Saturday, December 29, 2007

Books Read in 2007

So far this year I've read 98 books. I didn't make a century, but then it's not about numbers, but is about reading and enjoying books. I don't think I'll finish any more by the end of this year. The first 30 (or so) books on the list I read before I started to write this blog, so there are no posts about them. I've written about most of the books I'd read up to the end of November and I hope to write about some of the ones read in December next year.

Clicking on the titles that are underlined takes you to my posts on the books.

98.Here Lies Arthur, Philip Reeve
97.Four Stories, Alan Bennett
96.The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam, Chris Ewan
95.Solstice, Joyce Carol Oates
94.Old Filth, Jane Gardam
93.The Owl Service, Alan Garner
92. The Spoilt City, Olivia Manning
91.The End of the Affair, Graham Greene
90.All Passion Spent, Vita Sackville-West
89.My Cleaner, Maggie Gee
88.The Testament of Gideon Mack, James Robertson
87.The Great Fortune, Olivia Manning
86.Surveillance, Jonathan Raban
85.Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell
84.Remainder, Tom McCarthy
83.Lewis Carroll: a biography, Morton Cohen
82.The Sidmouth Letters, Jane Gardam
81.Crossing To Safety, Wallace Stegner
80.Playing with the Moon, Eliza Graham
79.One Fine Day, Mollie Panter-Downes
78.Ladies of Grace Adieu, Susanna Clarke
77.The Verneys, Adrian Tinniswood
76.Christine Kringle, Lynn Brittany
75.Set in Darkness, Ian Rankin
74.Sons and Lovers, D H Lawrence
73.The Man Who Died, D H Lawrence
72.The Uncommon Reader, Alan Bennett
71.Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott
70.Astrid and Veronika, Linda Olsson
69.The Alchemist, Paul Coelho
68.Ghostwalk, Rebecca Stott
67.Crow Lake, Mary Lawson
66.Speaking of Love, Angela Young
65.Letters to Malcolm, C S Lewis
64.Season of the Witch, Natasha Mostert
63.The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman
62.The House at Riverton, Kate Morton
61.The Secret History, Donna Tartt
60.Made in Heaven, Adele Geras
59.Crooked House, Agatha Christie
58.Arlington Park, Rachel Cusk
57.The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman
56.Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J K Rowling
55.Northern Lights, Philip Pullman
54.Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner
53.Mistress of the Art of Death, Ariana Franklin
52.Theft, Peter Carey
51.King of the Streets, John Baker
50.The Poe Shadow, Matthew Pearl
49.Digging to America, Anne Tyler
48.Wilberforce, John Pollock
47.On Trying To Keep Still, Jenny Diski
46.Death's Jest-Book, Reginald Hill
45.The Woodlanders, Thomas Hardy
44.Body Surfing, Anita Shreve
43.The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield
42.Daphne, Margaret Forster
41.Blessings, Anna Quindlen
40.The Dawkin's Delusion, Alistair McGrath
39.The Giant's House, Elizabeth McCracken
38.Pictures of Perfection, Reginald Hill
37.Keeping Faith, Jodie Picoult
36.Over, Margaret Forster
35.Master Georgie, Beryl Bainbridge
34.On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan
33.Gentlemen & Players, Joanne Harris
32.Hallucinating Foucault, Patricia Duncker
31.Emotional Geology, Linda Gillard
30.The Secret of the Last Temple, Peter Sussman
29.When I Grow Up, Bernice Rubens
28.Under the Greenwood Tree, Thomas Hardy
27.Death Minus Zero, John Baker
26.The Conjuror’s Bird, Martin Davies
25.Nights of Rain and Stars, Maeve Binchy
24.The Devil wears Prada, Lauren Weisberger
23.Stranger on a Train, Jenny Diski
22.Instances of the Number 3, Salley Vickers
21.Sovereign, C J Sansom
20.The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey
19.The Way We Live Now, Anthony Trollope
18.Only Say the Word, Niall Williams
17.Learning to Swim, Clare Chambers
16.A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Marina Lewycka
15.Mother’s Milk, Edward St Aubyn
14.The Dark Shore, Susan Howatch
13.Mr Golightly’s Holiday, Salley Vickers
12.What Good are the Arts?, John Carey
11.Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
10.The Falls, Joyce Carol Oates
9.The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
8.Moral Disorder, Margaret Atwood
7.Shadows in the Mirror, Frances Fyfield
6.But Nobody Lives in Bloomsbury, Gillian Freeman
5.The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
4.Miss Garnet’s Angel, Salley Vickers
3.The Christmas Mystery, Jostein Gaarder
2.The Water Babies, Charles Kingsley
1.The Waiting Sands

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Happy Christmas

I'm nearly ready for Christmas, at least the presents are wrapped, just food to prepare and a bit more shopping to do and then I can sit down and relax.

We've not had snow here and the forecast for Christmas Day is heavy rain, so it won't be a White Christmas. We're seeing our son and his family for Christmas and my sister over New Year, so as this will probably be my last post for a while I'm wishing everyone who reads this blog

A Very Happy Christmas

Friday, December 21, 2007

Books – buy or borrow?

I’ve just received the January/February 2008 issue of newbooks magazine. It is full of information, articles, interviews and so on and so on … plus the special offers. In each magazine there is a choice of a free give-away (you pay p & p costs). There are extracts from each book to tempt you into further reading. This month the choice is between:

On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan
The Welsh Girl, Peter Ho Davies
The Oxford Murders, Guillermo Martinez
The Coroner’s Lunch, Colin Cotterrill
Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders, Gyles Brandreth

I’m not sure which one to pick. It won’t be On Chesil Beach because I’ve already got that book. The others all look as though I’d like to read them, so when I get time I’ll be reading the extracts, before deciding which one to pick.

Well, that’s about free books, but the magazine is packed with details of other books and it’s simply not possible to buy all or even many of them. This is where the Library is a fantastic service. I borrow more books than I buy – fortunately says my husband! I have always, as long as I can remember, been a member of a library and for a while I worked as a librarian, so I’m always enthusiastic about libraries. Where else can you get such a wide-ranging and all encompassing supply of free books?

Although I’m extolling the virtues of the library system I also buy books, because there are books I want to read again, books to read at leisure, without being told I’ve got to return them as someone else has reserved them and books I want to own. I buy books regularly (too regularly my husband says) and from a variety of different sources – local bookshops, there are several really good ones locally. I prefer to check out the books in the shops where possible but I also buy books from Amazon and other on-line booksellers. So, it’s a big help to find that BooksPrice now has a UK website that compares prices from on-line booksellers. Next year I’ll be checking them out before buying a book.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Booking Through Thursday - And, the Nominees Are….

What fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007?(Older books that you read for the first time in 2007 don’t count.)
What non-fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007?(Older books that you read for the first time in 2007 don’t count.)
And, do “best of” lists influence your reading?
Looking through the list of books I’ve read this year I see that most of them are not new books published in 2007, so I don’t have much difficulty in deciding which ones I would nominate.

