Sunday, 6 November 2016

Summing Up Sunday: 6th November

Well, it's seemed like a pretty busy week at 2CC!

J went away with a friend for a couple of days to London, which sounded like great fun. There's a new part to the Tate Modern (the New Tate Modern - imaginative).



Looks amazing outside, huh?

A box of mirrors - you can see J's phone straight opposite. Really cool!

Sam facing Shelob?

The old turbine hall with some sort of sound installation

And inside!



Great food, fancy hotel, good company and kind enough weather. Nice treat for this time of the season. J went to two shows: one about cancer which was a combination of hard and a little cringy/OTT; and Amadeus at the National Theatre. We all love the film, and the actors were amazing. Just found they're doing a live cinema version in February - maybe A and E will get to see it too?



Then, it was A's time for fun and she flew up to see M and wee S in Edinburgh. She's still there 'til Monday, but having a good time in spite of the weather. (She almost lost her watch but miraculously found it - hooray!) They went to 'The Slug' or dynamic earth (we've all been countless times, but it's forever amazing).

See why it's called The Slug?


Unfortunately Edinburgh's high winds meant no fireworks for A&co, but E and J went to Puxton Park at the last minute for a fantastic display. No photos, as it takes away from watching them and, unless you're a professional photographer, they never come out very well anyway. Brilliant display. And a huge bonfire.



Today, J went off to do some apple-juicing at a friend's farmhouse. We still have a lot of apple juice from last year...



And we had our first frost.


How were all your weekends?





Thursday, 3 November 2016

26 Books: A Book that Everyone Else Has Read

(finally another 26 books! Enjoy)


This would have been number 20 in Bringing Up Burns 2015


Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
(read April 2015)

Well I probably missed the point. I chose Catch 22 as one of my '26 books to read in 2015' and it was the ' book from my shelves that I haven't read' until I realised I don't have it (where did it go; whose shelves am I familiar with seeing it on?) so I got a very cheap Kindle edition (notable for its typos). I read about a hundred pages, and then decided that my life's too short to waste on something I just didn't want to come back to. Reading is for fun (in some sense, it can be gruelling, but if I don't want to know what happened
next or am annoyed and after a good chunk of the book this hasn't worn off, then STOP!).

A little rant.

Back to the book.

I think I understood that it is highly ironic. Every sentence is tortuous and contradictory. It illustrates the life of members of a USAF bomber group in 1944/5 Italy, and the essential conundrum of their lives, which is that they all don't want to be there, they don't want to continue to risk their lives, they are waiting to serve their time and go home, and the central character is trying to get out of further bombing missions by pretending to be 'crazy' but this doesn't work: If you are willing to fly missions, you are crazy. If you don't want to fly missions you are not crazy because that's common sense. You would get signed off having to fly if you are crazy but to declare yourself crazy is self cancelling (see beginning of sentence). This is Catch 22.

Last year I read Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy. It's about the same period, it has a similarly cynical attitude to war and to WW2 in particular, which is especially interesting because this is the war that is generally given as being sainted, almost a holy war because the Nazis were so evil, and because of the holocaust. What we all miss in that long after the event interpretation, is that this was accidental. WW2 was actually just like most other European wars, about territory and alliances. Yes the Nazis were spectacularly horrible in a way that Western civilIsation needs to continue to learn from, but that wasn't why Britain and the US fought them. So it's interesting to read contemporary accounts that weren't pro-establishment. I found Evelyn Waugh much more interesting (if a little turgid) than Heller's really dated comedy method. It was just tedious!
Sorry!

J

'The Other Boleyn Girl' by Phillipa Gregory (E):
(read January 2015)

** spoiler alert **
 Now, I really really enjoyed 'The Other Boleyn Girl,' but I feel curiously guilty for doing so.

Let's examine this. I feel like I shouldn't enjoy Gregory's books because you often hear about the plethora of historical inaccuracies that she has, and that she writes the 'worst type of historical fiction.' Almost like soaps or something, but just set in a different era. I have mostly steered clear of her books after reading 'A Respectable Trade,' which I thought was abysmally written, and I really didn't enjoy.

This? Loved it.

There was, as others have criticised, a tendency towards one dimensional characters - but not entirely. Many characters had a singular predominant trait - Anne was ruthless and ambitious, Henry was arrogant and hedonistic, singularly fixated on producing a male heir - but they had other traits too, and their prevailing traits were very understandable. Mary Boleyn herself was not, as others have suggested, presented as an innocent amongst the debauched immorality of the court; she was fickle and inconstant from the start.

