American Gods, Neil Gaiman
The Girl Before, J P Delaney sample
Clover Moon , Jacqueline Wilson
The Evenings, Gerard Reve (1947)
Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop of Dreams, Jenny Colgan
A Year and a Day, Isabelle Broome
I was inspired to read this by Andrew Marr, who discussed it in the ‘Fantasy’ episode of his Paperback Heroes series (and interviewed Neil Gaiman). huskyteer kindly lent me a copy and I was drawn into it from the first page. Anything about the plot would be a spoiler so I’ll just say that it took me a long time to read but was worth the effort. It’s a stunning feat of imaginative writing. I read the ‘author’s preferred text’, which means it’s longer than the one ‘which won all the prizes’. I’ve since been told that there’s an even longer version. I thought it was quite long enough, thank you.
Here’s a contradiction for you. A book I hated reading yet thought was brilliant and gave five stars. It took me two goes to get started as I hadn’t a clue where we were, who anyone was or what was going on. Writing like this is often taken to be a sign of great literature and apparently The Evenings ‘was chosen as one of the nation's 10 favourite books by the readers of a leading Dutch newspaper while the Society of Dutch Literature ranked it as the Netherlands' best novel of all time.’ Strange; I hadn’t thought of the Dutch as a nation of existentialist depressives. Although Gerard Reve’s book was first published in 1947 this is the first English translation, by Sam Garrett.
It’s a book about boredom, the total boredom which exhausts Frits the moment he leaves work and contemplates the empty hours ahead. “This afternoon is perhaps worse than others,” he thought. “I have four hours to go till evening.” We follow Frits and his parents through the last ten days of 1946, in a cold, bleak Amsterdam. Desperate to fill the time he visits friends, though it’s a wonder he has any. “If no one else says anything,” he thought, “I have no choice but to keep talking.” So he talks, and usually about something unpleasant, like horrible ways to die, or the impending baldness and illness of all his mates. Frits’ days in an office are tedious, his evenings worse and his nights tormented by bad dreams. Much about this book seems mad, bad, cruel and heartless. I kept reading in order to see if Frits would leave home, be carted off to a lunatic asylum or maybe kill himself. It’s hard to see how his life can change as day follows day. “It is,” he thought, “only a quarter to three, but still this day will fill itself like any other.”
In spite of all this, when I’d finished the book I realized how well written it is and how unforgettable. Just don’t read it if you’re feeling down. Congratulations to the Pushkin Press for reissuing The Evenings and thanks for letting me read it through NetGalley.
Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop of Dreams
I read this in tandem with The Evenings, for light relief. Is this kidlit for adults? The decorations are worthy of a book by Jacqueline Wilson and the map at the start of the book looks exactly like Milly-Molly-Mandy’s village. Rosie leaves London, her job and her useless boyfriend to look after an aged relative who lives in Derbyshire. The idea is that she will sell Aunt Lilian’s sweetshop to raise money for the old lady to go into a home. Along with Rosie’s story we get flashbacks to Lilian’s early life during the War. The book is full of nostalgia for the much-loved sweets of yore and even includes recipes. Nothing works out quite as Rosie planned but it’s all for the best.
A Year and a Day
Fancy a few days in Prague? You can enjoy a vicarious trip there with A Year and a Day. This is a travelogue with three love stories. Hope, at fifty, is experiencing new love with Charlie, while feeling guilty because her daughter won’t speak to her. Megan is there with ‘just good friend’ Ollie, taking photographs for what she hopes will be a reputation-sealing exhibition. Everyone thinks she and Ollie are made for each other but the scars from a previous, failed relationship make her hold back. Then there’s Sophie, who spends most of the book waiting, waiting, waiting for fiancé Robin to join her. She’s beautiful, well travelled and miserable every moment she’s not with Robin. Uh-oh, looks like trouble. The five are staying at the same hotel and strike up a supportive friendship.
Half way through, the story takes a darker turn, real tragedy threatens and you wonder if things will end happily for anyone. Nevertheless the lovely, frosty city, the Christmas markets and mulled wine and the huge amounts of food the characters put away, plus the pretty cover, make this a perfect Christmas read. Thanks to Penguin and NetGalley for the download.
The Girl Before
It’s not out yet and I’ve only read a sample but I must mention this. It’s supposed to be for fans of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, neither of which I’ve read or intend to. NetGalley wanted very quick reviews and this is what I whizzed off a couple of weeks ago.
You’ve been kind enough to send me a sampler of this book and it’s not enough! One Folgate Street. It’s a minimalist house designed by a perfectionist architect who lays down at least 200 rules you must agree to abide by if you live there, sets you a psychometric test and follows it up with a personal interview. Unsurprisingly the house spends long, empty periods on the market. Yet two women badly want to live there: first Emma, then Jane. What makes them right for the house? The house is controlled by apps but it also monitors how you live in it. If the house is an organism, what are you, the mere human? It’s astonishing how quickly a sense of dread and unease develops, especially when Jane discovers that a previous occupant died there in unexplained circumstances. One Folgate Street already has the chilling ring of 10 Rillington Place about it for me, and nothing really bad has happened yet. I can’t wait to find out more.