Monday, 29 June 2015

Last Summer's hot poolside read had a distinctly citrus flavour...

Helen Walsh's The Lemon Grove should come with clear instructions for the reader....

#1 To be read only whilst laying by the pool/sea and only whilst the sun is shining

#2 Drink three Margaritas before you even turn the first page

#3 Pack at least a couple of other reads as this is a very short novel indeed

Adhere to these instructions and The Lemon Grove may just be the scorching hot summer holiday romp that the publicity promises - and there's nothing wrong with that.

Unfortunately, reading this (very short) novel in climes any cooler than Mediterranean and you're in for a less than sizzling read.

The story concerns a married couple holidaying in Majorca whose lives are turned upside down by the arrival of the couples' Daughter (actually the protagonist Jenn's step-daughter) and her bit of rough boyfriend Nathan. From the off Jenn is consumed by an obsession for Nathan that, whilst not totally far-fetched, is actually quite far fetched.

The novel careers towards an inevitable 'climax' that sees Jenn come face to face with the reality of an illicit affair and her own closest family relationships. 

Other than Jenn's carnal passions for Nathan, and her fondness for local craft markets, we learn little more about her which is one of the novel's weaknesses. More frustrating is the portrayal of the male characters. Greg, Jenn's Husband, is inexplicably boring and Nathan's supposed irresistible charm is essentially conjured as a sexy body and Northern accent. But perhaps this critique of sketchy characters and thin plots is actually missing the point?

The Lemon Grove will certainly deliver as a raunchy holiday poolside read and will probably be recommended and shared until the chilly Autumn!

Sunday, 28 June 2015

#am reading The Paying Guests

Author: Sarah Waters

Discovered: Foyles, Waterloo station

Where read: (in part) The 15:55 from Victoria to Maidstone

What's the story?
In the aftermath of WWI Frances and her Mother are forced to take in lodgers to their suburban home in South London. As a young professional couple, The Barbers, move in Frances must come to terms with the life changing consequences of sharing her home with other adults.  

The Word's Shortlist view:

Though Sarah Water’s is well established as a writer of contemporary fiction The Paying Guests is the first Waters novel I have read and reviewed. First impressions? Beautifully written, well structured and perfectly captures the post war period with grieving and dismayed people (most often women) adjusting to a new world.

The first half of the story sees Frances’s infatuation with lodger Lillian Barber turn into a visceral and physical relationship as picnics in the park turn to parties and snatched moments of intimacy on the landing. “What did she want? Frances couldn't tell......There had been too much dancing back and forth.” 

Waters expertly builds the tension as the couple’s relationship develops within the suffocating intimacy of the house right alongside France’s mother and Lillian’s husband Leonard.“I barely knew I had skin before I met you”; Frances reveals following an afternoon in the scullery.

In the second half the novel turns crime drama as the couple are thrust into the heart of a violent murder that pushes their embryonic affair to the limit.   

The book is most successful in the early chapters, in which characters are given centre stage over events, and does feel a little heavy in the later court room scenes. The ending won’t appease all readers but I particularly enjoyed the ambiguity around what punishment looks like. A page turner, for the most part, with explicit realism and authentic characters that are a cut above much of the top 10 paperbacks you could pick up this summer.  

Who should read this book?

Fans of Sarah Water’s period lesbian dramas and fans of memorable contemporary fiction.

What’s next on the bookshelf

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

Tweet of the week:

'That book guy', tweeting mainly about fiction and reading but with occasional sidebars into art, Japanese culture and architecture

Monday, 22 June 2015

With pre-release media for Ben Weatley's movie adaptation of High Rise creating eager anticipation you've just got time to pick up a copy of JG Ballards orginal novel.

First reviewed by The Word's Shortlist in 2014

Watch the “Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.”

With a new film in production, with Tom Hiddleston and director Ben Wheatley, and the Tate Britain exploring the enigma of ruined architecture, in current show Ruin Lust, this is the perfect time to pick up a copy of JG Ballard's 1975 sci-fi gem Highrise.

In the novel Ballard imagines a scenario in which society, in this case within the microcosm of a luxury Highrise development, completely breaks down. What begin as minor malfunctions such as faulty lifts and waste disposal systems soon escalate to life threatening events as the inhabitants turn feral within the luxury carpeted halls. Social order is literally thrown from the high rise balconies as a new dystopian order seeps through the concrete structure of the vertical city.

The story centres on 3 key characters who neatly represent the social worlds that exist within the complex. On one of the lower proletariat floors is Laing, a lecturer who we meet early on in the novel roasting an Alsatian on a pyre of yellow pages. Higher up lives TV producer and social climber Wilder. On one of the upper floors is Royal, architect, urbanist and idealist.

The work is at its best when the boundaries blur between the social strata creating an anti-society no-mans land. Ballard allows us to experience this through the eyes of the three main protagonists effectively. This wouldn't have worked as well told through one single view point.

