Tag Archives: Samantha Harvey

Dear Thief – Samantha Harvey

There are some books that seem so hard to describe I occasionally slam my laptop shut and simply think ‘oh why bother?’ Within this select group of books there will be ones however that you keep heading back to, in some kind of self torturous act, because they are books that you think need to read by more people and so need to be talked about. Samantha Harvey’s Dear Thief is one such book as I am rather worried it won’t reach all the readers it should. True, I can’t go and force you to buy it or borrow it from the library; however I can strongly urge you to do so. Why then, when I think you should all read it, has it been so hard to write about, because in a way Dear Thief is one of those quiet and clever books that is about everything and nothing all at once.

9780099597667

Vintage Books, 2015, paperback*, fiction, 272 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

On the whole I do not think of you anymore. So it was strange when you came into my mind like that, standing over my bed with your spine stacked tall like a wonder of the world and with thighs like someone who hasn’t eaten for a year, hovering as if you wanted something.

Over the space of Boxing Day 2001 to June 2002 our unnamed narrator writes a letter to her estranged best friend of many years, Nina. We soon learn that Nina, who could be alive or dead, and our narrator had one of those friendships we all encounter from time to time where the love is so powerful for each other that sometimes it can verge on too intense and slightly dangerous. As we soon learn the friendship with Nina, or Butterfly as our narrators’ son once gave her the nickname, did indeed go too far and the reader guesses why pretty early on.

Some of you might now be pondering that if there is no mystery left to uncover why on earth would you read on? Or indeed you might be asking if the book has some kind of twist, as I have noticed all the covers give it a slightly Gone Girl look, and in truth there isn’t one. “So why would I want to read this?” I hear you cry. Well, the writing, remember that crazy thing called prose? For this is one of those books that is all about the writing; the nuances of the prose, the complexities of the characters and the sheer power and atmosphere that words can create. It is a bit of a cliché to say that a book can be haunting, yet that is what this book has done to me since I finished reading it especially the more distance I have had from it. Every so often I remember a moment or a sentence and get a little shudder. I mean with sentences like ‘What remains when old age comes, when decay begins, when the body falls?’ how can you not get chills down your spine.

It is hard for any author whatever their calibre to keep a novel sustained when it is created in the form of a letter. However I think Harvey does this expertly. Yes, there were a couple of times when I felt like the book needed a little edit (I know, hark at me) or an odd occasion were the book meandered yet I put the latter down to it being the thought processes of our unnamed narrator as she looks back over a rather difficult and dark time in her life, now in another equally bleak one. If you are now thinking that Dear Thief sounds awfully depressing, it isn’t, honest. Harvey seems to know just when things are getting too bleak and either injects a salacious or highly eroticised moment (there is something obsessive and sexual about the narrative I still can’t put my finger on, as it were) or a moment of dark humour – or what I found funny at least.

Sometimes I imagine, out of sheer playfulness, that I am writing this as a kind of defence for having murdered and buried you under the patio. It turns out I am not at my desk in central London but in a cell awaiting trial without bail, because whoever bought the cottage in Morda decided to dog foundations for an extension to the kitchen, which was admittedly always too small, and the digger turned up bones and teeth and a silver cobra, which they believe would have been worn on a woman’s upper arm, some small hooped earrings and some scraps of undecomposed leather and a zip from a pair of winter boots.
People in the village mutter: How could she have done it? Which leads me to think: How did I do it? Suffocation is the kindest way, especially if you were in one of your stupors; strangulation unlikely since you would not have let me; knifing or bludgeoning impossible because you are, after all, a friend, one held dearly and much loved, and I am not a monster.

