‘Apple and Knife’ by Intan Paramaditha ***

The stories in Apple and Knife, the first English collection of award-winning Indonesian author Intan Paramaditha’s work have been drawn from two of her books, and are translated by Stephen J. Epstein.  Paramaditha’s tales are inspired by fairytales, mythological stories, and horror, and this collection promises its readers an ‘unsettling ride that swerves into the supernatural to explore the dangers and power of occupying a female body in today’s world.’  Its blurb also claims that the collection ‘is subversive feminist horror at its best, where men and women alike are arbiters of fear, and where revenge is sometimes sweetest when delivered from the grave.’

9781787301160Apple and Knife is a slim collection of thirteen stories, many of which have quite beguiling titles; ‘The Blind Woman Without a Toe’, ‘Scream in a Bottle’, and ‘A Single Firefly, a Thousand Rats’ particularly caught my eye.  Australian author Emily Bitto writes that the stories in Apple and Knife ‘are raw, fun, excessive, and told with a wink, but they are underlaid with an unsettling awareness of the human fate of “disobedient women”.’

As one would expect, given Bitto’s comments, the collection launches straight into the darker side of life.  The first story, ‘The Blind Woman Without a Toe’, is a retelling of Cinderella (renamed Sindelerat), which is told from the perspective of one of her sisters.  In the story, the narrator recounts, rather graphically, how she became blind to a young child companion: ‘My eyes were pecked out by a bird.  They say it was a dove from heaven, but it was actually a black crow straight out of hell.  I screamed.  I begged it to stop.  But my shrieks were drowned out by its caws.  It got to the point that you could no longer tell what was flowing, tears or blood.  The crow only heeded its owner and she wasn’t satisfied until my eyes were hollow sockets.’

The settings of the stories in Apple and Knife, which range from corporate boardrooms to shanty towns, ‘reveal a soupy otherworld stewing just beneath the surface.’  The majority of the stories are set in Indonesia, but there are a couple which do not explicitly mention their placement, or which are set elsewhere.  Each of the characters, regardless of where they have been placed geographically, is undergoing a crisis or upheaval of some kind, and this becomes the common thread which acts as a backbone for the collection.  The characters in Apple and Knife are all markedly different.  We meet, variously, a woman who is being kept by her husband in a grand house; ‘the most famous courtesan in Esna’; a young woman who interviews a ‘Sumarni’, or witch; and a ‘devil woman’ who pays a man to act out her sexual fantasies.

Whilst some of the stories in this collection did not appeal to me on a personal level, or had rather unsatisfactory endings, I found that others had a real power to them.  They subvert expectation, and turn things on their heads.  Many of the tales take quite surprising turns, and Paramaditha seems to enjoy playing with the expectations which she assumes the reader has.  The stories are sensual, but not in a pleasant way; rather, they come across as an assault upon the senses. One of the elements which I found most interesting in Apple and Knife is the focus which Paramaditha places upon the physical body and its degradation.

I was impressed by Paramaditha’s writing, and the layering effect which she creates in many of her stories.  Her rich descriptions help to achieve this.  In ‘Scream in a Bottle’, for instance, she writes: ‘Rain falls in the yard, soaking the earth.  Not a downpour, but slow, drop by drop.  A long, soft tone, like a bow sliding against a violin string.’  The author is perceptive and descriptive, particularly when it comes to her depictions of characters.  In ‘Beauty and the Seventh Dwarf’, she writes: ‘I pieced together her story based on information that emerged at random, so the tale was incomplete, unsatisfactory.  It didn’t explain the enigma of her hideousness.  Waiting while she bathed one night, I hunted around for further clues.  Her room contained a mirror and a dresser…  Of course she didn’t need beauty products, nothing would redeem her looks. Even the mirror’s presence was odd.  Why would someone with such a grotesque face want to gaze at herself?’

Regardless of the things which I did not like in this collection, or which felt rather repetitive, it is undeniably wonderful that Indonesian literature is being championed at last.  Apple and Knife was fascinating to read, suffused as it is with so much darkness, and a lot of Indonesian folklore and cultural details, which I was unfamiliar with.  Whilst many of the stories are contemporary, I liked the use of historical fiction in ‘Kuchuk Hanem’, which has a representation of French author Gustave Flaubert within it.  The dark humour was also welcome, and worked well with Paramaditha’s storylines, which were, frankly, sometimes quite bizarre.

