Tag Archives: Penguin Books

Other People’s Bookshelves #17 – Karyn Reeves

So while I am away wandering the streets, well more realistically the bookshops, of London I thought I would leave you with the lovely Karyn Reeves (whose blog, A Penguin A Week, I adore even if am rubbish at commenting) and her wonderful bookshelves. Before we have a good old nosey through her bookshelves though shall we find out a little bit more about her? It would be rude not to.

Karyn is the owner of about 2000 Penguins published before 1970 (well actually many more than that if you count duplicates and Penguins published in other series), and is always on the look out for the 1000 titles She is still missing. Her blog is a little different to many in that it has one single idea which is to create some kind of online record about the 3000 titles Penguin published before 1970, as some of them are well known but others, many of which are worth reading, are at risk of being forgotten. Karyn says “It can be quite sobering to look at a wall of books and see the names of so many people who must have been very successful during their lives – and I think that to have even written one book is a major achievement – who are now gradually slipping into obscurity.” So she started the blog partly as a way to help retain that knowledge, and partly as a way to cope with the stresses of doing a PhD (in Maths and Statistics). Happily, the PhD is now finished and she has now become Dr Reeves. Her thesis was on the analysis of HIV data and about how HIV mutates at a phenomenal rate inside every infected person, partly in response to their specific immune system, which is one of the things which makes it such a devastating disease. Now she works at the Murdoch University in Perth as a research officer. If that wasn’t enough she is also a mother of five, her two youngest daughters following in her footsteps as constant readers. Here are her shelves…


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

There is simply no limit to the number of books I would like to own. I would happily cover every wall of our home with bookshelves, so I could never contemplate any sort of culling system like one in, one out. I love that I own such a large number of unread books so that each time I am ready to read another one I have many hundreds to choose from, from a variety of genres. I think of the books I own as providing some kind of record of my life, and the collection is a reminder that time has passed to some purpose. The books capture the memories of the holidays on which they were purchased, and of what I was thinking or experiencing when each one was read. Many of them have been sent to me by people I have never met, so then they capture the memory of completely ordinary days when a package has turned up at the end of the driveway, always an exciting moment. I much prefer the option of buying more and more bookshelves to that of getting rid of books.

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

Most of my non-Penguins and all of my Penguins published after 1970 are currently in storage while I wait for my house to sell, but normally I have them grouped together by spine colour, and within that by author. The old Penguins, on the other hand, are ordered on the bookshelves approximately chronologically by issue date, as they have spines which are numbered roughly in that order. I find that that is the best way to keep track of them, and once you accumulate enough vintage Penguins they look very attractive filed that way. The chronological order means that you can easily spot various patterns in Penguin design, such as when they moved from the vertical to the horizontal stripes, or when the various colours (cerise, yellow, dark blue, purple, red and grey) disappeared, or when they altered the direction of the words on the spine, and some other brief experiments in their design. I never cull books, although when I do have more than one copy of a Penguin title, I will sometimes give surplus copies to others, such as to Pam who has the blog Travellin’ Penguin and who also collects old Penguins and often sends books my way.

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

The first two books I remember purchasing were Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe and Room at the Top by John Braine. I had read about them, I think, in The Collector by John Fowles, a book (and movie) I loved, and which had a big influence on my reading when I was in my late teens. I think they were also mentioned on the back cover of A Kind of Loving by Stan Barstow. I remember them particularly because they had to be ordered in, possibly even from the UK, as they weren’t the sort of titles you were going to find being stocked in a Perth book shop all those years ago. I still own both books, and at least another four copies of A Room at the Top in its varying Penguin covers – it must have been exceptionally popular in the early 1960s because it went through at least 17 issues in the first year of publication, and I haven’t come across any other old Penguin title which can equal that.

Penguin 6 748

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

No. These days I post about every book that I read, so it wouldn’t make any sense to feel embarrassed about what I was reading.

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

Fire is something which has long troubled me, because until recently I was living on a bush block on the outskirts of Perth, and summer inevitably brings the possibility of bushfire. All the eucalypts in the backyard still display evidence of at least one fire which came far too close to the house before we lived there. The vintage Penguins are the things I would need to save, all 2000 of them, for the reasons that I mentioned early, for the memories they capture. As books they are all replaceable and most of them are not particularly valuable, but as artifacts of my life I would have difficulty living without them. 

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

I don’t recall any books on my parent’ bookshelves that I wanted to read, and I don’t have recollection of thinking of books as off limits when I was young. What I do remember from my teenage years is the frustration of not knowing what to read, or where to get advice. I solved it by turning to second hand bookshops and eventually working out that books with orange spines were a safe bet, so that you could buy titles at random and be assured of discovering something worth reading, and that was what led me to start collecting Penguins.

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

The project I’ve taken on through the blog keeps me very focused on the books I already own; I suspect there are already more of these than there will be time left to read. And each time I am ready to choose another book I have hundreds to choose from that I am looking forward to reading so I am never tempted to borrow one from anyone else, or from the library. But if I did read a borrowed book I am sure I would be looking for a copy to put on the shelves, just in case I wanted to refer to it later.

Penguin 6 770

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

Maigret Mystified (Penguin no. 2024) is the last book I purchased for myself, and as I own so few of the Simenon Penguins – and I don’t know why this is, perhaps Australians didn’t have a taste for translated fiction in the 1960s – I am always happy when I find another one.

