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Willoyd's Reading 2024


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Post number

02  Book list 2024

03  Favourite books

04  Favourite authors

05 A Tour of the United States

06  Reading The World

07  Classic fiction reading lists

08  The Book Pile

09  spare

10  spare

11  spare

12  spare

13  spare

14 First review!

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Book List 2024

 

January

01.  A Passage to India - EM Forster G *****

02.  York Advance Notes, A Passage to India - Nigel Messenger ***

03.  Strong Female Character - Fern Brady ****

 

February

04.  Daniel Deronda - George Eliot G *****

05.  Cursed Bread - Sophie Mackintosh **

06.  The Bone Readers - Jacob Ross W *****

07.  Olive Kitteridge - Elizabeth Strout U ***

08.  The Marriage Question - Claire Carlisle ****

09.  The Sorrow of War - Bao Ninh W **

10.  The Offing - Benjamin Myers *****

 

March

11.   Not A River - Selva Almeda W *****

12.  The Perfect Golden Circle -  Benjamin Myers GR ****

13.  The Years - Annie Ernaux GR *****

 

April

14 Caroline - Richmal Crompton G **

15.  Pedro Paramo - Juan Rulfo W ****

16.  Family Roundabout - Richmal Crompton G ***

 

May

17.  The Plague - Albert Camus G *****

18.  Ilustrado - Miguel Syjuco W ***

19.  The Collini Case - Ferdinand von Schirach G ****

20.  Why We Get Sick - Benjamin Bikman ***

21.  The US Civil War - Louis Masur ***

22.  By The River - various writers ***

 

June

23.  Commonwealth - Ann Patchett U ****

24.  The Sea Detective - Mark Douglas-Home R ****

25.  The Details - Ia Genberg GW *****

26.  A Heart So White - Javier Marias GW ***(*)

 

 

 

G = a book group choice, R = reread, U = Tour of the United States, W = Read Around the World, X = unfinished

 

Ratings

*  Positively disliked: almost certainly unfinished.  Most of these books tend to be book group choices! LibraryThing rating 0.5 - 1

**  Disappointing or not particularly liked even if recognise merits:  likely to be at least skimmed, often unfinished.  LT 1.5 - 2

*** OK, a decent read, functionally useful if read for education.  Books I want to finish, even if I don't feel the need to!  LT 2.5 - 3

****  Good, compulsive reading that, whilst putdownable, demands to be picked up and finished LT 3.5

*****  Very good, into the realms of 'unputdownable'  LT 4

******  Excellent: a top notch read, even if not quite a favourite.  LT 4.5

******  Favourite: books which, for whatever reason, have something special about them, even if only personal to me. For the full list of these (less than 150 of them) see post #7 below.  LT 5

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Favourite Books

 

A record of the 140 books and series which I rate as 'favourites': 6+ stars!  These aren't necessarily the best literature I've read, but ones, that, for whatever reason, struck a special chord in my reading that continues to resonate long after actually reading them.  Individual books within a series are likely to have scored less, but the rating is for the series as a whole. The lists are divided into

  •     Fiction
  •     Non-fiction
  •     Joint fiction/non-fiction
  •     Children's fiction

Fiction (82)
Ackroyd, Peter: Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem
Ackroyd, Peter: Hawksmoor
Austen, Jane: Sense and Sensibility
Austen, Jane: Pride and Prejudice
Austen, Jane: Emma
Buchan, John: John Macnab
Carr JL: A Month in the Country
Carr JL: The Harpole Report
Chaucer, Geoffrey: The Canterbury Tales
Chevalier, Tracey: Falling Angels
Childers, Erskine: The Riddle of the Sands
Collins, Norman: London Belongs To Me
Cooper, Susan: The Dark is Rising
Cunningham, Michael: The Hours
Davies, Martin: The Conjuror's Bird
Dickens, Charles: A Christmas Carol
Dickens, Charles: Bleak House
Dickens, Charles: David Copperfield

Dunant, Sarah: In the Company of the Courtesan

Eco, Umberto: The Name of the Rose
Eliot, George: Middlemarch
Elphinstone, Margaret: The Sea Road
Elphinstone, Margaret: Voyageurs

Evaristo, Bernardine: Girl, Woman, Other
Fairer, David: The Chocolate House trilogy

Faulkner, William: As I Lay Dying

Fforde, Jasper: The Eyre Affair

Forester, CS: The Hornblower series

Goscinny, Rene: Asterix in Britain
Greig, Andrew: The Return of John Macnab

Guareschi, Giovanni: The Don Camillo series
Haddon, Mark: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Hardy, Thomas: Far From The Madding Crowd
Herbert, Frank: Dune
Heyer, Georgette: The Grand Sophy

Hoeg, Peter: Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow

Horwood, William: The Stonor Eagles

Horwood, William: Skallagrig
Hulme, Keri: The Bone People

Ivey, Eowyn: To the Bright Edge of the World
Japrisot, Sebastian: A Very Long Engagement

Le Carre, John: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Lee, Harper: To Kill A Mockingbird

Leon, Donna: The Commissario Brunetti series

Mantel, Hilary: Wolf Hall

McMurtry, Larry: Lonesome Dove
Melville, Herman: Moby Dick
Miller, Andrew: Pure

Miller, Andrew: Now We Shall Be Entirely Free
Mitchell, David: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
Monsarrat, Nicholas: The Cruel Sea
Moorcock, Michael: Mother London
O'Brian, Patrick: The Aubrey-Maturin series

O'Farrell, Maggie: Hamnet
Pears, Ian: An Instance of the Fingerpost
Penney, Stef: The Tenderness of Wolves
Perry, Sarah: The Essex Serpent

Prichard, Caradog: One Moonlit Night

Proulx, Annie: The Shipping News

Roffey, Monique: The Mermaid of Black Conch
Rushdie, Salman: Midnight's Children
Seth, Vikram: A Suitable Boy
Simenon, Georges: The Inspector Maigret series
Smiley, Jane: A Thousand Acres
Smith, Dodie: I Capture the Castle
Steinbeck, John: Of Mice and Men
Stephenson, Neal: Cryptonomicon
Stevenson, Robert Louis: Kidnapped
Swift, Graeme: Waterland

Taylor, Elizabeth: A View of the Harbour
Thomas, Dylan: Under Milk Wood
Thompson, Harry: This Thing of Darkness
Tolkien JRR: The Lord of the Rings
Tolstoy, Leo: War and Peace

