Tag Archives: Richard and Judy Book Club

In A Dark, Dark Wood – Ruth Ware

Having written the blog for over seven years what is wonderful (and I am always telling you all so) is the lovely people that I have met throughout that time be they fellow bloggers, folk from social media, the authors of the teams within the publishers themselves. Back in the early stages of my blog one member of a publishers publicity team was always super nice and that was Ruth Ware. So it all seems quite meta and bizarre that all these years later I should be reviewing her first crime novel In A Dark, Dark Wood. Good thing then that it is a right old page turning thriller or this could have been really, really awkward.

9781846558917

Vintage Books, 2015, hardback, fiction, 352 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

It hurts. Everything hurts. The light in my eyes, the pain in my head. There’s a stench of blood in my nostrils, my hands are sticky with it.
‘Leonora?’
The voice comes dim through a fog of pain. I try to shake my head, my lips won’t form the word.
‘Leonora, you’re safe, you’re at the hospital. We’re taking you to have a scan.’
It’s a woman, speaking clearly and loudly. Her voice hurts.
‘Is there anyone we should be calling?’
I try again to shake my head.
‘Don’t move your head,’ she says. ‘You’ve had a head injury.’
‘Nora,’ I whisper.
‘You want us to call Nora? Who’s Nora?’
‘Me… my name.’
‘All right, Nora. Just try to relax. This won’t hurt.’
But it does. Everything hurts.
What has happened?
What have I done?

I don’t normally include the entire first chapter of a novel in my reviews/book thoughts, and it is not something I am planning on making a habit of. However in the case of In A Dark, Dark Wood it is very short and also shows exactly where Ruth Ware throws her reader from the off. We are in a hospital, with a woman called Leonora, or Nora, who has clearly gone through something horrendous and traumatic, the question is what? Well, here Ruth Ware is very clever indeed because actually exactly what is not revealed until the very end, instead what follows are glimpses into three strands of Nora’s life which lead up to and then reveal just what on earth happened on  a weekend in the woods.

We all have certain friendships which start off intensely and then for some reason (be it from either party) the friendship falls foul/turns sour and is over as quickly as it started. The intensity stays and lingers becoming guilt, bitterness, annoyance or loss. Whatever the lingering feeling the one thing we are sure about is that we don’t want to talk about it or think about those times or the person we might have been then. If by chance that person suddenly comes back into your life so do all those feelings, plus that tiny glimmer of hope, come back to the fore. This is the position that Nora finds herself in when she gets invited for a weekend away on Clare’s hen night. She hasn’t seen Clare in years since she left her old hometown after the two had fallen out, so why does she suddenly want her at this event, and does she really when the invite is in fact from Clare’s new best friend Flo. Yet cajoled by Nina, who also knows Clare yet doesn’t know why the two fell out as Nora won’t discuss it, they decide to go together. Soon enough things start to take a darker toll as Nora, Nina, Flo and Clare, joined by Melanie and Tom, end up in a house in the middle of a wood with no life around them, bar woodland animals and fauna, for miles and soon things start to go awry.

‘You know –’ I was thinking aloud ‘-what really creeps me out isn’t the footprints – or not as such. It’s the fact that if it hadn’t have been for the snow, we’d never have known.’
We looked out, contemplating the unbroken white carpet across the path to the forest. My own steps from the run that morning had been filled in, and now you would never have known a human foot had passed. For a long moment we all stood in silence, thinking about that fact, thinking about all the times we could have been observed, completely unaware.

There were many reasons why I thought that In A Dark, Dark Wood was a bloody (pun intended) good read and why I enjoyed getting carried away with it all. I have to admit before I started it I couldn’t decide if a hen weekend (a weekend where a bride and all her closest friends go crazy for one final big night or two of shenanigans, if you don’t know the term) would be an utterly brilliant idea for a scenario or not, of course it is, it makes all the drunken hysteria and tensions completely magnified. The setting of a house in the middle of nowhere also means no phone signal for help and who doesn’t get slightly scared in the middle of a big wood at night regardless of who you are with once the lights go out and even more so if one of them might be a psychopath?

