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,
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”!
3 weeks ago