Tag Archives: Naomi Wood

The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway is one of those authors that I had always meant to read and yet somehow not quite got round to actually trying. Yes, I know. Gran used to go on and on about how amazing For Whom the Bell Tolls was and after reading Naomi Wood’s marvellous Mrs. Hemingway I was even more keen to give him a whirl at some point. As it happened Rachael chose The Old Man and the Sea for book group which I was both excited by (as I had meant to read him and it was a novella, so a quick intro) and wary of (because as we all know I don’t like books set on boats) before I started. Yet the whole point of a good book group is that it gets you reading things you mightn’t normally, and so I got on board…

Vintage Books, paperback, 1951 (1999 edition), fiction, 112 pages, bought by myself for myself

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days without taking a fish. In the first forty days a boy had been with him. But without a fish the boy’s parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone at their orders to another boat which caught three good fish in the first week.

The first paragraph of The Old Man and the Sea pretty much gives you the premise of the book straight from the off. There is an old man, who used to be quite the fisherman we gather, who now lives alone and hasn’t caught a fish in ages. He used to have a young man help him who still visits, and gives a wonderful and touching start to novella, yet now the locals believe he brings bad luck and so he goes out by himself though less and less. Upon waking one day he has the feeling his luck might be changing like the tide (just to through a seaside metaphor in there, there’s a fair few in the book) and so sets out to catch a big fish, hopefully the biggest that he can.

This makes The Old Man and the Sea sound both like a tale of adventure and one of adversity, an old man in his slightly knackered boat, going out to catch a blooming big fish and show those youths he still has it in him. Indeed in many ways it is, and I liked that feeling despite my aversion to boats and sure enough pretty soon fell in love (I wanted to say hook, line and sinker – sorry) with the prose. With sentences like this…

Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same colour as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.

Or this…

Why did they make birds so delicate and fine as those sea swallows when the ocean can be so cruel? She is kind and very beautiful. But she can be so cruel and it comes so suddenly and such birds that fly, dipping and hunting, with their small sad voices are made too delicately for the sea.

… How can you not? Sometimes, sadly no matter how wonderful the words, if you aren’t quite lost in a book it loses its charm and fairly soon after we had set sail I started to get rather disinterested. I think there were two reasons for this. The first is that whilst I spent a lot of time with the old man and occasionally in his head, as Hemingway flips between perspectives now and then, Hemmingway holds of telling you exactly what he’s thinking or feeling outside catching a bloody massive sea monster of a fish. He remainssome sort of unknowable figure with little characterisation therefore meaning I didn’t care about his plight or quest. The second issue was that no matter how much beautiful writing there was at the start, and indeed again at the end, it all seemed to be rather flat and monotonous in the middle making me somewhat bored. I can see how this may have been the idea, we had to wait patiently for ages while the old man does, yet there is a difference between being bored literally and being literally bored.

He was rowing steadily and it was no effort for him since he kept well within his speed and thethe surface of the ocean was flat except for the occasional swirls of the current. He was letting the current do a third of the work and as it started to be light he saw he was already further out than he had hoped to be at this hour.
I worked the deep wells for a week and did nothing, he thought. Today I’ll work out where the schools of bonita and albacore are and maybe there will be a big one with them.

That said when the old man finally encounters the big fish there are some rather exciting scenes where the old man must conquer both the nature of the sea and its other inhabitants. Be warned though, if you are a fan of fish for your dinner this may turn you, I haven’t fancied eating fish since I read it which was about two months ago. The Old Man and the Sea does encourage some interesting discussion; though we were divided about how much we liked it we had a really interesting conversation about whether this was a fable about adversity, as I mentioned above, or actually about greed – and it got slightly heated!

So did I like The Old Man and the Sea? Well, I am not really sure… kind of. If I was being very honest I think I would describe it as being an inoffensive and interesting-ish read. (It only won him the Nobel Prize for Literature, so what would I know!) I think the writing is wonderful, if sometimes a little lengthy even for a novella as it felt longer than it was. That said, it is certainly a book I won’t forget and not just for the fact I may never eat fish and chips again. As it was “Hemingway” I expected that I would be much more bowled over than I was and really needed more character and a little more back story. Maybe it’s not the best of his books to start with? Maybe I needed something meatier (rather than fishier – sorry again) to get my teeth into.

Who else has read The Old Man and the Sea and what did you make of it? If you fancy some more thoughts you can see Sanne of Books and Quills discuss it here, we seemed to be of a mind. As I am still keen to read more Hemingway where would you recommend I head next where I might have a little more success?

15 Comments

Filed under Ernest Hemingway, Review, Vintage Books, Vintage Classics

Savidge Reads’ Books of 2014

For someone who finds making lists an utter joy yet who can never make them concise you may be surprised that there is only one list of my books of the year this year. Normally I will do two; the ten books that I have loved most published this year and the ten from previous years. Well this year I have decided to be a more savage Savidge and only have ten… well twelve. I cheated a little bit again. I was going to do fourteen for the year we are in but could see that might cause potential problems in 2033. So without any more waffle here are my books of 2014. (For full reviews click on the link in the title.)

  1. Mateship with Birds – Carrie Tiffany

Picador Books, 2013, paperback, 224 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

One of the first books I read this year and one of the ones which has stayed with me. On the outskirts of a town somewhere in Australia in the early 1950’s we join two neighbours. Harry owns a dairy farm and spends his days between milking his herd and watching the local wildlife, mainly a family of kookaburra’s, and looking over his past seemingly happy with and yet questioning his lot in life. Betty rents the house next door with her two children Michael and Little Hazel, often wondering what has become of her life and often wondering about Harry. We follow these two characters, Betty’s children, and their weird neighbour Mues over what I thought was a season – though it could be much longer or indeed shorter as Mateship with Birds has a sense of nothing and everything happening all at once, all in the grubby wilds of the countryside.

This book has everything I love in it; the wilds of the countryside (which you might see in a few of my choices), outsiders and a rather wonderfully grubby dirty edge. I will be going book shopping on Friday and will be hunting down a copy of Carrie’s Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living.

  1. The Dig – Cynan Jones

Granta Books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 156 pages, kindly sent by the lovely folk at Fiction Uncovered HQ

In The Dig we follow the lives of two men who live in the same remote countryside and who have met briefly once and who couldn’t be more different. Daniel is a farmer who is struggling both with keeping his farm profitable and running and also with a personal tragedy. I will not give away what because when you find out early on it is like a physical punch. I cried that is all I will say. The other character, who we only know as ‘the big man’ is a much darker kind of fellow; one who trains his dog to kill rats, catches badgers for baiting and has been to prison for something we are unsure of. The question is of course how and why might these two men meet up again?

I never imagined I would have a book about badger bating as one of my books of the year, it even has an evil horse in it, yet for the same reasons I loved everything about Mateship With Birds I loved The Dig (which was also one of Fiction Uncovered’s titles this year, Naomi Wood’s Mrs. Hemmingway would be book number 13 on this list, just saying – and cheating again). It is a book that wonderfully links the rawness of nature to the rawness of emotions and the savage nature of animals to those of men.

  1. The Night Guest – Fiona McFarlane

Sceptre Books, hardback, 2014, fiction, 276 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

Ruth is a widow who has been living by herself on the coast round from Sydney and for a little while and been coping quite well thank you very much. However on and off in the night she has felt pretty sure that there is a tiger who is roaming around her house. She doesn’t know where this tiger comes from or goes to after it visits her and yet while she doesn’t think it wants to harm or eat her, its presence is unnerving to say the least. Especially when she wakes up and wonders if it was ever really there at all, is she losing her marbles?

Another book that I loved very much at the start of the year (and possibly the most beautiful book of the year if you have the UK hardback) and was desperate to talk to anyone and everyone about as it is so twisty and unreliable in many ways – which of course is why I love it. I even made Thomas, my cohost on The Readers, read it and we had a mini book group which you can hear here, though be warned spoilers abound.

  1. A Kind of Intimacy – Jenn Ashworth

Arcadia Books, paperback, 2009, fiction, 283 pages, borrowed from Emma Jane Unsworth (who might never get it back!)

