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.

NADINE MONEM (ed.) – Riot Grrrl

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From Library

I was never fully into Riot Grrrl.  I was the right age (student) at the right time (early 90s) but I have been so subsumed by the patriarchal hegemony (or summink) that I tend to prefer male groups and artists to female.   Having said that, L7 are a stalwart of my running mix on my MP3 player, and I love some of the punk bands that predated and twee / girl groups that accompanied and post-dated the movement.

This book sets out to be a "true" history of Riot Grrrl in all its artistic, poetic and musical glory.  There’s lots of first-person narrative and some amazing images of flyers and zines that have managed to survive.  The movement is set well into its context, being fitted into its relationship with second wave feminism and punk, and later girl power.  There’s a good chapter on zines and it’s fairly inspiring.

I have to say it’s a bit odd seeing something that feels recent to me being written about as history! And while the aesthetic of the book as resembling a zine with odd bits of collage and grainy printing is clever and cool, the legion of spelling and grammar mistakes, not noticeable and odd enough to be intended, are annoying, and there are a few errors or oddities too (Strawberry Switchblade were not in the league of electronic pop including Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, and one contributor can’t make up her mind if Shampoo were riot grrrl or not, claiming both in the same article).

Interesting stuff though, if read a bit quickly as a student has recalled the book!

TAHIR SHAH – In Arabian Nights

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Bought 30 July 2009 – Waterstones 3-for-2

This was a lovely, magical book.  Shah, already acclaimed author of The Caliph’s House, about restoring an old house in Morocco, is a wanderer – originally his family is from Pakistan but his father brought them out to the UK and then to North Africa, which he felt reflected his homeland’s atmosphere and culture.  Shah is a writer, thinker and film-maker, and it’s this last that gets him into trouble, when he is arrested in the paranoia post-7/7 and thrown into a torture jail somewhere in Pakistan.  As he languishes in jail, more and more prepared to die, he falls back on the stories his father used to tell him, ancient traditional folk tales such as the Arabian Nights, with shifting and deepening layers of meaning.

After managing to be set free, Shah sets about looking for these stories and their story-tellers around Morocco, searching for the story in his heart, trying to pass on the stories and their layers and importance to his small children, and, not least, trying to appease his wife as the Guardians of their house speak of jinns, ghosts and the need for all kinds of peculiar rituals. 

The narrative is almost dreamy but also realistic and human.  Shah presents his own fears and misses in comprehension, and paints a powerful and lively portrait of a beautiful country.  Wonderful stuff and a highlight of the year already.

MONICA FERRIS – Sins and Needles

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Acquired via BookCrossing 22 Feb 2009 – from Caroley

The last book I have in the Betsy Devonshire series, though I think there is one more and I’ll be picking that up soonish, what with all the birthday Amazon vouchers…

As one reviewer said, this is "less gripping" than some of the others, however I enjoyed the slightly slower and more expanded pace.  A woman shows up in Excelsior who has a remarkable resemblance to one of Betsy’s regular shoppers.  When an elderly relative of the original woman dies, and the "secret twin" seems to stand to inherit, questions are raised all over the place, inside and outside the family.  A good plot and while again I did guess whodunnit it was well done and a fun read.

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