Monthly Archives: August 2015

Deep Water – Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith is one of those authors who I have been meaning to read for years and years. (I think I said I would write a list of such authors I have meant to get to a while back, oops maybe in the next week or so.) Recently Virago sent me a set of some of her reissued novels and so I was left with the delightful choice of which one to read first. I settled on Deep Water as my first choice after authors Stella Duffy, Sarah Hilary and Jill Dawson all waxed lyrical on how marvellous they both thought it was, and goodness me were they right.

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Virago Modern Classics, paperback, 1957 (2015 edition), fiction, 340 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

“Vic didn’t dance, but not for the reasons that most men who don’t dance give to themselves. He didn’t dance simply because his wife liked to dance.” As Deep Water opens we are thrown straight into a very middle class evening of wine dancing and merriment at a house in the suburbs of Little Wesley. Vic Van Allen is observing the merriment rather than joining in with it, specifically watching over his wife Melinda who spends most of the evening dancing, rather indiscreetly, with her latest male admirer Ralph. We soon learn that this has become a bit of a regular, rather annoying, aspect to the marriage of Vic and Melinda, whilst for a while now Vic has let Melinda have small infatuations they have started to become too public.

In a rash moment of annoyance, the otherwise well liked and thought of Vic manages to whisper in Ralph’s ear ‘If I really don’t like somebody, I kill him …You remember Malcolm McRae, don’t you?’ It transpires Ralph does, and Vic’s ruse, which is of course untrue, works as Ralph backs off, even though the whole town soon starts talking about it. Yet within weeks Melinda has become very close with pianist Charley, new to town, someone who doesn’t seem to scare of so easily and within days Vic’s fiction becomes much more of a reality.

It was astonishing to Vic how quickly the story travelled, how interested everybody was in it – especially people who didn’t know him well – and how nobody lofted a finger or a telephone to tell the police about it. There were, of course, the people who knew him and Melinda very well, or fairly well, knew why he had told the story, and found it simply amusing. But there were people who didn’t know him or Melinda, didn’t know anything about them except by hearsay, who had probably pulled long faces on being told the story, and who seemed to take the attitude that he deserved to be hauled in by the police, whether it was true or not. Vic deduced that from some of the looks he got when he walked down the main street of the town.

It is very difficult to write about Deep Water without giving too much away. I think it is fair to say we know from the off that things are not going to go well for Vic and Melinda and that there is going to be a murder (or maybe more) ahead. This would frankly be well trodden ground if it wasn’t for two things, Vic himself and Vic and Melinda’s marriage, which I think compel this into being a thriller rather unlike any that I have read before.

Firstly we have Vic’s character which is possibly one of the most interesting insights into someone as they go down a dark road to disastrous actions. From the start we are made to sympathise with Vic. He is a man who leads a decent harmless life. He has wealth via an allowance (which admittedly we never know much about) and so has set up his own small press publishing lesser known works which he goes in as and when he feels like, yet employing one of the locals full time. Outside the hobby of his business he likes to spend the day reading, contemplating, oh and breeding snails and letting bed bugs use his blood while he learns about them. Yes, a slight oddness lies within Vic but as we watch the way his wife carries on around him, we forgive him, forget it or just think it’s adorably geeky.

How many of us would allow their partner/husband/wife bring back different beau’s every few months, they are clearly having sex with, and invite them for dinner and indeed let them stay till the small hours dancing together in front of you willing you to go to bed in the former spare room which is now yours? No, me neither. Yet Vic doesn’t seem bothered, despite their having one child he remains asexual in many ways not responding to other local wives flirtations, if anything it seems some kind of penance or game he just deals with. Well, until he reaches his limits, which to be fair we all would. (Note – if you think I have given everything away, not a chance, we aren’t past page 50 yet!)

Vic said in a light, joking tone, ‘It’s too bad I’m married to you, isn’t it? I might have a chance with you if I were a total stranger and met you out of the blue. I’d have money, not be too bad looking, with lots of interesting things to talk about -’
‘Like what? Snails and bed bugs?’ She was dressing to go out with Charly that afternoon, fastening around her waist a belt that Vic had given her, tying round her neck a purple and yellow scarf that Vic had chosen carefully and bought for her.
‘You used to think snails were interesting and that a lot of other things were interesting, until your brain went to atrophy.’
‘Thanks. I like my brain fine and you can have yours.’

The other mystery, aside from the murders of the past and any that may follow, that we become fascinated is how on earth Vic and Melinda’s marriage ended up in such a horrific state. Unlike War of the Roses (one of my favourite films) or Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn is a huge Highsmith fan and discusses Deep Water in this edition) this is not a case of marital misunderstandings turning to malice or two deeply unlikeable people marrying each other and causing the other hell, this is the case of one woman flaunting her affairs, toying with her husband and getting away with it. Melinda is all the more fascinating as whilst we never get inside her head, which I admit I would have liked to, we watch spiral out of control as she loses control of the situation she has created. It is fascinating as we watch these two characters unfold and even more fascinating as we start to side with one of them. I will leave it at that.

I loved, if that is the right word, my first foray into Highsmith so much. Deep Water is one of the most entertaining, snarky, camply dark, vicious and twisted psychological thrillers I have read. It is also one of the most unusual as the reader watches a sociopath come to the fore from their normally meek mild mannered self… and we egg him on and like him, even understanding him oddly, the whole time. It is a fascinating insight into the mind of a killer, if this is a prime example of what Highsmith fondly described as “my psychopath heroes”, I can’t wait to meet the rest. If you haven’t read Deep Water then honestly, erm, dive in – you are in for an absolute treat.

Who else has read Deep Water and what did you make of it? Which other Highsmith novels have you read and would you recommend? I have already got my next Highsmith lined up and ready to read. I was going to read The Talented Mr Ripley next but the film, which is brilliant, is still rooted in my head so I am going to save that a while. I cannot wait for This Sweet Sickeness to come out next year in print, as Marieke Hardy brought it to ABC’s The Book Club and it sounded brilliant. I have decided that I am going to give Carol/The Price of Salt a whirl next, especially as the film with (the always brilliant) Cate Blanchet is coming out soon. I genuinely can’t wait.

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Filed under Books of 2015, Patricia Highsmith, Review, Virago Modern Classics

Some Festival Festivities This Autumn

I have mentioned before how much I enjoy going to and indeed on occasion being part of a book festival. I told you a few weeks ago that I was going to be heading to Gladfest at Gladstone’s library when it is one over the first weekend in September, more info here, and now I have two more to tell you about as I will up and down the country like a yo-yo at the beginning of October and I am really excited about these trips already. They will be needed as I am sure to be having a bloody massive small comedown after I get back from America and ‘Readers Road Trip’ with Thomas and Booktopia Petoskey with him, Ann and Michael.

