Category Archives: British

A God In Ruins

agod  A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2015

Borrowed from my public library.

The first book I read by Kate Atkinson was When Will There Be Good News? .  I remember devouring it, loving the characters, loving the writing.  I read all the Jackson Brodie books, and was excited to learn about Life After Life.

It took me weeks to read that book.  I kept picking it up and putting it down, not sure if I would ever get through it.  I think it was the time shifting, creating a kind of vertigo, much like the main character, Ursula Todd, felt, constantly dying and being reborn.  I ended up finishing the book, really enjoying it, and amazed at Atkinson’s writing abilities, at how different Life After Life was from her other novels.

Atkinson calls A God In Ruins a companion piece to Life After Life.  I read it over five days, taking it in at a moderate pace. It follows the life of Ursula’s younger brotherTeddy, and lovingly weaves in family members, Teddy’s parents, his wife, child and grandchildren.  It also shift chronologically, following the lives of these people in a way I found less jarring, filling in the Todd family story and allowing for mystery, elements of family drama that evolve because of events finally revealed at the end of the book.

There is history it both of these novels, World War II, the blitz, the British and Allied bombing of Germany.  Atkinson dug deep, she holds nothing back in her descriptions of the blitz, in the scenes of Teddy and his crew in their Halifax bomber, flying to and from their bombing runs.   A God In Ruins is beautifully written, deeply engaging and I found it emotionally honest.  I highly recommend it, even if you haven’t read Life After Life.

There, I’ve jumped in, glad to be back in the water.  I find myself reading more and more historical fiction lately, particularly World War I and World War II.  Not sure what that is about but any suggestions would be appreciated.

 

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Filed under Books, British, Historical Fiction, Kate Atkinson, Uncategorized

Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones

derkholmDark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones

Greenwillow Books, New York, 2001

From my TBR pile. Read for Diana Wynne Jones month and Once Upon A Time VII.

The story takes place in a world of high fantasy, where griffins and young magicians are siblings, pigs fly and the mysterious Mr. Chesney runs Pilgrim Party tour groups from what appears to be our world.  Chesney insists on all the familiar scenes, wizards, demons and horrible battles, which include the deaths of some “expendable” tourists. The tours continually wreak havoc throughout the land and destroy many inhabitants livelihoods.  These people are tired of being exploited, but are helpless to fight back until the dragons show up.  No suprise there.

Dark Lord of Derkholm is a parody, filled with family squabbles, depressed and drunken wizards and adolescents yearling to spread their wings, both figuratively and literally.  It is a joy to read.  It won the Mythopoetic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature in 1999.  There is a second book in this series, Year of the Griffin, which I hope to read sometime in April.

What a master.  I was introduced to Diana Wynne Jones by Ana a couple of years ago, and felt robbed at not having found her sooner.  She was a British author who somehow never received the media push granted to J.K. Rowling.  I have since tried to convince every Harry Potter fan I know to read her books.

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Filed under 2013 TBR Double Dog Dare, British, Fantasy, Once Upon A Time VII, Young Adult

Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt

Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt

Random House, New York, 1990

Borrowed from my library. Winner of the 1990 Man Booker Prize.

Another book I waited a long time to read.  I think I was intimidated by the mid-Victorian poetry angle, but I should have known.  It is A.S. Byatt.  Possession is a masterpiece.

A young academic, Roland Mitchell, stumbles upon drafts of unknown letters written by his research subject, romantic poet Randolf Henry Ash.  The drafts hint of a unknown relationship with a young women.  From this tiny hint, Roland discovers a possible link between Ash and poet, Christabel LaMotte and is pulled into a literary mystery that is layered, humorous and massively intelligent.   This novel is a deep exploration of romance,  love and possession.   What those emotions could have looked like in the past and how they can manifest in the present.  It is also a parody of modern academia,  pop culture and the cult of personality.

Complete with love letters and invented verse , Byatt uses the full range of her literary abilities.  Most chapters begin with bits of invented poems, myths or fairy tales.   Her poets, writing in the style of  Victorian romance, use language differently.  At one point she has a young French cousin of Christabel write a journal.  Again, the voice is completely different, drenched in the language of the time and expressing the cultural differences between a young lady raised in England and one raised in France.  I was constantly amazed at A.S. Byatt’s mix of history, literary knowledge and her ability with words.

