Tag Archives: Lauren Groff

Is It Time For Me To Head Back To The Ancient Classics?

It is funny how long you will deny something to yourself and indeed the reasons for doing so. From an early age I was brought up not just on fairy tales but on the stories of, and adventures around, the Greek gods and goddesses. You see my mother is something (understatement of the year) of a classicist and so as often as I would ask to be regaled with the story of Rapunzel again and again, I would also ask to be read and reread the tale of Persephone. I was also obsessed with Jim Henson’s The Storyteller spin off about the Greek Myths, I also just had a flashback to a phase I had of loving the animated Shakespeare series, especially Zoe Wannamakers Lady Macbeth. I digress. This all changed when I went to school, where Mum taught, and got 99% in my classics exam. Rather than this being a good thing, some bullying little sods at school made my life hell and said I was either a complete geek or my mum had told me all the answers. My response of course was to shut down and shut out classics. Wow, this is like therapy.

Almost 23 years later when I found myself picking potential holidays Cyprus (have I mentioned I have been on holiday at all) kept coming up and once I explored it, it wasn’t just the all inclusive four star hotel bargain that kept pulling me back, if I am being honest it was also the fact there were ancient tombs, moments, rocks, myths and legends about the island too – like being the birthplace of Aphrodite – that kept drawing me back. And when I got there it was the archaeological park that was one of the first places I wanted to visit, and oddly when I did I felt strangely at home.

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This might of course be because of all the times I went to these places with my mother as a kid (driving through the Greek mountains recently I was reminded of those trips where I played all Cathy Dennis’ albums on repeat) even the seven hour trip around Pompeii, which may have also hardened my heart to classics a little bit possibly. What I wasn’t expecting was for mosaics to bring such a sense of nostalgia back to me…

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But they did…

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And then I was really cross with myself when I couldn’t remember the stories surrounding some of the mosaics that we saw, even when I recognised the names. The more we saw the stronger the sense of nostalgic and slight pining for these tales of ancient times became.

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As did the sense of the ancient world suddenly being so vivid and overwhelming the more of the old ancient sites that we visited. Really there is nothing like standing in or in front of an old Odeon to bring back the spirits and beliefs of the people who would have been sat in there watching some performances.

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So the more we wandered round, and the more that we saw throughout the week, the more I started to get the old classicist itch, which I honestly thought was more dormant than Mount Vesuvius. So now I feel I need to scratch it, or if we want to go right down Pun Alley, the more I want to start an archaeological dig on my soul and start to excavate this side of me again.

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I have dabbled with the classics in the past few years. I read Poetics by Aristotle (who my mum once named a cat after) and thought it was a brilliant piece of writing about, well, writing. I loved Mary Beard’s collection of essays It’s A Don’s Life, and loved her TV show Rome but I love Mary Beard regardless, who doesn’t? I also really enjoyed Natalie Haynes’ The Amber Fury which weaves Greek tragedies through it, and enjoyed the nods to Greek tragedy in Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies. And then there is Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles which I love, love, love, love, love. If you haven’t read it you must.

The question is what next? I have just gone and ordered Natalie’s The Ancient Guide To Modern Life as I think that will be up my street and am debating both Robert Graves Greek Myths (as I want to be reminded of them all, if it isn’t dry and dusty) and Ali Smith’s The Story of Antigone. In fact speaking of Ali Smith, I should get my hands on more of the Canongate Myths series really shouldn’t I? Oh and Vintage did kindly send me a copy of Euripides The Bacchae so that could be next. Blimey so much choice. What do you think? Any ancient classic texts you would recommend to me, or indeed any other retellings?

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Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff

I mentioned a week or so ago that I have decided to try and get involved, unofficially, with the Tournament of Books this year. The title, and indeed the author, that I have heard the most positive murmurs about both her in the UK and when I was in the US was Lauren Groff and Fates and Furies. I knew nothing other than the fact that lots of people I trust love her writing and this book and so I went into it completely blind with no idea of what to expect from the plot or the prose which can sometimes be the best way in. What unfolded was a book which I enjoyed very much indeed and has grown on me all the more since I read it.

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One of the things that has always bothered me most, and left me with some sleepless nights, is the fact that you can never really know exactly what someone else is thinking ever. Be it your family, friends or your partner. Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies is a novel that looks at this conundrum thorough both sets of eyes in a marriage. Lotto and Mathilde seem like the perfect couple, in fact when they meet in their early twenties at a party everyone looks on as two of the most beautiful people first set eyes on each other and Lotto proposes on the spot. They soon become the envy of their friends, she the mysterious intellect who no one really knows and he the well known promising actor and loaded lothario who pretty much sleeps with whoever he wishes.

