Tag Archives: Harper Collins

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

Hopefully in the future realms of time, if my plans work out which they are often unlikely to do, this won’t be noticeable as the blog post that ‘brought Savidge Reads back’ after some time away. Yet when I was thinking about which book I should ‘come back’ with it seemed Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was the most apt as it is the book I have talked about the most in a literal sense in the last year or so. The reason for that being that is was the winner of the category (debuts) I judged for last year’s Costa Awards. It is the book that I have had some of the most heated conversations about, not with my fellow judges (Sandy and Sophie who were both a joy) though we talked about it at length, with people in my day to day life who felt very strongly one way or the other and were surprised when it won. I wasn’t surprised. No, not because I knew in advance, ha, but because I think it is a book that can appeal to anyone and does a huge variety of things, with so many layers, and remains wonderfully readable – a word which can open a huge can of worms but I am not literary snob and embrace the joys of readability. Anyway, the book…

Harper Collins, paperback, 2018, fiction, 400 pages, kindly sent by the Costa Awards

 When people ask me what I do – taxi drivers, hairdressers – I tell them I work in an office. In almost eight years, no one’s ever asked me what kind of office, or what sort of job I do there. I can’t decide whether that’s because I fit perfectly with their idea of what an office worker looks like, or whether it’s just that people hear the phrase work in an office and automatically fill in the blanks themselves – lady doing photocopying, man tapping at keyboard. I’m not complaining. I’m delighted that I don’t have to get into the fascinating intricacies of accounts receivable with them.

And so we are thrown into the life of Eleanor Oliphant a woman whom to many would seem in the centre of society, with a decent job her own home etc, but who actually has become someone much more on the periphery of society that the facade of a ‘steady life’ would let on. She does her nine to five, Monday to Friday, and at the end of the latter she buys herself a few margarita pizzas and a couple of bottles of vodka and drinks the weekend away. It is here that the novel then takes two paths, though with many layers. Firstly we wonder why it is that Eleanor has found herself in this position and secondly we wonder how this cycle might be broken.

It is the latter that unfolds itself first. Walking home with a colleague Ray, who seems to want to befriend Eleanor much to her confusion, they witness an elderly man collapse and in helping him become embroiled further with each other and Sammy. A turning point in Eleanor’s life has come, even if she doesn’t really see it as an opportunity she particularly wants, the question is how she will deal with it? Especially when she has recently become besotted with a local pop star who she thinks she is destined to marry.

As to why Eleanor has ended up so isolated and alone, Honeyman does something which I really admired – if admittedly it does go a little twist-tatsic (I might trademark that) towards the end. We get a slow reveal which is at once heartbreaking but also eye opening. It is hard to say anything for fear of spoilers but there is some serious trauma in her past which we are slowly alluded to. For me the most heartbreaking moments were much more subtle, and this is what I hope to see lots more of in Honeyman’s writing in the future, where a single paragraph says so much within its subtext and the reader can start to fill in the blanks to much emotional effect.

 She came with me from my childhood bedroom, survived the rough treatment in foster placements and children’s homes and, like me, she’s still here. I’ve looked after her, tended to her, picked her up and repotted her when she was dropped or thrown. She likes the light, and she’s thirsty. Apart from that, she requires minimal care and attention, and largely looks after herself. I talk to her sometimes, I’m not ashamed to admit it. When the silence and aloneness press down and around me, crushing me, carving through me like ice, I need to speak aloud, if only for proof of life.

That makes this novel sound like it is a misery feast and that is not the case at all, often I found myself chuckling along as I read. (I have said many a time on this blog in the past that a good dose of comedy can make the darker parts of a book all the more so.) As Eleanor reluctantly forces herself out into the world more and more the deadpan comedy comes in many high street spaces such as her first visit for a wax. ‘Hollywood’, I said, finally. ‘Holly would, and so would Eleanor’. Yet, again, here Honeyman does something which I think is very clever, she occasionally blurs the lines between when we are laughing with and laughing at Eleanor. A short sharp shock every now and again that we are doing exactly what those horrid co-workers are doing we dislike so much at the start. This isn’t intended as judgement, it is simply a reminder to check ourselves once in a while, to be kinder.

That said Eleanor is not always particularly kind herself. But her flaws and quirks are what make her such an interesting character. Her directness often made me ponder if we are meant to assume that she is on the autistic scale, though sometimes she is just simply rude to people. This is a woman though who has been so much on the sidelines of the world that everything seems as at odds with her as she as with it. It also reminds us that not everyone is instantly loveable but they are always relatable and there is almost always, if we make the effort to look and don’t expect everyone to come to us, an ‘in’ to their world.

