Inside Llewyn Davis

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Uncomfortable, hilarious, poignant and musical is the brew

Inside Llewyn DavisThis Coen Brothers film, about the burgeoning folk scene in the early 60s had me wincing, laughing, and absorbed for its 90 minutes. The film opens in Greenwich Village in 1961 at a precise time just BEFORE Dylan burst onto the scene.

Llewyn Davis (an excellent performance by Oscar Isaac) is an utterly self-obsessed, careless, narcissistic musician. He is however a man of talent, self-belief, and creativity. And also laziness, prickliness and melancholy.

So the nub of the film is the self-obsession and belief which the artist MUST have, if they are to be putting their creative vision out there – married with the fact that the person themselves may not be particularly likeable. We (the consuming public) half forgive the often careless and badly behaved artist if their WORK touches us.

The Coens present us with this – in many ways Davis is a rather unlikeable human being, careless of everyone else’s feelings, tender of his own. At yet, there is a curious vulnerability about him which is attractive enough to allow him to use people, because they see something in that vulnerability which they want to protect, not to mention a sense that what the artist creates may be much finer than the artist himself. So, as that fineness of creation is IN the artist, this means they must, surely, be a better person than they appear to be. Well, that I think is the theory that has artists forgiven for what would be unindulged behaviour in non-artists.

Maybe we do believe, unlike what Orwell says, that an artist IS a special kind of man!

Davis stumbles through, journeying from New York to Chicago and back, in pursuit of fame and fortune, insulting people wittingly and unwittingly, coercing his way into places to stay, meals to be fed – and making at one point a terribly wrong decision around a recording session which the audience knows will sting. Davis is careless and selfish, sure, but he is also gauche and possessed of a certain gullible innocence – he both exploits and IS exploited.

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I’m sure I’m not alone is also rooting for the parallel ginger cat story, one of those wonderfully real Coenesque eccentricities, which left me, as a cat fancier, wondering and worrying about one development. (can’t say more, spoiler avoider)

Llewyn Davis’ has a Dylanesque musical style and voice, and indeed Oscar Isaac has some of that intense street-waif sexiness of the young Dylan, as in the album cover of the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, and there is almost a sub-text of ‘could this be a version of Dylan’. There is a neat barbed moment around this in the film, which had me wincing and laughing in equal measure.

With a great musical trawl through, in terms of live performance and soundtrack music, this was a thoroughly enjoyable film

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Other performances of note in the film are the sweet faced, sweet voiced, foul mouthed and angry character played by Carey Mulligan, John Goodman as a fairly obnoxious jazz musician and Garrett Hedlund as Johnny Five, a beat poet, in the road/Chicago section of the film.

The 40 odd minute ‘extras’ have a certain rough-cut charm, probably particularly to musicians.

I have one small criticism of the sound quality of the spoken material, which seemed unusually quiet and muttery from some of the performers, so I had to have the volume turned up beyond normal levels to properly hear much of the dialogue.

I received this DVD as a copy for review purposes from Amazon Vine UK

Inside Llewyn Davis Amazon UK
Inside Llewyn Davis Amazon USA

Olivia Laing – To The River

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Walking the river flow

to the riverJust as some people have perfect pitch, which they can then learn to tune even more finely, and some have eyes which are attuned to see ever finer gradations of tone, colour and shade, and can then further train and refine this gift, some, I believe, resonate with a precision and refinement towards words, language itself, and are capable of conceptualising and describing the world new-minted, fresh, present. And will also then further refine this resonance.

Such a one is Olivia Laing, as this marvellous book effortlessly demonstrates. When I say ‘effortlessly’ I don’t mean that its construction necessarily came trippingly and fully formed for the writer – maybe it did, I don’t know – but that the reader has no sense of affect being striven for, no sense of ‘my, what beautiful writing’ in terms of showy flashness in description. It isn’t that I read with a sense of ‘what a beautiful description of a sunset’ – more, I read without effort, slowly, presently, observantly. Sentence followed sentence, and both the parts and the whole just WERE. This is authentic writing, and from first to last I just had the sense, which might often come with music which is balanced, and somehow winds the listener more deeply into itself, that ‘this is the moment; and this; and this’

Stream of consciousness … Olivia Laing's To the River is a love letter to the Ouse in Sussex.

