‘My Brilliant Friend’ is the first in the series of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein, it tells the story of two young girls, Elena Greco and Raffaela “Lila” Cerullo, spanning their friendship over the years. The series opens with Elena, aged in her sixties, taking a telephone call from Lila’s son Rino who informs her that Lila has gone missing. Having received this news, Elena looks back on her childhood and adolescence growing up with her lifelong friend outside Naples during the late 1950s and 1960s. Continue reading
‘Disclaimer’ by Renee Knight tells the story of Catherine Ravenscroft, a woman who starts reading a book entitled ‘The Perfect Stranger’ which she doesn’t remember buying and has mysteriously turned up on her bedside table in the chaos of moving house. However, although supposedly fictional, the story is about a real life-changing event which happened to Catherine twenty years ago. Neither her husband Robert nor her son Nicholas know about it and the words in the disclaimer “any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is unintentional and purely coincidental” have been deliberately crossed out in red ink. The author of the book is Stephen Brigstocke, a retired teacher who wants to make Catherine pay for what happened all of those years ago. Continue reading
As well as hosting one of the biggest literary festivals in the country, Hay-on-Wye is the official book town of Wales and home to over twenty bookshops. It was somewhat inevitable that I would end up visiting a few and making some purchases during my time at the festival last month…
One of the first bookshops I visited was the Hay Cinema Bookshop with Francis Edwards Antiquarian Books on the top floor. I made three more visits during the week and still feel like I barely scratched the surface of this enormous shop which has been based in a converted cinema since 1965. It’s a bit like Baggins Book Bazaar – another very large second-hand bookshop in Rochester, Kent – but with a much wider range of fiction including a large amount of brand new remainder stock. I bought seven books from the shop which has an excellent range of translated fiction and literary biographies. Continue reading
I’ve had mixed views about Kazuo Ishiguro’s novels in the past. I was baffled by ‘Never Let Me Go’ but enjoyed it, I was even more baffled by ‘The Unconsoled‘ and enjoyed it much less. I liked ‘When We Were Orphans’ but thought it wasn’t quite as good as ‘The Remains of the Day’ which I think is a modern classic. My initial thoughts on his latest novel ‘The Buried Giant’ definitely lean more towards bafflement than enjoyment.
I normally write a post about books I have read but haven’t reviewed at the end of the year but I may start doing review round-ups a bit more frequently so I don’t fall too far behind. Here are my thoughts about five books I’ve read in the past three months or so:
Dubbed as a “Facebook thriller”, Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach tells the story of socially awkward Leila, who is approached by Adrian Dervish to impersonate Tess Williams online to create the illusion that Tess is still alive after she has committed suicide. It’s not uncommon for me to have mixed feelings about a book but I usually have some idea of whether I either liked it or disliked it overall. However, the reason I didn’t review ‘Kiss Me First’ around the time I read it back in March was because I genuinely had no idea how I felt about it. The concept was cleverly manipulated but I still felt the implausible elements of the story generally outweighed the plausible ones, particularly the pretence of keeping Tess “alive” online. Either way, it would certainly be an interesting novel to discuss in a book group. Continue reading
On Saturday, my final day at the Hay Festival, I went to see Helen Macdonald deliver the Samuel Johnson Prize lecture at the Tata tent about ‘H is for Hawk‘ which has won both the Costa Book of the Year and Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction awards. ‘H is for Hawk’ was one of my favourite non-fiction books of 2014 and was the first memoir to win the Samuel Johnson Prize since its launch in 1999. The book comprises of three strands: Macdonald’s experiences of grief following the death of her father in 2007, her attempt to train a goshawk called Mabel and a biography of T. H. White. Her lecture focused on the former two aspects rather than T. H. White’s story. You can watch a clip of the event here where Macdonald describes meeting Mabel for the first time.
On Tuesday evening at the Hay Festival, I went to see Alexander McCall Smith in conversation with S. J. Parris at the Tata tent.
McCall Smith recently won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction for his novel ‘Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party’. As well as being a literary prize for one of the more neglected genres of fiction, it is notable for its unusual reward. Rather than money, the winner receives a jeroboam of champagne, the 52 novels by P. G. Wodehouse and a Gloucester Old Spot pig named after the winning novel. The event began with McCall Smith being presented with the champagne and 1 of the 52 Wodehouse novels having met the pig earlier in the day (you can watch the meeting here).