June 2013 TBRTwo very different works of fiction in this pair of reviews – but they are linked (if tenuously) by being by two of my favourite authors.  I’ve loved Hardy since I was a teenager – even reading him for O and A level didn’t spoil him for me, and I’m mightily enjoying the revisiting / new reading of Ali’s Hardy Project. His books are set in the landscape from which my family originates, and I love the “pathetic fallacy”, the relationship between the topography and weather and the emotions and fates of his characters. His women are unforgettable (I have even named cats after them) and who can fail to be in love with the Reddleman from “The Return of the Native”?

I first encountered Paul Magrs’ novels, mainly set in the North-East, in the mid-199os at Lewisham library. After reading one of his books which featured BookCrossing, I found out his email address and wrote to him, and now we’re in regular contact, guesting on each other’s blogs, and I was able to circulate his Brenda and Effie series via BookCrossing thanks to copies sent by his publisher. I have to say that my favourites are his YA books and the older books set in the urban North-East with slight touches of magical realism, but his more fully magical books are proving more and more popular, and of course I’m glad about that (he’s also written Doctor Who books and plays and teaches fiction writing!).

Thomas Hardy – “Wessex Tales”

(Bought late 1980s / early 1990s)

I have a pretty Wessex Edition of these books – the edition I also have on Kindle, but here in a portable book where you can work out how far you are through the thing. It’s nice to read really old hardbacks with lovely creamy pages sometimes, isn’t it. This one was published in 1907, and I bought it in Hall’s Bookshop in Tunbridge Wells for £4.50, and my friend Sara probably put it through for me, as she worked there when we were at school. The Wessex Tales themselves are marvellous, of course.

These are a mix of long and shorter stories, all set in his familiar world and among his familiar characters. The longer stories could easily turn into novels, or at least parts of them, in their own right, and are deeply satisfying in a way that I find many short stories aren’t. We get turns of fate, lost loves, mysteries, marriages gone wrong, marriages gone right then ripped asunder, rival women, rival men, and country folk providing a rich but not irritating backdrop (although I love Hardy, I feel that sometimes he does go a bit OTT with his rural chorus chaps).

“The Withered Arm” is an almost horror story that could easily form the basis for a novel. The hideousness of it all builds, as a woman’s life is soured through little fault of her own, and another’s is deeply affected, too. “Fellow-Townsmen” is a completely Hardy standard tale of two men in a town, rivalry and reversals of fate, fortune and marriage. “The Three Strangers” is an excellent example of a self-contained short story which could hold its own against the masters of the genre, and “An Imaginative Woman” is what can only be described as a story about a stalker, with an agonising twist at the end. “The Distracted Preacher” is a very funny account of the tribulations of a preacher in love with a lady who engages in suspicious behaviour and may be more involved than he thinks, with lots of little clues and guesses along the way. All in all an excellent and extremely readable collection.

Paul Magrs – “Hands Up!”

(22 November 2012)

As I said above, I love Paul’s YA fiction, and this is an excellent romp of a read, published 10 years ago but still fresh and funny. Jason’s 13 and lives in a horrible household with his mean dad, once a star ventriloquist, now an angry old man, and his glam mum, who watches TV when dad’s out. Jason doesn’t want to take up the family business, especially as his creepy older half-brother is carving out a career for himself, but suddenly there’s a spate of puppet killings, an old man on the rampage … and whisperings from the attic. Then there’s GIRLS to contend with, too. The pace gets faster and faster, and we end up with seahorses, TV studios and a certain gentleman himself getting mixed up with things. Some puppet murder throughout but it didn’t upset me.

I love the way that the ends are not tied up tidily and everything isn’t spelled out for the reader. Jason’s mum is a hoot, and the epilogue is charming and amusing. A good read!


Current reading: I’ve got some books on Iris Murdoch to review, had a disappointing go with a celebrity biography and am positively WALLOWING in Adam Nicolson’s “The Gentry” – more of those later!