Tag Archives: Virago Books

Does Anyone Else Think…

That this portrait that my Granddad (Bongy) painted of his mother, my Nana Doris which I have inherited and finally picked up from my mothers this weekend, would look rather wonderful on a Persephone Classics or Virago Modern Classic (especially the old green ones) book cover?


Or is it just me?


Filed under Random Savidgeness

Give Away… The Lifeboat – Charlotte Rogan

I don’t only like to share books I love with you by writing about them, when I can I also really like to give you the chance to win some of them too (don’t forget I am giving you the chance to get a parcel of books in the post here). Well, thanks to the lovely people at Virago I have five copies of ‘The Lifeboat’ by Charlotte Rogan to give away to you lucky lot.

All five copies are kindly available internationally so wherever you are in the world (as I am aware you Savidge Readers come from all over the shop) you have a chance to get this fabulous book. If you love a really good gripping story and wonderful writing you are in for a real treat.

All you have to do is tell me of a subject in books that you really don’t think you like (like me and books set on boats) and then an example of a book which bowled you over despite yourself (like me and ‘The Lifeboat’) and why it blew you away. You have until midnight GMT on Saturday and then The Beard will pick you out of a hat at random. Good luck.


Filed under Charlotte Rogan, Give Away, Virago Books

The Diary of a Provincial Lady – E.M. Delafield

E.M Delafield’s ‘The Diary of a Provincial Lady’ is a book that has been recommended to me umpteen times through the blogosphere. When a book comes under so much glowing praise firstly I have a good old think for about two seconds before I run off and grab a copy, then when I get it home I don’t read it instantly, oh no, I look at it on and off for a few weeks with trepidation instead. Will I actually like it? Have these lovely people got my book taste just so? What on earth will they think of me if I don’t like it? It can actually prove somewhat vexing.

Now really the title of this book does kind of tell you what’s coming. This is a fictional ‘Diary of a Provincial Lady’ though having a wander through the internet etc it turns out that actually this was quite an autobiographical volume of E.M. Delafield’s work. We follow our narrator through a year of village life as she copes with village life, marriage, children, cooks, neighbours and the like for just under a year. That is pretty much the premise of the book, throw in some very dry, wry (I am rather loving this word at the moment, deadpan humour and a bunch of rather wonderfully bizarre local characters and there you have a novel that you will sit grinning through.

The book is not one which is heavy on plot. Instead it is much more based on observational humour yet to my mind there was also a slight sadness to it. Whilst you have the cook who is always on the verge of quitting, the children who mystify their mother, nosey neighbours and the wonderful Lady Boxe who our narrator is ever in competition with and who constantly questions their friendship, I suppose you would call them ‘frenemies’ or some such in today’s world. There is also a husband that really never listens to his wife or seems to care which really is quite odd and the more I thought from that aspect and took into account all the friendships too I suddenly felt that actually our hilarious heroine is quite alienated and isolated. That could just be me of course has anyone else spotted this? It just stuck out to me amongst all the inane grinning I was doing!

Grin a lot I did, no actual out loud laughter but a lot of grinning and I think a smirk or two. I am probably preaching to the converted with this book as I am sure that many of you have already had the pleasure of this novel and possibly its subsequent series The Provincial Lady Goes Further, The Provincial Lady in America and The Provincial Lady in Wartime which I might have a search for and read one day. In fact, and I have this on the TBR at the moment, E.M Delafield’s daughter R.M. Dashwood went on to write ‘Provincial Daughter’ and I am looking forward to reading that in the not too distant future.

A very enjoyable read all in all and one that you can either divulge in an afternoon or dip into now and again from the bedside table. I must forewarn people though that there is some discussion on a certain shopping site about the fact some books advertise three of the volumes and yet only contain the one. I can’t speak for the normal paperback as I bought the delightful Cath Kidston (perfect designer to cover this book) covered edition which is just the first volume.

If like me you enjoy crazy characters, wry observational humour and village life then I doubt very much you could resist its charms. I am wondering what other rare gems that fall under that category of book I am yet to read.


Filed under E. M. Delafield, Review, Virago Books

Good Bones – Margaret Atwood

Good Bones is a book by Margaret Atwood that I had never heard of before and indeed found by accident. I always think it’s a delight when you are wandering aimlessly along shelves of books (though as book lovers I am also sure you will understand the awful crick in your neck you get from browsing book spines at an angle) looking for something delightful to take your fancy and this was such an occasion. It wasn’t in a book shops as November is my trial ‘no book buying month’ it was in the library. As soon as I spotted this, I always have a look at what Atwood’s they have, adored the cover and so grabbed it. I also thought it was a novella and have been trying to read more, but this book is something quite, quite different.

Good Bones is a selection of twenty seven short works by Margaret Atwood. I say short works as some of them read as fiction, some seem to be essays, some are fable like and others just seem to be the wanderings of the author. It’s like a note book filled with Atwood-like idea’s is possibly the best way to describe it, like a scrap book of possible idea’s for books and longer tales as the longest of this collection is fourteen pages.

