Tag Archives: “Anthony Trevelyan”

My top 5 reads of 2017

10 Jan

It feels like 2017 was a strange year of reading for me. Having set out at the start with the intention of reading more I ended up reading fewer books than I did in 2016. I gave up on more books this year too and I wonder whether this was as a result of an awareness of reading time being more precious. That said, there were still books aplenty to enjoy, and a clutch I got really excited about. There were a couple of real standout titles in 2017 that I knew would be in my top five the moment I’d read them but, as ever, whittling the favourites down to five is not easy. Ned Beauman’s Madness Is Better Than Defeat almost made it (I still can’t see an octopus without remembering…), and Jess Richards’ wonderfully lyrical City of Circles whose opening chapter is like a breath you can’t release. Sarah Day’s Mussolini’s Island was a pleasure, sensitive and melancholy, and opening up a chapter of history that is little known. And then there was The Trouble With Goats And Sheep by Joanna Cannon, which Mrs Van loved as much as I did. I defy anyone not to fall for Tilly!

 

But down to business: March, the promise of spring and the first of my top five, Balli Kaur Jaswal’s Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows. One of Mrs Van’s favourites too, you really can’t beat a book that can make you laugh out loud, and Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows will do it over and over. Add to that excellent characters and a storyline that will make you look, and then look again at life and you’ve got a real winner on your hands.

 

The next of my top five came to me in June. A book that had been on my radar for a while, though I knew little about it beyond the title and the lovely cover, Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun was an unexpected pleasure. Unexpected because I didn’t know before reading that it was a memoir, and also that it was so uplifting, its lyrical beauty a welcome counterpoint to that febrile sense that necessitated the writing of the book in the first place. Little wonder it won the Wainwright Prize in 2016.

 

From the Orkney Islands in June to South Africa in July and Kopano Matlwa’s Evening Primrose blew me away. It’s not a big book – just 150 pages – but its punch is mighty! It’s interesting for me to realise that I read this the month following The Outrun too as these books feel similar in some ways, visceral and honest, spare and lyrical. There has to be a sense of truth in any book for it to really work but some books bear more truth than others. The truth in Evening Primrose is almost too much to bear. A stunning piece of work.

 

The international flavour continues in September, and it’s Japan this time for Alison Jean Lester’s Yuki Means Happiness. I can’t help but smile, remembering this book and the extraordinarily vivid rendering of little Yuki. It’s like going back to the adorable photos of the little ones in your own life. It’s that characterisation that really makes this book, connecting like a mainline straight to the heart so you feel everything that happens. This was another one that Mrs Van loved too, our favourites coinciding a lot more than in previous years.

 

Finally, November brought Laura Carlin’s The Wicked Cometh. I think I would’ve known this would be in my top five even if I’d read it back in January. A lush and pretty proof with its purple velvet and gold lettering, it’s a treat and no mistake. Hands down, this is up there as Mrs Van’s favourite of the year – I started reading this one to Mrs Van and didn’t get a chance to finish it first. We raced through it in a single weekend. It’s absolutely gripping, an assault on the senses that I’d urge you to get your hands on, and you’ve not got long to wait now!

 

As for 2018, well things are looking pretty good already. After all, you’ve got the absolute delight that is The Wicked Cometh on its way, and there are second books from Fran Cooper (a review of which will follow shortly) and Anthony Trevelyan, both of whom produced stunning debuts (Fran’s excellent These Dividing Walls and Anthony’s sublime The Weightless World, both of which deserve to be very widely read). So here’s wishing you all health and happiness in 2018, and as much joy, heartbreak, adventure, fantasy and truth as you can find between the covers of the books you read.

 

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The Inaugural Curtis Brown Book Group – my first six months as a #CBBookGroupie

1 Jul

My first six months with the Curtis Brown Book Group are up, the six books allotted to me all read (some of them twice!). This is the first book group I’ve belonged to but I’m sure it won’t be the last. Aside from the delights of getting the chance to read some of these books before their general release, and of discussing the books (and tartan, tea and any number of other things) with the group members, there was the chance to chat online with the author of each book.

Reading is so often a solitary practice so one real benefit of these discussions was the opportunity to look back over what I’d so recently read with fresh eyes, to pick up on nuances that I hadn’t fully focused on first time around. Questions ranged from prose techniques, tense choices and approaches to plotting all the way through to whether we (and indeed the author) liked a particular character or not, and why. The discussions were quite infectious, one point spinning off into any number of others, with fascinating insights coming to light (like the ‘actually happened’ part of the story in The Rocks, or the cup of tea that was the birth of The Museum Of Things Left Behind – yes, Seni, I’m still waiting to hear that story!).

Having the writers along for these talks was a genuine pleasure and they certainly seemed to enjoy them as much as we did. So I’d like to express my thanks to Antonia Honeywell, Stuart Prebble, Tim Glencross, Seni Glaister, Peter Nichols and Anthony Trevelyan for being so enthused, open and honest about their inspiration, their work and their words. And of course for their books too!

Without Richard and Emma it wouldn’t have happened at all. They have been hosts supreme, providing books of the highest quality, guiding our monthly discussions with the gentlest of hands and filling those days between reading and discussing with tweets and blog-posts to keep us going. Thank you both for all your efforts.

Here are links to my reviews of the books we read.