 When Raymond returned, I paid for lunch, since he had paid last time; I was really starting to get the hang of the concept of a payment schedule. He insisted on leaving the tip, however. Five pounds! All the man had done was carry our food from the kitchen to the table, a job for which he was already being recompensed by the cafe owner. Raymond was reckless and profligate – no wonder he couldn’t afford proper shoes or an iron.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is very much like its central character; quirky, funny, frank and honest. Once you look past that facade it is also brimming with layers about being different but not being obviously or any stereotype of different. It is a blunt, yet digestible which is not always easy, look at the awful nature of loneliness and how easy it can be to become a loner. It is also about hope and a reminder that we should never judge anyone by any assumptions we might make of them. I applaud it for all of these things.

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The Book Buying Ban… The Update (Part II)

Only earlier this week I mentioned that though it was in many ways painful and was taking some serious avoidance my month of no book buying hasn’t been quite as difficult as I thought it would. This is both thanks to ReadItSwapIt and the Library as I mentioned in the earlier post. I also said I had received some lovely parcels from some lovely publishers and would let you know what had arrived and so I thought as its a Saturday and book shopping is so tempting I would tease you with these delights that you could run out and buy; as none of you are doing anything as silly as a self imposed ban like I am hopefully!! First up some classics…

I have been making a concerted effort to read more classics and two publishers you cant go wrong with are Vintage Classics and Oxford University Press. When a rather large thud resounded through the building from the letterbox I came down and found ‘The Bronte Collection’ which includes Wuthering Heights, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Villette and Jane Eyre. I will admit I didnt love Wuthering Heights but after reading The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan which is all about the sisters earlier this year I think a Bronte-Binge is on the way and the season after New Year seems perfect for this don’t you think? Might be a good Xmas pressie for relatives this Christmas maybe. (Hang on did I just mention the C word before December starts – I should be ashammed!) They also sent The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever and a huge collection of his letters. I havent read any Cheever but am thrilled about these two delights. Oxford University Press kindly sent the last of the Sensation Season novels (don’t cry they may be back again next year) in the form of Charles Dickens ‘Great Expectations’ along with George Moore’s ‘Esther Waters’ which hit my attention waves on BBC Radio 4’s Open Book show when they looked at neglected classics. Be warned – the neglected classics are dangerous list of books which could lead to a huge spree.

From the people at Harper arrived a very diverse collection of books in one big parcel, the postman is not a fan of this address – his arms certainly aren’t, quite an eclectic mix indeed. Two of the books are from thier new imprint Blue Door ‘The Ballad of Trench Mouth Taggart’ (great title) by M Glenn Taylor and Mots d’Heures: Gousses, Rames by Luis d’Antin Van Rooten the latter can only be described by a post on their new blog. Sounds bizarre but will give it a go. They also sent me Snow Hill a thriller by Mark Sanderson, who has written a memoir so heartbreaking I have owned it for years and never able to read, Mark will be doing a Savidge Reads Grills very soon. Last but not least by any means as actually this is one of the books I have been most excited about in weeks (as you know I am having an Agatha Christie binge) is ‘Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks’ compiled by John Curran, I had to stop myself reading it as soon as it arrived. It’s a treat for a very lazy Sunday.

Now in a few weeks I will be doing a piece on the books to look forward to over the next year, you can see the predictions I made for this year here should you wish. Already some are coming through the letter box and Sceptre have done some very clever marketing with a collection of three books and three characters “you simply must meet in 2010”. They are called Nevis Gow, Lindiwe Bishop and Jack Rosenblum and I shall tell you more about them in the forthcoming weeks. I just love how they have packaged it all, no titles or authors on the cover, intriguing.  Books already out arrived too and they are The Sorrows of an American by Siri Hustvedt, which I think has a stunning cover, and Incendiary by Chris Cleave and you all know how I loved The Other Hand.

Another massive parcel has arrived from Orion. I have succumbed to the latest in the Twilight Saga and it seems more Vampire delights await me with the first two of Charlaine Harris’ series about Sookie Stackhouse (great name) which have become the incredibly successful True Blood tv series. I haven’t heard much on the blogosphere on these but am very much intrigued by them as have seen tonnes on the tube.  The final tome that you can see is one thats not out until June next year but I have been priviledged enough to be asjed to take a very early look at. ‘The Passage’ by Justin Cronin is massive, comes with very little, though intriguing blurb and has already had the film rites bought by Ridley Scott, more on that soon too as I think this is going to be huge (and not just in size) next year. And finally…

It’s always nice when a publisher emails you be they big or small. I have to admit I hadn’t heard too much about Honno Press when they emailed me asking if they could send me a catalogue. Honno Press is an independent publisher of Welsh Women’s fiction (so a bit like a welsh version of Persephone if you are a fan) and they have a wonderful selection of books, they also go the extra mile as they went through my blog and picked three books they thought I would love. A welsh sensation novel ‘A Burglary’ by Amy Dillwyn, a book where “each generation looks back into the tragic past, loves, secrets and lies are hauled into the open with surprising consequences for all” in ‘Hector’s Talent for Miracles’ by Kitty Harri and finally a collection of witty, wry and sharply observed stories about women with ‘Stranger Within The Gates’ by Bertha Thomas. Sounds like they have got me spot on!!!

