Tag Archives: Lydia Davis

Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine – Diane Williams

I am a sucker for a good cover and let us be honest Diane Williams latest collection of flash fiction, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine (which always makes me think of the Mary J Blige song Just Fine), has a rather fantastic cover indeed. So that pulled me to it in Foyles when I saw it, then the line ‘folktales that hammer like a nail gun’ in the blurb made me almost 100% sure that this was going to be the best collection of short stories I had read for a while. Hmmmm. How to put this? Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

9781909585201

CB Editions, paperback, 2016, short stories, 118 pages, bought by myself for myself

How to start with a review of Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine when one of the main things you loved about it was the cover and you have already mentioned that? I guess I had better just simply go for it. What I was hoping to find in this collection of very (very, very) short stories was forty (yep, forty) little spiky modern fairytale and folklore like gems. As I started to read I discovered I was getting snap shots into people’s lives that felt like that the prose version of an Instagram feed, only the pictures all seemed to be out of focus, blurred or sometimes an accidental snap shot of the floor because so vague were they, I would read one and think ‘what on earth am I meant to make of that?’

The sad issue here is that the themes I felt Diane Williams was trying to write about, when I did grasp what I thought it was she was on about, are ones that I am really interested. She seems to be giving encounters of a wide and diverse group of women (I can’t remember if any are in a male narrative, though sometimes the gender of the narrator isn’t mentioned) from all walks of life at pivotal moments in their lives. The only thing is so vague and often flimsy did these snippets seem that any poignancy that Williams was trying to give, or maybe I was desperately trying to clutch to, was then lost. Take for example the opener of Head of a Naked Girl

One got an erection while driving in his car to get to her. Another got his while buying his snow blower, with her along. He’s the one who taught her how to blow him and that’s the one she reassured ‘You’re the last person I want to antagonize!’

Firstly I don’t even know if that opening paragraph makes sense, or is it just me? Anyway, what I thought I was getting here was the account of a young woman who had found herself in a profession of which she might have not intended. I was intrigued this might be a tale of how a beautiful woman couldn’t help the affect she had on men for better and for worse, from a neutral view point. We then follow some of her sexual exploits before something, unknown, goes wrong and then she ‘blamed herself – for yet another perfect day.’ Huh? What? I have no idea what I am meant to take from that. Well, apart from mild annoyance.

Now you could say that maybe I am just not one for flash fiction, however I would have to disagree somewhat there. Firstly because I have seen Val McDermid create a story from a tweet which was brilliant and also in this collection there was one very, very, very short story which I loved called The Skol which I will include below in all its entirety.

In the ocean, Mrs. Clavey decided to advance on foot at shoulder-high depth. A tiny swallow of the water coincided with her deliberation. It tasted like a cold, salted variety of her favourite payang congou tea. She didn’t intend to drink more, but she did drink – more.

I loved this. It is very vague, which I know is a criticism I have made in all the stories but here it works. I loved the fact my mind could leap of and ask loads of questions about it. Why on earth was Mrs. Clavey walking into the ocean? Was she just in the mood for a swim or did she have a more dark or sorrowful reason for walking in? Speaking of which, at the end of the story is Mrs. Clavey simply drinking the water because she likes the taste or has she gone a bit mad? Or worse still is she trying to drown herself or just drowning accidentally? Or, the fairytale part of my brain pondered is she actually a mermaid? From four lines all those thoughts. That is what I wanted in every tale.

You might also say that maybe Diane Williams writing isn’t for me. Which is fine, fine, fine, fine, fine (sorry, couldn’t help it!) we don’t like every author in the world, we can’t our heads would explode with all the books we could read; it would be bookshop/library carnage, we might never read anything again because of all the options. I think this is probably the main reason; Diane Williams possibly just isn’t for me. It isn’t her fault. It isn’t my fault. It just is what it is. Though I do want to say there are moments here and there where I just loved how she observes the little things that by saying so little say so much. One paragraph in To Revive A Person Is No Slight Thing has really stayed with me as a character describes the cracks in her marriage, well that is what I thought she was doing but who knows?

A fire had been lighted, drinks had been set out. Raw fish had been dipped into egg and bread crumbs and then sautéed. A small can of shoe polish was still out on the kitchen counter. We both like to keep out shoes clean.

Sadly though, despite a few short bursts of prose and a couple of stories that appealed to me, I was not a big fan of Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine which I am quite cross about as I wanted to be. I think I need something that has some anchor in a sea of vagueness and this only really had that a couple of times for me. You can happily ignore me though Lydia Davis, Jonathan Franzen and many more authors think she is the absolute flash fiction queen. What reading this collection has taught me, delightfully, is that I enjoy flash fiction on the commute to and from work though. So if you have any recommendations of flash fiction collections I should try then do please let me know. Have you read Diane Williams? What have you made of her work?

