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About savidgereads

A blog of a book lover and all the books he reads on his journey of bookaholicism!

Savidge Reads at the Man Booker Prize 2018

So I have been an absolute tinker and let the second half of the year whizz by and get much busier than I meant to. I didn’t even post about doing Cheltenham Literature Festival last week on here which is very shameful of me. I swear I should change the blog to Savidge Apologises. Anyway, at Cheltenham I was talking about how much I have been missing blogging and how now things are winding down before Christmas (yes I mentioned the C word, sorry) I wanted to get back to it. So sat in my hotel with a bit of time to kill I thought ‘let’s make today the day’ and today is a particularly bookish day as it is the announcement of the winner of the Man Booker 2018 and I am going to be there… and on the telly ‘live’ talking about the shortlist on BBC News 24 and BBC World with the lovely Natalie Haynes and host Rebecca Jones. I know. Imagine. If you would like to watch it from 9.30pm UK time you can on the BBC News 24 channel or BBC World channel, here and/or here.

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I have been reading the books over the last few weeks since I came back from San Francisco, we have so much to catch up on, and have lots and lots of things to say. So much so that it won’t fit into the BBC show and so my next few reviews will be of the six shortlisted books. It is fair to say I have feelings about lots of them, the good, the bad but definitely not indifferent, which I think makes it an interesting shortlist. So fingers crossed tomorrow my thoughts on the winner will go up. I have no idea who will win, the opinion is really divided all over social media, I do have a personal favourite. But you will have to watch the BBC show to see which one it is.

Speaking of which I had better go and iron my shirt and get my glad rags on. I will be doing some instastories from the dinner and party, so if you would like to see more follow me over on Instagram. In the meantime I would LOVE to know who you think will win the Booker this year and why, plus (of course!) any thoughts you have on the shortlist, longlist and the titles that made them both. Tell me those thoughts…

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Filed under Man Booker, Random Savidgeness

Eleven Years of Savidge Reads…

Eleven years ago today that I first pressed publish on a blog post here on Savidge Reads and look what has gone and happened since…

Okay, so I haven’t always been consistent in blogging (especially in more recent years) however what I hope has been consistent over the last decade-and-a-year (which sounds so long) is my love of books, reading and the sharing of the love of both and chatting to you all about them on various mediums.

So a huge, huge, HUGE thanks to all of you who’ve followed this blog, be it way back at the beginning or those of you who have joined me on here since or on The Readers Podcast, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube in the years since. (Gosh, have I bored you all silly for all that time? Oops.) This blog and books have changed my life in lots of ways and brought me lots of amazing friends and experiences which have meant the world. So ta very much. Aren’t books just the best?

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The Parentations – Kate Mayfield

One of my favourite books of the year so far (and if you want to see my top books and possibly win a selection of them, then head here) is without question Kate Mayfield’s debut novel The Parentations. Now I mention getting nervous about books quite a lot, like I am constantly having to smell salts in my library which is not the case, but the size (500 pages) and premise of this book (immortality) did originally give me pause for thought. Yet I was swiftly enveloped in this novel and reminded that there can be nothing more rewarding than a big chunky book with an incredible tale to tell, and this is quite the tale indeed.

OneWorld, hardback, 2018, fiction, 500 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

They aren’t even sure he’s still alive. They’d tossed around ideas about him so often and for so many years that they’d created a shared fantasy about the kind of man he might have become. He might still be a boy, they reasoned. They considered, too, that he might be dead. They have no way of knowing.

The Parentations starts in 2015 as the Lawless sisters wait for three things. The first is the day that they can go and look for a boy who they see as a son, in a designated place they return to each year not knowing if he is still alive but always hoping. The second is for a regular sleep that each of them takes for a long time while the other watches over. The third is a delivery of some kind of medicine. We then flit across London to the Fowler household where a similar shipment is due to arrive and where some members of the house are also trying to find a secret stash of it they believe has been hidden. To find out what links these two households and why they are awaiting this tincture we must head back several hundred years to a volcanic eruption in Iceland that reveals a pool of immortality.

