Tag Archives: Sarah Moss

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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Other People’s Bookshelves #83 – Rebecca Smith

Hello and welcome back to the series Other People’s Bookshelves. If you haven’t seen them before these are a series where a guest takes over the blog and feeds into the book lust we all feel by sharing their shelves. This week we are off to Scotland, where we are being put up by the lovely, lovely Rebecca Smith who has kindly invited us to have a gander at her bookshelves. Before we do Rebecca has kindly put on stunning Scottish spread of utter joy and delight. So now we are refreshed and before we rampage through her shelves Rebecca is just going to introduce herself a bit more…

I’m Rebecca and I grew up in the middle of nowhere in Cumbria amongst forests and mountains, snakes and stags. I now live in Central Scotland with my 6 year old son and my partner. One day I will build my own house surrounded by trees and grass. With those huge bookcases that spans walls and reach the ceiling. I went to University in Stirling (English, Film and Media). I lived and studied in Hungary for a semester (thank you Erasmus). And I produced live radio for nearly 10 years, almost purely living off adrenaline. I write short stories and currently work for BBC Radio Drama part time. Last year I applied for the https://womentoringproject.co.uk/ and was lucky enough to be selected by the amazing Kirsty Logan. She is mentoring me which has given me a huge boost in confidence with regards to my writing.

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

I keep all of the books I buy. But I usually end up lending a book to someone which is how I manage to keep space for more! I’ve lost a few books throughout the years and it’s only recently I’ve wanted (and seen the benefit of) re-reading of them. I’ll be buying again them when the house is built…

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

I don’t really cull my books. I’m very reluctant too anyway. And yes, it’s alphabetical: although the bottom shelf tends to be reference or books that don’t really fit anywhere else (1975 Jackie annual – it’s mums, I can’t part with it. It teaches you how to read your palm!) The books in the most accessible bookcase by the window have the short stories, poetry and a wee bit of drama. The books that pile up on top of the other books tend to be the ones I use most, taking them out to re-read passages when I’m writing. All the middle section are my University books, (good ole Norton Anthologies) and my partners building books – he works for a house builder (it’s not the only reason I’m with him.) In the kitchen there is the ‘travel section’, the cook books and the lit magazines. And of course in my sons room is his rather messy book case. I’ve read him a story every night since he was born. We’re reading a book about a police cat at the moment. His favourite (and will always be mine) is Fantastic Mr Fox.

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

Probably a series of books called The Mystery Club by Fiona Kelly. Oh I loved those books. I used to walk around the estate (my dad was the forester on a small country estate in the Lake District: it was idyllic) walking amidst the gardens, the scattered cottages, the lodge houses, the farm with a pen and notebook marking down anything that I thought could be suspicious. (That cottage has been empty for 3 weeks now, where is Mr Brown, have those curtains been moved…?!) I even wrote to Fiona Kelly and I was over the moon when she replied. I don’t have the books at my house but they could be in my parents cellar. Or it could have been a Judy Blume book. I loved every word that woman wrote.

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

Not really no, but there are books that are either my Dads or my ex-husbands which are not my style. I’m not that overly taken with crime novels.

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

Hmm, obviously the first thing I’d save is my son, and cat. (I assume my boyfriend could escape himself.) There is a very special book I bought in Krakow, Shaking A Leg, The Collected Writings of Angela Carter. I’m very careful with this (I would never lend this out) and I like to go back every now and then to read parts. It has her short stories and her essays collated in it. It looks beautiful, it is beautiful. I’d probably save that.

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

I was lucky enough to grow up in a house with over-flowing bookshelves. I used to read whatever my parents had lying around. Dad liked the classics and the adventures, mum, the family sagas. When I was 16 I read and loved Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and studied it for my A level English project. That felt adult, especially the war scenes which have stayed with throughout the years. I also bought from my local, very small and now closed down, book shop, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. I adored this book. It felt different, very adult, but very’ me’ at the same time. Unfortunately I lent it to someone and I never saw it again. That’s on my to-buy list.