The themes of the tales seem to be fables, fairy tales and dare I mention it ‘speculative’ pieces. You have a tale of the Little Red Hen who can’t quite work out what all the fuss is about that she grew a loaf of bread and the furore it caused. You have Hamlet’s mother Gertrude who actually wanted to call him George and who was not ‘wringing her hands’ but ‘drying her nails’. Wicked Stepmothers and Ugly Sisters fight their corner and for feminism (in fact feminist themes glimmer between these tales) as they stand up for themselves and make the point that tough love always seems to get the bimbo princess her man in the end doesn’t it? Despite moments of utter laughter such as when the Little Red Hen says ‘Then I’ll do it myself, I said, as the nun quipped to the vibrator’. It’s not all fairy tales and giggles though.

There is the very short but intense, sexy and passionate ‘In Love With Raymond Chandler’. The feminist ‘The Female Body’ when Atwood is actually discussing Barbie’s and other dolls and the image they project to young girls. There is the look at men with ‘Making a Man’ which includes the Gingerbread Method and the Clothes Maketh the Man Method which looks at the difference between the sexes. It’s all so cleverly done and you feel that though these two or ten page stories are fully formed there could be several books in here that just haven’t be written yet.  

With twenty seven tales in 153 pages it is a marvellous selection of, as the wonderful cover says ‘pure distilled Atwood’. It’s funny in parts, sexy in parts and dark in parts, but then aren’t most Atwood novels all of these things? I think fans of Atwood will love the darkness and the wry slightly knowing humour and for anyone new to Atwood it’s a way of getting to know what wonderful fiction you are getting into in digestible pieces.

Has anyone else read this collection? What are your thoughts on authors re-writing fairy tales? Have you been in a book shop (so jealous if you have) or library of late and found there is a gem of a novel/book that you had never heard of by one of your favourite authors and if so what was it?


Filed under Books of 2009, Margaret Atwood, Review, Short Stories, Virago Books

The Bookseller of Kabul – Asne Seierstad

I have been meaning to read ‘The Bookseller of Kabul’ for quite some time even though I seemed to miss all of the hype around this book when it came out back in 2003/2004. One of my colleagues had been reading it and so we’d been discussing it and I had made a mental note to look out for it.  Going through my TBR during moving house last week I found my copy, which I think I bought almost two years ago from a charity shop, and thought it would make a change from some of the other things I have been reading. We all like a change now and again don’t we? Plus, I have been aiming to read more non-fiction this year. 

‘The Bookseller of Kabul’ was written after journalist Asne Seierstad spent time in Kabul and befriended the local bookseller and found both his story and life fascinating. She then asked if she could possibly stay with his family so that she could get a different but very real look at these people’s lives. Sultan, the bookseller, agreed and so she moved in and was taken in as part of the family. Through this she gained a true insight into how life in Kabul was after the Taliban regime and how it had been during and before. 

From the introduction and the blurb I thought this would be a really intriguing and unusual read and in some ways it was. Through Seierstad’s experiences you are totally immersed in the surroundings of Kabul, the smells, sounds and of course the culture from a very different perspective. Seierstad herself would were the Burka and go around dressed as one of the women and so in particular she got insight into their lives as underneath the gown and headdress she became anonymous, even if it wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences. 

Sadly, though a compelling insightful and often shocking read, the book was readable but wasn’t what I had hoped for. I was expecting this to be a blow by blow account of Asne’s story through her eyes and yet what she has chosen to do is make it into a story seen by a third party looking in on the family. I always have trouble when people do this as though its claimed to be ‘non-fiction’ I always wonder how someone can stop themselves from fictionalising things if it’s not from their exact account. Seierstad may have overheard all these stories in the months she lived with the family but she wasn’t actually there and I would have found her account as a westerner drawn into their world more interesting. 

This could be down to the fact that having read both ‘The Kite Runner’ and ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini first this seemed to pale into comparison slightly. Maybe if I hadn’t read ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ this would have rated much higher with me as the struggle of women in Kabul is made fully clear in ‘The Bookseller of Kabul’ and wasn’t in ‘The Kite Runner’. This is a great book; don’t get me wrong I just wish I had read it before any Hosseini as though his is fiction it reads much better. If Seierstad had written her experiences from her perspective I think this could have been outstanding, and if she ever does I will be down to the book store buying a copy on the day of release.


Filed under Asne Seierstad, Review, Virago Books

The Breaking Point – Daphne Du Maurier

As I constantly drum into the heads of anyone that will listen, I am a huge fan of Daphne Du Maurier, even though I have actually own read ‘Rebecca’, ‘Jamaica Inn’, ‘The Parasites’ and ‘The Rendezvous and Other Stories’. When Virago actually sent me a copy of the re-issued (for the first time in around two decades) ‘The Breaking Point’ I almost popped with joy. After the initial ecstatic feeling one of dread came over me… what if I didn’t like it? What if it hadn’t been published for all this time because really it just wasn’t as good as one of my favourite books ‘Rebecca’ or other greats like ‘Jamaica Inn’? well I should have had dread in mind, but not for the quality of the stories or the writing…

‘The Breaking Point’, named because “characters are caught at those moments when the delicate link between reason and emotion has been stretched to the breaking point”, was originally published in 1959 and hasn’t been published since the early 80’s. Until this year of course! Daphne has always been known to write quite dark tales however this is said to be one of her darkest which of course added to the thrill of reading the book and I have to say that these are incredibly dark and brooding indeed. Written when her husband was ill, she was relocated nearby to a small cramped flat and then faced with her husband’s long term adultery, so possibly in quite a dark place herself.

