Tag Archives: Books on the Nightstand

Radio Silence/Radio Savidge

That blinking thing called work is a pesky so and so isn’t it? Every time I think I am going to get back into the swing of things something like an International Music Festival comes along and reading, let along blogging, goes out of the window. On a serious note – I am actually really, really loving my new job. Second to books in my life is definitely music (family and friends are somewhere along the pecking order) so to work on a new exciting project like this is bloody amazing really. If that wasn’t enough the people are also bloody lovely (it is all bloody lovely really) and they are being really supportive with everything that is going on with Gran, no change there at the moment.

The blog has been suffering a little though I will admit, though I think (blowing my own trumpet maybe, as you may all disagree) that my reviews have become more ‘me’ I think. Still a work in progress as always but I feel much happier putting them out, even if they are taking (and becoming) a bit longer. Let me know if you think otherwise!

Anyway, I realised that whilst my blogging has gone a bit more sporadic there are three other ways you can catch up with me being bookish and those are the podcasts I am on, and this got me thinking about Radio Savidge. You see there are the three podcasts I do (The Readers, The Readers Book Club) and also the podcasts that I am always listening to and so I thought I should share some of them with you so that, should you fancy, you can hear me waffling on about books or listen to a few of the podcasts I have in my ears at the moment.

TheReadersTRSummerSeasoBannerYWTB

So as some of you will know I host two book groups, one which also has a monthly spin off. The first is ‘The Readers’, which has now gone fortnightly, which I co-host with the bloody lovely Gavin of Gav Reads. We subtitled it ‘Book Based Banter’ because generally we waffle on, and off on tangents, about books for roughly 30/40mins per episode. We also have a monthly book club which we have now made seasonal. For the summer selection we have gone for ‘The Case of the Missing Servant’ by Tarquin Hall, which you can hear here and see my review of here, and for July we have ‘Snake Ropes’ by Jess Richards (which we are recording next Wednesday) and ‘The Last Banquet’ by Jonathan Grimwood in August. Each show features Gav and I discussing the book, being joined by the author and sometimes a special guest PLUS asking your questions. So, if you have any for Jess or John let me know.

The final podcast I am involved with is the one I host alone. You Wrote The Book! is a fortnightly ‘in conversation’ show where I (lightly) grill an author. Some people love author interviews, some people loath them, I love them as I find authors brains rather fascinating and I have been very, very lucky as already I have had Evie Wyld, John Boyne, Xiaolu Guo, Alan Bradley, Taiye Selasi, Joanne Harris, Patrick Ness, Damian Barr and Maggie O’Farrell on the show! Eek, squeal. If you fancy having a listen to them you can do here.

Sorry about that slightly shameless plug, I will now redeem myself by sharing three of my favourite bookish podcasts that I listen to every episode without fail and think you should be checking out too. First up is ‘Books on the Nightstand’ which I think I have raved about endlessly already on several occasions. Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness have become firm friends of mine, though we have never met, simply through hearing them and tweeting bookish stuff with them. They both work for random, know their books, love their books and are brimming with recommendations – recently they discussed ‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon’ by
Anthony Marra which had completely gone under my radar and was absolutely amazing, A–MAZ–ING! Next up are another duo, who also happen to be boyfriend and girlfriend (does playground giggle behind hand) too, in the form of Rob and Kate who make up ‘Adventures With Words’, this is another weekly podcast and I often sit with a cuppa and listen, occasionally responding to them before realising I am not in the same room as them, oops. Finally, another duo, only this time related as Trevor of Mookse and Gripes blog now does a podcast with his brother discussing NYRB classics, with the occasional extra show thrown in for good measure.

I could of course mention the vodcast of the ABC Book Club, formerly The First Tuesday Book Club with my heroine Marieke Hardy, and also the Radio 2 Arts Show with Claudia Winkleman, who I am currently slightly obsessed by and who I would like to steal many an interview technique off as well as spend many hours with discussing books. They are two further goldmines of audio joy, well one is visual too. Oh, I mentioned them anyway.

So which podcasts do you listen to regularly that I should be adding to my own Savidge Radio Station? Do we listen to any of the same ones?

