Tag Archives: Beryl Bainbridge

A London Bookshop Crawl (and Why I Bought The Books I Did)…

I mentioned at the end of my literary London post on Thursday that I was very excited as I was off on a bookshop crawl around some of London with Gavin of Gav Reads and formerly my co-host on The Readers. Well we have done it, in fact we did it for most of Friday afternoon and I thought I would share it all with you because come on, let’s face it, we all love going on a really good bookshop. Even the rain in North West and Central London couldn’t put Gav and I off our strides (well once we found a shop selling umbrella’s) as we both took our wallets and some gift cards out for a battering…

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Now what the rain did put off was me taking any actual pictures of the outside of the bookshops because it was honestly pretty grey, bleak and a little bit dire outside, which only made these book havens all the better, so I didn’t take any pictures of them from the front so fingers crossed I can bring them all to life. I didn’t take any pictures inside either as I always think people will think I am taking a picture with my phone to go and buy it on some evil website cheaper, which is frankly unforgivable. Anyway…

First up was Foyles flagship store on Charing Cross Road where I had a meeting before and so seemed like the best meeting point. If you haven’t been to Foyles flagship store before you must, it is six stories of books, books and more books from childrens on the lower ground to textbooks on the fourth and everything in between, from fiction to music, magazines to plays, the list is endless. You can see it all here. Admittedly Gav and I had been in the day before and I had spotted my first purchase in advance, Scholastique Mukasonga’s Our Lady of the Nile which is currently on the The International Dublin Literary Award shortlist and stood out a mile because I had never heard of it before, so naturally it was the one I most wanted to read and had to be mine…

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We then headed in the mild drizzle to the tube as I had planned that we would head over to Notting Hill to three bookshops which I had never visited before but had heard all sorts of marvellous things about. The first was Book and Kitchen on All Saints Road which Jen Campbell has mentioned quite a few times on her vlog. We arrived, after having found a belated umbrella shop) rather like drowned rats but were instantly made to feel welcome by the staff and encouraged to get downstairs and get a coffee, in the really homely cafe, to shelter from the rain. We were both advised on specialist coffee’s depending on our caffeine tastes/requirements (Gav’s wanted something like rocket fuel, my request was more mild) before being given a guide that downstairs was children’s, young adult, travel, non fiction, coffee, food and crockery and upstairs was fiction, all of it has the wonderful feeling of being in someones home and being allowed to peruse their shelves and then buy one or two of their favourite books, it’s really lovely. We both left with grins on our faces and a book each in our hand’s. Gavin bought Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun from newly established Cassava Republic Press which was recommended to us both highly and with such enthusiasm I nearly bought one too, as I had it at home already I went for The Hiding Place by Trezza Azzopardi…

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This is a book I have been hankering after for a while as I am going away with my friends Polly, Michelle and Dom to Cardiff next month for a weekend away and we like to read a book together set in or with links to where we are. The Hiding Place  tells the story of the six daughters of a Maltese family growing up in Cardiff through the eyes of the youngest, Dolores. Sounds really interesting and I had not yet got my copy so fate stepped in.

After a fond farewell from all the staff at Book and Kitchen we headed to Lutyens & Rubinstein on Kensington Park Road which is both a book shop and a literary agency in one building, Gav and I were secretly hoping to get scouted. As soon as I walked through the door I felt like I was back in America as the store has that feel of culture curated high fashion literature, if that makes any sense. What I loved here was that once you go down into the ground floor all the paperbacks there are a mixture of fiction and non fiction. Initially this threw me slightly but I was won over by the end as because it is a smallish collection of books (its a few thousand I am guessing so not that small) I was more engaged in the non fiction books than I might be elsewhere, which is why I left with a book that (peer pressure alert) Kim has reviewed on Reading Matters, Helen Garner’s This House of Grief which is a tale of a murder trial. I have a small grim fascination for true crime but I like it to be really well written and having read Helen Garner’s novel The Spare Room I have no doubt this is going to blow my socks off.

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We then took a small tour of Holland Park as we headed to Daunts, erm, Holland Park branch. I am a fan of Daunts and have visited the Marylebone store many a time, where you can find fiction by country as well as by author, which is rather exciting. There is the same sort of feel in Holland Park though it is more non fiction by country and fiction in author order. I already had my mind set on a few possibilities as I wanted to get a Daunts Books book in Daunts Books. Sounds confusing but really it is just me taking a long winded approach to saying they publish their own books. I mulled a few options before settling on K J Orr’s short story collection Light Box which I have been seeing lots of pictures of on social media, which as we all know is one of the best places to get a recommendation to head to a book store to buy.

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By this point we were quite hungry from all the perusing and headed back to town for a pizza and then a wander around Waterstones Piccadilly, because we both had Waterstones gift cards which were burning holes in our pockets. Thank you to my lovely team at work, who got me some vouchers for my birthday, I came away with these five gems.

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Waterstone’s Piccadilly is probably has one of my favourite laid out fiction sections as they have it by genre and by author but also by imprints and so you can find some wonderful indie imprints shelve or on display. This is why I left with the Penguin Modern Classic edition of François Mauriac’s Thérèse Desqueyroux, which I don’t even mind having a film cover because its a stunner; the Australian classic and newly reissued The Man Who Loved Children, by Christina Stead which is from a new imprint Apollo (part of Head of Zeus) as well as Will Eaves new book The Inevitable Gift Shop from indie imprint CB editions. I hadn’t heard of the Mauriac, the cover won me then the dark blurb sealed the deal. I saw Stead’s novel (which is HUGE) discussed on The ABC Book Club ages ago and it divided the panel so much I have been meaning to get it since and this edition is STUNNING. Will Eaves is my favourite author that I have never read. We all have those don’t we an author we just know we will love for some gut/supernatural/bizzare/random reason.

