Category Archives: Ian McEwan

The Savidge Reads Hall of Fame… Ian McEwan

So today seemed the ideal time to start a new series of posts on the blog in the form of, the rather grandly titled, Savidge Reads Hall of Fame. Over the next few weeks, months and years as I continue on my reading life I will be doing special posts on my favourite authors. I have also created a special page on the blog especially which will contain all the titles by the author and links to the books I have read and reviewed of theirs along the way. This will encourage me to read all the books by my favourite authors and may lead you to some new authors if you like most of the ones that I like, if that makes sense. There are some rules though, but you can find more of those on the Hall of Fame page.

Anyway without further ado my first author in the Savidge Reads Hall of Fame is Ian McEwan…

The first book I read by them was… The very first novel I read by Ian McEwan was his very first novel ‘The Cement Garden’, though I didn’t realise it at the time, it was random fate.

The reason that I initially read them was… If I am being honest, which I think is best; there was no huge plan for me to pick up an Ian McEwan book. I was just meandering through my mother’s shelves when I was in my mid-teens and I picked ‘The Cement Garden’ simply because it was short. I wasn’t expecting it to be the dark and frankly rather shocking story of incest and murder that it was, yet that was actually what gripped me.

The reason that they have become one of my favourite authors, and I would recommend them, is… He never writes the same novel twice. Even if the subject, like in ‘Solar’, might not be the sort of thing that I am interested in he always makes me interested. His narrators always have quirks and you can never quite work them out, yet you like them even if occasionally you know you shouldn’t. I also like the fact there is inevitably a dark streak at the heart of them.

My favourite of their novels so far has been… I think it has to be ‘Atonement’ as it is a masterpiece. That said I think as a novella ‘On Chesil Beach’ is utterly brilliant. It was the first novella I read that showed me they could be as powerful, if not more so, than any novel. Read it!!!

If there was one of their works I had a novel with it would have to be… I actually have two. I started ‘Saturday’ and didn’t quite get on with it, so gave it up but will return to it – I think it was all the brain surgery stuff. I also found ‘First Love, Last Rights’ a compelling read but utterly disturbing and uncomfortable to read, almost too much so.

The last one of their novels that I read was… His latest novel ‘Sweet Tooth’ which is probably his most autobiographical and a must for McEwan fans.

The next I am planning on reading is… I think I need to read ‘Enduring Love’ next out of all of his books because I have heard it has one of the most brilliant opening sequences ever. This excites me.

What I would love them to do next is… I would actually really like him to write another collection of short stories. Having read him writing some short stories as a character in ‘Sweet Tooth’, and enjoying those stories within the story so much, I think it would be really interesting to have another collection of ‘Ian Macabre’ stories, though maybe he has mellowed.

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So that is my first one done. There may be another in just a few weeks, we will see as I want to do it on whim. So who else do you think might end up in my Hall of Fame? Who would be in yours? What do you think of this new series of posts? Do let me know.

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Filed under Ian McEwan, Savidge Reads Hall of Fame

Sweet Tooth – Ian McEwan

There are some authors we each hold so dear that as soon as they have a new book coming out you are simply palpitating at the very thought. Ian McEwan is one such author for me; I am a big fan of all of the novels of his I have read and indeed many of his short stories, so that over time he has become a favourite, even if I have occasionally been a little non-plussed by a story or book along the way. I was particularly excited about ‘Sweet Tooth’ as from the start there were murmurs that this was McEwan’s first proper ‘thriller’, I say proper because there are often thrilling literary elements in all his novels, so as soon as it arrived all life was on hold until I had read it, yes that is how excited I was.

****, Jonathan Cape, 2012, hardback, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

‘Sweet Tooth’ is set in London during the early 1970’s which, looking back, was a time of great uncertainty with the IRA and the Cold War and a time of social change illustrated in part by, as McEwan brings up more than once, supermarkets and supermarket trolleys cropping up here there and everywhere. It is in this period that our narrator, Serena Frome (rhymes with ‘plume’), ends up working for MI5 and becoming a spy as part of a project called ‘Sweet Tooth’. Serena is given the task of, with her beauty and love of books, getting author Tom Haley to join in a government funded venture which promotes authors with leftish views, apparently this happened. Yet at the same time is Serena being toyed with and spied on herself as an affair with one of her lecturers, who led her to MI5, starts to be scrutinised when it appears that he wasn’t quite the spy everyone thought he was.

One of the things I liked about ‘Sweet Tooth’ so much from the start was that there is so much going on albeit so subtly you do ponder in the first 80 pages if there is going to be a ‘thrilling’ pace at any point because lots of things meander along. As we get to know Serena’s story, which is told after 40 years of hindsight, the hints of her sexual freeness, family background and obsession with escaping into books slowly builds a portrayal of her, though we are never sure quite of her motives or actions. I should mention her that there is a certain coldness and distance from her, coming no doubt from all that happens in the story we read and being a spy, that I did initially think ‘this is so not Ian McEwan’. Yet whilst much is hinted at as the story develops there are almost too many strands none of which are quite fully fleshed out.

As Serena meets Tom Haley everything really kicks off a gear and yet it all slows down at once. The mention of the IRA and Cold War even politics, which I was finding oddly fascinating, sort of fall away to be replaced with a tale about an author in the 1970’s. The book becomes less and less a thriller and more almost a fictionalised account of the author himself. If I was a thriller fan I have to say about 160 pages in I would have been feeling quite cheated, as a fan of McEwan I read on because I wanted more of the story and to see where Serena, who I found oddly compelling as I didn’t know if I liked her or not, went (and the twists at the end do make the book) and also to learn more about Ian McEwan, oh hang on, I mean Tom Haley.

