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Simon Savidge Reads "Simon" (Manchester, UK)

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Bleakly Hall
Bleakly Hall
by Elaine di Rollo
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Entertaining & Unusual Read, 21 Jun. 2012
This review is from: Bleakly Hall (Paperback)
`Bleakly Hall' is really a book of two halves (which sounds like I am starting with a cliché) one half of the story is that of the people working and staying at a hydropath after the First World War, Monty and Ada having been two female comrades on the frontlines, Monty having been a nurse and Ada an ambulance driver. Monty also nursed with a woman called Sophia who died yet left an old score to settle with a Captain Foxley who Monty learns resides at `Bleakly Hall' where Ada now works, the narrative switches between Monty coming to the hall to confront Foxley, but getting beguiled and sidetracked by staff and the likes while there, and the story of the war unfolding to reveal what happened to Sophia.

What is wonderful about this novel is also what in the end causes me to pick some faults in it. I loved the fact there was a mystery to the novel, what on earth had happened to Sophia, how was Foxley involved and why on earth did Monty have such a need to settle this old score? I loved the characters, Monty and Ada in particular but also Dr Slack (who had such an appropriate name I could almost feel Elaine Di Rollo joining me in a wry smile as I read on) and even the odd Blackwood brothers, the good one and the bad. I also really enjoyed the humour in the novel; it was thoroughly entertaining and occasionally laugh out loud funny. It also provides a real lightness against the horrors of the war and the effects it leaves on people, which through the back story of Sophia and through some of the issues with the characters in the present, like Foxley who we learn is suffering post traumatic stress disorder, is incredibly moving and sometimes rather harrowing.

So if I liked these two strands of the book, and the prose and style, where did it not work for me? Well firstly as I said I did really enjoy the book however, without giving any spoilers, there are some wonderful almost fairytale like set pieces in both the modern narrative and indeed some of the non WWI flashback sequences, such as one involving a hat being rescued from a bear compound, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading throughout. Yet because these have a sense of the surreal, slightly farcical and magic this feeling is at complete odds with the utter horror which we witness through all the characters memories of war, these in turn making the book seem a little disjointed. It's enjoyable but becomes implausible.

Now I know not all books should be realistic, I don't expect them to be and enjoy escapism of all types, but the world they create be it one we know or not should feel fully formed or cohesive and yet the sections of the book in the war don't match the ones in Bleakly Hall, yet Bleakly Hall's whole story wouldn't exist without the war, Monty knowing Ada and wanting to confront Captain Foxley. I hope all this makes sense because in over analysing it for a book club I think I may have over thought about it.

I think had I not been reading `Bleakly Hall' as a book to dissect and discuss I would have enjoyed it a lot more. It's a funny, dark and moving story brimming with wonderful set pieces and larger than life characters. It's a book that entertains you and while it has a few flaws here and there (and not many books are flaw free) takes you to a slightly bonkers and bizarre world. Some books should simply be read and enjoyed, not dissected, this is one of them.


The Moving Finger (Miss Marple)
The Moving Finger (Miss Marple)
by Agatha Christie
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wry, If Sleepy, Mystery, 15 Jun. 2012
Jerry Burton is sent from London to the sleepy village of Lymstock on doctors orders and brings his sister Joanna in tow. Initially they are utterly charmed with the idyllic surroundings and quaint people that they meet. Yet soon they receive an anonymous poison penned letter accusing them of being lovers not siblings and they soon discover that most people in the village are getting equally scandalous letters too. Things soon take an even darker twist when one of the receivers of these letters dies, at first people think it may be suicide until the facts start to point to murder and another soon follows.

Hopefully that hasn't given too much of the plot away, however I am about to let you into a small secret which led me to being rather frustrated with this book. Miss Marple herself doesn't actually appear in the book until three quarters of the way through the novel, and then she is barely on ten pages or more as the novel closes. I am sorry to mention a negative so soon but it was Miss Marple I was really reading this book for, and rather like with `At Bertram's Hotel' (which I read out of order) I found myself most annoyed that my favourite character was barely in the book.

