Tag Archives: Granny Savidge Reads

Independent Bookshop Week 2016 (And The Chance To Win A Book From One) #IBW2016

To turn away from all the dreadful news of late, lets head towards something that all of us book lovers, erm, love. Independent Bookshops. For today in the UK it is Independent Bookshop Week 2016, where e celebrate the wonderful independent bookshops up and down the country. So I thought that we could celebrate it here on the blog too. I have mentioned on many an occasion how much bookshops mean to me now and have meant to me over the years and how important I think they are in the world, so any chance to celebrate them is a good thing. I have found some of my favourite books in them, had wonderful conversations in them (with booksellers, friends, family and the occasional random stranger or two, sometimes with tea and cake) and have many many happy memories of my time in them. In fact my favourite picture of myself and Granny Savidge, who I miss going bookshopping with and chatting about books to dreadfully) was taken in my favourite independent, Scarthin Books.

Awww, the memories and the laughter… and the occasional string disagreement on an author or book. It was as much a treat going book shopping with my Gran in my early thirties as it was in my early years, just a slight shift of focus in the books I was looking at and hopefully the conversation. I have waxed lyrical about the bookshops I love and the books I have found in them in the YouTube (I know so modern) video below, if you are on YouTube do give this tag a whirl and let me know once you have or if you have already.

I won’t be heading to a bookshop today, as The Beard has gone away from a weekend working and so I am allowing myself a weekend in having a readathon by myself BUT you can be sure I will heading to some when I am in London later in the week. In fact myself and the lovely Jen Campbell are going to do lunch and Libreria (a bookshop I have been very intrigued by and not been to yet) which has lead my to an idea… If you answer the following questions by the end of Wednesday the 22nd of June I will choose one of you at random and buy you a book in Libreria based on your answers. I may even get you a tote bag if they do them. So the questions are…

a) What is your favourite bookshop. b) What is the last amazing book you were recommended or found browsing in a bookshop? c) What is your favourite book of all time?

Based on those I will try and find whoever wins a brilliant book and send it to you anywhere in the world? How does that sound? Right, I am off to stick my nose back in a brilliant book. Good luck.

Update – I belatedly picked a winner, well The Beard chose the number 20 at random so congrats to Marissa Gaudette who I will be getting a copy of Iain Pears’ Arcadia (based on her favourites) as soon as I get her address. 

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Gone But Not Forgotten…

It is two years today since the wonderful and bookish influence on my life that Gran was sadly passed away far too young and far too soon – we still had so many books to talk about and bookshops to go to. It’s weird in some ways as it feels at once much longer since she died and also like it was yesterday. The raw bits from the final few weeks have gone and the happy memories (of which there were many) are  much stronger now which is lovely. I still miss her hugely and still think of phoning her when I finish a book or ponder what I should read next or when I read one of her favourite authors latest books and wonder what she would have made of it. Or kick myself that she couldn’t have seen me judging a prize like Fiction Uncovered and have come to the party where she would have been in her absolute element. None of this will ever go or fade, especially when she makes spooky appearances in copies of her books I have inherited as I mentioned recently. God love her. I’m just still slowly acclimatising I guess.

Me and Gran

I was umming and ahhing about how to make her reading influence mine again this year; I delved into Graham Greene after she died (which was hit and miss) and then last year finally read  (and even met) Rose Tremain and fell in love with her prose and stories as Gran had many years before me and kept urging me to read her. So I was pondering who might be next, if I was going to do it. Well I am, and the answer came to me when I was moving books on shelves earlier this week, as I have three shelves of books I inherited from Gran… and one author I suddenly realised was in quite abundance.

Oh Shute!

Oh Shute!

Nevil Shute! I have myself only read one of Nevil Shute’s novels, On The Beach, which I was dubious about reading way back when it was chosen for a book group I was a part of in London. As it was, and despite the fact it is set on a submarine which is even worse than a book being set on a boat, I thought it was a marvellous novel which as stayed with me longer than I thought it would, I remember being very emotional at the end. Anyway Gran had quite a collection, which as I cannot ask her I am assuming she had read as I remember one particular cover of his novels from my childhood as it was on her bedside shelves in Matlock Bath for years and years and years. Weirdly it is the only one that I cannot find…

The memories...

The memories…

I wonder if my aunty Alice inherited it, it was probably the fact we had an Alice in the family that made it resonate in my brain. So I am going to track down that edition of A Town Like Alice in the next few weeks and get a copy, I know it won’t be Gran’s but the image has a nostalgia. I am also slightly miffed I can’t find her edition of Requiem for a Wren which I know is meant to be amazing. Anyway… I haven’t decided which of these books, or his books, I will read or in what order yet but I will be reading some Shute over the autumn and probably the winter and would love it if any of you would like to join in. I would also love it if you had some recommendations for me on which Shute novels are particularly brilliant. Thank you – and thanks Gran… I hope!

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A Golden Note(book) From Gran

Those of you who have been following Savidge Reads for the last however many years will know of Granny Savidge Reads. Since she died there has definitely been a big part of my life missing, especially the chats on the phone at least two or three times a week to put the world to rights and to talk about books – let alone trips to see her which always involved a bookshop or two if we could. Anyway, she made a random appearance in my booky life today as I was sorting out and culling my books. I had picked up Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook and I was wondering where I had got it from when I opened it up and…

Gran gave a Savidge review...

Gran gave a Savidge review…

…It was a book I had inherited from Gran, I didn’t realised that she left notes in some of her books. I also didn’t realise that she could be so savage, or Savidge, in her reviews of books – maybe I should be a little more Gran sometimes. In case you can’t read her writing she says ‘I hated this book but as it is highly regarded by many people & someone else in the family may appreciate it more than I have I decided to keep it.’ Wowsers! It was weirdly really nice to find this note and think that randomly I might be the member of the family who could appreciate it, though I am somewhat worried I won’t get it. It was also really nice to get a message, almost a footnote to the book from beyond the grave. It made me laugh and then made me cry, in a nice way if you know what I mean.

Anyway I thought I would share it with you as lots of you liked her thoughts and opinions. I am now wondering if I should be brave and try and read this in the late summer/early autumn and see if I agree with Gran or not, maybe some of you would like to join in – an unofficial read-a-long maybe, nothing too heavy yet something supportive, let me know. Oh and any thoughts on notes you’ve found in books, or even on The Golden Notebook (no spoilers though mind), that you have let me know. Back to culling, I have managed 419 books so far but feel I could do more – and I am off to my mothers tomorrow so want to take a nice big selection to her.

