Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….Men ploughed with wooden ploughs and yoked oxen, small on a boundless expanse, as if attacking immensity itself. The mounted figures of vaqueros galloped in the distance, and the great herds fed with all their horned heads one way, in one single wavering line as far as eye could reach across the broad potreros. A spreading cotton-wood tree shaded a thatched ranch by the road; the trudging files of burdened Indians taking off their hats, would lift sad, mute eyes to the cavalcade raising the dust of the crumbling camino real made by the hands of their enslaved forefathers. And Mrs. Gould, with each day’s journey, seemed to come nearer to the soul of the land in the tremendous disclosure of this interior unaffected by the slight European veneer of the coast towns, a great land of plain and mountain and people, suffering and mute, waiting for the future in a pathetic immobility of patience.

~Nostromo by Joseph Conrad

* * * * *

….In 1564-5, cloth and woollens account for 81.6 per cent (by value) of all the exports from England – amounting to some £1,100,000 – and the largest proportion of the remaining 18.4 per cent is raw wool, followed by woolfells. This is why you will see so many sheep in England: more than eight million of them, twice as many as there are people. Having said that, these are not quite the animals with which you are familiar: they are very small. Average weights are gradually rising (through improvements in husbandry), from about 28lbs per sheep in 1500 to 46lbs in 1600, with the largest weighing 60lbs; but still these are tiny by comparison with modern ewes, which weigh 100-200lbs (a modern ram can weigh more than 350lbs). Much the same can be said for the cattle (about 350lbs in Elizabethan times, and 1,200-1,600lbs today).

~The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer

* * * * *

….On one side it was tied to the window grille of the church tower, on the other to a flagpole jutting out of the wall next to the window of the town hall where the reeve worked, which didn’t happen often, however, because he was lazy. In the window stood the young woman, who must have just knotted the rope – but how, we wondered, had she stretched it? You could be here or there, in this window or in the other, you could easily knot a rope and drop it, but how did you get it back up to the other window to fasten the other end?
….We gaped. For a while it seemed to us as if the rope itself were the trick and nothing more were required. A sparrow landed on it, took a small jump, spread its wings, changed its mind, and stayed perched there.
….Then Tyll Ulenspiegel appeared in the church tower window. He waved, jumped onto the windowsill, stepped onto the rope. He did it as if it were nothing. He did it as if it were only a step like any other. None of us spoke, none shouted, none moved. We had stopped breathing.

~Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann (subsequently abandoned for being tiresome)

* * * * *

….Indubitably a public school ‘chap’, [Charles Hamilton] Sorley nevertheless rejected Rupert Brooke’s war poetry as too clothed in ‘fine words’ and a ‘sentimental attitude’. Some of his own best verse fuses body and soul as he sings of the physical exaltation of running, or of being at one with the earth in battle. For Sorley the German troops are simply ‘blind like us’. One of his last poems is a verse letter to his Scottish friend John Bain, praising Homer, and there is probably an allusion to The Iliad in the tenth line of his magnificently uncompromising final sonnet, found in his kit when it was sent home from France after Sorley had been shot in the head by a sniper:

When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you’ll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, “They are dead.” Then add thereto,
“Yet many a better one has died before.”
Then, scanning all the o’ercrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all his for evermore.

~Scotland’s Books by Robert Crawford

* * * * *

….She hauled the blind open again, turning Logan’s computer screen into an eye-watering blare of light.
….‘Argh….’ He backed away from it, squinting.
….‘Sitting here in the dark like a wee troll.’ She cracked the window open, letting in the diesel growl of buses and the seagulls’ mournful cries. ‘It’s no’ good for you.’ The tip of her e-cigarette/sonic screwdriver glowed as she sooked. A huge cloud of watermelon vape drifted its way around Logan’s head, glowing in the sunlight. ‘Come on then, what you doing?’
….‘Investigating.’ Logan held up a hand, blocking the glare from his screen. ‘Or at least I’m trying to.’
….‘I know that, you idiot; investigating, what?’
….‘People’s Army for Scottish Liberation. Apparently they had ties to the Scottish People’s Liberation Army, the Scottish Freedom Fighters’ Resistance Front, End of Empire, and Arbroath Thirteen Twenty. AKA nutters so extreme that even Settler Watch didn’t want anything to do with them.’
….Another cloud of fruity smelling fog. ‘It’s Womble-funting dick-muppets like that who give good old-fashioned Scottish Nationalists a bad name.’

~All That’s Dead by Stuart MacBride

(NB I have no idea what ‘Womble-funting dick-muppets’ means, so if it’s as obscene as I fear, I apologise.)

