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.

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Top Ten Tuesdays: Newly discovered authors of 2015

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It’s really starting to feel like we’re getting to the tail end of the year now. Everywhere is decorated for Christmas, the BBC’s starting to trail their winter programming and Top Ten Tuesdays is focussing more and more on 2015 wrap ups.

Usually I’m uncontainably excited about Christmas by this time, eating nothing that isn’t in some way cinnamon flavoured and decorating everything that’s stationary in baubles and beads. This year however the countdown to Christmas is also the countdown to me being unemployed so it’s soured the excitement somewhat. I’m trying to get enthusiastic about mince pies and candy canes but the whole thing just gives me that little nervous twitch in my stomach. And the next ’18 sleeps ‘til Christmas’ sign I see is going to be at risk of some serious vandalism.

So yes, I’m finally able to empathise with the scrooges of the world. Not a position I ever thought I’d be able to understand.

I do like a good list though. Not even the thought of unemployment could stop me wanting to write a list of my top ten newly discovered authors of 2015. And after discovering last week that The Broke and the Bookish actually releases the themes for the Top Ten Tuesdays in advance, here’s a post I prepared earlier, in true Blue Peter style.

There are some absolutely incredibly authors on this list. I stepped out of my comfort zone much more this year as I really embraced impulse buying in second hand book shops and the results have in general been a great success, introducing me to authors that I’m sure I’ll be on the lookout for for years to come. I also finally got round to reading the books my mums been recommending to me for years and, of course, she was right all along.

 

  1. Anne Bronte

Instagram of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

Ever since I read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall earlier this year I have been on a mission to get as many people reading Anne Bronte as possible. The way her astute feminism has been overlooked in favour of the mushy unrealistic romances of her sisters is just unforgivable.

 

  1. Jeffrey Eugenides

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides with flowers

The one person whose recommendations I always adhere to is Rory Gilmore. So when I came across a copy of The Virgin Suicides I had to buy it just on the strength of it being mentioned in passing in an episode of The Gilmore Girls. And wow, it did not disappoint. By far one of the best books I read all year. I’ve seen also read Middlesex and could only marvel at how amazing it was without having even one tiny thing in common with The Virgin Suicides. I cannot wait to find out what The Marriage Pact has in store.

 

  1. Tessa Hadley

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I bought The London Train by Tessa Hadley on a complete whim, mostly because I’d just finished Girl on the Train so was predisposed to like books with the word train in their title. The similarities between them stopped there as The London Train started to remind me more and more of an Ian McEwan novel, which is about as far from criticism as I can get. I’ve already got Married Love ready and waiting on my shelf.

 

  1. Colm Toibin

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin in a brown bag with ipod and glasses

Not long after I declared Tessa Hadley my new Ian McEwan along came Colm Toibin to threaten her for the crown. Brooklyn is more like Atonement Ian McEwan, atmospheric and maudlin but absolutely brilliant, whereas Tessa Hadley was more Saturday and Amsterdam. I’ve already bought Nora Webster to read next but haven’t found myself in the right mood quite yet.

 

  1. Caitlin Moran

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran with tea and fried egg on toast

I’d read a lot of her non-fiction and columns before 2015 but not her one fiction book, How to Build a Girl, which almost justifies her place on this list. The more time that passes the more fondly I look back on this book, not just because it’s entertaining but it taught me something about growing up. I’m really excited for the next two parts in the story.

 

  1. Donna Tartt

The Secret History by Donna Tartt with board games and whisky

The Secret History by Donna Tartt was another slow builder – immediately after finishing it I was verging on disappointed by the more time that passes the more desperate I am to read something else by her.

 

  1. Thomas Hardy

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This time last year I had been stuck two chapters into Tess of the D’Urbervilles for months, every time I went to carry on with it getting distracted by something else. Well, when I finally did get around to reading it I was kicking myself for what I’d been missing. This is without a doubt one of the greatest books ever written and a shoo-in for my favourite books I’ve read this year. I’ve since read various other things by Thomas Hardy and the love affair shows no signs of dimming.

 

  1. John Green

Looking for Alaska by John Green on a black and white background

I actually can’t remember when I first read a John Green novel so I’m not sure it was 2015 but I’m going to assume it was so I can write about him. I wish YA fiction had been like this when I was a teenager. Not just girls moping after guys more popular than them but funny and thought provoking and a little bit different.

My Week in Books: 6th April 2015

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THE DAYDREAMER by IAN McEWAN

Where I finished it: In the bath (I do all my best reading in the bath).

How long: Three days.

Quote: There were adventures ahead of him after all.

Would I read it again: Again, I’d like to read it to my (as yet entirely improbable) children.

This is something I don’t say often, if ever, about books, but I wish The Daydreamer had been longer.

Each chapter is almost a short story in itself – a trip with eleven year old Peter into his imagination.

There was something so easy to read yet still engrossing about these bite size insights into Peter’s daydreams. And with each new chapter you never knew what you were going to get. The Vanishing Cream had me frightened (I scare easily), The Bully made me well up and The Grown-Up was almost too accurate a description of everything I’m feeling at this point in my life. The book as a whole had me questioning the line between fantasy and reality.

