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TBR Tracker Update: August

I did not quite get my TBR down to my goal of ten books during the rather busy August I had, but it is down to twelve at present.  This seems like a far more manageable number to me than the eighteen which I began with at the start of July.  I am hoping to get my TBR down to eight books by the end of September, but ideally, I will read a few more than this.

51ycfe5qzul._sx325_bo1204203200_During August, I added three books to my TBR, but have read all of them.  I purchased a copy of Joanne Harris‘ The Strawberry Thief when it was up as a Kindle daily deal, and I had been unable to find the copy which the library was insistent it had.  I have really enjoyed Harris’ Chocolat series on the whole, but the final instalment was a little disappointing.  At first, I found it rather difficult to differentiate between the different viewpoints used in the novel, and did not find the characters’ voices anywhere near as strong or varied as they have been in previous books.  Whilst it proved easy to get into after a while, The Strawberry Thief was not as page-turning as I expected it to be.  There is not much with regard to plot within the book, and it does feel a tad too long.

I also received a copy of Ninni Holmqvist‘s The Unit as a belated birthday gift from one 71wd5kifoulof my friends.  It sounded so intriguing, and I have been so entertained (and creeped out in equal measure) by dystopian literature over the last couple of years.  Translated from the original Swedish, the novel has a great flow to it, and it gets more and more unsettling as it goes on.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and quite liked the ending too.

The final book added to my TBR during August is Belinda Bauer‘s Snap, which I picked up in an Oxfam bookshop for less than £1.  I was intrigued by it as it was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2018.  I’m around halfway through the novel at the time of writing this post, and it’s not quite what I expected.  The writing is a little plain for my tastes, but the different storylines intrigue me enough to keep reading, and see how everything comes together.

As with last month’s TBR tracker, you can find reviews of the books which I read during August below.

 

9781405280174These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder ***
I mistakenly skipped the seventh Little House on the Prairie book when I picked up These Happy Golden Years. This is a nice enough conclusion to the series, but I must admit that I haven’t enjoyed the books as much as I was expecting to. Although the children are growing up as the books progress, each of the tales are quite similar, and only a couple have stood out for me.

 

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery *** 77390
I really enjoyed the first Anne of Green Gablesnovel, and duly purchased the entire collection on my Kindle.  I feel similarly to these books as I do the Little House on the Prairie novels, in that I was expecting to love them, but have been left feeling a little disappointed.  Whilst I liked this novel, there was nothing much in terms of plot, and I did not feel as though Anne was quite as headstrong, sassy, or interesting as she was in the first novel.  I really enjoy Montgomery’s writing, and whilst I’m not ruling out returning to this series at some point in the future, I’m not going to rush to read the rest of the series at present.

 

513pefd2ynlThe Necessary Marriage by Elisa Lodato **
I purchased The Necessary Marriage on my Kindle purely due to hearing good things about Elisa Lodato’s debut, An Unremarkable Body. The novel was not at all what I was expecting. The prose is fine, but at no point was I blown away by it.  Whilst Lodato demonstrates that she is understanding of her characters, I found them relatively two-dimensional. The conclusions which the novel comes to are obvious; whilst not a great deal happened, what did was apparent ages beforehand.

 

Full reviews of Mary Poppins, She Wrote: A Biography of P.L. Travers by Valerie Lawson and Brighton Rock by Graham Greene, both of which I read during August, will be published soon.

 

My current TBR is as follows:

Physical:

  1. Thomas Hardy: A Life by Claire Tomalin hardy1
  2. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
  3. The Diviners by Margaret Laurence
  4. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  5. Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940s by Anne Sebba
  6. Cold Light by Jenn Ashworth
  7. Travellers in the Third Reich by Julia Boyd
  8. The Priory by Dorothy Whipple
  9. The Seabird’s Cry by Adam Nicolson
  10. Hagseed by Margaret Atwood

 

Kindle:

  1. Sweet Caress by William Boyd
  2. Song of the Lark by Willa Cather

 

Current total: 12
Goal for the end of September: 8

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Reading the World: ‘Fire in the Blood’ by Irene Nemirovsky *****

Fire in the Blood by the inimitable Irene Nemirovsky is my first reread of my Reading the World project.  I adore what I have read of her work to date; it is both measured and incredibly beautiful.  Translated by Sandra Smith, as much of her work seems to be, Fire in the Blood is set in a rural village in the historical region of Burgundy, France – also the setting of the work which she is best known for, Suite Francaise.

