Monthly Archives: August 2013

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