Tag Archives: Sara Baume

A Line Made By Walking – Sara Baume

This week I have had a small break in my Costa submissions reading due to some logistics and so could read what I fancied for five days. I can’t really talk too much about Costa and how it works and the like I don’t think, though I am hoping to talk about some of the wonderful books which may not make our shortlist later in the year somehow, we will see. Anyway, I had the freedom to pick up anything I liked and so I went for A Line Made By Walking which has been calling me for a while partly because it has a fox on the cover and partly because it was on the shortlist for The Goldsmith’s Prize which celebrates daring writing and ‘fiction at its most novel’. Or as I see it quirky books that push the boundaries of writing and prose in some way, I was just in the mood for quirky and so in I went.

William Heinemann, hardback, 2017, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Walt Disney lied to me. The weather doesn’t match my mood; the script never supplies itself, nor is the score composed to instruct my feelings, and there isn’t an audience. Most days I make it too dark without anybody seeing me at all. Or at least anybody human.
I’ve been here in my grandmother’s bungalow a full three weeks now. All on my own. Except for the creatures.

Frankie, a young woman in her mid-twenties has left the big city for the safety of her familial homeland. However rather than live with her parents she has ended up temporarily staying in her recently deceased grandmothers house where in a mixture of depression and general lethargy towards life she spends slightly less time lying on the carpet pondering anything and everything than she did in the bright lights. Her mind wanders from items on the news (the Malaysian plane that disappeared), the paintings and sculptures she learnt about as she studied art and also nature, from deranged penguins who send themselves on suicide missions to the animals bouncing around at the end of the garden… or even some of the dead ones all whilst she tries to work out what everything means and where she fits in with it.

You might be thinking that this is really depressing and bleak, a pretentious novel about someone’s quarter life crisis or simply that this sounds really wanky; especially when I add that each of the dead animals becomes a chapter title in the book as well as being included as a slightly macabre image for you to ponder between a pair of paragraphs. If I told you Frankie tests herself on subjects dealt with by art, possibly to test her own feelings around those themes herself, from goldfish (Works about Goldfish, I test myself; I think and think. I can’t come up with a single one.) to death, then you might think this was even more pretentious twaddle. Yet she does. In many other authors hands this book would have annoyed the hell out of me by page twenty but under the creativity and instruction of Sara Baume I absolutely bloody loved this book.

I think one of the initial things that warmed me to the book so much was how relatable Frankie is as a character. Okay sometimes you do want to tell her to get a grip but there were so many times reading this book where I thought ‘ooh I have felt that’. Yes, once or twice in my life I have simply laid on a carpet for a few hours when I could have been doing something spectacular, or even just proactive, and thought about nothing much. Yes, there have been times when going to the supermarket simply feels like a hurdle and frankly you don’t want to make a meal for one you just want to curl up in bed with a chocolate bar (in fact those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I still occasionally fall asleep with a chocolate bar on special drunken occasions, but I am a grown-up I am allowed, don’t judge me). Frankie does all these things as she goes through those first awkward stages of being fully independent, sometimes the first try or two don’t work out. You have to start again. Oh, and something they forget to tell you at school is that sometimes being an adult is shit.

There was a Lidl a few streets away but I hated Lidl; it reminded me of the dole queue, only with vegetables. I’d pick up a basket from the doorway of the posh one and drift the aisles. I’d stand perfectly still and stare at an item for an uncomfortable length of time. Several other customers would come and go in the minutes it took me to remember whether I had any honey left, whether I prefer my tuna in oil or brine, whether or not I am able to tolerate wheat. Eventually I’d make it to the checkouts with a few random products sliding from side to side in my basket, and then at home again I’d lie on my floor for a couple of hours before going to bed with a bar of chocolate – something slightly revolting like a Double Decker or a Toffee Crisp – because only the slightly revolting chocolate bars were evocative of childhood.

