Famished By Anna Vaught – A Review

Publisher: Influx Press

Publication Date: 10th September 2020

This book is the book I’ve been waiting for for such a long time! I’ve been scouting around for a book involving food and women all with a dark edge and Famished by Anna Vaught is that book! Even more perfect is that this is a short story collection you can graze on like a word buffet or gorge on to your hearts content (there may be more food analogies throughout this review so strap in!).

This collection of 17 toothsome tales is an absolute smorgasbord of feasting fables. Each story has a somewhat dark fairytale-esque quality running through it and with first lines such as ‘Did you ever hear tell of Nanny Lovett and Pop Todd, now deceased, with one pickled and the other soused?’ luring you in, you have no choice but to lean a little closer and open your ears (and mouth) wide to accept the deliciously quirky tales.

There are times when you’ll feel your stomach rumble with the unctuous descriptions of fabulous foods, only to later recoil in revulsion at the next offering…..think ‘tripe in its nasty pool of white sauce, encircled by effulgent lumps of onion’ or ‘pots of umber sludge; pickled eggs like eyeballs, bobbing in heavily sedimented jars’.

Both of the descriptions above come from the probably the most memorable tale (for me at least) A Tale Of Tripe in which Catherine has nightly dreams about her long dead mother and grandmother, the matriarchs of the family, making her eat tripe in the pantry as a punishment. What the punishment was for Catherine can’t tell but she lives with the shadowy grey shapes of her mother and grandmother and their nasty and vicious tongues. That is until Catherine decides to take decisive action and under the tutelage of a omnipresent chef, cooks up a storm and banishes her tripe tormentors.

Shame is another firm favourite of mine, a story that will never leave me. The story of a woman in a toxic relationship in which she’s told she’s a ‘lard arse’ and inferior because of the types of food she enjoys. Nutella from the jar, spooned up by a finger, the stuck on bits of the roast potatoes from the oven dish, ‘the sunset dust in the bottom of the tortilla chip bag’.

‘I sucked a mango stone in bed. Once even brought to bed a cornet of winkles, accompanied by a corn stick with pins, for winkling, on our seaside holiday. I ate a pie in the bath….’

This glorious woman eventually breaks free and revels in her ‘low brow’ tastes. None of which are guilty pleasures to feel ashamed of. She is fabulous!

The story entitled Shadow Babies Supper freaked me out! A chilling little tale to make your skin crawl with unease, in which a woman visits the home of a neighbour who has three dolls sitting on rocking chairs in her front room which she treats as her babies.

‘And do you know, in the lap of each lovely occupant was a delicate biscuit and a shrivelling fruit, shaped by the desiccant air of the cold house…………Did you imagine it, or could you see little bites on the pretty biscuit and the desiccated fruit in each lap? And did you trace a crumb on a dainty lip or hear a mew of mastication at each little person?’

Each story sucks you in, be it a bite sized couple of pages or a more substantial snack. I gorged the whole thing in one sitting without sitting back to belch or dab daintily at my mouth with a napkin. I even cooked my own family’s evening meal whilst holding the book in one hand and continuing to feast on it. It felt very fitting that my proof copy ended up covered in saucy fingerprints and greasy stains.

These are the kinds of stories you feel yourself wanting to go back and sample again. And indeed I did, but I took my time to savour each one the second time around.

Anna Vaught’s richly vivid and descriptive prose will leave you feeling both hungry and slightly nauseated all at once.

You are all aware by now that I keep my most beloved books on my Forever Shelf and Famished will be taking up one of the coveted spots for sure. I am certain that I will return to this gem of a collection again and again. I cannot recommend it enough.

Thank you as always to the lovely Jordan and Influx Press for my review copy (even if it is now a bit battered and bruised….well loved if you will).

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

A Reading Wrap Up – September 2020

It’s that time again.

