Category Archives: Evelyn Waugh

Rounding Up The Reviews #4; A Bumper Crop of Book Reviews Before 2014 Ends

So in an effort to combat my blog OCD panic, I like to have reviewed everything I have read in a year and start a year a fresh, and a backlog of reviews I thought I’d do a round up of some of the books – there are more to come – that I have read and wanted to share thoughts with you about – be they good, bad or indifferent. So no waffle, just some quick(ish) book reviews today…

Scoop – Evelyn Waugh

Penguin Modern Classics, paperback, 1938 (2000 edition), fiction, 240 pages, bought by my good self

I like Evelyn Waugh a lot and had heard marvellous things about Scoop from all the right people, so it had been on my ‘to read at some point’ list for quite some time when Rob chose it as a classic choice for Hear Read This! a few months ago. Sadly I really, really, really didn’t like it. The tale is one of mistaken identity as William Boot, who usually writes about things such as badgers and crested grebes, is sent in place of another journalist named Boot to the African state of Ishmaelia where he is to report for The Beat on a ‘very promising little war’.

By rights this book should have been completely up my street, a satire on the industry that I worked for (and hasn’t changed) for quite some time by an author I loved. I just found it deeply dated, rather boring, nothing new and actually a little bit (to put it mildly, I hate the excuse ‘of it’s time’) racist frankly. There were a few moments that I almost enjoyed but generally I was bored and couldn’t wait for it to be over. You can hear my thoughts along with Kate, Rob and Gavin here.

Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter

Vintage Classics, paperback, 1984 (1998 edition), fiction, 368 pages, inherited from Granny Savidge

I have an interesting relationship with Carter’s writing, I either think it is utterly magical and wonderful or I just think it is rather bonkers verging on silly. Sophie Fevvers is famous around the world for supposedly being either part swan, with her amazing wings, or an utter fraud. Jack Waltzer, journalist, goes to interview her and find out not realising he is about to follow Sophie on quite the journey between nineteenth-century London, St Petersberg and Siberia. I found Nights at the Circus (again another book I have been meaning to read for ages and then my old book group chose it) to be a mixture of the two the whole way through, a romp I enjoyed yet occasionally didn’t get or felt went a bit too far magically and plot wise – what was Carter on?

Overall I enjoyed it immensely for its camp bonkers moments and gothic turns and eventually succumbed to its madness. Yet having finished it, I realised I didn’t have that much to say about it, I just enjoyed it overall which makes it sound more of a damp squib than I mean it to. I felt it should be a collection of short stories about Sophie rather than an adventure with her, if that makes sense? I think I wanted something like her fairy tales and didn’t get it; maybe I need to read it again?

Wind Sand and Stars – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Penguin Modern Classics, paperback, 1939 (2000 edition), memoir, 144 pages, borrowed from the library

Like me, you may not know Saint-Exupery for anything other than The Little Prince and not for his stories, both fiction and none, of pilots and airborne adventures. Wind Sand and Stars is a nonfiction set of accounts of some of his flights from when he started in 1926 until and just passed the time in 1936 when he crashed in the desert and somehow survived. I have to say the idea of a book about planes excites me about as much, well maybe a bit more, as a book about boats BUT having loved Julian Barnes Levels of Life and its tales of ballooning and grief I was up for something new.

On one level, pun not intended, Wind Sand and Stars is a tale of one man and his first exciting, and often death defying, trips into the air. Now I don’t like flying but I could completely understand, through his writing, how Antoine became addicted. The descriptions of the freedom and the awe it gives is rather contagious. I also found the story of the crash to be a genuinely terrifying then thrilling reading experience. Yes, there’s a but coming. The problem with the book is that it takes on this almost meta meets philosophical tone which becomes rather preachy/smug and a bit annoying, so apart from the beginning and the drama I found the book a bit ‘meh’. I wanted to like it more, honest. You can hear my thoughts in more detail along with Kate, Rob and Gavin here.

Cold Hand in Mine – Robert Aickman

Faber & Faber, paperback, 1975 (2014 edition), short stories, 368 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I received all of Aickman’s reissued collections unsolicited from Faber & Faber earlier in the year and thought ‘ooh these sound weird and wonderful’ and so thought they would be interesting to bring to the table for a classic choice on Hear Read This! (I know most of the books we do on there end up in round up review posts) as something different. As you will see in the next week or so 2014 has been the year of rediscovering the short story for me and so it ticked that box too being a collection of self proclaimed ‘strange stories’.

