Friday, 30 March 2012

Going away....

Mr W and I are going away for a few days on Saturday, not quite a week, and as we've had such lovely weather all of this week, I am anticipating 6 days of torrential rain holed up in a holiday cottage. Obviously, I have packed lots of books (in fact I've added to the stack since I took this picture but didn't have time to re-take them - late additions include the recently Virago published The lifeboat and a second hand Rebecca Shaw paperback to reread along with Patrick Gale's Notes on an exhibition after hearing him speak on Friday night).

I'm particularly excited about the new Sue Townsend as I always enjoy her books; another extravagance is the new Marina Lewyca, Various pets dead and alive. I've packed The saffron eaters, because it is set in Cornwall, the Laura Ingalls Wilder autobiography because I didn't get around to reading it in Tenerife, and the new Helen Dunmore for the same reason. I've got a new Susan Scarlett out in February called Ten Way Street (thanks to Greyladies again) and a reread of The lost art of keeping secrets by Eva Rice. Mr W will enjoy Chrissie Wellington's autobiography and I hope to be inspired by it too - for those of you don't know, she is the world champion Ironman Triathlete, and has held the title several times. I'm particularly inspired by her because like me she struggled with various mental health issues in her twenties - and look what she has achieved!!

Plenty to keep me occupied and there's a couple of magazines in the book bag too, and a cute cross stitch to have a go at.

I'll be taking a (well deserved I hope) post Orange longlist break, and be back with some Easter baking around Easter weekend. For lent will be over and I can be let loose on the kitchen again, although I'm definitely going to cut down on the cake excesses of 2011 and early 2012.

Orange 2012: Round-up

I'm still waiting for my copy of The night circus to arrive, but I've read the other 19 longlisted titles and as we're off for a little break (more on that later), it seems like a good time to round up my reading. I was hoping that The night circus would arrive in time, but it was not to be!

So firstly, here is the list of the 19 books that I have read, with links to my thoughts on them, ranked in order of how much I liked them.

Island of wings
State of wonder
Painter of silence
Gillespie and I
There but for the
Foreign Bodies
The sealed letter
Translation of the bones
The forgotten waltz
The flying man
Song of Achilles
On the floor
Grief of others
The submission
The pink hotel
Tides of war
Lord of Misrule
The Blue Book

And then this is the 5 that I think will make the shortlist, not sure about the 6th, maybe it will be the elusive Night Circus?
The Blue Book
Gillespie and I
There but for the
The forgotten waltz
State of wonder

I have to admit that I have been a bit disappointed by the Orange longlist this year, there have been less enjoyable books that the last couple of years. I wondered whether it is because I have been in a bit of a reading lull, but no, over the last couple of weeks I have encountered some fantastic books which would have fitted the criteria. So if you don't read Island of wings, then please read The roundabout man, The snow child or The lifeboat (I have yet to read the last but am very excited about it as the reports I have been given are very promising). I've been given more recommendations of books which people hoped would make the list and didn't to pursue too over the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Orange 2012: The blue book (A.L. Kennedy)

I approached The blue book with no little trepidation, as I thought it was probably among the most literary of the orange longlist. I have not read any books by Kennedy previously, but know of her as a very post-modern writer which is something that I am a little bit wary of (having never quite grasped post-modernism when forced to study it as part of a historical methods course in my final year at university (I decided to teach myself how to answer questions on the feminist approach instead, much to my tutor's horror) (he obviously was involved in the writing of the paper as post modernism came up, but feminism didn't despite the fact that the latter was a huge topic and had been in every past paper for ten years) (I digress.)

The book is set on a cruise ship. Elizabeth Barber is on a journey from London to New York with her boyfriend. It seems she is actually fleeing the UK where she has been a fake medium

So that's the story on the surface. So far, straightforward. But it's postmodern as I said. So, the story is told through a number of different styles of narrations and the blurb itself says "What's more, is the book itself - a fiction which may not always be lying - deceiving the reader?" This made me worry a bit about the book because I am only really capable of reading a straightforward sorry.

If you're cleverer than me and want reading that will challenge you, then read this. If you're stupid like me, and like reading to relax into, then don't. Also, if like me you find the colour blue depressing, I wouldn't pick it up, the book itself is VERY blue with blue edgings to the page which match the unwrappered hardback. It's certainly striking.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Orange 2012: State of Wonder (Ann Patchett)

I must have read Ann Patchett's previous Orange prizewinner Bel Canto several years ago. And I was impressed. The story was unsettling, but it was gripping and well written, and I think the same is almost exactly true of State of Wonder. Whilst not my absolute favourite of the 18 Orange longlisters I've read so far, I'll reserve that for Island of Wings, State of Wonder is the one that I think most likely to win the Orange prize. (Still have The Blue Book, Tides of War and The night circus to go...)

It tells the story of the researcher Dr Swenson. She is in the Brazilian Jungle undertaking research into a potentially life-changing drug, funded by a drugs company. But she shrouds her research in mystery and fails to provide updates on how the research is progressing, so a man from the company, Anders Eckman is sent to investigate. This departure is followed a few months later by an abrupt letter from Swenson announcing that he is dead and buried in the Jungle. His widow is devastated and desperate to know what happened, so another colleague, Marina is sent off to see if she can find out the details, and is also persuaded to speak to Swenson about her progress.

