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The Book Trail: From William Maxwell to Tommaso Landolfi

I begin with a book by one of my favourite, and sadly very underrated, authors today, and use Goodreads as my guide to come up with seven more tomes which ‘Readers Also Enjoyed’.

1. So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell 14276
On an Illinois farm in the 1920s, a man is murdered, and in the same moment the tenous friendship between two lonely boys comes to an end. In telling their interconnected stories, American Book Award winner William Maxwell delivers a masterfully restrained and magically evocative meditation on the past.

 

2. Blood Tie by Mary Lee Settle
n a novel that begins with accidental death and ends with deliberate murder, Mary Lee Settle tells the story of an eclectic collection of American and European expatriates who take refuge in an ancient Turkish city and, once there, wreak havoc on the Aegean paradise. At first the characters appear to have little in common, but as the novel progresses their motives and desires cross and blend in a geometry of misunderstanding.

 

3. Ten North Frederick by John O’Hara
796907This is the story of a family of the ‘best’ people, living in Gibbsville, Pa. Three generations of the Chapin family are portrayed with intimacy and uncompromising clarity. Many other people at all levels of the social ladder are portrayed as well, and what they do and say to one another is often shocking.

 

4. A Crown of Feathers by Isaac Bashevis Singer
These richly hypnotic tales enfold the reader into Isaac Bashevis Singer’s special world of imps, demons, lovers, and other mischievous creatures. His world is a world of feelings, driven by lust, lechery, greed, madness, and love. All of his creatures are seen with a clear but loving eye; all seem and are in fact possessed by good and evil, caught in fascinating dilemmas, now terrible, now wryly comic.

 

5. The News from Paraguay by Lily Tuck  77691
The year is 1854. In Paris, Francisco Solano — the future dictator of Paraguay — begins his courtship of the young, beautiful Irish courtesan Ella Lynch with a poncho, a Paraguayan band, and a horse named Mathilde. Ella follows Franco to Asunción and reigns there as his mistress. Isolated and estranged in this new world, she embraces her lover’s ill-fated imperial dream — one fueled by a heedless arrogance that will devastate all of Paraguay.
With the urgency of the narrative, rich and intimate detail, and a wealth of skillfully layered characters, The News from Paraguay recalls the epic novels of Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa.

 

6. The Magic Barrel by Bernard Malamud
Bernard Malamud’s first book of short stories, The Magic Barrel, has been recognized as a classic from the time it was published in 1959. The stories are set in New York and in Italy (where Malamud’s alter ego, the struggling New York Jewish painter, Arthur Fidelman, roams amid the ruins of old Europe in search of his artistic patrimony); they tell of egg candlers and shoemakers, matchmakers, and rabbis, in a voice that blends vigorous urban realism, Yiddish idiom, and a dash of artistic magic.  The Magic Barrel is a book about New York and about the immigrant experience, and it is high point in the modern American short story. Few books of any kind have managed to depict struggle and frustration and heartbreak with such delight, or such artistry.

 

523777. I, etcetera by Susan Sontag
In eight stories, this singular collection of short fiction written over the course of ten years explores the terrain of modern urban life. In reflective, telegraphic prose, Susan Sontag confronts the reader with exposed workings of an impassioned intellect in narratives seamed with many of the themes of her essays—the nature of knowing, our relationship with the past, and the future in an alienated present.

 

8. Gogol’s Wife and Other Stories by Tommaso Landolfi
Much admired in Europe, Landolfi has been called “the Italian Kafka”; he is often linked with the Surrealists, and in the intellectual quality of his fantasy there are certain affinities with Borges; but beyond these superficial comparisons, his is a truly unique—and fascinating—art. It is based in a prodigious imagination, a very curious sense of humor and a rare command of irony.

 

Have you read any of these?  Which pique your interest?

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The Book Trail: From ‘A Complicated Kindness’ to ‘By Night the Mountain Burns’

We begin today’s episode of the Book Trail with one which I very much enjoyed, Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness.  As ever, I shall be choosing the books which follow from Goodreads’ ‘Readers Also Enjoyed’ feature.

1. A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews 1019390
Nomi Nickel lives with her father, Ray, in East Village, a small Mennonite town in Manitoba. She dreams of escaping to the big city, but since her mother and sister left home, it’s hard to imagine leaving her father behind. As she begins to piece together the story behind her mother’s disappearance, she finds herself on a direct collision course with the town’s minister. With fierce originality and brilliance, Miriam Toews takes us straight to the centre of Nomi’s world and the complicated kindness at the heart of family life.

