Monthly Archives: September 2014

Gone Girl – The Movie (And Some Other Bits and Bobs)

Just a quick post from me as I am a) I have been feeling a bit ropey since I came back from London and b) I am reading like a demon for some episodes of You Wrote The Book (I have Victoria Hislop on this week and then the following fortnights am joined by David Nicholls and Neel Mukherjee – I am beyond chuffed, so apologies for the proud moment of over sharing) being ill of course is the perfect thing when you have got lots of lovely reading to do. It is not so good for making you have any urge to sit in front of the computer. Gosh I ramble on don’t I? Anyway…

As I mentioned I am not long back from a very speedy trip to London where I had the pleasure of going to see the advance first UK screening of Gone Girl with lots of lovely bookish types (including Rob and Kate of Adventures with Words, who were also at the lovely champagne and canapé pre-show gathering with me and I might hop on the podcast of) it was all very hush hush, phones were locked away while we watched it in the West End cinema…

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I am not sure how much I am allowed to say about it because of the fact (like the book) there are so many twists and also because of embargos, so I will keep it unusually short for me. It was bloody brilliant, two and a half hours whizzed by. I am thrilled Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay as it was spot on flawless. And, some people might think I am mad and it isn’t something I thought I would ever say, I will be amazed if Rosamund Pike doesn’t get an Oscar nod and lots of prizes for her utterly brilliant performance as Amazing Amy, she was – erm – amazing. (This also shows why I review books not films normally!)

So that was that I just thought I would share.  A big thanks to Orion for inviting me! Whilst away I also met up with the lovely Kim of Reading Matters for lunch which was lovely, much discussion of books and blogging was had too! Oh actually I forgot to tell you I saw the adaptation of S. J Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep the other week at the cinema and that was bloody marvellous too. Right, I am back to lie on the sofa and watch another adaptation, Jack Reacher. I haven’t read the books, I have no expectations, I am ill and in need of some escapism. What great adaptations have you seen recently? Have you seen Before I Go To Sleep? Will you be rushing out to see Gone Girl? Oh and if you have any questions for David Nicholls and Neel Mukherjee let me know… Book reviews are back in earnest from tomorrow, promise!

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Other People’s Bookshelves #47; Alice Farrant

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the filthy book lust/porn and either give you a fix of other people’s shelves to stave you off going on a buying/borrowing spree, or making you want to run and grab as many more books as you can. This week, the series returns after a rather long hiatus, with the lovely blogger Alice who has been a long time commenter on this blog and who I feel like I know even though I don’t. She too loves Rebecca making her even more special. Anyway, grab a cup of coffee/tea and lets settle down with Alice and have a nosey through her books…

I’m Alice, a late 20s book devourer from the south of England. By day I’m a Marketeer, and by night I worry about what on earth I am going to write in bios about myself. My favourite book is Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford, which I suppose technically is a series. It was the first novel where I physically experienced the anxiety running through the story (Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier being the second). Fun fact: I’m terrified of Jenga. Despite a someone grumpy exterior I am always in favour of making new bookie friends, and you can find me at my literature blog, ofBooks, or on Twitter (@nomoreparades).

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I have one book shelf, bowing under the pressure of all the paperbacks I insist on buying. Unless I have really enjoyed a book, once it’s read it’s gone. You would think that would stop me buying extreme amounts of books, but it doesn’t. Once all the space is filled it is time to be ruthless once more and part with the books I ‘don’t need’.*

* I need all books, this kills me every time.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

I would like to say that I have a wonderfully thorough alphabetical system, organise into fiction and non-fiction. But, I don’t. My system makes no sense to anyone but me. I have a to-be-read collection on top of the shelving. Then I have a ‘very favourite’ shelf in the middle, with the rest to-be-reads sitting in front of it. Other favourites go on the top shelf and ‘difficult to fit anywhere’ books and ‘other unreads’ live at the bottom. I’ve also got academic books down the side of my shelves, from my University days.

