Tag Archives: Graham Swift

Books of 2016, So Far…

So as we have reached, well slightly gone over, the halfway point in the year, I thought I would do something I don’t think I have done before and share with you my  Books of 2016 so far. Well it made sense to me considering I had just done the below video for my YouTube channel and so I thought I would share it on here too. (I am really enjoying the booktube community but trying not to bombard you with it on here.) So if you would like to know some of my favourite books of the year so far, grab a cup of tea (as its about 20 minutes of me going on about books) and have a watch of this…

I hope you like the list, some of the books haven’t been mentioned on here before so give you an idea of what is coming over the next few weeks and months*. I would love to hear you thoughts on the books that I discuss and what you have made of them if you have read them. I would also really love to know which books have been the books of your year so far too, so do tell.

*Yes I know there have been a few video posts of late, with work being utterly bonkers in the lead up to one of our biggest festivals this weekend, video’s are so much speedier to make than a review which takes me ages, they will return though, honest – along with the usual rambling posts. I just need to play catch up with life after the musical festival has happened. It is this weekend so I am getting there. 

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

A London Bookshop Crawl (and Why I Bought The Books I Did)…

I mentioned at the end of my literary London post on Thursday that I was very excited as I was off on a bookshop crawl around some of London with Gavin of Gav Reads and formerly my co-host on The Readers. Well we have done it, in fact we did it for most of Friday afternoon and I thought I would share it all with you because come on, let’s face it, we all love going on a really good bookshop. Even the rain in North West and Central London couldn’t put Gav and I off our strides (well once we found a shop selling umbrella’s) as we both took our wallets and some gift cards out for a battering…

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Now what the rain did put off was me taking any actual pictures of the outside of the bookshops because it was honestly pretty grey, bleak and a little bit dire outside, which only made these book havens all the better, so I didn’t take any pictures of them from the front so fingers crossed I can bring them all to life. I didn’t take any pictures inside either as I always think people will think I am taking a picture with my phone to go and buy it on some evil website cheaper, which is frankly unforgivable. Anyway…

First up was Foyles flagship store on Charing Cross Road where I had a meeting before and so seemed like the best meeting point. If you haven’t been to Foyles flagship store before you must, it is six stories of books, books and more books from childrens on the lower ground to textbooks on the fourth and everything in between, from fiction to music, magazines to plays, the list is endless. You can see it all here. Admittedly Gav and I had been in the day before and I had spotted my first purchase in advance, Scholastique Mukasonga’s Our Lady of the Nile which is currently on the The International Dublin Literary Award shortlist and stood out a mile because I had never heard of it before, so naturally it was the one I most wanted to read and had to be mine…

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We then headed in the mild drizzle to the tube as I had planned that we would head over to Notting Hill to three bookshops which I had never visited before but had heard all sorts of marvellous things about. The first was Book and Kitchen on All Saints Road which Jen Campbell has mentioned quite a few times on her vlog. We arrived, after having found a belated umbrella shop) rather like drowned rats but were instantly made to feel welcome by the staff and encouraged to get downstairs and get a coffee, in the really homely cafe, to shelter from the rain. We were both advised on specialist coffee’s depending on our caffeine tastes/requirements (Gav’s wanted something like rocket fuel, my request was more mild) before being given a guide that downstairs was children’s, young adult, travel, non fiction, coffee, food and crockery and upstairs was fiction, all of it has the wonderful feeling of being in someones home and being allowed to peruse their shelves and then buy one or two of their favourite books, it’s really lovely. We both left with grins on our faces and a book each in our hand’s. Gavin bought Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun from newly established Cassava Republic Press which was recommended to us both highly and with such enthusiasm I nearly bought one too, as I had it at home already I went for The Hiding Place by Trezza Azzopardi…

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This is a book I have been hankering after for a while as I am going away with my friends Polly, Michelle and Dom to Cardiff next month for a weekend away and we like to read a book together set in or with links to where we are. The Hiding Place  tells the story of the six daughters of a Maltese family growing up in Cardiff through the eyes of the youngest, Dolores. Sounds really interesting and I had not yet got my copy so fate stepped in.