* * * * *

So… are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 229…

Episode 229

The relentless horror of the TBR continues to grow – up FIVE again, to 218. In my defence (I feel I use that phrase a lot these days…), three of them are unsolicited ones I received from publishers, all of which look interesting, so really, it’s not (all) my fault! I may have to put all the challenges to one side and have a month of reading review copies only to catch up.

Here are a few that should be exercising my brain soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst

We had a runaway winner in last week’s poll, gaining nearly half of all votes cast! And it seems the appropriate choice since it’s the oldest on my TBR. Serena was the runner-up, closely followed by Bloodstream, with poor old JK Rowling trailing in well behind the rest of the field. Thanks to everyone who voted – I shall be reading and reviewing this one by the end of May…

The Blurb says: From the Man Booker Prize–winning author of The Line of Beauty: a magnificent, century-spanning saga about a love triangle that spawns a myth, and a family mystery, across generations.

In the late summer of 1913, George Sawle brings his Cambridge schoolmate – a handsome, aristocratic young poet named Cecil Valance – to his family’s modest home outside London for the weekend. George is enthralled by Cecil, and soon his sixteen-year-old sister, Daphne, is equally besotted by him and the stories he tells about Corley Court, the country estate he is heir to. But what Cecil writes in Daphne’s autograph album will change their and their families’ lives forever: a poem that, after Cecil is killed in the Great War and his reputation burnished, will become a touchstone for a generation, a work recited by every schoolchild in England. Over time, a tragic love story is spun, even as other secrets lie buried – until, decades later, an ambitious biographer threatens to unearth them.

Rich with Hollinghurst’s signature gifts – haunting sensuality, delicious wit and exquisite lyricism – The Stranger’s Child is a tour de force: a masterly novel about the lingering power of desire, how the heart creates its own history, and how legends are made.

* * * * *

Vintage Crime

Death in White Pyjamas & Death Knows No Calendar by John Bude

Courtesy of the British Library. A twofer! I’ve quite enjoyed the couple of John Budes I’ve read previously although he hasn’t so far become one of the stars of the BL collection for me. But he has two chances to convince me in this new volume… they both sound good! And such a great cover again…

The Blurb says: Two of John Bude’s finest Golden Age mysteries return to the limelight.

Death in White Pyjamas: A theatre-owner, a ‘slightly sinister’ producer, a burgeoning playwright and a cast of ego-driven actors have gathered at a country home to read through the promising script for Pigs in Porcelain. Before the production ever reaches the stage, one of their number is found murdered in the grounds wearing what mysteriously seems to be somebody else’s white pyjamas. Enter Inspector Harting and Sergeant Dane to unravel this curious plot.

Death Knows No Calendar: Investigating a deadly shooting with no shooter in a locked artist’s studio, detective fiction enthusiast Major Tom Boddy has a long day ahead of him. With four colourful suspects to scrutinise, and not one but two ‘impossible’ elements of the crime to solve, this extremely rare and thoroughly entertaining mystery is long overdue its return to print. 

* * * * *

Historical Fiction/Folklore

Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann

Courtesy of riverrun at Quercus via NetGalley. Sounds utterly weird and way out of my comfort zone, but I adored Kehlmann’s F: A Novel and suspect if anyone can pull this off, he can…

The Blurb says: He’s a trickster, a player, a jester. His handshake’s like a pact with the devil, his smile like a crack in the clouds; he’s watching you now and he’s gone when you turn. Tyll Ulenspiegel is here!

In a village like every other village in Germany, a scrawny boy balances on a rope between two trees. He’s practising. He practises by the mill, by the blacksmiths; he practises in the forest at night, where the Cold Woman whispers and goblins roam. When he comes out, he will never be the same.

Tyll will escape the ordinary villages. In the mines he will defy death. On the battlefield he will run faster than cannonballs. In the courts he will trick the heads of state. As a travelling entertainer, his journey will take him across the land and into the heart of a never-ending war.

A prince’s doomed acceptance of the Bohemian throne has European armies lurching brutally for dominion and now the Winter King casts a sunless pall. Between the quests of fat counts, witch-hunters and scheming queens, Tyll dances his mocking fugue; exposing the folly of kings and the wisdom of fools.

With macabre humour and moving humanity, Daniel Kehlmann lifts this legend from medieval German folklore and enters him on the stage of the Thirty Years’ War. When citizens become the playthings of politics and puppetry, Tyll, in his demonic grace and his thirst for freedom, is the very spirit of rebellion – a cork in water, a laugh in the dark, a hero for all time.

* * * * *

Wodehouse on Audio

Joy in the Morning by PG Wodehouse

Time to top up my happiness quotient with a little trip to Wodehouse world in the company of Bertie Wooster, Jeeves and the perfect narrator for these stories, Jonathan Cecil. I’ve already started listening to this and am remembering the reason the word “guffaw” was invented…  

The Blurb says: Trapped in rural Steeple Bumpleigh, a man less stalwart than Bertie Wooster would probably give way at the knees.