The first festival that I will be heading to will be the Ilkley Literature Festival where , on Saturday the 3rd of October, I will be joining author and vlogger Jen Campbell and Unbound Publishing’s editor Rachael Kerr to discuss Writing and Reading in a Digital Age; Books and Reading from the Romans to the Digital Age. This event will happen in Ilkley Playhouse and be chaired by the very lovely Claire Newman, who is the Chief Executive of New Writing North and has kept me in line when she chaired an event I did in Newcastle. I am really looking forward to this as these three ladies are all ace, all very forward and I think the conversation and debate will be rather interesting, if I do say so myself. I am also going to try and sneak into some of the other events on around it, you can find the programme PDF here – it would be lovely to see some of you there.

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Top right, not sure I can compete with Patricia Duncker…

Next up, announced just yesterday, is the lovely exciting news that I am going to be the official blogger for Durham Book Festival which runs from the 6th to the 17th of October. Here basically I will be gadding about and doing a series of ‘live’ blogs here on Savidge Reads and also some posts on the festivals website throughout the eleven days too. I love Durham and am thrilled to be heading back, as a child I grew up in Newcastle and trips to Durham Cathedral and its impressive knockers (no sniggering at the back) are imprinted on my brain.

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Looking smiley as always, thank you Tim for finding this in the programme.

Now as much as I would love to be there for the whole eleven days, I have got a new job (very exciting and more on it next week) and so can’t be there during the week. However, I am really, really excited as I am going to be giving some master classes, and offering some advice and mentoring, for  some younger writers (who write for The Cuckoo Review) in September who will be ‘reviewers in residence’ while the festival is on. I am so, so excited about this. I bet I will have more questions for them than they will for me. I am also very excited as I will be going to the Gordon Burn Prize winning event, so I am going to be reading all the shortlisted books which I shared with you the other day (which New Writing North are kindly sending me) in advance of the event too. The full programme is here.

So September and October are looking like really exciting and very busy months. New job, lots of events and lots of lovely bookish chatter. Do let me know if you will be at Ilkley or Durham’s festivals as it would be lovely to see you, and of course at Gladfest. Right, I better get reading some books in preparation!*

*It isn’t all books, I have just found out I will be working on LIMF (Liverpool International Music Festival, the biggest free music festival in Europe no less) Summer Jam on the August Bank Holiday weekend, so my life is going completely festival mad, can’t wait!

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Filed under Book Events, Random Savidgeness

Mother Island – Bethan Roberts

Many of you may know, as being so excited I mentioned it a few times, I had the joy of judging Fiction Uncovered earlier this year. Over the next few weeks (and indeed last four weeks) I will be (and have been) sharing my thoughts with you on the winners, one per week. This week it is Bethan Robert’s Mother Island which I think manages to combine both a thriller and a family drama to create a wonderful suburban noir novel.

Vintage Books, paperback, 2015, fiction, 320 pages, kindly submitted by the publisher for Fiction Uncovered

What is it like to have someone steal your child from you and what it is like to steal a child from someone, are the two questions at the heart of Bethan Roberts fourth novel Mother Island. When Nula decides she needs to go back to work, in part because she is going stir crazy stuck indoors with her son Samuel, and get a nanny she is faced with the question of who can she trust with her child. Fate it seems has the perfect solution when her cousin Maggie, who has recently dropped out of Oxford, offers to take the role. What could be safer than being with family right? Well wrong, fate it seems can be a cruel thing. Within months of becoming Samuel’s nanny Maggie’s bond with the child becomes something deeper that becomes all consuming, and so she abducts him. I should stipulate here that you know this is going to happen from the very first line, what you don’t know is that Bethan Roberts has more secrets coming than first meet the eye.

Blood and sweat. So much of child-rearing is blood and sweat, she thinks, and she can clearly imagine the way Samuel’s back will be sodden with sweat from Maggie’s car seat, wherever they are, because Maggie has not taken his sheepskin with her. It is this, more than anything, that makes Nula worry about her son’s safety. Because Maggie isn’t the kind of person who would be thoughtless enough just to forget to call. Nula knows her cousin can be a little – strange is too strong a word. Odd. Eccentric, perhaps. Isolated, maybe. Yet with Samuel she has been such a careful, caring person.

It could be very easy for a novelist to simply tell the story of Maggie’s kidnapping of Samuel and then follow her journey into hiding with him and have you wondering if Nula will ever get her son back. Bethan Roberts does this AND she adds in a second plot into the novel as we head back to Maggie and Nula’s youth and the summers that they spent on the welsh island of Anglesey. These were summers of secrets, of sexual awakenings, of jealousies, of friendship and completion. One summer in particular changing the dynamic between them, they think they have both forgotten but clearly all these years later, they haven’t.

If those two secret laden plots weren’t enough, there is more. I love a book with layers and Mother Island is a book that has lots and lots of hidden depths going on below its surface. The most obvious theme in the novel is that of motherhood. Nula thought that she would be the perfect mother and is discovering that it isn’t as natural as they make out in books and on the telly. Maggie always thought she would have children and so far, until she steals one, she hasn’t. But what makes a good mother? This novel also looks at the great Mummy ‘good’, Nanny ‘bad’ theory which has been raging on for sometimes. It also looks at the differing relationships children have with their nannies over their parents which can be a tricky one (I know I was a ‘manny’ for a year for my aunty) which can prove a complicated beast with jealousies and differing ideas of childcare forming.

There are many women, after all, who have killed their own children. Up to half the women in Broadmoor have killed their own children. She had read that somewhere once, and now cannot stop thinking about it. Who were they, these women? Why didn’t anyone talk about them? Did they wake up one June morning, the street almost silent apart from the rumble of an approaching rubbish truck, and find their children gone? Was there a moment of uncertainty? Did they, like her, not quite know if they had brought this about themselves?

What I thought Roberts did incredibly, and what really sets this apart from many literary thrillers (for that is what I would definitely call Mother Island) is the depth into which she goes into these two women’s characters and the psychology behind the facades they are both showing to the world. Nula outwardly seems like a woman having the perfect life; loving husband, great job, gorgeous child. However we learn she is a women who is clearly going through some kind of post natal depression and is wracked with jealousies and riddled with insecurities. Likewise to the outside world Maggie whilst seeming slightly aloof and somewhat a loner would be described as a lovely young woman who has got a little lost from life, people just don’t realise how lost. We get intricate insights, and understanding into both of their world views inwards and outwards. This is all the more compelling when we see one of them go from being a good person to one who does something bad.

