‘She must turn back. She can hear her children turning in their beds, scent their morning breath, feel on her fingers the roughness of their uncombed hair. There’ll be small bare feet on that carpet, small morning erections in dinosaur pyjamas. She’ll just go to that bay ahead, where the loch laps boulders and tree roots under the fog, a tenderness between water and land that’s almost a beach, and she’ll pause there, a moment’s triumph before she turns back.’
I was in Kirkcudbright for the day a few months ago and happened to notice Gallovidia Books, a picturesque little independent bookshop on the main street. As you often find in these places, the staff are immensely knowledgeable, and upon picking up ‘Summerwater’ by Sarah Moss I was informed that it was a clever and absorbing read that the assistant had himself only just finished.
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Hodder and Stoughton
‘We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why.’
It has long since stopped being fashionable to criticise Stephen King for lack of literary merit. A tiresome snobbery once existed regarding his books, long since buried under the millions of copies sold and the dozens of film and television adaptations. The Maine-born writer tells a wonderful story, and some of my favourite reads growing up included The Shining, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Carrie, Misery, and Needful Things amongst others. The juxtaposition of King and a protagonist going back in time to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy should then have been infallible, a stone-cold guaranteed thriller. It didn’t quite reach this level for me, but it was still a good read.
Very Good, Jeeves
Penguin: Random House
There has been a glut of non-fiction in my reading diet recently. Doctoral literature has been eating up a lot of my at-home reading time, whilst I am finding that the commute to work lends itself more to non-fiction (history mostly) – my tendency to let my thoughts wander whilst driving means that I’m better able to plug back into a narrative I’m already familiar with. In an attempt to remedy this imbalance, I read my first Wodehouse, an author regularly cited as a bona fide genius by the likes of Stephen Fry and Kate Mosse. Wodehouse was prolific in later life, writing more than ninety books, two-hundred short stories, and forty plays. He is perhaps best known for his Wooster and Jeeves series of novels and short stories chronicling the chaotic, bumbling socialite Wooster and his long-suffering, brilliant manservant. I chose to start with ‘Very Good, Jeeves’, a collection of stories about the duo.
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Thomas Cromwell: A Life
There have been many biographies of Henry VIII’s Lord Privy Seal, but surely few so weighty or well-researched. Like many, my interest in Thomas Cromwell was catalysed by Hilary Mantel’s brilliant Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies, and the Mirror and the Light. Cromwell is atypical of Tudor dignitaries in that he was lowborn. The son of a blacksmith, he was self-made and self-educated. From these inauspicious beginnings he rose to the right hand of a capricious and unstable king. Cromwell bullied lords and dined with dignitaries. He liquidated a centuries-old religious order and ushered in political foundations that remain to this day. Not a bad biographical subject.
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A Long Way from Home
Faber and Faber Ltd.
‘I had waited for it, the wet season, through every blistering morning and the heated rocks of afternoon, and still I was not prepared, not for its density, immensity, the roar upon the roof, the obliteration of all distance, the air sucked from my lungs, as if it meant to kill me. This rain was the temperature of blood. It polished the tree trunks until they shone.’
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‘“We believe that there is some kind of conspiracy, some kind of secret organisation working against the Party, and that you are involved in it. We want to join it and work for it. We are enemies of the Party. We disbelieve in the principles of Ingsoc. We are thought-criminals. We are also adulterers. I tell you this because we want to put ourselves at your mercy. If you want to incriminate ourselves in any other way, we are ready.”’
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Head of Zeus Ltd
‘Like a witch’s lair in a fairytale the ancient manor house crouches in its tangled garden. I can’t take my eyes off the ivy-choked window above the front door. It was from that window in 1913 that 16-year-old Maud Stearne watched her father set off down the steps with an ice-pick, a geological hammer – and murder in his heart. We’ve all heard of Edmund Stearne. We’ve marvelled at his works and shuddered at this crime. Why did he do it? Did he confide his secrets to a notebook? Why won’t his daughter reveal the truth? For more than 50 years Maud Stearne has lived the life of a recluse. I’m the first outsider who’s met her and been inside Wake’s End. What I’ve learned blows her father’s case wide open.’
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Penguin, Random House
‘One last thing: writing this novel reminded me that a writer should not undervalue any tool of her trade just because she finds it easier to use than the others. As you get older you learn not to look a gift horse in the mouth. If I have any gift at all it’s for dialogue – the trick of breathing what-looks-like-life into a collection of written sentences. Voices that come from nowhere and live on in our consciousness, independent of real people…It’s this magic, first learned in the playroom, that we can never quite shake off, and which any true lover of fiction carries within him or her somewhere.’
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Talk of the town, it was. The old Swanson place had finally sold. Three years it had been on the market, its balconies covered in gull mess and the gardens creeping over the gravel chips in the driveway. Dusty bay windows looked out over the estuary, bulging and blank, as though unable to bear the sight of the cheaper dwellings at the bottom of the steep hill. Then one day the estate agent’s sign was gone, rotten stake heaved out of the ground. Continue reading “The Old Swanson Place | Short Story” →
The Handmaid’s Tale
‘Maybe the life I think I’m living is a paranoid delusion…Sanity is a valuable possession; I hoard it the way people once hoarded money. I save it, so I will have enough, when the time comes.’ Continue reading “Book Review – The Handmaid’s Tale” →