 

2. Lullabies for Little Prisoners by Heather O’Neill
Heather O’Neill dazzles with a first novel of extraordinary prescience and power, a subtly understated yet searingly effective story of a young life on the streets—and the strength, wits, and luck necessary for survival.  At thirteen, Baby vacillates between childhood comforts and adult temptation: still young enough to drag her dolls around in a vinyl suitcase yet old enough to know more than she should about urban cruelties. Motherless, she lives with her father, Jules, who takes better care of his heroin habit than he does of his daughter. Baby’s gift is a genius for spinning stories and for cherishing the small crumbs of happiness that fall into her lap. But her blossoming beauty has captured the attention of a charismatic and dangerous local pimp who runs an army of sad, slavishly devoted girls—a volatile situation even the normally oblivious Jules cannot ignore. And when an escape disguised as betrayal threatens to crush Baby’s spirit, she will ultimately realize that the power of salvation rests in her hands alone.

 

4746623. Certainty by Madeleine Thien
Madeleine Thien’s stunning debut novel hauntingly retells a crucial moment in history, through two unforgettable love stories.   Gail Lim, a producer of radio documentaries, is haunted by the mystery of her father’s Asian past. As a child, Gail’s father, Matthew Lim, lived in a Malaysian village occupied by the Japanese. He and his beloved Ani wandered the jungle fringe under the terrifying shadow of war. The war shattered their families, splitting the two apart until a brief reunion years later. Matthew’s profound connection to Ani and the life-changing secrets they shared cast a shadow that, later still, Matthew’s wife, Clara, desperately sought to understand. Gail’s journey to unravel the mystery of her parents’ lives takes her to Amsterdam, where she unearths more about this mysterious other woman. But as Gail approaches the truth, Ani’s story will bring Gail face-to-face, with the untold mysteries of her own life.  Vivid, poignant, and written in understated yet powerful prose, Certainty is a novel about the legacies of loss, the dislocations of war, and the timeless redemption afforded by love.

 

4. Holding Still for As Long As Possible by Zoe Whittall
What is it like to grow into adulthood with the war on terror as your defining political memory, with SARS and Hurricane Katrina as your backdrop? In this robust, elegantly plotted, and ultimately life-affirming novel, Zoe Whittall presents a dazzling portrait of a generation we’ve rarely seen in literature — the twenty-five-year olds who grew up on anti-anxiety meds, text-messaging each other truncated emotional reactions, unsure of what’s public and what’s private.  Zoe Whittall fulfills the promise of her acclaimed first novel, Bottle Rocket Hearts, with this extraordinary novel set in Toronto’s seedy-but-gentrifying Parkdale. Revolving around three interlocking lives, it offers, among other things, a detailed inside look at the work of paramedics, and entertaining celebrity gossip.

 

5. Leaving Earth by Helen Humphreys 1061379
Leaving Earth is a first novel marked by its perceptive, lyrical language and rich, fascinating characters. On August 1, 1933, two young women, the famous aviatrix Grace O’Gorman and the inexperienced Willa Briggs, take off in a tiny moth biplane to break the world flight-endurance record. Their plan is to circle above the city of Toronto for twenty-five days. With each passing day, the women’s ties to humanity fall away and the intensity of their connection becomes as gripping as the perils that besiege them: fatigue, weather, mechanical breakdown, and the lethal efforts of a saboteur. In this extraordinary debut, Humphreys exhibits rare control, restraint, and poetry as she develops the relationship of two unusual women through the magical passage of flight.

 

6. She Of the Mountains by Vivek Shraya
She of the Mountains is a beautifully rendered illustrated novel by Vivek Shraya, the author of the Lambda Literary Award finalist God Loves Hair. Shraya weaves a passionate, contemporary love story between a man and his body, with a re-imagining of Hindu mythology. Both narratives explore the complexities of embodiment and the damaging effects that policing gender and sexuality can have on the human heart.

