Monthly Archives: May 2012

May Retrospective

A summary of the books I read in May, with links to reviews:

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris – 3/5
The story of a soured friendship in the art world of Victorian Glasgow.  After a promising start, I’m afraid this was a bit of a damp squib.

The Grifters by Jim Thompson – 4/5
A career conman takes a beating that forces him to reassess his life.  This was a quick read but unexpectedly poignant.

The Voices by Susan Elderkin – 3.5/5
The spirits of the Australian outback try to make themselves heard in this wonderfully evocative piece of prose.  The writing is lively, poetic and original but the themes became a little too heavy-handed for my taste.

Rhumba by Elaine Proctor – 3.5/5
A sad and hopeful story about the bleak world of human trafficking, and the need to find somebody to love.  It has a curious sense of distance from reality and is night quite as powerful as it should be.

The Adventures of Vaclav the Magnificent & His Lovely Assistant Lena by Haley Tanner – 3.5/5
An inseparable friendship between an aspiring magician and his lovely assistant comes to an abrupt end when Lena disappears.  Strong characters drive this story of immigrants in America.

We have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson – 4/5
Not a brooding, suspenseful or spooky gothic thriller; but it is a short book, and the writing is fun, dark, magical, enjoyable – a great evening’s read!

Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi – 4/5
Stories within stories, slipping times and locations, where do memories and fantasies collide and divide?  A wonderfully original love story covering Bluebeard, escapism, storytelling and more.

Our Lady of Alice Bhatti by Mohammed Hanif – 4/5
Oops, was supposed to be saving this for my holiday reading… :S  An unexpectedly disturbing story that was not at all the lighthearted romp I expected.  An uncomfortable but thought-provoking read.

The Dream Room by Marcel Moring – 4/5
Re-read to refresh my memory.  Although a little cliched in structure, it is a quietly haunting story of wartime and beyond.

English Passengers by Matthew Kneale – 4/5
A wonderful narrative journey carried by great characterisation, and managing just the right balance between heart-wrenching historical fact and essential comic relief.

The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi – 3/5
I had mixed feelings about this one.  A compelling soap opera of Greek island life; but I felt it lacked the necessary tension to be fully successful as a mystery.


The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi

DATE FINISHED: May 31st, 2012

RATED: *** 

SYNOPSIS:  On a small Greek island steeped in tradition and social ritual, a woman is found dead. The local police are happy to brush the incident aside as suicide or accident, but the sudden appearance of the mysterious Hermes Diaktoros forces the close-knit community to face what has happened in its midst. And although Hermes is not an agent of the law, he is nonetheless determined that the guilty will be brought to justice of one kind or another…

THOUGHTS:  I don’t often read crime fiction, but I don’t think this is the kind of book that would appeal to the average crime reader, anyway. Read more of this post

English Passengers by Matthew Kneale

DATE FINISHED: May 27th, 2012

RATED: **** 

SYNOPSIS:  A Manx smuggling ship sees its way out of a tight spot by offering itself up to charter. When the initial plan to offload its travellers fails dismally, Captain Illiam Quilliam Kewley eventually concedes that the only way out of his current conundrum is indeed to take his ragbag assortment of English Passengers all the way to Tasmania, on their doomed-to-failure plan to discover the original Garden of Eden. As their lengthy journey commences, the story is interspersed with the narrative of Peevay, who provides the voice of the aboriginal in an also-doomed fight against the colonial invasion. Eventually the two stories collide.

THOUGHTS: Kneale uses multiple narrators to advance his story, shifting every few pages between different voices.  Surprisingly, this works, as Kneale has a gift for characterisation, Read more of this post

The Dream Room by Marcel Moring

DATE FINISHED: May 24th, 2012

RATED: **** 

SYNOPSIS:  Narrated by a 12 year old boy, in a period following WW2, David and his family spend a summer constructing model aeroplanes for their landlord, a toy shop owner.  After hearing stories about his father’s exploits during the war, leading up to how his parents met, the visit of an old friend, Humbert Coe, presents the key to previously unspoken family secrets.

THOUGHTS: This short but poignant novel has the feeling of a fable, Read more of this post

Our Lady of Alice Bhatti by Mohammed Hanif

DATE FINISHED: May 20th, 2012

RATED: **** 

SYNOPSIS:  Alice Bhatti, recently of borstal, has somehow talked her way into a nursing job at the Sacred Heart Hospital (possibly due to being the only applicant), where she finds herself the unexpected object of devotion for young bodybuilding police ruffian Teddy Butt, more at home with a gun than with poetry. Alice’s father Joseph has the  mystical ability to cure stomach ulcers; but Alice has the less welcome ‘gift’ of seeing death in the faces of those she meets.

THOUGHTS: At first I found the narrative quite entertaining as we joined Alice on the day of interview for her nursing job, and simultaneously, Teddy massacres his own thumb so that the police can ‘justifiably’ arrest someone for a previous crime.   Read more of this post

Just a few words on paper

Any man who reaches for a book when he thinks of you is a man that you should think about. 

from Our Lady of Alice Bhatti by Mohammed Hanif

Between books

I spent much of yesterday picking up books from my TBR, reading a couple of chapters, then deciding I really wasn’t in the mood.  Got a bit annoyed with myself, so cobbled together the little icon below from some random clip art as a ‘between books’ logo rather than keep changing my ‘Currently reading’ image over and over.  Of course, after yesterday’s frustrations, I am now happily settled into my current read – having allowed myself early reading of one of my saved-for-summer titles.  And now I get the fun of choosing something else to add to/save for my summer reading pile, so it’s all good, really. [:)]



When I read I become lost

When I read I become lost to this world.  For moments after I lift my eyes from the page I find it hard to refocus on reality. I see the landscape of fiction around me, hear in my head the voices of the writer’s imagination. So, when almost thirty years ago, the man sitting opposite to me in the train from Liverpool to Euston plucked the book from my hands, I was taken aback. I had been quite unaware of his presence in the carriage with me.

from The Illusionist by Jennifer Johnston

Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

DATE FINISHED: May 16th, 2012

RATED: **** 

SYNOPSIS:  Author St. John Fox stands accused of multiple murder – by his own muse and creation Mary Foxe. He also finds himself on the brink of divorce from his jealous wife, Daphne, who believes he is having an affair. Is St. John in love with Mary or Daphne? And does choosing one necessarily mean the end of the other? What’s a man to do?

THOUGHTS: Stories within stories, slipping times and locations, where do memories and fantasies collide and divide? If you prefer a linear narrative, this is not the book for you. Read more of this post

Just a few words on paper

“Tell the stories. Tell them to us.  We want to know all the ways you’re still like us, and all the ways you’ve changed. Talk to us. We’re from a different place and time…”

“I’m not lying to you,” she said, shaking her head. “I really can’t do it.”

“You can and you must,” they snapped. “Those stories belong to us. It doesn’t matter what language they’re in, or what they’re about; they belong to us. And we gave them to you without looking at them first. So now it’s time to see what we’ve done.” 

After a long moment, the harlequin returned to himself and began to speak reasonably.  They weren’t asking for very much, were they? he asked. Just a few words on paper, anything she liked, anything that came to mind, nothing that anyone else need ever read. It didn’t even have to be good.

He honestly expected her to believe that she could make a bad offering and her ancestors wouldn’t mind. 

from Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi