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Category: Books (page 1 of 4)

The Accordionist

The Accordionist Book Cover The Accordionist
Three Evangelists
Fred Vargas
Vintage
2018
P/B

I'm not going to write too much about this book because as regular readers know I am a huge fan of Fred Vargas. She writes hugely enjoyable, eccentric but layered in history (her other profession is as an archaeologist) mysteries in two series: the Inspector Adamsberg stories and The Three Evangelists. The two series also interlink characters.  This is the third and final - for obvious reasons - of the Three Evangelists novels. Don't start with it if you have not read any before. Go to the first one whose English title is The Three Evangelists. I love them.  I suspect some people won't. Her style is certainly individual, and the world she immerses the reader in is both recognisable and totally her own. Life would be greyer without her novels.

Love and Fame

Love and Fame Book Cover Love and Fame
Susie Boyt
Little Brown
2017
P/B

I have to  say the title of this novel  and its cover do it an injustice, for its real focus is grief, which is not to say this is a depressing book. The reason I picked it is because it is about an actor, a profession I am fascinated with. It doesn't have to be said but Susie Boyt is daughter of Lucien Freud and granddaughter of Sigmund Freud. (Somewhere in the story two characters talk about psychoanalysis.) Its other appeal for me was its being about the beginning of a marriage, something not written about enough. I didn't love this book as a whole but I am so glad I read it. I wasn't too caught up in its middle class setting or the general plot, but what really engaged me was Boyt's writing about grief from a wife's and a daughter's perspective. I found it at times deeply moving and was left realising that the complexities of grief are almost unbounded. It left me feeling a tiny bit prepared for the un-preparable, and that it had given me insight into this complex topic. That said, this is a novel and not a manual and the interesting, well drawn characters and slightly unpredictable plot kept me turning the pages. If this review sounds a little luke-warm that is not what I intend.

Wise Children

Wise Children Book Cover Wise Children
Angela Carter
Vintage Classics
1991
P/B

I first read this many moons ago and it swept me away from page one. With a stage version in sight I decided to re-read it. I am not a great one for revisiting the past as I find my passions cool over time. However  this book caught me in its spell once more, fresh as a daisy. Charting the lives of twins Dora and Nora, by default of their professions as "hoofers", the book charts the history of show-business, from actor-managers, through end-of-the-pier, vaudeville, revue and a major trip to Hollywood.  The plot is a family epic. Carter weaves Shakespeare constantly through the book, both literally and by reference. The plot which involves twins, foundlings, confusion, coincidence, mayhem, melancholy, sex and death certainly feels Shakespearean in spirit. Despite its intricacies Carter always guides the reader through with her magnificent storytelling. It is very, very funny, unsentimental and has a huge life-force to it which makes me never want it to end.  The Vintage Classics edition is worth buying for Ali Smith's introduction. For me, a classic

Short Stories

I’ve been reading a smattering of excellent books recently, though not as avidly as usual as, I have been caught up in podcasts too.  But the quote below reminded me of the two most perfect short stories I have ever read; both ideal for the darkening evenings:

Mr Wrong by Elizabeth Jane Howard

The Cat Jumps by Elizabeth Bowen

My Holiday Reading

If anyone cares:

Wise Children – Angela Carter

Love and Fame – Susie Boyt

A Treachery of Spies – Manda Scott

The Accordion – Fred Vargas

Congratulations to all the authors who  have made it.

Arrowood

Arrowood Book Cover Arrowood
Laura McHugh
Arrow
2017
Paperback

One of those books that if you get the wrong impression about what sort of narrative it has, from the blurb and internet reviews, you may end up not enjoying it. I thought it was going to be a psychological mystery in the vein of Barbara Vine, especially as it is dominated by a house. Whilst it may be a relative of Vine's, it's a distant one. I would call this almost a mood piece, but even that gives the wrong impression because McHugh still uses the tropes of  psychological thrillers to a very rewarding effect. To describe it makes it sound less original than it is - a young woman, Arden, who may or may not be a reliable narrator, returns to her family home, having lived a life haunted by the disappearance of her infant twin sisters when she herself was a young child.  Reliability or lack of it, always a good bet for a mystery, lies deeper in this book than most. Arden is writing a thesis on nostalgia and this book continually undermines notions of history and memory. Both the house and the Mississippi river dominate the book in unexpected ways.  There are hints of the supernatural too. McHugh also undermines cliches of the mystery, like a visit to a fortune teller, in immensely satisfying ways. Rarely have I found such satisfaction in the final chapters of a mystery as in this book; McHugh reveals layers which continue to mirror and enhance her themes, whilst staying firmly in an utterly believable narrative. It left me  moved and reflective, lingering on in me as my favourite books usually do.

Waiting For The Last Bus

Waiting For The Last Bus Book Cover Waiting For The Last Bus
Richard Holloway
Canongate
2018
Hardback

I picked up this book (partly because of its beautiful cover I admit) because I read Holloway's Doubts and Loves some year's back.  I found him a writer of profound compassion, with an ever-questioning mind and much wisdom.  He has journeyed from Christian fundamentalism, through the Church as Establishment, to the age of 84 as " a doubting priest" who writes and broadcasts.  I've been dealing with deaths of family and friends and knew I needed this book.  He writes from a Christian perspective but he is steeped in knowledge of many religions as well as science and his beloved literature.  Again and again he turns to quoting poets to describe the human condition.  To put it simply this short book is about us "denying" death because we have lost the rituals surrounding it that religion gave us.  But more than that it is a book about how to live at peace with ourselves, and how we can do that at the very end of our lives.  in so doing we help ourselves and those around us. He believes that we are resurrected through remembrance in the hearts and minds of those who know and love us, and writes much about the various ways we can create remembrance.  It is not a sad book, it does not depress  the spirit; it gives out hope and love. When Holloway himself dies, the world will lose an extraordinary mind.  But he will live on in the grace and wisdom of his beautiful writings.

The Word Is Murder

The Word Is Murder Book Cover The Word Is Murder
Anthony Horowitz
Arrow
2018
Paperback

Although this is a novel, it is a rather dazzling refraction of fact into fiction. Horowitz with his ingenious mind is playing with the idea of how a writer turns their life experiences and influences via inspiration (for want of a better word) into a narrative - a novel.  It is a very entertaining crime novel, with the twist in its concept that the storyteller is Horowitz himself.  Written like a memoir the narrative references his life ("fact") as "Horowitz" meets an ex-detective, now consultant to the police, who is investigating a murder and asks "Horowitz" to write about him and the case ("fiction").  The case itself without this extra dimension is clever enough, but although I guessed the murderer fairly early on, "guessed" is the operative word as I had no idea of the unravellings that followed.  And the ex-policeman Hawthorne is a  classic creation, it has to be said.  This could easily be a book too clever for its own good but for the fact that Horowitz is a master writer.  Superficially it is huge fun but you can also take it as an investigation of the writer's mind.

I listened to the wonderful Rory Kinnear (whom I've just seen as Macbeth on stage) reading it, and he does so adding even more entertainment value.

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Waterstones bestsellers

My three personal picks:

The Word Is Murder – Horowitz

The Sparsholt Affair – Hollinghurst

Why We Sleep – Walker

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WATERSTONES Books of the Month

There’s one called Time Travelling With A Hamster.  Just saying, J, just saying….