Book review – Pointed Roofs (Virago)

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Nov 15 tbrWell, it’s my last review of the year, as the two books I’m reading won’t get finished today. I’ll be sharing my highlights of the year tomorrow, as I never like to decide on them until the year is over, just in case. This review is part of my new reading challenge – a few other book bloggers and I have decided to read Dorothy Richardson’s “Pilgrimage” series of books over this month and the next 12 (as there are 13 of them). I’m not sure if anyone is collecting the combined reviews and posts, but hopefully the other readers will pop a comment on here so we can all navigate between the reviews. So, I give you …

Dorothy Richardson – “Pointed Roofs”

(Have always had, not sure when I got it, nothing written in the front!)

The first in her Pilgrimage series and I was glad to see when feeling a little trepidation that it’s the longest of the three in the first volume. But actually, my trepidation at approaching what was basically one of the first truly Modernist, stream-of-consciousness novels, and definitely the first written from a female perspective was misplaced, as it was actually not that hard to read, just being the interior monologue of Miriam, one of four sisters and 17 when we meet her, who goes to Germany to take up a position as an English Assistant at a school for English and German young ladies.

We do see everything through her eyes – confusions, gossip, scandal, and her impressions of her fellow residents have an almost Cubist aspect as we catch sight of them from different angles and in different situations, but it’s really not that much different from any novel which concentrates on the viewpoint of a single main character. Harder than the language and style, which really don’t seem THAT experimental nowadays, though were obviously ground-breaking at the time, was the amount of phrases in German, which were often but not always translated, and certainly not immediately (there was quite a lot of French, too, but I can read French OK). Hopefully this will diminish in the books set back in England.

It’s similar to one of the Whipples (was it?) in that – without scandal – Miriam is rather suddenly on her way home at the end of the book, as we leave this interesting, rich, absorbing and intriguing book – in my case, very much wanting to know more.

This book would suit … Anyone interested in women’s, experimental or stream of consciousness writing, Virago and Persephone fans

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I’m currently still reading the book about not buying anything and “Quiet”, which is interesting but not quite as good as I thought it would be. Happy New Year to all my readers, and happy reading in 2016!

Book reviews – Spinsters and The Beginner’s Goodbye

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Nov 15 tbrWell, an interesting pairing tonight as I continue to whizz through my TBR and post as many of the reviews as I can in the correct month. We have one book about confirmed spinsters who are happy with that state, and one about marriage and the un/happy state that that engenders. In good news, though, I’ve managed to fit all those Christmas books and the cheeky ones from yesterday onto the TBR shelf. It did involve some horizontal book piles, and there are of course two full shelves, one in front of the other, but they’re all on there reasonably tidily, and that’s all that matters, right?

Pagan Kennedy – “Spinsters”

(20 January 2015)

I read Pagan Kennedy’s book, “Zine” back in June 2014, so I was thrilled to spot this novel in the Oxfam shop in Moseley on a book-buying expedition (when I wasn’t supposed to be buying books because it was almost my birthday).

This is a classic, short, road trip novel, starting off when sisters Frannie (the narrator) and the more enterprising Doris decide to branch out after their father’s death, first of all going to live with an elderly spinster aunt and her housekeeper, and then visiting a cousin and taking her precocious daughter on a trip to Arizona.

Set in 1968, the sisters’ flowering – on their own terms and taking things at their own pace – is set against the vivid backdrop of their and America’s growing consciousness of the Civil Rights Movement. The transformation of their physical appearance, shucking off the stockings and buns, is as important an upheaval as the one America herself is going through, and the prose is shot through with change, dynamism and hope. A great little read.

This book would suit … anyone who likes road trip and coming of age novels, feminists, people interested in 20th century American history.

Anne Tyler – “The Beginner’s Goodbye”

(21 January 2015 – from Jen)

As you’ll know if you read about me buying “A Spool of Blue Thread” yesterday, I’ve read all of Anne Tyler’s novels except that one. This was the previous one, and I have to say that I’ve not been enjoying her novels so much since “The Amateur Marriage”, published in 2004 (which I don’t seem to have reviewed online, although I did enjoy “Digging to America“, which came after that. I really didn’t think much of “Noah’s Compass” and actually had to check back to see if I’d read it, so I wasn’t coming to this one with huge expectations. I’m not sure why I’ve been so disappointed recently, as I have absolutely adored her books in the past … and I’m hoping “A Spool of Blue Thread” comes up to scratch.

