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Getting Graphic!

Yesterday I was talking about one set of books that I am really rubbish at making myself read even though I often really enjoy them, those big mammoth books. Today I am bringing another type, or genre is probably more apt, of book that I often enjoy but don’t read so much because they are a field that I know nothing about… The graphic novel!

I have in my time writing Savidge Reads read a few graphic novels, but only nine (though there was a tenth we don’t talk about) in almost six years really isn’t enough to my mind, especially when I think of how many books I read over a year, it doesn’t even really make 1% of my reading diet and this seems a real shame. Especially when I have loved some so much, ‘Blankets’ by Craig Thompson is easily my favourite so far.

Well, thanks to some books I owned, some that arrived and some I went and got at the library I am going to try and change all that, starting with this selection…

Getting Graphic

First up, though probably the last one that I will try as I have had it since my birthday and simply don’t want to open it, is ‘Building Stories’ by Chris Ware. This is a book I got insanely excited about after reading some marvellous reviews and then seeing (the legend that is) Marieke Hardy talking about it on ‘The First Tuesday Book Club’. I asked for it for my birthday, wanting to try out a book that isn’t a book but is, yet since very kindly being bought it have been too afraid to open it. Once you do it tells a story by looking like this…

building-stories-book-open-box-chris-ware-1

Amazing right? So maybe I need to break the seal and just get on with it. Before I do though, see procrastinating again, I am going to give some others a whirl and the first three are from the library. I have heard from many graphic novel lovers, and also just book lovers, that ‘Maus’ by Art Spiegelman is possibly one of the best graphic novels you could ever read and so when I saw it in the library (are graphic novels like gold dust everyone else’s library too?) I grabbed it instantly.

I also grabbed ‘The Adventuress’ by Audrey Niffenegger as I love her non-graphic books and enjoyed ‘The Night Bookmobile’ which I borrowed from another library a few years ago. The final one that simply had to come home with me was a ‘Batman’ graphic novel which I have a bit of a geeky thing about comic wise, and this one doubly ticked the boxes as it featured Catwoman on the cover. This does make me ponder the question of where does the divide come between a graphic novel and an extended comic?

Let us move on (though comment if you would like) from that can of worms swiftly with the final book which arrived through my letter box the other day. ‘The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil’ by Stephen Collins, which no is not a biography of me or my life as some of you asked on Twitter, rude. This I have wanted to read for ages as, well, I have a thing about facial hair and love the fact there is a book about evil facial hair.

I should here mention that Rob and Kate have done an episode about graphic novels on ‘Adventures with Words’ recently, I can’t comment on what they said as I haven’t had chance to listen to it yet, but you might like to pop by and have a listen and get their thoughts. What are your thoughts on graphic novels though? Do you think they count as a novel? Where is the divide between a very long comic and a graphic novel? Which ones I haven’t got, or read, would you recommend I try and look up when I can?

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Am I Ready For The Long Haul?

…And a deep breath and a huge sigh all around! I have just had the most manic week I think I have ever worked. Today was my first day working from home in over a week, I wanted to say it was my first day off but that hasn’t quite happened and probably won’t happen for a few days.  The reasons, well, over the last weekend we had the opening four days of the Liverpool International Music Festival which my team have been working on for months. It was madness, brilliant but madness. We had thousands turn up (60,000 on the last day on Monday) and myself and the Beard, who kindly was forced volunteered to help out, did all the meet and greets which ended up with us taking over 120 screaming girls to meet lots and lots of pop stars – knackering but loads of fun, especially as my aunty and cousin came to stay for some of it!

These celebrations, and the week and a half of madness in the office leading up to it, have meant reading has really gone out the window and I am haven’t really picked up very much. I have finally been doing some book sorting and got rid of about 200 half of which have gone to neighbours and the library, the rest are going to be donated to my local bookshop. This sorting has highlighted a) just how many bloody books I have – not that I am complaining – and that b) I have a lot of books lingering on the bookshelves that have something in common, they are all bloody huge…

Bloody Big Books

(Note that the selection of books pictured above are some recent additions to my ‘really bloody big and really bloody scary’ row of shelves at the bottom of one of my bookcases – seriously, I keep them there because my eye line skips them and they do genuinely daunt me.)

You see, in my head, initially I think they are going to be 500 pages of me pondering over how many books I could be reading instead, being honest. Yet actually, when I was sorting through the shelves of books in the lounge which I have read, I realised that out of all the books I have kept that I have really loved they have been books of a larger size. Once you are in a book you love you often don’t want it to end, with a longer book it won’t!

This leads me to think that it must be that the pressure I put upon myself (along with some work deadlines) reading wise means I tend to go for shorter books overall. If I try and make excuses for this I could say that with everything that went on with Gran over the last year and a bit I couldn’t really get into a long book, then there was this huge project at work. Yet now feels like time to try some longer books, maybe the biggest hurdle is taking that leap of faith and patience with something massive? Any recommendations, new or old, would be most welcome. What are your thoughts on those chunky tomes?