If the first two books had a link of the rawness of nature, these two have the link of the unreliable, dark and twisty. Annie Fairhurst has left her old lonely miserable married life with her husband Will behind her. She wants to start again and so has found herself a new home in the suburbs of a Northern town for herself, and her cat Mr Tips, to start a fresh. She wants to make new friends, have wonderful parties and maybe meet a man like her old love Boris, who rather liked the larger lady like Annie and twice gave her a glimpse of how life could be. She is full of hope for the future, especially when she meets her next door neighbour Neil who she is sure came to her aid once when she was a damsel in distress. Yet this unleashes two things in Annie, firstly the fact that her past is a mystery that keeps rearing its ugly head no matter how hard you try and cover it up, secondly Annie isn’t as stable as she might initially appear nor as truthful or lovely. The plot thickens…

This was loaned to me by the lovely Emma Jane Unsworth (whose Animals would have been joint number 14 with Kerry Hudson’s Thirst, cheating again) as she thought I would like it. Having read it I hope that is meant as a compliment of my tastes in fiction rather than to my style of friendship. Hmmm. Anyway it was a huge hit with me, Emma will never get this book back again and Jenn’s second novel, she is now writing the fourth, Cold Light will be one of my first reads of 2015.

  1. Under The Skin – Michel Faber

Canongate, paperback, 2000 (2011 edition), fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

This is one book I have loved but not actually reviewed yet, the reason for this is that there is a bog old twist that I don’t want to reveal. Here’s the blurb… Isserley spends most of her time driving. But why is she so interested in picking up hitchhikers? And why are they always male, well-built and alone? An utterly unpredictable and macabre mystery, Michel Faber’s debut novel is an outstanding piece of fiction that will stay with you long after you have turned the last page.

I knew the twist but I have to say that didn’t stop me from enjoying this book from start to finish. It is a book that looks at what it is to be a woman in society and what the true meaning of society and humanity are. I will say no more. I did see the film too… I will say no more on that either, ha! I do need to work out how to deal with books with big twists and spoilers in 2015 though as I have a few reviews pending of such books. Any ideas how to deal with this are much welcomed.

  1. Cover – Peter Mendelsund

powerHouse Books, 2014, hardback, nonfiction, 256 pages, brought by Santa for Christmas

The most recently read which is why it might end up being much higher up over time. Either way, Peter Mendelsund was initially a classical pianist, or a recovering one as his bio says, who after the birth of his first child realised he needed a more stable job with a regular income. But what? Well, as it happened he liked design and then his mother knew someone who knew someone at Knopf Books and after a chat, a viewing of his portfolio (which Knopf being pretty bowled over by what Mendelsund calls “shockingly wince-inducing” self taught designs) and some interviews he then became a junior designer. Now he is Associate Art Director there and his book covers are world famous, though you might admittedly not know they were by him. He is one of those wonderful people who make us want to pick up ALL the books, from Lolita to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo literally. Well, if you live in America, though some have come here too. Cover is his story of how he came to cover books and what doing so means.

A book about books that every book lover should read or own, the end.

  1. Bitter Greens – Kate Forsyth

Allison & Busby, 2013, paperback, fiction, 544 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

My favourite fairytale, and indeed possibly story, of all time is Rapunzel. With Bitter Greens Kate Forsyth weaves a tale of three women to retell it and indeed to write a thrilling love story to it. First is Charlotte-Rose de la Force, who has been exiled from the court of the Sun King Louis XIV after a fall from grace too far (which in those times was saying something) and is banished to live in an Abbey with nuns. Second is Selena Leonelli, once one of the most beautiful women in Italy and even the muse of the Venetian artist Titian. Depicted forever in his paintings she has one fear, time, and how it will take her beauty something she will do anything to keep. Thirdly we have Margherita, a young girl trapped in a tower forever unless she finds a way to escape.

I was in book heaven reading this. I don’t tend to go for historical novels very much, and know very little about the court of Louis XIV but I revelled in it and want to know much more about it. All in all a wonderful, saucy, gripping, brilliantly written, literary romp – pitch perfect storytelling. You can hear me talking to Kate about this and more here.

  1. He Wants – Alison Moore

Salt Publishing, paperback, 2014, fiction, 192 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Lewis is a man who seems to be stuck in a rut. He is at the end of middle age yet not quite on the cusp of old age. He goes and looks after his father, Lawrence, at the old people’s home and yet his daughter, Ruth, comes round every morning to look after him and deliver soup that he actually doesn’t want. He has recently retired as his role as an RE (religious education) teacher yet having been widowed sometime a go he has no one to share his retirement with, just time and his own thoughts. He spends most of his days at home apart from when he goes to visit his second favourite pub, and that is probably how he will go on spending it. What Lewis isn’t expecting is a blast from the past, in the form of an old friend Sydney, to turn up one day and Lewis’ comfortable, if boring from the outside, life is shaken up.

There are some books that leave you feeling both completely uplifted and utterly devastated, all at once. I know it sounds implausible, such a dichotomy of emotions, yet these books are often the ones that leave us feeling the most enriched by the experience. Alison Moore’s He Wants is such a book. I loved this, I loved The Lighthouse; I need to read everything Alison ever writes and will do so. You can hear me talking to Alison about this and more here.

  1. Trespass – Rose Tremain

Vintage Books, hardback, 2010, fiction, 272 pages, inherited from Granny Savidge

This was undoubtedly the year of Rose Tremain and I, even though she didn’t know it – well actually I got to meet her and then she did. Ha! (The American Lover would have been on this list but I thought a title per author was fair, and I promise that is my final cheat!) As it opens we follow a young, rather spoilt, girl Melodie who is struggling to fit in at her knew school and so on a trip out runs away into the countryside where she discovers something horrendous amongst the tranquillity. What she has discovered we have no idea because we are swiftly taken away from this moment into the lives of two pairs of siblings, soon beginning to realise that in some way one or both of these siblings have something to do with whatever it is that poor Melodie discovers, but what and how?

She was one of Granny Savidge’s favourite living authors and Gran always told me I should read her, interestingly saying this would be my way in, she was completely correct. It is such a shame I can’t talk to her about these as we would have had some corking conversations but Gran has certainly left me with a legacy of recommendations. You can hear me talk to Rose Tremain about her books and writing here.

  1. Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey

Penguin Viking Books, hardback, 2014, fiction, 288 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

This should have won so many awards. From the start of the novel we meet Maud who, when she is not repeatedly going to the corner shop and buying more (and more) tinned peaches, is always finding notes in her pockets that remind her that her friend Elizabeth is missing. She may sometimes forget the name of the women who come and make her tea or clean her house but with these notes everywhere possible she cannot forget this and she must find out where she went, why her house is empty and why Elizabeth’s son never seems to care. At the start of the novel Maud also discovers a compact mirror, where we are not initially sure, which suddenly brings back the disappearance and mystery of what happened to her sister Sukey 70 years ago.

I just love this book so, so, so much. Emma’s writing is incredible, the way she handles the theme of dementia is beautiful yet honest and so occasionally very funny. Cliché alert but it is really amazing this is her first book, no pressure on the next then? You can hear me talk to Emma about this and much more here. Oh and side note, she would be cross if I didn’t mention it, this is also one of my mother’s favourite books of the year – we discussed it a lot at Christmas. Read it.

  1. A Month in the Country – J. L. Carr

Penguin Modern Classics, paperback, 1980 (2000 edition), fiction, 112 pages, inherited from Gran

Gran left me with a legacy of authors to read and also a legacy of books of which this was one. In A Month in the Country Tom Birkin reflects several decades later on the summer of 1920 when he ended up in the village of Oxgodby for a single month. Here on a mission left by recently deceased spinster Miss Hebron he is being paid, begrudgingly by the Reverend Keach who is only allowing it as Hebron left the church money if he did, to uncover a possible medieval wall painting inside the church. Birkin reflects upon that summer, the place he was in mentally in his life at the time and thinks about the place he was in physically and those who peopled it.

It is really hard to say much about A Month in the Country, as it is essentially a very silent and still yet powerful book, other than it is pretty much book perfection. If I hadn’t had such a (similarily yet more epic) visceral reaction to the next book it would have been my book of the year. You can’t hear me discuss this with Mr Carr as he is dead BUT you can hear me discussing it with Gav, Kate and Rob (some of us might weep) here.

