Tag Archives: Michael Frayn

Loving My New Local Library…

I am a huge fan of the library. When I was younger I regularly found myself ensconced in whichever library was my most local (as we moved around a bit) and being surrounded by all those books, which all had a sense of both mystery and adventure around them, would make me feel at home. They were also where I got most of my reading took place or came from, we might visit the book shop once a month but it was a real treat to actually get a brand new book. So whenever I move to somewhere new the library is one of the first places I check out.

I actually joined my local library, which happens to be Birkenhead Library, before I had even moved to the Wirral and to Oxton. You see when I started seeing The Beard he had a big operation and so I offered to look after him which meant moving in for two weeks (nothing tests a relationship early on like one of you being ill and cabin fever setting in as you can’t go anywhere or really do anything, ha) and so I knew, as I couldn’t possibly pack two weeks’ worth of books at short notice, that I would have to join the library. I have to say from a certain someone’s description I didn’t expect much but when I arrived I was immediately bowled over by the wonderful building itself.

As you can see it is a rather grand building with huge columns that remind you of a mixture of stately home and Greek Temple. I had high hopes at the size of it alone, and I guess the grandeur added to that. So in I went full of hope and headed to the fiction section.

I have to say I was initially a little dismayed. There seemed to be a great horror section, great sci-fi section, wonderful crime section but the general fiction left a little to be desired. Whilst there were some wonderful new hardbacks the shelves were also lined with a lot of older hardbacks and not a paperback in sight. All my hopes were dashed until I turned the final shelf and was greeted by this…

I don’t think I have ever seen such a long line of shelves of fiction books in a library before. Oh, and bear in mind that this doesn’t include the crime, sci-fi or horror I mentioned before, or indeed Classics and short story collections which have their own separate shelves too. Thank goodness that chair was there as I had to sit down.

Now as it has been some time since I first went, and I meant to blog about it then actually, I thought I would share with you the last ‘library loot’ that I picked up there a week or so ago (note Oscar decided to get in on the act)…

The fact I managed to get my mitts on so many Man Booker  longlisted novels (I have reported back on Deborah Levy’s ‘Swimming Home’ only so far as I am eking out my reviews at the moment) so easily really impressed me as these have been like gold dust in the past. The Niccolo Ammaniti I just fancied as I have meant to read more of him and ‘Ransom’ by David Malouf has been much raved about by my mother. I was also, as I am sure you can imagine, in Mitford ecstasies when I spotted Nancy’s ‘Talent to Annoy’ collection of essays which I am currently dipping in and out of when I ventured into the endless non-fiction section. It is honestly a gem of a library.

I have been wondering if I should follow suit of the lovely Eva, who is a brilliant example of a library lover and user, and start doing video posts as she does when I have been and brought back a bundle, though I have no idea how you do this, what do you think? Also, have you read any of the books I am borrowing and if so what did you think? What wonderful finds have you discovered at your library recently?

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Filed under Random Savidgeness

The Man Booker Shortlist 2012…

At some point today (apparently within the next hour or so) the judges of this year’s Man Booker Prize will announce their shortlist. Each and every year, which is swiftly becoming a tradition as this blog has a big birthday this week, I like to guess the long list and then the winner of the Man Booker (and indeed the Orange Prize) even if I haven’t read all of the contenders, which we never know pre-long listing, it just seems to be part of the fun of it all and getting more discussions about books going on here, there and everywhere.

Anyway I say which ones I would like to see go through and which ones I think actually will (because I can almost guarantee my choices won’t be the panels) lets remind ourselves of the long listed novels. I have put the ones I have read, or tried to, in italics. There is a link to the only one I have reviewed so far (as I am being sparing with reviews at the mo) or DNF next to them when I couldn’t finish them, in the case of ‘Communion Town’ haven’t finished yet (HFY) as I am currently reading it in chunks a chapter here and there which is working better than a straight read was. So here is the list…

The Man Booker contenders I’ve had a crack at…

The Yips – Nicola Barker (Fourth Estate)
The Teleportation Accident – Ned Beauman (Sceptre) DNF
Philida – Andre Brink (Harvill Secker)
The Garden of Evening Mists – Tan Twan Eng (Myrmidon Books)
Skios – Michael Frayn (Faber)
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce (Doubleday)
Swimming Home – Deborah Levy (And Other Stories)
Bringing Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate)
The Lighthouse – Alison Moore (Salt)
Umbrella – Will Self (Bloomsbury) DNF
Narcopolis – Jeet Thayil (Faber)
Communion Town – Sam Thompson (Fourth Estate) HFY