‘My evenings now were empty. I came home from work, took my groceries from ‘my’ corner of the fridge, cooked my supper, passed the time with the solicitors if they happened to be around, then read in my room in my boxy little armchair until eleven, my bedtime. That October I was absorbed by the short stories of William Trevor. The constrained lives of his characters made me wonder how my own existence might appear in his hands. The young girl alone in her bedsit, washing her hair in the basin, daydreaming about a man from Brighton who didn’t get in touch, about the best friend who had vanisged from her life, about another man she had fallen for whom she must meet tomorrow to hear about his wedding plans. How grey and sad.’

The thing that really sold me on the book was the fact that it is all about books, in fact to be honest it is much more about books and writing than it is spies. As I mentioned Serena is a book lover and as we learn of her love of books, as book lovers, we like her a lot more. As she reads up on Haley, his journalism and retells, which seemed slight odd at first, his short stories (which read a lot like McEwan’s early short stories funnily enough, these were wonderful) we almost get a literary critique from as Serena analyses them looking for Haley in them. It is quite an unusual technique, and indeed novel, in a lot of ways and will either really work for you, once you get past the ‘this isn’t really a thriller’ element, or will fall completely flat.

I think, in hindsight and after giving it some thought, ‘Sweet Tooth’ is very much a book from McEwan for his already established audience, which his publishers have labelled his ‘thriller’ rather than saying ‘McEwan does a book about spies and books’ because it might sell better (though it’s McEwan so it will sell regardless, let’s be honest) and reach a new audience. This could prove an error as anyone seeking a thriller won’t get what they are expecting, and that could lead to some serious disappointment. I personally was expecting something along the lines, only different because it was McEwan, of William Boyd’s ‘Restless’ which I really liked. Subsequently I spent a little time being disheartened that the thrills and spills weren’t really there, as I imagined with McEwan they would have been so good, but was won over, and ended up liking the book a lot, because I felt it was the first time I really got into the head of Ian McEwan which I was happy with and also it is a very bookish book. Objectively though, my fandom aside, I am not sure a ‘thriller’ fan would feel quite the same way though.

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Filed under Ian McEwan, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Review

First Love, Last Rites – Ian McEwan

I am not generally a prudish person. I might not like the odd swear word in a book if it jars or seems out of character, but I don’t believe reading should always be comfortable and in fact some literature needs to be confronting to address certain issues. Odd then that, a favourite author of mine too, Ian McEwan’s debut collection of short stories ‘First Love, Last Rites’ has left me feeling rather conflicted, I read it all with a feeling that I really shouldn’t continue on and yet I did.

Vintage Books, paperback, 1975, fiction, short stories, 176 pages, from my personal TBR

‘First Love, Last Rites’ is a murky collection of tales. The subject matter in these short stories will disturb and quite possibly offend the most hardened or open minded of us. Here we have a mixture of titillating tales of naked posing, masturbation and dressing up, but we also have a much darker selection based on incest, rape, child abduction, possible murder and abuse. With the lighter few of these stories like ‘Cocker at the Theatre’ (think Mrs Henderson Present’s but a bit filthier and made me guffaw) I read in a rather teenage giggly way. However the darker stories really divided me.

I have read many book in which horrific things are depicted, be they from incest to the horrors of war, and have found the occasional graphic nature of them to be appropriate and justified rather than offensive, uncomfortable yes but not without reason. With ‘First Love, Last Rites’ I couldn’t really work out if these darker tales needed to be told (odd I know seeing as I think McEwan’s ‘The Cement Garden’ is a fantastic if horrific novella) and if so how graphically. For example ‘Butterflies’ would be a celver but disturbing tale of a man abducting a child, agreed not a story for everyone, and yet when the actual horrific act happens McEwan does a lot of showing and telling, rather than possibly leave it to the readers imagination – which can actually be worse.

It was this factor that made me feel rather like a voyeur and made me ponder on why I was reading these stories. What was the point in them when they had no real depth and seemed to be a young author’s first works based on how to be shocking; this was the difference between these shorts and ‘The Cement Garden’ which is a fully rounded deeply disturbing tale. It was this very feeling which I tried to express on twitter when I said that I had been compelled to read them when I didn’t think I should and how I then ended up feeling rather ‘grubby’ afterwards.

As a fan of McEwan’s work (and I have read a lot of it) I weirdly wasn’t as disappointed with this collection as I could have been despite my thoughts above. It sort of seemed to make sense. I interestingly don’t think I would have been compelled to read anymore of McEwan’s work; in fact I was rather surprised it won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1976, if I had happened upon this first apart from possibly as a teenager when the titillation factor would have won over, hey I wasn’t so selective in my reading then. However having become a fan of McEwan from his more modern and better known novels I can see this whole series of tales as almost warm ups as to what was to come. This didn’t endear me to ‘First Love, Last Rites’ any the more, it just explained it in some way to me.

‘First Love, Last Rites’ is a challenging and dark read, one which should you choose to try out will have you looking at the fine lines between being a reader and a voyeur and also between what makes a challenging read and one which seems set simply to shock, albeit very well written like all of McEwan’s works.

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Filed under Ian McEwan, Review, Short Stories, Vintage Books

The Cement Garden – Ian McEwan

I am not in general much of a re-reader. I think it’s because with so many new books out there each week I always feel like I might be missing out on something. Every now and again though one of my previous favourite reads will take my fancy or seem to be calling to me and Ian McEwan’s debut novel ‘The Cement Garden’ which was recommended when I asked on twitter for a shirt dark read that might take a hold of me during a mini reading funk (yes I have had one of those already in 2011, fortunately it seems to have passed) and though I had read it I thought it might be just the ticket and indeed it was.

