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Ten Great Books

The instances in which I read a really enjoyable book, but don’t have time to write a comprehensive review of it seem to be increasing in frequency. I read so many works worthy of more comment, but unless I take comprehensive notes as I am going along, I rarely get around to writing about them in any detail.

With that in mind, I thought I would gather together ten books which I have read of late, and really enjoyed, and which I just haven’t had the time to review. I am loath to forget anything, so rather than leave you with a few hashed together thoughts from my reading journal, I have decided to copy across the blurb of each book. I hope that at least one of them tempts you, and that you find something of interest to add to your TBR

Summerwater by Sarah Moss

‘On the longest day of the summer, twelve people sit cooped up with their families in a faded Scottish cabin park. The endless rain leaves them with little to do but watch the other residents. A woman goes running up the Ben as if fleeing; a retired couple reminisce about neighbours long since moved on; a teenage boy braves the dark waters of the loch in his red kayak. Each person is wrapped in their own cares but increasingly alert to the makeshift community around them. One particular family, a mother and daughter without the right clothes or the right manners, starts to draw the attention of the others. Tensions rise and all watch on, unaware of the tragedy that lies ahead as night finally falls.’

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

‘Gustav Perle grows up in a small town in Switzerland, where the horrors of the Second World War seem only a distant echo. An only child, he lives alone with Emilie, the mother he adores but who treats him with bitter severity. He begins an intense friendship with a Jewish boy his age, talented and mercurial Anton Zweibel, a budding concert pianist. The novel follows Gustav’s family, tracing the roots of his mother’s anti-Semitism and its impact on her son and his beloved friend.

Moving backward to the war years and the painful repercussions of an act of conscience, and forward through the lives and careers of Gustav and Anton, The Gustav Sonata explores the passionate love of childhood friendship as it’s lost, transformed, and regained over a lifetime. It’s a powerful and deeply moving addition to the beloved oeuvre of one of our greatest contemporary novelists.’

Say Say Say by Lila Savage

‘Ella is nearing thirty, and not yet living the life she imagined. Her artistic ambitions as a student have given way to an unintended career as a care worker. One spring, Bryn – a retired carpenter – hires her to help him care for Jill, his wife of many years. A car accident caused a brain injury that has left Jill verbally diminished; she moves about the house like a ghost of her former self.

As Ella is drawn ever deeper into the couple’s household, she is profoundly moved by the tenderness Bryn shows toward the wife he still fiercely loves. Ella is startled by the yearning this awakens in her, one that complicates her feelings for her girlfriend, Alix, and causes her to look at relationships of all kinds – between partners, between employer and employee, and above all between men and women – in new ways.

Tightly woven, humane and insightful, tracing the most intimate reaches of a young woman’s heart and mind, Say Say Say is a riveting story about what it means to love, in a world where time is always running out.’

The Fogging by Luke Horton

‘Tom and Clara are two struggling academics in their mid-thirties, who decide to take their first holiday in ten years. On the flight over to Indonesia, Tom experiences a debilitating panic attack, something he hasn’t had in a long time, which he keeps hidden from Clara. At the resort, they meet Madeleine, a charismatic French woman, her Australian partner, Jeremy, and five-year-old son, Ollie, and the two couples strike up an easy friendship. The holiday starts to look up, even to Tom, who is struggling to get out of his own head. But when Clara and Madeleine become trapped in the maze-like grounds of the hotel during ‘the fogging’ — a routine spraying of pesticide — the dynamics suddenly shift between Tom and Clara, and the atmosphere of the holiday darkens.

Told with equal parts compassion and irony, and brimming with observations that charm, illuminate, and devastate, The Fogging dives deep into what it means to be strong when your foundation is built on sand.’

Blueprint by Theresia Enzensberger

‘At the beginning of the turbulent 1920s, she leaves her father’s conservative household in Berlin for Weimar’s Bauhaus university, with dreams of studying architecture. But when she arrives and encounters a fractured social world of mystics and formalists, communists and fascists, the dichotomy between the rigid past and a hopeful future turns out to be a lot more muddled than she thought.

She gets involved with a cult-like spiritual group, looking for community and falling in love with elusive art student Jakob. Luise has ambitions of achieving a lot in life – but little of it has to do with paying homage to great men. Surrounded by luminaries of the period, like Gropius and Kandinsky, she throws herself into the dreams and ideas of her epoch.

While her art school friends retreat into a world of self-improvement and jargon, her home city of Berlin is embroiled in street fights. Amid the social upheaval, she has to decide where she stands. From technology to art, romanticism to the avant-garde, populism to the youth movement, Luise encounters themes, utopias and ideas that still sahep us to the present day. Blueprint is a young woman’s dispatch from a past culture war that rings all too familiar.’

