Tag Archives: Eimear McBride

The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2017

It has not long struck midnight, and whilst many of you (myself included) may be asleep, the book world still keeps whizzing with the latest news that the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist has been announced and it came with a surprise or four. It had been said that the longlist was going to be twelve books, yet the wealth of women’s writing was so strong in the last twelve months (as I mentioned when I tried to guess the longlist last week) that we have a list of sixteen titles. And here they are…

  • Stay With Me – Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀̀ (Canongate, Nigerian, 1st Novel)
  • The Power – Naomi Alderman (Viking, British, 4th Novel)
  • Hag-Seed – Margaret Atwood (Hogarth, Canadian, 16th Novel)
  • Little Deaths – Emma Flint (Picador, British, 1st Novel)
  • The Mare – Mary Gaitskill (Serpent’s Tail, American, 3rd Novel)
  • The Dark Circle – Linda Grant (Virago, British, 6th Novel)
  • The Lesser Bohemians – Eimear McBride (Faber & Faber, Irish, 2nd Novel)
  • Midwinter – Fiona Melrose (Corsair, South African, 1st Novel)
  • The Sport of Kings – C.E. Morgan (4th Estate, American, 2nd Novel)
  • The Woman Next Door – Yewande Omotoso (Chatto & Windus, South African, 2nd Novel)
  • The Lonely Hearts Hotel – Heather O’Neill (riverrun, Canadian, 3rd Novel)
  • The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry (Serpent’s Tail, British, 2nd Novel)
  • Barkskins – Annie Proulx (4th Estate, American, 8th Novel)
  • First Love – Gwendoline Riley (Granta, British, 6th Novel)
  • Do Not Say We Have Nothing – Madeleine Thien (Granta, Canadian, 3rd Novel)
  • The Gustav Sonata – Rose Tremain (Chatto & Windus, British, 14th Novel)

It’s all too easy to go on about the books we should think should be on there (though I am nosey enough to want to hear your thoughts on that down below) because despite all the books I mentioned when I cheated terribly at guessing there is so much I love about this list, though I am still letting all the titles settle in my brain. Naturally though I cheered at the inclusion of The Essex Serpent and The Gustav Sonata (review coming on Friday), yet I am so excited about what gems I am going to find in the next few weeks and months, as yes I am going to read the longlist. I have only read three of the books – which I have popped in italics above, however I have thirteen of the titles and three more coming in the post so it would be rude not to, especially as I still have almost two more weeks of post surgery recovery.

I think this year is a really diverse selection in all sorts of ways. Women from their first book to their sixteenth, from all around the world and importantly writing on a wide variety of subjects and themes; even two about horses, anyway… I am really excited about delving in, what about you?

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Guessing The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2017

A week to this very day will see the announcement of the longlist for this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Those of you who have followed this blog for the last (almost ten, how did that happen) years will know that the Women’s Prize for Fiction is one of my top five literary prizes ever. For many a year now I have played the all at once delightful and downright difficult game of trying to guess the longlist, so I thought I would do it again this year. Why fix it if it ain’t broke?

There is a slight change this year. Normally I do a list of 20 books, for that is the usual longlist length. This year it is all change however as there is rumoured to be a shortlist of just twelve books this year. For me to choose a list of only 12 books is frankly impossible, well ok not impossible but it would be very difficult as one thing about the guessing the list for this prize shows me every year is how many amazing books there are by women published every year. So I have decided if the prize can change its list length so can I, so you will be getting a list of 12 books I have read and would love to see on the list and 12 books I would love to read and see on the list.

First up the books I have read, which has shamefully reminded me of how little of what I read last year I have reviewed but I will in good time, that I would love to see on the list…

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The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry (Serpent’s Tail)
The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood (Allen and Unwin)
Shelter by Jung Yun (Picador)
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain (Vintage)
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (Penguin)
This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell (Tinder Press)
The Good People by Hannah Kent (Picador)
Fell by Jenn Ashworth (Sceptre)
My Name is Leon by Kit De Waal (Penguin)
The Muse by Jessie Burton (Picador)
To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey (Tinder Press)
The Museum of You by Carys Bray (Windmill)

I was going to add Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing which I read for the Man Booker Prize last year but I didn’t love it as much as everyone else BUT if it was on the list I would read it again so thought I should give it a nod. Right, now to the books I haven’t read yet but want to, which was again so, so, so tough to whittle down just to twelve.

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Here Comes The Sun by Nicole Dennis Benn (Oneworld)
The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss (Granta)
Autumn by Ali Smith (Penguin)
Idaho by Emily Ruskovich (Vintage)
Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan (Sceptre)
The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride (Faber and Faber)
English Animals by Laura Kaye (Little Brown)
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (Oneworld)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (Orion)
Behold The Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue (4th Estate)
The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy (Scribe)
The Unseen World by Liz Moore (Windmill)

There were so many more I wanted to add onto this list. Brit Bennett, Emma Geen, Min Jin Lee, Claire Fuller, Katherine Arden, Stella Duffy and Sara Baume  were all wriggling away in the back of my mind as were heavyweights Ann Patchett, Emma Donoghue and Annie Proulx. See it just goes to show how many amazing books there could be in the list next week. And you know what? I wouldn’t mind if I was completely wrong and was introduced to a whole selection of books I hadn’t even thought of, that is all part of the joy of a prize like this one, so much scope, so many possibilities, so many good reads ahead.

So over to you, what do you think might just make the list next week?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #83 – Rebecca Smith

Hello and welcome back to the series Other People’s Bookshelves. If you haven’t seen them before these are a series where a guest takes over the blog and feeds into the book lust we all feel by sharing their shelves. This week we are off to Scotland, where we are being put up by the lovely, lovely Rebecca Smith who has kindly invited us to have a gander at her bookshelves. Before we do Rebecca has kindly put on stunning Scottish spread of utter joy and delight. So now we are refreshed and before we rampage through her shelves Rebecca is just going to introduce herself a bit more…

I’m Rebecca and I grew up in the middle of nowhere in Cumbria amongst forests and mountains, snakes and stags. I now live in Central Scotland with my 6 year old son and my partner. One day I will build my own house surrounded by trees and grass. With those huge bookcases that spans walls and reach the ceiling. I went to University in Stirling (English, Film and Media). I lived and studied in Hungary for a semester (thank you Erasmus). And I produced live radio for nearly 10 years, almost purely living off adrenaline. I write short stories and currently work for BBC Radio Drama part time. Last year I applied for the https://womentoringproject.co.uk/ and was lucky enough to be selected by the amazing Kirsty Logan. She is mentoring me which has given me a huge boost in confidence with regards to my writing.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I keep all of the books I buy. But I usually end up lending a book to someone which is how I manage to keep space for more! I’ve lost a few books throughout the years and it’s only recently I’ve wanted (and seen the benefit of) re-reading of them. I’ll be buying again them when the house is built…

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

I don’t really cull my books. I’m very reluctant too anyway. And yes, it’s alphabetical: although the bottom shelf tends to be reference or books that don’t really fit anywhere else (1975 Jackie annual – it’s mums, I can’t part with it. It teaches you how to read your palm!) The books in the most accessible bookcase by the window have the short stories, poetry and a wee bit of drama. The books that pile up on top of the other books tend to be the ones I use most, taking them out to re-read passages when I’m writing. All the middle section are my University books, (good ole Norton Anthologies) and my partners building books – he works for a house builder (it’s not the only reason I’m with him.) In the kitchen there is the ‘travel section’, the cook books and the lit magazines. And of course in my sons room is his rather messy book case. I’ve read him a story every night since he was born. We’re reading a book about a police cat at the moment. His favourite (and will always be mine) is Fantastic Mr Fox.