The other theme of the book, for me, was families and how we do and don’t connect with them. In their childhood Nula and Maggie both make deep connections with the other’s closest relations (I mentioned the jealousy earlier) and they judge the others families in varying degrees. Most interestingly for me with Mother Island was the relationship of cousins which is not looked at enough in fiction in my experience and yet is a fascinating relationship. Cousins tend to be like special extra siblings when you are young yet also have that distance which can lead to those familial friendships fading as you grow older and further apart. You are related by blood but if you aren’t put together on family holidays, weddings or funerals would you really bond normally?

In some books where there are alternating stories between past and present one will hold your interest more, not so here. In the present we have the thrills of what will happen, in the past we want to know just what on earth happened. Here I have to mention what I loved particularly in the past storyline was both the dubious character of Uncle Ralph and the vivid way in which Anglesey is described. I will say no more.

Anglesey was all this. The trembling trees. The stars of garlic flowers in spring. The glimpse of the Menai Strait through the leaves as she walked down the lane at Llanidan. The tide right up to the boathouse, the water blue and full. Mudflats appearing and disappearing. The sounds of sheep and birds and boats and the scream of the white peacock in the old chapel-house garden.

All in all, with its superb prose, twisted secret ridden plots, its sense of place, atmosphere and brilliant characterisation (especially psychologically) Bethan Roberts’ Mother Island is a brilliant mix of literary thriller meets family drama. We have abducted babies, familial jealousies and childhood secrets combining in a prime example of suburban noir. I read it in two sittings the first time and got even more out of it the second time, it is one of those kind of books. I would highly recommend you give it a read.

Have you read Mother Island and if so what did you make of it? It has reminded me how much I love Bethan Roberts’ writing, I adored My Policeman so much, and I am very much looking forward to reading The Pools and The Good Plain Cook which I have copies of and will be reading very soon – have you read any of those yet?

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Filed under Bethan Roberts, Books of 2015, Fiction Uncovered, Review, Vintage Books

The Gordon Burn Prize Shortlist 2015

Sometimes it seems like it is another week and another book prize, however there are some quite different and unusual ones and for that reason (along with the fact that we all love a list of books don’t we?) I wanted to mention the announcement of The Gordon Burn Prize shortlist for 2015. One of these will join previous winners Pig Iron by Benjamin Myers and The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth (another two books I have been meaning to read for ages) when the winner is announced in October.

The criteria for the Gordon Burns Prize, set up by New Writing North with Faber & Faber, are books which challenge our perceived notions of genre and make us think again about just what it is that we are reading and non-fiction that explores in innovative and exciting ways topics that reflect Gordon Burn’s interests such as social history, sport, true crime, music, celebrity and art. Books where the reader begins to question the very nature of what he is reading. Fiction? Non-fiction? Faction?

 I think this sounds really interesting and (possibly bar sport) quite different which you all know I am a huge fan of. The shortlist has now been announced and the five books that judges actress Maxine Peake, authors Doug Johnstone and Roddy Doyle, journalist Suzanne Moore and artist Gavin Turk have chosen are…

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I don’t have the books I stole this from Twitter, apologies to the owners but its for a good bookish cause 😉

  • In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile by Dan Davies (Quercus)
  • Midland by Honor Gavin (Penned in the Margins)
  • Noon Tide Toll by Romesh Gunesekera (Granta Books)
  • Original Rockers by Richard King (Faber & Faber)
  • Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev (Faber & Faber)

Now I have to say other than the Dan Davies, which with its subject matter of Jimmy Savile has had a lot of debate and discussion going on about it, I have not heard of any of the other books and that always makes me really, really excited. So for that reason, along with something that I will be able to tell you all about on Thursday, I have decided that I am going to read all of them before the winner is announced on Friday October the 9th ‘oop’ north in lovely Durham as part of their literature festival.

Have any of you read any of these titles? What did you make of them? Are there any that intrigue you, might you be up for reading all five? Have you read either of the previous winners, Benjamin Myers or Paul Kingsnorth? What are your thoughts on the more left field (and I think rather exciting) book prizes?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Gordon Burn Prize

All Involved – Ryan Gattis

I do love it when a book takes me by surprise, even more so when one takes me out of my comfort zone. What makes this all the better is when this comes at the least expected time. This happened with All Involved by Ryan Gattis which when I was first emailed about, being told it was the tale of the 1992 LA Riots from a spectrum of seventeen witnesses and participants, I instantly thought ‘that isn’t my cup of tea’. Thank goodness then for several people raving about it and saying I must read it (or else, in some cases – Nina) because one I started I couldn’t stop reading, even when I sometimes wanted to.

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Picador, hardback, 2015, fiction, 384 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

All Involved is based around the true events in April 1992. After one of the most notorious, racially charged trials in American history, the city of L.A. exploded in violence and with Gattis at the help this reads like the book equivalent of a rollercoaster. For six days, Los Angeles is a city ablaze. For six days, seventeen people are caught in the chaos. For six days, Los Angeles shows the world what happens when laws are no longer enforceable. Once you start the book and become witness to the horrific death of Ernesto Vera on his walk home, you are instantly embroiled in the life of one part of LA where, with no justice on the streets, anything is possible and anyone could be the victim of other people’s pasts, other people’s debts and other people’s ability to do just what the hell they like.

“Don’t do this.” I hear myself say the words. It surprises me how calm they are, considering my heart is going a million beats per minute. “Please. I didn’t do anything to you. I have money. Whatever you want.”
They respond, these three, but not with words. Rough hands jerk me up on my feet, out of the Boardwalk and into the back alley with garages on both sides. But they’re just setting me up.
Quick weak punches hit me in my kidneys, my stomach, my ribs too. I get it from all angles. They don’t feel hard but they steal my breath away. At first, I don’t understand, but then I see the blood, and I stare at it on my shirt, and as I am wondering why I didn’t feel the stabs, a bat hits me.

