Beautiful Books 18

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The Vet’s Daughter by Barbara Comyns, Heinemann, 1959, ‘Wrapper Design’ by Charles Stuart

Charles Stewart was born in 1915 on the island of Panay in the Philipines. A delicate child, at three he was sent to live on the family estate near Dumfries, Scotland. He would study draughtsmanship at the Byam Shaw School of Painting and Drawing in London as well as training and performing as a professional ballet dancer, albeit briefly. After serving in the war his drawing continued, but was cut short when he was forced to take over the management of the family estate, Shambellie House, and its surrounding forests in “cold, grey Galloway”

According to the Royal Academy, ‘Stewart’s drawings for the novel Uncle Silas by Sheridan le Fanu consciously recreate Victorian drawing and etching techniques and this became a pattern for Stewart’s practice, as many of his commissions were for Victorian texts or historically themed myths and stories.’

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Holiday Reading

So, a holiday is finally sorted: I’m spending a week in this lovely house on the Welsh coast. Hurrah!

To take into account this change (my original hope was for my beloved Mallorca) I’ve made some slight amendments to my reading list… The first book selected itself: ‘Sisters’ by Daisy Johnson is, apparently a spooky little chiller set in an isolated house on the North York Moors. Perfect.

The others I’ve touched on previously…

One summer following the Second World War, Robert Appleyard sets out on foot from his Durham village. Sixteen and the son of a coal miner, he makes his way across the northern countryside until he reaches the former smuggling village of Robin Hood’s Bay. There he meets Dulcie, an eccentric and other worldly older woman who lives in a ramshackle cottage facing the sea. Staying with Dulcie, Robert’s life opens into one of rich food, sea-swimming, sunburn and poetry. The two come form different worlds, yet as the summer months pass, they form an unlikely friendship that will profoundly alter their futures.’

School’s Out! Those final clangings of the bell, when summer term ended and you walked out through the gates into freedom, were some of the most sublime moments of childhood. But what happened when you arrived home? How did you spend the long balmy weeks of unscheduled time? And how did those summer months away from school shape the person you are today? That’s what Ysenda Maxtone Graham set out to discover, probing people from all walks of life and all corners of Britain for true details of their childhood summers in the years between 1930 and 1980 – the year when the first computer games began to change children’s lives.’

‘When the eight-year-old daughter of an Oxford College Master vanishes in the middle of the night, police turn to the Scottish Nanny, Dee, for answers. As Dee looks back over her time in the Master’s lodging – an eerie and ancient house – a picture of a high-achieving but dysfunctional family emerges: Nick, the fiercely intelligent and powerful father; his beautiful Danish wife, Mariah, pregnant with their child; and the lost little girl, Felicity, almost mute, seeing ghost, grieving her dead mother. But is Dee telling the whole story? Is her growing friendship with the eccentric house historian, Linklater, a cause for concern? And most of all, why is Felicity silent?’

The only concern now is whether I’ll actually have time to read them all!

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Death in Her Hands – Ottessa Moshfegh

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Following on from ‘My Year of Rest and Relaxation’ comes another treatise on solitude, this time from the angle of 72 year old Vesta, a widow who has recently moved to a new town, spending her days in solitude. One day, while walking her dog in the woods, she finds a note: ‘Her name was Madga. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.’. There is no body, no sign of foul play but the time on her hands allows Vesta time to dwell upon the possibilities suggested by the note and, slowly, coincidences begin to suggest something sinister may well have occurred.

With ‘Death…’ Moshfegh may have written the first novel to accurately describe those early lock-down months, when people would see little of their friends, family or neighbours, taking walks in the silent streets, an odd, slightly sinister atmosphere infecting our lives – a feeling which infects our dreams and which we just can’t put our finger on. This is the world which Vesta inhabits, a world which allows her to flesh out the life of Madga and the supporting characters who may, or may not, have played a part in Magda’s death. In essence this is also a book about the process of writing, of writing a murder mystery in which the writer constructs their plot my starting with the murder and working backwards to create the plot. And like all great fiction the hatching plot begins to tell us something about our lives. Early in the novel we learn of the loss Vesta feels,

‘When I dreamt of Walter now, he was young again. He was young still in my mind. I still expected him, at times, to come through the door with a bouquet of roses, carrying the sweet smell of his cigars, his hands on the rustling cellophane so tender and strong. ‘For you, my dove,’ he’d say. And if not roses, then a book he thought I’d like. Or a new record, or a perfect peach or pear. I missed his thoughtful gifts, little surprises pulled form the pocket of his overcoat.’

