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Books I Wish More People Would Read

I have just come across a Goodreads list entitled ‘Books I Wish More People Would Read’, and have stolen its title for my own purposes here at The Literary Sisters.  A lot of the books which I read seem to slip under the radar, and there are several which I have adored, or very much admired, of late, which I rarely see others reviewing, or even reading.  I thought that I would therefore make a list of six books that I would happily thrust into the hands of every reader whom I meet.  (Please note, it is entirely a coincidence that all of these books were written by women!)

 

185908911. Don’t Go To Sleep in the Dark: Short Stories by Celia Fremlin
Don’t Go to Sleep in the Dark (1972) was the first gathering of Celia Fremlin’s short fiction, a form in which she had published prolifically – for the likes of She, Playmen, and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine – while building her reputation as a novelist of psychological suspense.  Female characters predominate in these tales, as does the doom-filled atmosphere that was Fremlin’s metier. She explores her familiar theme of strained mother-child relations, but she also delves into the supernatural realm as well as the psychological. As ever, her capacities for making the everyday unnerving and keeping the reader guessing are richly in evidence.

 

2. May We Shed These Human Bodies by Amber Sparks (review here) 15701573
May We Shed These Human Bodies peers through vast spaces and skies with the world’s most powerful telescope to find humanity: wild and bright and hard as diamonds.

 

321449223. A House on the Rhine by Frances Faviell
Having made her publishing debut with The Dancing Bear, a superb memoir of life in Berlin immediately after World War II, Frances Faviell applied first-hand knowledge to fiction, telling the riveting, harrowing tale of one large, troubled family in Germany nearly a decade after the war’s end.  In a town near Cologne, rebuilding is proceeding at a frantic pace, factory work is plentiful and well-paid, and the dark days of near-starvation have ended. But Joseph, a former Allied prisoner of war, and his enormous brood–his wife having received a medal under the Nazis for bearing more than 10 children–face new problems ranging from the mother’s infidelity, the oldest child’s involvement with a brutal youth gang leader, and a beloved adopted daughter’s plans to marry an American soldier.  Vividly portraying the love and conflict of a large family and the dramatic, sometimes tragic social change of Germany’s postwar recovery, A House on the Rhine is a powerful, heartbreaking tale from the author of the London Blitz memoir A Chelsea Concerto.’

 

4. We That Are Left by Juliet Greenwood 18760917
A privileged young wife on a large Cornwall estate gains responsibility and confidence when her husband leaves to fight overseas. This English home front saga then becomes something more when she leaves for France herself to rescue a friend from danger.

 

9773745. Daughters of the House by Michele Roberts
Booker Prize Finalist, Daughters of the House is Michèle Roberts’ acclaimed novel of secrets and lies revealed in the aftermath of World War II. Thérèse and Leonie, French and English cousins of the same age, grow up together in Normandy. Intrigued by parents’ and servants’ guilty silences and the broken shrine they find in the woods, the girls weave their own elaborate fantasies, unwittingly revealing the village secret and a deep shame that will haunt them in their adult lives.

 

6. The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna 17237713
Aminatta Forna has established herself as one of our most perceptive and uncompromising chroniclers of war and the way it reverberates, sometimes imperceptibly, in the daily lives of those touched by it. With The Hired Man, she has delivered a tale of a Croatian village after the War of Independence, and a family of newcomers who expose its secrets.  Duro is off on a morning’s hunt when he sees something one rarely does in Gost: a strange car. Later that day, he overhears its occupants, a British woman, Laura, and her two children, who have taken up residence in a house Duro knows well. He offers his assistance getting their water working again, and soon he is at the house every day, helping get it ready as their summer cottage, and serving as Laura’s trusted confidant.  But the other residents of Gost are not as pleased to have the interlopers, and as Duro and Laura’s daughter Grace uncover and begin to restore a mosaic in the front that has been plastered over, Duro must be increasingly creative to shield the family from the town’s hostility, and his own past with the house’s former occupants. As the inhabitants of Gost go about their days, working, striving to better themselves and their town, and arguing, the town’s volatile truths whisper ever louder.

 

 

Have I convinced you to pick up any of these unfairly neglected novels?

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Mini Reviews: ‘The Combined Maze’, ‘Fair Exchange’, and ‘Selling Manhattan’

The Combined Maze by May Sinclair *****
9781144584120The scenes within The Combined Maze, which is incidentally one of Agatha Christie’s favourite books, are deftly set, and Sinclair’s prose is measured and clear.  A palpable tension is steadily and marvellously built within the novel, which presents a fascinating study of unconventional married life and parenthood.  Relevant to the modern world, The Combined Maze deals in part with postnatal depression, financial struggles, and adultery, amongst other topics of interest.  The character constructs are fascinating, and the denouement is incredibly realistic.  May Sinclair astounds me; she is unwaveringly aware of people, and all of the tiny yet significant details which shape and affect them.  The Combined Maze is novel which could certainly do with a resurgence!