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Going Off The Beaten (Bookish) Path…

I am going to be heading off on a bit of a bookish adventure over the next few weeks and months I have decided. Having done less reading and more thinking recently, I decided that Savidge Reads needs to change its trajectory. When I started this blog five, very nearly six, years ago I started it as a diary of the books I was reading so I didn’t bore so many of my friends about books they really didn’t give a toss about – little did I know what a wonderful world of bookish friends it would earn me online and in the flesh all these years later! Anyway enough of all about you, back to me. *Cough* When I started these bookish thoughts and notes I had no real bookish direction. I would randomly read books that, if I am really honest, I knew very little about unless I knew the author already, liked the cover or the bookshop recommended it.

I had no idea of all the book prizes (ironic now I have co-founded one) and really didn’t know what the latest bookish buzz was, what a heathen! I just wanted to read good books, ones that simply appealed to me at that moment. I didn’t have a TBR that needed several rooms of shelves to house it, I simply went by instinct. I wasn’t aware of the big books on the periphery or any hype, nor was I part of the literary world really. Whilst I guess I am now through work, this blog and podcasts and it is all lovely and I love it, I do think it is time for me to have a blogger’s kind of GAP year and do some travelling off the beaten bookish path.

Pathways 1

This I have just realised all sounds rather final. It honestly isn’t, I can confirm that Savidge Reads is not going to disappear for a year. It might just mean I start talking about much more random books than I have been. This of course might mean lots of you decide you don’t want to read on, I hope not but if that is the case fair enough. Yet I personally am becoming a bigger fan of blogs that tell me about books I might not have heard of in the review pages, on prize shortlists or published by the latest ‘literary darling’ – and there are bloody loads of books out there that fit that category.

I think it was the Fiction Uncovered list that inspired this. Eight books, one of which I had read and the others heard about a little, that sound really intriguing and I am thrilled to have been recommended after all that is how I first read one of my favourite books, which I probably don’t need to tell you all about (but sod it my blog my rules) so I will, ‘The Proof of Love’ by Catherine Hall. Does it sound grand to say I would like to do my bit for those books too? I have already been scanning my shelves for copies of books publishers have sent that fit into that description. I am also planning on reading most of the Fiction Uncovered books which may seem ironic I suppose after all I say above, but I am a contrary Mary what can I say? Ha!

Speaking of irony… I have looked at what is currently residing on my bedside table and those books don’t, initially, reflect my new found state of mine. Let me explain them though if you will! I have just finished ‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomena’ by Anthony  Marra, which the lovely Michael Kindness raved about on Books on the Nightstand has been raving about so I decided I wanted to read it before the hype goes bananas, which I think it will as it is amazing. I have since started the new Evie Wyld novel ‘All The Birds, Singing’ but that is because her debut blew me away and I would have read it regardless of the buzz of her Granta listing and the reviews its getting (and the fact I asked her nicely to come on You Wrote The Book and she said yes). There is also an advance proof of a newish favourite author Niccolo Ammaniti which I am desperate to read and tell you about before everyone else does, ha! Then, below Niccolo, is ‘World War Z’, now seriously how often do I read books about Zombies, erm hardly at all if ever. It is a ‘new to me but known by pretty much everyone else’ book and a challenge, plus couldn’t be more removed from the previous titles. I am waffling now aren’t I?

Basically I am going to be doing the reading equivalent of interrailing or back packing, ‘bookpacking’ if you will. Along the way there might be the odd reading equivalent of treating myself to a regular hotel along the way, in this case The Persephone Project, Readers Book Group of prize winning novel that just takes my fancy (like ‘The Detour’ by Gerbrand Bakker currently is) if you will. I already have a book waiting in the wings to talk about tomorrow; I just hope you will join me on this random adventure, direction and destination unknown.

P.S Sorry this post is so late I started writing it hours ago but we have had Oscar bring in a baby Blue Tit (now called Bertie) who I have decided to rescue and the drama of it all took over.

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We The Animals – Justin Torres

One of the books coming out in the UK in 2012 I was really excited about before the year even began was ‘We The Animals’, a debut novel by Justin Torres. I had heard this mentioned on a couple of book blogs in the USA and raved about by Ann Kingman on the podcast Books on the Nightstand on a few occasions. There seemed to be a real buzz about it, and one created by readers not just publicists. I was actually so excited about this book based on the buzz and recommendations that I nearly bought it from America back in the autumn. However I was lucky enough to get a rather advance proof from the publishers here instead and I can finally tell to you all about it (after having read it again) now it has been released here.