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Savidge Reads’ Books of 2014

For someone who finds making lists an utter joy yet who can never make them concise you may be surprised that there is only one list of my books of the year this year. Normally I will do two; the ten books that I have loved most published this year and the ten from previous years. Well this year I have decided to be a more savage Savidge and only have ten… well twelve. I cheated a little bit again. I was going to do fourteen for the year we are in but could see that might cause potential problems in 2033. So without any more waffle here are my books of 2014. (For full reviews click on the link in the title.)

  1. Mateship with Birds – Carrie Tiffany

Picador Books, 2013, paperback, 224 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

One of the first books I read this year and one of the ones which has stayed with me. On the outskirts of a town somewhere in Australia in the early 1950’s we join two neighbours. Harry owns a dairy farm and spends his days between milking his herd and watching the local wildlife, mainly a family of kookaburra’s, and looking over his past seemingly happy with and yet questioning his lot in life. Betty rents the house next door with her two children Michael and Little Hazel, often wondering what has become of her life and often wondering about Harry. We follow these two characters, Betty’s children, and their weird neighbour Mues over what I thought was a season – though it could be much longer or indeed shorter as Mateship with Birds has a sense of nothing and everything happening all at once, all in the grubby wilds of the countryside.

This book has everything I love in it; the wilds of the countryside (which you might see in a few of my choices), outsiders and a rather wonderfully grubby dirty edge. I will be going book shopping on Friday and will be hunting down a copy of Carrie’s Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living.

  1. The Dig – Cynan Jones

Granta Books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 156 pages, kindly sent by the lovely folk at Fiction Uncovered HQ

In The Dig we follow the lives of two men who live in the same remote countryside and who have met briefly once and who couldn’t be more different. Daniel is a farmer who is struggling both with keeping his farm profitable and running and also with a personal tragedy. I will not give away what because when you find out early on it is like a physical punch. I cried that is all I will say. The other character, who we only know as ‘the big man’ is a much darker kind of fellow; one who trains his dog to kill rats, catches badgers for baiting and has been to prison for something we are unsure of. The question is of course how and why might these two men meet up again?

I never imagined I would have a book about badger bating as one of my books of the year, it even has an evil horse in it, yet for the same reasons I loved everything about Mateship With Birds I loved The Dig (which was also one of Fiction Uncovered’s titles this year, Naomi Wood’s Mrs. Hemmingway would be book number 13 on this list, just saying – and cheating again). It is a book that wonderfully links the rawness of nature to the rawness of emotions and the savage nature of animals to those of men.

  1. The Night Guest – Fiona McFarlane

Sceptre Books, hardback, 2014, fiction, 276 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

Ruth is a widow who has been living by herself on the coast round from Sydney and for a little while and been coping quite well thank you very much. However on and off in the night she has felt pretty sure that there is a tiger who is roaming around her house. She doesn’t know where this tiger comes from or goes to after it visits her and yet while she doesn’t think it wants to harm or eat her, its presence is unnerving to say the least. Especially when she wakes up and wonders if it was ever really there at all, is she losing her marbles?

Another book that I loved very much at the start of the year (and possibly the most beautiful book of the year if you have the UK hardback) and was desperate to talk to anyone and everyone about as it is so twisty and unreliable in many ways – which of course is why I love it. I even made Thomas, my cohost on The Readers, read it and we had a mini book group which you can hear here, though be warned spoilers abound.

  1. A Kind of Intimacy – Jenn Ashworth

Arcadia Books, paperback, 2009, fiction, 283 pages, borrowed from Emma Jane Unsworth (who might never get it back!)

If the first two books had a link of the rawness of nature, these two have the link of the unreliable, dark and twisty. Annie Fairhurst has left her old lonely miserable married life with her husband Will behind her. She wants to start again and so has found herself a new home in the suburbs of a Northern town for herself, and her cat Mr Tips, to start a fresh. She wants to make new friends, have wonderful parties and maybe meet a man like her old love Boris, who rather liked the larger lady like Annie and twice gave her a glimpse of how life could be. She is full of hope for the future, especially when she meets her next door neighbour Neil who she is sure came to her aid once when she was a damsel in distress. Yet this unleashes two things in Annie, firstly the fact that her past is a mystery that keeps rearing its ugly head no matter how hard you try and cover it up, secondly Annie isn’t as stable as she might initially appear nor as truthful or lovely. The plot thickens…

This was loaned to me by the lovely Emma Jane Unsworth (whose Animals would have been joint number 14 with Kerry Hudson’s Thirst, cheating again) as she thought I would like it. Having read it I hope that is meant as a compliment of my tastes in fiction rather than to my style of friendship. Hmmm. Anyway it was a huge hit with me, Emma will never get this book back again and Jenn’s second novel, she is now writing the fourth, Cold Light will be one of my first reads of 2015.

  1. Under The Skin – Michel Faber

Canongate, paperback, 2000 (2011 edition), fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

This is one book I have loved but not actually reviewed yet, the reason for this is that there is a bog old twist that I don’t want to reveal. Here’s the blurb… Isserley spends most of her time driving. But why is she so interested in picking up hitchhikers? And why are they always male, well-built and alone? An utterly unpredictable and macabre mystery, Michel Faber’s debut novel is an outstanding piece of fiction that will stay with you long after you have turned the last page.

I knew the twist but I have to say that didn’t stop me from enjoying this book from start to finish. It is a book that looks at what it is to be a woman in society and what the true meaning of society and humanity are. I will say no more. I did see the film too… I will say no more on that either, ha! I do need to work out how to deal with books with big twists and spoilers in 2015 though as I have a few reviews pending of such books. Any ideas how to deal with this are much welcomed.

  1. Cover – Peter Mendelsund

powerHouse Books, 2014, hardback, nonfiction, 256 pages, brought by Santa for Christmas

The most recently read which is why it might end up being much higher up over time. Either way, Peter Mendelsund was initially a classical pianist, or a recovering one as his bio says, who after the birth of his first child realised he needed a more stable job with a regular income. But what? Well, as it happened he liked design and then his mother knew someone who knew someone at Knopf Books and after a chat, a viewing of his portfolio (which Knopf being pretty bowled over by what Mendelsund calls “shockingly wince-inducing” self taught designs) and some interviews he then became a junior designer. Now he is Associate Art Director there and his book covers are world famous, though you might admittedly not know they were by him. He is one of those wonderful people who make us want to pick up ALL the books, from Lolita to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo literally. Well, if you live in America, though some have come here too. Cover is his story of how he came to cover books and what doing so means.

A book about books that every book lover should read or own, the end.