So, this one depressed me, basically. It’s a quiet novel, doing what Tyler is good at, precisely delineating the small moments and spaces in marriages and sibling relationships. I did enjoy the scenes at the vanity publishing firm where the main characters work, with its dreadful autobiographies and authors, saved by a series of fairly trite and profit-orientated how-to guides, and I liked the relationship between Aaron and his sister.

But it’s quietly devastating, starting with the sudden end of a marriage (that much is signalled on the back of the book and the blurbs), and taking us through the story of Aaron and Dorothy’s somewhat unconventional in some ways, conventional in others, relationship and marriage. I was particularly struck by the image of (all?) marriage(s?) being like two rodents trapped in a cage, fighting for supremacy: shuddersome stuff!

From reading the blurb, I thought Aaron and Dorothy, who famously rematerialises in a quiet way after her death, were older, but in fact Dorothy is Exactly. My. Age. when she dies (urgh – and we’ve been here before, with Another Book whose title I won’t share here because it gives away a huge plot feature). This does mean that there’s the promise of new life and rehabilitation in many ways – but in some respects, the last section seems like a bit of a cop-out to give us a positive outcome that Tyler’s books don’t normally reach for, and in fact which this book mocks when it appears in a self-help book earlier in the novel, which is a bit odd. Oh well.

This book would suit … well, it does have flashes of humour, but another for the Tyler completist, I fear.

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Currently reading … well, I’ve just finished the first volume of Dorothy Richardson’s “Pilgrimage” series, reading along with a few other book bloggers. It was much less hard than I remembered, and once I’ve done some more thinking about it, I’ll be reviewing that one tomorrow. I’m currently reading a  book about not buying anything which I hadn’t realised was very firmly shot through with religious underpinnings (which is fine, but was just surprising) and “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” which is OK but seems to be spending a lot of time saying a) that it’s OK to be an introvert (yep, I know) and b) let’s talk about the shy, sensitive introverts, not the other ones. So although I had it on my wishlist and was v glad to receive it, the jury is still out at the moment.

I don’t think either of those will be Book Of The Year, so it’s almost safe to do my Top Ten of 2015 … have you done yours yet?

Book reviews – The House in Norham Gardens, To Sir, With Love and The Black Moth, plus …

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Nov 15 tbrMore reviews from my somewhat frantic Christmas reading – but I’m not sure I’ve made enough room on the TBR shelf yet, especially because I seem to have fallen into a Waterstones clutching some book tokens today … more of that later. But for now, two re-reads from a long time ago and one lovely Georgette Heyer.

Penelope Lively – “The House in Norham Gardens”

(20 Jan 2015 – from Luci at the small Virago Group meetup in Birmingham)

A perfect, crystalline children’s book, read many years ago but largely forgotten. Fourteen-year-old Clare lives in a big old house in North Oxford with her elderly great aunts, immersed in school work, with her only change of scene an annual summer visit to her Norfolk cousins. Money is tight, and a lodger is introduced into the household along with the more modern ways of the 1970s.

While looking for an extra blanket in the attic, Clare finds a ceremonial shield from Papua New Guinea; then she both begins a dream life around the tribe her great-grandfather sourced it from and a new friendship with John, an African student she meets in the Pitt-Rivers museum.

Set in January, with the world muffled by snow and the dream world encroaching, the book takes on an atmosphere that lies somewhere between “The Indian in the Cupboard” and “The Dark is Rising”; things become hazy and unreal and a bit frightening.

Located in a believable and accurate Oxford, this delightful book is an absorbing Christmas read with its musings on history, colonialism and the passing of times, houses and people into more modern versions. Lovely.