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

Yes, I borrow a lot out of the library as I can’t afford to buy all the books I want. I recently read Anne Enright’s, The Green Road from the library and I will buy that when I can as I loved nearly every sentence.

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

Helen Sedgwick’s, The Comet Seekers. I bought it at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Just finished reading it. I loved it. It was like chatting to old friends.

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

So so many; my wish list on Wordery is huge. The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride, The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, The Outrun by Amy Liptrot, This Must be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell, The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss, The Assassin’s Cloak by Irene Taylor (diary extracts – I really like the idea of this), Thin Air by Michelle Paver,  Bark by Lorrie Moore (another one I borrowed from the library and need to buy!)

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

No idea, but when people come round I like to find out what they like to read then I suggest something. It’s always a nice feeling when they come back and have liked it.

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And a huge thanks to Rebecca (my favourite name for obvious reaons) for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves.. If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance, I am catching up with all the latest volunteers. In the meantime… what do you think of Rebecca’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Wellcome Book Prize Shortlist 2016

It has been book list central recently with many prizes announcing their long and short lists in the last few weeks. I have mentioned the Bailey’s Prize as I am half of the Bearded Bailey’s Book Club and would now like to tell you about another prize which I am involved with and will be telling you more about over the next few months… the Wellcome Book Prize.

What exactly is the Wellcome Book Prize? Funny you should ask that, it is “an annual award, open to new works of fiction or nonfiction. To be eligible for entry, a book should have a central theme that engages with some aspect of medicine, health or illness. This can cover many genres of writing – including crime, romance, popular science, sci fi and history. At some point, medicine touches all our lives. Books that find stories in those brushes with medicine are ones that add new meaning to what it means to be human. The subjects these books grapple with might include birth and beginnings, illness and loss, pain, memory, and identity. In keeping with its vision and goals, the Wellcome Book Prize aims to excite public interest and encourage debate around these topics.”

Now when the PR team behind the prize, the lovely folk at FMcM, asked me to work on this years prize from behind the scenes last year I initially responded ‘but I know nothing about medicine, I barely passed science at GCSE’ I was promised there would be books that would make even the science phobic, like myself, be won over by medicinal books and from the looks of the shortlist announced today they are right. Here it is…

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The shortlist…

  • The Outrun by Amy Liptrot
  • Signs for Lost Children by Sarah Moss
  • It’s All in Your Head by Suzanne O’Sullivan
  • Playthings by Alex Pheby
  • The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink
  • Neurotribes by Steve Silberman

What are they about? Well instead of giving you the full blurbs, or me badly surmising, here is what was in the press release “The two memoirs on the list, ‘The Outrun’ and ‘The Last Act of Love’, are both stories of devastation and recovery, one following addiction and the other a debilitating accident. ‘Neurotribes’ and ‘It’s All in Your Head’, the other two non-fiction contenders, are studies of autism and psychosomatic illness respectively, reflecting society’s interest in the human mind. The remaining two books on the list are works of fiction. ‘Playthings’ is an immersive imagination of a schizophrenic mind, while ‘Signs for Lost Children’ recounts the pioneering work of an early female medic.”

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The lovely judges; Tessa Hadley, Sathnam Sanghera, Joan Bakewell (Chair), Damian Barr, Frances Balkwill

I have only reviewed Cathy Rentzenbrink’s wonderful, wonderful The Last Act of Love on the blog so far but get ready for thoughts on the other five amongst Bailey’s long listed reviews over the next few weeks and maybe a bit more here and there as I will be working with the lovely Wellcome folk over the next month and a bit till the (£30,000 not to be sniffed at) winner is announced including hosting a bloggers brunch at Wellcome HQ with some special guests on April the 2nd. Very exciting.

So what are your thoughts on the list and indeed the idea of prize itself? Have you read any of the shortlisted books and if so what did you make of them?

