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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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