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Buy Buy or Bye Bye To The Bookshop…

I haven’t written this week, nor really read very much, because I have been mulling things over. I was going to write a huge angry rant on Monday but then I thought the better of it, people like the look of anger as much as they do the look of drunk – not very much, unless everyone is angry or drunk with you then it seems you can get away with it. You see this weekend I seriously felt like the book world had gone bonkers and imploded on itself. Bloggers vs bloggers (which is so sad I don’t want to do any more than acknowledge how sad it is) but mainly bookshop vs bloggers. Well, one bookshop against two bloggers.

On Sunday night, and again in the hours of Monday morning, a bookshop (which will remain nameless, as despite what they and some bloggers might think I don’t want to close them down earlier) for some reason really took against the lovely Gav of Gav Reads for tweeting a link to a books Amazon page. This was, apparently, not only a decided attempt to shut down that bookshop (and every other in the world) but was also declaring a war with Independent Bookshops throughout the land – I know, bonkers. Having met the shop owner myself and thinking they seemed a nice decent person I stepped in with an aim to calm it down and also defend Gavin who I think is a ‘book pusher’/book promoter extraordinaire.  It was at this point that I received a tongue lashing of my own about how I promote AmaCON and I am also killing the bookshop – from bonkers to (excuse my French now) utter fucking madness.

Now to defend the bookseller before I defend myself (as I can’t speak for Gavin, though I have spoken to him about the craziness) their bookshop is closing down and they feel it is because of “AmaCon”, as they put it and supermarket bought books. It must be beyond horrendous if your livelihood and passion is thwarted like that, and I don’t think (well I hope not) the bookseller talks to their customers like they did us as I have been at events with them and their passion was boundless, so it must be crushing for them. Attacking book lovers is not the answer but it did raise some points I thought we could discuss.

I myself find it very hard to believe that anyone who had read this blog, followed my tweets, listened to podcasts or even scarier still having actually met me in person would think that I wished death on the independent bookshop, it is ridiculous. I BLOODY WELL LOVE THE BOOKS OFF A BOOKSHOP! If I walk past a bookshop I fall into it! I have promoted bookshops on this blog (some Dutch ones coming soon) since the early days. I have been mulling a Good Bookshop Guide for quite some time. I even want to have my own for goodness sake! I mean really.

That said (and a blogger did state they didn’t see me ‘buy brand new books’ very often which is fair enough and I take on board)  I have been known to shop for books in charity shops, in supermarkets and on that dreaded certain website. Given the choice, it would always be a bookshop but sometimes it simply can’t be the case. Here are the reasons why, being completely honest, I don’t always buy books from a bookshop as much as I would like.

  1. I am really lucky in that through writing this blog for six years (for free, for the love) and working on a books page for a magazine/doing book reviews here and there (because I need to eat/have a roof over my head) and bookish podcasts (for free, for the love) I get quite a lot of free books because I then push them onto all of you/readers/listeners who might buy copies or indeed I go off and buy copies for my friends and family if I love it.
  2. I love my local library and so should we all, so I use that a lot.
  3. My local Indie bookshop is quite a way away, we have a Waterstones nearby but I am talking Indie-Indie, if I am ever going past it in I pop and invariably walk away with something if not several things.
  4. Sometimes I want to support my very local second hand bookshop thank you very much, and I am unashamed about that, we need new and old – where else would I get out of print books?
  5. Sometimes I want a book that isn’t out in the UK as yet.
  6. If it is a book for book group or one I am not sure about I tend to use my library – invariably I buy the physical new book after.
  7. Sometimes I buy books on a whim, be this in a charity shop or the supermarket – I love books I can’t help it. It is an addiction.
  8. If I am on a deadline for a personal reading challenge/book group/wanting to read all the Not The Booker Prize shortlist and I either a) can’t get it at the library b) don’t know if I will like the book c) can’t get to a bookshop in time c) the bookshop I do manage to get to doesn’t have it or won’t for a while, then yes I admit I might buy the e-book version instead. This is really, really rare as a) I don’t really like reading on my Kindle – more on that soon and b) I have issues with e-readers which are well documented.
  9. I can’t always afford new books; do you know how much a middling freelancer earns? Do you know I have been paid wrong/not at all for several freelance jobs recently? No course not, we don’t know each other’s financial situations and shouldn’t judge them because it is no one else’s sodding business.
  10. Buying myself/other people a new book is a real treat for me and has been since I was a child. I wish I could do it everyday but I can’t.
  11. Sometimes people by me vouchers for certain websites.
  12. Finally, and this one might make me really unpopular, it’s the elephant in the fiction section… a few Indie bookshops are really crap (the tweeting bookshop isn’t crap, I have been, I wouldn’t say it was the best I have ever been to if I am being 100% honest which I feel this post needs, but it’s not the worst though it’s location could be an issue). I feel like I have just said ‘bloody Mary’ too many times and now some bookish demons might come and get me. It is true though, like any indie shops, there are some good ones and there are some piss poor ones. I am not going to shop at the latter.

