Tag Archives: Edward Hogan

The Book Tingle (#BookTingle)

When I was sat with my lovely fellow judges at the first proper Fiction Uncovered meeting, the subject of what we were all looking for in winning books came up. As it went around the table with the judges and the Fiction Uncovered team things like the prose and writing style, something different that stands out, great stories etc all come up. When everyone looked at me for my response the words that came out of my mouth were ‘I want the book tingle’ and they all looked at me like they might have someone unhinged (or living up to the Simple Simon namesake) sat with them. And so I explained…

For me a book tingle is a rare and elusive phenomenon. You would initially think that for a book to give me all the tingles it would simply need to be an amazingly written book that ticks all my literary likes. Well yes, but you see there is more to it and I bet you have all had them too. You can have books that start amazingly and then, for various reasons, go off on a tangent, these ones don’t. From start to finish they have you.

The first time I had this sensation was with Catherine Hall’s The Proof of Love*.  I should hear add that since then Catherine and I have become firm friends, down to the book actually, yet when I picked it up I hadn’t heard of her before and had no knowledge of the book. Oh, expect that on the cover it said ‘Sarah Waters meets Daphne Du Maurier’ which piqued my interest and also made me wary all at once. In fact, cheeky little scamp that I am I actually thought ‘compared to Du Maurier eh? Go on then, impress me…’ and it did taking me completely by delightful surprise. You see from two or three paragraphs in I just knew this was a book for me. It is often the sense of surprise when this happens that adds to the experience.

These books are rare gems; you don’t get them often. There is an almost unexplainable feeling from the start which lasts until the final full stop. Not for a single moment does the book let you down, or indeed out of its grasp, you are effectively spell bound by it. It feels like all the rest of the world goes completely out of your mind and all that is left is you, the book and the author’s words. It is the prose, the characters, the atmosphere, everything! You almost feel, without it sounding arrogant, that this book was written just for you.

This has happened again very recently, if I may be so bold, with Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist, review coming soon. Four pages in and I knew we were off. I was in an effortless zone of book reading bliss. This book has nothing in common with The Proof of Love, well actually maybe something in hindsight but I wouldn’t have known from the start. They are set in different times, completely different places, yet somehow I just knew. And it is the same with some other books which gave me that same sensation (have I said tingle too often now making it sound even weirder than it did at the start?) like Gillespie and I, The Hunger Trace, Small Island, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, My Policeman etc ** from the very beginning I just knew. They all just got me, or did I just get them, either way it was a perfect match.

So what I am saying really, and what I think I am not looking for in just Fiction Uncovered judging but also in my reading life in general, is that the reason I keep reading is to hunt for that next kick and those extra special books. The books that you more than simply just love, the ones that give you that magic feeling, don’t let you go and afterwards become both part a landmark in your reading history and a part of your psyche.

To hear me talking about it slightly more eloquently, yet with more giggles, listen to the latest episode of The Readers. I would love to know (in the comments below) which books you’ve read that have given you the book tingle, or whatever you would like to call it, from the very start and held you throughout, plus how it feels when you just know a book is going to be just your sort of book. Which books do you feel were really written just for you? Do also share them on Twitter with #BookTingle, let’s get it trending!

*You may have noticed I have not mentioned Rebecca. This is in part because it is the book that got me reading again, so is a whole separate stratosphere and also in part because I wouldn’t have known what a book tingle was if it had hit me square between the eyes.
**These with Catherine Hall are the books, prior to my last tingle with Ms Burton, that I thought of when I was thinking of books where the feeling hit me within a few pages or a chapter. I just knew.

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Jawbone Lake – Ray Robinson

Finally, time to catch up with writing some reviews of some of the books I have managed to get through while work has been bonkers. I thought I would start with one of the books I read at the beginning of the year and one of the releases in 2014 I was also most looking forward to, Jawbone Lake by Ray Robinson. Having been a huge fan of Forgetting Zoe I was looking forward to entering another possibly rather dark world of Robinson’s creation, even more so as I knew a lot of it was set in the Peak District which is my home turf and where I spent more of last year than I did at my new adoptive home in Liverpool.

