Tag Archives: Mariella Frostrup

Do I Want To Read… Memoirs, Of A Kind?

I haven’t done a ‘Do I Want To Read’ post for ages and yet I think there are about ten or twenty books whizzing about my brain that I would like to your thoughts on, alas with everything else going on they come into my mind and then are soon forgotten. I bet as soon as this post has gone up I will be kicking myself that I didn’t mention some other titles. Anyway, today I thought we would deal with two books which have a link of sorts for one is a memoir and the other a fictional work that’s very much based on the authors personal life, well as far as I can gather. So I am hoping some of you will have read either or these or have heard things about them that you can pass on and help me form an opinion of whether I do or don’t actually want to get my mitts on them.

I have seen huge posters for Margaux Fragoso’s memoir ‘Tiger, Tiger’ here there and everywhere in my travels from home to town or home to hospital. It wasn’t until Louise mentioned it in the comments of another post and said “I recently read Tiger, Tiger… I don’t usually read that type of thing, but I couldn’t not read it, most unsettling” so naturally my interest was piqued, though when I saw the blurb, during a browse of Waterstones, I was rather shocked…

“I still think about Peter, the man I loved most in the world, all the time. At two in the afternoon, when he would come and pick me up and take me for rides; at five, when I would read to him, head on his chest; in the despair at seven p.m., when he would hold me and rub my belly for an hour; in the despair again at nine p.m. when we would go for a night ride, down to the Royal Cliffs Diner in Englewood Cliffs where I would buy a cup of coffee with precisely seven sugars and a lot of cream. We were friends, soul mates and lovers. I was seven. He was fifty-one.”

I instantly wanted to hate the book, yet thought I should put my prejudices to one side and maybe try the prologue. I don’t know if it was the honesty, or the quality of the writing (though I have heard people say it’s written appallingly, each to their own) or the car crash element of it but I read the prologue and could have carried on. I had to leave, and something stopped me from actually buying the book. I didn’t know if it was tasteful or not and to be honest I still don’t yet something makes me want to read on, is that bad?

The second of the books I have been mulling over is actually the last of a series, so maybe the question is do I want to read this series? The book I am talking about, and have started seeing lots of reviews of it popping up here and there is ‘At Last’ by Edward St. Aubyn. Here’s the blurb…

“For Patrick Melrose, ‘family’ is more than a double-edged sword. As friends, relations and foes trickle in to pay final respects to his mother, Eleanor – an heiress who forsook the grandeur of her upbringing for ‘good works’, freely bestowed upon everyone but her own child – Patrick finds that his transition to orphanhood isn’t necessarily the liberation he had so long imagined. Yet as the service ends and the family gather for a final party, as conversations are overheard, danced around and concertedly avoided, amidst the social niceties and the social horrors, the calms and the rapids, Patrick begins to sense a new current. And at the end of the day, alone in his rooftop bedsit, it seems to promise some form of safety, at last. One of the most powerful reflections on pain and acceptance, and the treacheries of family, ever written, “At Last” is the brilliant culmination of the Melrose books. It is a masterpiece of glittering dark comedy and profound emotional truth.”

I had heard this series was based on his own past which included being raped by his father, drug abuse and possible suicide. My initial thoughts were ‘oh not another Dave Pelzer’, sorry if people love him but how much money many books can someone write out of their own misery, it even sparked the ‘life tragedies’ genre in certain book stores. However one of the previous novels in the series ‘Mother’s Milk’ was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2006 which leads me to believe they must be very well written, I also heard him on Open Book with Mariella Frostrup and found him rather interesting to listen to and the fact a book based around death and abuse had had Mariella laughing. I’m wondering if I have been missing out on this author and series, have any of you tried him?

Any thoughts on either of these books or the authors?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Do I Want To Read?

I’m Off To The Hospital Again…

Yes, lucky old me, by the time you read this I shall be installed at the hospital for the fourth of five operations (though this could become six as I learnt via post rather than face to face yesterday, thanks NHS) today. It feels like it has been no time between visits… oh that’s because it hasn’t! If you are all as bored by my health antics as I am fear not there is a book post scheduled for later on, if you aren’t do read on…

Despite my small gripe above about the communication issues I am discovering with the NHS when you are out of hospital, I have to say the staff have been wonderful and I have even had a few chats about books here and there, oh and e-readers, eurgh! I have been told I am an excellent and rather undemanding (don’t please look shocked, rude) patient, except it appears when I come around from anaesthetic when apparently I am a swearing ranting horror. I thought they were pulling my leg but I keep getting the same comments each operation so it must be true, eek! Good luck to all the nurses today, please bear a thought for them.

It’s actually rather exciting today as I am at a different hospital from the norm (which I am hoping isn’t like the one pictured below, which would be a brilliant setting for a book) and a change of scene will be interesting. What books am I taking? Well as I have typed this up in advance I am not sure as I have decided I am going to read by whim. I am also taking my iPod and have a backlog of ABC’s ‘First Tuesday Book Club’ vodcasts and ‘The Bookshow’ podcasts, along with about two weeks of the BBC’s radio soap opera ‘The Archers’ and the wonderful Mariella Frostrup’s ‘Open Book’ so bar the small issue of pain its rather like a holiday trip… sort of.

Not the hospital I am going to... I hope!

Sorry I still haven’t replied to all your comments and emails, as you can imagine it’s a little manic in general at the moment, but do ‘bear with’ and I will get back on it once I am up and about. I think after today am going to need quite a lot of recuperation time. I’ll keep you all posted. I hope you are all well? Let me know what news is with you all as I do feel rather out of the loop, and often loop the loop all at once.

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Filed under Simon's Bookish Bits

The Report – Jessica Francis Kane

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

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

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

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

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

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

This book was kindly sent to me by the publishers.

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

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Filed under Jessica Francis Kane, Portobello Books, Review