I also bought two books by authors I have read and loved. Beryl Bainbridge I discovered a while back and have read many books of, I have always wanted to read Harriet Said as it is set down the road from me in Formby and apparently there is frolicking in the sand dunes. Graham Swift is new to me after reading the wonderful, wonderful, wonderful Mothering Sunday earlier this year. There was a Swift display and Shuttlecock appealed because it deals with the ‘dead crime unit’ which won me over the moment I read it. So I managed quite a haul there.

This was when Gav and I said goodbye as he had a train to run for. I headed off to catch my bus  after a marvelous day and as I did realised I hadn’t bought Catherine Hall a thank you card for letting me stay, so I had to get one and which shop is my bus stop outside… Foyles. Somehow as I was in stationery I remembered I wanted to get Ta-Nehisi Coates Between the World and Me, a book written as a letter to the author’s teenaged son about the feelings, symbolism, and realities associated with being black in the United States. Coates recapitulates the American history of violence against black people and the incommensurate policing of black youth. I saw this all over the place in the States and like a dafty didn’t buy it so made sure I went and found it, as I did I passed another apt book I just couldn’t help getting too…

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Bookshelf by Lydia Pyne, part of the Object Lessons series from Bloomsbury. How could I not take a book about bookshelves of the bookshelf to take home to mine, all about bookshelves? It would have been a crime not to and don’t you pretend otherwise. I then hurried away from town and anywhere too close to anymore stores, feeling very happy with my loot.

What do you make of the books I bought and the reasons for buying them? What makes you buy a book? Which books have you bought recently AND have you read any of my purchases and if so what did you make of them? I would love to know answers to all those questions. Right, best do some reading…

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Filed under Book Spree, Book Thoughts, Bookshop Crawl, Random Savidgeness

Books – Charlie Hill

I feel like this post today should be a public service announcement to anyone who loves books, the book industry and/or books about books. If you fit into any of those camps then, the aptly titled, Books by Charlie Hill is definitely a book for you as it satires the industry and the mediocrity which is rife in the amount of books that get published. Yet do not mistake that for it being a book for literary snobs, that is not what it is about at all, it is a look at what the role of a book is and why people started reading them in the first place.

Tindal Street Press, 2013, paperback, fiction, 192 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Richard Anger is a struggling writer, possibly as his short stories are rather dour and so experimental nobody can really read them, who as he loves book so much bought and now runs Back Street Books single handed. It is on his annual break from the shop on holiday, packing David Foster Wallace, that firstly he meets Lauren , a neurologist he instantly falls for, and then witnesses the first in a series of deaths caused by SNAPS (Spontaneous Neural Atrophy Syndrome) commenting on what a rubbish book the person who died was reading. When Lauren gets back to Birmingham she learns of more deaths from SNAPS and is intrigued and so looks Richard up again. Richard then puts two and two together realising that mediocre books are making people literally brain dead, and in all these cases the books that were being read were written by Gary Sayles – an author set to have the biggest hit of the year, an author who must be stopped.

Three days later review copies of The Grass is Greener began to arrive at newspaper offices, bookshops and the homes of bloggers. Within twelve hours the reviewers began to die.
A pointlessly detailed passage in Chapter 3, in which the hero of the piece argues with his wife during a Bank Holiday trip to IKEA, accounted for a part-time-critic-about-town on the Bristol Evening Star; Chapter 4’s barely credible description of a drunken seduction and one-night-stand did for a contributor to Beach Reads R Us!; and the Books Editor of the Glasgow Chronicle passed away after becoming cognitively becalmed during the course of a particularly laborious pun in Chapter 5.

Through Richard we see many aspects of the book industry roughly as it is now, though of course through a satirical gaze. As he struggles with rejections from publishers and literary magazines etc, we see how times are tough for the author and how the anti-snobs have almost created snobbery themselves in a different way. (Hill cleverly shows the other side of this with Gary Sayles who is the most up himself author, with minimal talent too, and one who clearly believes his own hype and promotion – I think we all know of those types don’t we?) Through Richard’s shop Back Street Books we get to see how the Independent’s are struggling against the internet and supermarkets and even indeed, dare we say it, the publishing industry itself. Oh and the broadsheets, reviewers and bloggers also get a look in as Richard has his own blog The Bilious Bibliophile – my hackles were ready to raise at this but like the rest of the book it made me laugh at the truth of it and indeed myself.

I should say here whilst Richard is clearly a snob and only wants high literature in his life, you can tell that Hill as the author is not. Hill clearly just loves books with a bit of a punch and it is with a love of books that is where Books comes from, indeed Lauren showing Richard that the best books can meet in the middle is a big part of the book. It’s main redemptive feature if you will – publishers take note! It is also this love of books that makes Hill create a satire here and not a farce.

Interestingly there is another strand to the book, which leads to its fantastical dénouement, which I haven’t mentioned. Pippa and Zeke are two artists hired by Gary to help promote The People’s Literature Tour (a brilliant send up) who are so ‘modern’ they are probably ‘retro post-modern’, yes those types. I didn’t warm to them, but I don’t think you are meant to, and I have to say I could see what Hill was doing but, apart from at the very end, I didn’t really see the need for them as I was more interested in everything else going on. In fact I would have liked more of characters like Muzz instead, who appeared a few times to much comical effect like when he swindles supermarkets bookshelves; another part of the industry nicely highlighted there to for what it does, or doesn’t, seem to stock.