It was with our unnamed narrator that I felt the wonder of Harvey’s writing, whose debut The Wilderness I was a huge fan of when it came out, really culminates. I ruddy love an unreliable narrator and here we have one in full flow. As Dear Thief carries on the author of the letter often back tracks, questions what she has just written, makes things up, and fills in the blanks of her memory etc, all to create her own truth. This is where the nuances and the subtlety of Harvey’s work really comes to the fore and where a reader who likes trying to work out truth and lies, and where the lines of love and hate blur, can have a field day. I might have liked a bit more rage on occasion yet, and I feel I need a cup of tea (maybe some cake) with Samantha Harvey to discuss this in more detail, I felt the often clinical and cold way in which the letter is written comes in part from the ‘therapy’ of writing this all down, from self preservation during the methodical picking of old scars and also from her recent grief that seems to start the whole exercise off? That’s what I thought, but as I said you can never quite work this woman out no matter how much time you spend in her head; which with my taste in books, proved fascinating.

More than this, I am aware I haven’t been completely truthful and I wonder why? How can it be that we begin something wholeheartedly and slip, so quickly, into guarded omissions and liberties with the truth? Under the circumstances the goodness of human nature is very quick to buckle, don’t you think? But then, of course you agree, and you hardly need me to point it out.

So as I said at the beginning, Dear Thief is quite a tricky book to write about and also quite a difficult one to instantly process. That is the very point of it though. It is a book that needs to linger in your mind, as you linger in the narrators, and cogitate it all over time. It is often easy to forget there are books out there that don’t need huge bangs, pops and wallops to show you the power of great writing and a good yarn. Thank goodness then for Samantha Harvey and a book like Dear Thief, I look forward to her next.

Who else has read Dear Thief and what did you make of it? Have you read The Wilderness, if not you must instantly or maybe read my review and see what you think first. I have realised I haven’t read Samantha’s second novel All is Song, possibly because my mother pilfered it as she is a huge fan I must rectify that have any of you read it?

*I did have the hardback as this was one of the books we shortlisted, and discussed fiercely, for Fiction Uncovered this year – however my mother nabbed it, so the arrival of the paperback was the perfect timely reminder to review it.

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The Fiction Uncovered Longlist 2015

I am thrilled, because this is the first time they have done it and I have keeping it secret for a few weeks, to be able to share with you the Fiction Uncovered Longlist 2015. After what has been a good few months of ‘extreme reading’ here are fifteen books that we judges (Matt Bates, Cathy Galvin and myself chaired by India Knight) are all very keen that you go and read, right now…

  • The Incarnations – Susan Barker (Transworld)
  • The Stray American – Wendy Brandmark (Holland Park Press)
  • The Redemption of Galen Pike – Carys Davies (Salt)
  • Dear Thief – Samantha Harvey (Jonathan Cape)
  • Wittgenstein Jr – Lars Iyer (Melville House UK)
  • The Way Out – Vicki Jarrett (Freight)
  • The Offering – Grace McCleen (Sceptre)
  • The Spice Box Letters – Eve Makis (Parthian Books)
  • Significance – Jo Mazelis (Seren Books)
  • Beastings – Benjamin Myers (Bluemoose Books)
  • The Four Marys – Jean Rafferty (Saraband)
  • Mother Island – Bethan Roberts (Chatto & Windus)
  • A Man Lies Dreaming – Lavie Tidhar (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Animals – Emma Jane Unsworth (Canongate Books)
  • Mobile Library – David Whitehouse (Picador)

Indis has said “It is absolutely thrilling to have found such brilliant books, across such a wide variety of genres, and from authors that live and write all over the country. These are fantastic writers who deserve to be household names.” I agree it is a very diverse and interesting list, though I am probably biased somewhat but I think the list is a really eclectic one (well, I can tell you that for definite having read them all) and it is going to be rather difficult to whittle them down to a final eight for June the 18th. I have to say so far the judging process has been a real joy with lots and lots of laughing and delightful booky chatter, maybe the final meeting is where the gloves will come off? Ha!

For more information on all the books do visit Fiction Uncovered’s website here. I am off to go and do some more re-reading, in the meantime I would love your thoughts both on the books on the list (have you read any, are there any you are going to hunt out) and also the list itself. I’m very excited to hear what people think of it!