Time I got my lazy arse in gear and did a wrap up of the books I’ve read recently. These are the books I’ve read that I haven’t or won’t be doing full standalone reviews for. But they are no less worthy of a mention!

Let’s get crackin!

After The Silence by Louise O’Neill (Riverrun)

BLURB:

On the day of Henry and Keelin Kinsella’s wild party at their big house a violent storm engulfed the island of Inisrun, cutting it off from the mainland. When morning broke Nessa Crowley’s lifeless body lay in the garden, her last breath silenced by the music and the thunder.

The killer couldn’t have escaped Inisrun, but no-one was charged with the murder. The mystery that surrounded the death of Nessa remained hidden. But the islanders knew who to blame for the crime that changed them forever.

Ten years later a documentary crew arrives, there to lift the lid off the Kinsella’s carefully constructed lives, determined to find evidence that will prove Henry’s guilt and Keelin’s complicity in the murder of beautiful Nessa.

I really enjoyed this one! I’m a fan of Louise O’Neill’s adult books and really loved Almost Love. I’ve heard the After The Silence was heavily influenced by the very popular true crime podcast West Cork (which I recently listened to on Audible and was transfixed!). This is a multi-layered book which deals with controlling relationships, small island prejudices, judgment and misconceptions. It has a claustrophobic quality and the documentary element lends it a fresh and compelling point of view. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The End Of Alice by A.M Holmes – Scribner

BLURB:

The End of Alice treads the wafer-thin line between the evil and the everyday and caused a major controversy when it was first released in the US. The story centres on the correspondence of two paedophiles: one, the narrator, is a middle-aged child-killer serving his twenty-third year in prison; the other, his bland-speaking, sweet-seeming admirer, is a nineteen-year-old woman intent on seducing a young neighbourhood boy. Slowly, through these letters, the narrator’s monstrous character emerges.

Oh my word, this book! I’ve had this secondhand copy on my shelf now for a good while. I recently read and enjoyed Music For Torching by A.M Holmes so I decided to finally pick this one up. Now I knew going into this book that it involved paedophilia. Little did I know how stomach churningly graphic it would be. The thing with books like these is you can’t really say you ‘enjoyed’ it. Once I’d started reading I carried on because I was invested, but I have read many a review where the reader has had to give up due to the upsetting and sickening nature of the book. I will NEVER forget this book. Like……EVER. If you do decide to pick it up, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED, DO YOUR RESEARCH!

The Nesting By C J Cooke (HarperCollins)

BLURB:

Deep in a remote Norwegian forest, Lexi has found a new home with architect Tom and his two young daughters. With snow underfoot and the sound of the nearby fjord in her ears, it’s as if Lexi has stepped into a fairy tale. But this family has a history – and this place has a past. Something was destroyed to build their beautiful new house. And those ancient, whispering woods have a long memory. Lexi begins to hear things, see things that don’t make sense. She used to think this place heavenly, but in the dark, dark woods, a menacing presence lurks. With darkness creeping in from the outside, Lexi knows she needs to protect the children in her care. But protect them from what?

This book really surprised me if I’m honest. When I first went into it, I wrongly assumed it would be a completely dark, gothic and creepy tale, and whilst on the whole it is, there is also a dry humour in places courtesy of our protagonist Lexi. There is certainly an unsettling undercurrent shot through with threads of chilling folklore, something which I adore. The setting and backdrop of Norway is not one I think I’ve encountered before and C J Cooke certainly does a fantastic job of describing the landscape and drawing you into another world. I really enjoyed this one. I’d recommend getting your hands on a copy and snuggling up around Halloween to immerse yourself in this ghostly tale.

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan (W&N)

BLURB:

When you leave Ireland aged 22 to spend your parents’ money, it’s called a gap year. When Ava leaves Ireland aged 22 to make her own money, she’s not sure what to call it, but it involves:

– a badly-paid job in Hong Kong, teaching English grammar to rich children;
– Julian, who likes to spend money on Ava and lets her move into his guest room;
– Edith, who Ava meets while Julian is out of town and actually listens to her when she talks;
– money, love, cynicism, unspoken feelings and unlikely connections. Exciting times ensue.

