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neverendings "ex libris"

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Clay Dreaming, The
Clay Dreaming, The
by Ed Hillyer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.12

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Endless, tiring, 11 July 2012
This review is from: Clay Dreaming, The (Paperback)
Please don't get me wrong, I love a good historical novel with lots of detail (a great example: 'The Crimson Petal and the White' by Michel Faber) to build an atmospheric and believable setting, and vivid characters. I also have a (quite random) interest in Australian/aboriginal fiction, so I truly hoped this novel would be amazing.

The problem I had with this book was the lengthy descriptive passages - despite being well-written, I can't fault it there - which bored me to tears. The invented character of Sarah Larkin was not believable for me (in sense of the period) and I found her very dull irrespective of that. In addition, I felt perhaps the characters based on real-life historical figures were hampered by that fact? A reluctance on the author's part to impose too much personality (which may or may not have been historically accurate), and the necessity to rein them within the realms of historical known fact?

I kept waiting for some kind of twist to the story, something to really bring things to life; but instead it plodded on relentlessly, the only twists and turns being along the streets of London and within the Australian's dreaming. While these are interesting for their own sake, they are not sufficient to hold my interest throughout the course of a 500+ page novel with very little other dramatic or narrative imperative.

The true story on which this novel is based is an interesting and a moving story, but it could have been told in half the number of pages rather than being submerged within the tedium of Hillyer's disappointingly dense and unremitting prose. Let the story breathe. I was exhausted by the end of the characters' almost endless journeys and had lost what little interest I had in them by the time I reached the end.


Millroy the Magician
Millroy the Magician
by Paul Theroux
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.59

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Manipulative and intriguing, 9 July 2012
This review is from: Millroy the Magician (Paperback)
While Millroy is working a fairground as a magician, he encounters teenage misfit Jilly Farina. Immediately, Jilly allows herself to be swept into Millroy's life, and soon discovers that his fascination/obsession with food and the body has a deeply spiritual connection for him. This in turn evolves into a cult religion (sorry, movement) into which adults are rarely admitted.

Sinister though Millroy and his magic seem, his motivation is not publicity, money, or sex. Nonetheless, as the book progresses many seeds are planted in the reader's mind regarding Millroy's state of mind and/or sanity. This is a very intriguing story of the balance between innocence and power, manipulation, and a friendship with very delicate structures of support.


Never the Bride (Brenda 1)
Never the Bride (Brenda 1)
by Paul Magrs
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not funny or clever, just silly, 9 July 2012
This book is set in the quiet seaside town of Whitby, which, although quiet, also has associations with Dracula, and witches, and other unusual goings on. The story is about two respectable ladies of pensionable age, who are living their cosy little lives, in quiet little Whitby, when suddenly they find themselves being drawn into all sorts of odd things that begin happening all around them.

The book is split up into chapters, and it's very episodic, which I found quite irritating, although there is an overall storyline that ties everything together at the end. It's obviously not a book that's intended to be taken seriously, very light-hearted, despite its gothic themes and very easy to read. It was all just a bit too silly for me: ultimately irrelevant and not clever enough to keep my interest, or make me want to read more...


Mariette in Ecstasy
Mariette in Ecstasy
by Ron Hansen
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written with many a pause for thought, 9 July 2012
This review is from: Mariette in Ecstasy (Paperback)
This book is beautifully written - some parts reading like crystallised poetry, most parts just shining out with simple, lucid prose where you can see the author has weighed up twenty words and chosen the one that is exactly right. A lot of vivid images are dotted throughout the text, illuminating the minutiae, the usually unnoticed aspects of the world. However, the text is not over wordy, and it is very easy to read.

Each of the sisters in the convent is treated as an individual, in the light of their daily, menial tasks alongside their spiritual devotion, and the ways their individual dispositions still temper their behaviour despite any vows made. As Mariette's 'ecstasies' continue, the supporting cast grow in stature, as the camp is split into believers and non-believers; and the story is as much about their reactions to what is happening in their midst, what their reactions reveal about them, as it is about Mariette herself.

The novel does not draw a definitive conclusion, allowing the reader to decide if they believe in Mariette's stigmata and ecstasies, or if they believe that she is a fraud. Much to think about.