But as her mind stirs the thickening plot, she begins to see their relationship is a new light, a light which plays host to spooky coincidences and sinister events which begin to inch much closer to home…

‘Death in Her Hands’ is a slow burning novel, paced to the plodding life of a lonely septuagenarian. Like in her previous fiction, Moshfegh mangles together elements of different genres – here crime and horror – and filters the result through a bitchy lense to create unique works which are an unholy marriage of Muriel Spark and John Waters which, to me, is just wonderful.

‘The place wasn’t cultured by any measure. People ate fast food. If they cooked, they weren’t eating many vegetables. I don’t know why, since there were farms all around downstate from us It wasn’t like the ground wasn’t fertile. My seeds would have grown had they not been stolen. Women mostly dressed in cheap synthetic materials. The blouses they wore were tie-dyed and glittery, and many women had tattoos on their arms. The more ‘stylish’ women looked like they should be on the back of a motorcycle.’

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Real Life – Brandon Taylor

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Wallace is a grad school scientist, a young, gay black man from a poor background, surrounded by white privilege and a world with which he isn’t too sure that he wants or even can, be a part of. Over the course of one weekend, pressure – sexuality, race, privilege, insecurity – builds to a violent climax.

‘Real Life’ is a novel which I probably wouldn’t have picked up if it hadn’t been selected for the Booker longlist: the earnest photograph on the cover, the dull design, the achingly ‘now’ themes would be more than enough to put me off. But…I really enjoyed it. I devoured it over the course of a weekend (almost real-time!) which is unusual for me as my book rate is probably, at best, a book a week.

Wallace has a small circle of friends, based, on the whole, in the campus of the university and has a desire for solitude perhaps linked to his reluctance to engage with these people, a reluctance heightened by his feeling of not fitting  perhaps because

‘Miller, Yngve, and Cole looked like a trio of pale upright deer, like they belonged to their own particular species…’

In Wallace, Taylor has created a far from perfect hero, in fact, at times he is extremely  annoying, but I love how Wallace gets to voice just how someone from a minority can feel when surrounded by the majority: how sometimes you really just can’t be bothered to engage in debate about your ‘identity’ because you’ve heard it all before:

‘I’m angry all the time and it doesn’t matter, People expect me to react. To do something. And I can’t. Because I keep thinking about that – how no matter what I do. it can’t change the thing I’d like it to change.’

and you know that those who want to debate only want to reassure themselves that their views are ‘correct’, a situation shown to excruciating effect in ‘Real Life’ when Wallace states his position with a passion which is too much, too raw for his group.

‘They are always laughing. This is it, Wallace thinks. That’s how they get by. Silence and laughter, switch and swing. The way one glides through life without ever having to think about anything hard.’

‘Without ever having to think about anything hard…’, the characters in this novel (including Wallace) are hardly enticing to the reader, even Wallace himself comes across as self absorbed and, whether they would agree or not, all are privileged to some degree or other and yet their narciscism means they are unable to see it.

In its relative short page count, ‘Real Life’ touches on a checklist of ‘issues’: race, class, sexuality, gender but the fact that it works and stays this side of parody is down to the razor sharp writing which makes it deliriously easy to read and yet contains some scenes which are so real, so accurate, that it gave me excruciating shivers of recognition.

Taylor recently said that he wrote ‘Real Life’ without taking white people into account, and he was unrepentant in that. But I would add that much of this novel – the attitude, the situations – work for anyone of any minority, as to a greater or lesser degree we have all been in the situations which Wallace finds himself in relation to the majority.

Another interesting element which Taylor takes into account is the notion of the ‘hierarchy of oppression’: that ridiculous – but all too often visible – notion that minority groups can be listed in terms of the greater of lesser amount of oppression faced by their members. Obviously, the placing of a group on this list changes across time and cultures with little positive impact, in fact the only consistent result being to set minority against minority and stop them from uniting against a common enemy.

‘Fucking gay guys always think they’ve got the corner on oppression.