In the fiction category my nominations are:

1. Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert, about mystery, magic, memory, full of psychological tension
2. Playing with the Moon by Eliza Graham, about memories, bereavement and the legacy of war
3. Speaking of Love by Angela Young, about misunderstandings, loss and above all love
4. Over by Margaret Forster about grief and death, heart-breakingly sad

My brief descriptions only give a flavour of the books and although they are all different it seems they have a lot in common – love and memories and loss.

I have only one nomination in the non-fiction category and that is:

The Verneys by Adrian Tinniswood – the lives of the Buckinghamshire Verney family in turbulent seventeenth century during the English Civil War – love, war and madness.

“Best of” lists are interesting and I suppose they do influence my reading to a certain extent. Since I started reading blogs, about two years ago now, I am more influenced by recommendations from bloggers, particularly when I know they have similar reading tastes to mine. I’m also influenced by books I see in bookshops and especially in my local library. Sometimes I prefer to pick up a book without knowing anything about it or the author and am often surprised by how much I enjoy it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Goodbye Cranford - Hello Oliver

Sunday saw the last episode of “Cranford”. The final episode was very dramatic and there was a happy ending but overall I still felt disgruntled by the combination of three of Elizabeth Gaskell’s books. I suppose that if I hadn’t read “Cranford” I’d never have known that the difference. I wouldn’t have missed the parts that had been left out and I wouldn’t have known that the order of events had been changed. I enjoyed the non-Cranford scenes much more – the railway explosion and injuries, the Sophie/Dr Harrison love story and above all the Lady Ludlow scenes and the interaction between Lady Ludlow, Mr Carter and Harry. I thought that Alex Etel who played Harry Gregson was excellent.

Tonight the first part of “Oliver Twist” is being broadcast at 8pm (not 9pm as I thought) on BBC1. I don’t have enough time to read the book before 9pm, so I shan’t be disappointed if the 5 part series (being shown in four nightly episodes this week and the fifth and final episode next weekend) is not faithful to the book. I haven’t read it before, but of course the story is so familiar from other films, musicals and TV productions. I don’t expect it to disappoint as “Cranford” did, as I don’t suppose it will be a combination of three of Dickens’ books! Can you imagine combining “Oliver Twist”, “David Copperfield” and "Nicholas “Nickleby”?

I’m also looking forward to watching The Old Curiosity Shop on ITV1 on Boxing Day. I haven’t read that either so I can watch it without any pre-conceived ideas.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

First Sentences

Kate posted this meme, which she borrowed from Danielle, who in turn borrowed it from Sylvia. The idea is that you post the first sentence from each month in the year from your blog. Like Kate I've changed it a bit, skipping to the second post of the month if the first began with a quotation rather than a sentence I'd written myself, or if it was just something like "a good month for reading" as I usually start the month summarising what I'd read the previous month - and that's just too boring. Not that the following sentences are brilliant at grabbing attention or exciting (note to self - I must try harder!)

I actually started my blog in July 2006 but only wrote one post, so I'm starting this list in April this year.

I've been meaning to write more, both in this blog and in other writing, but somehow there's always something else to do.

Sunday was sunny, just perfect for a Bluebell Walk at Rushall Farm.

Daisy Lupin has started a new blog devoted to poetry and the theme for June is Poetry we loved as Children. (Sadly Daisy died in June, I did so enjoy reading her blog.)

It was D’s birthday last Saturday and the grandchildren painted some beautiful pictures to give him.

Can anyone identify this please? (It was a Cinnabar Moth).

The year is on the turn and autumn is on its way.

Whilst in Stratford last week I browsed the bookshops, one of my favourite pastimes, and couldn't resist buying The Complete Stories and Poems of Lewis Carroll.

Crossing to Safety was Wallace Stegner’s last novel published when he was 78 years old.

The third episode of “Cranford” is being shown on BBC1 this evening. (The last episode is on tonight.)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Any One for Brussel Sprouts?

We had to stay at home today, waiting for deliveries, so we had our shopping delivered as well. All well and good. We opted not to have our shopping put in carrier bags (thinking of the environment), so most things were loose, with just a few items wrapped. Everything on the order was there.

Imagine my surprise to find a little bag containing one tiny brussel sprout. When my husband had done the on-line ordering he hadn't noticed that he needed to enter the weight required and had just put "1", so that's what we got - one sprout costing one penny! Fortunately he says he's happy to share it with me.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson

An intriguing book. This is the first book I've read for the From the Stacks Challenge.

I finished reading The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson at the end of November and have now got round to writing about it. I started it with great enthusiasm and found it a compelling book to read. It is a psychological mystery concerning the nature of belief, faith, and truth. It starts with an account of the disappearance and death of Gideon Mack and the discovery of a manuscript written by him shortly before he was last seen. It is clear right from the start that there is mystery and uncertainty surrounding his disappearance, death and the discovery of his body. The book centres on the manuscript with an epilogue containing “notes” written by a journalist investigating the mystery, considering whether the manuscript was “anything other than the ramblings of a mind terminally damaged by a cheerless upbringing, an unfulfilled marriage, unrequited love, religious confusion and the stress and injury of a near-fatal accident?”

Gideon Mack was a minister in the Scottish Church, even though he did not believe in the existence of God. He simply didn’t discuss religion and discovered that “it was possible to be a Christian without involving Christ very much”. He concentrated on works rather than on faith and threw himself into raising money for charity. One of his fundraising events was running in the London marathon and he found that running made him “immune to the world and its problems.” Whilst out running in the woods he came across a standing stone that he was sure had not been there before. It is this stone that drew him further into the mysterious events that led to his disappearance. He took photographs of the stone, but they failed to come out. It is not clear whether the stone was actually there or not, any more than it is not clear what actually did happen to Gideon Mack.

Be aware:there are possible spoilers ahead.

As well as being a faithless minister Gideon was married to a woman whom he did not love and he was in love with Elsie, his best friend’s wife. As I read the book I realised that it’s just not clear whether Gideon’s account is truthful and how much of it can be believed. Did he have an affair with Elsie or not? Did he see the standing stone, or was it just a figment of his imagination? Was he mad or deluded or what?

What is clear is that he fell into a ravine, trying to rescue a dog that fell into the Black Jaws and he was “churned and spun like a sock in a washing-machine, carried along by an immense, frothing, surging force.” He thought that he “couldn’t possibly have survived the fall” but even if he had “the river would have killed” him. He thought he must be dead. And it is at this point that he found he had been rescued by the Devil and spent three days with him before he eventually returned home. He claimed the Devil had healed his leg, broken from the fall, discussed the nature of belief and God with him and swapped his trainers for Gideon’s shoes. Are the trainers proof that the Devil does exist? When Gideon saw the trainers they triggered his memory – but is his memory reliable? What is real, what is imagined and what is illusion?

