2010 TV Book Club

The Radleys by Matt Haig

The Radleys

I haven’t had any success with vampire related entertainment in the past and so avoided this book for a long time. Even when people with similar aversions started to rave about it I ignored them – there was no way I’d be convinced to try another disappointing vampire book. But slowly the positive reviews started to mount and I became increasingly curious about this book. I wasn’t convinced enough to buy a copy, but when I spotted it in my local library I couldn’t resist reading the first page – if only to confirm my belief that it would be terrible. I’m almost sad to admit that my 100% failure with vampires is over. I fell in love with this book from the very beginning and enjoyed this fast paced, entertaining romp all the way to the end.

The Radleys is set in a small Yorkshire town and focuses on one family who are desperately trying to live a normal life. The problem is that they are vampires with an almost uncontrollable urge to drink blood. I admit that the premise sounds just like any other vampire book, but this one is different in that it is almost a satire of the others. It doesn’t try to scare you, but entertains with witty observations about British life and realistic descriptions of the relationships between different family members.   

The blood drinking can also be taking for a metaphor for almost any desire that we have trouble controlling. A book about giving up smoking wouldn’t have been as interesting, but the lessons about impulse control are just as relevant.

The Radleys is the perfect choice for anyone looking for a lighter read. It is an original idea that has been cleverly executed. Recommended.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

(I couldn’t find a negative review)

The writing is funny and the story is so real! Leeswammes Blog

Some of the cultural references feel quite UK-focused, so I hope that doesn’t impact how it translates elsewhere. Novel Insights

…. a great pleasure to read. Follow the Thread


Read or Reject #5

My New Year’s Resolution is to give up on books that aren’t outstanding. I don’t want to miss out on a gem that happens to have a poor beginning, so I hope that you can help me sort the wheat from the chaff. Should I continue reading any of these books?


Sorry by Gail Jones

I loved the beginning of this book. The writing was outstanding – perfectly capturing life in the Australian outback. But after about 80 pages it lost some of its initial momentum and I found that other books called to me more loudly. It has been two weeks since I last picked up this book and as time goes on I’m wondering if I should make the effort to get back into it. Does this book have more to offer than fantastic writing? Will I be surprised and gripped by the plot later in the book?


Pilcrow by Adam Mars-Jones

A few people have been suggesting that Adam Mars-Jones’ latest book, Cedilla, will make the Booker long list this year and so I thought I should try the first book in the series so that I’m not left with two enormous chunksters to get through before the short list is revealed. Once again I fell in love with the writing, but after about 150 pages without any hint of a plot I became frustrated. I need more than random observations about life to keep me entertained, but I suspect that this book isn’t going to provide me with any. Does this book change in style a bit further on?

When the Killing's Done

When the Killing’s Done by TC Boyle

I had been looking forward to reading TC Boyle’s latest book, but I wonder if it is a victim of my high expectations. There were some great sections explaining how the introduction of species to non-native areas has caused havoc, but the fiction elements were disappointing. I didn’t connect with the characters and found the plot weak. I stopped after about 80 pages. Should I persevere?

Time's Arrow

Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis

I had heard amazing things about this book. The central character is a Nazi war criminal and the book tells his story backwards, so that whenever you see him healing someone you know that he actually killed them. Having a book that is able to be read both forwards and backwards is a very clever idea, but the problem was that this book often didn’t make sense when read forwards. I found myself having to read whole sections (especially the conversations) backwards in order to work out what was happening. I guess I’m just frustrated by all these books that try to make reading about the Holocaust palatable. I prefer to read something like The Kindly Ones that tells you exactly what happened without the use of fancy metaphors. Will reading to the end reduce my frustrations with this book?

Other books abandoned recently:

The Book of Human Skin – Michelle Lovric

Repeat it Today with Tears – Anne Peile



Mervyn Peake at the British Library





The Worlds of Mervyn Peake Exhibition

On Monday night I was lucky enough to attend a special evening at the British Library, celebrating the work of Mervyn Peake. The night began with a special private viewing of the library’s new The Worlds of Mervyn Peake Exhibition.

The exhibition contained many of Peake’s original manuscripts and a lot of information about his life. I made lots of notes so will fill this post with the facts that interested me the most.

The Manuscripts

The majority of the Gormenghast Trilogy was written in lined notebooks and I was surprised to see that his beautiful illustrations were sketched alongside his writing, with the lines from the notebooks running straight through the drawings. I’d expected them to be in a separate sketch pad, but Peake clearly liked to have a strong image of each scene in his head before writing it. Almost all the drawings were done using the same pen that he used for writing. Acrylic Display Stand SIngapore helps to display brochures, posters indoor and outdoor.