‘The Cement Garden’ is only 144 pages but it’s a book that certainly packs a punch. After the death of their mother Julie (17), Jack (15),  Sue (13) and Tom (6) decide, with their father already dead, that rather than be separated and go into care they will cover up their mother’s death by encasing her in cement in the basement. If you are thinking that this is a grim start (and I haven’t given much away as that’s very near the beginning) thinks get darker as the book progresses. Soon Jack begins to take the role of head of the house to a new level and the siblings begin to become aware of their own sexuality, which leads them to look at each other in a whole new light, including Julie’s dating of Derek which threatens the whole dynamic and leads to a rather dramatic dénouement.

To say much more would be to ruin what can occasionally be a jaw dropping and shocking read. Having read it before I thought the effect might not be so great on me, I was wrong. I found the atmosphere and the things that were left unsaid even more ominous than the first time round and actually more uncomfortable than the events that happen as the book progresses. At the same time it’s a fascinating look into the psyche of teenagers and young adults as they grow and indeed how they cope with death and their own mortality, though of course most teenagers don’t bury their mother, start to experiment in cross dressing or with their own siblings.

Some people will no doubt find this book distasteful. I’m not really someone who thinks you should always be sitting comfortably with a book and after all this is fiction. It’s incredibly written, the writing being taught to create the same atmosphere, and is well told and constructed. It’s dark as well as occasionally, and you might find this odd, being sometimes rather melodramatically comic. Even though you might not like the characters or what they do you won’t be able to stop yourself from routing for them as the novel goes on. Or maybe that’s just me? It’s a book thats horrifically gripping and will stay with you for weeks afterwards. 9.5/10

I would recommend you give this a whirl, be you a fan of McEwan or not, even if you think it might make for a rather uncomfortable read. I personally would like to see McEwan go back to his darker roots with his next novel as when he does bleak he des it with brilliance.

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Filed under Books of 2011, Ian McEwan, Vintage Books

In Between The Sheets – Ian McEwan

For some people the two words ‘Ian McEwan’ will have them running for the hills from any blog post. I personally am quite a big fan, in fact as yet there haven’t been any of his books that I haven’t liked (enjoyed isn’t always a word you can use with McEwan) though I might have struggled with a few here and there. I had, until now, never tried his short stories – short stories seem to be the perfect reads between Green Carnation submissions at the moment. ‘In Between The Sheets’ is a collection that I borrowed from my Mum when I stayed recently and thought it was about time I gave a whirl. This can prove a risk, as short stories are hard to write, I have noticed in the past (not naming any names) some of my favourite authors can’t do it, could McEwan?

You can pretty much guess what this collection centres on from its title ‘In Between The Sheets’ but rather than just a collection of stories based around sex and sexuality McEwan uses these themes to build a set of stories which are much more than that. ‘Reflections of a Kept Ape’ is both a nod towards Darwin’s views on evolution and also in a way looks at the ideas behind the Oedipus complex whist setting gorilla’s in a house in the present day as neighbours of humans. The title story ‘In Between the Sheets’ uses a young girl’s sexual awakening to highlight the marriage breakdown of her parents. ‘Two Fragments: March 199-‘ starts with a slightly sexual theme, which it returns to later on, but is actually in fact about a dystopian future which McEwan was predicting could happen in the 1990’s, this collection being published in 1978 and was a vision of London that I found quite harrowing yet most readable and quite fascinating.

Naturally in any collection there are some books which you instantly warm to and others you don’t, in fact I think a collection in which you love every single story is a rare thing. Both ‘To and Fro’ and ‘Psychopolis’ I didn’t really get and I think would need a re-read but I think that’s more an issue with me as a reader and my understanding and what I took from them rather than them not being such good tales.

I was bowled over by two particular tales in this collection, bar the two mentioned in the paragraph above they all worked from me just two stood out particularly. ‘Dead As They Come’ is a brilliant and comically dark tale of a man’s obsession with a woman, only as you read on you realise the woman is not what you would first assume (I can almost guarantee its not what your guessing either) and leads to a melodramatic climax which has me gripped and starting the tale all over again.

The opening story ‘Pornography’ (which I would have placed as the last tale because of its impact) is the tale of womanising O’Byrne and how he gets his comeuppance. In fact it’s a rather feminist tale which I would direct any reader to read if they think McEwan is a male testosterone driven writer, which he can be on occasion I admit. That particular story is one that had a rather wince inducing (if you are a man) twist in its tail that I really wasn’t expecting.

In fact I think I would direct both people who already love McEwan and haven’t read this collection along with people who think they don’t like McEwan to ‘In Between The Sheets’. This was his fifth fiction outing and I do like the darkness in his earlier work, and have taken ‘The Cement Garden’ off the shelves for a re-read, and this is brimming with it. It also shows glimmers of where he took his writing afterwards.

A book that will: appeal to those who like McEwan regardless and possibly show him in a very different light to those who aren’t sure about him. An entertaining and thought provoking collection which makes a very interesting read. 8/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:

The Breaking Point by Daphne Du Maurier – I am not comparing the authors, this is just one of my all time favourite short story collections of which some of its tales have stayed with me vividly ever since.
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter – This has the dark sensuality of this collection only instead is a modern twist on certain fairytales. Interestingly this was published a year after ‘In Between The Sheets’ so maybe there are other collections from the late seventies I should be looking up?