Granta Books, hardback, 2012, fiction, 144 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

‘We The Animals’ is on first glances a ‘coming of age tale’, which I should admit from the start I am really not a fan of, as our unnamed narrator grows up and tells the story of his upbringing in upstate New York from the age of seven until he leaves home, or the nest as we might call it. Only if we use the nest analogy, this would be more a nest of vipers than a nest of fluffy ducklings because as we read on we begin to spot there are tensions and underlying unease in this family and there is an almost claustrophobic bond that the family, though it is even more so between the three children, all brothers, have created with one another.

‘We wanted more. We knocked the butt ends of our forks against the table, tapped our spoons against our empty bowls; we were hungry. We wanted more volume, more riots.’

‘We The Animals’ is not simply a coming of age tale it is also, if a rather concerning image, an honest and believable portrayal of a family of our time but mostly it is the tale of someone coming to terms with individuality. This is why I admitted it so much, it made me ask a lot of questions. When do you start to realise your parents might not be the idealised perfect people you have created in your head? When do sibling rivalries begin and the bonds of brotherhood get severed? How does conflicting parental culture (in this case white and Puerto Rican) affect your bearings on the world? There is a lot discussed in a book which sits just on the borders where novel and novella meet at 144 pages long, though don’t let that fool you into thinking that there is no plot or that this novel doesn’t have a sense of the epic about it as its quite the opposite.

Using almost short story like chapters (and they even have titles like a short story collection would) we are given snapshots from our unnamed narrators childhood; this to me was one of the most brilliant things Torres does with this book. Through initially naive memories, though as the narrator gets older they get a little more understanding, we as adult readers can build up a bigger picture of what is happening in this rather dysfunctional family. Our narrator might not understand why his mother, who works in the local brewery overnight, might sometimes be covered in bruises or unable to get out of bed, or just what happens between the parents while the boys are taking a bath. Yet as adult readers we do understand and so we join the dots and fill in the blanks to make a much darker picture than our narrator describes. I liked this feeling of an author and a reader working together and I have not seen it done as deftly a Torres does for some time.

Without giving too much more away, and I really don’t want to because I read something that did and took some of the impact away for me at the end, there is a sudden gear change towards the final pages of the book and we are left with, yet more, very interesting questions. Does our childhood create who we are in all senses and can the types of childhood we have, who our parents are etc effect how we become individuals? As a reader I closed the final pages of Torres’ book and had to just sit and think about all the questions it raised, hence why I was glad to go back and have a second read through.

‘We The Animals’ epitomises, to me at least, the power that a short novel can have in the right hands. Torres greats this claustrophobic world where the reader sees more than meets the eye, and yet through the eyes of the narrator there is always an innocence sense of hope, only hitting us harder when we see that vision start to fall away or even worse are torn down. To describe something as short yet epic seems a contradiction, yet read this book and you will see what I mean, you will also see why the buzz around Torres is so justified.

You can see Will’s much more articulate review here, though it does mention the ending a little (it wasn’t the review that gave it  all away for me though). You can hear myself and Gavin interviewing Justin Torres about ‘We The Animals’ on the latest episode of The Readers here.

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Filed under Books of 2012, Granta Books, Justin Torres, Review

Books on the Nightstand & The Readers (and Some Questions About Book Podcasts)

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while will know that I have a favourite podcast called Books on the Nightstand. When Gavin and I started making ‘The Readers’ we knew that we wanted to have the chatty nature that the wonderful Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness have, like you have popped round to some friends houses for a cup of tea and lots of book based banter,  without becoming a copy of their show. Slowly but surely I have become ‘twitter acquaintances’ with Ann and Michael, emails can often fly across the ocean, and they are as lovely off the podcast as they sound on it, as you may have seen Michael even got Hillary Jordan to sign her new novel ‘When She Woke’ for me and sent it to me from America (as its not out in the UK till next year) just because he knew I was a big fan. This is all leading somewhere honest…

After we recorded the first few episodes of ‘The Readers’ we were both really nervous when we knew Ann and Michael were going to listen to it. Would they like it? Would they think we were trying to copy them? Well the answers were yes and no. They really like it and whilst we have *hopefully* got a lovely banter we have got two very different shows yet this week the two meet, sort of, as Ann and Michael have kindly each done their Top Five Books in a lovely chatty style and I have come away with some more books to add to/take from Mount TBR, which you should too. You can listen to it here. Do, its great.

