PIP WILLIAMS – 16 JUNE 2015
Old Dubrovnik is beautiful, but the scars of war remain. War was not what we expected when we arrived in Dubrovnik’s Old Town. We had come to walk the medieval ramparts, gaze at the sapphire blue of the Adriatic Sea, and stroll narrow lanes and the wide thoroughfare of the Stradun, stopping for ice-cream whenever the whim took us. Continue reading
I love trains.
Inside and out they reveal so much about a place and its people.
The train from Rome to Naples is hot and crowded, a far cry from the air conditioned comfort of our journeys north. Before we even start moving, scents of life begin wafting through the carriage. Italy is suddenly more interesting (and a little smellier). As the train idles a man makes his way through the carriage leaving notes written in English on the window sill of each seat. Continue reading
By Andrew O’Hagan Published by Faber & Faber, 2015The recurring motif in this book is light, which isn’t surprising given the title. But it is not immediately clear what is being illuminated. Early on we are introduced to the Blackpool Illuminations, a festival of light that has been drawing people to that English seaside town since 1879. But we don’t return to Blackpool until much later. In between lays the story, and it is a good one, with two interweaving narratives that initially could not be further apart, but which come together gracefully. At the heart of this book is Anne Quirk, a woman in her eighties living in a retirement home in Saltcoats on the west coast of Scotland. The electricity sockets in her kitchen have been taped over with Elastoplast, and the rings of her stove are covered up to prevent her from cooking. Anne’s neighbour, Maureen, pops in frequently to sort out small confusions, and to hear Anne talk about her past; about living in New York, about taking photographs and about the love of her life, Harry Blake. There is a sense of time running out for Anne, of days darkening and memories falling like … Continue Reading ››
A Novel by Miranda July Published by Canongate Books, 2015I’m going to start this review by saying things that may turn prospective readers away from The First Bad Man, but that is not my intention, so please bear with me. Reading The First Bad Man felt a little like cleaning out my fridge. I was frequently disgusted, surprised by some of the content, but compelled by each disturbing discovery to keep going. Just like I can’t help lifting the lid on some mouldy mass in the bottom of my crisper to try and figure out what it is, I couldn’t help turning the pages of this book. A few chapters in I started to appreciate the deliciousness of what I was reading. If this book had a flavour it would be umami, that trendy new taste that Wikipedia says induces salivation and a sensation of furriness on the tongue, stimulating the throat and resulting in a lasting aftertaste that is difficult to describe. The first chapter introduces the reader to Cheryl and her globus hystericus, an uncomfortable swelling in the throat that, at its worst, causes saliva to pool and requires frequent spitting because of an inability to swallow. I … Continue Reading ››
by Mario Vargas Llosa Published by Faber & Faber, 2015Oh, where to start with this review? Perhaps with the author: Mario Vargas Llosa was born in Peru in 1936 and is one of the most significant Latin American writers of his generation. So significant, in fact, that in 2010 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Now to the reader: I was born much later, on the other side of the world, and while I had a love affair with the magical realism of Latin American writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marques and Isabelle Allende in the 1990’s, I have never written a novel, and the Nobel Foundation will never, ever, ever, bestow a prize on me. I tell you this so that you can ignore all the critical things I am about to say, because, let’s face it, what would I know. So, to the story: The Discreet Hero is set in modern day Peru and tells two tales that intersect late in the book. The first is of a self-made man who refuses to give in to extortionists – even in the face of arson and kidnap – because he lives by the advice of his … Continue Reading ››
by Brooke Davis Published by Hachette, 2014I loved this book. Like many people who’ve read it, I found it warmed my heart, tickled my funny bone and made me think, deeply. Lost & Found is the story of seven year old Millie Bird, Eighty-seven year old Karl the touch-typist and Eighty-two year old Agatha Pantha. They are an unlikely trio, with unlikely names who get into all sorts of unlikely situations during a road trip in search of Millie’s mother. Everyone in this story has been left behind, even the minor characters, but the texture of each person’s grief is unique. Sometimes it is smooth and reflective and you can feel their grief because it would be your own. Other times it is like the nap of velvet; look at it one way and you see a woman who has lost her husband, look at it another and you see a woman who has lost her self. Lost & Found is a funny book about grief and loneliness, and, as unlikely as it all is, it worked for me. The poignancy of loss, experienced by each character at the start of the story, is not dulled by the playfulness of … Continue Reading ››
By Eva Hornung Published by Text Publishing, 2009Yann Martel – he who wrote The Life of Pi, one of my favourite books of all time – describes Dog Boy as ‘Extraordinary’. This word is printed in quotation marks on the cover of the book, and it is the reason I picked it up from the pile of pre-loved tomes at my local second-hand book store. Of course I doubted it would be ‘Extraordinary’ – these superlatives are often found on the front of books I pick up and I am too often disappointed – but not this time. Like The Life of Pi, Dog Boy is a story that uses animals to explore humanity. It is fascinating and shocking and heart wrenching, but it is compelling, and written with such insight into human and canine behaviour, that the events of the book are completely believable. It is about a Russian boy, called Romochka, who is abandoned by his human carer and adopted by the matriarch of a family of feral dogs. It is an ancient story, but unique in its telling. From Romulus and Remus, to Tarzan, to Mowgli, myth and literature have placed helpless children in the care of … Continue Reading ››