Well strange indeed they are but almost too strange. I like a ghost story, a horror story, urban legend, twisted fairy tale or just piece of bizarreness if it has a point/plot/thrill to it. All Aickman’s tales in this collection rather let me down, even the ones I rather loved like the almost-but-not-quite brilliant The Hospice, because the endings all let them down. Sadly in actuality sometimes the bonkers premise/middle (The Real Road to the Church, Niemandswasser, The Clockwatcher) just didn’t make sense and lacked punch. I felt like Aickman wanted to always be more clever, tricksy or just weird than the reader but in a way that made him feel better and doesn’t actually do anything for the reader. Each tale left me feeling cheated. Gav said this is the weird genre, I think maybe it is just not the genre for me. Glad I can say I have read them, unsure if I will read anymore unless one of you convinces me. You can hear my thoughts in more detail along with Kate, Rob and Gavin here.

The Poisoning Angel – Jean Teule

Gallic Books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 240 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I love Jean Teule’s writing and so chose The Poisoning Angel for Hear Read This! as I thought a darkly funny book in translation would be something different. Like the brilliant, but very dark and gory Eat Him If You Like, this is based on a true story – the case of Helene Jegado who became one of the most notorious prisoners of her time and indeed in French history, we follow her journey from the time she poisons her mother…

Unlike Rob, Kate and Gavin, I really enjoyed this book. I laughed the whole way through, which I think you are meant to do, as Helene just wanders around the countryside for a few decades killing people off, not being caught by the police and no one thinking the better or inviting her in. That isn’t a complete spoiler, you know that from the blurb. There isn’t masses more to say about the book other than give it a whirl! You can hear my thoughts in more detail along with Kate, Rob and Gavin here.

The Hypnotist – Lars Kepler

Blue Door Books, paperback, 2012, fiction, 624 pages, from my own personal TBR

I read this while I was off in the authors; there are actually two of them, homeland of Sweden between two of the Camilla Lackberg novels – I truly was on a cold crime binge. It is a hard book to explain so I am stealing the blurb “Detective Inspector Joona Linna is faced with a boy who witnessed the gruesome murder of his family. He’s suffered more than one hundred knife wounds and is comatose with shock. Linna’s running out of time. The killer’s on the run and, seemingly, there are no clues. Desperate for information, Linna enlists disgraced specialist Dr Erik Maria Bark, a hypnotist who vowed never to practice again. As the hypnosis begins, a long and terrifying chain of events unfurls with reverberations far beyond Linna’s case.” This sounded just my kind of thing.

Now it is quite a doorstopper but as it started I was racing through the book. A creepy child, a scary serial killer, some hypnotism what wasn’t to love? Then I started to get, not bored exactly, a little jaded with it. You see I love a twisty book like Gone Girl or the even better (seriously) Alex and this felt like one of those initially, in fact more like Alex as it’s really quite nasty. Then the twists started to get too much, I started to get confused and lose belief in the story as I went on. I think the best crime authors have the generosity to make the reader feel clever and twist them at just the right times whilst spinning a true spiders web, this began to feel a bit like the authors were being too clever – Aickman syndrome, see above. It was a page turner, it was clever, it was twisty… It just didn’t quite get me along for the whole whirlwind ride.

Orfeo – Richard Powers

Atlantic Books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 384 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I have left my thoughts on this one till last as it is the only book in this selection I didn’t finish and actually threw at a wall. I admit it started off very, very well. I liked the idea of a lonely composer calling the police when his dog dies, them discovering his home made science lab and thinking he might be a terrorist. A bit farfetched maybe, but fun. Then the writing bowled me over, I have never seen music written about so brilliantly.