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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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Fiction Uncovered 2012

I have been waiting for this list of books to be announced for weeks, finally it is here, the Fiction Uncovered list of titles for 2012. If you are currently thinking ‘well what on earth is that’ let me explain, this is not a longlist of books of which one will eventually win a prize, it is list of eight titles that may just have gone under the radar and have been deemed, by a team of judges, as being books we all should have read because they are excellent yet didn’t get the buzz that they deserved. These selected titles are then promoted in book shops (including the lovely Book Barge) around the UK and in libraries, lovely. Well now it is back for 2012. I even voted for a book I wanted to see on the list if I were a judge, I must go to that list again to get even more recommendations. Anyway…

So why am I so excited? Well in part it’s the fact that it is another list of books that I might want to read (I have to admit I think I actually want to real ALL the books on this years list) and because its pushing books which might not have been pushed. The other reason is more personal as last year this is where I first heard about, and then tried, ‘The Proof of Love’ by Catherine Hall and we all know how that read went don’t we? I was also introduced to Ray Robinson’s fantastic novel ‘Forgetting Zoe’. I have both their previous novel/s to read in the future. I also started both Tim Pears ‘Disputed Land’, which I loved but was a little too close to home at a specific time so I had to stop, and Sarah Moss’ ‘Night Waking’ which I was loving but had to crack on with reading the Green Carnation Prize submissions, which is what could stop me from reading this years eight which, with my brief thoughts below each ones blurb, are…

Two Cows and a Vanful of Smoke by Peter Benson (Alma Books)

When young Elliot gets a labourer’s job at Mr Evans’s after being sacked from a pig farm for liberating six of its sows, he thinks he’ll have even more opportunities to lean on gates or stare at fields. But his best mate Spike keeps getting him into trouble, first by showing him what is being grown in a tucked-away polytunnel, and then turning up at his caravan’s door with a van full of weed. As Elliot tries to help his friend get rid of the hot merchandise, they find themselves at the receiving end of a cruel cat-and-mouse game.

Simon says: The fact this has polytunnel (my mother has just got some she is obsessed about) in the blurb makes me think of The Archers and we all know how much I love that show. It also sounds like an English countryside book, which I also love. I must read it.

My Former Heart by Cressida Connolly (Fourth Estate)

When she grew up, Ruth would say that she could place the day that her mother had decided to go away. She didn’t know the actual date, but she recalled the occasion: it was on the afternoon of a wet day, early in 1942, during a visit to the cinema. She thought she could even pinpoint the exact moment at which Iris had made up her mind to go, leaving her only child behind. Neither of them could have guessed then that they would never live together again. Spanning the second half of the last century, “My Former Heart”, Cressida Connolly’s mesmerising first novel, charts the lives of three generations of Iris’s family, the mother who walked away from her child. Ruth will be deserted again, many years later, by a husband she loves, but not before she has had two children by him. She leaves London to live with her uncle, where she creates a new life for herself with another woman. And we follow the lives of her two children, trying to make a place for themselves in the world in the shadow of the family that precedes them. With its large cast of fascinating characters, this is an outstanding novel about families and their ability to adapt. It surely marks the beginning of long career as a novelist for Cressida Connolly.

Simon says: The LGBT twist in the blurb interests me and would make it stand out in its type of fiction if you know what I mean. I was slightly worried when I saw this was compared to Alan Hollinghursts latest novel, only this is only 240 pages. I am intrigued.

Lucky Bunny by Jill Dawson (Sceptre)

Crime is a man’s business, so they say, though not according to Queenie Dove. A self-proclaimed genius when it comes to thieving and escape, she reckons she’s done pretty well. Yes, she had a tough childhood in London’s East End during the Depression, with a father in and out of prison. But she survived the Blitz, learned how to get by on her wits, and soon graduated from shoplifting to more glamorous crimes. Daring, clever and sexy, she thrived in the Soho of the Krays and the clubs of Mayfair, fell wildly in love, and got away with it all. Or did she? For beneath Queenie’s vivacious, unrepentant account lies another story – of punishment and loss, and a passionate relationship that turns sour. To the end, she believes she was lucky, but did she simply play the hand that fate dealt her? Vividly portraying the times and circles she moved in, Lucky Bunny captures an intriguing, engaging woman as it questions how far we are in control of our own lives.