Now this is a collection of eight of her short stories and me telling you about each and every single one of them might get a little dull and ruin the objective of actually buying the books yourselves. So I will focus on a few and simply say that all of them are quite chilling, even when at first you think that they might not be.

‘Ganymede’ for example is just one such tale, it starts with what seems like a tale of “the unspeakable act” of a classical scholar who when holidaying in Venice becomes besotted and slightly obsessed with a waiter. Of course in this day and age this really isn’t that shocking, however as the tale goes on what could be a romance story has a huge twist that shocks you and is then followed by a small chapter that then makes you completely reshuffle the story and its motive as you read the last line. It’s difficult to review any of these without giving away the twists in the tale at the end which all of them have in abundance.

‘The Pool’ is slightly different, as is ‘The Archduchess’ as they both have a slight, if dark, fairytale quality to them. Both seem to be set in ‘secret other world’ and yet deal with changes in emotion. The first is very much about a girl going through puberty and the change from child to adult and all the emotions that brings, forming women from other worlds that only she can see. Whereas the latter is more about the greed and darkness of the male human psyche and its endless need to devour and control as Daphne describes the made up land of ‘Ronda’ in Europe and its demise. Emotions are also at the forefront of ‘The Chamois’ which is a tale of a couple climbing a mountain and as they climb, the more they are pushed and the more the tensions in their marriage show its incredibly clever and of course has that all important twist.

My two favourites have to be ‘The Alibi’ and ‘The Blue Lenses’ for how dark they are (though ‘The Menace’ – which does what it says – is equally dark) and both of which are easily the eeriest things that I have read in quite some time. ‘The Alibi’ actually made me think of ‘Amercian Psycho’ as a man suddenly whilst walking with his wife, realises that he could kill someone randomly and so he sets about randomly organising it. It’s really, really creepy and the randomness of his decisions and actions makes it all the more real to imagine.

‘The Blue Lenses’ reminded me in some ways of something that Margaret Atwood might come up with. Set in a nursing home Marda West undergoes an operation to bring back her sight via the power of a new find in medicine called ‘The Blue Lenses’. When her sight is regained she sees things more clearly than she thought as people’s personalities create the heads of creatures that have their traits and though it sounds slightly out fo this world and comical, when she meets the person with the snakes head I promise it will chill you and turn you cold.

This is a fantastic collection of short stories be you a fan of Daphne or not! If you like complex and psychological, suspenseful and dark, if you like looking into the depths of the human mind or if you just want a fantastic read I cannot recommend this collection strongly enough. Daphne once again delivers, and it’s a treat for all those who turn the pages.


Filed under Daphne Du Maurier, Review, Short Stories, Virago Books

The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters

Finally a book review I hear you cry! Apologies that this has been so long in coming (get read though there are about to be quite a few) but I have to say that I really had to give myself a little space from Sarah Water’s ‘The Little Stranger’ before I could review it. I have so far only read two of Sarah Water’s other books ‘Affinity’ and ‘The Night Watch’ both of which I really enjoyed, particularly ‘Affinity’ as I found it incredibly dark, brooding and creepy plus I really love books about Victorian London in which it is set.

I have yet to conquer ‘Fingersmith’ which I have heard nothing but brilliant reviews about and I have always veered away from ‘Tipping The Velvet’ as the TV show is still very deeply etched in my mind and though the actresses were fantastic I would like to create the characters from scratch in my head. When Virago kindly sent me a copy of ‘The Little Stranger’ some weeks ago I was in the middle of reading the Orange Shortlist and so had to force myself to hold off. Whilst away a few weeks ago I went could hold back no longer.

The book opens with Dr Faraday returning to Hundreds House for the first time since his childhood when his mother was maid there. The house is much past its heyday, war and rationings and lack of money in the country have turned it into a shadow of its former self. It’s dilapidated and a little bit creepy and the son and heir Roderick is selling land to make ends meet but slowly and surely the house is falling into more debt and more disrepair. He is there to see the maid who is ill, once there he finds she isn’t and that she is simply homesick and scared of the feelings of a presence in the household, something she believed is evil and lurking at Hundreds Hall. From there Dr Faraday makes a bond with the family and Mrs Ayres and daughter Caroline in particular and so witnesses some ‘unnatural’ events as they occur and things start to spiral out of control.