Aside from the plot, it's a fascinating read with insight into the tribes in the jungle and their interactions with Swenson and outsiders. It's difficult to think of a world like this still existing in the twentieth century.

I was sucked into the story and desperately turning the pages to find out what happened, but at the same time I didn't want to read it too fast as I was enjoying the descriptions of a world of which I knew very little - jungles, medical reseach... I did not expect the ending at all, but it pleased me in some ways and showed also that the pace of the book did not let up right until the end.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Orange 2012: Tides of War (Stella Tillyard)

I remember a great deal of publicity when Tides of war came out last year, the book itself didn't really interest me as it is a historical novel, but I've gritted my teeth and got on with it as it is on the Orange longlist.

It's a tale of two halves essentially, we learn about Harriet's life at home in Regency England interspersed with her husband James' life in Spanish fighting in the peninsular war. It's obviously well researched as there is enough detail to give one a good sense of life back then, always very much more important in a historical novel where the reader isn't necessarily au fait with the circumstances.

Whilst I enjoyed reading about Harriet's life in London, attending lectures at the Royal Instution and developing a fascination with chemistry, making friends and so on, and found her to be a likeable character, I was disinterested in the battle scenes and descriptions of the war.

If you like historical fiction, then do pick this up, I am sure that it is an excellent example of the genre. It is just that I don't.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Weekend interlude

So the last 24 hours have been both sociable and literary. Well, sort of.

Last night I scrambled home from work to go and listen to Patrick Gale talk about his latest book at The Woodstock Bookshop with my friend Elizabeth. I've enjoyed many of his novels in the past, and the new one, A perfectly good man, sounds like something that I will enjoy too from the extracts that he read from it, not least because it is a sort of sequel apparently to my favourite of his books, Notes on an exhibition. I didn't buy the book last night, partly because I've already treated myself to a couple of new hardbacks recently, but also because I want to reread Notes on an exhibition first which I read 4 years ago now, and because it's set in the Penzance area which I'll be visiting for the first time in September (normally we go to North Cornwall). Hopefully by then it'll be out in paperback!

This beautiful morning today, after some chores at home, and a mini run (oh, how out of condition I am having not tried running for two months now), I donned Spring Clothes and went up to London Town on the bus to have a joint pre-birthday celebration with Claire of Paperback Reader (we have birthdays within 4 days of each other). We met at the Notting Hill Books and Comics exchange where I was able to offload an awful lot of books and get some new ones in return. I was quite restrained actually and only bought as many books as I could comfortably carry, even with some more from Claire. Claire only bought ONE book! Gone are our days of two years ago when the shop would be lucky if they had any stock left. We wandered down the Portabello Road to go to the Oxfam bookshop where I struck lucky again before having our first frappacino/iced lattes in a handy Starbucks. We had appointments for pedicures at the new Coco Nail Bar (recommended by Rachel) and Claire now has electric blue toes while mine are electric pink. Very indulgent!

So what books have I collected?
Mostly Viragos. Novel on yellow paper, Mr Fortune's Maggot and Our spoons came from Woolworths are books that I have already read but did not have my own copy, although I do not seem yet to have blogged about Spoons for my Virago blog. The others aren't hugely appealing - I've struggled through Christina Stead before so I hope that The people with the dogs is interesting. I've read another Eliot Bliss before which I don't remember much about so not sure what my expectations are for This luminous Isle. I didn't realise that Olive Schreiner had another VMC besides Story of an African farm so I had to pick up From man to man.

The only other book I bought was Margaret Powell's London season. My post about Margaret Powell is one of the most popular on this blog actually, I haven't read this book, it seems to be about debutantes, and is in very poor condition (with an annoying sticker on the front that won't come off) but it was only 50p!

The bottom three books are from Claire. She gave me a copy of Island of Wings after reading that I'd enjoyed it a lot but had only had a library copy. I feel like I am the last person to read The hunger games so Claire has kindly lent that to me even if I'm not sure if it's to my taste I think I will give it a go. And I am desperate to read The lifeboat, a new Virago modern book all about Grace Darling. Think I will save that for my holiday by the sea a week today!

Bus trip home and detour via Waitrose for a ready meal. Mr W is doing a 200 mile cycle ride today, he left home at 5.45 and anticipates being home around 11pm. Contemplating putting the clocks forward now and going to bed early but still some more chores to be done...yawn...

Orange 2012: Painter of silence (Georgina Harding)

So, I haven't posted any pictures of the book covers from the Orange List mainly because I'm being lazy and getting on with reading and making sure that the reviews go up, but I will post the cover of Painter of silence because I love it. Befitting a book about a painter I suppose is the need to have a nice cover and I like the sense of atmosphere and period it evokes.

