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2 minute review – Jennifer Johnston - The Invisible Worm

they got my hair exactly right…

Recently, I went away for a weeks holiday. For the first time in years, I didn’t bring anything to read with me.

I’ve been in the midst of a reading funk for such a long time now, I’m starting to disbelieve that I ever read for pleasure! In the last few months, I’ve seen it as a victory if I manage to complete my book club choices (there are been some really gripping ones recently, which has made it much easier!) in time for the discussion. The thought of pulling out one of my vast collection of as yet un-read novels has made me feel vaguely anxious – a far cry from a few years ago when choosing the next read produced a sweet thrill of delight with equivalent side effects of a large lump of chocolate.

So going away without bringing a book was probably for the best, at least that was my reasoning. I’d be under no pressure, if I didn’t have one on me. (The counter side was that I also felt faintly like I was giving up; losing a hobby…nay a trait that I really liked about myself. Yes, my brain is enjoying the gymnastics currently.)

Thankfully, my mother keeps a varied and busy book shelf and within half an hour of arriving, I found – to my immense relief – that the siren song of the printed word still enticed me!!Before long, I had selected a slim (not intimidating) book by Jennifer Johnston – an Irish author I have long been aware of but never read.

She is noted for writing with a particular awareness of the Church of Ireland community within modern day Ireland (her own faith) – a perspective that isn’t often found in contemporary Irish fiction. Also, she’s been nominated for (and won loads) tons of literary prizes, so I was curious to see how I’d get on.

The Invisible Worm (BLURB from Amazon)

It starts with a funeral. The great and the good have assembled: the President has sent a representative, and dignitaries are there in force. And Laura remembers those two terrible events. But was the tragedy out at sea an accident? Was the experience in the summerhouse cause rather than effect?
With wonderful delicacy and economy, Jennifer Johnston has stripped bare the lives of a family overwhelmed by more than one of the deadly sins. The Invisible Worm contains greater power and passion than most novels three times its length.

My word – what a book!

The way the Ms Johnston writes is as once minimalist yet descriptive. There isn’t a single wasted word or redundant sentence throughout the book. With a deft hand, she can at once be whimsical and funny, while tackling some very dark themes.

This book focused on a very small group of characters and only one is ever explored in a detailed way; yet all felt fully rounded and realistic. I loved Laura. I’d never act the way that she did, but I felt like I understood her and respected her. There is a beautifully non-judgemental tone to this book that allowed me to relax into it and accept the characters and plot without getting wound up or ‘having opinions’. Reading this was really rather a soothing experience.

I so enjoyed it that I committed that irritating cardinal sin; where I started reading – context free – random lines and passages to my mum (patience of a saint, that one!). It’s an incredibly easy read – not only because it’s a snapshot of an individual and pretty short, but mostly because the language used, the words, the landscape drawn are at once so familiar and yet so foreign that you can’t help but feel connected.

And it’s the first book I’ve read for pure pleasure in fricking ages! So much so, I’ve even blogged about it and it’s been ever longer for that!!!!

Go! Read! Then let me know so that we can just praise it over and over 🙂

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BookElf Reads 2011

In the tradition of the last two years…

Not published this year, just read this year, savvy?
Discovery of the Year
Ayn Rand/Mary Gaitskill (The Fountainhead/Two Girls, Fat and Thin)
What may initially appear to be an odd choice, seeing as this is also the year I’ve discovered so many amazing books that haven’t made me nearly have a nervous breakdown and doubt my entire life’s purpose, makes more sense when you consider just how much of an impact someone has had on my life by writing a book.
The Fountainhead was the medicine, Two Girls the spoon full of sugar. Only by reading Gaitskill’s beautifully written and hilariously funny (if extremely odd and possibly hugely triggering) critique of objectivism with her Satire of Anna Granite was I able to stop seeing The Fountainhead as this be-all-and-end-all text and start seeing it for the brilliant fiction book it is.
Again, massive thanks to all those who put up with me throughout the blogalong The Fountainhead challenge, and to Lingmops for making me do it!
Series of the Year
A Song Of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
Had to be really. I love these books, of which I’ve read the first three (the third being in two parts). Not only is it set in the most complete fantasy world since LOTR, every character is individual, complex and brilliant, and the plot is heart racingly intricate without becoming sloppy or dull… or at least it hasn’t become sloppy and dull yet…This series always wins for how accessible it is. On almost every single commute since the summer I’ve seen someone with one of the books, mostly through scopin’ their kindles. I’ve seen uber nerds and middle aged women (not that middle aged women can’t be uber nerds…) reading them and I’d encourage anyone who loves a good romp to get stuck into Game of Thrones. The TV series was superb as well. Winter is coming, baby, winter is coming.
Up All Night Award

The Cry of the Go Away Bird by Andrea Eames.