Blimey. Now over to you… are Bronte’s and other classics the perfect pressies for Christmas and reading as Spring… erm… springs up? Who has read the Charlaine Harris books, are they like Twilight? Who has tried Honno Press and what did you think?  What will you be curling up with this weekend? What books have you accumulated of late?

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The Body in the Library – Agatha Christie

I realised that actually The Body in the library isn’t the second Miss Marple written by Agatha Christie after I picked it up from my Christie post the other day. I also realised I have completely broken my ‘read things in order’ rule I like for a series of books as I had already read At Bertram’s Hotel (actually the eleventh), 4.50 From Paddington (which I always think is the first but is actually the eighth) and then the actual first Marple novel The Murder at The Vicarage. I was slightly narked at myself but I needed a Marple and Christie fest and didn’t have The Thirteen Problems so I just went with it.

The title ‘The Body in the Library’ kind of gives away just what is coming in the opening pages. Yes that’s right, the Bantry household awakes to find that there is indeed a body of an unknown platinum blonde in their library. No one in the household has seen the young girl before and it takes some time for the police to track her down. However it doesn’t take that long for Miss Jane Marple to appear on the scene as Mrs Bantry, a close friend, sends a chauffeur round for her pronto phoning ahead before ‘the recognised time to make friendly calls to neighbours’.

The police having met Miss Marple and her amateur sleuthing naturally want her gone as soon as possible. She doesn’t leave until she overhears that the victim was a dancer at the Hotel Majestic in Danemouth and before long Mrs Bantry and Miss Marple just so happen to take a small holiday there. So who was this girl, how did she end up in a strangers library in St Mary’s Mead and who took her there and killed her? Well you will have to read this joyous romp to find out.

Reading Agatha Christie this time round and taking slightly longer than the normal one sitting I noticed the wry humour she has that I spotted after seeing ‘The Spiders Web’ on stage the other week. Even from the wonderful opening paragraph there it is “Mrs Bantry was dreaming. Her sweet peas had just taken a first at the flower show. The vicar, dressed in a cassock and surplice, was giving out the prizes in church. His wife wandered past, dressed in a bathing-suit, but as is the blessed habit of dreams this fact did not arouse the disapproval of the parish in the way it would assuredly have done in real life…

Those of you who read regularly will know I love village life and old ladies who are either a bit doolally or gossip and in the book we have both. Again the rye wit comes through in lines such as when we meet one of the villagers “Miss Wetherby, a long nosed, acidulated spinster, was the first to spread the intoxicating information”. Or when one woman in the village defends another to Miss Marple “Selena Blake is the nicest woman imaginable. Her herbaceous borders are simply marvellous – they make me green with envy. And she’s frightfully generous with her cuttings.’

I really took stock of Agatha Christie’s writing this time whilst try to hunt the killer and motives and it added immensely to my latest Christie reading. There was only one draw back and that was about half way in I suddenly remembered the TV version and so didn’t need to guess the killer as I remembered. If it hadn’t been for the great writing I wouldn’t have carried on but I found myself wanting to continue observing Christie’s characterization, red herring and clue dropping and scene setting. A truly wonderful read, I shall have to have a Christie moment much more often.

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Miss Garnet’s Angel – Salley Vickers

I will discuss the sudden turnaround of my going from starting Cover Her Face by P.D James to reading Miss Garnet’s Angel in more detail tomorrow when I will be asking you your thoughts on a certain subject that it has brought to light. For now though I thought I would get on with reviewing a book that completely took me by surprise and one that I have actually owned before decided wouldn’t be for me and so gave away only to the purchase it recently once more.

Miss Garnet’s Angel firstly it should be said is utterly wonderful. For me it had a real mixture of the quirky heroine of a 1930’s – 1950’s book you would think Virago would have published (they don’t publish this book) and also has the setting and prose of a classic that E.M. Forster could have penned, a combination which makes it highly and delightfully readable. I think all of this contributed to it being an utter hit with me.

We meet our narrator Julia Garnet just after she decides to rent out her home after the death of her house mate and fellow teacher Harriet who “she hated that people assumed they were lesbians” which shows the slight humour in the writing of Salley Vickers from the start. Taking the death as a sign she needs to be more daring in life so she decides to take an extended holiday to Venice. This isn’t a tale about loss and grief even though it is very much part of the book, it also doesn’t darken or make the book depressive, what the book is essentially about is a middle aged woman finding herself and facing her past through the people she meets the situations she gets into and the sights and discoveries she takes in. She is a very interesting character still a virgin and still incredibly repressed we watch as she emerges out of herself after a long time being so unsure who she is.  

