Category Archives: Canongate Publishing

The Good Man Jesus & The Scoundrel Christ – Philip Pullman

Happy Easter to one and all of you should you happen to be passing by this post on this Easter Sunday. I don’t know if it’s sacrilegious or timely to be reviewing ‘The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ’ by Philip Pullman, a book that seems to be causing controversy wherever it goes. Controversial books are always very good for sales and become some of the biggest read books of the year but are they actually any good? Well today’s review of the latest book to cause a super stir comes to you from someone who isn’t the biggest fan of Philip Pullman and who doesn’t really have any religious stance. So you are going to get some very unbiased thoughts, well you always get unbiased thoughts here but you know what I mean.

Can you imagine if Jesus had in fact been born a twin? Well its from this idea that Pullman writes ‘The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ’ as after Mary’s immaculate conception she gives birth to two boys on Jesus is a healthy strapping baby where as Christ is a bit of a weakling. As the two sons grow up they couldn’t be more different. Christ is the quieter more thoughtful child who looks at everything from all sides and thinks it all through. Jesus is a more boisterous slightly rebellious child who won’t conform to what people want. As the two young men grow up, and discover they have some quite marvellous abilities, one of them becomes famous everywhere he goes (and starts to become a bit of a megalomaniac) whilst the other sits in the background fading into the shadows. That is all I will give you of the story but it leads to a clever twist that becomes the legend people read in the Bible today.

I will admit to having no religious views but I know the idea of the book has caused outrage with those who have. I am sure it won’t make the slightest difference me then saying that it made me much more interested in the stories of the bible than the R.E lessons or never ending assembly sermons did when I was at school. Jesus having a twin makes you see all his actions such as feeding the thousands bread and fish, turning water into wine and healing the sick from an eye witness and one who has a realistic stance on the whole thing and looks at it from more than one certain side.

I thought I would give you a snippet (longer than a quote but smaller than an excerpt) of the style of the book which is told like a wonderful myth with great characters, some suspension of what you believe and a dash of humour and realism.

At that time, Mary was about sixteen years old, and Joseph has never touched her. One night in her bedroom she heard a whisper through her window.
‘Mary, do you know how beautiful you are? You are the most lovely of all women. The Lord must have favoured you especially, to be so sweet and so gracious, to have such eyes and such lips…’
She was confused and said ‘Who are you?’
‘I am an angel,’ said the voice ‘Let me in and I shall tell you a secret only you must know.’
She opened the window and let him in. In order not to frighten her, he had assumed the appearance of a young man, just like one of the young men who spoke to her by the well.
‘What is the secret?’ she said.
‘You are going to conceive a child,’ said the angel.
Mary was bewildered.
‘But my husband is away,’ she said.

It is a modern grounded and often quite funny twisted take on the tale of Jesus, though not really a retelling it in some ways is, and I think in a time where religion seems to be out of fashion I wouldn’t be surprised if it sparks people’s interest. I won’t lie the church comes under some serious criticism in the book especially its morals and what it claims to stand for but I would say people should definitely give this book a try no matter what your views are on religion, God etc. It’s a great tale and a wonderful addition to the Canongate Myths, though not quite my favourite it’s not far off.

So yes the hype is almost worth it with this novel. I do think that some of the hype, apart from the subject of it being about Jesus, is that its Pullman’s latest novel. I am not sure where I stand on Pullman (I loved the Sally Lockhart series but thought His Dark Materials was good until half way through the second book) but I did like the way he wrote this, it resonated with me in some way. So who will and who won’t be reading this, and of course why? What are your thoughts on books that cause a mass of controversy before they are even released?

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Filed under Canongate Publishing, Philip Pullman, Review, The Canongate Myths

Where Three Roads Meet – Salley Vickers

I am hoping that should my mother read this (as she does pop by to have a gander from time to time I believe) she will be chuffed by this post. You see my mother is a classicist and though she has never said it I think she does wish that just one of her children might show an interest, having said that my sister and brother are only eleven and eight so there is time yet for them to catch the bug. As a child I was brought up on the Greek Myths, went to Greece regularly and like many youngsters can grew incredibly bored by it all (ungrateful swine is what I think now) I think getting 99% in Classics at the School my Mum taught in and getting ridiculed didn’t help. Recently reading ‘Where Three Roads Meet’ by Salley Vickers has reignited an interest of old though.