Simon says: This has been on my radar for ages, so reading it is a no brainer, in fact it will be a done deal.

Crushed Mexican Spiders by Tibor Fischer (Unbound)

‘Crushed Mexican Spiders’ is classic Fischer. Don’t be fooled by the title: the poet laureate of London grime is on home ground as a women returns home to discover the key to her Brixton flat no longer works – Haunting images and crisp one-liners are about all that link it with the second tale, ‘Possibly Forty Ships’, the true story of the Trojan War. In a scene straight out of a Tarantino movie, an old man is being tortured, pressed to reveal how the greatest legend of all really happened. Let’s just say it bears scant resemblance to Homer: ‘If you see war as a few ships sinking in the middle of the waves, a few dozen warriors in armour, frankly not as gleaming as it could be, being welcomed whole-heartedly by the water, far, far away from Troy, if you see that as war, then it was a war – ‘ The stories are being illustrated by the work of the acclaimed Czech photographer Hana Vojakova .

Simon says: At a mere 64 pages and with illustrations I want to read this just to see how it is so powerful in so few words, I also like the Unbound project so if I read it I will kill two bords of intrigue with one stone.

Hit and Run by Doug Johnstone (Faber and Faber)

Driving home from a party with his girlfriend and brother, all of them drunk and high on stolen pills, Billy Blackmore accidentally hits someone in the night. In a panic, they all decide to drive off. But the next day Billy wakes to find he has to cover the story for the local paper. It turns out the dead man was Edinburgh’s biggest crime lord and, as Billy struggles with what he’s done, he is sucked into a nightmare of guilt, retribution and violence. From the author of the acclaimed “Smokeheads”, “Hit & Run” is another pitch-black psychological thriller.

Simon says: I heard about this thanks to a review of Kim’s on Reading Matters and was intrigued. I like the fact a thriller has made the list too, I like a good thriller, only concern is it might be a bit ‘blokey’ for me though that could be a good test.

When Nights Were Cold by Susanna Jones (Mantle)

In turn of the century London, Grace Farringdon dreams of polar explorations and of escape from her stifling home with her protective parents and eccentric, agoraphobic sister. But while Grace longs to cross glaciers and survive sub-zero conditions with her hero Ernest Shackleton, she seems destined for nothing more than marriage, or a life shackled to the family home. But when Grace secretly applies to Candlin, a women’s college filled with intelligent, like-minded women, she finally feels her ambitions beginning to be take shape. There she forms an Antarctic Exploration Society with the gregarious suffragette Locke, the reserved and studious Hooper and the strange, enigmatic Parr, and before long the group are defying their times and their families by climbing the peaks of Snowdonia and planning an ambitious trip to the perilous Alps. Fifteen years later, trapped in her Dulwich home, Grace is haunted by the terrible events that took place out on the mountains. She is the society’s only survivor and for years people have demanded the truth of what happened, the group’s horrible legacy a millstone around her neck. Now, as the eve of the Second World War approaches, Grace is finally ready to remember and to confess…

Simon says: The phrases ‘turn of the century’, ‘agoraphobic sister’ and ‘polar explorations’ have me officially sold. I am going to beg, steal or borrow a copy of this.

