My few brain cells have been so busy with work and with writing a couple of reviews for the next edition of Shiny New Books – coming soon to a computer near you! – that they couldn’t cope with the extra effort of writing about ‘Paris’. Hence: reading notes.
- Diving Belles, by Lucy Wood – I have Faye from Literasaurus to thank for this: she wrote a wonderful review about it which compelled me to buy a copy. It’s a collection of short stories set in Cornwall, but inflected with magic and loss. There’s an old lady who enters the sea in a diving bell to reclaim her long-lost husband, victim of mermaids; a houseful of whispering spirits, observing the inhabitants; a woman who is surprised to discover that her mother has a fairy lover. The magical elements are sometimes very strong – as in the story of the couple whose house becomes haunted by a wrecker’s ghost – but sometimes very much in the background – as the wisht hounds are in a tale of a motherless girl and her father, or the story of the droll teller, and they allow Wood to write about grief, loss of memory, loss of home in resonant and beautiful ways. For instance, in ‘Countless Stones’ Rita is slowly turning into a menhir (I was reminded of Byatt’s ‘A Stone Woman’); it’s a story that’s both about a woman turning into stone and about the effects of loneliness, isolation, depression. Wood writes subtly and with an accurate eye on how people feel and speak. Lovely. I’ll definitely be reading Wood’s novel, which was published very recently.
- Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke – My use of this tome to deflect pointy cat teeth perhaps misled some of you into thinking I disliked the book. I love it! It’s even better the second time around. Please please let the sequel come soon.
- John Keats, by Robert Gittings – I started this spurred on by Stefanie asking about Keats biographies and my shameful realisation this had been sitting on my bookshelves since 1989 and never read. I am enjoying it but reading it slowly. It’s good to stop and read the poems alongside it. I hope to write about it on here in more detail when I’ve finished it.
- The Princess Bride, by William Goldman – For the first thirty pages or so, I loved this. Then it began to grate until I could barely finish it. I felt as if I were being repeatedly slapped about the head by a gnome on a stick. Sorry, Mr Goldman.
- On Beauty, by Zadie Smith – It’s ten years since this was published, and only now am I reading it. Why did I leave it so long? Smith’s characterisation is a joy, and her dialogue – well, I can hear those people chattering in my head.