This book will suit … lovers of older children’s fiction, people who live in or know Oxford

E. R. Braithwaite – “To Sir, With Love”

(20 Jan 2015, from Luci)

Another winner from Luci’s magical book bags, a school hardback copy (OK, THE school hardback copy) of the classic text about a new teacher and his class of East End pupils.

Ricky Braithwaite, disillusioned by the racist nature of post-war England, almost on a whim decides to go into teaching, and ends up working in a “progressive” school in the East End of London, where he first clashes with, then bonds with, the top class, who are coming up to leaving school. His romance with a fellow teacher (which I had entirely forgotten) leads to more pain and struggles, but it’s ultimately an uplifting story of respect, growth and hope.

It’s still worth a re-read, all these years later (in fact, it was published in 1959 and fills in a year in my Century of Reading – haven’t had one of those for a while!), although one instance of casual homophobia was disappointing in a book that works so hard against class stereotyping and racism.

This book will suit … well, everyone read this at school, right? But it’s worth a re-read.

This book covers 1959 in my Reading a Century project

Georgette Heyer – “The Black Moth”

(20 Jan 2015 – charity shop)

A good one, with brothers separated by an incident of cheating at cards, one in exile and being a highwayman, but gradually moving towards one another again. There’s a devilish duke connected with the family who has decided to seduce yet another lady – unfortunately, our older brother has also fallen in love with her, and is compelled to rescue her a couple of times.

It’s one of Heyer’s earlier novels, so her heroine isn’t quite as independent or spirited as the more major and exciting female characters in other books, but it’s a good and exciting read, with midnight gallops and fencing duels aplenty, along with the inevitable bullet in the shoulder which is a mainstay of books throughout her career.

This book will suit … might be one for the more diehard Heyer fans

Three books in a pile

It’s actually like a bit of a disease, really, isn’t it, though?

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And, the horror. I did end up with a few book tokens in the Christmas pile, and while sorting them out, discovered I had some more lingering from my last birthday, so it seemed a good opportunity to take them on today’s trip to Derby to meet up with my best friend Emma and her family (there were book tokens involved there, too). Derby has a nice Waterstones, and two of these were “Buy one get one half price”; all three were on my actual or mental wish list, so …

Gaston Dorren & Jonathan Buckley – “Lingo” – a journey through the languages of Europe.

Andy Miller – “A Year of Reading Dangerously” – he reads 50 books that change his life. BUT what is the book where a ?woman? reads books from all the countries of the world? Can anyone remember? I’m sure one of you has read it …

Anne Tyler – “A Spool of Blue Thread” – because even though “The Beginner’s Goodbye” profoundly depressed me (watch out for THAT review tomorrow!), this is her “last” novel and I have read every single one of her other ones.

I do know that I’m having ONE book for my birthday (a rather special one, if we can locate a copy) and I will be springing these off my wishlist right away, but what was I THINKING?

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Currently reading – I’m half way through a NetGalley ebook about buying nothing for a year, which immediately compelled the usually frugal me to buy three books and two offcuts of oilcloth for new tablecloths, and Dorothy Richardson’s “Pointed Roofs”, which I’m very much enjoying so far.

 

Book reviews – Hopeful and You Have to be Careful in the Land of the Free

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Nov 15 tbrTwo reviews of books by men (again) – it feels like I read these ages ago now, although I actually finished the Kelman on Christmas Day (as I received it on Christmas Day, 2014, this felt nice and neat). I have had an unpleasant cold/cough for a week or so, and ended up ducking out of the family Christmas celebrations, as I didn’t want to be coughing everywhere and possibly infecting people, so I had a VERY quiet day lying around with the cat, reading and colouring in, which did me the power of good (I’m almost back to normal now, out running this morning, etc.), and this began quite a lot of reading, so there will be a few reviews over the next few days!

Omid Djalili – “Hopeful”

(8 January 2015, The Works)

I bought this and the Ken Livingstone autobiog (that I am actually reading now!) to make up an online order from The Works that included Orla Kiely’s “Pattern” and get free delivery, the kind of activity in which only a book-buying obsessive indulges, I know. Anyway, I’d been intrigued by this British-Iranian comedian and felt he was a warm and interesting character, enough to pick up a cheap copy of his autobiography.  Bonus: it’s a single-volume work – none of this stopping where it gets interesting with all the famous people and stuff you’ve seen and expecting you to buy another book. Hooray!