William Heinemann, hardback, 2014, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

Joe Arms receives a call over New Year and learns that his father, CJ, has been in some kind of accident. On leaving London and returning to the Ravenstor in the Peak District he finds that his father somehow lost control driving and veered off a bridge into the frozen lake nicknamed ‘Jawbone Lake’. Unbeknownst to Joe, but not to the reader, local girl Rabbit witnessed the incident on a stroll and saw not only that it wasn’t an accident but indeed that there was a man there who has seen her. Here the strands spilt very cleverly as we follow Joe as he discovers more about his father’s past as things come to light after his death and also follow Rabbit as she copes with and tries to forget everything she has seen.

The term ‘literary thriller’ seems to be a fairly new one and is one which has been used by those who have read Jawbone Lake and I am about to join them. For the first hundred or so pages, clichéd as I know this will sound, I simply could not stop reading the book (I was on a train to London and the two hours flew by) as I was completely hooked by both the prose and the mystery at the books heart. I found the relationship between Joe and CJ, which becomes established by small glimpses into the past really interesting to watch unravel. It was the same with Rabbits situation, which I don’t want to give too much away of, with her aunt and after a dark time in her recent past plus all she has to deal with. They are also interesting lead characters with interesting ticks and quirks, for example Joe with his desertion of the north and Rabbit with her obsession with numbers as a coping mechanism.

He had become The Man Who Stared Out of Windows, a bored, thirty-five-year-old software designer, watching doughy faced office workers making their way between the tall buildings outside, envisaging what their lives were like, wondering if theirs could possibly be as thankless as his.

To make this as fair a review as possible I do have to admit that I did have one issue with the book, not to the point of it being ruined or not liking it, yet it is one that probably wouldn’t bother many of you it’s just something I don’t like as a subject in books. Without giving any spoilers away I will say that I have an issue with any books, thrillers or otherwise, that go into any of these elements (so which this one does you will have to read and find out, clever eh?) gangsters, hit men, drug dealing, money laundering or business fraud. They simply don’t do anything for me and illicit a big groan before I invariably put the book down.

In all fairness when one or two of any of these possible outcomes (see, still not giving anything away) came up I did feel slightly disappointed yet to Ray’s credit I carried on in ground that would normally completely turn me off. This was because of a) his writing and b) the world he had created in the Peak District which for me was where the heart of the story lay, and where my interest as a reader was focused because they were bloody marvellous.

He went over to the window and watched the snow fleck the valley. In the distance, the white peak of High Tor looked vivid in the fading light. Snow lay heavy across the rectangles of higgledy-piggledy rooftops descending into the valley below. Cars progressed beneath the orange stars of street lights, familiar constellations snaking between the mass of hill, tor, fell.

Being from that area I am sure that knowing the area makes me bond with a book all the more yet (as when I read Edward Hogan’s wonderful The Hunger Trace) Robinson really captures the atmosphere of the Peak District which is at once incredibly beautiful and also dangerous and ominous. This ripples through the book and often informs the mood over the characters even if they don’t know it. I loved all this. There is a modern gothic nature to all of this, along with an earthy element that works wonders for me and I think Robinson is brilliant at. I also loved tales of the uninhabited quarries and underwater villages (both real, both part of the landscapes history and folk lore) that he picked up on. More than that I loved the life of the people. I could have read endless pages with Rabbit at work in the ice-cream factory and trips ‘down t’pub’. There was something so real about it all that it chimed with me.

Jawbone Lake nicely picks up on the term ‘it’s grim up north’ (or ‘oop north’ as we Derbyshire folk might say) and delivers a deliciously dark literary thriller overall. Personally I could have done without the trips to Spain and to Hastings as it is in Derbyshire where the magic of the prose, characters and atmosphere really meet. It has reminded me that I really need to get to Robinson’s back list of books while I await whatever he comes up with next.