I found Painter of silence an extremely lyrical read which I enjoyed. It's a story told in two strands. In the 1950s a frail man is found in a state of collapse outside the hospital in Iasi, in Romania. There is nothing to identify him, and he does not communicate, after a few days one of the nurses realises that he is mute. Safta, one of the nurses recognises the patient, and although she does not want this to be known amongst the rest of the nursing staff she makes an effort to bring in drawing materials to try to communicate with him via sketching and to try to help him remember shared childhood memories. Interleaved with these events is the story of the patient, Augustin's childhood. He was the son of a cook at the house where Safta grew up. Safta's mother benevolently tried to provide him with education but with no hearing it was difficult for him to communicate and he preferred to draw rather than learn to read or write. Safta grew up, fell in love, and moved away whilst Augustin stayed behind during the Second World War. And the book continues with the filling in of the gaps in their stories when the only way that they can communicate is through pictures.

It reminded me a little in style of other books about artists and art, I would suggest that if you enjoyed for example The quickening maze by Adam Foulds then you would also like to read this. For me it went a little bit off the boil the more I read, I continued to enjoy the style of writing but felt less interested in how it worked out.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Orange 2012: Island of wings (Karin Altenberg)

I got a bit confused about Island of Wings as I was picking up a number of reservations at the library, a mix of Orange titles and non Orange titles and I thought that this was a non Orange title. I gulped it down in a great enjoyable rush and then spent the next day emailing everyone to tell them that whatever Orange books they read, they should read this one because it wasn't on the longlist but should have been. Oops. Given that my experience of Orange this year seems to mainly have been an unremitting ploughing through of titles (and I'm not done yet, there are still some big names to come), I'm happy to have read an Orange book by accident as a "light" in between other Orange longlist titles.

I say "light", but the plot and characters of Island of Wings do not exactly make for light reading. Compelling and unputdownable are more accurate adjectives.

This is the story of the minister Neil Mackensie and his new wife Lizzie who arrive on the Isle of St Kilda with the aim of saving the lives of its pagan inhabitants. It is the remotest part of the British Isles, a harsh environment where the majority of the population live in hovels, little partly underground dwellings lacking furniture, and absolutely reeking. Neil and Lizzie are somewhat distanced from this inhabiting a more civilised manse, but still find themselves affected by the environment. One affliction of the area is a 60% infant mortality rate; Lizzie loses her first children too.

Whilst Neil is focussed on the conversion of his neighbours and redeeming their ignorant minds, Lizzie learns to accept their lifestyles and embrace the community. But as he becomes increasingly authoritative, he turns this attitude on his marriage too, and the book is as much a portrayal of a marriage as it is of a community.

The description of the island is really vivid and although I have never visited that part of the world I had a very clear picture in my imagination of what it looked like. I'm a lazy reader and it can take a lot to provoke pictures in my head, but this book was able to achieve that.

It's a bit reminiscent of The poisonwood bible, it's years since I read that book, but similar themes crop up and I remember being equally enthralled by it.

I did not realise until I reached the end and read the afterword by the author that this was based on real people and real events. The dreadful loss of so many babies on the island to "eight day" death was probably caused by tetanus, rife where the bodies of dead animals were ploughed back into the ground and high standards of cleanliness in the implements used to cut the umbilical cord were lacking.

This is the Orange title that I have been most gripped by in the last fortnight. Seek it out, and be glad that it is on the Orange longlist or it might not have come to your attention. I'm not convinced it will make the shortlist, but oh, I hope that it does. If not, take my advice and read it.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Orange 2012: Song of Achilles (Madeleine Miller)

Song of Achilles was one of the Orange titles that I was dreading having to read most. The world of classical mythology is something that I have glimmers of knowledge about, but reading stories based on this world is something that doesn't really appeal. I'm not a great fan of historical fiction unless it's a period that I know reasonably well (i.e. twentieth century Britain), I think because I struggle to envisage the setting properly. But to my suprise, I coped with the setting of Song of Achilles and even found myself enjoying the book.

Set in Greece and following the epic Trojan War, it tells the story of two young boys as they grow into young men and go into battle together. Patroclus is an awkward young prince "I was not fast, I was not strong, I could not sing", a disappointment to his father, a king and "son of kings", and unlikely to follow in his father's footsteps. At the age of ten he is exiled to the court of King Peleus, where he meets Achilles, who seems to be everything that he is not. To Patroclus' surprise, Achilles befriends him - it seems that despite having everything going for him, he is lonely.

After the kidnap of Helen from Sparta, the Trojan War develops and Achilles is the one to lead the men of Greece in their battles and Patroclus has to follow.

If you like novels based on Greek mythology then you should certainly pick this one up. If you don't, or are undecided, I think it's still worth giving this one a go. Even if you don't know the story, that's not necessary to get something out of this novel that manages to evoke the period even for those with little knowledge of it.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Orange 2012: Foreign Bodies (Cynthia Ozick)

This is what I read the Orange longlist for. Discovering an excellent piece of writing that I would not have picked up otherwise. Foreign bodies by Cynthia Ozick is just that, well written, interesting characters, fascinating setting, good story.

Set in Paris in the mid 1950s, we follow the American Bea Nightingale as she's sent by her brother to try to sort out his son, her nephew. Having visited the city on a school trip he has been seduced by the atmosphere and an older woman and then failed to return home. Apparently this is a riff around the plot of Henry James' The ambassadors where an American teacher goes to Paris to retrieve a pupil, but I haven't read that book so it's difficult to comment. There are other strands of story to follow too - Bea's ex husband and the influence that he still has on her life, not least by having left a large grand piano in her tiny flat.

