WWW Wednesday, 1st February

It’s the middle of an awful week: world news and personal news are conspiring to keep me down, while the weather brings additional mopey-ness. So let’s run away from reality and cheer ourselves up with reading! So I’m joining in once more with the WWW Wednesday meme hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.

wwwednesday

What are you currently reading?

Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories

This is the Library of America edition which contains her two great novels The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as short stories both published and unpublished. This is going to be a reading theme throughout 2017, I think, as I can only bear to read a few of her stories at a time, because she so accurately conveys the demons lurking beneath the facade of noonday respectability and polite small-talk.

clearairMechtild Bormann: To Clear the Air – for #EU27Project – Germany

Blurb: Life comes to an end, but memory is forever. A moving epitaph for a lost loved one, or the menacing taunt of a vengeful killer? When a man is found brutally murdered in the woods, those words come to haunt the small German village of Merklen. And homicide inspector Peter Böhm faces the daunting task of unraveling a mystery with deep and twisted roots—in a town where doors stay closed, people stay silent, and death may have the final word.

What did you recently finish reading?

Lisa McInerney: The Glorious Heresies

Tragi-comedy at its finest, as we see five characters trying to battle their way out of the hopelessness of their situation in down-and-out Cork post-Celtic Tiger boom. Like Trainspotting set in Ireland, you watch with horror (and occasional glee) as they make wrong choice after wrong choice. Tough, candid, occasionally shocking, yet ultimately tender.

outlineRachel Cusk: Outline

Blurb: A woman writer goes to Athens in the height of summer to teach a writing course. Though her own circumstances remain indistinct, she becomes the audience to a chain of narratives, as the people she meets tell her one after another the stories of their lives.

My verdict: Based on reviews of this, I’d been expecting something challenging, hard to read, but it was enjoyable and easy. A collection of voices, people’s stories, a bit like an anthropologist’s field notes, it was fascinating and thought-provoking. Plus, a Greek setting is always a bonus!

What do you think you’ll read next?

Kate Hamer: The Doll Funeral

Blurb: My name is Ruby. I live with Barbara and Mick. They’re not my real parents, but they tell me what to do, and what to say. I’m supposed to say that the bruises on my arms and the black eye came from falling down the stairs.
But there are things I won’t say. I won’t tell them I’m going to hunt for my real parents. I don’t say a word about Shadow, who sits on the stairs, or the Wasp Lady I saw on the way to bed.

Hamer did such an excellent job of rendering a child’s voice in The Girl in the Red Coat, that I am curious to see what she can do here.

lastsummerRicharda Huch: The Last Summer (transl. Jamie Bulloch)

Blurb: Russia at the beginning of the 20th century. To counter student unrest, the governor of St Petersburg closes the state university. Soon afterwards he arrives at his summer residence with his family and receives a death threat. His worried wife employs a young bodyguard, Lju, to protect her husband. Little does she know that Lju sides with the students – and the students are plotting an assassination.

So, although this is a German author, I am not sure this qualifies entirely for the #EU27Project in my mind, as it takes place in Russia. Still, it looks like an intriguing read as usual from Peirene Press.

So a bouquet of women writers this time round! Have you read or are you planning to read any of these? Or other books by these authors?

 

Monthly Wrap-Up: January 2017

breachJanuary felt like a slow reading month, as too much of my time was caught up with news. However, now that I’m counting, I did not fare too badly. 12 books read, of which 4 translations and 5 by women. I am far, far behind on reviews, however, so for the time being you will have to make do with a single word or phrase.

For review on Crime Fiction Lover:

BA Paris: The Breakdown – predictable

Marc Elsberg: Blackout – disaster movie type

Federico Axat: Kill the Next One – surreal

David Young: Stasi Wolf – surreal in a different way

For #EU27Project:

This is where I stumbled a little, as I have written zero reviews of any of these. I am also having second thoughts about using Arango and Hiekkapelto for Germany and Finland respectively, as there is little local ‘flavour’ in their work (they take place elsewhere). I have been sadly neglectful of adding any links to the #EU27Project page myself, but thank you to all the other book bloggers who have diligently read and reviewed and linked up. So much better than me! I will do better in February, I promise.