The challenge with the novel is to recognise that this is essentially a period piece. Much has changed since 1975 and the book is markedly void of digital interference.

A great read with a unforgettable first opening sentence that will hook you in whether browsing in the library/bookshop or trying a kindle sample. Your perfect hit of post-apocolyptic mayhem.

More about the film adaptation here

More about Tate Britain's show here

Tweet @wordsshortlist if you're planning to read

Sunday, 21 June 2015

#am reading Dance, Dance, Dance

Author: Haruki Murakami

Tags: #japan #awildsheepchase #eighties

Discovered: Working my way through the Murakami back catalogue

Where read: (in part) Novotel, Blackfriars Road, Southwark, SE1

What's the story?
An un-named writer decides to revisit a seedy hotel in which he once spent the night with a woman he loved. Years have passed and the hotel has been redeveloped yet still bears the same particular name, The Dolphin Hotel. A series of surreal experiences transpire in areas of the hotel that are seemingly trapped between the old and the new and only one other person appears to understand. 

The Word's Shortlist view:

Dance, Dance, Dance was Murakami’s sixth novel and is a sequel, of sorts, to A Wild Sheep Chase. The novel was first published in 1998 though not translated into English until 1994 after the global success of Norwegian Wood. Despite the 90s translation the work is firmly, and idiosyncratically, rooted in a neon eighties Japan with references to pop culture from ET: The Extra Terrestrial to Talking Heads.

The novel has a cinematic quality with the protagonist making almost religious visits to the cinema to see the same film and also imagining his life in celluloid; “We knew exactly what we wanted in each other. And even so, it ended. One day it stopped, as if the film simply slipped off the reel”

The book’s dream sequences are classic Murakami (when viewed through the lens of over 25 years further work). Most sequences include the Sheep Man from A Wild Sheep Chase who first urges the narrator to dance; "Yougottadance. Aslongasthemusicplays. Yougotta dance. Don'teventhinkwhy. Starttothink, yourfeetstop. Yourfeetstop, wegetstuck. Wegetstuck, you'restuck. Sodon'tpayanymind, nomatterhowdumb". The Sheep Man's unique voice, demonstrated typografically by eliminating the space between words is an interesting consequence of translation from the Japanese original.

This book may not be the best place to start your Murakami adventure (I’d firmly recommend Sputnik Sweetheart or Norwegian Wood) but if you’re familiar with the the genre that is Haruki Murakami then you’ll revel in seeing  the genesis of themes that will continue to be updated right up to more recent works such as iQ84.

“As time goes on, you'll understand. What lasts, lasts; what doesn't, doesn't. Time solves most things. And what time can't solve, you have to solve yourself.” 

Who should read this book?

Fans of the eighties, of Japan and of Mr Murakami of course

What’s next on the bookshelf

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Tweet of the week:

Really, there is now a #HarryPotter style owl cafe in #Japan - 

'That book guy', tweeting mainly about fiction and reading but with occasional sidebars into art, Japanese culture and architecture

Sunday, 14 June 2015

#am reading On Chesil Beach

Author: Ian McKewan

Tags: #bookerprize #novella #dorset

Discovered: Saturday morning browsing the local library.

Where read: (in part)In the sun at Whitstable Harbour

What's the story?
Newly-weds Edward and Florence are spending their honeymoon in a small guest house on the Dorset Coast. The anxiety around their first night together grips the couple. The year is 1962 and both clearly have different expectations around their first night of intimacy and what transpires that night will affect both of their lives forever. 

The Word's Shortlist view:

This is a beautifully poetic novella that won the Booker prize in 2007 and went on to become a book club classic. As a piece of literary fiction this work alone would cement Ian McKewan as one of the best story tellers writing today.

The plot revolves centrally around the build up to the couples first night together; Florence’s extreme fear of sexual intimacy at odds with Edward’s hopes of loving consummation “When they kissed she immediately felt his tongue, tensed and strong, pushing past her teeth, like some bully shouldering his way into a room. Entering her.” The scene’s climax is expertly crafted.

Not a single word is wasted in this story yet the characterization is as vivid and expressive as it is intimate. The prose is clipped and precise just like the strict social code that the story explores so well. “It's shaming sometimes, how the body will not, or cannot, lie about emotions. Who, for decorum's sake, has ever slowed his heart, or muted a blush?”  The extreme sexual repression of the early sixties is evocatively brought to life in the setting of the forlorn guest house nestled against Chesil Beach.

Though the story is ultimately about love and loss their is hope rather than tragedy for this is an era very much in the past. Read the novel for an uncompromising glimpse back in time. 

Tweet of the week:

What a treat! Browsing in @harbourbooks on a beautiful summer's day in @Whitstable @whitstablelit 

'That book guy', tweeting mainly about fiction and reading but with occasional sidebars into art, Japanese culture and architecture