Almost Gold-Star Books

You know sometimes you start a book and you think, yes, this is it, this is me for the next week happy as larry because I am going to be wrapped in fairy cotton bliss wool niceness that getting really immersed in a fictional world does to you. Then you get about 150 pages in and you start to feel the little elves that live in your hair start to make moany noises. Then after another 20 pages or so you can feel your jumper being dragged down at the hem, pulling on your neck as you realise the inevitable; the book est dull, and you’re stuck with it.

It isn’t always the books fault. I read The Historian, one of the scariest best written debuts ever, in summer whilst traversing Italian beaches…not a good idea. Hated the book, was bored stupid by it and only re-discovered it over a year later, when I should have read it, in November, next to a blazing gas fire. This is why, like with food and alcohol, readers should listen to their bodies. I was crying out for Erica James and I was stuffing myself with Kostova. This ends up with (for want of a better metaphor) trapped literary wind.

This is why I am not judging two of the books I’ve read this month yet. Not judging at all. No matter how pointless they seemed, clearly I’ve not been listening to my body that apparently only wants to read History Fluff (The King’s Daughter by Christie Dickason- excellent book, or Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower that I’m currently on now even though it wasn’t even on my to-do pile two days ago, damn you Oxfam, damn you!) and have forced my way through two books that I know full well are very good, but that I just didn’t enjoy.

The first was sent to me by the lovely lovely people at Penguin (thank you, please come again), Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt was published this month and read on Radio 4. Looking for someone to rent her box room, Esther is more than a little surprised to find Mr Chartwell knocking at her door. Mr Chartwell is a large black dog.

The premise comes from Winston Churchill’s famous analogy to his depression, and Churchill’s relationship to the black dog is also explored in the book. Although the idea is an exciting and original one, one that had me looking forward to reading the book from the first I heard of it, the actual execution left a little something to be desired.

The book is fantastical in its portrayal of depression, and whilst the pre-coined metaphor of the black dog is a good and well established one, I did not always follow the high-brow dialogue or thematically driven prose. A very “good” novel, this brought no further understanding about depression, or grief, and left me exacerbated in that Hunt hadn’t got it quite right. This novel will win literary praise (in fact has already been nominated for the Guardian’s First Book award, previous winners including Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and the utterly incredibly Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters) because it is well crafted, but wasn’t enjoyable to read, didn’t lead me waiting impatiently for her next book and had me skimming pages, then forcing myself to re-read them in order to be fair to the highly elaborate, but altogether too intensive and superfluous style of writing. To be honest, this read like an over-long short story and I was bored by the end. To the extent that when trying to fill in my goodreads for the month I genuinely forgot I’d read it, always a bad sign.

The second book was The Girls by Lori Lansens, which I know N has read and enjoyed so it’ll be interesting to see what she makes of it. I was given this at a recent Book Swap, and was pushed into reading it with the promise that it was ‘better than the cover’, which is a little Jodi Picaultesque, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you know what I’m saying.

Rose and Ruby are conjoined twins, craniopagus to be precise. This means they are joined at the head, sharing various blood vessels and what have you meaning a separation is impossible. Writing their life story together, yet apart, Rose on her laptop, Roby on her yellow legal pad, this charts the tale of small town Canada, and the twin’s place in it.

Beautifully opened with a description of what how Rose sees her world, this book made me see the world a little differently. My favourite part of the whole book was how Rose described how her and Ruby were joined, take the heel of you palm, rest it against your earlobe and spread your hand fanned around your head, that is where her sister’s head is. No one in the world could read that and not try it out, and this led to some odd looks on the bus I’m telling you.

The first few chapters were great, telling the story of the twin’s birth, the tornado that swept the town killing their neighbour, and their adopted family of Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash. The depiction of small town life is excellent, and I would very much like to read Lansens’ previous work as she is a very good writer. Sadly, however, the book peters off quickly, pretty much as soon as the other twin Ruby’s voice is introduced and although still a heart warming interesting read, did not live up to the promise of the first few chapters. There is an incident relating to Slovakia in the last third of the book that also made my blood boil in its depiction of the old Eastern block’s superstitious “backwards” nature, and for that alone the book went down from 4 to 3 stars. Shame, as could have been excellent. Still, recommended, but does not live up to any more than the promise of the front cover.

Happy reading!


One thought on “Almost Gold-Star Books

  1. Totally agree, loved the premise and the writing, the execution a little bit less to be honest.

    Mostly, I loved trying to imagine what it would be like, and though the part that alienated you only mildly annoyed me – the section relating to their sexuality drove me dotty.

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