Laing has written a walking journey the length of the River Ouse, which effortlessly weaves the long history of the planet, of geological time and evolution, with recorded historical fact, with the industry of place, with social history – and with the short lives of individuals, and how they connect to place. She renders all fascination, and the powerful presence of her writing had me reading with a kind of breathlessness, heart and lungs almost afraid to move on, so much did I want to ingest and inhabit each step of the journey, each sentence of the book.

Virginia Woolf

Presiding over all, for Laing, and moving through the feel of the book, is Virginia Woolf, who, as we know, on a day in 1941 walked out into the Ouse with a pocket full of stones. Woolf was a woman perhaps too finely calibrated for the world, sharing with some other writers with an exquisite sensitivity to the natural world, a feeling too attuned to unsheathed nerve endings, unmyelinated. But what such writers can do is perhaps to waken and unwrap those of us who are too tightly sheathed AGAINST perception.

Laing solidly walks the journey, feet well on the ground, noticing, noticing.

I could have taken virtually any and every sentence from her book to illustrate the harmony, perception, reflection of her writing. I did start underlining, but quickly abandoned, as the book itself needs underlining.

The path spilled on down a long lion-coloured meadow into a valley lined with ashes. There the river ran in riffles over the gravel beds that the sea trout need to breed. I crossed it at Hammerhill Bridge, running milky in the sun, and climbed east again into Hammerhill Copse.The land had lain open to the morning and now it seemed to close up like a clam. There was a woman’s coat hanging over the gate to the wood, the chain padlocked about it like a belt. Who drops a coat in a wood? The label had been cut out, and the pink satin lining was stippled by mould

Reading this book, I feel invited, constantly, by the writer, to both inhabit the presence ofOlivia Laing the time and place of her journey, and, in an echo of Robert Frost’s poem, stay aware of the other paths and possibilities that might have been taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other,

I too am left wondering the story of that coat…….and other snags to possibilities she uncovers and suggests, on the journey. She is being compared to W.G. Sebald in her writing and her subject matter, winding the reader in, still further in, worlds within worlds, to the source. I don’t think this is mere marketers puff.

To The River : A Journey Beneath The Surface Amazon UK
To The River : A Journey Beneath The Surface Amazon USA

Elizabeth Gilbert – The Signature Of All Things

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“A Violet by a mossy stone, half hidden from the eye” – Passion, sexuality and botanical obsessions

signature_page_01Elizabeth Gilbert’s book title, The Signature of All Things, relates to the ancient, metaphysical herbal theory of The Doctrine of Signatures, originally espoused by Jacob Boehme, which found its way into the Renaissance Herbals like Nicholas Culpeper.

This is a wonderful, historical novel which will particularly delight anyone with an interest in botany, the development of ideas which led to the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, trail-blazing self-taught female scientists, and the dichotomy and struggle between mysticism and pragmatism.

The central character of this book is Alma Whittaker, born at the very beginning of the nineteenth century. She is the daughter of a couple of very plain speaking, wonderfully forthright people for whom plants are a passion and a livelihood. Daughter of an English under-gardener and a Dutch horticulturalist, Alma is brought up in Pennsylvania. Possessed of no beauty but fierce intelligence and spirit she is raised as a freethinking intellectual. Her family circumstances are odd, quirky, eccentric and then some. She is spirited, has dry wit, strong sexual drives which unfortunately are a torment rather than a delight since she does not possess either sexual allure, nor does she fit the mould expected, as the mores of the early nineteenth century look for cultivation, rather than plain-speaking, and modest, flirtatious, male-ego bolstering whims, frills and furbelows rather than a willingness to argue, debate, question and ridicule stupidity.

Alma is an utter delight however for a reader, as it is her feisty, intelligent, curious nature, her very delight in the processes of life itself, and her insatiable thirst to know about the workings of things which is captivating.

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During the first hundred or so pages I was absolutely convinced this was a novelised biography, so deep and detailed and involved is all the botanical information, delivered with such delight and passion. Particularly as various naturalists, plant specialists, explorers and scientists make tangential appearance in these pages – Joseph Banks, Darwin, Alfred Wallace, Captain Cook. So I searched for the papers published by our bryologist Alma Whittaker and found………….well what I found made me admire Gilbert’s work even more!

This is a novel which touches on big ideas – which globe trots England, Holland, Pennsylvania, Tahiti, which is quite forthright about female sexual desires, but is not written to titillate, which is at times enormously funny as well as incredibly sad and suffering, and overall, because of Alma’s nature, overflows with delight in the messy stuff of life itself, its anguish and its excitement.

