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June Summary and Plans for July

Many thanks for all the kind messages you’ve sent recently. My health is continuing to improve – although I have more tests to complete and still don’t know the cause of my heart problem.

I’ve been able to read again, but only managed to finish 4 books in June. Luckily two of these were fantastic and I highly recommend both The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker and The Mouseproof Kitchen by Saira Shah. Both books are towards the lighter end of the spectrum (in terms of writing style, not subject matter!) and are perfect if you’re after a great story to escape in to.

Books of the Month:

The Mouseproof KitchenThe Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair

Books Reviewed in June:

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker 

The Mouseproof Kitchen by Saira Shah 

The Shining Levels by John Wyatt 

Lord of the Flies by William Golding 

Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin DNF

Plans for July

I’m taking things slowly, so am not making many plans, but I’m being drawn towards the classics at the moment. I’ve got audio copies of Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert out of the library and hope to read one or two more “important” books before the end of the month.

I also plan to finish The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, a fantastic piece of historical fiction (so far!) which is released on 3rd July. 

Anything else will be random, chosen entirely on my mood – the perfect way to be!

I hope you have a wonderful July!

Categories
1950s Classics Nobel Prize

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies: Educational Edition by Golding, William Educational Edition (2004) 

William Golding was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983

Five words from the blurb: boys, marooned, island, transformed, savages

There are several large holes in my reading history and Lord of the Flies was one of the biggest. It is so entrenched in our culture that I felt I knew what it was about, but when I heard it mentioned twice in one day I decided it was time to fill the gap and so got a copy from my local library.

I knew that Lord of the Flies involved a group of boys marooned on a desert island, but didn’t realise it was set during a nuclear war. Most of the rest of the plot was known to me; in fact I think this might be one classic better left unread as I had a far greater opinion of it and its cultural significance before I opened the cover.

The book began well, with some good character development and wonderfully vivid descriptions of the island, but as it progressed I became increasingly frustrated with it. The depiction of life of a desert island was unrealistic and there was no real knowledge of the way the body reacts in a survival situation. I also thought the reactions of the boys was unlikely and the plot became increasingly implausible as it progressed.

I can see why it has become a classic and there are some good messages within it, but I think this is one of those books that might be best read when young as it doesn’t stand up to careful scrutiny.

Overall, it’s a good concept and there are lots of strong, enduring images, but I’m afraid I found it lacked the insight to be convincing.

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Other

Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

Tales Of The City

Five words from the blurb: San Francisco, secretary, coincidences, life, romantic

Tales of the City is set in San Francisco during the 1970s. The novel revolves around a boarding house where a diverse range of characters live and socialise in a free society, full of sex and drugs.

I was pleased when my book group selected this novel to read as it is one I’ve heard lots about. Unfortunately it wasn’t for me and I couldn’t finish it. 

The writing was primarily dialogue and I think the main joy is to be found in its humour. Unfortunately I didn’t find it funny. There were occasions when I could see the joke, but I’m afraid it didn’t even make me smile. I’ve never been a fan of US sitcoms and I think this is the bookish equivalent of one.

Mona knocked at the wrong time.
“Uh…yeah…wait a minute, Mona — ”
Mona shouted through the door. “Room service, gentlemen. Just pull the covers up.”
Michael grinned at Jon. “My roommate. Brace yourself.”
Seconds later, Mona burst through the doorway with a tray of coffee and croissants.
“Hi! I’m Nancy Drew! You must be the Hardy Boys!” 

The characters were well drawn, but I wasn’t interested in them. The antics of these young, stupid people made me cringe and I quickly became bored with their inane banter.  

The plot was very slow moving and I struggled through the pages, trying to finish it for the good of the book group discussion. Unfortunately I was defeated and abandoned it after 120 pages. I skim read the ending, but I’m afraid that made me roll my eyes even more. 

Recommended to those who like light, dialogue-led American humour. 

DNF

Categories
2014 Books in Translation Chunkster Crime Uncategorized

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker

The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair Translated from the French by Sam Taylor

Five words from the blurb: American, disappearance, mystery, writer, love

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair is an intricately plotted murder mystery set in New England. It begins with Harry Quebert, a famous author, being arrested for the murder of a 15-year-old girl who went missing thirty years ago. Marcus Goldman, an old friend who was mentored by him at college, is convinced that Harry is innocent and rushes to his side. He sets out to investigate the truth behind the crime; discovering a host of secrets buried in the small coastal town.