And it also made me wonder why there aren’t more books pitched to this audience – that grey area between children’s fiction and adult fiction. As Ian McEwan says in the prologue, ‘it might be better to forget our mighty tradition of children’s literature… simple prose need not deter the sophisticated reader.’

THE LONDON TRAIN by TESSA HADLEY

How long: A week

Where I finished it: Far too late at night

Favourite quote: The night ahead was a brimming dish she had to carry without spilling it

Would I read it again: No, it was good but not that good

I picked up this book completely on a whim with no idea what it was about which is very unlike me. I’d expected it to languish unread on my bookshelf for years before I actually found the motivation to read it. But no, last week I decided I fancied reading something completely unknown.

The book is broken into two stories which appear to be completely separate but when it’s explained how they’re linked I couldn’t believe I hadn’t worked it out earlier. The first is about a father on the hunt for his missing daughter in London and ends up sucked into a completely different life. The second is about a recently separated woman setting up her new life in Wales and mostly reminiscing about her past.

It reads so much like an Ian McEwan novel that I found it a little eerie. But I supposed my experience of ‘literary fiction’ about middle-aged characters and their everyday lives is pretty limited to McEwan so maybe it all overlaps in the same ways. And anyway, I love Ian McEwan so that was no bad thing.

To be honest I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. In the first story it was the plot that kept me reading; the character of Paul didn’t inspired much sympathy in me but I was really interested to better understand the motivations of the characters he meets in London. The second story took a little more getting into (mostly because there isn’t much of a plot) but I really did like Cora and the way the author described heartbreak was quite moving.

However, the ending was a little unsatisfactory for me. It just didn’t seem to ring true to have this happy ending after the rest of the book was so bleak and mundane. But I’d rather have an unsatisfactory happy ending than an unsatisfactory sad ending.

This month I’ve been buying…..

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Oh look, it’s a new posting feature for me to start, change multiple times, and then abandon. This one is a monthly roundup of why my bank balance looks so pathetic – all my money has been spent on books. Although I was pleasantly surprised that I’ve only bought ten. I must have shown some restraint. Only three of them have been read so far though but it’s investment for the future. But now I think about it, seen as I’ve always got about ten books (if not more) waiting to be read and the moment I finish one I buy another (or two more) in it’s place I’m going to die with ten books I never got round to reading. That’s a depressing thought.

1. The London Train – Tessa Hadley

I’d very recently finished The Girl on the Train when I came across this so I picked it up purely because it had train in the title. I like the idea of two separate but interlinked stories so I bought it. But because I know so little about it it will probably be months before I decide to start it.

2. Ian McEwan – Black Dogs

I’m on a bit of a mission to read everything Ian McEwan has ever written. So far, out of the 14 I mean to read, I’ve got 3 still to buy and only 6 actually finished. But it’s only April, I can easily have it done by the end of the year.

3. Let it Snow – John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle

I picked this up purely because I’ve jumped on the John Green hype. It’s one of the few of these that I’ve actually already read (and reviewed if you’re interested). In a nutshell – not great.

4. Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

I know, I know, I’m painfully behind the times not having read this yet. I found it second hand, unfortunately in this rather garish shade of orange. It just looks ridiculous on my bookshelves. I’m really looking forward to reading it after I enjoyed Girl on the Train so much but I’m waiting until I’ve got a lot of free time and something happy and lighthearted to do after I finish it.

5. Collection of Thomas Hardy poetry

I’ve been on the hunt for a collection of Thomas Hardy poetry for a while. It had to include my two favourite Hardy poems – Drummer Hodge and The Man He Killed. I finally found one (not the one in the picture, the one I’ve bought doesn’t seem to exist on the internet). It’s second hand and has an inscription inside ‘To Dad, on your 70th, Love Louise’ so it’s pretty much as good as I could have hoped (I love second hand books with inscriptions and margin notes).

6. Woman Much Missed – Thomas Hardy

It was 80p, how could I say no?

7. Clash of Kings – George RR Martin

I’ve already read the ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series and am impatiently waiting for the next book. But I read them all as electronic copies so now I’m slowly building up a collection of paperback copies. Not that I really have room to spare on my bookshelves for those seven massive tomes.

8. Girl Reading – Katie Ward

Another one that I’ve actually read and reviewed! It was a classic case of judging a book by it’s cover. But in the end I’m glad I read it so it won’t stop me doing it again in the future.

9. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

There are certain topics of books that just don’t interest me and The Holocaust is one of them. I think school destroyed any interest I might have had in that period of history. But I’d walked all the way across town in the rain to get to this bookshop, they had a massive selection and I just couldn’t find anything that caught my imagination so I got desperate and was reading the blurb of every book I picked up, hoping to find one I wanted. And once I got to the bottom of this blurb and discovered the book was narrated by Death I was sold. I love a book with a sense of impending doom. Becuase it’s so long though it will probably languor at the bottom of my TBR list for a while.

10. Where’d You Go, Bernadette – Maria Semple

And then, like buses, once I’d found one book I immediately found another. I thought once I finished The Book Thief (which I know nothing about but I’m assuming it’s going to be depressing because of the miserable cover) this would be a good antidote (because of the cheerful cover).