Tag Archives: Jonathan Cape Publishers

Her Fearful Symmetry – Audrey Niffenegger

I don’t normally review books before they come out officially as though I like to get people excited about a book I always think if you do it too far in advance people will forget or you may just alienate your audience. However if your audience is like I believe my readers might just be then you will be chomping at the bit for the next Audrey Niffenegger book and me reviewing it now won’t matter. In fact I imagine if you had received this book a few weeks ago you may find it very difficult to hold back from reading it, I know I have and it is perfect for my Sensation Season and so I have to give in.

It would be very hard when starting this book not to compare it to Niffenegger’s cult classic ‘The Time Travellers Wife’ which is one of my very favourite books. However sometimes over hyping a book before you have even turned the first page can lead to its downfall and so I tried with my maximum effort when reading ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’ not to think of the other book, even if the sticker on the cover reminded me whenever I picked it up.

Her Fearful Symmetry is primarily a tale of twins. We have Edie and Elspeth and we have Julia and Valentina who are Edie’s daughters. From the opening of the book we witness the last days of Elspeth’s life as she succumbs to her terminal illness. Meanwhile across the pond in America the sister she has not spoke to for many years knows nothing of her death until her daughters receive a letter in which the aunt that they have never met leaves them all her money and a flat in Highgate. There is one condition, the girls must live there for a year under the promise that Edie and her husband Jack are never to enter the flat.

Despite their mothers reservations the promise of intrigue (and freedom) draws the girls straight over the day after their twenty first birthday. Once arriving in a foreign country and the foreign place that is Highgate they fall into the lives of Robert the aunts ex-toy boy lover and Martin, possibly my favourite human character, a recluse who cannot leave the house for fear of germs yet whose wife has just left him, The Little Kitten of Death and the biggest character of all Highgate Cemetery which is just over the wall in the back garden. Oh and did I mention that Elspeth may be dead but she definitely hasn’t left her flat but why? With the mystery as to why Elspeth and Edie never saw each other for years and just what she didn’t want the twins to find out slowly uncurling with Highgate Cemetery in the back ground this becomes a supernatural tale with more than one twist and an ending that I never saw coming and couldn’t have predicted.

I really enjoyed it the book, as well as being dark and gothic it looks at humans and how we react to growing up, loss, death and control. The girls becoming independent creates quite a rift between the two of them that wasn’t there before. Robert has to deal with the loss of his lover while he finds a new one and becomes ever so slightly addicted to the cemetery and late night wanderings. Martin has to work out if he loves the wife who has abandoned him enough to let go of his phobias and control issues and actually leave the house. It’s all here along with a ghost story, that in part three was just so gloriously sensationalist and creepy and very twisty (am I making sense still?) that I couldn’t put it down.

If I had any slight reservations, and they would be tiny, some of it was a little contrived such as the girls finding out they had inherited money just before their 21st and leaving the moment they literally turned 21. But then who am I to comment isn’t that the basis of all the great sensation novels and I love those! I also found the last 100 pages were a sudden rush of secrets revealed a few complex twists and suddenly it was over, I could have happily read that in another 50 pages more with great pleasure. All in all a wonderful romp that is so far away from its predecessor you couldn’t compare the two at all apart from the fact they are both brilliant.

Ok so I still love The Time Traveller’s Wife the most but this book could see itself creeping (in a creepy way) into my top books of all time. I just need to give it some more time to linger in my mind and also to catch my breath from the ending. If you want to see another review of the book pop to Rachel’s blog here at Book Snob, she was even more impressed than me. I will tell you something for nothing though, I (and possibly The Converted One… if I can drag them, and its nice enough weather) definitely have a date with Highgate Cemetery this weekend. I imagine with the current autumnal air it’s got a very special and ‘sensational’ feeling about it…

Are you excited about this book? Will you be comparing it to The Time Traveller’s Wife? Do you think its all hype? Do you ever worry after a corking book by an author that the next one will be a flop, or do you over hype authors and books and end up disappointed?

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Filed under Audrey Niffenegger, Books of 2009, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Random House Publishing, Review

The Quickening Maze – Adam Foulds

There have been some books that I have been really daunted by on the Man Booker Longlist and some that I have been really looking forward to. The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds was one of the latter. It ticked quite a few boxes for me straight away, it was based on true events, it was set in a mental institution and on a superficial level it has a wonderful cover. It sounded like it was going to be a creepy account of a man’s journey into madness.

Adam Foulds novel ‘The Quickening Maze’ is a novel based on factual events that happened in Epping Forest in the 1840’s. The book is set in High Beach Private Asylum where the poet John Clare is incarcerated. Well not incarcerated as he is allowed to wander the woods where he writes his poetry and dreams of his wives, yes wives. You see John Clare thinks that he is married to more than one woman though the depths of the why behind it is never really properly explained. It’s not just John Clare that we meet in the novel though of course.