For among those present were Florence Craye, to whom Bertie had once been engaged and her new fiance ‘Stilton’ Cheesewright, who sees Bertie as a snake in the grass. And that biggest blot on the landscape, Edwin the Boy Scout, who is busy doing acts of kindness out of sheer malevolence.

All Bertie’s forebodings are fully justified. For in his efforts to oil the wheels of commerce, promote the course of true love and avoid the consequences of a vendetta, he becomes the prey of all and sundry. In fact only Jeeves can save him…

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann

Spooky but short…

😀 😀 😀

Our narrator is a screenwriter who had a big success with his last film – a light buddy movie. Now he’s under pressure to come up with a script for a follow-up and he’s struggling. So he takes his wife and young daughter to an isolated house in the mountains of Germany where he hopes he’ll be able to write. But the house seems to have been built on some kind of nexus that distorts space and reality, and people have disappeared from it before…

This is a pretty standard scary story, made fun by the quality of the writing and the elements of humour. Our narrator is not exactly likeable – he likes to think of himself pretentiously as an artist although his successful screenplay seems to have been nothing more than a bit of fluff, as his wife is kind enough to point out. He might also not be reliable – he’s under stress, his marriage is rocky and it’s possible these things are causing him to imagine things. But it’s also possible that strange things really are happening – he believes they are anyway. And as the book progresses, the strange things become increasingly spooky, creating a real spine-tingling atmosphere of mild horror. It’s entirely gore and violence free, and largely incomprehensible being loosely based on quantum thingamajigs or something, but there are some lovely moments of real suspense. Kehlmann also plays with many of the clichés of horror – the isolated house, strange villagers giving omens of doom in curious dialects, and so on.

Daniel Kehlmann

Overall it’s a highly entertaining horror story, but no more than that. It’s also very short – by my reckoning probably 80 pages or so (I was reading on Kindle). I’d think of it more as a longish short story than even a novella. And yet it’s being marketed and priced as if it were a novel. If I read this in an anthology I’d be giving it 5 stars for sure. But if I’d paid full book price for it, I’d be feeling extremely short-changed round about now. I’m not sure what the publisher is thinking of really. So I enjoyed it, but can’t recommend it as one to purchase until it’s priced as what it is – a single short story. However, if you stumble across it on offer anywhere, then it’s well worth a read.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Quercus.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Book 2 of 20

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….Meanwhile Esther was telling us about a friend from preschool who is named either Lisi or Ilse or Else and either took a toy away from her or gave her one, at which point the teachers did either nothing at all or just the right thing, or something wrong; little kids are not good storytellers. But Susanna and I exclaimed That’s great! and Incredible! and How about that! and the relief when she stopped talking brought us closer together.

* * * * * * * * *

….The main aim of detective stories is to entertain, but the best cast a light on human behaviour, and display both literary ambition and accomplishment. [FF shouts: Hear! Hear!] And there is another reason why millions of modern readers continue to appreciate classic crime fiction. Even unpretentious detective stories, written for unashamedly commercial reasons, can give us clues to the past, and give us insight into a long-vanished world that, for all its imperfections, continues to fascinate.

* * * * * * * * *

….I had tried to explain to my mother that it was awful to go so early; that one looked so silly when the field was full of small children. I could not explain that when it was dark a new dignity would transform the fair into an oasis of excitement, so that it became a place of mystery and delight; peopled with soldiers from the camp and orange-faced girls wearing head scarves, who in strange regimented lines would sway back and forth across the field, facing each other defiantly, exchanging no words, bright-eyed under the needle stars. I could not explain how all at once the lines would meet and mingle performing a complicated rite of selection; orange girls and soldier boys pairing off slowly to drift to the far end of the field and struggle under the hedges filled with blackberries.

* * * * * * * * *

With this one it’s all about the images…

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….There are certain humiliating moments in the lives of the greatest of men. It has been said that no man is a hero to his valet. To that may be added that few men are heroes to themselves at the moment of visiting their dentist.
….Hercule Poirot was morbidly conscious of this fact.
….He was a man who was accustomed to have a good opinion of himself. He was Hercule Poirot, superior in most ways to other men. But in this moment he was unable to feel superior in any way whatever. His morale was down to zero. He was just that ordinary, craven figure, a man afraid of the dentist’s chair.

