I keep these reviews to snippet length. But every so often a book comes up that deserves more of an appraisal, and this is one of them. If i was on BBC Radio 4's program A Good Read, this is what i'd choose. Read why on my blog.
Hannah Kent - Burial Rites
Every bit as good as its reputation.
Reminded me of Margaret Atwood's
Amazing Grace, inevitably. A woman condemned for murder, caught up in a bad situation, a sympathetic recounting of the tale from her point of view. The internal dialogue that Kent writes for Agnes when she is at her most desperate is very good, as is the descriptive writing - not overdone, just perfectly conveying the grief of the character. Those passages throw into sharp relief the flow of feelings Agnes experiences when she falls in love with Nathan. Very strong sense of character and place. Wonderful writing and storytelling.
Deborah Devonshire - Wait For Me!
I've always meant to read about the Mitford girls, the family of five girls and one boy born into the plummiest of circles between the world wars in England.
Deborah is the youngest. And she writes really well! It's just that she likes Hitler a bit too much.
Curious that two or three of the sisters married fascist dictators, and the picture she paints of her father - absent disciplinarian with very odd views - makes you wonder if he set a bit of a wrong model for them.
Lots of fun looking at their stately homes and fascist-dictator-wife-boltholes
on Google Earth.
An entertaining read.
Ronnie - Ronnie Woods
Unexpectedly, a very boring book.
Evidently written by him, as it has an authentic voice, but there's no flair in the writing, so it just becomes a list - I did this, then I did that. Admittedly it's a racy list - bands he played with, musical icons he drank with, what a lark Rod Stewart is and still life tableaux assembled using naked women. But there's nothing that passes for
Should have used a ghost writer.
I stopped halfway through.
I Came to Say Goodbye -
Our book club book.
A tightly, skilfully written book which I read in two goes - and that's exceptional. It's the only book I can think of which has been so compelling that it's actually kept me awake. Solidly written, using the voice of a couple of the characters writing an account of their experiences to a judge in the family court, a device which is managed with complete conviction. The story is a downward spiral for its characters, and not exactly cheery, but it keeps hooking you in.
A great read.
Alys, Always - Harriet Lane
As recommended on BBC Radio 4's program A Good Read. Frances, a sub-editor on a newspaper, witnesses a car accident and then weaves her way into the lives of the bereaved family, with apparent cold calculation and a degree of disdain for their lack of character. This she does because their lifestyle and connections offer such a step up from her own.
Alarmingly, I identified with her almost throughout - until she stole the dead woman's possessions. After that it seemed like a good idea to stop identifying with her.
The descriptions of Frances' middle class origins were so familiar, they made me
break out in a sweat.
Incredibly well observed, with a great feeling that you're hearing the secret inside story which nobody else knows.
The Fry Chronicles - Stephen Fry
Plummier than a garden party at Buck House. But also pithy, witty and self-effacing. Much like the man himself, then.
There's much to like in his life-story - fascinating accounts of boarding school and Cambridge with the Footlights and the cream of English performers over the last three decades. Lashings of detail - sometimes a bit much. But if the pudding is occasionally over-egged, it is no less sweet in the eating.
As you see, the plumminess got to me.
Sweet Tooth - Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan couldn't just write a straightforward spy novel, could he? Obviously he's going to do something more with it - something clever, something to keep us in awe of his craftsmanship and intellect. Sweet Tooth doesn't disappoint.
Who wrote this? That's the question.
Is it Ian McEwan?
Is it the narrator Serena,
or the writer Tom?
OMG, he's just so clever.
All the Birds, Singing - Evie Wyld
If I could be a writer, I'd be Evie Wyld.
She runs a small, eclectic bookshop in London and has written this elegiac and disturbing book about new life wrenched from a traumatic past.
There is a deep knowledge of the Australian outback here, the bits that hardly anybody gets to, and also sheep herding in a small island community somewhere in Britain.
How do you manage that?
It can only be one of two things: a great deal of independent travel, or a great imagination.
Whichever, I'm in awe.
Post Script: she just won the Miles Franklin Award. Hah, I was right.
Her Fearful Symmetry -
Two sets of twins. A blurring of identity between those alive and those dead. What to say without giving away too much: it's a narrative more imaginative, original and compelling than most: ghost story, love story, entangled, poignant, dark and engrossing. And the origins of one character are simply the most original feat of imagination and narrative construct
I've ever read.
Notes from an Exhibition - Patrick Gale
A novel about grief, loss and mental illness. Not many writers could handle such material so deftly. The insight into the interior dialogue of the characters, including children and teenagers, is masterful, making it a powerful read for parents. I found the central character of Rachel very unappealing - but my goodness she's well drawn!
Barracuda - Christos Tsolkias
The ladies at my reading group slid this across the table to me. As the youngest member, I was deemed more likely to be able to handle the language and the sexual content. Not sure about that, myself.
But the book came at a bad time for me. The first few chapters are about the boy's torment upon joining a private school,
'C**t's College' as he refers to it.
At that point, my own small daughter was being pushed around at school by bigger, more confident girls.
I didn't want art to imitate life just then
so I gave it away.
On Chesil Beach - Ian McEwan
Love and loss told the McEwan way, with a pithy look at social and cultural context. A kind of chilling realism in the detail.
All at once quick, light and deep - not many novels you can say that of.
Not his greatest, most searching or compelling book, but still the
master at work.
The 4-Hour Workweek - Timothy Ferris
Woah. If ever there was a book to whup you upside the head, it's this one. Tim Ferris rethinks everything - life, work, money. Even if it doesn't turn you into a lifestyle entrepreneur overnight, it's pretty much guaranteed to change something about the way you do things. Fascinating with touches of genius.
And he's only thirty.
Illegal Action - Stella Rimington
In my quest for thrillers which are about intelligence rather than autopsies, I've gone straight to the source - former head of MI5 turned author, Stella Rimington. Told with clarity and understated authority, the Liz Carlyle series is palatable spook fiction without goriness, readable, engaging and authentic.
And there are four of them!
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