Tag Archives: Deborah Levy

Savidge Reads Books of 2012 – Part Two…

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

10. The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

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.

9. The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey

I was enjoying ‘The Snow Child’ so much from the start that I did something I hardly ever do. Rather than read it in chunks when I could, I simply devoted almost a whole day to it. I could have saved it and made it last, but sometimes you have to think ‘stuff that’ and just get lost in it all. So I did and read the book in pretty much one go just gorging on it. Now that is the sign of a truly magical book, I was completely spellbound… apart from having to pop the heater on and making the occasional hot drink as the snow really does feel like it’s coming off the page. This is a highly, highly recommended read.

8. The Colour of Milk – Nell Leyshon

The book is a story of a girl who leaves an unhappy home, yet we figure that out as we read on because really Mary is quite happy with her life on the whole thank you very much. The fact the story is reminiscent of a Victorian classic also works in the books favour because it feels comfortable and yet different, does that make sense? I have to admit that i did hazard a guess at ending that seems to have shocked other people I know who have read it, which I will not spoil or even hint at, not that it stopped me loving the book because I was being taken along by Mary who I could have read for another few hundred pages or more.

7. Some Kind of Fairy Tale – Graham Joyce

If you are thinking of dipping your reading toes/eyes into fantasy from literary fiction or vice versa, or more importantly if you just want a really good story, then you need to read ‘Some Kind of Fairy Tale’. I am really pleased that I ended up choosing this for one of The Readers Book Groups on a whim because I can promise you that I am going to read everything that he has written so far after reading this. I really like his prose and in a way he is doing with literary fiction and fantasy what I think Kate Atkinson and Susan Hill have done with their crime novels, merging them so they become one genre, a genre I call ‘bloody good books’.

6. The End of Your Life Book Club – Will Schwalbe

There are some books out there that you need at a certain time in your life. They can be therapeutic and upsetting but show you just how important a book can be as an object that emotionally resonates with you. These books may be recommended when you are going through something or they may be found through researching yourself. That said they are not self help books, just books which chime in with you at that moment. Will Schwalbe’s ‘The End of Your Life Book Club’ is one such book, a book that seemed to mirror my life in many ways it was both a comfort and occasionally uncomfortable, overall though just amazing.

5. Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

I don’t think I have read a book that has taken me to such dark places, it’s not a graphically disturbing novel though get ready to have your mind played with and warped, and have so many twists and turns. I also don’t think I have read a book that so cleverly asks the question ‘how well do you really know your partner’ and answers it in such a shocking, brutal yet also worryingly plausible way. ‘Gone Girl’ is easily one of the best novels I have read this year, I cannot recommend it enough… well, unless you are about to get married, have just got married or have just had a bit of a row with your other half as it might give you second thoughts, or sudden ideas, good and bad.

4. The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

I thought that ‘The Age of Miracles’ was a truly marvellous novel, definitely one of the highlights of the year so far for me. Naturally because I loved it so much I am finding it very difficult to do the book justice as I feel I missed so much out. I was so lost in the book that I felt the people’s dread and I felt like I was with Julia along the way; I got very upset several times, and as the book went on worried all the more. I was hooked. It seems almost patronising to say ‘I was also really shocked this was a debut novel’ yet if I am honest I was. Karen Thompson Walkers prose is wonderful in the fact it captures the changing atmosphere of the people and the planet, and I should mention here the brilliant way she creates a divided society with people who keep ‘clock time’ and people who decide to live with the earth’s new unnaturally timed days, and also ever so slowly and skilfully builds up the tensions in relationships, fear and terror as the earth slows down and the book leads to its conclusion.

3. Hawthorn & Child – Keith Ridgway

I think the best way to sum up the wonderfully quirky, exciting and surreal yet real ‘Hawthorn & Child’ comes from one of the many characters who could be a psychopath or sociopath or just mad who says “Knowing things completes them. Kills them. They fade away, decided over and forgotten. Not knowing sustains us.” This is a book where not everything is resolved, stories create stories, some fade and some linger, the only constant is the brilliant writing, compellingly created cast, sense of mystery and dark humour which will sustain you from the start until the end and may just have you turning to the first page again as soon as you have finished the last.