‘It’s like this. The security guard in Waterstones in the city centre, he clocks me every time I go in. I can’t hardly move without him following me. But they’ve got this thing where they don’t mind exchanges. You know, providing the books in good nick they’ll swap it, even without a receipt. So I go to Sainsbury’s, help myself, get it to Waterstones and upgrade. So far I’ve managed to swap Jeffery Archer for Glenn Duncan, a Louise Bagshaw for a Beryl Bainbridge and Breaking Dawn for The Blind Assassin.’

Books is going to easily find itself in my books of the year. It is a brave book, even with its comic tones and edge, for an author to write. In part because it is almost an author speaking out against the industry to a certain point, which might not get you invited to all the big bookish parties (though as Hill is based outside London he won’t get invited anyway as I can vouch – ouch) and might make some people in some circles of the industry a little uncomfortable with the mirror it might hold up. Also being a book that is anti-mediocrity, the author needs to write a bloody good book to stand up to what it is highlighting itself. I can safely say that Hill exceeds that with this book, and indeed it’s his love of books that shines through and makes it such a successful and brilliant satire. If you love books then, erm, read Books – it is that simple.

For more on Books and a discussion about it and indeed books and the book industry, you can hear myself and Charlie Hill in conversation on the latest episode of You Wrote The Book.

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Filed under Books About Books, Books of 2013, Charlie Hill, Review, Tindal Street Press

Beryl Bainbridge: Artist, Writer, Friend – An Exhibition

This weekend, whilst I was mulling a few things (thank you for your comments earlier this week), I decided to do some pottering and mooching about in lovely Liverpool. For some reason I have stayed over in the Wirral in the main and not done as much exploring of my new nearby city and its delights. Well, unless friends have come to visit obviously. So I decided to hit the museums and I wasn’t expecting to find anything particularly bookish on my rounds and yet I did, and from one of my favourite authors… Beryl Bainbridge.

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Believe it or not the building above is not Liverpool’s Science Museum, in fact I don’t think we have one, but a very new addition (and quite a controversial one) to the Mersey riverfront and is actually the Museum of Liverpool. Amongst the history of the city through the ages I discovered a little gem of an exhibition for any book lover, Beryl Bainbridge: Artist, Writer Friend.

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I have only discovered Beryl Bainbridge’s novels in the last few years, ‘The Bottle Factory Outing’ becoming one of my favourite books for being so bonkers, yet I knew relatively little about her apart from the fact that she died earlier than she should. For example I had no idea that she was from Liverpool… I know shocking isn’t it?

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On top of that, whilst I had seen some of her illustrations from ‘Filthy Lucre’ which she wrote very young, I had no idea that she was a painter, something this exhibition proves beyond a shadow of a doubt.

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On top of lots of her paintings there is also a wonderful collection of some of the first editions of her books…

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…And indeed one of her notebooks from 1968 which has a story of its own. This was a journal that Beryl (I hope she wouldn’t mind first name terms) wrote whilst on a road trip across America with her lover at the time, Harold Retler. This was a trip that Bainbridge was left very disappointed by and yet, several decades later, she used this journal as inspiration for her final novel ‘The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress’. I found this fascinating in itself.

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One thing that Bainbridge seemed to find fascinating herself, and indeed she wrote about it in ‘Every Man For Himself’, was the Titanic which itself is a huge part of Liverpool’s history. I think the paintings Beryl had done of her imaginings of the Titanic might have been her most poignant and powerful.

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It seemed rather appropriate, if that is the right word, that as you leave the exhibition and museum to head to the centre of town, or the train, after wards you actually go past the very building where the names of the survivors and the dead were read out from the balcony after the tragedy.

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As you can tell I was rather bowled over by this surprise find. I haven’t shared all of it with you as the exhibition is on until the 28th of this month and I am hoping some of you might make it there (if you do let me know I might be about for a coffee, ha) to have a look yourself. If you can’t make it then hopefully this is a small insight into it and you can feel you went and had a wander, sort of, round it. There is a book ‘Beryl Bainbridge: Artist, Writer, Friend’ by Psiche Hughes which I am kicking myself for not getting myself. Maybe I will have to pop back?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #4 – Annabel Gaskell

For the latest instalment of other peoples book porn bookshelves we get to have a nosey through the lovely Annabel Gaskell’s shelves this week. I must add here that through the wonder of WordPress and its tools I know that Annabel is my most commenting visitor, I think that might deserve a prize or something, I will  have to mull it over. Anyway, Annabel has been blogging at http://gaskella.wordpress.com for over four years. She says “ Like the rest of my family, I’ve always loved books – we’re all book-hoarders too.  A child of the 1960s and 1970s, I’m a South Londoner, and studied Materials Science at Imperial College, London. I worked as a proper scientist in the chemical industry for years, before my biological clock went ping at 39. I took several years off work after having my daughter who is now 12, and now I’m a lab technician in an Oxfordshire prep school. I’m a staunch supporter of independent bookshops and literary events in Abingdon near Oxford, and have hosted three literary quiz nights for charity in the town” – a fourth is in the planning. So lets have a nosey shall we?

Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I used to keep every book I read, but it does eventually get to a stage where you have to make hard decisions about how many are worth keeping. Some time ago, book geek that I am, I made myself a set of criteria for keeping books:

  • I rated it 9 or 10 points out of 10;
  • It’s part of a series I am reading and intend to keep in its entirety;
  • It’s a collectable edition/set, e.g. hardback firsts, Folio, illustrated, or signed;
  • It’s an important book in the history of literature, e.g. Canon or a major prize-winner
  • It’s by an author I collect;
  • It’s a book I want to keep for my daughter;
  • It belongs to a particular ‘reading trail’ or area of special interest, e.g. Russian novels, fairy tales, classic children’s novels;
  • It’s non-fiction and useful for reference.

Note – having made the rules, I don’t follow them religiously – but I do tend towards them, keeping less than half the books I read these days.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

My fiction books are split between read and unread. In my posh bookcases in the guest bedroom (in which all the books are unread), they’re strictly alphabetical by author’s surname, with biographies and non-fiction separated out.  Then I have a separate bookcase for hardback biographies, and my travel books are in the downstairs loo. In my study bedroom are the holding shelves which are totally mixed up and double stacked. I have my reference library in the dining room. Finally I have my bedside bookcase which has most of the books I plan to read soon in! I am gradually culling a lot of my unread books now – I have more than I could possibly read, and there are all those shiny new books too, but it’s so difficult! I am getting tougher on myself though and upping the pace of culling slightly which is good, I think…

Posh bookcases

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

I was never short of books to read as a child. My parents bought us lots, and I used the library extensively. It’s hard to remember but I suspect that amongst the first books I bought (which were from the Guides jumble sale) were science fiction – Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, and Fantastic Voyage – I still have the latter.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

I don’t have any books to be embarrassed about, no hidden shelves or downloads on my Kindle.

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

Over the years I have treated myself to the Folio Society’s collections of fairy tales which are gorgeous editions with lovely illustrations and I’d be loath to lose them. Some of my signed books are quite precious to me too.  There’s also my Beryl collection.  Everything is replaceable – but I do have a catalogue on Librarything just in case!

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What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

This is a cop out, but I can’t remember specifically. I just devoured everything that came my way – I got an adult library pass at around 12yrs old, and after reading Day of the Triffids at school in year 7, I got heavily into SF for many years. I did discover ‘Rebecca’ as a young teenager at home though …

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I don’t use the library at present, so I acquire the books I want to read.

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

Winter Games by Rachel Johnson – I’ve just read it too, and it was rather good.

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Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

My Am**on wishlist currently runs to around 450 items, over 400 of which are books, so yes – lots!

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

I just hope they’ll be pleasantly surprised at the breadth of the type of books that I read. Although I mostly read contemporary fiction, I try to read a bit of everything else alongside it. Ultimately though, I hope they could find books they want to read on the shelves too.

Holding bookcases Travel books!

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A big thank you to Annabel for letting me grill her. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to) in Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Annabel’s responses and/or any of the books she mentioned?

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Savidge Reads Books of 2012 – Part One…

I was going to try and be really brave and break the habit of this blogs and just do a single top ten books of the year. I tried and tried and tried, and I failed. I simply couldn’t only have ten, in fact I actually had a top thirty roughly, but then I have read 167 books (Green Carnation submissions always bump this figure up, what will next year be like without them) this year so maybe that will make it slightly more understandable. So what I have done once again is have two top tens, one of the books published for the first time in the UK in 2012 and another with all the other books published before that – it is the latter we are focusing on today. For the full review click on the link, I have chosen a highlighting paragraph to tempt you for this post.

10. The Claude Glass by Tom Bullough

I really liked the fact Bullough creates this sense of place and people and wants you to work with him on building the bigger picture and using all the things unsaid along with tiny tensions to create the full narrative tale.  I think by now you will have probably guessed that I thought ‘The Claude Glass’ was an unusual and incredibly accomplished piece of writing, silently impressive and one that rewards you in many ways.

9. You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead by Marieke Hardy

‘You’ll Be Sorry When I Am Dead’ is one of those books which manages to make you laugh out loud, feel ever so uncomfortable at its honesty, possibly makes you want to cry and then makes you laugh all over again. When someone writes their memoirs it isn’t necessarily that the full truth doesn’t come out, just that the author tends to look at things in a rose tinted way, highlighting their best bits – not so in the case of Marieke.

8. Days of Grace by Catherine Hall

What I also really admired and loved about the book is that even though we have one narrator we have two stories. These are told in alternating chapters throughout the book. This device is one that is used often and normally I have to admit one story will overtake my interest as I read on. Not in the case of ‘Days of Grace’. I was desperate to know what was going to happen with Nora and Grace as the war went on both in idyllic Kent and the roughness and danger of London but I also wanted to know, just as much, what was going to happen with Nora in the present, her health and the relationship with Rose and her baby. Both stories had me intrigued and I think that was because Catherine Hall very cleverly has the stories mystery foreboding the past tense narrative and shadowing the present without us knowing what it is until the last minute.

7. The World That Was Ours – Hilda Bernstein

‘The World That Was Ours’ shows the power of books, writing, journalism and memoir. When it was published back in 1967 it was a dangerous book to release and there were many people who would have liked to see it destroyed. Thank goodness it found a publisher back then and thank goodness Persephone have chosen it as a book to reprint for us to discover because it is just the sort of book that everyone should read. I will be re-reading this again for definite.

6. Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

You can feel the sense of unease on almost every page, both in a combination of the mystery of Hiero unraveling and war drawing nearer does give the book a slight thriller twist. If you think that is a negative thing it is not I promise you because Edugyan merges the literary elements of the novel with the tension and pace perfectly… and it stays with you long after you read it.