‘I don’t think that at all’

‘And you think that you get to walk around because you’re gay and black  and act like you can do no wrong’ 

In this electrifying showdown between Wallace and his arch-enemy Dana we hear Dana put voice to what she perceives as the hierarchy, only to reveal to Wallace that, in essence, they are both coming from the same space – outcast, frightened – if only they could see it.

Towards the start of ‘Real Life’ comes a quote from Virginia Woolf’s ‘To The Lighthouse’ (or, rather, a line of poetry misquoted in ‘To The Lighthouse’)

‘And all the lives we ever lived and al the lives to be are full of trees and changing leaves’

‘Real Life’ takes this as a motif, the ‘Lighthouse’ here being Wallace’s hope for love, for life. And, just as in Woolf’s ‘Time Passes’ sequence (in which the pre-war years move rapidly onwards, through World War 1, changes reflected in the seasons, the weather) we get a chapter in which Wallace’s early years are recounted, a confessional which helps him move to the next aspect of this life. The problem is that it provides Wallace with that back story trotted out so many times for gay men in literature, a story replete with the sly intonation that homosexuality has, at its roots, sexual abuse. That somehow, gay men are created by sexual abuse and so – feeding into the bigot’s charter – homosexuals ARE created, by homosexuals themselves. And this violence finds itself repeated  Wallace begins a relationship with Miller (a man previously known as being purely straight),that relationship can only be truly ‘real’ when the couple have consummated it not through sex (which happens early on in the novel) but through violence, an explosion which doubles as Wallace’s catharsis with his past. 

In many ways – the narciscistic characters, the hothouse atmosphere, a history of sexual abuse casting long shadows – the book ‘Real Life’ reminds me most of is  ‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara. However, Taylor manages to keep his novel from tipping over into the domain of Yanagihara’s camp potboiler…but only just.

‘He has landed,’ she said aloud. ‘It is finished.’ (‘To the Lighthouse’ – Virginia Woolf)

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The Muse – Nell Dunn

Carol White as Joy in ‘Poor Cow’ (Dir. Ken Loach)

In the late 1950s, Nell Dunn and her partner moved to live in Battersea, south London. To the privileged pair, the working class streets were a revelation, a whole new world which redefined beauty and taught them about the beating vitality of living life to the full. Dunn began to write short sketches and read them to the women she worked alongside in a sweet factory, and these sketches were eventually collected in her first book, ‘Up the Junction’ (1963). It was around this time that Nell bumped into Josie:

‘I don’t remember where I lost my shoes, but early in the morning I rode on the back of her brother’s Lambretta barefoot. We were on the Roehampton Estate in south-west London.

And there she was!

Her dainty feet with small toes and ails painted bright red stick out from fluffy pink slippers. It was chilly and she wrapped her arms around her chest to keep warm.’

 

The pair became firm friends, their lives intertwined: Josie teaching Nell how to live for the moment, teaching her about the poetry of the working class, becoming Nell’s muse and being turned into ‘Joy’, the main character of Dunn’s second novel, ‘Poor Cow’ (1965), its sequel ‘My Silver Shoes’ (1996) and wrapped up again in the main character of Dunn’s play ‘Steaming.’

Nell Dunns’ work has a simplicity, an honesty which lets characters speak for themselves which in the early 1960s was a rarity, not least because those characters were working class and they spoke in their own tongue, not middle class approximations. Much has changed since the 1960s, not least the representation of working class people, but what hasn’t changed is the honesty: in fact, I suspect that honesty has become less common, with much fiction filtered through a variety of lenses: rarely do we hear voices in their raw, unfiltered unadorned beauty. (In ‘The Muse’ Josie’s letters even remain unedited for grammar or spelling).  But Nell Dunn was an exception then and she remains so today.

I also love Dunn’s work because it is full of the beauty and love which is snatched from life – those fleeting tastes of honey:

One day after Dave had cracked it for a few hundred he took Joy down Woolworth’s and they bought up half the shop; plastic boards, windmills, turquoise shorts, mechanical robots, lamps with bowls filled with laminated fibreglass flowers, records with titles such as ‘My Girl’ and ‘Wild Thing’, and laughing as they piled brown-paper bags in the back seat of the Jaguar and drove back to Dave’s flat on the Chancellor Estate. Dave got it off his brother in law when he was nicked.

