At the end of September I will hand in the final 40,000 words for my Masters course. I have loved this year – it has taught me so much and given me great opportunities. But it has also cut down on my reading time. This time last year I was about thirteen books ahead of where I am now. Overall, I’m pleased with how much I’ve read alongside studying, but of course I still have a stack of books I haven’t read for now which I want to read once I’m done. Below are a few of those…
I bought Arcadia shortly before the paperback was published because I wanted the hardback edition and its beautiful cut-out. That was more than a year ago – for a long time I resisted actually picking it up. I’m not sure why; perhaps because at 596 pages in hardback it looks like a tome. As with many other books, I originally was interested based on a video by Jen Campbell. I finally gave into temptation. I fell in and got swept up and now I am in love.
Arcadia follows three strands of a story which are slowly, brilliantly, drawn together. In 1960s Oxford, Professor Henry Lytten is creating an imaginary world on paper, telling his young neighbour Rosie about this world he has created. She reminds him that eventually something will have to happen: Don’t they fight, or have adventures? Couldn’t you get someone to fall in love, or something?
In Anterwold, a young boy called Jay sees a strange apparition. In a futuristic laboratory, eccentric scientist Angela Meerson is creating a machine which may allow travel between parallel universes – or perhaps travel in time. We move between these threads, and gradually it is possible to draw connections between them – in place, time, characters. Some things the reader has to leave in the hands of the author to reveal, trusting that it will all, eventually make sense. The narration is so deftly and carefully handled though that this is never a difficult trust to have.
Today is something a bit different. Franklin’s Flying Bookshop is a picture book, which I’ve never reviewed on this blog before. I pre-ordered it months ago because it’s written by the amazing Jen Campbell – she of the amazing YouTube channel, Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops series, The Bookshop Book, a brilliant poetry collection The Hungry Ghost Festival. Her short story collection The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night will be published in November, which I’ve also obviously pre-ordered. I was so excited when Franklin landed in my hands a week early and took a writing break to read it. And then I read it again, and then a third time for good measure.
August has been a lovely bookish month. Mostly I’ve been writing, but I’ve got back into a good rhythm with reading. I had a wonderful few days in Aberystwyth just reading and writing, mostly on the beach. Reservoir 13 will be on my favourites for the year, and though I haven’t finished it yet, so will Arcadia.
Back to non-fiction again. Trevor Noah writes about his childhood in South Africa incredibly touchingly in this memoir covering his life up to about his early twenties. I listened to this as an audiobook, which I would absolutely recommend – Noah’s voice is brilliant to listen to, and you will have the benefit of hearing the many South African languages he refers to spoken properly.
What We Lose is a fragmented meditation on grief and loss. Revolving around the loss of a mother in small sections of intense prose, it powerfully evokes the far-reaching effects of a major bereavement in a beautifully written debut novel. Using a first person narrator interspersed with excerpts from blog posts, photographs, biographies, Clemmons carefully stitches together many disparate elements into one whole.
Despite having heard a lot about this book before I picked it up, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. A young girl goes missing while on holiday in a village in mid-England. The villagers join in the search parties. And then time passes, and life in the village goes on.
McGregor’s prose is lucid and full of sharp observation. This book takes in an impressive number of perspectives and voices, casting its gaze on many characters within the village. The girl who disappeared, her parents’ later comings and goings and the broader effects on the community serve as a centre of gravity, although many other little dramas are explored. She is forgotten and remembered in waves, the narrator occasionally sidestepping another story to remind us of the mystery, reciting the information known and how it might have changed.
The missing girl’s name was Rebecca, or Becky, or Bex. She had been thirteen at the time of her disappearance. She’d been wearing a white hooded top with a navy-blue body-warmer, black jeans and canvas shoes. She would be taller than five feet now.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been a bit absent from this blog, which will probably be the case for a while longer. I’ll still review everything I’m reading, but I’m just busy. Blogging has always been something fun for me to do and I’m determined to keep it that way. Much as I love posting regularly twice a week it’s just going to have to wait a while.
Aside from my MA, I’m just busier than I’d anticipated. Making time in the week seems to only produce more things that need doing in it! July was slow reading, my smallest wrap up since I started writing them (although only by books, not by pages).
July. I went on holiday, I wrote and wrote and wrote, and reading time has been sacrificed to that. But, that’s ok. My reading is probably going to be thinner until October, and that’s just how it’s going to be.
I feel like I’ve been reading quite a bit – really it’s finishing things that I’ve been having a problem with. Which is why I’ve brought back the ‘Books I Started This Month’ list, just to make myself feel a bit better. I was loving The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan but after The Clocks in This House, the succession of present tense books was sneaking into my writing, and rewriting scenes into the past tense gets boring really quickly, so I’ve had to pause it for a while. Read More »
The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times is a fascinating book. It’s 1923. Lucy Marsh is a fourteen year old orphan. On Sundays, a man called Coach drives her and a bunch of other kids in his old Maudslay truck out to Epping Forest. There they meet the funny men: Toto, the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion. They have a picnic. This is my absolute favourite read of the year so far.
The genius of this book is in how Xan Brooks manages to balance a creeping sense of the unsafe with an attractiveness, a charming quality. Lucy is our anchor, and although the story takes in a much broader scope it all puts her situation in context. She acknowledges this dichotomy of beautiful and dangerous in the first chapter, hinting at what is to come:
Maybe this, were she ever called upon to explain her actions, would be her chief line of defence. Your honour, she would say, I went back because the forest is fantastic, which is another way of saying that anything can happen. And this is why, as long as she lives, she will never completely regret her trips to the forest, in spite of the trouble they cause and the horrors that follow.