Category Archives: Jonathan Cape Publishers

Stan and Nan – Sarah Lippett

I wasn’t going to mention the anniversary of Granny Savidge Reads death this year. Not because I don’t think about her every day, I still go to call her after I have read a particularly brilliant book, I just think there is a point you have to move on a little. It seemed that she had other ideas in a random way as on the anniversary I had this bizarre hankering to read Sarah Lippett’s debut graphic novel Stan and Nan. Turns out this was a tale of grandparents and northern families that made me weep for all the right reasons.

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Jonathan Cape, hardback, 2016, fiction, 96 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

The simplest way to explain the premise of Stan and Nan is to simply say that it is Sarah Lippett’s telling of her maternal grandparent’s story and stories. Whilst true, that doesn’t seem to quite cut it for me as this graphic novel packs a wallop in so many ways. However let’s concentrate on the story for now…

In the first part of the book ‘Stan’ Lippett gives us an insight into the life of her grandfather, a man she never knew as he died before she was born. Yet Stan is a man who was always a presence in the house in part because of the photos of him around the house but mainly because of her nana’s stories about him and their lives together. It is through these stories that Lippett builds the full narrative of how a young working class man, who wanted to study art yet due to circumstance had to become an office clerk (albeit in a pottery) before joining the fire service in Wolverhampton where he meets Sarah’s Nan and their family history begins as they go on to have children. But I don’t want to spoil the rest of Stan and Nan’s story because I really want you all to go and read it.

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In the second part of the book ‘Nan’ we follow Sarah’s grandma’s history backwards from her funeral to the point when she was widowed. I won’t say what happens here, other than that in her widowhood it seems Joyce is determined to become the best grandmother ever, suffice to say that Sarah captures all the emotions they feel towards their Nan completely in both her illustrations and the words which she uses simply and effectively. Effectively to the point where it made me cry both for Sarah’s Nan and my gran.

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This is because you cannot but help get caught up in Stan and Nan. You cannot help but compare the love Sarah has for Nan and her family with the one that you have with yours, however dysfunctional or crazy they are. It also reminds us to find out more about the history of ourselves and our families background and how we should find out these stories, and social histories, and treasure and capture them. Here again Stan and Nan really chimed with me with the stories of the working classes of the north, my families roots. I think it would chime with anyone regardless though.

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Suffice to say I bloody loved Stan and Nan. It made me smile, it made me cry (happy and sad tears), it made me think and remember. It just did all those wonderful things that the best books can. It also celebrates the every man and the wonderful stories that made the ordinary seem so extraordinary, something long term readers of this blog will know I adore. So if you can get your mitts on it, it is a real joy to spend your time with, I will be reading it again and again.

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Filed under Books of 2016, Graphic Novels, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Review, Sarah Lippett

Talking Dead – Neil Rollinson

To celebrate World Poetry Day today I decided that I would spend the day reading some. I had a few collections to choose from however in the end I settled on Neil Rollinson’s latest selection Talking Dead. I have to say, being a slight novice to poetry I hadn’t heard of Rollinson before, however the lovely Kate at Vintage sent me one as she said they were corkers and also because she thought the cover might appeal to me. I don’t know what on earth she was implying…

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Jonathan Cape, 2015, paperback, poetry, 56 pages, kindly sent by the publisher (as Kate Neilan thought I would like the contents as much as the phallic looking cover – she knows me so well)

Talking Dead is an unusual and interesting collection of poems which centre around three things. They are about death, sex and nature or occasionally all three, if you are lucky. In this selection of 37 of Neil Rollinson’s poetry we are thrown into random moments of people’s lives, sometimes the very last ones, around the world and throughout history. That is no mean feat and yet Rollinson does it with a wry grit, honest earthiness and often with quite the wicked sense of humour. The language can be as fruity as the subject matter, some poems are sensual and some shocking, together they form a quite eclectic mix. I laughed and I gasped as I read through.

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One of the things that I most enjoyed about the collection was how down to earth it was. Whilst Rollinson’s poetry is vivid, lyrical and beautiful it isn’t flowery. It has a rugged nature to it, not masculine per say more ‘muddy’ for want of a better turn, that’s sparseness is all the more powerful because of the honesty within its lines. Poems such as Christmas in Andalucía, which tells of a couple chatting at Christmas world aparts on Skype, have as much beauty and emotion as a man lying waiting for the rain after an epic drought in the aptly titled Monsoon. The same is the case for poems such as the stunning Ode To A Magnolia Tree or the tale of a historical beheading (I thought it was meant to be Marie Antoinette, it may well not have been) in The National Razor, both of which I thought were stupendous for completely polar reasons.

In many ways this is what is so brilliant about the collection, you can go from a love poem to a poem talking about the torturous ways you could be killed in the past, and there are not a lot of poetry collections that I can think of (but then again I am not the most prolific in poetry) where you would go from two such extremes with everything in the middle.

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See, I told you this was a varied collection. So varied in fact that I ended up having a slight issue with it because of the way the poems were organised. There is a series of poems, from which this collection takes its name, which all feature the Talking Dead literally (as you can see an example of above) as they are told by those who have died. For me personally it would have made sense to have them in the same section of the book. I don’t mean in one clump, however you could have interspersed them with poems such as Mother Die, Chesed Shel Emet or the aforementioned The National Razor. Then you could have had some of the more earthy poems like Cuckoo Pint, Bartolo Cattafi: Winter Figs and Starling all together – though actually Starling is all about death so maybe I am talking gobbledygook. I think I just sometimes felt the collection stopped and started rather than flowed. It seems an odd grumble considering I loved almost every poem (I didn’t like Gerbil or Foal  – but the latter was about a horse and the former was a bit too icky for me) I guess I just found it odd going from some deep poem about life, nature and death to suddenly a collection of poems about a hot beverage in The Coffee Variations.