Can you recommend any other late seventies short story collections I might want to have a crack at as I liked this and ‘The Bloody Chamber’ so much? Has anyone read McEwan’s other collection ‘First Love, Last Rites’? What are your thoughts on McEwan in general?

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Filed under Ian McEwan, Review, Short Stories, Vintage Books

Solar – Ian McEwan

I think I am one of the few people I know (in the flesh) to have read quite a few of Ian McEwan’s books and not to have yet felt I have been let down by any. I know plenty of people who have loved one or two and then really disliked one or two. So far I have enjoyed all of his works that I have read and yet there is always a small worry when you open the next one, just in case. His latest novel ‘Solar’ is one of the books I have been most excited about this year and so when it arrived last week the book I was currently reading was relegated for some other time. I knew nothing then of what the book might be about as it has been rather shrouded in mystery until the last week or so. I was worried though… I knew it was a book about science, and if you had been at my secondary school where I almost burnt down the science lab you would know me and science don’t really mix (in fact as my teacher at the time became my step dad it’s become a family fable). Anyway, back to the book.

Thinking logically from the title and from one of the most talked about topics in the world at the moment you could probably guess that ‘Solar’ could be a book about global warming and you would be right. I have to admit I was slightly concerned that this might not make for an interesting read there’s always the possibility of it coming across as preaching or you have to set the world far in the future to scare the hell out of everyone. In this case McEwan does neither, he sets the book over three period’s in the last ten years and creates a lead character who is a reluctant saver of the planet until he see’s the cash signs it could bring.

Michael Beard is the protagonist of McEwan’s latest work. He’s a Nobel Prize winning physicist (for the ‘Beard-Einstein Conflation’) who as we meet him in 2000 has seen the best days of his career behind him along with the best days of his 5th marriage. In fact Beard isn’t a particularly likeable character he is a philanderer of the highest order, lazy and only works now as head of the Government’s new National Centre for Renewable Energy for the cash. McEwan does write these sort of leading characters rather well and cleverly the more odious, dislikable and dark Beard becomes the more you want to read him.

So where is the global warming story? Well it intertwines with the tale of a man who is a failure at marriage, even the fifth time. As an escape from his wife, who after finding out about all his affairs has decided rather than to get gone to merely get even with their builder which of course makes Beard want her even more, Beard goes to the Arctic as part of his work to see what’s happening there and the need for his company to find clean energy. However once there Beard does wonder ‘how can people who can’t sort out a boot room ever save the planet’. Yet back in the UK someone may have found an answer, someone who Beard comes back to find is the latest in a string of men to shack up with his wife which ends in tragedy and with Beard the holder of the planets salvation… even if he didn’t really come up with it. From then on through several plot twists and some dark detours the book takes us on to the future where Beard becomes the possible hero of the planet and where the books menace really takes shape.

There is a lot of science in this book, in fact the book came to McEwan from his own trip to the Arctic in 2005, yet its digestible you know McEwan has done his research throughout and yet he doesn’t show off and leave you lots after a sentence. The book is also incredibly funny. I laughed and winced at a tale involving a call of nature and the affects of sub zero temperatures on the male appendage, Beards meeting with a Polar Bear is comical too, there is also a darkly comical accidental death looming somewhere, involving a polar bear skin rug, which will make you snigger even though it shouldn’t. If people were worried that this book and its mix of science, some politics (Bush and Blair) and would be preachy or weirdly futuristic you needn’t. This is a tale that makes even more of a point in its sudden conclusion because you have been laughing along the way.

I think this might be one of my very favourite books of the year so far, and that’s from someone who isn’t the least scientific, a clever mix of science, humour and human nature make it a book not to be missed in my opinion. Don’t worry this could be his next ‘Saturday’ (which I should admit I started once and wasn’t sure about so left for a day when the mood was right and now oddly I want another whirl at) because it isn’t but in the same vein don’t go expecting another ‘Atonement’ this is another original novel from McEwan which, like most of his works, is not like anything he has done before. I’ll be very surprised if this doesn’t get Booker long listed – though that prediction could be a kiss of death. If I had a rating system I would give this book a good 5/5!

Oh and should you wish to you can win a signed first edition copy of this on this very blog, all you need to do is go here before midday (GMT) tomorrow when the sun is at its highest point here in the UK. I will be off to get mine signed on Thursday when I go to see him speak at the Southbank.

Is anyone else a McEwan fan? Which books would you rave that aren’t his more well known ones? Have you read any other global warming fiction that hasn’t been set in the distant future?

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Filed under Books of 2010, Ian McEwan, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Random House Publishing, Review

Fancy a Signed Copy of ‘Solar’?

It’s a bit of a stop press moment… well I hope that you think so!

There will be a set of book thoughts on the most recent NTTVBG choice coming up later on today, first though I have something of a special Sunday giveaway here on Savidge Reads. Yes for one of you lucky so and so’s I have wangled a signed copy of Ian McEwan’s latest novel ‘Solar’ from the lovely people at Random House. I was tempted to call today ‘Spectacular Solar Savidge Sunday’ but thought that might be taking alliteration too far maybe?

So where is the catch and what do you have to do? Well it would be a bit fun if you could try and guess a plot from the title but the websites seem to now be giving that away so that scuppered that one.

So all you have to do is simply leave a comment about your favourite McEwan so far or why you would love to try him and no matter where in the world you are you will be entered for the drawer and you could very soon have a signed edition ready to read. You have until midday (GMT) on Tuesday the 16th to enter, winner will be drawn randomly and announced on Saturday. It’s that simple!