gloriousheresiesOlumide Popoola & Annie Holmes: Breach (Peirene Now!) – the refugee camps of Europe – more necessary reading than ever

Sascha Arango: The Truth and Other Lies (Germany) – macabre fun

Kati Hiekkapelto: The Exiled (Finland) – cross-cultural misunderstandings

Lisa McInerney: The Glorious Heresies (Ireland) – inventive delight

For fun (and to reduce TBR pile, especially on Netgalley):

outline1Ian Rankin: Rather Be the Devil – reliably entertaining

Stav Sherez: The Intrusions – slightly panic-inducing

Brian Conaghan: The Bombs that Brought Us Together – timely and fresh

Rachel Cusk: Outline – anthropological storytelling at its best

My favourite crime reads this month were The Intrusions and Rather Be the Devil, while my favourite non-crime were Outline and The Glorious Heresies.

 

WWW Wednesday 18 Jan – What are you reading?

I saw this on Hayley’s book blog  Rather Too Fond of Books and I was so impressed by the quality and quantity of her reading that I thought I would join in for once. (I may not be able to make a habit out of it).

WWW Wednesday is a meme hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words. It’s open for anyone to join in and is a great way to share what you’ve been reading! All you have to do is answer three questions and share a link to your blog in the comments section of Sam’s blog.

The three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

A similar meme is run by Lipsyy Lost and Found where bloggers share This Week in Books #TWiB.

________________________________________________________________________

Currently Reading:

My reading speed has decreased of late, as all the global news is having a bit too much of an impact on me and sucking up my time. So everything I write about here will probably take me more than a week. However, I usually manage to have more than one book on the go and this week it’s:

exiledKati Hiekkapelto: The Exiled

From the blurb: Anna Fekete returns to the Balkan village of her birth for a relaxing summer holiday. But when her purse is stolen and the thief is found dead on the banks of the river, Anna is pulled into a murder case. Her investigation leads straight to her own family, to closely guarded secrets concealing a horrendous travesty of justice that threatens them all. As layer after layer of corruption, deceit and guilt are revealed, Anna is caught up in the refugee crisis spreading like wildfire across Europe. How long will it take before everything explodes?

My verdict: Interesting to see Anna on her ‘home turf’, which no longer quite feels like home, making comparisons between Finland and Serbia, and also witnessing the refugee crisis first-hand. It’s a much warmer, personal tale rather than the police procedural of the previous books in the series. This was sent to me by Orenda Books quite a while ago (it came out in November), but I hadn’t got around to reading it. Although it’s a Finnish writer, all of the action takes place in Serbia, so I don’t think I can count this towards #EU27Project.

axatFederico Axat: Kill the Next One (transl. David Frye)

From the blurb: Ted McKay had it all: a beautiful wife, two daughters, a high-paying job. But after being diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor he finds himself with a gun to his temple, ready to pull the trigger. Then the doorbell rings. A stranger makes him a proposition: why not kill two deserving men before dying? The first target is a criminal, and the second is a man with terminal cancer who, like Ted, wants to die. After executing these kills, Ted will become someone else’s next target, like a kind of suicidal daisy chain.

My verdict: You can see why I could not resist this premise – very intriguing. Of course, I don’t expect things to go according to plan. It will all get very nasty, I’m sure. Written with dry wit (as far I can tell, I’m only two chapters in). This one will be reviewed on Crime Fiction Lover.

fallinawakeAlice Oswald: Falling Awake

In her seventh collection of poetry, Oswald returns to her classicist training: Orpheus and Tithonius appear in the English landscape, there are surprising encounters with nature on every page, there are riffs on instability and falling (don’t we all feel that at the moment?). These are poems to be read aloud. Which is just as well, since I have this on e-reader and I always struggle with the formatting of the poems on the page, so I am progressing very slowly with this one. But it’s had no end of poetic distinctions: winner of the 2016 Costa Poetry Award, shortlisted for the 2016 T. S. Eliot Award, shortlisted for the 2016 Forward Prize. Part of my plan to read poetry every week.

Recently Finished:

Coincidentally, two books with orange covers.

bombsBrian Conaghan: The Bombs that Brought Us Together

From the blurb: Fourteen-year-old Hamish Law has lived in Little Town, on the border with Old Country, all his life. He knows the rules: no going out after dark; no drinking; no litter; no fighting. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of the people who run Little Town. When he meets Pavel Duda, a refugee from Old Country, the rules start to get broken. Then the bombs come, and the soldiers from Old Country, and Little Town changes for ever.

