Friday 28 August 2009

Art for Trees

I am simply adding this post to direct any visitors to Art for Trees, a blog that has been set up to raise funds for the reforestation of the area of Greece recently devastated by fire. It has been set up by Manya and other people of the local community. They are asking for donations of art or craft to auction to raise money for both the trees and ongoing care of the damaged land. Not sure what else to add, this was just linked to one of the crafty blogs that I follow and I think it is important to try and do what you can to support people who are working to repair their community.

Thursday 27 August 2009

Eve Green

Eve Green by Susan Fletcher.
This book was in the pile from the charity shop and I picked it out because I was struggling with 'On Beauty' and wanted something a bit more light weight. It is the lovely intriguing story of Evangeline, who loses her mother very abruptly and very young and goes to live with her grandparents in rural Wales. It is told by her pregnant adult self reflecting on the immediate aftermath of her mother's death and then the disappearance of a local girl, and her childhood obsession with finding out about her mother's teenage years and the mysterious K, who may have been her father.
The abduction of Rosie raises tension in the community but this remains mostly on the periphery of Evie's concerns. She befriends a local man Billy who, having been injured by a horse as a teenager, has been living on the edge of village society, and through him learns much of her mother's history. Mainly the story is about her relationship with her grandparents, and also Daniel, the young farm worker who becomes a reliable constant in her life.
The book is also about Wales, and farming, and attachment to the land and to a particular place. Her crusade to discover her own heritage is like an urgent need to establish a sense of belonging. She talks very little about how she felt at the loss of her mother, much more about how she formed new bonds. Then as a teenager Evie tries going away to University but finds that she cannot bear to be away from the farm, or from Daniel, and she seems to accept that they will inevitably be the ongoing centre of her life.
Beautifully written and very atmospheric, though I'm not sure it would tempt many people to the wet and windswept hillsides of Wales, but you have a wonderful picture of a warm, close knit community, that is broken but then seems to be able to heal itself, and you just long to belong.

Tuesday 25 August 2009

How to put together a chest of drawers

You know how awful it is when an inanimate object manages to make you feel stupid ... well it started out as one of those experiences, but turned out okay in the end.
  1. Get your tools first and clear a bit of space in the living room ... you can do this, but where's the fun if you don't have to search under piles of junk for that missing piece.
  2. Do the job with a friend but not with a man, they will make it twice as hard. To give Dunk some credit he is not that kind of bloke, so he could hear us struggling but he didn't come down and interfere, and I have successfully constructed two book cases with him.
  3. When things start to go wrong do not throw a tantrum and blame the whole capitalist system that culminated in the existence of Ikea.
  4. Promise yourself you will one day have enough money to buy furniture that has already been put together.
  5. If in doubt experiment for a bit but *do not* bodge it together or you will only regret it in the end.
  6. Look at the pictures properly so you don't put the drawers together inside out and have to start again. And always count the holes because sometimes two bits of wood can look very similar.
So the little bolty things that were supposed to lock on to the screws were not working. It was exactly the same as making the book cases so I knew how it was going to go together. After struggling with it for half an hour I realised that the holes were just a little too deep and that we needed to have the screws not quite screwed down tightly in order for it to lock on properly. It was one of those 'eureka' moments as Tish and I realised at the same moment what we needed to do. And after that it was plain sailing.
And here is the big poopy mess that has to go in to it (or rather part of it, the rest is on the floor to the side of the photo.) Though now Tish needs one of those little toddler steps so she can reach on top to feed the rats.

