Tag Archives: Bloomsbury Publishing

Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward

Isn’t it funny how our minds work? Well, what I really mean is… isn’t it daft how my mind works? Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing had been one of the most talked about books last year, winning the National Book Award and being praised by waves of people, some of whom I trust the opinions very much. In fact I was sent a signed American edition before the buzz from two lovely, lovely bookish friends out there. All this talk though made me somewhat wary, this book was going to have a lot to prove just based around all the buzz, before I even started it. It was also my mother’s favourite to win the Women’s Prize, which I how I ended up getting to it much quicker than I might have otherwise because of my silly wariness.

Bloomsbury Publishing, hardback, 2017, fiction, 304 pages, kindly sent by the Womens Prize

I like to think I know what death is. I like to think that it’s something I could look at straight. When Pop tell me he need my help and I see the black knife slid into the belt of his pants, I follow Pop out of the house, try to keep my back straight, my shoulders even as a hanger; that’s how Pop walks. I try to look like this is normal and boring so Pop will think I’ve earned these thirteen years, so Pop will know I’m ready to pull what needs to be pulled, separate  innards from muscle, organs from cavities. I want Pop to know I can get bloody. Today is my birthday.

In a book which starts with a death, ends with a death and has death almost literally floating around it you need some delight. Jojo is that delight, despite his circumstances. As we meet him on his thirteenth birthday, about to help his grandfather with some slaughtering, he is soon to learn that he will be taking the long journey with his mother Leonie, her friend, and his sister Kayla, to pick up his father Michael who is shortly to be released from jail. And so the road trip which becomes most of the novel starts. For me the road trip is not really what the essence of this novel is about. It is about family, history, love and hope. Oh and the aforementioned death, more on that later.

What is family? What is the definition of a parent? The latter being something I am rather fascinated by at the moment. Jojo, nor his sister, have the best of relationships or bonds with their parents, their mother being a distanced and difficult woman and their father having been mainly absent. His grandparents filling the parental role for Jojo, despite his grandmother being sick, and he in turn for his own sister, bonds his mother resents. These bonds being built all the tighter and her exclusion all the bigger because of these resentments, her behaviours and ways of dealing with them. How is it to be excluded from your own family, or just not feel part of it, seems to be where Leonie is coming from.

Jojo is the hope and joy of Sing, Unburied, Sing his mother Leonie is at the polar end of the spectrum of emotions. Under many an author Leonie would almost become a caricature of the evil mother. However, whilst continuously unlikeable, Ward creates a character who will make you question how you judge or understand someone (as I mentioned in my review of Home Fire) and their mindset. She is not maternal, but that is not what makes her so dislikeable, not being maternal is not a crime, it can be misunderstood though, or people can have preconceived ideas around it. What makes her so dislikeable is her addictions, to a man and to a substance. Leonie is a drug addict, she got pregnant by a white boy at the age of 17, a white boy who then went to prison on more than one occasion and leaving her with more than one child and an addiction before she was twenty. When high she tries to play the role of mother, when on a comedown her own understanding of why she isn’t the ‘perfect mother’ become a complex ball of rage only heightened when she sees the love between others that she is no part of.

“I’m tired of this shit,” I say. I don’t know why I say it. Maybe because I’m tired of driving, tired of the road stretching before me endlessly, Michael always at the opposite end of it, no matter how far I go, how far I drive. Maybe because part of me wanted her to leap for me, to smear orange vomit over the front of my shirt as her little tan body sought mine, always sought mine, our hearts separated by the thin cages of our ribs, exhaling and inhaling, our blood in sync. Maybe because I want her to burrow in to me for succor instead of her brother. Maybe because Jojo doesn’t even look at me, all his attention on the body in his arms, the little person he is trying to soothe, and  my attention is everywhere. Even now, my devotion: inconstant.

History is another huge part of Sing, Unburied, Sing, both family history and also some of the darkest parts of America’s history. Pop, despite his positivity and aura, is often lost in memories of a time in the past which he will half tell in stories to Jojo, a tale that comes more to the fore and we piece more and more together upon the arrival of Richie. A ghost.

