Do Not Say We Have Nothing

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Read 24/03/2017-30/03/2017

Rating: 4 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room March Madness Challenge.

In Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien tells a family saga lived through the tumult of political upheaval in Communist China. The story moves from Canada in 1989, in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square student-led rebellion, to China in the years following the Communist victory in the civil war, through the land reforming Great Leap Forward to Mao’s Cultural Revolution and on to the events that took place in and around Tiananmen Square. It’s a political novel, but in a quiet way. It talks about loss of beauty as well as loss of freedom. It talks of how music inhabits us, is part of everything we do, has a power in people’s lives every bit as potent as politics. It talks about the violence of politics under an autocratic regime, but matter of factly. It is a thing that happens, it is devastating, but life goes on. Continue reading

Fantastic Night

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Read 13/03/2017-21/03/2017

Rating: 5 stars

Over on Brontë’s Page Turners not so long ago was a review of a novella by Stefan Zweig. I hadn’t heard of Zweig, but Brontë’s review made me want to read something by him.

Last week I went to the library to borrow one specific book. The library staff had done that thing of getting a table out and putting books on it to entice people to borrow them. One of the books was The Portable Veblen, which I’ve already read. But it pulled my irresolute eye towards the table and then Stefan Zweig’s Fantastic Night winked at me. There and then, I couldn’t recall why I knew his name, but I borrowed it anyway. Continue reading

How to be both

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Read 12/03/2017-13/03/2017

Rating: 5 stars

Ali Smith wrote the introductions to some of the recent English translations of Tove Jansson’s non-Moomin books. I liked her observations, so decided I should read something by her.

I picked a book at random from the shelf in my local library, and came home with How to be Both. I had no idea what it was about. It starts with a woman coming to terms with the death of her mother. Continue reading

A Sicilian Romance

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Read 08/03/2017-11/03/2017

Rating: 3 stars

Ann Radcliffe’s novel of gothic romance is an absolute hoot. It’s very much of its time, and I had to put myself in the frame of mind of someone from the 1790s when I started reading it. The language is wonderfully flowery at times, and the plot is very different to the type of book I normally read. The good are very, very good, the bad are very, very bad, and the secrets are very, very mysterious. It was a riot of hilarity for this 21st century reader. Continue reading

Travelling Light

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Read 06/03/2017-08/03/2017

Rating: 4 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room Winter Challenge.

I’m a big fan of Tove Jansson’s Moomin stories. I have been from childhood, when I borrowed Comet in Moominland from my primary school library. I love the way they deal with serious matters and reflect the best and worst of human nature through the curious inhabitants of Moomin Valley. I’m also a fan of Jansson’s fiction for adults, which is steadily being translated into English. Continue reading

The Gap of Time

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Read 04/03/2017-05/03/2017

Rating: 3 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room Winter Challenge.

I’ve never seen a performance of or read The Winter’s Tale, so I was glad of the overview Jeanette Winterson provides at the start of The Gap of Time. I could understand why Winterson, who was adopted and raised by strangers attempting to be her parents, would be fascinated by the story of a lost girl taken in and raised by a stranger, and why, given the unhappiness of her own upbringing, she would be fascinated by the story’s happy ending.

It surprised me, then, that Winterson’s cover version (her term) felt so brittle at first. There was a self-consciousness about it. This is only the second work of fiction by Winterson that I’ve read. It felt to me as though she was writing at a slight remove, as though curious herself as to what she might reveal as the story unfolded. Perhaps there was a reticence because this is a work of Shakespeare, after all. These aren’t Winterson’s own characters. And perhaps Winterson’s feeling that Shakespeare’s original is talismanic for her meant that her love for it was overshadowed by a sense of responsibility to reinterpret it well. Continue reading