The Light of Amsterdam by David Park (Bloomsbury)

It is December in Belfast, Christmas is approaching and three sets of people are about to make their way to Amsterdam. Alan, a university art teacher stands watching the grey sky blacken waiting for George Best’s funeral cortege to pass. He will go to Amsterdam to see Bob Dylan in concert but also in the aftermath of his divorce, in the hope that the city which once welcomed him as a young man and seemed to promise a better future, will reignite those sustaining memories. He doesn’t yet know that his troubled teenage son Jack will accompany his pilgrimage. Karen is a single mother struggling to make ends meet by working in a care home and cleaning city centre offices. She is determined to give her daughter the best wedding that she can. But as she boards the plane with her daughter’s hen party she will soon be shocked into questioning where her life of sacrifices has brought her. Meanwhile middle-aged couple, Marion and Richard are taking a break from running their garden centre to celebrate Marion’s birthday. In Amsterdam, Marion’s anxieties and insecurities about age, desire and motherhood come to the surface and lead her to make a decision that threatens to change the course of her marriage. As these people brush against each other in the squares, museums and parks of Amsterdam, their lives are transfigured as they encounter the complexities of love in a city that challenges what has gone before. Tender and humane, and elevating the ordinary to something timeless and important, The Light of Amsterdam is a novel of compassion and rare dignity.

Simon says: I was a little nonchalant about this one with Alan’s ‘situation’ but I then read about the other two and now rather fancy reading this.

This is Life by Dan Rhodes (Canongate)

This is Life is a missing baby mystery and an enchanted Parisian adventure. Hand in hand with lovable heroine Aurelie Renard, you will see life as you’ve never seen it before, discover the key to great art, witness the true cost of love, and learn how all these things may be controlled by the in-breath of a cormorant. Chock-full of charming characters and hilarious set-pieces this is a hugely enjoyable novel that will make you see life anew.

Simon says: The only book on the list by an author I have read before (and love, seriously he is brilliant) and I am thrilled that Dan is on the list, so as its one of the few of his I haven’t read already I will DEFINITELY be reading this one and probably within the next week or two. If you haven’t read him you must, ‘Gold’ has been my favourite (funny and heartbreaking) so far, I have high hopes for this.

So that is the list. What do you make of it and indeed the venture of Fiction Uncovered itself (the website is here)? Have you read any of these or anything else by the authors? I would love some further insight.

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June’s Incomings…

Yes yet another month has flown by and it’s that time when I ask for you thoughts on the books that have come through the letterbox, or snuck in hidden in my bag etc. I was thinking that it wasn’t such a bumper month and then remembered that I had been sent the TV book club titles (I’ve had to give up on ‘Moonlight Mile’ it’s just not me) then there are the Penguins I rescued and the Daphne Du Maurier discovery, oops.

So what paperbacks have come through the door?

  • My Michael by Amos Oz – unsolicited copy, but one that I am glad has arrived as I haven’t read any Amos Oz and would like to (I seem to have lots of his books) has anyone any recommendations on Oz?
  • The Elephant’s Journey by Jose Saramago – another unsolicited copy of an author I really should read, any tips with Saramago?
  • Charles Jessold Considered a Murderer by Wesley Stace – an unsolicited copy of a book that looks right up my street with its gothic murderous tones. I once started Stace’s ‘Misfortune’ and really liked it but left it on a train, got another copy but haven’t picked it up again, I must.
  • Butterfly’s Shadow by Lee Langley – unsolicited copy
  • Nimrod’s Shadow by Chris Paling – after reading ‘The Proof of Love’ by Catherine Hall and loving it so much I have been hankering after more of the ‘Fiction Uncovered’ titles. This is one.
  • Conditions of Faith by Alex Miller – this will learn me the publishers emailed me very nicely about this book, I said yes… thinking it was another book. I thought it was ‘Pure’ by Andrew Miller, oops. Never mind though, I will enjoy it none the less, well I hope I will.
  • The Reckoning by Jane Casey – unsolicited copy, and the second in the series, how annoying as it looks really good, but I like to start at the beginning.
  • The Empty Family by Colm Toibin – I am in the mood for short stories and I love Toibin so this will be read soon, also a GCP submission.
  • Days of Grace by Catherine Hall – Thrilled this has come, it seems Catherine’s publisher, editor and Catherine herself really liked how much I loved ‘The Proof of Love’ (am I stuck record about this book yet) and so her now debut novel has arrived.
  • The Skating Rink by Robert Bolano – another unsolicited copy of an author I really should read, any tips with Bolano?
  • Some Hope/Mother’s Milk by Edward St Aubyn – I asked you all if I should read him, and his publishers spotted this and so sent me all of the books you can see ‘At Last’ below. Very excited about this series, have been dipping into ‘Some Hope’ and its proving emotional and incredible.
  • Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay – I haven’t read any Jackie Kay but have always wanted to, also a GCP submission.
  • The Sacrificial Man by Ruth Dugall – This arrived and with it came guilt because I know so many people who have told me to read ‘The Woman Before Me’ and I have it and still haven’t… I will though.

