Tag Archives: Alan Hollinghurst

Vintage Pride Classics Winner…

Apologies for the delay in me drawing the lucky winner of the three wonderful Vintage Classic’s editions that they released especially for Pride as they are LGBT Classics. The winner, chosen by Random.org, of a copy of each of Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming Pool Library and Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle is… Layla (@1mpossiblealice)

Vintage Pride Classics

Layla please send me your details to savidgereads@gmail.com and I will get the copies of the book out to you next week.

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Vintage Pride – A Giveaway

This weekend sees the launch of the UK’s Pride season (which seems all the more apt after the news in America today, well done United States you should be very proud) where the cities, towns and all sorts of places celebrate everything LGBT up and down the country over the (hopefully sunny) summer months. To coincide with this, the lovely folk at Vintage have decided to proudly (see what I have done here) celebrate some of their classic novels both by LGBT authors and with LGBT themes. The books they have chosen are Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming Pool Library and Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle.  None of which I have read yet, shame on me. They look gorgeous and I happen to have a spare set…

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I couldn’t even line them up straight, ha!

So I thought I would do a giveaway of a set to some lucky person. All I want to know is which book with an LGBT theme you have most loved and why, without spoilers? That simple. Now because postage of books across oceans is so expensive, as I have discovered trying to get some books I want from America, I’m afraid I can only send these to a lucky winner in the UK or Europe*, sorry but the Hall is huge so it’s a bulky set to post – *unless you are coming to Booktopia Petoskey and can wait until September in which case I can pack them in my luggage. Right, get recommending. and good luck. You have until end of play Sunday the 28th of June.

Oh and in case you’re wondering mine would be a tie between Catherine Hall’s The Proof of Love or Bethan Roberts’ My Policeman. If you’ve not read either or both of those then you really must!

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Fiction Uncovered 2012

I have been waiting for this list of books to be announced for weeks, finally it is here, the Fiction Uncovered list of titles for 2012. If you are currently thinking ‘well what on earth is that’ let me explain, this is not a longlist of books of which one will eventually win a prize, it is list of eight titles that may just have gone under the radar and have been deemed, by a team of judges, as being books we all should have read because they are excellent yet didn’t get the buzz that they deserved. These selected titles are then promoted in book shops (including the lovely Book Barge) around the UK and in libraries, lovely. Well now it is back for 2012. I even voted for a book I wanted to see on the list if I were a judge, I must go to that list again to get even more recommendations. Anyway…

So why am I so excited? Well in part it’s the fact that it is another list of books that I might want to read (I have to admit I think I actually want to real ALL the books on this years list) and because its pushing books which might not have been pushed. The other reason is more personal as last year this is where I first heard about, and then tried, ‘The Proof of Love’ by Catherine Hall and we all know how that read went don’t we? I was also introduced to Ray Robinson’s fantastic novel ‘Forgetting Zoe’. I have both their previous novel/s to read in the future. I also started both Tim Pears ‘Disputed Land’, which I loved but was a little too close to home at a specific time so I had to stop, and Sarah Moss’ ‘Night Waking’ which I was loving but had to crack on with reading the Green Carnation Prize submissions, which is what could stop me from reading this years eight which, with my brief thoughts below each ones blurb, are…

Two Cows and a Vanful of Smoke by Peter Benson (Alma Books)

When young Elliot gets a labourer’s job at Mr Evans’s after being sacked from a pig farm for liberating six of its sows, he thinks he’ll have even more opportunities to lean on gates or stare at fields. But his best mate Spike keeps getting him into trouble, first by showing him what is being grown in a tucked-away polytunnel, and then turning up at his caravan’s door with a van full of weed. As Elliot tries to help his friend get rid of the hot merchandise, they find themselves at the receiving end of a cruel cat-and-mouse game.

Simon says: The fact this has polytunnel (my mother has just got some she is obsessed about) in the blurb makes me think of The Archers and we all know how much I love that show. It also sounds like an English countryside book, which I also love. I must read it.