I have to be honest and say that this is not usually the kind of contemporary fiction I would naturally pick up. I’d heard comparisons drawn with Sally Rooney and as most of you know I’m not a Rooney fan I’m afraid. This book however I enjoyed more than I thought I would. I bought it on a Waterstones whim and when I was feeling a little bit lost with reading in recent weeks I decided to just give it a go. It’s a quick read that I enjoyed. I have no rapturous praise, just simply I enjoyed it. I liked the exploration of language and etymology the most. The millennial element not so much but I’d still recommend it.

Mr Cadmus by Peter Ackroyd (Cannongate)

BLURB:

Two apparently harmless women reside in cottages one building apart in the idyllic English village of Little Camborne. Miss Finch and Miss Swallow, cousins, have put their pasts behind them and settled into conventional country life. But when a mysterious foreigner, Theodore Cadmus – from Caldera, a Mediterranean island nobody has heard of – moves into the middle cottage, the safe monotony of their lives is shattered. The fates of the two cousins and Mr Cadmus, and those of Little Camborne and Caldera, become inextricably enmeshed. Long-hidden secrets and long-held grudges threaten to surface, drawing all into a vortex of subterfuge, theft, violence, mayhem . . . and murder.

Well this one was a lovely surprise bit of book post and what a quirky, dark little tale it is! What starts out as a story with an almost fable-esque quality suddenly takes a very unsettling turn! A few people who I’ve chatted with about it have been surprised by the dark twists and turns! I found this one an eccentric and eclectic read and I’m not quite sure what else to say! Give it a whirl and see for yourself!

Summerwater by Sarah Moss (Picador)

BLURB:

On the longest day of the summer, twelve people sit cooped up with their families in a faded Scottish cabin park. The endless rain leaves them with little to do but watch the other residents. A woman goes running up the Ben as if fleeing; a retired couple reminisce about neighbours long since moved on; a teenage boy braves the dark waters of the loch in his red kayak. Each person is wrapped in their own cares but increasingly alert to the makeshift community around them. One particular family, a mother and daughter without the right clothes or the right manners, starts to draw the attention of the others. Tensions rise and all watch on, unaware of the tragedy that lies ahead as night finally falls.

I held off reading this one for quite a while because the world and his wife were reading and loving it and that tends to put me off picking a book up. I’d also not really enjoyed Ghost Wall, when all around me had waxed lyrical about it so I was apprehensive. But, I can safely say I really enjoyed this one. The multiple different perspectives kept it fresh and propelled the story forward. The backdrop of the unrelenting Scottish rain served as almost a character in itself. I’m sometimes not a huge fan of a stream of consciousness/inner monologue narrative as it can make me feel a bit worked up and anxious (I don’t know!) but I felt that the balance was just right here. I’ve read The Tidal Zone and Night Waking and enjoyed both of these so I really must get around to reading Bodies Of Light and Signs For Lost Children.

The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer (Penguin Modern Classic)

BLURB:

Peter, Peter, Pumpkin eater
Had a wife and couldn’t keep her…’In this extraordinary, semi-autobiographical novel, Penelope Mortimer depicts a married woman’s breakdown in 1960s London. With three husbands in her past, one in her present and a numberless army of children, Mrs Armitage is astonished to find herself collapsing one day in Harrods. Strange, unsettling and shot through with black comedy, this is a moving account of one woman’s realisation that marriage and family life may not, after all, offer all the answers to the problems of living.

I had seen this book on Claire Fuller’s Instagram feed and I am always hugely interested in the books she reads as I feel we have very similar taste. The Pumpkin Eater is a strange little novel teeming with black humour. I found myself constantly wondering just how many children this woman had! It’s constantly referenced that she has many but a definite number is never settled upon. I think it’s more than 6 but less than 15……. I guess we’ll never know! This is an ‘of its time’ tale of marriage, motherhood, depression and loneliness. But don’t be put off by those weighty subjects. This book is witty, clever and captivating. I really enjoyed it.