 

178621897. Corona by Bushra Rehman
Razia Mirza is a Pakistani woman from Corona, Queens, who grew up in a tight Muslim community surrounding the first Sunni masjid built in New York City. When a rebellious streak leads to her ex-communication, she decides to hit the road. Corona moves between Razia’s childhood and the comedic misadventures she encounters on her journey, from a Puritan Colony in Massachusetts to New York City’s Bhangra music scene. With each story, we learn more about the past she’s escaping, a past which leads her to constantly travel in a spiral, always coming closer to but never quite arriving home.

 

8. By Night the Mountain Burns by Juan Tomas Avila Laurel
By Night The Mountain Burns recounts the narrator’s childhood on a remote island off the West African coast, living with his mysterious grandfather, several mothers and no fathers. We learn of a dark chapter in the island’s history: a bush fire destroys the crops, then hundreds perish in a cholera outbreak. Superstition dominates: now the islanders must sacrifice their possessions to the enraged ocean god. What of their lives will they manage to save?  Whitmanesque in its lyrical evocation of the island, Ávila Laurel’s writing builds quietly, through the oral rhythms of traditional storytelling, into gripping drama worthy of an Achebe or a García Márquez.

 

Have you read any of these books?

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The Book Trail: From ‘Artful’ to Footnotes

For today’s Book Trail post, we begin with one of Ali Smith’s lecture series-cum-incredibly readable book, and weave our way through tomes weird and wonderful.

1. Artful by Ali Smith
15811569In February 2012, the novelist Ali Smith delivered the Weidenfeld lectures on European comparative literature at St. Anne’s College, Oxford. Her lectures took the shape of this set of discursive stories. Refusing to be tied down to either fiction or the essay form, Artful is narrated by a character who is haunted—literally—by a former lover, the writer of a series of lectures about art and literature.  A hypnotic dialogue unfolds, a duet between and a meditation on art and storytelling, a book about love, grief, memory, and revitalization. Smith’s heady powers as a fiction writer harmonize with her keen perceptions as a reader and critic to form a living thing that reminds us that life and art are never separate.  Artful is a book about the things art can do, the things art is full of, and the quicksilver nature of all artfulness. It glances off artists and writers from Michelangelo through Dickens, then all the way past postmodernity, exploring every form, from ancient cave painting to 1960s cinema musicals. This kaleidoscope opens up new, inventive, elastic insights—on the relation of aesthetic form to the human mind, the ways we build our minds from stories, the bridges art builds between us. Artful is a celebration of literature’s worth in and to the world and a meaningful contribution to that worth in itself. There has never been a book quite like it.

 

2. And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos by John Berger
In an extraordinary distillation of his gifts as a novelist, poet, art critic, and social historian, John Berger reveals the ties between love and absence, the ways poetry endows language with the assurance of prayer, and the tensions between the forward movement of sexuality.

 

3. The Ongoing Moment by Geoff Dyer 378529
The Ongoing Moment is Dyer’s unique and idiosyncratic history of photography. Seeking to identify their signature styles Dyer looks at the ways that canonical figures such as Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Walker Evans, Kertesz, Dorothea Lange, Diane Arbus and William Eggleston have photographed the same scenes and objects (benches, hats, hands, roads). In doing so Dyer constructs a narrative in which those photographers – many of whom never met in their lives – constantly come into contact with each other. Great photographs change the way we see the world; The Ongoing Moment changes the way we look at both. It is the most ambitious example to date of a form of writing that Dyer has made his own: the non-fiction work of art.

 

4. Yours Ever: People and Their Letters by Thomas Mallon
Yours Ever explores the offhand masterpieces dispatched through the ages by messenger, postal service, and BlackBerry. Thomas Mallon weaves a remarkable assortment of epistolary riches into his own insightful and eloquent commentary on the circumstances and characters of the world’s most intriguing letter writers. Here are Madame de Sévigné’s devastatingly sharp reports from the court of Louis XIV, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tormented advice to his young daughter, the besotted midlife billets-doux of a suddenly rejuvenated Woodrow Wilson, the casually brilliant spiritual musings of Flannery O’Connor, the lustful boastings of Lord Byron, the cries from prison of Sacco and Vanzetti. Along with the confessions and complaints and revelations sent from battlefields, frontier cabins, and luxury liners, a reader will find Mallon considering travel bulletins, suicide notes, fan letters, and hate mail–forms as varied as the human experiences behind them.  Yours Ever is an exuberant reintroduction to a vast and entertaining literature–a book that will help to revive, in the digital age, this glorious lost art.