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What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

Probably a series of books called The Mystery Club by Fiona Kelly. Oh I loved those books. I used to walk around the estate (my dad was the forester on a small country estate in the Lake District: it was idyllic) walking amidst the gardens, the scattered cottages, the lodge houses, the farm with a pen and notebook marking down anything that I thought could be suspicious. (That cottage has been empty for 3 weeks now, where is Mr Brown, have those curtains been moved…?!) I even wrote to Fiona Kelly and I was over the moon when she replied. I don’t have the books at my house but they could be in my parents cellar. Or it could have been a Judy Blume book. I loved every word that woman wrote.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

Not really no, but there are books that are either my Dads or my ex-husbands which are not my style. I’m not that overly taken with crime novels.

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

Hmm, obviously the first thing I’d save is my son, and cat. (I assume my boyfriend could escape himself.) There is a very special book I bought in Krakow, Shaking A Leg, The Collected Writings of Angela Carter. I’m very careful with this (I would never lend this out) and I like to go back every now and then to read parts. It has her short stories and her essays collated in it. It looks beautiful, it is beautiful. I’d probably save that.

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What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

I was lucky enough to grow up in a house with over-flowing bookshelves. I used to read whatever my parents had lying around. Dad liked the classics and the adventures, mum, the family sagas. When I was 16 I read and loved Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and studied it for my A level English project. That felt adult, especially the war scenes which have stayed with throughout the years. I also bought from my local, very small and now closed down, book shop, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. I adored this book. It felt different, very adult, but very’ me’ at the same time. Unfortunately I lent it to someone and I never saw it again. That’s on my to-buy list.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

Yes, I borrow a lot out of the library as I can’t afford to buy all the books I want. I recently read Anne Enright’s, The Green Road from the library and I will buy that when I can as I loved nearly every sentence.

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What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

Helen Sedgwick’s, The Comet Seekers. I bought it at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Just finished reading it. I loved it. It was like chatting to old friends.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

So so many; my wish list on Wordery is huge. The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride, The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, The Outrun by Amy Liptrot, This Must be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell, The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss, The Assassin’s Cloak by Irene Taylor (diary extracts – I really like the idea of this), Thin Air by Michelle Paver,  Bark by Lorrie Moore (another one I borrowed from the library and need to buy!)

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

No idea, but when people come round I like to find out what they like to read then I suggest something. It’s always a nice feeling when they come back and have liked it.

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And a huge thanks to Rebecca (my favourite name for obvious reaons) for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves.. If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance, I am catching up with all the latest volunteers. In the meantime… what do you think of Rebecca’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Books I’m Looking Forward to in the Next Six Months #2

I know we are somewhat past the middle of 2016 but, as is my want I thought – like I did back at the start of the year – it might be a nice idea to let you know about some of the books that I am really looking forward to reading over the next six months published in the UK. I know, I know, it is the list you have all been waiting for. Ha! For a few years now, every six months, Gavin and I share 13 of the books that we are most excited about on The Readers podcast (based on which publishers catalogues we can get our mitts on, sometimes we miss some) so I thought I would make it a new biannual post. I have highlighted a few each month that I will definitely be reading or getting my mitts on – there will be more, let’s noy pretend. So, grab a cuppa and settle down with a notepad or bookstore website open next to you…

July

Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane – Paul Thomas Murphy (Head of Zeus)

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In April 1871, a constable walking a beat near greenwich found a girl dying  in the mud – her face cruelly slashed and her brains protruding from her skull. The girl was Jane Maria Clouson, a maid for the respectable pook family and  she was pregnant at the time of her death. When the blood-spattered clothes of  the 20-year-old Edmund pook, father of the dead girl’s unborn child, were  discovered, the matter seemed open and shut. Yet there followed a remarkable legal odyssey full of unexpected twists as the police struggled to build a case.  paul Murphy recreates the drama of an extraordinary murder case and  conclusively identifies the killer’s true identity.

Augustown – Kei Miller (Orion)

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Ma Taffy may be blind but she sees everything. So when her great-nephew kaia comes home from school in tears, what she senses sends a deep fear through her. While they wait for his mama to come home from work, Ma Taffy recalls the story of the flying preacherman and a great thing that did not happen. A poor suburban sprawl in the Jamaican heartland, Augustown is a place where many things that should happen don’t, and plenty of things that shouldn’t happen do. For the story of kaia leads back to another momentous day in Jamaican history, the birth of the Rastafari and the desire for a better life. Augustown is a novel about inequality and aspiration, memory and myth, and the connections between people which can transcend these things but not always change them. It is a window onto a moment in Jamaican history, when the people sought to rise up above their lives and shine.

August

Hide – Matthew Griffin (Bloomsbury)

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Wendell Wilson, a taxidermist, and Frank Clifton, a veteran, meet after the Second World War – in a time when such love holds real danger. Severing nearly all ties with the outside world, they carve out a home for themselves, protected by the routine of self-reliant domesticity. But when Wendell finds Frank lying motionless outside at the age of eighty-three, their life together begins to unravel. As Frank’s memory deteriorates, Wendell must come to terms with the consequences of half a century in seclusion: the lives they might have lived – and the impending, inexorable loss of the one they had.

The Summer That Melted Everything – Tiffany McDaniel (Scribe)

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When local prosecutor Autopsy Bliss published an invitation to the devil to come to Breathed, nobody quite expected that he would turn up. They especially didn’t expect him to turn  up a tattered and bruised thirteen-year-old boy. The Blisses believe the boy, who calls himself Sal, is a runaway from a nearby farm town. Then, after a series of strange incidents which all implicate Sal — and riled by the feverish heat wave baking the town from the inside out — there are some around town who start to believe that maybe Sal is exactly who he claims to be. Whether he’s a traumatised child or the devil incarnate, Sal is certainly one strange fruit; and ultimately his eerie stories of Heaven, Hell, and earth, will mesmerise and enflame the entire town.

The Tsar of Love and Techno – Anthony Marra (Hogarth)

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The Tsar of Love and Techno begins in 1930s Leningrad, where a failed portrait artist is tasked by Soviet censors to erase political dissenters from official images and artworks. One day, he receives an antique painting of a dacha inside a box of images meant to be altered. The mystery behind this painting reverberates through the stories that follow, which take us through a century as they thread together a cast of characters including a Siberian beauty queen, a young soldier in the battlefields of Chechnya, the Head of the Grozny Tourist Bureau, a ballerina performing for the camp director of a gulag and many others.

September

The Borrowed – Chan Ho-Kei (Head of Zeus)

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A cleverly constructed epic crime novel, told through six different murder cases set over fifty years in the Hong kong police Force. The year is 2013, and Inspector kwan, one of Hong kong’s greatest detectives, is dying. His friend and protegé, Detective Lok, has come to kwan’s hospital bed. Together they must solve one last case: the murder of a local billionaire. What follows is a brilliantly constructed novel of six interconnected stories, each featuring a different murder case solved by kwan and Lok over the last fifty years. Eventually, in the final story, we witness the case in which Lok, a rookie cop, met kwan for the first time.

By Gaslight – Steven Price (Oneworld)

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A severed head is dredged from the Thames; ten miles away, a woman’s body is discovered on Edgware Road. The famed American detective William Pinkerton is summoned by Scotland Yard to investigate. The dead woman fits the description of a grifter Pinkerton had been pursuing – someone he believed would lead him to a man he has been hunting since his father’s death. Edward Shade is an industrialist without a past, a fabled con, a man of smoke. The obsessive hunt for him that began in the last days of the Civil War becomes Pinkerton’s inheritance. What follows is an epic journey of secrets, deceit and betrayals. Above all, it is the story of the most unlikely of bonds: between Pinkerton, the greatest detective of his age, and Shade, the one criminal he cannot outwit. Moving from the diamond mines of South Africa to the fog-enshrouded streets of Victorian London, By Gaslight is a journey into a cityscape of grief, trust, and its breaking, where what we share can bind us even against our better selves.