I loved the era and the sense of atmosphere that Ozick created with an old fashioned style of writing, I've not visited Paris but this is the sort of book that makes you want to hop on a Eurostar and go there for a visit. I wonder if there are any museums that would give one a sense of life in Paris at this time?

Oh, and this book should definitely feature on your reading list if Paris in July happens again this year

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Weekend time...

Many orange posts (which I hope people are finding interesting) - I'm now halfway through the list - and very little about cardigangirlverity life over the last week. So what's new?

Spring is definitely on its way, it's light in the mornings now when I leave the house at 6.30 and it's light to cycle home which is SO lovely. Mr W has been working in the garden and we've been planting some vegetables. The garden is still in a state of mess and I'm not confident we'll get it all sorted so I'll be relying this year mainly on gro-bags and hopefully a small vegetable bed. We've planted asparagus and potatoes in gro-bags (won't get any of the former this year) and I've grown courgette and tomato plants from seed along with some parsley. I had great success with tomatoes from plants grown by a colleague last year so I would love to managed to do it from scratch myself this year. The courgettes are a week ahead of the tomatoes and have already sprouted and got potted on into something bigger - I can't put them outside yet as it's too early. We got some free seeds with the asparagus and potatoes so I may plant some carrots, squash and salad leaves too in due course... But I don't want to be too ambitious!

Yesterday, we went to Stevenage for a brass band competition - a different band to the one I wrote about in January, this time in the fourth (lowest) section. Mr W was playing too on the trombone and I was again on the timpani (only the seventh time I'd ever played them in fact). The test piece was a lovely brass band arrangement of Ralph Vaughan Williams' English Folk Song Suite and to our surprise we came third which meant that we have qualified to go to the National Finals in Cheltenham in September. If you've seen Brassed Off, yes, exactly like that. (Except that as we're in one of the lower sections we don't get to go to the Royal Albert Hall). Congratulations to Bletchington Band!

Monday, 19 March 2012

Orange 2012: Lord of misrule (Jaimy Gordon)

This post marks the start of the second 50% of the list, 10 books have been read, 10 books to go, should be on track to finish before the shortlist is announced although I'm still waiting for a couple to arrive in my paws. And for something completely different. After all isn't that what the Orange prize is about?

Horse-racing, or more specifically small track horse-racing in West Virginia is the subject of this Orange long-listed novel. It follows Tommy Hansel as he tries to save his stables with a clever but underhand scheme - to purchase four horses, race them at long odds, win large amounts off them and then leave before anyone notices. Obviously someone is going to notice or it wouldn't make such an interesting novel.

It's cleverly written in the sort of way that requires you to pay a lot of attention, but if you can bear to, then enhances the atmosphere - dialect, lack of punctuation, difficulty distinguishing between the characters due to having four third person narrators.

Not one that I really enjoyed I'm afraid as it was a bit of a struggle to read about a situation that was so alien to me, but on the flipside that was also what made it worth reading for me. I have a vague understanding of horse racing from the Grand National point of view and from having read a couple of Dick Francis novels a very long time ago but I didn't know anything at all really about small track racing or even that it existed.


Exciting news and a break to scheduled posting to announce that I will be carrying the Olympic Torch through Kidlington (village north of Oxford) on 9th July! I was nominated for the work that I have done for Mind raising awareness and money by my swimming challenges over the last three years. Very very excited to have this involvement in the Olympics, and very excited to be able to honour Mind by my involvement. I hope to come up with some more fundraising in 2012 to tie in with my torchbearing.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Orange 2012: The pink hotel

I loved the sound of this book, and had actually spotted its cover in Blackwells the same week that the longlist was announced, although didn't have time to pick it up, so it was high on the list of the Orange longlist titles which I wanted to read.

The story itself was much more unusual and quirky than I was anticipating. It tells the story of a girl who flies to Los Angeles after her mother, Lily, dies - her mother had left her and her father when she was only three and she has little understanding of who her mother was in recent years. Arriving at the Pink Hotel, which her mother and partner had owned, too late for the funeral but whilst the wake is happening, she goes up to her mother's apartment to have a look around. She ends up packing up a bag filled with some of her mother's clothes and letters, and then spends the next weeks travelling around, meeting the people who were important in her life, and trying to put together a picture of her.

It's an interesting novel since the reader isn't quite sure how it will proceed, what the picture built up of Lily will be, or how that will impact on her daughter. I was not sure how believable it was for a 17 year old to take such a trip on her own without any prior planning - the girl is certainly bright and thoughtful, but still somewhat naeive. I also found it difficult to identify with her behaviour at some points, for example when she nearly ends up becoming intimate with one of her mother's former conquests.

All in all, different, certainly, but perhaps not one for me. Shortlist potential? Not sure...

Friday, 16 March 2012

Orange 2012: The sealed letter (Emma Donaghue)

I'll come straight out and say it, The sealed letter by Emma Donaghue has definitely been the book that I've enjoyed most so far on the longlist since it was announced (I'm not sure about saying longlist overall since two of the books I'd read already Gillespie and I, and There but for the, were also rather good). Good story, tick, interesting characters, tick, readable, tick, and it's also based on a real story which often adds an extra element of interest if it's something that you don't know about.

