Sunday, 30 October 2016

Mrs Mac Suggests - What To Read in November

Well.... here in the UK the clocks have gone back, so the evenings are dark and long.  Never mind, this means that the woodburner can be lit if it ever gets cold, for the warmth is still with us, and it needs to be chilly before I light that up!

It's November reading then.  And in November, I and several other bookie friends try a "Remembrance" read.  That is to remember WW1 (which officially ended on the 11th day of the 11th month 1918);  or any book set either before and leading up to, or between that war and WW2 - or set in WW2.

You might like that idea, or you might shy away, muttering, "Oh no! - to heavy for me".  So this month I suggest a choice -

                                   War or Not.

Myself?  For War it's going to be a post WW2 novel -  

  A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

 and  for Or Not it's going to be a much lighter read -

Campari for Breakfast by Sara Crowe

Enjoy your November reading, whatever it is.

The Buried Giant - Kazuo Ishiguro

It would simplify this book to say that an elderly couple set off across Britain seeking their estranged son in another part of the country.  

But whilst they are the glue that holds it all together, this is a richer, deeper tale.  They are Britons.  This is a dark time.  The Romans are long gone.  King Arthur is dead, and only the elderly (and last) knight of the Round Table, Sir Girwain is left.  His mission is to kill the last dragon in Britain.  There are, of course, others in the country who are not Britons.  They are Saxons, and there is still a fragile peace between the two groups, although there is that feeling that civil war could break out at any time.  Then there's the Saxon warrior on a mission, sent by his lord, and a young boy excluded by his village and taken under the wing of Beatrice and Axl, the elderly couple on their journey.

Add to this mix some fables, the boatman across the River Stix, and a few minor characters, and there you have it.  I wanted to love, love, love this book, and at first, I couldn't stop hugging myself for starting it.  The language is something different - of the time, you might say.  The descriptions, though bare, tell you everything you need to know about living conditions, landscape and people's personal habits.  When the young boy is thinking about a girl he once met, the reason she sticks in his memory is that she did not smell of excrement.  Don't be offended by that, just think about it.  In an age where there was no plumbing, and no soft paper on a roll, there must always have been a little hum around people......

Ultimately, I only liked it.  Maybe my opinion is wrong.  You may read and love every page, but towards the end I found my attention wavering - never a good sign.  It is certainly different, but not as good as I so wanted it to be.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Julius - Daphne Du Maurier

Unusually, I am telling you today about a book I am not sure I liked.  Unusual because (sure, you know this by now, eh?) usually I want to recommend a book I loved, or I at least enjoyed reading.  You also know, dear readers, that I don't talk about crime novels, airport pageturners and the like.  So.  This is none of those, but it is a book with a completely unlikeable lead character (the Julius of the title) and is simply the story of his life.

Starting with a small baby reaching up to the clouds, a baby born to a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother in the second half of the 1800s, this novel will take you through that baby's entire life.  The poverty he suffers at the start of his life doesn't seem to bother him so much, and eating scraps from the cobbles under his grandfather's market stall just means that he can fill his belly.  Does his life improve?  Well, yes, but not staight away - the Prussians take over Paris, various family members die, and eventually he ends up an orphan in Tangiers where he lives a life of lying, cheating, wheeler dealing, and discovers sex.  But he isn't going to stay in Tangiers.  Not enough for him there.  London beckons, and when he realises that somehow he needs to do something so that he doesn't starve, he takes on a job that may help him to get on in life.

He is simply one of the most unlikeable characters in fiction, I think.  he likes "something for nothing", he is single-minded about the direction his life needs to go, and he loves no-one at all - until his daughter is born.  He's met his match here, because she is also unlikeable.  Forged in her father's image, spoilt, with money, these two are a match made in hell.

No more about the story, because you need to get the flavour yourself.  Finally, I beg you, do not read the Forward until you have finished  the book, or you will have gleaned too much from it.  But do note that Du Maurier was only 26 when she wrote this. 

Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Whistling Season - Ivan Doig

Every so often I find a book that makes me evangelical - and here, set in the lonely hugeness that is Montana at the start of the 20th Century is one of those.

Three motherless brothers, a father, and an advertisement in a newspaper from a housekeeper seeking employment headed "Can't Cook, Doesn't Bite".  And there I was, hooked by this wonderful tale of what happens to everyone when the Rose the new housekeeper and her brother arrive on the afternoon train and alight, in the middle of nowhere to start a new life.  Morris, the brother, after a few false starts, is taken on as the school teacher, and Rose whistles her way through the dust and dirt and makes their home clean and loved again - but it's true, she can't and does not cook.  So the lumpy porridge and questionable stews continue to be made by Dad. 

Small fights, big problems, and a mystery.  Children growing into adolescents;  bullies and those who are bullied, and Morris is teaching all of them things that are not on the curriculum but that will fascinate and educate them in a far more important way than ordinary spelling, ordinary arithmetic....... In 1910 the arrival of Haley's Comet in the skies above is something they learn about and want to celebrate

The last couple of chapters will solve the mystery....... and had me putting the book down several times because I didn't want it to end.  And when I at last got to the last lines, it was with a sigh of total enjoyment.  

I was passed this wonderful book by a friend who hoped that I would like it - Oh! I did!, I did! but sadly, when I looked up the author -  who had never come into my sights before, I find that he died in 2015.  I hope he knew before he died that he was a glorious storyteller - and at least there are many books of his for me to look forward to.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Mrs Mac suggests..... a book to read for OCtober

Well, leaves, mellow fruitfulness and all that...... here's October, and I'm sure, on your shelves, there will be

 A book you've not read yet but are saving as a treat.

I always have a few that are appealing to me - you know, the whispered "read me, read me" as you pass them by on the shelf, so I can't believe you don't have some of them too. The darker evenings will soon be upon us, time to light the fire, the woodburner, or turn on the heating.... and what better than to snuggle up with one you really want to read!

This month, for me, it's The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig passed on to me by a booky friend (thanks Jeannine!)

Early One Morning - Virginia Baily

I was attracted to this novel purely by the cover (as I suppose this is meant to happen!) and it has very little about the contents on the b...