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Filed under Ray Robinson, Review, William Heinemann Books

Your Country in Ten(ish) Books…

I don’t want to call this a challenge, or even worse a meme (do you remember when we all did those back in the day?), yet I am thinking that this could be a fun exercise if you lovely lot would like to join in. What the funk am I talking about, well you would be right to ask as once more I assume you dear reader/s get updates from me telepathically. Enough waffle Savidge, just get on with it. So as some of you will know I host/co-host a couple of book based banter podcasts; You Wrote The Book, Hear… Read This and The Readers. My normal co-host for the latter, Gav, is having some time off and so I have been joined by the lovely Thomas and seeing as Thomas is in Washington we have been looking at America and the UK, or even America vs. the UK. A fortnight ago we discussed American classics and I came up with the idea of both Thomas and myself creating two separate lists of the ten books that sum up our countries for us and ones we would give to someone if they moved to their country to ‘read up on it’. So I thought you lot might like to join in…

17451-01Initially I have to admit that I thought this would be stupidly easy. The British Isles are relatively piddly in comparison to the mammoth size of other countries. I didn’t envy Thomas and his 50 states to cover in ten books. As I thought about it more and more though I suddenly realised it was actually much more of a mission than I had supposed. For a start we had agreed to only have authors from our own counties books. So instantly one of my choices ‘The Year of Wonders’ by Geraldine Brooks was discounted, as it is set in Eyam (the only place outside London to get the Black Plague and self sacrifice itself to save others) which is just down the road from my home town in Derbyshire but she is from America. First hurdle.

Second Hurdle. I wanted the book to reflect a current vision of the British Isles, as I went through my shelves I was surprised (especially as I think I don’t like them, clearly I am a liar to myself)  how many of the British Isles books I owned were about WWI or WWII. This then meant a book like Sarah Water’s ‘The Night Watch’, which depicts war torn London, was therefore banished. However eventually I got there, though I have since realised I missed Edward Hogan’s bloody brilliant The Human Trace’ out of it, and found my eleven books – yes I cheated a tiny bit with an additional novel, but I made this game up. I wonder if Mr Monopoly ever tried that at Christmas gatherings, anyway here it is with the book title, author, place and mini summary for you…

The Room of Lost Things by Stella Duffy (London) – Set in Loughborough Junction in South London, this is the tale Robert, owner of a dry cleaners, as he says goodbye to his business and the area he knows. It also looks at the customers who come, from all walks of life, to his shop and the little things they leave behind that they forget yet which tell many a tale.

The News Where You Are by Catherine O’Flynn (Birmingham) – Frank is a local news presenter and personality. Recently he has become rather obsessed both with the people and the places of his city that others seem to forget. What about all the people with no one to care for them, who die alone and what of the bits of our cities architectural and cultural heritage are we all too quick to gloss over or tear down  and cover with something prettier?

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (Norfolk) – Not officially set in Norfolk, that is just my guess, this is the tale of Arthur Kipp as he settles the eerie estate of Eel Marsh House and Alice Drablow. A book which wonderfully conjures the atmosphere of some of Britain’s coastal villages, and the literary heritage of a cracking good ghost story.

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson (Edinburgh) – Possibly not the most evocative tale of Scotland but this is something I clearly need to address. This is set during Edinburgh’s famous festival and really brings the hustle and bustle of that place to life as well as being a great crime novel with a very good sense of black humour, you will laugh.

The Long Falling by Keith Ridgway (Northern Ireland) – Grace Quinn is a woman deeply unhappy living in the rural wilds of the North Irish countryside. However after a turn of events (which will make your jaw drop) she heads to Dublin and the home of her son. Ridgway looks at the differences between city life and rural life in Northern Ireland and also the differences between the generations.

The Proof of Love by Catherine Hall (The Lake District) – One of the most ‘earthy’ books I have ever read, yet if you asked me to explain the term ‘earthy’ I would find it very hard to explain. Set in the infamous heat wave of the 1970’s Spencer Little is a stranger who settles in a village in the middle of nowhere, but why? A tale of suspicious townsfolk and one which also lifts the lid on the secrets behind closed doors, especially as the heat makes people do unusual things.

The Claude Glass by Tom Bullough (Wales) – Set in the Welsh Countryside this tells the story of two very different neighbouring farms and the sons of which who make friends. One, Robin, from a hippy family the other, Andrew, from a family so impoverished he is almost feral – why does he choose to sleep with the farm dogs rather than his family?

Agatha Raisin & The Quiche of Death – M.C. Beaton (The Cotswolds) – A bit of light relief amongst these books with the no nonsense former PR Director now come amateur sleuth as she moves from London to the idyllic Cotswolds only sometimes people don’t welcome an outsider… Murder and mayhem ensue in the most wry and cosy of mysteries with a thoroughly modern Anti-Marple.