He’s self-deprecating and honest about his struggles with coming from a slightly odd, unorthodox family, especially for the very British mansion block they lived in, as well as with friends and girls. His parents operated a hostel for Iranians coming over to use British medical facilities, and he was expected to guide them around London from a very early age. There’s quite a lot about  how the terribly British people around them made allowances for the fact that his parents were basically extremely kind and caring people looking after fellow countrymen with diverse and distressing needs.

It’s  not a riot of funniness, but that’s OK – it’s more reflective than that, with Djalili relating aspects of his unusual childhood to his activities and behaviour later in life and reflecting on a very real propensity to stand back from the crowd while longing for it to embrace him. There are some very funny scenes, however, and it’s well-written, apart from some inexplicably weird proofing errors, which did jump out at me and mar things a little.

This book would suit … fans of this comedian, people interested in the immigrant experience / second-generation Iranians in the UK.

James Kelman – “You Have to be Careful in the Land of the Free”

(25 December 2014 – from Gill)

An amazing tour de force of a novel, engaging, funny, moving, nail-bitingly tense – and a definite data point in favour of me delaying my Books Of The Year post until the very end of the year.

It’s Jeremiah’s last night in America. He’s planning to go back to Scotland to lick his wounds, maybe repair his relationship with the family he hasn’t seen for 8 years, and consider how to maintain contact with his young daughter. Will he come back? Who knows. His immigration status is perilous, and he’s only survived in a series of bar, driving and security jobs as long as he has because he’s white and unbearded, he knows. He longs to disappear, but he’s got an ex, the beautiful jazz singer, Yasmin, as well as the toddler daughter he barely gets to see, and however chaotic his life gets, he can’t risk deportation or arrest.

All he needs is a break, but enmired as he is in a chaos of drinking and gambling and, frankly, being too clever for his own good, whenever he does get a break, he conspires against himself to mess it up. But for all of this, he’s an engaging, literate, politically and socially aware and hugely funny character: a real character you could imagine meeting. And although it’s unclear whether he’ll get back to Scotland – or even through the night; although the book moves through seedy bars, near-fights, shady practices and an underworld of illegal immigration and grinding poverty that it’s almost impossible to avoid slipping into; although it’s what I might term a ‘masculine’ novel, with muscular sentences, uncompromising topics and an awful lot of what I once memorably saw called “effing and jeffing”, like his previous novel, “How Late it Was, How Late” and, for example, Magnus Mills’ novels, I absolutely bloody loved it.

This book would suit … Anyone interested in the human condition, people who liked his other novels and Magnus Mills’ stuff; people who don’t mind reading something written entirely in dialect.

OK, two down, five to go, a few short ones tomorrow, I think …

Christmas acquisitions

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Books received at Christmas

I don’t THINK any more books are now due … so here’s the rather wonderful pile that ensued when I gathered up all of the books I have received for Christmas from my lovely friends (of course to be added to the ones I opened at BookCrossing Secret Santa time).

And what do we have here, thanks to Tedd and Jane (Project 365 and Virago Group Secret Santas), Sian, Ali, Bridget, Verity, Gill and Meg … Well, from the top …

Angela Thirkell – “August Folly” – a lovely Virago and next in her Barsetshire series – looks like a cracker with amateur dramatics and all sorts.

Mollie Panter-Downes – “London War Notes” – accclaimed by many fellow-bloggers, this Persephone collects the columns she sent to America reporting back on London during WW2. I’ve loved the short stories of hers I’ve read, so this looks great, too.

Indra Sinha – “The Cybergypsies” – a romp through the world of the Internet, looks very intriguing.

“How it works: THE HUSBAND” – one of those satirical books based on the old Ladybird books, using actual illustrations with hilarious captions (note: the husband received “How it works: THE WIFE” but won’t let on what gems he’s picking up from that one …)

Danny Baker – “Going to Sea in a Sieve” – I wanted this in a shop and lo and behold it appears from the person with whom I was in the shop. I’ve loved Mr Baker’s radio stuff for years, so looking forward to this one.

