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WWWednesday 22 May, 2019

Time for another  WWW Wednesday hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.

What are you currently reading?

TheFranchiseAffair

Cover of the first edition. Creative commons licence via Wikipedia

The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey  was named one of the Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time in 1990. It’s obviously stood the test of time since the Sunday Times culture magazine included it in a similar list just two weeks ago. Published in 1948 its about a Scotland Yard investigation of a mother and daughter accused of kidnapping a young girl. I’ve read only one other book by Josephine Tey – The Daughter of Time – which was a fictionalised investigation into the deaths of The Princes in the Tower.  A very different kind of novel but I liked her style of writing so snapped up a copy of The Franchise Affair when I spotted it in a second hand bookshop.

 

 

What did you recently finish reading?

transcriptionThe book club chose Kate Atkinson’s Transcription for our May meeting,  Having disliked Life after Life to the point where I abandoned it part way through, I was hoping Transcription would mark a return to the kind of books by Atkinson I used to love in the past. Transcription was definitely an improvement in the sense that I did make it to the last pages but otherwise this proved to be a seriously disappointing novel. The premise was promising – the past life of a woman who was recruited into the world of espionage, assigned to an obscure department of MI5 where she helped monitor the comings and goings of British Fascist sympathisers. But it never lived up to its promise.

I keep seeing this novel described as a work of rare depth and texture, a bravura modern novel of extraordinary power, wit and empathy.” I don’t know who wrote that description (her publishers presumably) but it’s anything but a work of depth and power…. I’ll explain why when I write my review in a few days.

What do you think you’ll read next?

In theory my next read should be Evelina by Francis Burney since that was the result of the latest Classics Club spin. But having read a few pages I’ve decided I’m not in the mood for eighteenth century epistolary novel so have put Miss Burney on hold for another time.

GhostbirdI’m much more interested in the books I’ve listed for the 20 Books of Summer 2019 challenge. I’m aiming to read 15 between June 3 and September 3, all of them set in or written by authors from different countries.

I’ll be kicking off with a book written by Carol Lovekin, an author from Wales, that has been sitting in my bookcase for a few years. I do love the cover….

Ghostbird is set in a small Welsh village and the house called Ty Aderyn (the house of birds), home to generations of the Hopkins family.  It’s a house of secrets, secrets that young Cadi Hopkins is determined to uncover.

 

Those are my plans – what’s on your reading horizon for the next few weeks?

WWWednesday 15 May, 2019

Time for another  WWW Wednesday hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.

What are you currently reading?

I’m almost at the end of The Salt Path by Raynor Winn.  This was one of the books I received as a present last Christmas having heard about it via one of the national newspapers in the UK. It’s proving as superb as their review indicated. It’s the true story of a couple in their fifties who lose their farm, their home and their business after an investment in a friend’s company went belly up. Then they get told the husband (who labours under the strange name of Moth) has a serious brain disease for which there is no cure. Homeless and penniless they decide to walk the South West Coastal Path – a trail of 630 miles, camping wild as they tramped. It’s a fantastic tale about courage but also makes some insightful comments about the way in which homeless people are viewed in the UK.

I’m also reading Punch, a collection of short stories by Kate North, one of the authors from Wales I’ve highlighted in my Cwtch Corner feature. Kate described the book as “A collection of strange and unsettling stories exploring the unexpected in the everyday.” I’ve read two so far and they are definitely strange – one involves an author who takes a rental cottage in France to complete her latest commission but has to share the premises with a very unfriendly mask. Another is about a man who develops a weird growth on his hand….

 

What did you recently finish reading?

Mary Barton was the first novel by Elizabeth Gaskell although her authorship was not known at the time of its publication in 1849. It’s set in Manchester and is partly a romance but, far more interesting, is that depicts the problems experienced by the working class in the city and the growth of trade unionism. The final sections do become a little heavy on the message of redemption and the need for increased understanding between workers and employers but otherwise this was a beautifully written and constructed tale.

 

What do you think you’ll read next?

I don’t have to think too hard about this for once. We have a book club meeting at the weekend and I haven’t yet opened the chosen novel – Kate Atkinson’s Transcription.  My last experience with Atkinson via Life After Life wasn’t a good one so I’m hoping Transcription proves to be more akin to the earlier Atkinson novels that I loved.

