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Apr. 27th, 2016


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Reviews Published

May. 5th, 2016


The Wicked Boy, Kate Summerscale

I’d previously read the author’s The Suspicions of Mr Whicher and Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace. I see that writing about The Suspicions of Mr Whicher I said, ‘There’s obviously a huge amount of research in this book but it’s never obtrusive.’ Unfortunately I didn’t feel the same about The Wicked Boy. The book starts very slowly indeed, with fact piled upon fact and me thinking, ‘Come on, get to the murder!’ When we do so, a strange and horrific tale unfolds.
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May. 4th, 2016


The Lubetkin Legacy, Marina Lewycka

I give this book five stars because I feel grateful to the author for making me laugh out loud several times. Berthold is fifty-ish, a ‘resting’ actor whom divorce and lack of work have driven to live with his redoubtable mother Lily. He was named for Lubetkin, who designed the block of flats they live in and with whom Lily claims to have had an affair. When Lily dies, Berthold panics that the ‘Bedroom Tax’ will lose him the flat, so he persuades a Ukrainian woman, Inna, to move in and pretend to be his mother. How can he possibly get away with it? Cue many a farcical scene.

Inna is a wonderful character with a bizarre use of English (‘You homosexy, Bertie?’) and a strange nostalgia for the great days of the Soviet Union. Some of the other residents are equally eccentric; ‘Mrs Crazy’ for instance, with her hair-do permanently covered in plastic and Legless Len, forever optimistic in spite of his wheelchair. Many of the flats are already privately owned, thanks to the right to buy. Plus, developers have their eyes on the area. The flats were designed with a pretty grove of cherry trees in front; a pleasant outlook and a meeting place. With shades of The Cherry Orchard (which gets a mention), there’s a plan to cut down the trees and put up a large new development right in front of the Lubetkin flats. The scene in which the residents fight off the chainsaw men is terrific and very funny. Go Mrs Crazy!

Another active campaigner is Violet, a beautiful half Kenyan girl who takes over the flat next to Berthold’s for a while. She’s just got her dream job with an investment company, only to find that it’s a cover for money laundering and global corruption, all taken for granted by the people who work there. She decides she can’t cope with it and starts looking for another job. If I were being really picky, I’d take a star from my rating because for me Violet’s story doesn’t gell with the rest of the book. She could have a novel of her own.

This is very much a ‘how we live now’ book, set very firmly in present day London. Although it’s funny, it’s also angry; angry about the betrayal of the post-war ideals typified by Lubetkin’s work. ‘This council building no longer housed the benign supportive state that Lubetkin and his post-war colleagues had tried to engineer, but a bossy, intrusive, policing ‘Them’ whose role was to keep the undeserving poor in their place.’

The Lubetkin Legacy will be published by Penguin on 5th May. I read it courtesy of NetGalley and enjoyed it very much. You may like to read the author’s amusing biography here .

May. 3rd, 2016


The Photographer’s Wife, Suzanne Joinson

I enjoyed the author’s first book, A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar. This one is better – brilliant even - but very hard to review. I made a list of things the book might be about:
Parent/child relationships
Politics in Jerusalem before the Second World War
Why title?

The main character is Prue Miller, née Ashton. She’s a sculptor who has escaped the London art world and a terrible marriage to live with her young son Skip in a tumbledown shack in ‘Bungalow Town’, almost on the beach at Shoreham, Sussex. Confusingly, Prue is *not* The Photographer’s Wife. That’s Eleanora, an Englishwoman who shockingly married a foreigner, the famous photographer Khaled Rasul. When Prue was a child, she spent six months living in Jerusalem, where Eleanora was almost the only person to take any notice of her. The narrative moves between Jerusalem in 1920 and Shoreham in 1937.

Prue had a lonely childhood. Her father was always abroad, her mother ill. When her mother is committed to some sort of institution her father sends for her to join him in Jerusalem. The city is a chaotic mix of ancient buildings, people of all races and creeds; also a hotbed of political intrigue, much of it against the British. Astonishingly, Prue’s father allows her to wander the city alone; at one point in the book I was speed reading, in terror of what might become of her. Her friends are all adults. Isfahn teaches her Arabic but also secret codes. An adept pupil, she obtains information for him about British plans. Eleanora, who has taken up photography herself since her marriage to Rasul, seems genuinely fond of her. Then William ‘Willie’ Harrington arrives on the scene. He’s a former pilot, horribly scarred by a horrific flying accident. He’s in love with Eleanora, can’t accept her marriage and wants to take her away. Prue feels she’s lost her friend. Then something happens which means she’s sent back to England.

The intervening years are only sketched in. Prue attends the Slade and becomes an admired part of the new movement in art. She marries the dreadful, controlling Piers and has a son she doesn’t want. Her behaviour at this time is distinctly odd; for instance, her compulsion to take off all her clothes in public. When she runs away to Shoreham history seems to be repeating itself as she allows Skip to run wild. Then Harrington turns up, now involved with the Secret Service. Prue’s relationship with Isfahn and the events in Jerusalem all those years ago have become issues of interest to the British government. No spoilers, but at the end of the book (by which time war has broken out) you are still wondering what will become of Prue and her son. And caring.

A strangely haunting story about a woman who is unusual, to say the least. I liked it very much. I read it courtesy of NetGalley and it’s out on 5th May.

May. 2nd, 2016


April books

Love for Lydia , H E Bates
The Photographer’s Wife, Suzanne Joinson, review soon
The Lubetkin Legacy, Marina Lewycka, review soon
The Wicked Boy, Kate Summerscale, review soon
The Frozen Lake, Elizabeth Edmondson
John and Mary Detectives, Grace James
The Adventures of John and Mary, Grace James
John and Mary and Lisetta, Grace James
John and Mary’s Youth Club, Grace James
John and Mary at Riverton, Grace James
Silence in Court , Patricia Wentworth
Walk with Care , Patricia Wentworth
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May. 1st, 2016


Throwback May Day

It’s cold and frosty again and I’m way behind with all garden work. So I’m going back to 1st May 2011, when I was able to post
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Apr. 28th, 2016


Patricia Wentworth but not Miss Silver!