After a fond farewell from all the staff at Book and Kitchen we headed to Lutyens & Rubinstein on Kensington Park Road which is both a book shop and a literary agency in one building, Gav and I were secretly hoping to get scouted. As soon as I walked through the door I felt like I was back in America as the store has that feel of culture curated high fashion literature, if that makes any sense. What I loved here was that once you go down into the ground floor all the paperbacks there are a mixture of fiction and non fiction. Initially this threw me slightly but I was won over by the end as because it is a smallish collection of books (its a few thousand I am guessing so not that small) I was more engaged in the non fiction books than I might be elsewhere, which is why I left with a book that (peer pressure alert) Kim has reviewed on Reading Matters, Helen Garner’s This House of Grief which is a tale of a murder trial. I have a small grim fascination for true crime but I like it to be really well written and having read Helen Garner’s novel The Spare Room I have no doubt this is going to blow my socks off.

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We then took a small tour of Holland Park as we headed to Daunts, erm, Holland Park branch. I am a fan of Daunts and have visited the Marylebone store many a time, where you can find fiction by country as well as by author, which is rather exciting. There is the same sort of feel in Holland Park though it is more non fiction by country and fiction in author order. I already had my mind set on a few possibilities as I wanted to get a Daunts Books book in Daunts Books. Sounds confusing but really it is just me taking a long winded approach to saying they publish their own books. I mulled a few options before settling on K J Orr’s short story collection Light Box which I have been seeing lots of pictures of on social media, which as we all know is one of the best places to get a recommendation to head to a book store to buy.

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By this point we were quite hungry from all the perusing and headed back to town for a pizza and then a wander around Waterstones Piccadilly, because we both had Waterstones gift cards which were burning holes in our pockets. Thank you to my lovely team at work, who got me some vouchers for my birthday, I came away with these five gems.

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Waterstone’s Piccadilly is probably has one of my favourite laid out fiction sections as they have it by genre and by author but also by imprints and so you can find some wonderful indie imprints shelve or on display. This is why I left with the Penguin Modern Classic edition of François Mauriac’s Thérèse Desqueyroux, which I don’t even mind having a film cover because its a stunner; the Australian classic and newly reissued The Man Who Loved Children, by Christina Stead which is from a new imprint Apollo (part of Head of Zeus) as well as Will Eaves new book The Inevitable Gift Shop from indie imprint CB editions. I hadn’t heard of the Mauriac, the cover won me then the dark blurb sealed the deal. I saw Stead’s novel (which is HUGE) discussed on The ABC Book Club ages ago and it divided the panel so much I have been meaning to get it since and this edition is STUNNING. Will Eaves is my favourite author that I have never read. We all have those don’t we an author we just know we will love for some gut/supernatural/bizzare/random reason.

I also bought two books by authors I have read and loved. Beryl Bainbridge I discovered a while back and have read many books of, I have always wanted to read Harriet Said as it is set down the road from me in Formby and apparently there is frolicking in the sand dunes. Graham Swift is new to me after reading the wonderful, wonderful, wonderful Mothering Sunday earlier this year. There was a Swift display and Shuttlecock appealed because it deals with the ‘dead crime unit’ which won me over the moment I read it. So I managed quite a haul there.

This was when Gav and I said goodbye as he had a train to run for. I headed off to catch my bus  after a marvelous day and as I did realised I hadn’t bought Catherine Hall a thank you card for letting me stay, so I had to get one and which shop is my bus stop outside… Foyles. Somehow as I was in stationery I remembered I wanted to get Ta-Nehisi Coates Between the World and Me, a book written as a letter to the author’s teenaged son about the feelings, symbolism, and realities associated with being black in the United States. Coates recapitulates the American history of violence against black people and the incommensurate policing of black youth. I saw this all over the place in the States and like a dafty didn’t buy it so made sure I went and found it, as I did I passed another apt book I just couldn’t help getting too…

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Bookshelf by Lydia Pyne, part of the Object Lessons series from Bloomsbury. How could I not take a book about bookshelves of the bookshelf to take home to mine, all about bookshelves? It would have been a crime not to and don’t you pretend otherwise. I then hurried away from town and anywhere too close to anymore stores, feeling very happy with my loot.