On the whole, Apple and Knife presents an interesting and multilayered picture of a very diverse nation; there is so much going on here, and a lot of themes have been addressed. The magical realism which is sometimes inserted does work well on the whole, although I found a couple of instances of this unnecessary or somewhat jarring.  Overall, though, the fantastical elements do add an extra layer of interest to the stories.  The majority are quite bewitching.

Purchase from The Book Depository


A List: ‘Books with Sugar in the Title’

Am I the only one who likes to find book lists on Goodreads with quite obscure titles?  I have found some great books in the past thanks to them, and although I’m trying not to grow my enormous to-read list too much at the moment, I just couldn’t resist clicking on this list, enticingly titled ‘Books with Sugar in the Title’.  I have pulled out eight books from the list which pique my interest, and which I would like to get to soon.


1. Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray 20660874
Easter 1955. As Lilia Sugar scrapes the ice from the inside of the windows and the rust from the locks in Sugar Hall, she knows there are pasts she cannot erase. On the very edge of the English/Welsh border, the red gardens of Sugar Hall hold a secret, and as Britain prepares for its last hanging, Lilia and her children must confront a history that has been buried but not forgotten. Based on the stories of the Black Boy that surround Littledean Hall in the Forest of Dean, this is a superbly chilling ghost story from Tiffany Murray.’


242022752. Sugar by Deirdre Riordan Hall
Sugar Legowski-Gracia wasn’t always fat, but fat is what she is now at age seventeen. Not as fat as her mama, who is so big she hasn’t gotten out of bed in months. Not as heavy as her brother, Skunk, who has more meanness in him than fat, which is saying something. But she’s large enough to be the object of ridicule wherever she is: at the grocery store, walking down the street, at school. Sugar’s life is dictated by taking care of Mama in their run-down home—cooking, shopping, and, well, eating. A lot of eating, which Sugar hates as much as she loves.  When Sugar meets Even (not Evan—his nearly illiterate father misspelled his name on the birth certificate), she has the new experience of someone seeing her and not her body. As their unlikely friendship builds, Sugar allows herself to think about the future for the first time, a future not weighed down by her body or her mother.  Soon Sugar will have to decide whether to become the girl that Even helps her see within herself or to sink into the darkness of the skin-deep role her family and her life have created for her.’


3. In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan 46182
‘iDEATH is a place where the sun shines a different colour every day and where people travel to the length of their dreams. Rejecting the violence and hate of the old gang at the Forgotten Works, they lead gentle lives in watermelon sugar. In this book, Richard Brautigan discovers and expresses the mood of the counterculture generation.’


116482614. The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
‘Twenty-seven-year-old Josey is sure of three things: winter in her North Carolina hometown is her favorite season; she’s a sorry excuse for a Southern belle; and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her hidden closet. For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother’s house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night …Until she finds her closet harboring none other than local waitress Della Lee Baker, a tough-talking, tender-hearted woman who is one part nemesis – and two parts fairy godmother …’


5. The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper 2643182
‘Journalist Helene Cooper examines the violent past of her home country Liberia and the effects of its 1980 military coup in this deeply personal memoir and finalist for the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award.  Helene Cooper is “Congo,” a descendant of two Liberian dynasties—traced back to the first ship of freemen that set sail from New York in 1820 to found Monrovia. Helene grew up at Sugar Beach, a twenty-two-room mansion by the sea. Her childhood was filled with servants, flashy cars, a villa in Spain, and a farmhouse up-country. It was also an African childhood, filled with knock foot games and hot pepper soup, heartmen and neegee. When Helene was eight, the Coopers took in a foster child—a common custom among the Liberian elite. Eunice, a Bassa girl, suddenly became known as “Mrs. Cooper’s daughter.”  For years the Cooper daughters—Helene, her sister Marlene, and Eunice—blissfully enjoyed the trappings of wealth and advantage. But Liberia was like an unwatched pot of water left boiling on the stove. And on April 12, 1980, a group of soldiers staged a coup d’état, assassinating President William Tolbert and executing his cabinet. The Coopers and the entire Congo class were now the hunted, being imprisoned, shot, tortured, and raped. After a brutal daylight attack by a ragtag crew of soldiers, Helene, Marlene, and their mother fled Sugar Beach, and then Liberia, for America. They left Eunice behind.  A world away, Helene tried to assimilate as an American teenager. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill she found her passion in journalism, eventually becoming a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She reported from every part of the globe—except Africa—as Liberia descended into war-torn, third-world hell.  In 2003, a near-death experience in Iraq convinced Helene that Liberia—and Eunice—could wait no longer. At once a deeply personal memoir and an examination of a violent and stratified country, The House at Sugar Beach tells of tragedy, forgiveness, and transcendence with unflinching honesty and a survivor’s gentle humor. And at its heart, it is a story of Helene Cooper’s long voyage home.’


