Category Archives: Burnside John

August Retrospective

A thin month this time, for various reasons!  Still, here is a summary of my August reading, with links to reviews:

The Blue Book by A.L.Kennedy – 4/5

Although the style grated in parts, the story was ultimately really good, and well worth wading through the bits I wasn’t so keen on.

How to Forget by Marius Brill – 3.5/5

Not at all what I expected from the jacket blurb, but turned out to be an enjoyable comedy/action romp that would make a great film!

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier – 4.5/5

A re-read from my teenage years, this is still a powerful read for any age, that will give you lots to think about.

BOOK OF THE MONTH:
The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing – 4.5/5

An intensely disturbing read that is horrific on many levels – how the introduction of one child leads a family idyll to self-destruction. Very keen to read the sequel which gives more insight from the child’s point of view (this one focuses more on the mother).

 

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The Blue Book by A.L. Kennedy

DATE FINISHED: August 3rd, 2012 

RATED: **** 

SYNOPSIS:  Beth and Derek are on a cruise – the youngest people aboard by far. Derek has planned to propose but is miserable and confined to his cabin with seasickness, instead. Beth wanders the decks and meets up with Arthur, a successful fraudulent psychic. It soon becomes clear their meetings are not the result of chance: Beth and Art have a secret history, but what is the truth of it (and them) and will their future be together or apart?

THOUGHTS:  I found this book quite infuriating. Read more of this post

July Retrospective

(Posted early due to leaving for ‘holiday’ but updated retrospectively with the month’s final books.)

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

BOOK OF THE MONTH:
A Summer of Drowning by John Burnside – 4.5/5

Although I wasn’t immediately captivated by Burnside’s style of writing, by the time I finished reading I was reeling, and my head was so steeped in the atmosphere that I couldn’t settle into reading anything else for a good while longer than usual.  I really want to read this again, already, and discover everything I missed first time around.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce – 4/5

Although not a sequel to The Tooth Fairy, it bears a lot of similarities, both in location, ‘type’ of characters and story.  Joyce’s strength is the portrayal of an ambiguity between supernatural and psychological realities, and this particular novel is one of his best.

Bereft by Chris Womersley – 3/5

This story of a man accused of murder as a boy, then returning to the scene of the crime after years away at war, had lots of potential but was ultimately disappointing.

In a Dark Wood by Amanda Craig – 4/5

The first in a phase of re-reads, this month.  Although I found the structure a little televisual, I was ultimately impressed by Craig’s ability to cast an intensely unlikeable man in her lead role but create enough psychological intrigue to keep the reader reading regardless.  Very interesting use of fairy tales as a means of exposition.

A True Story Based on Lies by Jennifer Clement – 4.5/5 

A beautifully dark and simple tale, told with a timeless, storybook feel.  Suffused with magic, lyricism, and disquieting undertones.

Eucalyptus by Murray Bail – 4/5 

An earthy fairy tale and unexpected love story, with the landscape exuding as much character as the people.  I enjoyed this more than on my first reading, about 12 years ago.

The Book of Colour by Julia Blackburn – 4/5 

A carefully exposed story of inherited madness, juxtaposing luscious landscapes of exotic island life with interior dreams and nightmares.

Pobby & Dingan by Ben Rice – 4/5

A short and sweet fable about the power of the imagination.

Snake by Kate Jennings – 4.5/5

An intense, stifling, poetic portrait of two lives trapped in the wrong marriage, and the sweeping, poisonous landscape around them.  Beautifully visual prose creates a story of startling clarity and power.

All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman – 4.5/5

A wonderful novella about the powers, pigeonholes and pitfalls of everyday life but also a love story as sweet as they come.

Dreamland by Tom Gilling – 3/5

I sought this one out as I love the author’s previous novel (a light historical story, Miles McGinty), but sadly it turned out to be a very forgettable mystery thriller entirely lacking in personality and plot.

The Little Hammer by John Kelly – 4.5/5

Witty, wordy, wandering & playful prose dances around a story of murder, memories and misdirection.

The Waterproof Bible by Andrew Kaufman – 4/5

Lots of overwhelming emotions being dealt with in this successor to All My Friends Are Superheroes – just as likeable and ‘quirky’ and some interesting allusions to spirituality, but ultimately did not throw me any curve balls or make me think twice.

In a Dark Wood by Amanda Craig

DATE FINISHED: July 18th, 2012 

RATED: **** 

SYNOPSIS:  Benedick is miserable: recently divorced, acting career in the doldrums, at war with his father, and barely able to look after himself, let alone his two young children (who ex-wife Georgie keeps insisting spend time with him). Taking refuge in the home of Ruth, the woman who raised him as one of her own, Benedick suddenly realises he can remember almost nothing about his real mother, who committed suicide when he was six years old. Inspired by a book of fairy tales written and illustrated by Laura, he embarks upon a quest to discover more about her, whether she was mad as many of her ‘friends’ seem to claim, and what drove her beyond the brink.