That isn’t a slight on that series of mini poems by the way, I liked The Coffee Variations quite a lot and they actually lead me into one of the things that I loved most about some of the poems in the collection… they celebrate the ordinary. Poems such as X-Ray Specs, Love Sonnet XI, Starling, Ode To A Piss (which I loved and took me back to thinking of Andrew McMillan’s marvellous collection Physical), The Very Small Baseline Group Convenes at the Cat and Fiddle and Picnic were all wonderfully and made the ordinary extraordinary.

In fact the saucy, lovely and raw Picnic leads me into bringing up my favourites, for alongside Ode To A Magnolia Tree, Bartolo Cattafi: Winter Figs, Feathers and Talking Dead – Blackbird (in fact all the Talking Dead poems) it was one of my very favourites and so I will share it with you before I wrap up. (Click on it if you want to make it bigger.)

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Talking Dead is an interesting collection because at its heart, even when it is about death, this is a book about living and celebrating all the moments you are alive be they the extraordinary or the ordinary. I will have to head to Rollinson’s back catalogue I think.

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Filed under Jonathan Cape Publishers, Neil Rollinson, Poetry, Review

Everything is Teeth – Evie Wyld & Joe Sumner

I am rather a fan of Evie Wyld as an author and as a person. I have had the pleasure of interviewing her and having a few coffees and wanderings around bookshops, including her own, the Review Bookshop in Peckham which is also delightful. I first ‘met her’ in book form when I read her first novel After The Fire, A Still Small Voice. I was genuinely bowled over by it and the incredible writing from a debut author, I know people say that a lot but it is true. Then when I read All The Birds, Singing I was blown away once again by her prose but also fell for her sense of menace/the gothic and the way she pulls of something unusual and original in its format. With her latest book she has gone and done something completely different again working on a memoir with illustrator Joe Sumner and creating the truly wonderful Everything is Teeth.

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Jonathan Cape, 2015, hardback, graphic novel/memoir, 128 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

It’s not even the images that come first when I think of the parts of my childhood spent in Australia. Or even the people. It’s the sounds – the butcher birds and the magpies that lived amongst us on the back veranda. And stronger still, the smells – eucalyptus, watermelon and filter mud, rich and rude and sickly strong, Most of all, the river, muddy and lined with mangrove. Salt and sulphur; at low tide the black mud that smelled bad, that had stingray burrows hollowed out in it. The smell I associate with the smell of sharks.

When Evie was a young girl she grew up between Australia and the UK. It was on the coast of New South Wales where Evie first learnt of the wonders and the terrors of sharks. After initially reading a few books and going to a shark museum with her father (which later seems somewhat pivotal) sharks soon become something of an obsession for her and one that catches her at the oddest of times, where even back in landlocked London she believed one could be following her or suddenly appear out of a bin and attack her or a friend. Oddly I used to worry that a shark might suddenly turn up in any swimming pool I frequented until I was about twenty-six, seriously. Anyway…

What initially starts as quite a funny and natural obsession (we have all had these keen interests that verge on obsessions in our childhoods) slowly takes on a darker side with greater menace the more we read on and the book takes a slight shift in direction. For Everything is Teeth is also a book about grief, the threat of loss and the potential of depression or fear to be around us at any time no matter how old we are. At least that is how I read it, the shark’s presence being a way of dealing with growing up and all the strangeness that that brings for us, an escape and a way of confronting fears in a different way. Not wanting to give too much away, the later stages of the book centre around the dying and death of Evie’s father and how something like that can bring nostalgia and fears from childhood back to the fore. The bite size (pun not intended) intense bursts of memory in Evie’s wonderful writing making this all the more potent along with the illustrations.

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Oh, the illustrations! I loved, loved, loved Joe Sumner’s illustrations in Everything is Teeth as much as I loved Evie’s writing. (Note, Evie and Joe have worked together on this blog before when Evie and I got him to draw some of your imaginings of the Australian mythical Bunyip.) They are initially deceptively simple, yet have both a precise artistic and then much more comic like edge to them making the sharks seem all the more terrifying and real, with a brutal beauty. These are certainly not comical comic pictures, well with the exception of the shark coming out of the bin which made me cackle. They also, again pun unintended, have hidden depths with a sense of menace looming the longer you look at them.

It is this that makes the pairing, and therefore the whole body of work produced in Everything is Teeth, so powerful; the deception of simplicity of both the lyrical words and the enchantingly disarming images. Yet in fact the more of these intense bursts you read and take in the images of the more intensity they give and the more layers that reveal themselves and make it all the more powerful, effective and moving. It is a book you can’t shake for a while after you have read it, rather like the nagging feeling there could be a shark swimming just behind you at any given moment. I loved it, I hope we have many more novels from Evie Wyld and many more graphic memoirs/novels and the like with Evie and Joe, lyrical and visual treats indeed.

Have any of you read Everything is Teeth and what did you make of it? Which authors you love would you like to see head into the world of graphic memoir or novels? Which graphic novels have you read which affected you deeply? It is a genre I am getting more and more endeared towards when done brilliantly, so I must read more.

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Filed under Books of 2015, Evie Wyld, Graphic Novels, Joe Sumner, Jonathan Cape Publishers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Curator – Jacques Strauss

I like a dark book, I have said this before. I think fiction is a really interesting, as well as safe, way for us to explore the darker sides of society and people. It is rare though that a book really bothers me to the point where I can’t shake it and start to react against it – in a good if initially quite angry or outraged way. Jacques Strauss’ second novel The Curator is one such book…

Jonathan Cape, hardback, 2015, fiction, 342 pages, kindly sent to me by the publisher

Sometimes we feel we are stuck in a rut in our lives. This is very much the case with Werner Deyer who, now in his mid to late thirties, is still living with his deeply unhappy parents (his father Hendrik slowly dying in a rage, his mother Petronella having a breakdown) in a job that bores him, while his younger brother is off having a seemingly amazing life. Werner is bitter, he is also really lazy and not doing anything to help the situation other than drunkenly daydreaming of one day curating a great gallery, a childhood dream. However when the job in Pretoria he thought he’d get goes to someone else that dream seems ever more distant and so Werner starts to plot how he can get what he wants through other means. The answer is simple, he hates his father who is dying anyway, so why not kill him and reap the inherited rewards?

