A quick post which I thought those of you in the UK, or those of you who might be in the UK on May the 13th might be interested in, as I know I would if I wasn’t due to be in hospital at the time. You could be one of the lucky few people to get to go into the archives of one of the UK’s oldest publishing houses Faber and Faber as part of the Museums at Night initiative. This is a wonderful opportunity for those of you who love books so I wanted to share it.
How can you get to wander this fascinating area (in fact I am so jealous the more I think about it) and discover delights like original Sylvia Plath notes etc? Well all you need to do is pop to the competition site and enter. It’s that simple. Good look, and if one of you wins could you share the experience with us all, ooh or even do a guest post on Savidge Reads? Lovely stuff.
We all have to admit that we can guilty of buying books for their covers, I know I am. My latest read Twilight by William Gay was one, though bizarrely when I used to work next door to the TLS (it was lethal they gave us free books weekly, in fact I blame this particular period as being the route of my never ending TBR piles) a review copy with the hardback cover crossed my path and I thought it looked cheap, dreary and generally dreadful and never thought I would read it. The lesson it seems to have taught me, though isn’t actually the rule, is never judge a hardback by a bad cover and always judge a paperback by a good cover. Doesn’t that equate to just buy any book you can get your hands on though?
Twilight is a dark and twisted tale set in America’s Deep South. It starts with a brother and sister, Kenneth and Corrie Tyler, digging up the grave of their father. Why on earth would they be doing such a thing? They are suspicious, though you are never quite sure why, that his burial wasn’t as it should have been and when they find they are right (I will cut out the details for the faint of heart) and when they open more graves they realise that local undertaker Fenton Breece is up to no good and so they feel that they should bring him to justice. When Kenneth steals Fenton’s briefcase and finds some very disturbing and very incriminating photos of the undertaker and the dead they have all they need for a case of blackmail, only when Fenton hires the towns local convicted murderer to take back the evidence and get rid of the siblings things take a very nasty turn and Kenneth and Corrie are on the run through the wastelands.
I thought this book was marvellous and though it is incredibly heavy on plot at no point does the author let this take the attention or detail away from the prose or from the characters like many novels do. The book is essentially about evil people and the darkness within us all and with a character like Fenton Breece I didn’t think you could get much darker or disturbed and then you are introduced to an even more dangerous psychopath in the form of Granville Sutter a character that is incredibly vivid and I wont forget in a hurry, he is the type to give you nightmares. Yet both of these dark and dangerous characters are very different.
I also thought the landscapes created by William Gay were just wonderful, I have never been to the Deep South but as the book takes chase through defunct mines, ghost towns and abandoned mansions I felt I was actually there and being hunted and only able to rely on the strange inhabitants of those parts. It took me on a journey that truly captivated me and also had me on the edge of seat, a brilliant, brilliant novel.
Looking at some reviews and on a certain encyclopaedic site I was interested to learn of a new genre of fiction I have never heard of and which apparently this is a very good example of. Has anyone else heard of the term ‘Southern Gothic’ and where can I get my hands on more of this sort of stuff. If its like this and also like some of Cormac McCarthy’s work which interestingly William Gay has been criticised for, and I could see shades of No Country for Old Men in this (only because of the psycho in the Deep South part), then I really need to read more of this genre. It could be something to look into in the New Year after the sensation season is through. What Southern Gothic could you recommend? Have you read any William Gay and if so was it this good?
What I genuinely love about book groups is that you end up reading fiction that you would possibly not normally read or even have ever heard of. One such book for me would be this month’s book group choice of Armen’s which was ‘Voice Over’ by Celine Curiol. I hadn’t heard of it or the author before, but then this is her debut novel and it has only recently be translated from French. Having now read it I am so unimpressed that I was not able to sit with the group last night and chat about it (well apart from the fact I am in Israel as you read this) because I would so love to hear other peoples opinions on this book and have a really good discussion about it because its one of those books you could discuss for quite some time.
Voice Over is told by a nameless female narrator, who also happens to be one of the most complex interesting and infuriating characters I have read in a very, very long time. She (its difficult to review a book where two of the main characters are nameless) works at the Gare Du Nord in Paris as the woman who announces the arrivals and departures of the trains. She is also an observer watching people as they go about their daily lives. She is also in love with a man, only the object of her affection is in love with another Ange. One night at a party the nameless pair kiss and from then on what was her love for this man becomes something along the lines of obsession.