Waugh, Evelyn: Brideshead Revisited

Williams, Pip:  The Dictionary of Lost Words

Willis, Connie: To Say Nothing of the Dog
Woolf, Virginia: Mrs Dalloway
Woolf, Virginia: The Years
Woolf, Virginia: To The Lighthouse
Woolfenden, Ben: The Ruins of Time
Zafon, Carlos Ruiz: The Shadow of the Wind

 

Non-fiction (48)

Blanning, Tim: The Pursuit of Glory

Bewick, Thomas: A History of British Birds

Brown, Hamish: Hamish's Mountain Walk
Clayton, Tim: Waterloo
Cocker, Mark: Crow Country
Dennis, Roy: Cottongrass Summer

Fadiman, Anne: Ex Libris
Frater, Alexander: Chasing the Monsoon

Gogarty, Paul: The Water Road
Hanff, Helen: 84 Charing Cross Road
Harding, Thomas: The House By The Lake

Harrison, Melissa: The Stubborn Light of Things
Hastings, Max: All Hell Let Loose

Hickam, Hiram H.: Rocket Boys / October Sky

Holland, James: Dam Busters
Hoskins, WG: The Making of the English Landscape

Howell, Georgina: Daughter of the Desert
Huntford, Roland: Shackleton
Jamie, Kathleen: Findings
Junger, Sebastian: The Perfect Storm
Lee, Hermione: Virginia Woolf

Lewis-Stempel, John: The Running Hare
Liptrot, Amy: The Outrun
Longford, Elizabeth: Wellington, The Years of the Sword

Macdonald, Benedict & Nicholas Gates: Orchard

MacDonald, Helen: Vesper Flights

MacGregor, Neil: Germany, Memories of a Nation
Moore, Richard: In Search of Robert Millar
Nichols, Peter: A Voyage for Madmen

Nicolson, Adam: The Seabird's Cry
Pennac, Daniel: The Rights of the Reader

Peterson, Mounfort and Hollom: A Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe

Pinker, Stephen: The Language Instinct
Rackham, Oliver: The History of the Countryside
de Saint-Exupery, Antoine: Wind, Sand and Stars
Salisbury, Laney and Gay: The Cruellest Miles

Sands, Philippe: East-West Street

Schumacher, EF: Small is Beautiful
Simpson, Joe: Touching the Void
Taylor, Stephen: Storm and Conquest
Tomalin, Claire: Pepys, The Unequalled Self

Tree, Isabella: Wilding
Uglow, Jenny: The Pinecone
Unsworth, Walt: Everest
Weldon, Fay: Letters to Alice on first reading Jane Austen
Wheeler, Sara: Terra Incognita

Wulf, Andrea: The Invention of Nature

Young, Gavin: Slow Boats to China


Joint fiction/non-fiction (1)

Klinkenborg, Verlyn: Timothy's Book with Townsend-Warner, Sylvia: Portrait of a Tortoise

 

Children's Fiction (9)
Berna, Paul: Flood Warning

Bond, Michael: The Paddington Bear series
Kipling, Rudyard: Puck of Pook's Hill/Rewards and Fairies

Kipling, Rudyard: The Jungle Book

Milne, AA: Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner
Pullman, Philip: Northern Lights
Ransome, Arthur: The Swallows and Amazons series
Sutcliff, Rosemary: The Eagle of the Ninth
White, TH: Mistress Masham's Repose

Edited by willoyd
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Favourite authors

 

To qualify for this list, I have to have read at least three books by that author (amazing how many where I've just read two, especially non-fiction!), so no one-book wonders (it's the book then, not the author!). None of the books themselves need to have reached a six star rating, but they do need to have been rated consistently highly.  I've only included authors of adult books - for favourite children's authors, see favourite book list, as the two lists are pretty much the same.  I've also included titles of books for authors where I have particular favourites.

 

Fiction
Jane Austen  (Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Lady Susan)
JL Carr  (A Month in the Country, The Harpole Report)

Willa Cather  (My Antonia, O Pioneers)

Charles Dickens  (Bleak House, David Copperfield)
Sarah Dunant  (In The Company of the Courtesan, Hannah Wolfe trilogy)

Margaret Elphinstone  (The Sea Road, Voyageurs)

David Fairer (The Chocolate House trilogy)

Thomas Hardy  (Far From The Madding Crowd)
Donna Leon (Brunetti series)
Patrick O'Brian (Aubrey/Maturin series)
Georges Simenon (Maigret series)

Elizabeth Taylor  (A View Of The Harbour)

Virginia Woolf  (Mrs Dalloway, The Lighthouse, The Years)


Non-Fiction
Tim Clayton  (Waterloo)
Jan Morris  (Venice, Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere)
Claire Tomalin  (Pepys, Dickens, Austen, etc.)
Jenny Uglow  (The Pinecone, Nature's Engraver)


Both

Melissa Harrison (The Stubborn Light of Things, Hawthorn Time)

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A Tour of the United States

 

My experience of American literature being much narrower than I would have liked, I decided a few years ago to take a tour of the USA in a similar way to our own English Counties challenge: 51 books, one set in each of the states (including Washington DC).  In fact, the English Counties was modelled on an American States challenge here, but in the spirit of broadening that experience, I have amended it using these rules: a. it must be fiction or narrative non-fiction; b. an author can only appear once; c. published after 1900 (what I've read has been predominantly 19th century); d. adult books; e. no rereads. Inevitably some great books and authors will have been left off, but the process itself has already helped identify those holes, and I aim to fill them in as additional reading!  Blue means read, bold means read this year.  Books in black are unread, and are those I've currently got lined up - but they can (and do!) change, and some alternatives are listed below the main list.