Simon Armitage – “Walking Home” – I’ve wanted this since seeing him at the Birmingham Book Festival talking about this book, so another winner from the person I was with at that talk, too!

Joanna Rakoff – “My Salinger Year” – Joanna worked in publishing and interacted with the elusive author – this was not on my actual wishlist but was on my mental one, so an inspired choice.

Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin – “The Novel Cure” – all sorts of remedies for all sorts of ailments, in the form of novel recommendations. The friend who gave me this has read it herself, and when a friend opened it in her BookCrossing secret santa, I knew what to ask for. Looks SUCH fun!

Runner’s Journal – not a book to read, but one to write in, log runs, note details of trainers and make notes on which races to do again next year. Very cool.

James Fletcher – “Mark Twain’s 88 Days in the Mother Lode” – a book about the sender’s local area, by a local author bought in a local bookshop with the bookshop’s bookmark inside. Looks very interesting, too.

A. S. Byatt – “Ragnarok: End of the Gods” – the author’s retelling of the Norse myth.

Halldor Laxness – “Under the Glacier” – a favourite classic Icelandic author.

Auður Ava Olafsdsottir – “Butterflies in November” – Iceland road-trip novel with a quirky heroine – looks right up my street.

“The Wallpaper Colouring Book” – have you SEEN this??? Gorgeous vintage wallpapers to colour in, embellished with pictures of pugs and cats! So fun!

Wow – quite a haul. Fortuntely, I’ve finished SIX books since Christmas Eve – yes, SIX (that’s what you get for being poorly over Christmas). So reviews to come every day for the rest of the year, maybe three on a couple of days. You can cope, right?

Soooo… how many books were on your Christmas pile, and have you read any of these lovelies? Happy Christmas and Happy New Year!

Book reviews – Over the River and The Phoenix Project

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Nov 15 tbrTwo books by … men. And that’s it, really – they don’t go together except, I suppose, for being read out of the main TBR sequence. Will that do? One is the final book in a series I’ve been reading and enjoying all year, the other is a novelisation of a software and procedural process that went round my husband’s office and ended up in my slightly bewildered hands (can hands be bewildered? You know what I mean).

John Galsworthy – “Over the River”

(ebook)

And so we reach the third book of the third trilogy of the Forsyte Saga, which I’ve been re-reading all year. The first six books were a third read, and these last three were only a second read – and I have to say that I’ve found this last set of books extremely enjoyable, and a high point to end the series.

Having dealt with Hubert in the first book and his sister Dinny in the second, the third book concentrates on the third Charwell sibling, Clare who has run away from an unspecifiedly dreadful marriage. Unfortunately, she picked up an admirer, the sweet Tony Croom, on the boat home, and while her husband might have been content to let her go, he’s not passing her on to another man without a fight. She seems quite passive and not to be able to manage without a man in her life – unlike the wonderful and resourceful Dinny, who’s fighting to forget Wilfred, the love of her life, but avoiding further entanglements, and passes between London and the country home, unwilling to discuss the details of her marriage and hoping it will just all fade way.

Uncle and Aunt Mont try to help, of course, as do the other uncles, and good old Fleur has a few straight things to say on the matter, but basically the divorce court looms, still a terrible thing in the 1930s and not at all the thing for such families. Dinny takes on the project with gusto, although she is thrown into contact with Dornford, the rather lovely MP who Clare works for and who has a soft spot for Dinny that it seems will never be reciprocated, because Dinny will not go over the river of her great love and try for something of a “normal” life.

The delightful addition of very, very young Roger the lawyer with a twinkly side and of course the marvellous Aunt Em make the book gallop along, and we finish our journey through decades of Forsyte in unputdownable and fine fashion.

Heaven-Ali finished the Forsyte Saga readalong, too – here’s her review of this one.

This book would suit … I suppose it would stand alone, but why not read the whole lot??