Despite many people, including their closest friends, thinking that this marriage will end before it has even started Lotto and Mathilde create a marriage that not only lasts after the initial honeymoon period but can weather any storm be it disinheritance, poverty, depression, unemployment you name it. Mathilde has tamed Lotto; Lotto has captured the mystery that is Mathilde. This is the version we are given in the first half of the book as we see the relationship through the eyes of Lotto, along with the history of his life up to the point he meet Mathilde. The question is will his perception be the same as Mathilde’s as we switch to her point of view in the second half, what secrets (good and bad) do they have from each other; do they really know each other?

He touched her hand. He bent down on one knee and shouted up, “Marry me!” And she didn’t know what to do; she laughed and looked down at him, and said “No!”
In the story he told of this – spun at so many parties, so many dinners, she listening with her smile, her head cocked, laughing slightly – she said, “Sure.” She never corrected him, not once. Why not let him live with his illusion? It made him happy. She loved making him happy. Sure! It wasn’t true, not for another two weeks when she would marry him, but it did no harm.

I thought Fates and Furies was a fascinating read for many reasons; the problem is how to tell you about them all without giving anything away. Often with a story told from two sides you feel that the author is with one character more than the other, or one character is the good one and the other will be the bad. Come on, it’s true. Not so with Fates and Furies as we discover both characters are flawed, both have faults and flaws as they do generosity and kindness, both come off the page fully formed, both are often oblivious to little things going on with the other, both are equals in the eye of the author and therefore the reader. Groff then treats us readers into hear both sides and so feeling a mixture of spectator/voyeur, confident and accomplice to everything that follows. You also feel at once clever, shocked and emotionally torn when you figure everything out just when Groff wants you to. All this I found particularly refreshing and rewarding reading.

I also think that whilst the tale of the secrets of a marriage is nothing new, the way that Groff deals with it all is from a new stance. At one point you very much feel that Groff gives you her thoughts on fiction and what she wants to do with it through Mathilde. She was so tired of the old way of telling stories, all those too-worn narrative paths, the familiar plot thickets, the fat social novels. She needed something messier, something sharper, something like a bomb going off. I won’t say it was quite like a bomb, however the way in which Groff delivers Fates and Furies is quite unusual, and you just have to work at it sometimes. This is no bad thing and actually I think this is why it has stayed with me and grown on me since.

Sometimes the perspective of the narrative will shift in Lotto or Mathilde’s narrative, not to the other person in the marriage but to an ominous third person or indeed one of their many ‘friends’ or relatives, it might only be for a sentence or a paragraph and it’s done with such a deft sleight of hand you don’t notice until a little while after. As Lotto becomes a famous playwright some of the sections are summed up with the title of the play, an excerpt of it, a review or glimpse of the writing process which mirrors or says something about the place the marriage is at. In one part of the book we jump from month to month or year to year from party to party to get a glimpse of where Lotto, Mathilde and those around them are at. Nothing is done randomly here, Groff always has a reason, and you just don’t instantly see it. You could string together the parties Lotto and Mathilde had been to like a necklace, and you would have their marriage in miniature.

Not only is Groff quite something stylistically, which makes the book a challenge but over all a joy to read, her prose is wonderful. In a sentence she can set the scene within a few words or lines. Sunset. House on the dunes like a sea-tossed conch. Pelicans thumbtacked in the wind. Gopher tortoise under the palmetto. She also has an incredible ability to make things so vivid so effortlessly that sometime you forget that the memories are of the characters rather than your own for the emotions they evoke. The place smelled of her, talcum and roses. Dust a soft gray skin over the chintz and Lladro. Also mildew, the sea’s armpit stink.

Another aspect that I thought was great was that fairytale and myth, in particular Greek tragedy, play a huge part in Fates and Furies resonating and rippling through the book. Mermaids, witches and goblins are often referenced or show up in some way, soon turning out to be nothing magical at all, linking into the whole idea of facades and the fantasies we build in our heads versus the reality, just as Lotto and Mathilde seem the perfect fairytale romance. The Greek tragedy elements (apt as I will be surrounded by Greek ruins when this goes live) appear both in the plays that Lotto chooses to adapt and then Mathilde’s storyline as it unfolds, hints of which lie in the title of the novel. I loved all this; some might even say I revelled in it.