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

The only one I remember with any significance is Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and yes it’s still on my shelves. I borrowed the first three books off my sister, and finished the third just before the fourth was published. It was the beginning of a long love of the HP Universe and J.K Rowling. However, there were many books that came before and after, which may have been bought with pocket money, I can’t be certain.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

No, but only because I have so little space. Also, I have a Kindle (I know, I know, the thing of evil) so anything I wouldn’t want people to see on my shelves I can hide on there.

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

My copy of Persuasion by Jane Austen. I say my copy, it’s actually my mother’s. It was one of the first books that I read as I got enveloped into reading veraciously. It was the first Jane Austen I read and it is to this day one of my favourite books. Being so far outside of what I recognised as Austen (feisty young heroines) and in Anne I saw myself. I would save it, not only because it’s not technically mine, but because it would be like leaving a little bit of myself behind to burn.

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What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

It wasn’t on my parents shelves, as most of my Dad’s books where historical or maps, but on my Aunts. We were visiting and I was allowed any book from her shelf. I chose an American psychological thriller called Tell Me No Secrets by Joy Fielding. I was too young to understand half of what was happening, but over fifteen years later I still have it. It was the first non-classic, adult book I ever read of my own volition.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

If I have loved it enough, yes. I do the same with e-books. If I have loved it in digital format I have to buy the paperback, e-books just aren’t the same. I find I don’t borrow books unless a friend has recommended one to me and lent me their copy. I get nervous with other people’s books, in case I were to scuff them in any way.

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I’ve read the former already, it was delightful.

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Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

The new Foyles in London stocks a two-part hardback copy of the Parade’s End series by Ford Madox Ford. They are gorgeous and I need them in my life, once I have £80 to spare anyway.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

I think I would like anyone looking to think I had a wide ranging taste in fiction and was relatively well read, but I’m not sure that is the vibe it would give off. If anything I probably give off the impression I own a somewhat ramshackle collection of literature. Due to the lack of organisation and bowing nature of the shelves. Ultimately I would hope they would look at my shelves and think of books they would want to recommend to me. If I achieve that, I will feel I am reading successfully.

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A huge thanks to Alice for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves! If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the series then drop me an email tosavidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Alice;s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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The End of an Era…

On Wednesday we learned the sad news that Deborah Cavendish, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, had passed away. As the last of the Mitford sisters, who you all probably know I am a huge fan of, for me it seemed like a particular part of history had died out.

I don’t really want to say lots about it, partly as I don’t feel qualified to sing her praises enough and partly as I never knew or even met Deborah Devonshire in the flesh. Yet through her wonderful writing both to her sisters and in the diaries, memoirs and essays she kept, I did feel like I would have loved to sit and have a gossip and a chat with her, I think wicked laughter would have ensued as her wit, like all the Mitford sisters, was wondair. The hours spent reading those has been a joy so I am hugely thankful for that, and the reading I still have to come.

I also have her to thank for all the wonderful times I had playing in Chatsworth as a child, when I wouldn’t have know her from Adam if I has passed her in a field, which apparently Gran once did and had a lovely chat with her. Yet she turned what was a dilapidated and run down building into a place of wonder which benefitted tourists from miles around but just as importantly locals both in trade and in wonderful summers spent within its acres. Though this leads me to my favourite Deborah quote…

“Thousands of people come to walk in the park at Chatsworth all year round. There is no way of telling how many, because it is free. Most people enjoy it, or presumably they wouldn’t come, but every now and again a letter of criticism arrives.

Last week a woman wrote to say she was ‘disgusted by the animal faeces on the grass, every few feet’ and that she and her grandchildren couldn’t play ball games in case of stepping on them. Oh dear. I suppose she wants us to buy a giant Hoover to attach to the JCB and sweep 1,000 acres of well-stocked ground before breakfast in case she gets her new shoes dirty. Sorry, Madam, but you had better go and find some municipally mown grass where your unhappy grandchildren can play their clinically clean games without the fear of stepping on the unspeakable. What a frightful grandmother you must be.”