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Thanks Mum, For Making Me Read

If I am honest I do think that Mothering Sunday, which is upon us here in the UK, is actually a big mass of cash spinning marketing. If you like your Mum, tell her when you see her or speak to her, if you don’t like her then don’t tell her, or see her. Ha! Anyway, that aside I thought it might actually be a nice idea to do a post about my mother considering without her influence I wouldn’t be the reader I am today and I am not sure I have ever thanked her for that in person, so I thought I would do it publically. She’ll be embarrassed but that is what sons are for or is that what parents are for? Either way…

My mother (that’s her there —>) had me at the age of 16 years old back in 1982, in fact almost 30 years ago to the week how apt (apparently she is ‘fine, yes fine, why do you ask’ about being 46 and having a soon to be 30 year old son). Not that it was the dark ages, but at that time not only was it a rather shocking occurrence it was also one that could curtail your studies and career, especially if you were going to be a single mum, as my Mum was even though she had the support of my grandparents. This wasn’t to be the case with my mum, she carried on her studies and took me with her to Newcastle where she gained a degree in Classics. I always say that having been to university from the ages of three to six is why I didn’t feel the need to go myself, excuses, excuses.

It is at university that my first memories of Mum reading to me are the strongest. I can vividly remember, after me throwing matchbox toy cars at her head to wake her up at 6am, the joy of getting into bed with her in the morning and being read children’s classics like the Ladybird Fairytales, Roald Dahl, Jill Murphy and the seminal works of ‘The Adventures of He-Man’ or ‘The Adventures of She-Ra’. It was also at this point books really took on a life of their own when she would read me the stories my granddad wrote and illustrated for me, which even featured me in them (and a certain Novel Insights who I had befriended aged 4), about the tales of a witch called Esmeralda and all her friends. You can see them below and read about them further here.

Studying Classics meant I also got the entire myths and legends from the Greeks and indeed the Romans regularly, I don’t know if it was because of her enthusiasm for the subject or if it helped her revise, in fact most nights. I seem to remember this is when ‘The Saga of Erik the Viking’ by Terry Jones appeared on the scene and was read often along with the nonetheless epic ‘Flat Stanley’. However it was an illustrated edition of the story of Persephone which I vividly remember from the time and would read over and over. I lost the love for Classics when I became a teenager and my Mum was teaching it at my school, odd that, but it’s nice to see it has recently been awakened by Madeline Miller’s ‘The Song of Achilles’ where the joy of reading about the gods, goddesses and monsters (I had a moment of utter joy when a centaur first graced the pages of this book) has been reignited. More on that tomorrow…

The library was a  place we always went regularly, as were charity shops. I remember once buying a new version of the story of Perseus from Oxfam for 50p, Mum opening it impressed and then seeing the joy drain from her face as she swiftly returned it, it seemed it was a rather over racy (Perseus does porn kind of thing) version of the story and not really appropriate for a young boy of eleven. Sherlock Holmes was though, and as my great uncle memorised them on walking holidays to stop me being bored, we would pop to Waterstones (a real treat) on the way home after she had picked me up to get a new collection, this was also when we fell upon Robin Jarvis and ‘The Whitby Witches’.

A year or so later Mum gave me my first proper grown up book in the form of ‘Perfume’ by Patrick Suskind, I wonder if my Nancy Drew obsession that summer when we went to Africa had made her worried I would end up with no taste – I still like a crime. Her attitude was if I was going to start reading grown up literature it had to be the good stuff. This was followed by attempts to lead me to Margaret Atwood but I wasn’t biting. I was studying books, and whilst my Mum might have become a good English teacher, my English teacher (one of her colleagues, oops) was slowly taking all the joy out of reading and after I left school early I avoided books like the plague. Mum had laid the foundations though.

In fact looking back whenever I ended up living back at home, which happened a few times after some particularly bad relationship decisions I made and their tumultuous endings, Mum would let me have a good cry and suggest ‘maybe pick up a book’. This could have been to show me books are always there for you, or it could have been to provide some escape, or she maybe just wanted me to stop crying and leave her alone, ha. Whatever the reason though at times of turmoil bookshelves and books would be in my head, even if I wasn’t rushing out to buy them, and they still are. When things have turned to the proverbial, pick up a good book, or a bad one.

