Tag Archives: David Malouf

Loving My New Local Library…

I am a huge fan of the library. When I was younger I regularly found myself ensconced in whichever library was my most local (as we moved around a bit) and being surrounded by all those books, which all had a sense of both mystery and adventure around them, would make me feel at home. They were also where I got most of my reading took place or came from, we might visit the book shop once a month but it was a real treat to actually get a brand new book. So whenever I move to somewhere new the library is one of the first places I check out.

I actually joined my local library, which happens to be Birkenhead Library, before I had even moved to the Wirral and to Oxton. You see when I started seeing The Beard he had a big operation and so I offered to look after him which meant moving in for two weeks (nothing tests a relationship early on like one of you being ill and cabin fever setting in as you can’t go anywhere or really do anything, ha) and so I knew, as I couldn’t possibly pack two weeks’ worth of books at short notice, that I would have to join the library. I have to say from a certain someone’s description I didn’t expect much but when I arrived I was immediately bowled over by the wonderful building itself.

As you can see it is a rather grand building with huge columns that remind you of a mixture of stately home and Greek Temple. I had high hopes at the size of it alone, and I guess the grandeur added to that. So in I went full of hope and headed to the fiction section.

I have to say I was initially a little dismayed. There seemed to be a great horror section, great sci-fi section, wonderful crime section but the general fiction left a little to be desired. Whilst there were some wonderful new hardbacks the shelves were also lined with a lot of older hardbacks and not a paperback in sight. All my hopes were dashed until I turned the final shelf and was greeted by this…

I don’t think I have ever seen such a long line of shelves of fiction books in a library before. Oh, and bear in mind that this doesn’t include the crime, sci-fi or horror I mentioned before, or indeed Classics and short story collections which have their own separate shelves too. Thank goodness that chair was there as I had to sit down.

Now as it has been some time since I first went, and I meant to blog about it then actually, I thought I would share with you the last ‘library loot’ that I picked up there a week or so ago (note Oscar decided to get in on the act)…

The fact I managed to get my mitts on so many Man Booker  longlisted novels (I have reported back on Deborah Levy’s ‘Swimming Home’ only so far as I am eking out my reviews at the moment) so easily really impressed me as these have been like gold dust in the past. The Niccolo Ammaniti I just fancied as I have meant to read more of him and ‘Ransom’ by David Malouf has been much raved about by my mother. I was also, as I am sure you can imagine, in Mitford ecstasies when I spotted Nancy’s ‘Talent to Annoy’ collection of essays which I am currently dipping in and out of when I ventured into the endless non-fiction section. It is honestly a gem of a library.

I have been wondering if I should follow suit of the lovely Eva, who is a brilliant example of a library lover and user, and start doing video posts as she does when I have been and brought back a bundle, though I have no idea how you do this, what do you think? Also, have you read any of the books I am borrowing and if so what did you think? What wonderful finds have you discovered at your library recently?

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Filed under Random Savidgeness

The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller

When I was first sent Madeline Miller’s debut novel ‘The Song of Achilles’ as a very early unsolicited advance proof copy last summer I swiftly passed it onto my mother. You see she is a classicist and indeed teaches classics, as well as English literature, so I knew she would love it. I also assumed being about the Greek gods, myths and legends it would therefore not be mine. I am sure my mother’s passion for the subject is contagious for her students but as her own child it occasionally got a bit much. I think it was the 12 endless hours in Pompeii during my bolshie early teens, when I was so bored I had the biggest sulk ever (even a rather rude painting my mother dragged us to find didn’t have the desired effect of cheering me up) that could have put me off. Or maybe it was getting 100% in my Classics exam at the school my mother taught at and having the mickey taken out of me that was the final straw? Either way I completely shut the subject out of my life. Hence why I thought ‘The Song of Achilles’ would be highly unlikely to win me over. Yet I heard Michael Kindness rave about it on Books on the Nightstand, it then got longlisted for the Orange Prize 2012, and so I read it. I didn’t expect it to be a book that would reinvigorate my love for classics again or have me sobbing like a baby…

9781408821985

Bloomsbury Publishing, hardback, 2011, fiction, 368 pages, kindly sent by the publisher (but borrowed from the library as gave my Mum the one was sent, oops)

No doubt you will know the name Achilles whether you have read ‘The Iliad’ by Homer or not (and I haven’t) and indeed will probably have heard the tale of the Trojan War. That said, whether you have or not doesn’t actually matter because with ‘The Song of Achilles’ Madeline Miller retells you the tale but in doing so gives it a new perspective from one of the most unsung heroes of the tale itself, Patroclus.