  1. Bitter Greens – Kate Forsyth

Allison & Busby, 2013, paperback, fiction, 544 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

My favourite fairytale, and indeed possibly story, of all time is Rapunzel. With Bitter Greens Kate Forsyth weaves a tale of three women to retell it and indeed to write a thrilling love story to it. First is Charlotte-Rose de la Force, who has been exiled from the court of the Sun King Louis XIV after a fall from grace too far (which in those times was saying something) and is banished to live in an Abbey with nuns. Second is Selena Leonelli, once one of the most beautiful women in Italy and even the muse of the Venetian artist Titian. Depicted forever in his paintings she has one fear, time, and how it will take her beauty something she will do anything to keep. Thirdly we have Margherita, a young girl trapped in a tower forever unless she finds a way to escape.

I was in book heaven reading this. I don’t tend to go for historical novels very much, and know very little about the court of Louis XIV but I revelled in it and want to know much more about it. All in all a wonderful, saucy, gripping, brilliantly written, literary romp – pitch perfect storytelling. You can hear me talking to Kate about this and more here.

  1. He Wants – Alison Moore

Salt Publishing, paperback, 2014, fiction, 192 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Lewis is a man who seems to be stuck in a rut. He is at the end of middle age yet not quite on the cusp of old age. He goes and looks after his father, Lawrence, at the old people’s home and yet his daughter, Ruth, comes round every morning to look after him and deliver soup that he actually doesn’t want. He has recently retired as his role as an RE (religious education) teacher yet having been widowed sometime a go he has no one to share his retirement with, just time and his own thoughts. He spends most of his days at home apart from when he goes to visit his second favourite pub, and that is probably how he will go on spending it. What Lewis isn’t expecting is a blast from the past, in the form of an old friend Sydney, to turn up one day and Lewis’ comfortable, if boring from the outside, life is shaken up.

There are some books that leave you feeling both completely uplifted and utterly devastated, all at once. I know it sounds implausible, such a dichotomy of emotions, yet these books are often the ones that leave us feeling the most enriched by the experience. Alison Moore’s He Wants is such a book. I loved this, I loved The Lighthouse; I need to read everything Alison ever writes and will do so. You can hear me talking to Alison about this and more here.

  1. Trespass – Rose Tremain

Vintage Books, hardback, 2010, fiction, 272 pages, inherited from Granny Savidge

This was undoubtedly the year of Rose Tremain and I, even though she didn’t know it – well actually I got to meet her and then she did. Ha! (The American Lover would have been on this list but I thought a title per author was fair, and I promise that is my final cheat!) As it opens we follow a young, rather spoilt, girl Melodie who is struggling to fit in at her knew school and so on a trip out runs away into the countryside where she discovers something horrendous amongst the tranquillity. What she has discovered we have no idea because we are swiftly taken away from this moment into the lives of two pairs of siblings, soon beginning to realise that in some way one or both of these siblings have something to do with whatever it is that poor Melodie discovers, but what and how?

She was one of Granny Savidge’s favourite living authors and Gran always told me I should read her, interestingly saying this would be my way in, she was completely correct. It is such a shame I can’t talk to her about these as we would have had some corking conversations but Gran has certainly left me with a legacy of recommendations. You can hear me talk to Rose Tremain about her books and writing here.

  1. Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey

Penguin Viking Books, hardback, 2014, fiction, 288 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

This should have won so many awards. From the start of the novel we meet Maud who, when she is not repeatedly going to the corner shop and buying more (and more) tinned peaches, is always finding notes in her pockets that remind her that her friend Elizabeth is missing. She may sometimes forget the name of the women who come and make her tea or clean her house but with these notes everywhere possible she cannot forget this and she must find out where she went, why her house is empty and why Elizabeth’s son never seems to care. At the start of the novel Maud also discovers a compact mirror, where we are not initially sure, which suddenly brings back the disappearance and mystery of what happened to her sister Sukey 70 years ago.

I just love this book so, so, so much. Emma’s writing is incredible, the way she handles the theme of dementia is beautiful yet honest and so occasionally very funny. Cliché alert but it is really amazing this is her first book, no pressure on the next then? You can hear me talk to Emma about this and much more here. Oh and side note, she would be cross if I didn’t mention it, this is also one of my mother’s favourite books of the year – we discussed it a lot at Christmas. Read it.

  1. A Month in the Country – J. L. Carr

Penguin Modern Classics, paperback, 1980 (2000 edition), fiction, 112 pages, inherited from Gran

Gran left me with a legacy of authors to read and also a legacy of books of which this was one. In A Month in the Country Tom Birkin reflects several decades later on the summer of 1920 when he ended up in the village of Oxgodby for a single month. Here on a mission left by recently deceased spinster Miss Hebron he is being paid, begrudgingly by the Reverend Keach who is only allowing it as Hebron left the church money if he did, to uncover a possible medieval wall painting inside the church. Birkin reflects upon that summer, the place he was in mentally in his life at the time and thinks about the place he was in physically and those who peopled it.

It is really hard to say much about A Month in the Country, as it is essentially a very silent and still yet powerful book, other than it is pretty much book perfection. If I hadn’t had such a (similarily yet more epic) visceral reaction to the next book it would have been my book of the year. You can’t hear me discuss this with Mr Carr as he is dead BUT you can hear me discussing it with Gav, Kate and Rob (some of us might weep) here.

  1. The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan

Chatto & Windus, hardback, 2014, fiction, 464 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I never thought a Booker Winner would be my book of the year, especially after the last few years but Richard Flanagan just blew me away with this book. The Narrow Road to the Deep North is essentially the tale of one man’s life with all that befalls him. Alwyn ‘Dorrigo’ Evans is one of the survivors of the Death Railway in Burma where he was a prisoner of war. He was the surgeon, having the strange job of helping people escape death only to then have them healed and sent off to work that was likely to lead to death be it from sickness, exhaustion or torture. He is a man who has had a love affair with this uncle’s wife. It is really these two particular strands of Dorrigo’s life that this novel follows going back and forth developing a life lived, with it joy, despair, loss and love.

Easily the book I have loved the hardest (and therefore was the hardest to write about) this year and will more than likely be one of my all time favourite and most memorable reads. And guess what, yes, you can hear me chatting to Richard about it here (I was such a lucky sausage with interviews this year) and more. Richard’s back catalogue will be being bought by myself over the next few years and devoured.

So that is my list! If you have read any of these let me know what you thought of them. If you haven’t why on earth are you still reading and not running to a bookshop/library, no I don’t care what time it is or if it is a Bank Holiday, and getting them now? If you have made a list of books of the year do let me know, I will have a look at them in 2015. If you haven’t then please share some of your favourites in the comments below, or I will sulk which is no way to end one year and start the next is it?

