Tag Archives: Jessie Burton

Guessing The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2017

A week to this very day will see the announcement of the longlist for this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Those of you who have followed this blog for the last (almost ten, how did that happen) years will know that the Women’s Prize for Fiction is one of my top five literary prizes ever. For many a year now I have played the all at once delightful and downright difficult game of trying to guess the longlist, so I thought I would do it again this year. Why fix it if it ain’t broke?

There is a slight change this year. Normally I do a list of 20 books, for that is the usual longlist length. This year it is all change however as there is rumoured to be a shortlist of just twelve books this year. For me to choose a list of only 12 books is frankly impossible, well ok not impossible but it would be very difficult as one thing about the guessing the list for this prize shows me every year is how many amazing books there are by women published every year. So I have decided if the prize can change its list length so can I, so you will be getting a list of 12 books I have read and would love to see on the list and 12 books I would love to read and see on the list.

First up the books I have read, which has shamefully reminded me of how little of what I read last year I have reviewed but I will in good time, that I would love to see on the list…

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The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry (Serpent’s Tail)
The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood (Allen and Unwin)
Shelter by Jung Yun (Picador)
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain (Vintage)
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (Penguin)
This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell (Tinder Press)
The Good People by Hannah Kent (Picador)
Fell by Jenn Ashworth (Sceptre)
My Name is Leon by Kit De Waal (Penguin)
The Muse by Jessie Burton (Picador)
To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey (Tinder Press)
The Museum of You by Carys Bray (Windmill)

I was going to add Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing which I read for the Man Booker Prize last year but I didn’t love it as much as everyone else BUT if it was on the list I would read it again so thought I should give it a nod. Right, now to the books I haven’t read yet but want to, which was again so, so, so tough to whittle down just to twelve.

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Here Comes The Sun by Nicole Dennis Benn (Oneworld)
The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss (Granta)
Autumn by Ali Smith (Penguin)
Idaho by Emily Ruskovich (Vintage)
Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan (Sceptre)
The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride (Faber and Faber)
English Animals by Laura Kaye (Little Brown)
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (Oneworld)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (Orion)
Behold The Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue (4th Estate)
The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy (Scribe)
The Unseen World by Liz Moore (Windmill)

There were so many more I wanted to add onto this list. Brit Bennett, Emma Geen, Min Jin Lee, Claire Fuller, Katherine Arden, Stella Duffy and Sara Baume  were all wriggling away in the back of my mind as were heavyweights Ann Patchett, Emma Donoghue and Annie Proulx. See it just goes to show how many amazing books there could be in the list next week. And you know what? I wouldn’t mind if I was completely wrong and was introduced to a whole selection of books I hadn’t even thought of, that is all part of the joy of a prize like this one, so much scope, so many possibilities, so many good reads ahead.

So over to you, what do you think might just make the list next week?

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We’re Here in the Hills of Perugia (and Holiday Reading)

After twenty four hours in the wonderful city of Lucca, we spent several hours (some of us having to go back for some luggage that has been forgotten, not me for once after the awful incident with my passport in America last year) driving from there to the wilds of the mountainous woods of Perugia and into our, simply stunning, villa. I think you will agree it looks like a reading haven and no mistake…

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We are now here for a week and with no other house in sight, or near us for miles, let alone a town we are just going to spend the days chilling by the pool, reading, playing games and eating vast amounts of the gorgeous local produce and hole ourselves up here for a while. This really, for me with my Dercums, means mainly lying by the pool with books. Which books have I packed with me? Well funny you should ask that, and how kind of you for doing so, I have actually packed seven books in my case and I made a video all about them and why I chose them which you can see below…

… I have finished of the Gerritsen already and am now heading into the Atwood, perfect pair of authors to start my holiday with. That said, the library that this farmhouse is pretty brilliant. I have been eyeing up Ross Raisin, the new Sarah Waters and several more already. Oooh the tempation. Hope you are all well? What have you been upto of late, what are you doing this weekend and what have you been and what are you reading?