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

Well there are about one thousand books that I wish to have on my bookshelves and don’t currently own because my goal is to find (and read) all of the titles Penguin published before Allen Lane died in 1970. They are getting more difficult to find these days, and so I tend to only look for them now when I am on holiday, but one of the very lovely things about having a blog is that people now help me in my quest. I have had wonderful help in tracking down bookshops which stock them over east and overseas, and I have been taken on book shopping expeditions on my travels, and I have had many books turn up in the mail.

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

I think anyone who loves books appreciates the sight of an old Penguin and is likely to feel overwhelmed by a whole wall of them. I suspect people probably think I am a little obsessive, and I agree that choosing what you would read according to the backlist of one particular publisher is an unusual way to go about things, but it works for me. In a world in which there are more books available than you could possibly hope to read, you have to find some way to make a choice, and this one introduces me to books and stories I would otherwise know nothing about.

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A huge thanks to Karyn for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Karyn’s responses and/or any of the books that she mentioned?



Filed under Other People's Bookshelves

A Bookish Couple of Days…

First off before I start to rabbit on about what have been wonderfully bookish times over the past few days I wanted to say a big thank you to you all for your very kind birthday wishes yesterday. In fact one of you has a surprise further down, there is also a competition today too, so do keep reading on after my waffle for that. This could have been the next bookish bits as it’s quite a jam packed post.

Tuesday night saw me venturing out for a night at To Hell With Publishing’s shop to hear David Vann talk about, and read from, his wonderful book ‘Legends of a Suicide’ which the lovely Joe from Penguin invited me to. Now I don’t like going to events on my own and certainly not walking into them by myself. Luckily the lovely Kimbofo and Lynne from Dovegreyreader and I all met for a coffee/chai latte first and had a delightful bookish natter before we arrived, we were most sorry Kirsty wasn’t there as then the whole NTTVBG would have been together. Oh a quick aside – Lynne has started Skin Lane and says so far so very good!

Once at the shop we were made very welcome given a bear had a natter with The Writers Pet and listened to David read us a new short story which had us all laughing. It was during this that I noticed we were in some rather wonderful company. There was Florence from Florence and the Machine, Julie Myerson and then Kim and I spotted Evie Wyld whose ‘After the Fire, A Still Small Voice’ I adored last year. Well after me wobbling about speaking to her Kim just tapped her on the shoulder as she passed and we were nattering (well maybe gushing) away at her for a good ten minutes. She was utterly lovely; I am now an even bigger fan (I didn’t get a piccie because I thought that might be stalkerish). It was particularly weird when she knew my blog and who I was and had even read my review; you always forget the author might see it so we had a bit of a love in between us all really it was a delightful way to end my 27th year.

Then yesterday Headline had decided to throw a bookish bloggers party at their head office that happened to fall on my birthday, what could be better? Thankfully no one had bought me a birthday cake yesterday because the spread was fabulous and the girls from Headline had made some marvellous homemade cakes. There was a presentation, a chance to meet the lovely people you email but don’t see, meet some of the authors (who included Paul Magrs whose series I really enjoy of and who was a good laugh) and get some books with a lovely goodie bag. I was very restrained, I hope you will be impressed…

I will talk more about ‘birthday books’ tomorrow. It was a lovely event and I got to meet lots of bloggers I had never seen before and have lots of new lovely sites to go in search of. It was lovely couple of days and yesterday it was really nice to be getting all of your messages through the day. So I thought as a surprise thank you I would put everyone who left one in a secret raffle for a copy of the marvellous ‘A Life Apart’ to show my appreciation, and the winner is… Nadia! So do email me your address and a copy will be out to you!

So for another competition… I have raved about Agatha Raisin on and off for ages and have told you all how you should read them, in fact I was having a natter about her yesterday with Paul Magrs and a few others in the pub. Well it seems in honour of my birthday (ok maybe not quite) she has had a makeover and I thought you should have the oppourtunity to get your mitts on a set of the first four revamped books in the series. Which look like this…


I am quite jealous as I want these! Thanks to the very kind Constable publishing there are two sets to be given away worldwide all I want to know, after my Evie experience, is which author you would most like to meet and what would you love to ask them? Simple as that. The deadline is the end of Friday the 26th – good luck!


Filed under Book Thoughts, Give Away

Ex Libris – Anne Fadiman

Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman is a book that I have been looking out for, as well as many others, for absolutely ages. If you are a fan of ‘books about books’ then many say that this is the holy grail of books about books. After having read a few this year like The Paper House (though that was fiction) and of course one of the most blogged about books of the year Howard’s End is on the Landing it’s a genre of books I like. So imagine my utter joy when last weekend one of my closest friends, the lovely Michelle, bought me a copy of this very book.

Anne Fadiman is a journalist and writer who comes from strong literary genes. Her father Clifton Fadiman is a literary critic and personality, her mother Annalee Jacoby Fadiman is an author. She is even married to an author (the first essay in this collection is a funny piece about the merging or marrying of two peoples book collections as it appears they are both book hoarders – I liked them instantly) the author George Howe Colt, so she is definitely about the books and about words. Ex Libris is a collection of essays which mingle memories and book thoughts from her life in the past and current perspective.