Sarah Waters fifth book sees her writing all about a totally new period in history (post-WWII Warwickshire) from her others. The first three (Affinity, Tipping The Velvet, Fingersmith) were all set in the Victorian Era and The Night Watch moved into the second world war. It also sees her first cast of only ‘straight’ characters as before the leads have tended to been lesbians, so it seemed from the outset that Waters was trying something a little different which is always exciting (and slightly nerve-wracking) when its an author that you like. I needn’t have worried because one thing that you always know with a Sarah Waters book, well it is what I have found so far, is that whichever era, setting or background the story has its going to have been researched to the maximum and her writing will envelope you in that era without any effort from you at all.

In fact for me the book was more a story of the fall and decline of society and the ‘rich family piles and country homes’ than a ghost story as until about three hundred pages in only a few odd things had actually taken place. Oh I should note if you are a dog lover one of the occurrences results in one of the saddest scenes in the whole book which actually really got to me, but I shall say no more. Though there is a great sense of paranoia and unease through out the book and some shades of ‘The Turning of the Screw’ and sensationalist novels from the likes of Wilkie Collins and indeed ‘Rebecca’ by my favourite wrier Daphne Du Maurier with a sprinkling of Grey Gardens thrown in, I never actually felt scared or chilled by the book. In fact after what was quite a ‘me’ opening of the book, a big spooky house and mysterious events going on it petered out and I was left, and I feel awful for saying this as the writing was wonderful, I came away slightly disappointed.

I was expecting a huge twist at the end and at first I couldn’t see one at all. However I would recommend that should you read the book, and I think people should, you might want to re-read the final few chapters as I suddenly saw a huge twist that shocked me a little and actually the very last line alludes to slightly which I then had to re-read. If my second reading and discovery is true then that gave me the chills far more than the ghostly parts of the book did. I don’t know if anyone else has? If you have read it and did then don’t comment on here but email me as I don’t want to give out any plot spoilers.

All in all I wouldn’t classify this as a ghost story, I would definitely say it’s a view of society at a very changing time, the love story between Dr Faraday (who was beginning to really grate on me towards the end) and Caroline was interesting in terms of class and how it all worked in the past but was evolving towards for the future was very interesting too. I look forward to what Waters does next; in the meantime I think I am going to definitely have to pick up Fingersmith very soon.


Filed under Man Booker, Review, Sarah Waters, Virago Books

Gilead – Marilynne Robinson

I have had this book in my TBR pile for absolutely ages and though it has won awards such as the Pulitzer (which I prefer to the Man Booker in general) and been praised by family, friends and some bloggers it has never quite sold itself to me when it actually comes to starting a new book. There are a few reasons for this that I can think one was that it doesn’t have chapters (which really put me off The Road but actually didn’t matter) and I like a break now and again. The other, more important, reason was that I didn’t like the look of the subject matter. Firstly it’s the letter of a dying man, and secondly it’s got a very religious theme which always makes me wary. I have nothing against religion, I am not religious myself though and don’t like ‘preachy books’. I was beginning to think this might be much more for my catholic Non Reader.

However knowing that I am going to be reading the Orange Shortlist over the next two weeks in the lead up to the winner being announced and knowing that Marilynne’s nominated book Home is in there and is a sequel and prequel and companion (confused much – I am) to Gilead I thought I should give it a go. There of course a big worry for me which was ‘if Gilead is rubbish how on earth am I going to get on with Home’? I opened it admittedly with quite a lot of trepidation…

Gilead is a novel which is in fact the letter of dying Reverend John Ames to his son written in Gilead, Iowa in 1956. Knowing that he will not be around for much longer and will not be able to tell his son of his ‘begats’ and family history he decides that he will write it all down for him. It’s his final testament if you will for his son ‘who may not remember me in the future’. Now you would be thinking that with a novel like this there isn’t going to be much joy, however actually despite there being no particular storyline this is really a book filled with the celebration of life. As John Ames memoirs come in stops and starts and have no particular structure you are given insight into the memories of an everyday man as he makes his way in the world and the trials and tribulations along the way.

I admit I was worried for the first 40 or so pages that this was going to be a beautifully written but ultimately boring read. Indeed was almost certain my ‘if you don’t like it by page 80 put it down’ rule was going to come into play but it didn’t. Page 80 was suddenly 20, 40, 60 pages behind me and the prose was taking me along with it on its meandering delightful journey. Robinson’s prose is possibly some of the most beautifully written prose I have the pleasure of turning pages too and undoubtedly is what kept me going to what is quite an ending (that is all I will say about the ending) and the final page.

Now it’s rare that a book can make me emotional but this one did. I don’t know if it’s because I myself have looked after someone who is terminally ill or just the prose and the way Robinson puts you into the mind of a dying man but passages such as this set me off.
“Just now I was listening to a song on the radio, standing there swaying to it a little, I guess, because your mother saw me from the hallway and she said, ‘I could show you how to do that.’ She came and put her arms around me and put her head on my shoulder, and after a while she said, in the gentlest voice you could ever imagine, ‘Why’d you have to be so damn old?’
I ask myself the same question.”

