I’m reading The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst because it won the Booker Prize in 2004. I’m down to the last four in my project to read all the winners. I’ve found Hollinghurst’s book a bit of a struggle to the extent that I debated more than once whether to give up on the novel. Consequently it has taken me weeks to get to within the last 100 pages. To be fair it improved in the second half but it will never get on my list of favourite Booker winners.
Bloomsbury describe it as “a sweeping novel about class, sex, and money during four extraordinary years of change and tragedy.” The years of change is a reference to the fact the book is set during the ‘reign’ of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister. There’s a tremendous amount of sex in this book – the central character is either thinking about it or engaged in the act – which would disturb many readers I suspect. My biggest beef about the book is that it was just boring for a large part of the time.
This was the selection for one of my book clubs this month. The contrast with Line of Beauty could not be greater. Beartown is set in a small Swedish town that’s seen better days. The locals are crazy about ice hockey and pinning their hopes that their highly talented junior hockey team win national honours, a success that can herald an economic revival for their community. All is going great until suddenly a terrible incident changes everything, setting one part of the community directly at odds with another.
Enjoyable to read though I think I know as much as I need to about ice hockey for now.
What will you be reading next?
This is usually a difficult question for me since I don’t like to plan too far in advance. But I have to this week because I’m off on holiday at the weekend and so will need to decide what comes with me in my luggage.
There is one title that will definitely be making the trip to Germany.
Another possible companion is the book I bought today. Lullabyby Leila Slimani is next month’s book club. The Guardian newspaper tells me that “This tense, deftly written novel about a perfect nanny’s transition into a monster will take your breath away.” I’m hesitating though because it’s not a very long novel.
On the e-reader I have the latest novel by Andrew Miller, author of Pure, which I thought was an outstanding novel. Now We Shall Be Entirely Free, begins on a winter’s night in 1809 when a naval captain fresh from a campaign against Napolean’s forces, is carried unconscious into a house. He is traumatised by what he witnessed in that campaign. Miller is superb at re-creating the past so I’m looking forward to reading this.
This was the May selection by the Asymptote Book Club. I took out a subscription at thebeginning of the year but I’ve yet to read any of them (until now). Apparently in 2014 it was described by Words Without Borders as a “delightfully irreverent” novel and China’s “best untranslated book.” It’s taken a few years but thanks to translator Nicky Harman we now have it in English.
In a small Sichuan town, preparations are underway for a party to mark the 80th birthday of the matriarch ‘Gran’. The celebrations will bring to a head sibling rivalry and unveil secrets from the past. I’m about 80 pages in and enjoying the portrait of ‘Dad’ who is boss of the family’s famous Sichuan chilli bean paste. He’s a heavy smoker and a womaniser who can’t live up to the success of his elder brother and has to contend with the competing demands of three women: wife, mistress and mother.
The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies
I’ve been intending to read The Welsh Girl for quite some time. As a Welsh girl myself how could I possibly ignore this book? It’s the debut novel by Ho Davies and is set just as the second world war is staggering to a close. Despite their remote location, the people who live in rural Wales find their lives impacted by the war when soldiers arrive to build a new camp for German prisoners of war. Ho Davies uses this as a mechanism to consider issues of identity and belonging. Well worth reading
One of the book clubs I belong to has just chosen Missing Fay by Adam Thorpe for our July meeting. This has a similar plot to Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor – the disappearance of a teenage girl though McGregor’s novel has a rural setting where Thorpe goes for an urban location. Reservoir 13 was one of favourite reads from 2017 so it’s going to be interesting to see whether Thorpe can top it.
This has been on my E-Reader for ages. I hadn’t planned to read it now but was so bored by my chosen book – G by John Berger – that I went looking for a more enjoyable alternative.
The Welsh Girl is the first novel by Peter Ho Davies. It’s set in North Wales during the final months of World War II when a German prisoner of war camp is set up near the home of farmer’s daughter Esther Evans. Turmoil ensues with Esther caught in its midst. I’ve only read about 20 pages so far so it’s too early to gauge whether this will be to my taste but the book was well received when it was published in 2007.
As for G, I don’t know whether I’ll continue to read this. I didn’t have great hopes for it but it was one of the few remaining titles on my Booker Prize project list so needed to be tackled. I’ve struggled to page 90 hoping it would get more interesting – it hasn’t… It could become the third Booker Prize title I failed to finish.
Another novel that has been lingering on my shelves for a few years but what a joy to read.
Grenville focuses on the early white settlers in Australia and the clash of cultures between the incomers and the indigenous Aborigine population. While Grenville tells the story through the eyes of the white settler, a transported convict who wants to make a better life for himself, she shows how the conflict affects both sides. It’s a thoughtful novel that raises questions about identity and ownership and also conveys a strong sense of time and place – of London and Australia in the early 19th century.