What do you make of the books I bought and the reasons for buying them? What makes you buy a book? Which books have you bought recently AND have you read any of my purchases and if so what did you make of them? I would love to know answers to all those questions. Right, best do some reading…

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Filed under Book Spree, Book Thoughts, Bookshop Crawl, Random Savidgeness

My Name is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout

As well as introducing me to some debut and/or brand new to me authors reading all of this years Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist has brought me a couple of authors that I have been meaning to read for a while. The first of those is Elizabeth Strout whose Pulitzer prize winning Olive Ketteridge I have been meaning to read for ages and ages since the much missed Granny Savidge Reads read it and raved about it years ago. Her latest, My Name is Lucy Barton, was also one of the most ‘guessed’ and rated books before the official longlist came out and so I was intrigued.

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Penguin Books, 2016, hardback, fiction, 206 pages, kindly sent by the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction

After a slow recovery from what should have been a relatively simple operation and recuperation Lucy Barton wakes one night to find her mother, who she has not seen for years, sat at the end of her bed. This is something that Lucy finds wonderful, baffling, terrifying, thrilling and worrying, how do these two women relate to each other after so many years apart and after so much has gone unsaid?

“Hi, Lucy,” she said. Her voice sounded shy but urgent. She leaned forward and squeezed my foot through the sheet. “Hi, Wizzle,” she said. I had not seen my mother for years, and I kept staring at her; I could not figure out why she looked so different.
“Mom, how did you get here?” I asked.
“Oh, I got on an airplane.” She wiggled her fingers, and I knew that there was too much emotion, for us. So I waved back, and lay flat. “I think you’ll be alright,” she added, in the same shy-soundingbut urgent voice. “I haven’t had any dreams.”

After an initial read of the book, which at a compact 200 pages can be done in one sitting, it would be easy to simply say this was a concentrated and heightened fable of the relationship between a mother and daughter. In many ways it is. It is also much more than that as Lucy’s mother’s random appearance brings back many memories and stories of her youth, many of which are unsettling rather than happy. It could also be seen as a novel of a women’s journey to becoming a writer, what inspired her and what compelled her from a young age (mainly escapism through books). Now I have to say that I am not a fan of novels about novelists, so many clichés, however as with Graham Swift’s recent Mothering Sunday, this won me round as it isn’t the focus of the book, rather another layer.

My teacher saw that I loved reading, and she gave me books, even grown-up books, and I read them. And then later in high school I still read books, when my homework was done, in the warm school. But the books brought me things. This is my point. They made me feel less alone. This is my point. And I thought: I will write and people will not feel so alone! (But it was my secret. Even when I met my husband I didn’t tell him right away. I couldn’t take myself seriously. Except that I did. I took myself – secretly, secretly – very seriously! I knew I was a writer. I didn’t know how hard it would be. But no one knows that; and that does not matter.)

What the real focus of the book is actually tries to evade our eyeline directly unless we catch it unsuspectingly and that is the story of Lucy’s childhood which she doesn’t seem to want to tell us about. This also happens with Lucy’s failing marriage, yet unlike that which she can hide her memories from childhood start coming to the fore without her expecting them or being able to lock them away again as quickly as she would like. We soon discover that Lucy grew up living in impoverished and difficult circumstances, people thought she and her family were trash and they became outcasts, something she wanted to escape.

When I was a child, our family went to the Congregational church. We were outcasts there as much as anywhere; even the Sunday school teacher ignored us. Once I came late to the class, the chairs were all taken. The teacher said, “Just sit on the floor, Lucy.”

Yet as we read on there is another layer amongst that. Deep down are memories of really dark times not inflicted on the family but by them, we only get some glimpses of them but they are there all the same. Strout, through Lucy’s seeming denial, leaves it for us the reader to work out what they are and if this is why Lucy Barton has become so estranged. It also asks the questions as to whether blood is thicker than water and how we cope with having to love someone as they are our parent, with all their failings and even with some serious hatred towards them for some things they have done. How do we then cope with that when they are gone?