The notes float and rise. They turn speech as pointless as a radio ventriloquist. Light and darkness splash over Peter at each chord change, thrill with no middleman. The pitches topple forward; they fall beat by beat into their followers, obeying an inner logic, dark and beautiful.
Another milky, troubled chord twists the boy’s belly. Several promising paths lead forward into unknown notes. But of all possible branches, the melody goes strange. One surprise leap prickles Peter’s skin. Welts bloom on his forearms. His tiny manhood stiffens with inchoate desire.
The drunken angel band sets out on a harder song. These new chords are like the woods on the hill near Peter’s grandmother’s, where his father once took them sledding. Step by step the singers stumble forward in a thicket of tangled harmonies.

So why did I throw it at the wall? Two reasons. Firstly, the writing about music is incredible… the first, second and even possibly the third time. Powers soon becomes a one trick pony as he carts this trick out over and over and over, there is almost a lyrical comparative sentence in every paragraph at one point. Clever becomes too clever and smug a theme with some of this selection of books! Secondly, remember I mentioned the farcical element, again went too far and made the story of Peter’s past seem all at odds with itself and slightly clichéd and done before. You can hear my thoughts in more detail along with Kate, Rob and Gavin here.

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So there we are the last round up of the year, well if you exclude a small catch up of books I don’t want to spoil which I will post in the next week or so! Have you read any of these books? If so what did you think of them? Would you recommend any other books by these authors?

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Filed under Angela Carter, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Atlantic Books, Blue Door Books, Book Thoughts, Evelyn Waugh, Faber & Faber, Gallic Books, Lars Kepler, Penguin Classics, Review, Richard Powers, Robert Aickman, Rounding Up The Reviews, Vintage Classics

The Loved One – Evelyn Waugh

I have to thank those of you who mentioned Evelyn Waugh’s ‘The Loved One’ when I asked for books on Victoriana or death because without them The Converted One would never have ordered this book for me and I would have been missing out on a treat. In fact only hours ago Granny Savidge Reads was discussing what a ‘hoot’ she found this as a read. No it’s not a funny book about Victoriana but a rather wonderful and whimsical book about the business of death and one I would insist you all go out and read, even if you don’t think it’s a very you book.

As ‘The Loved One’ opened I wasn’t sure that I was going to get on with it too well. It had a group of pompous British expatriates discussing many things banal in the material heights of Los Angeles. It is here and in this company that Dennis Barlow, an English poet, has come to stay with his uncle Sir Francis and tried to make a name for himself. However Dennis hasn’t managed and instead finds himself reading books behind a desk at a rather unsuccessful pet’s funeral parlour and not really getting anywhere in life, though seemingly happy with his lot.

“Dennis was a young man of sensibility rather than of sentiment. He had lived his twenty-eight years at arm’s length from violence, but he came of a generation which enjoys a vicarious intimacy with death. Never, it so happened, had he seen a human corpse until that morning when, returning tired from night duty, he found his host strung to the rafters. The spectacle had been rude and momentarily unnerving; but his reason accepted the event as part of the established order.”

This isn’t set to last and in fact doesn’t as very early on Sir Francis is fired from his Hollywood job at Megalopolitan Studio’s and decides to take his own life, in doing so his nephew Dennis is left in charge of the funeral and ends up in the necropolis ‘Whispering Glades’ where death seems like a wonderful option and can have all the finest trimmings and sometimes come out looking better than you did when you were alive. “Why, if he’d sat on an atom bomb, they’d make him presentable.” That line and its delivery made me laugh for about ten minutes. It’s very dark humour with sprinklings of an almost campness throughout, or maybe just a wry smile throughout.

“A young lady rose from a group of her fellows to welcome him, one of the new race of exquisite, amiable, efficient young ladies whom he had met everywhere in the United States. She wore a white smock and over her sharply supported left breast was embroidered the words, Mortuary Hostess.
‘Can I help you in any way?’
‘I came to arrange about a funeral.’
‘Is it for yourself?’”

It is going through the rigmarole of funeral procedures and arrangements for his uncle that Dennis meets the beautiful Aimee Thanatogenos, a corpse cosmetician, and becomes besotted starting not only one of the funniest and slightly outrageous books I have had the good fortune of reading, but also the unlikeliest but most readable love triangles between Dennis, Aimee and an embalmer called Mr Joyboy that leads to a rather shock ending I wasn’t expecting.

“We had a Loved One last month who passed over with electrical cord. Even Mr Joyboy could do nothing with that. We had to wind a scarf right up to the chin. But suspenders should come out quite satisfactorily.”