Some of the wonderful characters she meets are a pair of holidaying Canadians, the young and slightly unruly Nicco who becomes a student, her incredibly interfering (in a wonderful way) the charming Carlo who seems to be the first man to have ever make her heart truly flutter and the mysterious twins Toby and Sarah the later of who are working on the restoration of Chapel of the Plague. In fact meeting the later three leads her to finding a painting that seems to call out to her and tells the story of Tobias and the Archangel Raphael. These stories are then interwoven by Vickers as Julia unravels the tale she herself unravels, it’s wonderfully worked.

I thought this was an utterly wonderful novel and it has only taken one book to make me fairly sure that Vickers will soon become a favourite. Though are the rest of her books tinged quite so much with the religious? I don’t like books that preach and this one never did but there were a few moments when I was slightly concerned but how could you depict Venice without the religious symbols and stories and it works just right with the ongoing story of Julia’s self discovery. It’s an unstated and yet thought provoking tale that says so much so subtly. Beautiful prose, delightful characters and a sprinkling of mystery and history just what you need when you want to get lost in a book. To think this was Vickers debut novel is quite astounding I hope that the rest of her books are as good as this one? What of Vickers have you read and loved and which Vickers novel should I read next?

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Netherland – Joseph O’Neill

This is the seventh of this years book group choices by Richard and Judy and I have to admit as I said previously a while back I wasn’t convinced I was going to like this. Sold as a tale of a man whose wife leaves him to go back to England after the tragedy of 9/11 and then decides building a cricket pitch is what New York really needs alongside the unusual Chuck I thought that it sounded quite different. Especially with the twist that Chuck is pulled out of a New York canal hands tied behind his back and having been dead for quite some time I thought there might be some added mystery.

What the book turns out to be is more a description of New York after 9/11 and looks at the people living there and how they cope. It also looks at what affect this has one the marriage of our narrator Hans van den Broek and his wife Rachel who cannot cope in the aftermath and such atrocities, this was for me the most interesting story in the book. It isn’t Hans who has the plan to make a cricket pitch it is in fact Chuck a character with darkness who doesn’t seem to be all he appears. A great unreliable character though, he sadly isn’t in the book as much as I would have liked as I found him quite entertaining. The rest of the story evolves around what happens in the years between Rachel leaving and Hans hearing that Chuck is dead.

I didn’t really gel with this book at all. I started of liking it however the marital strife of a life changed by chaos and horror in New York is done and dusted within fifty pages or so. Then what follows is a succession of characters and incidents that flow through Hans depressing years after of which all bar Chuck and cricket come and go with no real relevance or point. This seems like a very long winded essay of the writer’s thoughts on America and the cultural societies in New York after 9/11 which drifts off at tangents that I couldn’t follow. I just didn’t care what happened to them again bar Chuck, I wont say the ending but I was left confused and slightly non-plussed and all in all quite nonchalant.

For me, though I know many people have absolutely loved this book, I ended up feeling quite disappointed and I wasn’t that excited about the book anyway. I didn’t feel I knew enough about Hans to want to follow his story and could actually see why his wife left him, though technically she was leaving the city. I did give the book a fair chance and I did finish it when at some points I didn’t want to, so I gave it my all I just don’t think it was quite the book for me. I’d be interested to hear other peoples thoughts though.

In the additional P.S section that Harper Perennial do in their books, which I think is genius and give you much more insight, the author says this book was hard to sell to publishers and kept getting rejected over and over again. I could sadly see why. It annoyed me a little that a book like this has gained such publicity, been long listed for the Man Booker and now is on the Richard and Judy list whereas wonderful thought provoking beautifully written books like State of Happiness (which I am still thinking about all the time) by Stella Duffy don’t and they should. Onwards and upwards though, hopefully next weeks book The Luminous Life of Lily Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin will be much better!

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The Boy in the Dress – David Walliams

It’s always a bit worrying when a celebrity decides to write a novel, firstly are they actually writing the novel and secondly just because they are famous does that mean that they can actually write? Well in the case of David Walliams yes he did write the book and yes he can indeed write and very well too.

The Boy in the Dress is a tale about Dennis, he is different, and why is he different? “Well a small clue might be in the title of this book.” I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Dennis is not only dealing with the fact that his Mum left the family when he was young, his family don’t talk about her and they don’t really communicate or show emotion as it’s not deemed as manly. Dennis also likes dresses and when he finds Vogue things really change.