That gives you just a taste of what wonderful company she must have been and indeed what a wonderful woman she was. If you haven’t read her I would urge you to try Wait for Me or Counting My Chickens, I will be getting All in One Basket off the shelves once back from London. And you must, must read The Mitfords; Letters Between Six Sisters if you haven’t. It is like a history of the UK since the early 1900’s, told with wit and incredible insight both from the sisters perspectives and places in society. In fact go and get it now! It is wonderful that we have the words and works of Deborah and her five sisters; Pamela, Unity, Nancy, Diana and Jessica, do admit!

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The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer

I am rather late to the party with Nathan Filer’s debut novel, we flirted (the book and I not the author, just to clarify) with each other around the time that it won the Costa, and as soon as it came out in paperback I bought it, yet the subject of mental health was one that always worries me with a book and so I held off. However when my book group chose it I was really rather excited to be finally getting to read about it, and then I was slightly cross with myself for having not read it sooner – isn’t that just the way?

Borough Press, paperback, 2014, fiction, 320 pages, bought by my good self

The Shock of the Fall is really two stories combined, both told by Matthew, in the present Matthew is a young man with Schizophrenia (‘I have an illness, a disease with the shape and sound of a snake. Whenever I learn something new, it learns it too … My illness knows everything I know.’) and who has been sectioned and is dealing with the current mental health system. The other story is one which we get glimpses of, never quite alternating, as we read on and relates back to Matthews childhood and the death of his brother. As we follow Matthew’s narrative not only are we given insight into the system and how it is, or isn’t, working for him; we also follow the fallout, grief and guilt of a family after the death of one so young and the circumstances around it.

Both parts of this story are handled wonderfully. Firstly there is Matthew’s now as he tries to get to grips with his illness, the system that he has to be in, the community around him and the drugs which he must take. All these things that he feels at odds with and in many cases are things that he has no control over, how is anyone meant to get a hold on that and indeed their own illness at the same time? Filer not only looks at that but looks at how the people around the person with the mental illness deal with it to. Matthew’s mother, who I thought may have had undiagnosed issues, not so well, his father who just tries to get on with it as best he can and Nanny Noo (Matthew’s grandmother) who does all she can to help. I found these reactions and the interweaving relationships with them, Matthew and each other beautifully drawn if not always comfortable to read.

As I mentioned before I am always dubious about books that deal with moral issues and in particular mental health, which is why I don’t often read it. This is mainly because as someone who had had depression on and off, with extremes both at the end of 2010 (when my marriage broke down) and last autumn (after Gran died) and so, not making it all about me honestly as every depression is different from one person to the next, I have a very visceral reaction to the subject. Disability, of whatever kind, can either be done so well it makes me want to cry with joy that someone has dealt with it in such a way or it can be done in a way which is almost like using it as a way to sell the novel, almost making money out of the issue itself.

Filer deals with it deftly. Some reviewers might put this down to the fact that Filer was a mental health nurse which to me does a disservice to how good Filer’s writing is. Firstly, you’ve still got to be able to write bloody well to turn what you know into fiction secondly Filer was the nurse not the patient whose head he gets into so well. There are many standout moments for me but two remain; one the feeling of utter boredom in a ward and from the effects of the drugs you are on to make yourself ‘normal’, the other the lack of control you have over your own life.

 ‘Who?’
‘Service Users. Um – Patients.’
‘Oh. Right.’
They have a bunch of names for us. Service Users must be the latest. I think there must be people who get paid to decide this shit.
I thought about Steve. He’s definitely the sort to say Service User. He’d say it like he deserved a knighthood for being all sensitive and empowering. Then I imagined him losing his job – and to be honest, that caught me off guard. I don’t hate these people. I just hate not having the choice to get rid of them.

Also the other major strand to the book has nothing to do with mental health and is it here that some of the most touching and heartbreaking writing can be found, and that is saying something because Matthew’s present has those moments too. As I mentioned earlier not only is Matthew a young man who is suffering from a mental illness he is one suffering from grief and how to cope with it. As we go back with Matthew we learn of the wonderful, and often idyllic, childhood that he had with his brother Simon until a trip away that changed it all. I won’t give any spoilers, and if like me you try and guess it you will think you are right but you’d be wrong, but I found the sections discussing his love for his sibling incredibly moving, and the grief even more so.