2. Diving Belles – Lucy Wood

‘Diving Belles’ is a collection of stories that it would be easy to describe as fairytales for adults, that very statement may of course put people off, and while it is a book that finds the myths and legends of the Cornish coast seeping into every page of it there is so much more to it than that. Of course writing about a whole collection is always difficult (made doubly so when you loved every single one in the book) as you could end up giving too much away on each story or end up writing something as long as the collection itself.

1.  My Policeman – Bethan Roberts

I adored ‘My Policeman’, despite the fact it made me cry on a few occasions. I found it incredibly difficult to break away from it for any period of time yet I also found that as the book went on I was trying not to read it too fast, in part from the sense of impending doom and also because I didn’t really want it to end. I felt I was there, a bystander watching it all, feeling for Marion then Patrick and vice versa. It is one of the most beautifully written and emotionally engaging novels I have read this year. It is also a book that highlights a bit of our history that we often brush under the carpet, mainly because we think we are more tolerant now, and yet is one that should definitely be acknowledged and learnt from.

There are of course a few other books I must mention, for example both winners of the Green Carnation Prize, ‘Moffie’ by Andre Carl van der Merwe and ‘A Perfectly Good Man’ by Patrick Gale, and also Kerry Hudson’s ‘Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma’ which was one of the debut highlights of the year for me, I will be reviewing/reporting back on all the long list next year, as they were all rather brilliant. Also ‘The Lighthouse’ by Alison Moore and ‘Swimming Home’ by Deborah Levy which would have been joint tenth with ‘The Lifeboat’ and my final two had I done a Simon’s Booker Dozen type of post. Overall it has been a great year of reading and I am looking forward to the next.

What about you? What have been your highlights of the year published in 2012? Which of these have you read and what did you think?

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Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

One thing I really love and admire from a writer is when they give us a familiar scenario and manage to completely turn it on its head or take it apart analyse it and rework it into something quite unfamiliar. Deborah Levy’s ‘Swimming Home’ did this for me early in the year with an initially formulaic idea of a middle class holiday and the arrival of a stranger, now Gillian Flynn has done it with a brilliantly written thriller based on a missing spouse with ‘Gone Girl’. No surprise then that both of these books will easily be sitting high up on my list of books of the year without a shadow of a doubt.

Weidenfeld & Nicolson, hardback, 2012, fiction, 416 pages, borrowed from the library

‘Gone Girl’ opens with Nick Dunne telling us how on their fifth wedding anniversary, after a call from the neighbours, goes home to find the door wide open, the lounge smashed up and his wife Amy missing. Soon the police become involved and, as Amy was made infamous in her youth through her parents’ novels featuring the ‘Amazing Amy’, there is a county and soon nationwide interest and search into her disappearance. This is all quite familiar but the first, of many, clever tricks which Gillian Flynn throws into this book is the fact that as we get the story in the present from Nick, we alternately start to read the diary entries from Amy at the start of their relationship.

These diary entries initially start with all the joy and romance of her initial meeting with Nick, her dismay when he vanishes for a while and elation when he comes back. As their relationship goes on it really is all perfect, that is until his parents separately fall ill, Nick and Amy both get made redundant, spend most of her trust fund and wind up living in Nick’s hometown of Carthage, Missouri. This is not a place Amy wants to be and as she writes she tells of her feelings of alienation and that Nick might be buckling under the pressure, and a darker side of her husband is revealed.

The stories start to converge as Nick continues to narrate his version of events in the present and as the police and the public start to cast a suspicious eye on him. Yet as the stories start to meet nothing one spouse is saying about the other quite matches and what really happened is full of twist after twist after twist after twist.

I won’t say anymore about the plot for fear of spoiling anything, and you do want to go into ‘Gone Girl’ knowing as little as possible to be honest. I will say that I think this is one of the best books that I have read all year. I have certainly been completely bowled over by Gillian Flynn’s writing, and not just for incredible and complex plotting, which she makes seem effortless as we read, also for the way in which the world that Nick and Amy inhabit is so vivid and how real they become. I felt I followed their story from young loves dream to rather disillusioned marriage as if I was one of their acquaintances, even when the stories didn’t match which is all the more clever.