On a more ‘literary’ level I thought that the plotting and the delivery of In A Dark, Dark Wood were brilliant. As I mentioned earlier the actual ‘incident’ that leaves Nora in hospital isn’t revealed until as close to the end as is possible and leaves you wondering just what Nora is forgetting or what she might be concealing as well as who the culprit of anything might be, well it did me and I guessed completely wrongly every time. Is Nora a reliable narrator? You’ll have to read to find out. I also thought the way Ware uses three time lines as slow reveals were added to the tension marvellously; what happened during the school years, what happened in the woods and everything that happens while Nora is in hospital. I also really enjoyed the characters who all had something to hide and were a bit spiky, in one case utterly mad (though the latter story actually made me a bit weepy at one point, which has never happened in a crime novel) or just a bit awful.

On a pure ‘escapist entertainment’ level In A Dark, Dark Wood also again excels. I felt like Ruth had soaked in all the things she loves in classic crime novels; locked house mysteries, footprints in the snow, as well as tropes from great gothic novels. There is also a wonderful nostalgic (for me anyway) sense of those brilliant movies of my teens like Scream, Urban Legend and I Know What You Did Last Summer with a sprinkling of Mean Girls the later years. What I am saying in essence and this is a huge compliment from me and so I hope is seen as such, is that this is a like a really, really good Point Horror novel for the grown up generation with a sprinkling of the spirit of Christie. It is also occasionally genuinely creepy. So what is not to like?

If you are looking for a crime novel that will give you chills, spills and thrills (I never understand what the spills part of that actually means) then I would highly, highly recommend you spend a few nights with In A Dark, Dark Wood. I also dare you to try and be able to work out just whodunit and what on earth they did before Ruth Ware unleashes the denouement. No reason Reese Witherspoon, Richard and Judy and myself all love it, and what a group of recommender’s that is! I am looking forward to Ruth’s next criminally good (sorry, couldn’t help it) novel which will be out this summer.

If you would like to hear more about the book, you can find Ruth and myself in conversation on You Wrote The Book here.

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Filed under Review, Ruth Ware, Vintage Books

Notes from an Exhibition – Patrick Gale

Patrick Gale has been an author I have meant to read a lot more of for some time. I first read him back in my late teens/early twenties in a rare moment, during those years when I barely picked up a book, when one of my flatmates told me I ‘simply had to read’ his novel ‘Rough Music’. I remember liking it enough to think I should read him again but then as I didn’t really pick up a book that was no good even with the best of intentions. A few years ago I picked up his short story collection ‘Gentlemen’s Relish’ which I liked  however it has been recently reading his latest novel (which I can’t talk more about at the moment) and ‘Notes from an Exhibition’ that now have me wanting to rush out and read his other books, and indeed re-read the two I have read. Here is why…

****, 4th Estate, paperback, 2007, fiction, 374 pages, from my personal TBR

When artist Rachel Kelly dies her eldest son Garfield is shocked when his wife, Lizzy, tells him that ‘she ended up having a heart attack like a normal person.’ Rachel Kelly is/was (and I use both the past and present tense because whilst she dies very early on in the book she remains the strongest character and drive of the novel throughout) an alluring, if confusing, woman to her husband Anthony and also sometimes the most perfect and most horrendous mother to her children, the aforementioned Garfield, Hedley, Morwenna and Petroc.  As ‘Notes from an Exhibition’ moves forward we learn all about Rachel, during both her highs and her lows creatively and personally, in a really interesting way as with each chapter, interestingly headed by a note which appears next to several pieces of her work in a posthumous exhibition,  is told by one of them or through Rachel’s own memories.

As the book went on I was a little bit worried that I would find this a little bit annoying however Patrick Gale really makes it work. Seeing in her family members heads, though Morwenna has disappeared and Petroc is dead (both these strands adding a mysterious nature to the book too as we don’t know why initially), it is like Patrick Gale uses each one as a colour, or tone might be a better word, to create a fuller picture all over of one woman’s life. As the book goes on and more stories are shared the full picture appears, initially a little impressionistic before fully forming. I liked this effect. You often forget Rachel is dead as she describes moments such as a birthday of Petroc’s on a beach one summer giving the dynamic of their relationship even though both of them are dead. Very clever indeed as it all just works.