The boy is River’s. I know it. I smelled him as soon as he entered the fields, as soon as the little red dented car swerved into the parking lot. The grass trilling and moaning all around, when I followed the scent to him, the dark, curly-haired boy in the backseat. Even if he didn’t carry the scent of leaves disintegrating to mud at the bottom of a river, the aroma of the bowl of the bayou, heavy with water and sediment and skeletons of small dead creatures, crab, fish, snakes and shrimp, I would still know he is River’s by the look of him. The sharp nose. The eyes as dark as swamp bottom. The way his bones run straight and true as River’s: indomitable as cypress. He is River’s child.

Yes, a ghost, and he isn’t the only one. Two relatives of this dysfunctional, or disfunctioning, family also form part of the story. And before I lose any of you who might be groaning at a ghostly twist, it really works. Richie not only is part of their families history, he is a manifestation of the family history and indeed the ugly history of the South and one whose legacy is often felt but never seen almost buried under the carpet yet who Jojo can see but can’t work out. Given however, another family member, only appears to Leonie when she is high, is he a manifestation or simply a hallucination of guilt and what she isn’t dealing with and what she might hide. It is hard to say more without giving any spoilers away.

These ghosts also become a literal symbol of death floating around the family, it’s history and also our one and only certainty in a world that often seems so uncertain. It looks at those dabbling with death through their actions, those who died innocently from the actions of others and those facing death because it comes to us all. Yet what Ward is clear to point out is that even in the hardest and darkest of times, love lives on and through that, no matter what we might face, we can always have and build on hope.

I couldn’t bear her being a ghost. Couldn’t take her sitting in the kitchen, invisible. Couldn’t take seeing Pop walk around her without touching her cheek, without bending to kiss her on the neck. Couldn’t bear to see Leonie sit on her without seeing, light up a cigarette, blow smoke rings in the warm, still air. Michael stealing her whisks and spatulas to cook in one of the sheds.
“It’s like walking through a door, Jojo.”

So, to round off, I am going to add to the buzz around Sing, Unburied, Sing as I thought it was a wonderful and moving tale. I can struggle on occasion with magical realism, I think I always try and analyse it too much rather than just let it take me away which Jojo and Richie did. It is a book that in some ways turns a road trip story on its head but really turns a family drama on its head and asks what it means to be a family and how family histories, told or hidden, can shape us in ways we least expect and that some of our darkest moments can become some of our most defining; sometimes for the bad but with hope mainly for the good.

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Books of 2018, Jesmyn Ward, Review, Women's Prize for Fiction

Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie

As I am sure you will know by now Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire has won the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018. For the second (or is it third) year in a row I have enjoyed reading the whole longlist, which I plan on doing again with my mother next year as something a bit different. I think will be lots of fun and also quite eye opening as when we agree, we really agree, and when we don’t we really don’t as we discovered in a pub in Conwy talking about some of this year’s books last week. One of the books that we both agreed was wonderful was this novel, which my mother had actually read way ahead of me when it was up for the Costa’s.

Bloomsbury Publishing, paperback, 2018, fiction, 288 pages, kindly sent by Womens Prize

It is almost too easy to start talking about this book and mentioning the, well documented, fact that Home Fire is the retelling of Sophocles’ play Antigone, which I guess I have kind of done. I would like to park that for the rest of my thoughts as I think to do that may alienate anyone who doesn’t know the story. Which you don’t need to if you haven’t and also gives too much away. I had and teh ripples of my previous knowledge were sometimes felt though in many ways they added to the incredible tension building and sense of unease which Shamsie uses to create such a compelling read that you won’t forget it in a hurry. The ending will literally… well, suffice to say it will haunt you for quite some time.

