Tuesday, 15 January 2008


TITLE: THE ROAD

AUTHOR: Cormac McCarthy

DATE PUBLISHED: 2006

DATE READ: January 2008

NOTES: There is very little plot-line in The Road. A man and a boy are heading south in post-apocalyptic America. They are cold, hungry and frightened as they move slowly through a devastated landscape. Most of the remaining people left alive seem to have resorted to cannibalism and robbery and have to be avoided at all costs.

It is a bleak and depressing picture of the future - only redeemed by the love the man and the boy have for one another. The boy (who has no name) evolves into a generous and forgiving quasi-religious figure and we are given a redemptive ending.

The language is poetic without a single superfluous word or phrase. However I had to check on words I had never heard before eg kerfs, travois, bindle (yes, it’s like a bundle!), salitter (look it up, it’s really interesting), crozzled, loess.

Convincing, shocking and harrowing – a modern day classic.

Friday, 11 January 2008


TITLE: HOW TO READ A NOVEL – A USER’S GUIDE

AUTHOR: John Sutherland

DATE PUBLISHED: 2006

DATE READ: January 2008

NOTES: Thought the title was a bit off-putting (of course I know how to read a novel!) but read it because I knew and liked John Sutherland’s writing. I was not disappointed. All the chapters are very short – sometimes too short, leaving me wanting more – but the book is filled with interesting information and quirky observations that left lots of ideas swirling around in my head.

It is virtually a history of the novel with lots of ideas and examples thrown in along the way. Didactic without being preachy or overly academic.

His reflections on historical fiction were particularly interesting. Do my ideas on Victorian England come from history books or from Eliot, Gaskell and Dickens? And have I learned about the depression years in USA from documentaries or from reading The Grapes of Wrath?

I disagree with him about hardback editions being the book of choice – I actually prefer paperbacks and only buy a hardback if I really can’t wait to read it in paperback. (But I am so pleased that he liked McEwan’s Saturday – I loved this book and am perplexed by the vicious negativity from some reviewers.)

My only criticism is that I would have preferred less about the physical aspects of books (fonts, covers etc) and more about the content. But John Sutherland has produced a witty, perceptive book brimming with ideas. If you like to read novels you will love this book.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008



TITLE: A SWEET OBSCURITY

AUTHOR: Patrick Gale

DATE PUBLISHED: 2003

DATE READ: January 2008

NOTES: Another great read from Patrick Gale. A Sweet Obscurity is a tale of disparate adults all with their own needs and hope. Some are living in London and some in Cornwall – we know that somehow their lives will overlap and so we are compelled to read on…… At the heart of the book is Dido, a feisty nine year old who at times acts as parent to her stepmother/biological aunt Eliza. We know that there is some mystery about Dido’s mother but we are kept in suspense until the very end. The plotting is ingeniously worked out and the whole work is a very satisfying read with a “feel good” ending.

I can understand why Gale has such a firm fan base even though he will never feature in the more prestigious literary prize lists.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008



TITLE: BE NEAR ME

AUTHOR: Andrew O’Hagan

DATE PUBLISHED: 2006

DATE READ: Jan 2008

NOTES: David Anderson, an English priest, is sent to take over a small parish on the west coast of Scotland. But it is a very uncomfortable and uneasy setting for him and he finds his own culture and education (and pretensions) at odds with the society to which he is supposed to be ministering. He befriends a pair of teenagers from the local Catholic School and is sucked into their world, in turn fascinated and repelled by their behaviour and attitude. You soon realise that it will all end badly…….

David narrates the story but we are unsure whether he is na├»ve, flawed, arrogant or just plain stupid. The writing is beautiful and the author evokes strong images of both the idyllic past of David’s education at Oxford and the hellishness of the small town he now finds himself in. There are some brilliant “set pieces” – such as the meal of fish and wine he prepares, his conversations with Mrs Poole and the scene in court. Towards the end it was a bit like watching a train crash – you know something awful was going to happen but you can’t look away! Be Near Me is about loneliness, love, morality, faith and despair and deserved its place on the prize lists.

My one problem with the book is the difference in ages between David and the teenagers – would a man in his sixth decade really hang out with two fifteen year olds? Perhaps a smaller age gap would have been better.

I’m not sure that I’ve done justice to this very fine book – which certainly deserves a second reading.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

So what are my reading resolutions for 2008? First of all I have resolved to buy fewer books. I bought 59 in 2007 - way too many, even though quite a few of them were for other people. I will plan ahead more and order books from the library....... Secondly I will read The Idiot by Dostoyevsky.....I have started this twice before and got sidetracked. Now I have no excuse for not finishing it. I will also read The Frederica Quartet by A S Byatt - bought these books a few months ago and have been saving them as a sort of treat (hope I'm not going to be disappointed!) In 2007 I read 55 books. Mostly they were really good and just a few turkeys (eg A Place Called Here, Darkhouse, Relentless)