The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

Published by W & N in Feb 2015 ISBN 9780297871521

You can find Antonia on twitter @antonia_writes and at her blog www.antoniahoneywell.com

The Insect Farm by Stuart Prebble

Published by Alma Books in March 2015 ISBN 9781846883545

You can find Stuart on twitter @stuartprebble and at his website http://www.stuartprebble.com

Barbarians by Tim Glencross

Published by John Murray in May 2014 ISBN 9781444788525

You can find Tim on twitter @ and at his website timglencross.com

The Museum Of Things Left Behind by Seni Glaister

Published by 4th Estate in May 2015 ISBN 9780008118952

You can find Seni on twitter @BookPeopleSeni

The Rocks by Peter Nichols

Published by Heron Books in Jan 2015 ISBN 9781848666368

You can find Peter on twitter @NicholsRocks

The Weightless World by Anthony Trevelyan

Published by Galley Beggar Press in June 2015 ISBN 9781910296417

You can find Anthony on twitter @agmtrevelyan

Just because they’re those kind of people, as if being invited to join the Curtis Brown Book Group wasn’t enough, they also sent me three books as a welcome present.

Alice And The Fly by James Rice

Published by Hodder & Stoughton in Jan 2015 ISBN 9781444790108

You can find James on twitter @James_D_Rice

The Love Song Of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

Published by Transworld in Oct 2014 ISBN 9780857522450

You can find Rachel on twitter @QueenieHennessy and at her website www.rachel-joyce.co.uk

The Last Days Of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin

Published by Black Swan in Jan 2015 ISBN 9780552773744

You can find Anna on twitter @Annamcpartlin and at her website www.annamcpartlin.com

And then there were those books also came my way through the good offices of the CB Book Group and the kindness of other members (thanks, Jo!)

Letters To The Lost by Iona Grey

Published by Simon & Schuster in Apr 2015 ISBN 9781471139826

You can find Iona on twitter @Iona_Grey

The A to Z Of You And Me by James Hannah

Published by Doubleday in Mar 2015 ISBN 9780857522641

You can find James on twitter @Jameshannah and on his website www.jameshannah.com

I did have a mind to come to the end of the six months and tell you which book was my favourite. How naïve! Instead I’m going to wrestle it down to a top three. Before I do that, I will hand on heart tell you that I don’t believe there’s a bad one among them. This is akin to picking a best-in-show from a bunch of Chelsea Golds.

But here we go. My top three, in the order I read them:

The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

It’s such a great read, compelling enough to be with me six months on (I recently ditched a short I was writing when I realised where I’d nicked the plot from). Lalla is a fantastic protagonist, a teenager all the way so you really do want to shake her and give her a hug at the same time. And the world Antonia Honeywell has built around her is minutely thought-out, all the more unsettling for how convincing it is, how possible.

The A To Z Of You And Me by James Hannah

This one’s a beautiful read. Of the three I think the most emotional. Also the funniest, which is what lends it that surprisingly uplifting edge. I particularly love that the premise of the book, the a to z game, is superbly unobtrusive, lending the story structure rather than shaping it. Ivo is messy and complicated and bitter too, but also kind and thoughtful and aware that it’s a bed of his own making he’s lying in. It’s what gets us rooting for him despite the odds.

The Weightless World by Anthony Trevelyan

One of the very few books that I started reading again shortly after finishing it. It’s possible there is some kind of wormhole going on between the pages as it doesn’t seem possible there can be so much in there. Again, the characters are fantastic, superbly drawn and very distinct. The provision of back story is I think among the best I’ve read – no hint of a judder anywhere – and the unfolding story keeps you guessing all the way. This is another book that’s going to be with me for a good while after the last page is read.

Van has finished reading…The Weightless World by Anthony Trevelyan

18 Jun

Suddenly it’s a worrying thought: Steven Strauss and I, sitting together in companionable silence, looking out at the world and saying, ‘people! Pffh!’

It’d be all the connection we need. I suspect we’d get on.

I am profoundly grateful to the Curtis Brown Book Group for bringing me Anthony Trevelyan’s The Weightless World as my last book of this stint. We started with a very high bar and with this book we’ve most definitely finished in a similar stratosphere. What you need to know about the story I think can be summed-up with two words: Antigravity machine. This is enough to get the book into your hands, but it’s a very, very long way from all this book has to offer.

Raymond Ess and Steven Strauss are on their way to meet Tarik – if he really exists – somewhere in very rural India to buy his invention, an antigravity machine – if it exists. But why shouldn’t it? The magic of Skype can bring Steven’s girlfriend half way round the world to talk to him. Harry’s SmartSpecs can bring the full force of the Web to his eye as he sips his hotel bar cocktail. Why not a machine that can render any object weightless?

The writing is, I think, really rather wonderful. Steven’s voice is exquisite and the trajectory, the positioning of events is really superb. The skill with which the author takes us back in time, reveals a little of the past is evident in just how natural those moments feel. Their very looseness in the narrative belies the control inherent in their perfect placement. It’s a lean beast too. I was reminded of Checkov’s gun, though not only by a gun. Nothing is wasted.

With such a cast of characters it’s perhaps unsurprising that it proved to be an unsettling read. Everything requires scrutiny, Steven’s narration perhaps most of all. It’s a skewed lens he looks through, though I’d struggle to state he’s unreliable. It seems more that he struggles with his worth, struggles to connect with people. Perhaps more that he can’t be entirely honest with himself rather than with us. There are trust issues for Steven and reader alike. Ess, Harry, Asha, Tarik? Take your pick.

It is evidence that you don’t have to like the protagonist to really like the book. Or maybe I’m being disingenuous; after all, I suspect we’d get on…

It won’t be surprised to see this book at the very least on shortlists, if not on podiums for prizes. I’m still questioning what it is saying to me, and I’m sure I will go back and read it again, delight in the story, the characters, the writing, again. It is, I think, that good. It carries a certain sense of – how should I say it – gravity.