When I know a book is meant to be a book about books, I want it to be just that. Plain and simply I want book thoughts, book thoughts and more book thoughts. This doesn’t quite happen as much as you would think with this novel. In fact I would say the book is more a celebration of words both written and writing. There’s an essay on sonnets, some feminist essays and a few on writing, grammar and words. The thing is though I didn’t mind these slightly of the book subject essays because through her words I liked Anne Fadiman so much and wanted to read more about her. There are some great essays on books inside such as the marrying of books I mentioned before. She looks at reading in the places books are set, second-hand book buying joy (I am all for that) and you do leave with a list of books you want to read so all in all job accomplished.

It is her likeability that definitely sells this book and the bookish essays that are thrown in and make it such a little gem and if you are a fan of books then you really should have this on your shelves. You also need to read it to find out just what a ‘sesquipedalian’ is… its one of my new favourite words, I will see how many conversations I can throw that into today.

It has made me wonder, apart from the aforementioned Susan Hill book, just what books there are actually out there that are solidly about just books and reading and books. I don’t mind the And I don’t mean highbrow books where you sit and feel alienated because you haven’t read the entire works of Chekhov, Tolstoy or Dumas. I mean books where people read a gambit of material. I know there must be some out there I just seem to be missing them somehow. Any clues?


Filed under Anne Fadiman, Books About Books, Penguin Books, Review

The Girls of Slender Means – Muriel Spark

After I was looking for novella’s the other day I was quite shocked to note that I hadn’t read a book by Muriel Spark since 2007 and my pre-blogging days in fact I was introduced to her by Novel Insights in both or pre-blogging days and Aiding & Abetting was a choice for our old book group. It surprised me I had left it this long as I really enjoy her writing and so after having read a few larger books thought I would go for a short Spark next.

The Girls of Slender Means tells the stories of several young women in the year of 1945 living in The May of Teck Club (pretty much a hostel) near Kensington Gardens. The girls are all working as clerks or secretaries and living on rations, clothing coupons and hand outs from admiring men. Through each on of the girls in the book Spark looks at the morals and plotting of such a group of women in both a comic and sometimes shocking way.

We have Joanna a rectors daughter who shockingly fell for a rector herself before coming to London and teaching elocution lessons, Greggie, Jarvie and Collie the old maids of the building, Pauline Fox a mad young lady who believes she dines with the actor Jack Buchanan every night, Jane Wright who works in a publisher and gets authors to write letters signed she can sell on the black market and yet who doesn’t know Henry James is dead and Selina a woman of loose morals who sleeps with weak men but pursues strong ones for marriage partners she wont sleep with yet. All of them will become more unified and torn apart though not only when Nicholas Farringdon a charming author turns up, but when a shocking (I gasped) event leads to one girls fatal end (I gasped again).

I must mention one of my favourite characters who doesn’t actually appear in the book very often but whom every time I saw her name on the page I knew I would smile. This was Dorothy Markham who was a wonderful character, and shows how even small background characters are incredibly well drawn in Spark’s world, a debutante who came out with lines like ‘Filthy lunch’, ‘I’m absolutely filthington’, ‘I’m desperately well thanks, how are you?’ and the one which made me laugh out loud ‘Filthy luck. I’m preggers. Come to the wedding.’

This was my first read in the November Novella challenge I decided to take on and what a fabulous one.Showing an interesting insight into women of a certain class during the late stages of the war this book would make for a wonderful part in women studies, fictional women of course though with characters this alive you wonder if Spark may well have known them in her lifetime. The writing is sparse yet punchy and full of life and a delightful hour or two whizzed by in the company of the girls of slender means.

I am now wondering which Spark I should bump up my reading list. I have already enjoyed ‘Aiding and Abetting’ and ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ so where to next. I think that ‘Memento Mori’ may well be my next port of call on the Spark Trail. What would you recommend? Are you a Muriel Spark fan?


Filed under Muriel Spark, Penguin Books, Review

Not Untrue & Not Unkind – Ed O’Loughlin

Now this is going to be an interesting post for me to write as I am still not quite sure how I feel about this Man Booker Long List novel, and when I haven’t quite decided how I am feeling about a book I don’t like to put down my thoughts ‘out there’. However I am reading the Man Booker Long List and also I think that this book is one of those books I am not sure I will ever be quite sure how I feel about, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

‘Not Untrue and Not Unkind’ is Ed O’Loughlin’s debut novel and to be long listed is a huge feat and I think from some of the writing and the subject matter of the book that Ed O’Loughlin is definitely a talent to watch out for. The story is based around a group of journalists and photographers who are covering the wars in Africa. The thing is again this is one of those books that suffer slightly from the start because of the blurb.

We as the readers are told “In Dublin, a newspaper editor called Cartwright is found dead. One of his colleagues, Owen Simmons, discovers a dossier on Cartwright’s desk. And in the dossier Owen finds a photograph, which brings him back to a dusty road in Africa and to the woman he once loved! “Not Untrue and Not Unkind” is Owen’s story – a gripping story of friendship, rivalry and betrayal amongst a group of journalists and photographers covering Africa’s wars.” Yes, this is undoubtedly Owen’s story and more of him later but the whole ‘Cartwright is found dead’ I was expecting a much more suspenseful tale and you have to get well past page 80 for any of that to kick off. This is a small thing though; it is just something that really bugs me with blurbs. I know a book needs to be sold, but don’t miss-sell it.