Something that I also really loved about this book was the way that there isn’t a plot as such, Rachel is dead we know this, there are actually more plots than you could believe. With a family everyone is different and so in meeting the characters and where they are in life, Garfield and his wife being sort of happily married yet in fear of having children, Hedley being gay, Morwenna being rather like her mother plus the death of Petroc etc really means you have multiple little complexity plots simply based on characters who seem as real as anyone you could meet on the street.

There was a little downside with this; I never really felt I quite got to know Anthony. Rachel and her children, and their relationships, come to the fore so much that sometimes you forget about Anthony which seemed a shame as he was the stoic point in Rachel’s and the family’s life, but maybe that is a point Patrick Gale is trying to make (I shall ask him) with Anthony? The other teeny issue I had was with the names of all the children, I could imagine Rachel giving them to her children but they sometimes broke the spell, especially as every time I read Garfield a huge comic ginger cat would appear in my mind. That might sound petty, and it didn’t ruin the book for me at all as I enjoyed it immensely, but I want to be honest and that was a small snag now and again.

There are many books that use the death of someone, as they open, to show the dynamics of a family under a time of great emotional pressure. This causes any cracks that may have gone unnoticed previously to once and for all crumble, as secrets are revealed and tensions mount. ‘Notes from an Exhibition’ is such a book at a first glance, however I think Patrick Gale manages to write one which is quite different as while having the drama of death and family secrets at its heart it never falls into melodrama. I also think it’s one of the most realistic novels about families, their love for one another and their differences, that I have read in quite some time. I hugely admired this book.

I am not at all surprised that Saint Richard and Saint Judy of books have chosen him twice as an author. Who else has read ‘Notes from an Exhibition’ and what did you think? Which other books of his have you read? Where should I go next, as I have decided I want to read much, much more of his work?

Oh and if you have anything you would like to ask Patrick then let me know as I will be in conversation with him and Catherine Hall tomorrow night as part of Manchester Literature Festival, and I promise to ask as many of your questions as I can during, before or after the event.

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Filed under Fourth Estate Books, Patrick Gale, Review

The Poison Tree – Erin Kelly

I always watch each Richard and Judy, or TV Book Club, announcement of novels with interest. Some will instantly grab me; some leave me needing a little coaxing. ‘The Poison Tree’ by Erin Kelly was one of the latter cases when I saw it on the list last year. It looked like it could be an interesting thriller but I wasn’t sure it would be anything out of the ordinary. Twitter changed all that. You see though it may not prove to be the best form of picking an author, if I have a bit of banter with one on twitter, and they don’t try to sell me their book, I invariably want to read it because they seem lovely. Erin Kelly was one such author. I’d never met her but we have chattered about books, the weather and music and got on, so I thought I would probably like her book.

Hodder Books, paperback, 2011, fiction, 368 pages, from my personal TBR

I really like a good crime novel and I really like a good thriller, I tend to forget that sometimes they don’t need to have any police involved (or rather on the periphery rather than as a lead character) and ‘The Poison Tree’ is one of those novels. The story centres on Karen Clarke and her time studying languages in a university in London in 1997 where she meets Biba. Biba isn’t quite like anyone that Karen has ever met before; she’s a young rather bohemian aspiring actress who spends most of her life partying quite the antithesis of Karen who is rather prim, proper and studious. This of course is all set to change as she befriends Biba when teaching her how to pronounce German authentically for a part. We know from the very start that somewhere in this particular summer something awful is going to happen, what that is we aren’t quite sure, but we know that it’s bad, life changing and involves Karen, Biba and Biba’s brother Rex (as there is an alternating storyline in the present which alludes to things that could have happened).