The question of whether Gideon believes in God and the Devil as a result of his experience is not answered directly, although in remembering his near-death experience Gideon thought “there really is something good on the other side. I don’t know what, but it’s not the end.”

The book kept my interest to the end. I wanted to know what happened to Gideon, why he became a minister when he didn’t believe in God, how he coped with living with the Devil when he had previously believed him to be a figment of his imagination, what was real, what was legend and are myths just metaphors. Like Surveillance this book is open ended. As Gideon said, “You either believe or you don’t.”

Booking Through Thursday "Catalog"

"Do you use any of the online book-cataloguing sites, like Library Thing or Shelfari? Why or why not? (Or . . . do you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking to?? (grin))
If not an online catalog, do you use any other method to catalog your book collection? Excel spreadsheets, index cards, a notebook, anything?"

Today's Booking Through Thursday questions are spot on for me - as an ex-cataloguer, yes of course I catalogue my books. I did have most of my books in a database on my laptop but when this was stolen I was devastated. I had spent a long time entering in all the details of both my books and my husband's and did not have a saved copy. I expect the thief was surprised to see my catalogue.

When I found LibraryThing I decided to use that instead. I think it is very good; I like being able to have an image of the book and other members' listings and reviews. You can find photos of authors and suggestions for more reading. It's easy to add in books as LibraryThing does all the work for you using data imported from booksellers and a long list of libraries. You can edit the info on each book if you want, add your own comments and sort your catalogue however you like. So far, I haven't entered in all our books and add in a few more every so often. Although not long after I'd entered in a lot of books LibraryThing was unavailable for a few days and I thought perhaps I'd made a mistake using it. So when it came back on-line I printed off a copy of my entries.

If you haven't seen LibraryThing have a look. You can see who else has the same books as you and there is a blog as well. Currently there is a photo competition "Holiday Book Pile Contest" for photos of, well - piles of books you receive or give for Christmas (what else?).

You can add a RandomBooks thing to your blog in various ways too - mine is over on the left sidebar.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"Cranford" - the location of Lady Ludlow's House

Very often when I’m watching TV I wonder where the filming took place – the scenery and the buildings can look so familiar and yet usually I can’t place them. In the case of Lady Ludlow’s house in “Cranford” I recognised the outside views immediately. It’s West Wycombe Park, in Buckinghamshire. It is set in beautiful grounds. It’s been a while since I visited the house and I’m not sure that the scenes inside Lady Ludlow’s house were filmed inside West Wycombe Park mansion. Looking at the pictures in the guidebook the grand entrance hall has a similar floor but the columns and walls are different. The colour too is different, whereas the actual entrance hall is predominantly cream and brown Lady Ludlow’s grand room was overall white and grey, matching the grey grandeur of Lady Ludlow herself. Wherever it was filmed it was impressive. Lady Ludlow is becoming my favourite character in this TV production, stealing the show somewhat from Miss Matty in my view. The view of the railway coming over the horizon onto Lady Ludlow’s land was astounding – I could almost believe it was real!

I’m looking forward to visiting West Wycombe Park again next year. It is owned by the National Trust and is only open to the public during June, July and August. The grounds with its temples, lake and cascade are open from April to the end of August. It’s a beautiful Palladian style house, remodelled from the original Queen Anne house between 1735 and 1781 by Sir Francis Dashwood. Sir Francis was a most interesting character – a member of the Hell-Fire Club, and a Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Society of Antiquaries.

Elizabeth Gaskell based her fictional town of “Cranford” on Knutsford, in Cheshire. I suppose it is because Knutsford has changed since the 1840s that Cranford was not filmed there, but in Lacock, in Wiltshire. I had a school friend who lived Knutsford. Every year there is the May Day festival in Knutsford and I remember going with my friend to watch the May Day procession through the town, but the highlight for me as a young teenager was the fairground rather than the coronation of the May Queen. It was all very different from the “Cranford” May Day celebrations, which were filmed on the Ashridge Estate in the Chilterns, not in Cheshire. There were Morris Dancers and a Maypole, but I don’t remember a dancing bush!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

What's In a Name? Challenge

I can't resist joining this challenge, even though I'm already doing a few. This one is hosted by Annie, who is ten or eleven. See Words by Annie for the full picture. The idea is that you read one book from each category over the course of next year. Surely I can do that, especially as I can choose books from my to be read list.

These are the books I've chosen for now - I may change them later as who knows what I'll want to read next year? I've been meaning to read these books for quite a while now, so this should push me into reading them.

A book with a colour in the title: Half a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A book with an animal in its title: The Tenderness of Wolves, Stef Penney

A book with a first name in its title: My Cousin Rachel, Daphne Du Maurier

A book with a place in its title: Winter in Madrid, C J Sansom

A book with a weather event in its title: Snow, Orhan Pamuk

A book with a plant in its title: Gem Squash Tokoloshe, Rachel Zadok

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Surveillance by Jonathan Raban

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started to read “Surveillance”. The title suggested to me that it is about spying and being spied upon and in essence that is the book’s main theme. However, it is also about paranoia and the many insecurities, fears and weaknesses in our modern society. The Spectator reported ‘Raban’s book should certainly be required reading. Of all the 9/11 books so far, Surveillance is perhaps the most disturbing because it offers scant comfort and no certainties.’ The Sunday Herald Books of the Year described Surveillance “like Dickens revived to witness the “age of terror”.’

There’s a lot going on in this book. It starts with a bang:

“After the explosion, the driver of the overturned school bus stood behind the wreckage, his clothes in shreds. He was cupping his hands to his ears, as if to spare himself the noise of sirens, car alarms, bullhorns, whistles, and tumbling masonry. When he brought his hands away and held them in front of his face, both palms were dripping with blood. His mouth opened wide in a scream that was lost in the surrounding din.”

However, things are not always what they seem. The main characters are Lucy, a journalist and single mum, her daughter eleven year old Alida, and Lucy’s friend and neighbour Tad, who is HIV positive and full of conspiracy theories: “You think you’re living in a democracy, then one morning you wake up and realise it’s a Fascist police state and it’s been that way for years.” Alida, in contrast, believes in facts and is “hungry for realism”. She prefers non-fiction to fiction, Ann Frank’s diary to Lord of the Rings and tries to understand human relationships in terms of algebra.

August Vanags (Augie) is a professor of history who has recently written the bestseller “Boy 381”, a memoir of his terrible childhood in Europe during World War Two. Lucy has been assigned to interview Augie, said to be a recluse. Augie believes that the world is in a worse state than it was in 1939, presaging a catastrophe for civilisation. Lucy, whilst terrified of terrorism, feels more threatened by natural disasters such as greenhouse gases and earthquakes. The instability of the planet and our precarious existence run parallel with the violence and fear generated by terrorism. As the story unfolds Lucy investigates the truth of Augie’s memoir – was he really a refugee from Hitler’s Europe or did he spend the 1940s on a farm in Norfolk?