‘Where Three Roads Meet’ is one of the Canongate Myth series a series in which modern authors take classic myths from around the world and retell them in their own way. With this novel Salley Vickers gives us the retelling of ‘Oedipus’ the Greek legend of a man who killed his father and then married and had children with his mother, though its not quite as simple as that but I wouldn’t want to take all the fun out of the plot if you haven’t yet heard the tale. This myth was then used by Sigmund Freud who came up with the now famous ‘Oedipus Complex’. What Salley Vickers does, and its no easy task, is manage to combine the myth with the last days in Freud’s life.

I had no real prior knowledge of Freud’s life and so to discover that he had cancer of the mouth and the last years of his life with all the operations and horrendous pain (for it was the 1930’s and medicine was not so advanced). Vickers uses this time when he was on a lot of morphine for a strange visitor to appear to him one day, almost frightening the life out of him, to tell him a tale of a place where three roads meet and a story Freud knows well but not from someone who might just have been there. With a novel like this you do need to be able to suspend your belief and go along with the tale but then if you are reading a myth in the first place that shouldn’t be a problem.

What adds to the book is how the two narrators discuss the tale and all the questions it brings up of sexuality, the role of women (sure to get the feminists out there slightly annoyed) and many of Freud’s own ideas and theories. I found it all quite fascinating. I also like the way that the characters looked at words and how they originated in small asides during the tale, for example… 

‘- You know, “kindness” has an interesting etymology. Its root is “kin”. I met it only this morning looking through Hamlet again. “A little more than kin but less than kind”, Hamlet says of his uncle.
– I’m not familiar with your friend, Dr Freud, but as you go through life you come to see the worth of those who make you feel they are your kind.
– Hamlet wouldn’t have quarrelled with that. Please go on. ‘

I enjoyed this book and I think if you are interested in the myths and love language then you will too. If you are a fan of Vickers work then don’t go into it thinking it will be anything like ‘Miss Garnett’s Angel’ as the style and prose are all completely different, yet it still has that wonderful story telling quality. I haven’t read many of the Myths series yet but so far ‘Girl Meets Boy’ by Ali Shaw is still my favourite. I am wondering if any of the series retell my very favourite myth of Persephone. If not I am wondering if Canongate would let me have a go? I have a very good idea of setting it in London and in fact around the British Museum, I shall say no more but the idea is very firmly lodged in my brain.

Back to book though and I do certainly plan on reading more of the Myths that’s for certain and indeed have a couple on the TBR, which one should I go for next I wonder? Have any of you read them? Also what Vickers would you recommend for me to have a look at next as I am also keen to read much more of her work. Oh and before I vanish, one more question. I am wondering if any of you could recommend a cracking edition of a collection of all the Greek Myths. I think I want to get myself buried deeply in them once more.

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Filed under Canongate Publishing, Review, Salley Vickers, The Canongate Myths

Anthropology – Dan Rhodes

I mentioned on Valentines Day that I find books about love a difficult genre. I tend to like them to have an edge like ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ of the latest NTTVBG read ‘The Girl with Glass Feet’ rather than a straightforward slush fest. So imagine my joy at realising I had a collection of tales of love that all had an unusual edge, twist or way of looking at the subject.

When I first saw my copy of Dan Rhodes collection ‘Anthropology’ I couldn’t quite see how in a book of such a small size, for it is small indeed, you could possibly have 101 stories of love in all its forms? Well the premise is that each story is 101 words (or around that as I bet some clever so and so will try counting them) and so you get a story a page. Despite being a big fan of Dan Rhodes’ work I wasn’t convinced this would work especially as I am quite difficult with short stories anyway.

