Tag Archives: Carol Birch

The Lifeboat – Charlotte Rogan

If you are a long time follower of this blog, or listen to The Readers Podcast, then you will know that there is one thing in books I really don’t like, and that is boats. I don’t like them off the page, it’s all that expanse and silence – it irks me plus all the space below you fills me with a nervous dread, and in my head a book on a boat can’t really do very much. You sail along, possibly something awful happens and you sail on again till you sink, reach a shore or get saved. Boats to my mind equal boredom, and I don’t want that in a book. Yet occasionally a book comes along that completely flips your thoughts on your own book bias and you are enthralled. Charlotte Rogan’s debut novel ‘The Lifeboat’ is such a book and joins Carol Birch’s ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’ as a book I utterly loved set on a boat, though they are quite different stories.

Virago Books, hardback, 2012, fiction, 288 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

In 1914 the Empress Alexandra, one of the world’s most desirable transatlantic liners suffers some kind of explosion and sinks. Somehow some of the passengers make it onto ‘Lifeboat 14’ and against all odds some of these people survive. Yet no sooner are they saved than they are put on trial for the culpability of the deaths of those passengers who didn’t make it. One such woman is recently married and now recently widowed Grace Winter, and through her trial, and her diary of the 21 days lost at sea, we are discover what really happened on that boat (so I haven’t given away any spoilers there), or at least we think we might.

The very things that I think make books set on boats a bore actually become some of the things that I liked so much about ‘The Lifeboat’. Grace and her fellow passengers, with so much expanse on the horizon and so much endless depth below them, are fearful, vulnerable, hungry and bored – this leads to an incredibly enclosed setting and as the hunger, fear and boredom rise so do the mental strains and characters change, or in some cases true characters show through. You start with unity, but then someone must divide and rule.

‘We were in similar circumstances, after all, and an unspoken etiquette was arising where we would not look the beast of physical necessity in the eye. We would ignore it, we would dare it to claw apart our sense of decorum, we would preserve civility even in the face of a disaster that had almost killed us and that might kill us yet.’

I think ‘The Lifeboat’ is one of the most brilliant fictional takes on ‘mental warfare’ and how people change under certain circumstances that I have come across in a very long time, especially from a modern writer. Dare I say there was something rather Daphne Du Maurier-like about the darkness that develops? What I won’t say is anything about the other characters (apart from the fact I was scared of Mrs Grant) because I don’t want to give anything away, but Rogan creates a fascinating psychological game with them all, and with Grace herself Rogan pulls the trump card.

One of the things that I most enjoyed about ‘The Lifeboat’ was Grace’s voice; she is at once incredibly innocent and yet will suddenly come out with statements that make you wonder if there is a much more cunning streak lying in the depths of her persona. Rogan uses this device masterfully, as we read on and see how Grace reacts to everything you start to wonder how responsible for all that follows she may or may not be. There is also the fact that as Rogan weaves some of Grace’s life before embarking on the Empress Alexandra but nothing really before her marriage, there is an ambiguity there. I like a good unreliable narrator and Grace is certainly up there with Harriet Baxter in ‘Gillespie and I’ by Jane Harris in terms of a character you like because she’s slightly barbed and yet you are never sure you really trust. A glimpse of something dark appears and yet is immediately erased and you question yourself as well as your protagonist. Just how did Grace survive, luck or something else?

‘I am trying to be honest. In memory, I can feel a tug at my heartstrings as I think of Mary Ann. She was frail and beautiful. Her engagement diamond slipped uselessly around on her thin finger. The indigo veins on her wrist looked like delicate calligraphy on the white parchment of her skin. In other circumstances we might have been real friends, but there in the boat, I had no sympathy for her. She was weak, unlikely to survive or to be of use in prolonging the lives of others.’

I was completely won over by ‘The Lifeboat’, enthralled in fact, so much so that would you believe it… I wanted more! At a deceptive 288 pages Rogan manages to pack in so much in terms of plot, back story, twists, turns and red herrings it is amazing that the book isn’t another few hundred pages long. Yet I think to be left wanting more of a book is always a good sign no matter what the length of it. If you are looking for a literary novel, because the prose is superb, that will have you utterly gripped and guessing along the way then I do urge you to give ‘The Lifeboat’ a whirl, I thought it was fantastic.

So I think you can tell that’s a rather hearty recommendation from me. Watch out for more Charlotte Rogan on the blog tomorrow. Until then… who else has read ‘The Lifeboat’ and what did you think? Any other recommendations for books set on boats I might be missing?