34/51

The Keepers of the House - Shirley Ann Grau (Alabama) *****
To The Bright Edge of the World - Eowyn Ivey (Alaska) ******
The Bean Trees - Barbara Kingsolver (Arizona) ****

The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks - Donald Harington (Arkansas)
East of Eden - John Steinbeck (California)
Plainsong - Kent Haruf (Colorado) *****
The Stepford Wives - Ira Levin (Connecticut) *
The Book of Unknown Americans - Christina Henriquez (Delaware)
Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurst (Florida) ****
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - Carson McCullers (Georgia) ******
The Descendants - Kaui Hart Hemmings (Hawaii)
Housekeeping - Marilynne Robinson (Idaho) ****
The Adventures of Augie March - Saul Bellow (Illinois)
The Stone Diaries - Carol Shields (Indiana) *****
The Bridges of Madison County - Robert Waller (Iowa) ****

Not Without Laughter - Langston Hughes (Kansas)
Nathan Coultar - Wendell Berry (Kentucky) ******
All the King's Men - Robert Penn Warren (Louisiana)
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stout (Maine) ***
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant - Anne Tyler (Maryland) ***
Ethan Frome - Edith Wharton (Massachusetts) ***
Song of Solomon - Toni Morrison (Michigan) ******
Main Street - Sinclair Lewis (Minnesota) ***
As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner (Mississippi)
******
Mrs Bridge - Evan S. Connell (Missouri) *****
A River Runs Through It - Norman Maclean (Montana)
My Antonia - Willa Cather (Nebraska) ******
The Ox-Bow Incident - Walter van Tilburg Clark (Nevada) *****
Peyton Place - Grace Metallious (New Hampshire)
The Sportswriter - Richard Ford (New Jersey) ****
The Crossing - Cormac McCarthy (New Mexico)
Another Country - James Baldwin (New York) ******
Cold Mountain - Charles Frazier (North Carolina) ****
The Plague of Doves - Louise Erdrich (North Dakota) *****
Winesburg, Ohio - Sherwood Anderson (Ohio) ***
True Grit - Charles Portis (Oklahoma) *****

Trask - Don Berry (Oregon)
The Killer Angels - Michael Shaara (Pennsylvania) *****
The Witches of Eastwick - John Updike (Rhode Island) ***
The Secret Life of Bees - Sue Monk Kidd (South Carolina) ***

The Personal History of Rachel Dupree - Anne Weisberger (South Dakota)
Shiloh -Shelby Foote (Tennessee)
Lonesome Dove - Larry McMurtry (Texas) ******
The Big Rock Candy Mountain - Wallace Stegner (Utah)
The Secret History - Donna Tartt (Vermont)
Commonwealth - Ann Patchett (Virginia)
Snow Falling on Cedars - David Guterson (Washington) ***
Advise and Consent - Allen Drury (Washington DC) ****

Rocket Boys - Homer H Hickam (West Virginia) ******
American Wife - Curtis Sittenfeld (Wisconsin) **** 
The Virginian - Owen Wister (Wyoming) ***** 

 

Alternatives for states yet to be read

Hawaii:  Shark Dialogues by Kiana Davenport;  Moloka'I by Alan Brennert

Illinois: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, So Long See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell

Kansas:  The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton by Jane Smiley

Louisiana: A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Sexton;

Oregon:  Sometimes A Great Notion by Ken Kesey; Geek Love by Katherine Dunn; Hole In The Sky by William Kittredge

South Dakota Welcome to the Hard Times by EL Doctorow

Tennessee: A Death in the Family by James Agee

Utah: The Nineteenth Wife by David Ebershoff

 

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Reading The World


A tour of the world in 200 books, made up of one from each of the 193 full members of the United Nations, the 2 UN 'observer' nations (Palestine and Vatican City), Taiwan ( the most significant country with no UN recognition), the four home nations (rather than just UK) and Antarctica (the only continent otherwise not represented).  Books should be prose, preferably fiction, normally written by someone from that country, and ideally set there, but if not, as close as I can get!  Books in blue are those read during the current year.

 

Read so far: 41/200

Read in 2022: 16,  2023: 18

Read this year:  7


Europe (15/48)

Austria:  Chess Story by Stefan Zweig  *****

Bulgaria:  Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov ***

Czech Republic:  Closely Watched Trains by Bohumil Hrabal ****

Finland: The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna ****

Germany:  Measuring the World - Daniel Kehlmann *****

Iceland: History. A Mess. by Sigrun Palsdottir ****

Italy:  The Leopard - Giuseppe Tomaso di Lampedusa ****

Northern Ireland:  Travelling In A Strange Land by David Park ****

Norway:  The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas ****

San Marino: The Republic of San Marino - Giuseppe Rossi ***

Scotland: O Caledonia - Elspeth Barker ***

Spain:  A Heart So White - Javier Marias ***(*)

Sweden:  The Details - Ia Genberg *****

Ukraine: Death and the Penguin - Andrey Kurkov ***

Wales:  One Moonlit Night - Caradog Prichard ******

 

Africa (9/54)

Angola:  The Book of Chameleons - Jose Eduardo Agualusa ****

Congo, Republic of:  Black Moses - Alain Mabanckou *****

Cote d'Ivoire: Standing Heavy - GauZ ******

Djibouti:  In The United States of Africa - Abdourahman Waberi ****

Ghana:  The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born - Ayi Kwei Armah ****

Kenya:  A Grain Of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong'o ******

South Africa:  The Promise - Damon Galgut *****

Sudan: Season of Migration to the North - Tayeb Salih ******

Togo: Michel the Giant - Tete-Michel Kpomassie ******


Asia (7/48)

Malaysia: The Night Tiger - Yangsze Choo ****

Japan:  Snow Country - Yasunari Kawabata **; Tokyo Express - Seicho Matsumoto ****

Pakistan:  The Wandering Falcon - Jamil Ahmad  *****

Philippines:  Ilustrado - Miguel Syjuco ***

South Korea:  The Vegetarian - Han Kang *

Turkey: 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World - Elif Shafak **

Vietnam:  The Sorrow of War - Bao Ninh **


North America (5/23)

Antigua and Barbuda:  Annie John - Jamaica Kincaid ***

Grenada: The Bone Readers - Jacob Ross *****

Mexico: Pedro Paramo - Juan Rulfo ****

Trinidad and Tobago:  Minty Alley - CLR James *****

USA:  Beloved - Toni Morrison *****

 

South America (3/12)

Argentina:  Not A River - Selva Almeda *****

Columbia:  One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez  *****

Uruguay:  Who Among Us? - Mario Benedetti ****

 

Oceania and Antarctica (2/15)

Nauru:  Stories from Nauru - Bam Bam Solomon et al (plus readings from Indigehous Literatures of Micronesia) ****

New Zealand: The Garden Party and Other Stories - Katherine Mansfield ******; Potiki - Patricia Grace ****

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Classic fiction

 

Three authors whose books I want to focus more on:

          +  Charles Dickens

          +  Thomas Hardy

          +  Emile Zola's Rougon-Macquart series

Plus a list of other 'must-reads'.  Highly selective and idiosyncratic, mostly big tomes that I feel a need to have tackled!


