‘The Crimson Petal and the White’ by Michel Faber tells the story of Sugar, a nineteen year old prostitute living in London in the 1870s in a brothel run by her mother. She is ‘bought’ by William Rackham, a perfumer, to be his exclusive mistress – a situation which takes her life in unexpected directions. The stories of William’s disturbed wife, Agnes, and his pious brother, Henry, are also woven in to this rich tapestry of a story teeming with detail on all aspects of Victorian life. Continue reading
Yes, those three words always grab my attention too. Books for Free is an initiative set up by Healthy Planet which redistributes unwanted books which would otherwise have ended up in landfill. Centres have been popping up all over the UK since it was launched in 2010 and it has been a big success. It is primarily an environmental cause aimed at promoting recycling but also plays an important role in bringing communities together and encouraging more people to read and share books.
I have just watched the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 live stream broadcast on the Huffington Post website. In the build-up towards the big announcement when Miranda Richardson said that the judges were looking for originality, accessibility and excellence, I thought: “It’s got to be ‘Flight Behaviour’! Or ‘Bring Up the Bodies’! Or ‘Life After Life’! One of those three will definitely win it!”
Last night, I went to the Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist Readings event at the Southbank Centre in London and it was every bit as awesome as I hoped it would be.
Over the last couple of months, I have read five out of the six books on this year’s shortlist. In summary, ‘May We Be Forgiven’ by A.M. Homes was the most dysfunctional (i.e. my least favourite), ‘Flight Behaviour’ by Barbara Kingsolver was beautifully written, ‘Life After Life’ by Kate Atkinson had an intriguing concept which was handled very well, ‘NW’ by Zadie Smith had excellent dialogue and ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ by Hilary Mantel was an impressive interpretation of historical events. Sadly, I haven’t had a chance to read ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’ by Maria Semple yet but I will try and seek out a copy in the future.
I read ‘Wolf Hall‘ nearly a year ago and to be honest, I can’t remember a great deal about the actual content of the story and had to force myself to finish it. Although the book was undoubtedly a quality piece of historical fiction, my main gripe about it was that there were too many characters and unless you have studied early sixteenth century British history in considerable depth then it is very hard to keep track of exactly who is who. However, although ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ also has a large cast of characters, this instalment of the trilogy is set over a much narrower time period (one year rather than three decades) and the story of Anne Boleyn’s downfall is likely to be much more familiar to readers than Thomas Cromwell’s early years (at least it was to me anyway). The fact that it’s over 200 pages shorter than ‘Wolf Hall’ also helps a lot. Continue reading
I gave a slightly mixed review of ‘White Teeth‘ by Zadie Smith last year. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would but it did have a few flaws. Over a decade after her first novel was published when she was just twenty-five years old, Smith now offers us ’NW’, another ambitious and sprawling novel which focuses on four thirty-something characters – Leah, Felix, Natalie and Nathan – who all grew up on the Caldwell council estate in north-west London and find that their lives continue to overlap many years later. Continue reading
I recently read the first of the Jackson Brodie novels, ‘Case Histories‘, by Kate Atkinson which I thought was pretty good but not truly amazing. Several other bloggers left comments suggesting that I might prefer Atkinson’s other stand-alone novels, particularly ‘Behind The Scenes at the Museum’ and her most recent work, ‘Life After Life’, which has been shortlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. I am pleased to say that they were right! Continue reading
‘Levels of Life’ by Julian Barnes is (I think) the only book I have reviewed on this blog which I have tagged as both fiction and non-fiction. Part essay, part fiction and part memoir, the book certainly defies simple categorisation despite being less than 120 pages long. Continue reading
I started blogging pretty much on the spur of the moment. At the time, I was a final year undergraduate student and I was reading a lot of books that were not related to my university course and found that I had things to say but nobody to really talk to about them. And so my Little Blog was born on a Monday evening in March 2012 right at the time when I should have been revising for my final exams (fortunately, I did alright in the end but it wasn’t really an ideal time to start it). Continue reading
I have reserved ‘Life After Life’ by Kate Atkinson which is currently on order at the library, so just in case I don’t get a chance to read it before the Women’s Prize for Fiction event at the Southbank Centre in June, I thought I would read the first of the Jackson Brodie novels, ‘Case Histories’, to get a feel for Atkinson’s writing. Jackson Brodie, a former police inspector turned private investigator , is working on three apparently separate cold cases in the Cambridge area – the disappearance of a three year old girl in the 1970s, the murder of a solicitor’s daughter and another murder after a domestic incident between husband and wife. These crimes all turn out to be linked – but how? Continue reading
‘The Buddha in the Attic’ by Julie Otsuka is a strikingly original book. Written in the first person plural (“we”) , a chorus of voices, told from the point of view of a group of Japanese picture brides who move to the United States shortly after World War One, recount their story through sparse descriptions of the journey to California by boat, their mostly unhappy marriages, their children and their experiences of acclimatising to life in a new country. However, their world is suddenly turned upside down again by the bombing of Pearl Harbour Continue reading
Shortlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, ‘May We Be Forgiven’ by A. M. Homes tells the story of a Richard Nixon scholar, Harold Silver, and his dysfunctional family life. His brother, George, kills two people in a car accident and then murders his wife after he discovers she is having an affair with Harry and ends up back in a mental hospital. Harry suddenly finds himself in charge of his niece and nephew as well as dealing with various other problems in his life including his divorce and losing his job. Continue reading
A little while ago, I wrote a post about the books I will probably never read (unless I break a leg or something, in which case I might give them a try). I also have a list of other books which have been sitting on my shelves for months or years which I really do plan to read. My good excuse is that I have been trying to make the most out university libraries which I will only have access to until the end of September so my official reading list and my Kindle have been neglected for a very long time. My poor excuse is that I am also a pretty terrible procrastinator even when it comes to getting round to things I enjoy like reading.
