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Janet's Log - Stardate 2014

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018-2014-Apr-02-LetterstoGrandchildren-T

 

Letters to my Grandchildren by Tony Benn

 

The ‘blurb’

Tony Benn's twin messages - of hope, and of anger against injustice - have always appealed to the young and idealistic, even to those who don't share his political beliefs. As Peter Hennessy wrote, 'what is special about him is his constant curiosity about why things are as they are, why they have to be that way and what he can do about them.'

 

In these letters to his ten grandchildren and their generation, Tony Benn uses his enormous experience of life to encourage them to question everything as they cope with the challenges they will face. Written with affection and respect, his hope is that this book will inspire young people to reject the pessimism and cynicism that are so prevalent today and above all to have confidence in themselves.

 

I picked this up on a whim in the library – I read the first few pages and thought it was going to take the form of actual letters written by Benn to his grandchildren.   However, it doesn’t contain actual letters – the book itself was written as a letter to all of his grandchildren and as such it doesn’t have the personal and intimate content or feeling that I expected. 

 

It’s actually a collection of Benn’s thoughts and feelings on various political subjects including the British Empire and racism, Guantanamo Bay and Europe – and advice to his grandchildren.  Being old-school Labour he doesn’t try to disguise his contempt for Tony Blair and New Labour and, despite disliking Thatcher’s policies, he seemed to have a (albeit grudging) respect for the way she stuck to her beliefs.  He writes well and comes across well.

 

In one letter he tells his grandchildren, and therefore the reader too, that they have a duty to vote, even if they feel that in voting they are merely choosing the ‘lesser of two evils’ and that if they don’t vote then they can’t complain when things don’t go their way.  He talks of respect a great deal, but not just of respecting ones elders but of how respect has to work both ways.  “If older people are to be interesting to the young”, he says, “then they have to be interested in the young and treat them with respect.”.  He covers a great many subjects in this book, some more interesting than others (to me) but always considerately and respectfully written. 

 

The book finishes with a short story entitled The Daddy Shop, written by Benn to his children when they were young as a result of his guilt at missing so many family events because of his job as an MP.  It’s very sweet and despite his wife urging him not to tell the children the story in case he “transferred his guilt to them” he read it to them on many occasions and often bought tears to their eyes. 

 

So in summary, it wasn’t exactly what I expected, but nonetheless I enjoyed it.  :)

 

The paperback edition is pages long and is published by Penguin.  It was first published in 1950.  The ISBN is 978.   

 

3/5 (I enjoyed it)

 

(Finished 02 April 2014)

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019-2014-Apr-08-TheSeventeenthChild_zps9

 

The Seventeenth Child by Ethel George

 

The ‘blurb’ (from the Publisher’s website)

An unrivalled piece of oral history describing the life of a large and poor family in Cavalry Street, Norwich, between the wars. Ethel is now 91 and some of her elder brothers fought in the Great War. She celebrates her mother’s heroic struggle to keep the family respectable while Father drank away too much of the family income.

 

A friend sent me this book recently (she said in her letter that she was sending a ‘local’ book because it was the only way she could be sure I hadn’t read it/already got it on my ‘to read’ pile!  :giggle2: ) in return for a book I’d sent her.  She’s from the area and had read the book herself.

 

The book was compiled by Carole and Michael Blackwell from hours of material dictated by Ethel into a recorder by means of a wireless microphone worn round her neck.  The words, however, have not been edited and the resulting book is therefore very idiomatic in style. 

 

Edith George was born in 1914 to bricklayer Albert Edwards and his wife Eleanor Chaplin.  Eleanor was from a fairly wealthy family and her father disapproved of Albert but, after getting pregnant by him not once but twice, the couple were finally allowed to marry.  As the title suggests, Edith was the seventeenth, and last, child born to them.  

 

Ethel’s reminiscences start from when she was born (obviously the accounts from the first few years are not her own memories, but rather via word-of-mouth from her siblings and other family members) up until she was 20 years old.  Ethel’s recollections of life show a happy upbringing, despite the families obvious hardships.  Her father was quite fond of a drink and it seems impossible that her mother could afford to clothe and feed the family on the meagre amount of money she had in her hand after he’d spent the majority of his wages on beer - and yet unbelievably she did manage to make ends meet... just. 