387461666. Sugar Run by Mesha Maren
‘In 1989, Jodi McCarty is seventeen years old when she’s sentenced to life in prison for manslaughter. She’s released eighteen years later and finds herself at a Greyhound bus stop, reeling from the shock of unexpected freedom. Not yet able to return to her lost home in the Appalachian mountains, she goes searching for someone she left behind, but on the way, she meets and falls in love with Miranda, a troubled young mother. Together, they try to make a fresh start, but is that even possible in a town that refuses to change?   Set within the charged insularity of rural West Virginia, Sugar Run is a searing and gritty debut about making a run for another life.’


7. A Spoonful of Sugar: A Nanny’s Story by Brenda Ashford 15798336
‘From Britain’s beloved oldest living nanny comes a charming and uplifting memoir of a real-life Mary Poppins.  In her extraordinary memoir, Brenda Ashford shares her endearing and amusing experiences as a British nanny caring for generations of children over the past sixty-two years.  Brenda’s lifelong love for children began the minute she laid eyes on her baby brother, David. As a teenager, she applied to London’s Norland College, famous for producing top-class nannies, and, after a grueling interview, she was accepted on scholarship. It was a radical change from her idyllic country life in the village of Surrey. The training was rigorous and discipline strictly enforced, as Brenda and her classmates scrambled to pass inspections on everything from morality and neatness to needlework and pram pushing. Meanwhile, World War II began, and Brenda’s heart was broken twice. She vowed never to fall for a man again and devoted her life to caring for other people’s children, never having any of her own.  Brenda’s memoir offers readers an enticing glimpse into the joys, frustrations, adventures, and mishaps of children of all ages and situations. She peppers her story with delightful bits of cultural history and timeless life lessons. A Spoonful of Sugar is an irresistible Mary Poppins story that will touch your heart and remind you of what is truly important in life.’


1655378. Sugar Cage by Connie May Fowler
‘The story of the Looneys and the Jewels, two families fiercely bound to each other–as well as to the soil and sensibility of the modern South. An unforgettable tale about everyday people searching for a history and a heritage that can explain who they are.’


Which is your favourite book with sugar in the title?  Are you intrigued by any of the books on my list?  Have you read any of them?


‘Diary of an Ordinary Woman’ by Margaret Forster ****

I absolutely adored Margaret Forster’s Have the Men Had Enough? (review here) when I read it back in 2017, and think that her biography of Daphne du Maurier is superb.  It has been a surprisingly long time since I picked up another of her novels, but I selected the rather chunky Diary of an Ordinary Woman as my next Forster because it sounded splendid.  It sounds, on the face of it, as though it has rather a lot of themes in common with Have the Men Had Enough?, and I was intrigued to compare the two.

Diary of an Ordinary Woman spans an entire century, from the birth of its protagonist in 97800994492871901, to her old age in 1995.  It is presented as the ‘edited’ diary of Millicent King, who takes the decision to keep her journal just before the outbreak of the First World War.  In it, she ‘vividly records the dramas of everyday life in a family touched by war, tragedy, and money troubles.’  Of Forster’s decision to include such a vast time period in her novel, The Guardian writes: ‘Not only is the background of social and political change meticulously accurate… but there is everything one would expect from a well-kept diary.  This is fiction, yet it is true.’

The ‘diary’ begins with an introduction written by an overseer, an anonymous author who has been asked to read Millicent’s many diaries by her great-niece by marriage, and assess their literary worth.  The author comments: ‘I pointed out that it is quite dangerous letting a writer loose in a field of very personal material – I might run amok and trample on sensitive areas.’  However, upon reading the earlier diaries, they note: ‘The writing was fluent and lively, and seemed driven by some sort of inner energy which, though the content was mundane enough, gave it a sense of drama…  If she could write with such vigour at 13, how would she write at 23, 33, right up to 93?’

Millicent shows her diaries with some satisfaction: ‘Inside [a cupboard], there were three shelves packed with hardback exercise books, most of them red but some black.  She stood back and surveyed them, telling me that whenever she looked at them like this, she felt her life must, against all the evidence, have amounted to something after all.’  The introduction of this anonymous author-cum-editor ends as follows: ‘… there was nothing ordinary about this woman.  Indeed, I now wonder if there is any such thing as an ordinary life at all.’