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Savidge Reads’ Books of 2015 Part One…

So we have hit the penultimate day of 2015, where does the time go? Back by popular demand (well David kindly asked me) is the first of my two lists of the books that I loved most in 2015. Today’s selection for your delectation are the books that I have loved the most this year that were actually published originally before 2015 (yes, even the ones that came out in paperback in 2015 but were in hardback before then) which means some classics have given way to more modern books but this really reflects my tastes in general. More on that another time though. Without further waffle or ado, here are the first twelve books I really, really, really loved in 2015; you can click on the titles to go to my full reviews, with one exception…

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2015 has been a year that has seen me devour and enjoy more graphic novels and memoirs than ever before and I have loved it. Undoubtedly that love was started this year with The Encyclopaedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg which combines history, myths and fairytales (with a slightly wonky twist) to create a wonderful visual world of Vikings, giants, gods, eskimo’s and more and celebrates the marvels of great stories and wonderful storytelling. A delight from start to finish.

10 (=).

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If you’d told me back at the start of 2015 that one of my books of the year would involve giant mutant preying grasshoppers /praying mantises then I would have laughed in your face. This would have been a) cruel and b) completely wrong. Grasshopper Jungle is a thrilling, gripping and entertaining rollercoaster of a read that looks at love, sexuality, friendship and how to survive if mutant killer insects who only want to breed and eat take over the world. What more could you ask for?

10 (=).

From the off, and indeed throughout, the world in Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours is, to be frank, pretty f***ed up. (I honestly tried quite hard to not use ‘the f bomb’ but it is the only word that seems apt.) Girls are now bred, yes bred, for three reasons. They can become a companion to the men in society who can afford it and have babies, which will only be boys as these girls have been bred to be breeders of the male line; they can become a concubine, and have sex (with no babies) with all the men in society who can afford it; or they can become chastity’s and shave their heads, wear black gowns and raise more manufactured young girls to keep the cycle ticking along. See, I told you, f***ed up, and that is only the beginning. I have a feeling Louise O’Neill is one of those authors whose careers we are just going to watch grow and grow and grow. Atwood, watch out, ha!

9.

Before I read it, I had some really odd preconceived ideas about H. G. Well’s The Invisible Man. First up I thought that it was a tome of some several hundred pages, wrong, it is a novella. Secondly I thought that it was set in the 1970’s (impossible as it was written in 1897) and involved some old man in a mackintosh who smoked, wrong, that is just something I naively surmised from an old 70’s edition of the book my mother had on her shelves. Thirdly I didn’t think I would enjoy it in any way shape or form, so wrong. What I got was an incredibly dark and sinister novel that suddenly becomes both incredibly moving and incredibly disturbing as you read on. Naturally with that in mind, I absolutely loved this book.

8.

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Imagine if Thomas Hardy and Cormac McCarthy had a bastard lovechild… He would be Benjamin Myers in my humble opinion and I think Beastings testifies that notion. I almost don’t feel I need tos say more, but I will. We know it is raining, we know that a young woman has fled the house she was living in with a baby that isn’t hers, we also have the sense that both her and the baby were in danger. We soon learn that she is being followed, although hounded/stalked sounds more sinisterly appropriate, and is heading for a secret island somewhere off the coast. Because on an island in the ocean no-one can sneak up on you. The question is if she can get through the forests and mountains of Cumbria and head to the ocean without being caught and without hardly any supplies. And with that, we are off…

7.

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I only recently devoured Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None yet it shot straight into my top ten without hesitation. Ten strangers are sent to an island under false pretenses, they are soon all accused of murder or implicated in a death, then they start to die one by one following the pattern of an old nursery rhyme. The premise is impossible, yet as Agatha Christie’s fantastic novel unfolds we soon come to learn that anything is possible, no matter how chilling or unbelievable it might first appear. An utterly stupendous thriller, once you have read it you understand why it is the biggest selling murder mystery in the world, ever.

6.

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Sometimes all I want as a reader is a bloody good story. I want a twisting plot, characters that walk of the page and that you love, hate or preferably a bit of both. I want mystery and intrigue. I want to be taken to a world I know nothing about and get lost in it and its entire atmosphere. I can be a right demanding so and so however Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist delivered all this to me in abundance as it took me on a gothic journey with Nella as she walked onto the threshold of Brant house in Amsterdam 1686.