Bit of a cheat as I read this in a day, rather than a night, but how could I not mention the gorgeousness that is Andrea Eames? This book, set in Zimbabwe in the early naughties, was both educational and moving, and I could not put it down. Simply but evocatively written the power of the subject matter is not hampered down by the emotions clearly running throughout.
Andrea was lovely enough to let N interview her, which you can read here, and my original review for For Books Sake is here. Her next book, The White Shadow is out in February and I’ve got a sneaking suspicion it’s going to be just as good!
Best Debut
Bear Down, Bear North by Melinda Moustakis
Simply one of the best written pieces of fiction I’ve ever help in my hands, and it is criminal how little press these this short story collection has had in this country; The Guardian haven’t even reviewed it for God’s sake! This book makes you feel cold. Every emotion it is possible to feel is there, along with beautiful description of landscape and a perfect sense of place. Melinda was also lovely enough (after I massively fangirled her after reviewing it for ForBooksSake) to do an interview with me, which you can read here. This woman deserves success, and should be forced into writing a full length novel set in Alaska. Buy it! Buy it now!

The I-Know-I-Know-It’s-Brilliant-But-Award

Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow by Peter Hoeg
My ranging Scando-boner had a bit of cold water thrown on it mid-December when I finally got round to reading this Danish classic and Times book of the year. Didn’t get it. The first 100 pages were brilliant, beautifully written and with and instantly gripping mystery I could sink my teeth into. Then it all turned a bit, you know, wank.

It’s Smilla. She’s a douche. A self obsessed, whiny, ‘look at me, look at me’, wannabe emo immature douche. By page 250 I was screaming ‘YOU ARE 37 GET OVER YOURSELF’ at her. Oh, but her amazing mother left her alooooone and she was forced from Magical Greenland by her daddy and oh isn’t everything just dreadful.
Except, it isn’t. She fucks everything up by being ‘individual’, also know as ‘a knob’. She’s had countless opportunities to have a good life, but instead chooses to fuck about. Also, I DON’T CARE WHAT HAT YOU ARE WEARING SMILLA, NO ONE DOES.

Like Lisbeth Salander, this is a fantasy of a woman, not a real one, and the entire book suffered for it. I left it with 80 pages to go, with Smilla running around a ship, for no apparent reason, with the caveat that I had a brand new copy of Pride and Prejudice looking at me and I could no longer be arsed with this drivel.
Best Recommended Read
South Riding by Winifred Holtby
I loved the TV series, but would never have thought of reading the book, were it not recommended to me by so many people (thank you @Sewhipfolkie for the lend!). A million times better, more in depth and more revealing of a time, with characters that haven’t left me nearly a year later, this very nearly went for Discovery of the Year.
If you love strident female leads, and books set in The Past, read this. Then read Westwood by Stella Gibbons.
Worst Book of the Year
Hothouse Flower by Lucinda Riley.
This is what happens when you try to market Joanna Trollope to Kate Atkinson fans. This book made me gaaaaah at it so many times, and were it not for the one decent part of the back story with Cora in the 1930s and the fact that I was reading it for review I would have thrown it against the wall and had done with it. It is dross, badly written, endless, pointless dross. It also uses a racist paradigm as plot devices which is unforgivable in modern fiction. Thoughtless writing, how the hell this became a best seller is beyond me. Actually, no it isn’t, it’s the cover. Bloody marketing.
Another cracking year for reading, mostly due to the excellent and wonderful discoveries I’ve made through the book swaps and book clubs. Thank you to everyone for recommendations and donations and to lovely publishers and agents for sending me books!
Approximately 100 books read, most of them Not Shite. On to 2012!
Happy Reading
BookElf xxx

A Response to ‘Date a Girl Who Reads’- by a Girl who Reads

Date a girl who reads.

 

Date a girl who doesn’t spend her money on books because she’s a member of three libraries, and works in one, and runs three book swaps a month so has money left over for clothes but doesn’t spend money on them either, but instead spends it on beer and fags. She has problems with her closet space because she doesn’t have a fucking closet, she has a wardrobe, and most of that is on the floor. Date a girl who hasn’t got a list of books she wants to read, she’s got a list of books she has to read because she writes for two book blogs and is in a book club and is behind, damn it. Date a girl who has had a library card since she was three. Find a girl who reads, you’d be hard pushed seeing as a third of adults in the country don’t have a reading level over a level 3. You’ll know a girl that reads because she’ll be fucking reading. She’ll be the one lovingly stroking Waterstones front tables, she doesn’t necessarily have an orgasm every time she sees a book she wants, but doesn’t do ‘quiet’. You see that weird chick spending all her fucking time trying to get other people to talk about reading for pleasure to normalise it in the popular conscious so she doesn’t always get labelled ‘weird’? That’s the reader. She’s the girl reading in the pub down the street, she’s not waiting, she’s having a pint and reading her book, why not massively interrupt and harass her? She might look pissed off, like the few hours of the week she gets to do what she wants instead of kow-towing to other’s demands are precious to her and she doesn’t really want to have some one talk to her about Mura-fucking-kami, but that’s a front, she’s actually really quite lonely on the inside and you should definitely try and put your willy in her. Ask her if she likes the book and if not why is she spending her down-time reading a book she doesn’t like and when she tells you its for a dare don’t look at her like she’s some sort of freak that reads books for dares in pubs. See if she got through the first chapter of a book you’ve read, whilst completely ignoring the fact that she’s probably read more books this year than you have in your entire twenties. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s actually using the old ‘bluestocking’ tactic to get you to fuck off. Don’t fucking mention Alice in Fucking Wonderland.