  1. The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan

Chatto & Windus, hardback, 2014, fiction, 464 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I never thought a Booker Winner would be my book of the year, especially after the last few years but Richard Flanagan just blew me away with this book. The Narrow Road to the Deep North is essentially the tale of one man’s life with all that befalls him. Alwyn ‘Dorrigo’ Evans is one of the survivors of the Death Railway in Burma where he was a prisoner of war. He was the surgeon, having the strange job of helping people escape death only to then have them healed and sent off to work that was likely to lead to death be it from sickness, exhaustion or torture. He is a man who has had a love affair with this uncle’s wife. It is really these two particular strands of Dorrigo’s life that this novel follows going back and forth developing a life lived, with it joy, despair, loss and love.

Easily the book I have loved the hardest (and therefore was the hardest to write about) this year and will more than likely be one of my all time favourite and most memorable reads. And guess what, yes, you can hear me chatting to Richard about it here (I was such a lucky sausage with interviews this year) and more. Richard’s back catalogue will be being bought by myself over the next few years and devoured.

So that is my list! If you have read any of these let me know what you thought of them. If you haven’t why on earth are you still reading and not running to a bookshop/library, no I don’t care what time it is or if it is a Bank Holiday, and getting them now? If you have made a list of books of the year do let me know, I will have a look at them in 2015. If you haven’t then please share some of your favourites in the comments below, or I will sulk which is no way to end one year and start the next is it?

13 Comments

Filed under Books of 2014, Random Savidgeness

The Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize 2014 Winners Announced

And hoorah, I have been sat on this list (not literally) of the eight now announced winners of this year’s Fiction Uncovered which, unless you have been on Mars or on some fancy pants trip round the word, you will know is one of my favourite bookish endeavours there are. Each year Fiction Uncovered aims to find eight titles that have missed out on prizes or gone under the radar unjustly and this is their selection this year.

photo (6)

Lolito – Ben Brooks (Canongate)
Mr Loverman – Bernardine Evaristo (Hamish Hamilton)
Little Egypt – Lesley Glaister (Salt)
The Dig – Cynan Jones (Granta)
Whatever Happened to Billy Parks? – Gareth R Roberts (The Friday Project)
Mrs. Hemingway – Naomi Wood (Picador)
Vanishing – Gerard Woodward (Picador)
All the Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld (Vintage)

Now I love this list this year for four reasons (there may be more by now) which are…

Firstly, I have read some of them and the books that I had already read when the list arrived* are bloody marvellous. Both Mr Loverman and All The Birds, Singing were two of my favourite books that I read in 2013. Evaristo’s tale of Barry Walker is one of the most funny, heart breaking but overall heart warming books I have read in some time, Wyld’s is one of the most mysterious, sinister and fascinating. So far Mrs. Hemingway is easily one of the best books I have read this year, even my ‘occasionally hard to please’ mother has phoned me raving about it – it is that good, and draws a fascinating portrait of Ernest Hemingway from the lives of the four main women in his life. The fact I loved these three so much has given me real high hopes for the other five.

Secondly, there are authors that I have heard whispers about (good ones) and have been meaning to read, which is part of the idea behind Fiction Uncovered after all. Gerard Woodward and Cynan Jones being these two said authors. I have heard much praise of The Dig and checked Everything I Found on the Beach out from the library a month or so ago. I have also been meaning to read Woodward’s Nourishment for ages and ages as have been told by sooooooo many people I will love it.

Thirdly, and most importantly, there are some authors and their novels which I have never heard anything about before this list. Having now looked them up they sound like corkers. Lolito is a love story about a fifteen year-old boy who meets a middle-aged woman on the internet. Intriguing, if controversial. Little Egypt is a tale of elderly, Egypt-mad twins Isis and Osiris who find their neglected English lives disturbed to catastrophic effect by the arrival of American Anarchist. Sounds amazing! Whatever Happened to Billy Parks? is about football. Hmmm football, apt timing but I am not renowned for my love of football it has to be said, but this leads to…

…Fourthly, and just as importantly, this list will get me reading out my comfort zone both in the themes of some of the books but also from the comfort authors I sometimes turn to. Ace! Lots of reasons to be very cheerful with the latest eight titles. Now to get reading!

So what do you make of the Fiction Uncovered 2014 list? Have you read any of them and what do you think? Which ones intrigue you and might you read if you can get your hands on a bunch?

*Note this is the same amount of the list I have currently read, as I have done no reading for the second week in a row, bloody work! Ha.

11 Comments

Filed under Fiction Uncovered

Looking For Utopia…

One of the people I talk most to about books is my mother, who many of you will know teaches English Literature. We were having a catch up on the phone earlier this evening, initially to sort the logistics of my little sister coming to stay while she does work experience with me but of course it turned to books we’ve been reading and Mum might be teaching, and she asked me a question that genuinely stumped me… You see she is reading Naomi Wood’s Mrs Hemingway and LOVING it (can’t think who bought her a copy?) and I mentioned Naomi’s debut The Godless Boys was a dystopian tale of Newcastle (where Mum went to university and took me with her) but set in the past and now she wants to use it in her dystopian class. That is when the question came up which stumped me, she wondered if I knew of any books not set in a dystopia but in a utopia, I couldn’t think of one.

Off to find Utopia…

So, being completely stumped (did I mention that?) I told her that I would ask all of you if you could recommend any utopian books, I bet you can do much better than me. So help my mother out if you will!

P.S Sorry about the long explanation, but I am really nosey and love listening into other people’s bookish chats and so I thought you might be that way inclined.

19 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Mrs. Hemingway – Naomi Wood

I am rather fascinated by authors, I can’t pretend I am not – more dead and classic authors than living ones, though with certain podcasts and events I do you know I am partial to a good chat with a fun living one. I digress. Interestingly I know that not every reader feels like this about authors, they find the books more fascinating, I however am firmly in the ‘let me know all about authors that you can’ camp. This even includes some authors who I haven’t read and one such author I have heard much about and yet not read a word of is Ernest Hemingway (sorry Gran, I know you loved him) so when I discovered lovely living author (who I have had virtual fig roll fights with on this very blog) Naomi Wood’s second novel was going to be about his wives I knew I would have to read it.

Picador Books, hardback, 2014, fiction, 336 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

Mrs. Hemingway is a fascinating fictional account of the lives of all four of Ernest Hemingway’s wives; Hadley, Fife (or Pauline), Martha and Mary told from their perspectives at various points of their marriage to Hemingway. From the poor and humble beginnings to the darker depressive days of his last years Naomi Wood gives us a novel where the wives become as fascinating, if not more so, than the man whom they all married. A man it seems who wanted to feel like he was truly loved, which in some ways as his fame grew, became all too easy as women threw themselves at him, even if they weren’t his wives or wives to be.

What a pull he has! What a magnetism! Women jump off balconies and follow him into wars. Women turn their eyes from an affair, because a marriage of three is better than a woman alone.

At the start of Mrs. Hemingway it is a marriage of almost three which we enter. Hadley and Ernest have been joined on their holiday by Hadley’s friend Pauline, or Fife as we come to know her, who we soon learn (from her sister no less, the shock and horror) has become Ernest’s mistress only it seems that the feelings run far more deeply than a mere infatuation or soon to be over indiscretion. We watch, feeling wholly for Hadley, as Hemingway’s first wife inadvertently draws her husband and his lover together whilst her intention is to do quite the opposite. What is marvellously done is what remains unsaid between all three, but particularity what remains unsaid between the two ‘friends’ as things continue. I was heartbroken with Hadley and thought Fife was an utter piece of work, yet strange how as I read on my opinions would change on each wife, and indeed each mistress.

Hadley eats alone at the round table where their books sit on the shelf above. Ernest’s first book of short stories, In Our Time, sits along Scott’s new novel, The Great Gatsby. She remembers one of Ernest’s stories. The images are still so cool and fresh they resurface as vividly as if they were her own memories – how the fish broke the surface of the lake and the sound of them landing was described as gunpowder hitting the water. Hadley could picture everything in that story: the boat out in the bay, the boyfriend and girlfriend trolling for trout, the old sawmill that was now a ruin. But then it came, the moment when the boyfriend tells the girlfriend how it isn’t fun anymore – none of it is fun he tells her, desperate; none of it is going to work. She wonders how much it was about them. The story is called “The End of Something” after all.

Mrs. Hemingway is fascinating for many reasons. Firstly because as I hinted above it is a book which will have you completely on the side of whichever wife you are reading, thinking you will hate the next one and quite possibly coming away from the book feeling admiration and heartbreak for them all for many different reasons. What is wonderful in Wood’s prose is that each wife is very different and also celebrates what was wonderful and unusual about them that made Ernest fall for them and want to marry them all (marriage being something he was vehement about). Each woman has flaws, each woman has certain feelings about Hemingway’s writing, in short each woman is equally fascinating and when you come to the end of one’s narrative you really hope they crop up in the next one.

