Where has the year gone?
Time has flown and its now Easter Saturday and I haven’t posted anything since January! How did that happen? To be honest the start of the year found me struggling to find books to grab my attention. I frittered and fidgetted but couldn’t find anything, work was becoming difficult and my attention turned to a little side project I’ve got…but then a break in Anglesey brought with it some wonderful reading and so here I am catching up…
Tracey Thorn‘s ‘Another Planet‘ was always going to be a must read for me. I’ve loved Tracey’s music from the very early days of Everything But the Girl and her writing seems very much an extension of her music. This book looks at her teenage years in a small suburban town, the pains of growing up and the fear and sorrow of growing away from everything you once knew. Thoughtful, profound and funny, it is a book which is both specific to time and place and yet universal. It also made me revisit songs I thought I knew inside out, only to discover the malleability of Tracey’s lyrics: ‘The Spice of Life’ from EBTG’s ‘Eden’ was a song I always though of as being an ode to a female ex. It turns out it was about Tracey’s relationship with her mother….
Barbara Comyns’ ‘The Vet’s Daughter‘ is a masterpiece about a neglected girl who develops the ability to levitate…but special gifts don’t always lead to a happy ending. I was so pleased to get this first edition copy which is just beautiful.
The book which really got me back into the reading routine was Hallie Rubenhold‘s ‘The Five’, an account of the lives of the five victims of Jack the Ripper, taking to task the common perception that these women were prostitutes, the reality of their lives mere footnotes (if at all) in the ‘Jack the Ripper’ story. These are desperate stories of women cast down through misfortune to a place where they lived in rank hostels or on the streets, striving to find some sort of life. These are stories which resonate today: the opening of the book recalls the mass encampments of the homeless in Trafalgar Square in the 19th century and no one who lives in any of Britain’s cities can deny that we are seeing the shameful (shameful to our politicians, that is) return of such desperation today. The irony of the book, however, is that Rubenhold finds so little about the life of the one woman who was working as prostitute. Ironic, as Ruvenhold’s last book, ‘Covent Garden Ladies’ was all about London’s 19th century prostitutes. A great, much needed book.
I’ve written a lot about the work of Edouard Louis, here and here. His latest book is a short, sharp polemic ‘Who Killed by Father‘. The title is not a question it is an accusation. This tiny book is about a son returning to his dying father, a father who made the boy’s life hell with his casual but vicious homophobia. It is about coming to terms, understanding and healing wounds. It is also about naming exactly who is responsible for the pitiful state this once proud father finds himself in. Louis proudly and squarely names to politicians determined to make life hell for those such as his father, to kill those such as his father:
‘Macron, Hollande, Valls, El Khomri, Hirsch, Sarkozy, Bertrand, Chirac. The history of your suffering bears these names. Your life story is the history of one person after another beating you down. The history of your body is the history of these names, one after another, destroying you. The history of your body stands as an accusation against political history…
…Maybe those who read or listen to these words won’t recognise the names I have just mentioned. Maybe they’ll already have forgotten them, or will never have heard of them, but that is precisely why I want to mention them here, because there are murderers who are never named for their murders. There are murderers who avoid disgrace thanks to their anonymity or to oblivion. I am afraid, because I know the world acts under cover of darkness and night. I refuse to let them be forgotten. I want them to be known now and forever, everywhere, in Laos, in Siberia, and in China, in Congo, in America, beyond every ocean, deep within every continent, across every border.’
This book is essential reading.
A few recent purchases now: ‘The Confessions of Frannie Langton‘ by Sara Collins promises to be a gothic page turner set amongst the world of American Slavery, while Michelle Paver, whose ‘Dark Matter‘ I LOVED, also has a gothic piece out, this time set on the Fens at the turn of the century. I’ve started ‘Wakenhyrst’ already and it dragged me in like quicksand…Meanwhile short story collection which has grabbed my attention is Nicole Flattery‘s ‘Show them a Good Time’. The fact that it was first published by ‘Stinging Fly’ in Ireland is what did it for me: two of their alumni are Colin Barrett and Claire Louise Bennett whose work is WONDERFUL.
So, on to a couple of ‘big hitters’:
‘Spring’ by Ali Smith continues her seasons quartet with a story flecked with cold and outrage while allowing the roots of optimism to swell and breathe. A young woman, whose humanity is being eaten away by the work she carries out in a containment centre for asylum seekers, finds everything she thought she knew questioned by a lone child who is able to circumvent all known rules and regulations. Together they meet a television producer who wants to end his life. There is so much here: so much about the here and now and the anger which permeates our society, the confusion of right and wrong, the fear of where we are headed. Not an ‘easy’ book and not a book you could love, but it is so much a book we all need to read and think about.
‘Lanny’ by Max Porter is a book I LOVED. Lanny is a small, strange boy who sees the world in his own special way. But when he goes missing, the effect on those around him is to unearth deep rooted feelings, thoughts and perceptions. While Porter has commented on the slight similarity between his novel and Jon McGregor’s ‘Reservoir 13’, this is a far tighter piece, focussing on the relationships between a child and the adults surrounding him, with Lanny one of the most delightful creations I’ve come across in a while.
Tana French‘s ‘The Wych Elm‘ came garlanded in great praise and while I did enjoy it I was let down by the fact that I guessed one of the protagonists very early on. (My method of judgement of crime and mysteries is that if I can guess the outcome then it can’t be that good!).
Bob Stanley is from my favourite pop group, Saint Etienne, and his short book covers certain songs from their catalogue. One for believers, I suspect.
A book for my summer holiday is definitely this beautiful edition of ‘Summer Cooking’ by Elizabeth David. Very much of her time (the 1950s/ 1960s), David is cited as a great influence on many great chefs. My problem with her recipes is that they are very imprecise, giving very few weights or measurements.. However, her writing is a delight and just the thought of what these pages could conjure up makes it perfect beach reading.
Diana Souhami‘s ‘The Trials of Radclyffe Hall’ is a masterpiece about the author of the lesbian classic ‘The Well of Loneliness’ and her many fights for justice. This lovely hardback edition flew off the shelf in a charity shop…while the gorgeous book of photographs, ‘Paradise Street’, is a record of children playing out in the streets in the last half of the twentieth century, something which seems so rare nowadays.
…and finally, if you are watching ‘Pose’ on BBC2 – the drama set around the New York drag ‘balls’ of the 1980s – then as a companion piece I can’t recommend highly enough ‘The House of Impossible Beauties’ by Joseph Cassara. And if you aren’t watching ‘Pose’ then you really need to: you can view the whole series on the BBC I-player!