Last month I drew up a list of 93 authors to take with me to the library to help me choose what to read next. Thanks to everyone who helped get this list up to well over a 100. Finding something to read is easier with so much choice. All authors come from this list unless otherwise stated- there will always be a title or cover that intrigues me.
Tracy Chevalier- At the Edge of the Orchard- one of my favourite authors and this book as good as her others. Set in America between 1838 and 1856, we have mud,swamps,futility, apple trees, quilts, bad relationships, death, flight, survival, adventure, misadventure, gold prospecting, Redwood trees, birth and a happy ending.
Jo Baker- A Country Road, A Tree- The course by Future Learn, How to Read a Novel, used examples from four novels that Edinburgh University short listed for the James Tait prize. The only one that really interested me was this one. I sometimes struggle with books that win literary prizes, finding the style, language or plot, let us say – hard to appreciate. I had better hopes of this one.
Back in the day when I was a young and noisy teenager I attended a week-long residential course on drama in Chester, staying in what was then a teacher training college. but is probably now a university. We studied Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, and being a young and noisy teenager, myself and a fellow participant, one Lyn Edwards from Birmingham ( and if anyone knows a Lyn Edwards from Birmingham how marvellous that would be, we kept in touch for a couple of years , but pre Facebook this involved snail mail, so fizzled out). I digress, both Lyn Edwards and I were most taken with Waiting for Godot, and began an impromptu play reading in the college grounds,to great applause, and being young and noisy teenagers, so taken with ourselves were we that we took to being strolling players and walked the city walls whilst we proclaiming the Wait. So I have a great fondness for dear old Godot.
If you don’t know the play, two chaps at a roadside wait for Godot who does not come. A play in which nothing happens, a bit like the novel The Crowded Room by Winifred Holtby which I read last month about a young woman who waits for her life to begin. So to Jo Bakers novel about Samuel Beckett and his mistress during the second world war which they spent in France, trying to keep out of harms way, write and help the resistance movement. They have to keep moving and that involves a lot of walking along country roads and waiting for people to help them along the way, and quite a bit of nothing happening,thus providing the inspiration for Waiting for Godot.
I will be honest, I struggled with the book for the first 60 or so pages, style, language etc which seemed to be a bit flowery and a bit arty farty, pretentious maybe. But then something happened, either I got over the language style or it improves or it suddenly seemed to be right for the disjointed existence of the characters. The hand to mouth lifestyle of a country invaded by another nation. There is a sense of life seeming to go on, but not going on, of fear but of social gatherings, holidays, wine, but careful what you say, and who sees you, and of what happens to your communist and jewish friends.
Then the war ends, and Beckett goes home to Eire alone, to his Mum and her new bungalow. His teeth are fixed having suffered from malnutrition they were in a bad state. But he knows he can’t stay there, he can’t write in the comfort that is home. The only way back to France is to accept a job to set up a hospital in France, which he does before returning to Paris, His mistress and his writing, which has changed forever.
I enjoyed the book, and if you like a book with a bit of a challenge then go for it. I think that one of the marks of a good book is when you start to google things as a follow-up, which I did, and I know that Beckett married the mistress, which is nice after all they went through together, and she does get a bit fed up with him and the danger he puts them in, and the writing.
This is Jo Bakers second novel, the first one is called Longbourne, I have bought it for my Kindle, for reading when I am not at home. It is the story of Pride and Prejudice from the viewpoint of the servants, shortly to be a film. Sounds promising.
I very nearly made this number 44 in my top one hundred books. I really liked the centre section of the book, but not the start or end, and the middle bit not enough!. Let me know if you have read this, I would love to know your thoughts.
Graeme Macrae Burnett- His Bloody Project- this one was mentioned on the course as a good example of setting a story in context. For example, Bridget Jones’s diary the story is told through the medium of a diary. This novel is told through some “found papers” in the course of some family history research. I was apprehensive at first as I discovered from the cover of the book that it had been long listed for the Man Booker prize in 2016. I need not have been. The book is an enjoyable and accessible book. The first parts are some witness statements to a crime. The next the accused gives his account, which he is writing it at the behest of his council. At no time does he deny that he committed the crime he was charged with. Then comes the examination by a doctor, and then an account of the trial. It is very cleverly constructed, and the language is sufficiently archaic so that I had no trouble believing I was reading a historic document. The setting is a Scottish crofting community in the 19th century. It’s a good book and I suspect if I had Scottish roots it would make own top 100. A jolly good read. Look out for it.
Jessie Burton- The Miniaturist- not one from my 100 authors list, but found on the library shelves at the same time as the previous two books. It sounded familiar, on the front cover it says The Sunday Times Number One Best Seller. Maybe someone mentioned it, maybe it was reviewed on the Radio. An interesting book, set in Amsterdam in the 17 th century. Young girl from the country is married to an older rich merchant and travels to join his household in Amsterdam. In the house a sister who runs the household, a man-servant who may be a slave or a freeman, and a female servant from an orphanage. The new wife is given a miniature house, resembling the one she has just moved into , as a wedding present. She sources a miniaturist to help her furnish it, but soon parcels she didn’t order begin to arrive, can this miniaturist foretell the future? Tragedy follows, there is love and death. It’s a strange book by no mistake, but not a bad read. Is that the same as a good read? No. Quirky, that’s the word I am looking for. For the first time I found myself able to stop reading and think, now why is the author doing this, what is the intention of this event or that. I am beginning to read a little like a Professor!
Donna Leon-Falling in Love- Opera singer in Venice has a scary stalker, friendly detective saves the day. A pleasant read.
Some good and interesting books this month. And by sheer coincidence I see that the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough is staging a production of Waiting for Godot. Perfect or what?
Love to know what others have read recently. Anything to recommend to me please? If you have written about books this month I would be thrilled if you left a link in the comments.
Now where is my book…