It was very compelling. Strange to read a book where you know the outcome, and yet can't put it down because you want to know what happens!

In the interests of looking at this fairly, I decided to try and discover what the actual historical inaccuracies were. This is what I have managed to find by trawling the internet.

1) There is no proof of incest between George and Anne Boleyn, where it is heavily implied in the novel.
There is no proof of George Boleyn's homosexuality. There is no proof as to the paternity of Mary Boleyn's children, although it is speculated that one or more may have been fathered by the king. These, to me, are not an inaccuracies - it is building on something that may have been truth. At the end of the day, this is a novel, not a history book.

Philippa Gregory herself!
2) Mary Boleyn was generally thought to be the eldest of the three siblings. I'm curious as to why Gregory decided to change this, because the dynamic between the three of them would have been significantly different if she had been the elder. This inaccuracy is the most curious to me - why? And the plot does hinge rather on Mary being the youngest. Maybe Gregory should have stuck to the generally perceived facts and we would have had a very different novel.

3) Anne Boleyn takes Henry (Mary's son) on as a ward when his father William Carey dies of sweating sickness, rather than much later as in the novel.

4) Mary Boleyn in the novel is sexually inexperienced before she beds Henry VIII, but it is thought that her time in the French court had her reputation sealed as very promiscuous. This is argued between scholars, so who knows?

5) And, of course, the characterisation of Anne Boleyn herself. She is portrayed as pretty ruthless and cruel in the novel, although not wholly so, whereas many historians believe her to have been a sweet girl. Who knows? This is an alternative perspective, and, truthfully, we will never know what she was like.

To me, these inaccuracies are not enough to take away from the enjoyment of the book. If some say it is trashy historical fiction - so what? I enjoyed it, and would recommend it to anyone who likes historical books. I'd like to read more of Phillipa Gregory, now that I can forgive her for 'A Respectable Trade.'

E

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Summing Up Sunday 30th October 2016

Beautiful, calm, quiet, relatively Autumn weather.

The trees are as colourful as  they have ever been, and  there's not been anywhere near a frost yet, so that particular belief about what causes leaf colour intensity seems to be wrong.

J went to the Pudding Club in Mickleton,  N Cotswold's,  with good friend Huw,





and on the way back, met A and E at Westonbirt Aboretum. It was probably the most busy day of its year, but the trees were splendid, marvellous, magnificent.



Friday, 28 October 2016

26 Books: A Book By An Author You Love

This would have ben number 7 for Bringing up Burns.


'Flight Behaviour' by Barbara Kingsolver (J):
(read February 2015)
I'm writing this review some time after I read Flight Behaviour, and I am a little surprised that I gave it full marks, as I think it is less good than The Poisonwood Bible. And that may be, as I find often the case with an author that I love, that if they are consistent, what is exciting and wonderful about the way they write the first time, is less exciting with repetition.


That said, I read Flight Behaviour twice, once several years ago, and more recently when it came up in our book club, and I found myself defending it against those who saw it as mainly for the purpose

of proselytising Kingsolver's ecological message. So what? (unless one doesn't agree with that message about the danger of climate change, or unless her story doesn't work because she bends it to this purpose).

It's a VERY good story, with well drawn characters, living out their believable lives with real human families and their impossible difficulties, and at the same time living through a small scale environmental catastrophe (or is it: read to find out).


Once again, some of Kingsolver's characters are strongly motivated by Bible Christianity, and some of the others find this behaviour objectionable. Some of these Christians are rigid and mean, and others aren't. Does Kingsolver herself have these issues in her immediate family, or is modern America so full of this type of Christianity that it's always relevant?
The only thing missing from this book that I appreciated about The Poisonwood Bible is that element of understanding a piece of history. There is nothing about fairly recent West Virginia (or wherever it's set, somewhere near there I think) that I now feel enriched for understanding.



War Horse by Michael Morpurgo (E):
 I really love Michael Morpurgo; he was such a beloved author of mine as a child. I lapped up his books, particularly the ones set in the Scilly Isles that are so familiar to me. Since War Horse is now his most famous book and I hadn't read it (it came out after I was a bit older) I really felt I needed to read it. I'd love to see the stage production (I think it's still on, though not at the National anymore), as the feedback from that has been phenomenal. 

Anyway, onto the book.

