Tag Archives: The Readers

The Lighthouse – Alison Moore

I really should listen to people more and stop making assumptions so quickly, I really should. One book that has certainly highlighted this recently has been reading Alison Moore’s debut novel ‘The Lighthouse’, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year. I had assumed that with a lighthouse on the cover it would be about the sea and boats, which it isn’t but I don’t read blurbs so I just assumed it would be. Then I heard it was a ‘walking book’ and as a child who went on too many walking holidays (sorry Gran, I do think of them more fondly now) that put me off too. However Trevor of The Mookse and the Gripes raved about it to me when we recorded a Man Booker special of The Readers and now, having finished it, I am kicking myself for having not read it sooner.

Salt Publishing, paperback, 2012, fiction, 184 pages, borrowed from the library

Futh, which I admit I initially found such an unusual name it bothered me to start with and slightly distracted me, is a man who has decided to take himself off on his first holiday alone walking in the German countryside. As we meet him on the ferry we learn that he has recently become separated and in some nostalgic way has done what he and his father did when his mother left and head to Germany for a break of sorts. It is this almost circular and mirroring of the past and the present that we see more and more of as ‘The Lighthouse’ goes on. As Futh walks in the days that follow certain things mainly scents, as he is a chemist who creates artificial scents which I couldn’t help think was inspired by the fact the only thing of his mothers he had was a perfume bottle shaped like a lighthouse, remind him of the past and memories start to come back that he can’t quite figure out, yet as the reader we can which I thought Moore had planned rather intricately.

Now I am aware that I have fallen into the trap of making this book sound like it is a ‘walking book’ and actually it is so much more and that is where the second strand of the novel comes from in alternating chapters. Ester is a rather unhappy landlady of a B&B in Germany called Hellhaus (which is German for ‘lighthouse’) where Futh comes to stay. Her husband, Bernard, no longer seems interested in her and so finds herself sleeping with single men who stay at the hotel, and who will have her, in a way of getting her husband’s attention. This works but not in the way she hopes, his reaction is of a darker jealousy which cleverly creates a sense of unease and dread in the reader for all concerned.

“In the past, she always used beds she had already changed, but since receiving complaints about the sheets, she makes sure to use rooms not yet cleaned. Or she uses rooms whose occupants are out for the day, brushing off and straightening up the bedding afterwards, and sometimes, while she is there, browsing the contents of drawers and suitcases, picking up perfumes and lipsticks, testing them on herself. If guests ever notice their possessions, these small items, going missing, they rarely say anything.”

Both the characters of Ester and Futh are polar opposites yet they have similarities and are so fascinating they make you read on. She appears from the outside a little cold, sexually dominant and manipulative; you learn how she went for Bernard when she was originally dating his brother etc. Yet really ester is a woman who fell in love with a man who became bored of her and she became bored of her life, she wanted romance and indeed still collects and reads Mills and Boons, the promise they offer consoled with drinking gin during the day. Futh on the other hand is one of those people who seem to amble through life a little bit confused and is often overlooked, misunderstood or finds himself misunderstanding the world around him. I did love the fact that wherever he stays he has to work out an exit of safety, hence why he doesn’t like planes. He is someone who goes under the radar possibly because he is actually a bit boring. It is this ambling nature and of not understanding or being understood which makes the ending of the book all the more horrifying, but I won’t say more on that subject.

“He has got into the habit of always determining an escape route from a room in which he is staying, imagining emergency scenarios in which his exit is blocked by a fire or a psychopath. This began, he thinks, when he was in his twenties and living in an attic flat. His Aunt Frieda, worrying about stair fires and burglars, gave him a rope ladder. It seems important he should always know a way out.”

Another thing I really admired and found rather enthralling was the circular feel to ‘The Lighthouse’, something which the title seems to allude to right there and indeed the quoted paragraph above does too. Themes of how history repeats itself, with Futh’s mother (also called Angela) leaving his father for being boring, and then his wife does the very same thing. The very walk itself he goes in is circular, the bottle in his pocket is a lighthouse, Esters hotel has the name, the place Futh saw his father hit his mother and ended their relationship was on a walk to a lighthouse etc. Occasionally these fall into symmetries and seem a tad too much, the fact Ester dated one brother then another and Futh’s wife might have had an affair with his estranged step brother, or the fact Futh creates scents and carries an empty bottle of his mothers and Ester collecting perfume bottles seemed one too far but because the book is so, so good I ended up overlooking it, even if it did seem to be one connection that was thrown in for the plot a little.

I think ‘The Lighthouse’ is one of the most accomplished debut novels that I have read in quite some time, and indeed is one of my favourite novels of the year so far. It is a book that says so much and is brimming with themes and ideas in fewer than two hundred pages. It has shades of dark and light, there is some real humour at Futh’s expense making the darker undertones all the darker, the unease build throughout and the ending all the more upsetting. I had to keep re-reading the last few chapters. I would highly recommend you give this book a whirl and am thrilled that the Man Booker judges chose this over some more famous names or I might have missed out.