Next up is those hardback and trade paperbacks lots of which I am very, very excited about…

  • The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – I liked his last young adult book ‘The Shadow in the Mist’ for its creepiness, I am hoping this one has the same feel to it. Ooh, I still havent read ‘The Angels Game’, what am I playing at?
  • The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb – interesting title and stunning cover, I think this is one of the books I am going to be reading next as it seems to have been ‘under the radar’ and I am after more books like that. Plus it’s another GCP submission.
  • Night Waking by Sarah Moss – I have already read this one; it’s another ‘Fiction Uncovered’ title and its one that will be getting lots of praise in due course. Its still got me thinking hence no sooner review.
  • The London Satyr by Robert Edric – I didn’t get on with ‘Salvage’ but this novel based in the Victorian underbelly, well that’s the gist I have got, sounds right up my street and is again part of ‘Fiction Uncovered’.
  • Rory’s Boys by Alan Clark – this comes almost screaming its praise from Sue Townsend, a GCP submission.
  • At Last by Edward St Aubyn – the whole series arrived, see above
  • Five Bells by Gail Jones – I saw Kimbofo’s review of this and so had to get my mitts on a copy. It sounds very much like my sort of book.
  • By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham – this will be my first Cunningham read and I am very much looking forward to it.
  • History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason – another book I know little about, though I think the authors debut was one everyone was talking about, a GCP submission.
  • Gypsy Boy on the Run by Mikey Walsh – unsolicited copy which I don’t know why the publishers sent me, as Hodder generally don’t, maybe it’s because it’s a novel about a gay man? Who knows.
  • Remembrance of Things I Forgot by Bob Smith – I read Bob Smith’s column/essay collection years ago so am thrilled this arrived, it’s a GCP submission.
  • Fold by Tom Campbell – unsolicited proof, I am going to look into this one a little more as initially its not sounding like my sort of thing.
  • All The Time in the World by E. L. Doctorow – I loved ‘Homer and Langley’ so much when I read it that I am really looking forward to this novel about a stranger coming into someone’s family and relationships and changing everything.
  • The Storm at the Door by Stefan Merrill Block – I still haven’t read his debut novel, I saw how much Rachel Booksnob loved this book and so was thrilled when it arrived.
  • The Watchers by Jon Steele – I asked for this one as I am was in the mood for trying something different, I am looking forward to this one a lot as it sounds a bit apocalyptic and supernatural and rather page turning, perfect summer read.
  • The Somnambulist by Essie Fox – set in the Victorian era and rather spooky sounding, how could I not want to read this?
  • Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante – I am wondering if Alice is any relation of Linda? This sounds like it’s a gripping and rather emotionally packed crime, I am loving crime fiction this year so this is an unsolicited copy I am looking forward to.
  • The Hunger Trace by Edward Hogan – Thanks to @Foyles who mentioned to S&S the publishers that I really liked Hogan’s debut ‘Blackmoor’ (reading that review shows how much my attitude to blogging has changed, ha) and Hogan is a fellow lad from Derbyshire so that adds to it.
  • Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman – This has caused some controversy I believe as a book a s a tribute to the authors dead wife, can’t seem to find much more out about it than that, has anyone else heard the furore about this?
  • Ashes by Sergios Gakas – now this will be a first, a crime/thriller by a Greek author. A book I will therefore have to give to my Greece-obsessed mother once I have finished it, not sure how she will react to all the cocaine binges that it has in store though.

