Archive | August, 2013

Van has finished reading…The Night Rainbow by Claire King

13 Aug

Pea is a perfect protagonist. As idiosyncratic and relentlessly present as any child, I couldn’t help but feel for her. And that’s the key to why this book works for me. She appeals to the parent in us. She’s not only loveable, but she screams out for protection too. With every page turned I found myself crossing my fingers and hoping to God the myriad possibilities arising would pass her by. And all you can do is watch – and hope!

  If only life were that easy. I’m just glad I read on the commute home – I can blame the red eyes on tiredness.

There’s a knife-edge appeal to this very finely balanced book. I suspect it may be a bit marmite-esque in the responses it draws, and that’s all about Pea’s relentless voice. If you go with the voice you’ll love it. If you don’t…well. I happen to love it. I think it works in a very interesting way. It’s not (only) that Pea’s voice (and Margot’s too) is very distinct. It’s that it plays exclusively to our adult sensibilities. You have to care about Pea. You have to worry for her because if you don’t, who will?

I think Claire King has pulled off something quite special with Pea’s story. Give her a chance. She’s well worth the effort.

Van has finished reading…Unless by Carol Shields

7 Aug

Can a book have a gender? She’s quiet, this one; vehement. Emotional. She aches like an old bone break in wet weather. But she’s not quite what she seems. It’s the re-appraisal, the closer look that reveals her depths, those things so easily dismissed when you accept the fluff and froth you choose to see first. See past it. Let her speak. Let her tell you about her life. Read it.

  This is a truly excellent book. The sense of almost-contained anxiety that runs through her is as immense as the sense of almost-relief in the final pages. And it’s not often I’ll unwittingly exclaim ‘Dick!’ aloud at a character in a book on a packed train, but I did with this one. You can’t not feel for her.

  I don’t believe that women or men are all the same, but I am able to recognise that ‘man’ and ‘woman’ as absolutes – as marketing concepts or demographics or historical markers – are treated differently. What’s interesting is how subtle that can be. How easy it would be to dismiss the idea. You only have to look around to see that there are more women actively writing than men these days. (Are there? Really?) Are men more successful than women? If the former is true the latter, proportionally, should be false. So how many male writers can you name, how many female? The truth is I don’t know the answer, but surely the real crux is the route to an audience. How does gender affect that route? Are women expected to write women’s books? Are men not? Is it easier for a man to get published? Would you change your name to aid the suggestion of a different gender? Should you? Has a man been asked to do this? I can’t think of one off the top of my head, though I suspect it has happened. Why isn’t that earth-shattering news? A hundred and fifty odd years after George Eliot, surely we live in a more enlightened age. Yet we await Jane Austen to make her debut on the banknote, and Wikipedia is accused of ‘ghettoizing’ women writers.

It’s not only that it represses women, it also turns men into Dicks. I don’t want to be a Dick.

Van has finished reading…The Orchard On Fire by Shena Mackay

6 Aug

This is quite simply a tale well told. There’s no weight of tricks or gimmicks to stop you in your tracks. Shena Mackay expertly resists the lure of a knowing nod or wink in the voice: What happens happens to a child, and we hear about it from a child, despite the tale being told by the adult. It reinforces the realisation that innocence is blind, and sometimes dangerous, yet we mourn its loss for the rest of our lives.