* * * * * * * * *

….At first Mr Cooke is angry with Isabelle. He wants her to know what she is putting her mother through. When the anger lifts he wishes it back because then he is just terrified. He is so frightened he wants to hold his daughter tight and never let go. Then he just wants to hold her hand, then just to see her. Just to see her. The yearning is worse than the fear. The yearning is a sorrowing ache that burrows deep down into the core of him.
….As the night wears on he gets less and less tired. Mr Cooke knows how men talk about girls. He knows what might have happened to his own Isabelle. Over the long hours of the dark, as all the hope he will ever feel is sucked out through his soles into the wet, treacherous earth, it comes to feel absolutely vital that he find the dancing shoes that she has worn thin with all her dancing.

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 121…

Episode 121…

The TBR has been hit by a mysterious mystery this week! My spreadsheet tells me it’s gone down 2 to 195, and yet I’ve only finished one book – how can this be?? Has some kind of hideous book-eating virus escaped from the laboratory of a crazed scientist? Well, if it goes on like this there’s only one solution – I shall have to go on a book-buying spree…

Here are a few that should legitimately leave the TBR soon…

Factual

Courtesy of Princeton University Press. A little break from the USSR. My current knowledge of Fibonacci consists of knowing that Fibonacci Numbers are called after him. Of course, I don’t know what they actually are. Or who he was. Or why he was important. Hopefully I’ll be better informed once I’ve read it…

The Blurb says: In 2000, Keith Devlin set out to research the life and legacy of the medieval mathematician Leonardo of Pisa, popularly known as Fibonacci, whose book Liber abbaci has quite literally affected the lives of everyone alive today. Although he is most famous for the Fibonacci numbers—which, it so happens, he didn’t invent—Fibonacci’s greatest contribution was as an expositor of mathematical ideas at a level ordinary people could understand. In 1202, Liber abbaci—the “Book of Calculation”—introduced modern arithmetic to the Western world. Yet Fibonacci was long forgotten after his death, and it was not until the 1960s that his true achievements were finally recognized.

Finding Fibonacci is Devlin’s compelling firsthand account of his ten-year quest to tell Fibonacci’s story. Devlin, a math expositor himself, kept a diary of the undertaking, which he draws on here to describe the project’s highs and lows, its false starts and disappointments, the tragedies and unexpected turns, some hilarious episodes, and the occasional lucky breaks. You will also meet the unique individuals Devlin encountered along the way, people who, each for their own reasons, became fascinated by Fibonacci, from the Yale professor who traced modern finance back to Fibonacci to the Italian historian who made the crucial archival discovery that brought together all the threads of Fibonacci’s astonishing story.

* * * * *

Fiction?

Courtesy of NetGalley. This one sounds rather weird and I’m not at all sure whether it’s fiction or crime. The blurb only tells half the tale – in fact the narrator and protagonist is the author herself, and there seems to be a blurred line between reality and fiction. It’s getting mixed reviews and I reckon it’s about 50/50 as to whether I’ll love or hate it…

 The Blurb says: Today I know that L. is the sole reason for my powerlessness. And that the two years that we were friends almost made me stop writing for ever.” Overwhelmed by the huge success of her latest novel, exhausted and unable to begin writing her next book, Delphine meets L. L. is the kind of impeccable, sophisticated woman who fascinates Delphine; a woman with smooth hair and perfectly filed nails, and a gift for saying the right thing. Delphine finds herself irresistibly drawn to her, their friendship growing as their meetings, notes and texts increase. But as L. begins to dress like Delphine, and, in the face of Delphine’s crippling inability to write, L. even offers to answer her emails, and their relationship rapidly intensifies. L. becomes more and more involved in Delphine’s life until she patiently takes control and turns it upside down: slowly, surely, insidiously. Based on a True Story is a chilling novel of suspense that will leave you questioning the truth and its significance long after you have turned the final page.

* * * * *

Radio Drama…

Courtesy of Amazon Vine UK. OK, it’s not a book, it’s a radio play. But it’s written by Val McDermid so I couldn’t resist. Doesn’t sound like her normal type of thing either… intriguing!

The Blurb says: Gina McKee stars in this chilling apocalyptic radio drama by award-winning writer Val McDermid.

It’s the Summer Solstice weekend, and 150,000 people have descended on a farm in the North East of England for an open-air music festival. Reporting on the event is journalist Zoe Meadows, who files her copy from a food van run by her friends Sam and Lisa. When some of Sam’s customers get sick, it looks like food poisoning, and it’s exacerbated by the mud, rain and inadequate sanitary facilities. It’s assumed to be a 24-hour thing, until people get home and discover strange skin lesions, which ulcerate and turn septic. More people start getting ill – and dying. What looked like a minor bug is clearly much more serious: a mystery illness that’s spreading fast and seems resistant to all antibiotics. Zoe teams up with Sam to track the outbreak to its source; meanwhile, can a cure be found before the disease becomes a pandemic?