Was the religion in the book preachy? No not at all I actually found it quite insightful and thought provoking. There is a lot of debate over religion and war and how each affects the other and how divided people of the same faith can be over religious involvement, backing or prohibiting war can be. If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea I would say give it a go and see how Robinson can change your mind with her prose. I will admit the book is slightly too long at 282 pages and occasionally I found that John Ames was repeating anecdotes or statements more than once. If stunning prose and subtle observations of life over none stop plot and all the fireworks is your thing then this is definitely the book for you. I am going to say I sit on the fence.

Having the knowledge that Home is now out you can see that the clues are very much there in Gilead that it was planned as Boughton is always being discussed mentioning his children are ‘home’ or are coming ‘home’. Part of me wonders if Robinson’s idea is to eventually write the life of all the inhabitants of Gilead. I would like to give Robinson’s Housekeeping a go as that sounds like it has a fascinating storyline. If Home has the prose of Gilead then I think that there isn’t really any competition in the Orange shortlist… I will be able to tell you within the next two weeks.

Do you prefer plot over prose? Have any of you read Housekeeping? I would ask you if you have read Home but as I haven’t yet I don’t want anyone giving anything away!


Filed under Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize, Review, Virago Books

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

So finally I have gotten to the point where I can review what was meant to be the first book in the Savidge Reads Big Weekenders. However I think it is better to say that this is the book that inspired the Big Weekenders, as even devoting some long reading hours to it this simply isn’t a book you can indulge yourself with over one weekend. I have only read one Atwood book before this two, maybe three years ago, The Handmaid’s Tale, which I loved. I tried reading The Robber Bride but for some reason couldn’t get into it, then I tried this book three years ago and 15 pages in my Gran told me the ending so I have waited to forget it. Would I manage to read the whole book unlike last time? Would I love my second dalliance with Margaret, especially such a long one that has so much to say?

I don’t think that however long I made this review of Margaret Atwood’s Man Booker Winner ‘The Blind Assassin’ I could ever hope to cover all the book is trying to say, the themes it covers, the many voices it has. I actually think a task like that with a book like this would be impossible. That isn’t a cop out at all as I am going to try mu hardest to condense everything I have taken away from what is a magnificent book but by no means an easy book. I have actually been really surprised at how many people have said to me ‘oh I didn’t like that book at all’ and ‘oh it’s Atwood’s worst, it really is’ I can see why people make the first comment, I whole heartedly disagree with them but I can see why people might not like this book. If the latter comment is true after reading this book I could easily become an Atwood-a-holic as if this is her worst her best will be mind blowing.

The Blind Assassin starts with Iris Chase describing and remembering her sister Laura’s death after she drove herself off a bridge. From this dark and interesting start we are told the story in alternating parts. Iris narrates her own personal history, the story of her sisters life and their backgrounds that made them who they are. The other parts are told through Laura’s very own novel ‘The Blind Assassin’ (so a book within a book) published after her early death along with newspaper cuttings about the Chase Sisters and events in their lives. Has that confused anyone? It confused me a little at first especially as the Laura’s book ‘The Blind Assassin’ (the book within Atwood’s book) has a character who tells another story, so a story within the story within the story, that is set in a foreign world (which I thought had shades of The Handmaid’s Tale) and is like a dark science fiction like fairy tale, wonderful. Do not let the confusion or the words ‘science fiction’ put you off as I promise you persevere with this book and it pays off in dividends. It just needs some effort from the reader, but should every book no matter what you read.

As all these different elements are woven together so wonderfully by Atwood we see a picture emerging, however the picture changes dependent on who’s version you here until finally you think the full picture has formed and then it shifts slightly, that’s all I will say. Through the narration of Iris in particular, who is a wonderful slightly outrageous and sarcastic old lady compared to her timid youth “I’m not senile… if I burn the house down it will be on purpose”, we get a history of Canada and its changes in the 20th century, a look at how companies were taken over and ruined, and the rights of women and how they have changed. Like I said to cover every subject, theme or voice in this particular book in one review after only one full read through of the book I would say is pretty much impossible.

Along the way through happy and dark times, different voices and 633 pages of quite small print Atwood also treats us to a host of wonderful characters. Be they the tongue-less mute and her Blind Assassin in the fairytale, to the wonderful characters in both Iris and Laura Clarke’s lives such as the firm but fair housekeeper Reenie or Iris’ awful but wonderful to read sister-in-law Winifred. There is a whole host of wonderful characters to keep you reading on, and I will admit for some reason pages 200 – 300 were a strange struggle for me but the characters kept me going and I am so, so glad they did.

I would recommend this book to everyone and anyone. I am aware some people will think I must be crazy. My advice would be take it slowly, persevere and don’t see this book as a book to race through so you have read a Man Booker, or read one of Atwood’s biggest books (both in length and in sales) relax with it and work at it, you’ll be glad you did, I was.