I found most of Peake’s writing illegible and so was interested to read that his wife had similar trouble. In one of the notebooks that she used to write Titus Awakes she admitted that she struggled to decipher his notes and after a certain point she gave up:

…..from now on, I, like Titus will be alone in his wanderings.

Places that Influenced Gormenghast

Meryvn Peake was born in China and he lived there for the first twelve years of his life. The country had a big impact on his writing and its influence can be seen in several sections of the Gormenghast books.

The Hall of Bright Carvings was inspired by The Spirit Way at the Eastern Imperial Tombs, near Beijing.

I was also surprised to see Peake’s drawing of Gormenghast Castle. I had imagined it to be based on European castles, particularly those found in Eastern Europe, but his drawing showed it to look more like Chinese Palaces balancing on rocky outcrops. I wish I could have taken a photo of this illustration as I think you’d have been as surprised as I was.

Sark, one of the Channel Islands, was also a favourite place for Peake. Many of the place names in Gormenghast can be traced to Sark and the stacks of rocks found on the island echo those around Gormenghast.

Photo Credit: Beechwood photography, Flickr

The Worlds of Mervyn Peake Exhibition is at the British Library until 18th September and is entry is free.

The Launch of Titus Awakes

After viewing the exhibit we were treated to a wonderful discussion of the books with Sebastian Peake (son of Mervyn), China Mièville and Brian Sibley. Zoe Wanamaker, John Sessions and Miranda Richardson also read some extracts from the books. The power of the words combined with their acting ability makes me wonder if I should be listening to the audio version, instead of reading the print version.

We also heard a snippet of the new Radio 4 have serialisation of the Titus books and I was very impressed. The first episode is available to listen to on iPlayer now.

Titus Awakes, the fourth book in the series, was introduced to us. It was written by Maeve Gilmore (Mervyn Peake’s wife) and has a different feel to the other books. I didn’t realise that Mervyn Peake had plans for lots of different Titus books and I’m sorry that he died before he had the chance to write them. I look forward to seeing how Titus’s journey continues and wonder whether any more books will be written to continue his adventures.

I learnt so much over the course of the evening, but here are a few of my favourite facts:

  • As a child Peake almost lost fingers to a camel, hence the “vile camel” in Titus Alone.
  • The Dark Breakfast to celebrate Titus’s 1st birthday was written in 1942 as “occupational therapy” after Peake’s mental breakdown.
  • Peake held his pen vertically as he wrote and illustrated as this is the way he was shown to do it by a calligrapher in China.
  • Peake loved people spotting – sketching anyone who had interesting features.
  • Graham Greene was the literary talent scout who spotted Gormenghast, but he was also the person who recommended removing all Peake’s illustrations from the original publication.

It was a wonderful evening and I’d like to thank Vintage for inviting me along and making me even more excited about reading The Gormenghast Trilogy.

For this week’s read-along discussion please see posts by other read-along participants:

(Links added as posts are published)

2011 Romance

The Forgotten Waltz – Anne Enright

The Forgotten Waltz

I loved The Gathering, despite the fact that it has no plot, and so was keen to try Anne Enright’s new book, The Forgotten Waltz. Luckily it lived up to expectations and I’m pleased to report that Anne Enright remains one of the few authors able to engage me without the use of a compelling plot.

The Forgotten Waltz is basically a romance. The book perfectly captures the emotions of a couple as they become involved with one another. The 230 pages describe a scene that would normally only occupy a few pages in any other book, but Enright has a way of observing the tiniest of details and making everything come alive.

He is, for a moment, completely himself. He is about to turn around, but he doesn’t know it yet. He will look around and see me as I see him and, after this, nothing will happen for many years. There is no reason why it should.

This book is packed with emotion and has the benefit of being far more cheerful than The Gathering.

My only criticism is that the story isn’t very original and, although I enjoyed reading it, I don’t think I’ll remember much about it this time next year.


Other Recommended books Uncategorized

The Best Books About Motherhood

I love books that deal with all aspects of motherhood, but I particularly enjoy those that investigate its darker side – those times when everything goes wrong and the child makes life extremely difficult for the parents. Unfortunately I have run out of books with this theme and so would love to know if you have any recommendations for me.  

My favourite books about motherhood


We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

We Need to Talk About Kevin is my favourite book about motherhood. It portrays a mother’s worst nightmare and discusses how responsible a parent is for their child’s actions. It is frighteningly realistic and I still think about it all the time.


The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing

The Fifth Child shares many themes with We Need to Talk About Kevin, but the child is so evil it verges on fantasy. The Fifth Child contains a good discussion about whether or not it is fair to give one child more attention than their siblings, if they are having difficulties.