Yet adulthood and that phase between being mildly independent to fully independent is actually just the first layer of Frankie’s situation, not to make her sound like an onion. It becomes clear as we read on that Frankie is suffering from some kind of depression. This isn’t just someone being a bit lazy and over dramatic as we initially think, though often these moments add a dark bittersweet comedy often without feeling at the expense of anyone who is going through this themselves. This is someone who is lost, lonely, overly worried at life and not quite able to communicate with those around her in the way that she would like, in fact often she can’t even see when other people are trying to reach out to her, particularly her parents.

‘Well,’ he says. ‘How are you, then? Your mother’s woeful fucking worried.’
My father doesn’t really want to talk about my feelings. That would be excruciating for both of us. He only wants me to tell him that I am okay, so he can return to my mother and tell her there is no need to worry.
‘I’m okay,’ I say. ‘There’s no need to worry.’

Somewhat unintentionally though, once away from the city and indeed her family and taking her loneliness to an extreme two things start to help her start sorting all the things going on in her mind. The first is nature, as I mentioned alive and dead which on the one hand sends her often to look at moments in her childhood which seem minimal but have actually had a more profound (or rippling) effect than would first seem and make so much sense in the context of the relationships she has in her adult life. Oh how we are formed by those, well, informative years. Cliched but so true.

When I was little I had a friend called Georgina who lived a quarter mile up the road. For her sixth birthday, she got a white rabbit and named it Snowball. For roughly a fortnight, Snowball lived in a pretty timer hutch on the back lawn, fortressed by a wire mess run. Then one morning, Georgina went out to find a jagged hole in the mesh and the rabbit gone. Her mother told her this wasn’t the horrific tragedy it appeared; Snowball had simply made the decision to go and live in the fields with her wild friends instead. Georgina passed this story on to me in the playground, and I passed it on to my sister, and she laughed and declared it a load of crap.
Now it seems she was wrong to be so cynical so young.

As she discovers several deceased animals she starts her own project to photograph those she finds dead, no animals are allowed to be killed by herself (though there is one heart breaking section of the book where she does have to and is a hugely emotional moment for her – and the reader – but is written utterly beautifully and is also a kind of catalyst for her) and start her own kind of artistic project. It also helps her deal with grief and see things at more of a distance/in clearer focus through a lense. Art is also something which she uses to ‘test herself’ as she tries to look at art when it depicts an item, feeling or situation that helps her to analyse herself. Two in particular I think relate to and reflect upon varying states of her feelings…

Vincent Van Gogh, Wheat Field with Crows, 1980… An angry, churning sky, tall yellow stalks, tapering into the distance; a line made by walking. A murder of crows between the stalks and the sky as though they are departing or have just been disturbed.

Richard Long, A Line Made by Walking, 1967. A short, straight track worn by footsteps back and forth through an expanse of grass.

Again, this should have put me off as books about art do as much for me about books about music. Bar a few exceptions (Jessie Burton’s The Muse is one which I really must review) I find it very difficult to conjure a painting just like I can’t conjure music for the written word, yet here with Baume’s prose and Frankie’s outlook and the way she analyses these works I oddly could. It shouldn’t have worked but it did and it has – though this could also be partly due to becoming a Tate member as well a recent trip to the Guggenheim in Bilbao wandering galleries on my own– made me think about art in a way that I don’t often and one which is summed up beautifully in the book. Even still, art remains the closest I have ever come to witnessing magic.

I could go on about some smaller but equally brilliant parts of the book; how well it deals with loneliness and feeling lost, the mother and daughter relationship and its complexities and unspoken moments, the way Baume looks at the news and how much fear and worry it can add to our lives, the sense of worry and slight dread you feel for Frankie and the completely unexpected and yet so right ending, the random facts Frankie learns that mean so much without you realising and I will also be using in conversations in the future, etc., etc. I should really wrap this up though…

So, I shall just end this by saying that I urge you to read A Line Made By Walking. It was a risky pick when my brain was somewhat frazzled and it is quite out of my comfort zone in terms of topics but I loved it, possibly all the more for executing it so well and making me think so much. I will certainly be heading to Baume’s debut Spill Simmer Falter Wither in the future, as well as some of the other Goldsmiths Prize 2017 shortlist. It has also reminded me how I need to try more quirky/novel books, so do get recommending me some.