Now this all sounds rather straightforward, gruesomely brilliant, and simple enough but what is also lying behind the covers of The Curator is another story from Werner’s past and his childhood in 1976. Back then, on the neighbouring farm to the Deyer’s, there was a family massacre only witnessed by the black maid they had hired. She is soon hired by Hendrik because he is thinking of killing all of his family (it’s just slipped into the story like that early on, calm as you like,) and believes she can spot this and therefore save him from himself in effect saving them all. Funnily enough, it was at this time that Werner and his father fell out irrevocably yet as we read on and learn all the families’ intricate secrets, jealousies and resentments, we learn there could be many a reason for this epic family breakdown.

‘Have you been drinking?’ Petronella asks as she gets into the car.
‘Just a glass of wine,’ he says.
‘You smell like a brewery. Why do you drink so much?’
‘I was worried about Pa.’
‘You mustn’t drink so much. Do you want to get diabetes?’
‘Let it go.’
‘Maybe I should drive.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous. How’s Pa?’
‘Not good,’ she says. ‘I’m worried.’
Werner puts his thoughts of murder on hold. Please, God, he thinks, don’t force my hand. I’ll be really pissed off.

I am aware that this might sound like a farce and it has some incredibly brilliant grimly comic moments at the start. Yet do not let yourself be fooled by Strauss as The Curator becomes incredibly bleak and takes some of the darkest turns you might imagine, and some you might not see coming. This is part of the power of the book and the more you read on the more you realise that things, and people, might be even worse than they first appear on the outside. This is not a book for people who like their characters likeable and redemption around every corner, but I am not one of those people and so overall it excelled for me.

Yes, there is an ‘overall’ in there. This might be personal taste or just me getting on my high horse, but one strand of the story kind of hit the cliché alert button for me. Without giving too many spoilers away there is a strand that looks at child abuse, or more what constitutes it. This also looks at sexuality in a really interesting way. BUT. I have to say, and you won’t know who the characters are till you read it, I am slightly bored of gay men being seen as predatory paedophiles. At the same time, in bringing this up as a subject it purposefully addressed the issue (along with other strands on race, adultery, drugs, murder) and makes the reader look at uncomfortable topics from all angles – some interesting discussion for your book group right there then? It is the first book though that has made me squirm so awkwardly in quite some time so that makes me think it must be good thought provoking and truly unsettling stuff. This is what I mean about reacting against it, though it was more the subject matter and the assumptions around it than Strauss’ words or the way he delivers it in the context of the story. Am I making sense? I hope so.

Jacques Strauss’ prose takes you through all this and that is because it is quite fantastic. As I have mentioned he has an uncanny way of making you laugh at some of the darker sides of humanity before suddenly showing you that you are laughing at some pretty horrendous stuff (without making you feel a fool or a weirdo) and then leading you somewhere darker and making you think on. He writes beautifully. He can break you in a couple of sentences. He looks at his mother, small and grey, hunched over her plate. She drains all the venom from him and he feels like a brute. Or the one that has stayed with me for weeks and weeks. His chest hurts. Is it love or a heart attack. Brilliant.

The other things that I thought were fantastic about The Curator were how it looks at family and also how it looks at South Africa. In the case of family Strauss takes the familiar tale of a disintegrating family and takes it down to it’s barest of bones and its most extreme, without it ever seeming unbelievable. He unflinchingly looks at how families work, how they don’t and how and why family can bind us both for good and for bad. With his take on South Africa Strauss again does something really interesting. He produces a warts and all (good and bad again, in fact good vs. bad is a huge theme in this book) both in the 1970s and in the modern day, contrasting and comparing the two and seeing if the country has changed as much as it claims to have.

There are twenty thousand murders in South Africa every year and, he thinks, there may well be more, for his own contribution will go unrecognised, unaccounted. Surely he must pass murderers on the street from time to time, or in the shopping mall or even in church. He glances around. Having snuffed a life, is there a change – psychological, psychic, physiological – that allow murderers to recognise one another in the streets? Will they hold your gaze a moment too long?

The Curator is a very interesting and compelling read. I think I read it in about three giant gulps in a mixture of hilarity and then abject horror as the books twists and turns keep coming. There are the occasional issues along the way but the power of the prose, its questions and its messages about society, South Africa, family and the darker sides of humanity completely won me over.  I like dark books and this one made me very uncomfortable at times and challenged me, which is no bad thing and actually a credit to it in hindsight. It is certainly a book I won’t forget and will linger in my memory, glistening darkly.

Who else has read The Curator and what did you make of it? I have recently realised that I read Strauss’ debut The Dubious Salvation of Jack V. for a book group years ago and never wrote about it, as it was a short number I will have to go back and revisit it as I remember it had some similar strands and effects on me.

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Filed under Jacques Strauss, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Review

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth – Isabel Greenberg

I wanted to write about this graphic novel on Wednesday and then the events in Paris unfolded and I thought I should hold off, it might be seen in bad taste. Yet I think that one of the things that has come from these horrific events is the power of the pen, be it the written word or illustration, and that of freedom of speech and to be silenced by such actions (and I know this is only a book blog but you know what I mean) is to let these cruel people win. I don’t want to do that. It actually seems apt then to tell you about The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg because it is a book that highlights how powerful both imagery and words can be. After all they say a picture can paint a thousand words.

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Jonathan Cape, hardback, 2013, graphic novel, 200 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth is probably one of the most imaginative and unusual books that I have read in quite some time. It is also one of those wonderful books where stories unravel within other stories, or lead to other stories, and somehow without being chronological create a whole set of worlds that all interweave and unfold in front of your eyes. No, really. It tells of a world, which we now know as Earth, in the time before mankind when other groups of people inhabited it with their different beliefs, legends and cultures – which often relate in some slight/subliminal or occasionally pretty blunt way to the way we are living now or the tales we know be they mythical, fictional or factual.