Past Caring
Past Caring
by Suzannah Dunn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.38

4.0 out of 5 stars Three generations of family dynamics, 9 July 2012
This review is from: Past Caring (Paperback)
This is the story of Mrs Dutton, a lonely, elderly lady who believes from the second she sees Zoe that she is the reincarnation of her own daughter who died as a young child. It is also the story of Dinah, a young mother struggling with parenthood, which doesn't come naturally to her, and wondering how life seems to be escaping from her. And it is the story of Zoe, who from an early age seems to have memories of a life she can't have lived, and finds refuge from a troubled relationship with her own mother in regular visits to Mrs Dutton. The story spans Zoe's growth from childhood through adolescence in the 70s and shows how people change, memories distort, and life goes on.

This novel is told from three different perspectives and for once the device actually works: the three voices are quite distinct from each other, and the reader is subtly shown how the three characters come to view the same set of circumstances differently. I really enjoyed the sense of ambiguity - is it really a story of reincarnation, or is it simply about the complexity of family dynamics - identity, loneliness, depression, and coming of age...

This is a subtle and cleverly drawn story: very readable, touching, and possibly more to it than initially meets the eye.


Oyster
Oyster
by John Biguenet
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Just enough intrigue, 9 July 2012
This review is from: Oyster (Paperback)
This is the story of a family feud between the Bruneaus and Petitjeans, which comes to a head when it seems the only way for both families to continue making their living through oysters is for the young Petitjean daughter, Therese, to marry head of the Bruneau clan, Horse. However, Therese murders Horse in the first chapter, meaning a new bridge must be built.

There is no great depth to this story or its characters, yet it's not badly written, and the plot holds it together. The relationship between Therese and the youngest Bruneau boy, Rusty, is nicely drawn; and there is an interesting play of family loyalties - wondering which side of the fence each character would finally come down on is what keeps the reader hooked.

Although I was on the verge of putting this book down at the end of each chapter, it kept me just intrigued enough to want to see how the story panned out, and I found that I enjoyed it much more than I expected to.


The Mesmerist: Number 1 in series
The Mesmerist: Number 1 in series
by Barbara Ewing
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.09

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fun but no finesse, 9 July 2012
Miss Cordelia Preston and Miss Rillie Spoons are both actresses, slowly coming to realise that the profession which has supported them thus far in life is supplying fewer and fewer roles for ladies of a certain age. But despite the constraints and lack of opportunities for women in early nineteenth century London, and inspired by her aunt Hester, Cordie decides to capitalise on the latest fashion for mesmerism amongst London's society ladies. Her reputation as a `Phreno-Mesmerist' grows rapidly, with no small thanks due to her sideline in explaining to society's fashionable yet naive young ladies the `Gentle Intricacies of the Wedding Night'.

But as the future begins to look brighter, Cordie's past seems intent on catching up with her. After a farcical marriage to a Lord in her youth, and bearing him three children, Cordie's life was shattered when Lord Morgan Ellis told her that their marriage was a sham, hid her children away from her, and married another woman. Just as she is finally rebuilding her life, however, one of her long-lost children arrives on her doorstep setting in motion a new and equally devastating course of events. When Lord Ellis is found murdered just a short distance from Cordie's home, the mesmerist is drawn into a sea of scandal, which - this time - threatens to engulf her...

This is a novel of enormous spirit with an overriding sense of fun and warmth. For me, I thought this was at the expense of period finesse, the author providing her over-the-top characters with 21st century sensibilities which seemed more than a little incongruous with the historical setting. It was an easy read, rather than something I could get my teeth into, lacking the twists and turns and misdirection that characterise my favourite novel depicting the same period, 'Fingersmith' (Sarah Waters).


Sexing The Cherry
Sexing The Cherry
by Jeanette Winterson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.71

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Different, in a good way, 9 July 2012
This review is from: Sexing The Cherry (Paperback)
Parts of this book are written as historical novel, about Jordan who becomes assistant to the King's gardener, Tradescant, and travels the world bringing home exotic fruits (such as the banana and pineapple), and his mother who played not a minor role in the Great Fire of London. The characters are larger than life with a wicked sense of humour, and the dirty, smelly London is vividly depicted.

Other parts of the novel float through time and space, meditating on the nature of both of these things, and passing through some unique interpretations of the fairy tales of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, and Rapunzel, and the Greek myth of Artemis and Orion. The characterisation in these parts was less rounded (more archetypal), but interesting nonetheless.