There is also something slightly fairytale (both the happy and the horrid elements) and surreal amongst the cracks of this novel too. I love fairytales and you may think I can spot them in every book I read, not always honest but I could in this one. First for me was sudden arrival of Lucy’s mother, for a while I spent quite a lot of the beginning thinking she was a ghost or possibly a post surgery drug induced hallucination, especially when she starts to talk about having not had any bad dreams so all will be well. Then there is the slight Cinderella element of rags to riches. Mostly though it was the monsters lurking in a woman’s memories that made me feel like that, we mainly glimpse them, we know they are real and yet they seem other because of the way Lucy is dealing with them, or not. Naturally this compelled me further.

My Name is Lucy Barton is a deceptive book, both in its size and in the story it tells. I devoured it in a single sitting and it affected me, however since I have read it the affect has grown and grown and bothered me more and more. It is the kind of book that you need to read, digest, walk away from, digest some more and then at some point go back to. It’s affect has grown on me as much as it has grown in my estimation the more and more distance I have had from it. It’s a book that lingers much longer than you anticipate. Looks like I need to head to some more of Elizabeth Strout’s books now doesn’t it?

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Filed under Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction, Baileys Bearded Book Club, Elizabeth Strout, Penguin Books, Review

Mothering Sunday – Graham Swift

As it is Mother’s Day here in the UK my original plan was to try and squeeze in a reading of a new translation of The Iliad so I could surprise my mother by reading one of the great classics and making her proud. However, with work events on most evenings and my probation last week (which I passed, phew) it was not the time to read a tome. Instead I plumped for the latest offering from Graham Swift, who I had yet to try though my mother is a huge fan of, which had the apt title of Mothering Sunday. Well it turns out this isn’t about a mother on a Sunday at all, though might be nice to treat your mother to that she can read on a Sunday if she isn’t averse to some mild saucy shenanigans and possibly having a small emotional weep or two…

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Scribner UK, hardback, 2016, fiction, 136 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

It was March 1924. It wasn’t June, but it was a day like June. And it must have been a little after noon. A window was flung open, and he walked, unclad, across the sun-filled room as carelessly as any unclad animal. It was his room, wasn’t it? He could do what he liked in it. He clearly could. And she had never been in it before, and never would again.
And she was naked too.
March 30th 1924. Once upon a time.

Mothering Sunday throws us straight into the life of Jane Fairchild on a day that will have a lasting effect on her life forever. As we soon learn Jane, a young woman of 22, is a maid who is having a rather illicit affair with one of the heir’s to the Sheringham family mansion next door to her employers the Nivens. Not just an heir but a soon to be married one, very soon, as the impending nuptials are mere weeks away. Jane knows herself that this cannot last and something in the air tells her (whilst something in the prose tells us) that this relationship is about to come to an end.

Graham Swift cleverly gives us this tale from Jane’s narrative both at the time and then in her nineties able to look on it with hindsight whilst also still reliving the emotions of the time. This was one of the many wonderful things that I thought Swift did in this novella-cum-novel (I never know the rule that officially makes a work one or the other!) because it gives a certain fascinating duality and sense of perceptions to one story. On the one hand we have the older, seemingly wiser, Jane and then on the other we have a young maid, clearly smitten yet also thinking about love, sexuality, class, sense of self and much more.

She supposed that, most of the time, Mr Niven would ‘undo’ Mrs Niven, if she couldn’t undo herself. What a word – ‘undo!’ She supposed that Mrs Niven might now and then say, ‘Undo me, Godfrey,’ in a different way to how she might say it to her maid. Or that Mr Niven might sometimes say in a different way still, ‘Can I undo you, Clarrie?’
She supposed that Mr and Mrs Niven might still, now and then… even though some eight years ago they lost two ‘brave boys’. But she did not suppose. She occasionally saw the evidence. She changed the sheets.

