I enjoyed this; it's a silly bit of fun full of sparkling wit, funny characters, and entertaining dialogue. Thirkell is no Barbara Pym or Jane Austen...moreI enjoyed this; it's a silly bit of fun full of sparkling wit, funny characters, and entertaining dialogue. Thirkell is no Barbara Pym or Jane Austen -- it's a comedy of manners, but with no hint of darker elements. As Alexander McCall Smith says in his introduction, Thirkell does not address the great questions of fiction -- it's about entertainment. No doubt some will argue for her depiction of English class divisions and the difficult position of the middle-class Miss Grey, alone and "without relations". But really, that's not what it's about. It's perfect holiday reading, to be enjoyed without moderation.
Favourite bathetic quote: "A stream bordered with kingcups made a gentle bubbling noise like sausages in a frying pan." (less)
I was spurred to read this by The Voice That Thunders. Garner put his heart and soul into this novel. It draws on his eternal themes of loops of time,...moreI was spurred to read this by The Voice That Thunders. Garner put his heart and soul into this novel. It draws on his eternal themes of loops of time, myth, identity, spirituality, but it's much harder work for the reader than his nominally children's books. There's no hand-holding by the author -- you are left to figure out for yourself what the Aborigines are doing.
It's not a long book, but I got a bit bogged down on the Aboriginal section, which started to feel too worthy and Noble Savage-like. But it was redeemed by the final section, when William returns home and blends his two worlds. The real William Buckley didn't do this, but it makes perfect sense in the novel. Perhaps the ending is too neat, but it's beautifully and poignantly executed. Hesitating between three and four stars, I ended up with four, but three and a half would be more accurate. It reminded me a little bit of Riddley Walker -- except it's not nearly as good!(less)
There's a quote from Anne Tyler on the back cover, and yes, Anne Tyler is a modern Barbara Pym, just as Pym is a modern Jane Austen, reminding us, in...moreThere's a quote from Anne Tyler on the back cover, and yes, Anne Tyler is a modern Barbara Pym, just as Pym is a modern Jane Austen, reminding us, in Tyler's words, of "the heartbreaking silliness of everyday life". Vicar's daughter and confirmed spinster Mildred is delightful, and she reminds me of Delia in Ladder of Years, an inoffensive, unremarkable women whom everyone takes for granted, turning to her for any tedious, inconvenient or embarrassing task they don't want to do themselves. Unlike Delia, Mildred stays exactly where she is and carries on being an "excellent woman", but underneath she is a lot more intelligent and perceptive than the "smarter" people around her ever realise.
Quotable quotes: early in the book, Mildred regrets that she has missed "the ennobling experience of having loved and lost." But then she reflects, "Of course there had been a curate or two in my schooldays and later a bank clerk who read the Lessons, but none of these passions had gone very deep."
Later, as she is quietly and thanklessly tidying up after her smart and messy neighbours, "it occurred to me that if I ever wrote a novel it would be of the 'stream of consciousness' type and deal with an hour in the life of a woman at the sink."