The penultimate thing I want to say though is that I have never told anyone – in the flesh, on this blog, on podcasts, via work, anywhere – that they should buy a book from anywhere. I leave it up to you to make that decision because it is your choice. I don’t link to a local bookshop/Waterstones/Amazon/Library catalogue. I hope the subtext is always there in this blog overall that hints at my library leanings and bookshop (new and old) tendencies. At the end of the day we all know if we don’t buy from bookshops then it is goodbye to them, simple as that.

The very final thing I want to say is what I said when I ended my Sunday evening of tweeting, only I am making it a bit longer… Bookshops around the world, you have one thing over a certain website that it can never have. You have faces; personalities and voices… use them wisely and make yourself individual.

People will come. I know when I find bookshops like that it is very difficult to get me out of them again, as I am sure it is for all of you reading this. What are your thoughts on the plight of the bookshop?

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The Quiet American – Graham Greene

And so a little belatedly we come to the second in my ‘Greene for Gran’ series and one I feel a little bit awkward about. In part because I feel a fool for struggling so long with such a short book and in the main because I was severely underwhelmed by it and has it not been in Gran’s honour it would have been a book that would have felt the tough love of my new reading rule. Yet, in fairness I don’t think it was all the fault of ‘The Quiet American’, or even Graham Greene, himself that I didn’t love it, maybe. Let me explain…

Vintage Classics, 1955 ( 2004 edition), paperback, 221 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

‘The Quiet American’ opens with Thomas Fowler waiting for his friend Alden Pyle, very swiftly we learn that Pyle is dead and that people suspect that there may be foul play. As Fowler is informed of this he starts to tell us the story of how he met Pyle, himself being British and Pyle being American, in the surroundings of Hanoi during the First Indochina War. Fowler has come as a journalist to report on the war, Pyle is more mysterious yet they befriend each other until a love triangle with Fowler’s, who is married back in Britain, mistress Phuong. Intrigue and mystery are abounds…

‘You sound like a friend of his,’ Vigot said, looking past me at Phuong. A native policeman came in with three cups of black coffee.
‘Or would you rather have tea?’ Vigot said
‘I am a friend,’ I said. ‘Why not? I shall be going home in one day, won’t I? I can’t take her with me. She’ll be alright with him. It’s a reasonable arrangement. And he’s going to marry her, he says. He might, you know. He’s a good chap in his way. Serious. Not one of those noisy bastards at the Continental. A quiet American,’ I summed him precisely up as I might have said ‘a blue lizard,’ ‘a white elephant.’

…Well they should have been, but for me it was a mixture of being very confused to start off with and then finding the ending a little too blindingly obvious. If you haven’t read the book and want to miss a possible hint that could be a spoiler skip to the next paragraph. You see initially I was intrigued then it became so obvious what had happened that I was a bit cross, did Greene think I, his reader, was that stupid? To be fair many people who guessed the ending too would possibly then see this book as a very clever and twisting ‘whydunnit’, I just got confused and bored. I simply couldn’t get a hold on the book both in the plot and in the style.

The plot of the book, once you get to the end, all makes sense – well sort of if you do some googling – but I didn’t feel that Greene successfully explained to you what was going on with the First Indochina War sufficiently, he seemed to expect you to know the setting. Now this of course I imagine is in part because the book came out close to when the war was and also possibly because as Greene had been there himself (which makes the atmosphere so right in the book) he simply assumed you would get it. I didn’t. This also wasn’t helped by the fact that just a paragraph can flip between Fowler telling you something in his present and then flipping to his past and back again. It made me a bit grumpy and I alas I just wasn’t enjoying it, even when things got much better and twisty at the end (as several of you who supported me through it on Twitter said it would), it had lost me.

Now to be fair I will say that the idea of the book, in hindsight, is a bloody brilliant one. It is just that the execution didn’t work for me which meant the clever twists that came, which I admired so much in ‘The Ministry of Fear’ fell on deaf ears. However as always Greene’s prose and his sense of atmosphere was just marvellous and stopped me from hurling the book across the room. (Gran would be pleased with me for trying to find some saving graces here.) I do also think the timing and the way I started reading the book might have had something to do with it all too.

When I started ‘The Quiet American’ firstly I was in the middle of a really stressful, information filled, final bonkers planning week at work and secondly as the book hadn’t arrived I was reading it on my K*****!! I have been dabbling with reading on my devil’s device of late and I am discovering that it doesn’t always encourage full mental focus. If I have been on a computer all week reading for pleasure on a screen isn’t so much pleasure (a whole separate subject) and in this case I think it added to my confusion, my eyes would glaze a bit at the screen and so I was re-reading and re-reading paragraphs whilst having a mass of ‘work stuff’ to digest mentally too. So that probably didn’t help.