So Owen is our narrator and he is a very interesting one. War has made him immune to the death toll as it rises in more shocking and horrific ways. He in some ways sees his time in Africa both as furthering his career and some sort of extension of his student days, the drink and the girls though he does fall in love. However I did find that his disillusion with people and those who came into his life meant that I never connected with characters and in fact so many were introduced in the style of “and that was how Polly ended up on the scene” so quickly I was quite confused and had too many people to remember in too little time. Not quite the best start but I persevered.

Owen’s disillusionment sadly for me continues with all of the war scenes he goes to. I say war scenes because you never really get the background on what the war. You end up going to a looted palace or going to a site of dismembered bodies without actually ever knowing why this has all happened, it’s sort of assumed that you would know and I didn’t. Maybe that’s my fault though maybe I should have put the effort into researching the background more? Anyway it also ran into the shocking scenes you are shown for example when one of Owen’s colleague says the shocking line “has anyone seen the other half of this baby, I don’t want to count its body twice” because of the fact your narrator has seen it all before it passes onto you as the reader and so you aren’t as shocked as frankly you should be.

I loved the premise of the book and its settings. I thought some of the writing was great. I was intrigued by the characters as far as I could be, though I think the cast is way too many for a book of less than 300 pages. I also liked the idea of seeing these times through the eyes of a journalist and seeing the world they get to see, sadly because my main narrator was immune to it all, I in some way became immune to all of it too and the book didn’t have the effect that I think it could have. Mind you having said all that it is an accomplished debut maybe it’s just not quite for me.

I told you I hadn’t made my mind up yet. I also think it seemed too stereotyped and dark a view of Africa which is a theme that Dovegreyreader commented on when she reviewed the book. Yes it has a dark past but there are books that somehow look at these times, and worse yet they see hope in those times. I think that one of the best books set in Africa is ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche and definitely want to read her other works. What other fantastic books set in Africa are out there that you have encountered? Have you read this one and what did you think?


Filed under Ed O'Loughlin, Man Booker, Penguin Books, Review

Brooklyn – Colm Toibin

One thing that I particularly like about reading this year’s Man Booker long list is that it is giving me the opportunity to read for the first time some authors that I have always wanted to try but never quite managed, or possibly been slightly daunted by. A.S Byatt is one of them and that is still going slowly but surely (enjoyably so), Coetzee I will be starting today and is someone I have always been intrigued by. However its Colm Toibin who I pretty much own the back catalogue of works by but haven’t read a page… until I started ‘Brooklyn’ that was.


I am not going to hold back I loved ‘Brooklyn’. I thought Toibin’s style of prose and narrative was simple and beautiful and throughout the whole book I was totally and utterly engaged. I liked and believed in all the characters and I loved the subtle simple plot. In fact ‘subtle and simple’ are possibly the perfect two words to sum this book up for me. Yet at the same time it’s quite an epic novel and one that covers a huge amount in fewer than 250 pages.

‘Brooklyn’ is a tale of Eilis, a young girl in Ireland after the Second World War where the economy is a disaster and jobs are scarce. Overjoyed simply to find a Sunday and occasional evening job when you can expect little more Eilis is suddenly offered a job and life in Brooklyn where work is easier to find and so is money and more importantly prospects. Eilis soon realises that this isn’t a sudden offer and in fact her mother, sister and brothers (in England) have been well meaningly plotting this for quite some time and really she has no choice.  After following her nightmare journey across the ocean we watch as Eilis settles into a new life with new people and new cultures in an unknown environment. We also watch as she grows from girl to woman and falls in love. It is eventually though a trip home that leads to the climax and a huge decision for Eilis… I wont say any more than that, I will say I bet the ending will either seal the deal for people or possibly put them off the book completely.

The plot brings us some wonderful, wonderful surroundings. I loved the Ireland we briefly got to see at the start and especially when Eilis ends up working in the local shop where supplies are low and people get special treatment, well bread that’s not off, if the owner likes them. When Eilie moves to Brooklyn you could vividly see the streets of shops and as Eilis works in one of these ‘Bartocci’s’ we get to see how everything runs and I could just envisage it so clearly. I will admit it; I ended up wanting to be there in Eilis’ house share in 1950’s Brooklyn!

The plot also brings up many subjects. The first is poverty and how the Second World War left countries like Ireland and all the people who survived the horrors of war behind. It looks at women’s roles and how they changed and strangely gained independence further during these times, they could go and work in other countries and start new lives even if the job opportunities were limited. It also discussed racism at the time as the colour of customers in Bartocci’s changes; this isn’t a subject at the heart of the book I did like its inclusion though as it would have happened at the time. In fact looking back with Eilis’ love interest being from an Italian family and Eilis not being an American in America different cultures is in a way a theme.

For me out of everything it was the prose and also the characters that really made the book the complete joy to read I found it. I liked Eilis though for me she was in a way a ‘nice and intrigued’ pair of eyes to watch a story through. It was characters like the scary domineering and gossiping Mrs Kelly who owned the corner shop and the fabulous Georgina, who I adored, and is Eilie’s partner in illness on one of the most horrendous boat crossings I have read… I did laugh though. With characters, plot and backdrops like this I would be amazed if you could fail to love this book.

In fact actually this is just the book I have been craving to read, and haven’t quite been able to find (not even in Samantha Harvey’s The Wilderness but almost) for quite a while something I would rush to read the next bit of and get lost in all over again. I can’t wait to read more Toibin after the Man Booker long list, the only question is… where to start, what should I read of his next?