My Former Heart by Cressida Connolly (Fourth Estate)

When she grew up, Ruth would say that she could place the day that her mother had decided to go away. She didn’t know the actual date, but she recalled the occasion: it was on the afternoon of a wet day, early in 1942, during a visit to the cinema. She thought she could even pinpoint the exact moment at which Iris had made up her mind to go, leaving her only child behind. Neither of them could have guessed then that they would never live together again. Spanning the second half of the last century, “My Former Heart”, Cressida Connolly’s mesmerising first novel, charts the lives of three generations of Iris’s family, the mother who walked away from her child. Ruth will be deserted again, many years later, by a husband she loves, but not before she has had two children by him. She leaves London to live with her uncle, where she creates a new life for herself with another woman. And we follow the lives of her two children, trying to make a place for themselves in the world in the shadow of the family that precedes them. With its large cast of fascinating characters, this is an outstanding novel about families and their ability to adapt. It surely marks the beginning of long career as a novelist for Cressida Connolly.

Simon says: The LGBT twist in the blurb interests me and would make it stand out in its type of fiction if you know what I mean. I was slightly worried when I saw this was compared to Alan Hollinghursts latest novel, only this is only 240 pages. I am intrigued.

Lucky Bunny by Jill Dawson (Sceptre)

Crime is a man’s business, so they say, though not according to Queenie Dove. A self-proclaimed genius when it comes to thieving and escape, she reckons she’s done pretty well. Yes, she had a tough childhood in London’s East End during the Depression, with a father in and out of prison. But she survived the Blitz, learned how to get by on her wits, and soon graduated from shoplifting to more glamorous crimes. Daring, clever and sexy, she thrived in the Soho of the Krays and the clubs of Mayfair, fell wildly in love, and got away with it all. Or did she? For beneath Queenie’s vivacious, unrepentant account lies another story – of punishment and loss, and a passionate relationship that turns sour. To the end, she believes she was lucky, but did she simply play the hand that fate dealt her? Vividly portraying the times and circles she moved in, Lucky Bunny captures an intriguing, engaging woman as it questions how far we are in control of our own lives.

Simon says: This has been on my radar for ages, so reading it is a no brainer, in fact it will be a done deal.

Crushed Mexican Spiders by Tibor Fischer (Unbound)

‘Crushed Mexican Spiders’ is classic Fischer. Don’t be fooled by the title: the poet laureate of London grime is on home ground as a women returns home to discover the key to her Brixton flat no longer works – Haunting images and crisp one-liners are about all that link it with the second tale, ‘Possibly Forty Ships’, the true story of the Trojan War. In a scene straight out of a Tarantino movie, an old man is being tortured, pressed to reveal how the greatest legend of all really happened. Let’s just say it bears scant resemblance to Homer: ‘If you see war as a few ships sinking in the middle of the waves, a few dozen warriors in armour, frankly not as gleaming as it could be, being welcomed whole-heartedly by the water, far, far away from Troy, if you see that as war, then it was a war – ‘ The stories are being illustrated by the work of the acclaimed Czech photographer Hana Vojakova .

Simon says: At a mere 64 pages and with illustrations I want to read this just to see how it is so powerful in so few words, I also like the Unbound project so if I read it I will kill two bords of intrigue with one stone.

Hit and Run by Doug Johnstone (Faber and Faber)

Driving home from a party with his girlfriend and brother, all of them drunk and high on stolen pills, Billy Blackmore accidentally hits someone in the night. In a panic, they all decide to drive off. But the next day Billy wakes to find he has to cover the story for the local paper. It turns out the dead man was Edinburgh’s biggest crime lord and, as Billy struggles with what he’s done, he is sucked into a nightmare of guilt, retribution and violence. From the author of the acclaimed “Smokeheads”, “Hit & Run” is another pitch-black psychological thriller.