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Filed under Books of 2012, Charlotte Rogan, Review, Virago Books

Bookshops I Love; The Book Barge

As someone who doesn’t really like boats and really doesn’t like books set on them, you might be surprised that when I heard The Book Barge was coming to Manchester I was both excited and intrigued. I had heard about it on the Guardian book podcast a while back and thought the idea of having a book shop on a narrow boat that travelled around the country actually sounded like a rather lovely jaunt. I also love books and the idea of bartering for books intrigued me, so armed with a bag of M&S lunchtime treats I headed to the Quay to find out more.

Well, I was smitten. A moored boat that only wobbled slightly as I clambered, yes clambered – I don’t have naval ready legs, on and was decked out with lots and lots and lots and lots and lots (is that enough lots to tempt you?) of books was like a quiet and calm haven.

Then as I got to chat to Sarah (which you can hear on this week’s episode of The Readers podcast)who I became equally smitten with, as she is just lovely, I discovered it wasn’t quite the delight you might think. I doubly noticed this when I realised there was no toilet on board let alone a bathroom… or even a kitchen. Just lots and lots and lots (here come those ‘lots’ again) of books.

This is where the bartering comes in, as Sarah travels the country (at a ridiculously speedy 4 miles-per-hour) if she is in need of a shower, a meal, something fixed, or even a haircut, she will swap these for a book, or maybe two if it’s something specific or slightly more costly. This idea would fill me with dread; you could end up in a loonies house after all, but Sarah said she could spot them (I hope I imagined a small knowing squint aimed at me) a mile off and that most bookish people tend to be rather lovely.

Well one trip wasn’t enough and I ended popping abck a few times, including to one of Paul Magrs signings and also bringing Carol Birch and Jane Harris on board before Bookmarked, which Sarah then came to. In fact as the time went on I was even more thrilled with the Book Barge as not only did I leave with a wonderful old copy of ‘Trilby’ by George Du Maurier and ‘Fun Home’ by Alison Bechdel (which Rebecca Makkai had recommended we all read) but I have found a lovely new friend in the lovely Sarah and might just be spending a weekend on the Barge on its final voyage home after it visits Leeds and Nottingham. Do, if you can, pop and see Sarah (she is ace), preferably armed with an M&S picnic and grab a few books. She will be heading to Europe next year too.

Oh and before it combats the channel’s choppy waters, the Book Barge has quite a test coming… Polly of Novel Insights and I will be taking it over in the spring for a bit! How exciting is that? I am not sure Polly and Sarah are quite aware of what I have signed them both (and myself actually) up for!!

You can find out all about the Book Barge on it’s website here.

P.S I didn’t take either of these photo’s I will be replacing them later as mine are still on my phone. Oops.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Bookshops I Love, Random Savidgeness

And The Man Booker Winner 2011 is…

Today is of course Man Booker announcement day, by the end of this evening we will know just who has won one of the biggest book prizes in the UK. I have almost read the whole shortlist now. I admit I really struggled with Julian Barnes (loved ‘Arthur and George’ this seems to be aimed at a certain market, which isn’t me) which is everyone’s favourite and whilst I like Esi Edugyan as soon as I put it down I find I want to read something else (bet this goes and wins now). I haven’t reviewed all the books so far but I will (I am beyond behind with reviews apols), speaking of which here is the short list if you have been on mars for the last few months (or simply not interested – there is a review coming later if the latter is the case)…

So who do I want to win? To be honest it’s a real toss up between ‘The Sisters Brothers’ by Patrick de Witt and ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’ by Carol Birch…

I have I placed a little bet on one. After meeting Carol Birch last week (along with Jane Harris for Bookmarked – see photo below) and spending a lovely evening with her because she is just so lovely (as was Jane) and the fact that I think the journey she sends us on is so vivid and wonderful during ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’, along with the fact (as I told her) that she has converted me to books based on boats which I never thought would happen, that is my favourite. I will have everything crossed. Oh and you can hear me interview Carol here on ‘The Readers’ website.

Carol Birch, Jane Harris, Adam Lowe and Me

What about you? Oh by the way, before I ask more, I know lots of you read this blog from outside of the UK, is the Man Booker as big a deal worldwide, do let me know. It is something I have pondered a few times. So who do you want to win the Man Booker 2011?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Man Booker

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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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness, The Readers Podcast

If You Love Jane Harris and Carol Birch…

Then you must come to Bookmarked at Manchesters Waterstones Deansgate tonight. As you can imagine I am sooooo excited, I loved both Jane’s ‘Gillespie and I’ (though how do you pronounce Gillespie?) and Carol’s ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’, and they are easily two of my favourite reads of the year. Let’s hope I don’t go all fan boy!! If you might be coming email me savidgereads@gmail.com and let me know and I will make sure to say hello. If you can’t then I will do a special report for you in due course. For more info the Bookmarked website is here.

