I seem to be having a bit of a theme with books about memory (Before I Go To Sleep) and ageing (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry); this book combI seem to be having a bit of a theme with books about memory (Before I Go To Sleep) and ageing (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry); this book combines both. It's another "unreliable narrator", in this case 82-year old Maud, who is suffering from dementia. It's quite an achievement, especially for a first novel. I wonder if the fact that Emma Healey was only in her mid-20s when she wrote it actually helped? She mentions in an afterword how she drew on her experiences with both her grandmothers (to whom the book is dedicated) -- especially her maternal one, to whom she was very close. The character of Maud clearly draws on close and loving observation of an elderly woman's behaviour. You can imagine that having dementia could well feel like this, so it's a painful read at times. Maybe Healey was able to empathise in this way precisely because she wasn't the primary carer for her grandmothers. Some reviewers seem to think Helen, Maud's daughter, is uncaring and impatient, but I thought Healey was very sympathetic in showing that Helen does love her mother, but inevitably gets stressed and frustrated trying to care for her. Katy, Helen's daughter, is much more laid back; she can have fun with her grandmother, without feeling responsible for her.
The jacket blurb claims this is a "detective story"; it really isn't, so if you are expecting a mystery/whodunnit, you will be disappointed. The outcome of the modern-day "mystery" is obvious to the reader, if not to Maud, because the other characters repeatedly drop hints (part of the skill in this novel is relating events that Maud doesn't fully understand in a way that gives the reader enough information to realise what is happening). The situation with Elizabeth is primarily there as a prompt to get Maud thinking about her sister Sukey, who went missing in 1946. Gradually vivid memories of her past rise into the foreground (the post-war atmosphere is beautifully evoked). Even here there's not much of a mystery, because there are only two realistic candidates, and you soon figure out who is the most likely. The interest is in seeing how events in her daily life gradually bring the whole story and its conclusion out, finishing with a slightly melodramatic modern-day denouement.
Well worth reading, but perhaps not on a gloomy winter day!...more
With nearly 10,000 reviews on Goodreads, I don't think there's any need for me to add to them. I liked the spare poetry of the writing here, but for tWith nearly 10,000 reviews on Goodreads, I don't think there's any need for me to add to them. I liked the spare poetry of the writing here, but for the first half I thought it was all going to be a bit too charming. But it really improved in the last third; the band of modern pilgrims was an unexpected and jarring touch, and the final encounter with Queenie is not what you would expect. Harold's journey is an evident metaphor for life and its purpose, and none the worse for it. The older you are, the more likely you are to enjoy it.
This was an enjoyable thriller. I love books with unreliable narrators, and Christine is more unreliable than most -- she loses her memory every nightThis was an enjoyable thriller. I love books with unreliable narrators, and Christine is more unreliable than most -- she loses her memory every night. Sure, her particular type of amnesia is implausible, but I was happy to suspend disbelief and give myself over to Christine "remembering" things and then thinking, "But what if it's not a memory? What if I imagined it? Who is telling me the truth?" The constant ruminating over the same events, the flashes of insight, and the short, choppy sentences worked well for her state of mind. It gives you a different perspective on "living in the moment".
I just managed to figure out the twist before it was revealed, but I may be slower than habitual thriller readers. Sure, the ending is a bit corny and cliched, but it fits, and makes the structure of the novel perfect. Four stars for esacapist enjoyment!...more
A rather unpleasant little book which I skim-read. Polly Evans leaves her high-pressure job in Hong Kong to cycle 1,000 miles round Spain on her own.A rather unpleasant little book which I skim-read. Polly Evans leaves her high-pressure job in Hong Kong to cycle 1,000 miles round Spain on her own. It's admirable to achieve this, but unfortunately Polly's brand of "humour" relies on sneering at everyone she meets because they are not up to the exacting standards set by her and her well-off, sophisticated friends. Crowded places are sneered at because they are full of tourists. Worse still, elderly tourists, who despite being wrinkly, ill-clad and with dyed hair, appear to be having a good time. Tiny villages in the countryside are sneered at because the streets are not lined with bars and restaurants and there's nothing for Polly to do (her leisure activities appear to be highly dependent on shopping). Hence their inhabitants must all be snivelling feckless peasants. Given how much she dislikes the countryside, one wonders why she chose such an itinerary.
She shows no empathy with anyone, or any desire to talk to the people she meets other than to demand food, drink, and hotel rooms, and then be dissatisfied with the result. She doesn't even have the excuse of not speaking the language, because she had lived and studied in Spain some years before. She claims to speak the language "after a fashion", enough to order a beer, but she's clearly better than that as she can eavesdrop on conversations between strangers. If you don't like foreigners or discovering other cultures, perhaps a career as a travel writer is the wrong choice.
The one good point about this book is that she covers events in Spanish history in a brief and fairly entertaining way. But it's not worth ploughing through the rest for these bits....more
The only reason I have heard of Amanda Palmer is because of her hilarious riposte to the Daily Mail when it tried to make a scandal about her breast pThe only reason I have heard of Amanda Palmer is because of her hilarious riposte to the Daily Mail when it tried to make a scandal about her breast popping out of her bra (anyone familiar with AP knows it's not at all unusual for her to show more flesh than that). Someone recommended this book, based on her famous TED talk, so I thought it might be worth a read.
Well, if you are one of the many unconditional fans of Amanda Palmer, which many reviewers here appear to be, you'll love it. I found it interesting, but really the substance of what she says could be summed up in her 13-minute talk; at book length it gets very repetitive, and it's definitely All About Amanda Palmer. Don't treat it as a self-help book because what works for a famous, self-centred extrovert won't necessarily work for you.