I think the best way to surmise and stop waffling is probably to say that ‘The Quiet American’ is probably a very good book but not the right book for me right now. It seemed to be a case of ‘it’s not the book, it’s me’ and as I know it is a favourite of so many I am sure that is the case. One to pop on the shelves and save to read again sometime in the future I think. (Gran would be proud of my attitude here too, ha!)

Who else has read ‘The Quiet American’ and if so what did you think? I would love to hear from some of you who have read it and found it a real favourite, and indeed any of you who like me felt a bit out of their depth. What other Greene’s are you picking up?

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Filed under Graham Greene, Greene For Gran, Review, Vintage Books

The Quiet Savidge…

There are a lot of should have’s going through my mind today. I should have responded to all the lovely comments you have left. I should have written lots of reviews, one of which should have been of ‘The Quiet American’, and scheduled lots of posts. Shoulda, woulda, coulda… I haven’t! Sorry.

In fact I have been struggling to get through ‘The Quiet American’ as I have been reading it on my e-reader which I have noticed I zone out of quite a lot, possibly because I am spending too many hours staring at a screen at the moment. It has now arrived, along with the other three Greene For Gran titles, so I can get back to the ‘actual’ book. Two copies actually arrived so I will do a giveaway when I review it, finally.

Greene For Gran

Things have been c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-razy with work as we get to the last week before Liverpool International Music Festival launches and I have been spending most of my time sat in front of a computer and so to then sit and type anything has seemed like the last thing I have wanted to be doing. In fact my reading has slowed down again because I am spending most of my free time either running (don’t laugh, I am training for a marathon – more on that soon) or just chilling out in front of some appallingly trashy telly that I simply won’t mention because even if you swore you wouldn’t you would judge me.

One of the other things I have been also been doing is going to book groups. Not one book group, but two! One of which I mentioned earlier in the week because it meant I had the utter joy of reading ‘The Princess Bride’ for the first time, I have seen the film umpteen times (it is one of my mother’s favourites) but never touched the book. It was an interesting, and rather large, group though the book didn’t get that much air time. I think most of the people felt it was a fairly entertaining romp but nothing more, which made me stay quiet from declaring my love for it. They are reading a lot of books I have read already, which is not their fault, so I will probably go back and see how they discuss ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ and decide if I stay or go. Does that make me sound like a bit of a pompous/fussy/arrogant twat? I don’t mean it to.

I went to another one today (Gran would be so proud being a book group addict herself) where they were discussing ‘Little Hands Clapping’, by one of my favourite authors Dan Rhodes. It is an LGBT group and much smaller than the other one but blow me down we were nattering about the book over a coffee for 2 hours (well with several tangents) which flew by. They meet less regularly but the books they have read are lots I have missed, including the next one which is ‘May We Be Forgiven’ by A.M. Homes which I came home to dig out and discovered this…

AM Holmes

Yes another book I have two copies of! I think I am going to keep the hardback over the paperback, it’s heavier but the type is bigger and it’s a first edition – oh and I like hardback cover sooooo much. It has reminded me though that I am in dire need of a book sort out, and I need to be ruthless, really ruthless. I am going to start on the shelves below soon and really ask myself ‘did I buy it or ever ask for it, do I think I might read it anytime soon, would someone probably like a copy more than me, etc.’

ShelvesI am going to really go for it tomorrow and I shall report back. What is news with you? What have you been reading? How are you getting on with your Graham Greene’s if you have been reading them? What else do you have to report?

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Panic! aka Pre-empted Posts, Persephone’s, Point Horrors, Pressure and Procrastinating…

I do love a little bit of alliteration don’t you? Anyway today’s post is a bit of a ‘random updates’ sort of thing because over the weekend I got myself into a little bit of a tizzy (nice, different, unusual – my Australian readers will know what I mean then, or my gay ones, ha!) over some bookish deadlines and the amount of books I owned, and was I ever going to read them, and more. Basically I had a proper book based wobble all in all.

Last Monday, on this here blog, I declared that I was going to ‘start something new’ on the blog today, well in the end after one of the most manic weeks at work ever (and the next two will equal it, who knew setting up an inaugural music festival would take so much work) I simply hadn’t got around to sorting it out. So that was my big new lesson and new resolution last week – stop pre-empting posts just let them happen organically.

So that was one issue over, which was soon followed by the sudden dawning realisation that I had about four book deadlines to get read. Two were actually proper ones, one for work as I am interviewing Niccolo Ammaniti (name drop alert) tomorrow, if you have any questions let me know, and one for a new book group I have joined. The other two were blog based. One was the latest Point Horror Book Group read which I realised I was already a month behind, the second was for the latest Persephone Project read. I had a proper panic. Then I suddenly thought ‘hang about a minute, reading is meant to be fun remember?’ and whilst I love the Point Horror Book Club and the Persephone Project – could two reading projects be more different? – they shouldn’t rule my reading. Lesson two, I rule the books they don’t rule me.