However, Home Fire in its essence is a tale of three siblings, Isma and her twin sister and brother Aneeka and Parvais whose relationships, after the death of their mother, start to literally and emotionally fracture. Isma feeling, admittedly with a small pang of guilt, free from her family for the first time goes off to America to study. Parvais seeking to find out more about their mysterious father, who we the reader know became a Jihadist, and Anneka seemingly trying to keep the family together and safe as much as she ca whilst falling in love with the Home Secretary’s son, not the perfect match especially as the complexities of the novel move on. It is also in many ways what is it like to be London born of Pakistani descent in the UK right now, whether you have taken your families religion or not.

A man entered the office, carrying Isma’s passport, laptop and phone. She allowed herself to hope, but he sat down, gestured for her to do the same, and placed a voice recorder between them.
‘Do you consider yourself British?’ the man said.
‘I am British.’
‘But do you consider yourself British?’
‘I’ve lived here all my life.’ She meant there was no other country of which she could feel herself a part, but the words came out sounding evasive.

The crux of the novel centres around Parvaiz. Whether he is at the forefront of the novel or not, the foreshadowing of his situation the reverberations afterwards are interwoven throughout every page whether it is his voice we are hearing or one of the other narrators be it Isma, Aneeka, Eamonn, Lone or himself. It is his search to find out more about his father, after the death of his mother and what he perceives as abandonment by his elder sister, which eventually leads him to the world of radicalisation himself.

It is this section of the novel that I found to be the most difficult to read and yet the most thought provoking. As we follow Parvaiz and his sense of loss, questions and feeling lost, we understand how someone could then harness that for their own horrific means. Here I felt Shamsie does two things that I have found incredibly trusting and powerful in two of the other Women’s Prize shortlisted books. As with Kandasamy’s When I Hit You, we become groomed as the characters are, not literally but yet as you read you can fully see and almost experience how this could happen. As with Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing we are taken into mindset of a deeply troubled character and asked to try and understand the thoughts in their head that are so alien to us. It is incredibly potent reading; cloying and claustrophobic whilst making you question what you would do if that were you, could you genuinely not end up in the same situation?

He’d grown up knowing that his father was a shameful secret, one that must be kept from the world outside or else posters would appear on the Preston Road with the line DO YOU KNOW WHO YOUR NEIGHBOURS ARE? and rocks would be thrown through windows and he and his sisters wouldn’t receive invitations to the homes of their classmates and no girl would ever say yes to him. The secrecy had lived inside the house, too. His mother and Isma both carried around an anger towards Adil Pasha too immense for words, and as for Aneeka – her complete lack of feeling or curiosity about their father had been the first definite sign that he and his twin were two, not one. His grandmother alone had wanted to talk about the absence in their lives; part of their closeness came from how sometimes she would call him into her room and whisper stories about the high-spirited, good-looking, laughing-eyed boy she’d raised. But the stories were always of the boy, never of the man he became.

Whilst the subject of radicalisation is at the heart of Home Fire, there is also much more going on around that. Through Isma we see how difference is perceived by the US, which is of ever growing concern. Aneeka’s love affair takes us right into the heart of British politics and it’s confused and conflicting current state. There is also an interesting, and often subtle, look at religion and how everyone can take their holy words and perceive them in a way which works for them but would be read completely differently by someone else. In many ways it is this very thing which is at the epicentre of most of the conflict of today.

 ‘You know the Quran tells us to enjoy sex as one of God’s blessings?’ Hira said.
‘Within marriage!’
‘We all have our versions of selective reading when it comes to the Holy Book.’

Home Fire is one of the most haunting and thought provoking books that I have read in a long while. It is also a book that will subtly unsettle you in all the right ways and not just because of THAT ending. Kamila Shamsie does something incredible with this novel and her characters, you are not asked to judge them, you are asked to comprehend them and how each one of them might end up in the situation that they do. It is confronting, compelling and makes you want to delve deeper into the intricacies of one of the most controversial and troubling topics of our world today. Highly, highly recommended.

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The Year of the Flood – Margaret Atwood

I have been meaning to read Margaret Atwood’s latest novel The Year of The Flood for ages. I don’t know exactly why it took me so long to get around to opening the first few pages. I think part of it was the question as to whether or not you have to read Oryx and Crake first which I haven’t done. Some people say you do and some people say you don’t. Margaret Atwood herself has said you don’t need to, so I went with her opinion as apparently this is a ‘sister’ novel.