Filed under Man Booker, Margaret Atwood, Review, Virago Books

The Room of Lost Things – Stella Duffy

After having so loved State of Happiness earlier this year I was really looking forward to reading Stella Duffy’s latest novel once more. Every so often you come across a book where you just think ‘what a great idea’ and ‘how the hell did they come up with that?’ This is the case of Stella Duffy’s latest novel ‘The Room of Lost Things’. As you will all probably know I am a fan of Stella’s work and re-reading this recently has made the book even better the second time round. Has that happened to any of you? I think first time I was simply devouring it and couldn’t gat enough of the characters and had to know what happened instantly. This time it was a much gentler devouring and I spotted a lot of things that I had possibly missed the first time round and characters that grew on me even more so this time.

The story focuses on several characters but in particular Robert Sutton who is the keeper of the room of lost things. What is the room of lost things? Why it is a laundry in Loughborough Junction which he is leaving and where many people leave hints of their secrets in their pockets which Robert has collected. A laundry that he inherited from his mother Alice (one of my favourite names, I know not one horrid Alice) though sadly he himself has no Indeed the deal is very much done and he is handing the shop over to Akeel and his wife, meaning that he is packing up and dealing with his past and not only the secrets that other people have left in their laundry, but his own demons. All this whilst also training Akeel to do his job.

The rest of the book looks at the people in the area some of whom go into the laundrette and others who merely pass it day by day. Two of my favourite characters were the two homeless men who can often be found on the unwanted sofa on the street watching the world go by. Actually saying that I don’t think I had any favourites exactly I enjoyed all the characters and their tales and there is a huge scope in this novel be they the nanny who is having an affair with her boss, an old lady who has Alzheimer’s though doesn’t know it (that’s not a bad joke it’s the truth) or the commitment phobic dancer.

With a book filled with so many characters Stella Duffy’s additional skill is managing to give you insight into all their lives, relationships and stories without you feeling confused. There is really though one true star of the story and that is London and not the London that everyone knows and loves, not the tourist traps and the hustle and bustle of the West End. This is a truer London that those, like me, will know and love. Those of you who don’t will be entranced and will be left wanting to find the more hidden parts where tubes dare not tread when you next visit.
This book is in some ways a love letter (the prose is beautiful) to a part of London that Stella herself lives in and indeed loves. Though this is not a crime novel I feel Duffy has used her skills from her crime series to weave the plot whilst dropping hints and herrings along the way until you come to the end of the book. I want to say more about the ending but I shan’t as I could give things away, it’s a very well written and thought provoking ending is probably the best way to describe it.

I was moved, I fell in love with London even more (especially as it was based on my side of the river) and I had read it before I realised it again, it just enveloped me. A wonderful book I whole heartedly recommend. All in all this is a really accomplished and human novel that tells of some of the residents of Loughborough Junction and celebrates the often forgotten ‘south of the river’ part of London. I really loved this book and not just for the real characters but for the idea of the room of lost things. This is more proof that Stella is a wonderful writer, and one I hope will be doing an interview for Savidge Reads in the forthcoming weeks. I need to get begging. So in the hope she does and you have any questions for her or questions you have always wanted an author to answer then let me know!

*Note* if you are looking for my Booking Through Thursday it is here… I had done a similar topic last month!


Filed under Books of 2008, Review, Stella Duffy, Virago Books

The Parasites – Daphne Du Maurier

Now some of you may know that I have a real love for the book ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier, in fact I think it would have to be one of my books of all time. So every time I read a new Du Maurier book it not only has a lot to live up to but I also get that slightly nervous feeling that the next one I read will taint how wonderful I think she is as a writer. Jamaica Inn and The Rendezvous & Other Stories have both been wonderful reads and carried on my fondness for her writing (which is always quite dark) and I have to say The Parasites is another wonderful book. I have read this along with Novel Insights (who is away travelling the world) as part of our (now transatlantic) Rogue Book Group and it’s a really different brilliant read.

The Parasites is a tale of three siblings Maria, Niall and Celia who are actually ‘the parasites’ of the title. “When people play the game: Name three or four persons whom you would choose to have with you on a desert island – they never choose the Delaney’s. They don’t even choose us one by one as individuals. We have earned, not always fairly we consider, the reputation of being difficult guests…” Not full blooded (I hate that expression) siblings they are joined by their mother and father – Celia is the only child of both parents – who are well know in the theatre world. Instantly you want to know why these three are so infamous and what sort of characters they must be and slowly but surely Du Maurier draws you into their world.

The book is actually narrated by all three of the siblings, sometimes individually and sometimes as a collective which makes the style of the book even more interesting. Maria has become a well known actress, Niall a composer of songs and Celia has artistic talents stifled by caring for their father. Through different events in their pasts and looking at their current situations you are left in no question of their true characters. Celia is a definite ‘spinster’, Niall is a lazy floating composer with no real attachments to anyone bar a slightly obsessive incestuous love for half sister Maria who herself is more the characters she plays than ever actually herself. In fact sometimes you wonder if Maria actually knows who she is, let alone anyone else knowing.