The book is framed by Love in a Very Cold Climate (which I like to think is some kind of homage in some way to Nancy Mitford, even if I am wrong) where two people meet and instantly fall in love over one another’s mittens. (This is actually really sweet and not saccharine at all.) There is a problem however as when these two lovers try to touch they are magnetised apart so how if they cant touch what can they do? Well the man, who we soon come to learn is a storyteller from the land of Nord on the opposite side of the planet, starts to tell stories to entertain them. These stories we soon learn are in actual fact his tale of the journey to get to the south and to find a piece of his soul that went missing, which leads us to the first of the tales that start to unfold.

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Stories and storytelling are very much what The Encyclopedia of Early Earth is all about. As I mentioned they might have a mythical, biblical, fairytale, fictional or historical elements. For example some of the cultures the storyteller meets are like Eskimos now and in the past, some are like the Vikings, some the Romans etc. Then there are the biblical references such as a story involving these people’s god Bird Man’s daughter who falls in love with Noah who is a bit of a so and so and so what does she decide to do in a rage, flood the earth of course. There are also moments which link back to classical times when we meet a learn of a tale of an old lady who reminds her people of why old people shouldn’t just sit around waiting to die and can be rather useful. I wont give away anything other than it evolves a Cyclops…

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Then there are nods to more modern stories like the fairytale of Pinocchio, or indeed classic novels such as Moby Dick…

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I think Isabel Greenberg adds much depth and the occasional punch as she writes and illustrates the importance of stories and histories with The Encyclopedia of Early Earth. Firstly she imparts little moments, I don’t want to say they are morals but then all the best fables and fairytales have them (Rapunzel taught me never to steal cabbage because I might lose my first born to a witch, or let down my hair for any common old Tom, Dick or Harry; both important life lessons) and as I mentioned with moments like the old lady who shows how old people can be useful, Greenberg just weaves in some lovely little poignant thoughts for you to mull over.

She also does it with much wit, for example when Dag and Hal – the first man and woman on earth – have children sibling jealousy leads to cultural wars. The latter point is very serious yet Greenberg shows how these awful things often evolve from some small thing, or from one person’s moment of weakness. She then makes us laugh about it to show how small and stupid these things are and how with some thought and understanding they could be avoided. (The image below made me laugh for about five minutes, laugh to tears laughing too.)

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She does the same with war. It is all very clever, thought provoking and looks at religion, history, culture and beliefs in a very interesting, original and impartial way.

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I cannot recommend you getting a copy of The Encyclopedia of Early Earth enough. It really is just wonderful how every page will hold a story within a picture, yet all those pictures create another story which adds a layer, back story, or myth around the story we are following. As you will know from reading this blog I am prone to a tangent, and indeed am quite fond of them. Well I couldn’t get enough of Isabel Greenberg’s tangents and wanted more and more. In fact as soon as I had finished the book I went and ordered more of her work some of which interlink with this book. They have already arrived…

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If all the above, and the fact that I have run off straight away to get more of her works straight away, isn’t enough to convince you to run out and get it I can do no more. I won’t be surprised if it is in my books of the year in December, even though we are only in January. In fact I have read two books so far this year where I have felt that. Back to the recent horrors in Paris though, reading this and seeing such awful things on the news has reminded me about the power that the pen has when it writes or draws, and when writing and illustration are combined they can be the most powerful of all when used for good. Let us never stop reading then.

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Filed under Books of 2015, Graphic Novels, Isabel Greenberg, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Review

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil – Stephen Collins

I have put off and put off writing about Stephen Collins’ The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil for a while now since I read it as it being a graphic novel and me not being a connoisseur of the genre I was rather daunted at the prospect. However as it is one of the most enjoyable and completely immersive books, partly because of its genre, I felt I simply couldn’t ‘not’ tell you all about it! So here we are. It may not be to the standards of those familiar with the field of the graphic novel, but I am going to have a bloody good crack at it anyway, especially as I think this is a genre I am going to be dabbling more and more with over the coming months.

Jonathan Cape, 2013, hardback, graphic novel, 240 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Here is a place quite different from There. Here is a place of routine, uniformity and safety. There is an unknown place of dreadful uncertainly and mystery, people don’t even like to talk about it. Dave lives on the island of here, his house backing the sea which is an equally ominous place and which if must be heard can at least not be seen as no windows can face it. His life is one of routine, he gets up at the same time, wears the same clothes, does the same hours in the same job (though what the company does, and indeed what he does in it, he is uncertain) goes home at the same time the same way and listens to the same song by the Bangles, Eternal Flame, for the same number of times on repeat. That is until one day when the one stubborn hair that always grows, despite Here being a place where facial hair is banned, suddenly mutates, multiplies and Dave becomes the not-so-proud-owner of a gigantic beard – one which cannot be trimmed or stopped and looks set to take over the whole of Here. Run for your lives!

Beard 1

What of course this all boils down to is difference and the fear of it, a great theme for any book. Here is not a place that tolerates the unusual, indeed within moments of it growing Dave is fired from his job and not allowed in the local eateries. People are scared and then become tourists heading to Dave’s home to see if the freakish rumours are true. Even the scientists and politicians are at a loss, the police are called then the army and as a last resort even the hairdressers are called in. It is all done with a wonderful mix of humour and irony but the main point is there, being different is wrong.

photo 1

The imagery throughout is stunning. I pondered if Collins used monochrome to match the monotone routine of the world of Here that Dave resides in. What is so stunning is how Collins uses the shading (who knew there could be shades of blackness?) and creates such a vivid world and atmosphere that soon you forget about this thing called colour and this grey world takes you over as it has done the people within it. The other thing I loved was the way that Collins uses the panels, not just to tell the story but indeed to become part of the picture (either the way they are shaped, how they are arranged) breaking the linear style I am used to and often creating a feeling of that page in the stories atmosphere as well as a broader panorama. I spent absolutely ages just getting lost in every page.

photo 3

The other thing I must mention is the writing itself. Collins’ illustrations and imagery are so strong that you actually wouldn’t need the words to get the story and it’s themes. What I found really interesting was that with Collins has chosen to write the book in verse like one long poem. ‘Beneath the skin of everything is somebody nobody can know. The job pg the skin is to keep it all in and never let anything show.’ It is wonderful. It adds another level to the book both in terms of rhythm and also how you react to it, it makes it feel even more ‘otherly’ too, as well as giving it an extra emotive edge.