However the man in question won’t be with her (though this slightly changes as the story progresses – will say no more), doesn’t call her very often and stays with Ange our narrator ends up in a depressive dangerous state, announcing she is ‘a prostitute’ at one of Ange’s parties, and then getting herself involved in some dangerous and dark situations because it seems she cant say no. A character that seems to draw drama to her and yet all at once a character who doesn’t value herself and so lets situations lead her rather than leading her own life.
Paris and its people are also big parts of the book. As I mentioned the main character is an observer and so you watch Parisian life, though admittedly through a slightly unpredictable and untrustworthy narrators eyes, and it bring up interesting subjects like the racial issues in Paris, the issues of jobs and the cost of life out there. However if you judged Paris on this book you would also think every man is a sex maniac as she appears to be propositioned at every turn endlessly just in the space of the few months we are in her life.
Sex is also high on the agenda and looks at people’s sexual habits and other peoples reactions to sex, it’s a very interesting look at humans and I personally like books like that, so if you do it will be the book for you. Though be forewarned there were moments on occasion where it made me want to throw it down in anger/frustration. How could the narrator be so naïve, I am not sure she really was, or stupid or feel so worthless to be in the positions she was? I found it ironic, and maybe this was the point, that a woman who did the voice over’s for the people in a station seemed very unable to find a voice herself. Finding a voice is not something the author Celine Curiol needs to worry about, her writing is taught, provocative, emotional, evocative and thought provoking all in a debut. I look forward to more of her works.
All these things made it such a great book to discuss, so as I said I am slightly miffed I haven’t been able to. Hopefully though some of you will have read it and will be able to let me know your thoughts! I would also love to know of any other great French fiction out there that I might have missed out on? What book group books have you read that you wouldn’t normally have done?
So last night was Book Group which I shall report back on in more detail in a blog below this one later. ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath was the book up for discussion, a book that I have always been intrigued in reading but haven’t ever picked up. Bizarrely I now have two copies as though I had a copy of Faber’s re-issue I then saw a fabulous psychedelic 60’s copy and grabbed it as it looked so special. Enough of the outside though, what did I think of what the delightful cover’s contained?
‘The Bell Jar’ was and is Sylvia Plath’s one and only novel. Published in 1963 a few months before she committed suicide though no one actually knows when she wrote it. This is the tale of Esther Greenwood, a young woman who seems to have it all, a debutant in New York taken on as an intern into the world of fashion media from the American country side and how this leads to some sort of breakdown.
The book is definitely one of two halves. The first in the busy and hectic setting of 1950’s New York where pretty much whatever Esther could want she is able to get. Her life evolves around freebies, lunches (one ending in a hilarious taxi ride and bathroom encounter of debutant food poisoning and its effects), parties and meeting strange and fascinating men. You would think this would be every young woman’s dream and indeed Esther once did though by the time we meet her it’s clear the shine has worn off. Everything is routine and alongside Doreen she starts to rebel, when this doesn’t work she simply counts down the days till she can be home writing and waiting for her scholarship to start.
The second part of the book is set ‘back home’ after the city life Esther finds herself more unhappy and once she is told (by her hopeless mother) that she no longer has a scholarship her dreams of writing are shattered and from this point on we watch as Esther methodically plans killing herself.
I had always thought that ‘The Bell Jar’ was an oppressive novel which may by the end leave you as depressed as the narrator. I didn’t find it so. Yes it’s incredibly dark, there is no mistaking that, but some of it is incredibly witty. I had no idea there would be so much humour in this book. Though I wouldn’t want her as a friend I loved Esther’s voice. Her opinions on everything, though she only ever has them internally, are incredibly observant and dry. I actually laughed out loud when she see’s her ‘forced’ beau naked and lets us know just what she thinks of that sight. One minute she is magnificently manipulative and cunning, the next she is naïve hopeless and childlike and always strangely likeable and irritating in one.
Is it autobiographical? I don’t think we will ever know how can we? I do in a way wish there was more of Plath’s fiction as I would definitely be an avid reader. I must admit as I am not the biggest fan of poetry I have never read her poems but I am definitely going to give them a go.