I also liked the little intricate bits of them and their marriage was wonderfully done. I thought the back story of ‘Amazing Amy’ was brilliant and how that would affect someone. The issue of cancer and Alzheimer’s which Nick’s parents raise as well as redundancy and the death of the city and the small town were both current and completely believable. The whole world of this novel worked, which is why I couldn’t just label this book as simply a thriller, it is so much more than that.

As you can probably tell I could enthuse about ‘Gone Girl’, and indeed Gillian Flynn’s writing of it, endlessly. I don’t think I have read a book that has taken me to such dark places, it’s not a graphically disturbing novel though get ready to have your mind played with and warped, and have so many twists and turns. I also don’t think I have read a book that so cleverly asks the question ‘how well do you really know your partner’ and answers it in such a shocking, brutal yet also worryingly plausible way. ‘Gone Girl’ is easily one of the best novels I have read this year, I cannot recommend it enough… well, unless you are about to get married, have just got married or have just had a bit of a row with your other half as it might give you second thoughts, or sudden ideas, good and bad.

Who else has read ‘Gone Girl’ and (without spoilers) what did you think? Have you read any of Gillian Flynn’s other novels and if so which ones should I be reading next? I have to admit though the urge to go and get them both now is very, very strong.

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Filed under Books of 2012, Gillian Flynn, Review, Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Bookshops I Love; Linghams Booksellers, Heswall

As its Sunday which I think is the most leisurely day of the week, I thought that I would take you on a leisurely stroll around my almost but not quite local independent bookshop. This is the lovely Linghams in Heswall which might not be just down the end of the road, but is (pretty much) directly opposite The Beard’s new lovely food shop. Handy, right?

I always find with bookshops, particularly independent ones, which while browsing and mooching is welcomed to a point there comes a time when you might have browsed too much. Let me just add here that this isn’t the case in any of the bookshops that I feature in this series of posts. In the case of Linghams I think you would be perfectly happy, well I would be, to spend the day inside the shop – and I don’t think the staff would mind if you did either – and these are the sort of bookshops that are real gems. Firstly obviously there is the selection of books…

As well as an extensive fiction selection, more of in a moment, they also have a wonderful children’s section (sorry about the blurring)…

And a delightful cafe which myself, The Beard and his friend Abby all enjoyed some absolutely delicious Thai fishcakes and chips in for lunch. Absolutely scrummy.

We couldn’t quite decide if we thought that the live piano playing was a great thing or slightly annoying, but we went with it and it does add a certain ambience to the place which for the (good) hour we were there was constantly buzzing. Lovely. It’s the sort of shop that makes you want to, well, shop.

I don’t know about you but I always have a little list of criteria when I go into an independent and also an ‘allowance’ when I am in a store, this of course has a limit (because I could frankly go crazy) yet I only spend if I love the store. That’s natural isn’t it? Well the books that I had on my ‘allowance’ list on this visit were ‘Swimming Home’ by Deborah Levy, pre Man Booker longlisting, and ‘The Shadows in the Streets’ by Susan Hill as it was somehow a book in the series I had missed. Alas they didn’t have Levy, but before Booker long and short listing it was tough to get hold of anywhere (libraries, high street chain bookshops and even a certain online place) but I did find the Hill which I snapped up.

I also desperately wanted a book bag, I seem to collect them unsurprisingly, but alas they didn’t have any colours I fancied. (Ok, I admit it I have been hankering after a purple one.) Yet the other day The Beard came home with a rather special gift…

A one off purple Linghams book bag, which no one else has and that the lovely people at the shop had made especially. I was really chuffed and will be wearing it with pride when I next go to Heswall to fill it up.

Linghams Booksellers can be found at 248 Telegraph Road, Heswall, Merseyside, CH60 7SG and you can visit their website here.

