Category Archives: Smith Ali

The Little Hammer by John Kelly

DATE FINISHED: July 29th, 2012 

RATED: **** (4.5)

SYNOPSIS:  When he is 9 years old, the artist despatches a paleontologist he meets on the beach by means of his hammer.  When he returns home, his saint-worshipping Grandmother colludes in covering up the crime, which has remained undiscovered as the artist enters his thirties – but it keeps re-surfacing, with the compulsion to confess jarring against the fact of getting away with murder.  Following a trip with the mysterious Billie Maguire during which the artist is filmed telling a farcical and falsified version of his life story, the statue of the Holy Infant of Prague finds its way to the Grandmother’s home in Ireland.  In her little village, miracles occur just as the artist’s life and mind begin to unravel.

THOUGHTS:  Told in the swirling Irish vernacular of the archetypal storyteller at the bar – “Would you believe me if I told you…?” – one would be forgiven for mistrusting the narrator from the beginning.   Read more of this post

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the story I make

This is my memory, my own story with pale eyes.  It is simple to tell, the story made for me, the story I make in turn to pass on. Nothing in these pages is lost in sleep, or in a bandage of pain. It is lived out in words and spaces between the lines that are like breath, a life formed as one word comes up behind the other, joins sentences that curve and change and turn back to face me on the page.

from The Keepsake by Kirsty Gunn

June Retrospective

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

The Taint of Midas by Anne Zouroudi  – 3/5

I have discovered that I don’t find the Mysteries of the Greek Detective series especially mysterious… You might like it for the Greek characters and location but it didn’t do much for me.

Candlemoth by R. J. Elloryunfinished

I honestly gave this my best shot (I got over halfway), but I found I was wading through it so slowly that I was beginning to resent the time it was taking away from the reading of potentially more enjoyable books. I did find the coming-of-age story of the two friends quite readable, but the interspersed primer of American history of the period and the conspiracy theories were not very interesting. It just didn’t hang together for me, and I found the prose to be very generic.

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedmanunfinished but 2/5 

I couldn’t face reading beyond the halfway mark. The prose was so-so but the sense of history was non-existent, with dialogue that didn’t fit the period at all. Mostly, though, I think it was just the story itself that was too sentimental for my taste.

After Such Kindness by Gaynor Arnold – 3.5/5

Based upon the relationship between Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), and his child-muse Alice Liddell, Arnold offers an interesting perspective and a good story. I was a bit put off by her attempted ‘Carrollisms’, though.

The Tooth Fairy by Graham Joyce – 3.5/5

Joyce is brilliant at portraying ordinary people in the real world, and this is a really good coming-of-age story of growing up in the 60s. Don’t be put off by the fantasy aspect of the Tooth Fairy as the reality versus the psychological origins of the tooth fairy is very much a part of the story. I highly recommend Joyce, if you haven’t tried him before…

The Silent Land by Graham Joyce – 3/5

…but don’t start with this one! I was very disappointed with it – really cliched, I’ve-seen-this-a-thousand-times-before Sunday afternoon fare. And the ‘banter’ between the couple became very grating, very quickly.

On Loving Josiah by Olivia Fane – 4/5

A well-written story, with challenging ideas but – for me more importantly – great characters. The style reminded me of Barbara Trapido (or a less-caustic Fay Weldon). I’m very interested to see what she writes next.

BOOK OF THE MONTH:
The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt – 5/5

Although this was a re-read, I think I enjoyed it even more this time around. DeWitt’s style is a sprawling stream-of-consciousness, a witty and wonderful adventure through words, but with appealing characters and great story, too. It’s ages since I enjoyed a book so much!

Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson – 4/5

This is a very fable-ish story told in lyrical, lilting prose – very enjoyable to read but ultimately a little insubstantial.

Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith – 4/5

A wonderful, joyful love story that captures the happiness of Ovid’s original version of the Iphis myth (from Metamorphoses) whilst relating it to utterly contemporary themes. The prose is playful, witty and rhythmic stream-of-conscious style which will not appeal to everyone but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Burning Bright by Helen Dunmore – 3.5/5

A quite disappointing. With the exception of Enid, the characters are never really fleshed out, and although smoothly written and interesting in parts, it has neither the glittering crispness of A Spell of Winter, nor the taut and highly-charged atmosphere of Talking to the Dead.

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

Duchess of Nothing by Heather McGowan

DATE FINISHED: March 27th, 2011

RATED: *****

SYNOPSIS: Abandoned by her lover in Rome, a woman finds herself taking care of the young brother who has also been left behind, and trying to balance the need for bread against the desire for new hats.  Told in stream-of-consciousness style, this story is not as straightforward as it might seem.

THOUGHTS: Read more of this post