5. The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge

There were so many things that I loved about Beryl Bainbridge’s writing that it might be hard to encompass them all, I will endeavour to try though. First of all is how much is in such a small book. At a mere 200 pages, and in fairly big print which could be devoured in a few hours, so much happens that when you have finished you find yourself recapping it all and thinking ‘did that all just happen in this book?’ There are funerals, hilarious seductions in cellars, hilarious seductions in a shared bedroom and a shared bathroom, a mother in law with a grudge to bear and a gun in her handbag, a fight in Windsor Castle, horse riding with the Queen’s funereal regiment, something awful on an outing which leads to a strange trip to a safari park, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

4. Never Mind by Edward St Aubyn

I always admire an author who can write beautifully and simply, an author who can create the most understated of melodramas will win me over. I also always admire an author who can write a passage that chills you before one that makes you laugh out loud and then another which horrifies you all over again. All these things are encompassed in Edward St Aubyn’s first Patrick Melrose novel ‘Never Mind’.

3. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I don’t think I have yet read a piece of fiction which seems to encapsulate the entire breadth in which cancer can affect people and not just those in the eye of the storm it creates. Ness looks at the full spectrum of emotions for all those involved, from Conor, his mother and grandmother to those on the periphery such as Conor’s teachers. He takes these feeling and reactions, condenses them and then makes them readable, effecting, emotional and compelling in just over 200 pages. The monster itself is also an incredible character being utterly evil in many ways and yet having hints of goodness amongst the chaos he creates so that you are never quite sure if he is friend or foe.

2. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

I wouldn’t normally say that I was a reader who subscribes to adventure stories or love stories and yet Madeline Miller’s debut novel ‘The Song of Achilles’ is easily my favourite read of the year so far. The reason for this is simple, she’s a bloody good storyteller, a great writer and I think the enthusiasm she has for classics becomes contagious somewhere in the way she writes. Madeline Miller has made me want to run out and read more books with this book, what more can you ask from an author than that?

1.  Kiss Kiss by Roald Dahl

I think ‘Kiss Kiss’ will undoubtedly remain one of my favourite short story collections, and one that I will happily dip in and out of again and again in the future. It has that delightfully dark, yet awfully darkly funny, essence to it that I just really enjoy. It has made me want to go out and read all of Dahl’s other adult work (especially with the covers in this new series by Penguin) and also dig out my old childhood favourites which I am sure I will now see in a whole new light. I would definitely recommend that you read this collection if you haven’t, they are mini macabre masterpieces.

So that is my first top ten of 2012 and all the books I really, really loved published before this year that I read this year. Make sense? I do also want to mention ‘Now You See Me’ by S.J. Bolton, ‘Packing For Mars’ by Mary Roach (both of which I read for The Readers Summer Book Club and adored), ‘Persuasion’ by Jane Austen and ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens (both have been part of Classically Challenged and the latter of which I will be talking about tomorrow), all highly recommended.

So what about your what are your post-2012 books of 2012? Which of these have you read and what did you think? Any other books you would recommend you think I might like having loved the above? Do pop back for Part Two on Monday!

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Filthy Lucre – Beryl Bainbridge

I always find it fascinating to read the earlier works of authors that I love as, in my head, it is a way of looking at their writing in the raw and how they went on to develop it. So when I saw that Annabel of Gaskella was doing Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week, and it was Annabel that made me read Beryl, I knew just which book I was going to read to take part. ‘Filthy Lucre’ was not Beryl Bainbridge’s debut novel in the published sense (that was ‘A Weekend with Claude’) yet it was a book she wrote at the tender age of thirteen. My mother had a copy and so I pilfered it from her shelves on my last visit, oops, sorry Mum.

Fontana Books, paperback, 1986, fiction, 144 pages, pilfered from my mothers shelves

‘Filthy Lucre’ is a tale of cheating and deception all around money.  We meet Martin Andromikey on his death bed in 1851, right until his last breath Martin believes that he was cheated of his inheritance by the Ledwhistle family. Asking his friend Richard Soleway to impersonate him, and keep his death a secret, he requests that Richard wreak revenge on them through the thing they love most, business and a business that he is set to be a partner of and so our story starts. What follows though is not unlike many Victorian melodrama’s and sensation novels that have gone before with twists and turns, murders, deceptions, love affairs and even treasure islands.

Initially I did think that because Beryl Bainbridge wrote this when she was so young it was quite possibly going to be a precocious rather annoying book, that’s the cynic in me. This is not the case. The only time I could sense it was the fact that almost every chapter ended with ‘ruin’, ‘disaster’ or ‘forever’ but this in a way is because it is also a Victorian melodrama. Here you can see an author and her influences. The Victorian sections of the novel are rather Dickensian, with the darker and occasionally other worldly elements of Wilkie Collins. There is also a real flavour of Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle when the book sets sail to distant shores, and ‘dear reader’ there is also a flavour of Charlotte Bronte in the very prose.

“We will leave now, dear readers, the bright Ledwhistle parlour, and, like a bird, pass out into the November night. We will journey down to a wharf where the slimy Thames moves like some loathsome adder, and the houses huddle together in squalid patterns. Here the lamplight falls on wasted limbs and shaking hands. It lights up sin and filth, all aware, the cruel river twists its reptile course.”