Rough Music by Patrick Gale (Cornwall) – A book that celebrates Cornwall and also a sense of everyone’s nostalgia from younger years. We follow Julian back to a fateful summer holiday in Cornwell which leads to many family secrets being revealed and how we see things differently as adults.

My Policeman by Bethan Roberts (Brighton) – Going back in time a little and looking at the place no deemed the gay capital of England, and a celebrated seaside resort, when it had a much more underground and shady sense of place. We follow Marion and Tom who are both in love with the same man and how society at the time informs their decisions and their lives.

Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson (Great Britain all over) – My slight cheat as I think this book, which travels all over England and Scotland, really looks at English society from the 80’s which is very similar to today and the real sense of what it is to grow up working class in our country rather than the often emphasised ‘Hampstead’ view.

So there you have it, that is my list of books that encapsulate the British Isles for me. I know that Thomas is working on his list of ten books which as soon as it goes live I will link to, its is now live here. I can say I have read two of them (one a major hit, one a bit of a dud with me) and am really excited about trying all of them. In the meantime you can hear us talking about them on this fortnight’s episode of The Readers.

What do you think of the list? I know it might not be the most conventional but to me it seems the truest for me personally. Which of them have you read? Who fancies giving this a go themselves? I would so, so, so love if some of you did be you in the UK, America, Australia, Japan, Canada, India, France… anywhere, and spread the word. Basically have whirl, over a few days (it took me four) and link back to it here so I can come and have a nosey, go on, you know you want to…

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Days of Grace – Catherine Hall

There are some authors whose writing I think can touch the very heart of an individual readers ‘reading soul’. I know that might sound a bit bonkers but sometimes you can pick up a book and feel that it has been written for you, regardless of the subject matter. Of course this is lunacy because the author doesn’t know you and many people may too feel the same way about said book, regardless in your head that book was written for you… The end. It’s so rare even your favourite authors don’t always do it, but some do. This has happened to me with authors such as Jane Harris and Edward Hogan (in particular both their second novels ‘Gillespie and I’ and ‘The Hunger Trace’ I swear were written for me and me alone and I won’t hear otherwise). Now Catherine Hall joins this select few authors who I would give both my arms to be able to write like, I am aware of the irony in this, after her debut novel ‘Days of Grace’ has bowled me over just as much as ‘The Proof of Love’ did yet for very different reasons.

*****, Portobello Books, paperback, 201o, fiction, 292 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

‘Days of Grace’ is one of those tricky, thrilling and mysterious novels where you are given two strands of the narrator’s life at once. We meet Nora both in the present as she silently come to terms with the fact that she is terminally ill, we also meet her aged twelve as the Second World war is on the cusp of breaking out and she is evacuated to the countryside.

The strands of her life at these points we meet her move forward, in the present as she watches and then comes to the aid of a pregnant neighbour and in the past as she moves into the Rectory of a Kent village and befriends the daughter of the family Grace, a friendship so strong it binds them together as friends for life, and complicates life for Nora, only something happens so tragic that it casts a shadow on Nora’s life forever leading to the lonely life of a secretive spinster in the present.

Of course you will all now be desperate to know what the secret is won’t you? Well, you would have to read the book to find out and whilst that may seem teasing of me I really do hope you rush out and get a copy because it is just so wonderful. And now I shall explain why…

I found Nora fascinating from the off. Having read some other reviews of the book since it seems some people have found her aloof and a little cold, I can understand what they mean but I was all the more intrigued about her because of it, how does a relatively care-free young girl (well, as care-free as one could have been during WWII) become a woman so cut off from the world? As I read on, especially as everything is revealed, I could completely understand it. Yet she is also at odds with herself, she helps a pregnant young girl, only years ago she was a vital part of a vibrant independent bookshop (this is a bookish book, I loved her all the more for loving Rebecca as a young girl), I was rather fascinated by her no matter how distant she could be. There is of course the question of how reliable she may or may not be, obsession can lead to romanticising and changing events, but again I loved this too. I do like an unreliable narrator.

“Be careful what you say. Like everyone else, you will hear things that the enemy mustn’t know. Keep that knowledge to yourself – and don’t give away any clues. Keep smiling.”