From a No 1 bestselling author, this original drama envisages a nightmare scenario that seems only too credible in our modern age. Duration: 2 hours 30 mins approx.

* * * * *

Fiction?

Courtesy of NetGalley. Again, I have no idea how to classify this one – it’s listed on Amazon as both crime and horror, but I suspect with Kehlmann there will be “literary” fictional aspects too. It’s also being marketed and listed (and priced) as if it’s a novel but the Kindle length suggests it’s a short story or at most a short novella…all very odd. But again intriguing…

The Blurb says: “It is fitting that I’m beginning a new notebook up here. New surroundings and new ideas, a new beginning. Fresh air.”

These are the opening lines of the journal kept by the narrator of Daniel Kehlmann’s spellbinding new novel: the record of the seven days that he, his wife, and his four-year-old daughter spend in a house they have rented in the mountains of Germany—a house that thwarts the expectations of his recollection and seems to defy the very laws of physics. The narrator is eager to finish a screenplay, entitled Marriage, for a sequel to the movie that launched his career, but something he cannot explain is undermining his convictions and confidence, a process he is recording in this account of the uncanny events that unfold as he tries to understand what, exactly, is happening around him—and in himself.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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Five of the Best!

FIVE 5-STAR READS
DECEMBER

SMILEYS

Each month this year, I’ve been looking back over my reviews of the past five years and picking out my favourite from each year. Cleo from Cleopatra Loves Books came up with this brilliant idea and kindly agreed to let me borrow it. And so now we reach the last month of the year. December is the hardest month for me – I read as much as always, but tend to write very few reviews, leaving them till January. However, I’ve still managed to find five books I highly recommend.

So here are my favourite December reads – click on the covers to go to the full reviews…

 

2011

 

one pair of handsThis is an interesting and entertaining memoir of the period when Monica Dickens (great-granddaughter of Charles of that ilk) decided to work for a time as a cook-housekeeper. As a daughter of a well-off family in the ‘30s, she had no need to work for money but, bored with a life revolving around social events and parties, she signed up with an employment agency and found herself, despite her inexperience and self-confessed inefficiency, in a series of jobs ranging from cooking and cleaning in the flat of a bachelor to being the cook in a large country house.

Living below stairs but with a healthy curiosity about those above stairs too, Dickens gives humorous and mostly affectionate portraits of the various people she meets, and some insight into the life of the domestic servant at the point when they were becoming a dying breed. Although it was written over 70 years ago, it’s still an enjoyable read – Miss Dickens’ wickedly observant eye and lack of deference has allowed it to age gracefully.

 

2012

 

Gravity's Engines‘What I’d like you to take away from Gravity’s Engines is both a sense of the cosmic grandeur we have discovered and a feel for the great scope and ingenuity of human ideas at play.’

So says Caleb Scharf in his introduction to this very accessible account of the current thinking on black holes, how they formed and the effect they have on the universe. This was the book that reignited my interest in popular science after a gap of several years. I was delighted to discover that in the interim science writers had worked out how to write accessibly for the non-scientist, and Scharf is a fine example of this. He doesn’t skimp on the complex ideas, but explains them in a way that meant I was rarely left with the baffled expression I normally wear when reading science. And his boundless enthusiasm for his subject is catching – I was left in awe, not just of the amazing phenomenon of black holes, but of the scientists who have gone so far towards understanding and explaining them.

 

2013

 

we need new namesThis is the story of Darling, a young girl living in a shanty town in Zimbabwe. When we first meet her, she is ten and spends most of her time with her little group of friends. Through them, we get a child’s-eye view of the devastation that has been wrought on the country during the Mugabe period. At the half-way point, Darling is sent to America to live with her aunt in Michigan, and the second half is taken up with seeing the immigrant experience as Darling learns about this society that is so different from anything she has known.

I found Bulawayo’s writing style hugely skilful in giving an authenticity to Darling’s voice throughout and allowing her language to grow and change as she moves through adolescence. Although I had a problem with the tick-list of horrors she takes the reader through, I still found myself moved deeply on several occasions, and in particular by the short chapter at the centre of the book – an interlude between the two sections, where Bulawayo describes the exodus of a generation from her troubled homeland in language so beautiful and evocative it could fairly be described as a prose poem.

 

2014

 

f daniel kehlmannThis is a brilliant novel, sparkling with wit and intelligence. The fact that I have no idea what it’s about really didn’t affect my enjoyment of it in any way. F is for family, or failure, or faith, or fraud, or fear, or fate. Or possibly it isn’t. When unsuccessful author Arthur Friedland takes his three young sons to see a stage hypnotist, he doesn’t expect it to change his life. But a couple of hours later, he lets the boys out of the car and drives off, not to be seen or heard of again for years. The three boys, identical twins Ivan and Eric and their half-brother Martin, are young adults when suddenly Arthur’s new book, My Name is No One, becomes a sensation.