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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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The Man Booker Shortlist 2012…

At some point today (apparently within the next hour or so) the judges of this year’s Man Booker Prize will announce their shortlist. Each and every year, which is swiftly becoming a tradition as this blog has a big birthday this week, I like to guess the long list and then the winner of the Man Booker (and indeed the Orange Prize) even if I haven’t read all of the contenders, which we never know pre-long listing, it just seems to be part of the fun of it all and getting more discussions about books going on here, there and everywhere.

Anyway I say which ones I would like to see go through and which ones I think actually will (because I can almost guarantee my choices won’t be the panels) lets remind ourselves of the long listed novels. I have put the ones I have read, or tried to, in italics. There is a link to the only one I have reviewed so far (as I am being sparing with reviews at the mo) or DNF next to them when I couldn’t finish them, in the case of ‘Communion Town’ haven’t finished yet (HFY) as I am currently reading it in chunks a chapter here and there which is working better than a straight read was. So here is the list…

The Man Booker contenders I’ve had a crack at…

The Yips – Nicola Barker (Fourth Estate)
The Teleportation Accident – Ned Beauman (Sceptre) DNF
Philida – Andre Brink (Harvill Secker)
The Garden of Evening Mists – Tan Twan Eng (Myrmidon Books)
Skios – Michael Frayn (Faber)
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce (Doubleday)
Swimming Home – Deborah Levy (And Other Stories)
Bringing Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate)
The Lighthouse – Alison Moore (Salt)
Umbrella – Will Self (Bloomsbury) DNF
Narcopolis – Jeet Thayil (Faber)
Communion Town – Sam Thompson (Fourth Estate) HFY

Overall from what I have managed to read it has been a really interesting list this year and one where three books in particular have stuck out for me. Those are Levy, Barker and Mantel. I would be thrilled to see them in the shortlist and currently I can’t call if I would like Barker or Levy to win the most, Mantel has already won recently so I am sure she wouldn’t mind me thinking this. Joyce’s novel, which initially seems the most commercial of the longlist (along with ‘Skios’ which I liked but wouldn’t short list) is a book which has stuck with me since I have read it and one I keep thinking about, so that is on my list. Oddly, though I didn’t finish it I want Will Self on the longlist too. You see I didn’t dislike the book at all, and I know Will Self takes work to read which is fine by me, it is just a book I needed a lot more time for and one I didn’t want to gulp down and resent because I wasn’t putting enough work in, so that makes my list. Finally, because I can’t suggest a novel that I haven’t read (though I really fancy reading ‘Philida’ when I go back to normal reading in a month or two) I am going to have Thompson as my last choice, though in a way I think its interweaving short stories more than a novel (controversial and why it might not go further), because I am enjoying it, I am admiring the prose and construction of the book and think it’s a book you could return to. So my short list would look like this…

My Man Booker Shortlist

What do I think will actually make the shortlist. Well my hunch is… Barker, Beauman, Brink, Levy, Mantel and Thayil. We will see though. What do you think? Which have you read and what were your thoughts? I will post the proper short list later when it has been announced.

Oh and don’t forget the wonderful new ‘unofficial’ Booker Forum that Trevor from Mookse and Gripes has set up which you can find here. Come and have a natter there too with everyone.

Update: The shortlisted authors are… Tan Twan Eng, Deborah Levy, Hilary Mantel, Alison Moore, Will Self and Jeet Thayil.

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Swimming Home – Deborah Levy

‘Swimming Home’ has been a book that I had been meaning to read for a while, because of some lovely bubbling background compliments from various trusted sources, before it was long listed for the Man Booker Prize. That long listing, plus the fact I had loved a previous book by the same independent (and Arts Council funded) publisher, meant that when I saw it in the library I knew that I had to give it a whirl, and I am so glad I did as I think it will be one of my reads of the year.

*****, And Other Stories, 2011, paperback, fiction, 157 pages, borrowed from the library

I have often heard that all the best novels start with the best first lines. Now of course this isn’t always true and indeed is rather subjective to tastes however, for me personally, from the opening line of ‘Swimming Home’ I knew that this was going to be a book I would enjoy. As the novel opens from the very first line we are given a mystery, back story and darkness all in one go, which is very much what ‘Swimming Home’ is like throughout and just happens to be just my reading cup of tea.