Now because the Persephone Project is a personal one (no offense James, I will catch up with the Point Horror Book Club in due course) and one that I am really keen to keep on with I am setting myself, and therefore any of you if you are still keen on taking part, a new regime with it. The second Sunday of the month is too near the Readers Book Club show, and the book groups I have now joined, so I am now shifting it to the last Sunday of every month. Much better! I am actually only three books behind, I thought it was far more, so I will reviewing ‘The Home-Maker’ by Dorothy Canfield Fisher and chatting all about it with some of you hopefully on August the 25th! There that feels better.

Finally comes the procrastinating, which I freely admit I am the king of and should really do something about. I mentioned above I have started a new book group (or two) and Wednesday is the first and it is ‘The Princess Bride’ by William Goldman which I was really confident I owned, wrong! I have sought high and low but the copy that I know I had, in one of my many book boxes, has gone. I have been putting off having a good old book sort but routing through the madness of my TBR I do feel that the time has come to simply just get on with it. Well, after I have finished the Ammaniti, I promise!!!

So that is all the latest bookish shenanigans from me. How do you manage read-a-long, ‘challenge’ or book group reading? Read well ahead or leave till last minute? Any tips on how to be really ruthless (not just a bit ruthless, REALLY ruthless) with a good book sort? And don’t forget if you have any questions for Niccolo Ammaniti let me know? I thank you!

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The Ministry of Fear – Graham Greene

For some reason I had got it into my head that ‘The  Ministry of Fear’, my first read for Greene for Gran, was going to be something of a rather light hearted farce along the lines of ‘Our Man in Havana’ only with mystery, murder and cake I might like it a bit more. Yes, shock horror I have read Greene before and not always enjoyed him, more so in his farcical writing it has to be said which always  made Gran look very perplexed when we discussed his works. Sorry Gran, good news though, I really liked this one because it did so much more than I was expecting it to.

Vintage Books, 1943 ( 2001 edition), paperback, 221 pages, borrowed from the library

Arthur Rowe is a man who finds himself in a war that, apart from when the sirens go off and people head down to the shelters, he finds he has very little involvement or even real feeling for. He spends his days wandering and thinking about his past (which once you discover it explains why he isn’t fighting in the war) and spending his monthly allowance on this and that as is his want. It is on one of these trips that he stumbles upon a charity fete, which he can’t help but enter as it reminds him of his childhood. So far so innocent, though as he visits the stalls something seems slightly amiss. Arthur’s perceptions aren’t wrong as it is the simple act of guessing the weight of a cake throws Arthur into a world of spies, mystery and murder, though as we discover Arthur himself is no stranger to the latter.

“There was something threatening, it seemed to him, in the very perfection of the day.”

Greene’s line above perfectly sums up the brilliant start of ‘The Ministry of Fear’ as you read on things get stranger and stranger and darker and darker. Charities suddenly have a dark undercurrent and you question if you can trust anyone no matter how sweet they might seem on the face of it. It goes from twee English war novel, to slight Agatha Christie territory (a séance indeed) only darker and then into a full on spy thriller as the book goes on and you as the reader get further and further drawn into a web of espionage and secrets in the war torn present and also the dark recesses of Arthur’s past.

“People want to kill me because I know too much. I’m hiding underground, and up above the Germans are methodically smashing London to bits all around me. You remember St Clements – the bells of St Clements. They’ve smashed that – St James’s, Piccadilly, the Burlington Arcade, Garland’s Hotel, where we stayed for the pantomime, Maples and John Lewis. It sounds like a thriller, doesn’t it, but the thrillers are like life – more like life than you are, this lawn, your sandwiches, that pine. You used to laugh at books Miss Savage read – about spies, and murderers, and violence, and wild motor-car chases, but dear that’s real life: it’s what we’ve made the world since you died. I’m your little Arthur who wouldn’t hurt a beetle and I’m a murderer too.”

Greene also does something very daring as after throwing you into this world in the first part of the book he suddenly throws you somewhere completely different and unexpected in the second which you won’t see coming. This leaves you briefly disorientated, which you soon gather is the point, and then a whole new set of sinister thrills and spills start. I was reading along thinking ‘I wonder if Gillian Flynn read this book before she wrote ‘Gone Girl’?’ not because of the narrators but just because of the genuinely surprising turns that Greene throws in the readers direction.