In a novel where not one, not two, not three but seventeen narrators take us through the streets during those six days, Gattis does some very clever things. Firstly, the way in which we meet these narrators is done incredibly skilfully. We have Ernesto, who through some wizardry Gattis makes us like, know is a good guy and feel utterly bereft by the death of. We also know Ernesto is an innocent and that this is an act of revenge and settling scored, also increasing the horror of it. When we then meet Ernesto’s sister Payasa, we learn why the act of revenge yet we also stay on the side of ‘good’ (if you can call it that, which we will come to later) as nor is involved in the gang culture of the streets. Until she decides that she wants revenge herself.

But then it dawns on me like a math problem my stupid ass finally figured out. There are no rules now. None. Not with people rioting. I shiver when I realise every single cop in the city is somewhere else and that means its officially hunting season for on every fucking fool who ever got away with anything and damn, does this neighbourhood have a long memory. I snort and take a second to appreciate the evil weight of it.

Within just 56 pages we have gone from being complete outsiders to the gang culture of the time, to heading straight towards the heart of it. We have also gone from being people who witness an act of revenge and are horrified by it to, if we are really honest and after the first two chapters you feel it believe me, understanding why someone would then want to go and participate in an act of violence for revenge. It is expertly done and incredible how quickly our morals shift, even if ever so slightly, when we are put into another person’s shoes and given an insight into their life and all that is involved around it.

Imagine then what happens as we start to go further into the lives of the neighbourhoods, the different gangs, the police, the nurses and doctors, the firemen. Gattis takes us into all these worlds within a district and makes us experience their way of life and I challenge you to think things are as simple as gangs ‘bad’ and cops ‘good’ by the end of All Involved, there are too many layers we discover as we go, all the grey areas and the thoughts provoked. There are some other major moral questions thrown in when we see cops arresting people instead of helping putting out fires, or putting out fires when they should be arresting people – when their resources are limited and they can’t look at the full facts, what can they do.

What I found all the more compelling was that while part of you can try and say ‘oh this is a fictional account’ you know that Gattis has based this around how people who he has spoken to felt at the time as well as all the research that he has done into the events that happened. We get both the feelings inside the heads of all involved, wherever they are in the area, and we also get the facts. My jaw hit the floor as characters were dispatched (some you hope get their comeuppance, most you don’t) and then all the more when I learnt some of the facts.

For example there were over 102,000 gang members estimated in LA in 1991 a year, who whatever their motive were part of 771 murders. When you then learn that in the first two days of the riots 3000 guns were looted and many people had axes to grind and grudges bearing fruit, whatever the moral behind them, you see you’re only getting a sample of what was going on. It makes it all the more disconcerting when you realise people aren’t learning, whatever ‘side’ they are on as the cycle of riots has been roughly every twenty years along with peaks in racial issues, and look what is happening in the news right now. It is scary, but we need books like this.

There’s a truth in that somewhere and maybe it’s this – there’s a hidden America inside the one we portray to the world, and only a small group of people ever actually see it. Some of us are locked into it by birth or geography, but the rest of us just work here. Doctors, nurses, firemen, cops – we know it. We see it. We negotiate with death where we work because that’s just part of the job.  We see its layers, its unfairness, its unavoidability. Still, we fight that losing battle. We try to maneuver around it, occasionally even steal from it. And when you come across somebody else who seems to know it like you do, well, you can’t help but stop and wonder what it’d be like to be with someone who can empathise.  

I was completely gripped by All Involved. I have not devoured a novel in such a way, both in terms of the speed in which I read it and in the way it consumed my thoughts and some of my dreams, in years. It completely encompassed my brain while I was reading it and for weeks (and now months) after having read it I am still thinking about it, the characters and also what I would do in a situation like that if I was any of those people. I came away shocked and horrified but I also came away with a greater understanding into the lives of people who I never imagined I could empathise with. That is what the best of fiction does though isn’t it? Gattis has written a visceral, challenging, scary yet hopeful and questioning novel which I urge you all to read if you haven’t already. Easily one of my books of 2015, I need to get my hands on all his others when I am in the USA next month.

If you would like to hear Ryan talking about All Involved in more detail then do check out the latest episode of You Wrote The Book where we have a fascinating (if I do say so myself) conversation about the book. I would also, of course, love to hear your thoughts and reactions to All Involved if you have read it already. If you haven’t then why are you still reading this? Get thee to a library or bookshop right now, it’s essential reading.

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Filed under Books of 2015, Picador Books, Review, Ryan Gattis

Other People’s Bookshelves #67 – Ruth F. Hunt

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are in Lancashire to meet author and painter Ruth Hunt and to have a nosey around her bookshelves. Before we do though do grab yourself a cuppa and some of those biscuits and let’s get to know Ruth a little better…

I live in West Lancashire and I’m a writer, putting together features for The Morning Star, and the occasional article for other publications. My debut novel, The Single Feather is out now, about a paraplegic young woman, trying to forge a new future despite a traumatic and abusive past. I also paint, mainly for commissions, though I do have paintings in galleries and exhibitions. I’m currently studying Creative Writing with the Open University. I’m disabled following a nasty accident when I was 18. I emerged with ‘life-changing injuries’ which includes spinal cord injuries and an amputation.  One of the ways reading is so important to me, is most of the time I’m housebound, only getting out when I have help. Books are my social life.

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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?

My TBR books are on my coffee table. If I like the book, I then have the first problem, which is I have no more shelf space. So if I REALLY love a book, I take out one that isn’t loved as much, and put it in its place.  ‘The book that isn’t loved as much’, will end up in a pile somewhere, usually in my study.  The books I don’t get on with go to my mum or my cleaner, who then will either read them or take them to a charity shop. I have a cull each time I move, but it’s never a drastic cull – maybe four or five carrier bags.  I quickly find I have more books than I culled in my new home in a matter of weeks.

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?

Whenever I move, I start off with organised shelves, usually organised according to genre.  However, that doesn’t last. Looking at my shelves today you wouldn’t think that five years ago they were organised.  The only shelf that has a semblance of order is one row in my study with lots of ‘How to Write’ books.  I obsessively buy these, usually around 11:30pm at night, when I’m at my most vulnerable for impulse buying. As my shelves are so disorganized, I sometimes have to locate books using old photo’s I’ve taken of my bookshelves. It’s a reliable method, so if you are disorganized like me, regularly take photos of your bookcases.

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

The first book I bought with my own money was called Flowers in the Attic by Virginia C Andrews. It was very popular in school, and so I used some of my Saturday job money to buy it.  I’m 99.9% certain it’s not on my shelves now. However, I found a school library book the other day, so you never know!

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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?