Then there is Finn, a schoolboy geek who can “rattle out stuff in HTML and Java faster than the girls could write English when they were IM-ing. If Finn had a life, which was doubtful, it lay somewhere out in cyberspace.” Another character who may or may not be what he seems is Mr Lee, the Chinese landlord of the Acropolis building where Lucy and Tad live. To Tad Mr Lee epitomises what is wrong with society “the way the world had lately fallen into the hands of grifters, liars and cheats.” Tad’s anger with himself, everything and everyone else threatens to overwhelm him and possess him.

As the novel built to a climax I was so engrossed in wondering what was the truth about the characters and what the outcome would be, that I failed to foresee how the book was going to end, even though thinking back over it now I can see that hints were given almost from the beginning. This is not a book where all the ends are tied off, or where all the questions that have been raised are answered. Everything is left unresolved and to my mind there could be no other conclusion.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

This Time 10 years ago ...

Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book posted earlier this year on books he had read “On this day …” where he listed books he had read on a particular day in the year going back several years – in his case on 28 September. I haven’t kept such accurate records as Simon, but as I found a notebook listing books I read in 1997 I thought I’d look back to see what books I was reading in December in 1997, 2002, 2006 and this December. I didn’t record the precise dates and have just picked one book out of the books I read in December during those years.

December 1997 – Homeland and other stories by Barbara Kingsolver. I made just a brief note at the time “v. readable”. This is a book of short stories and I have to admit that at a distance of ten years I can’t remember much about them. So, I’ll just quote from the back cover:

“Extraordinarily fine. Barbara Kingsolver has a Chekovian tenderness towards her characters … The title story is pure poetry.” New York Times Book Review.

December 2002 – Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkein. I first read the books when I was at Library School – everyone on my course was reading them. I’ve read them several times since then and this time I read them again, prompted by the films. The films compared quite favourably with the books, although I think the Ents didn’t live up to my expectations. Ian McKellen as Gandalf was just perfect.

December 2006 – Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. I have read several Atwood books and I think this one is one of her best. It’s based on the true story of the murder of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper in Canada in 1843. Grace and fellow servant James are found guilty of the murders. James was hanged and Grace imprisoned for life. The question, never answered to my satisfaction, all through the book is, was Grace guilty?

December 2007 – All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West. I haven’t read any other books by Sackville-West and was pleased to find it most enjoyable with an awful lot packed into what seems on the face of it to be a novel where not much happens. It’s a novel of opposites. For example old age and youth are contrasted in looking back over the life of Lady Slane, widowed at the age of 88. I’ll be writing about this in more detail, after 15 December, as it’s the chosen book for Cornflower’s book group.

A Christmas Meme

I was tagged by Sam for this Christmas meme.

What is your most enduring Christmas memory? I don't think I could single out one particular moment, maybe remembering back to my childhood when Christmas was a magical time, later enjoying it through my son’s excitement and these days through my grandchildren’s eyes.

Do you have a favourite piece of Christmas music? Silent Night, but don’t ask me to sing it solo.

Do you stick to the old family traditions? Apart from giving present and celebrating with lots of food, no. My grandmother used to stand to attention during the Queen’s speech but no one else did, much to her disapproval.

What makes your mouth water at Christmas time!? I love all Christmas food.

How soon do you put the Christmas tree up and when do you take it down? It varies – we haven’t put one up yet. It has to be taken down and all Christmas decorations put away before Twelfth Night.

I would like to tag Nan, Kay, Cornflower and Geranium Cat for this meme.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Cranford - a "Multi-Threaded Production"

The third episode of "Cranford" is being shown on BBC1 this evening. Over the course of last week I have puzzled over my reaction to the production. If I hadn’t only recently read Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford I might not have been so bemused. I was quite prepared to find that the actors and the locations didn’t match the pictures in my mind – how could they? I also didn’t expect the dramatisation to follow every word in the book – after all it is a dramatic representation, not a book.

Still, after seeing two episodes and looking at the preview of the third, I think that by amalgamating Cranford with two other books the end result is not Cranford. One difference that really has jarred is concerning Mary Smith. In the novel Mary is the narrator. She lives in Drumble (Manchester) with her father and writes about her visits to Cranford at different intervals over a number of years. Her father is an old friend of the Jenkyns family, maybe even a distant relative, who helps with Miss Matty’s business affairs. Nowhere in Cranford is there any indication that Mary Smith has a stepmother and stepbrothers and sisters, but they appear in the TV series – I can’t see how they add anything to the story. And why was it necessary to make Miss Brown’s death take place before her father’s? I could go on.

The BBC’s Press Office page has some interesting information that explains how the script was written. The creators did not think that there was enough material in the novel suitable for a straightforward adaptation. So, as they wanted to keep “true to the spirit of Gaskell” they took several of her books and interwove them together. This quote from the Production Notes explains the process:

"We took a lot of liberties with Elizabeth Gaskell," Sue continues. "We lost some of her characters, we amalgamated some and we invented. We shuffled story beats around and we added extras to some of the stories from the other books.

"And we lifted out two comic incidents from her essays about her childhood which weren't in the novels. In the end, we had interwoven parts of all the three novels so closely that it took on a life of its own, and essentially became a new drama.”

Cranford is thus a multi-threaded production, combining three of Elizabeth Gaskell’s books and essays as well as introducing new material. They have indeed produced a new drama. My question is – do I want to watch it? I’m not so sure that I do.

Francesca Annis is quoted in the Press Pack:

"I read Gaskell's My Lady Ludlow, and (Cranford writer) Heidi Thomas's characterisation is quite faithful to her but she obviously had to leave out a huge amount of detail that I found completely fascinating.

"But then this serial isn't called Lady Ludlow... unfortunately!"

Maybe it shouldn’t be called “Cranford”, either.

One thing I do know is that thanks to this production, I shall read Mr Harrison’s Confessions and My Lady Ludlow.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

November Round Up of Books

Another month of good reading. I have already written posts about most of the books I finished reading in November. Clicking on the titles links to my posts.

Playing with the Moon by Eliza Graham - an excellent book, looking back over 60 years.
Lewis Carroll: a biography by Morton Cohen - long and detailed.
The Sidmouth Letters by Jane Gardam - good (better than I expected).
Remainder by Tom McCarthy - mixed feelings about this one, thought provoking.
Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell - a very enjoyable read, better than the TV series for me.
The Great Fortune by Olivia Manning (the first in her Balkan trilogy) - set in Bucharest during the 'phoney war' period of the Second World War.

Posts to follow on these books that I've also finished:

Surveillance by Jonathan Raban - an interesting look at modern life.
The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson - a thought provoking book.

Currently I'm reading:

My Cleaner by Maggie Gee. I've nearly finished this about Vanessa, English, middle class and Mary, Ugandan who used to be Vanessa's cleaner.

All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West. I've read the first chapters of this story of an aging British aristocrat. This is the book chosen by Karen for her new book group.