 

After that comes Evelina by Francis Burney which was the novel I ended up with as a result of the last Classics Club spin and which I’m *supposed* to read by end of May. But I won’t feel compelled to read it if I don’t feel in the mood at the time. I keep eyeing all the books I’ve bought in recent weeks and they’re calling to me more than Miss Burney.

 

Bookends #14: May 2019

This week’s Bookends features a new novel from an author in Wales, an article and podcast about narrative voices and an article about the value of creative writing courses.

Book: Crushed by Kate Hamer

I enjoyed Kate Hamer’s debut novel, the disturbing, psychological The Girl in the Red Coat last year. She’s just published her third novel which sounds just as dark and intriguing. Crushed is about an obsessive friendship between three girls. Over the course of one long hot summer, they find their friendship pushed to a breaking point as one of them convinces herself that her thoughts can influence events in the world around them.

Podcast/Article: Narrators Singular, Plural and Vanishing

Narrators have been much in evidence this week. Early in the week, a Tea or Books? podcast episode on the topic helped make a treadmill almost a pleasure.  Simon (Stuck in a Book) and Rachel (Book Snob) discussed their preferences for multi-narrator novels or single narrator novels. Some interesting points about the desire for nineteenth century writers to use devices like diaries and letters designed to give added credibility and authenticity to their fiction. You can listen to episode 71 here In the same week I read an article in The Publisher newsletter about “vanishing narrators” – novels where the narrator is not the main character, such as The Great Gatsby or The Name of the Rose. Just be warned that reading/listening to these will have you scurrying to write down the titles of yet more books to read/buy.

Article: Value of Creative Writing Courses Questioned

You can rely on Will Self to create a stir. This time he’s done it by questioning the value of creative writing graduate programmes. In an interview for the BBC’s Radio 4 prime time news programme Today, Self said today’s students are unlikely to make a living from literary fiction, suggesting their courses might instead give them a career writing video games. “The people coming out of these courses are never going to make a living as novelists, certainly not in literary fiction though that’s a somewhat suspect term. Basically writers are chasing too few readers at the moment,” he said. You’d expect the universities who provide such courses would reject Self’s views but the publishing industry has also weighed in. More details are available via The Bookseller.

 

And so that’s a wrap for this episode of Bookends. Have you found anything new exciting and to read this week that might entice me?

Bookends #13: April 2019

This week’s Bookends features an article about Faber and Faber as they mark their 90th anniversary, a blog post about reading those books that regularly appear in those “100 books you must read” kind of lists and a book set in the Australian outback

Book: The Lost Man by Jane Harper 

A friend has been raving about this new novel from Jane Harper. I waited impatiently while she finished it and was looking forward to getting my paws on it yesterday. But it was not to be ….her husband has got in first and snaffled her copy. If he turns out to be a slow reader I know I’ll be too impatient to wait and will end up buying my own copy.

This is the third novel by Harper. Her first two – The Dry and Forces of Nature – were best sellers and this new one looks to be heading in the same direction. It begins deep in the Australian outback at the location of a lone grave, a memorial to a stockman who died 100 years previously.  Curled up beside it is a more recent body. How he died is not a mystery. The more difficult questions are why and how.

Although this sounds like a fairly typical crime thriller, everything I’ve read about Harper’s work indicates this is too simplistic a description. it’s a tale about family relationships saga that has crime and thriller elements woven in and tackles head on issues of sexual and domestic abuse. It also apparently brilliantly evokes the harsh beauty of the Queensland landscape.

The Sydney Morning Herald calls her “one of the most interesting Australian crime writers to emerge in the past decade.”  Not surprisingly she’s been longlisted for the 2019 Australian Book Industry Awards. If you’re tempted, this review by Theresa at Theresa Smith Writes could tip the balance for you.

Blog Post: The Stupid Classics Book Club

A few weekends ago The Sunday Times in the UK published a list of their top 100 contemporary classics. Cue groans from around kitchen tables throughout the country when readers tally up how many of these “should read/must read” books they abandoned in frustration or had no inclination to even open.

The solution devised by Elisa Gabbert, her husband and two friends was to create the Stupid Classics Book Club. The idea was “to read all the corny stuff from the canon that we really should have read in school but never did “. In a piece she wrote for Paris Review she freely admits it started as a joke but in the process she, and her fellow club members, found some of their pre-conceived notions were turned upside down. Other books they anticipated they wouldn’t enjoy did indeed prove tiresome. But it was still a useful exercise to read them says Gabbert:

I find these lists incredibly tiresome. Of course, you don’t have to read anything. Some books will be triggering or make you deeply unhappy; there just isn’t enough time. But if you want to speak or write knowledgeably about them, you really do have to read them. You can’t just assume you know what they’re like. I’m glad I read Fahrenheit 451 even though I despised it. Now I know exactly how it’s bad, and I can hate it for the right reasons.