Angel Catbird – Margaret Atwood (Dark Horse)

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On a dark night, young genetic engineer Strig Feleedus is accidentally mutated by his own experiment and merges with the DNA of a cat and an owl. What follows is a humorous, action-driven, pulp-inspired superhero adventure with a lot of cat puns.

The Lesser Bohemians – Eimear McBride (Faber)

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One night in London an eighteen-year-old girl, recently arrived from Ireland to study drama, meets an older actor and a tumultuous relationship ensues. Set across the bedsits and squats of mid-nineties              north London, The Lesser Bohemians is a story about love and innocence, joy and discovery, the grip of the past and the struggle to be new again.

The One Hundred Nights of Hero – Isabel Greenberg (Jonathan Cape)

From the author who brought you The Encyclopedia of Early Earth comes another Epic Tale of Derring-Do. Prepare to be dazzled once more by the overwhelming power of stories and see Love prevail in the face of Terrible Adversity! You will read of betrayal, loyalty, madness, bad husbands, lovers both faithful and unfaithful, wise old crones, moons who come out of the sky, musical instruments that won’t stay quiet, friends and brothers and fathers and mothers and above all, many, many sisters.

October

The Fat Artist and Other Stories – Benjamin Hale (Picador)

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Benjamin Hale’s fiction abounds with a love of language and a wild joy for storytelling. In prose alternately stark, lush, and hallucinatory, occasionally nightmarish and often absurd. The voices in these seven stories speak from the margins: a dominatrix whose longtime client, a U.S. congressman, drops dead during a tryst in a hotel room; an addict in precarious recovery who lands a job driving a truck full of live squid; a heartbroken performance artist who attempts to eat himself to death as a work of art.  From underground radicals hiding in Morocco to an aging hippie in Colorado in the summer before 9/11 to a young drag queen in New York at the cusp of the AIDS crisis, these stories rove freely across time and place, carried by haunting, peculiar narratives, threads in the vast tapestry of American life. Weaving a pleasure in the absurd with an exploration of the extraordinary variety of the human condition and the sway our most private selves and hidden pasts hold over us, the stories in The Fat Artist reside in the unnerving intersections between life and death, art and ridicule, consumption and creation.

Thin Air – Michelle Paver (Orion)

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The Himalayas, 1935. kangchenjunga. Third-highest peak on earth. Greatest killer of them all. Five Englishmen set off from Darjeeling, determined to conquer the sacred summit. but courage can only take them so far – and the mountain is not their only foe. As the wind dies, the dread grows. Mountain sickness. The horrors of extreme altitude. A past that will not stay buried. And sometimes, the truth does not set you free.

The Last Days of Leda Grey – Essie Fox (Orion)

During the oppressive heat wave of 1976 a young journalist, Ed Peters, finds an Edwardian photograph in a junk shop in the brighton Lanes. It shows an alluring, dark-haired girl, an actress whose name was Leda Grey. Leda is living still, in a decaying cliff-top house once shared with a man called Charles beauvois, a director of early silent film. A horrific accident left her abandoned and alone for more than half a century – until Ed Peters hears the secrets of her past, resulting in a climax more haunting than any to be found in the silent films of Charles beauvois.

Autumn – Ali Smith (Penguin Books)

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The first of four novels in a shape-shifting series, wideranging in timescale and light-footed through histories. Fusing Keatsian mists and mellow fruitfulness with the vitality, the immediacy and the colour-hit of Pop Art – via a bit of very contemporary skulduggery and skull-diggery – Autumn is a witty excavation of the present by the past. The novel is a stripped-branches take on popular culture, and a meditation, in a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, what harvest means. Autumn is part of the quartet Seasonal: four stand-alone novels, separate yet interconnected and cyclical (as the seasons are), exploring what time is, how we experience it, and the recurring markers in the shapes our lives take and in our ways with narrative.

The Power – Naomi Alderman (Penguin Books)

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In The Power the world is a recognizable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge, with devastating effects. Now, with the flick of a switch, teenage girls can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

Hag-Seed – Margaret Atwood (Hogarth)

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‘It’s got a thunderstorm in it. And revenge. Definitely revenge.’ Felix is at the top of his game as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. His productions have amazed and confounded. Now he’s staging a Tempest like no other: not only will it boost his reputation, it will heal emotional wounds. Or that was the plan. Instead, after an act of unforeseen treachery, Felix is living in exile in a backwoods hovel, haunted by memories of his beloved lost daughter, Miranda. And also brewing revenge. After twelve years, revenge finally arrives in the shape of a theatre course at a nearby prison. Here, Felix and his inmate actors will put on his Tempest and snare the traitors who destroyed him. It’s magic! But will it remake Felix as his enemies fall?

November

London Lies Beneath – Stella Duffy (Virago)

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In August 1912, three friends set out on an adventure. Two of them come home. Tom, Jimmy and Itzhak have grown up together in the crowded slums of Walworth. They are used to narrow streets, the bustle of East Lane market, extended families weaving in and out of each other’s lives. All three boys are expected to follow their father’s trades and stay close to home. But Tom has wider dreams. So when he hears of a scouting trip, sailing from Waterloo to Sheppey – he is determined to go. And his friends go with him. Inspired by real events, this is the story of three friends, and a tragedy that will change them for ever. It is also a song of south London, of working class families with hidden histories, of a bright and complex world long neglected. London Lies Beneath is a powerful and compelling novel, rich with life and full of wisdom.

Another Day in the Death of America – Gary Younge (Faber)

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On Saturday 23 November 2013, ten children were shot dead. The youngest was nine; the oldest was nineteen. They fell in suburbs, hamlets and ghettos. None made the national news. It was just another day in the death of America, where on average seven children and teens are killed by guns daily. Younge picks this day at random, searches for their families and tells their stories. What emerges is a sobering, searing, portrait of youth and guns in contemporary America.

Rotten Row – Petina Gappah (Faber)

In her accomplished new story collection, Petina Gappah crosses the barriers of class, race, gender and sexual politics in Zimbabwe to explore the causes and effects of crime, and to meditate on the nature of justice. Rotten Row represents a leap in artistry and achievement from the award-winning author of An Elegy for Easterly and The Book of Memory. With compassion and humour, Petina Gappah paints portraits of lives aching for meaning to produce a moving and universal tableau.

Wowsers! So thatwas quite a list, it is slightly extended since we recorded The Readers because, well why not? There will be many more I discover or hear about too I am sure. Anyway, quite a few for you to go and find out more about and a good list for me to have when I am stuck in a bookshop without a clue of what to by next – as if that ever happens. Right, I better get reading then. Which of these do you fancy? Which books are you looking forward to in the next six months?

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A Girl is a Half Formed Thing – The Play

Tonight* I have had the pleasure, if pleasure is the right word, of watching what might be one of the most intense, brilliant and gobsmacking pieces of theatre and acting that I have ever seen in my 34 years. Seriously, that good.