The main part of the book takes place over three lengthy chapters, each told from the viewpoint of one of the brothers and each covering the same short time-frame. During that period an event happens that has ramifications for all three but, although the reader knows what happened, the brothers don’t, and this is partly what gives the book its air of slight farce. The writing is superb – Kehlmann can squeeze a mountain of characterisation into a few telling phrases, allowing him plenty of space to treat us to some fairly tongue-in-cheek philosophical asides. And he forces the reader to collude with him in mocking, but affectionately, the worlds of art, literature and religion.

 

2015

 

the dungeon houseTwenty years ago, in a drunken fit of jealous rage, Malcolm Whiteley shot his wife and killed his daughter before turning the gun on himself. Or did he? DCI Hannah Scarlett’s old boss was never convinced, but could never find evidence to put anyone else in the frame. Now Hannah and her cold case team are re-investigating the disappearance of a teenage girl three years earlier when another girl goes missing – the daughter of Nigel Whiteley, who is now living in his uncle Malcolm’s old house, the Dungeon House, where the tragedy took place. Hannah begins to wonder if the three cases might be linked in some way…

With excellent plotting and a strong sense of its Lake District setting, there is a slight Golden Age feel to this mystery – hardly surprising from someone who is the author and editor of several books on classic crime – but brought bang up to date. I look forward to reading the rest of this series.

 

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If you haven’t already seen Cleo’s selection for December, why not pop on over? Here’s the link…

FictionFan Awards 2015 – Literary Fiction & Book of the Year 2015

Please rise…

 

…for this year’s nominees and winners of the annual FictionFan Awards of 2015.

In case you missed them last week, here’s a quick résumé of the rules…

THE CRITERIA

.

All nominees must be books I’ve read and reviewed between November 2014 and October 2015 regardless of publication date, but excluding re-reads. The books must have received a 5-star rating.

THE CATEGORIES

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There will be Honourable Mentions and a Winner in each of the following categories

Genre Fiction – click to see awards

Factual – click to see awards

Crime Fiction/Thrillers – click to see awards

Literary Fiction

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…and…

Book of the Year 2015

 

THE PRIZES

 .

For the winners!

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I guarantee to read the author’s next book even if I have to buy it myself!

(NB If an author is unlikely to publish another book due to being dead, I will read a book from his/her back catalogue…)

For the runners-up!

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Nothing!

THE JUDGES

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Me!

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So, without further ado, here are this year’s runners-up and winner in

LITERARY FICTION

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I’ve read far less new literary fiction this year because I’ve been re-reading some old favourites, which don’t count for these awards. However there have still been a few great novels that are either new or new-to-me. This hasn’t been such a hard decision as some of the other genres – while each of the books is excellent, the winner is a truly stand-out novel…

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

 

f daniel kehlmannF: A Novel by Daniel Kehlmann

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This is a brilliant novel, sparkling with wit and intelligence. The fact that I have no idea what it’s about really didn’t affect my enjoyment of it in any way. F is for family, or failure, or faith, or fraud, or fear, or fate. Or possibly it isn’t. The one thing I do know is it’s impossible to sum up in a few words. The story of three sons of a missing Father – one a priest who has lost his Faith in God, one a Financial broker who is waiting to be Found out for committing Fraud and one a Failed artist and successful Forger – and an event which the reader knows about but the characters don’t. The writing is superb – Kehlmann can squeeze a mountain of characterisation into a few telling phrases, allowing him plenty of space to treat us to some fairly tongue-in-cheek philosophical asides. And he forces the reader to collude with him in mocking, but affectionately, the worlds of art, literature and religion. It’s also pretentious, absurd, marginally surreal at points and wickedly funny. And one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time…

Click to see the full review

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Docherty 2Docherty by William McIlvanney

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On a December night in 1903, Tam Docherty lifts his new-born son and declares that this one will never go down the pits – this child Conn, his youngest, will work with his brains, rise out of the poverty of his heritage. The book covers the next twenty years or so, telling the story of Conn and his family, and most of all of Tam himself, a man who may be “only five foot fower. But when yer hert goes fae yer heid tae yer taes, that’s a lot o’ hert.” In some ways this is quite an intimate novel, concentrating on Tam’s family and the small community he is part of, but through them it’s a fairly political look at the lot of those at the bottom of the ladder in the early part of the twentieth century, a time when the old traditions are about to be challenged, first by the horrors of WW1 and then, following close on its heels, by the new political ideas that will sweep through Europe between the wars. McIlvanney writes beautifully, both in English and Scots, with as keen an ear for speech patterns and banter as for dialect. A great novel.