Yet this is more than just a homage though, it is a book where the characters live and breathe and where the atmosphere of London really comes off the pages. The prose is tight and what I should mention here, because it impressed me so much, was that for a book with some legal elements that reminded me of the case in ‘Bleak House’ (while I haven’t read the books I have seen the TV series) this novel is 144 pages long, not 500 plus and I found that quite incredible.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from ‘Filthy Lucre’ when I opened it, especially with the young age at which it was written and the fact that it is no longer in print. What I got was a tale of intrigue and deception that took me on a real escapist adventure and entertained me for a good hour or two as I read it in a single sitting. Like all Beryl Bainbridge’s books that I have read so far I would highly recommend you give this book a whirl.

Do pop and visit Gaskella to see Annabel raving about more of Beryl’s books, if you haven’t read her you really should. I will be doing another post which features Beryl and a new Savidge Reads project (not a read-a-thon, I am now in Green Carnation submission mode reading wise) tomorrow and then another Beryl review on Sunday as I finished this one and wanted to read more. I also wanted to read a Dickens novel after finishing this but that opens a whole can of reading worms I am not quite ready for. If you have read any Beryl, including this one, do let me know what you thought and what books I should read next, as always.

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Books by the Bedside #3

I am at my mothers this weekend after a rather bonkers week and so I thought rather than go silent I would let you all know what I have on my reading periphery and then hopefully you can all let me know what you are reading, mainly because I am nosey.

Currently my bedside table looks like this…

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The next of the Manchester Book Club titles is ‘The Master & Margarita’ by Mikhail Bulgakov as chosen by fellow member Alex. I have to say I am oddly excited (whilst being slightly daunted) by this novel, I know it’s meant to be quite bonkers and brilliant but also it’s my first real foray into Russian literature, mainly because I have always been worried I am not clever enough for it – we will see.

Next up is ‘Absolution’ by Patrick Flanery which I have been meaning to read for ages. When I visited Atlantic Books HQ earlier in the year everyone was saying how good it was and I do want to read more novels set in South Africa.

Finally are two novels which I am both reading for The Readers, though aren’t part of the Summer Book Club. This is because, and I feel there should be a drum roll here, on Wednesday coming myself and Gavin will be interviewing Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter for an hour long special of the podcast. Gavin is so excited, I am now seriously Pratchett prepping. I will also be interviewing Carlos Ruiz Zafon this week and so I’m getting ready for that too by reading his latest.

Oh and I should mention the books I have taken away with me! I packed ‘Wyrd Sisters’, which lots of you said I should read as my way into Discworld, and I also packed ‘Filthy Lucre’ which is the shortest of Beryl Bainbridge’s novels (apparently she wrote it as a child) as next week it’s Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week over at Gaskella! I plan on picking another Bainbridge up too if I have time as Annabel kindly introduced me to her with ‘The Bottle Factory Outing’.

Phew, that’s a lot of bookish bedside chatter, though not quite enough… I would love your thoughts on what I’m reading and about to read PLUS find out what you are reading right now/next, as I said I’m very nosey and besides I can never hear enough about books. Over to you…

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Every Man For Himself – Beryl Bainbridge

I have been questioning if I should post about ‘Every Man for Himself’, Beryl Bainbridge’s novel about the Titanic, because what should be a memorial of 100 years since the tragic and shocking event seems to have become some kind of celebration and cash cow to my mind. To completely contradict what I’ve just said though, I did pick this as my next Beryl Bainbridge novel because it was about the Titanic and the anniversary was approaching. What a brimming sack of contradictions my mind is! I’m hoping in doing this post I’m not seen as jumping on a band wagon but wanting to mark this day in some way. I will actually be at the Titanic exhibition in Liverpool today when you read this.

Abacus Books, paperback, 1996, fiction, 224 pages, from the TBR

‘Every Man for Himself’, to summarise succinctly, is the tale of a young american man Morgan and the four fateful days that he sails on the Titanic. That simply is the story, right there.

Through Morgan’s narration Bainbridge creates an interesting viewpoint of society at the time. Morgan in rich, not by birth through ‘family’ rather a benefactor Uncle. He is seen as the nouveau riche which is a curse and a blessing amongst the richest of the rich who sailed onboard, for it was the ticket to have. He is idealistic though and so his sympathies lie with the lower classes on board and the staff, ‘the unfortunates’.

‘It was then he said, ‘Does it not occur to you that none of them are normal?’ At first I put up a defence, mostly because I feared I was included in their number, but soon fell silent. Nothing he said could be disputed. My friends, he argued, were not living in the proper world. Their wealth, their poorly nurtured childhoods, their narrow education, their lack of morals separated them from reality. Some, those with more intelligence, might struggle to break away, and succeed for a short time, but in the end, like the action of a boomerang, it was inevitable they would return to the starting point. ‘Then there’s little hope for me,’ I said.’

It’s this mix of societies in such a small place which seems to be a perfect way for Beryl to make her viewpoints on the upper classes vs the lower. It weaves an interesting tension though means the cast of characters are rather dislikable.

As I have said its a book brimming with ideas yet one which doesn’t have the fastest of pace, that’s not a critique either. When reading this novel I pondered over its slow burning nature. I considered if maybe Beryl thought we knew what was coming for the Titanic, I won’t say if Morgan survives or not so you read it, so the story meanders and builds. This of course means she can build the tension delicately leading to the inevitable conclusion. (I was shocked to see on Twitter some people had no idea it was real and thought it was ‘just a film’, what?)

The tragic moment itself however does anything but dwindle. I found myself incredibly moved as Bainbridge writes the moment from the infamous iceberg until Titanic sinks. I was even routing for some of the most unpleasant characters and the extent of the tragedy and speed which it takes place, the change from ‘jolly japes’ to panic, is vividly captured.