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Tonight I have had the experience of seeing Annie Ryan’s adaptation of Eimear McBride’s incredible novel A Girl is a Half Formed Thing which I read (and was bowled over by) back in 2013, which went on to win the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Goldsmiths Prize the following year. Without giving too much away the novel is a tale of an unnamed young woman from just before her birth to her early twenties, all told in a rush of quite unusual language, which Ryan has used and condensed to create a one hour and twenty minute monologue, here is a taster…

For you. You’ll soon. You’ll give her name. In the stitches of her skim she’ll wear your say. Mammy me? Yes you. Bounce the bed, I’d say. I’d say that’s what you did. Then lay you down. They cut you round. Wait and hour and day.

This one woman show is all given to you, and I want to say given rather than acted or performed because it is lived and literally given to you as an experience, by Aoife Duffin who is nothing short of phenomenal. Not only does she manage to remember 80 minutes of dialogue (which I do not understand how anyone could do) she manages to make her own face and voice contort into a whole set of other characters and the unusual language seem utterly understandable. You are shocked, you are saddened, you cringe and quite often you cackle with laughter.

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If you are worried you haven’t read the book then don’t, I went with my friend and colleague Jane and she was as spellbound – and this is a woman who has fallen asleep in a show (the night before with her family) and walked out of one half way through (with me, though I stayed and shouldn’t have) because she wasn’t enjoying it. She is now really, really keen to read the book and I am really keen to give the play a read to relive it all.

Can you tell I rather loved it? Understatement of the year, I thought she, and the play, were just absolutely incredible and had to share it with you. Here is a small taster of the play…

Sadly the UK tour has ended. I am really hoping that someone like BBC Four or Sky Arts, or even better BBC One or Channel 4  will have it on the television at some point because it should be seen, or heard on the radio. However if you are in the USA then you are in luck as I believe that it will be heading to New York in the not too distant future, so keep your eyes peeled for further announcements and whatever you do get yourself some tickets. It is quite unlike anything I have ever seen before and I thought it was utterly, utterly fantastic.

You can see my review of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing here and hear Eimear McBride in conversation about the novel with me on You Wrote The Book here.

*This was written on the night that I saw A Girl is a Half Formed Thing I have just been so busy reading the Bailey’s longlist or having food poisoning my reviews have been a little delayed and out of kilter, oops.

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Three Irish Books You Should All Read & Three Books I Want To

Today is St Patrick’s Day and I thought it would be a nice idea to share some Irish books that I have loved with you all. Initially I thought this was going to be easy, after all I am a huge fan of Irish books. Well, while in my head this is true I discovered (whilst researching for next week’s episode of The Readers) that I haven’t read as many Irish novels or authors as I thought I had. It is weird when our brains do this isn’t it? Anyway, I decided I would share three books by Irish authors I have loved and also address this unknown-until-now imbalance by sharing three books by Irish authors I really want to read. First up my top three favourites, links to full reviews in the titles…

A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing – Eimear McBride

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I found A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing a book that confused, then compelled and finally confronted me. Not just because of the subject matter but also because it made me rethink the way I read. The abstract sentences and initially rather confusing style start to form a very clear, if quite dark, picture. You just need to reset your brain and allow it to do the work, or working in a different way. This is of course the point of prose after all, it shouldn’t always be spelt out just so and I hugely admire (and thank) Eimear McBride for writing such an original and startling book which will reward intrepid readers out there greatly. Tip – read it out loud to yourself. I am very excited about seeing the play in two weeks with my pal, and colleague Jane, should be something quite special. You can hear Eimear talking about the book on You Wrote The Book here.

Brooklyn – Colm Toibin

I am not going to hold back I loved ‘Brooklyn’. I thought Toibin’s style of prose and narrative was simple and beautiful. I was totally and utterly engaged throughout the whole book. I liked and believed in all the characters and I loved the subtle simple plot. In fact ‘subtle and simple’ are possibly the perfect two words to sum this book up for me. Yet at the same time it’s quite an epic novel and one that covers a huge amount in fewer than 250 pages. With characters, plot and backdrops like this I would be amazed if you could fail to love this book. Sadly I have yet to get Colm Toibin on You Wrote The Book, but one day, one day. I should also add I absolutely LOVED the film too, which is unusual for me, it was one of my movies of 2015.

The Good Son – Paul McVeigh

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Whilst many novels of the Troubles would make them the main focus and give you them in all their rawest and most shocking detail, I think McVeigh gives you something far more clever and intricate. A young lad growing up at the time Mickey does would, as Mickey is, be used to it and so it is not the be all and end all of his thoughts. This of course leads us into a false sense of security so when things like the night time raids or the murder and bombing in the street happen it gives us all the more of a sense of shock, some of these parts of the novel are really harrowing reading. Yet often more striking are the random smaller moments in which we are reminded the streets the kids are playing in are territory of war, I found these truly chilling. I also found the novel incredibly hopeful, funny and is probably the book I would recommend to anyone wanting to dip their toe in Irish waters fiction wise if they have not already. You can hear Paul talking about the book on You Wrote The Book here.

And now onto the three Irish books which I am most looking forward to, shamefully I have stolen their blurbs from Waterstones (who as I now blog for I am sure won’t mind, as they nicked them off the backs of the books anyway. They are…

The Little Red Chairs – Edna O’Brien

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When a wanted war criminal from the Balkans, masquerading as a faith healer, settles in a small west coast Irish village, the community are in thrall. One woman, Fidelma McBride, falls under his spell and in this astonishing novel, Edna O’Brien charts the consequences of that fatal attraction. The Little Red Chairs is a story about love, the artifice of evil, and the terrible necessity of accountability in our shattered, damaged world. A narrative which dares to travel deep into the darkness has produced a book of enormous emotional intelligence and courage. Written with a fierce lyricism and sensibility, The Little Red Chairs dares to suggest there is a way back to redemption and hope when great evil is done.

Beatlebone – Kevin Barry

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He will spend three days alone on his island. That is all that he asks …John is so many miles from love now and home. This is the story of his strangest trip. John owns a tiny island off the west coast of Ireland. Maybe it is there that he can at last outrun the shadows of his past. The tale of a wild journey into the world and a wild journey within, Beatlebone is a mystery box of a novel. It’s a portrait of an artist at a time of creative strife. It is most of all a sad and beautiful comedy from one of the most gifted stylists now at work.

Spill Simmer Falter Wither – Sara Baume

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You find me on a Tuesday, on my Tuesday trip to town. A note sellotaped to the inside of the jumble-shop window: Compassionate & Tolerant Owner. A person without pets & without children under four. A misfit man finds a misfit dog. Ray, aged fifty-seven, ‘too old for starting over, too young for giving up’, and one eye, a vicious little bugger, smaller than expected, a good ratter. Both are accustomed to being alone, unloved, outcast – but they quickly find in each other a strange companionship of sorts. As spring turns to summer, their relationship grows and intensifies, until a savage act forces them to abandon the precarious life they’d established, and take to the road. Spill Simmer Falter Wither is a wholly different kind of love story: a devastating portrait of loneliness, loss and friendship, and of the scars that are more than skin-deep.

So there are my picks both for you to read, if you haven’t, and me to read in the months ahead. If you have read any of these do please let me know your thoughts. I would also love to hear what your favourite Irish novels and/or novelists are that you would recommend I, or anyone reading this, give a whirl.

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The Bailey’s Prize; Best of the Best from the Second Decade

Tonight in the Piccadilly Theatre in London, something very exciting is going to be happening… The folk behind the Bailey’s Prize will be announcing their Best of the Best from the second decade of the wonder that is the women’s prize for fiction. The question is of course which of these wonderful ten novels (if like me you thought they had chosen ten books from all time and were worried about some of the older ones not getting a shout fear not) will win the prize tonight?