I don’t tend to get on with ‘student’ books set in those ‘wonderful university years’, this may possibly be because I didn’t experience them myself as I went into work rather than studying. However I found myself really enjoying ‘The Poison Tree’ and I think that is because Erin Kelly really focuses on characters. Biba in particular is incredibly readable, if rather annoying, because of her nature, she is mysterious and flighty and (possibly due to the past we discover she and Rex have) rather on the edge a lot of the time, she has a sense of darkness. The first hundred and fifty or so pages flew by, and then I had a mini wobble. Biba goes off the rails and it seemed a little unoriginal, she dates a druggy and starts living a rather dubious life all in the name of ‘role research’, that and her first role in a play seemed a little over drawn but I carried on and the pace came back.

I am not going to say what ‘the event’, which I what I shall call it, that we are leading up to is because I don’t want to spoil it, but I do need to mention it because it had an interesting affect on me as a reader. For when ‘the event’ happened I was rather non plussed. In part this was because it wasn’t what I was expecting and so completely wrong footed me, but also because I had this strange feeling of ‘oh… is that it?’ and I stopped reading to mull over my reaction. I wasn’t disappointed exactly, because Erin Kelly does so wrong foot you it is impressive, it just didn’t seem to gel for me. I should be honest and say this could be because I had felt so clever guessing what was coming or expecting some massive heightened event that this left me feeling a bit cheated, or less clever. I almost sulked. Yet I read on and soon Erin Kelly saved it again (though I wonder if she ever lost it and with the alternating present storyline was actually wanting the reader to have the complete wrong idea) as in the last 50 or so pages she throws in some twists one of which I had hazarded at and was proved right (and so felt clever again) and two which genuinely threw me and, to coin a cliché, thrilled me. I actually had to speed read the last twenty pages in a panic simply desperate to know how it would all unfold.

So overall I liked ‘The Poison Tree’ and I am glad I gave it a whirl. I want to add the clichéd review comment of ‘this shows a promising new voice’ because a) it does and b) when this novel had me gripped it really had me gripped. I liked the evocation of 1990’s London, the mention of the Spice Girls took me right back, and the fact that Kelly’s characters are so well drawn that when things do have a small lull in the middle you read on because you want to know more about them. In a way that’s why you read on after ‘the event’ and get those final surprising twists and turns. I was an enjoyable and escapist read and at some point I will try her follow up novel, this isn’t a series by the way, ‘The Sick Rose’ (and I am not just saying that as she is a good chatting companion on Twitter, i don’t even think she knows I read the book).

Has anyone else read ‘The Poison Tree’? If so what did you think? What about ‘The Sick Rose’?

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Filed under Erin Kelly, Hodder & Stoughton, Review

Books on the Bedside & the Great British Book Off…

This morning I woke up, stretched, wiped the sleep out of my eyes and as I looked to my left was greeted by a bedside table covered with books. It suddenly gave me some inspiration for a new random feature for the blog, but as (if you are like me) you are a fan of a bit of book porn I took a picture of the mass of fictional worlds I am in or have ahead of me, apologies it’s a little grainy it was early…

I was looking at them and realised in a weird way this almost like a snapshot of the inner workings of my bookish mind. You have three books I am reading (yes I have taken up multi reading, more on this unusual turn of events soon) currently; ‘Bereft’ by Chris Womersley, ‘You’ll Be Sorry When I Am Dead’ by Marieke Hardy and ‘The Beautiful Indifference’ by Sarah Hall – these naturally need to be close to hand as I am a dreadful sleeper at the mo and so they are the perfect company in the middle of the night.

The rest of the books are those on my periphery reading vision. I won’t explain all the reasons for all iof them now in fear of boring you (the Agatha Christie, Truman Capote and Dan Rhodes have all just been pulled out mount BR as I have been graving some friendly fiction faces, Elizabeth Jolley as an Australian Literature Month possible read) but I will give you a slight over view to explain what I mean. Sophie Hannah’s ‘Kind of Cruel’ proof has just arrived so it’s time to finally read ‘Lasting Damage’ as I like to read in order.  The same with the proof of Matt Haig’s new YA novel ‘To Be A Cat’ which one of the events guys at Waterstones sent me after I discussed YA the other day, so I pulled out ‘The Radleys’ –which I wish I had the hardcover of, so much darker. ‘Disputed Land’ by Tim Pears was on hand for a mention on this weeks recording of the Readers which has been postponed and Elizabeth Haynes and ‘Into The Darkest Corner’ has been lingering since the last recording of the Readers when we discussed the TV Book Club vs. Richard and Judy.

This might not interest you at all but I thought I would test the waters because it could become a future feature instead of my incoming book posts which I have decided to dump. I thought it might give people a small book porn fix whilst also showing you all the books new, old and in-between on my reading horizon, a bit like being even more in my reading head. What do you think?

Also I want to do something with the title ‘The Great British Book Off’ before someone else pinches it (this could already have happened 0f course) as this also popped into my head this morning, but I am stuck on what it could be. Might need more mulling though, what do you say?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Give Away… When God Was A Rabbit – Sarah Winman

I love getting new books and as you can see I am very lucky as a lot wing their way to me. This also has its benefits as it means that with building relations with publishers means that I can pass on the book getting by giving some away, and today I have 4 copies to give away of a book I read and loved in May which was ‘When God Was A Rabbit’ by Sarah Winman.

I am so pleased I can give you all the chance to win what is a wonderful, wonderful read. Like with the Natasha Solomon’s give away this is open until June the 3rd, its open worldwide and all you have to do is simply stick a little ‘yes, please’ in the comments. It’s that simple. Good luck!

P.S I will be doing a big giveaway catch up next weekend, so stay tuned as I have lots and lots of books to do the draws for.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Give Away

Savidge Reads Grills… Natasha Solomons

I haven’t done a ‘Savidge Reads Grills…’ post in quite some time (which is interesting as I have quite a lot of them planned in the next two months) but after reading ‘The Novel in the Viola’ by Natasha Solomons and being as charmed by it as I was, and want all you to be, I had to rush off some emails and see if she would take part. With it having just been chosen as a Richard and Judy title I wasnt sure she would have time, but hoorah she did and so we sat down with a virtual cup of tea or two (and possibly one of her freshly baked pies) and had a natter…

Can you explain the story of ‘The Novel in the Viola’ in a single sentence without giving too much away?

One sentence? Are you kidding? I’m a novelist — it takes me 100,000 words to say anything… (That’s why I’m rubbish on twitter).  Someone described the book succinctly in a review, so I shall steal that: ‘The Novel in the Viola’ is both a love story set during the Second World War, and an elegy to the English Country House.’

How did the story come about? Was there anything in particular that inspired you with this novel?

I’d always wanted to write a story set in the Dorset ‘ghost village’ of Tyneham, a place I’ve been haunted by since I was a kid. During the Second World War, the War Office requisitioned Tyneham for military occupation. Churchill promised that the village would be returned at the end of the war. The departing villagers pinned this note to the church door:

‘Please treat the church and houses with care; we have given up our homes where many of us lived for generations to help win the war to keep men free. We shall return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly.’

But the villagers never returned. After the war, Churchill reneged on his promise and the village was requisitioned permanently. I wanted to tell the story of Tyneford/ Tyneham through the eyes of an outsider, a young refugee maid.

Elise is a character that really lives and breathes through the pages of the book, where did she come from? Is she based on anyone you know? How hard is it to create a heroine?

Elise Landau is inspired by my great-aunt Gabi Landau, who, with the help of my grandmother, managed to escape Nazi Europe by becoming a ‘mother’s help’ in England. Many refugees escaped this way on a ‘domestic service visa’ – swapping cosseted lives for the harsh existence of English servants. I read a series of articles by Austrian and German women who had been domestic servants in Britain, and also spoke to several ladies in London. One woman I spoke to had never even on put on her own stockings before she came to England – she had a maid to do it for her. In London she became a char.

I’m glad you called Elise a heroine – she’d like that. It would make her want to stand very tall and flick her hair. Elise was so easy to write, an absolute pleasure. When I started writing ‘Viola’, I realised that she wanted me to get out of the way and let her tell her own story. I think in this instance I felt rather like I was the reader.

The opening line ‘when I close my eyes I see Tyneford House’ instantly made me think of Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ and I was wondering if this was intentional or just a coincidence?  There were flavours of other books here and there which I found really comforting, was that something you wanted to create? It’s a lovely nostalgic reading experience either way.