What I also really admired and loved about the book is that even though we have one narrator we have two stories. These are told in alternating chapters throughout the book. This device is one that is used often and normally I have to admit one story will overtake my interest as I read on. Not in the case of ‘Days of Grace’. I was desperate to know what was going to happen with Nora and Grace as the war went on both in idyllic Kent and the roughness and danger of London but I also wanted to know, just as much, what was going to happen with Nora in the present, her health and the relationship with Rose and her baby. Both stories had me intrigued and I think that was because Catherine Hall very cleverly has the stories mystery foreboding the past tense narrative and shadowing the present without us knowing what it is until the last minute. I thought this brilliantly paced and plotted out. I had no idea what was coming yet in hindsight I can see where the clues and hints were dropped.

I was completely spellbound by ‘Days of Grace’. It made me cry on more than one occasion, the first being because of the cancer storyline and everything going on with Gran (yet this was also oddly cathartic) at the moment but at the end just because the culmination of the book and the emotions running through it suddenly hit you.

For a book of 292 pages there is a huge amount going on and so, like with a lot of my favourite authors, there is not a spare word unnecessarily nestled in the prose. It is also one of those wonderful novels that manages to be ‘literary’ yet also have that utterly compelling pace and mystery at its heart that you become quite addicted. I didn’t actually want to be parted from it (so I nearly cancelled seeing people), and yet I didn’t want it to end (so I kept my appointments after all). Basically, if you haven’t taken the hint yet, I am urging you to give this book a whirl. It’s marvellous.

Has anyone else read ‘Days of Grace’, if so what did you think? Did any of you run off and read ‘The Proof of Love’ after I raved about it last year? Do any of you have moments, like I mentioned early on, where you start reading a book and think ‘this was written for me’ and if so who is the author and what was the book?

Oh and a small note: you can see me in conversation with Catherine Hall and Patrick Gale next Monday at Manchester Literature Festival, where I will be demanding to know when the next book is coming out and more.

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Filed under Books of 2012, Catherine Hall, Portobello Books, Review

The Claude Glass – Tom Bullough

Last year I made a mini pledge with myself to read more books set in the wilds of the countryside. This had happened after reading two novels, The Proof of Love’ by Catherine Hall and ‘The Hunger Trace’ by Edward Hogan, which blew me away and haunted me all the more with their atmosphere of the brooding rural landscapes. When my eyes happened upon ‘The Claude Glass’ by Tom Bullough in the library the cover alone suggested to me that this could be one of these types of reads and so I took it away with me as fast as I could. The fact I knew nothing of the book or indeed the author only excited me more, would I be discovering a hidden unknown gem. It appears I have, an incredible one in fact.

Sort of Books, paperback, 2007, fiction, 201 pages, borrowed from the library

‘The Claude Glass’ has the story of two boys at its heart. Both aged seven years old Robin and Andrew, who live on the neighbouring farms of Ty’n-y-coed and Werndunvan in Wales, couldn’t be more different. Robin is brought up in a comfortable, if slightly controlled, environment with his seemingly new age parents, who seem to prefer to have their children call them Tara and Adam (which confused me at first) than Mum and Dad. They aren’t wealthy but they seem happy living the life they had idolised. Andrew however is almost feral; he can barely speak, never washes and in fact lives in the crumbling uninhabitable part of the farm hidden behind its pleasant facade. His father Philip is clearly in need of some anger management therapy and his mother Dora spends her days pretending to cook in a kitchen that has barely been cleaned in years.

‘Andrew knew already that it was going to thunder. He had known for some time – in the same way that he knew when he was hungry, or when he needed to go to sleep. Thunder grew in him, as it grew in the air and the wind around them. It scared him in ways that he couldn’t hold in his mind. It was the animal at the door with the yellow eyes, the face that had gawped at him in the room with the pattern for a floor, these people in the yard, calling his name periodically, hunting him down to his den.’

So what is a Claude glass and what is its relevance in the book? Well in part it is pivotal in the ending of the novel, which I won’t give away, but it is also rather symbolic. Claude glasses were created in the late 18th century as a way of seeing the world framed and, due to mirrored glass being tinted a dark colour, making everything look rather other worldly and eerily beautiful. For me as a reader this almost became a metaphor for the two families involved in the story being so polar opposite to one another. Robin’s family being ‘ex-hippies’ who have come to set up a stable life, and Andrews family who appear to have the external physically stable world and yet behind that facade is a crumbling world of madness and abuse.