That said, to be fairer to the book and its author, `The Moving Finger' isn't half bad. Interestingly though I would describe it rather as I have the village of Lymstock, it is a mystery which is quite sleepy with dark edges. It was entertaining, had me guessing and kept me reading but it bumbled a little, lots of characters were introduced but interestingly more for Christie to write about quirky characters I felt than to create more suspects, which is normally the opposite of what I say with a Christie novel.

What I did really enjoy though in `The Moving Finger' and stopped me from giving up (well apart from reading on for Miss Marple to barely appear) was Agatha Christie's sense of humour. I don't know if I simply haven't noticed it before, or if it's particularly prevalent in this book but there seemed to be a wry smile in almost every other page. It could be the descriptions of a character, one of the towns' effeminate men gets this a lot, or it could just be a dig at the social ways of the time, either way it is definitely always there.

All in all I would have to say that `The Moving Finger' isn't my favourite Christie novel, but I still really rather enjoyed it. I had no idea `whodunit', I enjoyed the setting of the English countryside where no one ever really knows what is going on behind closed doors and I really liked the underlying humour. Is it odd to say that with this book I felt I knew Agatha Christie a little better, because it is strangely how I felt?


Packing for Mars: The Curious Science Of Life In Space
Packing for Mars: The Curious Science Of Life In Space
by Mary Roach
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Roach Rocketing To Become My Favourite Non Fiction Writer, 12 Jun. 2012
I have to admit that when I heard that Mary Roach's new novel was going to be about space the thought of `what, really?' went through my head. She had already covered death (`Stiff'), the supernatural and paranormal (`Six Feet Over') and sex (`Bonk') so space worried me, I admit I was intrigued by the planets and stars as a youngster, but I have never had even the slightest interest in being an astronaut or humans travelling through the unknown. I certainly don't rush to see films like `Apollo 13' though the idea of aliens intrigues me. That said `Packing for Mars' being packed - do you see what I did there - with wit, humour and the questions you would like to ask but probably wouldn't dare to if you could, it was a real winner with me.

'Packing for Mars' doesn't have a plot and so not only is it really hard to give you enough of taster, especially as the book is crammed with fascinating facts and true tales of space travel, it is is rather hard to write about it in depth. I don't want to tell you all of my favourite stories and nuggets away because then you might not read the rest, though in truth I loved the entire book and that is because when you read a Mary Roach book you feel like you are having a conversation, full of giggling, with her. There are even knowing jokes and asides in the form of the footnotes. It is just a pure pleasure to read. It also makes the facts and information fun and who knew knowing more about things like gravity etc could be so much fun?

This is not a case of dumbing down the scientific either, I do fear some people may read the blurb and think that Mary Roach isn't taking this seriously as she looks at how people go to the toilet or vomit in a spacesuit (which made me laugh) and how they cope with no air, hot showers etc but it is her curiosity and interest in everything that can happen in a space ship that makes it so interesting. It is not all jokes either. With scientific experiments come the tests, the accidents and the things that go wrong, and when talking about dead bodies, monkeys being used as test pilots and other slightly morbid twists, she is also incredibly sensitive and looks at it all from an emotional level too.

`Packing for Mars' is a book that levels with its reader, almost saying `I didn't think space could be so interesting did you? But look at this... and this... and this.' Her enthusiasm catches you through the pages and I bet you will find yourself saying `oh just one more chapter, oh go on then and another', I know I did. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone, so do please give it a whirl.


The Lifeboat
The Lifeboat
by Charlotte Rogan
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I Hate Books on Boats But I Loved This, 7 Jun. 2012
This review is from: The Lifeboat (Hardcover)
In 1914 the Empress Alexandra, one of the world's most desirable transatlantic liners suffers some kind of explosion and sinks. Somehow some of the passengers make it onto `Lifeboat 14' and against all odds some of these people survive. Yet no sooner are they saved than they are put on trial for the culpability of the deaths of those passengers who didn't make it. One such woman is recently married and now recently widowed Grace Winter, and through her trial, and her diary of the 21 days lost at sea, we are discover what really happened on that boat (so I haven't given away any spoilers there), or at least we think we might.