Absolutely. I’ll never forget the first time I read Rebecca. The Novel in the Viola is a modern take on the 1930s novel. It’s inspired by Stevie Smith’s The Novel on Yellow Paper, A House in the Country, Marianna and so on. I also remember the pleasure of those long adolescent summers spent reading books like Jane Eyre, Moon Tiger and A Room with A View. I lost days and weeks to those novels – I was far more interested in those worlds than I was in the real one. With The Novel in the Viola I wanted to recreate that feeling in an adult reader; return them to those summers where they had to read on, had to find out what happened to the girl in the story.

Tyneford is as much a lead character as the wonderful, wonderful Elise, well I thought so anyway, was it hard to make Tyneford’s story and Elise’s coexist without one taking over the other?

I didn’t really think of the stories as separate – Elise is telling the story of Tyneford, and it is all filtered through her memories. She loves the Tyneford coast, and now that she’s in exile, it’s even more precious.

‘The Novel in the Viola’ has recently been chosen as one of the next Richard and Judy reads, congratulations you must be thrilled, how did you find out, do authors have any input in the process or do your publishers keep it hush, hush? How much effect do you think being in that bunch of books will have on ‘The Novel in the Viola’?

Thank you – it’s really exciting. There are lot of great books out there and as a reader it’s really hard to know what to choose. So, I think it’s fantastic to have an endorsement from Richard and Judy – it’s like a recommendation from a friend, and I think that does make a difference for people. They do really choose the books themselves. These are the ones they enjoyed reading – it’s actually very genuine.

Have you read any of the other Richard and Judy recommendations you’re amongst and can you give us any recommendations?

I haven’t yet. But I’m really looking forward to all of them – the fun is that they’re all so different. I’m going to take ‘The Poison Tree’ on holiday with me, and Lizzie Speller’s ‘The Return of Captain John Emmett’ is on my bedside.

After the success of Mr Rosenblum’s List’ did you ever worry about that ‘second book syndrome’ or feel any additional pressure about ‘The Novel in the Viola’?

I had a bit of panic and then spoke to a great friend of mine, a composer called Jeff Rona (who composed the music for ‘The Novel in the Viola’). Jeff told me a story that I found really helpful. When he was a young flibbertigibbet of a composer, he thought about his music as ‘important’. He knew he was creating pieces of art, and this thought often made writing music difficult. Nothing was good enough – what would posterity think? Sometimes it wasn’t even fun. Then, one day he was in the studio trying some stuff out when he ran into a well known RnB artist. This guy was recording and having a great time, and he and Jeff got chatting. ‘The problem is,’ said RnB guy to Jeff, ‘You think of your music as fine china while I think of mine as paper plates.’

From that moment, Jeff resolved on only ever making paper plates. He sits in the studio and plays about, experiments, tries stuff out, has fun and doesn’t worry about the significance of his composition. And believe me, his music is amazing (it’s the staple of my playlist when I’m writing).

While Jeff is talking about composing music, I think the metaphor holds for writing fiction too. I don’t think of my writing as either important or significant. I like to have fun when I write. It’s not always enjoyable – some days it’s just hard and I feel that everything I do is nonsense. But, when I don’t worry and try stuff out, play with words and see what works and what doesn’t, good things happen. I can always cut the mistakes. Throw stuff away. After all, I only write on paper plates.

When are we going to finally see the film of ‘Mr Rosenblum’s List’?

We’re just starting to think about directors. That’s super-fast for the film business!

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? How long have you been writing for?

I always knew I wanted to be a writer. I’m a story monster. But I’m dyslexic so learning to write was really hard for me. As is spelling the word dyslexic. It’s a really mean word to give to people who struggle with spelling.

Which current contemporary authors do you really rate?

Ian McEwan, Andrea Levy, David Mitchell, Nathan Englander, Penelope Lively, Siri Hustvedt, Michael Chabon, Aaron Sorkin, David Chase, David Simon. I think that some of the best writing at the moment is in long-form tv.

How relevant do you think book blogging is to the publishing industry? Do you ever pop and see what people have thought of your book or is it something you avoid at all costs?