Shhh, shhh. It’ll be ok. That’s what he said as he placed me down outside our caravan, before running to get Mum. I might not have been clear enough – Simon really wasn’t strong. Carrying me like that was the hardest thing he’d ever done, but still he tried to reassure me. Shhh, shhh. It’ll be okay. He sounded so grown-up, so gentle and certain. For the first time in my life it truly felt like I had a big brother. In the few short seconds whilst I waited for Mum to come out, as I cradled my knee, stared at the dirt and grit in the skin, convinced myself I could see the bone, in those few short seconds – I felt totally safe.

It takes a skilled writer to make a story which appears and hide within another one to read naturally, it also takes a skilled writer to make both a present and past narrative as interesting as the other. Filer does this and also, rather wonderfully, makes us care about them in equal measure. He also does something with the style of the book which for me made the book go from great to brilliant. As we read The Shock and the Fall we come across doodles, the text will change from computerised to handwritten, hand written to typewriter, type writer back to computerised as Matthew writes all his thoughts down wherever he can. There are also wonderful and funny chapter titles like ‘Please Stop Reading This Over My Shoulder’ so that with the texture of the different texts (which seem to take on different tempos of his thoughts) and these titles we actually feel that we are in Matthew’s head, as well as tones of despair, rage and humour, making the novel all the more powerful.

The Shock of the Fall is a rare novel which from the outset looks like it is talking about mental health; those who suffer from it, those around them and the system which we have for ‘dealing’ with it, yet in actual fact is a book about life, death, being different and how we cope with it all. It is also a novel which will make you laugh, cry, be angry and most importantly question what we mean by normality and how we should, or indeed shouldn’t, define it. It chimed with me and I will certainly be looking forward to whatever Nathan Filer writes next.

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Filed under Borough Press, Nathan Filer, Review

It’s Autumn, Hooray…

Today is officially the first day of autumn. Knowing this fact may make me sound even more like a geek; I don’t actually know when winter, summer and spring start though. This is because, sorry to the other three, autumn is my very favourite season of the year by a mile. I have mentioned this before on the blog I am sure, I will mention it again though. I love the fact that the nights start to draw in, yet it isn’t stupidly dark (damn you winter). I love the fact that everything feels cosier, you don’t want to leave your bed in the morning; you don’t want to take your cardigan/jumper off when you go to bed at night. I love the tones and colours of the trees, mildly ignoring the fact that it is all nature decaying/dying. I love the fact that the cats love me more, even if it is just because they want to steal my heat. I love the atmosphere outside as the foggy mornings start and twilight seems to last longer.

This is not my street. I currently have neighbours who seem to have filled a skip and most of the street with their garbage, not that I am cross.

All in all I love autumn. It is also my favourite reading season. This is because of most of the factors above; equating to staying in bed all the time or sitting by the fire (that I don’t have) or spending hours in the bath (which I don’t have, I need to move) and just reading. There is also something about the atmosphere that matches my favourite reads. Now is the time I am most likely to dust of some sensation Victorian fiction, a great murder mystery or open some ghost stories – which are all of my favourite books. Why I don’t read these as much at other times of the year I am not sure, and maybe I do but maybe I just don’t notice them as much. I am now very excited about perusing my shelves and looking for some ideal autumnal reads.

So I am thrilled autumn is here, what about you? Do you have a favourite season be it for reading or whatever? What books, or type of books, have you got planned to read or are looking forward to getting this autumn?