There is one word that sums up the whole reading experience of The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil and that is ‘sublime’. I loved everything about it; the imagery, the atmosphere, the message at its heart, everything. It’s a very moving book and one you cannot help but react to, I even shed a tear or two at the end. There is no doubt that to my mind The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil probably has the best title of any book this year, it also looks set to be one of the most memorable books of the year for its contents too. A quite literally, or maybe that should be quite graphically, stunning book and one of my reads of the year.

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Filed under Books of 2013, Graphic Novels, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Review, Stephen Collins

Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy – Helen Fielding

Dear Diary, in the last three weeks; audio books listened to: one Mad About The Boy, weight during that process: who cares I don’t use scales, amount of nits in household: none but kept scratching head, amount tweeted: over 500, amount texted: clueless because I am not obsessed by it, times have been annoyed by the word ‘texted’: at least ten, amount of times made uncomfortable by Bridget Jones sex life: five, amount breathed: lost count.

Jonathan Cape/Random House audiobooks, 2013, 11hrs 23mins, read by Samantha Bond, sent by audible/Midas PR

I am hoping that the little intro note gives you a rough idea of what you might have to face if you pick up Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy and the fact that there may be some tongue firmly in cheek in my thoughts on it. Before I go any further I do want to make an announcement, I was a huge fan of the first Bridget Jones book and indeed the movie. I just wanted to put that out there before anyone says that this is not a book written for me and so it’s natural I would have issues/not like it very much/almost give up on several occasions. But let us get back to the book shall we?

Bridget Jones is back. Mark Darcy is dead (not a spoiler as this was hyped to death when the book came out). Bridget is a single mum of two with a secret toy boy hiding in the bedroom. She is still completely neurotic, rather clumsy and obsessive. She is also heartbroken. Her friends Jude and Tom are still around, though now they are joined by Talitha. She has the mums at the school gates to deal with and the prospect of nits. There is much fodder here for a Bridget who forays into the modern world and all its social media glory.

I really wanted to enjoy Mad About The Boy as I was just in the mood for some lovely escapism. Alas I didn’t really get on with it. The main problems for me, weren’t controversially that Mark Darcy is dead as actually some moments surrounding the aftermath of that are hauntingly good, were that from the moment I heard that her toy boy was called Roxster (seriously!?!) and her new best friend Talitha (I say new, I couldn’t remember her of old) and then realised she was pretty well off and had no real money worries, I realised this was a new Bridget but not in a good way.

What I always loved about Bridget before, how daft she was really, now at the age of 51 really annoyed me and often made me want to shout ‘oh get a grip love’. Not at her grief I hasten to add, but at her utter naivety and complete lack of self awareness that really she should have moved on from. Did I want to read about her problems with joining twitter and obsession over no followers – erm no, but I got three or four chapters on it. Did I want to hear about her sex life with a man half her age, no? But boy oh boy do you get that in intricate awkward detail. I have no issue with age differences – I have an issue with Bridget telling me every position she could get into and every element of the appendage of ‘Cock-ster’, as I started to call him.

The jokes were sort of the same as before, and I laughed a bit but not much. There was a lot about farting, which got pretty tiring. Jude was still saying ‘fuckwit’ a lot and still having issues with Vile Richard. Her married friends were still smug marrieds, only she was a widow now. Daniel was still popping up now and again obsessing with her ‘panties’. Apart from her children, who are cute and with nits and a horrendous case of diarrhoea and vomiting add a few laughs, there is nothing new here and the old stuff does feel very old.

There are two sad things in all of this for me. Firstly having loved her so much previously, I wanted to relate to Bridget and lover her all over again. Okay I haven’t been widowed but my marriage fell apart, which was pretty horrendous, and I found myself lost and in a whole new world I couldn’t quite fathom or function in. So I empathised to a point, there is only so long you can be lost or lose yourself and you have to want to function again and move on and most importantly learn. Bridget never does and what was once endearing about her was bloody annoying this time around. Secondly, I was upset for Fielding herself as when she writes about Bridget’s loss and the epic whole in her life, it is genuinely heartbreaking and beautifully written, plus had a political point behind it, and I wanted more of that and less about the farting toy boy and just how hard he was. Oh and don’t get me started on the amount of times the word ‘texted’ grated. You haven’t texted someone, you’ve text them.

I should here add that I listened to this all on audio book as I mentioned above and oddly, though I ended spending longer with it than if I had read it, I think if it hadn’t been in my ears as I was hovering, cleaning, popping round the supermarket etc I might have given it up completely. Samantha Bond injects as much heart as she can into the material and so it is an entertaining listen overall.

The only way I can really sum up the experience of Mad About The Boy is that it feels like going to a reunion and catching up with someone who was your very best friend in youth, only to realise you have outgrown them and you aren’t sure you like them anymore and that maybe you should have turned that invite down. I wanted to love Bridget Jones again and just escape into her rather madcap world once more for the nostalgia and the giggles but despite occasional glimmers of that in the main I was left with a lingering feeling of disappointment, opportunities missed. I don’t think it’s her, I think it’s me – I have moved on, Jones hasn’t and maybe never will.