Filed under Books of 2009, Colm Toibin, Man Booker, Penguin Books, Review, Viking Books

Love & Summer – William Trevor

Bizarely a week or so before the Man Booker Long List was announced my Gran (who I know you are all a big fan of) was telling me how wonderful the author William Trevor was. She did add that invariably his entire works “end in tears before bed time” but equally were some of the most wonderful writing and prose she has read from a modern author. Now had I know that he had a new book coming out after such praise as that (my Gran doesn’t rave about authors often after 60 plus years of reading) I would have possibly put him in my guess for the Man Booker Long List this year, but I didn’t. Now reading the Long List I have had the honor of getting an early copy but would William Trevor live up to my long list hopes, let alone my Gran’s high praise?

‘Love & Summer’ is really a snap shot of several peoples lives in the village of Rathmoye, Ireland. I have to admit as I have a slight nosey streak I really enjoy books that have a decent plot but are very much about people and observations of characters and from reading this novel it’s clear that William Trevor is wonderful at this. However it is at the end of one characters life that the book starts and through this death certain characters meet and certain characters circumstances change for good.

The death of Mrs Connulty and her journey from building to building through the town after is the opening paragraph of the book and had me thinking ‘oh this is going to be gloomy’ until I read a line that made me laugh out loud. As she dies Mrs Connulty thinks that “she wouldn’t miss her daughter and she sincerely hoped she wouldn’t be reunited with her husband”, I thought that that was a brilliant line and one I wasn’t expecting. After her death we also see how grief affects her children both Joseph and the unnamed Miss Connulty. There are scenes with the latter and her mother’s jewelry that are fascinating and incredibly insightful.

Mrs Connulty’s death seems to affect everyone in Rathmoye as if you believe the gossip mongers “Mrs Connulty owned half the town” and everyone is out for the funeral. One such guest is Ellie Dillahan the young former convent girl and now second wife of the local farmer who used to deliver Mrs Connulty her eggs. There she spots a stranger to the village taking photos of the funeral that no one else seems to notice. The photographer is Florian Kilderry and he has originally come to photograph the burnt out cinema until he see’s the funeral procession. However someone else spots Florian and Miss Connulty decides he is bad news and must be kept and eye on as events unfold.

I won’t go into anymore of the plot as it would give too much away and so intricate is it that I could end up writing endlessly about the twists and turns of these wonderful often dark and compelling characters. The pasts of both Ellie and Miss Connulty are fascinating and wonderfully written and you do wonder how on earth William Trevor manages this in less than 220 pages, it is quite a feat and I can see for that  reason why the Man Booker judges have selected it.

I will admit in parts with so many characters in such short spaces of time I found it occasionally confusing and had to re-read a fair few bits, but then this isn’t the sort of book you can sit down and read in one go just because its short. You can’t rush it as you may miss important small statements with the love story that runs through it, even if I wasn’t sure about Florian myself, and the fact that what story you instantly think you may get isn’t quite what is delivered. It is truly a book you have to savour it and with characters like my very favourite Orpen Wren who is a wonderful old man with dementia that plays a very pivotal role you will want to savour every scene.  

I did really enjoy the book; will it make it into my short list for the Man Booker? Hmmm, time will tell as I still have another ten of them to read. I will say that this is a perfect summer book (as the title will suggest) and found it the perfect companion by the pool with a picnic this weekend even if as my Gran warned there were ‘a few tears before bedtime’.

Have you read any other William Trevor books? I definately want to read more of his fiction in the future and havn’t a clue where to start!


Filed under Man Booker, Penguin Books, Review, Viking Books, William Trevor

Hotel du Lac – Anita Brookner

I don’t know if I included this in the photo’s from yesterdays blog (see below) but I also bought ‘Hotel du Lac’ by Anita Brookner as I am slowly but surely determined to read through all of the Man Booker Winners and this was one that I didn’t own already. It being so short and having heard very mixed reviews I sadly admit that I wanted to read this straight away to ‘get it out the way’ which just goes to show you should always start a book with an open mind as you might just find a diamond before you. 

I absolutely loved Anita Brookner’s 1984 (I was two when this won) Man Booker Winner, seriously loved it. I can easily imagine this becoming a slightly underground classic in the future as the characters and story are just wonderful. Hotel Du Lac is the story of Edith Hope as she takes a break from the world and her writing of mildly successful romance novels. She has, it unfolds, been sent away by her best friend Penelope Milne who she is in disgrace of (along with a fair amount of her social circle) and would only be forgiven if she went to Switzerland to “disappear for a decent length of time and come back older, wiser and properly sorry”. If you loved that line, like I did, then you will love all of the wording and wit Anita Brookner provides throughout a mere 180 pages.

Of course you then want to find out just what disgraceful act Edith has been apart of and as the novel and her character develop you soon realise it could be more than one thing. Once she is in the hotel though you also want to learn about all the stories of the other random guests who are staying in Switzerland ‘out of season’.

There is the fabulous Lady X or ‘the lady with the noisy dog who smoked endlessly and ate only ice cream and cake’ who we learn to love and learn her real name is Monica, sent by her husband to stop eating and loose weight. We also meet Madame De Bonneuil who has been dumped there by her son who visits once a week whilst he and his wife, who hates her, spend all her money and live in her fabulous mansion. There are the fabulous and incredibly wealthy Iris and her daughter Jennifer Pusey who have come merely to shop… endlessly, and drink unbelievable quantities of champagne and gossip. They also like to think they are talk of the town and whilst Iris is her daughter Jennifer “inexpressive as a blank window” doesn’t seem to be following her mothers lead, though there is a dark twist where she is concerned.  

