My friend the crime writer Jim Kelly whose books are set in Ely and King's Lynn, recommended this collection to me because my novel Ninepins was set iMy friend the crime writer Jim Kelly whose books are set in Ely and King's Lynn, recommended this collection to me because my novel Ninepins was set in the fens and these stories, too, all have the fen landscape as their backdrop - though in this case Lincs rather more than Norfolk or Cambs.
I was totally blown away - so much so that I felt completely disorientated when reading it on the train back from London and nearly missed my stop at Cambridge station and ended up adrift in King's Lynn - which would have been strangely appropriate! The stories are dark, funny, quirky, atmospheric and all richly different, but it's the voices which are the most amazing thing about the book. They hit you, fresh and sharp and real and distinctive from the very first line, which often feels like the middle snatch of a conversation you'd been having with this person in your head without realising it. Utterly brilliant stuff.
Light indulgence for anyone wanting to wallow in Peter Wimsey nostalgia. Harriet and Peter stroll out of the pages, and through their old haunts in thLight indulgence for anyone wanting to wallow in Peter Wimsey nostalgia. Harriet and Peter stroll out of the pages, and through their old haunts in the quads of Oxford, in believable and authentic shape. ...more
I have just been re-reading this, one of my favourite P Fitzgeralds. A remarkable piece of writing: darkly funny, and unerringly deft in its touch, seI have just been re-reading this, one of my favourite P Fitzgeralds. A remarkable piece of writing: darkly funny, and unerringly deft in its touch, seeming just to give small glimpses of a whole yet conveying the solidest sense of both place and people. I especially adore how everyone in the book is caught amidships - between water and land, love and estrangement, order and chaos, belonging and abandonment, life and death. Fabulous stuff!...more
I love all of Jim kelly's atmospheric crime novels, set in the flatlands of East Anglia, and the Philip Dryden series are my favourites, but this oneI love all of Jim kelly's atmospheric crime novels, set in the flatlands of East Anglia, and the Philip Dryden series are my favourites, but this one is the best I have read so far. Rich in the haunting imagery of water and drowning, and of death and the paraphernalia which surrounds it, both ceremonial and earthily mundane, it is not just the story and characters but also the atmosphere of this book which will stay with you for many days after you have closed the final pages. ...more
This novel, published by the wonderful Sandstone Press, featured on last year's Man Booker long list, and having just finished it, I would say most deThis novel, published by the wonderful Sandstone Press, featured on last year's Man Booker long list, and having just finished it, I would say most deservedly so. It affords a fascinating insight into the world of orthodox Hassidic Jewish communities in Hendon and Golders Green; full of rich detail, it functions as eye-opening documentary, but Eve Harris also tells a compellingly good story and has created plenty of characters (whether shiny-eyed and pious, feistily rebellious or merely downtrodden) for whom I defy any reader not to be rooting firmly. Harris also writes with great sympathy, so that the closed community she describes comes across not only as repressive and stultifying but also as warmly embracing - and with an undeniable vibrancy. At the core of the book lies the tale of a young couple in the lead-up to their traditional, arranged wedding, and the story is structured to culminate in the (not entirely happy!) experience of their wedding night, and its aftermath. In this, it reminded me of 'On Chesil Beach' - yet in this case the tale is told with such sympathy and humanity that it makes for a far more satisfying read, and makes McEwan's novel seem rather mean, if not downright misogynist, in comparison. ...more
I finished this book a week ago and still can't get the main character out of my head. I didn't find her sympathetic, actually - rather too self-absorI finished this book a week ago and still can't get the main character out of my head. I didn't find her sympathetic, actually - rather too self-absorbed and self-destructive - but Myerson gets you so close in to her thoughts and the minutiae of her life that you feel you are living it, and the book has the same tight, claustrophobic feel as the small seaside community in which it is set. The accuracy of portrayal of the locations (Southwold, Westleton) is an additional pleasure for those who know and love the area....more
This interesting little novel is set in 1939 and centres on the excavation of the Anglo-Saxon burial ship at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. I picked it up becThis interesting little novel is set in 1939 and centres on the excavation of the Anglo-Saxon burial ship at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. I picked it up because of the Suffolk connection and rapidly became engrossed. The archaeological discoveries give the book its narrative drive, almost like a mystery drama, and Preston conjures effectively the tension of a nation on the brink of war. The book develops poignantly themes of evanescence and transience: the everpresence of death and the dead, and the mark (or lack of) that we leave upon history and the landscape. It is also beautifully, and economically, written.
What stood out for me, however (and I fear this is going to turn into a review for writers more than readers) was Preston’s knack of conjuring on a first meeting and in very few words the absolute essence of his characters – both those described and those doing the describing. His linking of small details of physical appearance to underlying personality is admirably deft.
Take, for example, the self-taught archaeologist, Basil Brown, encountered here for the first time by Mrs Pretty, the owner of Sutton Hoo House.
“Everything about him was brown – dark brown. His skin was mahogany-coloured. So were his clothes: a cotton tie, a tweed jacket with the top button unfastened and what appeared to be a cardigan beneath. He was like a kipper in human form. It seemed absurd that his name should be Brown too.”
Here we are told what Brown wore. And even though I may often be dismissive of clothing-related descriptions, here it is crucial because Mrs Pretty is judging his social class by that cardigan, that undone top button. The mahogany skin is from a life out of doors, digging, and also shows him to be not quite of Mrs Pretty’s social class – he’s tanned like the agricultural labourers on her estate. And there’s humour there – the kipper, the irony of his name – showing us Mrs Pretty’s dry, sardonic take on the world.
Or how about this? Mrs Pretty again, describing for us on is first appearance in the book a man she already knows well, Mr Reid Moir, the local museum curator.
“Mr Reid Moir was a tailor before he became a palaeontologist. As a result he is always immaculately turned out. Today he was wearing a dove-grey suit with a matching tie. Although he is a tall, well-built man, he is very light and fluent on his feet. There is a suppleness about his body that goes with his air of lacquered sensuality.”
Mrs Pretty’s eye for clothes again and what they tell her, but also a hint of her snobbishness, and of her suspicion of a man who is possibly too well-groomed. And although we get those normally mundane facts of height and build, here they tell us something more vivid, something beyond the merely visual: an unctuous fluidity we are warned not quite to trust.
Just one more example: another archaeologist, an academic this time by the name of Phillips, being presented for our view by Peggy Piggott, the young wife of one of his colleagues.
“He was a much larger man than I had expected. However, he carried his bulk, if not proudly, then with a considerable air of entitlement. By contrast, his bow tie was rather small, making him look like an inexpertly wrapped parcel.”
His size this time tells us both of Phillips’s physical confidence and of Peggy’s timidity with men. And again there’s the flash of humour – Peggy’s as well as the author’s.
Damned good, eh? I only wish I could write like this.
This book was purest pleasure from start to finish - I almost couldn't bear for it to end. I'm not sure if it would have stood alone as well as Wolf HThis book was purest pleasure from start to finish - I almost couldn't bear for it to end. I'm not sure if it would have stood alone as well as Wolf Hall, or if it was only so wonderful after having read the first book, but I loved loved loved it and I don't care. What an achievement - to make the story of a man relentlessly pursuing the deaths of half a dozen people (and toying, on the margins, with torture along the way), partly for political expedience but also partly for personal vengeance, into a sympathetic tale. Amazing stuff....more