Charles Dickens - Novels
01. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (1837) *****
02. The Adventures of Oliver Twist (1839) ******
03. The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1839) ******
04. The Old Curiosity Shop (1841) ***

05. Barnaby Rudge (1841)
06. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit (1844)
07. Dealings with the Firm of Dombey and Son (1848)
08. The Personal History of David Copperfield (1850) ******
09. Bleak House (1853) ******
10. Hard Times (1854)
11. Little Dorrit (1857)
12. A Tale of Two Cities (1859) ******
13. Great Expectations (1861) ****

14. Our Mutual Friend (1865)
15. The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870)

 

The Christmas Books
16. A Christmas Carol (1843) ******
17. The Chimes (1844) ***
18. The Cricket on the Hearth (1845) ***

19. The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain (1846)

 

Emile Zola's Rougon-Macquart Series

01. La Fortune des Rougon (The Fortune of the Rougons) *****
02. Son Excellence Eugene Rougon (His Excellency Eugene Rougon) ****

03. La Curee (The Kill) *****
04. L'Argent (Money)
05. Le Reve (The Dream)
06. La Conquete de Plassans (The Conquest of Plassans)
07. Pot-Bouille (Pot Luck)
08. Au Bonheur des Dames (The Ladies' Delight/Paradise) ******
09. La Faute de L'Abbe Mouret (The Sin of Father Mouret)
10. Une Page d'amour (A Love Story)
11. Le Ventre de Paris (The Belly of Paris)
12. La Joie de vivre (The Bright Side of Life)
13. L'Assommoir (The Drinking Den)
14. L'Oeuvre (The Masterpiece)
15. La Bete humaine (The Beast Within)
16. Germinal
17. Nana
18. La Terre (The Earth)
19. La Debacle (The Debacle)
20. Le Docteur Pascal (Doctor Pascal)

(English titles as used by OUP and/or Penguin, if different to the French).


 

Edited by willoyd
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The Book Pile

I am very acquisitive when it comes to books, buying (or receiving) far more than I can actually read in short order. I'm happy with that - I like to have a library of books to choose from and follow whims - but it also means that books that I intended to read pretty soon after buying can get lost! So, I've decided to create a virtual book pile. This will consist of such books, with the aim that I will now read them in the near future!. The pile needs to stay manageable, so I will limit it to around a dozen, and will generally only add books to it as books already on the pile get read. Hopefully, this, appealing as it does to my passion for lists, will help me work through the bigger long term reading list. We'll see how it all works!
Books that are ineligible to be added include any that are included in another reading project* or being read for a book group - these are meant to be all books that could otherwise get overlooked because I'm so focused on these other areas. I'll also keep a record of which book pile books I have actually read.

 

Fiction

The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O'Farrell

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

The Bee Sting by Paul Murray

Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford

 

Non-fiction

Thunderclap by Laura Cummings

Walking the Bones of Britain by Christoher Somerville

The Burgundians by Bart van Loo

Ten Birds That Changed the World by Stephen Moss

Politics on the Edge by Rory Stewart

 

Book Pile books read this year

The Marriage Question by Claire Carlisle

 

 

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Accolades History

 

For the past few years, I've finished off the year by awarding some of my own accolades to books that I've read that year - for 2023 see a couple of posts below here.  Some are included in the Forum's award threads.  Titles in bold under Fiction and Non-Fiction Books of the Year were my overall winners for that year.  Up to 2016, rereads were eligible for the Book of the Year lists; from 2016 onwards, a separate accolade was listed.

 

Fiction Book of the Year

2013:  David Copperfield - Charles Dickens.  Runner-up: The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob de Zoet - David Mitchell

2014:  Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy.  Runner-up: Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

2015:  Middlemarch - George Eliot.  Runner-up: The Aubrey/Maturin series - Patrick O'Brian (first 5 vols read this year)

2016:  The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry.  Runner-up: Howards End - EM Forster

2017:  To The Bright Edge Of The World - Eowyn Ivey.  Runner-up: The Old Wives' Tale - Arnold Bennett

2018:  A View Of The Harbour - Elizabeth Taylor.  Runner-up:  Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh

2019:  Girl, Woman, Other - Bernardine Evaristo.  Runner-up:  Lonesome Dove - Larry McMurtry

2020:  Hamnet - Maggie O'Farrell.  Runner-up:  A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

2021:  The Mermaid Of Black Conch - Monique Roffey.  Runner-up:  The Great Level - Stella Tillyard

2022:  As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner.  Runner-up: One Moonlit Night - Caradog Prichard

 

Non-fiction Book of the Year

2013:  Letters To Alice On First Reading Jane Austen - Fay Weldon;  Runner-up: The Real Jane Austen - Paula Byrne

2014:  Pursuit Of Glory: Europe 1648-1815 - Tim Blanning.  Runner-up: Under Another Sky: Travels Through Roman Britain - Charlotte Higgins

2015:  Waterloo - Tim Clayton.  Runner-up: Shackleton's Boat Journey by Frank Worsley

2016:  The House By The Lake - Thomas Harding.  Runner-up:  The Outrun - Amy Liptrot

2017:  The Seabirds' Cry - Adam Nicolson.  Runner-up:  Love Of Country - Madeleine Bunting

2018:  East-West Street - Philippe Sands.  Runner-up:  Wilding - Isabella Tree

2019:  Daughter Of The Desert - Georgina Howell.  Runner-up:  The Five - Hallie Rubenheld

2020:  Island Stories - David Reynolds.  Runner-up:  Home - Julie Myerson

2021:  The Stubborn Light Of Things - Melissa Harrison.  Runner-up:  Orchard - Benedict Macdonald & Nicholas Gates

2022:  The Invention of Nature - Andrea Wulf.  Runner-up: Cotton Grass Summer - Roy Dennis

 

Duffer of the Year

2013:  Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn

2014:  The Dinner - Herman Koch

2015:  Divergent - Veronica Roth

2016:  Us - David Nicholls

2017:  Two Brothers - Ben Elton

2018:  I Am Pilgrim - Terry Hayes

2019:  I See You - Clare Mackintosh

2020:  Gold - Chris Cleave

2021:  Body Surfing - Anita Shreve

2022:  The Department of Sensitive Crimes - Alexander McCall Smith

 

Most Disappointing

2017:  Jacob's Room Is Full Of Books - Susan Hill

2018:  I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou

2019:  The Making Of The British Landscape - Nicholas Crane

2020:  A God In Ruins - Kate Atkinson

2021:  How To Argue With A Racist - Adam Rutherford

2022:  The Instant - Amy Liptrot

 

Best Reread

2016:  Emma - Jane Austen.  Runner-up:  Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome

2017:  Flood Warning - Paul Berna;  Winter Holiday - Arthur Ransome (jointly)

2018:  Coot Club - Arthur Ransome

2019:  Paddington Helps Out - Michael Bond

2020:  Mrs Dalloway - Virginia Woolf in combination with The Hours - Michael Cunningham

2021:  Waterland - Graham Swift

2022:  A Maigret Christmas - Georges Simenon

 

Biggest Discovery

2019:  George Mackay Brown

2020: Wendell Berry

2021:  Gilbert White

2022:  JB Priestley; African writing; David Fairer

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Review of 2023 and looking forward to 2024.

