Tag Archives: Grace McCleen

The Offering – Grace McCleen

Many of you may know, as being so excited I mentioned it a few times, I had the joy of judging Fiction Uncovered earlier this year. Over the next few weeks (and indeed last three weeks) I will be (and have been) sharing my thoughts with you on the winners, one per week. This week it is Grace McCleen’s strange, alluring and unsettling novel The Offering an insightful and disturbing novel of madness.

Sceptre Books, paperback, 2015, fiction, 264 pages, kindly submitted by the publisher for Fiction Uncovered

There has been a great deal of talk here recently about an event concerning myself and Dr Lucas, which took place from what I can gather in the Platnauer Room some two weeks ago. I presently find myself in the quiet room while Dr Hudson, who has taken over my care in Dr Lucas’s absence, devises an appropriate plan. I said to Dr Hudson: ‘I do hope that whatever happened will not prevent my release from Letham Park, something Dr Lucas talked about on many occasions.’
That was when Dr Hudson stared at me.

I am a huge fan of books which hook you in with a mystery from the start. Grace McCleen’s third novel The Offering does just that as within a few paragraphs we know that something has happened between Madeline and her previous Dr Lucas, we know it is bad, we just have no idea what it is or how bad it might be. We’re instantly interested and intrigued. This ratchets up a notch when we discover that Madeline is not in a hospital but an asylum where she is now in isolation, it ratchets up again when we discover she has been there for twenty years since she was discovered walking along a road with amnesia. We now of course not only feel the need to know about the incident with Dr Lucas, we are also desperate to discover what happened in her childhood despite the very early sense that this is not going to be a comfortable discovery.

I don’t want to say much more about the premise because this is one of those books that needs to be read and discovered rather than have anything given away. I can say that as the book goes on McCleen makes it as gothic, twisty and strange as you would hope from a novel of this kind. It has something of the ‘sensation novel’ about it yet cleverly you cannot work out for the life of you when it is set, there are cars but that is as much as we know adding a slight dreamlike or nightmarish feel as and when Madeline goes through highs and lows. It also interestingly made me occasionally feel slightly disorientated, never lost or confused, as if I had been sedated as Madeline often is – having been sedated (I wasn’t in an asylum) it brought that strange sense of being slightly distant and at odds with everything, yet feel fairly compos mentis, right back.

‘Who are you?’ my father said.
‘Who are you?’ the man replied, and his milky gaze passed over all three of us.
‘We’re just looking around,’ my father said, after a moment.
‘Ah, you’re the new folk moving in,’ said the fellow. ‘He’ll not like it, I can tell you. He won’t like it a bit.’
‘What are you talking about?’ my father said.
‘Him who was here before!’
I caught a whiff of urine on the afternoon breeze, sweet, acrid, animal.
‘The place hasn’t been occupied for years,’ my father said.
‘That’s right,’ said the man. ‘But he’s still here, he’ll never leave!’

As Madeline is forced to look back at her past, no spoilers I promise, she is forced to look at her memories and work out what she remembers right, what she misremembers and what she remembers yet may have misinterpreted. This is something that it is fairly hard for us to do at the best of times, come on can you remember what you were doing on this date exactly twenty years ago, it gets all the more complicated when part of your brain is trying to repress or hide things as a way of self preservation or denial. The Offering  also takes a very blunt and direct look at how we deal with people with mental illness and particularly the questions around treatment and medicines and if they help or hinder leaving the reader to decide for themselves.

If I am making this book sound really dark, intense, creepy and a bit gloomy that is because it is and unapologetically so, yet McCleen doesn’t make this relentless. There are moments of great joy in Madeline’s past as her parents and her find a new home that have that almost golden sheen that you have of particular moments. (I say that though actually I have no memories before the age of ten due to something that happened in my childhood, but moments after that that instantly make me happy have that glow.) She also finds, if slightly darkly or bitter sweetly, moments of humour while Madeline is in the asylum which will make you laugh and then make you feel sorry for those involved.

Today began as a particularly dreary one here at Letham Park, the sun hidden behind banks of cloud, neither cold nor hot, dark nor light. Eugene wet himself; Pam ate clay and had to have her stomach pumped; Margaret taught me a new stitch; Robyn’s parents arrived to take her out for the day; Alice made Mary cry; nothing out of the ordinary at all.

I have often said on the blog that comedy when written well can be a powerful device to highlight the dark and almost create a heightened emotive response which is how McCleen uses it with much effect. Her writing though is marvellous throughout; the plot is tightly twisted and slowly revealed, the book feels uneasy and disorientating yet never confusing, the atmospheres are rife and while the setting and time are an enigma the sense of place and the landscapes appear vividly in your mind. The Offering is quite unlike anything I have read in some time, I recommend you give it a whirl.

