I so miss bookshops. That lovely mooching and fingering and stumbling across titles you so desperately want, never even knew existed, or which you never even knew that you desperately wanted. That enticing awareness of so many books, so little time. The sweet, tobacco-like aroma of second-hand volumes…
The internet is great, of course, and during these times of isolation it’s the only way to get our hands on new tomes…I do still get a thrill when I receive a parcel through the post (something which goes all the way back to my childhood when I got a telegram from my uncle for my birthday) and I get way too excited when I spot something lovely on ebay or direct from a small publishing house (I’ve just ordered a lovely collection by Cathy Sweeney direct from The Stinging Fly in Ireland). But it’s not quite the same is it?
However, at this time pining for bookshops really should be the least of our worries, so lets get on with what I’ve bought this month:
First up is a pair of Muriel Sparks to add to my collection. I am most thrilled by the copy of ‘The Ballad of Peckham Rye’ which has the most glorious Victor Reinganum cover. This is one of Spark’s earlier novels, from 1960, while the other, ‘Reality and Dreams’ is one of her last, from 1996.
Next up is the return of an old favourite, Evie Wyld, with ‘The Bass Rock’. I loved her first two novels, ‘After the fire, a still small voice’ and ‘All the Birds, Singing’ so this should be a treat. Olivia Laing’s first novel, ‘Crudo’ I found disappointing, but I hope her collection of essays – ‘Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency’ – will be more enlightening. It contains stuff on Derek Jarman and Ali Smith, which is a good start and I’ve just noticed an interview with Chantal Joffe, whose work excited me a while ago and about whom I know nothing.
Sebastian Barry’s ‘A Thousand Moons’ is the sequel to his much-loved ‘Days Without End’, which concerned the story of two young soldiers in the US Army of 1850 and their adoption of a young native-Indian girl. I still haven’t read my copy of that prequel, so this may have to wait awhile until I catch up!
Another book which has had rave reviews is Maggie O’Farrell’s ‘Hamnet’:
On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home? Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.
Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; a flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.
I started this last night and, so far it IS great.