 

5. Classics For Pleasure by Michael Dirda
249203In these delightful essays, Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Dirda introduces nearly ninety of the world’s most entertaining books. Writing with affection as well as authority, Dirda covers masterpieces of fantasy and science fiction, horror and adventure, as well as epics, history, essay, and children’s literature. Organized thematically, these are works that have shaped our imaginations. Love’s Mysteries moves from Sappho and Arthurian romance to Soren Kierkegaard and Georgette Heyer. In other categories Dirda discusses not only Dracula and Sherlock Holmes but also the Tao Te Ching and Icelandic sagas, Frederick Douglass and Fowler’s Modern English Usage. Whether writing about Petronius or Perelman, Dirda makes literature come alive. Classics for Pleasure is a perfect companion for any reading group or lover of books.

 

6. 500 Great Books by Women, edited by Erika Bauermeister
Here is an articulate guide to more than 500 books written by women, a unique resource that allows readers the joy of discovering new authors as well as revisiting familiar favorites. Organized by such themes as Art, Choices, Families, Growing Old, Growing Up, Places and Homes, Power, and Work, this reference book presents classic and contemporary works, from Lady Nijo’s thirteenth-century diaries to books by authors including Toni Morrison, Alice Hoffman, Nadine Gordimer, and Isabel Allende. With annotated entries that capture the flavor of each book and seven cross-referenced indexes, 500 Great Books by Women is a one-of-a-kind guide for all readers and book lovers that celebrates and recommends some of the very best writing by women.

 

7. The Book of Lost Books by Stuart Kelly 329275
In an age when deleted scenes from Adam Sandler movies are saved, it’s sobering to realize that some of the world’s greatest prose and poetry has gone missing. This witty, wry, and unique new book rectifies that wrong. Part detective story, part history lesson, part exposé, The Book of Lost Books is the first guide to literature’s what-ifs and never-weres.  In compulsively readable fashion, Stuart Kelly reveals details about tantalizing vanished works by the famous, the acclaimed, and the influential, from the time of cave drawings to the late twentieth century. Here are the true stories behind stories, poems, and plays that now exist only in imagination.

 

8. Slightly Chipped: Footnotes in Booklore by Lawrence Goldstone
More than a sequel, Slightly Chipped: Footnotes in Booklore is a companion piece for Used and Rare. A delight for the general reader and book collector alike, it details the Goldstones’ further explorations into the curious world of book collecting. In Slightly Chipped, they get hooked on the correspondence and couplings of Bloomsbury; they track down Bram Stoker’s earliest notes for Dracula; and they are introduced to hyper-moderns. Slightly Chipped is filled with all of the anecdotes and esoterica about the world of book collecting that charmed readers of Used and Rare.

 

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The Book Trail: From the Library to Hollywood

I am beginning this Book Trail with a book by my favourite living author, Ali Smith’s Public Library and Other Stories.  I did try to begin with her 2016 release Autumn, but Goodreads had no recommended fiction to recommend at the time of creating this post.

As always, seven fascinating tomes will follow, all found on consequent ‘Readers Also Enjoyed’ pages on Goodreads.  Please let me know if you’ve read any of these, and if you’ve created any of your own Book Trails, I’d love to see them.

1. Public Library and Other Stories by Ali Smith 9780241974599
A richly inventive new collection of stories from Ali Smith.  Why are books so very powerful?  What do the books we’ve read over our lives – our own personal libraries – make of us?  What does the unravelling of our tradition of public libraries, so hard-won but now in jeopardy, say about us?  The stories in Ali Smith’s new collection are about what we do with books and what they do with us: how they travel with us; how they shock us, change us, challenge us, banish time while making us older, wiser and ageless all at once; how they remind us to pay attention to the world we make.  Public libraries are places of joy, freedom, community and discovery – and right now they are under threat from funding cuts and widespread closures across the UK and further afield. With this brilliantly inventive collection, Ali Smith joins the campaign to save our public libraries and celebrate their true place in our culture and history.

