Tag Archives: Jessica Francis Kane

Before You Go To Sleep, The TV Book Club Returns Tonight

Just a quick post to remind you book lovers that The TV Book Club is back tonight on More4, I think it is also repeated on Channel 4 tomorrow (I could be wrong but it will be on 4od either way which is normally how I catch up with it). The list is quite an exciting one I think, there are only a few in the mix that I am not that bothered about , I won’t say which, and I have already read a few of them too. The book that starts the series off tonight is one such book, its ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ By S.J Watson and I really enjoyed it when I read it last year, and who came to the first Bookmarked Salon.

The lovely people at the TV Book Club have sent me the whole list, so you might even get to hear a Savidge Reads mention on the show as they have asked me if I will review some of them, though this we have agreed will be based on whim reading and which ones I fancy. I have just finished ‘The Somnambulist’ by Essie Fox, which is one of the choices and was rather good in a sensational way, as she will be a guest host on The Readers Episode 19 (a Victoriana special) which we are recording tomorrow night. If you have any questions for her please feel free to leave some below and I will ask her on your behalf.

Here is the list of titles in full…

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
The Somnambulist by Essie Fox
Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes
The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Girl Reading by Katie Ward
The Report by Jessica Francis Kane
The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
Half the Human Race by Anthony Quinn
You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik

Have you read any of them? I have heard Caroline Quentin is joining as a host this series (why so many comedians?) which I am thrilled about as she reminds me of my Mum (who is young and very funny, when she wants to be, so that’s meant in a nice way to both parties) interestingly and I just have a feeling she will be a great judge of a good book – yet I am not sure why. I did suggest to Cactus Productions that Gav and I would make good hosts, they didn’t comment…

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The Auschwitz Violin – Maria Angels Anglada

There are some books that seem to follow me. I haven’t lost the plot honestly; we’ve all been here surely? You are taking a daily quick nip into a bookstore and a book you haven’t heard of until then catches your eye, you kind of want to read it but you aren’t sure (maybe it’s the subject matter, maybe it just isn’t what you want right there and then) so you leave it for the time being. This then becomes the book you start to see the moment you walk through any bookstore after. ‘The Auschwitz Violin’ By Maria Angels Anglada was such a book; it kept enticing me with its cover and title, yet as I knew it would be about Auschwitz I worried it wouldn’t be for me. So when I then saw it in the library it seemed like fate and so I thought ‘what’s better than to borrow it’ and so I did.

Corsair Books, hardback, 2010, fiction, 128 pages, translated by Martha Tennant, borrowed from the library

The novel/novella opens in 1991 when a musician sees a woman playing the most perfect pitched violin. Yet when he meets her and asks her how she came to own such an exquisite instrument he soon learns that the history of this violin in a much darker one hence the title of this book being ‘The Auschwitz Violin’ and it is in that very setting that we learn how Daniel, an imprisoned Jew, came to make the violin in such circumstances and what happened after.

“Daniel had been released from the prison cell two days before, yet for some reason this day seemed more interminable than the previous one. A profound weariness was rising in him, a sense of impending fatality and desperation. He recognised the signs: he had seen fellow lager inmates grow ill, letting themselves sink into death. They now lay beneath the surrounding hills. He was younger than the ones who had embraced death, and he tried to cheer himself, hoped for the strength to continue struggling another day. He felt completely drained when he reached the barracks, he had no wish to talk, only to rest.”  

You know when you start a book with ‘Auschwitz’ in the title that this is not going to be a comfortable read by its very nature, in fact a publisher or author putting it in the title is doing something quite risky as many people might veer away from it for that reason. It was this that did put me off reading ‘The Auschwitz Violin’ initially yet I do think we need to remember the atrocities of the holocaust and I am a firm believer that reading shouldn’t always be comfortable and so I opened the first page.

From the very opening of the book ‘The Auschwitz Violin’ was rather different to other books with its themes I have read before, well fictional accounts anyway. As, apart from the last couple, each chapter opens with an original document from or about the camps at Auschwitz. Obviously you know anyone writing about this subject is going to have done their research, it isn’t so common for them to then leave the documents in the actual finished work itself. In this case it both works really well and also lets the book down to a degree.

It works in a powerful way as it adds to the impact of what happened to the people in these concentration camps, some of the case notes included described experiments that I had never heard of and left me feeling shocked that such things happened. There was impact from these instantly. Yet because the documents come before the narrative and describe what is about to happen to people surrounding Daniel, or indeed to Daniel himself, when they do there is less of an impact, there’s almost too much pre-showing before the telling.  There is also a slight sense that the story has been created around the fact, something which obviously happens a lot in fiction and yet normally you can’t spot the way its been worked in – here I could.