Click to see the full review

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the blue guitarThe Blue Guitar by John Banville

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Olly Orme used to be a painter, but his muse has left him. He’s still a thief though. He doesn’t steal for money – it’s the thrill that attracts him. Usually it’s small things he steals – a figurine, a tie-pin. But nine months ago, he stole his friend’s wife, and now that theft is about to be discovered. This is Olly’s own story, told directly to the reader in the form of a narrative being written as events unfold. The tone starts off light and progressively darkens, but there is a delicious vein of humour throughout the book, observational sometimes, self-deprecatory at others. Olly is a narcissist, but his ability to admit his faults with a kind of saucy twinkle makes him an endearing character. In truth, other than Olly’s character, there’s nothing particularly original or profound here. But it’s the language! The fabulous prose! I could forgive a lot to someone who makes me enjoy every word, whether deeply meaningful or dazzlingly light. And Banville dazzled me while Olly entertained me – I’ll happily settle for that.

Click to see the full review

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Two Years Eight Months 2Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

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Back in the 12th century, disgraced philosopher Ibn Rushd has a love affair with Dunia, a princess of the jinn, and they have many children together. Centuries later, not far in the future from our own time, the slits between the jinn world and our own have been lost for many years and Dunia’s descendants have spread throughout the world, unaware of their jinn heritage. But after a great storm lashes the world, strange things begin to happen – people finding their feet no longer touch the ground, people being struck by lightning and finding themselves afterwards possessed of strange powers, people suffering from what are either terrifying hallucinations or perhaps even more terrifying reality. It appears the jinn are back… Rushdie ranges widely, through philosophy, politics, religion, terrorism, the importance of words, language and stories, optimism and pessimism, the disconnect of modern humanity from the planet, and so on. It’s all handled very lightly, though, with a tone of affectionate mockery more than anything else. And, much to my surprise, it’s deliciously funny. It’s being pigeon-holed as magical realism but not in my opinion – this is satire masquerading as a fairy tale. A book that surprised and delighted me.

Click to see the full review

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FICTIONFAN AWARD WINNER 2015

for

BEST LITERARY FICTION

 

the way things were

The Way Things Were by Aatish Taseer

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When Skanda’s father dies, it falls to Skanda to accompany his body back to India for the funeral rites. The death of his father and the experience of meeting up with many of the people he knew in childhood leads him to remember and re-assess the recent history of his family, from the period of the Emergency in the mid-70s until the present day. Like his father, Skanda is a Sanskrit scholar, with a penchant for finding linguistic cognates – seeking out the shared roots of words across languages ancient and modern. And this book is about roots, or about what happens to a person, and by extension a society, when it becomes culturally detached from its roots. But the book isn’t just about India’s past. It also looks at the politics of the present from the time of Mrs Gandhi to today. A strongly political novel, it is in no way overly optimistic, but unlike so much of the misery writing coming from India, this has a sense of hope – a message that India must and can choose its own future, not by rejection of its past, recent and ancient, but by understanding it and building on it.

That might all make the book sound unbearably dull, but in amongst all the politics and philosophising are a group of exceptionally well drawn and believable characters, whose story is interesting not just for what it tells us about India, but in itself. I was particularly pleased to see a strong female figure front and centre in this one. Uma, Skanda’s mother, is without exception the most intriguing female character I have come across in Indian fiction and, for me, she is the heart of the book; and is in many ways the personification of this post-colonial class that Taseer is portraying. The quality of the prose and the depth of insight make this an enlightening and deeply thought-provoking read – an exceptional book from an author who is emerging as a major voice in literature.

Click to see the full review

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And now…

the nominees for the Book of the Year Award are…

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FICTIONFAN BOOK OF THE YEAR 2015

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THE WINNER

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lamentation

It is 1546, and an increasingly ailing Henry VIII has swung back to the traditionalist wing of the church – in fact, some fear he might be about to make amends with the Pope and take the country back to Catholicism. The constant shifts in what is seen as acceptable doctrine have left many sects, once tolerated, now at risk of being accused of heresy. And, as the story begins, Anne Askew and three other heretics are about to be burned at the stake for preaching radical Protestantism. At this dangerous time, Henry’s last Queen, Catherine Parr, has written a book, Lamentations of a Sinner, describing her spiritual journey to believing that salvation can be found only through study of the Bible and the love of Christ, rather than through the traditional rites of the Church. Not quite heretical, but close enough to be used against her by the traditionalists. So when the book is stolen, Catherine calls on the loyalty of her old acquaintance, Matthew Shardlake, to find it and save her from becoming another of Henry’s victims. And when a torn page turns up in the dead hand of a murdered printer, it’s clear some people will stop at nothing to get hold of the book…

I have long held that Sansom is by far the best writer of historical fiction, certainly today, but perhaps ever; and I’m delighted to say that this book is, in my opinion, his best to date. Brilliantly written, impeccably researched, full of great characterisation, and the combination of the personal and the political is perfectly balanced. A superb novel – in fact, a superb series – and a truly worthy winner.