On this showing, I like Barbara Pym very much. If you like Anne Tyler, you probably will too.(less)
A present from a friend. It's a good, lively read for the most part. I preferred the first half, with its ambiguous characters and confusions over who...moreA present from a friend. It's a good, lively read for the most part. I preferred the first half, with its ambiguous characters and confusions over who was a goody/baddy. It reminded me a little of Fingersmith -- possibly not surprising as Peter Ransley wrote the screenplay for the TV adaptation. It was always engaging, but towards the end I began to tire of the frequent occasions when Tom faced certain death and then "with one bound he was free." The ending felt rather implausible. Still, I enjoyed it and I'll be reading the second volume. I hesitated between three and four stats and plumped for four in the end because he is a good writer.(less)
I didn't like this as much as volume 1 -- three stars instead of four. Ransley knows his period well and includes lots of plausible detail. But the wh...moreI didn't like this as much as volume 1 -- three stars instead of four. Ransley knows his period well and includes lots of plausible detail. But the whole thing is rather too gung-ho, with too many confusing twists and turns. Plus there are too many characters who are not well enough drawn, so I started to lose track of who was who. It was a real shame that he didn't end this volume with the attempt on the king, because the last chapter was a rushed summary of several years' events, that would seem more appropriate for a third volume -- if that third volume ever appears! Overall, a bit of a disappointment, but I would still read a third volume.(less)
I'm in two minds about this book. As an object, it's a celebration of the printed book as an artefact, gloriously physical in a world of ebooks. The c...moreI'm in two minds about this book. As an object, it's a celebration of the printed book as an artefact, gloriously physical in a world of ebooks. The concept is seductive too: two (or more) people using a book as a form of communication. The construction of the whole thing is very clever. But it just isn't for me, and although it was engaging at times, I felt there wasn't enough there to reward the work required to read it. If you love puzzles and deciphering codes, you'll love this book -- there's plenty to get your teeth into, and lots of further resources on the web. But if your preferred reading matter is all about character development and/or plot, you probably won't.
The nature of the book means there's little scope for character development. One of the enigmas is the identity of VM Straka, the author of Ship of Theseus. There are a number of candidates, but none of them appears as a character in the book, so you can't really have much of an opinion about them, or even, ultimately, care who it is. Then, you need to believe that SoT itself is a book that can plausibly be supposed to have engaged the interest of academics all over the world. But it isn't -- it's a mystery of sorts, but again with little in the way of engaging characters or plot twists. As for the two readers, Eric and Jen, you just get to know them via marginal notes and a couple of longer texts. In the end, what does it all boil down to? Boy meets girl. Meh.
Still, I'm giving it three stars for the physical object and the cleverness of the structure, and in recognition that lovers of puzzles will enjoy it vastly more than I did. Note: I used the suggested method of reading the whole of SoT first, then going back and reading the notes. But I belatedly realised that to properly understand the sequence of events, you need to take into account that Eric and Jen go through the book three times, with each pass distinguished by ink colours. So really you should read the first set of notes, then the second, then the third ... life's too short. I didn't even try to figure out the codes.(less)
A long-out-of-print book picked up in 2004 via Abebooks. It has a lurid Celtic-style cover and the jacket copy raves on about Boudicca: "Warrior Queen...moreA long-out-of-print book picked up in 2004 via Abebooks. It has a lurid Celtic-style cover and the jacket copy raves on about Boudicca: "Warrior Queen ... She defied the brutal might and seductive corruption of Imperial Rome ... She was the flame-haired Boudicca, Queen of the Britons" etc. etc. Actually the book is not about Boudicca at all -- she only plays a really significant role in the last hundred pages or so. The story starts in AD 32, just before the Romans' second invasion of Britain, and ends with Boudicca's defeat in AD 60. Most of the first part tells the story of Caratacus and Cartimandua (a pity Gedge didn't include any historical notes on sources, as they are here called Caradoc and Aricia, and I got halfway through the book before I realised who they were). Presumably Americans are considerably more likely to have heard of Boudicca than Caratacus.
It's a long book, 744 pages of tiny type and narrow margins, with enough material for at least three novels. At first I found the style rather overdone, almost Victorian, and wasn't really engaged by the characters, but gradually it grew on me. Gedge builds up a compelling, atmospheric picture of a superstitious society where evil spirits really do dwell in the forests and life is brutish and short for most people. No noble savages here, many of them are dishonest, unreliable, and downright murderous when crossed. The atmosphere is choking and claustrophobic as a few Britons struggle to beat the invading Romans back from their shores. There are rather too many characters who play a major role for a while and then slip out of view, but Gedge does a good job of drawing out the contrast between the fates of Caradoc and Boudicca. Caradoc, after his fierce resistance to Roman conquest, is tamely handed over by Cartimandua, and dragged off to Rome, where the Emperor Claudius promptly pardons him and forces him to live -- rather implausibly given his previous character -- in humiliating bourgeois comfort, while Boudicca, alone in the forest, falls on her sword after her defeat by Suetonius.
