The Last Family in England
by Matt Haig
I’ve put off reviewing this novel for a while now. I love Matt Haig and this is a lovely book, but I feel like maybe the author – who has spoken publicly about his anxiety and depression – was in a bad place when he wrote it. It’s sad and bleak and I think the ending broke me a little bit.
It’s the story of the Hunters – an ordinary family in an ordinary British suburb, but who are on the brink of disintegrating. And it’s narrated by Prince, the family dog, which sounds like a terrible idea but actually works really well.
Adam and Kate are happily married, their children Hal and Charlotte are typical teenagers. On the surface. But the marriage is brittle. Hal is fragile. Charlotte is always angry. One small spark is all it will take to destroy them.
Continue reading “The fundamental sadness of humans”
Lately I’ve read quite a few books but I haven’t found time to review them, partly because I’ve been prioritising other things in my evenings and weekends. (Partly because I have been exhausted from working a lot of hours.) And reflecting on that has got me thinking about the choices I make.
I know that the ways that I spend most of my leisure time – watching TV, hanging out in pubs, doing crosswords, playing computer games, reading books – might be considered time-wasting, particularly the TV. But another way to look at is it that most of that time is spent with Tim and he’s my partner, my family, so surely that’s quality time. Yes, even watching TV together. Perhaps especially that – we laugh together, discuss plot points, get annoyed or scared or sad together.
This weekend we had intended to go to on a couple of day trips but I was tired, so instead we have mostly been playing games, or rather one specific game: Civilization VI. Civ has been part of our relationship since the start, in its various iterations. When I was a student we would lose days on end to playing it but it has been several years since we last did this. We are effectively telling a story together, making decisions that are both life-or-death and completely meaningless. It’s really a lot of fun.
Continue reading “Wasting time vs quality time”
by Anna Mackmin
This is a strange tale told in a strange way, and I loved it. Sometimes a bit of originality is just what I hanker for.
It’s the tale of a commune in 1970s Norfolk. Beth owns a big farmhouse, which she has opened up to a raggedy crew of hippies from around the UK and the US. She and her partner are raising their two daughters in true New Age style: no school, treated like adults when it comes to chores and conversation topics, encouraged to be artistic in every way.
The novel is told from the perspective of the older daughter, but it is not narrated by her. The narration is in the 2nd person, addressing the older daughter. It’s also told in mostly incomplete sentences, a sort of stream of consciousness. It’s never quite clear if this is meant to be the 12-year-old girl addressing herself from the future or an unusual take on the omniscient narrator.
Continue reading “Dream-catchers that have been there so long their tinkle’s all tinked out”
My Name is Leon
by Kit de Waal
Wow. I tore through this book in one day. I laughed, I cried and I closed the book feeling informed, entertained and warmed inside.
Leon is eight when his little brother Jake is born. Their mother is struggling to support them on her own, but it’s okay because Leon loves his brother so much that he wants to help any way he can, and their neighbour helps when she can. Until it’s not okay anymore and social services have to step in. At which point, the difference in the two brothers’ ages and skin colour threatens to have very real consequences for their futures.
“The first day when Carol brings the baby home…she puts the baby on the floor in the living room and Leon tiptoes over…They watch the baby turn his head and open his lips. They watch the baby move one of his miniature hands and when the baby yawns they both open their mouths and yawn with him…All that day and the next day, the baby is like the television. Leon can’t stop watching him and all his baby movements.”
Continue reading “He doesn’t seem to have any room in his throat or his chest or in his belly”
Last weekend I went to visit my parents in the Forest of Dean and took advantage of the lovely weather to go for some long walks in the countryside. From Littledean we walked uphill to some fields overlooking the River Severn (above) and from there past Blaize Bailey to Soudley Ponds, which we hit just as the sun was setting (below).
Continue reading “Autumn walks”
Me and You
by Niccolò Ammaniti
translated from Italian by Kylee Doust
Back in 2003 I reviewed Ammaniti’s bestselling novel I’m Not Scared for my student newspaper. I loved it, but I read a lot of great books that year and quickly forgot that particular one. When this novel came out and got positive reviews I recognised Ammaniti’s name but couldn’t place it. So it sat on my TBR for years before I finally picked it up – primarily because I wanted a short book to read.
This does what all good novellas do: keeps the story simple but emotionally powerful. It made me smile, it made me laugh, it made me catch my breath in shock. A misfit teenage boy narrator might be an old trope but Ammaniti does something original with it. And Lorenzo is not just any teenage misfit.
One February morning, 14-year-old Lorenzo packs for a skiing holiday with friends. He says goodbye to his family and then proceeds to hide in a rarely used cellar in the basement of his family’s apartment building. For a week.
Continue reading “Like a cactus you grow without bothering anyone”
All Grown Up
by Jami Attenberg
This book is described in the publisher’s PR as a comedy, and while it has comic moments, that’s not really how I would describe it. Or at least, it’s not how I experienced it. I did, however, really enjoy it.
This is the story of Andrea, a woman living in New York at that point in life (39, turning 40) when she interrogates her life choices – how she stopped pursuing art and took a job in advertising that she dislikes yet is somehow still doing 10 years later; how despite a string of love affairs she is basically single and basically fine with that; how she has fallen away from friends and family who have got married and had children as she has realised that she doesn’t want those things for herself.
“A book is published. It’s a book about being single, written by an extremely attractive woman who is now married, and it is a critical yet wistful remembrance of her uncoupled days. I have no interest in reading this book. I am already single. I have been single a long time. There is nothing this book can teach me about being single that I don’t already know. Regardless, everyone I know tells me about this book. They are like carrier pigeons, fluttering messages, doing the bidding of a wicked media maestro on a rooftop in modern Manhattan. Nothing will prevent them from reaching their destination, me, their presumed target demographic.”
Continue reading “I don’t need to jump off cliffs into oceans to die”
by Sue Townsend
Sue Townsend was reliably both funny and socially relevant, and she doesn’t disappoint here. The title doesn’t refer to the Midlands town’s destruction in World War Two – it is, rather, about a woman called Coventry.
Coventry Dakin introduces herself with two facts: she’s beautiful and she killed a man. Specifically, her neighbour Gerald Fox. And now she’s on the run in London, without her handbag.
Killing Gerald was a spur of the moment decision, hence Coventry’s less-than-perfect running-away outfit. We learn the story behind the murder and the fallout for Coventry’s husband and children, interspersed between Coventry’s survival on the streets of the capital.
This being a comedy, there is an element of the ridiculous to much of the action. The murder weapon is an Action Man doll. She had been in the middle of cleaning her chimney, so she’s wearing old clothes and covered in soot. Her husband Derek is really only interested in his tortoises.
Continue reading “In our house money was a god. But it was an angry, careful god”
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”
I hope you are all having wonderful Christmases/end-of-year breaks. It’s still unseasonably warm and our time with family was brief, but it’s been lovely. We had a big family party at my Grandad’s yesterday for the first time in years and it was just like the Boxing Days of my childhood – completely wonderful.
Did you get any good presents for Christmas? I got the usual mix of DVDs, CDs, chocolate and random awesomeness, such as a diary stuffed with tickets for awesome events throughout 2016 (Tim’s pretty great at gift-giving). And of course, as usual, I got lots of books. I love getting new books, always.
Continue reading “Sunday Salon: Merry Christmas!”