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‘Every Day’ by David Levithan ****

On talking about one of my recent book hauls with the lovely Ana fiches de lectures, we decided to read the one title which both of us had in common: Every Day by David Levithan.  I personally do not read many young adult titles, but Levithan is an author whom I will always make exceptions for, as I have so enjoyed everything of his which I have read to date.

The premise of Every Day is both simple and original – A, our gender-free protagonist, is a sixteen-year-old who wakes up in a different sixteen-year-old’s body each morning.  (Please note that I will be referring to A as ‘him’ merely for the ease of writing a review.)  On the day in which we meet him, A has woken up as a rude, sullen boy named Jason, and tries to live the day out as he expects Jason would.  Things are turned on their head as soon as A reaches Jason’s school, however, and quickly falls for his kind girlfriend, Rhiannon.  A tends to try and forget about those whom he has become and interacted with on a daily basis to save overcomplicating things, but he is soon finding ways to meet up with Rhiannon – whom he slowly lets into his secret – whilst inhabiting different teenage bodies.

Many issues – both positive and negative – are touched upon or discussed at length throughout the novel, from teenage relationships and their lasting power, relationships with siblings and parents, and friendships to fear, drug use, and suicide.  Levithan builds the relationship between A and Rhiannon so well, through the use of many distinctively different characters.  His sculpting is skilful and sensitive, and there is a sense of gritty darkness which is introduced to the novel as it goes on.  A’s existence is well charted from beginning to end, and the almost unpredictable ending is refreshing.

Every Day is, like Levithan’s other work, so tenderly written.  He sculpts such vivid scenes and his characters spring to life as soon as they are introduced.  He has a real gift for slipping inside the skins of his protagonists, and seeing the world as they would.  A lot of his writing is beautiful, and he adds so many depths to his work.  Whilst his style is easy to read, Levithan still manages to create thought-provoking novels, and Every Day is perhaps the best example of this which I have come across thus far.  The novel is certainly one of Levithan’s best, and its clever ideas, beautiful writing and themes hold equal appeal for every reader.

You can read Ana’s review here.

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‘After Me Comes the Flood’ by Sarah Perry **

The intriguing premise of Sarah Perry’s After Me Comes the Flood is as follows: ‘What if you walked out of your life only to find another one was already waiting for you?’   Heralded ‘elegant, gently sinister and psychologically complex’, the novel holds instant appeal for fans of books like Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, and of authors such as Sarah Waters.

The protagonist of the piece is John Cole, a lonely man who decides to leave his life behind him and join his brother at his secluded house in rural Norfolk.  Whilst driving away from the neglected bookshop which he owns in London, his car – rather predictably, one may think – breaks down, and he finds himself lost.  Searching for help, he stumbles upon a grand house: ‘It seemed to me the most real and solid thing I’d ever seen, and at the same time only a trick of my sight in the heat’.  John is soon welcomed with opened arms by the odd community of people within, who seem to have been expecting him all along: ‘I ought really to have been afraid of the strangeness and the dark and the insistent child, and those appalling meat hooks hanging from their chains, but instead it all seemed so absurd, and so like something in a novel, that I began to laugh’.

Throughout, Perry uses two differing voices – the first person perspective of John, who is writing an account of his time in his house, and an omniscient third person narrative.  John’s voice drawns one in from the outset: ‘I’m writing this in a stranger’s room on a broken chair at an old school desk.  The chair creaks if I move, and so I must keep very still’.  He goes on to say, ‘I wish I could use some other voice to write this story down.  I wish I could take all the books that I’ve loved best and borrow better words than these, but I’ve got to make do with an empty notebook and a man who never had a tale to tell and doesn’t know how to begin except for the beginning’.

Perry manages to set the oppressive tone of the book almost as soon as it begins: ‘I’ve been listening for footsteps on the stairs or voices in the garden, but there’s only the sound of a household keeping quiet.  They gave me too much drink – there’s a kind of buzzing in my ears and if I close my eyes they sting’.  On the whole, After Me Came the Flood is very well written, and the descriptions which Perry gives of her characters are particularly striking.  Hester, for example, the woman who appears to be in charge of the house, ‘seemed poorly assembled, as though she’d been put together from leftover pieces – her eyes set under a deeply lined forehead, her nose crooked like a child’s drawing of a witch, her skin thick and coarse’.

After Me Came the Flood becomes unsettling rather quickly, and at times it takes quite unexpected turns.  A real sense of place is built, and the first half of the multi-layered novel is very engrossing indeed.  At around this point, however, the religious elements which have previously been touched upon serve only to saturate the entire plot, and cause the whole to become rather plodding in its pace.  The suspense is lost altogether, and it never really picks up again.  The denouement is also rather predictable.  All of these elements sadly add an unfortunate stain to what would otherwise be an intriguing and well driven novel.

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The Tiniest Book Haul

I have another book haul to write about (!), but thankfully it consists of only two books.  I went to Vienna for a long weekend for my family, and thought that I would purchase something long to read on my Kindle whilst I was travelling.  I settled for Gerald Clarke‘s biography of Truman Capote, which was the basis for the ‘Capote’ film which I watched during the summer, and really enjoyed.  As ever, I bought the book, but ended up reading different things whilst on the plane.  I’m still very excited about beginning it though!

I did not buy any books in Vienna, as a lot of the bookshops were largely German-language, and the majority of English books were either run-of-the-mill thrillers or chick lit.

I also received a review book of Stephen Fry‘s More Fool Me: A Memoir last week, so you can expect a review of that some time soon.

Have you read either of these books?  What did you think of them?  Which books have you purchased recently?

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‘Country Moods and Tenses’ by Edith Olivier ***

First published in 1941, Country Moods and Tenses is an interesting non-fiction account of grammar and the English language, and how both relate to life within the countryside – that of Olivier’s native Wiltshire, to be exact.  Olivier has begun her account by setting out her ‘grammarless education’, which she feels has debarred her ‘from the familiar use of a good many attractive and expressive words’.

Throughout, it is clear that Olivier is passionate about the subject of which she is writing; she speaks of her delight of perusing the dictionary in her introduction, and discusses such grammatical elements as the infinitive and the imperative, all the while relating them to the experiences of her family and neighbours in their small English village.  Olivier uses the examples of other writers and experts in certain fields to further reinforce the points which she makes.

In Country Moods and Tenses, Olivier continually demonstrates the differences between town and country living – for example, ‘the store cupboard, so easily filled in London by the benificence of Messrs. Fortnum and Mason.  To them it is merely a matter of indifferently turning to another shelf and with equal facility they will hand over the counter Guaya Jelly, Hymettus Honey or Sloe Gin.  But in the country, a May frost may put an end to all hopes of strawberry jam for the year, and a wet September can ruin the blackberry harvest’.  Of the utmost importance, she believes, is never to take anything for granted.  One gets the impression that she would like city folk to adopt the mentality of the countryside, where the communities which she describes are grateful for everything which Mother Nature offers them.

Country Moods and Tenses is both quaint and charming.  Olivier presents an interesting and quite original mixture of travelogue and linguistics.  The subjects which she writes about range from public work to literary pilgrimages, and are diverse enough to hold something for every reader.

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