So there we have it! Just a few of the books I’ve read recently that I wanted to mention to you.

My reading is extremely up and down at the moment. I’m either eating books up or I’m all booked out! I’m just taking each day as it comes and trying not to pile too much pressure on myself at an already tricky and confusing time!

Anyway, I hope you’re all well and I’ll see you again soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Exit Management By Naomi Booth – A Review

Publisher: Dead Ink Books

Publication Date: 10th September 2020

I read and really enjoyed Sealed by Naomi Booth last year. When the lovely Jordan told me that she had a new book coming out I knew I had to have it!

Exit Management for me is one of those books that you pick up, read the blurb and are still not quite sure what you’re in for. When I started reading, it very quickly became apparent that this book wasn’t like anything I was expecting.

Exit Management tells the story of two people, Lauren and Cal, both in their late twenties and living in London. Lauren works in the world of HR for a huge corporate outfit. Essentially her role is to facilitate the smooth exit of staff who are being ‘let go’. Lauren has dreams of becoming more than just a HR worker and has lofty aspirations to live in an up and coming affluent area in an impressive house.

She feels that she is more than deserving of this and is desperate to slough off her old life in the North of England where her troubled mother and sister both still live. Well they don’t ‘live’ exactly, they stagnate. Lauren has no time for this or her past.

Cal works for a property company as a ‘Property Curator’ which is essentially a caretaker of sorts, checking high end properties are prepared for their wealthy paying guests. He looks after a really nice house on Elgin Mews which belongs to an older gentleman, Joszef.

As with Lauren, Cal has aspirations and dreams. He lives with his parents in a block of flats in Croydon and is desperate to prove to them both that he can be successful. He wants to make them proud of him.

Cal has a very special relationship with Joszef, they become close and bond over Joszef’s stories of his past and his love of art. Joszef has an illness and has to go away for a while to recouperate and suggests Cal stay at the house to look after it. Later when he is wanting to return home, Joszef floats the idea of Cal becoming his carer, to which Cal accepts.

Cal and Lauren bump into each other outside Elgin Mews one day when Cal has been making one of his visits to check the property and Lauren has been wondering the streets admiring the lavish houses and allowing herself to daydream.

Lauren assumes that Cal is the owner of the house and Cal allows her to run with this assumption. The lives of all three characters then intersect and merge and we come to discover the darker side of human nature where success and self worth are involved.

Lauren is extremely driven and ambitious. Anxious to distance herself from her working class northern upbringing and almost re-invent herself in the south and prove people wrong. She is very aware of the person she must portray herself to be in order to impress the people she believes matter.

Cal on the other hand is an altogether more gentle soul. He too wants to prove his success to his parents but he is less cold and calculating than Lauren. His relationship with Joszef, an ailing and lonely old man shows his caring and empathetic side which is in sharp contrast to Lauren.

Whilst all of the three main characters in this book have their failings, they are mostly attributed to the very real aspects of the darker side of human nature, elements of which rear up in us all from time to time.

Naomi Booth’s writing is smart, incisive and super sharp. She is such a refreshing author who makes you think about things instead of handing everything to you on a plate. Her short, snappy almost staccato style forces the story along at a pace. Mirroring the hustle and bustle of central London life.

This is for sure a character study and delves deep into human nature and all its flaws. It brings to the fore moral dilemmas which force the characters to examine their own value and worth.

This book is so far removed from Naomi Booth’s Sealed and I love that about an author. I like to be wrong footed and not quite sure what I’m in for. I will certainly pick up anything she writes in the future.

I would thoroughly recommend you get your hands on a copy. Thanks as always to Jordan and Dead Ink for my review copy.

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx