Tag Archives: Barbara Kingsolver

The Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist 2013

So here are the six books that have made the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist 2013…

Womens-Prize-Shortlist-News-Item-2

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson (Doubleday)
May We Be Forgiven – A.M. Holmes (Granta)
Flight Behaviour – Barbara Kingsolver (Faber and Faber)
Bring Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate)
Where’d You Go, Bernadette – Maria Semple (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
NW – Zadie Smith (Hamilton)

Alas this year I couldn’t play ‘guess the shortlist’ as I knew it in advance so that I could do a feature for We Love This Book from ‘the man’s perspective’, along with my initial thoughts on the short listed books which you can see here on the website (not a Mantel bashing in site). You will also learn there that, yes indeed, I am going to read the whole of the shortlist, including re-reading A.M. Holmes and trying again with Zadie Smith, this year.

Obviously not having read them all I am in no real position to say which one I think will win, however I did randomly decide that it would be Kate Atkinson that would win this year, and so far the signs are good. I have decided that will be the last of the shortlist I read. I am going to start with Kingsolver, partly because it is the one I am the most daunted by and also because I am at Gran’s and she has a copy and I don’t, ha.

Who else is thinking of reading the short list? I am not going to suggest an official read-a-long but if anyone is reading them might be nice to have some support and people to swap notes with. Even if you aren’t planning on reading all of them what do you make of the list? Which have you read and which do you fancy reading?

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The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 Longlist

So they have been announced, the twenty titles that make the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 Longlist, and after my guesses yesterday I can reveal that I guessed a whopping… four! More on that shortly, first though here is the list of the twenty titles…

Kitty Aldridge – A Trick I Learned From Dead Men (Jonathan Cape)
Kate Atkinson – Life After Life (Doubleday)
Ros Barber – The Marlow Papers (Sceptre)
Shani Boianjiu – The People of Forever are Not Afraid (Hogarth)
Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Sheila Heti – How Should a Person Be? (Harvill Secker)
A M Homes – May We Be Forgiven (Granta)
Barbara Kingsolver – Flight Behaviour (Faber & Faber)
Deborah Copaken Kogen – The Red Book (Virago)
Hilary Mantel – Bring Up the Bodies (Fourth Estate)
Bonnie Nadzam – Lamb (Hutchinson)
Emily Perkins – The Forrests (Bloomsbury Circus)
Michèle Roberts – Ignorance (Bloomsbury)
Francesca Segal – The Innocents (Chatto & Windus)
Maria Semple – Where’d You Go, Bernadette (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Elif Shafak – Honour (Viking)
Zadie Smith – NW (Hamish Hamilton)
M L Stedman – The Light Between Oceans (Doubleday)
Carrie Tiffany – Mateship with Birds (Picador)
G Willow Wilson – Alif the Unseen (Corvus Books)

I have made the ones I have read in bold and linked to them if I have reviewed them, I have also put all the ones I have in mount TBR in italics. What you possibly might want to know is what I think of the list overall though maybe? Well, I have to say that I rather like it.

The talking points are of course going to be, firstly, Hilary Mantel. I can only imagine that there will be lots of people groaning about how she is up for yet another award and isn’t it unfair she is winning all these awards because she wrote such a brilliant book – honestly this whole attitude of slating someone for writing something that apparently, I haven’t read it yet though now I am more tempted, many people think is one of the very best books of the year is just mean. She has written a great book, the best books are meant to win prizes, let her enjoy it and please shut the **** up moaning about it and say something positive. Alas in the same vein I think the second point will be the ‘oh my god a crime book is on the list’ with Gillian Flynn and ‘Gone Girl’, a book I loved and am delighted is on the list – indeed I guessed it might be.

Speaking of guesses, yes I am sad that Kerry Hudson, Nell Leyshon, Maggie O’Farrell etc have missed out, especially as the Emily Perkins novel that I really didn’t get on with is on the list, but yippee Kate Atkinson is on it, and I predicted she would win it back on January the 1st in an episode of the Readers podcast. Let us continue on that positive note and look at the thing that really excites me about the list… The books I have never bloody heard of! These are, for me, what a longlist is all about – well, apart from the fact longlists make us look at books and talk about them, a lot.