Simon says: I heard about this thanks to a review of Kim’s on Reading Matters and was intrigued. I like the fact a thriller has made the list too, I like a good thriller, only concern is it might be a bit ‘blokey’ for me though that could be a good test.

When Nights Were Cold by Susanna Jones (Mantle)

In turn of the century London, Grace Farringdon dreams of polar explorations and of escape from her stifling home with her protective parents and eccentric, agoraphobic sister. But while Grace longs to cross glaciers and survive sub-zero conditions with her hero Ernest Shackleton, she seems destined for nothing more than marriage, or a life shackled to the family home. But when Grace secretly applies to Candlin, a women’s college filled with intelligent, like-minded women, she finally feels her ambitions beginning to be take shape. There she forms an Antarctic Exploration Society with the gregarious suffragette Locke, the reserved and studious Hooper and the strange, enigmatic Parr, and before long the group are defying their times and their families by climbing the peaks of Snowdonia and planning an ambitious trip to the perilous Alps. Fifteen years later, trapped in her Dulwich home, Grace is haunted by the terrible events that took place out on the mountains. She is the society’s only survivor and for years people have demanded the truth of what happened, the group’s horrible legacy a millstone around her neck. Now, as the eve of the Second World War approaches, Grace is finally ready to remember and to confess…

Simon says: The phrases ‘turn of the century’, ‘agoraphobic sister’ and ‘polar explorations’ have me officially sold. I am going to beg, steal or borrow a copy of this.

The Light of Amsterdam by David Park (Bloomsbury)

It is December in Belfast, Christmas is approaching and three sets of people are about to make their way to Amsterdam. Alan, a university art teacher stands watching the grey sky blacken waiting for George Best’s funeral cortege to pass. He will go to Amsterdam to see Bob Dylan in concert but also in the aftermath of his divorce, in the hope that the city which once welcomed him as a young man and seemed to promise a better future, will reignite those sustaining memories. He doesn’t yet know that his troubled teenage son Jack will accompany his pilgrimage. Karen is a single mother struggling to make ends meet by working in a care home and cleaning city centre offices. She is determined to give her daughter the best wedding that she can. But as she boards the plane with her daughter’s hen party she will soon be shocked into questioning where her life of sacrifices has brought her. Meanwhile middle-aged couple, Marion and Richard are taking a break from running their garden centre to celebrate Marion’s birthday. In Amsterdam, Marion’s anxieties and insecurities about age, desire and motherhood come to the surface and lead her to make a decision that threatens to change the course of her marriage. As these people brush against each other in the squares, museums and parks of Amsterdam, their lives are transfigured as they encounter the complexities of love in a city that challenges what has gone before. Tender and humane, and elevating the ordinary to something timeless and important, The Light of Amsterdam is a novel of compassion and rare dignity.

Simon says: I was a little nonchalant about this one with Alan’s ‘situation’ but I then read about the other two and now rather fancy reading this.

This is Life by Dan Rhodes (Canongate)

This is Life is a missing baby mystery and an enchanted Parisian adventure. Hand in hand with lovable heroine Aurelie Renard, you will see life as you’ve never seen it before, discover the key to great art, witness the true cost of love, and learn how all these things may be controlled by the in-breath of a cormorant. Chock-full of charming characters and hilarious set-pieces this is a hugely enjoyable novel that will make you see life anew.

Simon says: The only book on the list by an author I have read before (and love, seriously he is brilliant) and I am thrilled that Dan is on the list, so as its one of the few of his I haven’t read already I will DEFINITELY be reading this one and probably within the next week or two. If you haven’t read him you must, ‘Gold’ has been my favourite (funny and heartbreaking) so far, I have high hopes for this.

So that is the list. What do you make of it and indeed the venture of Fiction Uncovered itself (the website is here)? Have you read any of these or anything else by the authors? I would love some further insight.