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Filed under Give Away, Ian McEwan, Random House Publishing

Books to Watch Out for in 2010

Last year I did a post on the books that I was looking forward to in 2009. This year I thought, along with my new slightly though not very much more minimal TBR, I would go with a more simplistic look at books I am looking forward to, rather than what might just be a big book everyone reads because its ‘the big book’ though if some of these are ‘the big book’ thats wonderful. I am just not sure if I will obtain or read them with this no buying malarkey (already its slightly vexing me and we are on day five) but you can run out and get them you lucky so and so’s. I digress. They might be big hits they might not, I am just really, really excited about these particular forthcoming books in 2010…

First up is women’s fiction and I am incredibly excited about one of my favourite authors (who is also a lovely lady) who is bringing what looks to be a wonderful Byzantine epic of a novel about an ‘actress, empress, whore’. It also happens to have what I already think is one of the most delightful book covers of 2010. I am talking about the delightful Stella Duffy and her latest novel ‘Theodora’. Its one of the books I am very excited about. Other female novelists who have big literary books out I am looking forward to are… Andrea Levy with ‘The Long Song’  which is all about the last years of slavery in Jamaica, I am hoping this leaves me as breathless as ‘Small Island’ which blew me away last year. Xiaolu Guo with ‘Lovers in the Age of Indifference’ which I think is a brilliant title and sounds like it could be a collection of tales rather than a novel.

Women also seem to be writing the crime I like the look of this year and I want to read more crime even if it’s not the latest releases ba-humbug this year. Sophie Hannah brings us her latest crime escapade with the intriguingly titled ‘A Room Swept White’. This alredy sounds like it will be another of Hannah’s brilliantly twisting plots as a TV producer is given a card sender anonymous with sixteen digits on it, and soon a woman the producer is making a documentary about is found dead with an identical card in her pocket even down to the sixteen digits.  Susan Hill’s enigmatic detective Simon Serrailler is back for his fifth outing looking at the murders of prostitutes in ‘The Shadows in the Street’s’. Finally in crime due out in autumn, which means if by luck one falls out of the sky and lands on my doorstep it’s still a long blooming wait, is another of the books I am most excited about… ‘Started Early, Took The Dog’ is the fourth instalment of my favourite series of books ever featuring Jackson Brodie by Kate Atkinson. The bonus with it being so late in the year is it won’t lead me into temptation and can go on a Christmas list of be bought in January 2011.

Now for the men of fiction. I think another of the biggest releases for me this year will be the latest Ian McEwan. I am a big fan and though no synopses are currently floating about regarding the plot of ‘Solar’ I have heard it is his ‘eco’ book so this could be very interesting. Other books to look out for are the latest Chris Cleave ‘After the End of the World’ which isn’t about an apocalypse and is in fact about a child with leukaemia. With the follow up to the Bronte brilliance of ‘The Taste of Sorrow’ Jude Morgan takes us to Regency times with ‘A Little Folly’. Carlos Ruiz Zafon releases the gothic sounding ‘The Prince of Mist’ which I am looking forward to, though I do still need to read ‘The Angels Game’ hem, hem. Another big book for 2010 looks to be the new Yann Martel book ‘Beatrice & Virgil’ all about a taxidermist.

Debut wise a book I already own though wont be reading till just before it comes out is Natasha Solomon’s ‘Mr Roseblum’s List: Or Friendly Guidance for the Aspiring Englishman’ which from the synopsis sounds hilarious. It’s all about a man trying to become the perfect English Gent. A debut I don’t own but would love to is ‘Advice for Strays’ by Justine Kilkerr all about Marnie whose father and cat (along with all the local cats) disappear and something seems to be following her, something dark an intriguing tale of loss. Erm I think that’s it… I am not going to do non fiction as I am rubbish in that area. Seriously, I know I have said I will read more but as I am not buying I haven’t been looking, so there.

Oh how could I forget. The re-release of the year for me will of course be Nancy Mitford’s ‘Highland Fling’ even if it wont be until 2011 till I can read it anything by Nancy Mitford is wonderful and must be celebrated so I am thrilled Capuchin Classics are re-publishing that. I also have everything crossed, which is becoming quite painful, for The Bloomsbury Group to release another series of books – preferably a selection that features another Joyce Dennys or three that I can lust after! That’s it for now, that’s officially all the books I am most excited about this year today. 

What are you looking forward to?

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Filed under Andrea Levy, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Chris Cleave, Ian McEwan, Joyce Dennys, Jude Morgan, Kate Atkinson, Nancy Mitford, Natasha Solomons, Sophie Hannah, Stella Duffy, Susan Hill, Xiaolu Guo, Yann Martel

Books of the Noughties

I feel a little like all I have been doing of late is compiling lists. If it wasn’t the two lists for best books of 2009 for next week, or books for 2010 for both work (I now have the books page in the magazine hoorah) and for the blog then it was shopping lists for the family Christmas presents, even though not seeing most of them till the end of January, and the never ending Christmas food fest shopping list. This is the list that has proved the most difficult.

I will admit that it’s really only since 2006 that my reading got out of hand. It’s interesting that that was also a year where escapism was the thing that I needed the most, it wasn’t the happiest year – well until I met The Converted One – a long bad relationship ended and I had a rather huge health scare all in all not the best. Yet the positive that came out of that year, roughly from February on, was that I utterly embraced my love for books again. I had been reading but maybe one book every month or so.