American reviewers are wildly enthusiastic about it, I suspect because of the undertones of the American war of independence against British imperialism. Worth re-reading at any rate.(less)
"Intensely average" said a review on Amazon, and I have some sympathy with that.
The good: It gives a lot of insight into British Sikh culture, which...more"Intensely average" said a review on Amazon, and I have some sympathy with that.
The good: It gives a lot of insight into British Sikh culture, which I knew nothing about. It's a light read, funny in places and touching in others. Good research into life in Wolverhampton in the 1960s and 70s, and the modern day parts are vivid and clearly based on personal experience.
The bad: it felt quite shallow, and Sanghera often seemed to be going for cheap laughs. Apart from the above, there was nothing really original or surprising here, and after all the rave reviews I expected something more. The characters weren't compelling; Surinder and Kamaljit were well drawn, but I didn't find Arjan particularly sympathetic. The end was predictable apart from a melodramatic twist in the penultimate chapter.
Still, it gets three stars from me as it was a quick, fairly pleasant read. I suspect I'd have enjoyed his memoir more.(less)
Perhaps inevitably, I didn't enjoy this as much as the Arthur trilogy I've just read. It seemed rather like a story about a dysfunctional family that...morePerhaps inevitably, I didn't enjoy this as much as the Arthur trilogy I've just read. It seemed rather like a story about a dysfunctional family that just happened to be set in the 12th century; I'd have liked a bit more period detail. But Jan Foxall is still very good at conveying the difficult relationships between her characters, and making sense of their multiple conflicting interests. I'm sure John will develop in an interesting way in the next book, but I'll wait a while before reading it.(less)
Note: this is a review of all three books in the trilogy, which I bought as a single Kindle volume.
I was very pleasantly surprised by this trilogy. I'...moreNote: this is a review of all three books in the trilogy, which I bought as a single Kindle volume.
I was very pleasantly surprised by this trilogy. I've never heard of Jan Foxall; I bought it because Amazon suggested it to me, and it was only about $5. Plus I'm a sucker for retellings of the Arthur legend.
I was impressed from page 1. Each of the three books has ten chapters, and each chapter is narrated by a different character. That's thirty different voices, and she handles them brilliantly, making each one distinctive and in character. Early on, I especially liked the way the Saxon slave used almost exclusively vocabulary with Saxon roots, making it clear that his cultural background was different from the others'.
The method also means that you get to see most of the major characters both via their own inner thoughts and the views of the people around them. Again, she manages this so well -- each character is internally consistent and develops over time, while still being recognisably the same person -- we see how their experiences change them. Selfish, brutal, kind, brave -- all well conveyed. I was hooked, and pleased the trilogy was so long it took me a few weeks to finish it. Unlike many of the Arthur retellings, this continues well after Arthur's death and tells the story of the slow decline of Arthurian Britain, with a satisfying symmetry at the end. There's no magic or sorcery, just flawed human beings.
If I have any criticism, it's that Foxall doesn't create a physical world the way Mary Renault or Rosemary Sutcliff do. You can't taste the food, smell the woodsmoke, see the clothes and the surroundings. I'm sure she's done her research, but she's much more interested in character development than in period detail. Sometimes you could forget when it's set, but that's because you're absorbed in the human story. I'll be reading more!(less)
I'm glad Elisabeth Storrs was able to self-publish this after the second part of her book deal fell through, and she did it very professionally too (e...moreI'm glad Elisabeth Storrs was able to self-publish this after the second part of her book deal fell through, and she did it very professionally too (except for the covers, which look as if the books are bodice-ripping Restoration romances). Fans of The Wedding Shroud will be very happy with this sequel. Caecilia is now much more mature, a wife and mother. Storrs also tells the story through two new characters -- Semni, a skilled potter who ends up as a servant in Caecilia's house, and Pinna, a Roman girl who turned to prostitution out of poverty wen she was 11. These new characters are very well drawn, flawed and believable. Semni is particularly obnoxious, but you get a sense as the plot develops that she is going to grow out of her selfishness.These different viewpoints help Storrs to continue to explore the differences in the position of women in these ancient societies.
