October Summary and Plans for November

October was a good reading month for me. I finished 14 books and most of them were of a high standard.

Books of the Month

Things Fall Apart (Pocket Penguin Classics)The Fat Years

Books Reviewed in October

Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe

The Fat Years – Chan Koonchung

Family Matters – Rohinton Mistry

The Poison Tree – Erin Kelly 

Gillespie and I – Jane Harris 

The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller 

How to Forget – Marius Brill

The Marriage Plot – Jeffrey Eugenides

Breathing Underwater – Marie Darrieussecq

The Sound of Gravity – Joe Simpson

Everything You Know – Zoe Heller

What Else Did I Do?

The beginning of the month was hectic as it was my eldest son’s 6th birthday. For some mad reason we invited his entire class and as such ended up with a room full of 29 children. We hired a magician to entertain them for most of the party, but that still left us supervising them over food and for the last few minutes. I’m sure they all had a good time, but next year I’m having a maximum of eight!

A few days later my youngest son somehow managed to trip over and land on his head –  it is amazing how much blood can be produced from one little (but deep) cut. He was glued back together quite quickly, but I hope I don’t have to repeat that experience too many times. Here he is at his school harvest festival, showing off his injury.


It has been half term this week, so I’ve spent the time entertaining my boys. We’ve been into London, done a Halloween treasure hunt, carved pumpkins, been to a fireworks dispay and spent a lot of time in the woods walking Ayla and collecting sweet chestnuts. Here are a few photos to show what we’ve been up to:



Ayla is now 6 months old and weighs 27kg. I think she has all her adult teeth now and she has stopped chewing everything in sight. Last week we finally trusted her to sleep outside her crate and in the morning everything was exactly as we left it, so fingers crossed that chewy puppy stage is over.








Plans for November

I’m planning to join the German Literature Month organised by Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life and Caroline from Beauty is A Sleeping Cat.

I’ve already finished:

  • The Death of the Adversary by Hans Keilson
  • The Sinner by Petra Hammesfahr
  • The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek

and I got so excited by German literature that I started The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass – a book that has intimidated me for far too long. It is much easier to read than I expected and I hope to finish it before the end of the month.

I also plan to read the following books:

Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel

House Rules by Jodi Picoult

The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue

The Lady’s Slipper by Deborah Swift

I’m also going to do a bit of random reading – picking a few books that have been on my shelf for far too long.

Have a wonderful November!

2011 Books in Translation

The Fat Years – Chan Koonchung

The Fat Years Translated from the Chinese by Michael S. Duke

Five words from the blurb: China, truth, memory, cheerfulness, world

The Fat Years is billed as “the notorious thriller they banned in China”, but closer inspection reveals that the fictional elements of this story are minimal and I think it can be more accurately described as a controversial exposé of the political situation in China today.

The book is set in the near future and revolves around a small group of people who realise that a month has disappeared from official records and no-one can remember what happened. The general population is suspiciously cheerful, seemingly oblivious to the situation. The friends travel around the country in search of the truth behind the strange event, uncovering numerous situations previously hidden from the public.

Initially I struggled to follow the plot because there were a large number of characters and many cultural references that I was unfamiliar with, but I persevered and after about 70 pages I began to understand what was happening. The more I read, the more impressed I was. The Fat Years is thought -provoking, clever and frighteningly realistic. This book was written a few years ago, but several of Koonchung’s predictions have already come true and the line between fiction and reality is incredibly small. There were several sections that I found unbelievable, but a quick bit of Internet research revealed that the events described had in fact happened.

The Fat Years does a fantastic job of explaining China’s place in the Global economy and provides an insight into their thoughts on the rest of the world. I admit that some of the financial aspects of the book went over my head, but some of the policies for bringing China out of recession were bold enough to give me real food for thought.

Twenty-five per cent of the balance of every National Bank savings account was to be converted into vouchers for use in China only. One third of these to be spent within ninety days, and two thirds within six months.

The book also explained the population’s thoughts on the political situation of the country.

… a moderately well-off society, the people fear chaos more than they fear dictatorship.

The ending was particularly profound and I’m sure I’ll be thinking about it for a long time to come.

The Fat Years won’t be for everyone, but if you have an interest in Chinese ideology or the financial influence of China on the world then this as a must read.

Highly recommended.



The Best and Worst

Today I’m taking part in Alyce’s Best and Worst Feature, talking about an author who has written a book I love, as well as one I didn’t enjoy at all.

Head over to her blog to see which author I picked.


The Sound of Gravity – Joe Simpson

The Sound of Gravity

I have read and loved all Joe Simpson’s non-fiction books; torn between admiration of his courage and disbelief at the way he repeatedly puts himself in danger. I was unaware that he’d made the move into fiction writing until this book popped through my letter box, but I’ve since discovered that this is actually his second fiction novel. Once again I’m torn – this time between wanting him to go back into those dangerous situations (so he’s able to write another non-fiction account of his adventures) and being pleased that he has at last decided to stay inside and do nothing more dangerous than sharpen pencils.