You would think these documents make you fear for Daniel and the other prisoners and yet they don’t, they almost work like spoilers instead. I could see what the author was doing, but it wasn’t quite working. It could be this that left me with a feeling that I was never really with Daniel and always somewhat distanced from all the events that unfolded. I don’t think it was the narrative or the writing of Angels Anglada as the prose was sparse and minimal but not to the point I shouldn’t have been able to enter the world or so sparse there was no atmophere because there was. Despite all the ingredients something wasn’t quite clicking, it almost seemed too factual and I think its length added to the feeling that it was a report of some kind in its own way rather than a fully fledged story and for me the story factor was lacking here.

‘The Auschwitz Violin’ seemed to want to highlight something awful and yet couldn’t fully take me thereand I think in part its the style but also the length.  I came way thinking it was an interesting and well written book, but I wasn’t as moved as I could have been yet I was glad I read it. This is a very similar feeling I had to the book ‘The Report’ by Jessica Francis Kane which I read last year about an accident during the Blitz, though something clicked at the end and I was sold, it might be the fact I had more pages to lose myself in it all. I thought it was brilliantly written (and well translated), yet I was never quite in there and lost in the atmosphere one hundred percent.

Has anyone else had this feeling with a book about something tragic before, because it worries me slightly? I have come away feeling a little heartless because I was horrified and yet with the distance I wasn’t thoroughly moved and I should have been.  It’s a book I now want all of you to read to see how you feel about it (and apparently, and I can’t quite believe I am about to support the ‘K’ word, it’s only £1.99 on the Kindle at the moment so you could all try it  – or pop to your library/independent bookshop and see if I am just a heartless horror) and we can all discuss it. I am wondering also if after tales of cancer and now the holocaust its time for a good old Agatha Christie whodunnit?

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Filed under Corsair Books, Maria Angels Anglada, Review

The Report – Jessica Francis Kane

I have mentioned before how books about WWII have to be something a little bit different in order to grab me as it’s a subject that gets written about one heck of a lot. From its blurb ‘The Report’ by Jessica Francis Kane looked like it would be such a book, as rather than being a telling of the war it focuses on one of the biggest tragedies at the time, and one that wasn’t caused by a bomb. I first heard about the book on ‘Books On The Nightstand’ where it Ann Kingman raved about it and then again on Open Book on Radio 4 where Mariella Frostrup (who I love and would like the jobs of please) gave its author rather a grilling.

Jessica Francis Kane’s debut novel ‘The Report’ centres around the true-life tragic deaths of 173 people, 62 of which were children, who were making their way into Bethnal Green Underground Station on March the 3rd 1943 to use it as an Air Raid shelter. Yet this was not caused by a bomb but a sudden case of mass hysteria as the crowd entering were suddenly alarmed, and so surged into the entrance causing a crush. Initially the whole incident was hushed up, however not too long after an inquiry and afterwards ‘a report’ was established. Jessica Francis Kane explores the process that happened and the people who this happened to in the guise of fiction or faction, or whatever the term is.

Initially I have to admit that I was a little disappointed by the book and though this didn’t last I do feel I should explain why.  The book is separated into sections and during ‘The Shelter’ I could tell Jessica Francis Kane could clearly write but something was causing a real distance between myself and the events and people. At first I thought it was that the jumping of perspectives, one minute we are with several different characters (confusing enough initially) and their viewpoints of the events, and then we are with Laurence Dunne the man behind the investigation both in 1943 and also thirty years later when he is asked to be part of a documentary. Yet as this went on I got used to who we were with and what was going on, that really was me as a reader not the book in this case.

I then realised that while I was reading a book that was meant to be fiction in actual fact the level of research that Francis Kane had done (to her credit and without showing off) in order to make the inquiry so real to the reader was in fact making me feel like I was reading non-fiction. Really good non-fiction though. This, technically, was rightly so as this book is a fiction retelling on an inquiry where people simply tell the facts of what happened, rather than the event itself. In some ways, and I don’t know if this was because of the fact it was a real life event and those effected by it and their descendents are still living, the author does try and veer the reader away from the actual tragedy on the underground staircase and I was expecting a lot more as if I was there when it happened and therefore giving me more of an emotional response to it. This comes later though.