Storrs manages to keep a lot of balls in the air -- a complex political situation, and complex relationships between the many major characters. I found the ending a bit disappointing -- it just stops, with the obvious implication that "You'll have to read the sequel." Like her first novel it's a good read though, and I don't ask anything more from this kind of novel. Surely she should be able to get a publisher interested in the next volume?(less)
You're taking the piss, aren't you Rachel? That was my first thought, when Rachel Cusk opened this novel with a 20-page description of rain falling. I...moreYou're taking the piss, aren't you Rachel? That was my first thought, when Rachel Cusk opened this novel with a 20-page description of rain falling. It didn't improve thereafter. Cusk is a great believer in telling, not showing, with lengthy descriptions of her characters' states of mind and past history.
And what characters! I hated all of them, and I am pretty sure Cusk does too. The novel is a prolonged rant against motherhood as experienced by the well-off. This was what grated with me. The relentless bitterness of these privileged women is wearing -- the phrase "First world problems" kept running through my head. If they had been living in tatty council flats, lacking the money to put in the meter, struggling to feed and clothe their families, their existential despair might be somewhat justified. But they are well-educated, wealthy women, with husbands who provide for their every need, living in a leafy suburb. They have choices. If you hate your kids so much, I thought, why don't you hire a flipping nanny and go back to that fulfilling, well-paid job you had before you got married? Instead of slumping about the house, boring yourself silly with coffee mornings, and whining to your husband when he gets back from work, does the washing up, and puts the children to bed? After a while the women merge into a single miserable character, although Christine does still stand out for her sheer obnoxiousness. The men are positive paragons in comparison.
I do have a certain amount of grudging respect for Cusk's writing ability -- the description of the shopping centre in particular is masterful -- and I somehow managed to finish it (with a lot of skimming), but I'm left wondering why she wrote this nasty little piece of work. If she needed to write it to get it out of her system, she should have shredded it when she'd finished. I can't put this on my "binned" shelf because I read it on the Kindle, but if I'd had a physical copy, it certainly would have gone in the bin.
Note: I read it because a friend is making a film of it! The thought is rather horrifying.(less)
I always enjoy reading Anne Tyler, because her style is so engaging and her characters amusing and likable. Her lovely turns of phrase: "three chairs...moreI always enjoy reading Anne Tyler, because her style is so engaging and her characters amusing and likable. Her lovely turns of phrase: "three chairs stood at offended-looking angles to each other". Or "His little hands reminded her of biscuits, that kind with a row of fork holes pricked on top".
But they start to get a bit samey. The characters are always amusing and likable in the same kind of way. They do the same kind of things. The family here initially reminded me of The Accidental Tourist. And the big family meal near the end is very like the one that ends Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Like another reviewer, I did love Nat's comment at this point in the story, which also applies to the Homesick Restaurant dinner:
There's a picture I'm reminded of that [C. R. Savage] took toward the end of his life. Shows his dining room table set for Christmas dinner. Savage himself sitting amongst the empty chairs, waiting for his family. Chair after chair after chair, silverware laid just so, even a baby's high chair, all in readiness. And I can't help thinking, when I look at that photo, I bet that's as good as it got, that day. From there on out, it was all downhill, I bet. Actual sons and daughters arrived, and they quarreled over the drumsticks and sniped at their children's table manners and brought up hurtful incidents from fifteen years before; and the baby had this whimper that gave everybody a headache. Only just for that moment . . . just as the shutter was clicking, none of that had happened yet, you see, and the table looked so beautiful, like someone's dream of a table, and old Savage felt so happy and so -- what's the word I want, so . . . anticipatory!'