Then they got blocked. Joy lay beside Dave undoing his shirt, button by button…There was this old record playing ‘Stand by Me’, how does it go? Kenny Lynch singing:

No I won’t be afraid, I won’t be afraid

As long as you stand by me

Darling, darling, stand by me

Oh-o-o-o Stand by me

Over the top of the bed was this plastic chandelier – and all the beams started falling like crystals, falling down on top of us, he was going so slow and I was coming so much… (from ‘Poor Cow’)

 

And now, around 60 years since they first met, Dunn has published ‘The Muse’, a tribute to Josie, her influence on the artist and a ode to the friendship of two women.

Essentially, ‘The Muse’ is constructed around a series of letters sent from Josie to Dunn, with occasional commentary from the writer to provide background or her own feelings on the situations written about, chiefly from the period 1979 to 1984.

All through their relationship, Dunn had used Josie’s vibrant language to flesh out her creations but what comes across more than anything in this book is twofold: the extraordinary love between these two women and the jubilant joie-de-vivre of Josie, these few years alone weaving a tale which would make many doubt the veracity of the story: In 1979, Josie fell head over heals with a South African named Bill on Christmas day left the turkey in the oven, a 15 year old son and a lover named Ray for Australia. The pair have to leave Australia quickly due to Bill’s thieving, and end up in South Africa where Bill gets mixed up with diamond smuggling. Despite trying to go straight Bill then get arrested for fiddling the books of their employer, ‘Towel Master’. Josie is sacked and ends up living in a garage. Eventually she turfs up in Spain with ‘Tony’.

‘Do you no Nell I sat down the beach yesterday on my own. God it was parridise, But no one to talk to, no gossip; its alright getting lovely & Brown but no one to see it. I want the simple life like a beach comer, no worrie no dressing up. Then may be I’ll find what I really want, out of life.

It was so hot, did I tell you? I’ve learnt to swim, Well almost. At least paddle in up to my waist. Well love theres no more to tell you today so I’ll close. God bless love, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Steaming. (Dunn’s play)

Josie

And while it is Josie who dominates, there is also a chorus line of minor characters who fascinate. Take Olive, the prostitute with a room on Old Compton Street, London.

‘We’d call up at her window and her head would pop out and up we’d go – there is a lot of boring empty time in a prostitute’s life. Her maid – an old lady called Nell who had been wardrobe mistress at the Palace Theatre – would make us tea and biscuits.’

Olive ends up living with a vicar in Reading.

This book is about love and spirit and the sheer excitement of taking life by the horns and making your own adventures. It is an ode to friendship and how those false barriers which society creates are so pointless and only serve to stifle our lives, our possibilities. The world would be a far poorer place without Nell and Josie.

I’m going to dinner with this new fellow on Thursday and I’m going. I dont care if Bill find out, I’m going to make the most of it while I’m here. Well love try and under-stand I love you as a good friend, and one day were look back on all this and say Fuck me it was worth it. Oh Im lucky realy to of live it, because you cant buy expenrece, you have to live is as you say you must have the good times with the bad but I dont like the bad. Well my love I’ll close now. So write soon as your letter keep me alive

How is Steaming going?

God bless Nell love to Dan

Love Josie

Xxxxx

Xxxx

(I’LL MAKE IT YET WITH ALL MY MISTAKES)

Your old friend Josie xxxxxxxxx

For better or worse

 

 

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A HUGE August Book Haul, plus holiday reading

A Book Haul

Finally – charity shops are open again! Hurrah! My first charity purchase in many months is an old classic, a lovely first edition of Derek Jarman’s angry memoir-cum-polemic ‘At Your Own Risk’. (1992). In it he touches on how his queerness created the artist and how society has treated that queerness. Angry, sexy, poetic and provocative, you won’t agree with everything Jarman says, but it will open you eyes to a time, attitude and place which we – whether within the LGBT community or not – have seemingly forgotten.

‘I still feel that there is no sexual liberation unless it’s personal. Struggle to find out who1aaaa you are. It’s no good joining a group and making speeches about what you want to be, life is to be lived first and proselytised after. I was in full revolt against life as it was lead by most of my fellow citizens. I couldn’t bear them. I could see nothing of any value in Heterosoc, in marriage, mortgages or family. I was young and attractive and everyone was after my arse. The appalling claustrophobia of Heterosoc could be subverted there.’