Blimey typing all those books up actually makes me realise that there were a lot more than I realised, if that wasn’t enough I also received some gifts from friends and then went and bought myself some treats.

  • Read This Next… And Discover 500 New Favourite Books by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark – I saw this on Chasing Bawa, she has now reviewed it, and thought it sounded right up my street, so what a surprise when it arrived in the post as a gift from the lovely Sakura herself.
  • The Newspaper of Claremont Street by Elizabeth Jolley/BUtterfield 8 by John O’Hara – Kimbofo sent me both of these as she knows I live on a Claremont related road and also I work in the publishing industry, plus I loved the sound of it from her review. She also sent me the Riverside Readers last read, it sounded amazing and I was gutted that I missed out on it (I miss that book group so much – I am wondering if they would let me join in virtually?) and now I can give it a whirl.
  • The Rector’s Daughter by F.M. Mayor – I have wanted this forever and found it for a whopping 50p in Cambridge, Susan Hill raves about this book which makes me want to read it even more, I think it might be out of print now.
  • Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen – Kimbofo has a lot to answer for actually, her review of this crime thriller made me subconsciously pop it in my trolley at the supermarket. It wasn’t my fault honest… and I know, I know supermarket book buying is sent from the devil.
  • Fidelity by Susan Glaspell – I found this Persephone classic in a new very well hidden local charity shop for a whopping 30p, I know a Persephone for 30p. No idea if it’s good or not, but that didn’t matter at the time… it was 30p!

There that’s my loot this month, what lovely stuff have you had of late? Which of the above have you read and loved? Which would you like to see me reading next?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Fiction Uncovered

The Proof of Love – Catherine Hall

There are some books that catch your unawares when you least expect it. They take you away to a world you aren’t sure will be your ‘cup of tea’ and captivate you, they make you want to read the whole book in a sitting or two whilst also wanting to make every single page count. You are bereft when the book finishes and you can’t stop talking about it at any opportunity you get. ‘The Proof of Love’ by Catherine Hall is a book that did just that. I admit that if someone had said ‘read a book about a Cambridge mathematician who escapes the academic world by voluntarily farming in the lake district in the 1970’s’ I probably would have said, very politely, ‘I’m not sure that’s my thing’. However I couldn’t have been more wrong by this exceptional novel which will be flying into my top five books of the year so far no questions.

Spencer Little arrives in a rural village in the Lake District by bicycle on the hottest day of the sweltering summer of 1976 looking for nothing more than work in exchange for lodging and board. He decides to try the first farm he comes across, Mirethwaite, and the home of the Dodd’s family. Here he becomes a kind of addition to a rather interesting family consisting of the young and loveably precocious ten year old Alice, her subdued mother Mary and the head of the household, and rather frightening, Hartley, a man fuelled by alcohol and anger. It’s an interesting dynamic to a tale about rural life and ‘incomers’ as well as one of just why Spencer is escaping from the very start and one that becomes more compelling as it goes.

“It was hard to get used to Hartley’s new, jovial manner. Together with the beer, it made Spencer feel disorientated, as if he had stepped into another world, somewhere far away from either the competition of Cambridge or the tensions of Mirethwaite. Now Hartley was going over to the bar and ordering three large glasses of whisky. He brought them back to the table, his cheeks flushed, eyes bright under dark eyebrows.”

As well as there being the family dynamic in ‘The Proof of Love’ Catherine Hall also introduces the villagers and village life. She gets the mixture of slightly claustrophobic and rather remote spot on. Add to it this sweltering heat and you can really get a sense of atmosphere. She also makes sheep farming and village fetes rather exciting which I think deserves a mention. I was honestly on the edge of my seat during a scene involving the removal of a ram’s horns. Not something I would have expected to ever hear myself say. In creating the sense of a real village one of Hall’s other great achievements is her characters, one of my favourites after Alice, was the elderly spinster Dorothy Wilkinson. Dorothy in a way becomes the middle man of the story and gives it a peripheral view on occasion, who many people think is ‘a witch’ and yet is one of the few people to befriend this new outsider Spencer. Hall as an author also manages to encapsulate the gossip and one up man ship caused by boredom and small minds in the women of the town, the men are too often in the pub and not seen so often, in fact it’s these very things that give the book its great twists as it moves forward.

