Archive | October, 2014

Van has finished reading…The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood

23 Oct

I wonder how possible it would be to write this book today? I don’t mean from a technical point of view as such – I think if anything it would be a tighter affair, more trusting of the reader – I mean from a social/political point of view. In the edition I have Margaret Atwood described this story as proto-feminist, and it seems to me the term is well-chosen. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not even an aficionado when it comes to social or political history, and a long way from the tape when it comes to feminism. The book seems to come from a time when women, and I would guess young women especially, were on the cusp of questioning the lot that had been hand to them. It’s interesting how close to caricatures many of the characters seem – especially the male characters, though it’s an intention that works to advantage. How difficult it would be now to look back on that time and not inadvertently be knowing of what was to come.
Of course it was knowing, even then. How could it not be, written in 1965 by a young woman who must surely have been living this strange mix of new freedoms and old fetters? By the same token, it stands as an interesting marker in the sand. How many of these attitudes linger still today? It’s a double-edged sword to claim how far we’ve come when in some respects the response might be only that far?
These days character has become ever more important the books we see published, so we become used to feeling like we’re inhabiting the protagonist’s skin. Atwood’s protagonist moves from first to third person in this story and as a reader you feel that sudden distance, that shrinking away. It works to great effect as events become both impetus and destination.
Perhaps the most revealing point for me is that I can’t remember a single instance in the book, other than in the closing scene, where someone says thank you to Marian.


Van didn’t finish reading…A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

6 Oct

Sorry, Dave.

Van has finished reading…Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

1 Oct

The more you read the more you get used to the idea – particularly with really good books – that nothing is included without purpose. The downside to this is that sometimes you see what’s coming all too early and so, while you might enjoy the particulars of the writing, that big moment where everything turns becomes an exercise in noting and appreciating the technicalities. Then a book comes along that so completely draws you in that you find yourself on a crowded train, grinning, punching the air, pointing at the page and telling the person next to you, ‘Oh yeah! I didn’t see that coming!’
What a joy this book is. It’s a truly skilful immersion in the characters, in the sense of time and place, in the building of sympathy as much as anything else – this I think Sarah Waters plays masterfully; our sympathies are turned again and again with the major characters – so that you’re really in the room, feeling that febrile energy, laughing along as Mrs Sucksby (what a Dickensian flourish that name is!) asks for someone to pass an infant as she needs something to squeeze.
The book’s structure is spot on too, leading in with Sue’s point of view, then switching to Miss Lilly’s and then back again gives us the optimum vantage point, not only for story’s dramatic course but that of each of the characters too. Both the gradual and the dramatic changes each person goes through feed into a measured pace that kept me turning page after page. I’m not sure what more you’d want really – a storyline that’s as lively as an eel, characters as real as your neighbours and language and pace that keeps you right there next to them. Perfect!