Now initially I admit I was a little bit ‘riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight then’ however we are soon completely with Stefan in 1783 as this volcanic eruption takes over the island and how once having stumbled across this pool he soon becomes a guardian of sorts for it. Over a few hundred years (which Mayfield deftly and swiftly moves us through) more people drink from the pool who create a secret community. These include a couple who have a child with special gifts, who needs to be sent away and hidden as it seems their immortal secret has been discovered by those who wish to use it for harm. This is how we end up back in London in the early 1800’s and from here the story, which has already been brimming, takes its full gothic turn and force as we join the lives of the Fowlers and Lawless sisters and see how their lives become entwined. I will say no more on the plot because I wouldn’t want to spoil the twists, turns and delicious romp you have ahead.

At nine o’clock no movement is detected. A group of women have come forward. They have paid a large sum to test the miracles of the gallows. One woman bares her breasts. The hand of a hanged man is believed to cure tumours. She mounts the scaffold. She has no fear, no hesitation, as she takes Finn’s hand in hers. Just as she raises it to her breast, his head rolls and his eyes open and meet hers. The woman faints clean away.

If you love all things gothic then you will adore this book, especially if you like your gothic Victorian, and who doesn’t? Mayfield takes us through the darker parts of the societies and streets of London from orphanages to grand houses, from prisons to the gallows and everything in between. We have dramatic deaths, murders, saucy shenanigans of all sorts all with that ‘sensationalist’ pace and plotting that the likes of Wilkie Collins revelled in so much. You know Mayfield is having a huge amount of fun as she writes this and it’s an utter pleasure to be along for the ride, she also builds this dark and brooding London fully to life, in all its shadowy layers. What you also have is Clovis Fowler, who is one of my new favourite wicked women of fiction. I will just give you a little glimpse of how her husband sees her below, just to whet your appetite, she could almost give Mrs Danvers of Lydia Gwilt a run for their money.

‘Finn, I prefer that you not eat in the bedroom.’
‘You prefer? Another word you’ve picked up at those lectures of yours? I’ll eat where I like.’
‘I thought it would please you. I try to improve my English.’
Clovis waits for a response, but he eats and drinks and grows weary – weary of her. His wife’s beauty no longer interests him. There is no gown, no simple or complicated design that is capable of dimming her voluptuous body, yet he no longer has the addiction he once did for her. In this, most men would think him quite mad, or a sodomite, but a man, especially a man like Finn, does not like to be used, and the feeling in his tackle goes limp whenever he thinks of her trickery. So he dines in silence.

Yet amongst all this romp and sensation there is some incredibly moving moments and thoughts subjects The Parentations. The immortality which I initially felt a bit ‘riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight then’ about goes from being the best thing you could wish for to the ultimate curse. How do you have to look after yourself if you have to try and live forever? What situations must you avoid? How do you cope as some of those around you that you live age and die? How must it be to want to die and be unable? The other particularly poignant strand of the novel is how we see society and culture progress and change over the years and how some of the characters we come to love, but might not live to see these changes, would benefit from them. I found that incredibly emotive.

Again, this shows the brilliance of Mayfield’s writing. Her characters are wonderful, even the ones you are meant to hate (yes, the fabulous Clovis) and come fully formed with all their complexities and how they change in the subtlest of ways along with the times – another interesting element of the book – and as they try to survive what life throws at them. Mayfield also writes the shifting of these time periods and the atmosphere and changes in London as it moves towards 2015, without hitting you over the head with changes in technology, décor, etc she fully evokes exactly whichever decade you are in.

The room is dripping in tat. A frayed lampshade sends a sickly, yellow glow into a grey corner that rivals the afternoon’s clouds. Puckering across the single bed a dingy, blue blanket fails to disguise the lumpy mattress. A weathered, Lusty chair, meant for a garden and cocktails, sits beside a small, unused Victorian fireplace in this rented room in Pimlico. It’s noisy, a bit smelly, and a hidden paradise. Kay Starr sings from a beaten up portable gramophone, two men stand entwined in a small moon-shaped space in the centre of the room. To dance naked is unbearably exciting. Jonesy lets David take the lead.

