Friday, March 18, 2016

march 2016 books...

More book stuff:
A Year Of Marvellous Ways (Sarah Winman): A truly magical, life-affirming book. Our daughter had read it and loved it… and I’m in complete agreement with her! The book begins in 1947… Marvellous Ways is an 89 year-old woman who has lived alone in a remote Cornish creek for nearly all her life… she’s waiting for something, but doesn’t know what. It comes in the shape of Francis Drake, a young man recently returned from the battlefields of France. He’s on an errand to deliver a letter to a grieving father from a fellow soldier who died in the trenches. “Magical realism” is a phrase that I’ve only recently come across and this book seems to embody this… beautiful prose, imagery and a story of love, death and hope. I absolutely loved it!
The Unknown Terrorist (Richard Flanagan): This is my first book by Flanagan. I’d watched an “Imagine” TV programme about him and he seemed a fascinating, original writer. This book is set in Sydney, Australia not long after the atrocities of 9/11. It’s a thriller – on the face of it, not exactly my “cup of tea”, but I found it absolutely gripping. It’s about how a person can suddenly find themselves falsely accused of, in this case, involvement in terrorism. Politicians and the police urgently seek culprits and the media needs to sell newspapers and boost television ratings. It’s about the underworld of drugs, greed, pornography and smuggled immigrants and people’s racist attitudes towards Australia’s “non-whites”. In some ways, it reminded me of when Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead at Stockwell Station, London after he was wrongly deemed to be one of the fugitives involved in a failed bombing attempt. I found myself silently pleading with the suspect to take particular courses of action (which she consistently ignored!). Compelling and chilling… a brilliant book.
The Year Of Living Danishly (Helen Russell): I LOVED this book and really enjoyed Russell’s wonderful, funny and self-deprecating writing style. Essentially, her husband gets a job at Lego HQ in Denmark and so she spends 12 months trying to discover what makes it the world’s happiest country. Yes, it’s not ALL sweetness and light but I think I’m a convert! High taxes BUT a comprehensive welfare system, free healthcare, free education (including university tuition), subsidised childcare and unemployment insurance guaranteeing 80% of your wages for two years. And there’s more, including: almost 90% of packaging is recycled; around two-thirds of Danes belong to a trade union; Danish employees are the happiest in the world and also rank top when it comes to worker motivation, work-life balance AND productivity; Danes work an average of 34 hours per week; 53% of all Danes undertake voluntary work; oh, and Danes over the age of 18 are paid to study. As Russell points out: “Yes, it’s expensive here. But it’s Denmark – it’s worth it. I don’t mind paying more for a coffee here because I know that it means the person serving me doesn’t a) hate me or b) have a crappy life. Everyone is paid a decent wage, everyone is looked after, and everyone pays their taxes”. The only thing I found slightly disconcerting was the colour choice of the book’s cover (bold blue and yellow made it look just like the Swedish flag!)… but, hey, nothing can be perfect! A really good, entertaining, informative read – HIGHLY recommended!
Rose (Georgina Hounsome+Alexandra Higlett): This book is written and wonderfully illustrated by my good friends Georgie+Alex (you could almost call it a graphic short story?)… and it’s simply beautiful. The short story is about a young woman who had lost her memory. In some ways, it seems a little strange to include this very small book in my reading log, but it’s such a delightful, gentle and poignant piece of work that I just couldn’t leave it out… and the illustrations are just perfect. I’m rather in awe of my lovely friends.
The Life And Death Of Sophie Stark (Anna North): Beware… the title contains spoilers!! This is a novel about an enigmatic film director (Sophie Stark), told posthumously by the six people who loved her most (her lover; her brother; her husband; a boy at college she had a crush on; her colleague; and the journalist who followed her film-making career. The book cover describes the Stark character as “brilliant, infuriating, all-seeing and unknowable” and that’s pretty spot-on for me. She’s talented and unorthodox, selfish and generous, in and out of people’s lives without warning or agreement (her brother Robbie reckoned that all his “strongest memories of Sophie were of her leaving”). It’s a dark story of a woman “on the edge”. It’s haunting and completely captivating. In her pursuit of producing great art, Sophie uses her friends unapologetically but, in some ways, this pursuit helped them to realise their own potential. A very good book.

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