Archives for literary fiction

#BookReview ‘French Braid’ by Anne Tyler #literary #family

Anne Tyler writes about everyday relationships with a sharp eye and a silken pen, choosing subjects which to people who have never read her may appear boring or worthless. Her books are never boring. French Braid, her 24th novel is, like all the others, about people, individuals and their families, ordinary people who become so familiar they could be real. We first meet college students Serena and James, on the train returning to Baltimore from a Thanksgiving visit to James’s parents in Philadelphia. They’re in love and think they know each other well but this visit has highlighted differences in their experience of family and childhood and the expectations each has of how their own family will be in the future. Not all families are alike, they discover. After this shortish section, Tyler settles into the main story of Mercy and Robin – Serena’s grandparents – and their three children Alice, Lily and David through births, marriages and deaths from the 1950s to today. The Garretts think themselves an awkward family, aware they’re not perfect – as Robin thinks when preparing for his and Mercy’s fiftieth wedding anniversary party, ‘Oh, the lengths this family would go to so as not to
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Shrines of Gaiety’ by Kate Atkinson #literary 

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson is a sparkling portrayal of London in the 1920s, a heady mixture of madly-themed nightclubs, teenage runaways and the Bright Young Things. It is 1926 and the generation most damaged by the War to End All Wars is dancing to forget. But 1920s London is not as glittering it seems. Though the nightclubs sparkle by night, they are dank and dowdy in daylight. London has a dark, dangerous underbelly. When veteran gangland boss Ma Coker is released from Holloway prison, a train of events is set in place. Her six children jostle for her attention, approval and power. The police at Bow Street station are either in her pay or are trying to convict her. Meanwhile, others are plotting the takeover of her rich kingdom – the five nightclubs the Amethyst, the Sphinx, the Crystal Cup, the Pixie and the Foxhole. Each is carefully targetted at specific clientele, each is managed by one of her five eldest children. The Amethyst is the jewel in the crown but Nellie, post-prison, is acting oddly and has taken to sitting alone in the immaculate, unoccupied, pink-decorated flat above the Cup. Is she losing it? Two young women
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘Companion Piece’ by Ali Smith #SeasonalQuartet

Companion Piece by Ali Smith is about truth, the telling of stories, real stories, fake stories, fairy stories, perceived truth and real truth, and how language and data can be used and abused. Smith tackles some of the biggest issues facing society today, not so much providing answers but making us ask questions about life and the modern concept of ‘truth.’ A ‘companion’ novella to Smith’s lockdown-themed Seasonal Quartet, Companion Piece sings from the beginning. Twining together present and past stories, two motifs run throughout. ‘Curfew,’ the idea of restriction of physical movement, on access and egress, the feeling of being constrained and the invasion of our space. And ‘curlew’, the freedom of nature, the bird’s odd-shaped bill, a reminder that there is room in nature for things that don’t quite fit the norm, the ever presence of wildlife whatever happens in the human world, the familiar pattern of a bird’s day, of nature’s life cycle and therefore also of ours. Artist Sandy is struggling during lockdown to distance-visit her sick father who is in hospital. She must stay isolated and free of the virus so she doesn’t prejudice his health and is accompanied only by Shep, her father’s dog.
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ’Summerwater’ by Sarah Moss #literary #contemporary

Twenty-four hours in the Scottish countryside, twelve people are staying in holiday cabins beside an isolated loch. Summerwater by Sarah Moss starts off with strangers concerned with the minutiae of their own lives and ends with a tragedy. This is beautifully written with sly humour coupled with sensory description of the place which puts you right there. The pace is slow and contemplative, taking time to plait together the observations by characters and the actual names, so carefully building together a picture of a temporary community. At first, they make assumptions and generalisations about each other. A retired couple sit and look out at the rain, reminiscing about the previous years they spent in this cabin. A young mother runs in all weathers and at all times of day, leaving her husband to look after the children. A teenager escapes the boredom of his bedroom by kayaking around the loch. The Romanian family, who party all night and don’t know how to behave, are the only ones seeming to have fun on holiday. They are also the only ones whose viewpoint we don’t hear, setting them apart from the rest. While at night a shadow stands in the woods, watching.
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Only Story

I seem to be developing a Marmite relationship with Julian Barnes. I loved his early work and The Sense of an Ending, but had difficulty with his last novel The Noise of Time. So I approached The Only Story with trepidation. My stomach sank as I read the first page. The first paragraph poses a question: ‘Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less, and suffer the less? That is, I think, finally, the only real question.” A pertinent question to which each of us has our own private answer. My difficulty with the first few pages is the lack of characterization; because it is told in the first person, we do not know who is speaking, there is no context. That of course comes later, and a few pages in its starts to warm up with the description of a tennis match. But ultimately I could not shake the perception that it was Julian Barnes the man speaking, not a fictional character, in the way American authors such as Wolfe and Roth seem to become characters in their own novels. But this is a lesson in patience. I read on and the story started
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Categories: Book Love.