A book from…the bookshelf.

At home I have a beautiful, Aspinal of London, leather-bound notebook with my initials on it in gold.  I was given it for Christmas years ago.  I had asked for a new set of mixing bowls, but that’s beside the point.

Anyway this book, which is way more beautiful than any mixing bowls could ever have been, sat, unopened, for years.  It was too beautiful for just any old scribbles.  It needed, probably, poetry. Or failing that, profound thoughts, or a first draft of a prize winning novel.  And though, not so secretly, I love to write, I could never convince myself that anything I wrote would ever be worthy of the book. 

Eventually I gave up, accepted my limitations and started jotting down in it my thoughts on other people’s writing.  Each time I finish a book, or, more realistically, when the tower of previously read books next to the bed becomes so tall and unstable it seems a mortal threat to any passing toddlers, I scrawl a sentence or two about it. It is entirely for myself, and at least in part as I tend to forget books almost as soon as I have read them. This way I can’t.

Of course the book is in Kelso, but in its absence, and in the absence of any travel-based reading, here’s what I’ve read over the last month.   They have nothing in common except that they are in paper form and here.

Warning. May contain spoilers.  Although not big ones, I promise.

This is very confusing. This may mean it is very clever but I’m not sure.  It is like one of those 3D puzzles that you have to solve without touching: you need to hold multiple seemingly contradictory possibilities in your mind and look at them from all angles in order to fit them together. I’d read it before and been more confused than impressed.  This time I think the balance shifted the other way.

Lucy just thought it was confusing.

I also have a pet hate of the Russian letter Я (‘ya’, which means ‘I’; should you ever have wondered) being used as a backwards R. But that’s just me.

I have been, literally, a beggar when it comes to books (this has worked – Magnus has acquired the entire Narnia series which we are enjoying reading together – addition aside: what order do you recommend? We have gone 2,3,4, 5 and I think will then do 6,1,7 but other views and arguments to support them are welcome). 

Anyway, as I am a beggar, I cannot, in consequence, be a chooser.  I have therefore been reading Lucy’s teen fiction.

This one was pretty good.  Although I did find myself wondering if I really wanted my just 13-year-old reading about child abuse, rohypnol and date rape.  Too late now.  Of course if I ban books as being inappropriate maybe Aurora will start reading them….

Another of those annoying books where the person who wrote the blurb clearly hadn’t actually read the book.  Why do publishers do this? I therefore spent the first five or so chapters annoyed because it wasn’t what I expected.

It was good though, once I’d got over that.  How do we treat newcomers in our midst. What if we couldn’t stop them coming? And what are they fleeing from? 

It’s not science fiction though, and they can go back.  Blurb-writer take note.

What were the chances of many of Kathy Reichs’ readers having spent several formative teenage weekends in the West Wycombe caves?  Probably small, but I am that reader and so the denouement of this was rather anti-climactic. Shame really.  Too many acronyms (IMO) but it was probably better than I found it to be.

Reading this felt like a dream.  Looking back on it feels like a dream that you can’t quite remember.  It was a good dream, but one that even as you are in it feels ethereal and other. Misty and hazy.  Where anything can, and does, happen.

For the avoidance of doubt, that’s a complimentary review.

This book made me feel clever. That’s always a bonus. It also made me read faster and faster to find out what happened. It did also make me wonder at times if he’d just copied and pasted his research notes, which is less of a compliment.

But I have recommended it to my brother, so it must be good (or he’ll get cross with me). And I will read it again (so I can enjoy the writing, and the cleverness) now that I know how it ends.

This is a classic of modern teenage fiction. And I’m sorry but I thought it was rubbish. The protagonist was possibly the most selfish and self-absorbed character I’ve ever read, and I don’t think that was deliberate. One of the more stupid and reckless too. Admittedly my sympathies generally may now lie more with the parents than the teens, but this teen didn’t deserve any sympathy at all. There are other, much better teen novels out there. Read them instead.

This one, for instance. Again, maybe 40 years of reading (and life) experience makes me harder to surprise with a twist than the intended audience, but even though I’d worked out what was coming it was still satisfying.

More critically, I do feel that if you are going to try to write in four different voices you do need to make those voices distinct. These weren’t.

Inspector Dalgleish gets SARS. Convenienly on an island which is immediately quarantined. The world doesn’t come to a complete stop.

This is therefore not the book for 2020. To make matters worse it was (I felt) badly edited, with too many sentences that didn’t quite make sense: including one about a spare toothbrush that had Ben and me both puzzling for half an hour. If it was his spare toothbrush, where was his actual toothbrush? And why were they brushing their teeth in different bathrooms?

Annoyingly this wasn’t the clue that unravelled the entire mystery.

I am not a fan of this sort of book. Or at least of the sort of book I was expecting: fey genteel poverty, all-neatly-tied-up, one step up from Mills & Boon (do they still exist?) twee romance for the middle-aged and middle-class. (Both of which I am, of course) But I enjoyed this. (QED). Even if I thought the fact that main character “bit her tongue and said nothing” showed less that she was acting “in the interests of peace” and more that she was a complete doormat who needed to stand up for herself and say what she actually wanted.

Although if she’d done that they’d have got together in about chapter 4 and there wouldn’t have been a book at all…

The last time I read this I cried. Big ugly noisy sobs. Snot was probably involved. I also laughed. Out loud. This is not something I usually do at books. I’m more of the snort in an unattractive fashion type.

This time, although I laughed, I didn’t cry. But the final act still hit me with almost physical force. If you haven’t read this book and if you care about the NHS, now more than ever, read it. I’ll post you my copy. Unless you’re pregnant. If you’re pregnant, maybe leave it until after the baby is born.

As far as trashy airport novels go, Jennifer Weiner is among the best, even if this one was a bit annoying. Good in Bed was better.

If I could write like anyone in the world, it would be Maggie O’Farrell.  Well, it would be lots of people, and I’d take any of them, but Maggie O’Farrell would definitely be high on the list.

She writes phrases like this:

She kept viewing herself as if from the outside. Instead of just acting, just doing, just running or dreaming or playing or collecting, she would feel this sense of externalisation: and so, a voice in her head would comment, you are running. Do you need to run? Where are you going? […] It was as if someone had dimmed the lights, as if she were viewing her existence from behind a glass wall.

And it makes me realise that I have felt this, built my life around this, perhaps for ever, and yet never articulated it. And she has.

I wish I could do that.

This was so good I read it twice. Well, I did read it twice but that may have had more to do with the fact it was the only book I took with me when we went away last week.

It is good though, pleasingly both neatly tied up and yet life-like in its randomness. Too many coincidences, perhaps, but then, as she says, a coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen.

I like Jackson Brodie too. I will re-read the others when I get home.

Middle England next, which is making me feel even more bleak about the doomed state of British politics.

Harriet

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3 Comments

  1. VERY impressed by the sheer quantity of your reading (I’ve managed about three books during lockdown), also extremely useful commentary. Two of them, the front cover photo failed to show (one, I guess, was Adam Kay’s “This is Going to Hurt”, the other is the book by Jennifer Weiner, where I have no idea what it is); but it may be just my phone.
    Well done!

  2. Yes the are, that’s better. Glad to see I was right about Adam Kay!

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