To continue with this idea of Millicent’s diaries being edited, entries are sometimes interspersed with comments from the anonymous author, which give more background to the social climate, or which explain why several months – or sometimes years – have been omitted from the ‘edited diary’.  From the beginning, one really gets a feel for Millicent’s quite prickly character.  As a young lady, she certainly feels hard done by, particularly with regard to her position in the family: ‘I am most unfortunately placed in this family, coming after Matilda and before the twins and Baby.  I am special to nobody, and that is the truth.’  Her humour, which is not always deliberate, comes through too in the earliest entries.  When she stays in Westmorland for a family holiday in 1915, she comments: ‘There is no place or time to read and in any case I must be sparing with what I have to read because there is no hope of getting to a library.  I have made Lorna Doone last for ages and I do not even like it.’

I found Diary of an Ordinary Woman immediately compelling.  Forster has perfected an intelligent but accessible writing style, which seems to give us access to Millicent’s every thought, however dark.  Due to the span of almost the entirety of the twentieth-century, Forster has allowed herself to engross one in the details, creating such depth for Millicent and the changing world in which she lives.  There is little which is remarkable in Millicent’s life, but the very fact that such a huge chunk of it has been recorded by herself, is remarkable.

One is really given a feel for the huge shifts which occurred during the twentieth century, and the impacts which this could, and would, have upon one individual.  Her life unfolds against the century; her childhood lived in the First World War, the role of fascism in Italy where she later works as a teacher, the Mass Observation Project which she takes part in, and the Korean War, amongst others.  In many ways – having a career, deciding not to get married or have children, and even wearing trousers in the early 1930s – Millicent subverts what was expected of a well-bred woman.

The element which I found a little tiresome in this novel is the emphasis placed upon Millicent’s romantic conquests.  Whilst mildly interesting at first, these soon begin to follow the same pattern, and the men whom she falls so wildly for become quite similar figures.  This detracted somewhat from my enjoyment of the novel.  Had this part been more succinct, or less spoken about, I imagine that I may well have given Diary of an Ordinary Woman a five star rating.

Millicent King is a singular woman, but she is also presented as Everywoman here.  Forster makes it clear that Millicent shares a lot of her concerns with women living within the twentieth-century.  Of Forster’s protagonist, the Independent on Sunday stresses the ‘whole-hearted’ belief which we have in Millicent, and the element of heroism within her ‘that George Eliot would recognise.’  Whilst there were some later decisions in which I found myself questioning Millicent’s judgement, I could not help but warm to her.  She feels realistic, particularly for all her foibles and complaints.

In Diary of an Ordinary Woman, Forster has created something quite remarkable.  Whilst in some respects the novel does feel rather long, there is so much within it which both fascinated me, and sustained my interest.  Evidently, to span an entire lifetime, there must be a lot of detail included, and the novel is certainly richer for it.

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Best Indian Fiction Books

One of my favourite places to read about is India.  I find that literature set within the vast and wondrous expanse of the country appeals to all of my senses, and instills in me a lot of wanderlust.  I have yet to visit India, but I feel as though I continue to learn a lot about it through reading novels set there.  Here are ten books set in India which I have not yet read, and which really appeal to me.


52111. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
‘With a compassionate realism and narrative sweep that recall the work of Charles Dickens, this magnificent novel captures all the cruelty and corruption, dignity and heroism, of India.  The time is 1975. The place is an unnamed city by the sea. The government has just declared a State of Emergency, in whose upheavals four strangers–a spirited widow, a young student uprooted from his idyllic hill station, and two tailors who have fled the caste violence of their native village–will be thrust together, forced to share one cramped apartment and an uncertain future. As the characters move from distrust to friendship and from friendship to love, A Fine Balance creates an enduring panorama of the human spirit in an inhuman state.’


2. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth 50365
‘Vikram Seth’s novel is, at its core, a love story: Lata and her mother, Mrs. Rupa Mehra, are both trying to find—through love or through exacting maternal appraisal—a suitable boy for Lata to marry. Set in the early 1950s, in an India newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis, A Suitable Boy takes us into the richly imagined world of four large extended families and spins a compulsively readable tale of their lives and loves. A sweeping panoramic portrait of a complex, multiethnic society in flux, A Suitable Boy remains the story of ordinary people caught up in a web of love and ambition, humor and sadness, prejudice and reconciliation, the most delicate social etiquette and the most appalling violence.’