I do hide guilty pleasures on my shelves, often using postcards and ornaments to hide books I feel embarrassed about. I also have a space behind my TV where I discreetly hide them.  The book that earns the spot as a current guilty pleasure is ‘Where’s Nigel?’  All it is, is cartoon pictures of events with lots of people at it, and you have to spot where Nigel Farage is.  For some reason it makes me chuckle every time I open it.

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?

When my dad died, my mum gave me all his poetry and set texts he had during his university days. He died when I was a teenager, and I’m to this day sad, that I never chatted to him about his love of books. So, I would plead with a fireman to save those.  The other book I’d want to save has already been moved out of my house to my mum’s wardrobe and no, not in anticipation of a fire!  I won a beautiful copy of Birds Drawn for John Gould by Edward Lear, which is a Folio Illustrated book with a print enclosed and a signed letter from David Attenborough from The Guardian. It was worth £899 when I go it, and so I’m hoping it appreciates in value over time. Jokingly, I say it’s to pay for my mum’s care costs when she’s older, but we both know it’s more than likely to be me that needs it first.

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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?

My dad was a vicar and my mum is a churchgoer too, so when I was a child I remember seeing a lot of CS Lewis on their bookshelves.  When I first had a flat, I bought a couple of his books but really struggled with them. Recently I’ve had another go at reading a CS Lewis novel, but I didn’t find it a pleasurable experience.

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 really love a book, say for example All Involved by Ryan Gattis, then even though I had a proof copy I had to buy the book. Sometimes, I might buy something on Kindle which turns out to be great – then I will buy the book even though I’ve read it on Kindle. I do re-read books, and I see them as a visual representation of my life, almost like photographs in an album. I’ll pick up a book and remember where I was when I first bought it, who I was with and what year it was and so on.  I also put cuttings from newspapers that are related to the book inside. So I can pick up a book and a faded and yellow tinged review from the 1980’s will tumble out…

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

The last book I added was The Ecliptic by Benjamin Wood.  I got it signed in my local independent bookshop and devoured it in the evening.  His description of the creative process was spot on, and got me in the mood for painting!

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

I’m really not sure what they would think. I hope they would think I’ve got a broad taste, though that’ not strictly true as my books are probably heavily weighted towards the literary end of things – you won’t find many crime or romance books, or that much non-fiction.

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A huge thanks to Ruth for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, you can find her on Twitter here. 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 as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Ruth’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Letter From An Unknown Woman – Stefan Zweig

Stefan Zweig is an author I have seen many people rave about and yet have always felt that, for some unknown reason, his work might be a little too high brow for me and I wouldn’t enjoy it. It was with trepidation that I started Letter From An Unknown Woman, a collection of four of his works, when it was chosen for Hear Read This. Well if all of Zweig’s writing is like this I have been a fool to have not read him for so long, I discovered his writing is wonderful and was somewhat spellbound by this collection.

Pushkin Press, paperback, 2013 (originally 1922, 1911, 1982 & 1900) , short stories, translated by Anthea Bell, 208 pages, bought by myself for myself

I have called Letter From An Unknown Woman a collection of Zweig’s works rather than a short story collection as the title story really verges on the length of a novella, and at the opposite end of the spectrum (and indeed the book) Forgotten Dreams is barely ten pages long, both A Story Told in Twilight and The Debt Paid Late are roughly the same length. Yet one thing can be said for Zweig, that no matter how long or short his works are the prose is simply gorgeous, the stories take you in directions you don’t expect and each one has an emotional intelligence and range that will have you feeling like you have read a novel rather than something much shorter. In this collection they all also tend to look at lost loves from a state of hindsight, which can make them all the more mysterious, powerful, romanticised or bittersweet.

My child died yesterday — for three days and three nights I wrestled with death for that tender little life, I sat for forty hours at his bedside while the influenza racked his poor, hot body with fever. I put cool compresses on his forehead, I held his restless little hands day and night. On the third evening I collapsed. My eyes would not stay open any longer; I was unaware of it when they closed. I slept, sitting on my hard chair, for three or four hours, and in that time death took him. Now the sweet boy lies there in his narrow child’s bed, just as he died; only his eyes have been closed, his clever, dark eyes, and his hands are folded over his white shirt, while four candles burn at the four corners of his bed. I dare not look, I dare not stir from my chair, for when the candles flicker shadows flit over his face and his closed mouth, and then it seems as if his features were moving, so that I might think he was not dead after all, and will wake up and say something loving and childish to me in his clear voice. But I know that he is dead, I will arm myself against hope and further disappointment, I will not look at him again. I know it is true, I know my child died yesterday — so now all I have in the world is you, you who know nothing about me, you who are now amusing yourself without a care in the world, dallying with things and with people. I have only you, who never knew me, and whom I have always loved.

The whole opening paragraph of Letter From an Unknown Woman, and indeed the first paragraph in the collection, could in itself be flash fiction. Zweig instantly pulls us into the mind, through the pen, of a woman who is writing to a famous author, only known as ‘R’, which happens to arrive on his birthday. As R reads on we are given the vivid account of a woman who not only knew him and loved him yet who he has no memories of at all. You might think you know where this is going, you would be wrong.

This is one of the things that I loved most about his writing throughout, you never get what you think you are even when you try and second guess it with that knowledge. For example in the case of the mysterious letter writer we start learning about her love of his words as a young woman and then how she became infatuated and indeed believed they were destined to be together. Naturally we think ‘okay, crazy obsessive fan’ yet as the letter carries on we start to have our opinion completely altered and a very different story emerges. It’s beautiful, melancholic and also incredibly poignant in the very last paragraph, I defy you not be moved by it.

As I mentioned earlier this happens in all the tales in this collection. In Forgotten Dreams a man meets a woman he was in love with once again, you think you know what is coming and you don’t. The Debt Paid Late tells of a woman who taking some mountain air, after looking after her grandchildren for quite some time who had scarlet fever, where in a cafe she spots an actor she was infatuated with as a young girl, a time when she allowed herself to be led astray. The actor is now a withered old man and a town joke, how this affects the woman may not be how you think. I am teasing you terribly, but I really want you to go and read this collection.

I have left A Story Told in Twilight last simply because it was my favourite. Here a man recalls a time in his not so distant past when he was holidaying at a castle in Scotland staying with a well to do family, friends of his family. One night, just at twilight, a woman comes out of nowhere taking him by surprise and kissing him, this happens yet again and again each time so fast and so suddenly he never realises which of the ladies in the house it might be. He naturally becomes besotted and so must find his true love, you can of course expect twists and turns. I loved this one because it is the most gothic and the most fairy tale of the whole collection and those are two of my very favourite things. There is of course the mystery and the comical errors that our narrator makes to find out who this mystery mistress is.