The Year of the Flood is set in the future, though quite when I wasn’t sure I personally felt it wasn’t too much in the distance and yet not in the next decade. The book is told through the experiences and life’s of two members of what people deem the cult ‘God’s Gardeners’ who await ‘the waterless flood’ which will kill out most of mankind. Here their leader Adam One teaches the followers of this mix of science and religion in a slightly free spirited way. After all this is the man who says ‘it is better to hope than to mope’ also showing some of Atwood’s wry humour. Two female members who come into this cult are Ren as a young girl when her mother runs off with her and one of the other members of God’s Gardeners, the other is Toby who is literally though never quite spiritually saved by Adam One.

The book alternates between the voices of Ren in second person and Toby in first person both in the times before ‘The Flood’ and in the times after interspersed with the preaching’s and hymns of Adam One and the God’s Gardeners (which I did find a little irritating – tiny bit – but could see their purpose). Ren has become a dancer and worker in a high class sex club and Toby has been living out of a derelict AnooYoo Spa living off the edible treatments. The question of what the flood is and if human kind, green rabbits and liobambs (dangerous creatures half lion half sheep) can survive is one that you will have to read the book to find out.

Now I don’t want to give anything away but I do need to give a little to explain further why I thought this book was so brilliant. Atwood uses the way the women enter the world of God’s Gardeners in a really interesting way in aspects to their views on it. Ren is brought there as a child and so really knows no better than the confines she is in until she leaves them (I won’t say why or when or how) and has to be a child in the ‘real world’ a world where SecretBurgers are made from just that… secrets ingredients, and if you are a cat fan beware of this chain and where the CorpSeCorps rule everything. Toby herself is rescued from that world and though joins the God’s Gardeners and becomes an Eve herself she is never quite sure if she believes all that she is meant to.

I found these different outlooks on the cult group fascinating and also their reactions to the fearful world outside the God’s Gardeners habitats. It’s also these differing pasts before The Flood that make how both women survive the initial time after when we join them so interesting and so utterly opposite. Mingle in Atwood’s dark tales of urban life, her wry humour, a death scene which made me cry and her thought provoking plot and you can’t really go wrong. Can you tell that I really, really loved this book yet? It’s a speculative spectacle.

So do you need to have read Oryx and Crake first? I hadn’t before I read this, though I will be reading it very soon I can assure you, and I didn’t feel that I was confused by the book as its wonderfully drawn for you with Atwood’s prose and is so rivetingly readable. Maybe I will read Oryx and Crake and think ‘oh no… I know how this ends’ but time will tell. Have you read either of these books?

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The Brontes Went To Woolworths – Rachel Ferguson

Now I mentioned earlier that I would be popping up a post of one of the books that has been one of my favourite books of the year so far. Now by favourite I don’t mean “best literary read” of the year in this case, though that’s starting to sound negative and I couldn’t be negative about this book if I tried, what I mean by favourite is that its been one of the most funny and barmy reads that I think, as yet, I may ever have read… seriously its just cuckoo but in an utterly brilliant way.

The Bronte’s Went to Woolworths, originally published in the early 1930’s and now brought back by The Bloomsbury Group, isn’t a book about the Bronte sisters being whisked in a time machine to the 1990’s and ending up working for the now defunct chain of shops. What a good premise though, maybe I should write that book myself? It is however a quite brilliantly bizarre tale of the three Carnes sisters, even if the first line in the book is one of them saying they hate books about sisters – its that sort of book.

Katrine is studying to be an actress though for the main ends up playing characters who invariably mislay their virtues. Deirdre, who narrates part of the tale, is a journalist and is now trying to become a novelist. The youngest of the sisters is Sheil who is still studying though seems to have her head in the clouds. These girls along with their mother seem to be living in a world that is half made up with talking nursery teddy bears and dolls accompanying them wherever they go or inventing characters based on people they read about in the newspaper and having them around the dinner. This is all under the watchful and long suffering eyes of Agatha Martin who also narrates the tale and helps you see the fact from the fiction.

