Some really good books this month.
Ali Smith- How to be both -The novel is two stories with a cross over. Apparently there are two versions of the books, so depending on the one you get, you may get the narratives in a different order. Glad I got the version I read. Georgia, or George as she is known, a clever teenager who is grieving for her mother, whilst caring for her little brother as her Dad goes to bits, relives a visit to Italy with her family to see a fresco her Mother loved. Second narrative concerns the ghost painter of the fresco.
I’ll be honest if I’d not paid good money to request this book I might have given up on it after two pages, in which I got totally confused by the opening conversations between Mother and Daughter,as the mother seems to be both alive and dead. Anyway I got past the weird bit and enjoyed the first half of the book. Then it goes weird for a few pages as the story is picked up by the artist who materialises in an art gallery as George views a painting. I skipped over the weird bit and enjoyed the rest of the book. Last page is weird too. I don’t know why it’s clever to put weird bits into books, but it seems to be about appealing to Book Awards. Frankly I like a straightforward telling of a tale. I accept its because I am a Philistine who doesn’t get the weird bits, to each their own. So if you like weird bits in books then you will like this, if you don’t then there’s not too much to skip over.
Tana French- The Likeness. This novel also featured in the BBC series Dublin Murders available on I Player. Again it is a big book. 529 paperback pages. I really enjoyed this. Once again the novel takes it’s time to paint word pictures so you feel you are there as the plot slowly unfolds. Briefly then and revealing nothing you can’t get from the cover. Cassie Maddox has transferred out of the Dublin Murder Squad when she gets an urgent call to go to a murder scene….the victim is her double,and her ID belongs to an assumed woman Cassie used as an undercover officer . She is persuaded to resume that identity and go to live with a group of students renovating a gorgeous Manor house. There is nothing not to love about this book. Will keep you turning pages avidly right to the end.
Elizabeth Strout- Olive Kitteridge. This one was recommended to me. It is essentially a series of short stories based on the lives of various people living in a small coastal town in Maine. Olive Kitteridge is a retired school teacher and is connected in a minor way to them all. This format reminded me a little of Maeve Binchey, except her characters and plots have a pleasant cosy feel. Olive is not likeable, nor are a great number of the other inhabitants. The plots and people are well drawn and the book won the Pullitzer prize, but I did find it a bit depressing.
Laura Purcell- The Corset. A jolly good read. I had read her novel Bone China and enjoyed it greatly so I was pretty confident I would like this. Described as a classic Victorian tale of murder most foul, twisted with a curious supernatural thread. Two narrators Dorothea, young wealthy woman with an interest in phrenology who becomes a prison visitor to further her study. Ruth the girl on trial for murder who tells her story and agrees that Dorothea can examine her skull. But is she victim or villain, mad or a murderer. Rather a page turner, and made a great read over our hottest few days whilst I hid indoors.It was also an interesting well researched account of the girls who became seamstresses. I know I number several in my family tree.
Barbara Pym- Quartet in Autumn– I first read this book shortly after it was published in the late 1970’s. I am grateful to Katie from The Cosy Burrow for reminding me of this author. One of the most neglected authors of the twentieth century, she keeps being rediscovered as a new Jane Austin, in that her characters are well observed in small metaculously described settings. In this novel, set in the 1970’s four people work in London in some unspecified office, carrying out their work , which sounds vaguely administrative. So no computers.
Now my first job on leaving college was in an insurance company valuing pensions. This means helping to make sure the company had enough assets to cover the pension payload for the schemes they administered. My job, removing people who died or updating those who left their job from the records, so that the big chiefs knew how many and how much they were liable for. I’d get a note to tell me of the death , change of curcumstances, take a card from the filing cabinet and mark it up, On a rolling yearly basis, each scheme having a different date, I’d take these cards and enter details of all scheme members onto an extremely large hand drawn book, and then make the necessary calculations using a manual adding up machine. You can see these in museums. Does that sound boring. Believe me it was. And to make things worse by 10 am I was usually done for the day as far as work went. Home time was 5pm. The only job in which I was literally bored to tears. I swore after that never ever to have a job which kept me in one place for eight hours, and I never did.
Such is the nature of the work I imagine happened in the office in the book. All four characters are approaching retirement, all live alone, two in houses and two in bedsits. They are polite to each other, they are all lonely, life for Edwin the widower centres around the churches in his neighbourhood, he attends the one with the best service, for one of the women Marcia, her recent operation and her surgeon Mr Strong are her mainstays, Norman is curmudgeonly, and Letty is full of vague regrets that she has just missed out on life. I’m not saying anything else, but if you like well drawn characters in ordinary settings you will enjoy Barbara Pym.
Imagine my delight when I discovered Ms Pym retired to Oxfordshire. I visited the church in which she is buried, but failed to find the grave. Not to worry I’ll find it one day. Here’s the church anyway.
Maya Angelou- Letter to my Daughter– I had been looking for this book in the library for ages, under biography. Totally surprised to find it eventually in the Poetry section. Well goodness gracious me. Maya Angelou writes a series of short essays to an imaginary daughter, explaining the life lessons she learned and her personal philosophy. If I’d had a daughter I’d have given her this book for her 18th birthday. As it is, I found it an interesting read that gave me insight into the life of this incredible woman.
So there we are for the books I read in June. I have some corkers lined up for me for July. And then I shall be looking for the perfect holiday book, what would you recommend to me please? I’ll kick off with Evening Class by Maeve Binchey- wonderful feel good read to my mind, and forever assciated with family holidays in Spain, in a tent when the boys were littles.