An incredibly mixed bag of a book for me. I very much admired the first half, but found the second completely unengaging. I thought the fantastical stAn incredibly mixed bag of a book for me. I very much admired the first half, but found the second completely unengaging. I thought the fantastical strand - horology, the Atemporals, the Chapel of the Blind Cathar - was a stolid lump of whimsy and silliness, built entirely on info dumps and meaningless jargon. The whole thing convinced me yet again that Mitchell writes much better near-historical and contemporary fiction than future or science fiction. Not for me. ...more
There are a lot of strong things in The Wake, the invented language included. This is the sort of story that is almost never told about the medieval pThere are a lot of strong things in The Wake, the invented language included. This is the sort of story that is almost never told about the medieval past: of mental illness, of the breakdown of an individual self in the broader context of social and political change. Buccmaster of Holland is charismatic, terrifying and pathetic all at once, and his gradual unravelling over the course of the book is mesmerising to read. But because Kingsnorth restricts the telling to Buccmaster's first person voice the reach and appeal of the book is narrow and the reading experience is claustrophobic. ...more
Read and adored The Charioteer last year and so was eager to read Renault's only lesbian novel. On the whole it's a success - emotionally taut, generoRead and adored The Charioteer last year and so was eager to read Renault's only lesbian novel. On the whole it's a success - emotionally taut, generous to all its characters - but the ending is compromised by the implication that homosexuality is an expression of past hetero trauma. There is hyperbole in the writing too, with Renault's signature fixation on the meeting of souls and hearts and fate. Still I admired it, especially the subplot of Elsie and Peter. ...more
I'm not really sure what to say about this. I devoured it in 24 hours; I giggled several times; it gave me the warm fuzzies. But ultimately it was preI'm not really sure what to say about this. I devoured it in 24 hours; I giggled several times; it gave me the warm fuzzies. But ultimately it was pretty ordinary, a nicely packaged romcom, with an inevitable trajectory and a standard depiction of Aspergers. It was written originally as a screenplay and you can see that very clearly; I could almost cast it now. Carey Mulligan as Rosie and Hugh Jackman as Don, Cate Blanchett as Claudia and Colin Firth as Gene, a multitude of colourful actresses in cameos as the prospective wives and father. It would be sweet Saturday night popcorn viewing. ...more
A brutal, visceral and excruciating read, but deeply beautiful and moving. Daniel is a Welsh sheep farmer who has lost his wife; another nameless manA brutal, visceral and excruciating read, but deeply beautiful and moving. Daniel is a Welsh sheep farmer who has lost his wife; another nameless man is digging for badgers in his woods, baiting them with dogs for the entertainment of other cruel men. Their worlds converge, symbolically and actually, with violence and grief. Highly recommended, and easy to read in a single sitting. ...more
Anthea Bell's translation of Zweig's only full length novel is assured and fluent and tremendously compelling, but the novel itself is bloated in partAnthea Bell's translation of Zweig's only full length novel is assured and fluent and tremendously compelling, but the novel itself is bloated in parts. In the translator's epilogue Bell notes that Zweig usually cut his novels down to the bone, so that they became short stories and novellas, and that Beware of Pity probably only escaped this treatment because of the urgency of its publication in 1939. Although I enjoyed the experience of reading it very much - very Conradian, in the end - I think I would have enjoyed it more if it had been whittled and honed and tempered by that editing process. I look forward to exploring Zweig's shorter fiction very much. ...more
Confusingly extraordinary, in the end. I couldn't really give it anything other than 5 stars, although it's a different sort of 5 star rating to my usConfusingly extraordinary, in the end. I couldn't really give it anything other than 5 stars, although it's a different sort of 5 star rating to my usual. I didn't love this book, but I respected the hell out of it. ...more
Imagine Peter May and Rachel Cusk wrote a book together, with a helping hand from Sarah Waters. Night Waking is that book. It's got baby skeletons dugImagine Peter May and Rachel Cusk wrote a book together, with a helping hand from Sarah Waters. Night Waking is that book. It's got baby skeletons dug up on Hebridean Islands; a two year old who refuses to sleep through the night; a half crazed mother wielding organic baby snacks while her husband counts puffins; and letters from a lonely 19th century nurse cut off from her family during a dark, cold winter. Which makes it hard to categorise: a motherhood thriller? More like a gender equality thriller.
Anna Bennet is at the tail end of an Oxford fellowship, trying and failing to finish a book on 18th century childhood while spending the summer on the Hebridean island of Colsay with her two young children. Her husband Giles Cassingham is an ornithologist - the aforementioned puffin counter - and is also the owner of the island, recently inherited from his father. Owned by the Cassinghams since the 1830s Colsay is now completed deserted except for Anna's family, and the guests at the black house Giles has had converted into a luxury holiday let complete with underfloor heating and mist shower. Anna's days are an endless round of baby wrangling - two year old Moth is not shy of a good tantrum - and assuaging her older son Raphael's consumerist guilt, brought on by over exposure to the Guardian newspaper. She hasn't slept a full night in two years, spending the small hours tending one child or the other, to the great danger of her sanity. Night Waking is primarily a book about squaring the circle of modern parenting, of motherhood and career, love and ambition. Anna is desperate to live beyond her children's needs, to develop her academic career, and is resentful of Giles' greater freedom; but at the same time is helplessly bound to Moth and Raph and unwilling to spend time away from them, certain she is the only one who can fulfil their needs.
Moss plays Anna's point of view for comic effect, and also for tragedy, but in both cases with great skill. She unpicks Anna's fragile mental state slowly, which has led to some accusations of tedium and glacial pacing in other reviews here, but I think the steadiness is justified in light of the clarity of character achieved. Occasionally the polemic of gender equality becomes heavy-handed info dump, but only because Anna herself is frustrated and passionate and refuses to be polite. Everything here is a function of the book's themes; it's a very careful sort of novel. The sort of novel that an academic would write, which is only fitting given that is what Moss is.
Woven through Anna's story is a counterpoint narrative in letters, written by May Moberley a nurse sent to Colsay by the Cassinghams in the 1880s to combat the almost 100% infant mortality. She finds a community completely alien to her experience,who neither speak her language or welcome her help. It is her presence in the book that lends it the eerie ness of the past. Early on in the book Anna unearths the skeleton of a newborn baby in the garden of their house, and the remains haunt the novel in more ways than one, prompting her to investigate the relationship between the Cunninghams and the islanders and to confront her own past. Anna's investigations eventually lead her back to May, and - because she is an academic after all - a post colonial reading of the island's history and her own fraught place in it. It is neat and tidy and thought provoking, and only looses a star because it wasn't also gut-wrenching. I'm definitely looking forward to reading more Sarah Moss, and especially the companion novel to this book (about the recipient of May's letters, her sister Althea) which comes out from Granta in March 2014. ...more