They also left a lovely message at the end which made me and Gavin grin a lot, oh if you want a laugh listen to the first few seconds of the podcast to get my ‘personality’ – poor Gav what he has to work with. Anyway, we are hoping this won’t be the last Books on the Nightstand and The Readers collaboration; we are plotting away in the background so hopefully something will flourish. We are joining forces with another blogger in the form of Kim of Reading Matters who is joining us as our first guest host for next weeks show, should be fun.

Don’t forget we want your involvement, if you want to send us an mp3 recording of your Top 5 Books (email  bookbasedbanter@gmail.com and we will pop them up) then please do or even if you fancy being a co-host in the future sometime we would love to know… or any other feedback can be left in comments here or comments on The Readers website. Oh and I would love to hear what your favourite bookish podcasts are, I am working on a directory of sorts, so which ones do you listen to regularly?

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Books of 2012… Should I Be Reading Them Now?

I was talking about a set of delightful books that have recently arrived yesterday and I am going to do the same again today. These books coincide with the fact that I have decided that now The Green Carnation Shortlist has been announced, and I know my final thoughts on the final books, and as Bookmarked Salon is now having a hiatus before it possibly comes back (and if it does it will be rather different) next year, it is time for me to scrap all planned reading and simply indulge myself for the last month and a half of the year. It actually freaks me out quite a lot that 2012 is not far away at all and there were so many books I ‘meant to’ read this year and still haven’t as yet.  In fact it is next year that links all of the books below I want to discuss as they aren’t out until 2012, in the UK anyway, but I want to read them now…

The first of these three treats I don’t think is out in anywhere else, and by that I mean in any other countries outside the UK, as yet and won’t be out here in the UK until early January and that is ‘The Man Who Rained’ by Ali Shaw and is the his highly anticipated (and not just by me) follow up to ‘The Girl With The Glass Feet’ which I absolutely loved and which caused a great discussion on the blog a while back. This one sounds like another wonderful adult fairytale and one I don’t think I can wait to get started on.

The next up is already out in Australia and hasn’t a definite date in the UK as yet, but I am hoping that the world cottons onto the wonders of Marieke Hardy and her collections of essays and memories ‘You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead’ which the publishers Allen and Unwin very, very kindly popped in the post. I have become a fan of Marieke, bordering on a slight ‘non weird’ obsession, since I started catching up with one of my favourite book shows The First Tuesday Book Club and since then with her blog and the like. This should be a great collection and once I will have to try very hard not to read in one sitting, I want to savour them… if I can.

Finally is a book I discussed on a post a while back, a post I was apparently slated for by an author on a certain social media site, bizarre. I was a huge fan of Hillary Jordan’s debut novel ‘Mudbound’ and was exited to hear that she was releasing a new ‘dystopian novel’ as her second novel ‘When She Awoke’. I was then mortified that whilst it came out in America a little while back, it wasn’t coming out her until late spring 2012 at the earliest. Well guess what, the very lovely Michael Kindness of the brilliant podcast Books on the Nightstand sent me a copy all the way from the US of A…

If that wasn’t enough he only went and got it signed for me by Hillary on one of the author tours he went on with her. I am beyond thrilled at what was just a lovely, lovely gesture.

Now I just have to decide if I hold fire on reading them, or simply dive in and treat myself? What do you think? Which books are you the most excited about reading at the moment? Are there any books coming out in 2012 that you already have on your radar?

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What Do You Want In A Book Based Podcast… Because We’ve Gone & Made One…

I’ve talked to you about my love of book podcasts for a while now I am sure. Reading can be a rather solitary experience and so I like listening to people talking about books. I’m not so sure about talking books themselves, but there is something nice about walking to the shops, pottering round the supermarket trying not to go insane, cooking or doing the dreaded cleaning and having people nattering about books in your ears. They also have the added bonus of spreading book based banter everywhere worldwide.