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Books That I’ve Bought of Late; The American Edition

I haven’t really mentioned my trip to America. I am currently working out how to do it in a way that won’t feel like one of those stomach dropping moments when you visit someone and they say ‘oh, let’s look at the pictures of my holiday’ and then go on to show you about a thousand pictures of which only about ten or twenty interest you in anyway. I will keep thinking. In the meantime before Other People’s Bookshelves returns next weekend (if you want to take part in a future one I would love you to) I thought I would share with you the books that I bought whilst I was away…

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The first book I bought on my trip was, some might say fatefully with my love of her, Daphne Du Maurier’s The Winding Stair. When Thomas and I went to the rather amazing and never ending second hand bookstore Capitol Hill Books in Washington, which I will have to post about, I could have bought lots and lots of books. The sensible boring part of my brain though was thinking of luggage allowance and so I snatched up just this. It is a nonfiction historical biography of Francis Bacon. I love the Tudor period and had seen this with its British title Golden Lads here in the UK ages ago for a small fortune. $4 was simply too much of a bargain.

Next up is the last book that I actually bought, but to put this at the bottom of the pile would have set off my OCD as it is so slim it would look odd – sorry too much ramble. Anyway, I was in the airport and still had about $40 that I knew would be turned into tuppence if I exchanged it burning in my pocket. So instead of buying The Beard another NYC police t-shirt or hoodie (don’t tell him) I decided to treat myself to Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage by Murakami who I am a big fan of and thought having the American version would be extra special and so snapped it up.

Many of you may be surprised that I have never read Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, which is actually the world’s bestselling mystery ever. Well I haven’t. E Lockhart had been singing its praises at Booktopia so it was fresh in my mind. Fate then intervened as I got caught in a torrential downpour in NYC so took refuge in Barnes and Noble and this was on one of the tables I perused and was just $10 (I of course forgot about the tax) and seemed like a good purchase in return for using the shop for thirty minutes while the rain passed.

Some of you may have heard on The Readers that I struggled with bookshops in Washington initially. Everyone said I would love Politics and Prose, and I probably would have if it hadn’t been for the fact a member of staff who had been hacking up phlegmy coughs as we perused was then incredibly rude to a customer on the phone and so I decided it wasn’t for me. However that all changed when Thomas took me to Books for America before his Spanish class where I found some gems which lead me to leaving The Goldfinch in Thomas’ spare room.

Life After Life by Jill McCorkle is a book I heard about on some US blogs and possibly Books on the Nightstand around the time that Life After Life by Kate Atkinson came out. It sounded right up my street as it is set in an old people’s homes and as I mentioned in my review of The Long Road I have a thing about old people’s homes as a setting, not as some strange fetish just to clarify again. It was also mentioned soooo fondly at Booktopia I had been hunting it in bookshops and not found it, then Thomas came up with it for just $4 and for a charity, oh hello!

I then also saw two of Truman Capote’s books that I don’t own and couldn’t leave without at such a bargain price as I love his writing so much. Music for Chameleons is a collection of some of his reportage and gossipy tales. Discussions smoking with his cleaner and trading sexual gossip with Marilyn Monroe were mentioned on the back. Sold. I also got A Christmas Memory as I love reading Christmas based tales at Christmas and this is three in one which I can sneakily hideaway with when the family get too much (we are at my mother’s this year, so probably on day two) if they do. Coughs.

The final four books came from the most infamous bookstore in NYC, The Strand, which I visited on my penultimate day and so felt I could go crazy in. Initially I thought I might go crazy at how big it was, then I couldn’t find any fiction books apart from the tables at the front… then I actually found the map and all became clearer. Well after I had decoded the symbols they use to illustrate different sections. If you ever go to NYC you have to go to The Strand, its endless and books are slightly discounted in the main fiction and downstairs there is a secret section where some hardbacks are half price, legendary.

I came away with two paperbacks that I had been mulling over since I saw them, but refused to buy them because of Mardy Mark, in Politics and Prose. Wilton Barnhardt’s Lookaway, Lookaway sounds so up my street. Jerene Jarvis Johnston is in the high society of her town, yet of course she has many a secret and a really dysfunctional family, but how long can she keep them under cover. Genius, very me. Oh and it was set in North Carolina where I started my trip, so I knew I would be able to conjure it when I was reading. Amy Grace Loyd’s The Affairs of Others caught my eye because of the cover, which helpfully you can’t see, then as soon as I read the blurb and saw it was a tale of a woman who has been widowed and so becomes a landlady soon welcoming unwelcome guests (that makes sense right?) into her life and her building, I knew I had to get it at some point. Lovely stuff.

