Sunday 27th November 2011
I am not recommending these books. I fully agree that a serving suggestion is best. So, feeling suggestible? Great, here goes. Well, we’ll go in a minute, you know I have to take you on a little preamble first, don’t you? Come on. If preamble isn’t your thing, skip the next few paras.
This autumn has been manic, busy to the point of ‘oh my God, I have no idea how I am going to get round Tesco’s’. Yes, I know, Tesco’s. It’s been that bad. Not really, I’m kind of joking, it wasn’t that
bad – it wasn’t Asda
-bad. (Please sign here………………. to agree that you understand that Tesco/Asda is a joke reference and no offence to Tesco/Asda or their shoppers is intended. For Tesco/Asda, read Sainsbury’s or Aldi or Waitrose if you prefer).
Anyhoo, it’s been busy. Loads of teaching, lots of designing, a mahoosive quantity of swatching. Also, shipped out a fair weight in fascinating golf trolley thingies, some kits (hurrah!) and done my non-knitting free-lancing thing. Do you know about my non-knitting free-lancing thing? No? OK, guess what it is. Nope I’m not a body-double for Flavia on SCD, understandable though that suggestion is. No, nor am I (yet) a secret agent working with George Smiley who has been time-warped back to 1963…oh knickers, that’s blown that option, should have kept that quiet. I’ll tell you another day, it’s not that riveting (no, you at the back there, it’s not
being a riveter, ‘cos that would
be riveting, wouldn’t it?). Maybe I’ll tell you on the same day that I tell you about my 5 year odyssey in the West Midlands Fire Brigade, about 2 lifetimes ago…
The good thing about the busiest knitting autumn since records began, is that it’s been incredibly creative, with new ventures being hatched and new developments being – um – developed. Ah. The creativity seems to have run out already. The down-side is that it squeezed out some of the usual touch-stones in my life, chiefly reading. Now that I have taught my last workshop of 2011, and boarded my last story for the year, finished my last non-knitting free-lancing task and generally wriggled into a bit of space, I am reading again – a lot. By reading, I mean absorbing books whether I take them intravenously, that is to say via audio or actually read a real book.
I dealt with The Alchemist already. One foot note. It has kind of stayed with me. I have thought – I think wondered is more accurate – about it on and off.
Next I read Skippy Dies by Paul Murray:
I listened to this book and I think this is partly why I loved it so much. The narration is perfect. This book is not my usual read at all. It’s intensly masculine being set in a Catholic boarding school for boys in Dublin. It deals with teenage boys (mainly, there are some girls in the school next door) and also the lives of some of the teachers and priests. Almost all the chief characters are male. It’s not a childrens book or a teen-reader book. It’s gritty, there is little loveliness, and it deals with some sad material. However, it is also very, very funny, if you like your funny about as dark as a Nigella chocolate and Guinness cake. Without the white frothy top. It’s very dark humour. I think part of the humour is conveyed via the superb narration, so if I’d have found it as funny just reading it, I’m not sure. And, most of all, it’s just such fine writing. I love his words, the clever, sly, poignant, poetic and brutal way that he uses language.
Also, it’s slow-burn. To be honest, after 30 minutes I was about ready to give up and anyway my mind was wandering because I was swatching and during these processes, there are blank bits where I assume I have had to use all my brain for a few moments (these will be the bits with numbers in them, when the sound I hear is mainly white noise) and then I switch back in. I have only ever given up on 2 audio books. Bill Bryson’s At Home, read by the author. Oh, how deadly it seemed to me. An amazingly dull wander through Bill’s house, providing him with an excuse to go on and on about the historical features of how we used to live, and how we live now, with each room as a chapter. Not helped by his voice, which has a lovely accent but is so rushed and breathless, like a middle-aged man doing a Marilyn Monroe impression. And the Count of Monti Cristo. Oy. That will teach me to try and improve my mind.
But Skippy Dies just gently picked up pace and interest. One minute I’m all ‘meh, I think I might give Bill another go…’ and next thing I knew, I was hooked. Couldn’t wait to get into the workshop room, light the fire, plump up the heap of Dachshunds in front of it and get listening. As I say, I’m not recommending it partly because I have a strong feeling that if I’d read it myself, I might have given up 2 chapters in. But I did really love it being trickled into my ears by the narrator. It also did a rare thing to me: I lolled (as the Young People say; note to those of my vintage: LOL = laugh out loud, not as you think, Lots of Love. Which is, like, totally lame
, yeah?). Actual lollage. I do laugh out loud, a lot, but not so much when I’m reading. This is due to years of training myself to laugh on the inside, because laughing on the outside on First Great Western or the Bakerloo Line is frowned upon. Startled the dogs I can tell you, my lolling, far more used as they are to yarn-related cussin’. It made me sad too. Sad, not howling or gnashing/rending. Sad, because of some of the content, and also sad when it was over. I will certainly listen to this again. And I will never underestimate the sheer terror, boredom, pain, angst and hope that adolescent boys must go through. I am a girl. I only had girl-children. I think, if even half of this is actually realistic, they – boys – must have it even worse than girls in their teen years.