‘Everyman For Himself’ is a vey compelling, moving and cleverly constructed and crafted novel. The title seems obvious knowing the shortage of life boats but actually in the case of this novel I would say it is the general theme of the characters motivations in live whatever class, even Morgan as he watches them all on our behalf.

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Do We Ever Know The Reader We Are aka The Mad Ramblings of a Book Lover

I can almost hear one or two of you saying ‘but does it matter?’ simply from reading the title of today’s post, and the answer is that maybe it doesn’t, but bear with me. One of the things that I most love about books is also one of the things that freaks me out the most. I will never in my life time be able to read all the books that I really want to read. I have been tinkering with some pages behind the scenes that will be appearing on the site in the next week or so and they have led me to pondering this matter, along with the fact that in just seven days I will be turning thirty which is giving me food for thought in all aspects of my life. In terms of books though, will I ever know what sort of reader I am?

One of the new pages I have been tinkering with is a page which will feature all my favourite authors with their entire bibliographies (I think I have possibly pilfered this idea from Kim at Reading Matters, best form of flattery and all that). This is so that I can see which ones I have read since I have been blogging and which I have missed, so slowly but surely I can make my way through all of them, I might even revisit the ones I have already read pre-blog. Doing this I was surprised at how many of my favourite authors I have not read in ages. Apart from Margaret Atwood, Daphne Du Maurier, Nancy Mitford, Wilkie Collins and Susan Hill I have actually been a little bit rubbish. What happened to wanting to read everything by Anne Tyler, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Muriel Spark, Colm Toibin, Kazuo Ishiguro, Haruki Murakami etc when I know I love their writing so much?

In part I know it is because loving books as I do, and knowing so many people who feel the same way, lots of lovely new shiny books or authors are put in my path. I am not just talking about latest releases and books that are receiving lots of exciting and tempting buzz here either, though I am grateful to everyone who recommended I read ‘The Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller which I have just finished and adored. I am also talking about authors who have been going for years, some still producing works and some who have sadly passed away, and have a huge back catalogue, that invariably if I have loved my first reading experience I want to go and read the whole lot of. Just this week I had the absolute joy of reading Beryl Bainbridge  for the first time and adoring ‘The Bottle Factory Outing’ (thanks to Gaskella), her narrative voice chimed in with my sense of humour and her writing style was on the money to the style I like to read. So I have now opened ‘Every Man for Himself’ after spotting it in the hospital charity shop yesterday. The rest of the TBR can wait.

I sometimes wonder if having an extensive (you could read that as excessive if you wished) TBR can be a hindrance rather than a joyful personal library, which is what I tell myself it is – you could also call it hoarding. I also wonder if blogging is a help or a hindrance too, but that’s another subject for another time, back to my TBR thoughts.

Since I have moved house I purposefully hid my boxes of unread books to see how long it would be before I routed one out. It has happened all of three times in a month, I seem to be reading new books in from publishers a bit (though my incoming has lessened considerably as I have come to a lovely new agreement with publishers), buying books on occasion in the charity shop down the road which I seem unable to walk past without falling into (how does this happen) or in the main getting books from the library (my new favourite book haunt). I have no idea quite what this is telling me but I do wonder if my tastes are changing again, I think they always evolve, and hence why all those lovely books I have got along the way are left lingering in air tight boxes down the side of my wardrobe that I can’t see.

This may change with my plan of having the ‘Forty for Forty’ page on the blog. All those books you have suggested, and keep them coming here, along with those I have been browsing library and bookshop shelves for which I/you/we ‘should have read’ by the time I/you/we are forty (or ninety or anything in between, under or over come to that). A lot of them are in those air tight boxes behind that wardrobe and have been waiting to be read for some time, years and years in some cases, since I bought them based on the fact that I felt if I was a real reader I would have to jave read that some day.

This could, of course, be lethal. I could end up with a list of forty more authors who have been thrown in my reading path and I want to read everything by (though some of them might have only written one book in which case I will sulk that there are no more for me to find – poor books, they can’t win) taking random detours with. But then is that a bad thing? I guess if it means I am missing out on my favourite authors other works then it is? Hmmm, tricky!

I like to think I have a pretty eclectic taste and therefore as I wander randomly down the yellow brick road that is my reading path in life, reading all sorts of lovely (and occasionally not so lovely) books, do I lose a sense of who I am as a reader? Should I not know by now, as my third decade spreads in front of me all sparkly and new, know what books I do and don’t like? Should I give up on experimenting, which can go wonderfully right as well as horribly wrong, with new books and authors be they new-new or new to me and stick to what I know? I don’t think I should, yet how do you get the balance just right?

Maybe what I need to do is accept that we never really know the readers we are and that actually that is the whole fun of it? Over time, maybe, in some point in my life reading the authors that I know and love as well as experimenting with the ones I don’t know but might love will reach a natural equilibrium? Maybe I just need to face the dreaded fact I mentioned earlier that I will never read all the books I want to in life… and get over it, move on, pick up a book and just get on with it?

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The Bottle Factory Outing – Beryl Bainbridge

A few weeks ago, with my impending 30th birthday looming, I decided that I wanted to try some of the authors, or classics, that I had never tried before but always wanted to. One of the three authors I decided upon, thanks to a recommendation from Annabel of Gaskella who has read-a-long too, was Beryl Bainbridge. She is an author I have always felt I should try, she was nominated for the Man Booker five times, and always shortlisted but never won, and was seen as one of Britain’s national treasures. I didn’t know what to expect when I opened up ‘The Bottle Factory Outing’, her third novel published in 1974, as I read on I discovered that you should expect the unexpected, in a good way.