The very things that I think make books set on boats a bore actually become some of the things that I liked so much about `The Lifeboat'. Grace and her fellow passengers, with so much expanse on the horizon and so much endless depth below them, are fearful, vulnerable, hungry and bored - this leads to an incredibly enclosed setting and as the hunger, fear and boredom rise so do the mental strains and characters change, or in some cases true characters show through. You start with unity, but then someone must divide and rule.

I think `The Lifeboat' is one of the most brilliant fictional takes on `mental warfare' and how people change under certain circumstances that I have come across in a very long time, especially from a modern writer. Dare I say there was something rather Daphne Du Maurier-like about the darkness that develops? What I won't say is anything about the other characters (apart from the fact I was scared of Mrs Grant) because I don't want to give anything away, but Rogan creates a fascinating psychological game with them all, and with Grace herself Rogan pulls the trump card.

One of the things that I most enjoyed about `The Lifeboat' was Grace's voice; she is at once incredibly innocent and yet will suddenly come out with statements that make you wonder if there is a much more cunning streak lying in the depths of her persona. Rogan uses this device masterfully, as we read on and see how Grace reacts to everything you start to wonder how responsible for all that follows she may or may not be. There is also the fact that as Rogan weaves some of Grace's life before embarking on the Empress Alexandra but nothing really before her marriage, there is an ambiguity there. I like a good unreliable narrator and Grace is certainly up there with Harriet Baxter in `Gillespie and I' by Jane Harris in terms of a character you like because she's slightly barbed and yet you are never sure you really trust. A glimpse of something dark appears and yet is immediately erased and you question yourself as well as your protagonist. Just how did Grace survive, luck or something else?

I was completely won over by `The Lifeboat', enthralled in fact, so much so that would you believe it... I wanted more! At a deceptive 288 pages Rogan manages to pack in so much in terms of plot, back story, twists, turns and red herrings it is amazing that the book isn't another few hundred pages long. Yet I think to be left wanting more of a book is always a good sign no matter what the length of it. If you are looking for a literary novel, because the prose is superb, that will have you utterly gripped and guessing along the way then I do urge you to give `The Lifeboat' a whirl, I thought it was fantastic.


Half Blood Blues
Half Blood Blues
by Esi Edugyan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Half Blood Blues, One Hundred Percent Brilliant, 7 Jun. 2012
This review is from: Half Blood Blues (Paperback)
What really happened to Hieronymus Falk, a young black jazz musician full of talent who was arrested by the Nazi's in 1940? This is the question at the heart of Esi Edugyan's second novel. Yet, told through the narrative of one of Hieronymus' friends - or Hiero/'The Kid' as we learn to call him - retired ex-jazz musician Sidney Griffiths (which rings all the more authentic by the style as you will see below) we also have a tale of friendship, jealousy, love, race and war - quite a powerful combination.

The mystery of what happened to Hiero is really only part of the driving force. As Sid tells us of his time in a jazz band with Hiero and Sid's long term friend-cum- enemy, dependent on mood and situation, Chip, Paul and Fritz we realise that Sid has been living with the secret of his possible involvement in what happened to Hiero. We also watch as jealousies arise around talent and women, when the enigmatic and rather elusive Delilah comes upon the scene.

I thought that mixing the strands of tensions between Sid and Chip as well as Sid and Heiro was, for me, one of the greatest successes of the book. Be a friendship new or old, if you have it for a long time at close range, regardless of the brink of war at any point, tensions will arise and Edugyan creates these brilliantly, especially when a very famous musician comes to town. Being a group of black men there is also the tension outside of the group, the rise and fall of jazz also seems to occur with the rise of the Aryan ideal in Germany and the fall of the Jews.

I have to admit that I had no real knowledge of what happened to black people in either of the World Wars or the time between them. This sounds horribly ignorant I know yet at school we were very much taught about the Nazi and Jew divide and how Britain and France joined forces to combat it. Edugyan opened my eyes, through her fictional version of events, to some of the horrors that I had no clue of. I found this grimly fascinating and also extremely important. I have often said, and I don't mean this in an offensive way, that I am bored of WWII books. Here with `Half Blood Blues' Esi Edugyan gives us something really different and a completely new insight into that period in history.