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Filed under Books of 2017, Review, Sarah Baume, The Goldsmiths Prize, William Heinemann Books

Guessing The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2017

A week to this very day will see the announcement of the longlist for this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Those of you who have followed this blog for the last (almost ten, how did that happen) years will know that the Women’s Prize for Fiction is one of my top five literary prizes ever. For many a year now I have played the all at once delightful and downright difficult game of trying to guess the longlist, so I thought I would do it again this year. Why fix it if it ain’t broke?

There is a slight change this year. Normally I do a list of 20 books, for that is the usual longlist length. This year it is all change however as there is rumoured to be a shortlist of just twelve books this year. For me to choose a list of only 12 books is frankly impossible, well ok not impossible but it would be very difficult as one thing about the guessing the list for this prize shows me every year is how many amazing books there are by women published every year. So I have decided if the prize can change its list length so can I, so you will be getting a list of 12 books I have read and would love to see on the list and 12 books I would love to read and see on the list.

First up the books I have read, which has shamefully reminded me of how little of what I read last year I have reviewed but I will in good time, that I would love to see on the list…

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The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry (Serpent’s Tail)
The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood (Allen and Unwin)
Shelter by Jung Yun (Picador)
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain (Vintage)
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (Penguin)
This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell (Tinder Press)
The Good People by Hannah Kent (Picador)
Fell by Jenn Ashworth (Sceptre)
My Name is Leon by Kit De Waal (Penguin)
The Muse by Jessie Burton (Picador)
To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey (Tinder Press)
The Museum of You by Carys Bray (Windmill)

I was going to add Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing which I read for the Man Booker Prize last year but I didn’t love it as much as everyone else BUT if it was on the list I would read it again so thought I should give it a nod. Right, now to the books I haven’t read yet but want to, which was again so, so, so tough to whittle down just to twelve.

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Here Comes The Sun by Nicole Dennis Benn (Oneworld)
The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss (Granta)
Autumn by Ali Smith (Penguin)
Idaho by Emily Ruskovich (Vintage)
Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan (Sceptre)
The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride (Faber and Faber)
English Animals by Laura Kaye (Little Brown)
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (Oneworld)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (Orion)
Behold The Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue (4th Estate)
The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy (Scribe)
The Unseen World by Liz Moore (Windmill)

There were so many more I wanted to add onto this list. Brit Bennett, Emma Geen, Min Jin Lee, Claire Fuller, Katherine Arden, Stella Duffy and Sara Baume  were all wriggling away in the back of my mind as were heavyweights Ann Patchett, Emma Donoghue and Annie Proulx. See it just goes to show how many amazing books there could be in the list next week. And you know what? I wouldn’t mind if I was completely wrong and was introduced to a whole selection of books I hadn’t even thought of, that is all part of the joy of a prize like this one, so much scope, so many possibilities, so many good reads ahead.

So over to you, what do you think might just make the list next week?

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Filed under Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction

Three Irish Books You Should All Read & Three Books I Want To

Today is St Patrick’s Day and I thought it would be a nice idea to share some Irish books that I have loved with you all. Initially I thought this was going to be easy, after all I am a huge fan of Irish books. Well, while in my head this is true I discovered (whilst researching for next week’s episode of The Readers) that I haven’t read as many Irish novels or authors as I thought I had. It is weird when our brains do this isn’t it? Anyway, I decided I would share three books by Irish authors I have loved and also address this unknown-until-now imbalance by sharing three books by Irish authors I really want to read. First up my top three favourites, links to full reviews in the titles…

A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing – Eimear McBride

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I found A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing a book that confused, then compelled and finally confronted me. Not just because of the subject matter but also because it made me rethink the way I read. The abstract sentences and initially rather confusing style start to form a very clear, if quite dark, picture. You just need to reset your brain and allow it to do the work, or working in a different way. This is of course the point of prose after all, it shouldn’t always be spelt out just so and I hugely admire (and thank) Eimear McBride for writing such an original and startling book which will reward intrepid readers out there greatly. Tip – read it out loud to yourself. I am very excited about seeing the play in two weeks with my pal, and colleague Jane, should be something quite special. You can hear Eimear talking about the book on You Wrote The Book here.