Born a rather frail specimen, in fact somewhat an embarrassment to his father Menoetius (one of the Argonauts no less), he is involved in a terrible incident that sees him banished to Phthia, the land of King Peleus, he soon becomes a very unlikely friend to Peleus’ son Achilles, who he couldn’t be less like. It is from here, and through Patroclus, that Miller brings us the tale of the Trojan War and all its adventure, it’s also here that she gives us a love story too. It is both the adventure and this love story that makes us read on.

Though it is never officially stated in The Iliad, it is believed, and inferred, by many that Patroclus was not just simply Achilles’ closest confident and right hand man but that they also became lovers. It is this dynamic of their youthful friendship that gives the book its sense of adventure and the love story what gives the novel its emotional punch. I don’t normally love a love story, but I really loved this one. I can’t quite put my finger on how, which is probably why it works so well, Miller creates such a believable and touching relationship between these two men starting from pre-pubescent friendship that becomes post teenage love because she does it so deftly but you’ll be rooting for them, even though we soon learn the gods have stated a prophecy which isn’t going to reach a happy conclusion for anyone concerned. Have a tissue ready, seriously.

‘After that, I was craftier with my observation, kept my head down and my eyes ready to leap away. But he was craftier still.  At least once a dinner he would turn and catch me before I could feign indifference. Those seconds, half-seconds, that the line of our gaze connected , were the only moment in my day when I felt anything at all. The sudden swoop in my stomach, the coursing anger. I was like a fish eyeing the hook.’

Now here I must mention the Gods and the mythic creatures that do appear in the book. Some people choose not to mention them in modern twists on classics but I was relieved to see Miller was keeping them in (I mean why wouldn’t you as they make up so much of these old legends). That said, I knew that if she didn’t make them ring true, or make me conjure them in such a way as I believed in the unbelievable (a small ask) then she would have lost me. I needn’t have feared, as soon as Achilles mother Thetis appeared on the page I was sold hook, line and sinker.

‘The waves were warm, and thick with sand. I shifted, watched the small white crabs run through the surf. I was listening, thinking I might hear the splash of her feet as she approached. A breeze blew down the beach and, grateful, I closed my eyes. When I opened them again she was standing before me.
She was taller than I was, taller than any women I had ever seen. Her black hair was loose down her back and her skin shone luminous and impossibly pale, as if it drank light from the moon.  She was so close I could smell her, sea water laced with dark brown honey. I did not breathe. I did not dare.
‘You are Patroclus.’ I flinched at the sound of her voice, hoarse and rasping. I had expected chimes, not the grinding of rocks in the surf.’

It simply gets better and better from here on in. What was truly wonderful, and this is just a personal thing I guess, was how it made me want to go back to all the Greek and Roman myths and legends that my mother used to tell me and re-read them. It sort of brought out a passion for these tales that I had long forgotten. I actually cheered when Chiron the Centaur appeared on the stage, seriously I was so excited, ‘a centaur!’, and found myself smiling as I remembered the names and the tales of other characters mentioned in the novel.

‘At night we lay on the soft grass in front of the cave, and Chiron showed us the constellations, telling their stories – Andromeda, cowering before the sea monster’s jaws, and  Perseus poised to rescue her; the immortal horse Pegasus, aloft on his wings, born from the severed head of Medusa. He told us too of Heracles, his labours, and the madness that took him. In its grip he had not recognised his wife and children, and had killed them for enemies.’