It is also a fascinating book, not only because it is about all sorts of woman and all sorts of marriages which seems slightly obvious to highlight but is true, because it is a book that really looks at the different emotions that we all go through in our lives. Love, jealousy, rage, hate, happiness, sadness. It also looks at the different shades of love we feel for someone. You can be infatuated. You can be unsure but wooed. You can fall under someone’s spell. You can fall in so fast and out so fast. You can love to hate someone. All these emotions and feelings we have all been through are laid bare in one of the women at some point, or even a few of them at various points, and gives the book a real heightened emotive edge.

He’d be thinking, no doubt, about his life here in the twenties, when he was poorer and happier, a man only once married. His Paris life is a memory Ernest loves to slide over and over until the place is smooth and cool with his affections. Today he would surely be longing for the sawmill apartment and his lost Saint Hadley: a woman all the more exquisite for her generous retirement of the title Mrs. Hemingway.
A title Martha has come to hate.

What I found very admirable, and in its way deeply affecting, about Mrs. Hemingway was that Naomi Wood never seems to favour one wife over another. Nothing they do is judged unless by the wife who happens to be narrating her part of the tale. For example, when we first meet Fife we think ‘what a nasty bitch’, yet when we get to hear her side of the story we start to soften towards her and I could occasionally feel myself starting to bristle against the next wife who was waiting in the wings seemingly to usurp the prior, only for Wood’s account of their actions and motives somehow wins you over again.

Then of course there is the man himself, and in this case as clichéd as it sounds he is the ‘man of mystery’, and indeed the mystery and enigma, at the centre of this book. To each wife he is a different person. A man who seemingly felt he had so much he had to prove that even his successes were never quite good enough. A man who seemed to feel addicted to being loved and needed and admired. A man who didn’t seem to really know himself, or was trying to work himself and the world out through his writing. A fascinating, flawed and incredibly charismatic, dark and talented man.

I say that like I know the man, as I mentioned earlier I haven’t even read any of his fictional writing, I didn’t even know about his ‘infamous death’ (which isn’t really a spoiler as we all know he is dead) before I read Mrs. Hemingway so I came to it, to him and his wives from a very uninformed angle. Well, thanks to Naomi’s wonderful writing (which never shows the amount of research she must have done, my favourite kind of writing) I feel that I have lived through it with them now and I am also desperate to read some of his work.

Mrs. Hemingway is a beautiful novel which initially seems to be about a man of many wives and many times, yet that would sell it short. It is actually about four fascinating women and a man who happened to be lucky enough to have them in his life, no matter how little or how long it was. I highly recommend it whether you be a fan of Hemingway or not, it’s marvellous.

If you would like to hear Naomi talking more about the book, strangely with little old me, then have a listen to the latest episode of You Wrote the Book here. Who else has read the book and what did you think? If you are a Hemingway fan, where should I head? Which fictional accounts of an author or their lives have you read and would recommend?

13 Comments

Filed under Books of 2014, Naomi Wood, Picador Books, Review

The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2014

One of my favourite prizes of the bookish year is what we now know as the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. I have been a supporter of it for many a year now, trying to guess the longlist and then trying to read them. I normally stay up until the midnight announcement but as I appear to have aged by about 20 plus years in the last few weeks I couldn’t. I did wake up at about 5am, when Oscar decided to be sick behind the wardrobe, and then have a sneak peak and it’s a really interesting list…

066

Before I go on to share the list can I just say there is so much that is brilliant about the above picture it is almost too much. Imagine being on a panel of judges with Mary Beard and Caitlin Moran, you’d just be in heaven. Anyway, the list of twenty books in full is as follows…

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
MaddAddam – Margaret Atwood
The Dogs of Littlefield – Suzanne Berne
The Shadow of the Crescent Moon – Fatima Bhutto
The Bear – Claire Cameron
Eleven Days – Lea Carpenter
The Strangler Vine – M.J. Carter
The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton
Reasons She Goes to the Woods – Deborah Kay Davies
The Signature of All Things – Elizabeth Gilbert
Burial Rites – Hannah Kent
The Flamethrowers – Rachel Kushner
The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri
The Undertaking – Audrey Magee
A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing – Eimear McBride
Almost English – Charlotte Mendelson
Still Life with Bread Crumbs – Anna Quindlen
The Burgess Boys – Elizabeth Strout
The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt
All The Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

Amazingly though I don’t have all of them I do happen to have thirteen (I am hoping this is not an omen) of them in the house 4.5 of which I have read.

077

I didn’t try and guess the longlist this year (what a party pooper) because I didn’t feel after last year being my slowest and quietest year for reading what with Gran (who was a huge fan of the prize, I think it lead her to Rose Tremain, and would be happy I have posed the books on what were her sofa’s on which she did much reading and I will carry on the tradition of) and all that jazz I didn’t feel that I could give a good enough insight. Plus there is always the worry you look super smug, then the mild embarrassment when I am sooooo wrong and the invariable almost moan of ‘why wasn’t x and y book on the list?’ Speaking of which Naomi Wood, Fiona McFarlane? Moving swiftly on…

I would have stabbed a guess at All the Birds, Singing, A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, Burial Rites and Almost English being on the list as they were all highlights of my reading year last year, so naturally I am thrilled for those to be on the list. I may also have hazarded a guess at Americanah and MaddAddam being on the list as they are by two of my favourite authors though shockingly I didn’t read these upon release, strange. I also would have guessed The Luminaries, The Goldfinch and The Flamethrowers as they have been three of the most talked about books and also interestingly three books which seem to really divide people, interesting.

Berne, Bhutto, Cameron and Carter I am excited about because I have them on my shelves, The Bear was actually one of the books I mentioned in The Readers ‘Books To Be Excited About January to June’ show. Yet, as always with me, it is the books I know very little or nothing about that are the ones that I instantly go off and look up.  Deborah Kay Davies is an author I have already read and was equally impressed and disturbed with True Things About Me so I will have to get my mitts on her knew one, Elizabeth Strout I know through Olive Kitteridge which I still haven’t read but Gran raved about, Lea Carpenter and Audrey Magee are completely knew to me which is most exciting.

So it is a really interesting list, some big names with big books, some debuts, some lesser known authors all in the mix. Now I just have to choose which one to start with… I was umming and ahhing about doing a shadow jury of beardy blogging blokes but I think to try them out as and when the whim takes me might be a better plan of action. So while I decide which one gets read next (I am leaning towards The Bear) which of these books have you read and what did you make of them? Which books are you keen to read? And what do you make of the list overall?

22 Comments

Filed under Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction, Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Future Book Thoughts…

So all the shelf moving and book sorting has been completed and it has been unnervingly cathartic. I say unnervingly as who would have thought I would enjoy getting books out of the house to new homes? Yet strangely I did. Now that the shelves have all been trimmed down and reorganised (some possibly by the height of the books, is that really anal?) I have also created some kind of system. Whilst I haven’t organised them in exact release date order (which I freely admit I contemplated before telling myself a) I have a life b) not that much of one as I actually have a file with book press releases in date order – let’s move on shall we?) there is a vague sense of when they have come out, sort of. As I was doing this I noticed that I had quite a few books that are coming out in 2014 already, sixteen to be exact. This made me ponder about books of the future and how much I should talk about them or not?

2014

You see what worries me is that some people might come across this post and think of it as showing off, bragging or being a book tease if I am putting pictures like the above up here. I myself have often thought ‘oh stop showing off’ when on twitter I have seen the umpteenth tweet of a picture of some big book of the year six months in advance or when someone is going on about how they are flicking through the brochures of the next six months/year and all the books they will be asking for. Maybe it is all down to the way it is delivered? Which makes me ponder where the line between enthusiasm and excitement and simply showing off is? I hope it is in the intention and that, like with the incoming posts I have brought back, you know that my intention here isn’t to brag – I just love books and get excited about them.