I am really keen to find out more about the ones I don’t have here at home, especially the authors that I haven’t heard of, I tried the Smith and the Kingsolver and they didn’t grab me when I got them. I have heard of all the books or the authors bar three and those are the ones which really strike me as books I might need to get my mitts on. They are Deborah Copaken Kogen’s ‘The Red Book’, Carrie Tiffany’s ‘Mateship With Birds’ and ‘The People of Forever are Not Afraid’ by Shani Boianjiu. The latter two in particular as the Tiffany sounds right up my street as I love books set in the middle of the countryside/nowhere and how that effects people, the Boianjiu also sounds like it would be outside my normal reading remit which is something I am desperately looking for at the moment. In fact I will be discussing reading diets, and the fact I think I need to change my reading tastes a bit later today.

In the meantime though, what do you make of the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist above? Which of the books have you read and what did you make of them? Are there any books you are shocked to see on there or missing from there? Do you think Flynn vs. Mantel will be the big story? Is anyone planning on reading them all (I am going to read some if the whim takes, probably the two I mentioned I know nothing about, maybe) at all?

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Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 Longlist?

So tomorrow is the announcement of the first, yet technically eighteenth, Women’s Prize for Literature. As has become the routine in the last few years, I do love to have a go at guessing what books might be on it. This isn’t based on what people ‘in the trade’ might be thinking or any of that gubbins, though I love all the speculation, it is simply based on books I have loved, am desperate to read or simply think might be on the list, though I am sure I will be proven delightfully wrong once again this year and a million miles off in my guesses.

The first four of my guesses are some of my favourite books of 2012, well, those that fall into the submission guidelines, they are…

The Colour of Milk – Nell Leyshon
Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole Me Ma – Kerry Hudson
The Lighthouse – Alison Moore
The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

Next up some books that I have read, or in the case of the Atkinson am reading, and am yet to review but have thoroughly enjoyed…

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson
Instructions for a Heatwave – Maggie O’Farrell
Past the Shallows – Favel Parrett
May We Be Forgiven – A. M. Holmes

Next up another four more books that are on the bedside table at the moment…

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie – Ayana Mathis
A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki
Tell The Wolves I Am Home – Carol Rifka Brunt
Origins of Love – Kishwar Desai

Three more books that I am keen to read very soon and also one which I have been mulling over reading or not because of the Jesus factor, if it gets long listed will definitely read it…

The Palace of Curiosities – Rosie Garland
Tigers in Red Weather – Liza Klaussmann
Above All Things – Tanis Rideout
The Liar’s Gospel – Naomi Alderman

Finally a mix of four books that would cause some talking points if they were listed (well one would for me particularly)…

Bring Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel
The Casual Vacancy – J. K. Rowling
Bitter Greens – Kate Forsyth
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

I am pretty much sure that Hilary Mantel is going to be on the list and, unlike the general consensus I have heard of late, I have no grumbles about that at all. It has been really annoying me that people are now laying into her, everyone was really celebratory of her Booker double, after winning the Costa Prize too. Surely great books of the year should be able to win as many book prizes as they are eligible for, no? I can’t be doing with all the gripers, yes I know too much talk can put you off a book but don’t be mean about it. Rant over.

As for the other three, well I don’t think many people are predicting that J.K. Rowling will be on the list yet I would be quite chuffed if she was – it would get people talking, the book deals with current themes and it might get me to finally read it which I have been saying I will for ages. If ‘Bitter Greens’ gets on the longlist I will be talking about it to everyone because it is the retelling of Rapunzel and we all know that is my favourite fairytale and I named my duck after her when I was four. I have just had this in the post and have been sooooooooo excited, I am saving it for some long journeys I have coming up. Finally, the Flynn, why not? It has been a huge seller, everyone has been talking about it and the twists and turns and characters, even if you love to loathe them, are great. Though of course it is a crime novel and so may be written off for that, it could be a dark horse though.

I know I have missed out some of the big hitters like Barbara Kingsolver, Tracy Chevalier, Aminatta Forna, Nicola Barker and Rose Tremain (who I now desperately want to read the works of as though Gran and my mother love her I haven’t but The Beard’s mother yesterday was raving about her and we seem to be on an authorish wavelength) but I wanted to have a different and varied list overall. I wouldn’t be upset if any of them were on it. I also debated ‘The Friday Gospels’ by Jenn Ashworth, yet didn’t think there would be two books with ‘gospel’ in the title, why I don’t know and ‘Red Joan’ by Jennie Rooney. I mulled over some other debuts like  ‘The Innocents’ by Francesca Segal and I couldn’t work out if Katherine Boo was eligible, though I really want to read it but then decided I just couldn’t second guess it could I?