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The Readers; Double the Delight & We Want To Hear From You…

I am dubious about writing too much about all the other book based projects that I do on the side of Savidge Reads. For example if I go on about the Bookmarked Literary Salon that I was doing (its taking a sabbatical for a while) in Manchester I worry it comes across like self promotion rather than me telling you about a bookish project that I love . The Green Carnation Prize is another project I have been quieter about on here this year for the same reason. Plus with Bookmarked there is the fact that as Savidge Reads is read all over the world, which thrills me but I find very odd (hello to you all), not many of you can physically come so is it really of any interest? I had the same worry with The Readers, the podcast I have started with the lovely Gavin of Gav Reads, though with the joys of it being on the internet (and iTunes) the likelihood of you being able to listen in and join in is much greater, and that is what we want.

We have popped up two episodes this week; one is a Manchester Literature Festival Special and includes some behind the scenes nattering as well as interviews after I was whizzing round the festival to report back on events starring (and where possible interviewing them afterwards) the likes of Colm Toibin, Alan Hollinghurst, Sarah Dunant, Patricia Duncker, Catherine O’Flynn, Kishwar Desai , KO Dahl and many more. The second is a ‘Sherlock Holmes Special’ and sees Gavin and I nattering away about Holmes, interviewing Anthony Horowitz on his novel ‘The House of Silk’ which sees Sherlock return.

Holmes and Watson... Or is it Gav & I planning Episode 8 of The Readers?

So what for the episodes going forward? Well we will still be covering book news, doing an author interview here and there; reading a book together and discussing all thing books based which we can banter about. We really want you involved though, and not just to listen to us nattering on, we want you to help us shape and be part of the podcast. How? Well…

We really want to hear from all of you who either read this blog, and Gavin’s of course, or who listen in. We would like to know what we are doing right, what we could do better and more importantly we would like you to join in with all the fun. We have already got a few bloggers in on the act, some who have sent us recordings of their top five books which we will be including in the future and one who is joining us as a special co-host for an episode, and we would love more of you to do the same whether you have a blog or not – yes publishers you too. The show is called ‘The Readers’ after all and that is what we want it to be all about, all readers! Do you fancy it?

If you want to record a voice memo with any suggestions for topics of discussion, or you top five books, then do feel free to email it (because it costs nothing ha)  to bookbasedbanter@gmail.com or if you simply want to leave us some thoughts and/or tips do so on the website or in the comments below.   

P.S Do you want to hear about these bookish projects that I do on the side of the blog? I don’t want Savidge Reads to become a place of promoting anything other than my love of books, and I don’t want you thinking I am some shameless self promoter either. Just so you know! Thoughts welcomed…

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The Literary Prize vs. Readability

Yesterday the bookish world, well in the UK at least, seemed all a twitter with the story of a new literary prize, called, erm, The Literature Prize. I am a big fan of any new book prize, both having co-founded one myself and because they promote books which is no bad thing in the current book climate, books need all the pushes they can get. However it seems to be that The Literature Prize has started out with some interesting, if unsettling, intentions and in a blaze of retaliation towards another prize, not the most positive of starts is it.

Books, glorious books, would any of these have won The Literature Prize?

When I jumped on board co-founding the Green Carnation Prize last July it was from a place of positivity. Ok, we did give it the name ‘The Man Fooker’ and it was from a comment of frustration on twitter by Paul Magrs that there was no platform/prize for works by gay men (now we include all LGBT authors) in the UK. Yet we set the prize up in a whirl of excitement and positivity, we didn’t start slagging other book prizes off, we weren’t snide, and we don’t aim to be. We simply wanted to make it happen. We also wanted to be inclusive of all works of literature and their diversity like readers and their reading habits, not just The Literature Prize’s specific aim to “establish a clear and uncompromising standard of excellence”. Yet who is setting/deciding the standard? It appears that the answer to that won’t be revealed for another few weeks.