Winter In Madrid by C J Sansom. I've just started reading this. I chose it because I read with great enjoyment his three earlier books, Dissolution, Dark Fire and Sovereign, historical mysteries featuring Matthew Shardlake, a lwyer-cum-detective. I hadn't realised this book was set in the 1940s when I decided to read it - yet another book from that period.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Cross Stitch - Little Moreton Hall, Cheshire

For a change this post is not about books.

I like to do cross-stitching, but one of its disadvantages is that I cannot read and stitch at the same time. Other difficulties are that I cannot do it in the summer as my hands get too hot and at other times of the year I find the light is not good enough so I have to use a daylight lamp, which I don't find very easy. Anyway, now that I've just finished reading The Testament of Gideon Mack, which I'll write about soon, I feel it's time to get stitching again after many months of inactivity. I have quite a lot of different ones on the go, some I've been doing for years. One of them is a kit to stitch Little Moreton Hall. The photograph above shows the minimal amount I've done. It's quite hard as it is such a fine canvas and small stitches - I'm no expert. The Hall, a National Trust property in Cheshire is a beautiful timber framed Tudor building as shown in the photographs below.

Little Moreton Hall is one of the most impressive buildings I know, with its wonderful decorative timber framing and patterned glazed windows. It is marvellous to be able to visit such an historic building and many rooms are open for the public to look at and walk through. It looks top-heavy with its projecting upper storeys. The earliest part of the building dates from the 1440s and 1450s when the Great Hall and the East Wing were built. A third storey was added in 1560-70 during the reign of Elizabeth I, containing the Long Gallery, 68 feet long with a massive arched roof. Cross beams were inserted into the roof trusses in the late seventeenth century to stop the walls from coming apart. The walls are crooked and the floor is uneven, so you experience a truly precarious feeling walking along the gallery. When I visited it quite a few years ago the Long Gallery was not furnished, much as it would have been when it was first built, because the Elizabethans used the room for walking, daily exercise and games. It was very easy to imagine what it must have been like.

I bought the Guide Book, the Cross Stitch Kit and a small bay tree in a pot for the garden as souvenirs. I like to buy Cross Stitch Kits of National Trust houses and properties wherever I can find them. I now have a few including a view of St Michael's Mount near Penzance in Cornwall, and an ornamental gate in the garden of Townend, a 17th century solid stone and slate farmhouse near Windermere in Cumbria.

I also like to buy bookmarks to stitch. They are much quicker to finish and have a practical use. I've decided to start the bookmark shown on the left in the photograph below even though I have several other kits I've started and not finished.

Rolling - Booking Through Thursday

Do you get on a roll when you read, so that one book leads to the next, which leads to the next, and so on and so on?
I don’t so much mean something like reading a series from beginning to end, but, say, a string of books that all take place in Paris. Or that have anthropologists as the main character. Or were written in the same year. Something like that… Something that strings them together in your head, and yet, otherwise could be different genres, different authors…

I suppose my immediate answer to this is yes, very often. I do like to read another book by an author when I've enjoyed one - but that's not the question. Books in the same genre are also easy to think of - I took part in the R.I.P. Challenge, so that was all books with themes of mystery and imagination - I like those, not gory or horrific but books that keep you guessing and make you ponder. I like to vary my reading as well, so I do try to pick different types of books and different authors, ones I've never read before as well as old favourites.

But to answer the question, recently I find that some books I've read have a 1940s theme. I'm thinking of One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes, set in England in 1946 just after the Second World War, Playing with the Moon by Eliza Graham lokking back after 60 years to the 1940s and The Great Fortune by Olivia Manning, set in Bucharest in 1939/1940 at the outbreak of the War. Even Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner fits in with that time and Surveillance by Jonathan Raban looks back to the 1940s as Augie writes about his wartime experiences as a refugee from Germany.

When I decided to read these books I had no idea that they were all linked like this.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cranford - Revisited and Nostalgic Memories

It was the second episode of Cranford on Sunday - see the BBC website here. There were so many scenes that were all totally unknown to me that it was as if I'd never read the book. I was able to watch it without my pre-conceived pictures intruding. It was a mixture of comedy and tragedy, as is life. See the Radio Times website here for more information on the cast and crew, location shots, photos and video clips. I thought Julia Sawalha was just right as Jessie Brown and I was pleased to read in the RT that she is in Lark Rise to Candleford, which is coming to the BBC next year. I read Lark Rise about 10 years or so ago when I was recovering from flu, so I'm looking forward to seeing it. With such a gap since I've read it I'll be able to watch it with fresh eyes - I'm not planning on reading again until I've watched the drama.

Thinking of Cranford has made me think back with nostalgia to my schooldays at Altrincham Grammar School for Girls. I remembered today that the house I was in at school was called Gaskell after Mrs Gaskell (the school houses were named after people with local connections). I got out some old school magazines and read them with great pleasure wondering what has happened to my old school friends. My school has its own website and I had a look tonight. It has changed almost beyond recognition, although the main school building is still the same. I wonder if they still have the same house system.

Cranford is the only book I've read by Elizabeth Gaskell and I must read some more. I'd like to read Mary Barton and Ruth, which sound very different books from Cranford, but as I've got Sylvia's Lovers I'll start with that.

The Great Fortune by Olivia Manning

The Great Fortune is the first in Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy. It tells the story of Guy and Harriet Pringle’s marriage set against the background of Bucharest during the ‘Phoney War’ period of 1939/40. Guy teaches in the English Department of the University and Harriet has to find her place in Guy’s friends’ and colleagues’ university circles in the multicultural city. England and Germany are already at war and tensions are high, as the Rumanians fear a German invasion.

Throughout the novel there are contrasts between the rich ruling classes and the peasantry; between life as it was pre-war and the uncertainties and fears that the war is bringing; between the British community in Bucharest and the Rumanians; and between Guy and Harriet as they both adjust to married life, with Harriet making most of the adjustments.

It’s a richly descriptive book of both characters and place. Olivia Manning vividly depicts pre-war Bucharest. In the following scene Guy and Harriet hire a coach to take them out one evening :

“When the trasura stopped at Pavel’s, one of the largest of the open-air restaurants, there could be heard above the traffic the shrill squeak of a gypsy violin. Within the shrub hedge of the garden all was uproar.

The place was crowded. The silver-gilt glow from the globes set in the trees lit in detail the wrinkled tree-trunks, the pebbled ground, and blanched the faces of the dinners, that damp with excitement of food, gazed about them with deranged looks, demanding to be served. Some rapped with knives on wine-glasses, some clapped their hands, some made kissing noises at the waiters, whilst others clutched at every passing coat-tail crying: “Domnule, domnule!” for in this country even the meanest was addressed as ‘lord’.”