The effects of a Claude glass...

Yet these two polar opposite families have to communicate, there is an interesting mix of both competition and understanding in part, and in doing so Robin and Andrew meet and a form of friendship seems to spark. I won’t say what happens after because you need to follow the journey there but I will say that it takes quite a long time to get to this point. Bullough seems to want this to be a really slow building novel, the smallest tensions slowly appearing leading up to the novels conclusion, one that is so open ended it may frustrate some readers.

In fact I could imagine this could be a rather frustrating read for some people, there is a plot but it’s built one the smallest moments of near silence. The atmosphere simmers and broods the whole way through building a quite claustrophobic feeling in what should be open space. You think nothing is happening but it is quite the contrary. There are also slightly magical elements of the book too. Set in the early 1980’s Robin and Andrew don’t have access to television their imaginations run wild with ghosts and monsters. The atmosphere around them, and the fact their teacher them the local myths and legends, of Wales only adds to this.

‘Wales, he explained, had once been a very different place to the way it was today: a wilderness of fathomless forests, of talking beasts and birds that pecked at the stars.’

These factors might put off some readers, here I should admit I initially struggled to get my bearings, as there is quite a bit of work and piecing things together, as we have snapshots of the two families lives in different seasons, big things happen and then we skip a month or two not seeing the initial repercussions, plus the magical elements. Yet I loved these elements about the book and I really liked the fact Bullough creates this sense of place and people and wants you to work with him on building the bigger picture and using all the things unsaid along with tiny tensions to create the full narrative tale.  I think by now you will have probably guessed that I thought ‘The Claude Glass’ was an unusual and incredibly accomplished piece of writing, silently impressive and one that rewards you in many ways.

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Filed under Books of 2012, Review, Sort of Books, Tom Bullough

Bereft – Chris Womersley

Sometimes a book arrives here unsolicited and just reaches out to me. It is likely that I haven’t heard anything about it prior to its arrival and yet it just tempts me to read it. This is what happened with ‘Bereft’ by Chris Womersley, it arrived and the cover seemed to constantly catch my eye and call out to me (I am wondering if this is because it looks a little like Catherine Hall’s ‘The Proof of Love’ which you know I adored). The quote from Evie Wyld, ‘I hammered through Bereft in a day; I didn’t want to be away from it’, was the final clincher especially after the success I had with her recommendation of ‘The Hunger Trace’ by Edward Hogan. It is interesting that its arrival made me think of these two books because in some ways it is of their ilk. It also fitted in perfectly with Kim’s Australian Literature Month, it all seemed aligned.

Quercus Books, trade paperback, 2012, fiction, 264 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

The year is 1919 and Quinn Walker is returning to his hometown of Flint in New South Wales after fighting in WWI. This is not going to be some happy emotional family reunion as the reason Quinn left was that ten years earlier he was found seeming to have raped and murdered his sister, he fled. His return seems timely as Australia is in the grips of the Spanish flu epidemic, in fact many believe it is the end of the world, and when the end is nigh you have very little to lose.  Now returning, undecided if he will face his accusers or not without proof it wasn’t him, sheltering in the hills around Flint he meets Sadie a young girl living in secret like him and as these two outsiders form a bond of friendship they both realise her present and his past are more linked than either of them could have imagined.

I am aware that the last line in that paragraph above is a little bit clichéd and sounds rather melodramatic, yet in essence that is how the plot goes, it isn’t a melodramatic book however and that is what holds me back from giving it the ‘gothic’ label that I have seen in reviews since finishing the book and mulling it over. It does have elements of the gothic but despite the nature of the tale it tells this novel is rather quiet and understated until it leads to its climax. It has also been labelled as a crime novel and in some ways it is, there is a mystery at the heart of the book and yet it is never a whodunit, in fact that aspect of the book is really bubbling away in the background as we look at the effects of war and epidemic on people at the time.