 

75743182. The New York Stories by Elizabeth Hardwick
Elizabeth Hardwick was one of America’s great postwar women of letters, celebrated as a novelist and as an essayist. Until now, however, her slim but remarkable achievement as a writer of short stories has remained largely hidden, with her work tucked away in the pages of the periodicals—such as Partisan Review, The New Yorker, and The New York Review of Books—in which it originally appeared. This first collection of Hardwick’s short fiction reveals her brilliance as a stylist and as an observer of contemporary life. A young woman returns from New York to her childhood Kentucky home and discovers the world of difference within her. A girl’s boyfriend is not quite good enough, his “silvery eyes, light and cool, revealing nothing except pure possibility, like a coin in hand.” A magazine editor’s life falls strangely to pieces after she loses both her husband and her job. Individual lives and the life of New York, the setting or backdrop for most of these stories, are strikingly and memorably depicted in Hardwick’s beautiful and razor-sharp prose.

 

3. My Fantoms by Theophile Gautier
Romantic provocateur, flamboyant bohemian, precocious novelist, perfect poet—not to mention an inexhaustible journalist, critic, and man-about-town—Théophile Gautier is one of the major figures, and great characters, of French literature.  In My Fantoms Richard Holmes, the celebrated biographer of Shelley and Coleridge, has found a brilliantly effective new way to bring this great bu too-little-known writer into English. My Fantoms assembles seven stories spanning the whole of Gautier’s career into a unified work that captures the essence of his adventurous life and subtle art. From the erotic awakening of “The Adolescent” through “The Poet,” a piercing recollection of the mad genius Gérard de Nerval, the great friend of Gautier’s youth, My Fantoms celebrates the senses and illuminates the strange disguises of the spirit, while taking readers on a tour of modernity at its most mysterious. ”What ever would the Devil find to do in Paris?” Gautier wonders. “He would meet people just as diabolical as he, and find himself taken for some naïve provincial…”  Tapestries, statues, and corpses come to life; young men dream their way into ruin; and Gautier keeps his faith in the power of imagination: “No one is truly dead, until they are no longer loved.”

 

4. Witch Grass by Raymond Queneau 28371
Seated in a Paris café, a man glimpses another man, a shadowy figure hurrying for the train: Who is he? he wonders, How does he live? And instantly the shadow comes to life, precipitating a series of comic run-ins among a range of disreputable and heartwarming characters living on the sleazy outskirts of the city of lights. Witch Grass (previously titled The Bark Tree) is a philosophical farce, an epic comedy, a mesmerizing book about the daily grind that is an enchantment itself.

 

5. Moravagine by Blaise Cendrars
At once truly appalling and appallingly funny, Blaise Cendrars’s Moravagine bears comparison with Naked Lunch—except that it’s a lot more entertaining to read. Heir to an immense aristocratic fortune, mental and physical mutant Moravagine is a monster, a man in pursuit of a theorem that will justify his every desire. Released from a hospital for the criminally insane by his starstruck psychiatrist (the narrator of the book), who foresees a companionship in crime that will also be an unprecedented scientific collaboration, Moravagine travels from Moscow to San Antonio to deepest Amazonia, engaged in schemes and scams as, among other things, terrorist, speculator, gold prospector, and pilot. He also enjoys a busy sideline in rape and murder. At last, the two friends return to Europe—just in time for World War I, when “the whole world was doing a Moravagine.”

 

3959606. Mouchette by Georges Bernanos
One of the great mavericks of French literature, Georges Bernanos combined raw realism with a spiritual focus of visionary intensity. Mouchette stands with his celebrated Diary of a Country Priest as the perfection of his singular art.  “Nothing but a little savage” is how the village school-teacher describes fourteen-year-old Mouchette, and that view is echoed by every right-thinking local citizen. Mouchette herself doesn’t bother to contradict it; ragged, foulmouthed, dirt-poor, a born liar and loser, she knows herself to be, in the words of the story, “alone, completely alone, against everyone.” Hers is a tale of “tragic solitude” in which despair and salvation appear to be inextricably intertwined.   Bernanos uncompromising genius was a powerful inspiration to Flannery O’Connor, and Mouchette was the source of a celebrated movie by Robert Bresson.

 

7. Short Letter, Long Farewell by Peter Handke
Short Letter, Long Farewell is one the most inventive and exhilarating of the great Peter Handke’s novels. Full of seedy noir atmospherics and boasting an air of generalized delirium, the book starts by introducing us to a nameless young German who has just arrived in America, where he hopes to get over the collapse of his marriage. No sooner has he arrived, however, than he discovers that his ex-wife is pursuing him. He flees, she follows, and soon the couple is running circles around each other across the length of America—from Philadelphia to St. Louis to the Arizona desert, and from Portland, Oregon, to L.A. Is it love or vengeance that they want from each other? Everything’s spectacularly unclear in a book that is travelogue, suspense story, domestic comedy, and Western showdown, with a totally unexpected Hollywood twist at the end. Above all, Short Letter, Long Farewell is a love letter to America, its landscapes and popular culture, the invitation and the threat of its newness and wildness and emptiness, with the promise of a new life—or the corpse of an old one—lying just around the corner.