I laughed out loud a lot with this book and I wasn’t expecting it (though maybe with a dedication ‘to Nancy Mitford’ inside I should have guessed) it charmed me. I loved the irony, comical cynical attitude of the author and random plot developed and it entertained me and took me away from everything for the two hours that I couldn’t put it down. Ten out of ten! This is a lesser known work of Waugh’s that has left me looking forward to reading many, many more of his books in the future. In fact I am aiming to have a collection rather like this…

It’s wickedly entertaining and a real riot to read, if in some slightly dubious taste, I bet this caused quite the stir when it was published in 1948. I am pretty sure that this is destined to be one of my favourite books of recent years and quite possibly will be heading into my top 40 along with Neil Bartlett’s dark gem ‘Skin Lane’ (I have been very lucky with some excellent reads of late). I think that Waugh is also an author that may become a favourite, this is nothing like ‘Brideshead Revisited’ and yet equally brilliant in its difference from it. Which way with Waugh next?

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Filed under Books of 2010, Evelyn Waugh, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review

Snow & The Last Loot

Isn’t it amazing how snow (which we get almost every year) seems to cause no end of issues? It’s only frozen water. Maybe it’s just the northerner in me who had to trek almost a mile to school down steeply inclined hills and back up them daily even if we were 6 inches deep in snow who finds the drama in London a little hard to digest? If anyone has been to Matlock Bath you will know that when I say steep I mean virtually quarried hills. Here is a picture Gran sent me this morning, we used to live on the big hill opposite which is surrounded by valleys which you can’t see sadly but you get the gist.

So I find all the British snowy panic in the press seems a bit excessive, if you’re snowed in you get more time to read and it looks lovely! I am glad though that after two whole days of freezing weather with no boiler I am looking at the snow in the heat once more. The grump that living and working from home in no heat caused you might imagine was quite horrific, but it’s distracted me from the fact I have not been able to buy a book since my last mad loot last Thursday. I thought I would share that with you today. So here are the last books I bought before midnight struck on the 31st of December.

  • The Story of Edgar Sawtelle – David Wroblewski
  • The Late Hector Kipling – David Thewlis
  • DeNiro’s Game – Rawi Hage
  • White Teeth – Zadie Smith
  • Bad Girls – Mary Flanagan

  • Ordinary Thunderstorms – William Boyd
  • Alligator – Lisa Moore
  • An Elergy For Easterly – Petina Gappah (you may notice two here, this is because I will be giving away one to one of you, I am always thinking of you guys)
  • Friendly Fires – Alaa Al Aswany
  • Wild Sheep Chase – Haruki Murakami
  • Cobwebs and Cream Tea’s – Mary Mackie
  • The Queen of the Tambourine – Jane Gardham
  • The Unbearable Likeness of Being – Milan Kundera
  • Scoop – Evelyn Waugh (had this already but not in this orange series I collect)
  • The Lure – Felice Picano

I think a final £6 spree for fifteen books isn’t bad is it? So did I do ok, what books of these have you read and what did you think?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Evelyn Waugh, Haruki Murakami, Petina Gappah, William Boyd

The Best Book You’ve Never Read?

We’ve all seen the lists, we’ve all thought, “I should really read that someday,” but for all of us, there are still books on “The List” that we haven’t actually gotten around to reading. Even though we know they’re fabulous. Even though we know that we’ll like them. Or that we’ll learn from them. Or just that they’re supposed to be worthy. We just … haven’t gotten around to them yet… What’s the best book that YOU haven’t read yet?

Hmmm this question from Booking Through Thursday has really made me think, literally all day, hence why the slightly late blog from me (that and trying to finish Netherland). I couldnt decide what one best book I havent read yet as there were so many so I thought I would do a top ten instead. How id I decide what made it on the list? Books that I have always wanted to read, books I have always been told I must read and books by my favourite authors I havent gotten round to yet!
1. The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood
2. Madame Bovary -Gustave Flaubert
3. The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
4. Crime and Punishment – Dostoevsky
5. The Accidental Tourist – Anne Tyler
6. My Cousin Rachel – Daphne Du Maurier
7. The Well of Loneliness – Radclyffe Hall
8. Love in a Cold Climate – Nancy Mitford
9. The Secret Scripture – Sebastien Barry
10. A Handful of Dust – Evelyn Waugh

Please note: this list is technically subject to daily change as my mood for what I want to read and what someone might recommend me tomorrow may become the next best book I have never read!
So what are yours?