I am really pleased to have read it finally, so pleased that both editions are now firmly ensconced on my bookshelves. I think its one of those books where if you haven’t read it then ‘you always mean to read it’, do you know what I mean? So what about all of you out there, what do you think of ‘The Bell Jar’?
I am feeling very lucky this morning as yesterday when I came home there was a rather large parcel awaiting me in the hallway, now I dont know about you but I get really excited when any new parcels pop through the door so I couldnt hold on and simply tore it open in the kitchen. I was greeted by a delightful set/series of books from the lovely people at Faber & Faber
The Faber Firsts (And A Pineapple - I Opened Them Hurridly In My Kitchen - Apologies)
Now from my rubbish picture (please ignore the pineapple – it was a hurried opening in my kitchen like I said) you cant really see what arrived. It was the ‘Faber Firsts’ which is a selection of ten books republished specially by Faber to mark their 80th Anniversary (oddly I met a book cover designer from Faber at a party a while back, he did the Molly Fox cover) and they have published ten of the first books by some of Fabers most popular writers in the last 80 years. These are…
- The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath (which I think has the most stunning cover)
- Lord of the Flies – William Golding
- Cover Her Face – P.D James
- The Barracks – John McGarhern
- The White Castle – Orhan Pamuk
- A Pale View of Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro
- The Buddha of Suburbia – Hanif Kureshi
- Bliss – Peter Carey
- The New York Trilogy – Paul Auster
- Such a Long Journey – Rohinton Mistry
I have to admit I havent read a single one of these which is most shocking, so really I dont quite know where to start! Any suggestions? Now before you get suggesting bear in mind something rather fabulous that Faber & Faber have offered to do!
As you know I am setting up the Book Group with the lovely Kim from Reading Matters/Kimbofo which I am hoping some of you will be attending and as I am choosing the first book (see the Book Group part of the site for more) if it happens to be a Faber book then Faber will send a copy of the book for every single member of the group to read – for free!!!! Now there will be a condition that you need to attend the book group to get it but more on that on the Book Group page nearer the time.
Now where where we? Oh yes… which books would you recommend, where should I start?
I think I must be one of the last people in the book blogging world to have read this book. Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture is a book that seems to come highly commended by almost every review and every blogger that’s read it so far. It has also won the Costa Book of the Year and was Shortlisted for the Man Booker. I always worry when a book has such glowing recommendations that it might fall completely flat with me and not only will I be the last person at the party, I will be the one that turns up in fancy dress whilst everyone else hasn’t. With this book I have to agree with the consensus that it is indeed an amazing novel.
The Secret Scripture is told in two narratives. The first is of Roseanne McNulty a woman nearing her 100th birthday in Roscommon Mental Hospital where she has been since she was a young woman. The hospital itself is being closed and her doctor, the second narrator of the tale, Dr Grene is looking at everyone’s case notes before he can recommend who should be moved to Roscommon Mental Hospitals replacement. In doing so he finds that in the crumbling institute her records have been destroyed and used by mice to make nests and so he has no idea why she was committed. Meanwhile Roseanne herself is looking back at her past and as the two both make their separate journals Roseanne’s story is revealed by both parties and uncovers deeply buried secrets.
These two characters make wonderful narrators as they are so different. Roseanne writes from her memory which might not be as reliable as it could be as she is writing over sixty years after the events and some of it is seen through her eyes as a child. Dr Grene is writing his account as his marriage is under terrible strain very much in the now and he seems to be close to some kind of breakdown often questioning if he should be a doctor at all. They are incredibly different characters and yet a bond is drawn between them even though they are wary of each other. They are wonderful flawed characters and in summing them up the best way possible I will use the thoughts they have of each other. Dr Grene see’s Roseanne as “a formidable person and though long periods have gone by when I have not seen her, or only tangentially, I am always aware of her”, Roseanne sees him as “a brilliant man. He looks like a ferret, but no matter. Any man that can talk about old Greeks and Romans is a man after my father’s heart.”