The Sound of Gravity begins with a climbing accident in the Alps. A man has to let go of his girlfriend’s hand, leaving her to fall to her death and him with a decade of guilt. The book goes on to cover events leading up to this tragedy and details of his slow recovery afterwards.

I initially loved the vivid descriptions of both the surroundings and the raw emotions.

He held his breath as she died. She vanished with a swiftness that unbalanced him. It snared him from a weary sleep, waking him with icy immediacy. She simply fell away and out of life, dropping noiselessly down into the cold air.

But after a while I began to get snow fatigue. Every page seemed to describe yet another snowy outcrop, each with its own near-death experience.

It seemed to happen with cartoon-like speed. With a grating noise of pulverised rock the slab that had formed the roof dipped down and began to topple from the ridge. He pulled hard on the abseil tape, running on the tipping slab, watching as his crampons kicked sparks from the rock and he made a despairing lunge. His chest pounded painfully against the ledge as he felt the roof fall away below his thighs and his legs plunge into emptiness.

This left me thinking about the differences between fiction and non-fiction. Did I only love Joe Simpson’s previous books because I knew they were true? Were the endless near-misses so much more exciting because they involved the lives of real people? I guess it all comes down to the fact that I just didn’t care about the characters in this book – they had so many accidents that each one began to lose its significance.

If you’re new to Joe Simpson I recommend starting with Touching The Void. The Touching The Void DVD is also very good, especially the extra feature documentary  – it is, in my opinion, the best extra feature I’ve ever found on a DVD.

I’m sure that the technical details will mean that this book will appeal to climbers, but I think the average reader will prefer his non-fiction titles.


Have you read any of Joe Simpson’s books?

2000 - 2007 Booker Prize

Family Matters – Rohinton Mistry

Family Matters: 1

A Fine Balance is my favourite book and so you’d have thought I’d have gone out and read all of Mistry’s books straight away. The reality is that I was too scared to read them – I knew my expectations were far too high and didn’t want to be disappointed. I eventually built up the courage to try Family Matters and although it isn’t in the same league as A Fine Balance, I wasn’t disappointed.

Family Matters has a much narrower scope than A Fine Balance. It follows a single family as they struggle to look after their father, Nariman; an old man who suffers from Parkinson’s and then becomes immobile after a fall. Trapped in his bed Nariman feels the terrific burden he has placed on his family. They struggle to afford his medicines and find it physically draining to care for him.

The characters come alive on the very first page and I felt immense sympathy for everyone involved – the relationship between Nariman and his grandson was especially touching. There were times when I longed for the plot to move beyond the family, but the fact that I was happy observing such mundane scenes for the majority of the book shows Mistry’s talent as a writer.

The sights and sounds of India were vividly described and Mistry has an amazing ability draw attention to the little things and give them a whole new depth.

In the flower stall two men sat like musicians, weaving strands of marigold, garlands of jasmine and lily and rose, their fingers picking, plucking, knotting, playing a floral melody.

I strongly recommend that you read A Fine Balance, but once you’ve read that I think you’ll appreciate this subtler insight into the problems faced by one Indian family.




Booker Prize Other

The Booker Prize Announcement

Last night the Booker Prize was awarded to Julian Barnes for Sense of an Ending and although I didn’t enjoy it I was pleased because I thought it was the most deserving book on the shortlist.

The Sense of an Ending

In the run up to the prize announcement I normally do a prediction post, but as you’ve probably seen there has been a lot of debate about the Booker judges this year and with their comments about wanting a readable book that would “zip-along” I honestly had no idea which book they’d pick. It was good to see that they chose the most literary book on the short list and I hope next year’s prize courts less controversy.

Independent Alliance Man Booker Prize Party

Last night I was lucky enough to attend a Booker Prize party organised by four of the publishers on the short list (Atlantic, Canongate, Serpent’s Tail and Granta). It was quite a daunting experience as I knew no-one there. The situation was made harder by the fact that everyone else seemed to know each other, but after nearly bolting for the door I summoned up the courage to speak to people and had a fantastic evening.

I spoke to the editor of Half Blood Blues, several publishers and I had a very interesting conversation with someone from a marketing agency about blogs, social media and viral marketing. As the prize announcement drew nearer I spoke to Carol Birch’s son and was surprised to discover that short listed authors only get to take one guest along with them to the official prize giving ceremony.

Live Booker coverage was broadcast to the party on a big screen and everyone watched nervously. A few people booed Stella Rimington’s speech and there was quite a bit of heckling – everyone was far better behaved at the real Booker announcement! When Julian Barnes was declared the winner the entire room seemed to sigh in unison. There was no booing (or clapping) just a weird feeling of sadness from everyone in the room. After the news had sunk in we got back to drinking and talking. It was a bit strange to have a party without the authors we were celebrating, but everyone had a fantastic time.

I look forward to seeing which books are selected for the Booker next year and will be enjoying a bit more random reading over the next few months.