Published posthumously in France in 2007, and in Britain a year later, Fire in the Blood was the second Nemirovsky which I read, whilst fittingly on holiday in the Dordogne.  The volume opens with a foreword by Olivier Philipponat and Patrick Lienhardt, who both wrote an insightful biography of the author, as well as discovering the full-length manuscript of Fire in the Blood amongst her effects.

9780099516095The novella – for a novella it is, really, running to just 158 pages in the pictured edition – tells of Sylvestre, known throughout as Silvio, ‘his cousin Helene, her second husband, Francoise [sic], and of the truths, deaths, marriages, children, houses and mills that bind them with love and hatred, deception and betrayal’.  As far as themes go within literature, this certainly covers a lot of bases!

From the outset, everything within the novella is so well evoked.  Nemirovsky opens up a vivid world gone by in the first few exquisitely measured sentences: ‘We were drinking a light punch, the kind we had when I was young, and all sitting around the fire, my Erard cousins, their children and I.  It was an autumn evening, the whole sky red above the sodden fields of turned earth.  The fiery sunset promised a strong wind the next day; the crows were cawing.  This large, icy house is full of draughts’.  Silvio then gives us crumbs of detail about himself; on the first page, he writes: ‘I am old, poor and unmarried, holed up in a farmer’s hovel in the middle of the woods’.

Unsurprisingly to anyone at all familiar with Nemirovsky’s work, the character descriptions within Fire In the Blood are excellently wrought.  Colette tells her Uncle Silvio: ‘But you look like a faun… with your wide forehead, turned-up nose, pointed ears and laughing eyes.  Sylvestre, creature of the woods.  That suits you very well…’.  Silvio’s further descriptions of his own person, too, are memorable and unflinchingly candid: ‘For I sometimes feel I’ve been rejected by life, as if washed ashore by the tide.  I’ve ended up on a lovely beach, an old boat, still solid and seaworthy, but whose paint has faded in the water, eaten away by salt’.

Nemirovsky’s use of the male perspective is realistic, and often quite profound.    Through Silvio, the reader is brought into the heart of a small and rural community as though a member him or herself: ‘… the people around here have a kind of genius for living in the most difficult way possible.  No matter how rich they are, they refuse pleasure, even happiness, with implacable determination, wary perhaps of its deceptive promise’.

Smith’s translation is faultless; there is a wonderful poetic fluidity to the piece from beginning to end.  Fire in the Blood is an incredibly human work, which has been exquisitely written.  Her descriptions are reminiscent of Katherine Mansfield’s in their vivid snapshots of beauty and clarity.  Like Mansfield’s, her work is almost entirely sensually appealing.  There is so much depth within this short, and perfectly crafted, novel.  For those unfamiliar with Nemirovsky’s work, Fire in the Blood is a great taster of her wonderful stylistic choices, and engrossing storylines.

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The Gregory Peck-a-long: ‘War and Peace’ (Volume One) by Leo Tolstoy **** (Classics Club #13)

Classics Club #13; 20 Books of Summer

Belinda and I bravely challenged ourselves to read War and Peace as part of our wonderful Gregory Peck-a-long.  Belinda was ambitious and read the whole volume; I cheated, and purchased a beautiful old hardback edition of the first volume (albeit by mistake; I was under the illusion that it was the entire book).  Whilst I was most looking forward to our project – I have wanted to read the book for at least a decade, and very much enjoy Tolstoy’s shorter fiction – I must admit that I was rather daunted by the prospect, and it took me rather a long while (and a lot of spurring on!) to finally get around to adding the epic to my read list.

