Tag Archives: London

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

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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

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

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

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

Rhumba by Elaine Proctor

DATE FINISHED: May 10th, 2012

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS:  Ten year old Flambeau has been smuggled out of the Congo to live with his mother’s family in London. His mother, Bijou, is to follow – so he waits. Bijou never arrives… Flambeau meets the sapeur, Knight, through his beautiful neighbour Eleanor; and is convinced that Knight will be able to help him find his missing mother. However, helping Flambeau may be more than Knight’s carefully constructed life can bear…

THOUGHTS:  From the beginning, Proctor builds her story with imagery that is simple and direct, and introduces her fragile characters, who – trapped behind their defences – are all yearning for different kinds of love and acceptance. Read more of this post

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

DATE FINISHED: May 2nd, 2012

RATED: *** 

SYNOPSIS:  In the 1930s, Harriet Baxter is an ‘old maid’ looking back on her acquaintance with the Gillespie family, back in the 1890s.  Following a chance encounter on a Glasgow street, Harriet’s friendship with the family grows over the following months, and she becomes an ardent fan of up-and-coming artist Ned Gillespie’s work.   When the Gillespies’ younger daughter disappears, however, relations become strained…

THOUGHTS:   If you have read any reviews of this book, it is impossible to approach it without the knowledge that Harriet is an ‘unreliable narrator’.   Read more of this post

The Manual of Darkness by Enrique de Heriz

DATE FINISHED: April 9th, 2012

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS:  Victor Losa spends his life living up to his mentor’s accidentally overheard prediction that one day he will be “one hell of a magician”. When he quite suddenly loses his eyesight upon winning a lifetime achievement award Victor must learn to live a much different life than he has known. Victor’s journey is interwoven with the stories of various fictional and historical magicians, followed by the intervention of two very real women.

THOUGHTS:   A game of two halves, the first half of The Manual of Darkness describes the defining moments of Victor’s childhood and beyond: the death of his father, his training and learning curve as a magician, and the history of the magician’s trade via his mentor and substitute father-figure, Galvan. Read more of this post

Small Island by Andrea Levy

DATE FINISHED: April 6th, 2012

RATED: ****

SYNOPSIS:  Hortense and Gilbert are a mismatched couple who each have their own reasons for agreeing to marry in haste so that they might leave their small island of Jamaica behind and settle in ‘the mother country’ (another small island). Queenie is their landlady, who met Gilbert during the war, and is one of the few people in London willing to take in ‘coloured’ lodgers (much to the chagrin of her neighbours). Queenie’s own husband is missing, but that seems to be the least of her concerns…

THOUGHTS:   This is the story of four people who have little in common – except perhaps high hopes and disappointment. Read more of this post

The Flying Man by Roopa Farooki

DATE FINISHED: April 2nd, 2012

RATED: ****

SYNOPSIS:  Maqil, Miguel, Mehmet, Mike, slips through life from name to name, wife to wife, border to border, decade to decade, relying on his easy charm and quick wit to see him through the short con and the long, to provide the edge and entertainment he craves. But suddenly he is old, and what does he have to show for it? And who will miss him, once he’s gone?

THOUGHTS:   I was expecting to read about the exploits of a glib, smooth-talking conman, but instead Farooki revealed the other side of the man – Read more of this post