However one day at a charity function Deirdre meets the wife of Judge Torrington someone Deirdre read about and has made an imaginary best friend of. What happens when the character she has created genuinely becomes a friend and therefore needs to fit in with the life that has been fictionally created for him? If not it may shatter the fantasy illusions that these sisters seem to have created since the death of their father with their mother playing along. It’s a surreal, very funny in parts and quirky book that if you give it patience will pay of in dividends.

I mention patience as at the start I was worried (oddly after discussing this yesterday) that I wasn’t going to gel with this book at all. The line between what is fantasy and reality can be quite confusing and it did take me about thirty pages or so until I worked out what was what, who was real and who wasn’t. If you don’t like books that need some hard work for great reward or aren’t a fan or the surreal then maybe skip this one. If like me you enjoy both those things, the era of the 1930’s and the writings of Nancy Mitford then you will lap this all up once you have set it straight in your mind and be carried away with it all. Brilliant.

Rachel Ferguson’s not a novelist that I had heard of until I started reading The Bloomsbury Group’s reissued classics but she is definitely be intrigued to read much more of. I have seen that one of her novels ‘Alas, Poor Lady’ has been published by the lovely Persephone and so I think that will be my next port of call for all things Ferguson. Have you read The Brontes Went to Woolworths, if so, what did you make of it? If you haven’t would the slight craziness put you off? Whats the most barmy book that you have read? Do you think we sometimes have to put hard work in as the reader (I do) or should the author make it plain sailing?

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Tuck Everlasting – Natalie Babbitt

Sorry… this should have gone up yesterday but as wordpress drafted it rather than scheduled it didn’t show up and as I was working a 15 hour day for a charity fashion show I could do nothing about it, its all here now though.

Have you ever been in a bookshop and seen a novel with the quote “the worldwide bestselling classic” only to then think to yourself “I have never heard of this book before in my life”? Well that is exactly what happened with me when I saw Tuck Everlasting one a shelf a few weeks ago. I honestly had not heard of it before however I have mentioned it to a few people in passing and they have got all excitable about it and so the other afternoon I decided to sit down and have a look at the first few pages. Two hours later the book was finished…

Tuck Everlasting is the tale of both the Tuck family and Winnie Forster. Winnie Forster is a very precocious ten year old girl who is slightly fed up of being at home and is starting to test her freedom. In fact she is resolute that she will runaway as she is always telling the toad at the bottom of the garden and yet inevitably putting the event off. One day after a man in a yellow coat comes to the house they hear what Winnie’s Grandmother says is elf music and the next day a highly dubious Winnie goes off into the woods her family own, but are out of bound to Winnie, to try and find the source of the music. I utterly loved Winnie as a character and could have happily read much more of her than the 140 pages of this book.

Winnie did not believe in fairytales. She had never longed for a magic wand, did not expect to marry a prince, and was scornful – most of the time – of her grandmother’s elves. So now she sat, mouth open, wide-eyed, not knowing what to make of this extraordinary story. It couldn’t – not a bit of it – be true.

What she finds are not elves but instead a young boy, Jesse Tuck, who is drinking from a stream hidden in the wood. When a thirsty Winnie goes to drink from the stream he won’t let her and once his family arrive so worried are they that Winnie has seen the stream they kidnap her. The reason is she now knows of the stream that once you drink from makes you live and stay the same age forever and never die. Once Winnie knows the truth she thinks it would be wonderful, however as the Tuck family show her living forever has its dark and downsides too.

This book is actually a children’s classic, it is one that is definitely is a cross over book though. I am unashamed to add that I was completely and utterly spellbound by the book. It has all the makings of a modern fable and fairytale; you have the inquisitive young girl, the water of eternal life, a boy who can live forever, a very good-in-a-dark-way baddie (beware men in yellow), a few twists and of course a toad.