Who else has read ‘The Lighthouse’ and what did you think? Have you ever been put off a book by its cover and/or what you have assumed about it or thought the subject matter wouldn’t be your thing (I am also thinking of Madeline Miller’s ‘The Song of Achilles’ here) only to love it and wish you had read it sooner? Oh and you can read Trevor of Mookse and the Gripes thoughts here and also Kim of Reading Matters here as it was Trevor who said I should read it and Kim’s review that made me get this from the library!

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Filed under Alison Moore, Books of 2012, Man Booker, Review, Salt Publishing

We The Animals – Justin Torres

One of the books coming out in the UK in 2012 I was really excited about before the year even began was ‘We The Animals’, a debut novel by Justin Torres. I had heard this mentioned on a couple of book blogs in the USA and raved about by Ann Kingman on the podcast Books on the Nightstand on a few occasions. There seemed to be a real buzz about it, and one created by readers not just publicists. I was actually so excited about this book based on the buzz and recommendations that I nearly bought it from America back in the autumn. However I was lucky enough to get a rather advance proof from the publishers here instead and I can finally tell to you all about it (after having read it again) now it has been released here.

Granta Books, hardback, 2012, fiction, 144 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

‘We The Animals’ is on first glances a ‘coming of age tale’, which I should admit from the start I am really not a fan of, as our unnamed narrator grows up and tells the story of his upbringing in upstate New York from the age of seven until he leaves home, or the nest as we might call it. Only if we use the nest analogy, this would be more a nest of vipers than a nest of fluffy ducklings because as we read on we begin to spot there are tensions and underlying unease in this family and there is an almost claustrophobic bond that the family, though it is even more so between the three children, all brothers, have created with one another.

‘We wanted more. We knocked the butt ends of our forks against the table, tapped our spoons against our empty bowls; we were hungry. We wanted more volume, more riots.’

‘We The Animals’ is not simply a coming of age tale it is also, if a rather concerning image, an honest and believable portrayal of a family of our time but mostly it is the tale of someone coming to terms with individuality. This is why I admitted it so much, it made me ask a lot of questions. When do you start to realise your parents might not be the idealised perfect people you have created in your head? When do sibling rivalries begin and the bonds of brotherhood get severed? How does conflicting parental culture (in this case white and Puerto Rican) affect your bearings on the world? There is a lot discussed in a book which sits just on the borders where novel and novella meet at 144 pages long, though don’t let that fool you into thinking that there is no plot or that this novel doesn’t have a sense of the epic about it as its quite the opposite.

Using almost short story like chapters (and they even have titles like a short story collection would) we are given snapshots from our unnamed narrators childhood; this to me was one of the most brilliant things Torres does with this book. Through initially naive memories, though as the narrator gets older they get a little more understanding, we as adult readers can build up a bigger picture of what is happening in this rather dysfunctional family. Our narrator might not understand why his mother, who works in the local brewery overnight, might sometimes be covered in bruises or unable to get out of bed, or just what happens between the parents while the boys are taking a bath. Yet as adult readers we do understand and so we join the dots and fill in the blanks to make a much darker picture than our narrator describes. I liked this feeling of an author and a reader working together and I have not seen it done as deftly a Torres does for some time.

Without giving too much more away, and I really don’t want to because I read something that did and took some of the impact away for me at the end, there is a sudden gear change towards the final pages of the book and we are left with, yet more, very interesting questions. Does our childhood create who we are in all senses and can the types of childhood we have, who our parents are etc effect how we become individuals? As a reader I closed the final pages of Torres’ book and had to just sit and think about all the questions it raised, hence why I was glad to go back and have a second read through.

‘We The Animals’ epitomises, to me at least, the power that a short novel can have in the right hands. Torres greats this claustrophobic world where the reader sees more than meets the eye, and yet through the eyes of the narrator there is always an innocence sense of hope, only hitting us harder when we see that vision start to fall away or even worse are torn down. To describe something as short yet epic seems a contradiction, yet read this book and you will see what I mean, you will also see why the buzz around Torres is so justified.

You can see Will’s much more articulate review here, though it does mention the ending a little (it wasn’t the review that gave it  all away for me though). You can hear myself and Gavin interviewing Justin Torres about ‘We The Animals’ on the latest episode of The Readers here.

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Filed under Books of 2012, Granta Books, Justin Torres, Review

Fun Home – Alison Bechdel

Jonathan Cape, paperback, 2006, graphic novel/memoir, 240 pages, kindly given to me by Sarah on The Book Barge

I do think that sometimes fate determines when you see a book. I had never heard of ‘Fun Home’ by Alison Bechdel until Rebecca Makkai recommended it when she did her Savidge Reads Grills. A mere week or so after that I was on the book barge and what did I see? Yes, ‘Fun Home’ by Alison Bechdel, and Sarah very kindly said I could have it (along with ‘Trilby’ by George Du Maurier – lovely stuff) in exchange for the M&S picnic I had brought. I offered to pay for these, the look I got told me it was completely out of the question. So like I said, sometimes fate seems to thrust a book in your direction. Sometimes it then takes you several months to read it but never mind.

