Monthly Archives: May 2018

This Must Be the Place – Maggie O’Farrell

Another book club read. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t completely blown away by it. I think it was just because one of the main characters just irritated me!

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From the back of the book:

A reclusive former film star living in the wilds of Ireland, Claudette Wells thinks nothing of firing a gun if strangers get too close to her house. Why is she so fiercely protective of her privacy, and what made her disappear at the height of her cinematic fame?

Her husband Daniel, reeling from a discovery about a woman he last saw twenty years ago, is about to make an exit of his own. It is a journey that will send him off-course, far from home. Will his love for Claudette be enough to bring him back?

This Must Be the Place crosses continents and time zones, creating a portrait of an extraordinary marriage, the forces that hold it together and the pressures that drive it apart.

I really liked the structure of This Must Be the Place. Each chapter is narrated by a different character. Some main characters get a few chapters, but many minor characters get their own chapters too, and it often gave an interesting perspective on the story.

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book club snacks!

A couple of my favourite chapters were stories that really didn’t have anything to do with the main plot! I loved Ari, Claudette’s oldest child from a former relationship, when he is sent to his school councillor and he just displays maximum intelligent teenage arrogance. He totally owns the councillor in a way I shouldn’t have enjoyed quite as much as I did, being a teacher!

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Ultimately, even with the interesting way it’s narrated by many characters, I couldn’t forgive Daniel for just being a bit pathetic, and Claudette for her wildly over-the-top and unforgiving character. Out of our book club discussion, we think we just don’t quite get the detail of these character’s motivation for some important decisions, just because we are seeing it through other peoples observations, so we didn’t get inside the characters heads enough.

I also found it unbelievable that Claudette could disappear as effectively as she did. Perhaps in the 90s it would have been ok, but getting into the modern day, with the internet, I have no doubt she would be easily found. She still travels on commercial air flights, and her great deception seems to be that she bought her house in her brother’s name. It’s really not that sneaky.

Finally, it’s just over 500 pages long, which is a bit much when you don’t absolutely love a book!

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Our Endless Numbered Days – Chloe Benjamin

This was an enjoyable book club read. The story is of 8 year old Peggy who is taken to live in the wilderness by her survivalist Father. It’s also the story of her reemergence into ordinary life at age 17. Until then, she had believed the rest of the world had perished in some big disaster, and only herself and her Father were left.

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The cover of Our Endless Numbered Days is gorgeous, silver and shiny, and is very evocative of fairy stories like Hansel and Gretel. It’s so pretty I took loads of photos of it while I was reading the book. Consequently, this review is mostly going to be pictures. 😀

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You get the story of how Peggy disappeared, and how she is adjusting to being back, interchangeably from the beginning of the book. I’m glad that you know from the start she makes it back, because otherwise I don’t think I’d have been able to take some of the later events. Lets just say living alone in the woods for 8 years makes people go a bit doolally. There’s some really grim events later in the story.

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At book club, many people talked about how they have thought about running away from it all, and how idyllic that idea seems. I don’t get that at all. I can cope with camping for a week, but no more thanks!

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The story is told from Peggy’s perspective and I think this gives the whole going to the woods thing a great sense of adventure, and it really works for this story. I was itching to know more about the Father’s motivations though. Why he leaves the rest of his family? Such a bizarre decision.

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This is the second book by Fuller I’ve read (the other being Swimming Lessons, which I really enjoyed.) and once the story got going, I didn’t want to stop reading until I’d discovered what happened. A great choice for book club.

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Books Bought and Read – April 2018

Books Bought

A quite good month on the book buying front. One I needed for book club. One because a boy recommended it (unfortunately already consigned to history, but at least I’ve still got the book to read ❤ ❤ ❤ ) . And three EMERGENCY purchases due to finding myself out of the house and bookless.

Let’s start with the emergency books. I was reading In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan and I was going to meet my friend for cocktails and food.

