Saturday, 31 March 2007


AUTHOR: David Mitchell


DATE READ: March 2007

NOTES: Quite an amazing read – a complex, exuberant book with six interweaving and overlapping stories (any of which could be a novel in their own right). The writing style and spelling change according to the setting of each part: the 19th century Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing, an American notary, the letters of Robert Frobisher, an impoverished young would-be composer working with an older musician in Belgium, a 1970s thriller involving corporate crimes, a struggling present day publisher trying to survive against a tide of modern problems (debt, the train service, old age, street crime), a sci-fi story of clones and servitude and the tale of Zachary set in a fallen dystopic world.

There are some obvious links and it is altogether a great read. Not sure which bit I like best – possibly the Luisa Rey story or the Orison of Sonmi-451. I found the Sloosha’s Crossing part the most difficult to read because it is written the way Zachary was supposed to talk with lots of apostrophes and new vocabulary (“Nay, I din’t murder her, see in a split-beat b’tween aimin’ an’ thrustin’….”). This part would probably be brilliant to listen to on an audiobook.

Highly enjoyable and well worth the effort. A tour de force!
Have now bought his latest book Black Swan Green and look forward to reading it.

Wednesday, 28 March 2007


AUTHOR: Clare Morrall


DATE READ: March 2007

NOTES: I came to this book with false expectations – I had expected it to be more literary and to deal seriously with issues. Oh dear, quite a disappointment! The story dealt with a dysfunctional family par excellence. Unfortunately all the main characters were seriously damaged but their problems are not offset with humour or lightheartedness (as in I Capture the Castle or any of Kate Atkinson’s books). I was really interested in how she approached synaesthesia (a condition in which emotions are seen as colours) but she seemed to quickly lose interest in this and it was never really developed as an idea.

The book has a great opening and the episode of taking her nieces to the theatre was beautifully told. I liked the local setting of Birmingham and the references to Peter Pan. However the central character Kitty is extremely irritating and I found it hard to sympathise with her despite the fact she had a) lost a baby and was now unable to have any more children b) been raised in a motherless family c) had a really unpleasant father d) had an older sister Dinah who had disappeared at the age of 15.

Halfway through it all became a bit predictable. Yes, we knew the mother would reappear and that Kitty was probably turn out to be Dinah’s child. Sorry, but I just didn’t believe that so many secrets would remain untold for so long.

There is some lovely writing in this first novel but it really didn’t (for me) live up to the rave reviews.

But we had a great discussion at our reading group about it!

Thursday, 22 March 2007


AUTHOR: J B Aspinall


DATE READ: December 2006

NOTES: Medieval tale of a witch terrorising an area of Yorkshire and the church’s battle against her. Written by Brother Edmund who is asked to record the story as a penance for his carnal thoughts. Language has an authentic feel and author seems true to the ethos of the time. Edmund believes in witchcraft and that his bad dreams mean that he has been invaded by demons at the behest of a witch. It was an interesting device to have a narrator who actually believed the church’s teaching of the times rather than have someone with a much more rational outlook. Very well written and quite a page turner. It is subtly satirical – the power of the witch is described in graphic detail and Edmund has no problem in believing what he is told. Some parts are truly shocking – especially the notion that the women who invade Edmund’s dreams must be bewitched and therefore should be put on trial and executed for witchcraft. Age old problem of blaming women for the effect they have on men! Although Edmund is not happy about this he makes no real attempt to prevent it happening – he is totally immersed in church propaganda and not intelligent enough to think more rationally.

The story tells of Sukie – a peasant girl of great spirit and little beauty – who is badly treated by her family and eventually arrested and imprisoned. While imprisoned she is continually abused and when she is eventually freed she becomes a virtual hermit in the hills, but makes a living by selling herbal potions. After two mysterious deaths of men (it is never made entirely clear that Sukie was to blame) she flees and is not heard of for many years. But it is only a matter of time before the church feels the need to be rid of her.

Friday, 16 March 2007


AUTHOR: William Boyd


DATE READ: October 2006

NOTES: What happens to your life when everything you thought you knew about your mother turns out to be an elaborate lie? During the long, hot summer of 1976, Ruth Gilmartin discovers that her mother, Sally is really Eva Delectorskaya, a Russian emigre and one-time spy. In 1939, Eva is a young woman living in Paris. As war breaks out, she is recruited for the British Secret Service by Lucas Romer, a mysterious, patrician Englishman. She learns to become the perfect spy, to mask her emotions and trust no one: even those she loves most. Since then, Eva has carefully rebuilt her life - but once a spy, always a spy. And now, she must complete one last assignment. This time, though, Eva can't do it alone: she needs her daughter's help.

A great read – very much a page turner. Chapters alternate between Ruth in 1976 and her mother in wartime espionage. Well plotted with good atmosphere in wartime sequences but less so in 70s. Relationship between mother and daughter is beautifully explored. Would have liked Ruth’s story fleshed out more – ends a bit limply.

Not as good as Brazzaville Beach or Any Human Heart, but nonetheless a great read.

Monday, 5 March 2007


AUTHOR: Khaled Hosseini


DATE READ: February 2007

NOTES: A beautiful evocation of growing up in Afghanistan and trying to come to terms with the complexities and paradoxes of the place. The narrator Amir is guilty of cowardice and betrayal and but in the end he is redeemed by his actions. Some wonderful characterisations – Amir’s father Baba, his young wife Soraya and, of course, his servant/half-brother Hassan and all vividly drawn. His descriptions of place are terrific. A very fast read – very much a page turner.

However I did have some reservations. I know it is a novel not a political history, but he does give the impression that all was fine in Afghanistan until the Russians invaded……. fine for people of his class perhaps?

Thursday, 1 March 2007

World Book Day

It’s World Book Day – so what a great excuse to leave all the chores and spend time reading.

Was interested in the results of the World Book Day poll – people were asked to name their top ten books that they could not live without. An odd criterion – not the greatest literature ever read, nor the books with most impact on our lives.

So here are my top ten books that I would always want to have on my bookshelves: (not in any particular order)

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
Atonement by Ian McEwan
The Radiant Way (trilogy) by Margaret Drabble
Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd
The Quiet American by Graham Greene

OK, that’s eleven but it’s my blog so I can do what I want! If I made this list in a week or a month’s time I am sure it would be different. All very subjective.