Tahiti

If you only want the page turn of story, there might be frustrations, because our heroine has to linger at the page turn of thought, debate, analysis – it is why does this happen which is the driver, rather more than `and what happens next’ – though much DOES.

The vibrant sprawl of the book IS its delight

Orchid

My only cavil (as someone who loves botanical plates) I wanted MORE of those lovely black and white line drawings, to pore over and savour.

How could a reader fail to be entranced by the story of Alma Whittaker, from her sturdy babyhood to her 80s, when her nature is to tender and so practical, so stroppy and so adventurous, so bruised and so resilient:

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“She adopted a handsome little caterpillar (handsome by caterpillar standards), and rolled him into a leaf to take home as a friend, though she later accidentally murdered him by sitting on him. That was a severe blow, but one carried on.”

Plain Alma appreciates beauty in others, but is raised to accept she is not, and never will be, beautiful, but her pragmatic parents also consider beauty is not so important

“Alma enjoyed the act of sketching……….Her first successes were some quite good renderings of umbels – those hollow-stemmed, flat-flowered members of the carrot family. Her umbels were accurate, though she wished they were more than accurate; she wished they were beautiful. She said as much to her mother, who corrected her: “Beauty is not required. Beauty is accuracy’s distraction.” “

There are a lot of oppositional tensions in this book, which get explored both in intellectual argument between characters, and in the friction and oppositions between characters themselves, and what is playing out in the wider world, both scientifically and politically.Elizabeth Gilbert

I thoroughly recommend this big rambunctious book and its unrefined, forthright heroine whose presence is an affront to prissy refinement!

I received this as a review copy from the Amazon Vine Programme UK

The Signature of All Things Amazon UK
The Signature of All Things Amazon USA

Nathan Penlington – The Boy In The Book

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The undoubted charm of the obsessed and the shy

Nathan Penlington is a poet, magician, writer, comedian  and performance artist. He also suffered prolonged ill-health as a child, and has an introspective nature prone to obsession. Perhaps, or perhaps not, caused as a reaction to months off school, away from normal peer socialisation

 “Depression could be understood as stemming from a feeling of lack of control and obsession as about regaining control over your environment. For me obsession was a preventative cure that has since become a personality trait”

Boy In The BookHe is also a compulsive collector – whether of facts or objects. As a child, he amassed, as children often do, various collections. One of these was a series of interactive books by Edward Packard called Choose Your Own Adventure Books, where the reader has the choice of a multiplicity of outcomes, leading to further choices and more.

As an adult in his late 20s, briefly living back at his parents home after a relationship break-up, Penlington buys a collection of 106 of these from eBay, revisiting his childhood. He discovers parts of a diary in the pages of one of the books, kept by the then owner, a boy called Terence Prendergast.

Some years pass, and Penlington becomes obsessed with tracking down the original owner of those books and the diary.

This book is about that search, and also about the performance piece he and others created about the search, and about the ‘Choose Your Own……’ making it an interactive piece for the audience, depending on their choices. This show won a Fringe First award, was highly praised, and Penlington has toured it more widely.

All the above is just the bare facts, but can’t begin to describe the hilarious, heart-catching, intelligent, compulsive, absorbing, tender, painful, enchanting mix of this book.

Questions and doubts occurred to me as I read, and may occur to other readers, but I can’t even voice them, because they would/might interfere with your own journey through this delightful mix-up, often darting down side-trails, journey of a book. Anyway, Penlington will answer your questions in the fullness of time.

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Along the journey you will be exposed to never-sent love letters written by Nathan Penlington to a girl he had a hopeless crush on, when he was 11. Girls (and boys) might cry with a mix of laughter and Awwwwwwwwwwww at the letter. You will meet a chatty graphologist, psychologists specialising in children, the author of those books, a band of middle aged men who still play Dungeons and Dragons in a shop in Birmingham, presided over by the owner, who perches, cross legged and magus like, on his counter. You will get a blow by blow account of films you never wanted to watch but might now feel curious about. You will get to know some of Nathan’s other obsessions – including Uri Geller. Thrill to the emails of a German Heavy Metal band called Prendergast, contemplate booking a retreat in the Prendergast Caravan park, out of season, follow the trail to Kerrang! Radio DJ Johnny Doom, wonder about the curious disappearance of a photo of astrologer Russell Grant, and more…….