Empty Nest

So Sunday was a long, long day. You would be amazed how much stuff an 18 year old can accumulate in a couple of years.
Here we are all ready for the off. Tish came supposedly to keep me company, but more because she fell in love with Midge, Lewis' Boss Monitor Lizard, and wanted another cuddle. We had a really nice journey up, mainly with Jacob giving us the benefit of his vociferous opinions on how badly written Harry Potter is (we were listening to the end of 'Chamber of Secrets') and stopping off for Burger King.
We seemed to come back with nearly as much stuff as we took. I acquired a replacement mattress (Lewis had **three** spare mattresses in his spare room) for the bunks so that I can give them away on Freecycle, then popped to Ikea and bought Tish a new chest of drawers (not that I have any illusions about her bedroom being magically tidy once she can put her clothes away.) We also re-acquired the green beanbag sofa which I gave to Lewis several years ago but he now has no room for. It may reside in M's luxuriously spacious new bedroom or it may end up at the dump. (I am kind of attached to it as it was the first piece of furniture I bought after the divorce; had no money, it was cheap and we could, at a pinch, all sit on it together.)
Then yesterday evening I spent a couple of hours filling bags and putting Jake's bottle collection in the recycle. Although it seems so much bigger empty you can see what a tiny little space he has been living in; it is half a room that he has shared with M, divided by a large black unit that they shared for storage. The walls are pretty musty but I think it is going to be lovely when it is all rearranged. All that remains now is a huge Pokemon card collection that I hope to find a home for and his Beanie Baby collection. We went through a stage then they were about 8 or so when everyone was mad on them (I think Tish has more than 50?). Unfortunately we always cut the labels off so they are not collectors items.

Sunday 23 August 2009

Rugs and all that

I am knackered. I have been working like mad to finish this rug for Lewis. It has been on the go for at least six months or so. As with so many things it was started with a rush of enthusiasm and then abandoned amongst the wool stash in favour of more interesting projects. Since we are driving up again today I was determined to save myself the postage money (which could be considerable, it is quite heavy). Thursday I started when I got in from work, and worked until gone 10, to the accompaniment of 'The Da Vinci Code', 'Sex Lies and Video Tapes', 'Stand By Me' and 'Tristan and Isolde'. (I had to wait up anyway as Jacob was out celebrating with his work mates and needed picking up.) Then Friday evening to the accompaniment of 'Life of Brian' and 'Monty Python and the The Holy Grail', by which time the actual rugging was done. Then Saturday evening I did the backing, which is a very long tedious job, adding thick tape all around the edge on the back to keep it in shape and make it lie flat. We had chocolate cake and watched crappy telly. So, it is made with Gedifra 'Easy Wear', which is a very chunky wool/acrylic mix yarn, found in the sale room at Shipson Needlecraft which is our nearest and dearest yarn emporium. (If you live in the area or are passing through *do* visit, their thread selection nearly drives me to take up embroidery it is so fantastic.)
This is only my second foray into rug making. A couple of summers ago I went with Julie and Jill to a workshop with Heather in the wilds of North Yorkshire. It was excellent fun. We stayed B&B, which I had never done before, and then spent the day in her fabulous workroom, experimenting with different things and talking about her work. Very inspirational. I came home and made this one:
It is done with strips of velvet (the coloured part) outlined in black wool (from an old jumper) and the white background was left over silk from my wedding dress and then the edging background (you can't really see in this picture that it is different, but I ran out of the silk) is cream fleece fabric. I found the design on the interweb and hand drew it, which explains why it is a little wonky in places. Mostly rag rugging is done with fabric, but in essence it is a 'recycling' craft and can be done with whatever you have to hand. The back lines on Lewis' rug above were made from two old sliced up t-shirts.
Have to go now, want to get away by 9am and it is already 8.30.

Tuesday 18 August 2009

Baby bird flying the nest

My son Jacob is leaving us at the weekend; I am driving him up North to go and live with his brother. He moved down from his dad's to live with us nearly two years ago after deciding he didn't want to continue doing A levels. He has been working in a factory in Bourton, mainly while he thought about what else to do with his life. Then last month, on the spur of the moment, he found a course that grabbed him at Gateshead College, phoned them up and jumped on a train to go to an interview, and suddenly the decisions are all made. Although I will miss him I feel pleased that he is pursuing something that really interests him.
He was feeling left out that I kept making things for other people (he was the only one not to get socks), so I promised him a new duvet cover to take away with him, a kind of leaving present. Here it is, done in black velvet and a variety of stripes in plain and decorated satin, made this morning to the accompaniment of 'Die Hard 4.0' and 'Pirates of the Carribbean 2'. It's not very colour coordinated, just meant to be bold and striking.

