This week I’ve been reading… Married Love and other stories by Tessa Hadley

I picked up this book immediately after finishing War and Peace. I picked it up without much thought but I do have to wonder if subconsciously I was craving short stories. After 4000 pages of the same people, places and events being introduced to and done with a character all in 20 pages was a welcome relief.  And whereas in War and Peace I found myself skim reading to get it over with as soon as possible, in Married Love I wanted to savour every word because it was the writing that had all the beauty. Almost like poetry.

The stories in general perhaps had more in common with poetry than a traditional novel. Many of them didn’t really have a notable plot; nothing much changed from beginning to end. Instead of being full-fledged narratives they were more like snippets of stories, brief glimpses into a life, like you’re peering in through a person’s window as you walk down the road.

And because there wasn’t a plot I didn’t get hung up wanting to find out what would happen next. Usually I see long-winded descriptions, character sketches and scene setting as a waste of time, an obstacle to get through to get to the really good stuff: the story. But with no story to worry about I could fully immerse myself in the subtle, delicate writing style.

It’s that lack of a narrative, that uneventfulness, which ties together all the stories. The characters’ imaginations take them on a course that their life never actually does – Shelley expects the worst news about her son, Alec expects the worst news about his sister, Ally takes an unnecessary risk, Kirsten acts without thinking – and they all come out the other side unscathed.

But although the worst never does happy, it doesn’t prevent an overwhelming sense of misery in all the stories. From the slow, introspective writing style and the dreary normality of the lives being portrayed. The dramatic life-defining crescendo might seem the more emotional of the two options but Tessa Hadley articulates so well the quiet melancholy of everyday life that it becomes far more relatable and therefore far more affecting.


This week I’ve been reading… Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (and I won’t be sleeping again)

I’ve been on a bit of a thriller hype the past few months. It had always been a genre I’ve avoided because, well, I’m a massive scaredy-cat. But I couldn’t ignore all the clamour being made about Girl on the Train so I jumped on that bandwagon. And loved it.

It seems obvious to say it, but it was so gripping, couldn’t-put-it-down, a-real-page-turner – just all the clichés.

And the more thrillers I read the more arrogant I was getting because I just wasn’t finding them that scary. They had moments that made me tense up but nothing that was actually keeping me up at night. I was really starting to think that I had got over my wimpiness.

Well, Dark Places, I take it all back. Continue reading “This week I’ve been reading… Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (and I won’t be sleeping again)”

This week I’ve been reading… Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

It has actually happened. I have read Gone Girl. After all those months of delays and excuses, reading every other thriller I could get my hands on apart from the one that started the whole craze, I finally pulled it off the shelf.

I’d been putting it off partly because I knew it wouldn’t be able to live up to this fearsome hype it’s amassed and partly because I expected it to be really scary and really addictive, the kind of book that needs a whole day set aside to just devour it and still have time to watch a Disney film afterwards to remind you that the world is in general a cheerful happy place. Continue reading “This week I’ve been reading… Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn”

This week I’ve been reading… The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Read this book, my mum said. It’s really heart-warming, she said.

Heart-warming? Heart-warming?! I started tearing up on about page 50 and cried pretty much continuously until the very end. Continue reading “This week I’ve been reading… The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows”

This week I’ve been reading… Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

The more I enjoy a book the harder I find it to write the review. I don’t know whether this is just because it’s easier to criticise than praise. Or because writing a positive review can quickly become gushy, and no one wants to read that.

Anyway, this review of Station Eleven is really really hard to write. Continue reading “This week I’ve been reading… Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel”

This week I’ve been reading… The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Brown University, 1982. Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English student and incurable romantic, is writing her thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot – authors of the great marriage plots. As Madeleine studies the age-old motivations of the human heart, real life, in the form of two very different men, intervenes.

Leonard Bankhead, brilliant scientist and charismatic longer, attracts Madeleine with an intensity that she seems powerless to resist. Meanwhile her old friend Mitchell Grammaticus, a theology student searching for some kind of truth in life, is certain of at least one thing – that he and Madeleine are destined to be together.

But as all three leave college, they will have to figure out how they want their own marriage plot to end.

