Brilliant writing that captures the atmosphere of a time long since past. I particularly enjoyed the sly humour underlying the elegiac tale of failedBrilliant writing that captures the atmosphere of a time long since past. I particularly enjoyed the sly humour underlying the elegiac tale of failed chivalry and selfishness.
This particular edition (which I discovered in a heap at a local second hand book stall) is published as 'The String of Pearls' but in many ways the original title, The Tale of the Thousand and Second Night, is more appropriate as it does indeed read like one of the 'Thousand and One Nights' tales with its rambling structure that eventually comes full circle and packs an emotive punch.
The writing is perhaps a little 'olde-worlde' but that's only to be expected in a book written in the 1930s about a period that was already history then.
I really enjoyed this. It was quirky, charming, and gently amusing, but with a surprisingly dark edge to both the humour and the storyline to save itI really enjoyed this. It was quirky, charming, and gently amusing, but with a surprisingly dark edge to both the humour and the storyline to save it from becoming saccharine. The ending was quite a surprise, not so much as to the events, but the overall tone which is much less fluffy, and rather more vague, than the film that was made of the book. In some ways, I preferred the apparent certainties of the film version; although I don't insist on a 'happy ever after' ending it would have been nice to have some hint of future happiness for characters I'd come to care about. But still a thoroughly enjoyable read with some intelligent commentary about the cynical nature of politics coming through....more
This little book seems to have rather sunk without trace, which is a shame as it deserves better. It’s a beautifully produced little volume for one thThis little book seems to have rather sunk without trace, which is a shame as it deserves better. It’s a beautifully produced little volume for one thing, with nice crisp white paper and eye-catching cover art. And the stories too are worth more than a second – or even third or fourth – glance.
Part of the ‘Pockets’ range from Fox Spirit, this is sci-fi, but it’s so much more than your usual bunch of aliens, robots and tentacles – or even alien robots with tentacles. Yes, some of the stories have aliens (or robots, or tentacles) but they also have intriguing, thought-provoking shapeshifters inspired by folk tales and legends from around the world.
My own favourites were K A Laity’s Hispanic dragon tale ‘Carlos’, and ‘Bultungin’ by Joshua Reynolds, a strange, dream-like story set in Lagos and clearly based on African mythology. But every other story was good too – all original, all well written, all edging the literary end of science fiction. I loved them.
Proof that good things come in small packages!...more
Overall this was a little disappointing. There were some lovely passages of description; the mystery of a woman (Kathryn) finding out about her husbanOverall this was a little disappointing. There were some lovely passages of description; the mystery of a woman (Kathryn) finding out about her husband Jack's double life after his death kept me turning the pages; and the descriptions of the wife's grief and bewilderment were skilfully handled.
However, the plot descended into pure melodrama, the details of Jack's wrong-doing weren't explained fully enough, and there were too many 'wtf' moments that dragged me out of the book. I can't believe, for instance, that airline investigators would be allowed to break into a grieving widow's home while she's out, search the place without her knowledge or permission, and then question her as though she's some sort of suspect. The FBI perhaps, but these are employees of a private company and shouldn't have that kind of authority.
Kathryn's grandmother, Julia, had apparently cared for and supported Julia and her dysfunctional parents while single-handedly running an antiques business. Not only did she seem to have had the time for both (what, no constant trips to trade fairs, antiques markets etc?) but she also made enough money from a small-town antiques shop to fully support herself and three other people.
The whole section set in London felt completely unreal, to the point where I wondered whether the author had ever actually been there. Inaccuracy piled on inaccuracy - a corporate hotel with an open fire in the dining room; a London pub serving 'glasses of ale' (and apparently letting her have two, without paying); a park with 'lamps' next to the benches.
These may seem like minor nit-picks but they're important to the authenticity of the story and it shouldn't take a huge amount of research to get little details like that right....more
I didn't enjoy this book nearly as much as I hoped to. 'Notes From a Small Island' is easily one of my all-time favourite books and I was hoping for mI didn't enjoy this book nearly as much as I hoped to. 'Notes From a Small Island' is easily one of my all-time favourite books and I was hoping for more of the same, but this feels very different. In 'Notes,' Bryson seems to be chuckling with us Brits at some of our sillier traits. Too often in this book, the humour was of the easy-target, let's make fun of the foreigners variety: the Swiss are obsessed with punctuality, the Germans have no sense of humour, the French all ride bicycles with strings of onions round their necks. There were some genuine laugh-out-loud moments, but fewer and fewer as the book went on. By the last page I got the distinct impression that with one or two exceptions, the author really didn't like Europe very much. A shame. I won't be reading this one again....more
I've just finished reading Deborah Swift's YA novel 'Shadow on the Highway' and a cracking read it was too - lots of breathless adventure featuring aI've just finished reading Deborah Swift's YA novel 'Shadow on the Highway' and a cracking read it was too - lots of breathless adventure featuring a malevolent overseer, civil war soldiers, a secret passage and a highwayman who isn't quite what he seems... plus some more serious points about the waste of war, and the treatment of disability in a less tolerant society.
The book starts off in the same vein as 'Girl With a Pearl Earring', with a young girl taken on as a servant at the local 'big house', but rapidly veers off into high adventure. In many ways I actually preferred it to the more famous book, simply because more happens and there isn't that uncomfortable sense of tension for tension's sake.
If I had a slight niggle it was that the book's secondary heroine, Lady Katherine, was just a tad too flighty, sometimes changing her mind several times on the same page!
