Children's literature

Tuscan sun fuels the reading juices

After a  week under cloudless blue skies and surrounded by Renaissance architecture, I returned to torrential rain and leaden skies on Saturday. With the forecast for even more of the same I expected to be writing this – my first Sunday Salon post – to the accompaniment of rain plopping onto the conservatory roof. But what a pleasant surprise – I’m sitting instead looking onto fluffy white clouds and  listening to the birds chirrup.  Sadly there is no Italian gelataria nearby otherwise the afternoon would be perfect.

Apart from marvelling at the splendours of Florence and Sienna, I also somehow managed to get through a fair amount of reading, ending with two unqualified successes, one ‘mediocre’ and one ‘never want to read this kind of book again’ …..

 Staying On

I took with me Staying On by Paul Scott, which won the Man Booker prize in 1977.  I first read this novel about 15 years ago and thought at the time it was somewhat ‘light’ in comparison to the grand themes of the Raj Quartet series. A stage version featuring Nadim Sawalha, in one of the key roles, did nothing to change my view.  But reading it afresh, I discovered that the comedy which had been played up fully on stage, masked the poignancy of a story of  undeclared affection, loneliness and insecurity.  I’ll post fuller comments on this later in the week………


My second novel also had a domestic setting but couldn’t have been more different than Staying On. I’ve never read any of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels – and knew very little about her other than she wrote one of the early ‘definitive’ biographies of her friend Charlotte Bronte.  But the interest spurred in her work through the BBC adaptation of Cranford, encouraged me to give her a go. The experiment wasn’t a resounding success. It felt a very skimpy and insubstantial read – not really a novel so much as a series of episodes. I kept waiting for a plot line to develop but just as something began to sound interesting, it was resolved within the next chapter.  On screen, it would come across a bit like a soap opera with the audience as voyeurs looking through the windows of a bunch of spinsters who fret about candles and bonnets the correct form of address for a titled widow. I like my novels to have more substance so its unlikely I will find my way to Mrs Gaskell again.

Sarah’s Key

A work colleague who is also an avid reader, recommended Tatiana de Rosnay to me. It wasn’t until I started reading Sarah’s Key that I remembered having seen the film version earlier this year. Even though the plot was therefore familiar, I found myself engrossed by this dual timeline story of one of the most horrific events in French history – the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup.  More than 13,000 Jewish men, children and women were removed from their homes by French police and held for days in a baking velodrome without food or water before being transported to labour and concentration camps. It’s an indication of how engrossing this story is, that I started reading Sarah’s Key as the flight took off and barely lifted my eyes from the page until we had touched down… I haven’t finished it yet but am hoping to sneak a few hours with it later on.

Monsters of Men

Just before my holiday started, the winner of this year’s Carnegie prize for children’s literature was announced as Patrick Ness. It was a remarkable achievement since he  also won last year’s award  with Monsters of Men. After three pages I experienced a sense of panic that somehow the download of Monsters of Men to my Kindle had gone wrong and I had only half the book. The story seemed to open in the middle of a battle with characters that were never described but appeared to have a back story. Only later having done some rapid web searching did I find that Ness’s book was the last in the Chaos Walking trilogy that featured the same characters and this action was a progression from number two in the set. The only reason I had this book on my list because I thought (mistakenly it now appears) that it was on the reading list for my upcoming children’s literature course. Having never managed to see the appeal of science fiction or fantasy I knew this would be a challenge. I struggled on for another 30 pages or so but abandoned it when I learned it’s the newest Ness book I should have been reading. What a relief – his new one  A Monster Calls – is undoubtedly dark in tone since it’s about a young boy coming to term’s with his mother’s fatal illness, but at least it doesn’t feature space ships…..


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

8 thoughts on “Tuscan sun fuels the reading juices

  • Pingback: Classics Club read # 1: North and South « BookerTalk

  • Mrs. Gaskell’s other novels are a little more plot-driven than Cranford, so you may want to check out North and South or Wives and Daughters someday.

  • Tuscany is just so beautiful. I’ve only spend a few days there – visiting Pisa, Lucca and Firenze but I loved it. I remember having checked out Sarah’s Key earlier but for some reason, I’ve never added it to my wish list. That mistake has been fixed now. It sounds very interesting!

  • Ah, Tuscany. I have longed to go back ever since our holiday there three years ago. I like the look of the Paul Scott book so I’ll look out for your full review.

  • I’ve just set ‘Staying On’ as one of the books for this year’s Summer School so I’ll be very interested to see what you have to say about it.

    • You can get a copy of the Gaskell novels free from the Gutenburg press website since they are out of copyright. I love that site because it means I can dip into books that I might like but am not sure about without feeling guilty I am spending too much money!


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