In some ways it's a bit like an early Sarah Waters book - hugely evocative of Victorian atmosphere and with twists and turns along the way. Set in 1864, it's based on the Codrington Divorce case. This is not something I knew about, but it was a famous divorce whereby Admiral Sir Henry Codrington alleged that his wife Helen had committed adultery, with other men and by being overly involved with her female friend Emily. Emily Faithful is in fact a tireless campaigner for women's rights, so there is a good strong dose of feminism in the novel, who had initially inadvertently and then reluctantly assisted Helen in having an affair with Colonel Anderson. What comes across so well in the novel is the way that Emily is trapped between her friend and desire to make her happy (is there something more to their relationship maybe?) and her morals and desire to uphold the status of women.

I loved all of the period detail such as characters reading Wilkie Collins books and the story was so readable that it had great pace.

I'm a little puzzled as to how this ended up on the longlist this year, it was first published in 2007 and predates "Room" for which Donaghue was shortlisted last year (and which was also shortlisted for the Booker). I think it was previously published in Canada, and then in the wake of the success of Room last year, her other novels have now been brought out in England. It still seems a little strange to include it on this year's list though!

It's certainly very different from Room though - this is much more of a standard historical novel, albeit one which has been well researched and carefully written, whereas Room was something quite different from anything I'd read before.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Orange 2012: Half blood blues (DNF)

I tried really hard with this book, but am defeated by it. I'm not sure why I've struggled so much with it - I don't think it's a general "can't read anything literary" mood as, as an aside, I've just picked up the Emma Donaghue title and am loving it - just a case of "not the right book for me". My consolation is that Kindle-Sampling-Colleague feels somewhat the same about it, and indeed had discarded the book for her charity bag several months ago, only to be retrieved on the announcement of the longlist. It has been recieved with considerable acclaim from what I've read about it, and it wouldn't surprise me if it made it to the shortlist (that often seems to happen with the books that I struggle to finish).

Beginning during the Second World War in Paris, it tells the story of a group of jazz musicians who have escaped from Nazi Germany, but it seems that Paris is not much safer for the member of the band who is German. Years later, we the two African American band members, Sid and Chip reunite and find out more about what happened in these years.

It's certainly a different sort of novel, I don't think I've ever read any other novels about the jazz community (let me know if the comments if you can think of any that I shoudl read), and it's cleverly written using the sort of dialect that you might imagine coming from jazz musicians.

Maybe I'm not interested in jazz enough, maybe I prefer to read about the Second World War from the point of view of the Home Front in Britain, maybe I struggled with the language and the fact that I had to read it out in my head in order to make sense of that, or maybe I just wasn't gripped by it. It happens.

Kindle-Sampling-Colleague wonders if it might be easier to read it with a jazz CD on in the background - I hope she'll let me know how she gets on. Well, she might herself - she has started her very own blog, The TBR pile, so do pop over and say hello. It looks like she could be doing me out of a job or at least out of the guest posts that I was going to get her to write!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Orange 2012: The flying man (Roopa Farooki)

Roopa Farooki is one of the Orange Longlisted authors most familiar to me. I very much enjoyed her debut novel, Bitter Sweets which saw her nominated for the Orange new writers prize, and I absolutely loved The way things look to me, which was Orange longlisted either last year or the year before. Farooki specialises in writing about families in multi-cultural settings - her debut was about a man who was conned into his arranged marriage believing that his wife was more educated than she was, The way things look to me is about three siblings struggling in the wake of the death of their parents. It seems that she has had two more novels which I have somehow missed Corner Shop and Half Life, so once Orange season is over, it might be a good time to explore these.

This book tells the story of Malik. Again, it's a story of people and families. We meet Malik at the end of his life, we learn that he is dying, and we learn that he seems to be somewhat of a chancer and unpredictable character. The story is fleshed out through the rest of the novel in an extended flashback, which chapter by chapter deals with different times in his life, from his birth in 1931, where he was the only one of a pair of twins to survive the birth, through his school years and establishment of his ABC literary club, his deception of his second wife into pregnancy, time in prison and so on. It's episodic so at times one would like more of the in between times to be spelled out, but it's a good way of creating a picture of Malik and his life and how he has reached the point at which we are introduced to him.

And why the title? Well, Malik is a man who spends his life making "flying escapes". He continually plays games with his wives, his family, his business associates, and inevitably seems to come out on top, although towards the end it all starts to catch up with him.

I enjoyed this novel fairly so, but if you've not read Farooki before then I would recommend that you start with Bitter Sweets or The way things look to me since I found them more attention grabbing.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Orange 2012: The submission (Amy Waldman)

I wondered if The submission would be depressing, since it is a book about the process of memorialisation after 9/11 in New York. However, my conclusion after finishing the book was that it wasn't - it was far more about the healing process that is undergone in the aftermath.

The book centres around a competition to design some sort of memorial to the victims of the attack. A committee deliberate and eventually choose a plan for a garden memorial. Only after the choice is made do they find out that it has been designed by a Muslim, albeit a Muslim born in Virginia and with no connections to anything other than being American.