Overall from what I have managed to read it has been a really interesting list this year and one where three books in particular have stuck out for me. Those are Levy, Barker and Mantel. I would be thrilled to see them in the shortlist and currently I can’t call if I would like Barker or Levy to win the most, Mantel has already won recently so I am sure she wouldn’t mind me thinking this. Joyce’s novel, which initially seems the most commercial of the longlist (along with ‘Skios’ which I liked but wouldn’t short list) is a book which has stuck with me since I have read it and one I keep thinking about, so that is on my list. Oddly, though I didn’t finish it I want Will Self on the longlist too. You see I didn’t dislike the book at all, and I know Will Self takes work to read which is fine by me, it is just a book I needed a lot more time for and one I didn’t want to gulp down and resent because I wasn’t putting enough work in, so that makes my list. Finally, because I can’t suggest a novel that I haven’t read (though I really fancy reading ‘Philida’ when I go back to normal reading in a month or two) I am going to have Thompson as my last choice, though in a way I think its interweaving short stories more than a novel (controversial and why it might not go further), because I am enjoying it, I am admiring the prose and construction of the book and think it’s a book you could return to. So my short list would look like this…

My Man Booker Shortlist

What do I think will actually make the shortlist. Well my hunch is… Barker, Beauman, Brink, Levy, Mantel and Thayil. We will see though. What do you think? Which have you read and what were your thoughts? I will post the proper short list later when it has been announced.

Oh and don’t forget the wonderful new ‘unofficial’ Booker Forum that Trevor from Mookse and Gripes has set up which you can find here. Come and have a natter there too with everyone.

Update: The shortlisted authors are… Tan Twan Eng, Deborah Levy, Hilary Mantel, Alison Moore, Will Self and Jeet Thayil.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Man Booker, Random Savidgeness

Manchester Literary Festival 2011

Today is the opening of Manchester Literary Festival and I am rather excited about it. When I was in London I did the Jewish Book Festival as well as Wimbledon Book Festival, but that was it. Weirdly the bigger festivals (no offence to the above two) seem to happen outside of London. I’ve always found that odd, and odd they always happen at the same time of year! How can readers get to all of them?

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Anyway I am going to be reporting on the Manchester Book Festival for the blog and also for ‘The Readers’ (a podcast me and Gav Reads launched today) so I am very excited. Tonight’s opening event looks to be a real treat as Colm Toibin and Alan Hollinghurst are in conversation with each other, I can’t wait to see how that plays out. I will be reporting back in due course, I have my trusty notepad at the ready…

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I’m planning on seeing as much of the event as possible including Michael Frayn, Emma Jane Unsworth, John Niven, Tahmima Anam, Dipika Rai, Kishwar Desai, Thomas Enger, K O Dahl, Yrsa Siguardottir, MJ Hyland, Patricia Duncker, David Lodge, Catherine O’Flynn, Anthony Horrowitz and Jeffrey Eugenides. Oh, and have a team at the Literary Quiz. Phew. The next few weeks are going to be great.

Let me know if you have any insights on the authors above, or would like any questions put to them, or if indeed you will be there. Would love to say hello to you all!

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Filed under Manchester Literary Festival 2011, Random Savidgeness

Spies – Michael Frayn

I have just put this down. I wasn’t sure to start with that I was going to like this, however its one of Mum’s favourites and its also been on my TBR pile for far too long and I planned to read it a few weeks ago and read ‘Underground’ by Tobias Hill instead… big mistake, well sort of. ‘Spies’ from the title I thought was going to be Michael Frayn’s massive Second World War espionage tale, what I found was indeed intriguing and wonderful but I need to learn not just to judge a book by its cover but also by its title.

‘Spies’ starts with an old man heading back to his youth where he tells the tale of Keith and Stephen, two friends who live on ‘the close’ during the Second World War. It took me a while to realise that he is Stephen as he speaks about himself as another person in some parts and as ‘I’ in others, I found this slightly off putting and confusing at first but once you get that in your head the book is much easier to follow and you can get into and concentrate on the story, and what a story it is.

The Second World War seems to have not affected the boys, bar one of the neighbours houses being wiped off the street by a wayward bomb, that is until one day Keith announces that his mother ‘is a German spy’ and things change, at first Stephen isn’t sure as Keith has already announced that one of the neighbours is a murderer (though they do find bones in his garden) however they decide to watch her and see what happens. What starts as a child’s game becomes anything but, and as these young boys become young men things start to change all around them, and hard lessons must be learnt.

Frayn writes this novel brilliantly, you’re hooked by the story and Frayn weaves in more clues and red herrings as you go. He also writes brilliant characters, Keith’s parents are done wonderfully, she the nice seeming woman and he the frightening dictator which of course affects Keith’s character. Stephen who the story bases around is real, he makes huge mistakes, can be a coward but can also be very brave. There is also the brilliant character of Barbara the annoying girl next door who is interfering but also used wonderfully to describe how boys and girls feel about each other at awkward ages.

This is a brilliant book that yes does have a mystery ‘spy’ story to it but also is a story that is told brilliantly from a child’s perspective, and deals with becoming an adult, adult’s secrets, the War and things that go one behind closed doors and all in less than 250 pages, a real accomplished book. I would recommend this to everyone; mind you everyone has probably already read it.

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Filed under Faber & Faber, Michael Frayn, Review