I can go along with that to a certain extent: reading only what you know you enjoy means you never challenge yourself. Staying within your comfort zone can be limiting. But I don’t completely buy the idea:  if I start reading a book I suspect I won’t like and do indeed find I absolutely loathe it, I see little point in persevering to the bitter end just to be able to say I read it and now I know why I hate it.

What do you think -do you agree with Gabbert? Read the full story here 

Article: Faber and Faber

Faber and Faber is marking its 90th anniversary this year, a landmark which triggered an interesting article in the Daily Telegraph this week. I never realised that there is only one Faber – the company was formed by Geoffrey Faber but the “and Faber” was supposedly added following a suggestion by the poet Walter de la Mare (whose work the company went on to publish) to add a second Faber into the company name ‘because you can’t have too much of a good thing’.

Another piece of useful/useless information I gleaned from this article was that the company turned down a number of books that went on to become mega hits: Paddington Bear; Down and Out in Paris and London; 1984. Oops….

To their credit though they have spotted some outstanding talent over the years: thirteen Nobel Laureates and six Booker Prize-winners  (including the most recent Milkman by Anna Burns) isn’t to be sniffed at….

I wish I could add a link to the article but the Daily Telegraph operates a pay for view/subscription model…..

 

And so that’s a wrap for this episode of Bookends. Have you found anything new exciting and to read this week that might entice me?

Bookends #12 December 2018

This week’s Bookends features an article about reading African women writers, a blog post about the importance of context in our reading and a book written by a woman who for eight years was hardly out of the media spotlight.

Book: Blue Sky  by Kate Atkinson

Big SkyKate Atkinson used to be one of my favourite authors. But we parted company when she brought out A Life after Life in 2013. I abandoned it half way through. I know I was in a minority in saying that I didn’t enjoy this novel (it won the Costa Book of the Year) but sometimes that happens.  Her next book, A God In Ruins picked up some of the same characters and themes so it didn’t appeal to me.

I’ve yet to catch up with her most recent novel Transcription which features a young woman who is recruited by an obscure wartime department of the Secret Service.

But now, thanks to Susan at A Life in Books I discover that she already has another book in the pipeline. Big Sky will be published in 2019 and will mark a return after a nine year absence to her detective series, featuring the ex-Cambridge Constabulary private investigator, Jackson Bodie.

The publishers Transworld will not release details of the plot until next year so until then we’ll have to make do with the cover image….. I’m hoping however that these two books will see the return of my love affair with Atkinson.

Blog Post: Books of the Year

This is the time of year when many publications and bloggers reflect on the last 12 months and decide what titles make their ‘Books of the Year’ list. The Millions newsletter has been running a series of articles on this theme for the past few weeks – you can read them here 

If you don’t have the time to read through all these lists, help is at hand via Kate at Books are My Favourite blog who has amalgamated multiple published lists into her Top 50 Books of 2018. This is a great resource because it shows which books which most regularly appeared in “Best of ….” lists. Judging by this, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones is the outstanding hit of this year since it appears in 17 separate lists.

What I found interesting about Kate’s list was how few of the 2018 Booker Prize contenders are included. Only 11 lists included The Booker winner Milkman by Anna Burns. It actually rated lower overall than three other candidates: The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner, The Overstory by Richard Powers and Washington Black by Esi Edugyan.

Here is Kate’s post 

Article: African women writers

reading-africaGuardian journalist Gary Younge was embarrassed by how few women writers from Africa he had read. Though he was familiar with many of the big names like Chimamanda Adichi and Nadine Gordimer, there were many more countries about whose literature he knew nothing. So he decided to do something about it by making 2018 his year of reading African women writers.

He’s now read 19 books by authors from Morocco, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Egypt, Somalia, Uganda, Ethiopia, Cameroon and Guadeloupe.

As a result his perceptions have been turned on their head. When he began his project he expected that reading African women would be “self-improving but not necessarily enjoyable.” But to his surprise it’s been “mostly the latter and often both.” He’s read books that portrayed ordinary domestic scenes and love between Africans, books that dealt with migration and books set against a background of political upheaval.