But I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone, young adult or not....more
It took me a long time to read this book and at times I'm not sure I understood all of the content, but I still enjoyed it a great deal. Some of the pIt took me a long time to read this book and at times I'm not sure I understood all of the content, but I still enjoyed it a great deal. Some of the philosophy is way over my head but the storyline, of a Swiss university lecturer having a sort of mid-life crisis and dashing off to Portugal to research a writer he'd accidentally come across, was gripping enough to keep me turning the pages. The writing is skilful and the gradual unearthing of Amadeu Prado as a man, a resistance fighter and a thinker is masterfully handled. Not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination but one that's more than worth investing the time and effort into. Although part of me wants to know what happened to lecturer Mundus after the book, dammit!...more
I didn't enjoy this nearly as much as many other Joanne Harris books. Overall it had a very old-fashioned feel to it, rather like a 1950s or 60s 'holiI didn't enjoy this nearly as much as many other Joanne Harris books. Overall it had a very old-fashioned feel to it, rather like a 1950s or 60s 'holiday romance' or 'holiday mystery'. This may have been deliberate on the author's part in order to convey just how cut off from reality the island community was, but I felt it was a bit unrealistic that none of the characters wanted to keep up with the times. And the characters were just a little too unsympathetic; Mado's father in particular was so clearly mentally ill I felt he should have been in hospital, not struggling to cope by himself. Not a patch on Chocolat or Blackberry Wine, in spite of the French setting....more
I’m normally a big fan of Gale’s work. His ‘Rough Music’ has made it onto my all-time favourite book list, so when I saw this book on the shelves of mI’m normally a big fan of Gale’s work. His ‘Rough Music’ has made it onto my all-time favourite book list, so when I saw this book on the shelves of my local Oxfam bookshop, I grabbed it. It’s a big thick volume, and tells the story of one family, through three generations of trials and tribulations, rather like a man’s take on Cynthia Harrod-Eagles.
The book opens in the years just after World War Two. The first characters we meet are Edward, an exiled German Jew, and Sally, a working class girl who’s made it to the rank of doctor by intelligence, hard work and sheer determination, at a time when such positions were usually held by men, or by women of a higher social class. Both characters have a ’surrogate parent’ in the form of someone who sponsored them through university, who they turn to in times of need, and both of whom are generous to a fault. Sally’s sponsor retires to a nunnery and leaves them a strange little house in the wilds of the Norfolk Broads, which they fall in love with almost as much as they fall in love with each other. They marry, move to the house and produce a family, who become the focus of later chapters of the book: their daughter Miriam, and their grandchildren Alison and Jamie, both of whom fall in love with the same man.
Unfortunately the book has some major flaws. The most obvious of these is that it’s told in third person omnipresent, which seriously detracts from getting to know the characters. The focus shifts from Edward to Sally and back again seemingly at random, and we’re no sooner told that Sally is annoyed about something, than the focus flips to Edward, and doesn’t return to Sally until half way through the next chapter by which time the action has moved on by several months. It’s very distancing and very frustrating, and it means that when the characters are presented with serious problems, you don’t feel you know them well enough to care.
The second flaw is that unlike Harrod-Eagles, Gale has crammed all three generations into a single volume. It’s already over 500 pages long but even so, telling the story of five different main characters in a book that ’short’ means that inevitably a lot of the fine detail gets left out. When Edward is faced with a terrible choice regarding the last surviving member of his family, his actions don’t ring true because we haven’t read enough about his inner battles, or his reasons for making the choice he does. It’s almost as though Gale says “Oops, Edward decided to do this,” without any further explanation, or any fallout, and it’s too disconnected to make any real sense.
I would have liked the book to be split into at least two, perhaps three volumes. I think Edward’s story alone would have been interesting enough to carry the first volume – there aren’t many books written about the Jews who fled to England just before the War, leaving so many family members and friends behind, and his relationship with his ‘father-figure’ Thomas, who is clearly a homosexual and clearly in love with him, could have been developed hugely. Why wasn’t Thomas jealous when Edward decided to marry Sally? Why didn’t he try to persuade Sally not to marry Edward, or at the very least make a few not-very-well-hidden passes at the younger man? Too often Gale doesn’t include nearly enough tension, and the tension he does introduce is often not very well used.
Sally’s character too could have been so much better developed. I’m assuming Gale did his research; it must have been very unusual for a working class girl to become a doctor in those days and the story of her struggle to be accepted for what she was would have been fascinating. As it is, we get a few snippets where male colleagues patronise her, and a few scenes where the rest of her family disapprove, and that’s about it.
In the end I lost interest in the younger generations and the book is still sitting, half-read, on my bedside table. My overall impression is one of huge frustration at a valuable story wasted. Such a shame for an author who’s produced some wonderful books. ...more
An incredibly clever, intellectual book but not perhaps very likeable - although I don't think it's meant to be. I picked up on the 'whodunnit' aspectAn incredibly clever, intellectual book but not perhaps very likeable - although I don't think it's meant to be. I picked up on the 'whodunnit' aspect very quickly but enjoyed (if that's the right word) the delve into the inner workings of a psychopath's mind. The last few pages dragged a bit with endless psychoanalysis and navel-gazing, and I'm not entirely sure I understood the ending, but overall it's brilliant and very unsettling....more
I had to give up on this one. It's beautifully, almost poetically, written, and I might even have coped with the anecdotal style. What really put me oI had to give up on this one. It's beautifully, almost poetically, written, and I might even have coped with the anecdotal style. What really put me off, though, was the device of using a 12-year-old girl as the narrator, because so little of the narrative reads true for a 12-year-old in 1984. Not only that, but there are places even in the first few chapters where she's supposedly reporting on things that she couldn't possibly know (her grandparents' sleeping habits, what the rector got up to in his study on his own) which also distracted me from the story.
The blurb was very misleading, by the way. All the talk of time going backwards made me think it was going to have some supernatural element. In the event it was more like Robert Blythe's 'Akenfield', except that that's a novel pretending to be a series of memoirs whereas this is a series of memoirs pretending to be a novel....more