Walliams deals with the subject very sensitively whilst also with great humour and most importantly in a way that kids (and adults) will enjoy. It isn’t just the fact that the illustrations are by Quentin Blake that whilst you’re reading it you are reminded of a modern version of Roald Dahl. The humour helps but it’s the way the book progresses with the hero’s and the villains and the school mentality which in some ways reminded me of Matilda. I loved Roald Dahl as a child and think that legions of children will love this book. I only hope that Walliams doesn’t stop the book writing at novel number one.

A short review I know but it’s a very short book and at the same time I don’t want to give too much away. All I will say is that I was touched by this book and found myself laughing the whole way through. I would recommend this to anyone who has kids or who wants a read that cheers you up in the few hours it will take to read.

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Look Who It Is – Alan Carr

Now of course coming up to Christmas this is the big season for the autobiography and everyone seems to suddenly release one. Now I am not the biggest fan of autobiographies (even though I get them by the shed load for Christmas) in fact the last one I bought was one of the Spice Girls but lets mover swiftly on as that was about ten years ago. Alan Carr’s was in a lovely pile from Harper Collins that they deliciously sent out to me.

I think Alan Carr is hilarious, I gather he is a bit like marmite in the fact that some people love him and some people hate him. I did wonder what an autobiography of his would entail as he isn’t old. I knew it would be funny, and I was proved right on that. I haven’t laughed out loud on a tube so much reading a book ever, the looks I was getting were something special. He is incredibly funny. I promise you there will be much mirth reading this book. “Puberty had been unkind. Whereas it had come in the night and left the other boys with chiselled, stubbly chins and deep masculine voices, I’d been left with a huge pair of knockers and the voice of a pensioner.”

In terms of him not having enough to write about I was proven completely wrong. He starts from his younger days when his father was in charge of the football clubs with his son being the least football interested child and how that felt, travels around the world after university to doing data entry for Mr Dog. There is a lot of heart in this book and what I find interesting is Alan Carr’s self doubt that he could make people laugh and that for him until a few years ago comedy was something he never even dreamed of doing as he didn’t think he could. He of course tells you all this with such comic timing and writing that you are giggling all the way through. My particular favourite stories involved him and cats or dogs they seemed to make me laugh endlessly but I think it’s the way that he writes it.

There is definitely the possibility of a second autobiography as this book finishes pretty much at the start of his joining The Friday Night Project so you don’t get to hear what the celebrities he has met are like which come Heat Magazine fans might have loved to see. What you do get is a delightful insight to a boy growing up in Norwich, dealing with slight confusion of who he is and what he is all about and going on to drama school and eventually the comedy circuit with all the highs and lows along the way. I recommend this to anyone who like a laugh and if you are an Alan Carr fan this is unmissable. 4.5/5

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The Other Queen – Philippa Gregory

Bess of Hardwick is one of my all time favourite historical figures and Chatsworth and Hardwick are two of my favourite stately homes. So when I saw that Philippa Gregory’s ‘The Other Queen’ was indeed about Bess and the time that she housed Mary Queen of Scots for Elizabeth I, well it seemed like my perfect read. So when the lovely people at Harper Collis sent it to me it went straight to the top of my TBR.

I had read ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ for book group back in February so was keen to see if I loved this as much as my previous foray into the world of Philippa Gregory and historical fiction. My criticism, which was minor, with ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ was that in places it was too long and that the sudden climax of the novel was over and done with too quickly. This was my main issue with ‘The Other Queen’ but more of that later.

The Other Queen is set from 1568 to 1571 in the reign of Elizabeth I. Mary Stuart is under guard in the UK only she keeps insisting on trying to escape. Elizabeth decides to send her to Lord Shrewsbury and his wife Bess of Hardwick where her loyal subjects can be sure to keep an eye on them, for they know what happens to traitors. During this time Mary treats her prisons as a palace and bringing debt as well as controversy to the household and putting pressure on the recently married George and Bess in many other ways.

The book is written from the aspects of Bess, George and Mary, each taking it in turn to tell the tale from their side and their eyes, each mistrusting or loving the other and you are slowly weaved into the webs of their deceit, betrayal and desire. I really enjoyed the sides of the story from Bess and Mary; however George I just didn’t really feel like I got the character of. Philippa Gregory admits herself at the end that ‘George is not a man who features heavily in history books’ possibly because he isn’t very interesting. I personally would have written the third party as Elizabeth as you could have seen the ‘possible’ love story of George and Mary through all three of their eyes and her account would have been fascinating.

I do as ever admire Gregory’s detailed research, yes it is fiction but she stays as close to the truth as she possibly can. She researches meticulously to the point she found out a few knew facts about Elizabeth staying in the tower on the night of another of her cousin’s executions. This is all brilliant and makes a favourite part of history for me all the more real. It does sometimes go on a bit too long especially all the horse riding that seemed a bit overly done along with the she will go back to Scotland she won’t go back to Scotland scenes, particularly as you read it through three peoples eyes. That’s a very small moan though in what is another great Philippa Gregory novel.