Sunday 16 August 2009

15 books

So I found this idea on a series of blogs yesterday evening, people gave it different titles and different emphasis, see here or here or here, but with the same basic principle. So these are my books, not really 'favourites' but ones that have had an impact on me, maybe on my thinking or opening up something new to me, or left a lasting impression or maybe just important for a while. These first 9 are fiction then the last 6 are non-fiction.
  1. The Sneetches and other stories by Dr Seuss. Though I do love The Sneetches it is the story about the trousers with no-one inside 'em that stayed with me (What was I scared of), because it really scared me as a child. I have read Dr Seuss endlessly to my kids, The Lorax and How the Grinch Stole Christmas being other favourites.
  2. That was then and this is now by S.E. Hinton. This is the book from my teenage years that stays with me. It is about friendship and growing up, and mostly it was the ending I remember, where Bryon makes a choice that is so hard, but the right thing to do.
  3. The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula le Guin. Another book I fell in love with as a teenager, and waited 20 years for the fourth and fifth books which she wrote to continue the tale of Ged and Tenar. Fantasy writing at its best and an ending that was absolutely, perfectly satisfying.
  4. The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks. I started reading this trilogy at about 15 or 16, it is about a young woman having a baby 'out of wedlock' (set in the 60's so not really acceptable) and I just loved the people in it and the romantic notion of the ongoing relation ship between Jane and Toby. Just life and friendship (I can see a theme developing here:-)
  5. The Magus by John Fowles. A boy in my English A level class carried this book around with him for two years, and I was always curious about it, so I read it, and it started me on my 'John Fowles' period (through my early twenties). A wonderfully complex book, with lots of ideas and history. I went on to read everything else he wrote, The Collector was one of my favourites.
  6. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. Although I don't love these books I had to put them in because they were such a big and ongoing part of our lives for a few years. We read them over and over, at one point I did a three day stint, reading the first three books one after another while we all sat in the spare room, stopping only for drinks when my voice gave out. It is something the children remember and still talk about.
  7. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. This has to be in because they are basically the best books I ever read to my kids, and the most challenging for young people in terms of their ideas and philosophy, they really make you think. It continues to be M's favourite and she has read and listened to the tapes so much she can practically recite them.
  8. The Woman who Walked into Doors by Roddy Doyle. A startling book because it is the story of an abused woman, and you totally forget it is written by a man. I love it because it made me understand the thinking of another person in a way you rarely find. And I have never had such an overwhelming physical reaction to a book; at the end, when she finally breaks and hits him with the frying pan, I wanted her to hit him again, until he was dead, the sense of release of the anger and frustration was quite intense.
  9. We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver. This is the most recent book on the list. It's about being a parent and made me think very hard about what that involves. It challenges every preconception you might have on the subject, and I tend to find that is a good thing in a book.
  10. 117 Days by Ruth First. I bought this when I was at college. In retrospect it makes me feel I was so ignorant and naive, but maybe it is important to recognise that you are ignorant so you can do something about it. 117 days is how long Ruth First spent in detention as an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa. I remember being outraged that such a thing could happen, only to find, or course, that much worse injustice is commonplace throughout the world. I learned a lot from it about politics and injustice and the power of protest.
  11. How Children Fail by John Holt. This was merely the first of John Holt's books that I read, and basically it has informed all of my adult life and the way I chose to bring up my children and our adventures into education otherwise than by schooling. So it is the most important on the list.
  12. The Cap or The Price of a Life by Roman Frister. This is the only book I have read about the Holocaust. It changed me because it is a personal story, so unlike the television images of mass horror you have one person and what happened to them, and what the impact of the experience meant to them. It is written with brutal honesty, mixing his childhood story with his current life. He does not try to present himself as anything other than a real person, there is no heroism, only survival. It stays with you.
  13. To Have or To Be by Erich Fromm. Wikipedia describes him as a humanistic philosopher. I bought this little book second hand, I think I had probably read about it as I remember seeking it out. I found it very thought provoking and it articulated something for me that I suppose I had felt instinctively but not put into words.
  14. The New Internationalist is not a book but a publication that I subscribed to for many years as a student and afterwards, and again recently for the last few years. It informs me about the world and stops me feeling totally ignorant about global issues. It has an essentially radical standpoint, looking critically at the status quo and seeking better solutions to the world's problems.
  15. Road Atlas. Tish thought it was funny that I put the road atlas on the list, but it is something I use all the time and has had a big impact on my life. For many years when we were actively involved in Education Otherwise we travelled frequently to gatherings and to see friends all over the country, and using the road atlas to plan the journey was vital for me when traveling alone with four kids. Definitely a book I could not live without.