My verdict: I borrowed this one from the library for my son but took a peek at it, after I heard that it won the Costa Book Award for Children’s Literature. I don’t usually read much YA, I find it a little too twee at times and chasing trends. And although this has the dystopian background that is so prevalent nowadays, it is less about playing dangerous games or fighting in an arena, and feels more like living in Stalinist Russia. More realistic, and a sympathetic look at the plight of refugees.

Stav Sherez: The Intrusions

intrusionsFrom the blurb: Detectives Carrigan and Miller are thrust into a terrifying new world of stalking and obsession when a distressed young woman bursts into the station with a story about her friend being abducted and a man who is threatening to come back and ‘claim her next’.

Taking them from deep inside a Bayswater hostel, where backpackers and foreign students share dorms and failing dreams, to the emerging threat of online intimidation, hacking, and control, The Intrusions pursues disturbing contemporary themes and dark psychology with all the authority and skill that Stav Sherez’s work has been so acclaimed for.

My verdict: For a day or two, I was too terrified to approach my computer again and engaged with extra caution on social media. It’s a plausible and terrifying scenario that Stav Sherez brings to life here. I thought I had grown sick of the serial killer meme in fiction, but this is a very different twist on it. The initially hopeful but ultimately sad, transient population of London really got to me and I love the author’s poetic style. Side note: I would love to read more of Geneva’s own poetry and her mother’s.

Up Next:

For review:

stasiwolfDavid Young: Stasi Wolf

From the blurb: East Germany, 1975. Karin Müller, sidelined from the murder squad in Berlin, jumps at the chance to be sent south to Halle-Neustadt, where a pair of infant twins have gone missing.

But Müller soon finds her problems have followed her. Halle-Neustadt is a new town – the pride of the communist state – and she and her team are forbidden by the Stasi from publicising the disappearances, lest they tarnish the town’s flawless image. Meanwhile, in the eerily nameless streets and tower blocks, a child snatcher lurks, and the clock is ticking to rescue the twins alive . . .

Really enjoyed the first book in the series ‘Stasi Child’, so I can’t wait for this one, even if it brings back some traumatic memories of reprisals.

From my Netgalley reduction imperative:

outlineRachel Cusk: Outline

From the blurb: A woman writer goes to Athens in the height of summer to teach a writing course. Though her own circumstances remain indistinct, she becomes the audience to a chain of narratives, as the people she meets tell her one after another the stories of their lives.

Beginning with the neighbouring passenger on the flight out and his tales of fast boats and failed marriages, the storytellers talk of their loves and ambitions and pains, their anxieties, their perceptions and daily lives. In the stifling heat and noise of the city the sequence of voice begins to weave a complex human tapestry.

I am the one who gets to hear all of the life stories on planes, trains and buses, and the anthropologist in me is fascinated by everyone, so this sounds perfect. I’ve read mostly non-fiction by Cusk, so am curious how this will go.

Finally, for the #EU27Project:

nomenNo Men No Cry – anthology of Lithuanian women’s literature

A collective of women writers, translated for the first time into English, aiming to portray ‘the experience of contemporary woman, experience that is closely related to actual cultural and historical phenomena and which contemplates a woman’s search for identity and highlights a woman’s ironic stance towards traditional female values, such as marriage, childbirth and home-making.’ I know so little of Lithuanian literature (and so little has been translated), so this looks like a good base for exploration.

Reading Bingo 2016

reading-bingo-small

I tried to resist it, but first I saw Cleo doing it, then Emma at Book Around the Corner, then Lisa Hall at ANZ Litlovers blog. Yes, I am weak-willed and have the mentality of a herd of sheep, but I enjoyed reading theirs so much that, in spite of my guilt at spending far too much time on it, I couldn’t think of a nicer way to spend an afternoon (and escape writing Christmas cards this weekend). I did this last year too, and it’s one of the funnest ways to spend this time of year. Then, Emma made the fatal remark: ‘Bet you could fill in more than one for each category!’ So here is how I spent a whole day…

cabreMore than 500 pages

Knausgård: Some Rain Must Fall – self-absorbed, egotistic and utterly recognisable: the narrator/novelist at the start of his career