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Trespass – Rose Tremain

And so to the first of the books that I (and fingers crossed hopefully a lot of you) are reading for Trespassing With Tremain, a way of me remembering my book loving Gran and in a strange way reading along with her through another of her favourite authors and one who she was always telling me I really should have read. Why start with Trespass? Well, it was the book of Rose Tremain’s that Gran kept saying that I simply had to read as she thought it was the most me, which as you will see I found rather interesting after finally having read it…

Vintage Books, hardback, 2010, fiction, 272 pages, inherited from Granny Savidge

Trespass is one of those infinitely clever novels that pleases, perplexes and plays with its reader. As it opens we follow a young, rather spoilt, girl Melodie who is struggling to fit in at her knew school and so on a trip out runs away into the countryside where she discovers something horrendous amongst the tranquillity. What she has discovered we have no idea because we are swiftly taken away from this moment into the lives of two pairs of siblings, soon beginning to realise that in some way one or both of these siblings have something to do with whatever it is that poor Melodie discovers, but what and how?

From the beginning of Trespass I have to say I was hooked in with the mystery and the promise of darkness yet of course a book has to deliver far more than just those two things to really stand out and Trespass does that in spades. The mystery is very much at the fore and then gets sent brooding in the background awaiting its moment as we then get caught up in the worlds of two siblings. Firstly Audrun Lunel, who lives alone in a isolated in the woodlands in a ramshackle bungalow on the edges of her old family home Mas Lunel, now inhabited by her alcoholic brother Aramon. Secondly Anthony Verey, a man once famous for his antique dealings but who has fallen on harder times and is looking to escape his life in London and so heads to the south of France and his sister Veronica.

Of course as Trespass goes on you wonder how on earth these two pairs of siblings will become entwined in something that we know will end darkly. It isn’t until we discover that Aramon is keen to sell off Mas Lunel, much to Audrun’s horror, and Anthony is very much looking for somewhere to live that these people’s lives entwine for a moment. Even then Tremain cleverly keeps us guessing as to what will come because what I thought was going to happen didn’t, in fact the book kept twisting tighter and tighter as it went on.  I don’t want to give too much away though, suffice to say I had to read it in one sitting because I wanted to know what the heck was going to happen, to whom and how.

Episodes, the doctor called them. Short episodes of the brain. And the doctor – or doctors, for it wasn’t always the same one – gave her pills and she took them. She lay in her bed, swallowing pills. She put them on her tongue, like a Communion wafer. She tried to imagine herself transfigured by them. She lay in the Cevenol night, listening to the scoop-owl, to the breathing of the land, trying to envisage a chemical river in her blood. She saw this river as a marbled swirl of purple, crimson and white; the colours drifted in skeins, expanded into almost-recognisable shapes, like clouds. Sometimes, she wondered whether these envisagings were inappropriate. She’d also been told that her mind was liable to ‘inappropriate ideas’. It could imagine terrible things.

As Trespass unravels Tremain does something that l love, she makes the characters and their histories and relationships unravel with it. Yet with the two sets of siblings Tremain makes this all the more heightened. As Anthony flees to Veronica we watch a pair of siblings where one has always looked out for the other, V being the big protective sister. Yet once in the same space this relationship becomes cloying, particularly for V’s lover (the brilliantly named) Kitty Meadows who has never liked Anthony and has always vied for V’s attention with. Does familial love always beat passionate love, can you compete with someone who has been in your lovers life infinitely?

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the selling of Mas Lunel is the final straw in Audrun and Aramon’s strained relationship. The siblings have not been close for years despite the fact that Audrun lives on the edge of the land of Mas Lunel, she only goes into her old family home if she absolutely must. What is it that keeps her away and why can two siblings who live so close be so utterly apart? The dynamics and mysteries within the mystery unravel slowly but surely, making the novel only the darker and the characters all the more compelling.

What also makes Trespass compelling are the themes it looks at. Most obviously is the theme of sibling relationships, which brings in family histories and secrets which are always a fertile ground for a novel. There is also the theme of sexuality with both Veronica and her ‘friend’ Kitty but also Arthur and his certain secret proclivity. There is also the sense of trespassing you might think that sounds rather obvious yet Tremain looks at this in many ways. Trespassing on the boundaries of land or personal space, trespassing on relationships, trespassing on other countries and their heritage with the theme of rich Europeans buying French land meaning locals can’t. I could go on. At its heart though, both with the siblings secrets and Melodie (don’t forget about her), there is the theme of how the things we witness or experience as children affect us in later life.

In all this darkness there is a wicked sense of humour which makes it all the more delightfully gothic in its tone. There is the same darkness in Tremain’s humour which offers some light(er) relief in parts both in some of the peripheral characters and their set pieces, like Lloyd Palmer and his accidental pant wetting when laughing which made me giggle very loudly. You will also often find yourself often smiling wryly as Tremain gets her characters to do something we all wish we would do and never dare.

Out of her kitchen window, she watched him toiling in the afternoon heat. Sun rays bounced off his bald head. He was a small man, but full of petty cruelty, she could tell, proud of his ability to wound. Audrun crumbled some black earth from the geranium pot on her kitchen window sill and threw it in with the ground coffee because she knew this could have the power to quell her anxiety, to watch the surveyor imbibing geranium compost and never knowing it.

Trespass is an utterly marvellous novel. One that I don’t really feel I could do full justice without writing something almost as long as the book itself – which I should add manages all the above in just over 250 pages. It is a beautifully written and intricately crafted gothic tale, which has a slight evocation of a fairy tale in some ways, and also the pace and mystery of a thriller. I cannot wait to read more of Tremain’s work.

So you see it seems Gran was right, Trespass is indeed a very ‘me’ book. I am only cross that I didn’t listen to her a few years ago and read it with her at the time as we could have had a real natter about it, and about why she would pair me with such a dark twisty book? It has also broken the spell of being unable to write a review, which has been a bit of a black cloud over me of late. Anyway, who else has read Trespass and what did you make of it? Had you read Tremain before, if so how does this compare and if not what did you think of this as a first foray? I am very much looking forward to The Road Home, which just happens to be the next Trespassing with Tremain title, as I think I might become quite the Tremain fan!