One final quest is Mr Neville who claims himself ‘a romantic’ and thinks he knows just what Edith needs to sort her life out if only he can show her. As the obvious romance story evolves between the two characters I was initially touched and then started to get very disappointed in where the novel might be leading. I shouldn’t have worried as Brookner pulls out a very final and very clever twist as well as finally letting us in on Edith’s past.

I actually hugged this book when I had finished it and really wanted to start the whole thing all over again. It reminded me of the wit of lethal wit, scandal and romance of a Nancy Mitford novel only with modern twists and turns. It also looks at the roles of women at a time, I am guessing it is set in the late sixties early seventies though you are never sure, when rules and ways were changing and they had more options yet weren’t really meant to use them.

All in all this was a short riveting funny and clever novel and what in my eyes isn’t what a Man Booker Winner is normally like. If the judges were to choose a ‘Man Booker Dozen’ filled with novels like this then I would read the whole long list without stopping. There will be more on this year’s long list another though as am doing something special the day before it is announced, so watch this space.


Filed under Anita Brookner, Books of 2009, Man Booker, Penguin Books, Review

The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid

So after much thought and debate the other day I decided that out of ‘Daphne’ by Justine Picardie, ‘The White Tiger’ by Arvind Adiga, ‘The Blind Assassin’ by Margaret Atwood, ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ by Mohsin Hamid and two Salman Rushdie I would read The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Now my reason was that this was the book I was actually the most reluctant to read out of all of them. Why? In my own head despite a rave review from one of you, I had this book down as being really, really bad. I don’t know who I over heard being less than complimentary about it but their opinion had stuck. The fact that it was short meant that the difficult hurdle would be over and I could get on with reading something else. However I found myself engrossed in a book that definitely isn’t a thriller but makes you turn pages as fast as one.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a post 9/11 book which looks at how such a horrific moment in history has affected us all. The book is told through a conversation that Changez, the narrator, has with an unnamed American stranger he joins for afternoon tea in a Lahore café. He tells the man his whole history, how he fought for scholarship to get into an American College, Princeton in fact, and then becomes a high flyer in a multimillion pound making corporation falling in love with America and an American woman along the way. However after 9/11 everything in Changez’s New York life changes and he is never the same again.

From doing some research on the internet it appears that there is rather a large bout of criticism going on that this is an anti-American book. I wouldn’t describe it so at all. Yes I admit when Changez admits to his dinner companion that he ‘smiled’ when the World Trade Centre crumbled I almost put the book down in disgust but I am glad I carried on. What Hamid does with this book is look at how relations rapidly declined between America and Muslim countries. He also looks at how some Muslim people were treated by the city of New York and its people after 9/11 regardless of where they came from be it Pakistan or Philadelphia but instead on their Muslim looks, people were spat at, avoided and segregated. It also talks of how for Changez a man who is totally ‘an American’ in his head from his college days and living in New York becomes torn between what his current homeland is doing to his original homeland and its neighbours with the air strikes.

This truly is an incredibly clever novel and really makes you think. You need to go into it completely open minded and be prepared to look at things from all angles and that in itself with this particular topic is quite difficult, but then reading should challenge you and take you into the minds of people you wouldn’t normally. I am wondering if that’s why this book through writing style and getting into complex characters heads strangely reminded me of American Psycho, which though I doubt I will ever read again is a masterpiece. If I had any complaint with the book it would be the love story between Changez and Erica. I think Hamid slightly over dramatised and sensationalised that part of the book when he didn’t really need to. I thought the ‘open’ ending of the book was brilliant though, again it will make you think.

I am really pleased that I gave this book a go despite my reluctance I found it challenging thought provoking and also incredibly readable. I was quite reluctant to finish it… ok, have I used the word reluctant in conjuncture with this book enough now? I would seriously recommend this and again goes to prove that the long listed and short listed Man Booker nominated books are definitely worth reading even if some of the actual winners aren’t. More on that next week when I get round to reading The White Tiger. Hope your all having a lovely extended weekend so far? Reading much?


Filed under Man Booker, Mohsin Hamid, Review

Summer Crossing – Truman Capote

How delightful that as I type the words ‘Summer Crossing’ that the sun is actually streaming through the windows and I can see a cloudless sky, it oddly feels like we’ve skipped spring and summer is actually already here, well in London anyway. Mind you knowing the British weather it will be a rain filled thunderstorm we are greeted to when we wake up tomorrow. I don’t wish that by the way it’s just a thought. Anyway enough of that back to the book.

Summer Crossing is the newly discovered first novel by Truman Capote. It’s taken from four school notebooks and various additional notes in the New York Public Library’s Truman Capote Collection. Various experts and editors have then put it all together, and the part that doesn’t quite agree with me, edited it and added parts where it was illegible. Now this is a double edged sword. The negative is that you don’t know if Capote ever wanted this story read and it partly isn’t a story he totally read or finished (thankfully no one has tried to finish his final novel) and has been fiddled with. The positive is that we get to see more of his work and with this novel in particular we get to see what may have been the beginnings of Holly Golightly forming and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Summer Crossing is a tale of first love. Grady’s parents leave her in New York City alone (her sister Apple lives not to far away but is easy to elude and avoid) aged only eighteen. Grady is a bit of a minx. Having previously fallen for her fathers married friend she has actually tried to seduce him when his wife was pregnant whilst also being his wife’s closest friend during her pregnancy. You can tell we have quite a feisty heroine pretty much from the start especially with the conversations with her mother as she stubbornly refuses to go away on a cruise with her or be paraded at any dances where she might meet a potential match.

