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Quickie review: This is a collection of David Mitchell’s** columns in The Observer newspaper from around 2009 – 2013. He has put them into chapters loosely based on particular themes, and a lot of the columns have introductory paragraphs. It can feel quite strange reading about events that were present day news stories at the time but are now almost a decade on.

As with all collections, some of the pieces resonate more than others, but all are infused with Mitchell’s wit, and I did find myself hearing his voice narrate them in my head. In short, if you like his comedy on shows such as Would I Lie To You?, QI, etc., you will probably enjoy this book.

It’s probably more of one to dip in and out of (which is how I read it – a column here and there between full length novels), rather than reading it straight through from beginning to end, but either way, there is plenty here to enjoy.

 

**Note: this is the British comedian David Mitchell, not the author of such works as Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks. It would have been a very different book if that were the case!

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In Liverpool in 1985 Adam, Kathleen and Jocelyn are teenagers and best friends, who are brought together by an unusual nativity play. They all have high hopes for their future – Adam wants to be a writer, Jocelyn wants to be a singer, and Kathleen wants to be an embalmer (yep!) Their lives might be messy and chaotic, but they are filled with friendship and laughter.

Fast forward 30 years, and Kathleen is an alcoholic, Adam is consumed with guilt over a big secret, and Jocelyn is dead.

This is where the story starts, but from then on, it jumps backwards and forwards in time between 1985, 2015 and the intervening years. It also switches narrators between the three main characters, and another character named Billy, whose role in the story I won’t reveal.

The constant character and timeline switches were handled well, and I didn’t feel that they got confusing, although it would have been easy for them to do so. I read this book in two days, which – for me anyway – means that it was easy to get into, and that the writing flowed well. I found myself looking forward to picking it up again each time I had to put it down. However, it was darker in tone than I was expecting. The cover quotes led me to anticipate a dark comedy, and this was more of a drama with a bit of comedy thrown in. I didn’t like Jocelyn much, and I didn’t particularly feel invested in Adam’s character. I quite liked Kathleen, although her behaviour left a lot to be desired at times. But of all the characters, she seemed the most hopeful, the most eager to believe in the possibility of a decent future.

There was a plot twist at the end, which I guessed about halfway through, but this is not a mystery where a plot twist can change your perspective about everything that has gone before, so it didn’t really affect my enjoyment of the book. No. if I had to have one major gripe, it was that the events that took place relied VERY heavily on coincidence, which did require me to suspend my disbelief several times.

I won’t spoil the ending for anyone, but suffice to say that while this was not what I was expecting and I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I had hoped, it was still a worthy read and I would definitely check out more novels by Jonathan Harvey.

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Just a short review for this one, as it is the third (I think) time that I have read it. I remember the first time I read this book, not long after it was written, and I was howling with laughter. A couple of reads further on, and I still think it’s funny, and I still think that Fielding captured the viewpoint of a particular type of woman in the mid 1990s.

I did feel a bit more cynical about it this time around though, and got annoyed with Bridget for her constant need for approval and her desperation to feel attractive to men. But yes, it’s funny, and I still love the parallels with Pride and Prejudice. Looking forward to rereading the sequel, and reading for the first time the third book in the series.

45 Years (2015)

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45 Years is a British film, about a couple named Geoff and Kate Mercer, who have been married for 45 years. The story takes place over the week leading up to their anniversary party.At the beginning of the week Geoff receives a letter telling him that the body of his former girlfriend Katya, from before he ever met Kate, has been found perfectly preserved in a mountain glacier.

The news has a profound effect on Geoff, making him angry and frustrated, and in turn upsetting his wife – although he is largely oblivious to the effect it has on Kate.

Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling are outstanding in this understated film about a seemingly happy marriage which is thrown into a quiet and civilised crisis. It actually focuses more on the effect that Geoff’s behaviour has on Kate, than the news of Katya’s discovery upon Geoff, and Rampling’s acting is such that it is hard not to empathise with her pain and jealousy.

This is certainly not an action packed film – in one sense, not a lot happens, but so MUCH happens on Kate’s face, in her thoughts – which we sense through her expressions. It’s weirdly compelling and hard to tear your eyes away from – at least that was how I found it. So it’s bleak and sad, but also the actions of both main characters are so utterly understandable.

