Monthly Archives: June 2012

Filling the gaps

When I recently added the A-Z Index (above) I noticed that the only letters of the alphabet not to be honoured with a review so far were I, Q, X and Y.  Up to that point, I hadn’t been making any attempt to review all letters of the alphabet, but now that I have noticed how close I am, I feel a certain compulsion to be completist about the project (although in no particular hurry).  After a little brainstorming and research, I have added 4 books to my TBR.

I was determined not to select a title just because the author’s name rose to the challenge (heart sinking at the thought of Anna Quindlen or Sheila Quigley – no offence to either of these authors or their readers; simply not my personal cup of tea) but am satisfied that those I have added are ones I would have read at some point regardless.  I was especially pleased with my eventual Q decision, as it is an author I had not previously heard of but is definitely something I would have picked up if I had ever stumbled across it in a bookshop.

How long it takes me to get around to reading the new additions remains to be seen (I will definitely not be self-imposing a schedule!), but anyway, here they are:

  • The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving
    I actually read this 15 years ago, but a re-read is definitely required before reviewing!
  • Shot by Sarah Quigley
    I know nothing about this beyond the Amazon reviews but it looks very promising
  • Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong
    I think I may have bought this for my dad some years back, so need to scour his bookshelves & see if I can dig it out.  Chinese mystery with poetry – sounds original, at least!
  • Amrita (or N.P.) by Banana Yoshimoto
    I read Goodbye Tsugumi some years back and although I did not love it, enjoyed it enough that I thought I would like to read more.  Never got around to it, so this is my motivation.  I have a 2nd hand copy of Amrita on the way, but NP looks appealing, too.  We’ll see which happens first…

* All of the above subject to change if I stumble across something else equally appropriate and enticing!

* I may, of course, read more than one book by an author with one of the missing initials – no limits here! 😉

Burning Bright by Helen Dunmore

DATE FINISHED: June 25th, 2012 

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS:  When her parents move to Germany with their other daughter (who has cerebral palsy & needs their care), 16 year old Nadine moves to London with her older boyfriend Kai.  Also living in the house are Kai’s business partner Tony, and sitting tenant Enid, way up in the attic.  While Nadine buries her head in the sand with regard to Kai and Tony’s line of work, she spends time with Enid and her pre-war stories of life in Manchester with the beautiful Sukey and jealous Caro (who was jailed for Sukey’s murder).  But it seems only a matter of time before the fragile structure of their lives falls apart…

THOUGHTS:  Nadine is a wilfully naive character and difficult to relate to despite being easy to read. Read more of this post

Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith

DATE FINISHED: June 22nd, 2012 

RATED: ****

SYNOPSIS:  Anthea can’t find any enthusiasm for the Pure corporation for whom her increasingly thin sister Midge has found her work. She is fascinated, though, by the mysterious messages that have begun to be graffiti-d around town and the person who paints them. That the person is a girl doesn’t phase Anthea in the slightest, and she is happy to sink into a mutually joyful relationship with Robin who regales her with the story of the boy-girl/girl-boy from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Iphis. Midge is horrified, but when Pure reveals itself as less than, she is forced to re-evaluate everything.

THOUGHTS:  Released as one of the Canongate Myths series (in which established authors re-write old myths for a new audience), Smith has written a wonderful love story that captures the happiness of Ovid’s original whilst relating it to utterly contemporary themes. Read more of this post

a church for books

The second-hand bookshop used to be a church.  Now it was a church for books.  But there were only so many copies of other people’s given-away books that you could thumb through without getting a bit nauseous.  Like that poem I knew, about how you sit and read your way through a book then close the book and put it on the shelf, and maybe, life being so short, you’ll die before you ever open that book again and its pages, the single pages, shut in the book on the shelf, will maybe never see light again, which is why I had to leave the shop, because the man who owned it was looking at me oddly, because I was doing the thing I find myself doing in all bookshops because of that maddening poem – taking a book off a shelf and fanning it open so that each page sees some light, then putting it back on, then taking the next one along off and doing the same, which is very time-consuming, though they don’t seem to mind as much in second-hand shops as they do in Borders and Waterstones etc, where they tend not to like it if you bend or break the spines on new books.”