 

Fair Exchange by Michele Roberts ***
I very much enjoyed Roberts’ Daughters of the House, and adored the short story collection 9781860497643entitled Playing Sardines, so when I spotted Fair Exchange on the shelves of an Oxfam Bookshop, I had no doubts about it coming home with me.  I had interest in its story from the first, and it proved the perfect tome to take on a train trip to Edinburgh.  Everything about Fair Exchange was so well-realised at first, and the story, with its inclusion of Mary Wollstonecraft as a character, was very interesting.  Then, a few little niggles began to creep in.  The scenery was nicely evoked, but it did not feel as realistic as it is in a lot of her work, not as prevalent.  I was willing to set aside a couple of character discrepancies and the sometimes jolting structure of the piece, but that final, awful twist ruined the book somewhat for me.

 

Selling Manhattan by Carol Ann Duffy ***
9781509824984Ordinarily I love Duffy’s work, but <i>Selling Manhattan</i> just didn’t grab me.  It is her second collection, and one can see that her voice, which later becomes so original and startling, is beginning to emerge.  There simply wasn’t the level of engagement here which I am so used to in Duffy’s work.  There is much playing around with the form, but it feels more of an experimental collection than one of her best.

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Flash Reviews (22nd July 2013)

Rather than write an enormous post for each and every book I read, I have decided to post a few flash reviews, relatively short musings on a lot of literature and non-fiction reads.

 

‘The Iron Woman’ by Ted Hughes, Faber

The Iron Woman by Ted Hughes
A read of The Iron Man led me to The Iron Woman almost immediately.  Stylistically, the book feels rather different to its prequel, and the issues tackled are far more serious.  It feels a lot darker than The Iron Man, and is even a little creepy in places.  Reading this from an adult perspective, I believe that it provides a great starting point for young readers about the awareness of pollution and how it is affecting our earth.  The storyline is both clever and imaginative, and not once does it feel overloaded with information.  I love the little threads of the story which Hughes binds together.  The final scene is also absolutely gorgeous, and is worth reading for that alone.

Gigi by Colette
Even in terms of a novella, Gigi is an incredibly short one, but it is filled to the brim with such beautiful writing.  The storyline is not a complicated one, or even one which contains many strands, but it works well with regard to the length of the book.  It tells the story of a young girl named Gilbert, Gigi for short, who is in her stubborn teenage years and is trying to fend off the advances of a male admirer.  It is not my favourite Colette by any means, but the story is still a sweet one.  She clearly understands her characters marvellously, and I love the way in which she brings in some of their foibles and some rather undesirable traits too.  I must admit that I rather liked Gigi as a character, even though she was ridiculously spoilt and often precocious.  There was just something quite intriguing about her.

The Wombles television series

The Wombles by Elisabeth Beresford
I had a feeling before I began that this book would be utterly adorable, and I am pleased to say that I wasn’t disappointed in the least.  I so love reading about ‘little people’ in literature – Thumbelina, Mrs Pepperpot, The Borrowers – and I now have another novel to add to my list of favourites.  Beresford is an incredibly imaginative writer, and I love the cast of characters which she has created here.  They are all so different in terms of their personalities and strengths – just like a real community, I suppose.  The interlinked adventures throughout work wonderfully.  Also, I must mention that I think the way in which the Wombles choose their names from an old atlas of Uncle Bulgaria’s is adorable.  I tried this three times myself and came up with Gadamis, Greenville and Kulsary.  New additions to the Womble clan, perhaps?

‘Daughters of the House’ by Michele Roberts, Virago

Daughters of the House by Michele Roberts
I spotted this in the Notting Hill Book and Comic Exchange and was entranced by the lovely cracked green Virago spine.  I knew before I purchased it that it wasn’t on the Virago Modern Classics list which I’m working my way through, but after reading the blurb, I just knew that I had to rehome it. I must admit that I hadn’t heard of Michele Roberts before, but after reading the wonderful Daughters of the House, I believe that she is an author who deserves to be read by a much wider audience.  So many elements are encompassed here – the concept of family, the notion of identity, deep secrets, village life, the way in which the Second World War changed the social and political landscape of Europe, travel, growing up, and life and death.  The novel is an incredibly rich one, and it has been beautifully and carefully written.  For me, the strengths lay in Roberts’ descriptions, particularly those of the French countryside.  Daughters of the House is perfect holiday reading – intelligent, thought-provoking and well plotted, but not too taxing in its telling or pretentious in its style.