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Filed under Anne Tyler, Barbara Kingsolver, Daphne Du Maurier, Evelyn Waugh, Margaret Atwood, Nancy Mitford, Radclyffe Hall, Sebastian Barry

Collectibles – Booking Through Thursday

Hardcover? Or paperback?
Illustrations? Or just text?
First editions? Or you don’t care?
Signed by the author? Or not?

That is the question or questions today from Booking Through Thursday. I have to say that though I own a ridiculous amount of books and it is ever growing I dont actually ‘collect’ books specifically. I dont even on the whole mind if they are all issued at around the same time or are the same series. There is only one exception so far and that is my Evelyn Waugh books which are all the art deco range such as you can see here this was never intentional I just bought three at once in that range for a pound and that was it! This may change though as publishers such as the lovely Vintage have now started to do really gorgeous covers on their books such as with the new W.Somerset Maugham books which I will be reading shortly. You can see a few of them here and they just look beautiful.

So some of the covers like that could get me collecting. I have just been and had a second look at my shelves and I have to admit that all my Agatha Christies are the 60’s versions when books were 75p, can you imagine that now, wouldn’t it be amazing! However again I dont think the Christie’s being the same series is intentional. Maybe I’m a subconcious collector without even knowing it? On the whole with books in general I prefer paperback, so if I was to collect it would be those. I do have some signed first editions, if I in a store and the book, which I am going to buy anyway, is signed why the heck not? It could become a collectors item of the future.

If I did do a collection of old books it would have to be of the Ladybird 606d series which was the series I inherited from my aunts and uncles when I was young and have about six of and really remind me of my childhood. They go for around £10 each now if not more and so maybe with my birthday coming up I shall add a few to my birthday list, we shall see.

How about you?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Evelyn Waugh

Collecting The Classics

Only six days into the New Year and I am going to have to edit one of my resolutions already. It was that tricky one of not really buying anymore books. I think what I should change it to ‘not buy anymore new books’ or ‘only buy classics from charity shops’. Or maybe a mix of the two, I’ll work it out later? Anyway on my way to Sainsbury’s to stock up on post holiday food and happened to stumble into my two favourite charity shops. By the time I left I had bought five ‘classics’ and all for under £3, now really how could I say no?


Cider With Rosie – Laurie Lee
I didn’t know very much about this when I saw it on the shelf and yet I instantly knew the name. However looking at the blurb it sounded quite interesting. A memoir of life in a Cotswold village in the 1920’s before cars or electricity revealing what life was like in the not so distant past that is also like another world. I can’t wait to read this book.

Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
Another book that I know very little about but have seen so many times on peoples shelves (well we all like a nosey don’t we) and have been recommended is this one. So I decided that with a classics year ahead it was time for me to bite the bullet and read this one. I didn’t realise that it was funny, or is meant to be, what’s always put me off I think is that its labelled as a ‘war novel’ and sometimes you just have a bit too much war.

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Another book that I have always wanted to read but have yet to, I do hope it’s better than ‘Tales of the Jazz Age’ which I didn’t enjoy at all. This is meant to be one of the great, great modern classics. In my head I am going to love this as much as I did Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
I always got this and Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ mixed up and having read one I was delighted to find the other in a very short space of time. The biggest thing that made me want to read this apart from it being ‘groundbreaking’ and set in a mental institution was the ‘tyrannical Big Nurse Ratched’ that character sounds far too promising and fascinating. Plus I haven’t seen the film so have that to look forward to afterwards.

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
I actually owned this for a while but never read it and as it had a coffee stain and was given to me I gave it to charity. I managed to find a new pristine copy, but may also have to go back for another 70’s edition that Novel Insights wants and we may do this as a Rogue Book Group choice in the future. This caused controversy on its release due to the fact it reconstructed the murder of a farmer and his family in Kansas in 1959 exploring the investigation and everything that happened to those involved. After devouring Kate Summerscale’s ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’ I though this would be right up my street.