 

Ethel takes us from her early years, through school and up to the time she met her future husband.  At times the tales she tells seem unbelievable, and yet they are true – there are lots of footnotes with factual proof to back up her stories.  Occasionally she repeats herself and she uses lots of slang and colloquial language which means the book is not always grammatically correct, but because the compilers haven’t changed her words at all this comes across as conversational rather than irritating and I am glad they didn’t try to ‘improve’ on Ethel’s words.

 

As many of you know, social history is an area which interests me and I’ve read quite a few novels on that subject.  It was good, therefore, to read this factual account of what it was like living before the introduction of the National Health Service.   Despite the lack of money and the hard life that Ethel and her family lived there is not a touch of bitterness in this book.  Ethel’s life might have been hard at times but it is a colourful one and one that Ethel clearly enjoyed living!  

 

I’m not sure how I’d have coped, but I suppose that like Ethel and her Mum I’d have just had to get on with things!  It is accounts like these that really do make me count my blessings.  :)

 

The paperback edition is 208 pages long and is published by Larks Press.  It was first published in 2006.  The ISBN is 9781904006305.   

 

4/5 (I really enjoyed it)

 

(Finished 08 April 2014)

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Me too.  :)

 

Sam doesn't want it back - I think my Mum is going to borrow it but I'd be more than happy to post it to you when she's read it if you'd like it.  :)

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That's very kind of you J, but I have no idea when I would get to it - judging by the state of my TBR it could lie untouched for some time. :D

 

I really appreciate the offer though. :)

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If it makes you feel any better I have "acquired" 36!

 

Probably half have been gifts or free on kindle - I've picked up a few classics this year.

 

I've not read any H E Bates yet, I shall have to explore!

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I love the drawing on the cover! I hope you enjoy the book :).

Thanks, Gaia.  :)

 

If it makes you feel any better I have "acquired" 36!

 

Probably half have been gifts or free on kindle - I've picked up a few classics this year.

 

I've not read any H E Bates yet, I shall have to explore!

It does - although I don't actually count my Kindle books!  :giggle:

 

The paper books I've bought so far have cost me £28.65 - it could have been worse! :D

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Book #20, finished 14 April, was Set in Stone by Robert Goddard.  Review (and some photos of the book's location!) here:)

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021-2014-Apr-23-TheEleganceoftheHedgehog

 

The Elegance of the Hedgehog  by Muriel Barbery

 

The ‘blurb’

An enchanting international bestseller and award-winner about life, art, literature, philosophy, culture, class, privilege, and power, seen through the eyes of a 54-year old French concierge and a precocious but troubled 12-year-old girl.

 

Renée has been concierge at a sumptuous Paris apartment for many years.  The residents think her dependable but not overly erudite and they largely treat her as a convenience – someone who is there solely for their benefit but not somebody to engage with.  And this suits Renée.  But Renée hides a secret… she’s passionate about art and books. 

 

Meanwhile 12-year-old Paloma, who lives in one of the apartments upstairs and is a very intelligent girl, has decided that existence is futile and therefore resolves that she will take her own life on her 13th birthday.  When one of the other occupants of Rue de Grenelle dies and a new resident moves in, things change and Renée and Paloma discover they have more in common than they realise, and this meeting will change both their lives forever.

 

I really struggled with this book and if it hadn’t been a Book Club book I would definitely have given up.  However, the arrival of the new inhabitant of the apartment block was a real turning point and once he had arrived I really got into the story.  The writing is a little challenging in places but is also beautiful.  One pivotal quote “Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside, she's covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary - and terribly elegant." really shows the poetical nature of this novel and I’m glad I persevered to the end.  I didn’t love it, but I really grew to like it, and that was good enough for me.  :)

 

The paperback edition is 320 pages long and is published by Gallic.  It was first published in 2008.  The ISBN is 9781906040185.   

 

3/5 (I liked it)

 

(Finished 23 April 2014)

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Not part of my review, but as a Book Club we read the book and then watched the film before discussing The Elegance of the Hedgehog.  The film has several significant differences from the book - one rather major one is...
 
do not read this if you intend to read the book and/or watch the film...
 

In the book - and this is a major part of the storyline and of Renée's life - Renée has a sister who dies young. Her death has a profound effect on Renée and shapes who she becomes. This detail is omitted entirely from the film.


I did enjoy the film, and had I not read the book the detail in the spoiler wouldn't matter to the film - but as I knew of its existence, it's omission irritated me a little bit!  I thought the characterisation in the film was pretty much spot on though, especially Renée.   :)

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I'm interested in the Goddard book but it's a shame you didn't like The Elegance of the Hedgehog so much, the book is on my wishlist after reading about it in one of my books about books, it has low priority though and I might remove it when I redo my wishlist.