If you don’t need lots of action and special effects in your films, but enjoy a thoughtful character study, give this little known gem a try, and revel in acting at it’s finest.

I listened to this audiobook while out on a longish run. It’s a shortish audiobook at about an hour and a half, so perfect for my purposes.

Told entirely through letters, this is the story of a growing friendship between Carrie and David, who each discover that their spouses are having an affair with each other. What initially starts as Carrie’s attempt to find out her husband’s motivations for sleeping with someone else becomes a real friendship, as the two support each other, and help each other through the tough time.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this audiobook. The narrators were Julia Whelan, George Newburn, James Daniels and Dara Rosenberg, although we only hear from the cheating spouses Ken and Janet through Carrie and David reading the letters which they have sent to each other. All the narrators were excellent and I really liked both David and Carrie, even though it was only a short story. It was interesting seeing their different reactions to the affair and their contrasting hopes for the future.

I would definitely read/listen to more by this author and recommend this book highly.

 

Harriet ‘Hal’ Westaway is down on her luck, completely alone in the world and in debt to some very dangerous people. So when she gets a solicitor’s letter telling her that her grandmother has died, and she is due an inheritance, it seems as though she might have found the answers to her problems. There’s just one hitch – Hal’s grandparents all died years ago, so who on earth is this lady who has named Hal in her Will?

Hal knows she shouldn’t take the money – but the Westaway family are rich and can afford it. And with her job as a tarot card reader, she is used to making people think what she wants them to think, so if anybody can pull off the deception required to get the inheritance, it’s Hal.

She travels to Trepassen House, the home of Mrs Westaway and meets the family, who are shocked to meet a ‘niece’ they never knew they had but largely welcome her into the fold – all except for the housekeeper Mrs Warren, who is intent on driving Hal out. But as she gets to know the family, it is clear that there are dangerous secrets lurking below the surface, and Hal may be in danger…

I listened to his audiobook, which is narrated by Imogen Church. Unfortunately some of the narrative style irritated me. The weird emphasis on certain words was off-putting, although I did grow more used to it after a while. Her attempt at posh male voices though was really annoying, and unfortunately the three brothers in the family all ended up sounded too similar.

I do think the premise of the book is really interesting and while I guessed part of the ending fairly early on, there was one twist which really threw me and I didn’t get even the slightest hint of it.

That said though, this book could really have done with some tight editing. It just seemed to take so long and so many unnecessary words to describe every situation. And metaphors – metaphors everywhere. “She looked into his eyes and it was like falling into a dark, leaf strewn pond.” I mean, come on!! The story could have been told in half the time if all the unnecessary sentences had been cut and the author had just got to the point!

So, yeah not a hit for me. It wasn’t awful and it did hold my attention enough to keep me listening to the end, but I can’t say I wasn’t glad when it was finished.

 

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27 year old Elvira Carr, lives a very sheltered with her overbearing mother; due to Elvira’s ‘condition’ (Autism, although this is never specified), her mother does not allow Elvira out on her own, other than to the local Asda, and relationships with other people are non-existent, as Elvira takes people at face value and believes what they say to be absolutely literal. Consequently her life revolves around her beloved Mills and Boon novels, and eating, learning about and collecting packets from various types of biscuits.

However, when her mother has a stroke and has to live in a care home, Elvira is forced to look after herself and engage with the world. With the help of a neighbour, she compiles a list of seven rules to help her navigate a scary world she learns that while some people are kind and willing to help, others can be cruel and ready to take advantage.

She also finds out secrets about her past which her mother had kept hidden – I don’t want to say more on this aspect as it is a fairly important part of the plot, so I am wary of revealing spoilers.

I enjoyed the book a lot. I think comparisons with Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine are inevitable. Both are about young women who have domineering mothers, and who have trouble fitting into society. So there are some basic similarities. Both both Eleanor and Elvira are very much their own people. I really enjoyed reading about Elvira, and as it is written in the first person, I felt that I got to know her well. There are moments of humour in the book but also some very poignant parts. I would definitely recommend this novel and will look out for more by Frances Maynard.