Yet that is part of the fun isn’t it, the fact that no one could guess the longlist because there are so many eligible books that have come out in the last twelve months and we have no idea how many books have been put forward. Plus how dull would it be if we could guess? One of the things that is great about the longlist is finding a whole new selection of books and authors you have never heard of before and want to go and find out more about. I am getting even more excited about the prize now.

I will report back when the list is announced at some point tomorrow, I am hoping really early. In the meantime which books do you think might just make the longlist, which ones would you be particularly thrilled to see?

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Three For Thirty… and a Possible Few For Forty

Thank you all so much for your comments and recommendations on my post about three books I should read before I am thirty and forty books before I am forty. It is exactly three weeks today that my thirties will start and so I have made a decision on the three books I will be reading in the final three weeks of my twenties. It was a tricky choice…

Well actually the first decision was a pretty easy one. I wanted one to be a non fiction novel regardless, and I have always liked letters and diaries and so ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank fitted the bill and is a book I have always meant to read. What has stopped me? In all honesty I have always been worried it might not affect me and what that would say about me. Is that bad?

Anyway that was my first choice. I decided I wanted one of the books to be rather chunky, and ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ by John Fowles ticks lots of boxes. Its set in my favourite period in history, the Victorian era, has a fallen woman at its heart and John Fowles is an author I have wanted to return to. Oh, and it has a gorgeous new cover which popped through the door the other day. Oh, and… the lovely Karen has chosen it for her Cornflower Book Group in April, so maybe a few of you could join in.

Last but not least (and I might not read them in this order anyway) thanks to Annabel of Gaskella who mentioned Beryl Bainbridge, yet another author I have ‘always meant to read’. Well on World Book Day I wanted to buy a book and not something new. ‘The Bottle Factory Outing’ is one I have heard great things about and sounds like a good way in so that is the third and final choice.

So what about the forty to read before I am forty. Well you mentioned some corkers (some I had read and loved but that means we are on a wavelength) and here is the list of the twenty four titles that have come in so far that could end up in the mix.

Maps for lost Lovers – Nadeem Aslam
Miss Hargreaves – Frank Baker
The Regeneration Trilogy – Pat Barker
2666 – Robert Bolano
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
Famous Last Words – Timothy Findley
Through a Glass, Darkly – Jostein Gaarder
American Gods – Neil Gaiman
Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell
The Major of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy
Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
For Whom The Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
Into Thin Air – Jon Krakauer
Independent People – Halldor Laxness
Three Horses – Erri de Luca
Night Train to Lisbon – Pascal Mercier
A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
The Raj Quartet – Paul Scott
A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
The Map of Love – Adhaf Soueif
The Life and Loves of a She-Devil – Fay Weldon
In Great Waters – Kit Whitfield

Isn’t it a great and rather diverse list? Would you second any of these? Are there any that I might be missing and should consider (there is still space for sixteen more, and I might change some), if you think so do let me know. What do you think of my three before thirty? Let me know if you fancy reading any of them too.

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Why Don’t Men Read Books By Women… Or Do They?

Today’s post title might seem like a silly question initially but actually it is a rather pertinent one as it is a common fact that a lot of male readers will only read books by men. I can hear people here there and everywhere saying ‘pah, that’s not true’ and if that is the case then that’s great, but as I am one of the speakers on ‘Why Don’t Men Read Books By Women?’ at the Lucy Cavendish Woman’s Word Literary Festival in June this year, which I will also be reporting on from behind the scenes too, I thought it was a subject that we could have a good old natter about on Savidge Reads today please.

As I am sure you will have gathered by now I am definitely a man who does read books written by women, in fact I think I read more books by women than I do by men actually. I myself have a whole host of varied female authors in Mount TBR some of which, as pictured above, that I am going to be reading in the lead up to this event. I have chosen some modern crime, some classics (I didn’t feel that I could do this even having never read a full novel by Jane Austen, oops, it is frankly high time I did, I do think the reasons I have been put off are possibly rather like a lot of blokes I know – more on that in due course), some recently released contemporary novels (which nicely combine with my decision to read the whole of the Orange longlist, currently on hold at the halfway point as I have slight Orange overload at the moment) and some of the female greats I have loved in the past and want to read more of. Where oh where to start with a lovely loot like this?