Friday 14 August 2009

The Road

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This is the other book that Mo lent me, another on the post-apocalyptic theme. After All the Pretty Horses I was not so sure I was that bothered about reading something else by Cormac McCarthy, but I am very glad I gave it a chance, it could not have been more different. I read it practically in one sitting. One of the reviews suggests a solitary all-night reading, and I can imagine that would be a good way to take on this story.
I am not sure where to start with such a book. All the praise is well deserved. Strangely, where I found the descriptive passages in 'All the Pretty Horses' a bit laboured, the descriptions in The Road were even more repetitive and yet were such a vital part of what created the haunting atmosphere. It is the unremitting desolation that is at the core of the book. There is no end to the greyness. There is a man and his son, both nameless (also vital to the atmosphere of the book), and they are travelling through a country that has been totally destroyed by fire. Again you are not given any explanation for the apocalypse. It is almost as if it is not relevant, as if the end of the world is somehow inevitable and how it comes about is not important, only how or if the human race might be able to survive the end of everything (if that's not a contradiction in terms).
There are no chapters, the whole book is made up of short paragraphs separated by spaces. I think that the layout was quite deliberate. There are no breaks in the story, no parts, no pauses for breath. It is as if you come up at the end gasping for air. I certainly held my breath some of the way. I was horrified and terrified by turns, and the moments of relief from the fear were no help, because you just knew they couldn't last long. It is quite some time since I had such an extreme reaction to a book.
There is not much story to describe. They travel, they scavenge desperately for food and water, they avoid contact with others, they try and hide their fear from each other. The only thing about the past that is described is the boy's birth and the woman's decision to leave them (with the assumption that she kills herself). There is no sense of time. Each day is just a struggle. There is no hope and no prospect of a future. Everything is dead and mostly burned. Ash fills the air and the water and coats the ground. They are cold all the time. It gets light but the sun does not rise. Some reviews seem to think they are heading for the coast so that the boy can see the sea. I am not convinced that there is any such purpose in their journey. The notion is far too lyrical. There is no meaning in anything they do, any choices they make, beyond mere survival. The man's determination and persistence are awe-inspiring, but it is the existence of his son that keeps him going and keeps them both alive. They know the world is dying but it is as if they cannot allow themselves to give up. Their gun has two bullets, kept in reserve, in case they do reach that moment of despair, but the man is forced to use one, so they no longer have their escape route. Their world is divided into 'Good Guys', who they never seem to find, and 'Bad Guys', who they avoid at all costs. The man tries to protect his son from the worst sights, when they encounter human behaviour at its most extreme. Between them there is caring and tenderness but when they meet other people they find only violence and death. Three times, at the point of despair and starvation, they miraculously find something that helps them and restores their strength. You feel almost as if, as the observer, you are being tempted to be hopeful, to think that things will somehow be okay for them. But I'm warning you ... don't.

