The summer turned out quite nice in the end here in Bristol. But perhaps I’m biased because August ends with mine and Tim’s anniversary. This year we celebrated 14 years. That’s two-fifths of my life!
My reading has been fairly eclectic this month. I took more than two weeks to read a perfectly ordinary short novel so then I turned to easy reads like superhero comics. I think I’m back on track now, but I did only manage one book towards Women in Translation Month in the end, which isn’t as good as I’d hoped.
I did treat myself to a little book shopping. Because new books! Here are my purchases:
Continue reading “August reading round-up”
August is Women in Translation Month, and I know it’s almost the end of the month already but you see, the thing is, I had plans. I was going to pick out half a dozen books from my TBR by women translated into English, starting with Elena Ferrante and rinse the hell out of this reading promotion that seems so perfectly suited to me.
The thing is, my reading has been rather capricious of late. I could blame it on a busy period at work, or a mini-flare-up of my lupus, or the wrong choices of books. But every time I looked at those translations on my TBR shelves – Elena Ferrante, Isabel Allende, Marie Sizun, Linda Stift – something in me resisted. Something in me said that they would be hard work and that I wanted an easy read. Which is silly on two counts. One: a translation is not necessarily any harder a read than a book written originally in English and I’ve read enough works in translation to know that well enough. Two: I don’t tend to get as much satisfaction from easy reads as I do from books that challenge me at least a little.
Continue reading “Sunday Salon: Women in translation”
by Scott Westerfeld
This is the first part of a sci-fi young-adult trilogy – not my usual fare, but having sampled and quite liked The Hunger Games earlier this year, when my book club picked this title I figured it couldn’t hurt. It got a similar reaction from me: quick easy read, engaging, characters I cared about the fates of, but occasionally clunky and/or predictable.
The Uglies of the title are all the people born in the City from the age of 10 (I think) to 15, between being a Littlie (i.e. a child) and a Pretty. On their 16th birthday, everyone has the operation – a kind of extreme plastic surgery with the aim of making everyone look, while not identical, an identical degree of beautiful. (As the operation is so extreme I was a little bothered at the lack of detail about how it could possibly be done in a single day and with zero recovery time, but I guess I can let that go.) New Pretties live a life of drinking and partying, indulging in clothes and other superficial delights for a few years until they choose whether they want to return to studying.
“The early summer sky was the colour of cat vomit. Of course, Tally thought, you’d have to feed your cat only salmon-flavoured cat food for a while, to get the pinks right. The scudding clouds did look a bit fishy, rippled into scales by a high-altitude wind. As the light faded, deep blue gaps of night peered through like an upside-down ocean, bottomless and cold”
Continue reading “The early summer sky was the colour of cat vomit”
Fowey is most famous for its links to Daphne du Maurier, but it actually has a history of attracting authors to its salty shores. The writer with probably the longest history in Fowey is Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, or Q, who moved to Fowey in 1891 and lived there until his death in 1944. He loved the town so much he called his daughter Foy. Seriously. I’ve never read any of his books but I do now have one in my TBR. Sort of. When he died he left an unfinished manuscript called Castle Dor, a retelling of the Cornish myth Tristan and Isolde. Years later, Daphne du Maurier completed it, at the request of Q’s daughter Foy who had become her good friend.
Continue reading “Literary tourism: Fowey”
The King’s General
by Daphne du Maurier
I picked this book to read while on holiday in Fowey. Du Maurier wrote this historical novel while living at Menabilly, and loosely based it on the house’s occupants during the English Civil War. In her author’s note she calls it a “blend of fact and fiction” – as far as I can tell, the names of people and outcomes of battles are correct, their personalities and feelings about each other are presumably invented.
It’s a slightly uneven novel, weaving a questionable romance into what is otherwise a fascinating mix of characters and events. The narrator is Honor, who structures her story around the Grenviles, a pair of siblings who came into her life when she was a young child. Richard Grenvile is dashing but pretty much a bastard. For the first part of the book he doesn’t even come across as the roguish antihero he later becomes, he’s just nasty and it’s a little hard to see how Honor could, as she does, fall in love with him. Then again, she’s very young and nice girls falling for bad boys is a classic trope for a reason, right?
Richard’s sister Gartred Grenvile is similarly beautiful and treats people like dirt. She is an interesting baddie, always acting out of self-interest rather than any inherent evil. This puts her at times in an uneven truce with Honor, while at others they are clear enemies.
Continue reading “The white sea-mists of early summer turn the hill to fantasy”
The Monster’s Daughter
by Michelle Pretorius
My knowledge of the history of South Africa is a little sketchy, or at least it was before reading this book. But it’s so much more than a historical novel. This is genre-bending fare, combining crime, science fiction, social and political history – and it works.
The book opens with the discovery of a murder in a small town called Unie in 2010. The head of the police investigation, Sergeant Johannes Mathebe, is a straight player and he’s not getting on well with his recently appointed assistant Constable Alet Berg. She drinks, she swears and she resents being in this small town – a punishment for having an affair with one of the senior officers during her training.
The next chapter opens in 1901, in the midst of the Boer War. British troops are clearing out the Dutch farms, taking the people they find – mostly women and children – to concentration camps. A young woman called Anna is picked out from the Bloemfontein camp for something else, something worse, something that will echo through the next 109 years in its awfulness.
Continue reading “The numbness didn’t happen all at once”
Fowey has a lot of things going for it but let’s face it, the main reason I wanted to go there was for its links to Daphne du Maurier, one of my favourite authors. Fowey is a very pretty small town and cargo port on the south coast of Cornwall, on the estuary where the River Fowey meets the English Channel. Its centre two or three streets are packed with tourists and it has far more bars and restaurants than its own small population could support. Its steep hills afford most of the town excellent views of the water, which is always full of boats. Across the other side of the estuary you can see the villages of Polruan and Boddinick, reachable by regular ferry services from Fowey.
Continue reading “Literary tourism: Daphne du Maurier’s Cornwall”
The Summer Book
by Tove Jansson
translated from Swedish by Thomas Teal
This Scandinavian modern classic isn’t well known over here. I forget which book blogger alerted me to its existence but whoever you are, thank you! It is a thoroughly lovely book.
It’s the story of young Sophia (her age is never given exactly) and her grandmother over the course of a few summers spent at their family home on a tiny island in the gulf of Finland. The events are mostly small, such as Sophia’s first camping experience or going “gathering”. (Note: I’m not sure if the quotes I’ve chosen convey this, but I did find the writing style took some getting used to. It feels a little simplistic, as if a child is being addressed. But once used to it I enjoyed this style.)
“Gathering is peculiar, because you see nothing but what you’re looking for. If you’re picking raspberries, you see only what’s red, and if you’re looking for bones you see only the white. No matter where you go, the only thing you see is bones…Sophia and Grandmother carried everything they found to the magic forest. They would usually go at sundown. They decorated the ground under the trees with bone arabesques like ideographs, and when they finished their patterns they would sit for a while and talk.”
Continue reading “You see nothing but what you’re looking for”