I have noticed that apart from two modern debut novels and a Booker winner from many moons ago, I haven’t plucked out any books by female authors I haven’t tried before so any recommendations for those are welcome if you have any?

So in the name of research, and also because I am rather nosey and fascinated by other peoples reading habits, what about all of you? Which men will happily put there hands up and say that they too read lots of books by women? Any male readers of this blog who are happy to say they don’t and if so why not? And my lovely female readers what about your male relatives and partners do they read books by women or not and if so which titles have they particularly loved? Oh and let me know your thoughts if you have read any of the books pictured above and what you thought of them please. Oh and of course if you are a female reader, do you find you read more books by women than you do men, or vice versa? All thoughts welcomed and, as ever, most appreciated.

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Savidge Reads Grills… Tess Gerritsen

When I sent Tess Gerritsen a cheeky email asking if she would please, please, please do a Savidge Reads Grills I was thrilled that she pretty instantly said yes. Ever since the lovely Novel Insights bought me ‘The Surgeon’ to read when I was having an operation a few years ago (not the wisest of timely choices, I read it when I was recovering at home rather than in the hospital) I have been gripped by the Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles series. As you might have seen yesterday I loved ‘The Bone Garden’ which was a departure into historical fiction. So without further ado here is Tess Gerritsen getting Savidgely Grilled…

For those people who haven’t read any of your series Isles and Rizzoli novels can you try and explain them in a single sentence?

It’s a crime series starring two very different, very capable female investigators: homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles, who are colleagues and friends.

How does each book come about?  Where are the ideas born?

I start with an idea that intrigues me, something that makes me excited to find out what happens next.  The inspirations come from different places.  Vanish, for instance, was inspired by a real case in Boston of a woman who was mistaken for dead and woke up in the morgue.  The writer in me immediately wanted to know how she ended up there, and what she did next.  ‘Body Double’ came to me while I was standing in the autopsy room and thinking: “What if I were to watch myself get autopsied?  Wouldn’t that be a horrifying thing?”  And it’s what Maura Isles almost goes through when she watches her twin sister, a sister she never knew she had, get autopsied.

How much of what we read in these books has actually been something you experienced in your career such as bodies waking up?

Thank heavens most of these tales are things I’ve NEVER experienced.  A lot of the source material is from the news, or from my voracious reading of all matter of material, from gossip magazines to scientific journals.

Has there ever been anything that completely creeped you out?

Quite often, in fact.  I am completely creeped out by shrunken heads, which is why I wrote about them in ‘Keeping The Dead’.  And autopsies although I’ve watched at least a dozen of them continue to disturb me.  I just don’t like watching them, even though they were part of my training.  Most of all, I’m creeped out by the horrifying ways that some people have expired.  In small, enclosed spaces.  In great pain.  Or in locations that are just out of reach of help.

Do you have a favourite between Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles as characters?

I love Jane Rizzoli as a role model, as a woman who is sure of herself and knows what she wants.  But I identify more with Maura Isles because of her scientific background and because I am an introvert, just like Maura.

They can be quite gory fiction in some ways; do you ever wonder if you have gone too far?

I think I pull back before I get too gory.  At least, from my point of view, I do!  I suppose there are readers who think I go over the top.  But in my books you seldom see the cruelty and depravity acted out on the page.  What I portray are the investigators coming onto the scene after the terrible acts have happened, and my investigators must piece the sequence together.  I do include details of autopsies, but I think of that as simply people doing their jobs.  It’s what I’ve seen as a doctor, and it doesn’t seem gory to me, simply clinical.

One of the many things I really love about the books is there seems to be no limits to what could happen, twins are suddenly found, people fall from planes it’s all fantastical and perfect escapism. Where do you come up with these varying twists and storylines?

I follow my instincts as a writer.  I ask myself, what’s the next intriguing, completely unexpected thing that can happen next?  And I make it happen.  I love to be surprised as a reader, and that’s what I try to do in my stories.  Keep my readers, and myself, off balance.