As I said earlier The Parentations was an instant hit with me, hence being one of my books of the year so far. I have no doubt that it will be one of my books of the year full stop as ever since I closed the final page these characters and their stories have held a place in my heart which continues to grow. Go and get your hands on it. Right now.

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Filed under Books of 2018, Kate Mayfield, OneWorld Books, Review

The Man Booker Prize 2018 Longlist

So the Man Booker Prize 2018 longlist has been announced. It has seemed strange in the last few years that I haven’t done a ‘guessing the longlist’ post or video, as since I started Savidge Reads in any form I have always followed the prize and then the Man Booker International Prize. When I first started reading again in my twenties (after the six years where I didn’t pick up a book, imagine) the Booker was a signpost for me of some great reads that I should really head to. Over the last few years however the love has waned somewhat. I’ve felt a little like it had lost its way somewhat. I actually talk about it in a video I will embed below, don’t worry I won’t be sharing all my videos, I know some people prefer one medium to the other, its just so I can add/be a little bit extra, ha.

So here is the longlist…

  • Snap by Belinda Bauer
  • Milkman by Anna Burns
  • Sabrina by Nick Drnaso
  • Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
  • In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne
  • Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
  • The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner
  • The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh
  • Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
  • The Overstory by Richard Powers
  • The Long Take by Robin Robertson
  • Normal People by Sally Rooney
  • From A Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan

What do I think of the list? Well firstly I was shocked that I had read one (The Water Cure, review coming in due course) and had all of them on my  shelves with the exception of Warlight, The Long Take and Sabrina, the latter of which I have already bought and rectified. Secondly, I think this is a really fresh (and much needed) list. It is by no means the perfect list, but when are they? I would have liked some more books from other commonwealth areas like Africa, India and Australia etc. Yet at the same time I love the fact that the list has so many women on it, there is some younger and lesser known talent and with a crime novel and a graphic novel a slight feel of excitement and change. I talk more about that below.

So those are my initial thoughts. Am I going to read the whole longlist? Not intentionally, no. That said I am about to start The Mars Room as a buddy read with my pal Mercedes. I am super duper keen to read Washington Black, Everything Under, Snap and Milkman for definite. Then I think I will see what takes my whimish moods, which is the best way to read anything full stop. What are your thoughts? Do you like the list? What is missing, if anything? Let’s have a natter in the comments below.

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West – Carys Davies

One of the best discoveries of my time blogging has to be the fiction of Carys Davies. I first read her short story collection The Redemption of Galen Pike, when I was judging Fiction Uncovered back in 2015 as a submission and remember pondering if we could give it all of the prize money, it was that good. Every tale defied expectation, without the need for twists in the tale, and each had an epic scope even if it was a pages long. I then read her debut collection Some New Ambush at the start of 2016 and was blown away once more. So I was very, very, very excited when I heard that she had written her first novel, West, though of course instantly got nervous as to whether I would love it or not. I finally turned to it earlier this month and once again fell helplessly in love with Davies’ writing.

Granta, hardback, 2018, fiction, 160 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

 “Look you long and hard, Bess, at the departing figure of your father,” said her aunt Julie from the porch in a loud voice like a proclamation.
“Regard him, Bess, this person, this fool, my brother, John Cyrus Bellman, for you will not clap eyes upon a greater one. From today I am numbering him among the lost and the mad. Do not expect that you will see him again, and do not wave, it will only encourage him and make him think he deserves your good wishes. Come inside now, child, close the door, and forget him.”

So says Bess’ aunt Julia as Cy Bellman leaves his family home in Pennsylvania in search of the ‘mammoth beasts’ whose remains have been found ‘in the West’. The discovery or even capture of these beasts Cy believes will be the making of his name and, much more importantly to him, improve the life of himself and his daughter who he is heartbroken to leave behind. Many think him mad for going on such a journey that will certainly involve many dangers, in fact many people believe he will not make it back again. Yet go he does, leaving his daughter Bess behind in the safe care of his sister, yet what he hasn’t thought of is that there may be as many dangers to Bess back home as there could be if he had taken her.