I am quite a nosey person so as well as being enthralled (and also quite worried and nervous, with a sense of what might come) by the story of Jane and her lover Paul, I was also fascinated by the whole upstairs downstairs element of the book. After one encounter, Jane wanders an empty manor house and tries to see it through the eyes of the wealthy, rather than from the eyes of the worker which is an interesting concept.

Throughout Swift’s writing is wonderful, occasionally a single sentence could make me well up and a few made my jaw drop, as he conjures up the people, places and tiniest details through Jane’s eyes. Everything comes fully formed, vivid and intricate but without him having to spell everything out. His prose is sparse, yet it brims. One of my favourite lines being an observation of orchids, a rare decadent decoration. They had a stillness, an insistence, each little bloom was like a frozen butterfly. Speaking of prose and style, there is also an interesting repetitive and circular nature to the book which could possibly annoy/alienate some but I found gave the novel a real pace, an element of poetry to it as well as that nostalgic sense. There are also some wonderful nods to literature and the joys of storytelling.

Once upon a time, before the boys were killed and when there were more horses than cars, before the male servants disappeared and they made do…

I found Mothering Sunday to be something of a modernistic fairytale, well as modern as you can get with a 1920’s setting. In fact in some ways it could be seen as a feminist version of Cinderella, we have a maid who goes from rags to riches, only it is less the handsome prince that saves her life and more changes it in ways you might not expect. It has a happy ending of sorts, but not the one that you might be expecting. I loved this element as I love a good fairy tale and the nods, sometimes subtle sometimes not so, to other tales outside Cinderella I really enjoyed. They give the tale a sense of nostalgic romanticism and also bring in some of those wonderful gothic elements that have come through storytelling for decades, and Swift is a wonderful storyteller. Can a mirror keep a print? Can you look into a mirror and see someone else? Can you step through a mirror and be someone else?

It is hard to say more about this wonderful book for fear of spoiling it. I will say be prepared to be deeply moved by it for all sorts of reasons. I was quite spell bound by Mothering Sunday and Swift’s writing, so much so that after having read it in bursts all week I sat down and read it again in one gulp this morning and I am sure I will be reaching for it again in the future. A first it seems a simple tale of one day in one woman’s life, yet through its nuances and layers it is a story of storytelling and those moments, big and small, which define our lives and the people who we become. I am now very keen to read much more of Swift’s work, so do let me know where to head. And if you haven’t, do try and get your hands on a copy of this because it’s fantastic.

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Filed under Books of 2016, Graham Swift, Review, Scribner, Simon & Schuster

The Prose Practice: Lonely Men in Cardigans

From yesterday’s erotica to something almost polar opposite, though maybe actually not if these cardi-clad men are very lonely, anyway… I mentioned earlier in the week that your advice would be called upon, as unwitting participants of The Prose Practice, not once but twice and so here is a rather unusual and utterly brilliant question from a new reader of the blog all the way on the other side of the world to me in Australia. Can you all help with some suggestions for some masculine reading material that might involve lonely men in cardigans though not necessarily read by them. I have so far only come up with one and its not one I have read so I could be barking up the wrong tree completely.

Simon,

Greetings from Australia. I am a new reader of your splendid blog.  I am especially interested in novels which I can only describe as examining the Male version of Anita Brookner’s characters [I have already posted about her on your site] – that is, men of a certain age who have lost their way, given up hope or just accept the general tragedy of ageing with stubborn stoicism or sad irony. This is an unexplored genre. I seek recommendations from you and your bloggers. Where are the novels dealing with lonely, single men in cardigans?

Norman, Australia

 

Simon Says: Hmmm… books about lonely single men in cardigans. (Can I just say trendy men in their late twenties – and younger – now where cardigans too in fact I have been known to don one, ha!) Well the one that instantly came to my mind isn’t one that I have read and so I could frankly be completely wrong with my suggestion. However the book that I did think of was Man Booker winning ‘Last Orders’ by Graham Swift. It’s a book that I have sat in the TBR and may now very well have to read having gone off and read the synopsis. I am not sure that it’s quite the right suggestion?

What say all of you readers out there?

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