5.

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2015 has also been a year where memoirs have been a hit, in several cases centring around grief and this is one of those. H is for Hawk is an incredibly special kind of read, which all the above culminates towards, simply put it is a generously open, honest and brutal yet beautiful book. Helen Macdonald takes us completely into her life and her world at a time when she was at her most broken and vulnerable and shares that with us in all its technicolour splendour of emotions. You will laugh, you will cry and you will have felt incredibly privileged to have spent time in the company of Helen, Mabel the Goshawk and the writer T.H. White.

4.

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Until this year I had never read a word of Patricia Highsmith’s, well don’t I feel a fool after reading this. Deep Water is one of the most entertaining, snarky, camply dark, vicious and twisted psychological thrillers I have read. It is also one of the most unusual as the reader watches a sociopath come to the fore from their normally meek mild mannered self… and we egg him on and like him, even understanding him oddly, the whole time. It is a fascinating insight into the mind of a killer, if this is a prime example of what Highsmith fondly described as “my psychopath heroes”, I can’t wait to meet the rest.

3.

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It seems that 2015 was the year of insects in fiction for me, this time with bees and heaven forefend ones that talk. From this alone I should have had some kind of anaphylactic shock to this book (see what I did there) however I was completely won over by the story of Flora as she works her way through and up the hive in Laline Paull’s wondrous debut The Bees. I have been talking about this book ever since and also been boring as many people as possible with the fascinating facts I learnt about these winged beings as I read. A book which for me had it all; brilliant writing, fantastic pace, fantastic facts and a real heart looking at class, religion and women’s rights.

2.

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Now then, this is the book I have yet to review and yet is a book which took over my life as I was enravelled in the whole life of another man, Logan Mountstuart. A man which I am still struggling to believe isn’t real as his diaries from 1923 – 1998, which make up William Boyd’s Any Human Heart, take us through school romps, to wild affairs, marriages, more affairs, wars and gossip with famous people through the decades and give us not only a vivid encounter with the recent history of Britain and its endeavours (which take us all over the world) but celebrate the lives of us strange folk and the power of the pen and the written word. Ruddy marvellous and a complete and utter nightmare to review hence why I haven’t managed as yet. You can hear me talking about it here though.

1.

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I talked about book tingles earlier in the year, that wonderful feeling you get when you read a book and the words just wash over you and you know everything in this book in front of you is going to encapsulate everything you love about reading. Carys Davies’ The Redemption of Galen Pike had that for me within paragraphs of it’s very first story. In this collection we are taken to places all over the world, to all walks of life and never given the story we expect in the beginning but something so much more; be it funny, dark or magical. It was a book that arrived completely new to me, no hype or anything and completely bowled me over. I adore this book with all my heart, it brought joy to my beardy face for the whole time I read it.

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So there we are the first half of my books for the year. I do feel like I should give some honourable mentions to Susan Barker’s The Incarnations, Susan Hill’s I’m The King of the Castle and Kirsty Logan’s The Rental Heart, but that will be deemed as cheating. Let me know your thoughts on those in my first list you have read and do pop and see my next list tomorrow. What have been some of your books of 2015?

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Running A Literary Festival

Tomorrow night Gladfest 2015 will start at Gladstone’s Library. We all love a book festival don’t we? In fact many of us probably dream of running our own, even if it was just in our back garden with our favourite authors having a chat on the decking, but what is it really like to organise one? Gladfest 2015’s Festival Director, Louisa Yates, kindly took some time out of her hectic schedule to tell me all about the running of Gladfest and why hosting a festival means so much to her and all at Gladstone’s.

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So in case anyone missed me talking about the festival a while back, which I am really excited about, tell us all a bit about Gladstone’s Library and Gladfest?