The Cuckoo Boy – Grant Gillespie

The Cuckoo Boy has many similarities to the above two books, but I especially admired the nature verus nurture debate.

The Nobodies Album – Carolyn Parkhurst

The Nobodies Album is very different in structure to the other books here, but I admired its originality. It examines the relationship between a mother and her adult son and shows how parental responsibilty changes over time.

Night Waking

Night Waking – Sarah Moss 

An accurate and often comic insight into the difficulites of raising young children. I think all new mothers will recognise some of the scenes from this book.

Peripheral Vision – Patricia Ferguson

Through the eyes of three different women this book shows how the relationship between a mother and child can be both powerful and fragile.

Beside the Sea – Veronique Olmi

A devastatingly sad book about what can happen when parenting becomes too much.

The Birth of Love – Joanna Kavenna

The Birth of Love shows how child birth has changed over time and gives a frightening prediction of how things might be in the future.



Gormenghast Read-along: Week 5

Gormenghast (Gormenghast Trilogy (Book Two))


One – Eighteen (p373 – p467)



This week’s Gormenghast discussion is written by Birdie, a blogger who reviews literary fiction with emphasis on British writers.

The beginning of Gormenghast, while retaining the absurdity of Titus Groan, has a slightly different feel to it.  I ascribe this difference to the fact that we get to see inside the characters’ heads a bit more often and in more detail.  In Titus Groan, we never really got the opportunity to understand Lord Sepulchrave’s motives, or the Countess’s, or even Prunesquallor’s, and it was the very last section of the book before we got to see into Flay’s personality (with the consequence that I sorely miss him in this text).  We did see into Steerpike and Fuchsia a bit more, but in this second book of the series we are meant to move into the world a little more.


This image of Gormenghast castle was created by ~Dream-Painter on Deviant Art.

Titus Groan was largely about viewing the world of Gormenghast from the outside: the first viewpoint we could really be said to follow was Steerpike’s and he was still an outsider to the culture of Gormenghast at the time. We are presented with the characters almost as Steerpike sees them. In other words, we see them from a more distant and sociological perspective. This perspective accounts for the difficulty many of us had in forming sympathetic relationships to the characters. In this second novel, Steerpike has established himself as an inevitability, training under Barquentine, spying on many of the castle inmates, engineering the disappearance of the twins and controlling them through terror. While he becomes a constant force in the castle, we as readers need his viewpoint less, and we gravitate toward the interiority of other characters just when Steerpike’s shallowness and sadism toward the aunts is demonstrated.

Gertrude, from the BBC production of Gormenghast

I find the sections of Gertrude’s thoughts particularly interesting, since she seems to have been cast as singularly thought-less in the first novel.  But in Gormenghast, we see her struggling to turn on her brain after years of neglect and we get an idea of what her internal character is like.  I have several questions that revolve around the Countess:  What is it that has awoken the mistrust in her mind/heart?  Does she sense Steerpike’s perfidy or is she simply reacting to the change necessitated by the loss of Lord Sepulchrave, Sourdust, Flay, Swelter, and the Twins?  We know that her animal/base instincts are incredibly strong since she has a greater affinity for animals and nature than for humans. What instinct, then, leads her to trust Prunesquallor?

Gertrude does not like change, which is unsurprising since the entire absurdist edifice of Gormenghast is built on the unchanging nature of out-dated ritual.  What is interesting is the way that other characters who might not have such a strong personal interest in this ritual are blindly loyal and extremely dedicated to the status quo.  In particular I’m thinking of the Professors of Gormenghast here, whose days are dictated as much by ritual as those of the seventy-sixth Earl had been, and who are also every bit as averse to change:

There had once been talk of progress by a young member of a bygone staff, but he had been instantly banished. (page 490)

What do you think Peake is doing with these characters? Is this simply more demonstration of the dangers of inertia or is Peake making a larger point about the educational system, not only of Gormenghast, but of the public schools that breed a sort of traditional mentality? Also, the narrator mentions several times that Titus is to be treated the same as the other castle whelps , presumably in order for him to understand multiple types of relationships and to humble him a bit.  But we have not seen Titus interact with any of his school fellows.  And though he is supposed to be treated the same, would there have been a school-wide search for any boy other than the young Earl?

Finally, we get to see inside Titus’s mind quite explicitly.  The boy seems to think primarily in colours and images rather than in logical thoughts.  His reflections on the marble on his desk seem related in this way to his discovery of the brightly coloured room in the castle and to his view of the separate copses as distinct from his vantage point on Gormenghast mountain.  What does this visual sense of apprehending the world tell us about Titus?

Other opinions on this section:

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