The Glass House by Eve Chase

‘Outside a remote manor house in an idyllic wood, a baby girl is found.

The Harrington family takes her in and disbelief quickly turns to joy. They’re grieving a terrible tragedy of their own and the beautiful baby fills them with hope, lighting up the house’s dark, dusty corners. Desperate not to lose her to the authorities, they keep her secret, suspended in a blissful summer world where normal rules of behaviour – and the law – don’t seem to apply.

But within days a body will lie dead in the grounds. And their dreams of a perfect family will shatter like glass. Years later, the truth will need to be put back together again, piece by piece…

From the author of Black Rabbit Hall, The Glass House is a emotional, thrilling book about family secrets and belonging – and how we find ourselves when we are most lost.’

The Push by Ashley Audrain

‘A tense, page-turning psychological drama about the making and breaking of a family, told through the eyes of a woman whose experience of motherhood is nothing at all what she hoped for–and everything she feared.

Blythe Connor is determined that she will be the warm, supportive mother she never had to her new baby Violet.

But in the thick of motherhood’s exhausting early days, Blythe doesn’t find the connection with her daughter she expected. She’s convinced that something is wrong with Violet–the little girl is distant, rejects affection, and becomes increasingly disruptive at preschool.

Or is it all in Blythe’s head? Her husband, Fox, says she is imagining things. Fox doesn’t see what Blythe sees; he sees a wife who is struggling to cope with the day-to-day challenges of being a mother. And the more Fox dismisses her fears, the more Blythe begins to question her own sanity…

Then their son Sam is born–and with him, Blythe has the natural maternal connection she’d always dreamed of. Even Violet seems to love her little brother. But when life as they know it is changed in an instant, the devastating fall-out forces Blythe to face the truth about herself, her past, and her daughter.

The Push is a rare and extraordinary gift to readers: a novel about the expectations of motherhood we’re taught not to challenge and what really happens behind the closed doors of even the most perfect-looking families. It’s impossible to put down and impossible to forget.’

After Midnight by Irmgard Keun

‘Nineteen-year-old Sanna just wants to drink her beer in peace, but that’s difficult when Hitler has come to town and his motorcade is blocking the streets of Frankfurt. What’s more, her best friend Gerti is in love with a Jewish boy, her brother writes books that have been blacklisted and her own aunt may denounce her to the authorities at any moment, as Germany teeters on the edge of the abyss. Written after she had fled the Nazi regime, Irmgard Keun’s masterly novel captures the feverish hysteria and horror of the era with devastating perceptiveness and humour.’

The Glass House by Beatrice Colin

‘Scotland, 1912. Antonia McCulloch’s life hasn’t gone the way she planned. She and her husband, Malcolm, have drifted apart; her burgeoning art career came to nothing; and when she looks in the mirror, she sees disappointment. But at least she will always have Balmarra, her family’s grand Scottish estate, and its exquisite glass house, filled with exotic plants that can take her far away.

When her estranged brother’s wife, Cicely Pick, arrives unannounced, with her young daughter and enough trunks to last the summer, Antonia is instantly suspicious. What besides an inheritance dispute could have brought her glamorous sister-in-law all the way from India? Still, Cicely introduces excitement and intrigue into Antonia’s life, and, as they get to know one another, Antonia realizes that Cicely has her own burdens to bear. Slowly, a fragile friendship grows between them. But when the secrets each are keeping become too explosive to conceal, the truth threatens their uneasy balance and the course of their entire lives.’

Salt Slow by Julia Armfield

‘This collection of stories is about women and their experiences in society, about bodies and the bodily, mapping the skin and bones of its characters through their experiences of isolation, obsession and love. Throughout the collection, women become insects, men turn to stone, a city becomes insomniac and bodies are picked apart to make up better ones. The mundane worlds of schools and sea side towns are invaded and transformed by the physical, creating a landscape which is constantly shifting to hold on to the bodies of its inhabitants. Blending the mythic and the fantastic, the collection considers characters in motion – turning away, turning back or simply turning into something new.’

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Underrated Novelists Week: Beatrice Colin

Even the most discerning reader can walk into a bookshop and be confronted by authors he or she has never heard of.  I am always surprised when, on closing the pages of a wonderful novel, I check the Goodreads page for that particular tome in order to upload my rating and review, and barely anyone has read it.  I thought therefore that I would dedicate this week to discussing five underrated novelists, whose work I very much enjoy, but who do not seem to be that well known in the literary world (at least in the circles that I move in, anyway!).  For each novelist, I will offer biographical information, a complete bibliography, and the blurb of my favourite novel by them.