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I will be there, so will be live tweeting over @SavidgeReads throughout and then filling you all in on the evening tomorrow, however in the interim the lovely team at the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction asked me if I would share with you which book I thought deserving of the title. This initially seemed like the most delightful thing to be asked, then when the selection above arrived I realised it was actually a potential nightmare. I have read nine of the books (sorry Barbara Kingsolver, I will get to you) and I can genuinely say that six of them have been absolute corkers (Homes, McBride, Tremain, Adichie, Miller, Smith) and out of those two of them have become some of my favourite books of all time. Step forward Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles (which I was sure I wouldn’t like after having a classicist mother who dragged me round Pompeii for 8 hours put me off all things Greek and Roman for quite some time, it’s okay Mum I forgive you) and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun (which I read for a book group knowing nothing about and completely blew me away) which are both corkers!

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But before I choose which of these would be my best of, and it changes minute by minute, I want to just take some time out to say how brilliant the prize is full stop and mention how much I wish they would let a male judge on the panel called Simon just once and all the brilliant fiction that it highlights be they longlisted, shortlisted or the final winners. Because it is brilliant! Without the prize I wouldn’t have read any of the above novels when I did, nor would I have known about Andrea Levy’s winning Small Island, or shortlisted titles like Esi Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues, Kathleen Winter’s Annabel or Emma Henderson’s Grace Williams Says It Loud. I could go on, and I haven’t even started on the longlisted titles that I have read and loved each year, or the fun I have every spring trying to guess the twenty books that might make it on that list. It has really informed my reading, more than I realised until I looked at all the titles – which then set me off wanting to read all the short and long listed titles I haven’t got to yet. Blimey!

So which would be my overall winner for the book of the last decade? Well after much torment, wailing, hair pulling and other vexation I have to say for me it has to be Half of a Yellow Sun. It is a book that stole my heart, broke it a few times and has left me thinking about it (and all the characters) ever since. It is also a book that I have bought for all the important people in my life who haven’t read it yet – and they have all been blown away by it too.

Right I need to get ready for tonight’s event, which there are still some tickets for, so over to you? Who would be your best of the best from the second decade be and what about the first? Which short and longlisted books have you read and loved.

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The Weightless World – Anthony Trevelyan

Sometimes the title of a book can call to you and for some reason The Weightless World was one such title from the moment it arrived in the post. It intrigued me without even having to have read a page (or as you can see below without any illustration on the cover, though in its own way that is also intriguing enough). Throw in the fact that it was a debut (I do like a debut novel, all those idea’s all that energy) and was from an independent press, the press who published A Girl is a Half Formed Thing no less, and three of my favourite ‘I am strongly inclined to read this’ boxes were ticked. Before I knew it, I was off adventuring with an unlikely group of fellows in India.

Galley Beggar Press, 2015, paperback, fiction, 265 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Raymond Ess is going to kill me.
This is the thought I can’t stop thinking. One way and another I have been thinking it for years, though I used to mean something like Raymond Ess is going to be annoyed at me or Raymond Ess is asking too much of me. I don’t mean either of those things now. I just mean he is going to kill me.
One night soon, when he find out what I’ve done. Raymond Ess is going to slip quietly into my room and murder me in my bed. He’s going to stab me through the sheets with a kitchen knife, crush my throat with his speckled hands, and he’s not going to do it because he’s mad, though he is (stark, staring); he’s going to do it because it’s what I deserve. Because it’s the only punishment that fits the crime.

They say that the opener of a book should instantly draw the reader in. The Weightless World  pulls you in with some force. We soon discover that the Raymond Ess is not some psychopathic monster hunting our narrator, Steven Strauss, down but actually his boss and Steven has done something he believes is so terrible it is worthy of murder. But what? Well, obviously that is the question that a lot of the book is based around so I am not going to tell you. What I can say is that Steven has ended up on the other side of the world from his home in England and is now on a trip to India with his boss to go and find an antigravity machine. Yes, an antigravity machine.

What makes this all the more intriguing, and frankly bizarre, is that Ess found this antigravity machine when he was away in India finding himself after having a mental breakdown of sorts which meant he had to take leave from the company he cofounded, Resolution Aviation. The company he has also almost driven to bankruptcy after a big gamble that went massively wrong. Whilst on his travels in India he got lost from his guide Asha and found himself in the middle of nowhere where in a wooden hut near a river he found recluse Tarik Kundra who just happened to have build a machine that can make anything (including concrete moulds of swimming pools) defy gravity. Now, with Steven and Asha in tow, he wants to find him again and make the company and himself millions once more.

Now I have to say as the novel went on I was slightly unsure I was going to get along with it. The reasons for this being I don’t like books based around business and work colleagues (hence why I was one of the only people on earth who didn’t like Joshua Ferris’ And Then We Came To The End) and also because on the mention of antigravity, whilst making the wonderful title make complete sense, I had an ‘uh-oh this is going to end up going to space’ moment. I was wrong on the latter count as we don’t go to space, well maybe one character does, and whilst yes this is a book about business I rather enjoyed it because at its heart I think The Weightless World is something of a farce.

In actual fact as I was reading Trevelyan’s debut I kept thinking of Graham Greene and both The Ministry of Fear and also in particular Our Man In Havana. Not because this is a spy story, though there is an element of that thrown in, but because The Weightless World  is very much a tale of a bumbling white middle class male a little bit lost and out of kilter with everything, except his girlfriend Alice when he can reach her on Skype, who somehow starts to find himself in the most random and adverse of situations, as his naturally complicates them no end. Also, like Greene, it is brilliantly written with some stunning prose even when Trevelyan is merely writing about the complexities of a Skype call.

I stare at the screen. The circles ping, ping. Then the wifi icon shrivels, the circles dim then blip to nothing and the screen holds nothing but futile light.
Somewhere on the face of the earth Alice is staring into her laptop. She’s waiting for it to conjure me, incarnate me. But the magic has failed. She is there and I am here and the curve of the planet turns stubbornly, irreducibly between us.

I have to admit that on occasion I did get a little lost. As the characters build, from just Ess and Steven to Ess, Steven, Asha and Harry (a slightly smarmy and seemingly untrustworthy business man who tags along after he invites himself) there are occasionally moments you feel that you haven’t quite got a handle on them and indeed sometimes they haven’t quite got a handle on themselves. There is a lot of ‘do you know what is going on?’ said to one another which is often both funny and slightly confusing and distancing so I would have to go back and figure things out. This is a minor grumble as Trevelyan offers a lot more going on below the farces facade.

What I think The Weightless World is about on deeper level is the relationship between India and the UK (and indeed the Western World). As Steven and Ess adventure on India broods in the background both with its trading, be it big business or on the market stalls in the streets, its western interference to dominate and ‘make good’ whilst also making profit (there is a poignant moment involving a collapsed warehouse) and also the instability India has with and without interventions; as Steven and Ess arrive there is a huge bomb in Banaglore. It is also a book about the brilliance, nightmare and reliance that we put on technology and how sometimes, with a very moving story back in the UK with Steven’s girlfriend Alice, we feel the world has got much smaller and that technology can placate and replace reality. An interesting debut indeed.