Have any of you read The Offering and if so what did you make of it? Have you read either of Grace’s previous novels, and if so what were your thoughts? I have her debut The Land of Decoration on the TBR as I will definitely be reading more of Grace’s novels.

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And The Fiction Uncovered Winners 2015 Are…

I am thrilled to announce that after many weeks of wonderful reading and re-reading, some brilliant debate and lots of laughter with three other judges who are all stars (India Knight, Matthew Bates and Cathy Galvin) and now some of my new favourite bookish chums, we have chosen the eight winners of Fiction Uncovered 2015. They are…

  • The Incarnations – Susan Barker (Transworld)
  • The Redemption of Galen Pike – Carys Davies (Salt)
  • The Offering – Grace McCleen (Sceptre)
  • Significance – Jo Mazelis (Seren Books)
  • Mother Island – Bethan Roberts (Chatto & Windus)
  • A Man Lies Dreaming – Lavie Tidhar (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Animals – Emma Jane Unsworth (Canongate Books)
  • Mobile Library – David Whitehouse (Picador)

To whittle them down from fifteen marvellous books was no easy feat at all, it took quite a few hours of pleading, threats, swearing and it all kicking off – okay I am joking, it did take several hours of debate and was much, much harder than I anticipated. The eight books are corkers from a very strong longlist. To find out more about the books and the authors do head over to the Fiction Uncovered website here as I am off for a celebratory sherry or three. I will be reviewing the winners and the longlist in due course though…

You might think that was it now, no more Fiction Uncovered 2015 for me, but you’d be wrong. There’s events being planned for the books and authors over the summer which will be announced in due course. More imminently, in fact this Sunday, there will be Fiction Uncovered FM taking over your speakers on Resonance FM from 12pm – 5pm, guess who they have gone and asked to co-host? So if you want a wonderful five hours of book chat co-hosted by a slightly rogue Savidge DJ then tune into that. In the meantime what do you make of our list of the final eight; which have you read, what did you think and which are you going to read? Obviously the correct answer is all of them!

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The Fiction Uncovered Longlist 2015

I am thrilled, because this is the first time they have done it and I have keeping it secret for a few weeks, to be able to share with you the Fiction Uncovered Longlist 2015. After what has been a good few months of ‘extreme reading’ here are fifteen books that we judges (Matt Bates, Cathy Galvin and myself chaired by India Knight) are all very keen that you go and read, right now…

  • The Incarnations – Susan Barker (Transworld)
  • The Stray American – Wendy Brandmark (Holland Park Press)
  • The Redemption of Galen Pike – Carys Davies (Salt)
  • Dear Thief – Samantha Harvey (Jonathan Cape)
  • Wittgenstein Jr – Lars Iyer (Melville House UK)
  • The Way Out – Vicki Jarrett (Freight)
  • The Offering – Grace McCleen (Sceptre)
  • The Spice Box Letters – Eve Makis (Parthian Books)
  • Significance – Jo Mazelis (Seren Books)
  • Beastings – Benjamin Myers (Bluemoose Books)
  • The Four Marys – Jean Rafferty (Saraband)
  • Mother Island – Bethan Roberts (Chatto & Windus)
  • A Man Lies Dreaming – Lavie Tidhar (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Animals – Emma Jane Unsworth (Canongate Books)
  • Mobile Library – David Whitehouse (Picador)

Indis has said “It is absolutely thrilling to have found such brilliant books, across such a wide variety of genres, and from authors that live and write all over the country. These are fantastic writers who deserve to be household names.” I agree it is a very diverse and interesting list, though I am probably biased somewhat but I think the list is a really eclectic one (well, I can tell you that for definite having read them all) and it is going to be rather difficult to whittle them down to a final eight for June the 18th. I have to say so far the judging process has been a real joy with lots and lots of laughing and delightful booky chatter, maybe the final meeting is where the gloves will come off? Ha!

For more information on all the books do visit Fiction Uncovered’s website here. I am off to go and do some more re-reading, in the meantime I would love your thoughts both on the books on the list (have you read any, are there any you are going to hunt out) and also the list itself. I’m very excited to hear what people think of it!

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The Orange Prize Longlist 2012?

The Orange Prize seems to have snuck up on me this year. I had it in my head that the announcement was on the 16th of March until I realised that actually that was 2011’s dates. It took ages to then get confirmation (by searching round the internet for hours) that it was to be the 8th and suddenly now Orange has a lovely new sparkly website, and indeed it will be announced in mere hours. Well I love guessing any prize list, and the Orange is no exception. I have a lot of love for this prize as generally I do prefer female writers (sweeping statement alert) to male ones overall, so I am always excited to see the final list of twenty. In the meantime here are my twenty guesses and why I made those calls…

First up my favourite four books by women last year have to be my first choices. Those were without question ‘Gillespie and I’ by Jane Harris, ‘The Proof Of Love’ by Catherine Hall, ‘There But For The…’ by Ali Smith and ‘The Borrower’ by Rebecca Makkai. I would absolutely love to see this four make the cut, you can click on their titles to see my reviews and gushings over each one – seriously these are four blooming brilliant books!