As well as being quite a page turner, though I wouldn’t go quite as far as to say it became so compelling I couldn’t put it down, Greene shows what a master he is not only of atmosphere (war torn and spy strewn London) but of writing a book which takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions as much as it does thrills. Some of the book I found profoundly moving, both the descriptions of the destruction the war inflicted and also in an element I can’t explain here for fear of spoilers – but I will in the comments if people fancy a natter about it. Greene also made me laugh out loud on several occasions which, with all the tension and twists, proved much needed and added a great contrast of light amongst the dark.

“The summer lay all around them, and evening was coming on. He was saying ‘Mother, I murdered her…’ and his mother said, ‘Don’t be silly, dear. Have one of these nice sandwiches.’”

I have now read five of Graham Greene’s works, with more to come, and I think out of what I have read so far ‘The Ministry of Fear’ might be my favourite because it mixes all of his styles in one novel. It has the humour of ‘Our Man in Havana’, the brooding gloom of ‘Brighton Rock’, and the ability to completely move/ruin you as ‘The End of the Affair’ did me, it blew me away back in my pre-blogging days. It is also one of those books, which I love, where you can see where it took riffs from books just before it or of its time (Agatha Christie) and also where you could spot where novelists now (Gillian Flynn, Alex Lemaitre) might have got their inspiration from. I am really glad that I have read this, my only regret it that I can’t have a good old natter with Gran about it as I think she would have been delighted to see me so impressed by one of Greene’s lesser known works. Good thing I have all of you to chat about it with then, isn’t it?

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Filed under Books of 2013, Graham Greene, Greene For Gran, Review, Vintage Books

Greene For Gran Update…

So my plan for two posts went completely out the window yesterday, I am time poor at the mo, and you are only getting the one today. The response to  my idea to start ‘Greene For Gran’, or if you are down with the tweets then #GreeneForGran, has just been incredible and I genuinely didn’t expect so many readers (some who I know some who don’t) along with bookshops and booksellers to take to it the way that people have, very heart warming stuff.

One of the things I was thinking is how on earth to keep up with all the reviews and the like if people decide to give it a whirl as I would really love to collect all of these for the last day in August and so people can go and read more reviews and hopefully read even more Graham Greene, as would be Grans want. So could I ask you all very nicely if you would email me your reviews to savidgereads@gmail.com or link your post to the first Greene For Gran post here, then I will be notified and can keep tabs on it all. Also let me know if you have spread the word on the whole project, because then I will love you all the more 😉

Now I did state that there would be no pressure for you all to readalong, and there still isn’t, though I am going to throw the option out there. I have decided I am going to read four Greene’s in total, one for every remaining week of the month, including this one, and pop posts on them up on set days. This is so that IF YOU WANT TO, no pressure honest, you can join in with the discussion of that title on that day should you decide to read it. So here are the four books and the dates.

   

  • The Ministry of Fear (Saturday 10th of August)
  • The Quiet American (Friday 16th of August)
  • Travels With My Aunt (Friday 23rd of August)
  • The Heart of the Matter (Friday 30th of August)

Then have some kind of Greene and Gran love in at the end with all the posts and a giveaway from the lovely ladies at Vintage Books who think that all of this is a rather lovely idea. Hooray! Sound like  an idea, a no pressure on of course, to you all?

Whilst we are on the subject, how are you all getting on with your Greenes?

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Filed under Graham Greene, Granny Savidge Reads, Greene For Gran

The Breathers Between Books…

I was desperately trying to write a blog that explained some things which reading ‘The Woman Upstairs’ brought to my attention reading habit wise and some thoughts that your comments (which I will respond to) had set off in my head, they were actually quite clever and interesting points if I say so myself. For whatever reason though no matter how hard I tried, or how many edits I made, it was all just becoming a load of irrelevant twaddle/meandering waffle and so I gave up because I was in danger of throwing my laptop out of the window.

I think in part I am just a bit blog rusty, time poor thanks to work (selfish isn’t it that bloody thing called work, ha) and possibly just wasn’t making sense. So I decided that as the sun was shining that maybe I should ditch it and do something else outdoors for a break. So I dragged asked The Beard if we could go the nearby beach…

Sunset at Sea

Why do we not do this more often? It is literally twenty minutes down the road and it was just what I needed, a bit of quiet headspace. Well after a small drama involving some dead jelly fish, falling over in some very muddy sand and then The Beard discovering a whole families abandoned belongings and being unable to spot them so wanting to call the coast guard because he thought the parents had made a suicide pact. I kid you not on any of this, the latter has made me think of a really good beginning of a crime novel involving rock pools though.

