nov-2016-tbrWell, a novel and a book about novels – I’m already feeling twitchy enough about leaving my last October book hanging around until this far into November. And what have I been doing to have only finished one book by now this month? Hm. Anyway, here we go, and at LAST I can read the reviews of the Anne Tyler that I’ve been hoarding in my Feedly blog reader for months and months …

Anne Tyler – “A Spool of Blue Thread”

(29 December 2015)

This, along with “The Year of Reading Dangerously” and “Lingo” (up for reading soon!) was part of a three-for-two offer of lovely, fresh new books bought with a book token just after Christmas. I do hoard book tokens a bit, so I’m betting this wasn’t a 2015 gift.

I was also hoarding this Anne Tyler, then my lovely long train journeys to and from Buxton the other weekend gave me the opportunity to have that amazing luxury of reading a whole book in just one day (with a bit read at home to finish it off). I knew it was her last “proper” novel (I know she’s done a Shakespeare re-write, which I will read, but that’s not the same) and I’ve read every one of her others and loved most of them, so I wanted to make sure I had time to savour it.

I felt that this was a return to form for Tyler after some slightly disappointing books; a good, solid book and I think her best since “Digging to America“. We have one of her multi-generational families, full of contrasted siblings and cousins, spreading backwards and forwards through what is basically a fairly ordinary, working- to middle-class family, and told in the order of jumbled family memories rather than in a strictly linear way (if you’ve not read this yet, don’t worry: it’s not too jumbled and we always know who everyone is). It’s moving to see the main characters at different stages of their lives.

The usual Tyler family issues and characters, surprises, secrets held by certain family members, prodigal sons, lost sheep, uncertain parentages and even wandering mums are covered. But there are new twists, too – I don’t remember a character like the mum, Abby, before, trying to be the warm centre of a family and forever welcoming in waifs and strays but deeply, deeply embarrassing to her family (I am minded to curb my liberal, over-inclusive tendencies by her portrayal, especially the one where I instinctively shout out any word I know in someone’s language when I find they are Not From Here: cringe! Sorry, physio!).

Sibling, marital and owner-dog relationships are expertly portrayed (yes, animals are lost, but it’s copeable-with) and the book tugs at the heartstrings, surprises, makes you think and has beautifully discreet and subtle echoes through the years of family life. At the heart of the book is the house, built and longed-for by the first generation, inhabited in a much more informal way by the fourth, beautiful and perfected, then slightly starting to “go”.

I saw no waning of Tyler’s powers; no feeling that she was writing by numbers. If this is her last novel, it’s a fine one to go out on (but I hope it’s not). I really want to revisit her other novels now, and that’s not something I’ve thought with her last couple.

Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin – “The Novel Cure”

(25 December 2015 – from Laura)

An intriguing tome, put together by two women who run a bibliotheraphy service, where they prescribe novels for various ills. And that’s what this book does: it offers suggestions of novels to read to help with a variety of ailments, both mental and physical, from tonsillitis and hangovers to death; from zestlessness to the state of having ageing parents.

It’s clever, with potted summaries of many novels, classics, recent prize-winners and 2oth century greats (Iris Murdoch is only in there once, whereas I’d prescribe her for a range of ills myself). Some entries are written in the style of the novel itself, although it’s not clear why this is the case for only some of them (this reads a little like a blog-turned-into-a-book so I wonder if they started off doing this or something). I felt that the book fell between the amusing and truly helpful at times, so that its lightness removed depth from some of the very serious topics, but I might have been – ha, ha – reading too much into it.

The cross-referencing works (yep, I checked; couldn’t help it, and that’s why I read it straight through rather than dipping), and there are some nice lists and of course indexes. It would be fun to dip into as well as read in one go, and I picked up some interesting recommendations, as well as enjoying recognising some old friends being used to cure various maladies.

So, what books would you prescribe people?

A couple of confessions – my dear friend Verity has sent me the new Persephone book of Dorothy Whipple short stories, “Every Good Deed and Other Stories” as an un-Birthday and un-Christmas gift (a vg idea), and I picked up Marian Keyes’ new book of essays, “Making it up as I go Along”, only published last month, but appearing on the local BookCrossing shelf unregistered, so nabbed to (read and) register and return.

I’m currently reading Grayson Perry’s excellent “The Descent of Man”, which was from NetGalley and I’ve had a reminder to review it, even though I only received it recently, so I’ll have to move away from my customary confusion at the first chapter of my new Dorothy Richardson volume to get that finished. What are you reading?