I think anything which promotes reading and books is a great thing, especially with the ever shrinking arts pages in newspapers. It’s lovely to have a place where people can chat about books whether it’s online, in a living room or coffee shop. I don’t tend to read reviews. I try to focus on what I’m reading and what story I want to tell next.

Which book, apart from your own, would you demand Savidge Reads and readers run out and buy right this instant, a book you would call your favourite?

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively. I read it first as a teenager – actually, that’s not true – I listened to it on story tape travelling around France with my parents. For once, I never wanted the driving to end. I re-read it again last year terrified that it wouldn’t be as good as I remembered. It wasn’t. It was better.

Describe your typical writing routine, do you have any writers quirks or any writing rituals?

I like to start the morning with a good walk. It’s both a great way to procrastinate and also gets the mind moving —  When it’s raining like it was this morning, I feel very discombobulated. I liked to work in the summerhouse at the bottom of the garden. There is no phone and no internet. I have to avoid the internet or I get nothing done.

 What is next for Natasha Solomons?

I’m just starting book 3, which instead of ‘Untitled 3’, I’m referring to as ‘Ethel’. It won’t be called Ethel. There is no Ethel in the book. Unless someone gets a dog. The dog could be called Ethel.

***

A big thank you to Natasha for taking the time out of her, rather ridiculously, busy schedule and doing a Savidge Reads Grills. You can read her blog here and visit her website here. Also a big thank you to her publishers, Sceptre, who have kindly said they will give four copies of ‘The Novel in the Viola’ away, you can see how you can be in with a chance here. Also if you have any questions for Natasha you might just want to pop them in the commemts and she just might pop by and answer them…

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Filed under Natasha Solomons, Savidge Reads Grills...

When God Was A Rabbit – Sarah Winman

I normally do long intro’s into my book thoughts, but I am trying some new things with my blogging and so decided I wouldn’t meander introducing ‘When God Was A Rabbit’ by Sarah Winman and would just cut to the chase and say please give this book a whirl, its really rather good, and read on to find out why you should, there’s lots of reasons so be warned you might find yourself instantly buying the book by the end, which is a good thing…

9780755379309
‘When God Was A Rabbit’
has been described as a love story between a brother and sister. Now if you are like me you might be worried that this is headed into incest territory, but fear not, it is nothing of the kind. I would describe this book as a coming of age meets family saga in which we follow the lives of Eleanor Maud (aka Elly) and her big brother Jo as they grow up with secrets they share, and discover the highs and lows of life both together and separately and the special bond they have between them. I would also says it’s a book of friendship and the people who come into our lives no matter for how long or short a time and make an impression. This might sound like a vague summing up of the book but one of the joys I found, and I did find this a really good read, whilst turning the pages was discovering who or what was around every corner.

It’s also about time, and as we follow the family we too see the world events unfold around them from the late 1960’s until more recent years and covers things from family secrets, loves and loses and such subjects as John Lennon and Diana’s death to 9/11. So it’s really about two people through time. It sounds so simple yet it is a book that has been meticulously crafted, not so that we see the authors hard work, but in the sense that the people we follow seem to step off the page. In fact I kept thinking of David Nicholls ‘One Day’ and the nostalgic feeling and so real you feel like you’re their best mate lead characters. Only these are of course siblings, not on-off lovers.

Sarah Winman is without question a very exciting new writer that I think we all need to keep our eyes on. Her prose is rhythmic and I found the first hundred pages simply unputdownable (cliche alert, sorry) as we meet Elly and her family and the cacophony of characters in her life. Seriously, the characters are marvellous. I did wonder if Winman, being from an acting background, has simply created a list of the sort of characters she has wanted to play. Winman’s swift way of summing them up in a is genius. No matter how little time a character is called into this world they are fully fleshed out be it in a single sentence or paragraph. There was one scene between Aunt Nancy and one of her movie obsessed girlfriends, who has renamed herself Katherine Hepburn and is hardly in the book at all, which had me in hysterics and showed the full genius of Winman’s ability to characterize in a minimal way.