‘Fun  Home’ is Alison Bechdel’s memoirs told through a graphic novel, which was a concept that I found really intriguing.  It was also one I wasn’t sure would work, would I feel an emotional connection with the images in front of me, or could this read like a cartoon? I can now say that ‘Fun Home’ is in the latter category and as I followed the fictional/illustrated/memory drawn Alison from her childhood, when after inheriting it her family all moved into the family business… a funeral home, to her dealings with the death of her father and their relationship and indeed her own sexuality, the latter she discovered interestingly through books.

It’s hard to say any more on the novel than that. Though it does feel like a novel and I pondered, with all its references to Camus, Fitzgerald and other authors (who Alison’s dad loved and seemed to add the personalities of to his own) if the influence and subsequent love of books gave it that extra edge? It could of course simply be that this is a blooming brilliant novel regardless of its form and that I instead shop stop the subconscious part of my brain which says ‘this is a graphic novel, thats not quite the same as a normal novel’ and get over it. I think I have because I was read this like a novel, I didn’t just sit and read it in one go, I would read a chapter here and there as usual and was thinking of it when I put it down, not as a graphic novel but just as a book I was enjoying.

It is hard to say anymore about the book really without spoilers. It has that mixture or coming of age memoir, gothic reminiscence and family tragedy and comedy that I love when I find just the right combination of. I laughed out loud but it wasn’t saccharine, it was honest without being malicious or brutal, it was emotional without being woe-is-me and I liked the tone of the book. I liked Alison Bechdel and I wanted more of her story.

I used to think that graphic novels were just really big comics for grown up kids, its examples like ‘Fun Home’ that continue to prove my wrong and show that graphic novels can offer you the full formed personality of characters and evoke their situations and the atmospheres that they are surrounded by. People are probably rolling their eyes at that but that has been the case on the whole for me until now, though other graphic novels have been good they have never felt like the give everything that a normal ‘book’ does like ‘Fun Home’ has, and here I must mention ‘Blankets’ by Craig Thompson, where the images become fully formed and not just the illustrated escapism in front of your eyes.

I am hoping people might now give me lots of suggestions of other graphic novels in this vein that will keep proving the former graphically challenged me wrong. My co-conspirator on ‘The Readers’, Gav, has recently been saying how brilliant ‘The House That Groaned’ by Karrie Fransman is. Has anyone else read that one and can concur? Any other graphic novels I should be looking for?

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Filed under Alison Bechdel, Graphic Novels, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Review

The International Readers Awards, The Readers Summer Book Club and Good Reads

A post with links, book suggestion asks and new ways to communicate today… but all with a bookish twist. You may remember a while back Gavin and myself, who you might know make the podcast The Readers, started the International Readers Award? Well, we have decided to extend the submission/voting period. You can go here to find out more. Do vote as I would love to hear what you loved reading last year and why. It might also help with suggestions for another exciting Readers venture…

I know I said that I wasn’t going to start any challenges or read-a-longs this year but rules are for breaking and in this case it is something quite exciting. This May will see the start of ‘The Readers Summer Book Club’ the basic idea is that we will decide on eight titles, which will be announced in April 2012, for you all to read from mid-May to mid-July 2012 to coincide with these there will be special blogs with reviews, and the ability of discussion in the comments and podcasts with interviews with the authors and discussion of the books with some special guests. The idea is to get a really interactive worldwide book club and lots of book based banter. We would REALLY like your suggestions be you a listener, lurker, blogger or publicist either in comments here on my blog or on the site. The full details are here, get suggesting.

Finally myself and the Readers are now on Good Reads (how has it taken this long?) which I am just getting to grips with. You can find me here and The Readers here so get adding.

So that’s lots of friend request begging and book suggestion seeking from me today. Thank you.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, The Readers Podcast

The Readers, The ‘Difficult’ Second Podcast…

…Actually it wasn’t as difficult as we were worried it might be, in fact we nattered away for about three hours leaving lots of editing to be done. Thank you for all the feedback and comments you all gave in various ways (email, comments, review on iTunes) for Episode One of ‘The Readers’ we have taken them all on board and I think we sound a lt more relaxed and ‘normal’, well maybe not normal but ‘natural’.

In fact so natural I had a bit fo a rant vocally about the whole ‘literature vs. readability’ debate which you have all been very kindly leaving comments on the blog post I did, have a listen Gav thinks its hilarious. You can also here an interview with Sarah from The Book Barge (a special post on here very soon), thoughts on the latest book news including The Nobel Prize, Orange judges for 2012, Haruki Murakami and what we have been reading and want to read. It’s a jam packed hour which you an listen to or download here, please do. Oh, and please keep your feedback coming.

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Filed under Random Savidgeness