Actually, I was really disappointed. It's hard to say this because: 1) I love Michael Morpurgo; and 2) it's difficult to go against public opinion. Everyone loves War Horse (well, I'm sure it's not everyone), but it just didn't work for me. There were too many fast changing characters, so as each one was passed by (or had passed on), there hadn't been enough time to become emotionally attached to them. I felt like: 'oh, that's another one.' It was a stream of drudgery through WWI with each character (apart from Joey) making a brief exit and entrance. There weren't really any other main characters, except from Albert but he didn't have all that much 'screen time' because the middle of the book was centred elsewhere.

I'm disappointed. I wonder if this is something that has come with age; maybe Morpurgo's other books are like this as well, but it didn't feel so when I was younger? Maybe I've read so much in the intervening time that this style just isn't emotionally engaging enough anymore. I don't dare to read my old favourites. I'd still like to see the stage play, but not in such a burning desire sort of way anymore.

It's sad, but maybe, Michael, I've just grown out of you. I miss you.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The Man Booker Shortlist




So, today's the day! Tonight at 9:30 (I think?) on BBC 4 there is the Man Booker Prize Giving and we will found out which book won. Tense! Will we get our preferred winner? We will see.

First, let's see who all the judges are this year:


Amanda Foreman (Chair): is ab award-winning historian and bestselling author 
Jon Day: works at King's College as a critic and lecturer, specialising in modern fiction
Abdulrazak Gurnah: previously shortlisted for theBooker Prize-shortlisted, professor at Kent uni 
David Harsent: University of Roehampton creative writing producer, poet, won 2014 T.S. Eliot prize 
Olivia Williams: starring in a National Theatre’s production of Harley Granville-Barker's Waste, actor.



I searched for a long time and none of the photos
of all the judges together load properly, so here is the chair: author and
historian Amanda Foreman.


So, an author, a critic and lecturer, another author and previous Man Booker nominee, poet and an actor. Good well rounded bunch; but I wonder what they're looking for - it always seems to be something different to us!

Onto the books, in no particular order:


A: Wild stuff! It took me a couple of graunchy starts to get into this but it is clever, witty and very American. The protagonist is black and has a bizarre upbringing and early experience which brings him to the conclusion that returning to slavery would be good for the black race in America, and this is then challenged in the Supreme Court. Great idea with some funny descriptions of early psychological experiments but not a book that gave me much pleasure to actually read because of the density of the writing. I can see how as a book in English it is really unusual so for that reason can see why its nominated. I'd be interested in talking about the humour...

J: probably witty, certainly informative on what it may feel like to be an African American, but too full of references I couldn't understand to be enjoyable, so ultimately boring. See full review here.

E: definitely witty, although quite difficult to read! The premise is completely insane and I'm not sure how the characters measure up in terms of reality. Another reason it was hard to read was the sheer amount of slang, specifically American ghetto slang. I gave up looking things after a while, but here are a few examples: druthers, bottle of bumpy-face, skrilla, pendajo, tchotchke, bromide... In the end it was better just to keep reading and sort of work out from the context of the word. The central protagonist is black and decides to bring back racism to his small (not) town. Dark, witty humour. I can see why it made the shortlist as there is such a lot to potential talk about the writing. Not really my sort of book, but still a contender and a good one. 




A: The setting and the language of north of Scotland was wonderfully evocative of the sounds and sense of the tradition of my childhood and holidays but the story was brutal and ultimately very very sad.  The other interesting thing was that it was surprisingly un suspenseful and didn't really draw me in with the discussion about the jury verdict. However a clever device to have a set of found documents about a distant ancestor to tell the story. I'd be interested in whether other people found it the compelling read I thought it was meant to be or did I miss the point? 

E: Not my kind of read normally, but it's great to branch out. What really didn't draw me to it was the fact that it was a memoir written by the accused, but then there was so much legalese and other things at the beginning, which mildly bored me. The account itself was more interesting. The fact that Macrae committed the murders in indisputable, but was he in sound mind? This seems like a much more modern concern. He's brought up in terrible circumstances but does that excuse him? ('He then brought my sister's head down towards the table and struck it repeatedly against the surface.') It interested me to a point, but it wasn't compelling despite the competent writing.

J: I haven't finished this one, but so far I find the main character unconvincing, and the whole situation too painful. Straightforward competent writing, not particularly interesting.