The backdrop of the novel is the theatre world and upper classes of London and Paris in the times leading up to and during the second world war which adds to the fascinating novel. For me though as ever it’s the darkness that Du Maurier finds in people and their surroundings, her observations of people and their motives and how circumstance and background can create peoples characteristics. Mainly in this novel they are quite dark and calculating. What particularly shines out in this novel is Du Maurier’s dark wit, I admit I let out a few cackles of glee reading this with some of the situations, put downs and words the characters have in the book.

People say that Rebecca was always inspired by and gave a nod to Jane Eyre, and this novel seems to share some parallels with Wuthering Heights. Niall and Maria could easily have been Heathcliffe and Cathy especially with their dislikeable ways and even their relationships mirror some of that novel as do their tragedies in some ways. I personally didn’t like Wuthering Heights I cannot say the same for this novel.

This is a lesser known of Du Maurier’s works and I can’t see why as here I think observationally and definitely in terms of her dark sense of humour she is on flying form. I thought this might be quite a cynical sparse novel and in many ways it is yet I found myself on quite an emotional journey at the end and indeed the whole way through with Celia and her story. If you are a Du Maurier fan already you will love this book, the writing is just superb. If you haven’t tried Du Maurier yet then this only adds to the reasons that you should be picking up her works as soon as you can.


Filed under Books of 2009, Daphne Du Maurier, Review, Virago Books

State of Happiness – Stella Duffy

I don’t know about you but when you find an author that you love there is that mingled desire to read everything that they have ever written before you discovered them as quickly as possible. There is also the desire to savour these books and not have finished all of someone’s books before the next one is out. There can also be the niggling worry that you might not like it either at all or just not as much as the others. Which authors is it for you? For me there are a few authors that I have these thoughts with, I bet you could guess them, and those are Ian McEwan, Susan Hill, Kate Atkinson, Anne Tyler, Daphne Du Maurier, Tess Gerritsen and last but not least Stella Duffy. So I opened the first page of State Of Happiness with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.

This book is amazing, simply stunning. I don’t know where to start a review exactly because I don’t want to give anything away so I will try and stick to the blurb with my additional babbling along the way. Jack (a Mancunian living in New York trying to make it in TV and the news) and Cindy (a mapmaker and published writer) meet at a mutual friend’s party and by the end of the evening know that they have both met someone special. What follows is the story of their relationship over the first five years moving from New York to LA and then dealing with the shocking blow when Cindy becomes incredibly ill.

The first half of the novel tells of the way relationships start and flow as they become more and more serious. The hesitations and customisations people have and make as they go through the new emotions and make room in their life for someone new, someone to become the other part of their life. I don’t know how she does it but Stella Duffy writes in a way that we see all these things in ourselves and smile at them. I kept thinking as I read on ‘oh yes, I have felt like that’ when she describes making space in your life for someone else and their habits. It’s written with a delightful realism that made me empathise with the characters which only made things harder in the second half of the novel.

Oddly when Cindy moves to be with Jack from the busy city and lights of New York to the sunny skies of LA the book becomes much darker. When Cindy falls sick (and I am not going to tell you what happens) you live the moments with her. I think my journey with her was so much harder because I liked her so much (I know books aren’t about characters we like but like her I did) and because someone close to me became very ill and it brought it back. I don’t think I have read such a spot on description of all the emotions you go through, the questions, the anger, the sadness and the laughter apart from in Helen Garner’s The Spare Room. ‘State of Happiness’ has it all encapsulated in less than two hundred and fifty pages.

The other thing that Duffy does that I thought was wonderful is relate all of these factors with mapping. Cindy herself is a cartographer as I mentioned, we read some of the excerpts of her book and possible future novel throughout the book, and how our lives are mapped and how the routes change as we go along is a big subject of the book. It’s the prose that gets me though frank yet poetic and subtle yet poignant. A friend of mine read the book just before me (and gave away the ending – tut) and summed it up in a sentence ‘a wonderful book, I have never read anything like it’ and she was spot on. This is a must read… must read.


Filed under Books of 2009, Review, Stella Duffy, Virago Books

The Bolter – Frances Osborne

Now you should all know that I have a small obsession about all things Mitford, which at the moment with the amount of books filled with letters, essays and diary entries from these sisters is very lucky for me. The Bolter by Frances Osborne has been on my book-radar for quite some time because of being part of my Richard and Judy Challenge and also because apparently the book is all about, Idina Sackville, was the inspiration for Nancy Mitford’s ‘The Bolter’ in three of her novels. For this alone I know I would like this book, even though looking at some reviews have been slightly underwhelming…

Well I won’t hold back on this… I loved this book. However I can understand why some people out there might not like it so much, but more of that later. The Bolter can be summed up pretty much by its full title ‘The Bolter: Idina Sackville – The Woman Who Scandalized 1920’s Society and Became White Mischief’s Infamous Seductress’. This book promises to be full of gossip and scandal whilst taking a look at just what was going on in the rich upper classes in the 1920’s and 1930’s. It does exactly what it promises on that front with some very insightful tales even of royalty. It also lifts the lid further on ‘The Happy Valley’ (which I had no knowledge of prior to this book – but I have been looking up on the web like mad) in Africa where bed hopping, drug taking, suicide and murder along with attempted murder all took place.

