This is my favourite kind of non-fiction. Armchair tourism at its best with a really funny guide who knows her stuff (mainly because she went and found the experts on said stuff). It reads as easily as fiction and has lots of personality woven through what is a pretty informative guide to the Danish lifestyle. The recurring theme of happiness matched quite nicely with my own ethos and has too many laughs to be pretentious or lecturing.
From: a friend with great taste in books
Read: while sheltering from the rain at National Trust Tyntesfield
Felt: like having a chat with a new friend over coffee and some pretty tasty Danish pastries. It was funny and moving and honest and informative. Well researched, well written and a joy to read. The whole expat palava rang painfully true.
Would recommend: highly to everyone, especially those who have lived abroad or are planning a move or anyone who likes a good laugh. So everyone then. Heads up – the food descriptions will make you really very hungry.
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There is something wonderful about a novella; a sense of dipping only a toe into another world. Visiting for a short while makes it easier to settle in a space that might not be naturally yours, a chance to try out a new author, genre or style of writing. I think I might find a longer work by Marquez more daunting but this was a lovely taster and I found myself taking the time to enjoy the slow meandering tale. The entire world of the colonel is painted with such attention to detail and colour it doesn’t matter that the plot meanders and the pace dawdles. This seems to have been written to be read in the shade when it’s too hot to do anything fast.
Here’s a snippet of brilliant writing:
The lightning interrupted her. The thunder exploded in the street, entered the bedroom and went rolling under the bed like a heap of stones.
and here ‘the woman’ and ‘the colonel’ are as close to names as these main characters get:
‘You can’t eat hope,’ the woman said.
‘You can’t eat it, but it sustains you,’ the colonel replied.
From: Hatchards St Pancras
Read: In a morning while sitting by the pool
Felt: Transported to Spain. Not absorbed by the book but more a curious observer.
Liked: the hope and simplicity of the Colonel
Would recommend: as a quick time filler, a good hand luggage book for a short journey.
Written in the style of a memoir, this is harsh and bleak and very honest in a way that softens it slightly. People are continually hateful to each other and yet seem to, almost inexplicably, still care deeply about each other. Karim, who introduces himself as ‘an Englishman born and bred, almost’, goes through the wretched business of growing up with all the awkwardness and unpleasantness laid out in graphic detail. The details make this the great read it is, despite a plot I’m not entirely enamoured by. All the little nods to life in Britain in the 1970s, the current events, the fashions and the music, all give this a feeling of authenticity and being a lived experience rather than a work of fiction. Although certain elements seem fantastical or outrageous, it is always kept just within the realm of possibility and makes for an intriguing read.
On the intensity of a first crush
I admired him more than anyone but I didn’t wish him well. It was that I preferred him to me and wanted to be him.
Continue reading “The Buddha of Suburbia: Hanif Kureishi”
This has the appearance of being a day in the life of a wealthy married woman in London after WW1 but Mrs Dalloway is not defined as a mother or wife. This is not a guide to her daily tasks but to her psyche – how she came to be herself, from her experiences and the choices she has made, to how she reacts to the people and world around her. Many books run like plays where a cast of characters act out scenes and the authors deftly supply the details to help us stage the action in our imagination. While Woolf always assembles an intriguing cast, she does not write so much about actions but emotions, impressions Continue reading “Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf”
This was an intriguing read, falling somewhere between beach fodder and thriller. The characters and writing are simple enough to imply a quick read and enough twists and turns to keep it absorbing yet there was something unsettling about it. Continue reading “The hundred year house – Rebecca Makkai”
There is no doubt that Fitzgerald has a wonderful way of laying words on the page. The first few pages of this book are sheer eloquence. This excerpt perfectly captures that delightful happy wriggle of getting into cool water on a hot day:
Rosemary laid her face on the water and swam a choppy little four-beat crawl out to the raft. The water reached up for her, pulled her down tenderly out of the heat, seeped in her hair and ran into the corners of her body. She turned round and round in it, embracing it, wallowing in it.
It’s not that the rest of the book is any less eloquent, only that I find the poetic
summations a bit wearisome after a while. It takes me longer to work out what is actually going on and feels a bit like wading through mud and poking around with a big stick, trying to find the point. I, shockingly, felt the same about ‘The Great Gatsby’. Continue reading “Tender is the night – F. Scott Fitzgerald “
The sulky, sarky and irreverent Edgar narrates from beyond the grave as his father investigates his death. Edgar holds that common youthful belief that he knows better than anyone else and feels noone understands him or his potential while never seeming to really understand others himself. Knowing nothing about its context or the GDR in the 1970s, I read this as an amusing, confusing ‘trials and tribulations of an aspiring artist’ that was quite stark and just a bit odd. It felt as if the book was probably being very clever in a way I couldn’t quite understand. And it was. It turns out that the tale was a remodelling of Goethe’s ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’, written a century before, and the original is repeatedly referred to and even plays a starring role as a nameless High German book that Edgar finds and keeps quoting from. Overall, it seems a quirky quick read that made me go find out a bit more about East Germany.