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4.50 From Paddington – Agatha Christie

After my previous read I was reminded how much I love a good Agatha Christie. I am not the biggest fan of Poirot however I absolutely love a good Miss Marple, so I went to the TBR pile and the 4.50 From Paddington beamed out at me – how could I resist? I don’t think I need to tell people what the premise of a Miss Marple novel is but I should anyway, just in case. Miss Marple is a lovely retired lady living in the delightful small village of St Mary Mead, she unfathomably ends up embroiled in murders, and decides she should go out and solve the cases in a slightly nosey busybody kind of way. I think she’s great.

The tale starts as Mrs McGillicuddy takes the 4.50 from Paddington to visit her friend Miss Marple. ON her journey and being slightly nosey herself she is looking at another trains carriages when she sees a woman being throttled by a man. She naturally reports this and no one believes her, no one of course except Miss Marple. After no body is found and nothing is reported in the papers Miss Marple hires her friend Lucy Eyelesbarrow (some of the names are corking) to become a cleaner in a house near where the murder seems to have happened and where a body might just have been hidden. Lucy then has to report back to Miss Marple on regular occasions as she figures it all out coming to the correct conclusion of course.

Agatha Christie sometimes gets unfairly criticized for her prose. No it isn’t flowery and never ending, she is blunt and gets to the chase whilst chucking in a few good red herrings which is what all good crime fiction should do. Also she looks at society and the human mind which has become incredibly fashionable again in crime fiction as it merges into popular literature. I had forgotten though how well she can weave a plot, after putting down the book having finished it you cannot help but marvel at how she came up with the idea in the first place, sent on so many wrong turns and then got you to a thrilling conclusion.

Sadly like with ‘At Bertram’s Hotel’ Miss Marple isn’t in the book as much as I would have liked. I simply love the character of Miss Marple and though Lucy seemed a younger Miss Marple in her own way it was slightly like an understudy and with the secondary characters sometimes Agatha makes them slightly one dimensional but that’s me being really, really picky. You actually cannot fault Agatha’s work, she was ahead of her time I believe and now she is still one of the best selling authors every year, despite people saying she’s no longer fashionable.

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The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters – Charlotte Mosely

Now if you are sat there thinking ‘he can’t have read that mammoth book in only a few days’… I haven’t. This has actually been a book I have been devouring in fits and starts for almost a month, well three weeks or so. It’s so big I couldn’t carry it everywhere with me on the tube, so have been reading other books along side. ‘The Mitford’s – Letters Between Six Sisters’ is an amazing book, a collection of the famous sisters letters to each other over 80 years, edited by Diana Mitford’s daughter in law Charlotte Mosley. Edited I think is an unfair word in this case; she hasn’t merely compiled them and then cut out bits and bobs. She has thoroughly researched the sisters so that as you read each different era you get a good introduction by Mosley as to what was going on in each of the sister’s lives and the life of the family of Mitford’s as a whole.

Not that I have read anything about the Mitford sisters before, though bizarrely I have heard of them often, but I can understand J. K. Rowling’s quote on the front that ‘the story of the extraordinary Mitford’s has never been told as well as they tell it themselves’ and she is write, there is no hole barred here. The sisters are constantly frank with each other through times of loving each other and times where they hated each other as some of them did. But its not just the times when they think each other is ‘wondair’ or each other are ‘hateful’ and all the turmoil they go through as a family, its an amazing look through history as the Mitford girls seemed to know everyone separately.

Nancy writes in fascinating detail of the family and how she found the constraints of her parents and the family too much. She also writes of how she writes, why and a fascinating insight into some of the other great writers of the last hundred years such as her close friend Evelyn Waugh. Pamela wants a simple quite life and can discuss any meal she has eaten in the last thirty years, has a love of farming and also became a lesbian although only once or twice do the sisters discuss this. Diana, the family beauty, becomes a fascist, after marrying the heir to Guinness she has an affair with a politician and is jailed during the Second World War. Then there is Unity who became a close friend (and has a slight obsession with) Hitler causing a conflict between her love for him and the love for her country which led to her shooting herself. There is Jessica who became a fighter for social change and ended up living in America writing about funerals and prisons. Finally we have Deborah who became Duchess of Devonshire, owner and restorer of Chatsworth, and who mingles with royalty (describing Diana as ‘clever with the public but truly she was mad’) and the Kennedy’s. This is truly simply outstanding, both for the historical and for the tales of six women who became celebrities without trying to and couldn’t see quite what all the fuss was about. What is also interesting is as they get older they too look back on their older letters and indeed themselves.

This is possibly my favourite book of the year so far. I am now officially a Mitford-holic and will be reading much more by them and about them. Where else would you get such insight in 900 pages of Britain from both the poor and the rich (the sisters weren’t all loaded as some people believe) told by some of the most fascinating, mischievous, voices that you could ever wish to hear.