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The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2014

One of my favourite prizes of the bookish year is what we now know as the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. I have been a supporter of it for many a year now, trying to guess the longlist and then trying to read them. I normally stay up until the midnight announcement but as I appear to have aged by about 20 plus years in the last few weeks I couldn’t. I did wake up at about 5am, when Oscar decided to be sick behind the wardrobe, and then have a sneak peak and it’s a really interesting list…

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Before I go on to share the list can I just say there is so much that is brilliant about the above picture it is almost too much. Imagine being on a panel of judges with Mary Beard and Caitlin Moran, you’d just be in heaven. Anyway, the list of twenty books in full is as follows…

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
MaddAddam – Margaret Atwood
The Dogs of Littlefield – Suzanne Berne
The Shadow of the Crescent Moon – Fatima Bhutto
The Bear – Claire Cameron
Eleven Days – Lea Carpenter
The Strangler Vine – M.J. Carter
The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton
Reasons She Goes to the Woods – Deborah Kay Davies
The Signature of All Things – Elizabeth Gilbert
Burial Rites – Hannah Kent
The Flamethrowers – Rachel Kushner
The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri
The Undertaking – Audrey Magee
A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing – Eimear McBride
Almost English – Charlotte Mendelson
Still Life with Bread Crumbs – Anna Quindlen
The Burgess Boys – Elizabeth Strout
The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt
All The Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

Amazingly though I don’t have all of them I do happen to have thirteen (I am hoping this is not an omen) of them in the house 4.5 of which I have read.

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I didn’t try and guess the longlist this year (what a party pooper) because I didn’t feel after last year being my slowest and quietest year for reading what with Gran (who was a huge fan of the prize, I think it lead her to Rose Tremain, and would be happy I have posed the books on what were her sofa’s on which she did much reading and I will carry on the tradition of) and all that jazz I didn’t feel that I could give a good enough insight. Plus there is always the worry you look super smug, then the mild embarrassment when I am sooooo wrong and the invariable almost moan of ‘why wasn’t x and y book on the list?’ Speaking of which Naomi Wood, Fiona McFarlane? Moving swiftly on…

I would have stabbed a guess at All the Birds, Singing, A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, Burial Rites and Almost English being on the list as they were all highlights of my reading year last year, so naturally I am thrilled for those to be on the list. I may also have hazarded a guess at Americanah and MaddAddam being on the list as they are by two of my favourite authors though shockingly I didn’t read these upon release, strange. I also would have guessed The Luminaries, The Goldfinch and The Flamethrowers as they have been three of the most talked about books and also interestingly three books which seem to really divide people, interesting.

Berne, Bhutto, Cameron and Carter I am excited about because I have them on my shelves, The Bear was actually one of the books I mentioned in The Readers ‘Books To Be Excited About January to June’ show. Yet, as always with me, it is the books I know very little or nothing about that are the ones that I instantly go off and look up.  Deborah Kay Davies is an author I have already read and was equally impressed and disturbed with True Things About Me so I will have to get my mitts on her knew one, Elizabeth Strout I know through Olive Kitteridge which I still haven’t read but Gran raved about, Lea Carpenter and Audrey Magee are completely knew to me which is most exciting.

So it is a really interesting list, some big names with big books, some debuts, some lesser known authors all in the mix. Now I just have to choose which one to start with… I was umming and ahhing about doing a shadow jury of beardy blogging blokes but I think to try them out as and when the whim takes me might be a better plan of action. So while I decide which one gets read next (I am leaning towards The Bear) which of these books have you read and what did you make of them? Which books are you keen to read? And what do you make of the list overall?

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The Folio Prize Shortlist 2013; What Do We All Think Then?

This afternoon the inaugural Folio Prize, which was the prize that the Folio ‘Academy’ started after the Man Booker was deemed too readable (is that a bad thing really?), unleashed its first ever shortlist and it’s a rather interesting bunch…

  • Red Doc – Anne Carson
  • Schroder – Amity Gaige
  • Last Friends – Jane Gardam
  • Benediction – Kent Haruf
  • The Flamethrowers – Rachel Kushner
  • A Girl is a Half Formed Thing – Eimear McBride
  • A Naked Singularity – Sergio De La Pava
  • Tenth of December – George Saunders

Now amazingly I had heard of all of them bar one, which is Red Doc by Anne Carson and is poetry so would be why it might be off my radar as I am not known for my poetry prowess. Amazingly I have also read one of them, A Girl is a Half Formed Thing is an incredible debut by Eimear McBride (who you can hear talking to me about it on You Wrote The Book) which is unlike any book I have ever read or am likely to read again. It’s a marvel.

The rest of the list I have all heard of. Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers has had a rather mixed response, people either saying it is the best thing ever or saying its completely overrated, I haven’t bothered with it shamefully because I don’t like either of the covers and think it has motorcycling in it which makes me inwardly groan. Maybe I should look into it more? Another book I was sent and didn’t read was Amity Gaige’s Schroder which I have no real reason for not reading, I think the cover (again, sorry) put me off as it looked like it might be a heart breaking tale of a child being abused or a father losing his daughter – no idea why the cover makes me think that but it does. Another to possibly find out more about?

Jane Gardam and George Saunders are two authors I have heard wonderful, wonderful things about and have been meaning to read so I might just get my mitts on those in the next few weeks. I also own two of the other books which I have kept to read at some point. A Naked Singularity I do have on my shelves and am rather fascinated by because no one would publish it for ages, then it did quite well self-published before a small press did and then it exploded. I have held off because it’s HUGE, like mammoth, so maybe a book to take on holiday. Kent Haruf is an author I have heard the most wonderful, wonderful, wonderful things about and have three of his books which make the trilogy that Benediction finished so I am going to dig out Plainsong and read that pronto. I am not sure I will read all three before the winner is announced, but then again I am not sure when that is from all the reports I have read… so maybe I will, ha!

So what are your thoughts on the Folio Prize Shortlist 2014? Do you think it knocks ‘readability’ on its head? Which ones have you read and what did you think? Which should I make sure I read? Any thoughts on who will win? I have fingers crossed for Eimear as I think everyone should read that book! Let me know your thoughts.

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Books of 2013; Part II

Blimey, it is the last day of 2013 and before we know it 2014 will be upon us. I hope you have something lovely planned for your New Years Eve? I will be back home in the Peak District with my Mum, aunties and all their children which will be lovely, we are combining Christmas and New Years all in one so much merriment will ensue I am sure. Anyway time for more of my books of 2013. I am continuing the tradition of the last few years, and my inability to whittle books down as favourites, and so this is the second of my books of the year post. Today I celebrate my top ten books that were published for the first time in the UK this year, yesterday I gave you all a list of ten corking books published prior to this year – do have a gander. So without further ado here are my favourite books published this year…

10. The Crane Wife – Patrick Ness

I absolutely adored ‘The Crane Wife’. It made me cry at the start, possibly at the end and a few time, with laughter, through the middle. It has been a good few weeks since I read the book now and I still find myself pondering what has happened to the characters since, always the sign of a good read, and the writing just blew me away.  Patrick Ness says in this book that “A story forgotten died. A story remembered not only lived, but grew.” I hope this story grows to be a huge success as it certainly deserves to be read and loved.

9. The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil – Stephen Collins

There is one word that sums up the whole reading experience of The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil and that is ‘sublime’. I loved everything about it; the imagery, the atmosphere, the message at its heart, everything. It’s a very moving book and one you cannot help but react to, I even shed a tear or two at the end. There is no doubt that to my mind The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil probably has the best title of any book this year, it also looks set to be one of the most memorable books of the year for its contents too. A quite literally, or maybe that should be quite graphically, stunning book and one of my reads of the year.

8. Maggie & Me – Damian Barr

I really loved ‘Maggie and Me’. I related to it – something that only happens to your very core or bones once or twice in a blue reading moon – and empathised with it. It was the sort of book my younger self was crying out for someone to put in my hands. I can only hope some lovely relatives, librarians, teachers or other influential bods make sure this is passed on to both the younger generation, especially those who call rubbish things ‘gay’, and to everyone they know really. Books like this help make being different both more acceptable and understandable, we need them.