Jaume Cabré: Confessions – a mammoth of imagination and introspection, slippery characters and narrations overlapping

Forgotten Classic

Eizabeth Taylor: Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont – perfect poise and wry, self-effacing humour: all that I love about the English style

Jean Rhys: Smile Please – the darker side to English poise and elegance, with the tinge of obsessions, depression and ‘alienness’.

two-faces-of-january-posterBook that Became a Movie

Patricia Highsmith: The Two Faces of January – 2014 movie starring Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac

Maylis Kerangal: Reparer les vivants (just came out this November 2016) – a stylistic breathless tour de force, never thought it could be made into a film, but here is the French trailer

http://www.allocine.fr/video/player_gen_cmedia=19564553&cfilm=238997.html

 

Published This Year

krimiI read a lot of these, usually for Crime Fiction Lover reviews or Shiny New Books or Necessary Fiction. So I picked two more unusual choices:

Katharina Hall (ed.): Crime Fiction in German – an encylopaedic reference book which will answer all of your questions about crime in the German language

Péter Gárdos: Fever at Dawn – charming, quirky, loving, a feel-good book for a messed-up world, and now I want to see the film too

Number in Its Title

Italian edition.
Italian edition.

Initially thought I had no books in this category, but then I found two:

David Peace: 1974 – which could also have fitted into the first book by a favourite author category, despite its unrelenting grimness

Olivier Norek: Code 93 – the most notorious département of France, with the highest crime rates, in an entertaining and realistic debut by a former policeman

Written by Someone Under 30

A bit of a depressing category, this one, making me wonder what on earth I have done with my life! Maybe the free square should be ‘Oldest Debut Author’ category.

Lisa Owens: Not Working – I think Lisa was just about under 30 when the book was published, so certainly younger when she wrote it. The narrator sounds like she is in her early 20s.

Tatiana Salem Levy: The House in Smyrna – published in 2008 in Brazil, when the author was 29, but only translated into English in 2015

monstercallsNon-Human Characters

I will interpret this very widely, as I don’t have anything else to offer: books that contain some human characters and some ‘supernatural’ presence

Patrick Ness: A Monster Calls – incidentally, there’s a film of this coming out too – not sure if I can bear to see it, as the book made me weep buckets!

Elizabeth Knox: Wake – something like a zombie apocalypse for grown-ups, a strange book, difficult to label

Funny Book

haas1You can tell the kind of reader I am when I tell you I had real trouble finding any funny books whatsoever in my 163+ books of the year. In fact, the second one is a crime novel with a humorous style, but a very grim subject matter. So not all that funny, then…

David Sedaris: Me Talk Pretty One Day – the joys and challenges of cultural misunderstandings between the French and the Americans

Wolf Haas: Komm, süßer Tod – a paramedic and ex-cop with a world-weary, typically Viennese view of the world, investigates some odd deaths in the ambulance service

Female Author

I think more than half of my reading has been by women authors this year – I have felt the need to surround  myself with their themes and words. Here are two books which haven’t been talked about as much as I would have liked or expected.

erpenbeck_gehenJenny Erpenbeck: Gehen Ging Gegangen – the ‘refugee problem’ in Germany gets a name and a face in this thoughtful, non-sentimental book

Elizabeth Brundage: All Things Cease to Appear – rural noir meets Gothic horror meets crime fiction, yet transcends all of these in a remarkable yet quiet novel of great depth

Mystery

dardMy preferred reading matter, of course, so I’ve tried to look at two real ‘mysteries’ (puzzles), which force the reader to work things out from the clues.