I really liked Natalie Babbitt’s writing style from the line “the house was so proud of itself that you wanted to make a lot of noise as you passed and maybe even throw a rock or two” it just made me chuckle. Though there are a few laughs in the book, generally with the wonderful Mae Tuck of Winnie, there are some very dark and very sad moments. In fact how children cope with the ending I don’t know as I will admit it left me shocked and with a tear in my eye, I will say no more. This is a wonderful book and will take you on a wonderful journey, not only into the magical and fictional but back to the wonderful fables and fairytales of your youth.

It took me back to when reading for me was a lot more “magical”. I know that sounds corny and I don’t mean that now books I read don’t keep me spell bound but this brought out my inner child I guess. Back when I was young books seemed much more gentle in terms of magic than the full on style that a Harry Potter (I like Harry Potter just so you know) can deliver. I suppose the best way to describe this would be ‘simply spellbinding’ there’s no gimmicks just wonderful story telling. For a small book it also certainly packs one heck of a punch!

Its made me wonder if I have now missed a huge amount of children’s classics that are considered cross-over’s as I never read books like this when I was younger as I really went off reading during school and am now wondering if I am too old for Five Children and It, The Wizard of Oz and children’s classics of old though I did read Alice in Wonderland earlier in the year and really enjoy it. Maybe it’s too late now? Maybe I am too old now to play catch up; hmm it’s a difficult thought that one and a slightly depressing one too! Have any of you read this? What other children’s classics would you recommend? Is there an age where we just shouldn’t be reading children’s books anymore?

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Henrietta’s War – Joyce Dennys

Do you ever have the inkling that a book might just be so completely and utterly ‘you’ that you actually put off reading it for quite some time as you are scared of being right? Now I know that sounds a little bit crazy but once you have read that book there are two outcomes. You may either hate it and end up being deflated and forlorn possibly never wanting to open a book again… ever! Or there is the possibility you will love the book so much you wish that you could un-read it and have the pleasure of that first read all over again? Joyce Dennys ‘Henrietta’s War’ is definitely the latter for me, utterly delightful. I think that any book that has the line “Dear Robert, I have a great urge to knit something for you” with in the first chapter (or letter in this case) is going to be a hit with me

Henrietta’s War actually started out as columns in Sketch. Dennys was an artist who has many successful collections though once married and a mother in the late 1920’s her life became a domestic one in the English countryside and so needed something to take her frustrations out on. Out came Henrietta’s wartime letters to her ‘childhood friend’ Robert who is ‘out on the front’ and eventually became published as a collection and a novel in the form of this wonderful book.

Henrietta is a ‘doctors wife’ (which all the local women think is very important in a slightly unconvinced way) to Charles and mother to Bill and Linnet living in Devon. As we meet her World War II is raging though where she lives the only real way that war is effecting them is the rations and ‘people are talking cockney up and down the high street’. Having home help she spends most of her time trying to join in the War Effort, joining local clubs, doing good, gossiping with her friends (wonderful characters like the bossy Lady B and Mrs Savernake and the flirty Faith who ‘The Conductor’ is in love with) sunbathing on her roof, writing letters to Robert and getting a lot of bed rest.

To have visitors during a Day in Bed is a grave error. It means getting out to do your hair, make up your face, and have your bed made. A little talk on the telephone with a sympathetic friend who is really interested in your symptoms is the only social intercourse that should be allowed. A good deal of pleasure can be derived from asking for your fountain-pen and notepaper, and then not write any letters…

For some people the war wasn’t all bombs and terror, for some in the middle of nowhere it must have felt somewhat removed in many ways and Dennys addresses this. She also looks at how these people lived, admittedly in a comical tongue in cheek way, when the greatest crisis they had was not having enough sugar to make marmalade for the villages ‘Marmalade Week’. We see how the villagers coped and in some ways continued as normal, or as normally as they could, having jumble sales to raise money, joining drama clubs and even at one point getting arrested as Henrietta does.

Most war novels focus on the awful things that happened during that time, what Dennys does with these fictional letters is try and see the light in these dark times and to look for a way to entertain people during the difficulties with laughter.