Next up were books, if any, that have made the cut this year and how could I not include ‘The Snow Child’ by Eowyn Ivey which I loved and ‘Girl Reading’ by Katie Ward which I haven’t reviewed on here yet (though I have on the telly, ha). Next up were the books that I started last year, didn’t finish though no idea why as I was enjoying them, and so wouldn’t mind reading/starting again should the mood take me. In come ‘Go To Sleep’ by Helen Walsh and ‘Half Blood Blues’ by Esi Edugyan.

Then I chose four eligible books which I have in the TBR and have yet to crack open. ‘The Blue Book’ by A.L. Kennedy, ‘Solace’ by Belinda McKeon, ‘The Submission’ by Amy Waldman and ‘All is Song’ by Samantha Harvey are all books that have been on my radar, and pulled out and put back in the TBR over the last few months and I must have a read of them soon.

You may notice there haven’t been many of the ‘big names’ yet and whilst I am sure Ann Patchett and some other expected contenders will show up on the list I am not that fussed about them personally. I almost popped Anne Tyler on the list but hers comes out after the eligible dates. However there are for books receiving a lot of hype/buzz that I wouldn’t be surprised to see on the list and they are; ‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgensten, ‘The Buddha in the Attic’ by Julie Otsuka, ‘The Land of Decoration’ by Grace McCleen and ‘The Lifeboat’ by Charlotte Rogan.

The final four are all a little bit random and have come from popping into Waterstones and having a mooch around all the tables covered in books. They are simply books I thought sounded really interesting and loved the first chapter of (that’s not how I judge on The Green Carnation Prize by the way) they may not appear but I’d use it as an excuse to read them all the quicker if they did. These are; ‘My Policeman’ by Bethan Roberts, ‘Then’ by Julie Myerson, ‘The White Shadow’ by Andrea Eames and ‘The Cowards Table’ by Vanessa Gebbie.

Realistically I know this will be nowhere near the actual list. I just love the guessing, but I am realistic enough to admit despite my love of books I have only a small idea of all the eligible books and no idea what has been submitted and what hasn’t. I also actually want to be a million miles off, one of the reasons I love prize longlists is that they invariably throw up some titles that have passed you by and you want to go off and find out more about. I am hoping for lots of those.

I am not the only one who likes a guess; Jackie of Farmlanebooks, Nomadreader, Open Letters and Her Royal Orangeness have had a crack too, plus Jessica (who has become one of my new favourite bloggers, she makes me howl) has done her top five. I will report back with the list of books and my thoughts when it’s been announced. Until then, what books would you like to see (not necessarily the same as the books you think will) end up on the Orange Prize Longlist when it gets announced?

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Waterstones 11

In the UK the bookstore chain Waterstones is something of a legend, it is also a company that is undergoing some big changes in the time of online shopping and the *cough* e-reader. One initiative that they came up with last year was the ‘Waterstones 11’ which what the eleven top debut authors to look out for in 2011, now they have brought it back for 2012 and it is rather an intriguing list.

I have said that in 2012 I will be reading more of the books from the never ending pile of reading delights that makes up the TBR. In terms of modern fiction I am probably going to steer away from all the prize long lists (and quite possibly the shortlists, we will see) this year, this list however is one I am going to be keeping in mind and on the reading periphery in the main because it is debut novels but also because after having gone off and found out more about them it is a really mixed and varied list. Here it is for you in detail…

   

The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan (William Heinemann)
Absolution by Patrick Flanery (Atlantic)
Shelter by Frances Greenslade (Virago)

  

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (Fourth Estate)
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (Headline Review)
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (Doubleday)

  

The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen (Chatto & Windus)
Signs of Life by Anna Raverat (Picador)
The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan (Virago)

 

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker (Simon & Schuster)
Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles (Harper Press)

I am certainly not going to say that I am going to read them ALL, for a start The Art of Fielding is a book I have seen everywhere and yet with its baseball theme really doesn’t float my fictional boat at all. Sorry. However, I have three of them already (in italics) and I am certainly intrigued by ‘Shelter’, Iand I think that ‘Care of Wooden Floors’ had me at the title which is odd as I wouldn’t think it was a very me one if I am honest. ‘The Panopticon’ also sounds particularly bonkers and Dan of Dog Ear Discs has raved about ‘The Lifeboat’ which he has got early. I have heard from Novel Insights who was at the event and apparently she has got me a sampler of all of them so I can find out more. I have noticed though lots of them aren’t out right now, or for quite some time, maybe they will be released early?

Have you heard much pre-release mention of any of these? Is there a title which you are particularly looking forward to? Do you like the idea of bookstores promoting books like this? Which debut novel coming out in 2012 would you have popped on the list that may be missing?

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