And that’s the sum total of my charity shop haul so far – but what treats are lacking there 1aaare more than made up by the sheer number of books being published at the moment: I’ve had a number of these ordered for many months now, but corona-delays have meant that they all seem to be coming along at once!

First up is Ottessa Moshfegh’s ‘Death in her Hands’. This is actually the US version of the novel, which isn’t published over here until later in August. However, cover-wise I think it it the superior version AND is in hardback (unlike the UK version). I’m currently reading it and it has definitely been worth the wait: The retired narrator, Vesta, finds a note while walking her dog in the woods: ‘Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.‘, But there is no name on the note, no sign of a body or even a struggle, so Vesta sets about piecing together the story of Magda and her death…

It is also time for the Booker Prize longlist to be published. This year’s includes some 1aaaaunsurprising entries (Hilary Mantel’s ‘The Mirror and the Light’), some surprises: Kiley Reid’s ‘Such a Fun Age’ (which I loved but I wouldn’t have thought the Booker would consider a book with such a light-hearted tone – even if that tone masks a clever, insightful breakdown of black and white race relations) and a lot of books I’ve yet to hear about. One book I have heard about is Douglas Stuart’s ‘Shuggie Bain’ which was published last week. The story of how young ‘Shuggie Bain’ struggles with an alcoholic mother, poverty and issues 1aaabof his own in a neglected former mining town sounds a bit bleak – but I do like me a bit of bleak every now and again.

A real treat which I have written about previously, Nell Dunn’s ‘The Muse’. I can’t truly describe how excited I am to get my greasy little paws on this book.

Next up are a few books which have all appeared thick and fast in the past week – some delayed by the pandemic, other – I suspect – released to make the most of their Booker Prize long list nomination (and why not!?).

1aaTwo up for nomination (as well as ‘Shuggie Bain’, above) are ‘Real Life’ by Brandon Taylor and ‘Love and Other Thought Experiments’ by Sophie Ward.

‘Real Life’ is Taylor’s first novel and concerns a group of US science students, focussing on Wallace, whose father has just died and who feels out of step with his more privileged colleagues: ‘Over the course of one blustery end-of-summer weekend, things come to a head. The catastrophic contamination of his experiment and a series of intense 1aaaconfrontations force Wallace to grapple with the trauma of his past, and the question of the future.’

Ward’s book is also a debut which came out earlier in the year. As the title implies this is a more experimental novel: ‘Inspired by some of the best-known thought experiments in philosophy, particularly philosophy of the mind, (this book) is a story of love lost and found across the universe.’ It even comes with a 5 pages 1aaablist of ‘Epigraph Sources and books mentioned.’

Next up are a pair of timely Smiths: Zadie Smith’s ‘Intimations’ which is a short collection of essays written during the pandemic and (with the exception of Nell Dunn’s book) the novel I’ve most been waiting for, the culmination of Ali Smith’s1aaaaaa ‘seasons’ quartet: ‘Summer’.

Written as near to publication date as possible, it is possibly the first ‘pandemic novel’ but, as I understand, it also refers back across the other novels in the series, bring together a portrait – however idiosyncratic- of how we live now. My beautiful, signed, first edition wrapped, as ever, in a David Hockney is sitting patiently, tempting me like the azure depths of the Mediterranean or the bitter-sweet lushness of finely wrapped chocolate.

1aaaaI LOVED ‘Station Eleven’ by Emil St John Mandel – a novel set in a world crumbling in the aftermath of ‘Georgian Flu’ – and now comes her latest, ‘The Glass Hotel, which promises to move between the Hotel Caiette, a ‘glass-and-cedar’ palace on Vancouver island, to a ‘Neptune-Avaramidis’ ship , ‘the towers of Manhattan, and the wilderness of remote British Columbia, painting a breath-taking picture of greed and guilt, fantasy and delusion, art and the ghosts of our pasts.’

…and there is still the imminent arrival of ‘Summerwater’ by Sarah Moss, the latest Galley Beggar publication, ‘Mordew’ by Alex Pheby, and the return of another favourite, Andrew O’Hagan, with ‘Mayflies’.

Phew!

Whatever the autumn might bring in these uncertain times, I’m certainly not going to short of something to read.