It is at this early stage that the novel splits in to the two stories of Bellman and his daughter as time moves forward. We follow Cy as he heads out on a journey that could lead him anywhere, through small towns, where in one he hires the help of a young native Shawnee boy called Old Woman From A Distance to help him journey further with added knowledge of the perils that might lie in store. Back in Pennsylvania, while her aunt reminds her regularly that she is probably now an orphan, Bess has to deal with the arduous danger or a young farmhand and an older librarian both who have their sights set on her and not necessarily for marriage. I found this nod to the fact men must go and seek out danger far and wide whereas danger will seek women out closer to home both a brilliant analogy of both the 1800’s when the book is set and also still as prevalent right now rather poignant.

I won’t give anything more about the book away, I will say though that the sense of dread and the brooding atmosphere for both Bess and Cy as the book goes on pulses through every line to its unforgettable conclusion. Not a word is wasted as Davies takes us over hundreds of miles trekking through vast expanses with Cy or hundreds of days back home working out the way society and the world works for Bess. It is a mini epic in its truest form.

For a week he lay beneath his shelter and didn’t move. Everything was frozen, and when he couldn’t get his fire going he burned the last of the fish because it seemed better to be starving than to be cold.
And then one night he heard the ice booming and cracking in the river, and in the morning bright jewels of melting snow dripped from the feathery branches of the pines onto his cracked and blistered face, his blackened nose.
Later that day he caught a small fish.
Berries began to appear on the trees and bushes.
Winter ended and spring came and he continued west.

What adds to its epic nature all the more is the interweaving of both huge topics of the time and mini stories that might take a mere sentence or two, or a paragraph at the maximum. The early 1800’s were a turbulent time in the US with Native American’s being displaced and plundering of their lands and indeed there people. This is never explicitly discussed or shown, the tension between Cy and Old Woman From A Distance says it all as their power struggle develops with no common language, just common ground which both are trying to gain ownership of over the other. Back in Pennsylvania as we meet some of Bess’ fellow townsfolk we discover stories of love that almost was and innocent seeming folk with much darker hearts.

West once again showed me why I love Carys Davies writing so much. Within her vast landscapes Davies also creates mini worlds which is the power of all her prose and storytelling. In fact let’s call it story weaving, because it does feel like it has been so intricately woven together. Yet there is no mucking about with never ending floral prose, it is beautifully crafted short and sweet sentences that condense what would take some authors a chapter potentially. She also has the power to make you darkly chuckle before having your heart broken. It is for all these reasons that I would highly recommend you read West and get lost for a few hours in some of the most wonderful writing, then head straight to Davies’ short stories if you haven’t already.

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Filed under Books of 2018, Carys Davies, Granta Books, Review

My Books of the Year So Far (And A Chance To Win Some of Them)

I have been wracking my brain to work out if I have ever done a post mid-year about the books I have loved so far that year? I think it is only something that I have done since Booktube, but I could be wrong. I know I have done books that I am excited in the second half of the year, but I don’t think that I have done favourite books so far. Anyway, I could debate that for hours it seems and you don’t need that in your life.

What you might need, or maybe like, in your life is (as part of us catching up) is to know what my books are so far this year and, possibly even better, win some of them. How can this magic happen? Well, I shall insert the video of my favourites books of 2018 so far below and you can watch and then comment as instructed to potentially win a package of some of them.

A brief post I know, but thought it would be a good chance for a catch up AND a chance for you to win some lovely books. Hurray. You have until the end of July. Good luck!

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Filed under Books of 2018, Give Away

Whistle in the Dark – Emma Healey

Another book that I was hugely anticipating the arrival of this year, especially when the magpie part of my brain started seeing the gorgeous proofs going out, was Emma Healey’s Whistle in the Dark. Her second novel following Elizabeth is Missing which I absolutely adored when I read it back in 2014, so much so it was in my top three reads for that year. So no pressure for Whistle in the Dark then…

Penguin Books, hardback, 2018, fiction, 336 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

The sun had sunk behind the building and all the previously golden edges were now grey. The relief Jen felt at seeing Lana again was turning into something else, and though she mostly wanted to bundle her up and rock her and feel the weight of her and do anything she could to convince herself that her daughter was really okay, there was a thin thread of dread within her too. She was frightened to tug on it but knew she wouldn’t be able to resist for long.
‘How did you get lost?’ she said to Lana, who opened and shut her eyes.