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friend and cocktails

I had a 40min rail replacement bus journey to get there and back. Sorted. Except In Watermelon Sugar doesn’t take long to read. Half the pages don’t have text on the full page. So I had finished it just after I arrived. Luckily there was a massive Sainsbury’s next to the train station. I found a sale section with some super cheap books left over from a promo they had recently had and got this lot for under a tenner!

Things A Bright Girl Can Do – Sally Nicholls

A Galaxy of Her Own: Amazing Stories of Women in Space – Libby Jackson

Rebel Voices: The Rise of Votes for Women – Louise Kay Stewart

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cheap amazing books

Later in the month I picked up Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi for a book club in June.

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Finally I got Sarah by J T Leroy. Since getting this book, a friend told me I have to watch a film made about JT Leroy (Author: the JT LeRoy story). So I need to get round to reading this book, then watching the film!

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Books Read

6 books. Yes. Click on the book title to go to my review.

Nobody Told Me – Holly McNish

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Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach

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In Watermelon Sugar – Richard Brautigan

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The Hidden Man – Robin Blake

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The Descent of Man – Grayson Perry

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Sight – Jessie Greengrass

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The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller

Oh it’s an gay, action-packed, easy-to-read Iliad adventure! Told from the perspective of Patroclus, Achilles companion, we follow them from childhood to the end of the siege of Troy. You probably won’t like this book if you are a huge ancient Greek literature fan, but if you have only been thinking about reading the Iliad, and haven’t got further than half the introduction, then you will probably love it. Also, if you do really know the Iliad, stop reading now because my review is sure to be deeply offensive to serious Greek literature discussion, in many ways.

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Patroclus is sent to live in the court of Peleus, after he accidentally kills a boy. Peleus’ son is the half-God Achilles. He’s a bit like a super hero David Beckham type. Everyone is in love with him because he is beautiful, and he has a charmed life and is also the greatest warrior who currently lives.  Patroclus is a bit pathetic in comparison. He falls in love with Achilles, and is astounded to discover the feeling is mutual.

Of Achilles, Patroclus observes:

He said what he meant; he was puzzled if you did not. Some people might have mistaken this for simplicity. But is it not sort of genius to cut always to the heart?

Just putting it put there that me and Achilles might just have something in common.

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The only real problem they constantly have is Achilles’ mum, Goddess sea nymph Thetis. She does not like Patroclus at all. She is there threatening him and interfering every step of the way. I really liked Thetis, she’s terrifying:

She was taller than I was, taller than any woman I had ever seen. Her black hair was loose down her back and her skin shone luminous and impossibly pale, as if it drank light from the moon. She was so close I could smell her, sea water laced with dark brown honey. I did not breathe. I did not dare. ‘You are Patroclus.’ I flinched at the sound of her voice, hoarse and rasping. I had expected chimes, not the grinding of rocks in the surf. ‘Yes, Lady.’ Distaste ran over her face. Her eyes were not like a human’s; they were black to their centre, and flecked with gold. I could not bring myself to meet them. ‘He will be a god,’ she said. I did not know what to say, so I said nothing. She leaned forward and I half-thought she might touch me. But of course she did not. ‘Do you understand?’ I could feel her breath on my cheek, not warm at all, but chilled like the depths of the sea. Do you understand? He had told me too that she hated to be kept waiting. ‘Yes.’ She leaned closer still, looming over me. Her mouth was a gash of red, like the torn-open stomach of a sacrifice, bloody and oracular. Behind it her teeth shone sharp and white as bone. ‘Good.’ Carelessly, as if to herself, she added, ‘You will be dead soon enough.’ She turned and dived into the sea, leaving no ripples behind her.

Waaaaaaahhhhhh!

 

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ahhhh sunshine

I may have mentioned that I haven’t read the Iliad, so I can’t make any comparison between the two. I’m quite sure the original doesn’t have the YA/Mills and Boon romance that The Song of Achilles has. I really liked this romance/action thriller cross over style that it has. It’s also really easy to read, and I didn’t want to put it down. I can’t give a book higher praise. Finally, it may also help me answer more quiz questions correctly, and this is the ultimate in extra brilliance of a book. Yey!