The bit that made me get all the more cross was the snidely aimed “For many years this brief was fulfilled by the Booker (latterly the Man Booker) Prize. But as numerous statements by that prize’s administrator and this year’s judges illustrate, it now prioritises a notion of ‘readability’ over artistic achievement.” Firstly that to me sounds like ‘let’s get some press off another prize which is very successful’ (and it has been successful this year there’s a couple of great books on the shortlist and they are selling like hotcakes). Secondly it implies that the judges, people who read are too stupid to understand artistic achievement and so go for dumb down ‘readability’ instead.

Within hours of this announcement there started a raging debate about what the difference is between ‘literary’ and ‘readability’ or if indeed there really is one. I think the two can be mutually compatible. In fact the best books have that mix of being stunningly written, transporting you to another place in time or culture and living with its characters for however long the read takes. I think this can be done whilst making the reader want to do nothing but read that book whether it is plot or prose driven. The reader gives their dedication, time, energy and imagination to the book and the partnership between reader and writer is cemented. A book is designed to be read, learnt from and enjoyed. It shouldn’t be so ‘artistic’ no one can cope with it, unless you are a scholar, which leads me to my next annoyance.

The ‘academy of judges’. Now, if I am being generous I am hoping that my initial ‘you elitist bunch of *****’ reaction is unfair and that actually The Literature Prize will find a diverse ‘lottery’ of judges, not as I fear a bunch of academics who may alienate the common reader (that isn’t meant offensively). I think a perfect panel of judges would be a group of writers, journalists, literature teachers, bloggers, librarians, book group leaders but most importantly ALL avid readers. The main criteria for a book judge should simply be that they love books; they want excellent books to be getting noticed and they want to recommend their favourites to all in sundry.

My final annoyance is that, and apparently it is being currently procured, I bet you this prize gets a stupid amount of money thrown at it. Part of me in all honesty is disheartened because The Green Carnation could do with some for promotion etc, the judges do it all for free, but more importantly what about established prizes like the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize which didn’t happen this year due to  lack of funding and has been doing a wonderful job for decades? That to me seems unfair, but then life is I guess.

There is also the fact reading and readers are changing as they have for decades. Who knew back in the day that a popular romance novelist would become a classic and admitted author, she’s called Jane Austen, I don’t know if any of you have heard of her. Or that a serialised newspaper author or three would become deemed some of the greatest writers of British history, like those guys called Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. They wouldn’t have won The Literature Prize if it had been conceived then would they? That said they probably wouldn’t have won the Booker either.

Aren’t we as readers always changing? Don’t our tastes change from book to book? Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I don’t want a book that meanders forever and ever in its own glory and prose and self satisfied nature, I believe that great characters, plots and escapism can be readable and literary, or maybe that’s just my taste. I bet Susan Hill isn’t looking for the same criteria in a book as she judges the Man Booker now as she did in the 1970’s, her reading and its tastes will have evolved even if in subtle or unconscious ways as life changes as it does for all of us. Some of us like to go from an Alan Hollinghurst to an Agatha Christie, from a Charles Dickens to a Stephen King or from David Nicholls to Umberto Eco. That’s the joy of reading, its diversity.

Who knows what the future of the The Literature Prize is, indeed the cynic in me says it could simply be a bit of pre-Booker announcement hype with its shroud of mystery; as with no announcement of who the board is, who is funding it or if indeed it will make its debut in 2012. Hmmm. I wish it luck, should it come to fruition, I think maybe it needs to change the way it holds itself in public in the future though, be less a prize trying to do what another prize already is (and sulking it’s not doing it as it feels it should) and then find its own voice and the ears of all readers out there. It has one thing going for it; it has certainly caused some interesting debate about books, readability and literature.

What are your thoughts on the new prize? Do you think readability and ‘literary merit’ are mutually exclusive, or should the best books have a percentage of both?

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Manchester Literary Festival 2011

Today is the opening of Manchester Literary Festival and I am rather excited about it. When I was in London I did the Jewish Book Festival as well as Wimbledon Book Festival, but that was it. Weirdly the bigger festivals (no offence to the above two) seem to happen outside of London. I’ve always found that odd, and odd they always happen at the same time of year! How can readers get to all of them?