Through the novel we get to meet all of the other people either working at the asylum such as Dr Matthew Allen who owns the asylum and his family or those who are staying there, some of whom which we get to know rather too well in some circumstances like the man who is scared that his daily ablutions add evil into the world and so will not purge himself. I did find the patients and their varying different issues and how they were treated really fascinating and wanted to read a lot more about them.

One of the latest arrivals to the asylum is the poet Alfred Tennyson who is there to support his brother who becomes a patient. Dr Allen’s daughter Hannah takes it upon herself to try and become the apple of his eye and so we are thrown in a strange kind of love story of sorts. I had no idea that these two world famous poets paths had crossed and so it was all again very interesting. Sadly though despite the premise being so me and the ideas and characters of the novel being so interesting it sadly just didn’t really quite work for me.

The prose is beautiful, you can tell the author is a poet himself, and the journey of John Clare into the depths of madness is written incredibly well so in parts you feel you are going through it with him. The disjointed relationship between Hannah and Alfred and also her sisters and family just didn’t quite mesh with me. This could be due to the fact that I read it on a plane which is not the best reading spot for me; I don’t think that is quite the case though. I found that in what is actually a very short 258 page novel there seemed to be a few too many characters and ideas, if the story had just concentrated on the poets and the asylum it might have done slightly more for me.

I feel bad not praising it as it’s very good, it just wasn’t the ‘me’ book that I had the high hopes it would be. Has that ever happened to any of you? A book you are looking forward to because it has all those magic ingredients that are just up your reading street and then it leads you into a dodgy dead end? What novels have you read based on factual events have really worked for you, which ones haven’t?

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Filed under Adam Foulds, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Man Booker, Random House Publishing, Review

The Wilderness – Samantha Harvey

I have to admit that Samantha Harvey’s debut novel is the perfect example of how reading books at the right time can really make a difference. When I first tried the novel, though I have a real affinity with stories about Alzheimer’s as I spend a weekend every 8 or so weeks with my Great Uncle in his home which is solely for people with that and dementia, I didn’t connect with the book. I think the reason was I was rushing through the Orange long list and I don’t think rushing does any reader any favours, you miss lots of a book just to have more reviews on your blog… a little pointless. I am now much more relaxed… on the whole. Second time around I took to ‘The Wilderness’ so much more and I think its because I paced myself. Now bear with me as this is actually quite a hard book to review.

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The Wilderness is narrated by Jake who, when we meet him, is being whirled around the countryside in a plane for his birthday. Jake is in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s and on the cusp of retiring is looking back on his life, his loves, his regrets and his unfulfilled hopes. Of course having Alzheimer’s we never quite know at points to whom he is referring or whether what he is saying is reliable or not as his memory deteriorates.

Looking back over his marriage to Helen (who seems to dream the future as she actually predicts her daughter birth and her own death) and the women he had affairs with including Eleanor who he now finds himself sleeping with again, to the relationships with his mother and his children a son Henry who is in prision and a daughter Alice who seems to be slightly removed from the family though once finds out he is ill wants to help. The characters are all very interesting to read I did love ‘poor Eleanor’ who Jake seems to know is hard done by and yet carries on being hard to her, I also loved his mother Sarah and her coldness mixed with motherliness. It is actually Jake as the lead character who is the only well drawn male; all the others seem on the peripheral and don’t quite come fully formed. The cast of women are all incredibly written which I found and interesting mix.

In some places I found myself confused as seeing the world through Jakes eyes you are naturally going to occasionally get lost, and yet this time around I enjoyed being lost in the book. I think the reason that I found it such an effort to read was with a plot and subject like this it can’t be rushed and you may need to re-read the novel in parts once or twice to work out just what Jake is discussing or who. Intermixed with his back history and the deteriation of his memories through his meetings with the nurses Harvey also in a way explains what happens to Alzheimer’s sufferers.

Not many a writer could pull all of this off and the fact that this is Samantha Harvey’s debut novel is in some ways quite astounding. I loved the fact that she also did this without becoming melodramatic. Dramatic things of course happen but they aren’t ever written for effect, they are seemingly factual and matter of fact. The fact she writes a male character so well, though I could never call him likeable (apart from when he finds the dog his girlfriend hit and takes it in as a pet) is another sign of what a promising writer she is and why she has been up for so many awards.

Having the personal and close contact with someone with this disease I think that anyone dealing with it should read it, ok it may be fiction but in terms of the effects of the disease its incredibly real and could give people more of an insight. I would love to know where and how Harvey did her research for she has clearly put a lot into this book. I also liked the fact she made out these people aren’t victims and indeed looked at the rage they feel when approached as such. I look forward to what I think is an incredibly promising start to an incredibly promising author and I am already hoping she is shortlisted though with another seven or so books to go it could all change of course. Have you read this yet and if so what did you think?

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Filed under Jonathan Cape Publishers, Man Booker, Random House Publishing, Review