Penlington is quite odd, very charming and weirdly funny

He bares his tender heart, his inquiring mind, his sense of playfulness, self-mockery and his interest in EVERYTHING. You, like the author himself, will absolutely get caught up in the fascination of the quest to find Terence. Does he? Will he? What happens? Why does it take so long for Nathan to decide on the journey at all? Why did he do it? Would you? The book makes the reader ask the questions you might be burning to utter, if you knew Nathan. And Terence. As you will feel you do.

You will also be determined to go and see the show, which, if the book is anything to go by, will bring tears to your eyes as you howl with self-mocking laughter, recognising aspects of your own, weird, quirky, individual humanity.

The You Tube link is a trailer of the show before its Edinburgh dates last summer, but a visit to the website, below, will give you the 2014 dates which are to come

I now need to see if I can track down what the remarkably thrashy and ear-blasting Prendergast band sounded like. Maybe not, I can tell from the lyrics to one song this is not going to be my kind of music.

You can visit chooseyourowndocumentary.com website to find out more.

A lovely and life affirming, questy experience!Nathan and Terence

The book will be published on 22nd May – I gratefully received it as an ARC from the publishers via NetGalley. Early posting of the review means you can go and check if the show is coming to a venue near you between now and then!

The Boy In The Book Amazon UK
The Boy In The Book Amazon USA

Michele Paver – Dark Matter

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The Darkness, The Coldness, The Solitude and The Horror. Oh The Horror

Dark MatterSomeone recommended children’s author Michelle Paver’s adult book, Dark Matter to me. And I wish I could remember who – it was another reviewer or a book blogger. Thank you, whoever you are.

This is fabulously terrifying. It is described as a ghost story, but the terror is the way Paver takes the reader into the mind of her central character, Jack Miller. Set in the 30s, Miller is an intelligent man, from a poor background. Trained as a physicist his education takes him out of his own class, and into the rigidly upper class world of higher education (at that time). Poverty and class, and his own suspicious nature, seeing insult both where insult is intended and when it is not, have held him back from continuing his education and climbing into social poise.

He gets the opportunity to be part of an exploratory group doing research in the Arctic, as a wireless operator, to be part of a group with a handful of other men.

Something fated hangs over the group, as one by one they drop away through family disaster or illness, even before starting out. A Norwegian Ship Captain, charged with getting the by now shrunken group of 3 men to a remote (fictitious) place somewhere far beyond the Svalbard Archipelago, does not want to take the men to their destination. He and his crew hint at a history of the place which is too dark and terrifying even to be uttered.

The group of 3 – two of them representatives of the British ruling class, and Miller, discount these hinted at warnings of doom and horror, and insist on the rational approach.

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First there is the natural claustrophobia and tension which might arise for any isolated group in wilderness. Then there is the added growing terror of – not the land of the midnight sun, but the time when it turns to the land of the noonday dark. The endless four month night.

Husky eyes

Paver has us inhabit Jack’s mind, and it is the terror of one’s own fears which give this powerful novel its force.

I did not even need anything ‘unexplainable’ to happen to render me sweaty palmed, racing pulsed, and sick to my stomach in fear.

Imagining the howling wind, the intense darkness, the isolation of a frozen sea where no ship can come for several months was enough.

Imagine as the world turns to that four month darkness :

Glaciers

Only an hour or so of twilight is enough to confirm normality……Without that – when all you can see out the window is black………..The suspicion flickers at the edge of your mind: maybe there is nothing beyond those windows. Maybe there is only you in this cabin, and beyond it, the dark

Paver slowly ratchets up the endless darkness and a brooding malevolence in the limitless, icy wastes, where anything begins to be plausible, because imagination will make the impossible real.

Oh there certainly are recountings and happenings to make the hairs stand up on the back of the neck, but, for me, it is the confrontation with insidious thoughts and reflections which are the real chill

The stillness is back. The dead cold windless dark. That’s the truth. The dark. We’re the anomaly. Little flickering sparks on the crust of this spinning planet – and around it the dark

Atmospheric, haunting, and genuinely terrifying (if you have any imagination at all!)Michelle Paver

I recommend it all right. At least while it is daylight.

The book is accompanied by illustrations of that Polar landscape, between the chapters.

Dark Matter Amazon UK
Dark Matter Amazon USA

Sadie Jones – The Outcast

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Gripping and oppressive first novel, almost succeeding.

