I thought I’d come at you this Easter weekend with another reading wrap up. I’ve joined the library since we last talked books and man alive I’m thrilled! I can’t believe I didn’t join sooner! what an absolute balloon. Considering I shell out a gajillion pounds a year for reading matter you’d have thought I’d have been a bit more savvy but nooooo, Mand knows best!
Anyway, I bit the bullet and joined the local library which I pass twice a day on my way to and from work……(and yet I’d still never joined, utter melt!). So 3 of these four books were library ones.
Another first for me was I actually DNF’d one of these books and DNF’ing is not something I’ve ever done before. Ever! DNF’ing for those that don’t know means Did Not Finish. I can’t bear to not make the effort to finish a book but one of these was so repetitive that I felt I could skim the majority of pages and still get the overall jist.
Anyways, onwards with the books:
A Kind Of Intimacy – Jenn Ashworth
I picked this one up after hearing the authors most recent release ‘Fell’ talked about on BookTube. I did a little research and read a few blogs and heard that this book A Kind Of Intimacy was also very good so I decided to give it whirl (pre-library days) and bought it second hand from Amazon.
This is the story of Annie, an obese, lonely, recently separated woman who has just moved into a new neighbourhood. She quickly becomes intent on getting to know her neighbours in order to escape her past. However, she develops an intense fascination with her neighbour Neil who unfortunately for Annie also has a young, beautiful girlfriend called Lucy who Annie sees as an obstacle to her developing (imagined) relationship with Neil.
I loved the fact that Annie is such an unreliable narrator, she’s telling you the story as she sees it, recounting events that have happened through her eyes and you just know that it didn’t happen like that and you as the reader can see how the other characters in the book are really feeling and viewing the same events very differently.
There are times you know that Annie is acting oddly but she doesn’t seem to be aware that she is, she is very good at justifying her behaviour to herself and normalising it in her own head. There is one point where she hears a barbeque going on in Neil and Lucy’s garden that she hasn’t been invited to. She stands at the fence eavesdropping on them and hearing them talk disparagingly about her….
‘I was angry to tell you the truth. To have to stand there in the sanctuary of my own garden, doing nothing more sinister than enjoying a warm evening, and then suffer the verbal assault of a woman I’d never met, well, it was more than I could take. My hands started to hurt again and I looked at them, surprised at the grazes on my knuckles. I’d been hitting the wall above the pedal bin with my fists, over and over without realising it. I can’t tell you how long had passed, me standing looking into the bin and thumping the wall like that, it couldn’t have been more than a matter of minutes: when I held my breath I could hear, above the sound of my own blood booming in my ears, the continuing music and laughter from outside…’
At times this book was toe curlingly cringey and you really feel for Annie and her desperate loneliness and the tireless way she tries to fit in. She is of course hiding a very murky past which is drip fed to the reader in small doses, with the tension building at just the right pace. This book is very dark and has a shocking ending. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The Dark Circle – Linda Grant
Now this book was one of my first library rentals. I went in there and was literally like a kid in a sweetshop, or Belle from Beauty and The Beast whirling round in the bookshop…..except fatter and more harassed looking.
This book was on the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist and yet again I’d heard only good reviews so I bagged it!
I was not disappointed, in fact it has probably been one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. It tells the story of 18 year old jewish twins Lenny and Mirium who are admitted to a sanatorium in rural Kent after being diagnosed with TB post Second World War. Ironically, Lenny’s uncle had just paid a doctor to say that Lenny was medically unfit to be a solider and he ended up not being fit anyway.
The book then goes on to tell the stories of various different characters within the sanatorium and their back stories and how they all came to be there. They are all different classes together because the NHS had just been founded and the respite care was offered to all walks of life. Linda Grant gives you such an interesting insight into the treatments and life within a sanatorium at the time, I found it fascinating. So much so that after I’d finished reading it I googled sanatoriums and read some real life accounts of previous patients. Some of the treatments sounded bonkers but at the time were medically approved. They left patients in beds on veranda’s literally all night in all weathers as ‘fresh air therapy’ was thought to be very beneficial. They deflated one lung intentionally to let it ‘rest’ and left people using only one. They removed ribs, they recommended ‘whisper’ therapy, (which is just allowing patients to only talk in a whisper to take the strain off the lungs) and they had patients constantly taking their own temperatures and testing samples of phlegm.