On The Books is a graphic novel by Greg Farrell and comes with the subtitle, a graphic tale of working woes at NYC’s Strand Bookstore. I spotted it when I got hopelessly lost (I think they do this on purpose for this very reason) on the first floor and it seemed the perfect souvenir booky book to remind me of NYC. Oh and it was signed.

Hardback’s are quite pricey in the US, especially when you take into account tax which I constantly forgot about. The one that I had seen and most fancied getting was Your Face in Mine by Jess Row as it sounded unlike anything I have read before. One afternoon after moving back home Kelly Thorndike is called to by someone he has never seen before and has no recollection of. The man identifies himself as Martin, one of his oldest friends, only Martin was white and Jewish then and now he is very much an African American man. Why would he change his colour and what is his plan behind it all? Martin is about to be coerced into finding out and even helping Martin with his plan… Doesn’t that sound brilliant? It was amazingly in the half price hardback section and was the last copy. It had to leave with me.

So that was my holiday loot. I think I did quite well don’t you? I wasn’t excessive but definitely came back with some great finds. I am particularly excited by Life After Life, On The Books, The Affairs of Others, Your Face in Mine and Lookaway, Lookaway as they aren’t published in the UK (yet) which makes them seem all the more special and undiscovered, though I am sure some of you over the pond will have read one or two of them. I would love to know if you have, well, I would love to know if any of you have read any of them or about any books you have bought abroad. Oh and I was also a book enabler whilst in DC with Thomas as you can see here, ha!

I won’t be sharing any posts on books I have been sent anymore after my recent decision to change my blogging style and review policy. I will still be getting them and sharing them on Twitter and Instagram though so add SavidgeReads on both of those if you fancy a nosey at the occasional bookish post parcels. I will be posting intermittent Books That I’ve Bought posts though.

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The Road Home – Rose Tremain

So I lied to you all. I lied to you all and then to make it worse I let you all down. I promised that I would have the review of this up, as one of the Trespassing with Tremain titles, last Sunday (after having delayed it once before, what kind of monster am I?) however it has taken until now. Do I feel bad? Not really, you see I was enjoying The Road Home so much and finding the writing so brilliant I didn’t want to rush it. So I let it, and its characters, just engulf me for a little bit longer. Though I have to admit, I did almost fall out with Tremain at one point, I may even have been a little bit cross.

Vintage Books, paperback, 2008, fiction, 365 pages, borrowed from the library

Lev is a man who, after the recent death of his wife, is travelling from Eastern Europe to the UK in search of work so that he can provide a better life for his mother, daughter and even some of his friends if they need help. A little like Dick Whittington he sees London as a place of streets filled with gold, or at least gold coins as part of the wealthy West. His dream soon becomes a grim reality as we follow his journey upon arrival in London where upon he finds a cold and confusing place, somewhere he realises he is ill prepared and poorly funded for. We follow him as he tries to make it in this new world, often wondering if such a thing can be possible, whilst his friends and family struggle in the land he left behind.

Within a very few chapters you can see why this novel won the Orange Prize back in 2008. Not only is it stunningly written, it is just brimming with themes and questions. It is also one of those books that really looks at the state of the UK and the experience not only of immigrants, which of course it highlights, but of anyone who is living on the breadline, or in the bits of society we don’t like to linger on, and trying to find their way in the life, or to be more precise in Lev’s case Europe.

‘Aren’t you afraid, like, Immigration could come here and whack you down the nick?’
‘Whack me down the nick? What is that?’
‘He knows nothin’, bless ‘im. You don’t know nothing’, luv. That Immigration, they’ve got officers everywhere, in disguise. I could be from them, for all you know. Then you’re done for. You’re back on the first plane.’
‘Yes? Back to what place?’
‘To wherever you came from: Bela-whatsit, Kazak-wherever.’