Possession is also a love letter, to language, to reading and to writing of all sorts.  I was quickly drawn in, found myself moving backwards and forwards in the text, copying words, making notes and fully intend to read this book again.  Roland’s thoughts on re-reading Randalf Hanry Ash’s words discribe something of what I felt reading parts of Possession:

    There are readings – of the same text – that are dutiful, readings that map and dissect, readings that hear a rustling of unheard sounds, that count grey little pronouns for pleasure or instruction and for a time do not hear golden or apples.  There are personal readings which snatch for personal meanings, I am full of love, or disgust, or fear, I scan for love, or disgust, or fear.  There are – believe it – impersonal readings – where the mind’s eye sees the lines move onward and the mind’s ear hears them sing and sing.

Now and then there are readings that make the hairs on the neck, the non-existent pelt, stand on end and tremble, when every word burns and shines hard and clear and infinite and exact, like stones of fire, like points of stars in the dark – readings when the acknowledge that we shall know the writing differently or better or  satisfactorily,  runs ahead of any capacity to say what we know, or how. In these readings, a sense that the text has appeared to be wholly new, never before seen, is followed, almost immediately, by the sense it was always there, that we the readers, knew it was always there, and have always known it was as it was, though we have now for the first time recognized, become fully cognisant of, our knowledge.  From pages 511/512.

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Filed under A.S. Byatt, British, Historical Fiction, LiteraryFiction, Thoughts

Blackmoor by Edward Hogan

Blackmoor by Edward Hogan

Simon & Schuster, London, 2008

From my TBR pile.

Vincent, an awkward, bird-watching teenager treated badly by his father, lives in a town a few miles from the place where he was born.  That place, Blackmoor,  no longer exists.  As Vincent grows curious about his family history he discovers deeply buried secrets, about himself, his Mother, and the village of  Blackmoor.  The story,  told by an unnamed omniscient narrator,  moves back and forth in time and slowly reveals the truth.

This is a book I devoured.  The sense of mystery and menace grew to a point where  I just couldn’t put it down.  At its heart is the fate of British coal mining during the Thatcher years, the devastation wrought on a place and its people.  And Hogan writes beautifully.

Vincent sits in the rain-speckled ocher dirt and Leila joins him among the broken teeth of the bridge. The indigo rain clouds have tinted the sun and improved visibility.  With the enduring drift of rain, the light has taken on a sourceless clarity, and from this height Vincent can see the brown whorls on the underside of Piano’s light wings.  Her colours make it seem like she has been peeled from the rock of the quarry.  She does not move those long straight wings, or the elegant `fingers’ at their ends.  Instead, she tips dips and tilts as her two charges swoop clumsily down on her like pieces of tumbling flint.  From page 50.

In 2009 Blackmoor was awarded the Desmond Elliott Prize for new fiction.  As far as I can tell this novel has not been published in the United States.  I hope that is remedied soon.  I am now waiting for Hogan’s second novel, The Hunger Trace, to be published in paperback in the UK.  It is on my wishlist.

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Filed under British, ContemporaryFiction, TBR Double Dare, Thoughts

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2011

From my library hold list.  Winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize.

Tony Webster has reached retirement.  His marriage ended in an amicable divorce and he is ready to enjoy his later years when, out of nowhere, his past comes to meet him.

Before reading The Sense of an Ending I had only read one novel by Julian Barnes, Arthur & George.

This new one it is very different, one that I wanted to read in one sitting and, when finished, knew I wanted to read again.  It is elegant, sometimes funny and always disturbing, offering insights into youthful mistakes, loss and memory.  It is a mystery, deeply emotional and psychological.  It feels true.

I certainly believe we all suffer damage, one way or another.  How could we not, except in a world of perfect parents, siblings, neighbors, companions?  And then there is the question, on which so much depends, of how we react to the damage: whether we admit it or repress it, and how this affects our dealings with others.  Some admit the damage and try to mitigate it; some spend their lives trying to help others who are damaged; and then there are those whose main concern is to avoid further damage to themselves at whatever cost. And those are the ones who are ruthless and the ones to be careful of.  From page 48.

What Barnes tell us is that what may save us is telling each other what we think is the truth, what we think we know.  This is a beautiful, devastating novel.  I do want to read it again.

It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old we invent different pasts for others.  From page 88.

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Filed under Booker, British, LiteraryFiction, TBR Double Dare, Thoughts