The OutcastI came to Sadie Jones’ first novel after I had read The Uninvited Guests (5 star for me) and her 2014 novel Fallout (which will also be a 5 star, for me, when it is published – I had it as an ARC)

So I thought I’d go back to her beginning and read her first novel. She had not figured on my radar when this was published. I think I may have seen the cover and assumed (wrongly) that this was just a slushy period romance

I suspect had I read this at the time I might have rated it a little more highly, turning it from only just reaching four star to perhaps still being four star but almost getting to five.

Jones is an accomplished writer, and what impresses more is that each book has been different, – something which she has developed, strongly in The Uninvited Guests, but also present in Fallout, is a barbed humour, an ability to capture the style of different periods, and to master different types of story and setting

1950s men

In this first novel, set in a highly oppressive, commuter belt Home Counties upper-middle class setting in the 1950’s, where class-lines are rigid and there is a heavy-drinking culture. Misogyny and casual brutality towards women are hidden behind closed doors. Emotional expression is constrained, repressed and subverted behind a mask of High Tory conformity, and there is a culture of tedious and lengthy church-going which has little to do with personal faith and everything to do with another medium of social control and the laying down of hours of stultifying conformity and boredom.

1957 flowery coats

Jones follows the fortune of Lewis Aldridge, a highly strung little boy, with a playful effervescent, slightly dangerous mother. Like many families at that time at the end of the way, children had been born and had their early years in a world mostly often without fathers, who were away in the army. The return of the father could be difficult, as father and children were strangers to each other. Lewis loses his mother when he is still fairly young, and Elizabeth’s death, combined with the stiff-upper lip culture espoused by his father, Gilbert, has a devastating effect on the small boy. Both Elizabeth herself and the manner of her death put Lewis outside the norms.

Jones is brilliant at evoking this kind of society where violence and raw pain shimmer below the tightly controlled surfaces of ‘good behaviour’ Her ability to write truthful psychology and character are also excellent.

However, I was not completely convinced by the character of Tamsin, the eldest Sadie Jonesdaughter of the most powerful family in the community, the Carmichaels. The behaviour and relationship between Tamsin and Lewis felt a little contrived (on Tamsin’s side, rather than Lewis’s) and I thought plot was driven at expense of character. Likewise, the denouement ending  where revelation is forced, so that the messy skeletons in Carmichael cupboards can be seen by all, and there is a possibility of redemption for Lewis, just did not feel quite as well judged and believable as the earlier parts of the novel.

The Outcast Amazon UK
The Outcast Amazon USA

Marcus Zusak – The Book Thief

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The Book Thief  – then and now

I read this book, 5 star reviewing it, back in 2007, and it rather hung around in my mind. However, I must have either borrowed it from a friend, or a library, as it seems not to be on my shelves. So……….when offered the opportunity to re-read again, for free, by the publishers, as a link-in to the recent film I jumped at the chance.

Book Thief

I read the book again (and it resonated strongly for me again) but I got interested in what grabbed me then, and now.  Back in 2007 I wrote this:

Every word of praise this book has received is richly deserved

This is a book so beautiful, so tragic, so tender, about the depths and the heights of what it means to be human, and despite the horror of its subject matter – the Holocaust, it speaks of redemption, of hope and of what brilliance humanity is capable of.

Though this book is a novel, told from an unusual angle – that of a young German girl growing up in Germany in the 30s, it surely speaks of real acts of compassion, bravery, tolerance and understanding which quite ordinary people carry out. Even though there is an awful ‘herd instinct’ which we can also follow, which denies the other an equal humanity with ourselves, and which demagogues and the power driven can exploit, there have always been those who arrive at a more real understanding, and act with heroism, often at cost to themselves.

A book that deals with this subject matter can never have a ‘happy ending’ – every character we have grown to care about in the book – like every ‘real’ survivor, carries the burden, weight and memory of all those millions who did not survive.

That’s why books – whether factual or fiction, about our most awful dark history need the-book-thief-movie-markus-zusak-interviewto be written – we need to remember, we need to have an awareness of both the best and the worst we may be capable of.

The actual craft of writing in the book is wonderful, clear, deceptively simple, without obfuscation or pyrotechnics. One of Zusak’s subtexts is the magic (real magic) of the word. We don’t generally think about what an extraordinary feat language itself is, what an amazing development it has been for us as a species. The demagogue unfortunately is one who DOES understand the potency of language, and uses it to manipulate. The Book Thief follows a different route, and shows us how language can heal – language, the ability to name, to conceptualise, and to consider, offers us a tool to communicate for understanding.