Your novels have become a TV series – how much involvement did you have with it? Was it hard to say yes to the project initially, because it’s something you created?

I don’t write the episodes.  “Rizzoli & Isles” has its own writing team, headed by executive producer Janet Tamaro, who wrote the pilot script.  I know Janet, and I feel perfectly comfortable shooting her an email with an idea or a suggestion, and occasionally she’ll ask for my opinion.  But it’s her baby now, and she’s managed to turn it into a hit TV show.  Although I created Jane and Maura, I’m realistic enough to know that I can’t maintain control of who they are in different media.  They’ve changed from their original book versions. As Janet likes to say, “You’re the birth mother and I’m the stepmother.  And now that they’re under my roof, they have to do what I tell them to.”

‘The Bone Garden’ was a slight change in your recent novels, what sent you off into the Victorian period? Are you planning more novels like this?

I loved writing that book.  It was inspired by some reading I’d done about childbed fever.  The details of the illness and the deaths so horrified me that I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  And when I can’t stop thinking about a topic, I know it’s going to end up in a book.  Here in the US, one of the historical heroes in medicine was Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, a physician who was the first to advise American doctors (in 1843) to wash their hands before attending women in childbirth.  He was probably responsible for saving the lives of thousands of women, yet his suggestions were ignored for a decade.  I wanted to write a story set in that filthy, disease-ridden era, when women were dying in childbirth. Where doctors were labouring under antiquated ideas of science.  And where conditions for the immigrant poor were horror stories in and of themselves.

When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? Was it an easy thing for you to do?

I knew I was a writer when I was seven years old.  I’ve never given up the dream.  But since I come from very practical immigrant stock (Chinese) I was talked into choosing a more secure profession, medicine.  Still, that dream of being a writer never left me and when I went on maternity leave from hospital work, I wrote my first book.

How long have you been writing for? Which books and authors inspired you to write?

My first published novel, a romance, came out in 1987 (Call After Midnight).  I’ve written about a book a year ever since then.  So it’s been 23 years as a professional novelist, which makes me feel old indeed.   As for which books inspired me, I can point to the same books that so many other female mystery writers point to: the Nancy Drew mystery series.  Those books reinforced my belief that women could not only be intelligent and independent, they could also solve mysteries.  While driving their own cars and staying up past midnight!

Are there any books you wish you had written yourself?

Too many to mention!  I wish I’d written Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.  I wish I’d written Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. I wish I’d written The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.

Which contemporary authors do you rate who are writing right now?

I’d like to mention two debut authors, just because debut authors have a harder time getting noticed. Their books are about to come out in 2011.  The first is Taylor Stevens, whose novel ‘The Informationist’ has a smashing new heroine.  And the second is S.J. Watson, a male author who absolutely and astonishingly nails a female voice in his book ‘Before I Go To Sleep’, about a woman with a peculiar form of amnesia who must re-make her past every morning when she wakes up.

Describe your typical writing routine, do you have any writers quirks or any writing rituals?

No rituals except breakfast and coffee, and then I sit at my desk and try to write 4 good first-draft pages.  I guess the most unusual thing about me is that I write those first-draft pages with pen and paper.  I’m an old dog who just can’t learn new tricks.

What is next for Tess Gerritsen?

I’m finishing up my next Jane and Maura book, The Silent Girl, about a mysterious murder in Boston’s Chinatown.  It allows me to explore some of the Chinese folktales of my childhood.

You can find out more about Tess Gerritsen on her website and indeed read her very own blog.

I want to say a huge thanks to Tess Gerritsen as I know how busy she is and so the fact that she did this so quickly and so eagerly was lovely. It’s always nice when authors you really like to read are lovely in real life, I know it shouldn’t matter but lets be honest it does. Has this interview made you want to read more Gerritsen? Have any of you tried the novels she wrote pre-Rizzoli and Isles? I haven’t tried any yet and want to very much.

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The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver (Reviewed by Granny Savidge)

As many of you may or may not know I tried (really hard) and failed with The Orange Prize winning ‘The Lacuna’ by Barbara Kingsolver earlier in the year. I was actually quite narked at myself initially because I hate to give up on a book but the constant waves of loving this and then really not ground me down and so I stopped. Fortunate then that Granny Savidge Reads needed to read it for her book group so when I last went up I took it in tow to find a new home and she has kindly done a post on her thoughts, so without further ado I shall hand you over…

“I have a problem with what I call Faction i.e. serious books that include historical figures in the plot (though I loved Wolf Hall). To what extend are the facts correct, where does fact end and fiction begin?

