Wednesday, December 28, 2016

november-december 2016 books

The Country Girls (Edna O’Brien): First published in 1960 (O’Brien’s first published novel), this is a story, narrated in the first person, of Caithleen – who at the beginning is a 14 year-old girl living in an Irish village and at the end is an 18 year-old in Dublin. Together with her childhood friend Baba, they leave the safety of their convent school in search of life and love in the big city, they struggle to maintain their somewhat tumultuous relationship. It’s about girls becoming women, about innocence… and, ultimately, about them finding their own separate ways. It’s funny and charming, but I also found it a sad and rather dark book… about the innocence of youth.
Jeeves In The Offing (PG Wodehouse): Yes, I know, all very predictable… farcical storyline; wonderfully eloquent (in a 1920’s sort of way); the idle rich; inevitable outcome; rather funny. You get the general idea. But, actually, at this time of constant grim news (Trump, Brexit et al), the book comes as a very refreshing, uplifting change.
Ways Of Life (Andrew Motion): I like Motion’s writing. This book, published in 2008, represents a selection of his non-fiction writing over the past 30 years – specifically, articles about places, painters and poets… as well as some striking personal pieces. I particularly enjoyed Motion’s description of places (‘Homecoming’ and ‘Sailing to Italy’ for example) and, although I occasionally struggled with his essays on some poets or painters I was unfamiliar with, found this book to be a beautiful insight into the lives of an abundance of creative people - enriched by Motion’s wise, measured, rewarding words.
The Voice Of The Violin (Andrea Camilleri): This is an Inspector Montalbano Mystery (I’ve never read one before). Set in Sicily, Montalbano is one of those police officers who have a natural disdain for their so-called superiors. It’s an intriguing (I seem to find most crime novels quite clever – perhaps it’s my limited intellect/expectations?) story of corruption, false clues and vendettas… mixed with delicious meals and much humour (very funny at times). Ideal ‘comfort food’ for the Christmas holiday period!
Grief Is The Thing With Feathers (Max Porter): This is a rather beautiful, heartrending, surprising little book. It’s part-poetry, part-drama and part-essay on grief. The book’s flysheet summarises it thus: “two young boys face the unbearable sadness of their mother’s sudden death. Their father, a Ted Hughes scholar and scruffy romantic, imagines a future of well-meaning visitors and emptiness… In this moment of despair they are visited by Crow – antagonist, trickster, healer, babysitter. This sentimental bird is drawn to the grieving family and threatens to stay until they no longer need him”. I’ve actually read Hughes’s book “Crow” (poems/mythical narrative/epic folk tale he wrote following the suicide of his wife Sylvia Platt – I didn’t understand/appreciate huge chunks of it, but it certainly left an impression). The format (written featuring a series of contributions from ‘Crow’, ‘Dad’ and ‘Boys’) reminded me of Claire Williamson’s Soulwater Pool”, which I read earlier in the year. Hugely inventive, very unusual and hauntingly powerful. Excellent.  
Footnote: Once again, I seem to have read an awful lot of books this year (my blog tells me it’s 70 – it was apparently 69 in 2015)… I think they call it “retirement”!

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