Gladstone’s Library is a pretty unusual place – it’s a library, yes, but it’s actually much more than that. It was the vision of the Victorian Liberal statesman, WE Gladstone who decided that rather than bequeath his lifetime collection of books to the Bodleian Library or the National Library, he’d set up his own. With books at one end and the later addition of 26 bedrooms at the other (now, boutique style, I am pleased to report), it’s a residential library. It’s also the UK’s only Prime Ministerial library attracting writers, authors, academics, students and visitors from around the world.

 This weekend we’re hosting our third literary festival, Gladfest, and we have some great writers and authors including Jessie Burton, Michel Faber, Alice Oseman, Patrick Gale and Robyn Cadwallader. For 2015 we also have a much more extensive programme of activities for children and young people thanks to funding from Arts Council Wales.

With just a matter of days/hours to go before it all starts, what are you doing right now?

All the actual planning and organising starts around about December time and really kicks off at the beginning of the year when we are compiling the programme and signing up writers. I’d love to think that when we invite people to speak at Gladfest, it has something to do with my sparkling personality but I have to admit, that’s probably not it at all. The library is a truly special place.

We’re now at the ‘putting up the marquee’ stage and ‘getting the craft fair stands sorted’ stage and the ‘nailing fence posts in’ stage. It’s all hands to the pump and we call in favours from far and wide – friends, family and colleagues. This weekend, you’ll find me helping supervising the parking, handing out tickets and introducing the guest speakers –it’s full on but I love it.

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Literary festivals are becoming increasingly popular, where did the idea for Gladfest come from and what’s different about it?

We first mooted the idea of a festival back in 2012. We wanted to stage a series of lecturers but could not find consecutive dates in the diary, so just 17 weeks later we staged our first Gladfest. We’ve tried to hang on to some of that impetuous spirit to make sure Gladfest is a friendly place to be. For us, it’s about the writers and the books and the audience. There’s no Green Room, there’s no VIP area, everyone mucks in together so if you happen to be with us this weekend, don’t be surprised if you are queuing up for lunch with Jessie Burton or Michel Faber.

I’d like to think that Gladfest is the literary festival writers would choose and that’s partly because we’ve been able to draw on a community of people that has been evolving for many years – our regular visitors and patrons include people like Salley Vickers, Terry Waite, Rowan Williams and Tony Benn. I think it’s also because we understand the practical flip side of being a writer. Earlier this year, statistics showed that the average annual income of a writer was about £5,000 and among the literary community, there’s been a lot of discussion about why so many authors and writers don’t get paid when it comes to taking part in cultural festivals. Why? Good question. There’s often an underlying assumption that art does not need to be paid for, and actually many literary festivals are more about ‘location marketing’ to attract visitors to a town or region than celebrating books and ideas. At Gladfest, we provide guest speakers with a package that covers travel, food and accommodation – effectively, everything they will need apart from booze! It means that although we have sold more tickets than ever before this year, we will only break even; at the end of the day we are hosting a community of writers and thinkers, helping bring their work to a wider audience.

Have you already got plans for Gladfest 2016?

 Actually we have! We’re in talks with some very exciting speakers so once Gladfest 2015 is wrapped up, we’ll give ourselves a well earned break during October and November and then get cracking again.

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 A huge thanks to Louisa for taking the time out of her bonkers schedule this week. Gladfest takes place this weekend from the 4th to the 6th at Gladstone’s Library located Hawarden, North Wales. I am going to be there all day on Saturday seeing the likes of Sarah Perry, Jessie Burton, Melissa Harrison and Michel Faber, there are a load more wonderful authors over the weekend so do head to https://www.gladstoneslibrary.org  for more information

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Get Your Glad Rags On For Gladfest 2015

I mentioned the other day how much I love literature when it is live and how I am a big fan of events in bookshops, hotels and of course festivals. Over the autumn I am going to be attending a few literature festivals and the first one, and indeed the only one I can talk about for now, is Gladfest which happens on the borders of North Wales and Cheshire and is just down the road from me, taking place in the most gorgeous venue with a brilliant line up of authors and events.