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Filed under Book Spree, Book Thoughts, Evelyn Waugh, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harper Lee, Kate Summerscale, Truman Capote

The Savidge Dozen

Blimey so a reading year is over… a year of some good reading, some difficult reading, some readers block plus some dire reading and some frankly amazing reading. In fact there was so much amazing reading I changed my mind and didn’t do what I did last year and have a top ten, instead am doing as the delightful Dove Grey Reader had done and am doing my version of the Man Booker Dozen. So thirteen then… unlucky for some but not for these authors who should feel very lucky (I am being facetious) it was a really hard choice actually, really, really hard. I did stick to last years rule though of only one book per author. So here goes, in reverse order…

13. The Spare Room – Helen Garner
There was uproar in the blogosphere when this didn’t even make it onto the Man Booker Prize long list and after reading it I could see why. A thought provoking, sparse and raw novel about dealing with cancer this book was also filled with heart and emotion. Helen invites her friend Nicola to stay after she is diagnosed with terminal cancer, what follows is nights of cleaning beds, friendships pushed to breaking point and possibly one of the most honest fictional voices I heard this year.

12. The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer
I think if Nancy Mitford was still around (what is it with the Mitford’s being everywhere this year, more on them later) she would probably have been a massive fan of this novel. All at once this novel is sharply witty, comical, touching, observant and sad. Juliet Ashton became possibly my favourite character of the year as a writer struggling to find the next book in her and befriending the said society (it’s too long to write the title each time) and corresponding through letters with the many wonderful characters on a post occupied Guernsey. Superb!

11. The Reader – Bernhard Schlink
This book was simply unputdownable, and yes that is a word I have made up but should exist. When 15 year old Michael meets older woman Hannah when he falls ill he doesn’t know this is a relationship that will be in their lives forever. After becoming lovers one day Hannah vanishes only to reappear in Michael’s later life and to make him think about his life and the country he lives in totally differently. A new interesting, horrifying and thought provoking look at the Holocaust. Will make you think, a lot.

10. The Room of Lost Things – Stella Duffy
I honestly genuinely believe this is one of the most over looked gem books of the year, and not because I know the author and think she is fabulous. I would hope you’d know by now that I am not that sort of person. This book celebrates London and has some of the most fabulous characters in it. Be it from the story of Robert Sutton who is selling his laundrette (where everyone leaves their secrets in their pockets) after a lifetime of hard work to the homeless men who sleep under an archway on a old battered sofa the characters in this book are full of life and I secretly hoped for this to be the start of a series. A love letter in novel form by the author to South London!

9. When Will There Be Good News? – Kate Atkinson
My love for the writing of Kate Atkinson went stratospheric this year with the third so far in the Jackson Brodie ‘literary crime fiction’ series. Having also read its predecessor ‘One Good Turn’ this year I didn’t think her coincidence based complex plots could get any cleverer, I was wrong. This book is much darker than the previous two and grittier yet still in parts incredibly funny. It also of course had one of the characters of the year in it through Reggie the sixteen year old girl who saves Brodie life and yet brings an old flame and a mystery that needs solving into his life on top. It’s so difficult to explain this book, so simply put… buy it!

8. Mister Pip – Lloyd Jones
Ok so this book has been out a while but sometimes I get behind, I mean The Reader is eleven years old, so be kind. I ironically had no expectations of this book at all which sees the children of a small village on a tropical island receive a new teacher and a new book to study ‘Great Expectations’. The new teacher Pop Eye or Mr Watts takes on the class when no one else will due to war in the South Pacific. This reminded me slightly of Half Of A Yellow Sun for the graphicness of war which when you start reading the book you wouldn’t imagine you are going to have in the story ahead of you. Definitely my most shocking read of the year, amazingly written and celebratory of fiction and all it can inspire.

7. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
When Novel Insights and I decided to do this as one of our Rogue Book Group choices I wasn’t sure it would be my cup of tea. I was completely won over by Waugh’s stunning writing and possibly my favourite villain of the year in the form of Lady Marchmain. Charles Ryder reflects on returning to Brideshead during the war on his own history with the building and the Marchmain’s who owned it and their privileged life style in the post Second World War glory days. However Charles experience has a nasty sting in the tale that though he has tried to forget he simply cannot. A genuine classic.