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Filed under Books of 2014, Review, Rose Tremain, Trespassing with Tremain, Vintage Books

Trespassing with Tremain…

It has been a year since Gran died. A year which seems to have gone all too quickly and also weirdly slowly all at once. How does time do that? Naturally I have thought about her daily since, at the weirdest of times, and missed her a huge amount both as my Gran and also as being one of the most bookish influences I had around me. I miss speaking three times a week about anything and everything and ending up on seeing how we were getting on with X or Y book, I still finish a book and wondering if she would like it, I miss reading the same book and having the same good or bad thoughts on it or polar opposite thoughts which we could get into heated debates about, I miss discussing our latest book group lists and meetings. The list could go on.

I was umming and ahhhhing how to mark the year since her passing. Did I mention it? Did I just let life go on? Having recently read one of the books I inherited from her, A Month in the Country, and loving it so much I thought maybe it was time to do something like Greene for Gran again and see if, like you all did amazingly last year, you would like to join in. The question was who or what to read?

My initial thought was to go for authors that she loved that I had read like Graham Greene last year. The choices could be Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood, John Updike, William Trevor, Antony Trollope (gulp) and Anne Tyler etc. Yet the bittersweet joy, because I couldn’t talk to her about it afterwards, in reading A Month in the Country was that she had introduced me to a new author and favourite book, even though (annoyingly) she doesn’t know it. I also decided that I quite fancied a more contemporary, and indeed living, author would make a change. So I ransacked my brain for the authors she had lots of books by and I had read and the answer was obvious…

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Rose Tremain, Gran raved and raved about Restoration, The Colour, The Road Home, Music and Silence and Trespass. In fact I seem to remember giving my proof/new incoming copies of anything Tremain because I knew the buzz she would get from having them early. I think she had almost all of Rose Tremain’s thirteen novels and a few of her short story collections. I can also remember how annoyed she would get when she asked if I had read any of them, ironically forgetting I had sent them her way, and my response would be ‘not yet, but I will’ with the response ‘you’d better.’

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Well Gran, guess what, in honour of you I am going to try Trespassing with Tremain into all the different era’s and lives that she writes about. I am thinking of reading and writing about four of her books and one of her short story collections – one every fortnight – from the 10th of August until the 5th of October. I will announce which ones when in due course, after your recommendations really. So where to start and who is up for joining me and hopefully finding some more great reads?

 

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A Month in the Country – J.L. Carr

There is something rather wonderful in the fact that Granny Savidge is still influencing my reading almost a year, in fact it is a year tomorrow, since she died. As someone who I talked about books at least three times a week there is a void left now yet through having inherited some of her books my thought was that some of her favourites, as they were the only books she would keep unless a random gift like the Barbara Cartland I once bought her as a joke, would become my future reads and maybe some of my favourites. Well luck struck first time with J.L. Carr’s A Month in the Country, which I tried to read when she was ill (on her recommendation) yet just couldn’t yet have been much, much more successful this time around.

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Penguin Modern Classics, paperback, 1980 (2000 edition), fiction, 112 pages, inherited from Gran

In A Month in the Country Tom Birkin reflects several decades later on the summer of 1920 when he ended up in the village of Oxgodby for a single month. Here on a mission left by recently deceased spinster Miss Hebron he is being paid, begrudgingly by the Reverend Keach who is only allowing it as Hebron left the church money if he did, to uncover a possible medieval wall painting inside the church. Birkin reflects upon that summer, the place he was in mentally in his life at the time and thinks about the place he was in physically and those who peopled it.

Ostensibly it sounds like there isn’t really much to this novella and in some ways you would be right, plot wise there are no twists and turns. Yet somehow Carr creates a novel where very little happens and yet everything happens too. We learn through reflections he had that month which he reflects upon (bear with me) of his failing marriage, yet we also get hints of what happened after that summer. We also get glimpses of what he had to face during the war which has left him with shellshock and a nervous twitch. We learn of the friends he makes; Charles Moon who also fought in the war and is on another of Miss Hebron’s missions, Alice Keach the younger wife of the Reverend who feels like she isn’t accepted, Kathy Ellerbeck a young girl who befriends Birkin and whose family are the first to welcome him properly into the area.

Through all these friendships Carr creates very condensed additional stories. With the Ellerbeck’s he looks at how the families and people in the countryside were as affected by the war as those in the cities, only in a different way, and also looks at class. With Moon, whose storyline is sharply bittersweet, we get another side of the war and also another side to social mores of the time. Through Alice Keach we look at marriage, a mirror of sorts to Birkin’s to an extent, and indeed lust verses love and how love and marriage connect or don’t.

See it is brimming and what makes this all the more masterful is that fact that Carr does this all so succinctly. The story is in itself only 88 pages and yet there is all of this life within it. The prose is magical, not something I say often yet is so true in this instance. Within a line he conjures a character completey, a situation is a mere paragraph or so. Sometimes within very few lines he can capture the things we ponder about life and just put them plainly and simply, in terms we wish we could, it is just marvellous.

I never exchanged a word with the Colonel. He has no significance at all in what happened during my stay in Oxgodby. As far as I’m concerned he might just as well have gone round the corner and died. But that goes for most of us, doesn’t it? We look blankly at each other. Here I am, here you are. What are we doing here? What do you suppose it’s all about? Let’s dream on. Yes, that’s my Dad and Mum over there on the piano top. My eldest boy is on the mantelpiece. That cushion cover was embroidered by my cousin Sarah only a month before she passed on. I go to work at eight and come home at five-thirty. When I retire they’ll give me a clock – with my name engraved on the back. Now you know all about me. Go away; I’ve forgotten you already.

One of my favourite things in fiction is looking at difference and also the relationship between the outsider and the insider. Interestingly it is books with a rural setting where this can be used to its full potential. In villages things are rarely missed or go unnoticed, in cities you can lose yourself, others or things. With A Month in the Country Carr adds even more levels to this. The metaphor of the outsider is tripled as not only is Birkin an outsider to Oxgodby, he is an outsider to some of the religious views of the villagers and in many ways in his present state an outsider to life. This is doubly felt as he uncovers the wall painting, seemingly learning about the villagers (possibly uncovering their secrets) and himself at the same time, and of course there is the image that the walls depict, but I won’t spoil that for you.

The other things that I loved so much about the book are firstly how awash it is in the sense of nostalgia and secondly the way the atmosphere and place are so well depicted and come to life. I left the book feeling as if I had been wandering away and hour or two reflecting on that summer, as I had walked it’s streets, seen Miss Hebron’s spooky old house, witnessed a sermon in the church, has dinner with the Ellerbeck’s and tea with Charles Moon when these moments are just a sentence here and there within.