140823. Malgudi Days by R.K. Narayan
‘Introducing this collection of stories, R. K. Narayan describes how in India “the writer has only to look out of the window to pick up a character and thereby a story.” Composed of powerful, magical portraits of all kinds of people, and comprising stories written over almost forty years, Malgudi Days presents Narayan’s imaginary city in full color, revealing the essence of India and of human experience. This edition includes an introduction by Pulitzer Prize- winning author Jhumpa Lahiri.’


4. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verges 3591262
‘A sweeping, emotionally riveting first novel—an enthralling family saga of Africa and America, doctors and patients, exile and home.  Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon at a mission hospital in Addis Ababa. Orphaned by their mother’s death in childbirth and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution. Yet it will be love, not politics—their passion for the same woman—that will tear them apart and force Marion, fresh out of medical school, to flee his homeland. He makes his way to America, finding refuge in his work as an intern at an underfunded, overcrowded New York City hospital. When the past catches up to him—nearly destroying him—Marion must entrust his life to the two men he thought he trusted least in the world: the surgeon father who abandoned him and the brother who betrayed him.  An unforgettable journey into one man’s remarkable life, and an epic story about the power, intimacy, and curious beauty of the work of healing others.’


2183575. The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar
Set in modern-day India, it is the story of two compelling and achingly real women: Sera Dubash, an upper-middle-class Parsi housewife whose opulent surroundings hide the shame and disappointment of her abusive marriage, and Bhima, a stoic illiterate hardened by a life of despair and loss, who has worked in the Dubash household for more than twenty years.’


6. Sister of My Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni 16235
‘Anju is the daughter of an upper-caste Calcutta family; her cousin Sudha is the daughter of the black sheep of the family. Sudha is as beautiful, tenderhearted, and serious as Anju is plain, whip-smart, and defiant. yet since the day they were born, Sudha and Anju have been bonded in ways even their mothers cannot comprehend.  The cousins’ bond is shattered, however, when Sudha learns a dark family secret. Urged into arranged marriages, their lives take sudden, opposite turns: Sudha becomes the dutiful daughter-in-law of a rigid small-town household, while Anju goes to America with her new husband and learns to live her own life of secrets. Then tragedy strikes them both, and the women discover that, despite the distance that has grown between them, they have only each other to turn to. Set in the two worlds of India and America, this is an exceptionally moving novel of love, friendship, and compelling courage.’


58497. A House for Mr Biswas by V.S. Naipaul
‘Mohun Biswas has spent his 46 years of life striving for independence. Shuttled from one residence to another after the drowning of his father, he yearns for a place he can call home. He marries into the Tulsi family, on whom he becomes dependent, but rebels and takes on a succession of occupations in a struggle to weaken their hold over him.’


8. The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell 256280
‘India, 1857–the year of the Great Mutiny, when Muslim soldiers turned in bloody rebellion on their British overlords. This time of convulsion is the subject of J. G. Farrell’s The Siege of Krishnapur, widely considered one of the finest British novels of the last fifty years.  Farrell’s story is set in an isolated Victorian outpost on the subcontinent. Rumors of strife filter in from afar, and yet the members of the colonial community remain confident of their military and, above all, moral superiority. But when they find themselves under actual siege, the true character of their dominion–at once brutal, blundering, and wistful–is soon revealed.  The Siege of Krishnapur is a companion to Troubles, about the Easter 1916 rebellion in Ireland, and The Singapore Grip, which takes place just before World War II, as the sun begins to set upon the British Empire. Together these three novels offer an unequaled picture of the follies of empire.’


2717349. Fasting, Feasting by Anita Desai
‘A wonderful novel in two parts, moving from the heart of a close-knit Indian household, with its restrictions and prejuices, its noisy warmth and sensual appreciation of food, to the cool centre of an American family, with its freedom and strangely self-denying attitudes to eating. In both it is ultimately the women who suffer, whether, paradoxically, from a surfeit of feasting and family life in India, or from self-denial and starvation in the US. or both. Uma, the plain, older daughter still lives at home, frustrated in her attempts to escape and make a life for herself. Her Indian family is difficult , demanding but mostly, good hearted. Despite her disappointments, Uma comes through as the survivor, avoiding an unfulfilling marriage, liek her sister’s or a suicidal one, like that arranged for her pretty cousin. And in America, where young Arun goes as a student, men in the suburbs char hunks of bleeding meat while the women don’t appear to cook or eat at all – seems bewildering and terriying to the young Indian adolescent far from home.’


10. Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard by Kiran Desai 109335
‘Sampath Chawla was born in a time of drought that ended with a vengeance the night of his birth. All signs being auspicious, the villagers triumphantly assured Sampath’s proud parents that their son was destined for greatness.  Twenty years of failure later, that unfortunately does not appear to be the case. A sullen government worker, Sampath is inspired only when in search of a quiet place to take his nap. “But the world is round,” his grandmother says. “Wait and see Even if it appears he is going downhill, he will come up the other side. Yes, on top of the world. He is just taking a longer route.” No one believes her until, one day, Sampath climbs into a guava tree and becomes unintentionally famous as a holy man, setting off a series of events that spin increasingly out of control. A delightfully sweet comic novel that ends in a raucous bang, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard is as surprising and entertaining as it is beautifully wrought.’


Have you read any of these books?  Which are your favourite novels set in India?


TBR Tracker Update: September

I made great strides with condensing my TBR further in September, and am hoping that by the end of October, I will have zero books on my to-read pile.  I am aiming to get down to zero so that any books which I acquire can be read immediately.

At present, the tomes which are on my TBR pile have been languishing there for around two to three years, which seems ridiculous to me.  I know that a lot of readers have huge TBRs, filled with books which they acquired ten years ago and haven’t yet got to, but I’m keen to rekindle the fizzy feelings which I get upon acquiring a new book and reading it immediately, whilst I’m still incredibly interested in it.

During September, I added no books to my TBR, and I am very proud of myself for this.  There are a few new releases which I am keen to get to, but I’m going to either request them from the library, or add them to my Christmas list and hope for the best.

As with last month’s TBR tracker, you can find reviews of the books which I read during September, as well as an updated to-read list, below.


Thomas Hardy by Claire Tomalin hardy1
I am currently reading, and very much enjoying, this tome.  I started it before going on a long weekend to Pisa, and have decided that dipping in and out of it whilst I have another book on the go is probably the best way to read it.


9781444707762Cold Light by Jenn Ashworth ***
I have read a lot of Jenn Ashworth’s work in the past, and have really enjoyed it. I was thus keen to get to her debut novel, Cold Light. Although the story held my interest throughout, I never felt entirely gripped by it. I guessed what were supposed to be the major plot points very early on, and found that the novel sadly did not meet my expectations.


The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of Puffins, Gannets and Other Ocean 9780008165703Voyagers by Adam Nicolson *****
I received Adam Nicolson’s The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of Puffins, Gannets and Other Ocean Voyagers for Christmas, and although it took me some months to read, I was keen to get to it. I adore nature writing, and have wanted to read Nicolson’s work for a long time, and this seemed like the perfect introduction to it. I found The Seabird’s Cry utterly fascinating, and learnt so much from it. Beautifully descriptive, and with a wealth of wonderful research, this is a must-read for any nature lover.


9780099594024Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood ****
I had wanted to read Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed, her interpretation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, for such a long time. I decided not to write a full-length review of the novel as there are so many around, but wanted to record a few thoughts, at least.  I imagined that a retelling written by Atwood would be very clever, and it is. She retains enough of the original story for it to be recognisable, but certainly puts her own spin onto the plot. Its protagonist is believable, as are, indeed, its secondary characters. The prose throughout is engaging, and the elements of witty humour augment the more maudlin parts of the story. There are some great ideas within Hag-Seed, and the whole thing comes together splendidly.


The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather *** 9780241338162
I ended up reading Willa Cather’s Great Plains trilogy out of order, but found that it did not actually matter.  The Song of the Lark is the second novel in the series, and the final one which I got to. Cather’s novel is so well written, and is filled with exquisite prose, but the story feels rather thin on the ground in places, and did not really hold my attention. Whilst I found Thea Kronborg quite intriguing at first, I became less and less interested in the protagonist as the novel went on. I love Cather’s writing style, but from my experience, feel that her novellas and short stories are far more successful than her longer books.


Travellers in the Third Reich by Julia Boyd and The Priory by Dorothy Whipple were both five star reads for me.  Full-length reviews of both will be published early next year.


My current TBR stands as follows:

  1. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann 9780141198927
  2. The Diviners by Margaret Laurence
  3. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  4. Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940s by Anne Sebba
  5. Sweet Caress by William Boyd (Kindle)


Current total: 5
Goal for the end of October: 0