Of all the characters Harriet and Prince Yakimov, or as he refers to himself ‘poor old Yaki’, a Russian √©migr√©, half Irish and half White Russian, are the most memorable to me. Harriet is finding it difficult living in a foreign country amongst people she doesn’t know, feeling isolated among strangers, both British and Rumanian, jealous of Guy’s friends and his relationship with Sophie (who had hoped he would marry her) and his allegiance to other people seemingly over his marriage.

Harriet eventually realises that Guy is “a comfortable-looking man of an unharming largeness of body and mind. His size gave her an illusion of security – for it was she was coming to believe, no more than an illusion. He was one of those harbours that prove to be shallow: there was no getting into it. For him, personal relationships were incidental. His fulfilment came from the outside world.”

Yaki, a raconteur and joker, who is said to “have a peculiarly English sense of humour” uses every opportunity to sponge off anyone who will ‘lend’ him money, give him a meal or a bed for the night. He is forever “waiting for m’remittance from m’poor old ma”, promising to repay the loan when it arrives, only to spend it as soon as it does without repaying anyone.

Guy decides to put on a play, Troilus and Cressida, using the students, friends and the “chaps at the Legation” to act the 28 speaking parts. Whilst seeming at first to be over-ambitious and divisive the play is the means of consolidating the Pringles’ relationship and it is a success. However this coincides with fall of Paris and the despondency and fear that this brings. The book ends with the realisation that Rumania will also fall and that the Pringles’ survival depends upon their leaving:

"We’ll get away because we must. The great fortune is life. We must preserve it."

I found the book interesting and informative about the start of the Second World War. It is also an entertaining book working on different levels, exploring the nature of marriage, friendship, patriotism and the attitudes and beliefs of the pre-war period. It’s written in a style that is slightly detached yet energetic and sympathetic. I think I’ll re-read it, as I’m sure there is much that I missed at this first reading. The next book in the trilogy is The Spoilt City. I’ve reserved it at the library and hope it won’t be too long before it arrives.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson - the Opening Chapters

I’ve just started to read Gideon Mack this morning and must write about it. I’m enjoying it so much that I’ve had to slow my reading down to make sure I read every word. I’m reading this book as part of the From the Stacks Challenge, and cannot think why I haven’t read it before now.

I first came across this book in my local library at the beginning of this year. It was on display on the “Quick Choice” stand. I started to read it and was enthralled. I was disappointed that I couldn’t renew it as someone else had reserved it, so I had to take it back, largely unread. Because I liked what I had read, I decided to buy a copy. However, by the time I could get a copy I was well into reading other books (which ones I can’t remember now), so “Gideon Mack” sat in a pile and gradually got further and further down until I almost forgot about it.

Thanks to the Challenge I remembered that this was a book that I’d wanted to read, or rather had felt compelled to read. So when I finished The Great Fortune by Olivia Manning (post on this to follow when I have time) I picked it up. I’m so glad I did. I’m sure already that it’s going to be one of those books that I’ll be enthusing over for a while yet.

Just a small taster. Gideon Mack, a faithless minister is writing an account of what happened to him. Here he is describing how he feels about running:

“I was somewhere in between – an escapee from my professional hypocrisy, a minister off the leash, a creature neither wholly real nor wholly imagined, hurrying through an ancient landscape. Yes, even then I suspected what I now know to be true: that life itself is not wholly real. Existence is one thing, life quite another: it is the ghost that haunts existence, the spirit that animates it. Running, whether in the rain or sun, felt like life.”

There is so much on a variety of different themes that I’m interested in packed into the opening pages of this book! References to other books (some I’ve read and others I'd like to read); what is life and what is real; belief or non-belief in God; the nature and importance of evidence and facts, that can be misleading or just plain lies, and the slipperiness of truth; the pleasure to be found in the doing of something and not in its completion; reminiscences of one’s early life; not to mention the pleasure of “the glide and flow of nib and ink on paper” and the benefits of writing with a pen over writing on a computer!

I can’t wait to get back to it.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Remainder by Tom McCarthy

From the back cover of Remainder - “McCarthy has a precision, a surreal logic and a sly wit that is all his own. It will be a long time before you come across a stranger book, or a truer one.” Rupert Thomson, The Observer.

Yes, a strange book indeed. I started to read it in August and at first I was interested because it explores the nature of memory, identity, human nature and behaviour. There is very little plot and the main character is a man who, after an accident, is suffering from amnesia and brain damage. We never find out any details of the accident that nearly killed in and left him in a coma and somehow it’s unimportant, because what is important is what happens to him when he recovers. He receives eight and a half million pounds as compensation and embarks on a series of actions in an attempt not only to regain his memory but also to feel natural when he does things.

I think this is fascinating part of the book. The way we perform our actions is spontaneous without thinking how we actually move and do things, but as that part of his brain that controls the motor functions of the right side of the body had been damaged he had to learn how to move by first visualising a movement, then understand how the tendons, muscles and joints work and in what order, before actually performing a movement. What is even more fascinating is that having done this he realised that his actions and movements weren’t seamless and natural – he was having to think each movement through before he could perform them.

I was fine with this and felt the book was going to be really good, but gradually as he goes over and over everything in his mind and tries to reconstruct his former life from fragments of memory it became tedious. Then it moved into realms of fantasy, but dull, banal fantasy in which he hires people to act or rather re-enact time after endless time certain scenes, cats falling off a roof, a woman frying liver and a pianist practising a piece of music etc, etc. It becomes increasingly unreal as he tries to be more real.

McCarthy explained the title in a press release: “The hero, his body and his mind are a remainder, what the accident leaves,” explains McCarthy. “The world he reconstructs is a remainder, made up of fragments left over from his ideal ‘remembered’ world. And I love the provocation of calling a book Remainder.”

I cannot say I enjoyed this book. I found it tedious and disturbing as he descends into what I consider to be madness. I stopped reading it twice and went back to it as I did want to know what happens at the end. The ending is like the rest of the book; it’s madness and endless repetition of the same actions over and over again and then right at the very end – well, there is a completion of sorts.

Would I read it again? No.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Connecting Words Booking Through Thursday

Okay, today’s question is going to be a little different. First, I’m posting it early because Thursday is Thanksgiving here in the U.S. and I’m going to be busy making and eating turkey as I’m sure some of you will also be, so I want to give everyone time to play. And two, because I’m basically going to link you through to somebody else’s blog with a question that I thought was pretty interesting.

Joanna and Brad are asking about “connecting words,” and they don’t mean conjunctions like “and” or “but.” No, what they’re looking for are unique, or treasured words that we’ve found out and about in our daily travels, words that might not be common usage, or often heard, but which struck a chord for some reason.
This is unorthodox, of course, but here’s the thing: if you link back to
Joanna’s post (which is where the rules are written), you’re eligible to win a prize. Not to mention joining in some great conversation about interesting words.

I'm not sure that I've understood what "connecting words" are. I'm struggling to think of words that are unique or treasured etc or words that may not be in common usage as well. I don't know how common these words are, but in the northwest of England where I'm from originally people use words such as "mither", eg "don't mither me" meaning don't bother/pester me and another one is "mardy" eg You're such a mardy" meaning you're so soft and weak, pathetic.