 

8. A Way of Life, Like Any Other by Darcy O’Brien 439731
The hero of Darcy O’Brien’s A Way of Life, Like Any Other is a child of Hollywood, and once his life was a glittery dream. His father starred in Westerns. His mother was a goddess of the silver screen. The family enjoyed the high life on their estate, Casa Fiesta. But his parents’ careers have crashed since then, and their marriage has broken up too.  Lovesick and sex-crazed, the mother sets out on an intercontinental quest for the right—or wrong—man, while her mild-mannered but manipulative former husband clings to his memories in California. And their teenage son? How he struggles both to keep faith with his family and to get by himself, and what in the end he must do to break free, makes for a classic coming-of-age story—a novel that combines keen insight and devastating wit to hilarious and heartbreaking effect.

 

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The Book Trail: Albert Nobbs to The Pastor’s Wife

Another Book Trail is upon us.  This begins with an underrated novella which I read back in August and very much enjoyed, and takes us through a wealth of fascinating Virago-esque books.

1. Albert Nobbs by George Moore
‘Long out of print, George Moore’s classic novella returns just in time for the major motion picture starring Glenn Close as a woman disguised as a man in nineteenth-century Ireland.Set in a posh hotel in nineteenth-century Dublin, Albert Nobbs is the story of an unassuming waiter hiding a shocking secret. Forced one night to share his bed with an out-of-town laborer, Albert Nobbs’ carefully constructed facade nearly implodes when the stranger disovers his true identity-that he’s actually a woman. Forced by this revelation to look himself in the mirror, Albert sets off in a desperate pursuit of companionship and love, a search he’s unwilling to abandon so long as he’s able to preserve his fragile persona at the same time. A tale of longing and romance, Albert Nobbs is a moving and startlingly frank gender-bending tale about the risks of being true to oneself.’

2. The Friendly Young Ladies by Mary Renault 9781844089529
‘Set in 1937, The Friendly Young Ladies is a romantic comedy of off-Bloomsbury bohemia. Sheltered, naïve, and just eighteen, Elsie leaves the stifling environment of her parents’ home in Cornwall to seek out her sister, Leo, who had run away nine years earlier. She finds Leo sharing a houseboat, and a bed, with the beautiful, fair-haired Helen. While Elsie’s arrival seems innocent enough, it is the first of a series of events that will turn Helen and Leo’s contented life inside out. Soon a randy young doctor is chasing after all three women at once, a neighborly friendship begins to show an erotic tinge, and long-quiet ghosts from Leo’s past begin to surface. Before long, no one is sure just who feels what for whom.’

3. Olivia by Dorothy Strachey
‘Considered one of the most subtle and beautifully written lesbian novels of the century, this 1949 classic returns to print in a Cleis Press edition. Dorothy Strachey’s classic Olivia captures the awakening passions of an English adolescent sent away for a year to a small finishing school outside Paris. The innocent but watchful Olivia develops an infatuation for her headmistress, Mlle. Julie, and through this screen of love observes the tense romance between Mlle. Julie and the other head of the school, Mlle. Cara, in its final months.’

97808606834074. The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay
‘Banished by her mother to England, Barbara is thrown into the ordered formality of English life. Confused and unhappy, she discovers the wrecked and flowering wastes around St Paul’s, where she finds an echo of the wilderness of Provence and is forced to confront the wilderness within herself.’

5. The Corner That Held Them by Sylvia Townsend Warner
‘In memory of the wife who had once dishonored and always despised him, Brian de Retteville founded a 12th-century convent in Norfolk. Two centuries later, the Benedictine community is well established there and, as befits a convent whose origin had such ironic beginnings, the inhabitants are prey to the ambitions, squabbles, jealousies, and pleasures of less spiritual environments. An outbreak of the Black Death, the collapse of the convent spire, the Bishop’s visitation, and a nun’s disappearance are interwoven with the everyday life of the nuns, novices, and prioresses in this marvelous imagined history of a 14th-century nunnery.’