If I’d stayed there, would I always have been happy? No, I suppose not. People move away, grow older, die, and the bright belief that there will be another marvellous thing around the corner fades. It is now or never; we must snatch at happiness as it flies.

I think it is safe to say, and very apparent, that I adored A Month in the Country. I think it is easily one of the best things that I have read in years and a book that will not only last with me for years to come but also be read by me again and again for years to come. It is the kind of rare book that makes you look at your life and tells you not to waste it, not to have regrets and to do all the things you want to do, not what people want you to. If you haven’t read it, which is possibly unlikely, then you must. I can see why so many authors have it as a firm favourite, it is a perfect piece of prose. A little gem of a novella.

Inscribed by Gran

Inscribed by Gran

My only real regret with the novel is that I can’t talk to Gran about it. As soon as I had finished it I felt the age old urge to phone her and rave about it all (yes, a year down the line this still happens when I read a book I really love) and discuss it further. However, not to get too nostalgic and melancholic, I just sat and thanked her for a moment for having led me to it, plus I have all of you to discuss it with now don’t I?

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Filed under Books of 2014, J.L. Carr, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review

Saying Goodbye to Gran…

I may just have issues with letting go but I have found it very odd to think that as my reading life, and this blog too, goes on I won’t really mention Gran so much anymore. She was such a huge part of my life and my reading it doesn’t feel like it’s over. It had seemed strange to me to possibly end it all on merely the books that she has left behind that I will now go on to read; it didn’t seem like an apt ending, not quite yet.

So I thought I would share the final physical farewell we had for Gran ourselves a few weekends ago when we did her ashes, a weekend I have to say I was dreading as it loomed ever nearer. I think I am still quite raw about her death and her knot being here. I still often think of something I must ring her to tell her, even though I was with her as much as I could be after we discovered she was terminally ill, with her when she died and even though we have had the funeral. Yet we do have to move on, we have to find that dreaded cliché of a thing called ‘closure’.

It was with this in mind that we Savidge’s, just Gran’s children and me, met up for the weekend to do the final clearing of the house and of course the ashes. Well do you know what, I think Gran would have been really proud because even though it was very sad in many ways it often ended in hysterics, partly because when you are highly emotionally charged everything ends up in hysterics. For example before we had even left the house we had been in hysterics at the fact that when we went to get the remainder of my Granddad’s ashes, as Gran wanted them with hers, from the garage I discovered not one set but two, making twice the amount of Gran and leaving us all wondering if (as one had a mere post it note with his name on, the other was very professional) actually we might have someone else with us.

After much pondering we finally made a move and packed our rucksacks and off we went to an unnamed location which involved a mammoth (well for me who used to do 11 miles a day walking holiday and now walks twenty minutes to the station and back each day) hike up a hill to a spot that Gran had said was where she wanted and somewhere she could see from her house when she was poorly. The view as you can see was quite serene and quite, quite stunning.

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We did the deed and then in true Gran style we cracked open a couple of bottles of cava, raised a toast to Gran, had a bit of a cry and then (which we thought she would have liked as a bit of a techno-gadget Gran) with much laughter tried to capture a moment of all her offspring on camera, introducing one of my aunties to the concept of the ‘selfie’…

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Well, once we started we couldn’t stop and tears were falling down our faces from laughter. She would have liked that, it was oddly bonkers which seemed rather apt. We then decided it was time to head and see the house which we were all brought up in and keep the nostalgia and laughter going, a happy walk down memory lane which nicely leads to another apt selfie – I said once we started we couldn’t stop.

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Yes that really is my uncle, aunties and (on the right) my mother. No one seems to believe me, but it is true I swear. Anyway… The walk took us through the woods that we all used to often go on big family walks (I can still hear Gran saying the immortal words ‘get your boots on’) in and then at last to where we used to live.

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It was so odd going back and peering at the neighbourhood houses we played in before of course going to the house we live in itself.

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Note – we didn’t have the really tacky balcony someone has attached, I used to say I wanted to buy this house back when I was much younger (after I had cried for about a week when it was sold) strange how going back I loved it, missed it yet couldn’t imagine being in it again. No, not because I could barely make it up the hill – cheeky.

After this a well-earned pint, or three, seemed due and so we decided we would (again as Gran would have thoroughly approved of it) have a bit of a pub crawl and dinner in our old town and put the world to rights and spend time with each other without all the madness that we had last year, it was just really nice being with each other and while we missed Gran we had all the lovely memories to share. One thing that did happen, which we afterwards we found hysterical not initially, was that the pub we had dinner at got raided by the police. The sniffer dogs came in and we were all looking at our bags, which may have had traces of ashes in, with mounting panic. Would we be arrested? We thought gran would have found this a hoot. In fact all in all she would have loved the day had it not been the occasion that it obviously was.

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Even though she is no longer with us physically, she was making new funny and bonkers memories and because we are all her offspring, or her offspring’s offspring, we will continue to do so. That and all the reading ahead. By the way, I found the picture above the next day and couldn’t not share it.

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So it has been a farewell to Gran though it still doesn’t feel final, but I don’t think it ever will because she is living in me, both in the genes and in the memories and I can’t be thankful enough for that, even if I miss her like mad. So maybe we never really do say goodbye, only goodbye to the sad or difficult memories. Those we love, and the lovely memories we have of the best moments, stay with us for good.

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The Inheritance of Books…

So today is going to be a bit of a strange day as we scatter Gran’s (and half of my Granddads, which seems strange too) ashes and say a final farewell to her. It’s sure to be a day of mixed emotions and knowing us Savidge’s there will probably be hysteria from all extremes, laughter and tears.

As she was such a big part of the blog, as regular readers will know, and of my life on and off the blog I thought I would mark the day in some way. What could be more apt than sharing the books that I have inherited from her.

032It has to be said that when I was asked to go through her books and take what I liked there were three thoughts. First, I just wanted to regime them all because the idea of them going out the family bothered me. Secondly, I thought how she loved lending books and buying second hand books and wouldn’t it be nice to continue that tradition with her books. Thirdly I thought about how bloody many she had, even after my mother and aunts had been through them, and so I decided to pick books in a certain way. Initially I decided to take the books of hers I had read and had on my shelves but were her editions.

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There seemed something rather special and pay about this until again I realised that we’d read so many in common. So I changed tactics and took ones I had read and lent and never got back from other people, or books I had but her edition is nicer. I love the idea of our personal libraries merging.

