First hand account

28 01 2011

The hand that first held mine by Maggie O’Farrell

When the bohemian, sophisticated Innes Kent turns up by chance on her doorstep, Lexie Sinclair realises she cannot wait any longer for her life to begin, and leaves for London. There, at the heart of the 1950s Soho art scene, she carves out a new life for herself, with Innes at her side. In the present day, Elina and Ted are reeling from the difficult birth of their first child. Elina, a painter, struggles to reconcile the demands of motherhood with sense of herself as an artist, and Ted is disturbed by memories of his own childhood, memories that don’t tally with his parents’ version of events. As Ted begins to search for answers, so an extraordinary portrait of two women is revealed, separated by fifty years, but connected in ways that neither could ever have expected.

A compelling yarn. Extremely well-written and well worth the Costa prize. Bit of a slow start and rather too much detail of Elina’s early days of motherhood but nevertheless excellent once it gets going. Ted’s “search for answers” does beg a number of questions though about why he never thought to ask any questions at all earlier in his life. Still, highly recommended.

No business like snow business

21 01 2011

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

Beware the falling snow… The first snowfall in Oslo brings a series of gruesome murders, and Harry Hole is pitted against a brutal killer who will drive him to the edge. The night the first snow falls a young boy wakes to find his mother gone. He walks through the silent house, but finds only wet footprints on the stairs. In the garden looms a solitary figure: a snowman bathed in cold moonlight, its black eyes glaring up at the bedroom windows. Round its neck is his mother’s pink scarf.

Inspector Harry Hole is convinced there is a link between the disappearance and a menacing letter he received some months earlier. As Harry and his team delve into unsolved case files, they discover that an alarming number of wives and mothers have gone missing over the years. When a second woman disappears Harry’s suspicions are confirmed: he is a pawn in a deadly game. For the first time in his career Harry finds himself confronted with a serial killer operating on his turf, a killer who will drive him to the brink of insanity.

A nice cheap buy for the ipad this one and first one of Jo Nesbo’s that I’ve read. Have to say that I thought it was really pretty good. Hole is an interesting character and the plot is quite gripping and a bit gory at times. But, overall, another worthy addition to the stable of Scandinavian crime fiction translated into English. Look forward to catching up with the others.

read on ipad

Try a little tenderness

14 01 2011

Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald

Between the First World War and the Wall Street Crash, the French Riviera was the stylish place for wealthy Americans to visit. Among the most fashionable are the Divers, Dick and Nicole who hold court at their villa. Into their circle comes Rosemary Hoyt, a film star, who is instantly attracted to them, but understands little of the dark secrets and hidden corruption that hold them together. As Dick draws closer to Rosemary, he fractures the delicate structure of his marriage and sets both Nicole and himself on to a dangerous path where only the strongest can survive. In this exquisite, lyrical novel, Fitzgerald has poured much of the essence of his own life; he has also depicted the age of materialism, shattered idealism and broken dreams.

Brilliantly written, outstanding story and really compelling characters. Just terrific.

Mayoral ups and downs

7 01 2011

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

In a fit of drunken anger, Michael Henchard sells his wife and baby daughter for five guineas at a country fair. Over the course of the following years, he manages to establish himself as a respected and prosperous pillar of the community of Casterbridge, but behind his success there always lurk the shameful secret of his past and a personality prone to self-destructive pride and temper.

Years later, Susan, now a widow, arrives in Casterbridge to seek her legal husband. To their surprise, Henchard is now the Mayor of Casterbridge and following the sale of his wife, took a twenty-one-year vow not to drink, out of shame. Henchard remarries Susan and as Elizabeth-Jane believes herself to be Newson’s daughter, he adopts her as his own. But he cannot evade his destiny by such measures, for his past refuses to be buried. Fate contrives for him to be punished for the recklessness of his younger days.

Terrific stuff this. Henchard is a fantastic character although not hugely sympathetic. Some of the coincidences defy credibility but really doesn’t detract from a great novel.

No, no, Notwithstanding

5 01 2011

Notwithstanding by Louis de Bernieres

According to Amazon this is “A funny and heartbreaking new book from one of Britain’s favourite and bestselling writers.”

And it quotes some other reviews:

`Bernieres paints an affectionate picture of village life’ — Daily Express

`not just very funny, but makes you oddly proud to be British’ — Sunday Telegraph

I can’t recommend this book warmly enough. — The Lady, Book Reviews, Susan Hill

Now, if these aren’t enough to make you run a mile then let me put it a different way: avoid; don’t bother; set aside; give away if received as gift.

It really has nothing to recommend it. One mildly poignant passage is all I got from it. And could not bring self to complete.

Language barriers

4 01 2011

Great Christmas gift for the kids

This excellent description of a game was found on the back of a lovely gift from relative to the kids:

You get to be HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3 in this diversification world. Join warrior as they make their way through Far Far Away, buying as many places as you can in this fun-filled junior board. You will find the rock hole, archaic site, lab or machinery room, even rock hollow. Any time other players land on one of your property spaces, they must pay you to visit there. If you have the most money at the end of the game, you win!

Bit of a translation issue there. It was, in fact, High School Musical 3 Junior Monopoly. H & C can’t wait to play it.


2 01 2011

Invisible by Paul Auster

From the Amazon review:

Sinuously constructed in four interlocking parts, Invisible opens in New York City in the spring of 1967 when twenty-year-old Adam Walker, an aspiring poet and student at Columbia University meets the enigmatic Frenchman Rudolf Born, and his silent and seductive girlfriend Margot. Before long, Walker finds himself caught in a perverse triangle that leads to a sudden, shocking act of violence that will alter the course of his life. Three different narrators tell the story, as it travels in time from 1967 to 2007 and moves from New York to Paris and to a remote Caribbean island in a story of unbridled sexual hunger and a relentless quest for justice. With uncompromising insight, Auster takes us to the shadowy borderland between truth and memory, authorship and identity to produce a work of unforgettable power that confirms his reputation as one of America’s most spectacularly inventive writers.

As it says here “the shadowy borderland between truth and memory, authorship and identity” – all very Auster and has, I am sure, been criticised (probably by Private Eye) for this wilful ambiguity. But this is what he does extremely well and, whilst it may mess with your head, it certainly makes this a fascinating read.

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