Another thing that’s been special about this book bar all the above is it has been the first non-fiction book that I have enjoyed, recommended to everyone and has just made me read and read. It’s also a book that has given me lots and lots to read in the future. I now want to read books that they recommend each other; some of these included Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Mary Anne’, everything by E.M. Forster, Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’. As well as everything that they wrote themselves, particularly Nancy, as well as everything by Evelyn Waugh, so that’s made the book even more of a treasure. I will leave you saying this book is truly ‘wondair’ and a final quote from Jessica on reading. Buy this book everyone should read it!

“1) Get a supply of books you have always meant to read, but never had time, such as Plutarch’s Lives, War & Peace, Bacon’s Essays etc. You’ll find your attention unaccountably wandering – you seem to have read the same paragraph several times and still can’t quite get its import. Put the books on a chair to be read some time later. 2) Next, fetch up some novels that you know one ought to have read in childhood but never did – Hardy, Conrad, the lesser-known works of Dickens. Same, alas, as in 1) above. 3) Find some books that you know you like, as you have read them before – Catch 22? Catcher In The Rye? Pride & Prejudice? (You’ll have to fill in the titles of your own favourites). This is far more easy going, far more pleasurable. 4) Try some collections of short stories, the shorter the better. Also, Grimm’s Fairy Tales – that sort of thing. That way the constant interruptions – meals, pills, baths etc – don’t specifically matter. 5) Above all – lay in a huge supply of mags, the more trivial the better, and leaf through them languidly while waiting for your cup of tea. That, anyway, is what I usually do.”

I was really sad to put this book down, in fact slightly bereft, but on with more!

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Filed under Books of 2008, Charlotte Mosley, Evelyn Waugh, Harper Collins, Nancy Mitford, Review

The God Of Small Things – Arundhati Roy

I have had a copy of this book in my ‘to read’ boxes for absolutely ages, for some reason despite what I think is quite a stunning cover, I have never really had the urge to read it. That’s another reason why Book Group is so good, sometimes you have the books on the list you just haven’t gotten round to them so you get a little extra push.

I had heard mixed reviews on this Man Booker winner, some people (my Gran included) have said it’s one of the best books that they have read. People on Amazon, which I sometimes check to gage how good a book may or may not have been, are very mixed about it. Some say that the prose is some of the most beautiful that they have ever read, others say that it is over done and far too ‘flowery’. So I was intrigued as to what I would make of it.

As it goes I am very much in a confused state about this book, I would say 75% of me loved it and overall feel it is one of the best books I have ever read and the other 25%? To be honest I think there are far too many characters and too little concise clear explanation of who they are in relation to whom. I mean for most of the book I just could not work out who ‘Baby’ was, I have to say she is a brilliantly written mean bitter old woman. There were also various neighbours of the main family who actually had no bearing on the book and therefore seemed to be ‘fillers’ to the book and added to my state of confusion.

The story centres on the childhoods of Estha and Rahel (for ages I kept getting the boy and girl mixed up) and a certain few months that on several levels change their lives forever. You have flashbacks into the family before the twins were born and in their infancy and also the future and the aftermath of events at the start ‘unknown’. Its not written in chronological order which ordinarily I would not have a problem with, I managed fine with the epic craziness of ‘The Book of Dave’, I just found that where Roy is fantastic at her descriptive similes, she is not so good at letting the reader know where in the order of history there are. No the author should not do all the work for the reader but they should help.

Here descriptions are amazing ‘history the smell of old roses on the breeze’ and ‘dark blood slipping from his skull like a secret’ are examples of where it works, there is also the brilliant scene where they park a car amongst others in a car park which is compared to ‘gossiping’. The problem is that there seems to be a simile in every sentence and occasionally it gets too much and doesn’t quite work ‘Margaret Kochamma found herself drawn towards him like a plant in a dark room towards an edge of light’ it appears like Roy is trying too hard and that she is over comparing and it put me off occasionally. The Man Booker judges seemed to like it though.

However despite the slightly confusing story and over egging off descriptions when I had finished the novel and let it settle with me a while I started to marvel at how clever, well written, moving and beautiful a book it was. The more I thought on it afterwards the better I think it was a very confusing place to be in after reading a book.

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Filed under Arundhati Roy, Book Group, Harper Collins, Man Booker, Review

The Diving Bell & The Butterfly – Jean Dominique Bauby

If it hadn’t been for my Gran mentioning this on the phone and the fact that I was looking at Love Film and saw this was coming out on DVD soon, so I thought what better time?

Jean-Dominique Bauby was the editor-in-chief at Elle Magazine until he suddenly became a victim of Locked-In Syndrome. This left him with the ability to move only one eyelid to communicate. The novel was written through this form of communication which must have been painstaking and was a mission of love. One he couldn’t see the extent of its success as he sadly died three days after it was published.