“’Sorry I’m late!’ shouted Nancy one day, as she rushed into a café to meet her.
‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,’ said K.H.
‘That’s alright then,’ said Nancy sitting down.
Then looking round, with a raised voice, K.H. said, ‘Of all the gin joints in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.’
Nancy noticed the people in the café staring at them.
‘Fancy a sandwich?’ she said quietly.
‘If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill, as God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.’
‘I’ll take that as a yes then,’ said Nancy picking up a menu.”

In fact the level of humour in ‘When God Was A Rabbit’ was something I wasn’t expecting and is a tool Winman uses well particularly if things are getting quite dark, which the book does do quite a lot. In fact it was a rabbit named ‘god’ who stole the show  in terms of bittersweet humour in the first half of the book as Elly uses his ability to ‘talk’, which only she can hear, to deal with horrid moments, so when she has heard some bad news she will go and pet god who will then say something like ‘ouch you little, s**t’ (this has me laughing as I type) and again shows how Winman effortlessly gets into the head of or protagonist Elly, especially in her formative years and in times where she doesn’t quite know what to do with herself or how to copewith life’s twists and in many ways escapes.

I did find it interesting that the opening line is ‘I divide my life into two parts’ because to me this is a book of two halves and is also where it becomes telling that this is a debut novel. Debut novels tend to have a real thrust and drive to them, as this book does (though its technically Winman’s second, the first didn’t get published) for the first half which bowled me over. They can also want to say a lot, sometimes too much. Whilst Winman doesn’t do this I did find that when a friend of Elly and Joe’s was kidnapped in Dubai (in the middle of the book) and plastered all over the news, I started wondering just how much could happen to one family even in the most random or distant of ways. This happened again when John Lennon gets shot… on Elly’s birthday, and this occasionally seemed a touch too much. Then again sometimes that is life isn’t it? It by no means ruined the book at all, it just took a tiny bit of the magic off. I should comment Winman on the ending too as it was a risk, and one the reader sees coming, possibly as in my case with some trepidation, but which I thought actually paid off when in some cases it could have gone the other way. I will say no more on that though.

My only other slight criticism would be that ‘When God Was A Rabbit’ pushes its point home too hard on occasion especially in its gay sensibility. I think the fact that every other character in the book happened to be gay was brilliant and I could see what Sarah Winman was doing, but that isn’t the way it is in real life is it? It’s meant to be one in ten people, not one in every two. I also wasn’t sure how I felt, in terms of stereotyping, about some characters for example Arthur, who comes into the book about half ay through, is a wonderful character lovely older gay man on the whole but did then fall into a cliché by screaming or saying to our narrator ‘popularity, my dear, is as overrated as a large member’. Whilst yes it did make me laugh, that fact it’s said to a girl of twelve seemed a bit wrong, it reflects that rather archaic view that old gay men can be rather pervy and inappropriate and one we should be stamping out. Maybe I am being too critical there?

Those criticisms might seem a little harsh, or make me sound a little like the Grinch of books trying to see flaws; I just want to give it a full rounded review and in doing so had to point out some of it’s pitfalls too. You see initially after reading it I was a little conflicted about it, however with time for the dust to settle I realised I really, really liked it. There’s a warmth in this novel which is quite unlike any other I have read and it lingers. So as I was saying all in all I really, really, really enjoyed ‘When God Was A Rabbit’. It’s a book you gulp down for the first half and then watch unfold more delicately in the second. It’s one that deserves to be read, so I hope you will. It’s a book you won’t forget and, if you are like me, will grow and grow on you after it finishes. 9/10

This book was kindly sent by the publisher.

I am actually rather surprised this didn’t make ‘The Orange Longlist’ this year but it was one of the Waterstones 11 and has been picked up by Richard and Judy latest book club (and might just have been submitted for another award – I think I can share that with you, oops maybe not) so I am sure it will be getting much more attention and it deserves it. It is definitely one to read if you loved ‘One Day’ by David Mitchell, as I mentioned, and also if you like the bittersweet. Which debut novel have you read recently which has rather bowled you over? Has anyone else read ‘When God Was A Rabbit’ and what did you think?

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Filed under Books of 2011, Headline Review, Review, Richard and Judy, Sarah Winman