Brooklyn – Colm Toibin

I am not going to hold back I loved ‘Brooklyn’. I thought Toibin’s style of prose and narrative was simple and beautiful. I was totally and utterly engaged throughout the whole book. 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. With characters, plot and backdrops like this I would be amazed if you could fail to love this book. Sadly I have yet to get Colm Toibin on You Wrote The Book, but one day, one day. I should also add I absolutely LOVED the film too, which is unusual for me, it was one of my movies of 2015.

The Good Son – Paul McVeigh

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Whilst many novels of the Troubles would make them the main focus and give you them in all their rawest and most shocking detail, I think McVeigh gives you something far more clever and intricate. A young lad growing up at the time Mickey does would, as Mickey is, be used to it and so it is not the be all and end all of his thoughts. This of course leads us into a false sense of security so when things like the night time raids or the murder and bombing in the street happen it gives us all the more of a sense of shock, some of these parts of the novel are really harrowing reading. Yet often more striking are the random smaller moments in which we are reminded the streets the kids are playing in are territory of war, I found these truly chilling. I also found the novel incredibly hopeful, funny and is probably the book I would recommend to anyone wanting to dip their toe in Irish waters fiction wise if they have not already. You can hear Paul talking about the book on You Wrote The Book here.

And now onto the three Irish books which I am most looking forward to, shamefully I have stolen their blurbs from Waterstones (who as I now blog for I am sure won’t mind, as they nicked them off the backs of the books anyway. They are…

The Little Red Chairs – Edna O’Brien

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When a wanted war criminal from the Balkans, masquerading as a faith healer, settles in a small west coast Irish village, the community are in thrall. One woman, Fidelma McBride, falls under his spell and in this astonishing novel, Edna O’Brien charts the consequences of that fatal attraction. The Little Red Chairs is a story about love, the artifice of evil, and the terrible necessity of accountability in our shattered, damaged world. A narrative which dares to travel deep into the darkness has produced a book of enormous emotional intelligence and courage. Written with a fierce lyricism and sensibility, The Little Red Chairs dares to suggest there is a way back to redemption and hope when great evil is done.

Beatlebone – Kevin Barry

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He will spend three days alone on his island. That is all that he asks …John is so many miles from love now and home. This is the story of his strangest trip. John owns a tiny island off the west coast of Ireland. Maybe it is there that he can at last outrun the shadows of his past. The tale of a wild journey into the world and a wild journey within, Beatlebone is a mystery box of a novel. It’s a portrait of an artist at a time of creative strife. It is most of all a sad and beautiful comedy from one of the most gifted stylists now at work.

Spill Simmer Falter Wither – Sara Baume

9780099592747

You find me on a Tuesday, on my Tuesday trip to town. A note sellotaped to the inside of the jumble-shop window: Compassionate & Tolerant Owner. A person without pets & without children under four. A misfit man finds a misfit dog. Ray, aged fifty-seven, ‘too old for starting over, too young for giving up’, and one eye, a vicious little bugger, smaller than expected, a good ratter. Both are accustomed to being alone, unloved, outcast – but they quickly find in each other a strange companionship of sorts. As spring turns to summer, their relationship grows and intensifies, until a savage act forces them to abandon the precarious life they’d established, and take to the road. Spill Simmer Falter Wither is a wholly different kind of love story: a devastating portrait of loneliness, loss and friendship, and of the scars that are more than skin-deep.