If I Stay

If I Stay by Gayle Forman. M had been given this book at school after she had taken part in the Carnegie Shadowing scheme. It wasn't one of the books from the shortlist but she was just given it and she enjoyed it. She has been a bit conservative about her reading sometimes, preferring to re-read old favourites and being very hard to coax into trying something new, so I was pleased that she had been reading new stuff. I also don't read much 'teen' fiction these days. I used to read a lot when I was still reading to the children, which I have continued to do up to just a year or two ago. I really love the fact that there are so many good writers writing for young people now. A couple of years ago we found 'How I live now' by Meg Rosoff, which Tish and I both read and loved, but then you also have the whole 'Twilight' things, which they both loved but admitted were really just pulp fiction. Harry Potter also tends to get the 'read it avidly but criticise heavily' treatment. Philip Pullman remains the writer who stands head and shoulders above everyone else.
So, 'If I Stay' was a lovely book. Very teenage, because it dealt with the kind of things that preoccupy teenagers. A young girl is in a devastating car accident, and her spirit is hanging around the hospital watching the repercussions and thinking about her life and wondering if she really wants to stay alive, or if it is easier to let go. She paints a picture of a very close, loving family, a great best-friend, a cool dude of a boyfriend and a quite prodigious musical talent, everything that any young girl might want for their own life, and then you listen to her weigh all this up against the loss of her family and how easy it would be to choose to die. I think that I liked it because Mia is very sympathetic, not self-pitying, just honest. That's all really, not profound but tackles well the importance of reflecting on your life and valuing what you have.

Tuesday 11 August 2009

Fairy Bombing

So Tish made a couple of fairies when we were messing about doing the needle felting. Our plan had been to make more and leave one every place we went, but in the end the whole trip was so crazy that we hardly had time to catch our breath. This first one was left tied to a tree just above the car park at Brimham Rocks.
And the second one is inside a carved tree stump near the lavender garden at Forbidden Corner. We wanted them to be hidden, but not so well hidden that they wouldn't be found, so when someone looks carefully they will be spotted, they are very brightly coloured. Afterwards I thought we should have left a phone number or e-mail address so we could find out what happens to them, but I think part of the idea is that you do not know.