 

I enjoyed and appreciated the bullet point approach last year, so it's the same again this!

 

+  66 books completed and just over 16000 pages read this year, the same number of books as last year, but a 1000 pages less, averaging just over 250 per book.  As I said last year, that's the lowest since 2014, but more than anything before then!

 

+ 1/2 star books were significantly down, with the big difference at 4 star level (5/6 combined were the same).  So, a good year's reading.

Pure numbers may be low, but, with 5/6 star books representing 35% of my reading, the quality/enjoyment level has never been higher.  Last year, all 1-2 star reads were book club choices, this year it was just a large majority! 

 

+ A similar ratio of fiction: non-fiction this year (69:31) as last year (71:29), back to pre-2017 levels (it's been almost equal the intermediate years).  I suspect that's a combination of book groups (who hardly read non-fiction) and the projects I'm tackling, plus the apparent aversion I seem to have picked up to bigger books (see below!).

 

+  After a 6 year low of 34% female authors, that percentage was up to 42% this year, closer to my 60:40 long term average.  Not sure why that's the case: most researchers say that men gravitate more to male writers and vice-versa, but the majority of my favourite writers are women, and I've no awareness of preferring male to female authors. Could it be something to do with the sort of books I read? Even then, I can't think what specifically.

 

+ Back down to under 20% library books read - disappointing. However, I do have a large personal library of unread books, so that's probably inevitable.  The unread library hasn't grown much (by about 30 books to 1420 as I write - but I have been disposing of a fair number recently, so that doesn't say very much!  More of an anti-library I'd say!

 

+  I deliberately didn't set any targets for this year - I all too frequently (always?!) fail to achieve them, but I did say I would like to make progress on the two main projects and my focus authors so....

 

+  4 books read for my Tour of the USA - fewer than the 6 in 2022, and taking me to 33 out of 51. That's fairly glacial progress and needs stepping up.  Some cracking books read, including my 'Book of the Year'.

 

+  18 books read for Reading the World - 2 more than in 2022, and taking me to 34 out of 200.  Happy with that - I reckoned on around 10 years to finish this project, and pretty much on track.  Again, some wonderful books, completely transforming my reading.

 

+ Classic authors: only part of one book (Barnaby Rudge) read for Dickens - that thread has stuttered almost to a halt in the past few years.  Not sure why, but perhaps something to do with my longer book problem?  Just the one read for Zola (La Curee), which is a pity as I always love them when I get round to them.  None for Patrick O'Brian.  I'm going to slim my focus down to these next year, to see if I can actually make some progress.  The only other 'pure' classic authors (ie.more than 100 years old) were Samuel Johnson (History of Rasselas) and Mikhael Lermontov (A Hero Of Our Time) and, squeaking in chronologically, Katherine Mansfield (short stories).

 

+ book groups have been more fun since I slimmed down to 'just' two.  Although there've been the usual 1/2 star books, the discussions are lively, the choices varied and good to discuss (even the 'bad' ones!) - loving this side of things!

 

+ So, next year?  More books for the two reading projects (40+ completed for USA, 50+ for The World??), more of the authors, and a higher average number of pages per book - 251 is my lowest to date, and I do need to tackle what seems to be a bit of a subconscious fear/phobia/reluctance on bigger books. Fewer (if necessary) but bigger books, perhaps!  And also perhaps a higher proportion of non-fiction - I've got some fab books on my shelves that are crying out to be read.

 

+  See the post below for my accolades of the year.

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Accolades for 2023

 

Book of the Year

Rocket Boys  by Hiram Hickham (later renamed October Sky).

 

Fiction Book of the Year

Winner: The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

Runner-up: Captain Hazard's Game by David Fairer

Shortlist: Another Country by James Baldwin; Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih; Standing Heavy by GauZ

The top two may not have been the 'best' books I read, but they were the ones I enjoyed the most - comfort reading at its best!

 

Non-fiction Book of the Year

Winner: Rocket Boys by Hiram Hickham

Runner-up:  The Flow by Amy-Jane Beer*

Shortlist: Stolen Focus by Johann Hari; The Years  by Annie Ernaux; Ultra-Processed People by Chris van Tulleken; The Restless Republic by Anna Keay**

* Best nature/geography

** Best history

Objectively, nothing really touched the Annie Ernaux, but I found my lack of detailed French political history getting in the way a bit - had to read this with Wikipedia to hand to keep looking people up.  The others just flowed over me effortlessly! So, probably more my fault than the book's, but this is my personal list!

 

Duffer of the Year

Winner:  Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Shortlist: Less by Andrew Sean Greer

 

Most Disappointing of the Year

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

 

Discovery of the Year

Two independent presses, whose books I've barely started on, but which I've found totally intriguing:

Peirene Press and Fitzcarraldo Editions.

 

Reread of the Year

Not awarded this year - unusually, there was just the one reread (for a book group), and it wasn't one I rated highly enough to make an award.

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  • 4 weeks later...

First post for 2024 - welcome to this year's blog. A good one to start the year off!