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Next I turned to any books by my favourite authors. Now you might think there would have been hundreds of these but I have a bad habit, if I love an authors book I invariably go on a hunt/spree (second hand shops then readitswapit then regular trips to a bookshop) to find all the others of theirs. I’ve curbed it somewhat but it still happens and Anne Tyler and Nevil Shute, as you can see were two top choices. The Shute’s are particularly special as Gran used to have these editions by her bed in our old house Sunbury when I was really little till I was about 12 so many memories there with those.

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After that it may look a bit like a free for all but there was still method to my madness, what books had I not read that a) Gran had told me I must read b) would have liked me to read. These I split three ways; classic, modern…

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And of course non fiction, something that I’m not the best reader of, Gran was especially stuff around WWI and WWII, but want to improve with.

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I do have to admit I did take a selection of books just because they looked pretty. Any special series Penguin do are generally a treat to behold, Great Ideas are no exception. I probably won’t read them but I don’t think Gran ever did either, no disrespect Gran. Ha!

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What has been lovely is since getting them home I have been sorting them (into hardbacks, paperbacks and then in alphabetical order) and as doing so I have discovered more of Grans reading habits. She often wrote her name in the front and the date she got it and then the date she read it. Occasionally other relatives (my mother or aunties Caroline and Alice) names appear in the inlay, I’ve not told them. Oops. What’s been doubly lovely are the books that are inscribed by her friends and indeed my Granddad (as you’ll see below on her 43rd birthday when I was 3) which conjure lovely images of relationships and friendships don’t you think?/p>

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I was sad I couldn’t take the remaining ones with me, there is only so much WWI and WWII literature anyone can stomach though. Ha. Jokes aside the idea some shared reads we had and now in a combined library is a lovely one. Even more lovely is that with all the books I’ve not read and have ahead, I can think that Gran was flicking those pages and reading those words before me, so we are still reading together in a way.

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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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New Reading Arenas…

Apologies for more silence on the blog. I know I am beginning to sound like a stuck record but in the last week I’ve not even managed to read a chapter of a book let alone getting around to writing about any books. I have managed to book a break away at the end of this month,which I cannot wait for, to Harrogate so thank you for your reading recommendations for Yorkshire and keep them coming. I have also spent most of the weekend so far sorting out new reading arenas…

As I am sure you will all agree where you do your reading is REALLY important. Well, I now have two new sumptuous (firm but comfy and cosy, ideal) sofas that I have inherited from Gran which are snugly sitting in the lounge ready to have many an hour of reading spent upon them.

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What’s so nice about these is firstly that they have been in the family for a few decades and so have many, many family memories attached to them. Secondly, some of these are naturally reading ones. Only early last year were Gran and I sat on them reading books in that delightful companionable silence only real readers can understand. With only the occasional words of book comparisons or wondering aloud if we should open another box of Thorntons chocolates?

Now those of you who will know the lengths I went to find a reading armchair a while back, fret not. It has not been relegated. In fact it’s now moved into a reading nook in the bedroom and been given a slight modern twist…

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Fun isn’t it. And the cushion may mean that a certain two pussy cats (or in fact just Oscar) might not hog it all to themselves anymore. So I now have lots of places to curl up with a good book, I just need more time to do it!

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Book Notebooks, Keeping Up With Tradition

Isn’t it weird how sometimes things seem to crop up at just the right time, or a memory pops into your head unbidden that then means a lot at a later point? I had a serious case of this over the weekend, which in its own way has rather a bookish twist.

I was just off to the post office to finally send Marieke Hardy a Chris Ware inspired pen pal parcel (if you are reading this – unlikely – Marieke I am sorry it has taken so long, I have written loads of excuses in my parcel) to Australia. As I waited in the never ending queue, and mourned the days of the post office being in the now closed local bookshop, I spotted some notebooks which instantly sent me off into the past. Bright red Silvine notebooks.

I can vividly remember Gran having these notebooks in which she kept all sorts of notes. Be they shopping lists, random things to remember or of course notes on what she was reading, in to these books they would go – those or some weird notebooks she inherited or possibly stole when she left her job. Initially I thought nothing of it, though it seemed apt I spotted them as I had really been missing her that morning, weird how random days can just get you the little buggers. But I bought one, popping a note about the memory of them in it, and included it in my parcel bound for Oz.

Anyway, as I said I didn’t think much of it after that. Until after having taken my old iPhone off to be sold, I went to catch up with my varying impending reviews and realised all my ‘bookish notes’ had failed to transfer from phone to phone. I was distraught, weeping almost happened, vexation hit. Awful.

Well after an hour blethering about it, moaning about it on twitter and then remembering I backed those notes up to Gmail – goodness only knows how, I can’t blinking remember. I came up with the idea that really I need to have hard copies of these notes, somewhere reliable and so I made a special trip up the road and came home with these…

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Yes, four of the notebooks that Gran used to use. Four may seem excessive but at 59p a go you can’t go wrong can you, so how could I not? I have a wanton craving for stationery at all times and this sated it in the lead up to pay day. Most importantly though I liked the idea that a tradition of bookish sorts has been passed down the family line and now when I write my bookish notes I can think of Gran as I do so, not that she wouldn’t flit through my mind anyway, as it’s almost like I can write the notes to her as she’s not on the end of the phone.

Do you have fate filled moments like this? Have you gained any bookish hand me down traditions? Where do you keep your book notes? And one of the biggest mysteries of all (ha, how to hype a question) why is it people who love books also really love stationery?

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Travels With My Aunt – Graham Greene

Once again, this time with ‘Travels With My Aunt’ my final Greene for Gran read, Graham Greene has done that thing of writing a book which I loved, got a bit frustrated and bored with and then sat back and thought about and have decided that whilst it wasn’t my favourite read of all time it is a bloody clever book indeed. Oh Gran… why oh why can’t you be on the end of the phone anymore for me to have a good old natter with you about this book? So frustrating, thankfully I have lots of you to discuss it with hopefully.

Vintage Classics, 1969 ( 1999 edition), paperback, 262 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Henry Pulling is a retired man who is very comfortable with his life, he doesn’t really want for anything and the highlight of excitement in his life are his dahlias which he tends to in a way some might say could be bordering on obsession. No gardening pun intended on the ‘bordering’ there. That is until the funeral of his mother and the arrival of his long lost septuagenarian (a word I will be promptly adding to my vocabulary) Aunt Augusta. From their first meeting at the funeral of his mother, where Aunt Augusta announces that his mother might not have been his mother at all, and the coffee in her apartment after, where he meets her man servant/lover Wentworth who swaps Henry’s mothers ashes for some marijuana, you know things are not going to be all flowers and regularly delivered cooked favourite meals before.