6. The Lost Traveller by Antonia White 9781844083695
‘When Clara returns home from the convent of her childhood to begin life at a local girls’ school, she is at a loss: although she has comparative freedom, she misses the discipline the nuns imposed and worries about keeping her faith in a secular world. Against the background of the First World War, Clara experiences the confusions of adolescence – its promise, its threat of change. She longs for love, yet fears it, and wonders what the future will hold. Then tragedy strikes and her childhood haltingly comes to an end as she realises that neither parents nor her faith can help her.’

7. Cousin Rosamund by Rebecca West
‘Rich in period detail, lyrical in its evocation of the Thames, a novel that reveals both the problems of marriage and the ecstasies of sexual love’

97818440828038. The Pastor’s Wife by Elizabeth von Arnim
‘Ingeborg Bullivant decides spontaneously to join a tour to Lucerne-and returns engaged. Yet her new life as a rural Prussian pastor’s wife restricts her as much as her old; and when the dashing artist Ingram appears, musing about wondrous Italy, wanderlust tempts her a second time. Von Arnim’s accomplished and comic novel is based on her own first marriage and life in provincial Germany at the turn of the century.’

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Book Trail: From Circus to Island

I am finding the choices on The Book Depository website a little arbitrary when it comes to creating these Book Trail posts, so I have switched allegiance to Goodreads.  The choices it affords are generally far more unusual, and it’s quite refreshing not to have to wade through the most popular general fiction to find something a little different.  Without explaining my choices too much, let me present our newest Book Trail, which begins with one of my favourite books.

1. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern 9780099570295
‘The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices plastered on lampposts and billboards. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.  Within these nocturnal black-and-white striped tents awaits an utterly unique, a feast for the senses, where one can get lost in a maze of clouds, meander through a lush garden made of ice, stare in wonderment as the tattooed contortionist folds herself into a small glass box, and become deliciously tipsy from the scents of caramel and cinnamon that waft through the air. Welcome to Le Cirque des Rêves. Beyond the smoke and mirrors, however, a fierce competition is under way–a contest between two young illusionists, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood to compete in a “game” to which they have been irrevocably bound by their mercurial masters. Unbeknownst to the players, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. As the circus travels around the world, the feats of magic gain fantastical new heights with every stop. The game is well under way and the lives of all those involved–the eccentric circus owner, the elusive contortionist, the mystical fortune-teller, and a pair of red-headed twins born backstage among them–are swept up in a wake of spells and charms.’

 

This leads us to another of my absolute favourites…

97800995724732. The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen
‘On a small snow-covered island—so tiny that it can’t be found on any map—lives twelve-year-old Minou, her philosopher Papa (a descendent of Descartes), Boxman the magician, and a clever dog called No-Name. A year earlier Minou’s mother left the house wearing her best shoes and carrying a large black umbrella. She never returned.  One morning Minou finds a dead boy washed up on the beach. Her father decides to lay him in the room that once belonged to her mother. Can her mother’s disappearance be explained by the boy? Will Boxman be able to help find her? Minou, unwilling to accept her mother’s death, attempts to find the truth through Descartes’ philosophy. Over the course of her investigation Minou will discover the truth about loss and love, a truth that The Vanishing Act conveys in a voice that is uniquely enchanting.’

 

We then move from one intriguing title to another…

3. Campari for Breakfast by Sara Crowe 9780552779647
In 1987, Sue Bowl’s world changes for ever. Her mother dies, leaving her feeling like she’s lost a vital part of herself. And then her father shacks up with an awful golddigger called Ivana.  But Sue’s mother always told her to make the most of what she’s got – and what she’s got is a love of writing and some interesting relatives. So Sue moves to her Aunt Coral’s crumbling ancestral home, Green Place, along with a growing bunch of oddballs and eccentrics. Not to mention the odd badger or two . . .  There she fully intends to write a book, fall in love, and learn to live decadently.  Campari for Breakfast is a heart-warming, eccentric novel that joins the ranks of great British coming-of-age novels such as Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle and Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love.’