“Oh, leave him alone,’ said the lean, well-dressed woman on her right. Unlike the other women she was wearing make-up, her lips painted an immaculate red. As he turned towards Spencer he caught a whiff of strong perfume. ‘There’s plenty of time for him to get involved in the wretched fete if he wants.’ She flashed him a glossy smile. ‘Although I’d think carefully about it, if I were you. It seems to get people rather caught up in it.
 Margaret bristled. ‘Oh Valerie. I just thought it would be a good way for him to make friends. He cant spend all his time up at the farm with Hartley Dodds and that brother of his.’
 ‘And Mary,’ said Valerie, raising a perfectly arched eyebrow. ‘We mustn’t forget her.’
 She was looking at Spencer with something which seemed like amusement. Avoiding her eyes, he looked out of the window. A farmer was sitting on a tractor, cutting grass in the field beyond the vicarage. He wished they could exchange places.”

Catherine does something very clever with Spencer. He does both alienate and ingratiate himself in village life. He builds a lovely relationship with the young Alice Dodds, whilst also trying to keep everyone at arms length. Ask him anything about Cambridge and he shuts down, this off course adds a second strand to the tale of just why he left and encourages us to read on. It’s like a story of a man’s struggle to reinvent himself as the man who he really is. You will of course probably need to read the book, and indeed you should, in order to get what I mean and see the brilliance of Hall’s writing as she achieves that.

“He was, he thought, quite unlike the person who had arrived on his bicycle a month before. He felt excitement stir in his stomach, a rumble of possibility, as if he were emerging from a cocoon. The prospect was both daunting and a thrill.”

As I mentioned I didn’t think that this would be a book that was my sort of thing but I was proven 100% wrong as Catherine Hall weaved me into a subtle and sublime tale that shocks its reader in quick succession half way through and within pages gives the reader a real foreboding of what might be coming for the final 100 pages. You want to read on and you daren’t all at once. I wonder if it’s that factor that has caused the ‘Sarah Waters meets Daphne Du Maurier’ quote. It’s a big hype for any author to be compared to these two novelists, and one I don’t think it’s fair to call. In fact I think Catherine Hall deserves to simply be called a brilliant author in her own right.

I can’t hide the fact that I loved ‘The Proof of Love’. It’s a book that gently weaves you in. You become both an ‘outcomer’ and one of the locals. You are part of the loneliness and isolation of Spencer as well as the gossiping heart of the community, part of the mystery and part of the suspicions. It’s a very subtly clever book, it doesn’t show off the fact that it’s a rare and wonderful book at any point, but I can assure you it is. 10/10

This book was kindly sent by the publisher.

I should mention the fact that I was first made aware of this book through Cornflower Books and then ‘Fiction Uncovered’ (I have also read ‘Night Waking’ by Sarah Moss – review soon – which is on the shortlist and well worth a read, so I may now have to read them all) and you can see a wonderful, and much shorter – sorry, endorsement from one of its judges Sarah Crown, who is also the editor of the Guardian Books website, which I thought I should share…

I couldn’t agree with her more and urge you all to read ‘The Proof of Love’ and let it slowly and silently creep up on you unawares. I am going to have to get Catherine Hall’s debut novel ‘Days of Grace’ very, very soon. Has anyone else read either of Catherine Hall’s books? Which book has completely surprised you with its brilliance, when you were least expecting it, of late?

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Filed under Books of 2011, Catherine Hall, Fiction Uncovered, Granta Books, Portobello Books, Review