What Jessica Francis Kane then does in the section called ‘The Inquiry’, about 70 pages in, is build up on characters from the earlier parts of the book and interweave their stories of surviving and moving on in the aftermath of the event along with the how’s and why’s it happened. This then brought in the human element I felt I was initially missing out on. I was originally surprised not to see this book on the Orange list from premise alone, however with the slow start before the gripping pay off I can imagine if this was a book that had been put forward for ‘The Green Carnation Prize’ when we get so much to read, I might have not continued, but this wasn’t and so I did. So from that I can highly recommend that if you get this book, and it is worth getting, you keep going past page 70 and you will have yourselves a very interesting read ahead.

‘The Report’ is a book which in throwing you in slightly at the deep end by giving you lots of voices and facts build upon them creating a gripping and insightful yet sensitive tale of a true life tragedy. It’s a book you need to bear with and if you do so you will reap the rewards. It’s a very different look at the lives of the people in London’s East End during the Blitz and one that was partially forgotten. In parts it reads more like non-fiction than the ‘fiction’ it has labelled itself but really once it gets going it’s such a fascinating read it doesn’t really matter. 8.5/10

This book was kindly sent to me by the publishers.

This book has brought up the whole subject of facts in fiction and indeed the genre of ‘faction’. I think reading ‘The Report’ reminded me of reading, the also wonderful, ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’ by Kate Summerscale which was the opposite of this novel as it was non fiction but read like fiction. Am I making any sense at all? Who else has read ‘The Report’ and what did you think? Which non-fiction books that read like fiction and which fiction books based on fact would you recommend me trying next? Which of the two styles do you prefer?

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Filed under Jessica Francis Kane, Portobello Books, Review

Guessing The Orange Prize Longlist 2011…

It seems that the day when the Orange Longlist is announced for 2011, which is today and will be in a couple of hours of this post going live I am sure, has taken a really long time to come around and then has suddenly swooped down on us fast. In fact I commented pretty much that very thing on Dovegreyreader the other day. You see I always think it gets announced in February and then there is a big lead up to June. I do wonder how my head works sometimes. Anyway… soon we will know what the twenty books that make the Orange Prize Longlist for 2011 will be, and so it’s my annual Orange Prize guess also known as ‘Simon shows how wrong he can be about women’s writing in the last year’ (see my 2010 guesses for more)…

Initially I started off getting competitive with myself over trying to come up with a list which contained the winning lot. Then I sat back and thought that seriously who else apart from the judges would know what these might be as the options are endless as are the books that could have been put forward. This year I went through all the books eligible, books written in English in print in the UK between April 1st 2010 and March 31st 2011, and came up with my twenty based on what I had read (in blue as you can read my thoughts), what was on my TBR/on loan from the library (in italics) and books I have been wanting to get my mitts on and haven’t yet (in bold – as a birthday, which is 8 days away, hint). So without further waffle here is the Savidge Orange 20 in alphabetical surname order to make it fairer…

   
Started Early, Took My Dog – Kate Atkinson
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake – Aimee Bender
True Things About Me – Deborah Kay Davies

Scissors, Paper, Stone – Elizabeth Day

   
Room – Emma Donoghue
Theodora – Stella Duffy
The Cry of the Go-Away Bird – Andrea Eames
A Visit From The Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan (which I would have but it went missing in the move)

   
The Cookbook Collector – Allegra Goodman
We Had It So Good – Linda Grant
T
he History of History – Ida Hattemer-Higgins 
Mr Chartwell – Rebecca Hunt

   
The Report – Jessica Francis Kane

The Hand That First Held Mine – Maggie O’Farrell
The News Where You Are – Catherine O’Flynn
The Tigers Wife – Tea ObrehtDark Matter – Michelle Paver (which I would have but it went missing in the move)
The Fates Will Find Their Way – Hannah Pittard
Mr Rosenblum’s List – Natasha Solomons
When God Was A Rabbit – Sarah Winman

   

I did umm and ahhh about putting ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’ by Emma Henderson on the list but I have seen that in the Orange Book Group displays in Waterstones (where I got the new Books Quarterly) so assumed that it would be off the list. I have it and will be reading it any way. I know that maybe Kate Atkinson is a random pick as its essentially a crime novel as I mentioned yesterday if Val McDermids latest is as good as ‘The Mermaids Singing’ that would be a welcome entry, I wondered also if Susan Hill’s ‘A Kind Man’ might be too short?

I wonder how I will do with this lot, can I bet my 8 out of 20 best from last year? In a weird way I hope I do the same as the last or a little worse, as one of the joys of a longlist is learning about the books you werent aware of. Which books would you bet on being in the list? Will anyone, sadly I don’t think I could, be trying to read them all?

I have of course updated the blog with the actual longlist now.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Orange Prize