I wouldn’t normally say that I was a reader who subscribes to adventure stories or love stories and yet Madeline Miller’s debut novel ‘The Song of Achilles’ is easily my favourite read of the year so far. The reason for this is simple, she’s a bloody good storyteller, a great writer and I think the enthusiasm she has for classics becomes contagious somewhere in the way she writes. It’s now made me want to read ‘The Iliad’ (watch out for a read-a-long with Michael Kindness and I in due course) which I would never have thought of reading before. I also want to dust off my copy of ‘The Greek Myths’, dig out Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Penelopiad’ and get my hands on David Malouf’s ‘The Ransom’ too. Madeline Miller has made me want to run out and read more books with this book, what more can you ask from an author than that?

Have you read this and if so what did you make of it? What novels based on Greek Legends, or reworking them, have you read and would recommend? Oh and, Madeline Miller will be on the blog tomorrow, as will the chance to win some copies of this marvellous book. In the meantime thoughts and recommendations most welcome.

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Books of 2012, Madeline Miller, Review

Library Loots & Latest Incomings

I do find it odd that only a few months when my ‘refurbished’ local library reopened its doors I was a little bit snobbish about it. I didn’t like the fact that it was self service and though the building still has its old exterior I weirdly missed the old interior and the fact that trying to find a book published after 2000 was pretty much impossible. However over the last week or two I have been converted and have been visiting a lot.

Unlike the library I did like (especially as it has a new swanky supermarket next door killing two birds with one bus journey) one tube stop away the one just down the road now always seems to have just the books I want or have been mulling over. It also helps they have been lottery funded and so they keep getting the latest books in pristine condition. It’s almost like going into a book store which as I am on a book buying ban and can cart a load off for free is ideal. This week I got four new ones to read…

  • The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington – I had not heard of this Penguin Modern Classic until I got an email from a reader last weekend telling me that the tale of Marian Leatherby’s committal to an institution by her family would be just my cup of tea, low and behold the library had it in pristine condition.
  • Solo by Rana Dasgupta – Libraries are great for taking risks with books and I have been watching the Not The Man Booker Prize with interest this year and was actually going to see if I could get any of the books listed for this year, I couldn’t but I did get last years winner which I have mulled over before.
  • The City &The City by China Mieville – I asked you all if I wanted to read this, pretty much all of you said I did and the library had it so it seemed like fate.
  • The Big Four by Agatha Christie – A graphic novel of Agatha Christie which sounds like it could be a James Bond novel only with Poirot. I think I will either love this or hate it but its something different to try.

I have also been lucky enough to get some more unsolicited books in the last week or four. Actually no I tell a lie two of these books I had emails asking if I fancied and indeed I did (I will pop a star next to those) but that’s not asking which I have banned myself from. A few I had already but are now in lovely new editions (such as the Atwood) or paperback editions have come out, so maybe I will do some more giveaways over the next few weeks – don’t forget there is a giveaway here at the moment.

  • Angels of Destruction by Keith Donoghue
  • Ransom by David Malouf
  • Waiting For Columbus by Thomas Trofimuk*
  • London Labour & The London Poor by Henry Mayhew
  • The End by Salvatore Scibona
  • The Alchemasters Apprentice by Walter Moers
  • To The End of the Land by David Grossman
  • Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridason
  • Small Memories by Jose Saramago
  • Begginers by Ramond Carver
  • Balthazar Jones and the Tower of London by Julia Stuart*
  • The Complete Fairy Tales by Charles Perrault
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • The Dogs & The Wolves by Irene Nemirovsky

The David Grossman has a bit of a funny story attached to it, not as in the story of the book which is apparently heartbreaking… let me explain. I was banging on about ‘To The End of the Land’ to one of my friends saying how much I wanted it and how I couldn’t ask for it or buy it myself only when I then, less than 24 hours later, finally sorted through all my latest books and other books I had been moving around the last week or two proceeded to discover I did indeed have it already! Oh dear, a sign of too many books on the TBR? Actually I don’t think you can have too many books on a TBR.

So what lovely library loots have you got recently? Been bought any books or treated yourselves to any? Have you read any of the above?

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Filed under Book Thoughts