As Whistle in the Dark opens we join Jen at the hospital some hours after her daughter has been found following her disappearance several days before. We soon learn that Jen has had an extra sense of guilt as Lana went missing on an artistic retreat with her mother, to bring them closer together after some difficult times of late. The question that soon comes to obsess Jen, becoming the focus of the novel for us as readers, is where on earth Lana went for those four days and what may or may not have happened to her. Lana stays silent but what, if anything, might she be hiding or simply too scared to share?

Lana feigned sleep all the way to London: Jen knew she was feigning because she’d seen her sleep, the corners of her mouth wet, her arms twisted around each other, her legs splayed. She knew this neat, dry sleeper on the back seat of the car was a fiction.

Where I think Healey excels in her second novel is with the tension and the atmosphere. Not simply when the book begins, with a real momentum from the off, it remains throughout those first adrenaline fuelled days to weeks later when things start to settle and get back to normality. Well, as normal as things can be when your daughter is starting to talk a little differently, only be able to sleep when she can see the sky and a mysterious cat keeps turning up inside your house.

Linking in with the brooding atmosphere, one of other the elements that I enjoyed, if that is the right word, in Whistle in the Dark is the sense of ‘other’ that sometimes comes to the fore. We are told of a time when Jen believes that she met a modern incarnation of Rumpelstiltskin, we learn there are groups online who are all trying to work out what happened to Lana from being lured into a reservoir by a mermaid, spirited away by ghosts, dragged to hell by the devil, abducted by aliens (my hometown getting an infamous mention, which I kind of loved) who reportedly appear with flashing lights in the woods or forced into rituals of a local cult. This online fever, a part of which becomes a bigger strand in the story, shows the dangers of the digital world let alone the supernatural one or the real one as Jen remains convinced her daughter has been part of some kind of assault and kidnapping.

Bonsall is at the centre of what is known as the Matlock Triangle, where there are often reports of strange lights, eerie noises and things hovering in the sky, and one of the reports comes from the night of Lana Maddox’s disappearance. Did aliens come down and kidnap her before wiping her memory and dropping her back off on Earth?

You may sense there is a ‘but’ coming here, and you would be right. I found after the first third of the novel there was a complete change in momentum as Lana and Jen both try and get on with their lives whilst not getting on with their lives at all, more so in the case of Jen. As they both find themselves stuck at home with each other there becomes a claustrophobic, cloying, slightly repetitive nature which started to feel like wading through treacle. I know, that sounds harsh. BUT and here is another ‘but’ to combat the last one, having had distance from the book I think that is how you are meant to feel. After such a heightened drama in anyone’s life at some point things return to ‘normal’ and in many ways there can be a huge comedown from the adrenalin when something huge happens in your life. The mundanities of life can return, only they seem even more mundane in comparison. So, I think that was Healey’s intention. It also serves as a quieter phase in the novel where suspicions and theories are mulled over further, before the tension is racked up again towards the ending which I thought Healey wrote brilliantly.

‘Why don’t you take a photo of this for Instagram? The colours are so vibrant.’
‘No one is interested in a pissing scone, Mum. That’s not the point. Strawberry jam is lame.’

I should also add her that one of the things that I loved throughout was how well Healey writes about teenagers, the mother and daughter bond and ever so wryly depicts middle class life and family domesticity. From the outside world in instances such as the art retreat where they meet Peny, a woman who insists “she could tell if you pronounced her name with two n’s”; to the interiors of the family home where Jen’s obsession with social media, and totally not getting it but desperately tries to use it to engage with her daughter. The novel also looks at single motherhood, sibling rivalry, the cracks in marriages and much more, all written with such wonderful observations of human nature.

Following Elizabeth is Missing, which was so loved, was going to be a hard act. Healey has proved again with Whistle in the Dark, interestingly once again with lost memories, she can write the lives and scenarios of everyday people going through extraordinary times with compassion, emotion, wry wit and an eye for the subtleties and complexities of human nature that makes her fiction so compelling and poignant. I will be very much looking forward to book three.

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Filed under Emma Healey, Penguin Books, Review