Tuesday, 1 September 2020

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood


I’m still making my way through the full series of the Anne Shirley and the Alex Rider books and also the 2019 short list for the Man Booker prize. 
This month’s choice therefore has to be The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
These accounts by three individual witnesses are beautifully written. Margaret Atwood has created a unique voice for each of the narrators. We have the accounts of two young women, both of whom are training to be Aunts in the Gilead system. We also have the voice of the feared and revered Aunt Lydia. 
All is not well in or outside Gilead. 
It would be difficult to understand these accounts if you are not familiar with The Handmaid’s Tale. You really need to have read that first book or have seen the TV productions. The story in this volume contradicts a little what we have seen in the TV series. 
It is the story of what happens after Baby Nicole is smuggled out of Gilead. Certainly the events described here happen when Nicole is a teenager. However, we still don’t have the full story. Will there be one? Or must we use our imaginations? 
I gave this a five star review on both Amazon and Good Reads.  It was interesting reading other reviews including some one and two star ones.  Yes, even the literary greats get those! 
For me this remains one of those rare books that I’d gladly read again. Perhaps this is partly because I feel I may have missed something. It is also in part because I find the prose so enchanting and not as one reviewer said: “dull and lifeless with no linguistic subtleties that Atwood is so very good at.” So, take heart if you’re a writer and get some one or two star reviews. It’s all so subjective after all.              


Monday, 3 August 2020

Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other

I’m making my way through the full series of the Anne Shirley and the Alex Rider books and also the 2019 short list for the Man Booker prize. I bought these three collections at a very reasonable price ass par to The Book People’s closing down sale. Some of my writing friends may be relieved at the demise of this company who sold books very cheaply.  I have mixed feelings. Yes, I believe that writers should be paid properly.  But you could also argue that The Book People sold many more books than other retailers so writers got the same royalty in the end as from other sellers. Also, they did encourage some people to read who otherwise wouldn’t. They delivered books to people’s places of work and so made buying books easy. And it was a company that loved books anyway. So, I remain ambivalent.  

I’m really enjoying the books for younger readers but thought I should offer something more for adults.

My favourite to date form the Man-Booker list is Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other.    
Bernadine Evaristo uses a type of prose poetry to introduce us to a variety of women whose stories interweave and who come together at the after party of a play written by one of the women. Evaristo presents us with a multitude of concerns that these women face. They are all black or mixed race except one who nevertheless finds she has mixed ethnicity when she takes a DNA test. The women are from diverse backgrounds. We get to know them really well and Evaristo has given each one her unique voice.   

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery

2017, first published 1908  

Anne Shirley has red hair, freckles and a vivid imagination. All three often get her into trouble. She is an orphan and adopted by Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert.  They’d really wanted a boy.  She gets into and survives a multitude of scrapes. In many ways this is a coming of age story, even though these are normally reserved for older readers.  Anne grows up but does not lose any of her charms.   
We certainly get an insight into life on Prince Edward Island at the start of the 20th century. L M Montgomery writes with the senses and we have a vivid picture of that place.  

The characters are richly drawn. Montgomery writes engagingly. 

The book has many characteristics that would suit the teen reader as well: -a love interest, peer pressure, fashion.  However, it is so much of an earlier era that it isn’t quite sophisticated enough for an older reader. 

It will be a challenge for the upper primary school student. The language register is high. It is 392 pages long, in blocked text  and with an adult font.  

I myself have just read it for the fourth time. It’s not like me to reread books , especially three times.  I read it first when I was nine years old.  My teacher gave it to me to try to wean me of Enid Blyton.  I enjoyed it then but it was quite hard work.  I reread it just before I started my MA in Writing for Children. I’m writing a history of children’s literature, so that has made me read it again. I’ve now bought a boxed-set of all of the Anne stories and that has brought me to it once more.  This time I’m reading for leisure, at the time of the lock down because of the coronavirus pandemic. It is such a delight and a fantastic escape.    

Monday, 1 June 2020

North Child by Edit Pattou

This is another of those books that are difficult to place exactly. It is a fairy story and contains some tropes with which even the youngest reader is familiar: the prince trapped in an animal’s body, an icy queen enchanting a weakened male, the young maiden – who happens here to be called Rose, so could remind us of Rose Red or Briar Rose,  – choosing to go back to the home of the beast. Yet love is explored in great detail so it may suit the more emotionally mature reader.  There is no sex but Rose does share a bed with an at the time unknown male. Might it yet appeal to young adults? 

In traditional fairy stories, characters are rarely named.  We do discover The Troll Queen’s name towards the end of the story but throughout the book she is mainly known as the Troll Queen. The prince himself has lost his name and only marries Rose when he finds it again. However, Rose and her siblings and parents are named and so are some of the other trolls.  

We are close to several of the characters as Edith Patoou gives them strong voices.  Chapters are recited variously by Rose, her father, her brother Neddy, the White Bear (Charles) and the Troll Queen. Thus she creates believable and rounded characters with whom we can empathise.  Yes, even the Troll Queen has some of our sympathy because she is just a woman in love. 

There is quite a feminist theme here. Rose is the strong character and goes on her adventure.  Neddy is a warm person  but is only able to help a little.  The White Bear is drugged and succumbs to the charms of the Troll Queen. On her journey Rose is helped more by three women than by any of the men who try to help.  Father, a talented map-maker, is somewhat under the thumb of his superstitious wife Eugenia. 

It’s possibly a fluent reader book but also suitable for adults. The characters are rounded and believable. The pace is enticing.  Chapters are short, making it easy to read. Yet it’s a hefty volume, some 472 pages long.    

It is beautifully written and very engaging.

Friday, 1 May 2020

Scratched Enamel. Heart by Amanda Huggins

This month I’m recommending a collection of short stories Scratched Enamel Heart by Amanda Huggins.  Find details  here.  

Amanda asked me to review it for her. I did this gladly and I was pleased to create five star reviews on both Good Reads and Amazon. I can’t post them yet as the book isn’t out until 27 May but here’s what I’m saying:
“The short stories in this collection give a strong sense of time and place and allow the reader to follow the characters as they make a journey. Sometimes this is an actual physical journey, at other times it is a journey of the soul. Each story too brings with it an atmosphere that we cannot ignore. We are drawn to the characters and their settings.”

And here are a couple of extracts from other reviews:
“Her use of all the senses in her stories is wonderful. When she describes food being eaten, it is as if you were there watching the food being eaten! This is hard to pull off well. All of the stories will move you and make you wonder what you would do if you were this character faced with this situation. Huggins creates a miniature world with every story, and you are drawn in, almost hypnotically.” (Allison Symes)

"This short fiction collection contains twenty-four emotionally-charged stories that take readers on a journey to households and communities in a range of countries. Through these stories, Amanda Huggins cleverly shows us the commonality of emotional experience. That feelings of isolation, love, grief, loss and regret occur in different backgrounds and cultures. And equally, that hope and the promise of a fresh start is possible. Amanda Huggins writes in a beautiful and empathetic way to immerse readers in the challenges and dilemmas she presents to her characters. As readers we care about these characters and learn from them. This is a truthful, authentic and essential read." (Gail Aldwin)

Well worth pre-ordering, I’d say.