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Filed under CB Editions, Diane Williams, Flash Fiction, Review, Short Stories

Other People’s Bookshelves #46; Charles Lambert

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshleves, a series of posts set to feed into the filthy book lust/porn and either give you a fix of other people’s shelves to stave you off going on a buying/borrowing spree, or making you want to run and grab as many more books as you can. This week we are heading off to Italy to join author and avid reader, Charles Lambert. So grab yourself an Amaretto and orange juice, a slice of pizza and let’s have have a nosey round his shelves and find out more about him…

OK, I was born and grew up in various parts of the Midlands. I left the UK a year after finishing university in 1975 and I’ve lived in Italy ever since, with brief spells in Ireland and Portugal, and two failed attempts to return to England. I may have one more try at this before I’m too old. I’ve published four novels, the two most recent this year, one collection of short stories and a novella, with two more novels due in the next 15 months. I’m inordinately fond of my latest book, With A Zero At Its Heart (obligatory plug). I live in a large old house halfway between Rome and Naples with the artist Giuseppe Mallia, my partner since 1986 and my civil partner since 2012. I consider myself very fortunate indeed.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I’m a terrible (although not, I hope, pathological) hoarder, so getting rid of books is something I find quite hard to do. I need to dislike a book extremely before I’ll consider throwing it out, although I might give it away or contrive to lose it by leaving it on public transport by ‘mistake’. So pretty much everything I read ends up on a shelf. For more on this, see the next answer.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

As a teenager I organised by colour, series, etc. so all my Penguins were side-by-side, with the Modern Classics on a shelf of their own, and so on. (There’s a section in ZERO about this – second obligatory plug.) I was (am) a bit of a completist. I’m still tempted to do this with particularly attractive books, like those published by And Other Stories. Now, though, I separate fiction from non-fiction and use a rough and ready alphabetical system for the former and whatever seems reasonable for the latter, with my criteria getting more and more idiosyncratic as the subsets emerge. Books I don’t really love may hang around on the still-to-be-shelved shelves for months, or even years, before I get round to putting them where they should be. And then there are the to-be-read shelves, which are also pretty daunting.

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In the past I’ve had a few culls, often because I needed money, and sold books I wish I still had, which has taught the accumulative side of me a lesson it probably would have been better not to learn. From this point of view I’m dreading the next house move (something I’m looking forward to in most other ways) because it will almost certainly involve downsizing my library, and I’m not sure how or where to start.

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

I don’t remember. Probably an Enid Blyton and, if it was, probably one of the Adventure series, to which I owe many of my darkest nightmares. (I can’t thank you enough, Enid.) I almost certainly don’t have it any longer because practically all my childhood books were destroyed when my parents’ house burnt down in the mid-1970s; the few that were rescued have blackened spines, a toxic mixture of smoke and water, presumably. Some of the ones that were lost, including the Adventure series, have since been replaced at enormous cost.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

I don’t feel guilty about anything I’ve read, and certainly not about anything that’s been a pleasure. And, yes, I do have a copy of the Da Vinci Code somewhere, although I’m not sure where. I admit that I was briefly embarrassed when we had the builders in and I found one of them thumbing through one of my Straight to Hell anthologies, bought in the days when pornography was only obtainable from specialised outlets in places like Camden High Street (or Blackwells, in the case of the STH series). But embarrassment isn’t the same thing as guilt. And, come to think of it, I did buy a copy of 120 Days of Sodom once, from the late and much-lamented Compendium in Camden High St, and, after reading the first third of it, decided I didn’t want it in the house and took it back to the shop. That felt like guilt. I may have swapped it for an Eleanor Farjeon collection. At least, I’d like to think so.

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Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

Ah yes, fire! (See above.) Mine is Frank O’Hara’s Collected Poems. I’ve taken it with me from room to room, and house to house, since 1973. It’s stained and battered and heavy, and I love every page of it.

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

My parents weren’t great book collectors. My father distrusted fiction and my mother, who had been a great reader, developed glaucoma when I was a child and turned to the radio. But the family of my best friend, the girl who lived next door, had just moved back from the States, which made their shelves very glamorous, and I do mean that in a ‘Fifty Shades’ way! So the first adult book I wanted to read was probably a James Bond novel, in which case it is on my shelves now. But it might have been The Carpetbaggers or something else by Harold Robbins, in which case it isn’t. Apart from that, I don’t remember feeling that there was a distinction between books for children and grown-ups. I read pretty much everything I could, and a lot of it would probably have been considered unsuitable if anyone had noticed. Fortunately, no one did.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I used libraries a lot as a child and teenager, but I still remember the wrench of returningbooks. More recently, I had a spell of library-going and still wish I had my own copy of Francis Spufford’s brilliant Red Plenty. Generally though I buy everything I want to read specifically to avoid having to give books back. On the odd occasions I do borrow books from friends I have an unforgivable tendency to hang onto them longer than I should, so be warned. I must admit that I feel the same sense of frustration when I’ve read a book I love as an e-book, and often end up buying a print copy as well. I suppose I want to be able not only to read it but also to possess it as an object, and as a record of the reading. Hoarder, moi?

