Tag Archives: Zoe Venditozzi

Anywhere’s Better Than Here – Zoe Venditozzi

Something I often think about is how many books there are that go under the radar every year and how can we rectify this? See, I do have deep moments, here I should mention that I spent 30 minutes wondering what might happen if gravity suddenly failed the other morning, deep indeed. We have great initiatives for neglected classics like Persephone, Text Classics or Virago but for modern novels, bar favourite of mine Fiction Uncovered, there isn’t much. I have been mulling how as a blogger I can do anything, I am still mulling it. The book that has set off this mulling has been Zoe Venditozzi’s debut novel Anywhere’s Better Than Here, which had I not been reading for the Not The Booker Prize, which it won from the public vote of before we pesky judges stepped in, might have passed me by which would have been a proper shame.

Laurie is stuck in a rut. She is working for a call centre which bores her but not as much as her takeaway loving boyfriend, Ed, who barely likes to leave the house let alone his computer or the DVD player. Laurie has had enough and, possibly because of the grief after the death of her mother finally coming to the surface, she decides she needs to become a bit more daring. Her first steps are to not stay in and have a curry but to take herself out for a drink in a pub alone and this is when she meets Gerry, a hospital radio DJ, and things begin to change a little recklessly.

Sandstone Press, 2012, paperback, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

From the start I was a big fan of Anywhere’s Better Than Here simply because of the writing. I think Venditozzi has a corking eye for capturing real lives and real observations, from page two describing pensioners as ‘the biscuit coloured brigade’ I found myself often thinking ‘oh I think that’ including when she is working out, with Jamie a young boy who comes into her life, how she would survive a sudden tsunami or zombie attack. These are things we all think about on occasion and Laurie felt very, very real to me – a big win. She also captures and ponders over some of the mundane aspects of our lives yet without the book ever feeling mundane, instead feeling very real and human. It is bleak yet there is a great sense of humour within it too, we all have mundane moments in our lives after all.

Oddly I also liked the fact that I liked Laurie despite the fact that I actually really disliked her on and off throughout.  Occasionally my morals would start kicking in, outraged initially at how she could start dating Gerry when she hadn’t ditched Ed, both playing the moral high ground without just cause. I thought she was behaving like a spoilt cow that needed to buck up her ideas. Yet with Venditozzi’s writing she gained depth, she was complex and whilst I couldn’t always sympathise with her, or like everything she did, I could understood why she was the way she was.

I felt the same with Gerry, who has his own dark past. Yet Gerry was also where I felt I wanted more of his character and the whole Post Traumatic Stress, it never quite hooked me and then with the reasons for his going into war, so I wanted a bit more. There was also the element of the novel, which I won’t spoil because I would like you all to give this a read at some point, where the book completely changes and becomes more of a road trip tale. Here the book wobbled for me ever so slightly, I wanted to say to Venditozzi ‘You don’t need to put anymore in this book, it has me, I am interested don’t add bells and whistles.’ Initially this change in setting and pace didn’t quite sit with me.  It went to a level of melodrama (saying that I could see why it happened sort of) that it didn’t need to have, it was a compelling read enough simply in its plot of lifes gritty normalities. Once I got over the (very slight) sulk I embraced the change, accepted the twist and got on with it.

I don’t want that to sound damning on the book though, as I mentioned above I really liked this book and am really pleased that it ended reading it. The only reason I was a little taken aback by the change is because when Venditozzi writes darkly and quietly, with her wonderful observant prose and bleak sense of humour, she is absolutely corking and that is when Anywhere’s Better Than Here really lives and breathes. It is also an unflinching look at grief, depression, how we can think we are coping when really we aren’t and how we find ourselves stuck in life’s ruts. I am very much looking forward to seeing what she does next, she is most definitely one to watch out for. Give it a whirl!

Who else has read Anywhere’s Better Than Here? What are your thoughts on how we, bloggers or broadsheets or just readers, can help find those books which go under the radar and frankly shouldn’t?