I don’t remember just how I came to know this story. All I do know is that I was sitting here for a long time early this afternoon, reading a book, then putting it down again, drowsing in my dreams, perhaps sleeping lightly. And suddenly I saw figures stealing past the walls, and I could hear what they were saying and look into their lives.

The other things I loved about this collection were how much about writing they all are. We have people reaching back and telling stories to themselves and those they know. Two of the stories are told through letters, one of the main characters is an author, it seems the power of words resides behind each tale embedded in Zweig’s own prose, which I must say is stunningly translated by Anthea Bell. I also loved how it looks at hindsight and how we can romanticise things from the past or suddenly see how foolish we were.

If I was being super critical I would say that I would probably have put the short stories in reverse order as I think this would build the collections themes and power as you read a long. I also think it would mean you read the weaker of the tales first (which is still very good but seems slightly flimsy, though it was his first, at the end after the others) then enjoy The Debt Paid Late before being completely blown away by A Story Told in Twilight and then Letter From an Unknown Woman which I think are now two of my favourite short stories that I’ve read had the pleasure of reading so far. If I was ever in a position to have curate a collection of short stories published they would both be housed in it. If this is just a taste of the power and beauty of Zweig’s prose then I think we have a fabulous journey of stories ahead of us. If you have yet to read him then do.

If you would like to hear more opinions on Letters From an Unknown Woman then do listen to myself, Gav of Cwtch Books and Rob and Kate from Adventures With Words on Hear Read This here. Have you read this collection and if so what did you think? Have you seen the film of Letter From an Unknown Woman, it has Joan Fontaine who played the second Mrs De Winter in Hitchcock’s brilliant adaptation of Rebecca so I now really want to see it. Which other Stefan Zweig stories, collections or novels have you read as I think I am going to have to get my mitts on many more of them?

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Filed under Pushkin Press, Review, Short Stories, Stefan Zweig

The Happy Reader

A few weeks ago, watching either Jen or Sanne on their book vlogs, I learnt of a wonderful new quarterly magazine all about books (or Bookish Quarterly as it says on the bottom of the front cover) appropriately called The Happy Reader. I had to get my mitts on it and did forthwith super swiftly. Now two issues in and read, with a third having just arrived I thought I would report back on what has instantly become my new favourite quarterly so that you don’t miss out on it.

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The Happy Reader is a collaboration between Penguin Books and the brilliant magazine Fantastic Man and what they have come up with is a cool and quirky magazine that comes in two halves. The first half is an interview with a well known reader about their reading life, and through the books they have read getting more insight into their life in general. The second half of the magazine is dedicated to a particular Penguin Classic and a host of features based around the book that either enhances your reading of the book or makes you want to go and read the book. Having read one book featured in one issue and not having read the other I can say that the idea behind the second works as planned in both cases.

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In the first issue we were given the treats of both actor Dan Stevens and one of my favourite books of all time, Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. The first half of the magazine sees author Naomi Alderman interviewing Dan Stevens about judging the Man Booker, Downtown Abbey, his latest film The Guest etc. Initially I was thinking is this just going to be him plugging his movie but actually what unravels, because they are talking about their mutual love of books, is a really insightful interview about all of the above plus his being in adaptations of famous books, working on audio books and discussions on books I now want to read like Iron John by Robert Bly. I was sold on the books and sold on Dan, plus I loved the insight into the Man Booker judging and what he read during filming of Downtown Abbey and how he concealed books on set. You will have to read the interview to find out all…

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In the second half of the magazine it goes all things The Woman in White. We have a fashion shoot of, erm, women in white clothes and also some really, really fascinating and quirky articles that connect to the book in various ways. Each month editor Seb Emina introduces the book in a way that magically refreshes the memory of anyone who has read it, yet doesn’t give anything away if you haven’t, just the desire to go and buy it. As it was a book that was serialised Henry Jefferys looks at how people of the time became addicted to it, like they might a substance, and Lilie Ferrari discusses how you write a serialised gripping drama as she used to on Eastenders.

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If that wasn’t enough there is also an article on women associated with colours (lady in red, woman in black, etc) by Emily King which is brilliant, the history of some of the iconography of the book and its adaptations, a map for The Woman in White walk around London and a recipe for Count Fosco’s favourite chocolates. Brilliant.

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Issue two focuses the first half on an interview with rock star Kim Gordon, who I have to admit (the shame) I had not heard of until I read this though I recognised the bands she had been in, by the end of which I wanted to read her memoir Girl in a Band. Interestingly she talked a lot about the memoirs she has read, or in some brilliantly honest cases half read and got bored of, as well as what she likes to read on tour and the reading of her informative years. She also talked about her love of The Good Wife which I have recently started and become addicted to and so felt she was a kindred spirit. She also recommends seven corking books (Dan Stevens also does this) at the end of her interview all of which I want to go and read from a wide spectrum of authors and genres. Again you need to read the article to find out what they are…

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The book that The Happy Reader focuses on this time is The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura which I have never heard of before but thanks, again, to Seb Emina really want to read as it seems a book that defies genres. There are some more wonderful articles (bar one which was interesting though about floristry not tea) that look at tea in some unusual ways. Nicholas Lezard looks at ‘Teaism’ which in Japan is a formal ceremony, a chain of specialist tea shops I am so going to in September in Washington D.C and in the UK is the great debate on how tea should be prepared and poured. (I am a milk after not before man!) There are also articles on the designs of original/formal tea rooms, Japanophilia (cultural obsession not something rude), the importance of tea in prisons as well as a guide to some of the finest teas by Jeff Koehler.

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So as you can see lots and lots and lots to love about The Happy Reader which does as it says on the tin and will have you happily reading away. I am very excited to read Issue 3 which features comedian Aziz Ansari and the travel writing classic Granite Island by Dorothy Carrington which has not long arrived. I haven’t managed to read that book yet (or even get it) but I might try and get M.P. Sheil’s The Purple Cloud in time for Issue 4 this autumn.

If you would like to get your mitts on The Happy Reader or subscribe then head here (it is a bargain for what you get). Have any of you already subscribed and if so what do you think? Have you read any of the books mentioned in the issues so far? What are your thoughts on literary magazines and the like anyway?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Penguin Books, Random Savidgeness

The Offering – Grace McCleen

Many of you may know, as being so excited I mentioned it a few times, I had the joy of judging Fiction Uncovered earlier this year. Over the next few weeks (and indeed last three weeks) I will be (and have been) sharing my thoughts with you on the winners, one per week. This week it is Grace McCleen’s strange, alluring and unsettling novel The Offering an insightful and disturbing novel of madness.