A breather was what I needed, and then a simple thought popped into my head and I had a question for you all and then with the sandy dramas suddenly a whole post (if bugger all to do with what I actually wanted to write about) formed in the front of my mind. I then also realised I had two for tomorrow suddenly, sod’s law! Oh, yes so the question  – I am still thinking about the start of that crime novel I now want to go and write – that I had was this… What do you do for a breather, or indeed a cleanser between books? Do you have a break or do you simply dive into the next book? If the answer is a break, what does any bookish break entail? If you dive from one book to the next what do you do to make sure you aren’t going to confuse them, or do you mind if you do? I would love to know, so spill…

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

The Woman Upstairs – Claire Messud

As of next week on Monday’s something slightly different is coming to Savidge Reads. I had planned to start it today however I wanted to get my thoughts on Clare Messud’s ‘The Woman Upstairs’ out into the ether before it is talked about on my favourite book show, Australia’s ‘The Book Club’, tomorrow. It is a book I am somewhat confused about, so I really can’t wait for the show.

Virago Books, 2013, hardback, 301 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

From the very first line of ‘The Woman Upstairs’ we are taken into the head of Nora Eldridge. From the outside she is one of life’s good people who everyone thinks is lovely, she is a teacher after all and she cared for her mother through her terminal illness, yet no one really takes the time to actually befriend her. Once we are inside her head, as the reader is, it becomes clear that still waters run deep and Nora is a woman who has been good but had also spent years of her life getting very, very angry.

“How angry am I? You don’t want to know. Nobody wants to know about that.”

Why is Nora so angry? Well to tell you that would give quite a lot away, but I will say that in part it is because she is aware she has naturally become one of life’s wallflowers but also when the Shadid family come into her life, when Reza becomes one of her students, Nora experiences a side of life she gas never seen before, she becomes useful and a trusted friend to both his father, Skandar, and also his mother, Sirena, who is an artist something Nora only ever got to the point she teaches it rather than exhibits it. It is through this friendship that Nora at once flowers and strangely starts to unravel.

Yet like with Nora and her complexities and the fact she is really at odds with herself and those around her, becoming something of a contradiction, so is ‘The Woman Upstairs’ as a book itself. It is one that I found utterly compelling and fascinating, then rather timid and (I hate to say it) a bit dull and boring in parts. In fact very like Nora all over, so maybe that was the point and I missed it, which could easily be the case.

“Don’t all women feel the same? The only difference is how much we know we feel it, how in touch we are with our fury. We’re all furies, except the ones that are too damn foolish, and my worry now is that we’re brainwashing them from the cradle, and in the end the ones who are smart will be too damned foolish. What do I mean? I mean the second graders at Appleton Elementary, sometimes the first graders even, and by the time they get too my classroom, to the third grade, they’re well and truly gone – they’re full of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry and French manicures and how their hair looks! In the third grade. The care more about their hair or their shoes than about galaxies or caterpillars or hieroglyphics.”

The rage and anger that Nora expresses in the first chapter made the book utterly compelling and I thought ‘ooh this is going to be a great dark outpouring here’, yet every great first chapter really needs the rest of the book to live up to it and keep the momentum and as I read on the book held its own for the first third and then I just found the middle section really, really monotonous. I felt like Messud had lost the fire of Nora and the passion she had to put this voice out there and so started to use Nora and Sirena to talk about art and what it means to the individual and the masses. None of which I could really have given a toss about, and with the right voice I should have, I just found myself wanting Nora to get bloody furious again and do something with all that fury.

“You’re thinking, how would I know whether I was romantically in love, I whose apparently nonexistent love life would suggest a prudish vacancy, uterus shrivelled like a corn husk and withered dugs for breasts? You’re thinking that whatever else she does, the Woman Upstairs with her cats and her pots of tea and her Sex and the City reruns and her goddamn Garnet Hill catalog, the woman with her class of third graders and her carefully pearly smile – whatever else she manages, she doesn’t have a love life to speak of.”  

Instead what happened seemed to be a concoction of what I had read before. Nora is very, very like Barbara from ‘Notes on a Scandal’ and I have read the ‘lonely spinster befriends the family’ routine before, Messud even throws in a clichéd twist that you might spot from the start yet hope the author won’t use and then does. Yet then oddly in the final third of the book things start to pick up again as the menace that brims through the first third looks like it might come to fruition. Only it doesn’t and whilst I sort of liked the twist at the end I felt like really it was how we left Nora and what she might do next that would have made an even better story, if that makes sense?

It felt a bit like all the promise, in the form of the anger, that had been in the beginning of the book sort of died out in the explanation of it and yet the anger that I found so utterly refreshing only came back at the end and then… well, who knows. I guess I was a bit disappointed. I also wonder if I simply expected more drama or something darker because that is what most authors do and that, like many reviews I have since read, I should actually embrace the fact the book encapsulated the reality of the situation instead.

Either way, as you can probably tell, there are lots of elements that make ‘The Woman Upstairs’ a really interesting read. You may find yourself like me, someone who loved the rage and got a bit bogged down in the middle, or be someone who marvels at the realities the book gives you. It is one book that I am almost 100% certain would make a brilliant book club choice, hence why I am so excited about seeing tomorrows ‘The Book Club’ and particularly what Marieke Hardy makes of it, and one that will cause much debate which is always a good thing.