I have an absolute adoration for Russian fiction and literature and, quite as I predicted, I was soon absorbed within War and Peace – so much so that I managed to finish the first volume in just over a day whilst travelling and on holiday in June.  (One of my friends called me ‘ridiculous’ for doing this, but I think that deep down, he was actually really very impressed).  

The introduction to my volume was written by the edition’s translator, Rosemary Edmonds.  I found the reading experience of it lovely; she brings into play a lot of Tolstoy’s quotes about his craft and why he so adored it, as well as setting out the context of his life, and his inspiration for War and Peace.  In a letter to his cousin in 1863 which Edmond includes, Tolstoy writes the following of War and Peace: ‘Never before have I felt my intellectual and even all my moral faculties so unimpeded, so fit for work.  And I have work – a novel of the period 1810-1820, which has completely absorbed me since the beginning of the autumn…  I am an author with all the powers of my soul, and I write and reflect as I have never written or reflected before’.  He goes on to say, in rather a marvellous fashion: ‘If I were told that I could write a novel in which I could indisputably establish as true my point of view on all social questions, I would not dedicate two hours to such a work; but if I were told that what I wrote would be read twenty years fro, now by those who are children today, and that they would weep and laugh over it and fall in love with the life in it, then I would dedicate all my existence and all my powers to it’.

War and Peace took Tolstoy five years to write, and first appeared in serial form, before being published in six volumes in 1869.  His subject within the novel is humanity; ‘people moving in the strange delirium of war and war’s chaos’.  The interest within it, writes Edmonds, ‘is concentrated in two households’ – the relatively impoverished Rostovs, and the Bolkonskys, who are ‘standing outside the higher than “high” society’.  Edmonds believes that, ‘Nothing could be simpler than the mass of incidents described in War and Peace.  All the everyday happenings of family life… are threaded onto the necklace with as much care as the account of the battle of Borodino.  Each incident is vividly portrayed, each circumstance is real, as seen through the eyes of the various protagonists’.

War and Peace is immediately and wonderfully set within its historical background; the whole opens with Prince Vasili speaking to Anna Pavlovna: ‘It has been decided that Bonaparte has burnt his boats, and it’s my opinion that we are in the act of burning ours’.  As one would expect, the novel is rather politically minded in places, an element which I found absolutely fascinating.  The world of the characters seeps into the reader’s consciousness, and scenes are so vivid that they come to life without pause.  The reader has essentially been given an elevated position by Tolstoy we see absolutely everything in the manner in which his protagonists do, and nothing whatsoever is concealed from us.

Tolstoy has filled portions of War and Peace with quite profound ideas: ‘If everyone would only fight for his own convictions, there would be no wars’.  His scene construction abilities are marvellous.  Of a character in childbirth, for instance, he writes the following: ‘The most solemn mystery in the world was in process of consummation.  Evening passed, night wore on.  And the feeling of suspense and softening of heart in the presence of the unfathomable did not wane but was heightened.  No one slept’.

I found Edmonds’ translation incredibly easy to read, and found that the whole has a wonderful flow to it, almost to the extent that it does not feel like a work which was not originally written in English.  The structure of War and Peace is marvellous, and the way in which it is comprised of relatively short chapters makes it all the more accessible.  An aspect which I particularly loved was the feel of Russian life which it gives, from the entirely different perspectives of two families.  With regard to the character constructs, I certainly found Natasha the most interesting.

War and Peace is a soaring epic; there is love and heartbreak in swathes, and the characters are so realistic.  Whilst I did not adore it, it held my interest throughout, and I believe that I am just about ready to move onto Volume Two.

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Project: A Film A Day

One thing which I do not do enough is to watch films, and so I have come up with a little project for the month of August to help me along.  I am aiming to watch one film each day, and then record them on a list here on the blog.  Evidently watching a film every single day is an unrealistic goal, as some days I won’t be able to.  However, I am allowing myself to catch up; ergo, if I watch two films in one day and none the next, I am allowed to carry one of those over.  It’s more of an average thing than an actual daily challenge, I suppose, but I am very excited about the prospect of the project, and eager to get stuck in.