Click to see the full review

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Thanks to all of you who’ve stuck with me through this year’s awards feature.

I hope you’ve enjoyed it – I’ve enjoyed your company!

 

F by Daniel Kehlmann

F is for…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

“Then listen to me,” Lindemann put a hand on Arthur’s shoulder. “This is an order, and you’re going to follow it because you want to follow it, and you want to because I’m ordering you, and I’m ordering you because you want me to give the order. Starting today, you’re going to make an effort. No matter what it costs.”

f daniel kehlmannWhen unsuccessful author Arthur Friedland takes his three young sons to see a stage hypnotist, he doesn’t expect it to change his life. But a couple of hours later, he lets the boys out of the car and drives off, not to be seen or heard of again for years. The three boys, identical twins Ivan and Eric and their half-brother Martin, are young adults when suddenly Arthur’s new book, My Name is No One, becomes a sensation. With its message that no-one exists, not even the reader, it achieves notoriety when it provokes a brief spate of suicides. And incorporated into the book is a history of Arthur’s forebears, stretching back for centuries, showing how eventually, in one way or another, they all went away and ‘never came back’. But, you know, perhaps they do…

We next meet the sons when they are in their middle years, the promise of youth having faded into failure for each. Martin, a priest who doesn’t believe in God, sees the other men of his generation advancing in the Church while he grows fat and breathless, and spends his life hoping no-one asks him any questions about the meaning of his faith (though he has a stock answer that stands him in good stead – ‘It’s a Mystery!’). To outward appearances, Eric is a successful financial broker, but in reality he has been defrauding his clients for years and fears he’s about to be found out. In a constant state of near hallucination due to over-indulgence in prescription drugs, he’s finding it harder and harder to distinguish reality from his nightmarish fantasies. Ivan realised early that he would never be a great artist, so has turned to forgery and fraud to make his fortune. It’s all going well, but that’s about to change.

The reader keeps trying to make sense of it all. Perhaps the hero died. Perhaps the inconsistencies are harbingers of the end, the first defective spots, so to speak, before the entire warp and woof unravels. For what, the author seems to be asking, is death, if not an abrupt break in the middle of a sentence which the reader cannot elide, a soundless apocalypse in which it isn’t humanity that disappears from the world, but the world itself that disappears, an end of all things that has no end?

This is a brilliant novel, sparkling with wit and intelligence. The fact that I have no idea what it’s about really didn’t affect my enjoyment of it in any way. F is for family, or failure, or faith, or fraud, or fear, or fate. Or possibly it isn’t. For fun (two more Fs), I looked to see what the professional reviewers were saying. The quotes in the book have Ian McEwan calling it ‘strange and beautiful’ – agreed – while Adam Thirlwell, with much more alliterative elegance, describes it as ‘a family saga, a fable and a high-speed farce’ – again agreed. The Guardian thinks it’s about the death of God, The New York Times thinks the ending may suggest that faith is the solution after all, and The Telegraph wimps out completely by deciding it provokes us to find ‘meanings of our own’. The sad fact is that I agree with all of these too.

Daniel Kehlmann
Daniel Kehlmann

The main part of the book takes place over three lengthy chapters, each told from the viewpoint of one of the brothers and each covering the same short time-frame. During that period an event happens that has ramifications for all three but, although the reader knows what happened, the brothers don’t, and this is partly what gives the book its air of slight farce. The writing is superb – Kehlmann can squeeze a mountain of characterisation into a few telling phrases, allowing him plenty of space to treat us to some fairly tongue-in-cheek philosophical asides. And he forces the reader to collude with him in mocking, but affectionately, the worlds of art, literature and religion. The translation by Carol Brown Janeway is seamless – there isn’t a single clunky phrase or passage in the entire book.

…and Arthur described his idea to write a book that would be a message to a single human being, in which therefore all the artistry would serve as mere camouflage, so that nobody aside from this one person could decode it, and this very fact paradoxically would make the book a high literary achievement. Asked what the message would be, he said that would depend on the recipient. When asked who the recipient would be, he said that would depend on the message.

One final review, a concise 5-worder this time from an Amazon reviewer, says ‘This book is impossibly pretentious’. And, do you know, I tend to agree with that too – except I’d add that it’s knowingly pretentious, inviting us to laugh at its pretentions, as a reflection of the world that its being pretentious about. It’s also absurd, marginally surreal at points, wickedly funny and superbly written. And one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Quercus.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link