As we find out Grady is already in love, though not with the sort of society boy her parents would wish for. Clyde is a Jewish Park Attendant who she is immediately attracted and devoted too. What follows is a hedonistic summer where drink and drugs are mixed with early freedom and desire proving a tragic, dangerous and dramatic mix. I loved Grady as a character I thought she was absolutely fantastic. I just didn’t feel I knew any of the other characters really and in that sense you could tell it was an unfinished work and possibly the vague plotting of Holly Golightly.

I kind of wish I had read Breakfast at Tiffany’s after this. Not because I was disappointed or didn’t like Summer Crossing more that it just never quite matched up. I do get the feeling that if Capote had finished it he would have made it a lot longer, taking more time to introduce some of the characters and their personalities and back stories. I also would have liked to have known if the end is the ending he chose (quite possibly as it’s quite shocking and dramatic) or if he had further plans for Grady who is a wonderful, wonderful character. I could have read a lot more about her and her adventures in the past and possibly beyond the book.

All in all I would say if you loved Breakfast at Tiffany’s or are a die hard Capote fan then this is a book you wont want to miss out on. For everyone else it’s a good read but on which you might find you drift away from as you turn the page.


Filed under Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review, Truman Capote

Mr Toppit – Charles Elton

As soon as this arrived from the lovely people at Penguin I knew I would have to read it pretty much instantly, and that is just what I did. After finishing David Ebershoff’s thought provoking The 19th Wife I wanted something a bit different and Mr Toppit looked just that. From the cover the book looks slightly gothic and ominous (more on the cover later) and that was exactly what I was in the mood to read. If that was what I was expecting it certainly isn’t what I got, however this book was a very pleasant surprise.

Luke Hayman has become world famous after his father Arthur Hayman’s death (this happens early on so am not spoiling the plot) when his series of children’s books ‘The Hayseed Chronicles’ go from being books that shift a few copies to books that become stratospheric selling bestsellers. The reason he becomes immortal is down to the fact his father called the main character, a young boy, Luke Hayseed. The Hayseed Chronicles also tell of a dark evil character called Mr Toppit who never actually appears, though his ominous presence drifts in and out of these tales, until at the end of the 5th novel when he comes out of the Darkwood ‘for everyone’. This to me promised a real mystery, which the book didn’t really deliver.

What it did deliver was two things. The first an insightful look at the trappings of fame, from those like Luke who really don’t want it but have it to his sister Rachel who craves it but isn’t mentioned in the novels. Luke’s story seems to reflect the story of Christopher Milne and his fame from The Winnie The Pooh books. There is also Laurie a woman who was with Arthur when he died and who suddenly becomes part of the family before going back to America and becoming part of the train of events that make The Hayseed Chronicles one of the biggest selling series of children’s books the world over.

The second thing that the book delivers is a fantastic family drama in the form of the Hayman’s and all they have go through when Arthur dies and then when the books become so well known in particular Rachel ‘the unknown sister’ who after her fathers death becomes dangerously obsessed with the books and their subliminal meanings and what could have happened next. It also looks at skeletons in all family’s cupboards and focuses on the fabulous Martha who is such a wonderful character even if she is cold, self obsessed and quite distant.

As for the plot… Hmmm, a puzzling one as I didn’t feel everything got quite wrapped up, which I know some books shouldn’t and I don’t expect all things to work out to a happy ending but I felt like some loose strands along the way were never quite chased up. I also had difficulty when Elton describes how people react to certain world famous scenes from the book that he never really describes them to the reader. I felt that more scenes from the book could have been entwined in the novel and also thought you could have had five interludes where the synopsis of each of the series was thrown in.

The characters, as well as their dilemmas and dramas in this book are undoubtedly what made it such a great read for me. I loved Martha as I mentioned and I loved Laurie’s cantankerous mother Alma equally. I also found the character of Laurie fascinating and in some ways her back story was the one that I found the most interesting as it deals with how childhood shapes us, which can also apply to Luke’s character.

Overall a very interesting debut novel and one that I would recommend to people who like a good family drama, just don’t be expecting the gothic story that the cover suggests. Speaking of covers what I did think was marvellous was the covers, yes covers. I take dust jackets of when am reading a hardback as I don’t like to tear or scuff it, when I removed it I was greeted by a cover of The Hayseed Chronicles which whilst on the tube made me look like I was reading a very big new children’s novel which doesn’t exist… which I quite liked.

I’d give this novel a 4/5. I actually closed the book wishing I had The Hayseed Chronicles to hand so that I could devour those to read next. Sadly Elton isn’t going to write them.

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The Catcher in the Rye – J.D Salinger

I never had to do J. D. Salinger’s ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ when I was at school and it’s always been a book that I have wanted to read and yet have never sort out when I have been in the bookshop. However this all changed when I saw a copy of this in Oxfam, they go like gold dust in charity shops I have been reliably told, for a whopping 99p. I am glad I didn’t pay any more for it frankly.

There is always a danger when you have heard how amazing a classic is that it simply wont live up to the hype, ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is certainly one such book. I am sure that writing this will be seen as some kind of literary sacrilege, I am happy to put up with that as I don’t think me panning it will stop it selling anymore copies now will it?

