A brief moment of sunshine here in Belgium! Everyone got very excited and rushed into their gardens; the air rang with the sound of lawn mowers and children, and in the evening barbeques were lit and cold beers enjoyed.
I planted some pansies from the market and did battle with weeds; I also washed a chicken bottom (Daisy’s, should you be interested). Clara pranced about with a pigeon’s tail-feather in her mouth, the closest she has ever got to actually catching one and you’d have thought she had slain an army of eagles the way she was carrying on, rushing up to people waving the feather at them and squeaking. She has now left the feather ostentatiously in the middle of the lawn and has been walking past it and then acting surprised and catching it again. I have not spotted the denuded pigeon yet.
So, back to ‘what shall helen read?’ The idea behind this reading plan is that every month I dig out a pile of books I’ve had for ages and never read, and you all vote on which one I should read. Then I read it and write about it here. I’ve been working in decades, starting with the 2010s (for which I read Hot Milk by Deborah Levy); last time was the 2000s and I read Andrea Levy’s Small Island.
Somewhat to my surprise this project has been encouraging me to read a lot more of my TBR books, not just the winners. I’ve now read two more of the 2010s novels (After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry and Small Change for Stuart by Lissa Evans: I enjoyed both of them) and one of the 2000s (Half in Love by Justin Cartwright, which was so good that I am keen to read The Song Before it is Sung). On the other hand, Olive Kitteridge is on the charity-shop pile: I have read a little and didn’t feel terribly excited by it, and I am sure that I can find another copy fairly easily should I ever change my mind.
We’ll skip over March, which never happened, ahem, and glide on to April and the 1990s. There are no Levys in this pile, which consists of:
- George Mackay Brown, Beside the Ocean of Time. I actually have no idea why I have never read this as it is exactly my cup of tea: ‘Thorfinn, a crofter’s son living on the remote island of Norday, is a dreamy boy [...] Closing his eyes in the 1930s he dreams of crossing the ‘fish-fraught’ ocean with Viking raiders. Falling asleep to the monotonous tones of a history lesson he finds himself running from the press gang into the arms of a beautiful seal-maiden who longs to return to the sea. War and adventure, the struggles of great men and the everyday toil of the fisherfolk, Thorfinn dreams the sweep of Norday’s history, its life and its inevitable death...’
- John Fuller, The Worm and the Star. According to the blurb, this book ‘pioneers a new literary form: the book composed of very short stories’ which ‘rove, with hurtling changes of perspective, over myth, sex, science fiction, the Middle East, boredom, beauty, grossness, global history, childhood, music and death’. Intriguing! But, it seems, not intriguing enough for me to have read it. Yet.
- Dominique Sigaud, Somewhere in a Desert. This takes place at the end of the Gulf War. ‘In prose of extraordinary clarity and power Dominique Sigaud tells [a] soldier’s story and those of the people who have encountered him in his last hours of life and in the days that followed his death. The mystery and horror of war are revealed through the eyes of this Unknown Soldier.’ I bought my copy from Ipswich Library for 30p, I see; its enthusiastic puffs include one by Beryl Bainbridge but my squeamishness has so far held me back from reading it.
- Jane Smiley, A Thousand Acres. I don’t suppose this needs an introduction; it’s Smiley’s Pulitzer-winning re-telling of King Lear. I think I bought it (from a remainder bookshop!) because everyone else told me it was brilliant and not because I actually felt a great urge to read it. But perhaps now is the time to get on with it?
- William Trevor, After Rain. William Trevor was a Big Name in the 1990s; like A Thousand Acres, this book was bought because I felt I ‘ought’ to read it. Also the cover is very pretty and I have always been a fool for a pretty cover.
So, which of these should I read? All of them look good and I feel much more enthused about them than about the 2000s contenders I listed last time.