The Letters of Ivor Punch

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Read 10/07/2018-15/07/2018

Rating: 3 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room European Backpacking Challenge

Colin MacIntyre records and performs as Mull Historical Society. He’s one of my favourite musicians. He’s also an author. The Letters of Ivor Punch is his first novel and it won the Edinburgh International Book Festival First Book Award in 2015.

Set on an unnamed island that is easily identified as Mull, the story begins with Jake Punch visiting the sports ground where his late father broke the island’s long jump record. He’s there because his uncle Ivor Punch has died and Jake, who has been distributing letters written by his uncle, has one last letter to deliver. Except he can’t deliver it because it’s a letter to his dad and his dad was killed by Pan Am flight 103, the aeroplane brought down over Lockerbie by a Libyan terrorist.

Instead Jake reads the letter and discovers that his curmudgeonly old uncle missed his brother, Jake’s dad, in ways similar to Jake. The letter triggers memories for Jake, centred on his uncle and the letters he wrote to the great and the good. Continue reading

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Animal

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Read 16/06/2018-27/06/2018

Rating: 5 stars

I love Sara Pascoe. I think she’s one of the funniest people working in comedy. I follow her on Twitter. I love her on QI and Frankie Boyle’s New World Order. I’m going to see her live for the first time in October.

I borrowed her book Animal from the library after I saw a quote from it Tweeted by Pascoe, which I’ll talk about later. I thought it was going to be a straightforward memoir of Pascoe’s life and adventures as a funny feminist woman in the male centric world of British comedy. It is, in a way, but it’s also so much more than that. Continue reading

The Idiot (Elif Batuman)

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Read 04/06/2018-16/06/2018

Rating: 5 stars

The Idiot was my last book from the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist. I didn’t manage to finish reading it before the winner was announced. In fact, it’s a book that I took my time over. I liked its style. The way Elif Batuman writes reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut and Haruki Murakami in the surreal episodes that reveal the oddness of human nature. At times I was reminded of Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. It also made me think a little of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, because it’s about a young woman trying to work out what is expected of her and how to behave around others while maintaining her integrity. Continue reading

Sight

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Read 03/06/2018

Rating: 3 stars

When I first started to read Sight by Jessie Greengrass, I couldn’t quite get into it, so I put it aside for a week, read some nonfiction, a book I’ll return to and review later.

Attempt two went better, in a way. Better because I was drawn in by the confessional tone of her prose. In a way because I felt an immediate connection with the narrator, and a specific circumstance in her life, that didn’t feel entirely positive and yet carried recognition.

The novel is split into three parts. Each part has its own science story that is metaphor for the events happening in the narrator’s life. Each scientist is someone who sees the unseeable, bringing the hidden into view. Continue reading

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

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Read 19/05/2018-24/05/2018

Rating: 4 stars

This is the kind of book that is right up my alley. I’m thrilled that it’s on the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist. Set in Georgian London, among the members of the city’s merchant class, the blurb promises something akin to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell mixed with The Giant, O’Brien and Slammerkin. The design of the book is in sync with its setting. The cover draws together design elements from the V&A’s textile pattern archive. The frontispiece echoes those of the time. The pages, while not the linen papers used in the 18th century, are thick and smooth, a delight to turn. The typeface is Caslon, named for William Caslon, the English typefounder whose typefaces were celebrated for their clarity. Caslon produced his type from 1720 until his death in 1766.

Imogen Hermes Gowar used to work at the British Museum, which must be fertile ground for literary inspiration. Especially when, like so many people working in museums, you’re over qualified and under utilised in your front of house role. I’m not saying front of house (gallery invigilation in the main) is boring, but standing around waiting for a member of the public to ask you something other than ‘Where are the toilets?’ leaves lots of thinking time. I’m surprised more gallery attendants don’t publish novels.

After When I Hit You, I was in need of something less intense, more escapist, and Gowar’s debut definitely hit the spot. Continue reading

When I Hit You

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Read 13/05/2018-17/05/2018

Rating: 5 stars

Meena Kandasamy’s fictionalised account of her abusive marriage is on the short list for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Knowing what it’s about, in very broad terms, I’ve been reluctant to read it, but a couple of glowing reviews piqued my curiosity.

The book describes four months and eight days of domestic abuse and marital rape. It describes why a woman in that situation might not be able to leave, and might not want to leave. It describes how abused women easily disappear from their social circles because the other people in those circles don’t want to look for reasons why.

I found it eye-opening. It made concrete something that I have only thought about abstractly. I’m thankful that I have never been raped, that the worst things I’ve experienced have been isolated incidents of physical and verbal abuse. I read this book from a relatively safe space. I can’t say whether a woman who has experienced or is experiencing the things Kandasamy describes would find it a help or a source of further distress to read this book. I can say that I found it well balanced and honest. Continue reading