 

Beatrice Colin

Born: London
Lives: Glasgow

Biographical information: A former arts and features journalist, she also writes novels for adults, children, short stories, radio plays for the BBC. She has spoken at numerous book festivals, taught at Arvon and was a judge and mentor for the Scottish Boom Trust’s New Writers Award.

Bibliography:
Nude Untitled (2001)
Disappearing Act (2002)
The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite (2008; also entitled The Glimmer Palace)
The Songwriter (2010)
Pyrate’s Boy (children’s; 2013)
To Capture What We Cannot Keep (2016)

Begin with: The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite 6084332
The debaucherous celebration of the cabaret-era. The magical ascent of cinema. The deprivation of World War I and the build-up to World War II. Set against the rise and fall of Berlin and the innovations in art that accompanied it all, The Glimmer Palace brilliantly weaves together the story of one orphan girl’s remarkable journey from poverty to film stardom, with an illuminating account of an astonishing history.

As the clock chimed the turn of the twentieth century, Lilly Nelly Aphrodite took her first breath. The illegitimate, soon orphaned daughter of a cabaret performer, she lands at a Catholic orphanage where she finds refuge and the first in a string of friendships that will change the direction of her life. When fellow orphan Hanne takes Lilly beyond their stone confines, introducing her to the seedy glamour of Berlin’s notorious nightlife, it begins for Lillly a trajectory of reinvention. From urchin to maid, teenage war bride, tingle-tangle bargirl, model, and script typist, Lilly is eventually transformed into one of Germany’s leading film stars and a partner in a remarkable love story that will span decades and continents—and be inextricable from the history unfolding around it.

Gripping, seductive, and mastefully written, The Glimmer Palace is a page-turning story of glitter and splendor, drama and love, friendship and identity. The story of an extraordinary heroine living in an extraordinary time, it is vivid and surprising in its telling, intelligent and ambitious in its scope, sad and beautiful and unforgettable.’

Author website: http://www.beatricecolin.co.uk/

 

Which authors do you very much enjoy, who could be categorised as underrated?

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Five Great… Novels (C-D)

I thought that I would make a series which lists five beautifully written and thought-provoking novels.  All have been picked at random, and are sorted by the initial of the author.  For each, I have copied the official blurb.  I’m sure that everyone will find something here that interests them.

1. Wise Children by Angela Carter
“A richly comic tale of the tangled fortunes of two theatrical families, the Hazards and the Chances, Angela Carter’s witty and bawdy novel is populated with as many sets of twins, and mistaken identities as any Shakespeare comedy, and celebrates the magic of over a century of show business.”

2. The Professor’s House by Willa Cather
“A study in emotional dislocation and renewal–Professor Godfrey St. Peter, a man in his 50’s, has achieved what would seem to be remarkable success. When called on to move to a more comfortable home, something in him rebels.”

3. The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
“Behind this rather prim title lies the hilarious fictional diary of a disaster-prone lady of the 1930s, and her attempts to keep her somewhat ramshackle household from falling into chaos: there’s her husband Robert, who, when he’s not snoozing behind The Times, does everything with grumbling recluctance; her gleefully troublesome children; and a succession of tricky sevants who invariably seem to gain the upper hand. And if her domestic trials are not enough, she must keep up appearances. Particularly with the maddeningly patronising Lady Boxe, whom our Provincial Lady eternally (and unsuccessfully) tries to compete with.”

4. The Songwriter by Beatrice Colin
“New York, 1916. Monroe Simonov, a song-plugger from Brooklyn, is in love with a Ziegfeld Follies dancer who has left him for California. Inez Kennedy, a fashion model in a department store, has just one season remaining to find a wealthy husband before she must return to the Midwest. Anna Denisova, a glamorous political exile, gives lectures and writes letters while she waits for the Russian people to overthrow their Tsar. Although the world is changing faster than they could ever have imagined, Monroe, Inez and Anna discover that they are still subject to the tyranny of the heart. In this richly atmospheric and deftly plotted novel, their paths cross and re-cross leaving a trail of passion, infidelity and betrayal, before hurtling towards an explosive climax.”

5. Jerusalem the Golden by Margaret Drabble
“Brought up in a stifling, emotionless home in the north of England, Clara finds freedom when she wins a scholarship and travels to London. There, she meets Clelia and the rest of the Denham family: brilliant and charming, they dazzle Clara with their flair for life, and Clara yearns to be part of their bohemian world. But while she will do anything to join their circle, she gives no thought to the chaos that she may cause…In this captivating story of growing up and moving on, Margaret Drabble explores what it means to leave a disregarded childhood and family behind.”

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