 

01.  A Passage To India by EM Forster *****

Read for one of my book groups. I've previously read other Forsters, and enjoyed them enormously (especially Howards End), so was looking forward to this, and was not disappointed. Written in 1924, and very much an examination of the interaction between British and Indian in the India of the time, some twenty years before independence. On the whole we British don't come out of it very well! The full range of attitudes is represented in early chapters where both British and Indians discuss the 'other side' in some depth, the attitudes then examined under the stress of the incident involving Mr Aziz and Adela Quested in the caves midway through the book. To cover all those viewpoints, Forster uses a surprisingly wide cast of characters, which I have to say I did find a bit confusing at times (plenty of referring back to character introductions to be sure who was who!). This width did mean that some characters didn't feel to be drawn in any great detail, and the odd bit of stereotyping reared its head, but the central characters, their ambiguities and the dilemmas they faced, did come to life for me. As ever with Forster, he proved a far easier read than anticipated (I always expect these earlier 20thC books to be harder than they are, perhaps scarred a bit by some of Henry James's denser writing!), and I happily cantered through this first book of the year. It's also a book that I look forward to discussing in the group later this month - and one that I've also ordered a study guide for to try and tease out some more coherent thoughts.
A final note - I found this particularly interesting because one line of my own family lived and was brought up under the Raj, if a bit earlier than the book is set - my grandfather was born in Delhi at the end of the 19thC and, whilst he came back to Wales at a young age, at least the two previous generations back to the early 19thC were out their all their lives (one great grandfather was in the Indian Army, another a teacher in India - which made the Cyril Fielding character all the more personally interesting).

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9 hours ago, willoyd said:

 

01.  A Passage To India by EM Forster *****


A final note - I found this particularly interesting because one line of my own family lived and was brought up under the Raj, if a bit earlier than the book is set - my grandfather was born in Delhi at the end of the 19thC and, whilst he came back to Wales at a young age, at least the two previous generations back to the early 19thC were out their all their lives (one great grandfather was in the Indian Army, another a teacher in India - which made the Cyril Fielding character all the more personally interesting).

 

I'm a big fan of EM Forster, particularly A Room With a View and Howard's End.  This is equally good, but I got so annoyed with Adela and her lies and the strife she put Aziz through,  that I didn't enjoy it nearly as much. I felt the same way about Atonement.

India fascinates me too. I very much enjoyed The Jewel in the Crown and MM Kaye's autobiographical books.

My Great Grandfather was there with the British Army in the late 1800's, and my Grandfather's sister was born there.

I totally sympathise with India wanting to end British rule. 

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  • 3 weeks later...
On 1/13/2024 at 1:34 AM, poppy said:

 

I'm a big fan of EM Forster, particularly A Room With a View and Howard's End

This is equally good, but I got so annoyed with Adela and her lies and the strife she put Aziz through,  that I didn't enjoy it nearly as much. I felt the same way about Atonement.

 

Howards End  is on my favourites list!  Forster skewers the Anglo-Indian class in APTI as skilfully as he does the middle classes in HE!  I don't think Adela was telling lies - she was telling it very much as she believed was true. Which is why, when she realised how wrong she'd got it, she changed her story, in spite of the personal consequences. I've just watched the film, and this comes across very well in that.  But I agree, Howards End was more enjoyable.  Both brilliant though, with ARWAV very close behind IMO.  The more I read of Forster, the more impressed I am.

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03.  Strong Female Character by Fern Brady ****

Picked up on a whim in my local independent, having been grabbed by the first couple of pages, this proved an utterly compelling memoir.  Fern Brady is a best known as a stand-up comedian, but the focus here is very much on her experiences growing up as an autistic female, undiagnosed until well into adulthood.  It's a ferociously vivid read, doesn't pull any punches, and really shows up how far society as a while has to go in this aspect of life - we are not good at 'different'. I must admit, as an ex-primary teacher who taught two autistic girls in my last three years (one diagnosed, the other not, but blindingly obviously so) I wish I'd had the chance to read this beforehand!!  It was an eyeopener, and particularly so where the author related her experiences / behaviour to the research into and recognised 'symptoms' of autism - and where she showed how those who should have known better missed the signs completely. What's really worrying is the strong implication that little has changed.  I hadn't realised when I bought the book that it had been shortlisted for the Nero Book Awards Non-Fiction prize, but found out as I finished it, that it had actually won. I'm not surprised.  Once or twice I felt it could have done with some stronger editing (a minor comment I hasten to add), but I am so glad I picked it up!

 

(Book 02 this year was the York Advanced Notes, A Passage To India - which served its purpose well!).

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04. Daniel Deronda by George Eliot *****
Read for one of my book groups. Having said that, this has long been on my to read list, and I was grateful to be kickstarted to actually read this huge tome - by far and away the longest book I've read in the past few years, coming in at 900 pages in Everyman Classic edition (and just over 1000 pages and 2 volumes in my 1930s Collins Clear Type Press edition!). Right from the outset, I would say that it's not (IMO!) quite in the same league as Middlemarch, but it is a powerful, intricate, fascinating read, that never lost my interest in the 3 weeks or so that it took me to read. In many respects (and it's often claimed to be as such) it's almost two books rolled into one: the story of spoiled, almost childlike, Gwendolyn Harleth and her marriage to perhaps one of the nastiest characters in fiction, Henleigh Grandcourt, and that of Daniel Deronda, foster son of Grandcourt's uncle, Sir Hugo Mallinger, and his search for self-identity. Indeed, it has been argued that the book(s) would have been better if separated, one critic (FR Leavis) in particular arguing that if it wasn't for the burden of the latter story, the former would be one of the great classics. Hmmm. I can see where this comes from, but the fact is that the two parts are integral to each other for the whole book. Gwendolyn and Deronda are foils for each other's development (although Gwendolyn is initially so self-centred that she barely notices anything else Daniel might be doing or thinking), and Gwendolyn and Mirah are important foils to each other in their relationship with Deronda. And how would Leavis handle Daniel's 'journey' if cutting out his relationship with Mordecai? On the other hand, there have been many (mostly interested in the Zionist aspects) who would discard the Gwendolyn thread. Ridiculous!
But, I can understand where these arguments come from. With two major plot lines, each in itself worthy of its own book, it's not surprising that this novel is so big. It's thus all too often encumbered (and yes, I'm afraid it does feel that way at times) with having to cut away from one narrative thread to deal with the other: the two only really come fully together in the final hundred and fifty pages or so (when the action transfers to Genoa), only nudging up against each other at varying points in the previous 750! But, having said that, I did find watching the development of these two very different characters absolutely fascinating.
What I think is easy to forget is how radical this book must have been at the time of publication, with Eliot's Jewish plotline, a time when anti-semitism was almost engrained in English society - it was certainly not appreciated by a fair proportion of her readership. My biggest regret though on this side is that Mirah, so central to the novel, is so thin as a character, particularly alongside the superbly developed Gwendolyn. We see into the heart of the latter, whilst we barely scratch the former's surface - too good and sweet by half. It often seems that way in Victorian fiction: it's the flawed, or worse, characters who are best developed, whilst the 'goodies' (especially the women) are so often left to be mildly uninteresting or at best over-sentimentalused. One of the strongest characters in this book is Grandcourt - the portrayal of his subjugation of Gwendolyn is brilliantly delineated, a classic case of isolation abuse, exploiting to the full all the advantages of the husband in Victorian society - a fair amount left to be read between the lines.
Daniel Deronda was not an easy read, but it was gripping. I initially found myself having to plan to read a set number of pages each day to ensure I finished the book in time. In the event, as the book progressed, I didn't need to worry with that, as I found momentum building up. There were one or two sections where I found myself gliding over some of the more detailed discussion, especially on philosophical or religious topics, but on the whole I actually found myself hanging on to the words. With so much to discuss (I've barely scratched the surface above!) it'll make for a good evening.
(And why is it, whenever I try to write a review of a half decent book, I really struggle to make sense? These reviews never turn out the way I envisage them, and I never seem to be able to write coherently about all the issues and questions these books raise).
 

