Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Recent Reading and some snowdrops

Irrelevant photo of snowdrops taken on recent annual visit to see them at Ness Gardens

It's time for a book post.  Here's my list since my last round up in November. I'm continuing with my marks out of 10 policy as used by the Waverton Good Read.

Waverton Good Read (First Novels)
'Himself' Jess Kidd  7
'Conversations with Friends' Sally Rooney (Unfinished) 4

'Fahrenheit 451' Ray Bradbury 7
'1984' George Orwell 8

Audio Book 'La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume 1' Philip Pullman 8

'Midwinter Break' Bernard MacLaverty 9
'The Green Road' Anne Enright 9

I'm enjoying taking part in the Waverton Good Read which I blogged about recently.  I liked 'Himself by Jess Kidd, a kind of darkly comic murder mystery set in Ireland. Brilliant characterisation, my favourite being an elderly widow Mrs Cauley who assists the main character in his quest to find out what happened to his mother.  The dialogue is also spot on but the plot fell apart a little at the end.  My other Waverton choice 'Conversations with Friends' has been widely praised in the media - it's a debut novel by a 24 year old -and was one of the recommended Guardian books of the year.  I didn't like it at all and in the end didn't finish it because someone else had requested it in the library so I had to return it. I'm not sure I'd have finished it anyway as I found the central character and first person
narrator intensely irritating - self-absorbed and selfish.

I also reread '1984' in full for the first time since I was a teenager.  I loved it then and enjoyed rediscovering the bits I'd forgotten. The chapter about Room 101 which had shocked me so much last time wasn't so terrifying this though I found the section where Winston and Julia are discovered quite disturbing.  We saw a theatre production of the novel a few years ago which captured in full the horror of their treatment. I also read another dystopian novel 'Fahrenheit 451'.  Both written 60-70 years ago and scarily accurate in their predictions of a world dominated by TV screens, mind-numbing entertainment and our movements and actions monitored by CCTV and the innocently named 'cookies' or are they algorithms (?) that track our internet searches and shopping.

My top score goes to Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty, who is a writer I've loved since reading 'Cal' many years ago.  This is his first novel for 16 years and so I chose it when it was my turn at bookclub.  It's an excellent portrayal of a marriage with the writer switching between alcoholic in denial, Gerry and Stella, who was badly injured in a shooting during the troubles in Northern Ireland and is still affected by this memory many years later.  Stella is increasing intolerant of Gerry's drinking and looking for a new direction for her life in her 60s,  There's not much in the way of plot - the couple go to Amsterdam on a break in February, visit the Rijkmuseum, Anne Frank's house, eat good meals and have afternoon naps. Stella visits a place she hopes will hold the key to her future while Gerry attempts and fails to conceal his secret drinking. There's lots of detail; maybe too much (reringing the taxi which doesn't arrive on time to pick them up, going through security at the airport).  Even so it was memorable because he really explores the complexity of the relationship and the characters are convincing. And the writing is beautiful - seems effortless. I was there with them in Anne Frank's house looking at the pencil marks on the walls.  Perhaps it's because I have done this myself - there was a lot in this novel I could identify with.  But even so this is an excellent book.  My bookclub friends last week largely agreed, though some found it slow to start.

The Philip Pullman audio book 'La Belle Sauvage' helped me through the misery of my January flu virus.  I have signed up for free audiobooks and magazines at my local library and this was my first download. Great service and costs nothing at all.  I loved the Northern Lights trilogy and this book, which is the first of three in the series, is a kind of prequel with Lyra, the heroine of Northern Lights as a baby.  Lots of action and adventure in this one - perhaps too much plot and too many encounters with villains - it is a children's book. Or young adult I suppose. There were loose ends in the plot but I suppose these may be picked up later in the series.  I'm a recent convert to the audiobook and enjoy the luxury of being read to, though I am prone to falling asleep when listening in bed and then can't find my place again.

I have started a new bookclub with colleagues at school so now have two choices a month which are not my own.  Good as it widens my horizons.  School bookclub choice is 'The Ragged Trousered Philantropist' Robert Tressell which I have heard of but never read.  And I have already read my other bookclub choice, Anne Enright's 'The Green Road', another Irish novel. It was also excellent.  And there's another Waverton Good Read by my bedside: 'The Witchfinder's Sister' I'll review these next time.


  1. I am taking note of future books to read, I trust your reading taste. Midwinter Break is on my list already. I know Bernhard McLaverty, met him a couple of times at the community club. His daughter is a friend of mine. Small world eh? Anyway, I enjoyed reading his short stories for my English qualification. I am not enjoying my book group read, The Power by Naomi Alderman. I set my audiobook on a 30 min sleep time when I listen in the evening. Maybe you have this option on your player? x

  2. I loved all of the detail in Midwinter Break, a brilliant depiction of a relationship. Definitely one to re-read.