It has its moments -- if you are thinking of launching a Kickstarter, you should definitely read it -- and she's a good writer, with wit and insight, especially about the future of digital content and how to fund it. I enjoyed it to start with, but then it just seemed like an endless repeated story of people falling over themselves to help her. It gets increasingly narcissistic; the part where she "leads" her Twitter followers in a minute of silence for the Boston marathon victims is particularly nauseating.
My feed exploded with a rousing “YES, please.” It was 8:55 p.m., so I set the minute of silence for nine o’clock exactly, and asked people to find a good spot, and do whatever they needed to do to get ready. I lit a few candles, counted down with the Twitter feed, set my iPhone timer, and at nine on the dot, closed my eyes.
As for That Poem (about Tsarnaev): I have no problem with her writing it, but again how selfish and egotistical to publish it online. How did she think the victims' families would feel?
Elsewhere: "It made me consider one of the reasons I loved my fanbase so much: they are wholly independent and have their own unassailable, discerning tastes." Well gosh, how generous of you to admit that other people might have their own opinions and are not entirely led by yours!
So by the end of the book I was a bit tired of her. Two and a half stars....more
I'm sad to have finished this trilogy, but there's a hint at the end of this that we haven't seen the last of Amaia and her spiritual guide.
This has tI'm sad to have finished this trilogy, but there's a hint at the end of this that we haven't seen the last of Amaia and her spiritual guide.
This has the same ingredients as the previous volumes, albeit with less emphasis on the supernatural. It pulls in many elements from the earlier novels and definitely can't be read as a standalone story. It's difficult to review without spoilers, but there is a really shocking and unexpected event in the middle, which draws out Redondo's best writing in the whole of the series -- you are there with Amaia, seeing through her eyes, and it racks up the tension in the rest of the book. For once I figured out who the baddie was quite soon after this, but that doesn't spoil the story, in fact it's rather satisfying (I'd actually had my suspicions of this person in book 2, but then dismissed them). The final scene is totally OTT and a bit hackneyed (view spoiler)[(the cavalry turns up at the last minute (hide spoiler)]), but I'll forgive her. She was clearly thinking of the cinema adaptation!
It's not without its faults. There are an awful lot of crime victims, and I recommend writing down their names as you go along, otherwise you'll get confused about who is who and who did what. Another review here says that the major characters haven't just developed, they've become totally different people, and I can see their point. A major theme in volume 2 was Amaia's fears about being a bad mother (understandable given her history). Yet in this volume she doesn't seem to give a damn. For plot reasons, Redondo packs James and Ibai off to the US, and after a tearful farewell, Amaia barely seems to notice they've gone. James is more of a cipher than ever here, but her feelings for Ibai seem to have disappeared too. The actions of some people didn't seem to fit with what we knew about them(view spoiler)[ (Jonan -- surely he would have shared his suspicions with Amaia earlier? (hide spoiler)]. I was also disappointed with the dénouement of the situation with her mother -- I found it a bit of an anti-climax (can't say more without spoilers). Of the three, I think Legado en los huesos is the best.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
A lyrical and occasionally erudite account of a solitary walk across France in (I think) the 1970s; considered a classic of French walking literature.A lyrical and occasionally erudite account of a solitary walk across France in (I think) the 1970s; considered a classic of French walking literature. He writes beautifully, poetically, but I found it got a bit samey if you read a lot of it, and it was best to read it in small doses. I have to say that it is extremely rare for me to need to look up words when reading in French, but he used quite a number of words I didn't know :)
Interesting contrast with the ghastly It's Not about the Tapas, a similarly solitary journey. Lacarrière engages with people he meets, relies on kindness and spontaneity to find beds for the night in barns, spare bedrooms, community centres, is happy to stop and chat for a whole morning with a chance-met shepherd or woodworker, because he's not in a hurry and for him the experience of the journey is what matters, not the destination....more
When these stories are good (The Pleasure of Her Company, The Age of Grief, Long Distance) they are almost up to Alice Munro standards -- wonderfullyWhen these stories are good (The Pleasure of Her Company, The Age of Grief, Long Distance) they are almost up to Alice Munro standards -- wonderfully perceptive, and full of telling detail. When they aren't (Jeffrey, Believe Me and Dynamite) they are -- well, like a creative writing teacher showing off. Still, the good ones outnumber the bad!...more
Well, I knew that this, Smiley's first novel, couldn't be as good as A Thousand Acres -- and it isn't. It's another dysfunctional family, this time ruWell, I knew that this, Smiley's first novel, couldn't be as good as A Thousand Acres -- and it isn't. It's another dysfunctional family, this time ruled by domineering, horse-mad matriarch Kate Karlson. The family keeps 40 horses on the farm, and quiet, long-suffering husband Axel meekly works long hours in the city in order to (barely) pay for it all. Kate is determined to be the best, and drives her four teenage children to succeed in her field of horse shows and competitions, to the exclusion of any maternal feelings. The four children react in different ways, and all of them are damaged by her relentless ambition. The story ends in inevitable tragedy -- but no catharsis, as it's evident that Kate will carry on regardless, just the way she always has. I see Smiley dedicated the book to her own mother -- a rather backhanded "compliment" given Kate's character!
The trouble with it really is that the characters don't seem well enough developed, and never seem real in the way that the characters in A Thousand Acres did -- you can't work out what makes any of them tick, especially Axel (and in fact Kate herself -- what made her so driven?). The story is about failures of communication within the family, but unfortunately Smiley doesn't really communicate any empathy to the reader here, so it's ultimately unsatisfying....more