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If you love books (which of course you are, that is why you’ve popped by) then if you have yet to get to Gladstone’s Library, which you can see above, then you really should. It is the UK’s only Prime Ministerial Library after it was former Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone founded the library in 1894 and donated 32,000 books from his own personal library at Hawarden Castle. Today, the library has a world-renowned collection of more than 250,000 items specialising in theology, history, culture, politics and literature attracting writers, academics, clergy and students from all over the world. The library is seriously stunning…

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If that wasn’t enough, and frankly getting a sneaky wander around the library should be, the line up of authors is brilliant. Gladfest 2015 will be playing host to Patrick Barkham, Matthew Bradley, Jessie Burton, Robyn Cadwallader, Sarah Dunant, Richard Beard, Judy Brown, Sarah Butler, Zia Chaudhry, Martin Edwards, Michel Faber, Simon Grennan, Lesley McDowell, Michael Nobbs, Sarah Perry, Patrick Gale, Melissa Harrison, Peter Moore, Alice Oseman. I have my sites on seeing many of these authors when I head there for the day on the Saturday.

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Oh and did I mention that is also a residential library with 26 bedrooms, dining room/coffee shop, Common Room, conference facilities, chapel and gardens. So if you need somewhere to kip there might be rooms but if you are a budding writer and need a retreat then head here and follow in the steps of authors like Sarah Waters, Sarah Dunant, Salley Vickers, Loyd Grossman, Tony Benn as well as many of the authors who will be in attendance.

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Oh and if you are a writer you might like to check out some of the talks and workshops on subject froms how to review your own work to how to be creative, and even how to inject fear and loathing into your writing!

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There are more than 20 talks and workshops taking place across the three day literary festival as well as music, singing, crafts and of course, delicious home-cooked food at the Food for Thought Café and the library’s famous, Gladstone Cookies. Gladfest will host a full programme of activities for young people including the ‘So You Want to be an… Actor, Director & Scriptwriter’ events as well as storytelling and discussions on Shakespeare and Roald Dahl.

Basically there will be blinking loads on! I won’t be staying there the whole weekend (but I have it in my sites on it for a future reading retreat one weekend) however I will be there on the Saturday to see Melissa Harrison, Michel Faber, Peter Moore, Sarah Perry and Jessie Burton. I am gutted to be missing Patrick Gale on the Sunday and the murder mystery dinner on the Friday but thems the breaks.

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The festival runs from the 4th to the 6th of September, I went last year and loved it, despite being terribly jetlagged. Tickets cost £6 for the talks and £10 for the workshops. To book, call 01244 532350 or email enquiries@gladlib.org or visit https://www.gladstoneslibrary.org For more information, times and how to book then do get your mitts on the festival programme here. Hopefully I will see some of you there that weekend – oh and of course I will be reporting on it, and podcasting from it, over the coming months!

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The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton

Sometimes I am a fool. Not reading Jessie Burton’s debut novel The Miniaturist until the start of this year (I said I was behind with reviews) is a prime example, especially when I was sent it the Christmas before last with a note saying ‘Simon, you will really, really love this book’. This has only made me seem even more of a fool when in the last year or so half the world and his wife seem to have bought it and loved it. What there is no fooling about is the fact that I have now read The Miniaturist and what was one of many people’s favourite books last year will be one of my favourite books this year.

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Picador Books, hardback, 2014, fiction, 400 pages, kindly sent to me by the publisher

One day in the autumn of 1686 Petronella, Nella, Oortman knocks on a large door of a strange house in an affluent part of Amsterdam. The door she is knocking on is that of her recent husbands, wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt, yet he is not with her and has not been since the day that they wed and in fact she barely knows him. And so she arrives alone (bar her pet parakeet Peebo) in a strange city and a strange house where once inside the welcome party is more like a party at a wake. The staff; the young and flighty Cornelia and former slave Otto, seem to have been warned off speaking to her, let alone befriending her. Her new sister-in-law, Marin, is ice itself (think of the greeting the new Mrs De Winter gets from Mrs Danvers in Rebecca) and makes it clear that Nella must keep herself to herself and not be a nuisance to her new husband or most importantly Marin, the lady of the house.