I’ve been trying to avoid using other people’s blurbs in my reviews in favour of writing my own but I wanted to quote the one from the back of my copy of this book as it is startlingly inaccurate. For one thing it completely over plays the prominence of Jane Austen and George Eliot in the story, which had been the main attraction for me. And more importantly it makes it sound like the book is entirely about the character of Madeline, when in fact the narrative overall is split pretty evenly between Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell. Continue reading “This week I’ve been reading… The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides”

This week I’ve been reading… In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Thrillers and ghost stories and murder mysteries never used to be a genre of book I had much interest in. Mostly because I’m a massive wimp – I can read something scary in March and still be having nightmares in December; I saw the stage play of The Woman in Black when I was 14 and still can’t think of it without shuddering. And although I’m still just as much of a scardey-cat, that hasn’t changed with age, I can kind of start to see why people like thrillers and horror films. There’s something almost addictive about that rush of adrenaline you get from being scared. I first experienced this reading The Girl on the Train and since then I’ve been trying to find another book that will equal that level of tension and suspense. Continue reading “This week I’ve been reading… In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware”

This week I’ve been reading… Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Firstly, I just need to get some things off my chest. Baz is not a suitable name for a supervillain, it’s a guy off Jeremy Kyle with 4 missing teeth, 6 kids and a girlfriend who might also be his mother. Watford is not a magical school, it’s a slightly dodgy part of North-West London. And Carry On is not a good name for a fantasy book, it’s a film franchise from the 1960s where mice run up women’s skirts and everything’s an innuendo.

Phew, glad to get that out the way. Continue reading “This week I’ve been reading… Carry On by Rainbow Rowell”

This week I’ve been reading… War and Peace (Vol. 1) by Leo Tolstoy

I was on such a roll with my reading challenge for this year. My aim was one book a week and at the end of January I was averaging two. I’d read one Monday to Friday to perk up my disappointing work lunches of tinned soup. And another I’d start as I snuggled down into bed on Friday night and have it finished by brunchtime on Sunday (a legitimate time of day that only exists at the weekends).

And then I looked back over the list of books I’d read and was a little disappointed in myself. Yes, there were a lot on there, but they were all contemporary. I pride myself on my diverse reading interests and especially on my love of classics. So to make up for this I picked up not just any classic, but the classic to end all classics – War and Peace.  Continue reading “This week I’ve been reading… War and Peace (Vol. 1) by Leo Tolstoy”

This week I’ve been reading… Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little

I cannot tell a lie, most of the motivation for starting this particular book was because I knew I already had a pretty picture of it I could use for the review.

Because as much as I’m finding actually sitting down and forcing out one review a fortnight challenging the toughest bit is always putting together the photograph. Because it’s January and I work 9-5; I can’t remember the last time I was at home when there was some natural light to use.

And wahoo, now I’m 100 words into this review without even having had to mention the title. This reviewing stuff is easy peasy.

Dear Daughter is a thriller released to ride on the Gone Girl bandwagon – not that I’ve read Gone Girl yet, one step at a time. Of the Lindsey Lohan/Paris Hilton set, Jane Jenkins was a professional celebrity – famous for being rich and shameless. Until at age 17 she was arrested for the murder of her mother. A technicality in her court case means she’s released from prison after ten years of her sentence. No one but her lawyer thinks she’s innocent, even Jane isn’t sure, and all she has to go on is one tiny lead, but she heads off to rural South Dakota on the run from the tabloids (in that classic disguise of gawky historian) to try and work out who did kill her mother.

I bought it almost entirely on the recommendation of one poster at Nuneaton train station that I stared at for twenty minutes while waiting for a train. So that ad company can give themselves a pat on the back. I think the ‘Gone Girl meets Mean Girls’ tagline really sold it to me. But looking at that now and it’s a bit misplaced – it’s trying to be Gone Girl and it’s trying to be Mean Girls but like a person stood on one side of a ravine trying to leap to the other side it’s sprawled in the middle flat on its face.

From pages 60 to 200 it was properly, couldn’t put it down even though it was getting to the wrong side of midnight, gripping. But once I did put it down I soon stopped thinking about.

I think my biggest problem was the characters. Jane, of course, goes on a journey from cold hearted bitch to slightly less cold hearted bitch but other than that she’s pretty one dimensional. Which I think is more down to the inadequate information given about her mother’s character. A lot of Jane’s flaws are supposedly traceable to the lack of love from her mother but even now I’ve finished the book I couldn’t start to picture her mother. She was never given a coherent personality.

And almost all of that could have been forgiven if the ending had been properly shocking. That is what this genre of book is all about after all. But although it was very dramatic and everything, I saw it coming from some way off. Of course, once she ended up in that tiny little town the potential for surprise was somewhat limited.

And I’ve just remembered that I paid full price for it (or as close to full price as I get – it was part of buy two get one free offer in Waterstones) which I’m glad I hadn’t remembered while I was reading it. When a book is 100 pages long and cost £1.50 it doesn’t have to do much to give a good return. When it’s 400 pages and £8 I want to have my socks knocked off. But that’s not really what this book does.