How wrong could I have been? I really, really liked this collection and I think it actually goes to show just how good a writer Dan Rhodes is. In around 101 words he encapsulates a relationship with ease. You have tales of a girlfriend who has been in out of space and wont shut up about it on return, a man who’s girlfriend is kidnapped and objects to a high ransom especially when they keep chopping bits of her off and not reducing the price, a man who’s girlfriend goes off to work with gay people in Mongolia only to become one though he thinks she literally has become a gay man from the Village People with the beard and all. All these tales and more are cleverly depicted in 101 words, how many authors could do that?

The other thing that I really liked about the book was the emotions. Each story has a very different depiction of love be it true love, young love, unrequited love, obsessive love, the ending of love. It also looks at all the emotions behind them the good, bad, happy, ridiculous, compulsive, sad and funny. I thought I would treat you to two of the tales the first a more sombre and sad tale of a love that’s ended called ‘Museum’…

I turned our flat into a museum. Visitors are welcome to marvel at the daintiness of the pumps she left behind, and to look at the band with which she would tie back her hair from the face I kissed so many times. There are cabinets full of photographs, and letters she sent me. There’s a framed birthday card on the wall, with three big kisses in silver pen. No one ever visits but I am here everyday, keeping my head as still as I can. I don’t want to lose any of the brain cells that hold those precious memories.

And here is a funnier one which will hopefully leave you will a smile on your lips called ‘Beauty’…

My girlfriend is so beautiful that she has never had cause to develop any kind of personality. People are alays wildly glad to see her, even though she does little more than sit around and smoke. She’s getting prettier, too. Last time she left the house she caused six car crashes, two coronaries, about thirty domestic disputes and an estimated six hundred unwanted and embarrassing erections. She seems quite indifferent to the havoc she causes. ‘I am going to the shop for cigarettes’ she’ll say, yawning with that succulent, glossy mouth. ‘I suppose you’d better call some ambulances or something.’

I wanted to print one story called ‘Innocence’ which is so rude I couldn’t for fear of offending anyone but when I read it I actually cried with laughter for about ten minutes, read it again and laughed another ten. Yet more proof, for me anyway, of the masterly writing of Mr Rhodes. I am not reading any more of his for a while though as I am getting through his back catalogue rather quickly. I know what to grab of the shelves when I next need a pick me up though that’s for sure. I think this might be my very favourite short story collection too. What’s yours?

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Filed under Canongate Publishing, Dan Rhodes, Review, Short Stories

The House of the Mosque – Kader Abdolah

I don’t really know how to introduce ‘The House of the Mosque’ by Kader Abdolah. It’s not a book that I had considered reading until I popped my name into a draw for it over at Lizzy’s Literary Life, not expecting that I would win. I did and as all winners were to think of some questions to ask Kader Abdolah we needed to crack on with it. I had one of those small ‘but there is so much else I want to read’ mini-tantrums internally before picking up the book which I then couldn’t put down.

How does one describe  a book such as  ‘The House of the Mosque’ because it’s not as easy to explain as it is to read? The book really is centred on the family of Aqa Jaan who live in the house next to the mosque (and also own it) in the Iranian province of Senejan and have done for eight centuries. Based on facts around the late 1970’s and the years after, with some real historical figures thrown in the book is set over a pivotal period in Iranian history as the reign of the American backed Shah comes to an end at the hands of the Ayatollah.

I have to say from the premise I wasn’t too sure about the book, wouldn’t it be a bit too much of a political read? How on earth would I keep up with all the religious references etc? I needn’t have worried because the way that Abdolah tells this tale you learn a lot without having noticed. That for me, who had no idea of what was going on in religious or political climates – other than it’s been volatile to say the least was a sign of masterly writing.

The first half of the book introduces you to the huge family, its servants and some of the locals in a very fable like way. Some people may only appear for a chapter or two, some last the whole book before you know it you feel like one of the family. It’s then the fact that you are a fan of the family (I thought Aqa Jaan was wonderful and in some ways reminded me of Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird, you just cannot not like him and admire his passion for his family) that makes it so hard when everything changes in Iran and times of uncertainty and darkness effect the country and of course everyone in the house of the mosque.

