April Books

May. 2nd, 2013 01:47 pm
slemslempike: (nemi: argh)
[personal profile] slemslempike
Thank You For The Days - Mark Radcliffe
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Joan Aiken
Tehran, Lipstick and Loopholes - Nahal Tajadod
Babel Tower - AS Byatt
The Moth Diaries - Rachel Klein
The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo - Zen Cho
The Camomile - Catherine Carswell
The Worry Girl - Andrea Freud Loewenstein

I have missed three months of books this year, partly because my computer died and took two months' worth of writing about it with it, and I have yet not been able to either rescue it or duplicate the work. But at some point I shall.

I went to Mechelen for a book fair, and was still feeling pretty homesick especially for my books, so I bought Thank you for the Days because I was happy to see Mark Radcliffe's name, rather than for any particular desire to read it. It's a nice enough book, telling about special days in his life, and all a bit nice. I am not sure that anyone who didn't love Mark and Lard, or other specific points in his career I suppose, would get a huge amount out of it. Fortunately I did, so I was able to coast along on feelings of positivity throughout.

I read Black Hearts in Battersea some time ago, and finally got around to reading the first book (by publication), The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. I didn't find this quite as good, but still loved the plucky and not-so-plucky resourceful little girls, the evilness of the governess, and the way it all comes right in the end. I've got Nightbirds on Nantucket waiting for me to read now.

Tehran, Lipstick and Loopholes was another Mechelen bookfair book. It's written by a Iranian (and French) woman who lives in France but is back in Iran visiting, and among other things, renewing her Iranian passport. it's a dash through explaining the oddities of Iran to a French audience (this is an English translation), much more exasperated than affectionate, but with a sense of belonging, still. The route to the passport involves several attempts at short cuts, at involving friends of friends of friends (and a coroner who sells eyes), gifts, photographers and the constant attempts to get the illegal satellite channels, with the French husband ever in the background pressing her to come home and utterly uncomprehending why it's not that simple.

Babel Tower a sequel, ish, to Still Life and The Virgin in the Garden, both of which I read a few years ago and only remember enough to have vague recognition of the characters. Frederica, though, is clear as even. She is in an unhappy marriage and wants to escape - when she makes this clear to her husband he assaults her, and throws an axe at her. She manages to leave, taking their small son, though she'd initially meant to leave him with his father. The rest of the novel is Frederica fighting for custody, trying to make her way on her own, earn her living and have a satisfying sex and love life, and twin trials of divorce/custody and an obscenity hearing for a book Frederica helped to publish. It had the same emotional distance I get from most of Byatt's work that I'd read, always feeling at a distance to both characters and environment, but a properly tense world and wondering if she'll be entirely or only mostly dismissed because she's a woman by the judge.

I bought The Moth Diaries in the sale at Blackwells as it was about girls at boarding school, and only noticed after I got it home that it was something to do with vampires as well. However, there is no sparkling or smouldering, and indeed very few boys at all, which was very welcome. The book happens in the 70s, I think, though it didn't feel very past to me (except the lack of mobile phones), and the idea is that it's the diaries of a mentally ill girl, with a post-script afterwards by the 46 year old woman after treatment. The diarist is 16 and at boarding school where she was sent after her father died. A new girl, Ernessa, has arrived, and is coming between the narrator and her best friend Lucy. The narrator is suspicious that Ernessa is a deathly bad influence, and seeks to save her friend. This makes it sound all more melodramatic than it is, it's subtle and quiet, and more about teenage adolescence, loss and longing than really about the supernatural.

A recommendation on twitter got me to buy The Precarious Life of Jade Yeo, a very slight novella or a long short story, really. A Malaysian woman in 1920s London is reviewing and writing, and after writing a scathing review of a novel, ends up having an affair with the author. This results in pregnancy, she declines the offer to live in a menage with the author and his wife and share the child, but happily true love wins through. It's rather like Georgette Heyer, but with a lot more sex, and attention to race. There's a great post about it here.

I really liked The Camomile (apart from flashes of anti-semitism). The narrator, Ellen, is a young woman (possibly still a teenager) who is about has just come back to Glasgow (in the early 1900s) after studying music in Germany. The novel is told through journal entries and letters written for her friend Ruby, who was also a music student in Germamy. It's lovely, she is funny about herself and others, and really insightful about the difficulties and choices she faces. In order to make a living she's teaching music, but has discovered for herself that music isn't "her" art, and so she's attempting to discipline herself into writing, which is what she really loves. She has to dodge the more oppressive-feeling arms of respectability (mostly in the shape of her well-meaning but infuriating aunt), while still managing to stay within it as best she can. She becomes engaged to a close friend's brother, but slowly discovers that he expects her to change, in particular to stop writing, and become a properly respectable wife to him in India, keeping her cleverness for him alone as their special secret. She realises she can't do this, and breaks it off, much to the displeasure of those around him. At the end, she appears to be planning to move to America to be herself. It was a great book, and I want to read her other novel, as well as her autobiography. The themes of women's intellectual needs and independence, and what respectability can mean to middle class women outside marriage, reminded me a lot of Babel Tower.

The Worry Girl is a semi-autobiographical book about a Jewish girl growing up in smallish town US, and her trying to make sense of the history on her back, the holocaust, being a Freud, the anti-semitism of her teachers and classmates, as well as making sense of her own tense but sometimes rewarding relationships, with her mother, with her friend Sydney, with her family. It felt very fleeting, and the ending feels sudden and unfinished, but in a deliberate way. It's also marketed as "part coming-out story", which felt much less significant than the other parts of the book.

Date: 2013-05-03 08:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] katlinel.livejournal.com
I should probably read The Camomile to see if I like it better than Open the Door!, which was a bit too D. H. Lawrence-ish for me to like it.

Date: 2013-05-03 08:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] slemslempike.livejournal.com
I have read very little Lawrence, but The Camomile didn't strike me as particularly Lawrenceish.

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