There were a few niggles along the way that I should mention. I found the first half of the book overly long, whilst I understood why after finishing the novel I actually think Lotto’s story could have been a third of the book and Mathilde’s two thirds and remained just as visceral, intricate and poignant when all becomes clear. Two literary tropes which I am never keen on, even with writing as wonderful as Groff’s, touched a slight nerve; the writing about the cultural world and theatre and art was a tad overegged as was the poor rich boy who fails then becomes famous, but these get on my nerves as tropes in general and in the hands of other authors would have severely ticked me off rather than slightly bothering me. Also on occasion the switch in style would throw me, only to then reward me a little later on so I soon forgave it. Oh and I could have done with a little more fury towards the end, only a sprinkling more in the direction of one character who you will undoubtedly love to hate as much as I did. These were minor moments though within a fantastically large and larger than life (and all the better for being both) novel.

I would highly recommend Fates and Furies. It is a novel that intricately and intelligently looks at how you can only hazard a guess at what people are thinking or only hope that those closest to you are telling you what they really feel or are experiencing in their heads/lives and yet you’ll never really know. The story and characters are compelling, the style exciting, the prose second to none and the questions around secrets, when they are bad and when they work for the good, really thought provoking. It will also punch you in your emotional weak points, make you laugh and remind you to cherish what you have and be honest with those you love.

See, it just keeps on growing and growing on me the more I think about it. I have to hunt down Lauren Groff’s other books, any suggestions on where to start next? I would also love your thoughts on Fates and Furies if, or once, you have read it.

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The Tournament of Books 2016

For the last few years I have heard the lovely Ann and Michael, of Books on the Nightstand, mention a mysterious thing called The Tournament of Books. Before many of you laugh or look at the screen and say ‘pah!’, we can’t know everything about books and this is something that happens in the states rather than over here, though admittedly thanks to the internet the world is a much smaller place. It happens every March and it is roughly around the end I finally remember to investigate by which time I have missed out on lots of the fun. Thankfully this year Frances from NonSuchBook reminded me on Twitter and so I have decided to try and read along as it sounds a) like it will introduce me to some new reads b) push some reads up my TBR c) be fun in the realm of the Guardian’s Not the Booker, so I am in.

If you haven’t followed the ToB before, here’s the summary: Starting in early March and proceeding each weekday, one of our judges—the full list is below—will read two books, choose one to advance, and explain how they reached their decision. The criteria is entirely personal; we merely ask for no basketball metaphors, and that the judge render their decision-making process in full transparency, and also tell you any connections they might have to the authors and/or books involved. Then our commentators, Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner, weigh in, followed by the wonderful community of readers that turn the comments section into one of the smarter, more interesting discussions of contemporary fiction that we know about. There. Simple-ish.

I think really the best way to go about it is to get reading (thankfully I have already read the longest one, can you guess which one it is?) and he is the list of books that have formed the Tournament of Books 2016 shortlist…

  • The New World by Chris Adrian and Eli Horowitz
  • The Sellout by Paul Beatty
  • Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson
  • The Turner House by Angela Flournoy
  • Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
  • Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
  • Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving
  • Ban en Banlieue by Bhanu Kapil
  • The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli
  • The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • The Whites by Richard Price
  • Oreo by Fran Ross
  • The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard
  • A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
  • The Invaders by Karolina Waclawiak
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

You can find out about each title here. Shock horror, I have only read one of these books (which I have added a link to) but I do own a few (which I have popped in italics) of them. Also having perused the list in full there are lots and lots of book there that I want to read both that I have heard of and some which I had no clue about but might have ordered copies of to come from the US of A – hey I am thinking of reads for my holiday in a few weeks, and as I cannot locate any of my own books what else was I to do? So which are these books, funny you should ask I thought I would share my thoughts.

Anne Tyler and Chris Adrian I have read before and loved, I had no idea the Adrian was already out in the UK so that pleased me. Kent Haruf I have meant to read since forever. When I was in America last year I very nearly bought both Oreo by Fran Ross and The Turner House by Angela Flournoy as they sounds like books I wanted, in fact it was Flournoy’s setting of Detroit after visiting it which I was fascinated by. The Whites had a rave review from Jason Steiger on my favourite book TV show, The ABC Book Club, so it’s been on my periphery. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathiser made it onto my list of books of the first six months of 2016 (you can hear me talk about it and 12 others on The Readers here, a post of a full massive list will go live on the blog on Tuesday) so I will by that when it comes out next month. Then there are the unknowns of which Ban en Banlieue has me at hello, so much so I ordered it from the publisher. Erm, in hindsight I have pretty much mentioned the entire list so no wonder it has got my bookish bits excited. Mind you the longlist also had me very tempted too. Ha!