Anthony Horowitz: Magpie Murders – vivacious remix of Golden Age crime elements, without descending into pastiche, as well as a satire of the publishing world

Frédéric Dard: Bird in a Cage – the ‘impossible situation’ mystery, with lashings of film noir atmosphere, a stylish French stunner

belongingOne Word Title

Eleanor Wasserberg: Foxlowe – disquieting fictional look at growing up in a cult

Isabel Huggan: Belonging – warm and loving like a mother’s hug, but also a thought-provoking meditation on what home means

Short Stories

Sarah Hall & Peter Hobbs (eds): Sex and Death anthology  – the two constant preoccupations of humankind and a rich variety of stories for all tastes

Anthony Anaxagorou: The Blink that Killed the Eye – poetic yet never overwrought, grimly realistic, it’s the darker side of life in London as a millenial

Free Square – Book that didn’t work for me at all

L.S. Hilton: Maestra – 50 Shades of Grey meets online shopping catalogue and serial killer tropes; messy, gratuitous and clearly chasing bandwaggons.

signsforlostchildrenSet on a Different Continent

Sarah Moss: Signs for Lost Children – Truro and Japan and never the twain shall meet – or will they? A new author discovery for me this year, one that I want to read much more of.

Raphael Montes: Perfect Days – set in Brazil, we travel the country but also inside the mind of a delusional young man, which makes for an uncomfortable, yet often also funny and exciting experience

Non-Fiction

Åsne Seierstad: One of Us – close factual examination of Anders Breivik and the staggering massacre of young people in Norway, frightening reconstruction of events

Olivia Laing: Lonely City – a very interesting mix of memoir and research, art and literary criticism, to explore the idea of loneliness in big cities

wife1st Book by Favourite Author

Tiphanie Yanique: Wife – debut poetry collection, but I am completely won over and will read anything that this talented Caribbean poet and fiction writer puts in front of me.

Stav Sherez: The Devil’s Playground – while waiting for his latest novel to come out, I went back to his debut novel (not part of the Carrigan and Miller series), originally published in 20014 and set in Amsterdam

Heard About Online

This is a bit of a false category, as I seem to find out about most books nowadays via personal recommendations on Twitter. However, both of the authors below I got to ‘meet’ via Twitter, before they had even published the books described/

in-her-wake-vis-4-2Amanda Jennings: In Her Wake – a genre-busting, mysterious, ethereally beautiful tale, with strong female characters, set in Cornwall

Isabel Costello: Paris Mon Amour – set in Paris, a book defying age and sex conventions, without being prurient or irrelevant (unlike Maestra)

Bestseller

Ha! I realised I had no idea if any of the books I’d read this year were bestsellers (from what number of copies sold can you consider them to be that?), but I assume Fred Vargas always sells a ton in both French and English, while Andrew McMillan’s debut collection of poetry has won many awards and done so well for poetry standards.

Andrew McMillan: Physical – see Naomi Frisby’s excellent review here

Fred Vargas: A Climate of Fear

aloneberlinBased on a True Story

It’s the style that I loved in both of these, the simplicity, lack of artifice, just letting the words speak for themselves. The fact that they were both rooted in reality was almost the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Hans Fallada: Alone in Berlin

Antoine Leiris: You Will Not Have My Hate

Bottom of the TBR list

I bought both of these books around 3-4 years ago, in an elan of wanting to read more East European literature, but then forgot about them. One sat on the shelf, the other on my e-reader. I wanted to like them so badly, but when I did get around to them, they were each rather disappointing.

Marius Daniel Popescu: La Symphonie du Loup

Grażyna Plebanek: Illegal Liaisons

promesseLoved by a Friend

Romain Gary: La promesse de l’aube – pressed into my hands as a parting gift by Emma herself, I have finally fallen in love with this author and bought more of his books. At some point I want to write a proper in-depth study of his work but I need to read more.

Elena Ferrante: Neapolitan series – so many people recommended this one to me, but I was wary of the hype, although I’d liked other books by this author. I did enjoy it, although it did not quite blow my socks off.

Scary

uninvited-liz-jensenLiz Jensen: The Uninvited – chilling, filling your heart with gradual dread, magnificent handling of suspense and atmosphere, a book that will make you look at your children in a different way

Michelle Paver: Thin Air – another atmospheric ride – everything is hinted at, nothing is quite seen

10+ Years Old

Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone – it doesn’t get older than this, one of the world’s first proper detective novels

Mircea Eliade: Diary of a Short-Sighted Adolescent – it may reflect growing up in Romania in the 1920s, but teenagers have always been a world to themselves

b-very-flat-coverSecond Book in a Series

Dolores Redondo: The Legacy of the Bones – 2nd in the unusual, slightly supernaturally tinged series set in the damp, foggy, superstitious region of Baztan in Spain

Margot Kinberg: B-Very Flat – 2nd in the Joel Williams series, set in a small-town university campus in the US, cosy yet not twee, civilised crime fiction

Blue Cover

blackmilkI love my blue covers, even if there does seem to be a super-abundance of them lately, so here are two non-fiction books with gorgeous covers.