I recognised a few of the author names he mentions but there are many more who are new to me. These will be great additions to the list of books to read for my World of Literature project. 

If you’re thinking of making a 2019 resolution to read more broadly, this article could gie you some good pointers about authors to explore. Read Gary Younge’s article here 

 

 

And so that’s a wrap for this episode of Bookends. Have you found anything new exciting and to read this week that might entice me?

Bookends #7 Sept 2018

I neglected my Bookends posts over the summer — not through lack of material to share, just a question of other things taking priority (like sitting in the garden). But with September comes that feeling of  “summer is over, time to knuckle down to work/schools/study” so I’ve given myself a good talking too and promised to get back into a regular routine with Bookends, sharing just three things that have sparked my interest from the multitude of news articles, blog posts and announcements that drop into my email box.

This week brings an article about the supposed health benefits of reading, a new novel by a favourite writer from the past and

Book: Transcription by Kate Atkinson. 

TranscriptionAtkinson has been a favourite of mine for several years , starting with Scenes Behind a Museum and continuing with her Jackson Bodie series. I fell out of love with her Costa-winning novel Life After Life and wasn’t excited by the idea of A God in Ruins.

But her latest novel Transcription which is published in the UK this month, sounds much more promising.

At the heart of the novel is a woman who gets a job in an obscure department of the British secret service during World War 2. Once the war ends she joins the BBC, where her life begins to unravel.

The reviewer in the Guardian suggests this novel sees Atkinson once again use an indirect structure (the novel apparently begins at the end) and play with questions of reality/unreality.

I’m hoping our local library system has put this on order…

Blog Post: Podcasts for every reader

As a devotee of podcasts I’m always on the look out for something new to listen to while in the gym or driving to the supermarket. I’ve tried dozens over the years. Some like the A Good Read stream from the BBC, I’ve stuck with but others I’ve abandoned after just one or two episodes because I find the style of presentation (far too many “awesomes”) or the presenters’ voices hugely irritating.

Buzzfeed has just published an article listing 31 podcasts all relating to books and reading (why 31 and not 30 is a mystery). Many of these I’ve not heard of before and some are definitely not to my taste but there are a few I think I’ll dip into. I’m intrigued by one podcast called Live by the Book where the two hosts take a self-help book and try to live by its ‘rules’ for two weeks. Self-help books vary enormously in quality I’ve found, the worst being from authors who came up with one idea that can be explained in a page or two but then gets spun out to more than 200 pages.  Yes “Who Moved my Cheese?” I’m looking at you…..

Article: Readers tend to live longer?

Over the decades, I’ve seen many benefits claimed for the practice of regular reading, from improving your vocabulary, expanding your knowledge of other cultures and ways of living, to helping to reduce stress and anxiety. Today I came across a report from Yale University that claims reading books on a regular basis can help you live longer.

Apparently, Yale’s School of Public Health conducted research in 2016 with a group of 3,635 people, that looked at possible links between the number of hours each individual spent per day on reading and their  life expectancy.

One of the conclusions was that the book readers in the study group who spent up to 3.5 hours a week engrossed in a book were 17 percent less likely to die over the 12-years following the study, while those who read more than the three hour-mark were 23 percent less likely to die.

I’m quite taken by the idea that even 30 minutes reading a day has a health benefit (do the longevity benefits increase if you read standing up??). What a great way to justify my habit of buying yet more books…….they’re an investment for the future in essence.

Unfortunately the researchers didn’t provide a detailed explanation of how this connection works other than to point to the known cognitive benefits associated with reading.

“Reading books tends to involve two cognitive processes that could create a survival advantage,” say the authors. “First, it promotes “deep reading,” which is a slow, immersive process; this cognitive engagement occurs as the reader draws connections to other parts of the material, finds applications to the outside world, and asks questions about the content presented. Second, books can promote empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, which are cognitive processes that can lead to greater survival.

I can understand how the process of reading stimulates the brain and helps mitigate against conditions like Alzheimer’s. But I’m still not clear how empathy, emotional intelligence necessarily translate into the ability of the body to withstand conditions such as cancer or heart disease.

However it’s an interesting question and one I was hoping Yale had continued to research – particularly since in their report they mention the potential for looking at differences between reading physical books and e-readers or listening to audio versions. But I’ve not found anything more recent to indicate their work is on going.