Now you would think in the nearly four years its been I wouldn’t have read that many of ‘the books of the noughties’ but this list has taken ages, books have been fighting with each other its been carnage. I have always preferred contemporary fiction to classics (though this has changed rather a lot this year) looking back over my blog and pre-blog ‘books I have read’ lists which I compile each year I have actually consumed quite a few though not all the big contenders I have seen in the papers. So bearing in mind I haven’t read every great book since 2000 (not that we will all agree on the great books since then, Cloud Atlas for example which I loathed) here are the books that made my top ten of the noughties with their blurbs, I could write a paragraph on each of them but am a) listed out and b) I loved them end of…

The Time Travellers Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

This extraordinary, magical novel is the story of Clare and Henry who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry thirty. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself pulled suddenly into his past or future. His disappearances are spontaneous and his experiences are alternately harrowing and amusing. The Time Traveler’s Wife depicts the effects of time travel on Henry and Clare’s passionate love for each other with grace and humour. Their struggle to lead normal lives in the face of a force they can neither prevent nor control is intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

A father and his son walk alone through burned America, heading through the ravaged landscape to the coast. This is the profoundly moving story of their journey. “The Road” boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which two people, ‘each the other’s world entire’, are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

Small Island – Andrea Levy

It is 1948, and England is recovering from a war. But at 21 Nevern Street, London, the conflict has only just begun. Queenie Bligh’s neighbours do not approve when she agrees to take in Jamaican lodgers, but Queenie doesn’t know when her husband will return, or if he will come back at all. What else can she do? Gilbert Joseph was one of the several thousand Jamaican men who joined the RAF to fight against Hitler. Returning to England as a civilian he finds himself treated very differently. It’s desperation that makes him remember a wartime friendship with Queenie and knock at her door. Gilbert’s wife Hortense, too, had longed to leave Jamaica and start a better life in England. But when she joins him she is shocked to find London shabby, decrepit, and far from the golden city of her dreams. Even Gilbert is not the man she thought he was.

Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami

“Kafka on the Shore” follows the fortunes of two remarkable characters. Kafka Tamura runs away from home at fifteen, under the shadow of his father’s dark prophesy. The aging Nakata, tracker of lost cats, who never recovered from a bizarre childhood affliction, finds his pleasantly simplified life suddenly turned upside down. Their parallel odysseys are enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerising dramas. Cats converse with people; fish tumble from the sky; a ghostlike pimp deploys a Hegel-spouting girl of the night; a forest harbours soldiers apparently un-aged since WWII. There is a savage killing, but the identity of both victim and killer is a riddle. Murakami’s new novel is at once a classic tale of quest, but it is also a bold exploration of mythic and contemporary taboos, of patricide, of mother-love, of sister-love. Above all it is an entertainment of a very high order.

Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This highly anticipated novel from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is set in Nigeria during the 1960s, at the time of a vicious civil war in which a million people died and thousands were massacred in cold blood. The three main characters in the novel are swept up in the violence during these turbulent years. One is a young boy from a poor village who is employed at a university lecturer’s house. The other is a young middle-class woman, Olanna, who has to confront the reality of the massacre of her relatives. And the third is a white man, a writer who lives in Nigeria for no clear reason, and who falls in love with Olanna’s twin sister, a remote and enigmatic character. As these people’s lives intersect, they have to question their own responses to the unfolding political events. This extraordinary novel is about Africa in a wider sense: about moral responsibility, about the end of colonialism, about ethnic allegiances, about class and race; and about the ways in which love can complicate all of these things.

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

Laura Chase’s older sister Iris, married at eighteen to a politically prominent industrialist but now poor and eighty-two, is living in Port Ticonderoga, a town dominated by their once-prosperous family before the First War. While coping with her unreliable body, Iris reflects on her far from exemplary life, in particular the events surrounding her sister’s tragic death. Chief among these was the publication of The Blind Assassin, a novel which earned the dead Laura Chase not only notoriety but also a devoted cult following. Sexually explicit for its time, The Blind Assassin describes a risky affair in the turbulent thirties between a wealthy young woman and a man on the run. During their secret meetings in rented rooms, the lovers concoct a pulp fantasy set on Planet Zycron. As the invented story twists through love and sacrifice and betrayal, so does the real one; while events in both move closer to war and catastrophe. By turns lyrical, outrageous, formidable, compelling and funny, this is a novel filled with deep humour and dark drama. 

Atonement – Ian McEwan

On the hottest day of the summer of 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching her is Robbie Turner, her childhood friend who, like Cecilia, has recently come down from Cambridge. By the end of that day, the lives of all three will have been changed for ever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had not even imagined at its start, and will have become victims of the younger girl’s imagination. Briony will have witnessed mysteries, and committed a crime for which she will spend the rest of her life trying to atone.

Running With Scissors – Augusten Burroughs

This is the story of a boy whose mother (a poet with delusions of grandeur) gave him away to be raised by her psychiatrist, a dead ringer for Santa Claus and a certifiable lunatic into the bargain. Suddenly at the age of 12, Augusten found himself living in a dilapidated Victorian house in perfect squalor. The doctor’s bizarre family, a few patients and a paedophile living in the garden shed completed the tableau. Here, there were no rules or school. The Christmas tree stayed up until Summer and valium was chomped down like sweets. When things got a bit slow, there was always the ancient electroshock therapy machine under the stairs.

The Book Thief – Markus Zusack

Here is a small fact – you are going to die. 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier. Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall. Some important information – this novel is narrated by death. It’s a small story, about: a girl, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. Another thing you should know – Death will visit the book thief three times.