Nowadays of course when we see each other books are one of the main things we talk about – who cares how the other one of us is, what we have been reading is far more important. Our tastes can be bang on (Anne Tyler, Margaret Atwood, Samantha Harvey) or completely polar (Susan Hill, owning a Kindle) but we both love books and really that’s down to her, with some help from Gran too of course. It’s nice seeing she has done the same with my thirteen year old sister (though Twilight, really?) and eleven year old brother (Harry Potter ‘which he is reading quicker than me and won’t wait’) and she continues to do so as an English teacher, in a school where kids aren’t generally fans of books but they will be, or else.

So thank you Mum for giving me the gift of books, the encouragement to read and forcing me into the library when sometimes I didn’t want to go. Look what it lead to. Happy Mothers Day.

You can read my Mums favourite books here and see her get a readers grilling here.

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The Orange Prize Longlist 2012?

The Orange Prize seems to have snuck up on me this year. I had it in my head that the announcement was on the 16th of March until I realised that actually that was 2011’s dates. It took ages to then get confirmation (by searching round the internet for hours) that it was to be the 8th and suddenly now Orange has a lovely new sparkly website, and indeed it will be announced in mere hours. Well I love guessing any prize list, and the Orange is no exception. I have a lot of love for this prize as generally I do prefer female writers (sweeping statement alert) to male ones overall, so I am always excited to see the final list of twenty. In the meantime here are my twenty guesses and why I made those calls…

First up my favourite four books by women last year have to be my first choices. Those were without question ‘Gillespie and I’ by Jane Harris, ‘The Proof Of Love’ by Catherine Hall, ‘There But For The…’ by Ali Smith and ‘The Borrower’ by Rebecca Makkai. I would absolutely love to see this four make the cut, you can click on their titles to see my reviews and gushings over each one – seriously these are four blooming brilliant books!

Next up were books, if any, that have made the cut this year and how could I not include ‘The Snow Child’ by Eowyn Ivey which I loved and ‘Girl Reading’ by Katie Ward which I haven’t reviewed on here yet (though I have on the telly, ha). Next up were the books that I started last year, didn’t finish though no idea why as I was enjoying them, and so wouldn’t mind reading/starting again should the mood take me. In come ‘Go To Sleep’ by Helen Walsh and ‘Half Blood Blues’ by Esi Edugyan.

Then I chose four eligible books which I have in the TBR and have yet to crack open. ‘The Blue Book’ by A.L. Kennedy, ‘Solace’ by Belinda McKeon, ‘The Submission’ by Amy Waldman and ‘All is Song’ by Samantha Harvey are all books that have been on my radar, and pulled out and put back in the TBR over the last few months and I must have a read of them soon.

You may notice there haven’t been many of the ‘big names’ yet and whilst I am sure Ann Patchett and some other expected contenders will show up on the list I am not that fussed about them personally. I almost popped Anne Tyler on the list but hers comes out after the eligible dates. However there are for books receiving a lot of hype/buzz that I wouldn’t be surprised to see on the list and they are; ‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgensten, ‘The Buddha in the Attic’ by Julie Otsuka, ‘The Land of Decoration’ by Grace McCleen and ‘The Lifeboat’ by Charlotte Rogan.

The final four are all a little bit random and have come from popping into Waterstones and having a mooch around all the tables covered in books. They are simply books I thought sounded really interesting and loved the first chapter of (that’s not how I judge on The Green Carnation Prize by the way) they may not appear but I’d use it as an excuse to read them all the quicker if they did. These are; ‘My Policeman’ by Bethan Roberts, ‘Then’ by Julie Myerson, ‘The White Shadow’ by Andrea Eames and ‘The Cowards Table’ by Vanessa Gebbie.

Realistically I know this will be nowhere near the actual list. I just love the guessing, but I am realistic enough to admit despite my love of books I have only a small idea of all the eligible books and no idea what has been submitted and what hasn’t. I also actually want to be a million miles off, one of the reasons I love prize longlists is that they invariably throw up some titles that have passed you by and you want to go off and find out more about. I am hoping for lots of those.