Sceptre Books, paperback, 2015, fiction, 264 pages, kindly submitted by the publisher for Fiction Uncovered

There has been a great deal of talk here recently about an event concerning myself and Dr Lucas, which took place from what I can gather in the Platnauer Room some two weeks ago. I presently find myself in the quiet room while Dr Hudson, who has taken over my care in Dr Lucas’s absence, devises an appropriate plan. I said to Dr Hudson: ‘I do hope that whatever happened will not prevent my release from Letham Park, something Dr Lucas talked about on many occasions.’
That was when Dr Hudson stared at me.

I am a huge fan of books which hook you in with a mystery from the start. Grace McCleen’s third novel The Offering does just that as within a few paragraphs we know that something has happened between Madeline and her previous Dr Lucas, we know it is bad, we just have no idea what it is or how bad it might be. We’re instantly interested and intrigued. This ratchets up a notch when we discover that Madeline is not in a hospital but an asylum where she is now in isolation, it ratchets up again when we discover she has been there for twenty years since she was discovered walking along a road with amnesia. We now of course not only feel the need to know about the incident with Dr Lucas, we are also desperate to discover what happened in her childhood despite the very early sense that this is not going to be a comfortable discovery.

I don’t want to say much more about the premise because this is one of those books that needs to be read and discovered rather than have anything given away. I can say that as the book goes on McCleen makes it as gothic, twisty and strange as you would hope from a novel of this kind. It has something of the ‘sensation novel’ about it yet cleverly you cannot work out for the life of you when it is set, there are cars but that is as much as we know adding a slight dreamlike or nightmarish feel as and when Madeline goes through highs and lows. It also interestingly made me occasionally feel slightly disorientated, never lost or confused, as if I had been sedated as Madeline often is – having been sedated (I wasn’t in an asylum) it brought that strange sense of being slightly distant and at odds with everything, yet feel fairly compos mentis, right back.

‘Who are you?’ my father said.
‘Who are you?’ the man replied, and his milky gaze passed over all three of us.
‘We’re just looking around,’ my father said, after a moment.
‘Ah, you’re the new folk moving in,’ said the fellow. ‘He’ll not like it, I can tell you. He won’t like it a bit.’
‘What are you talking about?’ my father said.
‘Him who was here before!’
I caught a whiff of urine on the afternoon breeze, sweet, acrid, animal.
‘The place hasn’t been occupied for years,’ my father said.
‘That’s right,’ said the man. ‘But he’s still here, he’ll never leave!’

As Madeline is forced to look back at her past, no spoilers I promise, she is forced to look at her memories and work out what she remembers right, what she misremembers and what she remembers yet may have misinterpreted. This is something that it is fairly hard for us to do at the best of times, come on can you remember what you were doing on this date exactly twenty years ago, it gets all the more complicated when part of your brain is trying to repress or hide things as a way of self preservation or denial. The Offering  also takes a very blunt and direct look at how we deal with people with mental illness and particularly the questions around treatment and medicines and if they help or hinder leaving the reader to decide for themselves.

If I am making this book sound really dark, intense, creepy and a bit gloomy that is because it is and unapologetically so, yet McCleen doesn’t make this relentless. There are moments of great joy in Madeline’s past as her parents and her find a new home that have that almost golden sheen that you have of particular moments. (I say that though actually I have no memories before the age of ten due to something that happened in my childhood, but moments after that that instantly make me happy have that glow.) She also finds, if slightly darkly or bitter sweetly, moments of humour while Madeline is in the asylum which will make you laugh and then make you feel sorry for those involved.

Today began as a particularly dreary one here at Letham Park, the sun hidden behind banks of cloud, neither cold nor hot, dark nor light. Eugene wet himself; Pam ate clay and had to have her stomach pumped; Margaret taught me a new stitch; Robyn’s parents arrived to take her out for the day; Alice made Mary cry; nothing out of the ordinary at all.

I have often said on the blog that comedy when written well can be a powerful device to highlight the dark and almost create a heightened emotive response which is how McCleen uses it with much effect. Her writing though is marvellous throughout; the plot is tightly twisted and slowly revealed, the book feels uneasy and disorientating yet never confusing, the atmospheres are rife and while the setting and time are an enigma the sense of place and the landscapes appear vividly in your mind. The Offering is quite unlike anything I have read in some time, I recommend you give it a whirl.

Have any of you read The Offering and if so what did you make of it? Have you read either of Grace’s previous novels, and if so what were your thoughts? I have her debut The Land of Decoration on the TBR as I will definitely be reading more of Grace’s novels.

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Filed under Fiction Uncovered, Grace McCleen, Review, Sceptre Publishing

Rounding Up The Reviews #5; A Trio of Graphic Novels

A series of posts I introduced last year was the ‘Rounding Up The Reviews’ posts because sometimes (particularly this year with judging) you read more books than you have time to write about, or you read some books which you don’t feel you can write 800+ words about. This isn’t to do any of them a disservice, why do I instantly need to feel defensive, because you still want to mention them so a round up post seems the perfect idea. I will have a few of these over the next few weeks and months.

First up are a trio of graphic novels (The Pillbox by David Hughes, The Art of Flying by Antonio Altarriba & Kim, Never Goodnight by Coco Moodysson) which I have read over the past few months. Graphic novels are not something I have really been ‘down’ with, yet in the last few years I have read some corkers and so am trying to read much more of them. What I am learning, as you will see below, is that all as with all art forms certain things are my taste and certain things aren’t even though I enjoy them all.

Jonathan Cape, hardback, 2015, fiction, 144 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

The Pillbox by David Hughes is a ghost story set on a summer holiday on the British coast. Jack is pretty much left to his own devices with his dog over the summer and on one of his adventures along the shoreline he discovers a pillbox (look out base) used in the Second World War and meets Keith a strange boy who Jack wants to befriend. What follows is a tale both of self discovery in the present and also of abuse and injustice from the past.

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Now I have to say this book still has me pondering what I think of it. In part that is because of the story and in part it is because of the artwork. In terms of story it all feels slightly dreamlike and nightmarish in the fact that it is bonkers (a woolly mammoth turns up occasionally) yet also slightly confusing. If I am being 100% honest it felt a bit like a work in progress which wasn’t quite fully formed. Interestingly I found this reflected in Hughes artwork as some of the pages are half drawn where others are (like above) intricately and beautifully drawn.