I have another of Millers’ books, Circe, lined up ready to be read and I’m sure it won’t take me long to get round to it. Another day to myself sat in the sun, and I’m sure I’ll pick it up.

 

The Immortalists – Chloe Benjamin

Four siblings go to a psychic lady and she tells each of them the date of their death. They are aged around 8 – 13 at the time. How will this information affect how they live their lives? Are these dates really going to be the date they die on? Let’s find out!

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I quite enjoyed this book. It is mostly about the relationships between the siblings and how this information shaped their lives. One is a gay dancer, one a magician, one a scientist, and the other an army medic.

We spend around a quarter of the book with each sibling in turn, taking us through from the 1970s, up to the present day. It’s a nice story and you might really like it.

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I ended up going on a bit of a book side mission quite early on because I discovered, through the book, that snakes and ladders is usually called chutes and ladders in the US. Weird. And also the game used to have moral lessons at the chutes or ladders, so you knew what good and bad behaviour was. Really weird.

There’s something else that I didn’t like either:

When Saul dies, Simon is in physics class, drawing concentric circles meant to represent the rings of an electron shell but which to Simon mean nothing at all.

Erm… I think he must have been in chemistry. *twitches*  There is a good paragraph about the Higgs boson later on though. 

I must admit, I started this book without really knowing anything about it. I was sort of expecting it to be about immortal people and be a bit sci-fi. My own fault for not actually reading anything about the book. I mean, I knew enough that it was vaguely about knowing the date of your death. I thought maybe the Immortalists had a hand in letting people know. This made up story in my head is not what this book is about at all, obviously, but somehow I was left a little cold because it their weren’t any time-travelling immortal people.

So, don’t make up stories about what a book might be about before you read it. You are probably wrong. Need to read some sci-fi now…

Sight – Jessie Greengrass

Long, complex sentences and surprise physics. These are a few of my favourite things.

Sight is an unnamed narrators contemplation of her significant familial relationships. She begins the book pregnant with her second child, and thinking about the decision to begin a family. She remembers nursing her dying mother, and spending childhood summers with her psychoanalyst grandmother. Finally, she thinks about the time when her relationship with her partner, Johannes, was beginning.

It opens with:

The start of another summer, the weather uncertain but no longer sharply edged, and I am pregnant again.

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Interspersed with these recollections are three historical medicine related stories. The first is Röntgen’s discovery of x-rays. The second is Freud’s psychoanalysis of his daughter, Anna.  The final one is Jan van Rymsdyk and his reluctant medical illustrations. The historical stories link to the narrator’s recollections in various ways. For example, she spends time after her mother dies in a library, reading about Röntgen amongst other historical figures.

Reading Röntgen’s paper for the first time one sunny afternoon at my desk in the library I had been able to follow the thread of it with comparative ease, and surely this was the last time that such a feat was possible: the framing of a radical scientific discovery in ordinary language, the ability to impart understanding without first having to construct a language in which to do so.

I need to read that paper now. 

Sight is written in incredibly long sentences that flow poetically and effortlessly. At least I thought they did. In fact, it took a while of reading it before I even realised some of the sentences were half a page long! I’m not the only one who loves this book, it’s on this years Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist.

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I really enjoyed reading Sight. The relationships all felt believable, and I really felt for the narrator when she was considering if she wanted to have a baby or not. I loved the Röntgen story, but I am a physicist and so this was like a little hidden gem for me. When his wife is horrified by the image of her x-rayed hand, I knew the exact image because it’s in most general physics text books. Don’t let this put you off though. 🙂

Also, and I don’t want this to sound too dramatic… but parts of this book made me feel like it was teaching me to be a better parent. To appreciate little moments with my children more. I know, right? wtf. The power of prose.

