It’s been a little while again but a lot of reading has been going on around the edges of the madness involved in the move. I’ve been in one of those lovely reading whirlwinds where it doesn’t really matter what I’m reading, as long as the pages keep turning and the words keep flowing; the kind of run where you find yourself grabbing at pages whenever a little gap inserts itself in the day, no matter how brief the window.
I’m feeling the need for clean slates at the moment and, while some of these books deserve more than a few brief lines, I’d rather not have a long list of reviews that I’ll likely never write hanging over my head. So I thought I’d try a little experiment and write teeny reviews for the last 10 books I read. That way I’m up to date and we can power on into the glories of autumn/winter reading without any lingering guilt… Here’s the first five, all of which were read in mid to late September.
- Louis de Bernieres – The Dust That Falls From Dreams: Given my feelings about Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and my penchant for a good love story, I feel like I should have liked this more. The word ‘epic’ is liberally sprinkled over reviews of this book, but I’m not sure it felt that way to me. Covering the years during and after the Second World War, the book follows the McCosh family and, in particular, Rosie McCosh who is loved as a girl by two neighbouring boys in their suburb of London – Daniel Pitt and Ashbridge Pendennis. As the story develops, we find out how the lives of the various characters are impacted by the war and de Bernieres delivers a pretty insightful exploration of the effects of grief but I don’t think I felt the necessary connection to the characters to get fully immersed. Having said that, Rosie’s father Hamish McCosh is well up there on my list of ‘literary characters I’d like to be related to’.
- Sarah Winman – A Year of Marvellous Ways: By contrast, I completely loved this gorgeously lyrical tale of 90-year-old Cornish creek-dweller, Marvellous Ways, and the young soldier, Francis Drake, who enters her life just as both need help transitioning from one world to another. A lot of people were put off by Winman’s decision not to use speech marks but I have to say it didn’t bother me in the least and I rather enjoyed the ambiguity that occasionally resulted. And Marvellous’ own love story with the flighty Paper Jack is a beautiful example of just how much you can be made to care with the bare minimum of words.
- Naomi Wood – Mrs Hemingway: I’m always a little twitchy about fictional books based on real people; mostly they make me want to go away and read more things to quell the mild anxiety that I now ‘know’ things that aren’t strictly true. However, I found I wasn’t too bothered while reading Wood’s rather poignant exploration of marriage, infidelity and the many different kinds of love. I found it relatively easy to forget Hemingway was ‘Hemingway’ and found myself getting caught up in the world of the women who shared his life instead. They ended up being the people I’d most like to have had a conversation with.
- Ali Smith – Public Library and Other Stories: A mixed bag of short stories on a theme that is very dear to my heart. A couple of the stories shone out, a few felt a little inpenetrably crunchy but it could just be that I haven’t spent enough time adjusting to Smith’s style. I loved the overriding ethos of the collection – the idea that we are what we read – and Smith’s preoccupation with words but I have to say that my favourite parts were the sections between the stories where Smith seeks out contributions from other writers about the place of libraries in their own histories.
- Vanessa Tait – The Looking Glass House: Unintentionally, I found myself reading another story about real people – in this case, Charles Dodgson and the inspiration behind the ‘Alice’ of his most famous story, Alice Liddell. The story focuses on the birth of Dodgson’s tale but shifts perspectives by relating events through the eyes of Alice’s governess, Mary Prickett. A reasonably absorbing read but the most interesting detail was that the author, Vanessa Tait, is the real-life great-granddaughter of Alice Liddell herself.