Apparently Barbara Kingsolver took 7 years to write this book and during that time she researched everything she could that went into the writing of the novel. She read everything she could about Trotsky, Rivera and Kalo; she visited all the sites mentioned in the book, she even climbed the pyramid in Mexico as Harrison does in the book.  She studied the fashions of the time and she visited Ashville where most of the second half of the book takes place. I found unbelievable the account of the Bonus Army and the camps and the riots and the army firing on the innocent and setting fire to their homes so I rushed to the computer and there it was, even a picture of some of the buildings burning. Apparently all the dates she gives are accurate such as Rivera’s and Kahlo’s visits to the U.S. and Kahlo’s fling with Trotsky. However she does give a very sympathetic portrayal of Trotsky who from all I have read was just as ruthless and murderous as Stalin.

The Poisonwood Bible is one of my favourite modern books (and one I keep telling Simon to read) so I looked forward very much to reading this one but having read it find myself confused as to what to say about it. In some parts I think her prose was brilliant so why did I find myself so often bored with it and would I even have bothered to finish it were it not for this book group. The parts about food and cooking I found especially tedious.

This is a book in two parts, the first in Mexico sort of setting the scene for the second part, but I found the combining of the two unsatisfactory maybe as some reviewers have suggested it should have been two books. As I read all the details of life in Mexico I was aware that the writer was giving an account of her own observations rather like a journalist might rather than a writer of fiction and this was before I knew about the amount or research that had gone into the book. And by the way was anyone else annoyed by the use of so many Spanish words in the first part of the book. What are carpas, or pulque or guapo or Tejamo hats? I know that Spanish is widely spoken in the States but should we poor Anglo Saxons be left to guess or continually interrupt our reading to look up words?

There are a few fictional characters in the book, the feckless mother, the wonderful cook, Leandro, my favourite minor character, Archie the lawyer. The friend Tom, I couldn’t quite see the purpose of him other than to show that even your friends desert you when the state is after you. These people float in and out of the story leaving centre stage to Harrison who is there on every page though we really only know him through his diary and notebooks and to the wonderful Violet who of course is only there in the second half although she is really making possible our journey through the book.

Despite his omnipresence I found Harrison a shadowy figure, something missing, a lacuna maybe. Neglected as a child, becomes a servant/cook/secretary and then later when he realises his true vocation as a writer he is so persecuted by the state that he gives up the thing that has always given meaning to his life. Violet Brown I loved. Sensible, down to earth and utterly loyal and reliable, a marvellous force for stability in what, until meeting her, had been an unstable life. Despite the fact that I found Harrison’s character somewhat elusive the last few pages of the book almost reduced me to tears, after all we had followed this character from childhood to manhood through all the vicissitudes of his life and we see it end so tragically or did it? Can I just say that the final part of this book is wonderful writing so for anyone who may think of giving up I would say don’t.

So what was is this book really about? How despite the passage of thousands of years man never really changes neither better or worse than he ever was. How death can come suddenly out of a sunny sky whether it be for Trotsky, or Pearl Harbour or for those killed on 9/11. How easily the power of gossip and innuendo fuelled by the press can destroy a man and can lead to the erosion of those liberties that a nation has fought for, such as freedom of speech and freedom to hold a view opposed to the prevailing opinions. It also highlights the loneliness of a writer,  in Mexico when he was hard up Harrison was always surrounded by people, in the U.S. ,as a successful writer, he spends a solitary existence apart from the company of the faithful Violet.

I read this for our U3A book group and had to give a rather nerve wrecking presentation. The other members of the group had really enjoyed the book. The meetings take place in Ellen’s house, and as we talk, over home made cakes and tea; we can watch the local bird life flitting amongst the trees that surround the house in this special corner of England.

I haven’t mentioned the title yet, I thought maybe it referred to the gaps in his life or the missing notebook or some such. Barbara Kingsolver says ‘This story is about all the things you don’t know-the other side of the story-the piece of history that has been erased.’ What do you think? Who else has read this, tried to or wants to? Simon and I would love to know your thoughts.”

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