For the last five years or so, the news has been full of complicated financial jargon which supposedly explains how the bankers managed to piss all our money away. But what does it all actually mean? Luckily, ‘Whoops! Why everyone owes everyone and no one can pay’ by John Lanchester helpfully explains the causes and consequences of the global financial crisis and is probably the only book you will ever need on the subject. Continue reading
‘Flight Behaviour’ by Barbara Kingsolver tells the story of Dellarobia Turnbow who climbs up a hillside in southern Appalachia on her way to meet her lover and stumbles across what appears to be a lake of orange fire. As we learn later, this is the arrival of millions of monarch butterflies which have been diverted from their usual destination of Mexico by the effects of climate change. A research team arrives to investigate but Dellarobia’s involvement in their work soon comes into conflict with all other aspects of her life, particularly her husband’s family who want to clear the land for logging. Continue reading
‘Blindness’ by José Saramago is a fable about an unexplained mass epidemic of blindness which has unsurprisingly chaotic consequences. The story begins with a man suddenly going blind as he is waiting in his car at some traffic lights. Several other characters who come into contact with him also lose their sight. The blind are quarantined in a mental asylum and left to fend for themselves but criminals soon gain control as society rapidly breaks down completely. Only the doctor’s wife is still able to see for unknown reasons but she doesn’t reveal this fact. Can she still help the others? Continue reading
The shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 was announced today at the London Book Fair. The six nominees are…
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
May We Be Forgiven by A. M. Homes
Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
NW by Zadie Smith
Set in France during the mid-1980s, ‘The President’s Hat’ by Antoine Laurain tells the story of, well, François Mitterrand’s black felt hat. After the French president accidentally leaves it behind in a brasserie, Daniel Mercier takes the hat on impulse and finds that wearing it brings him a great amount of luck. However, it soon ends up in the hands of a range of other characters… and so begins the eventful journey of the president’s hat which somehow changes the lives of all those who briefly possess it. Continue reading
‘How to Be Alone’ by Jonathan Franzen is an interesting collection of fourteen essays loosely based around the theme of solitude and privacy. I didn’t really get on with his most recent novel ‘Freedom’ and I definitely struggled with ‘The Corrections’ which I thought would have been much improved with a bit of decent editing. However, I found Franzen’s non-fiction work to be much more readable in terms of content and also more manageable in terms of length with this collection clocking in at around 300 pages. Continue reading
Here is my list of Books I Will Probably Never Read But Might Try One Day If I Break My Leg Or Something. Mostly these are books which look either too long or too scary or too difficult to tackle (or in some cases all three). I can’t say I feel particularly guilty about not having read any of these books – I’m just painfully aware of their presence…
Winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Whitbread Book of the Year, ‘Small Island’ by Andrea Levy tells the story of Gilbert Joseph who emigrates to England in 1948 from Jamaica after fighting in the Second World War, shortly followed by his new wife, Hortense. Queenie Bligh has given up waiting for her husband, Bernard, to arrive home after fighting in the war, and takes in Gilbert and Hortense as lodgers to help make ends meet. However, when Bernard suddenly reappears, events become a lot more complicated. Continue reading
Despite the title, the cover art and the general subject matter, ‘Fever Pitch’ by Nick Hornby isn’t really about football itself. It is more about the consumption of football, the obsession of a fan – in this case, an Arsenal supporter – cleverly interwoven with a more general autobiography of Hornby’s life. Consequently, ‘Fever Pitch’ can be read and enjoyed by people like myself who are not necessarily football or sports fans and might lead you a little bit closer to what people actually see in football and why they choose to devote a huge part of their lives to following it.
I don’t want to come over all Gwyneth Paltrow at the Oscars (never a good idea when sitting in a library as I currently am or in any other circumstances really) but I do want to acknowledge that my blog is officially one year old today. This is a fairly momentous occasion considering I didn’t think I would end up being very committed to it. Like most people, I started my blog on a total whim and never imagined that it would take off in the way that it has. So thanks for visiting, thanks for your comments and hooray for blogging.
‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft’ by Stephen King is part-autobiography, part advice manual for aspiring authors. The first part of ‘On Writing’ is a personal and often very witty memoir as King recalls his journey towards becoming a published author. The second part explores what King calls the ‘writer’s toolbox’, including tips on vocabulary, grammar, elements of style and editing. The final part is where King describes the car accident in 1999 which nearly killed him halfway through writing this very book and the long recovery process afterwards. There is also a very interesting reading list at the end (along with a second one if you read the 10th anniversary edition as I did). It sounds like a slightly haphazard structure but it works because the subject of writing is always at the heart of it. Continue reading
Another day sees another literary award announced…this time, it’s the launch of the Folio Prize, a new £40,000 literary award sponsored by the Folio Society for the best work of fiction published in the English language. This particular prize was created after several literary bigwigs complained about the supposed dumbing down of the Booker Prize in 2011, a year when books were chosen for their ‘readability’. Heaven forbid that somebody who wasn’t on the judging panel might actually understand or even enjoy something on the shortlist…