7. Burial Rites – Hannah Kent

There is no question that Hannah Kent has crafted an incredibly beautiful novel with ‘Burial Rites’. It is a book which has a sense of isolation and brooding menace throughout and a book where the prose is as sparse (you feel not a word has been wasted) as the Icelandic landscape it is evoking. It is one of my books of the year without question and one lots of people can expect in their season stockings in a few months time. I strongly suggest you read it.

6. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena – Anthony Marra

‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomena’ is one of those books that Gran would say ‘manages to educate you on something you have little knowledge of’ and ‘makes you walk in a strangers steps, even if the stranger is fictional’. It is a book that isn’t a comfortable read by any stretch of the imagination yet, and I know I am sometimes stuck on repeat when I mention this, I don’t think that fiction should always be neat and comfortable. Sometimes we need brave bold books and authors like this to highlight what is going on or has gone on which we know little about.  Anthony Marra took on a challenge that even an author on their tenth book might not take on and he excels at it. I urge all of you to give this book a try.

5. Alex – Pierre Lemaitre

What Lemaitre actually does with ‘Alex’, which is far more interesting and potent is make you question, as the twists come, what you think is and isn’t morally right and soon this gripping thriller starts to ask so really serious questions of its reader and their ethics. A very clever move indeed, provide a book that makes you think hard about what you might do or what you find to be the ‘right’ thing for someone to do whilst also creating a read which is a complete page turner that has the readers jaw dropping as they go. That is what has made it my thriller of the year so far, it’s genius, and I personally cannot wait for the next one in the Camille series.

4. All The Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

The way Evie weaves all of this together is just masterful. She doesn’t simply go for the route of alternating chapters from Jake’s present and her past, which would be too simple and has been done before. In the present Evie makes the story move forward with Jake from the latest sheep mauling, in the past though we go backwards making the reader have to work at making everything make sense. I had several ‘oh bloody hell that is why she is where she is’ moments with the past storyline before thinking ‘what there is more, that might not be the reason…’ Jakes mistrust of things it seems it catching. This style is a gamble and admittedly initially requires a leap of faith and chapter or two of acclimatizing to the structure, yet it is a gamble which pays of dividends by the end and if you see the end coming, and aren’t left completely jaw droppingly winded by it, then you are a blooming genius. I was honestly blown away.

2= Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

Atkinson is a master of prose in my eyes. I love the way she gives the readers discreet asides and occasional knowing winks. I love her sense of humour, especially when it is at its most wicked and occasionally inappropriate. I think the way her characters come to life is marvellous and the atmosphere in the book, particularly during the strands during World War II and during the London Blitz (though I didn’t think the Hitler parts of the book were needed, even if I loved the brief mention of Unity Mitford) along with the tale of her possible marriage were outstandingly written. There is also the element of family saga, the history of Britain from 1910 onwards and also how the lives of women have changed – all interesting themes which Atkinson deals with throughout.

2 = Magda – Meike Ziervogel

Two of the biggest powers that books can have are to make us think outside our usual periphery or be a spring board to discovering more about subjects we think we know. Some books can do both, they are a rarity though. Magda, the debut novel from Meike Ziervogel, is one such book which gave me both a different outlook on something I thought I had made my mind up about and left me desperate to find out more when challenged. It is the sort of book where I simply want to write ‘you have to read this book’ and leave it at that so you all do, yet it is also one that is designed to be talked about and the questions it raises be discussed.

1. The Language of Dying – Sarah Pinborough

I thought The Language of Dying was a wonderful book for its rawness and emotion. It is a book that I really experienced and one which I am so glad I have read for the cathartic and emotional effects it had on me (I was openly weeping often) and proved that sometimes books are exactly what you need and can show you truths you think no one else quite understands apart from you. I can’t recommend it enough, without question my book of the year.

I have to say I struggled with this list rather a lot. If any of you have listened to the latest episode of The Readers you will have heard me shamelessly cheating as Gavin and I discuss twelve books we are each looking forward to in 2014. So I will here cheat slightly and say that Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go, Charlotte Mendelson’s Almost English, Maggie O’Farrell’s Instructions for a Heatwave, Bernadine Evaristo’s Mr Loverman, and particularly both Deborah Levy’s Black Vodka and Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, could all easily have made the cut. Maybe I should have created a top twenty?

So which of these have you read and loved? What have been your books of 2013? What are you doing for New Years Eve?

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A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing – Eimear McBride

I don’t often wonder if I have got too comfortable in my literary tastes as I tend to think that I am quite eclectic in my choices of genres within fiction, though I am always aware I could really try and read more non-fiction. However when I picked up Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing and began to read I discovered that whilst I might experiment in genre I am not really used to experimenting with prose, or indeed the many forms that a novel can take.

9780957185326

Galley Beggar Press, 2013, paperback, fiction, 240 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

It is not often that as a reader we realistically open a book and are almost instantly thrown by the text. The thing is in reality, the truth of the matter and all that, experimental fiction/literature is much more than what many describe it now; a complex plot, a book of unlikeable narrators or the occasional book written in verse. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is, from the very start a truly experimental piece of literature and one that from the start may put many an avid reader off as it throws you out of sync with what you are used to, I would urge every reader to be a little more adventurous and read on…

For you. You’ll soon. You’ll give her name. In the stitches of her skim she’ll wear your say. Mammy me? Yes you. Bounce the bed, I’d say. I’d say that’s what you did. Then lay you down. They cut you round. Wait and hour and day.

If you are anything like me, the words ‘what the blooming heck is that all about?’ might just have escaped your lips. I couldn’t work out what on earth was being said yet as I read it over and over (I suggest trying about four or five times) there is something lyrical, poetic and fluid about it that I then did the same for the next paragraph, and the next, and the next and slowly the story formed for me of a girl living with her Catholic mother and sick brother, who has a tumour all through his brain like the roots of trees’ and growing up in Ireland in an unnamed place and unspecific time.

McBride places us firmly in her equally unnamed narrators head, this is less someone telling us a story and more a case of just getting the stream of conscious as it forms in her head from the age of two and then leading into her formative years where she learns she can protect her brother from the cruelty of the world quite literally with herself, but in sheltering him from the pain she contains double herself and as we read on the way in which she deals with this is through sex, and preferably sex with violence hiding pain with more pain. She rebels, to put it mildly, yet in a country so religious she also has to deal with the shame, guilt and sin she feels (particularly when she takes her uncle, not by blood, as a lover) and so the cycle and confusion continues. It is confronting writing and a confronting set of subjects, yet has a raw beauty to it.

I met a man. I met a man. I let him throw me round the bed. And smoked, me, spliffs and choked my neck until I said I was dead. I met a man who took me for long walks. Long ones in the country. I offer up. I offer up in the hedge. I met a man I met with her. She and me and his friend to bars at night and drink champagne and bought me chips at every teatime. I met a man with condoms in his pockets. Don’t use them. He loves children in his heart. No. I met a man who knew me once. Who saw me round when I was a child. Who said you’re a fine looking woman now. Who said come back marry me live on my farm. No. I met a man who was a priest I didn’t I did. Just as well as many another one would. I met a man. I met a man.

There is much that I found impressive about this novel. Whilst there is no time specifically set within the book the sense of place and the religious and family traditions of Ireland, and how oppressive that could be depending on your beliefs and family situation, comes through completely. Our narrator is wild and rebellious, initially I found myself thinking ‘good on you’ before soon thinking quite the opposite, she never becomes dislikeable even though she does some rather concerning and dark things. One of the main themes of the book for me was the nature of evil, what been evil really means and why people judge themselves evil. Much food for thought there, in fact throughout the book you are made to question yourself and how you judge or deem her actions, nature or nurture – or lack of the latter?