The other successful part of the book are also the atmosphere of the book as we move from America in Chip and Sibs childhood to both Berlin and Paris in the 1930s/40s and even the recent past as the books shifts in chronological order. You can feel the sense of unease on almost every page, both in a combination of the mystery of Hiero unravelling and war drawing nearer does give the book a slight thriller twist. If you think that is a negative thing it is not I promise you because Edugyan merges the literary elements of the novel with the tension and pace perfectly.

What really sold the book overall to me was the ending, which of course I won't give away as you need to read this book if you haven't already, and how we get to it. I cannot think of a recent book where the author has so firmly and rather alarmingly emotionally and just in terms of storyline, thrown me by pulling the rug from under my feet. Emotional twist after emotional twist comes and it is all the more powerful because the build up Edugyan has created has been so expertly drawn out, I did struggle in the middle a little with so much story and scene setting yet at the end I knew why. What connects all the most successful elements of the book is Esi Edugyan's of course her prose which is wonderful. I don't know if you can tell but I really thought this book was rather incredible in so many ways.

The premise of Esi Edugyan's second novel `Half Blood Blues' might not instantly sound like a book you might want to read being the tale of a group of jazz musicians in the days leading up, and indeed the start of, World War II. It was something that would have put me off if I hadn't heard so many rave reviews about it here there and everywhere and seen it get listed for pretty much every award it is eligible for. However do believe the praise (which I am now happily adding to) as Edugyan delivers a novel that is brimming with atmosphere, is hauntingly written and will really move you (this book, clichéd as it sounds, really kicked me in the emotional guts) and it stays with you long after you read it. I am late to this book; don't let yourself be though as it is a truly marvellous read and one I am glad I returned to at just the right time.


The Forrests
The Forrests
by Emily Perkins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Book To Love If You Like Dreamy Snapshots, Infuriating If Not, 7 Jun. 2012
This review is from: The Forrests (Paperback)
The Forrests' is a clever mixture of family saga and the story of the life of Dorothy Forrest. It's also a book which seems to celebrate the ordinary and everyday in life, there's no major story arch, just the snap shot stories of a woman's life.

As we follow her from her childhood, and the slightly dysfunctional family that she comes from, we are drawn into her life through snapshots. Yet interestingly Dorothy isn't the omnipresent narrator or even the main protagonist that you might assume, that role often passes onto other characters. These are mainly her siblings like Eve, some who don't really appear in the book themselves, or like Daniel a boy who her mother `took in'. We often learn more about Dorothy when she is described by others or appears in everyone else's consciousness. It's one of those books which rely on what is `unsaid' about people and their actions leaving the reader to do a lot of the work.

I am not averse to making an effort with a novel at all, actually sometimes the books where the author allows the reader a freedom to move within the story and almost create some sort of collaboration between writer and reader can be my favourites. You feel trusted. However, my main issue with `The Forrests' is that there was almost too much effort to work out just what the heck was going on. Paragraphs and sections of the novel can shift viewpoint without you realising who is then talking. You also have small situation set pieces which, as the book is so much `a celebration of a normal life' if you will, seems to be in the book for no reason, they are just another event in Dorothy, Eve's or Daniel's life. Again some people will adore this, I found myself oddly frustrated and really trying to find out where the plot was, and I am often saying I can really enjoy a book that is has no plot but is simply observations of peoples/characters lives.

The writing is utterly beautiful, yet sometimes Perkins so wants to fill the book with words - which some people will love - the sentences can become never-ending. The style of the novel and it's drifting nature make it seem dreamlike, yet also, for me personally, meant I was sometimes unsure who in the Forrest family I was following and slightly unable to connect with any one character, especially Dot who the novel focuses on in particular from a midway point, yet she isn't developed enough at the start. I felt like I knew everyone else and what they thought about her, rather than me actually having connected with her in any way.