A word that I like just now is "pooter" as that's what my grandson used to call the computer before he could say the whole word. I use it regularly, eg "I'm going to use the pooter now".

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Three Books for Christmas

Soon it will be Advent and we will be preparing for Christmas. I know that other people start long before I do, but for me 1 December really starts the build up (and even that is a bit early!). The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder, A Feast for Advent by Delia Smith and Skipping Christmas by John Gresham are three very different pre-Christmas books, offering different perspectives on the season.

The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder is a good book to read during Advent. Gaarder Is a Norwegian writer, formerly a philosophy teacher. I first came across him a few years ago with Sophie’s World, a marvellous book about the history of philosophy.

The Christmas Mystery is a story within a story, intertwining the present and the past. The book is divided into 24 chapters, one for each day up to Christmas Eve. It’s the story of Joachim, a young boy who has been given an old faded Advent calendar. But this is no ordinary calendar. It has a beautiful picture on the cover, showing Joseph and Mary bending over the baby Jesus lying in the manger. The Three Wise Men kneel in the background, whilst the shepherds and their sheep are outside the stable with angels floating down from the sky. Each day Joachim opens a door revealing a picture and a sheet of paper falls out on which there is a chapter of the story of Elisabet who disappeared in 1948. Joachim is anticipating Christmas with great excitement and his wonder and amazement at the Christmas story grow throughout the book. As the days follow on towards Christmas Day the story travels back in time and place to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus. A magical book.

Delia Smith is better known for her cookery books and TV programmes and also for her interest in Norwich City Football Club. She has also written spiritual books. In A Journey Into God she writes about prayer and her own experience and in A Feast for Advent she writes reflections on Christmas for every day in Advent, together with Bible passages and prayers. As she writes in the introduction she has come to understand that “prayer and contemplation, while utterly necessary, do absolutely nothing to ease the pressure and that on Christmas Day I will always end up horizontal! “ In A Feast for Advent Delia offers help in escaping for a few minutes each day to contemplate the meaning of Christmas, providing a journey through Advent, illustrated with photographs and reproductions of Quidenham Cards from the Carmelite Monastery in Norfolk.

Thinking about the pressures of Christmas reminded me of a very different book I read a few years ago – Skipping Christmas by John Grisham. This is not the usual Grisham legal thriller, but a very funny little book about the horrors, commercialisation and expense of Christmas. A middle-aged American couple Luther and Nora Krank estimated that the previous Christmas they had spent $6,100 and that was not all it had cost – there was their time, the stress, worrying, bickering, ill-will and sleep-loss as well. So, as their daughter will not be home for Christmas they decide that this year they will skip Christmas and fly off to the Caribbean. They will not have any lights, tree, gifts, parties, hassles, or expenses. I must admit that I was very tempted by the whole idea.

However, when their neighbours, friends and family find out there will be no celebrations and no annual Christmas Eve party that the Kranks normally hold, they are horrified and pile on the pressure. The Kranks find that it’s not going to be as easy as they thought. Then they receive a surprise phone call and realise that Christmas is not just about material things after all. I really enjoyed this book.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Cranford TV Drama or the Book?

Last night I watched the first episode of the BBC’s dramatisation of Cranford. I liked it. Last week I read Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford. I loved it. They are two different things. If you haven’t read the book Cranford, don’t think that the BBC’s version is the same – it isn’t. Someone once said to me “Do you have to be so precise?” Well, yes I do. It’s important to me to be accurate, to get the facts right; opinions and interpretations are different. I should have known better than to expect the drama and the book to be the same. After all, I’ve been disappointed by most televised or film versions of books when I’ve read the book first. In this case the cast with so many well known actors is a very strong point in favour of the programme. I enjoyed all their performances, although at one point it did feel a bit like spot the stars.

As I watched Cranford I kept thinking that’s not in the book, but that is in the book. The dramatisation is not pure, unadulterated Cranford – it’s an amalgamation of three books - Cranford, Mr Harrison’s Confessions and My Lady Ludlow. I haven’t read either of the other two books, but from a quick look on Amazon I see that Mr Harrison's Confessions, is indeed about a young doctor who is invited by his father’s cousin to join his country practice but it is in Duncombe, not Cranford. My Lady Ludlow appears not to be connected to Cranford either. So my picky mind says this is not Cranford, but I can see that to enjoy the dramatisation on its own merits I need to stop myself from thinking, “yes that’s in the book” or “no I don’t know that, it must be in one of the other books”.

Cranford (the book) is a beautifully written and amusing story, centred on the lives of Miss Deborah Jenkyns and her sister Matilda, known affectionately to everyone except her sister, as Miss Matty. I was interested to read in the introduction to my copy that:

“Most of Cranford is founded on fact – the hairless cow that went to pasture in a grey flannel jacket, the fashion displays in the little draper’s shop – all the rules of etiquette of the Cranford ladies were part of her [Elizabeth Gaskell’s] early life, and the skill and delicacy with which she draws upon her memories to build up her story proves how deeply rooted was her love for the old town and for its inhabitants who believed in the old order of things and hated change.”

Elizabeth Gaskell portrays life in Cranford and its inhabitants sympathetically and whimsically, without making fun of the characters. It made me chuckle as I read it and this came over in the TV drama - D said to me he hadn’t realised it was a meant to be a comedy. The sight of the ladies trotting along side the sedan chair was very funny.

Elizabeth Gaskell was a friend of Charles Dickens, so I found the episode where Captain Brown and Miss Jenkyns have a "literary dispute” over the relative merits of Dr Johnson and Mr Boz to be amusing. Captain Brown sings the praises of The Pickwick Papers, whereas Miss Jenkyns asserts that she does not think “they are by any means equal to Dr Johnson. Still perhaps the author is young. Let him persevere, and who knows what he may become if he will take the great doctor for his model.”

Cranford is a quiet tale of everyday events. Some of the characters have to overcome disappointments - bankruptcy looms and matrimonial hopes fail to materialise for some, but overall it’s a story of friendship, peace and kindliness. The last sentence in the book sums it up for me: ”We all love Miss Matty, and I somehow think we are all of us better when she is near us.” Dame Judi Dench is an absolute joy as Miss Matty.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Sidmouth Letters by Jane Gardam

The Sidmouth Letters is a collection of eleven short stories. It’s a short book of just under 150 pages, so it doesn’t take long to read the whole book. With a collection of short stories I tend not to read from the start to the end, picking and choosing which ones to read, but with this one I read the stories in the order they are in the book. I was glad I did as I think the last one is the best. The stories are nicely varied in style and content with convincing and authentic characters. I liked some more than others.

The first story is “The Tribute”, a perceptive and amusing study of a trio of Kensington widows exposing their small-minded attitude to a former nanny, when they receive news of her death.