I am not the only one who likes a guess; Jackie of Farmlanebooks, Nomadreader, Open Letters and Her Royal Orangeness have had a crack too, plus Jessica (who has become one of my new favourite bloggers, she makes me howl) has done her top five. I will report back with the list of books and my thoughts when it’s been announced. Until then, what books would you like to see (not necessarily the same as the books you think will) end up on the Orange Prize Longlist when it gets announced?

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Books By The Bedside #1

So not so long ago I asked you all if you liked the idea of me doing a regular feature on the blog where I share a picture of my bedside table and the books frequenting it. This was a slightly mean ask as frankly I was thinking of doing it anyway, but it was nice to get your thoughts on it as it is with all things. Anyway without further ado and further waffle here is what is on my bedside table and the reasons why…

First up is a very recent addition, yesterday in fact, in the form of Lucy Wood’s debut short story collections ‘Diving Belles’ which I have been really eager to read. The tales were inspired by the flotsam and jetsam of a Cornish beach and theses magical tales of straying husbands, creaking houses, whispering magpies and trees that grant wishes sound wonderful, I do love an adult fairytale after all, I meant to try one yesterday and suddenly two hours had gone and I was ¾ of the way through. I will be telling you all about this very soon. I had meant to start on Angela Carter’s ‘Burning Your Boats; Collected Stories’ this week after it arrived in the post (this seemed odd as I was in a bookshop with a nice chap last week who bought the book, it then arrived here the next day, spooky) and I love her fairytale like short stories. It is a rather massive collection so expect this to become a regular offender in these posts, speaking of which…

Two old offenders follow as I have been reading Marieke Hardy’s essay collection ‘You’ll Be Sorry When I Am Dead’ and Chris Womersley’s novel ‘Bereft’ for so long that I am worried by the time I write of them you will be bored to death. I think I need to focus on ‘Bereft’ more now, as whilst initially languishing over it was working I am beginning to feel it actually might not be doing this book any favours (and it has been lugged about so much by me over weeks it is looking a real state) oops. In fact it looks rather like the battered 1971 Fontana edition of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mystery ‘The Moving Finger’ which I am going to read as a cleanser soon I think.

As for the rest of this loot, well really these are all the books that I am pondering over. I have been unbelievably excited that Hammer Horror and Random House have gone into partnership for some ghost stories new and old. While I await Jeanette Winterson’s fictional account of the Pendle Witches (sounds amazing) I have just received Helen Dunmore’s ghost story ‘The Greatcoat’ all starting on a cold night in Yorkshire and a hand knocking on a window. Oh goody. In fact Andrew Miller’s ‘Pure’ links into this as its said to be a gothic tale of cemeteries, grisly possibly but fascinating I am sure. It’s been the talk of the town with the Costa Book Awards and reminded me I really wanted to read it.

The TV Book Club has inspired me to push ‘Girl Reading’ by Katie Ward onto the bedside table. I started this then decided it was so good I might never finish ‘Bereft’ and so it’s on hold and it may have to stay on hold a while as we may have Essie Fox joining us on The Readers and so I must read ‘The Somnambulist’ asap, hence its appearance.

Finally to books that I have been recommended and am keeping at the top of my reading periphery, as it were. I already fancied reading Rachel Joyce’s debut novel ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ when I fell across a very advanced review, then its inclusion in the ‘Waterstones 11’ made it shoot up my TBR pile. Several recommendations for Kevin Brockmeier’s ‘The Illumination’ have come from The Readers listeners who have voted for it in the International Readers Book Award’s so when that arrived early this week (it’s out in paperback in February) I instantly popped it here, as I did ‘All Is Song’ by Samantha Harvey which William of Just Williams Luck reviewed and sold to me straight away. I may not comment on blogs as much as I should but I am very much reading them.

So that’s the state of my bedside table, and my reading brain too I guess. What are you reading and have got lined up to read? What is just tickling your fancy (I love that expression) right now books wise?

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Do I Want To Read… Some Debut Novelists

I have been meaning to write about this particular thing since World Book Night a few weeks ago. There was a brilliant show on BBC2 on the night in question which looked at promising debut British authors and coming up with a shortlist of twelve that stood out. You may remember me writing about my thoughts on debut novels, and you helpfully gave yours, a while back and this seemed to fit in just so. A panel of judges including novelist Helen Oyeyemi (who I have been meaning to read for ages) and headed by John Mullan, who wrote about it in The Guardian, came up with a final list of twelve 12 and its these novels that I wanted to ask you about…

Now having said I wanted to ask you about all of them, I actually only want to ask about the ones in bold. The ones that aren’t I have already read. I know this list will have people saying ‘that one shouldnt be on there, this one should’ however it’s actually the fact that I have really loved three of the four I have actually read that made me want to ask you if I should give the other ones ago? I have linked back to two of them; sadly I didn’t love ‘Union Atlantic’ when I read it last year (sorry!!) so never reviewed it, the simply amazingly brilliant ‘Mr Chartwell’ is the book up for discussion tomorrow.

I am reading a corker of a debut novel by Naomi Wood at the moment which you can see a picture of  somewhere up there ——> so I am keen to read plenty more of them. I have a few of the list above already (in italics) one of which I struggled with but will head back to. I really like the fact the debut novelists are all of very diverse ages. I just wanted your thoughts on the ones I have not read whether I own them or not, should I indulge in them all?  That’s all… for now.

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Mantel for Man Booker 2009?

So today is the big day and we finally find out who is the winner of the Man Booker 2009. Its been quite a special year for me as its the first time I have read the entire longlist before the shortlist was announced. Last year I seemed to pick a longlist out of thin air and was pretty rubbish this year I was halfway there so maybe next year will be even better? I ahve to say I am split on whether I will do it next year.

I have loved reading some new authors that I may not have heard of otherwise (Adam Foulds, James Lever, James Scudamore, Ed O’Loughlin) some authors I have been to scared to read until now for fear they would be too highbrow for me (J.M. Coetzee, A.S. Byatt, William Trevor) a favourite author (Sarah Waters) a fabulous debut again (Samantha Harvey) and some authors I now want to read the entire works of (Sarah Hall, Simon Mawer, Colm Toibin, Hilary Mantel) so it has been brilliant in many ways.

There were a couple of con’s and that was the fact that it meant my reading became scheduled and slightly more pressured, and reading should be fun and occasionally it was a bit like wading in thick mud and I also worried that by reading that list I might be allienating readers in a way, plus with so many bloggers doing it were we saturating the book blogosphere? I would love your thoughts on it seriously, do you want to know all about the long list?

Back to the task in hand though and to who I think will win. Well there were many joys in the Man Booker dozen this year and though my personal favourite ‘Brooklyn’ by Colm Toibin didn’t make it onto the shortlist it was one of my reading highlights so far this year. Another reading highlight for me and the book that I would love to see win has to be ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel. I don’t think I have ever loved a tudor based book this much, and believe me I have read quite a lot both in my blogging and pre-blogging days, its a favourite era for me in fiction and history. Who thought i would ever enjoy a book about Thomas Cromwell, I certainly didn’t and yet I was totally there along side him to the peak of his career. I will also be there on his downfall if the rumours are true and their is a second book in the wings (I do so hope so).

There is one author that I wouldn’t mind Mantel loosing out to and that would be Simon Mawer as I though ‘The Glass Room’ was a very, very good book. I do have a feeling it may go Byatt or Waters way though, oh dear now it sounds like I am just covering my back. I want Mantel to win and thats that.

What about you who do you want to win and is it the same person as you think will actually win? Do you care? If you havent read the longlist and shortlist will you read the winner? Do you think that bloggers all blogging about the man Booker cuts people off or do you like it? Oh so many questions… 

***Please note Simon has just noticed neither his Sarah Hall or Simon Mawer thoughts are up… this will be rectified very soon!!

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