‘When Kitty Finch took her hand off the steering wheel and told him she loved him, he no longer knew if she was threatening him or having a conversation.’

As the novel opens we soon learn that Kitty Finch is going to be a character that we, and the people whose lives she forces herself into, are never going to forget. Well known, and rather well off, Poet Joe or Jozef Jacobs has come to spend summer in a villa in Nice with his wife Isabel, a war correspondent, teenage daughter Nina and family friends Mitchell and Laura to escape for a while and write. In fact everyone there is really escaping something. However one morning everyone is woken to a discovery of something floating in the pool which turns out not to be a bear, as suspected, but a naked woman and one who is very much alive, Kitty Finch. From the moment Kitty arrives the dynamic of the group is thrown and people start to do things out of character, for example Isabel invites Kitty to stay suddenly, or is it that Kitty brings out the cracks in the veneer that people use to cover their true selves which slowly start to unravel, again ironic as we soon learn that Kitty herself is unraveling rapidly forming a subconscious catalyst in everyone else.

‘Standing next to Kitty Finch was like being near a cork that had just popped out of a bottle. The first pop when gasses seem to escape and everything is sprinkled for one second with something intoxicating.’

This ‘mysterious stranger’ coming into a group unannounced and unwelcomed is admittedly not the most original of plot devices, yet of course with the right author they can do something very different and that is what I felt Deborah Levy did with ‘Swimming Home’. Everyone has secrets, yet as we go on and learn Kitty’s, we start to see those in the other characters whilst they are still sussing out Kitty’s themselves. It’s a great vantage point and one Deborah Levy does wonderfully well by almost seamlessly making us flit from each characters perspectives, a style that has sometimes been known to irritate me, yet here worked wonderfully well.

I absolutely loved Levy’s writing style. A word is never wasted and she can concoct, like in the opening of the book, a whole set of images in a single sentence. Everything is very real and people fully form in front of your eyes without her writing much and certainly never over writing. For example ‘Mitchell lay on his back sweating. It was three a.m. and he had just had a nightmare about a centipede.’ Or ‘Joe Jacobs lay on his back in the master bedroom, as it was described in the villa’s fact sheet, longing for a curry.’ Even the characters who fall slightly off centre stage get the same treatment, like the wonderful aged Madeleine Sheridan, though watch out for some of those background characters as they become more catalytic and important on occasion as the book goes. They are all fully formed, even by the most random of moments. Mitchell thinking it is a bear floating in the pool in the middle of Nice certainly says a lot about him from the off doesn’t it.

‘It was the fat man who liked guns calling up to her. Madeleine Sheridan lifted up her arthritic arm and waved with two limp fingers from her straw chair. Her body had become a sum of flawed parts. At medical school she had learned she had twenty-seven bones in each hand, eight in the wrist alone, five in the palm. Her fingers were rich with nerve endings but now even moving two fingers was an effort.’

I thought ‘Swimming Home’ was a truly marvellous book. I loved how Deborah Levy set up a simplistic and rather conventional premise and made it anything but. I loved how she through a set of characters of all ages (from teenage Nina to elderly Madeleine) all walks of life (from the rich Joe to the poor local business man Claude) together so richly and yet so tightly in so few pages. Most of all though I loved the underlying and brooding darkness of the book and the way Levy kept me on my toes flipping everything plot wise and playing games with prose style too. It is a book I will certainly re-read, one I didn’t want to take back to the library, and if all Levy’s books are like this I shall have to go through her entire back catalogue. It’s definitely one of my books of the year and one I would heartily recommend.

Here’s hoping it gets short-listed for the Man Booker Prize in four days time. I have actually read a few of the long list, though am eking out reviews at the moment while I read the Green Carnation Prize submissions, and this is one of my three favourites so far. Who else has read it and what did you think?

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Filed under And Other Stories, Books of 2012, Deborah Levy, Man Booker, Review