The 2014 re-read, in the light of the release of the film, provoked additional thoughts:

Writing this warm, this kind, must break the reader’s heart

I firstly must state I have no desire to see the film, there is something about the connection to the subject matter of the book and the act of reading words which have a profound resonance which no film can give. The power of private reading, and the seeping of words into the reader’s mind, the ways in which the reader creates images, this is the subversive power of literature. Now I love film, but the film-maker makes decisions on what I see and experience in a way the writer can’t. Film is of course a collaborative, collective medium: it is true the film watcher will have their own experience of the film, and there is much to be said for the collective experience if an audience watch together in a cinema – but I always have a slight resentment at the fixity of film, the manipulation of film, by choice of shots, editing, takes, the deliberate use of score and cinematography to ‘play’ the audience.

Perhaps what engages me about reading, is the unpredictability of the individual reader response, some sort of mysterious, personal engagement (or not) between the solitary writer and the solitary reader. What might happen differently for the reader because of the place (geographical, temporal) where the reader is engaged. What are the effects of ‘real-life’ seeping into the reader’s reading?

So……this second reading provoked me into no, no, no for the idea of seeing the film.

The second major arising is, curiously, when I first read it I had absolutely no perception at all that this was a book ‘for Young Adults’ or as it might have been then ‘older children’ So when I recently read such phrases as ‘Marcus Zusak’s book for Young Adults’ I had jaw-drop moments. Sure the central characters are children/early teenage, so the book is filtered through the narrator (Death) filtering through their perceptions, but I guess I always saw Death as the narrator, rather than Liesel, though Liesel is the central character.

book thief seed

And what I had forgotten, completely, were the heart-breaking illustrations in the book which Max leaves for Liesel, The Word Shaker.

Others with more advanced touch-screen ereaders may have a different experience – but I always end up grinding my teeth in irritation at the virtual experience of reading when there are illustrations, and having to rescale page size and scan in order to read the tiny handwriting.  So this was frustrating in virtual, taking me away from the emotional engagement with those illustrations. Go real, new reader, with this, eschew ereading!

book thief painting

So, I come back again, to the pleasure of this book which recognises the nuances and complexities of being human. It’s a book about the horror of the Holocaust, but, more, the horror of ignorance, prejudice and manipulation which gives rise to the expression of those aspects of human nature which create Holocausts, which allow them to happen.

The suffering faces of depleted men and women reached across to them, pleading not so much for help – they were beyond that – but for an explanation. Just something to subdue this confusion.

The Liesels, the Rudys, the Hubermanns, Steiners and Maxs are as much potentialities within all of us as those potentialities to ostracise and scapegoat the ‘other’ and to put them beyond the pale by dehumanising them.

standover man

The Book Thief reminds me again of the subversive, challenging power of human imagination, its aspirations and achievements, and all that language can be. And how the writer can make the half aware, half awake reader, come alive and notice.

When he turned the light on in the small callous washroom that night, Liesel observed the strangeness of her foster father’s eyes. They were made of kindness, and silver. Like soft silver, melting. Liesel, upon seeing those eyes, understood that Hans Hubermann was worth a lot.

The Book Thief Amazon UK
The Book Thief Amazon USA

I am ONE, house-trained, well-behaved (ish) and talking a LOT

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Today marks the anniversary of my very first blog! And what a whirlwind of fascinating posts (yours) long-winded and opinionated posts (mine) and new virtual friends who have added immeasurably to my day, not to mention the growth of my To Be Read pile, and the percentage of my income which gets diverted to books, books, more books!

Sooooooo……….I’ve trawled through the reviews, and have managed to find new AUTHORS who came to me directly from bloggers; authors getting a firm thumbs up, whom I either eagerly have already read more of, or will in the fullness of yada yada!

Sutton BookEquilateral Burial_Rites_HBD_FC The Color Master We Have Always Lives In The Castle Stay Awake

So, fab to have found those authors, thanks authors for the pleasure!

But it was you bloggers and your blogs where I found them.