When my daughter throws her arms with thoughtless grace around my neck, I respond with an agonising gratitude that I must hide from her in case, feeling the heft of it, she might become encumbered and not do what she was born for, which is to go away from me.

and passages like this…

I wonder what it says about me that I seem to feel love only in absence – that, present, I recognise only irritation, a list of inconveniences, the daily round of washing and child teas, the mundanity of looking after, and beyond this the recollection of what went before and how nice it was to be free, but I didn’t recognise my freedom then – or wasn’t free, since freedom only functions as an opposite to constraint.

These parts of Sight were like therapy for me!

This is the second book in a row where I’ve been on a positive highlighting frenzy (Grayson Perry’s The Descent of Man is the other one). It’s not normally what happens when I read books! I’ll just carry on with quoting the highlights of my highlights, because I want to come back and read them later. On dignity in pregnancy:

At last the sonographer stood up. For a minute she fiddled with the large machine beside the bed, angling its articulated monitor, then saying – This will feel a little cold, squeezed gel onto my stomach, a great, chilly splurt which I would afterwards be left to wipe off with a paper towel, my furtive embarrassment at the task the first in a series of slight indignities which over the next six months would strip me, layer by layer, until at last I was nothing but flesh and would lie naked in another room and scream while strangers came and went about me.

That’s some sentence. She describes birth as ‘that ten hour lesson in topography’. I would not have been surprised to find out that Greengrass has a science background, the prose is littered with little sciency things like this, but I don’t think she has. This is extra funny because I was discussing the topography of the human body with my class last week, and if having an endoscope is technically non-invasive treatment. It’s ok, they were disgusted with me too.

There are some beautiful thoughts about grief too. Overall it’s not an uplifting read, but it is lovely nonetheless. Right now, I’m hoping it wins the Women’s prize!

 

The Descent of Man – Grayson Perry

This slim book is Perry’s take on modern masculinity, where it’s harming everyone, and ideas for moving it forward in a way that would be better for both men and women. It’s brilliant. This is a book where I couldn’t stop myself from highlighting roughly every other sentence. Go and read this book!

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Because I highlighted almost all of these 151 pages, I’m finding it really difficult to review. It was all really interesting and worth reading. What a helpful review! This is actually going to be my worst review ever. If you don’t want to bother reading the rest of it, it basically says: Amazing amazing amazing read it read it read it.

From the introduction:

I hope that in picking up this book you have already acknowledged that masculinity needs to be questioned, that gender inequality is a huge issue for all of us and that the world would be a better place without it.

I was already a Grayson Perry fan before reading The Descent of Man.

One of the central issues here, and the reason this book is called The Descent of Man, is that as women rise to their just level of power, then so shall some men fall.

Some themes covered include: Default Man and all that is bad with him, identity, prejudice, being a transvestite, clothes declaring tribal status, the male body, gender fluidity, anger, mental health, male suicide, attitudes to women, checking privilege, positive discrimination as way to force change towards a gender-equal society,

Also, it’s really funny. Ties are ‘colourful textile phalluses hanging round their necks.’

I found it hard to chose a favourite other funny bit, because there are so many:

Several times I have asked audiences to put up their hand if they have sexual fantasies where the central theme is gender equality. No one ever raises their hand. (Who would? Nick Clegg maybe?) … No one gets aroused by thinking about holding hands in matching fleeces while shopping for sofas or sharing childcare, do they?

There are amazing, funny cartoons littered throughout the book too. It’s worth reading it just to see these. If you are reading on a black and grey only kindle, make sure you open it up in kindle cloud reader on a computer to see the cartoons in full colour.

I love this quote:

A lot of men are sold the narrative of male domination, but lead lives of frustration and servitude. No wonder they get angry.

and this one:

The ‘ideal’ future might just be increasing tolerance and celebration of a spectrum of masculinities born out of increasing awareness of what feels good for the individual and for society.

Well that would be just great wouldn’t it?