Things change, though you wouldn’t exactly say for the better, when Johannes buys her the gift of a large dolls house, a replica of their own. It seems that though he has yet to have spoken to her much, or indeed (fans self) visited her bed chamber, he is aware his new wife needs something of comfort and happiness in her life. Soon parcels of furniture and dolls arrive from a mysterious miniaturist, who not only replicates what is in the house they cannot have possibly seen but who also starts to mirror Nella’s present predicament. Things get stranger and stranger when these dolls and furnishings begin to not only predict the future but also reveal secrets that the Brandt household would rather keep hidden and locked away as well as the dangers that lie ahead.

‘Is it – this house?’ Nella says.
‘It’s your house,’ Johannes corrects her, pleased.
‘It’s a lot easier to manage,’ says Cornelia, craning to see into the upper rooms.
The accuracy of the cabinet is eerie, as if the real house has been shrunk, it’s body sliced in two and its organs revealed.

This is a book of facades. To the passer by the Brandt house would seem like a perfect specimen of the well to do part of Amsterdam, yet within its walls it holds secrets and people inside who all have a facade of their own. What lies behind Johannes aloof business like nature? What lies behind the sharp and hard nature of Marin? Even the new dolls house which should be something of pleasure and fun becomes a more and more ominous presence in the household, an item with its own sense of secrets and forboding. As we read on the more we realise that absolutely nothing is quite what it seems, oh the twists ahead.  This theme even continues in Johannes warehouse where it seems he is storing a fortune (not just of his) of sugar – food plays a big part in this book, even defining characters – however it may look white, pure and tempting but mould and rot have started to set in around the edges.

As well as being a book about secrets (I am being enigmatic about what these are as wonderfully there are plenty of twists throughout, some early on, which I don’t want to spoil as I didn’t see them coming) and mysteries The Miniaturist is very much a book about repression be itself imposed or forced on others by a single person or society and its rules. This is also where the historical element really comes into play as the social mores, one particular shocking practice I had never heard of, and the repercussions if you break them linger in the streets of Amsterdam around the Brandt house getting closer and closer as the novel goes on.

I know it is rather lazy to compare a book to another but I am going to do so anyway because it illustrates why I was such a stonking fan of this book. Lots of The Miniaturist reminded me of Rebecca, which as many of you will know is one of my favourite books of all time, so high praise. Not because it tries to imitate it but because it has some of the key ingredients that I love in any gothic romp of a novel. It has the house that domineers and brims with mystery, it has the innocent woman, the mysterious husband, the gossiping staff and the scary housekeeper/sister in law. It brims with tension, atmosphere and whispers of darker things going on just out of your line of sight. It is basically delicious.

Jessie Burton makes this all look effortless and also incredibly entertaining. There are the characters; Nella who is naive and the reader’s eyes as she goes from an innocent girl to the beginning of womanhood, Cordelia is a delight with just the right amounts of empathy and gossip. Once we know more about Johannes we understand and feel for him. And then there is Marin, oh Marin, my favourite character in the book who pretty much steals every scenes and has, without giving any spoilers away, one of the most complex persona’s and stories within the book. Burton’s writing is pitch perfect for the gothic. I found the prose to be wonderfully rich in description. She knows how to give small things away yet keep little things back or drop hints that something dark might be coming, leaving you in suspense of what’s to come. Amsterdam’s streets and society appeared in my head fully formed. Burton also has the power to create genuine tension and hairs on the back of your neck can rise from nowhere in a paragraph.

The maid’s name dies in Nella’s throat. Several feet away from the miniaturist’s door, a woman is watching her. No, not watching – staring. She stands still amidst the milling crowd, her eyes fixated on Nella’s face. Nella experiences the unprecedented sensation of being impaled – the woman’s scrutiny is like a beam of cold light dissecting her, filing her with an awareness of her own body. The woman does not smile, her brown eyes nearly orange in the midday light, her uncovered hair like pale gold thread.
A chill, a sharp clarity, enters Nella’s bones. She draws her shawl tight, and still the woman keeps staring.