Through Roseanne’s story Sebastian Barry tells us of Ireland’s history. He also looks at the way that religion divided the country and people and how awful things came from peoples differing beliefs. He also looks at the history of asylums and how people could be committed, I shall not say more than that as I don’t want to give anything away about this book as if you haven’t read it what are you waiting for? If you needed anymore reasons as to why you should read this book, apart from a wonderful story, intelligent plotting, intrigue and great characters, there is also the prose which is absolutely beautiful. It seems like every single sentence as been thought through and every word made to count. I don’t think I can sell this book anymore than that really.
Now this book has made me realise that I might need to sort out my ‘Best Books of 2009’ tags as I though I have read some truly cracking reads I might be being a bit to tag happy. It takes certain books to blow you away somewhat and though these moments happen to us with different reads it seems that with The Secret Scripture it seems to have happened an awful lot with a lot of people. Sometimes with works like this turning the final page is something you feel sad about as you wanted to keep reading it endlessly.
I would normally do my Richard and Judy review on a wednesday as I take part in the challenge I have set myself but I might start doing these on Thursdays from now on, mind you then I would miss Booking Through Thursdays which in itself would be problematic… well will work that out tomorrow. Finally for today here is the review of Pilcrow which I have been mentioning to everyone I have been reading for ages!
I had to give myself a little break from Pilcrow (I finished it on Sunday) before I could review it so that I could take it all in and let it digest. Adam Mars-Jones has been heralded for some time as one of the best writers by Granta and other such places… before he had even written his first novel, so Pilcrow had a lot to live up to before it was even published and released, it manages to live up to and beyond expectations. The book deals with so much its difficult to sum it up in a review of any length but I shall do my best for you all.
John Cromer is the unusual and fantastic narrator starting around the age of five when doctors diagnose him with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis leading to him having several years of bed rest. From there we are given the often hilarious thoughts and theories that John has as a young boy growing up in the 1950’s. From what he thinks happens in the outside world which he hasn’t seen much of to his mother’s obsession with breeding budgies and cockatiels. It also gives us the underlying insight into marriages and society in that period from things that Johns mother (who is a brilliant gossip) says that we the reader can understand and piece together even if the narrator is too young and doesn’t himself. It also looks at a child’s idea of what life is like to be stuck in that environment in that time and how he feels at the prospect of it being forever.
However it isn’t forever as during a visit to the dentists his mother reads a piece on the misdiagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis and Still’s disease of which John is discovered to have the latter and the one thing you should have if you have Stills disease is bed rest leaving him with lasting disabilities. This part of the book is quite heart breaking as the family cope with the fact what they have been doing is wrong and that now more damage to John has been done to him physically when he and his family believed he was being made better. This then becomes some of the most interesting part of the book as he learns to deal with unsympathetic nurses, other children (two girls of which are hilarious evil tyrants), the workings of his ‘taily’, a murderess on the loose, and the fact that he likes boys. All these subjects are discussed through a child’s eyes which I don’t always like in novels, however here it works as the reader you can draw more adult connotations and hints from everything John sees and tells you. I just loved the black and white view of a child’s and particularly in the circumstances and era that this novel is set, and also in terms of discussing growing up, sexuality and disability.
Adam Mars-Jones has done something quite magnificent with this novel. Every character has depth even if they only appear very briefly, be they a concerned doctor, interfering Grandmother, abusive nurse or 6 year old tyrant and child eater they are dealt with in a real way. He also writes with humour this could easily have been a very heavy and hard going novel. Through Johns observations, bluntness and the scenarios he gets himself into there is tragedy but also some incredibly funny scenes.
The hardest aspect of the book, which isn’t actually that difficult, is the fact it isn’t totally linear and can sometimes jump a long way forward or not too far back, you never loose where you are though and by the end I was slowing down not wanting the final page to be turned. The good news is that this is the first in a trilogy, so I will be getting to hear more about John and his life in the future. That is where the book and its author have triumphed I think John is one of the best characters I have read in a very long time and like the blurb says ‘He’s the weakest hero in fiction – unless he is one of the strongest’. This is a must read book and I hope will get a nod in some of the awards as they come. I think everyone should give this a go as its remarkable and extremely individual. I can’t imagine anyone disliking this book as its so rewarding in so many ways. 5/5.
Another book that has been on my TBR for absolutely ages and yet I have not gotten round to reading. The translation of Taichi Yamada’s ‘Strangers’ is a beautifully sparse ghost story that wasn’t what I was expecting at all.