This quote is not typical of the slang heavy style but I loved the sentiment.
All the books suddenly looked like they were constantly being read by someone. You suddenly wanted to go and plop yourself down somewhere and read them all one after the other.
From: the local library
Read: February 2016
Felt: a general wry sense of amusement but slightly unsure of what exactly was going on. I think it could make quite a good play with a really bare set and a lot of ‘pretend this box is a boat’ involved.
Liked: Edgar’s grudging admiration of Zaremba – probably the most real and likable of all the characters.
Would recommend: if you happen across it. Don’t rush out to find it but if you stumble across it and you’ve a long train journey ahead then go for it. Or if you have any interest or understanding of Germany in the 1970s.
A brief history of modern France as viewed and experienced by a fictional frenchman. Having bought this after falling for the cover, which is not just beautiful but soft enough to make the physical process of reading really enjoyable, it was nice to find it contained a punchy and engaging story. It was very frank and there were a lot of gritty or unpleasant moments (and characters) but it still managed to be charming. It reads like an autobiography rather than a work of fiction and includes a lot of reference to contempary events in France in each time period. It still worked in translation but probably has another layer of meaning to those with a better knowledge of the country and its history. It was interesting to see the ripples these political and national events caused in the private lives of the characters. If you dont mind unlikable characters and a lot of talk of sex, Dubois has turned an apparently unremarkable life into an interesting and thought-provoking read.
The wonderful wry tone of the narrator allows him to laugh at himself and everyone he meets while still expressing a great fondness for life.
On his childhood behaviour
The child is father to the man
On his boss
Spiridon became giddy from his adorably effervescent little sin of pride
And finally, a great quote from the Marquise de Montespen – Mistress of Louis XIV
The grandeur of a destiny arises as much from what one refuses as from what one gains
From: The French Embassy in New York. Really. Walking along the side of central park, coming out of Café Sabarsky and heading for the Frick, I stumbled across a sign saying French and English books for sale. This felt the most magical place, hidden past a beautiful marble entrance hall. I ended up buying this book in both English and French (not as pretty but a compact little thing that seems to be a standard in French publishing), an even smaller book of Rudyard Kipling’s work in French and a canvas bag with Jules Verne quotations. The French bookseller’s enthusiasm for this particular book was encouraging too!
Read: Nov 2015 in Seville over breakfast on the roof terrace.
Felt: like I was listening to someone reminiscing on their life over a bottle of red wine.
Liked: The honesty and realism with just a touch of the bizarre. The tree photography concept was also mesmerising.
Would recommend: to anyone wanting to learn more about France or French life, or to those who like life stories and books that are more than fluffy niceties.
This is an extremely well written book on a difficult topic. Challenging the stereotyping and scaremongering that always surface around cultural or religious rifts, Hamid manages to keep the story engaging and even pleasant to read. The unusual conversational styling is well constructed and avoids being clunky or distracting. The language was beautiful and pitched just right to create the warm tone of an educated man, from a land with a proud tradition of poetry and storytelling, recollecting a series of events ranging from perplexing to incomprehensible. The narrator was not lovable or good but very human and understandable, a real and relatable person refusing to be wholly defined by their labels or circumstances. A brilliantly observant book that can be read and read into as much as you wish. If only it were less, rather than far more, poignant today than when it was written.
For a more detailed plot review head to the wonderfully written post by Miss quickly at the blue bore which inspired me to dig these thoughts out the archive.
It is not always possible to restore one’s boundaries after they have been blurred and made permeable by a relationship: try as we might, we cannot reconstitute ourselves as the autonomous beings we previously imagined ourselves to be. Something of us is now outside, and something of the outside is now within us.
From: the depths of the TBR shelf, origin unknown.
Read: April 2015 as my ‘it’s ok, I’m early’ backup book. I have never been so punctual as the week I was reading this!
Felt: like I was sat with them in the cafe, and ashamed of how familiar and common all those acts of prejudice were.
Liked: the clever construct and seamless switching between the past and present.
Would recommend: to everyone. Would read again someday.
In short, this felt a bit like a Miss Marple but without the murder mystery. A modern day St Mary Mead with a bit more backbone. Lovely read that was funny without trying too hard or taking itself too seriously. Great to see a book mention suicidal thoughts and attempts without being morose and showing that deciding to live is not a ‘failed attempt’ but a positive and powerfully good decision (however tough). Not up there with ‘Obstacles to young love’ but still good.
From: the library
Read: Feb 2016 instead of a long list of chores
Felt: Mildly charmed and amused. Slightly peeved with the ending.
Would recommend: for a gentle lighthearted distraction