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Filed under Claire Messud, Review, Virago Books

I’m On A Wedding Weekend…

I have been really excited about this weekend all week as it is the wedding of my best friend Polly, who you will all I am sure know from the sadly now defunct Novel Insights, to her boyfriend of ten years Alan. As I am sure I have banged on about on here before, Polly and I have been friends since the tender ages of 4 years old when we both started school…

PollySi

Who knew that from those informative years, though we did both miss out on each other’s teens which is probably a good thing, and from her trying to ‘pretend’ to kill me (I can still feel the threat in the air over the playground) that 27 years later we would still be the best of friends and I would have the honour of being her man of honour today… She has no idea what she has signed up for with that one, ha!

polsi

Anyway, please join in wishing them a wonderful (and hopefully sunny) wedding weekend and that they have a wonderful rest of their lives together! Hooray!

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Filed under Novel Insights on Savidge Reads, Random Savidgeness

Alex – Pierre Lemaitre

I teased you yesterday telling you that I was going to talk about a thriller that almost made ‘Gone Girl’ look tame, but what could it be? The book in question is ‘Alex’ by Pierre Lemaitre which is one of those very, very few books that made me so hooked that I managed, with everything going on, to read it in two sittings straight. One of those rare books that inspires that old cliché ‘a book you literally can’t put down’. It is not a book for the faint of heart mind, but should you dare to delve into its pages and have a read it will make your head spin, in a good way.

MacLehose Press, 2013, paperback, 354 pages, translated by Frank Wynne, kindly sent by the publisher

When we first meet ‘Alex’ she is in a shop in Paris trying on wigs and silly glasses, she’s a woman who feels she goes unnoticed and wants to change her look. She is also, it seems, somewhat of a loner, as she is on the way to take herself out for a meal, she temps where she can get work, she moves about not seeming to befriend anyone and seems very distant from her family. In fact you start to think she might end up a crazy cat lady one day, that is until after her meal for one (in a fancy restaurant where she makes eyes at a stranger) when she gets kidnapped. That sudden. But that is only shock and twist number one that Lemaitre has up his sleeve for you.

Fortunately someone does see what happens, though not very clearly and so the police are called in. Step forward our Commandent, Camille Verhoeven, who is put on the case though he is far from happy about it as his wife was kidnapped and killed when pregnant several years ago. He has avoided cases like this for as long as he can, sods law then that the one he ends up heading is the most mysterious case they have had in some time, they have no clues at all. No one saw the kidnapper and what’s more no one seems to be able to find out anything about the woman who was kidnapped.

“They are getting nowhere. The magistrate, the weather, the investigation, nothing’s going right. Even Le Guen is in a state. And then there’s the girl, about whom they still know nothing. Camille has finished up his reports; he’s hanging around. He never really feels like going home. If it weren’t for Doudouche waiting for him…
They’re working ten hour days, they’ve taken dozens of witness statements, reread dozens of reports and charge sheets, correlated information, checked details, times, questioned people. And come up with nothing. It makes you wonder.”

I won’t give anything else away about the book as I wouldn’t want to spoil what lies ahead because it is just brilliant. Lemaitre manages to put you in the mindset of the Commandent and Alex whilst also throwing in twist after twist that you simply won’t expect, and I can vouch for that as I had guessed that the book was going to be twisty but was still saying ‘noooo!’ out loud rather a lot. Lemaitre also manages to weave both Alex and Camille’s back stories too drip feeding you with morsels that add to the overall effect of a book. He also knows exactly how to end every chapter on a real cliff hanger…

“That is what I smell like, she thinks; I smell of shit and piss and vomit. It smells carrion.
The rat rears up on his hind paws, sniffing.
Alex’s eyes move up along the rope.
Two other rats have just begun their descent towards the cage.”

How can you not read on wide eyed after that? If you don’t like rats by the way this book won’t make you like them any the more. This of course brings me, in a roundabout way and probably not the way your thinking from the above excerpt, to the fact that the book is quite gory. There is kidnap, torture and murder and Lemaitre doesn’t shy away from it, yet the book never makes you feel complicit in what is going on.

What Lemaitre actually does with ‘Alex’, which is far more interesting and potent is make you question, as the twists come, what you think is and isn’t morally right and soon this gripping thriller starts to ask so really serious questions of its reader and their ethics. A very clever move indeed, provide a book that makes you think hard about what you might do or what you find to be the ‘right’ thing for someone to do whilst also creating a read which is a complete page turner that has the readers jaw dropping as they go. That is what has made it my thriller of the year so far, it’s genius and I personally cannot wait for the next one in the Camille series. Who knows what Lemaitre will do next?

Note: I have used the paperback image, as I have the trade edition, because the cover is just stunning!

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Filed under Books of 2013, Maclehose Publishing, Pierre Lemaitre, Review