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I think The Elegance of the Hedgehog will be one of those books that stays with me for some time, and therefore I might 'upgrade' it.  Please do not let my review put you off - several of my Book Club ladies decreed it "one of the best books [they've] ever read"!  :)

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Book #22.  I'm very much looking forward to discussing this in May's Reading Circle.  :)

 

022-2014-Apr-30-AVeryLongEngagement_zpsd

 

A Very Long Engagement  by Sébastien Japrisot

 

The ‘blurb’

Set during and after the First World War, A Very Long Engagement tells the story of a young woman's search for her fiancé, whom she believes might still be alive despite having officially been reported as "killed in the line of duty." Unable to walk since childhood, fearless Mathilde Donnay is undeterred in her quest as she scours the country for information about five wounded French soldiers who were brutally abandoned by their own troops. A Very Long Engagement is a mystery, a love story, and an extraordinary portrait of life in France before and after the War.

 

The year after World War One ends, and two years after the death of her fiancé Manech, Mathilde Donnay receives a letter from a nun at a hospital inviting her to visit Daniel Esperanza, a former soldier who claims he has information about Manech’s death.  This visit sends Mathilde on a quest to discover the truth about what really happened to her fiancé.  With the starting point of some letters written to loved-ones of the dead soldiers Mathilde stubbornly digs to find information, receiving help but also facing blank walls and people actively trying to cover up what happened.  Throughout her mission she never gives up hope of uncovering what really happened to Manech and the other men so cruelly treated in the face of the horrors of war.

 

This is such a fantastic book.  It’s a brilliant thriller – a real page-turner.  The characters and characterisation in the book are simply wonderful and the writing is just gorgeous.  Although it took me a week to read this was simply due to lack of time – I really hated having to put it down. 

 

Very few books make me cry, but this one certainly did.  I cried because the book had ended.   I cried at the futility of war.  Top stuff – don’t just take my word for it, please read it. 

 

The paperback edition is 313 pages long and is published by Vintage.  It was first published in 1991.  The ISBN is 9780099593997.   

 

5/5 (I loved it)

 

(Finished 30 April 2014)

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Wow. Excellent review, Janet! It is definitely my next read.

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Thanks - I hope you love it as much as I did. :)

 

I want my Mum to read this, but the print in my copy is very small!

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Thanks - I hope you love it as much as I did. :)

 I want my Mum to read this, but the print in my copy is very small!

This is one of the very, very few books that have made me feel emotional at the end - a stunner. I can only concur with all your review. I struggled to get anything down afterwards, but could almost lift your review and paste it into my thread, it so accurately reflects what I felt too!  Good one!

 

I've had my copy for some years, a large format paperback, published by Harvill (Harper Collins) in 1993. Given that the book was originally published in French in 1991, I think it must have been a paperback version of the hardback, a la airport. Certainly the print is a lovely size! (ISBN 0-00-271330=6)

Edited by willoyd

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This is one of the very, very few books that have made me feel emotional at the end - a stunner. I can only concur with all your review. I struggled to get anything down afterwards, but could almost lift your review and paste it into my thread, it so accurately reflects what I felt too!  Good one!

Wow, thanks.  :) 

 

I can't stop thinking about it! If I'd read it earlier in the year I'd have chosen it for my Book Club - stupidly I didn't think of choosing a WW1 novel in 2014!

 

I've had my copy for some years, a large format paperback, published by Harvill (Harper Collins) in 1993. Given that the book was originally published in French in 1991, I think it must have been a paperback version of the hardback, a la airport. Certainly the print is a lovely size! (ISBN 0-00-271330=6)

It just shows you shouldn't judge a book by its cover! I picked this version (it was a pre-order, out on 3 April) because I thought the cover was pretty! It was actually only £5.99 which I guess should have given it away, but I thought it was just an introductory offer. I shall be more aware of book size in future.

 

I spoke to my Mum on the phone last night and told her she must read it! She's going to see if the library have it (thanks for the ISBN info). She would be physically able to read my copy, but she'd just prefer something easier on the eye. :)

 

Great review, I'm glad you enjoyed the book :).

Thanks, Gaia. :)

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It sounds wonderful Janet .. definitely one for the wishlist. Brilliant review :) 

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