I liked `The Forrests' rather a lot in parts, I also felt equally frustrated by it. It's left me feeling rather like I am sitting on the fence about a book, which doesn't happen to me very often. I admired it greatly for its prose and style, even if I never quite fully connected with it.. Some people will love this book because the fact it is so dreamy and meandering, yet for the very same reason I can imagine some people might just loathe it. I guess it depends on how literary you like your novels. Odd analogy warning; but it reminds me of when I drank Cristal champagne, I knew it was special and refined and of exceptional quality, I just wasn't sure it was for me. One thing is for certain though, Emily Perkins can certainly write and its good that Bloomsbury Circus are trying to find authors who have missed out on some of the success they most likely deserve.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 22, 2012 4:43 PM GMT


The Last Werewolf (The Last Werewolf 1) (The Last Werewolf Trilogy)
The Last Werewolf (The Last Werewolf 1) (The Last Werewolf Trilogy)
by Glen Duncan
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Literary Adventure, 7 Jun. 2012
Jacob Marlowe, or Jake, is `The Last Werewolf' that the title of Glen Duncan's latest novel revolves around. At 201 years of age he discovers that he is the very last in the line of his kind, which makes him a werewolf with rather a large sum on his head, as it were (pun slightly intended as werewolves, we soon discover, can only be killed by being beheaded or shot with a silver bullet). Not just from bounty hunters who see him as a conquest, we learn jealous, and incompetent, assassins also want him, as do vampires and not for the reason anyone might guess, in fact it was this twist that made me admire the book all the more. Alas, no spoilers, so really in terms of plot that is all you are going to get. Well almost...

You see one of the most fascinating things for me with `The Last Werewolf' was Jake's reaction to his impending death. You would imagine that his natural reaction is to go on the run and survive, not in the case of this werewolf. Jake is tired. He has had a few hundred years of killing people once a month, even if he does only try to kill the horrid ones and getting to know people only to outlive them and this of course includes loved ones. There are some superb, and shocking, twists with Jake's back story and you will literally be finishing one chapter to start the next... but again, no spoilers. I am aware I am teasing you but that's because you should read the book and I urge you to do so.

If any of you are thinking `oh another story with werewolves and vampires' and rolling your eyes, please don't. I may admit that I was concerned this would be the case but Glen Duncan is a literary author who turned his hand to vampires (I don't think he would mind me saying this) because his previous books were getting great reviews but they weren't turning into sales. The cynical ones of you out there, and was it the other way round I would be, will be thinking `oh so it's a cash cow/wolf' and rolling your eyes again. Stop, stop because Glen Duncan has managed to create a novel that merges literary and genre and is as far removed from `Twilight' (thank goodness - I can say that I have read three of them) as possible.

I have mentioned that the pace is furious and there are so many plot twists and turns which you won't see coming, if that wasn't enough Glen Duncan has another trick up his sleeve. He is a bloody (pun not intended) good writer. The language in this book is masterful. Somehow a gory murder scene will read like sumptuous dinner party, that sounds a bit odd yet I am hoping you understand what I mean. This isn't just bodies being torn into, there is a beauty in there, the very fact Jake can read their memories as he eats them I found oddly beautiful, heart breaking and downright clever. The language is incredibly graphic, within a few pages I had seen the f-word and c-word more times than I ever have in a book, yet it doesn't seem to be done for shock. Jake is an animal, this book is animalistic so are the events that unfold and the language used to describe them.

If you haven't guessed I really, really enjoyed `The Last Werewolf' and will definitely be reading the next in the series if it promises to be as good as this one. Does the sequel have Jake in it? Well, you will have to read this one to find out and again I urge you to. It's a real adventure story combined with a love story that will have you reading its beautiful prose at a frantic rate. It also has a compelling and complex protagonist who you will be rooting for to survive, even if he himself isn't. I want to go and try some of Glen Duncan's back catalogue too.


Mary Barton (Vintage Classics)
Mary Barton (Vintage Classics)
by Elizabeth Gaskell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Miserable in Manchester, 7 Jun. 2012
I am not someone who tends to read blurbs before I read a book yet as `Mary Barton' was a book group choice and we vote on one of three titles chosen by a member and so we read the blurbs to decide. I voted for `Mary Barton' because it sounded like it had all the elements of a great classic. There was a love triangle, a murder and a tale of mystery, injustice and a city in the grip of an industrial revolution. It sounded really epic and Mary Barton herself sounded like she could be a fantastic heroine struggling in the face of adversity. I did think it might be a rather stereotypical Victorian classic, but it would be fun to read one set in the city in which I live. I wasn't expecting such a grim and depressing book which would also bore me rigid.