The book is so filled with idea’s, small plots behind bigger ones, characters galore and factual truth it’s really hard to sum it up or in fact to do the book justice. Yes it’s another one of those books where to try and write anything about it leaves you frustrated that you can’t make every single person who reads this want to rush out and buy it. I jut simply have to say I think it’s a masterpiece of our times. I admit I was sceptical and yet just fell into it, was carried away buy it and couldn’t put it down. I can fully appreciate why it has been an international bestseller and translated in so many countries. It’s a book that I think everyone should read as its eye opening, though provoking and magical story telling. I can say no more than read this book, I am tempted to open the book and start all over again.

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Filed under Books of 2010, Canongate Publishing, Kader Abdolah, Review

Grilling Grenville…

On Saturday you guys gave me some great feedback when I asked you about author interviews. As always if you guys give me your thoughts I like to act on them and so with my next Savidge Reads Grills I am doing something a little bit different and asking you to also ‘ask the author’. And (if you hadn’t guessed from the title) the next author is…

…Kate Grenville! I am also giving you a few weeks notice as Canongate have very kindly offered to give away copies of ‘The Lieutenant’ to five of you. All you have to do is think of a question you would love to hear Kate Grenville answer.

They can only send to people in the UK and Europe so  if you are further afield then apologies but do pop a question in anyways as they could end up being in the interview which would be  a prize in itself I reckon. Oh and a small note I know you all loved Granny Savidge getting grilled and my mother has agreed to do it in a few weeks (she is just getting over some eye surgery this week) so you will be getting more of my reading heritage fairly soon.

You also don’t have to ask a question related to ‘The Lieutenant’ in case you were wondering, I have quite a few about ‘The Secret River’, it could just be a question that you have always wanted to ask an author, so get your thinking caps on. You have until last thing Sunday for the draw, you can keep popping in answers after that too of course! I shall now hand it over to your quizzical minds.

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Filed under Canongate Publishing, Give Away, Kate Grenville

Little Hands Clapping – Dan Rhodes

Where can one start in trying to write about the latest novel ‘Little Hands Clapping’ from Dan Rhodes? The reason I start this with that question is because you are reading away and then somewhere around page 60 something slightly dark and disturbing is mentioned in such an off hand and subtle way you almost have to re-read the paragraph one or two times to actually believe what you have just read. It’s something that isn’t hinted at in the blurb and so I am going to try and write about the book without mentioning it as giving it away would not ruin the read but maybe spoil the book a bit.

The book starts in the strange setting of a bizarre German Museum where an unnamed ‘old man’ works and lives. He isn’t quite security guard and isn’t quite curate, he is quite curious. The fact in the opening chapter we meet him as he wakes in the night from sleep, hears there is someone downstairs ignores it and eats a spider instead before he calmly goes back to sleep leaves you filled with intrigue (well it did me) by page 8. Bring in his acquaintance with Ernst Frohlicher, the doctor everyone loves and admires and you set the seeds for a very interesting and unexpectedly dark tale about a truly shocking crime the become embroiled in.

Dan Rhodes has again, quite like in novel Timoleon Vieta Come Home, spun in a story set in Portugal where in a small town three children are born and all the local old town folk know that two of them are destined to be together forever and one will be born to love one but eternally be rejected and consumed with this unrequited love. It’s a story that you wouldn’t think would have anything to do with the old man and the museum and yet Rhodes magically spins one lovers fairytale into one twisted darker tale, its done very subtly and very cleverly and I was hooked from the opening page until the last which I raced to towards the end as there is a rather gripping denouement within the final pages.

I do really enjoy Rhodes writing as I have probably mentioned several times before. I like the mixture of the dark bleakness and the light humorous tones that he uses. This book has me laughing out loud at several points and what sometimes makes the laughter all the better (and harder) is that you’re often laughing at things you know you shouldn’t. I love all of his characters even if I am not meant to like them and in this book even the smallest characters get a full back story. An example would be the woman who gets the old man to meet his current boss. A girl who grows up beautiful and laughing that even when she gets hit buy a car the street hear her laughing as she flies off the bonnet and even when she is lying broken on the road giggling that ‘at least she’s not dead’. Its like little adult fairytales mixed in with two bigger tales that come together, I think its wonderful.