Who else has read Mad About The Boy, or listened to it, and what did you think? Were you a massive fan of the original who has steered clear? Which other characters can you think of who you loved when you first read/met and then grew apart on as you read on or re-read?

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Filed under Audiobooks, Helen Fielding, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Random House Publishing, Review

The Adventuress – Audrey Niffenegger

I have been reading quite a lot of books involving time travel of late and so I thought I would read something that would be different and also a bit of a palate cleanser, if you know what I mean. I have only just (literally right now) seen the irony of the fact that I chose Audrey Niffenegger as an author to cleanse after some time travelling books – sometimes I really am a simple Simon. Anyway, I thought that Audrey’s ‘The Adventuress’ might be just the thing as it seemed rather like an adult picture book, and I don’t mean that in a snarky way.

Jonathan Cape, hardback, 2006, graphic novel, 144 pages, borrowed from the library

Put very simply ‘The Adventuress’ is the story of a beautiful young alchemists daughter who is abducted by a much older evil count before she manages to escape after setting fire to his home, and most likely him too, before she meets the love of her life. Yet of course like all the best stories there come some twists and turns only I don’t think anyone would guess the plot developments that unfurl, after all this is one of Audrey Niffenegger books and as someone who has read a fair few I have learnt that anything is possible in her hands/head.

For example, who would expect that ‘The Adventuress’ would be imprisoned and turn herself into a moth and escape from jail to find sanctuary in a library (I love Niffenegger for her vehement love of books) where she would meet the love of her life? Who would then turn that most romantic of moments into something much darker as we learn that her lover, Napoleon Bonaparte, would then pretend to go to conquer Russia when actually he has gone to have it off with lots of other women nearby? Who would have thought she might get pregnant and give birth to a cat? I know I have given a lot of the plot away there but the images are what makes this book so worth picking up as they are stunning.

photo 2

The reason I call it an adult picture book is because of it has the same deft simplicity that a children’s picture book does. You have a few minimal words, sometimes repetitive and the pictures and yet within those words and pictures are almost another story in every page. This probably sounds a little bit of a mix of impossible and me being a pretentious ass but it is true. Kids love picture books because they tell a story in more than one way, that is what I liked about ‘The Adventuress’ so much, the pictures tell you more and ask questions at the same time. Why does she never have a top on? Why does she suddenly become a moth? Who does Napoleon cheat on her with? Etc. There is also this underlying sense of the magical which all picture books have when you are a child and that nostalgic feeling hit me reading this book – and as I would have as a child I read it three times on the trot.

photo 3

What also makes an interesting addition to the book is just when you have finished it and have most probably thought something along the lines of ‘oh blimey, where did all that come from?’, Niffenegger goes and tells us. I liked this added insight into the book even if I did worry initially that she was about to do herself a disservice and dumb it down initially by saying it was some doodles of a random woman with no top on who gives birth to a cat. Yet then she found herself asking the question of who this woman was and hey presto there was a story and then there was a book, one she made herself by hand initially before she reached all the fame she has. That is like a story in itself really isn’t it?

I really enjoyed ‘The Adventuress’. It did exactly what I hoped it would in taking me away for twenty minutes (or an hour with the re-reading) into a magical world and quite a nostalgic frame of mind. I am now mad keen to read ‘The Raven Girl’ and ‘The Three Incestuous Sisters’ since having finished this and liking it as much as ‘The Night Book Mobile’. Oh and as we mentioned felines again before, here is a picture of Millie also enjoying it though not for the same reasons I did.

photo 5

Have you read ‘The Adventuress’ or any of Audrey Niffenegger’s other graphic novels and if so what did you make of them? And do you know what I mean by a picture book for adults (in a good way) or have I lost the plot?

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All The Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

I think it would be fair to say that Evie Wyld’s second novel, ‘All The Birds, Singing’, is one of the books that I have been most excited about reading this year. Back in December 2009, way back before she was (rightly) included in the Granta Best Young British novelists, when I first read her debut ‘After The Fire, A Still Small Voice’ I said “I thought this was a marvelous piece of work, an incredibly impressive debut, I think Wyld is definitely an author to watch out for in the future.” Having read ‘All The Birds, Singing’ and spending a few days thinking about it, and possibly hugging it, I initially thought it was bloody good now after more mulling I think it is a masterpiece… so it seems I was right with my prediction.

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Jonathan Cape, 2013, hardback, 240 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

“Another sheep, mangled and bled our, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding.” And so starts ‘All The Birds, Singing’ and so we find our heroine Jake as she takes in the sight before her, another of her sheep has been mutilated, killed by some ‘thing’. Yet what is the ‘thing’ that could be killing her flock one by one? Could it be the local kids who think she is some out of town witch? Could it be the neighbours’ crazy son? Could it be a monster, be it real, imagined or from Jake’s hidden past? Could it be linked to the sudden appearance of a new ‘incomer’ in the area?

As we read on we realise there is going to be a lot more to Jake, and indeed ‘All The Birds, Singing’ than meets the eye. Jake has clearly taken herself as far away from the world and place of her childhood, Australia, as it could be possible to be. She has hidden herself and even alienated herself from everyone around her. But why?  Now I am not, of course, going to tell you because Wyld herself plays a master stroke of leaving it until quite literally the very end of the book to find out. Thus adding a thrilling sense of you simply bursting to know both what the hell is out there in the fields and the forests in the now and just what the hell happened to send her there now. The unease of her present mixed with the unknown of her past becomes equally unnerving and intriguing as the book continues.

“I slammed the fridge and lent my head against it. Stupid to have become so comfortable. The fridge hummed back in agreement. Stupid to think it wouldn’t all fall to shit. That feeling I’d had when I first saw the cottage, squat and white like a chalk pebble at the black foot of the downs, the saafety of having no one nearby to peer in at me – that felt like an idiot’s lifetime ago. I felt at the side of the fridge for the axe handle.”

