Uncle Silas: A Tale of Bartram-Haugh

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Read 07/04/2022-19/04/2022

Rating 4 stars

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1864 novel Uncle Silas is a locked room mystery centred upon the black sheep of a wealthy family, the titular Uncle Silas. A young woman is sent to stay with her uncle at his estate Bartram-Haugh, the location of the mysterious death of an acquaintance of Silas’s that led to him being shunned by his brother. Continue reading

The Radetzky March

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Read 02/01/2022-09/01/2022

Rating 5 stars

Onwards in my European literary tour to Austria. Joseph Roth was born in a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that is now in Ukraine, but studied in Vienna and is considered to be an Austrian writer. I have his novel The Radetzky March in a Folio edition, which is no longer in print.

The Radetzky March is considered to be a political masterpiece that draws parallels between the elevation and subsequent fall of a military family and the decline and eventual collapse of the Habsburg monarchy. The focus of the novel is the Trotta family, Austro-Hungarians of Slovenian origin, the patriarch of whom rescues Emperor Franz Joseph I from death during the Battle of Solferino. This earns him an elevation to the nobility and the title Baron Trotta von Sipolje.

It’s a funny book that captures the camaraderie of military life, the ridiculous nature of civil service life, the generational changes in parent-child relationships, and the curious rigidity of friendship between men of a certain class. Having studied the causes of the First World War at school, it also provided a different, more social context to the political one I garnered from O Level text books in the 1980s.

It’s also a poetic book, in the way Roth describes landscape, seasons, thoughts and emotions. His turn of phrase is perfection. I loved the lightness of his touch, the humour and fondness for his characters, and the way he skewers the social structures of the time, while simultaneously mourning their passing. Continue reading

The Trial

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Read 28/12/2021-31/12/2021

Rating 4 stars

The Trial is my Czechia book on my European literary tour. I’m still at the beginning of my journey with Kafka. I read The Metamorphosis a fair few years ago, which I loved and have re-read, and then I bought a copy of The Castle from a book fair in Hebden Bridge. I struggled with it while reading, finding it quite soporific, but in the months after reading it, found myself still thinking about it. It’s taken me seven years to pick up my next Kafka, though. Continue reading

The Trick is to Keep Breathing

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Read 22/08/2021-28/08/2021

Rating 5 stars

The Trick is to Keep Breathing is book eight on my summer reading challenge list, part of Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer reading challenge. It is the story of Joy, a Drama teacher whose life is unravelling. It combines narrative with text layout, font weight and insertion of illustrative elements to represent Joy’s unravelling. There’s a feel of concrete poetry to it, and the sort of textual play that Nicola Barker used in her novel H(A)PPY. There’s also a feel of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine to Joy’s story, superficially in the way Joy looks to women’s magazines to distract and instruct, and more seriously in the way her immediate family has treated her, and the damage not having a safety net can do to a person. Continue reading

White Teeth

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Read 20/03/2019-27/03/2019

Rating 2 stars

White Teeth is Zadie Smith’s debut novel. It won the Whitbread First Novel award in 2000. It was touted as a new writing for a new millennium.

I tried to read White Teeth once before, because people raved about it, Continue reading

The Accidental

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Read 17/03/2019-20/03/2019

Rating 3 stars

Prior to The Accidental, I’d read four novels by Ali Smith, all of them belters. The Accidental is her third novel but her sixth published work. It appears on Boxall’s list of the 1001 books you should read before you die (I know, Boxall says you MUST read them, but I don’t think you should put that kind of pressure on people in case they end up resenting you and the books you love). I’m having a small moment of trying to read the female authors on the list, so I borrowed The Accidental from my local library. Continue reading

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

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Read 10/03/2019-16/03/2019

Rating 5 stars

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is the story of the intellectual and philosophical engagements with life of two residents of a Parisian apartment building. Renée Michel is the widowed concierge of the building and Paloma Josse the 12 year old daughter of one of its residents. I bought the book a little more than three years ago but haven’t felt any urge to pick it up.

Continue reading

The House of the Seven Gables

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Read 07/03/2018-14/03/2018

Rating: 3 stars

I bought The House of the Seven Gables for £1 from the book shop in the café at Mrs Gaskell’s House. Once upon a time, it had cost five shillings, and its purchaser had given it to a friend. There’s an inscription inside the front cover. The recipient is nameless, the donor signs themself M.L. and it’s clear that the book meant a lot to them. Continue reading