The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters – Charlotte Mosley

The never-before published letters of the legendary Mitford sisters, alive with wit, affection, tragedy and gossip: a charismatic history of the century’s signal events played out in the lives of a controversial and uniquely gifted family. Nancy, the scalding wit who parlayed her family life into bestselling novels. Diana, the fascist jailed with her husband, Oswald Mosley, during WWII. Unity, a suicide, torn by her worship of Hitler and her loyalty to home. Debo, who adored pleasure and fun, and found herself Duchess of Devonshire. Pamela, who craved nothing more than a quiet country life. Jessica, the runaway, a communist and fighter for social change. The Mitfords became myth in their own time: the great wits and beauties of their age, they were immoderate in their passions for ideas and people. Virtually spanning the century, these letters between the sisters — alternately touching and explosive — constitute a superb social chronicle, and explore with disarming intimacy their shifting relationships. As editor Charlotte Mosley notes, not since the Brontes has a single family written so much about themselves, or been so written about. Their letters are widely recognized to contain the best of their writing. Mosley, Diana’s niece, will select from an archive of 18,000, to which she has exclusive access.

So that is your lot, not necessarily in order as it changes every hour or so. As I said lots of books fought for the top ten spot and I could easily have added The Life of Pi, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Child 44, What Was Lost, On Chesil Beach, The Kite Runner, Notes on a Scandal, The Secret Scripture and many many more. A top 40 would have been good but might have been somewhat excessive. It has made me think how difficult doing this in 2020 will be considering I read so much more now. Anyway, this is my list in all its (some of you may think questionable) glory. What are your top books of the noughties? Oh and what do we call the next decade, the tensies, the teens?

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Filed under Audrey Niffenegger, Augusten Burroughs, Charlotte Mosley, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Cormac McCarthy, Haruki Murakami, Ian McEwan, Marcus Zusack, Margaret Atwood

The Daydreamer – Ian McEwan

After the joy of reading the ‘cross-over’ book Tuck Everlasting I had been wanting to try another one and see if it got to me in the same way. I am not talking Twilight which I know is all the rage, I am talking crossover books that take me back to my childhood favourites such a Roald Dahl. I had turned for another one of the short reads I have been reading amongst the sensation season novels of late and saw that not only was one of them by one of my favourite authors it was also another ‘cross-over’ book and had the quote, by Vogue, “as far fetched and funny as anything by Roald Dahl” so I thought ‘well, why not?’

The Daydreamer is actually Peter Fortune a young boy who though people might see as quite and a little bit subdued, dull and distant is actually a boy who has such an over active imagination he often vanishes off into the land of daydreaming. In fact Peter does this so often that he tends to forget everything around him, what the time is, what day it might be or even who he actually is. In fact it is this part of his personality that makes people label him difficult when really what he is harbouring is actually quite a talent.

After being introduced to Peter which is a comic little opener to the book we then in the following chapters, which read like individual short stories, get to see just how his imagination goes off with him in some wonderfully surreal tales. One day his sister Katie’s evil dolls one day turn on him and try and make him one of them when he gets his own room. One day he swaps places with his very old cat and goes around showing the local cats just who is boss. One day he manages to get rid of all of his family. One day he manages to catch the local burglar causing a suburban wave of fear during a crime spree down The Fortunes road.

In fact what the book is also looking at is things from the eyes of children for adults that read it and through the eyes of others for children that read it. For example The Cat looks at loss and mortality (it is quite sad be warned), The Baby looks at things through a babies eyes and tries to deal with jealousy of older children and The Grown Up looks at the future and sort of touches on puberty and trying to understand adults a bit more which for a child must be a mystery. You could call these modern fables in a way but all done with a human angle whilst being sometimes quirky, sometimes surreal, sometimes humorous, sometimes sad, sometimes disturbing and yet always very entertaining.  

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would actually recommend that you all give this a go especially if you think you don’t really like McEwan, he appears to be a bit of a marmite author I personally am yet to read anything by him I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed. It shows just how much thought McEwan puts into all of his works in terms of getting into differing characters heads.

This book is actually now ten years old but seems incredibly fresh and undated and was a work of his that I hadn’t heard of before and so has been a delightful little find. Which in a way links with my post from the other day about all works by an author… isn’t it lovely when you discover that they have published a book that a) you didn’t own b) hadn’t read and c) had never even heard of? Lovely stuff! Has this ever happened to you with one of you favourite authors? How do you rate cross-over fiction and indeed the author Ian McEwan?

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Filed under Books of 2009, Ian McEwan, Review, Vintage Books

The Lesser of Two Bookish Evils

What I love about Booking Through Thursday is that it always makes me think. I generally end up waffling on (as I am sure I will do today) and find varying tangents to discuss. It makes me think out the box though and this weeks question “Which is worse… finding a book you love and then hating everything else you try by that author, or reading a completely disappointing book by an author that you love?” has not only made me think more about books and what I have read but also how I read.

Out of the two I don’t think I could say which is worse because of some ‘reading rules’ I have, in fact I think I may have to do a blog in the near future on reading and reviewing rules I have, though they aren’t set in stone. If I read one book I absolutely love by an author I will undoubtedly pick another of their books up but it might take me weeks, months even years for me to read another of their books or for them to write another if it’s their debut. If I couldn’t wait (very rare that that happens) and the next one was rubbish I would sadly probably write them off. There is a clause in that statement though in respect of if someone whose opinion I trust raved about another of their works I would possibly give them a second chance.

So what about an author I love who releases a dud book? Well in order to love an author I have to have read more than three/four of their books. If one of them was a dud before that the rule above would apply so they wouldn’t be an author I love. I only at present have authors like that Daphne Du Maurier, Ian McEwan, Stella Duffy, Tess Gerritsen and Susan Hill all who so far with all their varying writing styles and genres haven’t failed me once.