However, the other thing that I have been thinking about in regard to these advance copies of books is just what the point of reading anything too early is? I will admit I read Natalie Young’s book on the train back from London as I couldn’t resist it. I am desperate to read the new Armistead Maupin because ‘Tales of the City’ is one my favourite series (same for Yrsa Sigurdardottir) and I am busting to read Emma Healey’s, because it is about Alzheimer’s which is something close to my heart and having met her (and hearing how her mum reads this blog, hello Ms Healey, and apparently ‘loves it’ – which authors take note; I am that easy to please) and she was lovely. Being a lovely author matters, just to throw that out there, which is why Naomi Wood and James Smythe’s books are also calling to me – not that any authors pictured above aren’t lovely, I just haven’t met them yet. Anyway… BUT. BUT. BUT.

The big issue with all this is, who will I have to talk about them with? If I see a blog about a book coming out in 3 weeks, let alone 3 to 6 months, I either think ‘oh lovely, might come back to that review later’, which realistically won’t happen as a few months or weeks down the line having not read the post in full I will most likely have forgotten where I saw it, or as above  think ‘stop showing off’ depending on who the blogger is.

I can understand it from the publishers point of view. They want people to read their books. The market is really competitive, advance books can get a buzz building nicely. It can also be a bit alienating. There is one title at the moment, which I won’t name, that I am already bored of seeing the hashtag for and it isn’t even out for three months. I actually saw the lovely Jojo Moyes tweeting only today (maybe yesterday or the day before) about Mrs Hemingway and wanting to talk to someone about it, anyone, but have that many people read the advance proof that has come in yet? I am keen to read mine but not too early, so who did Jojo find to have a chat about it with? That was a rhetorical question to which sadly I don’t know the answer.

What I do know though is that (despite my lax commenting of late, which I blame just on catching up on life since post-Gran but is constantly on my to do list) I really like to have a chat about books on here and out in the lands of social media. I have read Natalie Young’s ‘Season To Taste’ and it was brilliant, but apart from the author (who actually I am interviewing in advance for next years You Wrote The Book episode) and the publishers and one or two bloggers, who do I have to chat about it and how cliquey does that make us look? It is the same with the Emma Healey novel ‘Elizabeth is Missing’, I am desperate to read it but who will I have to talk to about it before June? Well, actually, there is Emma’s Mum – hello again Ms Healey! It makes it tricky, how to get the equilibrium right?

So I thought I would ask you lovely lot, after all you are the ones who pop by and most of you aren’t in the bookish industry so it would be really interesting to hear how you all feel about hearing about books in advance. Do you like it, are you put off by it, do you really care? How far in advance is too far in advance? Would you rather hear about paperbacks over hardbacks (this links into something else I have been thinking about) or be reminded of the review when the paperback comes out? All thoughts welcomed and I promise to reply to all of you whilst also going back over last month (or maybe two) comments whilst I am at it. Looking forward to discussing what you think.

36 Comments

Filed under Random Savidgeness

Boxing Day Books (The Savidge Reads Advent Winners)

Hello one and all, I do hope you have a lovely Christmas Day? Thank you for your festive wishes. Mine was very nice; I had goose for the first time and found it rather delicious. I have also been playing card games (mainly spite and malice, which my thirteen year old sister has been teaching me), scrabble, drinking rather a lot and worn my party hat all day long. Oh and I had presents, no books but I got a really funky set of psychedelic proper chef knives for my new pad (I am moving at the end of Jan, oh the books are going to have to be sorted), lots of Jelly Belly – too many is never enough and my favourite present so far has been three pairs of Mr Men lounge pants (Messy, Tickle and Bump) so there was one present with a literary twist. I have been reading but not as much as I would have expected, that is normally left for today, Boxing Day, my favourite Christmas Day.

There is something about Boxing Day that I have always found rather joyous, and not just the left-over’s from Christmas dinner which normally end up in a sandwich (though my Mum is currently off making pastry for a pie this year) and the endless supply of crisps and chocolates that we all buy for Xmas day and then don’t eat because we are too full. I love the fact it’s a delightfully lazy day, well at Savidge Christmas’s it is, we generally spend most of the day lounging around reading before a big TV fest in evening (Miranda Hart going trekking with Bear Grylls will be my Christmas TV highlight) so I am looking forward to that, I have already recorded an episode of The Readers so I feel I can now slob – that was my hard work of the day, now it’s time for my good deed of the day. It’s time for present giving…

Boxing Day can be another day of presents as the family you didn’t see might pop round, we won’t be seeing any other family members so today I have plucked all the Savidge Reads Advent Calendar winners from a random number generator and here are the winners…

Day 1; The Complete Nancy Mitford – Reading With Tea
Day 2; Burned by Thomas Enger – Harriet and Ellen B
Day 3; Smutt by Alan Bennett & Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan – Steel Reader and Gaskella
Day 4; Godless Boys by Naomi Wood & Snowdrops by A.D. Miller – Louise and Dog Ear
Day 5; The Great British Bake Off Book – Dovegreyreader and Janet D and Novel Insights
Day 6; Jennifer Egan books – TBA
Day 7; The Proof of Love by Catherine Hall – Rhonda Reads and Simon Saunders and Belinda
Day 8; Shes Leaving Home by Joan Bakewell  – Gaskella and Mystica
Day 9; Sophie Hannah’s series – Emma
Day 10; In Other Worlds by Margaret Atwood & China Mieville books – Louise and Ragamuffinreader
Day 11; Sue Johnston autobiography – Sue and Simon T and Ann P
Day 12; Wait for Me by Deborah Devonshire – Janet D and Dominic
Day 13; Selected Agatha Raisin books – Kirsten and Victoria
Day 14; The Beautiful Indifference by Sarah Hall – Janet D and Ann P
Day 15; When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman – Femke and Ruthiella and Alex and Joanne In Canada
Day 16; all David Nicholls novels – Sue
Day 17; Patricia Duncker novels – Gaskella
Day 18; A Tiny Bit Marvellous by Dawn French – Ann P and Gabrielle Kimm
Day 19; all the Yrsa Siguardardottir novels – Kimbofo
Day 20; Frozen Planet & White Heat by MJ McGrath – Emma and Mystica
Day 21; A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse & The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey – Nose in a Book and Novel Katie
Day 22; The Hunger Trace by Edward Hogan – Jenni and Ann P and Femke
Day 23; Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series  – David
Day 24; Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli and Isles series – Harriet

Merry Christmas to both those of you who won (and some of you won a few times) and those who didn’t. If you did email me savidgereads@gmail.com with the book/s you have won in the subject and your address and I will make sure these are sent out in the first week of January. Right, I am off to go and pick at some stuffing before curling up with my book. Hope you are all having a wonderful time, what did you get for Xmas?

Oh and a MASSIVE thank you to the publishers who got involved: Penguin, Faber and Faber, Profile Books, Hodder, Picador, Atlantic, Serpents Tail, Ebury, Corsair, Constable and Robinson, Portobello, Little Brown, Virago, John Murray, Headline, Bloomsbury, Europa Editions, Mantle, Macmillan, Simon and Schuster & Transworld

20 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Début Delights – The Savidge Reads Advent Calendar Day 4

Apologies for belatedly posting this, as my computer got wiped by a nasty virus everything has been a little delayed. Just imagine you have been away for a weekend and forgotten your advent calendar so you have double/triple the treats to catch up with.

In the last week specifically I have not only started to think about the books which I have enjoyed the most this year, I have also started to think about the direction that I want the blog to go in 2012. This has been through certain contemplation here on the blog and in discussion elsewhere too. I have been feeling like I am forgetting the careers of authors I love and want to go back to them more often than I do, yet I wouldn’t want to miss out on new authors I might love and in particular début authors especially as 2011 has been such a fantastic year for them.

I think début authors will actually feature rather heavily on my ‘Books of the Year’ when I get around to finally compiling it and whittling them down (something I keep putting off) there have been joys like ‘When God Was A Rabbit’ by Sarah Winman, ‘White Heat’ by MJ McGrath, ‘Ours are the Streets’ by Sunjeev Sahota, ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’ by Emma Henderson, ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ by SJ Watson… I could go on. So I thought I would give a couple away as my fourth day of festive fun, and the titles I have chosen to give are ‘The Godless Boys’ by Naomi Wood (who I hosted a Reading With Authors with earlier this year and ended up in a fig roll fight with) and ‘Snowdrops‘ by A.D. Miller which I read and really enjoyed (and lost the almost finished review of in the great computer wipe mentioned above) in the Man Booker Longlist blur way back when.

