Saturday, 29 March 2008




DATE READ: March 2008 (re-reading)

NOTES: Tom Birkin arrives in the Yorkshire village of Oxgodby to work on restoring a mural in the church. He meets and befriends Charles Moon who is doing archaeological work nearby. Both are damaged as a result of the war and quickly find solace in each other’s company. As Birkin uncovers the wall painting of The Judgement he is intrigued by the figures being consigned to hell – and one in particular. Moon meanwhile is finding the remains of a Saxon village while ostensibly looking for the grave of an ancestor of the local landowner.

At one level not very much happens – no sex, no violence, no cataclysmic revelations. But at another level this little book (only 100 odd pages) overflows with small incidents, ideas and some fantastic characters. Who could fail to admire the feisty Kathy Ellerbeck? Or fail to despair at the sad, cold Reverend Keach?

A lovely book about the healing power of friendship, love and the English countryside.

Friday, 28 March 2008


AUTHOR: Peter Ho Davies


DATE READ: March 2008

NOTES: The story is set in the final month of WW2. There are three main threads to the story. Rotheram, a German refugee, assists British Intelligence by interviewing POWs, a young patriotic German soldier, Karsten, who surrenders in Northern France and Esther, the teenage daughter of a shepherd. All the threads come together in a small North Wales community.

At its heart is Esther, whose mother has died. She has few females to identify with or to be friends with and finds herself confused by the males that she comes into contact with. Rhys, a school friend, is attracted to her but she has rejected him and as a result he joined the army. She is attracted to Colin, a soldier based locally, but he only has a short term relationship in mind. She is intrigued by Karsten and becomes attracted to him.

The book is well researched and beautifully written and the story flows well. Many themes are explored – patriotism, nationalism, racism, identity – but none are laboured. Another recurring theme is the sense of belonging - “cynefin” – passed down through the maternal line of sheep.

The introduction of Rudolf Hess as a character worked well. He is portrayed as clever, cunning and manipulative.

As well as being very atmospheric The Welsh Girl is a riveting page-turning story.

Sunday, 23 March 2008


AUTHOR: Jim Crace


DATE READ: March 2008

NOTES: Four people enter the wilderness in Judea to take part in time of fasting and prayer – Aphas, an old Jew with a cancerous growth, Marta, an infertile woman, Shim, a Greek seeking enlightenment and a primitive wild man from a far-off tribe. Hardly noticed by them is a young Galilean – Jesus.

Already nearby are the despicable merchant Musa and his gentle wife Miri. Musa has been left to die from the fever by the rest of his family and Miri is secretly glad that she will be rid of such a cruel husband. But Musa has a half waking dream that the Galilean enters his tent and touches him and when he awakes he realises that he will not die and is well enough to get up. Jesus has nothing more to do with the others but his presence is felt by all of them.

Crace evokes an amazing picture of this disparate group of people surviving in the desert two thousand years ago. He doesn’t attempt to offer us any rational explanations as to how Jesus survived (or not) in the desert. But through the other character we are able to see how the cult of Jesus was able to arise through story-telling.

Musa was such a brute that he deserved a long and suffering end (whoops, a very un-Christian thought!) Although this doesn’t happen the ending us positive and uplifting.

A beautifully crafted book.

Saturday, 22 March 2008


AUTHOR: Peter Carey


DATE READ: February 2008

NOTES: The story is set in 19th century London. Jack Maggs is told with great verve and has echoes throughout of Dickensian writing. There are obviously some deliberate parallels – Jack Maggs = Magwitch Tobias Oates = Dickens Henry Phipps = Philip Pirrip and Silas = Fagin.

Tobias the writer comes over as egocentric and self-serving – in no way a heroic figure. This is a refreshing change as writers in novels are so often portrayed as noble and sensitive beings.

Jack is desperate to find his “son” who helped him when he was a prisoner in chains. The “son” Phipps fears being found as he thinks he will lose his house (owned by Maggs) and wants nothing to do with his benefactor.

As a felon Maggs should not be in England but it is not in the interests of the main characters to have him arrested as they could be accused of harbouring him. Phipps would lose the house if Maggs is arrested – but not if he is dead…… It all moves at a cracking pace with superb descriptions of London at the time. I would have liked more of the relationship (i.e. a conversation) between Maggs and Phipps – a minor quibble.

Friday, 14 March 2008


AUTHOR: Tahmima Anam


DATE READ: March 2008

NOTES: A Golden Age is a beautifully written book. The writing is simple and straightforward and creates a vivid picture of life in Bangladesh. It is the story of Rehana, a widow, and how she seeks to protect her children during the Bangladeshi War of Independence in 1971. Her student children want to become active in the war and Rehana reluctantly adds her support. But soon she is pulled more and more into supporting her adopted land of Bangladesh. The war is brutal and is graphically described and the narrative is gripping. The relationships between Rehana and her children, the Major and her neighbours are all very well drawn and perceptive.

Rehana is forced to make some hard choices – but having once lost her children in a custody battle she is determined to do anything within her capability to keep her son and daughter safe.

In the west the Pakistan-Bangladesh conflict is hardly remembered so this novel is a timely reminder of the recent history of the region. A brilliant debut – I do hope she has some more books in the pipeline!

Wednesday, 5 March 2008


AUTHOR: Louise Welsh


DATE READ: February 2008 (audiobook)

NOTES: Crime story of conjuror (with a drink problem) William who gets offered work in Berlin at “exotic” club. Before going he is given a package to look after by an “associate” who claims someone is blackmailing him over the contents. This turns out to be an ex-Met Police Officer. Bill and his male partner are murdered and William decides to find out what is going on. He meets up with mysterious woman Sylvie in Berlin who becomes his stage assistant. But Montgomery follows him to Berlin to get back what he claims is his.

Quite a complex plot for such a short book. But some really smart dialogue and good characterisations. Funny, erotic and dark.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008


AUTHOR: A.S. Byatt


DATE READ: February 2008

NOTES: This is the huge first part of The Frederica Quartet. It is set in 1950s and cleverly evokes life in suburban northern England. The Potters are a fairly horrific family – bullying father, subservient mother, obnoxious Frederica and troubled Marcus. Only Stephanie, the older sister, comes over as sympathetic. Most other characters are also flawed and tending to be vain, predatory, selfish – or just plain mad.

It doesn’t sound like a recipe for a great reading experience but we are soon pulled into the narrative. Will Alexander’s pageant be a success or a dramatic disaster? Surely Stephanie the atheist won’t marry Daniel (the somewhat dull church minister)? And to whom will the precocious and dislikeable Frederica lose her virginity?

The Virgin in the Garden is a challenging read in parts with many references to classical mythology. She writes with a terrifying mix of comic and cringe-worthy episodes – such as the descent into madness of Lucas and the attempted seduction of Frederica by Ed the travelling salesman.

A tough read in parts but it is worth the effort and I look forward to reading the next three books.