What makes it really hard to write about Mary Barton is that fact that, if we are all being honest, nothing actually happens in the book until the murder (and that isn't giving anything away because you know one is coming from the blurb) yet that doesn't actually take place for about 250 or more pages. So what are the first few hundred pages about? Well mainly how miserable everyone is and how it is `grim up north' really. I know people say Manchester can be a rainy and slightly overcast place but this was too much.

I will admit the opening chapters are of a slightly lighter nature, the first describing the countryside around Manchester, and while initially I thought it was interesting to see the names of places I knew this waned and I was hoping for some plot or characters, if this book was going to be endless descriptions I wasn't going to get on with it. The second chapter from its very title `A Manchester Tea Party' suggests we will be getting characters and a situation, yes we do but for me it was a sudden mass of characters and initially I was cross and confused until I had figured out who everyone was.

As we do get to meet and know a character, which doesn't happen too often as everyone seems to die a few pages after we get to know them, we are given insight into the social history of Manchester at the time. I can't say I know much, or have ever been keen to know much, about the Industrial Revolution yet discovering about it became a glimmer of hope in what was fast becoming a book I was falling swiftly out of love with it. I did learn a lot I have to admit and I think in its day this book would have been somewhat of an eye opener. Gaskell was clearly doing something to make a point in the first half, alas after the murder she seems to give up, of what people were going through at the time. Good for her, and back then great reading I am sure, in the present day however someone would write a lengthy essay rather than have the same issues repeated over and over again for a few hundred pages and in such huge chunks you almost can't take it in, or simply get bored and bogged down by it.

I could be lenient and say that this was a debut novel, so it is probably a book written from ideas and ideals. I also think I should state that it is a book of its time that hasn't really aged very well. Yet forgive it all that and actually `Mary Barton' isn't really a novel, it's more an overlong view of the Industrial Revolution and I think at heart that is really what Gaskell wanted to write. I am sure there will be academics up in arms at that sweeping statement but it's true. Mary isn't really a fully formed character, we learn more about those around her and their situations than we do her, she seems to simply be a tool for Gaskell to observe, fair enough, but give her some gumption.

In fact that said I think that might be my big issue with `Mary Barton' as a whole, it seems a half baked book. My reasons for such a critique are as I mentioned above Mary as a central character with no real central drive, just an observer, a murder which happens so late and becomes so clear who did it that it's inconsequential, as is the trial later. These things are padding to a book that is far too padded with observational opinion already. If Gaskell had fully formed everything around the central issue of society at the time and in her area this could have been incredible, as it stands it's a bit of a `moral guide to...' instead. Sorry Mary.


Home
Home
by Toni Morrison
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Epic Novella, 7 Jun. 2012
This review is from: Home (Hardcover)
In the very first chapter of `Home' we are given a flashback of something horrific happening in a young man's childhood sometime in the past. In the second we join him (well we assume it is him) as he lies trying to work out his escape from a psychiatric ward in the 1950's. It is in these two brief and instant portraits of a character that we meet our narrator, 24 year old Korean War veteran Frank Money and instantly we want to know more about him. What happened in his childhood that he barely comprehends and yet leads him to drink? Why is he locked in a psychiatric hospital and why must he escape at any cost? It's this style of mysterious, yet very restrained, prose that makes us as the reader almost unable to put `Home' down for its deceptive 160 pages.

Though a novella, which may lead us into believing `Home' could be a slight book for the big subjects it covers, there is so much going on in the book you can't help but be impressed by how its crafted. Morrison doesn't let a word run spare. The prose is poetic yet hard and forceful. Every single word matters, you have the feeling the author has made them work for their rite to be included.

As Frank makes his escape and heads to Georgia, relying on the good will of people, we get further flashbacks of brief, yet harrowing, insight into the part he played in the war and how it's affected him. We also get to see the darker parts of life and society at the time through Frank's observations as he travels. These, like his flashbacks, come in short, sharp and rather shocking bursts, confronting the reader in varying ways and providing food for thought from sentence to sentence.

