Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Salley Vickers - Dancing backwards

I read this on a long train journey yesterday , it is wonderful. I really feel that this is up to the form of Miss Garnet's Angel. I was really bereft when is finished.
Here we have an newly widowed woman, booked on a cruise to New York. In New York she is to meet a former friend who she has had no contact with since she was married. Her children are grown up, her home empty.She is full of regrets about situations in her life, people she let go of, people she feels she has failed, potential opportunities missed. She gained a first at Cambridge and was a published poet before she married and had two children.
As the journey unfolds, so does she, and as she interacts with a variety of characters on board, she heals, to the point that she begins to write again. We learn about her past, her reason for the estrangement from Edwin who she is destined to meet in New York, we feel her guilt and confusion and come away with a strongly drawn character that we can empathise and identify with, and above all like. All the characters that she interacts with on board are deftly drawn, not quite caricatures, but instantly recognisable.They all have a story to tell, a contribution to make and in turn are affected by their interaction with Vi. I have a feeling that Salley must have done a cruise as a writer as Kimberley Crane, writer in residence is fab!
I wonder if this book can do for cruises what Miss Garnet did for Venice? The descriptions of the ever changing Atlantic Ocean were stunning. All in all a very reflective novel, what struck me is how important every human interaction is, even with strangers, perhaps even especially with strangers. This would make an excellent reading group choice.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Kathryn Stockett - The Help

Once again we were extremely lucky to get copies of this from the publishers for use by our reading groups. This book led to a lively discussion and it is no surprise that this is a bestseller both here and in the US.
We all had to keep reminding ourselves that this book is set in the 1960s and as such it is really shocking. Set in Mississippi USA this is the story of a black maid and the treatment of these 'servants' by the white majority of the town of Jackson. It is truly disturbing. More so I think as it makes South Africa at the time look almost reasonable, at least they openly declared apartheid. According to this book, in a nation that prides itself on being the 'land of the free' there was a strong underclass that clearly were not. It certainly to us Europeans gives us some insight into Martin Luther King and what happened to him.
I have to admit that at first I was rather uncomfortable with the fact that this was written by a white woman with a 'black' voice and was grateful that she had written something about this at the back. It might have been more useful perhaps at the beginning.
I do wonder though, where are the black authors of the US, why are they not writing about this, as does say Andrea Levy in the UK? Do they have a voice or are they just not exported and published in Europe or are they but do not become bestsellers?

A powerful book, one that is excellent for reading groups, the discussion will go on and on.........

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Katherine McMahon - Crimson Rooms

I loved the Rose of Sebastopol, see review below. This book again is fantastic and will make a brilliant reading group read. I have ordered extra copies for Bournemouth Libraries to use for this purpose.

This book deals with the aftermath of WW1. Evelyn, our heroine has trained as one of the first female lawyers and is fighting the prejudice of her family and the establishment . She finds herself caught up in one of the most sensational cases of the day, a case that exposes the inequality of the class system, in law and at war.

At the same time a woman arrives at the house with a child claiming he is the son of her adored brother, who died in the trenches. Added to this is the stifling home live with mother, grandmother and aunts and you have a multilayered, sophisticated and well written novel that is bound to please and challenge.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

John Harwood - The Ghost Writer

This is a fabulously gothic book . A ghost story set in Australia and England. Young Gerard while searching in his mother's room as a child unearths a photograph and a manuscript, a secret that his mother has hidden. It is his quest to unravel this secret that changes his life and sends him searching for his mother's family in England. His great grandmother it is revealed was a talented writer of Victorian ghost stories. These are interspersed throughout the book and add deliciously to the drama. I just loved it and the climax had me sitting on the edge of my seat in trepidation. This was the ghost story I was expecting in The Little Stranger and it does not disappoint! It really was very clever, the mysterious "invisible" penfriend really added to the sense of pending dread as you just knew it was going to end badly. A well written book, hugely atmospheric and I would have thought there was plenty for a reading group to get stuck into!