What is so well done in this novel is the large cast of characters who all seem to have different opinions and justifications for their actions. Claire was widowed by the atrocities, yet is untypical of some of the other victims in that she wants the process to be based on merit rather than religion; Paul the chairman of the committee wants the designer to step down in order to safeguard his own non-controversial reputation; a Muslim activist Malik who sees the episode as a way to further his own cause.

I was sufficiently interested in the variety of characters and in finding out what happened to keep reading. It was an interesting concept and certainly a rather timely one, but not a book I'd especially want to read again (which I think these days is probably the criteria by which I judge books, and so far I don't think that applies to any of the Orange Longlist books)

Monday, 12 March 2012

Orange 2012: On the floor (Aifric Campbell)

I picked up On the floor with a little trepidation; whilst I was keen to read a book about a woman my age who worked at an investment bank in London, a world of which I know very little (although I have just finished reading a fascinating memoir which I half wrote a blog post about called City-Girl by Suzana S about a girl who worked her way up from internship to full trader, which gave me enough background to really pique my interest in this book), my Kindle-Sampling-Colleague had told me that she didn't really understand the industry terminology that she'd encountered in the sample chapter and that if she's to go any further she'll need me to explain it to her. Hmm...

The author, Aifric Campbell, spent 13 years working on the trading floor of Morgan Stanley (an eminent investment bank for non UK readers), and became their first female managing director, and this is her third novel. So one might anticipate this novel to open ones eyes to this world, and to some extent she does.

Set in 1991, Geri has worked as a trader for 5 years and achieved considerable success. She is now 28 and does business primarily with a hedge fund manager in Hong Kong. However, the success is wearing thin, and she is at the point of breakdown. She is unable to sleep, she drinks too much, she has been abandoned by her boyfriend, and she becomes involved in a hostile takeover that puts her career on the line. The book is about her personal struggle to work out what she is able to control and what is outside it.

The book is very fastpaced, in the way that I would imagine life in the city to be and certainly portrays the city as somewhere where it is difficult for women to be - which makes it an apt choice I think for the Orange Longlist. One bit that stands out in that respect is where Geri is in the bar with another banking friend and together they draw up a list of advice for "Wannabe Bankers" which includes the following:

"1. Don't even blink when someone says "cunt". Better still, say it yourself.
2. There is NEVER a good reason to cry in the office
3.Always remember that two women standing together on the trading floor can only be gossiping; therefore treat all female colleagues with total contempt.
4. Learn how to drink copiously. Learn the point at which you are likely to keel over or shag someone you shouldn't"

...and so on.

I think overall the problem for me with this novel was that it was written by someone with so much experience of the trading world which made it difficult for the outsider to get a grip on. I wonder if it'd been written by someone who had only researched into life as a trader, it might have been written a little bit more sympathetically with the ignorant reader in mind?

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Orange 2012: The grief of others (Leah Cohen)

I started with The grief of others from my Orange Pile mainly because my Kindle-sampling colleague was keen to read the rest of it after reading the first chapter and there isn't a copy in the Oxfordshire library system yet. I have to say that two things put me off the book before I started reading it - the title, which didn't sound especially cheery - am really not in the mood for mis-lit at the moment - and the fact that it was an "Oprah Winfrey pick" - i.e. it was chosen for an American TV book club. Maybe I'm unduly snobbish about that but often the books chosen for the UK TV book clubs (e.g. Richard and Judy in the past) seem to conform to a certain type and I imagined that this might also fulfil a certain type.

Anyway, the book is as anticipated not terribly cheerful. It tells the story of Ricky, and John and their two children Paul and Biscuit (Elizabeth) in the aftermath of the third child of the family dying 57 hours after birth from anencephaly. Ricky had known about the condition of her unborn child since her 5 month scan but had not shared the knowledge with anyone. And the book is essentially a working out of how the family come to terms with their grief, about how it affects their relationships and how their current situation is influenced by past events.

It's certainly well written, and Cohen moves clever between the present and the past to build up the picture of events and personalities in a less obvious way than a linear narrative might have done.

I have to say that ultimately, my two preconceptions of this novel were right. It was not a happy book - and I just was not in the right place to read a book that was not a happy book. And I anticipated that an Oprah book would be mainly about relationships and families working their way through difficult times and I was right.

Need to read some more before I start making more predicitons!

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Orange 2012: getting started

Well, my frenzy of ordering Orange books at the library and asking friendly publishers to send me copies to help out with my goal of reading the entire Orange Longlist 2012 has started to pay off already. Yesterday lunchtime I picked up two reservations which had arrived at the library, and when I got home from work, three titles had arrived from Anne-Marie at Profile Books. Unfortunately I was reading The roundabout man by Clare Morrall all yesterday because it had been reserved by someone else at the library and needed to go back so I didn't get a chance to get stuck in immediately. I shouldn't say unfortunately, because The roundabout man is an absolutely fantastic novel. I've long been a fan of Clare Morrall (she went to the same school as me, but not at the same time), and I've read all of her novels since a friend gave me her debut (The astonishing splashes of colour) which was longlisted for the booker. I think that this story is one of her best - it's quirky and entertaining and right until the end one is not quite sure how the story will pan out. It's a shame that this didn't make it onto the Orange list, partly because I was reading it the day after the announcement, but it is certainly among the best of women's fiction. I hope that I won't be disappointed by the Orange longlisted titles after reading this.
I'll get started on the books which have arrived in due course, but here are a few thoughts about the four books on the longlist which I had read prior to the announcement from what I can remember.