 

Three of you, wherever in the world you are, could win a copy of both of these books. All you have to do is tell me which book, or books, have been your favourite début novels of the year and why? You have until 11am GMT on December the 7th – Good luck!

15 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Pigeon English – Stephen Kelman

There was quite a lot of furore when the Man Booker longlist came out wasn’t there? First up there was all the titles we hadn’t heard of, then there was the fact the big names were missing, and then there was debate over which titles should definitely not be on the list. ‘Pigeon English’, the debut novel by Stephen Kelman, seemed to be the novel that became the particular scapegoat in all this and so, along with the fact it was one of my ‘Reading With Authors’ choices with Naomi Wood, it became the one I most wanted to read first in part to see what all the fuss was about.

Bloomsbury, Fiction, 2011, 263 pages, sent by publishers

There is an underlying issue with ‘reviewing’ a novel like ‘Pigeon English’ and daring to critique it. It almost makes you wonder should you dare to because the subject matter is a delicate one, in the main it seems that Stephen Kelman took the story of school boy Damiloa Taylor’s death and wrote a fictional response about/to it. ‘Pigeon English is told by eleven year old Harrison Opuku, a young man who is also an immigrant from Ghana now living on one of the tower block council estates in London. This is an area of street gangs, poverty and violence; in fact the novel opens with the death of a school boy who Harrison sort of knew.  

“Me and the dead boy were only half friends, I didn’t see him very much because he was older and didn’t go to my school. He could ride his bike with no hands and you never even wanted him to fall off. I said a prayer for him inside my head. It just said sorry. That’s all I could remember. I pretended like if I kept looking hard enough I could make the blood move and go back in the shape of a boy. I could bring him alive in that way. It happened before, where I used to live there was a chief who brought his son back like that. It was a long time ago, before I was born. Asweh, it was a miracle. It didn’t work this time.”

Writing in a child’s narrative has become something of trend in modern contemporary writing, long before ‘Room’ we had ‘What Was Lost’ (and indeed the theme of child detective comes up in this book as Harrison and his best friend decide to hunt the killer), it is also a hard act to balance when on a tough subject. Can you hold the reader’s belief? Does the narrative ring true? Does the simplicity of the voice dilute the events that are happening? Sadly, for me at least, whilst I loved Harrison’s view on life, which often made me laugh out loud, it took away the impact of the novel. When you are spending time in the company of this lively witty young man you are also left missing a lot. I never felt I got to know any of the other characters deeply, the other school kids like X-Fire (pronounced Cross Fire) or Killa became almost like cartoon caricatures, his sister and mother has no real back story other than one being the matriarch and the other a bit of a pain. I also felt like there was a whole back story in Ghana I simply didn’t know enough about. Oh and I haven’t even started on the talking pigeon, something I didn’t think was needed or added anything other than making me a bit cross.

I’m aware this sounds harsh, and indeed there are many things that make this book highly readable. Harrison’s voice rings true and is a delight, it’s a novel very much ‘of the time’ and I it was highly readable – almost too readable for its topic. I wanted Stephen Kelman to give me more though, I wanted the wonderful ‘council estate whodunit’ thread to be more of a story rather than a game/accidental thread/plot device, I wanted to know much more about his mother and what was going on with Ghana. There was a certain vagueness, or maybe it was simply too closed in a horizon which children can have, for me and that turned what could have been a fantastic book into a good one but one that didn’t pack any emotional punch for me. If you have read this book then you will know it should have hit home harder all the way through but especially at the ending.

“You could see lighter burns on Miquita’s hands all shiny like wax. They weren’t even for a good reason like Auntie Sonia’s burns, they were just a trick. Killa only made them so Miquita would admire him. I even felt sorry for him then. I didn’t even have to burn Poppy to make her admire me, I only had to make her laugh. Somebody should tell him, laughing is the best way to make them admire you. It’s even easier than burning.”

All that said I would recommend ‘Pigeon English’ but maybe not so much for the adult market, and here I think Bloomsbury have missed a bit of a trick. This is a book with a wonderful child’s voice that should be being pushed into schools and aimed at a young adult market. In that setting, and with that audience, I honestly think this book would have an incredible impact. I would also recommend this as a good ‘book group’ novel, it’s a great one for discussion. Not just for its subject matter, but also for the joys and pitfalls of the child narrator in fiction.

Has anyone else read this? What did you think? I feel a bit like I am being ‘bah-humbug’ about it, but I did enjoy reading it, and whenever I did pick it up I certainly read it quickly. I just felt something was missing amongst all the signs of promise. I will certainly read Stephen Kelman’s next novel. You can see a discussion between Naomi Wood and myself about ‘Pigeon English’ here, be warned there was almost a fig roll fight so watch for any low flying biscuits.

14 Comments

Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Man Booker, Review, Stephen Kelman

Reading With Authors #2: Pigeon English – Stephen Kelman; With Naomi Wood

Today we are off via the magic of the internet (and a little bit of imagination) to an author’s house in London, not a million miles from the very streets where today’s book for discussion ‘Pigeon English’ by Stephen Kelman is set. We’ve rung the doorbell, had a nosey around and join the lovely Naomi Wood (and take over her house) for the second in the series of ‘Reading With Authors’.

  

So Naomi, even though I am actually in your house for today’s virtual meeting do make yourself comfortable… tea or coffee? Any biscuits you would like? I brought a box but fear Belinda and I might have eaten all the digestives last week

I am sitting very comfortably, thank you, in my expansive countryside cottage looking over rolling hills. Not really. We are sitting in my ex-council flat in London with the dehumidifier on (making lots of noise; problem with damp.) Please can I have a large double mocha skinny frappe latte? No? Okay. Cup of tea and a fig roll please. That would be ‘hutious’.

‘Advise yourself’ Naomi. I can’t quite remember why it was that we chose this book can you? I know it was one that I had been meaning to read for a while, what was it that had made it a book on your hit list? (And we can be quite smug in saying we chose to discuss this before the Man Booker Longlist was announced…)

I think it’s been a very talked-about book and I already knew a lot about it before I did the Brighton Book Festival with Stephen. I was very intrigued as I’d seen him on the Waterstones’ Eleven list (I always think that sounds like a police roll call) and lots of people were talking about that. Also, what with the riots, it seems timely to be talking about a book that looks at youth violence, poverty, gang culture…

The first thing to ask really is if you enjoyed it?

I did enjoy it: the voice of Harrison was flawless, I thought. You never really broke with that voice, and I was surprised at how funny it was. I thought Harrison was a loveable, good character, full of optimism. His relationship with Poppy, his girlfriend, was just lovely. That said, I was surprised that I wasn’t much emotionally moved. Bad things happen in the novel and, perhaps because of the alacrity with which you read it, and how quickly they’re narrated, I can’t say that I shed a tear or felt much conflicting emotion.  But then maybe I’m an uncaring bastard. Did you?

I sort of did and sort of didn’t all in one. That isn’t to say I thought it was a bad book by any means, it’s just one I couldn’t always get a handle on. It seemed Stephen Kelman had almost too much he wanted to include. The youth led crime of London’s city streets; the past of Harrison’s life in Ghana, the struggle for money and opportunities, there was a lot there and yet…

People always say that’s the problem with first novels, right? That there are always about three books crammed in rather than one clear story. But I actually disagree with you on this one. I actually wanted more rather than less. Specifically, I wanted the detective story much more in the foreground. I loved the idea of a ‘council estate whodunit’. I thought it was going to be much more like A Curious Incident…, in the sense that the main story is propelled by the desire to find the killer, but somehow that always seemed rather secondary to the comic colourful scenes on the periphery: painting Adidas stripes on his trainers, Mr Frampon singing too loudly at church, his fear of Miquita ‘sucking him off’ (Harrison thinks this is a term for ‘deep kissing’). I did enjoy all of this – it gave such colour and immediacy to Harrison’s life as a new immigrant in England – but I wanted more of the detective story, and fewer tangents. Hold on, have I just agreed with you?

I think you might have. I think the book needed to be longer or ‘deeper’ really, so maybe I am agreeing with you? The book opens with a really shocking scene; it’s no spoiler to say a young boy has been knifed to death seemingly for his ‘Chicken Joe’s’ meal deal. I was thinking to myself that this was going to be a hard book to read, and yet it’s very readable, sometimes almost too easy to read and digest. You may of course think I am bonkers saying that…

Yes, I think I agree with that. You get into such an enjoyable gallop with the voice that you forget to see that the countryside is burning, so to speak. And I think that’s a great achievement on the part of Kelman to make us so comfortable with the main narrator’s voice. Your thoughts, please, Mr Savidge, while you pour me another cup of tea?