The way Evie weaves all of this together is just masterful. She doesn’t simply go for the route of alternating chapters from Jake’s present and her past, which would be too simple and has been done before. In the present Evie makes the story move forward with Jake from the latest sheep mauling, in the past though we go backwards making the reader have to work at making everything make sense. I had several ‘oh bloody hell that is why she is where she is’ moments with the past storyline before thinking ‘what there is more, that might not be the reason…’ Jakes mistrust of things it seems it catching. This style is a gamble and admittedly initially requires a leap of faith and chapter or two of acclimatizing to the structure, yet it is a gamble which pays of dividends by the end and if you see the end coming, and aren’t left completely jaw droppingly winded by it, then you are a blooming genius. I was honestly blown away.

It is also Jakes character, along with Wyld’s prose throughout, which makes the book a real stand out. She is barbed, brittle and rather damaged, yet in the same vein and with the way she loves her sheep she is also gentle and, with the way she jumps at the smallest thing, rather fearful and mistrusting. She is a dangerous dichotomy, which can be compelling but there is also the question of whether we should trust her, how reliable is she and just what on earth is being kept from us. It all creates a heady mix.

Throw in some corking set pieces like a sex scene which will have any reader with arachnophobia utterly hysterical in both senses, ghostly apparitions and spending nights alone on a farm with Jake that could be taken from a horror story and you have the reader undergo the full spectrum of emotions from horror to hilarity and back again. Like ‘All The Birds, Singing’ it is a book that stands alone, it isn’t like anything else. That said, some people are comparing Wyld to Du Maurier, I love both and can see the link yet I think Wyld is an author in her own right and doesn’t need to be likened to anyone if I am truthful.

I love books where the brooding sense of atmosphere and menace are palpable to the reader at all times, even in the lightest of moments. ‘All The Birds, Singing’ is such a book. It is one of those rare books you read (‘The Proof of Love’ by Catherine Hall and ‘Gillespie and I’ by Jane Harris spring to mind) that you feel the author actually wrote for you as it chimes with you so much. I asked Evie if she had, she hadn’t, rude. It is a book that I simply cannot recommend to you enough. You will be intrigued, horrified, laugh (when you possibly shouldn’t) and thrilled by an author whose prose is exceptional. I liked it even more than its predecessor. I want ‘All The Birds, Singing’ to win awards it isn’t even eligible for, most of all I want it to be read by YOU! Simple as that.

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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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Ghost World – Daniel Clowes

I still haven’t posted my list of ‘forty books to read by the time I am forty’ yet, however if I had (well until now as I have read it) you would have seen ‘Ghost World’ by Daniel Clowes firmly placed on this list. Graphic novels are really something I have only started to truly appreciate in the last few years but Daniel Clowes ‘Ghost World’ is one of the cult graphic novels that everyone recommends I read, along with ‘Maus’ by Art Spiegelman. So when I spotted ‘Ghost World’ at the library I decided I should give it a whirl.

Jonathan Cape Publishing, paperback, 1997, graphic novel, 80 pages, borrowed from the library

‘Ghost World’ is a graphic novel centring on two best friends, Enid Coleslaw and Rebecca Doppelmeyer, who are going through their teenage years together in a small town where nothing really happens, well unless you are Enid of Becky. With their teenage cynical, nonchalant attitude they seem to somehow sense a mystery about everyone despite acting like they don’t care. Regulars at their diner become, through the girls imaginations, perverts, incestuous siblings, Satanist cult leaders and serial killers. It’s a series of chronicles of points in their friendship, originally a series in Clowes comic book series ‘Eightball’, which makes the whole of this graphic novel.

I have to admit that I am rather torn on ‘Ghost World’. Part of me thought that the book was brilliant. I really enjoyed the dark humour of the girls and how they creates such dark and wicked pasts for everyone they knew, whether they liked them or hated them, as it appealed to my sense of humour. I also really liked the dynamic between the girls which Clowes creates and the way in which he looks at how their friendship alters as their hormones do. Clowes creates a very believable relationship between them as boys, other friendships and college threaten to tear them apart. Is it patronising to say I thought this was particularly well done as Clowes is not and, as far as I know, has never been a teenage girl.

So where did it go wrong? Well overall it didn’t. I enjoyed reading ‘Ghost World’ in a single hour long sitting. The problem was as soon as I put it down after finishing it my feeling was ‘well that was ok then’ yet really, especially after all the hype from people who know graphic novels and comic books. I was expecting the book to come to life more as other graphic novels I have read in the past have like ‘Fun Home’ or ‘Blankets’. This did feel like a comic, rather than a fully formed graphic novel. That isn’t meant to be a slight as I love reading Batman comics etc, I just didn’t think ‘Ghost World’ had the depth I was expecting and hoped for, the more I thought about it the more it seemed a tale of two rather angry girls who cynically saw the worst in everyone and liked to swear a lot, gossip and talk about sex.

I have to admit that I wanted more from ‘Ghost World’ but (before I get hate mail from its cult audience) that isn’t to say it was a letdown or a disappointing read for me overall. I enjoyed the time I spent with Enid and Becky, I liked the friendship they had and the world and relationships that Clowes created around it. It was a nice escapist read but it did feel more comic like to me than a fully formed graphic novel overall.

I know ‘Ghost World’ has a huge cult fan base, if any of you read this blog can you explain what I might have been missing? Also if you know of some corking graphic novels I have most probably missed out on then do give me your recommendations. I need to get my hands on ‘Maus’ next I think.

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Fun Home – Alison Bechdel

Jonathan Cape, paperback, 2006, graphic novel/memoir, 240 pages, kindly given to me by Sarah on The Book Barge

I do think that sometimes fate determines when you see a book. I had never heard of ‘Fun Home’ by Alison Bechdel until Rebecca Makkai recommended it when she did her Savidge Reads Grills. A mere week or so after that I was on the book barge and what did I see? Yes, ‘Fun Home’ by Alison Bechdel, and Sarah very kindly said I could have it (along with ‘Trilby’ by George Du Maurier – lovely stuff) in exchange for the M&S picnic I had brought. I offered to pay for these, the look I got told me it was completely out of the question. So like I said, sometimes fate seems to thrust a book in your direction. Sometimes it then takes you several months to read it but never mind.