Holden Caulfield is the protagonist and this is indeed his coming of age tale, this confused me from the start as I simply couldn’t work out how old he was, sometimes I thought he was about ten other times I thought he was about seventeen I found it completely confusing. I didn’t like him, he started of saying how he was a liar and from that point on I couldn’t work out whether what he was telling you was the truth or not, and I sadly ended up not caring. All the secondary characters were stereotypes and I felt the book offered nothing new we haven’t read or seen a hundred times of more, this being the classic I suppose it was one of the originals to do this, but hey ho.

No I really didn’t like ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ in fact I wish I had read it at school as you always hate the books you read at school and study to death, plus I would have got a boring dull book out of the way early on in my reading life. I have kept it on my shelves though, just to show people I have actually read it. I hope the classics I have planned to read soon don’t turn out as bad as this.

Note: My mother an English teacher has just said on the phone ‘oh god why did you read that rubbish, it’s terrible’. My Gran who is extremely well read and proud of it said something equally similar though slightly ruder.

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The Pursuit of Love – Nancy Mitford

My first Nancy Mitford novel to read has had a lot of pressure upon it to be good. Everyone I have mentioned it to who has read it has commented on how fantastic it is and also I came away from the letters of the Mitford Sisters earlier this year with a real fondness for Nancy and her humour. Happily I can say that her humour and personality shine brightly through this novel. I was also pleased to see that though yes indeed if you know the Mitford’s and their family history then yes you can see it reflected in this work, but its also accessible for anyone who has no idea who the Mitford’s are at all and just want to read a great and extremely funny book.

The Pursuit of Love tells of Linda and her pursuit of that exact thing, all told by her cousin Fanny. It starts of back in their childhood when Fanny came to live with them after her mother ‘Aunty Bolter’ has run off with yet another man (hence her nickname) and how she copes in a house run by the blunt and endlessly shouting Uncle Matthew. After that it’s a tale of ‘debuts’, dances, dalliances and doomed marriages as Linda tries to find ‘true love’ a thought she originally feels she could only have for the Prince of Wales.

What are wonderful in this book are the characters, and that fact that though there is one main story line with Linda there are also wonderful short stories of others interwoven. It’s also an interesting and funny insight into society and class in those times and also Nancy’s own way of looking at her childhood and family. Quite clearly Linda and her constant crying in childhood (which almost made me cry with laughter) and beauty and dizziness in adulthood is a mixture of Nancy and her sisters. Uncle Matthew who flies into rages, cries at Romeo & Juliet ‘why did they have to die, the silly fools’ and hates foreigners even though he’s only every been to France is easily their father. There are also some other wonderful characters like Lord Merlin who gives Rodin pictures, houses and cheques for £20,000 without a thought who reflect certain society members.

My only gripe with this book has been the cover, I just think its wrong for a few reasons, however I shalln’t open that can of worms right now. This must become a classic, I am shocked in a way that it hasn’t officially, instead it seems to be a cult classic with many authors naming either this or ‘Love In A Cold Climate’ as one of their favourite books. I really enjoyed it and on several occasions laughed out loud. A truly glamorous, witty collection of fantastic characters, and their colourful tales, if you haven’t read this you should!


Filed under Nancy Mitford, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review

Crocodile Soup – Julia Darling

If I could sum this book up in two words it would be ‘wonderfully bizarre’. Julia Darling’s novel ‘Crocodile Soup’ is a very clever piece that leaves you wondering if the storyteller Gert is mad or if in fact real life is mad. This has taken me a little longer than I thought, but this was good in two ways, firstly I wanted to savour the writing and secondly the surreal qualities of the novel do mean you need to read this carefully to piece it all together, it’s worth it.

Gert the unlikely likeable heroine of the novel is unfulfilled; she works behind the scenes of a museum (I think this is where the Kate Atkinson similarities have started) in the Egyptian Department. The museum has just been funded by the lottery meaning jobs are unstable and in the midst of this an infatuation starts with her over Eva the girl in the canteen. In her modern life she starts to unravel, partly after receiving letters from her estranged mother. She starts going back over her turbulent childhood as well as her adult years and it appears she is having some kind of breakdown.

The surreal is not in the modern part of the book, more in her childhood. Her twin brother Frank makes it clear she hasn’t always been the best truth teller. You hear wonderful stories of her childhood, the ghost in the house, the flasher by the pond, her fathers and the nannies separate disappearances and your left wondering if this brilliant surreal stories are true or not. All in all it doesn’t matter because they are fantastic stories which more seem to explain the mental and emotional journey of a young girl becoming a woman and a gay woman whilst being totally alienated by her mother. This is a coming of age tale unlike I have read in a long while.

This could have been a harrowing tale of the breakdown between a mother and daughter and I must admit the ending was more positive than I expected, that doesn’t give anything away. I think the thing I loved most about this book though was the humour, Darling’s voice as an author is wonderful. There are lines such as ‘Barbara’s face was smeared with gin. She looked liked the type who cried if you showed her affection… I did and she cried for weeks.’ This is a moving, sometimes slightly disturbing, surreal funny novel that has made reading a pleasure. Sadly Julia Darling died in 2005 aged 48 of breast cancer and only wrote two novels, a voice truly lost, I will be getting the man booker long-listed ‘The Taxi Drivers Daughter’ as soon as I can and I am sure devouring that too.

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