Oh sorry, I was so into the chat I forgot about tea. Did you just mutter ‘rubbish host’ under your breath… Moving on. I actually wondered if the narrators voice, which I did really enjoy in a lot of respects, being one of a young boy made all the horrific things simpler and yet strangely diluted it all. Did you find this? Did you think the repetition of ‘asweh’, ‘donkey time’, ‘advise yourself’ etc added to the narrative voice or did it detract from it?

The voice, for me, was definitely the best thing about the novel. The whole novel hinges, completely, on the believability of Harrison’s voice. It also hangs on his hawkish (or pigeony?) eye: he sees things with such humour, that, yes, I suppose, sometimes you forget how depressing the council estate is, how rotten it is that his dad and baby sister are still stuck in Ghana and that the family are torn apart. Did the voice dilute the shocking nature of the events? No, I don’t think so. The fact that the boy’s murder was cribbed into everyday life just underlined how common incidents like this are in some communities. That’s sad. Some of the little verbal tics got irritating at times but nothing you can’t ignore (as with the pigeon… more on that later.) I actually liked ‘Advise yourself’. Perhaps I’ll start using it.

Ha, ha, ha. I can see you going around doing that Naomi. I did think the voice diluted it though, it was almost trying to over simplify it all. Maybe I just struggle with children’s narrators? I liked Harrison a lot, as I did the child in Emma Donoghue’s ‘Room’, yet I do sometimes wonder if it’s used as a tool to emotionally manipulate people. Harrison’s voice rang true and I enjoyed spending time with him. I just felt it distanced me, rather than made me closer, to the events he was embroiled in. What do you think?

But I can’t see how the narrative could have been told in any other way than how it was presented. That’s the thing: this is a crazy child’s world where all the kids are acting like adults, and where serious adult things happen to children. With the adults strangely absent (or impotent, like the police) it’s the children left to sort it all out. It had to be told from the perspective of someone within the dead boy’s circle. But I know what you mean about child narrators. I find the irony we’re meant to experience, of knowing much more about the child than the child knows, a little frustrating sometimes. It’s always nice after reading books like this to read one from the point of view of a very old person who has an expansive and mutable voice rather than a child narrator who is necessarily curtailed by the limit of their young understanding.

Let’s turn to the ‘whodunit’ aspect of the book. By the way, I think if you liked this one for the detective angle then you would love ‘What Was Lost’ by Catherine O’Flynn. Back to ‘Pigeon English’ though… I did love the idea of Harrison and his friend Dean becoming detectives, that to me was a brilliant aspect of the book, we got inside a few addition characters worlds. That said it never quite fully formed itself as a device or sub-plot for me and I was never very sure I got to know any of the other characters, which I wondered if was the purpose behind it in some way, rather than just playing with the genre.

Yes, I really wanted more of the detective story! More attempts to get their school friends’ DNA, more lists like ‘Signs that people are definitely guilty’ (includes ‘farting too much’ and ‘religious hysteria’)… I felt like it was pretty obvious, really from the beginning, who had killed the boy…

Really? I didn’t. I missed it completely and got sidetracked by the red herring with a member of Harrison’s family…

…and I would have liked more derring-do, intrigue and a ‘whodunit feel to the story. I’d have liked to have found out more about the female characters, such as the sister and the mum, as their voices were quite sidelined in favour of the boys and the gangs. That said, I don’t think there was much space for that.

There is a lot of discussion that this isn’t a literary novel and I must add that I do think this book is in many ways. It combines page turning with the literary in fact. I don’t understand all the hoo-ha being made about it being on the Man Booker Longlist do you?

Pass me a fig roll before I politely disagree with you. I’m not crazily concerned with it being on the Booker list, but I do think the Booker is the only place for really, really literary work, and I don’t think this is, and I can’t even say why. It’s not the subject matter, or the way it’s related, or the child’s point of view… it’s not the fact there aren’t long ‘literary’ words in it: I know none of this is tantamount to making something ‘literary’. Perhaps it’s just because I didn’t come away with the feeling that I’d been changed, in a small but important way, by reading the book. I’ve just finished Edward St Aubyn’s Some Hope trilogy, and after reading that I had to go away and have a good think. I didn’t feel like that in this case, which I’m not particularly concerned with, because I enjoyed reading it and I read it really quickly, and I laughed quite a lot.

I think you might have hit the nail on the head and succinctly described my issue with the book. I enjoyed it a lot, but it didn’t have the impact I was expecting, it didn’t change my views on the world. Without reviewing the book, which I will do separately at some point, I think we can say that with everything that has been going on in the UK with riots and the disillusionment/anarchy with young gangs that this is a most timely book. I thought in that sense actually this book would be great for a young adult readership as well as an adult readership. 

Yes, me too. I recommended Pigeon English to a school-teacher friend and he absolutely got it in a way that I think is because of his proximity to children of that age. I think it could definitely work as a YA novel too: teens could easily read this, probably understand all the slang quicker than us, and really get on with Harrison’s voice. I think a lot of teens would love it. That’s another thing I liked about it: it was so, so current, and it’s not often you get to read a book set very much now, in voices that are familiar to us.

Now, I have to bring it up… that ruddy talking pigeon. What was all that about? I think this is what maybe spoiled the book a little for me. I didn’t see the need. Am I just a miserable old cross patch?

Eh. Can I have another fig roll? I might talk with my mouthful to make this sound less shouty: I COULDN’T SEE WHY YOU NEEDED A TALKING PIGEON! I didn’t think it added anything, and, more than that, I thought it was pretty irritating: you switch from running around the streets looking for criminals to this high-minded, day-dreamy, bookish voice where the choice of language completely changes. However. It’s only a paragraph here and there, and is very easily ignored. It didn’t spoil it for me. Perhaps you are a miserable old cross patch…

I am tempted to launch some fig roll missiles at you for that comment Naomi, be warned. Ha! So would you recommend this book to a friend or to a book group? I actually think this would make a great book for discussion, I think it’s quite possibly a bookish equivalent of marmite…

Very marmitey. If they’re someone who loves funny books with a strong voice, and a page-turner too, then yes. And I would recommend this, definitely, to any teenager living in any British city. But if they’re more sort of bookish and, yes, probably more conservative in their tastes, then maybe not. I’m really glad I read it because my taste is shamefully narrow (all the authors I like are all white guys above the age of 50 with an eye on sort of existential melancholia, and I realise the limits of reading only about one type of experience about one type of person) and this book took me totally out of that zone. Would you?

I would, and I think in particular I would recommend that this is a book that adults who love to read should read with any teenage children they have. I will be recommending it to my mother in particular who works in a school where children come from these sorts of backgrounds and I think it would be a great novel for them to talk about. I do think that the publishers have missed a trick with that one. I also think, despite my own slight issues with it, people need to stop crouching about this book so much, for Harrison’s narration alone. I will also be very interested to see what Kelman comes up with next. Right, we best open the discussion up to everyone else hadn’t we…?

10 Comments

Filed under Naomi Wood, Reading With Authors 2011, Stephen Kelman

Oops, Sorry, Busyness & Readers Block Are To Blame…

I have to apologise, I suddenly realised that my blogging has sort of gone off kilter. It wasn’t an intentional break by any means but I am interestingly quite glad to have had it. Its been a rather mad week with the absolute high that was ‘Bookmarked Debut Night’ – which I will be doing a full report on later – and then the weirdness of the Manchester riots which left me feeling a bit ‘blurgh’. What also hasn’t helped so much is a big dose of readers block.

Readers block is a funny old thing isn’t it; you never quite know when it’s going to strike. Then it does and if you are anything like me it just makes you cross. This then makes you rush for any book that might spark it, which of course then doesn’t do the trick and so you end up merely getting all the crosser. It is like a wicked cycle.

I think the nerves for the first night of Bookmarked might have been the catalyst, and then the come down after such a great night left me not really wanting to reach for anything else. Plus I then had three more months of authors to sort (you wait till you hear the line up). So I gave myself a few days off and from Sunday to Thursday I barely read a word. I even ignored the pile of Green Carnation and ‘Reading With Author’ books I have stacked by the bed. However ‘Pigeon English’ called and, while it may not have been my favourite read of the year, you can see me and Naomi Wood discuss it tomorrow, it snapped me out of the block and I read it in two days – partly because of deadline and partly because it was so readable.