6. The Boy in the Striped Pyjama’s –John Boyne
If there is anyone left who hasn’t seen the movie (which was almost as good as the book, a rarity) or who hasn’t read this book themselves I do not want to give a single bit of plot of this book away as if I had known what was coming I don’t think it would have worked in the same way. I will say that it tells of a young boy Bruno who is forced to move from his childhood home with his mother and sister to join their father for his work. The land they move to is in the middle of nowhere though eventually Bruno befriends another young boy through a fence. Through their innocent friendship Bruno is brought into a much darker world one that will change his life and his family’s lives forever.

5. Mudbound – Hillary Jordan
I admit that the title I found both intriguing and incredibly off putting, however a random purchase in Sainsbury’s (I know, I know) led to me reading possibly one of the most surprising and remarkable books of the year. Set in the Mississippi Delta in 1946 you are first lead to believe this is a novel about a resentful wife being made to live in the cotton farm of her nightmares she swiftly calls Mudbound. What Jordan manages to bring in to this incredible novel is stories of family breakdowns, affairs, war and racism. Not always comfortable reading, especially one sickening scene, this book absolutely blew me away. I cannot wait for Jordan’s second novel whenever it comes.

4. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher – Kate Summerscale
Now shock horror, Mr Savidge who never really liked to read non-fiction has two in his top ten. The first of which is Kate Summerscale’s simply wonderful, if crime can be wonderful, retelling of the events of ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’ or ‘The Murder at Road Hill House’. Back in 1860 in the small town of Road in Wiltshire a horrific murder took place one which the local police simply couldn’t figure out so at a time when detectives were a new thing Scotland Yard sent Mr Whicher to investigate. The murder both provoked national hysteria and also inspired many authors such as Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle. Being a fan of crime fiction and of books this was a perfect read and made all the facts down to train timetables easy to digest until you find yourself detecting alongside.

3. To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
I most people will know this book and I know it had been a book that I had wanted to read for a long time and so after sneakily buying myself and Novel Insights a 50p charity shop copy each it became a Rogue Book Group choice. Scout tells the tale of her town in the 1930’s Deep South of America. Her father Atticus (a wonderful character) is defending Tom Robinson of rape, Tom is black and in a time and town where racism is rife he finds himself and subsequently his family struggling with the town and struggling for justice. I loved it, even though until about 50 pages in it hadn’t gripped me suddenly I was hooked.

2. On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan
In a year that has seen a lot of McEwan pass in front of my eyes, and has seen him become one f my favourite authors, it was this book in particular that wowed me of all of his I read. Set in the early sixties it is Edward and Florence’s wedding night. For uptight and inexperienced couple, through not speaking and misunderstood actions, this is the night that will change their lives forever and have devastating results. A superb look at how society has changed and how people have become more informed on life since, but also a sad and startling look at innocence, communication and what was expected of differing genders in those times, plus what was morally or socially correct. A small book with a lot of punch and bite. Oh, and its the second year that Mr McEwan has been in my top three books of the year!

1. The Mitford’s: Letters Between Six Sisters – Charlotte Mosley
What had initially led me to read this book was the idea of letters that spanned a huge amount of history. Having, until this book, only known of Deborah Cavendish (though not as a Mitford because of her name, but because I know Chatsworth well), Nancy Mitford (as an author) and Unity Mitford (as the supposed mother of Hitler’s child) to a small degree; I fell in love with all the sisters (possibly bar Diana, she didn’t have being crazy as an excuse to liking Hitler like Unity) and thought the amount of British history contained in one book was phenomenal. I also loved their play on language, thoughts on society, books and people. I defy anyone to read this and not be 100% in love with it and ready to start again once you have put it down. This book has unquestionably inspired me to read a lot more non fiction in 2009. Best book of 2008 by a clear mile, no offense to any others.

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Filed under Bernhard Schink, Books of 2008, Charlotte Mosley, Evelyn Waugh, Harper Lee, Helen Garner, Hillary Jordan, Ian McEwan, Kate Atkinson, Kate Summerscale, Lloyd Jones, Mary Ann Shaffer, Stella Duffy