AA pretty good book although very bleak. It's the story of a young woman living with an alcoholic and bullying father in a state of complete torpidity and boredom. In to this comes Rebecca, who becomes a beacon of some kind of change to Eileen and she follows her on a macabre and ultimately untruthful and disordered set of actions which bring  the story to a conclusion. The striking thing about it was the clever way the past and future of the main character were revealed just through the telling of their story set in the present of a week. No fancy flash backs or parallel stories. It has a huge sense of foreboding and disaster and tension but until the final thrilling event happened I hadn't any idea of what it was actually going to be. Very clever writing although some of the descriptive writing was clunky at times. Is it good enough to win - not sure what everyone would think? 

E:  Well, this doesn't tick the normal Man booker boxes! - it's easy to read, it's not in some other language, you don't need to have a dictionary to read it, it's not 800 pages long ... It is pretty dark, but not what I would considerate be 'literary.' and it's a very quick read! It's nice to have some shorter books amidst the huge tomes. Eileen, set in the 1960s, is the central protagonist (Eileen Dunlop) is in a dire life position; but she is writing from far on in the future, seemingly as an elderly woman. We know she survives the novel: 'This is the story of how I disappeared.' The story unfolds, pretty grimly. My problem with this book, I suppose, is what makes it stand out? It's one of the fast-expanding genre of women thrillers. It's a good, quick, enjoyable and easy read, but I don't see what makes it stand out. I think what made it was the writing: Moshfegh writes very well indeed but I don't see it as a winner. See full review here.

J: Well written, very atmospheric, not finally convincing or important enough.



A: Also interesting. It's the story of nine different men, away from home and its security and satisfaction with self and life, at different ages of their life. Although it's a different man and situation in each story I didn't feel cheated that the story didn't go on with them. However I'm overwhelmed by its sad and dismal portrayal of man or human-hood, despite being well written and clever in its language and structure. Not sure it's really polished or crafted enough to win. So does everyone feel the same or am I just overly swayed by the dismalness.?

E: I was really interested to read this from a female perspective because this is definitely all man is, not as in humankind. It doesn't paint a pretty picture; if this is what man is, then the key components are pettiness, huge egos, and need for sex. 't is comprised as nine short stories, each with entirely different protagonists, which immediately rang bells with me as being 'not a novel.' But who am I to judge that? The characters get gradually older, starting at the tender age of 17 (makes me feel very old!) right up to the ninth man who is in his sixties. They're from all over Europe: France, Budapest, briefly Oxford, Germany, Poland Geneva... I definitely enjoyed reading about the differing cultures. But, what does make it a novel? I suppose it's the connections between their stories. They're all men, and not particularly attractive characters: the first seven are absolutely obsessed with sex and have numerous affairs. As I said before, a pleasant picture is not created. Perhaps Szaly is commenting on the fact that nothing ever really gets better?

J: Well written, clever in the way the chapters linked but not quite clever enough to fully carry it off. Trivial.


E: As A said, this is mesmeric. The heat and the alcohol make the book feel like a sort of haze. Sofia and her 'disabled' mother go to Spain to seek out another quack cure for this mysterious ailment. No one sees through the complete fraud of this except the medic's daughter, Elena Ferrante, and, to some extent, Sofia herself: 'How was my Mother to drive with no feeling in her legs?' I really enjoyed this odd novel actually: skilfully written, chaos of the plot with the exploration of Elena's sex life and friendship with a girl she meets, and the clearly hypochondriac Mother. A potential winner? Not sure. Don't know which parts are real and which aren't.

J: Good fun, dreamy in a way that worked, very atmospheric, no pace, no direction, and very well written in an unconventional way that I enjoyed.

A: Interesting. Mesmeric and definitely hot with a feeling of waves of heat in the setting, the chaos of the plot and the exhausting and incomprehensible heat of the emotions. It is the story of a daughter accompanying her mysteriously ill mother to a Greek island clinic and doctor... Not a waste of trees for me, as (AJ) declared, but a clever and sketchily spare emotional drama played out in maddening heat. Not a winner for me either but I can see that it might grab others. I wonder whether it seems unreal to other people? I'm  not sure it's very believable but does that matter? 


E: There are a number of stories going on here: Ai-Ming in present day Canada, getting used to her cousin Li-Ming who has come directly from the Tianneman Square protests. What different lives they have lived. It is a story of fathers and daughters very much I would say. Ai-Ming has to learn to forgive her father, and Li-Ming has to learn to understand hers. What Thien has done is weave this complicated and very political plot with seminal Chinese moments, and yet brought it down to a personal level.It has inspired me to learn a lot more about China during the cultural revolution and beyond; it leaves me just gagging for more.Similarly, the amount of music there is in this book: a lot of Bach, some Shostakovich, some Profekiev. The writing was superb; horrific when needed, but not over the top. Thien's dialogue is particularly well crafted. I could've kept reading and reading. As a non-linear story, it was confusing at times, but it's worth working through it. I feel privileged to have read it. Superb. My Booker for 2016. See full review here.

