Joining in again with The Year in Books hosted by Laura at Circle of Pine Trees. I missed the July link up and am only now reporting on my June book 'Bellman and Black'. I didn't read very much at the end of June and July but I'm catching up now it's the school holidays.
I enjoyed 'Bellman and Black' by Diane Setterfield, though I'm not sure it was a ghost story as it claims to be. It's a portrayal of a successful Victorian industrialist: how he is 'haunted' by the elusive Mr Black who seems to be associated with the rook that William Bellman shot with a catapult as a child. The shadow of the rook pervades the novel: there are chapters devoted to descriptions of the bird and the folklore associated with it. There's also a great deal of description of Bellman's success in his business; he is a kind of upmarket undertaker, providing coffins and the trappings of mourning for wealthy clients. This contrasts with the tragedy of his personal life - I won't reveal any more plot details in case you are tempted. I was particularly interested in the character of his daughter, Dora, and was a little disappointed that her storyline wasn't developed more. Penny at The Homemade Heart has written an excellent review of the book. She described it as a psychological study of Bellman and that is, I suppose, why we don't hear more about Dora. The focus is on how his mind works, how he makes a success of his working life at the expense of personal happiness, perhaps because he is unable to deal with strong feelings. So, overall, good, but doesn't compare with my all time favourite period ghost story, Susan Hill's 'The Woman in Black', which is properly scary.
I've also been reading a couple of texts by Irish writers in preparation for a coursework unit I'm going to be teaching to an A Level class in September. I've read 'Amongst Women' by John McGahern and also the play 'Dancing at Lughnasa' by Brian Friel. By coincidence, both texts feature on a group of sisters living in a village in Ireland so particularly appeal to me. I am already familiar with 'Dancing at Lughnasa', having seen an excellent production of it at the Theatre Clwyd in Mold a few years ago. It was one of the most enjoyable evenings at the theatre I have ever had. The play explores the relationships between the sisters and how things are changing for them and the country. Reading it wasn't quite the same as a live production but I do have a DVD of the film to watch this week.
For my August book I'm reading another novel by an Irish writer, 'The History of the Rain' by Niall Williams, which was nominated for the Booker prize. NZ sister recommended it and for me that's a better reason to choose it rather than a Booker nomination. I'm also dipping into another book which kind of links to 'Bellman and Black' as it features Victorian business men. It's Jacqueline Yallop's 'Dreamstreets: A Journey through Britain's Village Utopias'. It has a chapter on Port Sunlight, which is near here, and how it was created by William Hesketh Lever for his workforce to live in, We visited Port Sunlight last week and went to the museum as my daughter has to complete a piece of history coursework about Lever and Port Sunlight. So I'll be encouraging her to read this book too.