Holiday Reading

I have a holiday booked for the start of September – quite where I’ll end up is anyone’s guess. I’m hoping for Mallorca but the current restrictions might put paid to that. Wherever I end up I’ll need some holiday reading so I’ve been picking up some bits and pieces over the past few weeks…

My first two choices, ‘Magpie Lane’ by Lucy Atkins and ‘British Summer Time Begins’ by Ysenda Maxtone Smith, I wrote about recently

I loved Benjamin Myer’s ‘Beastings’ which I read a few years ago. That was a brutal, cold book but I suspect (hope!) ‘The Offing’ will be a gentler affair and perfect summer reading:

‘One summer following the Second World War, Robert Appleyard sets out on foot from his1aaaaa Durham village. Sixteen and the son of a coal miner, he makes his way across the northern countryside until he reaches the former smuggling village of Robin Hood’s Bay. There he meets Dulcie, an eccentric and other worldly older woman who lives in a ramshackle cottage facing the sea. Staying with Dulcie, Robert’s life opens into one of rich food, sea-swimming, sunburn and poetry. The two come form different worlds, yet as the summer months pass, they form an unlikely friendship that will profoundly alter their futures.’

The next summer read is a more challenging one: ‘The Novel of Ferrara’ by Giorgio Bassanu was originally published in Bassani’s native Italy in 6 volumes between 1958 and 1972 and in set in the town of Ferrara before, during, and after the Second World War.

1aaaaaa‘These interlocking stories present a fully rounded world of unforgettable characters: the respected doctor whose homosexuality is tolerated until he is humiliatingly exposed by an exploitative youth; a survivor of the Nazi death camps whose neighbours’ celebration of his return gradually turns to ostracism; a young man discovering the ugly, treacherous price that people will pay for a sense of belonging; the Jewish aristocrat whose social position has been erased; the indomitable schoolteacher, Celia Trotti, whose Communist idealism disturbs and challenges a postwar generation.’

The volumes are available individually as Penguin classics but I discovered this  volume which collects them altogether in a beautiful, elegant package.

All I need now is the holiday in which to enjoy them all!

Posted in Ali Smith, Andrew O'Hagan, Benjamin Myers, Brandon Taylor, Derek Jarman, Douglas Stuart, Emily St John Mandel, Giorgio Bassani, Lucy Atkins, nell dunn, Ottessa Moshfegh, Sarah Moss, Sophie Ward, Ysenda Maxtone Graham, Zadie Smith | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beautiful Books 17

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Call me fickle, but as you’ve probably guessed from this series of ‘Beautiful Books’ I see books as both objects and texts…which means that sometimes I might just buy a book because of its cover or design, and beautiful book 17 is just that.

I loved ‘Ghost Wall’ by Sarah Moss when it came out a couple of years ago and was stunned recently when I stumbled across the cover of the American version: it is simply one of the most beautiful covers of a novel I have seen in a long time, and perfectly sums up the tentative folk-horror aspects of the story. Oh, how it makes the British version seems so drab and dull!

Side by side I know which would be more likely to attract the casual reader in a bookshop!

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, the cover was designed by Alex Merto, while the book itself was designed by Richard Oriolo. I presume Oriolo’s design relates to the dimensions of the novel  – which are 160 X 198 cm compared to the British version’s 135 X 206, making the US version look more like some sort of fairy tale book (not sure why this is – is it because children’s books are more likely to be square?) – and also to the ‘illuminated’ letters which start a number of parts of the novel, and which don’t exist in the British version:

Even more intriguing is the line at the production history:

‘First published in 2018, in a slightly different form, by Granta Books Great Britain.’ (my italics).

Obviously the illustration is different, but it also appears that some of the text has altered too: Page 127 of the British version starts, ‘The next day was the hottest we’d had, shimmering and windless.‘, while the US version tarts up the capital ‘T’ and…

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Sometimes it does upset me when I see books better dressed abroad. Another favourite writer is Ottessa Moshfegh whose last book got the same cover as the US version, but wasn’t even granted a hardback version over here. It seems that her next one will receive the same fate, but this time will also get a far inferior design:

UK paperback version:

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US hardback version:

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I know which version I’d prefer!