There but for the (Ali Smith)
This is an amazing story built around a premise of a dinner party where one of the guests disappears into a bedroom and refuses to come out. I don't remember very much more than this, but suffice to say that it is a fascinating book about relationships. Ali Smith's writing is as ever excellent, and it would not surprise me to see this novel shortlisted.

Gillespie and I (Jane Harris)
I won a copy of this book before Christmas and was quite excited by it as had enjoyed her previous novel The observations so much. I didn't enjoy this quite so much, perhaps because it was so very meaty at over 500 pages, but set in Victorian Glasgow it was a good book to read when the days are short and you want some mystery and intrigue.

The translation of the bones (Francesca Kay)
Like Gillespie and I, I'd enjoyed the author's previous debut An equal stillness very much and had high hopes for her follow up which somehow weren't quite fulfilled. Set around a Roman Catholic church in London, this tells the story of the devout Mary Margaret O'Reilly who sees a miracle when she is cleaning the church one day. This forms the basis for a book which tells the story of many of the other parishioners and the way that they respond to the miracle. It was an interesting story and very well written but somehow very different from An equal stillness.

The forgotten waltz (Anne Enright)
Again, I was champing at the bit to get to this book having LOVED The gathering, but again I wasn't as gripped by it as by the previous book. It tells the story of an affair that leads to the breakdown of two marriages.

I would not be at all surprised to see either Enright or Smith on the shortlist.

Anyway, enough for blogging for this evening, time to go and get on with some more reading, and hopefully there'll be a post about my first Orange title since the longlist tomorrow.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Orange 2012

It's that time of the year again...when I manage to bring myself up to date with some of the best of the last year's women's fiction - yes, Orange Longlist time. I'm sure it can't have escaped your attention as it's all over the blogosphere, but I'm intending to do what I did in 2011 and read my way through *the entire list*. (You can see last year's posts by looking at my blog in April and March last year).

As I've said last year, and the year before, one of the reasons I like the prize so much is that it gives me the excuse and the reason to read books that I might not otherwise pick up. For me it's not about cherrypicking the ones that sound most interesting, but trying to give all of them a go, because a team of good judges have considered that they are worth reading.

This year I haven't got a very good start, as I've only read 4 of the books on the list which means that there are 16 still to go (I'll try to do a joint catch up post on what I can remember of The forgotten waltz, Gillespie and I, There but for the and The translation of the bones in the next few days). I've been wildly reserving books at the library and am hoping that a few kindly publishers may take pity on me and send me early birthday presents of other Orange longlisted books.

Meanwhile one of my colleagues, and last year's Orange prize reading partner, in possession of a kindle, has managed to download free samples of 14 of the titles, and is hopefully going to identify a winner from those. Or at least which ones she deems worth purchasing, reserving at the library or borrowing from me...

I've had a brief look at the titles on Amazon, and the ones which most appeal to me at the moment are Island of wings, The flying man (which will be my first Orange 2012 read as by chance I picked it up at the library earlier in the week), On the floor, Grief of others, Foreign Bodies.

But as I said above, it's not about books appealing on the basis of their cover/titles/synopses, it's about trying books that I wouldn't otherwise and hopefully discovering some gems!

Library Loot

Post written on Monday, but only just got around to finishing off and adding picture!

Yesterday wasn't much of an improvement on last week as I spent all of two teabreaks and half of my lunch break on the phone to various hospitals and dentists trying to work out how I could be seen the fastest. You'd think that if you were willing to stump up the money, they would be falling over themselves to get it by offering to remove your tooth asap, but it seems that because the waiting lists for NHS extraction are so long, this is filtering through to the private sector. Anyway, after much hassle and tears on the phone to the consultant's secretary, I have an appointment to go to the hospital to get looked at next week, and a provisional date for surgery at the end of April. Since my birthday is in April, I was assuming that that would be my birthday present from my near relatives (parents, husband), but my Mum has kindly assured me that I can have a birthday present as well. Yayy!

Anyway, I digress. I decided to cheer myself up on the way home with a trip to the library, and came away with so many goodies that it was really very hard work to cycle 4.5 miles home. Memo to self - in future do not merely consider size (i.e. whether books will fit into panniers/rucksacks/carrier bags from the handle bars), but also weight. As you can see from this picture, I got some quite weighty library loot.

Joanna Trollope - Daughters in law. Having recently read her latest whilst on my holidays, I realised that I missed her previous novel, so I snapped it up and started reading it last night. It's a bit more old school Trollope than The soldier's wife without the level of interesting topic that made The soldier's wife so engrossing, but I'm quite enjoying it.

Ali Harris - Miracle on Regent Street. This came out at Christmas time and isn't actually stocked by any of the branches near me, so I've ordered it in. Who doesn't want to read a Christmassy book when it's nearly Easter?

Jacqueline Wilson - Diamond Girls - must be about the only Jacqueline Wilson book that I haven't read - should pass an evening when I am very tired!