What I loved about this book is yes, it’s a sad story and Jean-Dominique tells it in heart breaking truth; however he also has humour, dignity and even irony with this book. One minute he will be talking about the heartbreak seeing his children can be, or listening to loved ones on the phone but being unable to respond, the next he says ‘to find I couldn’t even pronounce ‘l’, I couldn’t pronounce the place I edited’ with wit and charm that you don’t find in these ‘Real Life Tragedy’ books that are all the rage and I cant stand. This book is deep, moving, profound and in places funny and that’s what real life can be like.

This is a quick read, you can read it in a few hours (its a mere 144 pages and they whiz by) which are exceptionally worth while and you come away thinking ‘bloody hell I’m lucky’. It doesn’t change your life however it definitely makes you appreciate your life, and what more can you ask from a book?

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Filed under Books To Film, Harper Collins, Jean-Dominique Bauby, Review

Darkmans – Nicola Barker

This is a really difficult book to describe as Nicola Barker has created a book unlike anything I think I have ever read before. Firstly ‘Darkmans’ is a massive novel and I don’t just mean in terms of size. It’s a massive novel in terms of the author’s vision and the host of characters that you have in the novel and in the town of Ashford as that’s where it’s set.

We are in the current day Ashford in Kent home of the Eurotunnel where weirdly people seem to be getting possessed by a medieval past, and in particular a very malicious clown, those of you who have a phobia of clowns will cope but might jump now and again. I did really jump twice and that very rarely happens to me in a book, but in parts this novel is genuinely creepy. Though the book has quite a collection of cast members whose lives intertwine and overlap, their do seem to be three main characters. Beede and Kane are a highly unconventional father and son, both have a crush on the same chiropodist who is the mother of another central character Fleet, a rather creepy child who is building a medieval town out of matchsticks and seems to know a lot about the past, this child is creepy.

There are a host of other characters the hilariously vile Kelly Broad (who I ended up loving) the ex-girlfriend of Kane, Elen the aforementioned Chiropodist and her husband and their dodgy builders, Gaffar a Kurdish refugee and a paralyzed Spaniel. It really is a crazy world that Barker has created and yet the characters are believable and human and you feel you know a few of them and may have passed the others in the street. Do not expect an ending that ties everything up though, mind you from the review so far would you be expecting one?

If I had read Dickens I would say this has a Dickensian feel to it, not that I am sure he would ever set his novels in Ashford. What I mean is from having seen adaptations there is a whole host of characters that have a whole host of their own interesting and never ending stories who all star in the book. Some of them have relevance and some of them don’t, but it doesn’t matter because you want to know all about them anyways. Slight grump from me would be the new cover, the old hardback one was spookier, and the type (sans serif) which can be hard to read. Other than that I can perfectly understand why this novel has caused a little stir of excitement in literary fields and was nominated for the Man Booker.

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The Palace of Strange Girls – Sallie Day

I had the joy of reading this for New Books Magazine which was not a hard ship, last year I had to do a review of The Falling Man by Don DeLillo last year reviewing is something I could definitely get into more, how does one go about it with all the big publishers? I may have to do some research into that, if anyone knows please let me know. Sorry I digress… onto The Palace of Strange Girls by Sallie Day.

Do you remember the old I Spy books you used to get? Well these feature, one in particular, in the novel greatly as in some ways they help to tell the tale and are in fact the title chapters. The Palace of Strange Girls is the story of the summer holiday in Blackpool 1959 for The Singleton family. There is seven year old Beth who is just out of hospital, she is wonderfully written by Day, and who first appears in the book saying ‘bugger, bugger’ which for some reason really made me laugh. Helen is her older sister who has a very healthy (though unhealthy to her parents) interest in independence and boys. Their parents, mother Ruth who is both uptight and strict as well as a bit of a killjoy, and their father Jack who has a big secret all the way in Crete and is depressed.

What should be a nice sea break away from the Mills and Mines back home turns into a family breaking down and rebelling against one another in any way they can. Amongst the cream teas, circus acts, promenades and sandcastles lie’s some deeper darker undertones and actions that show a family falling apart. Sallie Day has been compared to Kate Atkinson with this novel and I think as a storyteller the comparisons are not far off, both have great prose and pace and both are great tellers of how humans are and what makes them who they are. I didn’t like ‘Behind The Scenes at the Museum’ which people seem to be comparing this too, this is a great book, I can see the resemblances however I don’t think its fair to compare Day in that way as this is HER novel and not a copy of anyone else’s. The one negative, the title, though it is in the book its not as exciting or as mysterious as the title suggests. This is a great debut regardless of that.

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Filed under Harper Collins, Kate Atkinson, Review, Sallie Day