In the UK the press, like the Guardian, do some great ones, there are a few publisher podcasts but my very favourite is Books on the Nightstand. This podcast has it spot on it’s a conversation between two US book lovers (and booksellers) Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness and they chat about books, the industry, what their listeners want to discuss. I could go on. But where is the UK equivalent (note – not rip off)? Well Gavin, of Gav Reads, and I are having a go and ‘The Readers’ is live!

We aren’t anywhere near the heights of BOTNS and we aren’t trying to tread on their toes (we love them). What we will be bringing you each week is comment on the latest news in the book world, author interviews, debate and recommendations from two very different perspectives, Gav is a big genre fan and I love my lit-fiction. We have already got episode one in the can with discussion on book awards and an interview with Carol Birch (no, seriously), there’s also a few mistakes (like me getting my words in a muddle and giving the wrong titles of books – this podcast was cut from 3 hours of chatter to 52mins brilliantly by Gav) so do bear with us.

What we want to know is what you would like to hear, what guests you would like on and some audience participation. So please have a listen and let us know what YOU think and what YOU want in the future!

To listen to Episode One of ‘The Readers’ you can visit our website here. We would love your feedback, be nice (we aren’t professionals) or constructive, we really do want to hear all your suggestions and feedback. You can also follow us on twitter @BookBasedBanter. Hope you enjoy it!

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September’s Incomings…

I have to admit I actually had to hunt around the whole house to check that my eyes weren’t deceiving me when it came to putting this month’s incoming books post together. I couldn’t quite believe the two very humble piles of new books that had arrived this month. This doubly hit me when I heard it was ‘Big Book Thursday’ yesterday. No, I had never heard the expression before, which caused guffawing laughter and comments of ‘call yourself a bookish person’ from my family, cheers thanks a lot. Apparently yesterday was the day when all the books for Christmas came out? Sounds like bobbins to me, though it was on Radio 4 apparently.

Anyway back to books that have arrived here, and first lets cover the books from the lovely publishers, note there were five more than this but I am saving them for another two arrivals which are all getting a special post of their own…

  • The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender – This year I am loving Windmills books, ‘Forgetting Zoe’ by Ray Robinson was ace, if very dark, then there was the wonder of ‘The Borrower’ by Rebecca Makkai. Before Richard and Judy chose this I had been eyeing up this novel, about a girl who can taste the emotions of those who cook the food she eats, since I heard it raved about on Books on the Nightstand. I think this sounds really original so have high hopes.
  • Pure by Julianna Baggot – Yes that book is actually plain bright white. This is a very, very, very advance (unsolicited) copy of an ‘apocolyptic’ book that’s out in February. It sounds intriguing but I can’t imagine I will read it before at least January as I will forget everything about it, but who knows.
  •  Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner – The publicist at Windmill was enthusing about this so much when I asked for Aimee Bender’s book I simply couldn’t say no.
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs – This looks wonderfully creepy and comes with Victorian pictures interspersed throughout of ‘freak show’ characters from the olden days, sounds my perfect cup of tea and came all the way from America thanks to Quirk publishing. I think this will be read very, very soon.
  • The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue – I was thinking ‘wow, she wrote this quickly’ when this arrived, apparently this came out a few years ago and is being reissued. It sounds like a wonderful Victorian tale, so possibly a perfect read for the colder darker nights.
  • Collected Ghost Stories by M.R. James – I have a really battered cheap copy of this so I am welcoming its replacement and the nudge for me to finally read these spooky tales.
  • The Sound of Gravity by Joe Simpson – I have to admit I haven’t even seen ‘Touching the Void’ but my family have a copy of the book and the film thankfully as I am interviewing Joe at a solo gig in Waterstones in two weeks so will be having a Joe Simpson binge in advance, I have a feeling I am going to be feeling very chilly and snowbound throughout this binge, so maybe wait till the Indian Summer Manchester is having is over.

