I was drawn to this book in the shop because of Maggie's eyes on the cover. She always could command attention. She cast a long shadow over those of uI was drawn to this book in the shop because of Maggie's eyes on the cover. She always could command attention. She cast a long shadow over those of us who grew up under her leadership, especially those of us who grew up gay so I could relate to this memoir that entwines her influence on a small town and the country at large with a young boy's childhood.
It's sort of mythic when you look at it now - a dark time when poor communities were ravaged, the rich were encouraged to get disgustingly, ostentatiously wealthier, gay people were ostracised, and the magical milk was plucked from our poor calcium-deficient hands.
But crucially the Maggie factor remains just that - the political backdrop in this really gripping memoir is just context to the story of a challenging childhood. It unfolds like a novel and has a big beating human heart. Full of interesting characters and surprising events, I couldn't help but miss the people I met in these pages after I finished reading it. The author will talk to you about Dolly Parton on Twitter which is an added delightful bonus.
In the fictional Devonshire town of Hanmouth where nothing much happens, a lot is happening. Philip Hensher's new novel, King Of The Badgers, takes thIn the fictional Devonshire town of Hanmouth where nothing much happens, a lot is happening. Philip Hensher's new novel, King Of The Badgers, takes the reader behind the net curtains of the town's quaint cottages, peeking into their secret lives and uncovering sinful desires, suburban sex parties and a truly disturbing crime.
The village sits at the mouth of an estuary, and it's a constantly menacing milieu; a sticky, tricky wetland that traps any careless tourists trying to cross it. Its yawning presence at the edge of the town is a reminder of a wild and hungry oblivion at the town's boundaries.
The story opens during the disappearance of a local girl, China, and the abduction (which draws obvious parallels with the Madeleine McCann case) brings hoards of media, and yet more cameras and scrutiny, to the sleepy village.
The residents of Hanmouth are constantly observed: by the unblinking gaze of the town's army of CCTV cameras; by a slightly sinister Neighbourhood Watch committee; and, as Hensher reminds us, by the reader greedily turning the pages of his book.
In one fantastic chapter, 'The Omniscient Narrator Speaks', we follow a character's journey across the town entirely through the dead stare of the CCTV cameras, until a shocking secret is revealed behind the closed door of his final destination.
"The cameras in the street could not have told the secrets of the human heart," Hensher writes. The cameras could not see what unfolded behind that door, "But you did, and I did".
It's an uncomfortable but interesting tension, reminding the reader that our lustful desire for the salacious plays a central role in the erosion of privacy in the media age.
There's a slightly schizophrenic approach to the narrative arc, as the story lurches between stories and characters. Just as you become accustomed to the unfolding mystery of the missing girl, we're introduced to sad, lonely David, and the novel veers down an otherwise unexplored path.
Some of the residents are more thoroughly dissected than others, and there are some tantalising loose ends left dangling. But it's a big, sprawling soap opera of a book filled with engaging characters in fascinating situations who, for all their flaws (which we're endlessly privy to), I missed when I turned the final page.
King Of The Badgers, by Philip Hensher Publisher: HarperCollins RRP: $36.99 Available: now
I'm a terrible book reviewer: not only is this copy atrociously late, but I'd also got the impression that the story in Tiger, Tiger, a memoir by MargI'm a terrible book reviewer: not only is this copy atrociously late, but I'd also got the impression that the story in Tiger, Tiger, a memoir by Margaux Fragoso, somehow pertained to tigers. It doesn't.
A quick scan down the back cover revealed it's true content:
"I still think about Peter, the man I loved most in the world, all the time ... We were friends, soul mates and lovers. I was seven. He was fifty-one. They were the happiest days of my life."
It's fair to say that I was daunted by the subject matter, and the book lay shamefully unread as I worked up the courage to plough through it, somewhat nervous that it would be an Oprah's book club misery-porn special. It wasn't.
The book takes us through Margaux's troubled upbringing, to her meeting with the charming Peter with his lank grey bowl-cut, menagerie of animals and ability to make the neglected young girl feel special. The subsequent manipulation and abuse is described unflinchingly by the author, who claims in an afterword to be using the book to come to terms with what happened.
The book has been hyped as one of the most talked about autobiographies of 2011, and has been caught between reviews that applaud the author's bravery in recounting her sexual abuse, and those who have criticised its graphic, perhaps voyeuristic, depiction of events.
I found it utterly engrossing. Disturbing and unsettling, yes, but with a dazzling avoidance of self-pity and a highly nuanced view of the author's own pre-pubescent psyche.
The inner turmoil is brilliantly portrayed: Margaux's self-certainty and confidence obscures a buried fury, which finds a way to bubble to the surface in unexpected moments.
I doubt it's possible to say that reading Tiger, Tiger is a particularly enjoyable experience; it's disturbing and depressing to say the least. However, it's far more literary than your average memoir. The inner life of a very confused young girl is teased out by Fragoso's decision to avoid sensationalism, opting instead for a bone-chilling matter-of-fact tone that stayed with me for days.