Category Archives: Salley Vickers

Where Three Roads Meet – Salley Vickers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gran Needs Your Book Thoughts…

Before ‘Granny Savidge Reads’, or just Gran as she likes to be called, answers your questions later in the week (you still have today to go here and leave one or two) she has a favour to ask of you. As the year draws to a close one of the book groups that my Gran is in get to vote for the books for next year. This is one of the U3A groups not the MAD Book Group (which is named because they are in the Matlock and District… not because they are all mad, on the whole) which she founded.  There is a list of books and the members vote for favourite twelve from the list.

Gran and I thought it would be nice, as well as interesting, if you could help recommend which ones you think would be great for the group and which ones you would avoid. I have naturally already thrown in my tuppence worth, so now over to you. The ones in italics are the ones Gran has already read, but do recommend them more if you think fit.

  • The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga
  • The Yacoubian Building – Alaa Al Aswany
  • Black Diamonds – Catherine Bailey
  • Border Crossing – Pat Barker
  • Villette – Charlotte Bronte
  • Restless – William Boyd
  • Oscar and Lucinda – Peter Carey
  • The Short Stories – Anton Chekhov
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke
  • The Shieling – David Constantine  
  • The Inheritance of Loss – Kiran Desai
  • Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens
  • Alicia’s Gift – Jennifer Duchen
  • Last Train from Liguria – Christine Dwyer Hickey
  • Engleby – Sebastian Faulks
  • Human Traces – Sebastian Faulks
  • Is There Anything You Want – Margaret Forster
  • The Man in the Wooden Hat – Jane Gardam
  • Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
  • Peeling The Onion – Gunther Grass
  • The Believers – Zoe Heller
  • The Beacon – Susan Hill
  • The Quiet Girl – Peter Hoeg
  • The True Deceiver – Tove Jansson
  • Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow – Jerome K Jerome
  • The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver
  • The Other Side of the Bridge – Mary Lawson
  • La’s Orchestra Saves the World – Alexander McCall Smith
  • The Road – Cormac McCarthy
  • Great Fortunes – Olivia Manning
  • The Glass Room – Simon Mawer
  • Things My Mother Never Told Me – Blake Morrison
  • The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • The Reader – Bernhard Schlink
  • The Stone Diaries – Carol Shields
  • Tales from a Travellers Life – John Simpson
  • Glassblower of Murano – Marianne Siorato
  • The Suspicions of Mr Whicher – Kate Summerscale
  • Love and Summer – William Trevor
  • Miss Garnetts Angel – Salley Vickers
  • The Night Watch – Sarah Waters
  • They Were Sisters – Dorothy Whipple
  • Proust and the Squid – Marianne Wolf

So that’s the lot. I haven’t put any pictures in today’s post as you might be swayed. I know I was when I saw some of the covers of the books that I had never heard of. Gran and I are very much looking forward to all your thoughts, so do get responding.

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Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, Aravind Adiga, Barbara Kingsolver, Bernhard Schink, Book Group, Book Thoughts, Cormac McCarthy, Salley Vickers, Sarah Waters, Susan Hill, William Trevor

Miss Garnet’s Angel – Salley Vickers

I will discuss the sudden turnaround of my going from starting Cover Her Face by P.D James to reading Miss Garnet’s Angel in more detail tomorrow when I will be asking you your thoughts on a certain subject that it has brought to light. For now though I thought I would get on with reviewing a book that completely took me by surprise and one that I have actually owned before decided wouldn’t be for me and so gave away only to the purchase it recently once more.

Miss Garnet’s Angel firstly it should be said is utterly wonderful. For me it had a real mixture of the quirky heroine of a 1930’s – 1950’s book you would think Virago would have published (they don’t publish this book) and also has the setting and prose of a classic that E.M. Forster could have penned, a combination which makes it highly and delightfully readable. I think all of this contributed to it being an utter hit with me.

We meet our narrator Julia Garnet just after she decides to rent out her home after the death of her house mate and fellow teacher Harriet who “she hated that people assumed they were lesbians” which shows the slight humour in the writing of Salley Vickers from the start. Taking the death as a sign she needs to be more daring in life so she decides to take an extended holiday to Venice. This isn’t a tale about loss and grief even though it is very much part of the book, it also doesn’t darken or make the book depressive, what the book is essentially about is a middle aged woman finding herself and facing her past through the people she meets the situations she gets into and the sights and discoveries she takes in. She is a very interesting character still a virgin and still incredibly repressed we watch as she emerges out of herself after a long time being so unsure who she is.  

Some of the wonderful characters she meets are a pair of holidaying Canadians, the young and slightly unruly Nicco who becomes a student, her incredibly interfering (in a wonderful way) the charming Carlo who seems to be the first man to have ever make her heart truly flutter and the mysterious twins Toby and Sarah the later of who are working on the restoration of Chapel of the Plague. In fact meeting the later three leads her to finding a painting that seems to call out to her and tells the story of Tobias and the Archangel Raphael. These stories are then interwoven by Vickers as Julia unravels the tale she herself unravels, it’s wonderfully worked.

I thought this was an utterly wonderful novel and it has only taken one book to make me fairly sure that Vickers will soon become a favourite. Though are the rest of her books tinged quite so much with the religious? I don’t like books that preach and this one never did but there were a few moments when I was slightly concerned but how could you depict Venice without the religious symbols and stories and it works just right with the ongoing story of Julia’s self discovery. It’s an unstated and yet thought provoking tale that says so much so subtly. Beautiful prose, delightful characters and a sprinkling of mystery and history just what you need when you want to get lost in a book. To think this was Vickers debut novel is quite astounding I hope that the rest of her books are as good as this one? What of Vickers have you read and loved and which Vickers novel should I read next?

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Filed under Books of 2009, Harper Collins, Review, Salley Vickers