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Anyway I am going to be reporting on the Manchester Book Festival for the blog and also for ‘The Readers’ (a podcast me and Gav Reads launched today) so I am very excited. Tonight’s opening event looks to be a real treat as Colm Toibin and Alan Hollinghurst are in conversation with each other, I can’t wait to see how that plays out. I will be reporting back in due course, I have my trusty notepad at the ready…

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I’m planning on seeing as much of the event as possible including Michael Frayn, Emma Jane Unsworth, John Niven, Tahmima Anam, Dipika Rai, Kishwar Desai, Thomas Enger, K O Dahl, Yrsa Siguardottir, MJ Hyland, Patricia Duncker, David Lodge, Catherine O’Flynn, Anthony Horrowitz and Jeffrey Eugenides. Oh, and have a team at the Literary Quiz. Phew. The next few weeks are going to be great.

Let me know if you have any insights on the authors above, or would like any questions put to them, or if indeed you will be there. Would love to say hello to you all!

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The Strangers Child – Alan Hollinghurst

I have been sitting on this review for months, well ok not literally sitting on it but certainly debating if I should put it up. I then thought, as I am out of the country, why not? You see my relationship with Alan Hollinghurst’s latest novel was one of excitement (as I got a bound copy before the advances came in), self hype of my own making, the hype upon release and then the joy of the first hundred pages, before sadly it all began to fall apart. Plus, the books sold a shed load now and I am well aware me being a little grumpy review wise about it won’t do it any harm, and its not really a normal Savidge Reads review, rather a bit of a disappointed grumble. 

Picador, hardback, 2011, fiction, 576 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Before I go into what I hope will be a fair critique of ‘The Strangers Child’ I should really discuss the premise of it. The novel is really a tale of people of years and years, the novel itself is told in five sections each relating to a different decade. The two main characters, well I thought they were the main force of the story though others may disagree, Cecil Valance and Daphne Sawle meet, along with Daphne’s brother George who is equally smitten with Cecil (this made me think of ‘Brideshead Revisited’ though apparently that’s not something you should say to Mr Hollinghurst, oops, but it does give the book a slight feel of ‘oh haven’t I been here before?’) and really we follow their lives from their first meeting and join them at various points in time as the book progresses.

As much as I am being vague to not give any spoilers away, I was also slightly at a loss as to why we meet these characters when we do, and why they tend to wander off. Yes, that’s real life… well possibly real life if you are very rich and can spend life being unlikeable yet fabulous.  These points in time, to me, didn’t seem pivotal, and I couldn’t get a hold on them. I didn’t mind the fact they were all rather unlikeable but as the novel progressed I just kept thinking ‘where is this going, and do I care?’ Some will say the rather random way in which the book is written is one of the cleverest points of the novel, really? I don’t expect my books linear at all, yet I sometimes wonder if ‘clever’ (which is the word I have seen in many reviews) is a good way of describing ‘we don’t get it and so it must be the authors intention to be a little unconventional, it’s the art of the book… how clever’. Hmmmm.

I can say the writing is utterly stunning, yet ‘stunning’, ‘beautiful’, ‘elegant’, ‘effortless’ (as the reviews keep on saying) prose can only go a certain way and I honestly feel in the middle of the book it became all about the prose and it simply didn’t stop. The beautiful prose started to drag and the effect of it started to sag and I thought ‘I’m not going to finish this’. Yet I did and as the last third starts the book indeed picks up again. The random plot threads make a little more sense, then they don’t and tantalise and then they sort of do.The characters stay being dislikeable yet readable and I liked the way it ended. Yes the way it ended, not the fact it ended.

This of course has left me very torn. There is no doubt that ‘The Strangers Child’ contains some utterly gorgeous prose, no question of that at all. I just wish there had been a much tighter edit on the book as with about 200 pages taken out of it, or several thousand of those wonderfully worded words, this book would have become a possible favourite of mine, I do love an epic after all. Instead I became rather bored, if somewhat beautifully.

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