For a person who has read all the Miss Silver books , I was woefully ignorant about Patricia Wentworth’s work and life. Thanks to Dean Street Press I’ve now read two of the non-Miss Silver books she wrote. Thanks to Curtis Brown’s introductions, I now know something about her life. She began her writing career with historical romances, and moved on to mysteries. When Miss Silver proved so popular, she rather took over from the other detectives Wentworth had created and it’s the thirty two books featuring her which are mostly read today, the others being almost impossible to find. In a long writing career, Patricia Wentworth wrote thirty three mysteries which were not about Miss Silver and Dean Street Press are reissuing the lot. The first batch will be out on 2nd May.

Silence in Court is a punning title. It’s a standalone novel which opens with a young woman called Carey Silence on trial for murder. Although there is a necessary back story, most of the action takes place in court. The book was published in 1945 and Carey is a war casualty, injured when a train she was travelling in was machine gunned. She is taken in by a distant relation who was a friend of her grandmother’s; a rich, capricious old woman who lives with assorted relatives and is constantly changing her will according to how much they annoy her. She takes a great fancy to Carey and changes her will again to leave her a considerable inheritance. When ‘Cousin Honoria’ is murdered, Carey is the chief suspect.

Carey herself is rather a cipher. She’s not fully recovered her health and endures her trial in a dream-like state. Luckily, the relations are more interesting; it’s a pity the liveliest had to be killed off. The court room scenes are tense because the evidence and testimony against Carey are so strong that it’s hard to see how she can be proved innocent. The way the mystery is solved is rather too deus ex machina for me but it’s certainly a surprise. A very enjoyable book.
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Apr. 26th, 2016


The Course of Love, Alain de Botton

I’ve just this morning heard Alain de Botton talking to Chris Evans about his new book, which is out on the 28th. He repeated his assertion, which occurs several times in the book, that ‘We are all a bit mad’ and that in relationships we have to accept each others’ particular form of madness. When asked by Chris why he’d chosen to write a novel rather than just a list of thoughts about love and marriage he was rather vague. I think he just wanted to write a novel. I’d already written my review and here it is.

*Pause while I regain my internet connection. Grr.*

This is a strange book: part romantic novel rather on the lines of One Day, part marriage guidance manual.

It tells the story of the romance and marriage of Rabih and Kirsten, described as if by an impartial observer, rather like someone from Mass Observation. Events take place and as each milestone in the characters’ lives is reached a passage of analysis follows, in which the omniscient author explains why this is happening. The philosophical sections are written as though the thoughts expressed are universal truths. What do people expect from love and marriage? That it be lasting, totally monogamous and will provide the security previously known only in childhood, when parents were almost mind readers, able to interpret needs and fulfil them with correct actions and reassurance. Unconditional love, in fact. A tall order and unrealistic.

Here’s an example of the authorial comments which punctuate the book:
‘Were Rabih and Kirsten able to read about themselves as characters in a novel, they might – if the author had even a little talent – experience a brief but helpful burst of pity at their not at all unworthy plight, and thereby perhaps learn to dissolve some of the tension that arises on those evenings when, once the children are in bed, the apparently demoralizing and yet in truth deeply grand and significant topic of the ironing comes up.’

Although I found all this slightly odd, I did read this well written book very quickly and enjoyed it.
I read it courtesy of NetGalley.

Apr. 11th, 2016


Today’s recommended blog post

Kate Macdonald’s review of Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop. I’m a huge admirer of Evelyn Waugh, as anyone knows who reads my blog, and it’s nice to read such an appreciative review. My husband’s uncle, who wrote for The Telegraph, always said Scoop was the most accurate account he’d ever read of what journalism is really like.

I have a little gripe about the way a certain quote from this book is constantly misused. ‘Up to a point, Lord Copper’, is only funny if the statement being responded to is ridiculously untrue. Yet I hear journalists replying to a question by saying, ‘Well, up to a point, Lord Copper’, when what they mean is simply, ‘up to a point’. They think they’re being clever, are actually extremely ignorant and force me to yell at the radio or television. Tsk. Anyway, if you haven’t read the book, you’re in for a great treat.

Apr. 7th, 2016


The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, Phaedra Patrick

Arthur Pepper is sixty nine and mourning the death of his wife the year before. On the anniversary he steels himself to go through her things to dispose of them. Hidden away, he finds a gold charm bracelet which he’s never seen before. The charms are fascinating and he thinks they may have had some special meaning for his wife. Seeing a number engraved on a beautiful little elephant, he deduces that it’s a phone number and plucks up courage to dial it. To his amazement, he speaks to someone in India who knew his wife. He had no idea his wife had ever been to India! This is how the quest begins: to investigate each charm in turn to discover its meaning.

This takes nerve because ‘Arthur really didn’t want to leave the security of his house, the smothering comfort of his routine.’ Nevertheless he sets out bravely until he has tracked each charm. Some of his adventures are highly improbable but this is fiction. He discovers that before they met, his wife had a life he knew nothing about. Will this destroy his memories of what was for him a long and happy marriage? The book is bound to be compared with The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry but they are very different stories.

There are some oddities here. Arthur is my generation but I don’t know anyone my age called Arthur and never have done. He says ‘swell’ and ‘go paddle’, which Englishmen don’t. But it’s impossible not to like Arthur and to hope for a better, less lonely future for him.

This is out today and I read it courtesy of NetGalley.

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