THOUGHTS:  In the sheer unlikeability of lead character Benedick, Craig sets herself for a potentially huge downfall – he is irritating, whiny, hypocritical, rude, quite simply unpleasant. Those readers who force themselves beyond this, however, will be rewarded Read more of this post

TBR – latest additions:

The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson

Has actually been sitting on my bookshelf for a while, but is in danger of being read before too long due to some new discoveries with similar themes/backgrounds that have recently caught my attention.  In this story, Bartholomew Fortuno is one of Barnum’s collection of sideshow ‘freaks’.

The Devil’s Footprints by John Burnside

Not really sure quite how much I want to read this one, but with A Summer of Drowning unexpectedly entering my list of all-time favourites it would be foolhardy not to at least try one of his earlier novels (with the exception of The Dumb House which I read and did not enjoy – despite a promising premise – about 15 years ago).

Among the Wonderful by Stacy Carlson

Another Barnum-based tale of personal transformation.

The Romance of the Thin Man and the Fat Lady by Robert Coover

One of Penguin’s recently issued Mini Modern Classics Series (£3 each), the title of this one says it all.

Dreamland by Tom Gilling

This looks completely different to Gilling’s last novel (Miles McGinty) but I loved that one so much that I must try this one, upon discovering it exists.  More of a thriller, but I’m always trying to find a crime novel that I might like so maybe this one will fit the bill…?

Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett

Another well-reviewed Australian discovery – sounds like a coming-of-age kind of story – this one is not published until the end of August.

Little People by Jane Sullivan

Along with three of the first four titles on this list, there is a Barnum connection in this story of General Tom Thumb as his troupe tours Australia (neatly dovetailing with another of my pet themes).

Mateship With Birds by Carrie Tiffany

From the reviews, I am not certain I will like this one, but I enjoyed Tiffany’s first novel Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living, so I am interested to see how she has developed.  And I loved the cover of this book, so had to splash out on the hardback.

The Habits of the House by Fay Weldon

This was released in June & I can’t believe I’ve only just heard of it!  But as I have a bit of a hit & miss relationship with her (review of Kehua) I will probably wait for the paperback.

The Hanging Garden by Patrick White
The Solid Mandala by Patrick White
The Vivisector by Patrick White

These are on the ‘maybe-maybe not’ pile, and will be largely dependent on how I get on with A Fringe of Leaves.  The Hanging Garden was unfinished at the time he died so already interesting from that perspective.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

DATE FINISHED: July 6th, 2012 

RATED: **** 

SYNOPSIS:  On Christmas Day, a young woman returns home after being missing without a trace for 20 years, but barely seems to have aged. Her only explanation is that she was taken by a stranger to a world just beyond ours, and 20 years passed in the real world while she spent only 6 months there. Her family cannot believe she has finally returned, but send her to a psychiatrist in an attempt to find out what really happened in the missing years. Is there a trauma her mind has blocked out, and constructed a fantasy so that she can deal with it – or has she really been ‘away with the fairies’?

THOUGHTS:  As ever, Joyce creates a faultlessly recognisable, comfortable middle class suburbia then overpaints the corners with shades of unreality. Read more of this post

A Summer of Drowning by John Burnside

DATE FINISHED: July 2nd, 2012 

RATED: **** (4.5)

SYNOPSIS:  Liv is raised by her extraordinarily self-contained artist mother on a tiny Norwegian island, where the summer nights are white and haunting, and her neighbour’s folk tales of trolls and huldra do not seem out of place. When two boys Liv has known from school drown within weeks of each other, the landscape of her eighteenth summer becomes laced with a heightened intensity, compounded by the appearance of an English man with secrets who is staying nearby, and the wild girl Maia who Liv knows spent time with the drowned boys before their death and seems to have a malevolent influence on those around her. Can she really be the huldra?

THOUGHTS:  This is an intensely dark and brooding story, simmering with suspense and seeped in rich imagery of the Norwegian landscape. Read more of this post

a story stands in

“A story stands in for everything that cannot be explained and, though there are many stories, there’s really only one and we can tell the difference because the many stories have a beginning and an end, but the one story doesn’t work like that.  Ryvold used to say that stories are really about time.  They tell us that once, in a place that existed before we were born, something occurred – and we like to hear about that, because we know already that the story is over.  We know that we are living in the happily ever after, which means that nothing will happen again – and this is the key to a happy life.  To live in the ever after of the present moment: no past, no future.”

from A Summer of Drowning by John Burnside