So……..thanks, particularly to the bloggers who brought me these

Ken Kalfus’ Equilateral came from FictionFan’s book reviews  as did:
Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites and Aimee Bender’s The Color Master

AND Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived In The Castle, but SHE showcased the Shirley Jackson on one of her various ‘I found this on….’ features, announcing her pre-reads. The original blog she then introduced me to was Litbeetle

Dan Chaon’s Stay Awake
came on a recommendation from Jilanne Hoffman

Finally J.R. Moehringer’s Sutton was profiled on a wonderful library collective blog, Blogging For A Good Book (bfgb), the Williamsburg Regional Library

Most thanks must go to FictionFan, a prior virtual booky friend (blame Amazon reviewers) who pushed me, whimpering faintly, into blogging and was a big sister of advice and encouragement. And especially thanks for introducing me to  NetGalley, where I found more new authors, and also new books by already favourite authors as ARCS (just as well I got some free books because of my astonishing spend through seeing tempting books around the blog-o-sphere)

Fiction Fan gets my personal award for not only promoting books (even though many of the books she thumbs up I thumb down and vice versa!) but for specifically promoting other bloggers. She is a tireless rooter out of blogs, and has been responsible for me finding other bloggers, other books. Lets hear it for FictionFan, and her generous promotion of us all!

A thanks to NetGalley, who link up with publishers to provide ARCs for us dedicated bookie bloggietypes, buried in obsessive reading, and particularly to one of my favourite publishers Open Road Integrated Media, for ARCs on older authors, reissued in immaculate digital format. OpenRoadMedia have given me some excellent re-reads of out of print books I remember from way back. Hopefully this also heads up NetGalley for any of you inveterate readers with an insatiable habit and a dwindling bank balance who may not realise the answer to your penury lies just a few clicks away!

I’m more of a dipper in and out of lots of blogs and a liker and commentator on individual posts, than a follower of many blogs, as I whimper if my Reader becomes too full of posts I don’t have time to look at, and am overwhelmed by feelings of guilt for not having time to look , but a few I can’t resist impatiently waiting for posts from are:

Emily Ardagh’s A Poem for Everyday, whose sensitive, thoughtful critique of well loved and lesser known poems is a real delight

Painters On Painting is a fairly new blog. I love it! – what Emily Ardagh does for poetry these artists do for painting – a different artist analyses a favoured painting, and also shows a piece of their own artwork which has in some way been inspired by the other work which means so much to them

The marvellous Interesting Literature, collection of contributors has long been one of my favourite blogs, as they are, well, INTERESTING (and witty, and hugely informative) about various literary facts and figures. They invite guest contributors and I like their blog even more especially when their guest contributor is the erudite

Viola Van De Sandt, who on her own blog, Broken Glass specialises in women writers of British and American literature, particularly in the Victorian era though she does look at more modern depictions of women in the arts generally

The excellently descriptive Medical Revolt is another of my favourites, an American clinician with a drum to bang for complementary approaches to medicine. He has been quiet of late, and I wait impatiently for a post to drop into my reader to continue my education! Perhaps if more people drop by he might post again, and enlighten me further around matters vitamin, mineral and herbal.

and  last, but very definitely not least

Jilanne Hoffman, writing on many things, thought provoking, witty, welcoming, both on her own blog, The Writer’s Shadow and as one of the contributors on the Dogpatch Collective Of Writers, always a good place to visit and browse around the posts, and the blogs of those who hang out there!

I wish I had more time not only for my TBR books but my To Be Followed Bloggers! There are a legion of you out there who have entertained, enlightened and thought-provoked me.

Flicr Tea and Cakes - Free to Share!

Flicr Tea and Cakes – Free to Share!

A year on, my visitors have kindly dropped by enough to take the visits into a 5 figure number (memo to self, place order for more cake, a lot more cups and some giant tea urns) and I have by all accounts acquired over 200 followers. Eek! I never realised there were so many people behind me. Thank you all, very much. More tea, anyone? I’ve run out of cups, could you please bring your own next time, all the washing of the cups and baking of the cakes and boiling of the kettles means I’m behind with my reading!

Time to blow out my candle, and gum my way through my slice of cake with my own first tooth.cupcake_face

It really wasn’t a good idea to eat the candle as well

And while I lie down in a darkened room, to recover, encouraging me into the second year, is Nicole Pesce:

Ellen Ullman – By Blood

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Rear Window meets Sophie’s Choice and Wally Lamb

By-BloodEllen Ullman has written a page turning, thought provoking, disturbing book that is fascinating even though it doesn’t completely succeed

2 of the central 3 characters are unnamed. What is particularly interesting is that all 3, for different reasons, are unreliable narrators. Unreliable narrators appeal I think precisely because they leave the reader a little wary, a little unsure whether they can trust what they are discovering and being told. The unreliable narrator prevents reading complacency, and requires the reader to do a bit of assessment. It’s a little edgy, spending time with such a narrator.

