Tag Archives: england

Tell Me Everything by Sarah Salway

tell me everything, sarah salwayDATE FINISHED: August 2nd, 2013 

RATED: ***

SYNOPSIS:  From an overweight girl collapsed in tears at a cafe table, Molly becomes a girl with a sparse bedroom above a stationery shop, where she works for Mr. Roberts who likes her to climb a ladder while he holds her ankles and she tells him inappropriate stories about her life (which she has to embellish, not having led quite the life he imagines). It’s an odd kind of deal, but at least she has a roof over her head, a ‘boyfriend’ who likes to think he is a secret agent, and the possibility of a future. But whatever stories she tells to re-shape it, will she ever leave her past behind?

THOUGHTS:  Molly is a curiously naïve character, surrounded by equally curious co-conspirators in her story: are they caricatures of the fat girl, the hairdresser, the librarian, the shopkeeper, the oddball in the park, or is there in fact more to all of them than first meets the eye? Molly tells and re-tells her own story, high on the transformative power of creation, but her new life is slowly building a momentum of its own, transformations occurring within and without her.

Of course there is more to each of the characters than there first seems…but none of them feel real even so. Each transformation seems a little too contrived, a little too much of a plot device. It’s a story about storytelling and how we can create our own narratives in life – at the same time I felt there wasn’t quite enough depth to sustain this as a novel, and might have worked better condensed into a short story. Although likeable, it didn’t quite dig deep enough or push far enough to be completely satisfying.

FOLLOWING ON:  Salway’s light touch worked better for me in her first novel, Something Beginning With. This reminded me strongly of something else I’ve read but is currently escaping me – will return to update, when I remember!

Habits of the House by Fay Weldon

habits of the house, fay weldonDATE FINISHED: August 1st, 2013 

RATED: **** 

SYNOPSIS:  During a stay in London’s Belgrave Square, the Hedleigh family suddenly find themselves on the brink of bankruptcy, due to an unfortunate investment gone awry, not to mention a variety of gambling debts courtesy of the Earl… The daughter of the house is an ardent feminist and has declared herself out of the marriage market, so the only thing for it is for the charming but ineffectual son of the family, Arthur, to pull himself together and marry money – quickly!  The Countess and her maid work both together and against each other to bring about a ‘happy’ union with a visiting heiress (with a scandal in her past); but will Arthur’s preference for laid-back living and his sister’s horror at his mildly amoral proclivities scupper the grand plan to save the family?

THOUGHTS:  A comedy of manners both above and below stairs, I thoroughly enjoyed this period romp. Read more of this post

Ben, in the World by Doris Lessing

DATE FINISHED: September 4th, 2012 

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS:  At 18 years old (looking twice his age) Ben has left home, and is seeking his own place in the world. He has always been ‘different’, and although he has learned (for the most part) to contain his instinctive impulses, he is becoming increasingly desperate to find more people like himself, somewhere he can belong in a world he simply doesn’t understand. Although he meets several people who accept him as he is, for various reasons their refuge is short-lived and instead his life is manipulated by people he knows he cannot trust yet still cannot evade. After being used to carry drugs to France, Ben finds himself in Brazil where he appears to be a highly sought prize by scientists at a local research centre, but also ever closer to the promise of more ‘people like him’…

THOUGHTS:  Ben in the world is a different Ben to the one introduced in The Fifth Child. Read more of this post

The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing

DATE FINISHED: August 4th, 2012 

RATED: **** (4.5)

SYNOPSIS:  Harriet and David are instinctively drawn to each other through a mutual yearning to play traditional happy families. They marry almost immediately, stretch their finances to live in an enormous home, and Harriet gives birth to four normal, healthy children amidst a whirl of family gatherings and old-fashioned support. Ben, the fifth child, is different even before he is born, torturing Harriet from within; and then after birth, immediately proves himself insatiable, brutal, ‘other’. Harriet and David become convinced that Ben is not quite human – somehow a throwback from an ancient, primitive race, and untameable. In the face of this indomitable force of nature, their carefully constructed family idyll begins to crumble…

THOUGHTS:  The story of this unearthly cuckoo in the nest, threatens all sanguinity. Read more of this post

How to Forget by Marius Brill

DATE FINISHED: August 6th, 2012 

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS:  Mr Magicov makes a living by entertaining the old folks of Christchurch after a children’s party once went drastically awry and irrevocably altered his career path. Kate Minola, a magician’s daughter, is a career confidence trickster on the run from the FBI. When their paths unexpectedly cross, Kate promises Peter (Magicov) revenge on his own nemesis, and a share of a million pounds – but can he really trust a woman who has spent her life specialising in the long con?

THOUGHTS:  This book would make a great movie, Read more of this post

The Book of Colour by Julia Blackburn

DATE FINISHED: July 24th, 2012 

RATED: **** 

SYNOPSIS:  When the family is cursed by a ‘devil’ islander, the narrator’s grandfather as a boy is uprooted from the home he has known and transplanted into an alternative island life, now under the care of his uncle and ‘his mulatto’, while his father stays behind, and his mother is placed in an asylum.  A history of curses, mixed race unions and cultural bigotry haunts the family through generations.

THOUGHTS:  In the first part of the book some intriguing images are introduced but the characters appear as though within a dream or trance-like state.  In the second part of the book, however, the narrative becomes more linear Read more of this post

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

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

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