So now I feel like I am back in the reading world and am going to have a nice meander through my TBR (recently culled, which I still need to update on here) and start applying my Books Before The End of the World Rules to and get cracking. I have a feeling a Tess Gerritsen or M.C. Beaton book might be just the next read for me.

So what are you reading right now and what do you plan to read next? Any recommendations for any readers block sufferers out there?

P.S apologies if you tuned in and waited endlessly for me to be on BBC World Have Your Say yesterday which I posted about – and then deleted after feeling a bit miffed off, they didn’t call. Sorry.

18 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Reading With Authors 2011

Back in February (I am surprised it was this long ago) I mentioned the fact that after having loved doing the Not The TV Book Group I fancied doing it again, sadly the other hosts weren’t sure what they could commit to this year, so I was mulling the idea of doing something similar and different over the ‘early summer months’. Well its not the early part of summer, but summer it still is, and finally (and possibly a little last minute – but you guys are great at rallying round) I can reveal my plans for ‘Reading With Authors’ which is going to be taking place during the Sundays of August and September 2011., and something which I am hoping you will be able to join in the whole lot of or on and off…

Why has it taken so long? Well, there’s been all of the Bookmarked (only 8 days to go… eek) and Green Carnation Prize madness whirling in the background and also the authors taking part are busy bee’s and so choosing titles together and dates that they are free has been a tricky process, but now it is done and here are the books we would love you to read along with us and when…

(thanks to Gav Reads for the image)

  • Sunday 7th of August 2011: The Man Who Fell To Earth by Walter Tevis with Belinda Bauer
  • Sunday 14th of August 2011: Pigeon English by Steven Kelman with Naomi Wood
  • Sunday 21st of August 2011: Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann with Paul Magrs
  • Sunday 28th of August 2011: Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively with Natasha Solomons
  • Sunday 4th of September: Ruby’s Spoon by Anna Lawrence Pietroni with Beatrice Colin
  • Sunday 18th of September 2011: Even The Dogs by Jon McGregor with Isabel Ashdown

There are two more authors and their choices of books to announce in the next week, but I wanted to get the information out there sooner rather than later as the first one, with the lovely crime writing Belinda Bauer, is only a week a way! If you are thinking ‘only a week, that’s no time’ well I had that slight panic too. However Walter Tevis’ novel ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ is only 186 pages and it’s stunning! I have a feeling that, as with ‘Flowers For Algernon’ by Daniel Keyes, this is a sci-fi book that is about to make me rather emotional and cry quite a lot. Who knew?

The idea behind all this is that it brings books, authors and readers together in a new way. The weekly author and I will have discussed the book, that will go up on the blog, and then we hope those of you who have read it too (pretty please) will come by comment and myself and the author will add comments creating a great discussion.

I am hoping that all the other books are going to be as good as the first promises to be. Some of them, as you can see from the list, are quite recent, some might have been chosen for the Man Booker (Naomi and myself chose ‘Pigeon English’ a while ago, neither of us having read it at the time, and were patting ourselves on the backs on Tuesday) some are cult classics and some are ones that have gone under the radar. All of them are books that the author and I were eager to read… do we all like our choices? You will have to wait and see! What do you think of the list so far?

I do hope you will be joining in!

20 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Reading With Authors 2011

The Godless Boys – Naomi Wood

Books about religion don’t tend to be ones I rush out and read, and I tell myself I don’t like dystopian fiction (when actually I think I do, which is both odd and silly) so under normal circumstances I don’t know if Naomi Wood’s debut novel ‘The Godless Boys’ would have been on my radar. However she was one of the authors that myself and Novel Insights saw speak at the publisher Picador’s where they were showcasing some of their novelists and two things stood out for me about this book. Firstly the excerpt that Naomi read (which I have now discovered was the opening, see it stuck in my head all those months that I remembered it) was vividly written and secondly, and this may seem like a strange reason, the book was set off the coast of Newcastle. The city I lived in as a young child, indeed me and Novel Insights became friends their aged 3, and a city that never gets written about. So when the opportunity for a copy came up early in the year I snatched it, and I am really glad I did as ‘The Godless Boys’ is really rather good.

Naomi Wood’s England in 1986 is one of some turmoil. The church has taken over the country and atheists have been sent to live on The Island somewhere off the coast of Newcastle. Here a group of boys known as the Malades, and run by Nathaniel, who spy on any possible Gots (those who once believed and might be trying to again) and control them, generally with fear and menace. One such woman under observation, which basically is malicious spying, is Eliza Michalka. One night those on The Island are joined by Sarah Wickes, who smuggles (I assumed she did, she may have just hopped on) herself onto a boat in search of her mother who she has been told ran off with another man and abandoned her. However once Sarah arrives on The Island she begins to learn that what she has been told about her mother is not the truth. She must also get used to the island and its inhabitants who may not be so welcoming to someone from the mainland.

I think to label this book ‘a dystopian novel about religion’ is really rather lazy. Yes the driving force behind the novel, it is after all why Sarah’s mother is on The Island along with all the atheists, is religion and it bubbles away behind every chapter and indeed motivation of the main characters. This is also a book about people and I think the three characters, even if I didn’t like Nathaniel really, were all very well drawn and really gave the book a life and breath on top of the stormy island atmosphere. Its interesting though that while I think we are meant to follow Sarah and her story, which was very good and Sarah is a marvellous gutsy character, I was captivated far more by Eliza and her tale.

In fact I would go as far as to say she could be one of my favourite characters that I have come across recently. I even wondered if maybe Wood had a special place in her heart as she seemed the most vivid and also the most quirky. She is a woman who finds herself combined her days as part time prostitute at The Grand and also as the local undertaker. She is also madly in love with Arthur, who of course she will never tell. All this and her quirks, like writing words on her forehead under her fringe to boost her confidence or say what she really felt, I absolutely loved. In fact I could have read an entire book devoted just to Eliza.

“On her brow that evening, Eliza penned the word Courage, close to her hairline, underneath her fringe, to encourage her to talk to him. She had made a habit of this since starting at the Grand (that June, and so unwillingly!), pulling up her fringe and penning little messages of hope – or self pity – on her brow. One word, or two, like Courage, or maybe Resilience, or maybe Take Heart!, and she’d go round the Island with her blonde lock of hair covering the words, murmuring the message in her head, hoping for inspiration.
But tonight! What a coward she was. Courage! Pathetic. She had no courage. She felt like that fish Arthur had shorn of all its scales; dull, and missing its brilliance.”

I have heard comparisons to Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’ being bandied about by people in context with Naomi Wood’s debut. I have to say that the only similarity I can see with them is that they portray a different ‘dystopian’ view of England in the 1980’s. There was something of Graham Greene’s ‘Brighton Rock’ about this weirdly, great writing of conflict by the stormy seas maybe? I have also heard comparison to ‘A Clockwork Orange’, but I haven’t read that so I can’t say. Yet I think these comparisons might do a disservice to what is a very good debut novel, as one is the authors sixth or seventh book and the other is a cult classic. It seems unfair then to compare, unless it’s to say that Naomi Woods has written a debut that shows she is going to be an author to watch in the future, that I would fully concur with.

‘The Godless Boys’ is a very good novel, regardless of it being a debut or not, it’s a book with people’s stories at its heart and how the environment they are in affects them. It is a book based on a long literary heritage of which there are shades, without ever being a copy or retelling of these tales. It’s a book that impresses overall as a debut and one which regardless of the ‘religion’ subject surrounding it, which makes for an interesting read, should be read for its characters and its story. Those are the sort of books which say so much and make you want to read one. I look forward to the next novel from Naomi Woods (which is apparently about Ernest Hemingway and his wives) with great interest. To coin that cliché, she is certainly one to watch. 8.5/10

This book was kindly sent from the publishers.

Has anyone else read ‘The Godless Boys’? If not do so, its recommended reading. It’s made me go off and want to read ‘A Clockwork Orange’ by Anthony Burgess and also ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding (the Malades made me think of that book, again one I haven’t read but have heard lots about),  can you recommend any of those?

9 Comments

Filed under Naomi Wood, Pan MacMillan, Picador Books, Review