 

I know that has randomly interupted Discovering Daphne (maybe I will ask the authors on their thoughts on Daphne?), but I wanted to mention it. I am being beyond tardy with my Daphne planned post today, I was planning on doing a post on her autobiography ‘Growing Pains’ but I am enjoying it too much to rush it. My partner in Daphne crime Polly of Novel Insights (who will be at Bookmarked tonight) has done a wonderful post of Daphne in Pictures that you should all check out. Stunning. Oh, if only we could have interviewed her!

Right I am off to calm down with some more Daphne before tonight’s delights. Let me know if you are coming!

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Bookmarked Crime Night… The Report

Last week was the second Bookmarked Literary Salon and what a criminally good night it was. You all know how much I love a good crime novel so to have the legendary Val McDermid and wonderful debut novelist M.J. McGrath (or Melanie as I’m now allowed to call her) was bliss for me. I went and did that silly getting nervous thing again, fortunately it didn’t last long and we were soon chatting away between having our photos taken together before it all started off.

After each author had done a reading it was time for a good old natter, you may notice we changed the seating from last time so it’s less authors vs. hosts. The conversation flowed and it all went far too quickly.

Val had some really interesting insights into how crime is changing through technological advances and not just in the case of solving crimes but in what you write. Her son has been reading some of her earlier novels and after reading about Kate Brannigan hunting down a phone box for a few pages asked why she didn’t just use her mobile phone? We also discussed social media, how psychopaths are using it to their advantage. Apparently there is now a twitter account called Vance On The Run which is apparently Jacko Vance, Val’s own creation, who is trying to follow her! How mad is that? Mind you I follow Jackson Brodie on twitter, erm let’s move on…

Melanie had tales to tell from quite another world, the arctic, and how her friends can Facebook her and tell her they have a dislocated shoulder but can’t get to a hospital or drugs delivered because they are so remote. As she spent lots of time in the arctic as a journalist (and wrote ‘The Long Exhile’ which I am now desperate to read) she also had wonderful tales to tell of the Inuit life and how she became a figure of fun after locking herself out her house, with only ten minutes till she would freeze to death, and getting to grips with peeing when it becomes an icicle mid-flow. Oh and a brilliant semi-tragic tale about a hunter who met his match with a polar bear he was after. It was utterly fascinating.

Too soon and it was all over. Time to sign books for the wonderful audience who came along, including Polly of Novel Insights, and made it such a wonderful event we didn’t want to end.

In fact we loved it so much we might just be having another meeting of the same minds next year, we shall see. Val and Melanie have said they will and Melanie even wrote a contractually binding comment in my copy of her book, so I’ll be holding them to that!

Thanks again if you were in the audience, I did speak to some of you but not all. It was a wonderful evening and if you couldn’t make it I hope this post gives you a feel for the night. I’m loving this salon malarky, can you tell?

Bookmarked will be back in just under two weeks, time really flies, on Monday the 3rd of October for a Victorian themed evening (with two of my favourite books of 2011 and their authors) of ‘Sensational Stories’ as Jane Harris will be discussing ‘Gillespie and I’ and Carol Birch will be talking about ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’, as well as all things Victoriana based, to say I am excited would be an understatement. I hope to see you there (if not I will report back again)!

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Filed under Bookmarked Literary Salon, M.J. McGrath, Val McDermid

The Man Booker Shortlist 2011… Thoughts

With what I thought was a little lacklustre flare, but then again I was in a Museum taking my twin cousins for a morning out, the Man Booker Shortlist was announced earlier today and here it is…

  • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
  • Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch
  • The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
  • Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
  • Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
  • Snowdrops by A.D. Miller

I was really pleased to see Carol Birch (and doubly excited as she will be at Bookmarked in October with Jane Harris who a lot of people think was robbed a Man Booker long-listing, oops I might have let loose a secret there) on the list with ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’, delighted about ‘The Sisters Brothers’ too, happy to see ‘Snowdrops’, intrigued by Barnes and Edugyan which I will re-read and finish, and I did a chortle of glee that ‘Pigeon English’ was on the list – I almost cannot wait to see what all the book snobs are saying about that. I liked the book to a point though I didn’t love it, it’s not a typical ‘Booker’ book but hoorah for Kelman, it’s a bit of a fingers up at the vitriol that book has received.

So who do I want to win? Well there are two books it would make me happy to see take the crown, and those are Carol Birch and Patrick deWitt. Birch probably has the edge with me as I love the Victorian era, and this book really pleasantly surprised me. Expect a glowing review of deWitt in the next few days.

 

It could all change with a re-read and a finally finish reading though. We will see. What do you make of the list?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Man Booker