Middle aged, uninspired and divorced Harada has just moved into a new building complex. Strangely hardly anyone else has instead using it mainly for office space leaving him and one other person in the building during the nights. The other permanent tenant is Can Kei a strange woman who screams of mystery and seems highly depressed and hiding a huge scar.
One day Harada is watching comedy whiling away the hours he can’t script write when he sees his father, who has been dead for years. Soon enough they strike up conversation and before he knows it he is eating dinner inside a flat his dead parents are living in, they haven’t aged they look just like they did when they died. This reappearance soon starts to affect his health and the life seems to be being drained from him, but being such a loner who can help, can the strange loner Can Kei possibly be the one to save his soul?
I have to say I really enjoy Chinese and Japanese fiction and this though a slightly slow starter became a gripping and quite dark and frightening novel with an ending that I wouldn’t have guessed in a million years… well I might have. If you like films like ‘The Ring’ then this thriller meets ghost story should be right up your street. A great short satisfying modern ghost story.
So after the massive ‘Empire Falls’ that felt like the epic it was I was in the mood for something much more me and I have been waiting to read this Richard & Judy read for ages. I mean for a start its filled with things that I am fascinated in; the 1800’s, anatomy, grave diggers, gothic darkness. Why then would I have had this book last year (when I worked next door to TLS) and have swapped it? I think, despite the last cover being much more gothic, the blurb is better on this one and actually says what its about without being so cryptic, and of course being a R&J book its been much hyped and its story more profound.
We are in 1826 and after the lessening of hangings (this isn’t explained I just know this) bodies of the dead are much harder to come by, gone are the days where you had endless amounts at your disposal, now has come a time of grave robbing. Gabriel Swift has come to London to be the apprentice of the well renowned anatomist Edwin Poll. He finds himself enemy of another member of the household and drawn to Polls nemesis Lucan one of the most famous of the resurrectionist’s. Swift is forced into a darker world when dismissed by Poll and at Lucan’s side takes a journey that will change him forever.
Sounds great doesn’t it? Well after page 150 to about 250 it is brilliant. The start of the book however is decidedly slow, there is a gruesome opening chapter looking at the aspects of anatomy and dead bodies but our protagonist doesn’t actually feature properly in the book until chapter three. What’s more two things are never explained with Swift. The first is how he ends up in London and with Poll exactly, yes his father dies (the blurb says his father had tragic failures, you don’t ever know what these are) and he gains a new guardian but somehow it didn’t make sense. Secondly why is Swifts decent into the darker more living hell (yes I know it makes a great story) so sudden and actually why does it happen? Yes he makes one enemy, but why does he not have the balls to let him take the rap and why do his friends not stick up for him?
His friends however are sort of colleagues, and there are so many of them with such similar names I completely got thrown and couldn’t remember who was who or how they knew him. There was no background to the story and that made me wonder if there was in the authors mind. There’s a particularly contrived love story between swift and an ‘actress’ who stereotypically also ends up being a ‘woman of the night’, I found myself thinking ‘if she can get money for sleeping with many men why is she bedding this cretin for free?’ That was the books biggest problem I didn’t like Swift, he had no real character, no real reason for being evil, and not in a sick ‘I love being evil just for being evil’ way. He was one dimensional. You could say that a grave robber can’t be a nice character, it was money, I am sure they had reasons.
With an ending in colonial Australia (I am not saying why) I think James Bradley had two books he wanted to write. One was the tale of gothic dark London, grave diggers and horror (this was gruesome but not scary) the other was society in Australia based on criminals or people with ‘history’ these should have been two separate stories and not forced into one that had no backdrop or back bone. I never felt I was in London with the characters, which was a huge problem that would have been brilliant. If this book was snatched and anatomised you sadly wouldn’t find a heart.
I have just put this down. I wasn’t sure to start with that I was going to like this, however its one of Mum’s favourites and its also been on my TBR pile for far too long and I planned to read it a few weeks ago and read ‘Underground’ by Tobias Hill instead… big mistake, well sort of. ‘Spies’ from the title I thought was going to be Michael Frayn’s massive Second World War espionage tale, what I found was indeed intriguing and wonderful but I need to learn not just to judge a book by its cover but also by its title.