I do get nervous reading the next of their works though that it might be the one book by them that will really bad or put me off them (in my head for some reason I am thinking of McEwan’s ‘Saturday’ instantly which I haven’t tried yet but worries me in advance) as yet none of them have written a bad word. If one did… I would be disappointed but I would forgive them. It has happened with one author who would have made my favourite readers amount to six not five and that is Kate Atkinson whose books I love only I had a really, really hard time with ‘Behind The Scenes At The Museum’ which was the second book I read of hers after ‘Human Croquet’. I didn’t get on with ‘Behind The Scenes…’ and so much so, though I am going to try again, I was tempted not to bother with her again. Luckily three people recommended ‘Case Histories’ to me and my oneside relationship with Kate has never looked back.

So not only has today’s blog made me think about my reading in a different way its also made me look at my reading pattern (is that what you call it) as I have noticed I have quite a lot of books I have absolutely loved and either not read another word by that author yet or (like Margaret Atwood) read the second one a year or so down the line. I am thinking maybe I need to start reading the whole works of some authors such as Margaret Atwood, Anne Tyler… oooh who else? Any recommendations, what about all of you?

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Filed under Anne Tyler, Book Thoughts, Daphne Du Maurier, Ian McEwan, Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood, Stella Duffy, Susan Hill, Tess Gerritsen

Books on Love I Have Loved

As its Valentines Day I have decided that I shall get into the spirit of all things loving and lovely and give you my Top 5 Books of Love. It was going to be a top ten and then I realised I didnt have ten which then worried me. Why do I not read books about love?

I dont actually have an answer for that as I dont go out of my way to avoid books about love. I will admit it everything sounds a bit ‘soft focus’ on a books blurb then in all honesty it might get put further down the TBR, that is if it gets bought at all. I think maybe I should add love stories to books that I must read more fo this year. Another slightly belated New Years Resolution to add to the many I made.

But for now here are my top 5 books for Valentines…

Rapunzel – Brothers Grimm
I had to put Rapunzel at the top as this was probably the first ever tale of love that I read and re-read from the age that I could read properly. I have sadly lost the edition shown but might treat myself to a copy for my birthday next month. For me this beat Cinderella hands down, it was darker and true love wasnt about a nice fancy castle, well not totally, it could make blind men see and something in that really made me think when I was little. I didnt believe in pumpkins becoming carridges but I did believe love could heal the sick.

Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen
I think this is quite possibly in most peoples ‘love books’ of all time in all honesty. I think its amazingly well written with some of the best characters in fiction (I always loved the Mother and her hysterics, Lady Catherine De Burgh for just being vile, and Mr Collins for being Mr Collins) and a timeless love story.

Atonement – Ian McEwan
I was going to put On Chesil Beach which I think is heartbreaking but deep down their is a wonderful love story. I changed my mind because of how epic Atonement is, and its easily as heartbreaking. Never has a book drawn me so close to tears in all honesty.

The Time Travellers Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
This book blew me away. I reaqd it quite a few years ago now and couldnt put it down. Some people (my Gran included) thought that this book had a slightly worrying side to it in the sense of a naked man appearing in front of a child. I didnt think of that until after and still dont because it wasnt like that at all. I think actually this should be my number one!

The Gargoyle – Andrew Davidson
I only read this last week so being so fresh in my mind might possibly have put it higher up my list but I dont think so. I found this quite a quirky compelling tale of love that might or might not (I cant give anything away) have lasted over 1000 years! The heroine of this novel is wonderful and the story is so bonkers and addictive you’ll be speeding through the pages. Wonderful.

So what are your favourite romantic novels of all time that you could recommend for me? Please help!

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Filed under Andrew Davidson, Audrey Niffenegger, Book Thoughts, Ian McEwan, Jane Austen

1000 Novels Everyone Must Read… So Far

So The Guardian (and Observer) are treating us to the ‘1000 Novels Everyone Must Read’ over seven days. I wasn’t sure how this would work it being that 1000 divided by seven means 142.85714 books per day. However what they have done is to theme each issue in the series. So far we have had Love and Crime. Though personally I didn’t exactly think that To Kill A Mockingbird or Jurassic Park was crime, or The Virgin Suicides a love story but I shouldn’t be picky. I was shocked The Time Travellers Wife wasn’t in love actually. I haven’t thought of ones I would put in their yet! That could be another blog for another time.


I don’t know about you but I go through the list and look at which ones I have read and then the ones that I should read in the future and these two issues so far have given me lots to read. What had I read?

Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary E Braddon
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
The Thirty-Nine Steps – John Buchan
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
The Murder At The Vicarage – Agatha Christie
The Woman In White – Wilkie Collins
Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton
The Hound Of The Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle
American Psycho – Brett Easton Ellis
A Quiet Belief In Angels – RJ Ellory (I was shocked this was in here – hated it)
Casino Royale – Ian Fleming
A Room With A View – E.M. Forster
The End Of The Affair – Graham Greene
Red Dragon – Thomas Harris (which I am going to re-read this year)
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence
To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Atonement – Ian McEwan
The Pursuit Of Love – Nancy Mitford
Dissolution – CJ Sansom
The Reader – Bernhard Schlink
Perfume – Patrick Suskind
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy (well am reading it in the background)
Breathing Lessons – Anne Tyler
The Night Watch – Sarah Waters

Hmmm… 25/1000 so far… must try harder! If you have missed this so far then have a look here http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/series/1000novels

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Bernhard Schink, Brett Easton Ellis, Daphne Du Maurier, Emily Bronte, Harper Lee, Ian Fleming, Ian McEwan, John Buchan, Leo Tolstoy, Nancy Mitford, Sarah Waters

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