The Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an Ending concerns Tony Webster, retired, divorced, father of one, grandfather of two. It also concerns his school friend Adrian Finn, who died by suicide aged twenty-two. And his first girlfriend Veronica, her mum, his school friends Colin and Alex, and the ways they are connected through the past they shared.

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American Pastoral

American Pastoral is the novel that won Philip Roth the Pulitzer Prize. It’s also the first novel I’ve read by him. It recounts the life of a high school athlete, Seymour ‘Swede’ Levov, from his schooldays during the Second World War to a point in his adulthood where his daughter’s countercultural leanings disrupt his American idyll.

People speak highly of Philip Roth. As well as the aforementioned Pulitzer Prize, he also received multiple PEN/Faulkner awards. His complete novels were published in his lifetime, in a nine-volume series, by the Library of America. I only really paid attention when he died, though. Until then, I hadn’t even heard of him. Or if I had, his name and status hadn’t registered. It’s a funny old literary world, full of reading lacunae.

The first few pages of American Pastoral put me in mind of John Updike and Richard Ford, but better. There’s also a bit of Ray Bradbury about the writing, particularly his Green Town books. Roth’s phrasing has a beautiful rhythm that carries you like a river burbling through the story. Roth also managed to make me care about something that I really don’t care about – the very male world of competitive sport.

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The Rings of Saturn

The Rings of Saturn by W G Sebald is a novel disguised as a travel book, recording a walk along the Suffolk coast and inland to Norfolk but also documenting local culture, the interplay between people and landscape, and how transient life is. I read Sebald’s Vertigo a few years ago and loved it, and have wanted to read more by Sebald since.

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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