I will warn you though that since finishing this, I think in an Irish accent. I don’t mind this at all as I adore Irish accents, but it may irritate some. Or, for all I know, it might not happen to you!
Then, proudly wearing my ‘Head Girl Nerd of The Book Club’ badge, I read the next-but-one book on our list (emits horsey laugh and pushes reading glasses back up bridge of my nose). This is Sister by Rosamund Lupton:
Now, the book after next (the next being The Alchemist, do
try and keep up at the back there) was supposed to be chosen by the book club member for whom the club was formed, who had, shockingly, never read a book all the way through before. We have now chosen about 6 or 7 books and she has only read 1 of them. This was the concentration camp book and she loved it. The idea, a year or so ago, was that by now she would have read all our books and some others, one of which would be her choice. However, that hasn’t happened. So we have chosen a book for her. We did this by a process of one of us saying: how about such-and-such and me saying: no I’ve read that already until we came to Sister. I do not know if anyone else in our club has read it. Once I’d admitted to not having read it yet, I was sorry as I didn’t fancy the subject at all. Anyway, I got a copy and then devoured
I’m not recommending this book to you, because, even more than Skippy Dies, it’s way out of my comfort zone. And, it’s not even funny. That last sentence by the way, is the understatement of the year. In fact, several passages made me cry. Or at least, well-up. However, it is very well written and I was gripped (now I am starting to sound like a magazine reviewer. But I was! gripped I mean) by the plot. Which is, incidentally so improbable it made the difficult content slightly easier to handle, due to its fantasy-level pitch. I mean fantasy in terms of plot devices, not fairies or unicorns. It’s a dark, sinister mystery. Loads of plot, as opposed to my usual: oh, here we are 300 pages later and not much has happened. There are some niggles such as the sequence of amazing coincidences that drive the plot for much of the time so that after a while you begin to think: seriously? you just happened
to walk in at that moment and meet that
person? or see that
event? But in spite of that and an ambiguous ending (only slightly clarified by the author’s Book Club Read Notes at the back), I am glad I read it.
if you intend to read Sister, skip this paragraph. The thing is, at the very end, the author kicks away the platform on which the entire story has been built. This leaves the ‘real story’ very open to interpretation to say the least. Now this did irritate me a bit because whilst I don’t mind a twist in the tail at all, and this has several, I do think in a mystery, the reader ought to have a least a slight clue in order to play the game. There was no way anyone could have guessed the way the whole basis of the book would be de-constructed in the last chapter. Which in fact made me question the entire story. I concluded that the sister of the title, Tess, had never been murdered but committed suicide, as the police and most people believed all along; and the older sister who narrates the story first person, Bea, was so consumed with guilt that she first went slowly insane, and as she did so, imagined all sorts of things (the plot), and then also committed suicide, like Tess. I think this because the ‘murderer’ was never arrested, or about to stand trial. There was to be no trial and the man to whom Bea makes her lengthy statement, which forms the main way in which the story is told to the reader, Mr Wright from the CPS, never existed either. The only
clue given was in his name. Mr Wright. I knew all along that was a red herring!
But I’m still glad to have read it. Good quality prose, so good you actively notice the way she writes and (in my case) approve. I love reading a passage or even a phrase and thinking: perfect.
Finally, a biography of Joyce Grenfell:
Read to me by Eleanor Bron, who I think is fantastic anyway and who can do a very good ‘Joyce’. (I am struck by the contrast between these 3 books). The author of this biography is Joyce’s God daughter I think, or a cousin or something, who knew Joyce, as well as having access to the source material used in this biography, which is rather less ‘edited’ than Joyce’s autobiographies. In these, Joyce ‘edits out’ some things, notably her great generosity to friends and often, strangers. But also, some other personal details that, whilst they certainly don’t detract from her, somehow make her more human. Less perfect. But just as wholesome, kind, funny and wise, if not more so. Nice. There, it’s out. The N word. Well, she was
jolly nice and I love her.
Joyce was a relief-buffer in between Skippy Dies and Sister. I am now reading a book of cycle rides that form the epic Lands End to John O’ Groats route, which is broken down into 10 – 20 miles sections, so you could do say 2 – 4 in a day, is illustrated with line-drawings and is quite funny. Every now and again, the author – who has ridden this several times – features a Brewery Of The Day along the way. I hate beer, but love that! I could do the same but feature yarn stores.