Magical Mystery Tour

The girls and I have been on a road trip, to try out some new things, and to revisit some old favourites. We started the week with a trip to Go Ape. I found a leaflet for this ages ago and have been dying to have a go, so this was top of my list, and probably the best day of the week. We opted for the early session, and it was a good move as we were the first people round the course. It is basically a high rise assault course, about 25 feet up in the trees, with rope bridges and zip wires. Tish couldn't do the tarzan swing at the end, but I was determined not to chicken out of anything. Here are the girls up one of the first trees:
and here is me crossing a bridge. It was very safe, we were well fastened to the tree all the time with a harness. I was sorry to get to the end and wanted to go round again. There is a film of us all coming down a zip wire, will try and get it uploaded. We went to the safari park in the afternoon, but don't need to add any more photos of cute monkeys, I'm sure Tish will put them on her blog.
Monday we drove on up to Rutlandwater, where we picnicked and walked and found a very nice campsite.
Tuesday we drove over to the Peak district via the not-so-picturesque village of Gotham. The girls found it on the map and insisted we had to visit.
We stopped briefly in the town of Matlock Bath where we found a lovely hippy shop and bought hoodies for Tish and me, and picked up a leaflet for the Otter and Owl sanctuary. Equally we don't need photos of otters (or even the scottish wild cats, which were lovely) but I just had to stop by and pay my respects to 'Don' (in the dog cemetery.)
Tuesday night we drove all the way across to Manchester to stay with the Ridley Birks, and Wednesday Tish and I went to Chester Zoo with C and M. We did take a lot of photos of the animals but not of the people (if you're family you can see all the animal photos on Tish's facebook page). M didn't come to the zoo but spent a nice day out shopping and trying on expensive dresses with R but I didn't get to spend much time with Julie, so we have to go back again soon. Wednesday night we spent a few hours in A&E after Tish scalded her arm, which did put a bit of a downer on the visit.
Thursday morning we set off for the east coast. M had wanted to sleep on the beach and watch the sunrise. We went to Scarborough (after sitting in our first traffic queue for over an hour), where we had ice cream on the beach and took a ride around the bay in a very silly pirate ship, then went and stayed on a very expensive campsite, where they put us in the bottom field that was already waterlogged before it began raining all night. We got up at 4.30, bought chocolate at the 24 hour Tesco and drove down to the sea front in the dark. Unfortunately, though the rain let up and the walk along the beach was fun the cloud cover was so heavy there was not the slightest hint of a sunrise, it just got gradually lighter. Two local girls had also chosen that morning for an early start and were in the sea in their bikinis at 5am. We walked around to the sea wall and then went back to the tent where the girls slept again for a couple of hours before discovering the bedding was somewhat soggy.
Friday was also a frenetic day with our only other prearranged trip. By 11am we got to Brimham Rocks, which are just up the road from Harrogate where we used to live and were we used to visit all the time when the children were younger. They are owned by the National Trust and are a series of large rock formations on the moors above Nidderdale. They overlook Menwith Hill which is an American listening station and you can see the 'golf balls', which protect the satellite dishes, in the distance from the higher rocks.
Then we jumped back in the car to go to Forbidden Corner. We visited once or twice when we lived here, though it has got much more popular in the intervening years and now you have to book in advance. It is one of those places that are impossible to describe. It is not exactly a garden, not a theme park, not a sculpture park, but has something of all these things. There are lots of things that squirt water at you, lots of secret passages, singing mice, grunting skeletons and a silly graveyard. Here are the girls at one of the entrances to the underground passages:
After all the walking and climbing we headed off to Newcastle, to Lewis' house. Rachel has just moved in with him, and in a couple of weeks Jacob is moving in to their spare room to go to college in Gateshead. This was the first time I have ever stayed as a visitor with one of my kids. It was nice to see them all domesticated. We spent Saturday morning doing the reptile shops, and the whole afternoon rearranging the vivariums in the living room, after Lewis found a nice second hand 5 foot viv for Sartre (their new snake, or rather one of the new snakes). So from the top we have: Sartre (common boa) and Squidge (bearded dragon), next row: Ozzy (water dragon) and Midge (boss monitor lizard, he's a baby right now but will be 4 foot+), bottom row: Krox (blue tongued skink) and Spike (5 foot corn snake). And there is a little empty one in the middle that Rachel wants to put a ball python in.
Sunday M and I drove over to pick up her friend E and we went to Wet and Wild. Tish couldn't come because of her burn and she bussed into town to meet an old school friend. I copied the wrong directions from their website, not really having much idea which direction we were supposed to be coming from, so this was a real magical mystery tour as we drove round for a bit, looked at the map, drove round a bit more, had to go through the Tyne Tunnel and negotiate some nasty roadworks, then finally spotted the brown tourist signs for Wet'n'Wild. M and E disappeared right away so I spent my time sitting in the jacuzzi, went down a couple of tame slides and then got dressed. I was glad to have a local in the car when we made our way back through the middle of Newcastle to pick up Tish. Then we went back to Dunston to drop M at her dad's house, then Tish and I had the four hour drive home.
It's funny how sometimes you feel like you need a holiday to recover from your holiday:-)

Far North and far south.