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
For once I know what I am going to be reading in the next few weeks. Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie is the next book selected by the book club of which I am a member. Shortlisted for the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction this is a novel The Guardian describes as “A powerful exploration of the clash between society, family and faith in the modern world”. It’s apparently a re-imagining of Sophocles’ Antigone. I’m just wondering if a knowledge of Antigone would be helpful to fully appreciate this novel.
which is now in the final stages. G won the Booker in 1972 and is one of the least-known of the winners. I’ve reached page 30 but have yet to meet the main character G. He’s the off spring of an Italian merchant who has an adulterous escapade with a free-spirited Anglo-American girl. I hope it moves up a gear soon otherwise this is going to be a slog of a read.
Since I anticipate needing some light relief I have picked up Andrew Taylor’s Bleeding Heart Square. It’s a historical mystery/thriller set in a decaying cul-de -sac in 1930s London. This is where the aristocratic Lydia Langstone seeks refuge when she leaves her husband. Unknown to her she is stepping into a dark mystery – what has happened to a former occupant of Bleeding Heart Square and why is someone mailing human hearts to the lodging house?.
Recently Finished: The Whale Caller by Zakes Mda
This started out as a strange book and continued in that way until the end. I am now equipped, should the need arise, to answer a multitude of quiz questions about whales. I know they lobtail, filter plankton through baleen and can be prone to sea lice. Oh, and they must never, ever be described as a fish……
I’m off on Sunday for a two week sojourn in the heart of England, starting in the Peak District and taking in Stamford (a historic stone town much loved by film crews) and Stratford Upon Avon. I hope to get some reading time in between the eating of cream teas and imbibing of few glasses of wine. With me will be Kamila Shamshie’s Home Fire which is our book club selection for June and either an Elizabeth Taylor or a Barbara Pym. I’m sure there will be a few bookshops I can visit for a top up if necessary.
This is a book I picked up on my holiday late last year in South Africa when I asked a bookshop owner for recommendations of South African authors. This one appealed (shall I be corny and say it ‘called’ to me?) because it’s set in a coastal town called Hermanus that I had visited on my first holiday in South Africa in 2003. It’s famous as the place where migrating whales come closest to the shore. Except that they didn’t when we were there….. Maybe we should have gone in search of the whale caller who is the main character in this book since he has developed a special rapport with one whale. It’s a strange book – I’m not sure yet whether I like it or not….
Irish Migrants in Modern Wales by Paul O’Leary
This is a departure from my usual reading matter. I’ve been reading it for background to my current passion for discovering the roots of my Irish great great grandparents. I know they were living in County Limerick but how they got from there to the iron manufacturing town of Rhymney in Wales is a mystery. I’ve been trying to get some insights via this book. It’s many years since I last read an academic book on history so it was slow going at times.
I’m so hopeless at this. Despite saying last week that I might choose Love by Hanne Ørstavik or a Virago Modern Classic I did neither when the moment came. There are however a few books that need to be on my shortlist as contenders for the ‘reading next’ choice…
The same week will be the June meeting of a book club I’ve rejoined. We’re going to be reading Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor, an author about whom I know nothing. Anyone read this and can tell me what to expect??
Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally was a Booker Prize winning novel from 1982 and then an Oscar-winning film bySteven Spielberg in 1993. In Searching for Schindler Keneally explains how he first heard about Oskar Schindler, a German businessman, who saved the lives of more than 1,000 Jews during World War 2, when he walked into a shop in Los Angeles to buy a briefcase and met the owner Leopold Pfefferberg. Essentially this is a memoir of how his book came to be written, of his many interviews with people saved by Schindler and his development as a writer.
The Danger Tree by Olivia Manning
This was my contribution to the #77club reading week run by Kaggsy and Simon though I didn’t quite get to complete it before the end of the week. It’s the first of Manning’s Levant Trilogy which probably explains why it ended so abruptly and with no real conclusion. One of the central characters – Guy Pringle – is a very irritating man but overall I enjoyed this tale of the odd collection of people assembled in Cairo uncertain whether to stay or flee before the invading German army reaches them.
I’ll be starting a new book tonight but still don’t know what I’ll choose.
I might go for Love by Hanne Ørstavik which is the March selection from the Asymptote Book Club. I’ve read only one other book by Ørstavik, The Blue Room, which I found quite extraordinary. Love is meant to be even better – apparently the newspaper Dagbladet placed it sixth in a list of the best Norwegian novels of the past quarter-century.
Or it might be time to delve into my collection of Virago Modern Classics. They keep staring at me from the bookshelves.
Or maybe it’s time to return to my Classics Club list which hasn’t received much attention of late. BothEdith Wharton and The Age of Innocence and Anthony Trollope and Framley Parsonage are calling to me.
I have a strong feeling that all of this speculation is futile since when the moment comes to pick the book off the shelf, my hand will reach for something completely different.
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