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05. Cursed Bread by Sophie Mackintosh *(*)
I picked this up in our local bookshop as the premise intrigued me, being (apparently) based on a real incident in 1950s France, when an entire village (including animals!) succumbed to some form of (never identified) mass poisoning.  On this, the author bases a 'darkly erotic mystery'.  There was certainly a lushness, an elegance of writing that initially drew me in, giving the book an instant appeal, but after the (promising) first twenty pages or so when the two principal couples are introduced and developed (baker and wife with non-existent sex life, he obsessed with the 'perfect loaf'; metropolitan 'ambassador' and wife Violet, interesting sex life, a source of increasing obsession for the baker's wife Elodie) things started to deteriorate.  The whole sexual aspect felt increasingly unlikely and contrived (and disjointed), whilst the the only mystery for me was a growing sense of confusion, wondering what on earth was going on, and had the author lost the plot (literally)?  The story, mainly told in the first person by Elodie, interspersed with letters to Violet from Elodie written long after the events being described, felt increasingly disjointed and engendered irritation rather than intrigue (morsels of the outcome being dripped into the story by these letters). Relationships and plot progression just became more and more obscure, especially as one was never sure if Elodie was fantasising, recounting fantasy, or actually giving us the reality; there's unreliable narrator and unreliable narrator!  To be honest, I found this easier and easier to put down and harder and harder to pick up; in short, I was bored, this coming over increasingly as more an exercise in style than a piece of narrative fiction.

I finally forced myself to sit down and read the last 60 or so pages (it's only 180 pages long) in one sitting, as I realised I simply wasn't going to reach the finishing line otherwise.  And when I got there? Nothing, or at least little of any consequence or interest to this reader. In fact, a thorough anti-climax, particularly in relation to the mystery that wasn't - because the mystery I was interested in is what happened over the mass poisoning (touched on throughout), and that really wasn't what the author was interested in after all. Yes, the 'darkly erotic' bit was resolved, but then I'd never found that interesting (and certainly not 'erotic').  In one phrase? Elegantly tedious.  Not sure whether to give this one star, or allow a second for the writing, because strictly speaking the ending took it beyond being just 'disappointing' (2 stars) into the genuinely unlikeable (1 star).

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On 2/7/2024 at 9:11 PM, willoyd said:

Elegantly tedious.

I love that description (although I’m sorry that the book was tedious). I would also have been intrigued by the bread poisoning plot so I’m glad to have been warned off this one!

 

On 2/7/2024 at 9:10 PM, willoyd said:

(And why is it, whenever I try to write a review of a half decent book, I really struggle to make sense? These reviews never turn out the way I envisage them, and I never seem to be able to write coherently about all the issues and questions these books raise).

I think that’s more because you don’t feel you can do it justice when there’s so much to say that part of you wants to gush about it. I think your reviews are always excellent. Your 5 and 6 star ones often tempt me towards books I wouldn’t have picked up otherwise! 

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On 2/7/2024 at 9:10 PM, willoyd said:

(And why is it, whenever I try to write a review of a half decent book, I really struggle to make sense? These reviews never turn out the way I envisage them, and I never seem to be able to write coherently about all the issues and questions these books raise).
 

At least you manage something. The only thing I can think of to say is whether or not I liked the book and since I never continue a book I don't like that's no recommendation. So please continue, I find your reviews interesting and I also buy the odd one that I fancy.

Edited by lunababymoonchild
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On 2/10/2024 at 9:14 PM, Hayley said:

I think that’s more because you don’t feel you can do it justice when there’s so much to say that part of you wants to gush about it. I think your reviews are always excellent. Your 5 and 6 star ones often tempt me towards books I wouldn’t have picked up otherwise! 

 

On 2/10/2024 at 9:45 PM, lunababymoonchild said:

At least you manage something. The only thing I can think of to say is whether or not I liked the book and since I never continue a book I don't like that's no recommendation. So please continue, I find your reviews interesting and I also buy the odd one that I fancy.

 

Thank you both - I'll do my best!  TBH I find it personally useful - especially when I can't remember a thing about a book I read only a few months ago!!

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06. The Bone Readers by Jacob Ross *****
The book for Grenada in my Reading The World project.  I don't often read crime fiction, although I am a fan of both Simenon (Maigret) and Leon (Brunetti), and have enjoyed a fair few others (admittedly usually historical fiction, like CJ Sampson).  However, this appealed from the word go, and in the event didn't disappoint.  As with all the best crime fiction, it's so much more. Yes, it has a good plot (and this is not cosy crime, having corruption, child abuse and statutory rape at the heart of the problem), but that's not what makes a book for me. What I enjoyed were the strongly drawn characters (both male and female), the sense of place (a major part of why I so enjoy Simenon and Leon), and the insights into island culture and politics. The author tries to reflect the local patois in his dialogue, and yet still manages to leave it eminently readable and understandable, only demanding a couple of rereads when I realised I'd misunderstood something!

In short, I find this pretty much unputdownable, reading into the early hours to finish off last night - that doesn't happen often with me!  And, as a confirmation of how good I thought this was, I've already ordered Ross's other two novels from my local bookshop.  Whether it gets upgraded to 6-star/favourite status later, time will tell, but in the meantime, this is an easy 5-star grading.

