DAVID LODGE – Deaf Sentence

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Bought 19 Oct 2009 – Amazon

I was very much looking forward to reading this novel by a favourite author, but unfortunately it was disappointing.  There were two strands to the novel – one, the narrator’s increasing deafness and his relationship with his aging father, and two, a rather fantasy-driven relationship between the narrator, a younger ex-colleague and a nubile postgraduate student.  The first thread, which Lodge admits in the acknowledgements was based on autobiographical experience, might have been better told as memoir.  The parts on deafness were on the whole interesting, although I found a reliance on silly puns and ideas of what had been said a bit wearing.  The parts about the elderly father were touching, but have, really, been done before elsewhere and didn’t really add anything to the subject.  The strand about the postgraduate student felt a bit grubby and the writing of a late-middle-aged fantasy, which felt a bit distasteful (I have met the author a couple of times and this didn’t sit well with my view of him – fine in a completely invented tale but uneasy in something which had some autobiography in it) and seemed to peter out oddly.

A scene remembering and considering 7/7 seemed clumsily inserted (it is hard to do this well, and can jar, but can be done better than this) and there were a few rants about Centre Parks and Young People Today which would fit better into a Grumpy Old Men book, almost as if these passages had already been written and were popped in to make up the word count.

There was some good stuff on linguistics, some interesting passages about the lip-reading class the narrator joins, (although a passage about hearing dogs for the deaf seemed to be inserted as a point of information for the readers)

I feel bad that I didn’t enjoy this more, but I didn’t.  I was disappointed, and I and, I suspect, other readers, deserve more of this wonderful novelist and satirist.  I will still go back to, especially, the early novels with glee, but I’ll be nervous about approaching the next new one when it comes.

MIKE GAYLE – The To-Do List

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Borrowed from Becky

A non-fiction from the Birmingham-based "lad lit" novelist, this is the story of what happened when Gayle decided to try to grow up (he thinks it’s time now he’s got a mortgage, a wife, one child and one on the way!) and go through all the things on a to-do list he’s had in his head for some time. When he writes it down, he discovers there are over 1,200 items on it, but he decides to try to get them all done in a year.  From "make a will" to "find out what happened at the end of the x-files", from keeping in touch with old friends to finally unsticking that window he painted shut 3 years ago… well we all have these things don’t we (hanging the pictures we moved with in 2005 is one of ours…) and it’s a hilarious and sometimes touching read as he works his way doggedly through them.  Helped by a motley crew of friends from his Sunday Night Pub Club and tolerated by his wife, he gives us hysterically funny diaries (I particularly enjoyed the "drink more water" one) and longer discursions.  He even does some unofficial BookCrossing at one point.

Hilarious but meaningful, read-out-loud funny and highly recommended.

JACKIE CLUNE – Extreme Motherhood: The Triplet Diaries

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Acquired via BookCrossing 11 Sept 2009 – from Bridget

Aged 39, Jackie and her partner Richard find that, far from adding to their exisiting family (him, twins, them, a one-year-old) they are going to swamp it with triplets.  There follows a warts and all, but extremely down to earth and funny, diary of the pregnancy and first year or so of their lives.  Lots of excruciating detail but always for a reason and brought around humourously, this was really compelling reading.  As Clune is a comedian and writer, the book is well written as well as fascinating, and this really does make it hard to put down.

M. C. BEATON – Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage

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Borrowed from Ali

Poor old Agatha is put through the mill here as a spiteful friend ensures her ex-husband turns up at her wedding to the long-pursued James.  Will this mean she finally falls out of love with James as she sees how he acts under adversity? Worse – when the ex-husband turns up murdered the next day, Agatha and James are both suspects, and are compelled to join forces to clear their name.  

Again, fun stuff and a good plot though I did work out whodunnit again…

EDITH HENRIETTA FOWLER – The Young Pretenders (Persephone)

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25 Dec 2009 – from Audrey

I took some time off over my Birthday and allowed myself to skip ahead in the To Be Read mountain to have a Persephone treat.  This is a lovely book.  A little similar to “The Brontes Went to Woolworths” in the whimsicality of the piece, the descriptions of childhood were so accurate and perceptive that a slight tendency to lisping tweeness really did not matter.  I really felt for little Babs as she tried to adjust from living a wild outside life with the gardener, nurse and animals, to trying to conform to her shallow aunt’s drawing-room expectations, and really loved the character development.  There was a little preachiness about how to treat children, but it was warranted and of its time, and as a whole this book was a delightful and sweet read.

Read Heaven-Ali’s review of this book.

RACHEL FERGUSON – The Brontes Went To Woolworths

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17 Oct 2009 – Amazon

This book is so hard to find in Virago, the edition in which I originally read it, so when I found out from the Virago Group on LibraryThing that Bloomsbury were re-issuing it, I ordered that copy. Absolutely beautiful little book, as a first comment.

I loved this. It was literally delightful.  Although I’m sure I’ve read it before, I didn’t remember much of it.  In tone, style and content, it reminded me very much of Barbara Comyns – the same delightfully dotty family full of filial loyalty but what could look like barking madness from the outside.  Nothing much really happens in this theatrical family, but the book is just a complete joy to read, even if reality and fiction within the fiction do tend to blend a little at times.

STUART MACONIE – Adventures on the High Teas

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30 Jul 2009 – Waterstones (3 for 2)

A companion to his book about the North (Pies and Prejudice) which I so enjoyed, this is another excellent slice of gentle travel writing.  Some genuine laugh out loud moments, some places I’d like to visit, and just a nice read (not damning with faint praise here) as he goes in search of the real Middle England, not a world of huffing, puffing Daily Mail readers, but a kind and tolerant place where people help their neighbours, take an interest, and have bizarre but gently hobbies.  He got Tunbridge Wells spot-on, so I assume the rest was good too.  If he’s sentimental, which I think he is, it’s not in a sickly sweet or annoying way, but out of a real love of some of the places and things he experiences during his journey.  A great read.

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