It sounds a bit bizarre (and it's certainly not a standard novel by any stretch of the imagination) but it reads well, and even made me laugh out loud in places. I preferred it to Winterson's more popular, perhaps 'easier' 'Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit'.


26a
26a
by Diana Evans
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Family myths, 9 July 2012
This review is from: 26a (Paperback)
26a is a colourful story of four girls growing up in Neasdon, near Brixton, with their Nigerian mother, Ida, who is like a fish out of water in this strange, cold country, and their Derbyshire father, Aubrey. The story is told mostly from the point of view of twin girls Bessi and Georgia from their birth into adulthood, with snippets of their parents histories juxtaposed alongside.

Bessi and Georgia grow up feeling like two halves of one whole person but wouldn't have things any other way. They survive the drunken furies of their father and they acknowledge Ida's need for constant discourse with her own mother, to whom the small gap of several continents poses no problems. The family spends three years in Nigeria, and one event in Georgia's young life has a knock-on effect as she grows older.

A family myth that is told them by the twins' maternal grandfather is another motif that endures with them into adulthood, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy and representing how the heritage of two cultures blends together. The characters are likeable and you are drawn into their stories, understanding the layers that make up the individual identities as well as the ties that bind the family together. At the same time, it all feels just a little bit too neat, and I preferred the darker undertones of Helen Oyeyemi's 'Icarus Girl' which was released around the same time and covers similar themes.


In a Dark Wood
In a Dark Wood
by Amanda Craig
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars stories within stories, 9 July 2012
This review is from: In a Dark Wood (Paperback)
Benedick is miserable: recently divorced, acting career in the doldrums, at war with his father, and barely able to look after himself, let alone his two young children (who ex-wife Georgie keeps insisting spend time with him). Taking refuge in the home of Ruth, the woman who raised him as one of her own, Benedick suddenly realises he can remember almost nothing about his real mother, who committed suicide when he was six years old. Inspired by a book of fairy tales written and illustrated by Laura, he embarks upon a quest to discover more about her, whether she was mad as many of her `friends' seem to claim, and what drove her beyond the brink.

In the sheer unlikeability of lead character Benedick, Craig sets herself for a potentially huge downfall - he is irritating, whiny, hypocritical, rude, quite simply unpleasant. Those readers who force themselves beyond this, however, will be rewarded by a story that discovers unexpected pathways and diversions through the dark woods of the title.

At first, I found the switches between scenes a little choppy, and this combined with the focus on dialogue gave a slightly televisual feel. Craig also has the unfortunate habit of occasionally overstating the obvious: "Most artists have something they desperately want to communicate yet also need to keep hidden. Sometimes they don't even know what it is. Perhaps it's that which makes them what they are." However, once I settled into Craig's style, I was able to put my initial petty quibbles aside. Laura's fairy tales are re-told in full, and this is the first glimpse of Craig's capabilities - stories which are easily on a par with any other re-imagined fairy tales I have read. These are interspersed between very recognisable observations of human nature, as well as such vividly down to earth imagery as: "Several cats were lolling around like dollops of jellied fur".

Although Benedick and his increasingly manic behaviour is manifestly unlikeable, Laura (apparently based on Sylvia Plath) is harder to grasp - a glamorous and enigmatic figure who provokes strong reactions amongst her bohemian Primrose Hill `friends', none of whom really seem to have known her at all. Was she unbalanced or was she literally driven mad? We catch only glimpses of her personality, and the pervading sense of mystery is what drives the reader on, as well as Benedick to America to find her family, and perhaps some greater `truth'. But it is the stories and illustrations within 'North of Nowhere' which provide the greatest insight into the workings of Laura's mind, interpreting (mostly lesser known) fairy tales from various traditional sources in subtly original and semi-autobigraphical ways. Throughout, Benedick identifies with his mother, but one wonders how much of his affinity with her is merely projection of his own clearly troubled mind. Ultimately, the connections are all unravelled.

As the cover suggests, this is a story based on a story nestled within stories - it is about how our lives and those around us are interlinked, with stories told and re-told to suit our innumerable needs and circumstances. Despite Craig's neat, happily-ever-after ending, one is left to wonder about the future repercussions of all that has unfolded: we have been led through one dark wood already, and seen exactly where the paths of genetics and circumstance can lead...


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