It is this combination that I think makes this book such a brilliant read. You have the war and its effects, and in many ways the understated element of the horrors we read of and see in Quinn himself are the reasons they hit home, a country and its people believing the world may be ending, you even get some séances in Victorian London thrown in and yet it never feels too much, nothing seems out of place. Its historical, thrilling, has some magical elements (in fact while I loved the séance and how that worked into the story, there was an animal sacrifice that I just didn’t see the rhyme or reason for, small quibble) and most importantly is beautifully written. It’s understated but highlights the drama of the time; it’s to the point yet descriptive and wonderfully builds the brooding atmosphere and heat before the storm, a metaphoric aspect if ever there was one and one which again made me think of ‘The Proof of Love’, it’s writing that quietly holds you and takes you away to a calm darkness.

‘That night, Quinn lay back, snuggled into the curve his shoulders had made in the pine needles and stared up at the darkness. The moon hove into view. The forest spoke in its secret tongue, and if he turned his head and pressed his ear to the ground he fancied he might hear the millions of dead rustling in their mass, unmarked graves on the far side of the world. Sarah had always claimed to understand the language of animals and trees, the growls of possums and wallabies. But what of the dead?’

Since finishing the book I have been off finding out more about it and the author. It seems this book was pretty much long listed for every book award in Australia last year and I can certainly see why. ‘Bereft’ is one of those books that is set very much in its time and yet asks you to look back and put the pieces together. I like this effect in books as it makes me feel a little bit clever. It also makes this book nicely merge the divide between literary and thriller in many ways. The prose it beautiful, the characters fully drawn, there is also a mystery at its heart giving it that page turning quality, yet never at the expense of any of its other winning factors. It also covers a very interesting period in a countries history I knew nothing about yet came away with the atmosphere still lingering with me long after finishing the book. Highly recommended.

I am really glad I read this book, I have instantly started wondering if its eligible for a certain award this year but wouldn’t want to jinx it, it is only January after all. I am saddened to see that you can’t get his debut novel ‘The Low Road’ in the UK as yet, as I would definitely like to read more of his work. Has anyone else read that? Who else has read this one? I would love to know if readers in Australia have heard as much about this book as I imagine you might.

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I read this book as part of Australian Literature Month,    which runs throughout January 2012. The idea is to simply read as  many   novels as I can by writers from my homeland and to encourage  others to   do the same. Anyone can take part. All you need to do is  read an   Australian book or  two, post about Australian literature on  your own   blog or simply engage  in the conversation on this blog. If  you don’t   have a blog, don’t worry —  you just need to be willing  to  read   something by an Australian writer  and maybe comment on other   people’s   posts. You can find out more here.

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Filed under Books of 2012, Chris Womersley, Quercus Publishing, Review

Savidge Reads Books of 2011 – Part II

The midway point though the last day of the year seems an appropriate time to pop up part two of my books of 2011 and my last post of the year (is it me or does that feel weird?). We have already had the books released prior to this year and we now move onto the books that were released this year in the UK (I don’t think any of them came out anywhere else in the world but just in case I have popped that clause in). I actually think that 2011 has been one of the best for contemporary fiction and this was a much harder exercise to whittle these down to just ten. So without further waffle from me here they are again with a quote from the full reviews which you can find by clicking on the title…

Gillespie and I – Jane Harris

“Like its predecessor, the wonderful ‘The Observations’ (which I am going to have to re-read soon, it’s one of my favourite books which made me rather nervous about this one), ‘Gillespie and I’ is a book that is all about evoking an atmosphere, wonderful writing, an unforgettable narrator, and those clever twists you never see coming. Yet it is no carbon copy by any stretch of the imagination and stands in its own rite. I loved this book, it’s very easy to find a fault with a book, particularly one at over 500 pages in length, yet there are none I can think of. I would go as far as to say I think ‘Gillespie and I’ could be an almost perfect book…”

The Proof of Love – Catherine Hall

“I can’t hide the fact that I loved ‘The Proof of Love’. It’s a book that gently weaves you in. You become both an ‘outcomer’ and one of the locals. You are part of the loneliness and isolation of Spencer as well as the gossiping heart of the community, part of the mystery and part of the suspicions. It’s a very subtly clever book, it doesn’t show off the fact that it’s a rare and wonderful book at any point, but I can assure you it is.”