Carole Matthews - Summer daydreams. The weather has been a bit warmer recently, and there's even been a few glimpses of the sun, but I'm still very much craving summer having been to Tenerife a couple of weeks ago. I've no idea what the book is about but I've read some of Carole Matthews books before and the title was enough to grab me.

Rebecca Shaw - Love in the country. I read my way through Shaw's Village series and Country series a couple of years ago, they're very easy reading and I thought I might like to reread it.

Marian Keyes - Watermelon - more rereading, I must have read this whilst I was still at university, I don't have much recall of the plot line at all as described on the back cover.

And some slightly more literary books...

Sebastien Barry - On Canaan's side - I've been waiting for AGES to spot this in the library. It was listed for the Booker and I really enjoyed his two previous novels so I am hoping that I will have the brain space to make a start on this soon.

Stella Gibbons - Tricky and Bachelor. I mentioned before Christmas my excitement in seeing one of the Print On Demand * Gibbons titles in a branch library, I then spotted another in a different branch, and now I've found two more in the main library. Maybe the Oxon Library service bought a set and split them around? As it's less than 4 weeks til my next holiday, I will probably hang on to at least one of these to read then. Exciting! Happy that my library doesn't just stock the latest bestsellers, although Gibbons is coming back on trend I think. Wouldn't be surprised to see a new adaption of Cold Comfort Farm fairly soon...

* I was asked last time about Print On Demand. As this article on wikipedia explains, basically it's a different model for publishers where they will only print the books once the orders are recieved, and the technology exists that even a single book can be printed. This makes it more economical to bring back out of print books into print if publishers are not sure what the demand will be.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Happy St Pirans Day!

Yes, St Piran is the patron saint of Cornwall and of tin miners and 5th March is his day! Long time readers will be aware of my love of Cornwall so having seen a post on Dovegreyreader's blog (where you can learn a little more about St Piran), I didn't want to let it go without mention here.

Last week I wrote about the Virago reissue of one of my favourite books celebrating the county here, by perhaps one of its most famous novelists - Vanishing Cornwall by none other than Daphne Du Maurier, so do pop over to my other blog to have a glimpse of its beautiful cover. Previously reissued in hardback, it's now out in paperback so very affordable.

It's less than 4 weeks until Mr W and I will be heading off to spend my third birthday in a row in North Cornwall. I've read A LOT of fiction set in Cornwall - see these posts here for some reading that I did in the run up to a trip two years ago, but I've still managed to get a copy of something new to read - a book called The saffron eaters. Saffron is a rare expensive spice that has only ever really been able to be cultivated in Cornwall; if you visit the county today you can buy saffron loaf and saffron buns which are fruit breads flavoured with saffron and a bright yellow colour (but very tasty), so that will be a treat.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with a couple of beautiful coastal snaps.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

A rainy Sunday

It's been a bit of a pants week somehow, obviously coming back from a holiday to work is always hard, but it's worse when you come from somewhere warm to somewhere cold and grey, you get ANOTHER cold (making the 2nd in 3 weeks), and although you knew that the wisdom tooth infection you'd had while you were away wasn't going to end happily, you thought it would probably be done at the surgery in the next couple of weeks. Oh no. Firstly, the dentist said that he'd have to do it privately as anticipated another difficult extraction which would take too long to do in the NHS half hour slot, or I could go to the hospital. Then after he saw the x-rays he said that I'd definitely HAVE to go to the hospital. On Friday we found out that this meant a THIRTEEN WEEK wait. Cue a distraught Verity at the thought of having to put up with a painful tooth for that long as well as the realisation that this would be right in the middle of the open water swimming season :( Further investigations by Mr W and kind offers from parents mean that going privately may be an option, so fingers crossed that this week will go somewhat better and that I'll be without a cold, accustomed once more to the weather and that we'll make some progress in finding out when I can get my tooth out - before I take a sledgehammer to the side of my face (cheaper and swifter).

I guess you won't be surprised that Lent hasn't gone very well this week. Mr W was sent out for emergency chocolate on Thursday night and 2 200g jars of Nutella have been consumed since. It seems that since I have also had to cut out yeast from my diet as well as gluten, it is nigh on impossible to get enough carbohydrate and energy to fuel my swimming without eating a modicum of cake. I am making Mr W stick to the no-cake rule though :)

So that was a bit of a ranty ramble. Here are some good things:
1. Mr W was supposed to be away this weekend but is now not going away until tomorrow.
2. We planted asparagus in a grow bag on the patio yesterday and some courgettes in little tubs to be transplanted in due course.
3. My Mum took me to see Stomp in Northampton yesterday - this was a strange music/dance spectacular set in a rubbish dump where 8 people dance and make lots of noise with things like brooms and kitchen sinks. Not quite sure what I think about it.
4. I have been bad and ordered two new books by two of my favourite authors which were out last week to read on my next holiday, and in the meantime I am rereading some of their back catalogues. Currently on "We are all made of glue" by Marina Lewycka.
5. Mr W has been redecorating the 3rd bedroom in our house "my room", and we are going to choose some carpet for it this afternoon.
6. My cold was better enough to swim my way through a 5.5k swim set this morning, albeit not flat out, and I am seeing the effects of the swim camp on my stroke and speed. More about swimming another day.