Because `Home' is quite short I don't want to give too much more away. That and the fact that Frank is quite an enigma really though the novel, you learn as you go and so to spoil that would also be wrong of me. I did really like the way I couldn't decide if he was a decent guy, completely mad or just dangerous though. But I don't think I should say more than that.

Darkness and questions seem to be its themes, that in part might be why I liked it so instantly to start with, and Morrison keeps hints of things from the past popping up in the present to keep us reading on. I think that the best novella's leave you in one of two states; you either come away feeling perfectly sated from the experience or you come away wanting more. In the case of `Home' I came away wanting, not because the novella wasn't full enough but because I wanted more of the back story in even more detail, but then that isn't really what `Home' is about. Only the best authors can make a novella epic and, with `Home', America's only living Nobel Laureate shows us how it is done and gives us a sign that there is yet more to come in the future. Until Morrison's next novel appears I will definitely be making sure I try some of her back catalogue in the meantime.


Never Mind (The Patrick Melrose Novels)
Never Mind (The Patrick Melrose Novels)
by Edward St Aubyn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Incredible Novel, 7 Jun. 2012
I always admire an author who can write beautifully and simply, an author who can create the most understated of melodramas will win me over. I also always admire an author who can write a passage that chills you before one that makes you laugh out loud and then another which horrifies you all over again. All these things are encompassed in Edward St Aubyn's first Patrick Melrose novel `Never Mind'. I say that this is the first Patrick Melrose novel and yet Patrick is not really the focus of this book, it is his father David who we encounter most as we witness the Melrose family having guests for a weekend to their house in Provence.

The set up of `Never Mind' is beguilingly simple at the start, we join the Melrose's over an initially none descript weekend where guests are visiting. As we read on we soon learn that there is much more going on behind this family facade than we think, and it's dark. We have a very dysfunctional family in the Melrose's; fiver year old Patrick is a slightly fearful boy, who will be all the more fearful by the end of the book, and somewhat a loner, his mother, Eleanor, is an alcoholic and quite possibly due to her husband, David, who married her for money, is a vicious cruel man who I would describe as psychopathic as when he needs to be (or when he wants to be) switches on the charm and has his guests enraptured, or so he likes to think.

I did for a while start to ask myself the question of `why are the guests visiting, why does St Aubyn want them there' I couldn't see the relevance as I thought the story was about an evil man abusing his wife and eventually his own child. As I read on however, I realised St Aubyn not only wanted to talk about class through this bunch of rather vile characters but he also cleverly uses the couples (Victor Eisen and Anne Moore, Nicholas Pratt and Bridget Watson-Scott) to give us their thoughts on the other characters both from what they know of them and what they observe throughout their time together. Anne being the most normal of the lot even spots there is something dark lurking in the Melrose atmosphere, Bridget just made me laugh at her blunt selfish nature.

It is in fact Bridget that really brings the humour into the novel, because of her thoughts and observations, yet she also adds to the element of discomfort. Some authors use humour to lighten a novel, St Aubyn does it almost to highlight the real depths of the darkness, there is a sense of relief when you laugh out loud, but its shortlived and you know something darker will follow. The scenes around their welcoming drinks where Bridget knows just how David has made Eleanor get rid of the fallen figs from the tree, and then comments on how many figs must be wasted, are so uncomfortable you read on transfixed, rather like how you can't help but stare at a car crash. The dinner table conversations also read like extreme dark frosty comedy of manners pieces, the humour adds to the darkness rather than detracts from it if you get my drift. It's not something I have come across before in a book that I can think of and it's stayed with me.

I don't want to talk about the moment of utter darkness in the book in too much detail, not because I shy away from the uncomfortable subject of child abuse but because I think you need to read it without knowing when it's going to happen, or how St Aubyn writes it so understatedly, for it to really have the desired effect and leave you winded. Like the whole book it's economical and therefore only hits you harder. It seems odd, and a cliché, to call `Never Mind' a masterpiece especially with some of its subject matter but really there is no other word for it. To quote Maggie O'Farrell, as she puts it so well, this novel is `At once epic and intimate, appalling and comic' and that is exactly how I felt when I had finished `Never Mind'. Recommend seems the wrong word, but I would suggest everyone gives this book a try, I will certainly be reading the rest of the series without a doubt.


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