So my first read of 2009 is already done and dusted. No it’s not Anna Karenina! As I have explained I am having a small break after every part of Anna to read a book or two, as Novel Insights and myself aren’t having Rogue Book Group until later in the month. So the first book I chose for my first Karenina break is Karen McLeod’s debut novel ‘In Search of the Missing Eyelash’ and I devoured it in two sittings one when I went to bed shattered from the return from holiday, and again straight away when I woke up.
‘In Search of the Missing Eyelash’ is narrated by Lizzie. Lizzie is a really interesting character that at first I couldn’t work out if I was going to like. By the end of the novel I was on a complete emotional journey of hilarious highs and also some surprising and shocking lows. Lizzie is in a strange emotional place. Her father has died a while back which has scarred her, she has fallen out with her mother, her brother Simon (or Amanda as he likes to be known) is missing and she is pretty much obsessed with and stalking her ex-girlfriend Sally who has left her for a man ‘with a fat neck’. When I say stalking I mean proper stalking with cameras and stuff collecting bathroom fluff and other odd assortments.
Her confidantes are her self obsessed neighbour (who I didn’t quite like and yet who supplied many laughs) who is always falling in love and her boss Ruby of ‘Ruby’s Caff’. Her workplace and its customers I think were a stroke of complete genius from McLeod secondary characters such as Elsie who is a bit psychic and Alf whose son finds him a Thai Bride, just made light in some very dark parts of the book. The story follows Lizzie as she follows Sally and as things start to unravel all around her.
I couldn’t believe this was a debut novel. I thought that McLeod’s prose was perfect and in some parts very poetic, and I don’t mean because of one of the characters poems about Pickled Onions, and had me totally spell bound. I thought the way it dealt with gender, sexuality and a family breakdown was honest and poignant without being overly dramatic (there is a good sprinkling of drama in there though). I just thought it was an incredibly accomplished novel and was much deeper and darker than I was expecting, I thought it was going to be very funny from the blurb which it is. I laughed at several parts out loud on particular scene which I won’t mention actually left me laughing out loud for about five minutes.
I saw Karen McLeod read some of her favourite book; the very funny and poignant ‘Crocodile Soup’ by Julia Carling (which I read last year) who she said helped her to write. I thought this was an equally wonderful book, in fact I think they should sell the two together like sometimes Vintage do, I think they would be a perfect pairing.
What a brilliant start to my reading year!
When I came back from my trip yesterday I got very excited as I received a parcel with Vintage
stamped all over it. Now it shows how tired I must have been that I didn’t tear it open instantly. However I decide it would be much nicer to open today and also had done my daily blog and wouldn’t have one to write today and I have promised to write daily from now on. I opened it a while ago and look at what I had been sent.
The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
This bodes well for my reading of classics this year. I have never read any Oscar Wilde, though I did read Will Self’s version ‘Dorian’ a few years ago, so to finally have this to add on to my TBR was a real joy. I have heard this is a really dark tale and I know that the movie is coming out in November this year so must read it before then. Also isn’t the cover absolutely gorgeous, very decadent and Victorian, love it.
In Search of the Missing Eyelash – Karen McLeod
I saw Karen read Julia Darling’s ‘Crocodile Soup’ at the Lavender Library which took place at the Southbank last year and thought she was absolutely fabulous. She is also doing a reading at Polari this month so I am thrilled that this has arrived. It sounds like it is going to be hilarious, a tale of obsession and stalking. I have decided that as I am at the end of Part One of Anna Karenina I shall read this before I start Part Two to give me a little break. I might do that after every part actually as I have never managed to read more than one fiction book at a time so it might give it a try and see how it goes.
Revolutionary Road – Richard Yates
This has only come to my attention in probably the last three or four months as all the book shops are really pushing his whole set of works. Obviously the film is coming out in the next few months which leads me to my only small gripe… they sent me the film tie-in copy and not the delicious Vintage edition. However as film covers go this isn’t a bad one at all. The story of a married couple in suburban America who aspire for greatness and in trying to achieve it obliterate everything, sounds unusual, have seen lots of people on the tube with this.
A great selection of books to head to the top of the never ending TBR.
If I could sum this book up in two words it would be ‘wonderfully bizarre’. Julia Darling’s novel ‘Crocodile Soup’ is a very clever piece that leaves you wondering if the storyteller Gert is mad or if in fact real life is mad. This has taken me a little longer than I thought, but this was good in two ways, firstly I wanted to savour the writing and secondly the surreal qualities of the novel do mean you need to read this carefully to piece it all together, it’s worth it.
Gert the unlikely likeable heroine of the novel is unfulfilled; she works behind the scenes of a museum (I think this is where the Kate Atkinson similarities have started) in the Egyptian Department. The museum has just been funded by the lottery meaning jobs are unstable and in the midst of this an infatuation starts with her over Eva the girl in the canteen. In her modern life she starts to unravel, partly after receiving letters from her estranged mother. She starts going back over her turbulent childhood as well as her adult years and it appears she is having some kind of breakdown.
The surreal is not in the modern part of the book, more in her childhood. Her twin brother Frank makes it clear she hasn’t always been the best truth teller. You hear wonderful stories of her childhood, the ghost in the house, the flasher by the pond, her fathers and the nannies separate disappearances and your left wondering if this brilliant surreal stories are true or not. All in all it doesn’t matter because they are fantastic stories which more seem to explain the mental and emotional journey of a young girl becoming a woman and a gay woman whilst being totally alienated by her mother. This is a coming of age tale unlike I have read in a long while.
This could have been a harrowing tale of the breakdown between a mother and daughter and I must admit the ending was more positive than I expected, that doesn’t give anything away. I think the thing I loved most about this book though was the humour, Darling’s voice as an author is wonderful. There are lines such as ‘Barbara’s face was smeared with gin. She looked liked the type who cried if you showed her affection… I did and she cried for weeks.’ This is a moving, sometimes slightly disturbing, surreal funny novel that has made reading a pleasure. Sadly Julia Darling died in 2005 aged 48 of breast cancer and only wrote two novels, a voice truly lost, I will be getting the man booker long-listed ‘The Taxi Drivers Daughter’ as soon as I can and I am sure devouring that too.