I do not have the time to review any of the films, sadly, but I will be using my general star rating on the main list, and will gladly answer any questions which you may have about what I’ve watched.

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March Project: Reading Ireland Month

picmonkey-collage-2

Today marks the beginning of Reading Ireland Month, a project hosted by the lovely Cathy746books and The Fluff is Raging. During the month of March, all participants have the opportunity to delve into the Irish culture in any form they desire, whether by reading novels, poems or plays set in Ireland or written by Irish authors, by watching Irish films, listening to Irish music or even by making attempts at producing traditional Irish culinary treats.

Both hosts have kindly prepared lists with suggested books, films, music etc. which you can consult if you are at a loss of what to read, watch or listen.

I’m really excited about this project, since Ireland is a country I’ve always been fascinated by, and I’m planning on participating as much as my free time permits.

Here is a list of the books I plan on reading and reviewing during March (the list may change if anything unexpected occurs, but I will keep you updated):

  • Cathleen ni Houlihan by W.B. Yeats
  • Translations by Brian Friel
  • The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
  • Dubliners by James Joyce
  • The Unicorn by Iris Murdoch
  • Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw
  • Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
  • The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen

I also plan on continuing the Sunday Movie posts, presenting a different Irish film each Sunday. Since I haven’t prepared anything else as of yet, I think I will simply try to get through all of my books planned for this project.

Are any of you participating as well? If you are, I would be delightful if you please let me know, so I can be sure to check your posts as well 🙂

Let’s all enjoy the Reading Ireland Month!

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Du Maurier December: Review Wrap-Up

Thank you so much to everyone who took part in my Du Maurier December project, whether you blogged about the books you read or not. The links which I have received thus far to reviews of du Maurier’s work, as well as my own, can be found below. If you have reviewed one (or more) of her works and I have somehow overlooked them, please reply with a link in the comments section below, and I will happily add them to this list.

Books by Daphne du Maurier – Novels
My Cousin RachelTerry’s review
The House on The StrandKoeldas’ review
Jamaica InnTerry’s review
Frenchman’s CreekTerry’s review
Rule Britannia My review
The Flight of the Falcon My review
The Glass-Blowers My review
Hungry Hill My review
The King’s General – My review
The Progress of Julius My review
Mary Anne My review

Books by Daphne du Maurier – Non-fiction
The Winding Stair: Francis Bacon, His Rise and Fall My review
The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte My review
I’ll Never Be Young Again My review
The Rebecca Notebook and Other Memories My review


Books by Daphne du Maurier – Short Stories
The Birds and Other StoriesTerry’s review
The Blue Lenses and Other Stories My review
Don’t Look Now and Other Stories – My review
The Doll: Short StoriesMy review
The Rendezvous and Other Stories My review


Books about Daphne du Maurier
Rebecca’s Tale by Sally Beauman – My review
Daphne du Maurier: A Daughter’s Memoir by Flavia Leng – My review
The Other Rebecca by Maureen Freely – My review
Neverland: J.M. Barrie, The du Mauriers and The Dark Side of Peter Pan by Piers Dudgeon – My review
Murder on the Cliffs by Joanna Challis – My review

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Du Maurier December: ‘The Rebecca Notebook and Other Memories’ by Daphne du Maurier ****

For the first day of my du Maurier December project, what could be better than kicking off with musings about Daphne du Maurier’s most famous and much-loved novel worldwide, RebeccaThe Rebecca Notebook and Other Memories – du Maurier’s final work – was first published in 1981, and was reissued by Virago in 2005.  According to its blurb, The Rebecca Notebook provides ‘an unparalleled insight into the mastery of a writer’s craft and the inner vision that made du Maurier a household name’.