Joël Dicker is a Swiss author, but it is impossible to know this from reading the novel. He’s somehow managed to produce a novel that feels authentically American. The characters are all well drawn and all hide secrets from their past. It is like the literary equivalent of Broadchurch (a fantastic British crime drama that I highly recommend) in that almost all the characters have a motive for the murder, but the clever plot keeps you guessing right until the end.

The pacing and structure of the book was perfect, with new information and plot twists added regularly. The way everything came together at the end was especially good and I found myself marveling at the construction of it all. I also loved the meta aspects of the novel. Some of the sections reminded me of the wonderful HHhH, although I’m not sure if the similarities were simply due to the fact both novels have the same translator.

The book was long, but it never dragged and I loved the way I felt as though I knew a wide-range of characters by the end. The reader occasionally has to suspend their disbelief and there were a few cliches sprinkled throughout, but I was willing to forgive these as I was so engrossed in the plot. 

This isn’t great literature, but it is a fantastic piece of story-telling. I recommend this book if you’re after an entertaining diversion that will keep you guessing for hours.

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The thoughts of other bloggers:

Joël Dicker succeeds in pulling off one of the best literary deceptions in years. Pretty Sinister Books

…the sort of magnificently awful book to sharpen hatchets over while idly eyeing up your kitchen knives. Domestic Sluttery

 It’s 656 pages of pure readable summertime bliss. 3G1B

Categories
1970s Memoirs

The Shining Levels by John Wyatt

The Shining Levels

Five words from the blurb: Lake District, forest, joys, deer, friendship

The Shining Levels is a beautiful book about the joys of the English countryside. It is an autobiographical account of John Wyatt’s move to a small stone hut in the Lake District, where he lives without many home comforts. He often takes things further by staying in a basic shelter in the woods; eating what he can find around him. His enthusiasm for the flora and fauna is infectious and it makes me want to walk through a wood looking for the wildlife he mentions.

Wyatt has a particular passion for trees and he explains everything from what each species tastes like, to the recipe for the perfect fire:

Once one gets the taste for smoking wood it is possible to mix and obtain subtle flavours; and invent recipes. Prepare a fire base of larch kindling, add well-seasoned oak until the logs redden deeply; place one large back-log of holly, and add, from the fire back to the front, one crab-apple log, one well-dried cherry and one of birch. An ideal after-dinner mixture.

There is also a fascinating account of what happens when he agrees to look after a baby roe deer. The relationship that builds between the two is wonderful and I highly recommend this book for that aspect alone.

On top of the detailed, vivid descriptions of wildlife we also glimpse what life was like in 1970s Cumbria. There is a wonderful range of local characters and many amusing anecdotes.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about nature, especially those with a connection to the Lake District.

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Many thanks to David, a regular commenter, for recommending this book to me.

Categories
2013 Recommended books

The Mouseproof Kitchen by Saira Shah

The Mouseproof Kitchen

Five words from the blurb: baby, disabled, motherhood, France, cookery

The Mouseproof Kitchen is a searingly honest book about the mixed emotions experienced by parents when they have a disabled child. The book begins with Anna giving birth to Freya, a baby with profound disabilities. Freya will never be able to walk or talk like ‘normal’ children and is plagued by a series of medical problems. Confused and upset Anna persuades her husband, Toby, to move to France in order to escape their claustrophobic city life. The dilapidated house they purchase on a whim takes their mind off Freya’s problems initially, but the emotional turmoil builds as Anna and Toby battle with their shattered expectations of parenthood.

The characters and emotions in this book were so vividly described that most of the time I felt as though I was reading an autobiography. Saira Shah has a child with cerebral palsy and it is clear she has put much of her personal experience into this novel. The honesty and complexity of the emotions were insightful and never became sentimental. I’m sure they’ll give comfort to anyone who has experienced something similar.

The writing was thought provoking throughout and it raised interesting questions about modern parenting and the role of the disabled in society. I found myself highlighting numerous passages and I’m sure I’ll be thinking about the issues involved for a long time to come.

I listen to the rough rasp of her breathing, wondering what I’ll do if the breathing stops. In some ways, it would be the easiest thing. In other ways, unbearable. We lie, the baby and I, in this womb of a bed and hide from the outside world. 

The book also contained wonderful descriptions of France – giving glimpses into everything from the problems of renovating houses there, to the joy of preserving figs and cherries. The food aspects of the book were particularly interesting to me and I loved reading detailed descriptions of various traditional French recipes. 

As you can tell, I loved this book. Some might complain that there were too many coincidences, but I was so wrapped up in the lives of these wonderfully drawn characters that I didn’t care. I highly recommend The Mouseproof Kitchen to anyone who enjoys reading about realistic characters battling with complex emotional issues.

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