A: And the best was last and I won't finish it before the Booker announcement but for me this gets the prize. I was absolute memorised by this book from its very start. The confidence and wonderful imagery of the writing just held me securely as I set out on the journey and I'm enjoying the meandering story telling. The flash back type structure seems to work well although I'm  writing down the names of the people and all their different incarnations and relationships to keep track. I love the multiple descriptive Chinese names of the characters, the evocation of music and the clever descriptions that juxtapose images in the way poetry does to help you grasp a new way of seeing things. I'm not sure where the story leads although it's already hinted at the future and I feel very held in the prospect of the journey.  Did everyone else find it lived up to its promise? It's a  complex of tales so I wonder if that distracts? 

J: Beautiful, clever, moving, informative, gripping. Clearly the winner!

So there we have it: we have a winner - but will the judges agree? We'll find out tonight on BBC4 at 9:30 tonight, hope to see you there!












Monday, 24 October 2016

26 books: A Book with a Female Herione


This would have been number 13 in Bringing Up Burns 2015.

'Life after Life' by Kate Atkinson (A):
(read January 2015)

I really liked this book and I'm sure it will provoke tons of discussion as there is so much to remember and work out how it all fits together. I'm guessing that I will have missed nuances of connection that would become clearer with conversation with the book group.

It's a profoundly clever idea to write multiple versions of a life, muddle them all around and then
present them with the amazingly melodramatic yet evocative darkness falling at the end of each life . I think it illustrates how our lives are so random and what actually happens to us is just the culmination of a series of minor possibilities. It also makes life feel completely inconsequential in some ways: there was just a seconds difference between Ursula not being alive and her actually surviving so many times. Despite this very clever contrivance this device doesn't dominate the book. Often when authors get hold of a clever idea in terms of structure it's completely overwhelming and I didn't feel this was the case here. The human stories of these possibilities of people were very compelling and the description of life during the hardship of the wars seemed somehow very real. I loved the Hitler story as somehow being the best you could possibly do with your life in some way.I did wonder how conscious Ursula was of her lives. At the end this concept comes in in a more forceful way. I wondered whether any of the stories were then meant to be in any sense about real people or real things, and maybe we all create our own reality in our own terms.

All very interesting.


'The Miniaturist' by Jessie Burton (E):
(read July 2015)

I got this book from my Mr B's Reading Spa - thank you Mr B's and Emma!


In Burton's self-assured debut, The Miniaturist, we are swiftly introduced to Nella Oortman, and eighteen year old just married in Amsterdam. She is not greeted by her wealthy husband, Johannes Brandt, but instead finds the house with only his sister, the maid and a black man servant. When she finally meets Johannes, he is distant, and spends little time with her; his sister Marin is puritanical and disinterested with Nella, and there seem far too many secrets contained in this household. And that's without even mentioning her 3000 guilder wedding present: a cabinet-sized replica of their house...After a slightly rocky start – I didn't get into it as quickly as with many novels – this caught my attention. I liked Nella, I liked Cornelia, and I grew to like Marin, Otto (Toots), Hanna, Johannes, and most of the other characters in fact! I really wanted to know what was going to happen to them; the characters propelled the novel forward.
What could have been a rather banal story of a young bride in Amsterdam, struggling with her husband's 'defects' (I won't spoil it), was much more than this. I thought it was going to be a purely historical novel, but as the drama unfolded it became more than this. I loved the gradual nudging towards the supernatural. The cabinet, a seemingly patronising wedding gift, becomes central. The initial package from The Miniaturist seems fairly innocuous, but as each parcel arrives it seems more and more sinister. Or is it? Is the Miniaturist warning Nella, or is she the puppeteer pulling the strings?I loved this ambiguity. This was the stroke of real originality and intrigue in Burton's novel; what does it all mean? The gradual unfolding of Johanne's secrets, of Marin's (his sisters) secrets, the servants', The Miniaturist's... it's compelling almost in a horrific way. It isn't a horrible book; you don't go away with negative feelings, but it must be said that a lot of horrible acts are committed. It is haunting, as opposed to horrible. The historical side is very interesting as well as the supernatural: I learnt much more about trade in the seventeenth century, as well as a glimpse of prejudice and superstition on a personal level. I enjoy historical novels that do not ram facts down your throat; this is 'show don't tell' at its best.