From the moment Nella arrived at the Brandt household I was completely smitten with The Miniaturist. It is a big fat gorgeous gothic romp of a story with vivid characters, dark brooding moments and plenty of twists and unexpected turns as you follow Nella through her mixture of wonderment, puzzlement and bafflement in her dolls house, her own house and the streets of Amsterdam. I also utterly broke me at the end, there was much weeping. It’s basically marvellous, if you haven’t read it yet don’t be a fool like me and leave it any longer – read it now!

If you would like to know more about The Miniaturist from Jessie herself you can hear her in conversation with me on You Wrote The Book here. So who else (there are probably loads of you) has read The Miniaturist and what did you make of it?

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Filed under Books of 2015, Jessie Burton, Picador Books, Review

The Book Tingle (#BookTingle)

When I was sat with my lovely fellow judges at the first proper Fiction Uncovered meeting, the subject of what we were all looking for in winning books came up. As it went around the table with the judges and the Fiction Uncovered team things like the prose and writing style, something different that stands out, great stories etc all come up. When everyone looked at me for my response the words that came out of my mouth were ‘I want the book tingle’ and they all looked at me like they might have someone unhinged (or living up to the Simple Simon namesake) sat with them. And so I explained…

For me a book tingle is a rare and elusive phenomenon. You would initially think that for a book to give me all the tingles it would simply need to be an amazingly written book that ticks all my literary likes. Well yes, but you see there is more to it and I bet you have all had them too. You can have books that start amazingly and then, for various reasons, go off on a tangent, these ones don’t. From start to finish they have you.

The first time I had this sensation was with Catherine Hall’s The Proof of Love*.  I should hear add that since then Catherine and I have become firm friends, down to the book actually, yet when I picked it up I hadn’t heard of her before and had no knowledge of the book. Oh, expect that on the cover it said ‘Sarah Waters meets Daphne Du Maurier’ which piqued my interest and also made me wary all at once. In fact, cheeky little scamp that I am I actually thought ‘compared to Du Maurier eh? Go on then, impress me…’ and it did taking me completely by delightful surprise. You see from two or three paragraphs in I just knew this was a book for me. It is often the sense of surprise when this happens that adds to the experience.

These books are rare gems; you don’t get them often. There is an almost unexplainable feeling from the start which lasts until the final full stop. Not for a single moment does the book let you down, or indeed out of its grasp, you are effectively spell bound by it. It feels like all the rest of the world goes completely out of your mind and all that is left is you, the book and the author’s words. It is the prose, the characters, the atmosphere, everything! You almost feel, without it sounding arrogant, that this book was written just for you.

This has happened again very recently, if I may be so bold, with Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist, review coming soon. Four pages in and I knew we were off. I was in an effortless zone of book reading bliss. This book has nothing in common with The Proof of Love, well actually maybe something in hindsight but I wouldn’t have known from the start. They are set in different times, completely different places, yet somehow I just knew. And it is the same with some other books which gave me that same sensation (have I said tingle too often now making it sound even weirder than it did at the start?) like Gillespie and I, The Hunger Trace, Small Island, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, My Policeman etc ** from the very beginning I just knew. They all just got me, or did I just get them, either way it was a perfect match.

So what I am saying really, and what I think I am not looking for in just Fiction Uncovered judging but also in my reading life in general, is that the reason I keep reading is to hunt for that next kick and those extra special books. The books that you more than simply just love, the ones that give you that magic feeling, don’t let you go and afterwards become both part a landmark in your reading history and a part of your psyche.

To hear me talking about it slightly more eloquently, yet with more giggles, listen to the latest episode of The Readers. I would love to know (in the comments below) which books you’ve read that have given you the book tingle, or whatever you would like to call it, from the very start and held you throughout, plus how it feels when you just know a book is going to be just your sort of book. Which books do you feel were really written just for you? Do also share them on Twitter with #BookTingle, let’s get it trending!

*You may have noticed I have not mentioned Rebecca. This is in part because it is the book that got me reading again, so is a whole separate stratosphere and also in part because I wouldn’t have known what a book tingle was if it had hit me square between the eyes.
**These with Catherine Hall are the books, prior to my last tingle with Ms Burton, that I thought of when I was thinking of books where the feeling hit me within a few pages or a chapter. I just knew.

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