H(A)PPY

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Read 12/01/2019-17/01/2019

Rating 5 stars

I follow Nicola Barker on Twitter. She posts infrequently, but when she does it’s usually oddly satisfying pictures of her view from various London public telephone boxes or things she’s found while mudlarking along the Thames. There’s nothing in her feed that suggests she’s an author, and I didn’t know her as a writer until H(A)PPY was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2018.

The blurb for H(A)PPY intrigued me. The reader is invited to imagine a utopia in which all knowledge is open, and doubt, hatred, poverty and greed no longer exist. Everyone lives within a System that nurtures and protects, part of a Community that nourishes and sustains. There’s no sickness, no death, no fear.

Sounds good? I wasn’t so sure. I like my privacy. I also like that it’s our differences and individualities that cause the negative things that Barker’s post-post-apocalyptic society has banished. I don’t know that I’d enjoy a world without individuality or opportunities to learn.

This is Barker’s twelfth novel. It seemed like as good a place as any to introduce myself to the writing style of the woman who is mildly obsessed with phone boxes.

It’s slippery at times, the tale she’s written, but it kept me wondering what was going on, curious to find out how it would end. I know how it ends now, of course. I’m saying nothing. I’m glad that I didn’t read any reviews, any judging comments, any opinion pieces before I read it. I imagine it might have spoiled the experience. I enjoyed it greatly. I’d recommend it wholeheartedly. If you want to read it with no prior knowledge, don’t read any further here. My reading experience and my reactions to the book might take the edge off the pleasure of this unusual novel. Continue reading

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The Secret Life of Cows

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Read 09/01/2019-12/01/2019

Rating 5 stars

Oh, my heart! Rosamund Young expresses everything that I have ever thought about the intensive farming practice in the UK. She has more knowledge than I possess, because Rosamund is a farmer and has chosen a very particular way of raising livestock. The Secret Life of Cows is a chronicle of the adventures of her bovine livestock and their interactions with the other animals who live on the farm, including the humans. Continue reading

The Crimson Petal and the White

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Read 22/12/2018-08/01/2019

Rating: 5 stars

I loved the BBC adaptation of Michel Faber’s novel about life in Victorian England from both sides of the wealth divide. It was a pleasure to finally read the book. Faber writes with fluidity and poise, balancing a phrasing appropriate to the era he describes with a tone that suits the modern ear.

I truly loved this book, Continue reading

Touch

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Read 07/12/2018-22/12/2018

Rating: 2 stars

Touch is the second novel by Claire North, one of the pen names of Catherine Webb. I hadn’t heard of her in any of her guises, but a colleague saw me reading one of the Wayfarer series of books and thought I might like Claire North.

Its 423 pages took longer to read than they deserved. It was a grind at times. The central character has the sort of transient existence that makes it hard for them to have anything they care about, and the things North decided they would care about didn’t grab my attention. Continue reading

Help the Witch

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Read 31/10/2018-14/11/2018

Rating: 5 stars

Last year, Tom Cox published his wonderful book of nature writing, 21st Century Yokel, through Unbound. Having loved that book, the writing, the design, the entire spirit of the thing, as soon as he announced his first collection of fiction, I pledged.

The book arrived a couple of weeks ago. I saved it to take on holiday, to read on my birthday. Hallowe’en seemed an appropriate moment to read a collection of spooky short stories. I didn’t read it all on my birthday. I ended up drawing it out for as long as possible because I wanted to relish the stories. Continue reading