There are flaws, of course. Of the three main mysteries, the first two could have been predicted. And the third is left untold... it's frustrating. It also suffers a little from being too gentle, and a lot of the potential emotional complexity isn't unravelled enough. We need to see the feelings, feel them with the characters. There were many points were I feel Burton had missed opportunities to further develop her writing, and the story.There are some lovely lines in the novel, including the notes from the mysterious Miniaturist, but I will leave you with what is, in my opinion, the most beautiful – and revealing – line:
'I love you. I love you. From back to front, I love you.'


J: Ancillary Justice by Ann Lecki


I haven't read a "spaceships and star troopers" type SciFi for a long while, and so was a bit doubtful when the wonderful Emma from Mr B's bookshop in Bath recommended this one. 

It is brilliant! Complex, with a slow revealing not just of the plot, but also of the world in which it is set. There are too many names, most of them unpronounceable, and that does slow my reading down. That's no different to reading Tolstoy or any other Russian and my policy for years has been to skim on past, refusing to worry who it is we are talking about now, as if this is a good author, I will find out quite soon enough. That works very will for Ann Leckie.

The two main devices, that of having all the characters female, and quite a few of them, including the principal, as not-human, is brilliant. One is left guessing what it means to be reading about the inner thoughts and motivations of women who are in very unusual roles for women in literature (a lot of it is quite violent and very active), and then to have the added layer that they may not really be human/single entities/biological at all. But then they are (human, that is), or perhaps more than human, in ways that matter.


Go, Ann Leckie! I hope the rest of your series follows this up as well. 

Saturday, 22 October 2016

The Man Booker Long List

Whew, a bit late this year - wrote this up a while ago, but it's taken a while to post. They've already announced the Short List now, of course, and the winner's next week, but I thought I'd post our book club's thoughts on the whole list. Very brief, mostly in note form, just to give you an idea. I can't even understand some of my own notes: people spoke very quickly!

This year the Booker Long List has: four American American authors, 1 from South Africa, six from the UK, and 2 Canada. So our worry that it was going to be taken over by Americans doesn't seem to be coming real...




The Sell Out (JT) - hard work, eventually worth it. Witty if able to be understood. Too American to get most references. Got going 3/4 way through. Best read fast. At the end got the point that being black in America it's impossible to not be aware of it. Black humour. childhood studies. reinstating slavery and segregates school. Radical, wacky. Maybe short list.

The Schooldays of Jesus JM Coetze (CN) - fascinated by Coetze. Strange challenging. Jesus doesn't appear in text. David recently been to Spanish country with mum and step father. Is David Jesus? Some parallels, might have been. David special, steadfast questions, strange school, disturbing events, previous/life next life perhaps. Easy to read. Simplicity misleading as confusing. Many interpretations. Maybe short list.

Serious Sweet (CG) - looong. Established author, side up comic, writes guardian articles. One day, 2 protagonists, middle aged man and woman start arranging a date, stuff keeps getting in the way. Stream of consciousness. Not nice people. Spin doctor for government, good with words. Up to date, Boris Johnson. Cynical. Funniest bits political. Not so bothered about date. Did divorce matter, seems a sideline while married people writing nice letters to women. Female, recovering alcohlic. Bankrupt accountant. Pays for letters. Thinking about date. Political diatribes all over the place, but soft idea of romance. 500 pages too tedious. Not short list.

Hot Milk (AJ) - better uses for trees, tedious. Mother daughter. To Greece for search for cure for ridiculous ailment, stereotypical characters, linear structure. Attempt to break from literary to poetic. Failed. Not short list.

His Bloody Project (CN) - suited title. Unendingly bleak&depressing but well written. Tiny hamlet Scotland 19th century. Violent killing of 3 people, 17 year old admitted and awaiting trial. Lengthy self written account of killings by boy encouraged by legal advisor. No self pity. Modern readers would sympathise with his awful upbringing, was he responsible or not? Suspense between whose fault it is. Extremely we'll done, but not nice. Maybe short list.