“I was weeding the dahlias, the Polar Beauties and the Golden Leaders and the Requiems, when my telephone began to ring. Being unused to the sound which shattered all the peace in my little garden, I assumed it was a wrong number. I had very few friends, although before my retirement I boasted a great many acquaintances.”

Aunt Augusta is what many people would politely describe as a ‘character’, those who might want to be more base would say she was a slightly crazy woman in her seventies who isn’t against the odd illegal action along with an abundance of sex from many a lover, which as we learn has always been the way. She is brass, quite coarse, a bit vulgar and rather naughty (for which I naturally loved her) and also a woman of a certain sense of danger, darkness and mystery (which I naturally wanted to discover more of) in fact of all Greene’s characters I have come across Aunt Augusta is probably my favourite and cleverly Greene never allows her to become a farce no matter how funny or crude she is being. I did often laugh out loud at paragraphs like this.

‘I very much doubt it,’ she said. ‘My dear Henry,’ she added, ‘at my age one has ceased to expect a relationship to last. Think how complicated life would be if I had kept in touch with all the men I have known intimately. Some died, some I left, a few have left me. If they were all with me now we would have to take over a whole wing of the Royal Albion. I was very fond of Wordsworth while he lasted, but my emotions are not as strong as they once were. I can support his absence, though I may regret him for a while tonight. His knackers were superb.’   

It was strange reading this later, 1969, Greene novel as for the first fifty or so pages of the book I felt like this was an author simply writing for the pleasure of it (it was his twentieth novel after all) and it seemed much more carefree. A simple tale of a happy, but boring, man who meets a wild relative and finds himself gallivanting all over the world on her whims/dodgy dealings. Then throw in some crazy characters, like a CIA Agent who counts the amount of minutes he spends urinating every day, and lots of rather rude titillation and hey presto an entertaining romp. That would have done me fine. Yet like ‘Our Man From Havana’ Greene also has a lot more going on with the book which slowly comes to focus as the laughter started to lessen.

To hand it to Greene he fits a lot in with this book. He looks at prostitution, the Nazi regime and how WWII changed the world, the plight of third world countries and even manages to swing in some commentary on the apartheid in South Africa along with how the pill had, rightly or wrongly, changed women’s sexual awakening and responsibility. Oh and (just for a change, possibly a sign of too much of an author not always being a good thing as it really got on my wick in this book) of course the subject of religion and Greene’s favourite topic of conversation Catholicism.

With the admiration of all these ‘hot topics’ that Greene interweaves within ‘Travels With My Aunt’ also comes a slight criticism for me. I felt that Greene suddenly worried he was almost having too much fun and that actually really we should be focussed on these subjects in hand and think on. Whilst it did add meat to the book, for me it also really bogged me down. I found the final part of the book, which to be fair is only 80 pages of the novels total, a real slog until Greene suddenly stepped it up a gear leading to the ending, which I guessed part of and then had a real ‘yuck’ feeling around the final two sentences.

Greene does this too me a lot as an author, leaves me feeling like I have read something rather brilliant even if I didn’t always enjoy the whole thing, more the sum of his parts. His prose is always lush and masterful and yet his plots sometimes make me ponder. ‘Travels With My Aunt’ could have just been a really entertaining and quirky read, and in many ways it remains that, there is just a little bit of a forced feeling of an author wanting to be deemed worthy that dampens it on occasion and makes the book feel much longer than it is. Or am I being too harsh?

Gran and I would have argued the toss about this for a few hours I am sure, with me possibly having to admit defeat at some point, but then the best books inspire debate don’t they –  so thanks Gran for making me give this a whirl! Greene will certainly be an author I will be returning to… though maybe not in quite such a concentrated dose. What have been your thoughts on Greene, and if any of you have read ‘Travels With My Aunt’ did you find the deeper undertones a little too try hard, or did they make the book a more fulfilling reading experience for you?

And don’t forget to let me know if you have read any Greene’s for Gran, what you thought of them and if you reviewed them where you did so.

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Filed under Graham Greene, Greene For Gran, Review, Vintage Books, Vintage Classics

The Greene For Gran Gang!

So back at the end of July I decided that in honour of my lovely Granny Savidge Reads, who sadly passed away last month after a courageous battle with a tumour, that as she was such a bookish influence on me I should do something to commemorate that and her here on the blog, where she came to know some of you and vice versa. Her favourite author, well one of them, was Graham Greene and after the eulogy I gave at her funeral ended with me telling everyone to ‘go and grab a Greene for Gran’ I would do the same here and so Greene for Gran was born.

Well I have to admit, I was utterly blown away by the response and how many of you said you would spread the word and give Greene a go. Brilliant. I decided to go Greene crazy and read four very different novels of his. Well, I didn’t quite manage to complete the #GreeneForGran challenge that I set myself, but three out of four isn’t so bad – especially considering I have been working on an inaugural month long music festival. Plus, as with my experiences of his books before, Greene is one of those authors that I really, really like and sometimes find a little bit baffling. I utterly LOVED ‘The Ministry of Fear’ and yet really didn’t love ‘The Quiet American’; you will have to wait a teeny bit longer to see how I got on with ‘Travels With My Aunt’.

I haven’t managed ‘The Heart of the Matter’ but actually I think that is a good thing. Because I don’t want to only read Greene for Gran just for one month, I want books and an author (along with Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood, Andrea Levy and many more) that I can read from time to time and will make me think of Gran (I had a slightly emotional moment starting Atkinson’s ‘Life for Life’ the other day as I wanted to phone Gran and tell her how great it was and how she should read it) in the future, and I think a lot of books will.

Anyway, before I get too mushy, here are some links to those of you who have been reading some Graham Greene books and who may, or may not, get you dashing off to do the same – if you haven’t had incentive enough already – I am calling them Gran’s Gang, ha!

The Ministry of Fear

Some guy named Simon of Savidge Reads
Heaven Ali
Nose In A Book

The Quiet American

Harriet Devine
That pesky Savidge Reads again

England Made Me

Annabel’s House of Books

Stamboul Train

Harriet Devine
Heaven Ali

The Third Man/No Man’s Land

Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings

Doctor Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party

Annabel’s House of Books

Now as I mentioned I still have my thoughts on ‘Travels With My Aunt’ to come and I am pretty sure that I have missed lots and lots of reviews, my brain is addled after the last week, so if you have blogged about Greene or when you do please let me know and I will add you to the gang. If you don’t have a blog let me know what Greene books you have read and what you thought of them down there too, is lovely to see Gran’s love of a good book spreading, I just wish she could have a good natter with us about them!

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Filed under Granny Savidge Reads, Greene For Gran