‘One floor above Lenny and Colin, Miriam was screaming that she wouldn’t get undressed. She would not take off her clothes, she wouldn’t take off so much as her shoes if this was what they were going to do to her. “And not a chance i’ll take my knickers off!”. She was wearing a cherry-red felt coat and a cherry-red beret pinned gingerly onto the back of her head, not to disarrange her foam of stiff blue-black curls. Her lips were painted with post-box red lipstick. In this room she looked like a giant strawberry frozen inside an icecube. The clinical interior, the glacial whiteness of it, the prim hospital bed, the hospital odours, the sight of the chrome spittoon and the silence outside the plate glass window gave her the heebie jeebies.’
I also didn’t realise that people could be in these places for months and years at a time. This story is set around the time that a new wonder drug ‘streptomycin’ was discovered and had not yet been fully approved for all patients as it had some bad side effects. several of the main characters in this book are desperate to be one of the chosen few to trial the drug and hopefully be cured of their affliction. All of the characters are so well written that you feel for each and every one of them.
I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it.
The Passion Of Mademoiselle S – Jean-Yves Berthault
I picked this one up on a whim from one of the library displays called ‘In Their Own Words’. This is a book of letters written in 1920’s France by a mistress to her married lover. They were found by a friend of the editor when he bought a new apartment, and an old suitcase full of old glass jam jars was found to have these letters concealed in the bottom.
Now this information alone was enough to have me intrigued. This is actually the book that I DNF’d. It was interesting for a few chapters and was very racy (I didn’t realise they even knew those kinds of words in 1920’s France!) but once you’d read a few letters they were much of a muchness. She rambled on about the same old rubbish time after time after time. I found the most interesting part of the book were the footnotes by the editor who explained life at the time and the various assumptions he’d made about Simone and Charles’s relationship. But I suppose in the end it was just that, assumption based. We didn’t have any of Charles’s letters to get his side of the story and we didn’t really know how the relationship ended.
All very dull and disappointing.
Big Fat DNF!
Little Deaths – Emma Flint
Another Baileys Womens Prize for Fiction book. Although I think this one made the longlist and not the shortlist.
Another bloody fabulous read! This tells the story of Ruth, a woman in 1960’s New York. Recently seperated from her husband and mother of 5 year old Frankie and 4 year old Cindy who mysteriously disappear one night and are later found murdered (not a spoiler). Ruth is immediately the number one suspect based purely on the way she acts, presents herself and the fact that she doesn’t publicly seem to grieve for her babies. She is a waitress in a cocktail bar (not a cue for a song) and is always immaculately turned out, hair set, make-up perfect and she lots and lots of gentleman friends.
The police and in particular the officer in charge Sergeant Devlin are hell-bent on pinning the murders on Ruth because of the person she is.
‘”Ok Honey, Okay. The cops are on their way. We have to stay calm, we have to think.” Minnie trotted in and pressed her nose against Ruth’s knee until she pushed her away. She couldn’t bear to be touched.
It took Ruth a moment to get to her feet. She had to pee, and then she looked at herself in the bathroom mirror. Her face was covered in a film of perspiration, and her eye makeup had smudged. She repaired the damage as best she could, lifted her arm to comb her hair and smelled sweat. She looked in the mirror again. Beneath that layer of makeup, her body, her face were all wrong. She looked wrong, smelled wrong. You smell like a bitch in heat. She went into the bathroom and changed her clothes. Put on a clean blouse that flattered her figure. She knew that there would be men, strangers, looking at her, asking questions. Their eyes all over her like hands. She had to be ready for them. She had to look right.’
As much as this book deals with a very obviously upsetting subject, it is done with just enough detail so as not to be gratuitous yet still realistic. Its a really atmospheric story and the scene setting is brilliant. I really felt like I was there in 1960’s New York in the middle of a heat wave. The chapters are told alternately from Ruth’s perspective and that of journalist Pete Wonike who becomes a little obsessed with both the story and Ruth herself.
Another really great 5 star read that I would thoroughly recommend.
That’s all for now folks. I’ll let you crack on with demolishing your Easter Eggs. Hope you’ve all had a fab weekend and as always let me know if you’ve read any of the books mentioned above and your thoughts on them.