If anyone finds a more recent article, do let me know

In the meantime you can read an abstract of the study  here  and a detailed article here

 

 

 

Crystal ball gazing for Booker prize 2015

Tomorrow sees the announcement of the Man Booker Prize longlist for 2015. I was hesitating from making some predictions of what we might see since a) my previous attempts at anticipating the winners and losers have not exactly been stellar and b) I’m struggling to think of 13 titles which is the traditional number on the longlist.

But having scratched my head for several hours I’ve come up with a few that meet the stipulation that only novels written originally in English and published in the UK (regardless of the author’s nationality) can enter. The book has to have been published between October 2014 and September 2015.

First up are two novels I hope don’t win. I know that sounds a bit mean and disrespectful to the author if either is truly considered the best of the last 12 months. But neither of these books interests me and if it wins I will have to read it as part of my Booker Prize project.

Buried GiantI do expect to see The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro on the longest, and probably on the shortlist, given his stature and the fact this is his first novel for 10 years. It’s attracted widespread acclaim. I had planned to read it and even to see the great man at the Hay Festival but then discovered that much of it was a fantasy and it contained non human creatures that talk (a bug bear of mine). My library reservation was cancelled.

 

A God in RuinsAnother prediction I hope doesn’t materialise is Kate Atkinson’s A God in RuinsThis is another book I’ve not read but since it’s a companion to her earlier novel Life after Life which I could not finish (I got completely bored with it ) I’m not keen to read this one. I may be lucky here since she hasn’t made it to the longlist in the past and she’s written far better novels.

 

 

And now to the books I would like to see at least long listed.

Flood of FireFlood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh. This is the third novel in the Ibis Trilogy which began with Sea of Poppies set against a background of the Opium Wars in China. His latest novel Flood of Fire returns to the outbreak of that time and follows a cast of characters through to China’s devastating defeat and Britain’s seizure of Hong Kong. Ghosh is someone who meticulously researches his novel and brings the historic period to life through some well-drawn characters. I’m relatively new to his novels but have enjoyed everything I’ve read so far.

 

god help the childThe change in rules which came about last year means that American authors can now enter the Booker Prize. Which means we could see Toni Morrison, winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature and 1998 Pulitzer Prize, enter the fray with God Help the Child. Robinson is known as an author of epic themes and for raising the American consciousness. In her latest novel she explores how the sufferings of childhood shape the life of the adult, about the nature of beauty and veneration of being black.

I’m saving my favourite for last….

Norah WebsterNorah Webster by Colm Tóibín, a tremendous study of grief and the rebuilding of a life in 1960s Eire. Norah is recently widowed, left with four children, little money, no job and far too many people trying to tell her how best to organise her life from here on. It’s a story told in chronological order, following Norah’s consciousness as she shapes her new life inch by inch. Tóibín is no stranger to the Booker Prize – he’s been on the shortlist three times:  in 1999 for The Blackwater Lightship, in 2004 for The Master’ and 2014 for The Testament of Mary. Could this be his lucky year??

If you don’t trust my predictions and would like some alternative crystal ball views take a look at:

 

Atkinson’s Life after Life Runs out of Breath

lifeafterlifeIt took three months for my name to get to the top of the library waiting list for Kate Atkinson‘s Life after Life.  Every day that elapsed brought another review in the blogosphere that lauded this novel so the expectation of the delight awaiting me went up a few notches each week.  Which made the disappointment of the actual experience of reading it all the more acute.

So disappointed was I by this novel, that I never got further than half way through. It now has the dubious honour of being the only novel I Did Not Finish this year.

I’ve always enjoyed Atkinson in the past so what went wrong this time?

The heart of the novel is a premise in the form of a question: What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?

We’ve all been tempted to play that ‘What If’ game haven’t we?. The one where you look back at your life and wonder what would have happened if only you’d made a different decision;  that you’d said yes when he declared undying love and you just gave him the cold shoulder cos he was really the class nerd. Except years later he turned out to be a real dish.  Or if only you’d seized that chance to go backpacking around Asia for a few months instead of working in a cafe before heading off to university. If only you had that opportunity to wind back the clock and take the untravelled road.

Wistful thinking for most of us but in Atkinson’s novel, the central character Ursula Todd gets to do exactly that; to rewind the clock and to re-live her life many times over.  She’s born in a snowstorm in England in 1910 but dies at birth. Rewind the clock and she survives for a few years and then dies again when she falls off the roof of her house.