It’s easy to date a girl who reads, because they are one big homogeneous mass with exactly the same tastes and experiences. In fact, you should just put a mass order out on Amazon for some totally predicable shite 90s classics that your housemates read for his English degree so you can give her them randomly as gifts as make her think you care. Let her know that you understand words are power. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but you’re not actually Captain Wentworth, and she’s got another year before she’s Too Old to be Anne and you should respect that and come back when she’s thirty and run out of Austen heroines to emulate. Lie to her, that’ll get her hot. If she doesn’t get that sometimes you need to lie you can always claim she doesn’t understand syntax and use it against her to form the beginnings of a controlling, abusive relationship with no trust. Fail her. In fact, why don’t you just sit around all day spending her money, sleep with her best friend and steal from her. She’ll be gagging for it then. Girls who read have no basis for self-confidence so will always let you back, you see. Life is meant to have a villain or two, how much better when the villain is the person who claims to love you? Girls who read base their entire basis for what people are on one series of books. If you find a girl who reads, keep her close by lying to her, being a villain, and failing her. When you find her up till 2am clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and go back to fucking bed, if she wanted to be held she’d have come to you. She’ll talk as if characters in books are real because you’ve made her friends loose their rag with her for staying with someone who psychologically manipulates someone to the point where the characters in the books are the only basis for friendship she really has left. You’ll propose in some outdated predictable way, or really offhandedly, and then expect her to get down on her knees in gratitude that someone, someone, cares enough about her to want to be with her, even though she was great before she met you. You will smile so hard you will wonder why she hasn’t knifed you through the chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, she will stand behind your shoulder and compliment you on your skills with words. Your kids will resent you for what you’ve done to their mother, who always looked so happy in the photos, reading, who introduced them to Matilda, The Paper Bag Princess and Pippi Longstocking. You will walk the winters of your old age together and occasionally she’ll remember that she used to dream of someone who knew Keats.

Girls who read, don’t date someone who “deserves” you. You deserve the most colourful life imaginable. If you can only get monotony, and stale hours, and half baked proposals over Skype, you’re better off alone. If you want the world, and the worlds beyond it, read. Or better yet, write.

Sucked In to Books

Some books you start knowing exactly why your reading them. Whether this be because the review is two weeks overdue, book club’s in two days, its been staring at you for the past three years or you just want to, at least there is a reason.

Some books you start and think, why am I reading this? I’m not interested in this book, the cover or blurb (how do people not read blurbs automatically upon picking up any book? How? What is wrong with people?). Its not even been recommended to me. I’m just reading it.

These are the Books that Suck-not in a bad, American Teen in the Nineties way, but in the pull you in before spitting you rudely back out sense of the word. When you look up from the sofa and think, wow, did I really just spend two days reading that? Was that a waste of time? I don’t know! I didn’t particularly learn anything from the book; there was no massive emotional response from me towards it; in fact I’d almost say, it passed the time.

But I know exactly who I’m going to lend it to next…

The book I’ve just finished, “Balthazar Jones and the Tower of London Zoo” by Julia Stuart, is one of these. Telling the story of the residents of the Tower, Beefeaters, bar staff and clergyman alike. The plot meanders along, although it is fairly serious in its subject matter. The setting is delightful, jumping between Balthazar’s home at the Tower and his wife’s place of work, the London Underground Lost Property office. Both have The Most Interesting Jobs In The World, both are grieving for their son who died unexpectedly two years ago. When the Palace decides to put the Queen’s collection of exotic animals in the Tower instead of London Zoo, it is Balthazar’s task to look after them. Meanwhile his wife Hebe is charged with finding the owners of various things lost on the tube, from gigolo’s diary (always an easy laugh) to urns, to pot plants.

A huge and varied supporting cast, each with their own ridiculous names (both first and sur are always mentioned, its a bit like reading Facebook, or an account of Primary School) floats around the main action, conjoining with the plot for comedic effect every now and then.

The best thing about the book was the randomly assorted Facts about all thing Tower/Lost Property related. I really hope they were all true, cos some of them really impressed me in a “remember that for Pub Quiz” way.

Reading this book is a bit like drinking Lilt; you know full well its just Coke, but it tastes like pineapples so can’t be completely bad for you. If you enjoyed The No.1 Ladies’ Detective series by Alexander McCall Smith and the like, then I’d recommend it to you. “Cozy”, I think the word is. “Makes you glad to be alive” would be used. I have now a long list in my head of people I’m going to lend this book to, but if you want a gentle January Read, I’d recommend it to you.

Happy Reading!
BookElf xxx

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