Abacus Books, paperback, 1974, fiction, 200 pages, from my personal TBR

‘The Bottle Factory Outing’ is a tale of Brenda and Freda, these two women live in a shared bedsit room, separated in bed by a bolster made of books, and I think it is fair to say that being so chalk and cheese if Freda hadn’t happened upon and ‘adopted’ Brenda after she left her husband and the countryside to come to London they wouldn’t have ever made a likely paid of friends. Yet friends and subsequently co-workers they have become and it is the events leading up to, during (something awful happens, though what I won’t say) and after a work outing, from the bottle factory, which Freda has organised that this novel revolves around.

The novel is really one of two halves, and this made it an intriguing first read of any of Beryl’s work for me so might for others, as the first half is a comedy of errors and rather farcical before certain events take place giving the novel a much darker and more disturbing twist making it a very black comedy. As I started to read, after some initial confusion over which woman was which for the first ten or so pages, I was pretty much instantly hooked. I loved how Beryl builds the women’s characters, and their polar opposites, so vividly and so funnily with small observations of their behaviour. I laughed out loud a lot.

‘At night when they prepared for bed Freda removed all her clothes and lay like a great fretful baby, majestically dimpled and curved. Brenda wore her pyjamas and her underwear and a tweed coat – that was the difference between them. Brenda said it was on account of nearly being frozen to death in Ramsbottom, but it wasn’t really that.’

The dynamic of the two women is really the driving force initially for the novel. They are friends and also constantly in competition. I would say they loved to love each other and loved to loathe each other in equal measure. Brenda is the quieter, slighter, more serious brunette who seems to make any man she meets want to ravish her and Freda is the louder, brasher, bossier, plumper one who is set on trying to seduce the son and heir, Vittorio, of the bottle factory business she works in. It is this desire that leads to the outing on which everything changes and the novel sets up a gear as things start to unfold.

There were so many things that I loved about Beryl Bainbridge’s writing that it might be hard to encompass them all, I will endeavour to try though. First of all is how much is in such a small book. At a mere 200 pages, and in fairly big print which could be devoured in a few hours, so much happens that when you have finished you find yourself recapping it all and thinking ‘did that all just happen in this book?’ There are funerals, hilarious seductions in cellars, hilarious seductions in a shared bedroom and a shared bathroom, a mother in law with a grudge to bear and a gun in her handbag, a fight in Windsor Castle, horse riding with the Queen’s funereal regiment, something awful on an outing which leads to a strange trip to a safari park, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The writing is also incredible. Beryl Bainbridge manages to write what is essentially a farcical and rather unbelievable story, though you never know, but builds the atmosphere, tensions and characters in such a way that you fully believe this series of events could happen. Her main characters are incredibly flawed and can be rather vile, in fact so can the minor ones, but they walk off the page and you like them, you want to read about them. The most impressive thing is how in a mere sentence or two Bainbridge can give you a place and/or person in mere lines, no word is wasted but it’s not so sparse you have to fill in the gaps, not many authors can do this and I really admire it when I read it.

‘The hearse stood outside the block of flats, waiting for the old lady. Freda was crying. There were some children and a dog running in and out of the line of bare black trees planted in the pavement. ‘I don’t know why you’re crying,’ said Brenda. ‘You didn’t know her.’

As you may be able to tell I really loved ‘The Bottle Factory Outing’. It was nothing like I expected it to be and was a wonderful discovery. I loved Beryl Bainbridge’s sense of humour both when it was light and dark, I loved her prose, I just thought it was great and am quite thrilled to have discovered an author who I now cannot wait to read more of. My only slight wish is that I had discovered her before she died a few years ago and could have gone to see her speak, though her voice definitely lives on in a novel like this.

I have to say a big thank to Annabel for reminding me that I wanted to read Beryl Bainbridge. As I mentioned we have been reading the book in tandem and her thoughts can be found here. We will be popping and commenting on any comments you leave, plus chatting about it between the two of us on both blogs as the day goes on. If you haven’t read any Bainbridge do, start with this one.  Where should I go next? I am thinking her novel ‘Every Man For Himself’ about the Titanic might be rather timely?

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Filed under Abacus Books, Beryl Bainbridge, Books of 2012, Review

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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Do I Want To Read… Beryl Bainbridge?

There are certain authors which I always feel like I should have read and invariably haven’t. I am sure that all readers have this feeling of ‘why haven’t I tried that author yet’ now and again. One of the authors that I have always felt I should give a read is Beryl Bainbridge. This week when The Booker Prize Foundation announced it was doing a ‘Best of Beryl’ prize I was reminded that she was an author I had been meaning to read and had no clue where to start, this is of course where all of you come in.

You see something about Beryl Bainbridge has always appealed to me without having read a word. In part this is because I have seen her on TV a few times and been fascinated, it’s also because I love the name Beryl and in fact named my very first cat just that. I have always seen lots and lots of copies of her last novel ‘According To Queeny’ in charity shops but although I always pick it up I am never quite sure if it’s me or not.

So I thought I would ask you all for your Beryl Bainbridge thoughts and recommendations. I am tempted to see if I can find her first novel ‘A Weekend With Claude’ as I do like to start from the beginning but actually I am going to throw caution to the wind, or indeed to the whim, and see where your suggestions lead me. So where should I start with a bit of Beryl?

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