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I personally didn’t love the artwork yet I was mesmerised in a slightly haunted way by it, it captured my attention whilst also making me want to look away – a lot like some of the upsetting parts of the book as you read on. I loved how he uses colours around the emotions and feelings going on in the book when no one is speaking though. So I am conflicted between thinking this book wasn’t for me at all, yet also founding it deeply affecting and disturbing and won’t forget it in a hurry. Creepy and odd.

Jonathan Cape, hardback, 2015, graphic novel, translated by Adrian West, 208 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

The Art of Flying was originally released in its homeland of Spain in 2009 yet has taken quite some time to translate (by Adrian West) and to come out here in the UK. It is a tricky book to describe as it is not a memoir but more a memoir of Altarriba’s father who committed suicide at the age of 90. Altarriba tries to imagine his father’s life from what he knows of it and in doing so creates the story of a man who grew up in Aragon, a poor town in Spain, who fought in the army during the Civil War and the defected, and on it goes leading up to his death. It is a fascinating story of a man’s life and gives a real insight into some of Spain’s history which I knew very little about.

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There is a but coming though. As wonderful as I thought it was I often felt this really wanted to actually be a novel. There is so much speech and so much scene setting in words that occasionally I felt both like I was being lectured on the history and also not being allowed to let the pictures do their work and Kim’s imagery is stunning. I loved how Kim makes the artwork match the popular comic strips of that time that were fashionable, I also think he does a lot with a palette of black, white and grey’s.

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The overload of text though creates, possibly intentionally, a claustrophobic feeling in the book, along with slight eye strain as the text is sometimes tiny. Subsequently it really slowed me down, which was distracting as there is a sense of adventure and detection in the book I just couldn’t quite get in the rhythm of it. I ended up reading a part; there are four, a day which I found really worked. An interesting read, not quite my cup of tea as I think I would have preferred it either just in text or just in pictures. Lots of people would love this though.

The Friday Project, paperback, 2015, graphic novel, 252 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Last but certainly not least is Never Goodnight by Coco Moodysson, which was adapted into the film We Are The Best! which is apparently something of a cult movie. Never Goodnight is the story of three friends over the space of a month (December 1982) in Sweden after they decide to become punks and set up a band. Now I have to say this premise did not thrill me but the imagery appealed and so I gave it a whirl…

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I really enjoyed this. I thought Moodysson created a really intricate and insightful world not only of three young girls (and their friendships, rivalries, first loves and dreams) but also a look into the culture of the time and both the punk movement and where feminism was, or wasn’t as they keep getting called a girl band to their horror, at that time.  There is teenage angst, there is troubled homelife’s, there is a sense of history to it in a weird way, there are also some odd moments that didn’t seem to be relevant to the plot but promoted different life style choices, kind of…

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The artwork really suits the tones of the book as it is simply black and white yet also jovial and cartoonish. I was just charmed by it, all the more so because I didn’t expect to be.

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So that is your lot for now, I will be rounding up some novels in the next few weeks. I hope you liked this quick round up post, as always let me know if you have read any of the books and what your thoughts on them were. I would also love more graphic novel recommendations. You can see the ones I have read so far here (book covers will be reuploaded soon, not sure what has happened there).

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Filed under Antonio Altarriba, Coco Moodysson, David Hughes, Graphic Novels, Jonathan Cape Publishers, The Friday project

Not The Booker 2015

I am back online, and just in time as the Not The Booker shortlist has been announced which I have been very excited about for the last week. Yes, you heard me right ‘Not’ The Booker. If you haven’t heard of it before it is an annual prize that The Guardian run around Man Booker Longlist time, the difference is that book lovers get to vote which I think makes it all the more exciting, and in past years all the more controversial as I discovered when I joined in and then judged back in 2013. This year people nominated a 70 strong longlist, which if you want a list of corking sounding books then do go have a look. Now almost 1,000 people have voted on which books go through (voting for two books the books with the most votes go through, sounds simple never quite is) and the shortlist of six books has been announced – and I am going to read them all. Oh yes, here they are…

  • Shame – Melanie Finn
  • The Artificial Anatomy of Parks – Kat Gordon
  • Fishnet – Kirstin Innes
  • Things We Have in Common – Tasha Kavanagh
  • Dark Star – Oliver Langmead
  • The Good Son – Paul McVeigh

I am very excited for two reasons. The first is that I nominated The Good Son in the first round as I was just at the end of it and think it is an utterly marvellous debut novel that cleverly deals with the recent violent history in Northern Ireland through a wonderful young (and not precocious, amazing) narrator who I will remember for a very long time – it got through, I am thrilled. Secondly just look at that list, isn’t it brilliant. Firstly these are six (almost) new to me books (I knew McVeigh’s as I voted for it, I also have the Kavanagh on the shelves) as well as six (almost) new to me authors. This is exactly what I loved about judging Fiction Uncovered and ticks many of my ‘reading outside the box’ boxes. Yes, there is an irony to those boxes, anyway…

It is a real mix of books. There are tales of Africa, surburban thrillers, science fiction, tales of escorts and prostitution, family dramas and tales of the IRA in Ireland, there is also a really interesting sway towards debut novels and independent publishers. It is a list that I find really exciting, so I have already been and bought two (no, not on that awful river based site) and Kat Gordon and Oliver Langmead will be in the post shortly. Finn’s editor has already tweeted me and is winging a copy of that over which will be the first book to be discussed around the 17th of August. So I thought I would let you know in case you wanted to join in with the fun.

Anyone else joining in? Have you read any of these books and if so what did you make of them?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Not The Booker Prize, Random Savidgeness

Silenced By Technology

So it’s been a bit quiet around here this weekend, actually in reality at Savidge Reads HQ it has been a weekend of swearing at my computer screen or having endless hour long chats with techn-bods at the end of the phone all over the world. In short Windows 10 killed my computer and introduced the blue screen of death which restarts your computer for eternity. Seriously, horrendous.  

I could go on an indepth rant about how rude PC World’s staff were over the phone (the Know How team who don’t know how to empathise or be polite), how it took five calls to get someone at Microsoft to admit they understood what on earth I was talking about or how global company HP don’t have customer services on the weekends. I won’t. I will say thank you to my mate Adam who picked it up last night and has mended it and upgraded it and will deliver it later on this evening. In the meantime I am sat in the corner reading. Back properly soon… Hopefully!

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