Now for the books I have been lent/given or naughtily bought, again I should add I am missing two of these which are going in a post about something else and I will also be buying ‘The Slaves of Solitude’ today by Patrick Hamilton for a book group my friend Joe has started, we are going to be called ‘The Bookaholics with Beards’ and if you don’t have a beard you can’t come in, yes this group was started after one too many drinks but it’s a great book choice from what I have heard from others (and is £3 in Fopp!, what more could you need?). I digress…

  • The Long Exile by Melanie McGrath – After having Melanie/M.J. at Bookmarked I was so enthralled with her tales of the arctic I was desperate to read ‘The Long Exile’ and thanks to her publicist Chloe I am, I have promised to send it back after. Thanks for the loan Chloe.
  • The Game/Locked Rooms by Laurie R. King – I haven’t read the first of these Sherlock spin off’s but so many people have said I would love them that when I saw these pristine for 50p each I snapped them up.
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgensten – Lynne of Dovegreyreader said I needed to pop this up my TBR imminently, well I hadn’t been sent it (I think almost everyone has though, weird) but thankfully Paul Magrs has let me have his. So that’s one to read, though the hype worries me. I am trying to avoid it so the read will be based just on that, the reading.

So that’s it. What do you think? Have you read any of these? Should I get to any sooner than others? What have you had in the last month?

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Do I Want To Read… The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan?

I personally don’t read that much werewolf based fiction, even though I love a good werewolf film, so it’s interesting that I have had Glen Duncan’s ‘The Last Werewolf’ on my periphery for quite some time. I can’t say I am a big read of supernatural fiction, though I have dabbled in the Twilight series (which some people would say I shouldn’t admit to but stuff it) and have various thoughts on those, I do like a good chilling ghost story though. Yet I have read a few reviews – like this one – and heard various podcasts and the like that make me think I might rather like this read. Weirdly there was one absolute slating of the book that made me want to read it more, and that was from the fabulous Marieke Hardy.

I am pretty sure I have pushed you in the direction of Australia’s ‘First Tuesday Book Club’ before. It’s the perfect book show and one I am shocked we haven’t the likes of in the UK as I think it would be a great success (and I know someone who would love to host it, cough). Each month they read two books in a panel of five (three of whom, Jennifer Byrne, Marieke Hardy and Jason Steger, are always on it) and discuss them. Invariably the books are one modern and one classic, this month the modern one was ‘The Last Werewolf’. Well Marieke went crazy on it calling it ‘a very silly book’, and excuse my French, a ‘cock forest’,  where else would you get a brilliant review like that? If you want to see it then go here and skip to 3.33 minutes for the fun to begin its hilarious. You can also sign up to get the series as a vodcast every month.

I have also heard on ‘Books on the Nightstand’; one of my other favourite podcasts, that this is a ‘literary werewolf novel’ could this be a surprise contender for the Man Booker 2011, how bizarre and brilliant would that be? So have any of you read ‘The Last Werewolf’ and what did you think? Isn’t it funny how a bad review, when done honestly and well, can make you want to read something even more?

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The Upright Piano Player – David Abbott

Well, it seems like if you hanker after some great debut fiction then the list of ‘The Culture Show’s 12 Debut Novelists’ is pretty much the ideal place to go because so far, apart from one which maybe I should try again, every one of them I have tried has been a book I have really enjoyed, or been enthralled with. That includes the latest one I decided to try which was David Abbott’s ‘The Upright Piano Player’, as it shot up the TBR pile after hearing it raved about by Ann Kingman on ‘Books on the Nightstand’ a few weeks ago.

‘The Upright Piano Player’ has possibly one of the most gripping, horrifying and gut wrenching opening chapters I think I have come across in a long time. One that isn’t reflective of the book general style, though that doesn’t mean you will lose interest swiftly from then on, it’s a book that hooks you into someone’s life only rather near the end of the tale instead of the beginning. When we first meet Henry Cage in May 2004, we are taken with him to a funeral, of whose I will not say though you know by the end of the first chapter and it’s rather upsetting, especially as we are lead to the event of the death of said person in a flashback.

“He had chased after them screaming himself, God knows what – not words he thought, just a scream, a never-ending scream. He ran until his knee gave way. They found him crawling along the side of the road.”