Far North by Marcel Theroux was the book that my book group was reading a few months ago. I didn't manage to get hold of a copy so never went to the meeting. However when we were discussing 'All the Pretty Horses' the other week (not a good discussion since only two of us had read the book!) we drifted back to talking about the other recent books, and then Mo offered to lend me this, and another one she had read on a similar theme (it's upstairs, can't recall the title just now). I quite like what you might refer to as 'post-holocaust' books, where civilisation has come to an end for whatever reason, because they are about what human beings are capable off in the most extreme of situations.
Rather like 'All the Pretty Horses', it was pretty brutal. It appears to be set in some indeterminate future in the aftermath of global climate change where basically most people are dead and there is just a terrible struggle for survival. The main character, Makepeace (a rather appropriate name I thought, and deliberately ambiguous), grew up through a time of upheaval and shifting population, where people travelled to try and find a means of survival, until such time as nothing remains of society as you might think of it. She (for it turns out she is a woman) 'rescues' someone who turns out to also be a woman and an escaped prisoner. The young woman, Ping, is pregnant, but the next thing you know she has simply died, not explanation, and Makepeace has left the city and is living in an abandoned hut in the forest. You get the impression that she is fighting all the time to armour herself against the world and all that it throws at her. She does not tell us what happened to Ping and the baby, but she had obviously allowed herself to form a bond with her, something she had also obviously avoided doing for the years since her family had died. The idea of the baby had given her hope for the future, and when they died she tried to escape from the hopelessness that overcame her by running from everything that she was familiar with. In the depths of her hopelessness she decides to kill herself, and is drowning in the lake when an aeroplane flies overhead, and drags her back from the edge. It is a symbol of civilisation, that there is something or somebody outside the world she knows that is trying to create a new society. It crashes into the forest nearby but she becomes obsessed with finding out where it came from, and with this new purpose in mind she sets out. The trouble is that all she finds is more brutality. Every time she trusts someone it turns out she really shouldn't have. She ends up in a slave labour camp, where life continues on it's nasty course, landing her after a few years as a guard and leading to her eventual escape. You get little moments of hope, like when she helps a young boy that they find in the forest, and the gesture is repaid to her later in the story when she is captured by his people, but they are few and far between. The total lack of real human contact and caring is crushing. The survival of the human spirit is quite startling in such an environment. And then she sees another aeroplane, and in pursuing it she learns the background to the prison she was in and what they are doing in the 'Zone'. And you begin to think that all hope really must be lost .... but not quite.
A real and thoroughly engaging tale of human endurance, of how people need people even when you know that they will only bring you more trouble.

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier is a totally different kettle of fish. A surreal book. But strangely similar in that it's central character is a woman struggling for survival in the extreme cold. Laura is, however, at the other end of the world, having been sent to the Antarctic by the Coca Cola company on a fake research mission. Another similarity is the 'end of the world' scenario, again man-made, though this time it appears to take the form of a virus that is laying waste to the world's population. But it is not really about the people dying, but what happens after they die. It is about the world 'in between', where people are obliged to wait if there is someone still alive on earth who remembers them.
Alternate chapters tell Laura's story and the tale of the people who are in this spiritual waiting room. They watch the comings and goings of whole populations, and get news from newcomers of what is happening back in 'life'. So they learn about the virus, and their waiting city becomes fuller and fuller then it begins suddenly to empty again, until eventually Luka thinks he is the only person left. He finds a blind man, and then Minny, a childhood friend of Laura's, and then Laura's parents, and the group people who live in the city gradually piece together why there are so few of them left ... the 'Laura theory' ... that she is the only person left alive.
Meanwhile Laura has lost all communication with the outside world so she leaves her hut and travels by sled to the station on the coast, in pursuit of her two colleagues who went for help some weeks previously. Everyone there turns out to be dead and her only hope is a powerful transmitter at the penguin colony, so some weeks later she sets out again. I guess it is quite hard to describe cold. I have never been anywhere that cold but I am wondering if after a while you stop noticing how cold you are, because for Laura the cold seems to become so matter of fact. The only bit I didn't like was the 'nearly falling down a crevasse' incident, which was just a stupid and unnecessary cliche taken straight from some disaster film, and I am not sure it would be physically possible for her to climb 15 feet up a rope with bare hands in such temperatures, but who am I to argue. When first her sled and then her heated tent stop working you know it is only a matter of time. At the same time the waiting room city is shrinking around it's occupants, though there doesn't appear to be any sense anxiety amongst the people, since they are, after all, just marking time.
I am left, having read these two books in quick succession, with the feeling that they are both about people needing people, and about how vital a part of being human it is to have relationships with others. Both books left me with a 'what next?' kind of feeling. Two very different, but equally thought provoking stories.