The Phoenix ProjectGene Kim, Kevin Behr and George Spafford – “The Phoenix Project”

(December, loaned from Matthew’s work)

A  novelised learning tool about DevOps and IT which has gone around my husband’s work and came to me for a read (Matthew read it on audiobook). It seemed a bit boring at first, as it’s definitely a learning tool rather than an actual novel like a Coupland or Nicholson Baker book set in an office, but it became weirdly compelling, as long as you remembered that it wasn’t supposed to be obeying the rules of a real novel, but more of a case study. We follow the hero as he’s promoted above his comfort level and comes across a peculiar guru who wants him to think about how IT is like a factory, or the “four types of work” or the “first, second and third ways”. I originally thought it was just about Agile, but they seem to be already implementing Agile principles. Oh, dear – I’m not selling this to you, am I!

Some aspects did grate a bit as an editor – for example introducing quirks and observations of one character that you would expect to have some kind of bearing on the plot or relationships, and I could tell that it was written by multiple authors. I did learn some interesting information about the traditional relationships between Development and Operations, and thought this must be valid because the stuff about the relationships between Sales and Operations, which I’m more familiar with, was correct. I also learned about how people can form blockages in systems when they are too indispensible, which I recognised from jobs I’ve had in the past.

So, an oddly interesting book which I’m sure could help the departments it’s written about, if not one that you would necessarily pick up for fun.

This book would suit … people in IT who want to streamline their operations. People who want to understand their friends in IT departments or work environments as a whole

I'm reading or have read THREE of these!

I’m reading or have read THREE of these!

Currently reading … well, I’m whizzing through the TBR now! I’ve got Omid Djalili’s autobiography read and the review coming up, and I’m reading “You’ve Got To Be Careful in the Land of the Free” (amazing – a candidate for the Top 10 of the year, and that’s why I write my Top 10 of the year on 1 January of the next year!) and … Ken Livingstone is also off the shelf and into my hands (so to speak). Hooray!

Are you getting some Christmas reading in? I do hope so!

Book review – A Girl’s Guide to Moving On

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Nov 15 tbrAt last I’m catching up with a bit of a book review backlog, but that’s good, right, because it means I’m getting some reading in. Today’s came courtesy of the publisher, via NetGalley, which provides ebooks for review (visit at your peril, as it’s quite addictive and you seem to have a good chance of getting most of the books you request …). I hadn’t realised that it’s the sequel to “Last One Home”, which is actually on my TBR shelf in paper form, but it didn’t seem to contain toooooo many spoilers and could certainly be read happily as a standalone, so here’s my review, and when I read “Last One Home”, I’ll try to remember to link the reviews.

Debbie Macomber – “A Girl’s Guide to Moving On”

(Received from NetGalley for Kindle, December 2015)

Nichole and Leanne both hope that they’ve moved on from their cheating husbands by now. Although of different ages, they share a link and have bonded during the couple of years they’ve been alone (incidentally, I was OK with this theme, even though I have had trouble reading about infidelity since I got married, maybe because both men were so unlike my husband that the theme was totally unrelatable to me. Good news, though, as avoiding that theme does limit one’s reading somewhat!). Anyway, they are making a new life for themselves following some precepts such as embracing new things, loving and accepting themselves and getting away from the heavily gossip-orientated country club that they both used to belong to.

I loved the two heroes, Rocco the tow truck man and Nikolai the Ukrainian taking a language class – although they did serve a role, they were fresh and lifelike, a bit different, and certainly used to make a valuable point about judging people – and especially immigrants – which felt useful in the rather cosy and small-c conservative world of this author’s books. They also provide some comic relief, but not at the expense of the characters or the people they represent. Although themes of love across differences etc. are common, I felt this was done well, freshly and nicely – it was enjoyable and more modern than some of her books (they do get reissued a lot, so you’re never sure whether you’re getting an older one or a newer one).

As I’ve agreed with my friend Linda in the past, Macomber has a knack of introducing quite upsetting themes into her books but placing them in a safe place where you can deal with them, and this is no exception. A good and recommended read.

This book would suit … romance readers who want something a little different, people looking for a cosy read with a moral backbone.

Coming up, a novel about software implementation and a comedian’s autobiography in one post that I’ll try my hardest to draw links in but probably won’t be able to.

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