Elif Shafak: Black Milk – the most imaginative way of speaking about post-partum depression and the challenge of being an intellectual, a woman and a mother in this century

Melissa Harrison: Rain (Four Walks in English Weather) – a bit of a ramble through landscapes, nature observations, literature and what not else – a book to dip in and out, very enjoyable. If Inuits can have so many words for snow, you can imagine there are more than four kinds of English rain…

So, dear friends, far be it from me to lead you into temptation, but what would your reading bingo list of the year be?

 

 

 

 

November Reading Round-Up

My reading speed seems to have gone down over the last few months, despite my endless sleepless nights. I seem to start many books and then spending simply ages not quite getting round to finishing them. I have continued reading and writing poetry, but my unofficial NaNoWriMo did not work out. Still, lack of success on the writing front usually means I find refuge in lots of reading, so it’s puzzling that this has not been the case. I have read just ten books (it may seem a lot, but quite a few of them were rather short), but I’ve been even worse when it comes to reviewing. So, with apologies, here are some very succinct reviews in some cases.

Crime fiction and psychological thrillers:

suitablelieMichael J. Malone: A Suitable Lie

Not really a conventional domestic thriller, although it does turn the tables on domestic violence. It is more of a character study and very effective in describing the cycle of hope, obligation, guilt, fear, love, a whole rollercoaster of emotions.

Rob Sinclair: Dark Fragments

 

pasttenseMargot Kinberg: Past Tense

Although the theme of sexual harassment in college is very topical and disturbing, this is a welcome change of pace to the darker, grittier type of crime fiction. A civilised campus novel, with most people able to converse elegantly with each other (although they still lie, or exaggerate or omit things).

Emma Kavanagh: The Missing Hours

Jo Nesbo: Police (transl. Don Bartlett)

I’ve loved some Harry Hole novels (The Redbreast, The Snowman) and been less enthusiastic about others, but he is undeniably a page-turner. I took him spontaneously out of the library to see just how he manages to build that sense of dread, foreboding, suspense. This story was perhaps a little too convoluted for my taste, but every time there was someone alone in a venue, searching for something, and they would then hear a noise, I jumped out of my skin.

Literary fiction:

Sarah Perry: The Essex Serpent

Laura Kasischke: Suspicious River

mrspalfreyElizabeth Taylor: Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont

I expect nothing less from Elizabeth Taylor than this beautifully observed study of the foibles of human nature, our innate selfishness, the stories we tell ourselves and others to justify our behaviour. It is a humorous and very poignant look at ageing and loneliness. What struck me most was the dissolution of family ties, how little we really come to mean to those whom we have been conditioned to think of as the nearest and dearest. There are many characters, each one instantly recognisable, yet carefully avoiding stereotypes.

Non-fiction:

Antoine Leiris: You Will Not Have My Hate

Between non-fiction and short stories:

Ali Smith: Public Library

My book of the month is You Will Not Have My Hate, for the emotional devastation it wreaked on me. My second choice, which also managed to squeeze a tear or two out of me, is Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont.

So, cheery Christmas reads next? I don’t really like ‘seasonal books’ but I’d better find something less gloomy or else my insomnia will never improve! And that Netgalley list needs to go down as well!

 

 

The Bookish Time Travel Tag: Lazy Sunday Reading

Sandra from the lovely blog A Corner of Cornwall tagged me for this at a time when I was extremely busy and technology-less, but it’s an intriguing idea. Like Sandra, I initially thought I didn’t read much historical fiction, so it wouldn’t apply to me, but the more you think about it… The original idea, by the way, comes from The Library Lizard, and you can answer as many or as few of the questions as you like, which makes it sound easy enough, right?

foucaults-001WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE HISTORICAL SETTING FOR A BOOK?

Medieval European courts – the Borgias, the Knights Templar, monks misbehaving in monasteries – you get the gist. As a child, I just couldn’t get enough of Jean Plaidy’s historical novels, or The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. I suppose the latter two were the Dan Brown of their day, only much better written.

