As I write, an icy blast is sweeping the country and it feels the right time to curl up with a book. The below is what I’ve got through this month:
The Uninvited Guests – Sadie Jones
I got this out of the library, having recognised her name from somewhere – she is loved by publicists I think. This was well written but terribly plotted. What an odd book. A ghost story and commentary on the ghastliness of the upper classes, the only bit I liked when when the strange younger child took here horse upstairs to her bedroom so she could draw it. Everything else was peculiar.
Everything Happens for a Reason – Katie Allen
This indie published book was more successful, up to a point. In this deeply personal novel, Allen wanted to explore that comforting old cliche – an idea of some mysterious higher purpose. When Rachel’s baby is stillborn, she struggles with grief and when someone comes out with that line she realises, in the fug of post-birth grieving confusion, that her baby has died because she saved the life of a man at a tube station the week before. So she sets out to find him and make sure it was worth it. It has a saggy middle, this book, which is a shame, as I struggled through it but the premise is interesting. Though why her husband and mother didn’t realise she needed immediate help is beyond me.
My Wild and Sleepless Nights – Clover Stroud
Oh lord. This is a book that made me celebrate my life choices. Clover Stroud writes of the highs and lows of motherhood, of the vast chasms of love you feel but the deep frustration at never having any time to yourself, of wondering where your self has gone and trying to live with all the mess. Stroud has, it should be said, 5 children – starting the book being heavily pregnant with the fifth and writing about the eldest who has been excluded from school and arrested for drug and knife offences. He resents losing attention to the younger children, she writes, and I have no idea what to do, just before she births the fifth and briefly flirts as that one grows up with the idea of a sixth. Luckily, her eldest sorts himself out but thank god I only have one child and can control the mess.
The Phone Box at the Edge of the World – Laura Imai Messina
This was a rather sweet book, based on a real place. Following the devastating tsunami in Japan, a grieving mother goes to find the phone box used by others who have suffered loss. They use it to talk to the dead, to send them messages. There she meets a father and daughter, and the people who own the garden, all of them trying to move on and manage. The style keeps the reader at a distance but is distinctive and I liked it very much.
Strange Flowers – Donal Ryan
I really cannot read any more Irish books about people from small communities who are different to the ‘norm’ and as such have to leave or give up children or are frowned on or come to any other predictable sticky ends. This was one such book. I’ve had it with this genre. Plus he writes incredibly long sentences where he adds in loads of ands and sticks all kinds of things together in one sentence and I really don’t know what it adds to the book as a style except to irritate the reader and it did really spoil the book for and I tell you what else, it’s really difficult to write like this.
An Archive of Happiness – Elizabeth Reeder
Ah, a book I enjoyed. I really liked the structure. Ostensibly set over one day when the different parts of a family come together for a summer, it also manages to feed in enough backstory to make this an absorbing family drama. The only slightly weird bit was that Reeder is an American living in Scotland, and although this was set in Scotland it read to me like it was in America and I had to keep reminding myself that they should have Scottish accents. It felt very American though. But don’t let that spoil it for you.
The Life of Stuff – Susannah Walker
Walker’s mother was an alcoholic and a hoarder, so when she dies it’s down to Walker to clear the house to sell. The house is so neglected that the back door doesn’t close, water is leaking throughout and there is so much stuff it takes her and a house clearance team quite some time to make it sellable. In the meantime she uses the experience to write about the family history, find out more about hoarding impulses and generally explore her own feelings towards her mother. It immediately made me need to clear out stuff from our own house and move onto another book.
Life on Other Planets – Matt Cook
So I chose this one randomly only to find that it’s a novel about a family gathering together to clear out a house after someone dies and they go through her stuff. Weird coincidence. This is a satirical look at family breakdown in the face of a will, and although the family start out seeming ‘normal’ they end as a series of grotesques. I was reminded a little of a mixture of What a Carve Up, the Starkadders from Cold Comfort Farm and Kinds Hearts and Coronets.
Everything is Beautiful – Eleanor Ray
The coincidences go on! My next read was this, again chosen at random, and it’s a novel about a woman who hoards. A lot. Her hoarding is the result of a traumatic experience and we find out more about this as the book goes on. I liked this but three books on the same subject was a bit much!
Mayflies – Andrew o’Hagan
Thank goodness for this then, which is very different. This is a novel in two parts, featuring Tully and his friend James, who grow up Scotland and form a firm friendship away from their strange and sometimes destructive families. While James is bookish and encouraged by a teacher to study, Tully is a bit less focused but they both love music and travel to Manchester (this is 1986) to have a glorious weekend watching the bands they love and dancing at the Hacienda. Twenty ears later, James gets a call from Tully – he is dying and he needs help from his friend. This is a really good book about male friendship, about how men talk, bonding over things that don’t matter and using them to talk about the stuff that does matter. I don’t read a lot about men or by men in this way so it made a real change for me and it was a rewarding read.
The First Time That Lauren Pailing Died – Alyson Rudd
This was a perfectly well written, sometimes very engaging but ultimately a bit odd story about parallel universes. I quite liked it but I wanted it to go somewhere and it didn’t. Maybe that was the point.
Moments of Pleasure
I went to watch A Christmas Carol at Nottingham Playhouse this month, starring Mark Gatiss and Nicholas Farrell, and a fab young diverse cast. It was due to play Nottingham last year and was postponed because of the plague, so it was good to finally get to see these two great character actors.
I realised I’d read a lot this month and not watched much, so am now about to embark on a December of musicals recorded from the BBC over the last few weeks.
I also finished writing in my journal and spent a very enjoyable hour with my daughter customising my next journal with vast amounts of washi tape and stickers. Completely unnecessary and all the more fun for that.
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