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07. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout ****
The book for Maine in my Tour of the USA. I originally had Richard Russo's Empire Falls down for this, not least because I'd be somewhat underwhelmed by my previous effort at a Strout novel, My Name is Lucy Barton, but a book group discussion (where I was in a minority of one in my views on the author's work!) encouraged me to give her another go - and given the success of this book (Pulitzer Prize winner) it seemed the obvious one. It's construction is also one that intrigued, the novel being formed from 13 short stories.
Well, I'm very glad to have read Olive and, whilst I can't say I have been completely converted, it was certainly a far more rewarding experience than the one with Lucy Barton. Or, perhaps, 'appreciated' would be a better word, as books as downbeat as this are rarely 'enjoyable'! It's certainly beautifully written: I was caught up in the writing from the outset, and loved the little details, the turns of phrase and the internal monologues; characters and place were strongly wrought. I found the development of Olive herself particularly fascinating, the way she ran as a thread through the 13 stories, sometimes the main character, rather more often introduced sideways, almost a cameo on occasions. The themes of older age, personal isolation (even when surrounded by others), and contrasting perceptions and experiencing the same events, also added to the coherence and interest, making me sit back after each story and reflect on what I'd just read. Characters were not necessarily likeable (far from it - there weren't many that were in fact, including Olive herself), but they were interesting.

And yet, and yet...whilst this worked for me as a collection of connected short stories, it didn't quite make it as a novel in the same way that, for instance, Jonathan Escoffier's If I Survive You did. Whilst there were elements of connection, in the end the stories themselves were just too fragmented to create the coherence that a novel needs. That fragmentation was created in a a number of ways, none enough on their own, but together too much.

Firstly, the chronology is out of sequence. This in itself isn't a major issue, but when you read in the first story that Olive's husband Henry has retired, and then in the second story that he's thinking of retiring, it just jolts one out of immersion, prompts checking and questioning before settling (slightly uncertain) back in, and leaves one never quite trusting the thread of the narrative after that. It might be a set of short stories, but it's also a novel, and whilst plenty of novels use time shifts etc (often to advantage), there's a reason, and here there seems to be no good reason for doing so.

Secondly, the characters are too fragmented, or at least isolated. The Kitteridge family provide some continuity, with Olive, Henry and son Christopher appearing throughout. One or two other characters appear in more than one story, but in general, once a person has been written about, they largely vanish. Given that this is meant to be a relatively small community (or at least that's the impression), that just didn't work for me - I'd expect people to appear and reappear. It also proved unsatisfactory. If you're going to have a dramatic event in a novel, then one expects, indeed wants, to learn something of the outcome of that event. You just don't have one, and then no mention of it or those involved ever again.

Finally, there's the repetition. In several later stories we are told things that we already know about: we've read all about them only a story/chapter or so earlier. The copyright page tells us that several of the stories have been published previously (over a 15 year period), which is fine, but if they are now being brought together as a novel, then they need editing and co-ordinated.  There was also a feeling of sameness to several of the stories - we are dealing with different people (by name), but rather too similar characters/scenarios?

The disjunct between novel and short stories was also driven home by the fact that for a small community, there's an awful lot of drama: murder, hostage taking, suicide (more than one), accidental killings, along with all the other life threatening natural hazards of life. It's not quite Midsomer but it still seems a bit OTT, and maybe lent to that sameness feeling? Never mind being downbeat about old age, I think most would inhabitants of Crosby, Maine, would be grateful, even relieved, to make it that far. I think that's partly because one piece of such drama in a short story is fine - it works, it's what the story is centred around. But drama after drama, in each chapter, is too much for a novel. The result was that, whilst some of the drama worked well for me early on, by the second half of the book,I was grateful for the stories focusing on the domestic.

However, whilst I feel I've focused rather on the negatives, in the greater scheme of things they are rather more blemishes than deep seated faults. I found so much of this compulsive reading, not least the character of Olive herself. She's obviously not immediately likeable, if at all, but there's a humanity to her that gives her huge depth, and makes you wonder quite what you would make of her yourself. There's an ongoing thread around her relationship with Christopher that raises all sorts of questions, discussion points, issues of witness reliability etc worthy of a whole book on its own, never mind everything else - it's superbly handled by the author, and is one of the most thought provoking threads I've read in fiction for some time (not least because it's so relevant to aspects of my life). 


So, an intriguing book (I rarely write as much as this in review), stronger if regarded in its raw form as a collection of individual short stories. I certainly intend to try out more of Elizabeth Strout, and more specifically re-examine Lucy Barton. She may not be a 'favourite' author, but is one that is has made me think, and I'm interested to see what I make of some of her other work.

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08. The Marriage Question by Claire Carlisle ****
Read as a follow up to Daniel Deronda, this is a biographical study of George Eliot's life with George Lewes and, to a lesser extent, John Cross after Lewes's death. It's also as much a study of the influence of her 'married' life on her novels. It's an enthralling read, providing considerable insight, and I feel I learned much about both Eliot's life and her writing. Inevitably, I found the chapters covering Deronda and Middlemarch, my most recent and favourite George Eliot books, the most interesting, but the rest was never less so, and I came away keen to both read further and reread (although twice through Silas Marner may be enough already!). Carlisle is a Professor of Philosophy at KCL, and this was transparently obvious in her writing: aside from her extensive discussions on Eliot's philosophy, there's even a chapter so entitled. I have to admit however, that she lost me on occasions, and there were one or two points where I glided rather bemused over the surface for a couple of pages, but the book soon retrieved me the other side. I readily admit that this is almost certainly down to my intellectual failings - I am certainly no George Eliot on that front, as she sounds to have had a formidable mind - the depth of knowledge she insisted on developing on each subject before she wrote on it was remarkable. I was, in contrast, surprised, having long felt that she was something of a feminist icon (she still is IMO, but in a different way perhaps!), as to how much she conformed to the Victorian model of a wife's role with both Lewes and Cross, even if, in Lewes's case, she was strong enough to continue their relationship openly unmarried. Their relationship may not have been acceptable to Victorian society as a whole, but their was still something very upright in the Victorian manner in the arrangements between Lewes and his two partners, once one scratches the surface.
Overall, then, an involving, illuminating read, which has encouraged me to further develop my acquaintance with Eliot's novels (perhaps Adam Bede next?) and to read further on the full extent of her life - I have the Rosemary Ashton biography on my shelves, so that's a distinct possibility later this year.

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