Sunday, 30 March 2014

Room by Emma Donoghue

It’s easy to see why this book was shortlisted for both the 2011 Orange Prize and the 2010 and Man Booker prize. It is very well written and keeps the reader guessing until the end.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Girl with a White Dog

I bought this book because tomorrow I am delivering a lecture on fiction written for children about the Holocaust. Its author, AnneBooth, and I have corresponded quite a bit about this theme on Twitter and via email as we have both been writing about that era. I was fortunate enough to enjoy a sabbatical awarded by the University of Salford three years ago and spent quite some time researching the background to my own novel, The House on Schellberg Street that also comes out shortly. Last week I spoke about that and the novel I’m working on now, Clara’s Story, a sort of prequel-sequel.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson

We all love Dickens and ought to remember that before his works became literary masterpieces they were very much pieces of popular fiction and possibly a little frowned upon by the serious reader: all those unbelievable coincidences, those slightly larger than life background characters, and all those impossible twists and turns. But that is what we love about his novels and for that matter the Christmas pantomime and Shakespeare’s comedies. Of course, Shakespeare also wrote tragedies and some of Dickens’ novels end on a sad note. Nevertheless, they both tell a great story.
Should Iva Ibbotson join those two great writers? Possibly she should. I’ve not been as delighted by a tale for some time as I have by that of The Star of Kazan.
We have the twists and turns, but they are all logical. We don’t have the unlikely coincidences though there is some high drama. The background characters are a little larger than life but still believable and completely likeable – even the more wicked ones. We even have a boarding-school with a harsh regime. Well, there are two, in fact. Does this mean that Ibbotson is possibly even better than the two masters?
We really can’t help gunning for the mild-natured Annika, and her adoptive family that includes the two warm-hearted servants and the three slightly eccentric but talented professors. We even forgive the money-grabbing Edeltrauts and the stuck-up Eggharts – for after all Herr Egghart leads the car-chase – with just a pinch of self-interest.
With plenty of colour and a beautifully crafted setting in old Vienna and a spa town in Germany, this book offers a thoroughly good read. It’s one that you are at once sad to finish and immensely satisfied about because of the upbeat ending, where in true Dickens and Shakespeare tradition, all loose ends are tied up.