Whilst The Rebecca Notebook is interesting enough to read on its own, it goes without saying that it is best as a companion volume to Rebecca.  Much of the ‘Rebecca Notebook’ section describes how du Maurier came to write her famous Gothic novel, ‘tracing its origins, developments and the directions it might have taken’.  After this, a collection of essays, all written about a wealth of rather different subjects, can be found.  Aside from the original musings about Rebecca, which was first published in 1938, much of the material within The Rebecca Notebook and Other Memories was penned towards the end of du Maurier’s writing career.

The preface to the Virago edition is written by Alison Light.  Throughout, she talks of du Maurier’s discovery of her beloved Menabilly, the house which inspired Manderley in Rebecca, and discusses the way in which: ‘Fans of du Maurier’s fiction know that in her world disenchantment is the price we pay for the magic: “it is the very insecurity of the love which makes the passion strong”‘.  Light also tells us that ‘this volume of short pieces about her family, her life and beliefs, is prompted, like so many of her stories, by the desire to reanimate the past’.  Du Maurier’s own introduction to her notebooks is eloquent and informative.

Du Maurier began to conceive her ideas for Rebecca whilst living in Alexandria, where her husband was stationed.  In The Rebecca Notebook and The Rebecca Epilogue, it is possible to see the original chapter outlines for the novel, and the edits which were made from notebook to novel are fascinating to compare.  It is incredibly interesting to see what du Maurier altered or removed altogether, for whatever reason.

Daphne du Maurier, writing

The Rebecca Notebook is quite a slim volume, running as it does to just 180 pages.  Despite this, it is crammed to the brim with fascinating ideas and musings upon many subjects.  The extra material which has been included is comprised of eleven essays and three poems, each of which has been carefully crafted and thoughtfully written.  The themes of du Maurier’s essays range from her cousins, the Llewellyn-Davies boys, upon whom the young Darlings in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan were based, to moving away from Menabilly and speaking of her widowhood.  She talks of mythology, Shakespeare, the use of tragedic devices in novels, the concept of heredity, religion and grief.

Of her essays, she writes: ‘The pieces in the present section have nothing to do with my imagination, but with the conscious self, the person who is Me.  This may sound, and probably is, conceited, but I make no apology for it; they were written at different times throughout my life because I felt strongly about the various subjects, and so was impelled to put my thoughts on paper’.  The essays are relatively short, but they are perfectly formed, and can be dipped in and out of.  When writing, du Maurier never wastes her words, and as she does not repeat herself at all, each sentence she crafts feels both fresh and original.

It goes without saying that the writing here is beautiful, particularly when it comes to du Maurier’s descriptions.  In ‘The House of Secrets’, which was written in 1946, she writes the following regarding her discovery of Menabilly: ‘It was an afternoon in late autumn, the first time I tried to find the house.  October, November, the month escapes me.  But in the West Country autumn can make herself a witch, and place a spell upon the walker.  The trees were golden brown, the hydrangeas had massive heads still blue and untouched by flecks of wistful grey, and I would set forth at three of an afternoon with foolish notions of August still in my head’.  She is rather amusing at times too, and her wit shines through, particularly in the essay entitled ‘Sunday’ (1978): ‘[Sunday is a] day for privacy, except for neighbouring cattle and sheep, with which I am on excellent terms, speaking to them in their own language.  (I baa better than I moo, nevertheless they appear to understand the drift of my conversation; even Romany of Till, the bull, acknowledges my presence with a courteous inclination of his horns)’.

Du Maurier’s poetry, too, is lovely.  The following extract is taken from ‘The Writer’ (1926):

“Mine is the silence
And the quiet gloom
of a clock ticking
In an empty room,
The scratch of a pen,
Ink-pot and paper,
And the patter of the rain.
Nothing but this as long as I am able,
Firelight – and a chair, and a table.”

The Rebecca Notebook and Other Memories is a great accompaniment to Rebecca, and is sure to delight anyone who has so enjoyed the titular novel.  The whole has been so well put together, and as well as examining the craft of writing, it gives a real insight as to what du Maurier was like as an individual when viewed away from her craft.  She is both candid and modest throughout and, one cannot help but think, would have been quite a joy to know.

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