 

Book four takes us from Campari to Cornwall…

97800074650884. A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale
‘When 20-year-old Lenny Barnes, paralysed in a rugby accident, commits suicide in the presence of Barnaby Johnson, the much-loved priest of a West Cornwall parish, the tragedy’s reverberations open up the fault-lines between Barnaby and his nearest and dearest – the gulfs of unspoken sadness that separate them all. Across this web of relations scuttles Barnaby’s repellent nemesis – a man as wicked as his prey is virtuous. Returning us to the rugged Cornish landscape of Notes from an Exhibition, Patrick Gale lays bare the lives and the thoughts of a whole community and asks us: what does it mean to be good?’

 

Book five pulls together peril in both the past and present…

5. The Blasphemer by Nigel Farndale 9780552776172
‘On its way to the Galapagos Islands, a light aircraft ditches into the sea. As the water floods through the cabin, zoologist Daniel Kennedy faces an impossible choice – should he save himself, or Nancy, the woman he loves?  In a parallel narrative, it is 1917 and Daniel’s great grandfather Andrew is preparing to go over the top at Passchendaele. He, too, will have his courage tested, and must live with the moral consequences of his actions.  Back in London, the atheistic Daniel is wrestling with something his ‘cold philosophy’ cannot explain – something unearthly he thought he saw while swimming for help in the Pacific. But before he can make sense of it, the past must collapse into the present, and both he and Andrew must prove themselves capable of altruism, and deserving of forgiveness.  The Blasphemer is a story about conditional love, cowardice and the possibility of redemption – and what happens to a man of science when forced to question his certainties. It is a novel of rare depth, empathy and ambition that sweeps from the trenches of the First World War to the terrorist-besieged streets of London today: a novel that will speak to the head as well as the heart of any reader.’

 

Book six is one which I’ve had my eye on for quite a while…

97805712518726. The Wilding by Maria McCann
‘Jonathan Dymond, a 26-year old cider-maker in post-Civil War England, has enjoyed a quiet, harmonious existence until a letter arrives from his uncle with a request to speak with his father. When his father returns from the visit the next day, all he can say is that Jonathan’s uncle has died. Then Jonathan finds a fragment of the letter, with talk of inheritance and vengeance…’

 

The penultimate choice on this Book Trail is one of the most perfect novels I’ve ever read…

7. The Still Point by Amy Sackville 9781846272301
‘At the turn of the twentieth century, Arctic explorer Edward Mackley sets out to reach the North Pole and vanishes into the icy landscape without a trace. He leaves behind a young wife, Emily, who awaits his return for decades, her dreams and devotion gradually freezing into rigid widowhood. A hundred years later, on a sweltering mid-summer’s day, Edward’s great-grand-niece Julia moves through the old family house, attempting to impose some order on the clutter of inherited belongings and memories from that ill-fated expedition, and taking care to ignore the deepening cracks within her own marriage. But as afternoon turns into evening, Julia makes a discovery that splinters her long-held image of Edward and Emily’s romance, and her husband Simon faces a precipitous choice that will decide the future of their relationship. Sharply observed and deeply engaging, The Still Point is a powerful literary debut, and a moving meditation on the distances – geographical and emotional – that can exist between two people.’

 

Our finishing point is another set in an isolated community…

97808573823378. Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg
‘A portrait of a marriage, a meditation on faith, and a journey of conquest and self-discovery, Island of Wings is a passionate and atmospheric novel reminiscent of Wuthering Heights.  July, 1830. On the ten-hour sail west from the Hebrides to the islands of St. Kilda, everything lies ahead for Lizzie and Neil McKenzie. Neil is to become the minister to the small community of islanders, and Lizzie, his new wife, is pregnant with their first child. Neil’s journey is evangelical: a testing and strengthening of his own faith against the old pagan ways of the St. Kildans, but it is also a passage to atonement. For Lizzie — bright, beautiful, and devoted — this is an adventure, a voyage into the unknown. She is sure only of her loyalty and love for her husband, but everything that happens from now on will challenge all her certainties.  As the two adjust to life on an exposed archipelago on the edge of civilization, where the natives live in squalor and subsist on a diet of seabirds, and babies perish mysteriously in their first week, their marriage — and their sanity — is threatened. Is Lizzie a willful temptress drawing him away from his faith? Is Neil’s zealous Christianity unhinging into madness? And who, or what, is haunting the moors and cliff-tops?  Exquisitely written and profoundly moving, Island of Wings is more than just an account of a marriage in peril — it is also a richly imagined novel about two people struggling to keep their love, and their family, alive in a place of terrible hardship and tumultuous beauty.

 

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