So which to read first? Anyone else joining in with this, done it before or are completely new to it like me? Have you read any of the books and what did you make of them?

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Should Have, Would Have, Could Have Read/s 2015

I thought I would sneak in a quick post before my final book review of the year and my posts on my top reads of the year go live over the next few days before a shiny new year opens before us. (I love a new year, have I mentioned this before, it is like the epic version of a night of new bed linen.) Anyway, I have been having a small sorting out of the shelves before the new year begins and discovered, to my slight horror, that I there have been lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of books that have come out this year that I have meant to read, haven’t and have that slight ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’ feeling about them all. There were about 50 – just a small amount – but I whittled it down to 22 (I am rubbish at whittling down, very good at whittling on) and here they are in no particular order…

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I Saw a Man – Owen Sheers
Girl at War – Sara Novic
Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff
Delicious Foods – James Hannaham
The Year of the Runaways – Sunjeev Sahota
The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood
The Shore – Sara Taylor
The Fisherman – Chigozie Obioma
Devotion – Ros Barber
Daydreams of Angels – Heather O’Neill
Did You Ever Have a Family – Bill Clegg
Before the Feast – Sasa Stanisic
Beatlebone – Kevin Barry
Public Library – Ali Smith
Music for Wartime – Rebecca Makkai
Trans: A Memoir – Juliet Jacques
An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It – Jessie Greengrass
I’m Jack – Mark Blacklock
The Loney – Andrew Micheal Hurley
The Not Dead and The Saved – Kate Clanchy
Mislaid & The Wallcreeper – Nell Zink

I am not a believer in regrets or of ‘what if’s’ so I have simply decided to be excited about the fact that a) books don’t go anywhere unless you remove them from your life yourself b) these will all be out in paperback over the next year so I can talk to you about them all then. Plus I am 95% sure I am going to love these as people I know who read them really, really did.  Are these going to be my first reads of 2016? No. I have decided I am going right off on reading tangents next year, more on that in the next few days. I just thought I would share these ones with you in the interim. We all love a selection of books and a bookshelf to nosey at don’t we?

Have any of you read any of these and what did you make of them? Which are the books you should have, would have, could have read?

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Man Booker Prize 2015 Longlist Predictions…

Sorry I couldn’t come up with a more snazzy title than that this morning but having just spent a good hour or two going through my bookshelves, both of the books I have read this year and the ones I have yet to (which made me have a moment of weeping from the shame), so my brain is slightly frazzled. The reason I was doing this exercise was to see which books I thought would make it onto the Man Booker Longlist tomorrow, always a fun game which many people have joined in with already. I must say, before I reveal the list, there is no way on earth I think I am a) anywhere near right b) in a position where I feel I should be c) am not sure I want to be anywhere near right as I like the surprise of new to me books. How can any of us, unless we are one of the judges or the administration team, have a clue? I have just gone on books I have read and loved and books that I really want to read that I can see as being ‘Booker’ books, whatever that is – let’s not open up that can of worms! So here goes…

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A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
All Involved – Ryan Gattis
The Good Son – Paul McVeigh
Girl At War – Sara Novic
A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James
TheWallcreeper – Nell Zink

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I Saw A Man – Owen Sheers
At Hawthorn Time – Melissa Harrison
The Wolf Border – Sarah Hall
The Well – Catherine Chanter
Tender – Belinda McKeon
Us Conductors – Sean Michaels

Note, I am missing one and that is because I don’t have it. I think The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma could also be on the list, it is one I am very eager to read at some point. Now you may be thinking ‘hang on a minute sunshine whatabout x, y or z’ well these lists are tricky and you can only go with your gut but I did have another 11 that I could have had on that list which at the moment I purged I thought could go either way…

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Yes, I know those are a pile of nine books but I cannot find my copy of The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan and Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins is on a very high shelf (yes those shelves in the picture above go on up very very very high) and I couldn’t reach it without getting chairs involved and all sorts. I loved A God in Ruins but I wonder if the clever sneaky very subtle twist will be a marmite effect as I know lots of people who (because clearly they have hearts made from coal surrounded by ice, ha) were left slightly unmoved by it. Anyway, any of the above and aforementioned, if not pictured, I would like to see on the list very much indeed. Though as I have mentioned part of the joy of it is the surprise that may await us.