It’s an interesting basis for a story and it moves along quite rapidly, Atkinson proving once again what a good storyteller she is. But – and it was a big BUT for me – the cleverness of the idea of a death/life repeating cycle quickly palled. It actually became tedious especially when the content in between wasn’t particularly interesting. By the time the child is 5 she has died at least four times, during which time  World War 1 has come and gone, an event dealt with in an unbelievable cursory fashion: Ursula’s dad goes off to war, her mother starts knitting socks for the war effort, then whoosh, the  war is over.  It’s not enough to counterbalance the number of twists in fate Atkinson introduces. Nor does this pace allow characters to be sufficiently developed to keep the attention.

The further I read, the more I felt that this was a book that was trying to hard to be clever. That she’d had this idea and was milking it for all it was worth but never really examining the most interesting aspect – what would you do differently if you had the chance to replay your life and take a different course.  Maybe if I’d read to the end I would have seen more of this aspect as Ursula became an adult but as a child she never made any life choices, her deaths seemed primarily the result of external forces outside her control. Which made the premise of the novel meaningless for me.

I realise I might be a lone voice in disliking this book. Many people seemed to have loved it and couldn’t understand why it wasn’t even longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize.  Assuming it was nominated (not sure how you can discover that) maybe it didn’t make the list because the judges thought she had planted a seed of a good idea but never managed to get it to germinate.

It will not stop me reading her novels. I’ve enjoyed every one so far from Behind the Scenes of the Museum through to the Jackson Brodie series. Sorry Kate, this one didn’t do it for me.

Sunday Salon: To read or not to read on..

sundaysalon

I wonder if you have conversations like this in your household. They’ve happened a few times recently because some of the books I’ve had on the go have been rather disappointing.

Me :  This book isn’t grabbing me

Mr BookerTalk:   Find something else then . 

Me:  Maybe it will get better – I’ll read a couple more chapters

Mr BookerTalk:  Why bother if you don’t like it

Me:  It’s had good reviews. I could be missing something

Mr BookerTalk:  Really????

Me: I’ve read half of it already. Seems like a waste of time now not to finish it…..

Mr BookerTalk:  But you’re going to waste even more time if you finish it and you still don’t like it….

Does that sound familiar at all? I know some readers operate a rule that if  a book hasn’t grabbed them by about page 50 or so, then they’ll give it up as a lost cause. The page number seems a bit arbitrary – some people operate an 80 page rule and others about 100.

My own rule of thumb varies a lot. Sometimes  (as in the case of The House at Riverton) I can tell within about 10 pages that’s it’s not worth going any further. Other times it will take me to around about the 80 page mark.

But in the case of my recent experience with two novels published in 2013 I was half way through and having trouble making up my mind.

Dilemma number 1 was triggered by Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. I had such high expectations for this having read multiple reviews which called it ‘astonishing’ or words to that effect. Being made to wait almost 3 months for my library reservation to come through, just meant the expectations got higher and higher.  Which made the disappointment even greater when I started reading it and found the experience under-whelming.  The first 40 pages were intriguing enough to keep me reading but it felt very fragmentary. I was hoping that if I continued to read I’d find it would develop into a more cohesive narrative but it didn’t. I battled on purely on the basis that I’ve enjoyed all her previous novels, and this has been lauded as her best, but at around 200 pages, I decided to give up.  I remembered having the same feeling about this book that I’d had when reading The Time Traveller’s Wife which I’d read through to the end but wish I hadn’t bothered. So back to the library it went.

Dilemma number 2 was over Colum McCann’s Transatlantic which was longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. I was curious about this one because it’s his first since the award-winning Let the Great World Spin which I’d enjoyed in part. Transatlantic is written in a similar vein in that it begins with the dramatisation of an actual historical event (in this case, the first non stop flight across the Atlantic) and then proceeds through several inter-connected stories. The section dealing with Alcock and Brown’s flight was wonderful but McCann’s narrative didn’t sustain that initial impetus and got dragged down in some cliched writing and some rather pedestrian characterisation of an American politician trying to broker a peace deal to resolve the Irish conflict.

In this case I kept going purely on the basis that the synopsis of the book mentioned a narrative strand that hadn’t yet materialised.  And fortunately in this case I made the right decision because the last third of the book was back to the same quality as the first third.

But I still don’t have a clear rationale for when to abandon a book or when to persevere. Maybe there isn’t such a thing, maybe it will also be a subjective decision.  How do you all resolve this question – any suggestions on approaches??

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