Having read it I can completely understand why it won the inaugural Goldsmith’s Prize, which celebrates ‘fiction at its most novel’ and I think you would be hard pushed to find another novel this year, or indeed in the last several, that pushes the conventional sense of prose we are all used to. As I said it took me some time to get into it, a few paragraphs were re-read, some read aloud, but once I was in the rhythm of it I had to read it in one big gulp – the author has herself since told me that she recommends people read it fast. You are sure to find yourself speeding up to the climactic ending though as the character seems to unwind and unravel further and further, faster and faster.

I found A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing a book that confused, then compelled and finally confronted me. Not just because of the subject matter but also because it made me rethink the way I read. The abstract sentences and initially rather confusing style start to form a very clear, if quite dark, picture. You just need to reset your brain and allow it to do the work, or working in a different way. This is of course the point of prose after all, it shouldn’t always be spelt out just so and I hugely admire (and thank) Eimear McBride for writing such an original and startling book which will reward intrepid readers out there greatly.

For more on A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing you can hear myself and the author on the latest episode of You Wrote The Book.

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Filed under Books of 2013, Eimear McBride, Galley Beggar Press, Review

Incoming Thoughts…

Be warned this post contains a lot of incoming books, my thoughts on them and a bit of an angry rant. First Note: If you love this sort of post then carry on, if you don’t then hopefully you will be back tomorrow for the return of The Persephone Project. Second Note: I have decided Savidge Reads might be going rogue over the next few months in preparation for 2014, partly brought on by the books I have received and the thinking they have made me do, and a more no nonsense style is required which if you a) scroll quickly down to the bottom of this post before you leave b) reach after looking at a bit of book porn you will spot. Savidge by name*… where was I? Oh yes these incoming book posts.

It is funny how these kinds of posts can divide people. Some people see them as delightful posts of Book Porn and some see them as a blogger or reviewer just showing off. I go both ways with it dependent on the blog. I would assume by now you know which of those camps I am in, if you need to be told it is the Book Porn camp then I suggest you leave and don’t darken my blogs door again. Ha! So who is ready for some bookish nattering…?

So last week I was in London. This was in part to interview the amazing Jennifer Saunders, who I was very nervous of meeting and who was really lovely and I bonded with over psychopaths, for the Christmas special of You Wrote The Book, go to a press event of Penguins (where I met Deborah Levy and had a moment of mutual fandom, very strange but very lovely) as well as going to the Not The Booker event on The Saturday. I decided to make an extended break of it and catch up with friends I had not seen for a while. Naturally one place I had to go was Persephone Books to see Nicola Beauman, its founder, who I have been writing to for the last year or so since The Persephone Project started. We had a lovely cup of coffee chatted about books old and new and I was even allowed into the printing room (with a sneaky peak at one of their possible future books) and down into the Persephone cellar where the damaged books live. I didn’t leave empty handed…

photo 2 (2)Now the picture here —> actually is missing a book as I left having bought almost as many books as I was given… I decided as a thank you to my lovely friend Catherine who let me stay she simply had to have a lovely new copy of ‘The Shuttle’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett, my favourite Persephone so far as it has a sensational feel, whilst I saved one from the damaged shelves. I also saved a copy of ‘Julian Grenfell’ by Nicholas Mosley as it is the next Persephone I don’t have, well apart from ‘Few Eggs and No Oranges’ by Vere Hodgson (Persephone’s biggest book so far) which I bought a pristine copy of as a treat along with the one for Catherine. The final one I left with was ‘The Mystery of Mrs Blencarrow’ by Mrs Oliphant which Nicola insisted I take as it has a lot of Liverpool in it. She was far too kind and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

photo 5There is something so special about smaller publishers, like Persephone, and how they go the extra mile to make their books look even more appealing as well as having a certain uniformed identity. Between all the Not The Booker chatter this is something I had been talking to Sam Jordison (the chair of the inaugural judging panel) about along with the fact that I was beginning to get this real urge to go rogue and off the bloggish beaten track and read some more undiscovered or off the radar gems. He introduced me to Galley Beggar, a publishing house he co-founded which I had no idea about till then (sorry Sam) and promptly delivered me with two of their latest titles; ‘A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing’ by Eimear McBride and ‘Everlasting Lane’ by Andrew Lovett. Aren’t these gorgeous editions, I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but we all do. I am now very excited about discovering both a new publishing house and two new to me authors. If you fancy reading books a little of the bookish path I thought you might like to know these guys are about.

I did leave London with a few more books than that but they aren’t out till 2014, something which I am actually going to talk more about next week. I can say that I think 2013 has been a bit of a safe year in publishing (that will get me emails, sorry but its true – some lovely books have come out, only one or two of which have made me think ‘wow original’ or blown my socks off) though from the looks of things 2014 is looking really, really, really exciting – especially for more off the road novels. photo 3Anyway one additional book I got —> ‘My Brother Jack’ by George Johnston is extra special as it was from Kim of Reading Matters and had come all the way from Australia and is one of her very favourite books. No pressure on me to like it then, ha! I was really touched when we meet for a few pints, and a whole lot of chatter, and she whipped this out as I wasn’t expecting it. Odd but delightful fact, I had taken a load of proofs for her from Penguin yet neither of us had told the other we had treats. Lovely stuff.

Finally, when I got back from London I discovered the postman had had some arduous labour whilst I had been away as there were a lot of books awaiting me. Why mention these too? Well I have started doing something new. When books come in the following happens…

  • If I have asked for it, and I maybe ask for two or three books a month if that (just to clarify), then of course they go straight onto a special set of shelves for reading ASAP – with a little ‘when the mood takes me’ thrown in.
  • If it is for work it goes on another shelf. Almost a high priority one as I need to separate these for fear of going mad.
  • If they are unsolicited I now read the blurb (which I never used to do) and the opening page and then if I think the book is a must read or a must try it stays…
  • If I don’t it goes.

photo 5 (2)For extra clarity, the ones pictured have stayed or are work books and the only ones I asked for were Ciaran Collins ‘The Gamal’; because it is a bit off the beaten track and five people I trust have told me I must read it, ‘Mr Loverman’ by Bernadine Evaristo; because they ran out of proofs at the Penguin bloggers night way back in February and I waited for the paperback, ‘The Woman in Black: Angel of Death’ by Martyn Waites; for obvious reasons that I am obsessed with the Woman in Black and am interviewing Susan Hill soon and want to discuss this with her. Blimey that is a lot of books isn’t it?

You can see why I am going to be having a small cull when the final shreds of this lurgy have passed. I have clarified this all for you more than I normally would because of this…

*Just to underline something. I have blogged for six years and do this free of charge simply for the love. Six years, not six months. Secondly I work freelance on several book pages in several magazines. Thirdly I created a book prize because I love books. Fourthly I make three podcasts free of charge discussing books with other co-hosts or the authors of said books. These are the reasons I have built up delightful relationships with publishers and they send me books, many unsolicited. This has all come through passion, dedication and hard work, leading to a good presence. I do not condone the new attitude of constant ‘book blagging’ – publishers give books out where they want to – but when I hear that a blogger or two have been slating me to several  publishers for getting sent ‘too many books’ and yet also telling some publishers that I said they could ask for books I have to address it. Naturally I am very upset to have heard about this and felt it needed addressing as it has put me in a very awkward position in the last few days.

Right, issue addressed, back to the lovely books and your thoughts… Which of these have you read or fancy reading? What is your favourite Persephone Book? What was the last book you gave to a friend? What books have caught your eye lately? What have you bought, borrowed or been sent of late?

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Filed under Random Savidgeness