Would I have a tantrum if any of these weren’t on the list? Possibly with A Little Life, which might be one of my books of a lifetime, and All Involved because I think Gattis has written a fascinating insight into gang culture which puts you on a roller-coaster from start to finish (unputdownable would be the cliche I would use if I could, oh… I have) and is crafted and characterised beautifully, and A God In Ruins will ruin you, if you have a normal person’s heart – hehehe. Annoyingly I have only reviewed the Atkinson as the other two will be on You Wrote The Book in due course so am holding off till then. Oh, I am rambling, let us wrap up. What I can say is that I am very excited about tomorrows list and will be awaiting it with much interest.

If you would like to see more guesses there are some at A Case For Books, A Life in Books, Farm Lane Books and over at Neil D. A. Stewart’s blog. Oh and if you want a whole different list you can vote on then check out the Not The Booker Longlist 2015 too. Now over to you, what do you think of the books I have chosen (have you read any?) and which books are you hoping will make the list and why? Let me know if you have had a go at predicting tomorrows list.

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Man Bookers and More…

I have had quite an influx of books at Savidge Towers from some lovely publishers and thought I would share with you what titles you may well be seeing much more of on Savidge Reads. The first set of books that have been coming very kindly through the letter box are of course my main source of reading through August and that is the Man Booker Long List.

Booker Books

Now I have ordered them into “read” which are standing up vertically, “going to read” horizontally and then ‘The Children’s Book’ which is my “steady progress” I actually should have put The Wilderness slightly at an angle as I am re-reading that one again as I think I read it to fast earlier this year and missed some of the magic you have been mentioning. ‘Love & Summer’ was read this week and ‘The Little Stranger’ I read a while ago, I am still finding the latter is one I think about a lot in hindsight. I have just finished ‘Heliopolis’ so expect a review of that soon, possibly later today. I am feeling quite chuffed I have gone from having read one and a half of the list to 4 and 3/4 in a week. Now which should I read next? I still have two more to come which are apparently in the post and those are ‘How To Paint A Dead Man’ by Sarah Hall and ‘The Glass Room’ by Simon Mawer… I hope they arrive in time before the shortlist is announced! Eek! There has also been some non Booker books arrive…

Non Booker Books

We have in the picture (do you like my new bedding?) just in case you cant see the books are;

  • One Day – David Nicholls ( we meet a couple of people on the same day every year for twenty years and see how their lives entwine)
  • Serena – Ron Rash (don’t know much about this but sounds like an epic novel)
  • Border Songs – Jim Lynch (haven’t read him before but have always wanted to try The Highest Tide)
  • A Beginner’s Guide To Acting English – Shappi Khorsandi (I think she is a brilliant comic and a tale of escaping to Britain should be quite funny)
  • Of Bee’s & Mist – Erick Sethwan (not out till December this is meant to be an amazing debut of magical surrealism based on folklore from Erick varying family cultures, apparently this has been quite big in America)
  • The Other – David Gutterson (someone I have always wanted to try)
  • Julie & Julia – Julie Powell (I won’t lie I will be reading this pronto!)
  • The Monsters of Templeton – Lauren Groff (a debut novel thats sounds very exciting and me and I have been wanting to read since it came out in hardback)
  • The Bronte’s Went To Woolworths – Rachel Feruson (I seem to be late on the uptake with this re-released classic)
  • Henrietta’s War – Joyce Dennys (Paperback Reader and Stuck-in-a-Book have both loved this so I am sure I will)
  • The Angels Game – Carlos Ruiz Zafon (loved Shadow of the Wind, VERY excited about this one)

 Now if this wasnt enough I had two more deliveries (my Gran is staying and has been flabberghasted at the arrivals) one which isgoing to remain secret and be a theme for Septembers blogs and I will announce at the weekend and hope some of you will join in. The other wasn’t for me… or my Gran, but for ‘The Converted One’.

Brazilian Books

The lovely people at Bloomsbury had sent two Brazilian authors works they are publishing this year, or have published sorry. ‘Equator’ by Miguel Sousa Tavares which ‘The Converted One’ is “going to read next, is so kind of them” and ‘Ashes of the Amazon’ by Milton Hatoum which won the Brazil Jabuti Prize for Best Novel in 2006. After enjoying Heliopolis (even though not by a Brazilian but set there) I am going to have to piler these myself!

Which of these books have you been tempted to read or have your read? Have you read anything else by one of the authors? As ever do let me know, I love all your opinions. What books are at the top of your TBR and are you itching to start?

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