‘Spies’ starts with an old man heading back to his youth where he tells the tale of Keith and Stephen, two friends who live on ‘the close’ during the Second World War. It took me a while to realise that he is Stephen as he speaks about himself as another person in some parts and as ‘I’ in others, I found this slightly off putting and confusing at first but once you get that in your head the book is much easier to follow and you can get into and concentrate on the story, and what a story it is.
The Second World War seems to have not affected the boys, bar one of the neighbours houses being wiped off the street by a wayward bomb, that is until one day Keith announces that his mother ‘is a German spy’ and things change, at first Stephen isn’t sure as Keith has already announced that one of the neighbours is a murderer (though they do find bones in his garden) however they decide to watch her and see what happens. What starts as a child’s game becomes anything but, and as these young boys become young men things start to change all around them, and hard lessons must be learnt.
Frayn writes this novel brilliantly, you’re hooked by the story and Frayn weaves in more clues and red herrings as you go. He also writes brilliant characters, Keith’s parents are done wonderfully, she the nice seeming woman and he the frightening dictator which of course affects Keith’s character. Stephen who the story bases around is real, he makes huge mistakes, can be a coward but can also be very brave. There is also the brilliant character of Barbara the annoying girl next door who is interfering but also used wonderfully to describe how boys and girls feel about each other at awkward ages.
This is a brilliant book that yes does have a mystery ‘spy’ story to it but also is a story that is told brilliantly from a child’s perspective, and deals with becoming an adult, adult’s secrets, the War and things that go one behind closed doors and all in less than 250 pages, a real accomplished book. I would recommend this to everyone; mind you everyone has probably already read it.
I think any book after ‘Everything Is Sinister’ was going to be something hard to follow. While I am still reading (slowly to totally enjoy the book) ‘The Mitford’s Letters Between Six Sisters’ I wanted another dark book, and Tobias Hill’s debut ‘Underground’ seemed the perfect choice a tale of the London Underground, the disused stations and a murderer who is pushing women under trains. It sounded grim, dark and a real page turner. Not quite so.
Tobias Hill has a great writing style and had I been in the mood for a tale that did indeed have a sort of mystery in the tunnels of the London Underground but was much more about a young mans childhood in Poland then this would have been a great read, I wanted a thriller, I wanted crime and sadly I didn’t really get it. In Hill’s favour I have to say that the suspense of the climax of the whole book was brilliant, sadly it just came 200 pages late. This is not a bad book, but thanks to its publishers it’s a misleading book.
There is not a string of murders, there are two pushes and that’s that. Casimir is a worker on the underground who randomly falls for a girl who he sees on the tube and then finds lives in a disused station and just happens to like him back and want top have sex with him after meeting him for 50 minutes or so. Riiiiiiiiiggggghhhtttt. How is she connected to the killings is she the killer? I think these were the questions I was meant to ask however I just thought ‘what?’ and then got very bored with her and him. The alternating chapters were the tale of Casimir’s childhood in Poland, this was more interesting but not what I wanted from a book, if I had this would have been the redeeming factor of the book.
This book is the perfect book to point out the issue I have with some books blurbs, especially when they lie. This is another case of the blurb mot telling the truth, its not the books fault, its not the authors fault and yet it makes me annoyed and puts me off both, why don’t publishers tell the truth? For example this blurb was “On the London Underground, someone is pushing women under trains. In his search for the killer, Casimir, a Tube worker, is led even deeper into a labyrinth of long-forgotten passages and deep shelters – and into the terrible secrets of his own childhood.”
I will highlight in italics what they should have added “On the London Underground, someone is pushing women under trains (well someone seems to have been pushed and then someone else does it’s a bit vague). In his search for the killer (well in accidentally hearing and seeing things he shouldn’t and then becoming slightly obsessed), Casimir, a Tube worker, is led (well once or twice) even deeper into a labyrinth of long-forgotten passages and deep shelters (and also becomes obsessed with a girl he randomly sees on a tube and then finds coincidentally lives in a disused station where she is only too happy to sleep with him after very few introductions)– and into the terrible secrets of his own childhood (which dominates the book and should actually be the main theme of the blurb.”
A shame, the right blurb which would have lead to the right timing and right mid set I think I could have really liked this book.