But still, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it; Delia is such an entertaining character and her life in Bay Borough is full of hilarious episodes. Except for the ending, which I found really disappointing. (view spoiler)[I thought Delia had changed and grown. But she just goes back to where she came from; nothing has really changed, and her family will go on taking her for granted. I'm not saying I wanted her to have a "happy ending" with Joel, but I'd have liked her year away to be more than just a holiday from her family. (hide spoiler)] I expect Tyler's endings to provoke some sort of revelation or catharsis for the main character, but this one didn't.
So not her best book; I think The Accidental Tourist is still my favourite.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
**spoiler alert** This was an odd book. Streatfeild is of course known for her children books, about talented children living idyllic childhoods. This...more**spoiler alert** This was an odd book. Streatfeild is of course known for her children books, about talented children living idyllic childhoods. This one is told from the children's point of view but is definitely a book for adults. It's about the devastating effect the disintegration of a family has on the four children.
Her style is very old-fashioned, and the family lived such a 19th-century lifestyle (governesses, nannies, servants, homes in town and in the country, bathing machines) that initially I was convinced it was leading up to the First World War, but actually it's the second. I found it a bit stilted at first, reading a bit like a psychology case study, but it grew on me. She has amazing insight into children's minds, and into psychological theories such as Bowlby's, which were very new when she wrote this book.
You do end up caring about these over-privileged children whose lives are turned upside down, especially Laurel and Tony (hard to care for the narcissistic Kim, who is obviously always going to get what he wants, and little Tuesday isn't quite as vividly painted as the older children). The way even well-meaning adults treat them, as entities with no desires or feelings of their own, makes you wince. No-one listens to them, or even really talks to them in a meaningful way, except for Alex and Uncle John. Aunt Dot at first sympathetic, but ends up as uncaring as the others, using Laurel to settle scores with her loathsome sister Lindsey. Lindsey, amusingly, is a celebrated lady novelist with a reputation for understanding children, who actually detests them and doesn't even try to understand how they feel. It was good to see her get her comeuppance -- one of a very few characters in the book who get what they deserve (Uncle John and Ruth are the others).
The afterword (by a psychologist) suggests that the hard times are over by the end of the book, but I have my doubts. I think John and Ruth will rescue Laurel, but poor Tony is still very messed up, with no clear way out of his troubles. It's a sign of the lack of consideration by adults that no-one ever bothered to tell him about how his father died, and the children clearly hadn't even been allowed at the funeral. So much suffering could have been avoided simply by listening, and talking -- this is the real message of this book. (less)
I bought this in 2002, after reading my first ever Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin. I didn't enjoy it quite as much -- but Atwood paints a spookil...moreI bought this in 2002, after reading my first ever Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin. I didn't enjoy it quite as much -- but Atwood paints a spookily accurate picture of the cruelty of small girls. Like a few Atwood books, it merits a re-read.(less)
This is more novella than novel, a kind of extended Alice Munro short story. I wouldn't say I was blown away by it, it's not that kind of book. At fir...moreThis is more novella than novel, a kind of extended Alice Munro short story. I wouldn't say I was blown away by it, it's not that kind of book. At first it seems a slight, predictable read -- an idyllic English summer spent recovering from WWI trauma in a country church. Pretty much what you would expect to happen duly happens. But there's more than that. The prose is exquisite, and Carr brilliantly conjures up images in the mind with his simple, spare style. Some authors would have made a meal of this, a couple of hundred pages, no doubt with garish flashbacks to the horrors of trench warfare. Not Carr. The war is there in the background, but no-one ever needs to say anything about it. It was subtle touches like this that I liked, as well as the understated humour -- the scene in the shop where the Methodists go to buy a new organ made me laugh.