The Many (ET) - Nice to see debut novelist. Vague premise from the blurb. Man moves to isolated place to set up new home for wife and baby-to-be. Intriguing. Unwelcoming community. Moved into house of someone who died, shakes up village. Fishermen go out every day, usually catching nothing. Chilling premonition of what over-fishing and poisoning can do to our oceans. 'Who will buy this half-dead catch the sea has thrown up. Not restaurants, he’s sure of that. Perhaps the pharmas, hoping to extract god knows what from them.' Some bumper captures, but the fish are diseased, almost dead before they reach the surface. Governmental waits to take them away - possibly for testing? Frustratingly, we never know any more. Sparse writing, which makes sense as Menmuir also worked as an editor. Like a horror film when you're sitting on the edge of your seat waiting for something to happen... but nothing ever quite does. Effective writing unsatisfying. Probably not short list.

Hystopia (DF) - violence. Novel in a novel, by Vietnam war still going in 70s where Kennedy set up peace corps to brainwash people of bad experiences. Sometimes doesn't work, social breakdown - sent to Michigan. Lots of drugs, tracking Rake who wanders and kills at random. Would it have better about Iraq instead of alternate universe? V American, skulls, acid trips. Breakdown of American society, very American written, not personally enjoyable. Not particularly well written or vivid. Not short list.

My Name is Lucy Bartonuninspiring cover. Short. Well respected author. Linear narrative, but most are memories so not as such. Strange: main cha is in hospital for long time for unknown reason, away from family. Mother comes and remembers childhood. Cold, not enough to eat. Hints of things, piece together her life. Relationship with family took away from mother. Met published author and husband sent her on workshop, had some interaction. Piece together what defines you as a person. Nothing v dramatic, like spool of blur thread. Sparse writing, not as good. Individual's place in the family, quite an American thing. Delicate, strangely crafted. Hints, illusions, glimpses. Enjoyed. Good for short list.

Eileen (RA) - America 50-60s, woman, simply well written. Page turner, pedestrian parts. Linear. Thriller. Amazed it made the long list. Not literary but a good quick read. American author, New England. Short stories before won prizes. Young. Not literary enough for short list.

The North Water (AB) the limits of flesh and blood, grotesque but well written. Violent account 1850s Hull whaling industry, less lucrative. Casualties accepted. Desperation - owners and sailors. Violent opening, central prot. rapes, kills and wound in first 8 pages. Gory, wild, vivid description. Redeemed by weather description. About water character itself, huge elemental force, huge animals. Compelling, how they survive etc, good characterisation. Linear structure, back stories emerge. Good length. Liked cover. Everyone would be compelled, but disgusted, disgusting language, will make short list because of superb writing. Wouldn't want to read it again, or recommend. Maybe shortlist for language.

Work like any other  (JC) - readable. Historical Alabama 1920s, man works for power company, wife inherits the farm and he hates it,implications for marriage. Wife cold. Son Gerard, close relationship - violent response from dad, competing attention. Sets farm free up as charade for electricity, but is found out and manages to electrocute himself - is it his fault? Black man and cha get arrested for death - he 20 years to prison, black guy to nine. Nice description, detailed of countryside, prison and electricity. Reputation for being educated, spotted by a guard so covers up for guard who can't read. Confusion? Like Shawshank redemption, he gets out, sort of failure, writes to wife, never responds. Hurt with dogs, hallucinating - did wife come? Comes out and finds that black guy runs the farm, swapped situations, he's in the shack. No happy ending. Not outstanding, but readable, is it realistic? Black family accepted? Flits different perspectives, times but easy to follow. Not short list.

The Short List Authors.
All That Man Is (CF) - established author, awards. Anomaly as set of short stories, dispirit characters, nine men. 17-73 year olds, what being a man is. Linear. Is this a novel? Opposite of chic lit - bloke lit! A lot of sex, making money, being successful. Why is this a Booker book? Economy of description, written well, but not interested in plot. Not into reading it. Through ages resonate more? Curious to keep going. Compared to William Boyd, Us. Odd. Readable, some compelling, but left pretty cold. Each story in different country, reflects cover, too light weight for short list.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing (CG) - third novel, established. Discovery of who father is when committed suicide at 19. Long. Basic history, linguistic characters, cultures corrupted continuity, generations, mon linear, China civil war. Could have been more of bits, only touched on things. Composers became examples to denounce. Thread running through of historic records, copying texts by hand, hidden, caught, persevering history. Narrator, daughter, finding out through fragments about father but doesn't read Chinese. Lyrical but sometimes dense language, bored and frustrated bogged down. Very long. Inconsistent. May make short list, draw diagrams yo make sense of. Story is gripping when you can find it!