But now such is Hitler’s power, this evil influence has begun to effect even the residents, and it keeps breaking out in the most unlikely quarters. Miss Piper, the girl in the greengrocers, has gone into jodhpurs; Faith, our friend, looks quite superb in a pair of pin stripped flannels; Mrs Savernack, though I can hardly expect you to believe this, saw fit to appear in a pair of khaki shorts (we all consider her excuse she is digging her way to victory a poor one); and I tell you frankly, Robert, only my love for Charles has kept me out of a pair of green corduroy dungarees.

I haven’t smirked, giggled and laughed out loud at a book so much in quite sometime. A perfect and delightful book and if that wasn’t enough there is more… the lovely illustrations that Dennys also put into the letters.  

Images & Words of Dennys

If you love books by Nancy Mitford, or that show WWII from a different view point, or have you laughing out loud on public transport, or like books set in villages that house wonderful quirky characters (or all of these) then this is most definitely a book for you. I was also in many ways reminded of Good Evening, Mrs Craven by Mollie Panter Downes which I loved earlier in the year. I am so pleased that this gem has been brought back by Bloomsbury and into the mainstream for people to enjoy. I can think of three people instantly I will be buying copies for. I am only hoping, with everything crossed, that Bloomsbury decides to release ‘Henrietta Sees It Through’ which would just be wonderful.

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The House At Midnight – Lucie Whitehouse

I had mentioned in a previous post that I really wanted to read a book set in a grand stately home whilst I myself stayed in the same setting. Now my intention was to read the book, which was Lucie Whitehouse’s debut novel ‘The House At Midnight’, while I was there but being busy took over and so its taken me a fair while to actually sit down and read it. In fact actually until Thursday I was only about 25 pages in, which then having book group meant it was held off an evening. Last night I finally got myself all curled up on the sofa and before I knew it five hours had gone by and the book was finished.

‘The House At Midnight’ is a tale set in Stoneborough Manor, in deepest Oxfordshire. In these grand surroundings a group of friends meet after Lucas Heathfield inherits the property from his uncle Patrick. Lucas’ grand scheme is to use this house as a weekend retreat for all his university friends to escape from the hustle and bustle of their city lives now most of them are in London. However within days of their first stay at the Manor things start to change between them.

Lucas declares his love for his best friend Joanna (who is also our narrator of the novel) something the group of friends has been expecting for years. There are the old sayings though that ‘the course of true love never did run smooth’ and that ‘friendships shouldn’t become relationships’ and as the lines, not only between Joanna and Lucas but within the rest of the group too, blur between friendship and more things becoming increasingly more complex and darker. Throughout the year that follows desire mounts, sexuality flows and a whole mix of emotions arise all under the confines of a Manor which slowly but surely seems to be having a strange effect on Lucas who becomes more and more obsessed about his past and the dark secrets that lie in it and also the secrets that lie in all of his friends lives.

I admit I was expecting from the cover that this would be an epic chilling, thrilling ghost story. It’s not. What it is in fact is a domestic drama about a group of people as they reach their thirties and how emotions, desire and greed can push people together and pull them apart shattering relationships and friendships as they go. In many ways it reminded me of a British middle-class homage to Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’, I could also see shades of Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Brideshead Revisited’ in terms of the relationships between the younger generations in that novel.

I was really impressed with Lucie Whitehouse’s debut, and though I ended up reading something quite different from what I thought I was getting, I honestly couldn’t put it down. Even though this wasn’t a ghost story it’s incredibly gripping and has one heck of a twist in its tail for you. Through out the book you’re constantly wondering where the next twist and drama is going to come from. Though it isn’t technically a thriller either the way that Whitehouse writes she doesn’t need to leave a cliff hanger at every chapter ending to make you want to read the end. I found this an immensely enjoyable read and look forward to whatever Lucie writes next, highly recommended.

And speaking of houses at midnight, I will be shifting between houses at midnight tonight I am moving house this weekend! It’s all been quite sudden and I have been keeping it close to my chest as didn’t want to jinx it. I love the new place, its great and its also HUGE… all the more room for more books!!!

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