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Filed under Not The Booker Prize, Review, Sandstone Press, Zoe Venditozzi

Not The Booker, Not Quite Live…

One of the highlights of my bookish year so far (and there have been a few) has been being asked to be on the Guardian’s Not The Booker inaugural judging panel. There were two things I hadn’t quite taken into consideration though. Firstly, I didn’t think I would get to meet any of the authors who I was judging the works of, especially one of them who I had lived up to my name a little with, yet this weekend at the Not The Booker event in London I did. Initial awkwardness was encountered, eventually I think it ended up being okay though as all the authors were lovely. The other thing I didn’t expect was that I would have to judge ‘live’ – on air on the Guardian website and YouTube – yet this morning it was. And I thought I might share the experience with you (settle down with a cuppa)…

Hopefully I didn’t come across like too much of a wally. I am in bed with a bad case of man flu since coming back from London so I had to make myself presentable (I have pyjamas on from the waist down, ha) and I was worried my ‘literary musings’ tended to be along the lines of ‘I just liked it’. Oh and yes those are my bookshelves!

We came up with a winner in the form of the marvellous ‘Life After Life’ by Kate Atkinson, but it wasn’t easy – least of all because I was constantly thinking ‘people might watch this so watch your potty mouth Savidge’ – as the competition was super strong, especially from ‘Magda’ by Meike Ziervogel which is amazing and I will be telling you all about very soon. In fact I will be telling you about all the books in some form or another as I really want to discuss the debut novels of Zoe Venditozzi and Lucy Cruickshanks who I think might be two huge authors in the future. Not sure if Gaiman will catch on. Plus the debate of genre and chick-lit that Tullet’s novel brought up. So watch this space for more, and should any book prizes be looking for judges, well…

Let me know what you think of the video if you have a chance to watch it, would you like all prizes to be this ‘open’ to readers? Have you read any of the books shortlisted for the Not The Booker? Have you read this winner or any of the previous NTB winners?

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Filed under Not The Booker Prize, Random Savidgeness

Three Things…

I have decided to do a very speedy post with a few updates today as I am in the middle of some serious first reads shortly to be followed by a bout of re-reads. So here goes…

First thing. Some very, very exciting news this week as I have been announced as one of the judges on the inaugural panel for the Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize. I am beyond thrilled about this (I have also been very good as have known about this a little while and not told a soul) and am really looking forward to re-reading the shortlisted books below which are…

notthebooker

  • Life After Life – Kate Atkinson (Transworld)
  • The Trader of Saigon – Lucy Cruickshanks (Heron)
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman (Headline)
  • Little White Lies and Butterflies – Suzie Tullett (Safkhet Soul)
  • Anywhere’s Better Than Here – Zoe Venditozzi  (Sandstone)
  • Magda – Meike Ziervogel (Salt)

I will report back on these in more detail once we have a winner of the prestigious Guardian mug, unless I steal it for myself, for the first time ever, I think for a book prize, the judging will all be live on the Guardian website (so best make sure I am at my snazziest) there is also an event as part of the Wood Green Literary Festival this weekend on Saturday which I might just be showing my face at and you can find out more about here.

Second thing. I am in my old haunt of London for an extended weekend (working and playing) from Thursday morning until late Sunday. This means I need to pack some books though I am not planning on taking too many as I never read as much as I think, especially with a bonkers schedule whoring myself seeing some publishers, catching up with friends and pottering around bookshops. That said I would love to know if any of you are about, any of you have recommendations of bookshops I should head to (I am going to go to the London Review Bookshop for the first time ever which is truly shocking considering I lived in London for 12 years) and if there are any exhibitions that I should be heading too.

Third and final thing. Sadly after giving it a lot of thought Gavin and I have decided to call time on The Readers Book Club. We were finding having an author on a show was lovely but if they suddenly couldn’t come on (or the publisher forgot to liaise) it meant the show wasn’t quite working and if they wouldn’t come on it was limiting our choices. So we have decided to start something new, with the help of the lovely Kate and Rob of Adventures With Words, to host an all new monthly book club show called…

Hear Read This

The premise is simply four hosts, two books, one hour per month. The first two titles we are discussing are ‘HHhH’ by Laurent Binet and ‘Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore’ by Robin Sloan, which I am bingeing on now. We are very excited as, as Gavin so eloquently put it, we can have dead authors on now! Plus authors who might not have come on or speak English as a first second or third language. I also think it might mean you all see a much darker side to my thoughts as without the author coming on there is no need to hold back. We have loved the Readers Book Club but sometimes you need a change. Tune in on Friday when the podcast goes live here.

So that is my latest, what is going on with all of you? Have you read any of the Not The Booker short list and if so what did you think? Have you read either of the ‘Hear… Read This!’ selections for October? Any recommendations for what to do or what to see when I head to London in two days?

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Filed under Random Savidgeness