Friday, July 11, 2014

What I've Been Reading

Every so often I come across a list on a blog, generally at the end of December or early January, titled something like "the best ten novels I've read this year". You won't find that here.I mean, who has time to read that much? Possibly, if you only read novels, there would be time to read enough - say twenty or thirty - that it would be worth picking the best ten. But my reading is not restricted to novels, there are of course newspapers, and magazines, lots of poetry books, non fiction, research related to family history, and so on.

And then there is my day job, and other pursuits like writing, sewing, playing bridge (one of the few things my husband and I do together, so I am not about to let it go), and getting out and about for some exercise and inspiration.

So - "best ten" - not so much, and as for "1001 books you must read before you die" I once calculated how many I would have to read a year, and laughed at that book title, which doesn't seem to allow any time at all for additions for personal preference, or all the books that are going to be published between now and the date of my demise, whenever that might be.

I have however read a couple of books lately that I thought worth a mention. The first, one that has often popped up in "must read" lists, and the second, one I had never heard of before.

The first novel I ever read by Rose Tremain was "Music and Silence", a historic novel which I found mesmerising. I wanted more, so tried a number of the author's other books, and was disappointed. Her modern novels don't appeal to me - I tried "The Long Road Home" - OK but not outstanding - and "Trespass" in which I found most of the characters unpleasant and unappealing, although admittedly by the end of the book they had grown on me a little. Then there was "The Colour", another historical novel, but set in New Zealand rather than Europe. Somehow, the setting just seemed inauthentic and I couldn't get into it properly because of the overwhelming sense of "not quite rightness".

Finally, however, I got round to "Restoration" and more recently, "Merivel", both of which I enjoyed enormously. And I can't quite say why these grabbed me when the others didn't. It's not that the characters are less flawed. Maybe I prefer flawed characters who are firmly in the past? Perhaps if the settings are suitably remote, I can forgive flaws as being of another time and place? I haven't come to a conclusion yet.However, I can say for those who like deeply layered, complex historical novels, these are well worth reading.

The other book which I am just about to return to the library is one that I found on the new books shelf. I knew nothing about the author - it's her first novel - but the book looked intriguing so I picked it up. And I'm very glad I did. The author is Jess Richards and the book is "Snake Ropes". Jess Richards was born in Wales and grew up in South West Scotland. The setting of the book is a mysterious island somewhere far to the west of Scotland. The inhabitants have long been isolated. Their only visitors are the mysterious tall men who come from the mainland to trade for fish and for the women's craft work, being careful not to disturb the culture of the islanders too much. The story is told in the voice of two young girls, Mary who is an islander, and Morgan whose parents have settled there from the mainland, after fleeing something dark in their past. If I had to label this book with a genre, I would say "magical realism".Morgan can talk to the dead, and the myths told by Mary's grandmother become tangled in the story so that it is not quite clear what is myth and what is real. The blurb on the back of the book reads "The day the tall men come from the mainland to trade, Mary's little brother goes missing. She needs to find him. She needs to know a secret that no one else can tell her."

It's a stunning book, highly imaginative, unlike anything else I have ever read. I highly recommend it.

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