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Category Archives: Fiction

The Holiday – Stevie Smith

Celia works at the Ministry in the post-war England of 1949 and lives in a London suburb with her beloved Aunt. Witty, fragile, quixotic, Celia is preoccupied with love — for her friends, her colleagues, her relations, and especially for her adored cousin Casmilus, with whom she goes on holiday to visit Uncle Heber, the vicar. Here they talk endlessly, argue, eat, tell stories, love and hate — moments of wild humour alternating with waves of melancholy as Celia ponders obsessively on the inevitable pain of love.

Alarm bells were ringing fairly early on with this one, it was all to do with the dreadful, disjointed, uninteresting conversation at a dinner party. A lack of speech marks didn’t help the book’s case either.

Getting over that hurdle early on, the book opened out into an assorted collection of meditations on the experiences of love and politics and the past, before becoming mildly irritating towards the end.  This is a book that will probably polarise opinions of all who read it.

There is little to add to the above blurb in terms of storyline, you are getting precisely what you read there.  It all rests on the quality of said writing and that is where this reader would have preferred more balance, what Smith says is much more interesting than the way She has written down.  Whilst the whimsical structure and thought processes of Celia and co. work well enough, it is the writing itself that troubled me.

There is plenty of repetition of certain words, whether in the same sentence or throughout a conversation, it’s distracting to be told four times within a page that the same character is saying something maliciously, for example.  Whether this writing is an intentional choice or through lack of a decent editor, I don’t know but it soon becomes tiresome.  There is a richness to our language and often I was mentally inserting my own words to avoid the repetitiveness.

It all feels very English, the countryside setting in summer is delightful and I enjoyed being there.  The novel possess a dreamy melancholia for the past (relationships and ways of life); as well as the uncertain future – to the backdrop of the Indian independence, and the waning of the British Empire – for the characters as well as the country. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 18/03/2017 in Fiction

 

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Women Everywhere!

As you probably know it’s International Women’s Day today. which is a handy time to show my appreciation to all my lady friends and readers who are always writing inspiring reviews of wonderful books, especially those of women.  Thank you and big shouts outs go to Letizia, Claire, Lynn, Ali, Lucy and Sarah amongst others for championing such books and in particular the Virago series.

Reflecting on this blog as I often do, there is a disparity of the sexes, mainly because I pick up whatever I fancy rather than focussing on gender but thanks to numerous bloggers out there.  Still over the last eight or so months I’ve been keeping my eye out for a more diverse range of books to add to the collective.

Special thanks to Lynn for telling me about the Green spines and the apple thereon of Virago which allowed me to skim quickly over the shelves and not be tempted by many other books as I wandered around the charity shops in search of fresh books.  Over the rest of the year, I am hoping to give more balance to what I read and hopefully get more of an understanding of a wider range of literature which is always an exciting prospect. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 08/03/2017 in Blogging, Fiction

 

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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

I spotted The Rime on my shelf the other day but really don’t have enough time at the moment to review it so instead of that review, or indeed any other, here is Iron Maiden’s epic thirteen minute, dramatic rendition.

Rime Of The Ancient Mariner
(Lyrics from AZlyrics.com)

Hear the rime of the Ancient Mariner
See his eye as he stops one of three
Mesmerises one of the wedding guests
Stay here and listen to the nightmares
of the SeaAnd the music plays on, as the bride passes by
Caught by his spell and
the Mariner tells his tale.

Driven south to the land of the snow and ice
To a place where nobody’s been
Through the snow fog flies on the albatross
Hailed in God’s name,
hoping good luck it brings.

And the ship sails on, back to the North
Through the fog and ice and
the albatross follows on

The mariner kills the bird of good omen
His shipmates cry against what he’s done
But when the fog clears, they justify him
And make themselves a part of the crime.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 27/02/2017 in Fiction, Music

 

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The Sacrifice – Indrajit Garai

sacrificeIn this collection meet:  Guillame, who gives up everything to protect his child; Mathew, who stakes his life to save his home; and, François, who makes the biggest sacrifice to rescue his grandson.

Having previously had to decline  this offering due to a mountain of other books needing their reviews done for their respective deadlines, I am appreciative of Estelle for offering me another opportunity to read and talk about these short stories, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Each of the three stories contained in volume 1 have plenty of themes both on the human and natural side.  The reader will see the price of ‘progress’ and the loss it entails with the destruction of nature – which is neatly countered with the positive effects it has on the characters actions – and the uncertain legacy of what will be left of it for the next generation.

The human consequences on nature run in tandem with the heartache of families struggling; parents aren’t there, money is tight and life grinds away at the soul but there is always hope in each other and what they do have.

It is precisely this humanity that kept me reading, seeing these people going through life, trying to do the right thing.  That’s not to say that the book is preachy in any way, it isn’t, it allows the characters and their circumstances to unfold in an organic way and clearly shows us their thoughts and feelings in a given situation.

Each of the participants are just ordinary folk and that is the beauty of the storytelling,  the reader can instantly connect with them and just go with the story – regardless of setting and circumstance – what they do and who they are doesn’t matter because they are in existing in all their flawed glory.  The titular sacrifice therefore feels more powerful because it is something truly costly to the individual which the reader can appreciate and in terms of seismic impact.  The book excels at showing the ripples made by decisions, whether large or of a more subtle variety. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 30/01/2017 in Fiction

 

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A Dance to the Music of Time: Summer – Anthony Powell

hammertimeAnthony Powell’s brilliant twelve-novel sequence chronicles the lives of over three hundred characters, and is a unique evocation of life in twentieth-century England. It is unrivalled for its scope, its humour and the enormous pleasure it has given to generations.

Volume 2 contains the second three novels in the sequence: At Lady Molly’s; Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant; The Kindly Ones

Having no other blurb would usually be inadequate for the eager reader but in this instance I’m glad of it.  It would take a talented writer to not only quantify the story of all these collected lives but to tease out a discernible thread within the whirl of time and meeting, both chance and planned.

Sometimes a story is not about the end goal but about the experience, the furthering of this particular encounter is a pleasurable one.  I loved the first omnibus and books four to six better it in a lot of ways but I still prefer the overall consistency of the ‘Spring’ books.

A couple of months since reading the last omnibus, which I loved, I was slightly worried I would lose the thread of some of the characters and their convoluted histories but Powell always allows for that and made it easy to recall them through the narrative.  It may have helped that I read the Spring omnibus straight though, rather than taking my time but with a writer such as Powell, it is doubtful the reader will wish to leave long between novels.

Along the walls frescoes tinted in pastel shades, executed with infinite feebleness of design, appealed to heaven knows what nadir of aesthetic degradation.

It was easy to slip back into that world of gossip and dinner parties framed with plenty of references, to art, literature, and music.  This time it felt more world-weary as Narrator Nick Jenkins takes us into further through all these lives and most notably opens up gradually about more himself, rather than being the detached observer he was in the previous volume. There is a sense of time catching up and of a growing maturity. the zest of the young lessening and life taking its toll in myriad ways. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 23/01/2017 in Fiction, Modern Classics

 

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Night Delight

Recently it has been a pleasure to retire to bed at about half nine in the evening for some quality reading time.  Stopping to make a hot chocolate which always gets the reading off right, then leaving it to cool off next to my funky touch lamp before picking up whichever book is currently occupying my imagination.

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Stars and the to be reviewed pile.

The beauty of the lamp accompanying the chosen literature is the intimate setting it creates, beyond the book everything is either obscured by the dark or its impact on the peripheral vision lessened so that the small zone of light contains the reader’s only focus on the many adventures to be undertaken.

The accompanying silence as the night wears on – if you are lucky enough to live away from main roads and such – adds a lot of atmosphere, as it did when I picked up Stephen King’s Desperation, and The Stand where 99% of the word’s population has died (not that this appalling tally seems to be noticed as this is all set in America) and the survivors are left to their almost totally silent world.

The night though is versatile, after extensive reading research throughout the years particularly vivid memories of 2001: A Space Odyssey and its three sequels, The Rama series, and Solaris which being Sci-Fi come to mind.  It feels right to read the genre at night as it does horror, like the stories of M.R. James, and Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, which is the only horror book that I have been genuinely creeped out by. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 15/01/2017 in Book Memories, Fiction

 

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Satantango – László Krasznahorkai

YouKnowWhenYou'veBeen...In the darkening embers of a Communist utopia, life in a desolate Hungarian town has come to a virtual standstill. Flies buzz, spiders weave, water drips and animals root desultorily in the barnyard of a collective farm. But when the charismatic Irimias – long-thought dead – returns to the commune, the villagers fall under his spell. The Devil has arrived in their midst.

Irimias will divide and rule: his arrival heralds the beginning of a period of violence and greed for the villagers as he sets about swindling them out of a fortune that might allow them to escape the emptiness and futility of their existence. He soon attains a messianic aura as he plays on the fears of the townsfolk and a series of increasingly brutal events unfold.

After reading this I found out there was a seven hour film of the book which is lauded with critical acclaim but after reading this story, I may have to leave it a few months as it is one of those rare pieces that feels like an experience and not just another good read.

Satantango is a strange, yet thoroughly intriguing book set in a closed world, cut off from civilisation only by the limitations of its characters. For those who like dense prose and stream of consciousness writing – each chapter is one long paragraph – you can’t go far wrong than with this.  It’s a challenge but in the best possible way. as the reader is treated to political and religious allegory, veiled from the communist censors at the time by its subtlety.

Despite being less than 300 pages, I felt like I was putting the work into this one, that’s not to say it was a chore because it wasn’t but what it is, is very slowly paced read layered with meaning.  The translator George Szirtes must have had his work cut out not only capturing the essence of the book but also keeping up with all the looping sentence structure that takes a while to get used to.

Set primarily in a slowly decaying farm, this ruin of the communist dream is a dreary, all but forgotten place of perpetual misery where time has stopped and everything is rotting and anything that is meaningful has been lost under the rubble, this is reflected in the characters themselves.  Even in scenes outside of this small collective, there is a narrow and confined feel to the text, the pressing down of an invisible weight. Read the rest of this entry »

 
42 Comments

Posted by on 12/01/2017 in Fiction

 

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