Ruby

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Read 22/07/2017-28/07/2017

Rating: 4 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge

I bought Ruby a while ago, when it was in the running for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. When I hit Texas in the Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge, its turn to be read finally came.

It’s a story about love and hate, a tale about trying to escape the memories of a place steeped in wrong-doing, where things that happened in childhood form who people are as adults. The place is called Liberty, but there is little that is free about it.

Ruby Bell returns to Liberty from New York City in 1963. She is a glamorous and self-confident woman who attracts the attention of the men who sit and smoke and talk outside the P & K Market. She becomes the subject of ribald gossip and cautionary tales about the dangers of travel and the consequences of sin. Over time she descends into madness. Her appearance changes, she is distracted and reclusive, and most of the people in Liberty avoid her. Apart from one man, Ephram Jennings. Nobody in Liberty looks at Ephram. Nobody notices him except for Ruby.

There will be mild spoilers in this review, but it was difficult to describe it without referring to key plot points. Continue reading

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The Pelican Brief

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Read 20/07/2017-22/07/2017

Rating: 3 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge.

Every so often, because a lot of what I read can be classed as literary fiction and requires concentration, since it often draws on a wider literary context, I need to read what I think of as easy reading. Quite often, this takes the form of crime novels or thrillers, occasionally family sagas. Popular rather than literary fiction, the type of book you can pick up in a WHSmith shop at a train station or airport. I love this sort of fiction because it employs different skills. The author has to be able to hook the reader in quickly and maintain pace and human interest throughout the story.

The Pelican Brief is one of those books. Continue reading

Never Any End to Paris

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Read 17/07/2017-20/07/2017

Rating: 4 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room Read Around the World Challenge: Spain

The Enrique Vila-Matas of Never Any End to Paris, who both is and isn’t the novelist Enrique Vila-Matas, is convinced that he grows to resemble Ernest Hemingway more every day. Nobody else agrees with him, least of all his wife, most of all the organisers of a Hemingway Lookalike contest in Key West. Like the novelist, the book’s Vila-Matas has been obsessed with Hemingway since he read A Moveable Feast as a teenager. In his 20s, he moved to Paris to try to absorb some of what inspired Hemingway. Never Any End to Paris is Vila-Matas looking back on those youthful days. Continue reading

Southern Cross the Dog

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Read 15/07/2017-17/07/2017

Rating: 3 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge

1927: a devastating flood changes lives in Mississippi. Eight year old Robert Chatham, his father Ellis and mother Etta, are driven from their home by the rising flood waters. They start to wade towards higher ground, an exhausting process that is only partially alleviated when a man in a rowing boat picks them up. He sets Ellis to the task of rowing and takes from them their few belongings. He delivers them to an aid camp, where Ellis argues with the guards trying to keep order and we are left not knowing what will happen to them next.

1932: a prison farm for black prisoners. Eli Cutter is serving time for manslaughter, but is about to be set free by a man who wants to set up a travelling musical show. Eli is a skilled keyboard player, piano or organ, a blues player of renown. Augustus Duke wants Eli for his troupe, enough to buy his freedom.

So begins Southern Cross the Dog, a meandering tale of life on the edges in Mississippi. Continue reading

The Elementals

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Read 09/07/2017-14/07/2017

Rating: 4 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge.

When I read in the introduction that Michael McDowell had worked on the scripts for Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas, I knew I was in for a good read with The Elementals. I wasn’t disappointed.

Set in the early 1980s, the novel begins with the funeral of an Alabama matriarch, Marian Savage. The Savages are descended from one of the original French families to settle in Alabama, the Sauvages, and have a long connection to a secluded town on the Gulf coast, called Beldame. It’s a place so remote that only the family can bear to visit.

It’s also a place where strange things happen, strange things linked to a Savage family secret. Continue reading

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

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Read 02/07/2017-09/07/2017

Rating: 5 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge.

Carson McCullers’ debut novel was a surprise. I’d read The Member of the Wedding years ago and loved it. In The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, McCullers captures the lives of people on the edges of society during the Depression. At the heart of the novel is John Singer, a mute who lives in a small unnamed mill town in the US state of Georgia. Continue reading

The Quiet American

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Read 28/06/2017-02/07/2017

Rating: 4 stars

Graham Greene’s The Quiet American is somber look at the war between France and the Vietminh through the eyes of a British journalist. Fowler has made a life for himself in Saigon, with a girlfriend, a routine, and all the distance he needs from his regular life in England. Into his settled existence comes Pyle, a young and idealistic American working on a clandestine mission under cover of the medical corps. Continue reading