I don’t really need to add that I thought this book was great do I? I am sure that you have picked this up from the above and in my previous reviews of his books. What pleases me too is that I still have lots of his books to go and so I haven’t read his latest and now have the wait for a few years until the next one comes out. So if you haven’t read any Rhodes do give him a whirl, I think the best way to explain him is that he is like a modern singular Grimm brother writing fairytales and fables for adults. Which how can anyone fail to be charmed by? If you would like to know more about him, do pop by the blog tomorrow…

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Filed under Books of 2010, Canongate Publishing, Dan Rhodes, Review

The Secret River – Kate Grenville

You know when you have a book that you have had for ages and ages, everyone has told you that “you simply must read it” and yet you haven’t? We have all got some of these on our TBR’s I would imagine? ‘The Secret River’ by Kate Grenville is one such book for me (though I will admit there are a few) and finally I have managed to get around to reading it “at long last” I can hear some of you cry. It might actually be like preaching to the converted to discuss what this book is about as I have a feeling that most people have already given it a whirl. However, maybe as I hadn’t read it until now there might be some more people out there who don’t know what this book is all about.

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The Secret River opens with a kind of prologue called ‘Strangers’ as William Thornhill arrives fresh off The Alexander in New South Wales, Australia as one of the convicts sent to serve a life sentence in 1806. On dry land he comes across one of the aboriginals a man ‘as black as the air itself’ and what follows is the scene of two men, neither understanding the other sussing each other out. Now this opening scene appeared rather random to me because three pages in you are in the poverty stricken streets of London in the late 1700’s. As the book develops in its different parts you soon come to understand the significance of it as The Secret River is not just about the first convicts to Australia, it is also about racism and a rather dark time in Australia’s history as men try and stake their claims on the continent and in doing so tragic and horrific events unfold.

What I think that Grenville has done in this book which is incredibly clever is give you the back story of William Thornhill and his wife Sal so that you have seen them struggle and fight through poverty, sickness, death and despair through their lives in London and so you come to like them. Therefore when they then become embroiled in situations in the future you have a real difficulty as a reader to then separate the people and the circumstances and the conclusions they bring. I can’t say any more than that as wouldn’t want to give the story away; it did make me really think though as well as affecting, horrifying and unnerving me.

I am aware that I might not do this book justice as if I say to much I culd ruin it for anyone who hasnt read it yet and isn’t aware of the story so am being a bit vaguer than normal. I was impressed how quickly I was pulled into this book and ended up reading it in four sittings. I can be a little hit and miss with historic fiction yet before I knew it I had gotten through half of the book. As I said I liked the characters of Will and Sal and despised some of Grenville’s well drawn vile characters like Smasher who has to be read to be believed. I also felt that Grenville tried to balance the story as best she could by putting you in the minds of both those arriving in Australia and doing anything to make their way and survive and those already in Australia who wanted to keep what was theirs and survive.

If that wasn’t enough Grenville even did the unthinkable and made me enjoy a book that has a lot of ‘boatish’ things going on in it, something I didn’t think was possible. I did have one small issue I must mention to make this a wholly rounded review and that was some of the characters names. I found it distracted me (and if you spotted this you will know why though email me don’t leave in the comments) which sounds a small thing but would draw me out of the story now and again, but a very small qualm overall.

All in all I am really, really pleased that I have finally read The Secret River, if you haven’t read it yet do give it a try. Its finding a book like this that is one of the reason’s why I am so pleased some of my resolutions were ‘whim reading’ and ‘no book buying’… look at what gems I have been missing. I will definitely be reading more of Grenville’s work in the future (I have a few more on the TBR), what would you recommend next? If you have already read The Secret River what did you make of it?

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Filed under Canongate Publishing, Kate Grenville, Review