‘Fun  Home’ is Alison Bechdel’s memoirs told through a graphic novel, which was a concept that I found really intriguing.  It was also one I wasn’t sure would work, would I feel an emotional connection with the images in front of me, or could this read like a cartoon? I can now say that ‘Fun Home’ is in the latter category and as I followed the fictional/illustrated/memory drawn Alison from her childhood, when after inheriting it her family all moved into the family business… a funeral home, to her dealings with the death of her father and their relationship and indeed her own sexuality, the latter she discovered interestingly through books.

It’s hard to say any more on the novel than that. Though it does feel like a novel and I pondered, with all its references to Camus, Fitzgerald and other authors (who Alison’s dad loved and seemed to add the personalities of to his own) if the influence and subsequent love of books gave it that extra edge? It could of course simply be that this is a blooming brilliant novel regardless of its form and that I instead shop stop the subconscious part of my brain which says ‘this is a graphic novel, thats not quite the same as a normal novel’ and get over it. I think I have because I was read this like a novel, I didn’t just sit and read it in one go, I would read a chapter here and there as usual and was thinking of it when I put it down, not as a graphic novel but just as a book I was enjoying.

It is hard to say anymore about the book really without spoilers. It has that mixture or coming of age memoir, gothic reminiscence and family tragedy and comedy that I love when I find just the right combination of. I laughed out loud but it wasn’t saccharine, it was honest without being malicious or brutal, it was emotional without being woe-is-me and I liked the tone of the book. I liked Alison Bechdel and I wanted more of her story.

I used to think that graphic novels were just really big comics for grown up kids, its examples like ‘Fun Home’ that continue to prove my wrong and show that graphic novels can offer you the full formed personality of characters and evoke their situations and the atmospheres that they are surrounded by. People are probably rolling their eyes at that but that has been the case on the whole for me until now, though other graphic novels have been good they have never felt like the give everything that a normal ‘book’ does like ‘Fun Home’ has, and here I must mention ‘Blankets’ by Craig Thompson, where the images become fully formed and not just the illustrated escapism in front of your eyes.

I am hoping people might now give me lots of suggestions of other graphic novels in this vein that will keep proving the former graphically challenged me wrong. My co-conspirator on ‘The Readers’, Gav, has recently been saying how brilliant ‘The House That Groaned’ by Karrie Fransman is. Has anyone else read that one and can concur? Any other graphic novels I should be looking for?

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Filed under Alison Bechdel, Graphic Novels, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Review

The Night Bookmobile – Audrey Niffenegger

If anyone is ever going through a reading funk, which I had been of late if I am honest, then the first book that I would recommend for them as a prescription and possible cure would have to be ‘The Night Bookmobile’ a graphic novel by Audrey Niffenegger. I am not sure that I would recommend it to someone who was thoroughly depressed though if I am honest, more on that later though.

Jonathan Cape, hardback, 2010, graphic novel, 40 pages, from the library

Normally I don’t include the blurb of a book, however Neil Gaiman has written this one so without further ado here is his: “The Night Bookmobile is a love letter, both elegiac and heartbreaking, to the things we have read, and to the readers that we are. It says that what we read makes us who we are. It’s a graphic short story, beautifully drawn and perfectly told, a cautionary fantasia for anyone who has ever loved books, and I hope the story of the library, of Alexandra, finds its place on the night bookmobiles of all of who’d care. It’s a treasure.” Now doesn’t that just sound the perfect book for any book lover?

‘The Night Bookmobile’, which started life as an illustrated column in The Guardian,  is in many ways a complete celebration of the books we have loved and remembers, not finished but meant to and those we read and forgot about.  One night after a row with her boyfriend Alexandra is walking the streets of her neighbourhood when she comes across the Night Bookmobile and is drawn inside. Here she discovers a Tardis-like space of shelves with endless books, as she browses she soon realises that this is her very own library with all the books she has read, or started and left unfinished, throughout her lifetime. This reawakens her love of reading and soon sees her changing her life with a much more bookish bent. I simply loved this premise and it started making me think about all the books and authors I have loved the most, onces who I have said I would keep on reading and haven’t, etc, etc. I soon had a list of lots of reading I was desperate to turn to again.

I do however have a few little qualms about ‘The Night Bookmobile’. The first would have to be its length as it is just 64 pages long, which is fine bevause it is a stuningly beautiful read yet means there is a slight lack of depth. We never quite know what is going on with Alexandra when she remeets the Night Bookmobile at random points in her life and I would have liked to know more. I do also think on a slight tangent but still based on its length – and this is nothing to do with the author – that maybe the price should reflect its length too, though I picked mine up at the library I think it is worth a mention.

The second one is difficult to discuss without spoilers, but I will try, and that is the ending. It is rather tragic, seems to come from nowhere and rather disturbed me with the message it was passing on. I wondered if I had missed something somewhere, so happily read the book again, and I hadn’t. This ending came out of nowhere, didn’t really make sense and left me feeling uneasy and wishing the last few pages hadn’t been included, it was up until then almost perfect.

That said for its celebration of books, and I loved the fact its designed like a child’s picture book too, I did really like this book for the passion about books it has behind it. It is the sort of book that makes you think ‘this author knows why I read’ and I was thrilled to learn that this is in fact part of something called ‘The Library’ which Niffenegger is working on and off all the time. Could she hurry up please and a longer more in depth book by her about loving books would simply be perfect.

Has anyone else read ‘The Night Bookmobile’ and if so what did you think, without spoilers if possible, was the point of the ending or the message? I thought it was tragic yet trying to be hopeful in a tone of some desperation. Does that make sense?

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Filed under Audrey Niffenegger, Books About Books, Graphic Novels, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Review