WHAT WRITER/S WOULD YOU LIKE TO TRAVEL BACK IN TIME TO MEET?

So many. I think Christopher Marlowe would have been quite fun (with or without Shakespeare in tow) and Chaucer sounds like the kind of guy you would love to go to the pub with, who could tell you plenty of gossipy stories.

I would also love to meet some of my great literary heroines, like Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, but I would probably be completely tongue-tied and fangirling like mad. (And I dread to think what their sharp observational skills and merciless tongues would make of their encounter with me.)

WHAT BOOK/S WOULD YOU TRAVEL BACK IN TIME AND GIVE TO YOUR YOUNGER SELF?

I used to read a lot more widely when I was younger, and books which were by no means appropriate for my age, so I’m tempted to say not much.  But there are some wonderful children’s books which were published after the end of my childhood, which I think I would have enjoyed more back then: most of Diana Wynn Jones, Cornelia Funke, Eva Ibbotson, Neil Gaiman.

WHAT BOOK/S WOULD YOU TRAVEL FORWARD IN TIME AND GIVE TO YOUR OLDER SELF?

ephronWell, I certainly have plenty on my TBR pile to keep me going until I am 120 at the very least, so it would have to be one of those!

At the same time, I can see myself reverting back to the classics and rereading old favourites when I grow old. I will also find comfort no doubt in the essays on ageing, loss, finding some kind of contentment and surviving of more or less feminist writers such as Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron. And of course, lots of poetry.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK THAT IS SET IN A DIFFERENT TIME PERIOD (CAN BE HISTORICAL OR FUTURISTIC)?

I’ve never been very good at selecting just one or two books when it comes to such questions. Besides, I always think of at least half a dozen even better choices after I’ve given my final answers. So here is a small sample:

Orwell’s 1984 seems futuristic, and probably was at the time it was published, but I’ve lived through a period and in a country which was very, very similar to it, so it is simultaneously historical to me.

And of course it has nothing whatsoever to do with the recent adaptation starring Jim Caviezel...
And of course it has nothing whatsoever to do with the recent adaptation starring Jim Caviezel…

I also loved all of the Alexandre Dumas books when I was a child and played at being the Three/Four Musketeers with my cousins during our endless summer holidays (I was always a fan of Aramis, by the way, and am pleased to see that the recent TV adaptation has him every bit as seductive as I imagined him/myself to be at the time). Nowadays, however, I probably prefer The Count of Monte Cristo.

There are also a small number of books about war which really marked me: Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and Liviu Rebreanu’s Forest of the Hanged, for non-English perspectives on the First World War; Michio Takeyama’s Harp of Burma and Masuji Ibuse’s Black Rain for the humble ordinary Japanese person’s perspective on World War Two.

Bucharest, Palace Square, from the 1940s. From orasulluibucur.blogspot.ro
Bucharest, Palace Square, from the 1940s. From orasulluibucur.blogspot.ro

Olivia Manning’s The Balkan Trilogy is also about WW2, but from the civilian perspective, showing the whole political, diplomatic and social lead-up to the war. Frightening, because it still feels so relevant today.

I can’t say I loved them, it’s more that they shattered me. I think they should be required reading for all those who decide to go to war with such gung-ho spirit (and I simply cannot believe that Donald Trump selected the Remarque book as one of his favourites).

SPOILER TIME: DO YOU EVER SKIP AHEAD TO THE END OF A BOOK JUST TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS?

I may have done this on occasion… (mumble, mumble, hangs head in shame). But I am quite scrupulous about only reading the last 2-3 paragraphs, so usually I don’t really understand what is going on. That is why I appreciate books which don’t have a major twist or denouement on the very last page.

IF YOU HAD A TIME TURNER, WHERE WOULD YOU GO AND WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

chateauvoltaireI may enjoy reading about the cruelty and backstabbing of medieval European courts, but I wouldn’t want to go live there. I think I might have enjoyed working in the laboratory Madame du Chatelet and Voltaire created together at her chateau in Cirey-sur-Blaise, or else join Voltaire a few years later at his chateau in Ferney and be a much more witty and well-read companion in his old age than his rather frivolous niece Mme Denis.