from Girl meets Boy by Ali Smith

Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson

DATE FINISHED: June 22nd, 2012 

RATED: ****

SYNOPSIS:  Orphaned Silver is apprenticed to lighthousekeeper Pew, and in the darkness of the lighthouse she finds stories hang in the air like seaspray. From Pew she learns about Babel Dark, the minister son of the man who built the lighthouse, and his own haunted tale of love and duality. And eventually Silver follows the trail to find a love of her own.

THOUGHTS:  Winterson’s musical prose weaves back and forth through time, painting vivid pictures of darkness and light, past and present but avoiding extraneous detail: a watercolour wash of dreamlike images. Read more of this post

tell me a story

Tell me a story, Pew.

What kind of story, child?  
A story with a happy ending.  
There’s no such thing in all the world.  
As a happy ending?  
As an ending.

* * *

Tell me a story, Pew.

What story, child?  
One that begins again.  
That’s the story of life.  
But is it the story of my life?  
Only if you tell it.

* * *

Tell me a story, Silver.

What story?  
The story of what happened next.  
That depends.  
On what?  
On how I tell it.

* * *

Tell me a story, Silver.

What story?  
This one.

* * *

from Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson

an idea has only to be

An idea has only to be something you have not thought of before to take over the mind, and all afternoon I kept hearing in my mind snatches of books which might exist in three or four hundred years.

from The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

DATE FINISHED: June 21st, 2012 

RATED: *****

SYNOPSIS:  Ludo is a child prodigy with a voracious thirst for knowledge; his mother, Sybilla (equally gifted), is trying to earn enough money for them to get by through mind-numbing, soul-destroying work, whilst finding the energy and inspiration to feed both of their appetites for language and literature. Sybilla tries to fill the father-shaped gap in Ludo’s life with a video of the Japanese classic, The Seven Samurai. But Ludo just wants a father, and as soon as he is old enough, determines to find one.

THOUGHTS:  At first told from Sybilla’s perspective, a torrent of thoughts and ideas are unleashed resulting in a slightly fragmented narrative mirroring the distracted concentration one imagines the harried mother of a (maddeningly voracious) child might experience. Sometimes sentences are left hanging mid-flow Read more of this post

there are people who think

There are people who think contraception is immoral because the object of copulation is procreation.  In a similar way there are people who think the only reason to read a book is to write a book; people should call up books from the dust and the dark and write thousands of words to be sent down to the dust and the dark which can be called up so that other people can send further thousands of words to join them in the dust and the dark.  Sometimes a book can be called from the dust and the dark to produce a book which can be bought in shops, and perhaps it is interesting, but the people who buy it and read it because it is interesting are not serious people, if they were serious they would not care about the interest they would be writing thousands of words to consign to the dust and the dark.

There are people who think death a fate worse than boredom. 

from The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

On Loving Josiah by Olivia Fane

DATE FINISHED: June 18th, 2012 

RATED: ****

SYNOPSIS:  Eve is a charming, untameable, sexually liberated wild child, with sociopathic tendencies and a psychiatrist who has utterly fallen for her charms. But Eve bears a child to an earthy, grounded gardener, who takes on the responsibility of tending to the young Josiah along with his plants, while Eve continues to float about happily, perhaps manically, upsetting their care workers. Plucked from their care at the age of 7, Josiah is tumbled from foster home to foster home to residential care home, until at the age of 14 he meets classical scholar Thomas and a world of love he has not known opens up to him. This is the story of a boy who has fallen through too many gaps in ‘the system’.

THOUGHTS:  Eve is a wonderfully drawn, extraordinarily vivid and spirited character – perhaps on the cusp of insanity, but perhaps just ‘different’. Thomas’ introspection and academia are equally well realised, although the nature of his love for Josiah makes reading from his perspective a more uncomfortable experience. Read more of this post