So there are my picks both for you to read, if you haven’t, and me to read in the months ahead. If you have read any of these do please let me know your thoughts. I would also love to hear what your favourite Irish novels and/or novelists are that you would recommend I, or anyone reading this, give a whirl.

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Guessing The Baileys Women’s Prize Longlist & Introducing The Bailey’s Bearded Book Club

A week today the longlist for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction will have been announced. This is something I get excited about every year, as I am a huge fan of the prize and the books it has listed in the past as well as its reason for being, however this year I am particularly excited as hopefully I am going to be doing some very exciting Bailey’s Prize based things alongside the lovely Eric of LonesomeReader. Over the next few weeks Eric and I will be the Bearded Bailey’s Book Club. Not only will be reading the entire longlist (all 20) we will be doing some podcasts on it and then, once the shortlist comes out in April, fingers crossed be doing some specific posts and podcasts (with the authors if all goes to plan, on The Readers Bailey’s Bonus Episodes) that you can all join in on, as well as hopefully some give aways and other random bits and bobs. What makes this all the more exciting is that both the lovely team and the board at the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction are all behind these bearded posts so we might be able to do even more. Hoorah. We would love you to join in with it, beard not required and we are not going to be ‘mansplaining’ just to nip that in the bud pronto.

So all that is all to come from next Tuesday onwards, so in the meantime we thought (and Eric’s will be on his blog) we would share the twenty books that we would like to see on the Bailey’s longlist. Now I have to say firstly that it has been an exceptional 12 months for women’s fiction, as I was doubly reminded looking up lots of eligible books, so this has been no easy task. Secondly I haven’t tried to second guess the judges (no one can do that), I have just gone on the books I have read and think should be on the list as well as some of the books I would really like to get around to reading, though I had to whittle this down from a very long list of books I would love to read. Thirdly, it will be wrong and that is good as it will introduce me to lots of great new books as Eric and I read the longlist over the following month, four a week if we have read zero of them – no pressure.

So here are my 20 (I got down to 31 titles that tore my mind, which I have saved in a document that I will send to Eric after this goes live, as we don’t know the others lists) so if those seven are on I have proof I loved them) guesses of books that might make the Bailey’s Prize for Women longlist next Tuesday…

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The Kindness of Enemies – Leila Aboulela (W&N)
A God in Ruins – Kate Atkinson (Transworld)
Devotion – Ros Barber (OneWorld)
Spill Simmer Falter Wither – Sara Baume (William Heinemann)

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The Trouble with Goats and Sheep – Joanna Cannon (Borough Press)
At Hawthorne Time – Melissa Harrison (Bloomsbury)
Mr Splitfoot – Samantha Hunt (Corsair)
Fishnet – Kirstin Innes (Freight)

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The World Without Us – Mireille Juchau (Bloomsbury)
Things We Have in Common – Tasha Kavanagh (Canongate)
Hot Milk – Deborah Levy (Penguin)
Eileen – Ottessa Moshfegh (Vintage)

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Signs for Lost Children – Sarah Moss (Granta)
Girl at War – Sara Novic (Little Brown)
The Little Red Chairs – Edna O’Brien (Faber & Faber)
Under The Udala Trees – Chinelo Okparanta (Granta)

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Martin John – Anakana Schofield (And Other Stories)
If You Look For Me, I Am Not Here – Sarayu Srivatsa (Bluemoose Books)
Gold Flame Citrus – Claire Vaye Watkins (Quercus)
A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara (Picador)

So those are my guesses, I daren’t even call any of them predictions for fear of jinxing them. Any I have read are in italics and those I have reviewed have links to the review. Do go and have a look at Eric’s, I will be as I haven’t seen it yet, over on LonesomeReader and most importantly let me know what you think of this list and which books you are hoping will make the longlist when it is announced next week. After all the effort that has gone into that I need a Baileys, though as this goes live (thanks to the genius of scheduling) I will be sat at my desk, so best not.

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