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What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

Diogo Mainardi’s The Fall – an extraordinary memoir by a father of his child’s cerebral palsy organised into 424 steps. This was sent to me by my wonderful publisher, Scott Pack, because he thought it had similarities with ZERO (third and final plug). The last book I bought myself was The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. I’ve been meaning to read her for ages…

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

Yes, the copy I bought of The Golden Key by George MacDonald when I was at university. It was a beautiful little hardback and I don’t know where it’s gone. If anyone who reads this has it, can I have it back please?

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

I’d like them to think I was a widely-read and totally un-snobbish. I hope that’s what they do think!

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A huge thanks to Charles for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, I will be sharing my thoughts on With A Zero at Its Heart very soon! If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Charles’ responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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The Long and Short Listing of It…

Over the next few weeks, and realistically probably months, things might be a little bit different at Savidge Reads. So I thought that instead of doing one of my ‘Bookish Bits’ I would instead have a natter with you about some possible forthcoming changes to service with the blog and also to ask you for some recommendations of a certain kind of reading material, because you are all always very good with helping me out.

 As you may or may not know I have helped co-found (and am now a judge of) a new book award ‘The Green Carnation Prize’ and yesterday the deadline for submissions closed. I can’t tell you exactly how many we have had as until they all arrive in the next few days I won’t be 100% sure, I can say it’s more than 20 and less than 125. We have been really surprised, and I think if we admit it out loud even a little shocked, at the response that we have had to this, people are really getting behind it, in fact we have already had already had lots of books arrive before the submissions deadline closed…

Sorry about the green shroud (which is actually one of my favourite t-shirts – no expense spared here at Savidge Reads as you can tell) but myself and the other judges have all agreed that until the winner is announced we won’t comment on any of the books that come in for the prize, even after the long list, short list and winner are announced. Whilst this is great for scheduling posts while I am in Brazil for a few months it could mean things change a bit on Savidge Reads as firstly I will be lost in a mass of books which I can’t blog about and also I am going to be dedicating much more time to reading and less to blogging. There may be some radio silence now and again too.

I do want to read some books in between submissions though and as judges we were all talking about what we might fit in. I think Lesley was going to read some crime along the way, Paul might be reading some Dr Who and his treasured Crossroads books – both of them will also be working on new books, Nick is going to be reading kids and YA fiction. I am plumping for short books, novellas, guilty pleasures and short story collections. In fact I sorted out a possible pile of them for the bedside…

  • The Only Problem by Muriel Spark (the Queen of shorter books which pack twists and punches, my Mum lent me this out of print gem)
  • The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen (looks big but I will be so gripped in one of my favourite guilt free guilty pleasure it can get done and dusted in mere hours)
  • Agatha Raisin & The Love From Hell by M.C. Beaton (what can I say an Agatha Raisin mystery is always two hours of pure murder, mayhem and laughter)
  • The Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie (apparently this is like a collection of short Miss Marple tales, perfect)
  • In Between The Sheets by Ian McEwan (another short book my mother lent me, I know nothing about this McEwan at all)
  • The Comforters by Muriel Spark (another Spark that’s due back at the library quite soon)
  • A Bit of Singing & Dancing by Susan Hill (I love Susan Hill’s work but have never tried her short stories)
  • Between Us Girls by Joe Orton (another library book I picked up purely because it was by Orton, looks delightfully caustic and is also massive print so that will be a quick treat)
  • Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd (always meant to read it, now I shall try)
  • Heartburn by Norah Ephron (I was at a meeting and someone else was reading this and raving about it, plus I remember seeing some buzz about it last year or the year before on the blogosphere)
  • In Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote (he’s a genius and I would like the spirit of Capote with me while I try and whittle down the submissions, he would be my dream 6th judge – well it would be a tie with him and Oscar Wilde)
  • Dancing Girls by Margaret Atwood (tried and loved her shorts in Good Bones, want to read more and couldn’t locate my copy of ‘Bluebeards Egg’)
  • Hector and the Search for Happiness by Francois Lelord (have renewed this far too many times from the library need to get it read)
  • The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (this arrived in the post the other day and seemed to be great timing, never read her – or heard of her before this showed up)
  • 13.55 Eastern Standard Time by Nick Alexander (my friend Dom raved and raved about this and lent me a copy so must see if its as good as Dom said – could be awkward if not)
  • Dark Matter by Michelle Paver (I love a good ghost story now and again and this sounds like its going to be great from the early buzz its already getting – its not even out till October!)

I have just realised I didn’t include the third Peirene Press title and some Anne Tyler, drat. The latter in particular I really need to read more of as I have loved everything I have read of hers so far and have been telling myself to read for ages.

So what do you think of that possible selection of non Green Carnation reading? Are there any titles on there you would like me to get to first? Are there any you have read and what did you think? Can you think of any other short fiction or collections that I am missing out on and must try and squeeze in my reading over the next few months? What are your reading plans at the moment?

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