If you’re interested, ‘Blackwell’s online bookshop do seem to stock US versions of books: that’s where I the US ‘Ghost Wall’ and my hardback 1st US edition of Moshfegh’s ‘My Year and Rest and Relaxation’

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Dreams DO come true…

A few years ago I wrote about the books I longed to see but would probably never come to pass: a new Tony Warren novel, Virginia Woolf’s lost diaries, something (anything!) from Shena Mackay…and a third volume to make up a ‘Joy’ trilogy of novels from the wonderful Nell Dunn.

So you can guess my heart-stopping excitement when I discovered earlier in the week that my wish has come true – Nell Dunn has written a further book entitled ‘The Muse’, and it’s out now! Quite why such a momentous moment should go unrecorded and unheralded is beyond me, but I suppose Nell is unfairly neglected these days?

As I understand it, ‘The Muse’ isn’t a novel, rather it is a memoir about a woman called Josie who Dunn met in 1960 and who became the inspiration for the first two ‘Joy’ books, ‘Poor Cow’ and ‘My Silver Shoes’ (as well as Dunn’s play, ‘Steaming’). I am SO excited about this book and it has just arrived (i.e. 20 minutes prior to me writing this, on a wet, semi-locked down Saturday afternoon) so if you’ll excuse me…

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A Book Haul – July 2020

First up, a couple of books which I bought specifically for a summer holiday in a few week’s time (fingers crossed!).

‘Magpie Lane’ by Lucy Atkins has had some excellent ‘word of mouth’ recommendations.

‘When the eight-year-old daughter of an Oxford College Master vanishes in the middle of the night, police turn to the Scottish Nanny, Dee, for answers. As Dee looks back over her time in the Master’s lodging – an eerie and ancient house – a picture of a high-achieving but dysfunctional family emerges: Nick, the fiercely intelligent and powerful father; his beautiful Danish wife, Mariah, pregnant with their child; and the lost little girl, Felicity, almost mute, seeing ghost, grieving her dead mother. But is Dee telling the whole story? I s her growing friendship with the eccentric house historian, Linklater, a cause for concern? And most of all, why is Felicity silent?’

I’m not usually a crime fiction reader but – perhaps because I’m more relaxed and have more time – I find such puzzles to be perfect for holiday reading. I’m in the process of choosing an Agatha Christie to take too…

The second holiday read is an unhealthy dose of nostalgia: ‘British Summer Time Begins: The School Summer Holiday, 1930 – 1980’ by Ysenda Maxtone Graham.

‘School’s Out! Those final clangings of he bell, when summer term ended and you walked out through the gates into freedom, were some of the most sublime moments of childhood. But what happened when you arrived home? How did you spend the long balmy weeks of unscheduled time? And how did those summer months away from school shape the person you are today? That’s what Ysenda Maxtone Graham set out to discover, probing people from all walks of life and all corners of Britain for true details of their childhood summers in the years between 1930 and 1980 – the year when the first computer games began to change children’s lives.’

As we all know, the most unhealthy treats can sometimes be the most delicious…

Next up a couple of Puffin books to add to my growing collection…both with beautiful covers, ‘Jam Tomorrow’ by Monica Redlich from 1947 and ‘ The Puffin Puzzle Book’ by W 20180505_131442_resized (2)E Gladstone from 1944. The puzzle book was only the ninth book published by Puffin and the first one to bear a cover which ditched the original Puffin book design, which itself mirrored the design of Puffin’s sister imprint, Penguin. (see right)

1aaAnd my final book (left), a beautiful new version (the US first edition) of a recent favourite, ‘Ghost Wall’ by Sarah Moss. I’ll be writing more about this gorgeous tome in my next ‘Beautiful Books’ instalment…

And last but not least comes a blu-ray I’ve been waiting months for – the digitally restored version of one of the best films ever made, and John Water‘s finest…’Female Trouble’!

If you’ve never seen this GLORIOUS film, you’ve never lived. Starring Divine, ‘Female Trouble’ tells the tragic story of Dawn Davenport who goes from juvenile delinquent to go-go dancer to cat burglar to make-up addicted fame junkie. There are just SO many great scenes and great lines and fantabulosa performances it makes my head spin. All together now…’The world of the heterosexual is a sick and boring life…’

 

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Music Time: Roisin Murphy

One of the few positive side effects of the Corona Virus outbreak is the growth of artists performing from their homes. This FANTASTIC version of ‘Sing in Back’ (LOVE the ‘I Feel Love’ samples) is a prime example! Pull off your sling-backs and dance!

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