OUR SHORT LIST - The Schooldays of Jesus, My Name is Lucy Bartlett, The North Water, The Sell Out, Do Not Say We Gave Nothing, His Bloody Project (Work like any other as a back up)

THE REAL SHORT LIST - Do Not Say We Have Nothing, His Bloody Project, Hot Milk, Eileen, All That Man Is, The Sell Out. 

As usual, our opinions's differ from the judges! We'll come back with a few reviews of the short list before the big reveal next week! Well done if you read this far! 

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Summing Up Sunday - 16th October 2016

Almost wrote September - shows how fast the week is passing!

A pretty non-eventful week as far as stuff we can write on the blog: just lots of meetings etc.

We had our Dutch neighbours over to make pizzas, and the little four year old burnt the roof of his mouth quite badly :( That was on the Friday, which was followed by an excitable game of 'Bird Bingo.'
It's very addictive for small children!

We had a three hour session booked the for the 'Lottie Project' - working on the polytunnel for Arch Care's allotment that we raised money for last year. Unfortunately, we scheduled 2-5pm which was when the rain started. We were all kitted out for the rain and didn't mind, but the wood became to wet to drill properly, and we wouldn't have been able to put the tape on as it wouldn't adhere. A rather frustrating afternoon - we were hoping to have completed it, minus the skin. Ah well, another rearrangement.


Also made a card for someone's 21st birthday, which was quite fun:


How was everyone else's weeks? Let us know in the comments!




Saturday, 15 October 2016

26 Books: A Book with a Colour in the Title

So, keeping up with the 26 books challenge! If only we'd actually posted this during the year is was aimed at... It means no one's interested as they're all doing 26 Books 2016. Sad times :( Anyway, here it is:
A Book with a COLOUR in the Title!

This would have number 9 in Bringing Up Burns Challenge 2015.


'Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe' by Fannie Flagg (E): Well, I had written a nice review for 'A Spool of Blue Thread,' but it felt like we needed some variety. So I sought out another 'colour' book (I hadn't happened to read any others), and decided on a real classic.

I'd never really heard anything about this book apart from the name, the fact it was set in the US, and that I thought it had been into a film. So, it was quite exciting to read a book I knew so little about! own mother in an people's home - this is Evelyn's escape from her Mother in law! Mrs Threadgoode's story is much more exhilarating - the tale of tomboy Idgie and her friend Ruth who ran a cafe that sold (you guessed it) damn good fried green tomatoes. (I'd never come across them before. Are they a purely American thing?)
It's the story of Mrs Threadgoode telling her life story to Evelyn, the wife of someone visiting his

People seem to be highly interested in the question of 'were Ruth and Idgie lesbians?' I really think it doesn't matter. They were truly good friends, and that's all we know. It's all I assumed really, living back in the 1950s.

It's an easy read, although it took me a long time, because I couldn't really get into it. The intertwining relationships left me a bit cold if I'm honest. I was actually more interested in the 1980s story of Mrs Threadgoode (Ninny) and Evelyn - the way that the telling and listening to of the story changed both their lives. Evelyn has a brief release from her depressed slump, and that made me feel something. That was life affirming.

Overall, it was disappointing, I hate to dislike classic classics and go against popular opinion, but it wasn't for me. I'm not saying it was a bad book, I just wasn't enthralled. Maybe it would appeal more with a British setting, so I felt more of a connection. A lot of the references were American, and made little sense to me. I feel I've let the author down by not enjoying it and, perhaps, by being not open enough to American 50s culture? Not good, E, not good.




'A Spool of Blue Thread' by Anne Tyler (J): I think this was a perfect book. I know that is the general opinion, but never mind. I had some of the same feelings as I did when reading The Goldfinch last year, that is: I am in safe hands here. This author knows what she is doing and I trust her entirely to lead me in a way that will be entirely satisfactory. 

And I find it particularly interesting that these two books by top-of-their-form American women should both conjure up this feeling, as their subject matter is antithetical to each other. Donna Tart writes about people who are leading lives and having experiences that no-one I know is, and often I ask myself as I'm reading, "Has DT herself taken that many drugs or spent that much of her life drunk to be able to write about that experience?". Anne Tyler on the other hand writes about families doing the things that all families do: everyone I know has these lives (normal on the surface, tortured underneath, but it's not really torture, it's just life). And both are compelling. Is it cleverer to make ordinary life compelling?
It doesn't matter. What I like best is the writing, the use of words.
Thank you Anne T.

A also read 'A Spool of Thread' and, likewise, really enjoyed it. 

'til next time! x