Precious Bane

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Read 29/06/2021-21/07/2021

Rating 5 stars

For my third summer read, I headed to Shropshire with Mary Webb’s novel Precious Bane. There’s an excellent preface in the Virago Modern Classic edition that I bought from Well-Read Books in Wigtown. Written by Michelene Wandor, it gives a feminist context for the book, describing a little of Webb’s life alongside the history that surrounds her character Prue Sarn’s 19th century existence. Although set at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, Wandor tells us that “national events appear to be outside the concern of the isolated, rural and largely illiterate community” and “the backdrop to Prue’s story is the three centuries of intense and virulent witch-hunting all over Europe.” Continue reading

Six Degrees of Separation: From The Bass Rock to The Lowland

Hello June, here so soon. I’m a day late for this month’s Six Degrees of Separation because summer arrived in Manchester this week and yesterday was too glorious to pass up the chance to read in the garden. Kate, who hosts the meme at Books Are My Favourite and Best, has chosen the Stella Prize winning book The Bass Rock for the first book in the chain.

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The Shadow King

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Read 18/04/2021-04/05/2021

Rating 4 stars

Hirut, a woman with a long scar “that puckers at the base of her neck and trails over her shoulder like a broken necklace”, waits in Addis Ababa station for a man she hasn’t seen in almost 40 years. They are connected by a secret, one from history, involving Mussolini and Emperor Haile Selassie. Continue reading

The Life of Rebecca Jones

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Read 28/03/2021-30/03/2021

Rating 5 stars

Angharad Price’s novel The Life of Rebecca Jones is a fictionalised memoir born of family documents and photographs, some of which appear in the text. It’s a clever and affecting book that paints a picture of farming life in the Maesglasau valley in Merioneth across the 20th century. Written in Welsh, the original novel has the title O! Tyn y Gorchudd, which can be translated as O! Pull Aside the Veil. I read Lloyd Jones’s excellent translation into English. Continue reading

Shōgun

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Read 23/12/2020-06/02/2021

Rating 4 stars

James Clavell’s Shōgun was published in 1975. Five years later, it was adapted into a television mini-series starring Richard Chamberlain, which I was allowed to stay up past bedtime to watch. Ten years after that, the novel reached 15 million sales worldwide. It’s a true blockbuster novel. I hadn’t read the book until my friend Lisa lent me her copy, a well-read 1982 edition she picked up on the pound shelf at the local superstore. When I started reading it, it felt like pure escapism. There came a point, though, during my reading, when real world events made me reflect on the way human nature doesn’t change, our political systems behind their veneers of democracy are still feudal at heart, and to live through interesting times makes you fodder for future historical fiction. Shōgun is still a cracking yarn, though. Continue reading

Hamnet

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Read 04/10/2020-09/10/2020

Rating 4 stars

Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet imagines the brief life of William Shakespeare’s only son, and the impact his death aged only 11 has on his family. The novel won the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction. Continue reading