The past few weeks have been very quiet on the blog front. I have been reading but I have been a bit all over the place, dipping in and out of poetry, short stories and a couple of novels. I thought I’d do a little summary of my reading in the past few weeks as I haven’t done a review for a little while.
To begin with, I spent a couple of weeks reading The Group by Mary McCarthy. It’s my first book club read so I’m waiting to discuss it with my fellow bookclubbers before commenting on it on my blog. What I will say though is that I enjoyed it, and was surprised by its frankness on certain women’s subjects, which even by today’s standards aren’t that easy to come across in popular fiction. More on that in a couple of weeks…
I also read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. It was gripping and different, and I like that it leaves a lot to the imagination, discussing the life of Kathy H. in a series of memories of her upbringing at a boarding school and the warped modern day Britain that she lives in. It was subtle and intelligent and I liked the naïveté of Kathy H., her childlike view of life and the stories of her relationships with close friends Ruth and Tommy. I’d really like to see the film, too. Although perhaps that is also something to do with my penchant for Keira Knightley films. I started watching The Edge of Love about a year ago on BBC iPlayer but never finished it and keep meaning to get back to it! I loved Atonement too (although curiously I wasn’t the biggest fan of Ian McEwan’s novel – possibly because I was young, and I couldn’t separate my dislike for the character Briony with the book itself). Maybe Keira Knightley just has similar taste to me and the roles she picks are the ones that I would like to play? Most likely. Especially running about in the tropics in Pirates of the Caribbean, and as the ultimate heroine, Lizzie Bennett in Pride and Prejudice of course!
I’ve been rereading a lot of poetry, revisiting Lord Byron, Sir Thomas Wyatt, Sir Philip Sydney, John Donne, Robert Burns and Thomas Hardy, and also discovering some new favourites; Fleur Adcock, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Moniza Alvi. Another new favourite is Connie Bensley, she writes in a way that reminds me of my own attempts at poetry, short but telling images and a certain vagueness that reveals something slightly uncomfortable, skirting around subjects to keep them at a safe distance. One of her poems which stood out for me was ‘Trespass’, which deals with a yearning for closeness to someone:
I turned to you,
Smelling out warmth like a cat,
Preying on you decorously,
For touch and comfort.
We always want more than we bargain for –
The particular tone of voice,
The special intimacy,
The exclusive offer.
I like the contrast between longing for someone, and the disappointment and resignation when it has come within your grasp but is never quite yours. Her poem, ‘Cooking’ is also lovely, with the line “Rumour of it will reach you from the kitchen”, which I really like the idea of, the smells of cooking reaching through a house, intangible in itself but representative of so much more. I’ll definitely be looking for more poems by Connie Bensley.
I had bought No one belongs her more than you. by Miranda July for a friend for her birthday after wanting to read it myself for ages, then finally got around to getting myself a copy. Note to self: don’t give a book that you haven’t read as a gift to someone unless they have expressly requested it. I had seen July’s film Me and you and everyone we know so I should have known what to expect really. I hadn’t expected her stories to be so sad, peppered with strange, sexually-charged moments. They are full of characters inhabiting worlds of their own, on the fringes but aware of it, some succumbing to societal norms, others embracing their quirks. July has an evocative voice, and I felt reading the stories that I could imagine her speaking them, soft and light, but clear, musical, and strong. There are a few lovely lines: in ‘Majesty’ a character dreams about Prince William – “That day I carried the dream around like a full glass of water, moving gracefully so I would not lose any of it.” The stories that I have read so far are odes to strange, almost cathartic moments that occur in everyday life, a secret wink that somewhere, moments like these exist and are happening, and that we are just briefly privy to these awkward revelations that perhaps would normally be kept quiet.
After a lot of recent attention to Hilary Mantell’s new novel Bring up the Bodies I decided to pick Wolf Hall off of my shelf. I had picked it up in a bookshop around the time it won the Booker prize, turned it over, read the blurb and cover notes, screwed my face up a little bit and put it back on the shelf, not enthralled by what it said it had to offer. The book was recently passed on to me by a family member and I decided to give it a go – eighty-nine pages in and I’m a little fed up of it if I’m honest. I’ve read so much about the Tudors that I don’t know how much more I can be bothered with. And Mantell’s writing style is a bit jumpy for my taste, constantly back and forth between 1527 and 1529, alluding to things that I don’t have the energy to remember, wondering if I should know about them from earlier on in the book, or from my own stilted studies of history. It might be brilliant but I’m leaving it lying in wait for a while longer, it’s just not suiting my mood at the moment.
And so that brings us to my current read, plucked from my bookshelf this morning in a 30-second browse before I had to run to the train station. I picked up Bernard MacLaverty’s Grace Notes; interesting and nicely written so far, capturing the grief of a young woman returning to Northern Ireland, and her memories of her hometown, memories that she isn’t quite sure how to deal with, if they are fond or estranged. It’s a little bit depressing for a day as muggy and sultry as this but they tell me the weather is about to break! I’m looking forward to seeing how everything unfolds. Let’s see what the rest of the week brings…
ps. I’d like to add another book in here, Rafik Schami’s The Dark Side of Love – another which I haven’t read yet but spent the day yesterday flicking through filming scenes for my band’s video – I have the paper cuts to prove it! It was a long day but very much looking forward to seeing the end result.