These things were great, Frances Osborne makes a lot of affairs and bed hopping very easy to keep up with and digest. She also brings in some really interesting social history such as what could and couldn’t constitute the rights for divorce and what counted as adultery. She looked at the women suffragettes which were something that Idina and her mother Muriel were very much involved with. It also looks at how war affected people not just in terms of rations but in terms of love and affairs of the heart. All this was wonderfully written and all over too quickly. However for me it was the background on Idina herself along with her childhood, parents and the society she grew up in and how they made her into the character which she became that I found so fascinating.

Yes she was a sexual predator in some ways, no she couldn’t be faithful, married and divorced five times, loved to party and left her sons and husband but deep down her story is of struggle and tragedy and how people react to that. Plus she in historical terms as Frances (who is her great-granddaughter) finds, from her family alone regardless of society back in the day, is blamed for this and getting the real insight your opinion is changed. Her first marriage to her true love wasn’t a happy one after the war and he ended up marrying his sister’s best friend Barbie. Some of the names in this book are wonderful. If all the things that happened to her happened to most people they would have given up aged about 21. However Idina is incredibly strong and fights and pushes to get what she wants which you believe is actually a quite settled life just with lots of sex.

This book also did something that very few books tend to do nowadays (unless I am having trouble keeping up) which is to make notes. There are some wonderful quotes such as when Idina describes why she married one of her husbands ‘he had broad shoulders, a long attention span and an endless supply of handkerchiefs’ and facts that I felt I wanted to chase up and learn more about. I also laughed and smiled quite a lot too thinking that anyone who loves the words and works of Nancy Mitford would be right at home with this. It does appear she very much borrowed from Idina and her real story for her own fiction. I also actually felt very solemn when the book ended and quite moved.

All in all a marvellous book which I would recommend to Mitford fans and particularly people who wouldn’t normally pick up a non fiction novel. This book has made me want to know so much more about the era and the other people mentioned as well as more on Idina herself and you cant ask more than that from a good book (this also happened with The 19th Wife which was fiction based on fact but a completely different subject) I am really pleased that Frances Osborne is writing more.

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Filed under Books of 2009, Frances Osborne, Nancy Mitford, Review, Virago Books

The Rendezvous & Other Stories – Daphne Du Maurier

I have to admit I don’t normally like short stories but that is what is great about Book Groups the fact they invariably get you reading things that you normally wouldn’t. This month for Rogue Book Group we have done The Rendezvous and Other Stories by a woman who is fast becoming one of my favourite authors of all time Daphne Du Maurier. Having loved ‘Jamaica Inn’ and ‘Rebecca’ being possibly one of my favourite books of all time would Daphne Du Maurier’s short stories be as good as what I have read so far?

The Rendezvous and Other Stories is a collection of Daphne’s earlier works. Some of them are inevitably therefore very short more musings than full stories yet that doesn’t stop them being completely brilliant. For example ‘Panic’ which is short but also incredibly dark and a little disturbing. ‘La Saintee-Vierge’ is almost a fable in its own way looking at a woman’s innocence.

‘The Rendezvous’, ‘No Motive’ and ‘Split Second’ are the three longest tales and though I didn’t love ‘The Rendezvous’ because all the characters annoyed me and I wanted to throttle several of them but it made me have a reaction. I did think that No Motive is a brilliant murder mystery of sorts and Split Second is one of the best tales with a twist of the whole collection. It does make you admire what a wonderful writer she was and how good she was so early on in her writing career.

There are a few duds I can’t lie. I found ‘The Lover’ slightly boring and it’s a tale of a lover getting what he wants with older women that I have read a fair few times before and seemed a little bit contrived. I also hated ‘Angels and Archangels’ it again seemed to be based on the sort of things that you have read a few times before about bad vicars and didn’t seem to have Daphne’s true voice ringing through it. These two were it has to be said the only ones I didn’t like, oh no I tell a lie, I didn’t like ‘Escort’ which is possibly quite a brilliant ghost story but the words ‘submarine’, ‘naval’ and ‘war’ really put me off.

However despite these three I didn’t love most of the time I wanted the tales to be longer. In particular ‘No Motive’ which is the first tale and is brilliant, ‘Adieu Sagesse’ which I thought at the start I wouldn’t enjoy but like all good Du Maurier’s has a brilliant twist, mind you for her this was a very light and comical twist. Most of the time she has a serious dark undertone and quite a cynical outlook on life which is something that I really like about her work, she likes to look at a situation and then try and add some darker dynamic or undertone to it.

It’s a great book for a book group as we both took really different things from each of the stories, also on occasion it helps to make sense of some of the more complex stories with their double and triple twists. I would recommend this book to anyone and would actually say it’s a very accessible way to start a love of Du Maurier if you have never had the pleasure before. If you have then I assume you would have already read it, if not I assume you’ll be ordering a copy now?


Filed under Book Group, Daphne Du Maurier, Review, Virago Books