I wasn’t too keen on “Lychees for Tone”. It is written in the present tense, which I find irritating. A lonely mother lives with her son. As she waits for him to bring home a new girlfriend she ponders what she will be like and her isolation and prejudices become apparent. I thought the ending was disappointing with a predictable play on words.

“The Great, Grand, Soap-Water Kick” is a story about a tramp, Horsa looking for a house in which he can have a bath, which only happens every second year or so. You can imagine the state he is in and the state of the house by the time he has finished. I liked the idea and the structure of the story. Although I liked the imagery and the style of writing does reflect the character, I found it jarring and disjointed. But then I don’t think you’re actually meant to like Horsa.

“Up steps smelly Horsa.
Rings bell no answer.
Ringsgain no answer.
Ringsgainturns look updown. Not living soul. Not motor car. Not bike. Only cat gatepost watch through yellow slits. Cat stands, stretches on four fat sixpences, turns round, curls upgain, goes sleep.”

In “Hetty Sleeping” a married woman on holiday with her two children meets a former lover, and wonders what her life could have been like.

In “Transit Passengers” two young students are leaving Greece and go their separate ways. Will their love survive, or is it as transitory as their journey?

“The Dickies” are a married couple. Mrs Dickie is neurotic and has to suffer her husband’s infidelities. All is not as it seems, however.

I particularly liked “A Spot of Gothic”. A young army wife living in the remote countryside is driving home alone late one night when she encounters a woman standing in her garden waving to her. It’s the loneliest part of the road and she is shaken and frightened at the sight. She wonders if she saw a ghost. When she returns to the road the next day she feels she is being watched and sees a woman who asks her the time and walks away, leaving the young wife feeling terrified: “The dreadful sense of loss, the melancholy, were so thick in the air that there was almost a smell, a sick smell of them.” Who has she seen?

The last story “The Sidmouth Letters” deals imaginatively with Jane Austen’s love life. Annie meets a former professor who had claimed credit for her work when she was a student. He has discovered that love letters, supposedly written by Jane Austen have been found and he sends Annie off to Sidmouth with instructions to buy the letters. The story reveals how Annie gets her own back on the professor. The question is – did Jane Austen write the Sidmouth letters? This story was the reason that I read the book and it didn’t disappoint.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Second World War

Sometimes I’m amazed at the links between the books I’m reading. I read the following books by choosing them individually without realising that they all had similar themes. Recently I read One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes, set in England in 1946 just after the Second World War had ended. Then I read Playing with the Moon by Eliza Graham set in 1943/4 up to the present day and now I’ve just started The Great Fortune by Olivia Manning, set in Bucharest at the start of the War (currently I’m in the “Phoney War” period. I’m also joining a local book group my friend goes to and the book for discussion is Surveillance by Jonathan Raban. I picked up that book yesterday and started to read it. To my surprise, although it’s set in Seattle post 9/11 one of the characters, a journalist has been assigned to interview a historian, who had been “an orphaned child caught up in the worst barbarities of World War Two”, spending his boyhood “among the displaced and terrorized people of central Europe, overrun now by Hitler’s, now by Stalin’s armies”.

I didn’t plan on reading books about the War at all and it was quite by chance that it was near to Remembrance Sunday, but it all seems so appropriate. I decided I should know more about the War and so went to the library. There were so many books that I decided to get a couple of books specifically about D-Day as my father took part in the Normandy landings and also a huge book called Chronicle of the Second World War. I then went to a bookshop and was spoilt for choice with an enormous range of books to choose from. In the end I bought Wartime Britain 1939 – 1949 by Juliet Gardiner. Juliet was the editor of History Today for five years, a research fellow at the Institute of Historical Research, author of several wartime books, and historical consultant for Channel 4’s The 1940s House and The Edwardian Country House. Thank you to Litlove who recommended this book. I thought it looked a good place to start.

So, I’ve now got lots to get me started on my search to know more about the War.

Page 161 Meme

Tara and Nan have posted a little meme, which I thought I’d do as well.

Open up the book you’re currently reading to page 161 and read the sixth sentence on the page, then think of 5 bloggers to tag.

I’m currently reading My Cleaner by Maggie Gee and the sixth sentence on page 161 is:

‘Vanessa - I think I will not cook on Sunday.’

Vanessa an English creative writing tutor, has asked Mary, a Ugandan, who was previously employed as Vanessa’s cleaner, to live with her to help her son Justin through a 'depression'. The balance of power in the house is changing and here Mary tells Vanessa what she will and will not do. I’m enjoying this book, which reflects the prejudices and snobbery in our society.

I won’t tag anyone else to do this as maybe you’ve already done it. If not and you would like to do this please do, and let me know. I love knowing what people are reading.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Preservatives Booking Through Thursday

Today’s question comes from Conspiracy-Girl:

I’m still relatively new to this meme so I’m not sure if this has been asked yet, but I’m curious how many of us write notes in our books. Are you a Footprint Leaver or a Preservationist?

I'm a Preservationist who occasionally leaves Footprints. At one time I would never, ever write notes in a book. It was considered a desecration. I'm a bit less strict these days and occasionally bring myself to underline in pencil or add a little asterisk next to a passage I like.

Having said that when I looked at my copy of Reformation Europe 1517 -1559, which which I was given as a prize at school one year I see that I have underlined sentences in red biro. I can't believe I did that!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Playing with the Moon by Eliza Graham

Playing with the Moon is Eliza Graham’s first novel and it’s very good. She has her own blog Staring out of the Window and there is an account of how she came to write the book here.

It begins when Minna and Tom, who are staying at a cottage in an isolated village on the Dorset coast east of Lulworth, discover a human skeleton on the beach and dog tags inscribed LEWIS J CAMPBELL and a number. American military officials confirmed his identity as Private Lew Campbell, believed to have died in 1944 during training exercises for the Normandy landings.

Minna and Tom are trying to come to terms with the death of their baby. Tom is struggling to carry on with his business, which is in financial difficulty, and Minna, who is recovering from a breakdown, is unable to talk to him about her grief. She becomes absorbed in finding out what had lead to Campbell’s death, when she meets Felix an elderly woman who had lived in the village during the war. A fascinating story slowly emerges. Moving from 1943 to the present, the story of Felix and the American GI is interwoven with the story of Minna and Tom and the events that lead to the death of their son. Each story is mysterious and tragic. Both Minna and Felix are overcome by their grief and as they tentatively get to know each other they pour out their stories and draw comfort from each other.

The book deals with memory, the power of memory, with loss, grief and bereavement. It’s also about war, the legacy of war, and of how to make sense of our lives. I found it a compelling book to read. Although it deals with tragic events it does so gently and with compassion.

It seems to me that Playing With the Moon captures what life was like during the 1940s.It was quite by coincidence that I read this book just before Remembrance Sunday and not long after I’d read One Fine Day. There is a recurring theme here and it has set me off on a trail to find out more about the Second World War.