Of course it is the immigrant experience that is the focus of the novel as we follow Lev. It is this which makes the narrative so gripping as Tremain unflinchingly looks at how someone in a completely new and unnerving situation and surroundings. As we follow Lev from a bedsit, to posting leaflets, to the sink of one of London’s finest restaurants and beyond (no spoilers) we feel his vulnerability, see how he gets used and wonder how on earth anyone can go through all of that? Here I should mention that not once was I aware, once I was in, that Lev’s story was being written by a British woman, it all felt so real and chimed with what I have heard from friends, and indeed my ex, who were immigrants in this new United Kingdom. That is masterful in itself.

Yet there is also so much more going on. I love books that feature old people and old people’s homes. This is not some weird fetish I promise. This country is brimming, I nearly said overflowing but that sounds awful, with elderly people and people are living longer. For some reason as a society we don’t talk about them (rather like European immigrants I guess) and often shut them away in homes physically and literally. These people have done so much for us, yet these people are often left lonely and forgotten. They are also brimming with stories. Throw the ‘homes’ they are put into, and all the things that brings; fighting for independence and against authority, simply giving up, becoming angry and resentful, not wanting to live with people they don’t know, being bored out of their minds, etc and you have endless opportunities for a writer and lots of stories to tell and points to make as Tremain does.

Lev had asked her what she’d do there and she told him that she’d help prepare a Christmas meal and then they’d play games and have a sing-song. She said: ‘They’ll all get squiffy on Asti Spumante and float backwards in time, but I don’t care. When you’re old, nobody touches you, nobody listens to you – not in this bloody country. So that’s what I do: I touch and listen. I comb their hair. I play clapping games with them. That’s a laugh and a half. I hear about life in the post-war prefab or in some crumbling stately pile. I play my guitar and sometimes that makes them cry. My favourite person there is a woman called Ruby. She was brought up by nuns in India. She can still remember the convent school and her favourite nun, Sister Bendicta – every detail, every feeling.’

That is not all, there is more. No, seriously. Tremain also looks at a host of other things. She looks at grief and how we deal with it. She looks at love and infatuation in all its forms. She discusses the cult of celebrity and ‘the rich’. She looks at class. She looks at marriage and divorce. She looks at friendship and fatherhood. I could go on. The one other main theme I think I should mention though is that she looks at home and what that word really means and how we make our own.

So why did I almost fall out with Tremain? Well there was one thing that bothered me and was the only time where I suddenly said to myself ‘oh yeah, this is a story it’s not real’, because I had become so engrossed, and that is when she makes Lev do something violent that seems totally out of character. I initially thought I had missed something in his back story because for me he had just been this good guy who was working his arse of and the system was still messing him up, two steps forward one step back. Next thing I was thinking he was a nasty bugger and it jarred. I can see why Tremain did it, Lev becomes rather passionate about someone or something, yet this seemed very extreme. It caused a wobble, thankfully one that was soon stabilised by the prose and the turn in the plot which I wasn’t expecting. I know some people found this too jarred, as the book takes a possible hopeful twist, yet I went along with it and believed in it. Crisis averted.

As you have probably guessed I thought that The Road Home was rather wonderful. It is one of those wonderful books that makes you despair at society and how everything about it works. It is also a book about how we deal with struggles, being forgotten and/or looking for a place to belong. Tremain creates characters that you care about and love; Lev, Rudi, Christy, Ruby and ones that you think are utter bastards, who I won’t give away. It is a fully formed world which we all inhabit and, I think, makes us question it and want better for ourselves and others within it. All of this whilst also being a bloody marvellous story that is brilliantly written.

I am officially becoming a complete Tremain fan and can totally see why Gran raved about her as much as she did, so thanks Gran for making me read her even if it is too late to talk about her with you. However, as is always a delight, I can talk about it with all of you. Who else had read The Road Home and what did you make of it? For more opinions check Kim and Lizzy’s thoughts. Don’t forget next in Trespassing with Tremain is The Darkness of Wallace Simpson and Other Stories which we will be discussing on Sunday October the 5th, I promise. So do join in if you fancy it.

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