Interesting then, and it had me wondering which is always good, why we are then taken back to November 1999. What Abbott does is to get us to know the background to the event that happens. Not in a ‘this is why it happened’ way, though there is some of that in part, rather in a way that we get to know just how fragile Henry’s world is, and indeed the world of those around him, in the five years from that point. There is forced retirement, estranged children and bitter whilst rather balmy ex-wives. Initially you think that Henry Cage has it all, the company, the flashy car, the nice property. As we read on we realise this is a lonely man on the edge of unravelling one that is sparked further by an act of random violence on New Year’s Eve, one which comes to haunt him again and again and leads to an unravelling.

What’s fascinating is how we watch Henry unravel whilst everyone else think things are fine. We see his reaction when he is kicked out of the very company he founded, he takes it gracefully outwardly and then we see him weeping in the toilets when no one else is around. He tells the police he is fine, and then can’t sleep for fear. In fact it’s the one of the master strokes in Abbott’s story, we are often given insights into the person Henry is via other people. We might join them for a chapter at a certain point in their life when Henry may only meet them for the briefest of moments, for example when he takes a chance on Maude Singer when no one else wants to employ her, though saying that she does appear again. I liked this strange style of personal and impersonal moments. I also thought Abbott summed up the ‘London’ attitude of forgetting people the moment they leave a company or the city.

“He’s bored probably – and unhappy, too, I would guess. Have you seen him since he left?”
“Afraid not – miserable people make me miserable too, so I avoid them.”

Things move forward due to his ex-wife, who summons him to her home in Florida. She has a her reasons, and those of course you would have to read the book to discover. It adds a certain twist to the book, another interesting strand and Abbott does do this at regular intervals, lost of things are happening in the background all the time. Are they pointers to what’s to come or merely just how life is? I did find the break up scene between Henry and Nessa rather emotional and added to the turmoil of all that’s to come, has gone, and is going on.

“She left the room on tiptoe, as if in the presence of the sick. She closed the door quietly behind her and he heard the clatter of her accelerated feet on the staircase. She could not wait to be gone. The real nastiness would start later.”

I didn’t think initially I would warm to Henry. I was worried he was going to be the stereotypical late fifties uncaring bastard what-sit and initially I was slightly proved right. He is a little arrogant, but he is also incredibly fragile and a bit of a home body, which is something he and I had in common, along with his love of books (in fact books become a theme). He’s human, he has his foibles yet at the same time he is a man prepared to admit when he’s wrong and fight passionately for what he believes in when he needs too. I enjoyed spending time with him, even if occasionally (after I had finished laughing at something awful he had done) I wanted to tell him to get a grip. He is also rather lonely and rather vulnerable, if also rather difficult. I liked him.

“His suitcase held few clothes, but was heavy with books. His great fear was of being stranded with nothing to read – so along with recent novels, he took bankers – books he knew he would enjoy reading again should the new titles disappoint. Light Years by James Salter always travelled with him and he invariably packed William Maxwell’s The Chateau. Thus insured, even Christmas could be endured.”

So were there any faults to the book? I would say there were two small ones, and yet they are going to sound bonkers because they are also strengths. Abbott creates characters which are fully formed people. So fully formed that sometimes he adds strands to them you want to learn more about, an example – if slightly selfish one – is of his son and daughter-in-laws book shop which I could have read lots and lots more about, he then closes the door on them either for good or for a while. It feels like some of the strands he starts off don’t quite get finished. He also tells the story in a very random order. One minute we are in 2004, then back to 1999 but not following a straight chronological trajectory as we get varying flashbacks along the way. It’s well done, it’s an interesting style, yet I would imagine it could confuse or put people off. For me it worked, I just put the effort in and read a paragraph or two once or twice to place them.

Overall, I really, really liked ‘The Upright Piano Player’. I am quite cross with David Abbott for not writing something sooner, he waited until he retired, but then I wonder if this book is just so good because its been fermenting in his brain for so long? I am hoping that we get another one soon as this is my sort of book, and I wasn’t really expecting it which makes it all the better. 9.5/10

This book was kindly sent by the publisher.

Has anyone else read this novel, if so what did you think? There have been, not by me, some comparisons to Ian McEwan with David Abbott’s debut. I can in part see where those are coming from, mainly in terms of the violent or bizarre moments that change someones life and outlook. If you love McEwan then you will probably love this. Yet if you loathe McEwan don’t avoid reading this book, David Abbott is also an author in his own right and a different one, yet one who definitely deserves to shift as many copies as McEwan’s latest did.

