As you will know from my previous post, I read twelve, yes twelve books while I was away.
It was heavenly. I hadn’t managed to get a lot of reading done in the weeks before our holiday due to major illnesses, stresses, birthdays, school leavings etc and generally running around like a lunatic shouting ‘farkingell’ every three seconds. It makes it very difficult to settle with a book.
I took an eclectic mix with me. I hate sticking to the same type of book. It’s too boring and safe. I like to fling myself around the literary genres, shouting ‘farkingell’ every three seconds.
Here are my reviews:
Girls in Love by Jacqueline Wilson – Tallulah has been pestering me to read this. It was on the BBC Big Read top 100 books list. I read it. I hated it. It is Jacqueline Wilson. What can I say? Puberty was awful the first time round. I am glad I am not having to do it again with social media, and recreational drugs for the under twelves. It brings me out in a sweat. I cannot understand why anyone would want to read this kind of thing, but that is because I am very, very old indeed.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green. I read and loved Boy Meets Boy and The Fault in Our Stars so thought I’d test out what an authorial mash up would do for me. Not a great deal as it transpires. It was alright. Tells the story of two boys called Will Grayson who accidentally meet one night whilst both pursuing disastrous love lives. Their meeting is a kind of catalyst for healing, redemption and a big old, Glee style gay musical. I liked the complicated bits, could have lived without the musical bits.
Love Nina by Nina Stibbe – I just loved this. I knew I would, and I was saving it for just such an occasion as an excellent holiday in which I wanted to read an excellent book. A series of letters from the author to her sister about her working as a nanny for a literary big wig in London and having Alan Bennett round for tea a lot. I actually hooted with laughter reading this. I think I particularly enjoyed it as it was set in the Eighties and is very of its time and it made me feel much more at home than Girls in Love, except when I realised how much time has passed since then, which I mostly tried to blot out.
That Close by Suggs – one of my guilty pleasures is reading celebrity autobiographies. They’re something I like to save for when I’m either very stressed, or very relaxed. Since I’ve given up reading OK magazine it’s all I have. I loved this. Suggs, it turns out, writes beautifully and is a very engaging chap. I particularly liked the stuff about his childhood and early years starting out, which is odd, because normally they’re the bits i like the least.
Pot Pourri From The Thirties by Bryan Guinness – An odd book which pretty much does exactly what it says on the cover. I was interested because Bryan Guinness was the first husband of Diana Mitford and I am always curious for Mitford news. There wasn’t a huge amount in this book, the odd anecdote, but it had other redeeming features. Guinness is a good writer who is able to conjure up an evocative sense of time and place and the privileged world he inhabited is fascinating to peek into. I particularly liked his stories of going to Russia, China and Japan with his second wife on their honeymoon in the late Thirties.
Life, Death and Vanilla Slices by Jenny Eclair – This was recommended to me by my friend Nicki. We are both fans of Eclair and she suggested I try a novel by her. The writing was excellent, but it isn’t really my cup of tea. It tells the story of a woman called Jean and her life, growing up in post war Lancashire, married to a man she doesn’t love and doesn’t really know how to leave, and her experiences of having two, very different daughters. It is told in sequential chapters by her oldest daughter, Anne and through Jean’s memories as she is in a coma, having been knocked over in a road accident. It is sad and dark and frustrating. Great if you like that sort of thing, which sadly I don’t. It did stay with me for a couple of days after I finished it.
Rebuilding Coventry by Sue Townsend – This is one of the few Townsend’s I hadn’t read, and it’s an early work, published in 1988, about a woman called Coventry who runs away to London after having accidentally killed an abusive neighbour with an Action Man. It has all the hall marks of classic Townsend, but lacks some of the later polish. I recommend reading it alongside her last work, The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year. I found interesting parallels between the two books.
Lust, Caution by Eileen Chang – A group of four short stories set in Shanghai in the Forties. I really struggled with this. I think I don’t understand enough of the social and cultural symbolism and mannerisms that inform the time and the people of Shanghai to appreciate all the strengths and subtleties of this work. I really had to work hard at it and didn’t enjoy it much at all.
The Day of the Jack Russell by Colin Bateman – This is the second in Bateman’s Mystery Man series about a Belfast book shop owner who is reluctantly pulled into the world of private detection. It is dark, clever and funny.
The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West – This is a sublime novella which tells the story of a young man who comes home from the Western Front with shell shock related amnesia. The story is narrated by his cousin, companion to the wife he does not remember. It is poetic, lyrical, devastatingly sad and pretty perfect.
2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pyjamas by Marie-Helene Bertino – This is a lovely book about a girl called Madeleine, nearly ten years old and she is learning to cope without her mother, who has died, leaving her only a card file full of ‘how to’ notes, and her father, who is sunk in despair at the death of his wife. It sounds gloomy, but really it isn’t. It tells the story of a day in the life of Madeleine where everything seems to be going wrong, not just for her, but for the whole host of loveable characters who inhabit these pages, and where actually, everything is about to go just right.
The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt – I LOVE Hustvedt’s work. I particularly loved The Summer Without Men, but this is pretty awesome too. It tells the story of Harriet Burden, an artist who believes she is not taken seriously by the art world because she is a woman. She decides to create three shows of her own, but asks three male artists if they will be a front for her work, so that she can test her theory that her work will be considered brilliant, but only if she becomes he. The book is written as if it were a factual investigation of what happened to Burden and to her project, and involves many different view points and theories from all involved. I loved it. It was complex and engrossing and I found myself caring more and more what happened to Harriet, even though she is a difficult, complicated, spiky woman. I cried at the end of this book, and I don’t often cry when I read novels. Superb.