FAVOURITE BOOK (IF YOU HAVE ONE) THAT INCLUDES TIME TRAVEL OR TAKES PLACE IN MULTIPLE TIME PERIODS?

yankeeFor a while I couldn’t think of any, as I’ve avoided books such as The Time Traveller’s Wife (call me prejudiced, but it feels more like Dr Who episode than a novel I could lose myself in). But then I realised that I do have an old favourite: Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is very funny and clever, and also a scathing satire of American and British society and politics of the late 19th century. Another book which remains hugely relevant still today (sadly) and which deserves to be far better known. I can feel an urge to reread it coming on…

WHAT BOOK/SERIES DO YOU WISH YOU COULD GO BACK AND READ AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME?

Probably most of the crime fiction series I like, since once you’ve read them, you can never ‘unknow’ the perpetrator and the plot twists (although in my pre-reviewing days, I have on occasion borrowed a book from the library and wondered why it seemed vaguely familiar, only to discover right at the end that I had in fact read it before). A moment of silence please for the awe-inspiring Martin Beck series.

 

 

5 Days in Provence: A Working Holiday

Karen and Jack’s house in Provence may be a little corner of paradise, but I wasn’t just going to laze around in a night-gown and listen to harp music all day. I had tremendous plans going there: I was going to finish my novel and send it to my mentor for structural edits. But that was based on the flawed assumption I made back in early June that I would have spent a total of 5 weeks on the novel by now. Needless to say, that did not happen between July and October. I wrote precisely zero words since mid-June.

View from the window of my room
View from the window of my room

Having all the time in the world and inspiring landscape galore was not immediately productive, however. I wrote about 1500 words and rewrote a full outline of the novel, filling up any plot holes, but no more than that. Now, I could choose to focus on what I did not achieve, but for once I will focus on the positive.

Lulled to sleep in the evening and woken up in the morning by poetry (Karen has a whole room full of poetry books – 4 bookcases full!), it’s to be expected that I succumbed to my old passion. I read 13 books of poetry during those five days, so it was like bathing in sunlight. Of course, you know what it’s like with poetry collections,  you don’t read them cover to cover,  you find the poems that really resonate with you.

wp_20161027_12_09_30_pro

Here are some which I would love to share with you, all by women poets (although I also read William Stafford and Peter Meinke, I spontaneously picked up women this time):

Let’s start a conversation. Ask me where I’m from.

Where is home, really home. Where my parents were born.

What to do if I sound more like you than you do.

Every word an exhalation, a driving out. (Vahni Capildeo)

I keep finding you in ways I didn’t know I noticed, or knew.
Every road, every sea,
every beach by every sea,
keeps lining up with what you loved.
Here’s a line of silent palm trees.
It’s as if you answered the phone.
(Naomi Shihab Nye)

wp_20161027_12_04_48_pro

I caution you as I was never cautioned:

you will never let go, you will never be satiated.

You will be damaged and scarred, you will continue to hunger.

Your body will age, you will continue to need.

You will want the earth, then more of the earth –

Sublime, indifferent, it is present, it will not respond.

It is encompassing, it will not minister.

Meaning, it will feed you, it will ravish you,

it will not keep you alive. (Louise Gluck)

wp_20161027_12_15_00_pro
I, like a river,
Have been turned aside by this harsh age.
I am a substitute. My life has flowed
Into another channel
And I do not recognise my shores.
O, how many fine sights I have missed,
How many curtains have risen without me
And fallen too…
And how many poems I have not written
Whose secret chorus swirls around my head
And possibly one day
Will stifle me… (Anna Akhmatova)

wp_20161028_13_30_26_pro

This poem is dangerous; it should not be left

Within the reach of children, or even of adults

Who might swallow it whole, with possibly

Undesirable side-effects. If you come across

An unattended, unidentified poem

In a public place, do not attempt to tackle it

Yourself. Send it (preferably in a sealed container)

To the nearest centre of learning, where it will be rendered

Harmless by experts. Even the simplest poem

May destroy your immunity to human emotions.

All poems must carry a Government warning. Words

Can seriously affect your heart. (Elma Mitchell)

The result of this electrolyte bath of poetry? I wrote 25 new poems of my own. All requiring a lot of work still, but more than I’ve written in the 6 months January-June 2016. I will make sure I always have at least one book of poetry on the go at any moment in time.