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Filed under Books of 2011, David Abbott, Maclehose Publishing, Quercus Publishing, Review

The Report – Jessica Francis Kane

I have mentioned before how books about WWII have to be something a little bit different in order to grab me as it’s a subject that gets written about one heck of a lot. From its blurb ‘The Report’ by Jessica Francis Kane looked like it would be such a book, as rather than being a telling of the war it focuses on one of the biggest tragedies at the time, and one that wasn’t caused by a bomb. I first heard about the book on ‘Books On The Nightstand’ where it Ann Kingman raved about it and then again on Open Book on Radio 4 where Mariella Frostrup (who I love and would like the jobs of please) gave its author rather a grilling.

Jessica Francis Kane’s debut novel ‘The Report’ centres around the true-life tragic deaths of 173 people, 62 of which were children, who were making their way into Bethnal Green Underground Station on March the 3rd 1943 to use it as an Air Raid shelter. Yet this was not caused by a bomb but a sudden case of mass hysteria as the crowd entering were suddenly alarmed, and so surged into the entrance causing a crush. Initially the whole incident was hushed up, however not too long after an inquiry and afterwards ‘a report’ was established. Jessica Francis Kane explores the process that happened and the people who this happened to in the guise of fiction or faction, or whatever the term is.

Initially I have to admit that I was a little disappointed by the book and though this didn’t last I do feel I should explain why.  The book is separated into sections and during ‘The Shelter’ I could tell Jessica Francis Kane could clearly write but something was causing a real distance between myself and the events and people. At first I thought it was that the jumping of perspectives, one minute we are with several different characters (confusing enough initially) and their viewpoints of the events, and then we are with Laurence Dunne the man behind the investigation both in 1943 and also thirty years later when he is asked to be part of a documentary. Yet as this went on I got used to who we were with and what was going on, that really was me as a reader not the book in this case.

I then realised that while I was reading a book that was meant to be fiction in actual fact the level of research that Francis Kane had done (to her credit and without showing off) in order to make the inquiry so real to the reader was in fact making me feel like I was reading non-fiction. Really good non-fiction though. This, technically, was rightly so as this book is a fiction retelling on an inquiry where people simply tell the facts of what happened, rather than the event itself. In some ways, and I don’t know if this was because of the fact it was a real life event and those effected by it and their descendents are still living, the author does try and veer the reader away from the actual tragedy on the underground staircase and I was expecting a lot more as if I was there when it happened and therefore giving me more of an emotional response to it. This comes later though.

What Jessica Francis Kane then does in the section called ‘The Inquiry’, about 70 pages in, is build up on characters from the earlier parts of the book and interweave their stories of surviving and moving on in the aftermath of the event along with the how’s and why’s it happened. This then brought in the human element I felt I was initially missing out on. I was originally surprised not to see this book on the Orange list from premise alone, however with the slow start before the gripping pay off I can imagine if this was a book that had been put forward for ‘The Green Carnation Prize’ when we get so much to read, I might have not continued, but this wasn’t and so I did. So from that I can highly recommend that if you get this book, and it is worth getting, you keep going past page 70 and you will have yourselves a very interesting read ahead.

‘The Report’ is a book which in throwing you in slightly at the deep end by giving you lots of voices and facts build upon them creating a gripping and insightful yet sensitive tale of a true life tragedy. It’s a book you need to bear with and if you do so you will reap the rewards. It’s a very different look at the lives of the people in London’s East End during the Blitz and one that was partially forgotten. In parts it reads more like non-fiction than the ‘fiction’ it has labelled itself but really once it gets going it’s such a fascinating read it doesn’t really matter. 8.5/10

This book was kindly sent to me by the publishers.

This book has brought up the whole subject of facts in fiction and indeed the genre of ‘faction’. I think reading ‘The Report’ reminded me of reading, the also wonderful, ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’ by Kate Summerscale which was the opposite of this novel as it was non fiction but read like fiction. Am I making any sense at all? Who else has read ‘The Report’ and what did you think? Which non-fiction books that read like fiction and which fiction books based on fact would you recommend me trying next? Which of the two styles do you prefer?

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Filed under Jessica Francis Kane, Portobello Books, Review