And despite nothing much happening, by the end of the novel something has happened. It's an ode to the notion of carpe diem and the evanescence of happiness. Read in a few hours, but I suspect thoughts of it will linger.(less)
My finger hovered over the fifth star for ages. I'd really like to give this 4 1/2 ... I almost never rate books 5* unless they are true masterpieces....moreMy finger hovered over the fifth star for ages. I'd really like to give this 4 1/2 ... I almost never rate books 5* unless they are true masterpieces. But Strout has taken over the mantle of Alice Munro for me -- in a different register, since this is a novel, not short stories. What a writer -- not just stylistically, but in the way she develops real characters, using tiny, intimate details to convey so much about them. At one point, Jim and Helen are staying in a hotel in Shirley Falls because Jim's nephew has disappeared. There's a moment where the fact that Helen does not want to pick up Jim's socks from the floor tells you that their solid marriage is crumbling.
Strout takes you inside all the characters' heads with such skill, exploring the difficult family dynamics in a way that makes you wince but keeps you glued to the page. The least successful characters, rather predictably, are the Somalis, who seem stereotyped in a way the other characters are not, but actually they are just the trigger that starts the unravelling process in the Burgess family. The only other imperfection is the ending, which didn't seem quite right -- although I couldn't say how it should end.
No, the characters are not particularly likable, but they are real, flawed human beings whom you think about when you aren't reading the book -- hallmark of a successful novel for me. I read slowly towards the end, trying to spin it out as long as possible.(less)
I can't join the chorus of praise for this novel, but I did finish it -- after getting a bit bogged down about a third in, while Theodora struggled to...moreI can't join the chorus of praise for this novel, but I did finish it -- after getting a bit bogged down about a third in, while Theodora struggled to raise herself from prostitution by grabbing a rich patron (bodice-ripping alert).
I did know the basics of Theodora's story because I have read a couple of excellent novels by Gillian Bradshaw set during her reign. So I had expectations for what she would be like. Thornton has created a strong, vivid character, who is constantly being praised for her cleverness, but my main problem with her was that she was deceitful, vindictive, and ... often stupid. I can accept her acting impulsively and foolishly when she is only fifteen or sixteen, but once she has long experience of power she is still driven by emotion to act like an idiot. At one point she decides to frame one of Justinian's favoured advisors, so that he will be accused of treason. Hours before he is due to walk into her trap, she, um, tells both her daughter and Justinian the whole story, giving the emperor time to warn his friend. She treats other characters who helped her when she was a poverty-stricken actress disgracefully, to preserve her own interests. This could be a minor point, but the real Theodora inspired Justinian's lifelong love, and loyalty from servants such as Narses, as well as overcoming considerable prejudice and opposition in her rise to power. I don't see how this rather unattractive, crude character could have done this. But Theodora is somewhat redeemed in the last third of the book, as she finally seems to grow up.
It must be hard to find the right tone when writing dialogue in historical novels. You don't want a lot of thee-ing and thou-ing, but nor do you want it to sound too modern. I felt the language and attitudes here veered a bit too far towards the modern, particularly in the relationship between Antonina and Theodora, who often sound and behave like American high-school students.
I realise this review sounds rather negative. With Gillian Bradshaw in a writing slump I keep hoping to find someone to replace her. Thornton isn't that person, but she does deserve three stars for a well-researched and lively novel, making good use of historical fact and her own imagination, even if it's not to my taste. I think I'll go and reread The Bearkeeper's Daughter now!(less)
I don't get it. Well, yes, I can see what he's doing and the way the twist is revealed halfway through is very, very clever. I thought I'd figured out...moreI don't get it. Well, yes, I can see what he's doing and the way the twist is revealed halfway through is very, very clever. I thought I'd figured out what the point of the expedition was, but I'd only grasped one aspect of it. The book didn't make me smile, and I definitely didn't laugh: the deadpan style is just too deadpan, the dialogue too flat and absurd.
For some reason it reminded me of Jose Saramago's Blindness, I suppose because of the dystopian bleakness and the flatness of the characters. It wasn't nearly as difficult to read as the Saramago,but if it hadn't been so short I wouldn't have finished it. I normally enjoy books N recommends, but this one left me cold.(less)