Annabel – Kathleen Winter

“I don’t think I have read a book that uses the third person in such a way that you see every person’s viewpoint so vividly. Every character, no matter how small a part they play, springs to life walking straight off the page and I honestly felt I was living in Croydon Harbour (atmosphere and descriptions are pitch perfect), whilst also being shocked that such a place still exists in modern times, and went along with Wayne’s journey every step of the way. It is incredible to think that ‘Annabel’ is Kathleen Winter’s debut novel; I was utterly blown away by it and will be urging everyone I know to rush out and read this book.”

The Borrower – Rebecca Makkai

“Rebecca Makkai is certainly a big fan of books of all genres, this adds to her prose and not just in the words and descriptions she uses but also the style. We have a letters and one of Ian’s short stories interspersed in some chapters, there are also chapters in the style of other books such as ‘Choose Your Own Fiasco’ where Lucy gives you her current scenario and you have to decide for her by going to ‘number three or go to number five’ like those quest books I used to read. It’s a really inventive way of writing the book, there is even a table or two in there, and adding another dimension to the whole experience of reading, in some books this doesn’t work, in this one it did.”

The Hunger Trace – Edward Hogan

“There is a real sense of humour in this novel, dark but often very funny, yet in many ways it is a moving tale of people and their sense of isolation or being an outsider often leading to events in their pasts be the recent or from years ago. These are events that leave a trace on you and which is described beautifully when Louisa discusses her prized bird Diamond who she saves and leads to the novels title. ‘When a falcon is undernourished, the feathers cannot grow properly. A fault line appears, even if the bird is fed again. The fault is called a hunger trace.’ It is this hunger trace that runs through the main character of this novel and their obsessions which keep the real world at bay be they Louisa’s birds, Christopher’s obsession with Robin Hood or Maggie’s need to succeed despite what anyone else says.”

There But For The – Ali Smith

“…so far it’s my favourite of Ali Smith’s works to date that I have read. She has taken bits of her earlier work; great characters, observations, comedy, unusual narratives, prose and pacing and put them all together. It’s a tour-de-force as opposed to a hotch-potch. I don’t want to say this is her most accessible book, even though in many ways it is, because that makes it sound like it’s not experimental and it is. It’s just honed down, controlled and done without ego.”

The House of Silk – Anthony Horrowitz

“I loved spending time with Holmes and Watson again and was gripped and tricked along the way. I just loved the adventure of it all. It doesn’t try to take Holmes anywhere new that the loyal fans will be unhappy with, nor does it become a pastiche of a Holmes novel. I knew it wasn’t Conan Doyle but I knew I was in safe hands. It has certainly made me want to turn back to the original Holmes novels; I hope Horowitz and Holmes fans will do the same, to me that is the sign of a great return and a successful one.”

In Other Worlds: SF & The Human Imagination – Margaret Atwood

“…because the way Atwood writes makes it feel like you are sat having a conversation about these things with her (if only), there is a humour and knowingness as you go along, secondly because it shows the forming of a writer which I always find fascinating and thirdly because it made me think. A lot. This isn’t writing you can rush, you need to read it, pause, think a bit, make some mental notes, read on, have a bigger pause, think more. I loved that this was the effect it had on me.”

Before I Go To Sleep – SJ Watson

“It takes a relatively simple, and equally possible, scenario and flips it on its head. In fact it’s the very domestic and almost mundane ordinariness of the books setting which makes it so unnerving. The fact Watson does this, on the whole, in one house between three characters is truly impressive. It’s an original, fast paced, gripping and rather high concept novel. I am wondering just what on earth, Watson is going to follow this up with… and how?”

When God Was A Rabbit – Sarah Winman

“You see initially after reading it I was a little conflicted about it, however with time for the dust to settle I realized I really, really liked it. There’s a warmth in this novel which is quite unlike any other I have read and it lingers. So as I was saying all in all I really, really, really enjoyed ‘When God Was A Rabbit’. It’s a book you gulp down for the first half and then watch unfold more delicately in the second.”

So there you have it, my top twenty books of the year. (I should add here that ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’ by Emma Henderson and ‘Mr Chartwell’ by Rebecca Hunt were initially on this list but then I discovered this morning they were actually published initially in 2010 and had already popped Part I up – oops, there’s two more recommendations snuck in there though.) So over to you, what do you think of this list and what were your favourite books of 2011?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Books of 2011