The book is set in San Francisco in 1974. The narrator who reveals the stories he hears and makes conclusions on, is an educated man, a University professor. However, for some reason he is not actually working at the moment. He is under disciplinary investigation, the subject of a student harassment complaint . He appears to have a mental health history, making reference, repeatedly, to `the crows’ – some symbol of ever lurking depression. He has spent a lot of time in therapy. Unsuccessfully, with a series of therapists.

San Fran bus

He rents a room in an office building to complete some research and course work. The building itself seems to have some not quite neutral atmosphere – or this may of course be our narrator just being unreliable. He discovers his next door office neighbour (whom he never meets) is a German psychotherapist. She appears to have a complex history of her own, as he overhears, through the thin walls, in her phone conversations with her supervisor.

She uses a white noise machine to ensure no one hears the conversations of her patients (even though she thinks the adjoining office is empty) However, one patient objects strongly to the noise of the machine, so it is switched off for her sessions.

It is these that our professor hears, and quickly becomes obsessed with this patient, going so far as, listening, to begin to think of her as his patient `my dear patient’ as he repeatedly refers to her in his head. In fact, he begins to influence the course of her treatment, by circuitous means. Again, he never sees her, but has fantasised and become obsessed by her, and by the therapist, because the patient’s unfolding story resonates for him.

There is a whole subtext around trying to escape from personal history, around whether there is any freedom in individual identity, the nurture /nature debate. Issues of transference and counter-transference.

Hearst_05

There is also another story which weaves in and out, a real story, concerning another `unreliable witness’ – Patty Hearst. Hearst, wealthy daughter of the publishing family, was kidnapped by a left-wing guerrilla group, the Symbionese Liberation Army, in 1974. Within a few short weeks Hearst had been `turned’ and became a fully fledged guerrilla with the group, and took part in bank robberies. Later captured, espousing group ideology, she was sentenced to a long prison term, though released after a couple of years, reputedly a classic victim of The Stockholm Syndrome, where hostages form attachments to their captors. The Hearst story reinforces the search for `who am I’ which the book’s journey is all about, and issues of control, and how one person controls another

The `about’ of this book is excellently absorbing, however, I struggled at times with Ullman’s writing, which can be clunky. Lots of shorthand phrases get repeated, ad nauseam – the crows, the endless reiteration of `my dear patient’ which became overlaboured and wearing. Her professor narrator certainly is pedantic, but some of his (or, possibly the author’s own) choices of language just seemed unrealistic and unnatural – particularly as these are `in his head’ rather than spoken or written.

A couple of examples

But I was stronger than they were; the patient was my shield; the demons did not ensorcell me

And, describing heavy rainfall:

It might have been the rain, which fell with deluvian determination

This type of writing just seems clumsy.

And the shocking ending, which I didn’t see coming, felt absolutely contrived. The author playing with the reader. I wondered whether she had copped out on her narrative

However, I am still thinking about the complex themes the author engaged with, and ullman-ellen-cEllen Ullmanhow well the unreliable trio of narrators worked, adding depth to a story which might have been arranged more simply, without the presence of our eavesdropping principal. That extra layer, the therapy filtered through the eavesdropper, was most engaging, and the psychology which she explores, cultural and personal and the narrative drive, did hold me. Perhaps next time an editor will work magic on poor writing constructs.

Nonetheless, a thank you to Cleopatra Loves Books where I first found this book flagged up.

By Blood Amazon UK
By Blood Amazon USA

PS Despite the title, I’m relieved that no vampires were evoked, invoked or in any way given page room in the writing of this book!

Aside

Marcus Sedgwick – A Love Like Blood It’s publication day!

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A Love Like BloodIt’s release day for Marcus Sedgwick’s first novel for adults. It’s about vampirism, but bears no relationship to any of the same old same old vampy mould factory production line of vamps! Here is my original review, after receiving it as an ARC from Amazon Vine UK

A Love Like Blood Amazon UK
A Love Like Blood Amazon USA

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